Pinafores & Patterns: Trying New Things

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Every Fall I hit a bit of a sewing slump. I have to put my light summer projects aside and start making things for the cooler weather. Don’t get me wrong – I love dressing for Fall, but once we hit mid-September I’d much rather be knitting than sewing. While I’d love to fill my days with hours of knitting, I know it’s not possible, so I have to go on busying myself mostly with sewing.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been quite into collecting and sewing with vintage fabrics as of late. I had a beautiful 1950s cotton in my stash that I got from an Instagram auction (@shopmakethislook, who auctions off amazing vintage garment fabric about once a week), but while it was light and more of a summer-weight cotton, the print really screamed fall to me. The background was white, though, and I don’t love white right near my face (with the exception of my wedding dress). I had a gut feeling it would work best as a layering piece, or, if I was lazy, a skirt – but not as a dress with sleeves.

I’d been noticing that there have been a lot of people on Instagram making pinafores lately – many of them the more overalls-style ones, some of them like dresses (or as some people call them, “jumpers”). I really didn’t know if it was a look I could pull off. It was reminiscent of my school uniform in third grade, and I’ve been anti-layering dresses over long-sleeved shirts for a long time now (since I learned how to set-in sleeves) but I wanted to give the look a go. I spent a long time researching patterns, as I felt there were very few styles that would actually suit me. I wanted to go for the kinds of pinafore dresses I saw in vintage patterns from the 40s and 60s – the ones they showed sewn in plaid on the envelope and worn over a fitted turtleneck sweater.

I’ve been telling myself that I’ll try to work more with patterns I already have, and I actually started digging through my small collection of Burda magazines to see if there had been something I missed. I’ve heard of people staying away from them due to their scary pattern layouts that need to be traced. But I’d tried Japanese pattern books, which are pretty similar in terms of layout, and I figured I could handle it if I found the right pattern.

I came across this pattern, from the May 2017 issue, and I realized it could probably work perfectly. After all, they had already styled it layered over a top. It was something I had completely passed by the first several times I flipped through the magazine, because I always disregard sleeveless dresses.

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Anyways, I was pretty pleased with myself for finding it. I got to tracing – which, I’ll admit, was a bit more of an endeavour than I had expected. The lines really do a lot of criss-crossing (as did my eyes…) and I had a lot of trouble reading the pattern pieces and missed a few grainlines and notches. Luckily, it was only 6 pieces (including a bodice lining piece) so I survived ok.

I made a muslin, and found that the pieces all needed to be made longer. Burda drafts for 5’4″ women, and I’m 5’9″, so I added 3/4″ to all the bodice pieces and 1 1/2″ to all the skirt pieces to get everything hitting the right places. Otherwise, I was really really impressed with the fit right off the bat. I did also have to add a bit to the back width due to my prominent shoulder blades.

I had been warned about instructions in Burda magazines – and for good reason. They were awful. I pretty much ignored them and used my own knowledge of constructing a dress. The godets in the skirt were very tricky to sew in but intuitive enough to figure out. I do wish the pattern came with more notches as I had trouble matching things up. The hemlines were kind of wonky but I hung the dress and evened them out, so you can’t tell they gave me so many issues!

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I also fully lined the dress, so it’ll be easy to slide on over sweaters and tights. I used instructions from my copy of Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book to figure out lining a sleeveless dress (which I found very satisfying to do).

I really like all the little details in this dress – the princess seams, the v-neck and back, the pleats at the shoulder, and even those frustrating godets. It’s a different shape and style than what I see in the sewing scene typically, which I like! It definitely has me feeling that I should try Burda patterns again more in the future.

Finally, I sewed a tried-and-true Tilly and the Buttons Freya sweater to go underneath (after my plan to buy RTW turtlenecks completely backfired). I’m not sure how I feel about the forest green underneath, so I think I’ll have to make more sweaters to go with it.

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I’m still not sure how I feel about pinafore dresses, but there is something nice about layering this time of year. While I hope it gets some wear, this pinafore experiment was enough to get me out of my slump and excited for more Fall sewing.

 

Advance 8346 – The Comeback Kid

Last night was the Toronto Fancy Sewcial, an event for Toronto sewing folk to gather in their favourite frocks (or other handmade garments) and mingle while enjoying wine and cheese. I’ve heard of such events (often called “Frocktails”) happening in Melbourne, Seattle, London, and Ottawa, and was always jealous of those who got to attend.

So of course, when I heard about the one taking place in Toronto, I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale. Also, I knew I would just have to make a new dress for the occasion.

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My original plan was to use a rare vintage Vogue pattern I had bought last year (for a pretty penny), with a beautiful Nani iro sateen print I had been eyeing for some years now. I began with making a muslin of the Vogue pattern, then another, then another, until I had reached about five iterations. I grew frustrated, but it was such a gorgeous pattern that I really wanted to stick with it. The main issue is that the bust part kept slouching down – I think it needed some boning channels, but vintage patterns tend to assume you know how to do things, and I think this step was simply omitted in the instructions. I had lost patience, so I packed the pattern away. I figured it would at least be a wonderful collectors’ item to have.

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This is me trying not to look too sad about a pattern that didn’t work 😦

I then considered a vintage pattern I had made last year, but given up on due to too many fit issues. I had managed to scale it down to fit me in the bodice, but the sleeves were large, baggy, and twisted around my arm and under my armpit. Extremely unflattering. I had spent a lot of time adjusting that one, and since it had been a year, I was willing to come back to it with fresh eyes, knowing that the bodice was good to go.

That pattern is the Advance 8346.

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I took out my sleeve block (which I know fits me as well as a sleeve is going to fit me), and compared it to the pattern piece. The pattern piece was huge in comparison! The reason I had been scared away from altering it, though, is because the sleeve cap is cut off and set into somewhat of a drop-shoulder (vintage patterns can be tricky to fit when the pattern pieces don’t match the standard ones you’re used to! At the same time this is what appeals to me about vintage patterns). Then I realized – the sleeve really wasn’t any different other than the top of the cap being cut off. I tried doing it with my sleeve block. It was much less baggy, but still twisted. I realized this pattern needed the adjustment all my patterns need.

A forward shoulder adjustment!

This is a really simple adjustment, and I did it to the shoulders on the yoke of the bodice. It worked! The sleeves were much less twisted. I was so pleased, and it was extremely satisfying to watch the adjustment work its magic. This is why sewing is so amazing! I also adjusted the pattern to have a zipper in the back rather than the side, since I have trouble getting dresses over my head otherwise.

So I used the beautiful floral Nani iro to make the Advance 8346 instead. I had 4 metres, and managed to fit all the pieces in even though the pattern called for about 6 yards. This involved cutting the pieces on one layer of fabric, and all the maneuvering took a full day. But in the end, I had a version of the Advance 8346 that I loved way more than my first attempt. And aside from a day of cutting, it didn’t take that long.

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A much happier dress-modelling session

When I finished it though, I saw another Nani iro sateen at EweKnit, and I decided I needed to make another version in a teal version. This time I got 5.5 yards of fabric, and I had plenty for cutting out my dress. I had bought this AMAZING pre-cut silk bias tape, and I took the time to use it to finish all the seams using a Hong Kong bias finish. It took a while, I’ll admit, and it was kind of tedious. But it looked gorgeous in the end, and the neutral grey of the bias picks up the silver touches in the fabric so nicely.

Then I hand-stitched the entire gigantic skirt hem, and it was pretty on the outside and the inside. I also added a waist-stay, which helps support the skirt and keep the waistline snug around my waist.

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I had given up on this pattern a year ago, but the envelope art was so beautiful and I was so disappointed it hadn’t worked out. I’m so glad I gave it another chance and came back to it, because it is now one of my favourite and most unique patterns. I wore it to the Fancy Sewcial and got lots of compliments, and everyone appreciated the beauty of the fancy yoke seams.

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Hopefully, I can come back to my rare vintage Vogue in the future and make it work just as well!

SneakerKit Round Two

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If you can recall, I tried my hand at making sneakers using SneakerKit last summer, but I made the (beautiful) mistake of attempting to cross-stitch leather. I also wasn’t totally pleased with the quality of the kit. Since then, though, the sneaker-making bug came back, and SneakerKit changed the insoles that were giving us trouble. SneakerKit is based in the Netherlands, and since international shipping is pricey, I thought our trip to Amsterdam would be a great chance to get another pair.

I follow SneakerKit on Instagram, and for a long time I’ve been seeing them share sneakers using fabric and a product called Decovil. Considering how much I love fabric, the idea of using fabric to make shoes really excited me. I had never heard of this Decovil stuff before (though I assumed it was a sturdy fusible interfacing – which it is), so I looked for it in Amsterdam and found it quite easily. The idea to use Decovil with SneakerKit isn’t my own, and I figured out a lot of it from @tinesews on Instagram, who has a highlighted story (in German) showing how she did it.

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And now, I’ll show you my way.

I did stay awake in bed for a few nights trying to think of the best way to do it. Tine lined her sneakers by using spray glue to glue the lining to the Decovil on the inside, and then finished the raw edges with bias binding. I didn’t have spray glue, so I wanted to find another way.

First, I used the template that comes with SneakerKit (downloadable from their website) and traced the pieces onto the non-adhesive side of the Decovil. Basically, I followed the same steps for cutting out leather that SneakerKit provides. I didn’t mark the punch holes.

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I cut out the pieces and ironed them to the wrong side of my main fabric, making sure to leave a good border all around each piece for seam allowances. I cut out the pieces, but eyeballed a 1/2″ seam allowance along the top edges of the sneaker sides, and around the long part of the centre piece that would be the tongue.

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Then I placed these pieces on the lining fabric and cut out the lining using the interfaced main fabric as a template. I sewed the lining to the right side of the main fabric, stitching right along the edge of the Decovil.

I trimmed the seams and clipped the curves, and turned the lining fabric to the inside. I found the lining fabric got kind of tight and pull-y, but I managed to press it out enough that it wasn’t a problem.

Then I topstitched the edges, which also helped keep the lining from flipping out. I also stitched down the open raw edges of the pieces so the lining wouldn’t pull back up.

Once all the pieces were sewn, I marked them and prepared them according to the SneakerKit instructions, but I didn’t punch holes up the back of the shoe/ankle. This is because those holes are used to stitch the two side pieces together (P1 and P3) and I decided I would do this on the sewing machine.

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On the tongue, there is supposed to be a little slit in the leather for the laces to be held in place. Since cutting into the fabric would leave an ugly raw edge, I decided to stitch a small piece of bias binding on top of the fabric. I used a very narrow and dense zigzag stitch to tack it in place where marked on the pattern.

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I installed eyelets before proceeding. This was a huge pain in the neck. I bought Prym 4mm eyelets in Amsterdam and the tool that came with it kept squishing the eyelets into ovals. To fix this, I used the little hole-punch that came with it and did one or two knocks with the hammer using the tapered end (the end that doesn’t have a hole-cutting…circle) and this helped get things going in the right direction. I then finished them off using the little tool.

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Once all the pieces were ready for assembly, I sewed bias binding onto pieces P1 and P3 (at the back) instead of using the small rectangular piece in the pattern (I used the machine for this – it sewed fine through the Decovil using a size 80 needle). I also found that at this point the fabric was fraying on all my pieces, so I covered each raw edge in fray check.

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After that point, I assembled the sneakers according to the Sneaker Kit instructions! And that’s it! They say you can finish SneakerKit in a day, but with all the prep I had to do with the Decovil, the lining, and the eyelets, it took me two. Still, not too shabby for a new handmade pair of shoes!

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Shopping for Fabric & Yarn in Amsterdam

Unlike on Prince Edward Island (my latest vacation locale), there are a good number of fabric shops in Amsterdam, along with a good number of blog posts on fabric shops in Amsterdam. The one I used was the Seamwork Guide to Amsterdam, but of course this is my own take on it.

Ever since I’ve started travelling without my family and their itineraries, I’ve started to make my trips revolve around fabric and yarn shops. I always feel slightly guilty that I didn’t go to more museums instead, but at the end of the day fabric shops are how I see new places and what they have to offer. In Amsterdam, just walking to the fabric shops I got to see so much of the city.

Anyways, on this trip I really spent most of my time in fabric and yarn shops, and I have no regrets. Here’s where I went and what I thought:

The first place we visited was the very well-known yarn shop, Stephen & Penelope, made famous by owner and knitwear designer/celebrity, Stephen West. I went in knowing that their yarns are pricey (around 30 euro a skein on average), but I couldn’t go to Amsterdam and not check it out. Many of the yarns there were imports that I can get in various Canadian yarn shops, and I didn’t feel the need to pay in Euros + 21% VAT for something I could get at home. The only yarn I was tempted by was Stephen & Penelope’s in-house yarn brand which was just recently released, and pretty well priced at 20 euro a skein – but I didn’t have any projects in mind for it, so I passed it by.

Right next door is A. Boeken, a small but impressive fabric shop. I went there twice, since the notions section was so impressive that I needed one trip for fabric and another trip for trims and buttons. It was pretty busy and hard to look around with a lot of focus, so I only got two fabrics there. I didn’t find anything there that was really extraordinary, but their prices are reasonable and they have every trim and button you can imagine. I bought loads of trims as well as some metal eyelets for some sneakers I plan to make (I had SneakerKit ship me another kit while I was there). They seemed a bit understaffed and it was a bit hard to find someone to cut yardage for me but I otherwise found the staff nice and helpful.

Right down the nearest side street to A. Boeken is Tinctoria. I didn’t plan on buying anything there but I did a lot of natural dyeing in school and had to check it out. The fabrics there were beautiful, but quite expensive (I can imagine the work that went into them, so they were priced fairly, just out of my price range). The owner had a huge basket filled with off-cuts and pieces with mistakes on them, and she said I could dig through the basket and she would price the pieces by weight. I found some beautiful velvet scraps, but then realized I had enough scraps at home and didn’t need to buy more.

Across the little canal bridge from A. Boeken, Stephen & Penelope, and Tinctoria, is Capsicum Naturstoffen –  I went in because A) it was raining, and B) I felt like I needed to visit all the fabric stores in the city. I wasn’t really expecting to find the most exciting fabric I would find on my trip. The store itself is lovely – beautiful textile homewares (pillows, tableclothes, etc) and scarfs, as well as some garments. The fabric they have is folded up, rather than on bolds, and just kinda looks like giant pillows on a shelf. The woman working there was incredibly helpful and explained the pricing and manufacturing processes of the fabrics. I chose a beautiful double ikat cotton with colourful squares on a cream background and I love it so much. It was pricey (and on the lower end of the range in the store – the hand-woven jacquard silks were 110 euro a metre), but it was a really lovely “treat” to bring back from my visit to Amsterdam.

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One morning we hopped over to De Steekwhich was close to our Air BnB in the Jordaan neighbourhood. I hadn’t seen De Steek on any blogs or guides, but it was on the list of stockists for Papercut Patterns, and I was in search of a Meridian Dress pattern in print (spoiler – De Steek doesn’t actually carry Papercut Patterns). De Steek is focused on sustainability, and a lot of their fabrics are deadstock or ecologically made. I bought some nice cotton seersucker and a neat “eyelet” knit. They also carry lovely lingerie and legging kits, as well as Merchant and Mills and Named patterns. They have a sewing studio so if you need to get your sewing fix on while abroad, that’s the place to go.

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We spent a morning checking out Albert Cuypstraat market, an outdoor market which I think is open 7 days a week. I didn’t take any photos because I was kind of overwhelmed by how much stuff was there. The market has food and weird off-brand socks and stuff, but they also have fabric booths that sit outside actual fabric stores. There are quite a few along Albert Cuypstraat, but the ones I went to were Kniphal and N&N Stoffen. I really liked Kniphal (they have amazing upholstery fabric if you’re looking for any) and they had lovely garment fabrics, but none that I especially wanted. I couldn’t quite tell how they were organized but it was fun to just browse around. N&N Stoffen had a lot of knits and baby fabrics (like double gauze with little whales on them and whatnot) and no fabric that really interested me, but I did like their selection of books and magazines. I ended up going home with a La Maison Victor book of dresses (called Jurken 2) as it had loads of dress patterns I think I’d like to use.

Another amazing shop I visited was actually in The Hague (or Den Haag as the Dutch call it), called Cross and Woods. I went there with my friend Priscilla who I met through Fibreshare, and it reminded me a lot of The Workroom and EweKnit here in Toronto (especially since EweKnit is also a sewing/knitting shop). A lot of their fabrics were Merchant and Mills, Nani Iro, and Liberty, all of which I can get at EweKnit, so I didn’t do any fabric shopping there. They had gorgeous yarns that I couldn’t get at home, and I had a lovely time picking out some skeins with the help of the very kind store owners.

And that’s it! Please comment if you think I missed any shops worth a visit. If you haven’t been to Amsterdam, I hope this helps in planning your textile-y trip!

Electric Blue – A Vintage Lace Dress

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I’m about a decade late to the game, but I finally started watching Mad Men. Considering how much I love 50s and 60s fashion and sewing, you would have thought I watched it ages ago. Nope, I started watching it this week, and of course, I love it (I’m already three seasons deep) – and I love the costumes. It was incredibly fitting that I was working on a vintage-style dress of my own at the very same time, and it was really something having the show on as a backdrop.

Now, this dress didn’t start with Mad Men. It started with an Etsy shop called Circa Fabrics, which I am obsessed with – it is a beautifully curated shop full of vintage fabrics. I love it not only because vintage fabrics help me to get that truly vintage look, but it’s a very sustainable way of using fabric – vintage fabric is by its very nature “deadstock”, and so no one’s making more of it and the stuff that exists isn’t going anywhere.

So I found this electric blue lace on Etsy, and there were about 4 yards of it – plenty for a dress with sleeves and a full skirt! I ordered it and thought, well, it’ll be easy enough to find some silk shantung or dupioni (beautiful, crisp silks that are often vibrant and relatively easy to sew!) that would match to go underneath.

Many weeks later, I was making another order from Circa Fabrics, and Sarah (the owner) had listed some bright blue silk from the 1970s. Now, my lace was from the 1950s, but who was I to let age keep true love apart? It was clearly meant to be! So I ordered the vintage silk – and the match was pretty much spot-on.

I had a vintage pattern in mind for this fabric, but vintage patterns being as vintage patterns are, it required something like 6 yards of fabric (due to the huge huge skirt). I only had 4 yards, so fitting a circle skirt with pleats wasn’t happening. I settled for a regular circle skirt, and used a self-drafted bodice and sleeves for the top. I drafted the bodice in university for my thesis, and it took three months to get the fit right, but was it ever worth it! Every time I come back to it I’m reminded how great the fit is, and I’m so glad I spent all that time getting it right.

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Putting the dress together was easy, but I spent a lot of time hand sewing – I had to hand-baste the lace pieces to their silk underlining pieces before sewing, and then I hand stitched the neckline facing, the armhole bindings, and the sleeve hems. But man, oh, man, I love when the insides are gorgeous! My aunt gave me some old bias bindings from her sewing kit which happened to match perfectly, so I used those to do a Hong Kong binding on the shoulder and bodice side seams. Then I used French seams for the skirt lining (wow, my seams are very intercontinental!). I gotta say, this dress has to be one of the best dress insides I’ve done yet!

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Anyways, I’m so pleased with how this dress turned out (inside AND out!) and the lace is kind of crisp and crunchy and has that perfect swish (and makes that sound when I move – oh I just love it). I have many more vintage-style dresses to come, and I’m so excited, because I’ve tried vintage fabrics and now I’m hooked!

Do you have a special collection of vintage fabrics?

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Vintage Advance 2952

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If you’ve been around my blog at all, you’ll know I have an affinity for vintage sewing patterns. Well, Advance 2952 was the first vintage pattern I ever bought and is one I keep coming back to. After that, I was hooked, and keep searching for great vintage patterns on Etsy and Instagram.

I’ve twice made version 2 of the pattern, but have never (using a vintage or modern pattern) sewn a straight skirt. Last year at the annual textiles sale hosted by the Textile Museum, I picked up a bundle of bright magenta mystery fabric for $8. There was a good amount of it, but not enough to do a dress with a big gathered skirt or circle skirt, which are usually my go-tos. I figured it would go great with version 1 of my favourite Advance pattern, especially since I suspect the fabric itself was vintage too.

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Photo from Studio G Patterns on Etsy

A burn test of the fabric seems to indicate that it’s a rayon, and it feels like a rayon, but it’s not super drapey. It has a lovely sheen and is nice and soft, but also felt thick enough to work well on its own, without too many linings or interfacings. I actually originally planned to give it a lining, and had made one, but when I tried the bodice on it felt good on its own, and I didn’t feel the need to add a lining.

When I work with vintage sewing patterns I like to work with vintage sewing techniques – that means no using a serger to finish the raw edges. I used my pinking shears, but I think the fabric frays too easily and pinked edges weren’t the right choice. I’ll have to see how it lives up to regular wear and tear over time.

Sewing the bodice and the scalloped neckline (my favourite touch) was familiar to me, but I had never sewn a skirt with a vent. Fortunately, the pattern paper is well labelled and I find vintage instructions very easy to understand, so I had no issues putting it all together.

To finish the armholes and the waist seam, I wanted to reduce bulk, but I knew that if I trimmed too close to the seams they would eventually fray away to nothing, so I finished those seams with some gorgeous teal bias binding that I made from scraps of a silky rayon dress I had been working on. This involved a lot of hand sewing, but since I didn’t line the dress I had some extra time.

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Actually, the whole thing involved a lot of hand sewing – the sleeves and hem are hand sewn, and the zipper is hand-picked. A lot of people don’t like projects that involve a lot of hand sewing, but I actually find it really relaxing (usually) and I enjoy the slow process and the control I have by not relying on a machine.

When I first tried on the bodice of the dress I worried the fit was off, and convinced myself that the dress would be unwearable. I worked on through to the end though, and was actually really pleased with how it looked, and I love how the straight skirt looks on me. I feel very Mad Men-esque (I didn’t watch the show, but I appreciated the clothes!). The finishing touch was adding my grandmother’s white leather gloves, which my Nana sent me when she saw other vintage patterns I had sewn (along with a gorgeous beaded clutch!). They were a bit tight, but she told me that since they’re leather you can stretch them out a bit – so I squeezed them on, and they fit like a glove! (Hehe, couldn’t resist that one). Thanks, Nana!

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Fibers to Fabric Review & Another Emery Dress

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A few months ago, before the snowfalls and weeks of below-zero temperatures, I ordered some block-printed cotton fabric from Fibers To Fabric on Etsy. There were so many stunning prints that it was hard for me not to order all of them, but I figured, hey, it’s October, I could use some autumnal colours in my wardrobe!

So I ordered this lovely fabric, and then the Canada Post postal strike struck (hehe). My fabric didn’t get in for 6 weeks. By then, winter was just starting to settle in here in Toronto and all I could do was admire how lovely and soft (and lightweight! Brrr) my new fabric was and hope for warmer weather.

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Well, it isn’t warmer. We had 15cm of snow drop just the other day. But March is closer to Spring than November is. I couldn’t wait any longer and decided that my autumnal dress would instead have to be my winter-to-spring transition dress.

I usually go for very illustrative, multi-coloured floral prints, but I absolutely loved the simplicity of a block print in earthy colours. I wanted to showcase the fabric by going with a simple, tried-and-true pattern that I know fits me fantastically, so I went with the Emery Dress by Christine Haynes.

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The fabric was lovely to work with – lightweight and easy to sew, like cotton lawn (which is my go-to substrate for printed fabrics) but with less of a sheen. It’s also opaque (surprising since it’s so lightweight!) so it didn’t need lining (though I lined the bodice because I like the extra layer of protection).

It appears that the print is done using batik, which, if I remember correctly, involves dipping the printing block in hot wax and stamping the wax on before dyeing it. The wax creates a resist and then is melted away after the fabric is painted or dyed. But if you’re curious to know more about the process, Fibers to Fabric frequently posts Instagram stories on how their fabrics are produced. I always like to learn these sorts of things, and I think it’s really exciting to know where my fabric is coming from and how it was made. What I really loved, though, were the imperfections that are signs of a hand-printed textile. Tiny spots where the wax splattered, slightly skew patterns – all show the hand of an artisan – which is the charm of hand-printed textiles!

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Typically I’m apprehensive about ordering fabric from overseas, since usually shipping costs are exorbitant. I’m not going to order fabric if it costs me $30-40 just to ship it. Fibers to Fabrics has very affordable shipping (cheaper even than ordering within Canada!) and with all those gorgeous prints to choose from, I am definitely tempted to order again soon! (I already have my eye on a few prints that may or may not find their way into my shopping basket…)

This is a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Blush Solina Dress and Breaking The Pattern Review

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In the late fall, Named Patterns released previews of their book Breaking The Patternand I knew I had to have a copy. The book has ten base patterns with several variations of each, as well as suggestions on how to further change things up using other pattern pieces that come with the book. The styles included have the fresh and modern look that Named is known for. The photos in the book are beautiful and inspiring (though I’m not sure what it is with the trend of holding a leaf while posing these days) and had me flipping through the book over and over again.

When I saw the previews I had my eye on the Ruska Knot Dress, the Solina Dress, and the Saraste shirt dress. I made the Saraste shirt dress a few weeks ago using some Liberty of London cotton lawn, but I didn’t really feel I could pull off the button-up collar look. The pattern was well-drafted though and the dress came out beautifully, but it just wasn’t for me, so I sold it to a friend so it can be worn and loved.

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In sewing the patterns, I felt a bit frustrated by the instructions. Some of the steps had long chunks of text with few diagrams to break them up. A lot of the steps actually just tell you to go to another pattern’s instructions and follow a step there. At one point I actually turned to that step and the step told me to go to a different step for a different pattern. I felt kind of like I was looking at those little doodles in my elementary school textbooks where they told you “Go to page 89!” and when you went to page 89 it said “Go to page 203” and so on and so forth, and in the end it got you nowhere.

Since the instructions seemed kind of vague to me, I felt that a less experienced sewist would struggle constructing the garments from this book. Some parts of the book have actual photos to complete steps that include somewhat crucial sewing skills (like setting in sleeves or installing an invisible zipper) that I feel like someone should know if they’re making these patterns to begin with.

The patterns all come on sheets that need to be traced, since the pattern lines all overlap each other. What really bothered me is that there was no chart or numbers indicating where specific pattern pieces could be found, and the sheets weren’t all organized by pattern. So in order to find a piece I needed to trace, I needed to go through all the pattern sheets and open them up and flip them over until I found it.

Anyways, I would still recommend this book because the patterns in it are gorgeous and very well drafted (I sewed both the Saraste and Solina dresses without any changes to the pattern). Named patterns are often quite pricey (and don’t always come with several variations), so to get 10 (not including several variations) for the price of the book is pretty good bang for your buck.

Shortly after finishing and sending away my sort-of failed Saraste dress, I traced out the pieces for the Solina dress. It looks pretty complex with all its ties and interesting pleats, but I actually found it really quick to put together.

The pattern doesn’t have a lining and I can’t really picture how I could add one without needing tons of fabric (since there is no waist seam I can’t think of a way to only line part of it). This made it really quick but also the fabric I bought is slightly translucent so I’ll need some sort of slip or nude undergarments. I have no regrets about my fabric choice, though, because the tencel twill I bought from Matchpoint Fabric is deliciously buttery and soft, and I love the drape of it much more than the heavier tencel twill I usually buy elsewhere.

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I was concerned throughout the project that the dress would be too long and would maybe look like a bathrobe? But once I had the waist ties sewn in I tried it on and loved how it looked. Fortunately I have long legs so the length doesn’t look awkward (the patterns are drafted for a 5’8″ woman) and I can picture it looking really cute with sandals in the warmer months.

I would also note that the sleeve ties are a touch long, and if you don’t wind them around your wrist twice you’ll have long lengths of ties dangling about. If I make this pattern again with the ties I would probably shorten them. To begin with having them there will be a bit impractical.

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I give the “holding-a-leaf-except-it’s-a-flower” thing a try. I think I get the appeal!

I’ll be honest, I don’t really know when I’ll wear this dress. It’s quite the statement piece. I have a lot more fun making statement pieces though, so I don’t really mind. I’ve already been thinking about making more of these, but maybe with short sleeves and a skirt that ends at the knee for something more summer-appropriate and casual. It’s the kind of dress that you can really change up based on skirt and sleeve length and fabric choice.

Have you bought a copy of Breaking the Pattern? What patterns are you planning to try?

 

Getting creative with scraps

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I didn’t get much sewing done in December – it was a month of holidays, travelling, and redecorating our apartment. It was actually nice to focus on thing besides sewing, and then to dive back in in the New Year.  When I did dive back in, it was project after project of quick and easy garments – if you check out my Instagram you’ll see what I mean. One week I finished three garments on consecutive days. By the end of it, I really felt that I was missing the challenge of creative fabric use and garment construction.

When I wrote my “Make Nine for 2019” list, I listed a patchwork dress as something I wanted to make this year. I have a lot (not a huge pile, but a lot) of substantial fabric scraps and I had been holding onto them with the hopes that I’d use them some day. But new and exciting fabric always took precedence. This time, I decided to dive in and start my patchwork dress already. I told myself not to overthink it because in the end, I wasn’t going to waste the fabric, and it wouldn’t cost me anything other than time!

I started by taking a great tried-and-true pattern that I use over and over because I know it fits me so well – the Elisalex dress pattern from By Hand London. I took the bodice pieces and marked lines on each of them, dividing the pattern pieces into chunks that could be patched together. I traced those “chunks” and added seam allowances to them, being careful to number each tracing and write its coordinating number on the actual pattern piece.  For example, the front of the bodice was divided into 8 patches, and each patch was marked “1F (for front), 2F, etc.” so I wouldn’t be looking at vague rectangles later on wondering where they go.

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Then I just picked up the pieces of fabric from my scrap basket and played around with which ones I thought looked nice together, before cutting out the pieces. There were times when I cut out the pieces only to realize they didn’t really look nice together – but it was fine, because the patch pieces were so small that I had extra fabric to play with.

When I had settled on the pieces I liked together, I sewed them together and the result was a normal bodice pattern piece, only made up of smaller pieces! I was then able to sew each of the pattern sections together as usual.

To make the skirt, I really just improvised. I cut out rectangles and rearranged them until I had two rectangles about 30″ wide and 25″ tall. I sewed in pockets and gathered the rectangle to make a gathered skirt.

Since there were so many seams that weren’t finished in this dress (I wasn’t going to serge/overlock each patch seam), I had to line it. I used scraps to line the bodice, some random blue cotton I found at a textile sale to line the sleeves, and some gorgeous viscose batiste from Fabrications Ottawa to line the skirt (the only part that didn’t use scraps).

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I used an invisible zipper I had lying around and basted it in to be sure that all the patches lined up in the back, and then I hand-stitched the lining in (usually I’m lazy and machine-sew the lining to the zipper but I wanted to go all-out here). Then, as the final touch, I finished the armhole seams with some bias binding (I wasn’t going to take out the serger for two seams! Also it looks so much nicer.)

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And that was it! With all the pattern matching and piecing together, it took me a solid week to complete this dress. It was so much fun to flex my creative muscle and sew something with a lot of creative play involved. I had a lot of people comment on Instagram that they’ve always wanted to make a patchwork dress – we all have scraps! – so if you’ve been thinking about it, I encourage you to dive in! You have absolutely nothing to lose 🙂

The Sew Frosting Challenge: Self-Drafted Satin Dress

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This is a special dress.

When I saw the floral satin for sale on the Club Tissus website, I knew I had to have it. I generally hate polyester, and I’ve never worked with satin. I was so in love with the print, though, that I ordered almost 5 yards of it and decided that I would make something incredibly special for the Sew Frosting Challenge happening on Instagram. I went on about the challenge and its merits in my vintage coat post a few weeks back, but I didn’t make that coat specifically for the challenge, and I wanted to take the challenge as an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and make something I wouldn’t normally make.

I knew exactly what dress I wanted to make from it – the Cassie dress from Wear Lemonade. Wear Lemonade makes beautiful sewing patterns that I am really hoping to try some day, and they also make some beautiful ready-to-wear garments. I was kind of sad that the Cassie dress didn’t have a pattern, and the ready-made dress is very much out of my budget. So I guess I had no choice but to make it myself!

I dug out the sloper that I very meticulously made in fourth-year university, when I drafted and embroidered a dress from scratch for my thesis. I don’t know why I haven’t used my sloper since then – it’s a basic block that I perfectly tailored to fit me! It was so easy to use it to make a bodice that would fit me exactly how I wanted. All I had to do was follow the instructions in my copy of Patternmaking for Fashion Design, and it was done! I had put aside a whole day for it and it took me about half an hour. I made a blouson bodice, which basically just has some extra ease in the waist that gets gathered into a waistband. I also made a boat-neckline, and drafted bishop sleeves and a cuff.

To support the very drapey (and static-y) poly satin, I underlined the bodice pieces with a lightweight cotton/silk fabric I had in my collection of lining fabrics. I left the rest of the dress unlined because I didn’t want it to feel weighed down.

The skirt was a very exciting and new process that I tried – professional pleating! There is so little information about profession pleating out there! I consider myself a research fiend, and I spent a few days figuring out how to prepare my fabric for pleating. I knew the fabric had to be polyester, and thanks to a new friend of mine from the Toronto sewing community, I found a place nearby called Sterling Button that has an in-house pleating service. I never would have found it if not for the Toronto Sewcialists Facebook group – Sterling Button doesn’t have a website and nowhere online does it say they do pleating!

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From what I found, hemming pleated fabric is tricky. If you turn up already-pleated fabric, the pleats head in the opposite direction and don’t fold up neatly. If you machine-hem the fabric before pleating, you might shift the grain of the fabric and the pleats will come out wonky. I didn’t know what I should do.

Then I turned to my trusty Kindle copy of Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. That book is like the bible of how to sew with every fabric, and in the “special occasion fabric” section, she tells you that hemming should be done before having your fabric professionally pleated. Thank goodness for Claire Shaeffer!

Still, I didn’t want to serge the bottom and throw off the grain, so I hemmed the selvedge edge which I knew wouldn’t need finishing, and I stitched the whole thing by hand. I threw in 5 extra inches of width to the rectangle, just in case. I must’ve done my calculations wrong, though, because 2 days and $25 later, the pleated fabric came back about 3 inches too narrow (albeit beautifully pleated)!

I panicked for a few minutes, and then I decided to slightly ease each pleat apart until the width of the skirt matched my waistband. It worked! I was so pleased. I wasn’t able to match up the pleat folds by the zipper, but it was more important to me that the skirt fit around my body.

After stitching the skirt to the bodice waistband, I basted a grosgrain ribbon into the waistband for added support (I don’t want the waistband to go slouchy with time). I enclosed it with a waistband facing so the inside looks nice and neat.

To insert the zipper, I used pick stitches sewn by hand, since I had carefully matched the floral pattern on the back pieces and I didn’t want to mess it up by sewing it on the machine.

Really, the whole thing wasn’t too tricky a process, but with all the outsourcing and hand-stitching, it took me more than a week to complete this dress. I really enjoyed the creative process of drafting and took a lot of pleasure in all the hand-stitched touches. I also cannot get over the sleeve cuffs and the beautiful pearly shank buttons that Jenny at Sterling Button helped me choose. They just look so elegant!

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I don’t know when I’ll get to wear this very special dress – I’m already waiting for the perfect special occasion to wear it! Still, the #sewfrosting challenge isn’t about practicality – it’s about making something extravagant just for the sake of it. I think this dress fits the bill.