Celebrity Dress Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jasmine Tea

I used to really enjoy people-watching, always secretly scanning for those who are looking good and for those who have the good fortune to be good-looking.  But something changed after I discovered Colette patterns, in particular the Jasmine.  Now I only look at women, wondering: “why the hell isn’t just one of them wearing the Jasmine top?”

I’ve become the sewing equivalent of an alienated teenager looking to others’ band t-shirts in the vain, desperate hope of finding a kindred spirit…

If I didn’t know how to sew and was at that hesitant stage of wondering if it was worth giving it a try, I think this “beginner” pattern would give me the push to buy a sewing machine.  The design features tick so many of my “must-have” boxes that all RTW tops I’ve seen recently pale in comparison.

What’s to like:

1. The broad neckline.  This accentuates one of the very few of my body parts that I’ve never had an issue with: the collarbones.  Surely a totally undersung part of the body in the female?!

2. The practicality of the necklline: the perfect balance between the suggestive and the decent.  Any higher and an average-to-large-bust might look droopy.  Any lower and the top would be totally inappropriate for bending over desks.

Teachers, try it!

3. The shaping at the waist, courtesy of the bias cut.  This is great for pears or those on the short side who often find tops too boxy.

4. The sleeves: a perfect cover-up for the upper arms.  And in creating version 2, I had the option of creating contrast cuffs (for which I admittedly have a fetish).

5. The overall effect of utmost femininity.  If like me you have quite broad shoulders, then certain girlie touches such as ruffles are a no-no.  Jasmine has all the bits that make it pretty and summery, but with no extra bulk.

Fabric Used:

a) 1.7m x 140cm of Cotton Lawn with a peacock print suggestive of Liberty.  It came from Classic Textiles (44 Goldhawk Road) at £8 per metre.  I made size 4 (UK 8).

b) 1m of Tea-Dyed Lawn. I was determined to make the collar and cuffs in a contrasting fabric and spent ages looking in vain for something suitable in blue, turquoise or green.  Then I noticed that the two pale brown colours in the peacock “eyes” were similar in shade to the tea stains on my clothes….

How to tea-dye:

I suffer from a very British addiction to tea which means that running out of it is one of my greatest fears, second only to my fear of the Sun going out then everyone turning cannibal.  You might be horrified to learn that I used a total of 10 tea-bags of the most expensive, compost-degradable kind which was the only one I had in the house at the time: such was my zeal to get the project going!

For the first half metre, I used a couple of tea-bags too many which resulted in a strong nicotine-like tinge.  It would have been fine but it wasn’t perfect so I gave it a second go, submerging the lawn in a not-too-full saucepan with 4 tea bags and a handful of table salt.  After simmering for 20 minutes, I left the dye to cool before rinsing the fabric in cold water.  This produced an almost ideal result: a soft-looking texture of some uneveneness which reminds me of chamois leather people once used to buff their cars.

The hue and softness is also somewhat suggestive of Blogstalker’s fur!

If you want to give tea-dying a go but aim for an even tone, ensure that the fabric is wet before immersion and give it enough water and space to simmer in.  The material will absorb the dye more uniformly.  But for my purposes, the patchiness is ideal as it avoids the contrast collar and cuffs looking too formal.

Fitting issues

Including my top tip for making Jasmine.  If you’re too wayward to make a muslin, consider cutting the neck facing and collar after you’ve sewn and fitted the bodice.  You might have a gaping neckline to reduce and will need to adjust the facing and collar to match.

In my experience, after making the bodice, the neckline gaped considerably even though I’d made a smaller size than I  sew usually and I absolutely did staystitch all neck lines straight after cutting, in case you’re wondering, like! 🙂

So, I made the following adjustments:

1. I took off 2 cm from the bodice front by narrowing from the widest point of the bust towards the neck.

2. I took off 3 cm from the back bodice, this time narrowing from the waistline to the neck.

3. The neck still didn’t lie quite flat so I added two back darts to the back neckhole,  each above the shoulder blades.  These were 0.5cm wide and 3cm long.

4. Now the neckline looked too narrow in relation to my aforementioned broad shoulders.  So I reshaped the neckline slightly.

5.  I then had to redraw the patterns for the facing and the collar.  I traced the neckline then copied the width of the original pattern pieces.

Despite all of the above, the top was quick and simple to make.  I’d have finished it in a day if it hadn’t been for the advice to keep it hanging overnight before hemming (this is for the bias to settle).

Other changes:

6. A minor adjustment was made to the cuffs.  I sewed the shaped edge with a 1cm (3/8″ in Colette-speak) seam allowance instead of the recommended 1.5cm (5/8″).  This is why they might look slightly bigger than in all the other lovely makes.

And what would I do differently next time?

I’d possibly make the Version 2 loop 1cm shorter.

I’d originally intended to offer this pattern as a giveaway but can’t quite bear to part with it yet.  But if you’re in the Southern hemisphere and are thinking of making Jasmine for the upcoming spring and summer, check back in a couple of months and the giveaway might just be ready. 

Miss Julie’s Jubilee

The brief: to design an elegant and delicate summer dress for my friend Julie.

The design: a sleeveless bodice with Princess Seams going from the waist to the armscye. 5cm-wide shoulder straps.  Waist seam.  Back zip.  The skirt has inverted pleats in place of darts. The inverted pleats meet the princess seams.  The design is  based on the Peggy Georgia dress that I made for my part in the Mad Men Dress Challenge, only with less pleats and with a natural rather than lowered waist.

The fabric: 2 metres of Liberty Tana Lawn “Pauly Parrot”.  The birds are lined up in columns and rows, with every third little guy on the right-hand side sporting a Mohican-like crest.  I think of him as Pauly!

The colours are champagne, pink, red and violet.  In these Julie noticed a subtle parallel to the Union Jack colours which are around a lot at the moment, hence the title “Miss Julie’s Jubilee”.  The fabric is light and therefore underlined throughout with a white cotton lawn which makes the design of the parrots stand out more crisply.  The bodice is also lined in white lawn: the three layers which make up the bodice mean that this is quite a warm dress, perfect for Summer 2012.  Both fabrics came from Classic Textiles, 44 Goldhawk Road.

The fabric sewed beautifully and smelt delicious when pressed!  Having said that, it took some planning at the cutting stage as the pattern of the parrots had to line up vertically and horizontally.

Sewing a Sleeveless Dress with a Bodice Lining

Here’s the order in which I put the dress together which might help you if you’re drafting a similar design.

Step 1

Construct the bodice (please note that I’m using the Pauly fabric and the white underlining as one).  First sew the princess seams on front and back, then side seams.  Finish side seams. Do not sew the shoulder straps – this will come much later!

Step 2

Sew the skirt: tack pleats in place then sew the side seams.

Edge finish the skirt side seams.  There’re many ways of doing this.  You can copy the method below if, like me, you don’t have an overlocker but want to keep things as tidy as possible without the extra fabric of Hong Kong binding.

Edge finishing

Press garment and one seam allowance to one side.  Aligning the presser foot edge with the seam, sew a straight stitch down the seam allowance.  Repeat on the other side.

The stitches will guide you as you press under.

  Press under along the stitch lines (left seam allowance).

Zigzag the folded edge (right seam allowance).

Step 3

Stitch bodice to skirt.  I start by sewing from the centre front to the side, then flipping over and doing the same from the centre front to the other side: I think this stops the top fabric from walking too far (I don’t have a walking foot, yet!).  Fit the zip.  Pin the straps and carry out a fitting.

Step 4

Sew lining the same as the bodice: princess seams followed by the side seams.  Edge finish the bottom of the lining.

Pin lining to bodice, matching all seams.  Fold lining back 0.5cm before the zip and pin (as above).

Fold zip back over lining and pin.

Stitch the front neck, armhole and back neck seams.  Carefully mark the stitch lines in the straps to ensure that you stitch 1.5cm from the top of the strap and 1.5cm from the side of the strap: being as pedantic as possible at this point will make things easier when you sew the straps in the next stage. Trim seam allowances and turn to the right side.

Step 5

The straps, at last:

On the outside, fold and pin back the fashion fabric.  Stitch the lining along seam line, making sure you don’t catch the fashion fabric.

  Tuck the lining seam allowances inside.

Slipstitch the folded edges.  A slipstitch (not to be confused with a slipknot, banish the thought!) is meant to be an invisible join of two folded edges.  Pick up a single thread under one folded edge, pass needle 0.5cm inside and in between the folded edges and repeat on the opposite side.

Step 6

Hand sew the lining to the zip.   Here’s what the garment looks like on the inside.  As a final step, secure the lining to the waist seam by handstitching at the side seams and on the inner pleat folds.



Skirt Nouveau

If I lived in Paris, I’d probably get used to sights like this.  But in my neck of the woods, the creeping, enigmatic lines of the Art Nouveau style are rather rare, so when I glimpsed this Liberty-style fabric from Classic Textiles (44 Goldhawk Road, £7 a metre), I felt a real longing to get myself a piece! I had visions of making myself a Colette Jasmine blouse and, with a long and narrow skirt, coming across all Mrs Dalloway.  That plan went on the backburner the moment I saw this Girl’s Gingham Skirt in the May 12 issue of the Burda magazine.

I decided I had to make it for my daughter and I used my Art Nouveau print to give it a slightly more grown-up tone (gingham is lovely but too much like the school uniform!).

This was my first Burda magazine pattern.  The instructions were clear enough, though there wasn’t much handholding (in other words, beginners beware…).  I traced the pieces onto newspaper and added seam allowances by using a sewing gauge and a fashion curve.  I picked the largest waist size and added 4cm in length which fits my  132cm -tall 7 year-old.

I made each sash double-sided (from two pieces of fabric) though from what I understand, the instructions call for one piece with the long sides folded under.

I left out the lace on the underskirt as I didn’t want to detract from the print.  Although the underskirt is 2cm longer than the print skirt, it doesn’t quite show: I guess I went a little wrong in my measurements!

The pockets on this skirt are charming: they have flaps, piping and Cute Buttons.  Along with the underskirt, they elevate this skirt pattern to something more special than a simple gathered skirt made from rectangles of fabric.  Every little girl deserves one of these!!