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Saturday, 16 July 2016

One metre party dresses


During our summer holiday, we'll be going to a wedding. Thinking back to my mum making me dresses to wear as a child, I offered to make each of my girls a dress to wear on the day. I had in mind to make classic party dresses, with full circle skirts and a bit of netting underneath for some fun twirling action.

Ever get that `why on earth did I offer to do this?' feeling? After the initial excitement of them choosing the fabrics, taking their measurements, and making a start on drafting simple bodice patterns, procrastination took hold. The first dress hung on the back of a door, half finished, for what seemed like months on end.

Eldest girl's choice
And then, just like being back at school or university, with an essay deadline looming, a couple of weeks ago, I pulled my finger out and finished all the dresses in under a week. Like so many things, once you get started, and you have a process to repeat, you speed up. I made them in age order, starting with the biggest girl, and ended up being really motivated by each of their reactions as I finished a dress. My middle girl had a friend over for tea the day after her dress had been made, and I overheard a very gratifying conversation as she proudly showed off her new frock that `Mummy made just for me' (obviously being her, this had to involve multiple knicker revealing spins, twirls and cartwheels around the house - god hope she doesn't do that at the wedding).

Who would guess a 2 year old would want bunnies on her dress?

Once I got going, I loved making these dresses. One of the most fun things about doing it was seeing each daughter expressing her own style in choices over fabrics and trims and so on. I kind of felt a bit mean for not making them party dresses before now, but, well, time and inclination and all that. 

Exposed chunky zip and neon pink ribbon to be worn in her hair for the middle girl

Here is how I made a party dress out of a metre of fabric:
  1. Take as many measurements as you think will be useful in drafting bodice and circle skirt - chest, waist, height from neck to waist and waist to knee. 
  2. I allowed about 3 cm for ease, and 1cm seam allowance when sketching my first bodice.
  3. As I was lining the bodices, I made the lining first and slipped it on the child to check fit and adjust neck line and so on, before continuing with rest of bodice. 
  4. As for how to sew a simple lined bodice, I'm sure Google can help you if you aren't sure - although I used the same method as Tilly talks about in Love at First Stitch.
  5. I did a simple zip at the back - I took a decision to keep the dresses as simple as possible, and not extend the zip into the skirt. This means the dress need to be put on over the head, and involves a little wriggling, but is fine (the youngest can do it).
  6. The circle skirt was easy maths to calculate, based on the C = 2 pi R formula. I started with the inner circumference (waist plus ease), and used that to work out the inner radius, so I could add that number to the outer radius (the length I wanted the skirt to be). On the littlest girl's skirt, I also needed to work out the outer circumference, as I needed to buy enough pom pom trim (isn't it flipping cute?!).
  7. Knowing time was not on my side, what with 4 dresses to make and all that, I didn't bother making a pattern for the skirts, and opted to fold the fabric I had into quarters. I took my measuring tape and scissors and just went for it.
  8. I used the outer circle fabric as a template for cutting two layers of netting. I then cut a circle out of the centre of all three layers (fabric and netting x2) and basted the three layers together.
  9. I pinned the skirt layers to the bodice, adding in the odd little pleat if necessary, and sewed everything together. 
  10. For the hemming, I made each girl stand on the dining room table, whilst I measured and pinned until I was happy with how it looked.
  11. The only troublesome hem was the first dress, which is made out of a kind of satin fabric that slipped all over the place. I sewed a 1 cm line all round the bottom, to make pressing it up easier. Once pressed, I sewed through two layers, with a 5 mm hem, before pressing up again, making sure the stitching was rolled up out of sight, and stitching final line of hem. It took ages to sew all those massive circles!
  12. I got the girls to tell me how much of the netting they wanted to poke out at the bottom, and carefully trimmed as advised (the customer is always right, no?). 
Voila! Now we just need to make sure we get to the wedding on time, and they behave themselves...

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Standing room only for Marigold as she goes to Goldhawk Road

Here is a sad story of sewing gone wrong.


You know how it is - you spot a pattern, soon after that, find some fabric you think will be perfect for it, you might even indulge in a impulse buy of some yellow sandals with which to accessorise the outfit you have created in your head. You wait and wait for time to sew. In my case, in a rare act of self-discipline, I prioritised reading books over sewing. And then, decision made, voting done, children in bed, husband out - sewing time. Hurrah! 


Oh, but no. I didn't get the jumpsuit made in one evening, but, I blame the distraction of election night coverage on in the background for the stupid error I made early on in the cutting out that set the fate of this poor version of Marigold. My bum is too big for her. 

So let this be a lesson to you. When making your own jumpsuits, don't underestimate the size of your derriere, and think you will be fine to size down instead of up. And, whilst you're at it, don't take any rash decisions about shortening the jumpsuit - read Tilly's advice first and don't make any big adjustments until the end on your first version. Knowing I needed my jumpsuit to be a couple of inches shorter, I set about adjusting the pattern, by taking some length from the crotch and some from the leg. In the cold light of day, I can see my mistake - of course it is daft to take any length out of the crotch without trying a standard version first, and worse so, when you have already been a bit mean on wriggle room by opting for a smallish size. If only I'd given it a bit more thought first - guess I was just too keen to get to the fun sewing bit. That and the amount I've eaten in the last month without doing all the miles of running I'd been putting in before the marathon. Oops.

So, after a few days for the dust to settle (and my sulk to subside), ruling out the ridiculous options (wearing the jumpsuit as it is but never bending over and/or cutting out cake and chips in order to shrink myself a bit) I am contemplating trying to fix Marigold. 

I am going to carefully unpick the trousers and turn them into harem pants for my biggest girl. She is delighted with the news, and has suggested a neon waistband. Very cool. The bodice fits perfectly, and so, with fabric remnant gods smiling on me, I have just about wangled enough for making shorts to go on the bottom. I will go easy on the seam allowance this time, and am taking inspiration from the Sew Over It Ultimate Shorts/Trousers for how to finish the bottom with a turn up. So that is the plan. Not a disaster anymore, and, as I am always telling other people, I have learnt an important lesson in the process.


This Saturday, I'm going fabric shopping with sewing friends, and I hope I'll find something lovely to make a second Marigold. Once we've finished with Goldhawk Road bargains, the plan is to head to Liberty for posh tea and cakes. It's always nice to make new friends in the sewing community, so please feel welcome to hop along and join in. If you're local to Bedford, we're meeting at the station at 9.30 am. If you'd like to meet us in London, we'll be at the Costa near Goldhawk Road tube at 11.30 am. 

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.