Pfaff air threading and a Tesselate Tee!

There’s a lot going on in this post because I’m offering you my thoughts on not one product but three! 

So, a bit of background first…I used to be a keen runner but various injuries forced me to stop and then I never quite got started again. Fast forward at least 3 years and I’d gained weight which I wasn’t happy about, I felt sluggish and lacking in energy, I wanted to lose the weight for the good of my health and mental wellbeing. So, coming up to date, the return to running is going well (if cautiously…) and I’m losing some weight which in turn has inspired me to try making some of my own activewear. Fortunately for me Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade has become a sewing friend of mine since first meeting her at the Sewing Weekender a few years ago and she generously offered me a copy of her Tesselate Tee pattern to try. I’d helped test her Rouleur leggings last year so I already had that pattern. Part of the beauty of Melissa’s patterns is that she gives you really comprehensive instructions to be able to sew activewear using just a regular sewing machine if you don’t own an overlocker. I’m in the fortunate position at the moment to be a Pfaff Brand Ambassador and I have their air-threading Admire Air 5000 on loan, along with a Coverlock 3.0 as well so this all seemed like the perfect opportunity to make some new running kit. 

Suitable activewear fabric is not something I have in my stash other than the scraps left from testing the Rouleur leggings so I had a little online search and came across Frumble fabrics. They have a good range of activewear fabrics at competitive prices as well as an impressive selection of suitable elastics and other trims or haberdashery you might need for this sort of project. I bought a metre of plain navy fabric and a metre of navy camouflage print, along with navy soft waistband elastic, some navy fold-over elastic and, finally, silicone grip elastic. [One point I should add here is that I decided not to pre-wash the fabric, this was based on my own knowledge and belief that synthetic fabrics are usually more colour-fast than natural fibres. I was wrong. The navy came off on my hands as I was making it up so as soon as I finished both garments they have been through the wash after all. I have alerted Frumble so I’m not saying anything here that I haven’t already fed back to them. Overall I’m pleased with the fabric quality and I learned my lesson-prewash even if you think it doesn’t need it!]

I opted to go for a medium size Tesselate top, Melissa has recently layered the pattern so now you only need to print off the size or sizes that you want, I wavered between small and medium according to my measurements. The small probably would have been fine but the medium gives me a little more room without the constant thought that I should be sucking in my wobbly bits! One of Melissa’s USP’s with her patterns is interesting seam lines which means, as well as striking designs, you can often use up small pieces or remnants of suitable fabrics. The Tesselate has a variety of options including short or long sleeves, thumb cuffs, a hood (with ponytail hole!) and back zipped pocket. 

I cut the leggings a mixture between small and medium and I’m happy with the fit of the end result. I had enough fabric for long sleeves on my Tesselate and, although there’s a pattern for the back pocket, rather than print it off I made my own. 

I opted to put the pocket in the back left diagonal seam because I decided I could reach it comfortably behind me and use the zip easily whilst moving if necessary. I drew onto the pattern how big it needed to be to accommodate the essentials.
I placed spot and cross paper over the top and traced off the shape, adding 1cm seam allowance to it.
a new pocket bag labelled and ready

I played around with the fabrics until I was happy with their placement, I had enough of the blue spotty fabric for the back and front side panels, everything else I divided between the two navy fabrics.

Because I was going to be sewing a fair bit of the garments together directly with the overlocker I join the pieces with the pins at least 2-3cms away from, and parallel to, the cut edge. Then it’s safe to sew without the pins being anywhere near the blade.

I’ve made another little video to demonstrate how the air threading works on the Pfaff, you’ll need to bear in mind that it might seem like it takes a while to thread and so where is the advantage in air threading but that’s because I’m trying to explain as I go and I was sitting at a funny angle behind the camera whilst I did it.

After two years of owning the Quilt Ambition 2.0 (now discontinued) I’m used to the quality of Pfaff machines so it doesn’t surprise me that the Air Admire is sturdy (no shifting about on the table while you sew) and very speedy, with a superb quality of stitch. It doesn’t take long to get to grips with the air threading and, as I mention in the video, there’s an automatic threader for both needles too! I couldn’t get the hang of that at all to start with but it’s amazing what a difference it makes if you read the instructions and follow them! Of course, this is an expensive machine and I understand that not everyone will have that kind of budget but if you are considering an air threading overlocker (there are now a lot more models on the market than just market-leader Babylock with prices gradually coming down) then this one is most definitely worth thinking about.

I inserted the invisible zip on the sewing machine, then attached the pocket bag that way too. The T-shirt goes together pretty quickly considering the number of pieces-most pieces are cut singly because they are asymmetric-if you’re using the same fabric throughout it would be an idea to label your pieces in some way so you don’t get them mixed up.

I find it very useful having a variety of stitches to choose from especially when sewing with stretch fabrics, the 3-step zig zag was ideal when I was sewing the elastic into the waistband, I also have an ‘elastic’ stitch which is useful. A lot of machines, even quite simple ones, will probably have a stitch option which will enable you to sew activewear so why not try out a few of them to see exactly what they are, the instruction book should be helpful, or there’s so much information on the internet too.

The finished waistband on the leggings, elastic is completely enclosed in a seam at the top and then I’ve secured it further with a 3-step zig zag stitch
I’ve joined the elastic for the legs into loops which are then sewn to the right side of the fabric, matching the edge of the elastic to the cut edge of the fabric.
I used a small zig zag to stitch it in place. This then flips to the inside and I coverstitched it along the top edge.

To neaten the hems and around the neck I swapped over to the Coverlock 3.0 which I had on the coverstitch setting. Again, this is a very sturdy piece of kit with excellent stitch quality, I am finding there is a certain knack to using it and I’m by no means an expert yet but it certainly gives a very professional finish to knit, jersey or stretch garments.

The Rouleur leggings also have large side pockets which are perfect for holding your phone and/or keys etc (Betsy getting in on the act again too)

As always, I hope you’ve found this helpful, I always try to be honest about how I get on with a product whether or not I’ve been gifted, loaned or purchased it-all three in this case. If you’re tempted to have a go at activewear then Melissa is a good place to start-she’s even written a book on the subject so you’re in good hands!

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

New Trend pattern TPC26 plus tips for handling a tricky fabric.

Firstly, I probably need to give you a quick explanation of why I’m making a fancy frock during the lockdown because it must seem rather incongruous.

This is my first post as a Lamazi Fabrics blogger and before the Covid-19 pandemic reared it’s ugly head I had offered to make an outfit using a slightly ‘tricky’ fabric in order to share a few hints and tips for sewing with it. I selected the beautiful Tencel/Cupro ‘Bark’ fabric in Lavender because we were going to a wedding in late May which would be the perfect chance to make a something using this special fabric. Very sadly that wedding is now postponed indefinitely but I’m making the dress because I’ll still need something to wear when it’s rescheduled. 

The fabric has a lovely weight and handle which makes it drape really well. It’s has a bark-like finish and is different on each side, you could use this to your advantage if you want to create an interesting visual effect by having some pieces with one side out and some using the reverse side. 

I made life harder for myself by choosing the new Bias T-shirt Dress by Trend patterns (generously gifted to me by them) in which EVERY piece except the sleeves are singles and strange shapes which means you cut everything out on a single layer of fabric right side up (RSU). Unlike most patterns, when you are cutting pairs of parts you can usually flip a piece without too much difficulty, however if you do that for a piece which must be cut RSU you would have completely reversed the print/design to the wrong side when you try to sew it up. This Tencel/Cupro has a nice look whichever side you use but my advice is to be really careful on printed fabrics before reversing any piece labelled RSU. 

Next, when cutting slippery or fluid fabrics (unless you have a lovely big cutting table) you’ll need to handle them as little as possible (by which I mean pulling them about to get them into position) which might be easier said than done. I know that cutting out is most people’s least favourite part of sewing but it’s so important to take time and care at this stage. If you’re cutting out on a table with straight sides use the edges as a visual marker to get the end of your cloth at a right angle to start with, ensure the weft (across the fabric) is nice and straight as well as the warp, pull a few threads to find the grain if necessary. If you have more cloth than will fit on the table in one go you could try having the excess rolled on a cardboard tube if you have one to keep it under control rather than sliding off the table all the time. 

Because my pattern has large awkward-shaped pieces cut from a single layer I had no option but to cut out on the floor! This can be physically quite tiring so you might want to get help if you need to. This is slippy slidey fabric so an extra pair of hands could help you lay it up nice and straight, again, rolling the fabric onto a long cardboard tube would also help keep the fabric taut and straight as you lay it out on the floor. This is not a fabric to use weights and a rotary cutter on unless the whole lot fits onto a cutting board without disturbing the fabric, if you’re spending time laying up the fabric carefully so that the grain lines are straight in both (warp and weft) directions you can’t then mess it about shifting a cutting mat underneath it and the pattern pieces need to be secured in place with pins. Cut out carefully moving the pieces as little as possible and try to keep them flat after cutting until you’re ready to sew. All of this will help minimise the pieces stretching out of shape, especially as a lot of this pattern has seams running on a diagonal. 

I felt that the length of the dress would probably be too long for me so I took some of the length out of the skirt pieces before I cut them out in fabric.
I calculated that approximately 5 cms would be sufficient to take out of the length so first I drew a line at a right angle to the grainline, then a second line 5cms from the first.
I pinned each piece to it’s ‘partner’ so that I could see if it would still align correctly after I folded out the 5cms.
It was really just educated guesswork but, eventually, by folding out the 5cms horizontally from each panel I was reasonably confident it would be pretty close.
Why didn’t I just take it off the hem at the end? You could easily do that but because I had just 2.5m of fabric, which may not have been quite sufficient, I could not take that risk so I did it this way instead. It took longer but removed the element of uncertainty.
This is almost everything laid up on the floor, I cut a linen version at the same time which is what you can see on the top. Whilst a single layer is often a very economic way of cutting fabric it’s usually more time-consuming to cut out so I did the two at the same time which was slightly risky but it worked out.

Once I’ve finished cutting out it’s vital to transfer all notches and mark darts and a couple of pivot points so I use old-fashioned tailor’s tacks (obviously you can use a textile marker pen if you prefer, I often do but it’s a pale fabric and I didn’t want to risk any marks being left) It’s a habit of mine to keep all the pattern pieces attached by just a couple of pins to the fabric until I need it, so that I don’t them get muddled. These are curious-shaped pieces so the chance of having them the wrong way round could be quite high! Next I stay-stitched all the neck edges on the machine 5mm in, if you have a very loose weave fabric it would probably be sensible to stay-stitch the bottom edge of the front bodice piece to prevent stretching. If you’re using a particularly fine fabric like chiffon you should stabilise the neck, and any other seams which could stretch, by hand-stitching very narrow cotton tape or ribbon over the seam line on the wrong side of the fabric. When I worked for bridal designer David Fielden many years ago we would cut the selvedges off the silk habutai linings for the seamstresses to use on necklines.

There is just a little fraying on the cut edges which I overlocked singly as I went along, as per the pattern instructions. Whether you’re sewing or overlocking the fabric I strongly suggest you have the whole piece supported on the table in front of the machine rather than feeding up from your lap. This is to prevent the piece becoming stretched as you’re sewing and possibly causing it to become misshapen.

If you find, as I did, that there’s a slight discrepancy between two seams (assuming that it isn’t an error in cutting or adjustment of the pattern) then pin it with the excess on the underside so that when you sew the feed dogs will take up the ease.

You can see the lower layer is a little longer than the top one and by sewing it with this on the underside means the feed dogs should take up the excess.
After sewing but before pressing it looked like this.

My photos should make it clearer, a good press will help steam out some of the excess too. Also, to minimise the risk of making a shiny patch on the fabric make sure you use a pressing cloth, you can often buy silk organza ones although I have a piece of plain fine pure cotton lawn which I’ve overlocked around the edge. I use this when I’m pressing darts or turning points or corners out too.

To sew an invisible zip into the diagonal seam across the back I machined the seam closed but I used a long basting stitch just for the section where the zip will go. This stitching will be removed later.

Line up the teeth with the basted part of the seam, this has been lightly pressed open already.
Pin the zip tape to the seam allowance with the seam and teeth matching.
I prefer to tack the tape to the seam allowance at this point but you could use Wonder Tape if you have it.
Now I removed the basting stitches and sewed the zip in using an invisible zipper foot. The zip I was using was longer than I needed.
Make a new stopper for the zip by carefully sewing backwards and forwards a few times over the teeth, cut off the excess then secure each side of the tape to the seam allowance using a regular zip foot.

Once the zip was in and side seams sewn up I checked the fit on myself. I cut a UK 16 and overall I’m happy with the fit and apart from the length I made no alterations to the bodice. Because I made the linen version first I already knew that the shoulders were a bit too broad for me and the sleeves dangled too much off the crown of my arm. I calculated that I needed to remove approximately 3cms to lift them up to a slightly better position. I found I didn’t need to alter the sleeve head though, fortunately it still fitted into the armhole. Another thing I did decide at this point was that the sleeve needed ’something’ else so I mocked up some small pleats and pinned the sleeve into the armhole to try out the effect.

I mocked up some small pleats with the sleeve pinned into the armhole.
I drew some markings so that I could then transfer the pleats equally to both sleeves.
More old-fashioned tailor tacks to mark the pleats.
The pleats are equally divided across the centre line of the sleeve.

After making the pleats in the sleeves and sewing up the underarm seam I used a ‘pin hem’ to finish the edge. This is similar to a simple rolled hem but even narrower. Begin by stitching a turning of approx 1cm very close to the edge, trim this carefully  

Sewing a pin hem, this is useful technique well worth mastering because if you haven’t got a rolled hem foot which could do the job, this gives a beautiful hem finish to fine or delicate fabrics.
Finished pin hem on the sleeve
Because I’d made the pattern alterations to the skirt length I wasn’t surprised to find there was a slight discrepancy in levels at the hem. Using a long ruler I averaged out a new straight line and then pin-hemmed it.

I love the 1930s/40s vibe of this dress, the drapey qualities of the fabric enhance the bias lines of the skirt in particular. I really enjoyed the challenge of putting the dress together, there are no particularly difficult techniques as such but it’s an interesting puzzle which you’ll need to spend a little time concentrating on, you’ll be rewarded with a striking but really wearable dress.

Thank you to Trend Patterns for gifting me the pattern, there was no expectation to write a review. You can read my previous review of the Square Dress pattern here. The fabric was provided by Lamazi Fabrics in return for a review which is also published on their own website.

I hope you find some tips and advice in here that might be of use to you if you’re thinking of using a fabric that needs a bit more forward planning than you’re used to. Trend have created another beautiful pattern with stunning and unusual details but the pieces cleverly work with the grain of the fabric so that working with the bias cut is a lot easier than it usually is. They have been gradually increasing their size range too so the TPC26 comes in UK sizes 6-22.

Quite a long blog this time so thank you for reading this far and, until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

Simple Sew Amelia tea dress hack.

The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet. 

The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets! 

Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.

As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hem making sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth lineI traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible. 

In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip) 

Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre. 

From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient widthFinally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance. 

I increased the sleeve head by 2cms, moving it out by 1cm either side of the shoulder notch.
It’s important to keep the sleeve level when you add the extra width so draw a line at a right angle to the grainline, then move the pattern piece 1cm in each direction using the line as the axis.

Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.

stabilised side seam before the zip goes in.

After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling. 

The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturally pucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.

Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.

Attaching the shirred waist section to the upper bodice.

Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.) 

Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.

The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once. 

Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.

 This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends. 

Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions. 

All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment. 

I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it. 

Lots of pictures swishing about!

I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!

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

Simple Sew Palazzo Pants

I decided to try something different to dresses from the Simple Sew collection for my blog post this time so I’ve chosen the wide-legged Palazzo pants. 

I always have a look at any posts or reviews about a particular Simple Sew pattern first to check if there are any pitfalls I should look out for which might influence my decision, or how I tackle making it, and the overall opinion of trousers was positive. I sorted out some fabric from deep in the stash, it’s a viscose from the now-defunct Adam Ross fabrics which has a good drapey quality, although I know it will crease so I’ll wear these permanently standing up! 

There are only 4 pattern pieces to the trousers-front/back/waistband/pocket- which makes them very simple to lay up and cut out, you could even leave out the pockets if you’re short on fabric but why would you leave out pockets?! 

I checked my measurements against the chart to decide my size, I also measured the pattern pieces to get some idea of the ease involved but I was optimistic they would be generally OK. If you’re very unsure, or between sizes, I’d suggest you make a toile that’s about mid-thigh in length to check the fit and comfort around your waist, hips and body length. Leave out the pockets at this stage, there are darts in the back and the front is flat, you could insert a zip in the back if it makes things easier to fit yourself but I didn’t bother. Always sew a toile as accurately as you would the garment itself because if you don’t bother cutting properly or following the seam allowances how will you know where the problems lie? That’s the whole point of a toile! Make any adjustments on the toile and transfer the changes to the pattern pieces. There are no lengthening/shortening lines marked on the pattern so I suggest, if you need to make either of these changes, drawing a line at a right angle to the grainline at a point midway between the waist and crotch level. Fold out or add in length through this line. 

It wouldn’t be a Simple Sew pattern if there weren’t some errors to keep you on your toes and this is no different. On the back piece the pocket placement notches are only printed on size 8 and none of the others. Either transfer the markings to your size or remember to snip them when you’re cutting out the back.  

the notches don’t feature on all the size lines so transfer them across as required.

The lay plan for cutting out shows the main pieces interlocking, which is fine if you have plain or multi-directional fabric but don’t forget to keep the pieces running the same way if you have a distinct one-way print. Also, I didn’t cut out the waistband until I was happy with the fit of my trousers as it’s very shaped piece and if it’s too big or too small you’ll probably need to cut another. Don’t forget to make a snip for the centre back on the waistband, it could have done with a notch for the side seam position though as there isn’t one so it’s guesswork.

I’m not normally an advocate of overlocking the edges until they’re sewn up [because you if you aren’t careful you can easily lose too much seam allowance in the trimming and when you join pieces together you could start to make the garment too small, plus your notches disappear] but, as many of the pieces here require the seams pressed open and flat, I overlocked most pieces first this time. 

You will find that for instructions 4 and 6 the words don’t match the diagrams but the drawings are correct 

Next the pockets go in (unless you wish to check the waist/hip fit first in which case tack or machine baste the side seams and leave the back open where the zip will be inserted in order to try the trousers on) The pocket insertion is easy enough, follow the instructions carefully and don’t sew the sew the openings shut by mistake! Also, don’t forget to sew the bottom of the pockets or all your sweets will fall out down inside your trouser leg!! 

After I’d assessed the waist size (comfortable to loose) and crotch length (comfortable) at this point I cut and interfaced the corresponding waistband [for some reason there are two waistbands printed out but I could find no discernible difference between them so just ignore one and cut a pair in fabric plus one interfacing] 

The reason the waistband goes on before the zip insertion is because the zip runs right up into the waistband to finish at the top, there’s no overlap allowed with button or hooks and eyes. You could use the overlap method if you prefer but you’ll need to add some extra length to the waistband on one end to allow for the overlap. 

The lack of indication of the side seams on the waistband means you’ll need to pin carefully to evenly absorb any fullness of the trousers to ensure a good smooth fit to the waistband. [the side seam is probably at the halfway point but not necessarily, especially if you’ve made any fit adjustments to the waist] 

The instructions and illustrations for inserting the zip are pretty clear however there seems to be a contradiction with an earlier instruction which tells you to sew up the back crotch seam. Illustrations 13-15 appear to have the CB seam unsewn and 16 tells you to sew it up after inserting the zip but previous diagram 6 tells you to sew it up! No wonder I got in a muddle!! My suggestion would be, if you’re using an invisible zip as suggested, leave the CB seam unsewn AND ignore instruction 11 to sew up the inseam until after you’ve inserted the zip. Before sewing the waistband down I added to hanging tapes to each side seam so that I had an additional means to hang the trousers up if needs be.

Hopefully you’ve now arrived at a finished pair of trousers which simply need hemming. After checking the length wearing shoes (they come up pretty long) you could use the simple rolled hem finish as per the instructions or, as I did, leave a sizeable hem of about 5cms to give weight to the very flared leg width. I overlocked the edges to neaten and then used my blindhem stitch with the appropriate foot on the machine to finish [incidentally the photo is of a different project] I don’t use this technique often but it’s a good, and quick, finish on hems that don’t have too much, if any, curve. You could also slip hem by hand of course. 

Different project but still blind-hemming set up

The Palazzo pants are worth persevering with as they have a pleasing smooth fit over the waist and hips which is very comfortable and the leg is wide without being crazy-big. You could shorten them to culotte length very easily, they would work well in a variety of fabrics including linen, chambray or crepe, fabrics with a bit of drape and fluidity will look nicest as you don’t want to look like Coco the Clown!

I’m wearing them here with a top made from broderie anglaise that I found in a whole collection of fabric I was given by a friend. Her mother had been a wonderful dressmaker and I found the fabric pre-cut as this simple top which so I just sewed it up.
I’m wearing them here with one of my trusty Camber Set tops from Merchant & Mills

Overall I’m pleased with these trousers, they are a good fit and make a nice alternative to a skirt or close fitting trousers especially in warm weather.

If you encounter any problems with them that I might be able to help with do message me and I’ll try my best.

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

Trend Asymmetric Dress TPC2

Firstly, some context. My dear friend and culture-buddy, Jenny, is getting married in April next year and I want something nice to wear for the wedding! I had no preconceived idea of what I wanted except that it needs to go with the beautiful grey hat I bought for a family wedding in July this year. I’d visited the Knitting & Stitching Show in October and almost as we were leaving we passed the Trend Patterns stand. I’d had a look at their patterns last year and was really impressed by their high-end design-led styles but ultimately decided they probably were a bit too ‘out there’ for my everyday clothes (and, dare I say it, my age…) This time though, I spotted the asymmetric dress as a sample in black crepe on the rail and instantly thought it would be perfect for the wedding. Added to which, we’re going on a cruise in March so I could get extra use from the pattern with my posh frock requirements for that haha. 

I like the quirky uneven hem and off-centre front seam, waistline and neck but it was all still the right side of wearable, for me.

I’d had some royal blue crepe from Hitchin market in my stash for quite a while so this is what I’ve made the first version in.

I started off by tracing off all the pieces, because of the asymmetry almost all the pieces are singles except the back bodice, the front skirt pieces are particularly large. If you decide to trace it’s vital that you transfer the grainline accurately and label all the parts correctly otherwise you could end up in a muddle. 

The same goes for cutting out too. Don’t reverse or flip any of the pieces as this could mean they may end up not matching or piecing together correctly.

This style is sleeveless but I wanted to add sleeves to make it a winter dress. To do this, first I measured the armhole accurately and then I got really lazy and chose the sleeve from another pattern, in this case the Orla blouse by Tilly and the Buttons because it features a pleated sleeve-head which would allow for any differences in their measurements. 

Because my fabric is plain the cutting out was straightforward enough although, that said, I had to lay it out on the floor because the fabric is a single layer, full-width so it was physically quite taxing. If your fabric has a right and wrong side be reallydiligent about keeping all the pattern pieces the correct way up, it’s not a dress to cut out if you’re tired or not concentrating.

My ‘helpful’ assistant!

As I was adding sleeves I decided not to do the facing to enclose the neck and armholes and to fully line the bodice instead, which would finish off the neck edge. I’d then overlock the armholes once the sleeves were in. Something worth remembering if you’re going to line this dress is that every piece except the backs should be reversed because of the asymmetry. IF the lining is the same on both sides this isn’t so important but if you’ve chosen something with a distinct right and wrong side then it’s vital if you want it to look nice inside as well as out. Don’t forget that the seam allowances are just 1cm, not the more usual 1.5cms for most patterns.

I have to say that although the dress is classified as ‘easy’ I really think this would tax a beginner a lot. As you probably know if you read my blogs regularly I’ve been sewing for years and I didn’t find all the explanations and methods terribly clear. I think this is possibly because the patterns are made by a lady who has worked in industry rather than home-sewing where methods can be quite different, and I do appreciate she is aiming to offer us patterns which are more fashion-led. It isn’t that I think the instructions are wrong, they aren’t particularly, it’s just that the wording isn’t very clear, there isn’t enough explanation and the accompanying photos are too small and a bit dark. I got there in the end but it’s something to be aware of. I’d suggest basting pieces together first if you’re in any doubt, trying it on and then continuing a stage at a time, and definitely don’t skip stay-stitching the neckline as you don’t want it stretched. I always try very hard not to outright criticise a pattern because I know it’s someone’s hard work but the description for zip insertion really needs looking at. Basically there isn’t any description, this is fine if you can wing it but to truly be an ‘easy’ pattern then there needs to be more description of what’s expected than this and also better photos or drawings. 

Moan over!

The Orla sleeves went in perfectly and the shoulder pleat looked very in-keeping with the rest of the dress. I didn’t line the sleeves and, at the moment, I haven’t lined the skirt either, I’ll wear a slip under it. [The simple truth is I couldn’t get my head around how to reverse the skirt lining for the off-centre waist seam and to take out the overlap which isn’t needed in the lining! CBA for this version to be honest] I cut a 14 straight out of the packet and I’m very happy with the sizing, I feel it came up accurately to the measurements giving. 

Ultimately I really like this dress and I’m looking forward to making another one, or possibly two, for the wedding and the cruise. It’s striking and unusual but also very wearable, and it makes a real change from some of the mimsy styles that can sometimes proliferate. It works beautifully in crepe but soft fabrics like georgette or crepe de Chine could look beautiful. Or if you look at Trend’s own website there is a fabulous structured brocade version which looks terrific. A stripe or a checked tweed could look really interesting too, there are loads of possibilities. Trend Patterns are at the higher end of indie pricing so they won’t be for everyone but if you want to try more challenging styles which are very much fashion forward then they are definitely worth considering. 

nearly finished, just the sleeve hems to turn up.
The TATB Orla sleeves fitted into the armholes really well.
Heading out for my Mum’s birthday lunch

Have you tried any trend patterns, or are you tempted to?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here be dragons!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Sewing,

Sue

 

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