Dresses of a year

Before you have children, everyone tells you that once you do your time will disappear. And you think, ok, sure, but you really have no concept of how things will change in your life. How much longer everything takes with a small person in tow. How your own time pretty much condenses to the few hours between dinner and bed, plus the unknown length of nap time. But that time can add up into some pretty serious chunks of sewing (as long as you adjust your tolerance to mess and don’t mind the only time the dining table gets cleared is when you want to cut out fabric…).

Herewith projects sewn, photographed but unblogged in 2016 because some things have to give. In roughly chronological order.

170107dresses7Three Seamwork Kennedy dresses. (Yes, there are only photos of two.) I quite like this pattern, although it is a tad short. I was really unsure about the sack-like trapeze silhouette, but this pattern convinced me as long as it’s fitted around the bust and shoulders, it’s ok. These were in my nursing stage so I added the exposed zippers, which worked well but now I no longer need access are of an awkward length (almost to the natural waist where they’d probably look better ending just below the bust). The first was made in a polyester textured navy and white stripe stretch fabric from Spotlight, inspired by this Karen Walker dress. I raised the back neckline so it doesn’t have the V and ties. I’d wear it more if I hadn’t used a gold bias binding around the neck and sleeves which is very scratchy. The purple tropical print was the second and most successful. This is a silk/cotton blend with a seersuckerish texture bought at The Fabric Store years ago. Made for the Canberra Sewing Crew’s autumnal high tea and worn heaps, even to work with tights and a blazer. For the third version, I lengthened it into a maxi dress for my birthday picnic. I love the look of this but the feather fabric (“peachskin” from Girl Charlee) is a) slightly sheer and b) quite sweaty so it really needs a slip underneath and since I don’t have one, has hardly been worn.

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One Acton dress pattern testing for In The Folds. In the few years I’ve been regularly reading sewing blogs, there have been two or three kerfuffles about pattern testing so I signed up for this as much to see what was involved as for the pattern (although I do like the silhouette and wouldn’t have volunteered for something I wouldn’t wear). I thought Emily wrote a good blog post about her process (after the fact) and I was impressed with how she ran it – especially having a closed Facebook group for all the testers so we could see each other’s progress and get quick feedback from Emily on muslins, fitting and the like. The top of this is a cotton-spandex knit from Spotlight, originally bought to make leggings, and the skirt is silk from that same long-ago trip to The Fabric Store as the purple tropical print above. I also modified this slightly for nursing, extending the straps at the front to the waistline and attaching them to the top of the bodice with press studs (I think I’ll go back and sew them on now to make them more secure). I sewed this right before winter and it promptly got too cold to wear a floaty silk skirt so it hasn’t been out of the wardrobe much. I’d like to make another version, View A this time with the plain A-line skirt.

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One chameleon two-piece ball gown. The problem with all the ball gowns made so far is they get worn once or twice then never again, not being especially practical dresses. This year’s was going to be totally different. I used the short version of Vogue V8921, which hits about knee-length, and used the pattern to draft a maxi skirt, gathered at the waist instead of pleated, that buttons at each side seam behind those crossover panels. The dress is made of silk jersey (from Mood, more on that in a moment) and the skirt of polyester chiffon with a burnout floral pattern from Spotlight that I dyed blue. I was thrilled with the execution, which came out as a whole how I imagined, but I was displeased with my fitting skills. It was these photos that made me realise my post-baby body needs an FBA on patterns not a larger size. The dress on its own is too large in the back, so the crossover panels droop badly and pull the side seams to the front. It’s sitting on my sewing desk waiting for some large darts to be put in back in the hope that will fix many of its problems.

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One glorious emerald Anna dressThis was a pretty quick, I-need-something-glam-fast dress to wear to Fashfest and it’s turned out to be one of my two favourite makes of the year. I just feel fabulous every time I wear it! It’s the tried-and-true Anna bodice with a scooped out back plus a self-drafted pleated skirt (if by self-drafted you mean “lie fabric next to ruler and pleat until it’s the right width”). But the thing that really makes it is the fabric: more of that silk jersey from Mood. I’ve wanted to sew with this for years but it’s always been prohibitively expensive – until one late night browsing the Mood website for something else entirely I stumbled across it at 15 per cent of its usual price (A$11 a yard!) and, well, the only question was which colour to buy. I got 3.5 yards each of three colours (I still have a bright red/orange to sew) quick smart. But the next morning when I thought to share this bounty with instagram, lo it was changed to 15 per cent OFF the regular price, per haps alerted by my order? This stuff is an absolute dream to sew and it feels like wearing a waterfall. I’ve worn this dress so much. (Yes, it does need some bra-strap-holding thread chains in the shoulders; I know this but haven’t bothered.)

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One Cotton + Steel + Chalk fab floral dress. Like most of the rest of the sewing sphere, when I saw the Rifle Paper Co. collaboration with Cotton+Steel I had to get some. 2016 has been the year I discovered rayon properly – its drape! its feel against the skin! – so for me there was no question about the substrate and Miss Matatabi only had red left by the time I finally went to buy some. Lucky I love red! I wanted to try out the Cotton+Chalk Rosie dress pattern that came with a Simply Sewing magazine and am happy with the pairing of fabric and pattern. I also love the piping I added at the waist panel. I’m not happy, however, with the fit – I just couldn’t work out the sizing properly and even though I took the side seams in heaps the neckline gapes something shocking plus the zipper bulges. I think part of the problem is the bodice is too long – I’m working on a new sloper so I can try to adjust these things before I get sewing. But these issues haven’t stopped me wearing this a whole lot as a casual dress. (Psst… I can’t remember how I discovered this but Rifle Paper Co is doing another fabric collection, this time inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s out a bit later this year.)

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Two Cynthia Rowley rayon sundresses. These are a really wearable muslin and the actual planned dress, and I’ve worn them both heaps. The spotty one (at right) is the other of my two favourite makes for the year, but I’ve failed to get photos apart from a windy, footless impromptu few at MONA in Hobart. The pattern is Simplicity 1873, which I’ve had for years and made up once before, in a perfectly pattern-matched plaid taffeta that was much too short – a problem exacerbated by a flighty skirt. This time I lengthened the skirt (or maybe used the pieces from view A instead of C?), scooped the neckline out ever so slightly and added pockets (and colour blocked the skirt on the spotty version). There was a bit of faffing around with the seam allowance in the side seam but I’m really happy with the fit. I also love how full the skirt is – the front has three panels, with the seams hidden in the pleats. The orange/purple zebra-esque fabric is rayon from Spotlight, bought originally to make a Sewaholic Cambie with to imitate this dress from an episode of Awkward:

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but I couldn’t face fitting that pattern properly (again), so used it as a muslin for this one. I cut it on the crossgrain for the direction of the orange zig-zags and then didn’t have quite enough for the skirt so one of the back two panels is pieced. I was worried about the weight of the extra seam (it’s about two-thirds of the way down) but it turns out to be a total non-issue. The red spotted fabric is a rayon crepe from Tessuti and seen all over Instagram. I took both dresses on a recent work trip to LA and was secretly thrilled when another of the reporters asked if the spotty one was Gorman (how good is it to be able to reply, “No, I made it”?).

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Miscellaneous un-selfish sewing. First birthday Oliver+S field trip cargo pants (minus the cargo pockets and adding adjustable elastic) made from a worn-out pair of my jeans. Christmas and first birthday Oliver+S Pinwheel tunics and dress. Seamwork Almada using vintage kimono silk for trim.

Not pictured: Tote bags from a Japanese bag book for all the women I give Christmas gifts to. A dopp kit from the Grainline Portside set for my brother. Two True Bias Sutton blouses (and fabrics bought for a third, which totally counts, right?). Metres and metres of birthday bunting. Three MadeIt Patterns Groove dresses. Second birthday Brindille and Twig Pocket Raglan Dress and Big Butt Pants matching set. Two balloon ball covers traced from one a cousin gave us. Bandana bibs for a dribbly teether.

Snap snap snap

For weeks I’ve been planning to write this whole analogy with chick lit/rom com staple “the Non-Committer” to describe what’s been going on in my life. But because it’s work related and, as my mother continues to remind me, things on the internet stick around, here’s a pictorial edition of the past couple of months instead.








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Where’s the blog fodder? Well there is big stuff going on that’s occupying a lot of head and emotional space for me right now, but I can’t (and a bit don’t want to) talk about all that for another six weeks or so. Suffice to say lists are being written.

And so it feels rather like all that’s occupying the rest of my life at the moment is cake.

Om nom nom

(Oh, and I got to meet a red panda and some lemurs. And African servals, a giraffe, lions, a tiger and meerkats.)

 

 

Penguin classics

We had a party at my house. It was partly for winter and partly for my man’s birthday and partly for our housemate’s birthday. I made a cake. Et voila.

Well ok, that’s not the whole cake, just one of its residents. A few weeks ago, upon inviting a colleague to the party and informing there would be cake, it was somehow agreed that said cake would be an igloo (I can’t remember if that was her idea or mine). At the time I had not yet begun the cake decorating course, but I thought to myself, “I’ll have done two weeks of proper decorating by then, I’ll be fine.” And, largely, it was fine. It was even a little bit fun, working out how to turn this picture I had in my head into a real cake creation. (One friend insisted it was from one of the Women’s Weekly birthday cake books. I protested it was all of my own invention, so he looked right through the new and original versions and could find nothing resembling this. Though there is a penguin cake.)

For those interested in specific details: The cake is chocolate mud, baked in a pudding tin. I one-and-a-halfed the recipe but unfortunately that and the domed tin meant I was unsure about the cooking time needed and it did sink quite a bit after it was taken out of the oven. Also half the cake stuck un the pan. However it was delicious.

I used a dark chocolate ganache (70% cocoa chocolate because I didn’t give clear enough instructions to my shopper, but it tasted ok) and two layers of fondant icing that were about 2-3mm thick each (I wanted to have just one but it was a bit lumpy looking still). The “ice blocks” were defined using the handle of a paintbrush.

The penguins (there were originally going to be polar bears but that seemed an awful lot harder) are cone-shaped rolls of white fondant mostly. Their wings are from black fondant rolled about 5mm thick and cut in a circle then squished into a kind of oval shape and stuck on to the bodies with water. The heads are just balls of the black fondant, stuck on again with water. I didn’t have any yellow colouring but I did have already-coloured gumpaste that’s supposed to be turning into cala lily stamens, so I used that for beaks and feet. The beaks are attached with tiny dobs of sugar glue. The feet are little heart shapes stuck on with more water.

Cupcakery

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I believe I may have previously mentioned my enjoyment of baking and how much fun it is to share yummy food with others. Well quite apart from the taste of the baked item, I’m also keen on making them look good.

It’s just such a thrill when, for instance, you offer to make a cake for a friend’s birthday picnic, she says she’d like a pirate ship, and you can deliver. That “wow” that springs to everyone’s lips on first spying a stunning cake (made by anyone) is quite satisfying. Plus I love that feeling of “I made that”. (That satisfaction with producing something real is a reason I like working at a newspaper where the press is in the same building. If you’re feeling a bit demoralised, you can pop up and see the press and think yes, this is what I’m doing, this is what I’m making. And the smell of newspaper ink is like no other.)

In pursuit of even better looking cakes, a colleague and I are taking a cake-decorating evening course. The instructor (Emma from Sugar and Slice) warned on the first night that choosing to learn how to make beautiful cakes did mean you’d likely become “that cake lady” at your work, family and/or social circle. (She also said there was inevitably one person in each course who’d been asked to make a wedding cake and they always looked terrified. There was one such girl and she did look terrified.)

In our first week we got to decorate cupcakes — mine are the blue ones pictured above — and sent away with a list of equipment to find by next class, including an egg carton. I’m intrigued to see what that’s for. We were also set (optional) homework of further exploring the possibilities of cupcakes. I produced the pink ones below which were gobbled up at work’s regular weekly afternoon tea.

I’m looking forward to further adventures in cake making!

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