Browsing Tag


why I sew // KCW

why I sew: Shelley

Hi everyone, it’s Shelley from Bartacks and Singletrack back again to talk about me this time, and see if I can answer the question: Why I Sew

Let’s imagine we’re all on a deserted tropical island (humour me here, it’s winter down-under and I need to dream). What are you all doing? Not much? Lying on the beach? watching the waves? idling in the sun?….

Well, I’d be doing something. I’d like to think I’d have the engineering smarts to be building the raft that could rescue us all, or that I’d be catching a fish for our dinner, but more likely I’d be amusing myself making a fancy dress costume out of things I find lying around.


Prior to having kids my thing to do was race mountain bikes. Before that it was travel, learning languages, university study, riding horses… The activity has varied but my commitment to whatever I was doing at the time has never wavered. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. That may not always be very good compared to others (my mountain bike racing career was a case in point!) but I get real satisfaction out of trying to improve.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a restless person. I can be physically still and very much at ease, but I’ll probably be thinking, or planning, or talking. When I found myself somewhat housebound as my heavily pregnant belly limited my range on the bike, I took to making stuff.

early projects

1. Wombat playmat (1st ever sewing project)    2. Quilting a change mat     3. Play gym made from hula hoops and fleece

I bought a basic sewing machine and made a few things for my soon to be born baby. It never occurred to me to seek instruction or tuition, or even to see if there was a pattern for what I was wanting to do. I just experimented. One of the things I love about taking on a new hobby is that “honeymoon period” when your confidence is way ahead of your skill or ability.

While I hadn’t sewed before, it didn’t feel like completely new territory as there’s quite a few parallels between sewing and my professional career as a veterinary surgeon

Thanks to my surgical training, I found most sewing skills relatively easy to pick up. When I realised that a slipstitch is just the same as how I do intradermal sutures on a cat spey, or that a thread chain is just a series of hand ties, I felt more and more confident that this sewing caper was something I could possibly master.

surgery sewing

Most of all, I relished the freedom to practice those skills in a field with a lot less restrictions. You see, a sewing project can be set aside if it’s getting too complicated, if you’re bored with it, if you’re hungry, if you need a toilet break. In fact, a sewing project will wait quietly on a shelf for months on end and you can return to it when you choose to. Unfinished objects, or UFOs in sewing speak, simply cannot exist in the surgical world!

And, should it all go horribly, disastrously wrong, a sewing project can be quietly popped into the rubbish bin and no explanations are needed. Perhaps if you’d justified the expense of some really fancy fabric by telling your partner how awesome the thing you were making was going to be, perhaps then you might secretly pop the failed garment into the outside bin rather than the kitchen bin. But that’s about as serious as it can ever get, and I find the freedom to fail enormously liberating!

With the invincible feeling that you get from knowing that the price of failure is negligible, I started to sew clothes for my little boy.

early garments

1. Burda 9792 shirt    2. Make It Perfect Little Explorer overalls     3. Burda 9793 Jeans

Shortly after I started struggling with sewing kid’s clothes I discovered Oliver + S patterns, then I had a baby girl to sew for as well, and from that moment on I became almost unstoppable. As I learned more, my confidence grew and I continued to delight in the devil-may-care attitude that I can use when approaching a sewing project.

Speaking of which… You know, my sewing machine is perhaps one of the only appliances I own that did NOT come with a warning not to operate it while consuming alcohol. That may not be the case for everyone, as I’m sure in more litigious, risk averse countries such warnings are making their way into sewing machine instructions. But at my house, if I want to try and pattern match plaid with a glass of red in one hand, then darn it, I will. (And I maintain it’s a sure fire way to make stripes match, or at least not to care when they don’t…)

evel knievel

Evel Knievel costume

I’ve never been much of an artist in terms of having a creative vision, but I’m not bad as a copyist (I think that is an almost exact quote from my year 10 art report). Sewing allows me to copy something that takes my fancy, whether it’s what you just posted on Flickr, a costume or haute couture.

The challenge in recreating a garment using the patterns that I have to hand, my limited ability to “mash” patterns, and the materials I can source locally, is something I delight in. In doing this I can combine some painting, handsewing, or other techniques to achieve the look I want. Pitching all these artistic endeavours into one project is immensely satisfying.

Elle and Audrey

Kill Bill Vol 1 – A Moschino 2001 knock off

However, like anyone who sews for their kids, my creations are bound to sometimes get rejected. A painstakingly made dress or shirt that never gets worn would seem a waste, but a ridiculously time consuming beaded sweater? Nope, that was my project and I don’t care a jot if it doesn’t get worn.

By getting carried away with the idea, the technique and the attention to detail I can make the project something that I enjoy. From the imagining right through to the last stitch I’m in it for the journey, and the skills learned along the way, as much as the end result.

pixcell red deer

KCW Summer 2014: Beaded pullover

But since I do like a challenge, I also set myself the goal of making all of my kids’ everyday clothes (with the exception of socks and undies). That meant getting comfortable with sewing knit fabric, and perhaps even consulting with the kids sometimes on what it is that they would actually wear.

Sewing for kids seems to be a bit like surfing. You have to paddle really hard at the start to get yourself up to speed. Then, if you can keep your skill set just a little bit ahead of the wave of their disregard for anything dorky and mum-made, you can keep riding it forever. At least that’s how I hope it will work.

Herein lies another thing I love about sewing. I am a bit of a perpetual student. Since the day I started kindergarten I have almost always been doing some form of study. As well as my degree in veterinary science I’ve undertaken studies in fitness instruction, cocktail making and bar service, French language… It doesn’t seem to matter what the topic is so long as the instruction is good I’ll enjoy learning. It would seem there is an endless amount to learn about sewing. I doubt I would ever have learned to sew beads, cut freezer paper stencils, do reverse applique or a dozen other things, if it wasn’t for the need to jazz up a bit of garment sewing.


1. Kenzo knock off jeans     2. Darth stencilled T-shirt     3. Metallic topstitched jeans

I find lots of inspiration from sewers who post their creations on the internet, and I am forever mentally noting details that give a garment a professional look. Perhaps one reason I can’t stop sewing is the flood of ideas that come from all corners of the globe. As long as you people continue to make awesome stuff I will continue to either find suggestions in what you’ve done, or to straight out copy it.

While my early beginnings were experimental and truly “self-taught” I would say I am now taught by YOU. If you’ve ever created a pattern, put anything on the internet, or shared your tips for the perfect knit hem, or the neatest bias binding application, then you have been my teacher. Maybe not directly, but the great whirlpool of information and inspiration that we share on sites like KCW means our own modest efforts get picked up, improved upon and then circulated back to us.

recent garments

1. Apple Picking dress     2. Made for Kids Month    3. KCW: Mini Me

Perhaps what will keep me sewing, rather than drifting off to discover some new hobby, is this very community. When we feed off each other we all get so much better. I never cease to be delighted when people make comments about my sewing, but I’m especially proud of who we are when someone comments favourably on something I’ve done, which was a blatant copy of what they’d done themselves a season earlier. You don’t find generosity of spirit like that in too many other endeavours. Sewing folk rock.

Thanks to the KCW blog for having me. I’ve had such fun chatting and sewing with you all. Until next season,

Shelley xx

KID ART: art with kids

KID ART: inspiration from art

Hi KCW sewers and blog readers. Shelley (aka Lightning McStitch) from Bartacks and Singletrack here to talk a bit about art as inspiration for making kid’s clothes. This is exciting for me as there’s nothing I like better than taking an idea, possibly unrecognisable to anyone else, and then getting completely carried away with it.

Often you’ll see art on clothing and the clothes themselves may be more familiar than the original artwork. A Magritte T-Shirt for example (René Magritte 1898-1967) or a Mondrian shift dress (Piet Mondrian 1872-1944). These examples may be familiar to us grown ups, but not at all to our kids. So how do we define the theme KID ART? (did you notice we haven’t?!). I think our kids can be very astute viewers of art in all it’s forms and their reaction to a piece of art is usually immediate and brutally honest. Kind of like how they can react to something we have lovingly sewn for them to wear, right?!

I want to show you how your local gallery can be a source of inspiration for your sewing, as well as a fun outing, so I collared a couple of kids (my own as it happens!) and we set off for the state gallery (NGV link) NB: All images from the gallery were taken myself and links reference the gallery or the artist directly. Other links for images or general information go to Google, Wikipedia or other external websites and blogs

You started it... I finish it 2013

 Paola PIVI
You started it… I finish it

These larger than life bears filled the foyer and instantly my daughter was in love. Brightly coloured, oversized, feather bears, what’s not to like? Feathers will never go out of style if you ask a little girl! (Or a big girl for that matter, I’ll take that Oscar de la Renta dress please)

feather composite

 1: Miss Selfridge 2: Oscar de la Renta 3:

 I was fascinated by what the kids found interesting and why. Visiting the gallery with small children gives you the licence to not try and “understand” the art but just allow yourself to react to it.

Bul LEE untitled 2003


 The scale and space-bug-ness of this room-filling sculpture had my son enchanted. For me, my fingers were itching to make a sketch in order to cut a freezer paper stencil. Perhaps silvery white paint on a plain black T-Shirt. A bit more esoteric than a Star Wars stencil but every bit as cool, no?

Alternately, the art inspiration can be in the fabric itself.  This fabric, covering a whole wall of the gallery, is typical of the 1960s style and has been reimagined many times over.

Vernor PANTON Geometry I 1960

Geometry I

I couldn’t help snapping a picture of my daughter who happened to be wearing that very “mod” dress silhouette, the School Photo dress by Oliver + S.

What if your little girl is more into the princess style?

Issey MIYAKE Bustier 1980-1981


Honestly, when my daughter saw this she loudly requested that I make her one! Then my son pointed out how the shadows look like angel wings and suddenly all three of us were imagining a fairy angel costume that involved wings and a red, patent leather bustier with peplum. An Issey Miyake knock-off is just the kind of princess dress up sewing I could get excited about.

Olarfur ELIASSON Limbo Lamp 2005

Limbo Lamp

A less literal idea came from this wonderful light sculpture. As the kids chased and played in the moving light from the central spinning reflective disc, I was reminded of Shisha (mirror) embroidery. That’s a technique I’ve wanted to learn and play with for a while now and I think it would make a lovely detail on a skirt hem, or even within a quilt. (Shisha tutorial link)

But when techniques fail and it seems the sewing gods are conspiring against you there’s still the chance to say you were inspired by art. The kids love this video installation:

Charlie SOFO 33 Objects that fit through the hole in my pocket 2013

Charlie SOFO
33 Objects that fit through the hole in my pocket

watch video here

…and all you need is a pair of beige, rolled up trousers with a hole in the pocket!

Robert MORRIS untitled c1970


This felt sculpture could inspire a boys T-shirt. Perhaps a reverse effect using Alabama Chanin technique cutaways. It also reminds me a bit of this t-shirt from Zoolander which inspired this remake by A Little Gray. Film Petit is a hilarious sewing series and a fantastic example of art (film) inspiring kid’s clothes.

Luke RUDOLPH Portrait no.24 2010

Portrait no. 24

A modern painting (a mix of geometric abstractionism and abstract expressionism if you like your art with definitions) can be great inspiration for fabric painting. I can imagine painting the background geometric shapes onto silk then letting the kids loose with a large brush. The fabric would then make a lovely shirt or shirt-dress. In fact, I’d want one myself I think.

Finally, another sculpture that had us all enthralled,

Kohei NAWA PixCell-Red Deer 2012

 Kohei NAWA
PixCell-Red Deer

…and another idea that I really want to run with. Could I sew tiny clear and amber glass beads onto a black knit sweater to make a mini PixCell red deer pullover for my daughter? I’m really thinking I might just do it, I’ve gone as far as tracking down the beads I would use…

I did mention I was prone to getting carried away with ideas, didn’t I? I hope I’ve inspired you to take a trip to your local gallery, look at the art, perhaps try to understand it, but don’t be ashamed if all you can think is “how could I recreate that?” or “what pattern would I use to achieve something like that?”.

You’re not alone.

Just try not to think out loud.

XX Shelley