A Shirt Dress

The dress of the summer has been one I bought from Whistles on a cold grey day in April. It’s been worn with tights and a vest for cold days, leggings for slightly chilly days and just as it is on really hot days. It’s been to the office, up mountains, to dinner and everywhere inbetween.

This is a picture of us at Montserrat just outside Barcelona in 32 degree heat.

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The only problem with the dress has been that it was not made out of very good quality fabric – a viscose, polyamide mix according to the label. It’s very light and floaty but a bit itchy and has developed a shine in a couple of places.

There is only one answer to this and that is to copy it! Copying most of it was fairly straight forward but the front has big pockets sewn into the dart line, a placket and a deep pleat which made it a bit difficult to trace.

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Muslin number 1 had some strange pulls across the front. But muslin number 2 was almost perfect.  The linen came from Ditto fabrics. It looks white in the pictures but is actually silver. When it arrived it was very silver and Gill warned me that some would come off.   She was quite right and now it has a lovely slightly battered look that linen should have, rather than the full on bling it arrived as.

img_1977Of course now it is turning into Autumn I can’t see that I will wear this much before next year so I am busy making a second out of black pinstripe wool.

Have you ever copied a dress you love? Did it work out?

 

 

A Rather Mundane Subject

This will be a short and prosaic post.  

I need a new iron. I’m fed up with my current iron not producing enough steam.  I’ve looked at the John Lewis website but the range of irons and steam generators (look like irons but apparently you don’t have to change the temperature……..no I don’t know either) has left me completely bemused. Do I really need to spend £200 or will a £50 job be ok? Surely it shouldn’t be this complicated.

My current iron is fairly new and I think cost around £40, so not the cheapest but not the most expensive either.  I thought it would fit the bill but one tank of water will last several loads of ironing.  The problem is that you don’t really know how these things perform until you have tried them.

Has anyone out there bought an iron recently and do you have any advice?

Sewing Books

Kate recently wrote a lovely post about Charity Shops which got me thinking about sewing books.  But first I should start my a confession.

Hi, my name is Jane and I am a book addict.

IMG_0912I come from a family of book addicts and I live with a book addict, so it’s quite a hopeless case. This is a picture of part of our library

We spend hours of our lives in book shops.  I love new books but when it comes to sewing books I nearly always find second hand shops are a much better bet.

 

Look at this beauty – Dressmaking Made Easy  – a 1920’s sewing book complete with lovely 1920’s ladies. Apart from zips (rarely used before the 1930’s) this tells you everything you need to know about sewing.

IMG_1924IMG_1925..and what about this one?  McCall’s Treasury of Needlecraft from 1955 has chapters on embroidery, knitting, crochet, Glitter (who can’t resist “How to Use Sparkle in Decoration”?), Hair lace and Tatting, Home Beauty (about bedspreads and household linens rather than face creams) and Gifts.  I love this Norwegian cardigan.

Not all my books come from McCalls, I have a couple of Nancy Zieman “Busy Woman’s” books from the 1980’s. This one is about sewing and I have another about fitting.

These are the books I turn to when I get stuck with a particularly thorny problem. They’re straight forward and detailed, turn to any page and it will be packed with information.  Want to know how to sew a placket or 8 different sorts of collar, knit 11 basic stitch patterns, crochet with sequins or elasticised yarn or adjust a pattern for a large bust, or small bust? Then these are the books for you.

I IMG_1927love modern sewing books too, however I get frustrated that so many are very basic with a greater focus on pictures than proper instructions.  I suspect this is because sewing and knitting are no longer considered basic life skills that everyone should know something about.  Hugo’s Father learnt how to knit at prep school when he was around 6 or 7, that would have been in the 1930’s.  I was given weekly sewing classes in the 1970’s and still use the needlecase I made when I was 8 or 9.  I also sewed with Mother and my Grandmother taught me how to knit.  I learnt how to crochet on the school bus after we’d got bored of French knitting (does anyone do this now that thread is wound on plastic reels rather than wooden ones?).

I should add that there are some great modern sewing books which buck this trend for style over substance.  Alison Smith’s DK Sewing Book is about as comprehensive as you can get.  Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Pattern Making for Fashion Design is a classic and the Pattern Magic books can’t be beaten for making you think.

Do you have a favourite sewing book? Have you managed to find any treasures in second hand book shops or do you stick to new books?

 

 

Joan Dress

Do you ever find yourself hankering after something that you just know won’t be right?  This is what happened when I first saw Sew Over It’s Joan Dress which seemed the epitome of what I don’t wear but was strangely attractive. 

In a moment of weakness I bought the pattern and then found myself making a toile.  Eventually I had to admit to myself that this was a dress that was going to be made.  

The luxury crepe fabric I chose also came from Sew Over It, unfortunately this is where it all started to go horribly wrong.  The good things about this fabric are that it has the most wonderful sheen and like all polyesters it is remarkably low maintenance (no dry cleaning!).  The not so good things are that it has zero give and will only take the sharpest pins and needles -each of which leaves a small hole when withdrawn.  Seriously this fabric is like leather to work with.

Not being able to pin the fabric easily made each stage very difficult.  The most difficult part was putting in the sleeves.  Having no give it was impossible to ease the fabric without making lots of little puckers – those sleeves were unpicked so many times I was fearful for my seam ripper.  Eventually I cut down the sleeve head so that the seam lines were an identical length to those on the armscye which was the only way I could get a smooth line.  Strangely this hasn’t made the sleeves uncomfortable.

The instructions have you hem the lining and the outer shell together which produces a very clean finish.  At least it should do, unfortunately mine looked wonderful until I put the dress on and found some nasty pulling.  Strangely it all looked OK when the dress was flat.  Had I been able to stitch through all the layers I don’t think this would have been an issue, but the crepe was so dense I was finding it difficult to hand sew into it. I eventually fixed it by machining the dress and lining hem separately and adding a small tie between the two layers at the side seams.


I had to make my usual adjustments; a 2cm broad back and shoulder adjustment, a 2cm width adjustment to the sleeve head and a 1cm horizontal reduction above the bust.  I also shifted the darts towards the centre.  If I were to make it again I would probably add a further small amount to the back and lower the waist seam by about 2-3cm. I might also narrow the skirt a bit.

So do I wear it?  Actually, yes, I’m very conscious though that it isn’t my usual style but it is smart and low maintenance and sometimes that is the best you can wish for.

Spiralising – Making up the Dress

If you followed my previous post you now have a pattern which looks like a long rhomboid with necklines and armholes at one end.  The long spiral seam is shown on the diagram below in red/mustard.  This is cut on the grain so there is no problem with it stretching as you cut the fabric.

 Drapey fabrics work best.  I have made spiral dresses out of viscose jersey, silk crepe de chine and polyester triple crepe. All worked well.  You will probably want to wear a slip underneath as lumps and bumps do tend to show up.  Stripy fabrics are lovely as the stripe will curve around your body, also if you have crosswise stripes on your fabric it is very easy to match up the seam line.  The stripes on my silk dress ran down the fabric so parallel to the seam, on my jersey dress they ran across the seam.

You will need a lot of fabric, I used 2.5m but it will depend on how long you have made your pattern.  You only use quite a narrow piece so, if you’re using wide fabric, you will probably find you have enough left over for another dress. Handy if you have an accident with your over-locker (don’t ask!).  I made a pair of sleeves and a pencil skirt with my left over red crepe and still had quite a bit of unused fabric at the end.

When you put the pattern on the fabric don’t forget that you have not included any seam allowances along your spiral  seam. You could add these to the pattern but I found it relatively simple to  just cut my dress 1.5 cm wider on both sides.

To make up, sew along the spiral seam matching the notches you included when you made up the pattern, then press and finish.  I used a french seam on the silk dress , overlocked the seam on jersey and an ordinary seam on the triple crepe – in other words it doesn’t really matter which sort of seam you use. After that sew the rest of the dress as you would any other i.e. sew the shoulders, finish the neck line, add sleeves if you are using them.

Bias fabric tends to stretch so I recommend you hang the dress in the wardrobe for a few days before you hem it.

I’d love to see any dresses you make using these instructions!

Spiralising – the Pattern

I’ve been promising you the instructions for making a spiral dress and here they are!  I was given these by my lovely friend Alice Prieur who teaches pattern cutting at Raystitch, she has give me persmission to write a post about the technique.

You can make Spiral Dresses out of any fabric – both jersey and woven – it just needs a bit of drape.  If you use a stripy fabric you will find the stripes spiral around your body but plain fabrics look good too.  You can add sleeves or leave without.

What you will need;

– A pattern with a neckline, armholes and shoulders that fits well and looks good on you.  The neckline needs to be large enough to fit over your head without any fastenings.  You could draft this or use your block if you have one.  If you are making a dress with sleeves you will need those too. Don’t worry about bust shaping you won’t be needing that.

– A very large piece of paper.  This needs to be slightly wider (2-3cm) than your hips and a bit longer than your finished dress after allowing for hems and seam allowances.  Spot and cross paper is ideal as it will help you get your grainlines and angles straight, but any paper will do

– A long ruler and something to measure a 45 degree angle. I have a pattern master but it’s  not essential to use one providing you are confident about drawing the pattern accurately

– A big space to work on!

– Your hip measurement, this is the only measurement you need but it’s vital you get this right as there is no room for fitting once the dress is cut out.

Step 1 – draw two parallel lines the exact width of your hips apart. Then add a third line in the centre which is half way between the two.

Step 2 – copy your neckline and shoulders in, front on the left, back on the other.  You might need to add or remove a little from the arm holes at this stage so they fit between the lines.  The bottom of the armholes should meet in the middle.  Don’t forget to add in your notches

Draw a line across the bottom of the pattern where you want your dress to end adding a bit for a hem line.  You may find you need to adjust this when you sew up the dress.

  Step 3 – Draw a line at exactly 45 degrees from your front armhole across the pattern and down to the far side.  I started my line at the front sleeve notch on the armhole, but it doesn’t really matter where you start.  This will become your seam line so I suggest you sprinkle a few notches along it to help accurately sew it.

 Step 4 – cut along the diagonal line so you get what looks like two triangles with necklines and armholes at one end .  Then simply move the piece across to the right and paste the two long edges together to make a rhomboid.
If your diagonal does not meet exactly in the bottom right hand corner (which is
fairly normal) you might want to take a little of the bottom left and move it to the bottom right so the corners match up.

 

 

And that’s it, you now have your pattern! I will write a separate post about how to sew up.

 

Late addition to this post.  Hopefully you will have spotted that I haven’t added any seam allowances.  You can add them now or, do as I do, and add them in when you are cutting out the fabric

 

 

Spiral Party Dress

 

 Thank you all for your comments on my post about the red Spiral dress.  I am writing up the instructions for the pattern but in the mean time I have another spiral dress to show you.

 This was one of those projects that started well and then sat in the wardrobe “maturing” for a couple of years whilst I decided what to do about it.  FoIMG_1774rtunately my lovely friend Alice’s birthday party gave me the motivation and impetus to get it finished.

I used crepe de chine from Beckford Silk – silk is lovely to work with and this fabric is one of the best. As always spiral dresses take a lot of space to cut out. I had stiff knees when I’d finished as the only space big enough was my bed room floor.

I pinned the spiral seam wrong sides together, ran it through the overlocker, pressed it right sides together and sewed the seam to make a very neat and easy French seam.  Using the overlocker gives an even edge and ensures you don’t have any mishaps with the seam allowances.  I was worried that with such a long seam it would be easy to find I’d made a mistake and I didn’t fancy unpicking the silk.

After that it sat in the wardrobe, and then sat in the wardrobe some more.  The problem was that I could see it had potential but I wasn’t quite sure how to finish it.  I wanted to add sleeves but didn’t want to used the striped fabric.

IMG_1770Eventually inspiration struck and two days before the party I took out my stretch sleeve block and cut a pair of sleeves from some viscose jersey.  I then added a facing at the neckline and a couple of hours before the party a rolled hem.

I’ve avoided the trend for maxi dresses up to now as they tend to make me look a bit dumpy, but I am pleased with this one.  The bias cut is flattering and very comfortable to wear.

 

Spiralising


I’m told spiralised vegetables are all the rage.  I’ve gone one further and spiralised my dress.

The pattern started off as the ultimate shift dress, turning it into a spiral dress was very simple and didn’t take long. The biggest challenge was finding a big enough piece of paper and the space to cut it out. Sewing it up was very simple, no darts and no fastenings needed, just one very long seam which spirals around your body.  The clever bit is that the seam is actually cut on the straight and it’s only when you sew it together that you get the bias effect. I will give instructions in a future post, I warn you though spiral dresses are very addictive, once you’ve made one you won’t be able to stop!

This dress was made out of triple crepe. I’ve made a few dresses out of this recently, feeling very brave as I overcome my fear of man-made fabrics.  I think it’s something to do with my age, polyester in the ’80s was definitely something to avoid.  These days I find it useful to have dresses that pack down into my cycling bag and come out looking smart when I get to work.  I’m also pleased not to spend all my pocket money on dry cleaning.  I have lined the dress as the bias tends to cling, but a slip would have done the trick too. After making up the dress I let it hang in my wardrobe for a couple of weeks before I hemmed it and I found it interesting that the crepe stretched about 10cm whereas the lining didn’t stretch at all.  I’d read that this happens to bias cut fabric but hadn’t expected the effect to be so dramatic.

I feel slightly strange wearing this dress as I made it mid calf length, most of my dresses and skirts are knee length. The longer length takes some getting used to, and it definitely needs heels to set it off.

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Espresso Leggings

Yes, you have seen this picture before. And yes, my feet were freezing; my photographer was on a mission and I decided cold feet were preferable to old slippers

Yes, you have seen this picture before. And yes, my feet were freezing; my photographer was on a mission and I decided cold feet were preferable to old slippers

I quite like wearing leggings.  I wear them for cycling, for flights and when I want an extra layer of warmth under a dress.  I have several pairs from Sweaty Betty including some fleece lined ones for winter.  I also have a pair of Winser London Miracle leggings which are surprisingly flattering.  The Miracle fabric Winser uses is a thick Ponte made with a lot of viscose which is easy to care for and very comfortable ( I can also recommend the dresses made out of the same fabric).

As a fun quick project I thought I would try Cake Espresso Leggings.  These intrigued me because you essentially draft your own leggings using their dot to dot guide.

img_0758The whole project should be very easy and quick, however I was a bit perplexed by some of the drafting instructions  Do you add the seam allowances or are they already included? There seemed to be mixed views on this when I googled it. Also how do you go about measuring your front and back rise? I though I knew but as I ended up with  leggings which were too long on the front and too short on the back I think Cake may have used a different method.  Bizarrely the URL provided doesn’t work so there doesn’t seem to be anyway you can get assistance from Cake themselves.
After a quick trip to Fiona’s Fabrics I made up my first pair in black cotton jersey and the second in a mad black and grey rose print viscose.  I managed to get both to fit reasonably well after a bit of tweaking.  So my advice to anyone trying to make these – seam allowances do seem to be built into the pattern but allow a bit extra around the waist band so you can fiddle around with the rise.

Now I just need to find some decent viscose ponte……

Inari Tee Dress

  

This is my Inari Tee Dress from Named Patterns.  Having researched it round the internet I see that lots of bloggers have been making this pattern and I am rather late to the party.  I particularly liked Charlie’s version and her description of it being the perfect winter uniform. Somehow she always manages to find the most perfect fabric

 I shamefully copied Karen by making my dress out of crepe.  Mine came from Dragonfly Fabrics and is one of the nicer crepes I’ve found.  I think it’s the viscose content that makes it so soft and rather more breathable than the polyester crepes I’ve used in the past. The upside with polyester crepes is that you get that wonderful colour saturation, this is a more muted, almost heathery colour.

Some bloggers have commented on how the sleeves can be a bit tight on this pattern  and with my muscular (ahem) arms I decided it was worth adding a couple of centimetres to the width.  I also took out a couple of centimetres from my upper chest which is an adjustment I commonly require.  I’m not sure this was completely necessary.

So what do I think?  Well I love the shape, it’s comfortable and modern is a Cos sort of way – a stylish dress for grown ups. As always the success is in the details; the cocoon shape, the seams that wrap around to the front, the side slits and change in hem length.

 The only thing I might change is the sleeves.  The cuffs make it quite bulky under the arm and prevent me from putting a cardigan or jacket over the top, fortunately I can wear t-shirt underneath so I haven’t frozen to death yet.