Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Last-minute yellow dress

We went to a wedding at the end of July, and of course I wanted to make a dress to wear. I'd planned a second entry into the Vintage Pattern Pledge with a lovely dress with a draped bodice in feather print silk crepe lined with rayon challis. Yeah, well life got in the way and time ran out to make that. I had a back up plan of a RTW dress, but the day before we left I got a sudden inspiration and decided I was going to make a dress after all. As you do.

I went with the same pattern as my blue linen dress and my Sew Dolly Clackett dress, vintage Simplicity 5237 as I knew how it fit and could make it without doing a muslin first. Although having looked at these pictures I think the fit needs some work. Given I've already made this twice, there's more an emphasis on pictures than words in this post.

I used a yellow cotton twill, with a yellow lace overlay. Yeah, I like making things easy for myself... To make it even easier I tried to match the pattern - and actually did amazingly well given it was done by a wing and a prayer. The lace overlay does pull a bit giving the dress some odd wrinkles, I think because it's not entirely true to grain (it's just a cheapy nylon lace). I used the lace in different directions on the bodice and skirt as I thought it would give a nice effect, but it's actually not hugely noticeable in the finished garment.

To save a bit of time I machine basted the two layers together on each piece. It would have been even quicker if I'd thought to keep the basting in the seam allowances as I wouldn't have had to unpick it all... I used a centred zip, but hand-picked it, and added a hook and eye at the top. The neckline and armholes were finished with pre-made bias tape and topstitching, and I also topstitched along the centre front pleat line to keep the two layers together. It's sort of pulling a bit weird though, so I might add topstitching along the inside pleat line too. I matched the pattern along the pleat as if it were shut, but whilst wearing it and realising the pleat is open most of the time, I should have maybe matched it along the seam instead. The insides and the hand-stitching aren't exactly beautiful, but it was functional and looked fine from the outside!

It's interesting how different something can look in your head/the mirror, and in pictures - I was really really pleased with the fit and thought it was super flattering, but then I saw the photos and was horrified! There's something odd happening between my waist and the bust, and also the armscyes are too high, causing funny wrinkles. The bodice is probably too large between the bust and waist too and maybe a smidgen too long, plus the neckline needs adjusting. Apart from that, it's fine! No, to be serious, most of these alterations should be fairly straightforward, and it's a dress I can see myself wearing again. I think also the photos don't look great as I did my hair and makeup in a rush as I was a bit hungover that morning (all the wedding guests had gone to a local wine Keller festival the night before...)

Despite the fitting issues, I count this dress as a success, and I'm super proud at how quickly I made this (whilst also fitting in packing!) - I started at 1pm on the Thursday and finished all the machine sewing by 1am that night. There was some intense hand-sewing done on the train, but I still had time for a nap :)

I'm not counting this as one of my Vintage Pattern Pledge makes as it's something I've made twice already! Still a couple of months to get these in though... I'll leave you with a couple more pictures of the dress in action.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Leopard surplice dress

So, another jersey dress - QUICK! BEFORE THE SUMMER ENDS! Hang on, did the summer begin??! This is another self-drafted jobbie, but more experimental than the previous stripy one, so involved a lot of unpicking and hacking.

Pattern description

Dress with surplice bodice with pleats, cut-on cap sleeves and A-line skirt with gathering at the front.

Fabric used

Medium-weight jersey, I think a rayon-spandex mix. In a rather understated print and colour.

Did it look like the sketch/idea when you were done?

Not really. I wanted elegant pleats in both the bodice and skirt, draping diagonally out from the waist. Well, it didn't look like that. No pictures, sorry, it just looked awful and I needed to IMMEDIATELY get the seam ripper out as it was offending my eyes. I think this sort of thing needs to be drafted by draping to see how it hangs (especially with a knit, which is unpredictable in how it drapes and stretches), but I was just doing it on the flat pattern. It ended up with the front bodice being way too long and loose, and the pleats on the front of the skirt somehow both hugging my belly and blousing over it. Nice. In the end the pleats were much less pronounced and the skirt became basically an A-line. At least I kept the surplice front!

Drafting details

This was drafted from my stretch block, with the bodice overlap having pleats at the waist, and the underlap being plain. The pleats in the skirt ended up being eliminated, but a bit of extra ease was added by a little bit of gathering at the centre front waist of the skirt.

Construction details

This was pretty much all sewn on my serger, with a bit of twin-needling thrown in. I made some bad judgements with my choices to stabilise the neckline, but I blame that on, erm, the hot weather. No, more likely the wine. The back neck was stabilised with bias tape, which meant it's not stretchy at at (normally I would have added a T-shirt style binding to this part). For the front overlaps, in a moment of madness, i decided to use clear elastic. Or to give it its full title Evil Elastic Of Doom. Do I have a crappy batch of elastic, or is it all lies that say you can stretch clear elastic as you sew and it'll rebound and gather up what you've just sewn? If I stretch it when sewing, it just seems to become permanently stretched out and ripply. Meaning using it in an edging is effectively a more annoying and bulky (if stretchy) way of interfacing the edge. What am I doing wrong?!

Anyway, moving on, the neckline, sleeve hems and skirt hem are all finished with a twin-needle, and I also added narrow (normal) elastic to the waistline seam for support, zig-zagging it to the seam allowance after serging the seam. I also made a tie-belt from the same fabric, although I've actually been wearing the dress with a plain black belt.

Would you sew it again?

Hmm, maybe. It needs rather a lot of refining to get to the vision I had of it. I might re-start with either a commercial pattern, or by draping (although the latter means I need to pad Wilma to mimic my shape a bit better). I do really like this style of dress on me, so it's probably worth persevering with. I think the pleats would be more flattering with the excess going into the side seams rather than the waist seam, so I will try this next time.


Although this didn't turn out as planned, and despite being rather hacked together in the end, I have actually been wearing this a fair amount. I really like this fabric, it holds up well to wearing and washing and is comfortable to wear. I'm taking it as a learning experience!

PS A word about the photos... I've been trying to take my photos in some more interesting places. These were taken on the way to an ENORMOUS brunch. The first lot were taken by some of the cool graffiti near the river, which include most of the best ones. But then I got worried that this meant something really rude in French, so I took some more in front of a lovely ivy-covered wall, although I ended up having a sour face in most of the second set because it stank of piss. But a pretty backdrop! Oh the sacrifices for art.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Stripy T-shirt dress

Well hello there strangers, long time no see... Isn't it scary how quickly the last couple of months have gone by? Or is that just me? I actually have quite a few finished makes to blog about, but I've not really been enjoying having my photo taken lately, and blog posts without photos aren't that exciting. However, I did get a few pictures of me in a very recent make during our Sunday afternoon stroll last weekend, so I'll start with that one!

Pattern description

T-shirt dress with cut-on cap sleeves and A-line skirt.

Fabric used

Rayon-spandex knit from This stuff is sooooo soft and not too lightweight, so this very much falls in the category of secret pyjamas!

Did it look like the sketch/idea when you were done?

I've been in need of a few basic-ish jersey dresses as my favourites are starting to wear out a bit. This turned out pretty much exactly how I hoped.

Drafting details

This is based on a cap-sleeve T-shirt I made a while back. I refined the fit by raising the front neckline and lowering the back neckline, taking in the back at the waist, and curving the shoulder/sleeve seam down after the shoulder point to narrow the sleeves. To make it into a dress, I simply extended the front and back pieces downwards and outwards from just above the waist line.

Construction details

I stabilised the shoulders with fusible tape (for some reason straight grain not bias, so they're a little weird and stiff), and all the seams are sewn by serger. (I only had two cones of navy, so I used these in the left needle and lower looper so that any visible thread from the right side would blend in, using an off-white for the other two threads.)

The neckline is my usual T-shirt type binding with topstitching, and the sleeve and skirt hems are finished with a twin needle. I've finally worked out how to stop tunnelling with the twin needle (at least on knits that aren't super lightweight) - take the tension reeeeeeaaaaaaally low. Like the other end of the tension dial low. The only problem with this is that the back doesn't look so neat, but I think this is a trade-off that I'll have to make, at least until I get my pressie of a coverstitch machine (hint, hint, Mr Dibulous...). The belt is simply a long thin rectangle with two sides sewn up, turned right side out, and the remaining short end slipstitched shut.

I did attempt to match the stripes at the side seams, although as I couldn't be faffed with basting the seams before sewing them on the serger, the matching isn't perfect, but is plenty good enough for this sort of quick make.

Would you sew it again?

Yep, I'm definitely going to be sewing up a couple more versions of this dress. I might add a bit more at the front waist and hip as it does cling a little to my belly (no, I'm not pregnant, that's just a food baby...), but other than that I'm pretty pleased with it.


This is a good "transitional" piece (ooh, get me, I sound like Anna Wintour) with the cap sleeves, and can be layered with tights or leggings now it's getting a bit cooler (not that it got particularly warm this summer...). A very handy dress that has already been worn many times since finishing it.

As a bit of an aside about the photos, the ones on the bridge show where the Rhône and the Arve rivers meet, and you can see the difference in colour (the Rhône is clear after travelling through Lac Léman, whereas the Arve is very silty). On a day when the rivers are a bit higher, you get cool swirling patterns as they mix. The stroll took us through the "zoo" near ours, hence the ibex in the other photos. Ibex!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Nettie maxi-dress hack

I love wearing maxi-dresses in the summer, so easy to wear and also so comfortable. Despite this, I only have a couple that I regularly wear, and have put off making them for ages because I find cutting out large pattern pieces kind of annoying. However, with 30˚C predicted by this weekend I need a few more warm weather clothes that I fit into. I'd also seen a lot of Nettie variations floating around the sewing blogosphere recently. These two ideas percolated for a while, and I realised that I could use Nettie as a basis for a maxi-dress. Excellent!

Pattern description

Close-fitting dress or bodysuit, with choice of necklines and sleeve lengths.

Pattern sizing

2-18 (32-44" bust). I cut the 18. Note that I bought the pattern before Heather made the changes in sizing, so this is now the equivalent of the 16.

Fabric used

Rayon-spandex knit. It was a bit flimsy and see-through by itself, so used bamboo rayon jersey to line it.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Yes to the top part, but obviously no to the big ol' maxi-skirt stuck on the bottom.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

I just did a cursory glance through as I make a lot of knit stuff, so I can't really comment on them.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Love: the neckline! Also the fit is nice, snug without being too tight. A couple of minor niggles as detailed below, but don't really dislike anything.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

I quite like bodysuits (hello, nineties me), but I know I'm unlikely to wear one for the time being. However, the neckline is gorgeous, and the fit seemed pretty much what I was looking for. For the bodice of the main dress, I went with the scoop front and mid back neckline, and short sleeves.

Comparing the pattern to my custom block, it looked pretty good. I added 1.5cm length on the front, plus about 1cm width to allow for an FBA, adding notches to keep things aligned (rather than making a dart, I eased in the extra length). I raised the hip curve on both front and back - to me it seems very low as drafted. I took in the waist and added to the hip about 1cm each on the back piece only.

I made a forward shoulder adjustment by moving the shoulder seam forward 1cm. I also flattened the back armscye and scooped the front by a few mm.

A note on the following: Heather's got back to me on my feedback and assures me the sleeve is correct, just mirrored from doing the layout. I'll leave what I originally wrote here though as it worked for me, just ignore it for yourself!

To me, the sleeve head was a little odd. According to the notches, the pattern piece is a left sleeve, rather than a right sleeve (as is usual for pattern drafts, and as per the rest of the pattern), which whilst unusual, isn't a problem as you just mirror it. However, the shoulder point notch wasn't centred, it was towards what was marked as the back of the sleeve, and as drafted there was around 1cm extra ease in the back sleeve head only - normally this would be the other way around. I figured the notches were probably marked in reverse so followed them that way instead... Having moved the shoulder seam forward, this transferred the extra ease to the front of the sleeve head, which was better for me anyway (although for any future makes, I will probably lower the sleeve head slightly and remove the ease from the front portion).

I decided to make the lining as the Nettie dress as given (i.e. with a short straight skirt) to help keep everything in place as well as adding opacity, and then added a simple long skirt portion for the fashion fabric flaring from just below the waist.

I added seam allowances at the neckline to sew the shell and lining together, but didn't actually need to - I misunderstood the neckline finishing in the original. Totally my fault for skipping reading this part, nothing to do with the instructions! I will remove this extra seam allowance for any future versions to open up the neckline a little.

Construction details

In order to save fabric, the front and back pieces were cut in different directions - this is a directional print, but it's very busy and not immediately obvious that they're different, and this way saved about 1.5m... In order to do this, I also needed to add a CB seam, but again this isn't immediately obvious (and I even managed to entirely accidentally do almost perfect pattern matching down this seam).

I thought I was going mad because I couldn't find any instructions about seam allowance. I eventually went with 1cm after consulting the sew-along, but (after making it) discovered this is given in the instruction booklet, but the yellow typeface didn't show up when I printed it out! It's given as 1/4" or 0.6cm, so mine is technically a little smaller than it should be, but it hasn't made a huge amount of difference.

The construction was pretty straight forward, apart from the neckline. The shoulder seams are stabilised with clear elastic on the shell fabric only. (Reminder to myself so I don't need to always do a test: sew this seam with the elastic on the bottom so it catches the feed dogs, and the back piece uppermost so that the elastic doesn't need to be folded if the seam is pressed towards the back as normal. This means that the shoulders are sewn in different directions, but it doesn't seem to make much difference on this sort of stretchy jersey garment if you're careful. Cutting the elastic longer than the seam at each end is also very helpful to keep the application neat, although it adds a little bulk in the neckline and shoulder seams at each end.)

The shell and lining are joined at the neckline as a "shell" and "lining" to give a clean finish, but treated as one layer to join the sleeves for simplicity.

I had originally intended to sandwich a contrast binding between the layers to both stabilise add interest to the neckline. However, I decided against it as I thought it might look a bit odd just having the contrast there (although after having made it, I think it would have actually looked better with the contrast binding, and also been a lot simpler to make...) This left the problem of how to stabilise the neckline - given the weight of fabric in a maxi-dress, I wanted to add something stronger and more stable than just stitching, and stretchier than bias tape. Elastic was the obvious choice.

I used 5mm wide regular elastic (I really don't like clear elastic on pretty much anything except shoulder seams). I cut a loop 10% shorter than the neckline, plus an overlap that was sewn together flat on top of each other, taking care not to twist the elastic. This was zigzagged it to the wrong side of the lining piece just inside the seam line, matching it at quarter points as you would do a regular binding. I actually had to do a lot of pinning to make sure it was even as the bamboo rayon jersey is slippery and the curves in the neckline are quite tight.

The lining and shell necklines were then carefully sewn together on my serger, right sides together and lining with elastic uppermost. I ran the knife down the edge of the elastic (being careful not to nick it), which meant that the left hand needle landed just inside the elastic, fully enclosing it, and making it invisible from the right side (the serger makes a 6mm wide seam). This was then turned right side out, pressed, and topstitched with a narrow zig-zag to stop it rolling. (I really should have taken pictures of all this, but didn't think about it until too late, hopefully the description is relatively clear...!)

I'd already sewn the side seams of the lining (to test the fit before cutting the fashion fabric) before installing the sleeves, so I sewed up the side seams of the shell as well, basted the two layers together at the armscye, and then set in the sleeves rather than sewing them in flat.

The sleeves were hemmed with a 3-step zig-zag to keep them stretchy. I needed a minimal hem on the skirt to keep the length (I'd underestimated a bit how much the weight of the fabric would pull it downwards). I serged the edge to give some heft to the hem, and then simply turned it under and top-stitched with a narrow zig-zag.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I'm definitely going to use the bodice part again, the neckline is super flattering, and (with minor changes) the draft is very good for me. I think it's also a great starting point for more hacks and alterations. I would really like to make the bodysuit, but I don't really know whether I would wear it before losing some weight - maybe for the winter so it's nice and cosy under other layers. I would definitely recommend this to others though - the draft is good and very flattering on apparently everyone who's made this!


I'm super pleased with this dress. I love the neckline and the fit - I was concerned that the weight of the skirt would pull the back waist away from my body, but the cut and fit seems to keep everything in place perfectly. It is pretty close fitting, but snug rather than sausage-y (I'm not sure snug things are entirely flattering for me at the moment, but I don't care, I like it). The mid-back neckline is super comfortable to wear and feels quite sexy too... There are a couple of small errors in the pattern (beware that there are two number 13 matching points when assembling the PDF - although it's pretty obvious which goes where, given what's on them), I have let Heather know about them, and asked about the sleeve. But this is something that is both a drawback and great about independent patterns: there are not the "professional" pattern testers and drafters the big 4 might have (although these still have errors and poor drafts!), but when there are problems, it's much easier to contact the patternmaker and ask questions!

Sewing Indie Month

This is super quick to make (apart from my fiddly way of stabilising the neckline), which has worked out well as I think I've just squeaked in before the deadline to enter this in the pattern hacking section of Sewing Indie Month. Here's a final photo of me looking exceptionally cool and pretending it's hot and sunny: