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Tea House Dress of dreams

You know when you make something and at the end you have the ‘ok¬†this is why I sew’ feeling? Well, I had that feeling big time making this dress. And as we all know, that feeling is certainly not a given with sewing – or any hobby you really care about.

The pattern is the Tea House Dress from Sew House Seven – and I. LOVE. IT.

The dress ties together with a waist tie and drapes really nicely, there are no fastenings, no gathers, and loose sleeves. I’m not a massive fan of gathers or elastic, and while I do love a zip and some buttons, the chance of messing those up – whether in terms of fit or finishing – is high. You can’t really mess up the fit of a dress that just pulls in with a waist belt. It’s the type of dress I know I’ll be able to make in both ‘everyday’ versions and in a fancier fabric for a wedding, for example.

The fabric is ‘Ledding Viscose Twill – Mustard’ from Fabric Godmother which I bought myself as a Christmas present – the first time I ever bought fabric online, I think. It’s gorgeous and I just love the colour.

The waist belt I used is a trim I bought in Chien Vert with no particular plan for, I think the deep blue spots go really well with the yellow. First of all I used a different trim for the belt which didn’t work at all as it was too poofy when tied at the back, so I unpicked everything to change it for this and I’m so glad I did.

This dress also made me think of the relationship between the design of a pattern and sustainability in terms of how often you might need to wash the garment. Obviously this is very personal and everyone is different, but as this is not really ‘all up in my armpits’ I don’t feel it needs washed as often. Definitely an aspect to consider when choosing patterns with sustainability in mind.

Did I mention I love this pattern? I’ve got two more versions cut out already – this pattern will hopefully help me do some serious fabric stashbusting.

Here is a photo burst – couldn’t get my camera to properly focus in some of these but you can still see the dress ūüôā


All over the Ophelia overalls

I’d been looking for a dungaree pattern for a while when I came across the Ophelia Overalls from Decades of Style’s Everyday range and I was immediately drawn to the original design. They are roomy and loose, but straps and D-rings at the side cinch them in a bit at the waist. I love the big pockets on the side. I took up the hem by about 11cm¬†so they would skim my ankles and I think it is a length that looks nice with sandals or boots. I hardly ever wear trousers so they do take a bit of getting used to for me but I’ve been wearing them loads since I finished them a few weeks ago! While having a wide trouser leg feels a bit odd sometimes to me and I have to hike them up a bit when I’m on my bike, all in all they are an absolute dream to wear and I don’t know how I lived without them before!

And can we talk about this lovely mustard yellow corduroy?! Like lots of other sewists, I certainly am a sucker for the mustard yellow. I bought this fabric in Pauli Stoffen in Leuven (best fabric shop in Belgium!) in January. The Ophelia overalls pattern envelope design even has one of the illustrations in yellow corduroy, so it was meant to be! It was so lovely to sew with and I’ve got loads left over so I plan to make some dungarees for my cousin’s wee baby.

I really took my time to make these dungarees and one thing I did was spend a lot of time researching and sourcing my hardware. I used spring snaps for the closures at the side seams, this is the first time I’ve had any success with spring snaps and finally finding some that work for me was so satisfying! After a LOT of research I bought some spring snaps and set in tools from the Laughing Lizard Store on Etsy. I’ve never mastered those annoying Prym plyers and I find it so frustrating that most sewing shops sell plastic snaps or, at best, quite bad quality ring snaps. Closet Case Patterns has an excellent read about the difference between spring and ring snaps and how to install them.

One thing I’ve definitely learnt when it comes to trying to be as sustainable as possible with your sewing is that it is better to take three months to make something and really make sure it is well made and that you’ll wear it, rather than bash something out only for it to languish in your wardrobe.

Can’t wait to make more things with spring snaps!


Antwerpen dress

I got the fabric for this dress in Antwerp way back in 2014 (!) in a shop that I can’t remember the name of and that I probably wouldn’t be able to find again. I had a voucher to spend¬†which¬†was my prize for taking part (and coming last) in the Belgian/Dutch online sewing competition ‘Sew it up‘ that Hanne and Caroline used to organise. So,¬†wow, it has taken me four years to make something¬†with this fabric! It is a soft drapey viscose that¬†was¬†way easier to¬†work¬†with than I anticipated and I’m glad I kept it for so long until the idea for this dress was born.

The pattern was the result of a day of pattern drafting experimentation! My favourite part is the cut-out back, although I think I’ll be wearing this¬†with a top under it and tights from here on in as the¬†wintery¬†weather has just arrived in Belgium.

Here is a photo of the bodice pattern piece in case this is useful to anyone interested in drafting a similar pattern.¬†Be careful¬†with this type of ‘French dart’ as you can end up with a ‘pointy boob’ situation if the end of the dart is too close to the apex of the bust, so it can be worth shortening the dart a smidgen more than you¬†would if it¬†was in another position. As this fabric is really busy it is pretty forgiving but in a different fabric the darts might look slightly off. Not that anyone should be paying that close attention to the dart positions on your clothes (unless they are a fellow sewing¬†aficionado).

The skirt is a slightly modified version of the skirt I used for this dress. For the sleeves I followed the ‘very flared sleeve’ method from Winifred Aldrich’s classic ‘Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear‘ book.

For the back, I cut two pieces that look like this:

I¬†wore this dress to my dear friend Anna’s¬†wedding on the Isle of Mull recently and as always seems to be the case¬†when I make something for a particular event, somehow I end up hemming it at 1 in the morning the day before I need to get a train or a plane…all part of the fun! (You can read more about Anna’s wedding in my last post as¬†I also made her wedding skirt!)

These pictures were taken a few weeks ago just before all the leaves on this tree started to fall!


Uisken skirt

Today I’ve got a very special project to share: I made my dear friend Anna’s¬†wedding skirt! Anna is one of my closest and oldest friends so this was a very special – if daunting – project! And it is definitely one of my favourite sewing projects. The top Anna is wearing comes from¬†Catherine Deane in London and I think it goes really well with the skirt. (Want to make it clear in the first paragraph of this post that I didn’t make Anna’s ‘top half’ so I’m not accidentally taking credit for others’¬†work!)

First up: let’s start at the end and look at the anatomy of the finished skirt:

The skirt is a half circle skirt with the main fabric a duchess satin from Mandors in Glasgow. There is one layer of tulle above the main fabric, two layers under for volume, and then a cotton lining. There is an invisible zip in the centre back seam and the waistband fastening is a hook and eye. On the back there is a ‘false button’ – it’s actually a badge that Anna had made in her new fella‚Äôs tartan (Cameron).

Photo credit: Christian

The process!

1) The first thing I did was take all of Anna’s measurements when we were both at home last Christmas and then I drafted a basic front and back bodice block. I sewed up a quick bodice muslin and made the necessary adjustments to the blocks. (Initially the plan was to make a whole dress but we took the wise decision given I am in Brussels and Anna in Glasgow that I would just make the skirt and Anna would find a top to go with it.) Even though we didn’t end up doing a whole dress, making the bodice blocks was still a really important part of the process. First of all because it was as good as any as a place to start! Secondly, I love drafting and relished the opportunity to try fitting on someone else’s body. And thirdly, I think it was a good way for Anna to start thinking about what kind of outfit she wanted, and how she¬†wanted it to fit.

2) Next, I made a first ‘draft’ of the dress in muslin fabric once I was back in Brussels.

3) Then in February Anna and our friend Sally came over to Brussels for the weekend and brought the fabric she had chosen. Anna tried on the dress toile and I made some fitting adjustments to the blocks. I then made a full dress bodice and skirt mock-up in the main fabric,¬†with sleeves too. I decided to cut into the ‘real fabric’ early on as it¬†was a good¬†way of seeing how it¬†worked. I’d never¬†worked¬†with duchess satin before so¬†wanted to get a feel for it.

That was when we decided that the bodice didn’t really look right in the fabric and to just focus on making a skirt. We realised it was going to take too long to get the bodice looking and fitting right and we only had so many weekends together to do it – think it was a wise decision! We played around with different levels of fullness – at first I made a full circle skirt but it was too puffy, the half circle skirt had a better balance of drape and poofy-outness (the technical term).

3) After the weekend I added a lining and a waistband with a tie and some tulle layers. I then brought this over to Scotland when I was home for a visit so that Anna could take it with her to look for tops to go with it.

4) Then the finale was this summer when Anna brought the skirt back over so I could finish it properly and make some changes before the wedding in September. I redid the zip and took off the waistband and tie and made a simple waistband without the tie (the tie waistband really wasn’t working). I also redid most of the seams to finish everything more neatly so the insides are pretty too. I think my favourite parts of the dress are the satin binding around the lining hem and the Hong Kong finish on the centre back seam! It was pretty much 35 degrees that whole weekend so I¬†was – no exaggeration – sewing half naked trying to battle¬†with the tulle so it¬†wouldn’t stick to my sweaty legs haha! It¬†was really enjoyable in an ‘extreme sewing’ kind of¬†way.

And it’s finished!!

What I learnt: 8 tips for anyone thinking of wedding (or any special occassion) sewing for a friend.

1) Go for it! Of course sewing something for a special occasion like a wedding is a more involved project but if you‚Äôve got a bit of sewing experience under your belt there is no reason why you can‚Äôt make something more challenging. The ‚Äėstakes‚Äô are higher but that‚Äôs all part of the fun!

2) Demystify
I think that the best way to approach special occasion sewing is to start by taking inspiration from everyday clothes or everyday sewing and then ‚Äėscale up‚Äô in terms of the type of fabric and the finishing techniques you would use. There is no reason (unless you want to of course) to make it over complicated. Case in point: Anna‚Äôs wedding skirt is a half circle skirt, one of the simplest silhouettes to fit. I¬†would recommend to anyone making a fancy garment for someone (for a¬†wedding or otherwise) to ask the person to bring you a favourite dress that they feel good in and get them to explain¬†why they like it and how it makes them feel. Use that as your starting point for any sketches or initial drafting. I asked Anna to do this and¬†we¬†went through some of her favourite dresses – just everyday things she¬†wears to¬†work etc. – and I got her to talk about them. I think it¬†was actually one of the most important parts of the process as it helped me know how Anna¬†wanted to look and feel. This is also a chance to get an idea of the person’s knowledge of dressmaking so you can manage expectations if they have any bold unrealisitc suggestions!

3) Beware Pinterest
Pinterest can be a great tool for gathering inspiration images of course, but I find that it’s a double-edged sword. You can quickly lose sight of your own ideas – and, particularly when it comes to wedding images on the site, I feel that there is generally speaking quite a standard ‘look’ that dominates the images that come up. That’s not to say there are not tonnes of images out there online of wedding outfits that are a bit different, I just found you have to hunt for them more. Basically, keep in mind that your¬†wedding dress doesn’t need to look like the ‘stock’ images of dresses that predominate in advertising. OK, I could have just¬†written, ‘you do you’.

4) Get organised!
Embrace your inner planner and get a spreadsheet going! Or whatever form of organisation floats your boat! As we had to make the most of our time together I made sure everything was ready for when Anna came over Рbut you also have to of course be ready for everything taking double the time you had planned for it, as is the case for pretty much everything in life anyway!

5) Pretend you are a master couturière at work
How often do you get to make an outfit for a dear friend that they’ll (hopefully) treasure forever? Never! Approach the project as if you¬†were a professional at¬†work and your apartment is your ‘master atelier’ – even if you are battling with your own furniture for space to cut out layers of fabric!

6) Fabric choosing
I¬†wasn’t able to go fabric shopping¬†with Anna so I made her a list of bullet points to take¬†with her to the shop for things to look out for and keep in mind (fabric composition, how it¬†will hang, is it a¬†woven or a knit etc.). Keep in mind that not everyone knows how to navigate a fabric shop – think back to¬†when you first started sewing and bought fabric totally unsuitable for what you intended to make (and err still do sometimes). Luckily the lady in the shop¬†was really helpful (obviously, as it’s Glasgow!) and helped Anna pick¬†what she needed. If I¬†was going to make this type of wedding garment again I’d do a bit more research into different fabric options I think to see¬†what the different options are; I did find that working with the duchess satin made my hands really dry which is probably due to the coating used to finish it.

7) Keep some perspective
How many people¬†will be thinking about the (lack of)¬†waistband topstitching on the¬†wedding day? One. And that’s you! And even then you’ll forget about that after about five minutes. The¬†wedding outfits are obviously a focal point of the day but everyone will be looking at the happy couple’s smiling faces and not how¬†well balanced the bride’s hem is. So yeah keep cool – it’s just sewing, even if it is for a wedding. At first I¬†was¬†worried about making Anna the ‘perfect’ skirt but that¬†was silly. The reason she asked me to make it¬†was because she¬†wanted something made by a friend, if she had¬†wanted a ‘perfect’ dress she¬†wouldn’t have taken the DIY approach. Anna¬†was so lovely throughout the¬†whole thing and always (bizarrely) had no doubts in my ability to make the skirt! If the person you are making for is putting you under unnecessary pressure then you probably shouldn’t be embarking on such a project together.

8) Enjoy the time spent together
Lastly – and I think most importantly – making Anna’s skirt meant¬†we (and Sally!) spent whole¬†weekends together this year. I really liked this rare chunk of time together with my apartment full of laughter and layers of tulle fabric!

Congratulations to Anna and Jim! And thank you for such a lovely wedding in such a beautiful place, Uisken beach on the Isle of Mull.

Photo credit: Ruaridh Cameron

Un peu short

Say hello to my favourite sewing project from this summer ‚ÄĒ shorts! I drafted my own pattern and made a few muslins to get the fit right, so I’ve now got a good block that I plan to use to make some trousers. I¬†wanted a high-waisted style and to get a good balance between slouchy and fitted. The other thing I’m happy about¬†with these shorts is that the fabric comes from a vintage skirt bought at a ‘brocante’ so no new fabric¬†was required, and I¬†was even able to recycle the zip from the skirt. All in all I had a lot of fun working on these shorts as they were something I really needed (for the crazy hot weather), I got to play around with fit, learn new construction methods, and refashion something old.

I had so much fun in fact, I made a second pair (see below)! From leftover chambray from my Archer shirt from years ago¬†‚ÄĒ bought in Leuven in a fabric shop called Pauli Stoffen. It felt good to finally use up the rest of that fabric!

Now autumn is on the¬†way (yes!) I’ll be¬†wearing both pairs (not at the same time) over tights and leggings.

The other thing I want to mention about the making of these shorts is that I followed this brilliant tutorial from Closet Case Patterns for the Jenny shorts pattern religiously when it came to construction order for the zip and pockets. I just love the way the method has the lapped zipper integrated into the pockets. Seriously, bookmark that tutorial.

Before: a vintage skirt that was way too small for me.

Close up of Heather’s brilliant construction method, and my slightly shoogly sewing ūüôā

The second pair!

More lapped zipper swooning…