We’ve loved Florence’s work for years. Her Flossie Teacakes blog is a delight, full of beautiful and careful sewing. Florence shares lots of tutorials and she is a pattern designer, with a variety of PDF patterns and an eBook. She has lots of pretty quilts and we always adore the clothing she creates. We want to pop each item into our own closet! We’re so pleased to have Florence join us as a judge; we asked her some questions to get to know her a little better…
Sew Mama Sew: How did you get started sewing?
Florence: I’ve enjoyed making and sewing things from an early age, but I think it was when my children were born that the desire to make things by hand really took hold. The years when they were very young was a really lovely time to enjoy more brightly coloured, pictorial fabric prints too. My daughter, who’s eleven, now has very similar taste to me, so my fabric stash is becoming much more sober again!
SMS: What is one bit of advice you’d give to someone trying to advance their sewing skills?
Florence: Dive in and try the patterns that you know are slightly above your skill level. Even if the final outcome isn’t quite as perfect as you’d hoped, you will have taken a leap forward in your understanding of construction methods or specific techniques and you’ll quickly progress in your sewing. If the item is something you really want to make, then the emotional investment you have in the finished item being useable or wearable will help you to stick with it if you reach a part where it all feels too much. When I first began sewing I made quite a few pin cushions because they seemed easy to make, utilised lovely fabrics and were useful. However, I later realised that pin cushions don’t really motivate me to want to sew “well,” so I’d say that you should sew whatever makes your brain tingle with happiness at the thought of it, because those are the things that you’ll naturally come to with perseverance and increased patience. That, in turn, will raise your skill level.
Florence’s take on a favorite Orla Kiely shirt.
If you’re new to dressmaking, then my advice would be to make your first garments using patterns from well-respected independent designers (such as Colette, Megan Nielson, Sewaholic) as the instruction is often incredibly comprehensive, so perfect for someone new to dressmaking techniques. The lovely thing about sewing clothing is that a lot of the construction methods are repetitive– there are really only a few ways of setting in a basic sleeve– so if you later decide you’d like to make something from one of the larger pattern companies whose guidance tends to be sketchier, you’ll feel much more able to pick your way through it without needing too much instruction.
SMS: Was there a project you finished that made you realize you were sewing on a whole new level?
Florence: The only thing I’ve sewn that really made me feel like that was a man’s shirt; it contained so many new techniques that I hadn’t come across in my women’s dressmaking that it really did feel as though I’d learned a huge amount and come out at the other side with a whole host of new construction techniques up my sleeve (or my husband’s new shirt’s sleeve, at least). Generally though I don’t think it’s the big, finished items that make me feel I’ve taken my sewing to a new level, but the everyday tasks that I try to carry out with increasing perfectionism: from installing a contrast piping perfectly evenly, to setting in a sleeve without the tiniest pucker. They’re not big things, but there’s an enjoyment that comes from attempting to do them really well. Paying attention to these details increases how confident I feel in my competence as a sewer.
For me, the joy of sewing is that the top of the mountain can never really be reached; there’s always room for trying to do it better next time. I love that each new pattern presents a new challenge, whether it’s one that I’ve drafted myself or working from someone else’s design. Like many dressmakers, often I’ll sew several garments from the same pattern without tiring of it. Each garment feels like a fresh incarnation of the design, whether that’s because of the fabric chosen or the details added.
In many ways I value the process as much as the outcome. It’s an approach that I’m grateful for when it comes to dressmaking, as I find at those times when I have been forced to accept that a pattern simply doesn’t work for my figure, it’s good to be able to take away something other than a wish to morph myself into a different shape or hide in a paper bag!
Florence’s favorite Laurel top.
SMS: Do you have a favorite, recent item you’ve sewn?
Florence: The garment I enjoyed making most recently was one that felt like it had stretched my pattern drafting skills and contained lots of details that were really satisfying to sew. It was based on a beautiful top designed by Orla Kiely; from a sewing perspective it’s fascinating to mentally deconstruct how something has been made and then test your ability to reproduce it, giving it your own twist along the way. The top that’s got the most use though is one of my many Laurel tops, designed by Colette Patterns. I adore the fabric and it goes with nearly everything in my wardrobe. It’s lovely to have a favourite garment and know that it can be made again if something awful happens to it!
SMS: What’s next for you?
Florence: I have a few things bubbling away, but in the meantime, more dressmaking and very probably more quilt-making and English paper piecing once the cooler weather returns (I’m unsure why my sewing is so seasonal, but every year I seem to unintentionally fall into making clothing during the spring and summer and quilts over the winter).