Finished: By Hand London Flora for a summer wedding

11 Oct

If you’re a regular reader of sewing blogs, and you’re thinking that this dress looks a little familiar, that’s probably because it is. I admit, this is a shameless copy (with her permission) of Fiona’s Flora that she made during pattern testing. I saw her dress, completely fell in love with it, and thought it would be perfect for a wedding I had to go to in the summer.

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The fabric Fiona had used just looked (and sounded) glorious, and when I googled it to check it out, I came across a listing for it on ebay for £2.50/m! At that price, who was I to refuse! I promptly bought 4m of it (and wished I’d bought more, but they were out of it when I checked back). The fabric is a gorgeous John Kaldor viscose twill and it is beautifully soft and drapey. I love the colours as well. I don’t wear a lot of pink, and am trying to wear a bit more after my colour analysis session.

The lining is some poly viscose that I picked up in Goldhawk Road at the NYLon meet up in May, for £1.99/m. I bought 3m of this and then had a panic when I thought it wasn’t enough, as it’s only 45″ wide, but managed to get around it by cutting the skirt pieces on the crossgrain.

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The dipped hem version of Flora was perfect for a wedding – the longer length at the back would be too long on me if it was that length all the way round, but having it longer at the back adds a bit of class to balance out the shorter front. I went for the tank version of the bodice – I’m really not sold on the faux wrap version of the Flora bodice, but I love the tank version – it’s just nice and simple and unfussy but at the same time quite unusual.

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In typical me-style, although I’d had both the pattern and fabric for months, I started work on this dress….oh, about a week before the wedding! Why do I do that! I can only imagine that it’s some subconscious thing because I know I perform well under pressure!

I did a very quick toile of the bodice (very quick, I didn’t even bother putting a zip in), and it seemed pretty alright, so I went ahead and cut it out in a size 10. Looking at the photos, the neckline is actually gaping a bit at the back, so that might need a bit of adjustment if I make another version.

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I also apologise for the fact that the dress has not been ironed in these photos! Luckily the full skirt hides it well!

I had a few issues cutting the dress out, mainly because the viscose was just so slinky it wouldn’t stay still. I cut out one of my skirt panels, only to realise that, after I took the pattern piece off, the pattern piece and the skirt piece I’d just cut were completely different shapes. My friend Clare (Clare number 1 to Marcus, who insists I number my sewing friends called Cla(i)re as there are so many of them) then suggested using spray starch, so I used that on the rest of my cutting, and it made things a lot easier. Luckily it was the main fabric that went wonky, and I had enough of that to re-cut the skirt panel.

I think the dress sewed up without too much drama. This is the point at which I really wish I actually did what I intended to do and keep a notebook by my side when I’m sewing, to note down things about the pattern and process. I actually bought a notebook for this purpose, but haven’t really taken to keeping notes. And now of course I can’t remember many of the details of sewing the dress up…we’ll take that as a good sign – if something had gone drastically wrong, I think I’d remember, and I managed to get it finished in time for the wedding, so it must have been fine!

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This is my first fully lined dress, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I understitched the lining along the bodice, to stop it peeking out, which worked well, but due to the way the bodice is structured with the straps, there were a couple of bits in the corners of the tank I couldn’t get to to understitch. Is there a way I could have done that?

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I wasn’t sure how best to attach the lining to the invisible zip, but I used the Sewaholic Cambie tutorial and it worked brilliantly.

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Somehow the bodice lining ended up slightly longer than the bodice shell – I guess the fabric just stretched out a bit more. This doesn’t bother me too much, I just had to trim the skirt lining down a bit so that it was shorter than the shell. Looking at the photos, the lining could do with being a bit shorted on the right at the front, but I didn’t notice when wearing it because the skirt moves around so much.

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This is the first time I’ve made a circle skirt, and so I did what I was meant to do and left it to hang for a day or two before hemming it, so that I could even it out after the fabric had dropped. However, the fabric didn’t seem to drop at all. Either that, or I have a really bad eye for telling if things are level!

And how good are circle skirts for swishing around and dancing at weddings?! I did SO much twirling around!

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Ok, have to be a bit careful twirling *too* much in the full skirt!

I just machine hemmed the skirt lining, and debated how to hem the main fabric of the skirt. Fiona beautifully hand stitched hers but I knew that I really didn’t have time for that. I also have basically never done any hand stitching on my garments, and so didn’t trust that I would be able to hand stitch the hem and have it look good. I decicded in the end to do a blind hem on my sewing machine. It’s something I learned how to do on my original sewing course, but haven’t actually used since. It turned out alright – not completely blind (largely due to the fact that the fabric isn’t a consistent colour all over), but it looks better than it would have done had I just stitched it normally. I need to work on my technique a bit – there are a few spots where it didn’t quite catch the fabric properly, but it’s good enough!

The straps on the dress are quite narrow set, so bra straps can show when you’re wearing it. I was going to put bra strap carriers in, but in the end just wore a strapless bra to the wedding. I’ll probably go back and add them at some point so that I’ve got a bit more flexibility with wearing the dress.

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The dress lived up to all my expectations and was absolutely perfect for the wedding. I basically love everything about it, and the swirly skirt makes it especially good for twirly dancing. An extra unexpected bonus to the fabric is that when you’re trying to balance your plate with a scone with clotted cream and jam on (mmmm!) on top of your cup of tea (so that you have a spare hand to eat the scone with), and it all slips and you smoosh creamy, jammy scone onto the underside of your boob, the fabric pattern hides it very well!

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The wedding was of two of our capoeira friends, Simon and Zanna, and it was absolutely amazing – it was held at Zanna’s grandad’s place, which was stunning, and the weather was glorious, despite the fact that it was forecast to rain all day. Zanna was wearing a gorgeous vintage wedding dress and looked absolutely fantastic.

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Unfortunately, due to my leaving my dress making to the last minute, I didn’t have time to make their wedding present before the wedding. I have just finished that now (blog post to follow!), so they will finally get that soon! Sorry guys!

I’m going to leave you with this photo of our capoeira friends who attended the wedding – I love the fact that 3 of the dresses (and one of the waistcoats) in this photo are handmade :)

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A day out at SewBrum

8 Oct

On Saturday I headed to Birmingham to join in with the SewBrum meet up, organised by Charlotte of English Girl at Home. I am always up for any opportunity to hang out with other sewing people, and I’d also never been fabric shopping in Birmingham, so it was a good opportunity to explore.

As I have a few sewing meet ups/fabric shopping trips coming up, I went with a strict shopping list. I was successful in finding some things I was looking for, but unfortunately failed to find the two things I really wanted.

The day didn’t get off to a great start when I left my shopping list at home, and managed to fail to charge my phone the night before, but luckily everything improved from there! Although the lack of phone battery means a lack of pics for this post unfortunately! I drove up with my friend Clare, and we headed straight to Barry’s, which was very quiet and calm when we arrived – the calm before the storm of 50 odd sewists who arrived 15 minutes later!

I was a little bit overwhelmed by Barry’s – it’s certainly one of the biggest fabric shops I’ve been into. I didn’t even look at half the shop (probably for the best!).

The key things I was looking for were some suitable fabric for a Robson coat. I did buy some royal blue twill at the meet up in London in May, but I’ve now decided that I want that make that into a Minoru rather than a Robson, so I’m still on the lookout for my perfect Robson fabric. I was also on the hunt for some awesome funky lycra to make roller derby leggings. So this is where I started my hunt in Barry’s. Unfortunately I didn’t find what I was looking for for those (there was some pretty cool lycra, but it was £15/m…), but I did find some awesome treasures.

My most surprising find was this gorgeous sueded stretch satin. I found the navy bolt lying on a cutting table (lucky find!) and immediately asked the shop assistant to show me where it was from so I could check out the other colours. It’s beautifully soft, and I’m always on the lookout for nice stretch wovens. I bought 3m of Navy, which I think would make a classy Georgia dress (I decided, if the fabric is a reasonable price, 3m is my standard, as it allows enough for whatever I want to make). So I also bought 3m in the beige, which, along with some similar coloured crepe de chine as lining, I think will make a great pencil skirt.

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I also picked up some chambray, which is something else that had been on my list, and is destined to become a shirtdress of some description.

We then headed, in dribs and drabs, to the Fancy Silk Store. As we walked in, I saw some gorgeous stretch cottons by the door, which I drooled over slightly. At £9/m, they were slightly more than I usually pay for fabric, unless it’s something I’m specifically looking for. So I walked away and pondered them for a while.

I found a couple of jerseys in fancy silks which I was taken by – this gorgeous purple that I have lined up for a Lola (if I have enough, it was the end of the bolt), and this cool star print jersey, which I think might become a Renfrew. Jerseys are something that I find particularly hard to purchase online, as they are so variable in quality, so I took the chance to buy them while I was there.

After a while pondering, I did go back a get two of the gorgeous stretch cottons – I just couldn’t resist. I bought 2m of each – the tulip one will make an awesome summer dress, and the black floral may become another pencil skirt. Charlotte had managed to secure us a discount in both Barry’s and fancy silks, so that made the decision slightly easier ;)

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Clare and I then wandered round the rag market, but I didn’t pick up anything there (except for some very tasty figs, and some fleece lined tights, which I’ve been grateful for this week!).

We then headed over to Guthri & Ghani, where Lauren had very kindly opened up the upstairs studio for us all to use. She also gave us a 10% off voucher, so we had a little wander round the shop downstairs. Everyone was eyeing up the gorgeous John Kaldor spotty chambray (the same one Tilly used to make her gorgeous Bruyere). I think everyone wanted it, but there was only 1.2m left on the bolt, so no one knew what to do with it. I’m pretty sure if they’d had more, they could have sold it many times over!

I then spotted someone who had got her hands on the same fabric in burgundy, and it was stunning! According to the label, there was only 2.3m left on that bolt, so I didn’t think there’d be anything left after she’d had some. But after she’d had 2m cut, it turns out there was still about 1.28m left. I ummed and ahhed over that for a good few minutes before deciding that I would go for it! Again, it was more expensive than fabric I usually buy, but it is SO soft and wonderful! There’s enough to make a blouse/shirt out of. Having looked since, I haven’t seen the burgundy version online anywhere, so I’m glad I went for it! I was silly and forgot to take a photo of it when I was taking pics this morning, I’ll add one later!

We then headed back upstairs, perused the table of raffle prizes for the raffle that had been organised, and generally milled around chatting to people. It was lovely to see again people who I’ve met before, and also meet new people. I’ve found myself a few new blogs to follow, which is great – I recently cleared my blogroll out as I just had too many, and never managed to read them all, but I now find that I don’t have enough to read, so a top up was good!

The raffle was then drawn and I was lucky enough to win a subscription to Love sewing magazine, which I am pretty chuffed with. I like reading sewing magazines, but I rarely buy them now, as I often find them a bit expensive for what they are (and would rather spend the money on fabric or patterns!), so it was the perfect prize for me, as it’s something I will enjoy, but wouldn’t have bought for myself.

Post the raffle, we had a fabric and pattern swap. I’ve never taken part in one before, and it was quite a sight to behold. I managed to get myself a few pieces of lovely fabric. The green and white piece is from Jo-Ann’s (well travelled fabric!) and is a perfect match to the colours in my sewing room, so I’m going to use it to make some things for the room. The stripey piece may well become a Renfrew or similar, and I’m undecided on the others so far. Thank you to whoever brought these pieces along!

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I (and Clare) thoroughly enjoyed the day, and it was great to finally check out the fabric shops in Birmingham and visit Guthri & Ghani. Now I just need to find some time to sew all the things I have planned with my new fabric! Thanks again to Charlotte for organising the meet up, and to Lauren for hosting us all!

Combining my favourite hobbies – finished Espresso leggings

23 Sep

This post is going to go some way to explaining my intermittent presence on this blog over the last few months.

Those of you who sew will understand how it can be so completely all consuming – you spend all your free time (that you can get away with without neglecting the other half too much) sewing, and your un-free time thinking about sewing.

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Nothing like starting a post with a nice arse shot…

So, I recently started playing roller derby, which, as it turns out, is just as all consuming as sewing! If you don’t know much about it, roller derby is essentially a contact sport on roller skates, and it is SO MUCH FUN! I first came across it when I saw the film Whip It a few months ago (if you haven’t seen it, go watch it!), and I joined a beginners’ course run by Oxford Roller Derby about 3 months ago. I had never skated before, but through lots of encouragement and support from the awesome girls of ORD, I can now skate pretty fast, weave, jump, skate backwards (sort of…) and various other things I never thought I’d be doing on wheels. Stopping is something I’m still working on…

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Seems I managed to get very few decent photos of myself in this lot…

Anyway, it is awesome fun (if you’re in Oxford and interested, there’ll be another beginners’ course running shortly…), but I stopped spending my days at work thinking ‘I’d rather be sewing’ and started spending them thinking ‘I’d rather be skating’. For a while I was like ‘arghhh, I don’t have time to have two major hobbies’, but I’ve got the balance back a bit now, although I am training 3 times a week, so it cuts down on sewing time a bit…I just need to start being more efficient with the time I do have, and combining my two new favourite hobbies, by sewing kit to wear for roller derby!

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I decided to start with leggings (although the Pneuma tank is high on my list as well) I ummed and ahhed a bit over which leggings pattern to use. I do this – I majorly overthink the simplest decision, Marcus will attest to how long I can spend stressing over what is actually a very trivial issue! The two patterns I was deciding between were Megan Nielsen’s Virginia leggings and the Cake Patterns Espresso leggings. I read a few reviews on each pattern (I told you I overthink these things!), didn’t really come across anything bad on either of them, and decided on Espresso mainly becuase I was intrigued by the whole creating a pattern based on your measurements idea.

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I bought the fabric from the Man outside Sainsburys in Walthamstow market. I think it was £2/m, and I bought it mainly because I’m a sucker for anything turquoise. To be honest, it’s not the best quality fabric. It’s more of a cotton jersey than a lycra, and it doesn’t have great stretch recovery. But turquoise! And a print that is a little more interesting than I usually go for – I don’t think I’ve ever worn an animal print before in my life!

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Erm, I don’t really know what I was doing…living out the animal print??

I went along to watch a bout that my roller derby team were playing in. When I got home, I walked past the door to my sewing room and saw this fabric sitting there. I suddenly realised that it matched our team colour perfectly and set about turning it into a pair of leggings.

The one measurement I struggled to work out exactly how it needed to be measured was the rise. I thought I had it, but in hindsight, I think I must have got it a bit wrong.

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My pattern piece ended up completely flat across the top, as opposed to higher at the back like the diagrams, but I figured that was just individual variance. When I had them all sewn up, bar the waistband, I tried them on and realised that the back of the leggings was sitting way lower than the front. I think the back was more where it should be, although could have done with being a bit higher – it was a bit of a struggle to get it all turned over etc at the back, and I could maybe do with them being a bit higher there. The front on the other hand came up about 3 inches too high.

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This mismatch made sewing the waistband a bit tricky. I think it probably took me as long to sew the waistband as it did the whole rest of the leggings. It was made much harder by the fact I couldn’t just fold the waistband down my the same amount all round, but had to work out how much I needed to chop off the front, while trying to eke out my waistband from the back.

I’m not convinced by the method of sewing the waistband either. In my head, it would make more sense to sew a channel and then thread the elastic through, rather than sewing with the elastic already in place, but I did it as per the instructions. I have a feeling that I might have then realised why the instructions say to do it that way, but I can’t now remember what that reason was!

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I was a bit discouraged by all the comments I read on this pattern of people saying that they made the leggings in 45 minutes. I think it took me about 4 hours or more in total. I had a bit of a ‘ugh, I’m so slow at sewing, I can’t even manage a pair of leggings without it taking me forever’ moment, but don’t worry, I’m over it. I know people work at different paces, and I am a complete and utter perfectionist, which probably slows me down somewhat!

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how these leggings turn out. The slight annoyances with them are more to do with the fabric than the pattern – the stretch recovery really is not great, and being cotton, they don’t wick moisture away very well. After skating in them for a couple of hours, I find that my knees especially, where my kneepads are, are pretty soggy and a bit saggy, but that doesn’t stop them looking good when I’m wearing them :) I think the wrinkling you can see in the photos is also due to the fabric not really having as much stretch as would be ideal. I want to make another pair, in better fabric, and re-doing my measurements to make that waistband easier.

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I wore them to training the other week, and when my teammates found out that I made them, they all declared that they wanted some and could I make team leggings! I am not averse to this idea (hopefully I can improve on 4 hours per pair!), but I need to find some better fabric. I really need to find some decent lycra to make these out of, and I need something with a funky, turquoise print – anyone have any suggestions for where I can source some awesome legging fabric?

I could also do with some pattern advice – is Espresso a suitable pattern to use when trying to make multiple pairs of leggings (we’re talking 20-odd pairs here…), or is the having to draw different patterns for each person going to be a nightmare? I might just have to give them all homework to trace the pattern in their size themselves! Awesome as personally sized leggings are, am I better off just using a legging pattern that has a number of sizes and making up however many pairs in each size, and allowing the stretch in the fabric to cover the fitting? What do you think?

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I also made myself some nice little sweat absorbing pads for my knee/elbow pads and wrist guards. These are made from a flannel shirt I got from a charity shop, and filled with a mixture of silica gel and bicarbonate of soda, to absorb moisture and odour, and so far they’re working pretty well! Derby is definitely a sweaty sport!

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I was going to leave you with a photo of me all kitted up, but this is the only one I have…for future reference, trying to stop one of those swings when your feet have wheels on them – not easy!

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