Simple Sew Zoe dress hack

I haven’t written a Simple Sew blog post for a few months but now that Sam Sterken has taken over with the organisation whilst Gabby is having her maternity leave we’re up and running again.

I had a bit of an idea in my head of what I’d like to do using the Zoe pattern which I already had so I chose some medium-weight enzyme washed linen in dark turquoise generously provided for us once again by Doughty’s Fabrics. I was really pleased with it when it arrived as it wasn’t too droopy but not over-firm either. Incidentally, it’s been terrible to photograph accurately, the final outdoor photos are definitely the closest to the real thing [to see how I altered the Zoe neckline so it wasn’t so wide have a look at my previous blog post in early 2018)

I drew a few sketches of ideas which all involved using the top half of the Zoe-initially I was going to extend the sleeves with wide pleated frills and keep the dress straight but I went off that idea as I felt the fabric was too firm for how I wanted it, I thought it would definitely work well with a peg-top skirt instead however. I wanted a shape that wasn’t too voluminous at the hem and by using an inverted A-line shape I could add pleats at the top but keep the hemline slimmer.

I went with option 4

I tried on one of my existing Zoes (I’ve made 3) so I could assess what length I wanted the top section, and took an arbitrary measurement of 34cms from the centre of the front neckline to where I wanted the waist, which is slightly higher than my natural waistline. As the Zoe has centre front and back seams I then measured from the top edge down to the point where I wanted the waist seam and drew a line at a right angle on the pattern across from that point. I took that line across to the side seam but at the point where the line met the side seam I made it a right angle, which creates a very slight curve on the line. Because the back neck sits a little higher than the front I matched the side seams to one another first and created a similar line across to meet the centre back seam. [It’s important that these lines are at a right angle where they meet at the side seams because otherwise you would have a slight V shape rather than a smooth line from front to back] 

I already have a skirt pattern that I’d drafted last year for a similar peg-top shape, I’d used it gathered though and I wanted pleats on the new dress. Initially I attempted to work out how to get 3 even sized pleats by folding and refolding the paper but I couldn’t quite get it. In the end I decided to cut the pieces in fabric as they were-with a slight modification for the front skirt as that piece was quite different-and then I’d work out the pleats once I was ready to attach the bodice and skirt together.

I cut all the bodice/sleeve/neck facings and assembled the bodice first. I’ve found that it’s easier to sew up the shoulders and attach the neck facings as described in the instructions but then attach the sleeves with the bodice open flat before sewing the side seams rather than in the round. The photos should help make this method quite clear. I added rows of contrast triple straight stitch to various seams as I went including around the neck [I used the quilting guide which came with my machine to do this accurately]

the sleeve is pinned on with the bodice opened out flat
the seam is pressed towards the sleeve
then the sleeve is pressed up towards the shoulder
the underarm seam is sewn up, overlocked together and then the sleeve is folded up again and top stitched into position.
On the outside I used the quilting guide on my machine to sew 4cms away from the finished edge of the neck.
top stitching on the neck edge.
the finished bodice

Next I cut the front and back skirts from the remaining fabric, plus I also cut two pairs of pockets for the side seams using the cardboard template I’ve made. [Just choose a pocket pattern that suits the size and shape that you mostly use to go in side seams and then make a cardboard version, mark the grainline and then all you need to do in future is place it on your fabric and draw around it with a pencil or chalk, it saves a paper piece getting scrappier and scrappier with constant use.]

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the back and front skirt sections, the back is placed again the selvedge and the front extends all the way to the fold, I didn’t cut down the righthand side of the pattern as it looks here.

I made up the front and back skirt sections, adding the pockets to the side seams, then top stitched the CF seams as before, I didn’t top stitch the CB seam at this stage as I wanted to be able to sew in a continuous line with no breaks and I couldn’t achieve this until the hem was turned up too. Incidentally, as many of the seams were going to be pressed open inside the dress I overlocked the edges of most of them first then sewed the seam and pressed open. 

Next I pinned on the skirt starting by matching the centre front, back and side seams. Because I had no other markings now I played around with different positions for the pleats until I happy with how they looked. This will vary according to what size you’ve cut the waist but for mine I settled on 10cms each side of the CF seam for the first pleat and then the second and third pleats were a further 4 cms away from the previous one. I checked all the measurements to ensure that they were each symmetrical and well-balanced before I sewed it all together, overlocked to neaten and added another row of top stitching to the waist. 

Initially I tried to work out using my existing skirt pattern where the pleats would go but I couldn’t quite get my head around it so I chose to try it freehand in the fabric which, in the end, was a lot better.
the pins mark where I would match the pleats to the bottom of the bodice.
finished pleats!

This just left the hem length to check, I had opted for quite a long skirt length because I wanted the dress to be a fairly loose throw-on shape but not too baggy or undefined. I was happy with the length I’d plumped for so I used the triple straight stitch once again around the bottom and then down the CB seam, creating an angled line to define the facing which finished the slit opening. 

I’m not always super-happy with everything I make (and in truth I’ve positioned the pockets a little bit low in this dress) but I can’t wait to wear this dress during the summer! I’ve only ever worn my previous Zoes with long-sleeved tops layered underneath in chilly weather so it’s a bit of a revelation to realise that the sleeves are the perfect length for a summer dress. I think the skirt shape is more interesting than just a gathered dirndl and the lime-green contrast topstitching is a bit of fun. The linen is a great weight for this too, it will be crumply but that’s part of the charm of linen fabric…I think I may have to make more of this frock!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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