Sunday, 22 January 2017

Surf to Summit: Men's Edition - A Birthday Gift for my Dad


Here's the evidence of some unselfish sewing I was working away on over the festive period. I actually made two of these Men's Surf to Summit Tops in quick succession as I made a sample one to check the fit on Angus as he and my dad are a similar height and build (tall and skinny) and I wanted my dad's one to be a surprise. Unfortunately for Angus this means that his one is a little less well-executed and is about 2 inches short in the body (although he is 6 foot 2 so don't let this worry you if you're making one up for a man of more average height). Here's my Pa in his one! I'm not actually sure if he's worn it out to cycle in yet, as the temperatures have been steadily dropping below zero since I gave it him at the start of the year.

As it's winter I chose to make this up in microfleece for a bit of extra warmth. I've never worked with it before but other than the fact that it left a lot of fluff on everything it was quite nice and stable to sew with. It definitely has less stretch than the spandex I was also using so I thought assigning it to the main body pieces would be best, as the arms really need extra mobility. I made it up so the fleecy side is outside, I don't know if this is right! I couldn't find too many tips online about this so if anyone knows better please leave a comment. I chose silver spandex for the arms as although it isn't super-reflective, I think it adds a bit of extra visibility for road safety. 

In making my first Surf to Summit for myself I found making the half-zip a bit of a faff so wasn't looking forward to doing it again twice in a row! Practice makes perfect however, and there's nothing better than learning to conquer your fears. A few things that may make it easier for others (it's really not as hard as I'm making it sound) are:
  • Don't worry about marking the stitching and cutting lines for the half-zip placket during the cutting stage. The pattern piece is cut on the fold and you remove the section for the placket in the first step of the instructions, but until you get to that stage you're unlikely to know which bit is going to be the placket so it's a waste of time making markings through both sides when it's only necessary for one piece, which you would only go and cover up with interfacing anyway! Cut, make sure you mark the notches, but only mark the cutting and stitching lines on the placket after you interface it.

  • I also strongly recommend checking your placket placement with a set square before stitching in your zip opening as it's easy to veer off slightly to one side or another and end up with a wonky zip!

I decided to change the steps in attaching the neck facing slightly so that I could overlock around the neck facing and zip placket neatly on the inside. Next time I would go further and reduce the amount of interfacing I use so that it doesn't show after I've trimmed off the excess around the placket.

What I did for the neck facing was:
  • After completing step 13 as instructed, I pinned the neck facing in place in line with the seams but didn't stitch in the ditch there yet. Instead I formed the zip underlap, and then very carefully overlocked from the top of the placket (concealed under the neck facing) around the zip and the underlap, trimming off any excess along the way and securing the underlap in place. When I got to the start of the neck facing on the other side I disengaged my blade and kept going continously around the bottom of the neck facing til I reached the side where I began.

  • My first go at this (on Angus's sample jersey) I didn't manage to catch the edges of the zip tape on either side of the placket so I had to stitch in the ditch along the sides of the zip from the outside as instructed, but on my second go on Dad's jersey I dared to go closer which meant I could forego stitching in the ditch by the zip, so a neater finish outside and in! I then stitched in the ditch as instructed on step 14 to secure the facing along the shoulder seams and a short way down one side of the zip that didn't have the underlap.

I hope that makes sense! I didn't get construction pictures as I went as I was sewing fiercely to a deadline, but I'm much happier with the finish of this than I was with the one I made for myself. Doing two cycle jerseys in quick succession I definitely saw my skills and execution improve rapidly, next time I make myself some activewear and I'm confident with the fit I think I might make two things side-by-side as it is way more efficient.

Other tips:
  • Don't cut your notches too deep! I stupidly cut mine as though I were making a garment with a woven 5/8” seam allowance instead of the 3/8” and did have to end up reinforcing a few places with handstitching where the nick ended up too close to the seam.

  • I ended up using a sewing machine for FOE elastic attaching, zip insertion and attaching the neck facing and hemming the sleeves, and I needed to use 3 feet; my regular foot (for the FOE stages), my zip foot for zip and placket sewing accuracy, and my walking foot for everything else that needed a sewing machine. Straightforward seams were done on the overlocker.
  • One thing fitwise to watch out for is the armsyce. One both my own jersey and Angus's one we found this to be too close to the armpit. My dad's one seemed to be fine so it's obviously a personal fit thing and can be tweaked easily even after the garment is finished using the overlocker.  

This seems to fit Dad pretty well at the chest and shoulders, although perhaps I could have taken it in a size for the waist and hips, and maybe made the sleeves a tiny bit longer. Overall though I'm quite pleased with this and hope it gets lots of use on his daily urban hill rides. Now to make a more polished version for myself - hopefully there's enough of that silver left!

NorseOtter xx

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Keep It Cosy - McCall's 8810 for January #dressmakingbloggerchallenge

Hi folks,

Hope you're all well and your year is getting off to a good start! Here is the second thing I've made for myself this year, a nice quick palate cleanser and stash buster that nicely fits into the Dressmaking Blogging Network's January challenge: 'Keep it Cosy'.

This is a 1980s vintage pattern (McCall's 8810) which I've made before, and both times I've tackled it I've made up in a knit (although it is actually intended for woven fabrics). The first version I made in a ponte knit (and this dress gets worn all the time, unbelted – turns out I rather like the 'nightie look'. Funnily enough this is also my boyfriend's favourite handmade garment of mine!) and this is made in a more stable fleece-backed sweatshirting that I bought at the same time as this blue stuff that I made my friend's matching outfit in. Despite the lack of stretch being an issue for those garments, I figured it wouldn't be a problem for this make as it's so loose-fitting.

My initial plan for this was to make a hip-length sweatshirt with full-length sleeves, but as you can see it didn't quite work out like that! I am pleased with how it turned out, but I ended up with some extensive on-the-fly decisions made at cutting stage. Basically I'd decided to err on the long side cutting out my front and back pieces, thinking I could trim down to my preference afterwards, and maybe even add the patch pockets if I had the length to play with. I also kept the 5/8” seam allowances out of laziness, thinking I could trim down to 3/8” with the overlocker easily enough.

However I regretted not turning in the pattern's seam allowances as I did have a bit of squeeze getting the two-piece raglan sleeves on the remaining fabric after the front and back pieces were cut. To make it work I finally did turn in the seam allowances to 3/8” for the sleeves so I could just about get the width on, but I had to sacrifice quite a chunk of the length. Luckily this turned out well as I really like the new sleeve length and think it balances out the loose shape and funnel neck nicely.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the funnel neck on either as I only had a few scraps left over, so decided to make it up as it was and decide on the mannequin whether I'd rather have a simple neck band or try and cobble the funnel neck together. I managed to piece together a couple of the scraps so that there's a seam instead of a fold to make it work with what I had. As this pattern was for wovens it should have been fastened at the back of the neck with loops and buttons, but I omitted these and instead decided to have my zip go all the back up the back of the funnel. I've not made a funnel neck before so don't know if this is the best finish- it definitely adds structure and because of the height of the funnel and thickness of my fabric it certainly makes a statement! I wore this dress to the cinema last night and did find the funnel bothering the back of my head a little, but in normal wear it's fine.

This was a pretty quick make- mostly done on the overlocker and completed (including cutting) in an afternoon. It would have been even quicker if there hadn't been moments where I had to make decisions on the fly about elements to keep/ adapt due to fabric restrictions. I did however save myself time by choosing not to finish the hem or the sleeves. After trying it on I really liked it as a dress, but I couldn't get away with losing any more length (it's a bit risky raising my arms!) and figured if I had to leave the skirt edge raw then the sleeves should match to make it look intentional. I think this gives the dress a modern edge, although the front edge of the skirt hem is starting to curl more than the back so I may have to reassess after a few more wears!

This is definitely snuggly to wear and I can see it becoming part of my regular wardrobe rotation. It even has room to wear a thermal layer underneath if needed, and I'm happy to have a 'blank canvas' piece to show off all the weird and wonderful patterned and coloured tights I've acquired over the years (that barely get worn otherwise as they clash with most things). It wasn't really something that formed part of my sewing plan, but it feels good to have used up fabric that was taking up a lot of room in the stash. 

How have you kicked off this year's sewing? Anyone else 'keeping it cosy'?

NorseOtter xx

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Way to Go With the Colette Wren Dress

Hello all!

Here's my first selfish make of 2017! It's the Colette Wren dress, which I mocked up sometime last winter – it might even go back as far as late 2015 – but when it wasn't going well I decided to shelve it (same for the Dahlia dress which I bought at the same time in a bundle, which is still just one horrendous bodice muslin along).

My issue with the initial muslin was that it emphasised the bust way too much (see terrible mirror selfie below) and also that it was too short in front. A lot of people seem to mention this issue in their reviews – some ascribe it to being intentionally empire waisted in the design, but this seems odd as the back seems to sit at the natural waist. Sometimes I wish patterns would come included with a figure indicating where the style lines should hit you so can adjust more accurately for you – it can be hard to judge just from the model in the photos.

The muslin was made in leftovers from my 80s Lounge Cat dress and is a ponte with a bit of body to it. This version is made up in some much thinner jersey with a decent elastane content that I picked up in the remnants bin at Simply Fabrics for either £1 or £3. Not much anyway! Both versions as you'll notice are rather short. For the mock-up this was due to it being made from leftovers and that was all I could manage. For this version (which is really supposed to be a wearable muslin with the intention of eventually cutting into some lovely merino jersey I've intended for this pattern) this is a deliberate style choice to loose 5” in length to make it seem a bit more fun and flirty, as I feel this dress could otherwise veer towards matronly on me.

Unfortunately, even with adding 2” length to the front bodice (graded to original length at the side seams to match the back bodice) this is still on the verge of being too revealing – and I really don't want to wear a camisole! Once I'd made up the bodice I tried it on and decided to overlap the wrap more at the front for more secure coverage (rather than matching the notches at the waistline, which my first muslin did). Obviously this meant I lost an inch or so at the waist but in a fabric this stretchy I thought it'd be OK – it does look a bit tight across the back in these pictures though! 

Even with all this the cross over still wants to slide to quite a deep V, so I think an FBA will be required after all. I think I may have stretched out the front edges a little here too – these are much more stable in my first mock-up in the thicker fabric so I'll have to bear this in mind for future versions – one blogger whose review I read mentioned doubling up that section instead of just hemming the edge, which would provide stability as well as making a cleaner finish at the shoulder join (which is another part of the dress that I'm not sure is sitting right on me. Is it meant to be slightly forward? It sits on the collar bone for me).

Another issue I had with both versions is gathering the skirt using clear elastic. I found this really tough, as you have to pin the elastic to distribute it easily, but as soon as you put tension on it to stretch to meet the skirt edge the elastic tears through. Intensely frustrating, and even though I managed it (with a fair bit of swearing and a couple of on-the-fly repairs) I have ended up with a weird ripple at centre front. I think this is where the tension of the crossover is fighting with the elastic, but it's not sitting nicely and I'm not sure how to make it do so. Hopefully an FBA will help on the tension front. Next time I may also narrow the skirt pieces a little (as I plan to keep it short) so there isn't quite so much to gather.

Here are my sleeves by the way. I'm not sure if they're meant to be slightly batwing, but I'm going to embrace it. I do actually quite like it, and for this non-FBA version it's actually given my bust a bit more room. I'll have to assess if I need quite so much fabric at upper arm once I've made that adjustment in my next version.

So, a way to go to make this worthy of cutting into my merino jersey for, and if anyone can suggest an alternative to dreaded clear elastic for a stretchy gathered waist I will be most grateful. What do you think, should I give it another shot?

NorseOtter x

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Trina Dress Made for a Very Good Friend

I love this dress and have to think plan carefully about when an appropriate amount of time will have passed before I can make one for myself...

This is the 30th birthday present I made for my friend Eleanor. It was a little while in the works, but in the nicest possible way- I spent an evening in with a glass or two of wine lurking patterns she might like. My thought process was to select something easy-fitting; that means knit dresses, loose simple shapes or wrap dresses for wovens.

I then invited her over (again with more wine) to see if she approved of my choices, get her measurements and to get some guidance on colour. We went with the Victory Patterns Trina dress (which surprisingly few people on the blogosphere seem to have made) as it's gorgeous, elegant enough for occasion-wear, and easy to adjust for fit. She also has a penchant for dramatic sleeves so this fit the bill nicely! 

I ended up blending two sizes according to her measurements between bust and waist, shortening the sleeves and skirt by a few inches as per her preferences, and getting her over to try on a mock-up of the bodice I'd made in lining fabric which I'd bought to line the skirt but sadly turned out to have quite a few holes in it, so was not suitable for the final garment. Great for a quick and dirty toile fitting though - the bodice fit quite well but we decided to take it in a tiny bit at centre back. We had also intended to add a smidge to the front edges for a tad more modesty but I accidentally taped the pattern adjustment to the wrong edge and only realised when I started cutting, by which point it was too late to go back! It's an easy mistake to make as the front and back pieces are giant triangles. Besides, after all that, I think the amount of cleavage on show is flattering without being too immodest! 

All testing having gone well, I cut into several metres of dark teal georgette from Goldhawk Road. As I'm sure many of my fellow print-fanciers out there will agree, it's actually quite tough shopping for solid colour fabric- nothing seems special enough on the bolt, but it has sewn up to look lovely. I can't remember which shop it came from in the end, but I had a nice day out shopping by myself a month or so ago and bumped into a couple of other sewing bloggers. I don't interact too much on the web but I dared myself to go and say hi, and I'm glad I did – they were super friendly and it's great to talk sewing in real life with people.

It was my first time sewing knowingly with a shifty fabric (I've done it the early days when I just thought everything was cotton and didn't know better, with unpredicted results!). I starched the hell out of it so that it wouldn't be too much of a pain, and made sure to stay-stitch well as per the instructions. Things worked out mainly fine, but the dress does get quite heavy once you attach the massive swishy skirt (even in my shortened version), and the ties are super-long and frequently got trod on in the course of pressing and construction! I think because of the matte texture of georgette it's probably not as nightmarish as some of the slinkier fabrics out there, and I'd say it's a nice recommendation for this pattern as it gives the dramatic drape but with quite a grown-up look in my opinion.

Now that I've made this dress I think I would enjoy making another version even more. It's not particularly difficult, but as Jen of Sewing and Slapdashery mentions in her review, some of the instructions are quite convoluted, and trying to sew this after work in small sessions was more taxing on the brain than it needed to be. It took more focus than I was expecting to cut through all the superfluous words and realise I was actually being asked to do something quite simple! Basically there's a headline instruction, and then steps that break down what that requires (I'm quite tempted to rewrite my own version of the instructions in plainer English).

I would also agree (in all cases but especially with this dress) to mark all match points very well. I had a mini freak-out quite late in the game when my bodice seemed to be too wide to align with the skirt – it turned out I hadn't matched up the side overlaps properly. Luckily an easy fix as they're just basted together at that stage and can be adjusted without messing up any of the other processes.

Aside from the overly wordy instructions (which is no great sin really) this is a lovely pattern and one I will definitely be making again. And it looks totally stunning on its recipient! I think she might rather like it too...

Are you tempted to make the Trina dress?

NorseOtter x

PS Massive thanks to Cai for the lovely photos!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Top 5 Misses of 2016 and Plans for 2017

Hi everyone, 

I recently looked over how productive 2016 was for me in terms of sewing and my Top 5 Hits, so it only seems right that I should include the things that didn't turn out quite as well in last year's batch, and include some plans for 2017! I'm also very pleased to report that all the gift sewing I was trying to get done was finished by the end of the year. Phew, definitely time to make something nice for me! But before I get onto that, here are my Bottom 5 of 2016:

I did actually wear this quite a lot and it was a satisfyingly fast make, and fun to work out how to add the new sleeves, but it isn't that flattering and I'm not sure the colours really suit me. The fabric was from my mother's stash so it didn't cost me anything and was a bit of a palette-cleanser after a more involved project, so no harm done! I think I might be over this pattern though, I don't know if smocked waists really do much for me, and I constantly have to adjust them as they ride up during the day on this and my other Staple Dress.

I blended two sizes instead of doing an FBA as a fitting cheat on this one and it wasn't worth it! I don't know why I did this as I remember making quite a few bodice muslins to work through fit (which is something I was trying to improve this year). Anyway I feel like this one makes my torso look like it's all chest, eep! However again it was quite a fast make, used up some cheap stash fabric and has been worn a few times in the summer.

I really tried to work through the fit on this, but sadly I don't think this pattern is really meant for me! Even with making a muslin (which I wish I'd worn out a bit more to see how it worked in real life before cutting into my main fabric) this still doesn't quite hang right on me. Instead of the volume going sideways as intended to get that lovely '60s shape at the side seams, the skirt of the dress tends to pitch forward under the bust (despite doing an FBA), making me look a bit pregnant.

I feel it's a bit unfair on this pattern for it to end up slated by me as actually it's a fast and flattering make, but both times I've made it I've had poor fabric choice. I'm kind of struggling to include things that I'm not keen on this year so this makes the cut, but in reality this was just me having a play with my new overlocker for the first time and was never really intended to be a serious wearable garment. It's actually OK for layering, but the weird almost-nude colour isn't great on me, and I didn't have enough fabric to cut the sleeves properly so they're smaller than intended, off-grain and a bit tight.

This definitely needs an FBA and is too long in the torso. However, I can't fault it too much as again this was a quick make whacked together to get used to my new overlocker using leftover scraps, not by any means a carefully planned project. I do still wear this outfit every now and again actually, it's comfy but makes me feel quite chic, even if the fit isn't quite perfect (and it has a couple of holes developing at the seam intersections due to beginner-level overlocking).

My conclusions from the Bottom 5 are:

This was the year for muslins and I'm starting to embrace that slower and more precise side of the process, I just need to be consistent and maybe try a day or two of road-testing any wearable muslins I've put together. 

I still need to work on fit, but it's nice to have a few items that seem to work without too much adjustment in my arsenal for when I don't feel like working through a bunch of muslins. 

I shouldn't go to dresses as a palette cleanser project– the fit often needs work (see above point about muslins). There are so many t-shirt patterns I have that I should really make up when I need a quick fix, or perhaps more of projects that have turned out nicely, like my Melilot shirts. 

Having an overlocker is brilliant. I definitely got more made this year and to a higher standard thanks to this piece of kit. I love it! I got a steam generator iron for Christmas so hopefully this will up my game on the pressing stakes too (and hopefully make hemming less of a chore!). 

Plans for 2017

Like a lot of people, I plan to work through my stash. I do have ideas in mind for many of the pieces I've picked up over time, but with my drive last year of making trousers and activewear not everything I already had ended up being fir for purpose. I have a lot of pretty dress/ shirtmaking fabric so I will have to work on bodice fit and to make sure it gets made up!

I'm hoping to take a class this year to improve trouser fitting. Hopefully this will arm me with the confidence to finally make up my fancy denims into the dream Ginger jeans. I got a mini anvil this year for Christmas so I can't wait to get hammering in those rivets!

I think I did pretty well with last year's plan to match pattern to fabric - a few projects were made as intended and a few of the pieces of fabric ended up being repurposed for other patterns that presented themselves as more suitable. I've now put together a flexible Pinterest board where I try and plan my sewing by season - this helps me focus and gives me the impetus to sew the right weight of fabric at the right time - good for stashbusting. I like the new function where you can tick off things that you've done, it's very satisfying! Here are my Autumn/ Winter 16/17 plans, some of them already complete:

As I've been on a such a giftmaking mission this December, I definitely plan to treat myself. First up I may have to work up a Colette Wren dress, as I have already muslined this and just need to lengthen the bodice before I can get cracking. I have some merino jersey that would be so snuggly in this weather! I definitely want to test my new iron on some collars soon so perhaps a shirtdress is also in the mix...

I hope your sewing for 2016 went well and that 2017 has lots of excitement in store,

NorseOtter xxx