05 August 2017

Cross Front Maxi Dress

Many years ago, I bought myself a maxi dress at Target in Melbourne.  This was the most comfortable, easy to wear dress.  It's a stretch fabric with an empire waist crossover top, and a shirred skirt.  Over time, despite very careful handling, the neckline became a little stretched.  I made a tuck in the front to fix it, but it's not perfect. 

I like this dress so much, I decided to have a go at copying it.  I started by tracing off a front and back bodice pattern.  I didn't bother with the skirt as I just needed length and width measurements.

I then visited Chinatown and picked up some 150cm wide stretch fabric at the bargain price of $3 per metre.  I bought three metres just to be safe, and ended up having enough to make Samantha a dressing gown as well.

What does it look like on? Very nice, I think!

To make sure the neckline didn't sag and stretch, I carefully sewed a small channel around the edge, and threaded 1/4" elastic through it.  Overall I was quite happy with the fit of this make.  I think the cross-over panels are a little bit long, so I adjusted my pattern before starting on my next make.

Now that I'd tested my pattern, I popped into Chinatown again and bought another stretch fabric.  This one was $12 per metre.  I only bought two metres this time and had plenty for my dress - it helps to be short!

I'm happier with the fit of this dress, but I still think I can take out a bit more fabric from the cross-over panel.  I also messed up slightly with the join between the bodice and the skirt, and will add in an extra row of shirring above the join next time.  By not having a row of shirring above the join, the seam has stretched and gone a bit wavy.

Overall I'm very happy with my two dresses and they get a lot of wear.  I've already bought one more fabric for a fourth attempt.  Hopefully I'll get it perfect this time.

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29 July 2017

My Sorbetto Obsession

There's nothing better than a simple sleeveless cotton top in Singapore.  It's comfortable, goes well with shorts and always looks a bit neater than a t-shirt or singlet.  Collette Patterns have a free, downloadable pattern for a simple sleeveless top.  You can download your copy of the Sorbetto from their website.

Source - Collette Patterns

I made my first Sobetto back when we lived in London.  I used some white shirting I had leftover from Samantha's christening gown.  I wore that top to death every time we got warm weather. It was eventually so stained and ragged that I had to ditch it.  I decided to make myself a few more in different fabrics.  So far I have three which get a lot of wear.

This first one I made in a very fine Japanese lawn I bought at Spotlight.  Unfortunately, I slightly stretched out the neckline and armholes.

I made this one in a beautiful linen shirting I bought at Mustafa.  I used an improvisational pleating technique I saw on Birch Fabrics Blog.  The pleating does require a really good pressing, but I like the effect.

My final Sorbetto is made in white shirting from Mustafa with some pintucks down the centre front.  I started by removing the pleat from the front panel of the Sorbetto pattern.  I then decided it was much too difficult to work out the pintuck fabric requirements, cut the pattern then sew the pintucks.  Instead, I sewed the pintucks into the fabric, then cut out my pattern.  I'm sure this method is cheating, but it worked like a charm.

I love the simplicity of these tops and wear them all the time.  If you haven't tried out the Sorbetto pattern yet, I highly recommend it.
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25 July 2017

The Charlie Caftan

charlie caftan

A couple of weeks ago Karen from Did You Make That wrote a post about the making of her Charlie Caftan.

charlie caftan
Source - Did You Make That

I wasn't drawn to the pattern immediately as I didn't like the length of it or the fit of the bodice, but then I clicked on the link to the pattern and found this ...

charlie caftan
Source - Closet Case Files

I absolutely adore this longer version.  It also looks like the perfect dress for sticky Singapore weather.

Several months ago my mum was visiting me in Singapore.  We spent a few hours wandering around Arab Street and did a bit of shopping.  I spotted this lovely hand printed, Indian cotton fabric in Dilip Textiles.  They mostly sell tablecloths and cushion covers, but they also have a small selection of pre-cut fabric lengths.

charlie caftan

I had slightly less than 3m of fabric, and was able to cut a size 3 pattern.  I had to take about 1" off the length to fit it in, but as I'm rather short the length worked out perfectly!  The fabric is a soft, lightweight cotton (a bit heavier than a lawn).

While I love this fabric, I wouldn't recommend using geometric print.  I especially wouldn't recommend a hand-printed Indian cotton where the geometric pattern is slightly wonky.  It adds an unnecessary level of complexity in matching up that incredibly visible centre front seam.  That being said, I think the minor imperfections just add to the charm of this fabric.

There are a couple of tricky parts in the construction of this dress.  The first is getting a neatly aligned centre front seam.  I started by taking extra care when folding the fabric and placing the pattern piece.  Once the front panel was cut, I carefully staystiched the neckline to ensure I didn't stretch it out while I was working.  I then pinned the seam and checked the alignment.  It took several goes, but I eventually got it lined up perfectly.  I'm pleased I took the time to do this carefully, as it would have been horribly obvious if I'd got it wrong.

charlie caftan

Those of you with eagle eyes may have picked up that this isn't actually a perfectly aligned seam, as the pattern doesn't meet perfectly on the centre seam.  The only way I could have achieved perfect pattern matching would have been to take 2-3cm out of the gathered portion at the cutting stage, so that the repeating pattern met along the white dots in the centre of the star.  Personally, I quite like the way it worked out.

The second difficult step is the insertion of the "waistband" panel in the centre front.  I started by very carefully lining up my pattern piece so that I got a good placement of the star design in the fabric.  The pattern instructions for inserting the waistband are a little bit confusing.  Fortunately, Karen had shared her tips on how to complete this step, and it ended up being quite straightforward.  I drew the stitching lines on the back of waistband panel using my trusty Frixion pen.

charlie caftan

I then carefully pinned and sewed the waistband into the bodice using the markings as my stitching guide.  It resulted in a really neat waistband panel.  The rest of the instructions for the dress are really simple, and I had my Charlie Caftan completed in about three hours.

Here's the finished dress:

charlie caftan

I've worn it twice now, once on the weekend and once to work.  It is such a comfortable, beautiful dress.  I'm completely in love with it, and am definitely going to make another.
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19 July 2016

DIY Pattern Weights

I do a lot of fabric cutting using a mat and rotary cutter. I have never owned proper pattern weights, and generally use anything handy - mostly food tins. 

I've been looking at some tutorials on Pinterest for DIY pattern weights and decided I need to make some. My favourite ones are made with metal washers. I considered wrapping them in ribbon or washi tape, or even painting them.  There was lots of inspiration on the web.

In the end, I decided I preferred them left plain. I think they look neat.  I popped into a hardware store near my house and picked up 20 x 2" washers. 

The washers had a smooth edge on one side and a rough edge in the other. It felt like the rough edge would catch on delicate fabrics. A simple solution was to glue two washers together, with the rough edges on the inside. 

I found some araldite glue in my cupboard, a plastic lid for mixing the glue, and some cardboard for working on.

The first step was to mix up some glue. Araldite glue comes in two tubes, and you have to mix equal quantities of each to make it work.

I dabbed some glue on one washer, then placed the second washer on top. I gently twisted the washers a little, to spread the glue around evenly.  It's important not to use too much glue, or it will ooze out the sides and the washers will slide around while drying.

I glued all 20 together then left them to dry overnight. I checked them a few times in the first couple of hours, to make sure the washers hadn't slid out of position.

It took longer than I thought it would for the glue to dry completely - which might be because of the heat and humidity in Singapore. After a couple of days the were completely dry and ready to use.

They work perfectly and are a great size and weight. I think I might make a second batch, as 10 don't seem to be enough.
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13 July 2016

The Great British Sewing Bee - Week Six Recap

We head into week five - Activewear Week - with five contestants left.

We have arrived at the quarter final.  The five sewers left have all had good and bad challenges.  I don't feel like one stands out as the most likely winner, and I'd be fairly happy to see any combination of the three in the final.

SPOILER ALERT!  I am going to discuss, in detail, what happens in week two of The Great British Sewing Bee.  If you haven't had a chance to watch this episode yet, you might like to sneak off and do that before you read this summary, but please stop by again after you have caught up.

The Challenges 

1. Sewing from a Pattern

Sew a mens cycling top in lycra (techniques include sewing with four-way stretch lycra, inserting a zip in lycra, using an overlocker and coverstitch machine) in 2 hours 45 minutes.

Our five remaining contestants lined up, ready to receive their activewear pattern challenge.  All were suitably surprised by the cycling top pattern handed out.

Patrick, Esme and Claudia gathered around the sample cycling top to discuss just how difficult the challenge was.  Patrick explained that they had set this challenge as activewear is expensive, and it takes a great deal of skill to sew it.  Esme pointed out that sewers need to pin their fabrics well, or they will end up with puckered seams.  The other difficult aspects of the challenge are getting the zip in neatly, the collar on and lined up evenly, and no stretched seams.  Esme and Patrick thought this is the toughest challenge they have set yet.  I'm inclined to agree with them.

The steps in constructing the top were as follows:

The haberdashery had been stocked with a variety of plain coloured, four-way stretch lycra fabrics.  There was nothing terribly exciting about the fabrics, but they did look like nice quality lycra.  I think the best choices were Joyce (blue and yellow) and Tracey (red and sky blue).

No-one seemed particularly thrilled with this challenge.  Rumana hated the fabric, and it was only the second time she had worked with an overlocker.  Charlotte, Tracey & Jade were shown discussing how they were going slowly so they would be neat and accurate.  We then cut to Joyce, who was racing through her overlocker seams with obvious glee.  There was much discussion of the fine line between stretching a seam and over-stretching a seam.  

The first difficult step was under stitching the collar (without stretching it too much).  Rumana didn't seem familiar with under stitching, and did her row of stitches on the outside of the collar.  The next difficulty was inserting the exposed zip.  Tracey summed it up nicely when she pointed out that the woven zip and the stretching fabric "don't want to play nicely together".  Tracey was having so little fun with the challenge she declared she'd rather be back at the dentist getting a filling.

The next challenge was using a coverstitch machine.  If you're not sure what a coverstitch machine does, have a look at the hem on a t-shirt.  It makes that stretchy row of double stitching used on hems.  Rumana declared "I thought I hated overlockers, and then I met this!"  No-one seemed to have used a coverstitch machine and I don't think anyone found it easy.

Right near the end of the challenge Claude shouted "six minutes" right next to Jade, who retorted with "oh, that is NOT helpful."  There was a mad scramble to finish, and I don't think anyone enjoyed this challenge.

The judges comments were as follows:

  • Charlotte - collar matches well, centre front seam pulls up slightly, bottom hem and cuffs even, but neckline chewed and stretched.
  • Tracey - really liked the colours, extremely well sewn, collar sitting nicely, centre front seam not pulling, hem even, but zip does not go all the way to the top of the collar.
  • Rumana -  collar doesn't line up, under stitching on outside of collar, collar stretched out, hem tension not good and thread snapped in places.
  • Joyce - neatly sewn, collar sits nicely, good colour combination, but neckline seams doesn't match at front and centre front seam pulls up slightly.
  • Jade - collar stretched and seams not matching, coverstitch not sewn in right place. centre front seam pulling up and three rows of stitching on bottom hem, instead of two.
The results from 5th place were Rumana, Jade, and Charlotte, with Joyce in second, and Tracey in first (near perfect, neatly sewn and a good choice of colours).

2. Alter a Basic High Street Item

Take an eighties adult snowsuit and turn it into a wearable item of children's outerwear in 1 hour 30 minutes.  

As you can imagine, there were some fairly hideous snowsuits to choose from.  Claudia found it very hard to believe that no-one wanted the fabulous yellow and pink suit.

Claudia spent most of this challenge being as much of a nuisance as she could, and clowned about in the gorgeous yellow and pink snowsuit.

All contestants decided to make jackets with their snowsuits.  Jade went for a loose fitting bomber jacket with bias trim, Charlotte used her snowsuit lining to make a fur trimmed, hooded duffel coat, Joyce made a bomber jacket with appliqu├ęd panels of embroidered designs, Tracey made a hooded duffel coat with bias trim and Rumana went all out with a flamingo inspired hooded jacket.

All contestants found it difficult to cut through the layers of thick fabric.  There was also plenty of muttering while trying to sew all the layers of fabric and padding.  There were several ominous clunks from the sewing machines, that sounded like broken needles or jammed threads.

The judges comments were as follows:

  • Joyce - terrific, liked the re-use of jacket elements (like embroidery and fasteners).
  • Tracey - like the use of stripes and patterns from original snowsuit, hood is a good shape, but jacket is a bit snug.
  • Jade - love the shape of it, scale of jacket works perfectly, looks fab, very eighties.
  • Rumana - really fun, a child would really love to wear it, nicely executed, completely different from the other alterations.
  • Charlotte - fit is right, a functioning piece of clothing, Esme really liked it, but Patrick wasn't a fan of the fur trim.
The results from 5th place are Tracey, Charlotte, Joyce, in second was Rumana (very fun alteration, very nicely done), and in first place was Jade (love the shape of it, has a great feel, it's cool).

Jade was completely shocked by her win, but absolutely delighted.  As an aside, I really liked Rumana's alteration and was surprised it didn't take first place.

3. Sew a Showstopper

Sew a ladies yoga outfit to fit a real model in 6 hours 30 minutes.

Sewing a yoga outfit seems like a really difficult task.  It needs to be perfectly fitted and, most importantly, stretched enough so that it fits snugly, but not over-stretched.

Here is what each contestant planned to make:

Charlotte went for loose-fitting 3/4 leggings and a draped top with an integrated sports bra.  She had one of my favourite fabrics.  It was a very fluid, drapey knit with a pink, black, orange and white "V" print.  Charlotte was concerned that loose fitting leggings might be controversial, as everyone else was going for tight fitting clothes.

Jade chose a sports bra with a rouleau strap detail on the back, and fitted leggings with contrast panels.  Jade had selected a really nice black and pink printed fabric that looked great with the plain black contrast fabric.

Joyce went for raglan sleeve t-shirt top and leggings with contrast panels.  I wasn't keen on her fabric choices, as the fabric seemed too heavy-weight for a yoga outfit.  I also didn't like the colour selection.  I think Joyce should have gone for fabrics like the charcoal and blue combination on the pattern envelope.

Another potential complication, is that her pattern is for a very loose-fitting, long sleeve top, which Joyce was trying to turn into a snug fitting, short-sleeve top.  It was an unnecessary challenge, which was likely to result in a badly fitted raglan sleeve.

Rumana decided to make a singlet top with full-length leggings.  Her leggings pattern was very simple (two leg pieces and a waistband).  Her top was a nice style, and she planned to add a red lycra trim.  This needed to be very carefully handled to make sure it wasn't stretched out.

Tracey opted for 3/4 leggings with a sports bra top.  Her fabric choices were my least favourite.  Burgundy combined with an orange tie-dye print!  I quite liked the style of the top and pants, but I think they would have been so much better in a nicer fabric combination.


Generally the contestants seemed to cope very well with the challenge.  Most seemed to start with a larger than needed pattern, and then take in the pieces until the perfect fit was achieved.  Rumana was still overwhelmed by the unfamiliar equipment, and opted for zigzagging some seams, rather than using the overlocker.  All contestants opted to use the coverstitch machine to finish their garments.  Despite it's unfamiliarity, it obviously produced the best finish.

Tracey used a couple of interesting techniques in her make.  Firstly, she used flat lock seams.  This method involves overlocking the seam (wrong sides together), then pulling the pieces apart, until the seam lies flat, and the stitching shows on the top of the join.

Another interesting technique she used involved creating criss-crossed straps on her leggings cuff.  I liked the look of them, but it seemed obvious from the photo below that she made made the straps too short, and they were going to be a very tight fit.

Jade sewed six rouleau straps, and using them as the straps on the back of her bra top, it was a really effective feature.  She worked out the strap placement by eyeballing them, however, they were slightly mis-aligned and should probably have been checked with a tape measure.

Joyce finished her yoga outfit early, so decided to whip up a cardigan to go over the top.  In her own words "do not be impressed, because when you see it ... well, you won't be."  Given that grim assessment, I wasn't sure why she didn't just ditch the cardigan, and sit back with a cup of tea.

As the clock ticked down to the finish, there were lots of shots of contestants talking to themselves and their sewing machines.  I'm delighted to see I'm not the only person who does this.

The judges comments were as follows:

Charlotte:  The only contestant who didn't do a tight fitting outfit, and it was very successful.  Works really nicely, waistband fits well, strap detail very effective.  Fabric is bagging slightly on the top and needed a minor adjustment.  Overall its a great looking outfit, moves nicely - a lot of positives.

Jade: exceptional fit, leggings are tight, but still have enough room to move and fit well over bottom.  Sports bra fits neatly over bust, straps are not evenly spaced, but the effective is vivid and strong.  A brilliant job, it nails the brief.

Joyce:  very neatly sewn, but it's neither form fitting nor loose fitting.  It seems lost in the middle.  Leggings look more like a trouser and needed to be shorter and more fitted.  Top is too loose and length doesn't work, binding was also too loose.  The cardigan was rated as "pretty good."

Tracey: fit of trousers was very good, but there was a small pleat across the front.  Esme liked the flat lock seams, but would have preferred the stitches had been reversed (with the ladder stitch on the inside of the garment).  There were some issues with the fit of the sports bra - the band was too loose and the front was pulling upwards, the front also seemed to be cut a little too small, but it fitted very nicely across the back.  The criss-cross feature on the cuffs was too tight (I had to include a picture as it was turning the poor model's legs purple), and Esme would have preferred it if the cuff colours had been reversed with tie-dye band, and burgundy straps.

Rumana: really liked the choice of fabrics - the black & white print with the sold black fabric and red trim was really effective.  Legs were a very good fit.  The big issue was with the binding.  It should have been cut shorter, which would have prevented it stretching and bagging.  Unfortunately, the red contrast colour, makes the error really obvious.

The Final Results

The contestants went off for a coffee, while the judges discussed the weekend's work.

The judges felt this had been a really difficult week.  Lots of contestants hadn't worked with these fabrics before, and lots of them weren't familiar with the machines.

Rumana and Joyce were both in danger this week.

The judges discussed:

Rumana - came bottom in the pattern challenge, really liked the pink flamingo jacket, the yoga outfit was a pretty good fit and nice choice of style and fabrics, but it was let down by the binding.
Joyce - did well in the pattern challenge, judges liked her alteration challenge, the yoga outfit was well sewn, but it didn't fit, and didn't look like sports wear.

The contestants were then called back in to hear the final results:

Garment of the week went to … Jade for her Made-to-Measure yoga outfit.

And now for the bad news.  The contestant leaving this week was … Rumana.

It has been so enjoyable watching Rumana throughout the competition.  In the final piece to camera she talked about how much sewing meant to her, and how it had given her such confidence.  It was so sweet, and brought a little tear to my eye.

Final Thoughts

I was really sad, and a little bit surprised, to see Rumana go.  I thought she had out-performed Joyce this week, and I especially liked her crazy pink flamingo jacket.  She has been a lovely contestant and I wish she had stayed.

Up next week is complicated looking patterns.  It was all a bit vague about what would be involved, but it looks like the GBSB team have come up with a horribly complicated pattern for the pattern challenge.  I can't believe there are only two episodes left.

Want to Read More About GBSB?

You might also like to check out these other blogs that have done some posts about this episode:

  • The Thrifty Stitcher - Claire-Louise Hardie is the Sewing Producer for The Great British Sewing Bee.  She posts some lovely tutorials on sewing techniques.
  • The Fold Line - have a list of all contestants and links to their blogs, website and social media. They have also reviewed the new GBSB Season 4 book.
  • By Hand London - Elisalex De Castro Peake has reviewed the new GBSB Season 4 book.
  • The Mighty Mighty Monk Seal - Steve & Chris present a very witty recap, which is written as fans of reality television review, rather than as sewers themselves.
  • Sew Style & Home - Sew Magazine publish a recap of each episode on their blog.

    If you know any more blogs with interesting recaps or useful advice related to the GBSB, leave me a message and I can include a link.
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