Ok Dress

1 Bridesmaid

A-Line Bridesmaid Dress, OK Dress (click for source)

I was contacted by someone wishing to be ‘professionally measured’ in order to buy a bridesmaid’s dress online. The mail order company is in China and sells dresses for weddings and proms in a huge choice of colours and of a similar ‘big occasion’ style. The website is professional and written in perfect English, notwithstanding the questionable use of the word ‘tailoring’ (although I understand in some cultures anyone who sews is a tailor). They do admit that some locally-made adjustments might be necessary for the dress to fit perfectly but once the customer’s order and measurements are received, the dress can be ‘tailored’ and flugzeuged over in two weeks. Wow.

There is some skirting around the issue of the fabrics used. In the opulently-layered bridesmaids dress such as above, the material is called “chiffon”. As the cost is under £100, my guess is it isn’t silk.

1 Grecian GoddessThe client arrived and we hit it off immediately talking about careers, English Lit, running and weddings. The five measurements I needed to take, and I did this twice, were bust, waist and hip, plus two vertical measurements: full height and ‘hollow of neck to floor’. I wasn’t sure if hollow of neck to floor was in a straight line perpendicular to the floor or with the tape curving around the bust and midriff which would be longer, especially on a big frame. No ‘back of neck to waist’ was required, which surprised me.

1 Grecian Goddess2I told the client I had doubts about how well her dress would fit or how wearable it would be; the bridesmaid styles don’t seem compatible with a supporting bra. She said she’s used the website before for another wedding and realises this service has its limitations: all she requires is that the dress is ‘good enough’ and meets the bride’s wishes. An Ok Dress. Which is exactly what the website is called.

Weddings are a mystery to me.  I haven’t been to one of those events where the bridesmaids form a team but I can understand why the organiser – with enough on her plate and feeling her preferences are compromised by familial obligations and expectation – might feel she needs to control whichever aspects it is possible to. In this case, the decision is to aim for a kind of uniformity with all the bridesmaids in the same colour of chiffon. It’s a colour my client likes but the shade chosen is a cold one rather than the warm tones that suits her.

I wonder what will happen to these identically coloured Grecian Goddess dresses after the wedding?

On a less depressing note, a second-time-round client who works for a magazine and picks up some interesting remnants gave me three small and mildly challenging jobs which I really enjoyed. One of them was turning some kind of a leather-look, warp-around garment into a wearable skirt. The front and sides looked great but the back opened up like one of those embarrassing hospital gowns that reveal the bum!  😯  It was well-stitched, just unfinished: apparently it had been used in a photo-shoot.  Again, all ephemeral…

And I sold my second Magenta dress, posting it off to the USA as before.  If only I had twice as many hours a day, or a Chinese factory, to make a row of these!!

Happy sewing!

Pattern Testing the Sarah Shirt

1 By Hand London Sarah by Sew2pro

The Sarah Shirt has just been released. A few weeks ago, By Hand London asked me if I’d like to test their new pattern which I volunteered to do a while back. The offer came at what was a glum time, professionally and weather-wise, and the thought of doing something I’d not tried before put a spring in my step.

1 sarah tech drawingSarah is a swing shirt which means it widens out from the chest. The fabrics recommended are viscose rayon, silk crepe de chine, silk Marocain, silk charmeuse, sandwashed silk, lightweight brushed cotton, cotton voile, cotton silk, challis, sandwashed cupro.  Some of these are a bit esoteric; let me know if you have experience of!

Soon as the PDF arrived,  I assembled it (using my time-smart method) but it took several outings to find the suitable fabric.  Several  reasonably-priced lawns in interesting designs offered themselves but I staunchly resisted as they carried the danger of the shirt flaring out unflatteringly.  I needed drape and knew how it would feel when I found it.

Eventually it cropped up in Fabrics Galore, on Lavender Hill, some 12 minutes walk from Clapham Junction station.  This store has become a bit of a favourite and it has many offerings for other future projects: for example I’m desperate to find an excuse to buy lashings of extra-deep, top-fluffy raspberry fur.  And like me, they’re clearly firm fans of Alexander Henry fabrics: a company whose designs prompted me to buy a sewing machine and learn.

1 fabrics galore bhlWhen I asked about the fabrics listed above, I was showed challis which looked perfect for a warm version of the blouse (Variation 1, long sleeved). The drape I liked best though wasn’t the reasonably-priced viscose I’d envisaged but, ahem, silk at £12 a meter (the requirements state that just over 2m is needed, so ouch).  Even then, I wasn’t immediately convinced.  I held it draped on me in the shop mirror and worried the colours were dark or dull but as the deadline was less than a week away, I convinced myself the fault was in the mirror which was dusty. And I was right!  Outside in the sunshine on the walk back to the station, the colours looked like spring in my hand and I couldn’t wait to get started.

That’s ok, Fabrics Galore!  My mirror’s like that too 🙂

Reinforcing the seam allowance before clipping

Reinforcing the seam allowance before clipping

The shirt is easy to sew for a confident beginner.  Maybe an intermediate level of skill is advised for achieving a professional look to the collar.  But it’s a relatively easy collar: no awkward matching of width to the neckline (there’s a bit of leeway in the button placket) and no dreaded collar stand which always trips up my needle with its thick bits in the corners.  After the collar is attached, there’s what I consider a ‘weak point’ as the collar meets the button placket area.  This has to be clipped into. I don’t like weak points – they make me feel insecure, like the garment’s gonna unravel in public making me look incompetent! – so I took the precaution of interfacing within the seam line before clipping.

1 sarah ladybird

wintry winds: not ideal!

There were some mistakes I spotted and reported back on.  But also some that were noted by the other testers which never entered my peripheral vision at all (B- to C+ is probably the grade I’d be awarded for my effort!).  For example, I never notch (except on sleeves).  Possibly because when I first started out, trying to make head or tail of sewing patterns, notches weren’t on the top of the list of all the stuff I had to decode.

One suggestion I made (as did the other testers) was to add an instruction to stay stitch as much as possible.  The shirt has an inner yoke (I like those), and as it’s attached by the burrito method, there’s quite a bit of traffic in the area so invest some time in this.

Short Sleeve optionsI wasn’t sure what the instructions required regarding the look of the Variation 2 short sleeves: was it the option on the left or the one on the right like the Aster sleeve? I chose the turnback cuffs.

I found this pattern to be true to size.

All our corrections have been included into the released edition.

Finally, something I didn’t think important enough to mention which now bugs me….  As the shirt widens out, side seams become the true bias (or near enough).  I’d take the precaution of stay-stitching the sides before cutting the fabric.  To do this, chalk the outline of a pattern-piece and sew just inside before re-applying the pattern piece and cutting. It’s quite possible you don’t need to, but with certain fabrics which are – unlike me – expensive and unstable, a belt-and-braces approach is my preference.

Sarah BHL Varation 2 front and back1 bhl sarahI don’t often buy patterns as I enjoy drafting my own too much, but BHL is a company to which I’m eternally thankful for making me feel like a goddess whenever I wear my Anna dress.   Discovering that the designer behind it, Elisalex, was completely lovely in her communication and,  despite her young years, definitely a human was a bonus (I’d expected alienating nu-speak of a fashionista).  Haters say pattern testers give up their time and money to advertise freely but I’ve had a bit of excitement and intrigue doing this and I think many of us have bought patterns which appear not to have been tested at all so…   good work, friends!

1 By Hand London Sarah

Gelatine Surprise

WIP: Pin-tucks on the back of Faith

WIP: Pin-tucks on the back of Faith

I seem to have inadvertently impressed some of you by sewing pin-tucks into the front of my Faith Tunic. But it was a beginner’s, entry-level attempt.  The pin-tucks were quite wide and easy to form on firm cotton.  I used the 0.5cm guide on my presser foot to get the lines straight.

My fabric on the cutting table at Woolcrest

My fabric on the cutting table at Woolcrest

It’s time to try finer pin-tucks, and in chiffon 😯  Enter some bargain silk (at £3 a metre) from Woolcrest Fabrics in Hackney.  It’s woven with fine vertical lines which should help with the pin-tucks but it’s otherwise a difficult fabric: fine, floppy and sheer.  Kate, who was with me when we went shopping, did warn it was light enough to fly out of the window should anyone walk into the room when I sew.  But I embark armed with a helpful tip from a reader: soaking the fabric in gelatine!

The method’s from Iconic Patterns (explained here).  You buy gelatine from the baking section of your supermarket: my pack of 3 sachets cost £1. 1 sachets of gelatineAnd ignoring the instructions on the packet, you do exactly as Lena says and dissolve 3 teaspoons (one sachet) in a glass of water.  Whereupon you will be hit by the whiff of dirty hooves!  Don’t worry – the smell will disappear once you move onto the next step and mix in 3 litres of water.  After soaking for an hour, I left the fabric to dry on the line overnight and ran out of the door the next morning burning with curiosity:  would it smell?  Be crispy?  Rubbery?  Or – worst scenario – no different at all…?

1 gelatine in chiffon‘Gelatus’ means stiff or frozen.  The photo shows me holding up identical sized swatches: one hasn’t been treated and one has.  The gelatine seems to have added a bit of backbone so the swatch holds up almost like organza.  I can still iron the fabric (but without steam as that would ‘rinse off’ the gelatine) and there’s no smell.  An excellent upgrade on cheap fabric.

1 stylearc faith back and guide

Faith Back: an area of gathers replaced by pin-tucks…

So hopefully I’ll manage to remake Faith.  I’m redesigning it though, with the raglan sleeves gone and I’ll get rid of the gathers at the back: while watching War & Peace, I noticed nice pin-tucks on the back of a nightgown worn by one of the aristos who rolled over in her bed so I’ll borrow the idea as it’s more consistent with the front of the pattern.  I never did like gathers: I think they are for beginner’s projects, girls’ clothes and peasant wear!

PIn-tuck foot: the white guide is adjusted left to right by turning the screw

PIn-tuck foot: the white guide is adjusted left to right by turning the screw

Have you been watching War & Peace?  If so, have you found any inspiration in the costumes?  I struggled with Episode 1, I admit, and felt let down by the lack of eye-candy (I have peculiar tastes!).  Luckily, a suitable villain may have emerged in Episode 2 which is as far as I got.  Do you recommend I persevere?

So Fedya, how does one fight a war with such big, er, spoons on one's shoulders?

So Dolokhov, how does one fight a war with such big, er, spoons on one’s shoulders?

With thanks to Lena of Iconic Patterns and Ruth who took me there!

But Lose the Issy

1 Stylearc Issy

Sophisticated figure-hugging folds redolent of a classical statue, or a dog’s dinner?

Yeah…  1 issy pattern envelope

About that….

I’d had this Stylearc Issy Knit Top on the top of my to-do list for so long that I forgot it was given to me.  This meant that I made the mistake of assuming it was a size 8 like the other Stylearc patterns that I’ve bought (for those uninitiated to this company, the pattern comes in the one size you order).  In fact, it’s a 12.  Even so, and despite my taking it in at all seams, this is huge and the ruching which pools below the waist bears little resemblance to the drawing on the envelope.

A previous review warned that the asymmetric neckline (i.e. the diagonal slant at centre front) is difficult to finish and the underneath tends to flip to the right side.  To prevent this, I decided to trace the top section of the pattern to the bust and make a facing.  This worked fine.  I also found it easy to construct the ‘clever’ and ‘distinctive’ neckline formed by folding back the inner wings of the pattern towards the shoulders.  It’s certainly a style unlike any I’ve tried before and the instructions were thorough.1 issy front pattern1 mournful shroudBut the result is this cowled look which I’ve been seeing on womenswear for a few years now.  At first it seemed an elegant alternative to the simple jersey top but I’ve come to the party too late and it’s all a bit hackneyed.

I’d be happy to post this pattern to anyone up for the challenge of making a better job.  You need to be a UK size 12-14, though there might be less ease if your jersey is tight or thicker than my drapey viscose.  Leave me a message and if there’s more than one ‘applicant’, I’ll do a draw.  The paper is only in an OK condition: it has the inevitable pin marks plus a rip and a scratch where Blogstalker loyally savaged the pattern on my behalf!

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem