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WoCaR 2023 – Week 2

This post in a series keeping track of my Winter of Care and Repair 2023 Project. If you want to see all the posts in the series click here.

Here’s a reminder of my pledge

Now on to my progress. Apologies if I switch tenses between days or in the middle of a day, some of them I wrote same day, others I picked up a day or two later.

30th December

Having finished off last week debating quilt patterns…I was still debating quilt patterns. This is my very first quilt, and would be only my second go at patchwork (my first was a door stop – which can be found at the bottom of this post, but I’m not sure counts as it’s very rough and ready). I’d never even made a Half Square Triangle (HST), though I have an interesting book about them.

So I decided to take some of the accidental extra blocks, and pretend they were intentional extras to practice HSTs.

A little gallery of my progress – apologies for the lighting, the weather’s been awful.

As you can see they’re not perfect, but I was happy with them. They needed to be 4 1/2″, and bigger is better than too small.

For fun I decided to make them into more complicated blocks. These weren’t anything I was going to do in this quilt, but I could see how matching seams went…albeit tougher than I’ll have to face in this quilt as the seams met in the middle of the blocks as sewn the second time.

And just to make sure all that wasn’t I fluke, I made another set of them, this time with more overtly christmassy fabric.

The original idea I had was to just turn them into coasters at their current size, but I might stitch the sets of four together. It would be good practice before I sewed the rows together on the quilt. Maybe they’ll be trivets or pot holders? I do have heat resistant batting…

31st December

After yesterday’s practice I went ahead with the HSTs for the quilt. As yesterday everything was marked with Frixon pens or my trick marker for black fabric and pinned before sewing, cutting, and pressing.

I got on a bit of a roll and ended up sewing and trimming all the HSTs. I used white thread for anything with white, black thread for the tan/black HSTs and grey thread for the grey/tan HSTs.

I was keen to start piecing everything together, but also debating making EVERYTHING on the quilt into a HST to blend the colours a bit more. But then I remembered my test blocks, so I practiced sewing them together.

I really struggled to get the points to match up. My machine doesn’t play well with changing layers, and I had to redo some of the joins several times – especially the central point. I probably should’ve gone with what I had first, because the fabric around that central point is now a bit warped without the points being that much better. Maybe it’ll look better once it’s quilted and washed?

The second go was much better:

I took the tails of thread cut off from other seams, and basted where the points met to keep them more in line. It’ll be a bit annoying with so many joins on the main quilt but better than having to redo them several times and warping the fabric.

After making this it occurred to me that my vintage New Home 696 deals with changing layers of fabric better than my newer Brother machine. So I found a few more extra blocks and tested construction there. This one might be my favourite yet!

I did the rather unscientific thing and changed an additional variable, pressing as many seams as possible to opposite sides instead of open flat. I’ve heard that that helps to line things up, and it did seem to help here. But I’m not sure if it was because of my additional practice, or the use of the other machine, or even that my Brother wasn’t as happy with the first fabric combination – it did to the second one well.

As it is I think I’ll sew the patchwork on my New Home, though switch to the Brother for the quilting as my walking foot works better on that machine.

1st January

Busy day, though I’m sure real life will start creeping in soon to stop me from doing quite so much.

I started off the day cutting all the remaining blocks down to 4 1/2″ to match my HSTs. This generated a small amount of scraps that could have in theory been avoided. But leaving everything at 5″ gave me the option to swap blocks around. I’ve put them in a bag to stuff something with later.

I played around with layout options, trying to make sure I didn’t put the same fabric next to each other and the whole thing looked relatively balanced. TBH I like it better in the photo than IRL. Close up the prints are all a bit too much. I’m sure it’ll grow on me, and it’s a good lesson for future quilts.

Then I went on a walk, to take advantage of the sunny weather and give my eyes a little rest so I could look on it fresh later. It’s been so dull and rainy, as you can tell by the state of the footpath.

I then went a bit mad and labelled every single square with a bit of masking tape. I had to move them into another room to sew and was paranoid they’d get muddled. Despite this I still managed to muck one up (as I had to re-press a few seams and moved the masking tape. C5 is upside down.

Everything was sewn on my old New Home 696, which I remembered has an extension table!

I sewed 6 of the 8 rows completely (checking as I went to make sure points were matching – I didn’t go as far as to measure if they were 1/4″ from the edge though I’m honestly tempted!), and then the last two rows got sewn into pairs so I could clear the floor in the bedroom.

Everything was pinned, but where the seams joined I basted as I was worried pins would knock things out of shape.

None of the new seams were pressed, as I want to be strategic. I want to press things towards the darker fabrics, but I also make sure as many seams as possible butt up against one another (as opposed to being pressed to the same side).

2nd January

I finished up the rows, and worked out a pressing plan on Canva which I put into action.

I also started sewing the rows together, but only got halfway before it got too late and I thought it best to give it a rest. In future I’ll probably press open any seams that don’t nest when seams are pressed to the darker sides, some areas were bumpy and I had to do a lot of basting to make sure it lined up while stitching.

On the whole I was really happy working on my old machine.

3th January

Quilt top complete!

I was really nervous putting the rows together, but thankfully nothing was too badly out. And on all but a few occasions I’m happy to live with, things turned out fine on the first go or were correctable on the second try with additional basting.

Next up was sorting out the backing. In my head I had loads on extra fabric, and while that was the case, nothing was quite big enough to fit. I’d decided on a black binding and a mostly white backing, and while eventually I worked out a strategy for piecing the back I ran out of time before completing it.

I’m binding it with the black fabric with dark grey dots, which you can see next to the outer points of the tan squares/diamonds. It was very cheap at Abakhan, probably because it looks like that design was overprinted on to some kind of nativity book.

Can you see Bethlehem, Mary, and page 2 in the text above? I think it reads:

“Some how they got to Bethlehem, And it was none too soon, Though Mary knew the time had come, They could not find a room”

Thankfully not noticeable on the binding. Hopefully the quilt isn’t blasphemous and/or cursed for cutting that up. It is a Christmas themed quilt at least!

4th January

Backing finished early in the morning (I started before breakfast but my husband made me come downstairs and eat before I got hangry).

My goal was to have it balanced without any serious attempt at being centred with anything. This piece was a little longer but I trimmed it off and managed to get the seam on the right near the centre. Oh well, it left me with bigger offcuts that will be more useful on other things.

First on the list of other things is the backing pieces for my test blocks, which I was happy with.

I’m going to work from the bottom of the photo up, and hopefully try a few techniques to see which I like best.

Here’s my progress on the first (lowest) one.

I went with spray basting over pinning as I picked up some spray baste in a sale ages ago. I don’t have good safety pins for pin basting, and I also get a soreness in my thumb sometimes that might be aggravated by opening and closing a bunch of pins.

As it turned out I quite liked how the spray baste worked, though I’ll probably have to wash my tests before deciding whether to go with it on the quilt.

I sewed the binding on the front with the machine, and managed decent mitred corners.

I finished the hand stitching as well, with some episodes of Wellington Paranormal on in the background. Here’s a picture on Tilly for scale.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it (or the other ones for that matter!). I’m tempted to use thermal wadding on the next ones so I can use them as trivets, but then they won’t be a proper test of the final quilt conditions. I’ve been googling ideas and my favourite was putting command adhesive strips on clothes pegs, hanging those on the wall and using those to display the quilts.

5th January

In my head my outing to Shrewsbury today was going to be a quick in and out job. But I ended up doing a park and ride as my usual car park was flooded. That and a late start meant I got home much later than I intended.

So today I decided to tackle a shirt that I managed to spray oil all over. It was a lot of little dots of oil, splash back from some cooking a few days ago. In the gallery below, the first picture is the before, the second is in-progress.

Oil stains like this probably won’t come out in the wash, but they’re really easy to deal with: put some dish soap on, rub it in until it’s sudsy, and let it sit for a while. Then wash it out with warm/hot water, ideally letting the hot water run just through the effected layer. I’ve done this on old oil stains as well with good results, so I’m not too worried if I didn’t manage to get them all with this enthusiastic (as opposed to precise and accurate) attempt at applying the soap.

I also picked up a dress at a charity shop today that needed some treatment. When I told my husband about it, and he was frankly confused.

  • It’s not really my style – not a puffy sleeve person.
  • I’m not a huge pink fan (though I do love the print)
  • It had loads of stains on it

I’m honestly a little surprised the charity shop had it for sale given its condition, and that it was £7. But I’m not someone who haggles at charity shops. This money is going towards hospice care, I’m not going to get huffy about the price.

But I bought it…because of the stains. Bear with me here, people. If I didn’t buy it, who would? It would just end up getting pulped once the staff noticed. I love the fabric, and there’s a lot of it in this oversized dress.

It’s a prime contender for reuse: worst case scenario I can cut around the stains and use the fabric for other things. For something more complicated but my preferred option, I might just remove/rework the sleeves and use the offcuts as fodder for pattern-match patches over the stains I can’t remove.

This dress is also tricky because when hand-washing out the soap, the water got surprisingly pink. Red is a notoriously runny colour in my experience, but maybe it’s never been washed? I’d normally just let it soak overnight in a oxygen bleach mix, but I may have to try spot-treating stains before washing in the machine instead to avoid the red running everywhere.

I’ll share the results of these in next week’s post, as well as hopefully more progress on the quilt! I’ve got an evening away and a bunch of other things planned so it’ll be a test of my ability to make time to work on this project.

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Upcycled Dress from a Poncho

I’m always on the lookout for easy secondhand wins for sewing when charity shopping. There are a few places where I could, pre-covid, sometimes find lengths of fabric or good quality duvet covers. But if not those, then something with larger panels of fabric often catches my eye. Think larger sizes, gathered skirts, generally something without much tailoring. This poncho was one of those. I forgot to get a good before photo, but found someone selling one on eBay so you can get a sense of what it looked like:

It was viscose, and more or less a rectangle of fabric – no seams, just some hemmed/bound sides around the front opening, neck hole, and sides.

It sat in my to-upcycle collection for at least a year, waiting for the right project. And that finally came as I wanted to make another True Bias Southport dress. I’d worn the ones I made last year sooo much, but they’re now too big and it’s not an easy project to resize. The only problem was that ‘more or less’ part of being a rectangle of fabric.

Pattern Tetris

The important thing when laying out your pattern pieces is to think about the grain of the fabric. Here’s a little article about what that means, but it’s important so the final garment looks like it’s supposed to and doesn’t twist out of shape. So ideally:

  • all pieces would lay along the same grain line.
  • the pattern would mostly go in the same direction – I didn’t want it to look too jarring or draw attention to the fact that it was pieced
  • I wanted a midi dress – about mid calf, so I could feel comfortable wearing it without leggings.

Despite the amount of fabric it took a while to pattern tetris my way into something that made the most of the shape I had. Here’s what I came up with:

I mostly used the cross grain here. And while the gallery above makes it look like a speedy process, it took a while!

I’m really proud of myself for finding this layout. The big winner was splitting the front and back bodice pieces. I know they’re small, but the armhole/neckline area leaves a lot of odd pieces in the fabric when cutting out. Getting those from other areas of the poncho meant I could make the most of what I had.

Ultimately I was able to get nearly all the pieces along the same grainline and with the pattern running in the same direction. The exceptions were the top of the front and back bodice pieces. Rotating those to run the same way as the rest of the dress would’ve shortened the length of the skirt and made it harder to assemble the bias binding (more on that later). And having a different pattern/fabric/etc in that section of a garment isn’t uncommon, so I hoped it wouldn’t look too out of place.


Sewing the dress together first meant piecing all the pattern pieces together. I needed to turn 11 pieces into 4 (not counting bias binding or casing here), before I could even start with the normal construction of the dress.

The poncho is made of viscose, which can stretch and fray quite easily, so I decided to flat fell all the seams.

The sides of the original poncho were hemmed with a double fold of fabric, and I used that to my advantage when assembling the pieces. Flat felled seams are one of my favourite finishes – they hide all the raw edges, meaning your work is stronger and lasts longer. Here’s a tutorial, though I’m generally lazy and do all my sewing on the wrong side of the fabric. Most of my stitching was black on black, so if it’s a little wonky you can’t generally tell.

Unfolding those original hems after I cut the pieces meant I had the little flaps I needed to fold over and sew down without having to cut as much (if any) of the seam allowances away. I got the idea from someone on instagram, who mentioned that in commercial sewing patterns, the seam allowances for pattern pieces with flat felled seams are different so the sewists don’t have to spend time or create waste cutting excess fabric away.

It did make lining up the seams a little harder, but I just used lines of chalk on both sides and stuck pins through to make sure they lined up properly. And then used copious copious pins to hold the pieces in place so they didn’t shift.

Bias Binding

One of the last bits to assemble was the bias binding, which I took from the odd bits around the neck hole.

It always amazes me how much bias binding you can get out of what appear to be little scraps of fabric. And although it can take a lot of time, that stuff is so useful for sewing! I’d recommend everyone get at least one of the little tool you can see in the photo on the right if you make any bias binding for yourself. They come in different sizes – buy one you feel comfortable with, and then just use that size tape on your projects as long as it’s close!

Actually Sewing the Dress

The pattern itself is relatively simple, especially when you omit the button placket in the front of the dress. Here are the front and back panels, ready for sewing together. Can you tell where they’ve been pieced? I added lines on the photo to the right approximately where the extra seams are:

The little black blob at the bottom of the photo is Tilly, who decided to ‘help’ me on the photo shoot.

I made one other tweak to the pattern, beyond removing that button placket, and that was to make a casing for elastic in the waistband instead of using a drawstring. While it was on the inside of the garment (so I could’ve used whatever I had that was about the same weight), I was able find more scraps to piece it from leftover pieces of the lower skirt panels and some scraps around the neck hole I didn’t use for binding.

It ended up a little narrower than I would’ve liked, so instead of attaching one edge of the casing when sewing the bodice and skirt together, I tucked the top raw edges into the flat felled seam as I was finishing it. The lower edge was folded over and basted before sewing it to the skirt. Apologies for not having photos, it was a fairly tense operation…made even worse when I tried to thread the elastic through and realised I hadn’t caught the casing (or it frayed) in a few places along the top edge and I had to unpick and re-sew. Next time I’d stay stitch/fold over/or otherwise reinforce that top edge as well. So far it’s held up to a few wears and washes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point I have to replace it.

I also managed to stretch out the neckline while sewing on the bias binding. It’s not too noticeable, unless you sew, but it sticks out a little instead of lying flat.

A small win I had was to use the original hem as my hem on the dress – tbh it wasn’t entirely straight, but isn’t noticeable during wear, and a reminder that the things you buy in shops aren’t perfect either!

The Finished Dress

Ta Da!

I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It’s a super comfy summer dress perfect to throw on when it’s hot out. And I’m really pleased I used up so much of that poncho.

Here’s all the scraps that were left:

Scraps have this amazing ability to look huge, even though there’s really not much there. I promise those are all wonky whispers of fabric that would’ve be useful for anything besides stuffing.

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Inner Tube Skirt – Update 2: Testing

This post is part of a creative challenge for May to create a skirt from punctured bicycle inner tubes. You can find all posts in this series here, and my other challenges here.

Prepping the Pattern

Before creating the skirt out of inner tubes, I needed a pattern to work from. The skirt in my head is a mini, which I often buy secondhand but have never made for myself. In my last post I mentioned two promising patterns to hack from Peppermint Magazine’s Sewing School: the Wool Pencil Skirt and the Wrap Skirt. These patterns are PDF and can either be printed out in letter/A4 or sent out to a copy shop or printing service for a larger format.

While I was initially leaning towards the wrap skirt, after seeing the pattern pieces in front of me I thought the Pencil Skirt would work better with inner tubes. So I started with that, though as always I made a few changes to the pattern:

  • Cropped about 6 inches off, front and back. Didn’t measure, just held it against my body and guessed tbh
  • Removed the slight taper
  • Graded between sizes: cut out the size 12 but added 0.5cm to the front and the back centre of the main pieces (and 2 cm to the waistband) so they would match my measurements.

Sewing The Test Skirt

While I thought this pattern would work for the inner tubes, it’s always good to make a test garment before using your proper fabric. To make my project even more eco friendly, I decided to use secondhand clothing to make my test. I event had the perfect skirt to start with, which was far too big on me:

I loved the colour, the corduroy, and the buttons running down the front. One of my favourite things to do when upcycling secondhand clothes is to reuse as many of the features from the original garment as possible. Besides the buttons, I decided to reuse the waistband and the front pockets.

I mostly made this while on the phone handsfree with my parents, running around between my sewing machine in the loft, the iron in the bedroom, and the cutting mat on the dining room table. You can understand why I have no in-progress photos.

How did it turn out?

The Final Garment

Ta da!

I’m so pleased! As hoped I was able to keep a lot of the elements from the original:

I didn’t have matching thread, so I used a brown…which doesn’t stand out too much. So while I did flat felled seams on the sides, I avoided top stitching the pockets and the waistband, and even hand blind stitched the hem.

There is one unintentional remnant from the ‘before’ skirt: You can see a ‘shadow’ on the back from the original pockets.

I don’t think it’s too noticeable while I’m wearing it, but I’m hoping it’ll become a little less visible after a wash. The original back had a yoke, which didn’t work with the new pattern, so I wasn’t able to keep those pockets where they were. I’m debating whether or not to add them to the back now. I’ll wear it once or twice before to see if I really need them- it might make the skirt look a little too casual. It’s kind of dressy as it is.

It also ended up just long enough. So instead of folding over the hem, I used some scraps of a yarn-dyed cotton in my stash I really love.

Fun with Facings

That little facing trick is something you can easily do at home to lengthen something you’ve bought as well…though there might be some slight colour variation on the bit that’s been folded under.

And last but not least, I added a cheeky Team Sikel tag:

Upcycled garments get a Team Sikel tag

And while I absolutely love this, I’m going to make a second to get a feel for how the back zip works, and to ensure the fit is there before I start on the inner tube version. There were so many little on the fly tweaks to make the features of the original skirt work. After some recent weight loss I could use a few more skirts in my closet anyway.