Tuesday, 15 October 2013

In Which I Obey The Spirit If Not The Letter

I'm not usually one for adjusting patterns too dramatically. I trust completely in the designer, have no faith in my own judgement, and always do what the pattern tells me to. So, a few months back I bought the Gathered Sundress pattern from Pattern Runway. I had to grade the pattern up a bit, as I am outside the size range, but other than that, I did as I was told. I made a wearable (hah!) muslin in my trusty polka dot cotton, and hated it! It was too short, too unflattering. What was I thinking putting gathers right at the small of my back just before my ample backside really gets going? And gathered cotton at the tummy? As if I don't have enough of a mummy tummy already. Bleh.

So the lovely teal coloured poplin I had bought for this project languished in my fabric basket, while I moved on to other things. But as I started summer sewing in earnest, I began to pine for its rich colour. So I went back to the drawing board.

Riddle me this: is a gathered sundress still a gathered sundress if you replace the gathers with pleats? Well, that's what I went ahead and did. I cut all the pattern pieces as usual, and put the usual gathers at the pockets. Then I measured the bottom of the bodice front and the top of the skirt front and used my mad math skills to figure out how many pleats and how deep they should be. I did the same with the back pieces and finished the dress as usual. Flat pleats, which spread gently at the rear are far more flattering on me than gathers. I put three at the front and six small pleats at the back - 3 on either side of the zip. Since having this epiphany, I have banned myself from making any more gathered waist skirts!

Sorry for this terrible photo! My beardy hubby was practically comatose with boredom when he took this, hence why it looks like he was flat on on the floor while snapping!

This dress is a pain to iron though, and wrinkles at the slightest hint of movement! I'm always at a loss as to how far down the dress to iron the pleats though! Can anyone enlighten me?

This pattern is quite easy to follow. The bodice is fully lined, and turning it can be a bit of a pain at the narrow shoulder straps, but nothing too bad. I had never sewn princess seams before, but did a pretty good job on them, especially since I didn't have a tailor's ham to press them. Once I'd done all my calculations, the skirt was a breeze to attach (three Kelly skirts made me a dab hand at this kind of pleat!) There is some hand sewing to attach the waistband on the lining, and I actively avoid hand sewing usually, but I bit the bullet and got to work. I lined it using a blue floral lawn that I harvested from my Crescent skirt - that skirt just didn't work on me at all!

Lining and bound seams
 The invisible zipper gave me a bit of trouble. On my polka dot muslin, I used the same method as the Cambie dress for installing the zipper between the lining and outer shell, which was partially successful, as the dress isn't fully lined like the Cambie. But when I got to this one, I had forgotten all about that method, and just followed the instructions, which hasn't given me such a neat finish inside.
I bound the seams at the centre back in navy bias binding, which worked fine with the relative stiffness of the poplin.

This dress turned out great, and it's had a lot of wear this summer and well into autumn - although it can be a pain to zip all the way up since I'm not that bendy! The problem I'm having now is that people keep commenting on how 'dressed up' I am. Which I take to mean, 'you normally look like a bit of a slob.' Wearing a dress isn't automatically dressy, is it? I feel vindicated that in my skirts and boots this autumn, I'm the only one who gets home with dry feet and legs - I used to hate how water would gradually soak up my jeans in bad weather, but now I'm toasty and dry all day!

The cost
Pattern: £6.50
Fabric: 3m at £5.60 p/m - £16.80
Thread, binding, interfacing: stash
Zip: £2.40

Total: £25.70

I think this is a good price for a wearable sundress. Dark teal with navy might not be the most summery of shades but it suits me down the ground, and despite the crazy wrinkles, I do love it.

I'm nearing the end of my summer sewing round up. Autumn hasn't been nearly as busy, because I'm studying again and preparing for a craft fair in November, but I am working on my second muslin for my coat, which I hope to have finished this month! Exciting!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

In Which I Am More Proud Of The Inside

also, In Which I Go Shopping For A Bin And Leave With Fabric.

So there I was, casually strolling around Dunelm Mill, looking to get a new bin for our kitchen, when I suddenly found myself in their haberdashery - how'd that happen! I know Dunelm Mill is a good place to get thread and needles and zips and the like, and I know they do curtain fabrics, but I'd never even thought about looking for dress making fabric there.

So of course I was thrown off guard by a rack of pretty poplins, and of course, in my weakened and confused state, I ended up buying two metres of a lovely yellow floral pattern! And it's only natural that I picked up a pack of buttons to go with it. I never did get that bin though.

This was another last minute addition to my holiday sewing schedule, and since I already had the Violet pattern from Colette I decided to make another. I figured the stark difference between the poplin and the chiffon in my first Violet would make them look distinct enough from each other, and not simply the same blouse twice. Then, of course, half way through making it, I decided to leave the sleeves off this version!

What can I say - we were in the middle of a rare, and unbearable, British heatwave and my brain was melting out my ears!

I just barely got all of the pieces cut out of the fabric. I cut the sleeves too because it wasn't until later I decided to go without. This fabric seemed very narrow, but at the time, I didn't think to check just how wide it was. Usually I can get a blouse out of 2 metres with some to spare, but not this time! It was a tight fit!

The poplin was obviously easier to work with than the chiffon, and didn't need a lining, so I had a slightly easier, smoother sewing experience this time. This was also my very first time using seam binding! I know, I'm like a savage! Usually, if a seam can't be frenched, which is my go to finish, I just whip out the trusty pinking shears. I'm a lazy sewist. Or at least I was. Because with this blouse, something clicked and I realised how satisfying it is to have a beautiful finish inside garments too! I used white cotton bias binding that I had lying around to finish the inside. Look!

It's so lovely and neat! Not a stray thread or fraying seam in sight! To say I'm proud of this is an understatement. When people complement me on this top, it's all I can do to stop myself ripping open the buttons and saying 'But look at the inside!'

I used the same white binding on the arm holes. At some point in the sewing, I thought, wouldn't it be lovely to have a sleeveless button up blouse, so I simply didn't add them. I used the instructions from the Hawthorn dress pattern for binding the arm holes, as it was something I'd never done before. It isn't the most perfect job, as there are a few puckers, but for a first attempt I think it went okay.

If had planned a sleeveless version ahead, I would have made the arm holes slightly smaller, as they gape a bit at the back. That's the only adjustment I'd make, though, as the shoulder length was pretty spot on out of the envelope.

This photo got turned randomly and I can't figure out how to rotate it back :( But you can see the print better here
The buttons aren't anything overly special. They have a nice concentric circle pattern and are cream, so don't overpower the blouse at all. I think my collar is a little bit off centre, but I don't mind. The blouse got a fair amount of wear this summer, and it goes with practically all of my handmade skirts which was an unexpected bonus! Teamed with a thick cardigan for autumn, I'm still wearing it and it is one of my favourite makes.

So how much did this impromptu make cost me?

Pattern: stash
Fabric: 2m at £5.99 p/m - £11.98
Thread, binding, interfacing: stash
Buttons: £3.00

Total: £14.98

This is another make that's comparable in cost to a similar RTW item, so I'm happy with the cost. Especially since I'm getting so much wear out of it. And as for the epiphany about seam finishes this blouse brought about, well that's invaluable!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

In Which I Lose My Denim Skirt Virginity

That's right. I have never ever owned a denim skirt. I think it's because the high street offers such limited choices. I've never had the legs to pull off the box shaped mini skirt, and too often longer length skirts are either in unflattering shades of denim, or burdened with ill-advised patches, lace or flowers. Maybe I'm just fussy, but I know what I like, and I haven't found it yet.

I didn't think I would ever sew a denim skirt - it wasn't really on my list of must have items. Until, that is, I met the Kelly skirt pattern. You all already know that I love this pattern. I mean, I've made two already! I made this denim version in between the corduroy and polka dot versions, and it has quickly become a wardrobe staple. I love it!

Excuse the crumpled hem. I'm not the most dedicated ironer in the world
There's not a great deal to say about this version now! It's all been said already. It was a dream to sew up, as always, and easy enough to add my favourite French seams to the inside. I knew I didn't want the usual metal buttons that often come on denim clothing, and instead went with these super cute blue and white stripe plastic buttons. I got them from Crafty Ribbons at a craft fair in Belfast and I love them with this skirt. (I also got grey polka dot buttons but have yet to find a home for them.) I think they make this skirt look less like a traditional denim skirt and a bit more sweet and feminine.

Although I learned my lesson about top stitching thread with my corduroy Kelly, I purposefully chose not to use it on this one either, because I wanted a softer look with less defined stitch lines. I used two metres of 7.5 oz indigo denim, and it was easy to sew with a denim needle - much easier to press and sew than the corduroy! I lined the pockets using left over teal cotton poplin I had in my stash. All in all, it was an easy, satisfying make, and a proper wardrobe staple.

So how much did it cost?

Pattern: stash
Fabric: 2m at 8.99p/m - £17.98
Buttons: £2.00
Thread, interfacing etc: stash
Total: £19.98

Not bad at all. It's definitely a price I would pay for the right RTW piece, which as I said, hasn't materialised yet, so I'm very happy with it.

For the time being I'm done with the Kelly pattern. That's not to say I won't make another in the future, especially if I find myself in need of a quick and easy casual skirt. I don't want my wardrobe to be overwhelmed by Kellys but it was definitely a pattern well worth buying and I can't recommend it enough!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

In Which I Attempt To Recreate A Vintage Pattern

(and humbly ask for your help!)

I think I've reached a point in my sewing career where I can attempt to make my own winter coat. I have gotten fed up of making do - a cosy coat with no hood, a rain coat with hood that leaves me to freeze in the frigid Scottish winter, and neither of them especially stylish or flattering. I basically want a wool coat with a hood, as with three boys to keep my hands on when I'm out and about, I don't have the luxury of faffing about with an umbrella.

I love this vintage Vogue pattern, but alas, it is out of print and very expensive.

I particularly like the white coat in the middle. It ticks all my boxes. Fortunately there is a modern Vogue pattern that's quite similar - same princess seams, same A-line skirt.

The red or white versions are pretty close, I think. I don't mind double breasted coats and I was never sold on the patch pockets of my inspiration coat above, so I'm happy to do without. The thing is, I'm not sure how to go about eliminating the collar and drafting and attaching a hood. It has been done before - I found this version of the coat on Pattern Review, and this is pretty much what I'm going for, but there are no construction notes. I already have a coat with a similar bodice and no collar that I can use to help me extend the front of the coat up, but I'm stumped on the hood.

So I'm hoping you guys can help me! Would it simply be a matter of finding a hood pattern piece from another coat and adding it to this pattern? Or is there some excellent tutorial out there that can hold my hand through the whole process?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

In Which I Am Seduced By A New Pattern

So there I was, happily sewing up all my planned summer garments. Broderie Anglaise picnic blanket skirt? Check! Origami Crane Violet? Check! Kelly Skirt - 3 times? Check, check check! When all of a sudden, browsing sewing blogs idly, a new pattern from Colette pops up, screaming 'make me!' (Obviously not their newest pattern, but this was during the summer, remember?)

That's right, the Hawthorn dress completely derailed my careful sewing schedule, and, as a result, I made one or two clumsy errors when making it :( That'll teach me to bite off more than I can chew. I'm not usually keen on shirt dresses, maybe because RTW offerings are usually a bit on the stiff side, but something about the Hawthorn seemed different. Maybe it was the way it was styled in the photos, or maybe it was the interesting and relatively delicate collar. I just knew it had to be mine!

All these photos are headless because I've just gotten over a really stubborn ear infection and it shows all over my pasty face!

I already had fabric in mind for the Hawthorn. I had added a beautiful orange cotton lawn to my eBay watch list a while back, waiting for the perfect project to warrant buying it. (I got it here, and have bought several other fabrics from this seller too, and they are all gorgeous!) But I was totally unprepared for how soft it was. It was the softest, most fluid fabric I've ever worked with, with a beautiful drape. I was excited to wear it. I was not excited to cut it. This sucker slipped and slid all over the place! I cut it out on our wooden living room floor and used every tin and jar we had in the house to weigh down the layers. And yet ...

The cutting was where I went wrong, I think. Without tooting my own horn too much, I did a pretty fine job on the construction of this dress. The cutting, not so much. So, the back panels of the skirt were shorter than the front, by about 3/4 inch. The button stand from the waist down ended up being too narrow on one side - I think because the skirt piece at the front was cut slightly too narrow. And the collar was too short and didn't meet up to the points on the bodice (I've heard this was a problem several sewists had, so I'm not sure if it was a case of misinterpreting the pattern?)

You can see here how the collar is about 1/2 inch too short on each side.
That being said, I was able to pull together a wearable dress from the midst of my mistakes, probably thanks to my careful construction of the rest of it. I wore it when I went for afternoon tea with my Nana in Belfast, on what turned out to be a surprisingly warm day, and I certainly appreciated the soft, lightweight fabric then! I decided to add the sleeves from the top version of the pattern to my dress, hoping to give it some more versatility into autumn, but I'm not entirely sure that they aren't too long. I was aiming for pretty and vintage, but I think I'm steering more towards frumpy and old-fashioned here. I may shorten them at a later date, when I haven't got so many works in progress.

The pattern instructions call for a hook and eye at the waist, and for some reason, I have never been able to install a hook and eye properly. They always outfox me. So I left it without, hoping that the belt I intended to wear would do the job (if ever a dress was screaming for a belt, this is it!) I had planned to attach belt loops, but ran out of steam and didn't bother. Well, after wearing the dress once, I realised I definitely needed some kind of closure at the waist, as it kept gaping unattractively, and my belt kept sliding up (I need to put an extra hole in it.) When I got back from Belfast, I simply added another button there. It's not the most elegant fix, but the aforementioned belt covers most of the ugliness.

I cut a 14 in the bodice, then graded from a 14 at the waist of the skirt to a 16 at the hips. This is a pretty regular adjustment for me. I also cut a 14 at the top of the sleeves and graded to an 18 at the bottom, as I like to have loose sleeves with plenty of comfortable movement. I also added in seam pockets, as I thought they would be useful, but I've since had a rethink on that. In this soft, drapey fabric, anything in the pockets causes unfortunate lumps at the hips (which, let's face it, is the last thing I need.) Also, they tend to ruin the flow of the side seams a bit. If I were to make it again in poplin, I might add pockets again, but I don't think they are a necessary as I had first thought.

What has it got in its pocketses? Nothing but handses, as it turns out!

Once again, all my seams are enclosed, even the sleeves and side seam pockets (I used this tutorial to French seam the pockets.) There are a few messy parts inside, mostly where the too narrow button stand on the skirt joins the bodice, but nothing fatal. I used delicate shell buttons, which I think were the right choice for this dress in this fabric. I'm planning on getting a white cotton slip to wear with it (I super mega loathe those awful 'anti-static' polyester monstrosities), so as I can get some use out of it during the autumn, as I really do love it. With boots and a cardi, it is definitely a summer make that turned out to be more autumnal than expected!

This make cost slightly more than my others, so let's take a look.

Pattern: £12.50
Fabric: 3m at £6.50 p/m - £19.50
Buttons: £4.20
Thread and interfacing: stash
Total: £36.20

Sheesh, that seems quite a lot!
Will I make it again? Probably. I think a sleeveless version of the dress might be in order when spring comes around again, and I'm toying with the idea of making the top. I'm not totally convinced by peplums - not only do I feel it will seriously date my wardrobe, but I don't think they're flattering on my pear shape figure. Perhaps if I mix and match the bodice pieces with the bodice of the Violet, I'd get more satisfying results.

Has anyone else made the Hawthorn? What do you think of the top version?

Friday, 13 September 2013

In Which I Do Battle With Corduroy

and also, In Which I Make My Peace With My Terrible Camera :(

I still haven't managed to document all my pre holiday sewing, and summer is well truly over and done with! To be honest, I hadn't expected the twins starting school to be quite the whirlwind of chaos it's been. Unfortunately, my dreams of two exhausted little boys, coming home subdued and pliable, all came to nought. School isn't tiring them out at all. It's quite a different matter for me though, and I've been lucky to see past ten o'clock for the past few weeks.

Photographing the clothes has been tough too, with the hubby working weird hours all over the country this month, he's rarely here and conscious in daylight and able to take photos. And, as mentioned above, my camera is just terrible. So very terrible. I'm hoping to get a replacement in the future, especially since it's not up to the job where our Etsy store is concerned. But for the time being, you'll have to make do with the shoddy photos. I try my best!

Onto the sewing! This was the first Kelly skirt I made, but the second I'm blogging about. In a blatant lack of imagination or originality, I made it in wine coloured corduroy, very much like the picture on the Megan Nielsen website.

See - terrible photo! Sorry about the dishevelled look - I had just dropped the kids at school.
In my defence, I have wanted a corduroy skirt in this colour since I was a teenager (I know, I'm just too stylish!) This was my first time working with corduroy, and I went out and got special needles for my machine for sewing with it. That being said, it was still a chore to push it through the machine at times, especially at the hem, when there were three layers of fabric. I did the topstitching in yellow, but didn't use top stitching thread, so the final effect is softened somewhat, especially when sewing vertically down the ribs in the fabric. Lesson learned, I suppose.

I had to add an inch over all the side seams as I was cutting the fabric (1/4 inch at each seam), as I am just a tiny bit outside the size range of the pattern. I did this with all three of my skirts, mainly to accommodate my ample hips without compromising on the look of the final fit. But I think, if I were to make another, I wouldn't add so much to the waistband, and perhaps deepen the pleats to make the skirt fit.

The finished skirt fits a bit loose in the waist, which is fine by me, as it doesn't gape but leaves enough room for big dinners :) It's also pretty perfect for tucking blouses into. I added 1.5 inches to the hem, because I wanted this skirt to fall just below the knee - I'm finding that's the length I'm most comfortable with these days as it allows me to wear skirts while still dealing with three active little boys and preserving my modesty. The downside of the extra length in this fabric is that the skirt feels particularly heavy, and feels frumpy to wear. I guess that's something a bit less tangible than fit problems, and perhaps only noticed by me. It doesn't mean I love it any less though!

As this was my first Kelly, I made a few slip ups here, like not pressing the pleats as well as I could have, and ignoring the fact that they had slipped a little when I basted them. As a result, the pleats aren't as tight or neat as in my later Kellys. I also made a mistake with the buttonholes, and repeated in all three skirts, because clearly, I'm a slow learner. I put the buttonholes on the placket after the waistband horizontal, rather than vertical. It's not a huge thing, but it does mean the front of the skirt doesn't sit as neatly as it could.

I decided I wanted a lot of buttons on this skirt, and then almost immediately regretted that choice after making four buttonholes. It was the point of no return though, so I just got on with it, and I love the finished look. The buttons were a bit of an afterthought - I knew I wanted metal, and something a bit different, but I didn't want to spend a fortune. I came across these celtic knot inspired buttons on eBay and figured they'd do. I actually quite like them now.

As with my other Kellys, I frenched all the seams for maximum longevity. I don't have a picture of the inside, but trust me, it's glorious! I used some printed cotton for the pocket linings - the same cotton I used to make my first Tova. I think it gives the whole thing a subtle 70's vibe!

I can honestly say I love this skirt - and this pattern! I wouldn't be in a hurry to make another in corduroy. Not only because my arm ached after making this from pushing it through my sewing machine, but also because I think it's a tad too heavy for the pattern, but I will gladly wear this one until it falls apart :)

Let's look at the sums, shall we?

Pattern: from stash
Fabric: it was a gift, so free! (for those who want to know, it was £8.99 p/m and I used 2m)
Interfacing, thread and pocket lining: stash
Buttons: £3.00
Total: £3.00!

Pretty impressive, no?!

This summer has been a watershed moment for me, sewing wise. I've finally figured out what styles suit me, and taken the time to finish garments properly. The result is lots of wearable clothes, like this skirt, that I absolutely love. Long may it continue!

Friday, 9 August 2013

In Which I Put Three Year Old Fabric To Good Use At Last

Once upon a time, I received a shiny new sewing machine for Christmas. Being so green, I decided to buy some cheap fabric to practice on, and so snapped up a 7 metre remnant of surprisingly good quality polka dot cotton for £7.00. Three years later*, and I have used this cotton for everything. It has lined purses and pencil cases for my Etsy shop, formed the bases and sides of pin cushions, been turned into a quick gathered skirt last summer and a somewhat wearable muslin for my first Pattern Runway gathered sundress. It was one of my best fabric buys. 

 (*Has it really been three years since I started sewing! I would've though I'd be further along, skillswise, by now, but I've only really started sewing garments seriously in the past 6 to 9 months, so that's my excuse anyway!)

So after making a corduroy Kelly skirt, and cutting out a denim one, I pulled out what I had left of this black and white dots and managed to squeeze another Kelly skirt out of it. It was really tight though - I barely had enough. So there was no room for mistakes. Luckily, although this is the first Kelly skirt I'm blogging, it was actually the third I made, so I was well practised and with such a wonderfully easy pattern, it came together without a hitch!

This was taken on one of the ridiculously sunny days we had last month - sorry about my whiter than white skin!

It looks like it pulls a bit at the waist in this photo, but it doesn't in real life. I must have not adjusted it properly after standing up. This skirt was a pleasure to sew, and I would definitely recommend it to sewists who are just starting out. Despite always considering A line skirts to be a bit boring, I'm learning that this shape actually suits me most. My only niggle with this pattern, and it happened on all three skirts, is that it seems to billow or bulge a bit in the front at the button stand. I don't know if it's the pleats or some error I've made, but it tends to make me look a bit bloated. I can forgive this though, because it's so easy and comfortable to wear!

I would've liked a bit more length on this, but didn't have enough fabric - it rides up a bit high when I sit down, but isn't indecent. I added about 2 inches to the cord and denim versions of this skirt, though after wearing them a bit this summer, I think they may be too long. You can help me decide when I get round to blogging about them! I didn't go for any particularly interesting buttons, just some simple white plastic ones that I got cheaply in one of those big bags of mixed buttons you can buy, that have been in my stash for forever.

Best picture I could get of the pockets!
 For the pockets, I used some colourful fabric that I had already. Again, I've had this for a while, less than a fat quarter, and I've not really found a use for it. I would have been happy to make the pocket linings in the polka dot cotton, but again, didn't have enough, so used this instead. There are probably other fabrics in my basket that would've made a better pairing with the monochrome main fabric, but I didn't want to sacrifice anything that may be of use for purse linings later!

I also had a bit of a problem with the two sides of the skirt being slightly different lengths when buttoned, and this was the same on all my Kellys. I think this has something to do with the way I put the button on the waistband, as they were perfectly even when I did the hem. Now that I think of it, that may also be the reason for the bulge I mentioned before!

In the end though, I have a versatile and wearable skirt, which will hopefully stand the test of time, thanks to my obsession with using all French seams (which was easy on a pattern with so many straight seams!) Honestly, I feel like in the past few months I've developed a more mature approach to sewing, approaching projects more sensibly, not rushing and not churning out unwearable garments by the truckload! I've actually made one or two things where I was genuinely thrilled with the finish inside! I've heard other sewists take pride in the inside of their garments, but never thought that would be me :)

So, to the mathmobile!

Pattern: £13.00
Fabric: about 1.5 metres at £1 a metre, so £1.50
Interfacing and thread: stash
Buttons: stash
Total: £14.50

But I have made this pattern three times, so it probably works out cheaper per use!

In other goings on, I was flicking through the latest issue of Glamour magazine a few days ago, looking at the clothes for inspiration, when I came across a spread featuring a £1,930 dress from Mui Mui. For that price, we're talking quality and attention to detail, right? Well, not so much. Check out the shoddy pattern matching on the side seam!

Maybe pattern matching isn't as vital in polka dots as it is in other prints, but I would've thought that buying couture means that this type of detail does matter. It certainly caught my eye - and that's another thing I never thought would happen! All I know is that if I was charging nearly two grand for a dress, you'd better believe I take the time to make sure the patterns match! (Then again, I don't know much about the conditions and pay of the workers who actually make the garments, so maybe I'm being too harsh ... something to ponder ...)

And finally, I've got a query for you all - has anyone ever made a dress from cotton ticking? I'm aware that vintage ticking is much heavier than modern versions, but I'm not sure if it's still too heavy for clothing. And since I can't get to a fabric store to actually feel some, I'm drawing on the collective knowledge of the sewing blogosphere! Thanks for your help :D