Tuesday 28 February 2017

One Out Of the Box

What was the dress that I hid in the gift box instead of that over the top ballet costume?

My new favourite: an everyday knit dress made using the Building Block Dress Book pattern

This is the most perfect fitting, easy to wear knit dress for my kid. For me, it's a delight to sew.

I'm no speedster when it comes to sewing, and I won't talk about hours or minutes spent sewing as it just doesn't translate to anyone else's sewing experience. But, I'm happy to say that once cut out, this dress is a "one evening sew". That is, if I start after the kid's are in bed and all the chores done then I can finish the dress while it's still reasonable to refer to the time as "late at night" rather than "early the next morning".

The dress is exactly the same as the first one I made, which was done in order to put the Building Block Dress pattern to the test in a knit - it's designed for woven fabrics.

The pocket openings are bound using a strip of ribbing. I've used a long, straight stitch to stitch in the ditch catching the serged edge of the binding on the inside. The neckline is finished in the same way. Otherwise the whole dress is constructed on the overlocker. The skirt is nice and twirly and a little gathered, but not so much as to need gathering stitches - a welcome relief after all those metres of gathered chiffon! The twin needle* comes out for hemming and it's done.

* Have you seen my Twin Needle Hemming Tips & Tricks? It's a blog post that gets a lot of traffic over at Oliver + S and I've been delighted to see so many new converts to the twin needle cause!

Sorry to interrupt your reading but could you give me a few more pictures? Please?

Pattern: Oliver + S Building Block Dress Book. Basic dress block  - omitted back closure. Below waist pockets. See here for more details on modifications.
Size: 5 with length of 6
Fabric: Leftover metallic dot grey t-shirt knit from Clearit (used previously here for me!). Merle grey knit ribbing

Saturday 25 February 2017

The Ten Times Her Age Tutu - Simplicity 7160

Sometimes, something just has to be made, no matter how impractical....

Well over a year ago now, I was fossicking in the back room of Buttonmania during one of the Monday open warehouse sales (boy am I going to miss those being in town) when I found this vintage sewing pattern:

It was size 6, and dated from the year that I turned 6 (hence it's vintage-ness is verified!) and I thought it would be fun to make for A when she turned 6. I put it away on the shelf.

Then, Buttonmania was up for sale. Kate Boulton was selling up and the business was bought and was due to move out of town. The last ever Nicholas Building back room fossicking session was in my calendar and nothing would keep me from attending. Of course I didn't really need any buttons, but you just never know what treasures you might find.

I found this:

In the corner of the room was a bolt of this amazing pale, coral pink silk chiffon with a windowpane, silver metallic check. Being the mother of a soon-to-be-six-year-old daughter I knew I could find a use for it. Next to the chiffon was a bolt of the perfect matching coral pink silk shantung. I hesitantly asked if the fabric was for sale and the young man who was watching over the storeroom went to check with Kate.

The answer was that the fabrics were vintage - either 60 years old, or from the '60s, I didn't quite catch which but they're almost the same thing these days - the silk chiffon would cost me $30 but then I could have the matching shantung for free. Done. You can just see Kate's initials on the little tag that was attached to the bolt. I wonder what plans she had had for it.

The bottom half of the outer most layer of chiffon was faded and had some holes, but there looked to be about five metres on the roll so I figured there would be plenty to work with. It was only when I got home and unrolled it all that I discovered that underneath the chiffon was a few metres of a very pale, perfectly crisp and stiff, cream-pink coloured silk taffeta. Bonus! I definitely had a tutu in the making.

I decided on making the longer skirt of View 3 as those vintage short skirt lengths are pretty crazy short, and the shoulder ruffles of View 1. Mostly cause I couldn't be bothered handsewing on all the trims and thought the shoulder ruffles would bring it up to over-the-top costume level. Then, of course I decided I needed the crown, star wand and matching knickers, so I did end up handsewing a lot of sequin trim after all.

The bodice of the dress is lined, and I used the cream silk taffeta. This turned out to be perfect as it gave nice structure to the bodice. The skirt is then attached to a skirt yoke of about 4 inches depth. I cut that out of a layer of cream silk taffeta and a layer of the pink silk shantung which I stuck together with fusible web.

The skirt is made of three layers, each attached to the skirt yoke about 1" above the layer beneath it. I didn't take a photo of the finished zipper, but it goes down into the skirt layers and requires breaking the stitching line at each tulle layer. Then, by pulling all that tulle through the sewing machine you stitch an inch or so until you get to the next tulle layer and break the stitching again. I had to laugh looking at my sewing machine completely smothered under pink froth!

Of the three skirt layers I only had enough of the silk chiffon to cut the outer two layers. Luckily I could do that using the selvedge of the fabric as the hem so that I didn't need to hem the skirt. The undermost skirt layer is American tulle that I bought from GJ's, along with the zipper and thread.

Each of those skirt layers is made up of three panels of fabric joined together. The pattern piece is a little over a metre long and is cut on the fold, so I make that six metres of skirt to be gathered and attached at each layer! I went with the technique of sewing a zigzag over a thread of dental floss within the seam allowance. The chiffon and tulle slid really easily along the dental floss and gathered perfectly. A line of straight stitching is then sewn at the top and bottom edges of the zig zag to secure the gathers. Where all the gathering is buried by another layer of skirt, or inside the bodice, this works perfectly and is quite neat and tidy.

For the shoulder ruffles I did need to hem the silk chiffon. I decided to just sew a straight stitch about 1/8" in from the edge and used tissue paper underneath to allow my machine to go neatly along the edge without chewing the chiffon down into the feed dogs. I'm not anticipating this ever being washed, so I think that will suffice.

You can see in the image above that the bodice is pretty big on her. I wasn't about to make a muslin for a costume, although obviously it would be dead easy to make a muslin of the bodice only. She'll grow, and I'm just glad I didn't make the short skirt version as by the time she fills that bodice out she'll be at least a foot taller.

The matching knickers (which are endearingly called "panties" in the pattern) are kinda funny big too. But they sure are cute as part of the whole costume.

I didn't manage to make the costume as a birthday surprise as she spotted the fabrics up on the top of the bookshelf and guessed what I was up to. So, on the morning of her birthday I presented her with a giant box: the knickers, crown and star wand were on the top of the box.

"I know what's in there" she confidently declared - but of course I'd made a different birthday dress that I'll share next and hidden that in the box! Gotcha!

She doesn't actually "do" ballet, isn't ever one to get up on a stage, and only has the shoes for dancing round the kitchen (thanks Granny for those). But, being 6 is all about imagining who or what you could be (I think I wanted to be a horse) and I might just have made her dream feel a bit more real.

Pattern: Simplicity 7160, size 6 (c1980)
Fabrics: Silk chiffon, shantung and taffeta from Buttonmania. Tulle and notions from GJ's
Star and crown are made with two layers of the silk shantung bonded to a middle layer of silk taffeta using fusible web. The star's "stick" is two pieces of flower stem wire wrapped around each other then wrapped in metallic grey bias binding.

Monday 20 February 2017

Secret Valentine Exchange 2017 - Giving and receiving

Keeping up the happy feeling that came from giving away copies of Sewing Happiness in the last blog post, this one is also all about gifts.

In its fourth year the Secret Valentine Exchange was very, very big (I can't bring myself to use the word "huge" anymore). I followed the #2017sve hashtag on Instagram and everyday there were more, and more, beautiful things being made. Then, the excitement as packages started arriving on doorsteps all over the world.....

My gift came from Shana (@thehappy.life) in the U.S.A. It arrived the day before Valentine's day but as I was having a mopey sort of evening I opened it up to cheer myself. And it did!

One of the things I love most about the gift exchange is we all have our own skills or talents (or ambitions to have skills, but more on that later) and so the gifts are varied in their media.

Shana had drawn some lovely note cards and envelopes and handstitched a little Bike Me Valentine heart as the card (I love that it reads as bite me at first glance!). But the main piece was this gorgeous mini canvas of me, in my See You At Six dress and with my old 1980 steel singlespeed bike. I LOVE it. - thank you Shana.

The distribution of Valentine swap partners is meant to be random, but I had found a project that I desperately wanted to make, and had an idea of just who I would make it for...

After I'd filled in my own details for my swap partner (obviously I mentioned bicycles and my pet goldfish!) I fired off a begging email to Ute asking if she couldn't play Cupid and set me up with my Valentine of choice. You see I wanted to make this: (warning: Blog post saga approaching)

And I was pretty sure I had the right target in mind for Cupid's arrow: Pips, aka @magdalenesmuse or The Girl In A Teacup.

I already had some 1mm (or so I thought) khaki macrame cord, and so I bought a reel of black and then hit up Maria's Beads & Trims for the red jasper cabochons and the smaller beads. The stones she had to hand where close to perfect but didn't measure exactly the same - her casual suggestion that I "just change the number of knots" had me breaking out in a cold sweat. I had no idea what I was doing and I sure wasn't going to start improvising!

We set off for a late January holiday and took everything with me, and a little bit of linen and some embroidery thread just in case I needed a plan B.

The first step was wrapping the stones. And above, my first attempts were looking pretty good. Then, the instructions were to insert knotting threads and here was where it all started to go awry. The instruction was to insert a thread at the top of the stone from left to right, then another of the same length below it. Then insert three longer threads then ten shorter threads, in the same manner, on each side.

That confused me. To do it "in the same manner" would have the threads going from left to right across the back of the stone. How then do I correlate that with the instruction to do it "on each side". I went with the "in the same manner" interpretation and blithely stumbled on. Only after I had done the row of khaki knots that came afterwards did I get to the next step and realise I had nowhere near the right number of knotting threads.

Oh, and by now I had a pretty mean blister! I was typing some rather vitriolic emails to the author of the book and becoming more hysterical by the minute as the really bad Wifi at the motel kept timing out on my email before it could be sent (you're guessing right if you think that was a blessing in disguise!).

With a deep sigh, I unpicked it all and went back to the beginning. This time I did the first two threads "across" the stone, but then next thirteen threads on "each side". That gave me the right number of threads and I now see there is no error as such in the pattern (check that outbox and phew the email never did get sent), although I maintain it is not absolutely clear as an instruction. :)

I was getting it right now, but it was becoming obvious that my thread was too thick and it was just not going to work. The scale was all wrong and it was impossible to fit all those knots around the stone's perimeter. Set it aside and give up time...

Plan B: A cup of tea and some handstitching...

I had thought that I might make the Forget-Me-Not Jewelry Pouch pattern from the Straight Stitch Society

There was no doubt that anything with Liesl's instructions would be a joy to sew and I thought if I did the embellishing while on holidays I could sew it up quickly once I got home. - When I opened the pattern and saw point 6 from the Manifesto: "Sometimes a glass of wine really does improve your sewing. Or at least your attitude. Same difference." I knew I'd come home!

the pattern is an absolute delight to sew. After the instruction is given as to how to create a petal, instead of something as dry as "repeat for all other petals" the instruction tells you to do the same thing again, and again, and again, and again, and again.  A laborious step made funny.

The bottom of the pouch has a little circle of quilt batting sewn in to give it a proper little base.

The fabrics were from my stash and were as close as I could get to Pips' declared love of black, cream, purple and dark florals. Since it was my stash after all, she got grey, beige and murky green florals :)

The inside of the pouch has a large, central compartment and then these little ring or earring holding pockets around the edge.

I was wondering what to do for a drawcord when I rummaged through my ribbon-y things bag and found this little sample of cord that was included as a gift with a fabric order (thank you Mamzelle Fourmi) and what do you know, it's kind of purple!

I was delighted with the jewelry pouch, but the unfinished macrame necklace was bugging me... I had no other use for the cabochons if I didn't make the necklace, and I knew the necklace was not something that would suit me - it had to be for Pips.

Back to Feeling Inspired for thinner macrame cord. I found some that certainly looked thinner but had no numbers anywhere (in English at least) on the packaging. I asked the shop attendant and he told me it was 1mm cord. But that's what I bought lat time I said... Ah the difference is in whether it's measured as 1mm diameter (the too thick stuff) or 1mm circumference. How one is to ever know that is beyond me. Sadly there was no bronze, khaki, beige, cream or neutral colour in the right thickness, so I bought a red for the section around the stone. In hindsight I think it was the wrong choice, but I wasn't risking buying cord off the net and getting a third interpretation of 1mm.

With the right number of knotting cords and the right cord thickness it started to become enjoyable again. I worked on it most evenings in that week. There were still plenty of mistakes and a fair bit of unpicking of knots.

I seriously botched one side of the choker, but when I considered out loud whether I should do it over again the family looked ready to take out an intervention on me. it was time to say near enough is good enough and get it packaged up and in the post.

Threading the beads was quite tricky and I found the only way to do it was to use a cigarette lighter* to melt the end, then quickly grab the melted end with a pair of tweezers and pull it out into a thin, stiff thread. If only I could have wrangled the camera phone while doing it I would have taken a video as my cut and melt technique for the thread ends got quite proficient by the end. The backside of the necklace is a little scratchy due to the melted ends, but I imagine it would be even worse if I had used a cotton thread and had to superglue all the cut ends in place.

*I now have a purpose bought cigarette lighter in my craft supplies toolbox

Well, what better excuse to try something completely new, out of my depth and potentially disastrous, than in order to give it away! As I'd hoped, Pips was delighted with her gift and I supsect is about to fashion a gamrent specifically to go with her new necklace. What a sweetheart!


Macrame Necklace:
Pattern: Red Jasper Choker pattern from Bohemian Macrame
Materials: Red Jasper cabochons and bronze beads from Maria's Beads and Trims. 1mm polyester cords from Feeling Inspired
Jewelry Pouch:
Pattern: Forget-Me-Not Jewelry Pouch from Straight Stitch Society
Materials: Linen (beige and grey), floral cotton, quilt batting, drawcord and beads all from my stash.