I’ve been somewhat in the creative doldrums recently. It’s funny how quickly apathy can spread through all parts of your life; there’s the blank pages in my sketch book, the blank pages in my note book, the empty blog post, the long overdue email I can’t write, the first paragraph of the book that I just can’t seem to get past – and they’re all mocking me. If you have ever given in to the desire to clean or bake when there’s a deadline looming then you know that the feeling of wasting time is fused with anxiety and frustration.
Bearing that in mind then it’s interesting that my first creative break in a while should be time- themed.
So for Christmas I got a very lovely red sewing machine and I have been wracking my brains over what my first project on it should be. Aside from some tinkering at school and at home I have never really used a sewing machine so I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing. However, momentarily determined to tap into my inner 50s housewife, I am going to learn! For my first project I have chosen a relatively (I hope) simple looking dress from a large collection of old patterns we have at home. As this is going to be a ‘trial’ project getting to grips with my new sewing machine I didn’t want to spend money on a new pattern as they can be quite expensive and I would be doubly frustrated if (and when) I screw up.
Task number one was to locate some nice and appropriate material, I wanted to use cotton rather than anything elasticated or chiffon-ie in order to keep things simple. Material is actually quite a lot more expensive than I thought it would be which makes me a little sad. Depending on what sort of project you are working on then it is possible to buy offcuts and end of role material more cheaply, but this won’t always be suitable. Making your own clothes is far less cost effective than it was back in the day, and once you’ve bought a pattern and some nice material chances are that you have already spent more than you would have done on a dress – and you still have to put the damn thing together! In short, making your own clothes is a labour of love and in this case – no doubt – a sharp learning curve.
I’m still in the ‘prep’ stages and haven’t yet started any sewing. Here are the things that I have done so far:
1. Cut out the pattern. You might notice that unlike modern patterns this one only comes in one size (which incidentally happens to be too big for me – but not an issue for a practice dress).
2. Press the pattern with a low heat iron so that it will lie flat on the material
3. Pin the pattern to the material according to the layout on the instructions. It is important the lines with arrows in the middle of the pattern lie exactly parallel with fold in the fabric. This is so that the pattern looks right/goes in the correct direction when you sew everything together. I guess this is probably less important when you have plain fabric and you can just lay out your pattern in the most economic way.
4. Cut the fabric, which in this case was done rather badly. I generally have quite a steady hand but as I’m not used to cutting fabric yet I made a bit of a mess of it. However, these badly cut edges of course won’t be seen once I begin to sew the pieces together. I suspect there will be some not necessarily neat sewing to follow though.
5. Sew markers on the dots of the darts in contrasting thread, making sure that the cotton goes through both layers of fabric. You can also use pencil or chalk to mark the dots.
And that’s where I’m up to so far. I’m a little bit nervous to start the sewing as I really have no idea what I’m doing. If anything goes seriously wrong then I do have plenty of spare material but I’m hoping for the best, I’m not greatly troubled by mistakes at this stage.
Earlier this year one of my friends took a night school course on bookbinding. I was really impressed with what she’d created so I thought that I’d give it a go myself. Bookbinding can get very complicated depending on how ambitious you are, and for that reason I’m going to suggest that actually taking a class might be a good idea as it can be tricky attempting to follow instructions off the internet (it’s also good to get inspiration from others/learn from their mistakes!). Nevertheless, here’s my first attempt:
It’s all very rough because this was a trial and I didn’t concern myself too much with the very fine details, but on the whole I’m very pleased with how it turned out. The sewing was quite shoddy from me (I usually sew very neatly) because I didn’t mark up the pages as I should have done. I was also irritated that the spray glue I’d bought marked the end papers, I’m quite exacting about the craft supplies I buy but went for the cheaper product this time and definitely regretted it. Making the book was quite satisfying though, and it gives me an excuse to indulge in my penchant for pretty paper.
What sort of materials do you need for bookbinding?
1. Glue! Spray glue that won’t mark your paper, superglue, a glue stick etc.
2. Ribbon, so that you can tie your covers together
3. Charms or beads for the end of the ribbon. This is quite a nice little (unnecessary) touch, I also add these charms to the end of the ribbons in notebooks
4. Scissors/craft knife/ needle and thread
5. Stamps/photographs/ephemera to stick onto your pages. I bought a large bag of old stamps from all over the world at an antiques fair this year for £1. They’ve been an excellent addition to notebooks and other artwork, my favourite stamps are the ones from countries that don’t exist anymore like Rhodesia and the DDR. You can buy mixed bags of old stamps online if you can’t find them in the real world.
6. Stiff cardboard for your covers
7. Good quality plain paper. I’m not sure what your preferences might be with that, but I’d veer towards something off white rather than plain white as it can look a bit harsh.
If you’re feeling fancy then it is possible to buy offcuts of leather for your covers, but this is still a bit too ambitious for me.
Just another note on paper – I used some quite thin, almost tissue like paper for some of the inside pages and this was a mistake. The paper was very lovely, but just to delicate for this sort of thing – I was worried it would tear while I was sewing it, and then I’m worried it will tear when I flip through the book. Rookie mistake. I’m sure there are a lot of other materials you could you use, as always you’re only limited by your imagination, but this is a good start if you’re only starting out and playing around like me.