It’s no secret that I love pretty much anything that comes from Tilly and the Buttons. The colour palette, the styling, the do-able no-nonsense approach to sewing patterns, the models used to showcase designs. That last point is one I really love about Tilly and her team. They always have their garments modelled by women in a variety of shapes and sizes. As someone with more of a pear shape I never really know how some patterns will fall on me when they’re only ever modelled on slim straight-up-straight down shapes so I love that they consciously release their patterns in this way. And of course that she always has a range of ethnicities modelling too. Basically, I’m a bit of a fan girl.
Recently I taught some of my closest friends to sew and we went with the Bettine dress. Even though they have very different styles, both were able to go from “what’s a bobbin?” to sewing-maestros (or thereabouts) in a day and create dresses that suited them perfectly. And that’s what I think is Tilly’s greatest strength- not only that she creates designs that are versatile, but that she can make the complicated actually seem simple- even when they’re not ‘beginner patterns’. So I was excited to see that she was coming out with a book on what was my personal nemesis, stretch fabrics. Most beginners will be able to trial and error their way through woven fabrics, but stretch fabrics have a reputation for being more daunting. Which is a shame because we all know our comfiest clothes are in stretch! Plus fitting is more forgiving with stretch which I still find the hardest part when sewing with woven fabric.
Published by Quadrille (Hardie Grant); Photos by Ellie Smith and Fanni Williams
Sizing it up
(£22.50 paperback here). The book comes with the full size printed sheets of the 6 patterns. The six patterns included are the Bibi skirt and pinafore, Frankie T shirt, Freya sweater and dress, Stella hoodie, Stella joggers and Joni dress. But with each pattern comes ideas on how to “Make it your own” to suit your style/needs which means that you actually get way more than 6 patterns from it!
The book is split into 7 chapters, the first two being introductions to sewing with stretch and the other 5 covering each of the sewing patterns (Stella hoodie and joggers share one chapter). But I’ll go into that later…
Before the book dives in Tilly goes through essential and ‘nice to have’ tools. I love sections like these because every beginner knows that feeling of being overwhelmed by all the things you “need”, which just puts you off trying anything new. So it’s nice to see things get stripped back to the basics and makes sewing with stretch more do-able. I mean who hasn’t just stuck pieces of baking paper together to use as pattern paper??
Chapter 1: Shop, prep, cut
This chapter does exactly as it says: goes through fabric shopping, preparation and cutting stretch fabric with lots of bright, colourful (would you expect any less?) but most importantly, useful photos. There are descriptions of the different types of stretch fabrics you can buy as well as the properties you want to look for depending on the project- drape, weight etc. Theres also a section on simple and easy ways to make the common pattern adjustments you might need to make. As well as a run through of how to cut/mark stretch fabric. All those little things I wish someone had told me when I started out!
One of my favourite parts of this chapter is on how to match stripes. A whole section! What a winner.
Chapter 2: Stretch Stitch School
So this is the chapter which goes through the different stitches, needles and basic trouble shooting. The main chunk of this is focussed on using a sewing machine with lots of tips and tricks. If you ever thought you “had to have” a serger to sew knits, this is the chapter you need to read! A good, basic sewing machine is all you need.
But don’t worry if you have invested in a serger- theres a whole section on these too, including the ‘cheat’ way to rethread (which I wish someone had told me about rather than coming across it on a random Instagram browse!)
Each of the patterns has a chapter dedicated to it and each of these is split into:
- Fabric 101: a run through of which fabrics work with the pattern as well as helpful notes e.g. how to cut stretch velvet, or how to tell the wrong/right side of single knit jersey.
- The actual pattern making itself: set out in classic Tilly style: annotated photos rather than line drawings. I think I prefer patterns with photo illustrations- when done well there’s no confusion about what the line drawing might be trying to point out.
- Techniques: each pattern goes through a different staple technique in depth e.g. how to make a mitred corner or sew a button hole on knit fabrics
- Make it your own: My favourite bit of the book! Inspiration and instructions on how to adapt the patterns to make them unique to your style. This is where the book really shines and shows you the versatility of the patterns Tilly created as well as how to get the drool-worthy looks the models wear.
- Make it a lifestyle: These are short and sweet tidbits about all sorts and feel like little chats you might have with a sewing friend over a cup of tea – tackling topics from slow sewing, to getting out of your comfort zone.
Judging by the response on Instagram my favourite patterns are the same as everyone else! The Bibi skirt/pinafore, Freya dress (I mean-who doesnt want a frilled high neck jersey dress in mustard now?) and the Joni dress.
If you’re new to sewing with stretch fabric this book is the perfect introduction. I’ve heard a lot of people started sewing for the first time using Tilly’s first book, Love at First Stitch and can see the same thing happening here. It’s really well laid out and has really clear instructions. For those who have a little bit more know-how there’s still enough in there to make it a great addition to the library- for me it’s got to be the patterns! I can see myself coming back to these again and again. I’ve already made myself a maxi length Bibi skirt (a perfect scrap buster!) which worked really well without any maternity hacks (I just measured myself according to the pattern and whipped it up, the stretch fabric worked around my bump). I’ve also got a Joni lined up too and will be planning a Freya- I’m sure the other three patterns won’t be far behind! And one more sweet bonus was that Tilly included a maternity hack in the book itself! Ahhh whats not to love? Like I said, I’m a fan-girl…
(This photo was taken a bit later in my pregnancy hence the pulling around the bump- I still wear it but it fit a bit better before the growth spurt!)
Many thanks to Tilly and her team for sending me a copy and inviting me to give my honest opinion.