Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Winter Hat Sewing Workshop

A quick heads-up that there'll be another #chemostyle workshop at GJ's Discount Fabrics on 27th April. You can book in here (it's free, but I need to know numbers).

If you would like to make hats for yourself or for someone you love, or if you'd like to contribute to the pool of hats for donation to cancer centres or people having treatment that causes hair loss, please come along. Details of what to bring etc are on the booking page.

We need some heavier knit fabrics for this, so if you have any offcuts of fleece, loop-back, ponte etc, please bring them along or drop them into GJ's beforehand and let me know.

Real life is a bit crazy here at the moment and I still haven't developed the patterns into anything digitally downloadable. Please be patient (don't email me for updates) - I absolutely do plan to do this, but I'm afraid that it will be over a longer timeframe than I'd prefer.  The workshops are a way of testing designs, patterns and workshop/distribution methods, and a way getting hats made for at least some of the people who need them.

If you know of a cancer centre in Australia that is in need of hats, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Hat workshop #3

Thank you to everyone who has been generous and supportive of my little "free hats" initiative.  Hats have gone out to people through the Olivia Newton John Cancer and Wellness Centre, and I'm packaging up others to go to a few regional centres that people have flagged as "in need".

I've also done a couple of personal sessions (where people get to choose hats for themselves and I help with styling tips). I'd love to do more of these personal sessions, so if you know anyone around the Melbourne area who would like that, please put them in touch with me (chemostylehats at gmail dot com).

Work on patterns, websites and all the other background tasks for this project have been mostly on hold here the last few weeks, as I've been prepping and teaching classes full-time again in my day job, but I'm gearing up for our next workshop date at GJ's Discount Fabrics.

Our last workshop was a lovely day, where wonderful volunteers had great conversations, made meaningful connections and PUMPED OUT HATS like nobody's business!

If you'd like to come along to make hats for yourself, someone that you know, or simply to contribute to the pool of hats that are available for people who need them, please register here. (It's free, but we need to know numbers.)


Monday, January 28, 2019

The Chemo Hat Project - cont'd

I've organised another hat-making day for people who are experiencing hair loss through medical treatment. If you want to make hats for yourself, for someone you love or simply to add to the pool of hats available for donation to cancer centres, please do come along! It's on the 9th February at GJ's Discount Fabrics.

  You can sign up here (it's free, but I need to know numbers).

I'm still prototyping and tweaking both patterns and workshop methods, and gathering information and ideas that will help me to make a sustainable social enterprise that meets the needs of people going through the trauma of hair loss. 

Thank you to the wonderful group of women who came to my first workshop on the 15th December last year. 

Conversations and feedback forms at the last workshop have been incredibly helpful, and I have a survey here for anyone who has been through chemo or is a friend or relative of someone who has. All feedback is invaluable at this stage. 

For those of you further afield, I'm working on writing instructions and making patterns that can be downloaded. I'm yet to start on the web-based platforms needed to market and deliver them.

As much as I'd love for this to get off the ground immediately, I've had to accept that as a one-woman-show, building a sustainable, human-centred social enterprise is going to take time. I have to fit it in around work (to earn the sole income in the household), my own health needs (I'm still in treatment) and trying to give this kid a sense that life can be balanced and good. 

I will keep you posted on developments with patterns, and in the meantime, I welcome ideas and input.  I'd also love to hear your thoughts on branding/business name, and would love to hear of contacts* or information that might help me to get the social enterprise going faster and more effectively. 

If you or anyone you know would like to be a 'guinea pig' for a styling session with headwear, please contact me directly at chemostylehats [at] gmail dot com. This is a service that the survey is showing a need for, and I need to prototype and develop it.

*I'm already in conversations with Think Pink, Counterpart, The Cancer Council, Peter Mac and the Austin/ONJ Centre, and am volunteering with Look Good Feel Better. Plans to contact BCNA are afoot. If you have any other contacts for support organisations, cancer centres or social enterprise, please let me know

Over the New Year, I took my girl for a 2-day road trip to the North of the state, to show her where I grew up.  Here I am, standing in the Murray River, a year out from starting treatment, thinking how far I've travelled (in every sense) in the last year, and how many journeys there have been since I left this region at 16. I'm thankful that this year, I'm looking forward to getting on with life instead of just getting through. 

While we were in Strathmerton, I showed my girl the place where my life as a creative businessperson began. This is the site of what was once a the Community Craft Shop - run by a cooperative of locals who made and sold handmade goods - in the 70's and 80's. 

My Mum worked a day per month in the shop, and we kids could sell our sewing, drawing, macrame and other crafty works, with a mere 10% commission going to the shop. From the age of 7 to 14, this was how I earned my pocket money (which was mostly spent on fabric and plants.... not much has changed there!).

From little things, big things grow. 

Happy 2019, all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Helping out

Hair loss is traumatic at any time, but summer can be tricky for those who feel more comfortable covering up and/or accessorising. Knitted or lined hats can be too warm. and not everyone wants to wear a headscarf.

As I mentioned last week, at the beginning of this year, I had chemo through the stinking hot months of an Australian summer, and I found that what suited me best was unlined knit fabric hats (natural fibres, sometimes with spandex, sometimes not). I free-formed a heap of them for myself and had fun matching them to outfits and other accessories. I was determined to beat that poison with style!

As a part of my research into my potential new NFP/social enterprise, I've checked the supplies of suitable summer hats in a few "free hats" boxes in local cancer hospitals/support centres. There are certainly gaps in the "summer range", so I've organised a day where fabulously generous people can get together and sew some more, to help out. It's filling up fast, but if you want to be a part of it, you can still book in here.

We'll be testing a few patterns that I'm developing, and I'll be happy to hear people's stories and opinions on how/where they think my ideas would have the most "impact for good".

If you are suffering from hair loss and want to make hats for yourself - do come! If you have a cancer centre near you that could benefit - do come! If you have a friend who is going through treatment - come along! If you want to help make hats for me to distribute around Melbourne, you'd be more than welcome. All are more than welcome!

If you have any knit fabric offcuts that you would like to donate to the cause, they can be left at GJ's Discount Fabrics, or you can contact me directly (info at nicolemdesign dot com dot au).

We'll start with knit hats - so only knit fabrics are needed for this workshop. I'll consider peaked caps and brimmed hats (in woven fabrics) when I see how this workshop goes.

And if you missed last week's post, there is a survey HERE that I'd love to be filled out by anyone who has either lost hair through medical treatment or knows someone who has. It will help me to assess the needs of the people I'm trying to help.

And yes - I'll be moving this over to a new blog/website when I get it off the ground, and we can go back to normal YOU SEW GIRL business here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Life, Lemons and Sharing Stories.

Scrolling through old blog posts recently, I realised how much I miss the "behind the scenes" life and family news that I used to record here. Instagram gets more attention, but I miss this space for recording the details and my more considered thoughts.

My wee girl is about to become a teenager, and I've missed recording a huge chunk of her life. I've made LOTS of things that I haven't had the time or inclination to photograph. I've had a fabulous overseas holiday that I haven't mentioned here.

That's my girl in the orange. :) 

Real life has been a priority. Just living it....sometimes just surviving it... and everything worked around the constants of keeping home, family and work together. The last three years have been full of it. Great Big Real Life. All the good, bad, ugly and difficult, a lot of mundane and a few magic moments.

Exactly a year ago, I received the advance copies of my book, The Savvy Seamstress.

It was the same day that I received confirmation that the small lump that had been mammogrammed, ultrasounded and biopsied in the preceding weeks, was indeed cancer. I was one of the (approximately) 49 women in Australia to be diagnosed with breast cancer that day, and one of the "1 in 8" women who will be diagnosed with it in her lifetime.

I wasn't very interested in the box of books on my doorstep. Things quickly spiralled in a different direction.

I've been quite open about it on Instagram and Twitter - sharing images throughout chemo, and I'm still posting images of my ongoing art therapy journey. But for some reason, the slower, more considered reflection hasn't happened here on the blog.  And still, I don't even know where to start, except to say "check your boobs, girls!".

My early diagnosis was just a little too late to avoid chemotherapy (and a higher likelihood of recurrence) than had I checked a few months earlier, when it had crossed my mind but I didn't get around to it.

Check your boobs. Often.

I did a Look Good Feel Better workshop, and wholeheartedly agree that looking as good as I could made me feel as well as I could, under the circumstances. 

Years of making hats and sewing knit fabrics came together quickly for me, and I whipped up an endless supply of hats for every occasion and outfit. My treatment was through the hottest of summer months, so I didn't want knitted or crocheted yarn hats.

Dressing up made me feel better. Hats made me feel better.

Recently, I've been playing around with hat patterns and thinking about how I might make some sort of "impact for good" with them. At the moment, I'm assessing the needs of people who are going through chemo to see what might work best. If you or someone you know is going (or has been) through treatment, and can help me with a small 2-minute survey, please do so here.

Or maybe just share your stories. I'm interested. Email me at info at nicolemdesign dot com dot au. 

When I feel that my stitchy art therapy work is taking a more cohesive shape, I might write a post about it. In the meantime, you can see it on Insta and let me know what you think.

And yes - I'm much better now, thanks. I even have hair and eyelashes, and my prognosis is good.

Wishing you all health and happiness.
And reminding you to check your boobs.
xx Nikki

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Ridiculously Easy Zippered Cushion Covers (with lovely Sharp Corners)

I spent Thursday this week at the Royal Melbourne Show, at the Spotlight Inspiration Space, showing people how to make cushion covers. I promised a free tutorial on my blog, so here it is (sorry - a day later than planned!).

The method I chose was one that hid a multitude of sins if a beginner were to give it a go. There is a zipper, but it's well-hidden beneath a wide overlap of fabric. And of course, I included tips to make the whole process a lot easier and faster than you'd think. And of course, I used fusible/hemming tape (I always use fusible tape).


1 x Square cushion insert (any size)
1 x dress zipper - at least 10cm (4'') longer than the cushion insert
Hemming tape/fusible tape/cut a strip of Vliesofix (Bondaweb)
Thread to match back fabric (see below)

Fabric -
FRONT- Cut a square of fabric 4 to 5cm (1.5 '' to 2'') longer and wider than the cushion insert.
Eg. For a 41 x 41cm cushion insert, I cut a 45 x 45cm square of fabric.

BACK - Cut fabric same width as front, but cut length 7cm (a little less than 3'') longer. (Length doesn't have to be a very accurate 7cm measurement - a little more or less wont hurt).


1. On the back fabric, divide the length (including the extra 7cm) into thirds. Round this measurement to the nearest centimetre or half-inch, and cut 1/3 from one end of the backing fabric.

2. On the bigger piece (we'll call it the bottom piece) of the backing fabric, lay the zipper face down along the cut edge. Align the edge of the zipper tape with the edge of the fabric, with the end stopper of the zipper at least 2cm (3/4'') from the side edge of the fabric. The head of the zipper should be hanging off the other end of the fabric.

3. Using a zipper foot, stitch the zipper to the fabric.

4. Turn the zipper to the right side, and all the seam allowances will fold underneath the fabric side of this seam. Topstitch along the edge of the fabric - about 2mm (a generous 1/16'') from the seam.

5. With right sides of fabric together, place the smaller piece (we'll call it the top) over the zipper. Align the cut edge of the fabric and the zipper tape, and check that the side edges of the smaller and larger pieces align on both side seam edges. Stitch the zipper tape into place along the fabric edge.

6. Place the square front piece on the table and then place the back (zippered) piece over the top, right side facing up. Align the bottom edge of the back with the bottom edge of the front and smooth the back piece over.

7. Now align the top edge of the back piece with the top edge of the front, allowing the extra fullness to fall over the zipper area.

Use your hands - and then an iron - to flatten this fullness into an overlap over the zipper. If your fabric is in any way delicate, use a pressing cloth under the iron when you press.

8. Fold back the top piece so that you can see the seam where it attaches to the zipper. Place hemming tape (or fuse paper-backed fusible tape, or a strip of fusible webbing) along the seam (taking care not to let it overhang the edge of the zipper tape and stick to your ironing board).

7. Fold the top of the cushion back into place and press it again. This will stick the fabric into place exactly where you need to sew it.

8. To make it easier still, feel through the fabric for the top edge of the zipper chain and run your thumbnail along, to mark a line to follow with your stitches.

9. Use a zipper foot and stitch along the thumbnail-indented line.

10. Open the zipper  little way and then align the open ends as if the zipper were closed. Stitch through the overlapped fabric, across the ends of the zipper. You can now safely trim those zipper ends off (without risking accidentally losing the zipper head).

Hurrah! you've inserted a zipper!

11. With right sides together, match the back to the front, aligning all the edges. Take one (any) side and seam it together with a 12mm (1/2 '') seam allowance, backtacking/backstitching at each end of the seam. Don't pivot and turn the corner... this is where the "neat corner" trick comes in!

12. Overlock/serge/zigzag the raw edge of the seam allowance.

If your fabric type is not likely to fray during laundering (eg, gentle handwash or dry clean only), you can skip this step, but if you are using a fabric that will be put into a washing machine, it's always a good idea to finish the seams.

13. Fold the seam over - right on the seamline - and stitch the next seam, capturing the folded seam allowance. Overlock/serge/zigzag that edge.

14. Continue folding, seaming and finishing each edge until all four sides of the cushion cover are sewn.

15. Turn through the corners:
Push your index finger right up into one of the corners, with the inside (fingerprint) facing the folded seam allowance. Fold the other seam allowance over the top of the first, and hold it with the thumb of the same hand (basically making an OK hand-sign with fabric in between).

Pinch your fingers together with the folded seam allowances in between, holding them as close to the corner point as you can, then flip the fabric through to show the right side (don't stop pinching the corner).

Voila! Sharp corners! (This works on fine fabric for collars and cuffs, too - anywhere where the build-up of bulky seams doesn't matter.)

16. Press the seams flat and then press the cushion cover.

17. Pop the cushion insert in and do up the zipper.

18. Feel a bit clever and make lots more cushion covers. Play with embellishment ideas.

And have a great weekend. xx