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A watercolour silk noile dress

At my last shopping trip down to Ditto Fabrics in Brighton last December, I bought a great mix of spring and summer fabrics with a few cold weather ones thrown in for good measure. So far I’ve already sewn up a Fair Isle sweater (which I was too sick to blog about properly), that muted turquoise lace dress, a pair of cycling jeans (with another coming later this week).

But I’d bought a length of silk noile with a watercolour-esque muted floral print that the owner, Gill, was raving over, saying it made the most comfortable summer dress. It’s long sold out now, but Ditto have a few other silk noiles in stock. I knew I wanted to make a dress from it – preferably unlined to take advantage of the silk noile’s comfort and coolness, but I needed an occasion to actually sew it up. Luckily, two friends I’d know for years from Run dem Crew got married this weekend, so I had the perfect excuse!

A Triple Triangle scuba dress

Like my Donna Karan x Liberty shirt you saw earlier this week, this dress is another departure from my comfort zone. Yes, it’s made in stretchy scuba and in decidedly “me” colours, but it’s drafted from my measurements instead of a pattern and you can see my midriff!

This all began when I went to the launch party for the DIY Couture No Patterns Needed book back in July. The party itself was a total blast – it was basically a Who’s Who of the London sewing scene and I got to see loads of people I’d not seen in years, as well as meet plenty of new friends too, in addition to seeing a lot of the models from the book wearing the different designs. I bought the book on the night (and got it signed!) but I wanted to hold off talking about it here until I’d had a chance to actually make something from it.

Now, if you’re expecting an unbiased review, you’re going to have to go elsewhere – Rosie is a good friend, having bonded not just over sewing but cycling, London, helping people, teaching, generally having a good ol’ rant while we worked together behind the scenes on GBSB season 3. This is her second book, and I personally know how hard she’s worked on this, slaving over it even on the hottest summer days, for like two years now! She’s truly a one-woman show, devising all the designs, working out the maths so they fit any body shape, and doing all the illustrations and samples herself, too.

Lace dress for a wedding

Last week I showed you the roses I made for my aunt’s wedding in DC, but I also managed to sew myself a new dress to wear for the occasion, too!

When I was at Ditto’s Brighton shop in December, I fell in love with a wonderful muted turquoise lace and bought a beigey lavender jersey to layer underneath it. I didn’t really have an occasion or pattern in mind when I bought it, but with the wedding trip approaching, I pulled these out of the stash and knew they’d be the perfect starting point.

When making lace dresses, I always look for patterns with a lot of little pieces as I’ve found that the shared seams help keep the layers from separating when worn, such as with the Burda dress I made in pink and grey lace (and still wear a lot, 5 years later!). If you try to make a lace dress from big pieces, you have the opportunity for one to grow or move independently if there’s nothing holding them together in the middle of the garment. I wanted something that I’d sewn before, too, as I didn’t have much time to make it before the wedding and wanted to skip the muslin stage. I ultimately decided on a pattern I’d traced from an ASOS dress and previously made twice – once in a mustard ponte and then again in mustard, teal, and white as a designer inspired colourblock dress.

A Slate blue Drapey Dress for Keeps

I have sewn so many Drapey Dresses that I could pretty much make them with my eyes closed. I made the first prototype version for the Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion in Fabric book last summer, and I even got to cheekily wear it out for a weekend before returning it for pattern development purposes. Then I sewed something like 6 more over the next year, including both the blue and stripey versions seen in the book, and the lovely pink one CL wore to promote the book during her February “Bee Mine” challenge.

But I still didn’t have one in my wardrobe to call my own! It’s definitely saying something about the greatness of this pattern and design that I still even wanted one – I mean, I’m usually sick of a pattern after making it 2 or 3 times!

Having seen this dress in all colours and prints imaginable, it made it all the harder to pin myself down to this “duck egg blue” ponte from Truro Fabrics. Theirs isn’t the cheapest ponte out there, but it’s really nice quality and doesn’t tend to bobble as quickly as others I’ve bought elsewhere. I made this Burda vintage wiggle dress using a Truro ponte three years ago and the dress still looks great, despite constant winter wear.

Designer-inspired Colourblocked Sheath Dress

I started planning this dress way back in the first week of December when I got your opinions on all the different colourblocking options, and it should tell you everything about how crazy busy I’ve been that I’ve only actually been able find the hour or two to make it last weekend.

You may recall the story of this “pattern” from when I made it in a solid, mustard-yellow ponte the first time around – I had a very well-loved ASOS dress that I traced off so it actually wasn’t from a pattern at all. (Others have asked if I’ll release it as a pattern, but it doesn’t really fit with my brand sorry!)

What I didn’t show you is that I tested my few pattern changes afterwards with a version of this pattern colourblocked in random ponte scraps from my stash, shortened to top-length, minus the CB invisible zip, and with a teeshirt-bound neckline instead of a facing.

It actually works quite well as a top (though I think the pieces near the hem could be better thought-out), but I wasn’t quite sold on the colourblocking choices, which were mostly decided based on fabric scrap sizes. It felt a bit… starfleet commander. And that’s a look only Catherine Daze can pull off!

But the original goal was to make another dress similar to the mustard-yellow version, inspired by this Chalayan dress that’s been hanging on my sewing room wall for ages:

I had the perfect teal viscose ponte leftover from a client commission, but I went out and bought a half metre of white and a metre of mustard ponte at Goldhawk Road to make up the other pieces. I really wanted the yellow at the waistline curve, but that would’ve meant having the white at the hem (instant grime!), so I ultimately went with the second colourblocking option!

I finally got a few minutes to cut out the pieces in mid-January (having been ill for the entire Christmas holidays!), but then I had to fly to the States for my Granny’s funeral a few days later, and the pieces were waiting for me when I got back. I finally had two hours spare last weekend to close myself into my sewing cave, so this was a great pick-me-up to get me back on track.

Mustard ponte seamed sheath dress

Like many of my most well-loved dresses, this one was quite a long time in the making. A few years back I’d bought a yellow ponte sheath dress from ASOS that had some amazing seamlines. I don’t often buy clothes anymore these days (preferring to spend my time sewing than fighting my way to the shops, or waiting days for an internet purchase that’s low quality or not quite right), but I really liked this dress, and wore it often despite the sleeves and hem being too short. Inevitably, the yellow also got dingey and pilled over time, but I still liked the overall design.

So I traced it! I literally just laid the dress over brown paper and ran a serrated tracing wheel over the different sections, leaving an impression underneath, just like how I trace patterns. I remember I traced James’s well-loved linen shirt at the same time, so it was a few months ago, and even though I had this mustard ponte in my stash for even longer, it took me a while to get around to sewing it up.

It may look like a complicated design, but it’s actually really quick to sew up on the overlocker, and only the back invisible zipper takes a little bit of sewing machine time.

Here you can see me holding the original dress, whilst wearing my copy!

All the things I loved about the original dress are present here – the figure-hugging design, the flowing, curved panels, the vibrant colour – but the sleeves are nice and long instead of “unintentional bracelet length”, and the hem doesn’t go scandalously short when I bend over!

Designer colourblocking inspiration

My next pattern is off with the pattern testers right now and I’m frantically sewing up final samples for photoshoots, filling in missing illustrations, and responding to comments as they come in, but I’ve managed to occupy my brain with the thought of things I might sew for fun next!

I did indeed wear my traced-from-RTW mustard yellow sheath dress to Number 10 Downing Street last week, and even managed to get some photos with the famous door(!) afterwards, but you’ll have to wait for those until the proper photoshoot is done showing the rest of the dress details in some decent lighting.

But I can say already that I love the dress! It needs some slight tweaking to the shoulder area, but apart from that, my tracing was spot-on, and I’m so chuffed it turned out so well without a muslin.

The crazy seaming really started getting my brain thinking about all the ways it could be colourblocked, though, and I looked up and suddenly found inspiration from a magazine photo I’d cut out years ago and had hanging on my sewing cave wall!

So I rummaged through my ponte scraps and realised that I had the most perfect shade of teal viscose ponte leftover from a client commission, and together with the leftover mustard scraps (and some newly-bought white ponte), I could make my very own Chalayan-inspired sheath dress!

I whipped up a tech drawing in Illustrator so I could play with the different colourblocking combinations, and I’m not sure which I should go for.

I’ve only got 1.2m of the teal and even less of the mustard, but I could buy whatever white I need to make up the rest. I think I have enough to make any of these combos, but I will of course double-check with my pieces before I order the white.

I also finally sewed up a muslin of this short coat from the Sept 2010 Burda (also known as one of my favourite issues Of. All. Time.):

Minimum Viable Dress (and speed sewing tips!)

In the tech industry, there’s a term “Minimum Viable Product”, which means the absolute minimum you can do to get code out the door. It’s not your best work, but it works.

Like half of London, we had tickets to see Secret Cinema’s performance and screening of the first Back to the Future film, where they recreated the entire 1955 town of Hill Valley, California, complete with about 20 business, the clock tower, full fun fair, a cast of hundreds of actors, you name it. We were also all asked to assume an identity (I was “Tiffany Hyslop, developer!”) and dress in 1955 styles. Now, I’ve only got one 1950s dress pattern (which I made into that Porsche dress a few years back) but it’s too big in the bodice now and would require too much work.

So instead, I picked a modern dress with a 1950s feel – the Simplicity Cynthia Rowley pattern (1873) which I had already made in fuchsia and really liked the fit of.

The pink version was the wrong colour for the 1950s and definitely too short, so I bought some striped cotton poplin from Minerva that had the right vibe, and figured it’d be close enough.

A camisole from the ashes of failure

It all started back in March when I received for my birthday both the royal blue ponte knit fabric and a Marfy pattern I’d requested (#2935). I was enthusiastic about both, so much so that I spent the day after my party making up the dress.

The first issue came about when I realised that the pattern was missing a piece for the horizontal waist sash. It was pretty obvious it was just a rectangle, but the dimensions of it would be useful to get the gathering right, so I emailed Marfy, and got the following unhelpful reply when I asked for the dimensions of the missing piece:

“you are right, sorry. The important thing is to cut the piece on the bias so that it will follow the body. You can decide the width you prefer, and you can close it on the back.”

Ummm…

But that was just the start, because the horizontal sash was really the least wrong this about the dress. It’s a basic, long sleeved knit sheath dress with front and back darts and waist seam, but then there’s a weird set of gathers above the bust at the centre front that just reminds me of a vagina no matter how much I look at it, and this created a weird lump of fabric just above the bust that had to be pinched out.

But it goes on, because the diagonal sash was angled incorrectly and way too long, but if it was pulled tight enough, it started to bring the neckline down, too. The length was really dowdy, and overall, it was just a really unflattering dress. Somehow it looked straight out of the 1940s despite being modern, and it’s pretty much impossible to have a fabric that is both thick enough to wear on the body but thin enough to stand up to all that draping. Big, big thumbs down for Marfy 2935. This is actually my second Marfy pattern, and the second that hasn’t worked for me, so I’m kinda washing my hands of the whole company now…

But I still really liked the fabric, and wanted to do something with it to reclaim it, so this monstrosity of a muslin stayed on Susan (my dressform) literally for months. My friend FJ would come by and be like “Is that thing still there? You have got to do something with it or get rid of it – it’s bringing you down!” and he was totally right.

But despite being a big dress, the uninterrupted pieces weren’t very big so I had to choose my pattern carefully – and I pulled out the Seamster Patterns Yellowtail Camisole pattern that I’d bought and printed out last summer but hadn’t quite gotten around to making before the weather cooled off.

I was able to fit the pieces into the Marfy dress (plus it felt quite cathartic to cut the sucker up!) and it was really quick to sew!


Seen here with my Donna Karan leggings from earlier this week…

StyleArc Pamela – the perfect summer dress?

I must be the only sewist on earth without enough casual dresses, but alas, the weather has turned very hot and summery and I’ve taken to just wearing the same jeanskirt and pair of 17 year old shorts (no, really) around the boat while I work from home. I realised I could just make any number of knit dresses, but that’s too easy, and besides, my knit stash is a little low and my woven stash is spilling over.

So I decided to pull out the StyleArc Pamela dress pattern I originally planned to make for my Mexico travel wardrobe last year, and pair it with the same blue linen (blend?) that was gifted to me by Veronica back in 2012.

It’s been ages since I sewed a woven for myself, so of course I forgot that they require pressing, which means heat and steam standing by the iron, ugh! But let me tell you, it was all worth it in the end because I totally love this dress. I think it might be the perfect summer dress, as it’s both casual and a little different, and you can change the look just by tying it either in front, or in the back.


(Yes, I had been wearing the dress all day before these photos – including two lots of treadmill running to whilst shopping for new racing flats!)

I bought the pattern when I was a StyleArc size 14 (I’m closer to a 12 now), so the dress is a little bigger than usual on me, but this works for summer because you can get a looser fit by tying the integrated ties in a bow under the bust. Or, if you want, you can also cinch in the waist by wrapping the ties around to tie it in the back. I’ve been wearing it about 50/50 according to my whims.

There are a lot of great little details in this pattern – the shawl collar extends to the centre back neck, falling nicely into an inverted pleat at the inset corner.