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Thursday, 2 June 2016

Gold is the new black

There are no words to explain my choice of running kit for last weekend's Edinburgh Marathon. As it was to be my first marathon since getting into sewing, I thought I would make my own kit for the occasion, and things snowballed from there.

The idea for gold came to me when I was indulging in one of my favourite lazy parenting tactics, and watching this with my girls. I suppose I just thought, `F**k it. You're not going to make a habit of running a marathon, so you may as well make yourself an awesome piece of kit to wear while you're doing it.' Dress awesome, feel awesome, no?

Duathlon Shorts
I'd originally intended to just make a pair of Duathlon Shorts to wear alongside my charity vest. I bought the gold fabric, but then developed a weird superstition about cutting into it before I had completed a significant long run. I think this was because in February, I had had a few knee problems, and was still a bit uncertain of whether I'd manage to complete the training and run the marathon. 

Then, with a successful long run of 16 miles done, I spent a gleeful hour or so sewing golden leggings. My daughters were all horrified when I put them on. 

After wearing them on a 20 mile training run (to test they didn't chafe), it occurred to me that the green vest didn't go with the gold at all. In fact, I had nothing that would go with gold leggings (who knew?). There was only one thing for it, and that was to go all out gold on top and bottom, and, to slap my name across my chest, to guarantee myself some extra crowd support. 

Chafe test passed (the gold is surprisingly breathable), I ordered more fabric for a matching VNA top.  

I loved the process of making it - I channelled my increasing nerves about the looming marathon into a sewing project that turned out to be pure fun from start to finish. The way this top is constructed is really clever - it is like a jigsaw puzzle in which you end up a nicely shaped top that is super comfortable for exercising in. As with the Duathlon shorts, I found the instructions were easy to understand - most of the sewing came together quickly on my over locker, just using the ordinary machine for a bit of top stitching at the end. If you look at the neckline on mine, you can see it isn't quite perfect - I think I could have pulled it a bit tighter. I reckoned that on this particular version, a slightly gaping neckline wasn't going to matter. 

My daughters were once again horrified by the sight of me when I tried on my Kit of Bling. The Kit of Bling marks a peak in my potential to embarrass my children - I have used this weapon to my advantage, making regular threats to collect them from school, or, to accompany them to the school disco with it on. This has worked wonders in getting the middle girl to eat her dinner in under half an hour. 

Race day finally arrived. Before seeing me in the Kit of Bling, my running friend, Gis, had said I wasn't to laugh at her socks. Here we are, all fresh faced, posing outside the hotel before setting off to join the crowds for the race.

The course was a beautiful one. It takes you out of the city, and the bulk of it is run right next to the coast line, in a sort of out and back way. There was a depressing point at around mile 8, when I looked into the distance at miles and miles of runners still heading out before us, with the turning point to come back too far away to even see, and the penny dropped about what a long journey was still ahead. I'd say from that point onwards, the challenge was as much about telling my brain to keep running as it was about overcoming tired muscles. As running by the sea is one of my favourite things to do, (and, living where I do, something I don't get to do that often) and so I tried as much as possible to make the most of it and enjoy the experience. 

I expected mile 20 onwards to be tough, and it was. But, nothing hurt, beyond the obvious fatigue you'd expect to experience after three hours or so on the road, and I kept telling myself this was good and that I was lucky not to have picked up any kind of injury. Three things kept me going - the thought that walking or stopping would just mean it would take longer to reach the point I could lie down; my pride, and (having already attracted a lot of attention) the fact I knew I would look totally ridiculous giving up in such a conspicuous choice of kit. I could not let myself give up.

Finish line joy
The moments leading up to the finish line were just brilliant. The crowd shouting my name acted as rocket fuel for my knackered legs, and I romped home with a big grin on my face. 

A few days on, my legs have finally stopped aching, and I can walk down the stairs easily again. I feel so good about myself for having done it - both for the ongoing happier state of mind six months of training gave me, and, for the massive amount of fun I had on my 26 mile catwalk. I'd recommend it!

Soundtrack Shake it off by Taylor Swift

Monday, 23 May 2016

Painting the Roses Red Dress

Why, hello again. I've been having a run of dress making lately. I think the change in weather has bought out the desire to have bare legs and toes and wear summer dresses. 

This is my latest make - almost made from start to finish during an evening babysitting for my friend Emily's children. Luckily, they all slept, and I sewed like the wind, stopping only to put the kettle on and eat some of the nice orange cake she had left for me (it is kind of the unwritten rule that you leave something yummy for the babysitter to eat, no?). I hand stitched the hem on Saturday morning, whilst my own girls were busy making things out of junk from the recycling bin. Happy days. 

I've worn this dress the last two days since making it. I love it! The colours are very me, and it feels so summery and happy to wear. I keep on looking down at the print and admiring it. It reminds me of painting the roses red in Alice in Wonderland.

This is my third Lilou dress from Love At First Stitch by Tilly Walnes. The nice thing about a third make is that I could jump straight in and sew, having already made a toile before. I went for the scalloped edge on the neckline - takes a bit more time and effort, but I like the finished look of it with this print.

The fabric is a John Kaldor cotton from Sew Essential - it has a slight stretch to it, which I really like on the dress. I just used half a metre of black satin to line the bodice - the skirt is unlined, and hangs nicely as it is. As it is wide on the roll, a couple of metres was plenty for the dress. More importantly, there is a sale on - the fabric I used is down to £6 a metre, along with a lot of other pretty prints that would make lovely summer dresses. I am planning to wear this dress for a wedding in the summer, and, I am now sorely tempted to buy a selection of other prints in the same range and make a pretty dress for each of my girls to wear for the special occasion and see how well they all scrub up. We'll have to keep the littlest away from all chocolate/ice cream/food in general, for that look to last, obviously. 

All that is left is to thank my photographer. This time, it was my eldest daughter, Sophie. After hearing her little sister had been paid a fee of 50p of sweets from the shop in the Arcade, she had a sudden enthusiasm to volunteer this time round. The stupid pose with a mug of tea is becoming a thing.

Thanks to Lucy at Sew Essential for sending me this fabric to review - all opinions are my own.

Monday, 16 May 2016

1940s Tea Dress

I fell for this spotted green beetle chiffon print the moment I saw it. I'd been having a casual browse on DragonFly Fabrics, and, in the way impulse fabric buys sometimes happen when I should probably be hoovering, I promptly bought a couple of metres. 

It didn't take me long to decide to use it to make a Sew Over It 1940s Tea Dress. I bought this pattern a year ago, and had yet to find some suitable drapey fabric that made me feel inspired to try making it. 

A repeating pattern in chiffon and a dress with a hell of a lot of panels? Why not. I can do that, thought my hoovering avoiding self, without really thinking through all the work that would be involved.

I opted to back the chiffon with some ivory coloured crepe de chine. I made the method up as I went along. I toyed with working the bodice as a single layer of fabric, and the skirt as two separate layers. In the end, I treated the skirt as one layer as well - mainly because I thought the chiffon would be too delicate (and messy) to risk all those seams for the skirt panels. I thought about using French seams for the chiffon, if sewing the layers separately, and then decided that might stop the dress flowing nicely. In the end, I sewed the layers together, and finished the seams on the over locker. 

The almost finished dress hung on my dressmaker's dummy for a few weeks, as I procrastinated over the hem. I was so pleased with how the make had gone to that point, that I was avoiding the next step for fear of mucking it up at the last hurdle, and spoiling the overall finish with a dodgy hem. Eventually, with a deadline looming of an occasion I wanted to wear the dress for, I set about tackling it.

I used a long straight stitch to machine baste the layers, about 1 cm from the raw edges. My plan was to hand sew a rolled hem, but, after trying this out, it ended up too bulky and ruining the swoosh of the finished dress. Instead, I over locked the raw edges, steamed the hem up, and then slip stitched the hem in place, as shown in the picture above.

An invaluable tool during this, and the rest of the pressing involved in the dress, was a pressing cloth/mesh type thing my friend Charlotte gave me. It enabled me to use plenty of steam without damaging the delicate fabrics. This was most definitely one of those projects that was transformed by a good press.

The combination of pattern and delicate fabric made this dress a challenge for my sewing skills. I feel quite proud of myself for mustering up enough patience to stick with it through matching the panels so those bugs and chevrons lined up nicely.

The combination of crepe de chine and chiffon has given the dress a great sense of luxury - it hangs beautifully and has a great swoosh. My verdict on the double layer sewing is that I think I am pleased with the result after all the effort put in, but won't be rushing to do more makes like this, purely because of the hours and hours spent cutting out. I like the 1940s Tea Dress pattern, and can certainly imagine more of them in my future. I have no idea what the next version I make will look like - I'll know it when I see it (the fabric, that is).

In the meantime, here's a final close up of the fabric that inspired me to make my first 1940s Tea Dress - hope you don't mind creepy crawlies!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Spotty denim Megan

Happy Friday, friends.

It's been a busy week here - a child's birthday, a couple of evenings of new sewing classes, along with the usual round of activities and washing mountains to conquer in a house with four kids. Highlights were probably the sunshine filled fish and chip supper in the park, and, a successful trip to buy shoes for the toddler of the house. Seriously, don't underestimate how sweet a victory it was - no foot stamping, no tears, and no throwing of one's whole body onto the shop floor.

A saving grace of the toddler who tests my patience more than any class of teenagers ever did, is that she sleeps for a couple of hours every lunchtime. With a Megan dress course in full swing, I felt totally justified in snatching a bit of daytime sewing while she slept. Housework is one thing - with each child that has come along, I've got a bit more speedy at ploughing through jobs that need doing - but there are days when doing something selfish is just the tonic to restore me in time for the after school craziness that goes on around here. Radio 4 on (I'm a secret Archers listener), ironing board out, and sewing machine and over locker both out. I'd made the bodice to this earlier in the week, and so today, just about finished the dress in time for the school run. My six year old snapped me a couple of pictures, as I drank my afternoon tea. Happy days.

Not a lot to say about this version of the Megan. I have had a lot of value for money out of the Tilly Walnes Love At First Stitch - this is my fourth Megan, along with several of the other patterns from the book, too.

After giving my past self a good kicking for not storing the tracing of the pattern in a safe enough place for me to find it again (so annoying when you only have yourself to blame for time wasting), I measured myself, and discovered I was slightly smaller now anyway, and cut a straight size 2, so not so bad. Perks of marathon training. The only tiny adjustment I made was to shorten the shoulders by 1 cm. I have used some stretch denim I bought for about £8 a metre from a shop somewhere on Goldhawk Road (sorry I can't remember which one!). My hairdresser, Collette, was with me (along with my mum and some other sewing friends) and spotted this fabric first, so I kind of have her beady eyes to thank for this. She was using hers for a satchel - so if we ever meet with both our spotty things out, we can enjoy a funny fabric twins moment.

Here's a closer shot, so you can see the fabric a bit better.

I think I'll wear this dress a lot, as it has potential for bare legs or tights. The stretch makes it super comfortable. That's all I have to say about it, I guess.

On a high from the toddler shoe shopping success, still angling for a new pair of summer shoes pour moi, I popped into Planet in the posh arcade in Bedford, and came out with these. I like them a lot. And (spoken like a mum) they are very comfortable. Hello, toes.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

More tortoise, less hare

I have been working on a dress pour moi. To recap, it is a Sew Over It 1940s Tea Dress, made using chiffon and crepe de chine, for no reason or occasion other than I really liked the fabric in question.

On Sunday afternoon, conditions were just right for a spot of dressmaking. We had eaten a big roast lunch, after which everyone in the house found something happy to do - the littlest was having a sleep; the next girl up sat down to paint; the living room floor was host to all the Lego (and the eldest two sisters working alongside each other in peace - for once); Mark was strumming on his guitar, and so, I... sloped off upstairs to sew.

That isn't quite accurate. I ended up spending the afternoon cutting out the remaining pieces of my dress. There I was, sprawled over the double layer of fabrics, doing my best to line up the patterns and keep everything nice and straight during the cutting process. It was a slow process. But a happy one. Three hours later, I finished the cutting out. I just about had enough fabric to kind of match up the chevron pattern across the panels. There is a bit where the bugs don't quite follow the pattern they should, but I don't mind. The chevrons and the balance of black and white sections is pretty much consistent enough for my liking, and I am hopeful the dress will look decent when it is done.

I don't know about you, but one thing I like about making clothes is that I often have memories associated with the making. So far, this dress has memories of an evening spent with a couple of old friends, chatting, eating a Victoria sponge, and admiring a new baby. It also has memories of the sounds of children playing and singing and generally doing their own thing without arguing. Anything is possible.

I am treating the two fabrics as one layer. This is taking time and a lot of pins, so the chiffon doesn't shift and get left out of the seams when it is sandwiched between the crepe de chine. After some sewing last night, I have reached the point where the dress is starting to look a bit more like a dress. No sleeves or zip, but I have tried it on and get a sense of the finished thing. I am pondering whether to leave it sleeveless - what do you think?

I can report that it fits and will do up at the back without needing any adjustments. This is a bit of a relief, as I didn't make a toile, and kind of winged it over the pattern adjustments across all the different panels. I opted for a size 10 bust, and a size 12 at the waist, and back to a size 10 at the hips.

The best bit so far is the swoosh factor the fabric gives the skirt. It has a beautiful weight and hang. Worth the effort over double layers. Now I need to give myself a good talking to and swear to hand sew the hem when the time comes. I must follow through, and resist the urge to rush bits.  More tortoise, less hare.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Creepy crawly dress

I have had a bit of a fabric splurge. Oops. Am I sorry? Not one bit. 

The first bit of fabric shopping was for someone else. I'd promised to make my niece a dress for her birthday. She is only a couple of weeks older than my own seven year old, so, I predict I might be asked to make a second one for her, now that she has seen this.

Fabric and pattern (girl skater dress) from KitschyCoo
I love the jersey fabrics in KitschyCoo - the first Flashback Skinny Tees I made a few years ago using Amanda's interlock jersey are still going strong, getting handed down the family as each girl grows, so I think the money is worth it.

My next splurge on fabric was some pretty darn amazing stuff for making my race day marathon tights with. Buoyed up by the fun of wearing my toucan tights for a recent half marathon, I want to throw caution to the wind and dazzle the crowd with my legs in Edinburgh. The fabric is now in my possession, but I am forcing myself wait until after I've hit the 20 mile mark in training before cracking on with special kit.

My last splurge was totally on impulse, in a moment of love at first sight between me and the creepy crawlies, as I was having a casual browse on DragonFly Fabrics.

I don't know about you, but I am very much a seamstress who is inspired to make something because of seeing a piece of fabric that really grabs me. I saw this and immediately thought I would like to make a Sew Over It 1940s Tea Dress with it.

I have since bought some ivory coloured crepe de chine from my local shop, and plan to make the dress as two layers, treating the bodice pieces as one layer, and keeping the skirt panels separated so that they twirl nicely. This will be a bit of a challenge. A slow burner rather than a one night sewing fix.

Progress so far is cutting and stitching the front five pieces together. I was round at my friend Pamela's for a sewing night, and, she helpfully had a spotlessly clean kitchen floor (mine has never been so clean) and was very patient about me sprawling out over it as I attempted to cut my breathe on it and it moves fabric out. Starch spray helped a bit, but I am accepting that chiffon is just a very different beast to interlock jersey.

The two layers of chiffon and crepe de chine hang together to make a dress I think will ooze luxury. I am imagining swishing about the place very happily in this, sun shining all the time, and hair looking amazing too, of course.

Mum asked me if I was making it for a special occasion. Um, no, not really (although it will be nice for such times). I'll be just as likely to bring this out for the school run as I will a fancy do.

Friday, 8 April 2016

It's all about the cake, really

I've just finished teaching some lovely mums how to make clothes for their kids. They approached me as a group, wanting to learn how to make the character dungarees and dresses from the Wild Things book by Kirsty Hartley. 

I made this bunny dress as a sample before the course started.

I had a bit of a spree of dungaree making last autumn. I had initially made this pair for my eldest daughter, and then somehow got talked into making a pair for each of them (for the sake of a bit of peace and quiet). Actually, the youngest ended up with three pairs, because everyone wanted her to have a pair that matched theirs. The final dungaree count in the house was foxes x2, badgers x2, and, mice x2. They saw me coming.

Understandably, after all that, I refused to make anything else for them for a while, for fear I'd end up making four of whatever I made! I went back to my only birthdays and Christmas making things for little people rule. Or, only birthdays and Christmas, and Easter - if you are the youngest, and your mother has had a weak moment over making something with a pom pom on the bum. Who could resist?

Here's the finished dresses and dungarees made on the course - there are going to be some cool looking kids around these parts. Some of the mums are already onto a second garment from the book - these designs are kind of compelling, I think.

The biggest amount of time in this design is the face and pockets - we spent the first three weeks getting these parts done, and the final assembling was finished off in one session. The sizing is quite generous, especially on the dungarees - worth bearing in mind if you make any. 

I shouldn't play favourites, but - I think that shark face is pretty awesome. 

There is no disputing the mums enjoyed making clothes for their kids, and, they have done a great job of creating something really special for them to wear (I'm sure they'll get loads of nice comments at play groups!). But, it was a slow process - and this really hit home with them all. Creating something so detailed takes time. Kirsty Hartley employs British seamstresses to make garments for her shop - knowing how much effort is involved, I think her prices are very reasonable. Once again, big respect to anyone who can make beautiful clothing and turn a profit out of it.

There was a lot of cake and tea, and gossip - this was a wonderfully sociable and fun process. I guess that is the privilege we have in today's society. Sewing has become something of a pleasure for those who choose it. A hobby, rather than a necessity. And, one to be savoured over gossip and cake.