The Agnes top – review

I’ve always loved sewing. My grandmother had a tremendously stately Singer sewing machine, which sat proudly on its own sturdy table with swirly metalwork legs. It was a very important and splendid thing, a bit like the Queen Mother, seldom wheeled out but always treated with a lot of reverence. My mother, very good at dressmaking, also had a Singer, which again was definitely out of bounds for me. I learned to sew at school on a Singer, making a skirt so laboriously that by the time I had finished I had grown a foot and hated the fabric – a cheap green and white stripe – with a deep and abiding passion.

I was rather thrilled to be given my first sewing machine – I suddenly felt like a genuine grown-up at last at the age of 30-something. In the best family tradition, it was seldom used but took up a lot of space. I moved countries with it twice, and when eventually I actually wanted to do a bit of sewing, it didn’t work. I replaced it with another Singer, which worked just enough for me to worry that the problem was something I was doing – wrong threading, wrong needle, wind in wrong direction – rather than the machine itself.

This was the situation right up until last week, when I stumbled across Tilly and the Buttons, a lovely, upbeat blog all about sewing. Creator Tilly has devised a whole bunch of lovely but simple patterns which are easy to understand, fun to make and result in nice, wearable clothes. At last! I’ve only been waiting 50 years for this.

So I downloaded the tutorial for the Agnes top. It wasn’t cheap, at $65, but as the price was in dollars I could convince myself that it didn’t really count as much as pounds would. This sort of logic has got me a long way in life, as you can imagine. Anyway, I was a little disappointed to discover that the price didn’t include a pre-printed copy of the pattern (though how I thought this was going to come out of the computer, I don’t know) but I duly followed Tilly’s instructions and managed to print and stick my own pattern. This wasn’t hard but was on the fiddly side, but I reckon if you’re the sort who wants to make a top in the first place, you’ll have the stamina and the attention to detail to get through it as I did. Plus you will have paid $65! You can buy the Agnes pattern on the website with a 20 per cent discount, as part of the course, but I wanted to crack on and make the top straight away.

Cutting and sticking the Agnes pattern
Cutting and sticking the Agnes pattern


My fabric stash
My fabric stash

The joy of the course is that it comes not only with written instructions but also access to video tutorials featuring Tilly, who is very practical, chirpy and generally lovely and explains things beautifully. I found I did pause the video on the tricky bits and go over things several times, which then helped me through any difficulties.

Some offcuts
Some offcuts

I really enjoyed making the top. The only part that was hard was dealing with my sewing machine, and if the Agnes experience convinced me of anything, it was that my sewing machine basically had a problem that all the YouTube videos on threading, tension etc weren’t going to solve. Finally I plucked up the courage to do what I should have done ages ago – I rang John Lewis and complained!! The skies didn’t fall, and in fact a very nice man said that they would pick up the faulty machine the next day and replace it. I rather cheekily asked if I could swap it for a Janome, which is the machine that Tilly uses on her blog. I’d fallen in love with its chunky looks and its reassuringly solid purr as it sewed in straight lines without puckers and missed stitches in the tutorials. I’m sure there are many wonderful Singer machines out there – I just wanted to try something different. John Lewis said that would be no problem and the very next day, my new Janome arrived. It’s lovely and it sews properly.

Agnes shaping up

So, though I’ve shown you photos of the Agnes make in progress, my photo of the final top is deliberately a little coy:

Agnes and me
Me and my Agnes

Frankly, there’s more of the fridge in that pic than there is of the Agnes top. That’s because my previous machine really didn’t do it justice. I’m now going to make one with my new machine, probably for one of my daughters, and I’ll definitely post a picture of that in all its glory. I have a feeling I’ll be doing much more sewing now – thanks to Tilly, Janome, John Lewis and, of course, Agnes.

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