Sunday, 31 October 2021

A little black dress - for now

I am now the owner of a plain black velvet dress!

For someone who Doesn't Wear Black, this is a little odd. However, it's only a temporary state of affairs; the dress is due to be trimmed.

Having made up the bodice, the next stage was to make the skirt. The skirt of Butterick 5748 is full circle, made up of two semi-circles cut lengthwise from the fabric. Obviously, this wouldn't work with the velvet I was using - as well as the issues with the pile, the result would be impossibly heavy. Instead I decided to make a half-circle skirt consisting of six panels, which would keep the pile mostly pointing downwards. Then I remember that I'd moved the zip to the centre back, so the back panel had to be split into two to accommodate this.

I had to sew the skirt panels together from the narrow top to the wider bottom (in the direction of the pile), which is the opposite of what I would normally do. Fortunately the velvet has quite a thick, stable, base, so this didn't cause any stretching. I overlocked all the seam allowances, and then joined the skirt to the bodice. More by luck than judgement, the skirt panels match up to the darts.

Front darts and skirt seams

One thing which I haven't mentioned yet is The Fluff. It's an occupational hazard of working with velvet of course, but it gets everywhere, and there's so much of it. I was careful to brush out the overlocker after every seam, but when I neatened the bottom edge, which was the longest uninterrupted run of sewing, the accumulated bits of pile caused something to snarl up completely. Fortunately, the only damage was a very bent needle.


The zip was, as ever, hand-picked. However, I couldn't baste it into place first as I usually would, because this could mark the velvet. Instead, I basted it to the seam allowances only.

Back zip, darts and seams

As is obvious from the picture above, I haven't sewn the facings down yet. I need to be able to access all the dress in order to apply the trimmings. I also want to add a waist stay and hanging loops, to support the weight of the skirt both when worn and on the hanger.

Although there's more to be done, I did find myself with a wearable, plain black, dress on Samhain. Given that it's the one time of the year when my peely-wally Celtic colouring really lends itself to being photographed, it seemed silly not to.

Lighting candles

I never knew my staircase could look so scary!

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Sewing velvet (and a blast from the past)

I have bitten the bullet, and started the project with my latest UseNine2021 (realistically, now UseThree2021) fabric - a remnant of black cotton velvet.

It's been a while since I last sewed with velvet: almost 32 years in fact! With the blind optimism of youth, I made a party dress with a fitted velvet bodice and sleeves, and a full satin skirt with a sheer overlay. It turned out fine, but with hindsight it feels like, 'How many unwise fabric choices can I cram into one garment?'

This time, I'm making the entire dress out of velvet. Another fitted bodice, but no sleeves this time. I'm using Butterick 5748 as the starting point, with a modified neckline and the zip moved to the centre back.

I'm only using the bodice part

As I've made this before, I tried on the completed dress, made a note of what I wanted to change, and then drew out a new pattern. Velvet isn't known for its forgiving nature re unpicking mistakes, so I made a toile to be sure I was entirely happy. Then I started cutting out.

The first mistake came quite early. I was working with the fabric pile side down, as recommended in various sewing books, so it was only when I lifted up the first cut piece that I discovered that there was a fault in the velvet. The pile was really squashed for the first 30cm/12" of the remnant, so there was an obvious line across the piece.


Fortunately, I had only cut this one back piece, and I had plenty of fabric. I've used this as a tester for the construction techniques, so it wasn't a complete waste.

Everything I had read warned against using velvet for a dress with darts, and this bodice has six of them!

Darts a-plenty

The back darts sewed up perfectly. The only issue was that I had to sew from the point to the base, to go with the direction of the pile. I started about 1cm/½" down, left a long tail of thread, and sewed the point by hand. The vertical front darts were equally easy, as was the left horizontal dart. I began to wonder if the warnings about darts were overstated ('pride', 'fall', etc. etc.).

The right horizontal dart was a complete shocker. No matter what I did, how I pinned it, or which direction I sewed in, the fabric moved all over the place. After four attempts, mercifully without marking the velvet too much, I gave up and sewed it by hand. I used a stab stitch/back stitch mash-up, which held everything in place.

To minimise bulk, the darts were then cut open most of the way up, and pressed flat. I neatened the cut edges with a small blanket stitch. I also overcast the base of the dart to the edge of the main fabric, so that it wouldn't get chewed up when I overlocked the edge.

Dart finishing

Overlocking is definitely needed (done with the fabric pile side up, to stop the feed dogs from marking the velvet). Each side of a seam is finished separately, and I've also overlocked edges which won't be sewn for a while, to stop them from fraying too much due to handling. Of course, this means that any notches are removed, so I marked their position with tailor tacks first.

The facings are cut from satin I had in my stash, as velvet facings would be too bulky. They can't be pressed, so understitching will be vital to make them lie flat.

Facing, notch markings and overlocked edges

And that is as far as I've got, over several days. Not that I'm complaining. It's something different, and challenging, and interesting. As I've mentioned before on this blog, if I just stuck to quick and easy dresses, I would be in danger of simply replicating all the issues of fast fashion in my own workroom, albeit with more tea breaks and even lower wages. I sew because I enjoy sewing, not because I need clothes, so it makes sense to concentrate on making things which take time.

Finally . . . I was skimming through the BBC news website this morning, and noticed a link to an article about the actress Jodie Comer, complete with a small (literally, a few square centimetres) photo. And I immediately thought, "That blouse fabric looks familiar". A Google search turned up a larger image, and . . . yes, it's the same fabric as my frankenpatterned New Look 6184.

Two garments, one fabric

That was made in 2014, so either the fabric has been in production for a long time, or the blouse was also quite old. Sadly, the dress doesn't get a lot of wear any more as it was made before the Great Inflate, and is now a little snug around the bust. It was also made long before I became comfortable about posting pictures of myself, so as I'd dug it out to check the fabric, I took these shots showing it worn.

New Look 6184 (plus sleeves) #SewnShownSeated

So, what we have learned from this? Well, apparently the details of every fabric I have ever made clothes from can now be added to the list of unnecessary stuff taking up valuable space in my brain (along with the lyrics of questionable 80s pop songs and my old student id number) and crowding out important stuff like where I left my glasses, and why I went upstairs. Sigh.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Hat mending

The house reorganisation trundles slowly on. I must admit that I'm taking a bit of a scattergun approach - mainly because the job is so big that if I tried to plan it all out, I'd just give up altogether! Anyway, in the process of sorting out a shelf in my workroom, I found this.

It's a 1940s hat which I bought at a vintage fair some years ago. It was cheap, because it needed some (OK, quite a lot of) work.

The braid trim was coming loose . . .

Side view - the braid is attached loosely or not at all

. . . as was the stitching which had given it some shape.

There was once a stitched-down fold above the braid

In fact, there were odd bits of loose thread all over the place.

Some of the many loose threads

Inside was no better. The elastic was only attached at one side, and the petersham band was coming unstitched at the back . . .

The back of the petersham and the elastic, there is no label

. . . and the front . . .

The brim had stretched a bit where the petersham had come unstitched

. . . where there was also a hole in the felt.

It looks like a tear, rather than moths

I had thought about fixing the hat several times, but had given up because I couldn't work out what it should look like. Then today, the obvious finally dawned on me - it doesn't have to look exactly as it did when it was made, it just needs to look like a hat I want to wear. Duh!

It's an odd construction. The brim and the top of the crown are made from a heavy, quite coarse felt with a fair number of white hairs in it. However the lower part of the crown is made from a ring of a different, thinner, felt. This is joined to the brim with a narrow seam, but the two parts of the crown are butted together and joined with tiny stitches. I've no idea if this combination was used because the thinner felt was easier to manipulate, or if it was 1940s make-do-and-mend coming in to play. Or both.


I started with the obvious stuff; reattaching the petersham and the braid, and sewing up the hole. Then I had to think about the shaping. The remains of the stitching for the front pleat ended at the sides, but the markings in the felt showed that there had been some sort of fold all the way round.

Marks on the back, but absolutely no shaping left

I recreated the front pleat by following the remaining thread, and decided to sew a very narrow pleat round the rest of the crown. It doesn't show as a pleat, but just pulls the crown in a little.

Small but definite shaping at the back

Finally, I attached a new length of elastic, as the old one had perished. By the time I had done all this, it was too late to take photos of me wearing the end result, but I shall try to do so soon.

All neat inside, now

Sunday, 10 October 2021

New challenge

I really don't need another vintage sewing machine. But then, I don't 'need' more fabric (or a pattern for making a squirrel) either, and look where that got me.

I shouldn't have. But I did

I spotted this at the local auction last week, and fell in love with the colourful decals. Plus, I was intrigued by the unusual squared off shape of arm, and the layout around the feed dogs. But mostly, the decals.

Ooh, pretty!

Even the faceplate has decals

It took me a while to spot the serial number, as it is hidden round the back. Once I'd found it (R 887019), this site informed me that it was made in the first half of 1903, probably June. No wonder it looks a bit worn in places! I also discovered that it was a model 48K, which gave me access to lots more information, including the manual. It's a shuttle machine (unlike my 1917 Singer 99K, which takes the familiar round bobbins) and, unusually, the shuttle goes from side to side rather than front to back - see the picture above.

According to this site, the 48K was produced as a cheap machine, using technology which was even then out of date. Clydebank appears to be the sole Singer factory which made it, and then only in limited numbers. It was not heavily promoted by Singer, and didn't even appear in sales brochures. It cost four pounds (£498 today), or four pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence with the bentwood cover (£576). By comparison the 28K, which was the cheapest machine which Singer actually advertised, was five pounds and fifteen shillings (£716).

My machine has a bentwood case - clearly the original owner decided to splash out the extra twelve and six!

It needs some attention

The case fastens with a latch which drops over a knob on the base, which is then turned to secure it in place. There is even a key which locks the knob in the horizontal position. It seems a lot more secure than the little internal latch on the 99K, but I'm still not sure I would trust it for carrying long distances.

Locking mechanism and key

I must admit, my original intention was just to clean it up a bit, and have it as an ornament. I'm in the (long) process of reorganising my house, and have an empty shelf on which it would fit nicely. But . . . The shuttle mechanism contains a threaded spool (which I'm leaving in place until I'm confident I know how to replace it!), the handwheel turns smoothly, and the feed dogs work. Oh, and despite being 118 years old, it uses 'modern' machine needles. There seemed no harm in threading the machine up and seeing if it worked. You can see where all this is going, can't you?!

Not going to lie - this bit is scary!

The first thing I noticed is that the base is much lower than that of my bobbin machines - 45mm/1¾" instead of 75mm/3". I’m short-waisted, so I have to sit on a princess-and-the-pea style arrangement of cushions to feel that I'm at a reasonable position relative to the 99K. That 30mm difference makes it a far more comfortable height. And, it does work. The tension needs some attention, but that's hardly surprising. Even the spool winder works with a bit of coaxing - which is just as well really. I can fill round bobbins on my modern electric machine, but winding spools is another matter.

The winder, with an empty spool in place

So now, it's gone from being an ornament which just needed dusting and a wipe down to a something which I want to restore to fully usable order. I've seen some beautifully shiny 48Ks online, but even if I had the skills for that level of restoration, it's not for me. This is a working machine, and I want its appearance to reflect its long, useful, life. For example I love the way that thread has worn a tiny groove in the lacquer at the bottom of the faceplate.

Worn away by years of slight pressure

It does need a very good clean, though. There is a pungent whiff of years of caked-on oil, and the metal parts are all very brown. Initially I assumed that it was rust, but following a suggestion I found online (and there is a wealth of information out there on restoring old machines), I wondered if it might just be dirt and tarnish.

And it was. To illustrate just how much dirt and tarnish is involved, here is a cotton bud after I'd wiped off the seventh application of cleaner/polish.


Cleaning this one piece took me all morning, and a lot of elbow grease, but you can see the difference.

Guess which side I'd cleaned

It's going to be a long job, and it's something far more mechanical than I'd usually do, and out of my comfort zone. But, I was looking for a winter project other than sewing, and this also works as a tribute to my dad. He was handy at DIY and also an accomplished model-maker, and would have had this fixed in no time. I shall be feeling my way far more than he would have been, but hopefully I have picked up a few of his skills along the way.

Sunday, 3 October 2021


No sewing this week (apart from the proper shoulder pads for my latest Vogue 2787, which is hardly exciting). My excuse is that I've been busy with other things but really, I'm putting off starting a project which I've wanted to do for a while, but which I know will be very challenging - possibly to the point of failure.

Probably a bad idea, for many reasons

So instead, here's a post about a few things which have arrived in the workroom recently.

I had a day out to Liverpool last week. Other than various hospitals, it's the furthest I've been for months - and a great deal more fun. It was the perfect combination of somewhere different, but also somewhere familiar. Although I was going to a museum, I just happened to pop into John Lewis en route. The fabric/knitting/haberdashery section has been banished to the top floor and is tiny, but somehow I still came out with a whopping seven metres of fabric!

How did this happen? Well, a couple of weeks ago, I fell in love with this dress in Fantouche Vintage.

You can take the girl out of the 80s, but . . . Images © Fantouche Vintage

I would prefer just below knee-length, but I really liked the clean lines and the way that the beading is in toning colours and just on the tops of the sleeves. Plus, the gunmetal colour is perfect for someone who Doesn't Wear Black. Unfortunately, it was a UK size 10, and I am not. However, I reasoned that I could frankenpattern the design, and I still have an extensive stash of beads from my days of making dance costumes. All I needed was fabric. (Oh, and a reason to wear the end result. All this rather overlooks the minor detail that I never go 'out' out these days, but never mind!) Amazingly, John Lewis's less-than-extensive collection of fabrics included a grey peachskin which looked like a possibility.

It turned out to be perfect. Shown with beads from my stash.

The lighting in the store was atrocious for checking colours, so I had to lug the bolt over to the prams section, which was the only part of the entire floor with a window. On the way back, I spotted the 'reduced' stand, and this fabric caught my eye.

With a well-disguised 6" ruler for scale

I've no idea what I'll use it for, and it's satin, which I'll doubtless live to regret, but I decided that I would regret not buying it even more.

I doubt if this is going to turn positive by 31 December

Thankfully for the state of The Stash, my other purchases have been patterns, not fabric.

It's been a while since my slip-making adventures at the start of the year, but I want to make more, especially from different periods. Which is how I came to buy this.

1930s slip pattern from Simplicity

The seller's description just said "1930s", so I looked it up on the Commercial Pattern Archive. It's from 1934 but oddly, there were two versions of it (image taken from Etsy).

Same pattern, same number, different illustration

The figures differ, but the slips remain pretty much the same. A second view has been added on my version, along with two extra pattern pieces.

The pattern pieces in my version

However, it looks as though this view could have been made from the original pattern, by following one of the sets of perforations on the pattern pieces.

The slip can be "cut straight across" - image from Etsy

Finally, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Two long-running themes on this blog are 1979 Style patterns, and "squirrel" projects. Which are perfectly combined in this.

Meta squirrel! Style 2778, from 1979

Yes, my workroom is going to look faintly bizarre with a furry squirrel in it, but I fear that at some point it has to be done!