A place where a wee Scot can talk about the stuff she bores other folk with. Sewing, The Beatles, cats, and zumba may feature...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Christmas costume project: Mrs Santa and Little Miss Elf

Even though I've fallen in love with sewing this year and dressmaking in the past few months, it's a bit of a problem for me cos I'm not really that big into wearing clothes. That is, I wear them for practical, law-abiding reasons, and I am interested in fashion as a creative art, but I'm just not that into how things look on me. So I'm really excited to begin working on a lovely project making a pair of costumes for someone else. A friend has asked me to make a Mrs Santa for her colleague, and for herself she would like a reproduction of one of Buddy's classmates in Elf: specifically the girl in blue here.
I am just giddy about all the wee details in this elf costume alone, which I'm going to try to replicate as close as possible. The matching hat, the little snowflake appliques under the fur neck trim, and the little silver petticoat peeking out from the bottom of the skirt. I don't really see this as a costume, so much as a cute wee outfit.
Looking at this photo, the girl's dress is possibly made from wool, but one of the things my friend asked for is that the dress be multi-sized so that other colleagues can also wear it in the future. So after lots of research involving stroking and stretching fabrics at the three fabric stores in my town, I've settled on using stretch velvet for both Little Miss Elf and Mrs Santa. I'm also using these pictures as a reference,which I found on a costume hire website:
The website says that these costumes will fit waist 28"-36" waist and up to 42" bust, so that's the sizing I want to achieve too, and hopefully by using stretch velvet this will have plenty ease, and by using a belt, the waist can be cinched in for smaller sizes. This is what I hope anyway!
The costume hire pics also remind me very much of the Lady Skater pattern from Kitschy Coo (an independent pattern designer who lives in Edinburgh), which I bought during the summer and started to make a dress from. I never finished it and it still remains with skirt and sleeves unhemmed (it also needs what I've since discovered is called a swayback adjustment. This is to fix a big pool of fabric at the bottom of my back where the skirt attaches to the bodice. But I'll talk more about that another time).

Suffice to say, I've used the Lady Skater pattern before (and will definitely be making myself more dresses from it) and I think it's what I'm after. I have also toyed with the idea of using the Colette Moneta, but even though I have this pattern I haven't made anything from it yet and I think the Skater shape of skirt is what I'm after for this costume, more than the Moneta gathered skirt (the velvet might be too bulky to gather?) A lot of this is guesswork right now as I'm still such a novice sewer!
Love this velvet dress from American Apparel - great if you're 17 years old and a size 0!
American Apparel also have stretch velvet skater dresses in store right now and even though I'm not making it anywhere near as form fitting, the basic shape is the same as what I want.

With type of fabric now settled on, I had to go about getting it! Luckily my no.1 favourite fabric shop in Victoria (actually it's in Langford, just outside of Victoria), the Cloth Castle, had the exact red stretch velvet which would be perfect for Mrs Santa, and it also happened to be on sale when I popped in last week. Score! They did have the same in navy blue, but it was more like a midnight blue and practically black (only showing as a dark blue when the nap was running the wrong way).

After trips to the other two fabric stores, I've struck out trying to find blue stretch velvet or I would have even settled for panne velour but there was none of that to be had either. So fabric.com it is! I'll be ordering tonight and should receive it by the end of this week. I could have got it cheaper on ebay, but the delivery won't be anywhere near as quick as fabric.com (one of the things I love about that website).

And today I braved the metropolis of Fabricland and actually made my first ever purchases from there! This is by far the biggest fabric shop in terms of square footage and the majority of their fabrics are apparel and home decor, with a smaller quilting cotton section, which is the reverse of the Cloth Castle and Gala (although they both have good apparel sections but not nearly as much as Fabricland).
Obligatory  shot of Bonnie on top of material
Netting, faux fur, and silver bias binding, wooh! Fabricland, I am now yours
So far I have found Fabricland incredibly daunting: I couldn't work out the pricing structure (you get discounts if you have a membership card); had no idea what the types of fabrics were or how I would use them; and generally just felt like a big old fraud going in there.

But today I made a list of exactly what I needed, stuck to it (apart from not getting the blue stretch velvet), asked for and got assistance at the cutting table and an explanation of what the membership benefits were (basically 20-50% discounts, much of which I was able to take advantage of today), and generally felt like I know what to do with everything that I bought. That is a huge step for me in the learning curve, and I feel quite buoyed up about it now!

Even though I'm nervous as feck about cutting into the red velvet, I do feel like all my planning is coming together and there's nothing I haven't considered or fully researched. All that's left is to actually do it, and with a little luck I'll get the resulting dress shape I'm hoping for!
Red and green stretch velvets
I also came up trumps at the weekend with a fantastic find at my local flea market (where I also had a stall during the summer) of over 3m of 60" forest green stretch velvet. An amazing amount of material and it only cost me $5!!! This is almost a tenth of what it would cost to buy 3m of the equivalent online or in a fabric shop. Couldn't believe my luck! (I must remember to thank the lovely lady who has been organising the market for 20 years, and is an amazing supporter of vendors, as she actually led me over to the stall where the fabric was)

The lady selling it had a bin full of fabrics, and comes every week, so I must pop in again soon. I also got a 3m length of a very drapey cotton from her, which I think I'll use for the Sew Over It 1940s Tea Dress, when I get some time to try that pattern out. Again, the fabric was only $5, so it's no biggie if I muck it up.
Over 6m of fabrics for 10 bucks, still patting myself on the back for it!
When I asked the lady who sold me the green velvet what it was, she said she thought it was a type of silk/poly velvet. The funny thing about it is, that it is so soft it feels almost like suede. And looks very different to the red stretch velvet (not as synthetic, it almost looks like a fur).

The one thing I want to improve most about my sewing is knowledge of fabrics. As I am quickly discovering, it is so essential in making your final garment sit and fit right. Picking the wrong fabric for the wrong pattern is self-sabotaging before you even pick up your fabric and cut. And if you are truly ignorant about it, it's very frustrating as you can wrongly blame bad fit on your sewing skills, faulty measurement, or even your own body (that way lies danger). These are the times when I wish I had a pal or two close by (even though I try to pick my pals back home brains as often as I can) to help navigate me through the marshy swamps of the world of fabrics.

So anyway, I'm going to use the green velvet for a toile/test dress, and hope to make it all tomorrow. I'll possibly baste on the faux fur I bought today, so that I can remove it after and use it for one of the real dresses. I'm still a bit unsure of the technique I'll have to use to attach the faux fur so that's why I want to practice with it first. Worst comes to worst, I'll leave it attached to the toile, and buy more for the real versions.

I've got a deadline of delivering the finished dresses (I'm also making some elf ears, elf slipover shoes, elf and santa hats, and a tulle petticoat to go under each dress). I was possibly going to make the belts too, but having spent a lot of time online today researching how to do it (quite easy if you make a wide elastic cinch belt), it seems that by the time I buy the buckle and elastic, it will be cheaper just to buy a belt.
A Scotch and Wry classic character from scottish comedy legend, Rikki Fulton
Even though I am really a bit of a bah humbug about christmas and definitely more of a Rev I M Jolly than Buddy the elf, I have had Santa Baby going through my head all night, so that's a good sign!

This is not what a feminist looks like - but it is what dominates the type of xmas costumes available for women. Yuck.
And then of course there's the two new christmas adverts for the two biggest UK department stores which are showing on British telly right now. The ads are not only mushy and sweet (I might not be the most christmassy person around, but even I'm susceptible to penguins and cute weans) but each one features a solo Beatle tune, yay! Paul's overlooked and often slagged off (completely unmerited in my opinion) We All Stand Together is the soundtrack to the Debenhams ad and John's beautiful Real Love (sang by Tom Odell, whoever he is, yeah I know I'm an old fart) is being used for the John Lewis ad. But my favourite beatle-related christmas song has to be this:

I'll post more as I progress, wish me luck cutting into the velvet!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cat Lady Sewing Challenge: the (whatever happened to) Baby Doll top

This is my second ever sewing challenge in as many weeks (the first one was my wee shirtdress which is part of the Autumn of 1000 shirtdresses) but this was actually the first one that I had intended to take part in.

When I read about Miss Crayola Creepy's Cat Lady Sewing Challenge, it seemed tailor made for me!  Addicted to buying cat-themed cotton fabricsÉ. Check. Mum to three catsÉ. Check. Inability to type question mark after Bonnie my siamese mix has been lying on top of my keyboard againÉ. Check.

(excuse me while I ctrl + shift).

And we're back?!? Sigh.......Bonnnnnnnnnnnniiiieeeeee!!!!!
Two days after we got her, weighing under a pound at 11 weeks old
Early on, Bonnie discovered how to get what she wants by giving me THAT LOOK
Spider monkey
Legs that just won't quit
Punk phase Bonnie (her hair was growing back after her big operation)
Even the sartorial wisdom of Tim Gunn can't keep Bonnie awake nowadays
There are so many cat-themed prints out there, I had tonnes of ideas of what to make for the sewing challenge but still hadn't a lot of experience in doing more than buying actual fabric. For a while now I've been wanting to make a dress from the fabric I first came across when I made a tote bag for my friend's fundraiser to help Romanian Stray Dogs.
However, when I first read about the Cat Lady Sewing Challenge, I hadn't ever made a dress before, so I thought I might attempt something simpler and decided on the Baby Doll top from Christine Haynes' Simple and Chic Sewing book. This was the first sewing book I bought, earlier this year, and the main reason I actually bought it was for the Baby Doll pattern included inside.
Baby Doll top from Chic and Simple Sewing book
I had googled for any sewing tips and examples of finished versions of this top, and found a few sewers who had said they found it to be very very roomy. I was also inspired by this finished version of the top, and thought that by having a different fabric for the yoke and sleeves and another for the main body then I could get away with a metre of each (up till recently I only ever bought fabrics in metre portions as it is enough to make a few tote bags. Now that I'm starting to make clothes, I've learned to buy at least 3 metres as this will be enough to make a dress from most patterns). 
I settled on the Cat Nap in Raspberry from Lizzy House for Andover for the main body of my top, and for the yoke and sleeves I cut into a nicely matching polka dot fabric from Rose and Hubble that I had bought during the summer while home in Glasgow.

There are only four pattern pieces for the Baby Doll (score!), a decided lack of mind-melting challenging techniques (gathering the sleeves being the most fiddly), and not even a zip in sight (another score!) so it should have been a straightforward easy make, but I got all up in my head about the reviews which said it was mega roomy when sewn up, and I started messing about altering the pattern pieces. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'm not sure I understand fitting issues well enough to start going all Frankenstein on patterns right now.
Avert your eyes from my rubbish freehand arrows please
I tried to avoid too much of the bulky bodice, as mentioned by previous sewers of the pattern, by removing 1 inch at the centre fold. I graded out the armholes on the top front and back yoke to make sure they weren't too tight. But when I pinned all the pieces on my mannequin, the yoke pieces just looked too small. So being in a cavalier mood, I went back and added on 1 inch to both front and back yokes (yielding a total of 2 inches width to the front, and 2 inches width to the back). Two inches now seems an awful lot in hindsight, and the shoulders of the finished top do indeed sit too far down.
I loved this! My first time doing a lining. Produces a very neat finish.
Wee Man makes himself comfortable (rare sighting of Bonnie in the background, not lying on my computer)
A top fit for Richard Kimble
Even though I had sewn up the side seams, I cut them off so that I could attach the sleeves in the flat cos that's just how I roll (and it's the only way I can cope with attaching sleeves)
Five inches too wide!
The top took me four evenings to finish. First evening to measure and cut and alter the paper pattern pieces (my mind was on the blink that evening and it took me hours to just get the paper pieces ready to pin to fabric). Second evening was cutting and sewing the top to the point of being sleeveless. Third evening was finishing the top and realising it was 5 inches too wide at the bust. And day four, I chopped it up and finally had a wearable garment.
This probably isn't any real technique at all but I decided it was easiest way to get rid of 4 inches, sew a new side seam all the way up to the end of the sleeve hem
Now I'm pretty sure that other reviewers of this top were able to measure, cut, and sew up in one afternoon. As this is only the third piece of clothing I've ever finished I suppose I shouldn't be too hard on myself (the shirtdress was my first dress, but second piece of clothing I've made. One day I'll write a wee blog post about the first thing I ever made!).
Minus 4 extra inches now
Wee bit sticky outy in front but no longer looks like I'm having triplets
Safety pin as fastener, as I don't have a hook and eye thing yet!
Gathered front bodice. I really like this technique which was on my shirtdress too
Gathered sleeves
I kind of wish I had made a test toile of this top first because I really love the fabrics I've used, and it is wearable but a smidgeon too close-fitting (and miles away from the comfy, easy to wear, loose smock top it should be, and which is what I wanted!). Even though I have kept a note of all the alternations I made to the original pattern pieces, as well as what I did during sewing the top, I'm now so confused I don't know what size I would cut the next time to ensure that perfect fit.
Nice top, shame about the stupit facial expression
Just getting worse, quit while you're ahead Tulloch
Not just an arse shot, but to see how the back sits. It actually skims my hips but looks like it's dead tight here
Maybe I'll make a toile before I attempt making another version of this top. I'm also thinking that I made the classic beginner mistake of choosing the wrong type of fabric for this style (and kicking myself for not using a more suited drapey cheap cotton I bought at the garage sale where I also bought the material for my shirtdress), but it's all part of the learning curve and of course I wanted to use a cat print so I could take part in the Cat Lady Sewing Challenge.

What Burt Bacharach was thinking of when he wrote The Look of Love?

As the top didn't quite turn out how I wanted, I henceforth christen it as the Whatever Happened to Baby Dawn top (one of the best movie parodies French and Saunders ever did).
Now, here's hoping I win that cat! Wait, you mean that's not the prize??

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Girl, interrupted: or how I finished my first ever dress

Ta da! And Ringo looks on approvingly.
The difficult thing about taking a weekly dressmaking class is having to wait a whole seven days for the next sewing session, especially when you've got your sew-jo working! Before the dressmaking course had started at the beginning of October, I had bought the Green Bee patterns' Frances shirtdress kit for the Craftsy October sew-along. Well...I ended up starting and finishing the shirtdress last week, between weeks three and four of dressmaking class...and it became The First Dress I Ever Made!

I prefer it without the belt for that comfy, stop having to hold my stomach in look
My wee sis says it's better with the belt
Shouting at my boyfriend who was trying to get photos of my double-chin. He succeeded.
I'm not going to lie, the main reason I was drawn to the Craftsy kit was the allure of the fabric which came with the pattern upon purchase: a whole 3.2m of Cotton + Steel Tangrams from designer Rashida Coleman-Hale's Moonlit collection. Secondary to that was the thought that an easy, comfy shirtdress is something I would definitely like to wear. Whether it would suit me or not, I had no real idea or faith in. It was more about working with such pretty fabric (that I'd been coveting for quite a while) and seeing if I could actually make a finished item which looked like the one in the Craftsy picture.
I didn't even for a second think about what was involved in making a shirtdress, which is strange because I have been blog-browsing, book-reading and pinterest-surfing for long enough to get an idea of what is involved in producing a garment like this. But spurred on by reading Mary of the superb Idle Fancy blog and her Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses sewing challenge (running till 10th December), I thought bugger it, let's do this! I also was comforted by the fact there was complete sewalong support in the Craftsy class by none other than the designer of the pattern, Alexia Abegg, also a Cotton + Steel alumni.
Who needs weights when you have Bonnie and the Wee Man
Even though I washed the fabric, I chickened out of actually cutting into it and instead opted to make a toile first, using bargain cotton ($2 a metre!) I had got a few days before. I actually had two pieces of the fabric 1.5m and 1.35m but luckily it was quite wide at 52" (aye, I know I'm mixing my imperial and my metric, so sue me) so I managed to cut out most of the dress from the biggest piece and only had to use the smaller piece for the plackets and sleeves.
According to my measured sizing I matched up to the XL on the pattern, but when I measured the pattern pieces I was closer to an L. I am so glad I cut that size as the XL would have been tent-like. I was worried that the L might be too snug but it's perfect and still a tiny bit roomy up top. Measuring pattern pieces is one of the most useful lessons I've learned at the dressmaking class. Thanks again to my wonderful teacher Alexandra!
Double-ended dart
Two rows of gathers
Gathered back bodice attached to yoke
Collar taking shape
Plackets before (left) and after (right)
Woohoo, I have an almost dress!
I'd been working on the dress for around three full days (including tracing and cutting which I am super slow at!), and everything had been going swimmingly. Darts, gathers, plackets, and a collar tried to defeat me and failed, in fact I quite enjoyed doing them, especially the collar and plackets which were both firsts. (Again, I cannot emphasise how slow I work and how long each process took me). Then came the buttonholes.
How I'll always think of buttonholes now
My biggest worry was actually sewing on the buttons (the last step) as my hand-sewing is crap, but before that I had the whole frustration of trying to make a bloody buttonhole with my machine. I spent a good few hours trying to work out how to get my model of machine (which purports to be a One-Step...aye right) and buttonhole foot to do what I knew it could do. I watched videos, read tutorials and tried every combo of stitch setting known to man, woman, and cat trying to get the darn thing to work.
Check how smug that buttonhole foot looks in this stock photo. Yeah, well real life ain't always like stock photos!
The closest I could get was that the machine seemed to be doing the button hole stitch but only over and over in the same spot. So...back to the drawing board. I read that you can still use your machine to sew a buttonhole, without using the buttonhole foot. I also put a callout on facebook, a) to save me from my rapidly decreasing sanity and b) to get advice from experienced sewing pals.

Something else also helped, and that was the three special editions of the Great British Sewing Bee, this time with celebrities, for the sake of Children in Need (a national charity in Britain and a cause that the BBC has lovingly backed for decades).
Veering into Fawlty territory but he's still got it
Over the course of the three programmes last week some great garments were paraded before judges May and Patrick (looking suaver than ever with a 1940s-style moustache, farewell beard), as well as some hilarious efforts. This was my favourite and made by complete newbie to sewing, Hairy Biker TV cook, Dave Myers. Isn't it groovy?
Feeling re-pumped up with motivation and determination I tried again with the buttonholes. A good friend (thank you Ann) talked me through a step-by-step guide to stitching the buttonhole with my machine and I also used this tutorial I found online (I understand better when I can see pictures). And at last, it worked! My euphoria was short lived when I took seam ripper to dress and tried to open the button hole and this happened:
I had used mediumweight fusible interfacing and after the fabric and interfacing had been folded twice over to make the placket, it was really tough to get the seam ripper in and moving in any direction without a lot of force. Yarg. So my own fault really, as the pattern did call for lightweight interfacing. And...I should have done this too:
And yes I did pin each buttonhole thereafter
Fecking YAS
Nice wee sleeve tab if I may be so bold
So yes, I learned a lesson the hard way. I even got to practice my darning skills by repairing the ripped hole (thankfully I had at least had the savvy to attempt the first buttonhole at the bottom of the dress which won't be quite as visible as it would have been near the neck).

Love that gathered back
All in all, it probably took me 5 days to make. I left off the breast pocket, though I still have it and still mulling whether to add it on or not. And the arms were far too long, I've rolled them up to my elbows which is where I'd like them to sit, so I'll move the sleeve tab up a bit. Also would like to have the right side of the fabric showing when my sleeves are rolled up, and not the wrong side, and one of the fellow sewers on the Craftsy sewalong suggested a tip for that.
That daftie Bonnie climbed up inside the sleeve of my dress then got herself stuck when Baby started attacking her
After all that, I think I have a pattern that I can sew again and again. And of course I still have the untouched Cotton + Steel fabric to use.

There were a few techniques that were nearly the undoing of me, and some that went fairly smoothly despite any lack of skill on my part. Call it beginner's luck. If I had known what a challenge a dress with a collar and buttons would be, I may not have attempted this pattern for a good long while. But I was blissfully unaware and fortune favours the ignorant sometimes.

Having finished the dress last Friday night, I was able to wear it the next day to: a sale in my favourite local fabric shop; a vinyl record fair; and then the final dressmaking class of my 4-part course. My teacher and the sewing studio owner were so complimentary about my dress, I felt a million bucks. Even better than that, I actually felt quite nice in it. A turn up for the books these days!
Everly Brothers vinyl porn

Round up:
- approx 2.5m (52" width) of cotton at $2 a metre
- navy and red thread from stash
- half a yard of mediumweight fusible interfacing from stash
- 10 red buttons from local fabric shop, $5.60 in total (I've never bought buttons before, so no idea if this was expensive or not. I bought the cheapest they had though!)
- Craftsy sewalong class and dresskit including Frances pattern and 3.2m of Cotton+Steel Tangrams in Indigo USD$64.14 (including taxes and shipping to Canada)
- playlist: everything by The Everly Brothers