Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Happy New Year... Tablecloth

Pretty simple, but a black linen tablecloth is one that I have wanted for a while. Black looks elegant and glamorous and doesn't show the marks.

I have a long rectangular table that is over 2 meters in length. I got 3 meters of black linen from Amazon and have about 50cm left over. The width wasn't quite wide enough to hide the edges of my table protector so I added a border of black cotton to the edges. The border is 5.25 inches wide but doubled over and topstitched down. I got a bit tired of mitred corners so I didn't get around to making the four matching napkins, but I got this on the table in time for New Years Eve.

Happy New Year!

  Linen: 3m, Amazon, £21.54
  Cotton: 2 yards, Southern Fabrics, £14.41
  Thread: used previously, £0.00
Total: £35.95

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 in review

As 2017 comes to an end, it is fun to look back over the year and see what I have done.

Or haven't done. I feel like I have been making less and less over the years. My output has shrivelled. In an effort to counter this, and use up my extensive stash, I started a system of setting a monthly sewing task for myself. Self imposed deadlines, if you will.

My monthly tasks involved making one thing for myself plus, ideally one thing for the girls and one alteration or mending project that I have been putting off. Did I achieve this?

The happy result is that 2017 saw my output jump. Not back to previous levels, but respectable nevertheless.

Here’s a nerdy chart…

Embarrassingly, the "Me" category is the highest it has ever been, but the girls and the gifts categories look not too bad compared to previous years, the dolls has shrunk and it appears that dolls made up a huge part of my output in my biggest years.

I got one thing made for myself in each of January, February, March, April (2 things), May (2 things), June (2 again), July, September, October and November. Holidays in August and Christmas prep in December took over the missing two months. 

I also got something made for the girls in each month of May, June, July, September, October and November.

The repairs/refashions were also great at getting me to actually get on and do those things that were hanging over my head. But the success was bittersweet: in attempting to peg my grey flannel dress, the seams stretched out so badly that the whole thing was ruined and is no longer wearable. A case of troublesome fabric made worse by overwork.

With all that preamble, how about we move on to the main business?

Top 5 of 2017

My Top 5 is actually a pretty boring list. I can almost squeeze everything I made into it. It looks something like this:

               1.      Suit Refashion

I got a completely wearable dress and a needed waistcoat out of one old suit. Delighted!

2.      Sew Over It, City Break pattern collection

Within a year, I have made 3 things from this pattern bundle. Admittedly, one of them is already in the bin, but that is the fault of the fabric, and not the pattern. I am already planning on my first make of 2018 being its replacement.

3.      Pyjamas 

2017 was the first year I have made some long-planned pyjamas. (0.5 down, 3.5 to go!) This feather fabric is one of my all time favourite prints and the Daydream shorts are the first time I have ever been able to say that I know the fabric designer. Actually know her, not just met her at a sewing event. Cool, heh?

4.      Karen Dress

Ahh Karen, my love for thee knows no end. My all time favourite dress pattern, in one of my most favourite fabrics. Long stashed and finally cut into, this dress is totally “me”.

5.      Costumes 

Is this my first time making costumes for myself? Such an oversight that I made two: a skirt for Eurovision and a complete outfit for Egyptian day. Plus a spider and a mummy for the child. While not being anywhere close to cosplay quality, they did the job on the day(s).

Now that I’ve made the boring list, how about a different one? How about…

My top 5 makes of all time

I went through my finished project spreadsheet and ranked everything on a scale of one to 10. Here are the 10s:

1. Karen Drape Dress in black
2. Karen Drape Dress in patterned wool jersey
3. Vogue Floral Coat
4. Hibiscus Dress
5. Megan Wool Dress

I'm pretty pleased with those makes, none of them are perfect but they are all perfect for me. A lot more of them reached the 7s, 8s and 9s, so that was a win too. I notice my newer things are scoring higher. Possibly because I am tired of the older items, but possibly also because I am getting better at choosing fabrics and making more of what I know I want to wear, rather than getting distracted by the pretty patterns and colours on the quilting cottons.

Now it's on to my sewing queue for 2018!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Walk Like an Egyptian... Mummy!

What better thing to make just after Halloween, than a costume?

We did actually know that Egyptian Day at school was coming up in November, but we went ahead and became a spider for Halloween anyway, knowing that we were going to make a mummy appear in November.

Mummy Costume

The brief was to come in Egyptian costume for a workshop and a feast, but we decided to ignore that and just be a mummy, because it was more fun.

To make the costume, we had to rip up some fabric into strips. I started with a shirt sleeve of M's that he used to strain some red wine, after the cork crumbled. The wine stain had gone a lovely dirty grey colour. The rest of the scraps are from a worn out sheet, and I got to use the worn out parts. The mummy had great fun helping me tear the strips. The long threads and torn edges were so effective in the final costume. 

Then we stained the scraps with tea. For reference, I used 3 tea bags in a mixing bowl of hot water - Earl Grey, if you must know - and then dunked the scraps in the tea with tongs. We had the bowl standing in the bathtub so we could pull them out soaking. The dunking was very quick, just in and out of the tea. I rinsed it a bit, but didn't want to rinse all the tea out of the fabric, so I mostly hung it to dry, all wrinked and messy. The rags looked so cool, hanging on the rack. Made me wonder where the mummy was - every time!

Then I started the labourious process of hand sewing the strips to the wrong side of a pair of white leggings and a t-shirt. I had at least two needles on the go, one on one side seam, and one on the other. I would pass the fabric over to the other side, secure with a few stitches in the top and then run the needle up the seam to wait for the next pass. I had to leave enough ease so the clothing would stretch properly to get it on and off. It was surprisingly difficult to do this. I had to sew the leggings while the child was wearing them to get it right. 

The good part was that I didn't have to sew neatly, nor hide the knots in my thread. The messier the better! While I was working, I left the scraps and the project stuffed in a bag, looking like a bunch of dirty rags and I am quite sure it helped with the final effect! I borrowed a friend's idea and joined bits of fabric by tying knots with exposed ends, in different places  over the costume (that's the friend's costume in the picture above). It looks really good, as do some random bits of rags hanging down here and there. She didn't like how much ease there was in the costume and the bits hanging in swathes, so I joined the rags together through the centre front, which covered more of the t-shirt. I sewed a long rag to the edge of the sleeve so we could wind this around her arms, another rag made a 'necklace' which covered the skin on her neck and instead of a head covering, I twisted a rag around her ponytail and tied it under her chin, which did a for a head bandage.

She wanted Egyptian eye makeup and we added purple under-eye smudges then a liberal dusting of talcum powder. 

Egyptian Costume

While I was working on the mummy, the teacher emailed me to thank me for responding to their request for parent helpers, and to ask if parents could come in costume too! Eeek! But life is more fun if you dress up so I decided to embrace the challenge and go for it. 
First, the mummy had to make a decision on whether I would be a mummy or a person. Thankfully she chose a person, because I thought it might be easier than a second mummy. But it would have been funny for Mummy to be a mummy!
I returned to the last scraps of the sheet to make a straight, white maxi dress. Just two rectangles, sewn at the side seams, with a centre back seam. The top edges are diagonal up to the centre because of the stitching line of the fitted sheet. I created straps for the shoulders. I made a pleat in the front and under each arm and a side slit at each side. The front hem curve is another sheet-made necessity, not a styling choice! For the hem, I zig zagged and turned once. The arm holes and neckline are finished by turning twice.
Then I wanted gold brocade for a belt, necklace and headband. I couldn't find brocade in my 5 minutes of looking in the upholstery section of John Lewis, so bought 1m of the gold-est fabric I could see. It is floral, which is not at all Egyptian, but the flowers were set wide apart with a nice vine pattern and the reverse side was very gold indeed. Plus it was only £14/m. 
For the belt, I used my waistband pattern from New Look 6057, my favourite curved waistband. I added length to exaggerate the sash style, and increased the front sections to overlap for velcro. I used flat felled seams for the side seams and then added strips of black ribbon for decoration. I eyeballed the pattern I wanted for the hanging down part (I'm sure that is the technical name for it) and sewed the ribbon to the front. After I had created a lining for the belt and the front, I attached the belt to the front piece at the top of the belt.

The fabric didn't sew very nicely, especially with the ribbon addition. I interfaced the front of the collar. The whole thing would have been better with interfacing, but I wasn't about to sink that amount of notions into a dressing up project.

I had enough for some half-cuffs, but you can only see the elastic in this photo. They are stiffened with toilet roll cardboard.
I even have gold snake sandals, and the Mummies had fun putting on their makeup in the school bathrooms!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

DIY Spider Costume

This costume was so easy to make that it doesn't even really count as a "make".

Thanks so this blog photo for inspiring me, it is just two pairs of tights, stuffed with newspaper, threaded through the large elastic straps and all tied in a bundle. 

I'm not joking, I am planning on wearing these tights in the future, so I wasn't going to cut them up!

I was going to make a little bag/sack to store the middle part of the tights in, but they tied up so well, and black on black, in the dark, is really hard to see anyway. Then I tied two 1m lengths of small elastic around the legs and looped on her wrists.

Here is a picture of all the ugly details in the back:

For her spinarettes, we twisted a pipe cleaner around her black headband. Seriously, this costume was the quickest and easiest I have ever made!

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Refashioners: Suit to Dress

The Refashioners is an annual challenge to take an old garment (or garments) and refashion something new. This is the first year I have taken part. While I love the Refashioners Challenge, and am full of admiration for the people who participate, I didn't think I would actually ever do it. But M told me he was going to go through his old suits and have a clearout. This was too good an opportunity to pass up, his suits are top quality, and I need a new grey work dress. 

The suit is Armani, the fabric is pure wool and is actually a navy, not charcoal. It has a fine grey pinstripe through it, which makes the final look appear charcoal. Isn't suit fabric fascinating?
I spent a great deal of time unpicking. Days and days, the thread all over the carpet was such a mess! I didn't want to cut the seams and then find out that I didn't have enough fabric to make up my dress.
I didn't keep any of the suit details such as pockets, lapels, or waistband in the finished garment. These were all cut around and not used. But I did keep the sleeve cuffs, and used them in my dress sleeves. I also kept and used the lining for the dress lining. And I saved the horsehair canvas from the front of the jacket as well as the shoulder pads and sleeve caps.


I went through my pattern stash, looking for a dress pattern with as many small pieces as possible. This one, Dress 109 from BurdaStyle 11/2013, has 16 separate pieces. I had to do some extra piecing and ended up with 24 pieces in total. I had to draw myself a diagram so I could keep track of where I was when I was cutting out all the pieces.

M's suits all wear out in the same place: the seat. The jackets are in pristine condition, but the trousers are completely worn through. Trousers have more large fabric pieces in them than jackets, so I planned on using the trousers, despite the wear. I got all the main pieces from the trousers, except the top of the back bodice. These were cut from the centre back of the top of the jacket. I kept the sleeves for the sleeves, and the flounce was pieced from the seat of the trousers and the rest of the centre back jacket.
The pattern is actually a hidden gem. The line drawing was very unappealing, just a grid of seam lines, and the photography, while beautifully done, isn't really showing the dress very well, particularly in a black fabric. But while I was tracing this pattern, I realised how interesting and well put together it really is. Funny how sometimes you have to really get to know something before you like it better. All the shaping is achieved from the seam lines. No darts, tucks or pleats. When made up in a dark fabric, the seam lines don't really show anyway. (I had to photograph the finished dress in full sun.) The shoulder seams are slanted to the back, there is a lovely neckline curve, and it has two piece sleeves. The hemline is pegged and the flounce makes it a proper wiggle dress.
I didn't make any fitting adjustments to the paper pattern. I traced a size 36, grading out to a 38 at the waist. I added 1.5mm seam allowances, which I am not finding as much of a pain as I used to.

You can see how shaped all the pieces are. And how small. This is the back of the dress. I cut little numbers and pinned them to the left bottom on the right side of each piece. Everything looked the same! But the tiny pieces meant I could use the suit trousers, and cutting out was so easy because every piece fitted on my cutting mat without me having to move the mat around - something I am quite sure makes my sewing inaccurate.
I love working with wool. It cuts beautifully, presses well and sews so nicely. I even washed all these pieces before I cut them out. The wool and the linings seemed to make it through the wash fine (I didn't wash the interfaced parts of the jacket), and I believe I might have a machine washable dress here. 
I pieced together the dress in quarters (right front, left front, right back, left back), then joined the shoulder seams. I then basted the centre front, side seams and centre back (as far as the zip) to check the fit and make any fitting adjustments to the seams before I finished the seams and sewed it together properly.
  • side seams (hips and waist), release each seam by 5mm from below bust through to hem;
  • shoulder seams: increase seam allowance by 1cm at neckline, taper to normal at armscye;
  • horizontal bust seam: increase seam allowance by 5mm through all seams, front and back;
  • sway back adjustment: back waist seam, increase seam allowance by 1cm, taper to 0 by centre of section (half way between centre back and side seam);
  • sleeves: release lower part by another 5mm on both seams;
  • flounce: shorten (by 2 inches, I think)

I overlocked all the raw edges. Everywhere. They are very prone to fraying, so it was necessary. (This project used a lot of thread!)

I kept the cuffs and the button detail on the sleeves, but I shortened the sleeve length and made them 3/4 length. I had to unpick the jacket sleeves, down to the vent. The curve of the sleeve wasn't quite right for this length. This is an example of unpicking something, altering it, and then sewing it up to (hopefully) look exactly the same. The bottom of the sleeves came out too narrow, so I had to let the seam allowances out a bit more. I kept the horsehair canvas band around the cuff, and tacked the outer fabric to the inside, ready to hand sew the lining in to the cuff. The original suit buttons were not fastened with buttonholes. Not couture, but very helpful to me here. I need to leave them unfastened for the extra ease I need in the elbow.
I did a lapped zip because that is what I had to hand. I stabilised the back seam allowances of the whole dress. I wanted to use the waist stay ribbon from the Armani trousers, but decided it was too thick so I used adhesive stabilising tape instead. I can use the Armani ribbon as a zip guard, an exposed zip is very uncomfortable. I'll do that and add a new photo.

I am not usually a fan of a flounce, and considered leaving it off. But the dress is indecently short without it, and I hadn't added extra fabric to the bottom pieces. It also makes quite a severe dress more playful. Of course, I didn't have any fabric pieces wide enough to cut it in one, it uses a lot of fabric, and is cut on the fold. I pieced it from eight pieces in the end. All are cut on grain and sewed together, including overlocked seams. I used the very worn sections through the seat of the pants, because I wanted a lightweight fabric here. I cut quite a bit of length off the pattern, and was definitely not going to add the suggested 3cm hem allowance to a curved hem such as this. I overlocked and turned up once. Bad me, I machine hemmed it, but I was quite pleased with myself for switching to a zig zag stitch for the hem - it made less of a hard line through the fabric.
I used the suit lining for some of the dress lining. Curiously, the suit had a different lining for the jacket and the trousers. The jacket has a nice navy lining, while the front upper part of the trousers has a much thinner black lining. I had used up all the navy on the child's waistcoat, so I only had the sleeves left - for the sleeves - and used the black for the upper bodice lining. At the moment, the rest of the dress is unlined, as the pattern instructs, but I think I will go back and add a new lining as far as the flounce. I am just mulling over using a different pattern so that I don't have a pieced lining. Maybe I can draft one from the finished dress...
I found the v-neck very difficult to get right. I trimmed and turned and pressed, and pressed, and hammered, and eventually it sits flat-ish. I should have read the pattern instructions. By this point, I was just sewing things together. It has a slight gape at one side too. I only stay stitched very late in the make. 
But that is about the only niggle. I am so delighted with my dress, I want to make exactly the same refashion again! I have my eye on one of M's other suits, a gorgeous combed wool with a waffle check pattern. Too bad he just bought it this year!

 Fabric: refashioned suit, £0.00
 Lining fabric: refashioned suit, £0.00
 Pattern: BurdaStyle, used previously, £0.00
  Thread: local fabric store, £4.00
  Overlocker thread: used previously, £0.00
  Zip: thrifted gift, £0.00
  Seam tape: 2m, £1.50
  Buttons: refashioned suit, £0.00
Total: £5.50

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Refashioners: Child Waistcoat

This is an unexpected, additional contribution to The Refashioners, SuitsYou refashion, going on this October. The Refashioners is a fun challenge which pretty much sounds like what it is: refashion an unwanted garment into something new. 2017's challenge is to use a suit. Luckily for me, M's favourite outfit is a suit and he has plenty of them. He also got two new ones this year, so it was time for a clear out.

This navy beauty is Georgio Armani. The fabric is actually navy, with a tiny grey pinstripe giving an overall effect of a charcoal colour with a subtle stripe.  

My first garment going in to the Refashioners is a dress for me. But this was finished first because it had to jump the queue since the child told me she is going on a school trip and needs a Victorian costume.

Oh dear, there was a lot of drama getting to the right costume! She wasn't hearing of wearing an apron over a dress. No matter how much we Googled, or how many pictures we looked at. No way! But she was willing to dress as a boy, so we solved the drama with this waistcoat.

Here is the suit before refashioning. (You can see I have gone to a lot of trouble with my hair and makeup for this photo shoot.)

I had cut up most of the suit for my dress: trousers, back jacket panel and jacket sleeves. Only the front of the jacket was left. I used half the fronts, and all of the jacket lining (minus sleeves) for this waistcoat.

The pattern is Burda Style 11/2013 which has some great child sized patterns in that issue. This pattern is actually for a fur vest, not a proper waistcoat. I traced the largest size, and added 1 1/4 inch of length.

I cut the two back pieces from the back jacket lining. These have a seam instead of on the fold, but they were already stitched together, so I left them as they were. They just fitted, with no other seams, but I did have to unpick the side backs from the centre backs. They had been taken in there so the seam allowance was large. 

This photo shows the whole lining being used. The pattern was lengthened after I took this. The two backs are going to run down the centre back and the two fronts are taking up the whole front lining, including the welt pocket on the right.

The front pieces were cut from the front of the jacket, with the jacket hem used as the waistcoat hem. The tailors had sewn bias binding around the hem curve and I wanted to make the most of their work. The front jacket is also interfaced with fusible interfacing. After I lengthened the pattern, I could just squeeze out the fronts without running into the buttonhole. It is in the seam allowance, as is the side of the outside welt pocket.

I managed to keep the small welt pocket from the lining that sits high on the inside of the left front jacket. I moved this to the lower inside waistcoat as it was the only pocket where the scale was right for a child's garment. All the other pockets were way too big. The handkerchief pocket would have been cute, but I couldn't get a lower front from it. The care instructions label was just below the welt, so I kept both of those features.

I had a terrible job figuring out the instructions for turning the waistcoat and a quick and simple project turned into a lot of unpicking. I unpicked the shoulder seams to try to get the turn the way Burda instructed. I unpicked the side seams when that didn't work. I sewed them up again, and still it didn't work, so they got unpicked a third time. Gosh, I'm so bored just writing this! I got there in the end, thanks to this tutorial. I was able to sew most of the hem closed from the inside and just hand sewed the last little bit. I wish I had stabilised the back neckline with a bit of ribbon or stay tape, it seems very flimsy.

I didn't add any closures, hanging open is fine, and kept the edge looking clean, preserving the edge that the nice suit tailors put there, stabilised and steamed so beautifully.

We decided that she looks like a farmer's son in Sunday best, rather than a beggar boy. She is going to put some pennies in her pocket and pretend she is a thief!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Needlecord Erin Skirt

This skirt is the third pattern I've made from the Sew Over It, My Capsule Wardrobe, City Break. I got this pattern bundle in a Black Friday promotion last year, and almost immediately also bought this teal coloured needlecord for the Erin Skirt.

As we head into / are deep into another Autumn, I got thinking about this garment and wanted to get on with it.

I cut out a size 12, even though I measured at a 10, and didn't make any fitting adjustments. I think I might go back to a 10 if I made it again. It is meant to be fitted through the hips, and the pockets sit flat if the fit is snug. That said, a snug fit means the buttons can look strained, which is not a good look either. 

I sewed the skirt together before inserting the darts, but actually found them to be perfect just as they are. I thought about flat felled side seams, but instead overlocked the raw edges.

I cut the pocket bags from the last scraps of my lovely Suzy Taylor fabric. Because of the aforementioned pocket edges sticking out, this does mean that those to the side have a glimpse of white pocket lining, but it is a casual skirt, so I don't mind too much. Facing with a quilting cotton is such a sewing-cat-lady thing to do, but I don't mind at all! I did fold the edges quite far to the inside, so the teal forms the pocket edge. This is why you can see the lower edge of the pocket bag lining from the inside. I quite like the extra pattern here too. I chose to pink the pocket edges, because this finish creates the least bulk possible.

When it came to the waistband, I have an incredibly short waist - 2 inches short by my reckoning - so skirt waistbands usually look very high waisted on me. For this reason, I often leave them off. (See examples in these skirts: Delphine, Burda) I did the same here.

I drafted a facing from the pattern pieces (pinching out the darts) and cut it out of the Daydream fabric. Then overlocked bottom edge and attached to top edge of skirt. Then I added a strip of webbing tape to the seam allowances of the facing and top of skirt. This added some stability to the waistline, but little bulk. After that, I ran two rows of topstitching along the waistline. The slightly larger skirt means the top sits below my natural waist, which just makes it look normal by normal-waistline standards.

I agonised over the hem length. The amount of times I pinned myself into this skirt, I cannot say. I tried it on with tights, and without. I did a long walking test with tights, because I hate when the front of my skirt rides up while I am striding around the London pavements. I had added 7cm to the pattern length (accounting for the aforementioned short waist), but in the end, trimmed 5cm off the fabric, and turned up by 5cm. The pattern calls for a 1.5cm hem, so mine is 1.5cm shorter than the pattern. 

I had no idea I was buying a stretch fabric.  I bemoan how dressmaking fabrics have no stretch, compared to most RTW clothing these days. Then I buy some without knowing, and use it for a skirt pattern that advises non-stretch fabric! But the stretch worked out fine, and makes the skirt very comfortable.

This stretch was one of the main reasons I decided not to line the skirt in the end. I was planning on using some silk that I bought in Hong Kong about 5 years ago. But the length and the ease mean that the skirt is not riding up when worn with tights. I think it is just long enough to get away with wearing without tights in warmer weather too.

I created some 1 inch tape as hemming tape. Not on the bias, because I had very little fabric, the trees would have been crooked, and the stitching was going to inhibit the stretch anyway. It worked very well and balances the insides nicely.

I got the metal buttons from Amazon and decided that 6 are better than 5. They have little flowers embossed on them and I like how they are sort of like jeans buttons, but prettier. 

One of my future projects is to go back and put patch pockets on the back of the skirt. They are great for breaking up an expanse of bum and making ones derriere look smaller. I have to do it before the skirt has too many washes as I suspect the fabric is a bit prone to fading. It pressed nicely though. I didn't use a pressing cloth, or another bit of velvet to stop the pile from crushing. I also didn't press it very hard. The machine foot created visible lines through the velvet, but they smoothed out fast. It's a lovely fabric. I only used about half of my 1.5 meters. It was 150cm wide and I have a large piece left. This pattern could be made out of just 55cm of fabric, if you were willing to skip the pockets. 


 Fabric: Croft Mill, 1.5m, £13.25
 Facing Fabric: Suzy Taylor Daydream Trees, £0.00 (used previously)
 Pattern: Sew Over It, £4.67 (third of bundle)
  Thread: The Village Haberdashery, £1.70
  Webbing Tape: eBay, £0.00 (bought for another project)
  Buttons: Amazon, 30 for £3.98
Total: £23.60



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