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.

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.

Summer sewing: picnic dress

Gingham is in this season, I read somewhere during the flood of fashion week wraps. Gingham is in this season, I authoritatively told a colleague as we discussed his tie. Gingham is in this season, I thought to myself as I saw the new dresses coming in from some of my favourite stores. So, gingham is in this season (or possibly last season – I get a bit confused being backwards from the northern hemisphere) and what better way to showcase that than a summer frock?

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The fabric is some kind of cotton (new year’s resolution: pay better attention to what fabrics you buy) I spotted in the home dec section of Lincraft while on a mission for more thread. Aha! I thought. Gingham is in this season and this gingham is not twee. Well, not too twee. It’s still kinda like a tablecloth you might use at a fancy picnic…

Pockets!
Pockets!

The skirt is from the Lonsdale dress because pockets (duh!) and I really love the shape. I cut it on a different grain angle than marked on the pattern because with the checks I wanted the straight-grain to be at the centre front and back. It possibly sticks out a little more at the side seam than on my first version, but not too much. I also cut a fair chunk of length off the bottom – like maybe 15cm – and as I did so, I remembered doing this on the red polka dots too. Note to self: alter pattern pieces.

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The bodice is my first ever time drafting something from the bodice sloper I made during a Burda garment fitting course I did with my mother. I was very unsure about how it would go (scooped out the neckline, changed the armholes, split the front darts in two) but went crazy-brave and cut straight into the fabric. Result: I still had to take in the centre back a fair way (my husband is getting much more reliable with the pinning for fit) but after that I’m extremely happy with it. Will keep the pattern pieces for future use!

Bet you can't see my side seam...
Bet you can’t see my side seam…

My pattern-matching confidence was greatly bolstered by having read this Coletterie post on how to match up plaids and stripes. The advice to cut the waistband on the bias to give a bit of room for error was especially helpful. I decided it was most important to have matching at the centre-front of the skirt and bodice, and the centre-back and side seams below the dart (where the seams are straight) on the bodice. There was much drawing of lines on the pattern, extremely careful pinning and even a bit of basting, which I don’t normally do. But the end result was totally worth it.

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There’s also *almost* pattern matching on the pockets but the fabric has loosened up a bit with some wearing so it’s not as close as when I first sewed it. Remember how I was obsessed with pocket seam finishes a while back? (These ones are French seamed, same as before) Since making this dress, I’ve been checking out the pattern matching on people’s RTW clothes. Some manufacturers clearly don’t care at all!

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The pattern matching on the back was doing much better until I took almost 3cm off each centre-back edge

 

In a last-minute attempt to toughen the dress up a little I decided to sew my first ever exposed zipper. Google and friendly bloggers with tutorials to the rescue! It’s not as neat on the inside as I’d like (the bodice is unlined to keep it lightweight for summer) but I’m still pretty pleased. I wasn’t sure where the top of the zipper should sit so I didn’t cut the tape shorter at all and instead sewed a hook and eye at the neckline. I kind of like how the ends sit straight up like magic.

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For pretty guts, I French finished the side seams of both bodice and skirt. At the centre back, I had enough seam allowance from having to take it in that I folded each side under twice so it encased the raw edge in itself and sewed (like how you’d finish a hem). The waist band is interfaced and has a matching one sewn on the inside, as per the Lonsdale pattern proper. I sewed the inner band to the seam allowance where the skirt and outside band were attached, then stitched in the ditch of the bodice seam to catch the top of it (hope that makes sense).

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At the neck- and arm-holes I finished the edge with this cute bias binding I bought in Paris. I machine sewed it at the seam allowance then folded the whole lot over and hand-stitched to finish. It’s a bit stiffer than the dress fabric so the catch stitching has caused some rippling around the neckline in particular but I’m not too fussed since this is a casual garment. I like having the secret surprise of the flash of orange.

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Finally, the skirt is finished using a rolled hem foot on the machine. I’m still getting the hang of this and there are a few bits (especially going over the bulky seams) where it’s not quite properly rolled and may need a bit of a trim after washing.

I sprained my ankle a month ago and still can't run, let alone walk in high heels...
I sprained my ankle a month ago and still can’t run, let alone walk in high heels…

I feel like I’ve been in a sewing frenzy lately, even if there hasn’t been much blogging happening. The #bpsewvember challenge on Instagram definitely inspired some planning and dreaming – and helped me find a bunch more sewing types to follow. My braining is turning over a few Christmas gift ideas too (yes, I’m fully aware it’s ridiculously close to the day) that will hopefully come to fruition. And then there’s been this Top Secret project…

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Yup, that’s a queen-sized wedding-present first-ever quilt. I don’t tackle projects by halves (see also: sequin and silk ball gown). I consulted some quilting friends on Twitter, bought a very useful book, did some maths and set to. The front combines the couple’s favourite colours, merging and swapping in the middle. The back has a strip with bits from the front plus some scraps from bunting I helped make for their wedding decorations.

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They loved it and I’m immensely proud to have actually finished something so huge (and am awoken to the marvellousness of a walking foot on the sewing machine) – but I don’t think I’ll be doing much quilting any time soon.

Frock out on Lonsdale

Coffee and social media at LSR like a hipster
Coffee and social media at LSR like a hipster

As soon as I saw Sewaholic’s Lonsdale dress I knew I had to have it – not for anything to do with the pattern itself but because of the name. Over the past few years Canberra, like Hollywood’s dorky teenage girl taking off her glasses, has had something of a makeover and Lonsdale Street in Braddon has been central to that. It’s full of gorgeous shops and fabulous places to eat and I frequent it, well, frequently. The place is so achingly hipster cool now it even got a write-up in the New York Times! Obviously I had to make this dress, despite being unconvinced the bodice style would actually suit me.

A Lonsdale on Lonsdale
A Lonsdale on Lonsdale

So unconvinced was I that I actually made up a toile of the bodice and waistband to check. I was finding it hard to know what a good fit on this more blowsy bodice should look like and spent a lot of time scrutinising photos of others people have made and blogged. For me, there was some unsightly bulging at the underarms which I fixed (more or less) by shaving a sliver off the side seams of both the front and back bodice. It still gapes a bit if the straps aren’t pulled tight enough but I think generally it’s okay.

If all else fails, distract from the bodice fit with a hound...
If all else fails, distract from the bodice fit with a hound…

The fabric is a linen blend (possibly with cotton – I really should take notes when I buy fabric so I can remember) I found at Spotlight while supposedly buying something else. I used the wrong side of the fabric as the outer because I like the way the not-quite-fully-dyed effect makes it a bit more casual. If a linen sun dress needs to be made more casual.

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My favourite part of this pattern is the pockets. Pockets! They’re the bestest! I have become mildly obsessed with pocket finshings of late, to the bemusement of friends and family when I demand to look in their pants, and I applied that here by making the pocket bags with French seams.

French seamed pockets!
French seamed pockets!

That is, I finished them with French seams after having to unpick everything because I’d attached the pockets sideways and to the wrong skirt pieces. Pro tip if you haven’t made a Lonsdale yet: the pockets are left- and right-sided and you’ve got to match them to the left and right skirt fronts otherwise the whole thing is incredibly perplexing. But it does make sense when it’s correct.

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I’m very happy with all the guts of this dress. In fact, these may be my most favourite garment insides so far. The bodice is fully lined (necessary because of the straps) and the seams are all French except for the centre back, where I made my own bias tape and bound the edges beside the zip Hong Kong style. The bodice lining at the waistband and the hem are hand stitched (ugh! but it does look better).

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My second favourite thing about this pattern is the back. It’s so cute with the bow (which I realise you probably can’t see because spots have a wonderfully camouflaging effect in photos…) and I like the way the straps can be a bit adjustable. I am still not entirely convinced about this bodice style but I think wearing it with a belt to better definite the waist would help. Between the linen and the spots and the bare shoulders, wearing this dress definitely makes me feel like summer is coming.

It's compulsory to pull faces while attempting to re-tie the bow by oneself
It’s compulsory to pull faces while attempting to re-tie the bow by oneself

Now if you’ve made it this far, your reward is the Tina Wheeze Mini Guide to Lonsdale Street. To find:

  • coffee head to Lonsdale Street Roasters. I know everyone’s got their favourite coffee joint but you really can’t go past Lonsdale’s first hipster joint, or its spinoff second outlet further down the street.
  • breakfast head to Elk and Pea. My staple go-to. Try the smashed avocado and mushrooms or the dolce to eat and the chai to drink.
  • drinks head to Bentspoke. They brew their own beers behind the bar (plus a cider and a ginger beer) – what’s not to love? (Well, it’s not technically on Lonsdale St but it’s only about 10m around the corner)
  • rugby head to Debacle. During Super Rugby season they put on a free bus to the Brumbies games and at other times they’ll show it on the big screens. Plus they’ve got good beers on tap and excellent pizza.
  • greeting cards head to Hive. I know this is a random category, but they really do have excellent cards. Also jewellery.
Coffee reward for the photographer
Coffee reward for the photographer

Square rainbows

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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.

Ooh la la Gabriola

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

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

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

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

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

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

The "look over there"
The “look over there”

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

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

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