Imogen blouse from Sew Me Something

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This has become one of my favourite patterns this summer because I’ve made 3 now and I only bought it in March at the Spring Knitting and Stitching show! What I like about it is it’s beautiful simplicity with just a bit of detail on the neckline. Sew Me Something are based in Stratford Upon Avon and designer Jules sells lovely fabrics, teaches classes as well as producing a range of very wearable pattern designs. Whilst I haven’t been able to visit the shop, I’ve met Jules a number of times now at various shows in London. I admire her personal style and we have similarities in our work background, I used to work in high-end bridal and evening wear too…back in the day.

After I bought the pattern in March I made the first one in a slubby white poly/cotton (I think) origin unknown as a wearable toile. Rather than cut up the pattern I traced it off onto Swedish tracing paper which is stronger than regular tracing paper. I’m not always in the habit of tracing patterns off (especially if they’re tissue paper anyway) but, perhaps bizarrely, when it’s good quality paper I often do. I was short of fabric so the back had to have a seam in it but that wasn’t a problem. The instruction booklet is clear and well illustrated, the only possibly tricky part of the design is the notch neck front but following it slowly and methodically it works a treat. I’ve photographed my most recent version which hopefully makes it clear if you’re reading this as a bit of help.fullsizeoutput_1f97fullsizeoutput_1f98fullsizeoutput_1f9afullsizeoutput_1f9bfullsizeoutput_1f9c

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sorry this one’s a bit blurry 😦

Once you have the placket pieces overlapping I stitch through all the layers at the bottom to secure them, then I zigzag the edge to neaten them (easier than trying to put such a tiny piece underneath the overlocker.IMG_3993

Finally ‘stitch in the ditch’ carefully from the front to hold the placket in place.IMG_3995

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Oops, got that bit caught! annoying but easily rectified.

With my first plain white version I followed the balance marks for the gathering but actually I felt the gathers looked too spread out so when I made my second version (and now the third!) I’ve condensed the gathering into smaller areas on the front, shoulders and centre back which I’m happier with.

Another thing I like is the instruction to sew hems separately before joining the side seams. This sounds a small thing but because the hem is dipped and rises at the side seams it means you get a much neater finish at the side seams-genius!

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I sewed the sides with French seams so it super-neat inside. I’ve used contrast yellow on the hem too.
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I’ve noticed I always wear my gorgeous ‘bee’ necklace from Alex Monroe with Imogen because the notch shows it off so well. I’m wearing one of my Zierstoff Gina skirts and you can read the blog about those here.
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Autumn leaves at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

My second version was made using the gorgeous coral lightweight linen I bought from Jules with the pattern in March.

 

I’ve made all my versions with the longer length sleeve with loose elasticated cuff, you could obviously make them tighter but I prefer them like this.

I wore the coral top to the Sewing Weekender in August and it got plenty of compliments (and obviously I told everyone what the pattern was, although several people recognised it straight away)

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Hard at work (photo credit Charlotte Powell at English Girl at Home)

The jolly fabric for my newest version came from the swap hosted by The Foldline at the recent Great British Sewing Bee Live, it’s a sharp contrast to the plain fabric of the first two that’s for sure! Thanks Kate, hope you like what I’ve done with it…

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I look a bit crumpled after all that shopping and chatting at GBSB Live…I’ve made it to the cover of Love Sewing….well, nearly 😉

What I’ve loved about this top is how comfortable it’s been in warm weather, and the details are pretty but understated-a trademark of Sew Me Something patterns to be honest. I know I’ve made 3 but I reckon there’ll be more, it would be gorgeous in a silk chiffon or crepe de Chine, or fine wool challis for example. You could add a trim to the neck, in the seam perhaps or beadwork perhaps? This third version I’ve cut a little longer than the previous two simply because I had plenty of fabric. I’m going to layer it up in the winter with a long-sleeved tee underneath. Another thing I like about this brand is that the sizing is for real women and goes right up to a 22-not all independent companies have this range and I’m not sure why.  and that seems a shame.

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I lengthened this version by 4cms simply because I had plenty of fabric. If your fabric is wide enough to fold the selvedges to the centre it’s an economic way of cutting out, it also gives you the ability to line up elements of the print so they run pleasingly around the body (always a dead giveaway of cheap RTW clothes) 
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I finished the inside neckline this time with a bit of soothing slip-hemming.
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Number 3 finished!

 

I want to stress that I bought my own copy of the pattern and the fabric so any opinions expressed are entirely my own. I’m trying out a few trouser patterns lately (more on that to follow in a few weeks) so I’m tempted to try one of Sew Me Something’s trouser patterns in the future but there’s a long Autumn sewing list to work through before I buy anything more….famous last words!

Happy sewing

Sue

 

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The Refashioners 2017…suits you!

Last year I took part in Portia Lawrie’s Refashioners competition for the first time when I made a jacket from two pairs of Mr Y’s old jeans, you can read about that one here. I was jolly pleased with it and wear it a lot and obviously I didn’t win although I did get a mention in despatches so I was chuffed with that.

For this year’s Refashioners Portia announced it would be SUITS! Eek, I thought, I’m not sure about that…anyway, nothing daunted, I started thinking about what I might be able to do if I tracked down the right suit. I knew I didn’t want anything too dark or work-a-day so I hoped to find something in a check perhaps. Funnily enough it didn’t really occur to me that it could be something like linen or suede, or a woman’s suit so when the inspirational Blog Tour throughout September started and it featured some of alternative fabrics I did think “oh, why didn’t I do that?” Hey ho…

When it came to inspiration however there was only one person whose tailoring I was interested in and that was Alexander McQueen. The retrospective of his work ‘Savage Beauty’ at London’s V&A museum in 2015 was absolutely mind-blowing-I went 8 times! [I bought annual membership to the museum so that I could go as often as I wanted, it’s fair to say I got full value for my money. I’ve kept up that membership ever since and use it regularly] Whilst I’ve no hope of ever acquiring or wearing McQueen (apart from my treasured silk scarf which Mr Y bought for me at the end of the exhibition) I greatly admire his meticulous tailoring, originality, attention to detail and craftsmanship which has been ably continued since his death by Sarah Burton. [I didn’t blog about Savage Beauty at the time but I wrote one about a fascinating parallel exhibition that was at Tate Britain, you can read that here]

Portia had set up a Pinterest page of inspiration too so I had a look there as well as internet searches of my own and the book which accompanied the exhibition and is full of wonderful images. So many clever ideas but there would be serious fabric constraints as I only wanted to use one suit, once I’d tracked it down, which meant some things like dresses with elaborate details would be impossible. If I was going to invest quite a lot of time into this it needed to fit me and I’m not a stick insect so I have to be realistic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

McQ embroidered shoulderMcQ black gold blazer

I collected ideas and images although some of them were unlikely contenders, for reasons of practicality, quantity of fabric and my own skill level. [I went on a tailoring course at Morley college in London last year and picked up loads of useful skills and the confidence to tackle this head-on, have a look at their prospectus because they offer some great courses] I liked the idea of combining different fabrics and techniques, particularly over or near the shoulders.

I scoured all our local charity shops but didn’t find anything I liked, Mr Y and my Dad didn’t have anything in their wardrobes either. Then, when we were visiting Salisbury in Wiltshire at the end of August, we tried a couple of shops when I spied a black and white checked jacket. It seemed to have trousers with it which didn’t match but these were Prince of Wales check! Looking further along the rail we discovered the right jacket for the trousers was on another hanger-yippee, success! a matching suit in the perfect fabric. It was £25 which was a bit more than I had hoped to pay but the money would go to a good cause so it was a win/win situation really. Even better was the fact it was 100% pure wool and it was a Daks suit from Simpsons of Piccadilly which would have been pretty expensive originally-I definitely lucked out with this one. At £25 though it did mean I would only use one suit rather than buy possibly 2 to mix together. No matter.

 

 

 

 

So now that I had the suit I needed to come up with a design. I also set myself the rule that I wouldn’t buy anything else so everything had to come from supplies I already had in my workroom. I tried to be a bit ambitious-and different from last year-and initially came up with a few dress designs where I thought I might be able to utilise the trouser legs to make panels and a feature-zip detail.

 

 

Before I went too much further though I needed to disassemble the suit to see exactly how much fabric I had. I got out the snips and unpicker and set to (not without trepidation because it was a lovely suit)

The beauty of pure wool is that it presses like a dream and so almost every original crease in the suit disappeared once I’d broken it down into all the parts. Needless to say there was less fabric than I’d hoped for my big plans so I had to modify them a lot. Out went the dress and in came [another] jacket. I’d been looking through my not inconsiderable pattern stash for inspiration and I’d found a dress pattern from 1973 which was amongst a huge number gifted to me last year by a friend. They had belonged to her Mum who was a fabulous dressmaker at Cresta Silks in her youth. Even though it was a dress I was attracted to its striking style lines with a long bust dart that ran parallel to a diagonal under-bust seam, and because it had a centre front seam I thought it was easily adaptable to a jacket. One of the features of McQueen’s work is his unusual seaming and style-lines so I decided to make a toile and see how it went.

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The original collar opened at the back for the zip so I made a new pattern so that it opened at the front instead. I also had to change the front and back ‘skirts’ by dividing them evenly in half because the pieces would be too large for the fabric quantity I had. I also wanted to be able to cut various pieces on the bias to make it more interesting so they had to be smaller to achieve this.fullsizeoutput_1ecd

 

 

By using an open-ended zip I minimised the amount of fabric needed for the front opening, there was no need for an overlap and there’d be barely enough anyway. I also knew that if I could use the original sleeves I would be be able to use all other available fabric for my design.

Amazingly I was happy with the toile and decided to press ahead with the design as it was. I could get the new front panels out of the original, and even managed to include the breast pocket and all the under-linings. However I couldn’t work out a way of satisfactorily utilising the pockets and flaps so they got left out. In the end I couldn’t use the back as per the toile, which had darts and the pattern piece was too large to fit as it was, so I turned the darts into princess seams instead and then those pieces came out of the original back after all. There was a tiny hole in the back but I repaired it with iron-on interfacing and no one would be any the wiser. I’d wanted all the peplum pieces to be on the bias but in order for them to be a reasonable match some had to be on the straight instead.

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I’d removed the buttons and facing so that it was as flat as possible. it did mean that the original darts would now be part of the new front though.

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Instead of using the paper pattern I laid the first cut piece on top of the opposite side so I that I had perfect placement on the checks. Luckily the buttonhole [which I could do nothing about] got absorbed into the seam allowance and didn’t show in the end.
 I won’t pretend that every seam has perfectly matching checks but given the fabric constraints I’m really pleased with the outcome. I carefully made the jacket up, a very enjoyable process, and because it was being fully lined I didn’t need to neaten any of the seams inside, they could just be pressed open. I remembered my tutor Daniel at Morley saying “steam is your friend” and wasn’t afraid to use it often, in conjunction with my tailor’s ham and a pressing cloth.

 

 

 

 

The trickiest part of the construction was making the original sleeves a little shorter for my arms and to fit into the new armholes. I roughly measured the sleeve head and compared it to the armhole. There was a fair difference so I needed to reduce the sleeve width by sewing up some of the under-arm seams to about elbow level (they are two-part sleeves) I tacked one sleeve in and tried it out. It looked pretty satisfactory without any further adjustment so I did the same to the other one as well. I tried to ensure that the checks matched as best I could too. Again I tried the jacket on to make sure I could move my arms and that I was happy with their length. After I’d machined them both in I reused the pieces of canvas and domette which I’d taken out of the original sleeve heads. These are part of tailoring construction which help give a good rounded shape to the sleeve head and are basted in place by hand onto the jacket seam allowance itself. I also planned to reuse the original shoulder pads later on.

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sewing the original canvas and domette back into the sleeve head.

Once the sleeves were in I could think more about the decoration I wanted to add. One of the recurring features I like about McQueen’s tailoring is his use of lace appliqué and embroidery. Amongst my stash of fabrics I have some beautiful black Guipure lace which was left over originally from the bridal shop where I used to work creating and making the most beautiful wedding and evening gowns. I’d used some of it on my elder daughter’s Prom dress 10 years ago but there’s still some left over so I had a little play. I put the jacket on Doris and draped pieces of lace over the shoulders to see what looked best. Part of the beauty of Guipure is that you can trim it into shape without it fraying or falling to bits so once I’d positioned it where I wanted I could trim it to neaten the shape. I love the swirls!

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I wanted the front to have a small glimpse to the lace…
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…but the surprise is at the back….
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…with the lace extending up the collar, over the sleeve head and down the back.

Looking at these photos you can see the other decorative technique I decided to use, embroidery.

I’d seen a very recent McQueen design which had red lacing on and I wanted to incorporate something similar probably in the form of hand embroidery instead, particularly because the fabric has a fine red stripe running through it.

McQ embroidered

I had a few practices first at simple running stitch, sashiko-style, and I tried a sort-of feather stitch but it looked pretty rubbish and uneven as I couldn’t get it right or consistent so I tried a couple of stitches of the many that my  25-year-old Elna 7000 machine offers.

 

 

I liked the feather stitch but decided it would be over-doing it so in the end I settled on the saddle stitch which would normally be used to top stitch but I was going to run it along some of the red stripes in the fabric for emphasis. [If you’re not sure which stitch this is on your machine it’s the one where the picture looks like 3 rows of stitches side by side. It’s actually 3 stitches on top of one another when it sews thus making an effective top stitch]

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stripes from the inside, including the repair to the hole I mentioned.

I decided to follow a few of the red stripes on the front and back, the front ones all run vertically and the back ones are just on one side in a cross formation. I considered putting them elsewhere too but decided there was enough.

Once I’d finished all the decoration I put the shoulder pads and the ‘plastron’ back in (this is a piece of heavy canvas which is part of the underlinings of tailored jackets and which helps give it a smooth line over the chest) The plastron needed to be trimmed slightly to fit inside since it had come from a man’s jacket. Finally I’d managed to salvage just enough fabric in one long strip to make a very narrow facing inside the zip. I turned up the hem first basting it in position and then herringbone stitching it by hand.

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basted and herringbone-stitched hem

I’d found some black lining fabric in my stash so cut out the jacket lining (excluding sleeves because they had their own original lining in) and sewed it together. Red lining would have been nice but I didn’t have anything suitable and I’d have broken my own rules to buy some. Because the facing strip was so narrow I wanted to smarten up it up a bit so I dug out some black braid which I stitched down the edge of it-it looks much better now if the jacket is open.

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Inside the jacket facing

Next I hand stitched all the linings in position at the hem and around the armholes so that everything was enclosed. The final thing I decided to do was change a couple of the cuff buttons so I swapped one on each wrist to red ones.

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idiosyncratic buttons!

And that’s all there is to it…..

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I’m afraid I’ll never make much of a model and the backdrop was a choice of either a brick wall or a flower bed! The photos aren’t by Testino (Katie actually) but I hope you’ll get an idea of how the jacket looks, it’s a distinctive but wearable one-off.

I’m so chuffed with my finished jacket and, better than that, I really enjoyed the planning and making very much. I felt I got back in touch with lots of the skills I’ve acquired over many years of sewing, some of which helped me to plan it carefully within the constraints set both by Portia and the ones I set myself, and others meant I could stretch my making skills further than they tend to get stretched these days which is no bad thing.

Initially I wasn’t sure if this would be a refashioning challenge I could rise to but I’ve surprised myself with the outcome. I’ve now got a jacket which I’ll be really happy to wear and I shall enjoy telling anyone who cares to listen exactly how it came about. I don’t know the story of the suit before I bought it but I feel like I’ve given it a new narrative now by reinventing it in a new form….and that might even be something McQueen himself would have applauded.

As ever many pictures are my own but the rest are sourced from the internet.

Have you made a suit refashion this year? I’d love to hear about it, or tell me your thoughts about mine…(risky hehe)

Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

making a couple of Zierstoff Gina skirts

This is the third Zierstoff pattern I’ve made now, a Gina skirt this time, and I’m really pleased with it. The pattern is just two pieces-the skirt and the waistband, and it doesn’t take much fabric either. I chose to make it in a nice plain Ponte from Backstitch near Cambridge for a first version, there’s no stripe or pattern matching that way., sneaky eh?!

Because the fabric was plain I placed the pattern on the normal grain although if you have a stripe you could also position it on the the bias to get an interesting effect.

I’ve explained Zierstoff’s PDF method previously here and this one is no different. The one thing I’ve changed here is that the skirt is a half piece so you’re meant to ‘flip’ the pattern to get the other half. This is OK if you’re cutting the two pieces [front and back] on the fold but if not-and especially if you want it on the bias-I’d suggest you mirror it into a whole pattern either using spot-and-cross paper, tissue, Swedish Tracing paper or even newspaper.

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This was my second version made using the lovely striped jersey from Fabricland in Salisbury. You can see better how I extended the pattern piece using Swedish tracing paper.

There are only two pattern pieces for this skirt (skirt and yoke) so that’s very little printing, you’ll need to cut 2 skirts and 4 of the yoke pieces. At this point I refer to the online instructions which Zierstoff provide with written and photographic plans, I don’t bother printing them off too. I’ll be honest here because I think in a couple of places the instructions suffer a little from being translated from German to English because I found them a bit muddled but seeing as I can’t speak German anyway it isn’t the end of the world-the style is so simple you can probably work it out and the photos really help anyway.

This is a skirt you can put together in no time at all if you’re working in a plain fabric (or a non-taxing pattern) it took me a little longer in these jazzy stripes but not much. Don’t forget to use a jersey, ballpoint or stretch needle if you’re sewing a knit fabric.

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I pinned the first skirt piece on top of the second to match it up. Be careful not to pull the piece out of shape though, you don’t want it all wonky. 

Join the skirts together at the side seams and overlock the edges (or do it all on the overlocker if you prefer) You could hem at this point too if you wish using a twin needle if you have one. Mine isn’t great and I have to swap to a different machine to do it which is a bit disruptive but it does the job and a good press generally sorts it out.

The yoke pieces are first sewn together at the side seams 2 and 2 and then joined to each other at the waist seam forming a tube.

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Cut the elastic to your own waist measurement, overlap and join together. Pin and stitch it to the seam allowance on the waistband. I used a long zig zag to do this. You may need to stretch the elastic a little to fit the seam as you sew.
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Stitching on the elastic. I don’t usually have my pins like this but I find it’s better for this process-just don’t sew to fast and go over them!!
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Next open out the waist band and stitch through the elastic again as though you’re under stitching it. This will be on the back of the basque and not show on the finished skirt. You can see where the elastic is sewn on here too.
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Zigzagging on the reverse and the smooth front.

After I’d finished sewing in the elastic the basque is folded WS together and I machine basted it together along the bottom to hold the two layers together. Simply join the basque to the skirt then and finish the hem if you didn’t do it previously.

So there it is, a super-quick and REALLY comfortable jersey skirt. Although I like this length you could easily lengthen (or shorten) it and because the basque is flat over the tummy it’s very smooth and flattering and other close fitting tops would go over it too.

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All finished. I’m wearing the Sew Me Something Imogen top with it. I made this as a wearable toile in a slubbed linen-look cotton which was gifted to me, I’ve made it since their own beautiful coral soft linen fabric too and it’s beautiful-I’ve haven’t blogged about them yet though.

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This is last year’s ‘refashioners’ jacket. There’s a separate blog for that here 
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Back view so you can see the various darts and seam lines on it.
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Grey ponte version, I don’t have enough plain bottoms (!!) so this should start to fill that gap.

You could easily buy, print, stick together, cut out and sew this skirt in an evening if you put your mind to it so what are you waiting for? I was kindly provided with the pattern by Zierstoff but the fabric is my own. The opinions expressed are purely my own too. You might be interested to know the pattern comes in children’s sizes too.

Happy sewing

Sue

Sewing a no-pattern kimono in Liberty Tana lawn.

Creative Sanctuary asked me if I could teach a class for some kind of kimono jacket that used one of the gorgeous Liberty Tana lawns that they stock. I agreed but first I had to come up with a design!

We decided I’d limit it to just 1.5m of fabric partly because of the cost, but also because it’s quite wide anyway. Laura at the shop gave me a few of her own criteria if she were to make a kimono and I used them while I planned the design.

First of all I made a wearable toile version in some fabric I already had because I didn’t want to risk cutting up the lovely lawn and then it didn’t work very well. This worked to an extent but the sleeves were a bit too long and also a bit too wide, all flappy and annoying!

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Bit of a dobby finger in the way-oops!

Other than that I was happy with it so I went ahead and cut it out in the Tana lawn, and altered the sizing of the sleeve when I did so.

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Laying up the fabric (I must tidy the floor before taking photos in future!)

The size of rectangles needed for the back and two fronts was length 80cms x width 35cms each, one being on the fold [because the fabric is 140cms wide, anything less than this means you might not get fronts and back out side by side depending on your dress size] as well as two sleeves and the pieces needed for the collar. Because this fabric has a distinctive one way design the collar became a complex arrangement of sewing the 3 strips together in to one long piece and then cutting the strip exactly in half, rotating one piece, sewing it back together so that the 2 halves both had the design facing the correct way, rather than one side being upside down. From the 1m 50 of fabric I allowed 80cms for the jacket parts and 70cms for the sleeves and collar parts. The sleeves were cut singly and measure 70cms x 25cms each (the 25cms will vary depending on how long you want the sleeves) The 3 collar sections are 70cms x 12cms each on this sample, you could use the remaining fabric for patch pockets if you wish.

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Making the collar strip by joining the 3 sections first
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There’s interfacing ironed on to half the collar, Press the seams open.
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Press under one long edge by 1cm along it’s whole length.

The two front pieces of the jacket need to have a small triangle cut out at the neck edge so that it is shaped better when the collar gets applied to it.

 

I made a triangle that’s 40cms down from the top edge, and 10cms in. If you’re using a one-way design for goodness sake make sure you cut the triangle from the top edge and not the hem!

Firstly I joined the shoulders using French seams. [place the fabric WRONG SIDES together and stitch close the edge, approx 5 mm away. Trim if necessary. Turn so that the fabric is now RIGHT SIDES together, press the seam flat and stitch again 1cm from the folded edge.]

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first row of stitching for the French seam, wrong sides together then trimmed slightly. Press flat.
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the finished French seam should look like this.

You don’t have to use a French seam though, if you have an overlocker use that, or zig zag the edges, you can even use pinking sheers if you have any.

The neck looked a slightly awkward shape at this point so I trimmed a small semi-circle away from the back neck.IMG_0039

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shaping the neckline, make sure it comes from a right angle at the centre back fold, I’ve used an air-erasable pen to mark it.

The collar goes on now so start by pinning it first at the centre back neck then all the way to the bottom on both sides. Sew carefully in place.

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Collar pinned to the CB neck
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stitching collar in place, stop short by approximately 3cms  at each end. You’ll need this to make a nice flush finish with the hem and the band later.
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Press the seam towards the collar.

I turned and stitched the hem first and then the remaining gaps I’d left earlier at the bottom.

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Fold the collar band RS together and pin.
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Stitch in place, make sure it’s a right angle otherwise it won’t be in alignment with the hem.
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Turn the band so that it’s RS out and pin on the outside.
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Pinning the band down on the right side ready to stitch in the ditch.
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Stitch in the ditch on the right side .
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Ooops, missed a bit! This should have been caught down on the wrong side.

If this process is too tricky for you then you can always slip stitch it down by hand.

Next I attached the sleeves. If you’re using a fabric that has a distinctive one way design with this method you must make sure that the front part of the sleeves are the same as the kimono front. It therefore follows that the back of the sleeve will be up side down but that’s unavoidable  unless you have a shoulder seam on the sleeve. Fold each sleeve in half and match this point to the shoulder seams, pin and stitch in place. It should look like this. IMG_0058At this point, if not before, you can fold and press up the hem for the bottom of the sleeve, it’s a bit easier whilst it’s flat before stitching it up later, you can see the pressing lines in this photo.IMG_0059Sew up the underarm seams like the photo above, and neaten by your chosen method. You can turn and stitch the cuffs now too, I turned them once by 2.5cm and then again by 2.5cms.

So that’s pretty much it!

I’m not sure if my instructions have been as clear as I’d like them to be, hopefully the photos offer some assistance. It’s a simple garment and not perfect by any means-the underarm seam isn’t particularly smooth but it’s just that, under the arm, so it’s hardly seen! You can simplify it further by not using a collar band if you wish and just hemming the neck edge.

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Modelled by Katie, assisted by Tinker!

Sadly you may have heard that Creative Sanctuary will be closing at the end of September but before then all their Liberty Tana Lawn is reduced to £15.50 per metre which is a considerable saving on the full price. If you’re in the Hertford area before September 30th you could do worse than pop over and bag yourself a bargain.

On the subject of Liberty, I wrote a previous blog about their history and an exhibition at the Fashion & Textiles museum that I visited, you can read it here

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

Here be dragons!

At last year’s Sewing Weekender I picked up an interesting piece of fabric from the swap table. It was about 1m80 of printed cotton by Alexander Henry, a design called Tatsu and featuring Chinese-style dragons and printed in shades of grey and black with red. It’s not my usual colours or style but something about it appealed to me so I kept it. Thank you whoever donated it!IMG_3517

Initially I thought I’d make a kimono top with it but I realised that the placement of the dragons was such that I’d struggle to cut one out of the small quantity I had, not because there wasn’t enough but simply because I wouldn’t be able to get the dragons to match and look balanced-I didn’t want wonky dragons! So even though I’d washed it ready it languished in my stash for a year, although I did get it out several times to consider a dirndl skirt. Again it was the issue of having the dragons running around the skirt properly and not wonky. Incidentally, a dirndl is the name for a simple gathered or pleated skirt which is purely widths of fabric stitched together along the selvedges and sewn at the top to a waistband and hemmed at the bottom, it doesn’t have any shaping at all.

In the end I took the bull by the horns and worked out where the dragons would be on the front and, having bravely cut that piece, I was able to cut the back so that the two pieces matched at the side seams. In order for there to be a good pattern-match down each side seam there was a wider than usual seam allowance..

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I didn’t trim off the excess simply because it was the selvedge and therefore neat anyway.

I needed to insert an invisible zip into the other side seam  which taxed my brain and my sewing skills a bit but I was extremely pleased with the result-I didn’t even have to unpick anything, it was right first time!! Get in!

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This is the zip after I’d attached the waistband, there’s a large hook and bar under the overlap which I like better than a button and buttonhole.

I made a fairly narrow waistband which I stiffened with iron-on interfacing and then pleated the skirt onto it. I wanted the fabric to lay fairly flat as I’ve got a bit of a tummy these days (sad face) and bulky gathers would be very unflattering. I didn’t use any particular mathematical calculations to achieve this, I just folded and fiddled until I was happy with the look.

Because some of the dragon’s faces are quite close to the bottom edge I decided to hem it with  bias binding for a neat finish without losing any of the design.

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The added benefit of slip-hemming meant there is no visible stitching showing on the right side.

So there it is, a simple dirndl skirt using just 2 widths of fabric. It’s one of the simplest sorts of skirt you can make and works well for any length. Depending on the type of fabric you may need more widths to make the skirt look good though. For example, if you want to use chiffon or georgette, which are quite fine, you’d almost certainly need 3, 4 or even more widths of fabric to make it look effective and not to ‘skimped’, Conversely, thicker fabrics will need less if they aren’t going to be unflatteringly bulky. I didn’t bother lining this skirt although I often do. If you don’t need to consider extreme pattern-matching this is a super-quick skirt to make and you can gussy it up with pockets, trims, exposed zips, whatever, to make it individual. Take a look at my previous blog with the tie waist here if you want another variation.

Just a short blog this time, lots to get on with…

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

Balenciaga at the V&A

I finally managed to get to this gorgeous exhibition the other day and it was frustrating to think it was both ‘worth the wait’ and ‘why did I wait so long!’  Whatever the answer I really glad I did.

I’ve loved the V&A since I was about 14 or 15 when I was studying for O-level Needlework (!!) and I used to visit to draw the clothes that were on display in what was then known as the Costume Court. I would sit patiently in front of the cabinets to sketch the details of historical garments, it’s definitely where my love and fascination for the construction of garments began.

Amazingly I found some of my original sketches from that time (although if you look carefully one of them seems to have been tampered with by a small child!) They were drawn on graph paper donated by my Dad. At that time I’d decided I wanted to be a costume designer, although through a few educational twists and turns I finished up doing bridal and evening wear instead which was the next best thing. Fortunately since then the fashion galleries have moved on a fair bit in the way they display things now, more rotation of garments from the collections and less dusty mannequins. That said, a few of my favourite garments from that era are still on display so I can still get my nostalgia-fix.

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one of my favourites, a magenta crinoline
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This is another of my favourites, it’s from 1937 designed by Charles James and made in a silk chiffon with a print by Jean Cocteau…I’d wear it now given the chance!

Nowadays they utilise the central downstairs area to host changing exhibitions along with the upstairs gallery. [This is was an inspired move in my opinion because all that the upstairs area used to contain was ancient dusty stringed instruments and, as far as I could tell, no one ever went up there!!]

And so to Balenciaga…he was a Spaniard born into a humble background in 1895 who eventually worked for almost all of his illustrious career in Paris and came to be hugely respected and influential amongst the pantheon of great designers.IMG_3077

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He developed innovative ways of handling fabric to create extraordinary shapes and styles, many of them had hidden foundations which enabled them to hold their shape. Fabric was all, it was always his starting point and the design came from there, not the other way around. He was extremely proficient in all aspects of the design process, he understood fabric and its capabilities, so he could drape and cut the fabrics into his chosen shapes, he was an expert tailor, pattern cutter and could sew too. Not every designer is capable of all this and many rely on the expertise of others to realise their visions. I have great respect for designers like this.

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Cristobal Balenciaga at work in his atelier, a calm and quiet place where he always wore his customary white overall.

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One thing that is different about this exhibition to most others I’ve been to at the V&A is being allowed to take photos-I can only assume this because they’ve given up trying to stop people, or they don’t need to protect anyone’s copyright or intellectual property??

The dress in the foreground here was, apparently, adored by fashion editors of the time and much photographed. Only a few were sold though because it was nearly impossible to go to the loo whilst wearing it!!

The exhibition has a several displays at the beginning which illustrate Balenciaga’s use of fabric and his swatch system and the designs that stemmed from it.

His Spanish heritage was often a source of inspiration too, boleros being typical of this but also the use of lace and flamenco-influenced ruffles and flounces.

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a bolero jacket…sorry, not a good photo…

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The whole of the downstairs part of the show is given over to Balenciaga’s own designs for both his couture collections and the ready to wear line that he also developed. There are evening gowns, coats, day dresses, tailoring and pant suits. There’s an opportunity to try on mock-ups of a garments for yourself, and there are also a number of toiles that have been recreated in calico by MA students from UAL including Claire-Louise Hardie who blogs as The Thrifty Stitcher and who was the sewing producer on the Great British Sewing Bee series.

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Claire-Louise Hardie’s toile

There are several exquisite beaded coats and gowns as well as a fascinating accompanying video showing exactly how the beading is done-don’t miss it, it’s enthralling. IMG_3102IMG_3103IMG_3104

I adore this dress, my photo doesn’t do it justice as it’s a vibrant fuchsia pink in reality. On the wall behind is one of several specially commissioned x-ray photos taken by Nick Veasey and showing the secret interior construction of the dress.

This is a strapless gown that has been turned inside out so that you can see all the details that mean the dress won’t fall down! My previous blog from a visit to the FTM also tells you about my ‘hands on’ experience looking inside beautiful couture clothing, read it here. 

Upstairs there are lots more clothes created by many contemporary designers who acknowledge the debt that their designs owe to Balenciaga’s influence. These include Roksanda Illincic,  Erdem and Nicholas Ghesquiere, who became chief designer in 1997 when the Balenciaga brand was reinvigorated for the 21st century.

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Roksanda Illincic-love this!!

 

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Erdem

 

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Nicholas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga

There’s so much more to see than I can show here so I’d urge you to go along to the V&A if you love finding out about the history and development of fashion design. This exhibition is on until February next year so there’s plenty of time at the moment. Make sure you look around the rest of the fashion exhibits that are on display in the surrounding gallery too-there are so many interesting garments, often dating back centuries, and you can see the influence and development that they’ve had on clothing over that time.

I’ve been a member of the V&A for 3 years now so I can go as often I like to their exhibitions but, as ever, all opinions here are my own! I hope you enjoy this show as much as I did and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

Sue

Making a dirndl skirt with a sash belt…and no zip!

I’ve started working recently with The Creative Sanctuary sewing and knitting shop in Hertford and they asked me if I could run a class for a gathered skirt using the lovely border-print cotton they stock from Michael Miller fabrics. First I had to make a sample and this is how I did it.

Because the fabric has the border printed along one edge you should buy the quantity of fabric you want according to the fullness you’d like, for this particular version I used 2 metres which is quite full, but anything over 1m would be ok unless you have a large waist measurement (you don’t want it to look skimped so don’t be too stingy with the quantity)

First of all you need to decide how long you want the skirt to be when it’s finished and then add seam allowances top and bottom [for example 65cms plus 1.5cms plus 1.5cms =68cms] Because the print ran right to the selvedge I didn’t want to turn this up for the hem and lose some of it so I chose to add a facing instead. This facing is 6cms in length but you could make it longer or shorter as you wish.

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working out the length from the selvedge so the hem is to the left and the waist is to the right in this photo.
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draw a line parallel to the selvedge.

Next, if you’re having a hem facing decide how deep it will be, plus seam allowances, and draw that immediately next to and parallel to the first line. Finally draw a third parallel line which will be the waist sash, this should be at least 12-14cms deep including the SA.

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This shows the cut skirt, the sash and the hem facing.

To begin with take the hem facing piece and press under 1cm all the way along one long edge then pin the unpressed edge to the bottom hem edge of the skirt, right sides together.

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The hem facing pinned and ready to stitch in place.
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Facing being sewn into position.
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next I under-stitched the facing using a contrast colour. The fabric is still flat at this stage, the seam will come later.
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I overlocked the raw edges that would become the seam, and then ran two rows of gathering stitches all along the top edge of the skirt. These should be the longest straight stitch your machine will do, they should be 5mm and 1cm approx from the cut edge and parallel to it, within the seam allowance. I always do a backstitch at one end but not the other so that I have something to pull up against.

Now make the only side seam. Leave an opening at the top for the waist of between 15-20cms, topstitch around the edge of it to stop it unfurling.

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After this I applied some iron-on interfacing to the waistband sash but only on the middle section for the waist, not the tie ends.

Now, when I made the sample I made the tie ends on the sash first then attached it too the gathered up skirt section, and that’s the process the photos are of. However when I ran the class I did it differently and it was a bit simpler so I’ll use the photos because they are the only ones I have but describe both methods as best I can.

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To make the tie ends first place a piece of tape or ribbon or even piping cord along the centre line of the fabric and pin it at the narrow end. Make sure it’s well away from the edge you’ll be sewing because you don’t want to accidentally sew though it.
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Fold the tie in half wrong sides together as normal, enclosing the tape.
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Stitch up in the usual way checking occasionally that you’re not sewing through the tape.
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trim the corner neatly at an angle to reduce bulk. If the tie is quite narrow you might want to trim the seam allowance down a little.
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Now’s the good bit! gently pull the tape and the end of the tie will start to come through. You’ll need to wiggle the end a little bit to get the corners out but persevere
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keep pulling…!
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Eventually the end will pop out. Cut off the tape neatly, you may need to make good the ends by hand if there’s any gaps in the stitching.

So that’s the tie ends if you make them first. When I ran the class I attached the waist band to the gathered up waist first and THEN made the ties in situ.

The gathers should now be pulled up to your own waist measurement plus a few centimetres for ease, you don’t want it too tight or the gap won’t close up nicely-there’s no zip after all and you don’t want your pants showing!

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Pull up the gathering threads. You can see the neatened waist opening in this photo too.
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When you’ve pulled up enough wind the threads in a figure of 8 around a pin which is at a right angle to the stitching.
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Adjust the gathers so that they are evenly distributed.
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When you’re happy with the distribution stitch in position (remember to put your stitch length back to normal!) you might need to tweak the gathers a bit as you go so don’t rush.
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Fold the waistband in half, press. Then press under the open edge of the waistband by 1.5cms

If you’re doing the waistband first, now you can make the ties using the method I’ve described above and then finish with the section below to enclose the waistband.

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From the front, pin the waistband in position through the join.
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This is what the pinning should look like from the reverse-the idea is to sew it as closely as the this!! The reality might not be quite so accurate!
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I always knew this as ‘sink’ stitching because the stitches ‘sink’ into the seam but at some point it’s become known as ‘stitch in the ditch’…same thing though! Take your time and you’ll get good results.

Nearly there…just the hem to do.

Turn up the hem facing along the seam which should turn quite crisply because you’ve already under stitched it [do that at this point if you didn’t do it earlier] Finally top stitch the hem facing in position. I chose a matching grey for the outside and a coral colour for the underside. Of course you could slip hem it by hand if you wish. To close up the side seam opening I used a few small press studs, I think they stay closed better than hooks and eyes.

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One finished skirt! You can see that by using a facing the whole of the print runs right to the hem, those leaves would have been lost if I’d rolled the hem up instead. You don’t have to make the facing this deep though, the choice is yours.
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The ties are nice and long and make a lovely bow.

I made this version using a border print fabric but you could just as easily make it in any suitable fabric, although you may need to cut it across the width of the fabric rather than along it depending on the print. You could add patch pockets as well if you like.

I’m leading the class again on Monday 17th July 1.30-4.30pm so what are you waiting for?! Full details of other classes I’ll be teaching are on Creative Sanctuary’s website now.

Very sadly, since I made the sample, the owners of the shop have made the incredibly hard decisison to close in September. This means yet another bricks-and-mortar fabric and knitting store will cease to exist. I’ve so enjoyed my brief time with them, and getting to know the lovely and talented ladies that work there, it’s a very sad thing that that’s happening.

I was provided with fabric to make the sample but the method is my own devising (faults  and all!)

Happy Sewing!

Sue