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The ombre denim Gimlet birthday dress

Happy (slightly belated) 38th birthday to meeeeeeeee!

My birthday was on Saturday and, after the stinker that was last year, I had a blast! I have a tradition where I like to sew myself something special to celebrate the occasion, and this year I decided to make myself a cocktail dress – rather fitting since I invited my friends out for cocktails on Friday to our favourite little whisky bar.

I’ve been utterly enchanted with the Gimlet dress pattern from the moment Capital Chic released it. Granted, Sally is a friend and I respect her work and design aesthetic so much, but this dress in particular was just too “me” not to make! I mean – sheath dress (tick), asymmetric (tick). And that’s pretty much all I need to add it to my To Sew list, ha!

A Japanese print day dress

I can’t start this post today without first sending out a massive, massive THANK YOU to everyone who’ve commented and gotten in touch on all forms of social media to say congratulations on my book deal. The response has absolutely exceeded my expectations and I’ve been overwhelmed by the love, enthusiasm, and confidence you all have in me. Thank you.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on the book full-time, putting all my energy, thoughts, energy, and even my dreams into the book (no, really – a solution to one of my design problems actually came to me in a dream!). But I know it’s easy to get burned out in a project like this so I try very, very hard to Keep Weekends Sacred and not work on the book. But I still want to do a little bit of sewing here and there (not just sock loom knitting!), so I’ve been doing quick little weekend projects unrelated to the book that I can clear out of my sewing room in time for activewear sewing during the week.

Last month’s issue of Love Sewing magazine included McCalls 7381 free and I thought it looked like a nice little dress to make up over a weekend (if you’re in the States, this pattern’s on sale through the end of today, just fyi!). My stash is absolutely at capacity with fabrics for book samples, so I wanted to use up something I already had and found a Japanese print cotton that my friend Alex brought me back from Tomato in Tokyo last winter. Ideally, the pattern should use something less structured and more flowy than a quilting cotton, but I don’t tend to buy many fabrics like that, so I figured it’d be fine for a casual summer day dress.

A yellow Drape Drape dress

From the first time I flipped through the first Drape Drape book, this dress really grabbed my attention and I knew that I’d eventually make it. Like most of the patterns in the Drape Drape books, this one has both unusual, 3D seaming and lots of gathers (or tucks). This is the third pattern I’ve made in the series, after the asymmetric teeshirt (twice!), and the gathered tunic dress.

Unlike the Pattern Magic books, in the Drape Drape books the patterns are included in several sheets at the back which you trace off, a’la Burda magazine. But though the lines aren’t packed as densely as in Burda’s, the lines aren’t coloured nor do they have different dashes or dots, so it’s not as easy to trace in my opinion! Because the shapes are often wraparound, the pieces can be quite big, and you have to trace them in a few different parts.

A Breton tee dress

The origins of this dress are a bit “chicken and egg” – did I think about making the Breton tee dress from the latest Great British Sewing Bee book first, or did I decide I finally wanted to cut into the hefty black and white striped ponte in my stash first? I’m not entirely sure of the order, but I do like it when a plan comes together which doesn’t involve me buying anything more!

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!