2016

1-gucci-fur-slippers2016.  The year which local readers may forever associate with United Kingdom’s decision to distance itself away from Europe like a small raft with a superiority complex and which will be remembered globally for United States’ election of a president so bizarre-looking, with behaviour so obnoxious, that surely we will be told soon it was Bill Murray all along, giving the performance of a lifetime. Just Hollywood’s little gift to the world, for the next April Fools….

Well I liked 2016! 1-liberty-wearable-muslin

Magenta Dress

It began slowly though.  This time last year I was in the doldrums, getting no work and rarely even receiving acknowledgement for the jobs I was applying for.  When my bid to be a pattern tester for By Hand London resulted in an offer, I jumped at the chance.  It made a change to be wanted for something that I didn’t care if I was virtually paying for the privilege with my own money and time.  Then I sold my second Magenta dress to one more US reader wishing to dress up as a character in the Rocky Horror Show.

I made a bit of money doing alterations and sewing cushion covers.  But it didn’t take me long to work out that my kids were earning more than I was in the pocket money I was giving them.

Meanwhile, the job hunting continued with my setting the bar lower and lower till I was applying for jobs that I’d have hated if I’d got them, in freezing, warehouse-like spaces.  Turned out they didn’t want me either.

mdA lot of the time it didn’t matter.  I was having fun as a Newsletter Editor for my Athletics Club and writing elsewhere, then in my fourteenth year of running, I started getting a bit faster – not bad considering most runners plateau after a while or have to stop due to injuries.

In May I got married!  1-the-dress

1-stephanie

With Stephanie

We went to Canada on holiday and despite having to drag around two grumpy, sniping children (this is why you should have kids after your honeymoon!) we had a brilliant time.  We selected a small patch of this vast, beautiful country to do a bit of travelling in.  It felt like a real adventure. We were looked after splendidly by my very dear uncle and aunt who’d always been a stable background in my life, though we rarely see each other.

1-canadaAnother thing that made the year special is that while in Ottawa I met Stephaniewhile back home the friendships I’d made with other sewing bloggers were growing nicely. In fact it felt like my life was developing in another dimension, completely unexpectedly.   It wasn’t what I imagined would happen when I started this blog in 2012.  I’d hoped that it would lead to a return to employment of some kind, something more ambitious than what I’d done since having children.  Although the effort seemed in many ways futile (it didn’t take me long to realise that my contribution to the world of sewing blogs was negligible compared to more polished and dedicated offerings), it forced me to start writing again and overcome a reluctance “to engage with social media”, an activity which I’d always regarded as something of a security risk!  I’ve become much less guarded and reserved as a result, and I’ve had fun.

the-blouseIn August, I got a brilliant though (again) unpaid ‘job’ as Volunteer Coordinator of one of the largest parkruns in the country. Again, this has led to unexpected challenges, learning and a certain amount of unexpected satisfaction. And then an unexpected blessing.  In September this blog did indirectly lead to a temporary job – which is why I’ve kind of been absent lately – for which I’m very grateful. I’m still there now (in fact, I can hardly wait to go back after the holidays just to make sure I hadn’t dreamt it).  But I’m working at the other end of town and due to the long commute and my aforementioned finger in the tasty pie of parkrun, I haven’t the time to sew nor to blog, much.  My disappointment with the offerings of RTW is as great as ever though!  Not one new purchase I’ve made with my newly earned money has been entirely gratifying.  And because where I work I’m surrounded by young people, bastards who look good in anything by virtue of being young, my need for clothes that flatter in high-quality fabrics is greater than ever.  I can’t actually afford them but I can make them!  So watch this space!

Wishing you much health and happiness in 2017.napolen

Marijana

 

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!

Loopy Dress

1 loopy loops1 Measurements BackMy newest client, who got in touch via this blog, lives on the other side of the world so I’ll never even see her 😥 She asked for a copy of a dress I made for myself that I blogged a while back.  We exchanged a few emails to get an idea of how this would work, discussing fabrics, a deadline, payment and measurements – but mostly measurements.  I sent a couple of pictures like this one.

Then off I went.

The main worry was making the dress too small.  The black fabric I picked has the tiniest amount of stretch and I used the Winifred Aldrich close-fitting dress block (which, as you may know, isn’t all that close-fitting) to design a sloper on which to base the dress pattern.

Making the inside of the garment nicely finished is very important to me, even more so when sewing for a client who might only have RTW garments to compare to, but on this occasion I abandoned my usual French seams.  The dress will probably have to be adjusted by the client and while contour darts can quickly be narrowed or widened, letting out a French seam can be a bit of a nightmare.  Not only are there two stitching lines to unpick, but the inner seam is likely to be closely trimmed.

1 inside outInstead, I left the seam allowances untrimmed (in case there are places where the garment needs to be made bigger) and bound them Hong Kong style.  The white binding is consistent with the colour scheme of the dress: can you guess what it is yet?!

1 scrap practice

Samples

The dress has a ‘loop and button’ closure but not of the delicate, bridal variety (this is meant to be a utalitarian garment).  I’ve only done loops once before so thought I might do some desk research to enable me to do it as professionally as possible.  The buttons on the left side are placed exactly at the centre front, as for a shirt with buttonholes, but the loop side edge therefore has to move back and it’s really the loops that are placed at the centre front of the right side.  But which part of the loop is the exact middle?  The  outer edge?  The hole?   And as for the rouleau strips: how long to make them in relation to the button size?

Well, maybe there’s a magic formula somewhere but I realised I’d have to make some samples and take measurements from those that worked!

I did pick up one helpful tip (from here, as usual) for sewing loops.  Use sticky tape when aligning the strips with the raw edge of the garment as there’s less movement than if using pins or tacks.

1 raw edges together

Place loop strips at tailor tacks, raw edges aligned, stitching facing up, and affix with narrow strips of tape

Trim away SAs and remove tailor tacks

Oh, and place the stitched side of the strips up so when the sewing is done and flipped over, the stitching doesn’t show.

No need to peel off all those bits of tape: this whole section will get cut away.

It was hard to ‘let go’ and put the dress in the post.  I guess I feel it’s not quite ready as I haven’t seen it on the client.  And I no longer have control, if that makes sense.  But we posed for a photo together, the dress and I, with the ever-present Blogstalker looking on.

1t blogstalker is so silly

A Pleasant Alteration

Phase Eight Ninette after straps adjustmentMy client, a first-year student, was shopping for an outfit to wear at a wedding and spotted this beautiful, expensive dress in Phase Eight.  She waited until it was in the sales then bought it for a fraction of the original price.

That’s the kind of thing I like to do.

Except that when I play chicken with the shops, my coveted item sells out, thereby becoming ‘the one that got away’ I spend years afterwards searching for on Ebay and in charity shops, just in case….  🙄

I suspect the reason why Phase Eight didn’t sell out of this number is that the straps are too long.  This size 8 had an excess of 5cm (2inches) that I took out.

Normally I baulk at alterations (there are some horrid ‘prom dresses’ in suburbia), but I loved this dress at first sight.  The colours remind of me of staining you get picking and eating cherries!  The skirt conceals a tulle underskirt between two layers of white lining: the outer lining stops the netting catching on the dress fabric and the inner lining makes the underskirt more comfortable against the skin.  The fabric is polyester: stiff but not organza.  The bodice is interfaced with a soft backing which prevent it from being too sheer and it is also lined.

This is the wrong side of the strap, before the alteration.  Observe how ‘helpfully’ the white bodice lining is a few mm narrower than the bodice.1 Before

I felt I knew what to do – though that did not stop my hands trembling when I unpicked the stitches!

1 Opened up

Step 1 – opening up. It’s important not to be afraid of removing enough stitches to make room for sewing of the shoulder seams. P.S. Notice the white interfacing on the fashion fabric.

1 right sides together, stitch straps

Step 2 – press right sides together, pin and stitch bodice 2.5cm away from original stitching line. Trim and press open.

1 Right sides together, stitch lining straps

Step 3 – the fiddly bit. RIght sides together, sew the lining straps 2.7cm in from original stitching. (Ok, so I did sew 2.5cm the first time, but as it lies in the inner curve, the lining ended up longer than the bodice and had to be redone).

1 slipstitch lining to fashion fabric

Step 4 – press opened seam allowances to the inside, pin and slipstitch together.

1 After

Inside of adjusted strap

1 after, right side

The right side

Does my method look right?  Would you have improvements to suggest?  I charged £15 for about 90 minutes work (opinion welcome…)  It’s one of those tasks that would take a third of the time once you’ve done it so often that you’re more confident.

I really enjoyed this job.  It came at the end of a week which began nastily on Monday.  On Monday, I spent hours sewing double layers of crinkly chiffon for a client who wanted them turned into two gift shop scarves.  It worked out a fraction of the minimum wage.  I might write about that some day 🙄  🙂

But whilst on the subject of lovely RTW dresses and summer, here are a couple of links:

Almost Famous, one of my favourite shops (though I tend to look rather than buy) is also having a sale.

Fancy picking cherries and blackberries?  It’s time to make Summer Pudding!1 summer pud

Making Cushion Covers

1 Cushion coversA client asked me to make her a bunch of cushion covers.  OK, so it’s not the kind of exciting design/couture work I seek to attract 🙄  🙂 but it’s more of a challenge than hemming jeans and good experience for getting the hang of pricing which should reflects the time taken and skill involved.  Two kinds of fabric were supplied and my brief was simple; no piping and no trims, just squares of 60cm and rectangles of 40cm x 60cm.  All with concealed zips at the bottom.  Without thinking too deeply, I quoted £10 per cushion.

1 velvetHm, perhaps not enough.  Next time, I’ll take into account the fabrics used. On this occasion, I had messy velvet (but beautifully thick velvet, just like the short nap of Blogstalker’s forehead.  In fact, I should have paid the client for allowing me to sew it!).  1 blogstalker's browThe striped fabric took caution too, not only in matching the design at the side seams but, prior to that, in cutting, as the position of the stripes had to be the same if you laid out all the cushions side by side on a sofa.

The first cushion always takes the longest as you work out a method and discard a few false steps.  I’ve laid out a how-to-sew in case it helps someone else but also to help me next time, if I forget after a while.  Also, my research came up with a simple solution to the saggy corners problem which I’ve outlined below in the how-to-cut Tutorial 2.

(If, on the other hand, you’re after a fun cushion cover, for example for a teenager’s bedroom or den, here’s a tutorial from the archives for a zip-free cushion cover.)

Tutorial 1: Sewing a Cushion Cover with a Concealed Zip along the bottom

The advantages of having zip on a cushion cover are many.  You can take out the pad occasionally and bash it into shape – or top up with filling.  If your fabric permits is, the covers can be laundered. And unlike with a cover that has an opening at the back, both sides of the cushion can be on display.

When buying zips, choose a colour which most matches the fabric at the point where the zip will be placed (e.g. with my client’s stripy fabric, I had to choose between beige or grey).  You need not buy the most expensive zip; unlike with a garment, these zips will not get frequent use.

Size matters: zips need not be quite as wide as the  cushion; a few centimetres shorter is fine (and cheaper, as zips go up in price with length).  In fact, it’s easier to open and close the zip when there’s some fabric at the ends to hold on to as you pull the tab.

A paper pattern is a good idea: size of cushion pad plus 1.5 seam allowances all around.  Make sure you use a set square, or equivalent, to ensure you draw right angles.

1 attach concealed zipper leaving spaces at each end

1 – Begin by finishing the bottom seam allowances of the fabric pieces; that is, the sides which will take the zip. I used an overlock-style stitch, keeping to the 1cm seam guide but you can zigzag. Press to embed stitches if your fabric permits it but don’t trim – that will come later. Then, using the invisible zipper foot, attach zip to the middle of the two fabric pieces leaving each end of the fabric pieces unsewn for 3cm -4cm.

 

1 Sew to ends with zipper foot

2 Change to an ordinary zipper foot. Sew the remaining 3-4cm, to the end of each side, keeping to the 1.5cm seam allowance. Move zipper tape out of the way to get as close to the zipper stitches as possible.

 

1 bracing seam as for sewing velvet

3 – Sew the sides, first one then the other, from the zip downwards, keeping the fabric pieces flat. Before sewing the opposite side, measure against the first stitching line to make you’re retained the dimensions of the cushion; especially if your fabric is moving about a lot. To stop velvet pieces from sliding against each other, I pinned on both sides of the stitching line. Finally, sew the side opposite the zip, first measuring from the zip AND OPENING THE ZIP SO AS NOT TO SEW THE COVER CLOSED! 🙂

1 attach zipper tape ends to cushion seam allowances

4 – Attach ends of zipper tape to seam allowances. Hand-sewing is fine: I used a machine, with zipper foot. Trim seam allowances.

Tutorial 2: Cutting the Fabric to Create Plumper Effect

1 DG Asolo Moss Cushions

These are my own cushions, made from very expensive Designer’s Guild fabric and really cheap IKEA cushion pads!  They get sat on, squashed and generally abused.  As you can see, the corners look rather ’empty’.  I made a third cushion after following this method of reducing the amount of fabric in the corners so they fill better.

1 Fold pattern in 4

1 – Fold your pattern into 4. Mark a half-way point from each folded side to opposite cut side. On the corner with the four cut edges, mark a square of 1cm (for a larger cushion, increase to a larger square, eg. 1.5cm for a 50cm cushion, or 2 cm for a 60cm)

1 Clip

2 – Cut in a straight line from half-way marks to the inner corner of the square

1 New pattern

3 – The new pattern has a subtly curved shape. Use this to cut your fabric and sew by the method in Tutorial 1

The cushion looks no different from a square one, but there’s a subtle improvement in shape.

1 Corner reductionWow, that was traumatizingly square!  I might need to make something sirenish and for myself, to recover.

Elna and Maxine

elna maxine

mullet free zone signThe dress on the left belongs to a client who bought it for £5 at an H&M sale (why, oh why wasn’t I at this sale?).  The original hem was all one length – a bit nunny – which didn’t do justice to the rather sensual upper half of the dress so the client asked me to convert it to a fishtail.  Some of you would call this kind of hem a mullet but I absolutely refuse to work with that term!  I haven’t seen the dress actually worn by the client yet.  In the photo it’s a bit wind-blown but otherwise I think it looks great and I enjoyed my little job.

a back viewI’d love to copy this design and make it for myself in some interesting drapey fabric as everything about it appeals to me.  The centre front panel is stretch mesh; the arrangement of the spaghetti straps is beautiful and the back isn’t overlooked either.  Elements of the design would translate well into a swimming costume or a jumpsuit too.  But where to start?  Do you have any recommendations for software that would convert a drawing into a technical one or what to use to make a paper pattern into a PDF?

Soon as I was asked to do this, my Elna stopped working.  As my client mentioned she sews too (but didn’t fancy tackling a curved hem), I asked if I could use her machine.  She messaged me to say yes but that her ‘Maxine’ is a very basic one.  I thought,  “Uh oh, what kind of a budget make is Maxine?”  but this turned out to be a mobile phone auto-correct for Janome.  Phew!

Barista cuffsTo familiarise with Maxine before tackling the fishtail, I spent a few hours fixing a dress of my own.  This is something I made 2 years ago by hacking into the Anna pattern.  My dress was originally ochre with brown cuffs which, I discovered, looked exactly like the Costa uniform – it’s clear that subconsciously I want to work there and live off Flat Whites and Carrot Cake…   close up of anna dartsAfter I dyed it brown, the dress became one of the most wearable things I’d ever made (blogged here) but I soon splashed bleach on it while cleaning the toilet.  I was so upset.  I needed to go darker to disguise the mess so black it had to be.  This meant the brown zip had to be replaced and all the stitching had to be redone a millimetre or so inside the original construction seams and also on the hem and the neckline.  Otherwise, any strain on the seams and the brown stitching would show  just like when someone with brown or red hair dyes it black and a few weeks later they get ‘hot roots.’ 

a close up of 3 stitchingsIn this photo you can see three colours of stitching on one of the waist darts, right to left: ochre, brown and black.  This may seem rather a lot of work for rather an unremarkable-looking dress but I love it for so many reasons.  It’s warm (pincord) and therefore perfect for those days at either side of summer.  Its softness makes me very huggable when I wear it (apparently) and as it’s so simple, it’s great for showing off any jewellery.  And for getting a bit of sun on my arms.

But yes, it would have been quicker to make a new one.  Do you think it’s worth doing jobs like this or is it simpler to start anew?

A Client

Here’s why I’ve been a bit quiet lately.

A couple of months ago, just as I was thinking it was time I accelerated the learning process by sewing for other people, a call comes out of the blue.  An acquaintance needs a dress for a very special occasion.  She kind of knows what she wants: a dress version of the blouses she wears to work, but in finer fabrics.  She rarely finds clothes that fit her well and has given up looking for what probably doesn’t exist.  Can I make it perhaps?

I say “Yeah!”  Then my heart totally sinks when we rummage through the client’s wardrobe and all her favourite tops turn out to be made from chiffon.  Everything looks floaty and delicate.  Nothing like what I sew!

I think back to my only encounter with chiffon, years before, when my old Singer brutishly shredded it and in utter disgust I bundled the remains into the wheelie bin!  😯

One beautifully sunny Thursday at the end of October, I take the client shopping in Goldhawk Road and we find exactly what she’d hoped for.  For the upper bodice and the sleeves: deep red corded lace.  For the main bodice and skirt: deep red silk chiffon.  For the underdress (- very important as the dress will be sheer), we buy a bright red silk satin.  On the train home, I make a mental note not to leave this haul behind!

There’s a hitch during half term!  My work area becomes a 24-hour children’s canteen – or so it seems – and I can’t work.  I do however spend hours on research, reading all your tips for sewing delicates.  Just as well I’ve been saving packing paper from internet shopping!  When pressed flat and glued into large sheets, it makes a perfect sandwich in which to cut the chiffon.  It’s a club sandwich: pattern, paper, single layer fabric, paper.

I buy the finest needles, though not the recommended Schmetz Microtex which no one in real-life shops appears to stock. (Oi!  Get with the programme!).  My tailoring class, who always ask for weekly progress updates, give great suggestions and my tutor’s idea to tease out threads along the grain and crossways to make visible cutting guidelines proves very valuable when I practise on snippets.  Nevertheless, I spend a sleepless night thinking of all the different things that could go wrong.  Will the fabric behave?  With my design  work in practical terms?  And if it does, will the end result flatter?!  Will the client be happy?

There’s a book about couture that my little brother gave me which I keep by my bed and sometimes refer to for inspiration.  I look at the pics inside, trying not to get awed, telling myself that at the end of the day, it’s only some fabric and stitches!

Half term over and it’s game on.  Two weeks fly by in a mix of nervousness, frustration, good vibes and winging it.  I use loads of paper and calico.  Do you like my new way of storing patterns: punch and hang!

Two things really help the project go smoothly.  Firstly, my Elna stitches perfectly.  No problems with tension, no need for an expensive straight-stitch needle plate.  And the other thing is: the client is great!  Not only is she lovely (I’d have to be completely feckless to make her look unattractive), she’s very considerate and always relaxed!  Had I asked her if she wanted to appear in my blog wearing her dress, she’d have probably said yes, but I thought better not.  I was too intensely focused on the design and the sewing to think of photography.  I can give you some idea of what the dress looked like though as there’s a lot of similar stuff going on in the shops this party season.  My version has more volume with a pleated neckline and a looser, dropped waist silhouette.

I’m a total convert to chiffon and floaty fabrics now.  (Soon as I finished, I bought the charity shop skirt to turn into a blouse).  And the silk satin I used for the underdress (I did get a piccie of that, on right) was a revelation too: it has nothing of the cold sliminess of polysatin.

But boy, now it’s over and the client is happy, how I miss the adrenaline!!  Better get another job soon or else I’m getting that motorbike?!