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!

Retro Butterick 5880 in red leopard print

B5880 dress

Big thanks to Marie @stitchoddyssey and Kerry @kestrelmakes for their great insta challenge, #sewvintageseptember, without which this dress would still be in tissue form, in its little envelope, nestled with the other hopefuls! The challenge encouraged us to sew up our neglected vintage patterns, something I’ve been meaning to do for such a long time. Plus it presented so many inspiring posts as everyone uploaded their gorgeous creations. I’m late to the finishing post but I’m so jolly glad I got there!

B5880 on the Serpentine bridge

I used to sew so many more vintage dresses than I do of late. When I first began sewing I inherited (read stole) a few from my mum’s collection – just basic skirts and tops. And then my love for them grew so much that years later I found myself bidding silly money for 40s and 50s patterns online. I loved the cover art, the pre-cut pieces, the prompts to hand finish and the unfailing elegance of the times.  I learned how to style the finished garment without conforming to an entire vintage look (totally ignoring the wails of the purists!) and made them my own. I’ve included links to some of my faves at the end of this post.

B5880 retro Butterick dress

So what happened? Why don’t I sew vintage so much any more? Well basically, I discovered indie patterns. And later learned to draft patterns myself. And those vintage pattern boxes have since remained closed owing to the rip-off number of hours in a day! That said, I have left a couple of patterns, loose on the top of the pattern box tower, just in case I get a miracle few hours spare to schedule them in!

The pattern I used for this dress is Butterick 5880. A retro reproduction from 1951. I love the sarong-style side drape and the neckline with its little fang-like indents!

Retro Butterick 5880 pattern envelope

It screamed leopard-print at me from the off. But I can never find the perfect scale print in a perfect colour way, let alone the actual perfect fabric weight.

I asked in pretty much all the stores along the Goldhawk Road with not an ounce of success. A block colour probs would have worked fine and that was my next plan and was just deciding on red or black (of course) until I spotted this red, black and grey print in Classic Textiles. It was definitely an Hallellujah moment!

B5880 dress modelled on the Serpentine bridge

So my vision of Rockabilly chic was restored and off I skipped with some cheaper poly for the toile – I always try to mock up in as close a fabric as poss to get best fit – and some anti-static fabric from the little shop next to A-One (never can remember it’s name but the owner is always so friendly and kind). I paid £6.50 a metre for the lining. Pretty much the same as the main fabric because I didn’t want cling or spiky static stuff going on. It ironed like a dream and feels so silky to the touch – red of course!

I only mocked up the bodice. Knowing exactly what the issue was going to be – pooling at the back! The back piece is cut on the fold so to get round this I traced and cut the piece in two, adding seam allowance and taking 2 inches of ease out but cutting and slashing on a line drawn from a third of the way up from the bottom of the armhole, across to the centre back.

B5880 back view

I sewed out a dart on the mock up to check it worked before cutting out my main pieces.

And here is where the fun started. That wrap piece is huge and because I wanted to keep the entire length of the skirt (I know right… where has Janene gone!) I had no chance of cutting out on my tiny kitchen table. I remember thinking laminate flooring would be a great idea in the living room so I could cut larger pieces. And it is mostly. But wiggling crepe and shiny scissors meant I was crawling around on the floor for aeons! Getting up and straightening up afterwards was an insight into being a hundred years old!

Back view of skirt and heels

And just as I’d finished I had to cut the lining, too. All the moaning and groaning that day – you’d never have guessed it was my favourite thing to do!

The bodice came together pretty swiftly. I’m always a bit scared to clip so close to the point of a ‘V’. And you can see a smidge of the lining as a result. But I’d rather that, knowing its stronger as there will be some stress on those points at times. But kudos to the Vilene G710 Light Woven Iron On Fusible Interfacing I got from Minerva Crafts. It was such good quality and it was definitely key for providing just enough structure so that neckline doesn’t roll out.

B5880 retro butterick dress neckline

I pinked the seam edges and the lining edges. Mostly so there would be no additional bulk on pressing. But also because it’s fun!

The main skirt pieces are dead simple to assemble too though I did overlock those seams. The bodice seams are enclosed and it felt safe to pink but when this dress ultimately gets tossed around with a wash load of other stuff, I worried the skirt seams would be more vulnerable and susceptible to fraying. And I didn’t want that after all the effort invested.

Now let’s talk wrap! All I can say is that I’m jolly grateful for that QR code bottom left of the pattern cover, that links to a very good tutorial by Professor Pincushion. I read the instructions included with the pattern about 50 times over and still couldn’t work it out. But the video was instrumental in working out those pleats.

B5880 retro butterick dress shot in a tunnel

I had assumed the wrap was a singular piece. And it would probably work just as well assuming ones fabric is double sided. But I like how much neater it’s finished by being faced. It adds a fair bit of weight though, and there’s quite a bit of stress where that pleated section joins the waist seam so will have to keep an eye on that. The full lining adds even more weight to this dress but its not a bad thing. It slides on with ease, helps the dress to hang better, prevents any show through and feels so special to wear.

B5880 dress and London telephone box

Following the marathon hand finishing session (shoulder seams of lining, joining bodice lining at waist, hemming, French tacks) I almost forgot about the belt! That was pretty simple to whip up though. It’s basically an interfaced tube, sewn, trimmed and turned. Though the turning was not fun at all! Once pressed, the flat end is folded over the central bar of the buckle and hand stitched down. Luckily I had a small collection of vintage buckles to choose from – the asymmetric red one was a clear winner.

Although this is clearly a 50s dress design, it could so easily pass as 80s and be dressed down with Doc Martens and a denim jacket but for the purposes of our shoot on Sunday, I felt the need for glam – heels, care of Shelter Charity shop, Long velvet gloves from British Heart Foundation charity shop and Sunglasses, a lucky find in Cancer Research charity shop. Stockings bought from What Katie Did.

Adjusting stockings on a bench by the Serpentine, London

And yes, actual stockings! I’m so out of practice and really nervous of them pinging loose and ending up round my ankles. But they felt so good to wear with a dress of an ‘appropriate’ length and added to the feel good factor.

The weather wasn’t the least bit inspiring at the weekend but Dan was so keen to shoot with his new camera insisting that there’s no such thing as bad weather as far as photography is concerned. He’s mostly right of course, especially looking back at these photos, and I’m so pleased his eagerness helped me to meet the challenge deadline, but I might argue that wind is the exception to his rule!

 Windy day and wild hair

Some of my other favourite vintage makes:

Photography by Daniel Selway

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!

A good cause and some odd fabric

manson dress in progress

I’m sure, by now you must have heard about Karen’s (Didyoumakethat) Made Up Initiative, a brilliant scheme to fundraise for the National Literacy Trust. And by the looks of it, heaps of you have signed up already: 114 donations to date and £1,224 so far.

As much as I’d like to partake, sewing challenges, blog hops and other sewing teasers don’t get much of a presence on my pages, mostly because of time restraints but also because I just like to do my own thing in my own time. I’ve got deadlines coming out of my ears on a daily basis and to self-inflict any more would be ridic!

But, and this is a big BUT for sure… this challenge is different. It relates to a industry where I am strongly connected and brings both work and personal pleasures together. I can’t bear the thought that children be deprived of such a basic life skill especially in this country. Access to books and help with reading should be a given, not just for the privileged. The National Literacy Trust helps to make this happen, all the while inspiring and motivating children to read for enjoyment by engaging them in fun and exciting workshops.

So what have I pledged? It’s an odd one. Not one of my run of the mill vintage makes, not a boring pencil skirt for sure; no quilt block (even though the last one I made was in January!), no funny hats and I need a little recovery time from the Boer War jacket already…

It’s a new dress for me to wear to a Marylin Manson gig coming up in November! And there’s a few birds being killed with this Made Up stone!

I’m working with this very odd fabric. It’s a hundred percent synthetic, don’t you know. With a bit of elastine thrown in for good measure. Kind of pleated with splashes of silver paint thrown all over it. No prissy prints for Marylin, oh no! I found it in A-One Fabrics at least four or five months ago and have always wondered what I could do with it. Little Miss O has presented me ‘that’ screwed up face and steered me with a ‘walk away from the goth fabric’ grab of the arm each and every time. But I literally went running back to the shop when I found this damned good reason for it.

The pattern? Drum roll… It’s a Burda pattern at long bleedin’ last. From Burda Style March 2015. I’ve been longing to work with another Burda pattern. The only draw back is the pain of tracing the wretched thing but when I think about it, I trace to preserve most of my vintage ones, so it’s no different really. If you can get over the spaghetti junction of other lines set to confuse you!

It will look kinda like this but with no sleeves…

burda maxidress 03 2015

I’ve made a wee start. And already realised that I’d overlooked the pain in the backside bit which is the matching of the ribbons. This is the back centre seam. Not done very well!

centre back seam

I hope to make some headway today. It looks like a doddle but I’m not going to count my chickens just yet!

Has the Made Up Initiative inspired you to make something new?