Monday, 7 March 2016

Mimi Blouse in Liberty, and some thoughts on 'Love at First Stitch'


In the quest for a nice vintage button up blouse I came across Tilly and the Button's Mimi blouse, from the book Love at First Stitch. I liked the unusual collar, and the gathering at the yoke, and decided I would make it when I found out my local library had the book.
The blouse was a very straight forward make. I cut a size three, as I do with the Mathilde blouse, and found the fit spot on. I quite like how the pattern comes with built in hip shaping! My one minor complaint is with the sleeves. I swapped out the sleeve pattern for M6696, but I think I need to redraft the armhole as the sleeves are a touch tight.

 The fabric is Liberty Carline in red. I bought around 5-6m of this at a fabric market in Sydney almost two years ago. It's the gift that keeps on giving: this blouse, a half finished full skirted 1950s dress, and so much yardage left over I am unsure what to do with it. I used small green buttons from the stash, and sewed them on with red thread for contrast.

Photo credit goes to my lovely friend Miriam who snapped this for me at uni after a coffee date. She calls it "1950's florals meet industry"

 I thought I'd also give a little book review of Love at First Stitch, as what I can find on line is overwhelming positive, and I have some reservations about it. Firstly, I think it's a very decent book for beginners. I gave it a good read through, and Tilly is very clear with her instructions. I also like how it builds on skills with each project. Each of the patterns looks good, and not tacky, though the Mimi is the only one I am going to make.

Now onto my dislikes:
1. The book design. I really hate the cover. The pastels are way too pale and everything looks washed out. There's no strong colour focus and if I'd seen this on a shelf I would not have picked it up. The entire book design is the very dreamy pastels, and feels like a girly art film, including Tilly blowing bubble gum.

2. Tilly's writing style. Whilst I feel it's very clear for beginners instructions wise, a lot of things annoyed me. She constantly scatters French phrases throughout, in a very cutesy "I love French pastries, striped tops and the Eiffel Tower" way. It adds nothing to the book, and comes across as very twitty. She is also not concise. When she introduces French seams, she gives a good explanation, but then every time she suggests using one in construction, she reiterates the entire technique, every single time. I felt this was deliberately dumbing down the book; we are adults, we can flick and cross reference. I also found the "Make it a Lifestyle" sections quite silly, especially "How to behave in a fabric shop". I would assume fabric shop etiquette is exactly the same as other shops, and this is something we learn as children.

3. Beginner mentality. This is not as much a criticism of Love at First Stitch than of Tilly's brand as a whole. Her market caters exclusively to beginner sewers. In and of itself this isn't a problem, there's obviously a market niche, but this often leads to dumbing down, hand holding and "oh my everything is hard" mentality. My dressmaking skills are mostly self taught (though I have been sewing for many more years than I've been dressmaking) and once you know the basics, there are a wealth of resources, online and in books to grow your skills. I feel Tilly's technique is to set herself up as the guru of sewing, and her handholding instructions that she overcharges for is what sets her apart. Case in point, her latest pattern is an elasticised waist dirndl skirt, basically the pattern is a rectangle, for £12.50. According to her it's worth it for the instructions. When these kind of skirts are free tutorials all over the web, and could be made in an afternoon by a six year old girl, I can only think of the saying "a fool and their money are easily parted." Of course Tilly isn't the only sewing related person on the web to cater to the "sewing is so hard" group, but I feel she emulates most of issues with it. There seems to be a general fear of the "Big 4" sewing pattern companies. Yes, their pattern art is awful, and you usually have to size down due to ease, but their instructions are not sparse if  you know how to think for yourself and look up things online.


4.  Lack of substance. The French post modernist philosopher, Baudrillard came up with the concept of hyper reality. This states that what is "real" becomes lost in the modern world behind a facade of marketing and style over substance. I would not have much of a problem with Tilly's patterns if I felt there was substance in them. What she has done is taken the most basic sort of patterns, and dressed them up with pretty pictures, colours and a marketing facade that lets the consumer feel they are buying into a lifestyle. The patterns themselves are basic; in the case of Miette, which is ever 1970's wrap skirt ever; or downright bad:  Francoise, Coco and Bettine seem to be poorly drafted, and often quite frumpy, but for some reason people kept lapping up these patterns. If they'd been released by Simplicity or Burda, no one would have bought them. Tilly's brand has become something people buy because it's "Tilly and the Buttons", not because it's good in and of itself. The other thing that gets to me about Tilly's lack of substance is the dumbing down of her blog over the years. I began to follow Tilly before she commercialised, and enjoyed her personal sewing projects. Then, after she started releasing her own patterns I have barely seen her sew anything that is not part of her marketing; there seems to be one item in the last two years. Part of me wonders if Tilly only got into sewing as a marketing opportunity, rather than a hobby that then grew into a business. (For more dumbing down of patterns see Colette's Seamwork patterns, versus their original offerings). Though I know she caters to beginning sewers, I feel there needs to be more substance and variety in offerings, because developing in a hobby should involve growing skills, and making interesting things, that don't involve hand holding, and move beyond being swayed by pretty pictures and marketing.

What do I want from online sewing resources? I want more complex offerings across the board, I want people who design vintage inspired patterns complete with the amazing details and construction techniques of the originals. I want the decline of fad patterns that everyone makes and swoons over. We sew to break out of the world of trends and styles, but so often I see this take over online.
I'm really interested to know what you think. Tell me what you think about Indie patterns. Is it all style over substance? How do you pick what you sew; does marketing suck you in, or do you use line drawings, and browse online to see what others have made, as I do? What do you want to see more, or less of online?

{I am sorry about the random font changes, I have no idea how it has happened, as it does not show up in the draft}
 

 

51 comments:

  1. Wow this is a really passionate post!
    I am a total sucker for marketing, I know I am but the more I am sewing (and I have to point out, this is not that much) and readying sewing blogs and scrutinising patterns (as my stash grows) I do notice how indie brands seem to be dumbing down a lot of their patterns. I have made and own quite a few Tilly patterns, I cannot wait to sew up Coco - this will fit in my wardrobe perfectly, and I know I will wear it. I really appreciate clothes that are wearable, everyday. But I think her new skirt for the price is ridiculous, if this was a free pattern then fair play but £12.50 is extortionate for 'Possibly the easiest sewing pattern in the world'.
    I think most bloggers that have turned pattern makers have moved away from what made their blog popular in the first place, and that is their actual sewing.
    Cashmerette is a wonderful sewer and blogger, and I always found the curvy girls style amazing yet she hasn't blogged an item of clothing since beginning of January!
    I found this post refreshing to read an honest review rather than a sponsored post (totally sick of seeing them!!)
    p.s. have you read the Get of my internet website? Can get wayyy too bitchy but a lot of your views above are echoed A LOT! Kristy xx

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    1. Sorry another quick point - I think Sew Over It patterns are on brand but not cutesy or simplified! I think Lisa has really got the balance right - and I don't mind seeing a lot of the same patterns from her personal sewing, she uses fabric perfectly while getting her personality across

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    2. Thanks so much for your reply :) I've been wanting to write this post for months, then had the blog photos ready the same week as the new skirt pattern, and wrote this on the bus in a burst of annoyance! I think the Coco would work quite well, it's the funnel neck that turns me off. Yes, I really don't like it when the blog becomes all marketing and none of the original, it's happened a lot of the time. And sponsored posts really annoy me. the ethics around them is really interesting- how do you know it's a fair review? I lurk on GOMI a fair bit, I find the craft discussions there to be really good. And Sew Over It, I love their patterns. They seem to me one of the best indies around, though I haven't tried any.

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    3. There definitely will not be a funnel neck on my version (whenever I get around to it!)
      Who knows if they are fair but people seem to veer off of their usual style lines to do pattern testing/reviewing, I understand wanting to help someone out but I really wouldn't want the hassle if it is something I would never wear!

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  2. Hmm. I only really know of Tilly from when she was a contestant on 'Great British Sewing Bee' (which she didn't win). As a non-sewer, something simple but promising nice results would probably appeal to me, though I think I'd be more likely to pick up Gertie's book as I like Gertie's style, and could work out how to make an elasticated dirndl for myself.

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    1. Thanks for your comment :) I think 'Love at First Stitch' would definitely be a good jumping off point if you were learning to sew, but there are also plenty of other resources that don't dumb it down quite the same

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  3. This post echoed a lot of my own thoughts from when I saw the new Tilly and the Buttons skirt pattern. £12.50 for an elasticated waist skirt is obscene. And I was thinking the same thing about how by all means aim your patterns at beginners but what about the people whose skills have grown and want something more. I have Love at First Stitch (mainly for Megan and Mimi) and the Coco dress but none of her patterns since then have really appealed to me.

    I think people are very hesitant to criticise any of the big Indie pattern companies because the person behind them is much more visible so it feels more mean than it does to criticise the Big 4.

    The smattering of French doesn't bother me too much when Tilly does it as it's always been her thing and she lived in France but when other members of her team to it, to be "on brand" it really grates on me.

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    1. I think it is that personal element that does make people hesitate, but I think it's so important to be able to disconnect the person from the brand. The conflation of the two can create a weird modern market ideal

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  4. I totally agree with what you're writing!

    I don't like the idea that people who sew think they are also able to design proper/interesting/well drafted patterns.

    I often see very simple designs with a lot of fitting issues.

    I don't consider myself a beginner so I totally skipped Tilly's book. Indeed it's a lot of marketing with almost no substance.

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    1. Oops, I wrote this in a hurry. I didn't see I started all my sentences with 'I' until I submitted my comment.

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    2. Haha, that's okay :) Sewing and commercial drafting are very different skills, aand I think a lot of people have not grasped this

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  5. Your blouse is really lovely and the print is just gorgeous. I can't believe you've got so much of it to still play with!
    I'm not a fan of the whole cutesy concept of Tilly and the Button's brand but then it's clearly not aimed at me.

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    1. Thanks Cate! I think a matching blouse skirt and dress may be a bit too much

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  6. Far be it from me to criticise a successful businesswoman, as Ms Walnes certainly is, but I will feel free to criticise the qualities of the wares she peddles when I get otherwise-sensible young women knocking on my door, almost in tears because they shelled out for expensive fabric and a horrible overpriced pattern on the promise that every beginner can make a lovely dress - Bettine.
    I am all for encouraging beginners at sewing, but rectangles of paper for £12.50? That's a scam, not encoutagement.

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    1. She obviously knows what she is doing business wise. On the sewing front though it is very much a sense of false encouragement, it helps no one in the end

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  7. Fantastic post - I'm a GOMI lurker too, and totally agree on the dumbing down of patterns. It feels like those of us who have been sewing for some time now and are looking for something more challenging are being ignored by the pattern companies in favour of easy beginner patterns (that are probably much easier to draft). I'm a fan of Thread Theory - their patterns are fantastically drafted and can be made more challenging, eg the series on tailoring their peacoat pattern. Wish they had more women's patterns though!). Never bought a Tilly pattern myself so I can't comment on the quality of her drafting, but I do find the French on the blog grating!

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    1. I would love more interesting patterns, but then I remember my large pattern stash as is. Thread Theory is definitely not my style, but their offerings always look good

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  8. Hear! Hear!
    I totally agree with you about Tilly's patterns (and Seamwork). It's delightfully refreshing to read a non-swooning/gushing/fangirl opinion, so thank you!
    I do like to sprinkle a good amount of easy, simple, I fear 'fad' patterns into the mix of what I make, in between more complicated projects, but I also like to read about interesting sewing projects and more advanced techniques for me to aspire to, and do not appreciate the general dumbing-down that we're seeing so much of.

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    1. I try to do a mix of simple and complicated (though my general tastes are probably more everyday-fancy), but yes, I love reading about people's advanced projects and techniques; at the moment it's giving me courage to tackle my first coat

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  9. I totally agree. I've never purchased a Tilly pattern bc I already have a sizable vintage pattern collection, as well as being an intermediate seamstress. I liked her at first, but I stopped reading after it became apparent she was never going to sew anything other than her own patterns.
    I've been very disappointed in Colette as well. Seamwork is a great idea, but the patterns in the regular line don't deliver details anymore. It's like their whole line became Seamwork. How does a company release a winter dress without a sleeve option?

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    1. I think there's a general dearth of good winter dresses, both in patterns and RTW.

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  10. I'm happy there are indie patternmakers out there, but I, a 36-year-old professional, am just not in their target market. I don't want to wear dirndl skirts or knit tshirt skater dresses. I'm also not a beginner, and I want to sew things that challenge me in new ways beyond seam finishes and using slippery fabric. Add to that the fact that I'm pretty happy with the Big 4 and don't have to spend $15 on a pattern -- I'm just not a good customer for the indie companies.

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    1. I seem to like indies more in theory than practice as well. Most of them seem to fall into the same general pattern types.

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  11. Oh the French! I'm so glad I'm not the only one irritated by it. I used to be a keen member of "team Tilly" - I love twee things and vintage and pastels. But I find her patterns boring and all her blog posts these days are trying to sell me something not to mention basic and boring.

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    1. Yes! Sometimes those little annoying things can irritate the most. A the beginning I could have been a good Tilly customer; almost everything I wear is vintage and floral, but then it veered off into some marketing dreamworld

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  12. Here here!
    I totally agree with what you have written. I looked at the book because it was recommended by a friend but I found it well, irritating for exactly the reasons you've discussed.

    I like looking at garments people make on their blogs but when it comes to sewing for myself I will only make things I will wear, I try not to get suck into marketing ploys.

    The only indie pattern I have tried was collete's lady grey which was described as intermediate (apparently because it had "so many pieces") but was a simple sew. It could have been greatly improved and earned its intermediate status by employing some basic tailoring techniques.

    The hand holding is good for getting people into sewing but without upping the difficulty people are unlikely to improve and continue sewing.

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    1. I can imagine how annoying that would be! Especially for a jacket, you'd want to learn the tailoring. I think I'd get rather bored if I was constantly making the same old beginner patterns, I need variety

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  13. I'm in agreement with you. It doesn't work for me personally, but I'm not a beginner and I'm not inexperienced and I'm not remotely attracted to the aesthetic. I admire her business head - to be able to get people to part with £12.50 for a rectangular sheet of paper is genius, pure genius. However I've serious reservations about her products. If she was smart, she'd get a trained pattern cutter employed and have them do the drafting and grading. If she was smart she'd have an experienced seamstress sew her patterns up, testing them for fit, wearability and in the process, developing the instructions along the way. Having seen Tilly advise people to attach a knitted fabric skirt to a knitted fabric top with a straight stitch (hello, popping seams), I lost any faith that she knew anything but the absolute basics herself. Marketing/business - 8 out of 10 (she was a 9 but she's left me questioning her cleverness with that last pattern). Product quality - 2 out of 10. I'm feeling generous.

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    1. Yes! The cutesy pastels etc would not irk me half so much if the product was decent. I think this is symptomatic of a much wider problem where products become all about the marketing, often with increasingly poor quality

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  14. I'm not into Tilly's "overgrown toddler" aesthetic at all. And the thing that annoys me about the 'beginner niche' is that SO FEW people remain beginners for long.

    While it's hard to strictly categorize sewing skills -- there's so much to learn and life is markedly different if you're only sewing well behaved cotton fabrics vs venturing out to slinky, slipper ones. Or if you like fitted bodices with full skirts you're pretty much only fitting the top half of your body, etc, etc. -- I think that many (of us?) sit in Advanced Beginner/Intermediate for a long time. And that's why there's always frustration about the lack of resources for the intermediate sewer.

    You don't need hand holding more than once or twice to construct a simple top or skirt. And then many want to move on to more complex garments in terms of construction and fit.

    Making sewing seem "oh so hard" is a very annoying that many Indie pattern companies do.

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    1. And your new top is very pretty! :)

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    2. I think this "oh so hard" creates this mentality, that if you think it's hard, it will be. I remember being so worried about putting in my first invisible zip, and I put it off for weeks. Then I sucked it up, got the foot, and after a few sample attempts I was fine. The mental barriers are often half the problem

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  15. Love your top, very feminine and flattering. I totally agree with you re the dumbing down, not just of patterns, but of sewing in general. It behooves these pdf makers to keep new sewists in the dark, the better to keep their businesses thriving on rectangles and 1/4 inch turned up hems. I really, really resent how they go to great efforts to convince their followers that there is a big bad sewing world out there and only they can steer them through. I've seen much evidence of this in FB groups dedicated to specific pdf makers. I hate how they bash the Big Four, when some have never even sewn with them. I totally dislike the price gouging as well, particularly considering that many pdfs come from people who never spent a semester in pattern making class, oh, but they did do that on line class for 400.00 that took one evening.I dislike that many think all sewists want to sew simple, boring outfits out of quilting cotton and more quilting cotton, and will never graduate further. I think in the end this attitude will come to bite them in the ass. There will always be a market for beginner sewists but it doesn't take much math skill to see that there is a bigger market for those who have grown to the next level. Perhaps these designers, most anyway, aren't up to the challenge?

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    1. Thanks for your comment Bunny, I've always found your blog refreshing with the discussion of more advanced techniques/patterns.
      I definitely agree with your last comment, it's not in these people's interest to encourage people to move up, as they don't have the pattern drafting skills. And why do thee people think it's an easy skill to learn? My grandmother, now in her 90s, was a professional seamstress for a department store in the 1950s, and did a lot of custom dressmaking over the years. She is the most exquisite seamstress I have ever come across. But she knew that pattern drafting etc was a completely different skill, and never touched it, though she sometimes wished she had learnt.

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    2. I can't comment on Tilly's book, as I haven't read it, but I can relate my own experience. When I first started my business, I was approached by a really large pattern company to work with them. They were very nice, and over lunch one day the VP asked me if I would be willing to design a line of patterns for them. Before she could finish the question, I said, "No." I thanked her, and explained that while I can sew a mean stitch, I know my limits. I'm NOT a designer, and I wouldn't want to see my name on what would inevitably be a half-baked design. I'll leave the designing to the people who have design chops. I'll admire their skills, I'll sew their designs, and we'll all be happier for it!

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  16. Love the top looks great. So refreshing to read a review of TATB that isn't sickly sweet and gushing. I would second you having a look at sew over it have just bought their vintage shirt dress pattern and it looks great.

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    1. The gushing is the worst. The Vintage Shirtdress does look good; I have been eyeing off the Joan dress for quite some time

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  17. I love your blouse. It is pretty and feminine. I adore the fabric! I have never followed Tilly and the Buttons nor purchased any of her patterns or any books but your commentary applies to many other indie patterns that I have noticed over the years. I am perfectly comfortable with the Big 4. I especially appreciate the designer Vogue Patterns and the fact that they have Advanced category patterns. There is a plethora of books and patterns out there for beginners and while there is nothing wrong with books and patterns targeted for beginners, it just seems like there is just too much. The rest of us who have grown past the beginner stage do not find as many resources.

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    1. Oh definitely, I'd love to have some good challenging patterns to look at, if not to sew

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  18. Amen and well-said! Pretty fabric by the way.

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    1. Thanks Graca :) Isn't it gorgeous?

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  19. I do think there is a place for patterns like Tilly's because they appeal to beginners and at least they are inspiring newbies to get into dressmaking. My own 20 year old and 13 year old here in California can't imagine anyone they know wearing these styles since they aren't generally what that age group is attracted to here. I'd love to see some more beginner patterns that are actually similar to what one finds in stores like Forever 21 as that might get the younger generation here in the US interested in sewing. Tilly's style is totally British twee. So while her stuff isn't my cup of tea er twee haha, I think her blog inspires many and while they will probably outgrow that level, it's a start. It's too bad the patterns aren't drafted better,because it's a great idea. I hate to think of beginners blaming themselves when a pattern sucks.

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    1. I think Love at First Stitch is quite strong for beginners, I just wish basic patterns also didn't play into the "sewing is so hard, so give me money for basic things"

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  20. I have often wondered what an intermediate sewing book would look like. What would it have in it?

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    1. I think it would be technique based: fitting, tailoring, linings, different zipper techniques, bound buttonholes etc

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  21. Deeply beautiful blouse. That romantic floral print is turning my knees to Jell-o. :) Though not (for all intents) a sewer, I do very much believe in love at first stitch, or other crafting moment, and have experienced it myself in various hobbies over the years, too.

    Wishing you a terrific tail end of winter,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thankyou Jessica :)The print is so gorgeous, I think it's what really makes this

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  22. I really enjoyed love st first stitch although mainly for the Lilou dress which I have made lots of variations of! I'm wearing my Mimi blouse now and I'm sat thinking it probably is a bit too twee I made it ages ago and this is only the 5th? Time I've worn it!

    The latest pattern has to be a joke? Is a elasticated skirt? My pretty sure my fella could put one of those together! Some of the other patterns look nice but £12.50 is far to pricey for me!!!

    When she sed she was releasing a new pattern I was hoping for a coat , but sadly I don't think they'll ever be anything that advanced

    I also agree about the blog content now it's very sales based!

    Frankie

    X

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    1. Thanks for your comment :) I think the patterns in Love at First Stitch are fairly decent, only the Mimi jumped out to me. And yes, a coat would be lovely. Way back in her blog archives, she made some lovely coats/jackets

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  23. I absolutely love your fabric choices. I think I had a dress in this fabric,from a shop in Paris, many years ago and bought it especially for a wedding. If I still had it I would have refashioned it by now! Thanks for reminding me, I'll have to look and see if I can find a length of it somewhere. Your makes and fabric choices are lovely

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  24. this is a really interesting and honest post, which sort of puts into words how i've been feeling about tilly's blog and patterns recently. when i first discovered her blog after seeing her on the great british sewing bee, i loved it and it was really her influence which inspired me to learn to sew. i do own her book and a lot of her earlier patterns, but just recently i have become a bit disillusioned as her blog doesn't seem to document any of her own personal sewing anymore, its just used to push forward her business and make sales, as well as some of the patterns becoming just too basic for words. i wish she'd go back to the enthusiastic sewer that she was when she first started the blog rather than continuing to focus on beginner sewers - especially as through her patterns, surely many of her followers are ready for more advanced sewing patterns anyway? i still read her blog from time to time, but definitely not as religiously as i used to, it just doesn't capture my interest anymore, which is a real shame as i've met her and she is lovely, if a bit focused on self promotion. hopefully she'll release a more well thought through pattern soon with a better focus on more advanced sewers, and perhaps stop using the blog so blatantly to advertise her own business. thanks for the post, it offered a rare honest review :)

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