Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Nigerian bridesmaid dress

My sister was recently bridesmaid at a wedding where the groom was Nigerian. Before the wedding the bride chose a traditional Nigerian fabric that all the bridemaids and guests could use to get outfits made. My sister asked me to make her dress and provided me with the inspiration from which I drafted the pattern. The dress is lined with plain yellow cotton that is also used for the contrast panel. The dress turned out quite well, I was especially pleased with my pattern matched seam down the back.


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Successful skirt

This skirt has helped me use up the linen left over from the red dress I made in May. I wanted a straight skirt that was comfortable; that I could wear for work and wouldn't make walking difficult as pencil skirts inevitably do. 

I started with my basic straight skirt block  converting the darts to pleats to and added a frill to the back to allow enough room for me to be able to take stairs two at a time. I used a curved seam to join the frill to add a bit of interest. Sewing curves is always a bit of a faff, but I think they are worth the effort. 

It is lined with my favourite cupro bremsilk lining as I had some left over from another project, although not enough to line the frill. 

This was a simple project and I will definitely make more versions of this skirt for winter. However next time I will cut the frill on the bias to get more movement and drape. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Chevron baby blanket for baby Gray

This is my version of the chevron baby blanket from espace tricot. It is a great free pattern, which explains why it is so popular on Ravelry.

The pattern called for Blue Sky Alpacas worsted cotton. I couldn't find any in my local shops and didn't want to purchase it online without knowing what it was like, so I substituted Debbie bliss Rialto aran. I was really pleased with this choice as it is  very soft and washable.  I had quite a bit left over from 10 50g balls.

The pattern knitted up quickly, after I had to restart about 15 times, as I was automatically doing a knit stitch after every yarn over and getting very confused. Once finished it required a good press with a bit of steam which was essential to make the most if the pointy ends as they tend to curl. 

I can imagine this pattern for cushion covers or a large throw. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Red linen dress

Where can you wear a bright red off the shoulder dress? Not too many places, but a wedding on Italy's Amalfi coast must be one of them. Just look at that scenery!

Outer fabric; preshrunk linen from fabrics galore in battersea (£8 /meter)
Lining: cupro bremsilk from Macculloch and wallis in soho (£10/meter)
Skirt underlining: silk organza from silk society in soho (£14/m)
Bodice underling : tie canvas from my stash, originally from macculloch  and wallis 
Hat: custom made by MMHats ( find on Etsy)

Pattern: self dafted

I saw some red linen online at Ditto fabrics a while ago and have been waiting for the right project to come along. Unfortunately it was sold out, but I found a good replacement at Fabrics Galore in battersea. Linen wasn't my first choice for a wedding outfit but having decided on the 'off-the-shoulder' style, I wanted a fabric with some structure but no shine and linen seemed to fit the bill. 

The bodice of the dress is underlined with tie canvas simply as I had it lying around, but it did the job. The bodice is boned with satin covered regiliene boning attached to the tie canvas. I did want to use a layer of flannel between the boned layer and the outer fabric, but my local fabric shop was out of red dye and the white flannel would have shown through the weave in the linen, so I left it out and used some of the red organza I bought to underline the skirt instead. The resulting bodice was very supported  without being restrictive. 

The closure is a lapped zipper topped with a hook and eye. I recently learnt that invisible zippers are not good for crossing seams and are more prone to breaking, so I think I will stick with lapped seams for fitted garment like this is future. 
I intended to cover the waist seam with a fabric belt made with the same fabric as my dress, but could not find anywhere to buy one. I think Maxant is the brand to go for, but if anyone knows a UK stockist- pleas let me know. I considered a bow instead,  but felt that would be too twee, so I ended up belt-less. I may still try and find one as I would prefer to cover the waist seam. 

The bodice is lined with the linen as I did not have time to fuss about with making a facing and my fashion fabric was cheaper than the bremsilk I used for the skirt lining. 

The skirt did wrinkle a little bit, but I didn't notice after a few glasses of wine and the swing band started up. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Demne baby hat

I knitted this baby's hat for my cousins baby. The pattern is a free download from Ravelry. It knitted up in a couple of hours. I got distracted and did a couple of extra rows in moss stitch but it looks ok. The pattern was straightforward and fit the three week old pretty well, with a little room for her to grow into. I might try and work out a pattern for some matching mittens.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thoughts on the Great British Sewing Bee and sewing personalities

Like many a sewing enthusiast I really enjoyed watching the Great British Sewing Bee and had no idea who was going to win until they made the announcement. I couldn’t decide If I was routing for Heather or Chinelo. I am so jealous of Chinelo’s ability to cut patterns freehand, but pleased to see that the most experienced sewer won in the end. This is probably due to the fact that like Heather I like to sew simple patterns and try to do them well- not always successfully. I know I would fail stupendouslytrying to sew a gown in 7 hours, the thought of sewing to a deadline fills me with terror, but I wonder if I would be a better seamstress if I challenged myself with different types of projects? 

Watching the contestants tackle the tasks in such different ways made me think what it important to me as a sewer and what parts of constructing a garment I enjoy most. Most of the contestants had such strong sewing personalities which they seemed to battle throughout the show- I think many of our hearts went out to Chinelo struggling with the tie pattern and I felt a personal sense of alarm when Tamara whipped out the glue gun on couture week!

I have been making more and more of my own patterns and developing my hand sewing techniques. I enjoy having a hand-sewn garment made to my measurements. The time consuming nature means I am increasing drawn to using quality fabrics that will produce long-lasting clothes. It is much more methodical and as a result I enjoy making toiles and pressing seams much more – both of which I used to find dull. I get a great sense of achievement knowing that a garment is emerging solely due to my time, effort and sewing skills. 

There is a flip side in that I rarely let my imagination run whilst making something and always start with a pen and paper.I rarely refashion garments. I am never going to have an imagination like Tamara, but I think draping may be a good way to get the creative juices flowing a bit more freely.

Food for thought

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Fair isle jumper- pattern review

Hello, Long time no posts. 

I am currently making a wedding dress for a friend of my sisters, which means a substantial amount of my sewing time has been taken up trying to master corsetry and making toiles.  So far I have learnt that corsetry is no mean feat, but I hope the extra effort will be worth it and I can share the results after her wedding. 

I have also been knitting quite a bit and have managed to finish this jumper as well as a couple of items for friends babies ( or soon to be babies). There is a mini baby boom going on as far as I can tell.

I started this project last summer, but put it on the back burner to finish the Logan dress from my last post. The pattern is from Learn to Knit, Love to Knit by Anna Wilkinson. 

I used Artesano superwash merino in sea blue and Rowan pure wool DK in enamel. I bought the wool online from Deramores and it arrived the very next day. This was a bit of a revelation as it usually takes me a few weeks to find the time to go into central London to buy wool. My local shops do not tend to have great choice or the brands I favour- mainly rowan if you are interested. 

When the wool arrived I thought that the rowan was actually slightly thinner than the artesano and I noticed that the top is slightly tighter than the bottom, which is a bit if a shame. This might be due to the fact that I haven't done an intarsia project before and my tension may have been a bit off, but I prefer to blame the wool. 

The pattern was straight forward, except that it said to cast on 105 stitches, but the chart was for 107- I could not for the life of me work out where the extra two stitches should have come from. When I did the front I cast on 107 to begin with and everything worked out fine. 

I also had to lengthen the jumper by about 8cms, which I only realised after it was complete and had to resort to a lengthening technique that requires you to thread needles through the stitches of two rows about 1.5cms apart and then cut in between and unravel before adding the necessary stitches in- terrifying, but it worked. The join is nearly invisible, except where I twisted several stitches whilst rejoining. 

I like the short sleeves, but it is very cosy for a short sleeved top, so I think I will wear it on cooler days over a long sleeved tee. I have already had several compliments on it, which is always nice. 

The terrifying lengthening process;

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Kim hargreaves- Logan dress

Kim Hargreave's logan dress
 Happy new year!

It has been a while since I have blogged about knitting, which has taken a back seat to sewing lately. This dress is most deserving of the first post of 2014. I finished this Kim Hargreaves design from her Shadows collection just before Christmas, which was an absolute necessity as I was given the wool for Christmas 2012.
The dress is made in Rowan pure wool aran in noir. I lengthened the back and front by 10 cm and each sleeve by 5 cm. I think this dress style is classic and therefore those 10 cms will be essential to allow me to wear the dress for man years to come.

I substituted the yarn from the recommended wool and I was concerned that the pure wool aran would be a little bit bulky and it probably is, but it does have the advantage if being extremely warm and machine washable.

The pattern was simple and easy to follow, although I made a big mistake on my tension square which gives the number of stitches per 10 cm squared "when slightly stretched". Mine and Kim Hargreaves version of slightly stretched must be quite different, yet I failed to realise my mistake until I had knitted the front, back and most of one sleeve. It was huge and the whole lot had to be frogged and knitted again. Soul destroying, but I ploughed on through the misery and I love the end result, I just hope the frogged wool won't bobble up too much.

I think the next project will have to be something I can whip up quickly in a chunky yarn.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wedding dress and sewing on the bias

dress +  my lovely husband.
Photograph courtesy of Belinda Lawley (belindalawley.com) 
Dress particulars: Full length bias-cut satin dress with a deep cowl neck and a low standing collar at the back. The dress is dartless with curved waist seams and a small puddle train.

Pattern- self drafted

Fabric- Heavy Italian silk crepe-backed satin in Ivory from MacCulloch and Wallis in Soho London- £69/m. I bought 4 meters which left about half a meter for contingency.

Bodice lining and skirt underlining- 2.5 m Cupro bremsilk £10/m- also from MacCulloch and Wallis. The front of the bodice is self lined with the silk crepe satin.

Thread- Gutterman silk thread in Ivory 

Sewing method: 100% hand sewn using techniques as describe in Claire B Shaeffers Couture Sewing Techniques.

From the moment the question was popped there was no doubt that I would make (or at least attempt to make) my own wedding dress. I knew my sewing would have to step up a few notches but I wanted a simple design and I was confident that if I took my time and planned every detail I would end up with something wearable, right?

To me a garment like this is the holy grail of home sewing and I have learnt so much from the process. For anyone considering making their wedding dress it isn't a decision to be made lightly, but I would definitely say that for me it has been a 100% positive experience and I absolutely loved my dress and wearing it was a dream. However, it was the result of three months of meticulous planning and very careful sewing, I didn't count exactly how many hours it took, but it was a lot.

I had planned to detail the construction method on this blog, but there is too much and little of it is probably useful. Instead I thought it would be useful to list some tips of working with bias silk as I struggled to find much information looking at fellow blogs, youtube and even books. Claire Shaeffers book had some tips that were useful, but mainly I had to paste together tidbits from here and there and use trial and error. Below I have detailed some of the techniques I used which I found helpful and highlighted where I struggled. I don't profess to know everything, but if you are thinking about sewing on the bias they might come in handy.

Photo courtesy of Belinda Lawley (belindalawley.com)

I made two toiles, one in calico whilst perfecting the design and basic fitting and one in a cheap polyester to test sewing a slippery fabric.

1) Cutting
With bias sewing is the fabric has to be on grain to prevent bumpy seams and the fabric twisting and warping uncomfortably. Make sure you find the cross-grain by snipping and tearing or loosening a single thread and cutting along the line it leaves. My fabric was very tightly woven and so I had to use the tearing method. Anyone else a bit terrified of working with expensive fabric, I tried loosening a thread, but it was impossible.

Once I had found the grain I secured my fabric to the cutting surface (the floor for me) to prevent it from moving whilst pinning and cutting. Placing the cutting board underneath the fabric and lay the selvage edge along one of the floorboards, but you could use the edge of the table, and secured it with parcel tape. I then gently smoothed the fabric and secured the fabric on the other selvage edge and each end, taking care not to stretch the fabric.

I used a protractor to check the pattern pieces were neatly on grain and cut the pieces using a rotary cutter. Always use a single layer of fabric, it will be impossible to ensure the fabric is on grain if you double it over.

When bias pattern pieces meet at the seam it is necessary that the lengthwise and crosswise grains are running towards each other and meeting at the seam. This is because the lengthwise grain will stretch more than the crosswise and if they are not aligned the seam will stretch and warp out of shape. This article from threads magazine explains it better than I have, but the key thing to remember is when laying your pattern pieces out, the pieces for the left side should be at a 90 degree angle to those on the right side of the body. Many bias garments have a centre front and centre back seam to prevent the lengthwise grain dominating one side of the garment. I was determined to avoid this in my pattern and did not have any problems in cutting full pattern pieces. I think this was mainly as the fabric I was using was so tightly woven that it did not slip off grain that easily. It was so tightly woven that it was difficult to get a pin through it at times.

2) Construction
With the toile I tried stabilising the fabric with tissue paper to prevent the fabric slipping out of shape, but when I tried to remove it it became stuck in the seams, leaving a dress that rustled when I moved- not quite the sound I was going for. With the actual dress, I included the seam line on the pattern pieces and thread-traced all the seam lines, so I could be confident that my seams were correctly aligned. When sewing bias seams, Claire Shaeffer recommends stretching the seams as you go and pressing flat to prevent rippled seams and this did the trick for me.

When designing the pattern in calico, the back collar stood proud easily and I thought that it would need some kind of interfacing to support it. For the toile I cut the collar on the straight grain and interfaced with heavy calico, but the collar pointed upwards and any creases created a bumpy drape (see picture below). For the final dress I cut the collar on the bias and used stiff crinoline in the hope that this would work better, but it was even worse and I began to despair. Luckily I removed the crinoline, preparing to investigate alternatives and the collar draped perfectly on its own. A good reminder to work with the fabric not against it.

I failed in adding any type of fastening to this dress. Without a back seam the only option was to put the zipper in the cured side seam. I tried this with the toile and it was as much of a disaster as I expected- it was bumpy and looked just awful. Claire Shaeffers book recommends avoiding zips in bias seams and suggests slashing the fabric if you really must. I did not want to have to stabilise the zip as I was sure that the extra bulk would ruin the drape of the dress. Fortunately I was able to get the dress on over my head without any opening ad could forego the zip altogether. The only feasible alternative would have been to slash a seam down the back and insert the zip there. However this would have been a bit difficult with the back collar and I was glad I was able to avoid it. I will have to conquer this technique another day. Any recommendations are welcome.

I finished all seams by pressing them open and overcasting each side. Seam finishing is optional on bias garments and in couture pinking is widely used to prevent unnecessary bulk. For some reason I just couldn't pink my wedding dress, but was too scared to leave them completely unfinished. As I was using silk thread which is much finer than cotton, I wasn't too worried about the extra bulk.

3) Hemming
I hung the dress for three days before hemming as bias fabric will stretch when hung and worn, my dress grew by two inches! I was lucky that the fabric was quite stable and stretched evenly. After hemming the dress has been stored flat as it will continue to stretch if hung.

I was quite confused when it came to hemming, I didn't want a heavy hem to interfere with the swish of the dress, but wasn't too thrilled about having a rolled hem that would show from the outside. This is a pet hate and I try to use invisible hems where possible. I trialled a rolled hem, a 2 cm hem and a 3 inch hem. I rolled hem had too much body with the heavy fabric as did the 2 cm hem. The three inch hem was softest and when pressed flat was the least noticeable and not at all bulky- Success!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Simplicity 2281 modified

I bought  this striped linen at the beginning of the summer from Fabrics Galore as part of an unplanned fabric splurge. I was drawn to the dark indigo colour and the crisp shiny finish. I thought it would be well suited to one of the designs from Tomoko Nakamichi's Pattern Magic, which I have yet to try. However my summer was overtaken by wedding planning and all of a sudden it was August and the fabric was at risk of being relegated to the stash until next spring. After all the effort and painstaking hand sewing that went into my wedding dress I needed to do some simpler sewing from commercial patterns to get my wardrobe back on track. This was neatly brought home to me by a friend asking to borrow a dress for a wedding and me providing a shamefully low number of options- What exactly have I been sewing all this time?

So I decided to make Simplicity 2281 with a few modifications. I made this dress in black linen (see here) and it is a dress  i wear a lot and I knew I could make in a weekend. 

I made version C without the sleeves and substituted the tulip skirt with a full gathered skirt. The bodice of the first version I made was not well fitting and gaped under the arms. This time around I made it more fitted. I had annoyingly lost the pattern piece for the front bodice lining and so redrafted the pattern piece to the size I wanted. The bodice front neckline is gathered to fit so I did not need to change that pattern piece. I also took the side seams in slightly. This ad hoc approach caused me a couple of issues, mainly in areas where I think the pattern is flawed. Firstly the taking in of the bodice meant it would be difficult to get the dress over my head if the top of the side seam is sewn together above the zip as it is in the pattern. I am not sure why this dress does not just have an invisible zip at the back so that it opens up with the neck ties. I am suspicious that the bodice was originally so baggy to allow it to go over the head. I opted for a couple of hook and eyes above zip so that the side opens fully and it is much easier to get on and off.

The back bodice is gathered along the bottom where it joins the waist band and this looks slightly strange with a fitted bodice, but not enough to bother me. I joined the bodice to the neck ties more closely than on the pattern to reduce the neck opening, which again I think was unnecessarily loose. I had planned to line the skirt as well as the bodice, but ran out of time.

As a side note I did not wash the fabric and plan to dry clean this dress in order to maintain the colour of the dress as linen fades so quickly. This is not usually an issue as it is so easy to dye, but doing so would undoubtedly cover the stripes. Does anyone have a better solution to this problem, as I try not to dry clean if possible?