I whipped up a matching top

The thing I love about sewing is that I really can just whip up anything at a moment’s notice. This top took all of ten minutes to make. It’s not perfect. The construction is basic. But I only had a few spare minutes and I desperately wanted to finish this up before I had to pack away my machine.

In hindsight, I really should have spent more time on it. I didn’t expect it to turn out quite so well though!

The striped fabric skirt is something you’ve seen before. I created it by sewing together strips of scrap fabric (in velvet, wool, and ponte). I ended up with a tiny bit spare that I used up in this top. There was not an ounce of wastage.

This is very fun outfit. I love the idea of perfectly matching separates as I think they produce an overall dressier look. However, when mixed and matched with jeans and other tops, these separates also dress down for a great casual feel.

All the ruffles

It all started with a Sachin & Babi dress that I fell instantly in love with. At that point, I wasn’t truly intending on making a dress, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would do it, if I ever decided to go ahead with it. I actually had the most perfect fabric in my stash already, which is rare, because I keep my stash pretty small. Every now and again, I purchase something on whim. It was how I ended up with several yards of the most beautiful sheer silk in shades of green. It will be a special occasion when I finally use it, and hopefully for my eldest daughter, as it was her hair and skin colouring that inspired me to buy it in the first place!

So, using my special fabric was out of the question. But I still couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started toying with the idea of refashioning another Archer in my wardrobe (my other ruffle refashion was an absolute winner!). But then I realised that I had enough of the vintage sheeting to simply start a dress from scratch.

I’d love to say that I had a pattern for this dress, but I made up a lotof it as I went along. It wouldn’t be hard to replicate though. All you need to know is how to make a flounce. You could use any princess seamed sundress pattern.

I started with a self-drafted, princess seamed dress bodice that I often use as a sloper. However, I’ve been doing a lot of swimming over the past year and I’m finding that a lot of my old memades aren’t fitting me so well anymore. My bust measurement has grown by a whole inch, unfortunately not my actual bust, but rather through my side back (the old latissimus dorsi). I ended up letting out the side seams under the arms but keeping the waist measurement the same. It worked perfectly. I also raised the neckline a little and brought the shoulder seams in towards the neck.

As to the ruffles, they are simply flounces that were measured and inserted into the princess seams. It was a little fiddly but perserverence paid off. I love the black insets on the front and back of the bodice, but I have to confess that these design features were the direct result of freestyling my sewing (forgetting a seam allowance) and having to fix the problems. The same happened with the skirt. I ended up recutting several panels more than once. First, I cut the skirt as one, but it didn’t look right without any flounces.  So, I seamed it down the front and back but followed the grainline for those seams. As soon as I inserted the first flounce I could see that it wasn’t going to work. I recut the skirt pieces with the seams parallel to the side seams. This makes the flounces fall in a nice bell shape with is prettier than straight lines down the front and back.

This dress is very ruffly! It has a lot of volume through the front bodice and the skirt. I’m fully aware that this is a style that wouldn’t work for everybody. It works well for me. I’m small busted, so the front ruffles add interest and size to the top. My body is somewhat triangular in shape, moreso as I get fitter and stronger. I don’t like emphasizing this shape, so having a bit of added body through the skirt creates the illusion of a more hourglass figure. Sewing is great because you can really play around with design to flatter and create illlusions!

And before I sign off on this dress, I just want to mention a couple of hashtags that I’ve started to use on instagram: #sewingstrong #sewstrong

All body types out there have their own sewing challenges. I can immediately think of patterns that are drafted for bigger busts, for pear shapes, and for petites. I’m not saying one is more challenging than the other, but simply that I have a harder time thinking of patterns that are drafted for tall ladies, small busted ladies, or very athletic shaped ladies. If you know of any, let me know! I would particularly love to know what patterns are working for ladies with broader backs, or strong shoulders. I know that I’ve occasionally turned to men’s shirt patterns, and Thread Theory’s Henley is an awesome fit on me. I’ve also been paying more attention to what Sallie sews lately, because I know if a shirt pattern fits her, it will probably work for me too. I’m hoping that this hashtag will be an easy way to pull up ideas for sewing patterns and flattering designs that work well on a strong female body. If you’re someone who struggles with fitting tops and dresses to a broader than average back, or strong shoulders, jump in and tag along.

 

IKEA shift dress and flared sleeve tutorial

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I’m not sure if it is a parenting flaw on my behalf, but my three girls consider a trip to Ikea worth bargaining for. They love visiting Smaland, even though it’s always a small miracle if there are ever enough spaces to take them all in. But even if they don’t get in, they’re at an age now that it is really quite enjoyable walking around and finding things together – things that we never knew we needed.

This is not the first time I’ve been fabric shopping at IKEA. A few years ago I made made curtains, bento bags, and a couple of small dresses with IKEA fabric. This time around, I purchased two yards of stiff cotton with the intention of making a midi skirt or a shift dress. It seems that the shift dress won out in the end.

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The pattern I used is based on this floral dress from last year. It’s a very basic, self-drafted shift dress, with flared extensions added to the sleeves.

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There are plenty of patterns you could use to acheive this simple design.

  • Vintage shift dress patterns are a dime a dozen. Ebay and Etsy both have heaps. I’ve just looked!
  • Papercut Patterns Sea-Bell dress is a more fitted style, but quite an expensive option for such a simple dress.
  • Megan Nielsen Dove top is another to consider. It would be easy to extend into a dress, and the sleeves are already done for you.
  • The Tessuti Fabrics Maggie Tunic would work well with the addition of flared sleeves.

The above sewing patterns are options, but if you already have a TNT, darted T-shirt, shift dress, or even a nice sheath, it isn’t difficult to add flared sleeves. All you need to do is measure the circumference of the sleeve you are adding to and decide on the length of flare you want.

First, decide which dress/top pattern you want to use:

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Now it’s time to create the sleeve extension:

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And there you have it. Flared sleeves couldn’t be easier!

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Swimsuit fabric round up

If you follow  me on Instagram or Snapchat, you’d know that I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time at the pool this Summer. And trust me, as an ex-swimmer, I do not use the word “inordinate” lightly.

I never intended for my girls to love swimming. I just wanted them to be able to swim. But perhaps my standard for what constitutes proper swimming is slightly higher than the average Joe. And it’s also possible that my passion for the sport has rubbed off a little despite my best intentions. In any case, Miss Eight is obsessed. It’s also been stinking hot in Kansas City, so in addition to the practice and the meets, we’re at one of the local pools most evenings for a dip after dinner. Our bathers are getting a serious workout.

Finding the best swimsuit fabrics has been a big learning experience for me and not one that can be evaluated overnight. Feeling the fabrics and sewing with them is one thing, but it’s not until you immerse them in chlorine, salt, UV light, and sweat twice daily that you really get a good idea of what works the best. In order of preference (the top three tie), here are my honest evaluations.

Tessuti Fabrics:

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Tessuti Fabrics (floral)

Oh, you all know that I have a fondness for Tessuti Fabrics, but it’s not without good reason. I don’t think they’re really known for their swimsuit fabrics, but they do seem to get in a few nice prints each year. I’m pretty sure the owner hand picks their fabrics personally on their annual buying trips, but I’m not really sure where their swimsuit fabrics come from. I’ve used at least five different swimsuit fabrics of theirs (paisley, red cherries, green cherries, floral, rainbow scales) and they’ve outlasted all of the other swimsuit fabrics so far.

I should also note that leotards in our house are not just used for gymnastics. They’re rotated in as swimwear for play (not practice) because they offer a better cover up from the sun (and sometimes we can’t be bothered to get changed!). Yes, the prints have faded, but that happens with all swimsuit fabric exposed to chlorine and UV light. Yes, their fabrics may be a little more pricey than other places (but they’re a great bargain as a remnant) and the fabrics last.

Spoonflower:

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Tiger fabric: Spoonflower / Blue fabric: Hancocks

This was my biggest wild card. All I wanted was a tiger print and I would have bought the fabric from anywhere. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I had to make my own. I can’t comment on other Spoonflower fabrics but I really do love their sports lycra. Like Funki Fabrics, the print is placed on white fabric, but the fabric is quite thick as far as swimsuit fabrics go. It may have a tiny bit less stretch that comes with the thickness, but the weight lends itself to a flattering fit, no sagging, or losing shape when wet. And it looks great without lining.

So far, the integrity of all my Spoonflower sports lycra is exactly as it was when it was sewn. This is most apparent when it’s been paired with other fabrics (like the blue of the swimsuit above) that has fared a lot less well. I will definitely buy Spoonflower sports lycra again. It’s not cheap, but the quality is good (which means it lasts longer). And I save on not having to fully line it. I’m very keen to check out some other prints. I feel like this will become my “novelty” swimsuit fabric favourite for my girls.

The Fabric Store:

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Left: Tessuti Fabrics (paisley) / Right: The Fabric Store

I’ve only bought a few swimsuit fabrics from here, mostly designer brands. They were also awesome. The fabric faded over the years, but it generally retained it’s original elasticity and is lasting extremely well. And the key word you should note in that sentence was ‘years’. If a swimsuit fabric is lasting years over weeks, then there’s something good going on there.

The quality of the fabric was really high which I suspect is due to the fact that they were designer labels, like Anna & Boy and Zimmerman. I keep meaning to investigate their new online presence. I used to love visiting the Fabric Store when I lived in Sydney but they fell off the radar for me when I moved overseas.

The Fabric Fairy:

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I’ve only sewn with their Limited Edition Solids and swimsuit linings. I love their swimsuit linings. They have good colour choices in the linings and they work beautifully under swimsuit fabrics. The linings are also a pretty awesome price which will keep me going back.

I have a slightly different view of the solids, which is not to say that I won’t use them again. The Solids come in an amazing array of colours, which will tempt me back when I’m after something specific. They are also one of the smoothest and most luxurious swimsuit fabrics I have ever felt. However, even the colours that appear opaque really need to be lined if they are going to get wet. I’ve sewn with a blue, green and a grey. They all feel fabulous dry, but they just look too thin against the body when wet. When fully lined, it is an entirely different matter. I love my Splash Swimsuit, but without the lining I think it would be unwearable for an adult.

I’d be interested to see how their prints work, since I know a print can disguise a fabric’s shortcomings somewhat. I’ll also continue to use their solids for dancewear for my girls, as well as smaller contrast sections in swimwear.

Funki Fabrics:

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I was given these fabrics for free a while back, but like I said in that earlier post, it’s very difficult to make a proper assessment of swimsuit fabric without actually swimming. I’ll stand by what I said about their variety of prints.

Their printed swimsuit fabrics are probably the lightest weight I’ve dealt with, but only slightly so. They are also white-backed with a digitally printed front. I chose light-coloured prints which really needed to be lined (but this would be expected with any light-coloured print swimsuit fabric).

These fabrics did not last very long compared to my girls’ other swimsuits. They were actually the first swimsuits I had to throw away from having worn out, rather then been passed down to a smaller sister first. I’ll admit that we’re all pretty rough on our swimsuits here. I don’t rinse out the chlorine… ever! But I was still a little disappointed at how quickly these fabrics began to disintegrate.

However, it’s also important to note that Funki Fabrics do sell more robust swimwear fabrics, but just not in the prints that we’re used to seeing from them. Unfortunately, their Perform range only comes in black or white.

Hancocks:

My experience here is extremely limited and not likely to improve anytime soon since they’re closing their doors. But I’d place their business in the same category as Joann or Spotlight when it comes to fabric. I picked up a shiny blue swimsuit remnant there for just a few dollars. It worked ok unlined (for kids bathers), but a lining would have significantly improved its appearance. This fabric also deteriorated very, very quickly.

I wonder if the age of the fabric plays a part in this. How do you know how old the fabric roll is that you’re buying from? It’s the elastic within the fabric that seems to dissolve/rot away and we all know that elastic is decayed by age, light and heat. I remember going through thousands of pairs of Speedos as a teenager (during my competitive swimming years). I’d generally get two months out of a pair of bathers before I had to wear two pairs together. And every now and again I’d strike out with a pair that would literally begin to deterioriate within a few weeks. Now I wonder if they were just made using an old or bad fabric batch.


So this has been my experience with swimsuit fabrics to date. I’ve been sewing swimsuits and leotards now for about three years. I’ve probably made over two dozen pairs, half of which remained in my ownership (3 girls, every year, Summer + Winter leotards + swimsuit = easy math). Of these, I’ve only thrown away about five (worn out) suits. The first two pairs I biffed were leotards where the metallic fabric (Mood) bit the dust. Next went the first swimsuit I ever made (the Tessuti Fabrics (paisley) which lasted through two children over 2.5 years, including being worn over clothes in Winter when swimming was not an option). The last two pairs I threw away were the Funki Fabrics duo, which sadly only lasted one season. Every other suit has been passed on to the next child or stored away.

Now, I’m not an expert when it comes to swimsuit fabrics. I’ve only shopped at five vendors and I haven’t tried all that they have to offer, but I still wanted to share my experience. I know there must be other places out there and I’m always open to new ideas. If your experience was different or if I should have tried a different product, speak up! I’d love to hear from you as my swimsuit sewing shows no sign of subsiding any time soon. Where do you buy your swimsuit fabrics from?

 

 

 

 

 

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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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

 

 

Vintage Kwik Sew 1034 // scrapbust sweaters

I hope everybody had a wonderful Christmas! We had a great day, but not a white Christmas in Kansas. However, I believe we are expecting snow any day now, so it could be a special white birthday for Miss Five tomorrow.

Santa was very generous this year. The big guy bought a joint present for all my girls, in the form of a very basic, but well reviewed, Brother XL-2610 sewing machine. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a learning machine for my kids (and I wasn’t about to share my Pfaff), but I did want them to have a machine that would be simple to use and reasonably sturdy. So far the machine is working well and the girls are finding it easy to develop confidence on. And because it’s not my precious machine, I’m happy to let them play on it alone without too much anxiety.

At the moment, we’re still working on threading the machine and sewing straight lines at a precise distance from the fabric edge, but I’m happy to report that Miss Five has proclaimed it the best present from Santa this year.

And while we’re talking about Christmas, I thought I’d share a few little sweaters I made for my girls using an old Kwik Sew pattern in my stash. I modified it slightly to block in a few different fabrics and lengthen the bodice, but otherwise I left it pretty unchanged.

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Miss Seven’s sweater was made up in a size 8. It’s pretty roomy on her, but my big girls grow like weeds so I always err on the larger size with them. The bodice length is extremely short in the pattern so I also lengthened it by 2 inches before adding the bottom band. The black portion of the sweater is from a new merino jersey sweater of mine (that was too small). The ivory ruffles and tiger fabric were both small remnants in my scrap basket and specifically chosen by the recipients.

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Miss Five’s sweater is mostly tiger fabric, with a little merino trim. I made this one as a tunic to incorporate the ivory trim better. I also made a standard version of this pattern for her in rainbow French terry. It’s a very simple and practical raglan pattern.

 

The velvet dress // from fabric dyeing to construction

Up until this year, I’ve never really given velvet a second glance. I used to walk past the carefully perched rolls of velvet at Tessuti Fabrics and sigh, and perhaps tentatively stroke them, but I couldn’t really see how such a lush fabric could fit into my wardrobe.

This season is different. I’ve got images of velvet playsuits and blazers stuck in my head. I’d actually like to make all the velvet things but I had to decide on just one. I toyed with the idea of playsuit, but opted for a more classic style of dress instead. I think the simple design of this dress will have more longevity in my wardrobe.

You’ll have to forgive the scrunched up sleeves and trust me when I say the fit is pretty spot on. I could scoop a smidgen more out of the lower back curve, but with normal walking/moving, those wrinkles aren’t actually that noticeable. I really just need an assistant to straighten me up before photos.

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The dress is a faux wrap design with a crossover bodice and wrap skirt. The fabric is a woven, not a knit. It contains some stretch, but not so much that would eliminate the need for darts/gathers or closures. I chose to add gathers to the bodice design and a zipper in the back. I hid the back darts in the back curve of the waist seam. I prick stitched the back zipper in place, adding a tiny glass bead with each stitch. I also made a detachable leather tassal. which I will secure to the zipper pull to aid dressing. I’m just waiting on a little spring clip in the mail.

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With regards to the fabric, I had my heart set on a deep teal, navy, or bottle green velvet. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I decided to dye the fabric myself. I purchased some natural stretch velvet  and the necessary chemicals from Dharma Trading Co. I find their website quite informative and simple to use, particularly when trying to figure out exactly what I need for something I know nothing about.

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I used a Fiber Reactive Procion dye, regular table salt, and soda ash as the fixative. My velvet is a silk/rayon blend. It only stretches on the cross grain and is reasonably light weight (for velvet). It doesn’t require lining, but I’d consider lining it if I was working with a light colour. I’m actually really pleased with the quality of textile and absolutely delighted with the dyeing outcome. It’s important to note that the fabric shrinkage was quite significant after the first wash, but that information was on the website so I was able to order the extra yardage to account for this.

The dyeing process was extremely simple. I used my front loader washing machine, set on the hottest, longest cycle. I read somewhere that a front loader holds about 8 gallons of water so I made my dye calculations based on that (however, I was hardly precise about anything!). Here’s a quick summary of my dyeing process:

  • Pre-wash fabric with Synthrapol
  • Begin long/hot cycle. When water has filled the machine, pause cycle.
  • Dissolve dye powder in water. Dissolve salt in water. Open machine door and pour in dye and salt. Close door and resume cycle.
  • Run cycle for 15-30 min and then pause again (you need about 15min remaining for the soda ash).
  • Soda ash should be dissolved in hot water – add this to the last part of the cycle.
  • Close door. Finish cycle.
  • Start new cycle to wash out leftover dye, using Synthrapol as the detergent.
  • Remove fabric.
  • Clean machine by running a cycle on empty.

In terms of sewing with velvet, this was my first time. I knew to respect the nap, both in cutting direction and pressing, but I also learned a few other things along the way.

Velvet is shifty to sew. I wonder if the slight stretch in this particular velvet made it worse. My Pfaff has a walking foot which helped immensely. My serger hated the velvet. I only attempted one edge with the serger and then decided to pink the remaining raw edges. Hand-basting and lots of pins also helped deal with the shiftiness.

Velvet seams finger press open beautifully because the pile shifts and locks the seam in place (a bit like Velcro). When ironing, I used a thick, doubled up towel, but I’ve heard another upturned piece of velvet works well to press on too. Velvet is a dream to blind stitch as the pile hides the stitches so well. I machine stitched the centre front edges of the skirt before I realised this (so I’m not very happy with the ripple along one side). The neckline, sleeves, and hem were all hand-stitched (the neck with bias binding) and the finish is much nicer.

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Vintage McCall’s 6497 // A shirt for Miss Seven

My original plan was to make Miss Seven a pair of pink cigarette pants to go with her new coat. However, I fell in love with every view on the front of this pattern cover and I thought I’d try out the shirt first.

I used more of my vintage sheet set to make this shirt. The print looks so lovely in a shirt that I’m planning to make myself one now too.

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The pattern went together beautifully. My only complaint was to do with the sleeve cap ease, but I find excessive sleeve cap ease a fairly common feature of old patterns. Next time I’ll shave some height of the sleeve cap so it can be set in a lot easier.

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I made this pattern up in a size 8, which corresponded quite well with Miss Seven and a half’s chest measurement. I expected it to be a little bigger on her than it is though. However, it would stand to reason that she has lovely broad shoulders like her mother. The torso fit is lovely and it looks comfortable. I suspect the pants and skirt in the pattern will swim on her tiny hips so I may have to grade them down first.

And before I sign off on this post, I just want to share a quick peek of the best leotard ever. It’s a birthday present for Miss Five. My beautiful, gentle Miss Seven is modelling it. The tiger poses will come later with the fierce Miss Five. I even added tiger eyes to the back of the suit so she could terrorise people behind her too. The pattern is Jalie 3136, which I’ve now made more times than I can remember.

I made the fabric myself on Spoonflower. I used the sport lycra, which is a nice weight and completely opaque.  In fact, this fabric generated so much interest that I ended up purchasing the license for the photo so the design could be made available to others. It will only be available on Spoonflower for a limited time though.

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