Friday 20 July 2018

Thumbs down for scuba stripes

This dress was never meant to be. I know exactly what I like garment-wise, and a dress made from striped scuba fabric with a pleated skirt has never been on my sewing wish list. Yet here it is. All because I saw a dress on Instagram, became a tiny bit obsessed with it and couldn't rest until I'd made one for myself. The making of it was relatively easy and straight forward. Whether or not I actually like the finished dress is another matter...

The original inspiration dress in question was this lovely Emery dress by Caz.

Hers was made from a striped ponte from Minerva that was no longer in stock. What was in stock (but not at the moment) was a similar looking striped scuba knit on sale at £7.99 a metre, so I bagged two metres to experiment with.

One of the things I liked about Caz's dress was the way the bodice and skirt stripes ran in different directions. The stripes on my scuba aren't as uniform as the stripes on Caz's ponte - there are several different sections of broad, medium and narrow stripes - so I knew there'd be a bit of head scratching to get them in the exact position I wanted. I ended up with the medium stripes across the main section of the bodice and narrower stripes at the top section. Much to my delight, I then jammily managed to continue the narrow striped section down the side of the sleeves (more or less). The skirt is a mixture of everything, but it can get away with it because of the vertical stripes.

Matching arm stripes (sort of!)
Pattern-wise I used the bodice from the Lady Skater dress as it's drafted for knits and fits me well, and the pleated skirt from the Mortmain dress. The only change I made was to shorten the bodice slightly - the original length ended up too far down from my natural waist and was causing a bit of rippling. It would probably have gone unnoticed in a solid coloured fabric, but the giant stripes really emphasised it. The whole dress was sewn on my overlocker, apart from the sleeve hems which I finished with a straight stretch stitch. The neckline is finished with a plain white neckband. The skirt hem has been left unfinished as I just preferred the look of it.

One giant gamble I took when making this dress was to cut it out without allowing for a zip. The Lady Skater pattern doesn't have a zip anyway as it's designed for knits and I simply removed the zip seam allowance from the skirt pieces  Because the scuba has a good amount of stretch to it, I can get the dress on without one, so the gamble paid off, yay!

There are lots and lots of positives about this dress, along with one big, giant negative - I don't think it's very 'me'. Maybe it's a stripe too far (can there be such a thing?!) and I don't really wear this shape of dress any more. Also, despite being easy to sew with and magically stretchy, I've come to the conclusion (a bit late in the day, admittedly) that I don't particularly like scuba as a fabric. The texture always feels a bit cheap and nylon-y to me and I couldn't wait to get the dress off after taking these photos!

I debated whether to even post this dress on my blog, but I think it's always good to see dressmaking fails as well as wins. I don't regret making it and it was a lovely, stress-free dress to sew. Sometimes it's good to sew something just to get it out of your system! x


Friday 6 July 2018

Lemon print skirt

I've had this gorgeous Dolce and Gabbana-style cotton (from Pigeon Wishes but no longer in stock) squirrelled away for over a year and have really taken my time deciding what to use it for. I already have a lemon print dress, which I wear quite a lot and is wildly popular with members of the public (I'm complimented on it virtually every time I wear it, which is lovely!) Because of this I figured separates would get a bit more wear than another dress, so decided to make a statement skirt. 

The pattern is the skirt section of the Mortmain dress by Gather, which is the same pattern I used for my first lemon dress. I think a large, bold print like this works particularly well with box pleats. Handily for me, Gather Kits have a blog post on how to make a Mortmain skirt from the dress pattern pieces, which is totally fool proof. The only thing I did differently was to swap the exposed zip for an invisible one. As you can probably see from the photos, I deliberately made the waistband more of a relaxed fit. I decided I'd rather forego the very neat, nipped in look of a perfectly fitted waistband for the comfort factor and ability to eat my dinner without feeling like I'm about to explode.

The skirt is fully lined with Venezia lining fabric which was a perfect colour match to the navy background. It was given to me as a gift from Jo Sews ages ago and is the loveliest lining fabric I've ever sewn with. I'm truly lamenting the fact that it doesn't seem to be available in the UK* (Jo lives in Brussels). Lining the skirt gives it a really nice weight and a bit of structure which I think is good with a pleated skirt. *EDIT: Hoorah, I've now discovered that Venezia lining IS available in the UK from here (Stone Fabrics) in tons of colours. Thank you so much to the readers who pointed this out.

As the print on this skirt is full on lemony, I made a new plain top specifically to wear with it. New Look 6217 is the pattern that keeps on giving and yet again it didn't fail me. I think this is now my sixth version of this top - I've given up blogging about them as I don't want to bore you all to death! You only need half a metre of 150cm wide fabric to make it and I used luxury crepe from Sew Over It which has a lovely drape. 

I really like the whole outfit, which works just as easily for daytime as it does for evening. I was actually wearing flip flops and heels to demonstrate this in the photos below, but my son didn't think to include my feet when he was taking them!

The skirt (and top) gets its first outing tomorrow at a party...I'll report back! x

Tuesday 15 May 2018

I sewed something!

After a loooong time away from the sewing machine I've finally sewn something! Well, three things to be precise - three Sew Over It Molly tops. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy, just simple everyday tops that will be worn a lot (I'm wearing the pink one as I type this...)

There are several reasons why I haven't been feeling it on the sewing front recently, but the main one is that I'd more or less reached saturation point with my handmade wardrobe. To put it simply, I had more than enough clothes and didn't need to sew more. Unworn garments were piling up and it felt wasteful and wrong. So I stopped sewing. And if I'm perfectly honest, I've enjoyed the break and the lack of pressure to sew things. 

When spring finally arrived in the UK I had a long, hard look at my wardrobe and was pretty ruthless with the clothes that no longer fit me, both in terms of style and size. A combination of middle age, menopause and eating too many pies (and what a lovely combination that is!) meant that quite a lot of the super fitted styles I used to love so much had to be slung out. That's when I noticed a gap for a few stylish T shirts and tops, preferably made from knit fabrics for the comfort factor.

The light blue Molly top was actually sewn a few weeks before the other two, using Girl Charlee denim coloured cotton spandex from my stash. I made a straight size 10 as per my previous version

Molly is a really simple but stylish pattern and in a few short weeks this top has been worn a LOT. The fabric was lovely to sew with too, so I decided to sew a couple more. I bought a darker denim version of the same fabric and, very unusually for me, a dark rose pink, both from Girl Charlee. 

It took just a morning to make the two tops on my overlocker (hems and neckbands were top stitched with a double needle) and they turned out exactly as I'd hoped. The dark denim one is basically a carbon copy of the light denim one and will be worn until it falls apart. The fabric is light enough to wear on spring days or can be layered up when it's really cold.  

I think this one is my favourite.
I left off the sleeve cuffs for the pink version as I thought the colour was more suited to summer. I also levelled off the hem to give it a neater shape. 

I must admit it was good to get back behind the sewing machine again. If you've had a bit of a break from sewing, here are my top tips for getting back into it:

1. Choose a pattern you've used before and you know fits well. You can then just cut out and sew, knowing that the finished garment will fit.

2. Don't over complicate things with a difficult design. The Molly top has just three pattern pieces (four if you add the sleeve cuffs) and is ridiculously quick to sew.

3. Avoid patterned fabric for the same reason. Who can be arsed to pattern match when you're after a quick fix?!

4. Knit fabrics are your friend, they're quick to sew up and easy to fit.

5. Cut out more than one garment at the cutting stage. If you only have a few seams to sew, an extra garment doesn't takes much longer to sew up, especially if you use my canny overlocker thread tip

The new additions to my wardrobe are already on frequent rotation, which I'm delighted about. Rumour has it there's a Tilly and the Buttons Bibi skirt in the pipeline too, so I'm clearly on a sewing roll! Small steps... x

Wednesday 4 April 2018

A Beginner's Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics - blog tour

Today it's my stop on the Beginner's Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics blog tour. This is Wendy Ward's latest book and the perfect starting point if you're wanting to branch out and start sewing with knits. The book includes full sized paper patterns for six core garments (T-shirt, Wide Leg Trousers, Tank, Lounge Pants, Cardigan and Skirt) with a variety of hacks to give a choice of twenty different variations. 

The book is laid out in a similar way to Wendy's first book A Beginner's Guide to Making Skirts (reviewed here). For each project there are step-by-step instructions with clear diagrams, with methods for tackling specific techniques (adding a neckband, hemming, using elastic etc) included in a comprehensive 'techniques' section. These techniques are noted at the start of each project and I'd recommend reading up on them before you start. In fact I'd strongly recommend reading the "How to Use This Book' section on page 9 before you do anything, as it lays out everything you need to know to get the most out of the book.  

The patterns are printed on both sides of each sheet and overlap, so you will need to trace them. Also, some larger pieces (such as trouser legs) may be printed in two halves, so make sure you know where the two halves are! A helpful guide showing which projects and pattern pieces are printed on each sheet can be found on page 23. One thing I found slightly annoying is that there are no sizes i.e. size numbers printed on the patterns, just the different pattern markings for each size. If you're confused about which markings relate to your size (as I was) there's a key on the inside back page of the book.

Sizes range from US size 4 (UK 8) to US 22 (UK 26) and the garments are sized depending on which area of the body the garment will fit most closely. The two trouser patterns are sized on hip measurements, the cardigan, T-shirt and tank are sized on bust measurements and the skirt is based on waist measurement. Just make sure you're working from the correct area of the body before you start.

I have to be honest and say that a couple of the patterns were not really my style, most notably the Longshaw Skirt. The T-shirt and tank were similar to designs I've made lots of times before and the wide legged trousers didn't appeal. It was therefore a toss up between the chic and versatile Kinder Cardigan or the Monsal Lounge Pants. Now Lounge Pants have never really been on my sewing radar, but the weather was cold and miserable at the time of making, and all I wanted to do was lie on the sofa, so lounge pants it was.

There are three pattern options: full length, with or without cuff, and shorts length. I went for the cuffed version, adding the optional cut away pockets with a contrast pocket band. One very helpful thing that Wendy does in the book is list the fabrics that each of her samples are made from. Based on this I chose a navy ponte for the main trousers with a contrasting grey marl in the same fabric for the cuffs, waistband and pocket bands. The quality of the ponte was lovely - a nice medium/heavy weight with a good amount of stretch. With hindsight, I should perhaps have chosen a lighter weight fabric for the pocket bands as the double layers of ponte ending up very bulky to sew through. 

The instructions were a breeze and actually employed a different method than I've previously used for trouser making. Usually I would make up both legs separately, then put one leg inside the other and sew the front and back crotch seams in one go. The method in this book is to sew the crotch seams first - which give you an entire front section and an entire back section - then sew the inside leg seams. Once the pockets are added you simply sew up the side seams and you have a pair of trousers! This seemed like a much simpler method to me and one I'll definitely use again.

Trying to replicate the model's pose above...
The fit is supposed to be loose (not baggy) with a tapering leg shape. I like the tapering leg shape but I could probably have done with shortening them a bit as they noticeable crumple below the knee. The calf section is also a bit tight, but that may be down to my newly discovered runners calves (ahem). As predicted, they're supremely comfortable and perfect for lounging stylishly around the house. When the 'Beast from the East' hit the UK recently they were an absolute godsend - cosy, comfortable and a definite step up from pyjamas!

There's a lot of work that's gone into the writing and production of this book and this is evident throughout. It's an excellent first guide for beginners and a very good source of patterns and advice for those who are already familiar with sewing with knits. Like the look of it? Well you're in luck, as are offering readers of my blog a 25% discount off the purchase price. Simply purchase through their website and enter the code BLOG25 at the checkout. The discount is valid until 21st April 2018.

A Beginner's Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics was given to me for review by CICO Books and the fabric for my project was kindly supplied by Minerva Crafts. All views my own. 

Thursday 8 February 2018

Intro to Sewing Coats Online class review

The Intro to Sewing Coats is an online class from Sew Over It offering a step-by-step guide to sewing a beautiful tailored Chloe Coat. Details of my finished Chloe Coat can be found here - this additional post will go into a bit more detail about what to expect from the online class.

I've used one of the Sew Over It online classes before (The Ultimate Guide to Sewing and Fitting Trousers) and really got a lot out of it. This time round I learnt everything there is to know about coat making, including some great new tips and techniques. The course is aimed at a broad range of sewers - coat-sewing newbies who want to take their skill level up a notch, along with intermediate sewers who want to improve their tailoring techniques. You will need to be familiar with garment construction and have inserted sleeves and zips before embarking on the course. The class includes a PDF pattern of the Chloe coat (both tiled and copyshop versions), video tutorials by Lisa Comfort explaining each step of the construction process, written instructions to accompany the videos and PDF guides on fitting and alterations. A full list of the techniques you'll learn in the class can be found here.

My main piece of advice is to watch all the videos right the way through before you even think about cutting anything out. It's always good to get a general idea of what you'll be doing and you can flag up any bits that don't make sense. Most of the videos are very short, only a minute or so, which makes it easier to let the information sink in. Believe me, the more times you watch something the more it makes sense! The course also comes with a set of written instructions (without illustrations). I'd recommend using the videos and the written instructions in conjunction with one another. A few tiny instructions that are not mentioned in the videos e.g. slip stitching the turning hole in the pockets, are mentioned in the written instructions. And vice versa - top stitching the front edges of the coat right at the end isn't mentioned in the written instructions. Use them together and they'll cover everything.

There are separate pattern pieces for 'cloth' (main coat fabric), lining and interfacing which is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, you're working with properly measured pattern pieces and don't need to make a stab at drafting the lining yourself. This makes things far easier when it comes to the cutting out stage. On the minus side, it does result in a gigantic pattern to tape together - 84 pages in fact. All is not lost however, as there is a copy shop PDF version allowing you to get it printed on massive sheets and sent to you. I used Print Your Pattern which charged £9 to print out the three large pattern sheets and it was delivered the next day. There are other pattern printing companies that are even cheaper. I know it's extra money to shell out, but in this case I think it's well worth it as it does save a lot of time.

The Chloe Coat is designed to be "semi-loose fitting yet flattering...fitted to your shoulders, and shaped at the front with a long cut-away dart." It's a simple, classic design and because of this there's very little fitting involved. As advised in the fitting video, it's essential to get the shoulder measurement correct, then work from there. Any pattern adjustments you do need to do such as lengthening/shortening are all outlined on PDFs which are clear and self explanatory. For reference, I cut a straight size 12 with two small adjustments to the pattern. I shortened the sleeve length by 6 cms and re-positioned the pockets about 2.5 cms to allow for my short arms. I'm 5'2" and I didn't shorten the coat hem, so if you're taller and/or prefer a longer coat you may need to lengthen the pattern. It's also worth noting that the side seams have a generous 2cm seam allowance to allow you to fit as you go.

Coat finishes just above the knee on me
Once you have your pattern pieces ready to go I'd allow a full day to cut everything out. Cloth, plus lining, plus interfacing equals a lot of time spent cutting out, plus time spent ironing on the interfacing pieces. As tempting as it might be to press ahead with the sewing, I'd recommend starting the next day when your brain is fresher!

The Chloe Coat is collarless, which means there's less bulk to contend with when it comes to layers of collar and facings. That doesn't mean it's problem free though - I still ended up with bulky sections because of the weight of my fabric, even though I trimmed everything down as directed. My fabric was a medium weight wool which is on the list of recommended fabrics so I'm not sure why this was a problem. I actually ended up omitting the top stitching down the front edges of the coat because I couldn't fit the layers of coat front and facings under my sewing machine! If I had the choice, I would have top stitched to prevent the facing from rolling out, but I'm still happy with the end result.

One of the new-to-me tailoring techniques in the class is sewing ice wool wadding to the sleeve head to give it shape. I've used pre-cut sleeve heads before with some success, but had never heard of ice wool. It's a strange fabric which looks like a cross between cotton wool and candy floss! You're instructed to hand sew it into place, probably because the texture is a bit fragile to put under a sewing machine.

I must admit, I had my suspicions about how effective it would be because of its weird texture, but it really does give a lovely, rounded shape to the sleeve head.  It just seems to mould to the shape of the wearer's shoulder like magic!

The majority of the video steps were clear and well explained - I did exactly as Lisa directed and they seemed to work. I did however, have a little trouble with one or two steps, largely because I couldn't see exactly what was happening on the videos. One of these was Sewing the Sleeve Hems - it was difficult to see how she pinned the hems together because of the camera angle. The thing to remember with this step is that you're joining the two raw edges together. Just keep that in mind and you should be fine.  The other section I had difficulty with was Finishing the Graded Edges of the Lining. It does get a bit easier to understand the more times you watch it, but I just couldn't get it to work. Eventually I did my own thing and it seems to look OK - it's only a tiny area of the coat at the end of the day.

My final piece of advice regarding construction is to follow the seam allowance instructions to the letter when inserting the zip. The seam allowance at the bottom of my zip meandered in slightly and it does make a difference when you zip the coat up. It still zips up (imagine the horror if it didn't after all that work?!) but it's a bit of a fiddle getting the short zip end into the zip pull. There, I've warned you!

The class really is comprehensive and covers everything you're likely to encounter on any coat-making journey. It definitely worked for me and I now have a beautiful, well fitting coat to show for it. x

The Intro to Sewing Coats online class was given to me free of charge for review. All views my own. 

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Holly Hobbie Quilt

Hello. Brace yourselves, there's an actual finished item on the blog today!

The patchwork top for this quilt was finished back in June, but as it's quite a whopper (224 squares), it's taken me this long to summon up the energy to quilt it. The majority of squares are Liberty remnants left over from previous makes, plus a few fat quarters picked up along the way from Sewbox. The light coloured 'neutral' squares are cut from another Liberty print (Cathy), which is also used as the backing fabric. 

It's very busy and flowery but that's exactly what I love about Liberty prints. Plus the busyness of the fabric hides a multitude of quilting sins...

Because it's made almost entirely from Liberty lawn (I think there's one non-Liberty imposter in there) the feel of this quilt is different to others I've made. Liberty lawn has a slight sheen and silkiness that you don't get with regular quilting cotton, giving it a really luxurious feel.

The intended home for this quilt is on the guest bed in the loft. Everything is very plain and neutral up there and it adds a nice pop of colour.

However... I was testing it out on the sofa last night and it actually looks great in the front room, so I'm a bit torn. It has magical properties too, I was asleep within about ten minutes of wrapping it round me... Maybe I'll alternate between the two?

As for the name, I've called this my Holly Hobbie quilt as it reminds me of a doll I had in the seventies.

It was probably around the same time Little House on the Prairie was on TV, when spriggy florals and patchwork dresses were flavour of the month for little girls! Anybody else remember Holly Hobbie? Have a good Tuesday. x


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