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.

crinkle silk 3

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.

crinkle silk 2

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

 

I made a hat. And went on a march. And before that I made a skirt.

I haven't really been sure how to write this post. I absolutely want to tell all the lovely people who relate when I say sewing keeps me sane, and come here to read about fabric and stitching about the sumptuous velvet skirt I made (see details below). But, also, given that the majority of lovely people who do come here are women, I have to mention the stunningly powerful thing women all around the world did last weekend. The Women's March.

I knit a Pussy Hat and I got on caravan of buses and I went to DC. To show that I am not prepared to accept the archaic, bigoted and dangerous policies of the new administration. To show solidarity. To stand with the millions of other women, and men, who feel that basic human rights and equality are at stake.

I have always seen myself as a well-informed, liberal person who is not afraid to stand up to defend myself when required. But mostly, as a white middle-class woman, there aren't so many times that is required. I protest vehemently on Facebook (to other mostly white, middle-class people), I've marched a couple of times for things that matter to me and I always exercise my right to vote, but I've never actually "needed" to be politically active. 

And then I went to DC and I realised that whether I need things or not, is not the point. I am a woman, so I should help defend the rights of all women. I am an immigrant, a privileged, white immigrant, so I should be helping defend the rights of all immigrants, especially those who don't have the "benefit" of my skin colour or background. I have never had an abortion but I know many women who have and I should defend their right to do with their body what they choose with the same ferocity I defend my own right to choose what happens to my body. I have children who I was lucky enough to carry and give birth to in a country where pre-natal care is free, non-judgmental and available to all (that being the UK not the US). So I should speak up so that others have that right no matter where they live or who they are. 

Somebody enabled me to have all of those things. They didn't just happen. People, women, protested, sacrificed and were well aware that the changes they achieved might not happen in their lifetime; but they did it because it was right. 

For the first time in my life I understand that it's not enough to just nod and agree and talk. If I believe in true equality for everyone; believe in the fact that a human being can not be illegal; believe in keeping others' minds and hands off my and my daughter's bodies, then I have to DO something.

And so I'll be doing. And when I'm not I'll be sewing. (Because I'm a woman and we can do and be anything and everything.)

Here's the pretty skirt (details at the bottom):

The Sewing Stuff:

  • Top is a modified Named Clothing Inari Tee - I used the V neckline from Papercut Patterns Sway dress as the template for the neck. I made a facing to correspond to that and omitted the sleeve cuffs.
  • The sandy black silk charmeuse is from Mood Fabrics.
  • The absolutely beautiful fluid, shiny, mushroom grey silk velvet for the skirt is from Chic Fabrics, which I believe is sadly closing. It was only $15 / yard.
  • The pattern is adapted from a 1970s shirt dress pattern (Vogue French Boutique 1860 from the Renata line) that was my mums and I also used for the skirt of this dress.
  • I added a 1 inch elastic waistband, stretching and serging the elastic to the waistband and skirt fabric, before folding the waistband in on itself to create even gathers.
  • The pockets are lined with dark grey cotton voile.
  • I finger pressed all the seams and steamed them with the iron and catch stitched the hem.

I hope my political enlightenment wasn't too much for a sewing blog and to see you soon. xx

 

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.