I'm not Tina Wheeze


Warm fuzzies
September 13, 2014, 8:11 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , , , ,

Five hours spent at the sewing machine this weekend made three people very happy.

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Andrew, whose only hours not wearing this hoodie since I handed it over yesterday have been spent asleep.

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Bondy, whose taste in dubious Nordic sweater prints matches mine. And thirdly, me. I got to learn some new skills, sew cuffs that weren’t tiny toddler-sized and make some people I like very much happy.

Nearly all the sewing blogs I read are written by people based in the northern hemisphere (I’m slowly uncovering other Aussies and Kiwis – and even the odd Canberran – whose style of sewing and writing I enjoy), as are most of the independent pattern designers. That means their seasons are all off kilter and everyone is now planning for “fall” sewing while I’m hanging out for the day I can ditch the tights from under my dresses and the cardigan under my jacket. It also means a bunch of the patterns recently released are for garments of the warmer variety. But when I saw Thread Theory’s Finalyson sweater pattern in a round-up of indie releases for August I was smitten. Besides, hoodies are all-year-round wears, right?

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The dearth of modern (or even just interesting) men’s sewing patterns is a common complaint. Morgan over at Thread Theory is making a fair effort to fix this but I haven’t tried any of her patterns before because sewing pants isn’t my thing and I’m scared of button plackets. I did try to talk Andrew into letting me sew him the Comox trunks but he wasn’t having any of that. But he approved of the Finlayson – after I’d bought the pattern and determined to sew him one anyway…

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Gazing over the fleece selection at Spotlight (which largely consisted of plain navy blue – clearly not a popular colour this season), I had quickly identified the grey marle I knew my solids-loving man would wear when my eye was caught by this fantastically tacky alpine sweater print. A snow fields conversation in which Bondy had admired a ski jacket in a similar print came to mind and I knew (hoped) it would be perfect for him. I bought all they had left. In fact I bought them out of the print, the black and the grey marle. Hope you like navy blue if you’re headed to Queanbeyan Spotlight looking for fleece.

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I’ve made a couple of hoodies before for a friend’s toddler and the bulk of the construction here was similar although (thankfully) much less fiddly. Andrew wanted variation 2, with the hood. I was a little perplexed by the fabric requirement that said you actually needed more fabric for the hoodless version than the hooded one (though now I’ve cut both out I think maybe it’s to do with how much space cutting the collar pieces takes). Any rate, for the grey version with no pocket, I managed to fit all the pieces need for a large onto 1.8m of 150cm-wide fleece. I now have enough left over from both jumpers to make a couple of fleece miniskirts, though am unconvinced that’s a good thing.

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The hood lining is a combed cotton jersey and my one sneaky way of brightening things up. Take note: although, as I said, the hoodie pieces seem to fit on less fabric than stated when it says buy 0.6m for the hood lining, buy 0.6m. Don’t buy half a metre or you’ll wind up piecing the fabric before you can cut out the pattern (I don’t have photos of this because that would require Andrew taking it off…).

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“What do I do for a modelling pose?”

I’m not sure exactly how much fabric was used for this one (variation 1, size XL, with pocket) because it came from three separate cuts. I had 1.5m of the print and a roughly one metre and a half-metre piece of the black. The original plan was to cut the sleeves from the print too but the way that I had to fold it to fit the front and back on meant there wasn’t enough space left. I’m glad because I like the black sleeves much better. “Tastefully tacky” was my description to Bondy when the thing was half sewn and I think having sleeves in the print would have pushed it beyond tasteful. Same with adding the black pocket. I did sneak a bit more of the print on with the cuffs though.

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I really like the square neck opening and the hood/collar crossover at the front but it was fiddly to sew. Have patience, pin carefully and don’t sew it on the overlocker first up. The second time I sewed the neckline (that’s the printed version) was definitely easier. I also love the “professional” details included in the pattern, like the decorative facing inside the back neck and covering the seam line above it and inside the pocket with twill tape. Both of these were new ideas to me but I feel like they make the final product that much nicer. One minor niggle was I couldn’t find any direction on what width of twill tape to use. I wound up with 20mm and 15mm ones and the wider version fit the neckline seam much better (though I guess that could be to do with the width of my overlocking?).

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Twill tape covering the raw edges in the pocket.

I feel like I’ve gotten cuff sewing sorted by now. I would like to try this pattern with ribbing for the cuffs and the hem band instead of self fabric – again, I think it would up the professional nature of the garment – but I couldn’t find any in the right colour. The print fleece was a lot stretchier than the grey so it gives a similar effect. The pattern includes two cuff pieces, depending on how stretchy your fabric is, so I used the longer one for the grey and the shorter for the print. It does make a difference on how much the cuffs grip the wrist but I have noticed Andrew doesn’t seem to be having any hassles with the stretch when pushing his sleeves up.

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Final note: pattern matching. Oh so close! The other side seam is even closer than this one (this was the better photo) but still not an exact match. Definitely something to keep working on.

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I’m keen to sew a Finalyson for myself but want to track down some French terry cotton first. Any ideas on where to find some?



Top of the heap (or, a heap of tops)
September 6, 2014, 7:21 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , , , ,
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Gratuitous dog photo

Over the past few weeks I’ve come to the realisation about what to sew that will actually be useful to me. There’s not been a particular trigger for this; I’ve just found myself being more discerning when looking at patterns and fabrics and actually thinking about how I’d wear the whatever I’m picturing making. Now, this is the way I’ve shopped for years (generally, although the odd frivolously trendy and totally-not-my-style garment still sneaks its way into my wardrobe) so it’s odd that it’s taken so long for me to sew that way. I guess I’ve been caught up in the excitement of creating and not thought about the utility.

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The hound wasn’t completely convinced this modelling thing was for him today

That’s not to say the things I’ve sewn haven’t been worn, more that I’m now sewing things I want to wear. Over and over and over until they’re worn out. And I’m starting to see the gaps in my wardrobe and think about whether I can fill them myself before heading to the shops. Plus my skills are improved enough that I feel much more confident wearing what I’ve made.

I don’t think I’ll ever have an entirely handmade wardrobe (you can come quote that back at me in two years when it turns out I’ve changed my mind…) because I still have a big need for the kind of polished, tailored, non-stretch work wear I don’t have the patience to make well enough for myself. But my casual wardrobe is starting to go that way.

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This is the third of three t-shirts I made in a week. But it’s a dress, I hear you say. True. However, it started life as Maria Denmark‘s Kirsten kimono tee (free pattern when you sign up for her newsletter). I’ve made this pattern a bunch of times now and could practically do it with my eyes shut (if I wasn’t worried I’d sew over my fingers…). It’s been in silver (worn with the Miette here), black silk, grey/black stripes and colour-blocked black and silver in my first pattern hacking attempt. Clearly it was time to break out of that monochrome rut.

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The impetus for the latest round of t-shirt sewing was an imminent weekend of skiing, sharing a room with five strangers (okay – one good friend, one colleague and three strangers), and realising my pyjamas didn’t really cut it. One post-work trip to Spotlight to inspect their range of flannel, cotton jersey and patterns, a second trip to Spotlight the next day because I somehow only managed to buy enough flannel for one leg of pants, and about three hours of sewing later and – voila – new pyjamas. That yellow spotty t-shirt up there is the top half; the pants are red and white scallops with a yellow ribbon tie. I lengthened the kimono tee pattern by 7cm (actually properly lengthening by adding the extra around the waist not just the hem) to make it cover my hips and scooped out the front neckline a bit more than the original. I was so delighted with the end fit I decided to add a couple more to the wardrobe to go with jeans.

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Cutting out the next two fabrics, I remembered how much use I got out of a Bonds t-shirt dress I’ve had for years and thought I’d try replicating its usefulness. I measured from the front neckline of the yellow top to my knees and added still more length to the pattern, this time going down from the hem and grading the side-seams with a French curve. To squeeze both pieces out of the 115cm wide fabric I did have to take about a centimetre of width out at both the centre front and back so the dress is a bit snugger than the tops.

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All three were sewed up directly on the overlocker, with only top-stitching done on the regular machine. I’m still not 100 per cent sure of my seam allowances on the overlocker but otherwise am much more confident in its use. I’m especially proud of the neckbands on these tops. The first time I made up this pattern I attached and unpicked and attached and unpicked the damn thing about five times, just not getting the hang of stretching it as I sewed. This time the neckband went on with the overlocker stitching, no worries.

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Yes, I’ve only got black thread on my overlocker. The hound ate one of the white cones. No, it doesn’t bother me. Yet.

I sorta kinda thought about pattern-matching when cutting the pieces, but there wasn’t a whole lot of leeway in where to place the pattern on the fabric. And then it turned out because the chevrons (or are they just zig-zags?) go up *and* down they don’t necessarily sew together easily on a straight seam anyway. If that makes sense. The end result was the pattern kinda sorta matches on one side and not at all on the other.

Now I’m trying to stop myself thinking how awesome t-shirt dresses are and sewing a bajillion – because that wouldn’t be filling a wardrobe gap, it would be over-saturating it!

This is what happens when you try to do a fashion shoot at the rugby...

This is what happens when you try to do a fashion shoot at the rugby…

 



Time for some separation
August 26, 2014, 8:34 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , , ,

It’s hardly a state secret that I love dresses. But sometimes it’s nice to wear a skirt and when I’m off duty during winter I basically live in jeans. So, time to add some separates to the sewing mix.

Part of the impetus for this was The Monthly Stitch‘s birthday cake challenge. As a super keen baker (there’s a cake in the oven as I type this) I was excited about all the possibilities – a cake-inspired dress, baking mits, fabulous fabric. I decided to have a go at tracing a pattern from a RTW top I wear often. It’s a green, boxy (but not *too* boxy) woven top with lace-trimmed cap sleeves.

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Obviously with such a basic garment the fabric would need to be baking-inspired. I researched cake fabrics on Spoonflower but wasn’t sure they’d arrive down under in time. With impeccable timing, Posie Patchwork posted on instagram about her closing down clearance fabric sale. I moseyed over to have a look and spied the perfect print! It’s a Michael Miller 100 per cent cotton called Bake Sale. The 1950s ladies baking in their pristine dresses are hilarious – they remind me of the Gilmore Girls when Rory decided to be the perfect housewife for Dean.

Photo 14-08-2014 10 10 05 pmThere was only 80cm of the fabric but I was sure I could make it work, especially with black sleeves to kind of anchor the wild print. Three trace-offs and two muslins later I was prepared to cut up the fabric and just managed to eke the two pieces out of it. Clearly being picky about print placement was not an option but I think it’s ended up pretty well. I wound up having to piece the bottom corners on the back because it just wouldn’t fit, but it’s not that noticeable.

The original sleeves had gathers around the top of the sleeve cap so I had to guess how much to add onto the pattern. I’m not sure if it was my dodgy pattern making or the stiffness of the cotton used but the sleeves stick out a lot more than I thought they would. They kind of make me feel like Judy Jetson!

As well as being the first time making a wearable pattern from an existing garment, this was also the first time I made my own bias binding (exciting, huh?) and sewing with quilting cotton. I’m happy with the result!

The other garment to come off my machine recently was the Miette skirt – and it’s already been worn three times! It’s made from a lightweight denim bought in New York (or maybe it’s more of a linen – it certainly wrinkles like one). As soon as I saw this I knew it needed to be a circle or A-line skirt and have been hunting for ideas. I’d seen the Miette around but wasn’t entirely sold on the waist ties. Then I saw Fiona’s version with button closures and was sold.

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This is super easy to make. The whole thing took a smidge over two hours including cutting out. I cut a size 7 on the pattern, which was a little larger than my waist. The end result sits a little low so next time it would be worth going a size down (I didn’t realise how far the hem goes past my knees until seeing these photos). Or I could move the buttons, I guess.

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The buttons I used were also from the New York jaunt and I really love the wood against the denim. I’m still having troubles making button holes on my new sewing machine. The way it works (supposedly) is you click the button into the buttonhole foot for size, put the machine on the right setting, press the go button and hey presto! buttonhole. The way it works every time I’ve tried is I press the go button and it does a quarter of a buttonhole then starts either eating the fabric or stitching at very high speed in one place. Luckily I did a test run on a scrap first. I had a little sulk then hauled out my old, more manual machine and did the buttonholes on that.

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The pockets have helped make this skirt an instant favourite – especially lined with a floral print left over from an earlier dress. I also really liked the the waistband construction method. The inside and outside are separate pieces, which I found made it easier to know where to fold it over when ironing (accurate ironing is not my strong point). I’m also very proud of my top-stitching here. The top and bottom of the pockets, the back side edges and the hem are all visibly stitched and they’re pretty darn straight!

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And finally I like the huge overlap of the wrap…

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In fact I like the pattern so much I just whipped one up for my sister-in-law!



Colour-blocked
July 28, 2014, 4:48 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , ,

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I made another dress … is anyone surprised? Actually, the surprise with this one is it’s something I’d had planned for ages. Pretty much my whole work wardrobe consists of shift dresses so I thought I’d another stretch one to the mix.

The pattern is New Look 6144, view D. I’ve made this pattern before, in a loose-weave cream linen shot with metallic gold thread, as a day-after-the-wedding brunch dress. I really love that dress but dislike ironing linen so I don’t wear it that often. Upon discovering all the ponte knit goodness at Spotlight at the start of winter I had a vision of this pattern with some colour-blocking to make it a bit more interesting.

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The new design lines were pretty basic – I just cut the blue part about 15cm shorter than the pattern and then cut the sleeves and bottom part of the skirt from the black. Simple.

The pattern is a pretty easy sew apart from the first few steps, where you make that tricky neck detail happen. It took me the best part of an hour to get it sitting so I was happy and I’m still not sure it’s 100 per cent the way it’s supposed to be. Halfway through all that frustration I had a flashback to a year previously and having the same difficulty the first time round. Maybe the instructions need better explaining.

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Once you’ve got that part out of the way, though, it goes together very easily. I decided after cutting to eliminate the zipper (hooray for pull-on comfy dresses) and just sewed up a centre back seam. All the insides were finished on the overlocker, even though the knit doesn’t really need it, and the sleeves and bottom are roll-hemmed on the overlocker and hand stitched in place.

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There are just two things holding me back from straight-out loving this dress, one minor and one major. Firstly, it confirms that I hate facings. Ugh, they just seem to flip up all the time and get in the way. I’ve understitched and stitched in the ditch on the shoulder seams and the raglan lines where the sleeves attach to the bodice and the facings still frustrate me. So after this, lined bodices only (a declaration which got me into trouble on my next project, of which more later).

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Second is fit. The linen version is a touch too large for my liking (all that ease!) so, knowing more about patterns and using a stretch fabric, I carefully compared my body measurements to the finished garment measurements rather than the suggested size ones. I can’t remember if I cut one or two sizes down from the first version, but it was smaller. A good idea in theory. However, it’s turned out a bit too tight. I tried to combat that by wearing it to work with bigger-than-Bridget-Jones’-pants underwear but instead spent the whole day worried its rolling down top was showing through the dress. Not a great outcome.

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This is my “unimpressed with rolling down gigantic underwear” face

I intend to persist with rotating it through my wardrobe but it might get pushed to the back if the tightness continues to make me feel uncomfortable. A shame, but you can’t win every time.



Square rainbows
July 3, 2014, 4:35 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , ,

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Every trip to Spotlight over the past four or five months, I’ve spied this fabric and wanted to get some but, in an effort to stick to my pledge not to buy material without a plan, left it behind with no idea what to make. Then I spied this outfit over on the Closet Case Files round up of ways to style a body suit and was inspired. Especially since I was already in love with the Gabriola maxi skirt.

Look at the twirl on it!

Look at the twirl on it!

I originally intended to sew this up along with a Belcarra blouse to enter the Monthly Stitch’s indie pattern fan girl competition. Not that I’ve made a Belcarra before but it looks a similar shape to some tops I already have and I hoped it might be the answer the the still-unresolved beautiful black silk shirt question. However, life and work intervened and only the skirt got made (seen here with a RTW knit tee).

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Turns out it’s tricky to take a photo of the back of a skirt while wearing it…

Sewing this up was pretty easy after I’d worked all the tricky bits out last time. The front even sits properly at the point, no weird pleats needed. The fabric is a cotton pique (kind of a heavy waffley weave, almost like a linen) and probably not quite as drapey as the pattern really requires. But it’s still nice to wear. I cut the same size as before but shortened the hem when cutting the pieces (I cut the hem at the size 0 length) instead of hacking off heaps at the end. And same as last time, I sewed an invisible zipper all the way up through the waistband.

This time round I thought I’d be clever and add pockets. I put on the first version of the skirt and worked out roughly where pockets should go relevant to all the diagonal yoke pieces. Or so I thought.

Awkward pockets

Awkward pockets

Somehow this calculation went terribly, terribly wrong and the pockets sit well below my hips and thus are not particularly useful. And of course I overlocked all the seams before discovering this so they’re impossible to move. Still wondering if I might be better off cutting them out completely and sewing up the gaps in the side seams. Nevertheless, I think the pocket concept was sound and if I make another Gabriola I’ll give them another red hot go.



Other writings
June 20, 2014, 7:06 pm
Filed under: Idle musings

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In April I holidayed to Boston and Paris (mostly) but, knowing I’m unlikely to be in the US again any time soon, I spent a day in New York’s garment district buying *all* the fabric. I also spent a day in Paris discovering the shops in Montmartre. Then when I got home, I wrote about it.

Stalking through Manhattan’s urban jungle on the hunt, I spot a flash of green.

Like Captain Hook, I pull up short: is that a crocodile?

You can truly find any kind of material in New York’s Garment District.

Read the full piece here.

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One of my other “spare time” loves is baking. I think I’ve written about it before – I adore it because producing baked goods just makes people happy. Recently some like-minded ladies started up the Canberra Cake Club and I’ve managed to get along to two of their monthly cake ups. They asked me to share a recipe and baking tale over on their blog, which you can see here.

“Is there anyone here because they’re going to make a wedding cake?” the cake decorating teacher asked. Apparently there is usually at least one in each of her CIT courses. My goodness, I thought, why would anyone agree to do that?



Challenge accepted: ball gown edition
June 19, 2014, 9:47 pm
Filed under: I made that | Tags: , , , ,

I seem to have a habit of dreaming up madly ambitious schemes for my sewing (see also: sewing a blazer the afternoon before heading overseas). This particular scheme has been a long time in the dreaming. Every year I attend the Midwinter Ball. Buying ball gowns can be an expensive business so before last year’s event I thought about making my own but didn’t have the confidence in my skills. This year I was more determined.

(Warning: epic post ahead. But lots of photos!)

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My initial inspiration came from Rockstars and Royalty’s collection at Fashfest 2013. I particularly loved the effect of the tulle over the sequins – the way the textures worked and how the overlay dulled the sequins so they weren’t so in your face. With this in mind I bought all the silver sequins (on a semi-stretchy tulle) and all the blue silk chiffon left at Lincraft when they had a half-price sale (that was so long ago I’m not even sure if it was early this year or some time last year). I wound up with about 4.5 metres of the sequin fabric and 3.5 metres of the chiffon. (Or maybe it was 3.5 and 4.5? Not a whole lot for a full-length dress anyway.)

The original plan was to go with a full-length Anna, mainly because that was the easiest maxi pattern I had. This later morphed into thoughts of hacking together the Flora wrap bodice and the Gabriola skirt, although the thought of unpicking sequins from all those seams was daunting.

A sketch I made at some point during my working-out-what-to-do phase

A sketch I made at some point during my working-out-what-to-do phase

Plans changed again with the first toile, made in early May, which was a Flora bodice so heavily modified it probably wouldn’t even count any more (deepened the neckline plunge of the wrap, made it with a centre front seam so it wasn’t actually wrapping, hacked out the back so it plunged almost all the way to the waistline) with a waistband for length and a full-length, half-circle skirt cut in two parts so it would fit on the fabric.

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Yeah, I know nothing about pattern drafting and it wasn’t great. The bodice gaped every which way and all those horizontal lines across the stomach weren’t that flattering. But I’m keeping the toile so that when I learn a bit more I might be able to salvage the ideas (I especially loved the plunging back).

Then I found out the ball’s theme this year was 1920s. I did a bit of googling for 20s-inspired patterns and came across this very helpful post from School of Moxie where she basically did all my research for me (click through to see the most stunning 1930s Coco Chanel gown). I decided to use the same pattern she chose, Vogue V8814, and attach the chiffon overlay at the bottom of the long bodice for the best use of the fabric lengths I had.

Second toile time. I knew the full circle skirt wouldn’t fit on the fabric so I sort of guessed what would fit, measured that far in from the hem corner of each piece (about 40cm) and redrew the side seam straight down from the waist corner. I’d done a similar finagle with the Flora circle skirt, although for a much smaller adjustment, so hoped it would work again.

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Uh, no. Not sure if you can see in the photo, but it wound up with weird triangular bits sticking out at the hips. Attractive! The toile and I went to see my mother. “You always have the most interesting sewing problems,” she said. Eventually we worked out that what was going on was the bodgy alteration I’d made to the skirt pattern actually meant the side seams were cut across the grain at the opposite angle to what it was supposed to be and therefore it wasn’t playing nice when it met the grain angle of the bodice piece. Then I decided there probably wouldn’t be enough of the sequin fabric to cut a full circle skirt from anyway.

The final answer was to draft an A-line underskirt, to cut out of the sequins, and cut the full circle skirt as per the pattern out of the chiffon so it would end up nice and full and drapey on top. We also added underarm darts to the bodice to reduce gaping at the armholes (that’s a problem I often have with patterns – not sure why?). I used ribbon for the straps instead of making them from fabric, inserted an invisible zipper, and lined the dress with cream ponte, which was super comfortable. Oh, and I added a flapper touch by attaching a scarf/cowl/thing made from the blue at the shoulders (well, it was safety pinned on for versatility) although I seem to have failed to get a photo of this in action.

This was, obviously, before I sewed the straps on properly

This was, obviously, before I sewed the straps on properly

Let’s talk sequins: as with the Sparkle Lane jumper (which I sewed up after I was done with the bulk of this gown) I didn’t bother picking the sequins out of the seam allowances. Too many seams and it takes sooooo long. I did, however, cut them off the seam allowance for the zipper, which I also strengthened by stitching in some satin ribbon on the wrong side of the stretch tulle backing. That was it. Only bent one machine needle during the whole sewing process.

I didn’t finish the inside seams because a) I didn’t want to inflict sequins on my tetchy overlocker, b) neither the tulle backing of the sequins nor the ponte fray and c) realistically I’m only going to wear this once or twice and it’s not going through the washing machine. The chiffon frays atrociously so it was French seams all the way there and I bought and learned how to use a narrow hemming foot.

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So, the wash up. I was happy with the sparkles (although, yes, it was rather in your face) and the final dress looked basically like what I’d pictured early one. I wasn’t completely happy with the fit in the end. The bust darts may not have been in quite the right place, although that could have been due to how the straps were fit, and the bodice was a wee bit looser than I might have liked. But it fit in with all the “proper”, shop-bought gowns on the night.

Would I sew a ball gown again? Maybe. I think to look more professional I’d go with less glitzy fabric and perhaps a simpler pattern. Way back when I had the first gown-making impulse I bought Simplicity 2580 because the halter-neck version is rather like a super expensive designer gown I fell in love with in David Jones. But I never sewed it because I couldn’t find a quality-looking stretch fabric. Now that I know ponte exists … maybe I’ll reconsider.

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(Midwinter Ball Vogue V8814 gown; wedding wrap made by my mother; good luck pearls from grandparents; husband and regal expression, stylist’s own)




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