Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sunday Refashion

I've still got the making bug after my last Anna Dress came together quite quickly, but I can't decide what to make next. I have a little stash of fabric but it still all seems too nice to cut into just one of those fabrics is definitely down to be yet another Anna but I feel like I need to do something different in between! 

For Valentine's day (and also because I'd promised ages ago) I fixed an elbow tear in one of my boyfriend's shirts. As it definitely needed a patch and was a Western style with bit of red in it I painstakingly cut out two of the horses from the fabric I used for my 'Horse-Anna' dress and patched the tear with one of those, and another on the other side for balance. It looks pretty cute- luckily he liked it! But sadly I have no photos for you. 

In the end I decided that instead of doing something new I would try and fix the imbalances in my first Anna Dress. After much pressing and comparing I re-identified several faults but didn't have the heart to get pinning and trimming. To start with I decided the stabilise the neck facing by just topstitching the neckline, but my machine was playing silly buggers and wouldn't produce a balanced line of stitching- it all came out instantly! I don't know if it's the fabric or the thread, but my machine just seems to hate that dress. The amount of chewing up it did while I was making has been the subject of many previous posts! So I think I'll just leave it, chalk it up to experience.

So to use up my unsated creativity I decided to attack some more things that have been languishing in my 'to-do' pile and decided to refashion one of Angus's gran's old dresses. I have about six of these; two of which I can wear without alteration but the others need some work. Apologies in advance for the photo quality (and for the mess- I have more things than places to put them), I had to take them all in a mirror and I stand by my right to 'no make-up Sunday' (or any other day for that matter). 

So here's the dress on the hanger. I like the print, sadly it's on very artificial plasticy fabric (like all the ones I got from Angus's gran, which is sad as they're so well-made). When it first came into my possession I did wear it a few times as is; I love the '40s-style sleeves and little stick-up collar. But the dress itself is cut very loose and hangs to around mid-calf on me. Try as I might, I always felt like I was wearing a nightie when I had it on. 

Here you are for the length. The way I'm twisting with my hand on my hip is giving it much more definition than it really has- see blurry photo below.

VERY wide. I wasn't really sure on the best way to refashion this to make it more flattering for me. Checking out the construction I realised it's just a pull-on dress with no zip, so taking it in at the sides would be very risky if I ever wanted to get it on/off again. After a little play around I decided that I would just wear it as belted and shortened it, as it has a little kick pleat that was coming undone anyway that I could easily remove as a starting point. Once this was taken out I stitched up the back seam, played around with iron and pins to get the hem length right, and then went for the cut.

Just a shot of some my vintage thread stash, inherited from Angus's gran. Sadly couldn't find anything that exactly resembled the original thread so just went with white. 

  And here's the finished result! I think it looks pretty decent belted, and with those sleeves it kind of resembles a shirt-dress with the sleeves pushed up over the elbow (a much better mental image than a baggy nightdress!). 

It is a bit cheekily short (I made sure there was plenty of turn-up in the hem in case I later came to regret this). But I was going for a bit of a '60s vibe with the length so it would still look decent unbelted. 

What do you think?

NorseOtter xx

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Here it is- the promised Anna remake (not 100 times better, but definitely a vast improvement) in the eye-achingly bright yellow and red horse print African fabric from Simply Fabrics by Brixton market. Very appropriate for the Year of the Horse, if a little late for Chinese New Year itself.

This is the second time I've worn it actually, I wore it the day after completion but it got completely soaked on the cycle in to work that day, and then again on my way to a different office. My handmade dresses seem destined to have this happen the first time I wear them out- we got caught in a squall the time I debuted my first Anna too (on the way back from the fabric shop with supplies for this version). 

Here I am by the garden door. It's very cold and blustery at the moment here so I was loath to take my woolly cardigan off (and it didn't stay off for long). 

From the back. I still haven't got the hang of invisible zip insertion but this one is at least neatly inserted, if still completely on show. I think the back is a bit too big as well- you can see that it's baggy around the waist- maybe because of the way I put the zip in. Still, I didn't pre-wash the fabric so maybe it will shrink down a little in the wash to fit more snugly (I also really need a haircut). 

 Side view with my cap sleeve rucked up from the cardigan. This happens a lot- maybe my armholes are a bit big too?

Here's an indoor one as I couldn't face going outside again after reviewing the shots and realising about the sleeve. 

My second attempt at the Anna definitely feels more like a 'real dress' and doesn't have hardly any problems compared to the last one- just the slight bigness and the non-invisibility of the zip really. It took much less time to come together too. Progress!

 I think the fact that the fabric is much more crisp helped a lot, it was really easy to cut and stayed put when sewing, whereas my first Anna was made of really slippery stuff (which has now gone a bit bobbly, bah). I also got new shears (Fiskars, as recommended by the By Hand London ladies) and they were a joy to cut with so my pieces were neat and had all the notches visibly cut in. I also really made sure this time that my darts and pleats were correctly marked and placed, and took the time to tack them instead of just pinning. I finally got my bonce around the idea of ease too, and decided to construct the dress following The Curious Kiwi's method, which I think has meant this dress is better balanced between the bodice and skirt centre panel than my last one. 

This one is cap sleeved, with a V-neck and a slightly shorter skirt. I used the same measurements and FBA as last time. I didn't bother to match the pattern, that's a skill for another day. In my keenness to get stuck in I forgot to do French seams, but I don't mind that much, I still managed to incorporate a new skill into this one. As I had to fold up a fair bit of fabric to get it the length I wanted I decided to hand-stitch the hem using catch-stitch. This is the first time I've done it, but I saw it on one of Angus's gran's handmade dresses that I now own and decided that this would be a good time to try it for myself. It took a fair while but I'm pleased with the results- the hem is nice and flat and the stitching is virtually invisible from the outside. 

Here's the best shot I could manage of the inside of the hem.  

 Here's a cheeky outtake of me getting my cardi back on, with a bit of smug defiance for my poor long-suffering cameraman who is more of a perfectionist than I am. 

For my next project I think I will tackle another By Hand London pattern from my xmas gift stash, the Charlotte skirt. I reckon I'll also need to make a nice basic tee to wear it with, but I'm still ruminating on what pattern exactly to match it with.

Until next time,

NorseOtter xxx 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I CAN make shoes! And I did!

Hello folks, it's actually been a week since I did my one-day Ballet Pump making course with I CAN make shoes but the web's been down at my gaff all week so haven't had a chance to post about it yet. I've been so carried away with the DIY fashion bug (and inspired by this post from Tilly and The Buttons) that this course is what I asked for for my birthday this year, and I couldn't have been happier with my choice. 

Here's what I made!

I can't wait to be able to give them their debut and take them out on the town, but the weather is much too miserable for that at the moment. 

Some more images for you to admire my workmanship (although I had to cycle an hour home with these in my backpack so they don't look quite as crisp as they did straight off the last). 

Crumpling due to being carried in an overfull backpack! Should come out with wear.

Anyway, more on the course itself if you're interested. 

It was a lovely, chilled out day in a sunny studio near Hackney Downs. There were just four of us taking the course (and all lovely folk to spend a day with too) and two tutors, so we had a lot of hands-on help which was great. Tutors Amanda and Christina's teaching style was to emphasise that making mistakes and fixing them is the best way to learn, so that you'll be sure how to do it right the next time when you're on your own!

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures while doing the course (although you can get a good feel for what it's like from Tilly's photos from her sandal-making session)- I was far too busy creating and trying to retain the information as I do hope to make another pair for myself at some point. Amanda, creator of I CAN make shoes, said that it nows takes her just an hour to whip up a pair of ballet pumps if she's stumped for a pair of shoes to go with an outfit. 

We could choose from a couple of different basic patterns; a high front and a classic low front, and all but one went for a rounded toe (although one of the learners had also done a pattern-making course the previous day and made a beautiful pair of pointy pumps). Funnily enough we all seemed to go for similar materials; the lady with the pointy pumps and I went for gorgeous gold leather and the two other learners went for a sophisticated navy suede. 

At one point while we were waiting for the glue to dry I asked Amanda what she did with all the smaller scraps of leather.  As any too small to make insole socks from get thrown out she was more than happy to let me have a rummage and take home a few scraps to make nipple tassles for the Salacious Sirens with! It's going to be a treat working with such luxurious leather and I'll be sure to post the finished items! Here's my scrap haul:

I've already given Violet Empire and Lady Libertine the neon pink plastic and bright yellow leather to make a pair of pasties or tassles as costume for this routine:

My shoes didn't come out exactly symmetrical which is a little bit sad. I didn't notice when they first came off the lasts, but upon trying them on at home one of them has a slightly lower front line than the other. Very slight, but I'm debating whether to create some kind of decorative detail to disguise this. I may email Amanda for advice, as she was very open and approachable and even when she found out that I was getting started making my own clothes recommended me this book (which I promptly got my brother to buy me as a late bday present and am excited to get my teeth into).

My pumps also have a totally flat sole, which with my heavy tread will wear through very quickly, so again I'm wondering whether to take them to a cobbler's and have a heel put on to give them a longer life, or whether to get investing in the materials and build up more of a heel myself at home! After all, having spent all day making these with beautiful materials, it would be a real shame for them to wear through straightaway!

I would totally recommend this course as a fun, relaxing practical activity for somebody who was interested in DIY fashion. While the price isn't an inconsiderable amount to spend, the fact that you have an intensive day-long experience with two tutors on hand means you really get your money's worth, as well as a lovely finished product to show off. 

I feel like I could definitely make another pair myself at home, although I might be tempted to get one of the e-books on the I CAN make shoes site for guidance to be absolutely sure in case I got stuck at any point! The only thing holding me back right now is that the lasts are quite an investment, but are a vital part of the process, so I would need to realistically work out how many pairs of shoes I'd like to make for myself (as unfortunately for my friends none of them have the same sized feet!). 

I'll leave you now with a snippet of the African wax print horse fabric I bought to make my next Anna in (although still debating whether to keep the panelled skirt or try something different) and will hopefully have another finished piece to show you soon!

Until next time,

NorseOtter xxx