No time to sew

I haven’t sewed for over a week (if you don’t count replacing the hook and eye on my 70s dress, incidentally managing to stab myself with a seam ripper and get blood on the fabric). Probably won’t be sewing much this week either. Starting to wonder if I’ll ever get the pleated dress finished! And after that there are lots of other things I want to sew, but so little time to sew in. Maybe things will quietened down in July.

One very exciting thing coming up: it’s my birthday soon and I am getting a dressform! Everyone says it makes sewing so much easier so I can’t wait!

underlining pleats

I hadn’t made any progress on my Burda pleated summer dress for a week because of a streaming cold. I’d got as far as setting up the machine and then cutting the underlining I’d belatedly realised was needed, but hadn’t actually sewn a stitch of the dress. So today I made an effort to get started.

Sewing the darts went fine, and then I realised that making pleats in underlined fabric was going to be somewhat tricky. Luckily both my fashion fabric and underlining are cotton, and so don’t shift around too much, but still more than enough to cause problems. My sewing books didn’t have anything to say about this, so in the end I basted the layers together down the centre of the inside portion of each pleat, working from the centre out to try to avoid wrinkles.

That seemed to work pretty well and my pleats came out nicely. However when I joined the pleated centre front of the dress to the side fronts I discovered another problem – I’d obviously marked up my underlining incorrectly on one side and the whole thing was asymmetic. You make a pleat at the join by sewing the two pieces together both at the normal 1.5cm seam allowance and again much further in, and my leftmost pleat was noticeably narrower than all the others. Cue muttering, seam ripping, and basting the offending pleat back together by eye.

Apart from that it’s looking pretty good so far (the photo isn’t great, unfortunately)

I love the nice little rows of folds on the inside of the pleats.

I’m lining it so the next stage is to construct the lining and then sew them together at the neck and arms. My lining fabric is flimsy china silk which promises to be…interesting to sew with. Although as it’s so fine I should be able to get away with turning it out through the very narrow shoulder tunnels which will give me a much better finish than my previous version of this dress. Fingers crossed.

relatively restrained fabric shopping

I only came back from London with two lengths of fabric and a zip, which is exactly what I’d intended. One of the lengths isn’t what I set out to buy but I’m still calling this a remarkable display of restraint!

Mum and I started off with MacCulloch and Wallis which is just off Oxford Street. It’s not the cheapest but it has a huge range of fabric on the ground floor and notions on the first floor. The ground floor is organised with small samples of each fabric on coat hangers and the bolts round the edge. This is great from the point of view of being able to see and touch everything, but I invariably manage to select fabrics whose bolts have hidden themselves.

Mum and I turned out to be looking for fabric for the same Burda jersey dress from the May issue (style 105) which is a very simple jersey dress. I got some viscose jersey with a very bold floral pattern on it

When I say bold, the flowers are about 50cm across. It’s really a border print, although there’s as much border as non-border area. I got 2m so I have some choice as to where the place the flowers. My paln is to put them on the top half and keep the skirt simple.

We then headed to the Victoria and Albert museum to see the Quilts: 1700-2010 exhibition. There were some amazing quilts there, although I was struck by how sad a lot of the stories behind them were. Many of them were made by people having a bad time in their lives. There were some cheerful ones – mostly those for new babies. I was also surprised at how basic the underlying geometric patterns are in British quilts; there were none of the very elaborate and symmetrical designs you see in Canadian and American ones. The attraction comes from the use of colour rather than the geometry.

After that we looked for more fabric, this time on Berwick Street. Cloth House is one of my favourites here. It has two shops. Number 47 has wovens, with a huge range of cotton prints, and number 98 has a mixture including all the knits and some more unusual fabric. They had latex and neoprene in a wide variety of colours this weekend. Mum got a really nice cream jersey with a pattern of small red and green flowers. The texture was unusual – stretchy but very soft – and the staff couldn’t tell us exactly what the fibre content was.

I succumbed to a heavy white cotton drill with gold paint splashes

It didn’t photograph very well. I’m intending to make this into a very simple sheath dress so as not to distract from the pattern. This is obviously not a fabric I went looking for, but having seen it I couldn’t let it go!

There are several other fabric shops on Berwick Street which are all worth a look. I went into Textile King for the first time. I resisted buying anything this time but will certainly be going back in the autumn to get some of their range of unusual suiting fabric.

What I failed to buy was any orange silk to make the top layer of my balloon dress. After failing to find anything that I liked I eventually realised that I didn’t want it to be shiny, so looking for silk was probably a bad idea. Back to the drawing board for that one. Maybe silk chiffon would work if I can find some that’s affordable.

In the meantime I ought to be cutting the underlining for the current project, but I have a streaming cold so I reckon I’m excused.

Transparent fabric leads to more shopping

I cut my fabric – pale peach coloured cotton – and lining out at the weekend. The fabric seemed a little more transparent than I remembered but I persuaded myself it would be all right because I am lining the dress. I had another worrying moment when I couldn’t find a zip in anything like the right colour but I figured hey, it’s an invisible zip, so white will probably do fine. Then I started wondering if I could add pockets to the dress, but realised they’d show so decided not to. Even that didn’t make the penny drop.

Tonight I cleaned and set up my machine with the right needle and matching thread, and started trying out stitches on some scraps of the fashion fabric. Only at this point did I realise that there’s no way I am going to get away without underlining this dress because the seam allowances show through the fashion fabric! You can see it even when I lay the fabric on top of the lining. I couldn’t get a photograph that showed the effect, probably because I’m working by artifical light, but it’s definitely there to the human eye.

So tomorrow I will be dashing to John Lewis in my lunch hour and hoping I can find something suitable to underline the dress with. I don’t really know what I’m looking for. My sewing books suggest that batiste, organza, and lawn are all suitable choices but I don’t know the difference between them. Also with John Lewis you tend to have to just take what you can get – it’s great there’s a fabric shop close to my office at all, and the staff are really good, but it’s better for very fancy fabric than basics.

Failing getting anything tomorrow I’m going to see the V&A Quilts exhibition with my mum at the weekend, and we’re planning to make time for a bit of fabric shopping in London too. I might even be able to get a zip in the right colour! I find London’s dangerous unless I go armed with a shopping list. I am only looking for two things this time:

  • Jersey in either a very bright colour or a bold print for BurdaStyle 105-05-2010.
  • Orange china silk for a balloon dress that I haven’t found a pattern for yet. I suspect I’ll be combining McCalls 5799 and BurdaStyle 106-05-2010. I’m aware I’ll probably look like I wrapped myself in a parachute but I do love orange and the 1980s.

Maybe the policy of not sewing unless I have a vision of something I really want to wear is paying off. Now if only I could reduce the fabric mountain in the cupboard too.

Practical sewing vs fantasy sewing


This is not a very practical piece of clothing. Nor is this

and yet they are two of my favourites.

When I started sewing I wanted to make comfortable clothes that I could wear to work with features like sleeves and pockets, both of which seem to be lacking on most RTW. Sadly they seem to be lacking on most sewing patterns as well, but I did learn to add a couple of styles of pocket to sheath dresses (incidentally, this tutorial the A Dress A Day blog is great!) and set in a sleeve.

Trouble is, I don’t find most of those clothes very inspiring.

I originally worked by trying to find a pattern I liked that was in my skill range and then trying to find a fabric to go with it. I had one or two successes but several things that I made have only been worn a couple of times.

More recently I gave up trying to make sensible clothes and ventured into ‘fantasy’ sewing – choosing a project either by finding a fabric I love and making something out of it (hello, silk dupion with silver lurex) or starting out with a mental image of the garment I want to make (rarely if ever qualifying as workwear) and then finding a a pattern that’s similar. This seems to be much more successful in terms of producing dresses I find appealing, but certainly doesn’t create practical clothes that can be flung on in the morning with a minimum of thought – and I haven’t made anything with a pocket for months. There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. Or maybe I should just move to a country with better weather.

So up next is a version of my purple Burda pleated dress in pale peach cotton. I’m hoping that’s going to bridge the gap, despite the lack of sleeves and pockets, as I think it’ll work with gladiator flats. Maybe I could add inseam pockets. Does anyone out there know any good cardigan patterns?

General election fabric disaster

Thursday was the UK general election and I was helping run a committee room all day. The weather was sunny so I thought that during the early part of the day I could get some of my fabric stash washed and dried in between feeding people and data entry. Lack of drying time and space is the thing that causes me most problems with new fabric as I don’t have a tumble dryer.

So I got the pale peach coloured cotton fashion fabric and china silk lining for my next project, threw them in the washing machine without looking very carefully, and left them. Bad move, because a biro had made its way into the machine too.

ink stained cotton

This is the fashion fabric; the lining isn’t as bad. I think I still might just be able to make the dress as the stains are only in one corner but it’s going to be very tight – the fabric is narrower than I remember and so I probably only just had enough length even before I stained it. It’s going to be a second version of this BurdaStyle pattern


which I love and is probably the best fitting thing I’ve made so far. It’s style 119 from the October 2009 magazine. My pattern review is here (may only work for members of Pattern Review).

Undaunted, I threw the remains of the biro away, pulled two other pieces of unwashed fabric out of the stash, and put them in the machine.

red and white swirl pattern fabric

orange and black hexagon pattern fabric

And when I took them out I found the other half of the biro. Luckily most of the ink in it had already gone onto the first two fabrics, or perhaps because I washed these on a less gentle cycle it washed away. I can’t see any obvious stains on them.

I haven’t got anything definitely lined up for these two yet. I am thinking the hexagon print might work with this vintage pattern I bought from ZipZapKap, probably with black bands.


I bought the red and white swirl fabric intending to make a fourth version of McCalls 5799

McCalls 5799

which is a great simple pattern that lends itself to a variety of things, but now I’m thinking I want something more adventurous, just not certain what yet. Years ago I had a Vivienne Westwood wrap dress in a black and white swirly print that I wore until it was almost a rag. It had a curved hem and a collar unlike the McCalls one above.

Time to go and iron the peach cotton and see if I can squeeze the Burda dress onto it. Fingers crossed.

And if you’re interested, we got the right result in our constituency at the election so it wasn’t all bad!

Vogue 1151 finished


I finished it before the election despite a catalogue of silly mistakes! Excuse the expression on my face in the picture – it was extremely cold on Sunday evening and I’m trying not to shiver.

I discovered on bank holiday Monday afternoon that my zip was at least an inch too short, and had to dash to the shops to get a longer one. Luckily for me the one local haberdashery shop open had a zip the right length. After that I managed to sew the collar on upside down and join the front shoulder straps together. I definitely need to get a sharper seam ripper.

Apart from the silly mistakes I’m pretty happy with this. The collar worked really well. The fit isn’t perfect, but that’s my own fault for being too lazy to baste and try on as I went. I adjusted the pattern as I traced it but that was about it as far as fitting went. It wasn’t quite big enough on the hips, which was entirely my own fault for tracing a 10 instead of grading out to a 12. (I knew as I was tracing it that this wasn’t going to be big enough…why on earth didn’t I trace the 12?) There’s also something not quite right at the back waist


I think most of those wrinkles are coming from it being a little tight on the hips and loose on the waist. The amount of ease in the waist of this pattern is surprisingly large – something like 4 inches – and there is no ease at all at the hips. If I make it again I’ll adjust that.

The doubleknit fabric I used turned out to be a real pain in the neck to sew. A ballpoint needle wouldn’t penetrate it so I sewed with a universal size 90. I couldn’t do a twin needle hem because my twin needle is a ball point, so I had to resort to one of my machine’s stretch hem stitches. This turned out better than I expected so I might use that again.
stretch knit hem stitch

The exposed zip was tricky with such thick fabric. There’s a bit of a lump where I had to turn back the end of the slot for the zip.

The fact that the zip is a bit too long for the slot makes this worse because the end of the zip is sitting under that fabric lump. The only suitable zips I could find were open ended so I got a sightly longer zip than required and let the opening end drop below the end of the slot. The end of the zip is quite scratchy so I made it a little sock out of a scrap of my fabric so it doesn’t catch my skin. The sock also stops it from opening. Maybe there’s a better way to do this though? Perhaps removing the zipper teeth at the required length and sewing the zipper tape together below that, then I wouldn’t end up with the teeth bulking it out.

I don’t have any orange shoes to go with it but the blue ones work I think. Now I just need the temperature to rise enough to be able to wear it without my skin turning the same colour as the shoes.