"" The girl who makes things: October 2013

Monday, 28 October 2013

Self drafted dress pattern

Hello Monday nighters! It's the beginning of the week and the start of a long slog at work. If you live in the UK, I hope you're snuggled up somewhere indoors, maybe wrapped in a duvet, hugging a mug of tea, away from the terrible weather outside. Or maybe that's just me. But let's not think about that! You might remember from a couple of posts ago that I managed to create my own pattern blocks and I wanted to use these to design a dress pattern. Well, I've been a busy bee and actually managed to make something wearable. I say wearable, not perfect. And here it is:

So let's go back to the beginning. Before I got started I had a good think about the sort of clothes I actually like wearing. I was very tempted to make something quite tailored, with a nipped in waist, sort of 1950s style, but then I realised that I don't actually find these kind of dresses very comfortable. They look beautiful but if I've eaten a big lunch or swigged down a can of Diet Coke then I bloat up (I am an unfortunate sufferer of food baby). I like dresses with elasticated waistbands and I think they look more casual. And I am quite casual. So elasticated waistband it was! I also wanted three quarter length sleeves so that I could wear it as a summer or winter dress. I took a bit of inspiration from this dress as seen on Rachel Bilsen too:

rachel-bilson sandro Gathered Waist Dress

Here's the original sketch I made of the dress:

Following the instructions in How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan, I copied my pattern block bodice on to a new piece of paper and then cut up vertical lines to the shoulder seams. I then fanned out the pattern to extend the waistline, as demonstrated in the illustration below:

I measured the width of the new bodice waist and then altered the skirt pattern to the same measurement. I stitched these together and added the elastic to the waist seam. I won't go into too much detail, but it involved stretching the elastic to the length and the seam and running it through the machine on a loose tension setting. This took two attempts to get right.

The poly-cotton fabric is from the bargain bucket in Samuel Taylors in Leeds. It cost £4.50 for at least 3m so I felt ok with using it to experiment. I also like the colour which is dusky rose.

I had a play around with looks and decided I liked this cardigan, scarf, belt combo:

I've already made a few adjustments to the pattern as I still don't think it's quite perfect. I've lengthened the bodice which is a tad short and made it slightly narrower so there aren't as many gathers. All in all though, I'm quite pleased with the outcome!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Four dresses

I'm probably not alone in this, but I have a confession to make: I love weddings. It is of some grievance to me that I've only ever been to TWO weddings in my whole life. My older peers keep telling me to wait until I'm at 'that age' when everyone gets married. But I'm not there yet. Or maybe I don't have the kind of friends who want to get married? I don't particularly want to get married myself. I just want to go to a fooking great big party with lots of pretty dresses, flowers, dancing, booze and food. Everyone seems to go to weddings every summer apart from me!

This is why I was so happy when Big Sis announced her engagement last May. As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm going to be making the four bridesmaids dresses. I'm excited and a teeny bit daunted about this project. Excited about having so many sewing projects and daunted because this is the first family wedding in about 20 years and I don't want to mess up! Luckily Big Sis isn't in the least bit bridezillaish and has put her complete faith and trust in my design and sewing skills. I just hope I don't let her down.

Big Sis is having her wedding dress made by a professional dressmaker. It's going to be a long, 1950s style gown with a lace overlay and capped sleeves. The wedding's going to be quite a relaxed and simple affair with a vintage/country twist.

She decided she wanted each bridesmaid to have a different coloured dress and style. Well, we are all different heights, shapes and skin tones so it didn't make sense for us to be uniform! I came up with some sketches of how I wanted them to look:

I'll be using the Vogue pattern V8766. It's such a simple pattern, it could almost be classed as pattern blocks. What I really liked about it was the scope to mix and match the different parts of the dress so that each bridesmaid could choose exactly what they wanted. 

I've emailed the sketches round the other bridesmaids and asked them for their thoughts and measurements. Once I've got their answers, I'll get going with the toiles!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Building Blocks

Hello bloggerworld! I hope you're having a good October and getting stuck into some exciting projects for Autumn. I have a rather exciting project of my own in the pipeline which is due to commence: I'll be making four bridesmaids dresses for big sister's wedding. This is going to be a long and steady process, but I have until next July so I'm not panicking too much now.

Bridesmaids dresses aren't what I've decided to post about this chilly Friday night though. No, I've been doing something I've wanted to do for such a long time: making pattern blocks.

If there is one thing I want to get out of all this dressmaking, it's that I want to get good. I mean really, technically good. I want to know and understand how a garment is constructed. I want to strip it down to the basics and start from scratch, then build my way up to working out how patterns are designed and made. Eventually I'd like to be at the stage where I don't even need to buy patterns anymore, I can just see a design I like and whip up my very own creation. Of course, I'm sure I'll still buy the odd pattern, there are so many beautiful ones out there.

I started with this book: How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. I bought it online a while back when I decided I wanted to up my game in the sewing stakes. It was highly recommended by reviewers and it seemed to be easy to follow.

What attracted me most to this book, though, was the instructions on how to make basic pattern blocks. It even provides pattern block templates you can scale up and use.

A few weeks ago I bought myself some graph paper and sat down one evening to scale up the blocks out of the book. I then cut the pieces out, drew round them on some chart paper, added a 1.5cm seam allowance and, hey presto, I made my very first pattern blocks.

I used the blocks to make up my first toile (apologies for the terrible Instagram quality). Obviously the fit was far from perfect. As you can see from the photo, there was far too much excess fabric round the boobs (I am quite flat chested). 

Queue my very first Small Bust Adjustment! There's lots about Full Bust Adjustments in Bloggerland but that's not much use for those of us who are less well endowed. I did, however, discover this amazing tutorial from the blogger Moobeam. She is a talented lady, she even made her own wedding dress!

The bust adjustment went swimmingly, and as you can see from the picture below, the fit is soooo much better.

Once I'd made all the necessary adjustments using my toile, I then redrew the pieces on to more chart paper and, ta dah, here are my final blocks.

Where do I go from here? I don't know, the possibilities are endless. I'll probably move on to master the collar next. But for the time being, I'm happy to have achieved my first steps towards serious sewing.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Hello Polly!

Claret, maroon, deep red, oxblood. I'm not sure what to call this colour, but I love it. It's possibly one of my all time favorite colours.

I've used the Polly top pattern here, a freeby from indie pattern company By Hand London. I'm a sucker for a freeby, so when I saw this pattern advertised, I knew I had to use, and use it soon. I had slight problems with it being a printable pattern though. I don't own a printer, so I ended up registering with the library and paying to use their printer. I probably didn't save that much money in the long run, but now I'm a fully signed up member to the local library, I might actually start using it.

I've made two alterations to this pattern. The first thing I did was change the top of the front panel to a heart shape. I love the original pattern, but I wanted to give it my own twist. The second change I made was to lengthen the back panel. The fabric I used is incredibly floaty and I wanted a long back for extra swooshiness.

By Hand London advises you to use one colour for the centre panel and binding and one colour for the rest of the top. I decided instead to use the same fabric for the back, centre front panel and binding. The outer front panel is made from a very sheer fabric and it simply wouldn't have worked if I'd used it for the back. Well, it might have worked if I was willing to go braless. But I'm not.  Anyway, I like the peek-a-boo effect of using sheer for the side panel, leaves something to the imagination ;)

The top looks simple enough to make, but don't be fooled! The biggest challenge was attaching the centre front to the side panel and sewing the binding. I used a very slippy fabric and every time I tried to sew a bit, another bit would slip out of place. After many attempts and frustrated unpicking, I decided to hand sew much of the top and then machine sew it in place. Dedication.

After finishing this project, and reflecting back on other projects and other blogger's posts, I've learnt a few things for the future:

1) When cutting slippy fabric, make sure you sharpen your scissors as much as possible. Cutting was made so much easier once I'd sat down and sharpened my scissors for a few minutes. Scissor sharpeners are really cheap from most haberdasheries.

2) Think about the fabric you use. I spent a bit of time envisaging how I wanted this top to look. I wanted something really feminine and floaty so a lot depended on the drape of the fabric. I became a bit unstuck when I originally bought some different fabric for the side panel. When I got it home, it was way too stiff and heavy. I ended up buying the sheer fabric and it was a much better choice.

3) Weight the pattern pieces down with heavy objects before you start pinning them to the fabric. This helped a lot, especially with slippy fabric.

4) Go slow and take your time. Quite often I want to rush my projects because I'm so excited about getting them finished and then I mess them up. I decided to take more time over this top and unpick things if they weren't right. Even if it meant hand sewing parts of it. The result is much better quality than what I'd normally make and means the difference between having something perfect that I feel proud and having something a bit crap that I'd never wear.

5) Sign up to your local library. They're a dying breed and they need using. They're really nice inside too, and much better than buying new books all the time.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Third Anna Dress... and some slightly better photos

I am getting slightly obsessed with the Anna dress pattern. This is my third dress and I can practically make it with my eyes closed. It's so simple and it fits so well, why use any other pattern? Ok, ok, I'm not that much of a bore, I WILL move on from this pattern at some point. Just not yet.

The fabric is from a lovely little shop in York called Gillies Fabric. I wasn't planning on buying anything at the time, I was only having a look, but, as always happens, my eye became attracted to this beautiful rayon fabric. There were two versions, one in red and one in black, it was so hard to decide. At £10 per metre, I wasn't going to buy both so I opted for the black. 

I've made a slight deviation from the pattern. I lowered the neckline by about 1.5cm as I found the original neckline too high and choking. I've also used the skirt pattern from Cynthia Rowley 2215, but I decided to change the pleats to bring them in line with the bodice darts. Don't look too close though! My method wasn't very scientific so some of the pleats don't quite match up perfectly. One of the good things about a busy fabric is the amount of mistakes it can hide.

Overall, though, I'm pretty pleased with this dress, it's a good multi-purpose item, whether you dress it up for going out or down for work.

Now, I have to apologise for the photos of my second Anna dress - plaid edition. Light has always been my problem when it comes to photography and unfortunately light is something we're getting less of  now that we're heading into Autumn. I have a singular hatred of flash photography so I was pretty stubborn about shooting in the semi-darkness. I've had a day off work today, so took some better photos.

The dress is lined with purpley-pink lining fabric - makes it so much more comfortable to wear.

This is my favorite furry scarf and probably a winter staple (it's fake fur btw). I'll be wearing this wool dress lots once the cold weather gets going!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My wistful wish list...

I have the attention span of a nat. Seriously it's getting really bad. There are so many things I want to do right now, I don't even known where to begin! I've been baking my socks off for various cake sales (I work for Macmillan Cancer Support - the World's Biggest Coffee Morning was last Friday) and I've been making large quantities of millionaire shortbread. Don't ask me why, I just fancied making it. This hasn't really left a lot of time for sewing projects unfortunately. Plus I'm limited financially so I can't go around buying the reams of fabric and patterns I want to. Until I come into a fortune big enough for me to give up work and spend all day dress making, I'm going to resign myself to gazing dreamily at my Pinterest board, sigh. Below are a few of the projects on my wish list:

I love really simple, clean shapes and this Scandanavian pattern company, Named Clothing is perfect for this type of clothing.

I really want to make this into a winter coat.

Yes, it's the best selling By Hand London pattern. After seeing the number of versions of this dress littering the bloggersphere, I too have fallen for the Elisalex.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Second Anna Dress - The Plaid Edition

Hello! It's been a while since I've posted. I've been very busy with one thing and another, and although I've had time to sew, I haven't much time to blog about it. So, without further delay, here's my latest make:

I've used the Anna Dress pattern from By Hand London and the fabric is grey and purple wool plaid. I've added a lining to prevent the skirt from riding up and help protect my skin from the itchy wool fabric.

Now, I'm not going to lie, I'm not the biggest fan of this creation. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I didn't just abandon the project as I've done with so many other half finished items of clothing. I'm glad I pushed it through to the end. But boy, this was not an easy dress to make.

The problem is the fabric. It started when I washed the it and found that my washing machine and everything in it was covered in tiny little bits of grey fibre. It didn't stop there either. From then on everything it touched was covered in fibre dust. Ironing board, floors, table, chairs, bed linen all succumbed to the shower of dust.

The second problem was my complete inexperience with plaid. I had terrible problems trying to make the horizontal and vertical lines match up. I had to unpick the whole skirt at one point and re-cut the pieces to try and make it look more symmetrical. In the end I decided just to concentrate on the making the front look OK. As you can see from the side shoulder seam, though, the dress is far from perfect.

I don't know about you, but when I'm really not liking a project I tend to just rush it off to try and get the damn thing finished, which is probably why the back seams are a bit crap.

But, hey, as a wise person once told me (I think) if you never fail at something, you never get the chance to learn and improve. So, I'm putting this down to experience.