Sunday, 28 March 2021

An emergency blouse, and back to black

I had my first Covid-19 jab on Monday - woohoo! In honour of the occasion (and let's face it, any excuse to go out is worth making an effort for at present), I decided to follow the examples of @susanyoungsewing and @daisycreatesglam and dress up in me-made clothing for the occasion. But there was a problem. It's too cold for any of my sleeveless summer dresses at present, and a check of my wardrobe two days before my appointment confirmed that I own no sleeveless tops, either me-made or bought.

Of course, the only solution was to make one. A search through my patterns turned up this one, which I've wanted to make for a while because I love the neckline on views B and C. It's the right size as well, which was handy as I didn’t have time for regrading.

Style 1195, late 50s/early 60s?

Finding fabric was tricky. Because I mostly make dresses, I tend to buy my fabric in dress lengths, and using part of a dress length to make a blouse seemed wasteful. Fortunately, I discovered a piece of cotton which I'd acquired when my mum had a destash and which was, despite a tear at one end and a printing error at the other, just long enough for making a sleeveless version of the top.

This medium-weight cotton was perfect

I also found that I had three buttons which were a perfect match for the gold accents in the print, so decided to make a sleeveless version of view B.

Usually I read through the pattern instructions before starting a project but, because it was a simple design and I was short of time, this time I just ploughed straight in (you immediately know that this was a bad idea, don't you?!). It's a printed pattern, and views A, B and C use the same pattern pieces. They had already been cut out to make a sleeved version of view A, so I traced off shortened versions of the front and back with the view B neckline, and also cut out the armhole facing pieces.

Everything went together very easily until I came to attach the completed armhole facings, at which point I discovered that they were far smaller than the armholes they were meant to face. It was only at this point that I looked at the pattern envelope properly, and discovered my mistake. There are two cutting lines for the armhole, the version for sleeves is the larger one, and the pattern had been cut to this.

If only I'd looked at this properly . . .

The bodice front piece for views D and E was uncut, and this shows the different cutting lines clearly.

. . . or this

The unintentional armhole shape didn't look bad when the top was worn, but enlarging it by the 1.5cm/⅝" of a seam allowance all round might have made it too big. So instead of drafting new facings, I used the bias binding method used for New Look 6643 - fortunately I had some wide white binding in my stash.

Problem solved

The buttons are the right diameter for the pattern, but with very chunky rims, so any buttonholes would have had to be huge for them to fit through. Instead, I just sewed the buttons on and fastened the blouse with snaps.

Perfect, if chunky, buttons

The pattern has darts at the waist, tapering to the hem. I didn't have time to do these before wearing the blouse on Monday morning, and I still can't decide whether or not to bother with them. I quite like to have the option to wear the blouse untucked, and loose and boxy. For my jab, I wore it tucked in and with a belt. And I got a sticker!

Spot the "I've had my Covid jab" sticker!

I wore the blouse with the black and white skirt that I made a couple of years ago, and it was fine, but as I was getting dressed I thought, "What this top really needs is a black skirt". Hardly a radical thought for most people, but a quick glance through the gallery pages of this blog will show that I Don't Wear Black. My graduation gown a year ago was the most black I've worn since Mr Tulip's funeral, and even that felt a bit odd. But, yesterday marked seven years since Mr Tulip died, and for the first time the concept of making and wearing something in that colour didn't seem impossible. When looking for blouse fabric, I had come across some black fabric which I acquired when a friend's mum had a destash, and it's currently on my worktable being made into a skirt. Progress can take many forms, not all of them obvious.

Update: 31/03/2021
The skirt is now complete; lined, and constructed with an internal waistband of curved petersham - a new technique for me and a look which I've discovered I really like. (So when the shops reopen I will now be forced, forced you understand, to visit my local fabric shop purely to stock up on curved petersham!) Here is is with the blouse loose and tucked in, and an updated Stashometer.

I think I'll keep the option to wear it untucked

Another 3.2m used in total

Sunday, 21 March 2021


Blogger tells me that this is my 500th blog post - blimey! I can't believe that I've been here since January 2012, and writing a regular Sunday post since 2013. This seems to call for something a bit more appropriate than a latest-dress-project-update post, and fortunately this week I've been working on a side project which fits the bill nicely.

This week's work

I don't know if other people do this, but I tend to take notes as I'm working - jotted down measurements, reminders of something I will need to do later on, that sort of thing. Usually these are scribbled on a piece of A6, or the back of an envelope, or whatever comes to hand. It's not pretty - papers get lost or accidentally put out in the recycling before they are finished with, and if I have written on multiple pieces of paper than the one I need is always, always the last one I pick up!

I hadn't really given this unsatisfactory method a lot of thought until Jen Thompson, who blogs as Festive Attyre, posted a picture of one of her notebooks on Instagram. As well as making stunning costumes Jen collects, and uses, vintage cameras. She keeps all her notes on the quirks and details of each camera in a beautifully illustrated notebook, and at this point it finally dawned on me that a notebook for my sewing projects would be a Good Idea.

I did have a suitable notebook already but unfortunately, it wasn't exactly aesthetically pleasing.

Functional, but boring

Fortunately, also on Instagram, @wendyadamsedin has been posting pictures of the amazing notebooks and folders she has been making on a bookbinding course, and this gave me the idea to make a cloth cover for mine. Ages ago I had acquired a piece of Liberty lawn which was too small to be of much use and too pretty to throw away, and this was the perfect chance to finally use it. I selected some matching embroidery threads, and found a mystery piece of home-made bias binding which was ideal for the spine (I eventually worked out that it was leftover from the neckline of my peacock dress).

Gathering supplies - the binding was just the right length

The fabric was so thin that I had to line it with some white cotton, and used a leftover piece for the embroidered label. I embroidered the letters in stem stitch first, then did a running stitch oval around this, and laced the two shades of orange through the stitches.

Lettering and outline

Adding decoration

There are no 'in progress' pictures of the cover itself because I didn't really follow a process; it was more a case of wrapping the cloth round the book, pinning it in place, then trimming off the excess and sewing the end result together.

The page keeper was made from two circles of scrap buckram covered in fabric, lightly stuffed and sewn together, with a plaited cord of the embroidery flosses sewn into this and the cover.

I really like this little detail

And here is the end result. All my notes in one place, a cover which can be removed and slipped onto another notebook (I do have a spare) once this one is eventually filled - and all done with bits and pieces I already had. Result!

Front and back views

It's being used already

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Hack it or draft it - part 1, research and planning

Q. What do you do after you have finished a dress which gave you all sorts of problems with its construction because you chose to use a really awkward fabric?

A. Obviously, you start another dress in much the same fabric!

This quarter's challenge for the Sew A Vintage Style Dress Community is 'Hack It or Draft It' - either draft your own pattern, or take an existing one and alter it. I'm doing a bit of both, converting the blouse of Vintage Vogue pattern 2859 (now out of print) into a dress. And I'm going to use one of my #UseNine2021 fabrics for it; the very slippery, very drapey, teal satin. What could possibly go wrong?!

Vintage Vogue 2859, the blouse

I made this in 2014. I've still got it, and I still like it, but I never wear it because it is so short and rides up. Judging from the images I found when I googled the pattern number, several people dealt with this issue by adding length to the blouse below the waist tie.

Note the gaps between bouse and skirt

On closer inspection of the pattern envelope illustrations, it's apparent that it was intended to be worn over the dress, not as a standalone blouse.

The black 'skirt' is actually the slip dress

The blouse has darts at the front, a wrapover back, and ties at the front. The right back goes under the left, with the tie going through a bound buttonhole.

Blouse front and back

I have decided that I don't want to just extend the top to dress length and rely on the ties to shape it, instead my plan is to make a darted skirt attached to the front and the right back, with a side fastening on the left (not my preferred option for side opening, but necessary this time) and a waist stay to hold it in place. The left back will still wrap over, and tie at the front.

Cue dropping down the rabbit hole of research. At this point I should stress that my intention is to make a '1930s-inspired' dress from the pattern, rather than something strictly period accurate, so I have a lot more freedom to pick and choose design elements. CoPA has a good selection of 1935 dress patterns, which were my starting point, plus I have a couple of 1930s copies of Vogue Pattern Book. One feature which I liked was skirts with a centre front panel rather than a centre seam.

Vogue dress patterns featuring centre panel skirts

Some styles have flared skirts, like this Butterick pattern in my collection, while others are straight with pleats at the bottom. Some only have one front pleat (or even, only one front seam) to give a faux wrap effect - these usually have a further pleat at the centre back.

Butterick 7598, 1937

McCall 8350, 1935, from Etsy

I've decided to go for a hybrid approach, with two seams, but only one front pleat. The seams will (I hope!) line up with the centre one of the three pleats on the bodice. Then, while looking through "1930s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook" by Charlotte Fiell and Emmanuelle Dirix (currently out of print, but possibly due to be reissued later this year), I found this illustration.

La Mode Illustrée, 1932

I really like the idea of the offset, rather than central, tie.

Design decided upon, it was time to create the pattern. The only change I've made to the Vogue blouse is altering the back piece so that it comes all the way across to the side seam. The skirt is based on my standard skirt pattern, lengthened, widened to give a hem circumference similar to that of Vogue 8686, and with the front split into panels. I need one side panel with a vent, one side panel without a vent, and a centre piece with a vent on one side only (which means that it can't be cut out on the fold, but needs a complete pattern piece).

The fabric I'm using is a remnant, and finding a way to fit all the pieces onto the material available stretched even my pattern tetris skills to the very limit! It doesn't help that the bodice pieces are really odd shapes. In the end, I had to make rough scale drawings of all the pattern pieces and play around with different placements.

My cutting layout creation method

As usual when fabric is limited, it all had to be cut from a single layer of fabric. The fabric selvedges were very tightly woven, causing the satin to pucker, so I had to snip into them to get it to lie flat. Of course, this slightly reduced the width available to work with. I cut the bodice pieces first, on the basis that I could shorten the skirt if necessary, but couldn't really shorten the bodice if I ran out of cloth!

Cutting out the first bodice pieces

I had to check, double-check and triple-check that I had all the different-shaped skirt pieces laid out the right way round before I cut them out. Even with all my planning, I was hugely relieved to discovered that my layout worked, and all the pieces fitted on the fabric. The ties will be cut out later, once I know how the dress hangs together and what dimensions they need to be.

Simply cutting out the nine pattern pieces took a long time, and really emphasized how tricky this fabric is to work with. I must admit that I'm beginning to have very grave doubts about the chances of this project being a success, but there's only one way to find out . . .

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Fixing Butterick 5997

Back in February 2019 I posted about making Butterick 5997 and the problems with the finished article, namely the absurd amount of overlap on the cuffs and the alarmingly low front. (There was no doubt about the cuffs, but I wondered if I was being overly fussy about the front, so I asked a friend for a second opinion - her response of, "Blimey, I see what you mean", convinced me that I wasn't being fussy!)

The cuffs were far too wide for me, hence the massive overlap

The low-cut front, with a tee-shirt underneath

I vaguely thought about trying to fix it, but other projects always claimed precedence, so it just hung on a hanger for the better part of two years.

The catalyst for doing something about it was that I recently read Overdressed, by Elizabeth L. Cline (thanks for the recommendation, Juliana), about fast fashion. While I don't buy many clothes nowadays, Cline's exhortation to fully utilize the clothes you own - either by wearing them or passing them on to charity, did make me think about my unworn top. At the same time I read somewhere that charity shops in the UK can't resell handmade clothes because they lack the legally-required composition labelling, so just sell them on for scrap. I don’t know if this is true, but the risk of my top being shredded for seat stuffing struck me as a criminal waste of Tana Lawn, so there was no option but to finally fix it.

The cuffs were relatively straightforward. I calculated that there was 1¼" of excess fabric beyond the button, so I cut off the button, unpicked the cuff from the sleeve, thanked past Ms Tulip for not trimming the seam allowances to nothing, shortened the cuff, pleated up the excess sleeve width, reattached the cuff and reattached the button. There was already a pleat at the buttonhole end of the cuff, and I was sorely tempted to create a matching pleat at the button end so that I wouldn’t have to unpick the whole cuff. But if a job's worth doing . . . . Regretfully, I decided that there was no point replacing something which annoyed me with something else which annoyed me slightly less, and did the job properly. There are now two pleats at the buttonhole end.

The fixed cuff, with pleats (plural)

The only possible solution for the low front was to make an infill piece. I did consider making it from leftovers of the fabric, but decided that it would look odd. So instead I made it from scraps of plain white cotton left over from my Victorian underwear.

The first job was to work out the size of the new piece. The top is pull-on, and there would be no point in carefully making and attaching the infill, only to discover that I couldn't get the end result over my head! Once this was decided, a 'pattern' was made by laying a piece of tissue inside the top in the correct position, drawing along the finished edge, and then adding an allowance for the overlap. I hand-pintucked a piece of the cotton, and added some tiny purple buttons. Next, I sewed on another piece of cotton along the top edge, right sides together, and folded it over. This created a neat edge, and also made the insert less flimsy. I marked the outer edge of the pattern with a frixion pen, and machined the two pieces together.

Making the insert from cotton scraps

I had considered unpicking the neckline of the top and fitting the insert between the top and the facing, but this seemed a step too far. Instead I overlocked the edges of the insert, and sewed it onto the facing, close to the edge.

The attached insert, from the inside . . .

. . . and from the outside

It's fortunate that the print of the fabric is quite old-fashioned looking, so the insert doesn't look entirely out of place. Also, I think that sewing the pieces together as close to the blouse edge as possible helps to make the insert look like part of the top rather than something worn underneath.

Wearing the updated top

I doubt if this will ever be a 'favourite' top, but it has a lot of design features which I like, and I will, now, finally, get some wear out of it. It’s always very tempting to just move from one shiny, exciting new project to the next one but as with the 'Meh' skirt, I did find taking the time to finally fix this a surprisingly satisfying job.

The side view makes it clearer that the insert isn't a separate garment