Used to be a tablecloth…

but now it’s a dress.

Well, almost. There are two steps more until it’s finished.

The recap

Some believe that to take a finely crafted tablecloth and cut it up is sacrilege!  Etemi – who sparked off my wicked ways when she organised a “used to be a tablecloth sewing challenge” – made me laugh when she reported her mother as saying, and I paraphrase slightly but listen anyway: ‘just let that beautiful thing BE!’  I agree that it’d be regrettable to cut up some heirloom once made by granny for her trousseau.  But lesser tablecloths can be found in abundance in charity shops and giving them the light of day by turning them into unique garments not only helps the charities but it’s a great ‘up yours’ to the peddlers of polyester who would swathe you, I and the entire planet in their tat.

And after all, who still uses tablecloths? My daughter had a fit when she saw one on holiday.  “Not wipeable?  What’s the point of that?!”

Dress 1

Two years ago I bought this large “drawn thread work” piece and turned it into an amazing dress.  It wasn’t a quick make.  I wanted to use as many of the lace motifs as possible without the holes in the cotton being too misplaced.  The tablecloth was white but once sewn, the dress was dyed indigo.   I don’t have any photos of what it looks like when worn in late summer against tanned skin but it’s an interesting Moroccan lantern effect and very sultry. It is also totally NSFW – not suitable for work! – so I decided to make another dress using the remainder of the tablecloth (I still had a big piece, though somewhat shredded-looking) aiming for something….  warmer.

Used to be a tablecloth – Dress 1

The now

Once again, I’ve worked with the fabric in the original white.  My husband who hasn’t yet caught on to my cleverness warned I’ll end up with a giant doily!  But fear not.  The whole thing will be immersed in dark dye, hence the black stitching and the black zip.

For the bodice I used this vintage pattern which I have always longed to try but I’m always held back by the voluminous skirts and concerns that I can’t pull off the willowy cover-babes look.

When I designed the blue dress I had lengths of fabric at my disposal and it made sense to use the original lace edging for the hem.  This time there wasn’t enough left to do the same though it was clear that the hem would have to be cut somewhere on the lace.  But how do you hem lace?  After some head-scratching I realised I just had to embrace the suck and spend ages mimicking lace by zigzagging scallops along the bottom then cutting to the stitching.  I practiced on scraps, trying to get the stitching to look similar to the drawn thread work.

Don’t you think that a lot of these things us dressmakers do in order to get it right take a very long time – you wouldn’t ever take up sewing if you knew how long!  But it is a fraction of the time we will spend wearing the garment, and worth it for those moments of appreciation, be it our own (especially our own) or from others.

I thought the solution was so effective I decided to turn the remaining scraps into sleeve cuffs, strategically using as much lace as I could, and therefore again having to sew scallops.    So yeah, just the cuffs to attach, then the dye job.  I think it’s going to be a stunner.  Just gimme a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little and strange

Firstly I want to apologise for neglecting this blog for so long. Not only had I failed to write posts but I hadn’t checked in to see if all was ok, not until I got word that the site had been hi-jacked by pirates who’d replaced content with a porn site. I am sorry if you visited during this disruption to service, especially if you did so by following a link from another sewing blog. I trust the sordid discovery didn’t lead you astray!

Do you get excited when a novel you much love gets made into a film? Or maybe you dread it, in case they haven’t made a good enough job?
Tomorrow sees the UK release of The Little Stranger, a ghost story based on a Sarah Waters novel of the same name. At the time the book was published I was living in a flat in Blackheath on the edges of Greenwich Park. We were renting the ground floor of what had once been an impressive (but not imposing) four-storey residence, one of many ‘Captains’ Houses’ once linked to the military personnel of the barracks in nearby Woolwich. It’s likely that the aristocratic family who lived in Hundreds Hall, the crumbling mansion at the heart of The Little Stranger, would have looked down on the kind of family that occupied Captain’s House, an attitude that is explored in the novel. But my Captain’s House outlived the dilapidating fate of Hundreds Hall, because once the austerity measures of the 1930s kicked in and families were no longer able to retain numerous servants required for the upkeep of such large homes, the houses in Blackheath were divided into spacious and bright flats and they’re very popular with young families like mine, couples and singletons of every age. Some rent for a few years before moving on, reluctantly so, because in comparison any other home seems rather ordinary.

Back of the house, Lemmy in the foreground left. Our flat was the one with the blue curtains, which I later made into dungarees!

One evening in the flat I hosted the monthly book club I’d recently joined, and we discussed The Little Stranger (my choice). It was fun. Despite drinking lots of wine I remember the evening well. Barbara was there. We laughed a lot, though that was not unusual. We rounded off the discussion by turning to one of my favourites themes: experiences of the supernatural. I have always struggled to believe in the supernatural yet nothing fascinates me more. Barbara and her husband Martin recounted a funny story of what had happened to them in a small hotel in France, when they encountered a mystery creature part ghost, part rat – their landlady refused to acknowledge the latter!

Barbara died in 2013. I’d assumed our friendship would grow over decades, in instalments, on the first Tuesday of the month but it now feels I knew her for but a fraction of my life. I knew that like me she loved Anne Tyler, Barbara Pym and cats who she treated like companions.

Martin arranged for Barbara’s memorial service to be in a church where she’d worked as a volunteer. A pale stone building in the City I had overlooked a hundred times as I’d rushed past it to and from work. It was Valentine’s Day, cold and stormy. When I returned home, I discovered Lemmy, my very old black cat, had suddenly become incapacitated. Lemmy had been with me for eighteen years, ever since I’d adopted him from CPL. He was forgiving of my having two children and so gentle with them that I’d named him jokingly Chief Babysitter. He died later that night. But the next time I passed Barbara’s church, something caught my eye that made me stop in my tracks. A picture of a cat had appeared, drawn in black on the church stone, small but defined, at my eye level. I felt instantly Barbara had sent me a mischievous message.

Of course I don’t really believe Barbara graffitied on a Grade 1 listed building, not even from the after life! It is more likely to be a coincidence. But every time I pass the church (the drawing is still there) I think of her, and of Lemmy and feel a kind of certainty that the three of us are infinitely linked.

If you watch the film, tell me what you think.

Sweet Santa

I’ve been naughty lately: neither blogging nor sewing much and seeking instant gratification with RTW purchases which “afterwards left me feeling empty and unfulfilled….”   Also I left it until quite late to sort out and post my Stitching Santa parcel.  So when in the lead up to Christmas nothing arrived in the post for me, I sort of shrugged and started to mull over the idea of karma.

1-pressie-from-stitching-santaThen, on super-busy Christmas Eve Eve as we were all getting down to doing some wrapping of presents, my kids – who’ve very cleverly done some of their Christmas shopping online by getting their dad to pay – came running down the stairs: “Mum, this was with the other ones, we didn’t realise it was for you!”  My present from Stitching Santa had been in their room for several days, behind other jiffy bags all held together with a rubber band….  Not one but several gifts emerged!

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I opened them during a quiet moment on Christmas day.

The first gift revealed a cute belt buckle and immediately brought me to recall two RTW garments with self-fabric belts I’d saved on my Pinterest board with the intention of copying them someday.  Well, I consider this a prompt!

The orange item is rather intriguing….

The MIY (Make it Yourself) sewing tool has a range of seam allowances, a sharp point for turning out collar tips and a guide for sewing circles (useful for marking buttons).  1-stocking

Then this cutest mini Christmas stocking appeared!  It would make a lovely decoration but I also think on future Christmases Blogstalker could hang it up, as the children do their stockings, and Petshop Santa will treat him to a few Dreamies.

And the generosity didn’t stop there. I was also given a sweet Apples and Owls sewing needle book (I didn’t have one till now), beautifully made with awesomely 1-needle-bookprecise stitching.

Finally, just as I was feeling totally undeserving, out came two vintage sewing patterns.  I love the styling of the envelopes.  Both dress designs have a Mad Men vibe and are right up my street. Did I tell you I’ve become obsessed by the idea of growing a killer work wardrobe?!

And my kind benefactor?  After getting totally the wrong end of the stick and ascribing this generosity to the wrong person, whom I thanked on her blog, I have been told by Sheila that may Santa was in fact………..

Trisha of the Small Sewing Room!

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Thank you so much Trisha.

And thank you to Sheila (Sewchet) for organising  (and thinking up) Stitching Santa.  A real gift to the sewing community!

P.S. Have you heard of Leavers Lace?  No, me neither till now. To find out more go here1-british-leavers-lace

2016

1-gucci-fur-slippers2016.  The year which local readers may forever associate with United Kingdom’s decision to distance itself away from Europe like a small raft with a superiority complex and which will be remembered globally for United States’ election of a president so bizarre-looking, with behaviour so obnoxious, that surely we will be told soon it was Bill Murray all along, giving the performance of a lifetime. Just Hollywood’s little gift to the world, for the next April Fools….

Well I liked 2016! 1-liberty-wearable-muslin

Magenta Dress

It began slowly though.  This time last year I was in the doldrums, getting no work and rarely even receiving acknowledgement for the jobs I was applying for.  When my bid to be a pattern tester for By Hand London resulted in an offer, I jumped at the chance.  It made a change to be wanted for something that I didn’t care if I was virtually paying for the privilege with my own money and time.  Then I sold my second Magenta dress to one more US reader wishing to dress up as a character in the Rocky Horror Show.

I made a bit of money doing alterations and sewing cushion covers.  But it didn’t take me long to work out that my kids were earning more than I was in the pocket money I was giving them.

Meanwhile, the job hunting continued with my setting the bar lower and lower till I was applying for jobs that I’d have hated if I’d got them, in freezing, warehouse-like spaces.  Turned out they didn’t want me either.

mdA lot of the time it didn’t matter.  I was having fun as a Newsletter Editor for my Athletics Club and writing elsewhere, then in my fourteenth year of running, I started getting a bit faster – not bad considering most runners plateau after a while or have to stop due to injuries.

In May I got married!  1-the-dress

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With Stephanie

We went to Canada on holiday and despite having to drag around two grumpy, sniping children (this is why you should have kids after your honeymoon!) we had a brilliant time.  We selected a small patch of this vast, beautiful country to do a bit of travelling in.  It felt like a real adventure. We were looked after splendidly by my very dear uncle and aunt who’d always been a stable background in my life, though we rarely see each other.

1-canadaAnother thing that made the year special is that while in Ottawa I met Stephaniewhile back home the friendships I’d made with other sewing bloggers were growing nicely. In fact it felt like my life was developing in another dimension, completely unexpectedly.   It wasn’t what I imagined would happen when I started this blog in 2012.  I’d hoped that it would lead to a return to employment of some kind, something more ambitious than what I’d done since having children.  Although the effort seemed in many ways futile (it didn’t take me long to realise that my contribution to the world of sewing blogs was negligible compared to more polished and dedicated offerings), it forced me to start writing again and overcome a reluctance “to engage with social media”, an activity which I’d always regarded as something of a security risk!  I’ve become much less guarded and reserved as a result, and I’ve had fun.

the-blouseIn August, I got a brilliant though (again) unpaid ‘job’ as Volunteer Coordinator of one of the largest parkruns in the country. Again, this has led to unexpected challenges, learning and a certain amount of unexpected satisfaction. And then an unexpected blessing.  In September this blog did indirectly lead to a temporary job – which is why I’ve kind of been absent lately – for which I’m very grateful. I’m still there now (in fact, I can hardly wait to go back after the holidays just to make sure I hadn’t dreamt it).  But I’m working at the other end of town and due to the long commute and my aforementioned finger in the tasty pie of parkrun, I haven’t the time to sew nor to blog, much.  My disappointment with the offerings of RTW is as great as ever though!  Not one new purchase I’ve made with my newly earned money has been entirely gratifying.  And because where I work I’m surrounded by young people, bastards who look good in anything by virtue of being young, my need for clothes that flatter in high-quality fabrics is greater than ever.  I can’t actually afford them but I can make them!  So watch this space!

Wishing you much health and happiness in 2017.napolen

Marijana

 

By Hand London Alix

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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.

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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…!

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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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Target: Hobbs NW3 Denim Dress

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Capture: market denim topstitch thang

 

 

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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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 !

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  • 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?!)

 

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  • 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Eci0OJbJw

Fluttering Skirt

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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!

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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

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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!

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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