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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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