Sureau I

1 Sureau 31 Sureau sideI’ve been given 2 narrow metres of an interesting Indonesian batik which is virtually vintage (well, from the 1990s anyway).  Before cutting into it to make my Sureau, I’ve  made this muslin to check the sizing and assess if I can get away with a small amount of fabric.

Sureau (which means “elderberry”) is a beginner-friendly pattern from the French indie company Deer & Doe.  It should be a very quick make; however, the addition of a piped collar needed quite a few hours to make it fit after the neckline stretched through not being staystitched :roll:

The original pattern has a collarless neckline.  According to my pattern-cutting guru Adele Margolis, this is “for the young and the beautiful only”.  A collarless neckline, I quote: “calls for a firm chin, a smooth and slender neck, and a good set to the shoulders …  This leaves the majority of us out.  For us, the severity of the collarless neckline needs to be sotftened with a gay scarf [this book was published in 1959], our faithfull pearls [like I said, this was published in .... ], or a pleasing collar“.  Now usually when someone tells me I can’t wear something, I call them “the bleedin’ Taliban” but I have to admit that I find Sureau in its original somehow … raw.  It really is a pattern that requires an experienced sewist to employ some imagination.1 Sureau Pattern Envelope

1 Sureau close upThe original neckline shape is tending toward the V so I ‘scooped’ it by widening from the CF (and before drafting the collar).  The other change I made was to pleat the skirt rather than gather it.  I eyeballed this: I pinned the folds to be more or less symmetrical from the centres but I didn’t measure much.  I also shortened the sleeves to just above the elbow, then added bands. These, like the piping on the collar and the fabric of the covered buttons, are silver, which will hopefully be more dirt-friendly than white.

A word of warning about the sizing.  According to the pattern envelope measurements, I’m a size 40.  Having read some reviews of Sureau, I decided to make size 38 bust, shoulders and sleeves with size 40 waist and hips.  It’s still very roomy!

Black dresses with contrast collars and cuffs are a bit of a fetish of mine (as I’ve explained here.)  They’ve been quite popular in RTW recently; here’s a current cutie from Phase Eight.  What I love about my creation is that it goes perfectly with the ‘fangs’ necklace my son made me at school. The main fabric is fine needlecord from Rashid and perfect for those not-so-warm summer days.  In the autumn, I’ll wear it with tights, boots and a thermal vest.  And a gay scarf.

My OH pulled a face when I first wore this and said it “hangs off”: one of those double-edged comments that manages to wound both the woman and the seamstress in one.  Of course, ever since he made the remark  I’ve been cutting his meals with catfood!

Then again, having looked at these photos, I suspect I could possibly cut a size 36 bodice.  Time for making Version II.

1 Sureau

Clownie

1 Clownie 6

Tamara's blouseIf you watched the second series of The Great British Sewing Bee, you may have been charmed by the 1930s blouse made in Episode 6.  Tamara’s blouse in muted, natural colours particularly evoked the era for me.  When I found out that the publishers Quadrille had made many of the patterns from the series available for free download from here, I printed out the pattern and took a sneaky peek at the instructions in the book that had been kindly donated for my Sewing Bee Challenge.  This is the result:

1 Clownie 4

I have mixed feelings about it.  I’d disregarded the advice to make this from something drapey and went instead with poplin (I ripped up a dress I made two years ago so you could say this is a genuine refashioning project).  Although the flowers are exotic, the largeness of them makes me feel like I’m the kind of chintz sofa that was fashionable in the 1980s and can now be found fading away in dilapidating English conservatories.  I also feel rather broad and puffed, like I’m wearing a clown suit.

On the other hand, it’s a look I suspect would work quite well with a pencil skirt, heels and Winehouse-style make-up.  It’s worth giving this a go, even if just to scare the kids!

1 CollarPattern changes made: I added shirring to the centre bottom of the sleeves (in the pattern, the area is cut away).  I also pleated the sleeve head rather than gathered it.

Sizing for this pattern (and other downloads from the book) can be obtained from here.  It’s pretty standard.  According the chart, I’m a 14 but I made 12 anyway.  The muslin I made fit perfectly on the waist though had to be taken in a good 5cm in the shoulders and under the armpits.  The instructions aren’t available from the download.  For that, you have to buy the book and even then, there isn’t that much detail and there certainly aren’t enough diagrams.  I mean, I’m still not sure what a placket is supposed to look like.

You’re all very welcome to snigger viciously at my pathetic attempt at it:1 Oh, plack it!

Should I decide this blouse is a keeper, you can bet I’ll be replacing the placket with an invisible zip.  Boy, wasn’t the 20th century clever with its inventions like the zip!?  And rockets.  But best, zips.

1 Leftovers mmm

1 1930s Blouse

Burda 7494

I'm ninety four you know
Black dresses, like black cats, are notoriously difficult to photograph. The detail is easily lost and this apparently is the reason why ‘the little black dress’, usually a girl’s best friend, has fared badly in online sales in relation to frocks featuring prints and bright colours (read all about it).  On screen, it can look a bit boring.

Burda 7494 View ABut while a tiger can woo multitudes with its splendid array of stripes, looking at a plain black moggy (or panther) allows you to notice its equally admirable silhouette.  (If you think my Lemmy’s outline is a little bit scraggly,  can I just point out  he is actually ancient! 8O ).

There’s much to admire in this Burda 7494 dress.

Burda 7494The faux collar, which attaches to dress front only, is easy to make and is guaranteed to sit flat.  The four front and back pleats create a tulip-like shape, giving the impression of there being more bum than is actually the case as well as narrowing the waist.  Most interesting of all I found the bust darts which are shifted to the centre side of the princess seams.  This creates a nice curve which isn’t difficult to sew (but check out my tips on Princess Seams if you’re new to this).  It’s a design that deserves more boldness than the picture on the envelope or my rendition of the pattern have given it.  If you imagine this same dress in red tartan, with black velvet piping, you can imagine the drama.

Alterations

I had to make a few changes and didn’t get out unscathed….  1 Cuff

1. I added sleeves (obviously).  You like?!

2. In order to add sleeves, I had to substantially slice off from the shoulders.  The original ended a good inch beyond the usual armscye line which leads me to suspect this wouldn’t suit sloping shoulders.

3. I lowered the neckline 1.5cm, for two reasons.  The original collar is too big (bib-like?) for me.  I also think that a very high neckline makes anything but the most pert bust look a bit, er, southern 8O

4. I went the extra mile by making the dress fully lined (the pattern has lining for the skirt only).

The fabric, by the way, is extra fine Italian needlecord from Fabric House, one of my favourite shops on Goldhawk Road.  The plaid bias binding used for the piping and inside the cuffs came from MacCulloch & Wallis but you can get it anywhere.

Achtung!  Achtung

a) Beware that the neckline, though high, is very wide.   This might not suit you if you like to keep bra straps hidden (or if your neck muscles are a bit strong…).

b) The sizing for the dress is way over (so go by garment measurements) but perplexingly, the size of the lining isn’t.  Measure carefully before cutting because when the lining is tighter than the skirt, it will quickly rip!

Overall, I love the Burda 7494 and it was worthwhile sweating it out drafting the add-on sleeves as I now have a warm day dress for when I want to blend into the general winter gloomth.  This picture was taken a moment after the first one, after a cloud settled over the sun.  See?  Boring….There's no food in that hand, stupid woman

Anna, Au Revoir

Remember the UK summer of 2013?  Empty sewing rooms gathering dust?  The silence of the sewing blogs?  Everyone finally wearing their summer dresses in the sunshine.  (*sigh*) Days of heaven…  It’s less than two weeks since these pictures were taken, yet  Anna is already tucked well inside my wardrobe, her long hem gathered at the bottom in a sad, forgotten pool. 

I only got to wear it twice.  The first was in the company of my children and oh, how they cramped my style: lifting up the hem like it was a tent flap and laughing mockingly as they attempted to dive in.  To be fair, I think they were traumatised.  Mummy - who by rights should have been in the kitchen, shedding hairs over her fleece whilst frying them things – was instead wearing a dress like off strictly, her meaty thigh exposed for everyone to see (yes, this maxi dress comes with an obligatory thigh split).  I imagine this is how scandalised Cher’s poor children must have felt when their ma released the If I Could Turn Back Time video… 

Tips for Anna Maxi:

1 Unless you’re a rower, the back will probably be too big for you.  Make a muslin, at least for the bodice.

2 Don’t use a solid.  Or if you do, make sure it has drape to break up all that volume in the skirt.

3 If you insist on a solid, and cotton and you opt for a slash neck with no thigh, you will look like a nun.   

4 The V-neck looks great for showing off jewellery or collarbones but it must be controlled.  Ruth has some sensible advice hereMy tip: stay-stitch before you cut. 

5 For anyone under  a certain height, Karen recommends lopping off a good 9 inches from the skirt pattern to save fabric.  I’m a 1.62m shortie and I lopped 25cm.  To that I’d like to add that when you make the skirt shorter, to keep things in proportion you’ve got to somewhat raise the split.  Unless your best feature is your knee. 

5 There’s a typical indie-pattern typo in the picture on Page 14.  Page 15 shows the correct order which is alphabetical.

6 For anyone under a certain age and UK educated, beware that By Hand London provide most of their measurements in Inches - possibly because they are targeting this at a larger US market.  Get parents to provide you with an imperial measurements tutorial and counselling. 

And talking of children in need of counselling, that reminds me: 

Location: Upnor Castle

Thanks to Jo D :-)

Long Distance McCall’s 6559

View C of McCall’s 6559 is an extended vest basically; the sort of dress that’s cheaper to buy than make.  But I’ve become enamoured with the more interesting version E of this pattern and have convinced myself that I should make it for my friend Nataša who – and herein lies the problem  -  lives in another country.  I hardly ever see her :-(  This slightly baggy production serves therefore as our muslin and, since I sent the dress to her in the post, these photos are in place of a fitting.

I started with some soft, thick stretch cotton in invigorating blues from Fabric House (£3.50 a metre) and cut the pattern to the bust, waist and hip measurements that my friend emailed.  Funnily enough, we‘re the same height and weight but differently distributed with me a base-down triangle and Nataša the inverse.  Once the dress was finished, it appeared to hold her shape and looked like the dresses she wears on the beach and boat.  But I realise now that instead of sizing it 12-10-10, I could have gone 12-8-8. 

A couple more notes on the pattern: the armhole and neckline seam allowances of 1.5cm are meant to be folded under twice and stitched which I thought would make this simple dress look even more cheap basic so I invested a bit of effort in making binding.  If you do so too, remember to trim off 1.5cm from armholes and the neckline.

Also, I’d caution against the advice in the instructions to stretch the fabric slightly as you sew.  This might work for sergers but I conducted a little experiment on strips of fabric, sewing alongside the ribbing as well as across the ribbing with both a straight and a zigzag stitch.  With both, the fabric kept its shape better when it wasn’t being stretched during sewing.  See the puckering and tunnelling in the ‘stretched’ examples? 

Of course, the moral of my story isn’t do as I say.  It’s conduct your own experiment

Ever sewn long distance? 

 

Planes!

When we heard there was going to be a seaside airshow coinciding with our son’s very important birthday, DH and I decided we all go!  We didn’t dare tell… Airshows are weather-reliant and prone to cancellation 8O so we led our new teenager to believe the excitement was in seeing the sea, fish ‘n’ chips on the beach and a new shirt with a cool print of planes for him to wear.

Made out of Liberty Tana Lawn.   Like he’d care about Liberty Tana Lawn.  But you might!  This was bought last year from Fabric World (49c Goldhawk Road) and though it’s not the latest release, the print is still available online and in other colours too. 

McCall’s M6044

I used a man’s shirt pattern McCall’s 6044 which, as it stands, is way too big for a young teen.  This is where a photocopier with a “reduce function” proves valuable.  I shrunk Size Small to 80%, which is easy enough and much quicker than enlarging a pattern (as I did to make Two Peas in a Pod). 

If you want to try it, take an  actual garment measurement and your desired garment measurement then use a calculator to divide the latter by the former: this works out the  percentage by which you have to reduce your copy.    

For example:

Actual finished shirt length: 30in

Desired shirt length: 25in

Reduction percentage: 25 / 30 = 83%

Beware that your Seam Allowances will shrink too so reduce them from 1.5cm to 1cm or similar.

M6044 is an easy pattern to make and my View A was especially quick.  The only difficulty was stitching the thick parts of the undercollar: the corners where the collar has been inserted and the interfaced, folded seam allowances are very thick.  Does this part of shirt-making drive you mad?  Do you have any tips for success?  After five failed attempts at making the top buttonhole, my machine was in danger of being taken out and beaten in the style of Basil Fawlty thrashing his car.  Which is when I knew it made sense to just leave the top button off.  I don’t think it matters:

As for the airshow on the birthday, the sun did come out!  As did the Red Arrows, a fearsome F-16 MLU, some Wingwalkers on Boeing Stearmans and many others.  And I marvelled at the planes’ design perfection and at the skill and bravery of the pilots while feeling very grateful for it all.  Especially for the son!

Location: Eastbourne

Junk Stitching

You might hear runners talk disparagingly, or concernedly, about “junk miles”.  These are runs during which one does absolutely nothing to try and improve.  No bursts of speed, no hills, no attempts at furthering the distance: just putting one foot in front of the other and staying safely within one’s comfort zone.

junk miles :-)

I also sometimes like the sewing equivalent and this dress is it.  Junk stitching is the best sewing I can do while the kids are on holiday and pulling themselves up by my hair for amusement!  This is a TNT (tried ‘n’ tested) pattern from prehistoric times that’s given me one highly wearable dress after another.  I have waxed lyrical about the New Look 6459 before but it’s now only available from Ebay, through theft or borrowing!

View D, The Halter Neck

I’d decided that if this summer was truly going to last (what brilliant luck, eh, UK?), then I needed a halter dress, like, already.  Why everyone else isn’t wearing one, I don’t know.  Maybe because these require a special bra adjustment, but it’s worth the hassle as they’re so flattering and tend to accentuate the one area of a body -  the collarbones and shoulders - that looks pretty good on most of us.  Sewing halters from woven fabrics can be tricky  though.  As the back is held up by nothing other than the wearer’s ribcage, if the fit isn’t tight enough, the whole thing can sag towards the butt!

The Fabric

I had 1 metre of some rather unusual perforated and dyed cotton left over from the first Laurel which was lying around almost unused!  For the sake of decency, I underlined it with a lightweight and very bright green acetate.  The layered dark and light effect worked out brilliantly.  When the light hits it right, this dress reminds me of the intricate, exotic patterns on Moroccan lanterns.   

Do you have a favourite junk stitching pattern?

 Location: Crystal Palace Park

Emergency Sorbetto

Call me shallow, but there’s nothing in my view as reprehensible, shocking and absolutely vile as a T-shirt tan

Which is exactly what I ended up with after gallivanting in the sunshine wearing my Iris Shorts and the Jasmine I’d made especially to go with them.  Emergency measures required that quickly, while the sunshine lasts, I make a sleeveless.  I had the same mock-Liberty lawn that I’d used for Jasmine and I was keen to use it as the cotton is so light and the colours look great with a tan.  Unfortunately, it was a leftover patch of about half a metre in an annoyingly irregular shape of a small cowhide.  This meant I had to pick the smallest size I could get away with (2); also, I couldn’t cut the wide front piece in one but put in some seam allowances and added the pleat separately.  If you look closely, you may notice that the direction of the print on front left is different to that on the pleat and the right.  Let that be our little secret though!

This was the first time I’ve used a downloadable pattern; also the first time I’ve used one that’s free.  I think I’ve always had a slight mistrust of either.  The good news is that with the Sorbetto, the instructions are foolproof: you absolutely get the same hand-holding detail and clear graphics as with the purchasable Colettes.

I printed out pages 10-25 only.  I used glue instead of tape and didn’t slice off more margins than necessary.  It didn’t take long!  When fitting the top, I decided to lower the armholes by 1cm and the neckhole front by 2.5cm (I’m wearing this in the sun, not church!).

Now I must go as the bailiff is pounding my trailer door.  Till I get back, will someone please give me good advice on what to do about my white skin-shorts!?   8O

Cactus

Bloody your hands on a cactus tree,

wipe it on your dress and send it to me.”

The Pixies, Cactus

Soon as I first laid eyes on this superfine lawn with a photograph-like print of cactus, I was reminded of that Pixies song from the brilliant album I still love so much.  I’d spot it every time I went to one of Jeff’s fabric shows.  It never seemed to diminish on its bolt.  I’d be all over it, thinking, “Nice, but what kind of person would wear cacti all over themselves?!”.

And it gradually dawned, “Er, me….” 

The Pattern: Colette Laurel, redrafted with a scooped neck and a Peter Pan collar.  For drafting the collar, I followed the instructions in my Adele Margolis ‘Primer’ but here’s a similar tutorial.

The inspiration: this lovely Laurel contest winner in silk.

The cost: £8 for one metre of fabric, £3 for a concealed zip, £3 for bias binding, thread and cord  = £16

A great wardrobe filler though I probably won’t be getting too many hugs in it.

Celebrity Dress Death

My daughter thinks that the woman on the pattern envelope for  Amy Butler ‘Lotus’ is a vampire.  I think it’s actually Amy Butler, laughing triumphantly at having got the whole world sewing again.  I first became aware of this company a few years ago when John Lewis began stocking their fabrics in an otherwise tired and drab haberdashery department.  Since then, this section of the store has enjoyed something of a revival and I always imagine that Butler’s inspiring fabrics and zingy marketing are to some extent to be thanked for that.  

Last year, a friend made a beautiful and flattering version of the Lotus dress and, thinking I’d get similarly lucky, I asked to try out her pattern.  It came with two warnings.  With the cold summer that we’d had in 2012, my friend said she hadn’t got to wear her dress that much.  Also, she warned that at the corners of the neckline, which are slightly less than 90°, the lining had a tendency to roll outwards.  With these in mind, I drafted longer sleeves and put corded piping along the neckline so that the piping keeps the lining hidden away (the idea for the latter came from one of the Lotus reviews by 3 Hours Past.) 

I found a very fine Liberty needlecord at Classic Textiles (44 Goldhawk Road, £5.50 a metre) and some matching lining which feels velvety, silky and cotton-like all at the same time but what it is I don’t know!  It came from Unique Fabrics (28 Goldhawk Road).  This dress was gonna be perfect for those days when it’s windy and cold but there are flowers everywhere (so it must be summer….)

The dress was easy and quick to make till I decided it needed a series of  nip’n’tucks at the princess and waist seams to make it more flattering.  I’m not sure all that adjustment has helped.  The header picture is the best of at least a hundred photos I had taken.  Some were so bad that after I downloaded them onto my laptop, it died.  “It’s the dress, it makes you look twice the weight you are!” my husband said.  I had to pause and think awhile, wondering if the comment was as insulting as I’d first thought!  I put the dress on over some jeans and Converse - the kind of practical, mummy way I’d intended to wear it - but DH’s slow head-shaking made me jump out of them PDQ!

So what went wrong?  Well, you tell me.  Did I draft the sleeves bad?  Is the fabric/lining too thick?  Is the trapezium-skirt shape a no-no on me?  Shall I wear it, dammit?! 

BTW, when a gust of wind knocked the dummy in the dress down, I actually smirked: