Author Archives: Honey in a Tree

Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book

It seems to me that making beautiful, wearable clothes is as much about choosing the right fabric as it is about the sewing skills and techniques.  Maybe even more so. (But probably not as much as getting the perfect fit.)

I have, many times, been drawn by the beautiful colours and prints of quilting weight cottons to make dresses for my girls, and while they were lovely there was something undeniably, unavoidably ‘stiff’ about them.  Granted, with repeated washing and wearing the cotton can soften, but the print may not look as fresh by then, and your kids may have outgrown the clothes anyway. <

See what I mean - gorgeous prints, very cute dresses, but STIFF

See what I mean – gorgeous prints, very cute dresses, but STIFF

Now I’m embarking in a making-clothes-for-myself adventure, I want them to drape and flow on my body in the same way that ‘proper’ (shop bought) clothes do.

The first step is, obviously, to take note of what fabrics are suggested by the pattern manufacturers/designers. After all, they know how they intended the item to be worn and they want you to get the best result from their design.  But sometimes there are loads of recommended fabrics listed, and how are you supposed to choose between a peach crepe and a cotton poplin?

How about by using a book like this?  I can’t remember how I stumbled across it, it was during one of my many internet meandering, blog-hopping sessions – but however I found it I was pretty excited that I did.

swatch book cover

Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book by Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnston.


This version is available cheaper than its RRP all over the internet, probably because a 2nd edition  is due out in September (which I believe will have more fabric swatches).  It has a partner book, “Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide” which I think goes into more description on the fabrics and their uses, but I haven’t looked at it and, for me, nothing beats being able to touch and handle examples of fabric, which is what this book’s all about.

swatchbook int

Look at all the lovely, flappy little swatches of fabric. You can spend all day running your fingers through those delicious little fluttery samples.

It has over 100 swatches of fabric samples, most of which are undyed and unbleached so you get a feel for the fabric without being distracted by colour.  Except where colour is unavoidable, like the tweed effect examples in the photo above.

It’s set out in two sections: Animal Fibres and Plant Fibres and is easy enough to navigate.  All the swatches are on the right hand side for ease of flicking through and there are nice, helpful descriptions of the fabric types and uses as well as overviews of different fibres, fabric construction etc.  The swatches themselves aren’t huge, but at about 10cm x 10cm each they are big enough for you to have a good tug, a squish and a feel, and even to rub your cheek against it for softness-testing.

This is going to be a very useful resource for me as I begin to learn about the properties of different fabrics and try to make the right fabric-buying decisions without wasting a lot of money on buying the wrong stuff.  However – nothing beats having a good nose at the actual fabric you’re going to buy before you buy it, and if you’re ordering over the internet, as I tend to do quite a lot, the fabric descriptions don’t always convey the weight, drape or stiffness of a fabric.  In this case, if we’re sensible, I suppose we should be requesting samples before buying them, but at 50p per sample + postage, I usually find myself too impatient to want to get on with the sewing to wait that bit longer and spend that bit more before starting. But I really, really ought to.  And then keep those samples in a folder and label them properly, with a description of the fabric, where it’s from, fabric content, washing instructions (if supplied), etc.

My swatch folder - there isn't much yet but I'm pretty certain it will grown faster than I would like to admit.

My own version of a swatch folder – there isn’t much yet but I’m pretty certain it will grown faster than I would like to admit.

So this is what I will be doing from here on in.  OK, maybe I probably won’t always order a swatch before committing to buying 3m of a lush must-buy-it-now-in-case-it-all-goes-away fabric, but I’m definitely at least going to start keeping my own swatch book of fabrics I have bought and, along with the other stuff I covered above, I’m going to keep a note of what I made with it and any notes on the finished item (was it the right fabric to use?) and where I bought it from, in case I want to make a repeat purchase.  In this way I will build up my own encyclopedia of fabric and start to improve my own knowledge of different fabrics and their characteristics.

And I will make beautiful clothes. And everyone will be amazed.  And I will be smug.

*Happy sigh*


The world’s single most beautiful piece of fabric. Ever.

Yesterday lunchtime I was hunting for some cotton lycra jersey when I stumbled across the single most beautiful fabric I have ever seen, in Calico’s, Cardiff.  Just look at this.

Floral fabric

The world’s softest, brightest, most glorious piece of ‘Wool Mix’. (although I have no idea what it’s mixed with). and it belongs to me.

*sigh*  Isn’t it just heaven? It’s a wool mix and feels a bit felted, has lovely wispy textured bits on it and is just so bold and vibrant.  To give an idea of scale the largest roses are about 20cm across.

So today, after anguishing over it all evening, and my husband agreeing that I would be stupid not to buy it, I went back.  I was actually shaking a little bit as I watched it being measured and cut, and I told the lovely sales assistant all about my plans.  She agreed that it would make a fabulous coat and confessed that she’s been eyeing it up herself also.  (I think it’s probably for the best that I don’t work in a fabric shop.  I don’t think I’d have any wages to speak of to take back home with me.  But I’d have a glorious fabric stash.)

I see this as a fitted frock coat with a swishy, twirly skirt.  I have my eye on McCalls 6800 but I want to browse a bit more before I commit.  I want to be sure that the pattern I choose is absolutely right.

McCalls 6800 – a splendidly swooshy frock coat pattern.

It has also occurred to me that such a bold fabric and such a fitted pattern might end up wearing me rather than the other way round.  As you can tell from my DIY dress form I’m a bit on the stumpy, stout side.  So I think I should probably try to apply myself to Slimming World between now and Christmas so I can get the best out of this fabric.

I can’t help feeling this fabric is going to end up being named, as I can’t keep saying ‘this fabric’ over and over, ever after.  But not today. Today I’m not feeling moved or inspired to name fabrics.

(In case you were wondering, I didn’t manage to find any suitable jersey in town, but I did order some from Tia Knight which should be with me shortly, so it’s all good.)

Frozen Faux-La-Loopsies

Back before Christmas I made a pair of Lalaloopsy dolls for my girls as Christmas presents using this pattern by Quirky Artist Loft (which is not based on any commercially available dolls, any similarities are completely coincidental).  I would recommend the pattern without reservation as it is easy to follow, has some nice hair variation suggestions and gives you a beautiful, very sweet doll.  She also offers clothing patterns for the dolls which I’ve downloaded but haven’t made anything from yet.

Frozen Lalaloopsy

The Faux-La-Loopsies in their Anna and Elsa costumes.
Oh my goodness – the hair. Let me tell you how long it took to sew on all that hair! 14 hours! Each! And people ask me whether I would make them to sell – who’d pay for that?!

Since then the world has gone Frozen crazy.  Including me.  I love it.  It’s quite possibly the best film ever, and I will cheerfully admit to listening to the CD while in the car alone and watching the DVD repeatedly, by choice and child free.  So when I decided to make Frozen outfits for the dolls it was as much for my own gratification as for the girls’ benefit.  They’re actually miniature versions of the dressing up outfits I plan to make for the girls.  I’ve already bought the fabric but I have some more pressing sewing projects to get on with in the meantime so sadly they will have to wait just a bit longer.

Among my more pressing sewing projects is the pair of trousers I’m making in my evening classes.  They’re going well, although I’ve reached another pause until next class as I want to check my fly is right before moving on.  The fly is IMPORTANT, people!

So far I’m pleased with it – the muslin fit very well, but I have no photo as it was a tiny bit see-through (black knickers, you know) and the fly was appalling.  there’s no way anybody is getting a look at that fly.  I did consider putting them on Mari to show you the lovely back view, but they didn’t sit well on her because she only has half a bum.

I do have a photo of the fabric I’m using though, if only so I can share a lesson I have learned in fabric preparation.

I bought a top dyed cotton garbadine from Ebay which was described as developing a vintage wash look after the first cool wash.  Perfect.  So I put it in the machine at 30 degrees and waited.  And this is what came out….

vintaged garbadine

Not quite the ‘vintage look’ I’d hoped for when pre-washing my Ebay fabric. It might all turn out ok though. Let’s stay positive.


It’s a bit (very) creased, isn’t it.  I can’t decide whether it’s ruined or not but am using it anyway – I had to cut around the worst of the creases and I’ll make a judgement on how successful it is when the garment’s complete. At worst it will be a good practice for my next trousers, and I should have some very comfy trousers for lounging around and doing the gardening in.

Back in class I asked Angela what went wrong and she suggested the spin cycle in my machine may have been too strong, and that pressing the fabric straight from the machine might have helped revive it. I have squirrelled these tips away for next time I’m pre-washing.

Dressmaking plans are afoot

I’ve been busy planning great things for Mari.  I enrolled on a 10 week Dressmaking course at the Venn School of Sewing ages ago, and, finally, it starts next week.  I have attended a couple of Angela’s courses previously, a 10 week Skills and Techniques course which I absolutely loved, I learnt loads of new skills and techniques (as the course name suggests) but also saw what I had been doing wrong which was wonderful, and a 1 day course on adjusting commercial patterns to fit which, to be honest, made my brain melt a bit.  I think I have the information and tools to have a go now, but I won’t really know until I get down to it and make something using my new pattern-adjusting skills.

I love to sew, so I sew as time allows, mainly clothes for the girls, soft toys or household-y sewing stuff that fit isn’t too crucial for.  The times I’ve tried to sew for myself have, with the exception of an elasticated waisted skirt (which I only wore once before discovering it went see-through in the sun) resulted in appalling fit – too tight around the belly, bust, shoulders, back … just too small, but also too long, because I am a shortie.  But stout.  Robustly built.

I now know that the dress sizes given by pattern manufacturers do not match with off-the-peg dress sizes.  Sewing pattern sizes are tiny.  And they have very set proportions, so if you’re an apple shape, like I am, you’re doomed.  Or if you have a generous bust.  Or curvy hips.  Basically, any humanly proportioned person is unlikely to fit an unaltered dress pattern.

I know this now. And I’ve been shown how to make it right, at least in theory.  Now I’m going to put that theory into practice by making a pair of trousers that fit and a top that is flattering.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Sewing patterns May 2014

These are the patterns I intend to use for my top and trousers, Simplicity Pattern 1696 for the trousers and this pattern for a doesn’t cling-to-anything top from Burdastyle magazine (issue 4/2014).

Meet Mari, my wonderful new dressmaking form

I have made a dress form.  She is lovely and is called Mari.  We are going to have many dressmaking adventures, she and I, I can already tell.

Meet Mari.

I have fancied a dressmakers dummy for ages but haven’t been able to justify the price tag.  There are many tutorials for making your own dress form online, I won’t repeat them here, but a quick Google will show you how to make your own.

In this case I used the duct tape method which seemed the easiest and cheapest.  I actually made the form ages ago (in October 2012) but I wasn’t sure how to finish her after stuffing, so I put her to one side while I thought about it, and then of course other projects came along and she was left to get dusty in the garage loft.

Months later, inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee (what a wonderful programme!), I have pulled her out of the garage, dusted her off and reassessed her.  She wasn’t quite right, the tape had pulled me in too much in some of my squashier areas (she had a wonky boob, which I insist is due to uneven taping pressure), so if my dummy was going to be an useful tool I was going to need to bulk her out a bit.

Again, there are some useful guides and tutorials on the internet to help with this, too.  Armed with a set of accurate measurements, I wrapped her in a layer of lightweight batting so she would feel softer (that probably wasn’t necessary, but I felt she needed to be a bit less rigid) and then padded her out where necessary until her measurements matched mine.  I put on one of my (well fitting) bras and stuffed it until it measured as it should.  Finally I pulled on a bleach-ruined T-shirt and pinned on some narrow black ribbon  to mark the centre seams, natural waist etc, and job done.

Except I didn’t have a stand. The Internet had told me how many sewers had inserted adjustable music stands or built their own stands using wood, hammer and nails, but I’d already stuffed and sealed her and anyway I wasn’t confident that I could put in a stand without it ending up on a wonk.  Besides, I’d already put a coat hanger in her and I liked the idea of having her hang so I could use her to fit trousers as well.

the very next morning an ‘I-can’t-sleep-why-won’t-my-brain-switch-off’ Ebaying session presented me with the perfect solution – an adjustable birdcage stand.  Now she’s hanging straight, is my height and easily moved around as needed.  It came with castors but I haven’t needed to put those in yet, I’ll see how it goes.

I haven’t seen the suggestion of using a birdcage stand anywhere else – so I’m claiming this as my own Genius Idea!  (Even if somebody else has had the same idea, it’s still a genius idea that I had all on my own so that will never, to my mind, make my idea any less wonderful.)

I can’t wait to start sewing and dress her, but I’m going to have to as there are a few other bits on my Must-Do list before I can get back to my Want-To-Do list.


The hanging stand isn’t quite perfect – the coat hanger has a tendency to twist round in the hook which is already annoying me a bit.  I’m going to try and limit the twist by wrapping elastic bands to the hook either side of the coat hanger.  Hopefully that will keep her more still.