Spring stripes

When I purchase fabric, I usually have a project in mind, but I rarely follow sewing patterns without some sort of modification. This means that I’ve had to get pretty good at estimating fabric requirements on my own. I usually come pretty close these days, but sometimes I end up erring on the more generous side (because it gives me a little leeway to change my mind on the design, and because I know that I’ll always find a good use for the scraps if any remain).

This was the case with some lovely hand-dyed velvet, wool crepe, and ponte that I found in my stash. I loved the way the contrasting colours looked together. They all have some stretch, but not enough to do away with darts. The velvet and wool are woven, but the ponte was a knit.

I started by cutting the fabrics into wide strips (seaming some of the velvet strips for extra length where needed). Then I stitched them together to create a striped fabric. I had just enough fabric to make a midi skirt in a slim-fitting style. I designed it by draping (on myself!) and re-stitching those stripe seams around the hips and bottom until they absorbed the darts needed to create the fitted shape.

In retrospect, I should have left the initial (striped fabric) seams unfinished (no overlocking!) until I’d sewn the final garment. I ended up doing a lot of unpicking of those overlocked seams to shape the top of the skirt. I also added gores (of orange wool crepe) to the bottom of the skirt for a bit of extra flare.

There’s a bit of a difference in the amount of stretch in each fabric. So, even though the stripes are the same width, the white ponte stretches more than the velvet, and this is most apparent at the waist. I probably should have made the ponte a little narrower, or the velvet a little wider to adjust for this.

I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out though. It’s a warm and comfortable skirt for Spring. And it just so happens to match perfectly with my refashioned velvet top.

 

A black silk cami

I was given a few lengths of some lovely crepe backed silk satin recently after my MIL had a big clean out. The fabric is probably quite old, but it is in perfect condition and of a beautiful quality. The smaller remnant was a gorgeous glossy black and I knew that it would make the perfect camisole.

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Crepe back satin is much heavier in weight than charmeuse, with the lovely brilliance of satin on one side, and a dull, pebbly appearance on the underside. Normally, I’d prefer silk charmeuse for a slip or cami, but going into Fall, I knew this beefier silk would work well for layering over shirts, as well as wearing alone.

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The pattern I used was the Camilla Camisole pattern. I made up a straight size 10 but lengthened it by about 1 inch. It is perfect. This is the third Camilla Cami I’ve sewn. I love this pattern. It stands out from the crowd because it is cut on the bias, which gives it an elegant fit that can easily be translated into both formal and day wear.

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I made my first Camilla Cami in a Japanese poly and literally wore it to death a few Summers ago. I’ve recently started wearing my second version a lot more. I like the way it layers over a nice tee. And now, this classic black version is going to end up as another staple of my Fall wardrobe. I keep meaning to lengthen the pattern into a slip dress, but I find these little tops much more versatile, and great for using up small lengths of pretty silk.

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Fashion trends and sewing

I have this theory about fashion trends and sewing. Being able to sew amplifies any trend (well, it does in my closet anyway!).

I’ve always been interested in fashion and I’ve always followed trends to one degree or another. But ever since I began sewing, fashion trends have been so much more pronounced as they’ve worked their way into my wardrobe.

In 2012 (pre-blogging photos from the archives), I made peplums. There were more than these, but I can’t find the photos right now.

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Next, I made drop waist dresses. There were more here too.

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Then I made culottes, which gradually progressed to wide leg and gaucho pants.

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Now, I’m working through the off-shoulder/cold-shoulder trend. There have been other trends along the way that also managed to captivate my interest. I seem to make between 3-5 garments that are in line with any trend. In my pre-sewing days, I’d have purchased 1-2 trend-driven pieces and otherwise kept to classic staples.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why sewing enables me to do this. Here are my ideas:

  • Sometimes it takes more than one go to get a handmade garment right. A wearable muslin first, followed by a better version immediately doubles the number of items. Maybe I would have bought one RTW item in the past, but I would have had the opportunity to try on several first to find which one worked best. You don’t get that opportunity with home sewing.
  • If the design worked and it fitted well, of course I’ll want to sew it again. And sometimes it’s simply easier to sew repeats than to work through new designs and muslins, particularly if the garment was seasonably appropriate and nice to wear.
  • Sewing means that I can refashion, recycle, and reuse old fabrics and old clothes. It means that I can also make more trend-driven items without spending more, or expanding my wardrobe. I don’t have to be as sensible with my clothing choices, because I can always refashion back to sensible if need be.
  • Sometimes (if I really like a style) I might decide to digitize a pattern, which means I have to test the pattern and make it perfect, thereby making multiple versions of the same style.
  • It usually costs me next to nothing to sew a few extra pieces. This wasn’t always the case though. When I was a beginner, there were so many wadders and ho-hum makes that it cost more to sew than to buy RTW (just check out those peplums!). These days, it’s very economical for me. I spend well on fabric for classic, long term pieces. I save a fortune by making swimsuits and leotards for myself and my girls. And for the trend-driven items that I know will only last a season, I’ll often use thrifted, upcycled, or economically priced fabric that is nice enough to produce a quality garment, but costs a tiny fraction of RTW. For example, the entire fabric cost of all the cold-shoulder makes below was about $18 (the largest portion coming from the $10-15 white linen tablecloth of which I still have a lot remaining). I also know that I’m very capable of cutting up any of those tops and dresses to refashion into something new down the track.

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  • I can make it so I can do it. And I can do it now! Sewing gives me freedom to follow a trend and make something immediately. Unlike RTW shopping where I’d have a vision in my mind but never be able to find exactly what I wanted, sewing enables me to make a garment to match my vision. It also enables the power of now. I can cut up an old sheet on the spot and make something at midnight, before garments hit RTW shops or are even available online. I’m not saying I do this, but I could!

So I think this explains how I end up with so many trend-driven pieces in my closet each year. It may seem like I have a lot of clothes, but I take a lot of care (via refashioning) to make sure that my closet doesn’t expand too much, despite sewing all year round. I’m also lucky to have a lot of girls to sew for. In any case, I think I’m just about ready to move on to my next obsession. I just have to figure out what it will be!

 

 

Pattern tested // Sew DIY Baseball skirt

I had a reasonably uncluttered week recently, so I put up my hand to do a little pattern testing. You’ve already seen the Tie back boots I tested. This time round, I tested the Sew DIY Baseball skirt.

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I’ll confess up front that this is not the kind of skirt I would normally sew for myself. I chose to pattern test this because I wanted to support the designer and because the skirt looked like such a quick and easy make. It is an elastic waist skirt. It IS quick and easy. Now I’m not sure how many beginners follow my blog, but if that is you, this skirt is a winner.

The pattern is clear and concise, as I would expect from Sew DIY. It’s also very professionally put together. I like the curved hem shape. I also like the idea of the other hem options that are described in the pattern.

I used a little leftover silk twill with the intention of making an everyday-version of this pencil skirt. However, when I paired it with the silk cami, it wasn’t really the vision I’d hoped for (see below).

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From a styling perspective, this one initially had me stumped. It’s designed to sit at the natural waist, which isn’t really my style right now, so I dropped it to my hips. As you’d expect, anything with an elastic waist is going to carry a little more bulk than a fitted waistband. However, I suspect some of the volume in my photos is coming from the way the pockets are hanging internally. My skirt was made to the tester version and I think Beth may have improved the pocket design for the final pattern.

In any case, to balance out the silhouette of an elastic waist skirt, I prefer it paired with a top that is similar in volume and that has a little more coverage through the shoulders (like the Lou Box top or the Branson top). To me, a spaghetti strap cami looks a little off kilter in terms of proportion and silhouette.

Please excuse the bare feet and wrinkly linen. I’d been wearing this outfit all day and was in the middle of chasing my little monsters in a game of tag (or tip…or whatever it’s called this week) when I suddenly thought to photograph the skirt again.

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P.S. It has now been several weeks now since I made this skirt. Paired with my white linen Branson top, this outfit has become one of my favourites this Summer. Cool, loosely fitted linen and silk is an absolute dream in the Midwest heat and humidity. I don’t feel too scruffy either.

Tie back boots by Big Little // pattern tested

I pattern tested for Lisa Spearman of Big Little recently. You might have already seen the first sneaky peek of my test version on Instagram. It’s exciting to report that the pattern is now ready to go and it’s available in the Big Little Etsy shop until Sunday with a discount if you use the code: BOOTS.

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It was an utterly out of season make for me (38 degrees Celcius days are the norm for us right now) but I still jumped at the chance to be a tester for these. All I could think of was my stash of glorious little wool and cashmere scraps that are too small to do anything useful with, but far too good to throw away. These little slippers make the perfect scrapbust for those particular fabrics.

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My test version was made using Italian wool coating (used here) and pink wool double crepe (seen here, and here, and here). I used denim for the soles and lined them with cashmere (remnants from my Dior coat) for the inner sole and beautiful Italian brushed cotton shirting (leftover from here). I felted all my wool and cashmere in the washing machine and dryer first. Lisa advises on how to do this but it is pretty common sense. Just think hot, hot, hot, until the fabric fibres are so tight and thick that the fabric won’t stretch anymore.

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I had to hide these boots from Miss Three. She was trying to wear them everywhere and I was feeling hot just looking at her. I’ll definitely be making these boots for Miss Five and Miss Seven next. In fact, I think they would make the perfect (and seasonally appropriate) Christmas stocking fillers for those of us in the Northern hemisphere.

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Silk skirt and cami // attaching a lining with a vent

This, my friends, is why I sew. I made myself a woven skirt (with not a smidgen of stretch), that fits me like a second skin. It never fails to amaze me how wonderful it feels to pull on an item of clothing that is designed specifically to fit your body, and only your body, like a glove.

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I have never been able to find a RTW pencil skirt in any kind of fabric that fits me properly. My hips are a size smaller than my waist, with the volume behind me rather than at the sides, which always made pants and skirts very painful to shop for. However, I’m pretty sure most women out there can feel my pain. Even women with exactly the same measurements can have vastly different shaped bodies, which is why we take so long trying on all the clothes when we go shopping.

The skirt I made is to a very simple design. It’s fully lined with silk habutai, with an invisible zipper and vent in the back, although the print on the fabric makes both of these features difficult to see. The fabric is a gorgeous remnant of silk twill that I picked up from Britex Fabrics in San Fransisco a few months ago. It’s a lighter style of twill, which is possibly not entirely suited to a fitted skirt, but it is what the heart wanted.

The hem is not as sharp as I’d like, even after interfacing it with some lightweight fusible.  I’m hoping another good press will get the hem and vent sitting smoother. I’m also hoping the lining will help the outer fabric withstand the strain of sitting. (Update: since writing this post, the skirt has been out for two outings and all seams are still perfectly intact thanks to the lining.)

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This was my first time lining a skirt with a vent. I entered into the project prepared. I had a reference book on hand and I pulled out my beautifully constructed Herringbone Sydney suit skirt to study (a 2006 version of this one). I literally stared at both for hours. However, my brain could simply not connect the dots. I had a mental block. In the end I knew I just had to start sewing and hope it would become clear as I progressed. I did eventually have that lightbulb moment when everything made sense, but not before I had already cut the lining in the wrong shape. The diagram below shows you how I cut the lining (same as the outer fabric) vs how I should have cut it (in pink).

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The trick in sewing a lining into a vented skirt is in cutting the skirt lining with a gentle curve so that it can join the vent to the CB zipper seam. The lining is NOT cut in the same shape as the skirt pieces. Showing you how I repaired my mistake gives you a good idea of the difference between a straight CB seam in the lining and how the curve needs to go. Thankfully this mistake is only on the inside of my skirt.

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Here’s another tip I learned in the making of this skirt. There’s no need to sew a dart in the lining. It’s easy to get a professional finish by distributing the volume as pleat instead. I moved my pleat slightly to the side of the dart so I wouldn’t have a double layer of bulk (albeit very thin with silk) in the same spot.

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And there we have it, my first perfectly fitted woven skirt. I made a Camilla Camisole to go with it in some lovely silk CDC from Tessuti Fabrics. The bias cut looks great in this fabric because of the striped pattern.

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Shop the Look

Nina Ricci // J Crew // BCBG Max Azaria

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NEW PATTERN ALERT: The Sea Change top + discount code

I’m so excited to announce a that a new pattern is available in my shop today. It’s the Sea Change top, an easy fitting, kimono style top that is just perfect for high waist jeans and skirts. And in honour of this exciting day, I’m also discounting the pattern (and everything else in my shop, including the Twirl to Me dress pattern) for the next seven days. Use code: SEACHANGE15

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I’ve already been getting a lot of wear out of my versions, and I have a few more planned for Summer.  It’s such an easy and versatile top. Check out the pattern yourself here.

The Sea Change top is tester ready!

This is the kind of easy fitting top that works well in both a knit or a woven. My striped version was made up in a knit, so I thought I’d trial this one in a woven. My fabric of choice is a special length of silk CDC from Tessuti Fabrics. I don’t buy much fabric on whim anymore, but this one just jumped in my shopping cart without any project in mind. I’m glad it did.

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I’m very pleased with the way this top turned out. I love the contrast panels and I especially love the opportunity they provide for mixing fabrics and prints for different looks on the same simple top.

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My blog has been a bit unpredictable over the past week while I’ve been getting it set up properly, so I started my call out for testers on Instagram for this pattern. I’ve had an overwhelming response for some sizes, but I’m still looking for testers in the following sizes: L (14-16) and XXL (20). If you think this might be you and you have the time and energy to trial this very simple top, please let me know. Once again, I have no interest if you blog or shout out to the masses through social media (although if you do, that’s fine by me too). I’m simply interested in your honest feedback.

Sign up form.

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A very special Oliver + S School Photo dress

Since Christmas, Miss Six has been wearing her corduroy School Photo dress every other day. She layers it with tights and a long sleeve top to wear to school. It has become her absolute favourite dress. But even better than this is the fact that I also love the look of it. It’s a very smart looking little dress. It’s also clearly very comfortable and warm, given that it is fully lined. 

Now, I don’t often sew clothes for people outside of my immediate family, but the idea of sewing this particular dress for my niece just seemed like the most perfect idea. My niece was born only a week apart from my Miss six, so I was confident with the sizing, as well as the style. It has been such a winner of a dress with my daughter that I hope it will be loved as much by her cousin. 

 
 
For my niece’s version, I used up my last little bits of leftover wool and cashmere scraps. I barely had enough to make this dress, and in fact, I still had to make a few concessions to stretch it far enough. The dress hem is only 1cm. I had to substitute a decent hem to get enough length in the cashmere panel. I also would have liked slightly longer ruffles on the sleeves. But these are only small things in the whole scheme of things.
 
 
 
My only modification to the pattern was in turning the sleeve panels into ruffles. I cut these on the bias which seems to make them curve around and under and hold a beautiful bell shape. This is very much what I wanted them to do, so I think I’m going to store up this idea of sleeve ruffles on the bias for next time.
 

 

I took my time making this dress. The hem was blind stitched by hand and the zipper was hand-stitched to the silk lining scraps, as was deserving of the beautiful fabric I was using. I’m also pretty pleased with my precision seam matching. I shared my newfound trick on how to achieve this on my Instagram account.  


All in all, the dress turned out beautifully. I’m super excited about sending it off to her cousin in Australia. It will arrive a few months before her birthday, but that’s how I roll with presents. My best gifts always miss the target date! And besides, I want her to be able to wear it while it will still fit perfectly, and on the odd chance that Melbourne gets a Wintery day or two before the end of Summer.

A Rigel bomber jacket for January, slightly modified of course!

When I heard Ginger was planning Rigel bomber jacket January, I vaguely considered the idea, but pretty much dismissed it. I did have a quick look through my stash to see if I could inspire myself, but the idea of another bomber just didn’t excite me. This is possibly because I already have a particularly fabulous one that I wear year round.

But then I laid my eyes on a pile of gorgeous cashmere and fuschia double faced crepe wool scraps left over from my recent Dior jacket and wide leg fancy pants. Combined, I had the perfect amount for a bomber, but more importantly, a seed of inspiration had planted itself in my brain.  

I’ve made a Rigel bomber before, so I was confident with it’s construction and how it would fit me. It’s a great pattern. I love the shape, the fit, the cute welt pockets and the original neckline. I do believe it needs a lining though, but this is easy enough to do. I was lazy and just re-cut the pattern pieces in some leftover Caroline Herrera silk twill. If I was feeling more energetic, I would have drafted the lining to incorporate the existing self-fabric facing. The latter would have looked more professional, but both ways work.



This time round, I wanted to move slightly away from the traditional bomber shape. My changes to the original pattern weren’t huge, but they have had a major effect on both the look and the silhouette of the jacket.

So what did I do:

  • I raised the neckline and drafted an overlapping mandarin style collar. I used a leather buckle to fasten the collar, but most likely it will be left undone when I wear it.

  • I also widened the sleeves by A LOT, shortened them, and added sleeve cuffs. I slashed and pieced the original sleeves, using my blue wool coat as a guide because that was the kimono-like shape I was after.
  • I added a contrast panel to the back piece and matching cuffs for the sleeves.
  • I ditched the idea of using ribbing because a colour match with my amazingly vibrant wool or cashmere contrast would have been near impossible. Instead, I lengthened the hem pattern piece and used more contrast fabric. The contrast is cashmere so without the stretch, it has given my bomber a boxier look. I like this. 

I’m pretty happy with this make. I know I will get heaps of wear out of it, because I know how much I already wear my other Rigel bomber. This one will be warmer though, and the colours make it a little more special.