Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Annals of Bag Making #1

Even though I have wardrobe work to do, I decided to spend some of my sewing time this week making and thinking about bags, some of which are intended for my Etsy shop. I haven't made anything new in ages -- in fact, I only just put the shop back online after months in "vacation mode" due to being too ill and busy to even deal with the simple things like packing up and posting anything that sold. I'm really happy to have enough energy to be back at it now, but I wanted to stick to things that were easy and fun to make.

Front of Oyster card holder
The first thing I made was actually not for my shop, it was a replacement gift for a friend. The very first thing I ever made, just over a year ago, was an Oyster card holder. I kept one for me and sent one to a friend. My friend unfortunately misplaced hers earlier this month and I promised to replace it. Can I just say, I have NO IDEA why the very first thing I ever made was in oilcloth. Crazy. I would love to say the new one was orders of magnitude better, demonstrating how much I'd improved over the year, but apparently I'd forgotten how to sew in oilcloth between then and now so they were equally naff!

Inside (I added a snap later).
Still, I did get one thing right compared to last time: I put a fabric layer inside so that I could attach the snap fastener more easily! The fabric in both cases is just scrap -- scrap oilcloth with a cupcake for the outer, and pink polka dot scrap for the interior on the inside, and a little tiny piece of a Japanese print I got from an Etsy seller as part of a bundle right back at the very start of my sewing adventures as the fabric front of the pocket. My friend is a big fan of cats, so I made sure to cut it so the little cat was in the middle of the pocket. :D

Next, I made a purple wool Box Bottom clutch, using a pattern by Michelle Patterns (formerly Keyka Lou). I've made a couple of these before, one almost identical in fact with the same wool fabric but a different lining and different embellishment. The wool is a vintage piece I picked up on eBay. It's really thick but it refuses all interfacing, so the clutch is kept rigid using a scrap piece of heavy canvas as interlining.

The lining is a piece of cotton/poly mix. It was on the top of my scrap bag because I used it to make part of the lining of my A-line polka dot skirt, and I grabbed it for this. I've got a tiny bit left, probably enough for another lining of something small one of these days.

Weirdly, the most difficult thing with this clutch, other than the final top stitch through so many layers, was making that tiny little bow on the front. I ruined about a metre of ribbon trying to make them. One useful tip I picked up from garment sewing though was sewing onto tissue paper, and in the end I made three little bows that worked, of which this is the only one that didn't end up totally lopsided by the time I finished futzing with it. It turned out pretty well though overall! (And it's for sale here.)

Michelle Patterns new iPad case pattern. YAY. :D
I've also got a Foldover Clutch cut out and ready to sew, and will hopefully get that done this weekend as well. They tend to sell quite well, so long as I make the large size. Michelle of Michelle Patterns also released her new iPad case which I am ULTRA EXCITED for. She made one ages ago for herself, I guess, and I have been longing ever since for the pattern to come out. I bought it pretty much two seconds after she announced it, as I've held off making or buying a case for my iPad until she released it. Now that it's finally available, it's at the top of my list to sew for myself ASAP.

Last year's Xmas present for my SIL
The other big thing on my list is a bag for my sister-in-law for Christmas. Last year I made her a blue faux suede Evelyn bag from the pattern by ChrisW Designs. ChrisW's are the most reliably complex patterns I've found out there -- only Amy Butler's Style Stitches bags are equally complicated. I'm not 100% in love with ChrisW's instructions, mainly because the cm conversions aren't always right, but they're not bad.

The proof is in the longevity of the bags I think. I made a "usable muslin" of the Evelyn bag for myself because I didn't want to screw up the one for my SIL. I've used it constantly for over a year and it's still in great shape and I love it. I think that bodes well. My SIL's only complaint was that it was kind of small for someone who totes around everything and the kitchen sink, so I am eyeing larger patterns.

My own Josephine design bag.
Currently in contention: Olivia or Abigail by ChrisW Designs; the "Too Cool for School Satchel" from Lisa Lam's new book, A Bag For All Reasons; a large improved version of my own Josephine bag design; or a new design of mine that I've been thinking about on and off for ages. I'm not sure I'll have time to really perfect a new design for her before Christmas with everything else I have to do. Although, last year I handmade almost all my gifts and this year I'm just hand making the one for my SIL, so that should make things easier.

I kind of want to make whatever I choose more funky that the blue suedette one (though that had a very colourful inside) so I'm also wondering what fabric I could get. Obviously the thing to do is go to the factory shop once my PhD is done and see what I can find, but if I make Abigail, for example, I probably don't want home dec weight -- the seams are too heavy to sew. I went looking last night for interesting quilting weight, and I do like this funky Union Jack fabric. So, yes, a lot of brainpower over the last few days has been expended on thinking about bags again, which is actually kind of exciting.

Meanwhile, I've also been contemplating Skirt #5. I really thought I was going to make that Ottobre pattern I talked about before, but on sober reflection (... and someone on PR going D: at me at the thought of matching the lining pattern at the seams, which I had never even thought about) I've decided to make another Simplicity 8664, but this time in View A with the front vent. MANY fewer seams to match! I still need to buy a zipper though first.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bits and Pieces #3

I'm not going to repeat my EPIC RANT that I like to give people about how quilting fabric collections aimed at people making for kids enforce incredibly rigid gender roles (it's really an EPIC rant, it's kind of fun except for the part where my feminist rage is usually met by blank eyed boredom). However, I do like to give kudos when people produce fabrics that AREN'T rant worthy. This is my favourite new quilting fabric, and if it weren't £12/m + ludicrous P&P to get it, I'd buy tons of the stuff:

GIRL PIRATES. I love the captain and the cat staring at each other, and the girls with swords and maps and just. Yes. Adorable AND not rant worthy. It's Sarah Jane for Michael Miller, and it's from the brand new Out To Sea Collection. I think this comes in three colours, but once I saw the price on my local suppliers I stopped pretending I was going to buy some, I'm afraid. If I make it out to the US (where it's literally half the price, as always) in the next 6 months, I'll see if I can get some then.

In other news:

1. I am finally back in the bag-making groove and I finished a clutch! I'll post more about it this weekend when I have photos and it's up on my shop.

2. I took advantage of an offer on Craftsy to buy the brand new Beginner Serging class. I am not totally convinced by the Craftsy thing, but I feel like I need something as I don't know what I am doing with my overlocker at all, really, and none of the books I've found online have really grabbed me. I don't think I would have gone down the Craftsy route if I'd had to pay full price (£25? No.) But I got it for £9.50, which is only the price of an actual book, so it was a decent price for a video. I doubt I will be making any of the additional projects though -- though I will definitely make the stitch book.

3. Not at all relatedly, since I haven't even started the Crafsty videos, I managed to get my overlocker to do four thread ... something stitch. I don't know. It's the one you use to make seams in knits anyway. \o/ As soon as my ball point overlocker needles arrive I am ALL SET and can make my first knit top in seriously the most VILE knit floral known to humankind, which I bought specifically for this purpose.

4. If I had all the money in the world (which I plan to, by winning £80m on the lottery on Friday) I would get pretty much all the Jalie knit top patterns. I did that thing where I went through and just put everything I wanted in the "shopping basket" in the UK retailer that sells it, and then when I got to the end of the Jalie list, looked at how much it was: £106. Why is my appetite for patterns so much larger than my bank account? :(

5. Also, I'd buy a LOT of Style Arc patterns, except dear god, postage AND you have to pick a single size. I'm doubtful.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Knits That Fit #1: the Quest!

I should be writing my PhD thesis, but I've spent two days feeling like death as a result of the medication change I had on Wednesday. Ugh. Anyway, quick break to think about sewing before I forge on with the writing.

Where am I on my wardrobe plan? Well, between shopping and sewing my bottom half is almost fully outfitted for a winter at work, hurray! My remaining to do list for "bottoms":

1. Hem Skirt #4. Not looking forward to this as the fabric is so badly behaved. Will get to it this week.
2. Make skirt #5. The pattern is already traced and cut out, the fabric is prepared, so "make it" means: cut the pieces, make the skirt & lining, and finish, review and post about it.

Ottobre 2008/5. I will not be making a 70s style top to go with mine.
Skirt #5 was a late addition to the mix after I suddenly realized I didn't have a plain black skirt in my wardrobe. I have decided to go for a black pencil skirt but in a gored, lined pattern from Ottobre, specifically 2008-5-12, modelled on the right of this photo. I picked up some black wool mix online , and I'm going to use a patterned grey and white lining I had in stash. When the wool arrived, though, it was very thin, and in certain lights you can see through it to the lining beneath. It's a really interesting effect, though I don't know yet whether it's good-interesting or weird-and-bad-interesting. I guess time will tell.

The next thing on my list was to make some knit tops. In preparation for this, in between pounding headaches, I went through my wardrobe looking for knit tops I liked that I could copy. I wanted knits that were work appropriate, not so much rectangle + sleeves t-shirt type tops which are too sloppy for work for my tastes. I came away more or less empty handed, and the problem is, as always, my bust.

Maybe I should sing I'm a little teapot
I have a 14cm difference between top and full bust, and 21cm difference between full bust and ribcage. This puts me firmly in ultra-busty territory (H cup bras, anyone?) which is a nightmare to shop for. In general, my knit tops fell into two categories: Boobs Ahoy!, where the rest of the top, especially the neckline, fit nicely, but the top strained unattractively over the bust; and I Have Cut A Hole In A Knit Tent, where in order to stop the straining I bought 1-2 sizes up, meaning that my shoulders practically fit through the neckline and it swamps me around the hips.

Here is a lovely example of the latter, a top from LTS in size Large that I only just bought. Observe the bra strap inconveniently on show! The 3 acres of (unstretched!) fabric hanging at each side of my hip! It's also much too long, but that's because I mis-read the description and though it was a t-shirt when it was a tunic, so that's entirely my own fault. I am contemplating whether I want to try to alter it to fit a little between at the waist/hip/length, but there's nothing to be done about the neckline I don't think.

"Tip me up and pour me out!"

This is probably the best knit top I own. It is from Next, it was very cheap, and I would have bought more colours as I like it so much except the only other colours they made it in were yellow and orange, which, with my skin tone? No, unless I WANT to look like I am about to die. It's a dolman sleeve and (not visible) although it is a knit the shoulders and back yoke are in a woven fabric, which I find I really like.

On the plus side, this top doesn't show bra strap, it drapes nicely over my bust, and it's neither too tight nor too loose. I think what I like most about it is the understated shaping of the body -- it's relaxed fit, but it is curvy at the same time.

 On the minus side, it's very short-sleeved and thus no good for winter. It has a narrow band at the hip, which is not a look I prefer. I also think if it were just 2-3cm longer, I'd be happier with it. But it's not bad, and though I only bought it this summer I've worn it quite a lot already.

Enquiring on Pattern Review what anyone might recommend for the very large busted knit wearer, what I got was a ton of people recommended Pamela's T-shirt Pattern for "real" women. I immediately have three problems with this pattern and company.

Pamela's Perfect T-shirt for real (ugh) women
1. ALL WOMEN ARE REAL WOMEN, NO MATTER WHAT THEIR BODY LOOKS LIKE. The answer to the fashion industry telling us we're not worth dressing if we're not a perfect perky UK size 8 with B-cup breasts is NOT to turn around and tell people who ARE perfect perky size 8s that they aren't "real women". Let's not actually make the body shaming WORSE, shall we? That set my teeth on edge from the start. I don't want to support an independent pattern maker who uses that language. I'm not going to go into that on the PR forums though.

2. It's $18 to send me a pattern in the UK. Is it being hand-delivered by a coach driven by transfigured mice? It's $4 to send a typical pattern US->UK first class, which I know because I just had someone send me one. I can (and do) live with people doubling this and charging $8-10 for postage because, whatever, it's a nuisance to do international postage, I get it. But $18 postage for a $12 t-shirt pattern? Yeah, I don't think so.

3. I REALLY don't like darts in most knit fabric. If it's a heavy substantial knit without much stretch, then maybe, or sometimes if there's a busy pattern to hide it. For a typical lighter jersey or slinky knit in a single colour, which is what I mainly want to wear? Ugh, no. I've seen reviews where it's like "Oh, I've made loads of t-shirts with darts and they look great!" and then you look at the photo and the dart is a horrible wriggly line pointing straight at their nipple. DNW an ugly arrow shouting BREASTS HERE on my t-shirt, thanks. I am sure there are people who sew it beautifully and it looks great but as a beginner to knits (and bust darts!) I think I have to assume mine would fall at the "appalling" end of the spectrum.

What a lot of people suggested though was to find places to rotate the darts to, which makes a lot of sense. I've started looking at patterns I have with an eye to wear I might add fullness without going down the fugly dart route. As ever, Pepperberry was a useful source of inspiration, being as how they make jersey tops designed for very large busted women (but as always, charge far more than I am willing to pay. Have you noticed a trend in my blog is how very cheap I am? I REALLY am. I'm not even going to pretend I'm not.)

Burda 2012-10-114A
Pepperberry sell two darted design jersey tops at the minute, and half the reviews are "the darts look terrible and are like a line pointing at my bust". (I AM NOT ALONE.) Other than that, there's a lot of ruching, gathering and pleating going on. Pepperberry have a very specific manufacturing challenge (which I talked about here) which I don't, so some of their solutions (tops cut at empire level with a separate skirt in particular) I don't have to worry about reproducing. What I need though are patterns for tops where I can move some fullness into similar design details.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

This is from Burda 2012/10, which just arrived. Not sure about the dubious not-very-straight ruching, and the fabric is just VILE, but the idea is clearly there!

Ottobre 2012-5-11
Very similar, from the most recent recent Ottobre is this blue jersey top. I feel like I might need to extend the ruching downwards a little, but I am pretty sure I could muslin that and work it out. There are three other jersey top with gathers at the neckline in Ottobre, plus the Hot Pattern Sunshine top I've mentioned a couple of times has a ton of gathers. I also went mad and ordered the J Stern t-shirt pattern, on the grounds that the description specifically mentions an FBA being easy, and if I need to I will fork out the $44 (ouch) for her video class on PR.

Ottobre 2007-2

That's just the patterns I own! I am also going to keep an eye out for patterns I don't current have that might work.

What I'd really love is to think of a way to modify a couple of other Ottobre jersey top patterns that DON'T have an easy design feature to do so. The main one I want to do is the famous Rose Top that everyone loves so much. I keep wondering if I could rotate the dart and somehow put gathers around the point of the V-neck like this Hot Patterns dress.

The upshot of all of which is: my epic quest for a knit top that fits has begun!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Reviewed: Simplicity 5351 (Gored skirt)

LTS skirt: £40
Simplicity 5351 (view C upper right)
For skirt #4 of my radical re-imagining of my Autumn/Winter work wardrobe, I used Simplicity 5351 to recreate a Long Tall Sally skirt I pinned ages ago. I liked the shape of the LTS skirt with a wide twirly hem but no fullness over the hips, but not the colour (very pale grey) or the price (£40 originally, though later spotted on sale for £25). Actually, I intended originally to buy and use the very similar PR Best Pattern of 2010, Simplicity 2451. However, although a couple came up on eBay they always ended up practically full price and I had no real interest in paying £10 for a skirt pattern. I managed to get S5351 for £2.50 inc. p&p, which is much more my speed. There aren't too many reviews of S5351, but those that exist are positive.

BEFORE I START: I haven't hemmed this yet, so please forgive the awful ragged looking hem! /o\ I had to take photos while the sun was (for once) shining. Also, please forgive the triffid like plants that seem to want to cuddle up to the skirt and my camera at all times. (Review also here)

My skirt, as modelled by Flossie
Pattern Description: From the (uninformative) pattern envelope: Misses Skirts in Three Lengths. My description: Unlined gored or pleated skirts in various lengths with yoke waistband. I made view C, a knee length gored skirt.

Pattern Sizing: Sizes 4-20 are available. My envelope contained sizes 12-20. I made a 20 with no alterations.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, I think so. It's sort of hard to tell because it's just a line drawing.

Were the instructions easy to follow? This pattern is part of the "Made Easy" range of Simplicity patterns, and came with very clear instructions.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? It's a very simple pattern so it's hard to have strong likes or dislikes about it! I do like the flippy hem and the yoke waistband. I dislike unlined skirts, especially if they're made of wool, but that was easily resolved by interlining.

As modelled by me
Fabric Used: Fashion fabric: a wool mix in mid brown. I love the texture of this fabric as it's really soft to touch. However, even though I like it to look at and wear, I HATED it with a fiery passion by the time I finished the skirt as it was a nightmare to work. It shredded! It MELTED if the iron was even a tiny bit too hot! It stretched while I was sewing, but not in a way I could predict and counter! I am pretty sure the yoke SHRANK when I interfaced it, even though I'd previously tumble dried the fabric. It was the absolute worst, in short. I really thought this skirt was going to end up in the bin because halfway through making it the fabric had stretched in all sorts of weird ways and I was having to unpick seam after seam and put it back together. However, for some reason I persevered and it came out mostly OK I think. Still, I had some left and it went straight on eBay as I am never ever sewing with it again, let me tell you.

Burnt orange acetate interlining, with fancy seam finish
Lining: The colour of this acetate interlining is apparently "burnt orange" although I think it's more copper. It's is a colour I like but would never normally wear. I am glad to have had the chance to use it somewhere, even if it can't be seen! Unfortunately, I didn't have quite enough to do a good job of interlining, so the hem of the lining is kind of a mess.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: As with previous skirts I have made, I interlined/seam finished this skirt using the method described by PR user julieb in this tip. View C is supposed to have piping at the yoke/skirt panel seam but I decided not to use it on this occasion.

Naff action shot so you can see the flippy hem!
Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, I would definitely sew it again. It's such an easy pattern, just three pattern pieces (yoke, side panel, centre panel) and if I hadn't been sewing in that horrible fabric and interlining it would have been very easy to put together as well. It has a nice full hem without being full over the hips. I think it's a very flattering style for the right body shape. I'd recommend it, especially to beginners as the instructions are pretty good. There's not much variety in the pattern envelope, though, just shorter and longer versions, some yoke embellishments that I pretty much ignored, and one inverted pleat mini skirt.

Conclusion: An easy skirt pattern that even a beginner should find straightforward to make.
This is a terrible photo but my shoes are GREAT.

Extra notes

Costs: Unfortunately, the vendor of the wool appeared to have cut my fabric with a hatchet. It was so uneven across one edge I lost at least 15cm of usable length off the 2m that I bought, and then I  didn't do myself any favours cutting out my skirt without thinking properly about the pattern layout. I'd hoped to get a second usable length out of the piece, but all I had left was 60cm which is not enough to make anything except a VERY short skirt. For the purposes of my cost calculation, I've taken the full price of the 2m as the remainder is not usable as far as I'm concerned.

Fashion fabric: £4.90 per metre (including postage, £3/m without). Used: 2m. Cost: £9.80
Lining: £2.50 per metre (including postage, £1/m without). Used: 1m. Cost: £2.50
Bits & pieces: Zip - £0.56; Interfacing - £0.20; Skirt hook - £0.03

TOTAL (for now): £13.09 (+ thread, labour, pattern, etc)

Why only for now? Well, I hated the fabric so much I neatened up the bit I had left and put it on eBay to sell. I certainly never want to sew with it again! If I don't sell it, it can go in my bag-making supplies. If I do, it'll off-set some of the fabric costs. Either way, as it stands it's not as cheap as some skirts I've made, but a definite improvement on the LTS skirt at £40 + £4 postage that I originally looked at, and still half price when compared to buying it on sale at £25 + £4 postage. (Buying in a shop is not an option as the nearest LTS branch is 85 miles away.)

Nit-pickery (where I critique my sewing):

+ I finished it, despite the fabric. That may not sound like much of a plus, but believe me it is.

My seams are very fancy.
+ I did a better, but still not perfect, job with the interlining compared to the last skirt I made.

Zip! Kind of fudged, but still OK
+ I did a reasonably good job on the zip, even though the weird shrinking yoke meant I had to massively fudge the lapping.

I re-did this 3 times, and it still looks bad :(

- There are some pretty epic fudges in this skirt -- don't look at the hem, the waistband, that bit at the back where the fabric just WOULD NOT lie flat when I attached the yoke, etc. Luckily it'll all be covered up by a top when I wear it, but ugh, not great.

- I really needed more lining fabric -- it was £1/m so there's no real excuse for not buying 2m.

- Probably the worst thing I did was try to hurry through making this, especially once I realized how appalling the fabric was. I have to keep reminding myself, there's no actual prize for finishing things quickly. There are no prizes at all, in fact!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Bits and Pieces #2

I've been away for a few days (mainly, boringly, at hospital appointments, although the upshot of those are that I am definitely better, hurrah).

It's a plus sized sweatersack. Yay.
I just got the new BurdaStyle magazine (10/2012) and my overall reaction is: meh. Of things in my skill range, very little grabs me. The plus sizes are all (again) sack-like in the extreme except for that one dress I posted previously. In the main section there were one or two other items that I liked but nothing that amazed me. The bizarre semi-furry coats, however, should go away and never return. D:

Semi-furry coat, as suggested by Burda
I quite like some of the jersey tops though, and a blouse, and the both of the dresses I linked previously look like they might be within my skill range, with some effort. I also liked a couple of the other tops, but they are not in my (current) size, so they can go on hold until some possible future date. I am possibly more excited by next month's preview and the potential patterns in the Burda Style Special: Classic magazine due at the end of the month, which seems to have some good patterns. I've ordered both for now.

Simplicity 5351
Meanwhile, I made some progress this evening on my next skirt, Simplicity 5351. I'm making view C, unhelpfully unlabelled in this picture, but it's the one on the top row on the right in pink. It's knee length, and it's actually extremely simple, just three pattern pieces (yoke, middle, sides). Tonight I got my pattern traced and the skirt and interlining cut out. My plan is to do the sewing for the interlining tomorrow evening and then assemble it over Saturday/Sunday/Monday as time around my thesis permits.

I also realized, belatedly, that nowhere in my wardrobe planning had I included a simple black skirt, so I've added skirt #5 to my list of things to do. I've got my eye on some black wool, since it's a late autumn/winter skirt I'm aiming for, but now I have to match it to a pattern. I am quite tempted to make another pencil skirt as I already have a few different patterns.

And finally, I made a decision on what to do when all these skirts are done, and that is to get started with learn to sew knits. In the first instance, I'm going to make some PJs with some unfortunately floral cotton jersey that I acquired but was not very excited about. I have a raglan t-shirt pattern I'm going to use for that, although the pattern number escapes me at present. I think it's for the best if the first thing I make with a knit is something that isn't for public viewing!

Once I've got the hang of knits a bit, I'm also going to contemplate the HotPatterns Sunshine Top in more detail. I am not sure it's the perfect top to start with, if only because HotPatterns instructions seem to err towards the terse and unillustrated, but there's 30+ reviews of this top so I feel confident any problems I encounter will already have been explained by someone. I did trace it ages ago, but I'm not sure I got the right size, and I don't know where I put my tracing.

First though, I need ball point needles, overlocker thread, and sundry other minor items. I might take a small break and make some bags instead while I work up the energy to acquire all of those things!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Reviewed: Simplicity 3881 (Skirt with a flounce)

For skirt #3 in my radical reimagining of my wardrobe I wanted something grey, and something with a different silhouette than I've made so far. The pattern I used was Simplicity 3881. There are a dozen or more reviews on PR already and they all say much the same thing: this is quick and easy, but the waistband is odd and the hemming can be difficult on the full circle flounce. The TL;DR version of my post is: I concur!

Simplicity 3881, as modelled by Flossie

Pattern cover for Simplicity 3881

Pattern review (with extra bits at the end) -- also available at Pattern Review:

Pattern Description: (from the pattern envelope) Misses Skirt with Flounce and Length variations and Belt. I made view A, which is a knee length skirt with a single full circle flounce (the version on the model above).

Pattern Sizing: Available in 6-22, my envelope contained 14-22. I made a size 20 with no alterations.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, very like, although the pattern envelope and I disagree about where it should fit on my body.

Rear view, unfortunately crooked on Flossie!

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes, the instructions were extremely easy to follow.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I quite like the way that circle skirts drape and move but I find them too bulky over the hips. This skirt with the straighter section over the hips and a full circle flounce is the best of both worlds for me. On the other hand, I disliked the waistband (as have many previous reviewers) and decided to do something different instead. I also disliked hemming this skirt enormously. I knew I had a length problem so I machine roll hemmed it to keep as much as possible. With sewing the circular pieces of the fabric there were places that it stretched more than others, with the end result that 80% of the roll hem is great, 20% is bit wobbly. I don't think it's obvious when I'm wearing it, but it's one of those "I know it's there so it bothers me" things.

Interior -- lined upper, red contrast serge, slipstitched facing
Fabric Used: Mystery polycotton woven in light grey, plus a boring grey acetate lining. This is part of my winter work wardrobe that I am working on, and although rather dull on its own it's intended as a neutral base for a lot of different, more brightly coloured tops.

Close-up of the seam and serging
Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I made two main changes, neither of them visible when I'm wearing it: (1) I interlined the upper part of the skirt using the method described in this tip by JulieB because the fabric I was using was thin and seemed like it would be horribly static-y against tights. I didn't line the flounce because I thought it might make it too full and a little I'm-off-to-a-barn-dance. (b) I ignored the twill tape waistband instructions entirely in favour of making facings, which is the waistband treatment I prefer. I should also (c) have made the skirt a trifle longer as it's just a tiny bit shorter than I like for work. It's long enough that I'll wear it, but if I made the skirt again I'd add at least 3cm to the length.

Rear interior view
(You can also see in this photo that I chose to serge the skirt/ruffle seam in a constrasting thread. I love that ring of red like crazy and am glad I did it, but it wasn't so much a ~~design decision~~ as sheer laziness that produced it: I really just couldn't be bothered to rethread my overlocker with different thread.)

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I actually really like this pattern -- it's quick and very easy and the finished result is cute. I'm not sure I'd make another lined winter type skirt like it, but I think several of the views would make very pretty summer skirts made up in cotton prints.

Conclusion:  Easy flouncy skirt with strange waistband treatment as the instructions are written.

Photo of the sun damage
Extra notes

Cost: I essentially made this skirt for under £1.

I bought 3m of this grey fabric from a seller on eBay who is liquidating her late mother's (immense, seemingly) fabric stash. I've bought a LOT of fabric from her over the last few months and I know she is a good seller. When this piece arrived I was actually in a hurry so I just sort of flung it on a stack of things to wash and sent her positive feedback after the barest of glances at it. When I got it out the washer a few days later though I caught sight of some discolouring, and when I laid it out: yikes, EPIC sun damage. The seller was completely fine about it when I sent her the photo and refunded me straight away, no quibbles, leaving me down by about 25p postage in the end and up by 3m of mostly free, mostly useless fabric.

You can see in the photo that there are parts that look OK, so I salvaged what I could. I ended up with two full width pieces that were around 50-60cm long, and two 25cm pieces. It took a little bit of thought to lay it out, but I managed to squeeze the whole skirt out of the two larger pieces. I've tossed the rest of the salvage in my bag of possible bag pieces for now. There's something about the fabric that says ruffles to me, but ever since I made The Diabolical Green Thing I've been steering clear of ruffled bag patterns so I'm not quite sure if it'll make it into anything.

The other things I needed for this skirt were just as inexpensive. I used a piece of lining material that came out of the £5 bag of remnants (I always assign a 20p per metre value to those fabrics) and a 5p zip from my stash of cheap zips. My total costs were therefore approximately £0.60. Not bad at all for a brand new skirt!

Nit-pickery (where I critique my sewing):
Side view, also before hemmed etc.

Front view, taken before it was hemmed.
+ The zip went in much better than on the A-line skirt I made last weekend, probably because I really thought about it and basted it in very firmly before I sewed it in.

+ Still LOVE this lining/seam treatment approach, and I love my contrast serging. I am getting incredible enjoyment out of making the inside as polished as I am capable of given the constraints of my skill level and experience, so that's kind of fun. However:

- Memo to self: leave a big enough allowance on your lining pieces to turn the pieces properly if you're going to do it this way!

- Machine roll hemming: not the best idea I've had.

Overall, I call this a success, particularly given how inexpensive it was to make. Can definitely see myself wearing it to work, although I don't think I'd ever wear it without tights!

Friday, 14 September 2012

The new Colette patterns

I sit on the fence about Colette patterns. On the one hand, people make gorgeous dresses using some of the patterns and I really love the Colette Sewing Handbook, which I own. On the other hand, I find some of the patterns fussy or costume-y or else too self-consciously vintage, and others, even though I like them in the abstract, just REALLY wouldn't suit my body shape. The latter is not the fault of the pattern, of course, but it does mean that the Colette line consists of two types of pattern as far as I'm concerned: YES! and NO! There's no real in between for me. I either want the patterns desperately or else they are something I would never ever wear.

Anyway, two new Colette patterns came out yesterday (photos linked from the Colette site):

Anise (jacket)
Juniper (trousers)
Pretty much, these embody what I think about Colette. On the left, the Juniper trousers, I really like and wanted the instant I saw (and it also reminded how desperately I want that Jasmine blouse pattern on top as well). I love the wide legs and the waistband. I don't make trousers (yet) but this went straight to the top of my "trouser patterns to try when the time is right" list.

And on the right, even though it's so pretty on the model, the Anise jacket is everything I dislike most in jackets: double breasted, short, square-ish, vintage wide round collar (which I irrationally dislike for no good reason) and 3/4 sleeves. It's not that it's not a cute pattern (collar excepted because no, really, let me tell you about my irrational dislike of that collar) and I am sure I will see it made up by other people and think it looks amazing, but for me personally? A resounding NO.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Dresses, dresses, dresses

I am desperate to make a dress for my new job. DESPERATE. I don't really know where this is coming from because, as I said in my last post, it's not like I ever wore that purple polka dot dress out in public and it was the only dress in my wardrobe for YEARS before I cut it up. The last dress I can remember wearing was a little red dress from Debenhams that I wore to a company Christmas party in about 1998 and I sold on eBay in about 2006. So dresses: not a major part of my wardrobe.

Pepperberry dress, £75
The main reason I don't own any dresses is that my figure is not made for RTW dresses: because BOOBS, I take two different sizes, and I find most RTW just doesn't fit in any way shape or form. If it fits over the hips, it's too small at the bust, and vice versa. But now I'm starting to make my own clothes, well, it's a whole new world of possibility that has opened up! And since it's new I had NO IDEA where to start.

One of the most useful resources actually turned out to be Pepperberry. They design for women with large busts, so they have the most complete set of flattering dresses for people with large busts.
Pepperberry sheer hem dress, £75

Handily, Pepperberry divide their dresses up by body shapes. According to their system, I have a "straight" figure: big bust, hardly any waist definition, slightly narrower hips than shoulders (which I know gets a lot more pronounced at lower weights). I went to look at the dresses for straight figures and oh my, SO PRETTY.

I'm really drawn to their empire and high waistline dresses, and to a lesser extent to dresses that are pretty tailored sheath dresses. Fortunately, this turns out to be a good match for me. As always, I am really NOT drawn to the price. Pepperberry quality is not BAD, but it's not great either. You're paying for the specificity of the design, and it's a great marketing strategy because god knows most people in these sort of bra sizes can't get a dress that fits anywhere else. But ugh, £75 on a single dress for the office? No.

M&S dress, £39.50

So then I looked at places that were more affordable. I love this M&S dress, and at £40 it's a better price range for me. However, I don't like the neckline or the length (M&S size for "average" British women -- 5'5" -- and I am 5'8") and bitter experience tells me that either the dress would strain horribly over the bust or I'd have to size up to the point where the hips and waist were huge in order for it to work for me.

The answer is, of course: SEWING. My answer to everything is SEWING at the moment, of course. But still, it's the best of both worlds. I'll get the fit I would from Pepperberry (hopefully) and the price I would from M&S (or less), and out of it will come A DRESS.

I consulted the wise ladies of the internet (Wise Ladies, ILU <3) and also read a whole bunch of unfortunately normative "how to dress your figure type" articles (prescriptions of beauty that start with "the most slimming...", I absolutely do not love you, no hearts at all).

Here is what I've come up with as my check list for a pattern:
  • Open-necked: so either V neck or scoop neck or some variation that shows skin in the area between my bust and my throat. On the other hand, it has to be decently high because I have a horror of showing cleavage in the workplace.
  • High waisted: empire line or high waist being optimal.
  • I want sleeves because it's intended for winter, so either short sleeves + looks good with a cardigan or 3/4 sleeves probably.
  • Either a pencil skirt or a skirt with some fullness but not a HUGE amount of fullness.
Then I dug through my (towering) pattern stash (and, um, also ordered a couple of others /o\)

Ottobre 5/2011
This is from Ottobre 5/2011. There's actually another page of 2 dresses that have other interchangeable bits like sleeves and skirts and whatnot. I like (I think) the neckline on the dress on the right (though it's maybe a bit low?), and the sleeves from one of the other two.

I do love PR patterns, I have a LOT.

It remains to be seen how "amazing" this is.

I ordered these two Simplicity patterns while the half price sale was on. The advantage of 2217 is that it comes with A-D cup sizes, which should make my life easier, and 1880 has recently been the subject of a sew-along at A Fashionable Stitch, so there's a ton of information on making it out there. I would make the yellow one on the pattern cover, only, absolutely not in yellow. D:

Then I thought: maybe I should start simpler? I have one vintage pattern that I have not scanned the cover in for yet that is basically a little high waisted dress with a slightly gathered skirt. Unfortunately, I bought it off eBay not realizing it was a half-size and therefore intended for petites, and I don't know what I'd need to do to fix that. Or there is something like this dress in the newest issue of Ottobre:

Ottobre 2012-5-1
I don't love the length because it's meant to be worn with leggings and I'm not a big leggings wearer (I think I own a pair, somewhere? maybe?) but that's easily fixed I think. It's rated as 2 dots by Ottobre (their helpful system is 1-3 dots, not explained anywhere in the entire magazine) but it doesn't LOOK that complicated. It only has a very few pattern pieces: bodice, skirt, facings. Compare that to either of the Simplicity patterns and it sounds VERY easy. I worry that it's not fitted enough and will therefore look very frumpy, but I feel like I could TRY it and it would be relatively painless.

Burda 2012-10-137 (Plus size)
Burda 2012-10-108B
And then there are these two dresses, which are apparently in this month's Burda (due to arrive next week, probably). I have no idea how complicated either of them is, but wow, PRETTY (although I hate the neckline on the pink one, sorry Burda).

There are other contenders. There are SEVERAL other contenders, if I'm honest. I have too many patterns. I did choose the fabric I want the final thing to be in, I think? So that's kind of a starting point. And I keep thinking "maybe I could make MORE THAN ONE dress" which, whoa, stop this giddy whirl.

So, that is what is consuming my thoughts at the moment. Actually consuming my crafty time? Trying to figure out how to line/interline Simplicity 3881.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Refashion (sort of): Dress to A-line Skirt (Ottobre 2007-5-3)

The dress I bought but never wore

The skirt I made from it

Ages ago -- it must be at least 2.5 years ago now -- a friend of mine let me know she was planning to invite me to her wedding. She decided to have a very relaxed dress code, and I got really excited for some reason about buying a rockabilly style dress to wear. Why, I couldn't tell you, since it's never been an ambition of mine before or since. Anyway, I bought this Hell Bunny purple polka dotted dress online for something like £30. It's pseudo-50s style with a tight bodice and circle skirt. I tried it on and... mostly liked it, I think? I mean, I didn't love it, I have to admit, because I am long bodied and so the bodice always looked short and boobtacular on me, but I liked it enough to think I would wear it. I was going to buy some kind of cover up to go with it and just roll with the overt cleavage. In the end though, I turned out to have bought the dress WAY too early and by the time the actual wedding day came around months later, it really wasn't what I wanted to wear. I'd also gained just enough weight that it still fit but it was now epically boobtacular. In the end I gave it a miss and wore something more boring but also less cleavage-y.

Polka dots and pockets
I hauled the dress out again a few months ago. It still didn't look like anything I'd ever wear, but I also still really liked the colour and the polka dots. I realize now that what I should actually have done is sold it, intact, on eBay, but: too late! As it is, I took off the bodice but unfortunately I then made a total hash of turning it into a circle skirt, and so I shoved it in the cupboard again and tried to forget about it. This weekend, I decided to try to rescue something from it. The circle skirt meant I had a lot of fabric, but unfortunately it's not actually great fabric, just a thin stretch cotton blend, so it really didn't hold up if anything was unpicked. Since the circle skirt had three seams, two pockets and a centre front trim with buttons, I knew not all the fabric was going to be usable.

The skirt in Ottobre 5-2007. Also: check out those boots!
I had already decided I wanted to make an A-line skirt as one of my four new skirts for my winter work wardrobe. I chose a pattern from Ottobre Design Woman 5-2007. It's a fairly basic A-line skirt with a yoke, but I thought it was overall both cute and simple. I quite like A-line skirts but only long as they are not too triangular. I was torn whether to alter the pattern on this -- there are four slightly different versions pictured in the magazine and some of them looked more triangular than others. In the end I didn't alter the pattern but made it up exactly as it is. Overall, I do think the finished item is a bit wider at the hem than I like so it looks more triangular than I like, but if/when I make this again it's a relatively easy fix. I'd probably want to redraw the line from the hip to be about 2cm narrower, for a total decrease of 8cm at the circumference of the hem.

The circle skirt I started with.

You can read my full pattern review here, but here are some extra details about the fabric and making it:

I started with the circle skirt, previously bodged together. Originally, I planned to use the front as the front, keeping the trim and buttons intact, and the back as the back. Revolutionary, right? Except, the trim on the front had not been applied on the grain, or even in line with the polka dot pattern. It didn't really matter on a full circle skirt, but it would matter on an A-line skirt and the way it was askew would just BUG ME as well. Plus, the more I thought about it the less I wanted the buttons-down-the-front thing on the A-line skirt.

Skirt lining
In the end, the only way I could get all the pieces out on the grain was if I could live with a centre front seam in both the skirt and yoke. I decided I could live with it, and cut out the pieces, with one tiny(!) mistake that I cut one of the two front pieces without a centre seam allowance. As it turned out, it made no difference, but I did sit there going aaaaaargh! for a few minutes. I decided to top-stitch all the seams to make it a tiny design feature of the skirt, and I ripped the patch pockets off the side seams of the original skirt and sewed them on the front of the A-line skirt.

When it came time to line the skirt I had a problem. I had one small piece of pretty purple paisley, and 1m of 110cm wide lilac lining fabric. Neither was enough on their own, so I had to combine them. It looks a little eccentric inside my skirt as a result, but I like it.

My zipper insertion skills: not amazing.
Nit-pickery (or, where I critique my sewing problems): I'm willing to wear this skirt in public, because luckily the two big problems are not visible when it's worn (unless you wear a shirt tucked into it, which is not a way I wear anything, ever). The first was the zip installation, which I didn't do very well although I certainly tried my best with it. Part of the problem is that I didn't read the instructions properly and used a normal zip when the instructions called for an invisible zip. Part of it is that I just find zips hard. So the back of the skirt around the zip looks a lot more ragged than I like and the lining around the zip has a weird bubble of fabric whose origin I can't understand. Both are hidden in normal wear (especially the lining problem) so I don't really care, but it does suggest to me I need to slow down and spend more time on my zip when I make my next skirt.

Cost-wise, well, I haven't done too well on this one if you think of the original purchase price of the dress. I probably would not have bought an A-line lined skirt it if had cost £30+, and I could probably have got at least half of that money back if I had sold the dress intact, but that ship had already sailed before I started this last refashion. On the other hand, I like this skirt enough that I will actually wear it, which is more than I can say of either the original dress or the circle skirt.  If you set aside the original cost of the dress though, my extra costs were pretty small, about £1 overall as the lining fabrics came out of my cheap bag of remnants that I bought, plus a cheap zip. If I had been starting from having the whole dress, it wouldn't have been a good use of resources. As it is, I think I've got a pretty good outcome for an extra £1 investment. I think I'll call it a win overall.