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?

 

 

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Agent Carter – or Coco the Clown?

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After watching both series of Agent Carter again with my teenage daughters, and spending a lot of time discussing the wonderful clothes (and cars) with them, I decided to aim for as much ‘Peggy’ style as I could muster in my future sewing plans.

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(c) Marvel Agent Carter

With this in mind, I set out to make the Victory Patterns Esther trousers.

One look at the elegant pattern lines will show you the reasons for this choice.

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The deep pleats and swooshy wide legs would clearly turn me into a fearless fifties crime fighter with an extensive and well-tailored wardrobe.

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Or in the alternative, would turn me into Coco the Clown.

It’s a perennial problem with being on the short side of average, that things that look amazing in theory (eg on beautiful models on patterns) don’t always work that way in practice (eg on me).  When I was nearing completion it seemed clear to me that elegance with this kind of trouser demands a rather longer silhouette than I’m capable of. Trying on the fairly final trousers (sans waistband and hemming) gave me a curious and far-from-elegant quantity of fabric around the pleating that seemed to indicate that it might be Hammer-time, but really didn’t say fearless fifties crime fighter.

Left sadly in my sewing pile for the week while the job-that-pays took precedence, I finally finished them off this weekend and now I’m happy to report that I think I love them again. Yes, there’s a LOT of fabric in the area below the waist – and though the pleats are beautiful and elegant, with the pockets and layers of drapey fabric involved, there’s a lot going on. But, at least while standing, they do still make me feel a bit Peggy, and I’m willing to take the rest for a hint of that.

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As a make, the Esther pattern is great. The instructions are detailed with great illustrations, and everything came together as it should. I used a hook fastening rather than a button because the waistband was a tad snug – but otherwise followed the pattern exactly.

The drapey crepe I used was from Fabrics Galore, and the pocket bags were made with a remnant of similar weight greeny-blue satin-backed crepe (as I hadn’t quite enough of the main fabric).While I love the peek of green this gives, it is a dilemma for this pattern – a thinner pocket bag fabric would give a little less weight to the waistband, but as it’s visible (and the pocket is formed from one pattern piece) it really needs to have a similar weight to the rest of the trousers. On the whole, I think you do need fabric with this kind of substance to make the trousers work, but it certainly means that I should have graded the seams caught within the waistband rather more ruthlessly. Ah well, there are worse things. img_2816-e1526249645900.jpg

 

If I were making the pattern again (and I certainly intend to), I’d probably seek out a slightly lighter weight fabric. Depending on how they wear, I might also reduce down a little of the volume caused by the beautiful pleats and very wide legs – but let’s keep an open mind at this point.

Tomorrow is the acid test, as I wear them to work in a secondary school. If the laughter of a hundred children follows me down the corridors, I’ll know I am indeed more Coco than Carter.