Saturday, February 25, 2012

My new baby(lock)

As I mentioned before, last week I received this package...

So what's inside?

Ta Dah!
okay, but what's inside that?!


Yup, thanks to an unexpected (and surprisingly large) tax rebate, I went crazy and bought myself an overlocker/serger. But not just any serger, the Baby Lock Imagine Wave

I've never used an overlocker before, I have always been a bit intimidated by them. They look so complicated with all the threading up palaver, the various tension dials, fine tuning it for different fabrics etc. But one of my plans for this year is to start regularly making my own clothes, including using jersey and sheer fabrics, and I knew an overlocker would help me get the best results.

So why this machine? Well, because it has done away with all the bits that had intimidated me before. Worried about threading up? This machine does it with a whoosh of air. AIR! Confused about setting the correct tension? This machine doesn't even have tension dials! The machine does it all automatically, you can even stitch different weights of fabric without even having to stop and re-adjust everything!

The above shot is all the bits and pieces that came with the machine, including the extra freebies I got for buying it from here. The freebies were: 12 cones of thread, two packets of machine needles, measuring tape, a seam ripper, three extra Baby Lock machine feet and a set of really sharp scissors. The Machine itself came with an array of accessories, the most useful thing being a quick reference stitch guide which has been my constant companion while I've been getting the hang of the machine!

I started off taking it slow as I want to properly get my head around the machine and its capabilities. I started by reading the instructions cover to cover, and then again, this time threading up the machine and trying out the various stitches. I labelled the important parts and generally had a bit of a play using various materials.

did you know you can make overlocking lace?

So onto first serging projects.
First up was this self-drafted t-shirt with little cap sleeves...

using this flock of birds jersey material I found a while ago 
on a remnants stall in Lewisham Market
the birds are a slightly pink colour.

Next up was a black version of a self-drafted cowl neck, cap sleeve
t-shirt I had made before on my usual sewing machine,

but this time the seams looked all professional!

And to extend my (so far rather basic) clothes making skills,
I turned to this amazing book
which my mum gave me a few years ago, and had a go at drafting a top with a peter pan collar and short kimono sleeves (neither of which I had tried before).

I made the collar piece and a slightly smaller under-collar piece which when sewn together, would make the seam roll under the collar.

I used some nice lace print jersey I had in my stash. I spent a while making sure the collar had a smooth curve to it and that it was pressed flat with the seam tucked underneath. Working back and forth from sewing machine to serger, I put it all together. The collar was serged on then folded over and stitched down, the hems were also serged, folded over and stitched.

I was wearing this top out for the first time yesterday and passed some graffiti that nicely matched my first serged t-shirt!
outside Shoreditch High Street station

I am very happy with my purchase of a swanky new serger and would like to thank Lisa from the excellent U-Handbag Blog for her review of her new BabyLock serger. I had spent ages looking around the web at so many (too many!) serger options, but her review is what settled it for me! 

Further adventures in serging to follow....

Monday, February 20, 2012


I have learned to crochet! Hooray!

I've been wanting to crochet for ages and have tried to learn a few times using books and YouTube videos, but I never got very far. So a few weeks ago a booked myself in for a beginners crochet class which took place on Saturday at Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, East London.

excellent crazy bird's nest made up of knitting/spinning/crochet bits and bobs

The shop is amazing with rows and rows of yarn of all colours and textures lining the walls and all sorts of knitted oddities here and there. There were six of us in the class and we sat together with our cups of tea in the front of the shop while shop owner Louise showed us the basics. We started with the foundation chain stitch, Double Crochet (which, to make things more confusing, is called Single Crochet in America) Treble Crochet (U.S. Double Crochet) we even went crazy and did some Double-Treble and Treble-Treble Crochet! We learned about making open mesh, scalloping the edge, and working in the round. Louise was very patient and very encouraging of us all and the couple of hours flew by. I was so engrossed in the new stitches that I didn't realise that it had begun raining - even though I was sitting facing the window!

This is what I made in the class.
Practising chain stitch, double, treble and double-treble stitch, playing with various spacing and clustering stitches to make a scalloped edge.

Armed with knew knowledge, and a new crochet hook, I went home and had a bit more of a play...
I looked up a pattern for Granny Squares and had a go.
After a couple of false starts I managed to make a square. Then I made another.

And then when I realised that I had been doing double-treble stitches instead of treble stitches, I made a couple more squares - ones that looked right this time!

I found that it was quite easy for me to think in crochet in a way that I haven't been able to do with knitting (which is why I haven't progressed beyond scarves!) so I thought I'd have an experiment with making a felted crochet bowl without following a pattern. So I started with a chain of 5 stitches, made it a loop and started stitching in the round. I increased when I felt like i should and ended up with a floppy bowl. I hand felted it (which I hadn't done before) but it was still too floppy, so I put it through a really hot wash in the washing machine with some towels for extra friction and it came out like this...

I like it. It has felted enough that it can hold its shape but you can still see a hint of the individual stitches.

It occurred to me that it would make a nice soup bowl cosy. Although I will have to trim back some of that fuzziness - no-one wants that in their soup!

Friday, February 17, 2012

These sounds only...

It's amazing what you can find on the street...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I have been distracted by some lovely things recently...

A birthday, featuring champagne for breakfast, shiny new shoes, a wander along the South Bank (alas the David Shrigley exhibition was too busy), dinner, theatre, the first proper snowfall of the winter...

But now I have a new distraction...
It arrived today and I am quite excited!

To be continued....

Monday, February 06, 2012

In praise of praise...

Here's a lovely write-up about Theatrical Shoemakers from a very lovely customer.

Thanks Robin!

Friday, February 03, 2012

New year, new shoes.

Even though I spend my working days making shoes, I rarely get around to making shoes for myself. (Maybe it's because I spend my working days making shoes...) I also rarely buy shoes, so that leaves me with a few pairs of shoes which I wear in high rotation. This means I end up with a few pairs of rather shabby looking shoes. 

So this year I plan on treating myself to more shoes more often!

I've had this little scrap of paper taped above my Clicking bench for a while. I was doodling around playing with the lines of the classic oxford style and I liked this variation. Oxfords, (especially oxford brogues) are one of my favourite style of shoe. They're classic and elegant, they look great on both men and women and there's endless possibility for variation by just tweaking the lines a little or mixing up colours and/or textures.

I found a last (that's the foot-shaped mould) in my size with a nicely pointed toe, taped it up, and had a bit more of a play with the lines. Sometimes I find it easier to design directly onto the last - it's easier to get the balance right and to see how the lines work in relation to the curves of the last.

I used the 3D masking tape form to make up a 2D pattern...

...which I used to make individual pattern pieces. (Lining pattern pieces are not shown)

I then cut out the upper pieces.

I knew I wanted to use black patent leather for my shoes (surely shiny is the opposite of shabby!) and then I saw the new batch of randing that arrived in the workshop. Randing is a strip of leather with stitching along it that sits between the upper and sole of the shoe. It mimics the look of a welted (or stitched together) sole. The black randing we usually get has black stitching, but I liked this new stuff with its white stitching and decided to make a feature of it by using white lining leather as well as white stitching on the upper.

These are the pieces for one shoe. 
The white lining is some leftover leather from the X-Men boots.

This is the reverse of the patent leather. I have skived the edges in preparation for folding the edges over - folded egdes have a more finished look that raw edges. Skiving is the process of trimming away some of the bulk of the underside of the leather so that it tapers away to nothing. (Not to be confused with 'skiving off' which is British slang for shirking responsibility or slacking off!) Skiving can be done by hand with a skiving knife, or it can be done on a skiving machine like this one...

isn't she a beauty!

Skiving in progress...

Folded edges. No fancy machine for this one, just glue, a pointy tool and patience. The white lines are topline tape, a non-stretch fabric tape that stops the topline of the shoes stretching out. The edges that are skived but not folded are underlay. The folded pieces will be stitched onto them and the skiving reduces bulk at the seams.

Closing in progress. This sewing machine is an industrial Singer post machine - unlike the flatbed you see on domestic sewing machines, the work area (incasing the bobbin etc) is on top of a vertical post. This allows for working around tight curves or along bootlegs. This machine also had a wheel instead of a presser foot. This way the upper is always held securely under the wheel.

All stitched together. Lining to be trimmed along the topline, eyelets to be punched.

Ready for lasting. I have fitted some pre-made insoles to the lasts (this is what we usually use at work) and added some leather 'shovas' to the instep of the lasts to match the lasts to the instep measurement of my feet.

Lasting in progress. Lasting is the process of pulling the upper around the last and attaching it to the insole. I usually do this on a lasting peg - that metal pole attached to the floor. The peg fits into the hole in the top of the last and allows both my hands to be free to work on the shoe at waist height. In this picture, I have lasted the seat area (around the heel) including a heel stiffener between the lining leather and the outer leather. The heel stiffener keeps the back of the shoe rigid and supports the foot. 
It's important when lasting to keep working back and forth from one shoe to the other (as opposed to completing one shoe before working on the other), this allows me to keep checking that the two are matching and symmetrical.

Here I have lasted the forepart lining, trimmimg the lasting allowance (that's the bit that's actually stuck to the insole) nice and flat. On the shoe on the right, you may just be able to make out the toe puff wrapped around the toe.  The toe puff does a similar job to the heel stiffener - it sits between the layers of the upper and keeps the toe of the shoe in its shape. In this case I have used a thermo-forming plastic toe puff, but they can also be made out of leather.

The outer layer is then lasted over the toe puff. Here the lasting allowance is tacked in place before it is glued down flat.

At this stage it's very useful to have a fitting as if there is anything that needs to be changed, it can be done fairly easily. It's much trickier to change things once the sole has gone on. I tried my shoes on and noticed that they were a bit baggy around the topline, especially at the instep. I managed to forget to photograph it though!

To rectify the bagginess, I undid the lasting allowance through the waist of the shoes, removed the leather 'shovas' from the lasts and re-lasted the waist section, pulling it in tight.

Another try on. Much better!

Attaching the randing. That's my glue-smeared apron btw. My clothes are not that shabby!

Leather sole attached and roughly trimmed.

Here I have built stacked leatherboard heels with a hard wearing rubber top piece, pitched them to the correct angle and attached them to the sole. I have ground them back on the grinding wheel to align with the edge of the randing. I have glued the forepart of the sole and am about to attach a thin layer of hard wearing rubber to the sole.

What you can't see here is that I have inked the edge and underside of the sole black - taking care not to get ink on the white stitching. What you can see here is the six nails going through the insole permanently attaching the heel in place (on the left hand shoe) and the heel seat pad that sticks to the insole and provides a bit of padding on the insole for comfort (on the right hand shoe).

All finished!
Sole polished, white leather sock attached to insole, white laces added. Done!

Shiny new shoes for me! I'm pleased with how they have turned out. A few evenings of staying behind in the workshop after hours to work on them has paid off!

EDIT: I have changed my mind. I don't like the white laces any more, they're too much. I have swapped them for black laces which I think puts the emphasis back on the lines and stitching of the upper.