The Big Easy Top

Need a quick sewing fix? Like, the quickest sewing fix? That doesn’t involve pesky stretch fabrics?

Can I make a suggestion?

Get yourself The Big Easy Top pattern from The Makers’ Atelier and some boiled wool.

Better yet, get yourself the kit, then you don’t even have to think about fabric, or thread. It just all arrives at your door and approximately half an hour later you have a warm, chic, beautifully drafted sweater to add to your winter wardrobe. And you won't have to knit it!

In my case it was a year and half an hour, because despite the fact this is the quickest and most satisfying make ever, it sat at the bottom of my sewing list last winter and then it was Spring and who wants to sew wool in the Spring.

(This is the second item I have made from this line of patterns - the first being this coat.)

Normally I’m not that bothered by how quickly I can sew something, but when my sewjo is on the wane, I need something quick and satisfying to enable me to tackle those dungarees I’ve had loitering for a few weeks. 

So, I made up the funnel neck version. This involves two shoulder seams and two side / underarm seams, a couple of tacks to hold the collar in place and sewing in a label so I don’t wear it backwards. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The wool is beautiful quality, its not scratchy although not as soft as I’d prefer, but I think that goes with the territory with boiled wool.

I made a couple of minor alterations; a forward shoulder adjustment and I stitched down my seam allowances, because I like the detail and I wasn’t sure how the wool would react to my iron. Oh and my iron has gone the route of the three irons I’ve had in the last three years. That is to say the automatic turn off gets fed up with my reliance on it and turns the thing off permanently. So I couldn’t iron it even if I had wanted to.

Whether you iron it or not, this glorious pattern is smart, is warm and is oh so quick.

See you soon x

(ps: nothing going on here other than I’m a huge fan of the patterns by The Makers Atelier and feel I should spread the word about their hugely wearable chic simplicity.)

Wedding Season

I claim here and in other conversations that I only really got back into sewing three years ago. However, I was thinking the other day about making wedding guest attire and realised that even when I wasn't doing a lot of sewing, I did pretty much always make outfits for the weddings and other 'gala' events I attended.  Note: I have never attended a gala.

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, the photos of these creations are three and a half thousand miles away, so instead I will describe the highlights to you.  Exciting stuff huh?

1997: There was the chocolate brown satin evening gown I made from Vogue 1367 for my final year ball at university. Including diamanté trim under the bust and a laboriously hand-stitched rolled hem on the fishtail done on the train to and from my parents' house one weekend. I remember absolutely nothing about that event.

c. 1999: There was the electric blue shot silk full length fitted skirt and matching blue sequined incredibly low cut top I made for my second work christmas black tie affair. This was decidedly more dignified than the previous year when my friend had a dance floor halter-neck jumpsuit malfunction and I covered the chairman in glitter.

Also c. 1999: There was the fitted empire line dress (a bit like BHL's Georgia) made out of fabric that should only have been used for ugly cushions, accompanied by an horrific reversible fake suede shrug as well as a fake fur hat that looked like I had a cat sitting on my head. This I wore to a wedding in a winery in the Czech Republic in freezing February where I was forced to drink Slivovitz.

2002: There was the scarlet, funnel neck, zip front, cotton, knee length jacket I made to wear with a white linen dress and a red Phillip Treacy hat to the very good weddings of very good friends. When I thought I was rich.

c. 2003: There was the pale blue chiffon halter neck affair I wrestled with and eventually in a fit of pique handed over to my mum to help me, that I wore to one of my best friend's weddings with awesome silver satin ballet style stilettos (really they were gorgeous) and a silver and blue trilby - much more fabulous than it sounds.

2003: There were the black crepe trousers with zip up the back, off which I left the waistband so they were almost indecently low cut, I wore with a beaded grey cami from Whistles and the same silver shoes mentioned above to a Christmas wedding. Doing Gene Kelly-inspired side kicks in said heels was sadly the end of them.

2010: There's the strapless, boned, fit and flare, cotton, orange, pink and yellow monstrosity I wore to the Mehndi of friends who got married in Goa. I then also wore it a few months later to another wedding - pouring myself into it as I was newly voluminously pregnant. To ward off first trimester enquiries I pretended to be as drunk as everyone else. By doing cossack dancing.

And then more recently there has been this and this and this and this. And now this:

It seems I have a long, potted history of sewing 'occasion wear' to varying degrees of comfort and second-wearability.

Wedding attire isn't usually measured on comfort, wearability and usefulness outside wedding season, but it seems so wasteful to have a significant section of my limited wardrobe space given over to dresses I have worn maybe twice at most. Yet, I can't get past the 'must have something new for the new wedding' mindset. So for the very good weddings of more very good friends and family this year, I wanted to be chic, carefree, comfortable but also consider a longer term future for my hard grafted over apparel.

I saw the inspiration for this combo of stretch, fitted off-the-shoulder top with ankle length full drapey skirt on Pinterest a while ago and loved the elegance and simplicity. I thought separates might also make the pieces more wearable. The top, for example, would look great with this skirt.

I can't remember why I chose this colour, but I know that I saw the soft spotty tulle that I used for the overlay on Mood's Instagram feed (dangerous dangerous feed to follow) and desperately wanted to incorporate it. So I think the choices stemmed from there.

The top is made in a thick rayon ponte and I think is exactly the same as that used for this. I found a vintage (is 1991 really vintage?!?!) pattern on Etsy, Simplicity 7228 that was so simple to make. To be honest I never got around to hemming the top (obviously I left the whole thing till the very last minute and was hemming the skirt by hand in the dark in my in-laws south west London garden the night before the wedding) and now I justify it as it will always be tucked in and by not being hemmed it creates less obvious bulk under the thin fabric of the skirt.

I've been wanting to join in on the whole off-the-shoulder trend for a while, I adore this for example, but every single peasanty RTW one I've tried on (I often try on RTW versions of styles i'm not sure of before I commit fabric and time to making something) looks horrendous on me. However, I think because this is more form fitting and less boho it suits me much better. 

The skirt is a Sewaholic Gabriola which I adore. I love that it is fitted over the hips and then has all these beautiful panels that create such gorgeous movement. I chose a maroon silk as the underlayer and the spotty tulle over the top and I adore the swish and swirl it creates. I french seamed every single last one of the 85 seams.

And because I was rushing to get it finished the night before I jumped on a plane, I obviously cut a hole in the fabric outside one of the seams I was trimming.  And then.

And then I decided to use wonder tape to hold the invisible zip in place whilst I stitched it because of the slippery nature of the silk. Big mistake. HUGE. Humungous mistake. Having never used wonder tape before, I failed to realise that stuff is sticky, really sticky and when you use it to hold an invisible zip in place it gets in the zip teeth and then you can't actually move the zip because you've essentially glued it shut. Aaagggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

At midnight I had to rinse my half made silk skirt to get the glue out of the zip before I could attach the overlay and the waistband. Which meant I had to let it dry, which meant I had to get up at 5am the following morning to finish it. Seriously, why do I do this shit?

Moving on. I haven't sewn an overlay type affair before, so I took a combination of guidance from the utterly amazing wedding dress Morgan made for her sister and some sage advice from my mum.

I wanted the overlay to be a little fuller than the skirt so it had additional movement but I didn't want it to be too gathered. My mum suggested using the fully constructed front and back of the skirt (before joining them) as a template from which to cut the tulle - rather than creating a tube which would restrict the movement of the bottom of the underlayer. I added a couple of inches to the width of the top to create a little extra fullness without needing lots of gathering and a couple of inches to the hem so that there was some distinction between the layers. I then sewed two side seams, the back seam up to the bottom of the zip, leaving above the zip open and raw edged, and then treated it as one skirt to attach the waistband. And I was absolutely delighted that it all worked out. 

For some reason, I was really nervous about wearing this. I think the combination of off-the-shoulder, separates and a long skirt seemed a bit out-there for a wedding - which is very strange as I really don't usually feel self conscious in my clothes at all. But in the end I felt fabulous and pretty chic and it is by far the most comfortable wedding season attire I have ever made. 

The weddings, by the way, were awesome; romantic, impeccably organised, full of love and joy and perfectly English.  I totally lost my voice after both of them, am in the process of losing a toe nail as a result of questionable dancing in fabulous but poorly fitting shoes and my mystery finger injury has just about healed. My clothing choices may have matured but my behaviour at 'gala events' does not seem to be showing any signs of improving.

See you soon x

ps: I've been wanting to write about this for ages, and had grand plans of photos being taken in a striking location, but that would have taken about three years to happen so I have these not so great photos instead. The one above, however, I love and is from the first wedding I wore it to. I promise Ben's matching tie is a total coincidence.

 

 

 

Ruffles

Do you ever think there are a finite number of silhouettes and styles? 

For me it seems that fashions have exhausted themselves.  There doesn't seem to be anywhere to go to create ground-breaking women's clothing.  All bases have been covered. So the only way to appease the questionable "need" for something different each season, is to go back to previous decades and find ways to make those fashions more palatable for now. 

I'm pretty sure that 10 years ago, if you'd have asked anyone if 80s fashion would be resurrected, they'd have shuddered and thanked all the things that there seemed zero chance of that happening.  Yet, as we are aware, we are well and truly in the midst of a huge 80s throwback; wide shoulders, neon, high waisted trousers, dungarees, high necked shirts, turtle necks, culottes, and: All. The. Ruffles.

And I have to say, that whilst I have no desire to repeat the shocking pink polka dotted ra-ra skirt with shoulder padded cropped jacket of my pre-teens, I really like the refined 80s details that are on trend right now. However long that may last for. See I don't hate fashion, I'm just intrigued by the way in which current trends draw on prior ones. I suppose this is like fine art or music - all good creative things must take inspiration from somewhere.

Aaaaannnyway.

I have never in my life worn ruffles. After the ra-ra skirt aberration, I was generally attired in a such a way that, combined with my height and then lack of curves, I was the girl who periodically, and to my horror, got mistaken for a fella. Pink ruffles were categorically NOT entertained.

But now they are.

This confection of a blouse is Simplicity 4122 which I got from Christine Haynes' destash earlier this year. It is very very similar to the Republique du Chiffon Suzon shirt, which I kind of prefer but when you snap up a pattern for a dollar, you kind of feel you ought to stick to it.  The main differences with this are the mandarin collar, the lack of bust darts and the way in which the ruffle is dealt with where it joins the placket. There are also various variations, some with sleeves - this is View F. 

I made a muslin, as I regularly do with tops, which resulted in a few minor changes. I did a forward shoulder adjustment, as well as lengthening the shoulder seam and placing the back pattern pieces quarter of an inch from the fold to accommodate my broad shoulders. And then design wise, I made the ruffle deeper as I wanted more of a statement - more like this. I didn't add to the bodice length as I normally would as I liked the slight cropped look.

I have worn it a lot since I finished it in July but realise looking at these pictures there are some issues.  I used red and white striped cotton (that looks pink) voile (I think?) and a white rayon challis to line the yoke. I obviously stretched the latter whilst sewing as the whole yoke pulls out of shape around the neck. I also failed to take into account, when widening the ruffle, about button placement, so the button that meets the ruffle had to be stitched on top of it. I am pretty sure the bottom of the placket lines up but it doesn't appear to in these photos.

And the rolled hem on the ruffle.  

Oh. My. Word.  What a total pain in the backside that was.  I decided to try and use a rolled hem foot which I've used once before when it worked like a dream.  

This did not. At all. Shouting and throwing things might have happened.

I will here on in revert to my foolproof rolled hem method.

The things I do like? The immaculate (!) bias binding I did on the armholes, the neat collar, and the 90 degree points on the top of the placket.  I've finally realised that trimming and poking through does not a neat corner make. But folding and pressing the excess along the seamline at the corner and using that to push the corner out gets a much better result - I discovered that here a while ago, but it took me a while to get the knack of it.

I haven't had a single nice comment about this and I get some funny looks when wearing it, but despite all of that, I like it.

I think I'll make it again, but in a more dynamic, less saccharine colour/ print, lengthening it through the chest a little and perhaps adding darts to remove some of the excess fabric around the bust. Or I could just bite the bullet and buy Suzon ...

So my first foray into ruffles, whilst not an unbridled success, is positive and I already have a second ruffly pattern in the offing. And I think ruffles have come far enough that I can ignore the comments about Spandau Ballet that my husband makes, as those of a person who is not at all, even remotely, fashionly clued up. Love him.

See you soon x

Seasonal Wardrobe Fatigue

At the beginning of summer, I'm so excited to not have to worry about layers and just be able to throw on a dress and sandals and head out.  By the time it comes to September, I am so utterly sick of every single dress I own and long for more 'interesting' combinations of clothing - that involve separates and layers and scarves.  

Don't get me wrong, summer is my time. Heat and the constant need for sunglasses and sunscreen fill my soul with light and if I could live somewhere where it was constantly warm I would jump at it.  Despite or perhaps because of hailing from the British Isles and all the weather systems that entails, I have no need for rain or cold. At all. (The latter is pretty hilarious given how goddamn cold it gets in this city).

That said, I definitely see the fun and interest in all four seasons, but I'm not someone who wishes them away (well perhaps in April, when it's still below freezing and winter has been going on for a lifetime - but that's my fault for living in NYC.) I do, however, constantly wish for interesting clothing arrangements.  

I made this dress in July and have pretty much worn it non-stop since, and consequently my relationship with it has soured and we're pretty close to breaking up, or at least putting ourselves 'on a break'. (I just watched 'How to be Single' on a plane, and for some reason Rebel Wilson saying 'OK, Season Three Ross' won't leave my brain.)

And now having looked at photos of it, I don't actually really like it that much on me. I clearly need to increase the armhole depth and the length hits me at the worst possible fat-knee place.

But before the relationship reached that stage of disgruntled overfamiliarity, I was utterly in love with everything about this dress. It is very simple, but incredibly flattering (at least so I thought) and in such a fabulous, take you anywhere (as Annie (my mum) would say) fabric, and so easy to throw on, feel pretty and go. Oh and the construction instructions are just brilliant.  Really, really good.

So, she is Ruby by the marvelous Tessuti made in a denim shirting from lovely Caroline of Blackbird Fabrics. I can't tell you how perfectly the fabric met my vision.  

I love a beautifully packaged independent pattern as much as the next sewing nut, but I also love how Tessuti are so honest with their patterns.  They are hand drawn and graded with no frills instructions but brilliantly drafted and the instructions always teach me something.

I've never used stabilising stuff when sewing before, but this pattern has you use it all around the neck and the armholes to ensure nothing stretches.  And it works a treat, there are absolutely no gapes anywhere.  I'll also, usually avoid visible bias binding like the plague, but it just works on this pattern and (shock, horror) I actually enjoyed every moment of putting it together.

I made very minor alterations to the pattern.  I decided to include a centre front seam as the fabric wastage would have been ridiculous if I'd cut both front and back on the fold. (I didn't put the seam down the centre back as I wanted to sew the keyhole and facing as instructed.) The seam is barely noticeable and then when I saw that a CF seam had been used on this awesomeness - after I'd finished the dress - I felt like the coolest kid. (I will be copying that next summer.)

I widened the neckline slightly and I added a load of length and then promptly took it all off again when hemming - this seems to be happening a lot; not sure what is going on with my deluded understanding of how long I am.

I love the cutaway shape of the shoulders - which is so flattering (if it's not all wrinkled due to being too high), and how, even though it trapezes out from under the arms it manages to hang in such a way that it shows some sense of your waist.  Perhaps this is because the side seams are essentially cut on the bias. I'm not sure but it's fab.

And with that I'm done writing about summer wear.  I made a lot more than I managed to blog, but as Morgan so eloquently writes, I don't need to sew all the clothes and I don't need to write about them all either.  

The love affair with this dress was all consuming and intense, but now I'm ready for trousers and shirts and myriad jackets and sumptuous scarves. Until May, by which time, I'll be all over her again like a rash. 

And that, my lovelies, is Seasonal Wardrobe Fatigue.

Much love

See you soon x

ps: it's been a bit sporadic of late, but Noble & Daughter turned 2 this week!

Oh hello there, LTNS*. And Mara's dress

So. It's been a while.  

(Every time I start a sentence with 'so' now, I can feel the eyebrows of a friend who reprimanded me for such grammatical terribleness hitting the ceiling.

Ah well, it's my party ...)

I've missed this little space, I didn't intend to drop out completely, and I have sewn a few things over the summer, but mainly I've been doing life.  

Life that includes awesome things like the BEACH, and long afternoons of kids playing in mud in the park, and watching Great Britain absolutely kill it at the Olympics, and going on vacation to England and drinking with old old friends, and meeting special babies, and hugging my family.

Life that also includes horrible things like spending three days in hospital with my five year old who, thanks to a fractured ankle earlier in the year, ended up with osteomyelitis in July. She had to endure MRIs and surgery and endless prodding, not to mention the utterly detested IV. And we had only walked into Immediate Care to check out her slightly swollen ankle. 

Thankfully she's recovered brilliantly and is now getting to grips with Kindergarten. Sob.

Consequently, sewing and writing about sewing got pushed from its position near the top of the 'most-important-things' pile for a couple of months.

And now it's nearly autumn and I have all these summery things I want to share, but given that it's still been 30+ degrees and about 80% humidity, I think I can write about summer sewing for a little while yet.

So, (there it is again Mike) shall we take a moment to look at this Mara Hoffman beauty;

Isn't this the most perfect summer dress: cool and breezy but also fitted and spaghetti-strapped, demure yet also not, stripes, mid-calf, gorgeous textured cotton. And feature pockets.  

And also $300.

I almost, almost put it on the plastic.  It's just so pretty.  

But then I saw that 1) the lining was polyester and 2) the stripes didn't match up at the side seams (which for $300 they really should), that 3) the back was shirred and 4) I don't have $300 to spend on a dress, and I decided that I could make a dress that approximated the look of this but didn't have the three things that I didn't like about it.  And for once also save myself a bunch of wonga. 

As an aside, I have to say that the thing that ultimately decides it for me on whether to buy RTW or not is the fabric. Not just the quality and fibre but the print.  It can be very hard to replicate something you see because you simply can't find a print or texture or drape that comes close to the thing you lust after.

But I did find some fabric (in Mood of course) that came within a mile and so I made this:

It's a slubby black and white linen rather than a waffley blue and white cotton but by using the wrong side, it comes close to the lovely fresh blue of Mara's dress.  The linen is a little heavy but actually, I think, works quite well with this style, giving a more structural look.

Next up was the pattern.  I couldn't find a pattern that came close, (although Republique du Chiffon released something similar when I was mid way through construction in May), so I did a bit of cut and shut with an out-of-print top pattern and the skirt from a vintage pattern and pockets from somewhere else.  I want to say Brumby but I'm pretty sure it wasn't as those pockets are so much bigger. This is the problem with it taking a long time to make something and then even longer to write about the details. (Plus having a memory like Dory.)

The top is McCalls 6325 which I remembered from this post and tracked down a copy on Etsy. I based it on view D but obviously added a skirt rather than the hideous handkerchief hem affair (for the record, in case you were interested, I irrationally HATE handkerchief hems). And the skirt was from a dress pattern of my mum's from the late 70s, Vogue 1860, which gave just the amount of gather and flare I was looking for.  (I really have to make that dress in full, it's so lovely.)

And the technical bits:

I made the bodice following the instructions, adding an inch to the length and narrowing the straps being the only real changes.  I followed the instructions for my size, but as you can see the cups aren't a great fit (even though I did make a muslin!) and I should have used bigger, or done something to make them deeper as they're not really form fitting.

I was super careful to match all the stripes across the placket and at the side seams.  I decided not to on the cups, mainly because I liked the way the mis-match on Mara's dress highlights the style lines.

The bodice is fully lined with some white cotton shirting which gives it nice structure.  I came a little unstuck with working the lining around the end of the placket. This doesn't open fully as the view I was making does, and I couldn't find a way to neatly enclose the end of the placket so it's just serged.  It doesn't look great on the inside but it works and actually holds everything securely in place.

The skirt was very simple. I initially thought I would pleat it rather than gather as that is more flattering on me, but the weight of the linen, the contrast of the fullness with the very fitted bodice and the casual nature of the dress changed my mind. I went all out with the stripe matching on the pockets and then gathered it and attached it to the bodice.

I didn't bother to recreate the separate wide band on the bottom of Mara's dress as I'm not entirely sure of its purpose and don't love the awkward break it creates in the stripe.

The buttons are self-covered and are functional, but as I forewent the back shirring and therefore stretch on the back, I needed to find an additional way to get the dress over my hips and / or shoulders, so I inserted a zip on the side seam (rescued from an old dress I might add.) This wasn't as difficult as I thought it was going to be but I did redo it a couple of times to get my stripes matching.

I hand-stitched the lining to the zip tape and hand-stitched the lining down to the waist seam. And, as I don't really need to undo the buttons to get it on and off, I think I will stitch the plackets together to keep them sitting straight, as they pull out of shape at the moment.

Verdict? I love it.  I need to shorten the straps as they keep falling down and I would like it if they joined the bodice slightly further apart, but I couldn't do that without changing the shape of the bodice top, which I wasn't convinced I could make work. The linen is a little heavy for the dress I had in mind, but the structure creates something quite different that I like.  And I kind of wish I'd used the right side of the fabric as the black and white would have been more dramatic. 

Sewing is a funny thing. It feels like it should be very precise and that you should come out with exactly what you envisaged, but for me it often feels like my 'A' level art projects. Something, namely my (in)ability, creates some kind of math aberration where ingredients in, does not necessarily equal ingredients out.

I think the heat is short-circuiting my brain, so it's probably best I go lie down.

I hope you have all had wonderful summers and wishing you much joy with a whole plethora of patterns and cosy fabrics for your autumn sewing.

See you soon(er) x

*LTNS = Long time no see.

ps: Thank you so much to the sweet-souled lady who sent me an email in the last couple of weeks.  She was just checking in, checking to see if I was OK as I haven't blogged in a while.  We don't know each other - other than through social media - and I was so touched that somebody took time out of their life to reach out. I know in the past I have wondered why someone has been so quiet and not thought to check in.  I wish I had.