Tag Archives: dressmaking

My finest sewing moment of 2013: a 1920’s dress in a week.

From themed invitation to finished dress: story of a sewing project I totally should have blogged at the time but totally didn’t.

The theme for my work’s 2013 Christmas party was 1920’s/Speakeasy/Great Gatsby. Do I need an excuse for Making A Thing? Hell no. But a themed party is an even better way to exercise my Making Things Skillz. The invitations went out quite early, but somehow (somehow, I can’t imagine how) I wound up a week before the event with no dress, and not even a backup. I had to start thinking, and quickly.

Now, of course, the 1920’s silhouette is slim, straight, and somewhat severe. I am none of these things (barring my librarianface), so any dress would have to be balanced very carefully so as to fit the theme, but also make me look good. I spent a long time trawling image searches and pattern sites to try to get inspiration. What really sparked things off was a Great Gatsby-themed dress by Cation Designs. I thought the layered approach was very pretty, authentic, and would give me a good opportunity to say ‘hey, I do have a figure under here’.

I wandered the fabric shops in search of a suitably frou-frou fabric, but the answer was under my nose (and in my stash) all the time.

Blue chiffon

I’d bought this crinkle chiffon online as a reward for getting a job interview (possibly the job interview for this job? That would be a nice coincidence), intending to make a top, but the pattern turned out far larger than I’d expected. Oh, internet fabric shops, how often you betray me. But for a dress, for a themed party? Distinctive, frou-frou, perfect.

For the lulz, this is my original sketch of the dress.

Suddenly, it was there. In my head. The whole thing. I knew exactly what I wanted from it. I would draft it from an easy-fitting bodice block, and extend it down to hip level. I’d also give it some very gentle bust and waist shaping. For the skirt section, I’d make a very gentle arc to give some movement around the knees and break up the tube effect. Underneath would be a white slip, perfectly cut to conceal my underpinnings, and with a more tailored fit to maintain the whole ‘I do have a waist, I promise’ effect.

The sewing process took about a week of after-work sessions. I don’t really know how to describe it, other than a manic episode. I was a woman possessed. It just slammed into my head and my hands did the work and then it existed, on my tailor’s dummy, exactly as I’d imagined it.

1920s dress

I was sort of terrified. I’d never worked with fabric this delicate, so I did a lot of basting and tailor’s tacks. To deal with fraying ends and a delicate, sheer fabric I learned how to do French seams, which turned out to be about my favourite sewing technique ever.

for someone who pinks her edges and pretends not to notice the frayed threads floating behind her, this is witchcraft.

Every time I settled down to cut a piece of fabric or perform some arduous task like finishing my neck and arms with bias tape, I announced to nobody in particular ‘well, if I do this wrong, the whole thing’s screwed’. I needn’t have worried.

*assumes heroic pose indicating success*

I’m glad I didn’t do self-facing. For a start, I would have had to buy a bias tape maker gadget thing. And I wouldn’t have had enough fabric. As it was, I barely squeaked a sash out of the remnants. There is literally nothing usable left of the 2 metres of fabric I bought. I think that is pretty cool, in and of itself.

I teamed the dress with the obligatory string of pearls, some silver feather hair grips, and a ton of hairspray. Oh, and these, in a rather spiffy return to my internet roots.

back to my internet roots.

I was so, so, super-stoked by all of this. I was probably the most obnoxious person in the room as I tottered around all HI HI I AM MINGLING ISN’T THIS FUN DID I TELL YOU I MADE MY DRESS LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT. HEY LOOK FREE BAR. There was a roulette wheel. I lost my chips in three spins and laughed. Someone said I looked like a movie star. At one point a colleague came in from the smoking area outside (aka, outside), shaking the rain from his fedora, shrugging the trench coat from his shoulders, and augh it was like a TNG private detective holodeck episode.

I’ll leave you now, as my boasting is possibly going too far. But I’ll just say one more thing: this back view, the cutesy bow-tied opening that goes down far enough to allow a risqué glimpse of slip, is exactly, exactly, as I saw it in my head. This is probably my proudest sewing moment ever. I hope I have a lot more of these moments. 🙂

This is genuinely, literally, exactly as I imagined it.

Drops baby alpaca silk


I’ve had an envelope of yarn sitting on the dining table for about a fortnight. I hadn’t even added it to Ravelry. Quelle horreur! Baby alpaca silk blend and I’d barely spent any time rubbing it on my face. (You have to do that to make sure they really used the babies).

As I was photographing it (and discovering that my phone camera is now better than my actual camera), I remembered that I had also augmented my fabric stash over the summer. Give me a wage, and put me near the internet? Stash happens.

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Of course, I can’t remember what I was planning to do with any of these. I’ve got a pattern for a wraparound dress that I think I was going to try (maybe in the brown shimmer fabric?), but I’m looking at the other patterns thinking I just don’t want to make them. My tastes have obviously changed over the last five years.

I might make a skirt out of the skull and crossbones fabric. I don’t know why, I don’t know if I would ever wear it, but I think it might be fun.

I’m also feeling a bit disillusioned with buying fabric online. I like the convenience, but I’m a bit tired of ordering two fabrics described in the same way (brown shimmer jersey, bright blue floral jersey) and receiving two completely different fabrics (cotton jersey, swimsuit material). I’m going back to bricks and mortar. That’s not a problem, Brighton has lots of places you can go to and touch and play with your fabric, if they do frown on you rubbing it on your face.

Maybe I just need to buy from more reputable companies, to do some research into named brands or manufacturers. Perhaps when I find the Rowan of woven fabrics, I’ll be able to order blind and not end up quite so disappointed.

Got any tips for fabric enstashination, online or otherwise?

WIP Wednesday: 17/04/13

Definitely need a better naming scheme for WIP Wednesday.

Anyway, welcome to this nth edition of WIP Wednesday.

Still mainly three projects keeping me going through these delicious Spring days.

Spring Shawl:

This is getting there. At last. I’m on to the outer edging now so whargarbl excitement. Probably five more rows, then cast-off and blocking. Might finally invest in some blocking wires as I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

Shawl is on final 6 rows! #knitting

unnecessarily twee spring shawl on Ravelry

Orange cardigan:

Getting there as well. Probably needs a couple more inches on the sleeves, then I can do the rib detail. Then I can see how much yarn I have left, finish the lower edge rib, then pick up the button band. You might think this is unnecessarily complicated; well, it probably is. This is what happens when you buy yarn in totally random quantities and don’t do any calculations before you decide on a design. 😀

And the cardigan is looking pretty good too. :D #knitting

oxide cardigan on Ravelry


And even this is going quite well. It’s all in one piece, I’ve added waist facing (I did the best understitching of my life on that waistband, I’m super-proud), and now I need to do the fastening, hem the bottom, and probably add a lining because it sticks to tights like you wouldn’t believe. Not sure whether to use the icky polyester lining I originally bought for it or to splash out on something a bit fancier. My heart is drawn to silk but I’m not sure. Decision for another day.

Skirt is coming along nicely. #sewing

fancified pencil skirt on MSC

And there we go. A goodly amount of progress over the last couple of weeks. Now imagine what I could do if I hadn’t lost entire days to rubbernecking internet drama. 😉

WIP Wednesday: BST roundup

Moving house meant I had to face a few uncomfortable truths about the number of WIPs I had squirrelled away all over the place. I pose to you a philosophical question; is a WIP still a WIP if it’s hibernating? Does it get included in the WIP count? How long does a WIP lie neglected until it goes into hibernation, or must hibernation be a deliberate decision?

We all must make these decisions for ourselves.

Unnecessarily Twee Spring ShawlRavelry link

This had a sudden burst of activity when I finally made myself sit down and figure out how to do the edging, i.e. I pinched an edging from another pattern. Said pattern is Lilah, from Knitty, and required only a little bit of tweaking to make it fit to my stitch count and the flower/foliage theme. I’m probably 2/3 of the way through the edging, so the end is in sight.

Burst of activity on my springy shawl thing. #knitting

Oxide CardiganRavelry link

This only just registers as out of hibernation – I’ve knitted about five rounds on the sleeves. The cotton content makes it harder to knit with cold hands, plus I keep destroying my fingers with oven burns, IKEA-furniture-assembling wounds and most painfully, shampoo bottle injuries. Those sleeves are about half-way done, after which I’ll need to finish the lower edge and pick up the button band.

Also, two-at-a-time sleeves: great in concept, but pretty difficult to check the length. XD #knitting

Hey look, yet another pencil skirt:MSC link [1].

I can’t help myself, I just love them. This one is a self-drafted number, with gathered detail at the front, faced waistband, and some sort of fastening that doesn’t involve a zip because I wanted a challenge (and didn’t buy a zip, apparently). This one’s quite high on the ‘likely to end up stuffed in a WIP bag for months because thinking is hard’ scale so I need to keep close tabs on it.

Attempting a skirt with gathered detail on front. Terrified of taking it to the machine.

In hibernation:

Still in WIP prison are the socks, dressing gown, and actually-finished-jumper-that-just-hasn’t-been-photographed. But one long-lingering project has actually achieved completion, and I’ll be sharing that soon. EXCITING. Perhaps.

1. My Sewing Circle. If there is another hip sewing site (one that focuses on WIPs rather than FOs, tutorials or shops), let me know. MSC seems pretty good so far but I’m willing to experiment.^

FO: Floral shirt of exaggerated terror.

Me Made May: Day 29

There we go. One Butterick B4799, view C. My only adjustment was to add about 2.5″/7cm onto the bottom edge. I don’t have a particularly long torso, but the pattern picture looked a bit boxy, and I prefer a more elegant line.

It was pretty easy to sew – the most difficulty I had was in wrangling the bias tape, and fighting my sewing machine. There is a dirty grey mark right on the front neckline where the machine went OM NOM NOM FABRIC TASTES LIKE COOKIES and sucked about an inch of said fabric into its inner workings. Any part where I had to sew from the reverse side, the bobbin thread messed up and left an ugly loop on the good side. I need to start listening to my machine more carefully so I can catch it before it’s irreparable.

Notes about the pattern: At no point for this view does it give the instruction to actually stitch the neckline. I mean, obviously you’ve got to, but it doesn’t say it.

Notes about the fit: It’s pretty good (I think I made the largest size in the smaller of the two envelopes) but the top bags enormously if I bend over or slouch. Looks great when standing still, though.

Side note: I would like to offer thanks to all sewing machine manufacturers who include a one-step buttonhole setting and attachment to their machines. This would almost definitely still be on the dummy if I had to do them by hand.

Blessings be to Singer for the one-step buttonhole.

Honestly, it’s like some kind of magic.

I still feel a bit like a cushion cover while wearing it, but it does indeed improve with the right accessories/accompanying garments. So thank you, internet friends, for providing me with the strength to go on. This will not be immediately repurposed into a cushion cover. Probably. 😉

Me Made May: Week 4

I did a really poor job of photographing last week’s outfits. As in, I didn’t take any at all. I was also seriously caught out by the weather; after the previous week’s shiveringly cold finish, it suddenly shot up to 24-25℃. Good job I’d saved all those warm jumpers.


On Friday, I fudged it by spending the end of the evening in a hand-made ball gown. On Saturday, I was panicking. I called in a cheat day, but couldn’t bear to wear the socks for even a minute. So I shrugged, reminded myself that I’d tried, and rocked a bought sundress instead.

So I guess the learning point from this week is:

If things go wrong, don’t beat yourself up. Expecting the unexpected is a philosophical hole into which you need not be sucked.

I couldn’t have expected the end of May to be nearly 10℃ above the average. I was momentarily peeved, but I knew going into this that I had a hole in my hand-made wardrobe. A top- and light-layering-items-shaped hole, to be precise. So I’m actually going to pat myself on the back for the twenty-odd days on which I did succeed.

And it’s worth remembering that MMM is an artificial set of restrictions on my (your?) wardrobe. I already have four or five sundresses that rarely get worn. There’s no point in making another one, just so I can have a hand-made one. I want my hand-made clothing to be a part of my wardrobe, not a replacement for it.

With that in mind, here’s the recap:

Day 21: Flowery tunic dress again, but with jeans.

Day 22: Updated purple shirt. I bought this shirt in a sale without trying it on… only to discover why it was on sale. It was enormous. So I increased the size of the darts, cut a huge chunk off the sides, and I think I shortened the sleeves. It is also 100% cotton and claims to be dry clean only. What? I mean really, what?

Me Made May: Day 22

Day 23: Double up! Flouncy skirt and new lace top, with a big belt to stop myself turning into one enormous flounce.

Day 24: Flowery shift dress again, but with flip flops.

Day 25: Ballgown. Nearly FO post here. Only worn for about an hour before bed, but that totally counts. Right?

Me Made May: Day 25

Day 26: FAIL I mean CHEAT DAY

Day 27: Updated purple shirt with different top under it. I think.

OK. Four days left. Home stretch, here I come!

Me Made May: Week 3

Week three started nervously, soared to a high with a timely FO, and continued in the same excitably vein with some unseasonably cold weather that allowed me to get out some proper knits.

I was struggling to think of a learning point for this week, but I think I’ve got it; seize the day. Or:

Seize the knitwear. And the weather forecast.

The moment there’s a nip in the air, dig out that enormous jumper. If the sun is trying to peek through the clouds, haul on a hand-sewn sundress. Don’t leave things in the wardrobe, just because it’s not *quite* the right temperature for them, or you’re worried what people will say. Or because you’d rather avoid the hand-washing that goes along with hand-making things.

Eh. Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. It’s just interesting how this month is making me *really* think about things that live deep in the depths of my wardrobe. I’m realising that quite a few of them are being ignored, and quite unfairly.

Anyway, here’s the recap:

Day 14: Open-fronted cardigan with a WIP post here, and a Rav page here.

Me Made May: Day 14

Day 15: Second outing of 3/4 circle flowery skirt, this time with a jumper (which is almost cheating, but not quite.)

Day 16: My FO of last week, the lace-trimmed top.

Me Made May: Day 16

Day 17: An oldie – Isabella, which is lost in the mists of badly-organised blog pages, but has a Rav page here.

Me Made May: Day 17

Day 18: A really oldie – this is a customised T shirt from back in my obsessive-gig-going days. This is The Duke Spirit, Cuts Across the Land era. I started buying gig Ts, like the dutiful fan I was, but quickly became tired of the so-called ‘girly’ shirts barely stretching below my navel. So I moved onto buying bigger Tshirts, but quickly stopped as the pile of ‘must get around to that some time’ shirts became unmanageable.

Me Made May: Day 18

Day 19: Tubey! There is an FO post, but all it does is point to the Ravelry page. I love this jumper, but it’s so rare that I get to wear it.

Me Made May: Day 19

Day 20: The inverse of the open-fronted cardigan, the back-Laced tunic, which has a kinda WIP post here, and a Rav page here.

Me Made May: Day 20

FO: Lace-trimmed top

I wrote a WIP post about this the other day, so this is probably one of the fastest projects I’ve done in months. No sitting in the corner making me feel guilty for weeks! Woo!


Only now I notice the doorknob creeping in the side of the shot there. Cheeky thing.

As mentioned before, it’s a Butterick B4685, view D. I’ve had to omit the empire-line elastic due to lack of suitable binding. I’ll decide if I want to put that elastic in once I’ve worn it a few times.

The pattern’s nice and straightforward, with some good instructions. There were a couple of problems with it, however. The pattern calls for one-sided scalloped lace for the central trim, but the picture shows double-sided, and I think one-sided lace would look a bit odd as a central motif. Not a big issue, but could cause confusion. Also, the particular view I picked requires bias tape/binding, which isn’t mentioned in the notions list on the envelope. You’ll need a couple of metres of 1-1.5cm binding to do the waist elastic.

I’m quite excited about this top because it addresses a major gap in my wardrobe. I’ve made skirts, jumpers and cardigans, but never the shirts and tops you need to wear with them. I was a bit worried it’d look obviously hand-made, but it actually looks pretty good. Aside from the wonky hemline, that is… I’m not very good at curves yet. 😀

Here’s a shot of the back…


I’d show a side shot too, but there’s so much fabric gathered up by that neckline that it sort of… inflates. Plenty of room for expansion after a big dinner, sure, but yikes. Not a very good look. Hopefully it’ll calm down after a bit of wear, and a couple of washes, but if I make any other views of the pattern, I might stick in a couple of darts to get rid of some of that excess fabric.

And there you have it, my first Me Made May inspired FO. Anyone else resorted to a cheeky new project to extend their hand-made wardrobe? Or am I the only crazy enough to bother? 😀

Craft Retrospective: Flowery Tunic Dress of Awesome

Here’s a retrospective on an old, old hand-made item. I claimed in my Me Made May: Week 1 recap that I’d never done an FO post about this dress, but I just found it. Turns out, this just reached its fourth birthday. Awww. Happy birthday, flowery tunic dress of awesome.

Since that post contains almost no useful details, I’ll get some in here.

flowery tunic dress

It’s a McCall’s M5621, main view. The pattern itself is not terribly difficult, but a couple of bits are rather fiddly. The neckline has gathers, curves, and interfacing all fighting with each other for dominance… hence the rather crumpled appearance. The armscye was also a pain in the arse. I doubt that’s a fault of the pattern, however, as I was extremely n00by at the time.

The fabric was super-cheap market-stall fodder; likely a factory reject because the orange print doesn’t quite match up with the spaces made for it.

flowery fabric

I kinda like the effect, though. The fabric itself is quite light, a little bit floaty, but not so much as to make it difficult to work with. The neckline is black polycotton that I had to cut at an odd angle since it was a tiny remnant extracted from my stash in a panic. I hadn’t twigged that the contrast neckline would require contrast material. Derp.

What else can I say. Er… here’s the back. I actually quite like the back, because the centre-back seam is really crisp and straight.

flowery tunic dress

I do love it, and it does get a lot of wear; mainly over jeans, teamed with a cardigan. Good for barbecues and dinner parties – lots of room for expansion iykwim. It’s not terribly well made – the armscyes are particularly horrible – but it holds together and the really ugly bits are on the inside, which is probably the best way to be. 😀

Me Made May: Week 2

Still going well, though it’s starting to get a bit more challenging.

I’m into the repeats, though I’ve managed to mix up the outfits a bit so they’re not identical. I’ve also called in a cheat day; I was hoping for a new item to be completed before the weekend. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Sort of happily, though, it did lead to this week’s learning point:

However long you think it will take you to make something, double it. Or, however much time you think you have to spend on something, halve it.

This is applicable to… probably everything in life. I was caught out this weekend, thinking I could throw together a new top before we went away. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. It was a combination of over-estimating how fast I could sew, and under-estimating how much time I’d actually spend sewing. Laundry, lunch, the gym, and yes, procrastination all ate into my sewing time, leaving me with a half-finished top and nothing to wear on day 13.

Annoying, but predictable. I’d set aside the day for sewing, so mentally, I was considering the available time as 8 hours. More than enough time to finish a simple top. But, when you take out the necessary (and unnecessary) distractions, it’s probably closer to four hours. That’s going to take some serious speed-sewing.

Lesson learned: from now on, I’m going to be assuming I’m slower and procrastinating more than I think I am.

Now for the week 2 recap:

Day 7: Self-drafted flowery shift dress. Bank Holiday Monday, and I was feeling a bit fancy. Again, no FO post, despite this being probably the most exciting thing I did all of last year. *sigh*.

Me Made May: Day 7

Day 8: Retro Femme Empire Waist crochet top. Ravelry page here.

Me Made May: Day 8

Day 9: Vine Lace Cardigan. Ravelry page here.

Me Made May: Day 9

Day 10: Second outing of black pencil skirt, this time teamed with a short-sleeved shirt.

Day 11: Second outing of peacock eye cardigan, this time with skinny jeans (OK, it’s jeans again, but they’re a different cut and therefore this is not a cheat. :P)

Day 12: Flouncy Skirt of Flouncing. An actual FO post here.

Me Made May: Day 12

Day 13: Cheat day! Double Heelix.

Me Made May: Day 13

Right! Back to work to produce my wardrobe for the rest of the month. 😀