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″

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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!

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.

Chilli Bettine Dress

Yet another Tilly and the Buttons piece… I made this Bettine dress! With chilli print fabric! Because spicy food is my favourite¬†food!

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Making this dress felt¬†a lot like cheating. It has extremely simple construction as it is targeted at absolute beginners. I think I’m in the “advanced beginner” camp by now, so this was a doddle to put together! I made the version without pockets (not a fan of how they look) and omitted the cuff tab, which meant I was left with very few pattern pieces and very few seams. And no darts! It was a very quick make, to the point that it seems like I barely did anything to the fabric for it to turn into a dress.

 

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I¬†did a 1.5″ full bust adjustment¬†on the front bodice piece because I am a C/D cup and Tilly’s patterns are drafted for a B cup.¬†When you¬†execute an FBA, you increase the length of the bodice piece. Typically, there is a¬†horizontal dart on the bodice which then gets redrawn to consume that extra length of fabric, but this dress has no darts! Tilly recommends ease-stitching the extra length in¬†which I found very straight forward.

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The¬†fabric¬†came from Malin Textile at Chinatown and I paid S$11 (¬£5.50) per metre for it, down from S$13 (¬£6.50). It frayed like crazy while I worked with it, which was irritating. But it came out so cute!¬†It’s a fun dress.¬†I like the kimono sleeves. They’re different.

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It’s not at all easy to pull over¬†my¬†head though. I have to do a very awkward wiggle dance to put it¬†on. It’s probably because I cut a size 1 for the hips whereas I’m a size 2 plus FBA in the bust, and¬†the skirt¬†is a tulip shape so it narrows towards the hem. As there are no closures, the narrow hem needs to go over my head and past the bust when I put it on, and it takes a fair bit of encouragement to coax it to where it’s supposed to be.

 

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A much more graceful wiggle than the one I had to do while getting dressed.

I’m not sure what I could do to fix that next time, though. My first thought was to try it with an A-line skirt, but I¬†think the skirt¬†does need to hug the hips in order to balance out the bagginess on top. Maybe I will just try it in a jersey, once I’ve learned how to sew with knits. And I’ve already ordered a couple of knit patterns so that won’t be too far away!

Palm Print Megan

My palm print Megan dress is finished!

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The fabric is by Sevenberry and I’m in love with it. It’s light, but has some structure. It holds a crease when you want it to, but doesn’t crease through wear. It’s great!

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I really like this dress. I put most of it together very quickly without much thought, which was rewarding¬†after how long my first Megan took me. But when I was about to put the sleeves on¬†my husband commented that it actually looked really good without sleeves. So I thought I’d have a go at making bias tape and using it as a facing. It took me a whole day to figure¬†it out, but I got there in the end – one new dress, two new skills. And he¬†was right! The Megan is brilliant¬†without sleeves.

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The one thing in this pattern that I’m still unsure about is the¬†length of the dart tucks on the front of the bodice. One of my¬†original fit adjustments was to lengthen the bodice, but I didn’t know what to do with the dart tucks so I left them as they were. I think I need to lengthen them by the same amount so that they lie flat.

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See how that dart tuck billows out just a touch¬†at the bust? I think the bodice¬†fit is pretty good apart from that. I can’t easily get that part of the bodice under the machine now it’s been fixed to the skirt, so I¬†tried to hand sew it flat – turns out¬†I still don’t have any¬†patience for hand sewing. Might¬†try slip stitching it later. I don’t think it’s a big deal though, I’ll just mark the dart longer on my pattern piece and bear it in mind next time.

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I’ve done quite a few Tilly patterns in a row now, and it’s time for me to branch out. I finished a Bettine dress yesterday and¬†I’ll be posting about that soon, but¬†I’ve ordered some Colette and Sewaholic patterns to get a bit more variety in my me-made wardrobe.

Speaking of which, I signed up to Me-Made May! I’ve pledged to wear at least two pieces that I’ve made myself each week in the month of May. Looking forward to it!

Anchor Mimi Blouse

Look, it’s my first blouse! I¬†made¬†the Mimi blouse from Love at First Stitch.
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I made no alterations to this one as I made it immediately after making my alteration-ridden Megan dress (the one with the six bodice muslins) and I just wanted to get my teeth stuck straight into the sewing. I think the finished piece fits me alright¬†– but then it’s a loose fitting garment with no darts or anything, so there wasn’t much risk there.
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I bought the fabric at the People’s Park Food Centre in Chinatown, which is¬†amazing by the way. Fabric stores as far as the eye can see – and cheap too!
This is¬†a cotton, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you much about it. I thought it was a lawn when I bought it, but it isn’t especially drapey, so I suspect it’s more of a poplin. Anyone got any tips on how to identify different types of cotton?
Unfortunately the pattern calls for drapiness, so the finished blouse is a bit stiffer than I would like. It’s wearable, but I‚Äôm not really all that sure about the way it hangs at the back¬†when it‚Äôs tucked in:
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That’s not as much of a problem when its untucked -but that’s not really my style. I tend towards an hourglass silhouette, so I’d typically tuck in a loose fitting blouse at the waist. We’ll have to see how often I reach for this one in my wardrobe.
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I did have a couple of other issues making it. I must have sewn the yoke interfacing on a little wonky, because the corner above the top button really wants to stick out, and no amount of pressing will subdue it. I had a go at restitching it without much success, so in the end I whacked a hidden hook-and-eye in there. Bit of a duct tape solution, but it did the trick…
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The other issue was really just foolishness on my part. Put the buttons on the wrong side, didn’t I? Totally didn’t think that through. At least I know I’ll never make that mistake again. It feels very weird buttoning up a blouse this way round!
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All in all, a successful make, but I’m not sure how much I will end up wearing it. I’ve just picked up some drapey rayon to make up another version and see if I can make this pattern work for me.
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