Fitted sheath dress in a graphic Ankara fabric

This is the dress I completed at the Crafty Sew and So camp, weekend before last which feels like a dreamy distant memory already, since I’ve been buried deep in work projects ever since. Thank goodness I realised the importance of taking a simple no-brainer project with me as I had anticipated a lot of chat and I didn’t want to be getting stressed out by fiddly details… or miss out on all the goss!

Sewing a sheath dress is a good test of fine tuning a fit as woven fabric has no forgiveness whatsoever! And I’m pretty sure I’ve nailed it now. It feels like it fits in all the right places and its amazing how that feeling transmits a confidence when I wear it. Well I can hardly blend into the background with this graphic print in any case!

I was hoping the Ankara fabric, with its strength and weight, would give good structure and I wasn’t disappointed. If you’ve sewn with it before, you’ll appreciate how your shears slice so accurately through the threads and the joy of ironing those sharp seams – especially helpful when pressing those understitched facings. They are so never going to pop out!

The dress pattern is simply a front and a back piece and an all in one facing to finish the armholes and the neckline. The zip is at the left side – something I learned from sewing a lot of vintage dresses and a method that means the back piece stays as one so there is no need to pattern match across a zip.

I would normally have tried harder to match across the side seams but I was working with a remnant here, left over from this crazy cowl skirt project, so I was limited with my placement options. Very happy that I used stash fabric though!

And whilst we are on the subject of side seams, I’d like to draw attention to the sweary label that Manisha from Manisha’s Fancy Fabrics kindly and appropriately gifted me from Sew Me In (explicit) Labels. Because, despite the simplicity of this dress, I had to unpick 3 seams at least due to distraction of talking and mostly laughing my head off. In case you need any confirmation, sewing alongside likeminded makers who share as much passion about dressmaking, is incredibly good for the soul but a little bit detrimental to productivity!

This won’t be my last sheath dress for a number of reasons:

  • Its a lovely no-brainer of a sew, once the fit is mastered
  • It uses precious little fabric
  • Its can be office-appropriate in a suiting fabric, casual in a cotton, dressy in a satin
  • It can be customised so easily

Thanks to Dan for these lovely photos. We were in Charlotte Street, and very much drawn in by the blue of the shopfront. We haven’t been up town for a long while and it was good to see the buzz is still there, with lots more pedestrianised areas for al-fresco drinking and dining.

Keep tuned for some more of my pattern drafting adventures. I’ve got a few plans up my sleeve!

Bring on the summer, I’m sundress ready!

Janene is posing with her right hand on a low white wall with trees and bushes in the background. She is wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses and smiling with head back

I had absolutely no plans whatsoever when I placed my order for this delightful Robert Kaufman cotton poplin fabric, which is usually a very bad mistake. Rash decisions with no end goal ultimately end up with more material languishing in stash mountain for a considerable amount of time. But I had to have it! I don’t generally like novelty prints but I think this can be classified more as graphic print or typographic print – very appropriate for a graphic designer anyways! And I absolutely love it!

Janene is leaning against a tree holding a piece of grass, wearing her handmade sundress

When it arrived I was in awe of its texture. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with cotton poplin before – the cottons I’ve worked with have been much smoother and crease a whole heap more. You can see the weave of the threads on closer inspection of this one and it’s got a marvellous matt quality to it.

Janene is posing straight on with both hands on hips wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses

It feels very similar to some vintage batik fabric I used last year for a sheath/shift dress and I love how that one feels against my skin. So after much deliberation, I decided upon something much the same – fitted for sure but with all this roasty toasty weather we’ve been blessed with, I also liked the idea of baring my back and cutting away the shoulders to air a bit more skin!

Janene is posing with her back to a low level wall alongside the river with trees and bushes in the background, wearing handmade dress and sunglasses and smiling

But I had to get my skates on. Not only did I have a Minerva review deadline, there was an Insta hashtag challenge I was determined to join in with, too.

So typically, I decided to make things just a tad more difficult for myself by designing, self-drafting and sewing my own fitted sundress!

Janene is posing in her handmade dress and sunglasses with one hand on hip and the other in a mock salute

I traced my existing sloper template to include princess seams and a V-neckline, increasing the underarm curve slightly above the bust across the side front where it meets the centre front piece seam and the ‘strap’ that is graduated to the shoulder and meets a back extension to form a buttoned halter-neck.

I created a facing for the whole of the top half to the waist. I did consider making it shorter but I may add a lining to the skirt section at some point.

To finish the seams, I trimmed and pressed the seam allowance to the side and topstitched alongside the joins to create a kind of faux flat felled seam finish.

Close up detail of the bodice section to show the faux flat felled seams

It’s not a bad fit for a first trial. I did do a mock up of a shortened version and its seemed to fit just right but its amazing what issues a little real life walk-around brings to the fore.

It transpires the back section collapses a little and could probably do with a bit more support. Maybe some interfacing would have given more structure or perhaps I need to add bones in the side and centre back seams? Or maybe I just live with it. What do you think? That said, I love how effortless it is to wear right now and I don’t particularly want to have to sit so upright in it all the time!

Back view of the dress that Janene is wearing to show that it is collapsing a little.

Needless to say, I’m not deterred. It’s so perfect to pair with espadrilles and I’m sure I’ll be donning trainers with it at some point, even flapping around in flip flops – DM’s too, probably. They’ll all go well with it, which proves its very much my kinda dress!

Janene is sitting on a log in the shade wearing her handmade dress, sunglasses and espadrilles. She is looking into the distance with her left hand on her shoulder and the other on her lap.

By the way, the fabric is called ‘Out of Print’ and if you like it as much as I do, here’s a link, but you’ll have to be quick. I don’t think theres many metres in stock.

Thank you so much to Minerva of course for gifting this lovely material as part of the Brand Ambassador programme. And also to the lovely ladies of Instagram (@sewing_in_spain, @Rocco.Sienna and @SewSarahSmith) who are hosting the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge which involves sewing a summer dress before 21st June. There are so many great entries already which have totally inspired and spurred my project along – do have a looksee! Sometimes deadlines are a good thing… Yay! I did it!!

Janene is walking towards the camera but looking to the side, holding a blade of grass. She is wearing her handmade sundress and sunglasses and espadrilles.

One more thank you to my Daniel for finding this ideal little suntrap along the river and for taking these fabulous photos.

So much love for the self-drafted Dolce dress of dreams

Remember that divine Dolce fabric I was compelled to buy, back at The Stitch Festival 2020? Well it just got stitched up. And boy oh boy it didn’t disappoint. 

I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with it at the time. But I knew it was going to be fabulous, even if I simply draped and cinched with a belt! It’s an Italian cotton metalassé according to the selvedge – a cotton and lycra Jacquard according to M. Rosenberg’s web listing. But all the same a quality weighty, textured stretch fabric of dreams. BTW, I pre-washed at 40 degrees and those colours still popped! And heads up, there are 3 singular metres left remaining on their site if you’re a sucker for a crazy-ass in-yer-face designer print as much as me!

Despite the try-hard distraction of the print, the texture of the metalassé holds it’s own

Ultimately, I decided to let the design speak for itself. Any clever design lines were going to get lost and I wasn’t going to jeopardise one bit of that amazing artwork if I could help it. That meant no darts, no pleats, no tucks, no waist seam. Mmmmm. A full length maxi dress for ultimate impact. That is the end goal. But first to trial a short sheath to test the fit. I bought enough to have a long and a short version, psychically of course!

I’ve drafted a few woven dresses in the past, for me and others, but I’ve only recently worked a knit sloper. So earlier this year I practised on some turtle neck rib-knit tops to test the fit – see black one here, and red one there. All I had to do was extend the bodice pieces to a dress length and omit the sleeves. I didn’t want a turtleneck but I did want a jewel neckline so I didn’t alter that much either.

Though I was happy with the results I knew that the template might not translate in this weightier stretch. Comparatively, the rib-knit was light weight and had way more stretch. I should really have trialled a sleeveless version too but impatient me couldn’t wait any more and I just went for it.

The pattern pieces simply consist of a back a front and some self binding for the neckline and the armholes. And cutting it out was a joy. Not only because is was dead quick with a rotary cutter and all, but it was so satisfying – no slippage, no stretching… just a lovely little satisfying crunch as that blade sliced through!

I first sewed the shoulder seams, after applying my favourite iron-on stabilising tape [aff-link] to limit any stretching, then I sewed the side seams using my overlocker. The first try-on highlighted a bit too much ease in the armholes so I nipped 1cm (so 2cm in total) off the end of the shoulder and graduated to zero at the neckline. 

Happy with the rest of the fit I pondered the effect of facings over bindings. I have a love-hate relationship with separate facings – they always flap around and need ironing flat. The only ironing I don’t begrudge is pre-cutting out, and not post assembly! I much prefer an all in one neck and armhole facing that curves over or under bust. But this fabric is quite heavy and I feared the result would be too chunky.

So I decided on bindings which would mean trimming the seam allowances back a bit to allow for the additional 1cm wide strips to sit comfortably.

Looking at the back I can see that  I would need to lower the armscyce next time. It’s comfortable and all but the knock on effect of taking out the ease on the shoulder has raised the underarm. Not a biggie though. That leopard over my shoulder is a dammed fine distraction!

As you might imagine, the thing that took the longest with this dress was consideration of placement. Both back and front are good. Like stupendously good! There was no pattern matching necessary. It was just plain choice. Well, and the want to not decapitate the chap on the front! I decided I didn’t like the idea of someone on my back but I did like the possibility of the back side being prettier than the front. So that’s the way the cookie crumbled.

We had such fun taking these shots yesterday. Dan had recently been on a walk shooting birds along the Grand Union canal and suggested it might throw up some lovely backgrounds for the shoot. He wasn’t wrong and I was very humbled by all the wonderful comments from passing strangers, about my dress. It’s so effortless to wear. Though not quite the weather to wear without tights yet. No-one needs to be blinded by the intensity of my pale pins so soon into the year! In any case. It’s very short. I’m sure the world isn’t ready for my pants either!

More is more, when it comes to tights!

We walked to Westbourne Park, with a cheeky peek at some market stalls in Portobello along the way. Couldn’t resist this odd fabric from a vintage stall. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what this is?!

If you can bear to watch this space for another year or so, who knows what kind of crazy dress this will turn into!

And there we started our walk, all the way to Paddington basin where we sat for a lovely lunch and a cheeky beer or two in a beautiful Victorian pub. 

A bus ride back through the remnants of a demonstration in Hyde Park was quite exciting. A few more beers and a takeaway to round off a fabulous day of doing what we both love. Bring on the sunshine – we want more London days like this!

So a gazillion thanks to Daniel James Photographic and not forgetting Dibs who blogs at Dibs and the Machine , sells incredible designer fabric at Selvedge and Bolts and who was instrumental in making me buy this fabric in the first place!

Another turtle neck top complete – in time for MemadeMay

May is one of my favourite months for many a reason. The weather is warming – I so can’t bear the cold – and I’m more likely to get out more for walks and to visit my favourite places and people after a long hibernation period. It’s also the month that the lovely So, Zo What Do you Know? hosts the #MemadeMay challenge. Now it’s fair to say that each year this flurry of instagram selfie shoots gets easier for me as my wardrobe becomes fuller. But Lockdown has narrowed my choices somewhat by what fits and I’m going to have to make some more clothes. Shame, eh?!

I’m kicking off with a new turtle-neck top, using the same self-drafted pattern as the black one I made not so long ago, which I might add might possible be my most worn thing ever, already!

Nothing needed to change but I really wanted to see if I could elimate some little folds from the underarm, across the bust. I figured that underarm armhold point might be sitting a bit high, so I lowered it a quarter of an inch and adjusted the sleeve to match.

It does fit a bit more comfortably but didn’t reduce the wrinkles! Haha. Still a lesson learned though. I luckily only adjusted the paper pattern. The digital version remains. But I am going to flatten off the sleeve head. It does seem to force my shoulder end to sit a little too high and it does measure a couple of mm’s longer than the armhole and because its a stretch knit there is no need for ease, so it will probably help. I do like the power of being able to tweak patterns here and there. It gives me a little buzz of control!

Once again the lazy in me couldn’t be arsed to set up another spool let alone the twin needle for the hems. So I zigzagged as usual. I kind of like the contrast of the zigs in between the black lines.

And I got the neck right this time! No silly amount of stretching. Just enough to fit. And its even more comfortable than the last.

The fabric is once again from Minerva.com. It’s a polyester rib knit in a lovely bright red colour with a narrow black stripe running round. I even made sure to match the stripes at the side. To be fair I wasn’t going to worry about it but the fabric behaved so well, it was harder not to!

This isn’t the end of stretchy tops. I definitely need them right now. And there is still room for improvement, and welcome opportunity for experimenting with different fabrics. Watch this space!

Self drafted Turtleneck knit top

black rib knit top worn with plaid shorts

The last thing I made was this turtleneck rib knit top. Most probably up there with some of the most boring things I’ve made, but actually a top that ticks a lot of boxes.

I self drafted it for one and learned something new in the process. I’ve self drafted a fair few patterns for woven fabric to date, like this Liberty Lawn summer dress, a few shift dresses like this batik one, and more recently my handkerchief hem dress  to name a few. But I’ve never thought to self draft a knit pattern. Why would I? Its akin to reinventing the wheel as there’s so many great basic knit patterns out there. But I do love a challenge. And also have another agenda in the shape of some very special stretch fabric that is still waiting to be made into a well fitting dress so if I master a moulage in knit then I’ll be one step closer to designing a knit dress, right?

Black ribbed knit top flatlay

The process was actually very simple. In a nutshell removing the darts and any ease to create a close fitting shell that stretches around the curves of the body. I used my self-drafted woven moulage as a starting point and made the adjustments from there. I found a great lesson on Craftsy, by Suzy Furer and also referred to my favourite sewing book: Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Joseph Armstrong.

knit sloper pattern pieces

I tested it first on some nasty nylon fabric. To be fair I don’t know what the fibre content is but I’m certain there’s not an ounce of natural anything in it! Looks kinda cool with its graffiti design though. But I messed up royally on the turtle neck itself. Such a stoopid mistake. I made it 10% smaller than the neck opening which was fine. Sewed it in a circle to check it would go over my head which was fine too. Then stretched it as I sewed in place, much as I would sew a binding on a scooped neckline. Realising I had excess (as a result of over stretching) I cut off about an inch and a half, maybe even 2 inches more to make it fit. And that was where I went so wrong. I can just about get it over my head but its akin to being slowly strangled if I’m wearing it for more than half an hour!

toile of knit top in a synthetic graffiti print fabric

Everything else was just fine, though. Just made a massive note to self to not mess with the collar piece!

I especially loved that it was all sewn on the overlocker save for the hemming, so was super quick to whip up. One very important thing gleaned from sewing knit tops before is to stabilise the shoulder seam to stop it stretching out. I used some Prym iron on stay tape (aff. link) for the first time and it was so easy to apply in a straight line. Its been subject to a few 40 degree washes since and it’s still totally intact. Definitely no going back to sew-in tape now.

So then I made the black one with ribbed knit I bought in the Minerva sale for a snip! And I love it. Its so versatile – goes with all my skirts and shorts and also is a great under-layer for some of my self-drafted dresses, on a chillier days. Topped with a cardi for an extra layer its a definite win win win!

It’s just so classic, with a nod to retro too and has already had soooo much wear that it will probably wind up being the most sustainable item of clothing in my wardrobe for that reason alone.

I’d love a couple more of these. A leopard print one for sure and perhaps a red one … predictable much! But first I have to make something a bit more exciting. And I’ll tell you all about that real soon.

In the meantime, here’s to boring practical clothes that go with absolutely everything and for a quick sew fix too!

Are you sewing much over lock down? I’m struggling to get as much sew time due to work pressures – everything is taking so much longer so I feel like I’ve lost so many hours in my day. But all things considered, it could certainly be much worse!

Wishing you all well in any case.

Janene x

Handkerchief hem dress

ooobop design hankerchief hem dress

Lockdown forced me to buy fabric online. Not my favourite thing to do but needs must when Covid pulls the rug!

I headed straight to Minerva – amazing selection; easy to navigate website and very competitive prices. I’m also a fan of the accompanying videos that showcase the fabric in action so you can get a fair impression of the weight and drape.

I was on a roll with the Shelby rompers, having made a starry one, a tropical one and an upcycled one in relatively quick succession, and my plan was to make a plain one that was a bit more casual and downplayed for those days when you want to be slightly less visible. Read: any excuse to go back to black!

I’m a sucker for black. But even moreso for a black fabric with a texture. And linen is a firm favourite. So I figured this crinkle cotton striped linen gauze would tick all the boxes. Black was sold out unsurprisingly, so I went for charcoal which actually champions those slubs with way more contrast.

But when it arrived I was a bit miffed. It wasn’t at all as I’d imagined. It was a bit scratchy, a bit wonky with it’s loose weave and worst of all, following a prewash it contracted to half the width! That lovely slubby texture totally worked against me, didn’t behave at all like regular linen and was almost elastic! – I was dead scared to make it into a romper. What if one leg ended up longer than the other, lol!

ooobop hankerchief hem dress
Channeling Blondie and Parallel Lines!

Despite the disappointment I rejoiced in the realisation that I’ve come far enough into my dressmaking journey to know when a fabric isn’t going to cut it. And the tantrums are few and far between now, because I’m quicker at finding solutions. Also the fabric completely softened after a prewash and I was more determined than ever to let this fabric do the talking.

So I went off piste. Not accidentally I’m sure because I’ve always got a catalogue of crazy designs in my head and sometimes they make it to a page in my Fashionary book so they’ve got a better chance of being realised. A summer linen dress incorporating a fitted sleeveless bodice, with a v-necklline and a handkerchief skirt would be it’s destiny.

ooobop hankerchief hem dress

I reached for my bodice sloper, added a v-neckline and narrowed the shoulders. I also swung the darts to fashion a double French dart for no good reason other than I’ve never done it before. And I really like the result!

The vertical stripes of this linen lend themselves perfectly to the bodice but I decided to switch the stripes horizontally for the skirt section because I much prefer how horizontal lines fall at the sides. There was precious little worry how it would all hang for cutting it on the cross because I was playing to it’s wonky nature in any case. And it turned out good. In fact more than good. I love it!!

ooobop design hankerchief hem skirt detail

I have to cite a few influences here: Liz from this year’s GBSB for sticking to her alternative fashion style. I realised I was drifting away from mine and she’s unknowingly reeled me right back in! My bestie Laura Bird who loves an All Saints asymmetric number, always sporting an ‘interesting’ dress and Burda Style for first introducing me to a hanky hem!  I made my first maxi dress here and a second silver one here  and they are still my favourites though this is my first short dress with a handkerchief hem.

So how did I cut the skirt?

I decided on the length of the skirt (the depth) and factored in seam allowance and hem.

I made the width of the skirt to the following calculation:

Front piece (cut 1) = half waist measurement + (2x length of skirt) + 8inches for 2 box pleats + (2x hem allowance)

Back piece (cut 2) = quarter waist measurement + (1x length of skirt) + 4inches for 1 box pleat + seam allowance + hem allowance

I marked the centre of the front piece and 4 inches either side to tack the box pleats. I overlocked the bottom of the bodice piece and the top of the skirt pieces before pinning and sewing in place. I sewed up to the side seam on each piece and then sewed the seam allowance of the extra fabric along the top edge. After the centre back edges were overlocked, I inserted an invisible zip and enclosed the top part of the zip with the facing.

Finally I hemmed all four edges of the skirt and mitred the corners. And oh what a neat little finish that is!

ooobop hankerchief hem dress

I know it’s not the most groundbreaking dress. But I made it to my own order and an image in my head and it really feels good. The fabric feels good against my skin in this heat and I love how carefree it is.

I finished up sewing it yesterday morning in good time for Dan to have a practice with his new camera. (Clever, hey?!) And I’m delighted with the results. Thank you oh clever talented husband of mine!

ooobop hankerchief hem dress

Also…new shoes!!  Buffalo hologram numbers that literally turn rainbow in the sunshine. And yes I know I’m probably channelling 90s Spice Girl. And no… I’m not about to grow up anytime fast!

Shift in the right direction!

ooobop self-drafted shift dress

I’m so happy right now. Doesn’t take much – just a shed load of sunshine, some quality time with the fam and success at last with the fit of my shift dress.

In case you’ve missed any part of me whittling on about this process, my mission has been to achieve the best fit I can using my own dress pattern with minimal seam lines – ie a darted dress with both front and back pieces cut on the fold – so as not to disturb the print of a very boldly designed fabric that I have in mind to sew next!

self-drafted shift dress in a vintage batik fabric

The fabric I used here was the best test so far because it too required careful pattern placement. You can see the first version I made here and I just realised I didn’t even get round to blogging the second so here is an actual shot, instead!

Self-drafted dogtooth shift dress

I was gifted the gorgeous batik fabric a few years back, by a lovely friend who had inherited it from her parents. When she saw it featured in my instagram post she was so happy to see it again and so pleased that it was being put to good use. I kinda felt duty bound as I remember her telling me that her parents used to travel for to Thailand and Indonesia  quite a lot in the 60s and 70s for work and that they always returned with gorgeous authentic fabrics. Proper sentimental value and vintage, too!

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

This piece in particular is undoubtedly a hand-blocked batik. Though this is based purely on my own research and I could be wrong so please correct me if you think different.

It wasn’t very wide but I knew it would be perfect for the third trial of my shift dress, knowing I was very nearly there with the fit. I wouldn’t have risked it otherwise!

It’s such a fine quality cotton. Actually feels so natural against my skin, which is an odd thing to say but I have worn cotton before that doesn’t feel nearly as good. And it completely stood up to a stroll in 24° of Shepherds Bush sunshine today.

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

I was intrigued by the selvedge of this fabric. Why would it have just one edge of border decoration? I put out to the wonderful, ever obliging sewing community on Instagram and the very clever Meg from @cookinandcraftin suggested it was very likely to be used for a hemline and a centre front detail for a sarong when wrapped. I loved knowing this and was determined not to waste this detail so I set about cutting my pieces on the cross grain in order to make the best use of the design.

ooobop_self-drafted shift dress in batik

But I hit a snag and realised just in time that the cross grain had absolutely no give at all, and considering the style and fit, it could have been a disastrous move. So I cut on the long grain, as I have trialled twice before (if it ain’t broke and all that) and cut the border separately to seam along the hemline with a generous seam allowance which is overlocked and pressed down on the wrong side. It actually helps to add a bit of weight to the bottom of the dress too.

ooobop shift dress and shades

I made a few other tweaks to the pattern since version 2:

  1. I widened the shoulder straps by 1cm having struggled to pull the dress through the facing during construction, as per the ‘burrito-method’! The fabric I am going to use for the next one is much thicker and I don’t want to risk damaging it or pulling out any stitches in the process.
  2. There was still an element of pooling at the back (swayback issues as usual). And even though I added a quarter of an inch more at the hips since last time – with some improvement – it didn’t seem to solve the issue as much as I’d like.
  3. Then, just this morning, I saw that Cortney from @s.is.for.sew on Insta detailed how she lengthened her back darts to resolve a similar issue. So I moved the bottom point of the diamond dart down 2.25″ and continued the widest part down longer before tapering off. It worked a bloody treat!

ooobop self-drafted batik shift dress

ooobop batik shift dress

And so I do believe I’m ready to cut into that prize D&G fabric that I got from The Stitch Festival 2020 – only dilemma now being, how the hell do I choose my favourite placement of the design? I anticipate this being the longest part of the process!

Dolce and Gabbana fabric at M Rosenberg's stall
Dolce and Gabbana fabric at M Rosenberg’s stall

Thank you as always to Daniel for these amazing shots down the alley of the Laundry Yard in Shepherds Bush, London. For anyone who knows, you’ll know what a brave move this was!

Self-drafted Batik shift dress by ooobop

Camp collar shirt

selfdrafted camp collar shirt

Did I imagine that Christmas and New Year break? Feels like it happened a lifetime ago… can I scroll back a few weeks pleeeease – it’s all a bit too much already! Any one else feeling the same?

I know I mustn’t complain. Too much work is the least of concerns for a freelancer. I’m just craving a sewing project soooo much! There’s so many in my head I’m literally going to burst if I don’t get to make at least one of them soon.

front view of shirt

But it’s dark now… and I’m exhausted – story of my life. So I’ll just settle for a little fix from blogging a recently-made shirt for now.

I already had this animal print cotton fabric in stash and it was just enough to rehearse a new self-drafted design. One of the upsides of designing my patterns digitally is that I can test a pattern layout on computer screen to see how much fabric I’ll be needing. And also plan the positioning of pieces for minimum waste without having to crawl around the living room floor ‘playing giant Tetris’ while the fam barks at me to get out of the way of the telly – I don’t have a proper cutting table, see.

Side view of camp collar shirt

My recent self-drafted adventures have included a 70s style dress with flared sleeves and a Christmas Dress with bishop sleeves. Both of which use the same bodice block and knowing it worked both times meant I just had to add a bit of extra ease, add a button extension and lengthen to the hipline for a great fitting shirt. The sleeves would be simpler than both trialled before, and I found a great video tutorial on Bluprint to draft a one-piece collar. So what could go wrong?

Well this is where I classically mess up because I try and run before I can walk. I’ve never actually made up a straightforward self-drafted sleeve for myself yet. Just flared ones in both cases. So there was never any trouble with fit. But as my block stands, it’s too tight. Luckily I had my suspicions and made one sleeve up in calico to check first. Lord knows where I went wrong. But I seriously must have got lucky previously! To rectify (badly) I have slashed and spread to the sleeve cap. And it works, kind of. But it is still a bit snug. In fact it’s a bit too tight under the pits too so I need a revisit to this pattern before I make another.

Back view of shirt

I’m going to lower the underarm point and redraft that sleeve with less haste (read less excitement) and less speed! Because I’ve got more plans going forward and I’m going to need those pattern pieces spot on!

The collar worked out perfectly. It’s a camp or Hawaiian collar, so Suzy Furer told me on the Bluprint video tutorial. Basically a collar and stand, all in one. I did check out another tutorial on YouTube for the construction. It was kind of obvious but I just needed some reassurance.

hawaiian collar

Suzy advised to ditch the waist darts front and back but I really quite like the fitted aspect of it and I’m convinced that if I lower the armscye by half an inch or so more and sort the sleeves out it will be a much more comfortable fit.

So the consensus is that it’s not the greatest self-drafted shirt in the world but it’s a great starting point and I’m looking forward to a new and improved one. Might have to buy some new fabric though… I’m feeling stripes!

Have you kicked off the New Year with a new project yet? Pray tell. I’ll do my best not to get too jealous!

Operation Christmas Dress complete!

handmade tartan dress with teardrop opening

Hopes were fading to get this dress finished on time for Christmas Day. But the sewing gods were looking down on me, somewhat favourably and I sewed them cuff poppers on quite literally at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve.

Oh how I love ‘the night before Christmas’ – When all the shops are shut and there’s nothing more to be got. The street outside is quiet; the Christmas tree lights twinkle at their brightest and that sweet little shot of sherry slips slowly down the hatch! Perfect time of year to have some hand sewing going on in front of a festive telly-box movie, too!

Tartan Christmas dress front

This dress is most definitely worthy of an ooobop original issue number 2. The turtle neck dress I recently made almost had a tear drop neckline but in an effort to walk before I could run, I saved it for this time.

The process was exactly the same:

  • I dreamt the design
  • I drew it in my Fashionary sketch book
  • I self-drafted the pieces from my previously created blocks, using Adobe Illustrator
  • Printed and tiled the pattern pieces
  • And sewed up the finished article.

This is proving to be my favourite method of dressmaking to date! That said, I’ve got so much still to learn and I’m anticipating some frustrating times ahead so I’ll still be checking out Indi and vintage sewing patterns when I need some respite!

To edge the teardrop – thus avoid lining or facing – I dug out and dusted off the bias tape maker. To be fair I don’t think its much quicker than the manual ironing method but it’s a bit more fun… when it works!

Close up detail of teardrop opening

I’ve messed up many a time binding edges so this time I knew to start with sewing the right side of the binding to the wrong side of edge of the teardrop opening. I used my quarter inch foot for a consistent seam and took it real slow. Any unevenness is corrected when the binding is pressed in position to the front. (It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit wonky on the back because it won’t be seen. The entire reason for starting on the back!) I then clipped the seam in the curved areas before slowly and carefully top-stitching close to the edge on the right side to finish the binding, where it does matter! That final press is so satisfying.

I then used two more folded bias strips to bind the neckline from back to front, concealing the top edges of the teardrop, and continuing the topstitch to the ends to form the ties. I sewed across the ends of the ties to prevent too much fraying. I’m happy for it to fray a little.

Now lets talk bishop sleeves – Lovely big billowy bishop sleeves! They’re a bit trendy at the moment but to be fair they’ve never been out of favour in my fashion world!

close up of sleeve and cuff

I took my sleeve block piece and similarly to how I flared it last time, created 4 slash points and spread the pieces till the width was a little more than thrice my cuff measurement. I didn’t deduct the length of the cuff from the sleeve as I wanted the fullness to overlap the cuff which it kind of does but the structure in the fabric doesn’t really make it perform as it did in my head!

The cuff is sewn akin to the binding to hide the seam and there’s a small overlap for the poppers.

Walking in my new dress

I really want to rehearse another, even more fuller bishop sleeve on a blouse made with a lighter viscose. Just to see how differently it behaves. I really want to add some lovely button loops and buttons to the cuffs too which I didn’t do here mostly because of time restraints, hence the poppers!

The rest of the dress is constructed the same as the turtle neck one: inserting an invisible zip in the back. And I must add how chuffed I was at just how invisible it turned out with all those checks matching up either side.

Back view of dress

After all that work I didn’t wear it on Christmas Day. I decided to spare it from the cooking splashes and wine spillages and wore it out on Boxing Day instead. Despite it’s festive feel, I will be wearing this dress at every other time of the year and occasion for when tights and sleeves are necessary. The fabric is 100% cotton except for the metallic gold thread and is so comfy to wear. Not surprising that I debated using the fabric for PJs initially!

striding out in my new tartan dress

It carries a lovely little memory too as I purchased the fabric on a sewing blogger meet up organised by @ClaireSews for when @liblib came to visit all the way from Austraila. We chatted over coffee and shopped our little hearts out in the Goldhawk Road. I wasn’t supposed to be buying more but @ella_yvonne convinced me it had my name on it! Always such a treat to meet like-minded sewists IRL.

I’m not holding much hope for completing anything new before New Year so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a fabulous, creative and healthy 2020.

All the very best of wishes and lots of love from Janene xxx

Ooobop original 70s style dress

ooobop original 70s style dress
ooobop original 70s style dress

The thing I love most about sewing is the eternal learning curve. I will always be on a joyful journey of discovery because there is no chance I will ever learn it all in my lifetime but with every little milestone I reach I get a little buzz of excitement which propels me to the next level and this little dress is prime example of my progress.

It might not be the most ground-breaking, couture class garment you’ve ever seen but its mine, all mine – an ooobop original

I dreamt it, I drew it, I drafted it, I sewed it.

sketches of the dress
Love drawing the possibilites in my Fashionary sketchbook

For sure, I’ve sewed and drafted for other people but never as successfully for myself. I’ve been bouncing between lessons on Craftsy’s Blueprint and instructions from various pattern-making books but it transpires the reason it took me longer to fit myself was my own dishonesty. Denial of my actual measurements. Reluctance to accept the differing pattern shapes to the examples given. Even cheating my measurements knowing it would look better if I nipped in certain stats. Desperate. IKR!

wearing ooobop original 70s style dress
Striking a pose in Notting Hill

And it just goes to show that you can’t cheat at maths. On the fourth attempt at a moulage (a close fitting blue print from which one adds ease to create a master sloper ) it bloody worked! I was so happy . Literally danced around the room in nowt but a pair of pants and the moulage for a good half hour. And then it dawned on me all the possibilities.

Classic pose with a classic car
Classic pose with a classic car

But first I had to add ease to create the sloper. Another milestone reached as I’m getting much quicker and more efficient at drafting in Adobe Illustrator. Luckily I use this programme for my job as a graphic designer and can justify the substantial Adobe Creative Suite subscription. But it makes it all the more satisfying that I am getting untold extra benefits from its use. My space is so limited at home and the prospect of getting out and putting away all the giant drafting materials is exhausting in itself, before I’ve even put pencil to paper. Drawing patterns using my laptop and being able to store them digitally thereafter is literally life changing, for me!

Sloper created using Adobe Illustrator
Sloper created using Adobe Illustrator

Once I’d drafted the sloper, the only other piece left to draft was the turtle-neck collar. That was a case of simply measuring the neckline and cutting a bias rectangle piece to that length and 6″ wide. It was sewn like a bias binding around the neckline. I left the back edges open to insert a zipper to the top of the neckline then folded the facing part of the collar to the inside and finished by hand.

Striking a different pose with the classic car. Loving the silhouette
I do love the simple silhouette of this dress

I had originally planned an extravagant bishop-style sleeve but I didn’t think I’d have enough fabric for such indulgence, so I settled on a slightly flared sleeve instead – slashing and spreading my sleeve sloper from wrist to sleeve cap.

And while on the subject of fabric, let me tell you how I came by such a perfectly suited piece. Every now and then I venture out on a little sewing people meet-up. One of my favourites is  organised the London Stitchers Meet Up.  The last one I attended was held at The Blue Boat in Fulham and involved a fabric swap. Such a great idea to downsize that stash and to swap a piece or two that might not have plan attached, for something that triggers an instant course of action. Interestingly enough I had no plans on bringing any fabric back home. I’m trying to use what I have and not buy/acquire anything new but the stars instantaneously aligned when glanced over Giorgia’s shoulder to see it sat wantingly in the corner.  It was a beautifully soft baby needlecord (I think) with a vintage style montage print. I always maintain I’m more about texture than print but there are always exceptions to the rule. Thanks so much to Lauriane Loves Sewing for bringing it to the table. I do hope I’ve done it justice.

ooobop original 70s style dress

So why am I creating so much more work for myself when there are plenty nuff awesome patterns in the world? Each stage of sewing this dress confirmed what I good idea it was. The notches aligned perfectly. The bust darts hit where they were supposed to, the shoulders finished on my shoulder line. And I confess I stood and I stroked and I marvelled at how well they did, for quite some time.  No puckers, nuffink.

Marvelling at the inset of my sleeve caps
Marvelling at the inset of my sleeve caps

Add to that the waist sitting where it is meant to, no pooling in the small of my back and Bob is definitely my lobster! Gotta love it when an invisible zip becomes super evasive too!

Back view of dress with no pooling
Back view of dress with no pooling

Well I think that’s just enough of me blowing my own trumpet and time for me to big up the talents of my super lovely, supportive husband, Daniel. I’m always the first to run out of steam, just knowing there’ll be a hundred good shots even if I am pulling a stupid face in 50 percent of the contact sheet. But he always want’s just one more. And its always for good reason and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

Lying on some steps in my 70s style dress
In response to ‘Just one More’!

And he’s available for booking. He loves an event. So good at capturing those  off the cuff, journalistic poses. So if you have an upcoming event and in need of a trusty photographer please do check out his portfolio here or contact him at danieljamesphotographic@gmail.com.

Thanks for swinging by. Your readership and comments mean the world to me and add so much to my journey. Wishing you all a gloriously productive weekend. xxx

Previous attempts at self-drafting: