Waxprint 2-Piece Playsuit

Over on The Monthly Stitch (lovely online sewing community), June is Indie Pattern Month 2015. Each week has a particular focus and last week was “New to Me”, where the challenge was to sew something from an independent pattern designer you’ve never used before.

I went with Katy & Laney’s fabulous tap shorts, sewn up in recently-purchased waxprint cotton, with gold pleather piping. Inspired by the 2-piece playsuits I’ve seen popping up all over the inter web, I paired the shorts with a cropped shell top in the same fabric.

For more details check out the full post over at The Monthly Stitch.

Siobhan xx

Fabric shopping in Kigali

As promised, here’s my first little nugget of Kigali love for sewists, kicking off with an essential: fabric shopping.

1. Kimironko market.

Big, noisy, crowded – Kigali’s main market is definitely “an experience”. We arrived, parked, got swarmed by a group of yellow-tabarded helpers, agreed with one to guard the car, agreed with another to act as “guide/bag-carrier” and then headed into the market. I assume the car-guarding and bag-carrying is optional, but we opted for the path of least resistance.

Entering from the carpark side, you come first to the fresh produce section: towering pyramids of avocadoes, massive stems of plantains, strings of dried fish, dusty piles of sorghum and cassava flour, it’s beautiful and chaotic. We wove through the dark, narrow aisles of the market, passing pots and pans, electrical goods, tourist nicknackery, until finally we hit the fabric stalls.

Sifting peas on Kimironko market in Kigali

Pumpkins for sale

(photos by Kigali Wire)

The fabric stalls at Kimironko are small and tall – you point at what you’d like to see and it’s reached down for you. The sellers aren’t too hassling, but with the cramped environment and the omnipresent bag-carrier trying to steer you to his favourite stalls, it’s not the most relaxed shopping environment. I left with just one piece in the end – a mystery fabric which is definitely not “100% cotton” (I showed it a hot iron and it got decidedly melty) but I love the pattern and the way it holds its shape.

For my first Kigali make, I went with another Emery dress with capped sleeves (see previous version here). This time I omitted the collar and scooped out the neckline. The selvages on the fabric were pretty great so I used them on the hem of skirt and sleeves – yes that was a conscious design decision and not another lazy hemming cop-out. Ahem.

2. Fabric stalls “in Town”

Kigali doesn’t have a city centre as such. It’s a series of hills and each one has a different personality. One hill has the main shopping centres and is known simply as “Town”. On one of the streets in Town (KN 2 St), a small unmarked doorway (No. 35) conceals a warren of fabric shops.

Housed in an actual built space, there is a little more breathing room here than at Kimironko market. There’s also better lighting and, if anything, more choice. In fact I had it on good authority (from a Kigali tailor) that many of the Kimironko stall holders buy their merchandise here and then re-sell it at the market.

It took me two goes to actually buy anything here, due to the sheer overwhelming choice. Some pieces are displayed hung around the shop walls, but there are also huge piles of neatly folded fabric, which the shopowners will help you handle if you want to browse through. In the end I came away with four pieces. All cotton… I’m almost certain.

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At the moment I’m thinking the burgundy/cream for trousers and the others for dresses. One thing to be aware of is that a lot of sellers will only sell you the full 5m length. I swapped half of one piece with a fabric-buying buddy, but I have a lot of the others. Waxprint cushion covers anyone?

Anyway, that’s my experience of fabric shopping in Kigali, so far. Beautiful cottons to be found, for sure. You just need to know where to look, and go with plenty of energy.

Siobhan xx

Changes (& Instasnaps)

Hello!

It’s been quite a long time since my last post. Four months in fact. Oops!! In fairness there’s been change afoot on the real-life/work front: I am now a proud resident of Kigali, Rwanda!

It was a change that I knew was coming, but ended up happening in rather a more whirlwind manner than anticipated. Essentially, I finished my old contract in Geneva on a Friday in February and the following Tuesday was sitting on a plane to Rwanda. Boom.

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This is not now nor has ever been a blog about work, but suffice it to say that this move pretty much represents all my professional dreams come true. I get to continue working for an organization I love, but in a role with much more direct people-contact. So far it is everything I hoped for and I love it.

Kigali meanwhile is a ridiculously lovely place to live. For anyone who doesn’t know, Rwanda is a little landlocked country tucked between Tanzania, Burundi and DRC. It is stunningly and endlessly beautiful. Rolling green luscious hills in all directions. On top of that the infrastructure is amazing (think perfectly paved roads all over the country) and Kigali itself is this fascinating hub of new enterprise, with startup coffee shops and dance studios and great restaurants. All-in-all I feel extremely lucky to be living here.

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I’ve no intention of stopping sewing, but since getting out here I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I want to continue this blog; whether it feels appropriate. As much as I LOVE following the blogs of other sewists (I really do) there is something undeniably narcissistic about blogging photos of yourself, which I was suddenly very conscious of. So I was tussling with that.

I decided in the end that I will keep blogging. Maybe just once a month. I struggle to keep a diary and am not great at correspondence, and this blog goes a little way to ticking both of those boxes. But at the same time, I’ll try and mix it up a bit. A few photos of my makes, but also some showcasing of the fabulous creativity of the Kigali sewing scene. From fabric shops and stalls to tailors and designers, to sewing co-ops. There’s lots to share, and that way hopefully it won’t feel quite so ME ME ME!!

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I hope that makes sense and that you’ll keep reading the blog. My sewing machine is currently in a trunk somewhere between Geneva and Kigali, so I’ll let you know when it arrives.

Siobhan xx

Starry Sky Emery

This one has been on my list for a looooooong time. I got the fabric in Tokyo Fabric town on our honeymoon in Japan (in April, ahem). It’s a lovely deep blue with white spots that remind me of stars, and this beautiful broderie pattern all along one edge.

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The pattern meanwhile, Ms Christine Haynes’ Emery Dress, is one that I have lurked admired all over blogtown. There are so many beautiful versions of this dress out there. Personal favourites include Anna (Paunnet)’s beautiful Christmas plaid version, and pretty much any of the hundred million Roisin (Dolly Clackett) has made (seriously she is the Emery queen).

Emery-Cover_grandeMy mum recently treated me to a big wad of muslin, and so I dutifully sewed up not one, but two toiles in the right stuff. I know for lots of people the Emery is a perfect fit right out of the envelope. This wasn’t quite the case for me, but that’s ok, bodies are different after all. I googled around for some online reassurance and was relived to read that Lladybird, a personal blogging hero, descended down a “six muslin spiral of doom” with the same dress, so I persevered.

I’m starting to recognize some of the fit issues I have, and when I know how to fix them it feels like a huge accomplishment! For example, I made a hollow-chest adjustment using a slash and pivot method, the same as I did on my Anna peplum hack. I first saw this demonstrated on Ginger Makes, so in my head it’s the “Ginger method” 🙂

from Ginger Makes

from Ginger Makes

Fitting the back was much more of a challenge. I started with serious neckline gapage so widened the darts. This gave me comical back humps like I was about to sprout wings. At this point I realised that in fact there was excess to be pinched out all the way down, so returned to the original darts and just took the extra out along the zip.

For the skirt, in order to keep the trim along the bottom edge in tact, I cut a single straight piece, rather than the gently curved/flared skirt of the pattern. It being autumn/winter I also opted to line the skirt with the same white cupro I used for the bodice lining, for warmth and to stop the dress sticking to wooly tights.

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What else? I made the collar in a contrasting white broderie, which with the interfacing, became quite chunky, with a tendency to roll out along the neckline. Two lines of understitching and an aggressive press with the iron seem to have corrected this though. Oh and my invisible zip is pretty visible. I was confused as to how this had happened before realising that I just sewed it on with a regular zipper foot – doh!! Since it’s neatly inserted and a matching colour I decided to live with it rather than unpick it.   IMAG0057

Overall, I am pretty in love with this dress. I wasn’t sure about the collar but I’m so glad I went with it. I think it gives the dress this retro, slightly Wes Anderson feel. Always a good thing amiright??

 Siobhan xx

Weaving interlude

I think I’ve said before that I’m not much of a knitter. Sure I like a good chunky scarf as much as the next girl, but mostly I associate knitted garments with scratchy, tickly, sweaty and I hate the feel of it on my nails (yes I’m aware the last one is a weird, only-me peculiarity). So the idea of labouring for hours over a garment that could a) not fit and be un-adjustable and b) end up feeling one or all of those things?

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All that being said, I love the look of wool. Those photos in catalogues where models drape themselves on antique chairs in ruined houses, wearing layers of gorgeously textured wool and chiffon (Anthro I’m looking at you), those I dig.

Anyway, this sort of brings me to weaving. A fad? Yes. A bandwagon? Yes. A mockable hipster pastime? Yes fine, whatevs. But have you seen what you can make??

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From top left: Liztooheywiese (etsy), A beautiful mess, All roads, Native Line by Justine Ashbee, AwaysAway (etsy)

Look at all that gorgeous texture!! And best of all, in wall-hanging form none of it has to come anywhere near you… ok me, let’s not pretend this is an issue for anyone else. Anyway, I had to have me some of that. So I gathered my supplies – Children’s (ahem) weaving loom set, cotton yarn for weft, weaving needle – all from Buttinette. Leftover/donated wool from the bag of projects never-to-be-started.

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From: Buttinette.com

For weaving basics, Rachel Denbow’s series over on A Beautiful Mess is a great place to start. One extra tip (which I only worked out about 50 rows in) – if your loom comes with strange long metal pieces to screw on to the end rows (shown in the photo above), treat these as if they were part of your last warp string. They help stop the weaving from sagging, and you can just unscrew the end and whip them out once you’re finished – magic.

So here is my first attempt, in all her tasseled, textured glory:

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For hanging, I was originally going to mount it on a branch, but then it got all grey and rainy and I didn’t fancy the idea of poking around in the park for damp wood (glamorous craftbloggers never discuss the practicalities of this shiz). Anyhoo, so I went with a plan B of copper piping, which I was pleasantly surprised to find stocked at Jumbo (our second-rate Swiss version of B&Q).

I have to admit, I’m pretty in love with the finished item. It’s obviously not a patch on my inspiration ones above, but I love it anyway. The motifs in the middle reminded me of mountains, which worked well as I decided to give it as a wedding present to a couple of mountain-loving friends. I’m keen to make more. Friends/family be warned: 2015 may be woven gift year…

Siobhan xx

The 3-hour Skirt

In sewing, as in many aspects of life, sometimes you just need a quick win. I have a couple of WIPs which are sitting sulkily by my machine. They need love and attention and energy and dedication and I will get back to them. But the other night I decided to skip right over them and make a quick and easy skirt instead.

The fabric is an upholstery-weight Cath Kidston print I picked up in the UK. I love it because it’s not in-your-face CK (i.e. pastel-coloured and covered in tiny blossoms), instead it’s dark and moody and has a huge amount of detail. It reminds me of the Funnybones storybook, a childhood favourite – “In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street” etc.

  IMAG0025To call the skirt pattern “self drafted” would be a laughable over-sell. There was no drafting involved. I used the whole width (no side seam finishes = win), eyeballed the length, stuck a couple of box pleats in front, added a waistband, inserted elastic in the back half of the waistband only (anchoring on the inside), turned up the hem, aaaand DONE.

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3 hour skirt – BOOM. I was so proud, I dug out my hitherto unworn “MAKER” bling for photos in the park.

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See how it glistens in the soft autumnal light? Love it.

Siobhan xxx

Meet Betsy – my beautiful Singer

Last weekend I popped back to London for a family birthday and a catch up with friends, while M stayed in Geneva to do work stuff. Much to my surprise and delight, when I got home on Sunday, a very lovely lady was waiting for me. Ladies and gents, I give you Betsy!!

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Isn’t she gorgeous?? M got her for a veritable steal at the Plainpalais fleamarket. I’ve seen Singers there before but never in this good condition. Ready for a shedload more photos? Of course you are.

For starters, Betsy lives in this lovely wooden case, with the Singer emblem on the outside. The case opens with a little key on the left hand side.

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This is her serial number:

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According to this website, that indicates that she is a 128K model and that she’s one of 35,000 made between July-December 1916, in Clydebank, Scotland. 35,000 seems like a heck of a lot non? There are clearly a lot more of these around than I had realised, but no matter, I love her just the same 🙂

Her decorations (or “decals” in the vintage Singer enthusiast blogoshpere) are really pretty, a bit smaller and less flower-y than some I’ve seen. According to this website, I think the pattern is known as “Rococo”.

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She’s also got really pretty metalwork on the end:

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Up top she’s got the Singer brand, which is consistent with photos I’ve found of other machines her age. But it also says “fabrication anglaise”, so I guess that although she was made in the UK, she was part of a batch destined for sale in France. If anyone knows any more about this please leave comments below, I’d be fascinated to hear from you!

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She’s a hefty old girl (sorry Bets) and is mounted on this supersturdy wooden base, but can be hinged up to inspect her undercarriage. At one end of the base is this little storage space for needles and whatnot.

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There was one little packet of needles in there when we got her and just look at the packaging!! Melt.

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It’s not immediately clear to me how she threads up, but I found a copy of the original manual here (interweb you are so beautiful sometimes), so I’m looking forward to testing her out. Tune in next time to see how we get on!

Siobhan xx

Grey jersey Vesper

Remember how back in the beginning of summer I made a maxi dress in grey polkadot jersey? And I wasn’t sure if it was really “me” because it was stretchy and comfy and whatnot? Ok so the epilogue to that post was that I wore it ALL.SUMMER.LONG. Seriously, it has been one of my most successful makes in terms of usage.

Here it is on a girls weekend to Berlin:

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Photo by Katherine Leedale Photography, ecstatic grin/gurn model’s own.

Fastforward to now. It’s been a lovely warm autumn, which put me in the mood for another maxi. Whilst browsing for a suitable pattern I remembered that when I won a pattern from SBCC (way back in June), I held off because the ladies told me they were about to release a maxi – Vesper. A quick email and she was all mine.

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The Vesper dress has a pleat at the front and crossover straps at the back. Construction is straightforward, the instructions are great and I sewed it in a few hours over a weekend.

Fabric-wise I used a lovely grey jersey that I ordered a while back from Guthrie & Ghani in the UK. Side note – lovely Lauren wins best customer service award in my book for her super-speedy and helpful email replies!

I’ve learned that the nice thing about knits is you’ve got a lot of flexibility with the fit. I kept trying it on as I put it together and making small adjustments – lowering the neckline and pulling in the side seams a little.

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Since going underwear-free is never an option for me (and visible straps are a pet peeve), I also added a little band across the back. It’s not usually visible unless I turn in certain ways or, say, adopt an awkward tilted airplane pose, what?

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This time I’m making no pretences, it’s a little baggy, a lotta comfy and I love it. Grey jersey dresses are clearly my jam. I’m already plotting another.

Siobhan xx

Aside

Geneva Notes – Puppet Theatre

Geneva Notes are my attempt to document some of the cool, often not-so-visible creative things that happen in our little town. This one starts with a story:

A few weeks ago I got home from work and M said: “I’ve done something – it might be great, it might be terrible”

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The “something” he’d done was to impulsively book tickets for the Théâtre des Marionnettes de Genève – the Geneva puppet theatre. The performance he’d booked for was called “Mathilde”. On booking, M had mistakenly thought it was a re-telling of the Roald Dahl classic Matilda. The book and musical are two of my favourite things, so I could see where this had come from.

However, upon later inspection of the website it turned out that this was not the case. As far as we could make out, it was a puppet performance about ageing, and loneliness… in French. Hmmm.

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Having bought the tickets, and being pretty game for an experiment, especially when it comes to a Geneva-based cultural experience, we decided to go for it nonetheless.

The theatre is tucked away at the top end of Plainpalais. You turn down a side street and into what I think is a school playground, and there it is.

The theatre puts on a mixture of performances for children and adults. This one was billed as being for “adults and teens”, and there was a big turnout, the place was packed. We filed in and took our seats. On the stage was a single puppet, strung up on some bars – a haggard, wizened caricature. I did wonder at this point what we had let ourselves in for.

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To my surprise and delight however, the performance was absolutely brilliant. It was a tragic comedy about the plight of a group of old folks who were being horribly mistreated in a carehome. There were just two (human) performers – a silent nurse and the puppeteer, but for the most part you forgot they were there.

The movements and mannerisms of the puppets were so perfectly observed, they couldn’t have been more real. And the stories were so moving and so poignant. There was the married couple who were being forced to part because he couldn’t care for her anymore. And the softly spoken man who just wanted someone to open the door, but nobody ever came. Comic relief came in the form of the scheming, cackling pair who ran the establishment (if you’ve never seen a single puppeteer perform a 2-person conversation, with two different voices and lots of laughing, it is extremely impressive!)

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The end of the performance was met with thunderous applause, including ours. It really was absolutely fantastic and we can’t wait to go again. The next couple of performances are for kiddos, but there should be another “grown-up” one soon. Geneva readers, the full programme can be found here.

Siobhan xx

Lilou wedding guest dress

On August 16th, two wonderful friends got married in London and threw an incredible party to celebrate. Such a fabulous, love-filled day obviously called for an extra-special partydress.

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The fabric is a gorgeous brocade my Mum brought back from a recent trip to India. She’s been many times, for work and for holidays, and every time she brings back the most incredible fabrics. This is a silk brocade (I think), woven with golden and burnt-orange threads in a beautiful little flower pattern. The texture is softer than raw silk but rougher and stiffer than satin. Yum.

I knew I wanted a knee-length cocktail dress with a simple bodice, and the slight stiffness of the fabric suggested a pleated skirt. After some consideration I settled on the Lilou dress from Tilly’s recently published book – Love at First Stitch. The book is beautifully written, with very clear instructions. Lilou is the last (and most advanced) project in the book.

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LOVE AT FIRST STITCH by TILLY WALNES, published by Quadrille (£20) Photos © ELLIE SMITH & ARIELLE GAMBLE

Since this was my first bodice of this type (and scarily lovely fabric) there was no question of skipping the muslin stage. Based on my measurements I made a 1″ FBA adjustment to the pattern before putting it together, but even still I had quite a few fit issues.

  1. Bodice too big around waist
  2. Would prefer neckline lower at the front and higher at the back.
  3. Strap shape highlighting body insecurity area between armpit and bust
  4. Fabric not lying flat around the end of the side darts (1″ = serious bobblyness)
  5. Horizontal fabric pooling across upper back

Issues 1-3 were relatively straightforward to solve. To take out the waist excess I tried pinching in the side seams, but this made the fabric pull across the bust, so I widened the under-bust darts instead. I lowered the neckline using the curve of the original pattern piece and adjusted the strap by tracing off a dress I like the fit off.

Issues 4 and 5 were a little trickier. I followed Karen‘s lead (and Colette’s great tutorial) and split the side bust dart into two smaller darts. I was really happy with how this worked out. It gives a much smoother, rounder shape. But that pooling fabric across the back, eesh, that was a low point. In the interests of sharing and learning and growing etc, here are some unflattering photos:

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Can anyone identify my back “issue(s)”? I think that would make things easier in terms of researching how to fix it! As far as I can tell, “swayback” falls lower than this, is that right? So maybe this is “round shoulders”? Or “erect back”??

In the end I took a three-pronged approach: pivoted out a wedge from the back strap, lengthened the back dart and shortened the bodice by curving up the waistline slightly at the back. These three things combined kinda almost fixed the problem.

Last bodice issue before moving on – I used some leftover cupro/bremsilk to line the bodice (it was all I had) and I really struggled to get it to lie right with the silk. Particularly on the non-understitched part of the shoulder straps, where the cupro just kept bagging and popping out, no matter how much I tried to iron it into submission. In the end I topstitched all the way around the neckline, which fixed the issue but at the same time is kind of a shame as I don’t love the finish as much as the intended clean edge. But never mind.

Anyway, moving on to the skirt. Far less to say. As others have noted, the pleat placement is genius, giving you a lovely full skirt whilst at the same time not adding any volume across your stomach. It feels swooshy and glam and flattering and all those good things. There are quite a few pleats and it took me quite a while to tack them in etc, but it’s worth it. I did realise too late however that by widening the front darts on the bodice, I put them slightly out of whack with the pleats. Tilly even reminds you to check this in the construction notes, so I really have no excuse. Sigh.

I also managed to not quite line up the waistline when I put in the invisible zip, despite pinning and checking and re-pinning and re-checking. But having made the mistake of trying to adjust before, I decided to live with it.

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So, finished item: Positives first – I love the fabric, I love shape of the skirt. Silly nitpicks – I don’t like the look of the topstitching and the little seam mismatches are annoying. Fundamental frustrations – the fit of the bodice. Despite my muslining, I’m still pretty meh about how it turned out. Although I was happy with the shaping of the front bodice in real life, the photos seem to show that the fabric was doing funny pulling things on the straps around the bust, so that’s annoying.

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And whilst I managed to correct most of the back bodice issues, it does show every lump and bump, despite the lining – which is not a hot look. So what went wrong? In the interests of having a really “fitted” silhouette have I now just made the whole thing too tight? Should I persevere and have another go at adjusting the pattern? Or do I just need to accept that perhaps this bodice shape is not for me??

Rather than wallow in a pit of despair, I decided to invest in this book on fitting, having seen it recommended by a couple of sewing bloggers I really admire. Hopefully that will help me address some of my fitting woes!

Siobhan xx