Bolero

1 bolero1 hm 2007A few years ago I saw the exhibition of ballgowns at the V&A. One particular exhibit impressed me and it wasn’t a ballgown but a dress and bolero worn by Helen Mirren at the BAFTAs 2007 ceremony.  The design by Jacques Azagury wasn’t particularly complicated (I stood very close).  I think it owes its success to the fabrics.  Silk taffeta is rather like Mirren herself: shimmering, crisp, nacreous!  And the two colours suited her and each other perfectly: champagne and a mushroom brown.  Here’s a gallery of some notable dresses of that evening.  Which dress do you think should get an award?  Notice that it hardly matters how Mirren’s bolero is wrinkled.  It’s  very wearable.

1 bolero on dummyI decided to make a bolero using an old Ikea curtain: it’s a thick cotton which looks like denim but without the diagonal weave.  The purpose wasn’t to acquire another item for the wardrobe but rather to check the fit of my new bodice block which I made from the Winifred Aldrich instructions (I also used her instructions for the two-piece sleeve).  I wanted it to be as close-fitting as possible as I have in mind some designs for which little or no ease in the bodice is required.  I gave myself more bust coverage than in the original.  The shoulder seam dart is exactly as in the block which is a bit of an oversight (too close to the edge) but I didn’t trouble myself to move it as I was still thinking this was just a muslin.

1 inside boleroBut soon as I realised the fit was fine, avarice took over and I wanted Mirren’s bolero with ruffles!  The lining is some lovely soft stuff from the stash (bought for the Blue Velvet dress).  What a difference it’s made!  Not only does this now look cute on the inside (there’s even an ease pleat at centre back), but for such a close-fitting jacket, it slips on and off like a dream.

I really like it but… oh no, look at the back!  A bolero looks really bad with jeans.  And skirts or anything with a waist seam.  Damn, I’m gonna have to make another dress….. As with Mirren’s empire line, the essential requirement is that no horizontal seams appear in view below the hem.    1 back

Hm, maybe it’s time for the annual unearthing of my New Look 6459 pattern, with a side closure alteration.

Iconic Patterns recently released a Bolero pattern  which should be an easy make if you’re not inclined to draft your own.  Perfect for a summer afternoon at a party with Pimms (in an English garden, waiting for the sun).

Man Come Help

1 illuminated loupeDo you know what this is?  They can be found in homes of jewellers, watchmakers, or those people (ok: blokes) who have a gadget for everything.  Maybe it can also help you…

Normally, I keep family members in the dark about my personal sewing projects – in case they begin to ask themselves how I manage to keep smuggling so much stash into the house.  But we had drama here last week when in the last stages of making myself a pair of dungarees the obligatory topstitching that makes denim look like jeanswear 1 uneven stitchingwent wrong.  Not terribly wrong, just a bit wobbly on the bobbin side.  This only happens when I use topstitching thread in both the needle and the bobbin.  For most of the dungies, where the wrong side won’t be visible when I wear them, I used normal cheap thread for the bobbin and it worked fine.  But on the straps, which  flap back on the fasteners, I wanted both sides of the stitching to look the same and it wasn’t happening, despite my varying the tension in both directions.  Any suggestions why?

After much unpicking, a sore thumb and wasted thread  I lost my temper, swearing and hissing as so many of us fine ladies do.  Guterman topstitching thread, which I can only find in spools of 30 metres, is not only expensive but I have to travel miles to buy it so it was frustrating to spend so much time on this, so close to the finish too.  It’s when I threatened to take the machine upstairs and throw it out the window that my loving husband came over offering rational means of solving the problem so that he could get back to his conference calls in peace.

We went through the troubleshooting section in the machine’s manual, looking for the culprit.  We could only guess it was the tension.  When I explained that the machine had problems before but was serviced 10 months ago at a cost of almost £150 – and a guarantee of 6 months 🙄  – I got to witness typical old-fashioned man-indignation.  You know, the kind you used to see in sitcoms whenever a wife-type-character returns from the garage where a car had been treated to some wiping with an oily rag, lots of jargon and an astronomical bill?  Anyway, Man got onto phone, to Janome, and obtained a technical manual.  Man now not only determined to learn to service the machine himself, he will welcome the challenge!  In a way similar to my daughter and I doing Colin Thompson Jigsaw puzzles at Christmas.  Isn’t it strange?  But great 🙂  Let’s hope it’s as easy as he suspects (any reader experience of this would be a treat!).  There’s a small outlay in that we’ll have to buy a gauge for tension testing but you can never have too many gadgets, can you?  Meanwhile, normal thread sewing resumes without trouble.

1 Through the loupe lensThe Illuminated Loupe I showed you above was offered to me when we were checking if I might be using a wrong needle.  I don’t know about you but I can’t see the numbers on the shank.  I can tell if the needle is thick or fine, but it’s nice to be able to read the small print.  The loupe can enable you to do that and they don’t cost much more than a pack of needles (try here).

1 PliersHere are some other useful things from the man cave:  on the left, some needle-nose pliers (or as I prefer: snipe-nose pliers) being used to extract a hand-sewing needle through layers of thick denim.  I think we’ve all had to borrow pliers at some point.

1 magnetic screws dishAnd my favourite discovery of all: a magnetic screw tray which I use for pins.  They’re not as cute as those lilac or lime ones sold in sewing shops but you get 4 for well under a tenner (try here) and I’m too mean to pay Woman Tax!  I like how the underneath can hold up pattern pieces against the sides of my metallic filing cabinet which is next to where I work. .

Have you borrowed from man caves or other insalubrious corners in the name of our craft?

By the way, it’s someone’s birthday today 🙂 and later in the week mine!  Join us in a little dance…

1groovy

Pass the Pattern

1 issy pattern envelope

1 issy badMaking StyleArc Issy a couple of months ago turned out to be my biggest flop in a while.  This top swamped me.  But the fault was mine, not the pattern’s.  I’d made the cardinal mistake of not checking the sizing and picked the most lugubrious fabric!  Feeling Issy deserved more, I offered the pattern to whoever felt up to the challenge of making a better job of it.

Lesley in Australia said yes!

I can’t wait to see what she’s made of it!  She’s hinted that it’s good.  The big reveal, on Lesley’s blog Sew Nip Tuck, is imminent!

pASS THE ISSYLesley suggested we keep Issy in circulation – an admirable idea – and she’s going to pick the next recipient from those who leave a comment on her post, so do go down under and sign up!  Issy is not a particularly difficult make and the instructions (for StyleArc anyway) are sufficient.  Also, this company’s pattern paper is the proper white stuff, not tissue, so it’s likely to survive going round the blogosphere a few times.

 Lesley and Kate, at Kate's

October 2015: Lesley and Kate, at Kate’s

Another feature of Pass the Pattern challenge is that whoever wins Issy will post a reciprocal ‘mystery’ pattern to the person who sent it: something from your stash you guess might suit them.  This was also Lesley’s suggestion so when she told me something was on the way, I had a sense of anticipation.  After all, her blog and comments on my posts always reveal good judgement.  Besides,  the two of us have met in real life.  It’s like she knows me!!

When the parcel arrived, the stamps on it were so pretty the Blogstalker sat down on it with determined, possessive fury….

1 Blogstalker and the furry Antipodean cousin

Eventually I tore out this:

Vogue 1285

1 vogue 1285 pattern envelope

1 v1285 cover pattern envelope

1 Lea Wrap Dress by Stylearc PatternsImmediate thought: this looks like my Style Arc Lea (a favourite of 2015).  The ghost of my concerned grandmother began to whisper: “But Marijana, do you really need another dress?!”   Vogue 1285 by Tracy Reese, has a kind of Studio-54-Bianca-Jagger vibe and may be familiar to you as the pattern with the “inverted darts”.  They’re kind of controversial, flapping about and in the shape of fish lips.  In fact, most sewists who’ve reviewed this pattern have tended not to make them.1 fishie

1 Hobbs NW3 Denim DressAnd yet, look at this Hobbs dress in the shops a few years ago, where similar waist darts had been topstitched down on the outside.  It looks great with the rough-hewn denim look: it’s certainly an idea worth copying.  Also, a notched collar similar to the one on the V1285 recently caught my eye on this beautiful velvet coat (alas, it’s  £199!).  I cut this out from some catalogue meaning to copy that too!

1 inspiration with notched collar

So do I need another dress?  Well yeah, like, OBVIOUSLY!

Thank you Lesley!  🙂

And good luck to those playing Pass the Pattern.

Bishop Sleeve with Cuff

1 sarah sleeve with buttons and loopsI met a bishop once.  In his ecclesiastical robes, he was grand yet unexpectedly

1 lilli ann bishop sleeve

Lilli Ann Bishop Sleeve (click for source and more info)

approachable – but I wouldn’t have called him stylish.  Yet the sleeve taking its name from the venerable office – which is long and widens towards the bottom then is gathered into a cuff – can result in a very feminine and elegant look.  On this garment by the vintage clothing label Lilli Ann, the style is taken to an elaborate extreme.  I can just imagine it on a statuesque diva like Rita Hayworth.

1 the sleeve ready for cuffOn little short me, it’s advisable to keep the volume of fabric subtle.  While remaking my Faith Top* in silk chiffon, I remodeled the bodice to eliminate the raglan and grafted on the sleeve of the Sarah Shirt (Variation 1).  It widens out gently, has a bound slit and is then closed with a cuff and snaps.  Here it is before cuff application.

This is how the cuffs are supposed to look: th1 Sarah Variation 1 sleeve cuffese sleeves are from the BHL Sarah Shirt Sewalong.  Sewing on the snaps will be a nice, snug solution but I’m not keen on snaps (they remind me of nappy changing). As I need to practice sewing delicate fabrics and couture techniques, and being a sucker for covered buttons and loops that I am, I decided to extend one side of the cuff and sew rouleau strip loops to the other.  You can do this to any sleeve with a similar cuff.  As long as the sleeve is gathered, you can make it fit a cuff cut to your own wrist size.   My formula for the width of the rectangle (the part that wraps around the wrist) = wrist circumference + 2.5cm ease + 2.5cm button tab projection + 2cm seam allowances (1cm each side).  Height is 4.5 cm (though if you’re tall, 5cm might be more in proportion with the length of your arm) + seam allowance of 1.5cm.  So for a 17cm wrist, the rectangle will be 24cm x 6cm.

Cut on fold (long side).  You can use the original pattern piece from Sarah Shirt but unless you have small wrists, you’ll need more fabric for the protruding tab.

Notes:

The most tricky part is remembering that the loops belong to the front sleeve and the protruding tab with the buttons to the back sleeve.  To avoid the annoyance of making the same cuff twice, cut both left and right cuffs at the same time and work them as mirror images.   Here goes:

1. Prepare covered button, cuff pattern and rouleau strip. I immediately press under the 1.5cm seam allowance on the part of cuff that will form the inside. This is to be able to tell the wrong and right sides apart.

1. Prepare covered button, cuff pattern and rouleau strip. I immediately press under the 1.5cm seam allowance on the part of cuff that will form the inside. This is to be able to tell the wrong and right sides apart.

1 Decide on the placement of the rouleau strips

2. Fold cuff in two, wrong sides together, and press. Open and press again. Using the fold line you created, decide on the placement of the rouleau strips by placing the buttons where the loops will go and mark.  I marked the seam allowance with some chalk – this is to avoid being too close to the stitching.

 

1 Stitch rouleau strips to the Seam Allowance. The length of the strips is tricky to determine but you need 2 seam allowance and 2 widths of button, then minus some as the rouleau strip is on bias and will stretch. I recommend doing a practice out of some spares

3. Stitch rouleau strips to the Seam Allowance. The length of the strips is tricky to determine but you need 2 seam allowances and 2 widths of your button, then minus some as the rouleau strip is on bias and will stretch. I wish I’d made mine a little bit tighter which is why I recommend doing a practice out of some spares.

4. Stitch the short sides of cuff, allong seam allowances. On the tab side, stitch an L-Shape, making the projection 2.5cm

4. Stitch the short sides of cuff, right sides together, along seam allowances. On the tab side of cuff, stitch an L-Shape, making the projection 2.5cm.  Press, clip and press right sides out.  Now sew the cuff to the gathered sleeve, right sides together.  Sew the inner cuff (pressed in) to the wrong side using the the stitch in the ditch method (i.e. stitch from the right side, erring on the side of the sleeve not cuff ).  Sew the buttons in a position so the slit is almost closed when the buttons are  closed.

1 loop and buttons

*I will cover the Faith Bodice another time.

Brooklyn

1 St Patricks Day Dress1 Gathered Bust DartThe window of my local charity shop was full of green – a St Patrick’s Day display – and as I walked past I spotted this neat little dress. The bust dart turning into a princess seam particularly interested me as I’d only just done some experimentation in that area, though my handling is very different and the result more smock than sleek.

By coincidence, my muslin, made from a worn IKEA bedsheet, is also green!

I had no need for the dress in the charity shop, the kind I imagine worn by a bright young office girl just starting out. But it’s sold now and I wish I’d looked at it more closely while I had the chance – who made it? what was it like inside? – because yesterday evening I saw Brooklyn, the story of a young Irishwoman (played by the beautifully lucid-eyed Saoirse Ronan) who due to lack of work and prospects leaves her family to begin a new life in the US. Not only did one of the women who shares Eilis’ lodgings wear a top featuring the same detail on the bust as in the charity shop dress, but the entire film captivated me in a way films rarely do, so that I’m now dwelling all misty-eyed on every remembered detail.

1 Old World Knitwear

Before leaving

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the trailers for the film when I saw them on TV but one of the reasons I chose to go anyway is the costume. Odile Dicks-Mireaux was nominated for a Bafta for her designs.  Set in 1951-52 – days before homes had telephones so long distance calls between the two sides of the Atlantic had to be arranged by appointment – the story sometimes focuses on clothes: trying to dress well on a little money (the Ireland scenes feature some bulky, homely knitwear), and the way clothes are used to create a persona or those important first impressions. The contrast between the plain outifts worn by new émigrés and those who’ve already made their home in the US, with all the income and confidence this gives, is a sub-plot in itself. Here the big screen proved a better choice than TV would have been. I delighted in each set of old buttons and the simple style lines, remembering the clothes worn by my very elegant maternal grandmother. Modest and classic, these garments were usually home-made and treated with care so they could be worn for decades, even as cruel fashion moved on and mocked.

Source: 'Saoirse Like Inertia' on Pinterest

Source: ‘Saoirse Like Inertia’ on Pinterest

I looked, as us dressmakers tend to, for the odd anachronism of an invisible zipper or man-made fibres, or the tell-tale perfection of a garment that had been mass-manufactured in its thousands, but I saw none.  Perhaps because many of the outfits were not made for the film but sourced from vintage shops as this interview with the costumier suggests.

Another reason I went to watch the film is that some years ago I read the novel by Colm Tóibín.  It was foisted upon me (you could say) by a member of my book group who chose it as one of our monthly reads.  In a group of about eight every one of us liked it which doesn’t often happen.  But the film, in my view, is even better.  Partly as the sets and the costumes are so well done and evocative, thus filling between the lines of a book, but mainly because the performances of the entire cast, and especially the lead, are mesmerising so that everything I’ve mentioned so far is secondary in this poignant and character-led story.  Having recently watched Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, two well made, Oscar-scooper films in which the main characters have a super-human ability to repeatedly escape death so that it becomes impossible to care, here is the perfect antidote. To watch a sweet and vulnerable girl having to make a choice between two worlds, either decision causing pain and loss to those who love her, was almost unbearable. Which is not to say it wasn’t funny too. Go see.

"He's not Irish, you know!" Click for source and more stills from the film

“He’s not Irish, you know!” Click for source and more stills from the film