Love at first stitch // book review + giveaway

Tilly's book*I was sent a copy of Love at First Stitch free of charge and all opinions, egregious sewing blunders, and mischievous plots are my own.

From Love at First Stitch by Tilly Walnes, © 2014 by Tilly Walnes.
Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston,

When I first started sewing I made a lot of pretty hysterical errors.

One time I tried to replicate a Star Wars dress that was originally made in some sort of textured crepe using a very lofty knit fabric just because the color was similar and the texture looked the same. I assumed that the grainline was something anal people bothered with and would cut things wherever they fit at whatever angle they fit and then scoff at the yardage suggestions. Oh, and I never ever finished an entire edge intentionally. There was a phase when I sewed exclusively with my mom’s serger and edges were just sort of finished by default but otherwise everything was just sort of open and happily fraying away on the inside. I’m also pretty sure I lost most of the extra presser feet from my first sewing machine because I thought they were extraneous and unnecessary.

Tilly's book

Who am I kidding, I still wouldn’t call myself any kind of sewing guru. Up until a few months ago I was still sewing buttonholes and zippers by hand to avoid learning how to do it on the machine.

In defense of babby Ping, I didn’t exactly have someone ready and available 24/7 to help me figure things out the right way and I was extremely determined to make these garments, right way or not.

Tilly's book

Anyway, the point is, ohmylord I wish I had Tilly’s book back then.

Things I was clueless about as a beginning seamstress that Tilly’s Book would’ve enlightened me about:

-Backstitching: Never did this. Always wondered why my seams would come apart. Sometimes I would fray check the ends of my seams in desperation. (Am I sharing too much?)

-Choosing fabric: I had SO much trouble with this. Like that time I tried making Kaylee’s Shindig dress out of cotton batiste. YEAH. That happened.

-Seam allowances: Another thing I assumed was just a helpful suggestion. I would sew Big4 patterns (usually 5/8″ seams) with about a 3/8″ seam and then wonder why their patterns were always so big on me. -headdesk-

-Facings: Those extra pieces were just optional. I never used them. Like actually never.

-Inserting sleeves: For some reason I completely missed the memo on gathering the top of the sleeve piece slightly before inserting it into the armhole so I would inevitably end up chopping off about 1/2″ off the top of the sleeve and then wondering why my shoulders were too tight.

Yes. I’m just going to go hide in a corner now.

Tilly's book

The other thing I love about Tilly’s philosophy with this book is that she’s included several patterns meant to help a beginning seamstress learn how to sew without being stuck making pillowcases and curtains.

Tilly's book

The Clemence skirt is so cute and such a simple way to get started with sewing and learning the basics. And don’t get me started on the Mimi blouse. And yes, this aesthetic may not be your cup of tea but I love getting people to start sewing and I love the idea of encouraging people to jump right in sewing things they’ll wear and love. (Yes, I was one of those kids whose moms made them sew a million straight lines on scrap fabric before being allowed to touch the fun stuff, why do you ask?)

Tilly's book

As someone who’s been sewing for many years, this book wouldn’t necessarily be at the top of my need-to-have list, but I’ve been showing it to friends who have expressed an interest in sewing as a means of illustrating how accessible these skills are. (No but seriously, my sister is visiting next week and is being dragged to sewing club where I’ve instructed the Crafty Foxes to convert her. I will also be leaving this book around her vicinity accidentally on purpose. Hee.)

Tilly's book
In my extremely biased opinion, this is my favorite page.

Anyway, on to the fun part: Tilly’s book has finally come to the US and she generously sent me an extra copy of her book to give away to a Peneloping reader!

Just comment below telling me a sewing technique you’ve avoided like the plague or one you’d like to learn. Make sure you include your email so you can be contacted about receiving your prize!

This giveaway is open to US readers only (sorry, international friends!) and will be open until midnight Monday, October 27th. The winner will be announced shortly after.



Yona coat

Yona coat

Yona coat

Yona coat

Yona coat

Yona coat

Yona coat
outfit 1 – coat: self-made, pattern here* // dress: self-made, blogged here // shoes: Swedish Hasbeens

outfit 2 – same coat // jeans: self-made, pattern here // shoes: Minnetonka

*I received this pattern free of charge from Named and all thoughts, opinions, anecdotes, and sewing mishaps are my own.

Guys, I’m on a coat high here. This Yona is my second coat in two weeks and we’re only halfway through October.

I made this coat coming off a several-week Jamie Jeans streak (hah, who am I kidding? I’ve got two more in the works), during which I had my hand held gently through the entire process due to a highly detailed, highly helpful Flickr tutorial. I was entirely spoiled and not at all used to the coat-making process enough that I could just sort of figure things out as I went along. I pored over the written instructions with the few illustrations of steps and painstakingly did exactly as I was asked. There wasn’t even a sew along! Usually I am useless without a sew along. I only screwed up a few times (e.g. I forgot to include the collar in the neckline seam..) and one thing I could not for the life of me figure out was how to sew the bottom of the sleeve (the wrist area) to the lining. That kind of coat lining origami was beyond me so I just handstitched it and so far it’s holding up fine.

Anyway the point is, this is not a difficult project. It’s not the simplest thing ever but it’s easier to put together than the Anise and the instructions do a great job of telling you what to do. And I made it in a day. If you don’t count the 40min the next morning I spent doing the hem.

I knew when I saw this coat that I wanted it to be a mottled-ish charcoal colored wool and I wanted to wear it unbelted. I wanted it to be oversized and snuggly. I found the fabric and lining at Sewfisticated for cheap so I guess technically this is a very wearable muslin.

I’m SO happy with how it turned out. I sewed a size 34 but I think I might even go up a size next time, at least on the bottom half since the top fits great but the bottom is a bit snug when I pull it closed. I wasn’t sure how the length would be so I added 2″ but I ended up removing it since it’s actually a great length as it is. I guess since I ended up chopping off the extra length I made it pretty much exactly as instructed. The only thing I did add was I stitched a layer of muslin to the wool for an extra layer and for stretching-out-prevention. I only added it to the two front and two back pieces, omitting it from the front facing and the sleeve pieces.

Now if I could just find some huge adorable buttons to stick on.

Yay coats!



Black and white V8815

Black and white V8815
top: Vogue 8815 // shorts: American Eagle 

I have three favorite things about this pattern.

1) It legit takes about twenty minutes to put together.
2) It works great with heavier knits with less stretch (I’ve used ponte both times) even though it was drafted for wovens (you just have to take in the seams a bit or go down a size. Let’s guess which route Ms Lazypants over here took.)
3) Every time I wear one to sewing club everyone’s all “Is that 8815?” which is just fun.

And that’s not even getting into the fact that throwing this on with a pair of skinny jeans makes for a cute outfit that even looks like you tried.


An axillary beast

Colette Anise

Colette Anise

Colette Anise

Colette Anise

coat: self-made, pattern here // jeans: self-made, pattern here // top: on the blog soon! // shoes: Swedish Hasbeens

I have recently become coat obsessed. I blame Sonja’s coat post from a few weeks ago. I think it’s my way of coping with the sadness of summer being over. Although technically it was 80 degrees this weekend so we’ll see about that.

Anyway, ever since my blazer fiasco last year I’ve been a little hesitant to try anything remotedly bagged or specially lined or tailored. Then for some reason a few weeks ago I decided I needed an Anise and I needed it now. I’d made a first attempt and it had failed spectacularly due to a series of unfortunate decisions. First I bought a wool that was way too lightweight and drapey. Then I decided to compensate by using the stiffest interfacing I could find and getting some weirdly stiff satin for the lining. This resulted in Cardboard Coat.

This time around I used a nice heavy Melton wool and some poly kitties as lining. It’s funny how things work out when you use the right weights of fabric.

I sewed the smallest size and didn’t do much alteration to the pattern other than adding a whopping 4″ to the length. I am not kidding about my long torso. The fit is ok except the shoulders are the tiniest bit tight if I wear much more than a shirt underneath and ohmylord the armpits are tiny. I was griping at sewing club about Colette patterns giving me a complex about my beastly armpits. So next time I’ll go up a size and lower the arm-thingy by an inch at least. (Not sure why I didn’t think to do it this time considering I had to do the same thing with the Laurel and the Sorbetto.) I think I’ll also do some more practice on the bound buttonholes because they’re pulling a bit on that side of the coat.

Other coats I’m drooling over:

-Named is quickly becoming one of my favorites thanks to the Jamie Jeans and this lovely coat. In fact if you saw on Instagram I sort of made this one in one day. It will make it to blogland soonishly.

-The Talea coat from Burdastyle has literally been in my queue for about seven years, waiting for me to be competent enough to be able to make it. I rediscovered it the other day and I think it might be time.

-I think this double breasted boyfriendy look is what I was going for when I made the Anise. I love how the Anise turned out but it’s a very different fit than what I was expecting. Which is silly because “cropped with a huge peter pan collar” doesn’t exactly scream “boyfriendy”.



(Sidenote: I just realized my post title makes it sound like I have monsters living in my armpits. Whoops.)

de Nîmes

Jamie Jeans + Archer
Jamie Jeans + Archer
Jamie Jeans + Archer
Jamie Jeans + Archertop: self-made, pattern here // jeans: self-made, pattern here // shoes: Swedish Hasbeens

For a while now I’ve wanted to have a mostly handmade wardrobe. I wanted to be able to look down at my outfit and know that I made most of it. A happy percentage for my ego was about 80%. That meant I wore a lot of dresses and leggings because making actual jeans would of course be impossible. People don’t make jeans. Jeans come out of machines ready-made. Fairies are likely involved.

And then I discovered the joys of squats and deadlifts and pretty soon all of my jeans were too small in the butt and upper leg area (including my favorite pair of Paiges, sad!). This briefly prompted an interest in the Barbell Apparel Kickstarter until I remembered that I learned to sew so that I don’t have to pay over $100 for single garments. I spent about two weeks reading every single pattern review of jeans on the internet and decided that the Jamie Jeans pattern would be a good one to start with. My two fears were finding the right fabric and getting the fit to be flattering.

I had no idea where to start fabric-wise. I ended up ordering 5 different denims from and then emailing Named Patterns out of sheer desperation. Laura from Named wrote me back with some super helpful advice that I’m posting here (with permission):

“Most of the women’s skinny jeans are made of light weight denim, meaning 12 oz or less, and have approximately 1-4% elastan/lycra. If you want to make the jeans very fitted, I would suggest choosing a 8 – 12 oz denim, with about 2% of elastan. A stretch percentage of 10-15% is just enough, as very stretchy denims that have more than 2% of elastan are not very durable – they will feel nice and comfy at first, but become baggy quite soon, as the elastan fibers will wear off faster than the cotton. Basically, the heavier the denim the more durable it is, and same goes for the stretch, the more stretchy, the more fragile. These are just a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing denim, because jeans are usually something that you will wear almost every day, and if you make the effort of sewing a pair, you will definitely want them to last as long as possible :)

An 8 oz denim with 10% stretch sounds all right to me, it could be a little heavier too, perhaps 10 oz for added durability. As I said, I wouldn’t suggest anything with more than 2%. The Jamie jeans have some negative ease though, and they are meant to be fitted, so in any case it’s necessary to have some stretch.”

For my first pair of jeans I used this fabric, which is sadly no longer available. At 12.5oz it’s a little heavier than Laura suggests but it worked out great and made a sturdy pair of jeans that were still stretchy and comfy as skinny jeans. They’re a little too heavy to be summer jeans but in the winter the thickness would be perfect. The Named instructions were decent enough but what I pored over religiously through the whole process was this Flickr tutorial that I found on Scruffy Badger’s Jamie review post.

The problem was that I didn’t like where they sat on my waist. My super long torso meant that they were just a smidge too high to be regular jeans and a smidge too low to be actual high waisted jeans. I ended up cutting off about an inch under the waistband all the way around, except I forgot to take this into consideration with the width of the actual waistband so I ended up with a pair of jeans that fits great all the way up to the waistband, which is constrictingly tight. I think I can salvage them by just cutting a longer waistband but by this time I needed to move away from this project.

This was before I added the button closure.

For my second pair I decided to do something a little more summery. I bought this fabric in white and decided to make a pair of white jeans that I would then dip dye. I used 100% white cotton thread so the thread would dye too and it turned out pretty well! The one thing that was a bit annoying was that I didn’t actual wear them around until after I’d dyed them and they stretched out a bit and some of the undyed white stitching showed through. If I were to do this again I’d wear white jeans around for a day before dyeing them. This fabric felt much lighter but the stretch doesn’t seem to have as much recovery as the other pair, which is a bit annoying.

I made them the exact same way as the first pair except with an adjusted waistband. Sadly I threw these in the wash with a pair of denim shorts that bled so there is some weird blotchiness on top. Luckily they hadn’t turned out as dark as I had wanted so I had wanted to redye them anyway.

My third pair is very nearly perfect! I used a random denim I found at Joann’s (I think it was 8.5 or 9.5oz with 2% stretch). I took out a wedge at the top of the center back seam, trimmed an inch off the top before adding an appropriately sized waistband. I forgot that Named patterns have a 3/8″ seam allowance so I’m pretty sure I sewed these up with a 5/8″ seam, but it worked out because I remember having to take in the seams a bit in my first pair so these were the perfect size. They did stretch out a bit with wearing but I threw them in the dryer once (which I normally never do with jeans) and since then they’ve become the perfect size!

One thing I would do differently on the third pair is that I used cotton on the inside of the waistband instead of using denim. I found the waistband of the first pair (made of 12.5oz denim) slightly too constricting and thick and wanted to try using cotton instead. I forgot the actual reason for doing so and did it even though this fabric was more lightweight, which resulted in a flimsier waistband than I would like. Also the fabric was not the nicest and although it’s softened up with multiple washes, it was a bit scratchy at first.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that jeans are totally doable! The only supplies I bought that I’d never heard of where the jeans buttons (I wandered into Grey’s and asked Sarah “Do you have the button thingies that go on jeans?” and she was like “Here are 5 different kinds.”) and jeans topstitching thread. (Don’t laugh. I thought you just bought gold thread and maybe used the triple stitch button on your sewing machine.) The other thing that was absolutely indispensable in making my topstitching nice was the edgestitching foot I bought recently. It actually made topstitching fun rather than a perilous journey of sweat.

I’m currently working on my 4th pair in an unlabeled denim from Sew Low that feels around 9oz with maybe about 15% stretch. I’m trying something a little different with this one and using a dark thread for topstitching instead of the traditional gold. Next I want to do a light wash pair but I’m having some trouble finding a nice light shade of blue that isn’t weird.

Yay jeans!

Oh and I FINALLY finished my poor abandoned dotted Archer. I had set it aside because I’d done something wrong and was too demoralized to try and fixed it and then it ended up just sitting in my closet for over a year. Once I’d picked it up again I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong and it took me all of about two hours to finish it. Wherps.