Bishop Sleeve with Cuff

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

1 lilli ann bishop sleeve

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

1 Decide on the placement of the rouleau strips

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

 

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

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

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

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

1 loop and buttons

*I will cover the Faith Bodice another time.

Brooklyn

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

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

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

1 Old World Knitwear

Before leaving

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

Source: 'Saoirse Like Inertia' on Pinterest

Source: ‘Saoirse Like Inertia’ on Pinterest

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

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

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

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

Ok Dress

1 Bridesmaid

A-Line Bridesmaid Dress, OK Dress (click for source)

I was contacted by someone wishing to be ‘professionally measured’ in order to buy a bridesmaid’s dress online. The mail order company is in China and sells dresses for weddings and proms in a huge choice of colours and of a similar ‘big occasion’ style. The website is professional and written in perfect English, notwithstanding the questionable use of the word ‘tailoring’ (although I understand in some cultures anyone who sews is a tailor). They do admit that some locally-made adjustments might be necessary for the dress to fit perfectly but once the customer’s order and measurements are received, the dress can be ‘tailored’ and flugzeuged over in two weeks. Wow.

There is some skirting around the issue of the fabrics used. In the opulently-layered bridesmaids dress such as above, the material is called “chiffon”. As the cost is under £100, my guess is it isn’t silk.

1 Grecian GoddessThe client arrived and we hit it off immediately talking about careers, English Lit, running and weddings. The five measurements I needed to take, and I did this twice, were bust, waist and hip, plus two vertical measurements: full height and ‘hollow of neck to floor’. I wasn’t sure if hollow of neck to floor was in a straight line perpendicular to the floor or with the tape curving around the bust and midriff which would be longer, especially on a big frame. No ‘back of neck to waist’ was required, which surprised me.

1 Grecian Goddess2I told the client I had doubts about how well her dress would fit or how wearable it would be; the bridesmaid styles don’t seem compatible with a supporting bra. She said she’s used the website before for another wedding and realises this service has its limitations: all she requires is that the dress is ‘good enough’ and meets the bride’s wishes. An Ok Dress. Which is exactly what the website is called.

Weddings are a mystery to me.  I haven’t been to one of those events where the bridesmaids form a team but I can understand why the organiser – with enough on her plate and feeling her preferences are compromised by familial obligations and expectation – might feel she needs to control whichever aspects it is possible to. In this case, the decision is to aim for a kind of uniformity with all the bridesmaids in the same colour of chiffon. It’s a colour my client likes but the shade chosen is a cold one rather than the warm tones that suits her.

I wonder what will happen to these identically coloured Grecian Goddess dresses after the wedding?

On a less depressing note, a second-time-round client who works for a magazine and picks up some interesting remnants gave me three small and mildly challenging jobs which I really enjoyed. One of them was turning some kind of a leather-look, warp-around garment into a wearable skirt. The front and sides looked great but the back opened up like one of those embarrassing hospital gowns that reveal the bum!  😯  It was well-stitched, just unfinished: apparently it had been used in a photo-shoot.  Again, all ephemeral…

And I sold my second Magenta dress, posting it off to the USA as before.  If only I had twice as many hours a day, or a Chinese factory, to make a row of these!!

Happy sewing!

Pattern Testing the Sarah Shirt

1 By Hand London Sarah by Sew2pro

The Sarah Shirt has just been released. A few weeks ago, By Hand London asked me if I’d like to test their new pattern which I volunteered to do a while back. The offer came at what was a glum time, professionally and weather-wise, and the thought of doing something I’d not tried before put a spring in my step.

1 sarah tech drawingSarah is a swing shirt which means it widens out from the chest. The fabrics recommended are viscose rayon, silk crepe de chine, silk Marocain, silk charmeuse, sandwashed silk, lightweight brushed cotton, cotton voile, cotton silk, challis, sandwashed cupro.  Some of these are a bit esoteric; let me know if you have experience of!

Soon as the PDF arrived,  I assembled it (using my time-smart method) but it took several outings to find the suitable fabric.  Several  reasonably-priced lawns in interesting designs offered themselves but I staunchly resisted as they carried the danger of the shirt flaring out unflatteringly.  I needed drape and knew how it would feel when I found it.

Eventually it cropped up in Fabrics Galore, on Lavender Hill, some 12 minutes walk from Clapham Junction station.  This store has become a bit of a favourite and it has many offerings for other future projects: for example I’m desperate to find an excuse to buy lashings of extra-deep, top-fluffy raspberry fur.  And like me, they’re clearly firm fans of Alexander Henry fabrics: a company whose designs prompted me to buy a sewing machine and learn.

1 fabrics galore bhlWhen I asked about the fabrics listed above, I was showed challis which looked perfect for a warm version of the blouse (Variation 1, long sleeved). The drape I liked best though wasn’t the reasonably-priced viscose I’d envisaged but, ahem, silk at £12 a meter (the requirements state that just over 2m is needed, so ouch).  Even then, I wasn’t immediately convinced.  I held it draped on me in the shop mirror and worried the colours were dark or dull but as the deadline was less than a week away, I convinced myself the fault was in the mirror which was dusty. And I was right!  Outside in the sunshine on the walk back to the station, the colours looked like spring in my hand and I couldn’t wait to get started.

That’s ok, Fabrics Galore!  My mirror’s like that too :-)

Reinforcing the seam allowance before clipping

Reinforcing the seam allowance before clipping

The shirt is easy to sew for a confident beginner.  Maybe an intermediate level of skill is advised for achieving a professional look to the collar.  But it’s a relatively easy collar: no awkward matching of width to the neckline (there’s a bit of leeway in the button placket) and no dreaded collar stand which always trips up my needle with its thick bits in the corners.  After the collar is attached, there’s what I consider a ‘weak point’ as the collar meets the button placket area.  This has to be clipped into. I don’t like weak points – they make me feel insecure, like the garment’s gonna unravel in public making me look incompetent! – so I took the precaution of interfacing within the seam line before clipping.

1 sarah ladybird

wintry winds: not ideal!

There were some mistakes I spotted and reported back on.  But also some that were noted by the other testers which never entered my peripheral vision at all (B- to C+ is probably the grade I’d be awarded for my effort!).  For example, I never notch (except on sleeves).  Possibly because when I first started out, trying to make head or tail of sewing patterns, notches weren’t on the top of the list of all the stuff I had to decode.

One suggestion I made (as did the other testers) was to add an instruction to stay stitch as much as possible.  The shirt has an inner yoke (I like those), and as it’s attached by the burrito method, there’s quite a bit of traffic in the area so invest some time in this.

Short Sleeve optionsI wasn’t sure what the instructions required regarding the look of the Variation 2 short sleeves: was it the option on the left or the one on the right like the Aster sleeve? I chose the turnback cuffs.

I found this pattern to be true to size.

All our corrections have been included into the released edition.

Finally, something I didn’t think important enough to mention which now bugs me….  As the shirt widens out, side seams become the true bias (or near enough).  I’d take the precaution of stay-stitching the sides before cutting the fabric.  To do this, chalk the outline of a pattern-piece and sew just inside before re-applying the pattern piece and cutting. It’s quite possible you don’t need to, but with certain fabrics which are – unlike me – expensive and unstable, a belt-and-braces approach is my preference.

Sarah BHL Varation 2 front and back1 bhl sarahI don’t often buy patterns as I enjoy drafting my own too much, but BHL is a company to which I’m eternally thankful for making me feel like a goddess whenever I wear my Anna dress.   Discovering that the designer behind it, Elisalex, was completely lovely in her communication and,  despite her young years, definitely a human was a bonus (I’d expected alienating nu-speak of a fashionista).  Haters say pattern testers give up their time and money to advertise freely but I’ve had a bit of excitement and intrigue doing this and I think many of us have bought patterns which appear not to have been tested at all so…   good work, friends!

1 By Hand London Sarah

Gelatine Surprise

WIP: Pin-tucks on the back of Faith

WIP: Pin-tucks on the back of Faith

I seem to have inadvertently impressed some of you by sewing pin-tucks into the front of my Faith Tunic. But it was a beginner’s, entry-level attempt.  The pin-tucks were quite wide and easy to form on firm cotton.  I used the 0.5cm guide on my presser foot to get the lines straight.

My fabric on the cutting table at Woolcrest

My fabric on the cutting table at Woolcrest

It’s time to try finer pin-tucks, and in chiffon 😯  Enter some bargain silk (at £3 a metre) from Woolcrest Fabrics in Hackney.  It’s woven with fine vertical lines which should help with the pin-tucks but it’s otherwise a difficult fabric: fine, floppy and sheer.  Kate, who was with me when we went shopping, did warn it was light enough to fly out of the window should anyone walk into the room when I sew.  But I embark armed with a helpful tip from a reader: soaking the fabric in gelatine!

The method’s from Iconic Patterns (explained here).  You buy gelatine from the baking section of your supermarket: my pack of 3 sachets cost £1. 1 sachets of gelatineAnd ignoring the instructions on the packet, you do exactly as Lena says and dissolve 3 teaspoons (one sachet) in a glass of water.  Whereupon you will be hit by the whiff of dirty hooves!  Don’t worry – the smell will disappear once you move onto the next step and mix in 3 litres of water.  After soaking for an hour, I left the fabric to dry on the line overnight and ran out of the door the next morning burning with curiosity:  would it smell?  Be crispy?  Rubbery?  Or – worst scenario – no different at all…?

1 gelatine in chiffon‘Gelatus’ means stiff or frozen.  The photo shows me holding up identical sized swatches: one hasn’t been treated and one has.  The gelatine seems to have added a bit of backbone so the swatch holds up almost like organza.  I can still iron the fabric (but without steam as that would ‘rinse off’ the gelatine) and there’s no smell.  An excellent upgrade on cheap fabric.

1 stylearc faith back and guide

Faith Back: an area of gathers replaced by pin-tucks…

So hopefully I’ll manage to remake Faith.  I’m redesigning it though, with the raglan sleeves gone and I’ll get rid of the gathers at the back: while watching War & Peace, I noticed nice pin-tucks on the back of a nightgown worn by one of the aristos who rolled over in her bed so I’ll borrow the idea as it’s more consistent with the front of the pattern.  I never did like gathers: I think they are for beginner’s projects, girls’ clothes and peasant wear!

PIn-tuck foot: the white guide is adjusted left to right by turning the screw

PIn-tuck foot: the white guide is adjusted left to right by turning the screw

Have you been watching War & Peace?  If so, have you found any inspiration in the costumes?  I struggled with Episode 1, I admit, and felt let down by the lack of eye-candy (I have peculiar tastes!).  Luckily, a suitable villain may have emerged in Episode 2 which is as far as I got.  Do you recommend I persevere?

So Fedya, how does one fight a war with such big, er, spoons on one's shoulders?

So Dolokhov, how does one fight a war with such big, er, spoons on one’s shoulders?

With thanks to Lena of Iconic Patterns and Ruth who took me there!

But Lose the Issy

1 Stylearc Issy

Sophisticated figure-hugging folds redolent of a classical statue, or a dog’s dinner?

Yeah…  1 issy pattern envelope

About that….

I’d had this Stylearc Issy Knit Top on the top of my to-do list for so long that I forgot it was given to me.  This meant that I made the mistake of assuming it was a size 8 like the other Stylearc patterns that I’ve bought (for those uninitiated to this company, the pattern comes in the one size you order).  In fact, it’s a 12.  Even so, and despite my taking it in at all seams, this is huge and the ruching which pools below the waist bears little resemblance to the drawing on the envelope.

A previous review warned that the asymmetric neckline (i.e. the diagonal slant at centre front) is difficult to finish and the underneath tends to flip to the right side.  To prevent this, I decided to trace the top section of the pattern to the bust and make a facing.  This worked fine.  I also found it easy to construct the ‘clever’ and ‘distinctive’ neckline formed by folding back the inner wings of the pattern towards the shoulders.  It’s certainly a style unlike any I’ve tried before and the instructions were thorough.1 issy front pattern1 mournful shroudBut the result is this cowled look which I’ve been seeing on womenswear for a few years now.  At first it seemed an elegant alternative to the simple jersey top but I’ve come to the party too late and it’s all a bit hackneyed.

I’d be happy to post this pattern to anyone up for the challenge of making a better job.  You need to be a UK size 12-14, though there might be less ease if your jersey is tight or thicker than my drapey viscose.  Leave me a message and if there’s more than one ‘applicant’, I’ll do a draw.  The paper is only in an OK condition: it has the inevitable pin marks plus a rip and a scratch where Blogstalker loyally savaged the pattern on my behalf!

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem

Stylearc Issy: Back View with diagonal hem

Keep the Faith

1 faith 3

Pin-tucks: there's something very satisfying about sweeping these aside with a hot iron to set shape

Pin-tucks: there’s something very satisfying about sweeping these aside with a hot iron

StyleArc’s Faith Woven Top is graded as medium in difficulty.  This means that those same features that make it a great project for a beginner wishing to learn new tricks might prove the undoing of the more experienced sewist looking to do a fine job – maybe even show off a little –  by trying out couture techniques or testing fitting skills!

Neckline guides - pattern pieces cut from paper only

Neckline guides – pattern pieces cut from paper only

The pattern has five pin-tucks at each side of the centre front, though there’s also the option of gathers.  The back is gathered at the neckline, below the simple mandarin collar.

I’ve noticed StyleArc often provide pattern pieces to be used as guides for checking the finished width of gathers or pin-tucks: something I’ve not noticed with other pattern companies and I nearly forgot to use them but they’re useful for spotting discrepancies before attaching the collar.

1 faith stylearc side viewThe raglan sleeves are easy to sew too, fitted to the shoulder by, in my view, over-simplistic darts. There are no closures; instead there’s a centre front split as well as side seam splits below the waist.

My frustrations, which tended to be slight, came from the simplicity of the pattern.  Take the splits: I like to use French Seams for a clean finish but I haven’t worked out how to do so neatly where the seam breaks into a split (or a pocket, for that matter). Similarly, the raglan sleeves and the flat, upturned collar: the result is somewhat lacking in sophistication. I might have avoided the peasant look by using a light, silky fabric with drape instead of lawn; it would have ensured the fabric skims the figure like on the pattern envelope drawing.  But I doubt then the pintucks would have been easy.

1 button

Crude topstitching (well it was a bit dark!)

Sizing

As with previous StyleArc projects, the ease was spot on. If you require a reference, I bought size 8 and it fits perfectly my 34”/86cm bust and 10”/25cm upper arm.  Though it’s a bit long for my height.

Changes made to the pattern

1 trim into waist–   Interfaced the sleeve tabs lightly.

–   Shortened the sleeves and the hem by 2 cm.

–   After an SPR Reviewer suggested this pattern suffers from a lack of shaping, I trimmed off 1cm from the waist, i.e. the waist is reduced by 4cm all round.  Not sure it helped.

 

Must try harder

I kind of like this: it brings nostalgic memories of mummies at the school gates in the early 1980s… who were probably dressed like this ’cause they were pregnant.   But it needs to be done better.  Next time I’ll:

  •  Use silk (I paid a visit to Simply Fabric last week looking for more Umbrellas in the Rain, but there was no sign of it and the stock was so low so that for the first time I left without buying anything.)
  • Sew 8 narrow pin-tucks on each side, rather than 5 wide ones. I’ll need to stabilise the fabric somehow so please let me know if you have any recommendations.
  • Put in 4-5 small covered buttons at one side of the centre front split with loops on the other
  • Make the sleeves fuller and gathered into cuffs

 

My current project is another Stylearc top. On the evidence of several PR reviews I’ve seen, no one appears to have made a decent job of it. Gulp.

Previous StyleArc Projects

Lea Jersey Wrap Dress

Mara Shirt Dress

Pencil Skirt with Fish Tail

1 fishtail1 3 fishtailFor Christmas my husband gave me Winifred Aldrich’s ‘Metric Pattern Cutting For Women’s Wear’.  (Fantastic!  How did he know?!)  I made the ‘Natural Waist’ Basic Skirt Block from Part One: Form Cutting.  The fit is really good.  The only adjustment needed was not to curve out 0.5cm from waist to hip but to keep the line almost straight.  Also I narrowed the side-to-hem by 3.5cm rather than the 2.5cm  suggested for the pencil skirt adjustment.  2 close up

But a skirt this narrow has to give, or else there’d be hobbling, which is why there’s interesting stuff at the back…  I transferred the outer of the two back darts to a diagonal line on the centre back seam in a process outlined a year ago (the Simple Dart Throw post).  I cut away a section and inserted a fish tail which is made up of a quarter-circle shape folded twice, concertina style.  It took a bit of playing around to get the half-decent result I’d hoped for (ok, so there was a bit of bodging!). 1 pattern-horz

Next time I’ll do the sewing in a different order, with the dart done last,  the side seam first and the horizontal seam second at which point the two back pieces are joined at the centre back.

Drape and Hem Considerations1 side fish

I need to give some thought to materials.  For this first draft, I used some wool from the stash.  I’d love to redo this in chambray – or anything you may suggest tha would mean the folds fall nicely.  But what about the hem?  A pencil skirt looks best with a deep hem allowance, yet the fishtail extension needs a very small seam allowance (here I kind of graded from 2cm to 1cm as you can see below in the inside out picture).

Or, can you see this in a combination of fabric?!  Denim and jersey or something that doesn’t need hemming?  I wonder if it’d matter that both the wrong and the right sides of the fabric show in the folds.  Let me know what you’d do.

1 inside out

Sun-snatching

What a treat to have a bit of sunshine these last few days (even if it’s cold), not least because the colours in everything stand out.  I think I’m being ‘courted’ by some robins because every time I approach the back windows, two or three appear on the fences, puffing out their russety chests!

I took these pictures after a quick run in the sun (and shower) so excuse the ratty hair.  Because this skirt definitely deserves dedicated styling to pull off a femme fatale look.  Which I’m not sure is my thing, but imagine pairing this with seamed stockings and killer heels.  You’d be known by the trail of dead!  1.2

Dreaming of a Green Christmas

1 ho ho ho1 bamboo shoot dressRight now you’re probably so busy that you’d rather jump off a cliff than see another ‘happy holiday’ message which might require a reply. But in case you read this, whenever that may be, I’d like to wish you a merry Christmas, if you’re having one, and a contented end to the year.

The time coming up to Christmas seems to make me less not more merry. The sewing space usurped by the Christmas tree…. My routine – usually a source of certainly and contentment – hi-jacked!  And the shopping queues and bodies crammed in non-moving traffic chugging out smoke, and the landfill of unwanted tat… It’s just not green enough for my liking.  But to talk of these things only throws up accusations of ‘Scrooge!,’ and the pointing out that I have so much to be thankful for.  Which I do.

IMG_2948So hey, let’s look at the bright side: at least I didn’t have to join in with the manic search for things to wear. I’ve been around long enough to know what suits me and how to make it. And how long it’ll take to make! So for this Pattern Magic Bamboo Shoot dress, which I made in time for my Christmas party, I even enjoyed the little luxury of an adrenaline rush which I threw in by finishing the dress just before it was needed, sewing the lining to the zip half an hour before I was due to leave the house (not that I didn’t have Blue Velvet as back-up!).

1 dinner

And here’s some other things to be grateful for and to enjoy:

Tomorrow will be my first Christmas Day with mum and brother since 1990!

A long phone call with my uncle who lives in Canada, and a shorter one with my dad in Croatia – short because he’s notoriously taciturn though what he does say is often very funny!

Going to see the Amazing World of Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery with the also amazing D.  We might even find the sense to leave the kids at home!

TV, especially who-dunnits, no-internet time, and jigsaw puzzles (thanks for the reminder, Kate!).

Eating through the mountain of food I’ve been lugging home and squirreling away.

A week of lie-ins with the Blogstalker snoozing between my feet.Blogstalker Snoozing

Making Stollen (me) and Bolognese a la Marcella Hazan (D).

And to stop me going stir-crazy after all those calories… long runs on the soft (read: ‘muddy’) edges of South London, some on my own, some with friends.

As for the clothes sales at Twixmas…  Let’s just say if you spot someone who looks like me delving into binfuls of bargains…  it’s really not me!

Hope you get the chance to enjoy some of what life has shown you is good for you.  And thanks for reading the blog and keeping me going!

Love, M

Bad Dress Rescue

1-horzYou just don’t know where inspiration will hit you.  I was walking past Laura Ashley – a shop from which I’ve never bought anything – when in the window I saw a dress very much like the one I made a year ago, lying crushed at the bottom of the mend pile.

1 Velvet Laura Ashley DressThe Laura Ashley velvet dress (reduced to £84) is dark blue with beads on the front arranged like flowers.  A  band of sheer (not that it shows here) fabric at the hem, double-sided, is a great solution if the dress you make is a bit short, though you may need to hunt around for the perfect match.  When I unpicked the hem that I’d hand sewn quite messily, I found enough length not to bother with a sheer panel.  Instead, I did as suggested in the original Blue Velvet post and used a bias strip of organza to hem the dress which required only 1cm off the dress’ length (the strip is turned under and catch-stitched).

Organza bias strip hem

Organza bias strip hem

I took me a couple of hours to add the beads, and that’s including a bit of practice on some scraps.  But my bead placement is different from the inspiration.  I put the dress on and looking in the mirror decided where to place the flowers, avoiding, ahem, ‘areas of controversy.’

Another improvement came via Kate who suggested not to molly-coddle the velvet but to allow it to age – and go boho.  I washed the dress and thinking ‘what have I got to lose?’ tumble dried it.  This fluffed up the nap and as a side-effect, the blue colour has deepened, i.e. not being as flat, it’s not as silvery and reflective.  Having said that, it’s all quite subtle and this is a difficult fabric to photograph!

1 dark blue

1 bveBut the best decision was to ditch the collar.  Initially, I’d fixated on the idea of making a velvet dress with a lace collar and, having got what I wanted, couldn’t admit it wasn’t working.  I’m sure you know the feeling, be it with dresses or relationships!  It made me feel prissy.  And also a little bit like a Jacobean gentleman 😯  I  could always see the collar ‘in me peripherals’ and it was giving me bad vibes.

But the collar is saved and will look nice on a T-shirty blouse, some day.

1t guido

Dark blue Organza: from Unique Fabrics, Goldhawk Road (which is where the original velvet was from).  I only bought 0.25m, as you can guess from the seam in the bias strip!

Dark blue beads from Beadworks, Covent Garden.

1 cluster