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  1. Stash Slasher: Butterick 5708

    January 4, 2014 by rosie

    Butterick 5708

    Spotlight had their post-Christmas sale on, so I trundled off  “just to have a look”. There was such a good deal going on with patterns (excluding Vogue, of course!) that I ended up coming home with 9 of them! (I would have bought more, but they were out of stock of some of them).

    Butterick 5708 is one of these patterns. I’ve eyed it off when flicking through the pattern books on several occasions, but it had never made the cut previously. The reduced price twisted my arm, and I thought I’d give it a go.

    It’s an intriguing pattern. A reproduction of a 1953 dress, the line art on the pattern cover looks so fetching, doesn’t it? With just a change of the shoulder bow/straps, you can create various looks, from the sweet girl-next-door central image, to sophisticated cocktail dress and summertime holidaying outfit and more. And of course, the ‘models’ are all so glamorous.  Just look at them! They are so poised and coy and calm and classy, and they’ve managed to whip themselves up this dress without misplacing a single strand of their perfectly coiffed hair, and their impossibly tiny waists don’t seem to have suffered at all from the post-Christmas bulge. I want their life.


    Part of the reason I hadn’t pursued it in the past is because, like those line drawings, it just all seems too good to be true. When I look at it, I hear warning bells in my head – it’s not possible for one dress to ‘do’ all those looks and fit and sit well. It won’t look as flattering as it does on the fictitious ladies, and with those V shaped bodice pieces, altering for sizing and fit is not going to be easy, if at all possible.

    I think this is a common problem with vintage patterns and their offerings of glamorous, non-realistic women on the cover. One must ‘filter’ internally and try and reinterpret what the pattern is really doing, and what it is likely to do on a real life figure.  I find that looking at the actual line drawings on the back of the pattern (the technical outline of the garment) often helps. For instance, in Butterick 5708, the line drawings show that in none of the variations is the bodice completely ‘wrinkle free’ – so it’s unlikely that the bodice will be super close fitting, particularly given that it’s cut on the bias. It needs to be on the bias in order to manipulate those shoulder ties into all those different shapes; because of this, there will be a certain element of drape (or, if you will, gaping) that will be inevitable.You can see that in all the views, there is an element of a cowl neckline going on. Even the ladies on the front hint at this.

    Having said that, the bias-cut lower pieces of the bodice did worry me. A quick look at other encounters with this pattern on confirmed my suspicions. The pattern didn’t seem to pose a problem for a lucky few, but it seems most  people had a lot of trouble with this bodice. I think a few of these people didn’t factor in the ‘drape’ aspect of the bodice, but nevertheless, common  complaints were that the tie ends were much bigger in real life than in the drawing, that the bodice sizing runs large, and that the bias cut of the bodice pieces means that nothing sits well. Before I had even begun my version, I felt the project was doomed. I was also surprised by how many people lopped off the length of the skirt, in order to make it look more ‘modern’.  I think it needs the length to visually balance the top half. Also, the weight of the skirt probably helps to anchor down the bodice and smooth out any bias wrinkles.

    The fabric I used for my version has been in my stash for  a couple of years. It’s cotton, and not particularly fabulous quality. I bought it at Lincraft on sale – it was very cheap, and the bold hot pink florals just screamed ‘massive 50’s statement skirt’ at me. It reminded me a bit of the dress Betty Draper wears in one of the early seasons when they go picnicking and they leave all their rubbish behind.

    It’s been taking up room in my stash ever since. So much yardage is bulky, so I figured it was time to use it. Plus, as it was cheap, I wasn’t too emotionally attached to it – I didn’t care too much if the whole thing turned out to be a disaster.

    big pink flowers for summer!

    big pink flowers for summer!

    As I was feeling impatient and little grumpy, and I had a fair bit of fabric to spare, I didn’t bother making a muslin. I did the usual depressing alterations of grading out the pattern from a size 8 bust through to  a size 12. The skirt is so huge, they don’t even bother changing the pattern for the different sizes there!

    One thing I did differently that the pattern didn’t call for was I used interfacing on the lower portions of the bodice. I thought this might help to get a ‘stiffer’ look on the bottom part of the bodice, and add a bit of support to the bias cut fabric. The fusible interlining (cotton), didn’t iron on that splendidly and  there are a few wrinkles and bubbles that I just can’t get rid of.  Perhaps silk organza interlining would be been better. It’s not disastrous though. Overall, I think the interfacing probably did help, actually.

    The instructions for this dress are very sparse and not very detailed. They didn’t even tell you to reinforce and clip at the v points before joining the upper and lower bodice parts! Anyone with a bit of sewing experience has probably encountered this before, but if you were a beginner sewer, omitting this tip would really inhibit your sewing pleasure and end result. And as someone on Patternreview pointed out, they don’t bother to tell you to leave the side seam open on the opposite side for the lining- an obvious thing to do if you have made linings before, but not so obvious for the beginner. I’m not sure if these instructions are exactly as they were in the 1950’s, when a lot of knowledge was assumed, but they could really have done with a bit more detail, I think.

    I constructed my dress in a different order to that in the pattern. There was no way I was going to attach the whole massive skirt and THEN attach the bodice lining and try and deal with all that bulk and weight! I also waited until the end to insert the zipper, so I could adjust the fit (I ended up taking in the waist seam a fair bit), so I’m glad I did this.

    I also made a fabric belt, using buckram as a stiffening and a white plastic buckle I had kicking around. I find that waisted 50’s dresses look awful on me unless there is a belt to cinch in the waist – this is especially the case if the waist is gathered. And boy, is this skirt gathered!! Making this dress reminded me how much I hate gathering full skirts. Ugh!! So fiddly and annoying! Hand stitching around that hem took me hours!

    I love the full skirt (supported by a net petticoat), but not sure the bodice is so flattering


    Trying to get the ties to sit right is a little tricky

    Trying to get the ties to sit right is a little tricky


    I don’t love this dress, but I don’t hate it. I probably need to wear it out somewhere and see how I feel about it.  I love the hot pink flowers and the full skirt, but the top of the bodice is a bit…weird. The bodice drapes and cowls as anticipated – I’m just not convinced that it’s super flattering on me, particularly on such a small bust. It’s a bit fiddly and takes a while to get the ties in the right position – a bit of twisting helps, I’ve discovered, and you have to be prepared to muck around a bit with it. The fit isn’t super flattering either, but that could also be the fact that it’s January, and I haven’t worked off Christmas yet!


    • Awesome full skirt
    • Summery and fun design
    • Only 4 pattern pieces (plus skirt)!
    • Relatively straightforward to make


    • Not much room for alterations in bodice
    • weird bias-cut means not super sleek fit in lower bodice
    • difficult to get the ties/upper bodice to sit right – inevitable gaping/draping/cowl
    • You need a lot of fabric!



  2. Stash Slasher: Simplicity 1609

    January 3, 2014 by rosie

    My blue of my new dress goes well with the mustard of my new bag!

    I actually made this project in early December, but it took a while to take photos etc, and then Christmas craziness got in the way, so I’m posting this a month late.

    Simplicity 1609 is a 1960’s reproduction pattern, and the perfect project to ease my way back into sewing. It had been so long since my last project, and I wanted something quick, easy and summery as the weather had finally begun to warm up a bit.

    The fabric in question has been in my stash for a year or so. I’m pretty sure I picked it up during a sale in Spotlight – I had fallen in love with the cornflower blue and the little cutout circles in the centre of the flower motives.

    However, there was a reason why the fabric was so cheap. If you look closely, the fabric mimics the patterns on broderie anglaise, but the flower motives are just printed, not stitched. This is fine, but what isn’t so cool is the fact that the cutout holes aren’t reinforced by stitching. I soon discovered that this makes the fabric very delicate, and the tip of the iron tends to get caught in all the holes and tears them. Once I realised this, I mentally shifted my approach to the project as a ‘test run’, rather than a ‘serious’ garment. Consequently, the final product is a bit slapdash, and I’m not entirely happy with the finish.

    This dress is a bit of fun to wear

    This dress is a bit of fun to wear

    However, the pattern itself is cool! It really is simple to sew, and is great for instant gratification. I didn’t do too much fiddling with pattern alterations – I just did the usual tapering from the bust outwards to accommodate my wide waist and hips. However, I did overcompensate a little and ended up taking a bit in around the hip area after trying it on – better to be safe than sorry though! For this dress, I did a size 8 bust, but next time I might do a 10 instead, as it’s quite narrow across my shoulders.

    My version of Simplicity 1609 enjoyed its debut outing at the local cafe down the road from our new place.

    My version of Simplicity 1609 enjoyed its debut outing at the local cafe down the road from our new place.

    It would have even been quicker and simpler to whip up were it not for the fact that I needed to underline the dress due to the cutout holes. I used a white lawn as a backing fabric. Originally I thought I would make the inner and outer layer separately and do away with the facings, but I soon realised that this would mean that at the seams would be flimsy wherever the cutout holes hit the seam line, and the fold back of the seam inside the dress would mean that the white wouldn’t show through near these seams. So in the end, I treated the white and the blue fabric as one, and used the facing in blue to ensure that no white would peek through around the neckline and armholes.

    I think the collar is super cute. I used a white cotton drill I had on hand, but really, this is too thick. As a result, the sewing of the scallops isn’t super precise, and was a bit bulky when turning it out and pressing to get a nice rounded finish on the outer edges. Actually, to be honest, it’s downright sloppy and the main reason why I’m a little ashamed of the dress.  I tried to roll the seam slightly to the underside (a little trickier than normal, due to the scallops), but I also forgot to trim down the excess this created from the raw, neck edge of the collar. I stupidly ended up with excess fabric underneath the collar, which I didn’t realise until I’d sewing all the facings on. I ended up hand sewing little tucks on the underside to try compensate because I was too lazy to  unpick everything, but it’s sloppy and a  bit of a botched job.  Even though nobody can see it because it’s the underside of the collar, I still know it’s there and it bothers me!


    The pesky collar!

    The pesky collar!

    However, the dress ended up being my Christmas day dress, and I still love the colour and the pattern. I’d like to make another one (maybe with the bow option), but I have so many other patterns waiting in line that I’m not sure I’ll get around to it.

    And of course, even though it’s summer, the Melbourne weather is being pathetic, and it’s too cold to wear it anywhere!

    Taking some Christmas/Summer leave means that I’ve been busy in the sewing room over the past week, and I’ve made a few other garments – photos to come soon!

  3. A Burning Desire: conducting a flame test on fabrics

    January 2, 2014 by rosie

    After a ridiculous hiatus (involving moving house and all the associated trauma), I’ve finally set up the sewing room. It was the last room in the house to be sorted. This is mainly because we’ve downsized and now my fabric stash and associated sewing paraphernalia is more overwhelming than ever before, and finding a way to make it all fit proved challenging.

    Moving house did remind me just how much sewing stuff I have – whether it be fabric or patterns. It makes me feel a little guilty – I really should stop buying both, as I already have years’ worth to keep me going, and so much of it has been left untouched for so long.

    I’ve promised my husband that I’ll try really hard to reduce my fabric stash this year. And I’ve promised myself that this year, there will be more sewing action than in 2013.

    One of the first things I did once we’d settled into our new house was something I’ve been hankering to do for a while, but wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. I did a burn test on various pieces of “mystery” fabrics.  It was like those science experiments we did back in high school – I felt I should have donned a lab coat and plastic goggles, and written out my ‘hypothesis’, ‘method’ and ‘conclusion’ in my notebooks.

    Instead, I convinced my husband to help me out, and we set fire to various strips of  ‘unsub’ fabric – mainly pieces I had thrifted or inherited over the years –  on a baking tray over the kitchen table to see if we could determine the fibre content. I used this website as my reference point.

    I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the process revealed about the fibres. While there are obvious limitations to the exercise – such as not being able to identify the exact make-up of blends, or the precise type of fibre – it soon became evident which of the fabrics were made of natural fibres and which weren’t.  There are several clues – the way the fabric burns (or melts, if it’s some disgusting plastic chemical), they way it smells, and the residue/ashes the fabric leaves behind.

    Let’s just say that, as a result of the burn test, many pieces of fabric were swiftly thrown out or donated to the local charity – after inhaling the sickening chemical smell and watching the samples drip and melt into a congealed blob, there was no way I wanted to be wearing any of those pieces! Sadly, there was one great 1960’s piece I’d been given that I’d been holding onto for years because of the colours – even though I had my suspicions, I was secretly hoping it would prove to be all natural, but a burn test quickly revealed that this was certainly not the case.

    There were a few pleasant surprises too, and, ultimately, I managed to whittle down my fabric stash just a little bit more!

    If you have a mystery piece in your stash, I highly recommend the flame test as a quick way of determining the basic properties of the fabric. A word of waring – just make sure you do this in a well ventilated area – the aromas of burning synthetic are strong, unpleasant, toxic and tend to linger.




  4. I’ve got the Blogging blues…

    October 8, 2013 by rosie

    I feel like this blog is doomed! Part of the problem is that in order to post, I feel I need to have created something new to share, but I have had so many setbacks lately, I just haven’t had the chance to sew anything!

    Last time I posted, I was all revved up about winter patterns and 1960’s-inspired pinafores and a bit of a fabric splurge on winter woolens at the Fabric Store’s sale. Unfortunately, sinus surgery put a big fat ugly spanner in the works – two weeks bedridden, in totally unglamorous recovery without even so much as cutting out a pattern let alone making something. Even knitting was too hard (I’m not a very committed knitter – I’ve been on and off knitting this for over a year now).

    However, whilst convalescing, even though I couldn’t physically do much, I did manage to do a lot of thinking about clothes and pattern construction and sewing and fabric. I opened up a few of my books for inspiration – including Claire B. Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques; the V&A’s The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 (that exhibition traveled to Bendigo back in the summer of 2008/09 – I went twice); and several of my Australian Home Journals. I love my AHJ’s, but the frustrating part is that, until the late 50’s/early 60-‘s, all the gorgeous free patterns are designed for ‘the average 36” bust figure’. I have come to the conclusion that this size is simply too big for me to try and adapt for my body type in a satisfactory way – the difference is just too much. As is my frustration. The only compromise I can see is to use the pattern pieces given as a guide to drafting a pattern from scratch in my bust size. However, there is one obvious impediment – I am not a trained pattern drafter.

    In pondering this whilst bedridden, I rediscovered Harriet Pepin’s Modern Pattern Design – my husband had given me a copy of this book for my birthday a few years back. In a nutshell, this is a textbook, written in 1942, for pattern drafting. The images within it are delightful, and, obviously, all examples and illustrations and designs are beautiful, (and often complicated) vintage concoctions.


    draped skirt

    glamour skirt bodic backs

    The text itself, and its tone, is also a reminder of a bygone era. Harriett makes no concessions, and she certainly doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to her (and her era’s ideas) of ‘good’ or ‘right’ design. Coming from today’s world, where we are encouraged to celebrate a diversity and range of body shapes, styles and opinions, Harriet’s world seems unforgiving:

    “Notice that side seam lines E-F-H should change to conform to changing contours caused by flesh deposits on the heavier, mature figure. If side seam on Mrs. Heavy were to be made vertical as it was for Mrs. Slim, it would fail to divide her silhouette vertically and would reveal her bad figure lines.”

    If the following illustration is anything to go by, it’s amazing what 70 odd years can do to body shape perception. Consider Harriet’s examples below. In a country with one of the world’s highest and fastest growing obesity rate, is this how we would describe “Mrs Plump” ?

    Mrs Slim to Mrs Heavy

    Aside from the historical skew, I’ve been meaning to try out Harriet’s drafting technique for a while. It seems a little more involved than Winnifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting, and as it’s ‘genuine vintage’, I guess I’m secretly hoping it will help me achieve a ‘genuine vintage’ look. Apart from the inconvenience of it all being in imperial measurements rather than metric, the one thing that has stopped me every time in the past is the apparent omission of any mention of ease in the bodice. Upon reading the chapter, it looks as though one is meant to take the literal body measurements and use them in the pattern draft without factoring in any ease at all. Surely that would make it impossible to get on the wearer, let alone make for a flattering and comfortable fit? Frustratingly, Harriet alludes to ease here and there in the chapter, but never explicitly states how much to add, or to which measurements. My first attempt at the bodice was pretty dismal – it’s evident I’m going to need a good chunk of time and space (and patience) to try and nut it out.

    Unfortunately, two weeks off work means a lot of catching up upon return, which, in turn, means no progress in the sewing front. The few things I have attempted lately have been disasters. It’s always so disappointing – you invest so much emotional hope and energy into the ‘vision’, and then there’s all the time spent cutting out the pattern, cutting out the fabric, sewing the pieces together, only to discover that, frankly, it looks terrible. The latest to this list was a shirt for my husband. In theory, it should have been fine – I’ve even used this pattern before on a shirt for him, with good results. But for some reason this time round, it’s just not working. It’s the cut of the shirt – it’s too daggy, too old man 1980’s baggy, and I’m not sure I can fix it. So bits of it are lying all over the house, mocking me. Do I spend the energy and try and finish it anyway and put it down to ‘experience’, or do I just move on? The worst of it is that I even used the ‘Classic Tailored Shirt’ tutorial from Craftsy. Don’t get me wrong, the tutorial is excellent, and Pam (the instructor) has such a relaxed and calming way of speaking and teaching. It’s just that, I was even more care careful than usual – trying to be precise in my pressing and turning and folding, and flat felling all the seams! So it’s a real shame that I’m just not convinced by the end product.

    And now that things have settled down a bit, the season is turning, and I’ve realised how fickle I am. We’ve had glimpses of sunshine, the days are getting longer, and daylight savings has just kicked in. All of a sudden I’m looking longingly at my summer cotton stash and thinking of 1950’s sundresses and Christmas party outfits and 50’s inspired shorts and shirts for the perfect picnic and bike ride scenario.

    Too bad we have to find a place to live and move house next month.

  5. Vogue 1338 and gourmet tracksuit fabric: flirting with the 1980’s

    July 27, 2013 by rosie

    Red Dress 001Illness has slowed me down in my turbo sewing frenzy, but I have managed to complete another project.

    A somewhat dangerous trip to The Fabric Store on Brunswick Street resulted in purchasing of more fabric (so much for stash reduction).  They were having a sale (it’s still on, with even more reductions now!), and so my husband wisely felt that I would require his supervision. He was right, and luckily he was able to balance my euphoria and enthusiasm with a more rational approach of forcing me to justify the potential purchase for each piece of fabric fondled.

    So much temptation!

    I ended up with a few really nice pieces of fabric. A great pink and grey houndstooth wool which I think might end up as Simplicity 2154 , some awesome silk to use as lining which picks up these colours, a remnant piece of tweedy wool (not sure what I’ll make from this yet) and a few other pieces as well.

    My Fabric purchases

    But I also purchased some  dark red pure wool fleece. It was so soft and cuddly and cozy, I just had to get it. It has a very slight stretch to it, and the lady at the store felt that it would work for Vogue 1338, even though it’s not as stretchy  and is much thicker than the fabric suggested on the pattern cover. By the time I got home, I realised that I was at risk of serious 1980’s channeling – batwing sleeves, wide belt and – shcok horror – an elasticized waist! And to top it all off –I was about to make it out of what is essentially very gourmet tracksuit fabric!!!!! Was this all a very big mistake?  All I would need to complete this 1980’shorror vision would be some geometric earrings and lashings of turquoise eyeshadow…

    Nevertheless, the allure of a comfy, fuzzy, cosy dress was too much. I haven’t really sewn with many knits or stretch fabrics, and I confess that I have a bit of a fear of them. But I’m so glad that I went ahead – I’m really happy with the result.


    These photos were taken early in the morning after I had debuted the dress at the office. Consequently the dress is a bit crumpled – I really should have given it a pressing. And apologies for the low-res images.

    The pattern packet says ‘easy’, and it really is! The hardest part was laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric  for cutting out– the front bodice piece is really wide, so trying to get all the pieces to fit on with the right grain/stretch direction is a challenge. You really do need to have wide fabric to get it out.

    I love the fact that the design means that there isn’t really any fitting requirements for the bodice- it’s loose and baggy, and there aren’t even any sleeves to set in – Brilliant! I will say though, that with all the folds in the front bodice, you do  have to sew through lots of layers of fabrics – probably about 6 at some points. With my thick fabric choice, this was the equivalent of an off-road 4WD adventure, but my trusty Bernina handled it well.

    As usual, there were a few modifications:

    • The usual tapering of sizes in the side seams,

    • adding 5cm to the skirt length (thank goodness I did!)

    • Omitting the elasticized arms. This was because my chosen fabric was simply too thick to cope with the gathering caused by elastic. These arms are VERY tight – there wasn’t enough give in the arms or the fabric for further bunching up. I simply hacked off the length where I wanted it, and hemmed the bottom.

    • I didn’t have any clear elastic on hand, so I just got a thick piece of white elastic and cut it to fit my waist. I centered it over the bodice/skirt seam allowances, and stitched it down on each side. Believe it or not, I’ve never sewn with elastic before, and I did a bit of a messy job – it looks fine on the outside, but there’s a reason I’m not showing you any photos of the inside!

    I have to say, this dress is very comfortable to wear, and I was warm and snuggly in it all day. And I felt very smug with my little secret that I was, essentially, wearing tracksuit dress to work!


  6. Stash Slasher: Simplicity 1913 “Think Pink!”

    July 16, 2013 by rosie

    You know those projects that look innocently painless on paper, but end up being far more trouble than they should? Simplicity 1913 was one of those for me.

    pink dress2(3)

    For something as basic as a princess line bodice and straight skirt, this dress occupied a lot more time and energy than I anticipated. This was mainly due to the fabric I chose, and some silly oversights and lack of preparation by me.

    I had some lolly-pink wool in the stash that I’d been saving for ages – I had envisaged a straight 1960’s frock in it when I purchased the fabric. When I saw Simplicity1913, I thought it was a match made in heaven. I decided to do things ‘properly’ and so I splurged on some leopard print silk (it was on sale) for the lining – such a decadent choice for a lining! I was convinced this was going to be a glamour frock.

    I deviated from the pattern’s original construction instructions a little. As well as lining the skirt (which the pattern doesn’t call for – I can’t believe that!) I also interlined the back of the skirt with silk organza (I need to find out where I can get this stuff at a cheaper price). I decided to do this as I had been re-reading Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, and also another book on couture techniques, both of which extol the virtues of silk organza as a stabilizer. Given that this was a very loosely woven fabric, I felt the back of the skirt might sag, and could do with some extra reinforcement. I also reinforced the zipper with silk organza. I haven’t done either of these before, so I’ll be interested to see how the dress wears.

    This dress is designed to sit above the natural waistline (something I failed to notice until I had cut out the fabric). After making this dress, I don’t think I’m a fan of higher-than-usual waist lines for fitted things. If I made it again, I would be lengthening the waistline. As it is, I did a .5cm seam allowance on the join to try and add in a bit more length.

    In my haste to start the sewing, I COMPLETELY forgot to cut out the lengthened hemline (I always make the hems longer than the pattern does, due to most of my height coming from my legs). I am still berating myself for this – such a stupid mistake!!! I did the tiniest hem possible (bias binding), and I think it’s only just passable. Personally, I feel the dress looks silly this short. If you are on the tallish side, I highly recommend lengthening this dress.

    DSC_0235 (9)

    The other thing that totally didn’t work for me was the gathered waist in the skirt. Maybe it was the bulkier fabric choice, but this just looked terrible on me – far too much bulk and extremely unflattering. I improvised by putting two tucks in the front to get rid of the excess fabric, and by fashioning two darts in the back. I guess the result doesn’t look too bad.

    One thing that really  annoyed me about the pattern/construction was the collar. This is stitched onto the bodice after the lining has been attached. However, the instructions just tell you to leave the edges of the collar raw and exposed. I was shocked!!!! How ugly – and on the outside of the dress! Even though, in theory, this seam allowance is covered by the collar, I still feel that this is scandalous. Once I realised, I had to do something. I didn’t have any binding in an appropriate colour, and it was late at night, so I improvised by sewing this grosgrain ribbon (which was actually a decoration on a wrapped present I was given at Christmas) to neaten up the raw edges. This isn’t ideal – too bulky and springy to do neatly – but still, it’s better than nothing.

    I ended up not lining the sleeves – partly because I tend to get hot in the office during winter, and partly because I loved the lining fabric so much that I decided to make a matching neck bow to place at the collar with the remaining fabric.(Note, I was in such a hurry to wear the dress that I didn’t have time to stitch on the tie for the photos – I wore it to work all day with only two sewing pins holding it on! I think I will make it detachable by putting two little buttons underneath the collar to which the tie can attach).DSC_0243

    By the time I was ready to sew on buttons, I was fed up with the entire dress. I felt I had spent too much money on an outfit that didn’t come up to scratch, and which hadn’t fulfilled my vision – I wasn’t going to spend any more on it! All the buttons I loved were metallic and beyond the ‘budget’ for this dress ($2.50 per button adds up when you have to purchase 8 or so!). I went for some cheap and nasty plastic ones instead. The shop only had 6 left, so I had to be stingy with how many I could use (I had to be quite strategic and careful about where to space the buttons for the bust, to avoid unfortunate placings!). It turns out, these buttons annoy me in their plastic tackiness, so I’ll keep an eye out for some metallic ones in second hand shops and see if I can upgrade down the track.

    DSC_0240 (4)  DSC_0243


    The final change I made to the original pattern was the addition of a structured belt. Because of the dodgy .5cm seam allowance, the waistline isn’t sewn very neatly – it’s a bit uneven, and it needs hiding. It’s also still higher than I’d like, so a wide belt helps the ‘allusion’ of a longer bodice. It also helps to cinch in the waist a bit – I feel this dress isn’t very flattering, and has the opposite of a slimming effect (again, I think the bulky fabric is partly to blame).

    With the amount of re-picking and altering and silly mistakes,  I had to spend some time away from the dress in order to recompose myself and not end up completely hating it. Revisiting it now, and after a very positive debut at the office,  perhaps it isn’t too disastrous? I do love the pink and gold combination.  In fact, I feel like I could step into the  “Think Pink” scene from the timeless Audrey Hepburn classic ‘Funny Face’. And that can only be a good thing, so perhaps this dress will grow on me after all….



  7. Stash Slasher: Burda 7125

    July 7, 2013 by rosie

    DSC_0216This is the first of my recent pattern purchases to be made up into a finished garment. I chose this one because it looked quick and easy – no zipper, no buttonholes, no real fitting!

    However, it took longer than it should have – mainly because of user error!

    The fabric I chose was something I’ve had sitting around for years. I bought it when Darn Cheap Fabrics in Newport was still in existence, and when I was still a student. This combination of store name and my own limited student finances means that, even though at the time  I felt it was an extravagant and ‘special’ purchase  – it is silk after all – it turns out the quality of the fabric isn’t that great. However, I couldn’t part with it, and it actually made it easier for me to hack into it once I realised that it didn’t matter too much if I stuffed the whole thing up. And I still love the colours.

    I decided to line the upper yoke/sleeve part in just a plain thin silk lining I had kicking around from a previous project. This worked out fine, although some of it peeks out a tiny bit around the neckline facing which annoys me slightly, but I can live with that. It’s not too terrible.DSC_0214

    I made the usual depressing size alterations – size 8 bust/sleeve, tapering out the side seams to a whopping size 12 by the time I get to the hips.

    I started out thinking that I would do the whole thing properly and commit to french seams – at least for the side seams. But I wasn’t sure if I would have to take it in anywhere, and I just couldn’t face the prospect of french seaming everything, and attaching the top half of the top, only to have to unppick it all to readjust the fit. So I ended up being lazy and overlocking the edges to stop the fraying. Lately I’ve noticed that lots of people spend the time and effort doing beautiful seam finishes on their garments (binding, french seaming etc), and I really wish I could be one of those types of sewers. It puts the insides of my garments to shame.

    Things were going along swimmingly, until I got to the part where I was meant to turn through the lining for the yoke/sleeve section. The instructions just say ‘turn’, and my poor little brain just couldn’t figure out HOW to turn it through. I ended up with this hideous tangle of sleeves, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to turn through. I’m sure there must be a way, but I was tired and impatient and  I just couldn’t figure out the logic to make it work. Grumpy and defeated, I ended up unpicking the lower sleeve hem (where the sleeve is joined to the lining right sides together) and instead cut out a rectangle of the fashion fabric to make a little cuff that would be the casing for the elastic. This worked out fine, but the slippery fabric made this a little more fiddly and messy to deal with. Then, of course, I couldn’t find a safety pin small enough to fit through the tiny channels for the elastic, so I spent a very long time trying to feed the elastic through using various other articles. Once I had done that and tried it on, I realised that in one of the arms, the sleeve lining and somehow twisted.  More unpicking!

    DSC_0217  The rest of the garment went together pretty easily. At the end, the inside of the top looked so messy around the armholes and where the yoke joined the body of the top, I had to do something. I felt that the bias binding I had on hand would be too stiff and bulky for the fabric used to use as a binding, so instead I improvised and decided to use the seam allowance of the black lining to wrap around the other seam allowances and act as a binding to encase all the raw edges. I hand stitched this around the armholes and yoke seams, and although it’s not perfect, it’s a whole lot better, and definitely worth the little bit of extra time. Because I had already clipped into the corners where the needle pivots around corners, these edges aren’t perfectly neatened on the inside, but it’s better than nothing.

    All in all, I’m generally  happy with the result. It’s not an amazing, show-stopping pattern, so neither is the finished product. (I wore it to work and it went through the day unnoticed by friends and colleagues), but it’s comfortable and the fabric feels nice against the skin.  It’s a useful basic wardrobe item, and no doubt I’ll probably make more down the track. I’d like to experiment with using two contrasting fabrics and colours at some point.




  8. Pattern Purchasing Frenzy!

    July 2, 2013 by rosie

    My goodness! It’s July already, and I’ve only written a handful of posts. I make one very pathetic blogger.

    Having said that, my absence can be explained, in part, by my getting married. I am now a Mrs! While this happened at the end of April, let me tell you, despite my best efforts to remain calm and not delve into Brideszilla territory, the lead up to and preparations for the wedding still sucked up A LOT of my time. (Handy hint – if you plan on getting married, plan on not having any spare time to devote to other ‘projects’…like sewing, or socializing, or cleaning.)

    A month-long honeymoon in the northern hemisphere’s late springtime weather, followed by post-wedding/return- to-work blues, the obligatory bout of winter illness and a lot of post-wedding-follow ups means that my sewing room has been abandoned for months.

    Now that I’m feeling back on track, my sewing libido has well and truly returned with a vengeance.  This has been encouraged by two other factors:
    1) I went the ‘big chop’ and got all my hair cut off.  I’ve never done this before, but I am now sporting a Mia Farrow-esque ‘do’. While I love it, it has been the catalyst for a bit of a wardrobe crisis. I used to channel Betty Draper’s hair and outfits – now all of a sudden, I’m looking at things that are a bit more ‘modern’, and half of my go-to ensembles simply don’t go with my new look.
    2) There have been a lot of stocktake sales going on. And while I have been very good and promised my husband that I will endeavour to make a dent in my enormous fabric stash before purchasing more fabric, I calmly and rationally stated my case and justified my need to obtain new sewing patterns that would contribute towards solving the problem outlined in reason 1.
    So here are some of the patterns I snapped up:


    Clockwise from top left:

    Butterick 5608:OK, so the illustration makes this look super daggy. And there’s the chance that it will be. But I thought that the two on the right might be a good staple for when summer comes along. So often I’ll make a skirt and realise I have nothing that matches with it. I also have a few lengths of fabric that aren’t  long enough to do much with, but I might be able to squeeze out a few of these tops from them. I’ll probably file this pattern away and wait until the sun is a little warmer for the time being.

    Simplicity 3833: Another haircut-friendly ‘mod’ 1960’s look. I like the two tone potential (a good way of using up remnants!). Although it’s pictured on the pattern cover as a summer frock, I want to try and make it into a
    sleeveless pinafore to wear now during the winter months. I’m not sure if I’ll need to do any alterations (maybe lower the arm holes a little?)

    Burda 7114: How could I resist? I think the short hair will work with this! It looks easy and quick and isn’t particularly special, but it looks comfy and something that will get me back into the swing of things. And it has pockets!! I like the winter and the summer version, but my priority will be the ones with sleeves to wear with bright tights and my new boots (purchased in Florence during our honeymoon!). There are a few potential fabric candidates in my stash for this one – I’ll have to double check the lengths and thickness of some of them to see what will work best.

    Simplicity 1913: I’m really liking the few Project Runway patterns that I have, particularly how they come with lots of options and bits and pieces to play with. I like both the slim skirt and the flared version, and will probably end up making both. Right now I have some lolly pink wool in my stash that I want to make the ¾ sleeve version with collar and slim skirt.

    Simplicity 1717: I know I could probably sit down and draft something similar to this if I tried, but it would take so much time and space and patience, and this was half price and already done! It’s a very basic pattern, but I do love an A line skirt. And it has pockets (OK, so they are just basic patch pockets you could easily make up, but I’ll ignore that.) I’m curious about the longer length skirt, too. l I always thought that this was a bit of a ‘naff’ length, but lately I’m curious. It would be nice and warm and swishy in winter, and maybe when paired with my new boots, it wouldn’t look so daggy? My priority though is to whip up a winter version of the skirt pictured on the cover with some left over wool pieces.

    Vogue1340: Ok, this had nothing to do with my hair, or my remnant stash. I just liked the crisp lines and the subtle bodice detail with the pleats.  Very sharp and elegant

    Burda 7125: Nothing particularly mind-blowing about this pattern, but I like how it’s got potential for contrasting fabrics (great for stash slashing!) in the yoke/sleeves vs the main body of the shirt. I’m also attracted to the way it’s a bit loose and billowy. I’m hoping this will be a quick and easy project to run up (especially view A – no buttons!)

    Simplicity 2154: I’ve had my eye on this pattern for ages and couldn’t resist. What isn’t there to love? A librarian pencil skirt and matching jacket. And that bow! I just love that bow! I know this is a bit more old
    fashioned, and less ‘mod’, but I think I can make it work with the hair. And again, I should be able to find some remnants in my stash for this project.

    Vogue 1338: This is a little more modern day, but the pattern intrigues me. I’m not very good at working with knit fabrics, and I love the way the construction is all drapey and triangle-y. I have some wool knit somewhere in
    my stash that I inteded for this, but once I read the back of the pattern I realized it’s cut on the bias, so I’m not sure if I’ll actually have enough. I may have to make some fabric purchases after all. If I can successfully make it, I think this would be a very comfy, cosy and office-friendly dress to wear. I’m a little scared of it though – my previous attempts at sewing with knits left me questioning my sewing ability.

    So there you go! Now that I’ve posted this online, I’m going to have stick to my word and make at least a few of these projects, so watch this space!

    I have to admit, it was VERY difficult for me not to go out and buy the usual suspects – the 1940’s reproduction patterns with the beautiful curves, drapes, pleats and details, or the Betty Draper-esque 1950’s frocks with full skirts and demure bodices and bows and collars. Luckily my long-suffering and super patient husband accompanied and supervised my purchases to make sure I stuck to my self-imposed requirements.

    Now I had better get cracking and start sewing!

  9. Performance Anxiety – when that outfit just shouldn’t be on stage

    March 21, 2013 by rosie

    Some things just shouldn't be witnessed!

    Some things just shouldn’t be witnessed!

    Something happened to me recently just after my last post:  it was just such a timely reminder and such a reinforcement of my ‘top five rules‘, that I just have to write about it.

    At the risk of sounding like a constant whinger, and turning my blog into an outlet for all my gripes, I would like to briefly touch upon the subject of performance outfits.  I attend (and occasionally partake in) numerous concerts and performances, and more and more often, I find myself disappointed and distracted by what performers choose to wear.

    While I realise that the outfits should be, and are, secondary to the music, or whatever other talent the performer is sharing with the audience, I find it impossible to completely separate what I am visually experiencing from what I am hearing. And yes, I suppose I could shut my eyes, but often I want to see the facial expressions, the instrumental technique, the interaction between performers etc. And, if they have chosen a horrendous outfit, for me, it’s like watching a disaster unfurl; like a car crash. It is upsetting to see, but at the same time, I can’t take my eyes off it.

    The level of  enjoyment gained from my latest two concert-going experiences was severely reduced by the soloists’ choice of attire. In performance number one, the soloist (a fantastic singer) decided to wear something that looked like it had been purchased from Supre back in the late 90’s. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what I mean here, Supre = STRETCH fabric. Of the worst kind.

    This lady had a very attractive face, even for a woman in her 50’s, but that fact that she was wearing a  super-stretchy, faded black dress that showed up every bulge and curve, with a split that was far too high, and with fabric that was entirely see-through when under the spotlight, and with  cleavage that was far too low and revealed half her bra, completely cheapened her entire look. The fact that she decided to wear knee high boots under her dress (when her fellow male soloists where in full tails getup) deleted any last vestige of class that remained. No matter how hard I tried to focus on her singing, I just couldn’t wrench myself away from the horror of this ghastly (clothing) ensemble.

    Her fellow lady soloist wasn’t much better. While her dress, thankfully, was slightly more opaque, saving the audience from knowing EXACTLY what lay beneath, she had committed the irredeemable sin of wearing a bra which wasn’t low enough for the cut of the dress in the back.  So for the entire first half when she wore this outfit, her underwar featured.  Again, not a classy look.

    The second half of the concert, where a costume change occurred, offered some relief. Singer number one came out in a less tacky outfit, which offered far better scaffolding for optimal bodily containment. However, the chunky knee high boots remained. Here’s my advice. Chunky knee-high boots NEVER look good underneath a ballgown. It might seem that ‘no one will notice’, but we do! We DO! Shoes are noticeable!!  Particularly if they look completely ridiculous and don’t match the rest of your wardrobe!

    Again, the other soloist appeared in the second half in what I’m pretty sure was her wedding dress. This I can accept (actually it’s quite clever, really, if you can get multiple wears out of your wedding gown). However – and this is just one of several examples where I have seen this – it also looked as though the dress had been crumpled up in the back of the cupboard for several years.  Again, here’s my advice – if you are on stage, in the spotlight, please take the time to make sure that your gown, or suit, is crease-free. There is nothing worse than being in the audience and knowing that the soloist hasn’t even bothered to make an effort to look their best. And it’s distracting.

    Another concert I attended recently also featured several soloists. The two women were both wonderful singers in their own right. But their choice of attire bothered me for the entirety of the concert. For one thing, it was obvious that they hand’t discussed their wardrobe choices with each other prior to performance (if they did, then this is even more disturbing). They couldn’t have been more at the end of polar extremes if they tried. One looked like she was trying to channel a sexy, evil serpentine stepmother at a mirrorball disco; the other looked like she belonged in a 17th century Italian portrait of the madonna. Unfortunately, neither of the singers were representing characters, and, equally unfortunate, the extremeties of their ‘look’ caused the other to appear even more ridiculous. As  the piece being performed did  have an historic religious context and theme, the Virgin Mary look (however distinctly 1990’s in its vibe) was probably slightly more appropriate than the other soloist’s choice of attire. I think, if one is performing something that has a sacred/religious context, then it’s probably best to steer away from super-sexy, giltzy outfits.

    Similarly, other soloists have appeared on stage looking fabulous in knock-out frocks, until the embarassing and awkward moment when both they, and the audience, realise that this fabulous-ness came at the cost of functionality. If your dress is so tight and fitted that you struggle to walk in it, this is going to be emphasised a hundred-fold when you make the trek from the wings to centre stage in spotlight. If your strapless dress doesn’t seem to stay put during your performance, your audience may be on the edge of their seats for the entire concert, and not becuase they are enraptured by your outstanding performance. If your shoes are so ridiculously high that you are forced to teeter and totter in a completely stilted fashion, you will end up looking ridiculous.

    However, it’s not just soloists. I am repeatedly disappointed by attire of tutti musicians in ensembles and orchestras. Inevitably, it’s the women that let the team down. The gentlemen usually have the safeguard of having to wear tails, white bow tie etc – they don’t have to think about what to wear.  But very rarely do the ladies match the level of formality and ‘specialness’ of the occasion that the gents’ tails – and the concert hall –  invoke.  I don’t mean that the women need to be in full-blown ball gowns (and I personally feel that strapless items should be avoided at all costs – particularly if you are frantically bowing a string instrument), but I do think that ladies performing in daggy stretch t-shirt fabric tops, and synthetic supre-like quality pants is offensive to the audience.  I’ve seen skivvies on stage that look they’ve been purchased from target; faded black t-shirts; layered outfits that resemble something you’d wear to the grocery store; crumpled up garments that you just know have been sitting in a muso’s emergency “blacks stash” in their instrument case or locker. Few of these are becoming in general, let alone under stage lights.

    Musicians’ hairstyles also annoy me  too. You’re sitting on stage, amongst gentlemen in tails, and it looks like you haven’t done your hair since you shoved it in a ponytail for that run this morning. I just don’t think its good enough. And while garments on stage do need to be functional  to a degree – you need to be able to move in them, play your instrument etc – part of their function is also to present each musician at their best, and to lend the sense of occasion,  beauty, elegance and pizazz to the whole concert experience. You are not just lost in the sea of musicians – you are important, you are noticed and you impact the overall image and integrity of the company you represent.

    So, after all that, here are my top five fashion tips for performers:

    1. If it’s even vaguely see-through in normal conditions, it will be see-through on stage.
    If you’re worried that it’s too tight or clingy, it probably is. (Maybe it’s time to invest in that petticoat?)

    2. If you are appearing with other soloists, take the time to coordinate outfits to some extent.

    3. Whatever you’re wearing, make sure it’s pressed and presentable.

    4. Whilst I acknowledge it’s more effort, chances are if it doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned, it’s probably not suitable for wearing on stage.
    Tasteful use of sequins and beading can be excused, but tread carefully!

    5. Dress for the occasion – if your male counterparts are in tails, make the effort to be in sync with the visual aethetic.

    And in case you missed them earlier, my five general shopping tips also apply.

  10. The 5 Shopping Rules of a Fabric Snob

    February 28, 2013 by rosie

    let's go shoppingA particularly busy time at work means that I haven’t had the chance to fire up the sewing machine very much lately. I have made one dress, (a relatively boring modern one). Photos of that are to come, once my betrothed has stopped commandeering the camera.

    However, often when I am stressed, or down, or bored, or happy, or motivated, or tired or frustrated, I think about fabric and clothes. I suppose it’s obvious really, but because I make quite a lot of outfits, I just become more aware of them in general. I notice what people wear, and I notice how they fit (or not). My sewing has also informed the way I shop for clothes, and I have recently come to suspect that my personal ‘shopping rules’ that have consequently arisen may be not be considered normal by my peers.

    The following ‘rules’ have formed over time, but the more I sew, the more they inform my non-sewing part of my wardrobe:

    1. Wear natural fibres*

    This would be my number one rule. I have quite a few reasons for this; some rational, some probably more psychological.  I can see that many would argue this rule, and that’s OK. But for me, it’s something that  I really try to stick to. Every time I deviate from it, I regret it. Firstly, natural fibres just look and feel better. They wear better. They BREATHE! The idea of wearing plastic (polyester, nylon, synthetic fibres etc) just disturbs me.

    *There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule: Underwear, swimwear, and sportswear. The latter doesn’t really have much relevance to my wardrobe requirements.

    It’s amazing how restrictive this rule is when you start shopping.  I view this, most of the time, as a positive. Most retail clothes feature very little nature fibre content. It’s quite a saving and a turn-off.  It makes me realise how much of a ridiculous markup there is on these clothes. Or they are just cheap, crappy, poor quality plastic imports. The GFC also seems to have brought with it a significant reduction in the natural fibre content of even premium brands, for both men and women. I would prefer to buy fewer items of better quality. They will last longer, look better and feel better. It only becomes frustrating when you are desperately searching for something specific and NOTHING in any of the stores is made from natural fibres. That’s where being able to sew is useful!

    One further thing on this very important rule. If you wear natural fibres, you are more likely to cope with extreme weather. One of my biggest gripes is when ladies, in winter, complain of being cold, and they are dressed in nothing but acrylic/nylon/polyester. Usually without sensible layering. There’s a reason why sheep exist! Wear wool! And embrace woolen/cotton spencers and singlets!

    Similarly, wearing polyester in the middle of summer is crazy. And gross. Even if it’s some cute and floaty fake chiffon garment, your body would cope far better if you wore, say, cotton, or linen or silk.

    2. Avoid stretch fabrics where possible.*

    Harsh I know, but again, there are exceptions. This is mainly a subset of rule number 1; ie – don’t wear stretch fabrics made from fake fibres. They are the epitome of eww, unless you are playing sport. I don’t know why girls insist on stretching stretch fabric to its maximum stretch – it’s just not cool, I’m sure it’s not sexy (a quick poll of some of my male friends confirmed this) and 99% of the time,  it’s generally not flattering.

    Knits from natural fibres such as wools, cottons etc are ok. A lovely wool jersey dress in winter is cosy, and it breathes.

    *Again, the underwear and sportswear exception applies! I also occasionally stretch the rule to allow garments such as fitted but not-too-tight trousers to be, say, 97% natural fibre with 3% stretch.

    3. If  it doesn’t fit properly, don’t buy it.

    I was amazed last year to discover that a lot of people buy their clothes off the rack without trying them on first. How is this possible? Fit is so important! It might be a fantastic garment on the hanger, but if it doesn’t suit your body shape, or it doesn’t sit properly on you, then, no matter how great the item in question, it’s going to make you, and it, look bad.  My number one gripe – ladies squeezing into skirts/dresses that are obviously too tight across the hips/thigh area. The skirt bunches and wrinkles up; if there is a split in the back, it warps; the seams are stretched and the whole thing just looks terrible. Even if it looks great from the waist up, if it’s not right elsewhere, it’s still going to be wrong. I could go on about all the ill-fitting clothes I see being worn every day. Half the time, I don’t think people even realise! It fascinates me, yet also drives me silently crazy (well, less silently now!).

    4. Iron your clothes.

    Annoying I know, and this can probably be viewed as a number one reason why people don’t stick to rule no. 1. But, it’s so completely worth it. There is NOTHING  like beautiful crisp cotton. Rumpled and crumpled clothes never look good. This goes for guys too – so-called “iron-free” clothes, aside from violating rule number one, just look cheap and make you look lazy. When you sew, you spend so much time pressing and ironing during the whole construction process, that it becomes second nature. And if you’ve spent all that time and care and effort making a garment, you want to display and wear it to its best advantage, so ironing just becomes standard.

    5. Wherever possible, wear a slip or petticoat.

    Without getting too Nanna, there is a reason why these exist. If the garment isn’t lined (and let’s face it, store-bought items usually aren’t), then wear a slip (petticoat) underneath. They stop things being see-through (another gripe!), they make everything hang and fall better, they are great for stopping stockings sticking to dresses and causing them to creep up, and they help smooth out any unwanted lines etc. It’s totally worth it.

    So there you go; my top 5 personal rules for all items of clothing – whether store-bought or handmade! I admit that sometimes I deviate from these rules, but every time I do, it comes back to bite me.