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!


Vintage Simplicity 7527 and a fond farewell

simplicity 7527 1968 dress Bowie

That news announcement on Monday 11th January 2016 marked the beginning of another very sad week and another goodbye I totally wasn’t prepared for. My first true love, my ‘confidant’, my constant, my hero… my David Bowie.

I’ve always felt alone with my passion for this man but these last few days have seen everyone on my feed, saddened and some devastated as me. Just one of my friends dared to mock the fan hysteria with sarcasm but I’ve resisted the urge to argue and instead, silently felt sorry for him- (who-shall-not-be-named) in that he clearly didn’t experience the love as much as we all did.

David Bowie memorial Brixton

Since 13 years old, when I was accused of being a ‘weirdo’, not fitting into any of the usual cliques, I’ve hung onto his every word – after all, precious few wrote a song called Janine (He wasn’t very good at spelling ;-)) – I loved the fashions, going to most of his gigs: on shoulders of strangers, right at the front on the Serious Moonlight Tour 1983; watching him descend from the underbelly of a Glass Spider in 1987; and we even touched, albeit fingertips, at the Hanover Grand, 1997 when I won a pair of tickets from Capital Radio! I even went to the loo in his dressing room at the Royal Festival Hall 2002. Long story! There were others. And his inspiration is untold. But we never actually met. Something I was holding out for. But actually I’m not sure I could have kept my cool so it’s probably for the best that we didn’t.

simplicity 7527 1968 brixton

So when Mr O suggested Brixton, his birthplace, as a venue for my latest dress shoot it wasn’t questioned. Seemed wrong to pose in front of the memorial so we wandered off to the Village Market. Colder than a polar bear’s toes, it was. So we warmed up on some buckwheat galettes at Senzala Creperie. They were amazing – staff and food!

simplicity 7527 1968 dress

The dress is a vintage Simplicity pattern, no. 7527 from 1968. Another happy Ebay win about a year ago, if I remember rightly. It has been designed for wovens but I figured it would work just as well in a stretch jersey.

simplicity 7527 sewing pattern

Incidentally, this stretch jersey is black with red flecks and allegedly ex-Hobbs. I got it from Dalston Mill Fabrics in the Ridley Road Market, not really knowing then what it was going to be. But it was always going to be something!

simplicity 7527 1968 dress

I’m not sure of the content. But it is very, very stretchy and quite weighty. A burn test revealed a minute quantity of something natural, so I’m guessing a viscose blend as it does have a lovely smooth feel about it.

vintage simplicity 7527 1968 dress

I expected it to come up big, not only because the pattern size was bigger than my usual but because stretch fabric, well… it stretches! There was rather a lot to come off. Five inches to be precise, so I took it, rather dodgily from the sides and a little bit from the centre front and back seams. This is usually totally inadvisable but I was in a hurry and hey, it kinda worked! Wrists dutifully slapped, I’ve since noted how to grade it down properly  and will make another with proper adjustments next time.

vintage simplicity 7527 1968 dress

The best thing about making it in a stretch jersey is that it doesn’t need a closure. I made sure that the turtleneck did fit over my head before I sewed it for real. I tacked the whole thing with a long straight stitch before sewing with a shallow zigzag stitch on my ordinary machine, much the same as I did on my Agnes top. And then I finished the seams on my 3-thread overlocker.

vintage simplicity 7527 dress

I’m not kidding when I say this was a quick project. I cut it out on the Wednesday evening, sewed it on the Thursday evening after work, and wore it on the Friday to a funeral. Needs must when you find that you don’t own (or fit into) a single black dress! Doesn’t look really funeral appropriate in these photos but suffice to say, my goosebump-riddled arms were covered with a respectable jacket on the day.


Photography: Daniel Selway

Hat: Shepherds Bush Market
Shoes: Aldo 
Seamed tights: M&S


So much style and history… in a Morrison’s bag

I thought you might like a look in more detail at that Ebay haul I won in July.

morrisons bag of patterns

Their arrival was a little ungainly to say the least. Not damaged in any way but clearly hurriedly bundled and tied up in… a Morrison’s bag. Not that there’s anything wrong with Morrison’s. But I did have a moment of OMG have I just bought a sack full of rubbish?! Surely these antique patterns deserved a carriage with a little more style!

I gingerly untied the knotted handles. Actually that’s a lie. I completely tore the bag apart because I couldn’t wait a minute more. Was a bit whiffy to say the least! But I can totally forgive the smell, the packaging and the wait.

I think I am still gobsmacked.

For starters, almost all of them are my bust size which means the only alterations will be to the waist and hip. So much less faffing. Even the few that are too small will be worth the adjustments. And I tell no lies when I say that each and every one was a doozy. Most of them unused and uncut.

The first little beauty that caught my eye was this cut out cover of Home Notes. A delight in itself but what was the chance of the patterns for these beauties being inside?

home notes 1939 coverEvery little lovely chance. I had guessed 1940s by the styling but in fact this unused and perfectly preserved pattern is nicely dated October 7th 1939:

four frocks tissue 1939

Love the bit about: “Other sizes… obtainable FREE on application”. Can you imagine that happening nowadays?

I can’t find dates on most of the patterns but all are truly vintage and very beautiful. This is the first I’ve heard of Economy Design patterns. And I feel pretty damned lucky to have landed these lovelies:

Economy design patterns 161, 197, 198
Economy design patterns 161, 197, 198

Next up is a more familiar name, Simplicity. These stylish little numbers have all their pieces in tact, despite the damage to the envelopes. In fact the one on the right had some very interesting accompanying material!

simplicity patterns 3979, 4494, 8488
Simplicity patterns 3979, 4494, 8488

Whoever Mrs Poole was – the name on most of the mail order pattern envelopes – she was a lady of very fine taste with impeccable organisational skills. In the envelope with Simplicity 8488 (above right) there was this cutting:

simplicity suit cuttingGreat to see these vintage patterns in ‘real life’ photos. And it makes me love the ensemble even more! Also inside the envelope (from Readers Digest) was each copied piece of the pattern, traced and labelled with precision onto a 1960s edition of the Daily Express. This is one of the reasons that all these patterns are in such great condition and seemingly unused. Mrs Poole has dutifully copied them and kept the originals factory folded. This has given me a fine source of entertainment too, reading all the snippets of the papers. This one quite topical: “Billie Holmes, 24 year old Hull engineer, won the first Olympic cycling road race trial yesterday – by ONE inch. And this victory, over 96 miles near Chesham, Buckinghamshire, strengthens his claim for Rome spot……”

1960 olympic reference

Thank you Mrs P.

Leach Way Patterns is a new one on me too. Any one heard of these? The dress pattern was still in it’s original mail order envelope which is date stamped 1949, so I might be inclined to date the coat and the suit around that time too. Needless to say, all three in perfect condition.

Leach way patterns, 12536, 12375, 12963
Leach way patterns 12375, 12536, 12963

Weldons is a name I recognise. I have a couple in my collection already and I love how they are always so incredibly stylish and yet a little bit quirky.

Weldons patterns 143 and 151
Weldons patterns 143 and 151

Now I am assuming ‘Womans Day’ was a womans magazine and this was a supplement… correct me if I’m wrong:

womans day gift book
womans day gift book

But even better still, than this cheeky little gift book, the blouses featured on the cover and in centre spread are an exclusive Norman Hartnell pattern and all the appropriate pieces are present and correct in this gorgeous little pattern envelope:

Normal Hartnell blouse patterns
Normal Hartnell blouse patterns

I love this 40s (?) McCalls suit. It is so reminiscent of the suits my grandma used to wear:

McCall 6780
McCall 6780

And who could resist running up a few slips and bloomers for under their vintage dresses?

Style 4469 slips and bloomers
Style 4469 slips and bloomers

Woman’s Realm was defo one of my mum’s reads. So these conjure up a bit of nostalgia. I love the first dress. It’s numbered WR.1. I wonder if that is the first ever dress pattern issued by Woman’s Realm? The middle one is far too small for me in any case but the wedding dress with a few adjustments, I’m sure would be really flattering. I do like an empire waistline.

Womans realm patterns
Womans Realm patterns

Here’s a classy Dior number from Woman’s Journal:

Womans Journal Dior pattern
Womans Journal Dior pattern

There’s a couple of other great coat patterns too. One from Odhams and the other from Woman’s Own magazine. I am thinking of making a coat. Just thinking, for now!!

Odhams and Woman's Own coat patterns
Odhams and Woman’s Own coat patterns

I think Mrs P was too as there were various cuttings of coat images too:

coat newspaper cuttingIt’s amazing that all the pieces seem to be present for these Du Barry patterns. Whatever their pattern envelopes were made of they certainly disintegrate in a big brittlesome way.  But look how Mrs P (I presume) has lovingly recreated the image herself. Don’t you just love the sharpness of these suits and frocks?

Du Barry patterns
Du Barry patterns

I do like a shirtwaist dress and was delighted to find this one from Woman’s Weekly in the bundle. Woman’s Weekly was another of my mum’s reads. I distinctly remember the pink header and the elongated type on the cover:

Woman's Weekly B170
Woman’s Weekly B170

Here’s a smart little dress suit from The People. One day, one day!:

The People 794
The People 794

There was one little girls pattern included in the bundle. I would love my youngest daughter to wear little vintage dresses but I think there is some chance and no chance of that ever happening 🙁

Butterick 9161
Butterick 9161

Most of the other patterns were from Woman magazine. Another of the larger format mags if I rightly remember. And what a fine selection we have here:

Woman patterns
Woman patterns

And imagine how excited I got when this one jumped out at me:

Woman Hardy Amies exclusive pattern
Woman Hardy Amies exclusive pattern

With all supporting cuttings once again:

Hardy Amies cutting

I love the collar and the buttoned hip pockets. Not to mention the self covered buttons all the ways down, ooo… and the self covered belt. How amazing would that be?!
Woman cover

I am soooo making that Hardy Amies number!

And this wrap dress from Woman looks so much more inspirational in the mag too:

Woman 479 wrap dress
Woman 479 wrap dress

wrap dress mag cutting

And, if ever I am going to make a pair of ‘Trews’, it is going to be this pair! I love that they are called ‘trews’. I thought that was a term only used and made up by my mum!

Woman p132 Trews
Woman p132 Trews

Apart from the masses of cuttings that I still have to sift through – believe me, there are stacks of pattern pieces cut out from really old newspapers – the above are without edits, the most amazing collection of patterns ever. Not one duff one among them. Well…. there was this strange one…

Woman p131 hats bed jackets and duck
Woman p131 bed-jacket, bolero, hats and duck

…which has to win the prize of most random pattern ever!!