Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 Hits and Misses

My, being on holiday really frees up time for blogging, this is definitely the most frequently I've blogged since I started! I've also been enjoying more time to read others' blogs and gather inspiration for the coming year's projects. This time last year I'd only made a couple of bags and was avidly reading other peoples' Top 5s to build up my list of blogs to read and patterns to be tempted by, and after a year I feel I have enough experience under my belt to throw my own Top 5s into the ring!

Looking back on this year is conflicting for me as I'm proud of all the things I've made, but none of them have been perfect. A lot of them will straddle the traditional 'Hits' and 'Misses' categories, so that's how I will handle them. Here's five in chronological order:


At the very beginning is my first Anna dress. I was so proud of this when I finished it and wore it all the time! I had so many challenges in the process, many of them due to trying to rush the dress through to completion. The zip is horribly inserted (for some reason I totally ignored the instructions and went with an old half-remembered method), the seams are a disgrace, the hem is lumpy, the sleeves are uneven, the list could go on! But on some aspects of this make I really took my time (why such an inconsistent approach?!). I got into good habits by tracing off the pattern, I followed the sewalong and tried my hand at my first FBA, I even modified the sleeves to 3/4 length.

So although this dress is now due to be scrapped, it's definitely a hit for me as well as being a miss in equal measure, and taught me a lot! My second Anna was a vast improvement and was a staple part of my summer wardrobe, although there are still some fitting issues to be addressed for future versions (of which I have many planned!).


Following quickly on Anna's heels was the Charlotte skirt, a pattern I also acquired in my round of Christmas pattern requests last year (all Dolly Clackett's fault). Again, my Daffodil Charlotte is a hit for me because I enjoyed making it, loved wearing it, and still get loads of compliments when I decide to put it on. And again, there are a few flaws in the construction (mainly uneven gathers at the flounce really), but this is something that doesn't get that much wear because the fit is a bit off. I'm looking forward to making another version that isn't straining to contain me quite so much as this one is! I think I'd even like to make it daffodil-coloured again.

Also, now that I know a bit more about construction I'd do something to make it easier to walk in- the flounce is lovely but having it the whole way around makes getting anywhere a challenge, and for some reason I always end up having to run for the bus when I'm wearing this (and as I have no shame, I go for it, swinging my feet out as far as they will go to try and cover some ground!). This has resulted in a fair bit of strain at the bottom of the seam which I've patched up a couple of times but reckon it'll be scrapped as soon as I can get together a decent replacement.


I think I over-reached myself when making this- the 'Heartache Sweetheart' as it came to be known. I had some bold design choices that my skills at the time just couldn't handle (the semi sheer fabric vs facings, mainly). I do wear this surprisingly often, considering it doesn't really fit at all and has to be tamed with a belt! I also wear with a slip to stop the facing and seam allowances showing through. Apart from the woefully wrong (at the time- I still love the idea behind this!) fabric choice this dress just didn't fit my shape at all, despite some adjustments I made to the seams to try and bring it in and give it more definition where required. I love the design and the aesthetic (and the pattern was a very thoughtful gift) and have dreamt up versions in other fabrics in my head- I just need the energy and patience to muslin up another go at it and really take time working through the fit.


I am so, so gutted that my Air Hostess Megan dress has to be filed under 'miss'. But it definitely does, because like a goon I went ahead and made it too small. I was tired after the faff of the Sweetheart dress so decided to make this up without bothering to do an FBA. Big mistake. In fact, the dress could really be bigger all over (I think it has shrunk a little in the wash, even though I pre-washed the fabric), but even though I opened out the dart tucks to make for a roomier fit this dress is almost painful to wear. I'm kicking myself about this because it's yet another thing that I took the time over in other aspects but skimmed over a really key area. It's one of the more careful and precise things I've made (due I'm sure to Tilly's excellent instructions) and again I love the design choice I made with the fabric. Basically it's only a hit in that it's probably the most well-constructed dress I've made, and because if I could do it again exactly but slightly bigger I would!


This is the one thing that I've made this year that I have not and definitely will not wear! However, for once this doesn't really matter, as these are just a toile so weren't a fabric or emotional design investment. So that's a win for me! It took some time, and I didn't (and don't think I can with something so small) make any fitting adjustments, but at least I got to practice and get my head around making a pair of trousers (well, short trousers) which are notorious in the sewing world for being tricky. The pattern itself is quite simple and the instructions and accompanying sewalong are well-written and clear so I would love to give these another go in the full-length version, but it's been something I've been putting off as I know that I'll have to dedicate time to some extensive fitting trials.

Lessons learnt?

I think the take-home message from all of these makes is that I should have taken the time to make a toile before diving in with my fashion fabric! However my other take-home message is that I haven't regretted a single make. All of the fabric I have used so far this year (for myself, anyway) has been inexpensive so I guess all of these things count as wearable toiles until I graduate to better quality fabrics. I will probably scrap my first Anna and the shorts, and will have to give away the Megan unless I experience some sudden weight loss, but the other things I will still wear until I have made better versions to replace them (which realistically means another year as I have so many new projects in my queue!).

A big goal for 2015 will be getting my head around fitting properly, so it will be toiles or muslins all the way from now on. On top of this I got the Colette Sewing Handbook for Christmas (and, as mentioned in a previous post Gertie Sews Vintage Casual, both of which I have read almost cover-to-cover already!) so have plenty of new sewing desires battling for my attention! Customs will also shortly be releasing my Ginger Jeans Denim kit so trouser-making and fitting is definitely going to be a part of the plan as I gear up towards making JEANS!

I've really enjoyed my first year of sewing (and even the blogging about it, although it's been tricky for me to keep pace). Not only has it made me approach clothing in a more 'slow fashion' kind of way (although I could definitely gain from taking it at an even more considered pace), it has also got me creating handmade gifts for others which hopefully won't fall apart! I've made the April Rhodes Staple Dress, Great British Sewing Bee Box-Pleat Skirt, and Love at First Stitch Margot PJs all for others this year and one of my first projects for 2015 will be yet another gift (still to be decided).

And even though I haven't been making at an astonishing pace, I have only picked up one piece of shop-bought clothing this year (it was a gold foil stretch velvet pencil skirt that I picked up for £7 in the January sales, and I knew it would be a while before I could handle that kind of fabric so couldn't resist). Normally I'm a real sucker for a sale, but now I've transferred my retail therapy fix to fabric shops which has been a bit of a limiter on my spending habits, although I have still acquired more fabric than I know what to do with just yet! So 2015 will have to be a bit of a stash-busting year too!

And I've finished off the year by taking part in the Vintage Pattern Pledge! Although I wasn't too ambitious with what I decided to make up this is the first time I've taken part in making something as part of the online sewing community and I'm glad I did it!

Hope you've all had great 2014s, here's to the New Year!

NorseOtter xxx

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Vintage Pattern Pledge: '80s Lounge Cat


I hope everyone's had a wonderful few days of indulgence and catching up with loved ones!

I'm happy to say I've finally made up my Vintage Pattern Pledge! I had already decided to make something that looked fairly quick as I'm usually a slow sewer and wanted to make sure I hit the deadline, and after my gift-sewing bout I fancied something a little less challenging than I originally had planned, but still something made up in a knit that could be worn as everyday wear (rather than something fancy- the opposite of most peoples' 'Christmas sewing'!). 

Here's my source pattern, McCall's 8810 from 1983. I had wanted to make up a slinky and versatile 'Quick Butterick by PJ Walsh' (mentioned here) from one of my mother's patterns, but faltered at the thought of having to resize it up three sizes. I still want to make it up at some point when I'm more confident with my drafting skills,  as it would make a great base dress to show off some fantastic '80s punk gear that my aunt recently gave me (including a Jean Paul Gaultier denim underbust corset, there's a similar one selling for a pretty penny on Etsy here). 

Anyway, back to McCall's 8810. From the artwork I was convinced it was a made for knits pattern and therefore interchangeable with the Quick Butterick, but on actually reading the envelope it's designed for wovens and even slips into evening wear territory with some of the style options. I made up view D, which the model is wearing in beige. I was tempted to omit the pockets as I'm not sure they're my style, but as I hadn't ticked patch pockets off my skills list I thought I might as well get some under my belt!

Mega batwings!
The fabric is another double knit from Mermaid Fabrics on Hackney's Narrow Way (up Mare Street), where I also picked up the checked double knit for my Lady Skater. Neither of these prints is really my favourite, but are fun and neutral enough to be wearable until I find a good source of nice quality double knit in solid colours (which I hope happens soon as I got Gertie Sews Vintage Casual for Christmas and can't wait to get going on all the cute retro knit projects).  

It was really simple to make this pattern up in a knit, all I needed to do was omit the seam allowance and kick vent on the back. I cut the back piece as one on the fold and made sure to remove the centre back seam allowance (which was really easy on this pattern as the seam allowance was marked with a clear border on each piece). I also had to attach the collar in the same way as you do with a t-shirt, but had the instructions from the Plaintain to refer to for this. 

I was a little worried that it might end up too big being made in a knit fabric instead of a woven, but as this dress is such a relaxed fit it looks fine to me. My mum gave me her old belts ages ago and this black suede one is a great style match for the dress. It does bunch up a little when belted, but this may be due to the fact that the belt is probably a bit small! 

And here's the dress worn as it's shown in the envelope artwork (although, referring back to the picture, maybe it is a little bigger than it should be?). I prefer the belted look, but this is very comfortable. In fact it reminds me of a nightie I used to have when I was about ten, which is probably why I'm less OK with wearing it out of the house without the belt!

This was another nice and quick make (which is why I'm being seduced by knits - they're so fast and the fit is forgiving!). I finished this up on Christmas Eve and wore it out to drinks with friends, then brought it out again for Christmas Day with family. I confess the belt did come off after Christmas dinner!

My only slight issues with this dress are that I stretched out the patch pockets a little when pressing and hemming the top of them, so they don't lie perfectly flat against the dress. And, although I did say that making up knits meant no fitting, there are a couple of things I would change if I made it up again. The sleeves are meant to be loose, but I find the openings at the wrist bit large for my taste and I also find that the seam at the top of the raglan sleeves tends to slide back, making the collar pull tight at the neck at times so I have to pull it forward throughout the day. Perhaps my shoulders are set a bit further back than normal? Or maybe it's because I left off the shoulderpads?

Back view unbelted. Original pattern would have had an invisible zip at centre back and a kick vent.

I'm glad I finally made up something for the Vintage Pattern Pledge, which I decided to join back in June! There are definitely more vintage makes in my to-do list, but my priority for the coming year I think will be to make more everyday 'cake' items. There will definitely be many vintage inspired ones- Tilly's Love at First Stitch and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual will be taking care of that for me!

Enjoy the rest of your festivities!

Until next time,

 NorseOtter xx

Monday, 22 December 2014

Speed Gifting! Box-Pleat Skirt and Margot PJs

Hello folks! I hope you're all well and geared up (and not too overwhelmed!) for whatever your festive plans are over the next week or so.

I've been pretty busy on the sewing front but unfortunately have no proof of this as both projects were gifts, and both were made to such tight deadlines that I didn't even have the chance to get a crappy 'hanger shot' before getting them wrapped and out there in the world. I basically did the fastest turnaround on a sewing project  I've ever done- not deliberately! As I work all over London I have access to some pretty decent local fabric shops- Simply Fabrics in Brixton and Mermaid Fabrics in Hackney are my faves to just drop in and have a browse at lunchtime. It's a big part of the pleasure that you can drop in regularly and there'll always be something new to catch your eye. However, although I was fabric scouting for a few weeks, frustratingly neither of these had the fabric I needed for my gifting (I find it really hard to buy fabric for others!) and so I needed to widen my search, and ended up having to do a last minute fabric run the weekend before I was supposed to be presenting the gifts. Cue a speed-guide to the fabric shops of South London (any hints on undiscovered gems welcome!).

Rolls and Rems in Lewisham didn't deliver the goods (although it was interesting to have a peek, they have some good solid jerseys so I'll be back). No joy at Rye Lane in Peckham- lovely range of wax prints, satins and embellished fabrics but not much else. So I bussed it up to Lavender Hill to Fabrics Galore and finally found one of the fabrics I needed (this place is a haven for fantastic prints) for the Birthday Box-Pleat Skirt- a lovely forest green cotton printed with owls with envelopes in their mouths. Perfect for my green-and-owl-loving friend!

Again I used the Box-Pleat Skirt Pattern from the Great British Sewing Bee Book 2, but this time made no modifications to the length (although I did add a lining)
However I couldn't tick everything off my list- there wasn't anything inexpensive enough for my Secret Santa budget of £5 so back to Brixton I went for a last-ditch try in Simply Fabrics. I found some tartan flannel for £3 a metre which seemed snuggly enough for a nice pair of Margot PJ bottoms so I went with it- even if it was a little over budget and half a metre less than was recommended on the pattern!

Back at home both fabrics went straight in the wash and hung up in the most warm/ well ventilated places I could find in our little one-bed flat in the hope that they would be dry to get cutting on Sunday, and started tracing off the patterns. Sunday I did all my cutting for both projects (thankfully they were dry!) and got started on the he Birthday Box-Pleat Skirt, which I finished off over Monday and Tuesday evening.  I decided to add a lining for extra warmth but had never done this before so it was a little fiddly, and I fudged the drafting a bit (I cut the shape roughly after making the box-pleats on the paper pattern, not realising you should cut exactly as is and still make the tucks with the fabric). Other than this it went pretty well- I followed Tilly's tutorial for adding a lining which was a massive help. I had a bit of difficulty with pattern placement on the waistband- I got going with the instructions which start you off with pressing and trimming before realising if I carried on as is I would end up with some headless owls in a very prominent place! So I had to fiddle with that a bit and it's not as neat as it could be, but by this stage I didn't have time to go back and re-cut.

Box-Pleat Skirt done, I spent the rest of the evening on Tuesday making the Margot PJs. I kind of shot myself in the foot by picking tartan and having less fabric than was asked for, as I had to cut one of the legs on the cross-grain (although luckily the checks were identical in both directions) and there was no way I was going to get the checks to line up nicely with what little fabric I had! They are more or less balanced from the front however (although you'll have to take my word for it). This was the first pair of PJ bottoms I've made but came out pretty well considering what a rush I was in. I hadn't had them at the top of my 'to-sew' list as I have been more enchanted by the cute blouse, skirts and dresses in the book, but they are a great project for a quick and satisfying make (with no fitting!) and I can see myself making more whenever I need an easy 'sewjo' restoring project and finally replacing all the worn-out jogging bottoms that currently make up my pyjama drawer.

So, two projects in three days (four if you include shopping and laundering). That's a record for me! I've now got a few days off to relax before Christmas so hopefully will get another couple of things under my belt before the new year (will the Vintage Sewing Pledge happen?! Eep!) and will maybe even do a round-up of hits and misses like the ones I've started to see cropping up (although I have so few finished projects there may be garments filed under both categories!).

And how did the gifts go down did you ask? Very well I believe! The Box-Pleat Skirt is by no means perfect (especially if turned inside out) but fits the bill of something wearable for work, green, and just about warm enough for winter. Plus bonus owls! The PJ bottoms I didn't get to catch the reaction for but I heard on the grapevine the person who got them in the Secret Santa was very pleased. And, as a participant in the Secret Santa I also got a gift! Some lovely purple and green wax print fabric which I have already envisaged as a full-sleeved Elisalex from the very talented Frankie, who has her own slinky nightwear/loungewear company, Pennyface.

That's all for now folks, sorry I don't have more pictures of my most recent creations. Hope you're all having a very merry time!

NorseOtter xxx

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Completed: Lady Skater Dress in Hackney Checks


Oh my gosh it's December already and I still haven't got anywhere on my Vintage Pattern Pledge. At least I've given myself some wiggle room by not pledging to do anything specific- but now I think I might have a plan!

So, on to the Lady Skater. Yet again here's a make that wasn't super challenging or that time-consuming, but it's been 3 weeks since my last post! While this might make me a bad blogger, in reality I don't think I could cope with having a new thing in my wardrobe every week, so in my book it's not so bad that maybe I only make one or two things a month. I haven't actually bought any clothes this year (although I have bought lots of fabric!) so in a way this is helping me manage my storage issues when it comes to clothing. Another way to manage this and still indulge my enjoyment of sewing is to do a bit more unselfish sewing, although at the moment I don't think I'm precise or speedy enough to be doing this regularly - although I have just promised a friend a Birthday Box-Pleat skirt!

Not bad print-matching, in my opinion...
I bought the Perfect Pattern Parcel #1 when it came out as an easy win to build my pattern collection, which at the time only featured three patterns, all from By Hand London! The Lady Skater was the main attraction as I'd seen it going round the blogosphere and it always looked great and had good reviews on the instructions and ease of construction. However after my (poorly serviced machine-related) chewed-up Plaintain I was a bit wary of knits and went back to sewing easier woven fabrics. But as it's getting chillier I decided to be brave and have another look at it, after all I wear my RTW skater dresses to death and it would be nice to have something that's easy to throw on as part of my handmade wardrobe. I do have a bunch of other projects in my imaginary sewing list, but what pushed the Lady Skater to the top of the pile was oddly my research for my Vintage Pattern Pledge!

Back View (is this lower back creasing what's known as 'swayback'?)
Allow me to explain. My access to vintage patterns has now quadrupled (at least!). It seems that my ma worked at John Lewis in the late '70s and early '80s and made full and comprehensive use of her staff discount when it came to the haberdashery department, but it's all been in the attic for the last 25 years or so. You have never in your life seen such a pile of Victoriana-inspired blouses, little house on the prairie-style flouncy skirts, capes galore and the odd flight suit thrown in! There are even a few dapper men's patterns in the mix. I spent several hours combing through these with my ma, just for the fun of seeing what she had. There were so many things to catch my eye- but I thought I would try and start with something simple, and a lovely '80s V-backed, cap-sleeved, slinky jersey pencil dress jumped out at me as something that might be quick to make up and would likely see a lot of real-life wear. However, it's a single size pattern, and upon taking my measurements when I got home I realised I was about 3 sizes too large!

So, this leads back to the Lady Skater how? Well, I have a hare-brained scheme in which I will somehow use the Lady Skater pattern as a fit template for the slinky pencil dress, and slash and spread the (traced) pieces so that I get a decent fit on shoulders, bust, waist and hips. As there are only 3 pattern pieces hopefully this shouldn't be too ambitious! And this finally gave me the impetus to make the Lady Skater. However, as I decided to make it in this mystery double knit check fabric (from Mermaid Fabrics on Mare Street's Narrow Way) I was a bit put off from getting stuck in by the challenge of print-matching, but I think I've done a decent enough job in the end!

A little bit of static tights-clinging action here!
I also like to make life a little bit harder for myself when it comes to making my own clothes. This time is was by modifying the neckline from a round neck with band to a boatneck using this tutorial from Heather B (this is linked through from another tutorial where she has also added a pleated skirt, but one thing at a time!). I also omitted the sleeve bands (which are a little too casual for my taste) to match the clean edges of the neckline (also recommended in the tutorial). It was pretty easy to do, but as the neckline is the first thing you make up I forgot about the different seam allowances for this pattern (3/8" instead of the usual 5/8") and accidentally made the boat neck a bit deeper and wider than I had planned. I think it still works, there's just a little more risk of showing a bit of bra strap! My other goof on this make was that, in my efforts to precisely print-match the sleeves I cut them on the single layer and ended up cutting two of the same arm! Oh well, I sewed them in anyway and don't seem to have had any problems so far! I graded between sizes with the bust a size 5 going down to a 4 at the waist and it's a decent fit but could maybe do with a little more ease in the bust. The rest of the dress came together really quickly and easily. In fact, I really want to make another in a solid colour to see just how quick it can be when you don't even have to worry about aligning checks!

I am wearing this dress right now and can vouch for it being comfortable and easy to wear. Over the weekend it survived a quick photoshoot in the fading light from the park followed by a 30 min skip/jog/run to the pub where we thought we were going to be late for a Sunday roast, and then more belly laughs later at Aziz Ansari's show at Hammersmith Apollo.

Normally I would dress up a bit more for a show, but for me I always feel dressed up whenever I'm wearing something new, no matter how casual the style! I'm not sure how long this fabric will last as it was quite cheap and it does have the habit of sticking to my tights, but all in all a fast and fun make and one that I want to make again.

All bundled up! Do I look like an evacuee?
So, not the most exciting of my makes but definitely a satisfying one. I think this is what other sewists call 'sewing the cake' (I assume as in opposed to the icing), therefore something necessary and wholesome but maybe not hugely eye-catching.

So, on to my birthday skirt promise and vintage pattern pledge! What have you been making? Any others out there dashing to fulfil the Vintage Pattern Pledge before the end of the year?

NorseOtter xxx