Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 5 Everything 2014

Hello all, and I hope you've had a wonderful Christmas season, with plenty of decadent leftovers to enjoy in the time since. :)

Thank you everyone who left such lovely comments on my last Francoise post; I appreciate your kindness very much. Thank you too to all who voted for me in the competition - because of you I was actually one of the runners up (runner ups??) which was an enormous thrill!

The end of the year means it's time for Gillian's:

End of year evaluations are one of those "it'd be great to" things that I think of and promptly forget to do unless reminded, so thanks Gillian for the impetus!

I have a bit of a backlog of unblogged makes, so I'm going to keep this as one, hopefully not too lengthy post. I may or may not keep to the '5' guideline. So....

I kept a record all year of the number of times each item was worn, which was quite an enlightening exercise.  I've largely gone by this in determining this year's hit list,

  • This is a bit of a cheat, but I'm grouping together the basics as one Hit. These definitely got worn the most - perhaps unsurprisingly. They're not particularly exciting to sew, still less to blog about, but I've found it really satisfying to sew the wardrobe building blocks like these. 

Just a selection here, from top left: Plantain tee (Deer and Doe) & Wallis leggings (Style Arc), Rowe top (Style Arc), Rowe top & Hudson Pants (True Bias), and two Kirstens (Maria Denmark). I reach for these (and their like) over and over again. HIT.

  • Black floral skirt (New Look):

Love it. And I do wear more than black with it... One of my favourite things about this is that I can wear it all year round. In summer with a singlet, in winter with a jumper and tights/boots, and a chambray shirt anywhere in between. HIT.

  • Refashioned floral blouse:

This just makes me happy every time I wear it. It's comfortable, feels lovely on, breathes, and never needs fussing with or adjusting. Perfect summer blouse. HIT.

  • Cobalt stripe jumper

Even though cobalt is not one of my better colours, I think it works here being tempered by the grey. I love the stitch pattern and the fit, although being a cotton yarn, it does tend to grow after a few wears. (Quick hand wash and all's restored though). Plus, it's one of my husband's favourites of anything I've made. HIT.

  • Willow Pants (Style Arc)

I confess, I'm a little torn about these. I love the pattern, and I think I got the fit sorted out fairly well. But it wasn't an ideal fabric choice - cotton sateen just doesn't have  the 'weight' for them. By the end of the day they have relaxed a little too much to look good (jodhpurs, anyone?) but because I do love the print and because I MADE TROUSERS, I'm affording them a special mention on this year's list. PARTIAL HIT.

  • Antoinette silk pants (Style Arc)

A late make, these, so we'll disregard the number-of-times-worn list. I ADORE THESE PANTS. I feel great whenever I wear them. Love, love, love. HIT.

I like that Gillian uses the word 'misses' rather than 'fails', because I don't think there's anything I made this year that I didn't learn something from, even if the garment wasn't wholly successful. So these are the makes that ,while ok, just missed the mark in some way. I'm becoming less tolerant of ill-fit, wrong colour or fabric, which I think is a good thing.

  • yellow jeans

This are a miss on three counts. 
1) I was trying to experiment with natural dyes rather than chemical ones, and gave up half way through and used a commercial packet one.
2) As much as I love the colour, I've realised I love it more on other people. These just feel way too bright for me. hence
3) I never wear them

  • Safari chambray shirt (Style Arc)

I'm a bit loath to include this here, because in terms of workmanship this is probably one of the best things I've made. But there are just too many things that bother me about it for me to enjoy wearing it out of the house. It's a bit too oversized (my arms by my side in the pic are keeping the volume under control), the pockets feel too big, the shoulders are too wide and the tabs to hold the rolled up sleeves in place are too low. For around the house or gardening it's wonderful. But it really didn't fulfil the intention it was made for - a go with everything, wear all the time shirt. I've since bought a chambray one that absolutely fulfills those requirements (first RTW besides underwear in two years), so problem solved there, but there's a vague aura of regret that pervades this shirt. For that reason, MISS.

  •  Drape Drape 2 top

It's ok. It was fun to make - such a completely counterintuitive pattern - and I feel a little glow of satisfaction at my chevron matching at the back. But, I haaaate having to fiddle and fuss with my clothes when I'm wearing them, and that's all I ever seem to do when I wear this. It creeps and bunches and rides up, and somehow the sleeves manage to be too long and too short at the same time. Life's too short for high-maintenance short, MISS

  • Scalloped chambray shorts (Pattern Runway)

Yes, I love chambray. Yes, I sewed welt pockets. Yes, they're comfortable. But that's no excuse for a garment that's at least two sizes too big. Time to admit it. MISS.

  • Willow Pants (Style Arc)

Everything that bothers me about the printed Willow Pants is present in this pair, and there's no redeeming print. MISS.


  • Last year's goal list was far too ambitious. And I didn't take into account the fact that I'd be sewing for the school production for a third of the year. Now I like a challenge, but my goal list very quickly became an oppression and a reproach. Sewing is a hobby and a creative outlet. I'm not going to let it morph into anything else again.
  • That being said, one particular goal - becoming comfortable with sewing knits - is well and truly met. See 'basics' above!
  • I think I'm becoming more aware of what suits me - my figure has changed over the last few years from the straight-up-and-down column it used to be and it's taken a little while to work out what looks best now.
  • Something that's been extremely helpful in wardrobe building has been researching seasonal colour analysis. At the risk of sounding a little bit Bridget Jones' mother-ish, I had the Colour Me Beautiful thing done in my teens and was labelled a Summer pretty much by default - most warm colours made me look ill and bright colours wore me. But it never really sat comfortably - I don't really like pastels and always felt a bit washed out wearing them. Trinny and Susannah's 'Muted Brights' category felt a bit closer, but still didn't quite hit the mark. Then recently I discovered that some clever soul has broken down the seasons into three sub-categories, and I had my eureka! moment. This kind of seasonal analysis is far more constructive. Soft Summer, a palette of richer, muted cooler colours is perfect. It doesn't wash me out or overwhelm me. It complements the fact that my colouring is low contrast, rather than dramatic, And it showed how the 'sister' seasons can flow into each other, which explains why there are some warmer 'Autumn' colours that I can wear successfully, provided I get the combination right. Very, very helpful! If you're interested, this was a really good site for determining which you are, but just googling 'seasonal colour analysis' brings up a wealth of sites. I quite liked the site 12 Steps too - she writes rather poetically - although it's specifically make up based and I found it a bit hard to find my way around the site (best to google 'soft summer (or whatever you are) make up palette' and get to it that way). In any case, I'm finding fabric buying is a much more effective and satisfying experience. 


I have to confess, I'm feeling much less goal oriented this year. It's been a very challenging year in several ways and the fact is I'm pretty worn out. I feel like I need to go gently with myself for a while, to be less driven to tick items off a master list. I usually try to have a "focus" word for a year, and for 2015 "refresh" sits well. Most days off I've had this year have involved sewing and I think I need to make space in 2015 for other things that refresh me; walking, reading, praying, swimming, cooking, gardening, and so on. Next year I think I'd prefer to make fewer items really well, than churn out several mediocre ones. I've spent two years trying to build up a handmade wardrobe and I'm at the stage now where most days (5-6 a week) I can wear something I've made , and by preference, not just for the sake of it. I'm ready to slow down a bit.

That being said, two things I would like to do next year - or at least make a start on - are learning to spin, and learning how to make underwear. I think that's a much less pressurised and more achievable list than last year! In fact, I'm pretty sure both those things were on last list; they just got crowded out by all the rest. Funny really, because those are the ones that interest me most...

How about you? What has 2014 taught you? And has it influenced your approach to 2015?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Inspired by: An Experimental Francoise

Don't you just love it when something you intended to make coincides perfectly with a new pattern/sewalong/competition? I do :)

In this instance it was the Francoise Dress by Tilly of Tilly and the Buttons, a classic style sheath dress, with or without sleeves.  About a month ago she kicked off a competition - with some pretty impressive prizes! - and since I'd had a white summer shift planned, I thought I'd have a go. Here's mine, in plain white cotton sateen, with pattern over the front drawn with fabric markers (close ups to come!):

I'd seen this dress (below) on Pinterest back in the depths of winter and thought I'd try recreating it come warmer weather, without the sleeves and with a bit more length. I think, though it's hard to tell, that the pattern is formed through a fine variegated trim sewn down in place, or possibly embroidery. This was my first plan, then it occured to me that there might be one or two other things happening in December, and as much as I like the idea of embroidery, it wasn't really a time-efficient option...

I thought fabric marker pens might give a similar effect overall. I do have confess though that it took me a while to get past the idea of 1980s kiddie craft; remember those t-shirts and canvas shoes??  But, I think it actually worked out alright!

This was my first experience with a TatB pattern, and I was really impressed. The drafting is beautifully done, the instructions are clear and comprehensive, and every step is photo-documented on her blog. The sizing is spot on too, and since I'd sewn up a commercial pattern (not yet blogged) immediately prior to this, I very much appreciated not having to take out massive and unwarranted amounts of excess ease!

 There were only a few fitting modifications I needed to do, and (unlike the commercial one...) these were all to do with my body shape and preferences rather than trying to make it fit.


  • I made the front darts finish 1cm earlier so they didn't finish on the apex of the bust.
  • I took in the centre back seam at the neck by 4cm and tapered back down to original seam line
  • I took the side seams in by 1.5cm at my waist
  • I slimmed the skirt's A-line shape down to make a slightly straighter silhouette.

To do the pattern on front, I cut out a front piece (main and shoulder yokes in one) out of tissue paper and sketched out the design in a normal marker pen. I kept the rough shape of the original design - and the feathers at the waist, love those - and then just doodled until it looked finished.

Ideally I would have had a light box to transfer these markings to the fabric. But I didn't. So instead I pinned the paper behind the fabric (front piece, darted and sewn to shoulder yokes) and held it up against a window and traced that way. I looked faintly ridiculous, and my arms ached a bit afterwards, but it was effective! I used a quilter's pencil; the lines are supposed to fade in sunlight. Here's hoping they do!

Here's where the experimental part of the project came in. Technically these aren't actually fabric markers. They're blending markers, used for stamping, colouring etc on paper. But I was using these at work and since they come in plenty of colours (168 :)  ) I tried them out on some scrap fabric. There was very little bleed, and once I'd pressed with a hot iron and pressing cloth, I washed it. The colours set beautifully!

The original was a vivid cobalt blending into aqua, which I loved, but I decided to use a dark teal instead since that suits me better. Dark teal, mid teal and aqua, to be exact. I drew over the pencil lines, changing marker pens every few inches.

 It took a while, and after I'd done the first few bits I really thought I ruined the whole thing. But the nature of the design means that the hand-drawn quality works overall. When you look at one individual section of it it can look a bit rubbishy, but taken as a whole it's ok.

It's not lined; the neckline is finished with a facing, and the armholes with self bias binding.

So that's it - my version of Francoise!

I'm wondering how this pattern would look in a softer fabric - I know it suggests something that will hold the shape, but the skirt as drafted is a bit exaggerated for me. I think a drapier fabric with the original fullness might work rather nicely.

I'm also keen to try this as a winter dress with sleeves. But I'll worry about that come Autumn...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Complete: Antoinette Pant & Annie Cami

Back again, and this time with one of my favourite ever makes. Isn't it just so satisfying when you take a bit of a sewing gamble and it pays off?? In this case, I wasn't sure if I could make up this pattern successfully, if I'd even like them on me if I did, and then when I found the fabric it was so lovely I was genuinely intimidated by it. But, since my Pinterest board is full of drapey, silky trousers I decided to bite the bullet and make the attempt. After all, even if it all went pear-shaped, it's not like I'd be stuffing up open-heart surgery or anything...

I'd been stalking the Antoinette Pant page on the Style Arc website since it was released:

They're a slim yet still relaxed fitting pant, with front angled pockets, inverted pleats hidden under an angled knife pleat or fold, and fastening with an invisible zip at the back. I do love the idea of silk pants in warmer weather; they just seem so breezy and effortless. What sold me on this pattern was the way the pleating and folding at the front added drape without seeming to add volume (well, I was hoping anyhow...) and the darts rather than elastic at the back. It looked a really elegant yet relaxed design.

I found a beautiful silk at The Fabric Store in Melbourne in their big sale back in July or August. It's an Anna & Boy crepe de chine called Coconut Ice. In fact, halfway through making these I had a look at the A&B website, and saw they had a very similar style of pants made of this fabric retailing for just over $350. I love being able to sew...

And here they are, with not much hanger appeal, I admit! The close up shows the pattern, though the colour is truer to life in the outdoor shots.

There weren't many adjustments needed in the muslin stage. I made the back darts a bit deeper, and altered the waist facing accordingly. After years of skinny jeans it's a bit counter intuitive to have any volume around the hips and thighs, so that took some getting used to! I did take the side seams in about 1cm from the waist down to the knee; that took a bit of volume out and still allowed for sitting down comfortable without the fabric straining.

Construction-wise, these went together really easily, and the silk was surprisingly cooperative to work with. I've been concentrating on knits so much lately, that I'd forgotten how satisfying wovens are.:)  And these are the most comfortable non-knit garment I've ever made - I really love them. The day I took these shots was about 30 degrees, and I was perfectly and happily cool all day - anyone who's lived through an Australian summer will know what a boon that is!

I didn't realise my hands were in my pockets in every shot...

Aaaand.... a slightly awkward mid-way though turning back shot.

Something that wasn't in the instructions that I added in was to sew some narrow silk ribbon in the seam allowance next to the seam of the pocket. I was a little concerned that being cut on an angle they might stretch out of shape over time.

I also picked up some cream coloured silk from the same sale. Something I felt the absence of last summer was a plain tuck-in-able woven singlet or cami, I sewed this one up using Style Arc's Annie Cami., remembering to lower the bust darts (by 6cm!). This silk did not play so nicely.

In fact, it sulked from beginning to end of the whole miserable process. Yes, it's beautiful to touch and wear, yes it goes with almost everything I own, but oh! I've never worked with such a diva fabric before. It just wouldn't stay put. If I ever have to sew air, I'll be well prepared.

I discovered the hard way last time I made this that french seams don't work when the seams have to open at the lower edges. But although I didn't really like idea of overlocked seams on this, the fabric frayed quite badly (because of course it did). In the end I did overlock the edges and then folded them back and basted them in place. Then I sewed them down like this, at the side and back seams. It's not immaculate, but it's passable.

The one thing I'm really kicking myself over is that I forgot to stay stitch the neckline at the beginning. And yes, the fabric did stretch (because of course it did). So annoyingly, given this is something I planned to wear a lot, the neck binding doesn't sit completely flat at the centre front. Live and learn, I guess. Maybe I'll just have to wear a long pendant to help it sit in place, or at least disguise it a bit.

Still, if I had to make a mistake, I'm glad it was on the top and not my special pants!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Complete: More Summer Basics

Well, hello to you! It's been tricky of late to find the time to sit down and do this post - probably because I've been spending all my spare time sewing instead - but here are the rest of this summer's basic tees. I warn you in advance, this is a pretty photo-heavy post, but maybe someone out there will find the comparisons helpful. I always like reading up on other people's experiences of patterns before I tackle them anyway :)

Last time I shared my versions of the Kirsten Kimono Tee. This time we'll kick off with the knit top from New Look 6899, the pattern I used for my Head vs Heart Skirt (still a favourite, by the way). When I bought it it was really only for the skirt; the top didn't register as a possibility at all. But two years on, I thought it was time to try it. Because I sew knits now... ;)

This is a slightly scooped boat neck top with raglan sleeves, and I used a fine, drapey (viscose?) knit fabric from Rathdowne Fabrics and Remnants. The pattern has quite a lot of shaping, including at the back centre seam, and I was able to do the whole thing on the overlocker. (Why did I ever bother trying to sew knits on my regular machine??)

(Please ignore the dire need for ironing...) I think I stretched the raglan seams a little when sewing them, which is something I'll have to watch out for next time.

The pattern actually calls for twin needling at the hem and sleeves, which I tried to do. Unfortunately my machine wasn't having a bar of that - it absolutely destroyed those hemlines, chewing up the fabric like no one's business. (Is this normal for lighter-weight fabrics? I must research that more.) In the end I had to cut all attempted hems off. This meant for the sleeves at least there wasn't enough fabric left to turn under and try again, not without catching up the upper side seam, anyway. So instead I sewed bands to finish them off, and this is where the formula given in the Kirsten Tee was so helpful. Although since arm bands don't curve the same way a neckband does, I probably could have made them slightly longer than the given 70% - maybe 80% or so.

The hem band I kept the same width as the top itself, so as to keep the drape. Wish I'd made sure it was sitting flat before taking the photo...

 I do like this one, but I've found I like it best tucked in with skirts or trousers (just not jeans...). The drapiness of the fabric gives it a bit of a blouse feel that seems to work when it's tucked in. I'd happily make this one again, although maybe next time in a fabric that can handle a twin needle.

Next up is the Tonic Tee, by Skinny Bitch, Curvy Chick Patterns, a free fitted t-shirt pattern that I downloaded back in February and hadn't got around to until now. (There's a free long sleeved, crew neck version too - also free - that I will absolutely be sewing up for next autumn/winter).

Very Important Note, that I wish had been mentioned in the instructions: As a PDF pattern you have to tape these pages together with the edges butted up flush against each other, NOT overlapping them. It's not something I've ever come across in a PDF pattern before, and since the pattern lines on the pages don't go right to the edges it does look as though they're meant to overlap. But they're not. This was extremely confusing until I googled other people's Tonic posts. I love the online sewing community...

I sewed this up in a cotton grey marle knit, that has plenty of stretch, but little drape.

I sewed the XS graded out to S at the hips, according to the measurements given, and it's a very similar fit to RTW. Again, all done on the overlocker, bar the twin needling at hems - no trouble this time!

It went together very easily, and was a relatively quick make. Would I make it again? Well, actually...

I already did!

This one (which I cut out at the same time as I did the first, in either Blind Optimism or Lack of Foresight...lucky it fits!) is out of the same fabric as the New Look top above. At least I thought it was, but it seemed to handle the twin needle fine - on the sleeves at least. The hem was so appalling I couldn't even bear to photograph it. Nothing for it but to cut it off. If I could have burned the offcuts I would have. Once again, the band solution came to the rescue.

There was one other change I made to the first Tonic, and that was the neckband. I think you can tell in the photos that the second sits a bit more nicely. Go back and check. I'll wait :)

 When I sewed the grey neckband on, I was surprised to see that it wasn't sitting quite flat, since the rest of the top was going together so nicely. I went back and checked the instructions and saw this:

Notice how in the illustration there's overhang at both ends? I'd completely missed that the first time around.

Now, it feels a bit ungracious to say this when the pattern is free, but I don't see why the pattern piece can't just be printed at the right size. Since there are no markings or notches, it really is guesswork to get it right. I just tried to make my pinned pre-sewn version look similar to the diagram and hoped for the best.

When they're laid out flat together, you can see the difference:

It's really just a minor quibble I suppose, because I really do like the fit overall - these are going to be great summer basics, and being fitted, will sit very nicely layered under jackets or cardigans in cooler weather too. It's a good go-to pattern, and will get plenty of use down the track I think.

To wrap up, here's the last of my summer tees - ironically this was the first I made, and that back in May. This is the Style Arc Riva Raglan Tee

I think this is meant to be a sporty style tee. I also think I'd like it much better in a different fabric, though to be fair, this was only ever intended to be the muslin. It got pressed into service during MMM.

This is a knit with plenty of stretch (it has a cotton lycra kind of feel, but I'm guessing here) and is also extremely stiff. Since it's a bit more voluminous than the other patterns here, that makes it quite sticky-outy when worn (There's probably a proper sewing term for that, but I don't know it, sorry...)

 Also - and this is the first time I've ever wondered about the drafting on a SA pattern - the neckband seems a little long because it just doesn't sit flat, You can see that in the photos above. And if not, you can definitely see it in the one below:

This one doesn't really get worn out of the house, unless it's to go walking the dog, or picking up kids from the bus stop. I think a future version would be vastly improved by using a softer fabric and fine tuning the fit of the neckband. It does seem to be asking for a second chance, especially with contrast sleeves... Maybe some time.

Anyhow, that's it for the summer basics (unless I can find a singlet or tank pattern I like in the next few weeks). Apologies for the mercilessly long post; I won't inflict such a long one on you all again, I promise!

 The best thing about sewing my basics first, rather than diving in to the exciting ones, is that now my more interesting projects will all have something that goes with more wardrobe orphans :D

Next post, one of my favourite makes ever!

PS: Can anyone suggest a good singlet /tank pattern?? Thanks :D