Saturday, 21 February 2015

Variations on a theme: Butterick B5415 two ways

This top and dress are both from the same pattern: ButterickB5415. It’s a really simple pattern, which I went for because I thought the different versions would be useful for a range of basic tops and dresses.

I used pattern B for both, with amended sleeves, making them shorter and a little narrower. I also gathered them quite a lot at the top to give a bit more structure at the shoulder.

For the dress I used a woven lightweight wool, which was easy to use, apart from being very prone to fraying. The pattern includes a contrast hem band, which I didn’t go for. But I used a dark red thread to finish the hems, which is a bit of an unusual choice, but I’m happy with how it turned out. I’ve had a couple of goes at photographs for this, over a few weeks, most recently in the rain on a very cold day, and so even though they’ve come out showing that I should have done a better job of pressing the dress, I’m not having a third attempt at pictures!

For the top, I went for this very lightweight, and rather slippery, bird print fabric. I can’t remember what it was, and am no good at identifying fabrics, but I can recall it was a bargain at £4 per metre on Goldhawk Road. The only trouble with this one is that because the fabric is so lightweight, the stiffness of the zip slightly distorts the drape at the back. I wish I’d bought a more delicate zip to go with it, but there’s another lesson learnt for next time!



Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Wrap Dress: refashioned kimono (haori)

My excuse for the long time since I have posted anything is that we have been on holiday to Japan: splitting the time between Tokyo and Kyoto. I had never been before, and I discovered an instant affinity with Tokyo and had a truly wonderful time!

With so many things in the shops and markets that are not easy to get in the UK, it was tempting to bring back loads of souvenirs. But, I was moderated by the conscience that was our luggage allowance and managed to exercise some restraint.


For the most part we brought back teas, spices, crockery and super cool stationery, but I squeezed in a little bit of clothes shopping too. The pièce de résistance was this haori (kimono style coat) from a little shop in Kyoto. It's quite a thick fabric, with a lining in most of it, which makes it nice and heavy so it hangs nicely.

I really did buy it to wear it, and although perhaps controversial, I decided that realistically meant altering the sleeves. I so wanted to be able to wear this without fear of clearing half a dinner table any time I tried to pass the salt! 

Adjusting the sleeves was the only thing that I changed - using French seams along the red lines - so just four lines of stitching were required. 

The mid length means that I can wear it as a casual jacket, or as a wrap dress, which I really like with the belt. In fact, I have been wanting one of these gold metal belts for a while, and could refrain no longer when I saw the opportunity to pair it with this!

The final bonus is that the lower sleeve sections that I cut off are just crying out to be made into a slouchy clutch bag - with the addition of a metal zip - so that's one for the to do list!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Kooky melons: bumper cucamelon harvest


 As with lots of people who live in London - not complaining! - we have a pretty small garden, which is all decking and gravel. But I am really keen on growing as much as possible to use in the kitchen. (My planting rule: if I can't eat it, it's not coming in!) And so I all about maximising yield and minimising space, in pots.

One day earlier this year I got home to find a promotional free gift from Sutton's Seeds on the doormat with two cucamelon plant plugs. I had never heard of cucamelons - looking like a melon, but tasting like a cucumber - but in a pot they went. The leaflet said they were easy to grow, and they were right, so now I have a lot of cucamelons! They are a recommended addition to a gin & tonic, but not even my fondness for a g&t could keep up with these little guys.

Thankfully, I found James Wong's site actually has a pickling recipe, so I decided to try a variant on that with some ingredients that I had to hand. I followed all the same preparatory steps as in the instructions, but instead of pepper corns and dill, I added to the jar:
 - lightly crushed coriander seeds;
 - a large red chilli, sliced in half (also from the garden); and
 - topped it all up with cider vinegar.

It says this will be good to go in one week, but I'd like to save it for a treat with cold meat leftovers on Boxing Day!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A two piece less ordinary: shift dress and cropped jacket

I had the plan for this outfit in my mind's eye for some time before getting the time to make it. I completely fell in love with the picture of outfit B in this Burda Style 7113 pattern: the dress with the little cropped high neck jacket that buttons up at the back rather than the front.

I imagined it in a pale blue, thick, textured fabric. In the event, when I went shopping - surprisingly enough - I didn't find the exact fabric that I had dreamed up, so I went for this Chanel-esque white and navy check. It's really quite thick, which, along with a cotton lining I added, means it should see me a fair way through the autumn.

Despite originally having fallen for the jacket and dress in this pattern, I decided I wanted a higher neckline on the dress, so I made the jacket only from 7113 and teamed it with the Burda Jamie Shift dress that I had made before. I made a few adaptations to the two, but nothing major.

1. I added a white cotton lining to all but the sleeves.
2. The sleeves came up a little broad, so I stitched a line down the centre inside each one, creating a pleat effect.
3. The pattern suggest five buttons up the back. But I was doubtful of my abilities to do up proper buttons on my back by myself (!), so I inserted four metal poppers, which are hardly visible, and stitched on three buttons for decoration only.

1. The only change I made on the dress was to line it with the same white cotton.

I used French seams wherever I could on the seams, and used a pale blue bias binding to finish remaining hems, with the exception of the sleeves, which are a simple double folded hem.

The jacket pattern was pretty easy to follow and the result fits well. I'll definitely use it again as a base pattern, or perhaps make the cape version C, which looks really cute. I found the Jamie dress a lot easier to make this time than the last time I tried it. That's probably just because the lining was simpler than what I did last time, which involved what felt like endless hours of adding bias binding to every loose edge of facing or seam. I suppose it should also be a positive sign that I am progressing!

Now, I'll readily admit that it is not a wear-everywhere-outfit... I think it would look best with pointed flats and a large bag for a smart lunch, or trip out to a gallery or museum. I'd like to try it with a metallic collar-style necklace too. And the dress by itself will be perfect for the office, with a white or navy jacket.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

When a dress is not a dress: checked playsuit and wrap skirt

Now this, I have been wanting to make for a long time.....

In looking around for inspiration for things to make in the last few months, I have come across loads of amazing vintage patterns. One style that really caught my attention was the playsuit and wrap skirt combo, which I love (some examples here, here and here). I think they would be great to wear for a picnic or on holiday, when you might have different sorts of activities in a day. But they seem not to have been resurrected from the middle of the last century.

I was a bit wary of using a proper vintage pattern, as I thought it would take me longer to understand differences in the sizing and instructions. Instead, I bought a modern playsuit pattern – Burda 7233 (half price at the time) – and decided to make my own basic wrap skirt from a semi-circle shape. The fabric is a really simple, lightweight cotton gingham, which was also a bargain at just £2.50 p/m.

The playsuit: the pattern was rated as more advanced than most I have done before (3 out of 4), but the instructions were clear and I found it really quite straight forward. The only ways that I adapted the design were to leave off a bow, and basic square pockets on the front (which no doubt contributed to me finding it easier than expected!). I did also decide to resequence some of the steps: when instructed to stitch the side seams, I instead basted them and returned to them after doing all other steps, except for the facing around the top and the hems of the shorts. I find this the easiest way to adjust the fit, and so tend to do it whenever a pattern permits. It turned out to be a good call here, as I did need to make it quite a bit smaller at the top and the waist, and smaller, but less so, at the hips (as ever!). I had been going to add some simple straps, but decided not to in the end, as the top now stays up no problem!


Wrap skirt: this was from a very simple half circle of fabric, cut on the fold (as in the photo). I hemmed both side edges, and the bottom, and then added a much longer waistband, so there was enough excess to tie into a bow at the side. That is the only closure on the skirt, though you could add one or more poppers as well or instead of the tie. I allowed for some overlap on the skirt waist, so that the wrap break wouldn’t be obvious. And so, the actual waistband stops on one side before the edge of the skirt, to allow for the overlap.

I am really really pleased with the result, but I did perhaps wait until a little late in the year, as most of the picnic weather is now behind us. But I am sure there will be a time soon that a convertible playsuit to dress will be just the very thing that is called for!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Shawl-y the easiest thing to make: black patterned wrap or blanket for chilly evenings

I said at the start of my last post that I had no plan to make that pink skirt until I spotted the fabric in the shop. Well that was not the only impulse buy of that trip... I also found this wonderful pattern lurking in the corner and knew that some would need to be coming home with me!

It's a heavy upholstery fabric, and I was in the mood for a really quick project, so decided to make something as simple as possible. With just a couple of hems, this is perfect as a little blanket for sitting in the garden, and as a wrap to go out in the evening. As the weather gets colder, I think it'll look really cute over my lightweight tweed jacket too.

There were two main things that made this really really easy. First, although the fabric has a very distinct front and back, the pattern and finish also look nice from the back. This meant that I didn't need to think of lining it, or doubling it up. And second, the selvedges are both neatly finished: the same as each other, with no other markings or brand names, so I decided to leave them as part of the finished shawl.

I trimmed the raw edges as straight as I could, helpfully guided by the repeat pattern, and then hemmed them. I doubled the hem - folded once, straight stitched, and then folded again and straight stitched, using a heavier than usual weight thread. This was to make the edge neat and because it frayed quite a bit. And that was that. With a thick needle and thread, and a bit more patience than I had, you could definitely do this by hand too.

Even better, fabric and thread came to less than £5.

I went back into the shop last weekend, and they have the same fabric in a really beautiful dusky pink and green flower pattern, so I am contemplating building up a little collection.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Pretty as a petal: pink floral embossed skirt

I had no plan to make a skirt like this, none at all. That was until I came across this pink fabric embossed with a wonderful flower pattern (and at just £4 per metre). It also coincided with me having spotted this outfit photo on Pinterest, and so a skirt it was to be!

I had this Burda 8237 pattern, which I used to get the basic skirt shape. I adjusted it in three simple ways:

1. I lengthened it by a few inches, as the pattern is for a mini skirt;

2. I moved the zip to the centre back rather than the side, which involved slightly widening the back piece (to allow for extra seam allowance) from the vertical centre of the back piece, and cutting it in half along that vertical centre line; and

3. I added a waistband, instead of the facing,
which overlapped at the back so I could add a popper to secure it.

The added bonus with this fabric is that it does not fray at all - brilliant!! As well as making all the inside seams super easy, that also meant that I didn't really need to hem the bottom. I stitched a straight stitch all around the bottom, to make it look neat and to secure the side seams, and then I trimmed with as straight a scissor cut as I could manage, a few millimetres below the stitching. I am really happy with this finish, as I think a proper hem would have been too bulky and affected the drape.

I am so pleased with the result. It's great to dress up or down, and it is particularly good for wearing to the office on a day when I am going out in the evening too. We are already starting to feel the chilly edge of the end of the summer in London, but this skirt will definitely carry through into the autumn, with the embossed flowers nodding back to the summer!

I was enjoying wearing it so much that I didn't even mind getting photo bombed by a squirrel in St James's Park!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Stick it to boring lollies: healthy homemade fruit ice lollies

This summer I have been reminded of an ice lolly mould that my mum had when I was little, that she used to make lollies for me and my brother. As I recall, she kindly left us to choose the flavours, and our imagination rarely extended beyond coke, orange juice or maybe summer fruit squash.

I have tried a variety of shop bought lollies this summer (as my husband has been having a lot of ice creams, and I am dairy intolerant, so started feeling very left out!) but I have been very disappointed, even by supposedly fancy ones. The selection seemed to range from the insipid to the test-tube-E-number-rich, without much in between. And so I set about finding a lolly mould, which didn't throw up as much choice as I expected, but there are some online. (I got mine from Lakeland - for about the price of one or two packs of lollies - but they don't seem to have it on their website any longer.)

Now I have lolly creation power in my hands, the opportunities are endless, but I started with raspberry, blueberry, elderflower and mint.

I got a handful of raspberries, a handful of blueberries and a couple of sprigs of mint roughly cut into small/medium pieces. I popped these into the moulds so they were roughly mixed up. In a small jug I mixed some elderflower cordial with water, but made it quite a bit stronger than I normally would for drinking it, and then slowly poured that over the fruit in the moulds until nearly to the top.

With the end of a teaspoon, I gave them a gentle poke around, as I wanted to get out to get out any big air pockets, as they could cause the lolly to split. Then, lids on and in the freezer!

I have made a raspberry and blackberry version too, which worked well as the blackberries hold an amazing amount of flavour when frozen. For my next batch, I am planning spiced chai tea and nectarine... mmmm. I also plan to try stewed rhubarb with fresh ginger: I have no idea how that will turn out, so I'll let you know!

And if it's not ice lolly season, this exact mixture, with gelatine added to the liquid, makes a great jelly.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Office essentials: beige pencil skirt

Friends often ask me whether I have found that sewing my own clothes has saved me money or not. In general, I think it is difficult to compete in absolute price terms with the cheapest high street stores, but for better quality fabrics and fit, or for getting something that is exactly what you want, home sewing becomes a lot more competitive. Once you have a machine, the main costs are the fabric, haberdashery and patterns (if you're using one).

Buying lots of patterns can get expensive quite quickly. On a couple of occasions recently I have taken advantage of half or nearly half price pattern sales at Jaycotts, and have been very pleased with my bargain haul. But once you have a bunch of patterns, you can get much more out of them by reusing them with adaptations.

For example, this skirt is actually this New Look dress 6144, just from the waist down. I used this simple beige fabric, with a bit of horizontal stretch, and a white vertical pinstripe at irregular intervals. Adapting the dress pattern for the skirt was very simple.

1. I cut the top of the skirt off at the waistline that is clearly marked on the pattern pieces. I did also narrow it at the waist, to allow for the amount of ease that would have been built into the dress: as a skirt it would need to be tight to the waist. Helpfully, the exact measurements of the finished garment, and the amount of extra ease incorporated, are given on the packet and the pattern itself, so it was easy to see how many inches to take off.

2. The dress used a long 22" zip, but for this I used a shorter (I think 7") one. That meant that the dots on the pattern showing where the zip should come to were no longer relevant, so I made new marks by placing the zip on the fabric and marking where the base of the zip should be.

3. The final amendment was to add a very simple white facing around the waistband.

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that this is the same pattern that I used for my green and pink flowery dress a few weeks ago. But in that case, I adapted the pattern to an a-line skirt, which I thought was a better fit with the summery fabric. And so, if you want to get a sense of what the pattern would really look like, you'll need to picture waist up of the green dress, spliced on to this skirt... I will make the full dress at some point soon.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Two legged fiend: pale salmon pink trousers, adjusted to fit

So, it was the pattern for these trousers that I used for the navy and white stripy shorts I posted before: Vogue V8717. As I mentioned in that post, I had some trouble with this pattern. I made them completely in line with the pattern the first time round, just shortening the waist slightly at the designated place, as I’m not so tall. But they didn’t come out at all as I wanted. In my mind I was picturing something like the Daks pair in the photo here, but they came out looking like a pair of giant trousers was trying to eat me alive!

First, the sizing came up large, so they were generally too big. Second, above the waistline, instead of being snug high-waisted, I found the top came away from the body a lot. I was using fabric with a stretch (a nice medium weight), so I may have made it worse by stretching the fabric a little, but it certainly wasn’t all my doing! And third, the leg was so wide, and I mean really really wide.

So, after taking a couple weeks going through the stages of grief, I reached acceptance, and set about adjusting them. I flattened out the lining around the waist and cut the top of the trousers off all around from the top of the zip and then coming down lower, so that by the time I was at the centre front, I was removing around 1.5 inches of the top of the trousers, and then continuing back to the top of the zip on the other side. I then cut straight down next to both side seams from top to bottom, removing fabric as I went, taking away slightly more at the waist than at the hip, then increasing to take much more at the bottom, perhaps 3.5 inches or so at the maximum. This did mean that I lost the pockets, but I wasn’t up for the bother of putting those back in!

After restitching the side seams, and then inserting a facing around the waist that had absolutely no stretch, I now have a pair of trousers that are not perfect, but that I’m happy to wear. I’ve made the length to be worn with flats, so they’re nice and relaxed, just the thing for a day pottering around (or lounging in the garden as I was in the photos).

I will definitely make the pattern again, using all this so that I can get it right for me the first time. And I’ve more shorts planned with it as well. Next time I think I’ll go for a contrasting/patterned fabric for the pockets and lining.

Of course, this does make me think this is why people make toiles, but if you’re making a toile you can be pretty sure you’re never going to wear it, whereas this way, at least there’s the chance it’ll be something in the end!