Saturday, 13 January 2018

Winter Wardrobe Staples

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater and Seamwork Neenah Dress

Just before Christmas I gave my winter wardrobe a little top up by remaking two of my most worn garments from winter 2017. The way I dressed for winter turned pretty much on its head when I started sewing with merino wool about 14 months ago. No more Michelin Man in a hundred layers, one (or sometimes two!) fine layers of breathable merino jersey were all I needed to tackle the confusing combination of bitter winds on the train platform and furnace like environment of the tube. Its soft and smooth against the skin, not itchy, I can throw it all in the washing machine on a 30 and as an added bonus it dyes like a dream so is available in a wide range of rich colours. Yes its not cheap (for reference the standard merino from the Fabric Store is about £23/m once converted) but considering the amount of wear I've had out of my merino garments so far...its worth it's weight in gold. I've found myself at a loss when either my black Toaster Sweater or green Neenah Dress (both patterns a perfect match for merino jersey) are in the wash so what's a woman to do but make herself some more to plug the gap?!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Mulberry Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater

For the last few months I've been lucky enough to be a brand ambassador for The Fabric Store who stock a huge range of top quality merino including some lovely stripes and sports fabrics. I've actually made a little pact with myself recently to put a stop to accepting review posts for a little while as it was putting too much pressure on my sewing and blogging and I wanted to get back to doing it purely just for fun with no obligations. However, The Fabric Store are probably my favourite place in the world to get fabric from so I caved and said yes! (I will just take a moment to point out that despite my love for their fabrics I always give my honest and true opinion in my posts whether I've agreed to a review in exchange for fabric/patterns or not). For my December order I decided to wean myself off their range of regular weight jerseys in all the colours of the rainbow and get creative with some different weights. The shape of my previous toaster sweater really benefitted from the slightly heavier structure of a merino sweat shirting so I ordered this Charcoal Grey Marle Merino/Polyester Sweat-shirting to recreate that. Grey is such a neutral staple in my wardrobe! For the Neenah Dress I wanted another strong rich colour and was immediately intrigued by what the new Double Faced Merino Jersey in Mulberry would be like.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Charcoal Marle Merino Seamwork Neenah Dress

You may notice that the garments are actually made up in the opposite of what I ordered! When it arrived the double faced jersey had much more structure to it than I anticipated (in a totally amazing way!) so I rethought my plan and decided that that would be much better suited to the sweater and the dress suited something a bit softer. The sweat-shirting has a bit more stretch and is actually a fair amount finer which makes it softer with more drape. Its a loop backed sweat shirting and is probably lighter than any other sweat-shirting I have worked with but still retains some of that slightly spongy feel and body. I will say that after a number of washes and wears over the last month it has tarted to pill which is the first time I have EVER noticed that with a Fabric Store fabric. Perhaps it is down to the polyester content? Any other merino I have had from them still has a lovely smooth and luxurious finish even after over a year of wear and the black in the same fabric is still good as new. The double faced jersey on the other hand is washing and wearing a dream. It is a truly amazing fabric which I think would make a great cocoon shape cardigan/relaxed coat. The body it has is kind of like a fine boiled wool.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Mulberry Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater

I don't have a huge amount to say about either pattern that I haven't said before, other than that I still really love them! The burgundy sweater (pattern from Sew House Seven) in particular has barely been off my back since I finished it and works so well with loads of my wardrobe. I cut the small like last time but kept the sleeve length long rather than removing 1/2" as before.. I'm really delighted with how the thicker, denser structure of the double knit emphasises the shape of the top and that lovely funnel neck whilst still having movement and drape. Those mitred corners at the hem vents turned out so beautifully in this too. My top tip for achieving a neat finish around those edges is to draw your stitching line on in chalk or your chosen fabric marker so you know exactly where to stop and start. if you're using a twin needle like me you'll have to sew each line individually but if using a single needle and zig zag or straight stitch you'll be able to keep your needle in and pivot at each corner. My favourite thing about the double knit is that technically both sides are a right side and each is a different colour. As I was originally going to make the dress I've got a fair amount left over so am giving some serious thought to what I can now make that makes use of both sides with a bit of colour blocking.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Mulberry Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater

I also cut the same size of the Neenah Dress (pattern from Seamwork Magazine). I used the small which is slightly larger than my measurements as i didn't want too much cling and the only change I made was to take approximately 6" off the length. I liked the midi length in the green but also thought I'd like it above the knee...plus as I'd bought enough of this fabric to make the jumper it meant I could just about squeeze it on! This pattern is pretty much my ultimate knit dress pattern. I love the amount of ease all over and my favourite feature is the slim sleeves and skinny little cuffs. I am usually irritated with a high neck but the width of the collar is spot on. The collar is quite thick in the sweat shirting because it is doubled over in the construction and then due to the height I folded down on itself again to wear. Its really lovely and snugly but I certainly wouldn't recommend using a thicker fabric than this unless you were going to reduce the height of the collar so it was worn as a single layer.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Charcoal Marle Merino Seamwork Neenah Dress

Both garments I made up exactly the same way I handle most knit fabrics; using a narrow zig zag on my regular machine to assemble accurately and then finishing the seam allowances on my overlocker. I will say that overlocking around the bottom edges of the collar facing on the Toaster Sweater made a big difference to how flat that sits. I didn't finish this edge on my black version (you don't need to on knits as they don't fray) and it tends to roll/curl up and create a ridge unless I give it a good press flat. I twin needled the hems of both garments although I was a little hesitant as this is the only thing that has been a problem with my original iterations of both. The twin needle stitching has popped and started to come undone after a while. Is the stitching too tight and would a longer stitch length help this? Or is this just something that happens with twin needle stitching on stretch garments and really only a cover-stitch machine would solve it? I don't really want to have to use a zig zag as I much prefer the clean look of the twin needle.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Mulberry Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater

I realise some of you may be reading my gushing about merino and thinking 'yes yes but that fabric is just way out of my price range' so I just wanted to sing the praises for a moment of sewing with good quality fabrics. I started out sewing with the cheapest fabrics I could find on Goldhawk Road. I was all over that poly crepe but after a while I began to realise that not only was it not particularly pleasant to wear, it wasn't particularly pleasant to sew with either. Yes when you're starting to sew and bound to make some mistakes you want to practice and get any of those early disasters out of the way on something inexpensive but I highly recommend treating yourself to something of better quality once in a while (maybe make the most of those January sales!). I reached a point where I decided I had a stash full of cheap fabrics which I was never going to get through. I could probably buy less and buy from a higher price bracket without spending any more.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Charcoal Marle Merino Seamwork Neenah Dress

From the moment I made the decision to sew less but using better quality products my sewing improved immensely. Better quality fabrics and natural fibres make the sewing experience so much more pleasant. They are easy to shape and mould under the heat and steam of the iron and a well pressed seam improves the appearance of a garment ten fold. No more bouncy poly seams. Plus garments last longer when made of a nice fabric that washes and wears well. But ultimately I think the real improvement in my sewing came from the slight pressure of not wanting to waste a beautiful piece of fabric. I discarded the 'ah well if it doesn't work it was only a fiver' attitude and began to think more carefully about fit and appropriate sewing techniques. I slowed down and developed a new patience with going back and correcting my mistakes to get things as close to perfect as possible.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Mulberry Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater

I understand treating yourself to fancy fabrics is just not financially viable for some of us and sewing is a pretty expensive hobby as it is when you first start out anyway. Plus I am aware that I am in the very fortunate position of sometimes receiving beautiful fabrics free to review. But perhaps set yourself a goal to save up for some top draw fabric for a special project which will take some time to make and I promise you will be so much more delighted with the finished garment.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Charcoal Marle Merino Seamwork Neenah Dress

Anyway, getting back to the garments this post was originally about I couldn't be happier with these new additions to my wardrobe and am sure they are going to be seeing a lot more wear as we battle on through winter. I always find it really interesting sewing up a pattern for the second time in a different fabric and seeing how that affects both the sewing process and the finished result! I definitely recommend having a good feel when buying fabrics for a project where possible so you can really imagine how it will behave when sewn up. The Fabric Store do offer a swatch service which I have made use of previously but this time I just took the plunge and fortunately my gut instinct worked out right this time!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Merino Sew House Seven Toaster Sweater and Seamwork Neenah Dress

13 comments:

  1. Is shipping from the fabric store not hideously expensive? I would love to buy some beautiful merino but would never have considered it because of postage costs.

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    1. There is a flat rate of 40NZD per order (just under £24) to the UK if that is where you are based which I don't think is bad for a weighty package coming across the world. I've always found it to be incredibly quick too. Delivery is free for orders over 200NZD (just under £120) so I think well worth saving up and doing that and getting enough fabric for a few garments at once!
      I've had a customs charge probably 1 out of 4 or 5 orders but its never been much

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  2. You have arrived and your decision to step up your game with quality fabrics proves it! Your top is gorgeous as is the stitching. I have also come to the same decision but more inspired by downsizing. I would now rather have one shelf of quality fabric than five shelves of bargains I don't know what to do with. Unlike you, time or budget did not force this issue,downsizing to a new home did. I was embarassed by all the lower end fabrics I had and duly sold them in a yard sale. No regrets and what remains is quality. Great job on your garments!

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    1. Ah thanks Bunny!
      I too have absolutely no regrets about getting rid of the poor quality fabrics in my stash. Having a big stash always makes me feel overwhelmed and pressured to sew and I made poor choices. Now I just have a small collection of beautiful fabrics that make me excited to sew them!

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  3. I am such a HUGE Toaster Sweater pattern fan myself - I made one in the softest bamboo/cotton french terry that I wear almost every day! I was so crazy about it I ordered the Toaster by Simplicity pattern just to have a BIT of variety :) Love your chosen fabrics - so soft and cozy for winter!

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    1. Its a GORGEOUS pattern isn't it! So cosy and easy to wear but feels stylish because of the nice details. A french terry one sounds wonderful

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  4. Love your style and these look great. You might want to try Eloflex thread by Coats which has some stretch on your knit hems. See review here http://sewingontheedge.blogspot.com/2018/01/a-new-year-and-some-new-techniques.html

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    1. O thanks very much for the tip! I hadn't thought about using a stretch thread but that seems like such a great solution now! Perhaps even having that just in the bobbin would work.

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  5. Love the colours of the toaster sweater and am definitely going to treat myself to some of that Merino. Have your tried woolly nylon in your bobbin when you twin needle? It has some stretch and is usually sold as an overlocker thread. Sew Essential stock it.

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    1. O you are going to love that merino! It makes for such a nice sewing experience
      I have never heard of woolly nylon! But I'm going to investigate right now. I think a bit of added stretch would be really beneficial Thanks very much

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  6. Re: hemming knits. What stitch length are you using? I also don't care for a zigzag hem on a knit because I think it looks kind of Becky Home-Ec-y. I've had good luck with a slightly longer stitch length (say, 3.3 when my construction length is ordinarily 2.5). Might be worth a try!

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    1. I have been using my regular stitch length which is about a 2.5 and think perhaps the longer length might be worth a try to provide a little more give.
      Yes I think a visible zig zag is a bit of a homemade giveaway and try to avoid it wherever possible!

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  7. Both garments look gorgeous! I was looking at the double faced merino as well, it’s really nice to see it sewn up and good to know that it washes well. I usually place two orders per year at the Fabric Store during the sales, as I always have to pay hefty import duties (I’m based in the Netherlands), but the fabric is totally worth it! On your twin needle stitching, I would second what Ciara mentions and increase your stitch length to 3 or even 3.5, that usually works for me.

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I love hearing from readers of my blog so please feel free to leave a comment letting me know what you thought about this post/make! Any hints or tips to improve my sewing are always much appreciated too!