Selfish Sewing? Why Sewing For Money Just Isn’t My Dream
What do you class as selfish sewing? Is it selfish sewing if I, as a fashion design and creative pattern making freelancer, do not want to sew for others? Specifically if it is paid? Quite a few months back a friend, JK, asked if I could make two chefs jackets for her. She’d need them for the start of November this year.
Sure, I responded, quite nonchalantly. I am used to being asked about making something for someone at some point; often nothing comes of it.
Alas, not so this time. We got to mid September, and there was talk of possible fabric options, specifically colour availability.
I continued writing new sewing posts for you all here, and waited to hear more from JK about the jackets.
It got to the week of 17th October when it suddenly became clear that the jackets were in fact happening, and I would no longer be able to practise my selfish sewing mantra.
Overcoming The Selfish Sewing Mantra
The best way for me to get over the selfish sewing funk I was in was to crack on with the pattern making. It is easily the most fun part for me – I get to be really creative!
The week before I had traced off an existing chefs jacket of JK’s. With the project firmly on, I set to quickly sewing up the toile.
We had the first fitting on the 17th, and it was a LOT of fun – I love draping and creating on a live model, it’s a good and fun challenge!
The fitting took place amongst my ridiculously cluttered shared studio space – I was in fact in the process of sorting and packing my boxes of fabrics and other supplies, as I was moving out at the end of that week.
We pinned in the overall silhouette JK was after, shaping the toile around the boobs and the tum, with a style line from shoulder to hem. The same with the back, as she was keen to have a double vent.
The style lines were in effect very shaped darts, suppressing the fabric to JK’s body shape. We decided to use the back ‘darts’ as inverted pleats so that she would have more movement across her back; they would lie relatively flat when her arms hung down but if she needed to spread her arms out, the pleats would open up, preventing stress to the fabric across the back.
JK is a sugar sculptor, and so it was important that she was able to move her arms without restriction if doing demonstrations of her work.
Developing The Jacket Design
After the first fitting, I went away and created a second pattern, and the toile / muslin, to incorporate all the new elements, and different size / length adjustments that we worked out. [This part wasn’t really Sewing Selfish, but Pattern Selfish! 😉 ]
I love writing all over the toile, so that I have it to work with and refer back to, so my work can get quite colourful!
We had several discussions about fabric during the toiling and fitting stages, and JK had spent much time looking online too.
Finally, having had no success with online samples arriving, and with very little time left, we popped to Goldhawk Road in London’s Shepherd’s Bush on the Monday, to source the fabrics we needed. It had been one week of crazy already!
I pencilled the trip in for an hour, but with so many shops on Goldhawk Road, and each of them having so few appropriate colour options, it took us well over 3 hours to find just two fabrics that were in any way suitable. *Argh*
Jacket One Fabric
One was a brown cotton drill, with a touch of elastane. The elastane would prove to be trouble, causing whatever fabric was underneath when under the needle to stretch out, and more than usual too. It also frayed like nobody’s business. Grrr…
Jacket Two Fabric
The second fabric was a green woven viscose that felt slightly like neoprene. It had a lovely drape, a little bit of a stretch and would also prove a pain to sew. Mostly as the seams were hard to press flat. There was a lot of bounce in the fabric, and the seams had a life of their own.
The final fabric, which had been sourced online, and ordered from Spruce London was a stunning 100% wool tartan, and incorporated several brand colour elements of JKs. This wool was actually the ‘source’ for colour matching when on our fabric hunt!
Being 100% wool, and not the tightest of weaves, it too frayed the moment it was cut.
For an added touch to the jacket design, we incorporated the tartan into the ‘pleats’ as well as the top collars, jacket facing, sleeve cuffs and pocket top binding to add some sass to the jackets. JK is Scottish so the tartan incorporating her brand colours worked as a great addition and personalised the jackets even more.
Thinking like a Designer
The problem for me with this fabric shopping trip – and this only occurred to me afterwards – is that I am used to designing with fabric options in mind as I go. When I designed the jumper below, I knew it would have a laser cut leather panel on the front, and so designed the shape accordingly. I knew that if the front leather panel was going to end up being soft and relatively drapey, I would need something drapey and light for the rest of the design. This is why I opted for a light knit fabric.
Importance of Fabric Samples
When you have no fabric samples at the start, you really hinder the design process, as the pattern you will go on to create will probably need modifying based on your fabric choice. An obvious example is a fitted biker jacket pattern. Cut from a leather or faux leather, the pattern may be perfect, but if you decided to then sew that same pattern in a heavyweight felted wool, it could end up too closely fitted. So, adjustments would be necessary to the pattern to accommodate the new fabric choice.
Constructing The Jackets
It is important when constructing garments to sew them up in the correct order. If you aren’t sure what that order is, grab my FREE 18 Step Sewing Guide by CLICKING HERE.
Interfacing The Essentials
With the wool being super frayable, it was more important than ever to interface the essential areas. I used a special wool fusible interfacing from MacCulloch and Wallis which helped to strengthen the wool.
I also took the time to add stay stitching to the armholes and the front and back necklines. With the fabric having the ability to stretch easily, I really wasn’t keen on the pieces stretching out once cut and being worked on.
After more than two years of working without it, I made sure to get my overlocker fixed. I’m a seam snob, and love investing the time in beautifully finished enclosed seams where possible. Yet the state of both the wool and the cotton drill after cutting them meant that overlocking was a necessity. Yikes!
I wasn’t even sure I would remember HOW to use my old overlocker… 😉
Unfortunately, I had already sewn the shell of the brown cotton jacket together so I had to go back in afterwards to overlock the seam allowances that were easily reachable. The green viscose had not yet been started, so I took the time to overlock each piece individually.
The problem with overlocking the wool sections – specifically the collar and cuffs – was that the overlocked seams now added bulk to the seams, which we couldn’t clip into, as this would risk the wool fraying all over again. *Catch-22*
I constructed the jackets in a methodical way, based on my 18 Step Sewing Guide. [Get Your FREE Copy by signing up HERE]
The back was made up of a centre back panel cut on the fold of self fabric, two side back panels cut as a pair of self fabric, and two inverted pleat panels again cut as a pair from the wool.
It was important to pin and sew the wool sections to the centre back panel first, and then line up the side back panel with the pleat panel notches.
I also added in tailors tacks to the back panels, so that I wouldn’t lose track of where the vents were to start at the lower back / bottom area.
The front was made up of two panels. The jackets were double breasted and so crossed over at the centre front. This meant the centre front panel was wider and slanted on the one edge, while the side front panel was a lot narrower.
With the shaping of the fabric around JK’s boobs and tum to give her a lovely fitted look, it was important to get the right amount of ease in the front panel around the bust point. This required some perfect pinning, and real finger action when putting the fabric through the machine!
*Finger manipulation of fabric is a key element to successful sewing in my mind!*
With the front and back sections sewn together, I then stitched the shoulder seams.
There is always a little ease in the back shoulder, so again, it is necessary to use your fingers to manipulate and ease the front shoulder to fit and work nicely with the back shoulder.
Now that the shoulder seams were connected, I could attach the sleeves.
As the sleeves had small pleats at the shoulder tip, I had to stitch these in place first.
I then stitched a row of ease stitching along the sleeve cap, between the notches I had marked in. This is because there is always added ease in a sleeve cap, and the fabric again need to be worked to pop the sleeve in. *more finger manipulation action*
The trick with this it to tie a knot at one end of the stitch line – so you do need to leave quite long thread tails – and then pull one thread through to the other side – at the opposite end of the thread – so that both threads are on the same side of the sleeve. You then pull gently on one of the threads, to gather up the fabric. You need to work the gathers with your fingers, in order to space the ease around the notches. The effect this has is adding shape to the armhole rather than looking flat.
Once this step is complete, it is SUPER IMPORTANT to pin your sleeves in place. For some years – while a student – this is a step I would skip, and then bemoan the ugly shape of my sleeves. But just as pressing is very important to a professional finish, so too is using pins in the right way. It took me well over an hour to pin in four sleeves (two jackets) but it was worth it as the sleeves look amazing. And they were draped sleeves too, not even flat pattern drafted!
As the jackets were being constructed using the shirt construction technique, the side seams were only able to be closed once the sleeves had been stitched into place.
This is again where pinning is important, to make sure that the underarm seams correctly match up.
JK had asked to have small slits at the side seam hems, so I stitched as far as the notches only. We had talked about adding a binding to the slits, in the chosen tartan, but that was before the wool was decided upon, and with it fraying the way it did, I decided trying to cut bias binding strips to attach to the entire perimeter of both jackets would be madness.
With the pleats in the back sewn, we could see at the button fitting that the fabric of the pleats would gape when JK’s arms stretched out, but wouldn’t necessarily move back in. To rectify this, I edge stitched around the pleats on the right side of the fabric, pressed with good amounts of steam, and then stitched a diagonal line through the wool at the base of the fold to prevent them opening up too much. This allowed movement still, but stopped the fabric from major gape!
With the jackets being double breasted, and buttons to be added, a facing was essential. The tartan fabric was quite expensive, so I cut the facing in two parts.
The top section – close to the collar – was cut from the wool, and the lower facing section cut in self fabric and extended all the way down to the hemline.
As the collar would occasionally be worn open, it was a nice touch to have tartan on the top, so that it would be visible as the lapelled open.
The collars on both jackets were a lovely sight. I had perfectly matched up the orange stripe of the tartan to meet nicely at the centre front, a little touch that JK loved. She had asked for a stand collar, to sit closer to the neck rather than away. We faced it with the self fabric, so that the wool would not itch her neck.
Again, when sewing on a collar, pinning is super important. Matching the centre back notches, the shoulder line notches and the centre front notch too, is important.
A stand collar is attached by sewing the right side of the top collar to the right side of the neckline. The seam needs to be pressed and then all the seam allowance pressed up into the collar. The under collar is then pinned in place to the wrong side of the jacket neckline, and we ‘stitch in the ditch’ to attach it and catch the under collar edge. This ensures there is no visible top stitching along the right side of the neckline edge.
HEADSUP: When using this technique, you will need to snip into the seam allowance of the front, in order to get a nice clean collar and facing. I teach how to do this in my upcoming Snazzy Sewing Courses. Register your interest here!
Have you read this post on different collar types?
JK had asked for the cuffs to be in tartan too, with curves on the corners that matched the collar shaping, so these had to sit at the sop of the arm opening, not in line with the underarm seam. This meant the cuffs needed to be attached in the same way as the collar, which meant reinforcement stitching at that snip point.
Once the top cuffs were sewn in place, I again had to use plenty of pins to make sure that the under cuff was fitted perfectly around the sleeve hem. Then it was a case of stitching in the ditch again to secure the deal. I broke three machine needles on just the four cuffs, and admit to cursing loudly!
The finish on the cuffs was not the best, the wool did stretch out somewhat, but being that the stitching was hidden within the sleeve and not visible on the right side, it would work in the short term.
The vents at the back were matched, pressed and then stitched for a clean finish. This then made it easy to hand stitch the hem.
Yes, I hand stitched the hem! Only the teal jacket to be fair as time ran out and the brown had no issues when it came to pressing the fabric, so it had a nice sharp hem already, to be handstitched by JK.
I used a simple cross stitch on the hem, so that the fabric could still move slightly and would’t snag.
The reason for hand stitching? To reduce the visible top stitching on the jackets. We had successfully managed to get quite a clean finish.
This was where the trouble came in. I don’t do button holes for clients. Only on my own pieces. Why? I’ve had experience before of the button holes not being made in the right place by the button holer, and then getting the blame when it goes wrong. So I usually hand over the project to the client and send them to DM Buttons in London.
Or I do beautiful hand bound button holes, but there wasn’t the time for that.
With JKs jackets, we fitted her into the jackets, perfectly pinned in where the buttons would go, so we knew they’d be perfect and then headed to DM Buttons. The plan had been to have two button holes at the top near the collar bone, to catch the underside (double breasted remember) and then five more down the front opening, and fake button holes on the opposite side. However this wouldn’t work as the machines can only do so much, and they need to make the holes quite close to the edge of the fabric.
The option thrown up at us was to use poppers / press studs, which had been the fastening on JKs previous jackets. The colour was a match and although it hadn’t been in the plan, we went ahead and had press studs fitted.
The press studs were not great. For me, I hated them as it made the jackets jingle and I felt they then looked cheap. For JK it meant that the jacket now didn’t fit in the same way as it did when we were tucked away in the M&S changing room, pinning in the button hole locations.
During the whole process of making the jackets for JK I had my other half asking me why I was making them. He knew it wasn’t the best thing for me.
I was getting frustrated knowing that it was taking up time that I would have liked to have been working on The Creative Curator. I was worried that something would go wrong with the jackets, and I’d end up disappointing a friend. And I was also stressed with the timing having given up my studio at the start of the project, and now being unable to sew late into the night like I otherwise would have done.
It is hard living in a studio flat, with someone who needs his sleep more than I do! 😉
I also had unexpected work to fulfil as one of my boys came down very ill while his mum was out of the country. He’s my baby, and I ended up spending four whole days taking care of him.
Selfish Sewing Thoughts
On the positive side, I really loved using my tailoring skills, creating a made to measure item and focusing hard on that one project. I usually get bored easily and so have multiple projects on the go; this was a nice change!
Mostly though, the project taught me to stick with what I know. Don’t compromise yourself and your needs, for someone else, if your instincts are shouting ‘NO!’… It isn’t worth it. I could have lost a dear friend, and all because I didn’t want to say no and disappoint her. My takeaway from this is:
Yes, it is ok to take on paid commissions – just not for friends. It is easier to do business when there is no emotion involved… So in future, work for my friends will be done as personal projects – truly sewing selfishly – which would surely make me ‘not sew selfish’ right? 😉
Til next time!
PS: Do you consider yourself to be someone given to selfish sewing? Or do you enjoy sewing for others? Would you take on a paid commission for a friend? Let me know in the comments below!
RECOMMENDED READING: If this detailed construction post floated your boat, check out the Create Your Own Clothes Series. Part One is Deconstructing a sweater, Part Two Walks you through creating a pattern from the deconstructed sweater, while Part Three walks you through the making of the toile / muslin.
Want to join in the fashion creation fun? Grab my free sewing guides, patterns and weekly email update too!