Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Last minute cocktail dress

I was packing away my summer clothes on the weekend now that our weather has finally cooled down, and I came across a cocktail dress I made for the Sydney Frocktails back in February. I wanted to post it because honestly this fabric is just sumptuous and I think the dress looks fab.


I bought this fabric from a high end fabric store in Sydney during their closing down sale late last year - at 50% off this fabric was still $80/m so it's definitely one of the more expensive fabrics I've bought. But it's worth it because it's so beautiful. It's a dark navy blue silk/wool blend in a crinkle texture, with metallic gold and bronze flowers woven in to the fabric with a very soft hand and luxurious sheen to it.


Because the fabric is the real star here, I wanted to keep the dress shape quite simple. Reaching far back into my Burda archives I chose this vintage cocktail dress from the November 2007 issue (11/2007 #125):

I really wanted to do a full skirt, but because this fabric was so expensive and at the time I bought it I didn't have a specific pattern in mind I just didn't haven't enough fabric. Wah! Why didn't I spend just that little bit extra at the time? So I swapped out the pleated skirt for a fitted pencil skirt (just franken-patterned the skirt pattern from my beloved New Look 6968) and it worked just fine.


As with nearly all of my projects made for a specific occasion, this was rushed at the last minute and I took some regrettable short-cuts. I made this the weekend before Frocktails, which was also the weekend before I spent the whole week at Susan Khaljie's French jacket course, so I had no time for a muslin. The bodice turned out a little too tight, so I had to let out the seams and the darts a little to make it fit which was annoying because the original sewing lines didn't really press out properly. Thankfully the fabric is quite dark so it's not too noticeable but if I had made a muslin I could have avoided it.

While I was sewing it, I just knew I should have underlined the fabric with organza because the fabric had a lot of stretch. But because I didn't have any organza, I just forged ahead instead of going to buy some which I totally regret. The fabric 'grew' after wearing it for a while, and the neckline, which is already quite wide, stretched out and kept slipping off my shoulders. That also meant the pleats on the shoulder aren't very noticeable and the sleeves sit quite awkwardly:


The funny thing is I received many compliments on the night about the neckline, and I suppose it did showcase my very inexpensive costume jewellery quite well!

I do like the low v-neck at the back neckline too - it really suits the overall style of the dress:


The interesting thing about this pattern is the diamond shaped gussets in the armpit, which forms the underpart of the sleeve. These aren't very common in patterns these days, and of course Burda's instructions left me scratching my head. Thankfully, Sheryll over at Pattern Scissors Cloth has made this dress in 2011 and posted a series of detailed posts which were very helpful in figuring out how to sew this dress.

Aside from those gussets, the rest of the dress was really easy to make. In fact the hardest part was trying to press the seams without flattening the fabric too much, I ended up using lots of steam and just finger pressing the seams because the iron on the fabric removed that lovely crinkly texture.

For the night I went all out on the gold - gold high heeled sandals, a gold belt, a gold clutch purse and of course those gold earrings & necklace. I'm not usually one to go over the top on accessories but it was a special night so I figured why not?


The night itself was fantastic - a room full of fellow sewers, cocktails in hand, fondling fabric and talking about sewing. It got pretty loud but it was loads of fun, especially meeting people in real life that I've been following through their blogs or instagram. Caz over at UsefulBox did an amazing job of not only organising the night but also assembling a huge amount of lucky door prizes. Her lovely husband even took amazing photos of us all on the night, including this one of me below (before I had too many drinks!)

image via UsefulBox.com

So it's because I love this dress so much, that I'm going to carefully unpick the seams and make it properly. This means steaming the fabric to make it shrink back to the original size, underlining the dress with silk organza and lining the dress. And then I'm going to make my husband to take me out to a fancy cocktail bar in the city so I have another excuse to wear it again because I know that for next year's Frocktails I'll probably make another last minute dress and I don't want this lovely dress to sit unworn in the cupboard!



Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Burda of the month: 2/2017 #108 cropped jacket

I've been very slow in starting my Burda challenge this year - here we are in the middle of April already and I haven't posted a single project yet. But I recently finished a project from the January issue, today started on a project from the March issue and am now posting my February project so I'm catching up.

From the February issue I made this cropped jacket:


It's the pattern on the cover, 2/2017 #108 boucle jacket:

Image via Burda Style
Since I am about 90% finished making a black and white boucle jacket with trim I decided not to use boucle fabric or any trim. Instead, I used a woven black and white fabric that I bought from The Fabric Store a few months ago, and placed the front placket and shoulder bands on a different grain in place of using any trim.


Burda wasn't joking when they describe this as a cropped jacket. I am long waisted and tend to add a few centimetres/an inch to the bottom of my bodices when using Burda but I completely forgot to do with this jacket. Even with the tiniest of hems this jacket finishes at my waist. It's also quite boxy, which makes the back in particular swing out which you can see in the photo below:


I was tempted to take in the jacket along the front and back princess seams and the centre back seam to get a close fit, but I think the boxy look suits the cropped length better so I just left it loose fitting. Even though it looks a bit sloppy in the photo below, in real life I think it looks ok (and I can't see the back anyway):


But there's always something that we don't quite like about our projects isn't there? I'm a bit annoyed at myself for the zipper treatment at the front - I couldn't find a zipper that was quite long enough, and instead of searching a few more stores I decided to make it work by leaving a few centimetres at the top and the bottom of zip as a 'design feature'. Well, I don't think it works and it looks terrible especially at the top. So when I do track down the right length zip I will take it out and replace it because this looks really homemade in the worst possible way:


So, apart from that zipper I really like this jacket. It is an easy pattern to sew, although my fabric has a slight bit of stretch and tended to shift around a bit which made it difficult to align those stripes. I ended up dong a bit of hand stitching to keep them matched which helped to line them up even across the front princess seam. The one benefit of being flat chested is that the princess seam curve is rather gentle which makes it possible to match those stripes!


When I wore this to work last week I received so many compliments so clearly it's a winner. I recommend if you're planning to make this jacket to check the finished length to make sure it's right for you because it surely is short. Luckily this length works with this high waisted pencil skirt I'm wearing, because I really dislike having a small bit of top poking out at the waistline.

And now to get my March project finished before the April issue arrives in my letterbox, fingers crossed I can catch up before it's too late and the year gets away from me.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Psssst! Wanna win a Baby Lock overlocker?

The Australian Sewing Guild is once again running its Castaway to Couture sewing competition and this year's first prize is an Eclipse DX overlocker from Baby Lock Australia. All you have to do is refashion a garment (or garments) into something new, take a photo and you're in with a chance!

Last year I entered my refashion of a big dowdy grey wool pleated skirt into a fitted sheath dress (posted here):


Even though I didn't win last year (I got one of the runner up prizes) I still got a great dress out of the process that I wear quite a lot, so that's a winner in my books.

Thankfully I already have a Baby Lock overlocker because this year I'm all out of inspiration! Nothing is 'speaking' to me and I haven't found anything to refashion, so I don't think I'll enter. But the competition is running until the 31 May 2017 so it's not too late for any of you reading along to enter though. You don't have to be an ASG member to enter, but you do need to live in Australia or New Zealand.

I'm not sponsored by the ASG in any way (just a happy member) or Baby Lock Australia (just a happy owner) - I just wanted to share the sewing love around. Those Baby Lock overlockers are amazing - the jet air threading and self regulating tension reduced my sewing frustrations hugely.

Good luck to all of you who enter!


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Butterick 5600: the business shirt turned dress(y)

I'm slowly making my way through the hoard of fabrics that I acquired last year (which I confessed to here in this post). This time I used a cotton shirting fabric that I bought from My Hung fabrics in Parramatta to make a shirt dress:


This pattern is Butterick 5600, which is now OOP, but I think is a great pattern:


I've made this once before in a black and white floral print cotton back in 2012 which I still wear frequently during summer. I can't believe it's been so long since I last made this pattern because every summer I think I should make another one but it only took me 5 years! I still have the green sandals I'm wearing in this photo below, so clearly I still like this look.


I took care to match the plaids at the front bands, but I deliberately cut the neck bands on the bias to get some contrast. I couldn't quite achieve those stripes on the sleeves to line up though, but as we all know no-one else ever notices these things!


It was a bit more tricky to align the stripes on the back though because of the centre pleat in the bodice - I tried to ease the fabric in as much as possible so you can some slight puckers in the yoke but the dominant stripes are nearly aligned:


The only thing I didn't like on my original version of this dress is the sleeve - it has the sleeve tabs but the sleeves aren't actually long enough to fold up. So on this pattern I lengthened the sleeves so I could fold it back to form a cuff at the elbow.


The other slight change I made was to lower the casing for the waistband tie slightly because I do prefer to wear my clothes slightly lower than my natural waistline and it reduces the puffiness of fabric that I get in the small of my back in the black and white version.


It was only after taking these photos that I noticed that the stripe in the waistband casing isn't straight! It's not too noticeable when I'm wearing it though


The waistband tie at this level feels really comfortable and looks great, but I didn't think about how it would look when seated. When I sit down, the waistband rises slightly and puffs out at the front: 


But despite these minor issues overall I love this dress, and have worn it quite frequently in the last few weeks. It's pretty quick to make, although it does have quite a lot of buttons down the front which took a bit of time to sew on.

The cotton shirting fabric tends to wrinkle a little bit, but it was wonderful to wear during our atrociously hot summer days and the high neckline and sleeves covers me up from too much sun exposure so it's pretty much my perfect summer dress. With some flat shoes it works quite well for casual days, but with a navy jacket and heels I've worn it to work as well.



Thursday, 9 March 2017

Something quick, cheery and simple


After that intensive week of couture sewing with Susan Khaljie, I needed something quick and simple. Also, at that time were having crazy heatwave conditions and I needed something light and airy to avoid a major sweat induced meltdown. Ironically, the day I took these photos it's raining and rather cold but I have worn this skirt quite a bit in the previous two weeks when it was super hot.

Enter Butterick 5441, a pattern that I picked in a opshop some time ago that has been sitting in my stash waiting to be used. I thought this style is a bit 1980s, but according to the vintage patterns wikia it may actually be 1970s instead. The fabric is a gorgeous golden yellow cotton that I picked up from the last Sydney Spoolettes fabric swap day generously donated by Stephanie. Yes - I used one of those many fabrics I amassed late last year! I even had a yellow zip in the stash also picked up from an opshop, so an all round cheap and cheerful project.


This is a very simple skirt pattern - a lightly gathered skirt, a straight waistband and some side pockets. All sewn on the sewing machine with nary a handstitch other than sewing a button on! However, in my haste to make this skirt I knew I was making a fundamental error. A straight waistband does not suit my body shape at all and never fits properly. I was deluding myself that I could wear this slung low on my hips and that it wouldn't matter, but you can see in the photo below that the waistband dips terribly:


So I did a quick and easy fix by inserting some elastic through the waistband. The waistband is slightly gathered now but I don't think it will be terribly noticeable and now it sits in a much better place.


The back of the skirt is lightly gathered and the zip is in the side seam, so it really is a simple project to sew.


This is a new length for me - normally I hem my skirts at the knee, or slightly above but I thought I'd try this ballerina length. And I quite like it!


And before you ask, no I haven't finished the Frnech style jacket. Nearly there, I've mostly got the trim on, but need to do the pockets and finish the lining. Oh and sew on the buttons. A bit more than I thought actually!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Half finished little French jacket

Six days of uninterrupted sewing, surrounded by beautiful fabrics, away from household responsibilities and sewing with a renowned expert sounds like the dream doesn't it? In reality it's exhausting! I spent all of last week doing the French jacket sewing course with Susan Khaljie and despite sewing from 8am to 6pm everyday I still didn't finish it. I don't have much left to do - I need to hunt down some trim to finish sewing on my jacket, put on the buttons and pockets and hand stitch the lining closed. Getting close though!

black and white boucle French jacket www.loweryourpresserfoot.blogspot.com

This pattern is Susan's own pattern, which apparently is drafted exactly like a Chanel jacket with a close fitting body, high neckline and a three piece sleeve with a jutting out sleeve vent so you can attach that eponymous trim:

image via susankhaljie.com
Work on this jacket started well before the course though, I made three muslins before the course and still found that a lot of fitting tweaks were still needed:



You can see in the above photos that it's too wide for me and there's excess fabric around the armscye. However, a few minutes with Susan and the excess is all pinned out:



One side has been fitted but not the other, which is why I look so lopsided in the above photos. The calico actually becomes the pattern pieces, so after this I pulled apart all the seams, pinched out the excess and got down to sewing the jacket. So why does it take so long to make such a simple jacket?

Well, there's a lot of hand stitching involved - the lining pieces at every seam line are hand sewn shut, and the sleeves are sewn in by hand too. There was also continual fitting checks, because the traditionally used fabric of tweed and boucle are loosely woven and behave quite differently to calico. Here I am part way through with the body done but not the sleeves:

black and white boucle French jacket www.loweryourpresserfoot.blogspot.com

Some of the ladies in my class were sewing with the most beautiful Chanel fabrics that cost hundreds of dollars per metre and were ordered specially from Mendel Goldberg in New York. My fabric on the other hand, came from The Fabric Store during their recent sale and is an interesting wool/polyester mix but certainly wasn't very expensive. It seems to have black and white bobbly yarn topstitched to the fabric, so it's quite a textural fabric and is quite lofty which meant that the quilting stitches sank right into the fabric and are invisible.

black and white boucle French jacket www.loweryourpresserfoot.blogspot.com

Finding trim and buttons though is quite the challenge. It's the key aspect of a jacket like this, and there are only a few stores scattered throughout the city and suburbs selling it which means it's quite a hunting expedition. I managed to find some white grosgrain ribbon that had been folded origami style from Tessuti, but I am still on the hunt for some narrow trim to go down the centre of the white ribbon because it looks a little plain.

black and white boucle French jacket www.loweryourpresserfoot.blogspot.com

So even though I didn't finish the jacket (actually no one in the course did), I've certainly learnt so much. Whilst I think my sewing skills are fairly advanced, I'm a very functional sewer and in no way is anything I make couture - I like to do as little hand sewing as possible! However, I have come to realise that a beautiful inside of a garment which neat hand stitches is a thing of beauty and that precision sewing after making muslins does result in a great outcome.

If you ever get the opportunity to do a course with Susan Khaljie I can highly recommend it - sure it's expensive but she has so much knowledge to pass on. But if not, I hear her video is very informative as well. I am now about to do a two day skills and techniques course with her, where I will no doubt discover how shoddy my techniques are and how much I have yet still to learn....

Saturday, 4 February 2017

New Look 6968 - an old fave.....

Making multiple fitting muslins without getting much closer to a well fitting jacket is hugely frustrating and quite boring if I'm being honest. So to break up the monotony and frustration, I decided to whip out a TNT pattern using one of my recent fabric purchases.


Enter New Look 6968 (now OOP), a simple sheath dress with a few interesting options but most importantly a seam at the waist which is perfect for fitting adjustments for my swayback:


I've used this pattern many times over the last 5 or so years (see here, here, herehere or here for proof!). Sadly, all my previous versions seem to have shrunk in the wardrobe in the last year and are currently a little too snug to wear so it was out of necessity and not just procrastination that I made this latest version.

This fabric is Tessuti's Bamboozled which is a lovely cotton/elastene that I bought recently from their Surry Hills store. After a pre-wash it didn't lose any of it's deep blue colour, crispness and nor did it shrink. I had bought it planning to make a pencil skirt, but because it was quite wide I managed to just eek this dress out.


Because of my recent weight gain experience of clothes inexplicably shrinking, I decided to cut out a size larger than I normally use - a 10 bust, 12 waist and 14 hips. However I don't think the extra width was really needed due to the stretch in the fabric, because overall the dress feels a little big and a little frumpy. There's a bit too much ease at my bust line (my weight never goes there!), and around the waistline, but I think the main problem is that the skirt is straight and boxy. I think I might take it in at the side seams a little to make it more pegged and perhaps make it a bit shorter so it sits just above my knee:


The side and back view looks ok though, those darts at the waist really help get a snug fit at my swayback:



And check out that pattern matching at the sides - that always makes me happy.

This dress came together super quickly thanks to my previous experience with it. I chose not to line this version because the fabric is a dense fabric so there would be no issues with sheerness, but also because it's been about a billion degrees in the shade around here lately and I really wanted a cool cotton dress in which to swelter.  Seriously, Sydney has had it's hottest every January with many days around the 40C/104F and nights above 30C/86F. As a pale skinned redhead, I just cannot cope with such heat and I am looking forward to winter (my apologies to those of you suffering through a bitterly cold winter right now).

Despite those little niggles which is probably my vanity more than anything, I'm still happy with this dress and can see it on high rotation for the next few months.


So after churning out a successful project you would think I'd get back into my muslin making with renewed enthusiasm. Well, it turns out that I'm at my most productive when I'm procrastinating and I've already made another dress (just need some buttons) and a skirt! I'll either be burning the midnight oil the night before the course or just go with what I have and get some much needed help on fitting.