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

Points mean…


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Yessir, I entered a few competitions recently and have been lucky enough to win some amazing prizes!!

For my Brigitte headscarf, I won £50 from Tilly to spend at Fabric Rehab. I agonised for a long time over how to spend this as there are just soooo many lovely choices. In the end I went with a sensible (but gorgeous) red Scandiavian cotton and a not-so-sensible (but awesome) Michael Miller bird print.

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For my Zinnia skirt, I won two Janome feet and four Colette patterns from The Stitchery. This was another hard choice, with several rounds of shortlisting on my part. In the end, having read lots of other sewist advice on feet, I went with the clearview quilting foot and the ultraguide foot. The clearview quilting foot has handy 1/8″ and 1/4″ markings, useful for sewing accurate seams. The ultraglide foot meanwhile is made from a special teflon-like resin that helps you glide over fabrics that would normally get stuck. I’ve found this to be a particular issue when trying to insert waterproof linings, or sewing with leather/faux leather, so I’m excited to see the difference the foot makes. For my four Colette patterns I went with Hawthorne, Juniper, Clover and Negroni. That’s right readers, TWO trouser patterns and a MAN PATTERN!! Those are some a scary new challenges right there.

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Lastly, for my Peplum top, I won a bundle of prizes in the Sewing Indie Month pattern hacking challenge. This one was particularly exciting as there were so many excellent entries. A huge thank you to everyone who voted!! The prizes are brilliant: a 1 year subscription to Sew News magazine; a Craftsy class of my choice; a £20 voucher for Minerva Crafts; a transfer pack from Kate & Rose; and pack of patterns from Seamster Sewing PatternsSinbad & Sailor, Dixie DIY and Skinny Bitch Curvy Chick – ahhhhhh!!

       Sew-News-logo                      Craftsy-Logo           Minerva-Gift-Certificate

                       

As incredible as all of these prizes are (believe me there has been much whooping and dancing around), by far the nicest part is feeling like a legitimate part of this crazy talented online community. Big big smiles all round.

Siobhan xx

My First Knitadventure – Coco

I recently came across an online sewing community called The Monthly Stitch. The brainchild of sewist bloggers Kat, Mel and Juliet, TMS sets monthly challenges which are then blogged through a shared WordPress platform. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of anything community-oriented and, whilst the general standard is perhaps a little higher than mine, I thought it’d be a great way to set goals and learn from more experienced makers. So I signed right up.

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The challenge for this month is called “Sew Stretchy” and the idea is to put aside the wovens and create items with knit fabrics instead. This came at a good time for me, as there was one particular item on my “to-sew” pile that had been eyeing me for a while – Tilly and the Buttons’ Coco.

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Like many others at the less experienced end of the sewing spectrum, I’ve always been wary of knits. They are, for anyone who doesn’t know, the stretchy fabric family. Think t-shirts, leggings and other comfy clothing. The idea of being able to make those items myself (rather than relying on H&M) was always undeniably attractive. But knits are preeeeetty high maintenance compared to wovens. Their stretchiness means they can be more easily pulled out of shape, and they are far more wont to wiggle around whilst cutting/pinning/sewing. You also need to sew them with a special needle that won’t snag (it pushes the fibres to the side rather than piercing them) and you need to use a stitch that will stretch with the fabric slightly. Sounds like a lot to take on board no? That’s why I’d never tried.

BUT I am delighted to report that it all went pretty smoothly. Admittedly this was largely thanks to Tilly’s awesome instruction booklet that comes with the pattern (there is also a sewalong on her website with even more pointers). I held the fabric carefully as I cut, used the special needle, zigzagged my seams, went slowly on the pedal and it was all good. I even used a double needle to do the topstitching. This was another first but I am in love, it gives such a fancy-looking finish.

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I went for the funnel neck and cuff variation, which I also love. Being on the curvier end of the scale I usually avoid anything approaching a roll-neck, but this is a whole different ballgame – comfy, flattering, lovely. Fit-wise I’m pretty happy, although I now realise the shoulders could maybe have done with a bit of a lift. As suggested, I tried it on with the side seams pinned and took it in a bit at the waist to make it slightly more fitted. The length is a little shorter than I’m used to, but then again (as the Mr astutely observed) that’s the look isn’t it?

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The fabric is Charley Harper Twigs in Mineral, a gorgeously soft cotton interlock I ordered from Grünemeter. I wanted to make a real feature of the patch pockets, so I went for pale grey leather from my stash (Swiss sewing buddies, Manor often has bags of leather scraps on sale) which I think makes a great contrast. I wasn’t entirely sure which needle I should be using at this point (leather AND stretch??) but I stuck with the stretch one and it worked out fine. As I couldn’t pin the pockets on (holes in leather last forever) I resorted to masking tape, which worked out fine. Although, for anyone thinking of testing this method, avoid double-layering at the corners, it makes it hard to rip off afterwards!!

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All round, I really enjoyed this one. The end result is a comfy, stylish weekend dress I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of wear out of. And I’m so glad to have finally addressed my (unnecessary) fear of knits. Next stop – tshirt town.

Siobhan xx

Brigitte Scarf – #loveatfirststitch party

Morning all! Today marks the online launch of Tilly Walnes’ new book ‘Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking‘. I’ve ordered my copy and I can’t wait for it to arrive! I love Tilly’s friendly, down-to-earth writing and modern-retro sense of style. If the blog is anything to go by, the book is bound to be a corker.

To celebrate the launch, there’s a Brigitte Scarf-a-thon going on across the interweb today. Here’s my contribution:

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I used some leftover cotton from my stash, hurray for dots! I followed Tilly’s instructions, opting for pointy ends and a thinner width, with this particular styling choice in mind:

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Braid the scarf into two plaits and tie on top – done. I call it Heidi/Landgirl, or something. Congratulations Tilly on #loveatfirststitch, and happy online launch 🙂

Siobhan xx

Mathilde Blouse

My latest make is the puffy-sleeved, button-backed wonder that is the Mathilde blouse, designed by Tilly of Tilly and the Buttons fame.

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Blouse lovin’

Of all the Sewist bloggers I follow, I find Tilly particularly inspiring because she came to sewing later on (i.e. as a grown up), fell in love, and in just a few years has built a passion in to a business. She also makes lovely patterns and posts really helpful instructables on her blog to boot – superstar.

The Mathilde blouse was a project of firsts for me. To kick off it’s a downloadable PDF pattern – never done that before. But it’s actually very straightforward. You just print it off (using the test page to check all your settings are in order/the printer gremlins aren’t up to no good), then match up the helpful numbers, stick it all together and voila. You then just treat it like any other pattern – find your size, cut it out.

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Sticking the pattern pieces together

Other firsts included decorative pleats, French seams (so fancy and so pretty, check Tilly’s blog for instructions) and machine-stitched buttonholes, using the buttonhole foot and a 1-step buttonhole function. That’s right, a foot that you snap on, that uses one of your buttons button to calculate and create a buttonhole the right size – it’s actual magic. I had a small snaffoo which was that mine didn’t seem to realise when I was back to the beginning of the hole, so I had to stop and switch to a zigzag stitch to finish each buttonhole. If anyone knows how to solve this (Janome Decor Excel II), lemme know. Otherwise, no big deal.

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Buttonhole foot = wizardry

I did adjust the pattern just a smidgen. It’s deliberately straight-seamed and loose-fitting, and whilst this isn’t usually my style, I decided to go with it, particularly having seen ladies of all shapes and sizes looking gorgeous in it. But having finished it off, and worn it for a day, I had to admit it felt a little maternity-wear on me. So I went back in and curved the side seams just a little. This was fairly heartbreaking to do, on account of the above-mentioned beautiful French seams (lesson learned – be sure of the fit before you finish the seams) but I feel much more comfortable in it now that it curves a little. And having read Tilly’s post on sewing for your style, I’m hoping she won’t mind too much!

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Siobhan xx