A Simple Sew Cocoon dress hack

I had made two Simple Sew Cocoon dresses without alteration when the pattern was first released a couple of years back, and you probably know that I love a bit of a pattern hack so I decided that the style would be good for an adaptation. I’d drawn a few sketches of ideas and had a rummage in the stash for some suitable fabric when a funny thing happened…

I found I had already cut out a hacked Cocoon in the past!! I realised I must have done it easily two summers ago but then abandoned it because I decided it would be too short. I remember it was a limited amount of fabric, probably 2 metres, but I put it to one side and forgot about it. 

Fast forward to now, I wanted to make it up but I needed to lengthen it in a way I was happy with. I had truncated the bodice at Empire line just below the bust and then the skirt was two widths of the fabric, a simple dirndl. I’d cut the facings too but there was literally nothing else left except small scraps.

There’s a centre front seam in the bodice, I cut the dress horizontally under the bust at about Empire line

I went through various options including adding extra frill layers but to do that you gradually increase the amount of fullness needed for each layer, in other words, layer 1 would be 1.5x the waist measurement, layer 2 could be 2x the length of layer 1, and layer 3 could be 3x the length of layer 2. In simple terms this means longer and longer strips of fabric are needed to form each frill to be sewn to the previous one, and the longer the length of the dress the more layers you might need. Basically I couldn’t make the skirt any longer with what I had because it was already cut, and because of the lockdown I couldn’t go out to look for a suitable plain cotton. I returned to the stash and eventually found 50cms of cotton poplin which I know I bought at the same time as the original, I must have intended it as a contrast but never used it.

By cutting the 50cms piece across the width into two 25cms pieces I could join them at the side seams to form a loop and then fold them in half to create a 12.5cms deep band which I would sew to the hem of the dress! Simple! 

Once I’d worked all this out I sewed up the bodice, rather than hemming the cap sleeves I used some binding from my stash so that I could maximise their length. I planned to twin needle some top stitching in various places and I used two different coordinating threads for this. 

Bias binding sewn onto the sleeve then understitched
bias binding turned back
The completed sleeve with twin needle topstitching

I did the same around the V neck once the facing was sewn on, in order to get a pristine join at the point I carefully unpicked a couple of stitches and secured them on the reverse.  

I wanted side seam pockets (of course) so I had to cut them out of some plain cotton scraps, each piece was added to the side seam and then the side seams sewn up. 

The new band was initially slightly wider than the lower edge of the skirt so I restitched it until the two were the same width and matched exactly at both side seams. I used the overlocker with four threads to join and neaten the band in one step, I pressed the seam upwards and then twin-needle topstitched it to decorate. 

the band folded and pinned to the lower edge of the skirt

The final step was to run two rows of gathering stitches at the top of the skirt then sew it onto the bottom of the bodice, matching at the side seams. I pressed this upwards too and topstitched it as well.

For a dress which had languished with not much hope for two years I’m really happy with it!! I loved the fabric (which was from John Lewis originally I think about 4-5 years ago!) and I was so cross I’d cut something which I couldn’t imagine I’d wear if I sewed it up. By adding the deep band the skirt now has weight as well as length. It’s been so comfortable in the hot weather, why did I wait so long?!

we were heading out for our exercise hence the unsexy shoes!
we have a Henry Moore sculpture on loan for the duration of the centenary year of our town, maybe we can keep it for an extra year now that all the summer celebrations are cancelled?
Coronation Fountain
yes I have got water coming out of the top of my head!

Lockdown is easing in the UK since I originally finished this dress but I hope, as always, this hack has given you an idea of how simple it can be to take a section of a pattern you already have and give it a twist to become a different garment. I had very limited fabric with a print which still needed to match everywhere, by adding the hem band I’ve given it the look I was after…it just took a couple of years to think of it!

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue

Simple Sew Chelsea Collection blouse hack.

A lot has happened since I wrote my last Simple Sew blog post, Christmas for one thing, and I had a lovely holiday in the sunshine too but now we are all confined to our homes because of Covid 19. Without wishing to trivialise the gravity of this situation, one of the side effects of it is that you might have more time to sew. 

I’ve had a rummage through my Simple Sew patterns to find one which I haven’t already shown you, and which has opportunities to hack, and I settled on the Chelsea Collection. This is a capsule wardrobe of a short sleeve blouse with two variations, a pair of trousers and a button-front skirt in two lengths. I liked the blouse with it’s shirred sleeves and keyhole back detail but I decided to mix it up a little by adding a button front. Normally we are able to select fabric from a couple of generous sponsors but I wanted to ‘shop my stash’ to find something this time. I found a very pretty vibrant floral John Kaldor cotton lawn which I think I picked up from a swap table sometime and I knew would work well for the blouse. 

I didn’t want the blouse to be overly tight so, after checking my measurements I opted for a larger size than I’ve made previously. If you’ve been a regular reader of my posts you’ll know that I tend to check Simple Sew patterns for any discrepancies before I start. There didn’t seem to be any glaring ones but I just added a slight curve to the back hem so that it dipped in the same way as the front and I trued the shoulder seams so there was a smooth flow from front to back. 

Adding a curved hem to the back, I measured the distance from the lengthen/shorten line on the front then made the back the same amount, curving the line gently upwards to the side seam.
trueing the shoulder seams

As I wanted to alter the front significantly I had to make some changes there first. In order to create a button-stand I simply added 2.5cms to the centre front all the way down what would have been the fold. [2.5cms was a fairly arbitrary figure because it depends really on what size buttons you’re using, a general rule of thumb is that the bigger the button the bigger the button-stand needs to be so that there’s enough overlap and the garment doesn’t end up too tight because the overlap isn’t big enough.]I was able to do this by drawing directly onto the tissue before cutting the piece out as there was enough space to do so.

adding the button stand to the front

If you’ve already cut a pattern that you want to add to just stick some extra paper to the centre front fold line, or trace off the whole piece again adding the extra. The original front had a facing for the neckline so now I needed to create a new facing which would neaten both the neck edge and the button-stand. To do this I simply traced off the whole of the new front opening including the neck edge and made the facing a depth of 7cms all the way down from shoulder to hem, with a smooth and gradual curve. The photo should make this clearer. The back neck needed a new facing too because the existing one took the armhole into account. Again I traced off the section I needed making it 7cms at the shoulders to match the front facing. 

The final change I made was to lengthen the sleeve a little and add some more fullness to it. I started by making the sleeve 5cms longer and then I drew 3 vertical lines on the pattern at approximately the front notch, back notch and shoulder seam points. [Depending how much extra fullness you want to add to a sleeve you could use more places than this but do try to space them evenly apart.] Next I cut up each line from the bottom until I reached almost the top, I left this very slightly attached. With the piece flat on the table I spread the bottom of each slit by about the same amount, probably about 4 cms, then taped slithers of paper into each gap.

First I added the extra length and then drew the vertical lines where I wanted the extra fullness.
Next I opened each part to add the extra being careful to keep the pieces flat and not twisting or wrinkling up, put extra pieces of paper under the gaps. Once you’re happy tape them in position,
Once I had added the extra I cut the piece out.

If you don’t want to cut the pattern up you can do the same process by still marking the vertical lines on then pivoting the uncut pattern at the top of each line, use a pencil or your finger as the axis. Draw or trace around the first section, which remains stationary, then each subsequent section after you pivot it to so that you get the extra fullness being added at the hem. Opening up the wedges in this way means you’re adding fullness to the hem but not the crown of the sleeve, if you want extra fullness in the crown spread the whole piece more or less parallel. The grainline should run equidistant down the centre of the new piece (unless you want to cut it on the bias)

Having done all this I cut it out and was ready to sew! 

I started by joining the shoulder seams of both the blouse and the facings (which I’d interfaced and neatened) then I attached the facings to the neck edge, turned, understitched and pressed. The keyhole back calls for a small rouleau tube as a button-loop which needs to be inserted at the same time as applying the facing although you could choose to make a hand sewn thread loop and stitch that at the end. In fact it isn’t even vital that this is a functioning loop if you’ve got a front opening, the keyhole is purely decorative now. 

I put the blouse onto Doris to check it was looking OK and this was when I found that the keyhole appeared to be bagging outwards quite significantly. I decided not to do anything at this point and I would check again once I had sewed the side seams and put the sleeves in, then I would get a better idea by trying it on myself. 

Checking the front neck
With the loop pinned I discovered that the keyhole didn’t sit flat.
It seems to stick out quite significantly on Doris.
If the button isn’t done up it would look like this.

I made three rows of shirring on the sleeves next, using my quilting guide to make sure the first row was 5cms from the bottom edge, the next two rows were then sewn parallel to the first. [Refer to a previous blog post on how to sew shirring if you haven’t done so before] Next I sewed up the sleeve seams and pin-hemmed the bottom edge to give a neat finish.

I positioned the needle 5cms from the cut edge and the quilting guide helps me as a visual marker to keep it parallel all the way.
Shirring is stitched from the right side so that the elastic is on the reverse. Use a long straight stitch, secure both ends and then apply plenty of steam to shrink up the stitching further.
finished sleeve

After sewing up and neatening the side seams I inserted the sleeves. At this point I tried the blouse on again to check the keyhole on myself and, with real shoulder blades under it, it didn’t seem so noticeable. Two other things struck me though, the blouse was a little too big so I took it in on the side seams and also the blouse was a bit shorter than I expected. In order to take as a small a hem as possible I made some bias binding from offcuts of the fabric then stitched it (folded in half lengthways and with the cut edges together) to the hem using a narrow 5mm seam allowance [This is a useful finish to any hem or edge where you need every spare centimetre of fabric.] Have a look at the photo which shows you how to get the ends of the binding enclosed within the front facing. I turned the binding up and top-stitched in place. 

If you’re adding binding when there’s also a facing pin it like this so that the end is neatly enclosed inside the facing when it’s turned right side out.

Finally, I found some ‘vintage’ buttons amongst my treasure trove and there were just the right number meaning the whole blouse had been sourced from what I already have!

Well I hope now that I’ve made it that I’ll have a chance to wear my Chelsea blouse somewhere other than in my own garden this summer, who knows? Maybe you’re reading this long after the emergency ended and life has returned to some sort of normality, although it definitely won’t be exactly as it was before.

Sewing our own clothes is an activity which gives us so much enjoyment for a variety of different reasons and, right now, the simple act of creating something is chief amongst them for me. It’s absorbing and the problem-solving gives me something else to think about.

I think the keyhole back is, by and large, just about acceptable when I’m wearing the blouse. I also think the cure could be to add a centre back seam instead of cutting on the fold so that the point of the keyhole could extend beyond the centre back line, this would hopefully bring the button and loop closer to one another when they are done up…this is just my theory based on experience and I haven’t tried it out. It’s such a nice little detail that I’m disappointed it hasn’t worked out quite right. I also regret not reading my fellow Simple Sew bloggers reviews of the blouse because then I would have known how short it comes up, personally I would add a minimum of 8-10cms to the length next time.

The sleeves are pretty and feminine but maybe they are a little too girly, the jury is out…

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Sewing with a sheer fabric

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months…six months to be exact, because that’s when I wore the dress at my dear friend Jenny’s wedding in April! I know it’s a spring/summer dress but I thought the way I’ve used the fabric might be of interest if you’re thinking of tackling a tricky fabric. I’ve used a couple of techniques which could be helpful.

I bought the fabric in Fancy Silks in Birmingham last autumn with the intention of making an Asymmetric Dress TPC2 by Trend Patterns for our cruise but eventually I made that in something else and, as Jenny had set the date for a spring wedding, I decided to use it for that event instead. It’s a challenging fabric which I would describe as being a satin-striped organza which has been overprinted with flowers. It’s exactly the same type of fabric that I used for my Dior-inspired evening gown three years ago. Part of the challenge is that it’s sheer so it needs to have some kind of lining, this could be a loose lining, or an alternative is to mount it onto another fabric first like I did and then make it up into the dress.

By an amazing piece of good fortune I had some very soft satin left from a pair of bridesmaid dresses I made about five years ago and it was a PERFECT match-unbelievable! Better still, I ordered some lining from Minerva based purely on the colour image on my screen and it was also a perfect match-it was obviously meant to be.

Clearly though I had to decide on a pattern, I didn’t want anything too flouncy and there was going to be some serious stripe-matching going on so it couldn’t be in a million pieces. I rummaged amongst my patterns and came upon Butterick 6244 by Lisette which must have been free with a magazine at some point. A couple of the lovely ladies who come to my class have made the coat with great success but, looking at reviews, I think the dress has been largely passed over. It appealed to me because the skirt was a very straightforward A-line and the bodice was Princess seams with a ‘Dior’ dart [this is where a short dart extends to the bust point from a Princess seam] There is also a small shoulder yoke at the front so that was perfect for rotating the stripe.

With the exception of the sleeves I had to cut all the pieces in three different fabrics, the satin and the lining I could cut together but the organza had to be cut separately to ensure the stripes matched properly. I altered the sleeve to make them longer and then I decided to add a pointed cuff to finish them off.

Once everything was cut out it’s a fairly slow process of ‘mounting’ each organza piece onto its satin backing. I began by laying each satin piece shiny side up flat on the table, placing the organza on top and pin the two together around the edges. Then, moving it as little as possible, I tacked each piece together within the seam allowances. This was another reason for keeping the number of pieces to a minimum because this process takes a fair amount of time. Once all the pieces have been mounted you simply construct the garment as normal. This has various advantages, it makes the see-through fabric opaque, it makes a flimsy fabric more stable and in this case it means the hem of the skirt will be invisible when sewn.

I used narrow piping on the neck edge and the waistband to give them some finesse, I had to cover the piping cord with both organza and lining because the cord showed through the organza alone. You can use a regular zip foot to sew on the piping, I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff which is brilliant because it sews so close and holds it all firmly in position whilst sewing.

piping cord around the neckline.

So that’s pretty much it really because aside from matching lots of stripes it’s a normal dress. The beauty of the skirt meant that I could use self-made satin binding on the hem and then the hand-stitching won’t show on the right side, a truly invisible hem!

satin bias-binding on the hem, understitched and slip-hemmed in position.
the hem is then totally invisible on the outside.

The only sheer parts are the sleeves which I added pointy cuffs to and finished them off with pretty sparkly buttons. I mounted each cuff part onto plain organza before construction to give them more stability.

I cut the cuffs with the stripes running at right-angles to the sleeves.

I hope you might find some of these techniques helpful if you’re tackling trickier fabrics. Mounting one onto another is useful to add interest-you could have a contrast colour underneath lace for example, it gives opacity to flimsier fabrics, stability and support to fabrics like panne velvet and can enable seams and hems to ‘disappear’ with ease. I used french seams in the sleeves but otherwise they are all regular seams. I only overlocked those inside the skirt as there is a separate skirt lining, the bodice is fully lined and enclosed so there’s no need to overlock any of those seams. If you’re using chiffon or georgette which are more fluid fabrics than organza you you should back them or interface them with a similar weight of fabric, preferably plain in colour so as not to show through or deepen the colour of the top fabric too much. Plain chiffon or organza are frequently used in couture techniques for this purpose.

It turned out that April 22nd was a very warm day so maybe I should have dropped the neckline slightly but that’s British weather for you-somewhat unpredictable! It was a gorgeous, happy wedding…

did I mention it has pockets?

So as we head towards winter here in the UK I bring you a post featuring a summery dress! Anyway, you might find parts of it helpful.

Happy sewing

Sue

Bellbird top from The Sewing Revival

The Sewing Revival are a small PDF pattern company based in New Zealand and I first discovered them through the first Sew Over 50 challenge at the beginning of the year. Since then I’ve made 4 (!) versions of their Heron dress and top, 2 dresses and a top for me and one top for my SiL for her birthday. I really like the simple but stylish aesthetic, coupled with the fact they can be quick to make which is a real ‘palette-cleanser’ if you’ve been doing some more complex projects beforehand.

The Bellbird is basically a T-shaped top with dolman sleeves but it’s USP is the wide gathered cuffs on the short sleeves. You can choose between a scoop or a V neck, I’ve made the V.

It probably works best in a fabric with a bit of drape like crepe-de-chine, a soft viscose or fine linen, I used (eventually after a lot of going through the stash to find the right quantity!) a sheer polyester chiffon of unknown provenance. It wasn’t quite enough to cut the front and the back both on folds so the front went on the fold and the back went on the selvedges so there’s a seam. Also, because of the sheer nature of the fabric I opted not to use the neck facings but I made some bias binding to finish off the neck instead.

It’s very important to stabilise the neck edge as soon as possible so that it doesn’t stretch out of shape. I ran a row of stay stitches 5mm from the neck edge front and back-you could also use stay-tape or iron-on stabiliser if it isn’t going to show. Next I joined the shoulders using French seams as the fabric is so sheer, it gives a better quality of finish and makes the seams a little bit stronger too as they are sewn twice in this method. you could use a tiny flat-felled seam here if you wish but I think that’s taking things a bit far for a polyester chiffon!

I decided to use the French binding method which involves cutting bias strips which are at least twice as wide as you need plus seam allowances, making sure it was plenty long enough to go right around the neck with some extra to spare. Join the strips in the usual way if you need to and press the seams open before you fold the strip in half lengthways and press all along the folded edge so that you have a long continuous strip of folded bias binding. Next, I wanted the binding to show on the right side of the fabric so this means you need to pin the cut edges of the binding together to the neck edge ON THE WRONG SIDE. When you sew it on around the neck edge the binding will flip to the OUTSIDE thus enclosing the raw edges inside itself. The photo above shows where I’ve sewn the bias on, I’ve under-stitched it on the inside and then flipped it to the outside and now it’s pinned down. Finally I topstitched it down on the outside. Overall I’m happy with how this turned out because the chiffon is very very wiggly and you’ll need to be a bit patient with yourself if it’s the first time you’ve attempted a fabric like this. Take each step slowly and tack or baste as you go if you’re in any doubt about your ability to sew just using pins.

Once the neck is sewn it’s a case of joining the underarm seams, also using French seams, and then making the casing to enclose the elastic. This is the ‘detail’ of the Bellbird top so try and use wide elastic and don’t make it too tight on your arms as this is gives the best effect. Finally, finish off by making the hem.

I know chiffon isn’t exactly an ‘every day’ fabric but I’ve worn this top twice already now-albeit with a cami underneath as it’s sheer-and it’s very comfy. It droops backwards off my shoulders a little but I find that’s often the case with V necks on me when the garment is loose-fitting. I might try the scoop neck next time to see how that is. It’s designed to be a fairly close fit over the hips, not loose and floaty, I made a size large and it’s perfect for me. The Sewing Revival patterns come in selection of size brackets and you choose the set closest to you personal measurements. If you fall between sizes I think I’d advise going for the size nearest your bust measurement and altering the hip to suit.

Have you tried any other Sewing Revival patterns? There are some new ones just out including an interesting pair of diagonal-seamed trousers which are very intriguing so I’m sure these won’t be the last patterns of theirs that I’ll review.

Until next time, Happy Sewing

Sue

My first Sew Me Sunshine fabric review.

When Harriet asked me if I’d contribute a blog post for Sew Me Sunshine I was excited and very happy to help. After I’d had a good look at all their lovely fabrics I settled on the pink colour-way of the Gemma viscose/linen mix, it’s such a pretty shade with a magnolia flower print. When the fabric arrived Harriet has included a helpful card with full fabric details including fibre composition details plus width and quantity purchased. There’s a space to note if you pre-wash or not before it goes in the stash or straight to use.

The print is quite wide spaced and one-way [actually there are one set of flowers which run in one direction and another set which go the opposite way] so it’s worth bearing this in mind with pattern placement, and all your pieces should be positioned one way or the other.

I decided to make a Maven patterns French Dart shift dress which I’ve made twice before because it’s a lovely simple shape with no fastenings which makes it quite quick to make, three sleeve options, side seam pockets and an elegant roll collar.  

Because of the positioning of the print I opted to have the smaller flowers running down the centre rather than the large blooms which would have resulted in a more wasteful lay plan. As I had enough fabric I opted for the long sleeved version which I’ve made both times previously, the gathers at the cuff are so pretty. I cut the sleeves so that similar flowers are on a level with the dress front.

Because the fabric is quite loosely-woven and a linen mix it tends to fray a bit you’ll need to be aware of this. Making a style with lots of gathers may not be wise because it will start to come apart eventually the more you pull the gathers up-the cuffs on this dress were fine as it’s fairly short. The fabric would look lovely in pleats or folds too.

the gathered cuff has a pretty binding

The fabric sews up beautifully, it isn’t overly drapey but it’s nicely fluid and responds well to pressing although like most linen, and linen/mix, there is noticeable but not excessive creasing-this is one of the features of the fabric and you have to accept that as part of it, it isn’t a fault. You could also use it for loose-fitting shirts or trousers, for example the Zadie jumpsuit from Paper Theory would look gorgeous in it or what about the Tilly and the Buttons Seren dress, nothing too tight-fitting though as it will crease badly or ‘seat’. You can always add a soft cotton lawn lining to a fabric like this which might help, this particular fabric isn’t sheer though so you can’t really see through it.

The structure of the fabric lends itself to the roll-neck collar and this one doesn’t have any interfacing in it, it stands well on its own.

I’m really happy with the finished dress, it’s very feminine and in a very unpredictable British climate I think it will be ideal on cooler warm days (does that make sense!?) I’ll wear it with tights in the autumn. Incidentally, I hand finished the hem so that the stitches are invisible, you could machine it up though.

We went to a wedding at Hatfield House just after I finished the dress so what better opportunity to wear it and stand in front of some of the most beautiful wisteria. What you can’t see is the long-sleeved thermal top I’m wearing underneath because it was actually freeeezing cold and I was determined not to wear a coat over the top!
We’re always entertaining wedding guests!
In the beautiful Old Palace Garden, it’s evening now so it was getting a bit dark for decent photos really.

Thank you Harriet for providing me with the fabric and the opportunity to write about it-it also comes in a pale blue colour-way too which is equally lovely if pink isn’t your thing. 

Until next time,

Happy Sewing,

Sue


Refashioning a wedding dress into a Christening gown.

I think this used to be a much more popular thing to do years ago, probably because wedding dresses were home-made more often and the fabric would have been quite a costly part of the finished article. I’ve made a couple of Christening gowns in the past (although sadly for complicated reasons not for my own girls) but this is the first time I can recall cutting up an existing dress for a refashion.

I got a message early one Sunday morning just two days after we got back from holiday recently asking if such a thing were possible and also I’d have less than three weeks to do it in! Fortunately the client was able to come the next day so we got cracking very quickly. She had an idea of what she had in mind so she showed me a photo and we went from there.

Although the dress was from five years earlier it hadn’t been cleaned so the skirt, and the hem in particular, was very soiled. I took the whole skirt off the bodice, and also the skirt lining, plus the embroidered lace appliqué panels which came off the bodice and skirt. I was able to wash the lining but I couldn’t risk washing the Duchesse satin of the dress so I had to separate the front skirt panel (which was asymmetric) from the backs and then work out where the straight grain was so that I could cut a new front skirt piece from the cleanest area. To work out where the grain is you can tell to some extent by pulling gently in each direction on the fabric. If there’s some degree of stretch (in a non-stretch fabric) then it probably means you’re not on the straight grain yet but if there’s little or no stretch then you’re probably pretty much on it. To double-check after doing this I cut along the edge of the piece on what I’d calculated to be the grain and then pulled a few loose threads away until eventually I could see exactly where the grain was. I could then place the pattern piece onto the fabric with a good degree of certainty.

As I never throw a pattern away I have a number of children’s patterns which I used when my own girls were small so I simply used bodice pieces from one of these. The client wanted an over-long skirt so I merely created a flared A-line shape to the length needed. She wanted small ruffles at the shoulders instead of sleeves and these are very simple to draft. I drew a line on the bias (a 45 degree angle) and then a curved line which measured approximately twice as long as the sleeve opening it was going into. The curved edge is the one which you then run your gathering stitches along to pull it up, the straight edge is the one which gets neatened, or in this case had new narrow lace added to it.

This pattern was from 1989!
The ruffles drawn directly onto the fabric at a 45 degree angle, the curved edge will be gathered and the straight edge gets neatened. The pieces don’t have to be on the bias but it gives the finished ruffle a nice fluidity.
I added new narrow lace to the edge of the ruffle.

After our initial discussions and sketches it wasn’t practical for the client to keep coming backwards and forwards constantly so we conducted the rest of our consultations via WhatsApp because it was a good way for me to send her photos of ideas for her approval.

The appliqué was too much for the tiny bodice, the baby is only ten months old, so I tried it on the skirt instead.

I suggested that the appliqué should be towards the hem because then it would show better in photos if the baby was being cradled or sitting on a lap. Once we’d settled on the position the lace had to be sewn on by hand.

I wanted a deep hem on the skirt rather than a narrow rolled hem because a rolled hem would have had a tendency to curl up on this fabric and not look nice. Because of the curve of the hem I couldn’t just turn up a hem of 4cms because there would be too much bulk that would look very clunky and no possibility on this fabric of steaming it away. Because of these factors I opted to make some 8cms wide bias binding from the Duchesse which, after I’d joined it into suitable length strips, I folded in half lengthways and pressed. I placed the cut edges against the hem of the skirt and sewed it in position. Next I pushed the seam allowances towards the binding and understitched it about 1mm away from the seam.

The bias is pinned in position ready to sew close to the edge. I did the front and the back separately and then joined the side seams later.
This is how the hem eventually looked when I’d slip-hemmed it into position.
The finished hem looks like this on the right side.

It was a then a case of putting all the pieces together, along with fully lining the gown. We went with two rouleau strips across the front, which I secured into the side seams, along with the loops for the back which would tie into a simple bow. The skirt was gathered into the waist seam and an invisible zip inserted into the back. I finished the neck edge with a simple bias binding, to keep it very soft and simple around the baby’s neck.

One final detail the client had asked for was her baby’s name and the baptism date embroidered inside. Fortunately my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has a range of script options so I did a couple of test runs. I stabilised a piece of the satin and then embroidered the words onto it. I added some more of the narrow lace around the edge and finally satin-stitched it inside the skirt lining. Maybe one day there will be other names alongside it, that would be nice to think.

I really enjoyed this project as it was so creative and was real contrast to most projects I undertake. The client was absolutely delighted, and not a little emotional, when she came to collect the gown. You have to put a lot of trust into a dressmaker, especially when you’re handing over a garment which is itself has precious memories. I’m looking forward to seeing photos of little Poppy in her gown eventually, I hope she doesn’t disgrace herself!

I decided with about 45 minutes before the client arrived to collect the gown that I needed to make a matching padded hanger covered in the satin and trimmed with leftover lace.
As you can see, I needed the washing line and Mr Y to help display the gown in the April sunshine. (I should have pressed that crease out before I photographed it!)

Designing by WhatsApp might be unorthodox and have its limitations but it worked a treat this time. Have you ever had to refashion a wedding dress into a Christening gown? Maybe you’ve done it yourself?

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Lizzie dress

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I originally chose the Lizzie pattern because I wanted to make it for a wedding at the end of July but then, because I had to change my fabric choice, I opted to make it as a smart summer dress instead in a lovely cotton lawn from Doughtys Online fabrics. It’s a classic shaped sleeveless dress with Princess seams, a pretty notched neckline  and box pleats in the skirt which means it’s an ideal blank canvas for showing off lovely fabrics or adding embellishments too.

I decided to make a toile of the bodice first because I wanted to get a nice fit of the Princess seams. I’m glad I did because I was slightly surprised to find the bodice came up quite short. I’m a very average 5’5” tall and not long-waisted but I needed to add 3.5cms to bring it to my natural waistline. I traced off the bodice pattern on spot and cross paper between 2 sizes according to my own body measurements and the ‘finished garment’ measurements on the packet and then I marked horizontal lines across all 4 pattern pieces, all at a similar level to each other. [These lines must be at a right angle to the grainline too]

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The horizontal lines are where I need to add the extra.

You’ll need some spare spot and cross because then, one at a time or you’ll lose track of which piece is which, cut the horizontal line straight across the pattern [many big brand patterns have these lines already marked with ’lengthen or shorten here’] Stick the spare s&c paper behind one part and draw a parallel line on it that’s the amount you need to add-I added 3.5cms. Keeping the original grainline in vertical alignment, place the other part of the original pattern on the new line.

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Extra s&c added behind and then each piece is moved down keeping the grain in alignment.

Make sure you do this for all the pattern pieces and that it’s the same amount added into each-unless you have a sway back  when you’ll need to decree the amount as you get nearer your spine. Draw on the new seams but don’t cut them out until you’ve done them all. Check them against one another to make sure they line up properly particularly the side seams-pin these together and then cut them out.

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I pin the side panels together so that the new side seam is identical when I cut them.

Cotton lawn is quite a fine fabric so I chose to line the dress rather than use the facing pattern. It’s easy to line simple styles like this because you just cut the same pieces again, I used a plain cotton lawn I had in my stash.

The fabric allowance for the pattern is quite generous so I lengthened the skirt by 12cms for a change. I didn’t need to stick spare paper on for this as there’s plenty of excess on the actual sheet so I drew it straight on to the bottom of both pieces. I didn’t shape the hem turn-up though, I continued the side seams straight down by 12cms and then, making sure it’s a right angle (V important) drew the new hem level on.

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Make sure the new corner at the bottom of the side seam is a right angle, you’ll get a strange point where your seams join if not.

One other detail I wanted to try out was using my new piping foot attachment for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 so I cut a few bias strips of fabric for that. This works by folding a slim piping cord sandwiched inside the bias strips and then it runs in the groove under the foot so that you can stitch really close to the cord. Once you’ve sandwiched the cord in this way you place it wherever you want on the garment (or soft furnishings) and sew it on still using the foot. [You can achieve this without a special foot just by using your zipper foot but sometimes you can’t get the stitching quite as close] From the toile I felt the armhole was going to be a little snug for me so I made it a tiny bit bigger at the underarm area, not much.

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I just used the enclosed piping cord around the armholes to give them a nice crisp and professional finish.IMG_7101

I added some pockets into the side seams too (of course!) I made a new pattern piece for this, it’s just a fairly standard curved piece that’s roughly hand-shaped.

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One other thing I did differently to the instructions was I didn’t make the pleats in the skirt before attaching it to the bodice. Because I’d altered the waist size for me, and to save lots of fiddly measuring, I just snipped the centre notch on each pleat then, matching the side seams and centre back skirt to bodice first, I put the pleat marking against the bodice seam and then folded the fabric into a box pleat until they were correct. This ensures the pleats are all in perfect alignment with the bodice. It still takes a little while so be patient. After careful pinning I machine basted them in position first so that they didn’t move about and then re-stitched to secure.

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box pleats sewn down.

After I inserted the zip and joined the CB seam I made a simple A-line skirt lining because there’s no need to make a whole pleated lining, it’s a waste of fabric and can add unflattering bulk at the waist too.

Finally, I chose to finish the hem with bias binding which I made in the plain cotton lawn. I pressed over one edge then attached the un-pressed edge to the hem. Stitch in position then understitch close to the join through all seam allowances. This gives a lovely crisp finish to the hem, if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I do this quite often. Finally, I hand-stitched the binding up in position, it took a while but it’s very satisfying!

 

So it wasn’t the wedding guest dress I had in mind but I’m really pleased with how my Lizzie has turned out-you’ll never know what great plans I had for it in the other fabric. Aside from the points I’ve mentioned the Lizzie is a nice basic dress which would be pretty quick to knock up, the first version of any new pattern always takes a bit longer because you’re not sure what you’re doing and I lined it which also took longer for example. I like the narrower shoulder seam and the fit at the neckline is very good, I’m glad I made it longer too, it makes a change amongst my mostly knee-length dresses. It’s one of those styles where it can be more about the fabric, if you’ve got something with a fun print for example, I’d intended to make it in a floaty georgette with a pretty coloured lining but that wasn’t to be this time. Thank you Doughty’s for coming to the rescue with this lovely fabric, it was so nice to work with.

Lizzie would also look lovely in a brocade or duchess satin for a special occasion dress too, or a velvet or sequinned bodice and a contrast skirt perhaps.

 

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Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camber Set from Merchant & Mills

 

IMG_5923The Camber Set from Merchant & Mills has definitely become one of my go-to patterns for tops-I’ve made 4 now! I picked up the pattern early last year at a swap/meet up (it was the same meet up that I got the Maker’s Atelier Holiday top pattern too which has become another favourite, I’ve made 3 of those and blogged reviews of them here and here)

The first was a navy and white striped one in a linen-look viscose if I remember correctly- I bought it at least 20 years ago to make my Mum a dress but life intervened! What I’ve come to love about this pattern is the clean and stylish finish to the neckline. The front neck uses a strip of bias binding which is applied to the reverse and then brought over to the right side and top stitched.

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the scissors necklace was from the V&A museum in London.

Next there’s a yoke at the back which is stitched in such a way that it neatens the back neck and encloses the shoulder seams all in one go. The instructions and diagrams are very clear but you do need to concentrate the first time because it seems a bit alien but trust me, it’s worth it. I had the bias on incorrectly initially because I assumed that it was turning in the usual way to the inside (it wouldn’t matter if you did it like that though, it’s just you wouldn’t then have the effect of the binding as decoration)

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the stripes make yours eyes go a bit swizzy

I chose to contrast top-stitch some of the seams and the bust darts too for some visual interest.IMG_1353

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I cut the top yoke on the bias simply because I had enough fabric to do so.

I cut a straight size 14 based on my measurements and it’s just right, roomy enough to be comfortable without being too baggy.  I would say that it’s an afternoon’s work if you make it exactly as the pattern.

The second one I made in more of a hurry to take to the second Sewing Weekender last August. This time I made it in some coral crepe-de-chine from my stash and made the bias and yoke in a contrasting butterfly crepe-de-chine which had been supplied by Adam Ross fabrics in the goody bags at the first Sewing Weekender! I mixed it up a bit by adding a small inverted box-pleat to the back.

The third version is a very straightforward plain ivory crepe (from Hitchin market I think) with no alterations. I love a patterned fabric and plain tops are not something I have loads of, I used to wear RTW T-shirts but I just don’t anymore so they need replacing with alternatives. I got cocky though and did the binding the wrong way round so it’s a bit narrower than it should be.

My most recent version of the Camber is a bit special IMHO. Recently I went with my friend Janet to Goldhawk Road to look for fabric for me to make her daughter a dress to wear to Janet’s son’s wedding (with me so far…?) Naturally I had a look at a few things myself but then in Misan I had some kind of out-of-body experience because I spent an ABSOLUTE BOMB on some Roberto Cavalli printed cotton lawn! I’m not even going to tell you how much it was, I’ve never paid that much per metre for any other fabric before, there was just something about the vibrancy of the colours and the prettiness of the design, plus Janet made me do it, she never even tried to stop me!! It’s a pity the photos don’t do it full justice though. [Misan also has 2 fabulous shops in Soho if you really want to blow the budget]

I bought 1m20 with a plan to make a Camber. With some really careful cutting (annoyingly there were two fairly wide unprinted white strips along each selvedge) I managed to get everything out so that the colours ran in ‘stripes’ around the body and on the sleeves too-this always pleases me immensely when I can achieve it-I was also able to add ruffles to the sleeves this time.

The although the fabric is 100% cotton it has a fair bit of inherent stretch which meant it had got a bit wonky from where I’d hung it on the washing line-a good steamy press largely sorted this out though. Basically I did everything the same as usual (except I really concentrated on the neck binding!) Instead of sink stitching the back yoke facing (that’s ‘stitch in the ditch’ in old money) I used one of the embroidery stitches that my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 offers. I chose one that’s fairly similar to the print on the cloth to complement it and used lemon yellow thread. I also added some small pleats to the back below the yoke.

I made the sleeves a fraction longer and added the ruffles, which I hemmed using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker. I’ve been trying to use this feature on suitable fabrics more often recently because it’s pretty and makes a change from a regular hem edge.

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rolled hem finish

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there are added small pleats in the back

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I can’t wait to wear this, we’re off to Italy very soon and I’m going to wear it with white linen trousers (RTW ones sadly, I bought them when time ran out for making last summer) The photos don’t do the fabric and the colour justice at all but I think it’s going to be a summer favourite, it isn’t even my usual colour choice either!

This is the only M&M pattern I have, their aesthetic is very pared-back and utilitarian and not necessarily my thing but as you can see a variety of fabrics can make a simple style look very different-I don’t think I’m done with this pattern yet, I haven’t even made a dress version yet!

Happy sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Kaftan top & dress

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Summer is (allegedly) on it’s way at last and so my sewing thoughts turn to summery frocks. On that optimistic basis I decided on the Kaftan top and dress as my next Simple Sew blogger review and this time we have Doughty’s Online as one of our generous fabric sponsors too. I have to confess I wasn’t familiar with them but when I checked out their website I was very impressed with their wide selection of fabrics available. I chose this beautiful digitally-printed cotton lawn by Lady McElroy fabrics in a design called ‘Scottish Emblem’ and it’s lovely quality, similar to Liberty Tana lawn I’d say.

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Before I cut into the lawn I decided to make the top version in some georgette that was languishing in my stash. I’d bought it ages ago in the Birmingham Rag Market without a project in mind, I wrote post about that visit which you can read here.

I’ve made my last few Simple Sew makes in size 14 based on my measurements and this one was no different. Georgette is quite wiggly so my advice is to take your time laying it up, tear the cut ends to get a really straight edge and use the edges of the table to give you a visual ‘marker’ to lay the fabric up as straight as possible. You can even layer it between spot-and-cross paper but that’s longwinded and uses up your paper. Georgette is also sheer and frays quite badly so I used French seams throughout. The pattern calls for bias binding on the neckline and sleeves but that would be too heavy on georgette so I simply pin-hemmed them instead.

This revealed a bit of an issue with the depth of the V!

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Crumbs! I’ll need a vest under this!

It all went a bit pair-shaped at this point because I got in a right two-and-eight with the buttonholes and the casing for the waist. I wasn’t happy with the position I sewed the buttonholes (according to the pattern) although in the end after a lot of messing about I left them where they were and made the casing wider around them but narrower for the rest. I found the instructions a bit confusing so I urge you to take each stage carefully and take into consideration how wide your ribbon/cord/elastic is when making the buttonhole openings and make the channel only as wide or narrow as you need it to be, not necessarily the width marked on the pattern.

Once I was happy with this first version I went ahead and cut out the full-length one in my lovely cotton lawn. It has a large repeat which is a one way design although not with an obvious up or down-in other words, everything must be cut going the same way but it didn’t matter which way that is. Just before I cut it I noticed when I placed the CB bodice on the fold that the neck edge isn’t quite ’true’ which would result in a slight point in the centre of the neck. It isn’t difficult to correct this.

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If you don’t have a Patternmaster use something with a right-angle corner like this envelope to straighten up the line.

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the new line is where you need to cut.

One other change I made before I cut was to raise up the V so it wouldn’t be as revealing as the georgette one!

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Stick an extra piece of paper behind matching the CF line with a new line on the paper behind. Stick it down with tape.

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Decide how much you want to raise the V and draw in a new line so that it blends smoothly with the original.

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There’s a seam in the centre front so mark the seam allowance with a notch

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The back goes on the fold and the front can go against the selvedge, the same way up in this case.

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Because the fabric is a one-way design I needed to cut each skirt piece one above the other instead of interlocking them. Instead of simply folding the fabric in half and wasting two strips down each edge I folded it like this and then there’s useable piece left for something else!

It was just a case of putting everything together like before, the difference this time is that I added self-fabric bias binding to the neck, I also stay-stitched the neck edges to prevent them stretching before I sewed the bias on. First join the shoulder seams then…

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I cut a strip of bias binding which I folded and pressed in half lengthways first. For this method place the it with cut edges matching on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric, sew on with a 5mm seam allowance.

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Trim the seam down to 2-3mm

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Press the seam towards the bias, the second row of stitching you can see is the stay-stitching.

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Turn the bias to the RIGHT SIDE and stitch carefully and neatly close to the edge like this. Now you can join the CF seam together. I learned that this technique is called French binding which I never knew before-every day is a day in school!

Before I joined the under arm seams I added some lovely pom-poms which I’d bought in Liberty especially.IMG_5381

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I sewed it on using a zigzag stitch because it’s difficult to get close as the pom-poms get in the way. You could probably use a straight stitch and a zip foot here too.

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I cut the pom-poms carefully so that there wouldn’t be one caught in the seam.

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The reverse of the pom-poms

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I added a fancy leaf design stitch on my Pfaff to edge it with.

I tried the bodice on and decided that the neck needed the pom-pom trim too, I wasn’t originally going to put it here but the neckline looked a bit plain against my pasty white skin!

 

I pinned it on in two different ways and eventually settled on just around the V

Because I’d bought a very narrow cord to put around the waist I made very small horizontal round-ended buttonholes instead of the larger vertical ones indicated on the pattern. Attach the skirt and make the casing for the cord according to the instructions and you’re almost there.

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I pulled the cord through using a useful old-fashioned tool called a bodkin. Clamp the cord (or elastic) between the ‘teeth’ at the end and slide the small metal loop up towards the teeth until it’s tight and the cord can’t come loose. Then you just push the cord through the channel.

I opted to leave a knee-high split in one of the side seams. The sun came out so Doris posed outside!

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The jazzy orange cord came from McCullough & Wallis in London.

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I eventually finished the georgette version too, I used a shoelace from an old pair of my husband’s shoes in the casing because it was a perfect colour-match! I cut off the ends and embellished them with a few colourful buttons.

 

 

 

I hemmed this one by using the rolled hem setting on my overlocker. It definitely needs a vest under it though!IMG_5569

The kaftan will be a lovely cover-up on holiday in the summer and as I chose the cotton lawn it will be decent enough to go out in public and not just by the pool on hot days too! It would work well in a drapey viscose or look glamorous in a slinky crepe de chine, or a lightweight jersey like interlock. The short version would look nice in a Broderie Anglaise or Swiss Dot too. Instead of the pom-poms you could embellish it using Indian or Chinese-type braid, ribbon or even beading, you could put elastic through the casing too instead of cord or ribbon.

Thank you especially to our new fabric partners Doughty’s Online for supplying my choice of cotton lawn, it’s been lovely to work with and I’m looking forward to being able to wear it…soon, I hope!

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

Anneka tunic by Simple Sew patterns

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I chose the Anneka tunic as my first proper Simple Sew blogger make because I like the front and back box pleat detail and I do like a nice pinafore! It’s one of those styles that you could make in a warm fabric for winter like tweed or corduroy, or in a summer-weight linen or cotton drill perhaps. I have a not-insubstantial stash of fabric that I’ve accumulated over a long period but there wasn’t quite enough of any of the three pieces I wanted use which was so annoying. What I could have done was leave out the box pleats but then it wouldn’t still be the pattern I chose in the first place so there was nothing for it, I had to buy more fabric.

I took myself up to Walthamstow market where the famous Man Outside Sainsbury’s came up trumps with some lovely cloth. If you’re close enough to London he’s well worth a look [Saturdays he’s outside Sainsbury’s and Tuesday and Thursday he’s outside Lloyds/HSBC] I think a lot of his stock is ex-designer fabrics so you can often find some gems. It was fairly quiet when I arrived-it’s worth getting there early before the market starts to get crowded later on-so I had a good look round. I spotted a few possibles but then he drew my attention to some lovely wool which turned out to be Harris tweed. I bought some of the check, and I fell for a beautiful plain red too.

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It might not be much to look at but he has some great fabrics.

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checked Harris tweed and a lovely silky lining

Once I got home I decided to make the Anneka in the red [laziness really, I wouldn’t need to pattern match anything!] The pattern instructions remind you to launder your fabric but because this is wool I’ll have to dry clean it whenever it needs it.

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the Harris tweed symbol

Because I’m super-stingy on fabric quantities in order to cut both front and back on a fold I had to fold the tweed slightly off the norm and not following the lay plan which is more wasteful, the photo below explains that a bit clearer hopefully.

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Both selvedges are folded into the centre but slightly more than half way each, hence the strange way it looks here. Each selvedge was folded by about 42cms towards the centre which means there’s an area of overlap. The front and the back pieces interlock with one another and the pocket and bias binding fit into other areas.

Because it’s wool I wanted to line the dress so I cut that too but it doesn’t need the pleats. Simply place the front and back pieces onto the fold of the lining but without the whole box pleat, you could keep a little of it if you wish though. I actually made a seam in the centre back by using the selvedge simply to save a bit more fabric. I cut some for the pockets too, the photo below should help. The pocket lining is cut smaller than the tweed, minus the fold at the top.

When it comes to construction the first thing to do is make the pockets. I wanted to line the pockets so I used the lining I’d cut to bag them out instead of pressing the edges under as per the instructions.

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One habit that may not have occurred to you to do is a practice called ‘chaining on’ which basically means instead of taking each part that you sew out from under the presser foot and then inserting the next piece, instead, lift the presser foot and pull the sewn piece out of the way slightly and then put the next piece underneath and continue to sew.  Obviously you still backstitch at the start and finish as normal but this can be a big time, and thread, saver. Making a pair of pockets is a good example of this.

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Stitch the lining to the top of the pocket and press the seam towards the lining.

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Fold in half and stitch leaving a gap at the bottom.

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Trim the corners

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Turn through and press, the gap at the bottom will get stitched up when you sew the pocket onto the dress.

Sew the pockets onto the dress-I moved mine slightly further apart than the tailor tacks because I thought they looked a bit close together (they could possibly move down a bit too, particularly if you’re tall with long arms!). Before I sewed them on though I thought I’d try out one of the fancy stitches my new machine does. I settled on a sort of wave which looks quite nice.

You could choose to embellish the pocket top edge using braid or ribbon for example, or you could fold the top so that it’s on the outside instead, as a wide band, and top stitch it down. Or you could make the pockets in a contrast fabric.

Once the pockets are on you can make the pleats in the front and back. Making the actual pleat is fine but getting it nice and central and even on wool needs a little bit of effort. I made a row of tailor tacks down the CF and CB lines so that I could ‘squash’ the pleat flat and know that I had them central all the way down. If you look at these photos you can see how I pinned through the the tailor tacks to the CF and CB seams underneath. Once I was happy they were accurate I basted the pleats down the edges through all the layers to stop them moving about.

 

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Once I was happy with the pleat positioning I top stitched it down in the centre like this. This isn’t part of the pattern instructions [although stitching across the top of the pleat is] but I think it’s quite an important step as it keeps the pleat permanently in position.
Because I’m using pure wool fabric I can use lots of steam, this really helps the pleats stay in place and can be useful in shrinking out excess and any stretched parts elsewhere too. Make sure you use a pressing cloth though so that you don’t get shiny marks on the fabric.  

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I left the basting in position until I’d completely finished the dress. This is before I’d put the lining in and the binding around the neck.

Sew the shoulders and side seams next, I made the lining up to this point too and, after neatening the seams, stitched it inside the tweed with wrong sides together.

The instructions allow for ready-made bias binding so you could choose a matching colour, or a contrast, or make your own as I did.

This was a slightly risky strategy because the tweed is fairly thick but I decided to give it a try. I made about 1.5m of bias which I pressed under by one centimetre on just one edge using my homemade crease-pressing guide. It’s just a piece of cardboard with centimetres drawn on in 5mm increments.

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Yes I have written ‘hem guide’ on it so that I don’t chuck it away accidentally thinking it’s just a piece of card!

Once the binding was pressed I pinned and stitched it to the inside edge of the neck and armholes. This is because I wanted it to come to the outside and then topstitch it down for a visible and decorative finish.

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Sewing the binding to the inside so that it flips to the outside when it’s finished.

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After stitching the binding on I trimmed the seam down slightly [I ‘graded’ it which means that I trimmed the layers by slightly different amounts which should help prevent there being a bulky lump when you’re dealing with thicker fabrics.] Next I under-stitched the binding close to the seam, which is what you can see here.
Now carefully pin and tack the binding down around the neck and armhole edges, try and do this as evenly as possible because it will be completely visible. It’s worth taking your time. Topstitch it down close to the folded edge

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The binding is visible on the outside instead of being hidden inside as usual so take your time with the preparation and topstitching.

If you’re a bit stuck with the binding there’s tutorial on the Simple Sew website which should help, just click on my link.

Finally, finish your hem. This time I decided to use some grosgrain ribbon over the raw edge to stop any chance of it fraying-as you can see I had just enough!!

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The narrowest of narrow margins!

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First machine the tape or binding on the lower edge then turn the hem up as usual and stitch in position.

The lining should be shorter than the main fabric by a couple of centimetres, I did this at the cutting out stage.

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Yay, a sunny day to take pictures

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Overall I’m happy with my first Anneka, I might cut the next one a bit shorter though. This version is nice and cosy and the lining will help it to keep it’s shape. If you’re using pure wool for skirts, dresses or trousers it’s definitely an idea to line it to prevent it ‘seating’ or going baggy. I’m wearing it with a RTW top but a shirt or blouse would like nice too. In spite of the absence of darts and a zip this one wasn’t particularly quick to make because of all the care I had to take with the fabric and various techniques but a slow-sew can be really satisfying if you’ve got the time.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue