By Hand London Alix

1-header

By Hand London ‘Alix’ is a dress pattern in three length variations to be released shortly.  I made the pattern-test version which is going to be amended once all the testers report their findings.

mr-and-mrs-clark-and-percy

The dress was originally conceived as a maxi and according to its designer, Elisalex, it was inspired by the David Hockney painting “Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy” (1971).  The woman in the painting was and still is a designer, the celebrated Celia Birtwell (somewhere in my stash is a rather rare fabric of hers I bought many years ago).  The design attempts to capture an early seventies vibe.  1-tech-drawing

The blurb reads: Inspired by the dreamy glamour of the 70s, Alix will take you effortlessly from a hazy summer festival to an elegant soiree in town.  A high-waisted prairie dress with a V-neck yoke, inset waistband, tie back belt and a full skirt, pleated at centre front and back.  And best of all, no zipper.  With long, billowing raglan sleeves secured at the wrist with a delicate elasticated cuff and three skirt length option (& everything in between!) Alix can be just as at home worn with a pair of beat up old jeans as she is swooshing down the red carpet…!

1-bhl-alix

1-muslinUsing some old bedlinen I first made a muslin to familiarize with the instructions (there are usually a few mistakes at the pattern-testing stage which is one of the main reasons why some pattern companies ask for testers; and why it’s helpful for the testers themselves to have experience of using commercial patterns). I also wanted to check how plunging that V-neckline is.  I think the depth is pretty good but after exposing myself liberally all summer, I wanted a warmer garment so in the grey version the front yoke is 3cm higher.

Adjusted pattern piece

1-frontyoke-adjustment

Raising centre front by 3cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1-side-alixI’ve made four other changes.  I lengthened the hem by 16cm (as with the raising of the décolletage, I am fully committed to a process of nunnification of this dress).  I have added piping to the waist ties, waistband and the yoke/neck – in fact I made over 6 metres of piping which gave me a lot of satisfaction as I was able to use up one of a hundred pieces of black fabric remnants lying about that I am unable to throw away out of deep loyalty to the two tribes to which I belong: Goth and ‘Green’.  I have lined/underlined the back and skirt (only the front bodice and the sleeves are not lined).  Finally, I thought ‘the delicate elasticated sleeve’ wasn’t ambitious enough and so trimmed the last 3cm off the length then gathered the sleeves into cuffs, which are also piped.  The finished cuff is 3cm tall and 24cm wide all around which is quite a lot more than my wrist measurement but just enough for me to be able to put my hand through without feeling like an escapologist!  Oh, and I interfaced the yoke, back of neck and waistband.

Inside front

Inside front, showing skirt lining.

 

Inside back, showing underlining

Inside back, showing underlining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1-frontWhat I like about this pattern is that it’s nicely constructed (pretty on the inside) and it gives scope to being creative. At first I imagined a mostly black, slinky maxi in viscose, preferably printed with cats or something eccentric and a turquoise waistband, ties, neckline for creating contrast and drama.  But you go to the shops and vision is compromised by the fabrics available. This fabric may appear grey and possibly drab, but I promise that if you 1-fabriclook closely it has sparkle, a sprinkle of a silver metallic. It has a feel of both viscose and wool and was a bargain from Simply Fabrics (which really impressed me with their range this time).  It was the end of a roll so I am going to think very carefully how I will use up the last 0.75 metre I have left.

Family critics like the dress but commented on the unusual appearance of the bust, which is shaped by a small inverted pleat.  It will be difficult to adjust this by changing the pleats to gathers at this stage: those particular pattern pieces are sandwiched between the inner and outer waistband (and indeed, the piping) but it’s worth bearing in mind if you intend to make it yourself.  (*Nipple tweak update: see last photo)1-alix-bhlI hope everything else, like the lovely yoke, will detract, though I may just fix.

Many thanks to the frightening woodland creature who took my pics!

1-the-horror

NIPPLE TWEAK UPDATE: I’ve replaced the pleats with darts, sewing them without unpicking the waistband pieces.  The dart points are machine stitched and from about half way the wider ends are ladder-stitched.  It’s not an ideal way of sewing the dart but I think it’s enough for the unknowing eye to be detracted by all the other detail…  Better?1-nipple-tweak-update

Drafting with Jo

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

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

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

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

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

Toile no. 1

Toile no. 1

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

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

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

IMG_3330

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

1 mystery guest

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

1 bodice 21 bodice 2 back

Toile Number 2.  Cotton fabric, vintage Laura Ashley

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

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

bodice drawing

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

1 pinning the pattern piece

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

To be continued…

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.

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

Back in Black, Anna Hack

I didn’t mean to hack.  My focus was on designing a pencil skirt but after some experimenting, I made myself a rather likeable muslin from some utility cotton leftovers and it seemed a shame to throw it away. 

So I Frankensteined it. 

To an Anna bodice. 

The whole thing is, like Dr Frankenstein’s  creation, rather crudely stitched.  Check out that  ugly waist seam, sooo mismatched at the back!  (Click on right image to enlarge for full gore.)  See the holes where the original pencil skirt darts had to be unpicked and repositioned to match the bodice pleats? 

Luckily, one dye-job later into my all-time favourite colour and all is forgiven, particularly with the addition of a waist-concealing cinch belt.  A very useful hack, though a size bigger would have been more wearable still and could have been lined.  

BTW, check out the giant pencils of the Battersea Power Station!  This weekend is London Open House and if you’re curious to see the interior of this enormous brick structure, tomorrow is your last chance before the building undergoes lengthy, long 0verdue regeneration.  You’ll have to get there hours before opening time though, and join a queue of hundreds of architecture students, photography enthusiasts, Pink Floyd fans, phallic symbol admirers, not to mention the usual scourge of tweeters and bloggers!

Anna, Au Revoir

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

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

Tips for Anna Maxi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location: Upnor Castle

Thanks to Jo D 🙂