Thursday, 27 October 2016

VACC part 1b: another birthday present

Part two of Mum's birthday haul! As you may have come to expect from me, I made something a bit different from what I originally intended.

(It's crappy iPhone shots galore and I apologise. I was only making a flying visit home and it seemed like overkill to bring a DSLR.)

My initial plan, you may recall, was to make the Colette Selene skirt, but I kept going back and forth on it. The pattern didn't quite match the fabric style-wise and the samples on the website don't look especially great, but most damningly - and I know this sounds bad given that it's a present - it seemed like an awful lot of work for not a lot of skirt. I bought the pattern originally for the version with the big notched pockets (which I will try one day), but Mum was emphatically against pockets of any kind for her skirt. Which leaves a basic panelled straight skirt. With the lining and the lapped zip and everything, it would take quite a chunk of time. And given that I'd already made her a jacket... nope. I'd rather make an easier skirt with nice seam detail that wouldn't require quite so much work to remake if it turned out the fit was off.

So I went shopping and found two patterns. One of them was the exact skirt I'd had in my head when Mum picked out the fabric, but there was a small amount of fullness round the bottom and she'd said to me repeatedly that she didn't want any fullness anywhere in the skirt. So I put that pattern down, and went with the slimmer option, Simplicity Amazing Fit 1541.

My first big mistake was looking at the European sizing on the front of the envelope, seeing those same numbers on the back of the envelope and assuming it corresponded to sizing. When I got it home I saw a different set of numbers and realised the pattern was going to be way too small. I should have remembered that this is why I haven't really bothered to look at Simplicity patterns, but I got lulled into a false sense of security by all the Butterick and Vogue patterns in my stash that go up to a size 22. There's no way the straight size pattern would only go up to a 30 inch waist, surely! What a fool I was. However, buoyed by my last experience with rudimentary grading, I did the same thing again. This being a fitted skirt, I was a bit more worried about how it would turn out. I managed to cut the skirt from only half my piece of fabric, so I reasoned that if it was all too disastrous I could always have another go. The pattern comes with different pieces for slim, average and curvy fit. I cut the curvy pieces; size-wise Mum's measurements correspond more to the average fit, but I thought I'd take the extra leeway.

As the pattern's main selling point is the fitting, the instructions tell you to baste most of the seams in place to begin with, try the skirt on and fit from there. So I basted, tried the skirt on to make sure it was big enough (Mum and I don't have the exact same measurements and we definitely don't have the same shape, but we're similar RTW sizes and I know enough about our differences that trying it on myself gives me an idea of whether or not I'm wasting my time) and waited for her to come and visit me. Which was a planned visit. I didn't just baste a skirt and then hold it ransom until my mother came to see me. I'm not that weird.

Much to my complete astonishment, I put the skirt on her and it appeared to fit her perfectly as it was. I hadn't put the zip in so there was a chance that the back wouldn't be quite right once it was finished (it was, as you can see, fine), but I couldn't see anywhere the skirt needed taking in or letting out. I was beyond amazed. Mum had asked for a midi skirt and due to my preoccupation with my rustic grading I'd forgotten, so I was worried about that, but because she's quite short the skirt was almost the exact length she wanted. I compensated for the extra by bias binding the hem and making it smaller than the pattern directs, and we ended up with her preferred "wearing with boots in the winter" skirt length.

You will observe here my bias binding and the results of my first ever kick pleat, which took me a couple of goes but I think it's come out really well. 

The fabric was quite a loose weave and frayed all over the place as I was sewing it up, so I used bias binding on as many internal seams as I could. Which I think was a good decision, because:

You see the really dark seam on the right there? Yeah. We didn't notice when I was taking the photos, but it turned out that the fabric had started to pull apart at the top for absolutely no discernable reason. Luckily Mum has a sewing machine and it was an easy enough fix, but it does make me worry about the skirt's longevity. It's not the seam pulling apart, it's the fabric just deciding it didn't want to remain woven. Ugh. 

I will probably have a go at making another of these skirts. I still have some blue suiting fabric left over from raiding my friend Micky's fabric stash which I think work. I still have the other half of this black and white wool-type stuff and was considering making a skirt for myself (in a different style) from the remnant, but now I'm not so sure. It might be toile fabric only.

So the jacket was definitely the more successful of the two birthday present projects, but I'm glad I got both done. I learned new things from each, Mum was happy with them, and frankly I'm amazed at my own ability to create two well-fitting garments blind from patterns that were substantially too small. I must remember not to abuse this power. 

Kick pleat!

Monday, 24 October 2016

holiday sewing: dance party edition

I've been trying to build a habit of going through my wardrobe on a regular basis and being honest about things that don't work or don't get worn. My last clear out was a couple of weeks ago, and most of what I threw out were summer dresses (and jeans. I had five pairs. I barely even WEAR jeans). I wore a fairly limited wardrobe during the small amount of summer we did have, and I had to admit to myself that the woven zip-up dresses I'd made especially for hot weather were never going to get worn because they're not comfortable enough. So I kept my Centauree and threw out all the others.

This was a good decision, but it did leave me struggling to find things to take on my upcoming holiday. When I saw a metre and a half of tropical print fabric sitting on a remnant pile for £3, I decided to knock up something quick, easy, comfortable, and easy to repurpose as a dress to wear to dance events.

This is my second Anna/tulip skirt dress, and it's much simpler than the last one. Because it's a jersey fabric (something vaguely scuba-ish, I'm not sure what the technical term is) I didn't bother with a zip and cut both my back pieces on the fold, and obviously I didn't have to cut it out twice and mount the fabric this time either. 

Construction was pretty straightforward, except for the bit where I mistook my top piece for my skirt piece because I am SPECTACULARLY thick, and the only change I made was to put in a dart at the back of the neck because things always gape there on me. I think next time I might put two in. 

I cut my usual size, so because it's stretchy it's quite a bit looser. This is exactly what I wanted; if I'm going to be drinking rum and eating fish and tropical fruit in the Caribbean I don't want any of my clothes dictating what size portion I have. I was slightly worried about it because my jersey Anna really didn't go very well, but using a slightly heavier fabric and a slightly less fabric-y skirt works much better. 

Yeah, I don't know. This is some kind of vaguely tropical dance, I suppose.

At the moment I am simultaneously sewing up a holiday wardrobe and an autumn wardrobe, so my sewing corner is basically drowning in dissonance. I'm still hoping to make the swimsuit I keep talking about before we actually leave, and since there is no way in hell I'm standing in my back garden wearing a swimsuit in October, I'm hoping to get the pictures while we're away. Just to be properly infuriating. 

Confused end pose!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

VACC part two: 1920s coat, or ARGH

Hi! I'm not very well at the moment, hence the lack of post on Monday. Way less sewing than usual plus general dissatisfaction with state of face is making it difficult to queue up content in advance like I usually do. Also, this month has been a BITCH and everything keeps going wrong. As I am about to demonstrate with this half-completed extreme fail of a project. Ugh.

Behold the incomplete coat. Let me tell you its story. 

I started making this coat at the beginning of June, and got as far as constructing the outer shell of the coat and pinning together the facing and lining pieces before I got too frustrated and shoved everything into a corner. I couldn't make sense of some of the instructions (I expect because I'd never made a coat before and so didn't have a decent base of "this is how it normally works" to start from), I lost my sleeve lining pattern piece and then ran out of lining fabric, I was really concerned about the way it was fitting. I was determined enough to make it work that I went back to Fabric Land and bought the last of the remaining purple coating to make the matching cape, but not determined enough to do the work. The bits of coat got put into a bag, taken from Old House to Temporary House to New House, and still no more got done to it.

When I was making my September/October project list, I realised that the constant presence of a half-finished coat was getting on my nerves and I needed to finish the thing one way or another. So in late September, the coat pieces and I spread ourselves out on the floor and tried to work out what was going on. My unpicker worked very hard that day. By mid-afternoon, I had a coat with lining mostly attached, and I had to confront the fact that it simply did not fit.

This is what's known as Unimpressed Face. 

I don't know if I did something wrong. Honestly, it's quite likely that I did. But what I have doesn't match the pattern envelope at all. The finished measurements of the largest size are supposed to be 47 inches, and the photo has the front of the coat wrapping over to the opposite hip, so I assumed that 47 inches was the hip measurement of the coat when closed to that point. What I appear to have, based on my normal hip measurement, is a coat that is 47 inches edge to edge, so it barely wraps over my hips and looks very strange. I'm actually really hoping I did something wrong, because if that's the way it's meant to be then nobody in the largest few sizes will be able to get their coat to look the way it does on the pattern. I tried it on my skinny-ass boyfriend who has a good ten inches less hip than me; while we did get to wrap over, it was still pretty tight.

You can see in these two photos that by pulling the coat to the position where it would be fastened, it's so tight that it's making the pockets bulge out. This is not what I want in a coat, and particularly not in a 1920s shaped coat. And if I don't fasten it and just leave it to hang open, it a) is insufficiently warm and b) just looks like I'm wearing a blanket.

BLANKET. Also it looks mega-wonky here, but that's because it hasn't seen even a hint of an iron. And nor will it ever. I'm done with it.

I'm not going to finish this coat. It's straight-up unwearable. I don't like the way it looks worn open, and if I put any kind of closure on it at all it pulls at the hips when I walk. There's just no point in putting the effort in to complete it when I already know it's destined for the bin. I'm quite sad about it. I really wanted this coat, but there's no way I'll be trying the pattern again. Since it's already cut out I will have a go at making the cape (why not have a purple cape, I always say) and just chalk this one up to experience. I bought another coat pattern recently, and I'll be having a go at that next month when I come back from my holiday.

It's all lined and everything. What you can't see is that I got very confused around the neckline area and some of the lining is attached inside out. FAIL COAT. FAIL.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

SSSHH review

I forgot to do this at the start of the month, so we're doing it now. May and June, several months later. I'm not including my grandmother's jacket because a) I don't have a photo and b) reviewing something I haven't seen since August is a bit pointless. She claims she still likes it, that's good enough.

Wedding guest dress (both versions)

[Anna/Butterick 4443] One of my favourite things I've ever made. I want to keep it as an occasion dress, but I wear it whenever there is an occasion. 

[Anna] This will definitely get less wear than the other dress because the material is so thin, but I still really like it. I might actually try and wear it to a christening this month.


This has gone already. I still like the idea of the dress, but I need to sort out the fit on the bodice and make it out of something less... annoying. Maybe if they release a sleeve add-on I'll try making one for winter. 

Shit-ton of stashbusting

[tulip skirt and cropped sweater] I still like and wear both of these, the skirt particularly. 

[cropped sweater] This has gone. The fabric was too much of a pain in the arse and it didn't go with anything. 

[tulip skirt] One of my current favourite things to wear. 

[cropped sweater, Jesus I was a one-trick pony this spring] Gone, because it's clearly a trainwreck. I had about two weeks of being obsessed with florals and I hated almost all of it when I came back to my senses. 

[bodice block adaptation] I still like this top, though I do wish it wasn't quite so short. 

Best: Anna/Butterick mash-up
Worst: Doris
Remake? Probably everything, if I can get some sleeves for a winter Doris
Biggest problem: Fabric choice

Monday, 10 October 2016


I suppose it was inevitable that at some point I would take the Anna bodice I make all the goddamn time and the tulip skirt I make all the goddamn time and put them together into a dress. I'm not sure I would have predicted it would be this dress.


I made this dress because I had a thorough sort through of my wardrobe and realised I was sorely lacking in professional-looking dresses to wear to the office. I planned for just the right colour and just the right silhouette for understated but still flattering workwear, then someone posted about a sparkle-themed birthday and I was suddenly in Walthamstow Market with no clear idea of how I got there.

There's a blues dance night at the end of every month here in London, and every September the event has a birthday. This September was its fourth, and I have been to every single one so far. Last year I was depressed and miserable, forced myself to go but couldn't muster the wherewithal to put on anything other than an old T-shirt and shorts, had a bit of a crap time and left early. I didn't want the same thing to happen again, so when the organisers posted a "suits and sparkles" theme I decided I was damn well going to give them sparkles.

In an odd way, this dress is exactly why I got into sewing. If this had happened two years ago, I would have spent multiple afternoons tearing apart shops trying to find a bright sparkly minidress. If the quick Google search I just did is to believed, I would have found several pastel bridesmaid dress-looking things and several terrifying glittery bodycon tubes. On day four or five I would have found something I hated slightly less than everything else I'd seen and debated long and hard over whether paying £95 for a one-night party dress could possibly be a thing. I would have decided that no, it wasn't, and I would have freaked out some more. Eventually, on the evening of the party, I would have gone to Claire's Accessories, dumped all the shiny stuff all over myself, then felt incredibly embarrassed when I saw the pictures. This has definitely never happened before.

But now? This was the simplest thing in the world. Pretty much every cheap fabric shop has colourful sparkly fabric for next to nothing. I spent £4 on sparkles, £2.50 on lining, and 40p on a zip. Sorted.

This fabric is a) extremely sparkly; b) not actual sequins so I didn't have to work out how to do that; c) entirely see-through; and d) itchy as fuck. Hence, lining. I mounted the sparkle fabric onto the lining rather than make two separate dresses because I haven't done that yet and wanted to see if I could. Answer: yes I can, but it has made me realise that my cutting out is terrible. I couldn't get the two sets of pieces to line up exactly and as a result there's a bit of weirdness at the waist seam. I need to get a new rotary cutter blade and a bigger mat. It wasn't exactly fun to sew this fabric, but it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, either. I think backing it with lining really helped.

The Anna and the tulip skirt went together almost exactly. At first I was considering shifting pleats around so that they lined up, but decided I couldn't be bothered. This dress wasn't meant to be a headache. Because of the aforementioned misaligned lining issue I lost a bit of width and the dress is consequently a tiny bit snug in the waist. If I were making a dinner dress that would be a problem. As it is, not so much.

The hem is SUPER obvious in this fabric, but again, for a quick fun cheap thing I wasn't going to spend hours doing it by hand.

(I got my hair cut on the day I took these photos, and my new terrifying Italian hairdresser informed me that I was going to have "cool hair" and gave me a flapper bob/undercut hybrid. I think it's completely amazing, but I now have this super short bit at the back that's all fuzzy and I can't stop touching it. I may be standing like this in a lot of photos. I'm sorry.)

I am not planning to make this my new default dress pattern. I think it looks great, but it does not lend itself to daywear. I've made a second version in stretch fabric as part of my holiday sewing, but my main focus for the rest of the season (i.e. however long autumn/winter lasts, so probably until July 2019 or something stupid) will be to find the right long-sleeved dress pattern. The underarm/shoulder/boob area is my absolute bete noire when it comes to fitting, and if someone would release a pattern or a class promising to sort that out, I would pay all the money for it. I'm looking hopefully at Cashmerette - I considered buying her fit and flare dress pattern to have a go at a specifically drafted F cup bodice, but the pattern is sleeveless and I do not like the way that kind of sleeveless dress looks on me at all. If she releases a dress with sleeves, or a sleeve extension pack, I will be buying it and giving it a go. Until then, experiments. I have a long-sleeved Very Easy Vogue pattern that I keep putting off making because it looks like a lot of work, but now may be the time.

PS: The dress was a huge hit at the dance, possibly because almost nobody else had bothered with the theme at all. I don't care, I looked good. 

Evidence, courtesy of the awesome Fred Lindbom:


And because I can't not include it, one of the strangest photos I've ever been a part of: 

Why? Why any of this? Why do we look like we're in at least three different photos? What were we even going for here? Why did we take about a dozen pictures together and THIS was the only one coherent enough to be made public? It is batshit nuts and I love it. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

holiday sewing: Trina

I'll start off with the obvious: yes, this is a totally ridiculous item of clothing.

This is the Trina dress, new from Victory Patterns, which I saw quite by accident and was immediately transported into a Miss Fisher fantasy where I could finally get the 1920s aesthetic without obliterating my waist.

The pattern is a wrap dress-kimono hybrid. The sleeves are drafted in the style of a traditional kimono so that the underarm seam doesn't join up to the bodice, and the front and back bodices overlap to create a space for the ties to pass through. I really like this as a detail; I'm not sold on the whole leave-a-hole-in-the-side-seam method of wrapping a wrap dress and it's really nice to find a different way of doing it.

The pattern is seriously fabric-hungry and takes 4.5m of wider width fabric. That was a lot to gamble on a new pattern from a company I'd never used, so I went to Walthamstow Market and bought a load of this ridiculous viscose for £9. £9 seemed like a reasonable price to pay to try this out, and assuming it wasn't completely terrible I could use the resulting garment as a beach cover-up for our holiday next month. I had only scraps of fabric left over, so I definitely can't get away with buying half a metre less in future like I usually do. Hmph.

I don't think I've made any changes to the pattern except to French seam the whole thing. I say "I don't think" because I found the instructions to be occasionally overly verbose in a way I found quite confusing. There were a couple of points where I couldn't tell if they were just using a lot of words to say a simple thing or if I'd actually missed out a step. If it turns out it was the latter, then I have taken the reasoned executive decision to leave those steps out because I'm smart. I didn't make any bust adjustments, largely because it didn't occur to me until the first time I tried the bodice on for fit, but I think this is okay, especially for a beach cover-up thing. I will need to reconsider that if I decide to make a proper dress from this pattern.

Looking at this photo now I realise I should have paid attention to the print on the back skirt and matched it up at the seam, and I'm not entirely sure why I didn't. That's going to bug me. Oh well. 

This is in no way a practical addition to my wardrobe. But the thing is, I'm actually very good at making practical things. My wardrobe doesn't have any occasionless, frivolous clothes besides possibly my red Anna dress, and that was made for a specific event. While the point of learning how to sew was to have a wardrobe that would better serve me on a day to day basis, that shouldn't mean I don't get to have any fun. Besides, this will get worn. I will wear it a lot on holiday, and it seems to have become my first piece of Nice Loungewear (you remember that category of things I kept saying I needed and then never actually made any of? That). It's easy to throw on, and though I know I'm not leaving the house in it, it makes me feel more pulled together. I change the way I'm standing when I'm wearing it and it makes me feel like someone who can do shit. When you're fighting depression, that's no small thing.

From this I learned that a) I need to make more fancy loungewear, and b) that Attempt One was successful enough to move onto Attempt Two: Phryne Version. I have absolutely no idea what that will look like or how I'll afford it, but it is happening.

Monday, 3 October 2016

a tie-ny project

TWO posts in a row not featuring me! What is the world coming to?

I've not made much for Patrick over the past year, mostly because very few things that he would actually wear are within my skill set. This is not a man who can be easily persuaded into a T-shirt. I mentioned to him that I'd like to be able to make more stuff for him, and we discussed: 

a) a Liberty print silk dressing gown. This is something I will attempt, assuming we can find some affordable Liberty print silk that I won't be terrified of mucking up 
b) a velvet smoking jacket, because he is ridiculous. We got as far as looking for a pattern, but couldn't find one we liked
c) a green onesie with pink spots, because he is ridiculous. Sadly I'm not sure this fabric exists
d) a few ties for work, as it's hard for him to find ones he likes

I thought I'd start small and have a go at a tie. I bought the Sew Over It tie kit during a recent sale they were having, and when the assistant told me that it was a really easy project with a lot of hand sewing, Patrick decided he was going to buy a kit for himself. He's been looking for a hobby that actually allows him to sit down. 

The kit fabric was a blue polka dot that he would never wear, so I went through my scraps bin and found a remnant of Liberty tana lawn from a make-up bag I made my mother for Christmas last year. We collaboratively constructed a tie, which turned out thusly:

It was, indeed, a pretty easy project. It took a couple of hours from cutting out to finishing, which includes teaching Patrick how to slip stitch and getting him to do half of it. Sew front to back, sew lining, put domette inside, fold up and slip stitch. Done. 

After two days of wearing it to work, the report is that it behaves mostly like a tie ought to behave, and it is noticeably more tasteful than his usual choices. His one complaint is that the narrower end of the tie isn't quite narrow enough and that makes it tougher to tie a decent knot. 

Patrick wants to have a go at making one all by himself (probably using the polka dot in the kit so that he doesn't care if he messes up) and then we're both going to try a few more. We will need to get our hands on some more domette. Sew Over It sells it in 10cm strips for £2.50 each, but John Lewis has domette for curtains at £4.95 per metre. Are they the same thing/similar enough that we can use it to make ties? Because at £4.95 per metre, we could make ALL OF THE TIES. 

I'm not sure if he's thrilled or terrified at the prospect of ALL THE TIES. Oh, Patrick. You and your ambiguous face.