Sewing Smoke

1 six napoleon dress, version 2

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

Option 2

 

The Fabric

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

1 close up

1 six napoleon challenge

1 bialetti

1 organza

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

1 take me to the other side

The Design

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

1 step one-horz

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

1 pin and pleat

Pleating and pinning – till your arms fall off!

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

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

1 cut

Slashing the organza and lining

the zip of horror

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

The Construction

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

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

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

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

But Now It’s a Dress

1 but now..

1 welcome to the dollhouse

1 under my thumbnail

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

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

1 rouleau strips1 bias binding

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

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

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

1 back white

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

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

1 back blue

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

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

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

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

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

It Used to be a Tablecloth

1 usedtobeatablecloth

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

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

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

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

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

client's dress close up

The target design

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

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

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

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

*not a barbarian but a Hungarian Viszla!

One Nap

1 one nap

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

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

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

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

1 skirt

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

Which I don’t!

1 foolhardy

1 1 nap

Updates and Dates

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

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

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

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

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

1 t jo

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

1t JO v2 back

1 jo 2

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

And now, my own experiments….

1 paper

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

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

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

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

Mummy Dearest

1t jean bodiceThe Six Napoleon Challenge: I am officially postponing the deadline, for two reasons. Firstly, to enable Ruth and Demented Fairy, our teachers/lecturers one of whom is still marking papers, to join us and to add their esteemed grey matter and wealth of sewing experience into the mix.

And, because I have enlisted the help of Anita from Studio Faro.  Anita is a pattern-drafting expert and teacher who demystifies mind-boggling designs in the Pattern Puzzle section of her blog.  She will write a guest post here once she has cleared her current commitments.  This will be followed by something on the Studio Faro blog.

Guys, we’re in good hands!  🙂

Thank you Anita, I’m very grateful.

Challengers: could I ask you to submit something by the first weekend of August (6-7), which is a few days after I come back from my holiday?  I will aim to put everything together on the 8 August.   Apologies to those who feel like you’ve had to rush it, but I trust this will help you.  Or maybe you’re cursing my name because of the inevitability of Parkinson’ Law kicking in, by which I mean that work will drag out to fill the time available!

I’ve got an exciting little deadline to fill the first part of the weekend.  On Wednesday, my daughter announced we should go to a charity fundraising ball at her school on Saturday night because at the beginning of the event she will be doing a dance she has choreographed with a friend, previously scheduled for the Summer Fair but cancelled.  I’d known about the event for some time but was quite keen not to go, not because the tickets are expensive (the aren’t) but because it’s a ‘formal attire’ evening.  It now turns out it’s the only chance I’ll have to see the dance performed on stage.   Daughter will need a dress to wear once her performance is over and she can join us.  In her innocence she planned on wearing her now very tight and slightly stained Tudor Tyrant costume but I suspect a satin fancy dress isn’t the look the organisers are aiming for!  So I reached again for the cling-film, wrapped her up and made this…

1 connie's cling film form

She is a bigger girl than when I last sewed for her exactly a year ago.  There might even be a bust dart in there somewhere!  I now have just over a day to produce a formal dress, using my petroleum-smelling cheap polyester which happens to be in a colour she loves (it’s still stiffened with gelatine).  She’d like me to make something like the beautiful green Greek Goddess dress you can just about see in the top picture which a friend would like fixed after another dressmaker bodged it (no pressure there then…).  But I can only make something very simple in the time.  If I fail (there are 4 errands requiring car trips between now and then), there is always a chance the charity shops will have something lovely in her size.

1 maskeDid I mention it was a masked ball?  We’re making masks too!  If only it wasn’t so windy today and the spray paint didn’t end up on my toes!!  I bought a pack of paper masks and covered two in glue and strips of gauze before painting.  I like the rough texture this has created.

Did I mention I love an adrenaline rush?  And that I’ve replaced my meals with tea so the time I save on preparing and eating food I spend instead …  on the loo 😯   ?

And oh, look: I’ve rescued the black bodice.  I took the advice of reader Sridevi and levelled the tail-like back.  The zip is an open-ended one used for jackets which makes it easy to get in and out of.  But it’s too long.  I don’t know whether to look for a shorter one – what are the odds of finding a 23.5cm open-ended zip? – or to snip this one and tuck the ends inside.   Available zip lengths  is definitely something to consider when drafting this as a bodice alone.  Bonne chance, mes amis. 1 bodice-horz

Frankenstein

1 bodice sideAfter more monstrous activity, the 6 Nap bodice is done.  Well, the first attempt anyway. Actually this is the second.  The first, which included boning, is lying on the floor somewhere.

I’ve had something of a bad week – two disappointments, a minor followed by a major, though neither sewing related.  Certainly the mood is low and the Gothic references will be heavy!

1 the monsterI began as last week when drafting with Jo by sewing a close-fitting bodice with princess seams.  Instead of fabric I used blackout lining left over from the curtains in the old flat (the kids’ bedroom was east-facing and would be light at 5am this time of year!).  I’ve used this for toiles before so didn’t have much left.  Some pieces are the wrong side up and therefore a different colour.  You can see where I patched up the centre–front neckline after I originally cut it too low – hence ‘Frankenstein’.

1 bodiceI love using this PVC-like material as it’s quick to sew and if you use the longest stitch, it unpicks in an instant with no ripping.  No need to staystitch.  It doesn’t distort in spite of all the stretching and pinning over the ironing board (see below), not to mention from getting it on and off countless times.

I pinned and pinched and made it as close-fitting as I could, especially under the bust and from neck line to bustpoint. When I felt sufficiently contained, I put it on the dummy and drew the new style lines, using my tracing of the original dress as a reference and copying the curved lines (lines of longitude) in relation to the asymmetric hem which was the first reference I drew.

 Then, instead of slicing up the bodice as with Jo, I pinned each section to the ironing board, lying it as flat as possible, with a piece of paper underneath.  I pinned along the style lines, so the pins stuck up vertically from the ironing board.

1 pinning

 Laying out Back 1 pattern piece and pin-tracing

I removed the ‘skin job’ from the board, drew from pin to pin, and used my Shoben Fashion Curve to add seam allowances.

Before I forget: if you’re going to do this, start by marking the grainline.  In the above picture it’s the arrow in the middle of the pattern piece.  Just two pins, one at each end, then you can extend the line on the paper.

Here it is, made up in a fabric.

1 fron bodiceIt’s a black poly blend, very firm, nicely textured and slightly glossy.  It feels more expensive than it was (£5 a metre).  I took a shine to it ages ago and now I’ve finally found a project for it, I go back to Goldhawk Road and find it’s the end of the roll.  The first version was made from the better end of the remnant.  I used the fabric for the lining too but ruined it when I attached the bodice to the lining and – all rushing optimism – made an infinity loop.

Don’t be fools like me, my friends: use the second method in this Threads video recommended by Ruth which shows a clean-finish method.  Pretend ‘facing’ is ‘lining’ and all will be fine!  As it frays easily, the fabric didn’t survive the seam ripper so  what you see above it made from the flawed end of the roll with creases that don’t come out (especially noticeable around the shoulder).  Also the lining is cotton lawn which isn’t firm enough.

One challenge in making this to fit me is that I haven’t got the long body of the imaginary model wearing the original dress.  My pieces are really quite small and I’m wondering how to squeeze into the eventual dress.  The top of the side seam with the zipper will have to be open I think.

But the upside of all this is that it’s quick to cut and sew.  I didn’t need to staystich or clip the vertical seams, just finger-pressed them open and steamed over a ham.

I will make this once more but need to go back shopping (or else cut up another curtain!).  There are a few mistakes in drafting to improve, e.g. the asymmetric hem point should be higher and more central.

Whereas the back needs the exact opposite: it should be lower and less central. Right now that is a duck’s arse!1 back of bodice one

I hope those of you who have taken up the challenge are enjoying the karma of my being challenged!  To think that in my younger years I used to believe if it isn’t possible to achieve perfection at first go, it wasn’t worth doing.  Please feel free to criticise or suggest: I won’t mind: I’m really thick skinned!

1 t how am I supposed to sleep on all these pins

Drafting with Jo

gardenI woke today to a mini-flood in the garden. It had rained all night and then it rained on and off all day with the heaviest deluge saved for the early evening which is the time of week when I do racewalk training at the local athletics track.  As my coach worried if lightning was going to strike us, I did only 2km, splashing through the submerged innermost lane, mostly to give my young training partner Izzy (now, she is very talented) someone to chase on her 5 laps in preparation for an upcoming county championships.

1 inThe whole day felt subdued. Humidity, awful traffic and an ironic sense of an impending doom as the nation headed out to vote in the referendum. If I wasn’t such a stickler for driving smoothly (I have a hybrid car…),  I’d have driven into a man who, walking with his family, stepped out to cross the road without looking, ballot papers in hand, heading for a school being used as polling station.  ‘In or out?’, I felt like shouting after him – to find out if I should have driven faster!  😈

I’d voted days before by post, to remain. When the referendum was announced I was slightly more than half in favour that we should remain but as I listened to the arguments of both sides over the past months, my feelings strengthened to an almost certainty. This was after listening to the economic arguments and opinion from family and friends as well as due to a sense of gratitude to the EU I feel for nudging us to clean our environment. (On the other, the UK leads in driving improved standards of animal welfare which is where I wish it to influence other EU countries).

It’s been an interesting time with many people raising their political voice in a debate they feel they can understand, like voting used to be!  1t elisalex and charlotte

Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (1985 ed.)Despite the subdued mood, I had fun today as I worked with my friend Jo on drafting the Six Napoleon bodice for her.  The plan was to graft together the Elisalex and Charlotte Skirt Patterns – a process which results in what I understand is called a “Frankenpattern”. Jo and I started sewing at the same time – by coincidence – about ten years ago, starting with simple projects negotiated around raising small children (we met at a weekly mummy-run playgroup at the local community centre which we in turn organised).  I remember how surprised I was to discover I had a fellow sewist in my circle – it wasn’t so trendy then!  Not only that, but Jo told me her parents had given her the old Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, the very book I’d borrowed from Greenwich Library to teach myself with.

Toile no. 1

Toile no. 1

Jo, who’s quite a bit busier than me, has no experience of drafting but she is big a fan of By Hand London because the patterns fit her straight from the envelope. Even so, we had our work cut out for us.  The Elisalex bodice is a bit short of the natural waist and the Charlotte skirt (which has more darts than I’d have asked for!) sits low.  We had to fill in the grey area in between.  We used lots of brown greaseproof paper for tracing and Sellotape for sticking it together. The messy, parchment-like paperwork indeed looked like skin of a monster!

I love visiting Jo. Every corner of her home arouses my curiosity so that I feel compelled to go around asking ‘who made this!?’ and ‘where did you get that?’ and ‘how does this work?.  Your typical nosy foreigner basically…  Not that Jo’s home is cluttered!  🙂  Just indicative of a happy, busy, creative family life.

When Jo quickly made up the first toile on her Bernina and put it on, she shouted: ‘it fits!’  But of course, it wasn’t to be. The front looked good enough but when she turned, the back told a different story.  Masses of gaping at the neck and not enough width below the waist (the bit I’d filled in!).  The hem was a big ragged too!

IMG_3330

As we sat in the basement kitchen for draft 2, a mystery guest, in a tuxedo, watched us nonchalantly from the garden. Jo thinks he was looking for mice among the ferns.

1 mystery guest

Toile 2 fitted better but this time there was horizontal excess at the back so we pinched out a massive 4cm swayback (Jo has a cracking figure, very shaped, with long and slender limbs).  With this sewn up in a dart, we pinned the bodice onto the dummy and carved it up using the Six Napoleon sketch as a guide as to where to place the seams.

1 bodice 21 bodice 2 back

Toile Number 2.  Cotton fabric, vintage Laura Ashley

Using pins to mark new style lines for the Six Napoleon Bodice

Using pins to mark new style lines for the Six Napoleon Bodice

bodice drawing

We cut along these lines and when I left Jo, she was pinning the pieces to paper and drawing 1cm seam allowances all around.

1 pinning the pattern piece

We’re not aiming for a close, corset-like fit for Jo.  She would like to wear this as a top only, over a skirt or with jeans.  This threw up some interesting dilemmas:

  • As a stand-alone garment, will the bodice be too short or will it provide adequate coverage over the stomach and hips?

 

  • The zip is to be fitted onto the longer side of the bodice.  Even so, will this opening be wide enough to squeeze into the garment?

 

  • Maybe the zipper should be top to bottom, like an open-ended jacket zipper?

 

  • In which case, can one buy a concealed zipper in this format?

 

  • I’ve been making my own bodice too.  After making a mistake when cutting the first pieces of the lining, I gave Jo strict instructions: cut fashion fabric right side up; cut lining fabric wrong side up.  So that they fit each other.

 

  • Finally… After making a mistake when sewing my own bodice and lining… In what order do we attach the bodice and lining?  Without ending up with the curse that is the infinity loop….!  Any pointers gratefully received.

 

To be continued…

Prepping

1 drawing

Masayo Yasuki

Masayo Yasuki of dogstar (click for source interview)

I left a message on the dogstar Clothing Facebook page to promote our challenging task of recreating the Six Napoleon dress, and Masayo Yasuki, dogstar designer, very nicely got in touch saying:

The biggest hurdle I would have to say is the 8 meters of silk organza that makes up the skirt… not to mention the 6 meters of lining!

Fourteen metres in the skirt!  😯

Option 2-horzThis gave food for thought.  Firstly, if it took so much fabric to make the skirt, then that dress was a bargain.  Second: that amount in anything other than the lightest fabrics is going to be heavy (when in my ill-advised moment I bought  8 metres of polyester recently, I soon got tired dragging the bag about town with me.)  So either reduce the volume of folds in the skirt or pick something that won’t cause your back to collapse if you intend to wear the dress for dancing or standing about.

I wonder if gauze – available in widths of about 90cm/36″ –  could work?  My grandma used gauze for everything from straining mozzarella to making a camomile tea compress to put on my itchy eyes during hayfever but I have no experience of sewing it and I wonder if there’s a drawback to doing so.  It’s cheap to buy online – so long as you don’t opt for the sterilised strips used for bandages!  – and being cotton it should dye well though there’d be some shrinkage.

Despite a very busy schedule, Kate is also taking part in the challenge (yay! 🙂 ).  In a discussion on her Corseted Dress Challenge post,  the option of making the skirt as a separate was discussed.  1 pleated trimThe skirt could fit under the bodice like a petticoat or it could go on top: I’d prefer the latter.  I would attach it to the edge of the bodice with a trim on the top of the skirt hiding the basting stitches.  I like the idea of a narrow pleated ribbon, like a finer version of the trim made by one of the contestants in the current series of the Great British Sewing Bee (an interesting technique of tucking fabric into folds of card and pressing: see 46 minutes into Episode 1)?  In the picture below, you can see a similar trim separating the lowered bodice from the skirt on the dress worn by Peggy of Made Men, though this has a ruffled/ruched appearance whereas what I imagine is more like the surround on a rosette.

Mad Men Challenge

Below are other ideas that have harangued me and which I’ve tried to sort in an attempt at organization before I begin to draft, as well as links to other posts which may help you in this or other projects.  It’s still not too late to join us brave muskateers who are going to give this a try: let me know if the timing of the deadline is putting you off.

1 measuring angles

Part One: Bodice

1 ribbon on bodiceI’ve been trying to pin ribbons to my dummy to replicate the dipped edge of the bodice.  I was underwhelmed with the results so to get more accurate angles, I made a tracing of the original photo of the dress by putting paper on my computer with the brightness up.  I measured the angles with a protractor using an imaginary horizontal hem as a baseline (see big picture above).  My measurements (approximate) are: left angle is 25°; the larger angle on the right is 55°.

1 measuring angle

Bodice back

Pella, an experienced pattern drafter who has already made a great start on this challenge, pointed out that we don’t know what is going on at the back.  It could be straight but I think not.  I’ll keep the bodice dips but make them slightly higher than at the front to avoid the skirt bulging out in the same place as does my pear-shaped bottom (ha!).

This weekend I am going to try a little experiment to hopefully help me with the close-fitting bodice design.  Below is a hint: can you guess what I’ll do!?  (um, I don’t know Marianna.  Dance around like weirdo?)

Princess seams

Before sewing princess seams, I like to staystitch all the curved areas to 1-2mm of the stitching line and then clip right up to the staystitch.  As for the rest, here’s one of my much visited posts on sewing princess seams.

Boning

I have found an endless number of posts relating to boning on Gertie’s website.  Interestingly, those folksy German dresses have boning on either side of the front-laced opening so that the bodice doesn’t crumple during dressing/undressing.  For the Six Nap dress, boning isn’t necessary but if like me you’re desperate to give it a try, this tip from Iconic Patterns should ensure the strips don’t dig into your leg: sit down in front of a mirror with a tape around your waist and measure the distance from the waist to the top of thigh: do not exceed this measurement.

Part Two: Draping

I’m sensing the limitations of Anne, my cheap display dummy.  How much easier it would be to wield yardage of fabric on a half-scale model such as Pella has.  Even just a heavy metal base would improve Anne: she wouldn’t threaten to topple as I turn her while winding lots of fabric around.

Improvisation

1 improvised draping

This image is from the Improvisational Draping chapter of Draping: the Complete Course Book, where the author picks a V Westwood dress as the inspiration and suggests you begin by drawing grainlines where they can be ascertained.  This sounds like good advice though I’m not sure I understand the bottom right arrow.  It will make sense when I give it a go.

Mille feuille  💡

You know those cream cakes made of many layers of thin pastry?  Certain other design on the dogstar FB page with similar multi-layered skirt effect reminds me of cakes so I’m wondering if instead of pleating large swathes of fabric to mimic 6 Nap, I could get squares of say 80cm x 80cm,  some folded along the straightgrain and pinned to the bodice and some on the bias creating a handkerchief hem.  I think that will be my first experiment.  Luckily, our laundry cupboard is full of worn duvets covers that I can sacrifice.

Lastly, if you’re new to drafting and don’t know how to add seam allowances to your design, here’s a post from before.

Enough!  I sleep now.  You sleep already!?

But…. Except…  During my last excursion to Goldhawk Road I spotted some black, tightly woven, shiny fabric I think might be ideal for the bodice.  I’m going back either on 17th or 18th June (Friday – Saturday) to buy it and check the prices of organza too.  If anyone would like to join me (and curb my spending enthusiasm ) email me with your preferred day.

Thanks for reading!  Hope it helps.

The Six Napoleon Challenge

six napoleon challenge

Thanks for your comments on my last post.  I read each new suggestion with anticipation and excitement which then turned to dismay as you overwhelmingly chose the Six Napoleon Dress as your favourite.  Sorry, it isn’t the dress I’m making (more on that later). However, you made me think it was a shame to have missed the opportunity, so here I am giving myself the second chance.  And I’d like you join me!

1 six nap

Yes dear but less is more. Source: Dogstar Clothing Facebook Page

1 all saints

Mais oui, I challenge you to make your version of the Six Napoleon dress.

Mes amis, are you still there?  🙂

You will need: a dummy for pleating, draping and pinning; bedsheets or swathes of fabric with which to experiment; preferably a basic bodice block (sloper) made to your measurements or a close-fitting pattern with princess seams. A good friend to help you fit the bodice would be preferable but if there isn’t one available now may be a good time to invest in a tripod to take selfies of your back view.

Far as fun sewing challenges go, this one definitely has an emphasis on the challenge!

More about the dress:
Originally designed by Masayo Yasuki for the Australian fashion house Dogstar, the Six Napoleon dress was made in a limited edition of only ten so you’re unlikely to see it while out and about.  Yet it looks familiar. The generosity of fabric and asymmetry could easily be mistaken for a Vivienne Westwood design, whereas to me the ‘well-heeled goth’ vibe reminds me of early All Saints dresses  I’d occasionally covet but could never afford.

The close-fitting bodice shouldn’t be too difficult if you’ve had some experience of adapting patterns.  If nothing else, it’ll give me (and you?) the experience of using boning for the first time.

1 widows

Tartan inspiration? Alexander McQueen, Widows of Culloden Collection

I have always avoided bottom-heavy styles so for me the draped skirt will be a first.  Despite meaning to, I’ve never delved into draping, even though I believe it’s an essential skill. The original skirt has a ‘deep hem’ and is described as involving 8m of silk organza.  Silk organza is a luxurious, crisp and sensual fabric made even more irresistible by the fact that it’s not too expensive and tends to be very well-behaved!  But you can use any fabric of sufficient drape., e.g. denim and/or chambray, or plaid.  I’m hoping only 1-2 metres of fabric will achieve the look.

One of the reasons why I decided to launch the challenge was Stephanie’s comment that she rarely has an occasion to wear something so formal. Me too. Which is why I’ll be making this as a day-dress, something similar to the dress made two years ago by Ruth of Core Couture as part of the Vivienne Westwood Challenge. Ruth wore this when she came to London last autumn and I decided then and there that I’d quite happily throw out every single semi-successful garment I’ve made in recent years for just such one very wearable and perfect gown.

Tstorm it sewistahe Deadline: Ah, well, that would be 14th July, the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille!  I would need your photos by then but in the meantime please keep in touch with how it’s going (I shall post my developments too) and if you have an interesting tale to tell, do post it as a guest on this blog if you haven’t your own. Be unafraid!  There will be hand-holding.

Tempted but undecided? How about a few links to whet your appetite…

Want to know what a corset could do for your figure but aren’t crazy enough to actually try it?  A boned bodice may be a suitable compromise.  Lena of Iconic Patterns makes a boned bodice in her post Taming the Waist and it ain’t half bad!  But I’m not stipulating that you make a boned bodice: it’s up to you as long, as the dress is more or less recognisable as a version of The Six Nap!  The main objective is that it’s wearable.

Beg, Borrow or Buy Draping: the Complete Course by Karolyn Kiisel

Some insight into how Ruth designed her dress.

If you have any experince of making a boned bodice, please get in touch.

Go on, revolutionize your wardrobe! Are you in? I hope so but even if you don’t take part, do keep in touch with your thoughts, tips, links to tutorials, books or sewing patterns that will help. And spread the word please through your social media accounts: ideally I’d love to have at least six Napoleon participants to, well, live up to the name!

The Six Napoleon Challenge