Quick February Roundup – Three more garments in the bag!

I may have been lacking in blogging since the first Toaster Sweater this year but the sewing has been keeping momentum.

Firstly I managed a second garment in January, a Sew Over It Betty dress in a blue floral cotton. I’d bought that fabric with a 50s style swing dress in mind, and I did have a couple of patterns in stock but they would all have required quite a bit of fitting work, and I know that Sew Over It patterns suit my sizing…so on a whim I bought the PDF Betty pattern. Mostly it went together smoothly, although I did not have enough fabric for the skirt pieces so did some re-drafting based on a GBSB circle skirt I made a while back – it worked just fine and the skirt is plenty big – I took a huge amount out of the Betty pattern pieces so goodness knows how big THAT skirt would have been! I do have some minor fit issues to fix for the next make of this pattern – the back gapes a bit on me, partly due to the straps being too loose and sit too wide on my shoulders. Given I finished this the night before the wedding I planned to wear it to, I hacked a fix by pleating the neckline and stitching a fold in the straps at the seams – I wore a cardi over it so it didn’t matter, but I’ll have to fix it better in the long run. Otherwise the fit was good (worn here with a petticoat!).

Betty dress

Secondly, I finished my Spring shrug that was my first proper knitting project and has been WIP since March last year. Currently wrapping up a few other WIPs and then will start the next knit, which will be a Victory Sweater from the V&A archives.

spring shrug

Thirdly, I knocked out another Toaster Sweater in a few hours this Sunday, from the second fabric I had bought from Minerva for the purpose. I realised this would be my first actual attempt at pattern matching, as somehow everything else I’ve made so far has been plain or in a pattern so busy or large that you don’t need to match. Mostly it’s turned out well! I tweaked the neckline for this and it sits much better than the first one – although that may be in part due to the fabric taking a press somewhat better. I also added to the length because I find the first one rides up a little.

Toaster sweater 2

Finally, in other exciting sewing news, I got my first Sew Hayley Jane box this month (medium) and loved it, so excited already for the next one. The black viscose fabric I think I have earmarked for a pair of Sew Over It Ultimate trousers, a pattern I’ve been meaning to revisit since first sewing it at the workshop. The fat quarters I think are destined for new needle case/ pincushion and maybe a headscarf too.

Aaand I’ve fired off a few entries for the Make It Today Dressmaker of the Year competition, in the vintage and ready-to-wear categories. I’m really pleased with the things I submitted so fingers crossed!

It’s also Knitting and Stitching Show time again next weekend, I’ve already got a shopping list forming so stand by for the haul post next week…

 

My Sewing Roots

I like to think I have a scientific mind but I also know I believe there is a little bit of magic in the world. Likewise, I do believe that certain traits, passions or tendencies can run in families even though these have nothing to do with genetics. My nan got me into crafting from an early age; I remember having a piece of french knitting going on forever (although we called it corking), and I quickly got into counted cross stitch patterns and tapestry, not least because nan always had and still has a tapestry project on the go.

But in fact it’s my grandad’s mum; my great grandmother Florence Wilkins (née Norton) who was the great dressmaker of the family. This is her, with my great grandfather William Henry – judging from the clothes they are at a wedding, it may well have been my grandparents’. They married on leap day in February so that would fit with the fur collared coat!

great grandparents

I love this photo, for a few reasons. I like that the couple are not both looking at the camera; Florence’s attention is slightly to the right of the person taking the photo. William’s expression is fascinating, managing to look serious and yet with a quirk of a smile. But mostly I love how smartly dressed Florence is, with the perfectly fitted fur-collar coat, gloves and handbag just-so on her arm.

Sadly I never knew her, but both nan and mum have painted a picture with their anecdotes. She was a prolific seamstress, making every kind of garment for every member of the family, from pyjamas to wedding dresses. If you showed her a picture in a magazine she could make up an almost identical garment in a few days. Often she would just make things for people as well, and had a great eye for their preferred styles and what would suit them. The room she used for sewing was always draped all around the walls with fabric, work-in-progress and finished pieces. And she frequented the rag market and the other fabric institutions of Birmingham. Nan says she never said “fabric” though, she’d always say “I found a lovely bit of stuff for you today at the market” and before you knew it that had become a skirt or a blouse. Mum remembers her making a bright purple velvet party dress when she was a little girl, and knowing that no one else would be wearing a dress quite like hers!

It was also her profession, but I have no idea how she had time for paying customers amongst all the family sewing she seems to have been doing!

I think my grandparents are secretly a bit moved that I have got into dressmaking, pretty much independently of finding out all of the above. I guess a little bit of Florence lives on in me, although I am 100% sure I will never achieve the level of skill that she had. Truth be told, I am a little bit moved by it too, and I regret that I never had chance to know her and learn from her.

Sew Over It 1940s tea dress 

I’m going to come right out and say it – this is by far and away the homesewn garment I am most pleased with so far in my sewing adventures!

I fell in love with the Sew Over It 1940s tea dress pattern well before I felt capable of making it. I bought the pattern while at the Islington store for the Ultimate Trousers workshop back in November 2015 and even though I still loved the design I was more than a little daunted by the 11 pattern pieces actually resulting in 20 elements once cut!Sew Over It 1940s tea dress

Anyway, I already had a fabric in mind that I’d got at the Knitting & Stitching Show March 2015, and a goal – Twinwood Festival, August bank holiday. In the event, I’ve used a different fabric (bought at this year’s K&S Show) and hit an event a month ahead of my deadline! What on earth is going on…?

I actually started on this pattern back in May, and got as far as pattern tracing, cutting out and marking. I cut a size 16 (again) with no adjustments (again) based on a quick toile of the bust section (again!). But then everything got packed away for moving house, then June shot past what with sorting out the new place and a holiday and various upheavals at work, before I could get the sewing stuff out again.

But finally one weekend early in July I decided to tackle it. The fabric is a lovely bright floral print, perfect for summer, in a light and floaty viscose. Lots of drape and lovely to sew! Once I’d sorted out my 20 (!!) pieces again, I got down to sewing. I really liked that the pattern puts the trickiest part first – the bust panels! This looks really complicated but actually it’s not and results in a really professional-looking design which is also very flattering provided it’s fitted correctly. The trick is really taking your time over adjusting the gathers where the bust joins the waist panel.

1940s tea dress bust

The rest of the construction is effectively joining panels; five in total for the skirt (front, side fronts, backs), side backs and backs in addition to the bust and waist panels, then join the top to the bottom. The sleeves are a nice 3/4 length and faced, with a turnup which is a nice detail.

1940s tea dress side view

I managed pretty well matching my seams. Pattern matching is fortunately not really an issue for this print, but the effect of the vertical seams running down the bodice, back and skirt panels is important. I still didn’t manage to get the waist seams to line up across the zip at the back, and I’ve no idea how because that zip was dead straight I swear!1940s tea dress back

There was a fair amount of hand-finishing on this dress too; the three decorative self-cover buttons on the bust, catch-stitching the sleeve turnups and the facing inside, the zip seam allowance at top and bottom, plus I also put in some small stitches to hold the neck facing in place at the shoulders as despite understitching, the lightness of the fabric meant it just wasn’t going to stay turned under.

1940s tea dress buttons

This dress was undoubtedly a lot of work, I estimate 8-10 hours of sewing and hand finishing, including all the pressing and seam finishing, but I think it was well worth it.modelling 1940s tea dress

I think it’s testament to how chuffed I was that I wore it to a very posh city wedding at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, along with a fetching hat from Bellapacella of Spitalfields Market.

I also reviewed this pattern on The Fold Line: CertainStyle reviews 1940s tea dress on the Fold Line

New Look K6176 shift dress

I think this was my quickest sew from start to finish. I headed off to Paris for a work-related conference in May and although I’d had this pattern in mind and a couple of fabrics lined up for some time, the decision to make this dress and try to finish it in time to take to the conference was pretty last minute!

I was attracted to this pattern over the other shift / pencil dress styles I have (most of my patterns are the result of my monthly Sew magazine subscription, this being no exception) because it had relatively few pieces. I’ve been amazed how complicated some designers can manage to make what is essentially a very simply-shaped garment.

New Look K6176

New Look K6176 has several variations with sleeves, banded hems and pockets, but I went for the simplest sleeveless, single fabric, no pockets design (view D). With the bare minimum of elements (front, back x 2, neck and sleeve bands) and a kind fabric it was pretty quick to cut out. My fabric was one I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show in March 2015 – yes, really! A polyester sort of fabric with a slight crepe/textured feel. Identifying and describing fabric is really something I need to learn more about! It’s purple and black with an all over abstract floral motif.

No lining, facing or interfacing meant I could get stuck right in to sewing. It’s basically sew front and back together, and finish the neck and arms with bands. I was glad I’d already made the Agnes top because now I knew what I was making with a neck band – the instructions in the Simplicity pattern were much more confusing so I think this would have stalled me.

K6176 neck back & armhole

The only slight hiccup was that I discovered I didn’t have a black zip. This keeps happening, I’m sure I’ve got some stock notions and then when it comes to it they are nowhere to be found. I made do with a dark brown one, and did a concealed zip rather that the normal one the pattern uses, so you can’t really tell.

K6176 back dress

Fit wise, I was pretty pleased with the length and overall fit given I didn’t do any pattern adjustments. The only niggle is the upper back / neck which is a little too big. It doesn’t quite gape but it’s not far off. I’ll have to try and adjust the pattern for the next iteration but that probably also means calculating a reduction in the length of the neck band…maths isn’t my strong suit so I’ll have to see if Simon can work out the formula!

K6176 back neck

I might have been hand finishing at gone 11pm the night before flying to Paris, but I think it shows how far I’ve come in my sewing adventure that I would a) be able to achieve that and possibly more importantly be happy to wear a me-made garment at a conference representing my company to prospective and existing clients.

K6176 front dress

New Look K6035 navy jacket

To think that I made this back in March/ April, that just seems ages away!

This is also probably the first time I found myself making something I needed more than I wanted. I can think of a ton of much more fun things to wear, but the orchestra I was playing in at the time (not now that we moved, more on that later…) had a summer concert uniform including a navy blazer.

For the first concert I was caught out and had to borrow one, but there was a nice long gap to the next concert and I was determined to be prepared. Given I had not managed to find a navy blazer I liked at a reasonable price point from the high street stores (or indeed barely any at any price point, thanks to whimsies of the “current fashion”) and anyway, I’m supposed to be making not buying, I decided to take the plunge on the most tailored item I’ve made yet.

It’s not as if I could hide the tailoring either – if it was bad it was going to look really bad. Fortunately I had a pattern already from one of my magazine subscriptions; New Look K6035.

New Look K6035 pattern

I read through the instructions and decided I could manage it, so next challenge was finding a suitable fabric. A&M Textiles in High Wycombe came up with the goods, a nicely toned navy twill which was structured enough for the garment (with interfacing) but not too heavy bearing in mind I would be wearing this at a fair number of (hopefully sunny) outdoor concerts.

I interfaced all the necessary pieces right at the start so that I didn’t need to interrupt the sewing process. I opted for a lightweight interfacing, which worked well but in hindsight I think it could have taken a heavier weight and resulted in a slightly stiffer structure, especially in the larger areas such as the front facings.

K6035 front princess seam

Construction wise, I was pretty pleased with the princess seamed front panels which were one of the first elements to sew. I managed to get a really neat smooth curve especially with pressing over a ham. The collar was the big and messy bit, all about matching the notches and sewing to very specific points. The instructions also only mention matching dots, when in fact you also need to line up dot, notch, dot – the whole thing would have been much easier if that was more specific!

I found it particularly hard because most of the time I couldn’t see what I was trying to sew, until the later stages when I could partly turn it through and start to see the result. In fact I almost thought I’d gone wrong right at the end, when I couldn’t seem to turn through correctly – until I realized what structure I’d actually made and folded the fabric at the top of the collar. Suddenly everything fell into place!

I did fail to follow one step though – step 12, I stitched the whole edge of the upper collar/facing rather that only between the dots as instructed. This didn’t actually seem to have any negative effect though, and rather seemed to avoid some later hand-stitching of the neck seam under the facing (step 14), which struck me as a bit awkward. Maybe with a heavier fabric it would be necessary to follow the instructions due to the bulk, but in this case it was fine.

I still managed to fudge one lapel notch though, as evidenced by the photo below. But a bit of unpicking and careful 2nd attempt gave a much neater result.

fudged lapelFit wise, I cut a 16 and made only one alteration based on a rough (sleeveless) toile, which was to make a triangular dart-like adjustment of the side seam, taking in at the widest part at the underarm and grading to meet the seam at the waistline. This was to tailor the sides/back some more, as the two back pieces feature a princess seam and so a standard centre-back adjustment wasn’t possible (or as easy). As it turned out, I should have also done some work on the sleeves, as when I tried the jacket on with sleeves, they were much too big at the armhole. I was loathe to unpick the whole sleeve as I had managed quite a neat set-in, and anyway the shoulder and top of the armhole was ok. Instead I pinned out some excess fabric along the sleeve seamline in a wedge shape, with the widest part at the underarm join. I effectively sewed this as a dart, cut away some excess fabric and re-stitched the sleeve back in. It’s worked but next time I will alter the sleeve pattern piece to match. I think I could still have taken a little more from the side seams as well.

K6035 back jacket

new look K6035 jacket

If I were to make this jacket again, these would be my alterations:

– use a slightly heavier weight fabric and/or interfacing; I think this jacket works better with more structure

– recut pattern to improve fit of sleeve and side jacket seams. I was ok with this fit as the purpose of the garment meant I would be wearing it seated with arms raised (for playing the flute) most of the time and therefore a slightly more relaxed fit is ok

– add a button to the front. For the reasons above I left it open but again I think the style suits a button fastening. I may yet change the jacket to add this

– catch stitch the front facings in place. Again I may go back and fix this as I find it annoying that the front facings tend to “catch the wind” as I’m walking along. They are stitched in place at top and bottom so they can’t completely fold out, but the long edge is open and this is what causes the problem.

Tilly and the Buttons “Agnes” Top

So I’ve been a bit remiss in blogging about my sewing (yes, again) but this is the first of a series of posts catching up.

One of the hazards of regular wardrobe analysis and decluttering is realizing that you are short of a certain type of garment but then added to that is the delay when you are aiming to sew rather than buy the replacements!

The Tilly & the Buttons Agnes top was one such item. I decided my wardrobe needed some more “basic but pretty” jersey tops and that it was about time I had a go at sewing with knits. I liked that Agnes has a bit of a vintage flair and that there are lots of options: long or 3/4 sleeves, ruched or plain shoulders, ruched or plain neckline. From one pattern you could style up a whole range of distinguishable tops.

Of course for now I’ve just made the one. But I do have another jersey fabric in stock for version 2. For the first attempt I decided on 3/4 sleeves with all the ruching – no one can say I shy away from a challenge!
The ruching was really the most obviously tricky part of this. I’ve never really sewn with elastic before except for the Sew Over It knickers when I ended up really going overboard with the tension…

I don’t know if I was too cautious but I seemed to have the opposite problem with this, or maybe it was the fabric needed a bit more oomf to pull it in, but anyway when I tackled the bust ruching the first few attempts didn’t really scrunch up that much. I think I had 2 or 3 attempts and then decided I had to live with it as the fabric was getting a bit worked over through all the unpicking and zigzag stitching. The sleeves worked out better so I think it’s just a case of practice practice!

agnes ruched sleeve

I did appreciate the instructions for the ruching. They were very clear and the only method I’ve come across which seemed to have some precision behind it. Basically it involves cutting a specified length of elastic and stretching it on the fabric as you sew with the end of the elastic matching a marked point on the fabric. I think this is supposed to help you avoid over or under stretching the elastic.

The other construction element I had some trouble with was the neckband. But this was mostly because of lack of familiarity of the construction of knit garments and so I couldn’t visualize what it was I was trying to make. However I just followed the instructions through logically and lo the neckband turned out ok. It did take a couple of attempts at pinning evenly before sewing, as the band is smaller than the neck opening in order to pull it in. But you want a smooth finish of course with no gathers or puckering.

agnes neckband

All in all I quite enjoyed knit sewing, certainly there’s very minimal pressing as that is almost ineffective anyway, and no seam finishing. That said, despite using a walking foot the hemline stretched out a bit, and I’m not a fan of the way the raw edges curl up inside the hem. The pattern tips recommend using a knit tape to stabilize the hems but my machine very strongly objected to this, and jammed every time after a few stitches.

Since sewing this top I’ve discovered the overstitch feature of my sewing machine so I think I would either try to use this for hemming, and or stick with zig zag stitch and in either case try to enclose the raw edge inside the hem.

agnestop.jpg

Next Agnes will be coming up very soon I’m sure!

Also I reviewed this pattern on The Fold Line: Certainstyle reviews Agnes on the Fold Line

A botched cami and a pattern fitting workshop

So #thewardrobechallenge didn’t go so well in June. Somehow the month ran away with me and so a couple of weeks ago I decided to try and bust some of the fabric stash and make something quick and easy for summer – the Cami top from the 1st GBSB book. Adapted slightly – just made simply in cotton without the ruched detail or lace trim. Since I took notes on the last GBSB top I made from the same book, I cut the size up and didn’t worry too much about alterations or testing the pattern.

As it was a simple sew and I wanted to get cracking, I also constructed most of the garment and didn’t actually try it on until I needed to find the strap lengths.

At which point it clearly wasn’t going to fit at all. I’m not sure why two patterns from the same book can be so different in fit but it’s not even close, and I haven’t changed THAT much in size. So I threw the half-made thing back in the pile in annoyance and spent a few days trying to think up ways of salvaging it (mostly involving adding panels) before giving it up as a lost cause. At some point I’ll rip out all the stitching and the fabric is probably destined for some other random project.

I then sat down to read the “Sew your Size” supplement that came with Sew magazine a few weeks ago. Literally 2 pages in they recommended a pattern fitting workshop run by Clare-Louise Hardie. I looked it up and there was one such workshop running this Sunday (I was free) and it was within reasonable distance of my boyfriend’s place in North London. Fine, I thought, let’s achieve one thing in June at least, and hopefully avoid similar future cock-ups!

I would 100% recommend this and probably any other workshop run by Clare-Louise. There were just four of us during the 3-hour (+ a bit, we overran!) session which meant that as well as general principles such as measurement-taking, we all had the chance to study our own foibles and understand the likely pattern alterations we’d come across time and again. We had sample patterns to look at but we’d also all brought one of our own from home. I definitely found having a “live example” much more practical to understand what changes were being made and why.

We talked about the way the big pattern companies work in how they design their products – apparently it is quite common for them to allow for the fact that people will be in denial about their size and cut too small – so if you do actually try and cut your ready-to-wear size it will probably come up big. Add to that the fact that their measurements per size all vary and it’s really a lottery – unless you measure properly and study the information given on the pattern pack to work out what you really need.

We learnt about wear ease and design ease too – an important factor that I hadn’t previously considered at all when looking at measurements. Practising with our patterns, we all tissue-fitted a garment so that we could see any glaring issues straight away, and learnt how to fix these. In my case I had a bit of a revelation, because I have always thought that full bust alterations were inevitable to get things to fit right. Not so! Instead we added some width at the side seams, and it turns out I have broad shoulders so we also added at the centre-back, and did a sway-back alteration to improve fit. Having added at the side seams, a bit more shaping was necessary because I do have a fairly defined waist, so we pin-fitted that in order to re-draw stitching and cutting lines on the pattern.

This workshop was really such good value, I can’t overstate my recommendation. If you have been finding it frustrating getting home-sewn garments to fit, find the commercial pattern packs confusing or get easily lost in the minefield of online resources, really just get booked on to one of Clare-Louise’s workshops because there is no substitute for in person tutorial and discussion, and the group environment adds to the benefit because you can also learn from other people’s body types and alterations too!

July is going to be pretty hectic for me (I’m away 3 out of 4 weekends) so I don’t hold out much hope of a great leap forward for home sewn clothes – but my trips do include Brighton, Rome and Birmingham so I will be on the lookout for vintage or indie bargains!