Thursday, 29 April 2010

Spring Top Week 2010

This is my first, and possibly only, entry to the Made by Rae Spring Top Week 2010 competition. I wanted to make lots of tops to enter, but somehow time has got away from me and my clothes-making ability (which is low) has meant that everything I've tried to do before this has gone wrong and I haven't been happy with the fit (there are three tops that, with a heavy heart, have been consigned to the Spring top graveyard). I have to say that my desire to give up and admit that I'm just not good at dressmaking has been strong...but stronger has been my wish to crack the clothes-making nut and become vaguely proficient - as I said to Mr Teacakes the other day, I feel like I want to immerse myself in dressmaking solidly for four or five months so that I can come out on the other side with the same sense of what may or may not work that now feels instinctive to me in other areas of sewing.

I had always thought it was fit that was most important with dressmaking, but I'm increasingly coming to realise that as well as fit, a bit part of the learning curve is choosing the right material. Last week I made a top that fitted perfectly and which had detailing on that I loved, but the print was so tiny and densely patterned that the yoke and pleats that I'd carefully created just faded away into the pattern, making the outline of the top the only noticeable thing...which was just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Another top I made a muslin of using an old duvet cover, which looked perfect...only when I translated it into what was to be the final top, the stiffer, starchier makeup of my chosen material made the overall fit smaller than intended and less forgiving and unsuitable for the style of material. I could go on with the other mistakes, but actually I'm realising that that's a post in itself, so for now I'll just show you the top that I'm really happy with.

I think that this is my first successful top and it fits in exactly the way that it fitted whilst only a vision in my head (the two things rarely marry up...but it's such an amazing feeling when they finally do!). Last week I tried to make a top from New Look pattern 6895 in a material that turned out to be too starchy...however, I really loved the ruffle and so yesterday I took out the pattern and reworked it to my own measurements using my bible: Cal Patch's Design-It-Yourself Clothes. I shortened the ruffle so that in inclement weather I can wear a cardigan without feeling like I have lots of padding going all around the neck, added a curved hem instead of one that goes straight across for a softer finish that feels more in keeping with the girlyness of the ruffle, added in light gathering at the back of the neck, took out the fastening as it slips easily over my head without one, and added in some bust darts and then made the whole thing a little smaller.

I am in love with the material which is some end of bolt Liberty lawn that I bought locally...I'd quite like a dress made from it too - something long and ankle-skimming. The combination of the dark navy and the mustard make me feel so happy - they are currently my favourite colour combination.

So week the judging of Made by Rae's competition begins - each group of tops will be on Rae's site for just 24 hours, until they are taken down to make way for the next lot of entries...I wondered if you like my top...would you vote for me? (I'd be very grateful)**.  Or perhaps you 've entered yourself? I'm loving looking through all the tops in the Spring Tops Flickr pool - so much inspiration and so many lovelies - I love that this has pushed so many of us into action when otherwise I might have put off making something for another couple of weeks (and perhaps started just as Autumn was upon us).

**UPDATED: It always helps to read the instructions properly, and I've now learnt that the judges pick their favourite fifty tops and only those tops are voted my top may not end up being a possiblity to vote on...however, I've already picked my own favourites which I'm hoping go through and can't wait to do some voting myself, whether my top somehow makes it through to the final round or not!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Too much information: choosing a mannequin

Back in March, possibly inspired by a shaft of sunlight that may have fleetingly appeared, I made a summer skirt. I drafted it using my beloved Design-It-Yourself Clothes Cal Patch book and based the design on a skirt that I already have. Using the 'slash-and-spread' method (where you draw out your pattern and make cuts up toward the top and then spread these pieces to give a fuller, wider sweep, which can be traced around to make a new pattern this case creating more of a circle skirt) the pattern came together easily and I was really pleased with the shape.

It is a perfect everything should be wonderful? But no. It made me realise how completely inappropriate quilting weight fabric is for dressmaking. I loathe the way that it lacks subtlety, lies in great unfloaty clumps, and suddenly looks to have such a coarse weave. Yes, that may seem a rather passionate attack on an unsuspecting piece of beautifully patterned material, but really, I had so many plans in my mind for different prints and they came crashing down so horribly when I realised that every single one of them would be unsuitable if my garments were to have the kind of drape that I hoped for. This shouldn't be so devastating, but how many of the big name designers produce a range of dress-weight fabrics, aside from the lovely Anna Maria Horner, with her dreamy voiles (which still haven't arrived here in the colourways that I want them in. Cheeringly though, some of the other Westminster designers will be printing on Anna's voile-weight fabric later in the year - hurrah!)? My local shops, whose quilting range has now reached quite magnificent heights (last week I walked in to see much of Tilda's latest range, as well even more Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner and other lovelies)...however, they don't seem to buy in quite such wonderful dress fabrics that are reasonably priced. Which is why last week I bought a couple of metres from their scrumptious selection of Liberty lawn (luckily I had gift vouchers, so my wallet only suffered a little). I'll let you know how that went in my next post.

But anyway...let's talk explain all the ins and outs of choosing a good one it may be necessary to give more information than you'd want (or than I'd choose to give) about my own figure...which is is where the 'Too much information' title of this post comes from. But I feel that with one wrongly-sized mannequin in the garage and another that has been extensively fine-tuned to get it to resemble myself, I've now learnt a few things about how to pick a good one or how to adjust it to better resemble oneself.

Anyway, can you see a difference between the first photo and the third? Hopefully not too much, as in the first photo the skirt is being modelled by me and in the second it is being worn by my new (well, it was a birthday present in early March) mannequin. I'm really happy with her...she isn't the vintage mannequin that I had dreamt of but was chosen with the realisation that one fitting my strange dimensions may not actually exist in such a form and so this is the next best thing (there is over 10" difference between my waist and hip despite the fact that neither measurement is does give an imbalanced figure...and again, I have very small ribcage, but then a fairly normal size bust...which gives an odd measurement that no bra manufacturer caters for and certainly no vintage dressform maker seemed to think existed). The mannequin that I chose in the end is a
Petite Adjustoform and its range of sizes covers my measurements perfectly...but not without a bit of trial and error.

The form can be adjusted at both sides, back and front, so on the first day I had it, I simply twisted the adjustment wheels to match my measurements and expected it to look just like me...which it didn't. It was only when my mother intervened, when she saw me and my new not-so-twin-like headless sister together that she was able to tell me that I needed to divide these measurements up. So for example...where I had simply adjusted the waist to be 24" all round, she was able to point out that this figure is made up less uniformly on my actual body...namely that I carried more of this measurement across my front and back and less of it across my by changing the front and back measurements to be 25" and my side measurements to be 23" I was able to achieve the same overall measurement, but with a shape that looked more like me. The  non-negotiable difference that I have found with her is that her bust is almost an inch higher than mine (oh the horror!), but luckily her chest is rather flat, so in practical dressmaking terms that can be easily worked around...even if my feelings are slightly wounded and I am thinking of putting in a compensation claim for emotional damage to Adjustoform. Before I started dressmaking with the mannequin, my final check to make sure that I'd got my measurements correct was to try on a couple of my own pieces of existing clothing to see how they fitted on her...they all looked fine, but I remained uncertain that I'd recreated myself perfectly, until I realised that dressing her in my most fitted, non-stretch dress might be the best way to tell.

I altered this dress when I bought it a couple of years ago and it fits perfectly on me, although is in danger of being on the small side after a few more chocolates than necessary and so to find that it fitted my mannequin in the same way, was all the confirmation I needed to launch into dressmaking proper (or not). So, despite the fact that this mannequin doesn't have the extra lumpy, bumpy, squashy bits that pad out my figure, for dressmaking purposes it works.I think I've blogged about this before, but while I'm running through all things mannequin that I've learnt, it's worth saying that the problem with my old mannequin was her bust...I think her size ranged from 32" upwards, but despite the fact that I'm not by any means flat-chested, my smaller ribcage meant that this extra couple of inches made a huge difference when it came to that I couldn't get most of my existing clothes on her without risking damaging the seams (because how big the bust is also seems to affect how big the shoulders and arm caps are on a mannequin too). So, if you're in-between sizes, I'd always go for the smaller mannequin and then recreate the bust area by using a padded bra.

I'd initially spent a lot of time researching making my own mannequin from parcel tape...however, for several reasons (as well as it being ugly) after talking it through with the wise owl that is my mother, I thought better of it. A parcel tape body double is non-adjustable and so any weight gain or loss renders that mannequin  useless...additionally it can only be used to make clothes for myself. The mannequin that I've chosen covers  a wide range of sizes and so can be used for both me and my sister and in a year or two for Zebra-girl as well. Finally, I knew that the extra inch or so create by the layers of tape would bother my option was to make a papertape dressform
, fill it and use the inner form that this created....the thought of the Plaster of Paris and everything possibly going wrong put me off this idea.

So when she's not wearing mid-construction summer tops (as she has been this week), she finds herself wearing my kimono, which used to hang from the picture rail above (because oddly, I don't wear it very much, I just like looking at).

Please do tell me all about how your own dressmaking adventures are progressing - last time I posted about making clothes (which seems a while ago now) so many of you chipped in with your own comments and recommendations and links to what you were up to in this area, and I'd love to hear more. If, like me, you have an insatiable desire for all things dressmakery these are the blogs that I'm loving:

Aux Petits Oiseaux
The Philosophy of Lists
Night Knitter

Enjoy...and please do leave your own links to more dressmaking loveliness.

Florence x

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Wiggly Bags Tutorial (for Hickman Lines)

UPDATED: Sadly, The Liberty Rose Trust seems to have closed. However, if you know of somewhere that needs them, then you're welcome to use this tutorial to make wiggly bags. Please be aware though, that different hospitals require different sizes of wiggly bag.

Last month one of the lovely readers of my blog wrote to me and told me about some 'wiggly bags' that she was hoping to make for the Liberty Rose Trust and asked my advice about colours as she was having problems visualising what would work well. I'd actually never heard of Wiggly Bags, but following the link that she sent, found that they are bags that children undergoing treatment for cancer use to hold their central line, which will be with them throughout their treatment to give medicines and take blood (thus avoiding the need for needles). So that the line (that's the 'wiggly') doesn't get dirty or pulled while playing each child needs a wiggly bag to keep it in. Sarah Hill (Director of Family Support at the Liberty Rose Trust) told me that a child will often have their line with them on a constant basis for around 18 months and so the wiggly bag that holds it will become a big part of their daily life and the child will often become very attached to it. The bags are needed for children of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers and so there's a call for bags bearing pictures of animals, fairies, dinosaurs, rockets...but there's also a real need for bags that teenagers will be happy to wear.

So anyway, back to the reader who wrote to me...I could see exactly why she was having problems visualising the Wiggly Bag as although the Liberty Rose Trust have a pattern piece and instructions for how to make one, they don't currently have on their site a picture of the finished bag or any step photos...which is tricky if you are a visual person. So, with the Liberty Rose Trust's permission, I've written up a step-by-step photo tutorial based on their original pattern piece in the hope that it might make it even easier for other sewers to help. They can take as long or as little time to make as you can spare...they can be embellished with appliques or made from patchwork, or they can just be made from one simple fabric piece as shown in this tutorial (the latter means that you can whip up around 3 bags in an hour). Please remember though:
  • The bag will be washed every 2/3 days, which means that all wiggly bags need to be made from  cotton.
  • The drawstring must be made of soft tape (not ribbon, as that can be scratchy against the skin).
  • The tape must be 1 metre long so that the ends can be cut to size to suit the height of the child wearing the Wiggly Bag.
  • A variety of bags are needed for boys, girls, toddlers, children and teenagers.
  • You can find a downloadable PDF including the Liberty Rose Trust pattern piece and this photo tutorial at the bottom of this post, which can be downloaded to your computer and printed out.
  • This tutorial covers the basics in the hope that beginner sewers won't be put off.
Requiring just one piece of fabric at around 11" x 6", I can't think of a better excuse to go stash raiding and cut into that favourite bit of fabric that you've been saving for something special. The Liberty Rose Trust are hugely appreciative of any bags that you can make.

1. Print out a copy of the pattern and cut it out along the heavy black line that runs around the perimetre. With your chosen fabric wrong side up, trace around the paper pattern piece and then cut out. If you're working with a directional print then please be sure to keep your pattern print going in the same direction as the lettering on the pattern piece (A is the top).

2. Place the pattern next to the edge of your fabric and make a small mark to show where line 'A' runs. Do this at each side, and then join the two marks using a ruler to create a straight line.

3.Now fold over so that the top edge rests on the line that you just created. It should finish looking like the piece below. Pin in place and sew - I used a zigzag stitch to minimise fraying.

4. Now fold in half (along line B, as marked on the pattern piece) and mark on lines C and D as shown on the pattern piece - extend these lines all the way to the top and sides. Sew along these lines. When you reach the corner, make sure the needle is down in the fabric, lift the presser foot, pivot the fabric, lower the presser foot and continue sewing.

5. Now line the fabric piece up next to the paper pattern piece, with the bottom edges level. Make a mark at each side to show where line E should go, and join marks with a ruler. Turn fabric over and repeat on the other side.

6. Mark on to one side a central opening measuring 3/4" (1.5cm), depicted by XXX in the pattern. You can see my little purple marks showing this opening. If your Wiggly Bag has an applique or feature that you want to appear on the front of the finished bag, then make sure that you place this opening on the other side from this, as the side with the opening will be at the back of the bag.

7. Turn the top edge over so that it rests on the line that you've just drawn. Pin all round, pinning the side seam allowance to one side when you reach it (do not open it out, as this will make it hard to thread the drawstring later).

8. Turn right side out. Starting at one of the opening marks, sew all the way along this pinned seam until you reach the other opening mark. Sew as near to the bottom edge as possible and be sure to do a good few securing stitches at the start and finish as this opening will often be pulled against as the drawstring is opened and closed. The left-hand picture shows the front of the bag, the right-hand picture shows a close-up of the back of the bag.

9. Take the tape and attach a pin to one end. Feed this in through the opening hole in the bag and work your way around using a push-pull motion until you are able to push it out at the other side of the opening.

If you want to make your own tape from co-ordinating fabric, cut a piece measuring 3.8cm (1.5") x 1 metre long and fold in half lengthways, pressing with an iron as you fold. Next, fold the raw edges inwards to meet at the creaseline, fold in half, press, pin and sew.

11. Pull the tape through until both sides are an even length. Press with an iron.

12. Loosely knot the two ends together. Pull the drawstring closed to check it is easily drawn. Hurrah! Your first wiggly bag is can either send it to the address above...or make a few more and then send it to the address above!

Now for some dressmaking...Made by Rae's summer tops week has inspired me to do something...I just don't know what yet...

Florence x

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Peanut butter fudge

It's been two whole weeks since I last posted. I've been doing many things, but perhaps most delightful has been making peanut butter fudge with Mr Teacakes. The recipe is Sophie Dahl's, whom Mr Teacakes has quite fallen in love with due to her love of cheese and disregard for calories...he says that he has never seen a girl who loves cheese as much as he does (the fact that she looks so utterly lovely may be in there somewhere...but eating cheese for breakfast, lunch and supper seals the deal). We watched her cookery programme, The Delicious Miss Dahl, on iPlayer a couple of nights ago (hurrah for his broken leg...we never usually watch television programmes...I am loving this slower pace of life and may well nobble the other leg the moment this one has recovered) and the next day he returned home from work with a large grin and a bag of ingredients from Waitrose.

Making & Eating

This is quite the most amazing fudge I've ever tasted. It melts in the mouth, but has crunchy peanut butter bits that kindly deceive the eater into believing it's not just pure sugar that they're eating. Mr Teacakes took most of it into work today to share with colleagues and left me with only this small fudge-filled bowl. Oh.

** Updated to say: the peanut butter fudge recipe is from the BBC website and was taken from The Delicious Miss Dahl 'Selfish' episode. Follow the link to make it. Her book, Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights,arrived yesterday and although the fudge recipe isn't included there are lots of other goodies and the little Teacakes sampled her grilled bananas with agave as a mid-afternoon snack yesterday and confirmed them to very good indeed.**

But anyway, this was only meant to be a five minute post, to announce the results of my Grandmother's Flower Garden fabric giveaway. Last time Mr Teacakes closed his eyes and jabbed at the screen as I scrolled it up and down and I ended up sending goodies all the way to freaky contrast this time his pointy finger landed on Helen, who is somewhat closer. Hurrah for weird serendipity. Thank you so much to all those who entered - I loved reading your words.

My sewing break has turned into something of an extended hiatus, and I have to guiltily admit that I have had the most dreamy couple of weeks doing normal things like being in bed by 10pm and reading book after book, which has made this half term feel completely relaxing and I am already feeling cornerish about my children going back to school. But I have lots of projects lined up for their first week back and I know that by Monday I will be itching to turn my machine on again.

Wishing you a lovely week,
Florence x
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