#sewtallandcreative2017 – my finished dress…

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It’s finished! Two months after a beautiful box of fabrics arrived in the post from MARGE, I’ve sewn a silk and crepe dress. A big thank you to Sallee at TallGuides for inviting me to get involved in this, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learnt a whole sackful of new skills.

I, and the other fabulously tall sewists who took part, have enjoyed mixing and matching the different fabrics and puzzling over how best to incorporate two of them into a new dress for summer – or winter in Allison’s case perhaps, as she’s in Oz! Tiffany, Allison and Beth have produced fabulous dresses, and I confess to being just a bit in awe of each of them.

Details

I used view B from B6169, part of Liesl Gibson’s line for Butterick. I love pretty much everything Liesl does, and although this dress didn’t scream my name when it first came out, the pattern has everything I like in a relaxed summer dress.

The belt gives it shape – although you could leave this off for an easier life and use a RTW belt instead; it takes full advantage of any drape; and the gathered shape with no closures makes it fairly simple to construct. Princess seams make fitting easier (other than a swayback adjustment…) and the instructions are clear and straightforward for a Big 4 pattern. Plus it also includes a great-looking moto jacket that’s going on my list for the autumn.

I picked the rough side of the coral crepe and the pale pink spotted silk from the four fabrics we were all given. The colours are in my comfort zone, and I was fairly confident they’d combine well. Both were a little trickier to work with than I’d anticipated – the crepe creases like mad and doesn’t drape quite as much as I would like, and the spots on the silk drove me to distraction.

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I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out, and especially because I was trying so many of the techniques for the first time. Cutting out was awkward – I sandwiched everything between two layers of tissue and cut with shears, which worked pretty well.

To sew up, I used the walking foot throughout. The crepe went through the machine without any problems, and I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seams. The silk was tougher to sew – I switched to fine cotton thread and went down to a size 60 needle. Even so, I still needed tissue under the fabric to stop it being dragged into the feed dogs, and each time I hit one of the spots my seam line wobbled a bit. I used French seams on the yokes to seam and finish in one go. Both fabrics were tricky to press though: the silk wouldn’t press cleanly over the spots and the crepe didn’t stay pressed for long. But I got there in the end.

Overall, I love the relaxed feel of this dress and I think it works dressed up or down. I opted for down for these pictures, but I reckon a pair of heels and some bling would glam it up enough for a summer wedding or you could toughen it up with boots and that moto jacket.

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Catch up on the other posts in this series:

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist
  4. Design process and choosing a pattern
  5. Construction process – and tips for working with slippery fabrics

Sewing with slippery fabrics – B6169

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As the final reveal for the #sewtallandcreative2017 design challenge approaches, I and the other three participants (Allison, Beth and Tiffany) have been working hard to complete our dresses. I am dying to see what they’ve made, and I’m not sure I can hold out until the end date of 20 May!

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No fancy pattern weights here!

In my sewing room, I’ve been getting to grips – quite literally – with silk and slippery crepe we received from MARGE/Tall Guides.

I started by using a polyester crepe de chine to sew up a toile. This dress is fairly forgiving on fit, but I still made some alterations:

  • I added 1″ to the length above the waist
  • And another 1/2″ to the length between waist and hip
  • I took in the vertical back seams a little around the waist area
  • I nipped 3cm of length out of the centre back seam to compensate for my swayback
  • I let out the side seams around 1/8″ from the hipline downwards

The swayback alteration isn’t the easiest thing to do in a dress with no centre back or waist seams, so thank you to Pattern Scissors Cloth for this excellent tutorial. Making the adjustment itself isn’t too bad, but getting the grainline and centre back straight again afterwards was messing with my head.

Cutting out was a challenge, even with the crepe. I don’t own a rotary cutter and mat, so I heeded the advice in this post from Grainline Studios and sandwiched the fabrics between two layers of tissue paper before cutting out. Genius – no slipping, no shifting and I saved about £100. No long-term damage to my shears, although I should probably sharpen them again soon.

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To sew up the crepe, I used a size 70 needle, and sew-all thread. I installed my walking foot and shortened my stitch length to 2.2. I finished the all-crepe seams on my overlocker.

For the silk, hmmm. The polka dots create a raised bump every inch or so, which causes the fabric to skip about under the needle, and pressing across them is a nightmare. A size 60 universal needle, some fine cotton thread and the walking foot were all deployed on a stitch length of 2. But for this fabric I also layered the fabric over tissue paper and stitched through that as well, tearing it away afterwards. Not bad, but there are still some wibbles in some of my seams…

I used a French seam finish where I could for this fabric as it’s sheer, but on the belt (which is stitched and then turned inside out) I had to try something else. I used the selvedge as much as I could so the edges wouldn’t need finishing, and on the rest I tried out a double zigzag seam, as recommended by Threads magazine.

I’ve just got the neckline and the hem left to do now, so hopefully I’ll be sharing pics of the finished article with you next weekend!

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist
  4. Design process and choosing a pattern
  5. The finished dress…

Natural fibres v polyester

Stack of four folded fabrics: two polyester, two cotton
Top to bottom: polyester crepe de chine, polyester coating, cotton denim and striped cotton jersey

The #sewtallandcreative2017 challenge has taken me out of my comfort zone. Instead of my usual circuit of jersey, cotton, wool and wool coatings, I’m sewing with lightweight silk and crepe instead. To prepare, I’m making a toile in polyester crepe de chine… and discovering that this particlar fabric might be my nemesis.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good sewing experience with woven polyester. I’ve made trousers in imitation cotton drill, half a pair of shorts in polyester crepe, two children’s coats in polyester coating and battled with some polycotton shirting to run up a toile.

The trousers feel scratchy, the shorts were too slippery, the coating wore out my hands and my shears , and the polycotton shirting came out looking a bit like a supermarket school uniform.

The lovely Gillian, over at Crafting a Rainbow, has written a very useful – and persuasive – post in praise of polyester knit fabric, so I thought I’d put the case against woven polyester fabrics.

Let’s get the main reasons we choose polyester out of the way first, shall we?

It’s cheap

It’s cheap for a reason: polyester is a polymer, meaning that the key raw ingredient is crude oil rather than a plant or animal fibre. Oil is undervalued because no one’s currently paying to clean up the damage that digging it up and using it does to the environment. Climate change, and the potential damage to sea life are two of the most disturbing side effects of our love affair with fossil fuels and man-made fibres. If these externalities were priced in, would polyester still be cheap?

It doesn’t crease

If you’re the sort of person who really, really loathes ironing (hello to my Mum and Dad if you’re reading this) then that’s fine. But if it won’t crease then it won’t press. You can’t mould it like wool, or crease it crisply like cotton or linen – and that’s going to cause problems when you’re turning up a hem, shaping a dart or pretty much any other task you’d expect to do when making a woven garment.

But it doesn’t breathe

I’m always amazed by wool. Wool is breathable, waterproof and warm. British sheep live outdoors on wet and windy hillsides, and yet they manage to stay warm and dry – and then their wool can be sheared and made into clothes for me. How is that even possible?

[Someone, somewhere is making a killing on wool, but it’s not the farmers. Wool fabric and yarn are anything up to £50 per kilo, but British farmers receive as little as 30p per kilo, meaning they may even make a loss on shearing their sheep.]

Polyester, on the other hand, can turn a short walk to the shops on a warm day into a clammy, sweaty mess. The static cling on skirts especially is horrendous. Plus it squeaks when I sew it. (Or is that just me?)

There are some great uses for polyester though…

Where polyester and other artificial fibres do win out is in outerwear and sportswear, especially when they’re blended with natural fibres like cotton or bamboo. I can’t imagine my workout gear without spandex, or my waterproof jacket without nylon.

After my experience this week with a polyester crepe de chine that clings so badly it won’t drape, I think I’ve sworn off polyester for a while.

How do you feel about polyester? Do you love all the quirky prints and the low prices, or would you rather sew with linen, cotton and wool?

 

 

#sewtallandcreative2017: design

For the next part of the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge, each of us now has to decide what we’re going to make, and which fabrics we’re going to use.

Getting down to practicalities, I started by measuring the four fabrics. With between 2m and 3m of each, this ruled out some of the floaty maxi-dress options that had been running through my mind. Sigh.

Incorporating two different fabrics, getting a good fit, and working with drapey fabric was going to be enough of a challenge for me so I wanted a pattern with a simple silhouette to exploit the drape, without fiddly closures or lots of darts.

I also needed a pattern that could be easily lengthened above and below the waist without disrupting its style lines. So I’ve settled on View B from B6169, using the coral crepe and the spotted pale pink silk fabrics.

It’s a pull-on sleeveless dress with a tie belt and a high-low hem by Liesl Gibson for Butterick. The princess seams should make fitting easier and I can alter the skirt shape and hem if I change my mind. I can’t find many in-the-wild examples of this dress (overshadowed by the jacket, I suspect), so I’m intrigued to see how it’ll turn out. The examples I have found so far are:

Liesl Gibson’s own version in specially dyed silk

Helena’s dress with pom pom trim

Elise’s denim version

I’m planning to cut the main body of the dress in the coral crepe, using the spotted silk for the yoke pieces and the tie belt. I’d love to layer the two fabrics over each other, but there isn’t quite enough of either to make this work.

I’ll use french seams on the yoke pieces to give a neat finish and perhaps play around with different options for the neckline binding. But first, I’m going to make a toile to test the fit in some polyester crepe de chine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

You can see the dresses Allison, Beth and Tiffany are planning to make over on their blogs. I have a feeling they’re going to produce some real showstoppers…

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist
  4. Construction process – and tips for working with slippery fabrics
  5. The finished dress…

Cosy Astoria sweatshirt

So the Astoria is possibly the second most popular sweatshirt pattern in the sewisphere, after the Linden. It’s definitely less sculptural than the Talvikki, but I really wanted a workhorse, fitted sweatshirt with a set-in sleeve, so this was the pattern for me.

The sample images for this Seamwork pattern are gorgeous in sweater knit, but I also really love Rachel’s scuba version. To make it up, I used some pale pink flecked sweatshirting I’ve been hoarding for almost a year. It’s soooo snuggly. I realised afterwards that I must have subconsciously copied Lauren’s version!

Fit and fiddle

My back waist measurement is 17.5″ so I added two inches to the length so that the hem band seam would fall at my natural waist. For me, this is more wearable than the original cropped length (I have a small child – I can’t go a whole day without bending over or reaching up). I also added 1cm to the sleeve length, but ended up cutting this off again.

Size wise, I was hovering between the M and the L, and ended up making the M but grading it out to an L from the armpits down to the waist. It’s ended up a little too tight at the bust and on the arms. This is the first pattern ever to decree I have fat arms, so I’m sulking a bit about that. The fit is good across the back, but I can’t really assess the fit at the armscye properly because my bust is dragging the whole thing forwards. My full bust point is usually on the high side, so perhaps I should have cut the L and then narrowed the shoulders and the neckline instead – but then potentially ended up with an oversized armhole? Or cut the M, but added an FBA, graded out to the waist and added width to the sleeve? I don’t know which would have been the best solution on this one.. . Any advice?

Construction

Seamwork says that this pattern sews up in under an hour. Perhaps. If you don’t count cutting and sticking together the pattern, cutting out, faffing with a twin needle or umming and ahhing over any fitting alterations. I’d say the whole thing actually took me three hours.

The instructions are clear and easy to follow with links to helpful posts on Colette’s blog if you need more help. The sleeves are set in flat, so it’s easy to do all the main seams on an overlocker/serger.

I had a few issues with my overlocker (more on that another time), so I couldn’t use it to attach the neckband or the hem band. In this fabric, I found the neckband was too long and stood up when I basted it in, so I unpicked it, trimmed it by 2cm (1cm on the folded pattern piece) and it was much better second time around.

I opted for the full-length sleeves, figuring I could always cut them off to 3/4 length if I changed my mind later. The sleeve circumference at the wrist is a tiny 17cm, and although it goes over my hand it wouldn’t go around the free arm on my sewing machine. This made hemming the sleeves with the twin needle a nightmare. In the end I turned the sleeve inside out and did it from the inside, as I’d normally set in a sleeve, but because the cuffs are so much smaller than an armhole this was close to impossible and the stitching isn’t very neat. How do people who make the size XS manage?!

That said, I love the fabric, and I figure the British weather isn’t often all that warm – even in summer – so I’ll get plenty of wear out of this. I love that it coordinates with my favourite wardrobe singleton, the green lace skirt in the picture.  And I’m hoping to get round to a second version with an improved fit.

Home and away

P1160645After deciding two years ago that no, I couldn’t take my sewing machine on holiday with me – not even if Mr Wardrobe agreed to power it by cycling – I took up knitting.

For me, the best thing about knitting is that it’s so portable. You can take it almost anywhere and if you’ve only got ten minutes, you can still make some progress. I’ve knitted on trains, in waiting rooms, in hotel rooms, and in a fair few holiday cottages.

Last week, I visited my parents in Yorkshire, and it felt like the perfect time to start a new project.

If the worst thing about going away is that I can’t take my sewing machine, then the upside is definitely getting to visit new crafty places. So I used a trip to Leeds as an excuse to drop in on Baa Ram Ewe, an independent yarn shop in north Leeds. Baa and away (!) the best place to snuggle up to local yarn in Leeds, the shop had some fantastically strokeable alpaca yarn and some gorgeous tweedy colours to choose from. I have my eye on this for when I’m ready to try knitting socks.

I came away with the needles and some Debbie Bliss merino yarn to knit up a hot water bottle cover. Plus a sheepish project bag to keep it all in.

This coming week I’m going to be in woolly north Wales, so I suspect I might return with more yarn.

Which craft do you like to take on holiday? Or do you just stack up a mountain of hand stitching and take that instead?

Sew tall

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My back waist measurement is 17.5″.

I’m 5’10”. Not exactly Olympe Maxime, but definitely on the tall side of average for a woman. In fact, 5’10” is the average height of men here in the UK – but that’s a whole other story… (and completely unrelated to sewing)

If you’re tall too, then you’re probably familiar with the usual tall-person grumbles: people making the same stating-the-obvious comments about your height; never having enough legroom on planes, trains and buses; and how hard it is to find clothes to fit.

Like me, perhaps you took up sewing partly so you could recreate your favourite RTW clothes for longer arms, a longer torso or longer legs.

So what does it mean to be a taller sewist? Well, you know you’re taller than the average when:

  1. You view yardage charts with scepticism. Ms Average may be able to squeeze a summer dress out of 2m of linen, but you’re definitely going to need at least 2.3m.
  2. You get irrationally angry with pattern companies that don’t include lengthen/shorten lines and a back waist length measurement as standard. And don’t even mention those patterns with ‘no provision for above the waist adjustments’!
  3. You can slash and spread a pattern by 1/2/3″ in your sleep, and you buy masking tape in bulk.
  4. The pattern says you need a 4″ zip, so you buy a 6″ zip.
  5. You’ve been coveting one of those Simflex buttonhole gauges for all your shirts and shirtdresses – you always have to shift the buttons around.
  6. You have no fear of large, bold prints. Sunflowers? African wax print? No problems.

What have I left off this list?

And is it the exact opposite if you’re petite, or are there different things to consider?

 

 

My first me-made jeans

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This has been a long time coming, but my first-ever pair of Ginger jeans is finished. And boy, am I pleased with the results!

I’ve been after a pair of high-waisted flared jeans for ooh, about forever. And I finally gave in and decided I was going to have to make them myself.

The fabric is a lovely, soft, true blue stretch denim that I bought from Guthrie & Ghani last year in just the right weight/stretch combination for this pattern. One word of warning – if you’re long-legged, want to try the flared adaptation, or are planning to use extra large seam allowances to help with fitting, then buy more fabric than the skinny-legged Gingers pattern suggests. The cutting layout isn’t all that flexible because the denim has to be laid a certain way to prevent the legs twisting. I had 2.5m of 60″/150cm wide denim and that was only just, just enough.

For the pocket stay and waistband facing I used a polka dot Sevenberry cotton lawn in teal, also from Guthrie & Ghani, leftover from these Thurlow trousers.

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Fitting alterations

The fitting process has turned into a real quest for me. I began sewing all those years ago because high street trousers didn’t fit – and having gone through this process I now know why! I must have taken them on and off at different stages of construction at least twenty times, so if you can spend a whole day sewing in just your underwear (!) you’ll probably get them finished a lot faster than I did.

I started with the size 16 to fit my 43″ hips, and graded down to a 14 at the waist at the same time as flaring the legs from the knee. I then lengthened the crotch depth by 1″ and also checked the total inside leg against my own measurements. These are my standard alterations for any pattern, and I usually find it’s fine to make these straight on the pattern without doing a toile/muslin first.

Taking a tip from Pants for Real People, I also enlarged the seam allowances to 1″ rather than 5/8″ at the inseams and outseams before cutting out to give me plenty of room for alterations. This was a complete lifesaver – and you should absolutely do this if you’re about to cut into good fabric for your first pair.

The first, second and third fittings showed up lots of issues, so I then also made the following adjustments, one at a time:

  1. Let out the inseam and outseam along the thigh by 1/4″
  2. Lowered the back crotch only by 3/4″ (in 3-4 stages)
  3. Made the front crotch seam shallower by 1/4″
  4. Let out the inseams from the knee downwards to make room for my large calves
  5. Re-cut the yoke with more curve (effectively putting darts in the pattern to make it narrower at the top)
  6. Steamed the waistband like crazy with the iron to give that more curve and trimmed it shorter (I’d run out of fabric by this point and was trying to avoid piecing it)
  7. Sewed the back leg/yoke seam with a wider allowance at the centre back, reverting to the ordinary seam allowance at the side seams – this helped deal with my swayback
  8. Took a big wedge out of the side seams at the top hip, effectively grading down to a size 10 there.*
  9. Yanked up the centre back so it sits further into the waistband, and the same with the centre front
  10. Oh, and I fiddled endlessly with the back pocket placement to see if I could manage to disguise my low seat!

I discovered I have what Pants for Real People creepily describes as a ‘crotch oddity’, in that I’m low in the back and high in the front. If this is you, you’ll notice that your RTW trousers always seem to either drag down at the back or disappear into your bum crack, yet you might also have some weird puffiness in the front crotch.

I didn’t have wide enough seam allowances to make the front crotch seam as shallow as I wanted, but it’s good enough – and I’ll know for next time.

*You can’t really tell in these pictures, but my right leg is around 1.5cm shorter than my left, and my pelvis is also smaller on the right side. This means I make side seam alterations unevenly, taking slightly more from the right side than the left. Plus I ended up placing the back pockets by eye, rather than using the pattern markings, so that everything looks more balanced and even.

Construction

Compared with the fitting, construction was – almost – a breeze. Heather’s instructions (I used the E-Book) are clear and logical, so it doesn’t feel as daunting as you might expect. You absolutely can make jeans.

My Janome DKS30 didn’t much like doing dense stitching with topstitching thread through multiple layers. It really hated backstitching and bar tacks through more than 3 layers. If you have the same problem it’s worth buying a regular thread in the same colour as your topstitching thread and trying the bar tacks with that instead. I did this on the belt loops and it made things easier – it worked better than switching stitches, or changing needles. I also did a fair amount of the backstitching using just the hand wheel, and avoided the automatic thread cutter. Next time I might get my vintage Singer 201K out for the topstiching, although she doesn’t have a zig zag stitch, so I won’t be able to use her for the bar tacks.

What my machine does have that helped a lot, is a small black button on the presser foot which fixes the angle of the presser foot, even when you’re starting at a thick edge. This meant I got away without using a hump jumper.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 12.18.28

You press the black button as you lower the foot (it does help if you have three hands), and then begin sewing as normal. The presser foot will stay level even if you go over a hump, and *should* hold a fairly even stitch.

I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seam allowances for speed, but it protested at anything more than three layers of denim, so I also employed the overedge stitch on my ordinary sewing machine. This is a really secure way to finish fraying fabrics, and it comes into its own when you don’t want to cut anything off – for example if you’re going to use that edge to line up something else.

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They’re wearing well so far – this was after I’d had them on for a few hours

The Prym rivets and jeans button kits I bought did turn out to be partially plastic, but they’re holding up well so far. (I’m probably going to live in these jeans for the next month or so, and the proof will be in how much pudding I can eat in them!)

The rivets were really fun to put in, and the only casualty was one of my thumbnails which accidentally took a battering when I got distracted by the doorbell…Can any UK sewists recommend a good source of metal ones for me?

If you’ve been hesitating about sewing jeans, I’ll be honest with you. No, it’s not as quick as a skirt or as easy as a jersey top.

It’s way more satisfying.

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I didn’t much feel like being photographed today, but Wispa wanted to put her bottom on the internet – even from this angle.

#sewtallandcreative 2017: inspiration

So a couple of weeks ago, a box of fabric arrived in the post…

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These are the four fabrics for the MARGE/Tall Guides design challenge – all remnants from the MARGE clothing range. Left to right, they are:

  1. A polyester stretch lace with a dark green leafy print, as used in the JORGINE wrap dress
  2. A dark purple, very sheer silk chiffon, which was used for the *gorgeous* INGA dress
  3. An embroidered, sheer-ish pale pink and white silk, as used in the ADA top
  4. A coral, acetate/viscose mix crepe, originally used for the LIV slip dress.

There’s between 2 and 3m of each one, and MARGE also included plenty of delicious Bemberg rayon lining in ivory and black.

The guidelines for the challenge are:

  • Each of the four tall ladies (the other three are Allison, Beth and Tiffany) must make a summer dress
  • We have to use at least two of the four fashion fabrics.

Clearly time for a rummage through my pattern library and Pinterest for some inspiration!

So many possibilities, and I expect I’ll probably change my mind about eleventy billion times between now and the next stage. I think the trickiest part for me is the idea of combining two fabrics. I don’t often colour-block or use multiple fabrics in the same make, so it’ll be good to expand my horizons.

So (or should that be ‘sew’?), what would you make? Which two fabrics do you think would combine most successfully?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. (This post)
  3. Design process and choosing a pattern
  4. Construction
  5. The finished dress…

 

A tall order – the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge

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If you sew, chances are it’s because it’s hard to find the clothes you like in the shops. I enjoy being tall, but at 5’10”, I usually find most high street clothing is just too short to fit my frame. Sure, I can buy a pair of trousers with a 34″ inside leg fairly easily, but they won’t also come with another 1-2″ added to the crotch depth. And woe betide the tall woman looking for a one-piece swimsuit or a jumpsuit…ouch!

My height was an important part of what drove me to learn to sew my own clothes. These days I love being able to create a fit and flare dress where the waistline lands actually at my waist, or where the sleeves are just the right length. (Ever wondered why rolled up sleeves are so popular in fashion photography? It’s because clothing models are usually tall, and rolling the sleeves up disguises the fact that the garment sleeves are too short for them.)

I love meeting other taller-than-average women who sew, so I’ve signed up to take part in the MARGE/Tall Guides #sewtallandcreative2017 design challenge. Alongside three inspiring tall sewists – Allison, Beth and Tiffany – I’ll be using leftover fabrics from MARGE’s most recent collection to create something new.

(If you haven’t heard of MARGE before, it’s a high-end US clothing brand, specifically designed for taller women.)

If you’re tall, was it part of the reason you wanted to learn to sew? And for you, what’s the best thing about being tall?

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

2. Inspiration

3. Design ideas and choosing a pattern

4. Construction process

5. The finished dress…