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Scottish Craft Adventure Part 3 – Orkney

1 Oct


Finally, I have found time to tell you all about the last stint of my Scottish road trip – a visit to the Orkney Islands.


Orkney is an archipelago around 8 miles north of the Scottish mainland, made up of around 70 islands, less than a third of which are inhabited. It is an amazing, mystical place, where it can be seemingly sunny, rainy, windy, overcast and foggy all at the same time. Orkney is popular with fans of ancient history and archaeology because of it’s UNESCO world heritage status for the neolithic structures you can visit there.

I took a ferry from John O Groats, past the Old Man of Hoy, to the town of Stromness on Mainland (the largest island in the Orkneys). The sun was setting as I made the crossing, giving the most amazing light as I took pictures of the Old Man, a huge, ever-changing sea stack which uncannily resembles a figure, stood in the crashing waves, guarding the islands from trouble.

On my first morning on Orkney, I drove out to see the Ring of Brodgar, a 5000 year old stone circle, which I thought would be very much like Stonehenge. Not so! Not only is the Ring of Brodgar the most northerly stone circle, is is also utterly enormous, at over 100 metres in diameter. It is also positioned on a stretch of land between two lochs, which means the light reflecting off the water makes the whole environment feel utterly magical.

The Vikings invaded Orkney around 1000 years ago, and believed that the stones were actually Gods who, after a night of revelling, stayed up too late and were turned to stone as the sun rose. The stones are so large, that as you look up at them, with the clouds moving quickly in the background, you can almost imagine that they are coming back to life.



I also visited Skara Brae, which is a neolithic village that was completely covered in sand until a freak storm in 1850 ripped the coast line apart, revealing the untouched stone dwellings beneath, perfectly preserved. I’m not even going to try to describe the place – suffice to say, this is Bucket List stuff: one of those sights you simply must see before you die!

I also had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of stepping inside a number of neolithic burial tombs, not least the Tomb of the Eagles on South Ronaldsay, and the world-famous Maeshowe on Mainland, which pre-dates the Pyramids (!). The experience was certainly something that I will never forget, not least because I was following a long line of visitors to the ancient site – the first people to discover the site were the early Viking warriors, who used Maeshowe as a shelter during their raids. So, amongst the amazing stone carvings almost 5000 years old, you will spot lines of Viking graffiti, written in runic alphabet. Simply amazing.

Of course, my trip wasn’t just about neolithic adventuring – I also made sure I found time to sample some of the best that the Orkneys had to offer. Not least, ales from the Orkney Brewery, and a wee dram from the acclaimed Highland Park Distillery. Well, it would have been rude not to…

I also, predictably, immersed myself in the arts and crafts heritage of the islands. Orkney makes this super-easy for visitors, by promoting an annual Orkney Craft Trail, which signposts you to artisan workshops, galleries, boutiques and exhibitions.  I found myself on a virtual treasure hunt across the islands, looking for the next Craft Trail sign, leading me towards some of the islands’ hidden treasures.

I spent a lot of time on South Ronaldsay, a large island to the South West of Mainland, which is reachable by road bridge. It was here that I visited the Tomb of the Eagles, and also had the chance to visit the beautiful Italian Chapel, a stunning place of worship built and decorated by Italian POWs during WWII. You can still sense the blood, sweat and tears of the POWs that went into building it – the Chapel was a real labour of love that gave the prisoners something to focus on, and deserves a blog all to itself really!


Whilst there, I chanced upon a fantastic studio which was a yarn shop, gift boutique and art gallery in one. It was called The Workshop and Loft Gallery, and it was hidden down a street in the village of St Margaret’s Hope. The Workshop is a craft cooperative which was set up 35 years ago by local artisan producers. It stocked knitwear, textiles and yarns, as well as jewellery, ceramics and wonderful art work from local artists.

It will come as no surprise to you that I ended up buying some local yarn as a souvenir of my trip – especially as it was lambing season whilst I was there. Across the islands you could hear the bleat of sheep and watch the gamboling of cute fluffy little creatures as they learned to use their legs for the first time.


I bought some skeins of yarn which had been transported down from North Ronaldsay island, of an aran weight. The rare breed, North Ronaldsay sheep are unusual, due to the fact they live on a diet of seaweed. I don’t know if this adds any special quality to the yarn!


Also on South Ronaldsay was the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery, which was filled with the impressive, large scale tapestries of local artist, Leila Thomson. If you are lucky (sadly I wasn’t), you can watch Leila work from the gallery. Her tapestries are moving (emotionally not literally!) depictions of life, death, nature, family, memory and the Universe….pretty big themes! If you make it to Orkney it’s definitely worth seeking out this gallery –  the pictures on her website simply do not do the works justice.

Anyway, with time being short I also spent as much time as possible exploring mainland and some of the other neighbouring islands. Mainland is home to many artists and craftspeople, with one notable one being potter Andrew Appleby, known locally as the ‘Harray Potter’, after the name of the Mainland Parish in which he works. Andrew runs Fursbreck Pottery, which has shops in both Kirkwall and Stromness. I throught the items were beautiful, and I couldn’t resist buying some handmade ceramic buttons to remember my trip by.


I also visited countless other studios and galleries, but I don’t want to bore you completely! Suffice to say, the heady Orcadian combination of ancient historical sites, wild landscapes, and creative outlets left me fizzing with creativity and ideas.


I took hundreds of photos of natural textures, which hopefully I would like to recreate in some craft project, using my North Ronaldsay yarn, my Fursbreck ceramic buttons, and a few other things that I picked up along the  way.


Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some features that remind me of the fascinating layers of history I encountered across the islands – Neolithic burials, Viking graffiti, and WWII buildings.

DSCN3033As we know, all good things must come to an end. Eventually it was time to begin the 14-hour, 580 mile journey South, back to Doncaster which I have always affectionately thought of as ‘The North’. This holiday taught me that it is anything but! Thanks for being patient in waiting for posts from my adventure, I hope they were worth the wait. I promise to be a little quicker in writing up the results of my makes from the items I picked up along the way!

12 days, over 1000 miles, and an unforgettable adventure.

No-pattern Chevron Dress

26 May

I’m sure many of you were glued to the recent series of the Great British Sewing Bee. I was rooting for Chinelo since episode one, and was sorry that she didn’t win – although Heather really did deserve the win with that AMAZING couture gown. All three of the finalists were absolutely brilliant, I don’t know how I’ll cope until the next series.


Anyway, in the semi final, contestants were tasked with copying a favourite item of clothing. Tamara’s yoga outfit was outstanding, and she rightly won ‘Garment of the Week’ for it.

I didn’t plan on doing anything quite so ambitious, but I wanted to recreate one of my favourite dresses.


The navy blue birdie dress I am wearing in the above picture was given to me by Char, one of my besties, after she spied it in a local charity shop. I absolutely love this dress because it doesn’t crease, it’s really light, and it’s so versatile – I can wear it with leggings and heels; shorts and flip flops, or even use it as a nightie if I have an overnight stay. It doesn’t take up too much space when you are packing, and it’s really comfortable. I think originally it was quite a large dress size, but I like the way the extra fabric gathers when the ties are pulled around the waist.


As regular readers will know, I purchased a few metres of a striking, green striped polyester on a recent trip to Abakhan with my Mum. This fabric is a little heavier than the material on the original dress, but it seems quite drapey, and it didn’t crease despite my efforts! I thought this would be perfect for this project.P1030114

However, before jumping ahead to the fabric, the first thing I needed to do was to make a pattern. Of course, what every dressmaker needs is a handy roll of flipchart paper! And no, I didn’t nick it from work before you ask – our recent chaotic office move at work meant that lots of surplus or damaged stationery items were being disposed of. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, as they say – the large A1 sheets are really handy for tracing templates.

The dress I am copying from is a simple design – two pieces of fabric, both of which are darted at the waist, and the front piece of fabric is also darted at the bust. The dress also has some simple capped sleeves. After watching the Sewing Bee, I decided to copy Heather’s technique for copying darts onto the pattern – I marked the darts on to the pattern, then folded the paper so that the darts were lying in the place that they would be on the final, stitched item.P1030076

I then traced the outline of the dress onto the folded sheet of paper, removed the fabric, and unfolded the darts, to give myself the paper template. I’ve kept the pattern piece, with construction notes, so that I can make this dress again.


To give a bit of interest to the dress, I decided to cut the fabric on the bias, so that I had diagonal stripes. Hopefully, with some careful stitching, this should give me fantastic chevrons on the side seams. Once I had cut the first piece, I then used that as the template, rather than the paper, so that I could ensure the stripes were lined up exactly.




I have also finally learned the lesson that putting time in before stitching saves you time after! The fabric was quite slippy, so, after stitching the darts, I basted the two pieces of the dress together, remembering to also slip the waist ties in at the correct points, so that the stripes matched up properly. That way, I knew when I put the material under the machine foot, that it would attach together correctly.

The original has sleeves and I planned to duplicate this feature, but when I tried it on (in the selfie below) I liked the way the chevrons looked on the shoulders and decided to dispense with sleeves.


Another lesson I learned during this project was how to do a rolled hem. I decided to give it a go after working out that one of the included specialist feet on my sewing machine was a rolled hem foot – if I’ve got one, I may as well use it! It took a bit of practice to get right, but I’m happy with the result. To ensure it stitched neatly, I ironed the tiny hem allowance first, to make a crease in the fabric. This then fitted into the curled channel on the foot, so that the fabric was guided under the needle at the correct point. I used this on the armholes, as I was already happy with the look of the dress before hemming it, so using a rolled hem sealed the fabric using the least amount of material.



When I tried the dress on, I noticed that the neckline gaped slightly – I solved the problem by making a small boxpleat in the centre, and stitching it by hand. It has removed the gaping, and has actually become a bit of a design feature!


Et voila – my finished chevron dress. I’m really happy with the bright, vibrant look and think the fabric choice is really effective. I also like the way the stripes play against each other when the tabs are tied around the middle (made from some remnant strips of material).


I’m delighted with how well the chevrons match up at the shoulders and down the sides, and I think the bias cut of the material really shows off the fabric’s drape well.

The dress isn’t an exact replica of the original, as the sleeves are missing and the length is longer, but I think I will find it as useful, versatile and wearable as the first. I will definitely be making more of this one!


Satin Dress II – The Rematch! Vogue 8241

20 May

As reported in my post earlier this month, I have not had much success in my mission to make a slinky dress using Vogue pattern 8241. Less ‘Pretty in Purple’, more the ‘Purple Peril’. Or perhaps the ‘Aubergine Horror’. I could go on, but I won’t. ‘Vile in Violet’ – OK, I’ll stop.


I guessed that much of the bulk was coming from the lining, so once again, I dismantled the skirt. However, the lining seemed to be pretty light, so I wasn’t sure if it was the cause of the bulkiness. Perhaps it’s the stiffness of the fabric which is causing the problem. The crepe-backed satin was gorgeous but didn’t seem to do as it was told! Also, I thought that the elasticated gathers were really unflattering, especially around the hips and over my stomach (which I am self-conscious about).


After messing around, I decided to play with pleating the skirt, rather than gathering it. I could make some pretty features, but the drawback may be that the dress would need a zip, as it may not have the flexibility to take on and off that the elastic offered. I logically concluded that I could pleat it if I added fabric to the sides, so that I could still get in and out of the dress – this could ultimately make an interesting pocket feature.

I decided to unpick the sides of the skirt down to an approximate pocket length, and then lined the skirt piece with the lining so that all the raw edges at the waistband and embryonic pockets were hidden.


I then played with pleating the front and back, and tinkered with pins until I was happy with it – the elasticated gathering didn’t look so bad on the back, but I felt the front waistband could look really pretty with some big, structural pleats on it.


Pleating the fabric into the centre meant that I needed to attach more fabric to the sides, so that the garment would still fit comfortably around my body. I chose to do this using the shiny satin side of the fabric so that it matched the bodice, rather than the matte crepe skirt. I felt that this looked best stylistically.


I attached a shiny piece of fabric to the skirt piece to fill in the gaps on either side of the pleats. This meant that I could attach the back and the shiny insert part of the skirt to the bodice,  leaving the pleated segment free.  As I had stitched all of the raw edges of the skirt and the lining, I decided to attach the back of the skirt to the outside of the bodice, so that the lovely purple-and-navy skirt edge could be a bit of a feature around the back. As mentioned, I thought the back of the dress looked okay elasticated, so I reattached some elastic, but stopped the stitching approximately 1 inch from each sideseam – I thought this might prevent that unappealing look of having gathers over the hips.


As with the back of the dress, I decided to have the side seams of the skirt piece visible too – I spent well over an hour trying to evenly line up the seams so that I would have a uniform effect on both pocket sections.


Once that was attached, I put the dress on and then pinned the pleats whilst wearing the dress – I know this is a terribly bad habit, but I was beginning to brim with ideas for the item so my thoughts were rushing away with me. You will be slightly relieved to know that once I had taken the dress off, I then evened the pleats out with the help of a tape measure.

I arranged the pleats so that they rose incrementally towards the middle of the dress – I liked the way this looked as it was a bit more unusual than what I had planned on. The problem was that, once the pleats were fastened, it was a bit trickier to get out of the garment. Therefore, I decided not to stitch the end pleat on either side of the front panel.
I stitched the front 3 pleats down, backstitching them to make sure they were secure, and then stitched the rest of the front panel flat against the waistline.

After a few cups of tea and some deliberation, I came up with an ingenious solution to securing the final two pleats on the front of the waistband – hooks and loops! These could be used to pull the waistband in once I was wearing the dress. Also, they had the added bonus of creating two lovely pleats in the bodice.

I was happy with the style, and beginning to get excited and optimistic about my project again. Like a good sewist, I eagerly pressed all of the seams, so eagerly in fact that I didn’t check the iron temperature – FAIL! Fortunately the burn was on the wrong side of the fabric, on the section that lies below the front pleats, so it won’t be visible. Phew!

Finally, I had to finish all the various odds and ends of the dress. The multiple stitchings and unpickings had taken its toll on some of the seams, which had begun to unravel – I hand stitched them so secure them. I also remembered to stitch the bottom of the shiny front-skirt section to the lining on the back of the front pleats, so that it formed a spacious, handy pocket under the pleats at the front of the dress :). Stylish AND practical!


So here we have Satin Dress Mk II – I know my sewing has gone rather off-piste from the original pattern, but I’m happy I didn’t give up. There are lots of things I have learned on this project – understitching and working with slippery satin being the two main ones. This is the 2nd vogue LINK pattern I have been unhappy with during my recent dressmaking extravaganza, so perhaps I will try a few other pattern brands for a while and see how I get on.


In many ways, this has been a really satisfying make – I followed a pattern and was unsuccessful, but was patient enough to perservere, and was confident enough to try my own solutions without really knowing the answers. The finished result is certainly not perfect, probably won’t get that many compliments and I won’t be using that pattern again. But is the item wearable, flattering, completely unique and all mine? Yes? Am I proud of it? Absolutely.


Fabric Finds!

14 May

My dressmaking is coming on at a pace, and I seem to be getting through yards of fabric fairly quickly. In the past few weeks, I’ve discovered three very different fabric outlets: one epitomises the height of traditional, classic and timeless British design in the heart of London, one is an online treasure trove based in the Lake District, and one is rather more up my street (geographically and price-wise)!

Liberty London London Olympics 2012: Top Ten Must Visit London Shops

After a recent union conference in London, a friend of mine took me on an outing to the one, the only, Liberty of London.  I could barely contain my excitement! There, right in the middle of bustling London, a street away from Piccadilly Circus, stands a gorgeous, 4 storey, Tudor-style building, and within it contains gorgeous fashions, homewares and, of course, fabrics. A little known fact is that the building itself was constructed out of the timbers from the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan in 1924.


The entire building was a work of art – I think I spent more time looking at the architecture than I did browsing the fabrics! One of my favourite features was this little chap, eating a banana on the fourth floor.


It was, quite literally, fabric heaven – cabinet after cabinet of Liberty-printed cottons, linens, georgette. The entire department was full of wide-eyed women (and some men) running their fingertips longingly along rows of  Tana Lawn prints and sighing at the sight of button and ribbon displays. Prices started at around £22 per metre, which was slightly outside of my budget for an impulse purchase, so I used the visit to browse for inspiration, rather than to buy. Somehow, I tore myself away from the dressmaking fabrics to venture up to the fifth floor, where they keep the home furnishing fabrics.


There was one fabric in particular that caught my eye – exotic, floral and fabulous, I had to have it! Impulse buying mode kicked in with some intensity. I checked the label and it said “Liberty of London 19.50” on the tag. Excitedly, I thought I could probably stretch to buying two metres of the gorgeous stuff, seeing as I would, after all, need a souvenir of my visit! My mind began rushing with ideas for beautiful items I could construct from the fresh, bright material.


The helpful assistant took the bolt over to a scientific looking machine, and started rolling out the fabric to cut. Just before she did so, I checked “This is £19.50 a metre, right?” She looked at the label and regrettably informed me that 19.50 referred to the number of metres left on the roll, not the price per metre. She went to check the price in the master file, as my heart sank. All my future, imagined cushion covers, wall hangings and coin purses began to recede in my mind. The assistant returned with the eyewatering figure of £79.50 per metre. Per. Metre. I politely explained that I would have a think about buying it and come back later, before making a panicked dash for the exit with my credit card in tact. Oh well, there’s always next time – and there definitely will be a next time, I’m sure!

Upon returning from London, I called Mum to tell her of my adventures. Whilst I had been away, she had found a great sale on one of the fabric websites – Just Sew Penrith. They have some lovely prints and a good variety of fabric types. I consoled myself after my Liberty disappointment by treating myself to a few metres of a pretty blue floral stretch cotton which was on sale at £4.50pm,and a striking geometric poplin, which I think might look great for this pattern. What do you think?

Any confessed fabric addict would know that just two new materials weren’t going to be enough to satisfy my dressmaking habit! And so it happened that I was back in my hometown at the same time as Mummymau was visiting last month. This called for a trip to Abakhan – our very own North West fabric paradise.


I think Abakhan have quite a few sites across the North West, but in my opinion, the Preston store is head and shoulders above the rest. I always make time for a visit to this store whenever I am back, as there is no equivalent here in Yorkshire. When you walk through the doors, you never know what you might find – but it is a rare day when you leave the store empty handed. There’s always something to tempt.

The store is, essentially, a big warehouse, with all varieties of dressmaking and home furnishing fabrics downstairs, and yarns and habadashery upstairs. Many of the baskets hold fabrics which you buy by the weight, not the length.


Mum spotted a wonderful, glittering array of African waxed prints, which she thought could look good as bold Summer sundresses or kaftan-style tops. I spotted some fabulous offcuts in a basket marked ‘Dress Prints – £18.99 per kg’ – I am guessing that they are both made of artifical fibres, although the green stripe was a piece around 3m long and it had a good drape; the diamonds piece was around 1.5 m long and was light, airy and prone to creasing. I already had a plan in mind for the green (which you will read about soon) and thought that the diamond print could make a great lightweight blouse for the warmer months.

I asked the cashier to check the weight before I committed to buy them – combined, they came to around £10. Bargainous!

Upstairs I spotted bags of assorted buttons for £1 and a variety of findings and notions which I couldn’t leave behind. As Mum and I were walking towards the queue to pay, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye –


Nothing was written on the label, but I was 99% sure that this was the classic Liberty print, Wiltshire Berry. There was no producer name on the selvedge, but the fabric was good quality, 60″ wide and a light, lawn weight – perhaps it was a second? Sometimes I have spotted Alexander Henry and Michael Miller prints in there, priced incorrectly as just a few pounds per metre, so it could be possible. I checked the price: £4.99 a metre. There was no doubt we would be taking the lot! There were 5.3 metres left on the roll, so the cashier said she would charge us for 5. I don’t know if it is a Liberty second or not, but I don’t especially care – it will make the most beautiful shirt-waisted dress, in my opinion! Both Mum and I loved the print, so we have decided to share. What a sight we will be in our matching garments!


In total, we returned home with nearly 18 metres of fabric, 300g of buttons, Gutermann thread and other assorted habadashery for just under £80. Not bad for a morning’s work….wait a minute, what time is it? How on earth did we spend 3 hours in there?! Time flies when you’re having fun I guess!


Robot Shorts New Look 6873

8 May

Readers of my blog will be aware that I recently went on a road trip through the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. In preparation for the adventure I decided to try my hand at making some shorts out of a remnant of stonewashed denim, which I had bought at Abakhan in Preston a few years ago. I chose a pattern for shorts with an option roll-up detail and buttoning on the outside of each leg.

Shorts 5 Shorts 6

The pattern I used was New Look 6873, which required one and three quarter yards of a 45″ fabric. I didn’t have quite enough on the denim off cut, so I looked through the pattern pieces to see if there were any internal parts to the garment which I could do in a contrasting fabric. I realised I would be able to do the insides of the pockets and waistband in another fabric, so I got to work.

This is definitely the most complicated design I have ever tried to sew before – there were were 10 different pieces to the pattern, which, when cut out, gave me 19 bits of fabric to construct together. I was a little apprehensive, thinking I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but I thought as long as I worked slowly and methodically, I’d be ok. Plus, I like sewing with denim, it’s strong and can’t really stretch or warp when sewing, so I decided to give it a shot.


I measured the quantity of denim I had, and it was a 1.5 yard square. I knew I’d need to a) be really sparing with the denim I had and b) Work out which parts of the pattern I could get away with doing in a contrasting fabric. I cut the fronts and backs of the shorts out and was almost out of material already! Granted, this was also partially because I decided to lengthen the shorts so that the finished result would be approximately kneelength. I would need to do the inside of the fly, the waistband and the pockets in another fabric. I had a small amount of denim left for the outer waistband, but there was not quite enough to cut all of it in the same grain direction as the main pieces. Therefore, I decided to cut all three parts of the waistband in the same direction: against the grain, as I thought this would look less noticeable than just one segment of the waistband being cut in a different direction.

If you don’t believe how sparing I was with the denim, look how much was left at the end of cutting! Barely enough for a back pocket!



I am slowly honing my pattern cutting skills. I have never previously worked out how to cut the triangles on the cut line neatly (the ones you use to match up the pieces at the right points). I watched a tutorial where the sewist cut snips into the pattern piece, rather than arrows away from the pattern piece. I thought this was much neater and still did the job. Plus, it meant I could cut the pieces closer together on my feeble scrap of material.


A determined rummage in my fabric stash revealed this gem: It’s ‘Ready, Set, Robot’ by Alexander Henry. It’s a quilting cotton print which I impulse bought years ago and have been too nervous to use for fear of wasting it. I decided the Robots’ time had come to be stitched into something amazing. Obviously, the cotton was not as tough as the denim, so I used a strong interface on the pocket segments before stitching. I tried, wherever possible, to match the pattern well, so that robots were peeking out and smiling wherever they were spotted.


…and just a few weeks after my first attempt at understitching , here I was using the skill again! This particular job was much easier on these seams, but it was great to know I’d learned a skill which was already coming in useful!

I have made skirts and dresses before, but never trousers or shorts. Therefore, it gradually dawned on me that I would need to make my first attempt at constructing a fly. Eek! After much comparing of my bought jeans, I slowly began to understand what to do. In my typical style, I had started this project before ensuring that I had all the required fixings and findings available. It was at this point I needed a zip, and rather than waiting to buy just the right one, I found a 20″ brass zip on red backing lying around in the craft room that I thought I would cut down to size once it was attached. I basted the fabric to the top of the zip and then, when I came to test the fastening, I realised that this would leave the surplus zip at the bottom of the fly, hanging over the crotch, instead of at the top, where I could cut it and secure it/conceal it in the waistband. I ended up having to unpick it and rebaste it to the bottom of the zip – hopefully this is not a mistake I will make again!

Once I had the front and back leg pieces assembled, I then stitched them together at the centre seam, front to back, and then stitched the legs. The project was going well, so I was feeling ambitious and, after being inspired by the dungaree challenge on the Sewing Bee, I decided to take a shot at flat-felled seams. I was nervous that my attempt would ruin the whole look of the garment, so I decided to stitch in neutral, cream thread rather than the bright yellow I had used on some of the understitching.

I stitched the side seams with wrong sides together, then trimmed the edge which faced onto the back sections of the shorts, and pressed the seam flat. I then carefully folded, pressed and pinned the untrimmed, front edge over the original seam, and stitched it as slowly as I could. They look pretty good actually! I also decided to flat fell the inside leg seam, as they also would be on show when the short legs were rolled up. However, for this one, the folded material was on the wrong side of the fabric, rather than the right side.

Shorts 2

I think the flat-felling really neatens up the finished result, and it wasn’t that difficult. I’m sure my technique will improve, but this isn’t bad for a first attempt!Shorts 3

I basted the shorts together, but was a bit concerned as the pockets were overhanging the fly at the front. Did I do something wrong? I read and re-read the pattern, and checked some of the discussion on Sewing Pattern Review. No-one mentioned that specific problem, so I decided to trip the inside pocket edges and stitch them back up.


I finally got the waistband on, then tried the shorts on for the first time. The waist was sitting too high for my liking, and again, the waistband material was overhanging quite a lot. I realised that the problem may be that the pleats on the fronts of the shorts were too deep. A few sewists had reported this on Sewing Pattern Review, but I hadn’t understood what they meant until I got to this stage. I unpicked the waistband back to the front seams, and let each side of both seams out by a few mm. The pleats were rather deep  – perhaps I got them wrong in the first place! When letting the pleats out, I made sure to reposition the belt carriers so that they both still landed central to the I done something wrong? Once I had done this, the shorts fitted me perfectly. What’s more, the waistband was no longer overhanging excessively, and the pockets fell back on the inside. It made me realise that I probably hadn’t needed to trim them after all, as the problem was in the pleats all along! Oh well, at least that won’t be visible on the final garment.P1030050

On the picture above, you can see the belt carrier hanging down perfectly between the pleat, before being lifted up and stitched onto the waistband backing. The observant few may also be able to see the change in grain direction between the waist and the leg. The VERY observant might notice the neat top stitching on the pocket edge!

Time to face my fears: buttonholes. I took a deep breath, and wisely decided to test on other fabric first. Fortunately, I was home for the weekend, so Mummymau was on hand to guide me through the process. My sewing machine proudly declares itself to be capable of ‘”One Step” buttonholes. This is all well and good, if only you know what that step is! I turned the dial to the buttonhole setting, and attached the buttonhole foot.


It was a crazy contraption which had a slot for you to insert the button you were planning to use. This apparently enabled the machine to produce a buttonhole exactly one quarter inch longer than the button, resulting in a perfect finish. I couldn’t seem to master the stitching though, until I resorted to You Tube tutorials in a fit of desperation. Suddenly, the process seemed surprisingly straight forward, once I discovered the small lever at the back of the stitching plate of the machine!


I held my breath, positioned the test fabric, and applied pressure to the foot pedal…

P1030063And it worked!  I couldn’t believe it – a skill which had been a huge obstacle to me for a long time was easy peasy, and gave a wonderful, professional finish every time…

….as long as you always remember to turn the dial to ‘reset’ after each buttonhole.

Here is a picture of my first buttonhole. What a proud moment! I also had to make holes on the small button tabs on the sides of each leg.

With that final stitching, my awesome robot shorts were born. I am completely in love with finished result. They are eally comfy, hardwearing, and unique. They fit me perfectly (due to all the messing around with the front pleats) and I am certainly going to wear these to death. I had been toying with the idea of adding a back pocket to the shorts, which I eventually did after this picture was taken. As soon as I can find a willing volunteer, I’ll upload a photo of my handiwork :)

Slinky Satin Dress – Vogue 8241

2 May

After my success with the silk shift dress, I couldn’t wait to get started on this one: a gorgeous, classy, slinky evening dress, made from Very Easy Vogue pattern 8241. I had bought that fabulous plum coloured crepe-backed satin at Walton’s, so I got to work soon after finishing the last project.


The fabric was lovely to work with, although it was a little bit slippy when you were stitching. The pattern specified using crepe-backed satin, but also required a lining fabric, so I used a navy lining which I had lying about in the craft room. Both sides of the plum material were so lovely – the satin side was gloriously shiny, whilst the crepe side was matte and textured. I decided to make the bodice out of the shiny side, and the skirt out of the matte side, so that the finished garment didn’t look too glitzy.

As with most dress patterns, I began with the bodice, which consisted of one front panel and two back panels of both the satin and the lining. My first obstacle came when the pattern asked me to understitch all of the seams of the bodice. However, I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and I think I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself!


I wasn’t happy with the pattern, as the order I had sewn the pieces together obstructed my understitching – I ended up having to unpick some of the side seams to understitch the split at the back.


I even remembered to snip the curved seams and everything! Go me! This was all going so well! Once the understitching was complete, I basted the bottom seams together and was able to try the bodice on for the first time. Uh-oh – there was a problem. The bodice badly gaped on either side of the bust (excuse the red jogging pants).


I checked a few online tutorials, which mostly said I would need to put darts in the bustline to reduce the gape. I messed around with pins for a bit and couldn’t get the darts even at all. Also, I was disappointed that I would have to use darts, as I felt it altered the entire appearance of the dress! Thankfully, I was spending the weekend with Mummymau, who said she would take a look at it.


Mum (as ever) knew what to do straight away, so we (she) decided that it made sense to unpick the basting and simply take in the sides beneath the arm holes. Fortunately, this meant I didn’t have to unpick any of my glorious understitching – what a relief! Once I had stitched a wedge under the armhole, I was able to move the lining back into place and re-baste the bodice. From here it should be plain sailing…right?


I stitched together the skirt and lining, and attached them to the bodice as per the instructions. Then I had to create a tunnel of material around the middle and thread elastic into it, in order to give the dress shape. What a disaster. The garment looked like a bag. I checked out some of the advice on Sewing Pattern Review and discovered I was not the only one – there was too much bulk around the middle of the dress, which meant the finished result was not flattering. I  decided to remove the elastic, trim away the excess material around the middle, and simply attach flat elastic around the waist instead. The dress now was a little better, but still baggy and horrible. It’s so frustrating to put so much work in and not be happy with the outcome! The waistband had too much fabric flopping over it, so I thought it might look better if I stitched the skirt to the bodice at a higher point, so that there was less material draping around the midriff. I don’t even have any pictures to show how rubbish it looked, you will just have to take my word for it!

I unpicked the waist and the elastic, and raised the waistline up by around 4 cm – I was much happier with it already, although it still needed some work! The fabric had just enough ‘give’ to drape nicely without looking like I’d hidden my lunch in a pocket…. However, the dress was still rather ‘sack-like’ and not something I could see myself ever wearing. I felt pretty deflated – it’s really annoying to put a lot of effort in and get poor results; and even more annoying to not know how to rectify them. However, after a good night’s sleep, I decided to give the dress another shot – after all, I want to learn dressmaking skills and improve the success rate of my sewn garments. I’m not a quitter!

I thought it might look a little better if I took the bodice in all the way down the sides. I separated the top and bottom of the dress, and took the bodice in by about 1.5cm on each side, checking I could still get in and out of it first by tacking it with pins. This made a small improvement, so I decided to take the skirt in too. I also experimented with looser and tighter elastic, to see if either of them were more flattering.

 I also tried testing out whether a higher or lower hem line would make a difference. No, I still didn’t like the result. Looking at the pictures below now, I guess it’s not that bad, but you will have to believe me when I say it looked dreadful. Slinky and classy it wasn’t. The fabric was still really bulky and didn’t move well, it looked like an oversized bridesmaids outfit.


The poor dress, which by this point had been constructed and then deconstructed FOUR times, was beginning to get on my nerves. From the pictures above, I hope you can see that the fabric is utterly lovely and my stitching is pretty neat. However, the finished result got a big thumbs down from me. It had not turned out to be the slinky, classy evening dress I had hoped for.

Undeterred, I actually decided to unpick the dress one more time, to see if it was salvageable. But that will have to wait until next time!  Until then, if any of you can comfort me with tales of unsuccessful dressmaking projects, I’d very much appreciate it.


Simple Summer Shift Dress – New Look 6022

27 Apr

Undeterred by my recent, rather lacklustre results from dressmaking, I embarked on another project – this time on a summer shift dress.

I decided to attempt version C, as that will give me a versatile item to dress up for evening wear or dress down for work, and it also means I don’t have to attempt sleeves just yet! I thought my silk purchase from Walton’s would be perfect for this.


The dutiful textile student that I am, I remembered to cut a sample of the fabric for wash testing – I thought I would also test my other Walton’s purchased fabric at the same time. I cut 2 small, identical pieces of each fabric, and washed one of each on a 40 wash. Afterwards, I dried and pressed the washed squares and compared them to the originals. In the case of both the silk and the crepe-backed satin, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ squares were identical, so I knew the finished garments would be washable, and that I didn’t have to take fabric shrinkage into account. I carefully took my measurements, and realised that my shoulder-waistline measurement was approximately one inch longer than the pattern.  I guessed that on a dress such as this, the difference wouldn’t be too obvious – however, this project is meant to be giving me opportunities to learn new dressmaking skills, so I decided to try lengthening the pattern. I cut the bodice pieces on the lengthening lines, and added spare pattern paper into the gaps, ensuring that I expanded both the back and front sections equally. This seemed a little daunting at first, but wasn’t so bad once I got started! I also decided to extend the overall length of the dress by a further 2 inches at the hem. I prepared my pattern pieces, and encountered my first challenge – how to match up the repeat of a pattern like this?!

P1020912 I was anxious to ensure that the central shape of the pattern was centered down the front of the dress, and that a relatively even coverage of colour would show at the neckline. This gave me a well-positioned front section on the fabric. I then concentrated on cutting the back sections of the dress so that the pattern also centred down the back of the dress. I also tried to ensure that similar colours matched up across the shoulders (from back to front), by moving the pattern further up or down for the back pieces. P1020913
I followed the pattern closely, making sure I used the correct seam allowances (a chronic error in my dressmaking!). I found that the silk moved around a lot whilst sewing, leading to one piece either wrinkling up or stretching during the stitching process. I attempted to remedy this by stay-stitching around all the pieces before putting them together. I think this was somewhat effective, as it certainly prevented the flimsy material from warping and getting stretched. The collar and arm holes of the dress are finished by producing bias tape from diagonal strips of the fabric. I have made my own bias many times before, when making groovy ovengloves. However, this is the first time I had made it for clothing. I tried my best to cut a strip which would allow me to match the colours accurately at the neck line. Unfortunately, with so many variations in the pattern, I did not succeed in matching this perfectly at all!


From watching episodes of the Sewing Bee, I have learned that the finish on the visible stitching of a garment can make all the difference to the overall finished appearance. Therefore, I was anxious to get the stitching as neat as possible. I used the hand wheel on the machine to stitch the bias, so that the stiches were as uniform as possible. I made endless mistakes whilst doing this – I must have unpicked it and re-basted it 5 times before I was happy with it! The first time, my stitching accidentally twisted one of the neckline pleats, making the whole bodice look lopsided. Unpicked and started again. Then, just after I started stitching, I realised that the thread had gotten all tangled up, right across the shoulder. Aaagh. Unpick and rebaste and stitch x2. This time, in a hurry to finish the damned thing, I basted the neck bias on back to front! How exasperating! All this repeated stitching, unpicking and restitching took its toll on such a delicate fabric. The bias began to lose its shape, and you can see in the picture below the faint needle points across the fabric, where the old stitches were. I am hoping these faint marks will disappear after the fabric is washed and steamed. Finally I finished the neckline, and then had a continuation of this problem whilst making sure the bias on both arm holes was even. In a few areas, the stitching missed the back edge of the bias, but I corrected this by hand sewing – I could not bear removing the bias for the Nth time! P1020917
The next thing the pattern called for was a button loop. I’ve never made one of these before by this method (basically blanket stitches over a few loops of thread). This was relatively straightforward, and I found some embroidery thread which matched the colours in the fabric.


 Finally, all I needed to do was hem the garment. I have done invisible hems before, but with the silk being so delicate, I took extra care with the hemming. I’m really pleased with my handstitching here! Can you see the hem? Ok, so you can, but I’m happy with it :-)


I finished the dress a few days before I was due to work at a Conference, where I knew that one of the delegates from my Union was an enthusiastic dressmaker. This gave me a perfect opportunity to try my dress out for the first time! It was really comfortable and light to wear all day, and I got lots of compliments on it! My dressmaking friend commented that I had matched the pattern up well around the garment, which I was so pleased about that I took a sneaky selfie in the hotel mirror – excuse the deshevelled room!


I’m pleased with the finished result and I know I’m going to get a lot of wear out of this dress – it’s not perfect but I’m happy that I perservered with the fiddly bits like the bias neckline, the invisible hem and the pattern matching, as they really improve the end product :)

Sultry Green Dress – Vogue 8898

21 Apr

As mentioned in some of my recent posts, the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee has resuscitated my joy of dressmaking. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there is no point me lamenting my woeful lack of skills unless I’m willing to put the time in to improve them.

Vogue Patterns 8898 Misses' Dress and Belt Line Drawing

With this in mind, I spent the weekend before last on the first of my new patterns – Very Easy Vogue 8898. A committed fabric hoarder, I already had a big bundle of heavyweight green jersey stuffed away in the craft room, which I thought would do for the project. I’d impulse bought it at Abakhan over a year ago, and had been itching to get something made out of it.

As this is the first project I’ve done in some time, I tried to go about it properly – I read the whole pattern before cutting anything (which I never do); I took accurate measurements of myself rather than just cutting to my current clothing size (which I rarely do), and cut the pattern neatly (which I sometimes do) before ironing it straight for pinning to the fabric (which I always do). However, despite trying to work neatly and accurately throughout this project, I’m disappointed with the result – it’s too big, the waistline is too high, and the fabric doesn’t drape the way I wanted it to. What a mess!!


Learning lessons from this, I’ve decided to blog my results anyway. At first I thought I was going to hide this dress away from the watchful eyes of the lovely online blog readers, as I thought I could do better. Then, I remembered that this blog is my personal way to track a route through the items I make, recording both the failures and successes – I’m sure,to some extent, we are all good at showing when we have done well, but rather reluctant to show where we have screwed up. However, we only learn from our mistakes, and we all have them! As some bright spark once said, ‘don’t fall into the trap of comparing your life story with other people’s clip reel’. I suppose, in terms of my endeavour to learn more about dressmaking, from here the only way is up!


1) I had cursorily glanced over the reviews on Sewing Pattern Review for this design, but I realise now I should have read them in more detail. I was a size 14 for this pattern, so cut accordingly. However, from the picture you can tell this is quite a loose garment, and several of the previous makers had reported using the size down as the suggested sizes made the whole thing too baggy. My dress is cut to the 14 but I should have used the 12, as the finished garment is more akin to a circus tent than to a sultry dress. Of course, if I constantly walk around, striking a pose, as in the picture below, I could just about get away with it…

GreenDress 1

2) I stitched the front and back together, as per the instructions, but the dress utterly swamped me. Also, as you can see from the technical drawing, the arm hole on the left hand side is actually part of the top line of the dress. I found that this felt too bunched up under my arm when I stitched it together, so unpicked the stitching and modified the design so that the dress had one covered sleeve and an arm hole on the left edge. This felt much more comfortable and looked quite appealing too.

I actually quite like this asymmetrical sleeve on the dress, but with hindsight, I would have been best just unpick the stitching and downsize the material!

3) The instructions told me to hem the neckline and the sleeves – I did ok on the sleeves, but the neckline doesn’t lie completely flat after stitching. I guess this means I stretched the fabric slightly when stitching. I guess I should have taken more care!


4) I originally planned to make the ‘C’ design of this dress, where the belt is tied around the whole circumference of the dress. The finished result looked far too bulky, so I quickly took a needle and some scissors to the garment and added the belt holes, as shown on the ‘B’ design. Why I rushed into this, I’ll never know! My natural waist is a good inch and a half lower than the one specified on the pattern, so I should have adjusted the belt hole accordingly. I guess this error isn’t too apparent on the finished article, but I think it certainly exacerbates the problem of the fabric not hanging nicely around the hips.

5)I also think the dress could have benefitted from a lighter-weight fabric – then perhaps these other points would not have been issues at all.

GreenDress2 I was so disappointed with the finished result, that I left it in a UFO heap in the craft room for over a week, refusing to finish the bottom hem. I eventually finished the hem and tried it on, and it’s not as bad as I was expecting. However, I don’t think this dress will be getting worn that often. Other bloggers have written about this particular pattern and say it’s a really stylish, effective, easy design, so I might try this one again at some point. Has anyone out there made this dress?

Sewing Pattern Extravaganza

28 Mar

….Otherwise known as: 16 patterns are better than one!

I’m sure we all have recollections of going shopping for just one, small thing, and coming back from town with a maxed out credit card and 8 pairs of shoes. Or is that just me? Continue reading

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