Have you ever found that just once in a while your off-spring are listening when you drop clanging great hints about what you’d like for Xmas?
I get the regular Tilly and the Buttons email updates and in early December received the one about Cleo kits, a complete fabric/pattern/thread/trims bundle at a reasonable price. My daughter happened to be lurking nearby so I casually mentioned this….
Anyway, I was quite startled when by chance the first gift I opened on Christmas morning was exactly that! whoop whoop! Of course I then thought there was no time until the New Year to start it but I remembered I’d bought a small quantity of peacock corduroy at the Rag Market in Birmingham when I went up for Sew Brum in October, I’d already pre-washed it so it was ready to go and a window of opportunity opened up so off I went.
In my opinion I’ve always found Tilly’s instruction booklets very clear and helpful, there’s lots of useful info if you’re a novice and the plan of making in the form of colour photos are excellent too. I decided that rather than use the bib-and-brace fixings for this one I’d use buttons and buttonholes instead.
This would also give me the chance to try out some of the features on my new toy…just before Christmas I finally invested (with my own hard-earned cash) in a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 from Sew Essential. They had it as a Black Friday (not a real thing) offer and, after driving for 2 hours to visit them and try it out, I bought one! [thank you to Irena for being patient with me while I got to grips with it, I’d really recommend you try out any machine you’re thinking of buying and Sew Essential are happy for you to visit for a demonstration of the various models and makes that they sell]
Cleo takes not a lot of fabric (if you’re using corduroy do bear in mind that it has a ‘nap’ or pile so cut all your pieces going in one direction or it will shade) I decided that rather than make the patch pockets by turning the edges under I’d bag them out with some scraps of Liberty Tana lawn I had. This has the additional benefit of giving them lovely neat edges, and once I’d stitched them on I tried out the bar tack feature on my machine. It’s a good way of reinforcing pockets and other potential weak points, or attaching belt loops.
There was just enough Liberty fabric to make a hem facing too using 2 straight strips too so this was a good way of neatening the hem without it being bulky.
After I sewed up the side seams I under-stitched and pressed up the facing. Next I used the top-stitch to secure it.
It was lovely to be able to make the buttonholes using the one-step buttonhole feature too, my previous machine didn’t have this method. I tried out a couple of test ones but then the first buttonhole on the dress wasn’t so great because I touched the ‘stop’ lever accidentally as it was sewing so it reversed before it finished sewing the complete side-oops.
These are the most erratic colour photos, sorry about that, it’s a really tricky colour to photograph accurately.
Many of you reading this will probably already be familiar with the Cleo so I’ve concentrated on what I’ve done to make mine unique to me and not so much on the step-by-step aspect of making it. I’m happy with the fit of this first one so as soon as I’ve washed the burgundy I’ll get the ‘Christmas’ one made up too. I’ve made the shorter length version, I’m not sure if I like the longer version as much in truth but who knows, I might give it a go sometime.
Tilly often create these pattern/fabric bundles so check out their website to see what is currently available. The Cleo has been super-comfortable in this post-Christmas podgy period-or is that just me?-and I can see why it’s been so popular as a pattern, it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s fun and comfy to wear-what more could you want?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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..
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!
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.
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.
So party frocks are a thing I like to make but, like most people, I’m not a red-carpet celebrity and I don’t often get a chance to wear them.
This time though I had a reason because back in the spring we set the date of November 5th for a dinner-dance to celebrate Mr Y’s year in the Chair at his Lodge (don’t ask, I’m not going to try to explain) It’s an excuse to get gussied up and put on your best bib and tucker and as I am the President’s Lady (like Michelle but not as cooool) I have to look pretty darn good.
I didn’t have any clear idea at that time of what I might want to make but on a trip to Brighton in May which inevitably included a visit to Ditto I spotted the most gorgeous striped and printed organza. It was love at first sight! I like to think I know my fabrics and I honestly expected it would cost in the region of £20-£25 per metre. When Gill told me it was just £8 per metre I was astonished!! The thing is, the first roll of fabric I saw was pale orange flowers on a black background. I would happily have bought this if Gill hadn’t then said she’d got it with pink flowers! so now a dilemma…which to choose? It looked for a while as if there wasn’t going to be a choice to be made because the pink version couldn’t be found. This didn’t put Gill off (despite it being a busy Saturday in the shop) so while we tootled off to spend time in town she searched for, and eventually located, the pink. What a star she is!!
I’d formulated an idea in my head by now which was basically the skirt shape of Dior’s 1947 New Look. The stiffness of the fabric lent itself to it so I fancied a straightforward dirndl pleated into the waistline ought to look good.
I bought 2.5 metres which was roughly 2 skirt ‘drops’ and a bit extra. Happy days!!
The next part of the jigsaw was to decide what form the bodice should take, and what colour, because the background for the pink colour-way was an olive green not black. I didn’t mind this because I don’t wear much black anyway. As I’ve said on more than one occasion I rarely throw a decent bit of fabric away and amongst my pile of ‘things that might be useful one day’ was a panne velvet skirt which I’d never worn much but loved the fabric. Guess what? it was a perfect match!! would it be enough though?
The answer, thankfully, was yes, although I couldn’t be sure about sleeves at that stage…cross that bridge when I get to it!
So I motored on now with constructing the bodice using one from Simplicity Project Runway K2444 [originally free with Sew magazine] which I’d snapped up from the swaps table at The Sewing Weekender in August and had used once already for my waxed cotton dress.
Another reason for using it was because it had darts and not separate panels thereby saving valuable fabric.
Panne velvet is very slippery and unstable so I mounted the pieces first onto a more stable fabric, in this case some ordinary black poly/cotton that I had. If you’re going really ‘high-end’ you’d use something like silk organza. You do this by laying everything carefully together matching the cut edges but taking care not to have the velvet misshapen and then, keeping it all flat on the table, tack around the edges by hand. On a fabric like this it just isn’t enough to pin and hope for the best. I did this for the darts too before machining them. By tacking carefully it helps to stop the velvet creeping in different directions under the machine foot. I don’t possess a walking foot but I found I’d got a roller foot so I used that satisfactorily instead. To help prevent the side seams wrinkling too much in wear I put in some boning, directly onto the seam allowances.
Alongside this I had to decide what to line the skirt with as it’s a sheer fabric. I mocked up a couple of colours on Doris to see the different effects.
I settled for dark but with pale pink net under that to echo the roses. While I was at the Knitting and Stitching show in early October I found a lovely quality Italian lining at just £2 per metre in a ‘shot’ red/green colour. I wasn’t totally sure if it would be right and, as I said to the guy on the stall “it will either be a triumph or a total disaster!” At £4 for 2 metres it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway.
I mocked up the whole thing from time to time on Doris just to make sure it would become a unified whole and not lots of segments that didn’t really work.
Getting the pleats to fit the waist was a bit of a trial but with some patience and lots of tacking I got it to the right length to fit. I’ve made many dresses like these over the years (although rarely for me) and it’s best to keep all the parts separate for as long as practical so you can work on each of them more easily and then join them together at the last possible moment-that way you’re not wrestling with a huge amount of fabric/net etc for any longer than necessary.
Amazingly I managed to getting a pair of short sleeves out of the remaining fabric which I was delighted by.
I cut the bias-cut collar in organza twice as wide as the original so that it would roll over prettily.
On the hem of the skirt I decide to use crin (just like in Strictly Come Dancing!) to finish the edge neatly and invisibly and to give it some ‘bounce’. After machining it on along one edge I turned it and stitched by hand.
The under-lining was a straightforward flared skirt although I cut it on the bias to allow the waist to have some ‘give’ if it needed it. I’d decided on rose-pink net underneath that so that the overall effect of the dress wasn’t too dark, I used two different shades together in the end. Again, I’ve made masses of these in the past and they aren’t difficult (when you know how)
For example, you can get a pretty decent amount of zjoosh (is that even a word?!) from just 3 metres of dress net (140cms wide)
keeping the net folded in half lengthways, cut one piece your desired finished length e.g.. 70cms [If you want a fuller petticoat you can cut two of these and join them at the narrow ends to form a longer strip, you’ll more net for the next part though]
now cut 2 or 3 widths of net that are the same or slightly shorter than the first one, e.g. 60-70cms. These need to be joined at their narrow edges to form a long strip. Fold this in half LENGTHWAYS. It will now be a strip that is half as wide as the first piece, and very long. Now stitch close to the cut edges with the longest gathering stitches your machine will sew [if you have a gathering foot or your overlocker gathers effectively you can use those to do the gathering for you] Pull up the threads until the long strip fits onto the original single cut length. Matching the folded edge of the ruffle against the bottom edge of the single piece, pin and stitch in position. This part can be a bit tricky because of all the fabric involved but be patient.
Now cut another 2 or 3 widths of net approximately 50cms each (or evenly divide into 2-3 whatever you’ve got left) Repeat the step above, you’ll have another even narrower strip which you’ll sew in position UNDER the first one but again with all the hems level at the bottom. It should be looking like a net petticoat by this stage.
The fuller you want it to be the more layers you can add although there comes a point where it will just collapse in too much again your legs without something like a hoop or a very firm lining under it.
You’ll need to join the two narrow ends together so that it now forms a tube-shape. This is your basic petticoat which you can put a lining inside to stop it being itchy, you can either insert it straight into the dress or, a better method, attach it to a narrow strip of lining or ‘basque’ and join that to the garment, it’s less bulky.
I didn’t want there to be a seam in the back of the organza to spoil the stripes so I made a small slit-opening and then carefully bound the edge with a bias-strip of lining. Once I’d joined the bodice and skirt together I sewed the zip through to the lining. Putting the zip in was a bit tricky and even though I tacked it, didn’t go right first time. I had to take one side back out and try again-the zip moved because of the pile of the velvet causing it to shift as I sewed.
Once the dress was all together (I hadn’t needed to refit anything as I went which was very good news-all I’d done was narrow the shoulders slightly when I cut it out because I knew they were too wide for me from the waxed cotton version) I wanted something to finish off the waist seam. I had a slightly sparkly belt which looked nice except the buckle wasn’t right. I hit upon the idea of making a temporary bow in organza, on elastic, that would sit over the top of it.
I’d decided a while ago that rose-gold shoes were what I wanted to finish the ensemble off but of course I couldn’t find any that were right! In the end dear Mr Y found a perfect unworn pair of L.K.Bennett courts on Ebay! Result!!
So there it is, that’s how simple it is to make a New Look-inspired fancy party frock!
Actually I really enjoyed making it because I only had myself to please and I didn’t have to make fitting appointments or worry about weight loss or gain (much) changes of mind etc etc. Because I started in plenty of time I was never in too much of a rush and I have the advantage of knowing what I’m doing. I LOVED wearing it on the night and I had so many lovely comments about it. I’ve been both touched and staggered by the response on Instagram and Facebook too.
I’d love to think I might have inspired some of you to have a go at something like this if you get the opportunity, or the right occasion.
When Amy Thomas invited me to write my pattern review for Love Sewing last year she suggested I brought along my dress so that we could get some nice photos, this is one of the results.
For some strange reason, since I originally wrote this blog, lots of the photos disappeared from it. I had a problem with my laptop a couple of times so it may have happened then. I’ve recently replaced most of them although I’m not sure they are all the same as the originals. Never mind, you’ll get the gist of it.