Sunday, 23 October 2016

Trouser-Making Mission is On: Revisiting the Ultimate Trousers

Hi everyone!

Hope your weekends have been going well? I've just been checking out the 'Anywhen' installation at the Turbine Hall and the new Switch House exhibitions at Tate Modern, topped off with a Sunday roast. I'm feeling a bit lethargic after all that but was hoping to crack on with my Autumn trouser-making campaign – I have some Safran pieces all cut out and ready to be assembled!

The good news is that not only have I managed to stash-bust another piece of fabric that has been lingering for far too long, I've also managed to conquer my fear of the Ultimate Trousers pattern. I received this as part of a giveaway a couple of years ago from Dolly Clackett, and had bought this fabric especially to make them up in. However, after a disastrous pair of shorts that I couldn't even give away, and a slightly disappointing first go in full trousers, I decided to try my wearable muslin back on and see what I needed to do to make them right.

To my surprise they weren't all that bad- I even wore them for my long-sleeved Melilot shoot, so I decided to re-insert the zip and wear them to work for a day to see what it was about them that bugged me so much. The main issue is that the waistband doesn't sit right on me at all. For the wearable muslin I had added 1” to the back rise to allow extra room for my rear, but I still had the issue that the waistline sat right on the thickest and squishiest part of my middle, which wasn't flattering. The facing kept wanting to flip out and fold up into where my waistline should have sat, so I took a note of where this fold was forming and added the extra length onto my pattern pieces.

I ended up adding 2.5cm, or another inch, to the centre back at the top, blending to nothing at the sides. I also added 2cm to the centre front at the top, again blending to nothing at the sides. I lined up my facing pieces with the new lines I'd drafted and decided I didn't need to make any changes to them. I think for this version it definitely hits me in a more flattering and more comfortable place, although I could still stand to make the trousers more high-waisted to my personal preference. The waist facing does still want to roll out a bit though.

I think they might also be a bit short on me! They're definitely ankle-swingers, which looks OK with ankle boots but does expose more shin when I'm sitting down (I'm around 5 ft 5 for reference). I don't know if they could also do with taking in a little bit at the back thigh, as it looks baggy in some pictures, or whether I need that slack in order to move.

This fabric is cotton with a little bit of stretch in it. If it looks familiar, it's because I made a skirt with the lighter colourway for my 'Camberwell Beauty' box-pleat skirt, made as a palette-cleanser to relieve the frustrations of my first attempts at the Ultimate Trousers. It's from Mermaid Fabrics, and when I bought it I was worried I might be catching the tail-end of the printed trousers trend. Two years later, I no longer care! I've been watching a lot of the Gomorrah series lately so I feel these channel a bit of Italian ostentatiousness, although not quite up to Donna Imma's level. Maybe I should accessorise with a gold chain belt?

I'm fairly pleased with these over all though. I could have done a better job with pattern matching- the centre front and back are OK, but the sides are misaligned. At the time I just needed to get on with it and didn't want to spend more time fussing as I'd already put these off for so long, and I'm glad they are now accomplished! I actually made up another pair of Mimi pyjama bottoms to get me in the headspace for making trousers again (didn't take any snaps, but if you want to see me looking like a cosy dork my first pair are here, and the new pair is the same but in a blue colourway of the same fabric). 

The actual construction of the Ultimate Trousers is easy-peasy (although I could stand to make my zip insertion neater) it's just working out the fit to make them flattering that's the challenging part.

As I have accrued a nice little collection of trouser patterns I think I'll get on with them before coming back to this one, but I'm glad I've finally made peace with it and can see myself making another pair in a nice solid jewel or neutral colour. Definitely with length added to the legs though!

Any trouser-tweaking tips always welcome! Have you got any projects that you're afraid to tackle?

NorseOtter xx

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Sew Dots Melilot!

Hi everyone,

Here's my entry into the Sew Dots, Raise Lots challenge as organised by Rosie over at DIYCouture. The challenge is to make up something using dotty fabric to raise funds and awareness of Braille and its crucial importance for giving people with sight loss access to written communication - you can read more over on Rosie's blog here. I rarely enter challenges – I don't like having the pressure to make something I'm not sure I would have chosen for myself, or feeling the need to buy more fabric or patterns when I already have so many of each that I struggle to see how I'm going to do them all justice!

However, this one appealed to me as something achievable (as well as a good cause, obviously), as it came up when I was putting the finishing touches to my first Melilot shirt, which is the pattern I'm auditioning to finally put to use my Paul Smith elephant print fabric. I like long-sleeved version A, but I was keen to see if I might prefer version B. When I saw Rosie's challenge, I thought I'd go ahead and use some of this lovely dotty stuff I picked up a while ago from Mermaid Fabrics (which I now think might be viscose or rayon, given how stiff it feels fresh out of the wash) which you might recall from my Clemence Skirt. I really like the fabric but have struggled to visualise what else to make with it, but when this challenge came along I realised it would make a really cute Melilot, and might even work paired with the Clemence for a faux shirtdress look (I haven't yet tried but I bet I'm going to love it!).

There are a load of photos in this post, sorry! I really like how the shirt came out and think it looks great both tucked in and untucked, so of course had to get photos from all angles of both, plus some of me goofing around on the park gym because I felt like there was a bit of an '80s muscle shirt vibe going on. I enjoyed wearing this multi-textured outfit too (an unintentional link into the Braille theme), with the leather skirt and velvet shoes. I was also wearing a very Teddy-girl esque wool jacket that didn't make it into the shoot. 

From my experiences with the Clemence I remembered this fabric was quite tricky to cut accurately and does tend to slip. To help avoid this I starched the fabric when ironing and used a fresh blade in my rotary cutter. I did still cut on the fold though, which perhaps I shouldn't have, but I haven't had too many issues. When sewing I used lots of pins and a small sharp needle. One thing I hadn't realised during Clemence construction was that the dots are not printed on-grain (so I can stop giving that slightly hectic-looking gathering at the waistband the side-eye, turns out it's not my fault!). I've been trying to be better at respecting grain by always straightening my fabric with a weft thread tear across and it's been very revealing!

Armed with this knowledge I decided not to give myself too much of a headache trying to make things match up, which is why the pockets might be less than pleasing to the more eagle-eyed among you! I made this up again using the 44 bust/ 42 waist + hips pieces traced from my first version, and made it up as instructed except to add a full collar again rather than just the mandarin collar as I really like the shape.

This came together swiftly as I didn't have to worry about the concealed button placket, although still had a moment of self-doubt as to how many times to fold back the edges to form the button bands – I should really start making notes on instructions when they don't make total sense to me! This pattern takes a LOT of buttons, so I'm glad I finally got the courage to try out machine-sewing on my buttons, it is so much faster, and easier on the fingers than hand sewing. The buttons I used are from my boyfriend's grandmother's stash, and in amongst the plain black I found this one engraved with 'Lewis's of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham' which was at one time a major department store in those cities and decided it should grace my collar stand. I wonder what garment it originally came from, and when?

Another thing I found tricky in my first version as getting the curved hem even. In the instructions it has you hem the shirt pieces separately after forming the darts and button bands, but in this fabric I thought it best to construct the whole shirt and let it hang for a day or so in case any of the pieces stretched out. Luckily they don't seem to have done so unevenly! I also rolled my pieces after cutting to avoid them getting misshapen in handling, and made sure to stay-stitch the neckline of all my shirt pieces immediately too.

To give me a neater hem, I sewed a guide line of stitching to press around in addition to the guide line to fold around as given in the instructions, and I think this has given a more accurate finish as well as saving me a headache with measuring and pressing in tiny sections all the way around. In my first version I wasn't very successful at keeping the hem even so I wasn't taking any chances this time!

Nothing more to report other than I really like this pattern, but haven't yet decided which version to use for my elephants! Version B I think is more flattering on me, but would mean shelving the make for the Spring as realistically it's too nippy to bare arms at the moment. But I may yet give into temptation as it's very satisfying to have a project that fits nicely, isn't too tricky to construct, and also uses up stash fabric.

Have you been tempted to Sew Dots yet this October?

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Steampunk Melilot

Hi folks,

Hope everyone's had a good weekend? I caught the William Eggleston photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (just in time) and have been doing the grand seasonal Wardrobe Switchover. Every time I do this I discover clothes that I forgot I even had and somehow manage to produce another sack for the charity shop (I blame shopping in Primark and H&M too much in my twenties, you can amass an awful lot of mediocre stuff that way).

 It's also helpful for me to think about what I really want to be making. I've done a bit of a think about what I'd like to make now that it's getting a bit chillier- my desires are split between wanting to stashbust, wanting to sew up patterns that have been on my list to make too long, and wanting to make more things that I actually really need (read: I shouldn't really be making any more dresses, although I have at least 3 on my Autumnal Sewing wishlist!).

My latest make is Deer and Doe's Melilot shirt. I decided to make my first go in this quirky printed cotton that I picked up on a whim at Goldhawk Road about a year ago. I's a steampunk-esque design of fantastical bicycle and balloon contraptions manned by odd little people, and I had initially thought it would make a nice Mimi blouse, but after my first go wasn't quite the success I'd wanted it to be that pattern has been shelved somewhat. So, nothing to lose by using it up now, and actually I think it suits the Melilot design better.

It was a bit annoying to cut out as the print is not on grain and does run in rather noticeable horizontal lines. To offset that somewhat I decided to cut the fronts with the print mirroring on either side of the placket, so that there wasn't a diagonal drift. I'm quite proud of my breast pocket placement!

I learned a few new skills with this make, including my first ever tower plackets (I'm pretty proud of these) and my first ever collar stand (not bad too) but my concealed button band is not quite as hidden as it should be. 

I got a bit frustrated with the instructions for this – while I haven't seen anyone else complain about this, but they're not very helpful if you don't know what you're doing – it's more just a step in the order of construction (and is one of the first things you do after making the darts). As a relative shirt newbie I was hoping for a bit more clarity here, and I'm not sure I've done it right. One thing I would definitely recommend is to cut, measure and place your interfacing strips accurately as I did it a bit slapdash and I think that's why my concealed button band didn't want to fold in quite the right way.

Other than a bit of headscratching at the beginning though this shirt came together really nicely and quite quickly, and I'm pleased to say all the other instructions made sense to me, even for the other new and more complex processes. I like the easy fit too, I made up a size 44 at bust and shoulders, grading into 42 for waist and hips, and this seems to have worked out pretty well.

 I've actually made up another Melilot in the sleeve cuff version that came together even more quickly, I was on that much of a roll after making this! I'll share a post on that soon so as not to overwhelm with photos.

Now I just need to get going on the trouser and jeans schemes I mentioned in my Autumn sewing plans post so I have more nice separates to pair my new shirts with! By the way, the trousers I'm wearing with the shirt are my wearable muslin Ultimate Trousers from a while back. They actually fit better than I'd remembered that did (but do need the zip reinserting) so I'm tempted to get cracking again on these to kick off my trouser-making mission. Wish me luck!

NorseOtter xxx

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Gertie Shirtwaist Dress

Hi folks!

Finally finished and photographed, it's my last dress of the summer, which actually has lasted a nice long time this year. Unfortunately my trusty photographer has been away, otherwise I'd have had this up a little sooner. Luckily I had a trusty back-up photographer that I called on last weekend, my friend Simon (who is also an artist- you can see his paintings here) was willing to snap me, while my other friend Scott stood in as art director. These fine folks also got me a Cloth House voucher for my birthday which I've just got around to spending - I decided to just treat myself to the prettiest thing I saw rather than try to match to any specific plans and ended up with this lovely, rather structured Japanese cotton. I only got a metre, so think it will have to be a boxy little short-sleeved top.

 These were taken as we were out exploring the Open House Weekend, which is a wonderful opportunity to snoop inside the dwellings of people who live in places of architectural significance. We visited some beautiful self-build properties in Lewisham, designed by the architect Walter Segal, and we discovered this wall when milling around between venues. I was spotted posing by a lot of other architecture enthusiasts, hence my slightly sheepish photos in the shots. Isn't it perfect though? I love that the spices in the mural pick up on the print of the dress.

On to the dress itself, which is the Shirtwaist Dress from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, and has been a bit more of an involved make for me than usual for two reasons:

- I made a bodice muslin, which resulted in a few fitting tweaks (although as I only made the one muslin then plunged in, perhaps I could have refined a bit further).

- I decided to go all out and learn a new technique at the same time, so made my very first set of bound buttonholes! Very time consuming, not super neat, but I reckon worth it. Will hope to improve on my next garment, and I am quite pleased with these even if they do have “character”.

Here are the things I love about this dress:

I think it's really cute from the front and really sets this fabric off well. I had been considering making it shorter for a more modern look, but after wearing it out for the first time I'm a bit reluctant to make any more changes, and I got lots of compliments.

Things I'm not so pleased about:

The back. I have read a few reviews of this dress and how large and poofy the back turned out, hence the bodice muslin to assess how it would work out for me. It didn't look too bad in mock-up, but I decided to add two more rows of shirring (yes, another shirring project! I'll stop now, I promise)  in the hope that would be an easy swayback adjustment. On the actual garment it ended up looking much more voluminous, so I decided to add an inverted pleat at the top of centre back where it attaches to the yoke, which reduces the gathered fabric by approx 4 inches. It looks better, but as there's nothing to tether the pleat at the waist (it just gets distributed into the rows of shirring) there's still a bit too much volume around centre back. I would prefer a more streamlined look and think if I made this again I'd swap in a different dress back – perhaps from the coat dress or the zip-front house dress from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual.

I also find the back skirt seems to curve in under my bottom. I wonder if it's because the dress front is so structured and full, whereas the back is quite voluminous and only supported at the waist by the shirring. Just a theory but I think having the shirring there is allowing my bum to pull the skirt awry, whereas I think with a sturdier waist seam the skirt would skim over and hang a bit better. I could invest in a petticoat to help the skirt stand away from my rear, but realistically I wanted this to be a work dress that I pack in my pannier bag for my cycle commute, and it's hardly practical to stuff a petticoat in as well!

There's a fair bit of handstitching, which I gritted my teeth and bore, having committed to the bound buttonholes already. I'm not sure if I attached the inner yoke in exactly the right place- I was trying to cover as much of the innards as possible and therefore might have stretched them over a wider area, which is causing a little bit of distortion, it's pulling a bit at the back collar as you can see. Annoyingly with handstitching I'd have to undo the whole lot if I wanted to redo any of the seams, so for now I'm just ignoring it.

Other adjustments for my version:

I did a 1” FBA, but perhaps could have done a bit more. Gertie's FBA instructions tell you to add an inch for each cup size over C, but really shouldn't this be 1/2” seeing as you're working on a half-pattern piece? I don't know, I seem to have done a lot of FBAs in my sewing so far but not enough for the knowledge to have really dropped, apparently!

The shoulders were too boxy for my taste, so I redrew the armhole bringing it in on the front and back bodice and yoke. I did have to tweak this a bit on the fly but I think it looks OK. I kept the sleeves the same and hoped for the best. With wear I have noticed a little bit of pulling at the upper chest, so if I made this again I might add a smidgen back into what I scooped out to hopefully sort this. This might also be partially due to my badly handsewn innner yoke as mentioned above.

I redistributed the spacing of the buttonholes when I had a vague thought about having this button all the way up the neck and with a shorter length. I scrapped this idea, but the skirt buttons are a little closer together and end higher than drafted for.

Would I make it again?

As is, I would not. As mentioned I will be looking for a replacement back bodice. I do like the look of the front however. On my mannequin this looked really nice sleeveless, collarless and buttoned all the way up, so I might try a version like that (with the replacement back pieces – I'll let you know what works!). I might also see about a mishmash with the zipfront dress from Gertie Sews Vintage casual, as I think that would be so much cuter with buttons instead of a zip, which looks frumpy to me.

Despite my niggles with this dress, it is still very nice and gets loads of compliments, and I really love the print. I think this will see me into Autumn too, I reckon I can cram those puff sleeves under a cardigan, and the colours are nice for the transition.

What have you been making? Have you switched over to the new season yet?

NorseOtter xx