Monday, 30 November -0001

Needle match

Sewing can be a comforting and money-saving pastime. Elizabeth Walters thinks it’s time we did our homework

Written by Elizabeth Walters
I don't know whether a stitch in time does save nine. But it can save money and occupy hands that would otherwise be reaching for the biscuit tin – or the bottle. Austerity January is upon us, and the year ahead promises to be belt-tightening, so now is the time to re-employ those sewing skills, or perhaps learn some new ones.

Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, would disapprove – she branded homemaking middle class and a waste of time on Twitter – but I am with Kirstie Allsop, who embodies all that is good and comforting about craft. When it's chilly and drippy outside, staying indoors and making something from scratch is pretty appealing.

notebooks 0006And it always has been, to all sorts of people. Prisoners sew and embroider – as showcased in the V&A's illuminating quilt exhibition in 2010 – children of all classes paint, models knit off-camera and plenty of people start making their own things because they can't afford not to.

My grandmother knitted jumpers for my sister and me each Christmas – a labour of love. At the age of 14 I was mortified to unwrap a knee-length, cobaltblue jumper with a giant (full body) panda on the front. But when I saw the very same design in Topshop last winter, it made me smile. Granny was ahead of the curve.

Wool has always daunted me – but fabric is more flexible. And, if you're thinking of making a gift or simply sprucing up your home furnishings, where better to take direction than from Liberty? Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty's inimitable store has published a beautifully presented book on home sewing. I recommend it to anyone who's thinking about giving it a go – or for those who particularly wonder how to treat print. There's a comprehensive list of equipment (you need only a basic tool box) and an illustrated fabric glossary. Patterns vary from a cushion, a frilly apron or tote bag, to a more complicated quilt or kimono.

9781844009763I opt for something between the two – a rose cushion. The idea is to take advantage of Liberty's pretty range of Tana Lawns (so-called because the fine cottons used to make them came from Lake Tana in Ethiopia). However, because I collect fabric and have an old Jigsaw skirt I've been meaning to do something with, I decided to go 'off menu'. If you do the same, don't use anything that will fray. The rose winds up a wiry mess, as I discovered when I attempted to make it with delicate sari silk.

It is time-consuming... even the small cushion cover I am making requires 20 individually wound roses. But when I embark on the project, I am housebound by a cold and have Downton Abbey for company. Just the thing to sew to, it turns out.

This cushion isn't really about sewing though, it's about twisting and fixing and manipulating the fabric to make interesting shapes. The effect is pleasing, textured and luxurious – the backing fabric is velvet. It brings life to my neutral grey sofa, and I think I'll keep it there. Granny would certainly have approved, too.

Photography taken from The Liberty Book of Home Sewing, published by Quadrille, priced £20


Six more sewing books




  1. PATCH! Cath Kidston (Quadrille, £16), 160pp Latest addition to the Kidston oeuvre – 30 original projects using Kidston prints, as well as vintage fabrics, with instructions on how to make bags, cushions, pillowcases, a toy ball and a dog bed. To get you started, the book includes pieces of seven different printed fabrics and instructions to create a calico bag or cushion.
  2. MY FIRST SEWING BOOK; Susan Akass (Cico Kidz, £17.94), 128pp Thirty-five projects aimed at encouraging seven to 11-year-olds to start sewing. Easy-to-follow instructions on how to do different types of stitch, plus projects such as sock monsters, rag dolls, bags, hair accessories, felt egg cosies and a sausage-dog draft excluder.
  3. THE BUSY GIRL'S GUIDE TO SEWING; Carrie Maclennan (David & Charles, £14.99), 128pp Time-poor craft enthusiasts will love this – a guide to making quirky, off-beat projects that can be completed in a day or over a series of weekends. Carrie Maclennan, who runs a design shop and gallery in Glasgow, also includes advice on sourcing fabric, 'upcycling', blogging and joining online communities.
  4. MAKE & MEND: A Guide To Recycling Clothes And Fabrics; Rebecca Peacock and Sam Tickner (Spring Hill, £9.99), 192pp. (To be published on 27 January 2012) Turn old jeans into a cushion, pastit dresses into tote bags or make a tie out of a negligee – this is a recycler's dream. Patterns, illustrations, tips and advice are included, as well as a grounding in hand and machine sewing.
  5. FABRIC FLOWERS: TWENTY TO MAKE; Kate Haxell (Search Press, £4.99), 48pp Comprehensive guide to making fabric flowers to adorn clothes, bags, cushions, scarves, Alice bands, or to turn into corsages and brooches. Sewing patterns/ templates included.
  6. ALL SEWN UP; Chloë Owens (CICO Books, £14.99), 144pp Put old fabrics to use and make practical, beautiful gifts and homewares. Lovely to look at and simple to follow, there's a handy techniques section and templates to help you reproduce Chloë's enchanting retro-inspired projects. to make interesting shapes. The effect is pleasing, textured and luxurious – the backing fabric is velvet. It brings life to my neutral grey sofa, and I think I'll keep it there. proved, too.

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