Hat

Quick post to show off a quick and dirty sun hat that I made just prior to running off to do the tombola at the school fete.

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It’s Kokka fabric from Nunoya, the inside is fine linen from Crescent Trading and the pattern is the Oliver + S bucket hat, with a 1/4 seam allowance to make it big enough for my head. I made the largest size.

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Fine linen on the inside with weird pleat.

I’ve made a few of these before, they are quick enough that I see them as almost expendable (children and hats being what they are) and a big advantage is that it’s machine washable. Nunoya is based in Barcelona but they ship to the UK and certainly the price in euros compared to GBP for things like Nani Iro, Cotton and Steel and Kokka (and they don’t price by the fat quarter, which is always very annoying) make it worth the shipping costs.

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Having come back from 3 hours in the sun with only a smidge of red on my shoulders, the verdict is a resounding success.

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Secret kangaroo

(sort of) Cultural Activity.

I disturbed her bedtime for this.
I disturbed her bedtime for this.

One of the best things about a hobby like this is the community you meet. I swapped some Vlisco Java print (left over from the Super Bright Dress) with a friend, in return for some Sheshwe, which is to South Africa what wax print is to West Africa. It has a similar history – brought in the c19th by missionaries from Europe, and co-opted into traditional attire. However, it’s not the same as wax print at all. The process is quite different, as is the fabric. It has a distinctive, pleasant smell and apparently wears beautifully, becoming very soft.

Hearts and swirls
Hearts and swirls

My friend was brought up in Pretoria and my husband is from Johannesburg. I had high hopes that the Sheshwe would send him off on a Proustian reverie, but apparently it wasn’t in vogue in Joburg.

This fabric is not ringing any bells.
This fabric is not ringing any bells.

I wasn’t disheartened though. I began cutting out an Oliver + S Badminton Dress at my husband’s grandmother’s. She at least recalled sheshwe.

The girl had the idea of putting a heart on the front, drew and cut out a template and chose the placement. It was her idiot mother that decided now was the time to try out reverse appliqué without referring to any instructions or tutorials, basically working it out from the term alone.

I used bias binding for the ties.
I used bias binding for the ties.

It turned out ok, but it doesn’t look very impressive. I think it needs different fabric thicknesses to work properly. The rest of the dress was easy apart from the yoke. This was one of the few garments where transferring the dots from the pattern would actually have been useful. The shoulder ruffles are different widths as a result. 

I bothered scalloping the hem, which wasn’t too onerous in the end. The Sheshwe is quite obliging, hardly frays and stays where it’s put.

Faced scalloped hem. My first go at something like this.
Faced scalloped hem. My first go at something like this.

She rather likes the dress. I think it would make a great nightie in a lighter weight fabric too.

One ruffle is wider than the other. Guess which one this is.
One ruffle is wider than the other. Guess which one this is.

I have another half metre left. Maybe a matching outfit for her little cousin beckons.

How to make a North London Quilt

I’ve never been I’m a fan of quilting. I thought it looked like a pain in the rear end to cut things out, sew them together, then sew more together, so on and so on… and the idea that in order to do this I had to buy more fabric *specifically for this task*…

A mix of handprinted Indian cotton, Liberty lawn, some rubbish I got at Ikea and wool crepe.
..especially when duvets exist.

My understanding of quilts, and patchwork, is that they were something that was originally made to make use of tiny scraps of worn out clothes, so it seems a bit absurd that making a quilt is more of a status symbol these days than the creation of anything useful. However, recently I found myself with a great many scraps, and no money to buy fabric, so I found some information about how to make a simple log cabin quilt which just involves sewing strips of fabric around a central square. I have made a couple of patchwork quilts before, but I hated every second of it. It was amazingly dull, sewing squares together endlessly.

The Liberty print at the centre was bought in one of Liberty's excellent little sales. It has vampire bats and things on it.
The Liberty print at the centre was bought in one of Liberty’s excellent little sales. It has vampire bats and things on it. Also there is some wool crepe, some rubbish I got from Ikea, handprinted Indian cotton from Cloth House and a bit of lawn from Croft Mill.

The log cabin quilts made from scraps I saw online were made with a fine eye for colour and pattern and design. Someone had sifted through their scraps with love, care and attention. I don’t have any of those things, so I sewed the strips done together in a random order.

But the log cabin pattern come together very quickly and I was able to make 4 blocks (which is the name for the individual components of a larger quilt) in about 40 minutes. Had I been bothered, I would have tried to arrange the scraps in a aesthetically pleasing order but I figured true “makers” are driven not so much by aesthetics but a wish to save money and make use of things, Womble style. So with that in mind, all I really tried to do would make sure that identical strips were not touching one another.

I have 4 blocks now, enough for a cot quilt I guess, but I think I will carry on and wear down my scraps pile, and see where it takes me. It feels very virtuous to be making use of these. Have I been converted into one of those crazed quilting women I saw at the Knitting and Stitching Show, a slightly crazed look on their faces as they seized fistfuls of fat quarters? Who knows. Maybe…

The Pinny Project

Small wriggly creatures have many habits. They are usually covered in scabs and bruises from something or other, they sit and chew their hair and periodically, the owner finds that they have grown out of most of their clothes.

A creature of perpetual motion, she has yet to perfect the art of holding a pose whilst the shutter button is being pressed.
A creature of perpetual motion, she has yet to perfect the art of holding a pose whilst the shutter button is being pressed.

I bought this Anna Maria Horner fabric at the Knitting and Stitching Show. I think this is the last chunk of my purchases. I think I’m pretty good about not hoarding stash and I tend to have something in mind when I buy the fabric. Scraps are a different matter, I have loads of scraps that I periodically dump on the school.

This is the Music Box Pinafore from Oliver+S. A perfect school pinny pattern but since most of her Bread & Jam dresses are outgrown and summer beckons, I thought I’d make this version first.

It’s unspeakably simple.

She found a dead daddy long legs in the corner (Actually a harvestman but what can you do).
She found a dead daddy long legs in the corner (Actually a harvestman but what can you do).

There are only a few pattern pieces. Indeed, I only used two in the end for the bodice, the rest is a gathered skirt, and I used an invisible zip rather than the buttons on the pattern. Because there is time for many things in life, but chasing a child around while you attempt to button up the back of a dress is not one of them. I finished it with bias binding rather than lining the bodice, for speed and for versatility in warm weather.

She complains that it does not have pockets.
She complains that it does not have pockets in which to store the unfortunate dead arachnid.

I like the print here. It looks sort of Mexican(?) to me and I managed to pattern match the back bodice reasonably well. It’s an unusual palette for girls’ clothes, which I like. I don’t hold with Pink Stinks but sometimes it’s nice to take the advantage home sewing gives you, and use something different.

Move your hair out of the way, I said. There's a dead daddy long legs, she said. Look.
Move your hair out of the way, I said. There’s a dead daddy long legs, she said. Look.

It’s really fortunate that I am not squeamish, although I must dust that corner at some point.

Daisy Dreams

(The above is a reference to a My Little Pony).

Many long years ago when I was at university, I had a dress. It was a black dress with a daisy print, a small round lace trimmed collar, short sleeves and a sash at the back. I loved that dress, I bought it from Miss Selfridge right around the time that a vintage tea dress worn with bovver boots (swapped for Vans or Airwalks in the summer) was pretty much the uniform and to be honest, I may have ditched the Doc Martens some time ago but the rest has remained more or less constant.

Daisy, Daisy
Daisy, Daisy

However, at one point I went out with someone who much preferred me in jeans and hated dresses. So for some reason I scooped up a lot of my floral print frocks and gave them to a charity shop in Hitchin. I still remember seeing my daisy dress on a mannequin in the window and went to buy it back, but by the time I got there, it had gone. Oh, the distress.

I’ve had half an eye out for a similar print for ages. Two years in fact. At B&M in Kirkgate Market, Leeds, I spied something that more or less fitted the bill. It’s drapey rayon challis, so from memory it’s a pretty good match for the fabric, and the print is not dissimilar. But look:

This dress decapitates people.
This dress decapitates people.

It’s a border print! I was so delighted with this I bought loads, at £3 a metre indeed. There are some odd holes in it here and there, which is interesting because I bought some other rayon at a different shop recently and it also had random holes in it here and there. So it’s just as well the stuff is (a) cheap and (b) abundant.

After my Emery triumph, I chose to make another Emery. The By Hand Kim dress would have been a similar shape but I seem to remember my old dress had sleeves and a higher neckline. I opted to leave off the collar and lined it with some leftover silk I had lying around (as you do).

Wet Hair Redux.
Wet Hair Redux.

In some ways this is better than my old frock. It has pockets for one thing, and a silk lining which I hand stitched down.

I HATE hand stitching things. I swore the whole time and made a mess.
I HATE hand stitching things. I swore the whole time and made a mess.

I did a nice clean finish with the invisible zip too, there’s a nice tutorial on By Hand London for this if you’ve not done it before.

Invisible zip and silk lining.
Invisible zip and silk lining.

I wore this for a friend’s birthday party in Brighton. It’s nice and breathable for sweaty pub backrooms and the pockets are great for filling with blinis and mini cupcakes at the buffet for the long train trip home.

Like a hamster or sulky teenager, if I have pockets, my hands will be shoved in them. Pockets may contain: keys, phone, sweets, fluff and/or hair bobbles.
Like a hamster or sulky teenager, if I have pockets, my hands will be shoved in them. Pockets may contain: keys, phone, sweets, fluff and/or hair bobbles.

Those back wrinkles. Hmm. I put those down to the odd posture I am assuming here as they aren’t usually visible.

I am sure that if I laid my hands on the original dress, I’d be disappointed with it. But I’m quite happy with my replica.

Alteration Altercations

I bought a Burberry suit on Ebay a while ago, jacket, skirt and trousers, for £100. However, all but the jacket are too big at the waist and I have been looking at the skirt and trousers on and off, thinking that I must get round to altering them. I remember I once tried to adjust a skirt using darts – I hand sewed them through the waistband leaving a massive bulge that then undid itself throughout the day and that’s put me off for a long time.

Burberry check bias tape hides the junction between inner waistband and lining.
Burberry check bias tape hides the junction between inner waistband and lining.

Finally I got my ripper out and set to. The skirt’s construction is interesting and complicated. The waistband is attached every which way. There is bias binding on the lining, twill tape on the inside and endless rows and rows of topstitching. I have had to undo both the side seam and the zip as there’s about 4 inches of loose fabric between my waist and this skirt, but once undone the job appears to be quite easy. Here is the dismantled skirt on Monica the dressform. It’s inside out with the lining pushed out of the way for now.

Inside a designer piece of tailoring. You can just see the twill tape. This waistband was secured by about 5 different methods. It's really impressive, and humbling.
Inside a designer piece of tailoring. You can just see the twill tape. This waistband was secured by about 5 different methods. It’s really impressive, and humbling.

I have marked the excess fabric with pins. I am going to tack it first, try it on and then machine it, grading out to the original side seams at the hip.

Marking excess fabric with pins. There is no way it's ever going back the way it was but at least after alteration, it will get some wear.
Marking excess fabric with pins. There is no way it’s ever going back the way it was but at least after alteration, it will get some wear.

Reassembling this is going to be a lark. The label says “size 8″ but that’s insanely generous.

On Monica the dressform. I have tucked the lining away for the moment, I feel the main body is going to be the trickiest part to get right.
On Monica the dressform. I have tucked the lining away for the moment, I feel the main body is going to be the trickiest part to get right.

A Lovely Blouse

I have been craving a nice blouse for a long time. Something structured yet soft, something pretty yet versatile. When I buy woven tops they always end up being too big and sag down at the bust, giving everyone a nice eyeful of my bra. I’ve bought shirts from places like TM Lewin, but the looser fit styles are too loose and they are more inhabited than worn. The fitted versions are OK but the waist is far too low, meaning I am forever yanking them down to prevent weird gapes.

I have wet hair. But I also have this super blouse.
I have wet hair. But I also have this super blouse.

This is Butterick 5526 which I have made before in stripy Paul Smith fabric.

This is the only pic I have on file and I observe that it is unironed.
This is the only pic I have on file and I observe that it is unironed.

This is an OK shirt but suffers from the same problems as my RTW versions. It is slightly too big all over and the reason I did not take a picture of myself in it is that I feel the collar is trying to eat me alive, so I look like Harry Hill. However, I like the princess seams and sparkly buttons that I added.

I mulled over the shirt for ages and then thought, what the hell. I traced out the smallest size as, like an idiot, I followed the size guidelines on the envelope the first time. I pinched out about 3cm of length from every piece and shaved off about a centimetre from the collar. Surprise surprise, when I tried this on, it fitted! I do not need to yank it down, nor do I feel I am peering out from behind a massive collar.

I amended the sleeves to be short. I had a ponder about whether to leave it sleeveless, like Lladybird, but she lives in Tennessee. I think they get a lot more sleeveless blouse days than I do, in North London. Short sleeves means I feel a bit more dressed, and they will hopefully behave themselves under a cardigan.

Button Holes
Button Holes

The fabric is a nice poplin from my favourite place in Leeds, B&M Fabrics in Kirkgate Market, and it cost me about £4 a metre. It’s a bit ditzy, a bit pink, a bit 70s, but not too much. It has a slight texture to it, meaning I don’t feel like I’m wearing quilting cotton.

Side view. Still with wet hair. Not sure where the expression of intense concentration comes from.
Side view. Still with wet hair. Not sure where the expression of intense concentration comes from.

The Emery Dress, or how I learned to stop worrying and love pattern alterations…

I bought the Emery Dress pattern at the end of last year, having seen all sorts of enviable versions floating around. I really wanted to wear a cute fit and flare dress like this, with a higher neckline, pockets and a nice full skirt.

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I'm thinking, how silly not to have sorted this out before.

However, the reality was so horrendous, no photographs exist. Everything went wrong. From accidentally hoovering up one of the bodice pieces, to setting in the sleeves backwards – and then when I tried it on.

I had chosen a very vivid patchwork print lawn and the sleeves, high neck, gathered waist and APPALLING FIT (did I mention the appalling fit?) combined to make something quite ghastly. I looked like Anne Shirley’s fever dream of a puff sleeved dress. I looked like I was wearing Kimmy Schmidt’s formal bunker dress. And around the bodice there was gaping, there were pools and pools of fabric around the middle and yet the sleeves were too tight.

I must have worn the dress for about 30 seconds. It wasn’t much longer than that before I took it apart and used the fabric to make two Geranium dresses for my daughter and niece, because dressing small girls in identical outfits is fun. Certainly more fun than wearing something that looked as if it was sucking me dry from the inside. 

The pattern went into the sin bin for months. I didn’t even want to think about it. But then I decided to be a grown up. I referred to my Colette sewing book, I looked at the Emery sew along, and used my new dress form, Monica, to make a couple of muslins.

It seemed that all I needed to do was pinch out the excess fabric and raise the waistline. So, I did! I decided to make the dress without the lining or sleeves, planning to finish it with bias binding. What I wanted was something very lightweight for the summer, which I might also be able to layer over a thin long sleeved t shirt in winter. There are some dire warnings about simply leaving off the sleeves on the sewalong. However, I think that because I had pretty much made the recommended alterations anyway, I pulled it off. I also raised the point of the bust darts so they were pointing at my boobs, rather than off into the middle distance.

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Hands on hips.

Here are the pattern pieces, showing how I folded out the excess.

I had measured this on myself before and double checked it with *another* muslin before starting for real. As you can see there were a couple of cms of extra “ease” across the centre, and another couple of cms at the waist. For next time I will trace and grade this properly. The gathered skirt meant that I didn’t have to adjust this part of the pattern, I just gathered it to fit.  I thought of adding a circle skirt but considered that this pattern, with a definite direction, would look odd as a circle skirt. Possibly migraine inducing. 

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Back view. I'm staring at a picture hook in the wall.

The bias facing around the neck is standing proud. I have left this for the moment, because I kind of like it, but I may fix this in the future. 

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Miles Standish proud. Now I have Begin the Begin in my head. (obscure REM reference)

The fabric was from Olympia again, a sort of William Morris knock off with lots of Art Deco flourishes. I was looking at my WordPress media folder the other day and realised that I have, unconsciously, chosen most of my fabrics according to a palette. This is the kind of thing organised stylish people do so I was quite excited to realise I’ve been doing this anyway. As I suspected when I was looking for paint colours and couldn’t see anything other than variations on eau de nil, I like things on the bluish, greeny, grey spectrum, punctuated with occasional red or orange.  I also only really like “green” fragrances, like Chanel No. 19. Must be because, like Anne Shirley, I’m also secretly a dryad. The fabric is a cotton poplin, nice to work with and with a bit more body than quilting cotton imo. 

The invisible zip insertion was a bit of a triumph, marred only (when I tried to put it on) by the realisation that I had bought a zip that is slightly too short and I had a struggle getting it over my boobs. I am not replacing the zip. It will never look this good a second time. 

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A moment of quiet contemplation for a job well done.

(null)

Poplinjay

I’ve decided shirtdresses are the best thing. They suit just about everyone, they’re satisfying to make, they look smart without trying and they aren’t readily available on the high street.

Do you have dangling wires everywhere? No? I pity you.
Do you have dangling wires everywhere? No? I pity you.

So I made another one, bringing my total now to 4.

This one is made from the inexplicably discontinued Carline print from Liberty, on a cotton poplin which I bought at Olympia. This was the end of a roll and I very nearly had to have fisticuffs with the old dear next to me. £14 a metre, and only 1.5m to be had.

Pretties 😁
Pretties 😁

One of the perks of being small is that you save money on fabric. I was able to make the Edith shirt dress by Maria Denmark, just, out of what I had. The pattern is annoying as it has no seam allowance included, so I had to add that prior to cutting. The first time I made this, I didn’t notice till too late, and had to use tiny tiny seams… Oops.

I'm trying to pose nicely.
I’m trying to pose nicely.

There were just enough scraps to make some self bias binding for the sleeves. The hem used bought bias and I actually pulled my finger out and blind hemmed it.

I thought red thread for the buttonholes looked badass.
I thought red thread for the buttonholes looked badass.

On the whole I love my birthday dress. There are some niggles: the side seams pull a bit and I’m not sure why, the interfacing I used is a bit stiff and the buttonholes gape a little when I slouch. I’m going to add another button at the top, because slumping in my seat (which I inevitably do, frequently) results in a nifty view of my bra.

Bit weird at the sides. I obeyed the grain lines. Did something happen when I added the seam allowances? Heigh ho.
Bit weird at the sides. I obeyed the grain lines. Did something happen when I added the seam allowances? Heigh ho.

The Carline print brings out the shirtdress in so many people: Idle Fancy, Dolly Clackett and Handmade Jane. I think it looks retro without being costumey and whilst I worried that it would be overwhelming on me, I really don’t think it is (there’s a version with larger roses which might have been).

Quack Remedy

Just before Christmas I bought a couple of metres of this Anna Maria Horner rayon challis from the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis. It wasn’t cheap by any means, but I later consoled myself by finding it at a much, much higher price elsewhere. I liked the echinacea print and the unusual colours.

I console myself with cool blues and greens when I've chopped off my own head.
I console myself with cool blues and greens when I’ve chopped off my own head.

It sat for a good long while until I matched it up with the Kim pattern from By Hand London, bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show and sold to me by Victoria herself.

Kim has a sweetheart bodice and either a tulip or gathered dirndl skirt. Obviously I went for the gathers as this lightweight, swirly rayon is not a friend to structure.

So *you* don't have dangling wires in *your* photos? I pity you.
So *you* don’t have dangling wires in *your* photos? I pity you.

I made a bodice muslin from leftover liberty lawn, reasoning that (a) I didn’t have enough rayon and (b) if it fitted, I’d use this as lining, and the lawn would give the bodice a little more body. The muslin fitted fine so off I went.

Rayon (viscose) challis is very slippery, drapey and spits out pins. It frays while you’re looking at it and god help you if you try to straighten edges by ripping it – little runs appear on either side.

However, it presses well and the lawn gave that little extra foundation the bodice needed. As the fabric is quite delicate and i was worried about pulling at the seams, i topstitched the bodice. Gathering was a pleasure, I used 2 rows of wide machine stitches rather than hand sewing as the pattern suggested. I also left off the pintucks as they’d be lost with such a bold print.

Wearing this was such fun, with a swooshy skirt and bodice that made it look almost as if I had bosoms. However, wearing it indicated that the fit wasn’t quite right and I’d also caught the zip in the gathers at the back.

Out came the ripper. I needed to shorten the shoulder straps and fix the zip. A lot of unpicking later, I turned the straps inside out to shorten them by a couple of centimetres and then addressed the zip. I undid the gathers at either side and pressed these out, interfaced the wrong side and then put the zip in. This wasn’t in the pattern instructions, no doubt because it’s obvious, but I wished I’d thought of that the first time around. I did attach the lining properly, since I had it all opened out anyway.

And… bing. I’m really pleased I made the effort to fix the fit niggles.

Back shot. Don't know why I'm weird about pictures of my back, other people must see it all the time.
Back shot. Don’t know why I’m weird about pictures of my back, other people must see it all the time.

An Abdundance of Complications – Dahlia from Colette

I have so far made 2 versions of this dress, after 2 muslins’ worth of fitting and swearing. This whole experience has been an interesting exercise in just why home sewers need to have an intimate knowledge of their own proportions. I am very short, around five feet tall, and measure 35-24-32. I have narrow shoulders and a low waist, but my upper arms have proper biceps which, on one occasion, actually burst a narrow sleeve just like She Hulk. Grr.

People smell better than reindeers.
People smell better than reindeers.

I adored the pattern from the moment I saw it, and bought it with a 15% introductory offer. I liked the clean lines and unusual design and as soon as I’d printed it out and taped it together, I got to work.

I made a bodice muslin from spare Ikea fabric, from the straight size 0 and … err. There was enough room in the bodice to store my lunch and the neckline gaped down to Greenwich. Back I went to the pattern and pulled out as much ease as I could manage. Having adjusted the muslin and being reasonably happy, I got on with my *ahem* fashion fabric, a black sparkly stuff from Croft Mill.

There are no photos of the finished result for 2 reasons. One, the fit was so appalling that I immediately swore never to think of it again, and two, the fabric was so astonishingly itchy I had to remove it very fast. The fabric was impossible to press as well, which made the whole thing even more difficult. Try making self bias binding with fabric that wouldn’t take a crease even if you had a nuclear powered iron.

Despite this, I persisted. I made more adjustments to the pattern and started again. This was in November so I bought Christmas fabric, this green stuff with reindeers on from Plush Addict. The cotton was so, so much easier to manage than whatever the sparkly stuff was made of. I didn’t pattern match as such, but tried to ensure that there was a good distribution of reindeers and that I didn’t, for example, have a reindeer’s arse on my boob or anything.

However, once more the neckline wanted to swallow me up in its gaping maw. What to do? I wanted to wear the dress for my husband’s birthday party, so I bodged it. In a remedy which has been popular around the sewing blogs I’ve read, I extended the front gathers and also gathered the shoulders. This worked nicely for this lightweight, obliging cotton fabric and in the end, the fit was fine.

Glutton for punishment that I am, I went back to the pattern. Finally the sewalong had appeared and I was at last able to attend to the massive shoulders. The pattern adjustment was not too bad and yet another muslin was made. I could hardly believe my eyes when the thing actually fitted. Fitted! Without sneaky gathers or extra darts.

I made up the next version in a wool blend fabric from Croft Mill again. 

  

This was on special offer because of a weaving flaw which I was able to cut around thanks to the relatively small pattern pieces. I made the version 1 bodice but used the fuller skirt from version 2, more because I couldn’t really bear to have made the same dress twice.

Thanks to the pattern adjustment, the shoulders fitted much better.

In my infinite wisdom I trimmed the neckline and cuffs with lace which instantly made me look like a silver service waitress (not that there’s anything wrong with being a waitress, it’s just that I’m not a waitress) and which, irritatingly, would not lie flat on the neckline. I balled the dress up for several months and was annoyed with the whole business.

I found the dress more recently following a wardrobe tidy. I have told myself I’m not making anything till I’ve fixed the minor on other projects. I have a couple of zippers that I need to insert properly, a RTW skirt and trousers to adjust, and this dress.

The first thing I did was remove the lace from the neckline, then replace the bodged bias binding with fresh stuff. It was quite galling to have completed the whole job in half an hour, having left it to fester for so long. The one bummer left is that in all the unpicking, the gathers have loosened a little and there is now some empty real estate around the boobular area which can be remedied by a padded bra. 

  

 I’m left with a very sober dress in a nice soft fabric that is ideal for work and a great deal of experience in fitting raglan sleeves to a tiny person! I will make this again, adding inseam pockets to the skirt, at some point. The feedback on the Dahlia pattern has been distinctly mixed, the general feeling being that the amount of fitting involved is unreasonable for a beginner to tackle. If you have narrow shoulders and a proportionately small bosom, I would nod enthusiastic assent. Yes, it is complicated but I’ve seen really great results.

From the bosom down, i.e. the waistband and skirt, the fit was fine. I might even attempt to make just a skirt from it.

Super Bright Frock

“African*” wax print fabric is becoming very modish of late.
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I work quite close to a collection of shops which specialise in this stuff, and one lunch time recently I succumbed to some quite extraordinarily bright and detailed fabric. The area is around Commercial Street, on the way down to hipster central, Brick Lane. If I put on my posh Mac Hipster Red lipstick before visiting the area, my unkempt appearance transforms into artful dishevelledness and suddenly I get handed flyers for some scabrous “vintage” pop up shop or festering cafe.

Bling!
Bling! If you look closely you can see I left the selvedge visible on the bottom, this is apparently a thing one does to show that you bought the real deal and not a knockoff.

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Bright, right? I have about 6 metres of this. A word of warning, when you buy wax print, it usually comes with a few stickers on it as a guarantee of authenticity. It is a good idea to remove these before pre-washing as removing the many little bits of paper and glue from the fabric *after* washing is absolutely no fun at all. That’s a free bit of advice from me, to you. I’d also note that this isn’t true wax print, this is from their Java range and the process is somewhat different.

This stuff is Vlisco, from their middle range, and cost about £30 for the 6 metres. It’s nice stuff too, with a slight sheen, and very pleasant to work with.

One of the Mormon women who sew uniforms for their clutch of children recommended the Oliver + S Birthday Party dress as a nice pinny pattern and whilst I might yet make a school pinny from it, I thought the complicated pattern and eye watering colours would go down a treat on the girl.

Pleats at the front. These look really impressive but were not difficult at all.
Pleats at the front. These look really impressive but were not difficult at all.

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This is rated as three scissors, like the School Days coat. It *was* a challenge, I think, but a pleasant one. I went against the instructions for one major bit – the shoulder straps. The instructions have you blind stitching the lining by hand and I was about to do this, but them remembered something I’d seen on the Great British Sewing Bee. When they made waistcoats, they sort of turned the shoulders inside out and machined them, giving a clean finish with no hand sewing. Once I’d figured out that the key, really, is ensuring you have the right sides together, I had a go.

Take one dress and reach up inside the shoulders, putting one inside the other. Note the inner facings, top and bottom..
Take one dress and reach up inside the shoulders, putting one inside the other..

It worked really well and I didn’t have to hand sew anything! Bonus.

..sew the two shoulder pieces together, ensuring right sides are facing..
..sew the two shoulder pieces together, ensuring right sides are facing..
And back out the other way.
And back out the other way. Kindly ignore the hump, which is down to my incompetence.

The thing that really got my brain was trying to pattern match. I ended up matching panels rather than the whole thing, partly because I didn’t want to waste so much fabric, and partly becauseMy…eyyeeeesss… I thought it would be more fun. Of course I am a numpty as the left and right patterns are going in the same direction. I should have cut them out separately.

Closer look at the hem facing. I'd have hand stitched this invisibly, if  I COULD HAVE BEEN BOTHERED.
Closer look at the hem facing. I’d have hand stitched this invisibly, if I COULD HAVE BEEN BOTHERED.

Up the back I put some turquoise buttons. It’s a bit annoying because she won’t be able to do these up herself. I think if I did make this into a school dress, I might replace the buttons with a zip. Overall, I would quite like to attend the kind of birthday party that looked like this. I am sure there would be something interesting in the lemonade.

Eesh.
Eesh.

*Africa, as my South African husband likes to remind people, is not a country. It is not a desert containing a few acacia trees. It is a socking great big continent containing lots of different environments and people.

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Spring fling

I attended the Knitting and Stitching Show in Olympia the other week. I thought it would be fun, and that I’d possibly pick up a bargain or three.
I attended early on Thursday morning, I was so glad I did!

I ambled gently around the stalls, making notes here and there, and decided to just pop to the loo before making some carefully considered purchases within the sensible budget I’d set.

When I emerged, it was as if two dozen coaches of determined stitches had disgorged themselves in the hall. An army of crafters were determinedly hedgehogging about, having fisticuffs over the last length of novelty quilting cotton and so forth. If you ever plan to go, go early. And, an aside, I think of women like these when I hear that women over a certain age can’t or won’t use technology. There was an excited throng around every demonstration of an absurdly complex machine, technique or new gadget – and not a booth babe in sight.

Whilst I don’t think I seized any bargains as such, I think I broke even, by saving on p&p costs and the like. I also met 2 of By Hand London and bought the Kim dress pattern. I stopped short of asking them to autograph it. I managed to grab the last 1.5 m of Liberty Carline poplin, and 2.5m of this lovely springlike, sprigged stuff.

Spring!!!
Spring!!!

Back home I started work on another (I blame Idle Fancy for all these) McCalls 6696 shirt dress, in the blossom print which I’d seen online in various places, and found it here for £6 a metre which I didn’t think was bad going.

I chose the pleated, full skirted version and used the elbow sleeves again rather than the short ones suggested – this is a London spring we’re talking about. I’m not worried about showing my arms, in fact I’m happy to flex my biceps for anyone who asks, but I’ve plenty of sleeveless dresses already. I was slightly worried I’d look like one of those women who sews apron fronted modest dresses for apostolic communities, but I figured if that happened, I’d just undo an extra button.

Modesty is of course my main virtue. That and enjoying ironing.
Modesty is of course my main virtue. That and enjoying ironing.

I’ve read a lot about the back gathers bunching out – apparently it’s an issue in the smaller sizes. My previous version bunched out so much that I almost despaired, but fixed it with a pleat rather than gathers. However, with this version I pleated the lower half only and left the top gathers. 

I hoped that the weight of the skirt would pull the bunching down, this being the wide pleated skirt rather than the pencil version before.

 Doing the pleats did my head right in as I had not (of course) bothered to translate the markings properly, had lost the instructions and was purely relying on little snips to line everything up. It took ages to work it out. Lesson learned: mark things up properly.

No bunching at the back, thank you heavy pleated skirt!
No bunching at the back, thank you heavy pleated skirt!

As before, whilst 6696 demands inordinate amounts of slip stitching, this brings me out in a rash so I avoided it completely. 

I used the burrito method learned from the Negroni, a technique which also lends itself to making the gusset of knickers, if you’re interested in making your own knickers.

Take the yoke piece and pin it to the long back seam, right sides together, and have it hang down the back of the bodice. Then bundle up the rest of the bodice, loop the yoke piece around the whole shebang, pin the shoulder seams, and stitch. Once unravelled you should have a clean finish inside with no hand stitching. This takes a little spatial awareness and I’d strongly advise doing a trial run with pins or basting to make sure everything is the right way round.

Burrito inner yoke.
Burrito inner yoke.

I topstitched the waistband, placket and collar stand. Next time I’m going to try this tutorial for a different way to do collars, as I think it’ll suit my slapdash nature.

Topstitched. Because I have a machine to do sewing, dammit.
Topstitched. Because I have a machine to do sewing, dammit.

The sleeve and skirt hems are just machined.

I had to leave off the pockets, though it pained me to do so, as I only had 2.5m of fabric. I’m amazed I squeezed so much dress out of that – this cotton is very narrow. No chance of pattern matching, though the sprigs are all facing the same way.

Two drawbacks – I think it’s a teeny bit too big, but then again, I’m quite small, and is it too fancy for the office? 

Next time, I will remove the fullness from the back completely and remove about a half inch from the waist and bodice. There is a risk that too much foofiness (foofyness?) is overwhelming in a smaller size.

Slightly too big - bonus room for cake.
Slightly too big – bonus room for cake.

For now, I am going to don a thermal vest and go and hang out around some blossom bedecked trees in the park. Or, possibly, grab a cig, cocktail and Jon Hamm and pretend I’m Betty off of Mad Men.

Is that an Old Fashioned?
Is that an Old Fashioned?

Checky Dress Redux

Just before Christmas I took the girl down to Soho early on a Saturday morning (as you do) in order to choose some material for Daddy’s christmas shirt. We were headed for the achingly minimalist, shabby chic Cloth House. So far, the staff have managed to stop me from moving in full time. On the way down, I was caught short. Now, where can one go to the loo early on a Saturday morning in Soho, when some of the people are only just finishing up and going to bed? I used a time honoured technique, perfected in a city where just about every establishment declares that its loos are “for customer use only.” I tucked the girl under my arm and dashed into the nearest open pub, full of bleary eyed people having a fried breakfast. Oh, I’m so sorry, says I, but she (points at child) really needs the loo, can I use yours?

Just relax..

The girl is quite short and can pass for 3 if she doesn’t say anything. Works every time. Nobody wants a toddler widdling themselves on their floor. The only caveat is that one has to brief the child in advance to avoid embarrassing contradictions.

Once relieved, we went to Cloth House and as well as some Indian hand printed cotton for his shirt, we chose some bunny print for myself, and at her Majesty’s insistence, some organic blue gingham.

I’ve waxed lyrical before about blue gingham and my childhood wish for a checky dress. Given she’s got a dry wipe marker stain on the other one, and a penchant for storing revolting stuff in her pockets, it was worth making another. Infant schools don’t seem to give a stuff about wearing summer uniform in winter, and indeed I think she’s started a trend for other girls to wear their checky dresses too. Other mothers have asked me where I got the original frock from and I reply *mumble made it mumble*. She wears a vest underneath (I am from Leeds), tights and a jumper or cardigan. The inside of her school is the approximate temperature of a sauna, so I was never concerned that she might be too cold in it.

So Jump Rope Dress 2 beckoned.

Hello!
Hello!

This time I used chalk to mark out the placket. Sensible, see? No markers that disappear under the iron this time, oh no. It’s still not perfect, but it looks fine from the outside. The pink buttons were Her Majesty’s choice and this time she opted for snowflakes on the pockets.

Problem is, she moves whilst a coat hanger does not.
Problem is, she moves whilst a coat hanger does not.

The organic gingham is smoother than the other handloom stuff, and as you can see the checks are smaller. I fouled up the collar a bit as I used a 3/8″ seam allowance rather than a 1/2″ – surprising what a big difference that makes. I fixed it, more or less.

She does wear shoes for school.
She does wear shoes for school.

This time I made sure I bought enough to have some left over for me.

The Shirt Dress of Mood and Mystery

I was inspired to make a shirt dress by the lovely Idle Fancy blog – I would love to live somewhere warm enough that in December the only addition you might consider adding to your collection of gorgeous floral frocks is a light cardigan – and have had two attempts so far.

The first is the relatively easy (but still not for beginners I think) Traveler Dress from Lisette, which I bought during Simplicity’s last half price sale.

Well howdy there.
Well howdy there.

This uses a lightweight seersucker plaid with silvery thread running through the checks, bought for something like £3 a metre from Jersey Vogue Fabrics in Edgware. It must have a fairly high poly content because it has a bit of a sheen to it and was quite hard to press.

I cocked up the collar and the button band I think but overall I really like this. I feel like an extra from an am dram production of Oklahoma (which I have actually been). The waist needs an extra snap on the inside as it gapes a bit.

As long as I keep moving, nobody will notice.
As long as I keep moving, nobody will notice.

The main problem I encountered here was fabric. I do like the checks and gold thread, and its floaty nature. I am sure I am going to wear this a lot when the weather gets warmer. However, I found that it was quite fragile and intolerant of unpicking. I had to undo the entire button band, and it did not take kindly to this, not one little bit. It’s now full of tiny rips, presumably the thread is stronger than the fabric. This is unfortunate. I’d love to re-do the button band and collar, which as you can see is slightly bodged, but I think the whole thing would disintegrate if I did.

I used snaps. Again. I love snaps, I do, especially since I invested in a pair of proper pliers. Before, I was just whacking them with a hammer on my doorstep, which got me funny looks from the neighbours and patchy results. They aren’t really any cheaper or easier to apply than buttons, but there’s something about them I love. The way they facilitate quick changes, perhaps?

Onto Shirtdress #2 – the legendary McCalls 6696. This is a “proper” shirt dress with a real collar, waistband and pockets. Initially deterred because my last “proper” collared shirt made me look like Harry Hill, I was persuaded to give this a try by Dolly Clackett’s floral version. I went for the ¾ sleeved option with a pencil skirt because I thought it would suit my… [mysterious noise] Mystery Fabric better.

Model is wearing the most static tights in the universe.
Model is wearing the most static tights in the universe.

I bought 3 metres, OK, yards, of Mystery Fabric at Mood in NYC when I was on holiday there in the summer. I am not sure what came over me in the shop, surrounded by fabulous prints of every description, but I went and bought some plain indigo stuff labelled as “sateen” and some teal coloured viscose jersey. I also bought some lovely hand painted buttons which I accidentally threw away, but that memory causes me pain so I won’t discuss that further.

I got the stuff home and pre-washed it. Hmm. This isn’t sateen. I blame the jet lag, and chasing the girl around miles and miles of shelves for not being able to spot this at the time. In fact I have no real idea what it is. It has a sheen to it, but also appears to have paler blue warp threads under the intense indigo colour. Despite the pre-washing, endless amounts of blue dye came off on my hands and once completed, it went on to have 3 more washes before the dye even remotely stopped shedding. It’s a poplin weight I think, and shows up pin holes like anyone’s business – I used Clover clips rather than pins for a lot of this once I realised. Some sort of chambray?

Not shown: the dress shaped blue stain on the wall behind.
Not shown: the dress shaped blue stain on the wall behind.

This stuff is like Dorian Gray’s portrait. It reflects everything, every injustice it’s wreaked, every immoral act. Yarg. However, I realise that if this is chambray, it’s going to wear in beautifully. I hope. The instructions were OK I think, but it assumed a lot of prior knowledge. I’d have been mightily baffled if I hadn’t made a “proper” shirt before – this is not the place to start. The instructions also called for a lot of slipstitching.

Argh.
Argh.

Really? Given I practically had to use a hammer to get pins into this stuff (it’s like it’s been coated in shellac), I wasn’t going to attempt miles and miles of slipstitching. No, I’m a lazy creature and I like topstitching, so that’s what it got. I just hemmed the sleeves in the end rather than add the weird pointy things. I was worried that adding chevrons to my sleeves would be a bit much like an alien bureaucrat’s costome in an early season of TNG. The process was quite a faff and I just couldn’t see myself in the end result.

The fit at the front is blimmin’ perfect, but at the back… bit bunchy.

Bunchy bunchy bunchy. This is what comes of inflicting gathers on Mystery Fabric.
Bunchy bunchy bunchy. This is what comes of inflicting gathers on Mystery Fabric. Also note needle holes from an earlier transgression.

I replaced the gathers with a box pleat as I could store my lunch in the sticky out part at the back. The fabric is still a bit stiff despite the 4 pre-washes it’s had. From the front, I look like a member of some sort of strict girls’ brigade, which I would enjoy, and may even found. Or possibly a nurse, if nurses like having their dresses pop undone every time they crouch down (which as it turns out I do quite a lot. Hopefully this is just because the skirt keeps sticking to the tights I’m wearing.

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I do like wearing navy, which is just as well because I’m going to be navy all over after wearing this all day.

A Checky Shirt

I bought the Colette Patterns Negroni ages ago, in the first flush of a new hobby. I went a bit mad for Colette for a while, although on reflection I regret buying the A-line Ginger skirt and Violet blouse.

Violet is just too voluminous.
Violet is just too voluminous.

Both are very nice, but suited to a different body shape to mine. The skirt has such a broad waistband that it comes up to my chin and the blouse’s Peter Pan collar is just too voluminous. I think they suit someone taller, with broader shoulders and a thicker waist. It’s experiences like these, though, that help inform you about what you truly like and dislike, and what fits you. I realised that I prefer things to be a bit more swirly below the waist, and because I am so small, I prefer to have less going on around my neck.

At least I can look at my failures, my wadders, and consider that for the most part it wasn’t technical incompetence but personal taste that led to their demise. I hope as I develop my skills I will be able to look at a pattern and know whether it’s going to swallow me up. There’s just not enough real estate on my body for fussy details, big prints and wacky trims – a shame I think. I’d love to be one of those women with purple victory rolls and ample bosoms who pull off cherry print circle skirts like it ain’t no thing.

A Checky Shirt!
A Checky Shirt!

But after all this navel gazing, my husband observed that I had so far failed to make him anything except some nightwear. Ehh. OK then. It’s hard to sew for other people for lots of reasons, the main one being that they might not like it and/or understand the effort that went into it. But I already had the pattern, so out came Negroni. I had muslined this ages and ages ago, using my seemingly endless supply of leftover curtain fabric, and thought the Medium fitted him OK.

I had some lovely soft Paul Smith pink and blue gingham from Croft Mill, left over from something else – there wasn’t quite enough, so I used the last of the Checky Dress’s handloom gingham for the facing and the back of the collar.

Handloom cotton for the facing and inner back yoke.
Handloom cotton for the facing and inner back yoke.

Negroni is a nice introduction to making shirts I think. I made the short sleeved version as my husband barely ever feels the cold. I had to take it in at the side seams quite a bit, as I’d made the Medium, and he’s really a Small. Pearl snaps seemed to be just the thing, although this makes a mockery of the button loop I added in, and he was delighted with the end result. The instructions are nice and clear, even when you get to the bit where you have to roll everything up inside the yoke like a burrito. This is a tricky step for a British person who is not particularly familiar with burritos.

Like me, he is a hamster and loves pockets, so I made sure these were put on correctly, with the flaps cut on the cross grain.

Cut on the cross grain, cowboy style.
Cut on the cross grain, cowboy style.

The shirt has gotten a great deal of wear. To his credit, if people compliment the shirt, he says that it was made for him. I think it’s his favourite. I still feel possessive of it though. I get annoyed when he hasn’t washed his neck and has left a mark on the collar, for instance. I actually iron it for him, which I wouldn’t normally do. It looks fairly smart, and he wears it with a lightweight jacket for work.

The shirt in action, after a soaking at Niagara Falls.
The shirt in action, after a soaking at Niagara Falls.

Negroni has what’s apparently known as a camp collar, which is a more casual style.Nick has a slight frame and large collars tend to drown him. He also gets hot very easily and when he wears a tie he looks as if it’s trying to throttle him. As a result this casual collar, designed to be worn unbuttoned, works really well on him.

Nova Prospekt dress

After reflecting and considering my mistakes, it’s nice to look upon my triumphs occasionally, if only to remind myself that I do have them. This is one of those. I know it has flaws which at some point I might fix, but I wear this a lot, especially to teach, and I really like it.

Sometimes you just has it.

I was re-playing Half Life 2 when I cut this dress out, from lovely floppy chambray I’d bought at Cloth House. Specifically I was on the Nova Prospekt level where Gordon Freeman uses an army of alien antlions to storm the prison and, for those who pay attention, begins to discover what the Combine have been up to: [spoiler] taking humans and modifying them either into Overwatch soldiers or cyborg Stalker slaves. It was nice to replay HL2, just over 10 years after it was first released. I only actually played it in 2007, as part of the legendary Orange Box – I had bought it as a gift for my brother, but was so curious about Portal that I bought another copy, played Portal, which then acted as both tutorial and gateway drug to HL2.

I loved the stark look of the game, set in a Brutalist Eastern European environment, further destroyed by the alien Combine, whom Gordon had inadvertently released onto Earth during the events of Half Life. The plot is told via the gameplay rather than tedious unskippable scenes, frequently crossing the borders between game and film. Unfortunately, the world of Half Life and Portal have ruined me for playing anything else. RPGs feel like boring part time jobs, puzzle games are frustratingly pacifist and the least said about MMORPGs the better. I felt a revisit has been overdue for some time and since you can now play many games on Linux via the steam player, I didn’t even have to bother to use Windows any more.

The pattern is Simplicity 1325, bought in a binge in their last half price sale. When I’m teaching, I do have to assume the sort of positions one might use when giving birth, so there’s a lot of bending over, squatting and lying down involved. A voluminous, but not floaty, skirt does a good job of covering up the bits I’d prefer not to display whilst giving freedom of movement. When I wear trousers, there’s always a concern that when I bend over, everyone will get a nice view of either my pants or lower back, or my tummy if I lie down, so a dress of this length is ideal. The pockets are also handy for spare pens, sweets, tissues, phone and random articles.

We don't go to Ravenholm. We also don't do our zips properly on the inside. Shh.
We don’t go to Ravenholm. We also don’t do our zips properly on the inside. Shh.

I feel a dress like this would be ideal for battling malevolent and mysterious alien alliances, guided at all times by a trans dimensional entity with unclear motives. It is possibly the kind of thing Alyx Vance would wear on more formal occasions as it has pockets for her Plot Device (like a sonic screwdriver, it does whatever she requires it to do at any point) and apparently limitless ammunition.

The deep V-neck was quite tricky and the pattern instructions did not make it any easier. I reduced the stitch length to Piddly and went very slowly, reinforcing the V as much as I dared to avoid holes appearing in the future. Rather than self lining, I used some left over Liberty lawn, for a nice contrast and to reduce the weight. It is understitched but still a tad visible. I decided I didn’t mind – I think this is because the two fabrics have different levels of stretch. I’d probably trim down the lining next time in a similar situation.

 

Prepare for unforseen consequences. Visible lining for instance.
Prepare for unforeseen consequences. Visible lining for instance.

I have just finished the game – it took longer than the dress. People often clamour for sequels of things that they felt ended before their time. Firefly, for instance. I don’t usually feel like that. After Serenity I thought the characters were pretty much where I wanted them to be and I was happy to leave them there. However, after HL2 Episode 2, the characters are in the middle of something, things are still to be revealed including a tie up with Portal, and something catastrophic has just occurred. I would still like some form of conclusion, even if the actual game were rubbish. The generally agreed theory is that Valve (the game’s publishers) have either moved on, a sequel has been produced that they just weren’t happy with, Valve don’t want to be caught in a treadmill of endless crappy sequels, and they don’t need the cash, having invented a perpetual money machine (Steam).

As usual I hacked out about 2 inches from the upper back. This is my non scientific narrow shoulder adjustment and it’s usually the only thing I need to do with a pattern like this. Although I am short, I find I don’t usually need to raise the waistline and I’m fortunate enough to waver between a B and C cup – most mainstream patterns are apparently drafted to a B cup and graded up or down, and indies tend to use a C cup so I’m good either way. The fit is close, let’s say, and there isn’t a huge amount of cake room. But this is a standing up and working dress, not a sitting down eating cake dress. Honest.

The chambray was very obliging and well behaved, although it frayed like buggery. I did slipstitch the bodice lining, which I don’t usually do. Slipstitching (hack, spit!) is not my best thing. However, I think the difference in weight between the shell and lining caused some wonkoidness when I attempted to ditch stitch so I got the needle out. Bah. I also should have staystitched the skirt as this stretched out a little and the side seams do not line up exactly with the bodice.  

How much skirt? This much skirt. I challenge you not to swish this skirt.
How much skirt? This much skirt. I challenge you not to swish this skirt.

I did a lapped zipper, my first that wasn’t a complete eyesore. This is partly due I think to buying a decent zip, rather than a crap one. The creases here are due to slapdash ironing.

A moment's quiet reflection for a lapped zipper that doesn't look like a Vortigaunt's bottom.
A moment’s quiet reflection for a lapped zipper that doesn’t look like a Vortigaunt’s bottom.

The hem is currently rolled. This was a mistake of course, the fabric is much too thick, but at the time I felt I couldn’t face handstitching what is almost a full circle skirt. I am still too much in love with my rolled hem foot but I really should say goodbye to it at some point.

The pockets, swirly skirt and deep V neck make this dress practical and fun without being wacky. I would like to make this again in something lightweight. I do think I resemble a kids’ TV presenter in the ensemble especially when worn with the T-shirt included in the pattern as well, using:

Elsa print organic jersey from Spoonflower. For the uninitiated this is the rosemaling design on Elsa’s coronation gown. I managed to get the design lined up nicely front and back, and on the sleeves.

I let this go to the extent that I photographed it without ironing it first.
I let this go to the extent that I photographed it without ironing it first.

Haha! So far most people don’t get the reference. It’s very popular with the five year olds though. The T-shirt itself was great to make and the higher neckline goes well with this dress.

A commonplace book on the internet.