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.

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3 Moji (face with heart eyes)

 

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I made pants. I made pants! Three times I made pants for me. And I like them. I am not really a pants-wearing person, apart from jeans. After fruitless searches for work pants that fit well (pre-sewing era) I basically gave up on them and made skirts and dresses my uniform, with a pair or two of tights to get me through the winter. But pants are more practical for the amount of inelegant sprawling on the floor I do around home these days (not to mention the odd bit of crawling demonstration).

 

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I went looking for a pants pattern that would be easy to sew and require little in the way of fitting. Since the jogging/sweat pants style is highly fashionable at the moment, there is lots of choice out there. I settled on Seamwork’s Moji mainly because I have heaps of their monthly pattern credits to use up.

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The first pair I made up in green cotton sateen that I seem to have bought metres and metres of for some unknown reason. These are a size 16 (all three pairs are) sewn as per the instructions except I added in understitching on the pocket facing top to make it sit more neatly and tacked the cuffs at the side seam so they wouldn’t fold down unexpectedly. I used some twill tape for the drawstring and grommets that were left over from bag-making.

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I really like the cuffs in this design; I feel they add a touch of formality to what is a pretty casual pant design. (When I showed a photo of these to friends, one responded “sweet pants” and the other “sweat pants?!”) I’m also extremely proud of the top-stitching on all three pairs – it was my first time using an edge-stitching foot and it sure makes things a lot easier.

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The only thing I don’t like about the green pair is that they feel a bit like they’re going to fall down all the time. It’s mostly paranoia due to lack of elastic, I think, because they haven’t actually fallen down any of the numerous times I’ve worn them. Nevertheless, I decided to make a few tweaks for the second pair – the floral number. I tapered the legs in slightly from nothing just above the knee to about 1.5cm at the ankle. And I used 12mm elastic in the waistband channels either side of the drawstring. This makes a huge difference in how secure they feel!

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The fabric is another cotton sateen, from Spotlight, and was a compromise choice after my husband vetoed the lairy blue and orange linen I had in my stash (it might have to wait until I’m back in a skirt mood again). I figured the greyscale print meant these would be loud pants in a muted kind of way. Right?

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I wore those two so much that I just had to make another pair. Even more so after I tried on this pair in Country Road and figured I could copy the details like the knee patches and elastic ankles. These are made in tencel, similar to what I used for my Alder dress, and I love the feel fit and how it drapes.

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Drafting the knee patches was very straightforward; they were folded at each end and top-stitched to the front pant pieces before sewing the legs up as usual. For the elastic cuffs, I extended the legs by two inches to give enough length to create a 12mm elastic casing and a bit of blousing above it. If I was doing this again I’d also add a bit of width to the bottom of the pant leg – there’s not quite enough such that when you take the pants off the elastic gets caught on your heel.

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I also decided last minute to do flat-fell seams but it turned out too fiddly in this somewhat slippery material so I settled for faux-fell – the side seams are overlocked and then topstitched. The waistband has a self-fabric tie and one inch elastic. It would work perfectly well without the tie, but I like the detail of it and the grommets.

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In conclusion: 😍😍😍

(Photo credits here are to my mum and Frank. I’m learning to be more opportunistic in getting blog photos done, otherwise they don’t happen at all.)

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.