Monday, 29 September 2014

Selfish Sewing Week 2014

As usual, my own wardrobe is fairly bare. I spend more time sewing quilts, or clothing for my kids than I do me, and don't get a lot of time sans kids to go shopping (most of my kid free time is spent working, doing the supermarket shop or perhaps the occasional gym visit).

So when I realised it was selfish sewing week, I decided I'd better squeeze something in for me.

Being on holidays a few days before the kids gave me a chance to nip into spotlight and pick some fabric. When I saw this gorgeous summery cotton sateen, I immediately grabbed it and tucked it under my arm to make an Everyday Skirt (by O+S designer, Leisl + Co). But I was also hunting down fabric for a dress. I was looking for something a little lighter for my dress, but I loved the print so much, I decided I would just go with it (despite the dress pattern calling for lighter weight fabrics) and tucked a bolt of plain blue linen under my arm for the skirt instead.

I used the Tank Dress pattern by Sew Caroline, and did the optional pockets and elastic casing for the back, thinking the fabric was a little heavy for shirring. While the pattern is well presented and the dress has a nice modern shape, with a comfy fit, I wasn't super impressed by the instructions. It is such a simple design that it would be a great beginner's pattern, but there was quite a bit left up to your imagination. There was no information about seam finishing (of course I serged all my seams anyway), and I was a little unsure how to get a professional finish with the pockets having never done any like this before (crazy right, after all these years sewing!). I knew I wanted to top stitch somewhere to make sure they always sat the right way, but wasn't sure where, or when to do it, and had trouble lining them up perfectly when I did my side seams. I have since inspected a bought garment with similar pockets and have a much better idea about how to do it next time, but with a pattern at that price I'd expected the detail to be there. The pockets sit a little low on me too.

I lined my pockets with a solid lemon broadcloth, being a lighter weight fabric to sit more comfortably, but they still take a bit of fiddling to get them right when I put on the dress. All in all though, I am happy with the finished product, there's just a few things I'd do differently next time. I'd recommend that beginners leave off the pockets for their first dress. The fit is great, and ease of wearing is everything to me! This is something I can comfortably throw on and dress up or down.

Now, I have to apologise for the photography - this is what happens when the hubby gets called in to take the pictures. I got two iPhone shots, one blurry and that was it. Now you see why last year's selfish sewing went unpublished! But at least I have something to show you this time.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A new trick

I have always loved the look of smocking, and when I brought my new baby girl home almost 6yrs ago, my mother in law told me "I promise to show you how to use my pleating machine to make her little smocked dresses!"  I was very excited, but scared all the same - I am one of the worst hand stitchers around (and the cali mums can probably all tell you how much I complain about sequin sewing and how slooooooow I am at it!).  Well, it was never mentioned again and in those first few colicky months I hardly had time to sew, and then just as she started to sleep well, we started her on solids and her then unrealised food intolerance had me sleeping less than three hours a night and it was NOT the time to learn new tricks.  Suddenly I was back at work, and she was such a big bubba that she quickly grew into little girl clothes, and I thought smocking was really just for babies and it would be too difficult to find patterns for her.

So when I saw the Ellie Inspired Smock Along previews being posted on her facebook page, and that the pattern went from size 1 all the way up to size 16, I thought now is the time!  Especially since we were just working on an insert and then sewing it into a simple looking peasant dress, it took a little intimidation out of it.  (If you're interested - there is still time to grab your pdf pattern/tutorial for just $4 while the SAL is still running)

I bought my fabric at Fabric Pixie, as there is quite a bit of fabric in this one I limited myself to sale prints only.  I was delighted to find this Riley Blake Sidewalks print in their bargain bin (small floral in cream and starburst in blue) and may have also been tempted by a few other pretties while I was there!  I used a plain broadcloth in cream for the insert, and took it to my mother in law's house to learn how to do the pleating.

I mostly followed the guide on Ellie Inspired, but had my mother in law there to help me get acquainted with Sally (Stanley Pleater).  I went very slowly, terrified of breaking needles, but she wasn't so scary after all!  And once I got home and started stitching, I found it very difficult to put my needle down.  Once I got into a bit of a rhythm it was quite relaxing and I was a little sad that it was finished so soon!

Then it was onto blocking and the really scary bit of sewing in my insert.  I haven't worked with micropiping before, so went very slowly to avoid wonkiness and I was a little anxious when it came to trimming the edges of my insert.  I also discovered that not all pleaters are created equally and over ten rows of smocking, my insert was over an inch narrower than other SAL participants, and therefore didn't line up with my back bodice AT ALL!  So I had to unpick my elastic casings, and trim the bodice back before redoing it all.  Then it was onto all those ruffles.  I did pick up my ruffle foot, still in it's pack from my birthday... in January... and promptly put it back down, deciding I had already pushed myself outside of my comfort zone enough for this project!

This dress took a lot more time than I had first expected (partially due to my trepidation at all the new skills), but I got there in the end, and the main thing, my princess LOVES it.  As you can see, it fits her perfecty, and it was great to have the designer there to answer my questions as I went.  So pleased Laura ran a sew-along to help me learn this beautiful craft. 

Madelyn modeled for me straight after school (so excuse the messy hair) and refused to take it off, she even went and played with her DOLLS afterwards, so unheard of, so maybe it helped to bring her girly side out!

I also found a great stitching group at Country Bumpkin: Create In Stitch, and can't wait to start another smocking project.  Apparently a doll version will be coming out soon, but I know I will want a bigger project, so in the meantime, I am eyeing off this one.  Thinking of doing the sleeveless version for summer, with a smocked skirt and with the ruffles on the neckline.  Now to find the right fabric!

Tricks to remember for next time:
  • Use a highly contrasting thread for pleating the fabric on ALL rows, alternating two colours to help with row counting.
  • Pleat with half rows if the design calls for it (I pleated my fabric in preparation before the smocking plate was released, and if you look closely you'll see those ribbon casing stitches aren't all exactly even as I had no half row to help me).
  • Spray starch the insert after pleating, to help those pleats stay crisp and standing up straight while you smock. (Completely wet it and leave it to dry).
  • If you really must pre-block, make the width about 1/2" to 1" less than what you want at the end - it's easier to stretch out after smocking than to squish it all up again as squishing will make your stitches looser and with lots of handling, it's bound to relax a little.
  • Remember the post block makes all the difference, and it doesn't matter if the pleats shift a little while you smock as your stitches pull everything together and the blocking corrects any unevenness.
  • Relax and enjoy it!
PS. Madelyn has now titled it "The Ribbon Ruffle Dress" and was quite challenging to photograph with all her "Ooh La La!" exclamations, and silliness as it reminds us a little of Fancy Nancy!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Twirling fun!

I am sure I haven't told you all enough times how much I love E+M Patterns!  Allison is the most pattern designer I know, and I love testing for her. So far I have tested Girl's Shirt & Dress No.6, Boy's Tank No.10 (yet to be released), her free leggings pattern and Girl's Dress Pattern. No.13. (Pssst... you didn't hear it from me, but there is a new gorgeous knit version on the way soon - keep your eyes peeled!).  In return for testing, not only have I received the final versions of each pattern, but she also let me pick another pattern from her store.  So yes, you'll see more E+M reviews in here!

 After my first test, I simply HAD to have her Skirt Pattern No.1, perfect for a girl who loves to spend much of her day flitting and twirling about.  I made a size 8, forgetting that I can often get away with a 7 on the bottom half of my giant 5yr old, so it is a little roomy but that means it should last her through until at least next Autumn, and maybe still fit at the start of next Summer.

Being a full circle skirt (with no seams on the skirt portion), it does take a little more fabric than most skirt patterns.  However, I managed to scrape it into a single metre, by using a plain white cotton for the upper skirt lining (a stash busting win!).  The pink contrast print was simply a leftover piece from a teacher gift from a couple of Christmases ago, and I probably could have managed to get the waist trim from it too, but was worried that it wasn't the perfect colour match, so grabbed some pink solid scraps I had left over from Maddy's kindy back pack.

The skirt came together pretty quickly and easily.  I did cheat though and overlocked the upper skirt to the twirly bit, rather than following the instructions to fully enclose the seam in the lining.  It probably wouldn't have taken much longer, but I am a bit lazy!

The pattern comes with a cute doll size, so of course I had to make Emily one too, but as I was scrounging to get the skirt out of my single metre, there wasn't enough left for a mini version.  So I flipped the fabrics instead.  

When I gave the skirt to Madelyn to dress her doll, a sudden cry of "but she doesn't have a t-shirt to match" rang out from her bedroom as she rummaged through dolls clothes.  Not to worry - a Jocole Classic Tee to the rescue!  She watched me sew it together and was thrilled at the addition of a heart applique.  I think I will do a narrower neck band next time though, and girly up the pattern a little more with sleeve puffs and bindings.

Then we realised Madelyn had outgrown most of her tees from last summer too, and needed something to go with her skirt.  I knew straight away that it had to be an E+M shirt - she has 3 of these now (plus the dress version), and they turn out beautifully every time.  I modified it ever so slightly to have woven ruffles rather than knit.  In order to ensure the woven didn't restrict movement at all, I cut the ruffles on the bias and also gathered them up a little more to take up less of the arm scythe.  I probably needn't have worried though, and thought this would probably work very nicely with a bit of lace or broderie trim in the place of the ruffles.

You should have seen her little face light up when I told her she could wear the set on the weekend!  I felt really mean when I made her take the skirt off after the photo-shoot to put something a little more practical for bike riding in.  I think we need a few pairs of shorts next, to keep them both well dressed on our family bike rides to the beach through the summer.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Kitty cuteness

I was delighted to test another sweet pattern from E+M Patterns last month! This one is Girl's Dress Pattern No.13.  It comes in sizes 2 -10 (made in size 8 for my super tall 5 year old).

I was so excited when she released the pattern to testers on my day off work, which just so happened to be a non-OT day, which left me the afternoon to sew!  I spent a good half hour browsing fabrics in peace that morning while I waited for the release of the pattern.  I tried out a fabric store recommended to me by Karen, that isn't far from where I live, yet I never knew about it.  It was a gem of a find!  I looked at the gorgeous fabrics, and was trying to decide between two floral fabrics when I spied the bargain bin.  I saw this sweet Japanese kitty fabric at an amazing price, and although I thought it might be a bit much for a dress, I knew it would be Miss M's pick, for sure.  Once I got it home, I loved it more and more - especially when I found some perfectly coordinating fabrics hiding in my stash!

The top part of the dress is lined, and you can sneak a little peak at the bright pink leaf fabric lining the bodice of my version in the cute "Mummy Shot" above (isn't she adorable?!), and the elastic waistline is accented with faux ties from a lemon/lime spot fabric that coordinates with the little flowers on the print.

I couldn't resist adding a cute kitty face applique, to make her smile even more.  I love seeing that beautiful smile!  I had planned to do covered buttons with the pink leaf fabric I used in the lining and applique ears, but alas, I only had big buttons, the shops were closed and I needed to get it finished for photos.  Trusty Sculpey to the rescue, I made some marbled polymer clay buttons, using a loose button in my stash to imprint detail and mark the position of the holes.

The dress hits just above her knees, so it's the perfect length for summer (although I may make some little pink knit shorts to hide underneath as she's an active little kiddo!), but also great for layering with leggings on cooler transitional days in spring or autumn.  It is a fairly simple style, so it's perfect for play or slipping over bathers poolside, but also gives plenty of room for dressing up with embellishments or accessories.  I can just imagine it with a few contrasting ruffles down the front, or a sweet little cutout in the neckline.   What makes this pattern shine is the perfect fit, and the details in the seam finishing.  I love things that sew up quickly so I was very tempted to hit the overlocker, but held myself back and followed the instructions instead.  I have to say, I love the end result, even if it was a tiny bit more fiddly.  What I got for my extra half hour of time was a neat little dress inside and out, with no itchy seams to bother her, so it really was a win!

Most importantly, my little girl adores this dress.  It is a big hit, and I am sure it will get plenty of wear before her next growth spurt! Knowing her, she'll probably want to keep wearing it when it stops fitting!

Eek - I almost forgot! If you are looking for a FREE leggings pattern to make to go with this dress, grab it from E+M Patterns while you're there!  I was also one of the testers for this one, and again the fit is exactly how I like it.