Sewing with the plague

I haven’t actually got the plague, but I do have a cold that will not go away. The worst thing about it is that I’ve definitely not been up to sewing. When you find you’re ripping out as much as you’re stitching it’s definitely time to walk away from the machine. So the silver trousers are only coming on very slowly. I’ve basted them together, adjusted the fit, and now I’m constructing for real. What with all the top-stitching involved I’ve not got very far. The front is about done but the back half is yet to be ready to attach. I made a male style fly this time. The one on the other pair of trousers I made feels wrong because they’re the opposite way round to my jeans.

Silver trousers in progress

I am optimistic for these. The fit’s still not quite right but I liked them when I tried the basted version on.

Shorts have to be easier than trousers, right?

I’ve been sewing for a few years now, but I have never once made trousers (70s jumpsuits don’t count). I have enough trouble fitting things that have to go over the boobage, never mind the complexities of the (ahem) crotch curve and backside. But my last pair of RTW jeans have just developed a hole and somehow I can’t bring myself to go and buy a new pair in the shops. One thing I love about sewing is never having to try things on in shop changing rooms in lousy light when wearing the wrong underpinnings. I did get as far as venturing into Topshop recently to examine the jeans but chickened out of actually trying anything on, so it’s going to have to be home-made for me.

Now obviously diving in at the deep end of trouser-making with jeans would be insane. Although I did recently buy Vogue 8774, and Vogue’s instructions are pretty good. But then will the Vogue crotch curve be the best for my shape, or should I try Burda’s which I am assured is very different indeed? Just to be on the safe side, I went through my Burdas and traced off a couple of suitable looking styles.

Vogue 8774 jeans

I even had my eye on the perfect fabric: some gorgeous dark blue stretch denim in John Lewis. But sanity has prevailed (helped by the fact that John Lewis sold out of the denim) and I’ve decided to start with shorts rather than trousers. I’m hoping they’ll involve similar fitting issues but will involve sacrificing a lot less fabric if it doesn’t work out! And Burda has plenty of nice shorts patterns to pick from.

Any advice from those who’ve made trousers, shorts, or jeans? Am I barking up the wrong tree completely here?

Passing on the Liebster blog award

Last week Magpie Makes kindly nominated this blog for the Liebster Blog Award. Thank-you so much!

Liebster Blog Award

The way this blog award works is that you nominate five other blogs you enjoy with less than 200 followers and link to them. This was really difficult to do as there are so many I wanted to nominate. I’ve managed to choose the five sewing-related blogs below. I know not everyone does the blog award/meme thing, but I always really enjoy these blogs – I hope you have a look and like them too.

And the other thing I want to say is thank-you all so much for the lovely comments about my Burda dress with the exposed zip. I am definitely going to have to get the mirrorshades.

Zen and the art of sewing

Print kimono

My kimono is finished. And here I am trying to radiate zen-like calm in front of the Japanese maple in the garden.

I have to say it has probably come out a touch too large, but on the other hand this means it’s an effective coverup. Which I was quite glad of on Saturday morning when one of the neighbours came round before I’d got dressed.

The thing about kimonos is that you don’t use a pattern, you just cut a bunch of rectangles. So for anyone else trying to make one and get the sizing right, I’m a 10 or 12 in Big Four patterns and I used the layout in my previous post. I made the smallest French seams I could, so the seam allowance is probably half an inch at most.

The sleeves are huge. I suspect I am going to knock cups of coffee over with them. I also had to make a very deep hem on them or they’d have covered my hands.

And here’s the back view.

I think this is a success.

If I was doing it again I’d do a few things differently. In particular I’d finish the edges before sewing the pieces together. Traditional kimonos are made out of very narrow widths of fabric, so there is no need to finish seams as all your edges are selevedge. You fit them by varying the seam allowance. I’d also make it a bit longer so I could make a deeper hem on the body. And I think I’d go for a solid colour or a larger print. Not that I shall need to make another one of these for a while!

It’s not a mistake, it’s keeping my hands warm

I’ve been making another version of the Burda September 2010 cover dress. This has been a fairly popular pattern in the sewing blogosphere – there have been quite a few reviews on Pattern Review. I’ve previously made the dress and the matching skirt in neoprene. However I wanted another long-sleeved dress and I had some mystery grey two-way-stretch knit in my stash, so I decided to make the Burda dress again and put long sleeves on it this time.

We’ll gloss over producing pattern pieces for the sleeves, as it took about a week of head-scratching and indecision. Suffice it to say that I eventually just used the sleeves from McCall’s 2401, a pattern which is approaching TNT status in my collection.

I didn’t fit as I went on this one because I’d already made the dress once and got the fit sorted. Unfortunately something strange appears to have happened when I added seam and hem allowances to the pattern for the knit (the neoprene doesn’t need them so I hadn’t put them on the first version of the pattern pieces). The front hem came out about 3cm longer than the back, and the sleeves ended well over my knuckles. Again.

I chopped the hem off until it was level, which wasn’t the end of the world – guess I added hem allowances to the front and not to the back. However I have permanently cold hands so I decided to keep the extra-long sleeves, but make a thumb hole in the sleeve seam so I don’t have to push them up to use my hands.

I just unpicked about 5cm of seam and sewed round it on the right side to hold the seam allowances in place. It’s not the neatest thing I’ve ever made, but I had such trouble with skipped stitches and thread breaking and mysterious bobbin tangles on this project that there’s no way I’m unpicking and trying again. I’m not sure the size 80 ballpoint needle I used was up to the job on this fabric. You can see the mess if you click to enlarge on this view.

I’d show you some photos of the whole dress, but my photographer is away and for some reason it looks terrible on my dressform, although it’s OK on me; probably time to go and check my measurements again and adjust the dressform! Hopefully we’ll get to take some next weekend.

What couldn’t you make for yourself?

Quite a few of the people whose blogs I read are taking part in Me-made-March, a project where you push yourself to wear one (or two, or more) home-made or refashioned items every day in March and photograph the results. I always like looking at what other people are wearing so I’m really enjoying seeing the result.

I’m far too disorganised to take enough photographs to take part in this myself, but it got me thinking about how far it could be taken. How many of the items that you wear every day could you reasonably make if you wanted to?

For me, one item per day is normal. I mainly wear (home-made) dresses and skirts, usually with a purchased long-sleeved t-shirt and occasionally with a home-made cardigan on top. Two items would be doable: dress or skirt plus cardi, although I’d have to make a few more cardis to get through a whole month of wearing two home-made items a day.

Three items? Theoretically I could make all my t-shirts, although there’s no point spending scarce sewing time on that when I can easily buy plain cotton ones that work under dresses.

Four? Coats would have to count I think. I’ve never made one but I do have a copy of the Lady Grey coat pattern in my stash so there’s always a possibility that I might.

For five you could probably count accessories – handbags are doable. My mum makes great bags. I know some people make their own underwear and that looks achievable, if somewhat fiddly. Some people even knit their own socks and I am in awe of the patience required to do that.

But what on earth could we do to replace tights? I can’t think of anything.

In search of skull-print fabric

There is a very talented webcomic artist called John Allison whose work I’ve been reading for, erm, more years than I like to think about. One of the things I really like about his creations is the clothes the characters wear. His ladies are usually very fashionable or very cool or both.

Last summer he did a picture which included one of the characters from his old webcomic Scary-go-round wearing a maxidress in skull-print fabric. You can see the picture at the link below.

So I’ve been keeping an eye out for skull-print fabric ever since. MacCulloch and Wallis had some a while back but I dithered and it sold out. Since then of course I have realised that their fabric is exactly what I wanted and I was a fool not to buy it while it was available because I’ve found nothing else as good anywhere since. Other places have skull prints but they are not the same.

So on Saturday I was fabric shopping on Goldhawk Road in London, having long ago given up looking for skull prints. And there it was in the window of one of the smaller shops: the exact same fabric. At about a third of the price, too. So I snapped it up. Now all I have to do is draft the pattern.

Skull print fabric

This may be slightly easier said than done as the fabric is only 45 inches wide and the print runs along the crossgrain rather than the straight grain so there’s not as much length to play with as I would like. Still I’m sure there’s a way to make it work.

Non-obvious in hindsight

After finishing the tartan dress I had quite a lot of the fabric left over. It’s a polyester/viscose tartan bought from Remnant Kings in Glasgow.

I was casting round for something to make out of it and eventually decided to do another version of my Vivienne Westwood Philosophy skirt knockoff. Tartan is a very Westwood fabric to start with, and this particular style looks really good in fabric with a woven stripe as it shows up the deliberately skewed grainline.

I always carefully file my patterns away in A4 envelopes when I’m done with them, so this should have just been a case of pulling out the right envelope and getting cutting. Unfortunately I ran into the problem that what seems obvious when you’re drafting a pattern is completely non-obvious when you come to use it again a few months later. Rather like computer code when you come back to it a while after writing, come to think of it.

So for your amusement and to remind myself, I have discovered it really helps to:

  • Write on the pattern whether it includes seam allowances or not. (A careful comparison of pattern with skirt indicates not!)
  • File all the pieces in the same envelope. No, really. And label them with what they are so that when you fail to put them in the right envelope you don’t have to examine every stray pattern piece in your collection to find the lining pattern.
  • Give some indication of which cryptic markings are important for construction and which were just part of the drafting. Again, I had to lay the pattern over the finished skirt to work it out.
  • Write on the pattern what notions you need. I know there’s a zip, but roughly how long did it need to be? (No, I didn’t mark the zip placement on the pattern either so I had to measure the skirt.)

Presumably with practice you get to know what you really do need to write down and what can safely be left to be deduced next time round. Come to think of it, there’s a whole chapter of That Which You Shall Write Down in Adele Margolis’ Make Your Own Dress Patterns. I may just go and read that again.

The zip is IN

I have produced the first half decent exposed zip I’ve ever managed!

I can really recommend the exposed zip technique at (it’s a PDF so you’ll need Acrobat Reader or Foxit or similar to view). This is for the kind of exposed zip where the zip is installed under the fashion fabric, like an ordinary centred zip, but you fold back the seam allowances of the seam you’re sewing it under to make a slot. The fashion fabric edges don’t meet over the zip and the zip tape shows. A picture probably makes more sense than a description so here’s my finished zip:

Here are a few extra notes on how I did it because I didn’t quite follow the tutorial.

I was using a separating zip so I zigzagged over the bottom end with a zero-length stitch to hold it together. The zip’s tape stopped at the bottom of the zip stopper, so I sewed a scrap of fashion fabric to the end to give me a longer ‘tape’ to sew onto the dress. This was a big help and I’ll definitely do it another time. I finished the edges of the scrap before sewing it on. It was cut to the same width as the closed zip and straight-stitched to the zip tape for about the last 1cm of tape.

I marked the ‘slot’ by laying the zip onto the fabric to determine the length of the slot. The tutorial has you just measure the length of the zip plus an inch, but anything involving measuring and zips doesn’t work for me. If I put the zip onto the fabric and mark exactly where I want the thing to go I find the end result’s more accurate.

I used strips of fusible interfacing to keep the edges of the slot stable. I applied it outside the stay stitching lines on the wrong side of the fabric. It really helps.

The clever bit in the method I used is that you sew the end of the zip to the little triangle of fabric at the end of the slot before sewing the sides of the zip into the slot. This seems to keep the end of the slot in good shape. My first attempt at sewing the end wasn’t very accurate, but I discovered it’s a bit like an invisible zip – you just keep sewing over it until it looks OK from the outside. The less said about the state of the inside, the better, though. And I am very glad I didn’t sew the side seams before doing the zip. This bit would have been really tricky if I hadn’t been able to lay everything out flat. Oh and I should have sewed the back seam a little bit further than I did. You can see the triangle is coming apart in the picture.

Here’s the end of the slot. I’m really pleased I got the white stripe in the fabric to line up with the plastic bit on the end of the zip tape. You can just see the scrap of fabric extending the zip tape below the stopper – the original zip tape stops where the plastic stops.

So I’m very nearly done. I haven’t actually tried it on yet, but as the side seams are still open I have a bit of wiggle room for fitting!