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

Make Nine 2019

As will be obvious to everyone connected to me in any way, much of my life and almost all of my actual sewing is largely unplanned. The moment I commit to a project, it turns it to a task rather than a joy – so staying in the unplanned zone keeps things interesting.

On the other hand, planning is akin to procrastination – so the more I think about a project, plan for it and buy fabric/notions and tools, the better. I can spend hours reading sewing blogs (thank you to everyone who writes one, you feed my obsession in a cost-effective way) and greedily browsing on-line fabric stores. This explains the ever-expanding stash of fabric that I own and the many patterns and magazines that are gathering dust.

I think I’m ready to commit though. I have been looking at the other #Makenine posts, instagram pictures and Facebook threads for Rochelle’s 2019 challenge, and feel inspired to gather nine of the projects I’m mulling for this year – and see whether I make any or all of them by the end of December!

1. Sew Over It – Francine Jacket

This one might be regarded as a bit of a cheat – or at least a bit of a cert. My lovely husband bought me the Sew Over It class to make the Francine jacket as my Christmas present, so by mid-March this one should be complete. Famous last words, perhaps …

2. Helen’s Closet – Blackwood Cardigan

In my last post, I mentioned the navy cardigan I’d been intending to make when I came across the black and white lace ponte. Well, somewhere in my stash that navy jersey should still be lurking, and I definitely need a warm layer in navy to complement several pairs of trousers that look odd with a black top. I like the look of the Blackwood, so this one is definitely on the cards.

3. Victory Patterns – Madeleine Skirt

Ssshhh. I ordered this pattern today, and sent it to Patternsy for printing, so again I feel I’ve committed to this project in a real way. As well as the workshop above, my husband also bought me some – well I don’t know if it’s a heavy chambray or a light denim, but it’s a fabric that I think will work really well with this skirt. I’m not sure if I can pull off the ‘suspenders’ bit (braces in the UK surely?), but I think they’re optional extras. I love the pocket detailing, and a swirly skirt definitely works in my world.

4. Itch to Stitch – Brasov Wrap Top

Again perhaps a cheat. I have actually cut out and started to sew this top, but I’m not in love with it so it’s just lurking there in the pile and has become a task. I’m adding it to my make nine list in the hope that it restarts my mojo for the project. The problem is not one with the pattern which is lovely, but with the fabric which has already faded after its initial wash and I suspect will be disappointing ultimately.

5. Sew Over It – Cowl Dress

I believe I downloaded this dress as a freebie last year, when I joined the Sew Over It pattern insiders. It only goes to show that I shouldn’t do that kind of thing – it’s a lovely dress, but because I didn’t get it for a specific purpose, it’s been lurking as a file on my computer ever since. Here’s hoping that this year it will get its outing. Thinking about it, I’ve got a party in a fortnight that I might need to wear this dress to. Hmmm, motivation!

6. Tilly and the Buttons – Stella Hoodie Dress

Idly browsing through sewing blogs last night, I clicked on this one and actually said out-loud “I need this”. As my snoring husband didn’t respond, I then copied the link and sent it to my eldest daughter who I knew was likely to be awake downstairs. She told me to make it, so if I didn’t it would be letting her down wouldn’t it? So I need to buy the Stretch book don’t I? Just so I don’t let her down …? My self-sacrifice is huge.

7. Sew House 7 – Toaster Sweater

This has been on my mental to-make list since it was released. It’s definitely the kind of top I’d get a lot of wear from, so I just need to find the right fabric, the right weekend, and get the pattern and so on. The usual things.

8. Pauline Alice – Lliria Dress

This one’s a maybe. My lovely mum bought me some beautiful cotton lawn for Christmas that deserves a special make. I think the Lliria (how do you even pronounce that?) might be a good option. Once the fabric is washed, and I can get a good sense of its drape, I’ll try an decide it if this is indeed the right pattern for this special project.

9. Named – Kielo Dress

Wow, I got to nine far more quickly than I’d imagined. So, the Kielo dress has been one that has intrigued me for ages – then when I was on the Sewing Weekender, my lovely neighbour snaffled some lovely dark red heavy jersey with the intention of making herself a Kielo. I was enviously stroking it and she realised she had 6 metres of the stuff (some people were very generous with their donations!) so she gave me half. We figured we would share the images of our finished dresses and I’m pretty sure hers was then complete a week later. Mine – well, let’s hope that 2019 ends my procrastination and gets the job done!

Comfort sewing

Comfort is everything. I sew things I want to wear, and for me that means clothes that fit without constriction, that flatter a body that is likely to eat a hearty lunch, and that move easily between an office job and a home with assorted children, cats and commitments.

That might explain why I chose to spend new year’s day sewing my fourth Sew Over It Heather dress. Fourth. Yes, I can’t believe it either.

This was an impulse sew, and all the better for it. I’d not found the time (really, let’s face it, the motivation) over the Christmas break to get started with a project, but enjoying a quiet soothing day before returning to work on 2nd January, it was a perfect quick sew.

I’ve not been sewing long enough to have many patterns that I’ve made repeatedly – unless we count the TATB Margot pyjama trousers from her first book and actually her Coco top which is a perfect fit for me. Otherwise, though I tend to think I’ll get great value from a pattern by making 12 of them, I usually then get distracted by the next shiny thing. There are so many lovely patterns!

img_6993This impulse sew derived from me searching through my disorganised and overflowing stash for a couple of metres of navy ponte that I knew was in there. I was mulling a cardigan or a dress with it and wanted to see how much I had and what it would tell me it wanted to be (or something like that). I didn’t find the navy, but I found a 2 metre piece of a black and white lace patterned ponte that I’d entirely forgotten I even owned.

My disorganisation is a high price to pay for these moments of serendipity, but as I’m stuck with the former, it’s only right that the latter should bring me such joy.

From initial cutting out to snipping threads from the finished dress was about half a day I guess. A longish half-day because I’m not speedy. I’d adjusted the pattern slightly over the last three makes, mainly adding about 4cm in length (I’m 5’2, so this is an adjustment I almost never have to do – guess my mid-forties self enjoys a slightly longer dress length than the SOI standard).

img_6996

I didn’t have quite enough fabric to cut the neckband on the grain, so used the cross grain – and it’s really the only part of the make that annoys me. It doesn’t quite sit right, and if I had more patience I’d unpick it and do it over. Maybe I will.

<everybody laughs>

Or maybe not. Let’s see if it annoys me still after its first outing – and whether anyone else on the planet would even notice. Except sewists. They would notice of course, but they’d be far too charming to mention it, and insist that it was lying completely flat.

The Heather pattern is a gentle cocoon shape with deep diagonal pockets on the front. Somehow I find it flattering, though logic tells me it shouldn’t be. Something about the intentional apple shape both gives the illusion of the waist bulk being a dress feature (rather than a post-Christmas feature) while at the same time allowing easy movement, capacity for lunch and pockets full of my daily essentials (phone, tissues, glasses etc). If it’s not as flattering as I think it is, please don’t burst that bubble. Sometimes I think that nature designs the failure of our eyesight at just the right rate, and I just hope that my husband is as poorly sighted as I am now.

The verdict for me is a happy one. There’s nothing as soothing in having to return to work on 2nd January as having a new, comfy frock to wear. I spent the last day of my holidays, in my PJs, doing the hobby I love. An excellent start to 2019 – plenty more days like this one please.

Seamwork Almada – sending a fabric hug

Almada gifts
Modelled by Alice and Ellie, my kind, tolerant, slightly silly daughters!

One of the best things about sewing is being about to make totally unique and personal presents for people that you love. A gift that represents your (sometimes literal) blood, sweat and tears, shows that you’ve really thought about the person you’re sewing for, and that you want to give them your time, your care and your creativity.

One of the worst things about sewing is knowing that the gift you’re giving is less polished, more expensive and possibly never to be used/worn, despite the above-mentioned blood, sweat and tears.

As you may have guessed, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks making presents for two of my dearest friends – both of whom have had sad times recently, losing people that they loved. I decided to make them each a kimono, using the Seamwork Almada pattern. It looked like a really interesting pattern, that would hopefully be forgiving given that I wouldn’t be able to measure or fit either garment.

Preparation is key – and as with all PDF patterns, I’d anticipated spending a couple of hours piecing together the print-at-home A4 sheets. However Seamwork has partnered with Patternsy to allow you to easily get the pattern printed and sent to you. I was tempted, but thought it was a bit indulgent – after all, sticking together A4 sheets is not too hard. Then our printer stopped working, and the £6.21 to get it all beautifully printed and sent seemed like a wonderful idea.

I was very impressed with the service from Patternsy and would definitely use it again – I ordered the pattern on a Sunday afternoon, paid by Paypal, and the printed envelope arrived on Tuesday. The tissue it was printed on was flexible but strong, and it was all full colour. Now I just needed the fabric.

I searched in my usual fabric shops and online for some cotton lawn that felt right – I wanted the structure from the lawn rather than an overly slippery and drapey fabric, but also wanted that fluid softness that you get with a nice lawn. I couldn’t find anything that I liked – or maybe just indecision was keeping me from moving forwards. Anyway, the Handmade Fair arrived at Hampton Court while I was trying to make my choice, so being local I felt morally obliged to go and spend some time wandering around investigating the options.IMG_4987

The good news: I did find some beautiful cotton lawn at the Sew Over It stand – buying the Lisa Comfort Elderflower Press in navy and the Busy Blossom (now out of stock), also in navy. The bad news: I then wandered around the fair, looking at beautiful handmade products – and noted hundreds of lovely kimonos, for similar or cheaper prices than I’d just spent on fabric, all expertly finished.

Here’s hoping that my friends decide that it’s the thought that counts …

So, the Almada is a nice pattern to make. After reading some reviews, I made the size medium, but extended the length to the longest size setting, for decency. I made a few miles of bias binding from some beautiful green silk that I bought in India this summer, that co-ordinated well with the colours in the lawn. I’d already decided that I wanted to try Hong Kong binding on the back seam, because it would be seen when it was hanging up – and the pattern also calls for quite a lot of bias binding to finish the edges of the fronts and neckline.

Almada on the stand
You can just about see that there are two kimonos layered here; they lived on my stand like this

It was interesting to be making two kimonos at the same time – not something I’d normally do. It certainly took longer than making one item, but much less than making two separate things, if that makes sense. I’m sure that I learned from sewing different stages on the first one, and that the second time of sewing was sometimes a little more exact – but as I switched which one I was working on first regularly, hopefully the final garments are equally good/not-good.

I was pleased with the Hong-Kong binding – I’m increasingly enjoying the inside of garments looking pretty, and the way it met with the neckline binding was something that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I totally failed to get a picture of it though – sorry. I was also pleased with the way I applied the binding around the front edges – I left a thin edge of the binding showing on the outside, because the green is such a lovely shade.

I suppose my final reflection is that this is a nice pattern, and the fabrics were lovely to work with and I hope they’ll suit my friends. I’m nervous that they’ll be on the big side, but hope that a kimono is a flexible enough piece that they’ll still wear them.

More importantly, now they’re packaged and sent off – I hope that the ‘fabric hug’ that they represent as far as I’m concerned, is the thing they actually receive.

Almada trust pose

A #sewingweekender

I was quite nervous, packing my sewing machine into a suitcase that wasn’t really big enough, and getting an early train to the #sewingweekender in Cambridge on Saturday. I’d been so determined to get a ticket, and had been gutted not to have been able to attend in previous years …. but, I normally sew by myself at home with only my family around, and the thought of meeting so many new people (there were about 100 of us there) and sewing in front of them, was pretty daunting. 

When I arrived (ridiculously early) at the venue, I was momentarily confused by the Buddhist meet up that was also going on in the building, but almost immediately reassured by a bright smiling woman saying “oh you must be here for the sewing weekender”. I think we must give off a secret siren to other sewists. That or she had suspicions about the reason for the taxi driver putting his back out while getting my case from the boot of his car.

I took my seat in one of the workshop rooms with about 50 other women and got set up, checked the goodie bag (so exciting) and started sewing. I realized quickly that my hands were shaking, and before 10:30am I had melted the top part of the kimono I was sewing with a too-hot iron.

The point of sharing all this was the multiple conversations I subsequently had during the course of the day with other sewists, who said the same thing. How nervous they’d been; how they nearly didn’t come even though they’d booked their ticket months ago and been counting down the days; how they hadn’t slept the night before; and how hard it was to walk into a group of new people and chat. 

I suppose it’s not a surprise that there might be other introverts here – sewing is something we do quietly; in my case a kind of meditation and way of relaxing and working things through. But everyone I met was, without fail, lovely! I hope that my experience was a shared one – that by being present and getting on with the sewing, I eventually relaxed and stopped melting things. And I began to really enjoy it, particularly meeting all the other attendees. There were no big egos – even those icons within the community who everyone recognized, the ones who’d written books, have blogs with enormous followings or who were producing amazing work, were just as friendly and happy to be there as the rest of us. There were no cliques – people that knew others were interested and welcoming to those of us who knew no one. 

In terms of the sewing, I’d decided to make a kimono – the pattern from the #sewoverit Vintage book. I really like this book because the patterns aren’t provided for you – instead you get a layout plan and clear instructions about how to map your measurements to draw and create the different pieces you need. For a pattern like a kimono, which is basically just a few rectangles, it’s brilliant. 

I chose to use fabric that my lovely daughter Alice had given me for my birthday – a shiny, drapey navy material with a white flower print. I carefully tested a scrap on one of the irons and then forgot that different irons might be on different settings ten minutes later: hence the melted top portion of one of the fronts. It wasn’t my best moment, and I spent the next half an hour cleaning the iron, but I managed to shorten the whole gown and lose that section without too much of a long-term problem. 

Full disclosure: it’s not my best sewing. It’s a slippery fabric, made into a garment that I constructed while chatting and getting to know new people and working in a much smaller space than I have at home for spreading out. But at the same time, it’s a dressing gown, it feels lovely to wear, it’s made with a gift from one of my favourite people in the world, and no one is going to come and check my seams. Please.

The odd pose was an attempt to show the sleeves of the kimono; I’m aware that I look a bit of a muppet

For anyone who is nervous about coming to this kind of event or meet up, I’d just say that my fears are now well and truly put to rest. You start with such a good shared connection; and the imposter syndrome quickly takes a back seat because we all seem to feel this way. Thank you to @englishgirlathome and @thefoldline for such a fantastic weekend. The venue, the food, the speakers and the support have all been excellent. 

Roll on next year!