Knitting · Making · Sewing · Uncategorized

Caring for Handmade Clothes

I spend a lot of time watching DIY clothing videos on YouTube and one thing always just baffles me. Do these people not wash their clothes? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great looking cute in a picture, but if I’m going to spend my time and money making something I want it to last.

Upcycled Clothes

This is where my bafflement comes from. I’m not the biggest fan of fabric glue. I realize it comes in handy, and some stuff just plain needs it. However, if I can sew something I pick that 100% of the time. You don’t have to worry about glue spilling, it’s sturdier, and you can fix it easily. Also, fabric glue is never as cheap as a needle and thread. While yes, fabric glue is washable, it still makes me nervous washing it.

As for raw seams, it’s true that some knits don’t need finished edges. When I made my bridesmaid’s dresses I kept the edges raw. I think it really depends on the fabric. If it’s a stockinette knit it will curl and a hem just makes it lie flat- especially after washing. Looser knits will unravel if they’re not hemmed. Woven fabric will just fray like crazy. Sometimes that’s what you want- see every distressed jean ever.

If it’s a t-shirt type upcycle that has no raw hems I’ll throw it in the dryer. Anything else I like to hang dry. If I have a distressed jean I’ll throw it in the machine and hang dry, and if I have a woven with a frayed edge, like my blanket scarf, I’ll handwash it.

Like I mentioned in my post about dyeing jeans, wash stuff with black for the first five or so washes or until you’re 100% sure there’s nothing that’s going to bleed out.

Sewing from Scratch

Prewashing fabric is not optional. Sometimes fabrics can be coated with a stain repellent, wrinkle remover, fade repellent, or really anything. I’m not opposed to the coating of fabric- it’s important to protect the fabric before you buy it, but it can throw the fabric completely off grain. You know when you’re wearing a t-shirt or tank top and the side seam keeps wiggling and migrating? That’s the result of something being off grain. It looks super unprofessional and, most importantly, is really, really annoying to wear. Nothing’s worse than spending hours making something only to have it change completely after its first wash. Also, fabric shops tend not to be immaculately clean places so it’s nice to start with something fresh.

I try to avoid dry cleaning because the chemicals creep me out and it’s expensive, but sometimes it’s inevitable. If your fabric is a dry clean only type of thing, e.g. silk or wool, I find it’s good to cut some squares (I like a 10cm x 10cm) and see what they can do. I’ll hand wash a square, throw a square in the machine for a load, and maybe one in the dryer just to see what happens. Keeping the squares consistent allows me to see the shrink rate and compare the colour fading and how the fabric feels. Most of the time handwashing works just fine and I can prewash like that. If dry cleaning is necessary it’s more than worth the extra cost to bring that big bolt in.

Fabric issues aside I find both quality hand stitching and machine stitching do just fine in a washing machine. I tend to keep hand sewn stuff out of the dryer if I can because the dryer just isn’t good for your clothes.

Hand Knits

Honestly, I’m low key disgusting and never really wash my knits. To be fair, I don’t really make sweaters so it’s not a super big deal. When I do need to wash things, it’s always hand wash. I don’t care what the yarn label says about the machine, Knitting takes too long to try anything else.

I think the main thing to remember is that in all cases, the dryer is evil.

Go forth and launder!


Making · Sewing · Uncategorized

The Big Four

When you start sewing more you hear a lot about the “big four”. It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what that meant.

To be fair, as a kid my sewing education was a bit limited. My Mom isn’t bad at sewing, actually, she can be quite good. But, she was a bit out of practice. I also took quilting lessons and was super excited to take textiles in high school. Unfortunately, the teacher was super old fashioned and not always the nicest or most helpful. When I enrolled in a fashion program for post-secondary the sewing classes I had been promised never came. I focused mostly on refashioning old clothes and didn’t know anything other than the patterns for sale at the fabric shop existed.

Just for clarity that it took me far too long to find: The big four is really the big two. It encompasses Simplicity Creative Group– which includes Simplicity, New Look, and Burda; and McCall’s- a.k.a McCall’s Group: Butterick, Vogue, and Kwik Sew. I think the big four moniker comes from McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity.

I can’t speak too much about independent patterns. I just don’t have that much experience sewing with them. However; I can safely say there are more than a few things to look out for when it comes to our big supergroup friends.


First things first, you can’t sew a pattern you don’t have. McCall’s and Simplicity are dabbling in digital downloads but otherwise, these are physical patterns you go to a store and buy, or order the tangible product online. I believe in the States most stores stock one or both groups. Simplicity seems to have pulled out of Canada a few years back. I could only find Burda patterns at Dressew, but it’s been a while so I can’t say if that’s still the case. Simplicity eluded me a bit as the patterns tended to be expensive and shipping to Canada was, as always, a nightmare.

McCall’s was a bit easier. I could always find them in the nicer fabric shops. They also tend to go on sale very often and did bulk shipping to Canada- $25 for 20 patterns. Even with the exchange rate, it was still pretty okay price wise.

I haven’t been able to find out what the standard is in Ireland, but the Simplicity EU link leads me to literally all the patterns together.

Basically, if you like big four patterns don’t move internationally.

It’ll do your head in.


One of the benefits of the big four is that they have a reputation for being cheaper than independent patterns. I’m not sure that’s always the case, the listed prices run high, however; I’ve never met a single person who paid the price on the envelope. The benefit of the big four is that if you’re patient a sale will come. It might take a minute, but it will be there. Whether it’s through their direct site or one of their stockists. Shop around for the best deal.

Physical Product: 

You’ll get an envelope, instructions, and the pattern on thin tissue paper. Once you unfold the paper you will need an origami genius to get it back in there. I usually just place all the parts in a freezer bag.

The tissue rips super easily so I trace all my patterns onto other paper both for sturdiness and so I can keep the graded nest. Also, if I want to lengthen, shorten, or full-on change anything it’s ten times easier on real paper.

The Instructions: 

There’s just as much love as there is hate for big four instructions. These companies have huge research teams. These patterns are theoretically tested multiple times. There’s literally no excuse for a mistake in these patterns. But… there sometimes is. Sometimes things are just explained in ways that are overcomplicated or just plain strange. The good thing about the big four being so prominent is that there is most likely a plethora of people who have sewn the pattern before. A lot of patterns even have youtube sew-a-long’s. If there’s a problem with a big four pattern give it six months and not only will you know what it is, but you’ll also have multiple examples of how to fix it.


Ease gets it own special mention because it’s such a prolific big four problem. For some odd, unknown reason big four patterns have just… a ridiculous amount of ease. This is great for when you want to feel a little bit thin, but bad for when you spend hours sewing something that you want to wear and look good in. I usually buy fabric and notions for the size the envelope says I am, but then measure the actual pattern pieces when deciding a size. If you’re using really nice fabric I’d definitely suggest a mock-up. I like to use a nice, but not as nice as the final fabric and make a muslin I can wear.


There’s definitely a mass market appeal when it comes to the big four. Sometimes they even try to be downright trendy, and they’re definitely better than they were fifteen years ago. As you browse through patterns you may start to notice something, well, truly baffling. I understand not everybody has the same personal style and my style is not right, and someone else’s is not wrong. I’m not trying to yuck anyone’s yum here. That said, I will never understand some of the fabric choices these companies make.

Sometimes it’s simply me thinking it’s an ugly fabric, but a lot of the time it’s also a fabric choice that doesn’t showcase the nice design details. For example, if there’s a lot of ruffle details, maybe a print isn’t the best choice? Sometimes you look at colour choices and feel a bit off kilter. I feel like a lot of the time they work against pattern features instead of with them.

The biggest thing you can do to make clothes you really like with big four patterns- and any pattern really- is learning how to read line drawings. I got formal training in doing it, but comparing sewn garments to a pattern envelope will get you so very far.

I mean, sewing is really one of those annoying things in life where you just have to practice, and big four patterns are a great place to get it.