Marbella/Alicia Combishort (Itch to Stitch Birthday Tour)

In the vast world of sewing blogs, this little corner is small fry. So I was pretty excited when Kennis invited me to participate in the Itch to Stitch Birthday Blog Tour. Celebrate a fab indie designer? Make something new? Give readers the chance to win a whole bunch of cool prizes? Yes, yes and yes!

Itch to Stitch Birthday Fun

The theme of the blog tour is “Hack an Itch to Stitch Pattern”. Now for anyone not familiar, pattern hacking is the act of modifying a pattern, either by tweaking it, adding new design elements or smooshing it together with a second pattern to create a glorious lovechild garment. I went for the latter.

My starting point was the Itch to Stitch Marbella dress, a chic pattern with interesting design lines – princess seams, front and back yokes and a pleated tulip skirt. I decided that for my hack I would use just the bodice and combine it with shorts to make a one-piece “playsuit”.

Side note: is anyone else a little creeped out by that as a term for grownup woman clothing? I have tried to make my peace with it, but it still feels uncomfortable. “Romper” is no better. The french call it a “combishort”, which I like much more. I feel like a woman in a combishort makes sensible decisions, runs efficient errands and has meaningful conversations, probably all with a Gauloise slung between two fingers. I think I might adopt that going forward (the term, not the chainsmoking). 

ANYWAY, I searched the interweb for a shorts pattern with pleats or darts that would allow me to continue the princess lines of the bodice and (hopefully) make it look like an intentional 1-piece, eventually settling on BlueGingerDoll’s Alicia shorts.

For fabric I went with this beautiful soft navy cotton covered in gold pineapples, part of my A/W fabric haul, bought on a recent trip home. I tried to be careful with pattern placement/matching but with all the curved seams and pleats and darts it was a little tricky. Since there was already a lot going on I didn’t add much in the way of trim, except along the line of the yoke. I’ve seen lots of lovely Marbellas where you can hardly tell there’s a yoke, but this seemed kind of a shame to me. It’s a feature of the design and honestly if I’m going to the trouble of cutting out extra pattern pieces, people should know dammit! So I stuck some superclassy gold pleather piping (previously seen here) along the front yoke seam. Yum.

Since this is a birthday party, I think I’m entitled to sing the praises of the host a little. Starting with the revolutionary Itch to Stitch approach to PDFs! Using the layers function, you can “switch on/off” as many sizes as you want. No more eye-boggling counting of lines! Hurray!! Equally creative is the approach to fit, as the Marbella comes with a choice of 4 different cup sizes. As someone firmly in the “curvy” camp, I alllllways have to do an FBA, or otherwise fiddle with fitting in the bust area. Not so with this pattern. I did make a couple of small alterations in other areas (nipped in the waist and took out a couple of small wedges from the back neckline) but the fit around the bust was perfect from the start. Double hurray!!

The shorts took a little more faff, to make them work for me. I have to say crotch adjustments still utterly mystify me. I would love to take a trouser-making course at some point and get to the bottom of it all (so to speak), but for now I just toile, adjust and repeat (aided by the internet). On this particular pair the crotch seam was crazy far back, so I added length to the back pattern piece… like, a lot of length… and it’s still not totally right… as a result I got weird pooling in the front, so I pinched that out and shortened the front crotch depth. I also added length to the shorts, top and bottom, to make them meet the bodice at my natural waist and give a little more leg coverage. Oh and I had to move the zip to the back seam for obvious access issues.

I also decided to make life more difficult by trying to achieve a totally clean finish on the inside. I think because the bodice is lined, I felt the shorts needed to step up too. Also once the thought popped in to my head I also just had to know whether it was possible. Can you french crotch seams? Can you insert an invisible zip into a french seam? The answer is yes on both counts. Jen at Grainline has a great tutorial on frenching curved seams. I think the key is to trim your allowance nice and fine after the first line of stitching, so there’s nothing there to cause wrinkle issues. Carolyn has a great guide on inserting an invisible zipper into a french seam. I am, as ever, so very grateful for the magical online sewist community.

I’m pretty happy with my hack. I really like how the lines blend from bodice to shorts, and I’m pleased with the fit I managed to achieve on the shorts. Irritatingly, despite my toiling, the bodice has ended up a little tight, but it’s not drastic. Certainly won’t stop me wearing this beauty.

SO I bet you’re wondering what else is going down as part of the Itch to Stitch birthday shenanigans, eh?? It’s pretty great, let me tell you:

Firstly, you should definitely check out all the other Itch to Stitch creations on the blog tour. There are a whooole heap of talented sewists participating:

Scruffy Badger Time | Call Ajaire | Wally and Grace | Sew Wrong
Bella Sunshine Designs | 
Seaside Notions | Made by Jaime
Sweet Little Chickadee | Inspinration | Friends Stitched Together
Stoney Sews | My Little Sewing Dreams | Allie J. | Love, Lucie
Creative Counselor | Girls in the Garden |  FABulous Home Sewn
Goddess of Sewing | Rebel & Malice | The Telltale Tasha
House of Estrela | Made by Sara | Sew Shelly Sew | Red Knits

Secondly, there is a great big megabunde of amazing PRIZES to be won from these sponsors (enter via Rafflecopter):

Itch to Stitch First Anniversary Sponsors

The Fabric Store – $100 Gift certificate, Elliott Berman Textiles – Fabric bundle from France & Italy, Craftsy – three online classes of your choice, Girl Charlee Fabrics – $25 Gift certificate, Indie Sew – $25 Gift certificate, UpCraft Club – $25 Gift certificate, Quarto Publishing Group USA – the SHIRTMAKING WORKBOOK by David Page Coffin

Thirdly: Each day of the blog tour, one of these featured designers will give away 2 patterns to a lucky winner:

Baste + GatherStraight Stitch DesignsMegan Nielsen Patterns,
Jamie ChristinaHey June HandmadeWardrobe by MeFilles á Maman

Simply follow Itch to Stitch’s blog to be in with a chance of winning one of these patterns!

And that’s about all from me. HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY ITCH TO STITCH!! Here’s to another year of awesome patternmaking adventure!! 🙂

Siobhan xx

Disclaimer, as I know this can be a point of huffy contention: I got the pattern for free but all opinions are my own 😉


Survey: Sewing and Consumerism

Morning readers!

I was recently invited to complete a survey on sewing habits and consumerism and I wanted to encourage you to do the same.

The research is being conducted at the University of Cambridge and is looking at ‘Sewing and Behaviour Change’ in relation to more sustainable approaches to clothing.

There is a whole tangle of issues around the clothing industry, from the wages and labour conditions of the people who make clothes, to what happens to clothing once we decide we don’t want it any more etc. Many of us are concerned by these issues, but it’s not always clear what the answers are. Research like this can hopefully help all of us (the clothes wearing/ buying/ making/ disposing masses) move forward and come up with sustainable solutions.

It’s a super-quick survey (10mins max I promise) and totally anonymous via the power of surveymonkey. It’s open to everyone (sewists and non-sewists) and at the end you have the option of entering a prize draw for the chance to win £50.

Spread the word!

Siobhan xx

Umutima Sewing Cooperative

Today I’m excited to be featuring one of Kigali’s most vibrant sewing cooperatives. Umutima (meaning “heart” in Kinyarwanda) was launched in 2013 and is a wonderful success story of women using textiles to grow a business and transform lives. I hope you enjoy getting to know this very special group of sewists as much as I did. If you’d like to buy any of the products featured, details can be found at the bottom of the post.

Friday 11 September 2015, Nyamirambo

Umutima is based at the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC), a small organisation providing education and training for local women. I arrive outside the Centre at lunchtime and pause outside awkwardly. I’ve arranged the visit in advance but I’m still anxious that I’m going to be in the way, holding up a busy working day. I step inside and anxiety melts away as I’m warmly greeted by Marie Aimee Umugeni, NWC president. Within minutes we’re sitting together on one of the shop sofas, chatting away about all things sewing-related. Marie Aimee is easy and fascinating to talk to: a motherly head of the NWC family and a keenly-focussed creative entrepreneur.

I ask her to tell me a bit about where it all started and she launches right in, a natural storyteller:

“NWC was offering sewing classes as part of its vocational training programme for women who didn’t have the opportunity to finish their education. Groups of women would come to the centre, learn how to use the sewing machine and then leave. Some managed to buy a machine and set up a business, but many could not. So in 2013 we decided to create a central hub, where women could come and work together on shared machines, and use their new skills.”

And so Umutima was born – initially a cooperative of six women, plus Monica Tabet, a development expert from Switzerland, who worked with them on design and branding. With several sewing cooperatives already in existence, the women brainstormed how they could use Kigali’s fabrics to create something new and fresh, different from what was being made elsewhere. Their first product was a baby blanket. Marie Aimee pulls out an example to show me:

“It’s quite simple,” she explains, “just a few pieces of fabric joined, but then hand-quilted with these very small rows of stitches. They took us a lot of practice in the beginning! We made enough blankets to participate in a Christmas bazaar that year, and we knew that was our moment. After that bazaar we would see if Umutima was going to fail, or if it could really be something. Lucky for us people loved them! They had never seen anything similar in Kigali. We came back and told the women – we have to go on! We have to make more! We sold them all!!”

Since then Umutima has grown in all kinds of ways. From six women there are now 28, aged between 18 and 56 and all paid a monthly wage. On the day I visit they are also supervising a young student, Jean-Paul, who is doing an internship as part of his vocational training.

Technology has advanced too. In the beginning the women all worked on manual, pedal-powered machines, but as the business grew, they were able to save up and buy several electric machines. With some additional donations they added four industrial-standard Jukis to the fleet, and even an overlocker, which Marie Aimee and I enthuse over together. “It’s a much better way to finish the seams” she nods, “especially on the clothes – much more professional”.

As we move around the sewing room, we stop to chat with some of the women working there. Bernadette shows me how all the sewing machines are still connected to the old pedal tables, and so can be operated manually when the power cuts out (as it often does). She laughs at my lack of pedal experience, “Electric machines are easier because pedalling takes more energy… but it’s not complicated, it’s like riding a bike!”.

The product line has developed too. Umutima now makes soft toys, children’s clothes and a wide range of homewares. “Paper patterns were an important step for us” Marie Aimee explains, “traditionally in Rwanda we sew using body measurements and everything is customised. But paper patterns allow us to make children’s clothes in a range of standard sizes, and to make soft toys that have the same shape each time.”

I ask where the design ideas come from and Marie Aimee says that Monica (the Swiss development expert) remains a crucial part of the Umutima family, especially in suggesting designs that might suit the western market. But all the women are encouraged to put forward their own designs too. “When someone suggests something and we add it to the collection, we name it after them.” She pulls an adorable toddler jumpsuit from the rack, “these are the Houssina pants!”

They also look for ways to take traditional crafts and reinvent them a little, by adding some Umutima personality. Basket-weaving, for example, is a well known Rwandan craft, and there are many cooperatives making beautiful baskets in different combinations of colours. Umutima work with a basket-weaving cooperative in Gatsata, but ask them to weave in just one natural colour. The baskets are then brought to Umutima and kitenge fabric is woven and wrapped into the structure. The result is simple, modern and totally unique.

Umutima’s professionalism and strong brand identity are noticeable throughout the store. Every item is neatly labelled with a branded pricetag and discreetly decorated with a small embroidered heart. Verena, a gifted hand-stitcher, shows us how she adds the embroidered hearts. Her favourite pieces to make are the table runners and cushion covers, both of which feature the hand quilting, which has also become something of an Umutima trademark.

As I come towards the end of my visit, we discuss what Umutima means for its women. Grace shares her thoughts: “I like coming here because I’m not alone. We work together and we share. It’s like a family.” Marie Aimee smiles and adds “It’s true. When someone has a baby it’s a huge thing, we all go together and take food. And the older women coach the younger ones. The hand quilting can be hard to learn, and the younger girls find it frustrating, they don’t have the patience. But the older women encourage them on and soon everybody can do it… “

So what does the future hold for Umutima? Marie Aimee shares their vision: “We would love to keep on growing” she says, “a bigger space, with more machines. We want to be able to include more women who never had a chance to finish their education. Here at Umutima they can make an income that can pay their rent, feed their families and send their children to school, and at the same time be part of a community. It is everything to them.”

With my lunchbreak undeniably over, I reluctantly say my goodbyes and make a quick purchase – a fabulous zebra-covered bag I just can’t leave behind. I step out of the centre into the sunshine, filled with the positive energy of this creative, enterprising group of women.


Feeling inspired to shop?? If you are based in or passing through Kigali, this is easy peasy. You can find Umutima’s products in their shop at Nyamirambo Women’s Centre and now also at Inzora rooftop Cafe.

For those further afield, you can browse Umutima’s catalogue on their webpage or check out all their newest creations on the NWC Facebook page. If you would like to ask questions or place an order you can email them – nwcoffice(at)gmail(dot)com.

And that’s about all folks! I know this was a loooooong post (thanks for sticking with) but hopefully it was an interesting one too. I’d like to do a few more features like this going forward, focussing on the role of fabric and textile crafts in different communities. It’s still early days so please feel free to leave feedback and suggestions in the comments below, I’d love to know what you think.

Happy weekend

Siobhan xx

Autumnal Plans and Swiss Resources

It’s September already! For me this is an exciting month as I’ll be heading back to Switzerland for a week of happy holidays. It’s been several months since I saw the Mr and I am so looking forward to being home with him for a little bit. I can’t wait to sit by the lake, admire the mountains, eat pumpkin everything and yeah, it’s going to be great.

Obviously I thought I’d also use the opportunity to stock up on fabrics. I love my waxprints (as evidenced here and here), but variety is the spice of life and if I’m honest my comfiest (and therefore most worn) garments are all in either the drapey or stretchy family, neither of which are available in Kigali. So a couple of weeks ago I started pinning fabrics I liked the look of, trying to imagine them as various projects. Yesterday I went back to review the board as a whole and decide what to order, and I was pretty surprised:

pinterest aw15

Wha?? Muted colours?? Simple graphic prints?? Whose board is this?? I honestly wasn’t aware I was selecting such a limited range, I was just pinning what I liked… I think it must be an innate autumnal impulse kicking in, despite the fact that autumn doesn’t happen here. We do get a season change – dry to rainy – but it’s not like there are leaves turning brown or shortening days (equatorial living means 12 hours of sunshine year round). Anyway, an autumnal palate is clearly what I’m craving so I’m just going to roll with it.

Since Geneva lacks decent bricks-and-mortar fabric shops, I decided to order everything online. Browsing around I was pleasantly surprised by how much the (virtual) Swiss fabric scene has evolved since I left earlier this year. Especially the availability of beautiful designer fabrics such as Nani Iro and Atelier Brunette. They’re not cheap, but ordering them from Swiss suppliers means I won’t get hit with a painful import tax on delivery. In particular I was impressed by these three online stores:

tissuandcocollage2Details: Established this year (2015) and based in Western Switzerland, Tissu & Co is an online-only store in English and French. Fabric lines include Atelier Brunette, Liberty of London, Lotta Jansdotta and Michael Miller. Pattern lines include Sewaholic, Thread Theory and Tilly and the Buttons. What I loved: The owner Ana’s customer service!! I had a couple of technical issues when I placed my first order but Ana was lightning quick in responding and solving them. Also if you subscribe to the newsletter you get a 5% discount, always appreciated! My fabric pick: This lovely deep grey quilted jersey, for a snugly Laurelhurst cardigan.

Details: Pom-pon is a bricks-and-mortar shop in Zurich, with an impressive online store. The site is in German only, but but don’t let put you off – Google Chrome autotranslate is your friend! Fabric lines include Cotton and Steel, April Rhodes and Melody Miller. Pattern lines include Deer and Doe, Merchant and Mills and an intriguing German brand called “Canape”. What I loved: The search/browsing functions. Fabric can be easily filtered by type, pattern, designer etc. My fabric pick: This nautical denim, covered in tiny anchors, for a Brumby skirt.

jesuisacroquercollage2Details: Another newcomer established this year (2015), Je suis à croquer is an online-only store in English, French, German and Italian. Fabric lines include Nani Iro, Liberty of London and Riley Blake. No patterns, but a nice little haberdashery section with bias bindings and pipings. What I loved: The name! Literally translated it means “I am chewable”… but it’s used to mean something is adorable or cute. My fabric pick: This Nani Iro double gauze – Mountain Views in blue. I’ve loved it since I first saw it and was so chuffed to find a Swiss stockist. This one is for another Southport dress.

So that’s some of my shopping for A/W 2015. How about you? Do your tastes in fabric change with the seasons or do you have more of a year-round signature style? What fabrics are you eyeing up at the moment?

Siobhan xx

P.s. You can find more sewing resources for Switzerland (plus France, the UK and now Kigali) in the Sewdirectory.


Instagram Announcement

Evening friends!

This is just a quick post to tell you I’ve got a shiny new Instagram account:


Why the transition? I realised I was trying to do two incompatible things with one account: 1) have a private space for work/life photos and 2) have a public space for sew/craft projects. Either family and friends were being spammed with a bazillion dresses, or makers/designers/sewists I tagged couldn’t see what I wanted to share, or both. Fails on all fronts, BUT NO MORE!!

So come follow me at @just.keep.sewing and together we can skip into a sunset of mutual sewing geekery. Happy days.

Siobhan xx


I’m sharing a little Rwanda love today: I was lucky enough to have some of my family here a few weeks ago, so I took time off and we went on a roadtrip together. We saw hills and volcanoes, tea plantations and coffee washing stations, Africa’s biggest montane forest and beautiful lake Kivu stretching out to DRC. This really is the most incredible country.

At the end of the trip, we went to see the gorillas. We got up with the sun and trekked up through the forest for a couple of hours before arriving at the clearing where our group was hanging out. It was mid-morning so they were lazing around, snoozing, playing and sleepily munching on something that smelt like wet celery. It felt like we’d just stepped into their home, but the guides had this amazing way of constantly communicating with them, making low calming grunts and getting low grunts back – all ok here. It was incredibly special to be so close these huge, beautiful animals and I couldn’t stop noticing the hands and feet and eyes, which are so like our own.

I loved their poses too. That last one is total swimwear magazine material right?? Anyway, I won’t bore you with the 800 other photos but suffice it to say that Rwanda is incredible and if you ever get a chance to visit, you really should.

Sewing-wise, it’s been a fairly busy month. I am battling with the Grainline tiny pocket tank, which I so want to be a wardrobe staple, but the fit just does not want to play ball… We’re taking some time apart while I re-assess what the issue might be through extensive googling/lurking other sewist bloggers… In happier news I’ve got another BHL Kim to share. Remember I bought some special waxprint fabric a few weeks ago? For a long-distance joint project? No? No matter, you can read all about it over on The Monthly Stitch 🙂

Siobhan xx

Summer Southport Dress

Way back in February, pre-Kigali, M and I took a little trip to Paris. Having been several times before, we didn’t plan much. Our only scheduled activities were brunch at The Pancake Sisters (sooooo good) and a Studio Ghibli exhibition at Le Musée Art Ludique. Apart from that we just wandered and ate and shopped and explored and it was glorious. I was restrained in my fabric-buying, I just wanted one really special piece, a memento of our lovely weekend. I found it at Anna Ka Bazarre. This beautiful, supersoft Atelier Brunette cotton batiste, covered in tiny triangles.

What then followed were six months of being too scared to cut in to such lovely fabric, instead saving it for a pattern that was juuuuust right. In the end I settled on the Southport Dress, a newish pattern from True Bias.

The Southport dress is beautifully drafted, with very well-written instructions. It looks like a simple make but there are lots of lovely little details, like bar tacks across the pockets, which make it more of a challenge. I took my time, enjoying the process, working through each step carefully. The only frustration I had was inserting the bindings. I think my mistake was to use shop-bought cotton binding, which was considerably more substantial/stiff than the lovely fluid batiste of my dress. I went carefully, understitched, clipped, pressed etc. But I still got gathers and puckers and had to unpick bits at least 4 times, and they still don’t lie totally flat. I’m hoping they might soften a bit over time/washes, but we shall see. Takeaway nugget – if in doubt, make your own binding, fool.

Anyway, binding niggles aside, I am in LOVE with this dress. It is every bit as breezy and summery as I’d envisaged. I didn’t make any major fit alterations, I just graded between sizes based on my measurements and took out some length to account for my stumpy legs. I’m really happy with the fit, but be aware there is a lot of gathering, so stick with something lightweight fabric-wise. The buttons came from my new favourite haberdashery cupoard/shop in Town. I added an extra one because I was worried about potential gaping, but this wasn’t really necessary.

The fabric is just dreamy to wear. So soft, so flowy. I now want it in every other pattern/colourway. Next time I’m in Paris…

Siobhan xx

P.s. These photos may look all sweetness and light, but I had to stop mid-shoot to stamp on the most humungous cockroach, which was scuttling towards a crack under the back door. Keeping it real yo.

Waxprint Washi Dress

I’m not going to preface all my makes this year with “wax print” I promise, but the alliteration was just too much to ignore. Before we start, I’ve put a few more (better) photos of the Kigali fabric stalls on my shopping post, because I was back there again last weekend, this time for an exciting long-distance team project on The Monthly Stitch (expect more on that in August).


For my second make with my new wax print stash, I went with a pattern I bought a while back but had yet to make up – the Washi Dress by Made by Rae. It has this unusual cutout neckline, and ruching at the back to give a flattering fit, without buttons or zips (WIN).

Construction was fairly straightforward. I made a muslin and decided to add an FBA to give the ladies more room. I came a cropper however when I got to the ruching part and realised I didn’t have any elastic thread. I was so sure I had some, but clearly I either never did or just didn’t pack it or whatever. Either way, a crucial element was missing and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find something so niche in Kigali. BOO.

In the end I decided to improvise by zigzagging strips of thin elastic instead. I would say this worked pretty well. The busy print disguises the zigzag stitching and the overall gathered effect is pretty similar. However, the gathers are considerably more firm than I think they would be with elastic thread, leading to a little, erm, squishing in the front.

Apart from that though, I’m happy with this dress. I like how the the silhouette is accentuated by the stiffness of the cotton. Love those StarTrek-esque cap sleeves in particular.

I definitely want to try this pattern again, with the elastic thread next time (ordered for delivery via my next guests). I also downloaded the expansion pack. I think the sleeved version would look lovely in something soft and billowy. Ah sew-scheming, my favourite pastime…

Siobhan xx


Small-but-Mighty Kigali Haberdashery

I was in Town last weekend and snapped some photos of this tiny haberdasher’s. From the street it’s a just a little doorway, with a few trims and supplies bursting out around the frame.

You have to wiggle inside, being careful not to elbow over stacks of stock (or other customers). It’s a long, thin cupboard of a place, but well worth the effort. Every usable space is crammed with supplies.

If you’re Kigali-based and needing thread, zips (regular or invisible), buttons, binding, trims, ribbons etc. This is the place!

You can find the haberdasher’s at number 42 KN 2 St. The same street as the fabric stalls.

Siobhan xx