Fifties’ fabulousness

 

It was November when I accepted the party invitation. I knew there was a fifties’ theme, and I knew I’d want to make a dress for it.

So why – why??? – was it only yesterday afternoon that I started sewing the dress that I was intending to wear that evening?

It’s probably best not to analyse my need for an urgent deadline to get anything done – instead I’ll talk through the process – and my joy in having picked a pattern that was both quick and straightforwards. It’s certainly true that, being a snail of a sewist, if it had been anything more complicated I’d definitely have ended up resorting to finding something RTW at the back of the wardrobe, and hoping it still fitted.

When I published my #makenine list a couple of weeks ago, the #Sewoverit #cowl dress was there at number 5 – and I cannot tell you how smug I feel that I’ve actually achieved one of my plans. [I even mentioned there that I’d thought I’d wear it to the party last night, so I really have no one but myself to blame that I didn’t do anything about actually making it till yesterday afternoon.] I thought a lovely dark red ponte would be perfect, but I knew it would want something with the right amount of substance to make the cowl drape right without being too structured. I didn’t want to order anything online, because I knew I’d want to feel the weight and the drape for this one.

For one reason or another (pressures of work, family, taxi-service to children etc), getting to a fabric shop just didn’t happen. I work within a 20 minute walk of Fabrics Galore in Battersea, so I intended to walk there all week at lunchtime – and failed every single day. Saturday morning I waved a white flag to my intentions – I had a maroon piece of jersey that would do. It was a bit thinner than I’d wanted, and it was intended for the #Kielo dress on my #makenine list, but it would do. I popped it into the washing machine as I headed out on one of my family-taxi runs yesterday morning, and made a mental note to pop into the Sweet Seams sewing shop on our high street on my way home to pick up some matching thread.

It wasn’t my fault that Sweet Seams had a beautifully drapey, velvet-ish silver-grey polyester that turned my head. I’d gone in for thread I tell you. I came out with rather more …

img_5356So while the second load of washing was doing its thing, I stuck together the PDF pages together – about 40 pages, though about four of them were blank. Unusually (in my very limited experience of PDF pattern sticking), the overlap between pages was quite wide and the pattern printed nearly to the edges of each page, which meant that I didn’t really need to trim the edges. I could just stick the pieces on top of each other. I’ve experimented with various methods of sticking PDFs together and my accuracy isn’t brilliant with any of them – but this way was less wonky overall.

2pm kick off – pattern pieces ready to go, fabric washed and dried. With a bit of encouragement from the lovely Foldline sewists on Facebook, I took a deep breath and started cutting out. One of the beautiful things about this pattern is that there are literally three pattern pieces to cut out – front dress on the fold, back dress on the fold and two sleeves. The fabric was quite slippery in the cutting out stage, but it was manageable. I’d tried to iron the fabric without success – whatever temperature I tried it just left iron marks on the fabric – so I had a scorched bit at the side I had to avoid but that wasn’t tricky.

sew over it cowl dress 2

Another thing I really liked about the pattern was that it gave instructions for overlocking the fabric. A lot of patterns, I’m sure to be inclusive to all, don’t seem to tell you when you could/should overlock the edges or in what order. Obviously you can work it out, but when you’re working to a deadline (ah hem) it’s helpful to be told what to do. On the other hand, there were several times when the steps or order didn’t make sense to me at all – for example, overlocking each side of the sleeve sides before sewing together (which made total sense) and then overlocking the hem of the sleeve afterwards. Overlocking a narrow sleeve hem edge is tricky, so I just overlocked the three sides of each sleeve before sewing up. That kind of thing.

IMG_5363.PNGThe instructions were to use a twin needle for the neck, sleeve and dress hems, but I just used a zig-zag stitch throughout. On balance, I’m not sure that was the right decision, as the stitching looks quite obvious to me scowling at the dress form this morning. I’m not sure the twin needle would have been right either though – probably should have tried for a more invisible hem stitch.

Reflections on this make – definitely the right fabric choice, and I’m glad I took that unplanned trip into Sweet Seams when I did. While polyester/velour wouldn’t be everyone’s choice (nineties tracksuits anyone?), it felt luxurious, and a bit fifties’ glam which was perfect. The drape of the fabric worked perfectly for the cowl. It definitely needs a belt at the waist, but I’d anticipated that from the pattern images and borrowed one from one of my obliging daughters. img_5339With my new shoes from Collectif, it felt like the right outfit for the party – and I felt confident and comfortable: not a guaranteed combination on any occasion.

In terms of the pattern, I really like it. It’s one of those makes that gives you a result that looks like much more effort/time than it actually took (win). I’d definitely make it again – maybe next time in a less ‘party’ fabric, so it could be part of my work wardrobe. If I were doing it again, I’d definitely go for a fabric with a bit of heft to it (definitely sew over it cowl dress 3nothing too thin), and I’d try and go for an invisible hem – a bit of hand stitching probably. I think it would be worth the effort, and given the simplicity of the rest of the pattern, it’d be time well spent. I’d also put some ribbon or tape along the back neckline and shoulders, to give a bit more structure to the cowl, and stop it slipping down my shoulders (which wouldn’t be a great work-look!)

What do you think? Anyone else made the cowl dress?

 

 

Advertisements

An attempt at ‘elegant’

At the 2018 sewing weekender, I was lucky enough to hear from the inspirational Francesimg_5174 Tobin about her company, The Maker’s Atelier. With a range of beautiful, classic sewing patterns, Frances’ products are all graceful and elegant – pretty much works of art in themselves, with beautiful photography, designs and packaging that you want to keep. She also produces a lovely magazine with fascinating and relevant articles about the whole process of making garments, again with high production values. A coffee table sewing magazine, if you like.

So it wasn’t a massive leap that I would buy one of her patterns and try on ‘elegant’ as a new concept. The pattern of choice had just been released – the Madeline Robertson jumpsuit and dress. I drooled over the style at the sewing weekender, and decided that my daughters would love the jumpsuit and I would love the dress. img_5175

An aside here – the pattern isn’t just named for Madeline Robertson – she’s the fashion student who designed it. Frances has commissioned a series of designs from students and graduates starting out in their careers, “to encourage the craft of dressmaking”. It’s great that she’s lending her expertise and network to help new designers get started.

I bought the fabric for this make from Fabrics Galore – a lovely blue cupro – a material I’d not even heard of before let alone sewn. The Laundress tells me that it is “a fabric of regenerated cellulose fibers from recycled cotton linter, [it] breathes and regulates temperature like cotton, drapes elegantly, and feels like silk.” What I can say for myself is that it’s a lovely fabric to work with – it has the drape of silk without its wilful slipperiness, can take a reasonably hot iron and feels lovely to wear. I’d definitely opt for it for future makes when I can source it. I don’t know if this is true of all cupro, but mine had a sheen on one side, and the other was a kind of matte finish – do you call it that when it’s fabric, not paint? Anyway, you know what I mean, and I chose to use the matte side as the right side, with the shine on the reverse.

Some sites I looked at claimed cupro as an eco-friendly fabric option, because it uses parts of the cotton plant that might otherwise be discarded and requires a closed-loop production system and non-toxic dyes – but I’m afraid I don’t have the knowledge to assess the truth of those claims. But if it is both lovely and kind, I’d say it’s a definite win.

Making the dress was reasonably straightforwards, though the instructions are less detailed than you get with many independent pattern designers. With only a little head scratching it all came together pretty well however, until I got to the waist tie. img_5173

Not going to lie, I think the issue I have with the waist tie is nothing to do with the design, and everything to do with me being a grumpy old woman. It just didn’t make much sense to me – like Snapchat and using the word ‘sick’ as a compliment. The back waist is defined with a short piece of elastic in a channel, but the front waist is defined by a similar channel with a rope tie, knotted on either side and kind of gathered in the middle. Perhaps the problem was also that I’d already decided to swap in a bias binding ‘ribbon’ for the rope, so what would have been a feature that properly anchored the gathering, just looked a bit droopy and odd (see above, on the stand).

img_5338I spent a good while staring at it, trying it on, and trying to make it work on me but it just looked frumpy. Eventually I realised that it wasn’t going to work for me in the way the pattern intended, but that there are many ways to skin cats, belt dresses etc – so I began to play around with the options.

For new year’s eve, I wore it with the long ‘ribbon’ belt wrapped around several times to create a tie. I experimented on the stand with a kimono-style of belt, like a cummerbund, and then struggled to turn the way that worked as a knotted piece of fabric into something that might work as a belt. img_5171Finally I used a Mimi G article to turn the belt-in-my-mind into an obi belt. I then bought an obi belt in Collectif in Brighton in the January sales (showing in the main photo above), because frankly theirs is a lot neater than mine, and it was in the sale (I also bought some amazing shoes there that are my new favourite things – seriously if you love 1940s/1950s style, they’re having a quite stunning sale until the end of Monday 14th January, so you might want to check it outimg_5339

Debates about my waist definition aside, it’s a lovely dress. The sleeves are particularly nice – the drape of the fabric and the fact that they aren’t ‘closed’ at the bottom makes me feel just a little bit of the elegance I was aiming for. img_5334Obviously I’ll probably just dangle them into my soup, but I liked using the same bias binding (in a beautiful green silk from our trip to Kolkata last summer) to edge the sleeves.

img_5337The back is also quite interesting – it’s open from just above the waist to the hook and eye at the neck. It does call for a bit of thought around underwear – I went for a black slip on new year’s eve, but a backless bra, a camisole or a pretty bra top would also work. Actually, the hook and eye came undone a few times when I wore it at new years’, so I’ve squished the hook a bit – but if that doesn’t work, I might just sew it closed at the neck point as the dress can pull on over my head without undoing it.

Reflections on this make? Well, looking at these photos, most of my reflections are on how much I need a haircut to be honest – and it’s fair to say that an elegant fabric/dress style doesn’t immediately make me elegant, but I’ll take anything that might help. More pertinently, as well as being a new fan of cupro, I’d definitely seek out more patterns from the Maker’s Atelier – they’re unusual but stylish; classic styling with a twist. I feel they are particularly good for people like me – a slightly (ahem) older sewist, who is after a challenge but is nervous about stepping up to full-on tailoring.

Because that’s next month