Sunday, 25 January 2015

Silk kimono

Having seen many of your wonderful kimonos on the blogsphere (my favourites include the ones from Karen, Julia, Twinkle and many more!), I decided that it was time to make my own. A quick word of warning - this post is heavy on the pictures!

I had some beautiful Indian silk in my stash from my Dubai trip last may - this is one of those pieces of fabric where I instantly felt a tug at my heartstrings. I'm sure you know the feeling ;) 


Isn't it beautiful? I knew the silk would be great for a loose fitting garment, and it was wonderful to see the project come together before my eyes. 

The pattern I used came free with the Love Sewing magazine, issue 5. In fact, I bought the magazine because of this pattern (which is something I don't do much - see below), and it didn't disappoint.  
 How does my version compare? 

It could be worn "open", or "closed"/wrapped up. Maybe I'll see if I can make a little belt out of the leftover fabric. 
The pattern was pretty simple. It came in sizes S, M and L and I graded it down to a XS by eyeballing it. Compared to my usual pedantic and scientific measuring efforts, I felt like a complete rebel! The pattern called for 1.5m of fabric, at least 1.5m wide, but I managed to squeeze this into my 1.1m wide silk (1.5m long) without any issues. I love it when a plan comes together ;)

Now full body photos. I think it's lovely teamed up with skinny jeans, or shorts in the summer. Perhaps it could even be a nice little beach cover-up! 


The instructions were nice and clear, although I found having all the photo instructions above the words to be slightly harder to follow compared to having them side to side.

The pattern calls for most of the seams to be done by French seams, and I opted for French seams for the whole thing. The fabric frays like there's no tomorrow, so having all the seams enclosed really does help me sleep at night!  

I made a couple of minor tweaks. Instead of machine hemming the sleeves and the bottom hem, I did a hand running stitch to make it nice and smooth. I would've done my usual hand blind catchstitch, but the delicate fabric would've struggled with the tiny pinches on the right side. 

Sleeve hem
Bottom hem

Also the magazine calls for hand sewing for the band, but I opted for the good old "stitching in the ditch". I think it's pretty invisible on the outside, and much quicker with the help of my wonderful walking foot! All in all I finished this project in 2 evenings. Can't complain. 

So there you have it, my very own silk kimono! I must admit that I didn't know where I stood with kimonos. Don't get me wrong, I adore them on other people, but have always doubted whether they would suit me. I'm so glad to have tried it out! 

 So I want to hear from you! Two (or three in fact) questions for you today:

1) Where do you stand on the kimonos front? Is it something you can see yourself in?

2) Do you buy sewing magazines and sew from the "free" patterns? I generally don't, mainly on the basis that they rarely come in my size, and I am often too lazy to grade the patterns down (not when there are so many other patterns that I can just buy which comes in my size). But this experience has made me feel like I've been missing out! 

That's all from me this week. I hope you all have a great week ahead :) We are actually heading to the Caribbean tomorrow for a week, and I'm going to pack this kimono in my suitcase now ;) 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Navy swallow shell top with narrow hem

I had a tiny piece (60cm x 112cm) of swallow print polyester fabric in my stash, picked up for £2.40 from the John Lewis remnant bin. I've been meaning to make this into a little shell top, and with my recent "diversion" to knit fabrics, I fancied a quick woven project in familiar territory. As someone who really enjoys learning new tips and skills, however, I took this opportunity to try out a new technique - using a narrow hem foot. 

I used New Look 6483, which I have used once previously for the Crazy about Coral top. Unfortunately the shoulders on that top was a little narrow in the end, resulting in a unsightly permanent line across the shoulder, and with the spirit outlined here, also resulted in it ending up in a charity shop. That doesn't stop the pattern from being a good one, though, and this time I made view E in the graded down 2 again. 

I shortened the pattern by quite a bit, to allow for the narrow hem as opposed to the 5/8 hem as called for by the pattern. the other thing I tweaked was to remove the centre back seam, the back button closure, and the side slits. I wanted a simple shell top, with minimal break in the fabric pattern.     
I explored to find the right balance of tension and stitch length for the delicate fabric with my new machine (which I'm yet to introduce to you, or give it a name, but it is a complete delight to work with and we are getting on very well indeed). And the result? Not a pucker in sight! 

As I had very limited fabric, I finished off the neckline and armholes with a Liberty lawn bias binding using this method, and omitted the facing. You probably know by now that this is my go-to method, but I just want to say again that it's wonderfully useful for delicate fabrics like this one. 
Here's this little number inside out. You know, I'm so tempted to wear it this way - I love the subtlety of the blue on this side, and of course the Liberty bias tape. 
Now the narrow hem foot. It took a little practice, but I'm liking the lovely wavy hem. I found this post really helpful when figuring out how to use this little gadget, but honestly if I can figure it out, so can anybody :)

I'm happy to add the narrow hem foot to my family of very useful and much treasured machine attachments. I've always been amazed by how these little attachments work wonders and how much of a difference it makes -- you may remember my first encounter with the overcasting foot (much used until I got my overlocker), my excitement over the gathering foot and the button sewing foot, and my recent discovery over the walking foot. If I had to pick a favourite, at this point in time I would say it's got to be the walking foot - it has transformed my sewing completely and lowered my blood pressure significantly (who knew that "top-layer creepage" was so easy to avoid!), and I constantly find myself reaching for it. The real question is, why did I choose to torture myself for so long before buying one? 

How about you? Do you have a favourite sewing foot for your machine that you wish you bought years ago? Or a recent discovery of a new gadget? 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

First encounter with knits - my very own Lady Skater!

New year, new beginning! I’ve finally plucked up the courage to sit down in front of my serger/overlocker, and completed my first jersey dress(es) with it! 
Get ready, this is a long post. I have included my key takeaways (in the form of lightbulb moments) and questions from my first encounter, in case it would help others, and also hoping that you could help me! Do chip in if you are able to share your experience, views and insights ;)  
I am embarrassed to admit that I have had my serger for over a year, and slowly accumulated knit fabric in that time. A few months ago, I attempted serging a jersey skirt using a vintage pattern (bad idea) which ended up in the bin, before chickening out at the last minute when I made the 30-minutes skirt with my regular machine. 
But having swoon over all the beautiful version of the Lady Skater, and read your reviews and comments suggesting that it’s a great starter pattern for knits, I felt encouraged and finally bit the bullet.
Isn't it jazzy? 
You guys were right of course. Knits are fine to work with (but choose carefully, see below), and they really don't bite! That said, as someone who was terrified of knit fabrics, and the serger, I sure had a few lightbulb moments when sewing this up. I wanted to jot them down, so that other "knit-virgins" don't waste their own precious time with the same issues. For the more experienced knit-sewers, perhaps you had the same confusions when you first started off. If so, let me know so I don't feel like a complete idiot :)   
Lightbulb moment #1
My hand-eye coordination was nowhere near as good as I thought it was! I might be able to pick up Zumba moves like it’s my second nature, when it comes to a pair of serger tweezers (they are possibly the most counter-intuitive thing that I have ever used), I’m constantly squeezing when I should be releasing. Argh!!! It’s a shame that they are so incredibly useful.
 Lightbulb moment #2
Start with stable knits first. I say this because when I made a tester version, I wanted to use one of my less liked pieces of fabric, which just happened to be the most soft, slinky, and stretchy (it's a 4-way stretch) jersey ever! I'm glad I did, as I didn't know what else to make with it, but truthfully it was a bit tricky to work with, especially as I'm new to sewing with jersey. 

You'll see what I mean here:

I enjoyed sewing with the blue cotton jersey a lot more, as I felt more in control. So I’m going to reiterate the advice that many others have given – start with a stable knit.

Lightbulb moment #3
Your sewing machine is still useful. for some reason I didn't realise this, and thought that a serger (OK, a coverstitch machine, but a serger is pretty close) is the daddy of all machines, and is the answer to everything. Why else would it look and sound so intimidating? But for this dress, I used my regular machine (using the zigzag and lightening bolt stitches) to pre-baste layers (the regular machine has more control), attach clear elastic, topstitch the neckline bands and sleeve bands, and also to hem with a twin-needle. And this leads me to the final lightbulb moment...
Lightbulb moment #4
The twin needle is for the regular machine, and not the serger! I spent ages looking through my serger manual, and couldn't find anything with reference to the twin needle. After a bit of searching online, I finally had the lightbulb moment.  Also, make sure you use a stretch twin needle, rather than an ordinary one, to avoid skipped stitches like these:

Lightbulb moment #5
Really floss that serger! As it wasn't the first time I threaded my serger, I got cocky and thought I could do it without the manual. Wrong! This is where I wasted a couple of hours. For the upper and lower threads, I did not “floss” them into the tension discs, and as a result I was able to pull the fabric from the right side, and the stitching would pretty much come undone. At one point I was almost convinced that this is what sergers did, but then I went to inspect the stitching of my RTW jersey garments, and decided to try rethreading the machine. This is when I realised that it wasn’t done properly.
Lightbulb moment #6
This is how you sew flat! Without realising, I have always sewn in the round (see Andrea explains it here) and now I understand how you can sew sleeves without having to set them (one of my pet hates!). I'm not convinced that I will be flat-sewing any time soon with woven fabrics as yet, but it's nice to know how it's done. 
OK, now some issues that I’ve come across along the way. I am still at a loss about these, so please do share your thoughts and tips with us, and help us all improve!
Dilemma #1 – Seam Allowances
I sure didn’t expect a giant issue like this before even starting to sew! On my serger there doesn’t appear to be a seam guide which extends to more than 4.5mm, so it was quite confusing as to how I was going to achieve the 3/8 (around 9.5mm) seam allowance, when at the very most my machine can manage a ¼ seam (which was too wide for the knits I used). Are you still with me? This meant that I had to chop off around ¼ inch (based on the seam allowance I used) as I sew, which was tricky without a gauge. In the end I eyeballed it. The good news is, 1/8 inch here or there isn’t a huge problem with stretchy fabrics – they are pretty forgiving. But it was pretty hard to fight the perfectionist in me!
Does your serger have a seam guide? If not, how do you deal with the seam allowances?
Dilemma #2 - clear elastic
The pattern calls for 1/4 clear elastic, which is hard to come by in the UK (anyone knows where to get this?). I managed to find some that are 3/8, so I trimmed it to size. 
What I cannot figure out, is where exactly to place this stuff. Should it all be kept within the seam allowance, or should it straddle the seam? I have studied my RTW garments, and noted that both options are used. To show you what I mean, here are two pictures:

In this top photo, the clear elastic straddles the actual seams. On the outside this resulted in a wavy waistline. 


In my real dress, I placed the clear elastic wholly within the seam allowance, so the outside is a bit more smooth. I think this is my preferred way of doing it, but it would be nice to know how you do this
I would also like to know how necessary it is to insert clear elastic. Any thoughts?
Dilemma #3 -- 2-way vs 4-way stretch 
Both of these fabrics are 4-way stretches, and having gone through my stash, apart from some t-shirt knit that I had, all other pieces are 4-way stretches. My main concern with a 4-way stretch is their weight. With my dresses above (the purple one more so than the blue, due to how stretchy it is), I am a bit concerned that they would elongate with time. I'm not going to hang them up, but you can't fight gravity, not when the fabric stretches vertically, too, and the Lycra making it quite heavy. 
Is my concern a valid one? If so, are there ways to prevent this? Finally, where on earth can I get some two-way stretch knit fabrics from? 
If you are still reading after all this, you must give yourself a medal for being such a patient saint. Let me complete this post with some more pictures, including side, back views and close-up ones. I would like to conclude by saying that this is indeed a great pattern, and I am really impressed by how well-illustrated (and fun!) the instructions are, as well as how flattering the end product is on all shapes and sizes. I don't think I've seen a version that I don't like yet! I love my new jersey dress, and I am so glad that I started my brand new knit-sewing journey with the Lady Skater pattern




Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Do your home made garments get special treatments?

I went through a major clear-up of my wardrobe, and it is with regret that all of the above home made garments ended up stuffed in 3 giant bags on their way to the charity shop. 

This wasn't even the first time I've said goodbye to items that I've sewn up, Having done a quick count, before now I've parted with 9 home sewn items over the last couple of years. But this time I'm being particularly ruthless (and goodness knows I'm a hoarder), as I'm working towards something akin to a "capsule wardrobe" - where key, well-fitted, classy and coordinated items run the show, with the additions of some special one-off items. 

With that goal in mind, and the same yardstick which applied to both RTW and home made items (if it wasn't worn in the last 12 months, it's got to go), a number of my sewn items didn't quite make the cut. I've grouped them by reason:

Let's start with the - it wasn't a good idea to begin with...

High waisted vintage shorts, in this fabric.


Elastic waistband skirt take two (take one here)

New Look 6185 in a orange paisley print poly crepe. 

Remember these? No? That's because they never made it to the blog. You probably know by now that I tend to blog not just good projects, but also failures, as I see the blog as a means of documenting my sewing "journey". But I just couldn't quite get excited about those items enough to pose in them (apart from the kaftan - but you can see the excitement on my face) let alone actually writing about it. 

The high waisted vintage shorts - I'm not sure whether I could pull off high waisted shorts at the best of times, but I just don't think the fabric choice is a good one. It's a shame as I spent ages fitting them (they were too big, and then when the legs and hip fitted, the waist was too tight), especially working with a vintage pattern. 

The easy skirt - the viscose, although beautifully soft and comfortable, was, er, pretty translucent. Not something you want from a skirt. 'Nuff said. 

As to the kaftan - I loved the fabric, and remember seeing a very similar print from the Ralph Lauren window at Macy's in New York, days before the photo was captured above. But good job that photo was taken right then, as it was the only time I wore it. I don't think the unflattering photo helped, but I just don't think the style suits me, and with the material being a poly crepe, despite its drapey properties, it is really not absorbent enough to be a beach kaftan. Also between you and me, the gathering around if front is uneven - and those gathers were the only things I can think about when I wore it. 

Next, fitting issues


I'm sad to see this one go (first blogged here). I loved it when it was first finished, and part of the reason was that it fitted well with minimum ease. And that turned out to be the problem. See how I was resting my arm on the garden table? That's as far as I'm able to raise my arms in this dress. After a few occasions of considering "do I need to raise my arms today?" and answering yes, I knew it was time to let this one go. The other thing that puts me off is the polyester fabric - not the most breathable for a summer number. 

This was my first attempt at a vintage pattern, and I spent hours matching the pattern, and tweaking the fit. The result? A baggy chest area still. I wore this once, to Dubai, on the basis that I had put on a bit of weight then, and it was modest and inoffensive, but the above photo, taken on a replica abra in the man-made waterways in Madinat Jumeriah, is enough to convince me that maybe it's best to give this away in case it fitted someone else better. I can't believe I'm posting all these unflattering photos on the worldwide web! 

The final category is, it's just not me


This was upcycled from a maxi skirt, and I got a couple of wears out of it. As much as I liked making shirred dresses when I first started sewing, I've grown out of them. They are not the best suited for my body shape, and this one is particularly long, making me look shorter. 



Ah, the romper! I'm glad that I made it, and am also pleased to have worn it once, in Hawaii. Looking back, though, I think Hawaii may have been the only place on earth where this would look acceptable to society...  In truth, it wasn't the most comfortable thing to wear on a bumpy and windy 7-hour drive. 


Finally, the Paris dress. I knew full well that this wasn't my style, but I really wanted to take part to celebrate Roisin's nuptials. As comical as the fabric is, I just can't see myself wearing it, not even in Paris. But who knows? Maybe someone will pick it up from the charity shop. The thing is, this helped me find the good fit for the Floral Elisalex later on, so it's served two really good purposes. 

So there you have it, the home made items that I am parting with in this round of wardrobe clear-up. I do try my very best to look at them through the same lens as my RTW garments -- if I haven't worn a piece of clothing, and am not planning on wearing it, then they are better off gone than taking up my valuable wardrobe space. Sometimes I think that I should be more strict when it comes to home made items, as they have been "tailor made" for me, so the bar should be higher. On the other hand, when you've spent hours cutting, sewing, and fitting an item, it is difficult to put them in the charity bag, or even worse, the bin! 

How about you? Do your home made garments get special treatments? Whether it might be about throwing it out, repairing it, or washing, pressing? I would love to hear from you!  

Saturday, 10 January 2015

McCalls 3830 strikes again

My first make of 2015! This was the skirt that I referred to in this post - I had the fabric pieces cut up for months; in fact, they moved house with me 9 months ago! 

You may remember my ultimate work skirt, and the version before that, but the time has come for another work skirt! 

This time it's made in a plaid heavyweight flannel/brushed cotton, which, despite its lovely fluffiness, feels and looks more like a suiting/tweed. It's the perfect fabric that I could've asked for -- easy to sew with (after pattern matching, but that was a distant memory by the time I came to assemble the skirt), comfortable and warm to wear, and smart to look at.  

This version is almost identical to the last one, with the only tweak being that the waistband has been widened slightly. This means that from View D of the pattern (McCalls 3830), my version is scaled down to a size 4, with a 3cm waistband and lining added.  

If you are wondering how to add the waistband and lining - this tutorial is for you! 

Here's the skirt inside out: 

I love the funky lining - I think the orange sets off the orange lines in the skirt perfectly. 

As with last time, I hand blind hemmed the skirt again. Here's what it looks like on the inside. 


And that's it! I'm pleased to have this addition to my work wardrobe, and still in time for the cold weather. 

How about you? What's your first project this year? 
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