Ankara Etta dress and Panda Hawthorn Dress

Two dresses in one post!

The other month I sewed a wax print Ankara dress in such a horrendous rush that I ended up stupidly stressed out about it. But I am pretty happy with how it came out:

Despite numerous late nights sewing, and a lot of patience and understanding from my husband (thanks P!), I very nearly didn’t finish it in time for the wedding I was making it for. I was hand stitching at 11pm the night before! And there is a lot of sloppy work on the inside that I’m not totally proud of. So I swore never to sew anything on a deadline ever again.

But then of course… I had another wedding to go to this summer. And wouldn’t it be nice if I could make a dress for that too…?

I bargained with myself that if I didn’t finish it a week before the wedding, then I’d buy myself a dress as a treat instead. But HEY LOOK, I managed it with a week to spare, and entirely stress-free! Behold my Panda Hawthorn:

I have made a Hawthorn before, but the bust darts came out so nipply that I only wore it once and I felt ashamed the whole day long. I think I still have things to learn on the pointy dart front, but I’m much happier with how these turned out.

I lowered the bust dart points so they were below my apex, and then I also sewed them to a point about 1/2″ below that and then tapered gently to the real end. This, plus a hefty helping of steam, made my panda darts less pointy. Still not perfect, but much less distracting.

Things that went wrong making this dress:

  • I ignored the print when cutting out the pieces, and ended up cutting a new front bodice piece so the pandas were more prominent. Lesson: think about print placement even if you think you might want a random distribution.
  • I made a collar and then ended up cutting an entire new set of collar pieces because I wanted more pandas. There are pandas on both sides of the collar now ūüźľūüźľ
  • The darts initially came out nipply again so had to redo them at least three times.
  • I sewed all the skirt buttons on half an inch too high and had to redo them! I am really good at sewing buttons now.
  • I bias bound both armholes before realising they were pinching my underarm. I tried to get away with only redoing the bottom and not having to use more binding, but it was a hot mess of tucks and puckers. So I unpicked both armholes and refaced them both with fresh tape.

Removing the bias binding from the armhole

And the things that went right:

  • Gosh this is a lovely fabric to work with. It’s Lady McElroy Panda Retreat cotton lawn, and it’s lush. It presses well and doesn’t crease too badly by itself. Shame it’s so ¬£¬£¬£
  • The pattern is easy to sew and the instructions are clear. A very fun sew.
  • I feel good wearing this thing. I love the silhouette, I love the print, I love the fabric, I love the buttons. It feels very me!

Despite all the adjustments and do-overs, I really enjoyed making this one. I never felt frustrated once, which I wouldn’t have expected if you told me how many things I was going to end up doing twice. The repetition felt like iterative development – each time I did something again I knew it was getting better and better.

The wedding that I made this dress for was yesterday, and it was a wonderful joyous day (congratulations T & L!). I even met a new sewing friend (hi A!) and we talked sewing and cats all through dinner. Superb.

I can also confirm that the Hawthorn is a good dress for dancing the night away in. Not that I really make a habit of that!

Finally, my panda dress made its maiden voyage at a very timely moment – I learned at the wedding that two twin pandas have just been born in Belgium! Fingers crossed for those little beasties. The twin pandas on my collar are now dedicated to them.

Dress: Colette Hawthorn

Size: 2 throughout

Alterations: lowered bust dart by 1″, lowered armscye by 3/4″

My measurements at time of making: full bust 35″, waist 28.5″, hip 36″

Chambray Granville Shirt

Look, I made a thing:

It’s a shirt, an actual bona-fide shirt! After not sewing anything for well over a year because there wasn’t space for my sewing machine, I moved house, dusted off the old Janome, made a cheeky Hollyburn skirt to check I still knew how to sew, and then jumped right back in at the deep end with a Granville shirt. And I think this proves I still know how to sew much better than that slightly dodgy Hollyburn skirt did.

But here’s the thing: it took me about 4 months to sew this thing. There were gaps of weeks where I didn’t pick it up at all, because life is busy and I get sleepy. It was a serious test of my resolve to keep going on a project that had long since lost its excitement. I’m usually a real flake with my projects – as soon as something loses its initial sheen I’ll jump ship to the next shiny thing. But I’ve been working on my perseverance. And it turns out perseverence pays off. Who knew.

I even got into a whole “slow sewing, slow living” thing while thinking about (rather than working on) this project. But I’ll save that for another time. You want to hear about the project. I’ll share the details.

The pattern is the Granville shirt by Sewaholic. The fabric is a super soft chambray from Samuel Taylor in Leeds (because I live in Yorkshire now, people). I got the buttons at Abakhan in Chester.

I’m an hourglass shape, and this pattern is drafted for a pear shape much taller than me. So I mixed up the sizes: size 6 at the bust, size 4 at the waist, and size 0 at the hem. I also took 1″ off the hem and 1.5″ off the sleeves. I didn’t do a test run with sleeves though, did I? I made the shirt up with two sleeves with beautiful plackets and then attached them to the body and realised they were comically long. So I had to make two more sleeves with beautiful plackets. Hey – at least I got loads of practice making beautiful plackets.

I was expecting to have trouble with the collar. I know some people mentioned the pieces coming out too long and having to be cut down to size. Nothing of the sort happened to me and my collar sewed up a dream:

The fit is pretty darn good, I’d say. My only complaint is that it’s a little tight around the high bust if I button it up to the top. I don’t intend to wear it that way, so it won’t be an issue. Just something to think about for my next Granville.

There’s a lot of flaring going on at the hem. I thought that I’d lose most of that flare by using the size 0 hem and taking an inch off the length, but it does still kick out a touch at the sides. I was thinking that I’d alter the pattern for next time, but looking at these pictures I actually quite like that little shaping. It’s kinda dainty:

And finally, here’s a shot from the back. Hangs nicely, I reckon.

All in all, I’m incredibly pleased with myself and think I’ve earned the write to once again call myself a sewer/sewist/person who sews. I’m going for an instant gratification project next, but then I’ll make something a bit more pizzazz.

BOOM!

WIP: G√ļsta Knits Diamond Scarf

I’ve been knitting furiously this week! I’m a bit more than halfway through the diamond scarf from the pattern book I got in Iceland, Simple Knits with G√ļsta . I’m making it in Mosa Mj√ļkull, the wool made by the same designer. Every pattern in this book uses three balls of it, which I appreciated as I could just buy the three balls and choose a pattern out of the book later.

Here’s how it’s coming along – most of the way through the second of three stripes:

Diamond scarf knitting project in progress

The diamonds are drastically more obvious in this photo than in real life! Must be the contrast. This Mosa Mj√ļkull wool is reasonably fuzzy so you don’t get a lot of stitch definition. I found that a little disappointing at first, but I’m sure it will look better after blocking – hopefully more like the picture!

There are no instructions for this scarf, only the chart. I’ve never worked from a knitting chart before, so there was some intense concentration during the first few rows. I had to keep reminding myself that every even row switches up completely: you read it back to front, and the purls and knits swap over. Total mind-bender! But I’m totally converted to charts now. The visual prompt is very intuitive.

I’m not sure if I’ll make another pattern from this book. I had a go at the shawl pattern before I started this, but I found the instructions confusing. The most exciting things in the book are the mittens with the lovely Icelandic colour work, but I’m not a mittens kind of person. Who knows – perhaps I’ll whip some up as a gift one day!

I’m back! Let’s make some stuff!

Hello again! I’m back!

It’s been a little while, and a few things have changed. Mainly: I no longer live in Singapore! I’ve moved back to my homeland, the UK – I now live in Yorkshire, the land of gorgeous landscapes and Yorkshire puddings – and Rowan wool!

Now that time is on my side, I’m really excited about getting on with making things again, sharing what I create, and being part of the online makers community.

I’ll be starting with a knitting project as I just went to Iceland and bought a pattern booklet and some Icelandic wool:

Icelandic patterns and wool
Icelandic patterns and wool

It’s actually a blend with Peruvian alpaca, which is nice because I totally forgot to buy any alpaca wool when I went to Peru last year. It has good squish content.

The patterns in this book are really adorable, and it’s hard to choose what to make. But I reckon I’ll make a scarf, as I have become a scarf fiend recently and am rarely seen without one.

I shall report back!

And for some unrelated fun, here are a couple of holiday snaps from Iceland. This place is stunning beyond my ability to describe.

Lava fields covered in moss
Lava fields covered in moss
Me at Skógafoss
Me at Skógafoss

Outfit Along and Sewing Update

Hey… that’s not a sewing project!

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This wool is for the Outfit-Along¬†which I’ve impulsively decided to take part in. If you’ve not heard of it,¬†this event runs for the months of June and July,¬†and to take part you have to knit one garment and sew one garment to make up a whole outfit. I’m going to be making the official OAL patterns –¬†the Zinone knitted lace top and the¬†Hollyburn skirt – but you don’t have to go with those as long as you make a whole outfit.

I haven’t knitted anything proper in about a year – the last serious¬†knitting project¬†I made was a baby blanket for my niece last June. I’ve¬†been musing about picking up my knitting needles again as¬†I don’t want to lose the skill, so when the¬†OAL popped up on my blog feed the other day, the timing was perfect. Plus, I already mentioned that I have another Hollyburn skirt on my sewing plans. There was no way I couldn’t sign up!

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I’ve already made my gauge swatch, and it was bang on first time, which was nice. If you’re not a knitter, you might¬†not know what a gauge swatch is. Basically,¬†if two knitters knit the same square¬†using the same wool and the same needles, the finished square¬†may not come out the same size. This is because different knitters have different tension, meaning they may hold their wool more loosely or tightly as they sew – it’s really down to¬†personal preference as to what feels good when you knit.

Therefore, before starting a new knitting project, you always have to make a gauge swatch – a test square – to calibrate your particular tension against what the knitting pattern expects. Otherwise you might end up with¬†a top that’s 50% bigger than it’s supposed to be! If your sizing is a bit off then you change the size of your needles and try again. Lucky for me, my gauge swatch was just right. I’m going to chuck it in the washing machine and see if it can cope, because let’s face it, I’m too lazy for hand-washing.

Anyway – that’s enough about knitting –¬†what about my sewing projects?¬†Well –

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This week I finished a Bettine dress in this¬†gorgeous teal filigree¬†fabric from Chinatown. I absolutely adore¬†it – except for the small fact that the hem of the skirt is far too narrow and I can barely put it on! Why didn’t I learn from my previous Bettine?¬†Totally¬†gutted. I’m not giving up on it though – I’m¬†going to buy¬†some more of the fabric to replace the skirt with a slightly differently shaped one. I’m also thinking¬†of putting a side zip and waist band onto the¬†old skirt so I can wear it on its own.

And this is what’s on my sewing table now:

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Hawthorn cutting chaos. I still haven’t found a way of cutting out fabric that I like. I used to pin the pattern pieces to the fabric and then cut around them, but I always ended up shaving a bit of the pattern piece off. So now I draw around the pieces and cut them after, but it’s extremely tedious and it’s hard to draw¬†accurate lines with¬†tailor’s chalk. What’s your favourite way to cut fabric?

Bear Renfrew T-shirt

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It’s the bear-bear Renfrew! My cosy new t-shirt with bears on!

This was so¬†much fun to make! Especially after making my fern print Mimi which took forever and involved fabric that didn’t behave. This t-shirt was planned as my first foray into working with knits, but completely by accident (because I wasn’t pay attention), the fern Mimi took that crown. This t-shirt was an absolute breeze compared to that. The fabric is a fairly thick jersey – almost maybe sweatshirt material – and it did exactly what I told it to. Heavenly! And it took hardly any time at all to make, which I really appreciated as I had to go to work on the weekend I made it so I didn’t have many spare hours.

Apology up front: the pictures in this post have come out a bit desaturated, oops! It was a really bright day when I took these photos so the colour got a bit washed out and I’ve struggled to put it back in. The pic at the top is the truest to the colour – it’s a nice vivid blue with a hint of grey. We can pretend that the rest of the pictures are using a cool Instagram filter.

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The pattern is the Sewaholic Renfrew. I bought the paper pattern. I’ve decided I’m never going to buy a PDF pattern again (unless it’s the only option) because 1) it’s so nice to have the real, physical product and 2) I’d honestly rather wait a few weeks for a pattern to reach me than lose a precious evening to sellotape. Time is money, friend! (Goblin salesmen from WoW yeah? Anyone? Just me?)

There were a few steps in the construction that I was worried about  Рthe neck, arm and waist bands which are a bit shorter than the opening you sew them to, and the sleeves which are sewn flat Рbut it all went surprisingly smoothly. The trick to the bands is to put a pin in every quarter of the way around, matching seams Рthen with the band on top, gently stretch it to the right size as it goes through the machine. On my very first go I went pin-mad but it just got really fiddly. It was much easier with fewer pins.

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There are little bears mountain climbing all over me!

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I picked the size 4 and it fits nicely with absolutely no adjustments. Is that how knits work? Is it always this magical?! I bet I just got lucky this time.

The fit is just right across the bust and has enough ease around the waist for a proper big dinner. For future Renfrews I may go for a size 2 at the waist for a snugger fit, but for this particular tee I think the looseness adds a casual vibe that goes well with the casual fabric.

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So comfy and cosy. I want to make twenty more like it!

Slinky Knits are Hard: The Fern Mimi

I know, know – I said a couple of posts ago that my Tilly spree was over as I had ordered some new patterns. But I’d forgotten for how long it takes for post to get to me here in Singapore. And while I was waiting I wasn’t very well going to sew nothing, was I?

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After my first Mimi blouse came out stiffer than I’d hoped, I wanted to try it out in a fabric with good drape. So I picked up this cute rayon with a monochrome fern print. I love wearing rayon – it performs well in a humid climate like Singapore because it is breathable, and yet doesn’t crease with wear like other breathable fabrics such as linen or cotton. From a wardrobe perspective, rayon’s a real winner.

Well. This particular rayon was a real¬†challenge! I’d heard people complaining before about how their fabric “shifts” and “moves” when they work with it, but I had no idea what that meant. And now I do. Holy moly this fabric has a life of its own! It’s slinky, it’s lightweight, and oh, it also turns out to be a knit rather than a woven. Just stand in the same room as it and that will be enough for it to stretch, forming waves that distort the grain, taunting you. But I bravely (recklessly) decided to plough on. Why did I do this to myself?
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Cutting it was a serious task. Even folding the fabric to pin the selvedges together before cutting it was a serious task. I decided to use my new rotary cutter as I’d read that scissors distort slinky fabrics like this as you cut them. Well, turns out rotary cutters do too. This was the least precise cutting I have done by a long way. Eventually I gave up on all hopes of the fabric laying straight as I cut it and just resorted to hope and crossed fingers. (Figuratively crossed fingers, of course. Crossing them while holding¬†a rotary cutter would be a trip to A&E waiting to happen.)

Sewing took ages. This fabric enjoys being near the sewing needle, so totally unrelated bits of blouse kept getting caught up in my seams. I am a real pro with the seam ripper now.
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But somehow, against all odds, it worked out really¬†well¬†in the end. It’s so comfy to wear! For all that the slinky rayon kept slinking right off the table while I was working with it, it’s delightful against the skin, and has exactly the drape that this pattern deserves. And I think it looks great!
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I used Tilly’s pussy bow Mimi hack to transform the collar.¬†There’s a bit where she asks you to sew and trim seam allowances up until the notch. Then the remaining seam allowances get sewn to the neckline of the blouse. I didn’t manage this quite right as there’s a couple of millimetres of the unfinished seam allowance exposed right at the corner which I’ll probably blanket stitch. If you try this hack, make sure to pay close attention to that corner.
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I used these cute little hexagonal buttons. Because I had trouble with the¬†top closure not lying flat in my last Mimi and ended up adding a hidden hook and eye, I put two buttons up there this time¬†– but that didn’t do the trick either. I just can’t get that top corner to lie flat. Luckily, this time the top corner is¬†completely hidden by the bow so it doesn’t really matter.
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Here’s a view from the back – I think¬†the gathers work really well in this fabric.
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You can see from the side that even though it’s got quite a bit of ease, it drapes in a lovely way.¬†Ha,¬†I just noticed while writing this that you can also see how completely off grain my cutting is too, given¬†how the print is angled completely differently on the front and back pieces. Oh well!
I did not expect I’d be saying this, but the finished piece is¬†certainly worth all the frustration I had working with the fabric. Once I’ve worked through the fabrics I bought in my last haul (yes, I’m still that naive that I¬†think¬†I’m going to empty my fabric stash) I’ll try to make another pattern in a slinky rayon¬†like this. The comfort and breeziness of this blouse are through the roof, and I¬†want to wear it every day, so it’ll be great to nail the slinky fabric skill and fill my wardrobe with me-made rayon tops.