Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Ready for Autumn: the Lady Skater dress

Confession time. I didn't think I would ever make this pattern. It's not that I didn't like it, I just didn't think it was me or how I would wear it.


I saw some of Lauren's awesome versions and thought about how this dress would suit my plans to sew a more 'grungey' wardrobe for Autumn, and I got visions of comfortable, cosy winter dresses with tights and Docs and plaid shirts. Yes, people, at times I will be living like it's 1993, dating Eddie Vedder and drinking coffee with Matt Dillon.


Despite my recent grumbles about customer service, I ventured back into Rolls & Rems (Lewisham) and found this amazing winter knit jersey in a beautiful charcoal. People must have thought bitch be crazy as I held it up against my bare arms and stroked it with my face, but seriously, I cannot tolerate itchy fabric or fabric that leaves a little hairy trail on my coat. However, this fabric is probably some of the best fabric I have bought in a while and this dress....WELL I LOVE IT!

I'm wearing this dress with my new polka dot tights (Marks and Spencers, £7) and my baby pink 3-hole Dr Martens. Polka dots are enjoying a little comeback this season, see the adorable skirts and jackets in Miu Miu's collection for full-on polka love, or team sheer polka dot fabric with harder, masculine pin stripes for a city chic look as seen in Vogue (Sept 13). This might be something to try WHEN I can eventually find some polka dot fabric I like.

I also tried this dress on with my beloved boy shoes and it looks great as smarter wear for work, so it will definitely rank as one of the more versatile pieces in my wardrobe.

This pattern was a total joy to work with - Amanda, I salute you! Because I loved my fabric so much, I decided to make a muslin to check the fit. According to the pattern sizing, I was a 4 on top blending to a 3 on the waist. However, after making up the muslin and despite an overall pretty good fit, I noticed my the waist was sitting too low and I also had a fair bit of surplus fabric around the arm and armhole.

To rectify this, I shortened both bodice sections by 1 inch and cut a 3 on the entire bodice and sleeves. I also shortened the skirt an inch (which, when combined with my shortened bodice) gave me the length I wanted.

I wanted to do something different with the neckband and cuffs, so I decided to order some ribbing fabric, which is typically used for sweatshirts. I purposefully ordered a different charcoal so that it would stand out. I love the finished effect and for some reason I now think of this dress as an Alan Partridge 'Sports Casual' - right Roisin?

Making up this pattern is so quick! Once you have done a muslin and corrected any fit issues, you can literally cut and sew this baby up in a few hours, maybe quicker. I mainly used my overlocker to sew and finish the seams, but also used my regular machine to first sew any tricky bits such as the neckband. I added clear elastic as per Amanda's instructions and I think this definitely helps this dress ALOT. I got 5 yards off eBay for next to nothing.

For my regular machine this fabric loved a stretch needle (size 75/11) narrow zig zag and my pressure foot set to 1. On my overlocker I set the pressure to the lowest it would go and, after testing scraps repeatedly, there was no stretching. YES!

I wore this dress on a little cinema date with Mr S in Canary Wharf and it was so warm and snug I didn't need a coat. Well, this week has been nice weather wise anyway, but I'm confident this dress will see a lot of action come colder days.

I am definitely making another version of this dress. I have just ordered a sample of black bamboo jersey to make either a short or 3/4" sleeve version for under a plaid shirt to be called 'The date with Eddie dress' (see these Vans from my mood board as inspiration). I need something easy and comfortable while we write songs and make out. You know, normal stuff you do with a grunge sex god. 

Have you made this dress yet or are you planning to?

{Playlist: The Replacements - Here Comes a Regular}

Friday, 20 September 2013

Minerva Blogger Network: Batik DKNY V1349 dress

Wow, I can't believe it's time for my second post in the Minerva Blogger Network. You can see my first (the Sun Studios McCall's Shirt Dress here).

This time around I opted for something a bit bold and different, and a move away from Summer. Anyone else done with summer sewing? To begin with I chose a Vogue pattern: the DKNY V1349. I liked the styling of this in the pattern pictures, it's very editorial (as Nina Garcia would say) and I liked the fact that it could be fun to make by combining up to three different prints.

V1349 pattern picture

However, in my version, I decided to go for a solid colour and just one print in order to demonstrate how you can bring some wilder prints into your life without feeling too OTT. Here's how it turned out!

My dress features an amazing Batik print in shades of blue, white and black from the Minerva cotton range. I teamed it with a solid black poplin to subdue it slightly and give it some nice clean lines. With regard to S/S 14 trends, I think I'll store this dress away until the spring. Donna Karan showed some similarly interesting blue prints and Victoria Beckham showcased three dresses in her 'Victoria' collection, which had a very similar loose fitting silhouette. I did try the dress on with tights, but I like it with bare legs and my 'boy' shoes.

The pattern consists of subtle princess seams and a shoulder yoke, which means you do not have a shoulder seam. The shoulder yoke can also be a contrast print but I decided to keep it black in this garment.

There is an invisible zipper on the back and the lining finishes the neck and armholes.

When I made the muslin of this dress I cut a size 10 on top blended into a size 12 on the hips/length. I loved the fitted finish on the bust, but as the dress was styled to be 'loose fitting' I cut a complete size 12 on the finished garment.

Another plus about this dress is that it's a day-to-evening look. I discovered that it works equally well with a white shirt underneath for a bold, office look and then on its own for cocktails at Janet's bar (right, Spoolettes?)

Hold on, Don, let me take off my glasses and let my hair down. 
Now show me your report. 

A few things to note about this pattern:
  • When sewing seams, some have an ‘awkward’ finish with a sharp point. Make sure you catch those sharp points as you come to the end of sewing the seam. They create a nice flush edge on the neckline and other areas when sewn properly.

  • The fashion fabric and lining are not constructed traditionally. The outer fabric is constructed and BEFORE the side seams are stitched, the lining is stitched to the neckline and armholes to finish those seams. Then, the garment's lining AND dress side seams are sewn in one continuous seam. 

  • Don't forget to clip seams (neck line etc). It does say it in the instructions in the symbol boxes but doesn't remind you again in the actual steps. 

  • This pattern requires Staytape on the neck and armhole edges of the lining. If you have it, great, but if you don't, don't worry! I used a strip of silk organza instead. My lining did still stretch on the neck line at the front for some reason (possibly because my organza was too much on the straight grain?), but I rectified this easily by creating a little pleat, which actually looks quite nice, and as this lining is very light, it didn't create any bulk. If I make this dress again I will try just stay stitching the neck line instead with a lighter pressure foot and tension.

  • The Batik is a light cotton, so make sure you stabilise the zip seam with interfacing before sewing the invisible zipper. 

  • I ended up with the dreaded back neck gaping again. On the size 10 muslin, it was fine but I think the extra room on the 12 caused a problem. For now, I have added some darts, which don't look out of place as the back is quite geometric in style anyway, but in future I will take extra from the zip seam. 

  • Ever so slightly, I find that this dress wants to pull back at the shoulder. This is more a standard fitting issue I have with my shoulders and commercial patterns (particular these types of shift dresses) and an easy modification when I make this pattern again. 
Overall, I enjoyed making this pattern. I liked the unusual construction and the interesting lines of the shoulder yoke. I think this dress has alot of versatility in terms of season, day/evening and shape. I also love the extensive colour/print options you can play around with.

If you love my version, don't forget you can buy my kit from the Minerva website here.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Disparate Disciplines Yellow Tail Camisole: Funky Paint Splash

At the end of August, Mari from Disparate Disciplines asked me to test sew her fab new pattern, the Yellow Tail Camisole, named because it resembles the tail of the fish, Yellow Tail Snapper.

I was really excited not only to be asked to test sew but also to try something new in the world of sewing with knits. And, in this case, this was the neat colour blocking shapes and fold-elastic incorporated into Mari's awesome design.

As Mari describes, "the Yellow Tail Camisole is a comfortable yet cheeky knit" and is great paired with jeans, worn at the gym or as a casual cami under a top. You can make it one solid colour, or colour-block it as I have done here. I used some awesome paint-splash jersey I found at Rolls & Rems in Lewisham, paired with a solid black cotton jersey. You hardly use any yardage - I used less than half a metre, so you could seriously whip up a bunch of these in different combinations. Perfect!

Mari's pattern is really clear and easy. Everything goes together extremely well and I stitched my pieces using a 3-3.5 mm straight stitch (with my walking foot) as recommended by Nancy Zieman in the book Sew Knits with Confidence. As my knits were both pretty stable I didn't need to use a zig zag stitch.

The design incorporates a clever facing (the black section above the bust) which folds over itself. The top is then finished with fold-over elastic which completes the raw edge of the back and the armholes, while creating the shoulder straps. You get to pin the shoulder straps to the length you want, according to what kind of 'lift' you want. In my case, all the help I can get sista!

I have never used fold-over elastic before and practiced beforehand as Mari suggests in the pattern instructions. I ordered some black fold-over elastic off Ebay for minimal cost. You can use either side of the elastic, but for this top I had the shiny side showing as I thought it added extra detail. Sewing the elastic didn't seem too difficult and I coped quite well, but you do need to be careful not to stretch the back. Any good tips for sewing knits and elastic without causing poopy stretching?

I really love this pattern and can't wait to make some more. Next time I will make one for the gym (maybe get some badass neon going on) and I also want to make some pretty night-camisoles out of this cute flamingo jersey I have. The options are endless.

The other great thing about this pattern is that Mari is offering it as a 'Pay What You Want' option. This means that you get to pay exactly what you want be it zero to $100! However, 50% of all proceeds go to charity to fight hunger in America, which is pretty awesome if you ask me, and, when combined with all the hard work that goes into producing a pattern, means this is definitely worthy of a price of a coffee or two (or 3 or 4!), am I right? HELL YES.

Yey! Pay for this pattern and give something to charity people!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Airelle Blouse: Pleather Treatment

This blouse took me way longer than it should have done. Mainly because the vintage fabric I used was an utter bitch. No joke, I reckon it would have spat in my face if it could have done.

After deliberation over what fabric to choose (with the aid of Twitter/Instagram, we chose the 'crazy cookies' aptly named by Emmie), I had the feeling that making the entire top in 'crazy cookies' could end up looking a bit boring or a bit old lady. So, I decided to use some left over pleather (come on people, no need for leather anymore!) I had in my stash from my 'Pleather Peacock' dress and this is how it turned out.

The blouse is a great pattern to put together, very simple with clear instructions and basic techniques (gathering, yoke, waist darts). However, when you have the bitchiest fabric from hell, it all suddenly becomes exhausting and you wonder why you even started sewing. Okay, maybe not that drastic, but this fabric tried to destroy my soul.

The main problem was skipped stitches. It's a vintage polyester of some kind and it just didn't want to be sewn. I tried various needle changes, thread, tension, you name it I tried it. After investigation on Google, I even tried a ballpoint needle as one person mentioned on an interesting post in 'Yahoo Answers'. But no, this fabric didn't want to compromise.

The only way it cooperated was with the use of tissue paper on the seams. This worked fine but is something I just find annoying to do. All that unpicking etc, urgh, life is short. In the end, I used strips of black silk organza, basted them over the seam line and then stitched normally. Albeit time consuming, this seemed to work perfectly and was far neater. To finish the blouse off, I pinked all the seams inside to keep it soft and to prevent any serge lines showing.

But, back to the good stuff. I measured the flat pattern and decided to cut a size 38. I didn't make a muslin as I knew this top was supposed to have a slightly loose fit, and it turned out perfect. Thumbs up to Deer & Doe. I'll definitely try this pattern again as it's a great staple as far as tops go for work or smartening up jeans.

The construction is super easy and would make for a great beginner's introduction to gathers and cuffs. Definitely try it out!

For the collar, I used some pleather that I had bought from Dalston Mill Fabrics. This is £9.99 a metre and at the time I bought 1/2 a metre and it's starred in two projects so far, nice going pleather!

Working with pleather is really easy. I use either a sharp or a leather needle, and either works well. In this case, I found the sharp worked better. You can use a teflon foot to help glide over the pleather or I have read posts where scotch tape has been stuck to the bottom of the foot. I am yet to try this method.

The only thing is you need patience working with this stuff, especially when it comes to pressing. You'll need a good pressing cloth (I use my faithful square of true silk organza) to prevent melting it and time! You need to go easy and really talk to it, "come on baby, you know you want to lie flat and look pretty, come on don't say no, Mama don't like no", that kind of stuff. If that creeped you out, sorry.

Eventually, your pleather will submit and let you turn it into a collar. I have made a studded detachable collar using this as well, which looks kinda cool. I'll try and dig it out for photos.

As pink is one of the big colours for A/W 13, I teamed my new Airelle blouse with my Whistles wool mini skirt, tights and my favourite black patent 'boy' shoes. It's hard for me to find nice vegan shoes, but I found these earlier this year in Next for a mere £26.

Oh and it's Autumn! Yey, my favourite season of all. What are you looking forward to wearing?

(Credit to @Shorak for correcting my wonky photos!)

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Me, Elvis and the Graceland dress

I'm not sure if you know about this, as I kept it really low key, but I went to Graceland. Oh who am I kidding, I pretty much got a loudspeaker and shouted about it everyday, but it was a 21 year dream in the making. I'll warn you, this is a long post with lots of photos, but it's not everyday you go to Graceland, so sorry/not sorry :)

Well, what do you wear to meet Elvis? For me, there was only one look that I wanted to recreate and that was of Maile Duval in Blue Hawaii, played by one of my favourite actresses, Joan Blackman.

Blue Hawaii is a really special film to me. It's not only my favourite Elvis film, but also the film that a young 13 year-old me watched and thought "hey, who is THAT guy?". I asked Mama Delle and she explained who he was and how much she had loved him as well, and from then on, she bought me a calendar every Christmas. The love affair started.

Here's a picture of Joan Blackman and Elvis in Blue Hawaii. Joan kicks off the film wearing this great dress and red flower in her hair. Unfortunately, I cannot find a good quality colour photo to show you, but if you google it (or better yet, watch the film) you'll get a great idea of how gorgeous this dress looks on her.

So, my plan for Graceland was to recreate this outfit. In my stash, I had been hoarding some great fabric that I had bought at Mood early last year on a trip to NYC. It's an Hawaiian-inspired green and white print in a soft stretch cotton.

Maile Duval ready for Elvis! Don't you just love
my new Bettie Page bag? I got this in Nashville.

For the pattern, I self-drafted a bodice and skirt to ensure that I got the exact fit I was after. I kept things quite simple with bust darts and waist darts on the bodice, but scooped the neckline low on the front and back, and shifted the shoulders over to create that early-60s look.  The skirt of the dress was pencil-like in design and as the fabric had stretch, I didn't need to create a split or vent. Hooray. 

Just arrived at Graceland. I promise you I was far more excited
than this picture suggests. Sun in eyes = face contort!

I styled the dress with a vintage white metal belt (inherited from Mr S' grandmother), red wedge sandals, my new Bettie Page bag and an artificial flower. The flower is a funny story; there are ZERO florists in downtown Memphis. ZERO! Not even a store that sells a bouquet of fresh flowers. Obviously people in Memphis don't like flowers. In the end, the concierge at the Peabody hotel gave us the address of their supplier so my wonderful Mr S drove me there to find a suitable flower for my hair.

I inserted a lapped zipper but could I get the waist seam to align? For the love of Elvis, no! Despite having stablised the zipper seam and hand basted the zipper, that waist seam was giving me the finger every time. After a rant to my beloved Roisin, she suggested hand picking the zipper in. YES! Why did I not think of this? It worked swimmingly for my wedding dress (yeah I just said swimmingly, sue me!) and if it was couture enough for marrying Mr S, then it was certainly couture enough for the King. 

Dixie Lou Tip
One great tip for hand picking your zip is waxing your thread. When I made my wedding dress (you can see that here) I followed the legendary Susan Khalje's book Bridal Couture. This book is out of print and I paid a small fortune for it, but it was invaluable and I still refer to it for general sewing projects. She advises to buy some tailor's wax, which you run your thread through. You then carefully iron the thread to seal the wax (place a pressing cloth on the top, I use silk organza) and then double up the thread as normal. This technique helps prevent those shitty knots happening when you hand sew buttons and zips. I do this for most of my hand sewing now and it really helps. 

I used an all-in-one facing to finish the neck and armholes, but cut it just above the bust line to prevent having to do darts again and creating unnecessary bulk on the bust. To save time, I serged the inside seams and handstitched the hem.

I was so pleased with this dress. It was exactly how I wanted it to look and I felt great walking around the home of Elvis dressed (in my mind) like Maile. Here are some close-up shots of the dress after I had been to Graceland - hence dropped out curls, missing belt etc, but just look at the happy glow on my face!

Beale Street!

And now onto Graceland. Ermagherd. This really was a dream come true. Driving into Memphis the night before I had tears, and then driving along Elvis Presley Boulevard to Graceland I had tears again. I can't stress how important this trip was to my little heart.

Graceland was everything I wanted it to be. Mainly, I just loved walking through the front door and into Elvis' house. It was 5 million Christmas' at once, finding money down the back of the sofa every day, or feeling so fricking happy in that one moment, you're not sure how to contain it.

Basically, it was fantastic.

The rooms at Graceland were over-the-top, kitsch and just bloody wonderful. Although, I knew so many people had visited before me, in my mind I was treading where Elvis had walked. I had to restrain myself from jumping on the sofas, or touching everything, and then I secretly seethed with anger and jealousy when a young toddler ran under the rope and sprawled out on one of Elvis' leather sofas in the room next to the squash court. Hey kid, get off, if anyone is breaking the rules round here it's me! (I did lean over and touch one of the sofas in the jungle room though. Rebel scum!)

I could go on and on about this day, but I won't bore you. Let's just say it's one of those days that will stay with me forever. Here's a selection of photos and thank you for getting this far in the post.

As Graceland was my dream trip, is there one place in this world you HAVE to or are dying to see?

This is the first room you see as you enter Graceland. 
It's the room where Elvis and I welcome our visitors. 

Ha, Elvis! What are you like taking photos of me in our 
TV room, you're such a goon.
(and yeah, we need 3 TVs, so sue us!)

Hanging out in the jungle room

Priscilla's My wedding dress on display

Out at the Presley paddock

This photo? Oh that's just me boarding the Lisa Marie
 to go get some groceries

The piano Elvis was playing the day he died :(

Jeez, it takes me a long time to sew these jumpsuits for him

Grilled peanut and banana sandwich of course!

Everyone thinks Elvis bought this for his Mom. No, it's my ride.

Outside Graceland with Don Draper

Laying the flower from my hair on Elvis' grave