White lace dress

One great thing about living in the USA is that my birthday is in Summer here! I’m so much more inspired to dress up and head out for the night in the middle of Summer. The end of June always seems so cold and dark in Sydney (relatively speaking).

To be perfectly honest though, I’ll use any excuse to sew a nice dress. Yes, there’s still over a month until my birthday, but several years ago I came up with best birthday strategy ever. For the next month, many sentences will begin with, “It’s my birthday soon, so…”. If I really stretch it, I can milk my birthday for a good eight weeks, which could possibly turn into several dinners out, maybe some new shoes, fabric…and you’ve already seen my “birthday” sunnies if you follow me on Instagram.

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But let’s get back to the birthday dress. It is my own design, albeit a very simple one, and also one you’ve seen before. The skirt is the only real part of the design I changed, moving and adjusting the pleats a bit to create the volume and shape of the skirt. I also moved the zipper to the back and left it exposed (because it is a bit fancy!).

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I’ve been calling the outer fabric lace, for want of a better word. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. It is actually faux leather embroidered on scuba mesh. Surprisingly though, it is very stable. There isn’t much stretch in that mesh so I was able to turn the fabric on the cross grain to utilise the mesh edging/selvedge as a hem. I decided that the lining needed to be black for contrast and cotton for breathability under the spongy synthetic exterior.

Now, the construction of this dress is where things went a little Pete Tong. My original plan was to partially line the bodice, just like this blue Milly dress. However, after sewing all the seams  (of the outer fabric) and serging them, I realised that the underside of the lace was so hard and scratchy that the dress would be unwearable if it was left even partially unlined. I could have used silk organza blocked into the top part of the lining and sewn it as a full lining, but I didn’t have the right shade of nude on hand and I just wanted to get on with it.

My solution was to first bind the armscye of the outer lace. Then I sewed together the lining in full and attached it to the lace at the neckline. Then a lot of hand-stitching ensued. I slip-stitched the lining to the armscye binding and down the centre back. The dress is actually very close to passing as reversible.

I’m very happy with the fit. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but I think I will always feel an element of surprise and delight when I step into a garment that is perfectly molded to my body. It’s a sensation that I’ve never felt with RTW.

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And while we are speaking of perfect fit… I drove past an estate sale last week and bumped into the impeccable Jill Sander shoes that you see in the photos. They were not only my exact size, but comfortable, possibly unworn, and totally meant for the dress I was sewing. I felt like Cinderella!

Vintage lace cold shoulder ensemble

You’ve seen me sew up a few cold-shoulder garments this season. I love them! I particularly love this style because it is cool, loose-fitting, and not at all restrictive. It’s become my go-to style this Spring.

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The fabric came from a vintage, linen tablecloth. Beautiful linen tablecloths are at every estate sale here in Kansas City. I’d like to say, “a dime a dozen”, but they are never ever a dime. They are usually priced anywhere from $10 to $150. I loved this one as soon as I saw it, but I wasn’t prepared to buy it at full price. So I crossed my fingers and went back to the sale on the last day and bought it for $40 (50% off). It’s a huge tablecloth (2m by 4m) and the linen is of a beautiful quality, without any stains or tears. It is densely woven, with a fine texture, and quite opaque, but still lightweight enough for garments. In  my opinion, it was a steal.

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I didn’t stop at the top though. I also made myself a pair of matching shorts, inspired by the one and only Sophie (Ada Spragg). I still have a lot of leftover fabric. This is the tablecloth that never stops. And the best bit about it is the very ample lace edging. I love the look of the lace, but I also love the fact that incorporating it in as the hem of a garment makes for a very quick sew (no hemming!!!).

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Authentic 70’s cold shoulder blouse

I’m calling this authentic because the thread and the fabric were both picked up at an estate sale. It’s plausible that the fabric is from the 70’s. It certainly looks the part.

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To be perfectly honest, most of the fabric I find at estate sales is truly awful. There’s lots of old, rough quilting remnants, ugly home deco cottons, and dusty poly knits. The pricing is often absurd too, clearly valued by people who know nothing about fabric and sewing. I walk past a lot of rubbish. However, every now and then I find a gem and a bargain.

This fabric was a part of several bundles that I found at one particular house several months ago. Each bundle was $1-3 and contained 3-5 remnants of varying lengths. I was immediately apparent to me that some of the fabric was of high quality, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the exact fibre content of a fabric without a burn test, particularly with “nicer” synthetics. So I nabbed three of the more appealing bundles and took them home to inspect more closely.

Subsequent burn tests revealed a LOT of silk in that bundle, including this absolute gem. Needless to say, I popped back to the sale later that day and grabbed the remaining decent bundles. I ended up with several long lengths of pretty silks, two really long lengths of Liberty of London (one was a wool blend), and a few nice poly and cotton florals. Some prints are old fashioned, but even so, are still delightful for the right project.

I was able to determine that this particular floral fabric was a synthetic. It doesn’t press. It definitely melts (please don’t ask me about this!)! It’s stiffer than a silk chiffon. It’s not my kind of fabric at all, but I LOVED the 70’s vibe of the print. It was going to make the perfect partner for my suede mini and flares.

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I wasn’t planning to spend much time or effort on a horrid poly like this but I didn’t have a lot of choice. I needed to bind the raw edges somehow. Self-fabric binding would have been beautiful (but an awful job with a fabric that won’t hold a crease). My solution was to use some sheer pink, silk organza that I already had on hand. Obviously, silk organza presses well but I’ve never used it for bias binding before. It’s a very crisp fabric to begin with but after several washes, silk organza turns super soft. It was the perfect compliment to this sheer blouse.

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Linen romper

So this wasn’t a complete fail, but I really don’t love it. I tried so hard to make it work, but still, all I’m feeling is meh…

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It’s not a complete loss though. The linen was salvaged from old makes and small remnants that I had lying around. It was incredibly satisfying to clear my scrap pile of all the lovely linens (which are too beautiful to throw away, but too small to make anything worthwhile with). If you look closely, the front and back of the shorts are actually two different blues… this make was scrapbusting at it’s finest!

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The colour-blocking was determined by the scraps I had on hand. The shorts are based on the Carolyn Pyjama pattern. I lengthened the crotch rise (front and back) by 1.5 inches in order to raise the waistline and make them suitable for a romper design.

The top half was designed by me. It’s very basic. I chickened out of the front-tie design I originally had planned. I liked the look better but the deep, deep neckline would have rendered it for beach-wear only. As it is, I may not love this make, but it will still be a practical wardrobe addition for Summer.

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Cold-shoulder dress

This dress was not on the top of my sewing queue but somehow I managed to drop everything else as soon as I spotted this Tibi ensemble. It was love at first sight sight. The fabric is to die for, but I also loved the laid-back, cut-out design of the shoulder and the loose-fitted, fluid nature of the outfit. To me, it screamed, “hot, steamy, Summer”, which is exactly what we get to expect in Kansas City.

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I used a gorgeous fluid (cotton-like) viscose that I purchased recently on whim (I’m a sucker for filling my trolley to get free shipping!). I had no idea what I wanted to use it for at the time, but it was absolutely perfect for this dress.

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The design is my own, but it was a very simple one. If you have a basic shift dress pattern that fits you well the modifications are easy. I simply slashed the length of a TNT shift dress pattern to spread it into a slightly more A-line shape (rather than a boxy shift). And then I lined up the pattern pieces to create cut-outs over the shoulder seam. I used the same principal described in my off-the-shoulder top.

This dress worked out even better than I imagined. It’s like slipping into cool cotton sheets on a hot day, which is probably going to make it my favourite dress to wear in a few months time.

 

 

DIY ponte and lace bodysuit

I find the idea of muslins for stretch knit garments a funny thing to get my head around, especially in the case of swimsuits and bodysuits. Personally, I don’t have any stretch “muslin” fabric lying around, and yet, none of the stretch fabric I own is particularly precious. And then there’s the fact that only a tiny bit is required for the suit anyway. I usually opt to make a wearable muslin in a case like this, even though I may end up making it up again as a real version, in exactly the same fabric!

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This bodysuit is a wearable muslin. It’s a shape and fit that I haven’t made before so I was entirely unsure as to how it would work out. I used a few of my swimsuit patterns as a guide for the body shape and length, and then adjusted the size according to the less stretchy ponte fabric that I was using. The bottom of the bodysuit has a pant shape similar to my Splash Swimsuit.

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I ended up having to adjust the side seams quite a bit before I was happy. I also completely re-designed the back halfway through construction. And that’s why you can see that the lace on the back has been finished with FOE on the top edge, but all the ponte has raw edges. Ponte won’t fray, so it was always my intention to leave the edges raw in this version (the lace was a different matter). I’ll spend more time finishing the shoulder straps and neckline next time round. I may still leave the pants unfinished though because the unfinished edges on the legs give a very smooth finish against the skin and under clothes. You’d be seeing a panty line in my jeans if the edges were finished with elastic.

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I totally love this look of black on black for Summer right now. In my mind, it’s a little bit 90’s,  especially when you also consider the return of chunky, blocked heels (that are so comfy, but oh so reminiscent of dancing through the night to George Michael music videos with his bevy of supermodels). The nineties were the first real era of fashion that I lived through and actively participated in (it doesn’t count if you were too young to buy your own flouro socks and hypercolour T’s in the 80’s!).

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Top: Made by me / Leather skirt: vintage / Jeans: James Jeans / Shoes: Loeffler Randall

 

 

First of the DIY Spring frocks

It’s been so long since I’ve made a dress like this, with a fitted bodice and a pleated skirt. The design is very similar to one of the first few dresses I ever designed and made from scratch. If I was still living in Australia, I’d probably still own those dresses, but the nature of moving overseas calls for ruthless culling and I’ll freely admit that I have a few small regrets.

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To craft this pattern, I draped both a muslin and the fashion fabric directly onto my mannequin. I find draping gets the best fit for me through the bodice. I did a rough calico for the bodice, but draped the skirt fabric directly on the mannequin. The skirt is a very simple design, just two pleats and some whopping big side pockets.

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Because this was the first fitted (woven) bodice I’ve designed or made for a long time, I chose to use an invisible zipper down the front of the dress. I actually quite like this style of fastening, but I had another sneaky reason for placing the zipper in the front. I didn’t sew a full muslin of the dress so I wasn’t fully confident that the bodice fit wouldn’t need a bit more tweaking. I knew it would fit well enough but I wanted the opportunity to aim for perfection, as well as be able to accurately adjust my pattern pieces for the future. I’m reasonably flexible, but there’s no way I can pin out a CB seam accurately on my own!

As it turned out, the fit was pretty good. I only needed to let the waist out by 0.5cm on each seam and this was easy to do by reducing the seam allowance at that point when inserting the zipper.

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The fabric is a medium-heavy weight embroidered cotton. It has the most amazing texture and structure due to the black embroidery and it suits the design of the pleated skirt perfectly. You can see how the skirt holds it’s shape. I tried to be clever and freestyle a back cutout into the pattern once I’d already commenced sewing the bodice. However, I didn’t like the way the edges sat so I inserted some silk organza between the fabric and the lining. I probably could have used elastic along the cutout edges to bring them in towards the body instead of the organza. I’ll remember that next time.

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Overall, I’m very happy with the fit and feel of this dress. It’s a simple, elegant design that I’ll get a lot of wear out of. I’m also happy to have a TNT fitted, princess-seamed bodice pattern in my arsenal. It’s been something I’ve been meaning to make for over a year now.

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DIY suede wrap skirt // vintage fabric salvage

A few months ago, I stumbled across a vintage coat dress at an estate sale. The suede was in mixed condition, but there was an awful lot of it in the circle skirt design of the skirt. It was only $10 so I figured I would cut it up anyway (but not before I played a little dress-up).

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When I bought it home, the first thing I needed to do was address the old, dusty smell. It wasn’t offensive, just old. I hung it outside while I did a bit of research online. I discovered that it was possible to launder suede. I had nothing to lose.

I washed my coat on the gentlest machine cycle using a wool detergent and a smidgen of fabric softener. And then, because I was impatient, I decided to test out the dryer theory too. I dried the coat on the lowest, delicate cycle (which I use for drying silk). It worked beautifully. I feel like the gentle motion of the dryer eliminated any possible stiffness from the water. The end result was that the good suede on the coat looked, felt, and smelt better than before. The damaged suede didn’t, and in fact, was probably more obvious than before the wash. There were initially a few small (oil splatter?) stains in the suede too. These didn’t come out, probably because the washing process was so gentle. So even though I would still generally prefer to air suede, it’s good to know it can be washed safely on the odd occasion, particularly when hunting second hand goods.

But now I need to talk about the skirt. I salvaged the good suede from the coat dress to use for the outer skirt and since the coat was lined in silk, I used that to line my skirt too. I used the same sewing pattern that you’ve seen me use before (here and here). This time, I shortened the length and extended/straightened the front for full coverage.

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Instead of a waistband, I used a facing and I secured this down with a very wide topstitch, rolling the outer suede in towards the facing as I did so. This ensures that none of the contrast facing can be seen from the outside.

The skirt has some oddly placed seams because I focused on retrieving the best sections of fabric in the coat rather than avoiding the seams. Also, I quite like the asymmetry of surprise seaming here and there.

I opened out, topstitched, and trimmed back all my seams. The existing seams weren’t topstitched but were pressed so flat that I didn’t want to touch them. I also left the side edges and bottom hem unfinished. Suede won’t fray!

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To fasten the skirt, there is a lightweight ribbon tie on the inside (which looks like it needs to be tied a little tighter as I can see a little bit of the inner skirt front hanging down in the photo) and a single large button on the outside. I made a bound buttonhole in the suede. It sounds impressive but it wasn’t difficult at all. Suede is a pretty easy material to work with.

I’ve seen so many little suede minis in the past few months that I’m very happy to finally have my own. Watch out 70’s, here I come!

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Off the shoulder silk dress and a solution for strapless-bra haters

Can I just say how much I love this dress, perhaps even more so now because I have come up with an alternative to wearing a dastardly strapless bra.

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First, let’s talk about the dress. I feel like these photos don’t do the fabric justice. It’s actually a slightly warmer grey, in a luxurious double crepe silk. It’s a beautiful weight, completely opaque, and perfect for Spring, Summer, or in between. I’ll be using this dress as a transeasonal piece, possibly layering it over jeans and adding a scarf until the weather warms up.

I used my Branson Top pattern as a starting point for the dress pattern. It’s a pattern that fits me well, and it had a front bodice and sleeve shape that gave me a good starting point for the shape of flare I wanted. You could easily use another woven shirt pattern though.

My first step was to remove the CF front placket to turn the front bodice into one piece. Then I extended the lines of the pattern to a dress length. I then simply slashed and spread all three pattern pieces (the front, back, and sleeves). Because the front of the Branson Top pattern is already flared somewhat, I only spread the front by a little. The same applied to the wide Branson sleeves, which I shortened before spreading. I left the back hem a touch longer than the front.

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Now, about the strapless bra situation. There isn’t one (unless I want one of course)! My solution to the bra dilemma was to sew two tubes of matching fabric, press them, and thread them over the straps of an existing bra (I have enough bras in my arsenal that I won’t miss one for the time being). I machine basted the fabric tubes in place and I can remove them at any time or I can leave them on for as long as I want. Perfect!

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Winter mini skirt in thrifted home deco fabric

I found a small remnant of home decorating fabric at an estate sale recently. I fell in love with the texture and the pattern of the fabric, even though I knew it was probably heavily blended with polyester. The embroidery on the fabric imparts a lot of structure and shape to this little A-line mini. And that was my plan all along. I did not want a floppy mini.

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The skirt buttons up at the front. It’s a very simple design, modified from a TNT pencil skirt pattern. Seriously, there’s not much you can’t do once you have a well fitting skirt sloper. If there was anything even remotely complicated about the design I would have braved the snow for better photos. But it’s just a plain pencil shape with a touch of added flare at the bottom.

I usually fit my skirts perfectly at the waist, but add a smidgen of extra ease through the hips, just enough to give the illusion that my hips are slightly wider but not so much that the skirt looks loose (some fabrics allow for this better than others). My shape is more like a triangle than an hourglass, with broad shoulders and narrow hips. Aesthetically, I quite like the look of an hourglass and I find that playing around with the ease through the hips helps achieve the balance I’m after.

This skirt has two darts in the back, but none in the front. At the CF, I extended the pattern piece by about 2inches to fold back as a self-faced placket. The buttons are quite difficult to see in the photos, proof that you should always take your fabric with you when choosing buttons. I think black buttons may have worked better. Perhaps better lighting would make them look better too, but Winter is about survival here, and that includes dreary indoor shots for a few more weeks.

I did my best to match the horizontal flowers as much as possible at the side seams and keep the pattern cohesive with the waistband. I only had a small piece of fabric though, and I ran a little short in the waistband. That’s why you see the black Japanese corduroy piece in the back. It’s a design feature of course!

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I’m very happy with this fun little skirt. I’ll probably always wear it with tights (due to the ultra short length), but it makes a nice change from jeans and oversize knits, especially as we head into Spring.

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Top: Pendleton wool (refashioned) / Skirt: made by me / Shoes: Derek Lam