Wednesday, 30 March 2016

'Pass the Peas' Dress - A Vintage Pledge Mash-Up

Hello! I've just come back from adventures in Los Angeles and Hollywood, where besides visiting Disneyland, eating a lot of Japanese food, and drinking a lot of cocktails, I also managed to do some fabric shopping. For some reason, it didn't occur to me to visit Mood's Los Angeles outpost; instead, I was excited about seeing Islands Fabrics, which is a whole store devoted to Hawaiian and Tropical fabric!

Just a smidgen of what they have on offer!

I was very restrained and only bought one piece, which is the barkcloth-weight leaves in the picture below, bottom right: 

The rest was picked up in the surrounding shops, and there were so many more than expected:

Most of them are earmarked for shirts for Mr Needles, would you believe, but I managed to sneak in one more for myself, the little garden peas print cotton. It was sitting unloved on a pavement at the bargain price of only $2 per yard (had to go back to Imperial for this visit; metric never really did take off in the US), so I felt sorry for it and bought a couple of yards.

At first I saw it as a blouse - it seemed like too much pattern for a dress - but this beauty had been playing on my mind:

This was part of my prize from Vintage Pattern Pledge for 2015, run by Kerry at Kestrel Makes and Marie at a Stitching Odyssey. It seems apt to use the pattern won from 2015's pledge as part of 2016's pledge, so I went for it!

Just one hitch - buying without a specific project in mind had backfired, and 2 yards wasn't going to be enough to accommodate the flared skirt. Solution - use a straight skirt from another favourite pattern, Butterick 8571:

I've used this pattern twice before, once as illustrated here, and once just as the skirt here and it worked out fine both times.

I had planned to take some pretty photos in my garden, doing some gentle weeding or something, but the recent gales we experienced here in the UK have turned my neglected garden into a bit of a mess. But I carried on regardless - here's the new dress in action:

I don't think the change in skirt makes too much difference - it still looks 40'ish. besides the skirt, I also had to adapt the sleeves to a shorter length in order to fit them in. But I gave them a little scalloped detail just as a reference to the original ruched shape:

Inside of sleeve with facing
Speaking of sleeves, I decided to insert the sleeve before the side seams were attached, on the flat, as it were. This was much easier and less fiddly than the usual technique of closing the side and underarm seam first, and the sleeve head came out pretty smooth:

The neckline is the main feature on this dress, being made up of 2 draped and pleated panels which then attach at the centre front and are covered with a little tab:

Before attachment to the bodice...

...and after

I wasn't quite sure how to finish this seam so that it was neat and attractive, and the instructions give you no guidance. I finally decided to bind it with bias cut from the same fabric as the lining:

The hem was also finished with matching bias strips:

I rarely line a dress fully - I get too hot! - and this was no exception. I used a gold poly to line the skirt, which you can see at the kick pleat at the back:

And finally it all gets closed up with a zip at the centre back, which is again a necessary departure from the pattern which saved fabric. But I did stay old-school and put the zip in by hand, with a little hook and eye at the top:

And that's pretty much it. I'm off to learn how to drive this thing!

See you soon!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Learning to Love My Overlocker

A while ago, I bought a Singer over locker from Lidl, at the bargain price of £129. Up to that point I had only a few forays into sewing knits, such as here, but I thought it was about time I explored this arena. And I was looking forward to using it as a quick and easy way to finish seams, rather than the time consuming (but pretty!) French seams I tend to go for.

Source - Kestrel Makes
I seem to be getting more impatient in my older age, and this piece of equipment tested it no end. She is a total DIVA! I know it's bad, but my other machines are full of fluff and chug along with blunt needles, sewing all manner of materials and thicknesses. But this princess needs constant attention, playing up when just the smallest bit of fluff accumulates, and only cooperating after brushing and total rethreading. 

I had a good read up about overlockers (Kestrel Makes blog post helped), and it seems this is just how they are. But it's also been about learning a new set of sewing skills - a new type of threading, a whole new area of fabrics to understand, how to use them in making garments, tensions and stitch types to become familiar with, and so on. The instruction manual didn't help, with it's terrible pictures and unclear diagrams, but with repetition I think I've finally got there.

Among other things, the the repetition has taken the form of making these 3 slash neck tops:

I love t-shirts, but in a bid to cut down on buying any clothes I wanted to start making my own. I saw this pattern hack from Heather B on Pattern Review using Grainline Studio's Lark Tee, but I think you could use any t-shirt pattern for the body. I myself used the Tilly and the Buttons Agnes Top as it fits closer to the body at the waist. Go have a look at the tutorial - it's an ingenious way of doing facings, and super easy!

Anyway,as a way of becoming more confident with the overlocker and stretch fabrics, these tops were ideal learning experiences. Here's what I've come to realise:

  • Tension is key. Use all of your scraps to test the tension before every new project, and with the change of every fabric. This particular machine seems to get 'upset' with every change of fabric, and behaves very differently between stretch and woven fabric.
My first project - that's some BAD tension!

That's more like it - good tension.

  • Like anything, all stretch fabrics are different. The pink leopard fabric I would describe as 'hard' - it doesn't stretch in the way the other 2 do in that it doesn't seem to snap back. Maybe the Lycra content is low, or it doesn't have any? The overlocker certainly didn't like it as much as the red or pink fabric, especially where bulk was involved, where it just would snarl up - see below:
Shoulder seam snarl up!
- but the other 2 fabrics were lovely to sew with and went through the machine like a dream. I would describe the red as 'springy', as you can see in the twin needle hem I used below.

  • I can't believe how much quicker everything is with an overlocker! I'm all for slow sewing, I have no problem with hand sewing, or generally 'taking the long way round' if it means a better result in a garment. But it's also nice being able to make a top in a couple of hours.
  • Don't give up - if you get annoyed with it (you will!) either walk away and have a cup of tea, or put the machine away for a few hours, then approach it refreshed. 
  • Read the manual, but don't take everything it says as gospel. Other then the threading, I've found that not everything the manual recommends is exactly true - tensions differ fabric to fabric, and you can be creative with stitch uses and don't have to do exactly as they say. 
  • If all else fails, un-thread it, give it a brush/hoover/dust, and re-thread it. Who knew fluff was such a nuisance!
These are just my personal thoughts on working with the overlocker - there are lots of other resources out there if you need something more technical, but hopefully this will encourage those of you who are a bit nervous of approaching overlockers, or who have given up on an existing one. Keep going!

See you soon!