Saturday, 17 August 2013

Completed: Green Graphic Print Peony

Colette's Peony was the first independent pattern I ever encountered. I found a reference to it on online, followed the link which took me to Colette's site, and the worlds of independent pattern makers and sewing blogs. And yet as much as I loved the pattern, I didn't buy it. Instead I bought the Rooibos (still to be made) and the Violet (only made once). And of course I've made a Sorbetto (not blogged) and my Laurel.

I know enough now from experience, and from others' blogs, to recognise that the fit on Colette patterns can be a bit of a challenge. And although I was mentally prepared for this, my Peony was no exception.

I cut a size 4 and made a muslin of the bodice, plus sleeves. The waist darts were very odd, giving me lots of excess fabric at the bust. I moved these out (towards the sides) by about 1.75cm and also reduced the height (length?) by about 3.5cm. The bust darts seemed OK on the muslin but now that the garment is finished I think they are ever so slightly too high (probably about 0.5cm ) - this is unusual because previously on a size 4 in Colette the bust darts have always been too low - and also, I think too long. If they were at the right height, they'd go right to the nipple (sorry, "apex"), and I'm not convinced they should? Am I wrong about that?

I tapered the back seam in at the back neck - I can't remember the measurements but have adjusted my pattern piece for future reference. I did similar with my Laurel. I thought the bodice was too long, so added 1.5cm to the length, which I then had to remove on the finished garment. Clearly my long torso issue is completely imagined because this is the second time I have done this. I added 3cm to the skirt, which made the skirt sit right on my knee, which I quite like.
Please ignore the giant crease just above my waist. It sits fine in real life, honest!
I duly sewed up the dress, which went together very easily. I French seamed the bodice, used my overlock stitch on the arm holes and the waist and pinked the rest. I would have French seamed the skirt but I couldn't figure out how to do to that AND incorporate the in seam pockets. This is the first time I've pinked seam allowances. It appears to work for Roisin, so I thought I'd give it a go. Plus I didn't really have enough thread to overlock everything (and, gosh, it's boring to do!).
A seam "junction" showcasing 3 types of finish. I'll come to the elastic in a bit...
The bodice and sleeves went together and I started to add the skirt to the bodice. The skirt has 2 little areas of gathers on the front waist and the instructions have you gather these to fit the bodice. I did this, but the skirt didn't really need any gathering to fit. Strange, I thought. I sewed the skirt to bodice and tried it on. Too big! Like several inches too big! I went back to the pattern pieces and realised that when I'd moved the waist darts, I'd inadvertently reduced the width - however this wasn't the whole reason. I measured the original pattern pieces and it appears there is a whole lot of ease in there. With the help of my sewing teacher, we re-looked at it - trying to fix it without having to unpick too much. I unpicked the waist seam and looked at the bodice. We added more width to the waist darts and used a 2cm seam allowance at the back seam.

Now, the problem with my sewing class is that there aren't any full length mirrors, so I was reliant on my teacher telling me what looked OK, and me determining what felt OK. My teacher reckoned it all looked fine, so off I went to make the amendments, sewing skirt back on to bodice and inserting the zip - this time, there was more gathering required, which made me feel a bit better. I finished the zip off at home and then tried it on again... and it was still too big! By now I was starting to get frustrated. I had just inserted my BEST EVER concealed zip and really didn't want to have to unpick it, or anything else. Then I remembered a post I'd read the previous week by Ami of The Little Tailoress, where she used shirring to add waist definition to a boxy playsuit. I didn't have any shirring elastic, but I did have some 1/4 inch elastic leftover from my 50's petticoat. So, using a 3-stage zig zag stitch, and stretching the elastic as I went, I sewed the elastic onto the seam allowance at the waist, starting as close as I could to the zip, and basically sewing a bit, trying on, sewing a bit and trying on again until I was happy. In the end, I used about 11cm of elastic on each side.
Yes, I am aware that on one side my seam allowance is pressed up and on the other it's pressed down - the right side got caught when I inserted my zip, and as I said, I have no intention of unpicking this zip!
This worked a treat! The fit is perfect now, and the elastic makes the skirt very comfortable. It accommodated last night's dinner very well! It does have it's drawbacks - the side seams are now pulled backwards and this makes it a bit trickier to access the pockets, but it's saved a lot of unpicking, which I am pleased about!
Can you see the concealed zip? Thought not!
You can see here that the side seams are pulled towards the back.
And here
I am really happy with this dress. The fabric is lightweight quilting cotton, bought at The Quilt Show back in February. I love the colour and the retro graphic print. The shape of the bodice is really flattering, once you get the fit sorted. I love a boat neck: it's my favourite neck shape. The bodice would look lovely with a number of different skirt variations - I fancy a half circle skirt next, in a slightly drapier fabric.

You can see here that the neckline gapes a bit at the front. I'm not too sure what to do to improve this. I could obviously add some pleats next time, but if I wanted to keep the neck simple, how do I remove this excess? Any ideas? If I get the bust darts positioned correctly, is it possible to rotate this out from the neckline and into the bust dart?

I wore this dress yesterday. P and I took the day off, put the Small Boy in nursery (followed by a sleep over at Gran and Grandad's), and did some Festival stuff. In August, Edinburgh's population swells to what feels like 100 times the norm, as the whole world flocks to the Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe Festival, the Book Festival and so on and so on. Some locals hate it, and avoid town at all costs, but I love it. Although I'm not from Edinburgh, I grew up about 20 miles away and my mum always made a point of taking us to something every year - even if it was just to see the free street performers. At this time of year, Edinburgh feels so cosmopolitan. Some of the main roads are closed to accommodate temporary venues, meaning cafes and bars can spill out onto the street (weather permitting). The whole place just feels like it's on holiday. Yes it's an absolute nightmare if you are in a rush, and if you want to park your car, forget it, but give yourself plenty of time, take the bus and it's cool. Yesterday we wandered into town about 3ish, took in the Man Ray exhibition at the Portrait Gallery, followed by drinks outside the Udderbelly, Sean Hughes at the Gilded Balloon, and finally dinner at Spoon. We've taken Monday off too, and we are taking Small Boy to see Tiddler and then to see the street performers. For his birthday I got him this book, which features street performers (number 7, I believe), so he is keen to see them IRL. Last year I took him to see Hairy Maclary, and he enjoyed it so much, he demanded "again" at the end of it. And then cried for a full half hour when I couldn't make it come on again!

Deformed foot and an interesting hat. Also, some very pretty verbena bonariensis in St Andrews Square. All the cool bloggers are featuring verbena bonariensis these days... just check out Roobeedoo!
So, overall, I am delighted with this dress! Yes the fit was a challenge and there are further improvements to be made, but I feel like I have learnt something in the process. There will be future versions of this dress. A lovely wool version, with 3/4 sleeves would be lovely for winter. And the aforementioned half circle skirt version will no doubt make an appearance too.

If anyone has any solutions or suggestions on how to resolve these fit issues, they would be gratefully received!

Next up, a Scout woven tee!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Fabric frustation

What is the single most frustrating thing about sewing? It should be something tedious like cutting out, or finishing seam allowances. Or something difficult like perfecting fit or bound button holes. Or just something annoying like poor instructions.

Instead, frequently I find the most frustrating thing about making my own clothes is finding the right fabric. There can be several reasons for this, my personal fussiness notwithstanding,

Firstly: fabric type. I struggle with this. Patterns are excellent are giving fabric suggestions, but a lot of it doesn't really mean that much to me. Here are just a few suggestions on the backs of the envelopes of some of the patterns I own, where I have NO CLUE what they are: cotton bastiste, ottoman, laundered cotton (isn't that just cotton that's been washed?), tropical wool, challis. Now, I know a lot of this will be down to my inexperience, but how do I get the experience? My local fabric shop drew a blank when I asked for "bastiste" and instead she presented me with a cheap stiff poly cotton. I am not 100% sure what bastiste is, but I'm pretty it's not a stiff poly cotton (in my head it's a bit more like lawn). Instead my fabric store list their fabrics by fibre content. This is useful, but not helpful when you are searching out "tropical wool" - even if it is just to find out what it is! I can of course Google the description, but that doesn't help me understand what it feels like.

Secondly: fibre content. I am a natural fibres kind of girl. Yes, I will freely admit there is an element of snobbery in there. 100% polyester is just a bit too reminiscent of Primark and other cheap shops (not that I never shop there, but I do baulk at the sea of polyester upon entry). But from a wearability point of view, I just find polyester a bit too clingy and a bit too sweaty to ever be fully comfortable in. I have tried polycotton mixes but they still cling. Maybe I just generate excess static when I move?

Thirdly: finding the perfect colour/print. As part of MMM13 I realised that a lot of my self made garments are "stand alone". That is, they don't go with a lot of items in my wardrobe. Tops and blouses are not so bad because pretty much everything goes with jeans or black trousers, but the skirts I have made often go with one top or blouse. My recent floral Charlotte and my quick pleated skirt are cases in point. I only have 1 top that goes with each of them - and it's the same yellow tee! So, to combat that I am trying to be more selective with my fabric choices (think capsule wardrobe territory), and immediately I come up against difficulty. As soon as I have an idea in my head, it becomes impossible to find the fabric I want. Some evidence:

Exhibit A: As my floral Charlotte has blues as well as yellows in it, I want to make a blue blouse. It needs to be work appropriate to wear with the Charlotte to, err, work. I am thinking a slightly looser fit sleeveless blouse. Something like the Megan Nielson's Eucalypt, or a Sorbetto, or possibly even a sleeveless Taffy. I want something simple and self coloured as there is quite a lot going on in the skirt, and I want a nice drapey, breathable fabric. I have been thinking a voile or a lawn, or a cotton/silk mix, maybe even a woven viscose. I don't want jersey. And I want a SOLID colour - royal blue, violet or maybe cornflower blue. And can I find that fabric? No! Solids in particular seem to be difficult to find in lightweight wovens. Jerseys and knits are no problem at all, but I don't want a knit...

Exhibit B: My mum is making a dirndl skirt for a 1950's party she's going to in a few weeks. She wants to make it in a 2" gingham in black and white, probably partly inspired by Gertie's version (I sent her the link for the tutorial). I would also like the same fabric to make an Archer, inspired by Andrea's.

Gertie's black and white large gingham skirt

Andrea's gingham Archer
Again, can we find the fabric? No! The only 2" gingham I have found in the UK is yellow and white*, and while I'm actually open to colourways other than black (my mum isn't), I don't want yellow (a turquoise/white on the other hand would be lovely...)
*Actually, not strictly true - I did find a 2" black and white gingham on Ikea's website, however while it might be fine for my mum's skirt, it it highly unlikely it would be a light enough weight for a shirt. I have yet to find out if my mum managed to find it at the weekend.

Fourthly: Online shopping. I find in actually fabric shopping on line full stop. The number of websites out there are huge, but I find them often very difficult and time consuming to navigate (e.g. you can only select fabric type OR colour, not both!!!), the descriptions vary (I need as much detail as possible, weight, some examples of what could be made with it, fibre content, washing instructions) and I guess you always have the colour issue when looking at something online. I know most websites have sample swatch services but they don't all. And I reckon I could probably spend a lot on swatches before finding the fabric I want.

Fifthly: price. Usually, because this is the way with everything I do,  IF I manage to find the right fabric, it will be expensive. I don't set out to have expensive taste. It just seems to happen.

This has ended up being a slightly ranty post - apologies. I hadn't intended that. What I did want to do was share my frustrations and hopefully open up some discussion. Do you have this problem, or any other problems, when sourcing the "right" fabric for your project? It does seem that US websites (and presumably also physical stores) offer a lot more choice, so is this specifically a UK problem? Or am I just being too damn fussy?

Monday, 5 August 2013


I have been lucky enough to have had two more wins recently, in the world of online sewing. One of supplies and one of an award. Firstly the award, because the recognition of it is long overdue. I am ashamed to admit that it was a month ago  that I received another Liebster award, this time from the lovely Kathryn of Kathryn's Busytown. That is appalling of me. Kathryn is probably thinking that she will have had her second child before I got round to answering her questions! As with my last award, I won't be nominating anyone else because I find this so difficult - not because there aren't any decent blogs out there, far from it! More because it's so blooming difficult and time consuming to establish how many followers a blog has. But I will answer Kathryn's questions, so here we go!

1. What is your favourite film and why?
Cinema Paradiso. I just love the story, especially the bit at the end with the montage of all the kissing scenes the priest had had removed!

2. When and why did you start sewing?
My mum sewed when I was little, and I sewed along with her. I dabbled a bit as a teenager, and always had a sewing machine, which I used for the odd project. I started a dressmaking nightclass in 2009, and eventually got into sewing obsessively seriously in 2011 after returning to my nightclass after having Small Boy. When I found the online world of sewing, and Indie pattern companies last year, my fate was sealed!
And why? I don't know really. I guess it just always appealed and it was always something I wanted to do more of, but just didn't have the time/funds/inclination in my 20's.

3. What is your favourite make?
I have previously said my Red Denim Kelly to this question, however it might now be my Floral Charlotte because I turned a failed garment around and created something I now absolutely love!

4. Do you have a favourite type of fabric to work with? Or a favourite type of garment to make?
I really prefer sewing with cotton, as it's so nice to sew with, and I really prefer not to wear man made fabrics. It doesn't excessively fray, it presses nicely and it doesn't slip around. My absolute favourite is Liberty tana lawn. I don't really have a favourite garment to make.

5. Do you have a favourite fabric shop, online or actual real life physical shop?
Err, not really actually. I mostly buy fabric in actual shops because I like to handle fabric before buying, but I don't think the fabric shops in Edinburgh have the most amazing selection - they are OK, but generally when I have an idea in mind, I cannot find what I want. I am aware this is partly because I am remarkably fussy in terms of both fibre content and design, and also because I don't want to spend a fortune.  I have only bought fabric online once, which was the floral stretch cotton for my Charlotte. This was from Fabric Godmother, and I loved the fabric and the service was good, but it was expensive (£16 per metre) - more than I'd normally spend, plus there was postage on top.

6. What's the best book you've read recently?
It was How To Eat Out by Giles Coren. Again, I am fussy and if I don't like a book I will not persevere with it - life is too short. Most of the books I've started recently have ended up half finished for this reason. I borrowed the Giles Coren book from my dad because I like food and I quite fancy Giles Coren. He comes across as very ranty and a bit arrogant (and probably a bit of a tosser, TBH), but I actually quite like him, so I was able to overlook that!

7. Do you have a favourite artist, or art work?
A bit of a Scottish cliché, but Charles Rennie Mackintosh. My parents took us to visit places like the Glasgow School of Art and Hill House years before any of my friends and their families had ever heard of him. Granted, my friends and I were about 13 at the time, but I do feel that these days, you'd struggle to find a Scot who didn't recognise the CRM rose design. I always loved his art noveau designs and his architecture, but these days I also love the botanical watercolours he did later in life. There is a bit of a random connection here, as he painted a lot of these while living in a Suffolk village called Walberswick, which is directly across the river from Southwold, the place where my family frequently holidayed when we were young, and where we went again this year.
I also love a current artist called Angie Lewin, who was previously based in Norfolk and now appears to have relocated to Edinburgh. Again, botanical images feature, this time as linocuts (she does paint too).

Agapanthus by Angie Lewin
But generally, if I like a piece of art, I like it and if I don't, I don't. I don't usually pay too much attention to who created them.

8. Cats or dogs?
Neither. I am just not an animal person at all. Sorry!

9. Sweet or savoury?
Both! But I'd reach for a biscuit before a packet of crisps...

10. If you could have 3 dinner guests alive/dead, real/fictitious characters who would they be and why?
God that's really difficult. I'm assuming "family and friends" is not a good enough answer? OK, I'm in danger of never answering this, so I'm not going to over think it and try to be cool/intelligent/worldly-wise and will just go with the first 3 people I think of. I think I'd like Jarvis Cocker, Jess Day (from New Girl, played by Zooey Deschanel) and Elisalex from By Hand London. Jarvis, because he's been a hero of mine for 10 years now and I think he'd be an interesting guest - although the conversation would possibly a bit too alternative and highbrow for me. Jess because I think she's really cool and I would want to talk clothes with her. And Elisalex because I'd love to find out how one goes about starting and running an Indie pattern company - and specifically her, rather than Charlotte or Victoria because I want to know how she does it when she has a 4 year old son!

11. If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go and why?
Denmark, because I really fancy it and I've never been. It seems like such a cool, beautiful place.

Wow - an interesting and challenging set of questions there!

Now, on to my second win! The other week I was lucky enough to be the name picked from the hat for Jo at The Amazing Adventures of Taracat's giveaway! The parcel arrived at the weekend, and here's what I got!

 About 2.5m of a gorgeous african wax print cotton and Simplicity 1609, accompanied by a lovely card!

Here's a better view of the fabric:
The pink dots are sparkly!
It's incredible! It really is not what I'd normally go for - pink glitter is really not my thing - but I love it! It reminds me of peacock tails! I have absolutely no idea what I'll make with it. I had originally thought an Anna, however the fabric is quite stiff which I wasn't expecting and I'm not sure that will work. Jo made this beautiful maxi dress with it, but I am not a wearer of maxis. Any suggestions?

The Simplicity 1609 was recently showcased extremely well by Gertie, who has certainly given me food for thought on what to do with this.

Thank you so much to both Kathryn and Jo. Once again, I am reminded how kind and generous the online sewing community are!

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