An International Anna

So, today's post is a little homage to the glory of By Hand London and their Anna Dress sewing pattern.  BHL, as they are fondly referred to, design some beautiful sewing patterns and they specialise in feminine dresses with a bit of sexy and a bit of edge, but Anna has to be their masterpiece.

I have seen many many Annas all over sewing blog land - not least thanks to the International Anna Party which I'll get to - and it manages to look universally brilliant.  Thin or curvy, petite or tall, in quilting cotton or the slinkiest silk, maxi or midi, the Anna dress is flattering and beautiful.  And because the skirt isn't gathered or pleated but is still very full, she is the perfect canvas for showing off fabulous prints (if you ignore the insane pattern matching you have to do over the SIX skirt panels).  Which is what I thought when I found this glorious print whilst introducing my Mum to Mood back in April.

So, now I'm supposed to tell you what this fabric is.  Well I can tell you it's purple and green and pink with a kind of oversized pixelated floral print.  I can tell you I found it in the silk aisle in Mood, but was then informed it was actually at least partly synthetic and I can tell you that it feels crepe-y and perhaps like a fairly robust georgette but sadly I can not tell you what it actually is because a) I can't remember and neither can my mum and I never write these things down and b) I still haven't pulled my finger out and found a way to know what different types of fabric feel and look like.  Agh. 

Anyway, I found it, I liked it, we bought it and I put it away, half thinking I was going to make an Anna but not sold on the idea.  And then came Elle's invitation to an "International Anna Party".  Her plan was to celebrate her birthday with her sewing friends around the globe by all wearing a hand-stitched Anna to an Insta-party (that's a virtual party on Instagram for all those folk out there who don't spend a disproportionate amount of their waking life glued to their Instagram feed).  And there would be balloons and champagne and cake and PRIZES, so that was it, my unnamed fabric was clearly destined to become an Anna-shaped-pixelated-party-frock.

Pigeon toed dancing - well, c'mon it is a party ...

I have made Anna a couple of times before. Once as an unblogged maxi in black broderie anglaise and once in a knit as a knee length.  I don't wear a lot of V necks so I plump for the boat neckline and I did again here but I wanted to do something different.  I considered replicating this stunning backless dress but couldn't see how this flimsy fabric would cope with this kind of treatment, however, the low back idea would not be shaken.  In addition the fabric warranted the maximum area to show of its general fabulousness but I didn't want to max it so I decided on a mid-calf length.  

Knowing that my previous Annas have been fairly roomy in the bodice, I took some wise advice following my last sizing mishap and made a toile / muslin.  I ended up cutting a size 8/12 bodice and grading out to 10/14 at the waist and hips.  In total I added three inches to the bodice length; half an inch to the shoulder seam, an inch and a half at the lengthen / shorten line and an inch at the waist seam. I used the largest size on the pattern piece for the V neck variation to draw the V back and cut off 15 inches from the maxi hem to get the midi length I wanted.  This was after I had to tape back together the original tissue (fortunately I had kept the off cuts) as in my haste to make my first Anna I had just cut straight into it.  

Feeling incredibly smug and knowledgeable, as soon as I had cut out the fabric I stabilised the front and back neckline and back seam where the zip would be with pieces of the selvage.  It didn't occur to my smug self to do this on the purple china silk I used for the lining as well. It would have made my life so much easier further down the line had I done that.  The fabric is pretty diaphanous so I fully lined the whole dress.  I did this by using the same method I did for my Kleid Tanja which handily means you can finish the sleeves without having to slipstitch.  This trick is so clever and makes me feeling like some kind of sewing illuisionist. 

So all was going great and the fit was looking good and then of course because I got cocky, I hit a sewing snarl up.  I put the zip in - perfectly aligning my waist line seams and tips of the V back I might add - and tried it on and what had been a beautifully flat fitting V back, was now all manner of nasty gapey bubbly ick.  In disgust International Anna got screwed up and thrown in a corner for a week whilst I calmed myself down and found a solution.

I think the problem was a combination of a stretched out lining (shoulda stablised the lining too dummy) and my focus on getting the waistline seam etc to line up meaning the zip was inserted a little high and caused everything to bunch up, I think.  Anyway I wasn't going to unpick the zip - there lay disaster in such flimsy fabric - so google came to the rescue and using this guide, I created a small dart in the lining half way down each side of the back V and then gently gathered the shell fabric to fit.  This means the lining now sits flat to my back and has reduced the bubbling.  It isn't perfect, but if you don't look too closely it works.  If I was to do this again I would move the zip to the side seam as this would hopefully help avoid this situation and also there isn't really anywhere to hide the zip pull.

That resolved, the rest of the construction - all french seams etc - went smoothly.  Although I had to shorten the hem by a fair bit as all the flipping in and out to resolve the pesky neckline and machine attach the lining to the zip meant the unfinished hem frayed like crazy and I had to lop a few inches off.  So its shorter than intended but actually a pretty perfect length.

So I got to wear my dress to the ball and it was such a lovely idea and so wonderful to see the myriad creations this wonderful pattern can become thanks to the creativity of its designers and that of those who choose to sew it up.  If you want to see all the party-goers you can use #internationalannaparty on Instagram or go here.

Some notes:

Please excuse the bra strap peeking out in these pics (and the fact I haven't straightened the back properly when I put it on).  They were taken in haste about 30 seconds before the heavens opened - hence the lovely light now I come to think of it.

They were also taken at 8 am which caused my neighbour returning from her morning swim no end of confusion to see me prancing around fully dressed up with my kids in the street barefoot and still in their PJs.

The shoes are from LK Bennett about six years ago - they look so pretty and match the dress so perfectly but are unlikely ever to be worn with it as they are the single most uncomfortable pair of shoes ever.  EVER.

And lastly ...

I came second in the International Anna Party competition, which I am absolutely thrilled about.  People actually like what I sew - this is amazing!  And my prize was a BHL pattern of my choice (Zeena coming soon).  Which is immensely pleasing.  Major kudos and thanks to Elle and Ute and Pips for conceiving such a fun virtual way to spend a weekend and for inspiring so many to make so many more gorgeous (international) Annas.

See you soon x

Me Made May 2015 Review: Part One

So, I set myself the challenge of wearing one me made item of clothing each day during May.

Days 1 to 7 looked like this: 

#mmmay 15 day 1

Day 1 was the second day of our trip to DC and the first outing for a dress I finished a few weeks ago but the weather hadn't been warm enough to wear.  Neither was it on that day, but hey.  It's a copycat which I'm going to blog about soon based on the Grainline Studios Scout Tee.  The little 2 year old hoody by my side was being told off by the Secret Service (not so secret when they have that emblazoned on their bullet proof vests, but who am I to quibble) for trying to crawl under the barriers ...

#mmmay 15 day 2

I loved the Lincoln Memorial, such a monolithic, serene, peaceful beauty - even with the hoards.  Anyway, day 2 was a skirt I made last summer and I've worn to death. It was one of the first things I made out of a knit; is made of really low quality jersey that has faded and is saggy after a few hours of wear; and was self-drafted.  I forgot to account for the fact I need to walk so had to unpick one of the sideseams after I'd tried to walk to the subway in it and had to hitch it up around my knees to be able to move.  That all said, it's really comfortable and so easy to throw on for tooling around the 'hood ... I've already bought more jersey to make an updated version that might have a little more longevity.

#mmmay 15 day 3

Day 3 was a scorcher, so I wore my Republique du Chiffon Lucie Dress which is made out of Robert Kaufman's beautifully soft Union Dot Chambray with white piping at the shoulders.  Again I made this last summer and I loved the idea of it, but I don't love the reality of it on me.  The pattern and fabric are great together, and it's the perfect summer dress, loose and casual and breezy, but I need to lengthen the shoulders a bit and drop the waist further as it's clearly not long enough in the body.

#mmmay 15 day 4

Day 4.  Back in cooler Brooklyn and out came the Gingers along with a tank I've been planning for ages.  It's the Eucalypt tank by Megan Nielsen made in less than a yard of a gorgeous greeny green green silk /cotton mix that my mum used to make a dress in the 80s I think.  I've made the Eucalypt before but I think I finally got the fit right.  I dropped the shoulders by an inch and scooped out the neckline a little more and it's great - a little tight on the hips due to lack of fabric, but I'm calling this a win.  Although I should add:  I HATE BIAS BINDING.  But that's a story for another day.

#mmmay15 day 5

Day 5:  This is by far my favourite combination so far, probably due to the newness and novelty of the gaucho pants and sandals, but my lovely knit Belcarra has finally found its perfect match.

#mmmay 15 day 6

Day 6: Ginger jeans again, with a t-shirt I hacked up last summer.  It's got a fab line drawing of Brooklyn Bridge on it so I cut off the arms, neck and hem to make it a little more feminine.  I had never thought of wearing it with jeans before as it's quite short, but all solved by the lovely high waist of glorious Ginger. 

#mmmay15 day 7

#mmmay15 day 7

Day 7: This dress is so much fun to wear and if I wasn't trying to see how far I can extend my me mades, and if laundering wasn't essential sometimes, I would pretty much wear this every day in Spring. 

I've really enjoyed Me Made May so far and I've discovered a few things.

I have many more me-mades than I gave myself credit for.

When I've wanted to wear jeans I've put on my Gingers, when normally I "reserve them for best" - like I'm living in the 1950s  - so I am actually making much more use of my handmade clothes than I do normally.

Many of the things I've been wearing were things I made last summer, which is lovely to know that I still like them and they have lasted this long. But it has made me realise is that it's a lot easier to wear handmade in the summer - I think I'd would really struggle to do this in May if I lived in Australia, which makes this the only time I've ever been glad not to live there. So, my winter sewing needs to be addressed.  Not right now, clearly.

What has has been interesting is how much I've planned ahead.  I never do this, I normally throw on what I feel like wearing that day after a cursory check of the weather app. It may sometimes involve raiding the laundry basket. It regularly involves outfit changes and swearing. It often involves settling for the easy options of jeans and tees - most of the latter I really don't like.

Having to think about wearing a specific type of something has really made me plan and also made me be more creative with the outfits I put together.  And prompted me to wear things that often I'd deem not practical for my day.

It also made packing for our trip to DC so much easier. I planned what I was going to wear each day, threw in a "what if the weather app is wrong / a child is sick on me" extra outfit and I was done.  This is SO much more economical than my normal packing, which is - "well that's my favourite I've got to take that, and that has to come and oh must take three pairs of jeans and an extra jacket just in case".  It's been a packing revelation.

On the downside, Me Made May has only worsened my Instagram habit. I love sharing pics and see what everyone else is wearing and the conversations and relationships that are built from that. It's completely addictive, I think because it's such a friendly, supportive online space.  

All hail Zoe for conjuring up this remarkable sewing institution.

See you soon x