Phantom of the School Ball

1 phantom of the school dance

Yes, it’s meant to be scary…

If I was a contestant on the Great British Sewing Bee, my filmable speciality would be a tendency towards snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by sewing a seam the wrong way around, or cutting into the garment while trimming the final seam, or some such last-minute act of stupidity.

1 the dressBut I learnt a valuable lesson when I met Lesley last year, when in the course of conversation she said she doesn’t generally use small stitches!  I received this heresy with a pretence of calm, afterwards beginning to ask myself why I insist on using the 2.2 straight stitch length which is there by default whenever I switch on the machine. Do I really imagine my garment would fall apart if I stray towards slightly longer?  Ever since, I’ve been gradually forcing myself to go up to 2.6 or even 2.8 (wey hey!!) with no obvious compromise in quality.

This way, unpicking mistakes is much, much quicker!

There were several instances of unpicking in the making of daughter’s speed dress! It’s hard to concentrate in a busy home. Mum popped over on Saturday afternoon so there was chat – not to mention distracting, horrific cries coming from the TV as the ladies Wimbledon final was broadcast!

1 conichiBut I’m dead pleased with how this turned out. I had to think on my feet in designing it, adding to a basic idea of a bodice and a long, rectangle skirt. Daughter was away at a sleepover on Friday night so in her absence I made the bodice and lining based on a pattern made from the cling-film wrap but decided to put some gathering stitches at the neckline, just below the chin, so I had the option of gathering them to make the centre front fit better if it was gaping (it was). I ended up liking this as a feature.

The other feature – the sash – I copied from a dress with a pleated yoke I made for her three years ago which was dug out for reference.  The new yoke is 1.5cm taller to be more in proportion with her now longer torso. I had no time to make pleats and no time for sleeves.  1 Waistband

And I had a bit of serendipity!  Mid-week I was asked to alter a dress for a very lovely client who came half a year ago to be measured for a bridesmaid’s dress which she ordered online (from China) for a now imminent wedding. Instead of having a skirt that’s fully gathered (too girlish?), the client’s dress has gathering around the middle part only. This I decided to copy for daughter’s dress. It has a nice elegance to it and mimics the gathering at the neckline. It was extremely quick to fit: I cut the rectangle twice the width of the bodice and just gathered tightly in the centre, leaving the half sides even.

1 bodice front

The finish isn’t too bad: I pressed the bodice seams open but didn’t do anything else except hide them inside lining. The skirt (i.e. the rectangle) has French seams, even at CB below the zip, because I wanted the inside to look nice as she kicks around!

The hardest bit was getting the back yoke seams to level up across the zip. I spent ages fiddling and unpicking and sewing again then remembered to look at the clock.  I also remembered the sash will largely cover this part!   🙄

1 maskaDaughter was due at the Masquerade Ball at 6:30pm. I finished the dress at 4 o’clock then gave it a long soak to get rid of the gelatine with which I’d stabilised the fabric. I washed it and it dried in the breeze in only 20 minutes – that’s polyester for you!

1 kosa

But see this cascade of hair? Alas, she is going to have almost all of it cut off and sent to the Little Princess Trust to be used in making a wig for a child who has lost theirs. She’s also fundraising to help the Trust pay the wig weavers (in China) who make the wigs.  If you can, please help her by making a small donation via her “fundraising page”; any amount would be most welcome (but is not, of course, expected.)

This is quite a bold move, I think, as her friends all have long hair.  I would advise her against the short cut but I love that she’s been moved to support the charity … and quietly admire her desire to differentiate.

1 fantom i maca-horz


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


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!


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…

The Mummy

1 mummy bodice drawingHere’s something you don’t see every day.  On a sewing blog.

I attempted to make a close-fitting model of myself, which to then carve up along the Six Napoleon seam lines into 9 pieces (five for bodice front and four for the back). The plan was to lay these long, narrow pieces flat on paper and trace around, also adding seam allowances and grainlines for an accurate bodice pattern.

1 back of the mummy

In a method similar to making a duct tape dummy, I had my ‘husband’ wrap multiple layers of cheap industrial clingfilm (shrinkwrap) firmly around me into a kind of semi-rigid carapace.  It’s the stuff used to wrap pallets.

At first I wanted just a kind of corset.  The shoulder straps were added as an afterthought, the idea being that I’d get an accurate angle of the shoulder.

Unfortunately we got rather carried away and wrapped way too tightly!

As you can see from all the flesh squeezed out into my armpits and general resemblance to sausages.

Before the mummification, I’d put on a bra to give my bust the volume and support that I’d want while wearing the dress.  I also wore one of those waist-trainers which I bought to wear under my wedding dress.  It reduces my waist by 1-2 cm.  The corseting took off another 3!

There’s something fascinating about feeling yourself becoming smaller and… plastic.  I enjoyed smoothing each new layer around me as I twirled around. 1 experiment in corsetry My husband drew a line down the side, roughly representative of a side seam, and the warp was then slowly and carefully cut along this mark whereupon my flesh spilled out of its casing like a hot haggis.

1 haggis

Haggis – tastier than you’d think

But the clingfilm form is too small to be of use. The inner layers are less rigid than the outer ones and after releasing they pull a little, shrinking.  But had my husband not then gone to France (screaming into the distance), I’d have given this another go as I believe it could work with more layers and aiming for snugness rather than tightness.

This is probably not something any right-thinking person would do, but for the rest of you who might here are some tips:

  • Be careful.  Don’t attempt to do this on yourself or you might have to offer an embarrassing explanation down the Accident & Emergency Ward.  Get a well-briefed friend to help you!
  • Don’t rush it or you might fall over.  The process took some twenty minutes starting with my husband walking around me, till he got dizzy.  He sat down and instead I slowly rotated on the spot in front of him till I got dizzy.  But I couldn’t sit down!
  • Wear a swimming costume or leotard with a side seam to give your friend an indication of where the cutting line should be.  For a balanced bodice, draw on both sides before cutting as it will be difficult to know where the opposite side seam is once the form is off.
  • Snip carefully.
  • When binding, don’t pull too tight above the midriff.
  • Post update Official: it’s not just nutters who do this. Fashion Incubator – who is a clothes-manufacturing industry professional and extremely experienced – did a similar experiment.  Check out the post here.  There’s good advice in the comments too.  Thanks to Pella for the tip!

1 corset


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.


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.


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 Wedding

1 kisobran

1 rain

I wish these pictures could properly show you my dress, but Tuesday morning was the coldest, wettest day that you could imagine for May and the colourless sky stripped all the green out it so that in these photographs it’s decidedly blue.  The shade Lesley called ‘Windows default’!

1 dress 6So you’ll have to take my word for it: that I’d brought to  grey Woolwich, where the ceremony took place, some turquoise.  The colour of the Dalmatian sea near the shore where the pine trees and the summer sky reflect in the shallows.

Right now, the dress is hanging off the picture rail in the living room.  In the calm after the storm, I glance at it occasionally.  The colour is so intense and the crepe texture makes it look almost velvety. It was definitely the right idea to go back for the silk. … To think I was almost a polyester bride!

Yes reader, it was my wedding dress!

1 dress 31 getting away

Inside Job

1 the dress

Here’s the dress, inside out and almost finished.  It’s hanging for a day or so before getting hemmed.  One of the front seams is machine-basted to the mid-thigh as I wanted the option of having a split.  I asked my daughter if I should be daring and go for it, or keep it sewn up.  Somewhat to my surprise she said the former!

1 silk butterfliesBut the other option – to attach a cascade of six or seven silk origami butterflies from one side of the upper bust down to the split on the other side, I decided against.  I think the dress itself looks like a butterfly.

I didn’t know how to line it while maintaining the characteristics of the fabric.  A fully self-lined option would have been very expensive as I’d have needed about 10m of fabric.  Other options would have compromised the construction of the split – which will inevitably fall open when I sit and flap about in the breeze exposing seams and under or partial lining.  So I self-lined to just below the zip (which is on the side) and made 6 metres of bias binding – litres of water going into the steam-pressing during this production! – with which I bound the lower sections of the princess seams, ‘Hong Kong finish’ style.  1 bbThe lucky by-product of this is that all that fabric that went into making the binding has made the dress heavier and given it more of a drape: something I was genuinely relieved about as the fabric, while being a perfect choice of colour, didn’t have the gravitas of the thicker silk crepes.

1 hong kong seam finish

I’m tempting fate by leaving it to almost the last minute to finish it.  Maybe I need that slightly panicky rush of adrenaline I felt when I first cut into the fabric some 10 days ago.  But you, reader, are not to be so silly!  That important wedding you’re sewing for in August?  Don’t wait till the end of July.  Give any potential iron brandings time to heal, and those scratches down the arms from fitting the dress while it’s pinned! 🙂

Also the machine could stop working…   Or… or…  I could give the whole thing a final painstaking press then whip it off the ironing board in a celebratory manner only to discover I’d been standing on the end of it…  and it’s ripped. I’ve been sewing barefoot just to prevent this; I was surprised by how many times I’d sit down at the machine and find the ends of the dress under my feet or the chair wheels.

So Many Muslins

1 wearable muslin in Liberty silk

Option 2-horz

I left the decision of which dress to make for the big day to my significant other. He looked at the shortlist and quickly with no agonising chose the last.

I didn’t question this. Perhaps I should have, as in the picture the dress features hardly at all.  I mean, what did he think was going on there?  What if he’d been influenced by the colours whereas I had only been looking at the styles? (I have no intention of using grey or black.)

1 Double Dungarees

What they were wearing in 2000: dungarees!!

Maybe his decision was self-interested and he’d disregarded the first two because he didn’t want to look underdressed alongside me?

Anyway, I set to work. first padding out the narrow waist of my display dummy Anne (as in ‘Boleyn’ – geddit!?) with a layer of wadding to make it the same size as mine.  Admittedly it looks a little lumpy and unprofessional but my daughter finds Anne quite huggable now.  Just like mummy, she says.

Then I began drafting the sleeve, the distinguishing feature of the dressless dress!

1 sleeve pattern from PInterestBack in September when I made the prototype, I magnified the pattern piece from the original Pinterest picture until it fit my blouse’s armscye.  (in case you’re interested, I made a PDF which you can download).

1 sdWhile it looked good enough in a shirting fabric, the sleeve I ended up with told only half the story!  Mine is a typical gathered sleeve with an interesting ‘epaulette’ whereas the original has more fullness and soft pleats.  I think I’ve more or less worked out how it’s done: at the top and below in the very last picture you can see I’ve  made a wearable muslin (using printed Liberty silk leftover from my BHL Sarah pattern-test).  I worry somewhat that it isn’t good enough, or that when the dress is finally finished it won’t suit me but it’s too late to backtrack.

The pattern I’m using this time is this (I forgot to make all the markings, including ‘on fold’).  Can you see a subtle difference?  I’ve underlined with silk organza so the sleeves don’t crumple.

1 sleeve pattern

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

A choice of silks, in UK Fabrics

As for the dress part, after a preliminary look at the choices in Goldhawk Road, I settled for the idea of a maxi princess dress in silk, with maybe a couple of surprise details thrown in if all goes well, but hoping to find a silk that’s suitably heavy with sufficient drape.

Then the toiling began. I started from Winifred Aldrich’s close-fitting bodice block but it really needed to get closer and closer: a couple of adjustments were made at the bust and a few more at the back.

Look at these carcasses!

1 first muslins

1 close up

Toile number… I forget

It’s hard to get an idea of what one’s back looks using a mirror so with a tripod and a camera on a self-timer, I took photos of my back with arms relaxed by my sides and made adjustments to the pattern once I’d measured what I’ve taken in with pins.  Luckily, as I seemed to be shaving more than adding, I didn’t waste paper starting afresh with each alteration (and if I do need to add to a pattern, I tend to ‘extend’ by gluing a strip of scrap to the underneath of the original).

I’ll be using the same method to get an even closer fit for my Six Napoleon bodice,

1 I'll be waiting in the direction of the kitchen door

I made a longer version too.

I was slightly alarmed that after two weeks of tinkering, I had nothing concrete to show for my efforts except a pile of muslins. But as anyone who has painted walls or woodwork properly may tell you: preparation is everything!

Geez, I hope they’re right.  I mean, what do I know, I don’t paint….

Then panic set in. I went back to Goldhawk Road and suddenly the choices seemed both limited and overwhelming.  At about £15 a metre  for 115cm wide silk, mistakes could prove expensive, and shops are generally unwilling to offer samples to mull over, instead inviting you to take photos.  As any sewist knows, this gives no idea of the feel or weight and is rather misleading when it comes to colour too.

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

£20 Liberty silk from Classic Fabrics

In Classic Fabrics, there was a tempting choice of Liberty printed silks, exactly the same weight as my muslin below, but I thought the graphics would detract from the sleeve design.  I wanted a solid, ideally a blue or green from a palette created by sheer serendipity when Connie printed off and coloured in felt tips this dragon which also probably reminds her of ma:

1 Colour inspiration

So with just over 2 weeks to go, I went to Woolcrest Textiles to see what they got!   It was a sunny Saturday afternoon.  The atmosphere in Hackney was vibrant: so refreshingly different from the suburbs and a feast for the eyes if you’re into people-watching.  But not for the squeamish perhaps:  just as I turned off Mare Street, I was accosted rather rudely  😯   Or at least I assume the offer was rude – I haven’t actually Googled ‘poom-poom’ yet  🙂

Woolcrest is huge, sporadically lit and precariously stacked to the vaults with bolts.  I strained my forearm lifting down something (the three members of staff I met were very kind and helpful, but just as small as me so I didn’t bother asking for help).  But I found a fabric of the right colour and weight: a silky-satin (i.e. polyester) in teal which I’ve established suits me.  At £2 a very wide metre, I couldn’t believe my luck.  It seemed silly not to buy masses of the stuff.   I was in such a good mood, almost laughing at the thought that my special dress will come from the sort of place the outside of which looks like where you go to buy a kidney, and not off the original donor!  By Sunday night, the dimpled-looking silky fabric (which remained dimpled despite repeated pressing) was washed, cut and stay-stitched.  By Tuesday, the sleeves were done, backed with organza and looking nice and soft.  Most of the dress was done too: and….  well… it crackled with static when I slipped it over my head….

By Wednesday, having learnt first-hand that the old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ is true, I was in Goldhawk Road again settling for a silk crepe, a touch on the floaty side, in a deep turquoise.  Reader, one of the sleeves below is £2 a metre in a silky fabric that when pressed smells slightly of an oil slick and the other is £16 silk.  You better be able to tell which is which!1 sleeves 1 and 2

1 sleeve1-horz

So, I have a week.

1 Liberty wearable muslin

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