Behind the Seams, October

Hello lovely readers! I am so happy to be back and blogging on a regular basis. October has been so jammed packed for me that I thought a round up of my Instagram would be an accurate showcase of my month. First things first, I finished my degree! I’ve just completed my postgraduate diploma in communication studies (public relations), meaning this is my first weekend off this month! Woohoo! I’m now on the job hunt and I’m keeping my ear close to the ground for exec PR roles. Ron Swanson’s tough looks motivated me to get though.

This month I was totally obsessed with my ranunculus. I took a rid-unculus amount of photos of them and unashamedly posted them all to Instagram. My obsession was so great that one night there was a storm and I was like “whoa better bring the ranunculus inside so it doesn’t get hurt”.

Recently I celebrated my 25th birthday with a 25-25-25 sale – 25% off all sales for the first 25 customers for my 25th birthday. This was the first sale I’ve had of this kind and I was overwhelmed by the response! I love all you fangirls! Like I say, I don’t do these sales very often at all and it was a tad spontaneous so the best way to find out about these in the future is to follow me on Facebook or Instagram. Next sale time: Unknown.

And… what else? OH YEAH! I managed to get my hands on some of this! If you’re not from NZ skip this one because it will have no bearing on you but if you ARE then ‘nuf said. Still have a hankering for some of this stuff? Lewis Road announces their delivery locations every morning on their Facebook page.

We’re heading into summer here in NZ so I squeezed in as many wears of my mauve merino Myrtle dress as I could. I also took selfies in the bathrooms!


#highonahillwasalonelygoatherd – yup I went to see The Sound of Music! I got a selfie outside the theatre at Giapo, which, in case you were wondering makes the best ice cream ever. If you aren’t following their Instagram I would *totes* recommend it. It is beautiful. This is my sister by the way.

In Dresses & Me news – I am now stocking Grainline Studio’s Scout Tee, Archer Shirt and I have the Alder Shirtdress back in stock (but it’s selling out SO quick!) Grainline is blowin’ me away with their popularity! I’m always interested to know which patterns you’d like to see at Dresses & Me. So if there’s something you have a hankering for just let me know here.


Lastly, I’m starting to think about my summer wardrobe. I have a gaping hole for light summer jackets (that aren’t blazers) and simple summer dresses. At the moment I’m thinking of making this combination below. I’m a tad skeptical as I bought the fabric from Martha’s Fabrics, which of course sells fabric for furnishings… Hmmmm will have to ponder on this one a bit longer before I cut into it.


That’s my October in a nutshell! What were your highlights?

The Body Issue

There are few things more devastating for a sewist than trying on a half made garment and being completely unable to join the packets together. The only thing more devastating than this is realising that no you haven’t got the seam allowances wrong, and yes you did check the sizes on the back of the envelope before you cut your pieces. So yes, I am 100% sure that I are not the same size I once was.

People that sew know their body measurements off the top of the heads. There is no getting around talking about bodies, because when you sew you need to talk about waist, hips, ease…  And there is no room for being all like ‘this shop’s sizes run very small’. It is what it is.

So when I attempted to try on my Alder Shirtdress mid-sew I was 100% floored when I discovered that I was no longer the Penny I once was. This is a shirtdress, the plackets would puckers. And before you suggest it yes, the side seams had already been overlocked.

But the thing I found the most upsetting from this whole experience was the camaraderie I found in the company of women. It was like I had joined a club, you hate you body? Oh yeah, I’ve been hating mine for years now. Women I barely knew were sharing their diets, exercise regimes and miscellaneous disappointments with the way they looked.

It was nice, at first, to be part of this club – but it is also disturbing. I don’t want to feel camaraderie with a group of people who hate their bodies – until very recently I’ve been perfectly fine with mine. These conversations should not be normal… But, there is always a but, it’s hard to deny that I spend that vast majority of my day sitting in front of a computer researching and writing essays. And, ok there are two buts, I am the first to admit that I blatantly use my asthma as an excuse to avoid exercise.

So what’s the point in telling my readers this? Because I don’t want to part of this club and far more importantly, I want to confront this issues head on. I need to get over it and realise that there are far worse things than going up a dress size or two. And, frankly, I know only I care how I look. But I do want you to know that there will be some fitness posts on my Instagram. Does this mean that I’m giving in to the club? I don’t think so. I think I’m going to carry on as I have done before – avoiding women’s magazines, diet fads and ‘style tips’ because before I bought into this culture I was perfectly happy. And I think I’d like to return to that state of affairs.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 8.50.29 pm

Fear of Squat

It’s Been a While, But I’ve Still Got It

I’ve been thinking – isn’t it sad that as soon as my life gets busy I stop doing the things I really enjoy? Let me tell you this – I have been BUSY! It’s important to get the essential things done but the fun things make life better – so here is a Belcarra Blouse by Sewaholic Patterns.


I’m currently on uni holidays so I’ve seized the moment and got sewing. I made this top, as well as cut out Muse Patterns’ Jenna Cardi and Grainline Studio’s Alder Shirtdress which I secretly think will go really nicely together! I tried taking some photos outside but it was SO SUNNY that I ended up with watering eyes. This is my level of commitment team! At least I know it’s nearly summer.


I made this blouse out of a silk-viscose blend. And as I was sewing it I wondered if it were meant to used for lining? Isn’t viscous normally a lining material, I wondered? Of course it was already too late by this stage as I had cut the fabric into a t-shirt, but even as I wear it now I’m still wondering… Anyway it feels lovely to wear and has a lovely loose drape so I’m not too bothered about it. Also, as 99% of the western world buys RTW clothes they wouldn’t recognise the print anyway so it will be our secret ok?


Side note – these are my favourite trousers-and-shoes combination at the moment. They’re both quite out of the box for me! The trousers are wet-look, super-skinny, super-stretchy jean-type-things. The shoes are black leather with chunky wooden heals. I’m quite fond of both of these pieces.


Notes for future Belcarras:

  • In this version I did not top stitch the cuffs. I think in the next edition this would be a nice detail.
  • I kept the sizing and shape as is (we all know Sewaholic Patterns are pear-shaped right?) I think I’ll keep my next on this way as I really like the having lots of ease on the waist. I think the shape looks nice. Length is also great for me.
  • This top is crying out for contrasting shoulder/ sleeve panels. I currently have some white crepe sitting lonesome in the fabric bookcase and I’m thinking of pairing it with golden shoulders. Too much? Try stop me!
  • Neck bias binding isn’t amazing but only ok-ish (very scientific categorising). This is an area for improvement…
  • Pattern placement: I gave the front and back panels a lot of thought and ensured the fabric design was centred. Bizarrely didn’t consider this at all when it came to matching at the sides. This happened with my Charlotte Skirt too. Alas, I think I need to slow down a bit and make sure to check these things next time. Having said that it’s only fellow sewists who notice these things or care! AMIRITE?


One more thing. Is it just me or does the neckline look really wide on this top? When I first tried it on I was like woah that is gonna slip and slide every where! But actually it’s fine. I haven’t had any issues and it frames my clavicles nicely!

Have you made the Belcarra yet? What did you think?

Myrtle in Mauve Merino

I’ve just completed sewing my Myrtle dress by Colette patterns. As it turns hands on my waist is my default pose so bear with me here in these photos…


As we’re in the middle of winter here in New Zealand I decided to make my Myrtle in a soft, light and slightly sheer merino wool. It gets cold, but not that cold in Auckland. Like whenever it gets below double digits I’m surprised. I bought this fabric at Nick’s fabrics (did you see they’re in Otara now?) a few years ago and made it into my first Renfrew, seen here.

Sans belt

I made several alterations to this pattern and changed the construction around a little. First off I did not self-line my front bodice. The front bodice piece is like two front bodice pieces stuck together at the neckline. It’s intended to be folded with right sides together and stitched at the armholes for a nice tidy finish. However, with my fabric being slightly sheer I thought it could look strange. Plus I did not have enough fabric to self-line the whole garment.


Instead I kept about 15cm of the lining, finishing the edges with my overlocker. I then attached the front and back at the shoulders, basted the shell and lining together along the armhole and doubled the edge over to finish.


The other big change I made was to the waist. The pattern suggests using a thick elastic and encasing it using the bodice lining – that I did not have. Due to the lightness of my fabric I decided that a thick, heavy elastic wouldn’t be the right match. Instead, I used a 1cm thick black elastic and stretched it out along the join of the bodice to skirt.


So that’s me and Myrtle. Next week I’ll tackle the Yaletown dress (and blouse) but let’s be honest – I’ll be making the dress. I’m defs a dress kinda gal. Have you sewn the Myrtle yet?


Charlotte, Revisited

Long, long ago in a land far away I posted this photos to my Instagram


And I’ve finally finished my second Charlotte skirt! (Here’s my first one)


As you can see its a lovely black, red and yellow wool tartan. I inherited this fabric from a colleague at my old job’s mother-in-law along with a hand full of other wool tartans, lining for Africa and zippers of all colours and lengths.


This was one of my first forays into tartan fabrics and matching seams. I did a great job of matching the horizontal lines … but alas didn’t think it through completely and mismatched the vertical stripes. What a fail right?! However, I’m an accentuate the positive kinda person and this fabric was free so its all good.


Confession: I have had some issues with how to style with this skirt. Because it’s high-waisted and I’m a busty lass I’m really struggling! If I wear something tight I look ridiculous, and if I wear something loose it goes all billow-y and poofy. I’m thinking I need some cropped tops … All suggestions greatly appreciated! The top I’m wearing here has lots of layers so it sort of looks cropped.


There isn’t a great deal more to say about this skirt except that I love it and feel pretty hipster-chic when I wear it.


Also – Project Indie is still open! If you are a sewist about to launch your line of patterns email us and we will hook you up!

My Favourite New Dress

Boom! I made a new dress!


Ok I’ll be the first to admit that this dress is not the most exciting thing you’ve ever seen right? But I’m having a bit of a sewing trough at the moment so I needed something super simple and very wearable as a pick me up. This was the perfect solution. The dress consists of only one front piece, one back piece and back and front neck facings – easy as. And bonus no closures. Feeling like you’ve heard this before? Yes, my Laurel is the same story. I’m having an easy to sew, easy to wear phase.


On the envelope this is a totally 80s looking pattern, New Look 6974. Does anyone know how old this pattern is? I can’t find the date on the pattern… The shoulders are suitably wide and the pattern suggests should pads, which I decided against. I also decided to shorten the dress by about 15cm as I’m only 5’2″. The dress goes in quite a lot on the hips and butt (perhaps a tad too tight), creating an inverted triangle shape tres 80s, oui? The pattern also comes with a super box-y blazer. But unless I’m wearing over-sized earrings and tonnes of blush I don’t think this dress looks particularly 80s at all. It just looks like a regular shift dress/ LBD.


My favourite thing about this dress is the fabric. It is a sort of faux suede. Does this fabric have a special name? Perhaps that sounds like I’m wearing a full-on leather dress but it really isn’t! It’s a tight weave fabric that’s almost like satin on the inside and a bit rough on the right side. Anyhoo it’s quite warm for our current Southern Hemisphere winter.


I love how versatile this dress is. I’ve worn it out in the evening with heals and a chunky gold necklace and to my internship with tights and boots. And now I’m about to head out in the New Zealand storm wearing my Minoru. Here’s the post from when I made it last year.


It’s been such a pleasure to throw a dress together so quickly. At certain stages I really enjoy the challenge of fittings and adjusting patterns to make them perfect for my body, like I did the By Hand London’s Georgia dress (blog post here). Do you enjoy the simple sewing or strive for a challenge?

Sarah of Sew Love

I’m delighted to tell you that today we have Sarah, eco-warrior, stylish sew-ist, entrepreneur and generally lovely person, on the blog. She has recently opened a sewing lounge in St Kevin’s Arcade, K Road. Without further ado ….

Hi Penny, thanks for having me over here to share with you the story of Sew Love! We are truly so lucky to have blogland to connect, share, learn, and become friends with like minded folk from all over the world. I ventured into this lovely world and launched Sew Love just over a year ago, so far it’s been pretty splendid.


‘Twas my wonderful mum who first taught me to sew and I broke most her needles on multi layered denim throughout high school. One day mum said to me ‘you’re not a real sewer until you sew from a pattern’ so I found a pattern and sat to it for the rest of the day – just to prove her I was REAL! I wore these shorts again just the other day, it is such a joy wearing something with a story, history & meaning.

Now I am ever so grateful she even took the time to keep her machine in working order and available to teach me on. This is something so many of my generation missed out on…from the 80s onwards it all was about fast fashion.


Its tough to think about that monster that is fast fashion. I cringe. Most people turn a blind eye and opt up the excuse that being eco is only for the rich. Being eco and ethical can be done on a budget too with up-cycling, and op shops just being the start. This is how I have been living and dressing myself for as many years as I can remember. Everything sewn with Sew Love is 2nd hand textiles: linens & offcuts from other projects. All my machines are 2nd hand too. I try to source all 2nd hand tools and equipment and currently seeking out a few quick unpicks but who gives them up?!?!

I launched Sew Love with the aim to encourage and inspire more conscious consumers and to reduce the amount of landfill on our earth. I hope to educate people about how clothing is made, how you might be able to mend something instead of throwing it ‘away’. I set myself up as a mobile sewing school that reaches out into the communities. The aim was to get resources and opportunities to people who don’t necessarily have the time, money or space to have their own sewing set up at home.


The family of machines and I have visited a number of community centres for sewing lounge days, and up-cycling courses. It has been a thrill seeing how excited people are after they made their first ever project. I also pop up at a few markets too, my favourite being First Thursdays an evening street festival on Kroad. It’s sew lovely to have a table full of people diving head first into the suitcases of colourful fabric scraps.


A highlight of the past year was being a part of the arts trail for Splore Festival in February. A small team and I set up the costume making and craft zone with workshops to pimp out tents, and festival get-ups like the incredibly popular fabric flower crowns. It was the most amazing place to sew, 10metres from the shoreline, and to the right was the main stage. Heaven!


Being mobile has been great. Rolly my amazing little Corolla hatch has been such a star. It never ceases to amaze me how much junk I can fit in that trunk! But continuously packing and unpacking takes it toll and I have always been dreaming of a more permanent space. A place that can keep the bunting up always, a place I can arrange the piles of 2nd hand fabrics, buttons and trims I have been hoarding. A place I can set up warm and friendly to welcome in everyone who wants to give sewing and creativity a go.


That dream I have had for many many years, finally has happened right now! It is very very exciting. Sew Love the sewing lounge, is popping up for three months in the quirky, creative, K-road precinct. Historically known for its grunge and red lights, and now that’s been blended with punk, vintage and creative arts. Sew Love fits right in so the locals have been telling me. There are sewing machines to rent per the hour, classes, a pattern library and vintage craft books to page over, oodles of 2nd hand textiles, and upcycled products to buy too. Alleluya (a café that has been going 20years strong) is right on our doorstep and you Peter lets you bring your tea and cake into our space to go alongside your stitching. What more could we wish for?!

I hope we can stay here longer than three months but it is genuinely up to the community to see whether theres a need and a want for this sort of thing, there’s nothing else like it here in NZ so I am quite literally trying this toile on for size. So far, for lack of any other words I just Sew Love biking to work every day, popping out my little sandwhich board, and sprucing the flowers, smiling and welcoming questions, crafters, and curious george’s peeking in the door.

Thank you so much Sarah for taking the time out to visit me on in the blogosphere – I know you are such a busy lady! If you are interested in finding out more about Sarah and Sew Love check out her website or just pop into the store at St Kevin’s Arcade, Karangahape Rd, Auckland. Also – I will be teaching a class at Sew Love called Sew a Simple Skirt with Penny. If you are interested get in touch and make a booking via email.

A Laurel, a Sale and a Chocolate Fish

Hello lovely sewists! I have been watching in awe as all the entries for the Monthly Stitch‘s competitions have rolled in. In case you’ve been living under a rock the Monthly Stitch have been hosting a month of competitions for Indie Pattern Month. Although this is the last week you still have four days to enter the last round – Indie Fan Girl – by submitting a post of of you wearing two patterns by the same designer. Also there are tonnes of prizes!


So… I made a dress! This is the Laurel by Colette. This pattern has been phenomenally popular despite it’s simplicity so I had to try it out. I was not disappointed. It only took me one night to put together (whilst binge watching Underage and Pregnant) and it required minimal adjustments.


I made this dress out of a thick double knit, synthetic/ wool blend by Kate Sylvester. The fabric is what ‘makes’ this dress for me. Because it’s a knit there’s enough stretch to avoid putting the zipper in the back as I can easily pull it over my head without it. But it’s pretty firm and essentially one-way stretch so it still has a bit of shape.


As you can see there are a few things that are not quite right about this dress. Namely the darts. They are too high on me. I had the same issue when I made the Bridgette dress (free pattern!) by Simple Sews. I need to get in the habit on doing FBAs and making muslins, however this dress is still an absolute staple. It’s such a simple style that I wore it with a blazer to work one day, and then with a leather jacket to a party that night.


In case you were wondering, I bought the brooch from the Salvation Army on Dominion Road and the hipster hat beongs to my sister. She is much cooler than me. So can anyone guess where I am? If you can comment below and I will send you a chocolate fish (for real!) Here’s a clue:


Also – as part of the Monthly Stitch‘s Indie Pattern Month I am offering 15% off all patterns in my store. This includes Sewaholic, Colette, Cake, Victory and By Hand London. Sale ends Monday 🙂


Project Indie

As part of Indie Pattern Month, The Monthly Stitch and Dresses & Me are running a contest to help one of you launch your own indie pattern brand through Project Indie.

We told you a little bit about it a couple of weeks back, and now – it’s time for some more details about what to do if you want to enter! (Exciting, right?!?!) (Well, we’re pretty excited about it all. 😉

We’re super passionate about indie designers – we love seeing all the ideas and creativity out there, and supporting emerging businesses. Here at The Monthly Stitch, we’re running Indie Pattern Month every June, to celebrate all the amazing indie pattern labels that are out there and encourage you all to try out a new indie label or two. Over at Dresses & Me, Penny is dedicated to stocking only indie designers, helping them to get their patterns to other corners of the world and helping all of us get our hands on their designs a bit more easily.

It seemed a natural step to us to collaborate to help support new labels with getting off the ground and getting their designs out there for us all to enjoy.

And so, Project Indie was born!

We thought long and hard about what to offer the winner. Since Project Indie is all about helping another indie label get started, we’ve pooled our knowledge and resources, and gotten a couple of other people on board to share their skills and knowledge as well, to put together a sort of support kit. Helping with some of the details of getting started – pattern testing, proof reading, logo design (if you don’t already have one), publicity, selling your pattern (via the Dresses & Me store), mentoring from a well-known indie designer (Kristiann from Victory Patterns), and helping make sure your website design is easy for customers to use and matches your brand. There will be people on hand with experience in graphic design, web design, usability, marketing, pattern testing, and kick-starting an indie label. And we’re all keen to share our knowledge and skills to help get your label off the ground!

Sounds pretty awesome, right?!

So, what do you need to do to enter Project Indie?

Well, first things first – you need to design and draft a pattern for a garment for an adult women.

Then you need to take that pattern and grade it, so it covers a size range of at least four sizes. You’ll also need to digitise it – put it into a PDF format so people can print it out on their home printers. And you’ll need some instructions too, so people know how to stitch it up.

Once you’ve got your pattern, you’ll need to get some photos of the finished garment on a real, live human being, so we can see what it looks like made up. You’ll also need some line art for it, so we can see the pattern’s lines. And of course, you’ll need a description and a name for it, too, so we (and your future customers!) can read about it and know what to call it.

Since it’s not just a pattern that we’re helping you to launch, but an entire indie label, you’ll also need a name for your label, and to have given some thought about what your label is about. What’s your design aesthetic? Who’s your target market?

Bundle all that up, and send it in to us by the end of July 2014, to enter the Project Indie contest!

Who can enter?

Pretty much anyone!

However, since Project Indie is all about helping someone launch a new indie label, you can’t have had a pattern published for profit before (however, if you’ve released a free pattern, you can still enter).

Aside from that, as long as you’ve met the requirements below and sent in your submission in time, you can enter. 🙂

Now, you may be wondering, how will we decide the winner?

The winner will be chosen based on two areas – how popular the pattern idea is, and how well executed the judges thing the pattern idea is.

We’ll figure out how popular a pattern is by putting all the Project Indie submissions up on The Monthly Stitch for everyone to vote for their favourite.

The rest will be assessed by a panel of judges (The Monthly Stitch editors (Kat, Mel and Juliet), Penny from Dresses & Me, and Kristiann from Victory Patterns).

Then we’ll combine the scores from both areas to find out who won!

What will the judges be looking for?

We’re going to be looking for a few things. Creativity, execution, and a strong business idea.

First up, let’s talk about creativity. We’re on the hunt for an exciting original design. A pattern that makes us think “Wow! That’s awesome! I want that in my wardrobe now!” Obviously, it’s got to be your own idea. (And if we see anyone who has essentially just copied another pattern, they will be disqualified. But you’re a creative bunch, so we’re not too worried about that happening. 😉 )

Execution covers a couple of areas. How well done is your PDF? Does it print nicely, does the layout make sense? What about the instructions – are they easy to read and to follow? Does the line art and the description give us a good sense of what the pattern is for? Can we clearly see what it looks like made up and worn?

And as for a strong business idea? What we’re looking for here is how well you know what direction you want to take. Have you given much thought about what your label is all about? About the designs you want to make in the future? About how you’d describe your label to other people?

Ok, I can do all that. How do I put in my entry for Project Indie?

Submissions must be emailed to by the end of 31 July 2014.

When you send in your submission, you need to include:

  • Your pattern, graded over at least four sizes, in a format that can be easily downloaded and easily printed on an at-home printer. We recommend you use a PDF format
  • Instructions (in English, however if you want to translate them into other languages as well go for it) for sewing up your design. Again, these need to be in a format that can be easily downloaded and printed on an at-home printer.
  • Line drawings of what your garment looks like. Make these look good and make sure they include the style lines – they’ll be what people use to help them decide whether they want to buy your pattern or not.
  • Images of your design, sewn up and modeled by a real human being. These images are what will attract your future customers to your design. Want some ideas of what makes a good photo of a finished garment? Have a look at some of your favourite indie labels and see what they’ve done.
  • A description of your design – this will be used to give potential customers more information about the style and help them decide whether to buy it
  • And some information for the judges – this can be in whatever format you like. It could be in your email, attached as a document or PDF, whatever works for you, as long as we can read it. In this should be:
    • The name of your indie label
    • The name of your design
    • A description about your label – what is your design aesthetic? Who is your target market? What’s your label all about?

The small print

  • The winner will be chosen through a combination of community vote and scores given by the judging panel. All entries will be posted on The Monthly Stitch in early August for readers to vote for who they’d like to win
  • The judging panel consists of the Monthly Stitch editors (Mel, Kat and Juliet), Penny from Dresses & Me, and Kristiann from Victory Patterns
  • The winner will be posted on The Monthly Stitch in August 2014, and contacted by email
  • The judges decision is final

Keen to take part? Is there anything else you’d like to know? Just email us and we’ll get back to you! or tweet me @pennyarrowsmith