Red Dress

Work and life have been getting in the way of sewing (or blogging) these last few weeks. I have barely managed to steal more than a few minutes here and there for any crafty activities.

One project I have been working on is my New Look 6000 dress. You may recognise this, I first made it about 12-18 months ago when there were lots of these sexy little numbers doing the rounds of the Internet. Scruffy Badger hosted a frock fest on her blog and I was taken with the idea of making a dress for work.

It was only the second time I had made a dress  and ambitiously I decided the line it. The fabric is wool crepe from Borovick fabrics in Berwick Street; a lovely drapey fabric which seems to magically lose any creases once it is hung in the cupboard. The lining is pale grey and I made dress guards to sit inside.

I was all prepared to love this dress (as you do when you are making it) but actually it turned out a little bleh. Not a total write off but just a bit boring. I do wear it but when I do I always look in the mirror and criticise it.

Anyway I knew these last couple of weeks weren’t going to give me any time for making a new project so I decided to remodel the dress slightly.

Firstly I pegged the skirt, taking 4.5cm out of each side (that’s 18 cm in total, a huge amount!). Originally it looked quite a-line which was very unflattering and somehow managed to make me look quite wide in the waist. The new shape fixes all that giving a much sleeker line.

Then I removed the buttons from the cuffs. The buttons were lovely but too heavy, I had interfaced the cuffs but in retrospect I should have used a much heavier duty interfacing.

Lastly I added a hook and eye to the collar as per the patterns instructions. What is it about hooks and eyes that make them so fiddly to fit? When I originally made the dress I decided I preferred a drapey collar without the fastening but now I think it looks better with the hook and eye in place. Incidentally I am not completely impressed with the collar on this dress. The pattern does not call for interfacing (probably because there are so many layers) but I think it needs a fairly heavy duty one to stop it from slumping at the front.

All in all I am much happier with the dress now and should get a lot more wear out of it.


New Books

I’ve bought a couple of new books

Dressmaking Made Easy arrived yesterday. I saw it mentioned on another blog and decided I needed to get a copy. It is a 1920’s sewing manual written by Laura Baldt who was the Assistant Professor of Household Arts at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. It was published by the McCall Company who I guess are the same pattern company that’s still around.

The books has a green binding and very pretty patterned paper cover with a gold background and right coloured squares. The illustrations inside are of very elegant ladies in that unmistakeable 1920’s silhouette. It is a very matter of fact, straight forward sort of book that just tells you how to get on and do it. It doesn’t have any of the scene setting or general chat about the subject that you would get in a sewing book these days.

The thing that surprises me most about this book is how modern it seems; dressmaking techniques have hardly changed since it was published. There are several sections which wouldn’t be included in a sewing book today; for example how to care for hats, how to apply shields to an armhole and a chapter about how to avoid unsuitable fabric such as silk which has been dyed with tin to make it a heavier cloth or linen or cotton which has had chalk or clay added to disguise a loose weave. It is also missing a chapter on zips, I think this is because zips didn’t become common until the 1930’s. Apart from that it is very similar to a modern dress making manual.

The second book is Pattern Making for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong. Alice, the teacher at my evening class talked about this book one week and I decided to order it. She did add that it was not really a beginners book, which it isn’t. It is actually a very comprehensive manual for learning about pattern cutting. It goes through stage by stage how to make patterns with hundreds of examples of what an be achieved and exactly how to get the look you want. I really would like to take a year off work and spend my time working through and making up every example but I don’t think this is really very practical! The book also comes with a DVD which I haven’t looked at yet.

One frustration with this book is that at the end of each chapter there is a little test where you make up patterns for various illustrated garments. The problem with this is that the answers aren’t provided and for some of the garments the patterns are quite difficult to devise.

Alice, also recommended books by Winifred Aldrich which might also be worth a try.


Using my new block I decided to draft a pencil skirt which I will probably make up in a soft, drapey, wool tweed.  A pencil skirt is very easy once you have a block.  It is just a case of using the top couple of inches of the block to make a waist band and narrowing the bottom of the skirt.

In order to make the skirt a little more interesting at the back I decided to add a fishtail to the vent.  I quite like interesting features on the back of my clothes, most garments look quite boring from the back. Having said that I don’t want a completely mad fishtail, just a little subtle one that makes the skirt a bit different.

Alice, my pattern cutting teacher, had made a similar skirt and helped me draft up a pattern for the fishtail. The pattern is made up of a number of consecutively large triangles which fold back on themselves with a raw outer edge.

It is difficult to tell how this is going to work out from the toile, calico is such a stiff fabric it really doesn’t give much of an idea of how a drapey detail is going to work at all.  When I first looked at it I thought it stuck out too much so I ran a quick line of stitches down the seam of one side to make the triangles all sit neatly together.  I’m not sure that this is the look I want though; I’m after something that drapes and adds a little volume.  Sewing down the triangles makes it look too stiff and flat.   This is the result the fishtail on the left of the picture has not been sewn down the side and it just hanging naturally, where as the fishtail on the right has been sewn down.  From the side it looks like this:

Fishtail sewn down

Fishtail sewn down

Fishtail ironed in place

Fishtail ironed in place

I also wonder if I got the shape of the back of the skirt quite right as the two fishtails sit one on top of each other when I place the skirt flat.  I would have thought that having the long edges of each running up into the seam line, so they sit side by side would be better (although this might make it a bit windy at the back!)As the fishtail is just in the vent I think I can probably make up the skirt in the tweed and see how the garment looks before I make a final decision.

Do you have any thoughts on this, have you ever made up a skirt with a fishtail?

A Dress for Work

In theory this dress has all the things I don’t do;

  • Polyester – I’m a fabric snob and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m also old enough to remember when polyester was cheap and nasty and to be avoided at all costs
  • Georgette – far to reminiscent of frou-frou frills for me
  • Polka dots – good heavens I’ll be wearing a peter pan collar next!

So having got all my pet phobias out of the way, actually, I quite like this dress. The simple lines of the design means it is feminine but not too girly, even in polka dot georgette. I’m still to wear the polyester for a full day but I’m looking forward to having a dress I can throw in the wash and not worry about.

The fabric came from Sew Over It, they also had it in navy which was lovely but I thought black would be more versatile. It is lined in a lightweight lining from Cloth House. I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of lining fabric to use and in retrospect I don’t think it was the best choice. I have a silk dress from Whistles which has a lining which looks something like a chiffon and I think that would have gone better.

I posted previously about the meal I made of making the dress’s lining. Next time I’ll do it more simply. Fitting the lining into the dress was an adventure – my brain doesn’t work in 3D and the first time I tried sewing the sleeves together I ended up with a horribly contorted mess of dress and lining fabric with some strange mobius strip type twist. I really must make up a pattern which actually has a lining in it sometime so I can see how the order of construction is supposed to work.

The georgette proved to be fun to cut out; fortunately the polka dots helped keep me on the straight. Each piece had to be done on the flat as I was worried that if I folded the fabric the underside would contort.

I also had some problems with getting the seams to lie flat; even with the tension on my upper thread turned right down I was getting some puckering on the seams when I sewed the georgette the first time.  One of my friends gave me a great tip; she suggested I sewed the seam using a long stitch and not back tacking at either end.  If you do this you can run your fingers along the seam and pull out any puckering.

And as for the hem……

I must admit to getting quite despondent my poor sewing skills as I made this dress. It’s such a simple design and because I had made one before I thought it would be simple to make. Still I have learnt quite a lot:

– polyester georgette is a pig to sew, never, never, never again (well until the next time)
– don’t try to be too clever when lining a dress
– perseverance does pay off!

This is the second time I’ve made this pattern (Easy Kimono Dress from Pattern Runway) and I will probably make a third at some stage in the future. I love the way the choice of fabric completely changes a garment’s look. This one is much smarter than my first but I hope will be worn almost as regularly.

A gratuitous shot of my shoes


Slipping off my chair

I’ve spent all day slipping off my chair. This is the culprit;

Do you remember this skirt?  I made it a few months ago but had all sorts of fitting issues and wasn’t happy with the finish. Today I wore it for the first time in anger and apart from the slipping problem (clearly there are draw backs to using a good quality lining fabric) it held up very well. I felt smart and professional all day. No mean feat when you’ve cycled in to work with your skirt in your ruck sack.


Now I just need to work out how to stay only chair.

Basic pattern cutting part two

I had my second pattern cutting evening class last week. With my block already made up we spent the evening discussing how it could be used to create a skirt. I had taken in a photo of the Anthropology skirt shown here and we decided to make something similar.

Not the best picture of our toile!

The skirt has an asymmetric yoke, a frill set into the seam below the point of the yoke and some cowling on the side. We only had three hours but managed to produce what I thought was a pretty credible first toile. The cowl needs a bit of work (not really helped by the fact that the toile is made out of a stiff calico) but the rest is reasonably similar to the original

The skirt fitted beautifully but unfortunately it proved that I am never going to suit a skirt with this sort of shaping. I might rework it without the cowl as I liked the rest of the skirt. In particular the frill down the front is fun, I don’t usually wear frills but this one is big enough not to look too girly.

I should probably tell you a bit about Alice the tutor. Alice runs her own dressmaking business designing and making bespoke clothes. She taught herself how to draft patterns and now uses software to create designs based on her customers requirements. I feel very lucky to have such a good tutor. Having spent a bit of time playing with my block I can see that pattern drafting is really quite difficult. The theory is fairly simple, once you have your block there are a limited number of ways you can manipulate it. The difficult bit comes in working out exactly how much you need to add in or take out in order to get a garment that makes sense. Alice has an artistic eye and a huge amount of experience and manages to make it look a lot more simple than I found it.