Hero (vest) worship

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As the cold winter weather finally sets in here Down Under I’ve been eyeing off all the quilted vests appearing in shops. I have many winter coats but they were all bought in my previous pre-baby life and few are really casual wear so the idea of a vest was tempting. As is usual for me, I looked at a few RTW options, gasped at the price tag and thought, “I could make that”.

I spent some time tossing up between the Make It Perfect women’s Hero Vest and the Waffle Patterns Dropje vest. I’ve not sewn anything from either company before but ended up settling for the former because 1) it has a full lining and 2) Toni is Australian and I like to support local designers where possible. I was also seriously inspired by Kirsty’s Liberty quilted Hero Vest.

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The pattern says it can be made in any stretch or woven fabric so I took that challenge and ran with it. The outer is a fairly loose-weave, very stretchy knit of unknown content (well, unknown to me because I always forget to photograph the fabric labels in the shop) from Spotlight. The lining is a batik-style cotton flannel in the vest body and some black cotton-elastane I had lying round for the hood.

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I’ve quilted it with a double thickness of bamboo batting, chosen because it’s a natural fibre that can be machine washed (ain’t no hand-washing going on in my household…). It’s only about 4mm thick which is why I doubled it but I was a bit worried about my machine handling the thickness of all those layers. I used a walking foot for almost the entire construction and had no troubles – and even managed near-straightness thanks to judicious measuring and wash tape.

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The instructions were clear enough for me though I  did mess up the armhole binding because I didn’t read them properly and assumed the seam allowances were the same as everywhere else (they’re not) – easily fixed by trimming the seam down. I followed the very detailed tutorial on Make It Perfect’s website to insert the zipper.

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I especially like the pockets, which are a kind of reverse patch pocket in that you attach the pocket piece inside the outer instead of outside it. It does mean, however, that the pattern as drafted has the raw wrong side of the outer fabric against your hand in the pocket which probably would be fine unless you’ve decided to quilt it with no backing fabric. I mean, who would do that? This was easily remedied by creating a pocket lining piece and attaching it with the pocket binding then at the same time as the regular pocket piece (as above).

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Naturally, I couldn’t sew up the pattern as is. When do I ever do that? Instead, I had to go and puzzle out how to add fur trimming to the hood – but I’m so glad I did because I just love it. I’ve kept the regular hood as drafted and added the strip of fur 2.5 inches from the edge on the outside, wrapping around an inch on the lining (I work in inches for straight lines because I mostly use a quilting ruler to draft them and it only has imperial measurements). This means there’s some reinforcement inside the hood because I didn’t trim off the extra outer fabric bit that’s hidden.

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This is a case of me saying, “I could make that” and the finished product actually ending up as it was pictured in my head – and I’m so pleased! It really is deliciously warm and I think it will get quite a workout this winter and early spring.

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Dedicated readers (and you must be dedicated if you’ve made it this far) may remember I started the year with a sewing plan that did not include quilted, fur-trimmed vests. About a month ago I finally sorted through my wardrobe and thought about what I’m actually wearing these days. Much to my horror, I came to the conclusion that I had enough (dare I say too many) dresses and that it was going to be much more practical through winter to wear pants and layered tops when not at work since my usual uniform of dresses with tights isn’t so great for being down on the floor with a baby. As such I reassessed those sewing plans and chased up patterns and ideas that will better suit what I’m actually wearing rather than what I think I’ll wear. So while a quilted, fur-trimmed vest might be an impulsive fashion-driven make, I’m pretty sure it will actually get worn a lot. I hope.

Yaletown frolic

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This is not the dress I wore to a friend’s wedding in December. Nor is it the dress I planned to wear, or not quite.

The wedding in question was held in a cave in the middle of Kosciusko National Park and the dress code was “vintage finery”. I was initially inspired by a purple chiffon with blush roses found when the local Lincraft branch was moving and having half price off everything. I picked up five metres, thinking of something floaty with a very full skirt. That gave nursing access. That I could sew with a newborn around. (Tell her she’s dreaming!)

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These musings led me to the Sewaholic Yaletown dress, the pattern for which I had in my stash after winning it in a Monthly Stitch competition, um, the June before last. I was inspired by its vaguely 1940s sensibility (at least, it has what I think of as a 40s vibe but I could be completely off point). Plus many of the blog posts I’d read from others who had made it mentioned how gapey the front is, which I figured was actually what I wanted if I was going to insist on making a woven rather than a stretch dress. Sensibly, for once, I decided to toile the pattern before cutting into my (admittedly very cheap) chiffon.

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This is a cotton (probably) voile from Spotlight that was in fact not as cheap as my chiffon and only slightly less sheer. It’s a pretty loose weave and hasn’t held up all that well — pilling after one wear in the area where my bag bangs on my side, and a few threads have pulled in the wash. Mostly I liked it because it was cheerful and drapey. But I then went and underlined it in a plain blue voile, thus taking away all its draping qualities. Oh well.

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Yes, you read that right: I underlined this. For the first time on anything. And sewed French seams. On a toile. I hand-basted the two layers of each pattern piece together, which was a bit of a pain at the time but definitely worth it in the end. You can see the difference at the sleeves, which I left unlined. Because of the way the pattern is designed with the gathered, elastic waist I couldn’t work out how to check this fit without basically sewing the whole thing together. So I cut a straight size 16, sewed up the bodice and skirt, threaded through the elastic and tried it on a couple of weeks before the wedding. And decided I hated it.

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We shall meander briefly: A few years ago when we went to USA, I was excited about clothes shopping stateside (I had not learned about fabric districts then). The first time I managed to hit the shops in San Francisco I very quickly discovered *the* shape of that summer was not one that suited me at all. What was that shape? Dresses with loose, blousey bodices and elastic waists. I imagine it has not escaped your attention, dear reader, that fitted bodices are my jam. I like to emphasise my waist rather than swamp it in material. I’ve known this for years. I knew it when I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Southport dress I made (the pattern itself is lovely, it’s just not for me). So why I thought this would be any different with the Yaletown is beyond me.

Thus I cast aside the unfinished dress and panicked. You know when you’ve left buying a present until the very last minute and you’re absolutely out of ideas and you wander the shops in desperation? That was me, but with patterns. I decided to use the aforementioned purple, rose-covered chiffon to make a full, probably gathered skirt, figuring the vibe of the fabric would be vintage-ish enough, and sew a top that opened in the front to go with it. Here I am at the wedding:

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See all the roses? My eventual solution was to make the bodice of the Butterick 5521, a woven dress, out of scuba knit with a zip in the centre front seam and an added peplum (hidden under the skirt here). Let’s just say there were fitting issues and I wasn’t terribly happy with the result. And I didn’t have time to make a skirt so I did that panic shopping thing and miraculously found something that matched colours perfectly. And the whole vintage vibe I was going for disappeared. But the wedding was great fun.

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Fast forward a few months and I picked up the unfinished Yaletown to see if it could be salvaged (and declutter my sewing table). All that was left to do was the sleeves and hem! I put it on again and went and stood back in front of the mirror and decided it wasn’t all that bad after all. I must have just been having an off day back in December. Since it was so almost finished, it took hardly any time and voila, a whole new summery frock.

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So, the verdict: I’ve worn this quite a number of times. Yes, the neckline gapes (like, a lot — I was sure to pat it into place for these photos) but it is functional for breastfeeding. I am always a fan of pockets, so that’s a positive, and I really like the fluttery sleeves. I’m still not completely sold on this silhouette, though suspect shortening the bodice would help somewhat (must make a new bodice sloper). I also think sizing down and sewing it in a knit could work too. But I do think it’s worth giving another shot some time in the future.

Double trouble: sewing for feeding mothers

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Here is what happens when a sewing plan gets all derailed but you end up loving the result.

I had intended to make another false-front McCall’s 6886 dress with this pixelated floral Art Gallery fabric. However, lately I’ve been thinking about what distinguishes RTW garments from home sewing and one of the things I’ve noticed is clothes in shops often make more judicious use of colour-blocking than what I think to do. While turning this idea over I made the previously mentioned nursing bra from the EYMM everyday essentials set. I liked the fit of it so much I decided to throw the previous plans for this fabric out and turn it into a colour-blocked dress using that pattern.

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The pattern includes mix-and-match pieces that mean you can make a bra, top, short dress, midi-length dress, or two lengths of half slip (or, I guess, skirts). This is a hacked version of the short dress pattern. The bodice is a straight XL, medium-cup from the pattern, although I created a front lining piece without the under-bust gathering. It’s attached on the inside with openings in the side seam so that if I don’t want to wear a bra I can have the option of adding some padding, like in a sports bra or swimsuit. Attaching the neckband to the bodice and lining so all the seams were hidden on the inside took more thinking and unpicking (and swearing) that it probably should have, but I got there in the end. If you want to attempt something similar, the key is to sew the neckband on before attaching the lining at the shoulders.

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The skirt part has many more modifications. Firstly, I added two or three inches of length to the short skirt (it was done on the fly and I can’t remember exactly how much now). From the highly technical “hold the pattern piece under your bust and see where it reaches” fitting method I decided I wanted a length in between the two offered. The shorter one is more intended as a slip or nightie, I think. Then I segmented off a waistband from the top of the skirt.

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Thirdly, I slashed and spread it from approximately the hip to give a bit more of an A-line shape. In doing this I don’t think I shaped the hem properly because it dips down at the sides (not particularly obvious in these photos) – next time I’ll make sure to actually measure the centre and side seam to check they’re the same length. The whole thing is sewn on the overlocker and I left the hem raw, though may yet sew it up.

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The construction of the dress is really neat because the pattern has you still attach the negatively eased bra band inside the top of the skirt at the waist seam, so you get a bit of extra support under the bust. It also suggests you could add thick elastic inside the bra band if you need even more support but I figured I’ll mostly wear this with a proper bra underneath so that’s not needed. The only downside is it’s extremely low cut (you can make it more modest by leaving out the gathering and instead overlapping the front pieces further). That mostly doesn’t worry me but after a few times tugging the bodice down to feed it can sag and show the top of my bra a bit. In the above photo I’m wearing it with a nursing singlet, which is a more workable fix as the weather turn colder.

That aside, I was so pleased with this dress that the next night after making it I carved out some time and made another!

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The floral fabric is a cotton jersey with pretty decent two-way stretch (or is it four-way? I’m never sure. It’s rather stretchy) and I used a watermelon ponte scrap I’ve had hanging round forever for the waistband. This black and white one is made entirely from ponte, apart from the neckband, so it’s a firmer fit. I didn’t have quite enough of the stripes to do the skirt as flared as the floral version so I (pattern drafters, avert your eyes) folded the side of the pattern piece at a slightly flatter angle as I cut it out. There’s some pretty boss stripe matching going on at the side seams; I’m proud of that. I used a thinner black jersey for the neckband because the ponte didn’t have the required 50 per cent stretch and left off the bra band. The hem is folded over twice and straight stitched. And… I didn’t change the thread on my overlocker so the whole thing is finished in pale green (the shop had no white), which annoys only me because I can see it down the neckline but nobody else can. I hope.

These are a great pair of summer dresses. Since they’re stretchy, they don’t really need ironing so are excellent for travelling (like, to Melbourne and Winchelsea/Dungatar) or throwing on in case of baby-related clothes malfunction. Perfect!

 

Morning people

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Now, dear reader, I can hear you looking at the above photo and thinking, “That fabric wasn’t in the sewing plans. One frock and she’s gone off the wagon!” And you wouldn’t be wrong. But!

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It came about because, as planned, I made a sleep bra from the EYMM everyday essentials pattern and then wondered how to wear it in the mornings. My favourite silk dressing gown (bought in a Melbourne alleyway store for my wedding) doesn’t cross over far enough any more and it’s always been rather shorter than is modest when one goes outside to collect the newspaper (yes, I must be just about the last Millenial to get the paper delivered…). As I was musing on all this, the latest issue of Seamwork came out with the Almada kimono as one of its patterns.

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I really like the way the ties fold the front in when the kimono is done up, and the big sleeves. I also like that the pattern has the option for adding a snap at the front to keep the gown closed at the bust (although I lost my chalk mark for where to place said snap and think I may have attached it higher up the neckline than designed).

The maroon fabric is a silk-cotton blend (from memory) that I bought approximately a million years ago when I first discovered The Fabric Store. It’s lightweight but perhaps a bit more crisp and less drapey than the pattern calls for. However, it feels lovely to wear. The trim is another silk-cotton blend from the same shopping trip, which actually has more drape than the main fabric but is interfaced here.

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I couldn’t be bothered making bias binding so I’ve used a pale red and white striped pre-made cotton bias tape to finish the front edge (I wanted aqua but couldn’t find any so this was the closest match in the shop). It and the hem are top-stitched with an aqua thread that matches the cuffs and ties. Inside, the finishes are all French seams, even where the cuffs are attached. I couldn’t tell you if this took two hours to make, as Seamwork promises, because I sewed it in a whole lot of short sessions but it certainly was a pretty quick sew. This is an unaltered XL (based vaguely on bust measurement) but I cut the hem at the 3XL length to make extra sure it offers paper-collecting modesty.

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The shape and position of the sleeves and cuffs has taken a bit of getting used to when wearing the kimono because it’s not a shape I’m familiar with and occasionally movement feels a little restricted across the front shoulder — bizarre, I know, in a garment with so much ease. I’ve worn this basically every morning since making it, so that’s a big hit.

The sleeping bra that started all of this is also a big hit. It’s made from eucalyptus-coloured jersey (probably cotton) with excellent two-way stretch. I sewed the whole thing on the overlocker (bar the gathering stitches, but they’re basically just basting) in one relatively quick late-night session. It’s really comfortable to wear and perfect for breastfeeding. In fact, I liked it so much I’ve made two dresses from the pattern as well!

 

Alder (or, A-line shirt dress with gathered skirt and snap closures)

Collar and placket and yoke, oh my! Yes, I sewed a shirtdress and I liked it. And so, coincidentally, did the judge of my local country show’s handicrafts section!

One of the things that’s been tricky in the search for nursing-friendly clothes is finding the right silhouette for me. I’m not sure quite why this has been so hard; with a (pre-baby) wardrobe full of fit-and-flare and fitted sheath dresses I obviously know what I like. But translating this into sewing patterns that open at the front without too much faffing around to adjust has proven difficult.

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If you’re looking for something that opens easily, a shirtdress is the obvious answer. I’ve admired the Grainline Alder for some time but never been quite sure the loose-fitting A-line shape is for me. I’m still not completely convinced by the shape but it sure makes a lovely breezy summer dress.

This is a size 18 based on my bust measurement (while the pattern lists waist and hip measurements, the huge ease in the shape means you can basically ignore them). The only alteration I made was to add three inches to the length since most of the Alders I’ve seen have been a bit on the short side and my life is about to involve a whole lot of crawling on the floor.

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Tip for new players: if you add length to the dress front, skirt front and skirt back, don’t forget to add it to the placket too even though there’s no shorten/lengthen line. Preferably before you cut it out (I caught my mistake *just* in time…).

I like where this hits the knee at the front with the added length. The shirttail hem in the back is a bit longer than I’m used to wearing and it feels a little odd when it brushes against my leg. But that’s something I’m sure you get used to.

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Oh, and I added in-seam pockets too because a dress without pockets just isn’t worth making – although I did I omit the breast pockets for a less fussy front and to not draw attention to the chest more than necessary.

160208alder9 The pocket bags are a floral cotton lawn I used for a Colette Crepe dress shortly after I started sewing that I eventually decided just wasn’t for me. I went looking for scraps of the fabric and found the whole dress in my stash cupboard so I unpicked the pockets and used them instead of having to cut and sew new ones. It was interesting to see how far my sewing’s advanced since then – there was some dodgy work there!

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The main dress fabric is a tencel chambray from Spotlight. It drapes nicely and is fantastically soft to wear but was a bit of a shifty bugger to cut. And I forgot that I should have been thinking about pattern matching (or at least patterns being in a straight line) until after cutting out half the pieces. Nevertheless I’m pleased with how it turned out. For the contrast placket and collar the reverse of the fabric is used.

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Construction-wise I have little to add to the many other blogs I’ve read. Along with the rest of the world (it seems) I used Jen’s burrito method for the yoke (which always confuses me when I read descriptions but somehow just works in reality) and Andrea’s collar construction order. Doing the topstitching convinced me I should get an edge-stitching foot (birthday fairy?) but it turned out ok by going very slowly. I used pearl snaps instead of buttons because 1) easy access, 2) excessive consumption of Nashville and 3) buttonholes still make me nervous.

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So, first item from my sewing plan completed and I think it’s one that will get a lot of wear. I found it interesting when sewing this up that having less time to get in front of the machine actually made me take more care with each part of the dress, instead of rushing to get things done. That patience has paid off with a dress I’m really proud of.

** Adding to the pattern resources for nursing mothers, I have discovered Jalie has a few patterns, including this crossover top which I think I’ll try, and 5 Out Of 4 have a knot-front top or dress with a nursing modification included.

Brindille & Twig x Sprout Patterns

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I was intrigued when Spoonflower announced its new venture, Sprout Patterns, combining its print-on-demand fabric with patterns from indie companies. When Sprout launched with a limited range of designers and patterns I had a bit of a play around with the site but didn’t order anything. But when I learned a couple of months later they had added kids’ clothing designers Brindille & Twig to their range I was back like a shot. I’m a big fan of the company’s modern, funky designs and the fact much of their range is great for boys or girls.

Since Sprout is relatively new, I’ve seen little around the web about how it works (apart from one post on Brindille & Twig’s blog, which was super helpful when I had a crisis of confidence and couldn’t remember whether the pattern included seam allowances or not). I can see both pros and cons in its service, which definitely affected what I decided to order, but overall I think it’s an interesting idea and good luck to them.

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The main reason why I didn’t order anything when it first launched was because of the way the sizing is done. You have to choose a single size for the garment you’re ordering and the pattern pieces are printed on the fabric with about 1.5cm white space around them (as seen above) so you can see where to cut out. Inside the white space the pattern piece is defined by a solid black line, which is where you cut along, and the seam allowance is included in the printed part. While all this saves you a lot of time in tracing and cutting patterns (and printing and taping if you’ve gone the PDF route) — definitely an attractive prospect — it does mean that if you fit across two sizes, as many people do, you can’t really grade between them. I imagine it would also be much harder to make alterations — you definitely couldn’t do an FBA, for instance.

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However, since the initial launch, Sprout has added a bunch of patterns where sizing is less of an issue: children’s clothes, at this stage by Brindille & Twig and See Kate Sew, as well as several bags and a hat. I haven’t sewn much for Theo largely because it seems so time-consuming fussing around with patterns to make something he might wear a few times before growing out of. Obviously, the service Sprout offers does away with a whole lot of those concerns.

I ordered the baby harem romper in sizes 0-3 months (the cockatoos) and 3-6 months (the pandas) sometime around Black Friday/Cyber Monday when they were offering a discount plus free shipping (shipping to Australia being the killer for most overseas fabric orders).

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It’s possible to become paralysed by choice with the entire Spoonflower library of fabrics available to customise your patterns but I knew immediately I wanted to have Elvelyckan Design animals. The fabric search function on the Sprout website was a bit clunky to use. I’d suggest browsing via Spoonflower’s website first, noting down the keywords or name of the print or designer you want and using that to search on the Sprout site. They also now have fabric suggestions from the pattern designer and you can browse combinations ordered by other customers.

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After you’ve ordered, the instructions for the pattern and the entire PDF pattern (yay!) are loaded into your account on the Sprout website, where you can download them. This part wasn’t entirely clear to me and I spent a long time waiting for an email with the files to turn up. There is no email. It’s on the site.

You will definitely want to wash your fabric as soon as it turns up because it smells quite chemical, I’m guessing from the printing process. Ahem, I mean I always wash my fabric acquisitions immediately…

As far as sewing this pattern, it was very easy. I did the whole thing on the overlocker and it took about an hour from cutting to completion, including inserting the snaps. I really like how this romper looks and it’s nice and roomy around the bottom (important for fitting over bulky cloth nappies). I’m yet to sew the larger size but I think I will use ribbing for the cuffs instead of the supplied pieces. The organic cotton knit feels like good quality but it is quite thick and not hugely stretchy when doubled over.

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One final thing to note that may annoy some people is that you have no control over pattern matching. For a print like this I wasn’t concerned but you can see by the layout of the pattern pieces on the fabric that if I’d gone with plaid or stripes they wouldn’t have matched up at all because the top of the front and back pieces are lined up, not the side seams. Hopefully the Sprout team has thought about this for the adult garments (or will think about it in future).

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Lastly: while we were doing Baby’s First Blog Photo Shoot (modern milestones!) I also popped Theo in this lovely gown his grandmother sewed when she was in school. Maybe not the most practical of garments, but I particularly love the stitching on the ruched front (EDIT: I’m told it’s actually called smocking).

Planning day

In the interests of keeping my sewing brain from skit-skatting around and actually shopping the stash this year (never mind that many of these fabrics were bought in the past month…) I’ve been thinking ahead about what to make and what to make it in. Herewith my plans as they stand right now; perhaps making them public will keep me accountable. Or perhaps not. 

  

Already on the cutting table is a Grainline Alder shirtdress in this tencel chambray. I’m going to make view B and am contemplating whether to use the wrong side of the fabric as accents in the button band, collar and possibly pockets. Having held the pattern pieces up against me, I also think I’ll add a couple of inches in length. 


I couldn’t resist this fleece at Spotlight the other day and bought a couple of metres (and nearly-matching green ribbing) with the intention of making a zip-up hoodie. I could modify the Thread Theory one I’ve made a bunch of times but the shape of the Jamie Christina Sol is exactly what I’m after without any extra work.

  
I bought the True Bias Sutton blouse as part of a pattern bundle (I think) and have been intending to give it a go for ages. Hopefully this orange/blue/cream peach skin polyester fabric from Girl Charlee won’t prove as scary to sew as I’ve been fearing. 

  
I bought this metallic polka dot French terry from Miss Matatabi with the intention of turning it into a relaxed Grainline Morris blazer to wear with jeans. Then it got hot and those plans got put on ice. So here’s to getting it done by autumn!

   
  
 These two I want to turn into more nursing dresses using my hack of McCall’s 6886. The floral is an Art Gallery knit from Addicted to Fabric and the brown/mustard is a double knit from Girl Charlee that was a birthday present last year. I’m intending to show off bothsides of the latter with a further, colour blocking modification to the pattern. Still trying to decide whether the stripes or teeny dots should make up the majority of the dress. 

  
Of course, the Cashmerette Appleton wrap dress. Still need to actually order the pattern, but I bought this polka dot jersey from Addicted to Fabric with it in mind. 

  
I can’t remember what I thought I was going to do with metres and metres of this eucalyptus-ish jersey (it’s more green in real life than the grey of this photo) but now I’m going to use a tiny bit to make either a bralette or top from the EYMM everyday essentials pattern. 

  
Finally, there’s this remnant of stripey jersey from Addicted to Fabric. If the EYMM pattern turns out well, I’ll use this to make the top, otherwise there’s a Lekala nursing crossover top I’ve got my eye on.

I don’t think this counts as a “capsule wardrobe” since nothing really goes together and, um, there are no bottom-half coverings. There are one or two other ideas knocking round in my brain too, such as a couple of cardigans in some lovely merino jerseys, but fabric and pattern haven’t quite come together for those yet. Hopefully these plans aren’t bigger than my sewing appetite! 

Have you had success in planning out your sewing? Or do good intentions get flung out the window when you *need* another party dress?