Yay! I made a dress that I could wear in public!

Sorry about the slightly dark photo and the rubbish around my mirror and in the back ground , oh, and also my slippers…..

Because I haven’t been able to knit much lately I’ve spent a bit more time on my sewing than normal (well a lot more- I am rather slack with my sewing) as a result I have almost finished my Peony dress!

I am so pleased! This is the first dress I’ve made with a bodice that needs attaching to the skirt (and I made a smaller size for the top than the bottom) plus it’s only my second ever invisible zip so it could have gone horribly wrong but it’s totally wearable. I went for a longer length as I have lots of short dresses and I’d like a few longer ones for when I’m feeling more demure (or indeed hairier).

Here’s a view from the back


Of course it isn’t perfect. In a few places you can see where I need to improve my technique; the hem isn’t quite straight, the zip isn’t quite as invisible as I’d like and it could be lye flatter, the gathers could be more even and it could have done with a little bit of adjustment for my shape.

Here’s what  I’d change:

  • I’d make the waist area a little smaller. I thought that it was going to be too small but actually the waist is pretty big on me. Obviously this is better than being too small but as it’s a little big it a tad unflattering on the tummy area.
  • I’d use less stretchy fabric. This one is only a little bit stretchy but that means it can sit a little oddly if it stretches over.
  • I’d work out why the neckline sticks out a bit at the back and fix it.
  • I’d move the pockets forward and up. At the moment the pockets are a slightly towards the back and I’m not sure why.
  • I’d take some length out of the bodice at the waist. I’m pretty short and I think it sits a little low.
  • I’d narrow the neckline. It’s a little too wide for me. I suspect I may have narrow shoulders.

I still need to make the belt so we’ll see what it looks like with that but for the moment I’m thrilled!



Just because it does up doesn’t mean it fits- my first attempt at alterations

a very pretty dress

Over the summer during a visit to Manchester I found a lovely dress in a vintage shop (sadly I can’t remember the name of the shop).  While I could get it on and (with a bit of breathing in) do the zip up there was no denying that it was on the small side. I’d be okay if I stood up all of the time and didn’t eat anything and stayed on the alert for the sound of the seams ripping….. My normal shopping mantra of ‘ just because it does up doesn’t mean it fits’ went out of my head and I found myself at the till. It was so pretty I couldn’t leave it in the shop.

Once I got it home I proceeded to try it on at regular intervals on the off chance that either a) I had somehow shrunk or b) the dress had magically grown. You won’t be surprised to hear that neither of these things happened.  On one of the occasions when I was double checking that I hadn’t shrunk to a size 9 (a random size on the label of the dress and also a size I am unlikely ever to be unless I ever get the urge to give up wine, cheese and cake which is frankly unlikely to ever happen) I managed to break the zip. As you can imagine I was  very annoyed with myself.

I’ve recently left my old job to work for myself and while I’m waiting for things to get settled and first invoices to be paid I need to keep a close eye on my finances. One of my biggest areas of unnecessary spending is clothing so I’m trying really hard not to buy any clothes for the next few months. As I have a little bit more time on my hands now it seems like an ideal opportunity to look at the stuff I have already that is either needs fixing or altering so expand my wardrobe a bit without a trip to Topshop.

So, I got myself a new zip and some thread and set about trying to fix it.

the collar and the colours are my favourite parts of this dress

I am far from being a brilliant seamstress but I won’t get good without practice so I put my nerves about ruining a pretty dress to one side and got my unpicker out. Luckily for me the dress is handmade with quite a nice seam allowance.  I unpicked the old zip and the back seam. To kill two birds with one stone and take the dress out a little at the same time as I was putting in the zip I decided to reduce the seam allowance down the back to get myself about an extra inch.

My first attempt did not go well. I tacked down the seam with my new reduced seam allowance and tacked in the zip at the back of the dress.I was feeling very pleased with myself indeed. At that point it started to go wrong……This was the first time using the zip foot on my lovely 70s Singer and it was noticeably more difficult that sewing in a zip on a more modern machine. Firstly the machine goes really fast which is good for seams but a nightmare for anything fiddly. To make matters worse when I’d made it half the way around I realised the zip foot was broken doesn’t let you sew to the right…. I swore a little but persevered. When I finally unpicked the tacking down the centre it was time for more swearing as I’d done some thing wrong which made the fabric at the side of the zip hang over too much and get caught in the zip. I was very annoyed!

A cup of tea and lots of unpicking later I was ready to start again. This time I decided to put in the zip on the right side of the fabric. Personally I really like a visible zip and it’s much easier to sew. I’m not entirely sure that it’s in keeping with the style of the dress but I am going to think of it as putting my own spin on it.

here it is with a new working zip

This time I was much more successful. I tacked and sewed again and discovered that the button hole foot was much easier to use for zips than the actual zip foot. I’m very pleased with the finished dress. It’s far from a professional finish and there’s lots of hand stitching to finish it off but it’s not too questionable to wear in public, it fits and the zip does up!

It’s a strange experience to make alterations to a dress that someone else has handmade. I couldn’t help but wonder who they were, what they were making the dress for and why it got given away. I also wondered if they  would be cross with the slightly slap dash work I was doing on their dress if they knew. I am hopeful that they wouldn’t mind the less than pro sewing- I’m taking the pinked edges as a sign that the original seamstress cut corners now and again herself!

Overall I’m really pleased, I now have a new dress and a little more sewing experience and it’s only cost me a zip and some thread ( and a lot of swearing of course).


Dress from Prima pattern

My dress (and a bunny in the background)

About a year and a half ago I started making this dress. My mum had given me a free pattern from Prima and I had some pretty fabric lying around so I thought I’d give it a go.

I started off quite enthusiastically but before I could even cut out the pattern pieces I noticed a problem. The full pattern wasn’t included and the body of the dress needed additional length. After quite a bit of faffing around trying to get the line right I gave in and called in the help of a more experienced sewer who showed me how to use newspaper to complete the pattern. I cut out the pattern pieces and did the tucks quite quickly but then I came to the darts….for some reason I was really scared of darts and despite getting instructions and reassurance from various people I just couldn’t bring myself to get started. I should point out that at this point my sewing machine hadn’t been fixed and was temperamental to say the least. It took forever to get the tension right and even then it was pretty hit and miss with actually working. The bobbin winder also wasn’t very happy….. To get the sewing machine to actually stitch was such a pain in the arse that I had to really really want to sew other wise it just wasn’t worth the hassle!

The dress sat about in my sewing box for months and months. Occasionally I’d spot it and feel a bit guilty about not doing anything about it but then I hid it under some clutter and forget about it again. Finally, when I had my sewing machine fixed and got my sewing mojo back, I got around to digging out the pieces, giving them a good iron, and getting started again.

Embarrassingly, after all the fuss I made the darts, they were really simple and only took me one try! I did have to consult my massive 70s sewing book but it was all pretty self explanatory. After I’d got those sorted out the rest of the dress came together quickly. It was just like making a very long top.

the black tights I'm wearing here really don't go......

Now that I’ve finished the dress I’m really not sure about it. I like the pattern of the fabric and the colour but there’s something about the fit and the way it hangs that I’m not quite sure about. I’m not sure that cotton was the best fabric to use. I think it would have been better in something with more movement.  When you wear it without a belt it looks a little bit sack like. However when you put a belt with it the cotton drapes in a weird way and looks a bit unflattering.

it looks very odd with a belt

The other thing I’m not sure about are the sleeves. These were my first effort at gathering a sleeve and I don’t think I’ve gathered them quite enough. They are still a bit big and make me think of kimonos.  On the plus side they are both the same size which is what most worried me when I was making them.

I’m not quite ready to wear this out in public yet so it’s going to go into the wardrobe and hopefully in a few weeks time I’ll be a bit more keen on it.

My Sorbetto

You can just about make out the top in the gloom....

Now that my sewing machine is working again I wanted to make a new top. I had some lilac and white stripped fabric hanging around so I thought I’d have a go at Sorbetto.

I’d never done darts or worked with bias binding before so I thought it would be good practise. I thought that it would be really hard and take ages but actually it was fairly easy and only took a couple of hours. I think cutting out the bits of the pattern and sticking them together was the most time consuming part.

I didn’t check the size of the pattern as I was printing so it turned out a little bit smaller than it should have done. It would have been a bit tricky to check the measurements on the test square while trying to print it out at work on the sly. It’s come out okay for size. I didn’t quite have enough fabric for a hem so I used bias binding instead. I quite like the finished hem so I think I might do that for hems in the future.

I’m really pleased with the finished top. You can’t see very well from the photo above as it was quite dark and a bit cold so I forgot to take my cardy off for the picture. I wore the top to work and think it counts as a success as no-one asked me if I’d made it (I always take that as a hint that it looks a bit rough around the edges).

I like it so much that I’m planning to make another one. There’s a pattern on-line for little sleeves which I’d like to try. I’m quite excited about it!

Not sure why I didn't move the bag off my wardrobe before I took this picture....

My sewing machine is working!

After spending many months looking at my sewing machine and hoping that it would magically start working I finally took it to a proper shop to get it fixed. I was a bit nervous that I’d get to the shop and find that it wouldn’t actually be broken but that I’d been doing something wrong. When the sewing machine man pointed out that I’d be using the wrong bobbin it didn’t bode well…. Luckily it turned out that the machine was a bit wonky (something about the timing of picking up the thread) and it could be fixed.

I was really impressed with the sewing machine shop. They were super nice to me and when I picked up my machine they gave me a quick tour around the machine to make sure I was using it properly. They’d even managed to get the tension sorted out (which I’d never managed). Should you be interested here’s the website for the shop – Sew Amazing.

I was so excited to have a working sewing machine that I wanted to get sewing straight away. I dug out some fabric and decided to make myself a bag. I took a lovely evening course at The Make Lounge  on making bags a couple of years ago and luckily the info had stayed in my head. Once again I didn’t bother with a pattern (I don’t think it really matters with a bag unless you need to have certain dimensions) I just got my ruler out to make sure that pieces were square and the straps were the same length, width and depth. I was rather pleased with the finished bag and I think the fabric works really well.

My new yoga mat bag and why it’s always a good idea to use a pattern when sewing

If I was being generous I would call myself a beginner sewer. So far I have made two yoga mat bags, a cushion cover and two tops. Sewing is a skill I’ve wanted to acquire for years as my Mum and several of my friends are excellent sewers and I would love to be able to replicate the kind of bespoke dresses, trousers and tops I see them skipping about in. I started my mission to become a proficient sewer about a year and a half ago. I asked around to see if anyone in the  family had a machine they didn’t need and found out that my Nana had an old Singer she’d bought in the 70s and barely used. As she was sorting out a lot of her belongings before she moved into sheltered accommodation she was happy to let me take it. I also took a sewing course where I learnt the basics and badgered various people for tips.

After a productive start progress stalled for various reasons. However now that the winter is drawing near, and the sunshine won’t be around to tempt me outside, I’m determined to get started again. Last weekend I dug around in my fairly modest fabric stash and found some fabric for a new yoga mat bag. I thought that a mat bag would be a good start as I’ve made one before and I figured I could do it without a pattern. My old bag had a drawstring at the top and then a separate shoulder strap. The plan for the new bag was to have one strap going through the drawstring and acting as the shoulder strap. I though it would be a fast sew and so less likely to join the half finished dress that taunts me from my sewing box.

I made a good start, cut out the fabric and impressed myself by remembering to press my drawstring fold properly.  I found some lovely thread, threaded up the machine and was about to make a start. While I was feeling very keen the sewing machine was in no mood to do anything. It’s always been temperamental but it had suddenly decided to become down right unusable. About half an hour later when miles of thread had been chewed up and I’d picked out various knots I finally admitted defeat.

Luckily for me a friend near by has a lovely sewing machine and she was kind enough to let me nip round to her house and use it. She even threw in dinner and a glass of wine. I promised that I would be done in no time and that I literally just had to whizz along the seams and press and I’d be done. However, my lack of proper planning became apparent as soon as I dug my strap out of my bag and showed it to her. I’d found a lovely strip of fabric in just the right colour. I knew that it was not meant for bag straps but I hadn’t realised that it was bias binding and so stretchy and rather unsuitable. As I didn’t have an alternative I just sewed up the edges and made the best of it very much hoping not to wear it around bemused sewers who might wonder why I was walking about with a strap of bias binding through my drawstring.

The next problem with my lack of proper pattern use came when I turned the bag back to the right way around after stitching the seams. I’d sewing the fold for the drawstring on the inside, folding it in rather than over, making it very difficult to pull the drawstring through to the outside without the seams poking out and lots of fabric getting in the way………. A little bit of panic, some scissors and hand sewing later the problem was fixed and I was able to sew the strapping to the bottom of my bag. By this point it was about 10:30 and my quick bit of stitching had taken rather longer than anticipated!

When I got home I realised that the bias binding really didn’t look right as it was and I should have taken my friend’s advice and sewn it in half. It began to annoy me a lot so I decided just to be done with it and hand stitch it down. It’s a long strap so it took me forever. Luckily I rather like hand stitching so it wasn’t as bad as it should have been.

I’m really pleased with the finished bag and it has made me even more keen to get sewing. I’ve finally taken the plunge and found myself a sewing machine shop and taken my machine to be fixed. I should have it back in a couple of weeks and I’m very excited about it!