On experimental sewing and getting good results


I don’t know about you, but I learn a lot through taking risks and experimenting with my sewing. Playing around with different styles and fabrics helps me understand how much I can bend the rules, as well as which finishes look the best on different fabrics. But I think I’ve also subconsciously developed a set of strategies to help me get pretty good results most of the time, even when I’m trying to deviate from the norm.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had an absolute wadder. This one is probably as close as it gets for me. But this isn’t because I’m fabulous at sewing. I still have so much to learn. I think it’s more to do with me getting better at understanding what works for me and what doesn’t. Ironically, a large part of this knowledge has come from dozens of disappointing sews and pattern mess ups in the past. I really think that having the courage to jump into challenging projects is the best way to learn, and even more so if they turn into an unwearable mess! So with my past in the past, I had a think about what it is that I do today, to achieve good results.

  • Firstly, I’ve learnt to recognise pattern pieces that will fit my figure. Sometimes I can do this by sight, but mostly, I line them up with a TNT and can then see right away how much length to add or inches to take away. But this also makes me lazy. I rarely do a muslin anymore, but if I did, I could probably still tweak the fit some more.
  • I have a pretty concrete set of 2-6 modifications that I know I have to make to any of the big four’s patterns the minute I take them out of the packet. This has just come from experience.
  • I steer clear of patterns that have a fitted bodice. The fitting issues are just not worth it for me. I have a very basic knowledge of draping and a dress form close to my size. When it comes to close fitting bodices and skirts, I get a much better result by drawing up a design myself and then draping it to get the pattern pieces.
  • I won’t start a project unless I am absolutely, 100% feeling it. I used to sew just because I wanted to try a new technique, or to use up fabric stash, or even just to prepare my wardrobe for the next season with boring staples. I’ve come to realise that I don’t wear as many staples as I used to. If I’m feeling frosting, that’s what I’ll sew, because that’s what I’m going to want to wear.
  • I look objectively at pattern cover pictures and pay attention to what I’m seeing rather than what I want to see. If those sleeves look loose in the photo, they’re going to be loose on me. That gape at the neckline, or the baggy armpits, well if they can’t hide it in the photo, how will I?
  • I’m better at recognising what different fabrics can do. I don’t just stick to cottons, silk and knits anymore. If I see something that excites me, I push myself to have a go. Recently, I’ve had a lot of fun sewing neoprene, rayon, and leather. Getting familiar with different textiles really opens up so many new design possibilities.
  • I’m better at recognising when something is just not working, before it gets to the point of no return. I’m pretty good at sewing on the fly and modifying projects that are heading to the pits. Sometimes a glass of wine helps at this point.

So what started me mulling over all of this in the first place? This top! It’s a wearable muslin complete with French seams, because the fabric demanded none other than the best. It’s also far from perfect, but it did teach me quite a few things.

 
 
 

The fabrics I used were small scraps. You’ve seen the watermelon poly before (I call it faux silk because it’s seriously the most beautiful polyester I’ve ever encountered) here and here. I had a little bit left in my scrap basket. All I needed was a little creativity and I was able to stretch it into a top.

The gorgeous, sheer floral silk organza panel, also from Tessuti, was a devastating mistake I made a few months ago (I blame jet lag!). I cut into my little 1m piece of loveliness only to realise that the project I was going to use it for would be completely unsuitable. I was a little heartbroken but kept all the pieces anyway. It makes me smile to see that they haven’t been wasted. I’m also happy that the pieces I’d cut were perfectly suited to this panel, even to the extent that I could position the flowers over my bellybutton.


I’ve been wanting a simple top like this for a long while, but have stubbornly refused to purchase a pattern that I could so easily draft myself or copy. It’s basically just two pattern pieces stitched together (middle panel aside). I used a favourite RTW top in my possession as a guide. But I realised when finishing the neckline, that the front piece was more than 4″ wider than the back…what?!!! And then I remembered that the top I was copying was designed by the maternity label, Isabella Oliver, so this could have been the reason why. Anyway, the neckline binding isn’t anything to write home about either. I was trying to bind it in a fashion that really only suits a binding that will hold a crease. Have I said before how much I dislike sewing with polyester?! 

But back to the pattern glitch. I’ve fixed the error now so the next top should be perfect. But this version is too roomy in the front for my liking and I’ve had to add two pleats at the neckline to bring it in a bit. This helps the neckline but doesn’t address the fabric surplus. Those pleats really annoy me, but the top is otherwise still very wearable. I’ve paired it with my leather fancy pant tracky dacks

Kimono jacket in gauzy silk

I warned you all that another kimono jacket would be on it’s way soon. It all happened a little quicker than anticipated because I remembered this beautiful silk remnant from Tessuti that I had in my stash. It was such a beautiful length of silk, nearly 2m of it in total. It’s another of those fabrics that photos just cannot do justice. It’s beautifully light and gauzy like chiffon. There are also shiny charmeuse bits through the chiffon that add surface texture, but it is difficult to see this in the photos. The fabric is super sheer, as you can see when I hold it against a window.

  
But enough on this beautiful fabric. I’m guessing you’d like to see what I made with it? Remember my yellow kimono? I used the same pattern, but eliminated the cuffs and facing. I also shortened it to fit the length of fabric I was using.

 

 
 
 

The sheerness of this fabric demands French seams, so I used them throughout. I finished all the edges (including the neckline) with a narrow hem. It’s such a simple pattern but I think it suits the fabric perfectly. Anything more in terms of design would simply be lost on it.

I’m pretty happy with my new kimono. It makes the perfect cover up for a hot summer evening, and it’s already on hot rotation in my wardrobe. I love that it adds a splash of colour to my white jumpsuit.

 

A dress for Indie Month: Cracked Glass Anna

I was waiting for the right opportunity to sew another Anna, so when I saw the criteria for the first week in Indie Month, it was a no brainer. A dress, you say? Just a dress?! Well, hello! I was already raring to go on this one, with the perfect fabric and a tested pattern lined up on my table. I was just waiting for the right incentive (or a tough pill) to go and get cutting.


Some of you may have seen my gorgeous Cracked Glass silk on Instagram already. I fell in love with this fabric the minute I saw it. It’s a beautiful crepe de chine from Tessuti Fabrics in Sydney and I really do need to send out a big thank you to the lovely Colette for sending this amazing treasure my way. I am one exceptionally lucky and ever so thankful gal!

I’m sure you will all recognise this dress as an infamous BHL Anna. But you can probably also see that I’ve made a few changes to it. Given the quality of the fabric I was using, I felt this dress deserved a lining. I fully lined both the bodice and the skirt in China silk from Mood. To do this, I kept the facing pieces and simply lined them up to trace over the remaining bodice pieces that would attach to it.


Other changes I made were:

  • dropped the front neckline by 2cm
  • dropped the armscye. I wanted a looser, drapier look around the armscye. I’d also drafted cuffs to attach to them but I chickened out on this at the end. I was seriously TERRIFIED of ruining this dress! I still have the cuff pieces and can still attach them if I change my mind.
  • lengthened the bodice by 1cm
  • ditched the skirt and drafted a simple gathered skirt instead. Of course, I added big in seam pockets too because every skirt needs pockets!

And that is it. I love the longer, tea length in dresses and skirts right now. And I love the pretty, whimsical feel of this dress. It is magnificent to wear and it meets the strict princess criteria set by my three girls. Hubby is going to have to take me out on a date now so I can wear it!

 
 
 
 

Two little scrappy skirts and a pair of matching bike shorts

So this is it, my very last Australian make…for the time being at least. It’s amazing what you can do with scraps, and silk crepe de chine no less! You might recognise the fabric from my recent Meissa. But I think it also works perfectly as a swirling, twirling, ballerina skirt.

 

I only had awkward lengths of bias cut silk from a previous disaster to work with. The best I could do was gather two very odd skirt pieces and then layer them together. The great thing about making little scrappy pieces like this is that I don’t feel scared of experimenting. I’ve shamefully only been using one or two stitches on my serger. So this was a great opportunity to discover how ridiculously simple it was to make nice, neat, narrow and rolled hems on the serger.

I used my last bit of viscose jersey (from here) to make the waistband, with just enough left over to make a pair of matching bike pants for her handstand sessions.

 
 

And finally, here is a little teaser that I upcycled from a pair of white linen pants. I’m going to smuggle it to Kansas for Miss Five for her birthday. More photos to come.



Fabric deliciousness

So I know that I am really, REALLY not supposed to be buying any more fabric right now. I know I have a problem when all I am worried about getting to the US is my fabric and pattern stash?! I just weighed my ‘fabric’ suitcase and it was 30kg! I’m not sure how I am going to sneak that one past hubby. Obviously I snaffled the biggest suitcase(s) for myself.

But these little bits, I just couldn’t resist. I will call them my going away treats and aren’t they just the most delicious morsels you have ever seen! Unfortunately, I was only able to purchase a single metre of these delicious silks, but I have visions of how I can do justice with them (as soon as I am happy to finish admiring them of course).

Both are from Tessuti Fabrics. The first is a silk satin and the second is silk organza.

 
I’m pretty much all packed now. But I’m left a little air pocket for one last visit to my favourite fabric haunts ;-). Next stop is a farewell scrappy skirt for Miss Four. And then we hit the runway on March 2nd! Eeeek!

Little pink drop waist in New Look 6016

After months of requests for a pink winter dress, I finally relinquished. I feel I should apologise for yet another drop waist, but at the moment, with all the crazy packing and organising going on for our move, I feel like I need to stick to simple and necessary sewing. Of course drop waist dresses are necessary! How could anyone possibly question this fact?!

 


I dragged out New Look 6016 again to make this dress. It was made with a beautiful pastel viscose which came from Tessuti Fabrics. The skirt was made with a little leftover Lisa Ho cotton/silk from The Fabric Store. This Lisa Ho fabric is amazing, so light and silky, and perhaps a little bit too special for a four year old. In my pre-blogging days, I made a pair of Suzy pants with it, and more recently a pair of boxers for hubby.

As usual, I made several modifications to this pattern. I started with a size four.

  • lengthened the top by 4cm
  • widened the sleeves by about 2cm each side to eliminate the taper, and added cuffs (I didn’t shorten them at all)
  • added a gathered skirt (I always aim for 2 x the width of the hem I’m attaching it to, but as I generally use scraps for these skirts, I use what I have)

This is actually one of my favourite knock ups. The drapey viscose worked out so much better than I anticipated and I much prefer the top with cuffs. I can see myself making a few more of these little dresses in the winter months, mainly for my girl who flatly refuses to wear anything but dresses. As you can see, it is the perfect dress for twirling and practicing magic with your spoon-wand.

 

The mini maxi skirt

Well this fabric has been through quite a bit. You might remember it here, as my first fabric dyeing experiment. I made it into a sundress for myself but was never quite happy with the shape of it. Then I made it into a maxi skirt for myself with a hi-lo hem. The shape was beautiful, but the style a little too boho for my taste. And I couldn’t quite get past the fact that there was a zipper and seam down the centre front (don’t ask!). I never wore it, never planned to, but I just couldn’t part with the beautiful fabric. It wasn’t even worth photographing.

Finally, after gathering dust in my ‘alterations’ pile for some time, I decided to have a last shot at turning this fabric into something better. And at long last, I can count this final effort at repurposing as a success. In fact, it has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever made for Miss Five. I LOVE this little mini maxi skirt. It is super cool and a little bit girly, but not too grown up. And Miss Five absolutely loves it. 

The fabric is silk crepe de chine and I know this is way too luxe for a five year old. But this type of silk is surprisingly hard wearing (hubby pipes up and reminds me that parachutes are made out of silk!). In the past, I had a few little scraps of a pretty floral crepe de chine that I pieced together to make a simple gathered skirt for Miss Four. It was gorgeously swishy, she wore it every second day, and I machine washed it as regularly. The cotton waistband wore out before the silk. Now, I generally don’t choose to sew my children silk gowns, but on the odd occasion that I have little spare bits, seeing them swish in it almost gives me as much pleasure as if I was wearing it myself.

Happy birthday has finally arrived

And it’s a high five for me, who has scored a perfect ten on fit. Yes, birthdays are all about me and seeing my creations finally being worn. If you can remember, I made hubby some Lisa Ho boxers and a gorgeous modal Henley a few months ago. I am ever so proud of myself for refraining from gifting them before today.

My reluctant model permitted me to take a few photos (even though it was barely 6am and he had only just woken up). And yes, he did comment on the gorgeous fabrics. I will definitely be making these for him again. The modal works pretty well in this size for the Henley, but if I use a sturdier or less stretchy fabric, I think I will have to go up a size, particularly in the arm width (yes hubby, to accommodate those massive guns).

 

 
Thanks Nick for the photos. You are a natural! x
 

I’ve gone all Zsa Zsa

I’m not usually one for animal print, but I have seen a bit of it around at my favourite haunt this season. I resisted temptation several months ago when there was some gorgeous Dolce and Gabbana printed silk crepe de chine on display at Tessuti Fabrics. Unfortunately it sold out before I could make up my mind. So when I saw a remnant of similar print in silk chiffon, I simply had to take it.

I used my Satsuki pattern from Victory Patterns. I’ve made a lovely top in the past using this pattern (as a gift for a very good friend), so I was confident it would turn out well. The only modification I needed to make was in lowering the neckline by about 1.5cm. It’s a very simple pattern to follow with only two main pattern pieces, but the element of difficulty was increased by my choice of fabric. I used French seams to keep the insides tidy and machine stitched a narrow hem on the bottom and sleeves. The neckline is finished with facing only.

Hand dyed Hannah

Remember my first fabric dyeing foray here? Well, I finally found a use for the smaller remnant. I always had a top in mind for it, but it took me a while to decide on exactly what to sew. But the other day I stumbled across Salme Sewing Patterns and the lovely Hannah top. Immediately I was smitten.

My fabric was silk crepe de chine from Tessuti Fabrics, which worked beautifully with the design. This particular top was also a muslin of sorts for me since I wasn’t ‘in love’ with my dye job and figured near enough would be good enough with this loose fitting style. However, now that it has been put together, I really like the pattern, especially the way it comes together on the back. 

My Hannah is a fraction too big for me (just in that little area between my bust and armpits) but nothing I can’t get away with, especially if I stand up tall and stick out my bust! I will definitely sew this top again (maybe with the last little bit of my fabric splurge!) but I am not sure if I should do a small bust adjustment or perhaps nip in each side seam by about 1/5 cm each. Doing this might lift the armscyes a little too which wouldn’t hurt. What would you do?