Did you keep any of your old college course work? I am by nature something of a hoarder but even I was surprised when an unpromising cardboard folder came to light recently while we were having a grand clear out. It said “Russia 1980” on the outside so I was excited to think that it contained some memorabilia from my school trip of that year [The trip caused some local controversy at the time because that year the USSR had invaded Afghanistan just a matter of weeks earlier and some people felt we should no longer go. Our Head Mistress, the doughty Miss Pagan, was having none of it so we went regardless! Many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics later that year in protest…about the invasion, not because my school trip went ahead]
I digress, upon opening the folder I found it contained nothing of that trip at all but it did contain many of the sketches and designs I produced whilst at London College of Fashion between 1983-85 including the final project when I produced two ‘mass market’ bridal outfits. Well what a trip down memory lane they proved to be! It was a period of my life when I was so happy with what I was doing, I’d finally found the right course for me (technical garment construction and not just design) I had a great bunch of college mates, I loved it.
I’m sharing the sketches partly because then I’ve documented everything for my own reference and enjoyment, but also because I hope there might be things of interest to others as well. Fashion-wise the early eighties were a time of puffball skirts and massive ruffles, enormous sleeves and ra-ra skirts, wide collars and even wider shoulder pads! Princess Diana was the style darling of the fashion magazines and whatever she wore became a trend. Last year I shared lots of press clippings and photos from my early working career which you can still read here.
What follows are the design and development sheets for an evening wear module [you can see now why it’s my first love when it comes to making] We had to design variations of similar dresses and gowns to illustrate how a garment could be adapted and simplified to cater for it’s appropriate market.
For my final project I opted to make two bridal outfits, I’m guessing they were mid-range and the jacket and skirt was probably intended as a register office outfit whilst the ‘Laura Ashley” dress and jacket was probably for a simple church wedding or registry office. I had a real client for the suit which was my then-boyfriend’s sister. This was handy because she paid for the fabrics for it, the jacket and skirt were white crepe-back satin and the blouse underneath was a soft green georgette. I think my ‘brand’ was possibly Jacques Verts who specialised in smart workwear for the modern working woman (definitely power shoulder pads with everything) or mother-of-the-bride type outfits with matching everything, dresses, jackets, hats, bags, shoes, the lot.
Laura Ashley were hugely popular in the Eighties with their feminine and floral styles, they also produced a range of dresses for brides and bridesmaids at reasonable prices so that will be why I picked them as my brand for this project.
Well, there we are, another wander back into the past for some Eighties fashion extravagance. You’ll see why I probably won’t embrace the current trend for wide collars because I did them the last time around (although fabulous sleeves will always hold an attraction for me) we were all busy being New Romantics but that Steve Strange eye make-up was difficult to pull off with glasses!
A lot has happened since I wrote my last Simple Sew blog post, Christmas for one thing, and I had a lovely holiday in the sunshine too but now we are all confined to our homes because of Covid 19. Without wishing to trivialise the gravity of this situation, one of the side effects of it is that you might have more time to sew.
I’ve had a rummage through my Simple Sew patterns to find one which I haven’t already shown you, and which has opportunities to hack, and I settled on the Chelsea Collection. This is a capsule wardrobe of a short sleeve blouse with two variations, a pair of trousers and a button-front skirt in two lengths. I liked the blouse with it’s shirred sleeves and keyhole back detail but I decided to mix it up a little by adding a button front. Normally we are able to select fabric from a couple of generous sponsors but I wanted to ‘shop my stash’ to find something this time. I found a very pretty vibrant floral John Kaldor cotton lawn which I think I picked up from a swap table sometime and I knew would work well for the blouse.
I didn’t want the blouse to be overly tight so, after checking my measurements I opted for a larger size than I’ve made previously. If you’ve been a regular reader of my posts you’ll know that I tend to check Simple Sew patterns for any discrepancies before I start. There didn’t seem to be any glaring ones but I just added a slight curve to the back hem so that it dipped in the same way as the front and I trued the shoulder seams so there was a smooth flow from front to back.
As I wanted to alter the front significantly I had to make some changes there first. In order to create a button-stand I simply added 2.5cms to the centre front all the way down what would have been the fold. [2.5cms was a fairly arbitrary figure because it depends really on what size buttons you’re using, a general rule of thumb is that the bigger the button the bigger the button-stand needs to be so that there’s enough overlap and the garment doesn’t end up too tight because the overlap isn’t big enough.]I was able to do this by drawing directly onto the tissue before cutting the piece out as there was enough space to do so.
If you’ve already cut a pattern that you want to add to just stick some extra paper to the centre front fold line, or trace off the whole piece again adding the extra. The original front had a facing for the neckline so now I needed to create a new facing which would neaten both the neck edge and the button-stand. To do this I simply traced off the whole of the new front opening including the neck edge and made the facing a depth of 7cms all the way down from shoulder to hem, with a smooth and gradual curve. The photo should make this clearer. The back neck needed a new facing too because the existing one took the armhole into account. Again I traced off the section I needed making it 7cms at the shoulders to match the front facing.
The final change I made was to lengthen the sleeve a little and add some more fullness to it. I started by making the sleeve 5cms longer and then I drew 3 vertical lines on the pattern at approximately the front notch, back notch and shoulder seam points. [Depending how much extra fullness you want to add to a sleeve you could use more places than this but do try to space them evenly apart.] Next I cut up each line from the bottom until I reached almost the top, I left this very slightly attached. With the piece flat on the table I spread the bottom of each slit by about the same amount, probably about 4 cms, then taped slithers of paper into each gap.
If you don’t want to cut the pattern up you can do the same process by still marking the vertical lines on then pivoting the uncut pattern at the top of each line, use a pencil or your finger as the axis. Draw or trace around the first section, which remains stationary, then each subsequent section after you pivot it to so that you get the extra fullness being added at the hem. Opening up the wedges in this way means you’re adding fullness to the hem but not the crown of the sleeve, if you want extra fullness in the crown spread the whole piece more or less parallel. The grainline should run equidistant down the centre of the new piece (unless you want to cut it on the bias)
Having done all this I cut it out and was ready to sew!
I started by joining the shoulder seams of both the blouse and the facings (which I’d interfaced and neatened) then I attached the facings to the neck edge, turned, understitched and pressed. The keyhole back calls for a small rouleau tube as a button-loop which needs to be inserted at the same time as applying the facing although you could choose to make a hand sewn thread loop and stitch that at the end. In fact it isn’t even vital that this is a functioning loop if you’ve got a front opening, the keyhole is purely decorative now.
I put the blouse onto Doris to check it was looking OK and this was when I found that the keyhole appeared to be bagging outwards quite significantly. I decided not to do anything at this point and I would check again once I had sewed the side seams and put the sleeves in, then I would get a better idea by trying it on myself.
I made three rows of shirring on the sleeves next, using my quilting guide to make sure the first row was 5cms from the bottom edge, the next two rows were then sewn parallel to the first. [Refer to a previous blog post on how to sew shirring if you haven’t done so before] Next I sewed up the sleeve seams and pin-hemmed the bottom edge to give a neat finish.
After sewing up and neatening the side seams I inserted the sleeves. At this point I tried the blouse on again to check the keyhole on myself and, with real shoulder blades under it, it didn’t seem so noticeable. Two other things struck me though, the blouse was a little too big so I took it in on the side seams and also the blouse was a bit shorter than I expected. In order to take as a small a hem as possible I made some bias binding from offcuts of the fabric then stitched it (folded in half lengthways and with the cut edges together) to the hem using a narrow 5mm seam allowance [This is a useful finish to any hem or edge where you need every spare centimetre of fabric.] Have a look at the photo which shows you how to get the ends of the binding enclosed within the front facing. I turned the binding up and top-stitched in place.
Finally, I found some ‘vintage’ buttons amongst my treasure trove and there were just the right number meaning the whole blouse had been sourced from what I already have!
Well I hope now that I’ve made it that I’ll have a chance to wear my Chelsea blouse somewhere other than in my own garden this summer, who knows? Maybe you’re reading this long after the emergency ended and life has returned to some sort of normality, although it definitely won’t be exactly as it was before.
Sewing our own clothes is an activity which gives us so much enjoyment for a variety of different reasons and, right now, the simple act of creating something is chief amongst them for me. It’s absorbing and the problem-solving gives me something else to think about.
I think the keyhole back is, by and large, just about acceptable when I’m wearing the blouse. I also think the cure could be to add a centre back seam instead of cutting on the fold so that the point of the keyhole could extend beyond the centre back line, this would hopefully bring the button and loop closer to one another when they are done up…this is just my theory based on experience and I haven’t tried it out. It’s such a nice little detail that I’m disappointed it hasn’t worked out quite right. I also regret not reading my fellow Simple Sew bloggers reviews of the blouse because then I would have known how short it comes up, personally I would add a minimum of 8-10cms to the length next time.
The sleeves are pretty and feminine but maybe they are a little too girly, the jury is out…
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.
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.
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!
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?