Skull print dress – but no pink hair

I finished the skull print dress this weekend, despite a catalogue of hitches. Do you like to read about other people’s sewing disasters? I actually rather like hearing about when it all goes wrong because it reassures me that I’m not the only one it happens to. But if you don’t, you might want to skip this one.

It’s a copy of the dress on the girl with the pink hair in this cartoon. Apart from the fact that my completely artificial hair colour is different to hers, it’s come out fairly faithful to the original.

It did not sew up smoothly. The sewing police should probably look away now. I made a pretty successful muslin so I thought it would be a doddle to sew the real thing. Hah.

I wanted to underline the skirt because the skull print fabric is a thin cotton that wrinkles as soon as you look at it and doesn’t drape; I figured the extra weight of an underlining would make the long skirt hang much better than the cotton on its own would. However the skirt takes up so much fabric that I didn’t have anything in my stash that was large enough. The biggest bit of even vaguely suitable fabric was 2m of loosely woven dark brown cottony stuff. I tried to find the grain by tearing it across, and it promptly started to tear down the straight grain which ruined one end of it.

I thought I’d managed to fit the skirt pieces onto what was left by cutting the back on the crossgrain (I know, I know), but it turned out that one corner of the skirt was missing from where I’d had the accident with the tearing. I decided to ignore this and carry on. I knew I’d be facing the hem anyway because the fashion fabric wasn’t big enough to provide any hem allowance, and luckily an extra-wide facing was enough to cover up the mess.

I then constructed the whole thing up to the point where I was about to put the zip in. I quickly tried it on to check the fit, and only at that point noticed a complete pattern matching disaster on the front. The print on the fabric is little odd; the skulls that look like they line up vertically in fact do not, and this was really obvious where the bodice met the skirt. (For the benefit of any other sad geeks out there, the problem is that it looks like it has the wallpaper group cm but it’s actually p1 when you check carefully. The slightly slanted print also produces an optical illusion so it looks like the skirt has been cut off grain when it’s actually perfectly straight. Grr.)

So I took the dress to pieces, cut a midriff inset piece, this time being careful with the pattern placement, and sewed it over the top of the skirt front piece. Strangely, the seam doesn’t show at all. If you look at the picture you can see the pattern changes just below the bodice but you have to look very hard to see there is a separate bit of fabric there.

The pattern on the back looked fine so I didn’t bother making an inset piece for that.

Then I went to put the zip in, and realised I’d self-lined the bodice and then sewed the skirt to both layers, leaving me with no way to finish off the top of the zip neatly. I had to unpick it and leave the inner layer of the bodice free around the zip to act as a facing.

Anyway I finished it and it’s wearable. But I’m not dying my hair pink.

Patterns or drafting? Or somewhere in between?

I love dressmaking patterns. I have only been sewing for a couple of years but my stash of pattern envelopes and magazines is getting to the point where I can’t easily lift the box it lives in. Despite all this, when I have something very definite in mind that I want to sew I often can’t find a pattern in the box that’s exactly what I want.

The current case in point is my skull-print dress, which is inspired by the lady with the pink hair in the centre of the back row in this cartoon by John Allison. (If you like the art, check out his webcomics Bad Machinery and Scary-go-round.)

It’s an empire-line maxi-dress with a surplice-style bodice. There isn’t any bust shaping visible but clearly any real-life version of this dress that’s going to fit is going to need darts or gathers at the bottom of the bodice.

I briefly considered trying to draft something but I’m fundamentally lazy and drafting is complicated. I decided to go for the very unscientific method of taking two patterns I have that already fit and munging them together. Simplicity 3775 is a modern knit dress with a surplice bodice (sadly now out of print). I’m showing you my version rather than the envelope art, because the envelope manages to make the dress look utterly frumpy, and it’s really not.

Simplicity 5349 is a vintage halter-neck maxi dress that I made last year for a bit of a giggle, and have worn and worn and worn.

But these two have their problems. The maxi-dress has off-grain centre front and back seams in the skirt, which will look very odd with the regular print on my fabric, and the knit dress is, well, designed for knits. My skull-print fabric is a woven.

Skull print fabric

After much dithering I decided to cut the skirt pieces on the fold, even though it’s going to mess up the grainlines, because the alternative is just going to look strange.

I changed the gathers on the bodice to a couple of darts, then laid the midriff pieces from the first pattern over the top of the skirt pieces for the second and traced round them. I also added some tiny darts to the bodice back to give it a bit of shaping as the knit version has none.

And amazingly, my muslin of it seems to have come out looking like a dress. This is the muslin on my dressform. The back has a wrinkle on the left side, but that’s mainly to do with the sloppy way I sewed the zip into the side seam.

The funny thing is that I feel much happier tweaking something like this than a Real Pattern. If the pattern is a horrible mashup to start with then the sewing police are not going to come and get me for what I do with it. This may explain why it’s worked somewhat better than some of my attempts at fitting Real Patterns.

And it’s too late now anyway because I’ve cut out my real fabric, all four metres of it. I really hope this works out!

The camera lies – McCall’s 5975

What is it about cameras not reproducing reality?

This weekend I didn’t do the things I was supposed to be doing and instead whipped up McCall’s 5975. And whipped up is right – this is a seriously quick and easy pattern to make. It’s out of print, which is a shame, because despite the fact it’s not turned out the way I hoped it would I think this is a really good pattern.

When I got it originally I was looking for something to replace a much-loved red wool cowl-necked dress that was eaten by moths. But the new dress, sadly, is not it.

I think it looks OK in the photos, but in real life I’m not in love with it. It is a bit better without the belt.

I’m not sure what isn’t working about it. Does it need shorter sleeves? Shorter hem? A different belt? Different colour? Or maybe I just need put lipstick on in the mornings rather than only for photos.

I’m not giving up on this pattern yet. It is so close to what I’m looking for that I think the right tweak will produce the perfect dress. If only I knew what it was.

A whiter shade of pale?

I finally got some reasonable photos of the white dress. The weather in the UK turned a lot greyer which probably helped, although I’d rather we still had the sun!

I haven’t got the fit quite right but it’s wearable. I think I overdid adjusting for my narrow shoulders so next time I’d trace a size up in that area. The pattern itself runs true to size.

I really like the lapped zip. I will definitely do that again. I usually do an invisible zip on all centre back zips, but this is neater and easier, although probably slower to sew.

I’m just not sure what to wear the dress with. These blue shoes are the best out of the ones I’ve got. It would probably look better with white patent leather shoes or boots, but that’s not the most practical option even if I could find a pair!

The devil’s own hue – white dresses

I’ve been making a lovely reissued sixties pattern, Simplicity 3833. It’s a fairly simple A-line minidress with a nice bodice detail. I’m doing the long-sleeved version in the mini length.

I used an ivory-coloured stretch cotton. The idea came from a black and white photo I saw of someone wearing very much this style in white. I think it was taken in the late sixties. It looks elegant and a bit Courrèges on the lady in the picture so I thought it was well worth imitating.

I’m quite pleased with my version, but I cannot get a usable photo of it. We’ve had a couple of tries under different lights, but the shots come out overexposed. Very frustrating. I remember reading somewhere “white is the devil’s own hue to paint” and the same seems to be true of photography. (After some checking I found out it was Dorothy Parker, of all people, in a story called The Custard Heart.)

So as I can’t show you the dress properly here’s the one decent picture I do have, a close-up of the bodice sitting on my dressform.

Anyone got any tips for photographing white dresses? I’ve tried outdoors and indoors…I’m wondering if I need to wait for a day with no sun.

I should know better – Burda April 2011

I’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing Burda’s April 2011 issue for a couple of weeks. It keeps coming to work with me so that I can scan in a few of the pictures, and then it comes home with me again because I never quite get round to it. And that really says it all about this particular issue – I just can’t get excited about it. To be fair to Burda, the reason for this is that the themes for this month’s stories are pretty much a listing of my pet fashion dislikes. All links go to the German site by the way.

Nomad style? I don’t normally do floaty, hippy or anything tie-dyed. Another story is called ‘flower girl‘. You wouldn’t catch me dead in a small-scale pastel floral print. And then there’s maritime de luxe. I know the maritime look is classic and easy and looks good on everyone…but I don’t like it. Never have, never will. I think it’s the blue. My school had blue PE kit and it’s put me off for life.

That leaves ‘mother-daughter style‘ – which seems to consist of dressy satin pieces. Finally we have the best story in the magazine, ‘the layered look‘ in beautiful Jil Sander style saturated colours. But it’s the plus-size story so only good to me for looking at, not making.

Mother-daughter style has some possibilities. I really like the lines of this leather dress, model 119:

I think that could work in a stretch cotton twill if I drafted facings or lined it. It also has pockets which is a really nice touch. Burda are doing lots of dresses with pockets lately. This is a Good Thing and should be encouraged.

I might also make this top from the maritime story, just not in navy blue.

And then there is another style I keep coming back to, even though I know it will not work on me. It barely works on the model. It’s this T-shaped dress, also from the maritime story.

Even on the model you can see it’s falling off the shoulders, and I have very narrow shoulders to start with so this would just swallow me. But I keep coming back to it. I should know better!

Despite this I still love Burda and I’m looking forward to the next issue, where we are promised Mad Men style and brightly coloured dresses. Roll on May.

New Vogues and an ambitious resolution

So the summer 2011 Vogues are out, and every other sewing blogger has been picking their favourites. I’m always fascinated to see the collection through other people’s eyes so I hope you’ll put up with me posting mine.

I have a very bad habit of going on a mini spending spree when the new patterns come out and then not actually making up all of the ones I buy, so this time I have tried really hard to pick things I think I really will get round to sewing and wearing. In three months time you may point and laugh!

I think this one, Vogue 1239, is my favourite pattern of the new ones, and funnily enough probably the one I’m most likely to buy and then never sew. It looks fantastic but I’m not sure how wearable it is. The model looks like she works in a sterile room. I work with computers, which suck up dust like little vacuum cleaners and shed it when you open the case.

Vogue 1239 pattern photo

Then there is Vogue 1250. Can you ever have enough cowl-necked knit dresses?
Vogue 1250 pattern photo

I am tempted to make 1240 for a wedding I’m going to this summer. I’m not sure if it’s the pattern or the fabric that appeals to me though. I do like a black and white print.
Vogue 1240 pattern photo

Finally I think 8727 might be a good starting point for my skull print fabric. I like the full-skirted views. I haven’t got nearly enough fabric for them, so the skirt would to have to be adjusted to fit onto my yardage.
Vogue 8727 pattern photo

So there they are. I’m pleased I got it down to four. What are your favourites?

My evil twin

This is the dress my evil twin in a parallel universe would wear.

This is my second version of Vogue 8319, yet another sleeveless sheath dress.
Version 1 has been one of my all time favourite dresses. I made it in a bright orange and blue doubleknit. Sorry about the murky photo. Hopefully you get the idea.

Version 2 is made out of two black fabrics. They have very different textures to provide a contrast. The sides are a very heavy wool jersey. It’s got a very matt surface and is so thick it all but stands up on its own. The front panel and shoulder yokes are in a very thin neoprene which is fairly smooth and so catches the light a bit more. At least it was sold to me as neoprene, but it seems to lack the central foam layer that provides the padding and insulation in what I think of as neoprene. You certainly wouldn’t want to make a wetsuit or a laptop bag out of it. The upside of this variety is that it’s very easy to sew as you can treat it like a thick doubleknit. I used a size 90 universal needle on this one and sewed regular seams using my machine’s stretch stitch. It doesn’t drape very well, but it also doesn’t crease.

I modified the original pattern slightly. You can see from the envelope picture that the princess seams don’t go all the way down to the hem.

I also took the zip out of the back as it’s not needed.

I made facings out of the doubleknit to finish the neck and arm edges, but left it unhemmed.

However as my evil twin has yet to put in an appearance, I just have to wear the dress myself. It’s a hard life.