I'm not Tina Wheeze

Royal Flora
April 9, 2014, 11:39 am
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , , ,

I’m not sure this sewing thing is helping my dress obsession in any way. Now instead of drooling over shop windows I see a pattern and immediately think of five ways it could add to my wardrobe!


Ok, yes, I need to get a better mirror. Or a tripod and remote for my real camera.

My love affair with By Hand London continues with their newest pattern, the Flora dress. I’m a big fan of wrap-style dresses (and v-necks in general) and was keen to give it a try. Another of the French fabrics I bought jumped out of the cupboard and insisted I use it, even though it was a wool jersey (zher-zhey, the Paris shopkeeper said when I asked what the material was called in French) and thus definitely not the woven fabric the pattern suggested.

Fortunately the BHL girls had suggested in their first sewalong post that it was okay to use stretch fabrics although one may need to stabilise the neck seam. A bit of googling “twill tape” later and I thought I was sorted.

This time I actually made a toile. Well, of the bodice only. In calico that definitely didn’t stretch. But, baby steps. It was good, because everything I’d read talked about how va-va-voom the neckline on the faux-wrap bodice is (and it certainly is on the model in the photo on the pattern page). But on me – not so much. Even after I folded the seam allowance under to account for the fact I didn’t have a lining attached it was an awkward, very modest kind of v-neck. I lowered it by about 5cm, made another toile and decided all was good to go.


I’d planned to line it with some black jersey I knew was hanging round but when I pulled it out of the cupboard it turned out I’d used so much for the underskirt of my tutu there was not enough left. Plan B was the Tencel jersey I’ve used to make a maxi dress and a t-shirt and still seem to have miles of. It was perhaps not quite a stable as needed to match the wool outer but it is lovely and soft against the skin.

The pattern was a cinch to sew up and I got it done in a couple of hours. And I got to use my birthday overlocker! Much excitement! The only stupid thing I did was to machine baste the outer bodice and the lining  together at the front, so that when I came to attach the skirt I either ad to unpick it all or make the seam visible. Lazy sewer that I am, I chose the latter. That also means the zipper insertion isn’t as neat as normal because it had to go on the outside of both layers too, instead of sandwiched in between. Never mind – the guts are much neater than most of my garments (thanks overlocker overlord) and no one will see it but for me. And on the plus side, for possibly the first time ever the skirt and bodice matched up perfectly first time – even all the pleats, darts and side seams.

By the time I got to sewing it all together I couldn’t be bothered going to the shops to buy some twill tape so I used a stiff, 2cm wide satin ribbon I had hanging round instead in the neckline and armholes. I have no idea if I did the stabilising right – I sewed it into the seam allowance on the lining side – but it seems to have worked okay (I’m waiting for that blog post to come up in the sewalong so I can find out how it’s supposed to be done for next time).


Look at that overlocking!

I wore the royal blue Flora to work yesterday with much success – first time I’ve really felt a dress I’ve made is “professional” enough for that.

Now I really should stick to that list of projects I wrote myself instead of leaping on every new pattern than comes along… My only excuse here is I was hoping the Flora bodice would be right for the sparkly ball gown in my dreams. I think it will work, although I may adjust it again to up the va-va-voom even more (come on – it’s a ball gown!).

Ooh la la Gabriola
March 30, 2014, 12:30 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , ,

Possibly I have given you the impression it’s been one sewing drama after another around here recently. That’s not actually the case; it’s just that the dramas have been rather heartbreaking. In fact, I have successfully completed a couple of things recently – lucky or the sewing machine may have been stored permanently…


For instance, I finally finished the Christmas present jacket for my man. Approximately 14 hours before he flew out of the country. This one was going to be a drama because the pattern I started with was way too hard for my skills, the instructions didn’t make sense and it all was going pretty poorly. Fortunately for once I had decided to make a toile before starting (normally I just launch myself and my scissors fearlessly at the fabric) so all was not lost. I switched to Vogue 8719 and all went beautifully. First time sewing Hong Kong seams too and now I want to use them in everything!


In the middle of all that I whipped up a couple of cushion covers to go with our new couch, using some Ikea fabric that’s been hanging round for ages that I loved but had no idea what to do with. Didn’t bother with zippers or buttons – these were so easy they practically don’t count as sewing.


Finally (get to the point missy) there is the Sewaholic Gabriola skirt. Now I’m a sucker for a maxi dress and they’re my go-to outfit for travelling but I’ve never been sure about maxi skirts. I don’t know why now. I sewed this up a week ago and have worn it three times since (it’s ok, I washed it). I think I want one in every colour!

Part of that is the fabric – it’s a beautifully soft rayon that feels really nice and moves well. I was in Paris for work and spent half a day on the weekend wandering around the strip of fabric stores near Montmartre. Just before leaving I’d received the Gabriola pattern I bought from Stitch 56 so I had her in my mind and when I saw this fabric (for just €3.75 a metre!) I knew it was perfect.

Having read many of the pattern testers’ blogs about Gabriola I just launched into it (who am I kidding – I would have done anyway!) with a few changes. First, I ignored the cutting layout, partly because I had four metres of fabric at 130cm (51in) wide and partly because the layout seemed to me to be inefficient. Secondly I used French seams for almost all the seams because it was the nicest finish I could think of and the By Hand London ladies have made me less intimidated by them (the other day I got an overlocker which I am super excited about and which will probably take French seams back out of my sewing repertoire). The only place I didn’t do it was where the yoke joins the skirt, where I used bias tape to cover the raw edges.

The "look over there"

The “look over there”

Lastly I ignored the waistband instructions and did it more or less my own way, adding the zipper all the way up to the top instead of having an overlap with button. Buttons on skirts – who can be bothered? Oh, and I cut 6cm off the hem then folded it over 3cm and 3cm again (so it’s a lot shorter than the pattern).

Tricky bits: I’m still learning a lot about picking the right size and wound up taking it in a lot at the side seams and centre back on the zipper insertion. And something very peculiar happened at the centre front of the yoke (where it points up) and I wound up putting in a tiny little pleat because it was that or have a lopsided chevron.

But I adore this skirt, the print, the feel and the way it moves. Walking in high wind sounds like you’re wearing the flag on top of Parliament House!

Sewing lessons, or further adventures in silk
March 20, 2014, 8:32 pm
Filed under: I made that

I have an entire shelf of silk in my sewing half-room that I dream of turning into beautiful swishy dresses but am mostly too afraid to cut into. After making the green school-dress Anna I had a vision of a maxi, silk chiffon, fully lined version to wear to my brother’s wedding. (Confession: I actually bought new silk from eBay, but only because I didn’t have five metres of anything existing.) How hard could it be – I’d already made the pattern and it’s a relatively easy sew.

But the reality of it was this: sew a dress in three nights of a parliamentary sitting week, a week in which you also have to bake 100+ cupcakes and decorate a wedding cake tier, and a week in which you’re back to living solo for the first time in years. With puppy. And it’s your first time sewing both chiffon and satin.

Sure, no worries.

The lining actually sewed up pretty easily although I did get confused a few times about which side I was doing the French seams on. Chopped about 20cm off the bottom before hemming it because it was waaay too long on me. (It is hemmed in this pic but I can’t work out how to make Bessie stay at the proper height.)

I bound the waist seam with this super cute bias tape which was supposed to be used on the pink wool Anna I was supposed to make before going to Paris. France, snails, etc.

Cutting the chiffon was frustrating. I tried using the rotary cutter but my cutting board was too small to fit any single pattern piece on and the fabric kept stretching with scissors. Maybe this should have been the first sign.

Second sign was the way my machine kept eating the fabric. I stretched the threads out, tried to adjust the tension and was happy the bodice seemed to come out okay.

Then some of the skirt pieces pinned together with almost 10cm difference at the end – even though they’d matched perfectly on the lining.

Then I attached the lining inside out from how I’d intended, so I had to either unpick the whole thing or move which seam the thigh split went on. I moved the split.

I took the whole thing (along with boxes and boxes of cupcakes, fondant toppers, one wedding cake tier and about four kilos of cream cheese icing) to my parents’ place the night before the wedding with thoughts of hemming it in bed. My mother admired the beautiful silk and pointed out how the poorly tensioned French seams were ruining the line. The wiggly, waggly seams I had been ignoring in my quest to make the thing in under a week. And the way hemming out the mysteriously non-aligning skirt pieces would make it sit at an awkward ankle length instead of skimming the floor.

She was right.

I wore another dress to the wedding which turned out to be a blessing because it bucketed with rain, the ground turned to mud and knee-high outfits with bare feet became the most practical.

Now the future holds approximately 14 metres of unpicking and learning how to tension my machine properly.

Lesson from all this: don’t sew under stress. And seek help earlier rather than later.

The very sad story of the beautiful black silk shirt
January 11, 2014, 12:16 pm
Filed under: I made that


Once upon a time there was a girl who had searched high and low for the perfect black silk t-shirt. Finding nothing suitable in the shops, she had resigned herself to attempting to draft a pattern from the perfect non-black silk tee she already loved.

Then she found a kimono t-shirt pattern that fit her like a princess’s shoe. Excellent, the girl thought, I can use that to make a perfect black silk t-shirt. She found beautiful black silk at the fabric shop (after only a minor incident in which the shopkeeper charged the girl for twice the amount she had bought) and cut it out in a larger size than she had made previously. For the girl thought she was getting to be a fairly good sewer and knew that the size of the stretch jersey she had made before would be too small in the beautiful black silk.

She sewed the shirt carefully, with a very sharp needle, using her new-found French seaming skills and finishing the openings with red bias tape (she could hear her mother saying usually one would line the openings in the same colour as the main fabric but she liked the flashes of red against the black).

After sewing the shoulders and the sleeves and the side seams, the girl tried the beautiful black silk t-shirt on. It was so tight across the shoulders and bust she very nearly couldn’t get it off again.

The girl gnashed her teeth and cursed her foolhardiness.

Then she finished the neckline and the hem and hoped it would fit one of her friends.

Moral of the story: when switching up fabrics, make a muslin first.

Competitive crafting
December 28, 2013, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Idle musings

Let’s get it out there: I read a lot of craft blogs. I’d been skirting round the fringes of the craft blog world for a while and then the addiction really kicked in when I was looking for wedding decoration ideas. There are currently nine in my bookmarks – and those are just the ones I check in with daily. I may have been known to experience whole mornings disappear down a wormhole of links to bloggers writing about making fabric activity books to keep their kids occupied in church (despite my neither have kids nor attending church). Goodness knows what would happen if I got on Pinterest…


This year, having moved into our very own home a month ago and not being especially enamoured of the “eat two enormous meals” aspect of splitting Christmas Day between two families, I said we’d host Christmas lunch. Fine, good, everyone happy, all volunteering to bring food and drink so less pressure on us.

Then I wondered how to decorate.


Possibly you’re not so much of a craft blog afficionado, so understand this: Christmas is a big time of year for craft bloggers. In fact, once you consider Halloween and Thanksgiving (neither of which we celebrate here in Australia) and New Year’s, the whole latter part of the year offers one giant, ever-changing opportunity to DIY elaborate, immaculate, oh-so-stylish decorations.


I found myself on the last spare day before Christmas in a sixth shop in search of the perfect white tablecloth when I realised perhaps I’d become a little bit competitive. I’d unknowingly set a standard based on these strangers, these stylish women with seemingly all the time in the world, these bloggers that no one coming to my lunch read. Everything needed to be perfect, styled, instagramable. (Interestingly, I was fairly unconcerned about the food – it was going to be tasty, coming from trusted cookbooks.)

Strange what your reading habits do to you.


In the end I embraced the crafty competitiveness but didn’t let striving for perfection get in the way of a good time, good food and family. We had last year’s Christmas tree (inspired by one spotted on Etsy), last year’s bunting, sparkly napkins with home-sewn, semi-dodgy hems (but I was grateful for my man’s ironing assistance nonetheless), Donna Hay’s super easy fruitcake truffles, a bauble-and-coathanger wreath, and crackers made by my mother. And the perfect white tablecloth.

Plus, a jolly good time.


Stash stuff
November 22, 2013, 10:16 am
Filed under: I made that

Growing up, if I ever needed a scrap of something interesting for a teddy bear’s cape or to make a tutu or whatever grandiose project I thought up, I could paw through a giant plastic tub full of fabric scraps in my mother’s study. I guess it was her stash.


Reading about other sewers’ stashes, I often thought I didn’t have one. Whoops. It turns out, if you keep your fabrics stuffed in shopping bags behind the too-many-seats in your lounge room, you get a stash very quickly without noticing. (I still maintain I’m genetically pre-disposed to hoarding and, no, that’s not my mother’s fault.)

Browsing fabric stores has become akin to browsing book stores for this avid reader. There’s something about the smell and getting to feel all those cloths and imagine what they might turn into. Unfortunately, I know that I’ll need about 2.5m of something to make a dress. Unfortunately, because that means if I spot some fabric that is just begging to be turned into a dress then I know how much to buy … and it gets added to that darn stash.

So there’s the fabric to make a cushion cover for the outdoor seat. And the second type of fabric that I decided would be better for the cushion cover (we’ve still got no cushion). The pretty prints I was going to turn into summer frocks before my honeymoon, seven months ago. The sequins because I keep admiring the sparkly party dresses on ASOS. The five different Ikea prints bought on various trips because they have awesome patterns. The large quantity of jersey because I found a pattern similar to a Carla Zampatti gown (it must be said I do have a corresponding  stash of as-yet-unsewn patterns). And so on.

Clearly my project ambitions are much bigger than my sewing time…


I did, however, manage this week to turn one of those pretty summer prints into a dress for a 60s-inspired pool party we’re attending on the weekend. In our new house I’m hoping to install my own plastic tubs for fabric scraps. Hopefully being able to see them all will help me actually use some of them up for the next grandiose projects. Maybe it’s time I finally got the guts up to sew that ball gown…



Clothes = tubes
November 10, 2013, 5:02 pm
Filed under: I made that

A few weeks back I did a garment/pattern making course organised by the Canberra Region Feltmakers (check out their workshop page for more interesting things). I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into, but learning a bit about pattern-making seemed like a useful thing to know. The course was run by Maris Herr of Textiles Anyone and based on her book, Truly Simple Garments.

Maris trained professionally as a seamstress/dressmaker/designer in the 1980s when, as she said, everything was big, ruffled, pleated and otherwise froufrou. She said she had an epiphany one day when she realised that all clothes were basically tubes with holes for arms and extra details added. Trousers are two tubes joined together. (She then proceeded to show us in the workshop how to make several types of garments that were not tubes, but flat shapes with holes for arms…)

This just made so much sense to me! What I like sewing best are dresses and skirts and they really are just tubes with added detail or shaping. It’s also made me think about how I could actually adapt patterns. Not that I’ve been game try anything yet, but I’ve been looking at this BurdaStyle top and thinking how you could add a simple four-panel skirt (or maybe a circle skirt) and it would basically be the same as the Review dress I wore for Frocktober 2011 - one of my favourite comfy, go anywhere dresses. Okay, add it to the list of projects (a list which seems to keep growing, although not quite as fast as my fabric stash). And sometime I’ll get the guts to try it out.


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