Sunday, 26 March 2017

Hemlock and Cigarettes

Hi everyone!

Sounds like a toxic combination, doesn't it? I've got a double-whammy for you today, but I have to say that I'm not sure these pieces go together that well. First up is a Hemlock Tee, the free one-size boxy top PDF pattern from Grainline that I made up a little while ago when I needed a nice quick and easy project but haven't had the chance to photograph until now.

The Hemlock is made with some old jersey that my mum donated to me (along with the stuff I made my beige Plantain from), it's probably from the 1980s. It doesn't have very much stretch to it, and similarly to the Plantain I had to make the sleeves a bit shorter to fit it onto the narrow fabric. I really like the colour of this top, although the weird sheen that sometimes appears isn't my favourite feature. I'm not sure about this style on me though, I don't know if I really look effortlessly stylish in these kinds of tops like others do, or just a bit slovenly. Anyway, it was a very easy make, the only thing I managed to mess up a little bit was the back of my neckband where it's a bit puckered, and I have to confess it's a little weak under the arms as I haven't quite mastered turning neat corners with my overlocker yet!

I've worn this a few times as I made it back in January, and I took it away with me to Madrid, where I wore it with the same trousers but was feeling and looking too ill to get many snaps then, even though it was a beautiful day in the Parque del Buen Retiro (doesn't it just suck when you're ill on holiday?). I also paired it with my shortened Elisalex – one of the first dresses I ever made and still going strong, especially now I've lost some of the length to make it more wearable and easier to walk in - perfect for exploring the city and checking out Templo Debod!

The trousers are Sew Over It Cigarette Pants, which I made in February in their Cigarette Pants class. I'm pretty pleased with these but they're not quite as slimline as I wanted them to be – but I learnt a lot from the class that I hope to apply to the next pair. If I'm brutally honest, if I had left these as drafted without fitting them they would have looked dreadful on me – luckily with the help of the tutor, we made quite a few adjustments to get the look and fit that I wanted, and I'm so pleased about this as it would have taken a lot of trial and error on my own. I think that's the main benefit of the course really, as by this point in my sewing I've tackled trouser construction a few times and it's really fit that concerns me as being the trickiest part to get right.

For this pair, we added 3/4” inch more room at the fullest part of the rear, made a 1/4” swayback adjustment at centre back and at the waistband, and took out some room at the back of the thigh. This fit pretty well when I had the trousers constructed, but I didn't entirely like the look of the pants on me as they didn't have that Audrey Hepburn-esque look I was going for – they looked much more like a uniform at that stage being straight cut but not slim enough in the legs. The teacher helped me pin in until I was happy with the fit and I shave a bit off the side seams both inner and outer til I was happy with the look, and I transferred all the changes as best I could to the paper pattern (which was very beat-up by this stage!).

I enjoyed the class experience and would say it's set me up well for handling trouser-making with more confidence. Big pros are obviously the fitting supervision, and as we had a small class this time around – just three of us plus the tutor - so we really got a lot of one-on-one time to tweak personal fitting as well as enjoying one anothers' company. 

A small drawback was that we did a few time-consuming things in class that didn't need supervision – like cutting out our patterns (I would have much rather traced mine so I could work with the other fabrics and sizes in future or have a basis for design changes) and cutting out our fabric, which actually I probably would have done more carefully at home! That said, we did get to try on pre-made muslins in class which helped us pick our size before cutting, so this is obviously a huge help and time-saving step that offsets my mild gripe.

My trousers are made up in crepe rio from the Sew Over It shop – this is one of the recommended fabrics for the trousers and is lovely and comfortable to wear and thankfully didn't shrink in the wash, as the fabric went straight from the shop floor to the cutting table without the usual pre-washing. It does however tend to grow while wearing it, which is why these trousers (which have been worn a few times now) look quite loose in the pictures. I think they've relaxed in the waistband and are sitting lower on the hip, as well as having grown a little in the leg. To counter-act this I wear them with the hems rolled to give that '80s cuffed look (which sadly hides my hems which were finished lovingly as instructed by overlocking then turning up and invisibly catch-stitching into place by hand). I have another pair of Cigarette Pants in the works that are cut in a more stable tartan fabric, and I hope these will keep their shape a little more. I also really hope they fit, as I was working with the adjusted pattern piece for the crepe pair so I hope it still works for a fabric with tighter weave!

I'm really excited to sew my next pair of trousers, even more so now that I picked up a couple of issues of Patrones when in Spain, which is basically a pattern catalogue with all the pattern sheets over-printed as they are with Burda Magazine. The issue I picked up is all about separates, so there are several lovely pairs of trousers I'd be keen to apply the adjustments I learnt in class to! (And several lovely shirts to wear them with...)

Happy Spring making everyone!

NorseOtter xx

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Sew Over It Alex Shirt

Hi everyone! 

It's been a while, and I have to confess I've given into slacking off blogging again while the light and weather has been too bad to get decent photos. I have a little stack of things I've been making to share with you as photo opportunities arise however!

I got my brother to buy me the Sew Over It City Break Capsule Wardrobe collection for my birthday back in January, and the first thing I've made out of it is the Alex Shirt. I plan to make the shirtdress version at some point too, but didn't quite have enough of my intended fabric this time.

I've used some drapey cotton that I bought in Istanbul. I do like it, but I'm not sure if it's the quality or if maybe I washed it on a rougher-than-intended setting in the machine, but there are a few weak spots in the fabric that I've noticed as I was sewing this up. To be honest, I only really bought this fabric as I'd decided to have a nosey in one of the shops in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and ended up waking up the very elderly gentleman who was looking after the shop. After that I couldn't leave empty-handed, so grabbed a couple of metres of this. It wasn't very expensive, but not a crazy bargain either. I'm sure I could have done better with more of a rummage around the open market areas (see photo of me posing with textile merchant statue below) but I was a bit overwhelmed by choice! I'm glad I'm making what I did get up finally after a year and a half in the stash, and I think paired with this pattern looks a bit '70s bohemian art teacher.

It's come together pretty well but could have been better cut, I was a bit distracted by other less than fun things happening in my life so I wasn't as in the zone as much as I should have been. The pattern matching isn't really happening everywhere (and I had to rip out and re-stitch in place one of the pockets as it was a bit lopsided) but is decent enough across the front.

I like this pattern. It's simple, flowy and easy-wear. Perfect in fact for a weekend getaway. It actually feels quite pyjama-y (in a nice way) in this fabric so I'm tempted to make another without the sleeve tabs and maybe experimenting with a bit of piping around the collar, bottom of sleeves and top of pocket as an actual pyjama top. It's quite a simple make with stripped back details like an easy convertible collar, roll-up sleeves with tab, a nice box pleat for more room beneath the yoke in the back, and simple folded back button bands. I like the more relaxed look, and of course this means it's a simple enough make to whip up in time for your chosen getaway! In these shots I've already had a previous full day's wear, but it's casual enough to look OK with a bit of rumpling – again, good for holidays!

All of the patterns in this collection have this simplified aesthetic and quick turnaround potential, which of course you can embellish if you have the time and expertise. I actually quite like the idea of the curated collection in itself and while I may not end up making all of the patterns offered in the booklet, I can easily see where I could swap out other patterns in my collection to make a more 'me' version of the capsule wardrobe. The Erin skirt is definitely on my make list though, and the Molly top and dress are tempting in their simplicity. I don't really need to make the Mia jeans as I have the Safrans (which I've paired the shirt with here) that are similar but have cute front pocket detailing, but if I find some interesting stretch denim colours I may make a pair of Mias up to try the fit. The Lola coat looks elegant but I worry the waterfall style may make me look a bit frumpy with my bust. I really like the Alex shirt and shirtdress in itself but I can see mash-up potential with my beloved Melilot shirt pattern too.

I cut the size 12 straight out. Technically I should have sized up at the bust, but in such a loose-fitting style I couldn't be bothered to do an FBA and didn't want to grade between sizes as I wanted the shoulders to be small enough. It looks fine, but a fitting stickler would probably notice my side seams are pulling forward a little. I think I might try and adjust this somehow for the next version, but want to avoid darts to keep the lines simple.

I made this up as instructed except that I decided on my own button placement so have 7 instead of 5 buttons to ensure there was no bust gaping. I also decided to do french seams instead of overlocking as I thought this fabric needed the added strength and would look nicer (plus this only involved setting up one machine, although of course requires a lot more pressing!). I also made sure to stay stitch the neckline and arm holes, which the instructions don't tell you to do- but I would definitely recommend it as there is a fair bit of manipulation around the curved areas, especially when the instructions have you twist the yokes to achieve a neatly encased finish. I also decided to stitch in the ditch to secure my collar as my handstitching was looking a bit shoddy and I realised too late that I'd attached the machine-stitched side with a basting stitch by mistake so wanted to make sure it was secure. I did my first ever sleeve tabs for this shirt - I quite like them! For future versions I think I could mash up with the Melilot sleeve to get the tower placket for more variation though, although I'd keep the just-off the shoulder sleeve heads of the Alex rather than the properly dropped sleeves of the Melilot, as I think it's more flattering on my slightly thick upper arms. 

I'm looking forward to taking this away to Madrid with me, and am planning to make many more, especially now Spring seems to be in the air! I'll leave with this snap of me enjoying a post-photoshoot patty. 

What are you making for Spring?

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Surf to Summit: Men's Edition - A Birthday Gift for my Dad


Here's the evidence of some unselfish sewing I was working away on over the festive period. I actually made two of these Men's Surf to Summit Tops in quick succession as I made a sample one to check the fit on Angus as he and my dad are a similar height and build (tall and skinny) and I wanted my dad's one to be a surprise. Unfortunately for Angus this means that his one is a little less well-executed and is about 2 inches short in the body (although he is 6 foot 2 so don't let this worry you if you're making one up for a man of more average height). Here's my Pa in his one! I'm not actually sure if he's worn it out to cycle in yet, as the temperatures have been steadily dropping below zero since I gave it him at the start of the year.

As it's winter I chose to make this up in microfleece for a bit of extra warmth. I've never worked with it before but other than the fact that it left a lot of fluff on everything it was quite nice and stable to sew with. It definitely has less stretch than the spandex I was also using so I thought assigning it to the main body pieces would be best, as the arms really need extra mobility. I made it up so the fleecy side is outside, I don't know if this is right! I couldn't find too many tips online about this so if anyone knows better please leave a comment. I chose silver spandex for the arms as although it isn't super-reflective, I think it adds a bit of extra visibility for road safety. 

In making my first Surf to Summit for myself I found making the half-zip a bit of a faff so wasn't looking forward to doing it again twice in a row! Practice makes perfect however, and there's nothing better than learning to conquer your fears. A few things that may make it easier for others (it's really not as hard as I'm making it sound) are:
  • Don't worry about marking the stitching and cutting lines for the half-zip placket during the cutting stage. The pattern piece is cut on the fold and you remove the section for the placket in the first step of the instructions, but until you get to that stage you're unlikely to know which bit is going to be the placket so it's a waste of time making markings through both sides when it's only necessary for one piece, which you would only go and cover up with interfacing anyway! Cut, make sure you mark the notches, but only mark the cutting and stitching lines on the placket after you interface it.

  • I also strongly recommend checking your placket placement with a set square before stitching in your zip opening as it's easy to veer off slightly to one side or another and end up with a wonky zip!

I decided to change the steps in attaching the neck facing slightly so that I could overlock around the neck facing and zip placket neatly on the inside. Next time I would go further and reduce the amount of interfacing I use so that it doesn't show after I've trimmed off the excess around the placket.

What I did for the neck facing was:
  • After completing step 13 as instructed, I pinned the neck facing in place in line with the seams but didn't stitch in the ditch there yet. Instead I formed the zip underlap, and then very carefully overlocked from the top of the placket (concealed under the neck facing) around the zip and the underlap, trimming off any excess along the way and securing the underlap in place. When I got to the start of the neck facing on the other side I disengaged my blade and kept going continously around the bottom of the neck facing til I reached the side where I began.

  • My first go at this (on Angus's sample jersey) I didn't manage to catch the edges of the zip tape on either side of the placket so I had to stitch in the ditch along the sides of the zip from the outside as instructed, but on my second go on Dad's jersey I dared to go closer which meant I could forego stitching in the ditch by the zip, so a neater finish outside and in! I then stitched in the ditch as instructed on step 14 to secure the facing along the shoulder seams and a short way down one side of the zip that didn't have the underlap.

I hope that makes sense! I didn't get construction pictures as I went as I was sewing fiercely to a deadline, but I'm much happier with the finish of this than I was with the one I made for myself. Doing two cycle jerseys in quick succession I definitely saw my skills and execution improve rapidly, next time I make myself some activewear and I'm confident with the fit I think I might make two things side-by-side as it is way more efficient.

Other tips:
  • Don't cut your notches too deep! I stupidly cut mine as though I were making a garment with a woven 5/8” seam allowance instead of the 3/8” and did have to end up reinforcing a few places with handstitching where the nick ended up too close to the seam.

  • I ended up using a sewing machine for FOE elastic attaching, zip insertion and attaching the neck facing and hemming the sleeves, and I needed to use 3 feet; my regular foot (for the FOE stages), my zip foot for zip and placket sewing accuracy, and my walking foot for everything else that needed a sewing machine. Straightforward seams were done on the overlocker.
  • One thing fitwise to watch out for is the armsyce. One both my own jersey and Angus's one we found this to be too close to the armpit. My dad's one seemed to be fine so it's obviously a personal fit thing and can be tweaked easily even after the garment is finished using the overlocker.  

This seems to fit Dad pretty well at the chest and shoulders, although perhaps I could have taken it in a size for the waist and hips, and maybe made the sleeves a tiny bit longer. Overall though I'm quite pleased with this and hope it gets lots of use on his daily urban hill rides. Now to make a more polished version for myself - hopefully there's enough of that silver left!

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Keep It Cosy - McCall's 8810 for January #dressmakingbloggerchallenge

Hi folks,

Hope you're all well and your year is getting off to a good start! Here is the second thing I've made for myself this year, a nice quick palate cleanser and stash buster that nicely fits into the Dressmaking Blogging Network's January challenge: 'Keep it Cosy'.

This is a 1980s vintage pattern (McCall's 8810) which I've made before, and both times I've tackled it I've made up in a knit (although it is actually intended for woven fabrics). The first version I made in a ponte knit (and this dress gets worn all the time, unbelted – turns out I rather like the 'nightie look'. Funnily enough this is also my boyfriend's favourite handmade garment of mine!) and this is made in a more stable fleece-backed sweatshirting that I bought at the same time as this blue stuff that I made my friend's matching outfit in. Despite the lack of stretch being an issue for those garments, I figured it wouldn't be a problem for this make as it's so loose-fitting.

My initial plan for this was to make a hip-length sweatshirt with full-length sleeves, but as you can see it didn't quite work out like that! I am pleased with how it turned out, but I ended up with some extensive on-the-fly decisions made at cutting stage. Basically I'd decided to err on the long side cutting out my front and back pieces, thinking I could trim down to my preference afterwards, and maybe even add the patch pockets if I had the length to play with. I also kept the 5/8” seam allowances out of laziness, thinking I could trim down to 3/8” with the overlocker easily enough.

However I regretted not turning in the pattern's seam allowances as I did have a bit of squeeze getting the two-piece raglan sleeves on the remaining fabric after the front and back pieces were cut. To make it work I finally did turn in the seam allowances to 3/8” for the sleeves so I could just about get the width on, but I had to sacrifice quite a chunk of the length. Luckily this turned out well as I really like the new sleeve length and think it balances out the loose shape and funnel neck nicely.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the funnel neck on either as I only had a few scraps left over, so decided to make it up as it was and decide on the mannequin whether I'd rather have a simple neck band or try and cobble the funnel neck together. I managed to piece together a couple of the scraps so that there's a seam instead of a fold to make it work with what I had. As this pattern was for wovens it should have been fastened at the back of the neck with loops and buttons, but I omitted these and instead decided to have my zip go all the back up the back of the funnel. I've not made a funnel neck before so don't know if this is the best finish- it definitely adds structure and because of the height of the funnel and thickness of my fabric it certainly makes a statement! I wore this dress to the cinema last night and did find the funnel bothering the back of my head a little, but in normal wear it's fine.

This was a pretty quick make- mostly done on the overlocker and completed (including cutting) in an afternoon. It would have been even quicker if there hadn't been moments where I had to make decisions on the fly about elements to keep/ adapt due to fabric restrictions. I did however save myself time by choosing not to finish the hem or the sleeves. After trying it on I really liked it as a dress, but I couldn't get away with losing any more length (it's a bit risky raising my arms!) and figured if I had to leave the skirt edge raw then the sleeves should match to make it look intentional. I think this gives the dress a modern edge, although the front edge of the skirt hem is starting to curl more than the back so I may have to reassess after a few more wears!

This is definitely snuggly to wear and I can see it becoming part of my regular wardrobe rotation. It even has room to wear a thermal layer underneath if needed, and I'm happy to have a 'blank canvas' piece to show off all the weird and wonderful patterned and coloured tights I've acquired over the years (that barely get worn otherwise as they clash with most things). It wasn't really something that formed part of my sewing plan, but it feels good to have used up fabric that was taking up a lot of room in the stash. 

How have you kicked off this year's sewing? Anyone else 'keeping it cosy'?

NorseOtter xx

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Way to Go With the Colette Wren Dress

Hello all!

Here's my first selfish make of 2017! It's the Colette Wren dress, which I mocked up sometime last winter – it might even go back as far as late 2015 – but when it wasn't going well I decided to shelve it (same for the Dahlia dress which I bought at the same time in a bundle, which is still just one horrendous bodice muslin along).

My issue with the initial muslin was that it emphasised the bust way too much (see terrible mirror selfie below) and also that it was too short in front. A lot of people seem to mention this issue in their reviews – some ascribe it to being intentionally empire waisted in the design, but this seems odd as the back seems to sit at the natural waist. Sometimes I wish patterns would come included with a figure indicating where the style lines should hit you so can adjust more accurately for you – it can be hard to judge just from the model in the photos.

The muslin was made in leftovers from my 80s Lounge Cat dress and is a ponte with a bit of body to it. This version is made up in some much thinner jersey with a decent elastane content that I picked up in the remnants bin at Simply Fabrics for either £1 or £3. Not much anyway! Both versions as you'll notice are rather short. For the mock-up this was due to it being made from leftovers and that was all I could manage. For this version (which is really supposed to be a wearable muslin with the intention of eventually cutting into some lovely merino jersey I've intended for this pattern) this is a deliberate style choice to loose 5” in length to make it seem a bit more fun and flirty, as I feel this dress could otherwise veer towards matronly on me.

Unfortunately, even with adding 2” length to the front bodice (graded to original length at the side seams to match the back bodice) this is still on the verge of being too revealing – and I really don't want to wear a camisole! Once I'd made up the bodice I tried it on and decided to overlap the wrap more at the front for more secure coverage (rather than matching the notches at the waistline, which my first muslin did). Obviously this meant I lost an inch or so at the waist but in a fabric this stretchy I thought it'd be OK – it does look a bit tight across the back in these pictures though! 

Even with all this the cross over still wants to slide to quite a deep V, so I think an FBA will be required after all. I think I may have stretched out the front edges a little here too – these are much more stable in my first mock-up in the thicker fabric so I'll have to bear this in mind for future versions – one blogger whose review I read mentioned doubling up that section instead of just hemming the edge, which would provide stability as well as making a cleaner finish at the shoulder join (which is another part of the dress that I'm not sure is sitting right on me. Is it meant to be slightly forward? It sits on the collar bone for me).

Another issue I had with both versions is gathering the skirt using clear elastic. I found this really tough, as you have to pin the elastic to distribute it easily, but as soon as you put tension on it to stretch to meet the skirt edge the elastic tears through. Intensely frustrating, and even though I managed it (with a fair bit of swearing and a couple of on-the-fly repairs) I have ended up with a weird ripple at centre front. I think this is where the tension of the crossover is fighting with the elastic, but it's not sitting nicely and I'm not sure how to make it do so. Hopefully an FBA will help on the tension front. Next time I may also narrow the skirt pieces a little (as I plan to keep it short) so there isn't quite so much to gather.

Here are my sleeves by the way. I'm not sure if they're meant to be slightly batwing, but I'm going to embrace it. I do actually quite like it, and for this non-FBA version it's actually given my bust a bit more room. I'll have to assess if I need quite so much fabric at upper arm once I've made that adjustment in my next version.

So, a way to go to make this worthy of cutting into my merino jersey for, and if anyone can suggest an alternative to dreaded clear elastic for a stretchy gathered waist I will be most grateful. What do you think, should I give it another shot?

NorseOtter x

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trina Dress Made for a Very Good Friend

I love this dress and have to think plan carefully about when an appropriate amount of time will have passed before I can make one for myself...

This is the 30th birthday present I made for my friend Eleanor. It was a little while in the works, but in the nicest possible way- I spent an evening in with a glass or two of wine lurking patterns she might like. My thought process was to select something easy-fitting; that means knit dresses, loose simple shapes or wrap dresses for wovens.

I then invited her over (again with more wine) to see if she approved of my choices, get her measurements and to get some guidance on colour. We went with the Victory Patterns Trina dress (which surprisingly few people on the blogosphere seem to have made) as it's gorgeous, elegant enough for occasion-wear, and easy to adjust for fit. She also has a penchant for dramatic sleeves so this fit the bill nicely! 

I ended up blending two sizes according to her measurements between bust and waist, shortening the sleeves and skirt by a few inches as per her preferences, and getting her over to try on a mock-up of the bodice I'd made in lining fabric which I'd bought to line the skirt but sadly turned out to have quite a few holes in it, so was not suitable for the final garment. Great for a quick and dirty toile fitting though - the bodice fit quite well but we decided to take it in a tiny bit at centre back. We had also intended to add a smidge to the front edges for a tad more modesty but I accidentally taped the pattern adjustment to the wrong edge and only realised when I started cutting, by which point it was too late to go back! It's an easy mistake to make as the front and back pieces are giant triangles. Besides, after all that, I think the amount of cleavage on show is flattering without being too immodest! 

All testing having gone well, I cut into several metres of dark teal georgette from Goldhawk Road. As I'm sure many of my fellow print-fanciers out there will agree, it's actually quite tough shopping for solid colour fabric- nothing seems special enough on the bolt, but it has sewn up to look lovely. I can't remember which shop it came from in the end, but I had a nice day out shopping by myself a month or so ago and bumped into a couple of other sewing bloggers. I don't interact too much on the web but I dared myself to go and say hi, and I'm glad I did – they were super friendly and it's great to talk sewing in real life with people.

It was my first time sewing knowingly with a shifty fabric (I've done it the early days when I just thought everything was cotton and didn't know better, with unpredicted results!). I starched the hell out of it so that it wouldn't be too much of a pain, and made sure to stay-stitch well as per the instructions. Things worked out mainly fine, but the dress does get quite heavy once you attach the massive swishy skirt (even in my shortened version), and the ties are super-long and frequently got trod on in the course of pressing and construction! I think because of the matte texture of georgette it's probably not as nightmarish as some of the slinkier fabrics out there, and I'd say it's a nice recommendation for this pattern as it gives the dramatic drape but with quite a grown-up look in my opinion.

Now that I've made this dress I think I would enjoy making another version even more. It's not particularly difficult, but as Jen of Sewing and Slapdashery mentions in her review, some of the instructions are quite convoluted, and trying to sew this after work in small sessions was more taxing on the brain than it needed to be. It took more focus than I was expecting to cut through all the superfluous words and realise I was actually being asked to do something quite simple! Basically there's a headline instruction, and then steps that break down what that requires (I'm quite tempted to rewrite my own version of the instructions in plainer English).

I would also agree (in all cases but especially with this dress) to mark all match points very well. I had a mini freak-out quite late in the game when my bodice seemed to be too wide to align with the skirt – it turned out I hadn't matched up the side overlaps properly. Luckily an easy fix as they're just basted together at that stage and can be adjusted without messing up any of the other processes.

Aside from the overly wordy instructions (which is no great sin really) this is a lovely pattern and one I will definitely be making again. And it looks totally stunning on its recipient! I think she might rather like it too...

Are you tempted to make the Trina dress?

NorseOtter x

PS Massive thanks to Cai for the lovely photos!