Quilting Cotton Curtains

So, you think you can sew and are wondering if it’s a good idea to try making curtains out of quilting cotton?  Well if you ask me, based on my hair-raising experience of doing just that, I’d give you my typical sit-on-the-fence rounded answer: yes and no.

Yes, it’s a good idea if you’re

a) young, or

b) strapped for cash, or

c) unsure of how long you’re going to be staying in your current place.  Made-to-measure curtain don’t travel well, though you can take them with you and re-use the fabric for other projects.

d) Or if despite your advancing years you find that your taste in furnishings definitely isn’t turning towards the traditional as everyone said that it would.  A year ago, when I started looking for curtain fabric, I told a friend I had trouble finding something for my bedroom that I liked  She directed me towards Laura Ashley saying, “It’s not as bad as you think, you’ll be surprised!”  So I listened, popped in and ran out moments later, screaming and waving hands in the air. 

It wasn’t difficult to find lovely, expensive fabric.  Furnishings shops had books and books of samples and very boring it was too flipping through them 🙄  When I picked a few favourites, like the Designers Guild sample on the right, they varied in price range from £36 a metre to over £100 per metre.  We needed 13….   

So, we turned to quilting cotton, searching online from the comfort of having bums on the sofa and the telly on.  Bliss!  We wanted a fabric that  matched the love-at-first-sight bedroom lampshade we’ve had for years (from Lush).  It also had to be cheerful and not block out the morning sunshine on our south-east facing window.  Finally, we both had to like it…. (We didn’t dare ask the kids for their opinion!)  Here to There in Blue from Frumble Fabrics matched the criteria and was within budget.

While making the curtains, I did have moments of wonder about whether or not I was actually going mad….  It was hard: making the panels with a vertical as well as a horizontal repeat, and all without a walking foot (never again).  I had to trim off lots: these aren’t quite fat quarters but seem too nice throw away.  Any ideas what to do with them?  They’re on the grain or crossgrain but too small for bias.  

I bought cheap curtain lining from Rolls and Rems and added little parcels of curtain weights wrapped in fabric, which look like ravioli, to the inside of hems at the corners and where the panels join.  And I bought “curtain tidies”: it’s not a good idea to cut off the surplus cord in case you have to ungather the curtain for adjustments (please, NO! Not again..). 

Total cost: well under £200.

But do the curtains “hang beautifully”? 

Er, they’re alright.  Not great.  The right side is better.  That could be due either to my relative inexperience in making curtains or maybe the fault is in the grain of the cheaper fabric, which admittedly appeared ok. 

No, it’s me. 

Or, is the reason why furnishing fabric is so expensive because it’s perfect and other fabrics often aren’t?  Let me know if you have experience of this.  I’ll be making more curtains soon.

In the meantime, I’ll be using this gem of a tip a friend gave me for sorting out those sides when they’re looking a bit …. er, wavy:

Tailoring at Morley College

Pocket Flap and Wonky Mouth

Apparently, it takes around 180 hours to make a bespoke tailored jacket.  The course ‘Tailoring for Men and Women’, which I’ve just finished at Morley College, teaches the basics in 3 hours of every Tuesday for 11 weeks.  Using a combination of three tailoring methods – custom, machine and fusible – students produce a half-jacket sample including pockets, canvas (the bit that doesn’t show but acts as a kind of skeleton), sleeves with shoulders pads, lining and buttonholes.  Gulp!

And no, mine isn’t quite finished… 

But here’s the first attempt at a pocket.  Practice makes perfect, eh?

I’d been looking for a course like this for some time.  Although being self-taught has served me fine when it comes to dressmaking, I’d imagined tailoring to be a dark art, not something you can pick up using blogs and books alone.  I enrolled with some trepidation: the course stipulated that intermediate sewing skills were essential.  Were mine up to scratch?   Would  I lag behind or get confused by terminology (“er, Miss, what is a whipstitch?!”).  Will I be exposed as not knowing my arse from my shaped elbow?!

I arrived to a full class and a mixture: mostly of sewing enthusiasts looking to take their skills to a next level, a couple of fashion students, a couple of professionals including a wardrobe mistress and a textile expert who sells her work at craft fairs.  Our tutor, Claudette Davis-Bonnick, a tailor and pattern cutter of great experience, explained that tailoring is about building structure into all the important places.  But you begin with a quality 100% wool that can be shrunken and stretched as necessary.  The way you then handle this fabric and press it is just as important as the way you cut and sew it.  Think molly-coddling, not throwing it around like a pizza dough!

As the course progressed to the practical, Claudette gave many tips and explanations as to why things are done a particular way.  This was an aspect to the course I very much valued.  Not only do you benefit from a wealth of someone else’s experience, I personally find that when someone backs up their method with a reason, the message gets imprinted in my memory so that I hardly need to take notes.  For example, I’d always assumed that on a shoulder pad, one end is pretty much the same as the other.  In fact, in a typical, semi-circular shoulder pad, there is a flatter, pointy end like the leg of a croissant and a  more rounded, plump end like that of a Cornish pasty (I’m starving, can you tell?!).  The elongated end goes on the back, the plump bit goes at the front.  It’s plump because its job is to fill in the hollow of the shoulder!

I’m missing the course already.  I loved being a student again, especially as Morley has a bustling, stimulating environment like of the colleges of youth!  In the cafeteria, I was introduced to Sweet Potato Pakora Sarnies: I’m thinking of re-enrolling just to get me some more of them!  And I’ll really miss the College library.  It has a well-stocked fashion section where I was able to get my mitts on textbooks I’d been reading about for ages in other blogs. 

If you can get to Waterloo, I hope you too try some of Morley’s Fashion courses.  There’s everything: corsages, corsetry, costume, even a Pattern Magic course (Jane reviewed it here).  My class was next door to Modern Bridal and Couture Evening Wear course which we tried to spy on through the door glass.  When I gatecrashed, one of the students, Suzan, kindly allowed me to photograph her perfectly fitted, flawlessly made dress (from own pattern and Liberty fabric).  

Thanks to my fellow students for allowing me to take pics of their work-in-progress.  And wasn’t it fun to be able to chat sewing?!

Now, if someone can just point me in the direction of carrying on alone.  Do you have tailoring books or blogs that you recommend?  Or is it just like dressmaking in that you start off a bit rubbish and get better with practice?


Bloody your hands on a cactus tree,

wipe it on your dress and send it to me.”

The Pixies, Cactus

Cactus, Levi 921, Hush Puppies

Soon as I first laid eyes on this superfine lawn with a photograph-like print of cactus, I was reminded of that Pixies song from the brilliant album I still love so much.  I’d spot it every time I went to one of Jeff’s fabric shows.  It never seemed to diminish on its bolt.  I’d be all over it, thinking, “Nice, but what kind of person would wear cacti all over themselves?!”.

And it gradually dawned, “Er, me….” 

The Pattern: Colette Laurel, redrafted with a scooped neck and a Peter Pan collar.  For drafting the collar, I followed the instructions in my Adele Margolis ‘Primer’ but here’s a similar tutorial.

The inspiration: this lovely Laurel contest winner in silk.

The cost: £8 for one metre of fabric, £3 for a concealed zip, £3 for bias binding, thread and cord  = £16

A great wardrobe filler though I probably won’t be getting too many hugs in it.

Celebrity Dress Death

My daughter thinks that the woman on the pattern envelope for  Amy Butler ‘Lotus’ is a vampire.  I think it’s actually Amy Butler, laughing triumphantly at having got the whole world sewing again.  I first became aware of this company a few years ago when John Lewis began stocking their fabrics in an otherwise tired and drab haberdashery department.  Since then, this section of the store has enjoyed something of a revival and I always imagine that Butler’s inspiring fabrics and zingy marketing are to some extent to be thanked for that.  

Last year, a friend made a beautiful and flattering version of the Lotus dress and, thinking I’d get similarly lucky, I asked to try out her pattern.  It came with two warnings.  With the cold summer that we’d had in 2012, my friend said she hadn’t got to wear her dress that much.  Also, she warned that at the corners of the neckline, which are slightly less than 90°, the lining had a tendency to roll outwards.  With these in mind, I drafted longer sleeves and put corded piping along the neckline so that the piping keeps the lining hidden away (the idea for the latter came from one of the Lotus reviews by 3 Hours Past.) 

I found a very fine Liberty needlecord at Classic Textiles (44 Goldhawk Road, £5.50 a metre) and some matching lining which feels velvety, silky and cotton-like all at the same time but what it is I don’t know!  It came from Unique Fabrics (28 Goldhawk Road).  This dress was gonna be perfect for those days when it’s windy and cold but there are flowers everywhere (so it must be summer….)

The dress was easy and quick to make till I decided it needed a series of  nip’n’tucks at the princess and waist seams to make it more flattering.  I’m not sure all that adjustment has helped.  The header picture is the best of at least a hundred photos I had taken.  Some were so bad that after I downloaded them onto my laptop, it died.  “It’s the dress, it makes you look twice the weight you are!” my husband said.  I had to pause and think awhile, wondering if the comment was as insulting as I’d first thought!  I put the dress on over some jeans and Converse – the kind of practical, mummy way I’d intended to wear it – but DH’s slow head-shaking made me jump out of them PDQ!

So what went wrong?  Well, you tell me.  Did I draft the sleeves bad?  Is the fabric/lining too thick?  Is the trapezium-skirt shape a no-no on me?  Shall I wear it, dammit?! 

BTW, when a gust of wind knocked the dummy in the dress down, I actually smirked: