Every year in high school I competed in Tournament of Minds, a team problem-solving challenge. You might think that for someone who’s made a career of words, I’d have entered the English or social sciences section but in fact I joined the maths and engineering stream every time. You’re given a puzzle, a set list of materials and a strict budget and your team has to create a contraption that solves the puzzle while telling a story through a play about how it came to be. One year we had to build something largely out of cardboard and masking tape that you put a marble in the top of and it wouldn’t come out the bottom until a set amount of time (60 seconds, I think). All of which is a fairly long-winded way of saying I’ve long enjoyed the challenge of having an idea and trying to work out the engineering to make it happen.


So naturally when I got inspired to make a baby play mat, it was never going to be the basic one pictured in the Made For Baby book a friend gave me a couple of years ago. For starters, I decided that one (at 64cm diameter) was going to be too small. The petal shape pattern had to be photocopied at 200 per cent anyway, so I did that than enlarged it another 130 per cent to get an overall centre size of 84cm diameter. Then I decided it really needed to have hoops over the top for hanging toys and things from. I had a look at a friend’s play mat and some in shops to see how they were attached and then pretty much made it up from there.


Inside the hoops is soft, flexible clear plastic hose from the hardware shop. The hose is about 25mm diameter and the plastic itself is about 3mm thick. I picked it because it felt soft enough that it wouldn’t hurt too much if the whole thing came crashing down in case of some vigorous baby chin-ups or something (babies totally do chin-ups, right?). It’s encased in simple fabric tubes with 6cm tabs on each end that attached with velcro onto matching tabs sewn into the mat. I had hoped the tabs might end up between the petals so they were a bit more hidden, or on the underside, but the maths of one at each quarter circle and 14 petals (not divisible by four) obviously didn’t work out that way.


The hoops were dangerously skewiff initially so my dad suggested attaching a brace to hold them together. This is just a square of fabric (well, two squares sewn together inside out then turned, so the edges are strong and neat) that I sewed to the middle of one of the fabric tubes and attached by press studs to the other, as you can see above. This way the hoops still separate from each other for easy storing but they seem to be much more sturdy when standing up.

Of course, any self-respecting play mat makes noises. All I could find at Spotlight were regular squeakers which are okay but they all make the same noise. Then I remembered there’s a build-a-bear shop nearby so I went and explained what I wanted and the woman said, “Oh, you mean Sounds!” They’ve got a whole range of animal noises plus various song snippets (I was seriously tempted by the Imperial March but thought it might drive us crazy pretty quickly) for about $5-6 each. The dog certainly thinks they’re interesting sounds… I also got a piece of florist’s cellophane to make the crinkle noise in one petal, in the hope it won’t dissolve in the wash.


Speaking of washability, in the interests of making the sounds last as long as possible (I forgot to ask if they’re washable but suspect not because they’re electronic) I made a bamboo terry-backed false top to attach to one side of the mat. It attaches with press studs in between every second petal, with a double snap at one point because my circle isn’t exactly symmetrical and I could foresee some rather frustrating future times trying to reattach the blanket the right way round. (Have I mentioned my new favourite sewing gadget, the press stud machine, yet? It seriously has me wondering how many things I can add press studs to now!)


The fabrics are mostly cotton duck (with some scraps of blue neoprene), with synthetic toy stuffing and some bits of poly-wool quilt batting scraps in the petals. I read somewhere that babies like high-contrast patterns, hence the crazy fabric selection (though there has been some suggestion it may just be headache or hallucination inducing…). My niece gave the whole, possibly over-engineered shebang a trial run the other week (above) so it’s already baby-approved!


The other spot of engineering that’s happened on the sewing table in recent months is this rabbit, made for my niece. It’s a pattern from a Burda magazine (can’t find it online) that’s about 50cm tall. All made from stash scraps (wool from a bag, corduroy from a Red Riding Hood cape and some heavy duty floral Ikea cotton that was meant to be a dress before I worked out the weight was all wrong) and miraculously semi-pattern matched although I didn’t think about it too hard. The instructions on this need a serious overhaul, however – it kept having you stuff parts then unstuff them to attach limbs and there seemed to be a lot of unnecessary double-handling of seams. Plus I initially sewed the facial features onto the back of the head… The next attempt will involved very little instruction following, methinks.

Finding Named shapes


I’ve been making a concerted effort to churn through some of the many half-finished projects taking up space on my sewing table (if only because at some point I guess the sewing machine should return from the dining table to its rightful place…). One of the makes that should have been a simple, super-quick sew was this Named Kielo wrap dress. Should have, but it’s sat there for about three months with just the shoulders and half a side seam sewn up.


This was nothing to do with the pattern or instructions, which are fairly straight forward, and everything to do with my having a tantrum at the overlocker unthreading itself about six times within 10cm of sewing. I just had to put the whole dress aside and come back when we were both, the overlocker and I, in a better mood. Took a while, as it turned out. But really, this is very easy – a couple of darts, two ties, shoulder seams, two side seams and hems.


I was initially hesitant about the Kielo because I wasn’t sure how its shape would suit me. I love the interesting styling and silhouettes of Named’s patterns but so often they feel a bit too fashion-cool for me; not quite my aesthetic. But a bit of blog searching turned up a few versions which pretty much convinced me it would be ok. And the forgivingly adaptable shape does make it a good option for maternity wear.


Instead of the traditional, DVF-style flat wrap-dress shape, Kielo is basically a diamond sack and you wrap the points around to the front or back depending on what you like the look of best. It kind of reminds me of when I’d change my doona cover as a child by climbing right inside it and pretending I was Alfred the water bottle. You can sew this in either a stretch or woven fabric, which makes sense because all the shaping happens in the wrapping (though there are bust darts and back fisheye darts) without needing to stretch things to fit.


This fabric is a cotton jersey knit (*possibly* a Cloud 9 design) from – where else? – Spotlight. I liked the watercolour effect and it’s pretty soft to wear. Definitely a secret pyjamas feel going on here. (You can see above where I used the selvedge when cutting the ties to make them long enough and it’s not holding up well, but I intend to unpick the seam where they’re attached and take them in a little bit.)


There are only two things that annoyed me about this pattern (separately from the overlocker issues). One is having to add seam allowances when tracing. I ordered a printed pattern and it comes with the pieces all printed on a single sheet of paper. Because the front and back are just a single piece each (no waist seam) they’re quite large and Named saves paper by breaking them in half so you have to trace to join the parts together. It’ll make sense when you do it. I usually trace patterns anyway so didn’t mind that, but find it annoying having to remember the seam allowance. The second thing was turning the straps. Those things are long! In fact, if you don’t have quite enough fabric to make the recommended length I wouldn’t be too worried about lopping off as much as 10cm.


This was in fact the second Kielo I made, having sewn one in a much stretchier fabric as a Christmas present for my (then-pregnant) sister-in-law last year. For me, I cut a straight size 46 (based on finished measurements) and made no adjustments other than shortening it substantially to be knee- instead of ankle-length. It doesn’t play terribly nicely with bra straps though, and could benefit from having a couple of bits of ribbon and press studs sewn in at the shoulder seams to hold them in place. Overall I’m glad I gave this shape a go – and came back to it instead of abandoning yet another unfinished object.

Those sewing-time blues

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Who knew growing a person was so tiring? Only every mother and all those baby books that try to warn you but do you listen? No you do not. Suffice to say sewing has been sporadic and somewhat undirected over the past few months. And when things do manage to get complete, do photos manage to happen? No they do not. Except clearly they did in this case, thanks to my mother who offered to take some photos of me while we were doing a shoot for one of her projects.

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This is Sewaholic’s Davie dress, made way back in March. And it still fits! Details of the actual construction are a little hazy this many months after the fact, but I sewed it for my birthday and it was relatively quick. True to type though, I was still finishing off the neckline as the caterer arrived and didn’t actually get the bias tape on in time for that first wear (it’s on there now). To make up for the fact the neckline didn’t have any seam allowance folded over at first, I cut a bit extra around the neckhole so the lines looked nicer. Of course, that meant I cut off all the back-sewing seam finishes and the stitches started to unravel…

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When I got the pattern I had a vision of black ponte with contrast panels in the front to make the most of the flattering princess seams. And because it was a birthday extravaganza frock that contrast should be sparkly. I even went so far as to cut out the two front panels from some silvery stretchy something hanging out in the stash, only to discover that no matter which way I turned the piece of black ponte also in the cupboard, it just wouldn’t fit all the pieces. So I went off to the fabric shop to discover they had no plain black in stock – and came home with this turquoise neoprene instead. Naturally.

150822davie - 7It’s very thick (about 3mm, which I think is the same as my summer-weight wetsuit) and I’d never sewn with neoprene before. Luckily it turns out to be a very forgiving fabric. I think I lengthened the stitches to account for the bulk and otherwise pretty much just went for it. That includes the fitting – having sewn a few Sewaholic patterns before I cut a size 16 based on my measurements and just threw it all together. Possibly I took the side seams in a little after trying it on, but I honestly can’t remember.

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I really like the topstitching detail on all the seams here; it emphasises the pattern lines in a nice way. It did leave me a little perplexed about the best way to finish the seams though but given the neoprene doesn’t really fray I settled for pinking shears. Similarly, I left the hem and armholes unfinished, which seems to have stood up fairly well (though looking at the photo about this one it looks like they could do with a little neatening trim now).

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The fit is really quite remarkable given it was made at nearly three months of pregnancy, with minimal pattern adjustments, and is being worn here at seven months. It was a little roomy to start with, partly because I wasn’t sure about how close-fitting neoprene would feel to wear in a garment (don’t want to get too wetsuity after all!). The thick fabric does add quite a bit of bulk to the silhouette too. In the future I’d be more inclined to use this weight neoprene for separates. But in this case, that early looseness meant it continues to be very comfortable!

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As for future sewing, in an attempt to wrangle my skit-scatty brain into some kind of reasonable order I sat down and wrote lists of maternity, feeding-friendly and baby sewing plans and even dug out patterns that would work with them. It’s just a short list as you can see… I’m certain there’s a lot more on there than will fit into the next couple of months but at least it will give me some direction. And most of the maternity things are sitting half-finished on the sewing table already. Challenge accepted? Let’s see.

Golden gown

150627gown03This year’s Midwinter Ball was winter wonderland themed, so naturally my mind went to creams, whites, silvers, blues and sparkles. Lots of sparkles. Basically, Elsa dresses, right?

There might be no cape and the sparkles are rather subtle, but in the end I am completely thrilled with this gown.

150627gown10(Yes, I always wander around the bush in near-zero temperatures wearing sleeveless ball gowns. Don’t you? My photographer said it all put him in a rather Picnic at Hanging Rock frame of mind. Fortunately, no disappearances occurred.)

150627gown06This is the Simplicity 2580, view D again. It’s such an easy sew! Well, apart from the bit where I sewed the right-side-out bodice to the wrong-side-out skirt. This also happened on the earlier green version so that step must just come at the point where my brain’s had enough of this sewing lark. Plus the doubled over front bodice piece, forming the cowl, makes it confusing to tell which is the right side and which is the wrong side.

150627gown09I made no changes to the pattern apart from adding in back darts. They’re a little lumpy because I did this right at the end, catching in all the overlocking and elastic on the waist seam, but I’ve now added the darts to my traced pattern so they can happen in the proper order next time.  Otherwise, I’ve used clear elastic on the shoulders and waist, overlocked all the exposed inside seams, hand-stitched the neck and armhole facings and machine-sewed a double fold hem (on account of running out of time to hand-stitch).

150627gown08The fabric is a viscose/elastane/lurex knit from Tessuti; cream with gold woven throughout. I was lucky enough to have a friend heading up the highway to fabric shop so I gave him three options from Tessuti’s website and asked him to stretch-test them all. It’s a pretty stable knit, quite like a ponte, and is so comfortable to wear I think this ball gown qualifies as secret pyjamas!
150627gown13Once all sewed up it just needed something extra to lift the plain colour. After visiting four fabric shops one afternoon I found some suitable lace mesh at Spotlight. With the help of my mother I fiddled around with the placement of a few of the flower bunches then hand-sewed them down (in the very pleasant company of Phryne Fisher). I love the subtle embellishment the lace appliqué adds, lifting the dress without being overpowering.

All dolled up for the ball - photo by Mick Tsikas
All dolled up for the ball – photo by Mick Tsikas

I like this pattern so much I’m plotting a few more dresses from it and contemplating drafting a cross-over/faux wrap front bodice to make it baby-feeding-friendly. I’m also debating whether to cut this particular gown off at knee length after attending CBR Frocktails to make it a bit more wearable. There aren’t too many occasions where one can sport a full-length golden gown!


150627gown01The other best part about this gown? There was enough fabric left over to make a birthday present for my one-year-old odd-daughter. The pattern is Brindille and Twig’s t-shirt dress which I hacked to add the colour-blocked skirt band (there wasn’t enough width in the gold scraps to get the full skirt out of) and a Peter Pan collar. I also had to cut the back in two pieces instead of on the fold. The sleeves and skirt band are in black ponte and the collar is a lighter-weight jersey because I thought two layers of the thicker knit might be too bulky. A very quick sew after all the puzzlement of making new pattern pieces for my changes.




If there’s one thing sewing is widely acknowledged as being good for, it would have to be making you realistic – and appreciative – about your body. Once you get a few garments done and start to learn some fitting and adjustments, it seems that suddenly everybody is able to acknowledge their short torso, full/small bust or rounded shoulders – whatever it may be that makes them a unique body. And you learn that what is, is, more or less.

I’ve spent much of the past 18 months cranky at my body for not doing what I wanted it to do. Being cranky at your flesh for what ultimately turns out to be a (fixable) medical issue really is a waste of energy and emotions. But try telling that to the irrational brain that’s used to being in charge of things. Now this body is finally doing what I want, yet that hard won knowledge about it might as well be thrown out the window. The outside flesh is even more alien to me right now than the little guy growing inside.


For a few years now I’ve walked around with the knowledge of my bust/waist/hip measurements in my brain. Maybe it changes by a centimetre or two with a kilo here or there, but generally I can look at a pattern and have a pretty good idea what size I’ll need. I’ve been the same RTW dress size for years (you know, as much as brand variance allows, but I know the size needed from the shops I love). Now? Not so much.

This has all come to a head because the annual ball is looming. I wanted to avoid the stress of last year so figured I’d buy a gown. Something stretchy or empire line, because I honestly have no idea what shape I’ll be on the night. Online searches appear to reveal that pregnant women either a) aren’t supposed to go to black tie events or b) can’t wear sequins, lace or anything gorgeously spangly. Bah to that! I joke to everyone that I’ll make Kim Kardashian’s sofa cover. I’m still not convinced I want to sew anything. For months I’ve been too busy napping to sew; the only things that have emerged from my sewing room are an oversize Finalyson for me, a baby quilt for my brother, half a Kielo dress and a tantrum at my continuously unthreading overlocker.


So I head to the shops for a last ditch try for something RTW that has space for a bump, looks elegant and doesn’t cost a fortune. Halfway through the expedition I remember I basically haven’t been clothes shopping since starting to change shape. I had an early burst of enthusiasm when my tummy looked like it only contained a large dinner and bought some delightfully stretchy Metalicus dresses, but that’s it. Remember how I said I’ve been the same RTW size for years? Yeah, the fourth gown in a row in “my” size where the zipper wouldn’t get within cooee of doing up and I agreed that wasn’t the case any more. Turns out just because I’ve been squeezing into my same old bras and clothes doesn’t mean I’m the same size or shape.

That experience combined with contemplating stash patterns to sew a gown made it really finally hit me: I don’t know my measurements any more. I don’t know my body any more. I don’t know what adjustments need to be made. That stomach I’ve been admiring in the mirror each morning, willing to poke out more? It means real change. People say your ever-changing body while you’re incubating a new human is a way to prepare yourself for the loss of control babies bring to life. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. It’s tough. But I suspect the first step is to drag out the measuring tape and reset the numbers in my head – this week and next week and the week after…


PS – I sewed this dress after writing the bulk of this post. It’s view D of Simplicity 2580 in a polyester stretch crepe from Spotlight and I’m happy enough with it that I’ll make the full-length version for the ball. The construction was super easy, with the front bodice self-lining to make the cowl work nicely and as a bonus encases all the bodice seams. Bit the bullet, took those measurements and wound up sewing a size larger than “normal” (Simplicity’s size 20 here). I added clear elastic to the shoulders and waist seam, and hand stitched the neckline, sleeve facings and hem. I’m generally happy with the fit, although it’s a bit baggy in the back which I’m hoping adding a couple of darts to the next version will fix.


Growing Mossy


It hasn’t been by design, but I’ve done a whole lot of double sewing over the summer. I find sewing the same pattern twice in quick succession is very useful for consolidating in your mind the best way to make it and how to solve any tricky parts (I guess making a trial muslin does the same thing…). Mixed in with the double Dahlias I also worked on two version of Grainline Studio’s Moss skirt. I don’t know why it took me so long to try this pattern!


First up I used this medium-weight, slightly stretchy polka dot denim from Spotlight. I have a RTW plain denim mini skirt that I bought when at uni and have worn nearly to death and was looking for something to replace it as a summer wardrobe staple. This one certainly fits the bill.

I have sewn fly front zippers before but it was a very long time ago so I was grateful for Jen’s online tutorial with lots and lots of photos – and the pointer to it in the pattern instructions. The second time around was much easier but I still had to refer the the photos at one point when I forgot to sew the zipper to the skirt piece in the right order.


I’ve seen reference around the place to something odd happening with the Moss waistband, though not entirely sure what. Mine came out the right length on both versions but ended up different heights on the overlap both times. Not sure if this was my dodgy sewing, but I did try hard the second time around to make sure all the seam allowances were correct and sewn straight and it still came out wrong. The polka dot one was more pronounced so I unpicked the taller end of the waistband and resewed it so the height matched the other side (top stitching still a bit dodgy but not really noticeable when worn).


I was in between sizes so cut a size 14, the larger one, in the denim but ended up taking it in just over a centimetre on each side seam before attaching the waistband. Because of the sizing and the slight stretch in the fabric (and possibly because it’s not really the proper weight material for a skirt like this) it sits a bit lower on my hips than I’d really like. So for the second version I cut a size 12.


I also added three inches to the length of the skirt. I like the mini length in the denim but there’s a limit to how many short short skirts have a place in my wardrobe. I wasn’t sure how short it would turn out and did cut the hem band pieces int he polka dot denim to attach as per View B but ended up deciding they weren’t needed (I didn’t cut them in the faces fabric, just added length to the main skirt body). As it turns out, because of the smaller size and this fabric having no stretch whatsoever, the hem sits in about the same place. But the waist is higher so it feels quite different to wear.


This fabulous fabric is from – believe it or not – Ikea. In fact, they still sell it. A few years ago I found out Ikea sold fabric and made a special trip up the highway to check it out. At that point I was still rather clueless about what material was suitable for which garments, so I wound up with all these heavy-weight cottons, more properly suited to home dec stuff, and no idea what to do with them. I made a few cushion covers out of this (but then decided they didn’t go with the sofa so they’ve been retired) and felt slightly sad about not being able to find a clothes usage. Then a couple of weeks ago I saw a man at the shops wearing shorts in this exact print. Aha! Of course, it’s perfectly suited to become a hard-wearing skirt.

150117moss_faces9Because of the way the pattern repeats on the fabric and the fact I didn’t have a whole lot left there wasn’t much pattern matching opportunity. I cut the front and back panels nearly on the fold, so there’s only a bit of the pattern lost in the seam allowance, and much the same for the yokes. Similarly, there was little room to play around with pattern placement. I’m very happy with how it turned out though and it’s so much fun to wear – and hasn’t failed to attract comments yet.

150208mossdots7For both skirts I lined the waistband and pockets with remnant quilting cottons from the stash. The multicoloured spots is Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric I used to line a friend’s bag and the newspaper fabric was left over from a skirt made ages ago. I love having secretly exciting insides like this; they give me a thrill every time I pull the skirt out of the cupboard. Plus I think the newspaper/faces combination is perfect for me because I gather people’s stories and retell them. Oh, and I got clothes tags for a belated Christmas present! The faces Moss was the first thing I added a tag to and it makes me so proud.


Double blooming Dahlias

Recently I’ve been watching the television series Suburgatory. It’s a classic fish out of water sitcom about a single dad and his teenage daughter who move from New York City to the suburbs. One of the supporting characters is named Dahlia. She’s your stereotypical plastic consumerist teen, always clad in tight, short dresses, the pinker the better.

This Dahlia is not a bit like her.


I sewed up two of Colette’s Dahlia dresses in quick succession as some of my first makes this year. I was attracted to this pattern for the sleeved, wintery version but it’s the summer frock that I’ve actually made. Both have had a fair bit of wear so far; the style is perfect for my lazy summer holiday mood.


The first version is sewn up in a fantastic Wonder Woman quilting cotton. I’d admired it in Spotlight several times but not been able to think of how to make it work. Then The Monthly Stitch announced its G33k Out challenge for December and gave me the excuse I’d been looking for. However, it took me a while to find a pattern that addressed my concerns that a whole garment of Wonder Woman going BAM! would be a bit … in your face. Add that to the time eaten by the sewing of several Christmas presents and, well, December flew by and I missed the challenge.


In the new year I re-contemplated the summer dress version of Dahlia, discovered the TMS January challenge was all about denim and found some chambray/denim scraps left from a skirt that looked good with Wonder Woman. BAM!


This was a nice and easy pattern to sew up – though I did my usual trick of mixing it up straight out of the packet and combined the View B bodice with the View A skirt, mainly because I wanted the fabric to feature so I preferred not to cut it up into panels. The gathering (and advice in the instructions about sewing three rows of gathering threads instead of the usual two) was an interesting and different-to-me way of shaping the bodice and was very easy to do. I also like the method of attaching the waistband lining.


I made my own bias tape out of the denim which was a bit wider than the recommended 1/4″. For the second version of this dress (that’s the pinkish one up top) I used store-bought bias tape of the “correct” width but I actually like the look of the wider binding better.


The only difficulty I had was because the way the neckline binding forms the straps, I found it impossible to fit the dress properly until right at the end of sewing (I cut a size 12 bust and size 14 waist based on my measurements). This wouldn’t be a problem if I’d made a muslin but, of course, I didn’t. As a result, this one is too long in the bodice for my liking and it gapes a bit under the arms. You can see in the picture above how it’s all blousing out. I’m not too concerned about the loose fit because, realistically, having Wonder Woman suddenly faced with a decision and BAM!ming all over the place means this dress was always going to be a casual garment. But I wanted to get the fit better for the second one.


This time round I shortened the bodice by 3cm and took about 1.5cm off both front and back side seams at the underarm, grading it back out to the full size at the waistband. This largely fixed the problem of the bodice blousing out excessively, but has created some funny pull lines from the top of the bust to the top of the arm hole. If I make it up again (a distinct probability) I’ll try reducing the side seams a bit less. (This fabric is a lightweight printed cotton, also from Spotlight, BTW. A good weight for sewing this pattern.)


The other modifications I made were to add bias tape to the waistband seams (like piping but without any cord) to define them a bit in this busy fabric, and including inseam pockets. Because, pockets. I can’t not have them. I’ve never done inseam pockets with a side zip before (in fact, this is the first pattern I’ve sewn that has a side zip and I like it a lot) so there was a bit of swearing, unpicking, googling and checking RTW dresses in my closet to work out where you’re supposed to put the pocket bags. I initially sewed them one on each edge of the skirt pieces, like regular pockets, then realised that would mean you’d have to unzip the whole dress to use the pocket. Not so sensible.

The answer was you sew the pocket bag together (around the curvy edge) then attach one part of it to the skirt front. The other edge folds back and becomes the seam allowance for attaching the zipper to, instead of the skirt front being the seam allowance. The opening of the pocket ends up on the front side of the zipper. Naturally, I didn’t take photos while puzzling this out.


If there’s one big thing I’ve learnt over the past few years of sewing, it’s don’t stitch to a deadline. It never works out well. Of course, I ignore this much of the time and impose (often arbitrary) deadlines on myself. So it was with this dress. We were headed interstate for the weekend and I thought it would be nice to have a new summer frock to wear. But there wound up being a lot of unpicking involved – working out the pockets and also attaching the piping neatly to the waistband – and it wasn’t finished by the time we had to walk out the door. There was still the bias binding to attach to the neckline and armholes, and hemming. It would have taken maybe 30 or 40 minutes at the machine.


That was time I didn’t have, so I packed up the binding, scissors, pins, needle and thread and took the show on the road. And the train after the road. It took more than seven hours of hand stitching but that labour means I love this dress all the more! I added length to the straps to make the ties because I was worried a hand-stitched join at the shoulder wouldn’t be strong enough. I did intend to re-sew it properly on the machine later, but now I’ve decided I like the bows so I’ll keep them. I’m looking forward to trying out the sleeved version of this pattern now!