Is it weird to prefer your backup machine?

When I started sewing I did lots of research about picking a machine. I knew I wanted something I could sew heavy fabrics on, and that I wouldn’t grow out of quickly. Various websites recommended getting one with a one-step buttonhole and stretch stitches for sewing knits. I ended up with an Elna 3210 which felt like quite a fancy machine for a beginner. I sewed away happily on it for nearly four years. I sewed knits, denim, and coating fabric and it managed them all. It didn’t get an annual service but I really looked after it; it got a thorough clean and a new needle for each project.

Elna 3310 sewing machine

But last year the Elna’s tension started to behave oddly and I finally had to get it serviced. Round here this takes at least a couple of weeks. I couldn’t bear to be without a sewing machine for that long so I got a more basic backup machine, the Singer Heavy Duty below. No stretch stitches, no one-step buttonhole. The only feature it has that the Elna doesn’t is the ability to move the needle right as well as left. It’s picky about bobbins, unlike the Elna, and not very good at winding them evenly. It’s also harder to clean.

Singer sewing machine

But where the Singer shines is that it’s really fast. I discovered I actually prefer a four-step buttonhole to a one-step. And as I’d acquired an overlocker not long before, I didn’t miss the stretch stitches.

When the Elna came back from being serviced (with a brand-new tension assembly) I thought I’d probably alternate them. But gradually the Elna’s been used less and less. I got it out to sew my current project because I had an idea that the slower machine would cope better with very flimsy fabric, and realised I’d forgotten how to wind bobbins on it. After three failures I resorted to the instruction manual.

It seems a bit odd that I prefer sewing on the more basic machine. And I’m still really glad I started sewing with the Elna; it has much better instructions than the Singer and it enabled me to sew knits long before I could contemplate an overlocker. If I had to cut down to only one machine it would definitely be the Elna I’d keep.

What do you look for in a sewing machine?

In search of long sleeves

The weather in the UK is atrociously cold at the moment and I am rapidly running out of warm clothes. Admittedly cold by UK standards isn’t all that cold, but it’s a problem when you’re not prepared for negative temperatures in the daytime.

When I bought clothes rather than making them I used to get annoyed by the fact that so few garments come with long sleeves and pockets. Making things with sleeves was one of the things I wanted to do. Fast forward a few years, and while my home-made wardrobe has plenty of pockets the long sleeves are few and far between. The two wool jersey dresses below are in heavy rotation right now.
Blue and orange doubleknit dress

Burda 122-09-2010

I don’t know quite what the problem is with sleeves. Certainly they’re a pain in the neck to insert in woven fabrics, but sleeves in a knit aren’t difficult. Even easier if you don’t set them in but sew them in flat.

Is it just that there aren’t all that many patterns for long-sleeved knit dresses around? Neither of the ones above really count. The blue and orange dress pattern was originally for wovens and the navy blue dress pattern didn’t have sleeves at all; in fact I think I might have used the sleeve pieces from the blue and orange pattern.

Right now I’m looking for wool jersey to remake the dress from Vogue 8866, which is a great pattern but my current version’s made of polyester so not warm. Anyone got any other favourite patterns for warm winter dresses they can recommend?

Electric blue

Thanks for all the kind comments on my sparkly Vogue 8866. A few people said it was more wearable than I thought; I’m not sure but I’m now on the lookout for some non-sparkly wool doubleknit to make it up again as a warm dress for work.

And in the meantime I’m sewing up another piece of fabric bought in Birmingham in November. This is an electric blue chiffon bought from the Rag Market for the astonishing price of £1 per metre. It has a very soft hand and the colour is amazing. It has another amazing property which is less welcome, as I discovered when I pressed it before cutting. As soon as I moved the free end off the edge of the ironing board it stuck itself to the sewing room wall.

Blue chiffon sticking to wall

By the time I’d pressed the whole length I could get it to do this.

Blue chiffon stuck to wall with static

I have problems with static at the best of times; I might have to find extra-conductive shoes to wear with this project!

The frostiest frosting: Vogue 8866

I’ve recently made two fairly serious, involved projects which definitely count as sewing cake; aka classic and versatile garments that underpin an outfit. So it was definitely time for a quick and frivolous project. Even better, I had one already planned and waiting to go: a knockoff of a Christopher Kane dress in some sparkly doubleknit. By no stretch of the imagination could this dress be described as practical, classic, or versatile. But I love it.

Vogue 8866

The pattern is Vogue 8866 with a few adaptations to better match the inspiration dress. I doubled the height of the collar and added extensions to the sleeves with thumbholes. I also added small shoulder pads, all the better to get the 80s space opera look, and lengthened the skirt by a couple of inches. I don’t normally get on with just-below-the-knee skirts but it seems to work for this style.
Vogue 8866

I made a few changes to the construction. The collar on the original closes with a hook and eye. I was dubious about that staying closed, so I extended the collar to make an underlap and used four small snaps instead.

I sewed two different kinds of seam. Seams where I wanted a very flat effect, such as the centre front and back seams, were sewed on the regular sewing machine and pressed open. The rest were overlocked. The overlocked ones won’t press flat and so are slightly more visible; I deliberately overlocked the back yoke seam to gave a bit of interest to the back view. The original design has top-stitching but I doubt it would show up against the texture of the fabric so I haven’t bothered.

Vogue 8866

The fabric itself is great stuff. It’s very thick and elastic black doubleknit with a silver thread knitted in. I got it from the Birmingham Rag Market last year. Despite probably being entirely polyester and plastic it pressed quite well; by which I mean I didn’t manage to melt it despite cranking the iron up well above the ‘synthetic’ setting. The right side is somewhat scratchy so I used scraps of black cotton jersey as a neck facing and to line the sleeve extensions. This was partly why I made extensions rather than just lengthening the sleeves; the lining’s attached like the inside of a shirt cuff so it stays firmly in place. I top-stitched it in place around the thumbhole.

I couldn’t find a belt that resembled the one in the original look so I went for the shiniest one I own. It came from Karen Millen some years ago; long before I started sewing anyway. The shoes are Mel Toffee Apple wedges.

So does this dress have a place in my wardrobe? Or indeed anyone’s? I think President Servalan, an 80s scifi villainess and one of my style heroines, would definitely wear it. Of course she’d be carrying out some ridiculous plot to clone herself, take over the Galactic Federation, or steal a fortune in gold. I’ve been wearing it to laze around the house. I’d better get plotting.

Vogue 2218 reveal

My sister’s dress has reached her now, so I can show the whole thing on the blog! It’s Vogue 2218, a two piece dress pattern with a lot of sleeve and neckline variations. We picked the sleeveless boat neck version.

In passing, I found it really difficult to take decent photos on the dressform. Some of this is the time of year. I get up in the dark and come home in the dark at the moment; daylight is weekends only! But I think some of it is that clothes just look much better on a real body.

This is a good pattern. It’s very versatile and you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. It was a long project for me because of the fabric choice but it wouldn’t have to be if made in a solid. It’s a shame it’s gone out of print.

Next time (daylight and snow permitting) pictures of a project that’s the complete opposite of this one: a quick knit dress in an alarmingly sparkly fabric. I’m all about the frosting.

What was I thinking?

So I said I’d make my sister a dress for her birthday. I did this last year and I think it was a success. It was the first time I’d ever made anything for someone else so we picked a knit dress pattern that has lots of good reviews online and I’d already made up once before for myself.

So this year I offered to do it again. My sister had expressed a liking for Vogue 2218 the previous year so when I saw it in an out of print pattern sale last summer I snapped it up. This is a bit more challenging. It’s a two piece woven dress: a pencil skirt with darts and sleeveless princess seamed top. The cover photo has it made up in a windowpane check suiting which looks very elegant. I found fabric with a faint blue windowpane check. I made a muslin and we fitted it over Christmas. I made all the adjustments on the pattern. Nothing left to do but a little bit of sewing, right?

Clearly it’s been too long since I last sewed anything with a pattern that needed matching. I’d forgotten just what it involves! It’s also been a loooong time since I inserted a zip. I even had to look up how to finish a bodice with a back zip and a lining. And what possessed me to suggest a pattern with not one but two invisible zips and two hems? My sewing skills have had a bit of an unexpected workout over this one.

I can’t show the finished outfit because my sister hasn’t got it yet, but here are a few progress shots.

I love the way this wool fabric takes chalk. Marking was never so easy. The grey strips on the edges are interfacing. The fabric’s very unstable so I fused interfacing to all the seamlines to give myself a chance to match the stripes.

Marking darts on skirt

As well as the blue windowpane check there’s another set of more subtle stripes to be matched. This photo was taken with flash so they stand out a lot more than they do in natural light. Cutting this fabric out accurately required lots of daylight!

Skirt darts

I managed to match up the check across the zips and most of the seams.

Zip with matched stripes

And I even managed to get fairly square corners at the ends of the zips.

Top of skirt zip

But my next project is so going to be a knit dress.

2012 inspirations and 2013 goals

I’m running a bit late with this, given that it’s now 12th night so we’re well into 2013. But here are the last two top fives!

Top 5 of 2012

It is really difficult to pick only five bloggers that inspired me in 2012. I get half my sewing inspiration from other people’s blogs. But here are five who particularly influenced me this year.

  • Allison‘s blog is one of the first I ever discovered. I love her style. This year I shamelessly copied her Burda 116-08-2011 dress, including the way she fastens the belt, and it’s my current favourite dress.
  • Kazz‘s style is a riot of colour and interesting shapes. She inspires me to be bolder!
  • Chanel No. 6 is always sharp, witty, and full of interesting observations. Her series on safari style has got me seriously considering trying it out.
  • Pretty Grievances posts hilarious critiques of designer fashion on Wednesdays and always makes me see things I wouldn’t have spotted on my own.
  • Petit Main Sauvage is the most amazingly talented seamstress. If I ever get round to drafting my own sloper it’ll be because of seeing the beautiful things she drafts for herself.

And finally goals for 2013. When it comes to sewing I am not a good planner. I have a huge but ever-changing sewing queue and I sew what I feel like at the moment I feel like it. But here’s what’s on my list at the moment. Any resemblance to what I actually produce this year is unlikely!

  • Make the sparkly Christopher Kane knock-off dress I was planning before Christmas.
  • Vogue 8825, a very 70s raglan-sleeved dress with amazing bell sleeves. I want to make it in electric blue chiffon. This is a huge gamble because the pattern is for knits!
  • Burda 138-11-2012, a vintage sheath dress with a lovely high collar and interesting front pleats. I have some dark green stretch fabric that ought to be perfect.
  • I want to make something from the Drape Drape books. Not quite sure what yet. I got the English edition of the first one for Christmas.
  • And finally one that isn’t a sewing project: get brave enough to take outfit photos somewhere more interesting. Right now most of the photos we take are in front of the brick wall of the garages on my street. It’s a nice backdrop (and amuses my neighbours) but some variety would be nice.

Having said all that, right now I’m hard at work on my sister’s birthday dress. I forgot how difficult it is to match checks so it might be a while!