Esther shorts and a little refashioning

The Esther shorts pattern is a very old tried ‘n’ true pattern for me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve sewn them up. I love the high waisted design. My preference is to sew them up in a medium weight, cotton/elastane (2-3%) blend. And given the frequency with which I’ve made them, that is probably all I need to say on the matter.

I’ve also been doing a bit of refashioning around these parts (nothing new, you say!). One of my favourite, casual, silk dresses was getting a little old and starting to look a bit too sheer in the skirt. The logical solution was to chop off the skirt. Now it’s a cute little top!

I didn’t waste the skirt portion though. The pale, neutral colours of the silk have made it a great option for lining a little Summer dress for Miss Eight. More on that one later though!

 

A Summer dress

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Apparently you guys like pretty dresses, well those of you who follow me on IG do. My top posts of 2016 are pretty much all the dresses. I hadn’t even blogged about this one and it still made the cut.

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I made this one using a large remnant of vintage linen, thrifted from an estate sale. The textured windowpane fabric was from a small length purchased on whim from Tessuti Fabrics some time ago. I think the blue pairs perfectly with it.

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The pattern is modification on a self-drafted princess bodice that fits me perfectly. You’ve seen me use different versions of this bodice all Summer (here, here, here, and here). The skirt is just gathered (with pockets of course!). I was after a cool, easy-to-wear, Summer dress.

I was worried about the straps being too stiff, but I’m glad for their sturdiness now. And they don’t feel too stiff when I wear the dress. They actually feel comfortable and secure. I hate flimsy straps that feel like they may stretch out or tear. Instead of creating tubes and pressing flat (as I’d normally do for a strap of this width), I used wider lengths of linen, folded the raw edges in and then in on themselves again, and then topstitched both edges. It means that there are four layers of linen in each strap, perfectly suited to holding up the weight of a midi-length, gathered skirt.

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I’m a big fan of the midi length dress. It’s an easy length for tall ladies to wear. I know I’m going to get a lot of wear out of this, maybe even sooner rather than later!

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Cut out lace competition dress

I know I should sit on my competition entries like everyone else, but it’s like sitting on a hot potato, especially since I couldn’t wait to get started on this one. It’s finished, photographed, and I’ll be squeezing in as many wears as possible before Fall, so I figured I might as well share it! The inspiration came from THIS dress that I posted on my IG account a few weeks ago.

As soon as I saw the ivory lace, I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it. The only problem was that the rules stated that no trims could be used and that the outer fabric of the garment had to be made entirely of the competition fabric, and in a single colourway only. That was a big problem. The contrasting black trim against the ivory lace was the element that I most liked about my inspiration dress.

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It took me a bit of thinking to come up with a solution, and a LOT of hand-stitching post construction. However, I found a way to keep all my black trim to the underside of the lace fabric and in a manner that I could reverse in the future. With the trim kept to the inside, the contrast is muted through the lace, but still visible as a subtle feature.

This is a post about my competition dress. I will share more pictures one day after I have unpicked all my handiwork to reveal the black trim again.

I designed this dress using a combination of flat pattern-making and draping. I tried very hard to design a bodice that would be low cut (and slightly shaped) in the back, yet with straps that would conceal my favourite bra. I think I did a pretty good job.

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I also tried to position the lace in such a way as to avoid lining the bodice. I wanted the dress to show glimpses of skin through the lace rather than lining. But I also didn’t want the dress to be too revealing. The bodice isn’t lined at all but the ruffle provides a little extra coverage. The skirt has a short lining. I couldn’t quite manage to place the lace of the skirt in such a way that would cover my bottom completely.

The lining I used for the skirt is an ivory/beige coloured acetate. I gathered the lining in my dress rather than pleating it because I wanted to add a bit more bulk through the skirt. And that is the beauty of sewing your own clothes. My hips are narrower than my shoulders and this difference gets a little more pronounced the fitter I get so a gathered lining in the skirt helps me achieve an illusion of filling it out better and having a more hourglass figure. (I blame Pokemon, the Olympics, and active kids for getting me out running and swimming laps everyday this Summer!).

I made the straps using wide, black, foldover elastic (FOE). The gathered sleeves are sandwiched between the fold and then the entire length of the elastic is stitched down to create an enclosed strap. I used a very strong/stable FOE. Too much stretch would have made for weak straps, but a little bit of firm stretch and a lightning stitch creates very comfortable and strong shoulder straps.

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The sharp contrast of black against ivory in the shoulder straps was what my heart desired, but I compromised by using it as a strap lining instead. I created lace tubes to cover those black elastic straps and hand-stitched them in place. I’ll remove those lace tubes at a later date.

I also encased the edges of the lace ruffle in black, self-made, silk binding. I then turned that trim to the underside and hand-stitched it in place. I like that I can still see a glimpse of the black through the lace. To cover the very edges of the black binding (near the neckline and CB zipper), I cut tiny squares of the competition fabric and appliqued them over the visible binding. The result is a dress with outer fabric made completely of the competition lace.

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I’m so pleased with how this dress turned out. I will definitely enjoy wearing it during the last few weeks of Summer. Meanwhile, there’s still plenty of time to enter the competition and if you don’t like ivory lace, there is also red and black to choose from. I have less than a full panel remaining of my ivory lace, but I think I’ve just worked out a way to scrapbust it into another little frock!

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Off the shoulder dress and tutorial

Every time I wear this dress (or this one), I always get a few compliments, and yet, it is possibly the simplest dress I’ve ever sewn. It is really nothing more than two rectangles and a bit of elastic casing.

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I hesitate to call it a ‘tutorial’ because it really is so easy. Read the steps below to see why.

STEP 1. Cut two rectangles for the dress body.

 

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STEP 2. Cut two smaller rectangles for the sleeves.

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If you want a fuller volume in the dress and sleeves, simply multiply the width by 2 instead of 1.5, or any other number in between.

To create the elastic casing, you can fold down the top of the dress and sleeves. I got a little bit fancy and added a contrast band as casing.

The sleeves are attached to the dress by matching the top side seam of the dress (at the casing) to the undersleeve seam and sewing through both securely to fix them in place.

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This dress is a style of off the shoulder that I’ve seen in some high end RTW (despite the simplicity of the design!). It shows a little underarm cleavage but the elastic allows a good range of arm movement.

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My dress was made using vintage cotton/silk voile, which I lined with a bit of cream silk habutai from my stash. It’s a very lightweight and cool dress that can easily be dressed up with a pair of funky heels. I wore it most recently to an evening function in sweltering KC. It was bliss.

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I also want to mention the shoulder straps that you see in some of the photos as they quite obviously aren’t a part of this tutorial (you can find a bit more information about them here). Several months ago, I made my first off the shoulder dress (to a slightly different design). I wear it as an off the shoulder dress sometimes, but mostly I wear it with the same bra that you see in these photos. The bra is just stock standard in my closet, but I covered the straps in the same fabric as the dress so it looks like it is a part of the dress. I hate strapless bras, so the bra increases the wearability of the dress for me.

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Named Asaka Kimono

To be perfectly fair, I only have myself to blame for the fury that I felt when preparing to sew this pattern. I’m usually more than happy taping together PDF’s but on this occasion I decided to treat myself to the paper copy. I should have read the online product description better, but I didn’t. I read blog reviews that recommended shelling out for the paper copy rather than the PDF, the catch being that those bloggers didn’t sew from the paper copy. They sewed from the PDF. They probably had no idea that the paper pattern is overlapped on one piece of paper (like a Japanese sewing pattern) and has no seam allowances either.

So my paper copy arrived by mail and I put it aside in great excitement, only to open it up on the night I wanted to get started. If I’d wanted to spend an evening on my hands and knees tracing lines and measuring allowances, I would have drafted the pattern myself or modified an existing pattern that I already owned. I already have a good number of patterns and rarely buy a new one. The whole point of buying a new pattern on this occasion (and a paper copy at that) was to be lazy.

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It was an easy sew in the end. The pattern is rated average. I’d venture to call it “easy” if you make it in a woven cotton. Silk would up the ante a little. And my Asaka kimono did turn out to be pretty awesome. The fit is spot on. I lengthened the body by one inch but didn’t change the sleeves. I had just enough fabric to make this work. My waist tie has about 16 separate seams because I was a little short on fabric, but I’m not bothered. The collar on it is lovely too.

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As gorgeous as it is, this robe will be a morning cover up for me, to wear after showers and while sipping my tea. The fabric is a very lightweight cotton which is soft and washable. The sleeve design is fabulous and functional. The front slit means that those long hems won’t be dripping into my tea. It is exactly what I needed in my wardrobe.

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I really do love the overall design of this robe. I can see myself using it again in the future to make a silk version for a formal occasion, but with a longer waist tie that can be looped into a bow. And after all the ranting, I’d still recommend it.

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At the end of the day, I’m glad that I made it. Am I glad that I purchased the paper pattern? No. Would I have bought it knowing what I know today? No. Would I recommend purchasing the PDF version? Yes!

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White Esthers and a knit raglan

There’s never any fabric waste in my house, especially when it’s something as lovely as this Saratoga knit by O! Jolly!. I only had the tiniest amount left after finishing my Megan longline cardigan, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.

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I used the raglan view of V8952 as a base for the top. I made a few fit modifications, raised the neckline, and added my own neck and hem bands. I used some plain white ponte for the back and sleeves, and seamed together three scraps of Saratoga knit for the front. I love the texture of the spongy knit as a feature and the contrast of cream against white.

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The shorts are an old favourite and TNT for me. I used the Esther shorts pattern and simply added an asymmetrical overlay at the front. I used scraps for this make too. I salvaged some gorgeous, meaty Theory cotton sateen (from this dress) to use for the back of the shorts and for the front overlay. The dress was tired (with a few stains) and needed to be retired. I didn’t have quite enough sateen though, so I used some scrap linen for the shorts front and overlay lining. The linen was too lightweight for the shorts on its own, but perfect for this design where the front is layered.

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I’ll wear these shorts a lot. I made a yellow version a few  years ago which are still on the go, but have been downgraded to gardening/painting gear. It feels good to replace a wardrobe item that was very much loved.

 

A Megan longline cardi in an O! Jolly! knit

Disclaimer: I was given both the fabric and the PDF sewing pattern free of charge by Olgalyn of O! Jolly! in exchange for sewing it up and sharing my make. All opinions stated in this review are my own.

I’ll be honest with you guys. If someone offers me free fabric to make something, I’m probably always going to say yes, just as I’m probably always going to say yes to a cup of tea or a glass of wine. However, I will confess to being a bit exceptionally excited about discovering O! Jolly! knits. I’m probably going to rave a little about them now (and the Megan longline cardi pattern too, by the way).

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I want to give you a little background as a reference point for my excitement. Firstly, I do not knit. Nope, not at all. I’ve tried countless times. My most determined effort produced a few beanies two years ago and a disgraceful, but much loved tunic. I do not like knitting. I tried really hard to like it, but I just don’t. I’m a sewer/seamstress/sewist through and through.

I do, however, LOVE knitted garments. I think they are just amazing. If I had the skills and patience, I’d definitely be rocking fancy, knitted sweaters each Winter. Quite possibly, the most loved garment I’ve ever made was made using a sockinette stitched, Italian, pure wool fabric. The irony was not lost on me that the fabric was constructed using the one and only knitting stitch I can do.

And that fabric was expensive, but my daughter wore that cardigan intensively for three Winters and has only just (very reluctantly) passed it on to her younger sister. I used a Japanese pattern and would love to make another for her, but it is not the type of fabric I see very often, especially not online. In fact, when I first browsed the O! Jolly! website, my first thought was of that cardigan with the intention of sewing it in a larger size.

But it is Spring here in Kansas City and we are fast approaching Summer. Wool season is long gone, but the weather is still irregular with hot days interspersed with cool rainy days. I needed a cardigan for myself and I knew the Megan would be perfect for Spring and Fall if I used a cotton knit.

I selected the sewing pattern and Olgalyn was very helpful in advising whether the knit I chose would be suitable for the project. In fact, she has a Pinterest board that is devoted to sewing patterns that would suit her knits. I was very close to sewing Jalie 3248 but I’ve had my eye on the Megan for a while now. I’m not sure that my photos showcase the great hem of the Megan. But like all Tessuti patterns, this one is thoughtfully constructed.

There are only three pattern pieces to this cardigan (excluding the binding), so the design is simple, but it is the little things that make it special, like a hem with mitred corners and seamlessly finished edges where the binding and hem meet. I should probably also note that I was excessively careful about not stretching this knit as I sewed it, particularly at the sleeve edge and hem. I used a lightweight fusible web to adhere the hem allowance in place before I stitched it down (with a single, not a twin needle), and then I steamed it heavily with the iron to bring it back to it’s original shape.

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Let’s talk about this fabric though. I ended up selecting the Saratoga knit in natural white. This is a beautifully soft cotton that has been ginned, spun, and knit in the USA. It has not been dyed or bleached. In fact, it would make the most gorgeous baby clothes, or even simply, a blanket. Let me tell you, when my yardage arrived, it looked so beautiful uncut that I was tempted to bind the ends and keep it as blanket myself!

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The knit was very easy to work with. I prewashed it in warm water and dried it in the dryer. I usually pre-treat my fabrics as aggressively as I dare (just in case they end up in the wrong wash). Even so, I’ll still launder the finished cardigan gently, but I won’t have to worry about any further shrinkage (if my 4-8yr old laundry sorters are off their game).

I can’t tell you how much this fabric shrunk with the pre-wash. But it is a knit and I would expect some shrinkage with any knit, just as I would with many other fabrics I use. In the end, three yards delivered me a very long Megan with not much to spare. I did need to seam the binding a little right near the bottom of the cardigan. If you look closely, you can see slight lumps where those seams have been joined.

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I absolutely love my new Megan. It turned out even better than I imagined. I cut a size small and made only a few small changes to the pattern. I added a 5/8 inch wedge to the CB (my standard broad back modification). I also added 2 inches to the sleeve length and body length (because I’m tall and I doubt that anyone drafts for 5″10). I decided to cut the back on the fold instead of sewing the CB seam because I could just fit the pieces on my folded fabric.

 The Megan was perfect for this fabric. It showcases the texture of the Saratoga knit beautifully. I actually planned on using the reverse side of it for the binding (but I forgot!).

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I’m going to get a lot of wear out of this new cardigan, during the next few weeks but more likely during Fall now. It is warm and snuggly without being overbearing. The fabric lends a nice weight to the design so it hangs beautifully (but I’m also very glad I reinforced the shoulder seams with clear elastic like the pattern instructions recommended).

At the end of the day, I cannot recommend O! Jolly! knits highly enough. I know I was lucky enough to receive this yardage for free, but I’m planning to return as a paying customer at the end of the year. The possibilities are endless!

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 // Off the shoulder jersey top

I’m loving the look of off the shoulder tops right now. It’s a little difficult to get on board with this trend during Winter, but it helps to keep the sleeves long and by adding a little leather.

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I modified an existing long sleeve top pattern to make this top. It was a very easy pattern modification as you can see from the diagram below (excuse my dodgy freehand sleeve cap!).

All I did was draw a line across the front and back bodice at the point I wanted my off the shoulder neckline to reach (red dotted line). I cut the pattern pieces off at this line, including the sleeve cap. Finally, I attached a band (the exact size of the top neckline) which I used to encase elastic to hold the top up securely.

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I’m so pleased with how this top worked out that I’ve already cut out a second, shorter sleeve version. I used a one-way-stretch, pure cotton jersey for this version, which is why my top isn’t as clingy on the arms and body as it could be. A knit fabric with two-way-stretch would work even more beautifully. It all depends on how well the unmodified top pattern fit you in the first place.

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Sentimental sewing // Vintage leather bag repair

My Father-in-law passed away recently. It was a little unexpected and obviously very sad. We will all miss him a great deal. Living so far away meant that it wasn’t possible for our whole family to make such a huge trip on a moment’s notice. However, my husband was able to return to New Zealand and he was fortunate enough to make it home in time (21 hours of travelling later) to be there with his Dad and to spend time with his Mother and siblings.

My husband is very sentimental, so I suggested that he look through his Dad’s wardrobe and ask his Mum if he could bring home a suit or jacket that I could alter to fit him. I was expecting one nice item (his Dad wore a lot of quality RTW and designer brands). He came home with an extra suitcase brimming with shorts, pants, jackets, shirts, an old leather bag, and a particularly fabulous collection of belts (I’ll post some pictures of those belts on Instagram as soon as a day passes when they aren’t being worn).

The clothes fit near enough that I haven’t needed to do any immediate alterations, although everything is a tiny bit bigger than what my husband would normally wear. With plain T’s, casual shorts, and business shirts, this hasn’t really mattered. He’s been wearing at least one of those items every day and I know it makes him feel closer to his father, especially when I know he still feels so much sadness.

I will definitely need to take a closer look at the suit pants and jackets in the future. They are too nice to make do with a less than perfect fit. The bag, however, required immediate attention. The lining was disintegrating on the touch and leaving everything in it’s path covered with a powdery white residue.

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My first step was to cut out the lining. I left 1/2″  of lining still attached to the bag. I wasn’t quite sure at that point whether I would want to stitch though the bag leather or re-stitch the lining to the top most portion of the existing lining. In the end, I unpicked it all, and hand-stitched it in exactly the same position as the original lining.

Once the lining had been removed, I was able to copy the pattern pieces. There were four pieces in total; two sides, a bottom, and a pocket bag (it was incredibly simple). I was also able to see what a disgraceful mess of inner construction there was hidden beneath the original lining.

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The fabric I used to line the bag was a mix of cotton shirting and heavy silk twill. Both fabrics were leftover from previous projects (here and here) and I had to do a bit of piecing to come up with the amount of fabric that I needed. I put a silk twill panel in the sides of the bag and used the same silk for the pocket bag. There’s one extra seam in the striped shirting, but my stripe matching game was strong and you can hardly see it.

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Once I’d finished sewing the lining, I pressed down the top seam allowance and glued the lining to the inner leather (in the same manner as the old lining had been attached). I then hand-stitched the lining to the outer bag. I tried to avoid adding new stitching holes, but it was difficult to see where I was going in the old stitching line. The old seam line was quite stained and creased because of age. In the end, I somehow managed to finish with what resembles a modified prick stitch on the inside and a running stitch on the outside. The outside stitches don’t look out of place, and I really like the vintage feel of the tiny inner stitches.

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It’s actually really difficult to photograph the lining of a bag. Perhaps I should have turned it inside out but I didn’t think of that at the time.

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