An outfit for Amelia Fang

Laura Ellen Anderson with ooobop

Not for the first time, my day job and passion for dressmaking have come together and partied!

Like when I made an apron for Ellie Simmons to celebrate the launch of her book Ellie’s Magical Bakery, and when I made myself an outfit for Gemma Cairney’s launch party for Open the book. And it only bloody happened again!

Imagine my excitement when Laura Ellen Anderson asked me to make her an outfit for her book launch of Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball!

I’d seen the cover of the book already – designed by the super talented Tiffany Leeson at Egmont Children’s Books  – and was called in for a meeting with Laura to discuss the outfit. There wasn’t too much to discuss to be honest, because Laura’s adorable illustrations gave me all the information I needed. So I took a few measurements, scribbled a few plans and couldn’t wait to get started.

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball cover

If you follow Laura on Twitter – @Lillustrator – you will know how busy she is, not just with her marathon illustration and writing sessions but also flying from workshops to events like nobody’s business! This lady needed some wings at the very least!

Amelia Fang takes the starring role of this ‘terrifying’ tale. She’s fun, fiesty and loyally flanked by her friends, Florence the yeti, Grimaldi the reaper and Squashy her adorable pet pumpkin. When spoilt-brat Prince Tangine captures Squashy they must escape the party to plan a daring rescue! In their race against time, they come to realise things in Nocturnia may not be quite what they seem . . .

It really is such a fun read. The characters are so endearing and I loved it! And so say loads of other readers… it was voted book of the month at Waterstones in October, too!

I started with the petticoat. I figured it was going to take the longest to make. But also the colour of that tangerine made me so happy! It has a poly satin lining and waistband and three double-tiered layers of netting. The joins are prettied with orange satin ribbon and hemlines are finished with orange satin bias binding. I created the waistband to include 4 channels of narrow elastic. I find this helps to move the gathers around if you want to position the volume more at the back or at the sides. I’m not a fan of too much poof at the front! It looks way better, too!

tangerine petticoat

Next was the skirt. I cut a full circle from some black duchesse satin as the overskirt and box pleated some black and white striped cotton for the underskirt. I just love it’s Tim Burtonesque edge. The best find was the orange foil-like fabric for the detail on the overskirt. Oh how it tied in perfectly with the orange foil detail on the cover!

To prevent the shiny bits from fraying, I faced the pointy tips and just pressed under the long sides before topstitching to the skirt. A duchesse waistband sealed in the top edges and an invisible zip at the back was the only notion needed.

Amelia Fang with Unicorn

And then the wings. I have my milliner friend, Jayne Hepsibah Sullivan of the Hepsibah Gallery to thank for the introduction to animation wire. And for a genius solution to making a posable framework that I could cover with bat-like faux leather. They attach as a neck piece that ties at the front with black satin ribbon. The wire has no memory so the wings can be positioned at will. Oh, and I couldn’t resist adding a few cockerel feathers left over from my significant birthday dress. Such fun!!

Amelia Fang wings

The launch party was just fabulous. Held at The Crypt of St Pancras Parish Church, London which was originally designed and used for coffin burials from 1822, when the Church was opened, to 1854, when the crypts of all London churches were closed to burials. It was the perfect choice of venue. And everyone looked amazing… Prince Tangine especially!

Prince Tagine

Laura Ellen Anderson with Sarah McIntyre

Gutted I didn’t get to say hello to Sarah McIntyre. She looked incredible!

But I did get to meet so many other lovely people at the launch. It was such a coven of creative talent – writers, illustrators, art directors, musicians and photographers… It inspires me so much to hear others talk so passionately about their work. And it was thrilling to get so many compliments on Laura’s outfit. I loved making it as much as I loved seeing her wear it. And I was just buzzing with pride.

Amelia Fang launch party

I have clean forgotten that I ever said I couldn’t imagine sewing for anyone else. I guess its a very different story when your customer is so cool and perfectly lovely and you get to make a one-off, bespoke, fun outfit for her. I take it all back…

“This is most definitely my favourite kinda ‘work’!”

Big massive thank yous to Tiffany for putting me forward, to Laura for such an awesome opportunity and to Laura’s mum for the fabulous photos.

And Squashy would like to remind you that he is not just for Halloween… Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball would make a perfect Christmas pressie for 7-9 year olds. And it’s on Amazon right here! (affiliate image link below) Along with the next book in the series, Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords:


Almost naked in a McCall’s M7542 Lace top!

M7542 lace top

It won’t surprise you to know that this wasn’t an intended ‘next one on the list’. In fact, to be fair there is no ooobop project list that remains unedited for more than a minute. I even announced a break from self-sewing in my previous post. I am indeed an experienced saboteur of my own plans.

But in this instance I am totally blaming Sam, editor at Sew Now magazine for the delightful interruption of production. She kindly sent me a copy of issue 11, thinking the free pattern, McCall’s M7542 would be ‘very me’. She was very spot on. And I was instantly drawn to view B

M7542 sewing pattern

The pattern itself is very simple, non-fitted – save a couple of side bust darts, and even though those view B sleeves look dramatically difficult, they are nothing less than a kind of dropped hem circle skirt that falls from the elbow instead of the waist!

So a quick scan of the instructions reaffirmed my plans for not toiling! I just picked the closest size to me and cut the tissue pieces straight out. I didn’t even trace them first. That felt a bit rebellious to be honest. I always trace things off. ‘Just in case’. You know. Or maybe you don’t!

M7542 handmade lace top

All the same, I wasn’t going to go all guns out on some fancy expensive fabric, mind… just in case. So a little trip to Dave the Drapers in Shepherds Bush Market, found me some cheap lace in case it didn’t quite go to plan. And yes that lace is cheap. £1.25m cheap! And. Plus. A gazzillion volts of static electricity told me so!

M7542 handmade lace top

But… hand cream saved the day! I kid you not, just rubbed some in my hands – which are always dry as some bones – and ran the fabric through newly moisturised hands. Just to see. And guess what? Not one single, tiny crackle!

M7542 lace top detail

Now as you can see, the fabric has a fair bit of show-through so my main concern was keeping those seams neat – not so much that my bra would show. Priorities, right?! French-seaming was the way forward and with narrow zigzag stitch to account for a bit of stretch in the lace. I had to concentrate and take time over this as the prospect of unpicking was terrifying and probably impossible tbh. All the little stitches properly embedded and camou’d in the lace. But worth the effort. I just love how the joins are visible.

M7542 lace top and short skirt

The only thing I changed up was substituting the neck facing for a satin bias edging. The binding also edges the opening at the back and I sewed a single large popper at the back for the closure. I had originally considered a rouleau button loop but that seemed like a lot of effort for such little exposure – I wear my hair down most of the time so it’s covered up anyway.

The lace trim just finishes it off nicely. I had no fraying issues, but I didn’t like the harsh edge once cut. The mad thing was that the trim cost nearly twice as much as the fabric, ha!

M7542 lace top

When I first showed Dan this top, on the hanger, his response was Cool! Very Stevie Nicks! But when I put it on, he said Mmmm… too much skin! I agreed and bought a black cami top the next day to up the modesty factor. But then there was a disappointingly lack of detail. So back to the bra and off to Horseguards parade at 6am on Friday morning to shoot it.

M7542 lace top side view

I wore a jacket for the tube journey but still felt, full pelt, the commuter looks of: someone didn’t go home last night! 60 derniers and my handmade quilted skirt ensured decent coverage to my lower half at least.

The walk from Westminster station to St. James’ Park and Horseguards Parade at that time of the morning was just lovely. The morning light was so glorious and the buildings were lit beautifully all around us. So worth getting up at the crack of sparrows!

M7542 lace top and sunglasses

It’s quite incredible that the on same spot where I was being photographed, jousting was once a thing for Henry VIIIs entertainment! There was a fancy guard at the entrance of the arch – one of the Queen’s Lifeguards – but we spared him of early morning hassle, sure that he would need a little break before onslaught of tourist attention.

There were hardly any people around, save the guard, a few (heavily armed) policemen and a few boldly striding city workers. So thankfully no gawpers as I stood, near-naked in the morning light. We took some more alongside the pillared Mall Galleries and a wolf-whistling cyclist signalled it was time to put the jacket back on!

M7542 lace top in Mall

I’ll happily wear it like this to dimly lit gigs and parties but I will have to rethink an undergarment for any day time wear. Maybe it’s a red cami or a boob tube or suchlike. Suggestions very welcome!

I’ve also just managed to enter this in time for #Sleevefest2017, hosted on Instagram by Valentine and Stitch and dream.cut.sew .The challenge runs from now until August 31st 2017 so you’ve still got time to submit your creative sleeve designs. And here’s a link (affiliate) in case you get the same calling for McCalls Ladies Easy Sewing Pattern 7542 Tops with Sleeve Variations.

Happy sewing, everyone! x

M7542 lace top back view

 

 

Shiny Burda Maxi

Shiny Burda Maxi dress

Introducing my most shiny dress to date!

I’m all up for revisiting patterns of late. Especially ones that just work and need little or no revisions. This was one of those.

It’s a hankerchief hem maxi dress from March 2015 edition of Burda Style magazine – one of my absolute faves. I first made it almost two years ago, and blogged it here! Clearly a dress befitting of the London summer climes!

silver burda maxi dress overexposed

I knew I was going to make another. It’s such an easy one to put together. And when I stumbled across a similar ruffle fabric but in silver, it was pinned and cut in a jiffy. A lovely sewing afternoon at Tilly and the Buttons studio got it all sewed up but it was proper sweaty work with all those metres of metal fabric draped over my knees, so I saved the hand-finishing till… this morning!

metal burda maxi dress over exposed

By hand-sewing, I mean the armholes and neckline which I finished with bias binding. I couldn’t be arsed with a flappy facings!

The fabric has a little stretch and has no need for finishing of hems or edges. Which is lucky, because there’s lots of them going on with the hanky-hem! Feels a little like cheating but when I see it photographed I’m assured it matters not.

It is also strangely transparent when you hold it to the light. But thankfully the metalic silver finish reflects with such distraction that you can’t see my pants!

wearing burda silver dress laughing

The original Burda pattern includes sleeves. But I much prefer it sleeveless. It seems to work better with the v-neckline and creates a bit more elegance.

Dan took these wonderful shots, of course. Assisted by a dose of delightful sunshine at the ‘New Way In’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I get so excited by new space. Much like my printed design work, I’ve learned over the years, that space doesn’t always have to be filled with stuff! People were gathering and marvelling… at the space! All helped of course by the awesome stone work, some cleverly conflicting angles and some lovely reflecting glass and metals. I felt quite at home in my new dress and didn’t mind the attention it got, for once!

Silver Burda maxi dress

At one point, another photographer not only asked to take my photo but asked who the designer of my dress was. Oh the flattery. But oh the awkward pose for her!

Silver burda dress being shot

The satisfaction of finding an edgy fabric and pairing it with a quirky pattern definitely floats my boat and it’s something I should definitely dedicate more time to. It gives me such a little buzz of butterflies when it works.

And of course Burda mags are a fantastic resource for inspiration. All those issues I dissed for abject weirdity will definitely be revisited in a new light!

Fun in a Burda Maxi dress

That said, I have some lovely commissions for other people that will have to take precedence over any new dresses for moi over the next coming weeks. I’m not complaining at all. They are really exciting projects so keep tuned!

Silver Burda dress at the V&A

Silver Burda Maxi dress front view

And where will I wear this dress – apart from to wander around the creative white spaces of London? I’m thinking festivals, parties, gigs and galleries. Maybe the office doesn’t get graced this time round!

Metal burda dress sitting on a wall

silver burda dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Skulls and roses dress

Ooobop Skulls and Roses dress

This dress is round three of my strive to perfect a self-drafted bodice pattern. It follows on from a self-drafted retro top, blogged in 2014 and my recent wax cotton print dress.

There’s something wholly satisfying about returning so soon to a pattern that you know will work. And I’m sure it will be even better to come back to following a few more tweaks.

The neckline on the wax cotton dress gaped just a little so I fixed that and refined the curve of the neckline too. There was also some gaping at the back bodice armholes, so I took out some excess and transferred it to the back waist darts.

Ooobop Skulls and Roses dress

The fit is much better but V3 dress – already underway – will have a little more fine tuning and then all I need to do is stay the same shape… forever! 😀

The skirt on this one is a simple gathered dirndl. Easy to make, easy to wear, easy to dance in. And also a little less of a Marilyn fashion risk than a circle skirt on a blustery day.

The invisible zip is set on the left side of the bodice as before, but this time I remembered to keep the back piece as one, so the pattern isn’t split. And plus, I’m rather digging the burrito method of self-lining. Have you tried this yet?

I’m chuffed that this was another piece of fabric that emerged from from the bottom of stash mountain. I’m sure Dan had his eye on this for a shirt at some point but I think he forgot. And I shamelessly neglected to remind him! The colour scheme is my favourite kind and I love a little nod to rockabilly.

This dress has been worn and snapped to death already with no time to blog until now. It’s been my go-to for all number of events – clubs, festivals, gigs and even the office. I’ve got to put it to the back of the wardrobe for a bit now, though, because I’m sure I’ve clocked the look that says: “Someone didn’t make it home last night!” 😮 I did. Obvs!

Daniel took these photos for me, on our date night last night. Multitasking. Always! I’m standing in front of St Paul’s church in Hammersmith. Such a beautiful grade II listed building among all the modern architecture and the hustle and bustle over and under the flyover at the broadway. It’s been a place of worship since the 1600s! So much history on a little patch of green.

Ooobop Skulls and Roses Dress

Light was fading and our tummies were rumbling as we snapped these in a hurry en route to The Gate – one of my favourite veggie restaurants. Dan agreed that there was no lack of meat on the plate. My only regret was that I didn’t have enough room for desert. They looked so awesome! Perhaps my next dress version ought to be of expandable material!

Ooobop Skulls and Roses dress

 

Self-drafted wax print dress

wax cotton dress side view
I’m not entirely sure how this post got shot and written today. We arrived home from Glastonbury Festival at 6am this morning – a little tired and emotional to say the least! Thank goodness for a great set of shades picked up for a tenner on site, from a pop up vintage shop (ironically, usually based in Portobello… just up the road from me!)

So, the dress… It’s mine, all mine! No pattern, vintage or otherwise was used in the making-of and I’m just a little bit proud.

I really wanted a new dress but without any faff. I really, really wasn’t in the mood for trialling various test versions – I’m getting so impatient in my old age! – And then I remembered that somewhere, in some pile or other, there was a pre-existing bodice block from a class I took about 3 years ago. To date I’ve only used it once, for a retro-style top, which is madness. Because it fits!

I only wanted a sleeveless bodice for the top, nothing fancy so it seemed daft to reinvent the wheel. I simply lowered the armscye and the neckline. Luck was on my side because this resulted in precious little gaping as often happens without any contouring. But I will nip a bit off the upper back neckline next time.

wax cotton dress self-drafted

My usual sway-back adjustment was already done and most importantly the bust area was a perfect fit.

Whilst we focus on that area, can we just talk placement? I’d love to be able to claim absolute intentions but the truth is, I was led my a small issue of just the right amount of fabric and nothing more, so I can only claim a happy accident – the likes of which Madonna would champion, I’m sure!

I just love this wax fabric. And I knew there would be further adventures when I made Lucy’s jumpsuit and Amelia’s baby dress.

wax print dress back

One of the most incredible things about this fabric is the price. A 6 yard bolt of Wax cotton can vary in price between £10 and £150, depending on quality, print, manufacturer etc. That said, this lovely red cloth was just £10 and retained all colour and structure after a regular 40° cycle and spin in the machine and it was so satisfying to sew with. More importantly I landed a fabulous handmade dress for a fiver!

The skirt section is simply a half circle, the same self-drafted pattern I used for my black and my blue crepe skirts.

african wax print dress skirt

The zipper is inserted on the left side, like most of my vintage-style dresses but also because I didn’t want the seam of the skirt to go down the front with the focus on broken up print. No excess for pattern matching either!

The belt I’m wearing was a steal from Oxfam at £1.50 and does a perfect job of hiding the connecting waist seam which obviously is interrupted and mismatched but I’m not so sure there’d be any way round that anyway. It’s not actually that bad but still annoys the pants of me enough to cover it up!

wax print dress side view

Daniel came up trumps again with these fantastic photos. They were taken at Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden, today. Such an awesome building with a massive star on the steps for me to stand in the middle of! I can’t believe how he gathered up the energy to do this after that long drive back. Or how he made me look so respectable after nought hours of sleep. He is such a superstar. So supportive. I am one lucky lady!

 

Blackmore 9266 So-Easy!

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

I’ve been neglecting my vintage patterns of late. But that did allow for some exciting rummaging and little squeals of delight when I found some treasures I’d completely forgotten about. And I just love that ‘aha moment’ when found pattern meets perfect stash fabric. Proper romance that is!

This is Blackmore So-Easy 9266. Not sure if it’s 50s or 60s as it’s not dated. The instructions were a little more explained compared to the last 40s Blackmore pattern I used but I enjoyed making both just the same.

vintage blackmore 9266 sewing pattern

I knew this dress wasn’t going to fit straight out of the packet. It was already too small and any dodgy fitting on this was going to shout from the rooftops. So it needed time and patience to grade it up properly and work through 3 toiles before I was ready to cut into the real stuff.

Once all the adjustments were transferred to the pattern pieces – grading up, shortening the back bodice substantially, taking out some excess from the overbust and increasing the waist – it was fundamentally a very easy to sew dress.

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

There’s no lining. The bodice is simply faced at the top edge. I must remember to tack this down in a couple of places on the inside, as the photos totally reveal how it peaks out at the back if it’s not poked in to start with.

I do so love recreating an original vintage dress but I should know by now how the drawings on the cover cheat so much! The skirt on the cover looks tapered and very fitted but in actual fact, not only is cut straight, it has a wide kick pleat allowance which gives the visual appearance of being even wider at the hemline.

I took it in quite substantially to arrive at this shape – like 4 inches each side seam! – and I sewed the kick pleat down too. I hated the granny hemline. Not flattering on my vertically challenged frame for sure. This does, however, mean that I have to walk very lady-like and in heels and therefore one helluva lot slower than normal. Not such a bad thing when for most of the time I’m rushing around like a lunatic with giant strides in Docs or trainers.

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

The fabric is bark cloth. Found in a little basement fabric shop in Waterloo ages ago. I love the texture so much, the colours are fabulous and it sews up beautifully. I made a Martini dress from bark cloth of the vintage kind but I have to say, this modern weave was definitely more grain-stable and less prone to stretch. It’s not usual to find this stuff in any old fabric store. Certainly a void of it in the Goldhawk Road. So if anyone has a link to a favourite UK store, please let me know. By the time shipping is added to the original Hawaiian brands, the price is rocketed!

Now, I would just like to touch upon the issue of straps. Fally down straps!! I felt sure that I had sussed the right width, length, the right position and before sewing them down, I walked around the house for a few hours with them pinned to make sure of their position. Ulitmately the ends of the straps would be sandwiched between the facing and the top bodice so better to get them in the right position first. I thought I’d cracked it. Made sure to sew exactly as pinned. But the buggers still fall down!! It really is the bane of my strappy-dress life.

vintage blackmore dress

To be fair, It doesn’t help that I’ve got sloping shoulders. But I do think also that I made the bodice a touch too wide for my over-bust and so the straps sit too close to the edge of my shoulders. Another little adjustment to bear in mind for next time.

Clever lady Clare, from River Elliot Bridal also had a great solution which was to sew a narrow elastic inside the strap to generate a little more grip. Must give that a go too.

I’m hoping the stormy skies keep at bay and glorious sunshine keeps coming over the next few months so my current favourite newbie gets more outings. But all the same, the fickle in me is furiously flicking through the collection to find the next new fave to make… because I can!

vintage blackmore 9266 dress

Photos by Daniel James Photography
Location: Hammersmith
Shoes: Lola Ramona

Martini and Open the book

Martini dress for Open, the book launch

So I did it again… mixing business with pleasure. With no regrets – just pure delight in my two worlds working together again, so effortlessly, so cohesively this time.

Lets start from the top. By day, my hat-wearing is in the graphic design department of mostly publishing houses where I design covers and inside pages for children’s and young adult books.

Late last year I was asked by Pan Macmillan if I would like to design the inside pages for a very cool book by radio and TV presenter, Gemma Cairney. This is the point when all my senses got seriously ignited and creative juices whisked up on hyperdrive. Errr… ok… like yes totally please… honour all mine and all that!

Open is exactly what it says on the tin: “A toolkit for how magic and messed up life can be”. All those taboo hard-to-deliver subjects laid bare, on the page, cool as.

I don’t often shout from the rooftops about my work unless I truly believe the hype but in this instance, with Gemma at the helm, loud-hailing her invaluable advice and support, awesome art direction from Rachel Vale who also designed the gorgeous cover, fellow designer, and wonderful person Tracey Ridgewell, and a plethora of edgy art from illustrator Aurelia Lange, I was in my element and couldn’t possibly keep shtum.

Here’s a little taster of what’s inside:

open spreads

This book involved a proper dream team, of that you can be sure. Just check out the thank you’s at the back. It’s all inclusive and that’s what made it such a pleasure and an honour to be working as part of #teamopen on this very important and unique book. Boy do I wish I had this book when I was a teen.

It was a lot of work in such a short space of time and yet when it was all over and the proof copies were in, it seemed like a distant blur. And then I got an invite.

So when one gets an invitation to a very special book launch party, whereby the dress code is ‘fantastical and dazzling’… what is one to do? Make it, right?!

Open by Gemma Cairney

I didn’t have much time to plan. A couple of weeks in fact. So I needed a tried and tested pattern. All hail the Capital Chic Martini! I have only made this once before, in a vintage bark cloth (see here) but always knew there would be a need for more versions. Thank you so much Sally for such a brilliant design. I love it so much!

capital chic martini dress

The fabric had to be shiny – no doubt about that. And preferably yellow. Though the thought made me squirm. It could all go horribly wrong and I might possibly end up looking like some gone-wrong banana.

But I set to, with some weird synthetic shiny stuff from the Goldhawk Road, quite thankful that a no-smoking policy is ever present. All the time with a niggling urge to customize the dress somewhat. Then I chanced upon some pink fabric of the same kind in another shop. And appliqué stars just happened.

And then the night before, at quite literally the 11th hour,  I had a thought that I could paint one of the illustrations from inside the book, on the dress. Excitement overload!

I couldn’t possibly go ahead without first asking Aurelia’s permission – Open‘s incredibly talented illustrator – so when she got back to me with an absolute yes, it was all stations go, and I made a stencil from sticky-back laminate paper and used black fabric paint to daub one of her many cool iconic illustrations. I just love the end result.

martini dress aurelia illustraion

 

The party was immense. At the Women’s University in Mayfair, with period rooms bursting full of the most inspirational and creatively talented people. Jaw awe to say the least. I’m so proud of Gemma and I’m not even her mum! And just look how she rocks a sequin or two!

Gemma Cairney and ooobop

It’s insane that I managed to whip up this dress at a time when my workload has been so bonkers. But it just goes to prove that passion triumphs over ever everything. Even shut-eye! I will totally sleep when I’m dead.

I learned a lot from this project. Mostly that I respond well to a hefty deadline; I love that my job brings such creative people and projects to my table. But also that I relish a bespoke brief and a perfect opportunity to create an out-of-the-ordinary outfit for a party. I’ve just got to learn to deal with the attention it gets. Didn’t factor that in, lol!

capital chic martini dress

Daniel took these photos for me a couple of weeks ago. Just love the yellow against the green. He is so clever to have by-passed the daffs in in the local park to get to a scuzzy railway arch… who knew?!

 

capital chic martini dress

By stark contrast I’ve just finished three of the prettiest bridesmaid dresses in floral Liberty Lawn, that I hope to share with you after the actual wedding. So I must be due something more for me, hey?! Plus there are plans for a @Mccallpatternuk #thecocktailhour dress for the @eveappeal. More on that soon.

Are you more productive with a looming deadline or do you do just as well without? And would you be more inclined to make or buy a short-notice party dress? I’d love to know.

Till next time, my lovelies. Happy sewing! xxx

Your comments are always brighten my day and inspire me to write another post. Thank you.

Adventures in African Wax

Lucy jumpsuit New Look 6446

Be careful what you wish for!

Last year I was only thinking that I should up my sewing game a little. Make it a bit more of a challenge. Take on some sewing commissions. It’s all very well making clothes for me. I’ve had a fair bit of practice at it now and I’m pretty sure I know what works on me, how to source a pattern and self-draft any modifications and what adjustments I need to make to make it personalised and fit good. I’ve sewn a few things for others (a flapper dress here, a man’s shirt there and a skirt for a friend name a few), but mostly I sew within my comfort zone.

I’m not about to launch myself as a full on dressmaker – I don’t have enough hours outside of my job – but I’m certainly ready for sewing different shapes and sizes, and I’m definitely up for creating some cool and original garms that don’t exist on RTW rails.

As I said, I was only thinking. Then I saw a plea for help on FaceBook from my daughter’s friend. For a dressmaker who could help with some outfits for her baby’s Christening. I couldn’t help myself!

Though what I was agreeing to was a little bit daunting, bearing in mind I have never made a pair of trousers to date – Lucy wanted a jumpsuit. But quite specifically a jumpsuit with a flounce, no gathers at the waist, and with very, very long legs!

Well, I thought. What is a challenge if it’s not challenging? I didn’t have time to sweat the small (or big) stuff – it was wanted for the end of January! I had 4 weeks outside of a full time day job to create a jumpsuit and a baby dress. All hail the deadline, for the prevention of dilly-dallying!

New Look 6446 provided the basis of the design. Was great to find that Handmade Jane had made a lovely dress version and could report that it was dead easy to make. Although I was about to complicate matters!

After a few idea swaps on Pinterest, I asked Lucy to send me a photo of the fabric she’d chosen so I could do a rough bit of Photoshop-trickery and show her the proposed changes to the pattern design. I’m a visual person myself and can always explain in pictures, better than in words!

New Look 6446 with modifications

It was already apparent that the legs were going to be super wide if I just extended them so I had this very firmly in mind: Elegant wide leg trousers. Not so much of the ‘Lionels’!

The changes to pattern included: an extension of the front bodice piece, by incorporating the band; ditching the straps and instead, drafting a flounce (which is fundamentally a circle piece); adding a lining to the bodice; lengthening and tapering the leg and reversing the direction of the front pleats.

I visited Lucy with the first toile proudly folded in a bag along with a box of pins, a tape-measure, some chalk and a notepad and pencil. Felt like a proper dressmaker, I did!

Of course, nothing can really look that beautiful in calico and I was a bit nervous that she would be disillusioned by the sight of her bod being swathed in so much of it. But when she tried it on and stood in front of the mirror I think I might have squealed louder than she did! It pretty much fit first time. Just a few more changes – mostly because this lady is loosing baby weight at the rate of knots!:

I duly pinned and made notes to shorten the flounce, take a couple of inches from across the arms, some excess from under the arms, shorten the back bodice, take a pinch in from the waist, and add even more length to the trousers. Lucy’s legs properly do go up to her armpits!

Lucy jumpsuit notes

The only thing left bothering me was how to handle or prep the fabric. This was my first time working with African wax fabric and I dreaded a prewash in case all the colour would come flooding out. Or would it turn to a drapey mess? I wanted to loose a bit of the stiffness but I didn’t want to forego a wash in case it shrunk thereafter!

This is where it helps to be part of an amazing sewing community. We all indulge in love of sewing but we all have our own specialities, different experiences and best of all a willingness to share them.

Dolly Clackett of course has made a plethora of pretty dresses, many of which are of said fabric. And she was my first point of call. She gave me all the confidence I needed and I duly prepped a sample piece by washing at 30 degrees. The result was beautiful. It softened slightly but retained body. And lost next to no colour. I can’t quite describe how the fabric feels inside but it’s akin to a fine suede!

So I used that first washed sample to rustle up a dress for baby, first.

New Look 6745 modified

The pattern I used was New Look 6745. Which doesn’t look to be in print any more. I made this dress for my daughter about 25 years ago so I’m delighted that the pattern got a 2nd use. Just had to add a ruffled, cap sleeve though! Was fun sourcing little pink buttons to go on the back. I used pink satin bias binding to face the neckline and arm holes.

The success of this and the reception it got on Instagram was the next confidence jab that propelled me into cutting the pieces for Lucy’s jumpsuit. That, along with less than a week to go!

I can’t tell you what a joy it is to cut, how beautifully it behaves under the needle. No fraying to speak of and so easy to press. I’m so using this fabric again.

Lucy jumpsuit New Look 6446

As Handmade Jane said, the pieces sewed up with no complications. I had however, underestimated the time difference in sewing a toile v sewing the actual garm! Overlocking open seams of trousers seemed to take forever. The curved inside edges of the flounce against the straight top edge of the bodice was a little tricky to keep neat so that meant some slow-sewing and there was a fair bit of tiny hand stitching to finish the lining against the zipper tape and the top edge of the bodice. And of course the tiny hemming of the flounce and the hand-hemming of the trousers.

Lucy jumpsuit New Look 6446

But it was worth it. So many people at the party said so many lovely things about it. Bursting with pride, I was! Such a great feeling to see someone feeling so good in something you’ve made.

The party was lovely. Lots of friends and family had had their outfits made in the same fabric by various dressmakers across London. But I got to make for the stars of the show!

Do you sew for other people? Would love to hear of any experiences you’ve had, good or bad to help me on my way. Any tips will be most appreciated!

 

Alix in Black Watch

BHL Alix dress in Black Watch tartan

This is my second version of the By Hand London Alix Dress. The first was a test version that I didn’t get round to blogging but in any case this one is way better!

Alix is such a great design. Echoes of the 70s and of the 40s even, with its flattering midriff and gathered bustline. Incidentally, the first version I pattern tested had box pleats at the bust line which didn’t work for me so the gathered option is way better.

I love the full sleeves, made possible by the shoulder pleat and the elasticated wrists. Pays to be a bit generous with the elastic though. The first one I made pretty much turned my hands blue!

Another plus for this dress is that there are no fussy closures. No zips, no hook and eyes, no buttons… nada! Just a lovely long sash to tie as tight or as loose as you like. The neckline is perfectly wide enough to get over even my moon head and theres a pleat at the back to balance out the fullness of the front.

Alix in black watch back

And no lining! Just good old serged seams. Which works fabulously for this poly viscose tartan. I have been meaning to use Black Watch variety for some time, since I made my BHL Sabrina dress back in 2014. I loved how it made a contrast against the Royal Stewart tartan but still remain nervous that someone will shoot me down for mixing of the clans!

I’ve been wearing this to work – a lot – and it is perfectly comfortable to wear sitting down, standing up, running for the bus and climbing stairs. And its a no brainer for getting ready in the morning. Cue plenty dernier tights and a trusty pair of Doc Martens!

Significant birthday dress

 

ooobop party dress front

Mostly I sew from patterns. Vintage ones, Burda ones, any of the big-four, independent ones, any that take my fancy, really. But when it came to finding a pattern befit of a significant birthday party dress, I was stumped. I searched through the hundreds I owned, I trawled through plenty more online and still I didn’t come up trumps until a visit to the hairdressers presented this beauty in one of their glossy mags.

dior inspiration

Who was I kidding?! But a girl can dream right?!

With a couple of months to go and so many people asking what I was going to wear, the pressure was on and almost too much to bear. I even considered RTW as a get out clause! But following more procrastination and now only 6 weeks to go, cool words of advice from Sally of Charity Shop Chic, put me back on track and sold it to me as a simple circle puffball attached to a bodice of choice.

ooobop creeping through the woods

I just needed a prompt, a bit of pressure and some added faith, obviously!

With all that poompf in the skirt section going on, the quest was for a simple bodice. One I could toile and fit with not much time on my hands. It also had to fit in with a busy work load leading up to Christmas, and be sewn in the the evenings so black was totally out of the question too!

ooobop party dress front view

I remember ear-marking this vintage Weldons pattern as a potential party dress some time back and when I rifled through my patterns for the umpteenth time, it shouted out all the reasons it should be chosen. Simple to fit, no sleeves to insert, flattering neckline, small amount of fabric required and a perfect yoke for a string of cockerel feathers!

weldons pattern 3833

The small amount of fabric issue was quite an issue at this point as I’d already decided that silk was the only way forward. The only way I was going to get a classy, crumpled look and not just wind up looking like a discarded crisp packet!

ooobop in the woods

The skirt section is a greedy full circle with an added 16 inches around the waist to accommodate 4 box pleats: Two at the front and two at the back. The full hem is then gathered onto an a-line, mini underskirt which I self-drafted by closing the waist darts on a self-drafted skirt block, and adding a little flare. Both are attached to the waist seam.

party dress back sunrise

The wonderful Sew Busy Lizzy gifted me the polka-dot taffeta some time back. I love that it found a special use. Not so shiny that it caused static, strong enough to support all that silk whilst adding a cheeky secret air of Moulin Rouge!

polka dot taffeta lining

Having toiled the whole thing in calico beforehand, it transpired I needed 5 metres of dupion silk. Pricey at £25 a metre if one shops in Broadwick Street, London. But £12 if you’re lucky, in Goldhawk Road. I say lucky because I pretty much went in all the shops to get the right colour – a two-tone black & red. And the last one I tried had not only the best colour but offered the best price too.

back view of party dress

For all my fretting, Sally was absolutely right of course. It really didn’t take long to sew. The indecision and worrying took way longer! And fears about working with silk were laughed off when I made the first cut. Literally like cutting into butter. And it behaved and sewed up brilliantly.

And so the finished article partied hard to the band and the DJ with a hall full of amazing family and friends. It went way too quickly though, and I so wish I could press replay so I could get round to spending more time with everyone who came. But I guess thats the downside of hosting ones own!

Mr O aka Daniel Selway took these amazing shots for me this morning. Nothing wrong with a party shot but lets just say there’s a definite improvement of photographic quality in the sober light of day!

party shoes

Happy new year to you all. Wishing you a peaceful, healthy, and joyous 2017 xxx