Flamingos by the Sea

A few months back (ahem, yes it’s been a while) I hopped a plane to Europe and met M for a 2-week holiday in Italy. I have a personal theory that it is impossible to have a bad holiday in Italy. This was maybe my eighth trip and it didn’t disappoint. We started on the Amalfi coast at the wedding of some friends, before driving up through Umbria, spending a couple of days in Parma and finishing on Lago Maggiore with both of our families. Glorious.

Since the friends’  wedding was on the beach, I knew I wanted to make a dress with a fun seaside vibe. I picked up this Michael miller flamingo border print when I was last in the UK, from the Village Haberdashery. It was a total shotgun fabric purchase – I had 10 mins between appointments and my stepdad kept the car running outside whilst I ran in with my mum. Fortunately this one jumped straight out of the stack – it was meant to be.

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My starting block was the tried-and-true Emery dress by Christine Haynes because I love the fit of the bodice (see previous version here). From there I played around a bit and made three main changes: A deep v-neck, a pleated skirt and little cap sleeves. I tried out two of these modifications (v-neck and pleats) on a wearable toile before cutting into the real thing.

On the toile I was really happy with the pleat placement. Something about a flat front with volume at the sides feels really good – swishy yet flattering. The neckline on the other hand was just a little “off”. Not terrible, totally wearable, but not the look I was going for. I decided to try it deeper and narrower for the real version. It was at this point I also decided to add little cap sleeves to balance the neckline, using the pattern piece from the Washi dress I made last year (making another of those with shirring elastic is still on my to-sew list).

My other lesson learned from the toile process was to finish the neckline with a facing rather than binding. I looked at a bunch of tutorials for finishing a v neck with binding and the toile is ok, but I felt I got a much crisper, cleaner finish on the second dress. Facings, you win this round.

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If it’s not clear from the photos I love the finished dress. Just the right balance of breezy and fun and pretty for a seaside wedding imo… It is sadly far too fancy to wear day to day in Bangui, but I brought it back with me anyway. It makes me smile when I open my wardrobe.

Siobhan xoxo

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

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