By Hand London Alix


By Hand London ‘Alix’ is a dress pattern in three length variations to be released shortly.  I made the pattern-test version which is going to be amended once all the testers report their findings.


The dress was originally conceived as a maxi and according to its designer, Elisalex, it was inspired by the David Hockney painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1971).  The woman in the painting was and still is a designer, the celebrated Celia Birtwell (somewhere in my stash is a rather rare fabric of hers I bought many years ago).  The design attempts to capture an early seventies vibe.  1-tech-drawing

The blurb reads: Inspired by the dreamy glamour of the 70s, Alix will take you effortlessly from a hazy summer festival to an elegant soiree in town.  A high-waisted prairie dress with a V-neck yoke, inset waistband, tie back belt and a full skirt, pleated at centre front and back.  And best of all, no zipper.  With long, billowing raglan sleeves secured at the wrist with a delicate elasticated cuff and three skirt length option (& everything in between!) Alix can be just as at home worn with a pair of beat up old jeans as she is swooshing down the red carpet…!


1-muslinUsing some old bedlinen I first made a muslin to familiarize with the instructions (there are usually a few mistakes at the pattern-testing stage which is one of the main reasons why some pattern companies ask for testers; and why it’s helpful for the testers themselves to have experience of using commercial patterns). I also wanted to check how plunging that V-neckline is.  I think the depth is pretty good but after exposing myself liberally all summer, I wanted a warmer garment so in the grey version the front yoke is 3cm higher.

Adjusted pattern piece


Raising centre front by 3cm











1-side-alixI’ve made four other changes.  I lengthened the hem by 16cm (as with the raising of the décolletage, I am fully committed to a process of nunnification of this dress).  I have added piping to the waist ties, waistband and the yoke/neck – in fact I made over 6 metres of piping which gave me a lot of satisfaction as I was able to use up one of a hundred pieces of black fabric remnants lying about that I am unable to throw away out of deep loyalty to the two tribes to which I belong: Goth and ‘Green’.  I have lined/underlined the back and skirt (only the front bodice and the sleeves are not lined).  Finally, I thought ‘the delicate elasticated sleeve’ wasn’t ambitious enough and so trimmed the last 3cm off the length then gathered the sleeves into cuffs, which are also piped.  The finished cuff is 3cm tall and 24cm wide all around which is quite a lot more than my wrist measurement but just enough for me to be able to put my hand through without feeling like an escapologist!  Oh, and I interfaced the yoke, back of neck and waistband.

Inside front

Inside front, showing skirt lining.


Inside back, showing underlining

Inside back, showing underlining














1-frontWhat I like about this pattern is that it’s nicely constructed (pretty on the inside) and it gives scope to being creative. At first I imagined a mostly black, slinky maxi in viscose, preferably printed with cats or something eccentric and a turquoise waistband, ties, neckline for creating contrast and drama.  But you go to the shops and vision is compromised by the fabrics available. This fabric may appear grey and possibly drab, but I promise that if you 1-fabriclook closely it has sparkle, a sprinkle of a silver metallic. It has a feel of both viscose and wool and was a bargain from Simply Fabrics (which really impressed me with their range this time).  It was the end of a roll so I am going to think very carefully how I will use up the last 0.75 metre I have left.

Family critics like the dress but commented on the unusual appearance of the bust, which is shaped by a small inverted pleat.  It will be difficult to adjust this by changing the pleats to gathers at this stage: those particular pattern pieces are sandwiched between the inner and outer waistband (and indeed, the piping) but it’s worth bearing in mind if you intend to make it yourself.  (*Nipple tweak update: see last photo)1-alix-bhlI hope everything else, like the lovely yoke, will detract, though I may just fix.

Many thanks to the frightening woodland creature who took my pics!


NIPPLE TWEAK UPDATE: I’ve replaced the pleats with darts, sewing them without unpicking the waistband pieces.  The dart points are machine stitched and from about half way the wider ends are ladder-stitched.  It’s not an ideal way of sewing the dart but I think it’s enough for the unknowing eye to be detracted by all the other detail…  Better?1-nipple-tweak-update

Superstyle me!



1 v1285 cover pattern envelopeWhat kind of a beast* is this?  No, not him – I mean the dress I’m wearing.

Django can be unpredictable (which is why I look a bit wary here).  Once with his claws he accidentally shredded a dress I was wearing.  But this dress is safe.  The denim’s pretty thick.  In fact the dress holds me up when I sit in it.

1-creaseThis pattern, V1285, was a gift from Lesley, a kind of reciprocal pattern exchange we tried.  She’d told me she was going to send me a pattern from her stash that she thought would suit me and when it arrived I was delighted.  I had an immediate vision of the dress I’d make and went straight to trouble, firstly buying this kind of dark blue-grey stretch denim with a surface sheen redolent of what some of you might call “market jeans”….   (I really believed stretch denim would work as well as the recommended “two-way stretch knits only:” Rayon, Spandex, Cotton Spandex….  )Then I did weird stuff, topstitching everything…  No way was I going to  tolerate those perverse ‘external darts’.  I was like Harrison Ford’s character in Mosquito Coast,  blinded by a ruthless determination… I was so driven to recreate the look of a heartbreakingly expensive Hobbs dress I’d seen years ago, it took me right to the end to admit I was painstakingly recreating the kind of look you get on …. market jeans.  Luckily the tension on home-made topstitching it pretty rubbish so all that expensive topstitching thread is really easy to unpick.  The dress now looks darker and subtler, but those flapping darts are not served well by long periods of sitting down.


Target: Hobbs NW3 Denim Dress


Capture: market denim topstitch thang




But the worst part was the mistake in the instructions on what is my favourite part of this pattern, the notched neckline band (step 6).  I’m struggling to understand why no review pointed this out….

This is a close up of the notch, on the right side and inside:

The right side looks fine, the inside is a bit unattractive.  But that’s my second bodice.  If you follow the instructions which suggest you attach the neck band to the inside first, you’ll end up with the mess on the right side of the garment.  Really Vogue?  That is perverse.

I think my finished dress looks better off than on.  The A-line skirt is not flattering to my short shape but the notched neckline is fabulous and it’s a good transition garment (to autumn), with lots of coverage if made in a warm fabric.  There’s the option of making a slip and camisole too which I may attempt if I make this again (I’m on the lookout for some shimmering stretch velvet).

How to style it though?  It’s not good enough to stand alone.

A one-inch wide Belt in tan, the same colour as Django?

Or an Animal-print belt?

Tights and heels?  And maybe a silk scarf.

A more colourful vest underneath (something has to be worn underneath as the neckline is low cut and stands out rigidly?)

It seems neither smart enough for an office, nor soft enough for a fun day out!   In what setting does this belong?  A charity shop?!1 vogue 1285 pattern envelope

Should I just remake it, next time avoiding the self-inflicted wounds of attempt no. 1.?

Please advise.

* The number of the beast: V1285 (pattern envelope description) ‘Lined, mock wrap dress has collar, close-fitting bodice with bands, hook and eye, fitted skirt, overlay with mock band, belt loops, sleeve bands and invisible left side zipper. Darts are stitched on the right side of fabric. Lining forms attached slip with shoulder and lingerie straps.  Purchased belt.)1-django-the-pup

Invisible Mending

1-two-holesI dug out of the wardrobe my Jigsaw suit – which I haven’t seen for a few years! – and immediately spotted two little holes on the back of the right shoulder.  ‘Moths!’ I thought, ‘Aargh!!!’  But wait a minute.  If it was moths, why hadn’t they gone for my much tastier wool skirts and cashmere cardies, which I check often and they’re always fine?  In fact the holes looked very much like those I get on my T-shirts, always over the navel area and made, I suspect,1-satchel-strap-buckle by the buckle of my belt.

I think these holes were made by the buckle on the adjustable strap of my bag which I carry on my right.

I needed the suit almost pronto and didn’t have much time to do thorough research on how to repair it but a quick look on YouTube with the search term ‘invisible mending’ was mostly disappointing.  So I improvised a little repair job.  Tell me what you think.


  • I opened up the lining to get to the inside.  I cut off a small rectangle of fabric from the seam allowance after staystitching it half way to stop fraying.


  • I cut this rectangle in half and after dabbing some Pritt Stick (don’t scream!) on the affected area of jacket, I stuck the squares over the holes.


  • I cut a piece of fusible interfacing.  On the inside, I placed it over both patches and pressed with iron to seal all three in place.  I used a piece of silk organza when pressing the right side to stop the garment from getting shine.  No, I really did remember to do this, eventually!


1-after-repairNow the right side looked like this.  It was enough to stop light getting through but still those little sunken circles, like a vampire bite in Hammer Horror, bothered me.  I remembered one of my many chats with the dry-cleaner (a bit of a mate of mine these days), who told me the Invisible Mender comes every Thursday to do his thing.  I popped by to ask about the service but the dry cleaner shook his head.  ‘He died!’ he said.  My jaw dropped…  He wouldn’t be recruiting another.  The repairs were costing £50 and people were unwilling to pay, preferring to buy another suit.  ‘But how did he do it?’ I asked.  ‘What did he use?  A machine?!’

‘No, he would ‘weave’, he said.  He shrugged, ‘He’d take thread from the inside…’

A ha !


  • I went back to the seam allowance that keeps on giving and pulled off some threads.  They were too kinky and very short but luckily I had some thread conditioner.  What I didn’t have, and it would have been most helpful, is a needle threader (where did they all go?!)



  • I had to push the needle in before I could thread it, but eventually I got a little darning system going, trying to incorporate the patches beneath into the weave layer. It really helps when the ‘thread’ is exactly the same colour as the garment.  I kept pressing regularly: it made it all look much better!


1-finishedThis is the result, a close up.  I hope you don’t think it looks worse!  The area is bigger than the holes but I hope less noticeable.  It’s more of a ‘graze’ now and if I wear my hair down it will be in a shadow.

Have you ever used an invisible mending service or done it yourself?  Was the repair really invisible?

I leave you with a clip from Lead Balloon, where Jack Dee and Omid Djalili (playing a dry cleaner) have an argument on the topic:

Fluttering Skirt



As a kid at the seaside I used to be fascinated by rubbery hats adorned with large fluttery flowers worn by the kind of slowly-swimming ladies who didn’t like getting their hair wet. My mother had a different kind of hat, though equally fascinating, as it made your head look like a hedgehog.  She never wore it but I did, indoors, and can still remember the feeling of patting my hands over the hundreds of bendy spines as the hat gripped snugly around my head.1-flutter-skirt

When I found this fabric (£5 per metre in Rashid’s Fabric House on Goldhawk Road) I was delighted – it immediately evoked the swimming caps of yesterday!  Admittedly the colour is black but there is no sobriety to this fabric whatsoever. The flowers flutter excitedly as I move!

I decided to turn it into a skirt.  It’s an atypical choice: I’ve always sought to detract from my sagging saddlebags by keeping the silhouette below the waist smooth.  But having shrunk in recent years and with the recent craze for decent derrieres, I’ve decided it would be fun and mould-breaking to build up a little in that department!

It’s a pencil cut with a kick pleat at the back.  I lined it as the poplin is rather thin.

The base fabric is cotton, a light poplin. The flowers must be polyester: they’re very lightweight, sharply cut and don’t fray.  Since buying this fabric in June I’ve seen similar flowers used in rather unsophisticated RTW, as detail on a shirt front for example.

Each flower is attached in its centre by a couple of small stitches which I suspect are also backstitched as they take some time to unpick..  And I would advise to unpick: catching the petals in the seams would not look good so it’s helpful to use the sequin-sewing approach of removing attachments from the seamlines before sewing.  But unlike with sequins, I was able to move some petals temporarily out of the way by basting them folded back and removing the basting once the stitching was done.  I also removed the flowers from joined pieces in places where two flowers would overlap.  1-flutter-flowers

While I was in Canada in July, my aunt and I had a laugh on the topic of being handed  hand-me downs, something of a tradition amongst Croatians.  She then offered me some of her mostly new or hardly worn clothes which I accepted because she has great taste but also because I thought it would keep a kind of connection across the ocean every time I wear her things.  This silk top is one of my favourites from her stash.  It looks peach but is dusky pink.  It’s very understated, unlike the skirt.  I wore this outfit to the Tate last weekend and the skirt raised a smile with a couple of passers-by.  I wonder if they were reminded of swimming caps!


But wait, there’s another connection to Canada.  In Ottawa’s Museum of War I saw this Tlingit Armour, a leather shirt covered in Chinese coins which provide protection while signifying status.  It must shake some, huh?  It reminded me of my skirt: like a po-faced, less frivolous brother.1-vest-with-coins

Sewing Smoke

1 six napoleon dress, version 2

1 smokeI’m probably the only one who’d like this challenge to last a little longer.  I could spend another day just touching this dress up: a few hand-stitches here to control the flaws, pressing the organza to perfection so the fall of the skirt improves…. But it’s September and no amount of pampering will change the fact that ‘it is what it is’ – an expression I’ve been hearing a lot lately, as if we’re collectively learning to become resigned.  And ‘it is’ a dress which only approximately replicates what I intended it to, the image on the right.

Option 2


The Fabric

The cotton bodice worked out well.  The nine pattern pieces are all different and the fit is good.  Instead of inserting boning – which made it difficult to put on in the very first, binned muslin – I flat-stitched all the princess seams, those of the poplin lining too.  This strengthens the shape and means the seam allowances won’t flip over if I ever wash this.  The extra stitching is also meant to give it a utility, punky vibe I’m after.  This ain’t no Will-o’—The-Wisp dress!

1 close up

1 six napoleon challenge

1 bialetti

1 organza

Do you have a stove-top espresso maker?  If so, do you remember getting it out of the box  new and delighting in the  clean silvery aluminium?  That’s the feeling I got when I was shopping and I saw this organza (from here).  I’d seen other possibilities but this one made me excited.  It looks like smoke, it weighs nothing but it’s tough!  Not that I’d go blackberry-picking in it but no shower of pins spilling on it makes it rip, nor me wheeling over it as I push away impatiently from the sewing machine in my chair.  It smells natural when pressed and cares not what setting the iron’s on.  I got lucky with the lining too.  I went straight to the shop which sells my favourite lining (Unique Fabrics) and found a good colour match.  The texture is soft yet it falls and drapes beautifully (unlike your typical dress lining).  Because this skirt isn’t lined but underlined – the pieces joined by French seams of which Le General would himself surely approve – the lining takes the organza down with it, making the skirt less pouffy.

1 take me to the other side

The Design

I didn’t have much confidence in what I was going to do with the skirt but I thought £20 for 2 metres of silk organza was a risk I could afford (it took another £15 for the zipper, the lining and the bodice fabric with its own lining).  Anita’s method assured me that I could make 2 metres work but I was reluctant to have that very low dipping hem so I did something very much like what Stephanie in Seattle illustrated in the L-shaped picture here.  Imagine a length of silk 200cm x 140cm.  Cut into three = 66 cm x 140cm.  Cut one of the rectangles in half.  These almost-squares are your bias inserts.  Once those bias squares are suspended upon a point on the hem, they fall almost vertically.  Here’s a state-of-the-art explanation fashioned out of a rectangle of red origami paper (yellow on reverse)

1 step one-horz

After that, it was a case of pleating and pinning.

1 pin and pleat

Pleating and pinning – till your arms fall off!

Of course, once I starting pinning the skirt, I got the same madly dipping hem that I’d feared.  Every time I turned my back on the dress, the point would droop another 10cm towards the floor!

Then a truly painful part: the leap of faith as I slashed the skirt open so I could insert a zip into the side.

1 cut

Slashing the organza and lining

the zip of horror

It’s not my best zip insertion.  I may just keep my arm dangling over this part when I wear it.

The Construction

Putting everything together took some planning.  There are various traps to fall into such as sewing the side seams of the bodice too soon, or attaching the lining before the topstitching was done.  Joining the bodice to the skirt, right sides together, must have happened when I should have been taking a break or something.  What a mistake: the skirt all lumpy… But I only admitted this to myself after I’d trimmed the seams and edge-stitched the bodice.  🙄  I had to unpick almost all of it.  The second time, I put the bodice on the stand and pinned the skirt to the inside holding it up with several pins to get the excess out of the way and to observe if it hangs straight.  Then I topstitched.

I give myself a C+.  It doesn’t look as good as the dress I just made, nor as good as the dress I’m making now but then again it was a much harder project.  It’s not particularly flattering either – but I suspected this would be the case which is why I’m glad I didn’t choose it to be my wedding dress.  It’s been great to have to think deeply about  construction and design and to work with new, superior materials.  Far as projects go, it was a marathon but I like those   😉

1 swansThis is a technical post.  There’ll be an artistic one to follow.  In the meantime, here’s a reminder of Ruths dress, very different to mine and very much in spirit; as well as Kate’s, now also finished.  I like to think of it as Odette to my Odile!

And there’s one more coming (I think!).

But Now It’s a Dress

1 but now..

1 welcome to the dollhouse

1 under my thumbnail

The dark line under my thumbnail isn’t dirt but a bruise!

I wanted fine Rouleau strips to be a key feature of my tablecloth dress, the design of which is based on a client’s gently draping number in viscose.  But I just couldn’t get the strips to turn right side out.  I tried every method – from funnelling to sewing thick thread to the inside to making them so wide that they really didn’t much resemble Rouleau strips at all. My fabric was just too tough to co-operate. I made so many, the strips gradually getting wider and wider until they no longer resembled Rouleau strips at all. After several hours of progressing in mere centimetres and in a perverse way enjoying it, my thumbs became too sore to grip and I came to my senses asking myself: if I was a costumier, would these wasted hours be tolerated by whoever was paying me? Of course not!

1 rouleau strips1 bias binding

So to Plan B which was to make bias binding instead. I cut the strips a mere 2cm wide and pressed until the finished size was 0.5cm. With this method, unlike with Rouleau strips, there is no danger of wrinkling. Even better, just as when I made the Colette Dahlia dress, the binding was used not just to construct the straps but to enclose the neckline too.  1 bodice cf

Getting into this dress is something of an intelligence test. First you step into it, put the halter neck around the back of your head, then slip on the two shoulders straps. It took me a while to master this technique.  Initially there was grappling and I’d be reminded of that scene in Absolutely Fabulous when Patsy gets lacerated on the strings of an elaborate designer lampshade!  🙂

1 go eastI hope these photos – taken in bright light of what was almost mid-day – do justice to this dress.  I love everything about it: the deep blue, the way my skin shows through the gaps (it’s a much better contrast then when the dress was white) and I love how the sun casts interesting shadows about my legs as it peers through the lacing. One advantage of this fabric being somewhat of a toughie is that it doesn’t crease as much as typical dress linen.

1 back white

The only thing that went majorly wrong is that that original back opening that goes down very sensually to the waist – shown in the pre-dye dress here – gaped open too much when I put it on: clear proof that you can’t copy a dress if you use a vastly different fabric.

So I spent some time inserting a lapped zipper and now the back looks like this.

1 back blue

1 beachyNot as sirenish but on the plus side it means I can wear a strapless bra which doesn’t at all show (I’ve had a bra that adapts to a strapless one but haven’t worn it till now).  It isn’t uncomfortable – though I seem to be slightly stooped in some pictures so I think it might take me some time to trust that it’s not going to slip down!  😯

Thanks Etemi for this most fun and creative challenge! I found the tablecloth patterning limited my choices when drafting and resulted in something not so much like the target design but just as good and certainly more wearable!

As ever, I’ve learnt a thing or two and earned the definitive feelgood dress of the summer

The deadline for Etemi’s challenge is this Saturday. I can’t wait to see what the others have done..

P.S. If you’ve lost your keys and they look like this, they’re on the beach at Greenwich!2 keys

It Used to be a Tablecloth

1 usedtobeatablecloth

The barbarians are coming! They’re tearing hand-made heirlooms and (gasp)…. turning them to beach dresses!  Yes, those flimsy things destined to fade and be destroyed by suntan lotion in a mere summer or two.

#usedtobeatablecloth is a sewing challenge where we turn a tablecloth or some forgotten piece of household linen into something summery to wear. I’m taking part because I saw the lovely Little White Dress made by Etemi, the challenge host who blogs as The Secret Costumier, but also because on my second foray to the charity shops in search of suitable material, I got really lucky.  I found a tablecloth very similar to the one Etemi used. I don’t know whether it is indeed handmade – I doubt anyone would have parted with it if that’s the case – but it’s beautiful, if slightly spoilt by a light stain or two.  I found it folded on a rail and as I opened it up wondering if I could use it, an older woman came over admiring it and we struck up a conversation as she wondered how many hours of work went into it. I thought the tablecloth needed a chance of a more worthy owner and did actually ask the woman if she was interested in buying it.  She declined, saying she couldn’t be bothered with all the ironing.

1 tablecloth stillSo now it’s belongs to the barbarian.

Does it look familiar to you?  I’m pretty sure that in Croatia every house proud woman of a certain age has one: I seem to recall drinking glasses of squash at numerous tables adorned thus.

Soon as I’ve made it into a dress I will dye it a dark blue because I’m very much missing my dark blue perforated summer dress that Django the Hun* shredded.  I did a test with some remnants of dye powder to see if it would take and it worked very well.  Not only is the tablecloth made of a natural fibre (linen) but all that thread must be cotton as it took the dye too (I was hoping it would stay white as polyester thread does as the contrast would have looked beautiful).

client's dress close up

The target design

My plan is to make a version of a client’s dress that I altered a year ago.  I thought it was quite chic.  Being twice the age of the client, my dress will be less revealing but I’m aiming for a similar arrangement of rouleau strips, perfect for exposing the shoulders to the rays.  No bra will work with this but I don’t care….a back view

I prepared the pattern in next to no time using my block.  Inevitably, my drafted pattern doesn’t quite match up to the threadwork pattern of the tablecloth and I have already had to rethink the length of the skirt and the width too.  You could have a lot of fun with this, working out the different possibilities of where to place the laced parts.

Etemi is very lovely and her blog well written with clear, very appealing presentation.  We met in June in Goldhawk Road but it turned out I’d come across her before; her refashioned shirt was one of my favourites in the Refashioners Challenge 2015.  Do join us if you can: there’s ten days before the deadline and it’s a quick project – provided you have the right tablecloth.  The challenge post has all the details as well as helpful hints and images to inspire.

I have cut out my pattern pieces ready for the making and look, there’s enough tablecloth left for one or two more dresses! 1 leftovers

*not a barbarian but a Hungarian Viszla!

One Nap

1 one nap

1 side napOriginally I wanted to make a day version of the Six Nap Dress with a black bodice and a tartan skirt: something weighty that would eliminate the need for many metres of fabric.  I learnt from the dress’ designer, Masayo Yasuki of dogstar clothing, that the skirt has 8 metres of organza and 6 metres of lining.  With so much silk in there, I figured there had to be something very simple and not fiddly  in the way it’s designed, otherwise surely the dress would be more expensive than it was (it retailed at £380).  But what went on in there?  Lots of deep pleats, all the same length (which wasn’t obvious to me till Stephanie pointed it out), and then two extra squares of fabric inserted, one at the front and one at the back, to give those bias dips.  It added up: two more metres in the organza than in the lining.

I had 1.5m of very cheap (but not all that nasty) white polyester lying around.  It feels soft but has weight and movement… and a slightly non-flat, puckered texture that I’ve recently noticed on quite a few H&M and TopShop garments. I attempted to tye-dye it – imagine the contrast of white against a patterned deep blue, had it worked.   Unfortunately it doesn’t get very wet, this fabric, and so the overall effect is a kind of faded blue with a few interesting patched of deeper colour which you probably can’t see.

1 insertOne difficulty I’ve encountered on this project is that most of the draping and pinning of the skirt during the experimental stage has been done with the fabric on the crossgrain, for convenience’ sake.  That way you get the width for all those pleats.  But I was never happy with the fall of the fabric so this time I cut it up into 72cm pieces and joined them.  Then I pressed up and hemmed everything.  I attached it to the bodice, pleating going a bit slapdash by this stage, and I also attached it to the long side zip.  Ah, the joy of finally being able to try it on!  Then I ripped open the original joins (one at the front and one at the back) to insert kite-shaped pieces which hang on the bias, dipping just below the hem. But they’re too small to make an impression of a deliberate style.

In a previous comment, Ruth joked that her own version of the dress is more of a Three Nap than Six.  In which case I better name this One.  I don’t think I’ve ever made anything so sloppy (inside it has the finish of a Great British Sewing Bee garment, all unfinished seams and unmatched thread!).

1 skirt

Having conceived this challenge as far back as in May, I’m keen to move on to other projects.  But this half-hearted draft isn’t a good enough note on which to exit.  So I’m going fabric shopping and maybe the right tartan or even  organza will show up.  Though I’d be much more happy to spend money on the latter if I felt I knew what I was doing.

Which I don’t!

1 foolhardy

1 1 nap

Updates and Dates

Hair CutFirstly, may I thank you on behalf of Connie for your kind words of support in her decision to cut her hair short and donate it, as well as to fundraise for the charity which uses the hair to make wigs for children who have lost theirs.  I was so moved that this blog prompted many of you to sponsor her and leave lovely messages.  Amongst the familiar names that I’ve got to know over the years and come to regard as friends, there were, much to my surprise, some unfamiliar ones from a few who outed themselves as readers!  It’s very humbling and I thank you warmly.

sideThe cut was booked for Connie’s 12th birthday and I picked the best hairdresser I know, just in case.  She did a pretty good job!  We quickly got used to the new Connie; in fact it’s hard to believe she hasn’t always looked like this!  When the  salon manager heard what she’s up to, he gave the salon fee to the charity and the hairdresser, the brilliant Yvette, did the same with her tip.  But donations arrived from all angles: friends, family, bloggers, the running community…  The latest amount raised now stands at £429, more than twice the initial target.

IMG_3444The day after, we flew to Canada.  A first-time visit and a memorable trip which strengthened friendships and family ties… even if the children did want to disown me for making them walk long distances.  I will write about the experience some day as I found it inspiring to people-watch in the streets of Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.  But first I’ve to comb through the hundreds of photos we’d taken.

So I return to an imminent deadline for my own Six Napoleon Challenge.  I’ve had feedback from all the participants and unless magic wands are waved over the weekend, the consensus is that probably only one dress has been finished in time to meet the deadline of this Sunday.  Ruth,  you’ve done it again!  I can’t wait to see it, or rather, you in it.

1 t Jo's bodiceDoes this mean that for the rest of us, the challenge is a failure?  Well… not quite.  Other dresses will come I hope.  When they’re ready.  I feel somewhat disappointed in myself in that I haven’t provided the inspiration or the know-how to enable the others to continue – leadership was never my strong point.  But hopefully everyone taking part has learnt or expanded their skills in the process of trying.  Wonderful news came from the west coast of Ireland this week, where my friend Jo is staying with her family …  and a Bernina!  You may recall that back on a teary day in June, Jo and I drafted the Six Nap bodice pattern to fit her.  Afterwards, Jo made the bodice in a rose-print cotton and liked it enough to make it again.

1 t jo

The second version is in a more brocade-like fabric from the stash (we think it might be an upholstery fabric).  It was made to go over a RTW skirt.  I asked if it’s comfortable to wear and was told yes, despite the asymmetry.

1t JO v2 back

1 jo 2

Now Jo is on her third, I think this one calls for a skirt of its own.  Well done Jo: I’m chuffed it worked!

And now, my own experiments….

1 paper

I draped following Anita’s method of cutting two stumpy  1 l shapes, sewn together at the short ends. This is similar to joining a circle skirt to a bodice except for the amount of pleating at the lowered waist.  And the circle has been left a rectangle.  I tried it out using pattern paper, joined to make a 2m x 1.4m piece.  (I know  🙄  I try and live a green life then go axe down a tree, metaphorically).  I even sellotaped back a 10cm deep hem.  It was very noisy!  But it’s the low dip of that corner that concerns me; it would reach my feet.

I used graph paper (like this printable one) to try out some ratios.  1 grraph

The first illustration is as in Anita’s tutorial in her guest post.  The second is as in her suggestion of using 3m of fabric.  I raided the charity shop for some bargain bed linen and used 3m to make this.1 bedsheetIt was more fabric that I could cope with, to be honest, though it helped to drape from the waist rather than the bodice hem.  I will play with the graph paper and try to reduce the diagonal length of that mitred corner.

There’s one more method to try.  Now I’ve always suspected Stephanie to be really clever and was very impressed when in her last post she presented another interpretation of the Six Nap pleats.  Which I’ll attempt next.  This method will also result in a shorter length of the dip.  But whether to go crossgrain and risk puffiness or lengthwise and risk showing lots of joins in the skirt?

It’s All About the Skirt: a guest post from Studio Faro

Option 21 drapeFor the skirt part of the challenge, I’ve been experimenting with folding, pleating and pinning squares and rectangles of fabric to the bodice on the dummy stand.

But the result hasn’t really captured the essence of the Six Napoleon dress.  

So it is time I hand over to the expert!  Welcome to Anita of Studio Faro as she suggests some ideas on how to recreate the skirt….

#FirstSample Skirt, the Six Napoleon Challenge

Firstly I’d like to say huge thanks to Sew2Pro for inviting me to contribute to this fabulous challenge.  And it’s so fortunate that dogstar is one of my favourite local brands producing what is most likely the most interesting designs in Australia.  So many local designers are enslaved to overseas trends and fail to develop a distinct design aesthetic.  Not so dogstar!

I’m late to the party so I won’t be covering the bodice development but offering some ideas for the development of the skirt pattern.  Initially I came up with at least three different ways to get at this pattern and I’ve decided to share the most interesting with you here on the Sew2Pro blog.

1 NAP6_draft_1

The first thing that caught my eye in the fabulous dress was the dipped hem in the front and the beautiful and generous hem allowance all so obvious in the transparent silk organza. My challenge was to find a way to cut this skirt so that the front dip was in fact a right angle. Very similar to drafting a circle skirt and leaving the corners on! 

The draft above is how I decided to use 2 metres of polyester organza to replicate the skirt of the Six Napoleon Dress. The cut is based on the width of the fabric (140cm), halved to determine the length of the skirt (70cm), of which 11cm will be the hem turning (to finish at 10cm) and the remaining 59cm are the skirt length. This also presents an opportunity to produce a zero-waste pattern.

Where the skirt has a dip in the hem I’ll be using the corner sections of the cut with a mitre in the very deep hem. There will be one dip in the front and one in the back.

1 NAP6_cut_1


The preparation of the skirt for draping goes like this:

  1. Cut the cloth into two pieces along the cut lines and trim the excess from the mitre seams.
  2. Press under the 1cm turning on the deep hem edges and sew the mitre seams.
  3. Join the two side seams using a French seam or equivalent to avoid the use of overlocking.
  4. Press the 10cm deep hem and pin in place and sew.

1 nap6 skirt

Mark the bottom edge of your bodice on your workroom dummy as a guideline for the draping of the skirt.  Please note where I have indicated for you to pin the longest part of the skirt in the front and back.1 nap6 bodice seam

Begin by pinning the corner of the waist seam to the front right and back left as indicated.  Then space the pleating out for each section of the skirt.

1 6nap top skirt

You can manage the direction and fall of each pleat by shifting it above the bodice seam to get the best drape.  The excess above the seamline will be trimmed back to the seam line plus seam allowance (1cm).

As you can see below, the #FirstSample is a reasonable success.  The high/low in the hemline is there and the effect of the deep hem is maintained.  However I do think this would work a lot better with 3 metres of organza for this layer.  That way there’d be a lot more in the pleating around the waist.

1 final sampleFor the lining of this skirt I’d recommend you use a lining cloth of 150cm width and follow the exact same process giving you an underskirt or lining that’ll be 5cm longer than the organza layer.

And of course we must not forget the opening for the dress!  I intend to slash through on the left side of the skirt for a side seam and mark a notch at 15-18cm where the zip is most likely to end.

There are other methods of working on this skirt pattern and I’m looking forward to seeing them in your own workings.  I’ll be sharing my other methods on my blog well-suited in the coming weeks.  I’m so looking forward to seeing all your wonderful dresses when they’re finished.

Thank you so much Anita!  I’m much indebted.  And I look forward to reading more on well-suited (readers, please do subscribe so as to receive Anita’s updates).  

Here’s a round-up of everyone’s progress.  If I’ve left you out, please leave a comment and a link so I can add you.

Mary, a professional couturier, has explained her bodice-making process in this post.

You can ake the bodice only as my friend Jo is doing.

Fabrickated is under strict supervision of her pattern-cutting tutor Vanda who will not let her settle for second-best.  But isn’t the end of term nigh?  Won’t Kate be saved by the bell?!

Of all the bloggers here, Stephanie in Ottawa has the least drafting experience.  Yet her bodice is perfect.  Will she complete the conundrum that is the skirt with the same high standards and attention to detail?

Stephanie on the other side (Ernie K Designs in Seattle) has written a great analysis of pleats evident in the skirt which helped me visualise where I was going wrong with my rectangles.

Demented Fairy is still marking papers but is steaming with enthusiasm to get stuck in.  She also has the expertise, experience and great fabric.

Ruth who is also a teacher gave most of us a massive head start but is back in the sewing room and has now outlined her splendid plan here.  She’s also found a literary connection to the name for this dress.  It turns out it’s just as much about Sherlock Holmes as it is about the French general.

Pella of Pattern Pandemonium has been intrigued enough to experiment with both the bodice and the skirt but hasn’t got the incentive to make the final article.  Will somebody please invite her daughter to a summer ball!  Maybe Anita’s instructions will inspire her to get back to the stand and make is for herself.

As for me, I’m going away.  I’ll be following your progress eagerly and I’ll hopefully be able to leave comments on your posts but no sewing machine anywhere for me.  Which will be hard.

Anyone else tempted to join us?  The deadline for your images and/or posts is the weekend of 6-7 August.