Friday, 14 March 2014

A dabble with dressmaking

A couple of Saturday nights ago, I was discussing the Great British Sewing Bee with my mum over a rather large glass of Port. And I had the absolutely hilarious idea that I should apply. I mean, why not? I can sew, right? It'd be interesting and fun and I *might* even get to be on TV and meet Patrick Grant. Which would be bearable, wouldn't it?

I even downloaded the application form.

Thankfully I was a little too tipsy to fill it in and when I woke up the next morning I had come to my senses. Because while I can indeed sew, it isn't actually the Great British Sewing Bee, is it? It's the Great British Dressmaking Bee, in all but name. And dressmaking is not a string I have to my bow.

It seems to me that most people come to quilting later on in their sewing career. Our recent Leeds MQG meeting was full of wonderful people who had "sewn for years". Made their own clothes, their children's clothes, their wedding dresses in many cases! And then picked up quilting.

My first quilt

Whereas I learnt to sew in order to quilt. I love making quilts. Also bags. And I've dabbled with children's clothes too, because they don't actually have to fit. But my dressmaking skills and experience are pretty minimal. I can follow a pattern, no worries, that's how I work. But while that will get you a garment, it won't necessarily get you a garment that actually fits.

Then there is also the fact I have a predominantly quilting stash - you can't make a frock out of a fat quarter you know. Quilting cottons are my comfort zone. I shop primarily online. Fine for buying quilting cotton, not so fine when feel and drape and hand are important. And also the yardage required to make an adult sized item of clothing gives me palpitations. 3 metres?? At how much?? AND fabric for a muslin? And lining fabric? AND interfacing?! Okay, you get the idea. It's a whole different world, dressmaking. It's so much more than sewing.

But there are so many lovely things to make out there. Some of the dressmaking blogs I follow are utterly awe inspiring. And I am very suggestible, so if everyone online is doing something I generally want to do it too. It was a Quilt-Along that started me off, remember? I just can't resist. So I did dabble with dressmaking, a little, a couple of years back when Kerry ran a Wiksten Tova Sew-Along.

It isn't perfect, but it did fit (although nursing boobs mean currently does not). I also made it before I knew what fabric I loved and as a consequence do not love the fabric. But hey, I wore it several times and it was a great start.

Then I made the infinitely more simple Wiksten tank. Which did not fit. At all.

tank2 photo tank2.jpgtank photo tank.jpg

And there ended my first dabble with dressmaking.

Then over the last 2 years of being pregnant and then nursing there have been more lovely internet-trend patterns cropping up. Made by Rae's Washi top and dress. I scratched that itch by making a few Geranium dresses instead.


Geranium top

Geranium dress

Geranium dress

First #kcw finish! @madebyrae #geraniumdress in @lizzyhouse #constellationsfabric  #kidsclothingweek #kidsclothesweek #sewing

And then The Staple Dress. I liked the look of this, simple and cute and just the kind of thing I would wear. I chose my fabric for it long ago, before it was even released - It's a Plus Koi Voile. And just before Christmas I snapped up the required yardage from M is for Make (ooh look, it's on sale!). But I still hadn't even bought the pattern.

I continued to umm and ahh, hoping I would lose a bit of baby weight and also not seeing the point in making an item of clothing I can't feed the baby in easily when I am with the baby 24/7. Then I saw Justine wearing hers at Leeds MQG and she and Karen gave me a kick up the bum to give it a go.

So I bought the pattern. It's available as a paper pattern now but I am allergic to tracing so I went for the PDF version. Printed, taped. And checked the measurements. Rather joyfully I matched the sizings for the XS size on both bust and hips. Rather less joyfully my waist is a depressing 6" or so bigger than the pattern measurement. I carry all my weight on my belly you see, such a great look and not one I like to draw attention to at all. Add all that to the fact that I am only 5ft2 and I knew this pattern was going to need some tweaking. It is an incredibly simple pattern but, as I learnt from my Wiksten tank disaster, simple doesn't mean it will actually fit.

So I posted for help on Instagram and the lovely Lynne pointed Rachel in my direction. She talked me through figuring out where I needed the extra ease and grading the pattern out accordingly. I started by chopping the paper pattern at the shirring line and overlapping it by 1.25". That gave me a new waist and I graded out from just above it from the XS bust to S over the waist and hips. I figured any extra fabric could be shirred in whereas any pulling across the belly would be unsalvageable. And I only had yardage of my Koi voile so a muslin just wasn't an option. It still looked super long so I then chopped another 2" off the bottom hem and cracked on with it.

April explains every step clearly and with photo instructions. As it happens I can already manage a French seam but the pattern talks you through it. I skipped the pockets as the voile is just too lightweight for them to be useful and just followed the pattern right through to the bit where you end up with a surgical gown.

I fiddled about a bit with a belt to choose my shirring line - I tend to prefer empire line clothing as that is more flattering to the belly area but a too high belt led to weird bunching around the boob area so I lowered it a little, I think it is still a little above the original intended line.

But done! And I LOVE it.

I can't nurse the baby in it without getting half undressed so it is my going out without her dress. I wore it last night with fleece leggings, warm boots and a chunky cardy as it was a chilly evening here in Yorkshire and was very happy indeed.

And I want to make more. Darn that quilting stash of FQs and half yards and darn that fabric fast.

In fact if anyone in the UK happens to have a spare metre of Essex Yarn Dyed Linen in Denim that they'd be happy to swap for something from my stash - please give me a shout!! I have visions of cute contrast facings and pockets .....


  1. That was a fun story to read with lots of very nice makings going on. I need to bite the bullet and try again! I have not sewn clothes since college which is a few years back! Fun post!

  2. If I had it, I would send it but sadly I don't! Well done for altering the dress, it looks great and I can imagine it teamed up with boots and stuff and looking great too.

  3. It's a fab dress Hannah! Hope you find someone to swap with you soon x

  4. Looks fab, well done! and I totally agree about the GBSB, it really irritates me they don;t call it the dress making bee, which it clearly is! I have a crap load (10 plus metres don't ask) of spare Essex Yarn Dyed in Black, but not denim unfortunately!

  5. I feel exactly the same way. I made a dress in a dressmaking class with help and everything- too small. I made a Tova, too baggy. I made a skirt with quilting cotton, that actually works. I made a sun dress for the retreat last year and I made it about 5 sizes too big in the bust and had to radically alter it which made it a bit messy inside. Fabric is just so expensive for dressmaking, and I want pretty patterns but all I find are plain colours! I plan to splash out on a knit from Spoonflower and make myself something, though I know that I will be too scared to cut into it at $25 a yard!

  6. Brilliant post!!! Love your Staple Dress, the Koi is perfect!
    GBSB, they never even try a bag, but I do love watching it!!
    My measurements never fit in those charts, or at least in the same line of the charts!!! And I dream of making myself a Washi Dress, but fear I'd end up looking pregnant!! Hope you find the Linen, I only have some of it in flax.


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