Tuesday, 1 April 2014

My Ghetto Betty Mad Men Dress

As a fan of Mad Men I've been excited to take part in Julia Bobbin's 2014 Mad Men challenge and make a Betty inspired outfit.

With my plastic sunglasses, shiny fabric, and high-ish hemline, my version is definitely more ghetto Betty than glam Betty.  Though we do both share a similar bright and splodgy flower fabric and similar shift dress silhouette, so hopefully you can see past my lack of uptown elegance and spot a glimmer of Betty here somewhere!  



I started this project looking for a basic shift dress pattern totally forgetting that I owned the Colette Laurel.  This ended up being effortlessly easy to make, although I did cheat and skip out the invisible zipper.  I feared my pattern matching skills weren't up to matching the two back pieces, so by leaving the zipper out and cutting only one back piece it averted an eyesore.  I then just have to do a bit of sixties style shimmying and the dress slips on ok.

I used the Laurel Extras booklet for guidance on how to make the sleeveless dress version.  New for me was using single bias binding as a facing for the armholes and neckline. My internal slip stitching at this stage left a lot to be desired, but luckily the print of the fabric is chaotic enough to disguise the occasional hand stitch that has strayed to the front.


Also new to me was sewing contour darts at the back. The diamond shaped markings looked a bit daunting on the pattern piece but were barely any different from a regular single dart.  It's also great how the accompanying 60+ page Laurel Extras booklet has beginner friendly photo tutorials for trying out some new to me techniques like making your own bias binding, ruffles and keyhole necklines.  So although it's not a wildly challenging pattern, it comes with more options for customizing it than I could ever have dreamed up myself. 

We were deluged by a spring snow storm in Montreal on Sunday and so Mr Fabric Maverick thoughtfully dug me out a path and posing area on our terrace! The absurdness of this last shot cracks me up, and makes me wonder what the neighbours must have been thinking.  To me this also embodies the spirit of Betty as I'm sure she would never let a bit of snow and sub zero temperatures stand in the way of her getting her gladrags on!

So that's my ghetto Betty outfit. Can't wait to see all the other Mad Men outfits in the round-up on Sunday!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Nicola Wrap Top

I was debating whether or not to blog this make, as it wasn't my finest sewing hour. Or should I say hours, as for a little top it seemed to take up a lot of time.  

It's the Nicola wrap top by Victory Patterns, and seeing it displayed on the hanger I do quite like it. I've just got it into my head that it looks a bit like an elephant!

See those big flappy elephant ears. I was becoming quite fixated with the Nellie the elephant resemblance until I caught sight of the back.  There I seem to have a big n' burly American Footballer look going on.  Hmmm, not the most flattering of looks!

In fairness I did go off-piste and deviated from the pattern when inserting the sleeves. I had started out religiously trying to follow the instructions, but for the sleeves there was so much excess fabric, no amount of wrestling with it was going to make it fit. It's an issue that I've also seen mentioned on Sewin' in the Rain's blog, so I'm thinking it could be a technical imperfection in the pattern markings or instructions.  

Not having much experience in sleeves I muddled through by increasing the overlap of the kimono sleeve until it fitted. I wish I had seen Sewin' in the Rain's post earlier though as it's really helpful in highlighting some issues with this pattern and how to fix them (she used two rows of ease stitching at 3/8s and 5/8s for her sleeves).

The pattern also included a technique called sausaging. This technique was meant to neatly enclose the raw seam allowance on the waistband, but the instructions were really confusing so I had no idea how to do this. Strangely, I've googled the technique and looked it up in my sewing books but it's not really mentioned anywhere and I couldn't find any tutorials. If anyone knows anything about the world of sausaging I'd love to know?! Does it have another name maybe? 

My googling for help with the instructions led me to discover a fair few stylish versions of the Nicola dress online, but hardly any wrap tops at all.  I can understand it as you can see from the pattern cover below how enticingly elegant the dress is.  
Victory Pattern Cover
Also for me the billowing kimono sleeves more suit the silhouette of the dress, as the flow of the fabric over the hips seems to balance the shape more so it's not as top heavy. A plus point for the wrap top though is that it doesn't use much fabric and I was able to cobble it together from a few off-cuts of purple chambray from my Mathilde blouse. I also suspect that if I had used a lighter fabric the sleeves would have looked more relaxed and flowing like in the cover photo.

I typically live in jeans and a strappy top, and so I like how throwing on this wrap could instantly and effortlessly smarten me up a bit. For this reason I'm seeing a black version with less puffy sleeves in my future, as I'm sure I'd get lots of wear from that.

No sooner had I completed this first Victory Pattern than another Victory Pattern has unexpectedly arrived on the scene. This was courtesy of the Perfect Pattern Parcel I bought last week which included the very pretty looking Ava dress and top (if you've not heard of the Perfect Pattern Parcel initiative check out this blog post by Dixie for more information). The Ava is an intermediate, so as I didn't find this beginner pattern a walk in the park I think I'll be saving it for a bit, but I'm keen to give Victory Patterns another try.

I just wanted to finish with showing you my new system for organising my pattern pieces that I came up with while working on Nicola.

I used to have my pieces scattered chaotically around my sewing room. It meant crumpled fabric and paranoid quadruple checks every time I reached for a piece to make sure I was taking the correct one. So I've now started pegging them all to a clothes horse with the paper pattern piece on top. Much more organised and fabric friendly, so I just thought I'd share it and see if anyone else does this or has any other good tips for what to do with the pieces during the project? 

And that’s a wrap, folks (geddit?!?!)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Simplicity 2451 and the Fabric First Camp

Back in the summer, Winnie from Scruffy Badger, wrote an interesting post about the sewist's chicken vs egg conundrum.  What comes first: the pattern or the fabric?

Up until now it's been the pattern first for me.  That's been helpful as a beginner in letting me gradually try out new techniques, but it's often meant I've used a 'that'll do' fabric just so I can get going on a project.  

So when I got lucky and scored nearly three metres of this stripey denim beaut of a fabric for $5 I took the opportunity to try out the fabric first camp.  This definitely seems to be where the party is at!  Playing matchmaker to work out what pattern would best compliment the fabric seemed far more fun and instinctive than my usual starting point of a pattern, a blank canvas and an overwhelming array of fabric possibilities to get my head around.

I settled on Simplicity 2451, version D, a repeat pattern I first made last spring with Mili's help.

This was actually my second pattern choice.  My first being the Grainline Moss skirt. Though I thought a fly front zip might be a bit of a stretch when even regular zips remain a challenge.  Design-wise it was probably for the best anyway as the wide waistband on the Simplicity skirt seems to help make the contrasting horizontal stripes become more of a feature.

This pattern already has a lot of love in blogland.  I've drooled over Karen from Did You Make That's four recent versions. There has also been Zoe's epic week of wearing nothing but this pattern.  At the moment there seems to be lots of talk in the blog world of TNTs (Tried n True) patterns, an acronym that was alien to me a few weeks ago.  Now I know what it means I can confirm that this is definitely a TNT pattern for me!

After a couple of snaps I had to wrap up quick, as unsurprisingly it's not been al fresco photo weather in Montreal lately.  I did want to get some ok-ish photos though of this skirt, as I'm a big fan of the fabric. It's especially nice to have a small injection of red in my wardrobe as it's not a colour I usually wear, and it feels like a cheerful, warming colour palette for a winter skirt.

The above photo shows the back of the skirt and this strange diamond shaped crease. I don't know if that's from dodgy back darts, a dodgy zip, dodgy fit or all or none of the above.  I didn't notice it in real life, or when it was on the hanger, but if anyone has any ideas? I've heard of FBAs for Full Bust Adjustments, but perhaps I need a Full Bottom Adjustment!

After a run of using beginner friendly patterns from independent pattern companies, the relative sparseness of the instructions in a big four pattern was a bit of a culture shock. I'm so used to instructions and Sew Alongs that spell everything out to me, that annoyingly I missed the opportunity to use French seams and so the inside isn't particularly pretty.  Overall it came together quickly and painlessly though.

A lot less painful than the post photo back-breaking labour that awaited me.  While our decking area is glorious in the summer, it's a pain in the winter, as to avoid the kitchen roof of our neighbour below caving in from the weight of the snow, we're contractually obliged to keep it cleared.  Not only do we have to hoist the snow over the fence but we then have to position the shovel carefully to avoid the load dropping on to the power lines below.  And here's the action shot!

Ouch, makes my back ache just looking at it! Let the countdown to spring begin :)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Turning 30 in my Anna Dress

Last weekend was my 30th birthday and I spent it at a fab lakeside resort in the Laurentians.  It was a fun break including ice skating on the frozen lake, relaxing in the nordic spa, and having friends join us on Sunday for tubing, rafting and tornadoes (three zero-skill ways of throwing yourself down a mountain!).

Dinner on Saturday night was a swanky five course affair at the hotel's lakeside restaurant and it was the ideal occasion to make and wear my first ever handmade dress.  I used By Hand London's Anna pattern, which this week was crowned one of Pattern Review's top ten patterns of 2013.  Definitely a worthy winner in my eyes as it was surprisingly flawless to make and flattering to wear.

I took a few gambles when making the dress.  The first one was the design of the dress itself.  I don't usually go for knee length dresses, and I did think that the modest, very covered up design might look a bit prim.  The sort of thing a 30 year old might wear (lol!!!).  They were needless concerns though as I ended up really liking the sophisticated, classy style and teemed with heels it still felt like it could be a fun party dress.

The second gamble was that I cut the pattern straight out in a UK size 10 without tracing.  It's actually quite rare for me to use paper patterns as I mainly use digital, and so to me tracing a pattern feels like a huge backwards step to start a project on.  Luckily the gamble paid off and I didn't need to make a single adjustment and it still fits like a glove dress. 

The third gamble was that my fabric was stash fabric that I'd originally bought from the bargain section of fabricville marked 'unknown fabric'.  I'm still not knowledgeable enough to know my chiffons from my charmeuses, and my poplins from my polyesters, but I think this is the latter.  You can see in some of the photos that the hang of the skirt is a bit clingy as it got quite static.  For that reason, even though we're in the depths of winter, I wore it tightless to dinner to avoid even more of a static attack. I've been researching some ways to reduce the static (e.g. fabric softener sheets)  Any tips would be very welcome!  Though in some ways I'm happy to take a little bit of static over the unsightly creases that have plagued some of my earlier makes.

The bit that I could have got better was the top of the zip. I concentrated on lining the zip up neatly where the bodice meets the skirt, but didn't manage to do this at the top and so one side is slightly higher than the other.  The zip insertion took place on the eve of my birthday so as I really wanted it finished I just went with it.  I'm not too offended by the imperfection, and at least it's one that wearing a cardie/jacket instantly resolves if it does ever bother me.

The Anna dress pattern was a Christmas present from my parents and it was accompanied by the equally 'must-have' Georgia dress pattern.  As the Georgia is an intermediate pattern I'm eagerly awaiting By Hand London's sewalong to swing into action so I can have a go at that, but it looks like it'll be another good'un.  

It wasn't the best light in our hotel suite when we took these photos last weekend and so Mr Fabric Maverick started getting a bit creative.  This last photo through the transparent fireplace nearly didn't make the cut, until I was persuaded it was a re-creation of James Bond's Live and Let Die opening credits. It just goes to show that even 30 year olds (!) can feel a bit like a Bond girl in a By Hand London Anna dress! 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Presido Purse (Testing, Testing)

A belated Happy New Year everyone!

The Atlantic ocean kept me separated from my sewing machine for a couple of fun-filled weeks over Christmas.  We spent it with family and friends in England, notching up 10 pub trips, three London theatre shows, two visits to meet new babies, and one trip to the famous Liberty store for a rummage in their fabric bargain bin. 

Now we're back in Montreal for our third Canadian winter, this one seems to be harsher than ever.  It was so cold the other day( -39 with the wind chill) that my eyelashes actually started icing together. Perfect weather for penguins and hibernating sewists.

This weekend was a bit milder and so I grabbed the opportunity to take some daylight photos of my latest make. It's Seamstress Erin's eagerly anticipated first pattern, the Presido Purse, which I was excited to be able to pattern test for her.

It's funny as purse has a different meaning depending on what side of the Atlantic you're on (ladies wallet in Britain vs handbag in North America).  So when I signed up to be a pattern tester for a purse that can 'hold a ton of stuff', the Brit in me was expecting some sort of super-sized wallet!

Luckily Erin's Presido Purse pattern turned out to be far less random.  It's a large roomy handbag with a practical zip-up pocket and front inserts that are just crying out for a splash of colour.

The fabrics I used were both from my stash. An aubergine corduroy, paired with some in-your-face quilting cotton for the interior and front inserts.  For the front inserts I backed the quilting cotton with medium weight interfacing, but found the stiffness of the interfacing didn't lend itself well to the gathered insert option (uneven, lumpy gathers).  So if I use an interfaced quilting cotton again for future Presidos, I'll go for the non-gathered insert option instead.

The pattern is listed as being for confident beginners/ intermediate sewists.  I'm definitely at the lowest end of that spectrum but still found the instructions clear and manageable.  Erin also has a sewalong that is in full swing at the moment and which looks set to leave a valuable archive of detailed guidance for those like me who appreciate a bit of hand holding.    

My only issue was when I initially made a really muppet mistake and sewed the two bottom/side panels together at the wrong end. It was more user error rather than pattern error, but I noticed that in Erin's final pattern she's helpfully made this stage even more explicit, so it won't trip up any other late night sewists. 

The Presido Purse fills a gap in my sparse handbag collection as I don't own any large handbags at all.  Up until the Presido, if I needed to carry large amounts of stuff then out came my trusty denim rucksack.  So it's fab that I now have a more attractive option that makes me look less like a teenager/tourist!  Thanks for letting me help pattern test the Presido Erin, and congratulations on the release of your first pattern :)  

Even Mr Fabric Maverick spent time admiring my bag.  Though after I turned my back for a minute I returned to this sight...  I think he is still sad that the Dr Who Sewalong is over, as this would make a cool alien head!  

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Regenerating Jon Pertwee Blouse

It's the last day of Fanbloomingtastic's Doctor Who Sew Along.  Where Project Runway meets planet Gallifrey. 

I've had this in the calendar since the Bowie Sew Along earlier this year.  I didn't grow up watching Doctor Who, but Mr Fabric Maverick has been a lifelong fan.  So for the last decade I've seen my fair share, enough to make the 50th anniversary celebrations last week nostalgic and sentimental.

So for the Sew Along I regenerated this unloved shirt...

Into this Jon Pertwee tribute blouse:

If you're not so well acquainted with Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee was the suave, dashing third doctor.  His outfits were very 70s, flamboyant and frilly, with capes, velvet smoking jackets, bow ties, cravats and ruffled shirts.

This was the first refashion I've done, and I found it really liberating to not have to start from scratch. I used this detailed tutorial from Chic Steals. I rushed through it, and so the quality of the finish isn't great, but I like the overall ruffle effect.  

Racing through did have an advantage though, as it meant I had time to make a special accompanying companion...

In Fanbloomingtastic's last Sew Along my humble Bowie penguin got a generous reception from Tempest, so I thought I'd carry on the theme with a matching Pertwee penguin.  I didn't have to buy a single thing for either the top or the penguin, as luckily my stash is tardis like and had some blue velvet lingering within it.

So happy 50th Birthday Doctor Who!  Thank you to Tempest for the Sew Along, it's been an unusual and interesting way to celebrate the anniversary :)

As frills aren't really my thing, this top was only going to be fancy dress.  Now it's finished I've actually taken a bit of a shine to it though.  We've a cool Austin Powers style 70s cocktail bar a couple of blocks from our flat, and so I felt quite the time traveller wearing my 70s top there tonight!

A toast to the next 50 years... x

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Hitchcock Mathilde top

A trip away now isn't complete without a detour to the nearest fabric store, and our weekend break to Toronto last month was no exception.  We were there to see the David Bowie Is exhibition (brilliant!) and conveniently King Textiles with it's 10,000 square foot of fabric heaven, was located just a few blocks away.

After happily exploring the shop, and with no real project in mind, I settled on a couple of dress-making fabrics I liked.  Then to my dismay, when I took them to the counter, the chatty sales assistant inquired if the fabric was for Halloween.  FOR HALLOWEEN??!!  What these beautiful fabrics, I've just spent half an hour choosing so I can make some grown-up clothes?? I can only assume that while I found the print below elegant and whimsical, the sales assistant saw it as rows of Hitchcock's man-eating demonic birds...

On closer inspection perhaps she had a point? I'm sure there was a genius witty response (let me know if you have one!),  but it eluded me as I answered politely, while falling a bit out of love with my new purchases.

It was a short-lived change of heart though, as after returning home and throwing the fabric on the top of my stash, serendipity struck.  The bird fabric seemed to exactly match the neighbouring purple chambray I had recently moved to the top of my pile in readiness for making a long overdue Mathilde blouse.

Karen from Did you make that? hit the nail on the head when she commented that the yoke on this pattern cries out for bespoke treatment and I couldn't agree more.  It seems a perfect showcase for my Hitchcock birds, without being too over powering and in your face.

I had bought Tilly's Mathilde blouse pattern the first day it went on sale, charmed by the design and the detailed instructions.  I had every intention of making it straight away last winter but at that time I'd only sewn the most basic of garments, and the thought of tackling pleats, gathers, french seams, darts and buttonholes all in one go made me chicken out.

It was definitely worth the wait though, and I'm really happy with the results.  The chambray was a dream fabric, easy to sew and drape, and the pattern instructions were so thorough and clear.  Even the buttonholes which I had trouble with on my Kelly skirt, went on without problems.   I don't think I've ever had a back buttoning blouse before so that's pretty cool too.

The only bit I struggled a bit with was the gathering stitches at the shoulders. Maybe this would have been easier with a thinner fabric.  I didn't fuss too much about getting the gathers perfectly even though, and it looks ok.  

I dithered about whether to do the full sleeves.  I've seen several versions that look really great with the original puffy three quarter length sleeves and cuffs.  It seemed a bit too radical a departure from my usual simple tastes though, so as I couldn't find in-depth instructions for how to make the sleeves less puffy (I'd be first in the queue if there were some) I used the short sleeve tutorial instead.

I enjoyed making this and with good quality chambray and french seams galore it's definitely my best quality make to date.  I'm sure there will be future versions, and I'm even starting to think that perhaps I should just embrace the puffiness of the longer sleeved design.

It's been unseasonably mild in Montreal this weekend, and an unexpected opportunity for some al fresco photos.  A bit of light relief, before winter really hits hard.  So it feels a world away from the dark world of Hitchcock's movies I've named my top after.  Or is it...?