Holiday sewing

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Ten days on holiday in the UK meant one thing for my hobby: the chance for some serious sewing time. It would clearly rain solidly for the whole time we were in Wales, so I would have lots of lovely time to sew.

And then what happened? Gorgeous weather throughout, with lots of wonderful time on the beach, glorious days spent outside and very little sewing time. I know, a disaster!

My rain-dancing, negotiations and bargains with the weather gods finally gave me one solid day with my sewing machine and overlocker, while my family drifted off to do other grey-day activities. I spent the time getting to grips with my first Burda pattern.rbqnjnrrqjs8vwb1vncvxa.jpg

Taken from the 4/2019 edition of Burda Style ‘shirt 108A’ was described as super easy, and in fairness that was a reasonable description. It’s a boxy cut, very loose fitting top with off-shoulder set-in sleeves. I thought it would be a simple but effective style in a drapey fabric – and that making the same top in a range of different fabrics would be a really interesting holiday project.

I took about 10 fabric choices with me but only managed to make up two of them, for the reasons explored above. Curse those weather gods with their glorious sunny days. As designed, the pattern has 3 main pieces – one front, one back and one sleeve piece cut twice. I traced them all as whole pieces rather than on the fold. The finish uses bias binding at the neck, so there’s a separate piece for that which you can also cut out.

As someone more used to sewing indie patterns than even the big four, the brevity of the instructions was quite a jolt. No step by step guidance with photos – not even a line drawing to help you along your way. I read them through, made as much sense of them as I could, and then largely ignored them. There wasn’t much to ignore after all, and if I couldn’t construct such a basic top by now, there wasn’t really much hope for me.

For top #1, I used a drapey hot pink fabric that has been in my stash for approximately forever. I bought it just after I realised that sewing was the Best Thing Ever, and it was cheap and drapey in a great shade from somewhere online. It then sat at the bottom of my sewing stash as I remembered that I don’t usually wear hot pink. Time then for a change.

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Obligatory arms spread wide to show the dimensions of the top pose – why do I always do this?

I started by making a few thousand metres of bias binding. I’m one of those odd people who quite likes making binding, so when I need a little, I tend to make quite a lot and use it for other purposes. I had brought my binding maker with me, but not my cutting board or rotary cutter so my strips weren’t the most accurate, but it all worked OK.

Construction was, as you might imagine, pretty straightforward – shoulders, neckline, sleeves, sides, hem. The sleeves were double-thickness, giving them a nice weight that gave a little shaping that contrasted with the hang of the main body.

IMG_1203Putting it on, I liked it a lot. A simple but effective top, just as I’d hoped. The pink wasn’t too much for me – at least not with jeans. In fact the only thing I decided to change for top #2 was the neckline binding – swapping it out for facings instead. Whilst I dislike flappy facings, I prefer the clean neckline that they give as long as they’re well-stitched down. I traced off the top of the front and back sections with some greaseproof paper (hadn’t brought my dots-and-crosses paper with me) and went ahead with the second top.

This time the fabric I chose was some blue dupion-style silk that I bought in India last year. It was more structured and less drapey than the first top, but after an initial wash had felt like a good option. It all went together very easily, and the facings (my first self-drafted ones) worked perfectly.

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Another arms-spread-wide post, this time so you can see it from the back. You’re welcome.

So, reflections on this make?

Firstly, it’s a very simple pattern, but an easy and effective top. It’s very wearable, and I’ve demonstrated as a very slow sewist that it’s perfectly possible to make in a half-day. As long as you don’t depend on detailed instructions and you’re happy to wing-it, it’s a great staple to have in your pattern box if you like this kind of shape. And I do (fortunately).

Secondly, I really like making things a couple of times, in quick succession. The learning from the first time around you immediately get to build into the second version – so small things that you might not write down or even think about much are picked up and improved on.  As my piano teacher constantly tried to make me understand as a child, practice really does make things better.

Thirdly, it’s really interesting the way that a fabric changes the whole nature of a garment. Obviously we know this instinctively as we choose the right fabric for the pattern we’re obsessing about – but actually making the same top in different fabrics is a really good way to really think about what you’re looking for in future purchases.

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Last reflection – I really do need to get better at taking photos. It’s always been the bit about writing a blog that makes me a bit mortified because even my nearest-and-dearest would agree that I rarely take a good photo – but these are really not great! Evidence above suggests that the only things I do are stand with my hands in my pockets or flailed outstretched. All (kind, gentle) advice on this score would be welcome.

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Pattern testing – the Mahina cardigan from Scroop Patterns

So, a new thing for me this time: pattern testing. I was lucky enough to be chosen by Leimomi of Scroop Patterns to be one of the testers for her new Mahina cardigan pattern which has launched today. It was a really interesting concept, and I am really pleased with the finished piece. I made view B – a very simple make, with only three pattern pieces (and that includes two sleeves). Mahina_Front_Page

The interesting thing about this pattern is the way that you tailor it to your measurements. The base pieces for each of the cardigan shapes doesn’t alter, but the positioning of darts and the size and positioning of the arm holes is the thing that tailors the pattern to your specific measurements.

I printed the pattern at home, and spent an hour or so one evening piecing it all together with a glass of wine on hand. There weren’t too many sheets involved, so it was reasonably therapeutic. You do need to be awake/concentrating enough to make sure the darts and armhole piece is lined up correctly. I *may* have needed to unstick and restick that piece on my pattern, and that *may* have been related to the wine.

EDT3aARWQUS28VgWoQLbJwCutting out was a quick and simple process, given the small number of pieces involved. I had a nice 2m quantity of blue ponte di roma jersey that I’d been saving for a cardigan, with about 40% stretch on the crossgrain. It had a good drape and enough weight to work with without being too think – a chunkier jersey may not have had the lovely draping that this pattern gives you. The instructions indicated that I’d need 2m for my size, but in fact, I only needed 1.55m – even including cutting out plenty of binding strips though I didn’t ultimately use them. One thing I noticed (and appreciated) was that I was able to cut the pattern and binding strips very economically – so there was little wastage in the scraps leftover. I’m trying to be mindful of reducing waste in relation to sewing, so was really pleased about this.

My measurements indicated a 34cm shoulder and 28cm bicep measurement. I’d printed the pattern instructions out, and there was a space given to write these measurements in. I did so obediently (I was pattern testing after all) but may have skipped it normally – but in practice kept having to refer back to this page. You would think with only two measurements to deal with, I’d be able to retain them in my brain: but you would be wrong.

eORjJmeFQcSaTW2BAbmD1QThe Mahina pattern gives a whole range of options for finishing the edge of the cardigan, including a raw edge and different kinds of bound edges – in self fabric, bias binding or lace. I’d decided to bind the edges in the same fabric, but once I’d assembled the garment actually thought that the bound edge would result in a finish that was too thick and heavy – and that the lovely drape I had achieved would be lost. I decided to leave it as a raw edge, but to keep those binding strips so I could change my mind later potentially.

There’s not much to say about construction – it really couldn’t be a lot simpler, and though the approach is a bit different, so you need to get your head around it first (without wine …), once you have it’s a really quick garment to assemble. All the notches matched perfectly, and I didn’t make any alternations to the test pattern (though I think Leimomi made a few minor alterations based on feedback from others).

msvlosq5s9uinug3x3gr3a-1.jpgIf I was (let’s be real: ‘when I am’) making the pattern in the future, the only major change I would make would be in the shoulder measurement, which I think I got a bit wrong. The open drape of the cardigan hangs from that shoulder measurement point, so if you measure to the very end point of your shoulders, then the cardigan will hang from there down the side of your body (if that makes sense). In future makes I’ll shorten that measurement, as I prefer a cardigan that is narrower – sharing a far-from-flattering photo here to demonstrate what I mean. In fairness, I think the narrower measurement is actually what’s intended (the instructions say to measure from the highest point on the rounded shoulder rise, which is actually a bit further in than the point I’d used).

fullsizeoutput_3366For this garment, I may pinch a little more into the darts to bring the shoulder line in but it’s still definitely wearable as is. I experimented with pinning it across, which I liked a lot (though I may need to trade up to a real brooch rather than my youngest daughter’s Brownie pin). I love the ‘waterfall’ drape and the way it hangs at the back, and the raw edge doesn’t feel ‘raw’ at all in wearing it.

My overall view is that I really like this pattern – a quick, simple and practical item, and a great basic to have in my collection. Start to finish time for sewing was about 2.5 hours – and that’s as one of the world’s slowest sewists, and involved fielding requests from three children, taking phone calls, eating snacks (obviously), making and drinking coffee (also obviously) and sorting lunch for the family. Actual sewing time, particularly for a second/subsequent makes, would be a lot less. The instructions were carefully thought through, and flowed really nicely. They also refer to where you might find other bits of information if you’re looking for them, which helps to navigate your way around, given the range of options included in the one pattern.

Thank you for the chance to test this pattern, and for my new Mahina cardigan!

Stevie and the Japanese procession

It started with some inspirational fabric and a plan for some holiday sewing.

The fabric was an awesome cotton print, gifted by a wonderful friend who bought it some time ago in Japan. Said friend has been sewing for as long as I’ve known her (30+ years) and has forgotten more than I will ever know about this craft. She’s also kind and generous – she made my wedding dress 20 years ago because I asked her to ….  (I know, I know … in my defence I had no idea what I was asking at the time and now I do I’ve sincerely apologised but am also still delighted with the beautiful dress she made me), so gifting sweet fabric is definitely in keeping with her personality.

IMG_2913The material was a cotton print, but with none of the stiffness you usually get when you buy printed cotton. And what a print! My favourite shade of teal – a really warm, deep shade – with a procession of beautiful ladies dressed in kimonos, carrying parasols and wearing geta (Japanese footwear, somewhere between a clog and a flipflop).

I was given the fabric last summer, but it took a while to decide on the right pattern for it. The ladies process along one edge of the fabric as a border print, so it needed to be a design without darts or pleats, so their walk could be unimpeded. I’d kind of dismissed Stevie when the dress was launched last year by Tilly and the Buttons, but when I went to the Sewing Weekender it seemed that so many of the people I met were wearing/making/both a Stevie dress or top – and they looked lovely, not all hospital-gown-ish as I’d feared. Final encouragement from a sewing-friend-at-work (thank you Vanessa) and I decided that Stevie would be right for this fabric.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who spends more time planning the sewing projects/kit to take on holiday than actually packing real clothes. I planned, resourced and packed for three projects during our 10 days away, but Stevie was the only one that experienced the country air. It was probably something to do with needing a simple, well-structured make (after my wonderful but intense tailoring experience), sewing in the presence of a puppy (who was brilliantly behaved but I was reasonably paranoid about her eating haberdashery that she shouldn’t), and actually spending lovely relaxing time with my extended family, that made this one The One.

The make came together very easily and it would be a great pattern for a sewist at any stage/experience. The instructions are very detailed, with clear photos and hints to guide you through it. Because of the pattern placement I had to be a little creative with piecing – using the crossgrain so that the print went around the hem and not up my side. I cut a straight size 4, which fitted well – as I had expected having made several TATB patterns. img_0333Their block is a good match for my measurements and TATB patterns tend to fit me well. I liked the way that the facing was sewn down (similar to the Bettine pattern) as part of the design, as I don’t like facings that move around when I’m wearing the garment.

The cotton cut easily and was a dream to sew up being stable but still with some drape to it. It took the iron and the interfacing well. I don’t know where in Japan Lisa bought it from, but the same fabric seems to be sold here and I’d highly recommend it. With the print ladies walking around the hem, I had some lovely fabric bits that I couldn’t use elsewhere as they’d have looked odd. kLswTM9mQxKa3qVZaIu6qwOne lady became the pocket and one looks out from the facing on the inside when you undo the bow at the back – one of those secret details you can put into your own makes, and which make me smile.

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Notes for me for future occasions when I make this pattern (and I think there will be a few – it’s a very simple, practical and quick make) – I did a tiny hem but still probably will choose to wear this with capri leggings or jeans rather than with bare legs. On that basis, the pattern might work better for me if extended by an inch or two – not exactly a common pattern adjustment I make and is definitely about what I feel comfortable wearing and not an issue with the pattern. Let’s see, maybe I’ll be brave enough to wear it as is? Also the bow at the back is fine with the ties made from the main fabric but a complementary-coloured ribbon might be nicer and feel more elegant.

Thank you to the lovely friends who made this possible but also to my long-suffering and understanding family – who seem to get that sewing is an important way for me to relax and recharge, and don’t mind giving me the time and space to do so. You’re all diamonds. X

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Sew Over It Francine Jacket – weeks 2 and 3

Francine

Arriving for week two of the Francine workshop, feeling guilty for not having finished the homework, tired from a late night of sewing and early start, and frazzled from an intensive day at work, wasn’t the most auspicious start to our second session. However, the mental re-set that I get from sewing quickly worked its magic, and as I got busy catching up with the more organised members of the group, I felt myself really relax.

img_5740Week two was mainly focused on attaching the collar pieces front jacket facing, using techniques that were certainly new to me to ensure that everything sits ‘right’.  Just thinking about the way that the collar and jacket facing needed to be rolled differently and tacked in place was fascinating – there are so many stages to garments that we wear everyday, without thinking about their construction. Which is even more amazing when you’re a person who tends to think about garment construction in most of her idle moments.

Julie took the time to demonstrate the new techniques, again really explaining clearly why different stages were necessary and how the elements built up towards the finished jacket. I know from reading the words in the written pattern that I’d have really struggled to understand the different stages of the instructions without a handhold, so I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to learn in person.

I began to realise through this second class that I was going to have to make a second Francine soon. Despite my #makenine plans for 2019, it was becoming clear that to really embed the learning from these workshops, I will have to work through all the steps again by myself – without an oracle to consult this time. And the sooner I do it, the more likely I’ll actually remember the things she has told us.

Another element of this week’s class focused on pressing, and using steam to manipulate and set the wool fabrics we were working with. I used a tailor’s ham and clappers for the first time (more kit, dear family members, that will always be appreciated re future birthday/Christmas/’just because’ gifts) and gained a much better understanding of the way that this kind of fabric responds to the heat and steam.

Once again the evening flew by, with lovely chat with the other sewists, GBSB gossip, carrot cake and tea, and all too soon Julie was gathering us to explain our homework – mainly the lining that would need to be prepped for next time.

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This time around, I had much more time to do my homework – and realising that I’m much happier sewing when there isn’t a clock counting down next to my head, I took my time over the weekend to cut and stitch the lining.After working with the lovely wool coating, it was a bit of a transition to be using slippery lining fabric (with a broken and ridiculously blunt rotary cutter to boor), but it all worked reasonably well. We also had to set in the sleeves, tacking them in position so that Julie could check them before we stitched them in properly.

Arriving on Wednesday for our final class, it was clear that there was still a lot to do. img_5737After our sleeves were approved and carefully stitched in place, the majority of the class was spent learning and applying skills in putting in sleeve head wadding and shoulder pads. It was amazing to directly see the difference that shoulder pads made – the lovely ones that Sew Over It had sourced for us were a far cry from the 1980s beasts that spring to mind when I think about shoulder pads, and the gentle way that they raised the jacket and improved the way it hung on me was immediately obvious. Time consuming for sure, but definitely worth while.

Putting in the lining was next, and again it transformed the jacket – you could really ‘see’ the garment it would (hopefully) become. Again, the construction was img_5612fascinating – the additional fabric in the lining to ensure it can move easily when you’re taking it on and off, and the way it all comes together when you finally join it to the main fabric.

Each class in the workshop series is three hours long, from 6:30 to 9:30pm – which after a full day at work is pretty tiring. Our last class didn’t finish until 10pm (thank you so much for giving up your time for us) because Julie wanted to make sure that we were all clear on the instructions for the final elements of construction. img_5739There are lots of hand sewing elements that are small but important – joining the lining at key points to the main fabric, and finishing the hems cleanly and accurately. There simply wasn’t time for us to finish everything in the class.

Though it seemed like there was a huge amount to do when I got home, each stage was quickly finished. Well, I say each stage – it’s now nearly a month since the class finished, and my jacket is still sans button holes and buttons. One of the suggestions in class was to take our jackets to a specialist shop in Berwick Street for the button holes – on the basis that it would be truly heartbreaking to get this far with a jacket and then to make a mess of the button holes which would be so very obvious. I decided this was excellent advice, but being me – I’ve just not found the time to actually make it there yet. You can tell I’ve given up to a certain extent now, as this blog post has been waiting for all the intervening time for me to get this done, and it’s clear it won’t be soon, so here you are. In fairness I’ve been wearing the jacket anyway – realising that I almost never do up buttons on a jacket like this.

img_5747.jpgOne adjustment that became necessary quickly was where I’d managed to sew the lining badly in one sleeve, which was pulling the arm shape so it couldn’t hang straight.That one was quickly unpicked, and sadly now doesn’t look as beautiful on the inside as it had done, but no matter. Otherwise I’m so very pleased with it.

Reflecting on the workshop series now – it is an experience I would definitely recommend. The sense of achievement in doing something so completely out of my comfort zone is immense, and I’ve become fascinated with tailoring methods – very keen to learn more (maybe a waistcoat for my husband next, inspired by the GBSB). As you’ll have gleaned, the teaching was supportive, clear and pragmatic – Julie knows her stuff, and she knows how to communicate it. She’s incredibly patient and though I’m sure we tested that to the limit, you really felt how much she wanted us all to achieve.

The small group of sewists in the class (there were six of us, which is the maximum class size) were also brilliant company, and I’m looking forward to seeing their jackets on social media. I already miss our Wednesday evenings (though it is nice not to be quite so tired on Thursdays).

The only suggestion I’d make about the classes would be for more! Four weeks, rather than three, would be perfect. There was so much we didn’t get the chance to do with supervision. We spent a lot of week one cutting out our patterns and fabrics, and it was brilliant to have toiles available so that you could ensure you were cutting out the right size, and adjusting it in the way that would fit your body – before you cut any fabric. Assuming that’s not financially viable to do four weeks, perhaps class participants could be asked to come in at another time before the class started to try on the toiles in store and then at least come with the pattern pieces cut out – and if the sizing looked good, to cut the fabric pieces too. It was all valuable, but if I could choose between having Julie on hand for cutting out fabric or doing the final elements of construction, I’d prefer the latter.

Other than wanting more of it, I’ve no negatives at all to share about the class. I heartily recommend it, and will certainly be back for more classes at Sew Over It in the future. Thank you!

 

Reflections on reflections – or starting a sewing blog in 2018

Nine months ago I started writing this sewing blog. I thought I’d write a post today as a reflection on how things have gone so far – just in case anyone out there might be thinking about starting one of their own.

May 2018: I’d been sewing for nearly five years, and reading blogs obsessively for most of that time. Though I enjoyed reading what other people had written, I had no intention of actually writing my own. I would have been more than happy to write about any and every aspect of sewing, but with such a visual medium I couldn’t bear the thought of taking pictures of myself and publishing them for the world to see. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that I don’t take a good photo. My ability to gurn in the most serious and romantic photos is well-renowned.

So it was with much trepidation and misgiving that I changed my mind.

Having read blogs for many many years and enjoyed reading them I was always fascinated about what it would add to my experience of sewing to actually start writing about the process. In parallel to my love of sewing, my husband has an interest in films that borders on obsession. He’s written a (brilliant and insightful) film blog for the last six years (read it: I know I’m biased but it’s excellent). Early on in that time I bought him a workshop at the Guardian with their film critic, Peter Bradshaw. One thing that really stuck with him from that day was a discussion around the way that your experience of something changes when you start to write about it. You stop being a passive observer and analyse your own position, thoughts, feelings and so on. I could see definite comparisons with sewing and was curious about how it would change my creative enjoyment of dressmaking.

So this is a reflection on how things have gone, and what I’ve learned so far.

Lady WordPress tells me that I have written 12 posts in the last nine months. She notes that 885 different people have visited my site so far (thank you all) and that my average word count per post has gone up in 2019 with a corresponding reduction in likes. Hmmm, something to think about. Apparently 48% of traffic happens on a Monday, with 4pm the busiest time – I’m not 100% convinced about this, because Lady W has told me that Monday is the best day to publish something from the beginning – so is its busy-ness cause or effect? Most visitors have been from the UK, but with a healthy proportion from the USA, Australia and mainland Europe.

In those months, some lovely people have followed my blog and commented, but most people who read anything I have written come from the Foldline community and their Facebook page. It’s this wonderful fact that has helped me come to terms with photos of me being displayed on the internet for everyone to see – because actually, the only people visiting are the lovely sewing community and they are the last people in the world who would call me out on my photos, figure or finishing. My family supportively read each post too (or they tell me they do), but I trust that they aren’t easily shocked after all these years by bad photos of me.

Writing about my sewing has definitely changed the way I approach projects. I’ve never been speedy (see my tag line), but I’ve always been fairly instinctive about my sewing choices. I find that in thinking about the blog, I’m more thoughtful about my decisions about what project to undertake next.

Although I thought I would, I’ve not written a blog about everything I’ve made in this time. One example was some waxed wraps that I made in the autumn – I took pictures as I went along with every intention of writing it up for the blog – but in the event there was nothing new that I had to say about the process or the result. I’d looked up the ‘how to’ online, and followed the guidance of Heather Lou – so with nothing new to add to the party, it seemed a bit ridiculous to say “and this is how I did it too”. It’s a great method, and I strongly recommend having a go, for what it’s worth!

I’m definitely more reflective now about what went well in a project, and what I’d change for the next time around. Again it’s probably in parallel with the fact that I’m getting a little more experience under my belt, but I enjoy thinking about what worked and what didn’t – and why: was it the fabric, the pattern, the sewing, the notions, did I rush it, did I learn a new skill? What does the garment do for my (vertically challenged) proportions, and what does this tell me for my next choice?

As a final point, one of the most popular posts I’ve written so far was about the Sewing Weekender in August. As something of an introvert, I found it interesting to write about my experiences in that context – sharing sewing with others in a way that I don’t, as a rule. Lots of lovely people who were there that weekend reached out and said warm and encouraging things, and it was great to share The Fear and be reassured. Another thing that came out of it was an out-of-the-blue contact from Frances Tobin – The Maker’s Atelier, who had been at the weekend as a speaker. She’d read my blog and wanted to include some of this perspective in her lovely magazine.

It was an absolute rush to the head to finally see it in print this month – so thank you to Frances and to everyone else who has given me the confidence to write these Tales – in particular the Foldline community. I look forward to writing more of them in 2019 and beyond.

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.

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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?

 

 

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