Thursday, 12 December 2013

Making things for little people

There's a couple of babies on the way amongst my group of friends here. The first one is due just after Christmas, so a baby shower was organised a couple of weeks ago. This of course gave me an excuse to do some knitting...

As it's a winter baby, I figured a cozy blanket and matching little hat would be an appropriate gift. I used this free pattern for the blanket, which is a pretty pattern, but knits up quickly. It's knitted in non-wool yarn (so it's machine washable, and to avoid allergies), and I chose colours that were feminine, without being girly (they know it will be a girl, but I hate gender stereotyping - fortunately these parents aren't really into lots of pink stuff either!). The red is actually a richer more red wine colour than it appears in the photos.

I also made a quick hat to match, using this free pattern. Because it's so small, it can be knitted up in an evening. I added a mini pom-pom (using this fork-based method!) - I couldn't get the thread that holds it together as tight as I would have liked, so I don't know how long the bobble will hold up, but she'll probably grow out of the hat in a few weeks, so it shouldn't be a problem.

And because I'm a masochist, I offered to make a cake for the baby shower too. And decided on a really complicated design. Using fondant icing. Which I've never used before. Fortunately I did some practicing, and ended up being very pleased with how it turned out (oh, and I made some cupcakes decorated with mini baby blocks too...):

Well, I think that's enough baby madness for now - the next one is due at the beginning of February, so there will probably be a little more little knitting in my future...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Back in the UK

So my husband and I made our pre-Christmas trip back to the mothership motherland at the end of November, and I have to say the highlight of the trip wasn't seeing my parents and their cat, nor visiting my sister and playing with my nephew, nor shopping in London, nor eating many curries and drinking many pints of bitter, nor meeting up with friends I haven't seen for ages, nor an early Christmas dinner with the in-laws on the Wirral, complete with flaming pudding and crackers. Nope, it was meeting up with the awesome Melissa. On her boat!

I can confirm that she is just as lovely in person as she comes across on her blog, and her clothes are just as beautiful. (For completeness, she was wearing her chic sweatshirt and her contrast pocket classic jeans, and I was wearing a sweaterknit batwing top that I'll post about soon, and my jeans skirt). Her suspicion was right, after seeing her boat, I do want to live on one! (although I think in reality my dodgy ears would mean I'd end up being constantly dizzy). Hearing about the history of their boat and learning about the realities of living on one was super interesting, and it was brilliant how much of a community there is in the moorings; you don't really get that in many places in London.

I think what amazed me most was how tiny Melissa's current sewing room is (literally the size of a desk, plus space for a chair), yet she still makes such beautiful garments. I also met her very cute kittycat Nishi (so adorable!) and got a sneak peek at her latest project (to be launched in January, I believe...). I brought a gift of some silk twill (the same that I made my peplum top from), and can't wait to see what she makes with it.

Apart from that, the trip didn't involve much sewing-related activity (apart from buying some interfacing...), so I will leave you with a few pretty photos from around London and Liverpool.

The amazing view from the shore above Melissa's boat:

Kensington Palace across the Round Pond:

Queen Victoria by her daughter, Princess Louise:

Trying to fit in with the in-laws:

That pudding on fire:

And finally, the fabric that was waiting in the post box when I got home:

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Geometric print dress

So here is my October Burda Challenge! I actually made this at the beginning of November, but didn't get around to taking photos for a while (it's very hard to motivate myself for photos at the moment: I want to use the daylight for doing more sewing! Or housework I suppose). Anyway, I wore this on Friday night to go and see the Taiwan National Philharmonic Orchestra (they were superb), so managed to get some photos of me wearing it when I got back home (although I need to train my photographer, the photos are rather grainy). You can't see the colours super well, but I paired it with the same belt as in the Wilma photos, magenta tights, a mustard clutch bag, bottle green shoes, and grass green earrings. Subtle as ever. Here you can see me hangin' with Vicky R (although I'm not sure if she is amused...) - the concert hall in Geneva was funded by an Englishman, and is called Victoria Hall. Yes, that is its "French" name.

Pattern description

BurdaStyle magazine 10/2013/124b: Jersey dress with pleats at front waist, square neckline, and extra-long sleeves cut in one with back yoke.

Pattern sizing

36-44. I cut the 42 at shoulders and graded out to 44 at waist and hips.

Fabric used

Poly ITY jersey from I discovered there were some faults in the print (and a small hole in the fabric), but I managed mostly to cut around these - the only place where it isn't hidden in the seam allowance is in one armpit as I figured no one would be looking too closely there!

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

Yes, fairly similar.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

The instructions are fairly dense and need a couple of slow read-throughs in order to fully understand, but they do make sense if you just follow step by step. Most of the construction is fairly straightforward, but the sleeves and back yoke are very unusual, so you definitely need to follow the instructions for those.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Like: the neckline is super flattering, and the construction is really interesting, so it's fun to sew. The pleats in the skirt are really nicely drafted, giving it a slightly tulip shape, and making it very forgiving over the stomach.

Dislike: The finishing of the neckline means there's some raw edges visible at the shoulder pleats, and it looks pretty ugly inside after twin needle topstitching (Burda's recommended finishing method). I'm sure there's a neater way of doing this, but I couldn't quite work it out. The bodice parts are self lined. This is fine at the back, but because of the pleats at the front, there are quite a lot of layers in parts of the waist seam. (although this isn't too problematic with my lightweight fabric - and Burda recommend lightweight jerseys).

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

I made a small FBA, mostly by doing a bunch of fudges to various pattern pieces... I did a bit of slash and spreading on the front bodice piece to add length and width, with the extra fullness absorbed equally into the pleats. After comparison with my stretch block, I added a little more at the side seam, adjusting the yoke/sleeve pieces to match (I actually needn't have added this extra). I also added a little at the hips so that it wasn't too tight over my derrière. I got rid of the darts on the back bodice as they seemed a bit extraneous for a stretch fabric, and the seam detail that mirrors the skirt darts wouldn't be seen on my fabric. I did keep the darts in the back skirt, as this meant I didn't need a CB seam.

I omitted the zip (who the hell puts a zip into a stretch dress? Even with the topstitching they give at the front, I can't imagine it would be necessary - and it would be a bloody nightmare to sew it neatly in lightweight jersey. Crazy). I also omitted the topstitching at the front waist, as I intend to wear it with a belt.

The neck is very wide as drafted, meaning it's not super bra friendly, I ended up taking in the seam at the front corner of the neckline by about 1.5cm each side, tapering to the drafted seam at the underarm.

I cut the sleeves at the drafted length. They are crazy crazy long - it notes in the instructions that they are 7cm longer than regular length. Normally I wouldn't mind extra long sleeves, but here the weight of my slippery fabric and the lack of shoulder seam meant that the sleeves just slid down my arm and distorted the shoulder and neckline, making it look like I'd made a dress for a giant. I chopped off 22cm to give 3/4 length sleeves, which look much smarter. The hem is at the marked length, which on me hits at quite a nice point, just at the bottom of my knee - longer than I'd normally wear, but it suits this dress. Bear in mind that I'm quite tall though (5' 9.5" / 177cm), so I would imagine that most people might want to shorten it a little.

Construction details

Although the print was AWESOME, this fabric was a bit of a pain to work with. Despite being very lightweight in terms of thickness, it's surprisingly heavy and very slippery, so everything had to be carefully supported when cutting and sewing. Because of the slipperiness, "bounciness" and stretch, there was a lot of hand basting done... The neck edge, shoulder pleats, markings for the pleats on the bodice, folded pleats on bodice and skirt, raw sides of bodice and lining (front and back), sleeves, hem...

The seams were sewn on my overlocker, with the neckline, sleeves and hem finished with twin needle topstitching. I'm not a bit fan of twin needles, it never looks nice on the wrong side, and on light fabrics it's a bit of a pain to get the right tension balance. I used tissue paper strips again to try and reduce "tunnelling" (although with the tearing direction running along the length of the strip so that it was easy to remove from the straight lines of stitching).

I think the waist seam could really benefit from stabilising with elastic as my fabric is very thin but very heavy, so wants to pull straight down, rather than hugging the body at the waist. I haven't put this in yet as I'm considering how best to do it neatly. The easiest way would be to cut a strip the right length and join it into a circle, then topstitch it on at the waist with a three-step zig-zag, but this would be very visible on the outside. I plan to wear this dress with a belt, so that wouldn't be a problem in terms of looks, but I want to keep the dress looking as neat as possible. I think I'll consider it a little longer.

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

I doubt I'll sew this again in the near future. Even though in principle it's a simple pattern, the care needed in sewing the lightweight fabric needed to make this design work means that it's not a quick make. I think I would recommend this, it's an interesting pattern, that isn't too tricky to put together, and gives a flattering and modern looking dress. I think it's interesting to note that am a very different shape to the model in the magazine, but I think it suits both of us (I had been a bit worried that the pleats at the front might look weird on larger boobs, but they're actually fine with the belt to control the fullness the pleats add).


I am super super pleased with this dress (although, having looked at these photos, I don't think I'll ever wear that bra again - good god, talk about saggy...). I absolutely adore the print of the fabric, and I think the shape of the dress matches it well. The dress is comfortable to wear, and will look good as smart day wear with boots and a long necklace, or, as here, dressed up for evenings.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Another drape-front cardie

I wanted a quick break from my Burda makes (plus I needed to pre-wash the fabric I wanted to use next), so thought I would make a cardie - I need a few more cardies, as most of my favourites are looking rather tired now. I remembered I already had this pattern drafted from aaaaaages ago, and it only needed minor tweaks.

You may recognise this from the first version I made back in April last year, and wore in Me-Made-May '12. I will confess: I never wore it again... Eek! It was just such an awful fabric, and there were problems with the fit of the shoulders and the sleeves annoyed me. Oh, and I didn't like the length.

The original draft mostly followed Lauriana's tutorial on the BurdaStyle website. For this version, I made the following changes:

  • Added 10cm to the length.
  • Altered the shape of the lower front so that the drape wasn't so long at CF.
  • Narrowed the back at the hips and at the waist.
  • Added 1cm each side to the length of the collar at the top edge at CB.
  • Shortened the sleeves to three-quarter length.

I used a rayon-poly blend sweater knit from, and this time stabilised both the back neckline and shoulder seams with fusible tape (and an extra line of stitching at the back neckline). This has helped minimise the stretching that caused the first version to fall off my shoulders. I also stabilised the corner on the front pieces between the collar and shoulder to stop it fraying when it was clipped during construction.

I used a 4cm hem on the sleeves, and a 1cm hem around the main body and collar. Both of these were stitched using a three-step zig-zag. The wrong side shows on the drape when worn, so this gives a fairly neat finish. We will not mention the balls-up I made when I was sewing in the label and made a hole at the back neckline. No, we won't.

I'm much happier with this version, it looks like a proper cardie, rather than some weird shiny droopy thing. I think it could still do with a tweak to narrow the shoulders a little, but I know it will be worn lots this winter.