Sunday 26 September 2021

The Australian Wildflowers Dress

Although I do own a lot of original and reproduction vintage patterns and sew with them regularly, I do always try and pull them out especially in September for Sew Vintage September. Especially with Covid lockdown again it is nice to be able to see everyone's makes on Instagram and feel connected to others joining in the vintage sewing for the month.

Both the pattern and fabric have been in my stash for several years, although I hadn't really thought about them together. The fabric is such an amazing print but also very large, so it needed something that would do it justice. A full dress was always going to be the best option, but what sort of dress was the question, particularly how to make sure the skirt showed off the print. I had been thinking a circle skirt as it wouldn't hide anything in gathers, but the directional print would have meant some flowers ended up sideways or even upside down. In the end looking through my patterns and fabrics with both Sew Vintage September and the Whole 30 Fabric Challenge in mind led me to pull both fabric and pattern out together for the first time.

This absolutely beautiful fabric is one I picked up at a Sydney Spoolettes fabric swap a few years ago. The fabric design is called Australian Wildflowers and is covered in botanical drawings of different wildflowers, complete with common and scientific names as well as the states and territories they grow in.  There are flannel flowers, spider flowers, swamp and Sydney golden wattle, Cooktown, lemon and blue lady orchids, kangaroo paw, brown boronia, Sturt's desert pea and waratahs among others. The colours are wonderfully vibrant, and although a few arent' quite accurate to the flowers they depict they are all equally lovely drawings.

The pattern is Simplicity 4982 from 1955 and is an original, not a reproduction. It is a vintage size 12, measurements bust 30, waist 25 and hip 33. As an original pattern, there is a lot less ease than in modern patterns. The bodice is fitted and sits snug at the waist with maybe half an inch of ease. It could possibly do with an extra 1cm, but at the same time the closer fit probably helps to keep the bulk of the skirt from weighing the bodice down too much - the dress will pretty much stay in place without the straps because it simply can't sit lower down the waist.

Being an original 1950s pattern the shape of the upper bodice is very much designed to be worn with 1950s undergarments. The top edge of the upper bodice sat flat and correctly, but there was a lot of empty space between the top and the seam with the lower bodice. To remove some of the fullness I made the lower curve shallower and cut the sides of the piece straight rather than angled out to the lower edge. This kept the line of the top edge the same but reduced the height and width of the pattern piece so it was better sized.

The skirt is very wide and full. There are three 1.5m wide panels for a total width of 4.5m, while the bodice is only 66cm. This meant reducing down approximately 7cm of skirt for every 1cm of bodice. I gathered the skirt by hand in three sections, one for each skirt panel. It took approximately an hour to do the gathering and pin it in place, and then 15 minutes to carefully machine stitch it together. I had considered basting it together but ended up deciding the pins would be better at keeping the skirt from being pulled out of alignment while sewing. Because of the weight of the skirt I wanted to make sure the connection to the bodice was very sturdy, so I did a second line of stitching to make the connection more secure.

The bodice of the dress is lined, using a lightweight white lining. I sewed the straps in at the same time as attaching the bodice lining. To make sure I was still able to adjust the length each strap is two pieces: on attached in the front and one attached in the back. The zipper was installed before the lining was attached, and the lining was then machine stitched along the seam allowances joining the bodice pieces to keep the bodice and shell aligned, and hand stitched to the inside of the zipper tape and just inside the skirt seam. As with hand gathering the skirt this was a time consuming process but the finished product looks so much better for the effort.

The final step was to sew up the straps I had left open. As I mentioned there is minimal ease, so the dress sits close to the right spot when strapless. The original pattern actually has a strapless option where the bodice is boned, but I wanted this to be a bit more wearable so I included the straps. I pinned the two sides together at the shoulder before machine sewing at the top then trimming the excess and hand stitching closed. I probably pulled the straps up a couple of millimetres higher than needed, but it is to minor of an issue to be worth unstitching to adjust. 

Despite how big the dress is it only used 2.85m of fabric. The skirt is three panels 1.5m wide by 75cm long, with 30cm for the bodice and straps and another 30cm to line the bodice. The pattern actually suggests the skirt also be lined, but given the weight of this fabric I decided that was unnecessary. I haven't posted every make here on my blog - I may do a roundup post of the ones later - but this brings me to 15.15 metres or 16.5 yards of fabric from my stash used as part of the Whole 30 Fabric Challenge. Just over halfway through, a bit under 15 metres now to go.

I love how this dress turned out. The waist seam is snug so I can't slouch in the dress but the fit is close to perfect. It's feminine and fun and the weight of the fabric makes it very wearable. Although for now it can only be worn at home, this dress is brightening my lockdown days.

Friday 20 August 2021

Building Eloisa and Adrienne

Three new makes for the price (blog post) of one. This skirt and two tops were made in the last few weeks, and bring my Whole 30 fabric usage to 7.5 metres. 

This skirt is one I've been meaning to make. I've had both the fabric and the pattern for at least a couple of years. The fabric was bought at Pitt Trading when they still had a physical store, and is a wool twill.

The skirt is fairly simple in design. It's a 1933 skirt from the McCall's Archive Collection. What makes it stand out are the overlapping triangular yoke pieces and lowered box pleats, both accentuated with topstitching. It also has a raised waistband which sits just above the natural waist. The wool twill has a good body to it, so it holds the shape of the pleats very well.

I raised the hem by about an inch to make it a bit  more modern and wearable. It's still very much a 1930's skirt but in a way that feels vintage without becoming costumey. The topstitching at the corners and top of the pleats isn't quite perfectly aligned, but the lines in a grey just slightly darker look great.

The first top is an adaptation of the Eloisa pattern from Named Clothing's new Building the Pattern book. The book's six basic patterns each have multiple variations to play around with. For this top I used the upper front, back and lower front 1 each extended approximately 10cm, the puff sleeve and the neckband. The top was still slightly too short so I added a hem band which I don't entirely like the look of, but if I wear it tucked in like with this skirt it won't be seen. The batwing shape of the top looks nice tucked into a waistband.

The fabric is a charcoal merino jersey from The Fabric Store. It's lightweight with tiny textural pindot perforations, but the pindots do not make it seethrough. This top was sewn up entirely with my overlocker with the exception of the channels for inserting the elastic at the cuffs. The Fabric Store's merino is always lovely to work with and this was no exception. It moved through the machine smoothly, and the curved front yoke seam presses into shape easily giving a nice curved line. 

The second top is the Friday Pattern Company Adrienne Blouse. The fabric is a leopard print rayon jersey from Spotlight. As with the first I sewed it up almost entirely using my overlocker. However unlike the merino this fabric was not the most cooperative. It is a very soft and almost slinky fabric which makes it lovely to wear but also very slippy to work with. It was not always easy to get it to move neatly through the machine as it would slip to the left away from the blades. I had to hold the fabric at an angle to compensate for its movement.

The pattern is a very quick and easy make, and probably would be quicker and easier with a slightly more structured fabric. The hem is a bit wonky because it wouldn't go neatly through the overlocker and didn't even out even with pressing so the twin stitched hem isn't quite straight to compensate. If I make it again I'll probably slightly shorten the front neckband so that it sits flatter against the body. But the top itself, with its elasticated cuffs and shoulders, is a beautiful shape.

Overall, I'm very happy with all three of these garments. They each have little imperfections but they've turned out really well.

Monday 26 July 2021

Winter's Rust Dress


It's cold in locked down Sydney, and my flat is very chilly. So I've been making warm clothes to have something comfortable to wear and also have something to do while stuck inside. This turtleneck dress in merino from The Fabric Store is a great addition to my winter wardrobe.

 A few weeks ago I came across the #whole30fabricchallenge, a challenge to try and use 30 yards (27.4 metres) before buying any new fabric. I have a lot in my stash, and given we are in lockdown due to Covid I have a lot of time to fill, so I'm going to try and give it a go. I'm not sure I'll get all the way through, and I don't think I'll do the rule of starting again if I buy new fabric, but I will get as far as I can. At least until my fabric stash is able to fit in the drawers it's meant to be stored in. With this dress I'm two metres into the challenge.

The pattern is a vintage Simplicity from 1974, Simplicity 5965 and is described as "designer fashion" although it doesn't say which designer. The pattern can be knee length or floor length for a fancier look. I don't tend to wear floor length gowns, so made the knee length version. My version is actually slightly shorter than the pattern's short version because I only had two metres of fabric and the pattern needed 2.15 metres. Where a lot of newer patterns have a lot of empty space on the cutting layout and can be squeezed into smaller pieces of fabric, this one did not have much spare space so I had to shorten the dress front and back pieces by about 5cm. But the pattern gives a generous 2 1/2 inches for the hem and I kept mine to 1.5cm so the finished length is about the same as the original pattern.

The fabric is a double faced merino from The Fabric Store in a deep rust. It is slightly more brown than I thought it was in the store, due to the lights in the back end of the store being slightly warmer than the clearer daylight closer to the windows at the front of the store. However this is a 1970s pattern, so the rust colour matches the era well. The fabric is double faced, so either side could have been the "right" side, but mostly it's thicker, warmer and has more stability. I chose to use the plainer side, as the other side had a very faint stripe which would have been hard to match well on this pattern, especially given fabric amount constraints. It likely wouldn't have been very noticeable, but I wanted to keep this dress looking simple to just have focus on the design lines.

The construction of the dress was quite simple as there are only five pattern pieces: two each for the front and back, two piece sleeves, and the collar. The collar is just slightly loose, so it stays high but doesn't cling. I'm not a fan of tight turtlenecks and skivvies so was a bit worried about how this one would feel, but this is very comfortable. The dress front is gathered slightly along the shoulder seams which gives a small bit of detail and interest while still keeping the simplicity of the dress. There is also a pattern piece for stays to stabilise the gathers on the front where the raglan sleeves join, for which I used bias binding. This was a bit of a deviation from the pattern as it meant I didn't press the seams open, but it keeps everything neat and there is no visible stitching of joining the stays to the sleeves. 

The pattern is a size 8, 31 1/2 inch bust and 24 inch waist and sits comfortably, with a neat fit but not clingy. The pattern has a centre front seam, which I often don't like but works well for this dress. Given it is a knit dress and relatively fitted to the waist, the centre front seam allows for some subtle shaping that wouldn't be possible if it was one piece cut on the fold. The dress would still work either way, but the centre front seam just makes it sit better and look that little bit fancier.

The dress closes with a zipper down the back and buttons for the collar. I was unsure exactly what buttons I wanted for this dress, whether I wanted something to closely match the fabric or have a contrast. I also needed to have at least three buttons for the neck to sit right (the pattern actually recommends 5 buttons) so I went through my button tins and pulled out a whole lot of different options and laid them on the dress to see which I liked best. I chose these vintage pearl buttons out of a tin I inherited from my grandma. They are simple buttons, but the cream colour both complements and stands out from the fabric in a way that works really well. The pattern suggested creating fabric loops for the buttons but the small size of these buttons made that difficult, so instead I've used black hat elastic.

The only thing I'm not entirely happy with is the zipper. I have a large collection of zippers, but didn't have any in shades of brown, deep red or dark tan which would have blended in to the fabric. Given Sydney is currently in a hard lockdown I can't go to a fabric or quilting shop to find a better zipper, and it's not worth ordering a single zipper as shipping would cost at least three times the price of a zipper. I looked through what I had to see which zipper might work and decided on this beige as it's neutral, but it isn't the best zipper installation so it shows more than I would like. I might try and see if I can press the fabric better to lie flatter against the zipper, or if it still annoys me when I'm able to go looking again I might replace the zipper with one in a better matching colour.

I'm very happy with how this dress turned out. It's comfortable, warm and has just a little bit of elegance. I'm certain it will get a lot of wear.

Sunday 13 June 2021

Amber and the Swing Coat

 It's been a long time since my last post. So much so that I've gone from a quintessential summer item to very wintery makes with nothing in between.

The jacket pattern is Simplicity 1319, which appears to now be out of print. It is a 1950s short swing coat with shawl collar. I made the longer length, although it still hits near the top of the hip. The fabric is a beautiful vintage wool I picked up at a Sydney Spoolettes fabric swap a few years back. It's very warm and has good structure and was relatively easy to work with. The lining is basic lightweight voile-weight cotton from my stash in pale baby pink. 

Overall, this pattern was reasonably good with only a few difficult elements. The way the shawl collar is constructed is designed to create pockets, with all the seams hidden inside. Both the lining and self fabric are folded over here, meaning there are four layers of fabric and the instructions for which pieces to fold which way were a bit confusing. I sewed one side what I thought was the right way but when I tried to turn it back the right way around it was twisted, so I had to unpick it, recheck and redo it to get it right. 

The biggest problem was with the length of the sleeves on the lining pieces. The instructions say the sleeve lining should be stitched to the seam allowance where the sleeve joins the cuff with the cuff then folded back in half and stitched down. But the sleeves of the lining piece are at least an inch too short to reach. Fortunately the cuffs are wide enough to fold in and stitch to the lining while still having part of the cuff visible, but it does mean the sleeves are a bit shorter. The pattern envelope shows the sleeves as being this slightly shorter length so I'm not sure if the problem was the illustration or the pattern pieces, but either way it didn't quite work how it was supposed to. 

The dress is the Named Patterns Amber Pinafore. The fabric is a viyella from The Sewing Basket in West Ryde, picked up on another Spoolettes outing. I've used viyella before and it's always been very soft, but this one is slightly stiffer and has a tendency to crease so requires a bit more ironing and effort to keep neat. I actually started making this dress a couple of years ago and never finished it, but pulled it out a few months back.

The waistline sits at just above the natural waist, with the deep v-necked bodice. The bodice pieces are all fully self-lined, but I left the skirt unlined as I didn't have enough of the fabric and didn't want to use a different fabric and possibly change the drape.

The back of the dress is racerback shape and does up with a buckle, but the fabric is prone to fraying so I only installed one eyelet. Only one is needed as it needs to be in the right place for the dress to sit properly and any more eyelets would just be cosmetic. Still, I would have liked to include a few more if the fabric was more stable and I was confident it wouldn't come apart.

The bodice being fully lined meant I was able to play around with how I wanted the check to sit, whether to have the centre front on the straight grain or on the bias. I decided the straight grain looked better, with the horizontal lines matching up more evenly. It also matches well to the skirt, which is approximately a half circle with the lines at the centre of the skirt matching the centre of the bodice and then curving with the bust seams.

I like the shape of the bodice pieces, but they do gape a bit at the sides. I initially thought I might have stitched them in the wrong way around (with the side edges in the centre front and vice versa), but when I tried changing them over the gaped more so I changed them back. I think if I trimmed the side edges to be shorter they would sit flatter, but it's a relatively minor issue and I decided it would take too much unstitching to be worth it to fix.

Overall I'm happy with both of these makes, despite a couple of small setbacks. I've worn the jacket several times already and found it a very good weight for transseasonal Sydney. The dress is something that can probably get wear through much of the year. 

Monday 1 February 2021

The Forest Mint Swimmers

It's summer, so it's time for new swimmers!

The pattern is a Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity, S8928. I had been looking for a nice one-piece that was simple and practical. I almost flicked past this pattern when looking in the catalogue because it is paired with a poorly styled and underwhelming-looking caftan, but then I noticed the interesting colour blocking. 

The lycras are both from My Hung in Hurstville. The forest green was a remnant piece which made it an easy first pick for half the suit. I then spent probably half an hour carefully looking through all My Hung's lycras to find just the right complementary colour including rich rose pinks and different purples and blues before settling on this slightly shimmery mint. It does have a higher sheen, but because it is in the same family of greens-with-just-a-hint-of-blue the shine is not distracting. I had considered using a third lycra for the leg bands - I have some bits and pieces in my stash - but in the end I felt adding a major contrast would take away from how well the two greens complement each other. 

This time I didn't make a straight size unlike for most patterns. I'm both long-waisted and have particularly small shoulders, so I needed it as small as possible at the top but it needed to reach all the way to and fit properly on my hips. I started from a 4 at the shoulders through to the high waist, then gradually lengthened and widened to reach an 8 at the crotch, while the leg band pieces I cut out in size 6. The result is suitably snug but with enough length to reach and cover properly.

I followed the instructions closely, except for the lining. The pattern as written is self lined, but I thought two layers of centre seams would look and feel far too bulky, so instead the main front and back pieces are lined with swimsuit lining. To make sure I cut them out the right size, I first sewed the two front and two back pieces together so I could use them to trace the lining fabric. This made sure everything lined up correctly and I didn't end up with straps starting or ending in the wrong place. The leg bands I did as the pattern suggested and self lined with lycra, which gave the swimsuit a neater finish both inside and out.

The instructions were straightforward and mostly easy to follow, apart from adding the elastic to the leg bands and sewing the crotch seam. The main fabric and lining pieces are sewn separately before being sewn together at the legs. The elastic is then stitched to the leg lining so it is encased in the garment. To join the crotch seam it is pulled up through the neck between the lining and main fabric and sewn in a circle. It was a bit confusing and I needed to reread the steps a few times, but the actual process was very easy in the end. Because the lining and outer are made as separate pieces I did some additional stitching at the top of the leg bands on the inside to keep them together and stop one sliding out of place.

I sewed this up almost entirely with my overlocker, which worked incredibly well. It made sure all the edges were neat, and the lining was far less likely to slip out of place than doing a zigzag stitch on a normal machine which avoided any unevennes with the fit. The elastic is stitched in with a zigzag stitch, using matching threads for each side and paying attention to make sure I started and finished the stitching at the centre seam. 

While this summer has been wetter meaning there have been fewer days to wear it, I did get to try it out last week on a 38 degree day. It held up well in the water, and the lycra didn't feel too hot to wear. Hopefully there will be some more sunny days and it can get some more use before the end of the season!

Sunday 15 November 2020

The Wild Meadow Gown

This dress is the Friday Pattern Company's Wilder Gown, which seems to be the current most popular pattern. I can see why it's so popular - it's fairly easy to make and easily adjustable and adaptable. It's loose fitting, but doesn't feel oversized, has a 70s influence but doesn't feel costumey. It has a bit of a secret pyjamas feel but is still very much wearable in public.

The fabric is a viscose rayon satin from My Hung Fabrics in Hurstville. I bought the fabric specifically for the pattern. I really liked the all over floral print, particularly the fact it has the feel of an overgrown meadow. The print is directional with the flowers all growing along the grainline, but because of the overgrown feel it isn't overly noticeable, which was lucky given I accidentally cut the bodice front pieces out upside down. The fabric is wonderfully soft with a subtle shine and an excellent drape, but it does fray a lot. Each seam is overlocked to protect the fabric from falling apart.

The pattern is easy to follow, with only a small number of pieces. The skirt is two tiers of gathered rectangles, two for the first tier and three for the second. Folded in half, my fabric was slightly narrower than the pattern piece, so for the first tier I just used the width of the fabric. The second tier is three pieces, two slightly narrower and one the correct width. 

I chose to make the gown with short sleeves and also shorten the length slightly so it wouldn't look quite so much like a nightie. The length of the full dress would have sat at a slightly awkward length, almost a maxi dress but not quite, so I made the second tier shorter by cutting it off at the lengthen/shorten line. 

Construction is generally very straightforward but I did have some issues with gathering the skirt tiers. The first line of gathering stitches I put in were too close to the edge of the fabric, which given the fabric's habit for fraying meant I wasn't able to gather the whole way along. I removed those stitches and did new gathering lower than the seam line which gathered in quite well. It did mean I had to remove that line of stitching from the finished garment, but it also avoided any more frustrations. 

The one new element to me was the gathered neckline. The pattern pieces have an extended neck almost like a turtleneck which is folded over and stitched with two lines of stitching about an inch apart, with the neck tie piece threaded through the channel between the stitching lines. This then gathers the dress when worn, pulled as loosely or tightly as desired.

I think this dress will get a lot of wear in these warmer months. Because of the print and the length I was slightly worried the dress might be a bit overwhelming, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. The only negative is that the fabric is slightly warmer than I expected it to be. The large amount of fabric gathered at the high neckline definitely contributes to that, so tying it more loosely might be one option. Overall, though, it's a lovely, dreamy, floaty dress that's both an enjoyable make and an enjoyable wear.