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!

 

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!