Sewing with butterflies' wings

This dress is one giant step out of my comfort zone. Huge that step, huge. I don't wear chiffon or sheer fabrics really and I certainly don't sew with them. "Why would one create that headache for themselves," generally being my stance on chiffon related matters. But I'm told it's very good to challenge oneself and I understand it's also good to see others creating such wondrous things that your envy and FOMO forces you to suck it up and throw your hat in the ring too. (Debbie and Ellen have a lot to answer for.)

So I did. And this is the result.

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Lets talk fabric first. Because that's what we all really care about, right?

This dreamy, super wafty, light as fairies' wings (again to quote Debbie) is a Liberty Crinkle Silk Chiffon from the collection on The Fabric Store's website. They have a huge selection of Liberty fabric, a lot of which isn't really me, but this had such a subtle, beautifully-coloured wildflower print and its softness and floatiness was really all it took to turn me. So it arrived in all its gorgeous butterfly-like gauzy, delicate softness (and wideness) and then I got the fear and let it sit and stew for a really long time, as the thought of cutting it was too terrifying.

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And also, I had pattern dilemma. I fully intended to use a Stoff & Stil pattern I've had hanging around for a while. It's a simple spaghetti strap sundress which is the same front and back and has a lining and top layer, the latter of which is gathered into the neckline of the lining and then has a ruffle that is gathered into the upper part of the dress. The pattern doesn't seem to be on their website anymore, but this is similar.

I've never worked with anything like a Stoff & Stil pattern before. You choose your size when ordering and when the pattern arrives its made of a lightweight fabric that I can't name. It has notches cut into it where required and all the pieces are full width, not on the fold. The instructions are in a whole bunch of different languages and whilst not illustrated were perfectly clear. They have a large selection of patterns to choose from, but it seems they don't keep them around for too long.

Anyway, back to the epic procrastinating ...

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My dilemma was how to make the most of the movement of the silk. The lining that comes with the pattern is a fairly full A-line shape and as Rina, who responded to my pleading about how to line it, said, the chiffon would get sucked into the folds of the fabric underneath - especially if it was the voile I originally intended to line it with - and lose all its ethereal drama.

I decided that silk would be needed to line it as the two would slip and slide off each other, so I headed to Mood and found an ivory silk crepe de chine that works perfectly colour wise. Then I decided that the lining needed to be pretty form fitting, and that meant bias. And THAT meant the Sadie Slip Dress from Tessuti. So I printed off Sadie and traced the neckline of the Stoff & Stil pattern onto her and that was my pattern dilemma solved.

Still, however, couldn't bring myself to get out the shears. 

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And then I was on the subway and listening to the Love to Sew podcast and specifically the one about levelling up your sewing and how one of the ways to do that was to tackle trickier fabrics. And I thought; I'm a competent sewer, I've sewn with tricky slippery fabrics before, what's the worst that can happen.

Cue quick flashback to being 19 and sewing a lined deep red bias cut chiffon spaghetti strap dress for my first year university ball and getting myself in such a state with it I had to enlist my mum to finish it. But I was totally feeling Caroline and Helen's words so I got home, laid out the butterflies' wings and went to it.

I have no real guidance on how to work with super lightweight fabrics, as my cutting wasn't very accurate. All I would say is choose a pattern that is forgiving; don't cut on the fold; placing the fabric directly on the carpet allows some friction so it doesn't move too much; and use weights as well as fine fine pins, again so that it doesn't move too much.

The crepe de chine was a little easier, but again I used all the above methods and got a pretty good result. 

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In terms of construction. Actually sewing this stuff isn't that hard but it does fray like a B. I used a super sharp needle, loosened my tension a little and lengthened my stitch. I french seamed everything, including the seam where I attached the ruffle and I made a tiny rolled hem on both the lining and overlay. I made a couple of errors: my straps are upside down so you can see the seam. I opted to only use the lining fabric for the straps as I feel the chiffon would be too delicate to stand up to that job.  I also matched the wrong sides when joining the lining to the overlay so the french seams on my lining are on the outside. But there was no way in a million years I was unpicking this fabric and they aren't really that visible, unless you're super picky. Like me.

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And you'll notice that the dress dips down a little at the back. I had toyed with the idea of doing this when I was levelling out the hem, but then decided it would be too tricky. Turns out my hem levelling leaves a lot to be desired as I got my dipped hem totally by accident.

I wore this dress for the first time on my wedding anniversary when Ben and I had a kid-free day and chose one of those days where we just went with what we felt like doing, which turned out to be street art and croissants in Bushwick, food trucks in Williamsburg, lying in the grass in Central Park, queuing for ice cream on the Lower East Side, cocktails in Nolita and dinner in Cobble Hill. A mish-mash tour of this city of many faces.

It was a fun day and I felt so comfortable despite the heat and got no less than five unsolicited compliments from random strangers about my dress.

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So it seems that stepping outside my comfort zone is worth it.

See you soon x

 

Learning to draft

Over the past 18 months I've been taking patternmaking courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan.

(BTW what is up with that name? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.)

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Other than wanting to learn more about drafting and how I can make exactly what I want from scratch, the reasons for doing this have been a little hazy. However, as the possibility of my Green Card arriving, and the associated ability to work gets more real, and as my little one starts Kindergarten in the fall, my desire to have gainful occupation outside of the home (and MONEY!) for the first time in five years is emerging rapidly from its slumber.

I have no intention of returning to my previous career in marketing. Just the thought of it gives me hives. And actually, after a hiatus of 5 years, I don't think the hives are just from my pure hatred of my previous profession. There is a hefty lack of self-confidence and major self-doubt wound up in there as well. Increasingly I find myself coming back to doing something that involves sewing and / or manipulating large sheets of tissue paper.

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I don't know, we'll see, but the by-product of this is that I am now able to design and draft patterns for myself for clothes I especially want but for which I can't find a pattern. My skills are still immature but the more I practice, the better I get and the more things click into place.

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I'm often in awe of people who don't need a pattern, who just use measurements and scissors and create incredible items of clothing, like Julia and Cotton and Curls and a friend on my pattern cutting course. I'm not that person; I need rules and a process. I need to refer to notes and be methodical, taking whatever process I am doing, one step at a time. I'm that person who likes filling out forms and follows instructions booklets to the letter.  

It's hard sometimes to marry that side of my brain with what is supposed to be a creative pursuit. But actually patternmaking manages to satisfy both of those Charlies. I am translating a vision and a creative design into a reality by using straight lines and (a little bit of) math(s) and width of a pencil line accuracy. I LOVE it. 

This dress is one of the results of that process.

I had seen a dress similar to this somewhere and could not get it out of my head. Knowing that I wanted to make it, I used the flexibility within the brief of my final project last semester to recreate it. I think the original was created in a viscose or something similar but this is made in a rich burgundy mid-weight cotton twill from Mood.

It's a pretty simple design really, the skirt is a mid calf length A-Line with side scoop pockets, a centre back invisible zip and side slits. For the top I traced my bodice block and drew a square neckline and inch wide straps that cut away to join the skirt waistband at the side seam.

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Similarly, I used the back bodice sloper to draw the shape of the back pieces. Knowing I wanted them to meet at centre back, be wider at the waist and to have a triangular but slightly curved shape to them. This I played around with for a while and when it came to making a muslin, I took out quite a lot of length on the inside seamline, so that straps stayed put, didn't bag out and created a subtle curve. This means that the seamline is kind of on the bias, so I was extra careful to reinforce it with staystitching. and in future I think even interfacing tape, so that it wouldn't stretch out. Having learnt a hard lesson on that from this dress.

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The bodice is fully lined and I used the hide-it-all-inside-the-straps-and-hope-to-hell-it-doesn't-get-stuck-in-there burrito method to give a completely clean finish.

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Overall I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The bodice darts need a little adjustment as there is extra fabric in there and they have a tendency to get pointy. I think if I was doing this again, I would take some volume out of the skirt, or alter the length, as the whole look tends a little towards "trainee nun's apron". But as I mentioned in an Instagram post the other day, if this is of the radical nun persuasion as Sasha sometimes refers to her incredible, chic style, then I'd be OK with that!

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So, if nothing else, FIT has given me the ability to make my wardrobe even more one of a kind and the chance to waste endless hours drawing shapes and cutting them out, which is unbelievably therapeutic.

Where do you find your therapy?

See you soon xx