Wednesday 19 December 2012

Early holiday wishes!

Dear readers! 

I must firstly apologise for the quietness on this space recently - I have been working 15-hour days (yes, really) for the last few weeks... so please do forgive me for not being able to post on here. 

I have so much to share with you. To name a few, I have been passed on a Liebster award by Jen and Elena, won a giveaway on Burdastyle, polished off the vintage sewing feet, and started my bridesmaid dress. 

But now, I am just about to start packing for my trip back to China (it is past midnight here, and my plane is in exactly 8 hours...) for 2 weeks, where I will not be able to access this... So please do bear with me, and I'll share everything with me when I'm back in January!

In the meantime, I hope you all have a really lovely Christmas and a great new year! 

Alice XX

Wednesday 28 November 2012

They don't make them like they used to

Recently I have been let loose to the wonderful world of ebay... it all started when my hubby started selling bits and bobs that were used just once from our wedding (we simply do not have that much space in the house to store it all), and very soon after that, my years of claiming "if I don't stay away from ebay, I will be addicted to it" became history, and my bold claim had turned out to be very true indeed. 

After buying a couple of vintage sewing patterns from it, I had the most genius idea of finding myself a  Singer 99k. Don't get me wrong, my Singer 8280 (Sallie Moonbeam) works perfectly fine, and I did not need a new machine, but who can resist the charms of a vintage Singer? I mean, look at her!

It dates from 1957, and I cannot believe how well it has been looked after. It has a motor and foot pedal installed already, and is in great working order. It came with its manual, some (very rusty) sewing feet and its original case - I am one very lucky girl!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Subtly British

After spending over 9 years in the UK, I had my citizenship ceremony today. I wanted a dress that is subtly British for the occasion, in that I did not fancy wearing a union jack dress (can you imagine...), but wanted something that is in the right colour schemes to mark the event.

After searching for the right fabric for a few weeks, very luckily the lovely Helen brought a beautiful blue and red floral polycotton (pre-washed and everything - thank you!) to what could only be the biggest ever swap at the blogger meet-up last weekend.

I wanted a reasonably smart looking dress for the occasion - it was indeed a serious ceremony, so I wanted to dress the part without looking too business-like or "disco". So I decided to give Simplicity 1798 a go, which is a Project Runway pattern from the Autumn 2012 collection.

I bought this pattern pretty much as soon as it came out, as I was drawn to its lovely silhouette  the reglan sleeves and the notched neckline (unfortunately not so much the peplum, despite being a huge fan of peplums in general). So I made just that! It's a view A bodice with reglan sleeves.

Originally my ceremony was going to be in December, but as there was a last minute cancellation, my space was moved to today - this gave me little time to pull this all together, especially as I was away in the weekend. But a couple of evenings later, it is done!

I cut a size 4, which is what I normally do with Project Runway patterns, but it turned out a bit small. Either I expanded in the last few weeks (which is highly likely, given my um, increased food intake in colder weather), or this pattern runs small! Obviously I have not got a 22 inch waist, but I usually find that the design and wearing ease included in a pattern is a bit excessive, so I would typically cut a smaller size. 

I didn't need to let out the side seams thankfully (the midriff band complicates matters), but I did use a rather narrow seam at the back when inserting the zipper. I also made a tiny SBA to this princess seamed bodice, which was super easy. The only other alteration I made was that I shortened the skirt by 6cm so that it finishes just above my knees. 

This pattern did not disappoint. The dress turned out to be everything that I wanted (albeit a bit tight... so tiny breaths), and I just love the neckline. It was easier to make than I thought, too, and the facing stays in place and is extremely well-behaved. What more could I ask for? 

Some "in-action" photos: 

The Registrar, me, and the Queen (she was there in spirit!) - doesn't the dress go perfectly with the flag in the background? 

Signing my life away:

Sunday 4 November 2012

Swag from the Rag (Market)

Hello my lovely readers, did you have a nice weekend? I am proudly reporting back from my Birmingham trip! 

If you read my shopping list last week, you would recall that I went to my first-ever real-life sewing blogger meet-up on Saturday! After combating a few "are you sure this is going to be safe?" "what if it is a scam", etc etc, I went to Birmingham New Street Station full of overwhelming excitement, on Saturday morning in the drizzling rain (what are the odds?). 

The wonderful day was arranged by the bubbly Leicester ladies Marie and Kat, and oh what a success! When I said when we walked out of Barry's Fabric Superstore (our last stop), this was the best day I have had in a while - and this is a great achievement as I have had some pretty good days lately ;-)

I was welcomed warmly by all the ladies (okay... I may have been one of the last people to arrive at our meeting point) and a super cute name badge! I was also given some delicious chocolatey treats, which, of course I would've taken a picture of had I not eaten them all rather quickly. 

Our first stop was the outdoor stalls of the Rag Market, as the sun had come out by that time, and we weren't going to bank on it staying out. What a great spot! We found lots of fabrics for between 50p and £6 a metre, and I made my first purchase pretty quickly. It was a beautifully soft grey wool for £5 a metre, and I bought 1.75 metres which should be enough for a smart work dress. Shortly after I snapped up 2 metres of a dark red/burgundy thick polyester (crepe?) at £2.5 per metre.

The indoor stalls weren't that much more costly either. In fact, I managed to get 1.5 metres of hot pink/fuschia polyester (another thick wintery fabric) at £2 per metre. So far so good - I managed to stay away from anything floral (I am naturally drawn to floral fabrics, so I think it took great strength to drag myself away from them) -  all the bits I bought were actually rather plain, which is what I needed.  

Just as I didn't think my day could possibly get any better, it was time for lunch at Cafe Soya. Here are finally some snaps of the ladies - only then I realised that I was far too busy fabric shopping to have taken any photos all morning. So there you are: 

Do you recognise some of them? On the left hand side, we have, from front to back:

Catherine from Catherine's Daze Blog
Helen from Sew Stylish
Kat from Krafty Kat 
Helen from Helen Made
Claire from Sew, Incidentally...

On the right hand side, from back to front (just to confuse you!), we have:

Suzy from Suzy Sewing
Rachel from House of Pinheiro
Steph from Little Miss Twitchy
Marie from A Stitching Odyssey
Amy from Almond Rock
Roisin from Dolly Clackett

I realise now that Mellie was not in this picture (where had you gone Mellie??) but she was also there:

Mellie from Mellie's Workroom

Can you believe that Rachel and Winnie used the same pattern to sew their dresses? 

And here's Charlotte, too busy knitting for posing:

Then we had the SWAP!!! I brought along 2 bits of fabric, both of which I successfully managed to give away, and 3 sewing patterns. A pretty moderate amount, right? But take a look at this... most of these actually belonged to 2 ladies (worry not, I shall not be naming and "shaming"!)

And this is what I ended up... all for free! 

Before I forget, from top left and clockwise, they were gratefully received from: Katie, Marie, Mellie, Claire, Claire, Suzy and Katie. 

I also got the lovely grey/blue floral chiffon from Kat, a pale wool/blend (the picture really does not do it justice) from Karen, and the floral blue polycotton from Helen (from SewStylish). Yep, that's where the florals came in!! I just could not resist them. 
After lunch, we kept calm (though I must admit, it took me a while to calm down from all that excitement) and carried on fabric shopping! We went to the Fancy Silk Store, where I finally found the perfect bridal satin for my mother-in-law's bolero (only at a reasonable £8 a metre). The funniest thing was, the shop owner was so surprised and taken by the size of our group, and how far some of us had travelled to visit his shop (amongst others), he gave us a free pen each! 

This is what the shop looks like inside - with floor to ceiling fabrics: 

AND THEN, we went to a warehouse type of place, called Barry's Fabric Superstore (no kidding!) which was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Here I found the Winnie the Pooh fabric, for one of the baby blankets, and some purple/lilac florals (oops!) which I bought to make either name badges or some sort of personal effect for my mother-in-law's upcoming hen do in January. 

Right, before I ramble on for any longer, here's another photo with part of my swag from yesterday. 

I just wanted to say once again that thank you so much for organising such a perfect day yesterday, Marie and Kat! It was so great to meet everyone (all 14 of you!) and I'm sure we'll see each other again soon - but until then, I shall be following your blogs (but not in a stalker-ish manner...)! 

Thursday 1 November 2012

Shopping list!

I'm going to my first-ever real-life sewing blogger meet-up at the Birmingham Rag Market this Sat!! I am so very excited :D

So here is my shopping list...  

Wool/tweed for Vogue 3007 - from the early 60s. Look at all the beautiful variations! I'm sewing in my head already!

Since my body is built like a child's, I may as well buy some medium weight cotton for this school uniform pattern (and shhhh it may also be a child-sized pattern!). With a solid coloured fabric, I think I can make view 1 "work-worthy"! 

 I can't wait to make the next pattern, Simplicity 5968 from 1965 - I love view 1, especially with its detachable collar. view 2 would make a perfect jumper dress worn over a top though - great for the colder days. For my first go I will need some sophisticated looking relatively stiff/heavyweight cotton/wool or a blend. 

Another single-toned warm-ish (wool?) fabric needed! This is for my Marian Martin 9433 below - from the 70s. I think this is a very versatile pattern, but with the weather as it is, it is a challenge to think about the warmer days and summer fabric. 

Now time for what I need for my modern patterns. I need more wool/tweed for view A of Simplicity 1754 - how I love Project Runway patterns!

I will also need some plain grey suiting for my tried and tested Simplicity 2451 (see my midnight blue version here)
And I still need to colour-match some satin for my mother-in-law's bolero. Yep, I'm bringing my tiny sample from the lace-up tie of her wedding dress to find the right fabric. I've struggled with/touched/rubbed the tiny sample for so long, I am almost certain that it has got a little bit darker (dirty) than it really is...   But I shall be using Butterick 4731, a view B bolero with the long sleeves. 

Have you got enough on your list? I hear you ask. Umm no, I actually have not... In fact, I will also be looking for 2 pieces of boy-girl neutral looking cotton to make 2 more baby blankets. What happened to wanting to find out whether the baby is going to be a boy or a girl? Both of my pregnant friends (something is in the water!) have decided to wait for the wonderful surprise - but on a selfish note that just makes picking fabric for their baby blankets so much harder (and yes I may have encouraged them to find out...)! 

Anyhow, so that's what's on my shopping list. The plan, of course, is to stick to the list, but I shall certainly report back next week with my actual purchases... 

Enjoy your weekends my dear readers! I know I am going to enjoy mine! X

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Butterick 5457 toile - and your help/view please!

I'm making another bridesmaid's dress! This time it is for me. Yep, I'm going to be a bridesmaid for my mother-in-law's wedding in February. It was so sweet of her to ask me to be her bridesmaid, and I am so excited to be a part of her special day. What's more, I've decided to make my own dress, my bolero, and the bolero for her too, to keep us both warm on the day. 

I'm usually far too lazy for unwearable toiles, but when it comes to formal wear, I think it is often necessary. This is especially the case for this bridesmaid dress - despite all the questionable reviews that I have read about this pattern (and see my verdict below...), I decided to be brave and give it a go, as I particularly liked the horizontal and vertical pleats (what is it with me and pleats?), and the dipped neckline. But I was sure about one thing - I do not want to waste the beautiful crepe-backed satin (in 2 different purple tones) so a toile was absolutely necessary in this instance. 

I used an acetate satin in a slightly sickly looking baby pink that I bought a while ago for this Jason Wu peplum dress, but unfortunately I was just dreaming and never actually made it... I wanted to use a satin material to see how it will drape. 
The fit actually turned out to be spot on - I cut a 6, and it's quite a closely-fitted dress. The only real design change I made at this stage is that I omitted the gathered skirt - whilst I like gathers generally, I do not like them in formal wear as it adds too much bulk at the waistline (who wants that?!). Instead, I used the skirt pattern from one of my old favourites - Simplicity 4070 and it seems to fit fine. 

Now the pattern - oh how I can see what all the reviewers are saying! There are a few issues that I have with Butterick on this one:

1) The pattern pieces are kind of confusing. This is because there is no mention about underlining on the envelope, or in the cutting layouts. But when you start reading the instructions, it says "one lining layer will be used as underlining". I would not usually use the lining fabric as underlining too - I am thinking about using silk organza as the underlining - it's stable and thin. 
I used self lining for this toile (to use as much of this Marshmallow fabric as possible!), so I had to cut out a few pieces 6 times, which of course confused matter even more. 

To help future attempts at this pattern made by other seamstresses and myself, I have summarised the pattern pieces in this little table below. 

Bodice pattern pieces
Midriff pattern pieces
Fashion fabric
1 (pleats) fold, 2 (side front) x2, 5 (bodice back)x2
6 (front), 7 (back)x2
3 (bodice front) fold, 4 (side front) x2, 5 (bodice back)x2
8 (front), 9 (back) x2
3 (bodice front) fold, 4 (side front) x2, 5 (bodice back)x2
8 (front), 9 (back) x2

2) I also didin't like the lining layer - is it really necessary to have so many pieces of lining? More importantly, with the split of bodice and midriff, there is an ugly bulky seam around the empire line, and because of this, the pattern only calls for short boning which extends to this line. More likely than not, boning is inserted to provide more support for the whole bodice, and provide a better shape around the midriff. In my opinion, bodice boning should at least extend to the waistline. 

So I have now redrafted the lining pieces into 3 different pieces only - the centre front (cut on fold), side front (cut x2) and bodice back. I am planning on using these for the real thing, and add boning to all the seams extending to the waistline, and also add boning in the middle (approx) of the bodice back pieces too. 

3) I had issue with the midriff pieces. I was pretty sure that I did cut the front piece (6) on bias, but when the instructions asked me to stretch the top to meet the top edge of the corresponding underlining piece (8), the fabric simply refused to stretch that far! It was really quite frustrating. I had the same problem with the midriff back pieces also. It may just be the fabric that I am using, but I shall make sure that I cut my crepe-backed satin extra wide just in case! 

Oh look at how the seams do NOT line up?!

Obviously I have not bothered to press all the pleats in place, but for my real version I am going to be really careful with the gathers in the midriff pieces - they will need to be more evenly distributed for a smoother transition between the pieces. Ahhhh, look at this:

 So, my lovely readers, before I make a start on my real dress, I wanted to get your opinion/help on a few things: 

1. What do you think of the skirt? Personally I feel that it is currently too plain, especially as compared to the fairly "busy" bodice. So I am considering a pleated skirt - what do you prefer? To give you a slightly better idea, my pleated bodice section is going to be in a very pale lilac, and the rest of the dress  (and the bolero) in deep purple. 

2. Do I really need to cut the midriff as 3 pieces - is there any chance that a one wide pleated belt may work (I will draft this in a slightly more scientific way than guessing/eyeballing it but I wanted to throw this one out there!)

3. Does anyone have any tips on how to insert an invisible zip neatly with a bulky back section? The midriff part is going to be quite bulky, with all the horizontal gathers/pleats. I haven't inserted a zip here (just pinned it at the back), but I would be interested in hearing any tips that you may have! 

4. Do you think underlining crepe-backed satin with silk organza would work? Any other alternatives that you would recommend? 

Please do feel free to let me know what you think - if you have a comment about any of the above, please say and I will really appreciate your help/opinion! 

Thursday 11 October 2012

Midnight Blue Skirt

I think this may be my new favourite skirt! I love the midnight blue fabric, with all that beautiful print -  floral, paisley and whatever else... Would you be jealous if I told you that this costs me £1.10 a metre??   It is a drapy polyester georgette from a shop at Walthamstowe, and I underlined it with a dark blue faux silk lining which also cost about £1. So this skirt is really cheap as chips! 
As you will probably have guessed, this is indeed a Simplicity 2451. I made a view D, and the skirt actually turned out a bit like the picture! 

The construction was incredibly easy. The whole thing took no more than half a day to make, including the underlining - I was being rather impatient and lazy so I cheated and machine underlined the pieces by overcasting them at all the edges (with my overcasting foot). It is difficult to motivate myself to underline £1 fabrics by hand! 

I cut a size 4, which is smaller than the size I would've used if I based it simply on my waist/hip measurement, based on a number of reviews of this pattern. I am glad I did it as I love how/where it sits.

Overall I just love this skirt - it has such a classic shape, a good fit, the right length (long enough for work too) and it has pockets! What's not to like? I can totally see why this pattern was a Best Pattern of 2010. 

I wore this already last Sunday at Bicester Designer Outlet Village, where the snaps were taken, and it felt great to be wearing my homemade skirt amongst all the designer shops! Shhhh... but do you think that they can tell?  ;-) 

Saturday 6 October 2012

My modest raspberry dress

I am finally able to share my latest project (or more accurately, one of my latest projects) with you all - my modest raspberry dress! Yep, it's the ever so popular McCall's 5927. 

It is called the modest raspberry dress because the fabric is a lovely raspberry coloured double wool crepe (in fact, I don't really understand what "double wool" means but it was fabulous to work with) from the remnant bin from Macculloch and Wallis, for £18, and the cap sleeves made it modest enough  to be worn to work without needing a cardigan. And after all the troubles I've had with those darn sleeves, I had to honour them in the name somehow. 

I cut a size 4 for a close fit, and had planned on making view D. However, I don't know what came over me... when I followed the instructions, I followed those for views A and B! I couldn't tell you just how annoyed I was with my very silly self! The more annoying thing was, this was my first ever fully lined dress (obviously not counting my wedding dress here, which had a thousand layers!), and following the wrong set of instructions really messed up my otherwise beautifully smooth lining. 

I decided to be brave, and followed view B through in case I liked what I had. But I really disliked the straps :( I had great plans for this to be my new favourite work dress, and without the sleeves, it just didn't work. 

So after a few days of beating myself up, I decided to get over the on-show seams on the inside of the garment, and just add those cap sleeves to my "finished" dress. I'm so glad that I did! I think they have transformed the dress, and gave it so much modesty and sophistication. 

Despite my oversight, I thought this was a really good pattern. This is a pattern with multiple bust sizes, so I didn't even need to do a SBA! All I had to do was a petite adjustment on the bodice and skirt. 

The dress has such simple lines, which are perfect for a work dress, and the pockets are an added bonus. And I love that it is fully lined - the lining (faux silk lining, at £1.03 per metre from Fabricland) just makes the whole thing feel so much more comfortable and expensive. It involved a bit of hand sewing, but by no means excessive. 

Can you see the stitches?
 Some inside out photos (front and back) and right side out photos:

Having added the cap sleeves at the last minute, it actually inspired me to do the same to shop purchased clothes. Wouldn't that be a lovely refashion project? 

Monday 1 October 2012

Book review: Couture Sewing Techniques and Giveaway Winner

As requested by some of my readers, it is time I did my first sewing book review. This one is probably my favourite, not only because I simply could not have made my wedding dress without it. It is, of course, Couture Sewing Techniques (Revised & Updated) by Claire B. Shaeffer. 

Before I start though, it is also time to announce the winner of my first ever Giveaway! Thank you for all the lovely readers that took part - I appreciate all the wonderful comments and very helpful suggestions. The winner was selected by a random number generator (thank you Excel!) and the beautifully green fabric goes to... drum roll please... Arielle (lakaribane) at Fashion Maté! Arielle, I will be in touch by email shortly. 
Now the book review. 
This book is based on the 2001 version of Claire's Couture Sewing Techniques, but revised and updated 10 years later to not only to bring the book up-to-date, but also to add a new chapter on special fabrics and lots of beautiful photos. 

I bought this book almost as an alternative to Susan Khalje's Bridal Couture, which is out of print, and goes for £100+ on Amazon (there is a cd version available from the US, but when I was making my wedding dress, I just didn't want any further delays over potential custom issues/shipping problems). I was really glad that I did make the purchase, as it was of invaluable help (as were all the PR members on the Bridal sewing board). 

The book is made of 2 main parts: the basics to couture sewing, and applying couture techniques. I think this makes logical sense, and makes a great read from cover to cover - this is not what I can say for a lot of sewing books, especially techniques-based ones. However, I must admit that at times, I did find that some techniques are not situated in one place, so I had to jump through a couple of parts. Though all in all, this was not a big problem for me. 

The book contains so many wonderful couture techniques, and made me feel like couture sewing is not out of my (or anyone's) reach. The techniques are well explained, well illustrated, and in most cases, well applied in the later parts of the book. 

It takes you through the history of couture sewing, which personally I found a fascinating read, but I could imagine some readers considering it irrelevant. It contains lots and lots of references to the great famous fashion houses, with exclusive photos of some wonderfully constructed items, which was inspiring. 

There are also lots of "Claire's tip" next to some techniques, and I really loved those as I felt like I was being given great insight of the industry, and "tricks of the trade". 

Towards the very end of the book, there is also a section on special occasions wear and wedding dresses. Selfishly, I wished that the wedding dresses section was a little bit longer, especially as there are not that many sewing books on the market for wedding dresses constructions. But it certainly contained some useful information on the key elements of wedding dresses, which I did find helpful. 

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book. Although I don't think this is something that complete beginners should get their hands on straight away, this is certainly suitable for advanced beginners onwards who are interested in learning how to sew better. It helped me a great deal, and made me appreciate hand sewing so much more. 

Happy sewing everyone! x

Tuesday 25 September 2012

The Experiment Dress

I've called my latest creation The Experiment Dress because it was a first for me on several levels:

  • First go at a real vintage pattern (oh the excitement!);
  • First attempt with a border print; 
  • First "jumper" dress;
  • First try with the 60's style (OK you can't really see that now, but see my explanation below). 
All in all, it turned out OK - I'm not exactly feeling over the moon with it, but I'm not overly upset with it either.  

So I got my hands on this lovely vintage pattern from a really cute shop called Berylune when I visited Leamington Spa (it opened a few months ago, and it runs craft classes), and I simply couldn't wait to rip it open (...don't worry, it was just a figure of speech; I was in fact very careful with this beautiful piece of "antique") and make a start on it. It is the vintage Simplicity 7270, dated from 1967. It was a "how to sew" pattern, including a page of detailed instructions on how to interface a neckline. And yes it was a pattern for teenagers, but the sizing appeared perfect for me, at first glance. 

I wanted to make a "jumper" dress for this cool autumn weather, so I used my second "coupon" from Paris which was a heavyweight viscose. To prove this to you, see picture below (don't be shy mum) the beautiful fabric wrapped around my wonderful mum at the top of the Eiffel Tower (she was cold, and, well, she rocked this look)! 

As you can see, it has a quirky border print, and as with my other "coupon", it was €10 for 3 whole metres! I wanted to experiment with this, and this 60's dress seemed like the perfect candidate, as the dress front and back pieces are basically 2 rectangles (alarm bells ringing in my head) so it shouldn't be too tricky to keep the border print under control. 

So I spent ages trying to ensure that the neckline/front and back yokes have symmetrical prints (and the bits of the fabric that I want), and the bold print at the bottom sits centrally, and that the skirt will finish where the border finishes, whilst keeping the length at the desired level, just above my knee. I think all that has worked out well. 

I had a bit of a problem with the fit though. OK that was an understatement - the finished dress looked like a huge sack on me! I should've seen this coming - the rectangles were gathered at the top for the chest area, and of course that meant that the waistline was going to be larger than the bust. D'oh! Part of the problem was also that I was so excited to work with a vintage pattern, I didn't want to alter the pattern, and also was too lazy to trace out all the pattern pieces. 

Perhaps the 60s style is just not made for me. I prefer a closer fit at the best of times, so I had to do something. So I added 4 darts, 2 front darts at 3cm width, and 2 back darts at 2cm width each, and also included curved side seams, taking in 3cm at each side, and had a whopping 4.5cm seam allowance at the centre back. So you get the idea! I took in over 40cm at the waist! 

Given what I had to work with, the finished product didn't seem all that bad, although of course, it no longer had the 60s style in my opinion. 

I also got to try out a "visible" centred dress zipper (I couldn't quite bring myself to insert an invisible zipper to this vintage number), and it wasn't too bad at all, apart from all the unpicking when adjusting the fit. In fact I would say that it was easier than inserting invisible zippers. I didn't follow the instruction on the pattern here; rather I referred to my Dressmaker's Technique Bible and basted the seams first before sewing on the zipper closed. Here's a picture of it from the back: 

As usual, I would be interested in hearing what you think! Do you think this looks grown up enough for work? Perhaps over the purple shirt? Or for dress down Fridays, under a long-sleeved top (ok, maybe not that white one in the photo above, but a dark top)? I don't feel like I love it, but maybe it'll grow on me...

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