Saturday 31 December 2011

Looking ahead to 2012

Before I look ahead, I'd like to very briefly look back.  In terms of making my own clothes, 2011 far surpassed my expectations.  From an initial optimistic list of just over half a dozen garments at the beginning of the year, I ended up making:

Seven dresses
Ten tops
Two pairs of trousers
Five skirts
One jacket
Total: 25 garments!  

I blogged recently about the five items in my wardrobe that I turn to again and again, which seem to sum up my personal style.  However, the item that wasn't on that list, probably because it was a bit too special-occasion, was my Oolong dress and I think it deserves a mention.
I struggled with both the silk lining (soon abandoned for a muslin underlining) and the bias cut on this dress.  But on both counts, I received amazing feedback and advice from my readers, enabling me to finish the dress and giving me a much needed lesson in patience.  I've worn it on three occasions, and every time I've known that it's the most perfect dress I could have chosen.  Praise indeed!  

So what else has been going on this year?  Well, the main change I've made is to have kept to my initial six month Wardrobe Refashion pledge for virtually the whole year.  The exceptions being a few items of knitwear and one pair of trousers I bought with a birthday voucher (does that count?)  As a result, the distance between the items in my wardrobe which are handmade and those that are shop-bought has narrowed considerably.  I'm also pretty ruthless about throwing out shop bought garments that don't make the grade. I'd really like to continue in this vein for 2012, so here's a rough list of plans (not resolutions!) for the coming year:

To use as much of my stash as I can
A no brainer really but perhaps writing it down will actually help me keep to it!

To refashion the handmade garments that haven't quite worked
There are one or two things that haven't been a success for one reason or another, so if I can, I'll be refashioning them to get them to work.

To give away the garments that I've never worn
In a few rare instances, the item I've made is just wrong for me and will never be worn (I'm thinking of my ladylike dress here) so I'll be giving them away.  Far better to let somebody else get some use out of it, than have it sadly neglected in the wardrobe, never seeing the light of day.  So watch out for a New Year giveaway along these lines.  
To treat my vintage patterns with a bit more care and respect  
Ahem. Yes I really need to work on this one.  Buying them all nice new plastic covers would be a good start.  I'd also like to try to date the elusive ones.  

To try a few new sewing techniques  
I'm thinking specifically of piping here though I'll try anything that takes my fancy.

To get to grips with my overlocker
This really should be top of my list as it's non-negotiable!  The lovely Lauren recommended this book which is FAB - it goes through all the basics, as well as demonstrating all the other uses an overlocker has.  It's perfect and I'm hoping it will help me to use my overlocker for more than just neatening seams. 

To really think about what I want to make and what I'm likely to wear  
This will almost certainly result in me making fewer garments, but I'd like to really take my time with them, perfecting the fit and finish as much as I possibly can.  In terms of what I make, I'll be keeping the faith with Colette patterns and fully intend to dabble with vintage patterns again.  I'll choose carefully next year though - only making the garments I really lust after.  Like this Economy Print dress on the right hand side.  
And this McCall's 6245 top, which Roobeedoo very kindly let me borrow and copy. Don't you just love sewing bloggers?!  

To make more dresses  
Yes, I know I made seven last year, but I do love dresses, and having met Roisin from Dolly Clackett and swapped dress notes, I feel that a few more than seven is a mere drop in the ocean.....!

So there you have my plans, they're a bit all over the place but I think that makes them a little more attainable.  Thank you to everybody who has taken the time to read my blog and to comment or correspond with me during the past year - I really have loved every minute of it.  I'd like to wish you all a very happy and healthy new year.  Enjoy your new sewing year, wherever you are. x

Wednesday 28 December 2011

Probably the Best Christmas Gifts EVER!

Good evening! I hope you're all enjoying a happy and relaxing holiday so far. I certainly am - when I haven't been stuffing my face or making Lego spaceships, I've been playing with my wonderful new sewing-related Christmas gifts.  Here's what I was lucky enough to receive:

This was from my son - bought with his own money - what an angel!

My husband stunned me into speechlessness with the thoughtfulness of his gifts:

First up, a leather zip pouch with a vintage pattern printed on the front
Front view....
...and here's the back

Some vintage buttons he managed to track down, in all my favourite colours

Fine dressmaking shears, to make up for the ones he completely blunted a few weeks ago.  We'll say no more on the subject...

OK, the next one isn't sewing related, but I like his thinking.  He thought I might like the dress that the poor bludgeoned victim is wearing on the front cover of this 1954 Agatha Christie classic.  And he was right, I DO like her dress. And her lippie. I also happen to love crime fiction too, so this will make perfect Christmas holiday reading.

Even my mother-in-law was on top present-buying form.  She said she saw this book in the V & A gift shop and thought of me.  The ultimate compliment.

I'm extremely lucky to have such a thoughtful and generous family.  I LOVE my gifts!  How about you?  Did anybody else receive awesome sewing gifts for Christmas? x

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Last sewing of the year

When I was little, one of the things I really looked forward to at Christmas was getting brand new pyjamas on Christmas Eve.  To me, they were a signal that Father Christmas was almost here.  I've kept the same tradition with my own boys, but this year decided to make their PJ bottoms myself.
10 points if you can identify who's on the bike in the picture
I used flannel because it's so cosy and managed to find fabric for both boys on the Goldhawk Road.  I got some cute as a button digger fabric for Charlie for £2.50 a metre and slightly more grown up tartan fabric for Louis at £4 a metre.

To make them,  I copied a pair of their existing PJ bottoms, using this easy tutorial which  I first saw on Stitch and Witter's blog. Sadly, the easy bit was making them, trying to get a decent picture of my two was the difficult bit.  This was what 99% of the photos ended up looking like....

.... and forget asking them to smile....

Despite all their gurning, they both really love them (I'm sure it's the cosiness of flannel) but I don't think they'll be brand new and pristine on Christmas Eve.  Having strong armed them into modelling them for me, they now flatly refuse to take them off!

That's my last sewing of the year, I'll be back with a round-up after the Christmas frenzy has calmed down. Enjoy your time off during the festive period everybody.  Looking forward to catching up in the New Year. x

Saturday 17 December 2011

Dressing for Yourself Colette Style

Like a lot of my blog posts, this one has been copied inspired by first Tasia's, then Karen's response to a section in the Colette Sewing Handbook.

Despite ordering the book 10 seconds (that's no exaggeration) after it was first announced on the blog back in the summer, it only arrived on my doorstep last week.  And, even worse,  it was left whimpering in the cupboard under the stairs for a whole day, after I'd tossed it there, thinking it was yet another Christmas present for my kids.  Anyway I digress, it's a wonderful, wonderful book and I've been trying to read it slowly and savour it ever since, but it's difficult to do!

In one of the chapters, Sarai discusses how we plan both what we wear and what we decide to make for ourselves. She suggests an exercise of picking out five things that you love to wear and why - which in turn, may give you clues on how to build a wardrobe around the qualities that are important to you.  I found both Tasia's and Karen's choices really interesting, but I was also very intrigued to read comments from their readers.  It's amazing how much of your personality and essence readers can glean from your blog:  how you dress and how you write and what it says about you.  So, completely jumping on the bandwagon, here are my five choices.

1. and 2. Beignet Skirt and Hillbilly Blouse
Beignet Skirt
The Beignet was one of the first things I ever made and probably the garment I've worn most.  Before I started sewing my own clothes I wouldn't have gone within 50 miles of a high waistband, but since the Beignet I've realised how flattering a high waistband is for my body shape.
I also like:

The colour (ahem)
The contrast buttons - they make me so happy just to look at them
The secret polka dot facings and pockets
The fact that it goes with most of my handmade tops, which leads me onto....

Hillbilly Blouse
What do I like?
The vintage fit and shape - it's from a 1950's pattern
The buttons
The fabric, I just can't resist gingham

3. Pendrell Blouses

I've made three, two of which I've worn pretty much on a weekly basis since I first made them. The third wasn't so successful as I made the sleeveless version which for me, just didn't work.  I've since added sleeves so hope to get a lot more wear out of it in the warmer weather as the fabric is so lovely.

I especially like:
The flattering princess seams on the pattern
The longer length (interestingly the first one looks better untucked whilst the second one is more flattering tucked in, make of that what you will)
It's a practical blouse but the ruffle sleeves give it slightly more of a dressed up feel.

4. Sailor Trousers
Basically these are the trousers I've been waiting for all my life.  I can't really say much more than that.

5. Parfait Dress
I've only worn this a few times as it's very much a sun dress and I live in the UK (!)  But the Parfait ties together everything I set out to do when I started dressmaking.
It has a flattering fit and a vintage look which I love.  I think that's why I'm drawn to Colette patterns so much, because they help me achieve both these things.  It's also made from the most gorgeous double gauze fabric which is so lovely and cool to wear.  I'm so pleased I matched this particular pattern with this particular fabric.  It's fitted but practical enough for me to run around after the kids and still feel like I'm making an effort.

So there, that's me in a nutshell.  My choice is based on what I've worn the most and what is quintessentially me.  Quite a lot of my handmade garments all work with each other but I like the fact that there are a few wild cards in my wardrobe (not many though!).  I don't think you need to be Einstein to work out the patterns that appear in my handmade clothes, do you?!

That was a great exercise to do, why don't you try it?  Have a great weekend everybody. x

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Lady in Red Part Two: Homage to Joan

My New Look 6000 dress is finished and I can solemnly declare, hand on heart, that this is my favourite of all my handmade makes.  When I first saw the pattern on Scruffy Badger's winter dress round up, my immediate thought was how lovely it would look made from a red knit.  Just one small obstacle - I've never sewn with knits before and I didn't have the time/bravery to fully get to grips with my overlocker.  However, once I'd read Gertie's tips on sewing with double knits and realised I could use my regular sewing machine, I decided to give it a go.

It was pointless making a muslin in woven fabric, as double knit is just so different in feel and drape.  So taking Gertie's advice, I cut the pieces out in my size and just did a basted fitting on my dummy.  The pattern seemed to run on the large side and the bust darts were worryingly low down, but all I had to do was move the bust darts up the bodice, take in the central darts and side seams a little and hey presto - a perfect fitted dress.  

I'm convinced this was due to the magical properties of double knit - if I'd tried the same changes on a woven fabric I doubt whether the fit would have been so good, so quickly.  Double knit is very forgiving and seems to follow the curves of your body instinctively. Plus, if you do need to remove stitches, the fabric seems to just bounce back into shape, with no unsightly stitch marks left behind.  I used a ballpoint needle and the dress sewed up like a dream - not one skipped stitch.  

Double knit is now officially my new favourite fabric, knocking gabardine off its perch.  For some reason though, it's not that easy to get hold of it in the UK.  I got mine from Calico Laine, as recommended by Suzysewing. If you're a complete lazy arse like me, then I really recommend sewing with it as it allows you a wide array of shortcuts.  Along with the basted fitting which saved a lot of time, here are the other shortcuts I took:

1. I left all seams unfinished!! Yes, you read that correctly.  Here's what Gertie has to say on the matter:  "Double knits don't fray so no need to finish the seams - hurrah!"  If it's good enough for the high priestess of the perfectly finished seam, then it's good enough for me!
2. I didn't insert a zip - there's more than enough stretch to get it over my head.

3.  I didn't use facings around the neckline.  I find there's always a lot of bulk with facings, even on a light fabric, and as double knit is quite a thick fabric (the clue's in the name!) I wasn't even going there.  I finished the neckline with bias binding instead, using this very clear and straight forward tutorial which worked a treat.

4.  No lining - the fabric is warm and thick enough not to need one, and because of the no-fray seams, it still looks good on the inside.

The dress feels lovely to wear - soft and slinky yet cosy at the same time.  It's also ridiculously flattering, pulling in your bad bits and emphasising your good bits.  Can you tell I love it?!

My inspiration for the dress was this picture of the lovely Joan from Mad Men.  

Joan is just so beautiful she's almost not of this world - she certainly swims in a different river to us mere mortals.  So my dress is an homage to her gorgeousness.  As a final nod to Joany, I added covered buttons to the sleeve cuffs.

Thank you Scruffy Badger, for alerting me to this glorious pattern, I would never have spotted it otherwise - that's what I love about sewing blogs!  I'm going to really enjoy wearing this to the xmas party I'm attending tomorrow night.  I can't wait to see the other makes in the NL6000 fest.

Friday 9 December 2011

My Secret Shame....

Don't get excited, it's nothing sordid!

Back in September (yes, I know, a whole three months ago), I worked myself up into a mad rage because the fabric I was using for my Sailor Trousers was fraying at a ridiculous rate.  After I'd stopped my fist shaking and foot stamping, I discovered that in my mad rage, I'd accidentally gone and bought an overlocker to remedy the situation.

When it arrived, I was feverish with excitement and all set to tart up my seam edges.  I chose the sewing bloggers' favourite -  Brother 1034D - which comes helpfully pre-threaded.  I started on my seam and immediately, two threads came loose.  Undaunted, I got out the instruction manual and that's when the trouble started.  I'm completely untechnical and whatever I did, I just couldn't get it threaded up properly again.  Plus the knife thing that cuts the thread was a bit terrifying, so back in the box it went.

And that's my secret shame, through no fault of its own, this has been its home since then....
Until this week when I decided enough was enough.  I got it out of its box and instead of reading the manual, I put on the instructional DVD that came with it.  I'm much better being shown how something works and this seemed to do the trick.  The lovely lady on the DVD talked very slowly and carefully, as if she was explaining things to a child (which in my case, she virtually was), she also looked reassuringly like a sewing expert - a bit like the models from Fit for Real People.  It worked!  10 minutes later I'd threaded my own machine and had this to show for my troubles!!!!!!

So, top of my sewing resolutions for 2012 will definitely be to conquer the fear and teach myself to master this clever, wonderful machine.
Gratuitous shot of my blog in the background!
 Have a good weekend. x

Sunday 4 December 2011

Lady in Red Part One: Jasmine Blouse

At the beginning of the year, I asked if anybody knew of a pattern for this blouse.  

I particularly loved the flowing lines, the sleeves and the bow, but sadly, no suggestions were forthcoming.  Fast forward a few months and Colette Patterns had quite obviously been reading my mind because their Jasmine blouse was exactly what I was after.

There were a few candidates for fabric, but I had to think carefully as this top is cut on the bias, making any print pattern appear on the diagonal.  In the end I went for a solid red (surprise, surprise). Partly because I thought the blouse would look awesome in red (which it does) but mostly because I'd scored yet again on the charity shop fabric front (3.5 metres of red crepe-backed satin for £3).  I chose to use the crepe side as my right side -  a red satin bow blouse might be just a tiny bit over the top for day wear. I've never worked with crepe-backed satin before and was surprised to find it's actually quite weighty. This does give it a lovely drape but it also makes it quite thick, which was a bit of a trial when it came to the collar and facings, but no great tragedy.

After my disastrous experience sewing with slippery fabrics on the bias, you'd think I'd have learnt my lesson.  Wrong.  Cutting it out was, in short, a nightmare.  And the icing on the cake was that within an hour of cutting it out, Sunni posted her foolproof guide to cutting slippery fabrics.  Doh.

The sizing was interesting.  Apart from the Crepe dress, I'm always the same size for Colette patterns - a size 8 - but the 8 I cut out was way too roomy and shapeless.  Taking an enormous gamble, I then took the blouse apart, laid all my pattern pieces out flat again and cut them down a size.  I was able to use Sunni's slippery fabric cutting method this time, which worked like magic, hoorah. The smaller size fit  perfectly, with just the right amount of roominess. I think the blouse benefits from being on the loose side, which is a departure for me as I like everything very fitted, but I do love how it looks tucked in.

The clever bias cut gives it shape without gripping you and you get the benefit of no zips or buttons.  So my advice on sizing for the Jasmine?  Go down a size.

On the collar front, I now wish I'd made Option 1, which has far more of a pussy bow style collar.  The plus side of the collar on version 2 is that it looks a bit nautical - so a perfect match for my sailor trousers.

The only downside is that with one thing and another, the making of this blouse slipped down my list, and now that it's finished, it's too cold to wear it.  I'll just have to save it for spring.

**Update** I was being extremely thick there, but luckily my readers know how to solve a wardrobe conundrum better than me - I shall, of course, wear it with a cardigan and get some wear out of it before spring. Duh! x

Happy Sunday everybody. x

Thursday 1 December 2011

Seeing red

You could say I'm more than a little obsessed with the colour red.  I absolutely love it and am drawn to it like a magpie.  My obsession started at an early age...
Me in 1971, sporting handmade velvet trousers and fur trimmed cape!
...and lasted well into adulthood, reaching its peak about 13 years ago...
Yes, that's me on my wedding day!
I love everything about my wedding dress, but most of all I love the colour.  

Why witter on so much about red, you may ask?  Well, ever since I started sewing my own clothes, I've tried to rein in my habit, but it's always been a struggle and recently I cracked.  I'm afraid the next two makes you'll see on my blog will both be red. Sorry. 

First up will be my soon-to-be-finished Colette patterns Jasmine blouse, which is just awaiting sleeves and a hem.  Now, I can't really be blamed for this one being red - I've been liberating yet more charity shop fabric, which just happens to be in my favourite hue.  Hopefully I'll be able to share some pictures of it at the weekend but I'm thrilled with how it's looking so far.

Second up will be my contribution to Scruffy Badger's New Look 6000 fest.  

Last week, Scruffy Badger posted some ideas for winter dress patterns on her blog and there was such a stampede of appreciation for this New Look pattern, she's decided to host a sew along in its honour. Wahay. I've got my one and only Christmas party coming up in a couple of week's time, so what better opportunity to sew up a classic red dress?  I'm not usually swayed by the serving suggestions on the front of pattern envelopes, well not usually anyway...

My first make from a vintage pattern, mightily swayed by the envelope illustration
But I couldn't resist plumping for red in this case.  And a certain somebody was also lurking at the back of my mind as inspiration...

Doesn't Joanie look divine?  I LOVE the covered buttons on her sleeves and shall be stealing that idea immediately.  As I want my party dress to be quite fitted, I'm going to use a double knit, which will hopefully cling naturally without too many adjustments.  I can't wait, I'm so looking forward to making this dress.

That's it folks, I just wanted to warn you of the approaching red overload, in case any of you are tempted to adjust your sets.  Am I the only one thus afflicted or is there anybody else out there harbouring a mad colour obsession?  Pray tell, I'd love to know.  x


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