Monday 28 April 2014

Liberty Afternoon blouse

Here's my beautiful Liberty fabric from Sewbox, swiftly transformed into an Afternoon Blouse. If I calculated the total amount of time it took to make it, the result would easily fit into an afternoon. In reality however, it took a couple of weeks as my boys have been on school holidays. I managed to fit in the odd twenty minutes here and there, in between herding them around museums and plying them with Easter eggs. It's really not my favourite way to sew, but beggars can't be choosers and I do have a goy-jus blouse to show for it, so all is well.

After my worries about the Simple Sew pattern (which incidentally has now gone to a much better home than I could give it), I decided I wanted to make something with minimal angst, that fitted well and could showcase the lovely floral print. With this in mind, choosing to make a second version of the Afternoon Blouse was a no brainer (my first version is here.) This time, I actually managed to cut out the correct size (8 everywhere, grading out to a 12 at the bust) and the fit is much more comfortable. I could still probably have done with a teeny weeny FBA - maybe one day I'll learn eh?! Nothing else out of the ordinary to report, except that I chose to make the rounded decorative neckline, just because. I still found it a bit of a fiddle attaching and pressing the facing but the end result is fine. The point at which the necklines cross did tend to gape a bit when worn, so I just topstitched that bit into submission.

As I suspected, the busy floral print completely camouflages the decorative neckline (you can just see it in the photo above, but that's probably because of the top stitching). That's just an observation though, not a criticism - the Liberty lawn fabric I used was perfect for this pattern. It barely frays and is crisp enough to press the facing to the inside of the blouse without any fights breaking out. In fact, I didn't even bother understitching it because it just stayed exactly where I wanted it to. I'm not the only one who thinks this way either. Just this morning I spotted Karen from Did You Make That?'s lovely Liberty version. And I promise we didn't confer beforehand, it's just sewing serendipity!

If you feel the need to add a classy little number to your wardrobe but only have a few hours sewing time to spare (an afternoon, for instance), then this could be the pattern for you. My thanks to Susan at Sewbox for generously allowing me to try out the Liberty fabric.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Sew Dolly Clackett

First off, the winner of the Elephant in my Handbag FQ giveaway is Diane from Vintage Zest. Yay! Please email me your address Diane and I'll make sure your prize is sent out to you. Thank you to everybody who entered and to Stephanie for such a generous giveaway.

Now you may just have noticed that the sewing blog world is abuzz with all things Dolly Clackett. Sewing superstar and creator of beautiful dresses Dolly Clackett (aka Roisin) is getting married next month, and to help the celebrations along, Sarah from Rhinestones and Telephones is hosting a fun challenge - Sew Dolly Clackett. The challenge is to sew a Roisin-style dress, which Roisin herself gets to judge. Big fat hoorah!

As usual, I'm very late to the party - the deadline is tomorrow - and the Flickr group page is filling up thick and fast (Jenny from Sewing Pies has actually made 12, yes 12 dresses!!) Much as I'd like to pay homage to Roisin by sewing an Eiffel Tower, Sexy Cowgirl, Comic Strip or Lobster dress (delete as applicable), I thought I'd go with another favourite of hers and tread the gingham route.

Not very original I'm afraid, but my Betty dress is probably as close to a Dolly Clackett dress as I'm going to get. That girl has a keen eye for a fitted bodice and a circle skirt and this delivers on both counts. Oh, and did I mention it's gingham?! Roisin has made no secret of her love for gingham in the past, wowing us with these beauties.

And…wait for it... the Oh Jane dress, named in my honour!!!!!

I first met Roisin a couple of years ago and instantly felt like I'd known her forever. We started talking ten to the dozen and every time we meet, we just carry on where we left off. It's like she's my cousin or something (and let me tell you, my cousins are a big deal to me.) I'm so, so thrilled she's getting wed to the lovely Nic. And in case you're worried, I've had the pleasure of meeting Nic and he passes the sewing blogger test on many levels. Most noticeably, he clearly adores Roisin, he knows his old films and he's mightily skilled at keeping a lady's glass filled with Prosecco. Three excellent reasons to marry him I say! I leave you with a photo of the two of us, taken on a very sunny, very happy day last year. I can't be certain, but something tells me we'd had a little too much to drink!

Have a wonderful, wonderful day my darling Roisin. xx

Friday 18 April 2014

A look at vintage fabric, patterns and notions - guest post by Carol Seatory

Today I have a rare treat for you - a guest post by vintage fabric aficionado Carol Seatory. Carol works as an illustrator and graphic designer and spends her spare time sewing, upholstering, printmaking and collaging using upcycled papers and textiles. Remember the Midwinter teapot collage I was raving about in this post? Well that was one of hers. When she can tear herself away from making things, she teaches university students how to design fancy things using a computer. Here's what she has to say about using vintage fabrics, patterns and notions.

"I have sewn and made things all my life. I have also always been a terrible hoarder. Along with vintage clothing, I have been collecting pieces of vintage fabric since my teens, mostly attracted by the prints and colours of the early 1960s.

A few years ago, I started making children’s clothes from pieces too small for anything else. I found two vintage children’s patterns that would just squeeze a dress out of a piece of fabric barely bigger than a cushion cover. My favourite arty, abstract prints of the late ‘50s and very early ‘60s made for something quite different from the small, cute prints usually associated with childrenswear.  

Look - a matching bag!

Having used up most of my stock of just-about-big-enough pieces of fabric, I allowed myself to start buying fabric again. I have a real fondness for the large scale prints of mid-century furnishing fabrics and if I can find a curtain (I never cut up a pair) with enough usable fabric left after the sun damage to the edges and any paint has been cut off (old curtains were often used as dust sheets for decorating), this can make an adult-sized dress.

For this dress, I particularly enjoyed playing with the contrast of skeletal winter trees with a sleeveless summer dress. But there was also the fact that there was so much damaged fabric there was not enough left for the sleeves!

I started collecting vintage patterns purely for the illustrations on the envelopes. I used to display these in frames, but luckily I saved all the pattern pieces. Alongside the practical considerations of salvaging usable pieces of reclaimed fabric, there are also things to consider about using vintage patterns.

Firstly there’s the sizing issue. Standardised dress sizes have changed dramatically over the years, so whatever dress size it says on the pattern, ignore it and go by the bust size instead (luckily, this is always included).  

Secondly there’s the fit: bear in mind that period clothes were designed to be worn over the underwear of the time – pointy bras, corseted waists, girdled stomachs. What this also means is that the bust and waist are generally high and the bust darts may need to be adjusted unless you’re going to go the whole nine yards with a conical bra! This high bustline can also mean high and narrow armholes, depending upon the cut of the garment.  The waist-hip ratio is often more extreme than nowadays (smaller, corseted or girdled waists) – if a waistband is part of the garment then it may well be a good idea to check and adjust the pattern.

Finally, these patterns tend to have more complicated diagrams and verbose instructions than modern ones. It’s not only patterns – the instructions for my sewing machine (a “Diplomat“ from 1963) have illustrations with so much intricate detail of the engraving on the deluxe model that there is no way of seeing the complicated route the thread is supposed to take. So make some time to read the instructions before you start, with a clear head – especially if you tend to sew at night when the kids are in bed, like I do.

I am finding that as my friends’ parents get older, boxes of fabric from hoarding mothers and grandmothers are coming my way. One of my friends has given me several large boxes of clothes her mother never got around to mending and garments she cut out and never made. In one box alone there were five red and white gingham school dresses to fit a girl of approximately seven years old – and my friend is now 50! 

The huge advantage of using deadstock (old but unused) fabric over salvaged fabric is that it will almost always have been stored away from the light, so there is no fading or wastage. Lots of these fabrics are of much better quality than you would easily find nowadays, particularly the linens and wools. The downside is that, if you make to order, you can’t always have exactly what you’re looking for – you have to wait until the right thing comes along and some colours are not as common as they are nowadays. However, if you like the typical colours of a particular period, dyes are different now and the shades are quite unlike the ones in modern fabrics.

It’s not only the patterns and fabric I’m giving a new lease of life to – as well as using my Diplomat when I secretly have a modern sewing machine stored under the bed, never having taken it out of its box – I also use vintage threads, zips and buttons. I often see free-standing wooden sewing boxes at flea markets and boot fairs. Nine times out of ten these are still full of threads, notions and equipment. I started buying bagfuls of this stuff when I was making the children’s dresses and getting through a very large amount of bias binding and I’m still working my way though all the threads, hooks and eyes and zips.

My real weakness is buttons: I have jar after jar of sorted, colour-coded vintage buttons and have to try and stop myself buying more whenever I see them. Recently I bought a very large tin with an enamelled design of a Chinese dragon and when I got it home found that it was full to the brim with sets of beautiful buttons already sorted and bundled.

The two dresses below were made from patterns I’ve been thinking about using for some time. Seven carrier bags of fabric arrived from somebody’s mother’s hoard a couple of weeks ago, so I had plenty of fabric to choose from! 

This wool jersey was great for an early 1960s column dress, but the fabric was too bulky for the bow that trims the “empire band” across the bust in the pattern (Butterick 8839 pictured above). 

I was very lucky to find a deadstock bolt of this leaf print crisp linen in a junk shop – I just have to remember not to sit on the chair (salvaged, naturally!) I upholstered with the same fabric when I wear it!"

How cool is that final dress?! Thank you so much Carol for sharing your wealth of vintage knowledge with us. You can find out about new projects via Carol's blog, or see her collages and prints in her Etsy Shop. Right, I'm off to unearth that pair of '50's curtains I found in Walthamstow a couple of years ago…. x

Tuesday 15 April 2014

The best laid plans...

Remember my spring sewing plans from a few weeks ago? Oh I had it all worked out - a Peter Pan Collar Blouse pattern and a beautiful Liberty lawn, both courtesy of Sewbox. With the help of my readers, I finally decided on the fabric (believe me, it took weeks!) and was all set. But sometimes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

This is the pattern, from the new-to-me pattern company Simple Sew. The line drawings are a little misleading - the shape of the pattern is actually much more triangular i.e. wider towards the hem, than the pattern envelope suggests. I knew this beforehand from Marie's review, and thought it could be easily remedied by adding a few darts. As I was using precious Liberty fabric, I decided to make a muslin first, then I could work out the dart placement. As suspected, the blouse was roomy and unflattering, but it was actually the tight fit around the arms and the high neck that were very, very wrong for me.

Now it's always been my policy on this blog to offer an honest review of fabric, patterns, books, or whatever people are good enough to entrust me with. And on this occasion - I have to be honest - I just didn't like it at all.  My dilemma was whether to continue with the pattern given that it clearly wasn't going to work for my shape. So I asked myself the question, "Would you continue with this pattern if you'd paid for it?" Despite the allure of the Peter Pan collar, the answer was "No." The other consideration was the Liberty fabric that Susan had kindly gifted me. Could I really cut into my beautiful fabric to make a top that realistically I'd never wear? Again, the answer was "No." So I'm sorry to say, I didn't continue with the pattern. I do like to support independent pattern companies when I can, so I'm disappointed not to be able to give a full review. I just think life's too short to slave away trying to get a pattern to fit, when it's clear from such an early stage that it's not going to work for you.

If you're a bit smaller in the bust than me and you like your tops to have a looser fit, then I still think the pattern is worth trying out. It looks relatively simple to put together (only three pattern pieces and no sleeves to set in) and although the instructions are brief, they're still easy to follow. There are no facings either - the neckline and kimono sleeve hems are finished with bias tape, which is a nice touch. If you want a better idea of the true finished look of the blouse, have a look at the beautiful pictures on Marie's review.  It's a perfect pattern for many people out there - just not for me.

As for the Liberty fabric, it certainly won't be going to waste (as if!) This is the design I chose….

….and I have plans for it! x

Friday 11 April 2014

Oooh Betty!

It's my pleasure to present to you the new pattern on the block from Sew Over It - the Betty Dress

I LOVE the cover illustration!

The Betty dress is already taught as a dressmaking class at the Sew Over It sewing cafe (it's one of the most popular classes), so it's lovely to see it released as a paper pattern. It's a classic fifties dress based on the style of Betty Draper from Mad Men (in the early days, when she was still married to Don). I did hesitate about pattern testing it initially, as I'm not a big fan of circle skirts (although I do love a fitted bodice!)  But I've been curious to try out a Sew Over It pattern since they started releasing them last year and the overall look of the dress was just too tempting, so I said yes. I'm really glad I did as I've surprised myself by how much I like this dress. 

The pattern requires three metres of fabric (it's all in the skirt) so it was perfect for some vintage fabric I've had squirrelled away for a while. It's a tiny navy gingham print with ribbons woven through it which I picked up for about £10 from a vintage fair. It's definitely made from some kind of poly-blend as it's very drapey. It was actually quite a good choice of fabric for this dress - the skirt doesn't have the very full effect you'd probably get from a less drapey cloth, which was exactly what I wanted.  I decided to have the stripe of the ribbon running in opposite directions for the bodice and skirt, sort of a low-rent Horrockses effect if you will. 

The pattern is a classic design, comprising a darted, fitted bodice with a rounded neck and V back and a full circle skirt. The instructions were clear and well explained and included a gem of a tip for ensuring your seam lines line up around the zip. The only part I struggled with was the all-in-one facing. The shoulder seams are left free and once the bodice is constructed, everything is finished by machine. I couldn't quite get to grips with the method demonstrated, so I finished the shoulder and facing seams by hand, which still gave a very neat result and took no time at all. There's a sew along coming soon to the Sew Over It blog so I'll be following it like a hawk when they attach the all-in-one facing.

I shortened the skirt by 3½' as I'm intending to wear this as a day dress. If I was making a version for a wedding or something more formal, I'd probably take the hem a bit lower. I also took ⅝" off the back shoulder seams to stop the back bodice gaping. It's worth noting that there's not much ease in the bodice - it's designed to be very fitted - so just pay attention to the waist measurement. For reference I made a size 10 all over.

Luckily, I realised quite early on that the fabric was actually pretty see-through, so added a full lining to the bodice rather than just a facing (I just used plain white cotton lawn). I didn't bother lining the skirt - my reasoning was that it was so enormous the folds of fabric would disguise any transparency. Wrong! As Patrick Stewart would say in Extras "I could see everything!" so it has to be worn with a half slip.  It's the first full circle skirt I've ever made and I'm pleased at how flattering it looks. If I was making a fancier version, I'd use a less drapey fabric and maybe add a crinoline, just for the hell of it.

Behold my circle skirt!
The pattern retails for £13 and is available both in store and at the Sew Over It online shop. I do have a copy of the Betty Dress pattern to give away, but this will have to wait until later in the year as I've had quite a lot of giveaways on the blog recently. Overall, I think it's a lovely pattern for the summer and a really nice addition to the Sew Over It pattern range. x

The Betty pattern was given to me free of charge for pattern testing. All views my own.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Phone Holder Tutorial

Today I'm going to share a tutorial for a mobile phone or iPod holder. I've lost count of the number of these I've made - they're quite simple to put together and make great little gifts. They're also a good way of showcasing two contrasting fabrics. I decided to go for a floral, Cath Kidston-style look for this particular phone holder using two Tilda fabrics from Elephant in my Handbag. Like the idea? Well read on as there's a fabric giveaway and reader offer at the end too!

You will need:
1 x outer fabric 4.5" wide x 14" long
1 x lining fabric 4.5" wide x 14" long
1 x medium weight sew-in interfacing* 4.5" wide x 14" long
*I use sew-in interfacing as I find it's a bit weightier than fusible and provides a bit more cushioning. If you'd rather use fusible interfacing, then iron it to the reverse of the outer fabric piece before you start.
A 1 inch square of sew-in Velcro. I don't use adhesive Velcro as it gums up your needle (ask me how I know!)

1. Right, we'll start by making a fabric sandwich:
Place the outer fabric piece face UP on top of the interfacing piece
Place the lining piece face DOWN on top of the outer fabric (so that right sides are together).
Pin in place through all layers.

2. Starting about a third of the way in from one of the SHORT edges, sew all the way around the long rectangle, finishing the same distance from the corner of the other short edge. I use the edge of my presser foot as a seam allowance.

Starting point

3. If you're using sew-in interfacing, trim the interfacing seams down to reduce bulk.  Snip all four corners on the diagonal.

4. Turn the whole thing the right way round, through the gap you've left.  Use a paintbrush or similar to poke out the edges, making sure they're nice and pointy. Give the whole piece a good press, ensuring the seam allowances in the turning gap are also pressed under.

Turning gap with seams pressed under
5. If you want to add a label, now's your chance. Sew it in position as close to the top edge as you can, making sure the label goes right across the turning gap.  If you're not adding a label, simply stitch right the way across the top edge to close up the gap.

6. Take one half of your Velcro piece and centre it 1.5" down from the top edge. You shouldn't need to pin it in position, just hold it firmly in place with your hand. Stitch down, keeping close to the edge.

7. Stick the other half of the Velcro to the piece you've just sewn on. This will keep it safe until we come to attach it to the front flap of the case later.

8. Fold the bottom of the fabric rectangle up by 5" so the two lining sides are against each other and you've created a pouch. Pin in place securely.

9. Starting at one bottom edge, sew all the way up the sides and around the top edge of the pouch. I tend to sew about ¼" from the edge to avoid the bulky seam allowances.

10. The picture below has been turned the right way round. You can see the where it's been top stitched up one side, across the top and down the the other side. You may want to backstitch a couple of times where the two layers of fabric meet, for extra security.

My stitching's a bit wonky on one side...
11. Fold the top edge of the rectangle down over the pouch you've just sewn (just above the label). Then gently pull apart the Velcro whilst holding the unattached Velcro piece firmly onto the back of the top flap (see picture below).

Pull apart the Velcro and hold it in position
12. You may need to practice this a few times to make sure it's in exactly the right position you want. You can also just mark the position on the top flap if that's easier. Keeping tight hold of that Velcro, carefully sew it into position.

Remember, this square of stitches will be visible on the front of the pouch, so try to be as neat as you can.

13. Give everything a final press and you're done. All you need to do now is add your phone! I haven't got a fancy phone, but I do know that the dimensions for this phone holder are large enough for an iPhone.

Your phone safely inside - all snug

I hope you find this tutorial useful and please do let me know if you spot anything that doesn't make sense.  If you'd like to try your hand at making something similar, Elephant in my Handbag is very kindly offering one of my readers any bundle of four fat quarters from their website. Enough for many, many mobile holders, in every possible fabric combination if you so wish! To enter, have a look at the FQ bundle section and leave a comment on this post, telling me which one you'd choose if you're the winner. The giveaway is open worldwide and closes at midnight GMT on Tuesday 15th April. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on the blog. GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED

The fabrics for this tutorial were given to me free of charge. All views my own.

Friday 4 April 2014

Jennifer Lauren Vintage: Afternoon Blouse

Yay! Hot off the press today is the Afternoon Blouse - a brand new PDF pattern from lovely sewing blogger Jennifer Lauren.  I was lucky enough to be a tester for this pattern so I can tell you all about it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin…

The design of the Afternoon Blouse is based on an original 1950's pattern, cleverly updated to give it a modern edge. Jennifer has also spent a lot of time perfecting the construction and shape of the blouse to make it super easy to fit and sew. In fact it's so easy to sew it can be made in just one afternoon (geddit? the clue's in the name!)  I was asked to pattern test right in the middle of a busy period, and then lost a precious day's sewing because of the teacher's strike in the UK (I had to entertain my children and was twitching towards the sewing machine like a junkie). In the end I did only have one afternoon free to make it, which was a nice challenge as I could test out whether the blouse lived up to its name. Of course it did!

From a sewing and construction viewpoint, the blouse is super easy to sew:
- No darts or tucks
- No zips, buttons or other fastenings, it just slips over your head
- No sleeves to set in (the blouse has one of my favourite vintage features - short kimono sleeves)
- Very few pattern pieces - just a front, back and facings

Making the blouse should have been one of the quickest sewing projects in the history of the world - if I hadn't been such a half wit. The following is ALL my own fault, I hasten to add, and nothing to do with the pattern. I made such a silly sewing mistake I couldn't believe my own stupidity - gah! After looking at the size charts, I decided that I would cut a size 8 at the shoulders, waist and hips and a size 12 at the bust. The pattern is constructed with grown on sleeves, so blending between the sizes is an easy job. My fatal error was chatting to my mum whilst I was tiling the pattern together. I was so busy gassing away, I clean forgot to grade the bust to a larger size and just cut a size 8 all over. The pattern tiled together so perfectly I decided to cut the blouse out from the fabric there and then, still not graded at the bust. The ridiculous thing is, I didn't even realise my mistake until I actually sewed the blouse together and tried to get it over my head! Having wrestled it on and then off again, I suddenly worked out why it was so tight…. The tragedy is that I didn't have enough fabric to re-cut it so just had to let the side seams and centre front seams out as far as possible. I'd say the bust is now more like a size 10 and is still a little tight, which makes me think my original plan of a size 12 would have been perfect. Grrrr. The fit everywhere else is perfect.

I was particularly pissed off at myself because the fabric I used was so lovely. I chose a red shirting with a slight sheen from Offset Warehouse after my usual trick of seeing it on Dolly Clackett's blog and wanting some of the action. I found shirting to be the perfect fabric for this blouse. It's crisp and holds its shape, but has just enough drape to do justice to the feminine styling. The shirting I used is my perfect shade of red too, I'm very tempted to get some more for another project...

I would say the only slightly tricky bit is sewing the facing to the neckline, but I think if you do as Jennifer advises in the instructions and just take your time, then it's pretty straight forward. The neckline is finished with a decorative i.e. non functioning button - a good opportunity to use any pretty vintage buttons you've been hoarding. I think the decorative neckline is more noticeable if you use a fabric in a solid colour. Having said that, my next version (which will be in the correct size) has a busy pattern, so I'll be interested to see how it looks.

Style-wise I think the Afternoon Blouse will be a really useful addition to my wardrobe. It has the vintage look that always lures me in, and which I've already found goes perfectly with all my high waisted trousers and skirts. It also has a casual, modern look so you can team it with jeans or shorts in the summer. I don't have any photos, but I can confirm, hand on heart that it does look flattering untucked. And believe me, for a blouse to pass my rigorous untucked test, it usually has to be fitted and darted to within an inch of its life.

If you'd like to introduce a bit of vintage flair into your life with minimal effort, then hot foot it over to Jennifer's Etsy Shop where you can purchase the PDF pattern.  I think it's a lovely pattern and I don't think there'll be too long a gap before my next version appears on this here blog! Have a wonderful weekend! x

The Afternoon Blouse pattern was given to me free of charge for pattern testing. All views my own.


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