Monday, 21 April 2014

Sew Dolly Clackett: the Dilly Dolly Dress

If you've noticed a rash of full-skirted, novelty print dresses and grinning faces on sewing blogs, you're not going mad - it's Sew Dolly Clackett! This adorable idea was dreamt up by Sarah of Rhinestones and Telephones to help the sewists of the world celebrate Roisin's (a.k.a. Dolly Clackett's) wedding. I have a stash of novelty print quilting cottons that I bought when I first started sewing, so this was a perfect opportunity to use some up! I figured this print was appropriate for a sewalong honouring a fellow seamstress, and it's novelty and bold enough to be suitably Roisin-ish but not so in your face that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing it.

In true Dolly Clackett style, I hacked a pattern to create a personalised dress. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the bodice from (vintage) Simplicity 5237, adjusted to be sleeveless. If you just take the sleeves off a pattern, the likelihood is that it won't fit that well around the arm, as a pattern with sleeves will have a bit of extra ease in this area. I took about 1.25cm off each side seam (front and back) at the bottom of the armscye tapering down to a few mm at the waist (the first dress could do with being brought in a little at the waist). I also took a few mm off the diagonal seam at each armscye. After wearing it, I realised, I've actually taken a bit too much off the side seams right at the bottom of the bodice, so that the bodice rides up a bit because the smallest part is now a little below my actual waist. (The other solution to this would be to shorten the bodice a little, but that's not so easy once the zip's in!)

Instead of the original skirt, I drafted a half-circle skirt, and added side seam pockets. The bodice is lined in black cotton batiste, but I left the skirt unlined. I referred to Trena's handy picture tutorial for lining the bodice, and the skirt is hemmed with black bias tape (made from the same soft batiste as the bodice lining) to echo the black piping at the top if you see a flash of the inside of the skirt. I finished the hem by hand to keep it invisible from the outside.

Whilst this is obviously inspired by Roisin's style, I added a couple of details to make it my own. At the neck I added black leather piping, plus an exposed metal zip at the back. I like the slightly harder edge these give to what might otherwise be a rather novelty dress for my taste. I had been planning to use the leather piping at the arms too, but decided against it in the end, partly because I thought it might be a bit "sticky" there, and also because it was fiddly and I couldn't be bothered with it...!

The zip was inserted using the method shown over at Pattern Runway, and I added a grosgrain ribbon zipper guard so the metal wouldn't be cold or irritating against my skin. The zip is actually a little short - I can get the dress on and off fine over my head, but can't step into it like I prefer. It's also too tight to get onto Wilma comfortably, so the pictures at the top are actually before it's hemmed - I didn't want to strain the zip putting it back on her again for more photos.

I wanted to find a nice doorway to pose in front of, but front doors of the buildings in town over here all have glass in them, which is pretty, but not so great for a backdrop, what with all the reflections of cars and my photographer. However, I did manage to include a couple of authentic Roisin details: Lady Dragon shoes, and an alcoholic drink...

Here's to you, Dolly Clackett! And here's to many years of happiness ahead with Nic! (And to many more crazy dresses, fabulous shoes, and tasty gin-based cocktails!)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

1960s dress

This is the first of my Vintage Pattern Pledge projects - the one I actually started on before signing up! I had originally intended to make this with a (supposedly) wool-mix suiting fabric, but decided against that as I was concerned the check pattern would look terrible with the combination of darts and diagonal seaming across the bust. Ideally, I wanted to make this up in a light suiting weight fabric, preferably a pretty colour or small pattern. The only thing I seemed to have in my stash that was appropriate and had enough of was this linen-rayon mix. Not ideal, but it actually looks quite nice.

Pattern description

Vintage Simplicity 5237: Dress with close fitting bodice with diagonal seaming, short or 3/4 length sleeves, and flared skirt with gathers and box pleat.

Pattern sizing

18 1/2 (39" bust). This is their sizing for petite. I un-petited it as described below.

Fabric used

Linen-rayon blend, lined with cotton batiste, all from (the bodice and skirt lining look slightly different colours in the photos because they are different fabric - I ran out and had to order more halfway through!).

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Actually yes, quite a lot.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

Yes. Although the instructions are much more succinct than those you get in modern patterns, I think they are generally much better. The diagrams are clear, and also indicate the stitching direction - this is something I was always taught was important, but often isn't mentioned in modern patterns. One thing I particularly like about these instructions was the way of stitching the sleeves: when sewing them in, they have you start at one notch, stitching towards the underarm seam. You stitch all the way around the seam, then when you reach the first notch again, you keep going, sewing a line of reinforcement just outside the the seam line to the notch the other side of the underarm. You can then trim this area quite closely. Neat!

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Apart from the un-petiting, and ignoring the sleeves, the bodice required minimal fitting - no FBA here! The shape is very flattering, and quite timeless.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

This was sized for petite. In order to un-petite it I added length across the top of the bodice, front and back, in the top third of the armscye (I didn't alter the skirt to un-petite it between the waist and hip, as I figured the A-line shape was fairly forgiving). I made my usual alteration to the bodice back for swayback by rotating the shoulders and neckline down, and lowered the front neckline slightly.

The sleeves drove me a bit crazy - as drafted, they looked ok-ish with my arms by my sides, but I couldn't lift my arms. I eventually solved the problem by extending the shoulders, raising and reshaping the armscye a little, removing the ease from the sleeve cap, and shifting the shoulder point forward.

Apart from adding in-seam pockets and shortening by about 10cm, I made no changes to the skirt.

Construction details

In order to keep the vintage vibe of this dress, I chose to use a lapped zipper, with the overlapped side hand-picked. I'm really pleased with how this turned out. The hand stitching is much more unobtrusive than machine stitching, and retains the flexibility of the zipper much better. I added a hook and thread bar at the top of the zip.

The neckline is faced, with the bodice lining attached to the facing. The skirt lining was a bit made up on the hoof. In order to give weight to the pleat, I included the lining in it, but made small pleats at the front waistline instead of gathers to reduce bulk. I think one of the layers is a bit off-grain as the skirt hangs with a bit of an odd a fold on one side, but this isn't super noticeable when the dress is being worn and I'm moving around. The lining has a narrow machine hem, and the skirt is hemmed by hand.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I have already sewn the bodice part of this again (you'll have seen a sneak peek of it if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram). It's nice having a bodice that fits really well, although I'd like to find another one with less distinctive seaming - I'm going to look at the vintage half size ones again!


I was really satisfied when I finished this dress, but I haven't actually worn it. Having sewn the second version (which I altered to be sleeveless), I think this is because of the sleeves. I really love the look with sleeves, but it's just not a good combination of fabric weight and fit/style for me. I think I will mull it over a little more, but I'm pretty certain I'm going to take off the sleeves, I really think this alteration will turn it from a dress that may look lovely but languishes in the wardrobe, into a dress that will get worn a lot, which is really what I need more.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Paris - and fabric shopping!

So my lovely husband (vom alert!) arranged a surprise trip for my birthday last month. Except he accidentally told me beforehand. But that was actually great, as we were going to PARIS!

So of course, the first thing I did was look up where the fabric shops are. Oh yeah. Melissa and Isabelle have great guides, so my own plan was based on these. We were only there for two nights, and given we had lots of friends to see (plus, even though it was my birthday, I didn't want to drag the husband around fabric shops tooooo long) I only visited a few of the shops around Montmartre.

Initially I had a bit of the same freak-out I had in New York (I've become a yokel since moving to Switzerland), so forgot to buy things I needed in the mercerie (ack, haberdasher's - I keep forgetting English words), like an extra pair of thread snips and a new tape measure. I also got a bit overwhelmed in the regular fabric shops. I was mainly looking for wools to make a coat, and couldn't find any of suitable weight, so passed over a couple of fabrics that I'm now regretting. There was a beautiful tweedy fuchsia-purple wool that was just gorgeous, but I passed on it as it was dress weight rather than coat weight. Totally regretting that as it would have been perfect for my first vintage pattern challenge dress (which is actually finished, I just need to photograph it!).

Of course, I can always steel myself to the challenge of fabric buying, and I got in the swing of things when I discovered Coupons de Saint-Pierre. Oh my god I love this place! It sells "coupons" - fabric pre-cut to 3m lengths, and sold off at bargain prices. Truly BARGAIN prices. All my purchases came from here...

Two pieces of yarn-dyed coating weight wool - one side is smooth, the other is brushed. Yes, I was totally inspired by Lauren's coat when choosing these! I've got a feeling this may not be made up until next winter though, as it's a bit late to be starting on a winter coat now (from hovering just above freezing until a few days ago, it's now due to be 19˚C on Monday!). I also found a piece of very soft and fairly thick knit, marked as poly-wool mix. This will probably be a big snuggly cardie-jacket, along the lines of BurdaStyle 11/2013/107.

These two pieces were from the super bargain tables outside where everything is €15 per piece. They're polyester, but have a nice drapey challis-like hand. I really like that the print is on the diagonal. These are destined to become springy-summery dresses (or possibly also a tunic-style top), underlined to keep the poly-sweatiness at bay.

This piece is a heavy-weight cotton print, almost light upholstery weight, but a better hand (and I'm thinking it will also get a bit softer after washing), and a textured weave. It is destined to become a structured spring or summer dress, probably with an early 60s vibe. I've noticed since buying it that the print is rather off-grain, so it will require some careful cutting.

And now my prize pieces: pure silks! The mustardy one is chiffon, and is destined to become a floaty blouse. The brighter one is twill, but it's really hard to capture the colour - it's really really bright, daffodil-coloured, almost acid yellow. It's awesome. This was the only piece that I didn't have something concrete in mind for, but when you come across some bargainously-priced and brightly coloured silk twill, it would be rude not to buy it, right?

I was so seduced by the variety and prices, it didn't even occur to me to consider how wide any of these were until I was taking pictures of them! Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised: the silks are a reasonable 140 wide, the polys are 144cm and the cotton and the wools are a huge 155cm! Brilliant.

I've been to Paris a few times, but realised that the last time I was there was nearly ten years ago, when we got engaged! We stayed near Place de République and the Canal Saint-Martin, it's a really nice area, lots of cool bars and interesting shops - a bit like Shoreditch, but with fewer silly haircuts. We have several friends who live in Paris, so it's somewhere we intend to visit more frequently - especially as it's only around three hours on the TGV from here. In fact, if I book early for the cheap tickets, it might be a regular occurrence just for the fabric and haberdashery......

Monday, 3 March 2014

And the winner is...

Thank you to everyone who entered my blouse giveaway - I was so excited that so many people liked what I'd put together. I decided to do the draw old-school-style, with names on pieces of paper - but pulled out of a fondue dish rather than a hat!

And the winner is Kristin Jones! Congratulations!

(Kristin, I've sent you an email - let me know your address and I'll get the goodies posted out to you)

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sew Grateful Week: Sharing resources day

Ooops! I got the days and themes a bit confused, so this should have appeared yesterday. (At least it's still in the right week...)

So today is all about sharing sewing resources. I don't have a tutorial to offer, but I do want to share a few links to resources I've found really helpful in my sewing adventures. I'm super grateful for the online sewing community, both for the (passive and active) encouragement it gives me to keep sewing and stretch myself, but also for all the advice and tutorials out there. My friends aren't particularly into sewing, I live in a small town in a different country to my mum, and don't speak the language that well, so have a limited amount of "real-life" advisors I can turn to. So I turn to the huge wealth of knowledge that is the internet...


Fitting is a bit of a bête noir for me (ooh, I do speak French!), but one of the main reasons I started sewing was to have clothes that fit my entirely non-standard body. It's all very much still a work in progress, but these are some of the techniques and advice that I have found helpful.

Full bust adjustment (FBA)

Sway back

  • I've started using a new method of adjusting for this, which preserves the CB fold if needed. There's a great explanation on Sherry's blog, plus another way of thinking about it here.

Forward shoulders and sleeves

  • Sleeve cap ease is bogus! And you will believe this too when you read Kathleen's explanation. I've found that sleeves to fit so much better when the ease is taken out - although the shoulder needs to be wide enough, and the armscye needs to be shaped well. There is some information about this here, here and here, and also in the comments of this post.
  • Linked to the fit of sleeves is adjusting for forward shoulder. This is effectively a more exaggerated version of Kathleen's reshaping of the sleeve head, plus adjustment of the shoulder line and neckline on the bodice. There's a nice explanation here, and I normally use Gigi's method for reshaping the sleeve head.

Books I've found useful

Sewing techniques

There's also a wealth of information of sewing techniques out on t'interweb. I'm always a bit wary of online "tutorials" as there are many terrible methods and finishes being sewn. I like to learn from those with experience, and that's one of the reasons I don't describe anything I do as a "tutorial", as I don't think I have the experience or skills to say "that's the way to do it". Anyway, these are a few things that I refer to frequently.


  • Inserting the zip is always something that can make or break the look of a garment. After reading Els's tutorial, I much prefer sewing invisible zips after the seam is sewn up (You can actually still use an invisible zipper foot here, you just have to do the diagonal backstitching by hand). She also gives a tutorial on a neat way to sew the a facing with an invisible zip, and Kathleen shows a similar method here and here.
  • For centred zips and lapped zips, I like to use Kathleen's methods. She gives good explanations to show the construction of both centred zips and lapped zips plus facings.
  • For a neat way to sew an exposed zip in a seam, I like to use Pattern Runway's method.

Buttonholes and loops



There's some good techniques, tutorials and tips gathered in the following places.

Many, many thanks to all those people who share their knowledge on the internet - there are SO MANY more links and books I find useful, but this post has got a little longer than intended! I always try to reference the techniques I've used when I write my blog posts, so you'll find more information there and I hope this little collection of links here proves useful to at least some of you.

Finally, a big thank you to all those who've entered my giveaway so far - I'm so pleased that I've managed to put together something that people like! A reminder that the giveaway closes at the end of Sunday 2 March, so add your comment if you would like to enter.