Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Project For June

Well May was a miserable failure sewing-wise.

This is mostly justified. I had one weekend at home in the whole of the month and that was taken up with packing for my holiday/belated honeymoon.
This month I am off to Bad Breisig in Germany for the Men From UNKEL Mod Weekender and would like to make something to wear to that. The highpoint of the weekend is the boat trip down the Rhine. Four hours of drinking, music and vintage clothing. On a boat! On the Rhine! The weather is usually fine too, so it's generally a good 'un. Ever since I started going to this rally, about 8 years ago, I have attempted a nautical-themed outfit for the boat trip, so maybe this year I shall make my own.
In order to work out what makes the ultimate sailor dress I have started a nautical-themed board on Pintrest

So what are the crucial style features? Large collars? Bows? Stripes? Anchor motifs? I could be in danger of overkill if I try to incorporate them all!

The Return of the Lobsters

So I trundled off to Leeds Market to purchase more lobster fabric, this time it was £3 a metre, which is weird as I'm sure it was £4 last time. Is this a sign of how phenomenally popular it hasn't been with the citizens of Leeds? Am I the only person who thinks that this is a good fabric for something other than bathroom curtains?

Anyway, I made up bodice number two, this time cut to a size 10. It did fit better but still had that huge gaping problem at the back! I thought that I had quite a wide back, so I'm baffled by this - maybe I am just a peculiar shape. However with the help of "Monsieur Julian" (my long-suffering but very encouraging husband with some pins in his mouth) we managed to pin the bodice into a workable shape and then cut off the excess. This seemed to do the trick!

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So here is the finished product - modelled on my belated honeymoon! I am very pleased with myself for completing this and not letting the 'If at first you don't succeed - give up' mentality take a hold of me.

So the dress for April was actually finished in early May - does it still count?


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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Revenge of the Lobsters

My project for April is the 'Rock Lobster' Sundress.  Made from this fabulous fabric, a snip at only £4 a metre from Leeds Market.

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I could visualise exactly the pattern that I wanted to make up with this fabric, it would be a 1950s sundress with wide straps.  However I couldn't find the ideal pattern in my stash or on eBay, so have decided to compromise with this New Look pattern, which I'd sort of made up in version (a) but instead with the sweetheart neckline.

The "Rock Lobster" dress seems to be turning into the "Dress of Doom" (copyright Alice Fowkes 2007) Mk II.

The problem with this pattern is that the bodice is lined.  While I like the effect of this you are effectively making the dress twice, so not great if you are impatient for results.  I guess the upside is that having made the bodice twice you can decide which one turned out better and put that one on the outside.  Particularly with a pattern like this that has the possibility of weird joins.

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I seemed to struggle with the whole concept of the lined bodice, it's only the third or fourth time I've attempted to make a garment that has a lining and to me it always looks like it isn't going to work until you pull the back through the front (or whatever) and 'hey presto' - it's magically a professional-looking garment!  Unfortunately in this case it didn't work.  Trying to pull the back through the front I realised that something had gone wrong somewhere and that I had actually made some kind of Moebius Strip /Klein Bottle out of fabric. Cue much swearing and unpicking.

So I tried again.  Last time I made this pattern (admittedly a different version of the bodice) the whole thing fit just fine, so I had no reason not to think that it wouldn't be so this time, so I foolishly ploughed ahead without much in the way of fitting and sewed the bodice to the skirt, put the zip in and tried it on.  Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that I had about a metre of spare fabric at the back.

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Cue more swearing.  I decided that I would lose the will to live if I had to unpick all 12 sections of the bodice, not to mention the zip, so I stopped play until more lobster fabric can be purchased to make another bodice, this time in a size 10 rather than a 12

Saturday, 30 April 2011

New Old Patterns

I have bought my first reproduction patterns from Butterick. It's not a bad idea, especially as they come in multi-sizes. For the most part however, they cost much more than any real vintage patterns that I buy on eBay. Maybe this is because I mainly purchase '60s patterns, which seem to be reasonably cheap, rather than the more expensive '50s and '40s ones.
I don't know why it should be that '60s patterns are cheaper than '50s ones, whether it be relative age making them harder to find, or current fashions causing higher demand? Or are there just more '50s enthusiasts out there than moddy types?
Anyway, the patterns i bought were these:
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Butterick B5603, a pattern from 1956, which I just think will make FABULOUS Summer dresses. Look at the size of that waist though! I hope that it's that small merely for illustrative purposes, or I am going to struggle to get into it. The average woman's waist size has increased over the decades though, so hopefully the 'new' pattern reflects that!
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And Butterick B5271. I don't 'do' 1940s, but have been invited to a '40s-themed party in July for a friend's 40th birthday, so I need to find some appropriate fabric to make this up in.
It will be interesting making up these new/old patterns and seeing how they compare to my usual old/old patterns!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Dress for March

As March was heading into the 20s without my doing so much as a stitch I thought I'd better get moving.

The main reason for this is that I have been away for the last two weekends and my weeks have been pretty busy as my job has suddenly become productive, meaning that I'm coming home tired, instead of just vaguely irritated about how bored I've been all day.

This month I decided to do something easy. This was largely dictated by my fabric choice, some Any Butler quilting fabric that was reduced to £5 a metre in Hobbycraft. Anything too complicated in this stuff is just going to look ridiculous. I did plump for view 3 with the square neckline though as I did want to try something a little different. Otherwise though it is your bog-standard shift dress pattern. I made sure that I was going with a pattern than had the front piece cut on the fold as I imagined that matching up panels of this would be a nightmare, which narrowed my search down to about four patterns. I did go for sleeves though, I don't much care for my upper arms.


Even with this being such an easy pattern I was amazed that I managed to get this all done in one day, I think I was lucky though, it was the dress equivalent of all the lights being on green on your journey home. The pattern was simple. The fabric was easy to work with. I had a zip in a matching shade of pink in my stash. I cheated and hemmed the sleeves and the bottom of the dress on the machine (the 'proper sewing' police are probably knocking on my door as I type!). This time I remembered to taper out a little from the waist as I was cutting, which resulting in a much more forgiving hip measurement. Before sewing the sides together I pinned it on my tailor's dummy. The result was a pretty good fit! Hooray.
I was due a good run after my last couple of stressful encounters though.

On a side note I have noticed a real discrepancy in the kinds of fabrics I am drawn to and the types of pattern that I choose. I have loads of colour-block or multi-panelled dress patterns - the type that need good, plain fabric, yet my stash largely consists of crazy prints which would look bizarre made up in anything other than a simple shift. I need to work on this.


Monday, 28 February 2011

Inadvisable Fabric Purchases of the Week (Curse you eBay)

Sometimes, when the red mist of eBay descends on you, you can't be held responsible for your own actions.

The combination of the cold-from-hell and the husband kindly purchasing me an iPhone (early birthday present - I love that man) kept me nailed to the sofa for pretty much all my leisure hours this last week, perusing eBays iPhone app - everything looks so much cuter on a tiny screen!
So these were my impulse purchases:
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1. A mountain of Lurex.
Yes - Lurex. I'm as retro as the next woman (unless she is one of those Civil War recreation people), but there are certain fabrics that history has taught us to avoid - and surely Lurex is one of those? I imagine that you can't do ANYTHING with unless it is lined and that it is probably one for the as-yet-unused Stretch Stitch setting on the machine? It was cheap though and came wrapped in a strangely spherical brown paper package that my husband suspected might be a human head.

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Stinky Curtain

2. A stinky curtain.
Don't be fooled by how cute it looks in the picture, described as being "Clean, but could benefit from a wash to freshen it up as it has been in storage." In storage where? In a packet of fags? In the tap-room of a pub from 'The Sweeney'? I had to wash the bugger TWICE to get that lovely fag-stinky smell out of it. And this is an ex-to-occasional smoker speaking. I haven't left any eBay feedback yet, I'm going with the old "If you can't say anything nice don't say anything" theory, but the seller must have either been completely smell-blind or one of the cast of Shameless to not notice that the damn thing REEKED.
I also purchased some vintage bias binding and some patterns, but they were relatively sane.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

February's Dress - Wedding Belle

So having made a reasonably successful toile I felt confident that I could make something fabulous, or at least wearable, for my friend's wedding.

Dupion silk is good stuff! It's nothing like it's slippery cousin and behaves perfectly nicely. Everything took shape quickly and easily. I did however run into a few problems, but these were all due to my own incompetence.

- My gung-ho "Just bung a zip in the back plan" wasn't entirely successful and I needed to tack down a bit of the neck by hand to make it look less weird.
- My lazy hemming - it looked fine from the outside, but I was worried that someone might examine it closely and realise that I just folded it and machine stitched it - badly.
- The bow was tacked on wonky, I did this when I was off sick from work, so it's no great surprise that I wasn't really feeling up to trying the whole thing on and making sure that it was right. That'll teach me, I ended up on my hands and knees with a pair of nail scissors and a hotel sewing kit, 15 minutes before the cab was due to arrive, mending the damn thing!

Here is the end result, I forgot to get any pictures until we got home, so it’s perhaps a little more creased than it was when we first set off!


I 'frankensteined' the pattern by adding this ribbon bow from Vogue 7171, rather than the side-fastening one made from fabric that came with the pattern. End result much the same I’d have thought.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Toile and Trouble

I decided to make a dress suitable for wearing to a friend's wedding and as I had recently had delivery of just over 2 metres of bargainous olive green dupion silk, I thought that some sort of sophisticated cocktail dress would be in order.

Step forward Vogue 5942.




And a bow!  How I love a bow.

As my fabric was so lovely and I had a whole weekend with no plans I decided that I should do the right thing and make a toile first.  Am I glad I did.

When I opened the pattern I noticed something amiss.  The pattern pieces had no printing on them!  Just plain pieces of tracing paper with holes in them!  This meant a lot of referring back to the instructions as regards cutting out etc.  I was tempted to give up there and then.  But I persevered and managed to work out what pieces went where - eventually.  Once the actual sewing started things seemed to be going well, I made the bodice and it fit beautifully.  I made the skirt, this too seemed to fit nicely.  The problem arose when I put the pieces together - if I lined the zip hole in the bodice up with the zip hole in the skirt the seams on the skirt were horribly wonky.  If I lined up the seams on the skirt so that they looked like the drawing then the two zip holes were a good 3 inches apart - what to do?

The solution was obvious.  I had a glass of wine and gave up for the night.  I'd been working for about 7 hours on it by now and my patience was pretty much exhausted.

The next day I started afresh - with a bold new plan!  I would sew up the stupid under-the-armhole zip-holes and put a good old-fashioned back zipper in!  There was a centre seam down the back of the skirt and I could just add a bit on to the bodice.  I decided to test this on the toile and cut that bodice in half, ripped out some of the back seam on the skirt and (badly) stitched a manky old spare zip in. Success!  The results looked pretty good (if you didn't examine the actual quality of the sewing too closely).

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With renewed enthusiasm and a spirit of derring-do I set out to cut the pieces out for real.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Peter Pan Syndrome

    I am enjoying one of those brief moments where things that I like suddenly appear all over the High Street.

    Maybe 'enjoying' is the wrong word.  Yesterday I was utterly bemused by the sheer number of Peter Pan collars in New Look.  They are everywhere!  In fact, if you enter 'Peter Pan' as a search on the New Look website there are no less than 65 matches!



    And all this before you even get into two more of my favourite things; huge bows and stripey t-shirts.  There are some lovely-looking (from a distance) '60s inspired dresses in there, but closer examination and a price tag of around £30 leads me to believe that I could actually make something, far cheaper, that wouldn't look so - well - cheap!  Haven't these people been to Leeds or Walthamstow Markets?  Don't they know how cheap decent fabric can be?

    Dorothy Perkins is similarly blessed at present, I'm starting to wonder if they have a acquired a new buyer with taste eerily similar to mine, possibly someone I know.  I purchased a lovely shift dress with a large bow at the neckline and a contrast stripe down the middle.  There are also dresses with scalloped collars, something else I'm a sucker for.  Dresses with bows!  Dresses with bell sleeves!  Colour-blocking!  Did someone just raid the Vintage Pattern Wiki for inspiration?

    Of course the trouble with these dresses is that hundreds of other women will be wearing them (obviously not with the same style and panache as me), I'm still hoping that some of them will turn up in the charity shops in 6 months and then I'll buy them to wear to work. I would NEVER dream of wearing a brand-new High Street dress to a party or club though, the risk is just too great. At least with genuine vintage (or shoddy homemade tat) the risk of seeing a lady in the same dress is very small indeed.




Monday, 24 January 2011

A Dress for January (Nightmares in Silk)

    There is a blog out there called "A Dress a Day".  While this is a fabulous goal it seems somewhat unrealistic, so one of my resolutions for 2011 was a dress a month.  Every month I will make AT LEAST one dress - and post it up to the blogosphere.

    January's project was the Liberty silk, which I mentioned in a previous post.  At £5 metre, rather than the usual £29.99, something of a snip (no pun intended!).

    As I've never sewn in silk before I decided to pick an easy pattern - check it out!  Easy peasy, right?  The sleeves and the arms are all one piece!



    What I wasn't really prepared for was just how much of a slippery bugger silk actually is.

    Straight away it became evident that this is no ordinary fabric, I had to weigh it down with tins of soup while I crawled around on the floor cutting out the pattern pieces.  My husband was on Skype to his parents at the time, who must have been wondering about the sight of their Nutter-in-law crawling around in the background on a piece of brightly coloured fabric, surrounded by tin cans (and a small black cat laying on one end - Kato Cat decided that silk makes an excellent bed).

    The next nightmare was darts, I hate darts at the best of times, this wasn't the best of times.  They came out OK in the end though.

    Nightmare number 3 - the zip.  I was a bit nervous about tacking the bit where the zip was to go, I thought it might ruin the delicate fabric when I ripped the tacking stitches out. I foolishly sewed the zip in by just pinning it into place, it looked dreadful.  So then I had to rip loads of stitches out anyway removing the terrible zip.  At this point the lazy bugger in me decided that actually the neckhole was quite generous and that I could get the dress on over my head.  So I just sewed the back up.  If I had known I was going to do that I'd have just cut the whole back piece on the fold and saved myself A LOT of heartache.

    Next up - facing on the ends of the sleeves, bit peculiar I thought, but I went with it.  I'd also put interfacing on the facing, with the benefit of hindsight the interfacing was too thick for silk and I should have used a lighter-weight one.  Once sewn onto the end of the sleeve it made the end of the sleeve look so reinforced that I might as well have just sewn a hoop in the end of the sleeve like an old fashioned hoop-skirt.  So I took the facing off and decided to just hem the sleeves.

    At this point I may have had my ONLY bright idea - BIAS BINDING.  I had to refresh my memory about bias binding having only ever used it once in the past, but I found THIS marvellous tutorial - thanks Angry Chicken!  (I liked the idea of a 'No Swearing' tutorial, but it could be interpreted two ways - as either a tutorial in how to apply bias binding without swearing yourself, or as a tutorial in which the tutor swears a lot - in a punky kind of way)  Bias binding saved my life, it provided a neat way of hemming both the sleeves and the bottom of the dress and actually looked kind of nice too.


    (I also found THIS marvellous post-punk song by accident.  It has nothing to do with sewing).

    So to the actual fitting of the dress.  I made a HUGE mistake here - I forgot the AAA (Added Arse Allowance).  Whilst most parts of a 1960s 34" bust dress fit me just fine I have to admit that I am more well-equipped in the bottom department than those ladies must have been.  It should be ingrained in me by now that even if I can't be bothered to measure myself and the pattern and make the relevant adjustments  - I should at least 'go large' in the hip area when cutting out my pattern pieces.  Maybe "Will measure self against pattern" should have been my New Year's sewing resolution, but it's one of those things like doing a 48-hour patch test before dyeing my hair - life just seems too short!  My mistake - the dress only JUST fits over the hips and consequently seems a bit loose everywhere else.  It may fit me on that magical day in the future when I drop a stone, or I may just use it as a nightdress as the silk does at least feel lovely even if it doesn't look it.



    So I think I'll have to chalk this one up to experience.  I've learned a lot from my mistakes, but I'm bloody glad that I didn't pay £30 a metre for the fabric!

Offcuts of silk also make fine silk scarves for dandy felines!



    Apologies for the silly poses - it makes the dress look a bit better!
    Silly poses make it look better


Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Next Project

Finally the time has come to attempt Vogue 2245.


Isn't it beautiful?  I'm going to attempt a mock-up in cheap fabric first and see how I get on.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Retail Therapy - Jane Austen Style

At lunchtime I announced to my colleagues that I needed to pop out and buy some ribbon.  This sounded like such a ridiculously old-fashioned, feminine pastime that I found myself falling into the character of a Jane Austen heroine.  Buying ribbon, it seemed to me, was a pretty exciting event for a young woman in Georgian England.  There seemed to be precious little else that one could buy in a village shop that might come close to a treat or indulgence.  No made-to-measure clothing, no make-up (just for strumpets presumably), no 'Good Morrow' magazine.  My over-active imagination began to picture young women's bedroom cupboards stuffed with many-coloured ribbons as some sort of mania took hold, as the desire for excitement led them to purchase yet more and more ribbons - or maybe the hard stuff - rick-rack?  lace trim?

On my lunchtime excursion I also went to Boots to pick up a prescription. I imagine that your Regency heroine might also have popped into the apothecary for a preparation for Dyspepsia, but this hardly seems like cause for excitement.  Maybe she could have purchased some rose-water, probably the closest she was allowed to perfume, which I'm guessing was probably only for afore-mentioned strumpets, actresses and the French.

No wonder women used to go around having the vapours any time that anything slightly shocking happened (or was that the Victorians?).  Living life at that sort of pace is bound to take it's toll.

Is that the time?  I must fly - this bonnet won't trim itself you know!


Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Great Pattern Caper

I have some beautiful Liberty silk (made all the more beautiful by the fact that I bought it at a Liberty warehouse sale for a bargainous £5 per metre), which has lain untouched for about a year now, so I decided to use it to make a dress to wear to a friend's 40th birthday party later this month.  I was searching the various boxes in my spare room for a suitable pattern, when it occurred to me that there had to be an easier way and that perhaps my husband's suggestion of photographing all my dress patterns was not such a barmy one after all.  My reasoning was that I could tag the pictures with keywords such as 'princess seams', 'colourblock' or 'bow' (more on bows later) as well as the sizes and brand of the patterns and thus make finding the perfect pattern a much quicker job than getting out all the patterns in the boxes to sort through them on the living room floor (the spare room doesn't have any floor to speak of, just piles of junk with narrow avenues between them).  The Great Pattern Cataloguing Caper begun!

I photographed 200 patterns, which seems like such a ridiculously round number that it was Sod's law that I would find two more lurking at the back of the cupboard as soon as I was done!  This was one of the most constructive weekends I've had in years.