Bridesmaid Betty

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My sister Alice got married last weekend, so this is what I wore to be one of her bridesmaids.

(I have a feeling that technically I was a matron of honour rather than a bridesmaid, but no one knows what that means, so I’m sticking with bridesmaid.)

Alice and her new wife, Kate, let us choose our own dresses. The only rules were that it had to be a dress, and it had to fit with the day’s blue/turquoise/silver colour palette. We don’t live close to each other so we each chose our own dresses and only saw the others’ dresses on the day. (If I can get one or two of the professional photos to share I’ll try to remember to add them here.)

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The pattern

I opted to make Sew Over It’s Betty dress, which probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a simple darted bodice, with a slash neckline at the front and a V at the back. It fastens with an invisible zip up the centre back, and the neckline and armholes are finished with a combined facing. The pattern is fabric-hungry because it has a knee-length circle skirt.

In cotton, this pattern is a great first dress for a beginner sewist. There’s nothing very tricky in the construction, and the darted bodice is the one that most fitting tutorials use as an example. The instructions are pretty clear and there’s also an online sewalong.

What I really love about this dress is the possibilities it offers. Sew Over It have released an add-on pack, with a scoop-neckline variation and a set of sleeves. But you could also try drafting these at home, add a lining or attach this bodice to any skirt you please. There are so many great variations and hacks around to choose from.

The fabric

First time out, I stuck with the suggested fabrics and chose a medium-weight cotton in this gorgeous swallow print from Guthrie & Ghani. I squeezed mine out of 4.3m, despite lengthening both the bodice and the skirt.

Fitting

I made two toiles to get the fit right – you can read about those here. In the end I made the following alterations:

  • added 1″ to the bodice length just above the waist
  • added 1″ to the skirt length at the bottom
  • graded from size 12 at the shoulders to size 14 at the waist
  • did a 2″ FBA and moved the bust dart both up and back from the apex
  • removed a tiny 1/8″ from each outer shoulder as a sloping shoulder adjustment
  • 1/2″ swayback adjustment at the back waist
  • removed a little vertical distance from the right side at the waist seam to allow for my shorter side
  • re-drew the facing pieces to mirror the changes to the bodice.

If I were making it again, I’d also tweak the fit at the back a little – possibly a narrow back adjustment or taking larger back darts. And I’d increase the sloping shoulder adjustment on my right.

If you need to alter the bodice of this dress to make it fit you, the pattern doesn’t help you much. There are no lengthen/shorten lines marked, and nor are the bust apex or the natural waistline. Not deal breakers, and one or two tutorials are on the SOI website, but a similar Big 4 pattern would include these markings.

Construction

The instructions tell you to staystitch the back neckline, but I’d suggest you also do this to the front neckline and the facing.

If you can sew an invisible zip, you can make this dress. The trickiest part is the facing, which doesn’t feel intuitive the first time you try it, but does (honestly) work in the end. If you’re struggling with the SOI instructions, you could try reading this Threads tutorial, which also helped me to get my head around it.

I made two small changes to the inside. I finished most of my seam allowances on the overlocker, but for the facing, I used some pink bias binding I had lurking around. You’ll need to make sure that your bias is really lightweight so it doesn’t add bulk, but it adds a nice contrast in a place where you’ll see it every time you put the dress on.

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Secondly, I decided to overlock and then hand catchstitch the hem rather than turning it up twice and machine stitching it as the instructions recommend. I’ve had problems in the past machine stitching curved hems – they tend to creep sideways on me, creating diagonal wrinkles in the hem. A machined blind hem would also work well in a medium-weight cotton like this, especially if you tack it in place first.

I gathered the excess fabric in the hem curve using my overlocker. I don’t have a special gathering foot for it; I just fiddled with the differential feed setting, practising on scraps until it produced the right degree of curve. I used this to finish the edge and gather (just ever-so-slightly) in one, then pressed it up with plenty of steam ready to stitch. The handstitching was a pain (did I mention this is a humungous circle skirt?), but I do think it gives a nicer finish, and I had some TV to catch up on…

The wedding went off without a hitch – apart from the actual hitch, of course.

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And one of the best things about a full circle skirt is that there’s enough fabric for a four-year old to hide behind!
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Reversible children’s sunhat

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Photo snapped at our local farm park, while he was playing on the toy tractors

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Summer’s in full swing here so I thought I’d try out the scrapbusting Oliver + S Reversible Bucket Hat pattern to make my son a new sunhat.

It’s a free pattern, and great for using up any too-big-to-throw-away-but-not-all-that-useful-really scraps of cotton fabric you have left over – it’s ideal for all those fabulous printed quilting cottons, too. I chose leftovers from the lining of a Schooldays Jacket and my husband’s Fairfield shirt. This gives the hat a sensible side and a silly side – something that seems to run in our family… and anything reversible is automatically exciting to a preschooler.

The instructions are good for a free pattern, and anyone except an absolute beginner could zip through this fairly easily. The only disappointing thing is the sizing – my son is four, and I sewed the largest size, but it’s only just big enough for him. Admittedly, his RTW sunhat is labelled age 7-10, but I’d love it if this pattern would cover him for a bit longer. There are only three pattern pieces, so I might possibly venture into grading if I can find a good tutorial online.

You could have all sorts of fun with this pattern, playing around with trims, colour blocking, piping and so on – there are some great examples on the Oliver and S blog (follow the links at the bottom of the tutorial page). Go, on make a whole stack of them for your favourite small person.

 

 

Pester power Christmas pudding children’s pyjamas

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Since Christmas, when I made him some quick Christmas pudding-print PJ bottoms, my not-so-little boy has been asking for a matching top. I fancied having a go at a proper, traditional pyjama top with piping and a notched collar, so I went on a pattern hunt for the children’s equivalent of the Closet Case Carolyn, or Lisette for Butterick 6296.

The only one I found was this Burda PDF pattern, which was reduced (so possibly soon to be discontinued?) It’s labelled as for boys, but obviously it would work for girls if you swapped the buttons to the opposite side. The sizing covers roughly ages 3-8. These had exactly the look I was going for, and as it was a PDF I could get started straight away. Hurrah.

I was slightly worried when I opened the PDF file and discovered there were no diagrams at all in the instructions. Never mind, I thought gaily, it’ll be fine – I’ve sewed lots of Big 4 patterns and I can probably use the Carolyn sewalong to help with the tricky bits.

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I set to printing, cutting, sticking, tracing and re-tracing the pattern and adding seam allowances (yes, it’s one of those…). I used the same quilting cotton fabric as for the bottoms. Sadly, it’s not printed straight on the grain so I had some awkward choices about whether to go with the grain or the pattern in places and not everything matches up neatly. I made a batch of bright red piping to pick out one of the colours in the fabric and I love how cheerful it makes them.

When it came to sewing them up, these are the MOST minimalist instructions I’ve ever worked with.

Sample instruction:

“Set in sleeves.”

The pattern doesn’t tell you what to interface, or what diameter of piping to use, and it doesn’t even mention notching, clipping or staystitching – each of which is critical to getting the collar sewn on.

But where I really ran into trouble was where the piped, notched collar meets the lapel. On reflection, my piping cord was too thick. Then I carelessly missed off one of the pattern markings, leading to me cutting some of the piping too short and having to piece it. That made getting the collar lined up a bit of a nightmare and I’ve had to fudge it a bit. (And the Carolyn sewalong?  It’s not a full sewalong, and it uses a slightly different facing method so I wasn’t able to crib much from it.)

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Not perfect, but luckily my three-year old is far less of a perfectionist than me.

I made one deliberate change to the design – my three-year old hasn’t mastered buttons yet, so the closing is done with Velcro instead – you can see the stitching for it on the front edge if you look closely. But he can now take the pyjamas on and off himself, so that’s all good.

I made the size 116cm (roughly age 5-6 – he’s tall), and it’s turned out a little broad in the shoulders, so next time I might make them narrower, or I could equally go down a size and add a bit of extra length in a loose-fitting garment like this.

Overall, it’s ended up as a borderline wearable toile, but given the trouble I had with this pattern, I’ll settle for that and hope to make a better fist of it next time. After all, he’s only going to grow.

Have you wrestled with any patterns that aren’t big on instructions? And where do you go for help with the awkward bits?

Children’s pyjama bottoms – with added Christmas puddings

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This is the only Christmas make I attempted this year, because I couldn’t face that awful situation when you’re rushing out to buy things on 23 December in lieu of the planned handmade presents that you haven’t finished in time. Even so, it still wasn’t finished quite in time for Christmas!

Back in the autumn, just before I began my stash diet, I spotted some reduced Christmas pudding fabric in Doughty’s in Hereford. At only £5/m I couldn’t resist enough to make a quick pair of pyjama bottoms for my 3-year old son. It’s quilting cotton, rather cotton flannel, but I thought it would be fun anyway.

The pattern is my trusty pyjama pants pattern Simplicity 2290 (other versions here and here), which includes children’s sizes from age 4-5 upwards. My 3-and-a-half-year old is a giant among his classmates at 110cm, so I traced the smallest size for him. Because they’re loose fitting trousers with an elasticated waist, there’s not a lot of fitting to do – just shortening the elastic to size and turning up the hem.

They’re a little on the large side at the moment, but I think they’ll be perfect for next Christmas. Although obviously, the proof will be in the pudding (groan…)

 

How to choose fabric for your first handmade garment

[This post is part of a series on learning to sew, Starting to Sew.]

Some of things I’ve made with cotton – definitely the most straightforward fabric to sew with.

I love this bit. I really do. There’s such a world of possibilities out there and it’s the moment when you get to steer your project away from frumpy pattern envelope photos (yes, Simplicity, I’m looking at you) and towards the fabrics and colours you love.

If you’ve never sewn a garment before (no, cushions don’t count), then there’s only one fibre you should use for your first project: cotton.

Why 100% cotton?

Cotton is strong, stable, washable and comes in a huge range of prints and colours. It has a clear lengthwise grain, it presses easily and it’s not stretchy. And it’s not usually particularly expensive. All these factors make it one of the simplest fabrics to cut and sew garments with: you won’t need any special equipment for cotton – unlike silk or wool.

Cotton can also be blended with other fibres like polyester, to create fabrics that don’t crease and are easier to wash and dry. Although these are definitely useful benefits, and polycotton is often very cheap, it does mean it’ll be harder to press your fabric. That means you’ll struggle to get neat seam finishes, casings and hems. So unless you really, really loathe ironing, I’d suggest you start on something that’s 100% cotton, and move on to a polycotton for version two if you want to.

Which type of cotton?

Cotton fibres can be woven (or knitted) into a multitude of different fabrics, so you’ll need to choose one that’s easy to work with and suitable for the garment you’re making. If you’re not sure what to make as your first garment, you might like to read this post first. The first thing you should do is check out the fabrics recommended by the pattern designer – they’ll be listed on the back of the envelope, or early on in the instructions if you’re using a pdf pattern. Very thin and very thick fabrics present their own challenges, so you’ll probably want to avoid these to begin with. Similarly, you should avoid anything with a nap (a one-way weave) like corduroy.

If you’ve chosen to make a skirt, you’ll probably want use either cotton lawn, cotton poplin, cotton chambray or cotton twill (including mid-lightweight denim). If you’re making pyjama bottoms, you might opt for cotton flannel for winter, or cotton lawn for summer.

What about quilting cotton?

Quilting cotton is just that – cotton designed for quilting. So although it comes in thousands of colours and prints, and it’s more widely available than other fabrics, it’s not always suitable for garments. (I once made some PJ shorts in a quilting cotton and they’re really uncomfortable next to the skin.) If you’re making a flared skirt, it might be suitable, but it wouldn’t have enough drape for a blouse, for example. For more info on sewing garments with quilting cotton, read this post from Tilly and the Buttons.

So much choice!

If you can, try to choose your fabric at a shop rather than online. Staff in fabric shops are usually really knowledgable and can direct you to the right materials faster than you find them yourself. Take your pattern with you and ask for advice. Or get them to help you unroll the fabric from the bolt so you can hold it up against your face in the mirror/drape it round you. This will help you decide whether it suits you, and see how it’ll behave as a garment.

If you do buy online, you can always contact the seller with questions. Read the description of the fabric carefully, and if you’re spending what seems like a lot of money, then always ask for/buy a fabric sample first. Cut lengths of fabric can’t be returned unless they’re faulty.

Pick out something you love and buy 0.5m more than the pattern says you need so you can play around with it and practise your stitches.

Prints v solids

There are two schools of thought on this:

  1. You should stick with solids because then you don’t have to worry about matching the pattern up at the seamlines, or pattern placement (making sure you don’t end up with circles around your nipples, for example)
  2. You should choose a print because it’ll distract the eye from any wonky stitching or fitting issues.

So I’m not going to tell you what to do here. Go with your favourite.

Before you cut

The fabric shop should tell you the washing instructions for your material. Even if they don’t, always plonk your cotton fabric in the washing machine (on its own, in case the colour runs) and give it at least one wash and dry before you cut into it – using the same programme as you plan to use for the finished garment.