First Dungies

1 Hammer Loop added to Kwik Sew 3897

Scissors at the ready!

1 Kwik Sew 3897 DungariesA couple of months ago as shop windows changed their displays for the spring, denim garments of every description exploded onto the scene.  It seemed the right time to address an old injustice of my never having owned a pair of dungarees!

A voice of reason told me to go into any of the shops, like H&M or M&S, and try on a pair to see if they suit me.  But I didn’t.  It would have put me off.  Changing rooms offer such a dispiriting experience.  I often try jeans on and despair at how awful they look, but soon as I change back into the pair I came in – the jeans I wear all the time – I invariably find that they look bad too!

1 Kwik Sew 3897 Pattern envelopeSo instead I bought a dungarees sewing pattern, Kwik Sew 3897, some jean buttons (online) and buckles at £1.60 pence a pair from the haberdasher’s at the market in Bromley (an excellent resource for zips, thread, even boning: Thursdays and Saturdays only).  The buttons which come with matching spikes are extremely easy to apply though I  had a little practice on a scrap, just in case.  I would have liked to have used rivets too but the ones in my stash didn’t match the buttons.  I find this is often the problem with making stuff out of denim: the studs, buttons and rivets available to sewists are never on a par with RTW and your garment inevitably gives off an air of the Eastern Bloc.

1 rivets and buttons

Buttons and rivets for jean wear

The other problem with making denim look rugged and cowgirl (which is how I like it) is that it’s hard to achieve that topstitching perfection on our genteel home-sewing machines.  Perfect bar-tacking?!  Forget it.  Equally spaces double rows? Nah.

Trying to get equal tension on both sides of the fabric was particularly frustrating.  Some of you offered advice when in previous post I showed an example of wonky bobbin thread on topstitched seams.  I learnt how to fiddle with bobbin tension (thanks Kim).  But a reader (thanks, Sue C!) suggested it was impossible to achieve the same effect at home as with an industrial machine designed to take denim.  1 uneven stitchingSo I finished the dungarees as I started, with the usual polyester thread in the bobbin area.  Only on the hammer loop, where both sides show, did I use topstitching thread in both.

So, here I am in my finished dungarees, made using an IKEA curtain (I warned you I had an inexhaustible supply!).

1 Dungees

Likes: simple, clever construction that results in a fairly genuine-looking article.

Dislikes: it’s hard to fit these in a way that would flatter a shaped figure so a muslin is a good idea if your denim is expensive or if you’re fussy about how you present yourself.  I think they’re too big and I could possibly go down a size or two.

And their cut is wide and blokey.  A bit… ‘Bob the Builder’.

1 bob

Changes made:

  • Narrowed the legs a good 4cm (it’s not possible to narrow the hip width without remaking the bib too, as top and bottom are joined in the first stages of construction)
  • Added an extra button at each side
  • Cinched in the waist by adding buttons at an angle, so the top button is closer to the centre than the hip button
  • Added a hammer loop so as to hang me scissors instead of losing them all the time:roll:
  • Added some extra topstitching, e.g. on the back pockets

1 betty blueVerdict: Soon as I put them on, I realised how comfortable and practical they are.  Shame they’re not more flattering too, like those worn by Betty Blue.  I can wear them when I want to impress with an attitude of capability. 

But why oh why did you people who claim to have lived in dungarees during the 1980s not warn me: if you’re rushing to the toilet, don’t fling the straps behind you when you sit down.  You’ll hear a disheartening ‘chink’ as those buckles hit the porcelain!

1 Back View KS 3897

1 Kwik Sew 3897 Back of Pattern envelope1t rosie the riveter in dungaress

Jane Eyre Dress

1 Gathering Jane Eyre1 Sew 2 pro Jane EyreI like to play around with the ‘governess dress’ theme and the brief I gave myself for this year’s version was ‘demure… or deadly?’

(You do realise, I hope, that almost everything I do and say is tongue-in-cheek :-) )

The fabric is pincord, the finest known to humanity.  Over the last few years I’ve made many dresses and shirts out of this and will continue to do so till I run out of supply (this current batch is from Rolls and Rems in Lewisham). I love its softness and warmth; it has substance yet for some designs, say a circle skirt, there is the necessary drape too.  I would have liked the contrasting detail to be just white in a crisp cotton or silk (for a particularly strict governess look) but I worried that the repeated washing would cause the black dye to spoil the whiteness.  The tartan is, I think, a good compromise and on the few occasions I have worn this I’ve been given the thumbs up.

Back in March while making this, I listened to a dramatized serial of Jane Eyre on Radio 4 with what I consider to be among the most interesting young actors around, Amanda Hale and Tom Burke, in the main roles.  As I worked on my governess dress, I imagined it on Jane. Here she is, pattering lightly on the stone-flagged floors of draughty Thornfield Hall, dabbing at her permanently dripping nose.  That’s what one of those big, pouchy pockets is for – a hanky! 1 Jane Eyre

The other pocket’s a money bag.  When he remembers, Mr Rochester tends to issue his wages in half-yearly lumps.  But reader, don’t hold it against him, for we have traveled into the past, where there are no nice shops and no stuff to buy.

1 Back View1 Inside outThe back is shaped by two contour darts, the sleeves are ‘bracelet length’ and there’s a side zip.  Do you like how I’ve used tartan leftovers on the inside, including a bias strip as hemming?

Email me if you would like to buy a pattern of this dress which I can design to your measurements. The fit is similar to a shift dress but with room at the front due to the volume from the bust dart gathering.  Being above the knee, it has a sixties, mod vibe.  The level of skill: intermediate.

Link: Quiz: How Jane Eyre are you

1 Je

Pintucks

1 stylearc faith with loop and button closure1 front

1 faith 2

The original Stylearc Faith

Nothing new to see here: this is the same blouse as in my Bishop Sleeves post.

But there are some brutally frank close-ups of the loop and button closure, the less than perfect collar as well as pintucks.

The idea was ‘to upgrade, with ambition’ the Stylearc Faith Top I made earlier this year out of lawn and judged to be wearable but a bit simple.  I fear it’s one of those garments you suspect makes people think ‘you spent hours and hours sewing, just to make that?’  The pintucks were wide and the back-of-neck gathers too crude.  But I thought it had potential.

1 stylear faith hackThis garment has more interesting details, the fabric is silk and I will enjoy the feeling of luxury every time I fiddle with the loops and covered buttons while getting it on and off. It’s not precise enough in execution to save for special occasions. This will be an everyday blouse worn over a tight vest to give me warmth and decent coverage throughout our too cold summers.

In the process I made two mistakes which led me to learn a couple of important lessons. The first relates to sewing sheer fabric where the seams show through.  This doesn’t look good.  It doesn’t so much matter on the side seams but the original bodice front had a centre seam which in the sheer version looked ugly, despite my using French seam to keep raw edges hidden. So I had to discard attempt number one (after all the pintucks were made – :roll: ) and started again, creating a single front piece which was then slit at the neckline with a very narrow facing to which the rouleau strip loops were attached.  In short, Lesson One: re-design your pattern to reduce the number of seams.

The second hard lesson was first chronologically and is more relevant in that it relates to pintucks.  I decided to begin by making the back first to give me practice of pintucks in the less visible area (in the  Faith pattern, this area is gathered).  But despite careful calculations (or so I thought), the finished piece ended up too narrow to fit my shoulders. I’d already widened the shoulders to eliminate the raglan sleeves but it was nowhere enough so I had to chuck that away and start again, this time making longer than required pintucks on a rectangular piece and when they were finished cutting out the pattern piece so that the pintucked area would fit the neck piece.  1 back stylearc faith

Pintucks are not for everyone; they require so much time that you have to be a bit of a fan to think it’s worth it.  Here are some tips if you want to give them a go:

  • On woven fabrics, where the grain of a fabric is visible, or where there’s a visible pattern like on this striped chiffon, you can use the lines as a guide to the placement of pintucks and their width.

 

  • Some use a double needle to make them, I used a pintuck foot.  .1 pintuck food

 

  • Press each side of pintuck after it’s formed to sink in stitches, then press to one side.

 

 

 

1 and tie knots nicely

Pintucks on reverse

  • I used a basting stitch, later removed, to mark the end points of each pintuck so to know exactly where to stop stitching.  (Chalk lines turned to dust and disappeared under all the pressing and  jumping from machine to ironing board.)

 

 

  • 1 take thread to wrong sideYou cannot backstitch at the ends: it looks unattractive.  Instead, pass each thread to the wrong side, using a hand sewing needle (yes, lots of time-consuming threading) and tie into a  secure knot, taking care not to ‘choke’ the pintuck.

And two very important points:

  • Stiffen your fabric to make it easier to handle if your pintucks are fine. You can use starch on cotton. I used gelatine.
1 jcrew pintuck

J Crew Pintuck blouse

  • If you don’t want to risk making your pattern pieces too small by adding pintucks, make them on separate sections of fabric then add to the garment.  Many RTW garments tend to have them applied in sections, as in this JCrew top (quite similar in colour to mine.)

 

 

This post  looks at pintucks from a historical sewing angle and was very helpful in my research.  It shows something that had completely escaped me in my focus on sewing the garment I’d envisaged: that pintucks are often horizontal. (As the post suggests, use the straightgrain or crossgrain but never bias as it’s too stretchy).

You could put a few rows of horizontal ones on a little girl’s dress and unpick them as she grows out of the length.  On coloured fabric, there’d emerge an interesting colour difference due to fading.  Just don’t forget to make them first and then cut your pattern 1 Helline Denim dresspiece.

Here’s a great denim dress with what look like horizontal pintucks….  I may just copy it someday.

Have you ever been potty about pintucks?!

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 :roll:  – 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

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