GBSB Swing / Circle Skirt

You know the advice that you should never buy fabric without a project in mind? I totally ignore that most of the time. There have been a few exceptions such as the navy twill for the jacket I had to make, but mostly I buy fabric because I like it. Sure, I consider the material type, the weight, the drape and what styles the print would suit, but I don’t always have a project in mind and sometimes end up using that fabric for something totally other than what I originally thought.

This fabric however, I have known exactly what do with since I bought it at March’s Spring Knitting & Stitching Show. The soft drape of the cotton, the brightly colored crazy travel novelty print….it screamed circle/swing skirt!

travel fabric

I used a pattern from my original Great British Sewing Bee book, which meant I had to download, print and piece together the pattern. Considering the way GBSB has inspired so many to take up or resume sewing, I find it disappointing that their books are so opaque on sizing. Each pattern is multi size, usually UK 8-16, but there are no guidelines on waist/bust/hip measurements for each as you would get on a paper pattern. Instead you get a diagram of the pattern pieces printed on one page of the book on a squared background, and the information that each square is 1cm. But again, no clear guidance on how to measure and judge sizing or adjustments from this.

GBSB circle skirt book

The pattern for this skirt is very simple (waistband and 2x skirt panels) and the only important measurement is really the waist. Based on the number of 1cm squares I judged that the largest size 16 was, including seam allowance and the buttonhole overlap feature, approximately 2.5 cm short of my waist measurement. This was easily added to the end of the waistband piece (/2 since it’s cut on the fold), and for the skirt it was added to the straight edge, /4 since there are two skirt pieces (front and back) cut on the fold.

GBSB circle skirt pattern adjustmentI actually cut the bottom of the skirt panel along the size 8 (shortest) line, even though I was also cutting along the size 16 (deepest) waistline. Given my short proportions though this put the finished skirt length just on the knee which is quite flattering.

Cutting was very quick, thanks in part to my new rotary cutter…more about that in another post! It definitely made cutting the long curve of the skirt less of a headache.

Sewing was also quick; sew the front and back skirts at the side seams, insert concealed side zip (I had one the right length and color!), sew waistband in half at the ends, turn and press, sew waistband to skirt, make buttonholes, hem and done!

Finishing the waistband seam was a pain. I think either the instructions are not clear enough or you need a bigger seam allowance. I sewed both raw edges of the waistband to the skirt, then I was trying to turn the raw edges under and top stitch – I had to do this on the inside rather than the outside so I had half a chance of keeping the raw edge under, there wasn’t enough spare.

What I think is supposed to happen is that you sew the front edge of the waistband to the skirt, then turn the back edge under and top stitch to enclose all seams. But the instructions didn’t describe this explicitly and I would have expected them to. Also because you have already stitched both waistband ends together, this makes lining up and accessing the front raw edge a bit tricky at the ends. The alternative is to do what I did but on a 2cm rather than 1.5 seam allowance, so that you have enough to turn under. This would make the waistband narrower but it’s quite generous as is.

Anyway, on to the most exciting bit of sewing this skirt – the buttonholes! The waistband design has an overlap of fabric across the top of the zip which fastens with two buttons. My sewing machine has an automatic buttonhole setting (in fact three styles) and came with the necessary foot. Essentially it works by you setting the button you will use into a gauge in the back of the foot. The needle is threaded in the front of the foot as normal, and you pull a stopper down from a fixed point on the machine to the left of the foot. Then you start the machine sewing (using the start/stop button rather than the foot pedal) and it sews a straight line until the stopper hits the stopper at the front of the button gauge. Then the machine sews a zig zag end, a quick line back to front until it hits the front stopper, then another line backwards to the gauge stopper, locking stitch and stops. Magic! You then use a seam ripper or snips to carefully open the buttonhole between the two lines of stitching.

buttonhole foot I did a lot of practice ones on some scrap fabric (probably more than I needed but it was fascinating me!) and then bit the bullet on the real thing. I think there must be a trick to lining up the holes perfectly parallel, I marked the start of mine but it was hard to see precisely past the machine foot so they are slightly off.

GBSB skirt buttons

Start to finish this is probably the quickest sew, considering I had to print and make up the pattern first too, everything done in less than a day.

GBSB skirt

 

Sew Over It 1940s tea dress 

I’m going to come right out and say it – this is by far and away the homesewn garment I am most pleased with so far in my sewing adventures!

I fell in love with the Sew Over It 1940s tea dress pattern well before I felt capable of making it. I bought the pattern while at the Islington store for the Ultimate Trousers workshop back in November 2015 and even though I still loved the design I was more than a little daunted by the 11 pattern pieces actually resulting in 20 elements once cut!Sew Over It 1940s tea dress

Anyway, I already had a fabric in mind that I’d got at the Knitting & Stitching Show March 2015, and a goal – Twinwood Festival, August bank holiday. In the event, I’ve used a different fabric (bought at this year’s K&S Show) and hit an event a month ahead of my deadline! What on earth is going on…?

I actually started on this pattern back in May, and got as far as pattern tracing, cutting out and marking. I cut a size 16 (again) with no adjustments (again) based on a quick toile of the bust section (again!). But then everything got packed away for moving house, then June shot past what with sorting out the new place and a holiday and various upheavals at work, before I could get the sewing stuff out again.

But finally one weekend early in July I decided to tackle it. The fabric is a lovely bright floral print, perfect for summer, in a light and floaty viscose. Lots of drape and lovely to sew! Once I’d sorted out my 20 (!!) pieces again, I got down to sewing. I really liked that the pattern puts the trickiest part first – the bust panels! This looks really complicated but actually it’s not and results in a really professional-looking design which is also very flattering provided it’s fitted correctly. The trick is really taking your time over adjusting the gathers where the bust joins the waist panel.

1940s tea dress bust

The rest of the construction is effectively joining panels; five in total for the skirt (front, side fronts, backs), side backs and backs in addition to the bust and waist panels, then join the top to the bottom. The sleeves are a nice 3/4 length and faced, with a turnup which is a nice detail.

1940s tea dress side view

I managed pretty well matching my seams. Pattern matching is fortunately not really an issue for this print, but the effect of the vertical seams running down the bodice, back and skirt panels is important. I still didn’t manage to get the waist seams to line up across the zip at the back, and I’ve no idea how because that zip was dead straight I swear!1940s tea dress back

There was a fair amount of hand-finishing on this dress too; the three decorative self-cover buttons on the bust, catch-stitching the sleeve turnups and the facing inside, the zip seam allowance at top and bottom, plus I also put in some small stitches to hold the neck facing in place at the shoulders as despite understitching, the lightness of the fabric meant it just wasn’t going to stay turned under.

1940s tea dress buttons

This dress was undoubtedly a lot of work, I estimate 8-10 hours of sewing and hand finishing, including all the pressing and seam finishing, but I think it was well worth it.modelling 1940s tea dress

I think it’s testament to how chuffed I was that I wore it to a very posh city wedding at The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, along with a fetching hat from Bellapacella of Spitalfields Market.

I also reviewed this pattern on The Fold Line: CertainStyle reviews 1940s tea dress on the Fold Line

New Look K6176 shift dress

I think this was my quickest sew from start to finish. I headed off to Paris for a work-related conference in May and although I’d had this pattern in mind and a couple of fabrics lined up for some time, the decision to make this dress and try to finish it in time to take to the conference was pretty last minute!

I was attracted to this pattern over the other shift / pencil dress styles I have (most of my patterns are the result of my monthly Sew magazine subscription, this being no exception) because it had relatively few pieces. I’ve been amazed how complicated some designers can manage to make what is essentially a very simply-shaped garment.

New Look K6176

New Look K6176 has several variations with sleeves, banded hems and pockets, but I went for the simplest sleeveless, single fabric, no pockets design (view D). With the bare minimum of elements (front, back x 2, neck and sleeve bands) and a kind fabric it was pretty quick to cut out. My fabric was one I picked up at the Knitting & Stitching Show in March 2015 – yes, really! A polyester sort of fabric with a slight crepe/textured feel. Identifying and describing fabric is really something I need to learn more about! It’s purple and black with an all over abstract floral motif.

No lining, facing or interfacing meant I could get stuck right in to sewing. It’s basically sew front and back together, and finish the neck and arms with bands. I was glad I’d already made the Agnes top because now I knew what I was making with a neck band – the instructions in the Simplicity pattern were much more confusing so I think this would have stalled me.

K6176 neck back & armhole

The only slight hiccup was that I discovered I didn’t have a black zip. This keeps happening, I’m sure I’ve got some stock notions and then when it comes to it they are nowhere to be found. I made do with a dark brown one, and did a concealed zip rather that the normal one the pattern uses, so you can’t really tell.

K6176 back dress

Fit wise, I was pretty pleased with the length and overall fit given I didn’t do any pattern adjustments. The only niggle is the upper back / neck which is a little too big. It doesn’t quite gape but it’s not far off. I’ll have to try and adjust the pattern for the next iteration but that probably also means calculating a reduction in the length of the neck band…maths isn’t my strong suit so I’ll have to see if Simon can work out the formula!

K6176 back neck

I might have been hand finishing at gone 11pm the night before flying to Paris, but I think it shows how far I’ve come in my sewing adventure that I would a) be able to achieve that and possibly more importantly be happy to wear a me-made garment at a conference representing my company to prospective and existing clients.

K6176 front dress

Tilly and the Buttons “Agnes” Top

So I’ve been a bit remiss in blogging about my sewing (yes, again) but this is the first of a series of posts catching up.

One of the hazards of regular wardrobe analysis and decluttering is realizing that you are short of a certain type of garment but then added to that is the delay when you are aiming to sew rather than buy the replacements!

The Tilly & the Buttons Agnes top was one such item. I decided my wardrobe needed some more “basic but pretty” jersey tops and that it was about time I had a go at sewing with knits. I liked that Agnes has a bit of a vintage flair and that there are lots of options: long or 3/4 sleeves, ruched or plain shoulders, ruched or plain neckline. From one pattern you could style up a whole range of distinguishable tops.

Of course for now I’ve just made the one. But I do have another jersey fabric in stock for version 2. For the first attempt I decided on 3/4 sleeves with all the ruching – no one can say I shy away from a challenge!
The ruching was really the most obviously tricky part of this. I’ve never really sewn with elastic before except for the Sew Over It knickers when I ended up really going overboard with the tension…

I don’t know if I was too cautious but I seemed to have the opposite problem with this, or maybe it was the fabric needed a bit more oomf to pull it in, but anyway when I tackled the bust ruching the first few attempts didn’t really scrunch up that much. I think I had 2 or 3 attempts and then decided I had to live with it as the fabric was getting a bit worked over through all the unpicking and zigzag stitching. The sleeves worked out better so I think it’s just a case of practice practice!

agnes ruched sleeve

I did appreciate the instructions for the ruching. They were very clear and the only method I’ve come across which seemed to have some precision behind it. Basically it involves cutting a specified length of elastic and stretching it on the fabric as you sew with the end of the elastic matching a marked point on the fabric. I think this is supposed to help you avoid over or under stretching the elastic.

The other construction element I had some trouble with was the neckband. But this was mostly because of lack of familiarity of the construction of knit garments and so I couldn’t visualize what it was I was trying to make. However I just followed the instructions through logically and lo the neckband turned out ok. It did take a couple of attempts at pinning evenly before sewing, as the band is smaller than the neck opening in order to pull it in. But you want a smooth finish of course with no gathers or puckering.

agnes neckband

All in all I quite enjoyed knit sewing, certainly there’s very minimal pressing as that is almost ineffective anyway, and no seam finishing. That said, despite using a walking foot the hemline stretched out a bit, and I’m not a fan of the way the raw edges curl up inside the hem. The pattern tips recommend using a knit tape to stabilize the hems but my machine very strongly objected to this, and jammed every time after a few stitches.

Since sewing this top I’ve discovered the overstitch feature of my sewing machine so I think I would either try to use this for hemming, and or stick with zig zag stitch and in either case try to enclose the raw edge inside the hem.

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Next Agnes will be coming up very soon I’m sure!

Also I reviewed this pattern on The Fold Line: Certainstyle reviews Agnes on the Fold Line

#thewardrobechallenge – 6 month review

So, it’s just over six months since I set myself The Wardrobe Challenge, to make one item per month and strive to stop buying high street and make more of my own clothes.

So how have I done?

April – The challenge begins! I started out quite well, making the Lottie Simple Sew blouse just a few weeks in.

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May – Still on a roll, I made the New Look 60s mod dress.

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June – this is where the summer hit and life got in the way of my still-slow and methodical sewing somewhat. I excused myself by going on the invaluable pattern-fitting workshop from Thrifty Stitcher. Clare-Louise Hardie. I still think this was a great choice, I learnt so much that I use every time I sew a garment now.

July – Again, a bit of an excuse month as I was busy every weekend. I bought preloved/vintage though, and reworked a Julien McDonald dress for my Roman holiday.

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August – ok, this was a fail month. I’ve hunted high and low and I can’t find a single stitchy thing to attribute to August.

September – maybe not clothes, but I made the clutch bags for the bridesmaids (myself included!) for one of my best friend’s weddings. I also went to a learn-to-knit evening from London Craft Club!

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October – I made a GBSB sleeveless shell top (very seasonal, I know, but I’m trying to use up my fabric stash!) on a Sunday afternoon, possibly the fastest sew from scratch. Also the first time I really used my dress form in earnest. I’ve also started to crochet a fair-isle inspired jumper.

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For November, I’ve signed up to Sew Over It‘s Ultimate Trousers workshop. I’m really looking forward to that because trousers are nearly impossible for me to buy fitting off the peg. The design is really nice, with a side zip and a bit of a vintage flair, and you come away from the workshop with a pair of trousers and fully fitted pattern!

So what’s the verdict? I’m a bit disappointed with myself that I didn’t manage to make more, but then again life has to be about balance. In the last six months I have also started a new relationship (around the time I started the challenge, in fact!), travelled to Brighton, Cornwall (twice), Durham, Rome and Portugal, been a bridesmaid, been to a vintage music festival, taken up Lindy Hop, and generally got on with everything else life brings!

The important thing is that embarking on this challenge has made me be critical of my purchasing (more so than even before), and I’m determined to keep sewing and improving my skills.

Here’s to the next six months!

#Wardrobe Challenge: New Look 6145 Sixties Mod dress

Ok so it’s the end of May and thanks to the bank holiday I just about snuck in this month’s Wardrobe Challenge handmade item.

The latest pattern to come with my Sew magazine subscription was Simplicity New Look’s 6145 – a variety of sixties dresses. This screamed out as perfect for the zany bright lime/daisy print fabric I bought way back in MARCH at the Knitting & Stitching show.
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According to my measurements I needed to make up a size US 18 – but having now done it I would size down as well as make a few other personal alterations – I already shortened the pattern by 2 inches, but my other notes include raising the bust dart, narrowing the neckline (as it currently sits out on my shoulders, which is an ok style but it’s not meant to do that!) and also somehow taking some volume out of the upper back, which is currently tending to bag a bit.
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As far as sewing goes, I found it relatively straightforward. I can’t say how much of that is the clarity of the pattern and how much my improving skills, a bit of both I suspect. Even making an unlined sleeveless version (E) and leaving out the additional neck interfacings (which seemed unecessary to me, as the pattern already takes account of facings using the main fabric), there were 20 stages in all. I think pattern tracing and altering took about 1.5 hours, fabric cutting another hour or so and I pretty much spent about 6 hours on construction and fitting.
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The fabric was very forgiving – it’s a no iron (although I did have to press seams under a cloth) and super easy to sew. I used chiffon for the collar and in hindsight should have thought to buy a metre as I needed the bias – another note for next time! It’s slightly bias cut, but not enough. I’m sure it would sit better if it was properly cut.
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I think this is the best finished of all the items I’ve made. I feel like I’m really starting to crack zips now, and I did use understitching for the facings (learnt in Celia Banks’ workshop). But I really need to work on fitting things better, because I’m not 100% happy with the fit of this even though I’ve tweaked things, it’s not fully fixable, and I already know that means I’ll turn aside to wear something else on numerous occasions (and maybe also because it IS a bit of a statement….!)
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Simple Sew Lottie Blouse

So month 1 of my wardrobe challenge is in motion, I’ve made April’s garment (and it’s only halfway through the month!)

The Pattern: Simple Sew Lottie Blouse, freebie with an issue of LoveSewing magazine
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The fabric: Blue viscose floral bought from the Knitting & Stitching show.
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Fortunately I had to make minimal pattern alterations on this one, I pretty much followed the size 14 pattern with the size 16 bust. The fabric was very forgiving to sew, the most annoying thing being its slipperiness both in piecing out and on the machine.

Construction was fairly straightforward. Essentially 1) darts 2) shoulders 3) neck binding 4) sleeves 5) close up sleeve and side seams 6) collar/necktie

I am not convinced I understood the neck binding and collar parts properly. I seem to have a spare bit of binding fabric – the pattern says cut 2 but only has instructions for sewing in one – and the second piece on its own wouldn’t be enough for binding the armholes on the sleeveless version. The pattern shows the binding only applied around the ‘keyhole’ of the blouse neckline, whereas I found it actually went up nearly as far as the collar itself. Then later when you apply the necktie, it appears that this forms the back collar and I stitched it to overlap and cover the ends of the binding. This seemed to be the only logical thing to do but I’m not sure it’s the neatest finish, as I have a raw edge on the inside of the collar at the back rather than it being properly bound in.
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If I made this again I think I would also close up the keyhole a bit, as it’s a bit deep for my tastes although the pussybow does a lot to help conceal that.

I believe this is meant to be quite loose fitting and that suits me for summer but again in a future incarnation I might bring in the sides and make it a tad more fitted.

I am quite please with the sleeves, this isn’t really something I have got to grips with much yet. I used a gathering technique learnt at Celia Banks’ workshop to help ease the tops into the armholes. The sew wasn’t perfect but it looks better from the outside than it does from the inside!!

I meant to post a video of some of the sewing here but I forgot the camera was on so there’s a lot of nothing…and at some point the battery died. I’ll have to do some editing to see what I can actually salvage!

#TheWardrobeChallenge

Ok, so over the last few weeks I’ve been mulling over some ideas, and I’ve now decided to set myself a challenge.

1) To make a garment a month from now on, until I run out of ideas/budget/wardrobe space

2) To not buy any new high street clothes unless it’s unavoidable (eg. bridesmaid dress which I don’t have the skills to make)

3) To gradually sell off pieces from my existing wardrobe that I replace or no longer wear

For quite some time now I have struggled to buy high street. Either I don’t like the fit, the style, the quality or the material, or all of the above, and that stays my hand at the till. The only new clothes in my wardrobe have been bought for me (Christmas, birthday) and although I do love and wear them, that doesn’t change my outlook.

Aside from the serious manufacturing practice ethics in play, I am also a great advocate of reuse and recycle. I genuinely love vintage fashion but even if I didn’t, I think I would be an advocate of vintage and second-hand shopping (whether that’s Brick Lane or eBay). We waste far too much as consumers and I very much disagree with “fast fashion”.

So it’s either make or buy second-hand from now on!

All of these ideals and ideas have culminated in my challenge above. I know it’s possible, but it will take determination.

I’m going to be blogging my challenge and posting youtube videos of my makes, but I’ll start out with a couple of intro posts. The next one will be on my new sewing machine, an investment that should enable me to make clothes with more finesse than my clunky Brother machine would have, and the follow-up will be a capsule summary of my current vintage / handmade wardrobe.

Wish me luck!