Sporting Mabel

Making things to fit into my everyday wardrobe does not come naturally to me. The endless opportunities sewing allows means I get swayed by the dressy and fabulous, neglecting the things that I actually choose to wear.

Trying to be more mindful of my every-day clothes, last summer I noticed that I mainly wore a short denim skirt I’d picked up on Walthamstow market for about £1.99. The skirt doesn’t really fit and is a-line, one of my not-so-flattering silhouettes. So, whilst it suited my mood and lifestyle, I knew I could make something much better.

I chose some denim coloured cord that I have in my stash. It has a slight stretch, thus I chose Mabel by Colette Patterns to pair it with. (This is my second Colette make with this fabric, the other is my frequently-worn Clovers.)

I decided to play up the jeans look, as I had with my clovers, by cutting the front pattern as a pair. I planned to sew a flat-felled seam. However, after sewing the first part of the seam, wrong sides together, and pressing it open, I decided that I liked the contrast of the grey (wrong side of the fabric) against the darker blue of the right side. I changed plan and left the wrong side exposed, simply turning the raw edge under and sewing the seam allowance down with some grey thread to blend in.

This led me to think of a ribbed waistband I had that was left over from a sweatshirt I used in an earlier refashioning project. So I used this instead of cutting a waistband from the pattern. The ribbing was pretty light-wight so I interfaced it with some wool jersey.

This is the second time I have made up Mabel. It’s a great pattern for heavier-weight jersey or, in this case, woven fabric with some stretch. I’m pretty pleased with the organic way the design for this skirt came together and I’ve already paired it with a number of wardrobe staples.

Mabel out flat.

Mabel out flat.

On Eastney Beach

The beaches that surround my new home are mainly shingle, made up of millions of shells and pebbles. Many of the pebbles are flint and I’ve been having fun collecting a myriad colours.

A selection from the beach

A selection from the beach

Mostly they’ve been piling up around the house, but this gem in my latest haul inspired me to draw this.

The front panel reminds me a bit of the Polly Top from By Hand London.

Denim MoJo

I’m breaking a long sewing/blogging hiatus with something nice and simple.

I’d earmarked this Burda pattern for a wollen woven top that I didn’t get round to making last winter.

Burda Shift Dress Line Drawing

Burda Shift Dress Line Drawing


Then inspired by a suddenly remembered spread in a fashion magazine, the first few exercises in Colette Pattern’s Wardrobe Architect series, and an article in InStyle about current denim trends, I came up with the idea for an jean-y version I could throw on or style up.

A page from my inspiration book

A page from my inspiration book

I tried to incorporate some of the features from my inspiration dress; all seams have a dark red top-stitching and I finished the openings with a facing flipped to the outside. However, as the fabric faded a little in the pre-wash, I had to abandon the super-smart denim look and so I left the edges of the facing raw, they’re fraying nicely. The straight seams are flat-felled and the darts are clipped close to the top-stitching.

Here’s the dress on a lovely breezy beach walk. I’ve also worn it with tights and a long-sleeve jersey top underneath. I will see if I can style it for a night out, but I can’t see me wearing it to work though! Or at least only on a dress down day.

Finally, something to show.

Ah, yes, so that’s where two and a half months goes to. In amongst the job hunting, sewing has been taking place (albeit not as much as I would have liked) and I’m ready to reveal the first item in my summer sewing plan, Colette Clovers.

Stefan and his lovely bread.

Stefan and his lovely bread.

The pattern calls for a fabric with drape. I was worried throughout the construction, that I picked a fabric which was too stiff. It’s sort of a baby corduroy. In the end I think my fabric choice worked well in all but one respect; it caused the waist band to sew up a little tighter than my muslin fabric. But it’s also a little difficult to tell because of that whether the wrinkles are caused by fit or fabric.

Size & Alterations:
I started with a size 14. When I first tried my muslin on I was a little disappointed. It looked good round the legs, but I had flappy droopy poulter-wang crotch syndrome. I started by pinching this out, planning to take a wedge out of the front crotch rise. However, on reading Colette’s sew-along posts for this pattern, I decided that the problem was more that the waist was too big and thus sitting too low. It was also too loose round the hips, so I took it in from the lower hip up to the waist by about three inches.

This solved my dodgy sounding “front area” problem. I then added length to the back crotch rise as the back at the waist was dipping down a little.

In the finished article these alterations were perfect apart from the waist. With hindsight, I should have made the waist a little looser to accommodate the stiffer fabric I was going to use (or it could just be that I put on some weight since the muslin; sitting around at home applying for jobs all day will tend to do that to you.)

I love Colette’s pattern instructions. They are simple, concise and easy to understand, and backed up with a wealth of extra material online. I read the preamble to these instructions (rather than diving straight in) and got the idea to draw round the pattern pieces with tailor’s chalk. Yes, this is not new, my mum was doing it in the 60s I suppose, but I’d never really considered forgoing pinning. What convinced me was the thickness of my double layer of fabric. I was never going to get a pin through that. I’m now hooked on tailor’s chalk and have been using it ever since (more of that later).

Instead of a simple inside leg and crotch seam I decided to try out flat felling to make it a bit more jean-ey. I’m glad I did. I’ve got a nice neat seam which will hopefully stand up to some wear. I used an orange cotton thread for the top stitching, which adds to the effect. I finished the out side seams using a Hong Kong finish with coordinating cotton bias binding. Other than this I followed the instructions, except that I forgot to try Colette’s interesting method for attaching the waist-band facing. I got carried away by the finishing line and thus forgot… D’oh.

Wearability: make again?
I’ve worn these trousers multiple times since, despite the waist band being too tight. I love them. They coordinate with, and have brought into heavy use, other me-made items. I’ve got at least another five or so versions of this pattern in my head, but I may try to limit myself to two or three more! OK, before I adjudge that excessive, one pair will be a work version and another a brightly patterned version to tie in with the patterned trouser trend (although, by the time I get round to making them, that trend may be over… oh, well).

Anyway, in the spirit of Criticism is Good, any thoughts on the fit of these trews? I personally like it (i.e. it feels like it fits), but are there any obvious adjustments you’d make based on my wrinkles!

Is it a skirt/top? Is it a dress? No! It’s Super Versatile

I was hoping to have finished Vogue 1247 by now. I am in the home stretch, but stretch is the optimal word. Last minute impatience had me rushing to finish the sleeve cuffs and hem, this has led to some wonky and ripply edges. I’m taking a break to return when Little Miss Impatient is asleep (er, that’s my brain, not an actual child or anything…).

In the mean-time, I’ve been dreaming of the next items in my wardrobe challenge. Which is probably part of the problem described above, so I know I shouldn’t, but, well, I can’t help it…

From somewhere I seem to have become obsessed with tops and skirts masquerading as dresses. I first became aware of this phenomenon from vintage patterns, where things I would call a two-piece seem to be called a dress.

Picture sources @ Melanie on Pinterest

(And, conversely, according to Claire Shaeffer, Chanel would oft-times sew a shell top to a skirt in order to make the skirt hang better. This wasn’t meant to be seen as a dress, so seemingly was still called a skirt. Who knew you could play so fast and loose with the terminology?)

Then there came the much-made peplum combo from Burda Aug 2012.

Source: via Melanie on Pinterest

You would think this is dress. Fooled again! It’s a skirt/top. I wanted to make that skirt/top so badly. I think it was about that time that a small neuron stuck up its dendrite and suggested ever so quietly that, even better, if I made two, I could mix and match them, the skirt from one with the top from the other. Might I still do that? Well, maybe… there’s a piece of black hound’s tooth that’s got peplum written all over it. But the turqoise linen is getting made up into a two piece peplum. right. now.

So to meet the requirements of the challenge without looking like a great big peplum weirdo, my plan is to take one of the other fabrics and make both a skirt, which can also be matched with the peplum, and a second top of a different design. That way all four items will co-ordinate with each other, but I still get to indulge in the skirt/top masquerade gimmick, and I’ll have two different looks. I know!

However, (and it’s always more complicated when my brain gets involved), back to the actual Burda pattern, I decided, after reading Fehr Trade‘s review, that I would want to swap the bodice for something else. Various plans ensued: redraft the supplied bodice by manipulating the waist dart into a princess seam; use the top half of the wiggle-dress from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing; oh, wait, what’s that weird non-pattern at the start of Pattern Magic 2?

Pattern Magic: 'Basic Lesson'

Pattern Magic: ‘Basic Lesson’

So, without further ado here are my initial designs for the turquoise linen/silk blend and African wax fabrics.

Mix and match

Mix and match

I’ve tried to find an on-line example of someone making this, but it seems that most people did what I did initially and skipped over it. The only reference I can find to making this top is in a post, again by Fehr Trade, describing a course she took at Morley College. They’re doing another one this year, look.

So you’ll just have to look at my grainy photo and the shaping lines in my design illustration, until I show my pattern.

This also ticks off one of my challenge aims: using some instructions from the Pattern Magic books.

I’m getting excited about sewing my peplum a year after the trend hit, although, there are some who are, apparently, ‘over’ it already! I don’t care!

Slippage, bubbles and seam impressions…

I’ve been getting on with the first two items in my Spring/Summer 2013 wardrobe challenge. The Colette Clovers are done (and have been worn out and about) and I am half way through the Vogue top. I’m saving a reveal till I can photograph the two of them together, but here’s a teaser.

Top front constructed

Top front constructed

Sewing a version of this top in blue silk had two purposes: a muslin before cutting into the patterned chiffon, and my first experience of sewing with light-weight silk satin. Some sort of drapey silk is a current wedding-frock contender and so I wanted to see how it handled and whether I could handle it before I got too far along in my plans.

As this pattern is for an unstructured top I didn’t need any complicated backing or control, so I focussed on learning how to cut, sew and press silk.

Cutting: I used the Grainline tutorial for cutting the silk, that is cutting it through paper, and I think, on the whole it worked. I haven’t got a very big cutting surface and I don’t like crawling around on the floor, so I handily recalled a tip from Roberta Carr’s Couture book. She advises you to cut with the smallest piece of fabric you can get away with. I happily ripped away at my fabric to give me strips that would fit on my table and then sandwiched them between paper, using the edges of my paper as my grain lines. The one thing I found tricky was inserting the pins; the weight of the three layers, and stiffness of the paper, meant that I couldn’t bring the pins back up through the sandwich easily. The combination of these two methods is very profligate with materials. As a recycler, I’m not sure what I think about this, yet.

After cutting out the first back piece, I hastily pulled out the pins to see my results. Whilst, happy with the piece itself, I realised how badly the fabric frayed and so I left subsequent pieces sandwiched in their paper until I needed them. I think this stopped both wrinkling and fraying.

Pattern Pieces

Fabric sandwich, hold the mayo

Sewing: I read quite extensively before starting sewing but then just went by feel. I used these resources:

I set the machine up with the smallest needle I had, following Claire’s advice. The pattern calls for french seams, which I sewed on the 2.5 setting.

My seams still slipped a little (Seam Slippage) and; I now have two pieces of conflicting advice, Claire suggested a ‘normal’ stitch length would be fine, but the link above suggests the opposite to avoid slippage. In any case, don’t think this will be noticeable in the final garment as it has a loose fit and wont be pulled tight.

I didn’t use any stabilisers; the way the pattern called for the neck to be finished was almost a stabiliser in itself:

Bias edging

Bias edging

That is, a bias band stitched to the right side, pressed under and then top stitched. The second row you see there is understitching. It remains to be seen whether I should have stabilised the lower front panels when I try to stitch them to the upper front.

I think I’m going to need to sew a more structured garment to really improve my abilities with this fabric.

Pressing: Again my source material was the two couture books. I wanted to press with a cloth to protect the fabric, but found it really tricky getting the seam in position under it. I really worked on my technique, eventually realising that I needed to hold the seam down with my fingers, place the cloth over the top and then press, rather than holding the fabric from above the cloth.

Unfortunately this fabric was VERY unforgiving when pressing. The small amounts of steam I dared to use have given a bubbly look to bits of the fabric and I’ve got seam impressions on the right side, as you can see from the picture on the left.

I also tried putting paper between the seam and body of the top, as suggested by Roberta, but by then I’d pressed the seams so many times, the results of this method weren’t clear.

Next time, I will try both paper and using less pressure, possibly not even touching the fabric, just using the heat. I picked that up from Ann in the Great British Sewing Bee.

From the Wardrobe: Decanter Fine Wine Encounter

I’m going to delve back into previous makes and blog them for posterity! First up, a Burda Magazine dress I made for our annual jaunt to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, where I encountered a LOT of wine.

Pattern: Dress 111, September 2009 edition of Burda Magazine.

Made/occasion: Made in Oct/Nov 2012 for special occasion (see above)

Alterations/Fitting: No design alterations apart from fully lining the dress. Fitted well, apart from at hips. Decreased hips by inch or two (this is a normal adjustment for me as my hips are narrower than the pattern models used).

Fabric: Not sure of the fiber content. Structure is taffetta like. Main colour is black with small woven grey diamonds at intervals, and there is a woven boarder of antique gold, copper and pewter flowers. My biggest mistake was pre-washing this fabric. The fabric didn’t shrink, but there are now distortions in the weave which show up as grey crease marks. No amount of pressing gets rid of these babies (but I might try sending it for dry cleaning to see what happens).

Pattern instructions: They were typically minimally Burda-y. I.e. you could follow them, but they’re not giving you any extra. HOWEVER, there is a mysterious ‘lining’ piece that I didn’t figure out until half way through the muslin stage. Why, oh why, I thought, is there only one lining piece? Well, it isn’t a lining piece, that’s why. This dress is unlined as drafted in the magazine. No! The ‘lining’ piece is actually an internal structure keeping the two princess side pieces where they’re supposed to be. Absence of this piece means the front and back pleats are free to pull open. As I wasn’t lining my muslin I omitted this piece at the fitting stage only to hastily stitch it in as my pleats went flapping around all over the place. In the finished piece I used silk organza for the, ahem, structural lining.

The mysterious 'lining'

The mysterious ‘lining’

My construction notes/ thoughts: I picked this dress because I really wanted to showcase the border weave on this fabric. Most of the fabric is boring black and I didn’t want to just have the border around the skirt hem. Therefore I pieced the dress using the border in the central front and back pieces (upside down), and in the cap sleeves as well as round the skirt. I deliberately pieced the cap sleeves differently so that I didn’t have two bold flowers staring at you from my shoulders. I like the way the fabric placing highlights the face and decolletage.

I lined the dress by using the drafted pattern pieces, but cutting and sewing the bodice pieces at the pleat overlap lines, so the lining is smooth (this will make sense if you look at the pattern pieces). Instead of constructing the cap sleeves as full circles, folded in half and basted before setting in, as drafted, I cut a half circle from the shell fabric and one from the lining, hemming them at the long straight edge before setting them in as per the instructions. I hand-picked the lining at the neck and round the armholes.

Recommend/make again?: This is quite an elegant dress. It is also unusual with the front and back pleating, and I like the way the pleat matches up with the skirt pleats to look like a continuous fold when wearing a belt (when not, you can see the waist seam). This is quite a sophisticated design element for Burda, I think. I’ll leave you to decide if you can cope with the extra fabric over the boob area. I was concerned before-hand, but decided it’s not too much for me.

I would make this again. I like the style, but the fabric means I won’t be wearing this unless for best. A nice, red, woolen version would be smart for work, I think.

Look what I found...

My first Encounter of the day

WordPress likes to offer me related content when writing posts. Here’s one to help you matching those lovely pleats on the front of the Burda dress. Making sure they line up means you can take advantage of this sophisticated style element