In 2013 I decided it was time to set up camp in my own little corner of the wonderful online sewing community. I thought it would be a good idea to blog to help me both log my dressmaking exploits and pattern cutting pursuits, as well as keep track of important tips, tricks and techniques I learn along the way.
I worked on these trousers for a very very long time! I think it was in November/December last year when I started drafting my own trouser block and then doing various trial and error toiles to experiment with fit. I worked on them on and off and, voila enfin, they are done!
I used pinstripe suiting fabric that I’d used before for this dungaree dress in 2017. I had originally bought the fabric with some ‘cigarette pants‘-style trousers like these in mind so I’m glad I finally got them out of my head and through the sewing machine! The fabric is a wool/blend suiting and comes from Gold Fingers on Boulevard Anspach.
I’m not 100% happy with the fit – I think they could be a little less snug in the thighs but it’s also because I’m not used to wearing trousers – I feel so strapped in! Also, the fabric does not have that much body to it so they are a little stiff. But I’m glad I have a good fitted trouser pattern now that I can adapt to other styles.
And I’m so into the shape of the pockets!
And because the outside should be as pretty as the inside, I used a ‘Hong Kong’ finish on the side seams with some nice satin binding.
And talking of Closet Case Patterns, I also made another Kalle shirt – which I’ve untucked here so you can see it better. This is my third version of this pattern (hello number 1 and number 2). I adapted the neckline slightly for this one so it sits flat – it is a sort of bias binding sandwich finish! I love the pairing of the yellow buttons and the red fabric – some classic Atelier Brunette ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ fabric I bought a few years ago in Paris and which I’ve been keeping for something special ever since. Well, you can’t take fabric with you, so I decided to stop hoarding it and that this was as good a time as any to use it. I really like it and hopefully I’ll get a lot of wear out of it.
I made a Honeycomb dress by Cocowawa crafts and I can report it is a very sweet pattern, just like honey. I’d seen lots of lovely versions online and I was curious about the construction. As I said in my previous post, I’m curious about patterns with ties rather than zip closures. The Honeycomb’s gathered skirt is cinched in thanks to two front ties on both sides. I definitely could have sewn my gathers better but gathering is not my strong point.
It’s such a comfy dress to wear and it feels both dressed up and dressed down at the same time.
The fabric I used was bought on a wee trip to Amsterdam with my sister in 2017 – I found about 3 metres of it at the bottom of a remnant bin and took pity on it and decided to give it a home. For a while I regretted buying it as I couldn’t think what to make with it. But it was the perfect fabric to try out a new pattern on, and see if I could get at least a wearable muslin out of it.
But luckily, I got a full on dress I love! The fabric is very light flowy corduroy/needlecord that could possibly be curtain fabric.
I’d been looking for a dungaree pattern for a while when I came across the Ophelia Overalls from Decades of Style’s Everyday range and I was immediately drawn to the original design. They are roomy and loose, but straps and D-rings at the side cinch them in a bit at the waist. I love the big pockets on the side. I took up the hem by about 11cm so they would skim my ankles and I think it is a length that looks nice with sandals or boots. I hardly ever wear trousers so they do take a bit of getting used to for me but I’ve been wearing them loads since I finished them a few weeks ago! While having a wide trouser leg feels a bit odd sometimes to me and I have to hike them up a bit when I’m on my bike, all in all they are an absolute dream to wear and I don’t know how I lived without them before!
And can we talk about this lovely mustard yellow corduroy?! Like lots of other sewists, I certainly am a sucker for the mustard yellow. I bought this fabric in Pauli Stoffen in Leuven (best fabric shop in Belgium!) in January. The Ophelia overalls pattern envelope design even has one of the illustrations in yellow corduroy, so it was meant to be! It was so lovely to sew with and I’ve got loads left over so I plan to make some dungarees for my cousin’s wee baby.
I really took my time to make these dungarees and one thing I did was spend a lot of time researching and sourcing my hardware. I used spring snaps for the closures at the side seams, this is the first time I’ve had any success with spring snaps and finally finding some that work for me was so satisfying! After a LOT of research I bought some spring snaps and set in tools from the Laughing Lizard Store on Etsy. I’ve never mastered those annoying Prym plyers and I find it so frustrating that most sewing shops sell plastic snaps or, at best, quite bad quality ring snaps. Closet Case Patterns has an excellent read about the difference between spring and ring snaps and how to install them.
One thing I’ve definitely learnt when it comes to trying to be as sustainable as possible with your sewing is that it is better to take three months to make something and really make sure it is well made and that you’ll wear it, rather than bash something out only for it to languish in your wardrobe.
I got the fabric for this dress in Antwerp way back in 2014 (!) in a shop that I can’t remember the name of and that I probably wouldn’t be able to find again. I had a voucher to spend which was my prize for taking part (and coming last) in the Belgian/Dutch online sewing competition ‘Sew it up‘ that Hanne and Caroline used to organise. So, wow, it has taken me four years to make something with this fabric! It is a soft drapey viscose that was way easier to work with than I anticipated and I’m glad I kept it for so long until the idea for this dress was born.
The pattern was the result of a day of pattern drafting experimentation! My favourite part is the cut-out back, although I think I’ll be wearing this with a top under it and tights from here on in as the wintery weather has just arrived in Belgium.
Here is a photo of the bodice pattern piece in case this is useful to anyone interested in drafting a similar pattern. Be careful with this type of ‘French dart’ as you can end up with a ‘pointy boob’ situation if the end of the dart is too close to the apex of the bust, so it can be worth shortening the dart a smidgen more than you would if it was in another position. As this fabric is really busy it is pretty forgiving but in a different fabric the darts might look slightly off. Not that anyone should be paying that close attention to the dart positions on your clothes (unless they are a fellow sewing aficionado).
For the back, I cut two pieces that look like this:
I wore this dress to my dear friend Anna’s wedding on the Isle of Mull recently and as always seems to be the case when I make something for a particular event, somehow I end up hemming it at 1 in the morning the day before I need to get a train or a plane…all part of the fun! (You can read more about Anna’s wedding in my last post as I also made her wedding skirt!)
These pictures were taken a few weeks ago just before all the leaves on this tree started to fall!
Today I’ve got a very special project to share: I made my dear friend Anna’s wedding skirt! Anna is one of my closest and oldest friends so this was a very special – if daunting – project! And it is definitely one of my favourite sewing projects. The top Anna is wearing comes from Catherine Deane in London and I think it goes really well with the skirt. (Want to make it clear in the first paragraph of this post that I didn’t make Anna’s ‘top half’ so I’m not accidentally taking credit for others’ work!)
First up: let’s start at the end and look at the anatomy of the finished skirt:
The skirt is a half circle skirt with the main fabric a duchess satin from Mandors in Glasgow. There is one layer of tulle above the main fabric, two layers under for volume, and then a cotton lining. There is an invisible zip in the centre back seam and the waistband fastening is a hook and eye. On the back there is a ‘false button’ – it’s actually a badge that Anna had made in her new fella’s tartan (Cameron).
Photo credit: Christian
1) The first thing I did was take all of Anna’s measurements when we were both at home last Christmas and then I drafted a basic front and back bodice block. I sewed up a quick bodice muslin and made the necessary adjustments to the blocks. (Initially the plan was to make a whole dress but we took the wise decision given I am in Brussels and Anna in Glasgow that I would just make the skirt and Anna would find a top to go with it.) Even though we didn’t end up doing a whole dress, making the bodice blocks was still a really important part of the process. First of all because it was as good as any as a place to start! Secondly, I love drafting and relished the opportunity to try fitting on someone else’s body. And thirdly, I think it was a good way for Anna to start thinking about what kind of outfit she wanted, and how she wanted it to fit.
2) Next, I made a first ‘draft’ of the dress in muslin fabric once I was back in Brussels.
3) Then in February Anna and our friend Sally came over to Brussels for the weekend and brought the fabric she had chosen. Anna tried on the dress toile and I made some fitting adjustments to the blocks. I then made a full dress bodice and skirt mock-up in the main fabric, with sleeves too. I decided to cut into the ‘real fabric’ early on as it was a good way of seeing how it worked. I’d never worked with duchess satin before so wanted to get a feel for it.
That was when we decided that the bodice didn’t really look right in the fabric and to just focus on making a skirt. We realised it was going to take too long to get the bodice looking and fitting right and we only had so many weekends together to do it – think it was a wise decision! We played around with different levels of fullness – at first I made a full circle skirt but it was too puffy, the half circle skirt had a better balance of drape and poofy-outness (the technical term).
3) After the weekend I added a lining and a waistband with a tie and some tulle layers. I then brought this over to Scotland when I was home for a visit so that Anna could take it with her to look for tops to go with it.
4) Then the finale was this summer when Anna brought the skirt back over so I could finish it properly and make some changes before the wedding in September. I redid the zip and took off the waistband and tie and made a simple waistband without the tie (the tie waistband really wasn’t working). I also redid most of the seams to finish everything more neatly so the insides are pretty too. I think my favourite parts of the dress are the satin binding around the lining hem and the Hong Kong finish on the centre back seam! It was pretty much 35 degrees that whole weekend so I was – no exaggeration – sewing half naked trying to battle with the tulle so it wouldn’t stick to my sweaty legs haha! It was really enjoyable in an ‘extreme sewing’ kind of way.
And it’s finished!!
What I learnt: 8 tips for anyone thinking of wedding (or any special occassion) sewing for a friend.
1) Go for it! Of course sewing something for a special occasion like a wedding is a more involved project but if you’ve got a bit of sewing experience under your belt there is no reason why you can’t make something more challenging. The ‘stakes’ are higher but that’s all part of the fun!
I think that the best way to approach special occasion sewing is to start by taking inspiration from everyday clothes or everyday sewing and then ‘scale up’ in terms of the type of fabric and the finishing techniques you would use. There is no reason (unless you want to of course) to make it over complicated. Case in point: Anna’s wedding skirt is a half circle skirt, one of the simplest silhouettes to fit. I would recommend to anyone making a fancy garment for someone (for a wedding or otherwise) to ask the person to bring you a favourite dress that they feel good in and get them to explain why they like it and how it makes them feel. Use that as your starting point for any sketches or initial drafting. I asked Anna to do this and we went through some of her favourite dresses – just everyday things she wears to work etc. – and I got her to talk about them. I think it was actually one of the most important parts of the process as it helped me know how Anna wanted to look and feel. This is also a chance to get an idea of the person’s knowledge of dressmaking so you can manage expectations if they have any bold unrealisitc suggestions!
3) Beware Pinterest
Pinterest can be a great tool for gathering inspiration images of course, but I find that it’s a double-edged sword. You can quickly lose sight of your own ideas – and, particularly when it comes to wedding images on the site, I feel that there is generally speaking quite a standard ‘look’ that dominates the images that come up. That’s not to say there are not tonnes of images out there online of wedding outfits that are a bit different, I just found you have to hunt for them more. Basically, keep in mind that your wedding dress doesn’t need to look like the ‘stock’ images of dresses that predominate in advertising. OK, I could have just written, ‘you do you’.
4) Get organised!
Embrace your inner planner and get a spreadsheet going! Or whatever form of organisation floats your boat! As we had to make the most of our time together I made sure everything was ready for when Anna came over – but you also have to of course be ready for everything taking double the time you had planned for it, as is the case for pretty much everything in life anyway!
5) Pretend you are a master couturière at work
How often do you get to make an outfit for a dear friend that they’ll (hopefully) treasure forever? Never! Approach the project as if you were a professional at work and your apartment is your ‘master atelier’ – even if you are battling with your own furniture for space to cut out layers of fabric!
6) Fabric choosing
I wasn’t able to go fabric shopping with Anna so I made her a list of bullet points to take with her to the shop for things to look out for and keep in mind (fabric composition, how it will hang, is it a woven or a knit etc.). Keep in mind that not everyone knows how to navigate a fabric shop – think back to when you first started sewing and bought fabric totally unsuitable for what you intended to make (and err still do sometimes). Luckily the lady in the shop was really helpful (obviously, as it’s Glasgow!) and helped Anna pick what she needed. If I was going to make this type of wedding garment again I’d do a bit more research into different fabric options I think to see what the different options are; I did find that working with the duchess satin made my hands really dry which is probably due to the coating used to finish it.
7) Keep some perspective How many people will be thinking about the (lack of) waistband topstitching on the wedding day? One. And that’s you! And even then you’ll forget about that after about five minutes. The wedding outfits are obviously a focal point of the day but everyone will be looking at the happy couple’s smiling faces and not how well balanced the bride’s hem is. So yeah keep cool – it’s just sewing, even if it is for a wedding. At first I was worried about making Anna the ‘perfect’ skirt but that was silly. The reason she asked me to make it was because she wanted something made by a friend, if she had wanted a ‘perfect’ dress she wouldn’t have taken the DIY approach. Anna was so lovely throughout the whole thing and always (bizarrely) had no doubts in my ability to make the skirt! If the person you are making for is putting you under unnecessary pressure then you probably shouldn’t be embarking on such a project together.
8) Enjoy the time spent together
Lastly – and I think most importantly – making Anna’s skirt meant we (and Sally!) spent whole weekends together this year. I really liked this rare chunk of time together with my apartment full of laughter and layers of tulle fabric!
Congratulations to Anna and Jim! And thank you for such a lovely wedding in such a beautiful place, Uisken beach on the Isle of Mull.
Communicating with a higher power or blinded by the light?
This was one of those sewing projects. You know the ones. You’ve got a ‘deadline’. Say, a wedding in Brighton that’s been planned for months in a few days. And you decide that now is the perfect time to start an un-thought out sewing project to make for it! Sometimes this approach is a recipe for disaster for me, but this time luck was on my side and I’m really happy with this new dress.
The fabric has been in my stash for a few years now after buying it in Paris at one of the shops near the Marché Saint-Pierre. It’s a woven, has a sort of canvas-y feel, and has just the right amount of stretch in it. I can’t remember how much it cost but I don’t think it was very much and I bought 3 metres of it (in a burst of ‘I’m in Paris, oh pretty fabric’ enthusiasm). It’s an unusual shade of pink (which doesn’t capture too well in photos) and I think that is why it took me so long to make something with it. It feels like the kind of fabric that doesn’t deserve half measures. It needed to be a dress really!
It’s also interesting going back through the fabrics I bought a few years ago and looking at them with a more critical ‘environmental eye’. Even though I think (hope) I’ve always been ‘conscious’ about how much fabric I’m buying etc., over the last few years I’ve definitely got way more uncomfortable with the lack of information on the exact provenance of all the piles of textiles piled up in my apartment. I’ve no idea where this came from really (beyond the Paris shop where it ended up), what was the dyeing process used to get that deep pink, and I’m not sure what types of synthetic materials are woven together to get that nice stretch.
But the pattern itself is a pattern hacking act of recycling though!
p.s. not my litter!
I was about to buy some new patterns recently and then I decided to reorganise my pattern shelf and look again at the patterns I’ve only made one or two times. It can be so tempting to buy new patterns all the time but I think it is good to get a balance between buying new patterns (and supporting all the wonderful indie businesses) and getting the most out of the ones you already own.
I’ve recently been re-wearing my BHL Flora dress after reworking it (‘reworking’ sounds a bit over the top as I really just lengthened the hem) and I was reminded of how perfect the fit of the bodice is. It is fitted but still has room for lunch. So I took the bodice and altered it to this more ‘corsety’ shape. Then I made some longer straps and drafted an A-line skirt with added flare. I was tempted to go for a circle skirt but I wanted the skirt to hang closer to the body. As the fabric is quite structured it still has that ‘fit and flare’ circle skirt effect but it would be interesting to make this dress in a soft, flowing fabric which would hang differently.
This dress is really fun to wear and after wearing it to the wedding I’ve also been wearing it out and about too. I didn’t get the chance to take pictures in Brighton so these were taken in Brussels in the glaring heat of this endless sunny spell.
Have you looked at your UFOs and/or unworn past sewing projects recently? Here is a very short story about how my new dress of dreams was reborn from a simple alteration.
I found a big kafkan/kimono thing in the fleamarket. It was horrible but the fabric was dreamy. I wish I had a picture of how it was – you’ll just have to believe me.
2) Then I cut it up and made a BHL Flora dress wearable muslin out of it. I did wear it a bit but it quickly became one of those dresses that never gets worn. It looked ‘unbalanced’ to me, I always wanted the skirt to be a bit longer, and I was constantly pulling it down. And for some reason I made the skirt lining longer than the actual skirt which looked a bit silly in this case.
3) With the rest of the fabric I tried to make some Grainline Maritime shorts which were a massive fail because I didn’t check the fit.
4) I never got around to sorting them out and the shorts sat in my UFO pile for 4 (!!) years. The dress lingered in the wardrobe.
5) I catch sight of the dress and think ‘aaaw this dress is too nice not to wear, hold up – why don’t I just try and make some kind of hem extension thing with the fabric from the UFO shorts – this is so obvious, I could have done this four years ago!’
Some unpicking and careful cutting later to eek out just enough fabric and I have a lengthened dress that I love love love.
Moral of the story – sometimes it’s the small changes that make all the difference. #Deep