Testing the Regatta dress from Alice & Co

Alice & Co are a pattern company run by the mother-and-daughter team of designer, pattern cutter and sewing teacher Alice, and Lilia, who is a museum textile conservator for her ‘day job’. I saw they were requesting new testers for one of their latest patterns and, as I generally enjoy the process of testing and I’m happy to give my time to assist small indie companies when possible, I was pleased to be invited to help.

The Regatta is a summer dress featuring a neckline which pulls up with ribbon to tie on the shoulders, a gathered or pleated waist, patch pockets and a button-back closure.

I had some printed viscose fabric in my stash which my good friend Claire had given me a few months back and I was sure it would be ideal for this test version of Regatta. I think the dress will be great made in a wide variety of fabrics including chambray, cotton poplin, madras cotton check, seersucker or shirting, as well as eyelet or broderie anglaise, washed linen…I could go on!

This is a PDF pattern but unlike many which provide you with ALL the pattern pieces you might require, because of the simplicity of the skirt it only gives you pieces for front and back bodice plus a patch pocket. It needs a total of 8 pages printed in colour rather a selection of dotted/dashed lines. The skirt is merely three rectangles (front and two backs) so rather than waste paper it gives you guidelines to follow for cutting the skirt pieces ‘freehand’. This isn’t as daunting as it might sound, I used the full width of the fabric cut to my chosen length PLUS a hem and a top seam allowance and then the same again but cut into two equal pieces to form the backs.

The instruction booklet is written in a nice friendly chatty style which feels both informative and encouraging, I think the illustrations are well-drawn and clear too. I printed mine out in booklet format which is a good option if your printer will allow it, 3 pages printed on both sides which fold neatly into A5.

I opted to cut a size 16 according to my measurements from the chart but I would definitely come down at least a size for the next one. As the bodice needs to be lined anyway you could make up the lining as a toile to see if you need to make any adjustments and then use it in the dress. Depending on your fabric you could self-line it or, as I did, use a plain cotton. I also decided at this stage that I would line the skirt because my fabric is a bit sheer, plus it’s a floaty skirt so I don’t want any knicker-revealing moments on windy days!! [I made a simple A-line lining, not the full pleated skirt which would have been awfully bulky]

The bodice construction is simple [if you don’t like darts you won’t be a fan though, you’ll need to make 8!]

Follow the instructions carefully for the ribbon channel openings, the diagrams will help if you’re not sure. Take care inserting the ribbons pieces at the back-cut the ribbon into one long piece for the front and two shorter pieces for the backs. You could possibly use wide elastic for this element instead if you want a different look, or make a self-fabric strip or what about using a vintage scarf even?

Once you’ve joined the outer fabric and linings together along the neck edges and armholes you’ll also need to understitch here as much as possible, to give it a nice crisp edge and stop it rolling. Just go carefully so as not to catch the fabric accidentally-you won’t be able to sew everything because it will be inaccessible in places. 

Next, when you sew the actual channels that the ribbons sit in, it might be wise to tack in position first, certainly mark the lines in some way-chalk, pencil, erasable marker-or if you have a quilting guide attachment for your machine use that. It looks like a piece of bent metal which slots in behind the foot of your machine. You can see it better in the photo although this was a different project. This enables you to follow a stitching line which is considerably further away than your usual seam allowance markings on the needle plate will allow. You’ll need to be most careful sewing the back channels because the ribbon is already in position so don’t sew through it by accident, it won’t gather up. Slot the ribbon through the front when you’ve sewn the front channel, or leave it until you’re ready to try the dress on and adjust the bows to your taste at the end.

using the quilting guide attachment to follow a wider width [this was on the Heron dress]

Making up the skirt is simple enough, don’t forget to interface the button-stand areas for stability. The pockets are positioned over the side seams but they could go directly on the front if you prefer.

I opted to use pleats on the skirt because I prefer how they look on me to gathers. I don’t have any sage advice or foolproof mathematical equation for working this out I’m afraid, I just pinned the skirt to the bodice at the side seams, CF and CB button-stand and then fiddled until I was happy with the pleats before stitching it on. There were lots of pins involved!  

lots of pins holding the pleats in position ready to sew.

If you aren’t lining the skirt then you can simply slip stitch the lining in place by hand as per the instructions. As I was lining the skirt too I cut, sewed and hemmed a simple A-line shape in plain cotton which I stitched to the bottom of the bodice lining, obviously it must have the gap at the back for the button opening. I simply caught this down behind the button-stand with a few hand stitches so it doesn’t flap about. So that it doesn’t ride up inside the dress I hand-sewed a few stitches at the side seams and CF where the seams meet to anchor them together loosely.

The lining looks like this inside, it doesn’t need to be the full length of the skirt although it could be if you want.

I used a nice deep hem of 5cms to give the skirt weight. I overlocked the edge and then used the blindhem stitch and foot to sew it up. As the hem is straight you could face it instead with bias binding or ribbon, or a contrast fabric for a different look, either machine top stitch or slip-hem in place by hand. The photos show the blindhem for my machine but most machine manuals will show you how to sew this-definitely practice to get it right as there is a knack to it.

I used 4 buttons on the bodice section and then 6 buttons on the skirt, evenly spaced so that there’s still a nice ‘split’ at the bottom. I have a ‘thing’ about button opening on skirts where the bottom button is too close to the hem, don’t ask me why, I just don’t find it aesthetically pleasing. For a novel detail I used red and blue thread to sew on the bodice buttons and ivory on the skirt. I also added a small hook and eye at the waist seam to take any strain off the button at this point. 

All that remains is to pop your dress on and pull up the ribbons to your desired amount and tie in a bow, trim the ends into neat Vs to stop them fraying. Once you’ve adjusted the gathers to your liking then pin and stitch in a few places as per the instructions to hold them in place evenly.  

I used green Grosgrain ribbon as a contrast to the otherwise nautical colours of my Regatta dress.

I just need to find a nice wide belt to finish it off I think although it works perfectly well without. My Regatta dress has already had two wears since I finished it and it’s quirky details make it stand out. It isn’t an ultra-quick make compared to some styles but it’s worth the effort and makes a charming and feminine summer dress. It would even work in more ’special’ type fabrics too, like panne velvet, Chantilly lace or crepe de chine for an evening or party dress.

Once again it’s been an interesting process to help test a pattern and Alice & Co were quick to respond to queries. Another reason I was keen to assist is because as a brand they are very supportive of the Sew Over 50 cause by reposting images shared by older makers using their patterns, and have generously provided prizes in our previous challenges.

So while the sun is out here in the UK this could be a nice addition to your summer/holiday wardrobe.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

I made a coat!! Butterick 6423 to be precise…

Two years ago I did a 10 week tailoring course at Morley College, London but it’s taken me until now to actually make my own coat. I settled on Butterick 6423 partly because it’s a fairly similar silhouette to a RTW coat I already own and wear a lot, and then, ironically, it came free with Love Sewing magazine just before Christmas.

Butterick coat

Added to this I had 3 metres of lovely turquoise-coloured wool in my stash that was gifted to me about a year ago by a friend who was clearing out her mother’s belongings and wanted the fabrics and patterns (LOTS of them) to go to an appreciative home. Not only that, I had just under 2 metres of almost psychedelic lining fabric which came from a different elderly lady ( I had no idea what to do with it at the time but, as is often the way, it goes really well with this wool)

Because I had plenty of fabric, which makes a change for me as I tend to underestimate, I could cut out the coat without having to watch every centimetre. I didn’t have quite enough lining though so I cut all the pieces which would be visible inside the main body and the sleeve linings I cut from plain lining, again from my stash.

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Sleeve lining, with 4cms of the length folded out

Initially, before I cut the fabric, I pinned the tissue together to check it on my dress-stand. I chose to take 3cms out of the overall body length and 4cms out of the sleeves because they seemed terribly long. This proved to be sensible as you’ll see in the finished garment.

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I used loads of good old-fashioned tailor’s tacks on all the balance marks, I’m not always this meticulous but it proved invaluable for this project.

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coming together slowly…

I found the instructions very clear to follow and I don’t think at any time did I get in a muddle although I do think a common problem with the ‘big’ pattern companies is that the diagrams can be very small making it difficult to see exactly what you should be doing, particularly areas like clipping into important corners eg at the collar/shoulder seam.

Because I do a lot of alterations for people I’ve noticed various techniques employed in the construction of RTW garments. Cuffs, for example, are usually stabilised with iron-on interfacing of some kind so that’s what I did here.

By doing this it stops the cuff from stretching (my fabric is fairly loosely woven too) and gives it firmness and stability. I bought my iron-on interfacing in Goldhawk Rd, London so I can’t really give much detail about it except to say I was told it’s suitable for woollens and tailoring with a light jersey backing. I used it on the collar facing too and it seems to be absolutely fine. You could use a firmer one if you wish, that would make the collar firmer than mine.

There are a few places where you’re told to hand sew hand, attaching the sleeve lining to the inside of the cuffs for example, but if you’re not a fan of hand sewing  it is possible to do this by machine, you just need to get them pinned correctly (double-check you’ve got it right first by turning the sleeve right-side out before you sew it)

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I sewed up the sleeve hems inside using herringbone stitch.

It’s also worth attaching a small amount of the sleeve-lining seam to the sleeve seam inside, this stops any chance of the lining sliding out of the end of the sleeve.

You can do this on the machine, or a few running stitches will do the job.

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This is the inside of the back-neck collar seam. I’ve pinned them together and then stitched to keep the seam from shifting about.

Making the back pleat needs a bit of concentration partly because the lining gets stitched together with it-this makes sense because it reduces the bulk if you’d done them each separately. I opted to partly stitch the pleat together for about 10cms down from the top simply so that it didn’t have a chance to be to flappy in wear. IMG_0024

Once the pleat section is sewn on the instructions say to slip-stitch the lining down. Again, it’s possible to do this on the machine, you need to work your way into the right place by going in through the gap at the front between the facing and the coat front. IMG_0023

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I sewed the coat hem up using herringbone stitch because I think it holds a hem nice and firmly. You sew this stitch from left to right, looping each stitch backwards from the previous one, one above then one below.

Throughout the making process I pressed often and used plenty of steam, with a pressing cloth to prevent shine. If you’re using pure wool you can press and re-press because it’s very forgiving although be more careful if you’re using a fabric that isn’t well or is made with mixed fibres. As my tutor on the tailoring course often said, “steam is your friend” A tailor’s ham is a great boon too because it will enable you to press in tricky areas or under curves seams, for example.

The lining hem was just turned and machined. To neaten the bottom of the front facing I applied a little bit of self-made bias binding, it’s looks nice and it doesn’t add the bulk that turning the edge over could do.IMG_0027

I also added 2 small loops of fabric to hold the lining and the coat together at the side seams, again this stops it flapping about in wear.IMG_0028

I added a hanging loop at the neck which I should have sewn on by machine at an earlier stage but I forgot so I had to sew it on by hand at the end.IMG_0029

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I sewed a few stitches through the CB neck seams to secure the collar facing and under-collar to each other.

The last thing to do is the single buttonhole. I had a rummage for a suitable button first and I came up with a single beautiful mother-of-pearl one which I’d bought a couple of years ago, simply because it’s lovely! I paid £1 for it and I’ve actually left the tiny price label on the back, just because…

I created a surround of tacking stitches to hold the area firm and stable before sewing the buttonhole. I did several trial ones first because my Pfaff is so new to me and I didn’t want to mess it up at this late stage. Unfortunately the thread I’d used for the whole garment was clearly too dark in such a prominent position so I had to go and buy a single reel of thread just for the buttonhole! When I sewed the button on I sewed another small button on behind it so that the fabric doesn’t have to take all the strain of a button being done up and undone constantly.

This is a coat with a slightly retro aesthetic, it’s a little bit 50’s, the back is a little bit 20’s. The result though is modern and wearable and I’m really happy with it.IMG_0060

I love the fun lining inside too. The wool fabric isn’t that thick though so I don’t think I’ll be wearing it when it’s very cold although there is room for a jumper underneath.

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You can see where I’ve sewn up the pleat by about 10-12cms.

As you will have noticed it’s a difficult colour to photograph accurately, the outdoor ones are probably the closest to the real shade.

It’s been an enjoyable process, I took my time over it and I’m very happy with the result. It would be a good project to try if you’re becoming a bit more experienced with your sewing, nothing is terribly tricky, buy suitable but not too expensive fabric and take your time! I’m glad I took some of the length out of the body and sleeves as they would have been very long. I made the size medium and it was plenty big enough, I think the sizing is definitely on the generous-side though so don’t be tempted to go up a size, make a toile if you need to or tissue fit if you can. I didn’t bother neatening any of the seams inside because all of them were going to be enclosed but you could choose to leave the coat unlined and then bind all the seams (Hong Kong finish) which is practical and attractive.

…and the coat cost me barely anything at all!

Because it was the free pattern with Love Sewing I expect there will be lots of versions of this coat popping up over the winter so it will be fun to see how they all vary. Have you made this pattern, I’d love to know how you got on?

Happy Sewing

Sue

a vintage-inspired posh party frock

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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. DiorDior New LookIMG_0003
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? IMG_0026fullsizeoutput_119

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.

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Wearing the waxed-cotton dress with my first refashions jacket (outside Buckingham Palace in 2016)

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.

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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.

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trying out the pleats

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.IMG_0242

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!!

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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.

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With Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas in September

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.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue xx