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Birdsong Dress for Miss Ellie

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I love Oliver + S patterns and over the years have found them perfect for fashion forward makes for wee people. From grandchildren to godsons, I’ve made quite a few over the years, from Sketchbook Shirts to Playtime Tunics (which pair nicely with leggings for everyday run around clothes) – what they all have in common is wonderfully clear instructions and beautiful drafting.

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When I saw the lovely new Birdsong cotton prints from Dashwood Studios I knew I needed to turn to a more traditional look to find something with lovely lines to showcase the border print to its full potential. Yep, I know, it’s a bird print again (I am a self confessed ornithological pattern junkie &  I will never, ever learn!) The Family Reunion Dress was perfect, with lovely pin tuck details on the front and back and a gorgeous gentle A line cut.

I have to say though, I would never have picked this pattern based on the envelope illustration (seriously, creepy doll things that surely come alive and try and cut your face off while you sleep … aargh!!) however, there are some lovely versions out there on sewing blogs, so I knew the end result would be good.

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My advice? Just squint your eyes when you first pick up the pattern and then ensure it stays face down so you don’t have to lock your gaze with the mutant scary faced doll creature on the front and it’ll all work out fine. Remember Chucky anyone? And yes, the reason that figure is holding its hands behind its back is probably because it has a knife. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Anyway, meet Ellie … she’s growing so fast I always have to make her clothes in the next biggest size up, just so she can at least get some decent wear out of them. That’s why this make looks a teensy bit big on her at the moment.

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This was such an easy sew and the perfect showcase for a border print. I loved the little details on the facing and the back full length button panel. There’s plenty of growing room for the little miss, and of course, I made a matching reversible Oliver + S Bucket Hat to go with it, because, well, why would you not?

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All these shots were taken on a camping weekend where we played with Lego and read books in Ellie’s little day camp next to the caravan, we stayed up way too late for small people (because we were so excited) and then did it all again the next day! The dress passed its stress tests with flying colours … it tumbled on grass, stood up to trips to the playground, wafted its way around woodland walks and was equally at home with hopping, skipping and jumping. It also survived a cake smearing incident with admirable fortitude. You can’t ask for more than that.

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Featured

Clippety clop – it’s a procession of Ponies

Falling in love (again)

It’s happened over the years – I become completely obsessed with a new to me thang. From when I first discovered they made sea salt chocolate (Greene & Blacks, surely the finest chocolate in the world?) to when I became addicted to high thread count cotton bedding (blame a fancy schmancy New York hotel for that infatuation) – as for men? Well, that’s probably best left alone. Anyway, I have to admit, my sewing is similarly whim-led.

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So it is with a new pattern release. I’ve discovered that Instagram is normally my downfall – I’ll be merrily scrolling through my feed and then see that someone has made a fabulous new to me pattern. If it’s totally gorgeous I find it very hard to turn away and sometimes within moments I find myself clicking through to another site, and then the deal is sealed as I check out via PayPal. Oops. Never mind that I have umpteen million uncut patterns in my sewing shed … no, for this is A New Pattern (cue dramatic lighting & drumroll) and therefore must be made immediately.

These ‘bought on a whim’ patterns are a heady distraction I quickly realise, as I scoop planned sewing projects off my desk and onto the floor to make way for their delicious newness. Such is their power they also seem to defy the boundaries of the space time continuum, as even in the weeks I have absolutely no time to sew, I somehow manage to squeeze in taping together the pattern and chopping it all out while working late, doing housework and cooking dinner, leaving a little trail of fabric scraps and pasta shapes in my wake.

I admit, I often have low expectations of a new to me pattern, so if I make the muslin/toile version and it fits and looks nice, I feel like a small child on a fairground ride … again, again, AGAIN! This is exactly what happened with the Pony Tank pattern from Chalk and Notch. I loved the first version I made in the butterfly print, and within a matter of days I had two more versions cut out and ready to go. And then, well I snuck another one in too!

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These are such a quick and easy sew and so wearable despite the changing summer weather. You can pop them on with a cardi or a little jacket and look perfectly well dressed, but the top is equally at home with cropped jeans, shorts and sneakers for a more casual look.

The low-down

Crazy horses – Take 1

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Version 1 is in a horse print. Because, well, you know, when I’m on a pony theme, why not have ALL THE PONIES! Now this fabric I picked up at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace two years ago. While I love the print, the fabric is veeeery thin and mind-blowingly impossible to sew – as it wiggles and stretches and misbehaves on the machine. Cue a sailor load of inappropriate swear words. After I topstitched the neck band down it was so wibbly wobbly I had to unpick it and try again. To my horror the unpicking took several hours. Ugh! This one sailed close to going in the bin at every step. Picking knit seams when you’ve matched your thread so perfectly you can’t tell what’s a stitch or a fabric loop is utter torture! I have a feeling this one will get a few wears and then either disintegrate with loads of holes or shrink in the wash, so although I love it, I’m trying not to get too attached.

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You don’t bring me flowers – Take 2

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Version 2 is a beautiful watercolour floral print which I bought online from myfabrics a couple of years back. It’s the same jersey print as the Mabel skirt I made, but in an alternate colourway. Jersey from Germany is generally a revelation, although definitely pricier, it has a lovely weight and drape to it and sews like a dream, with just enough lycra in the mix to give great stretch when needed. I love this version and it’s already had loads of wear. It also has a truckload of cobalt blue in its heady splooshy colour mix – always a winner with me.

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Grafitti (with a pinch of Elvis) – Take 3

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Lastly, this crazy who knows what it is thin knit fabric, again with atrocious stretch recovery made an alternative hacked version. Another fabric find at Ally Pally, I had absolutely no idea what to make with it when I purchased it, but was smitten with the print. Now, let’s just take a closer look at that print shall we – does this character look like Elvis or is it me? I didn’t notice it when I first bought the fabric but now it’s all I can see!

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Anyway, last Saturday I was heading to a 50th birthday party and the weather was fairly grim, so my original plan to wear a lovely summer dress with sandals was scuppered. (It was like autumn in August, complete with gales and rain, so trousers and boots were on the cards.) I had a brainwave to hack the top section of the Pony Tank into a long asymmetric tunic top, which I thought would look suitably dramatic with my black skinny jeans and knee boots. I decided this at half past two in the afternoon. The party was at seven! #lastminutelarry

I say this is a pattern hack, but really, is lengthening something and then chopping a bit off the bottom in an odd direction a ‘hack’? Let’s call it a pattern ack instead, as it’s a minimal effort of new direction. Anyway, here’s the gory deets – after giving the fabric a very quick wash and tumble dry, I cut out the top, narrowing the A line shape slightly over the hips and cutting the pieces as long as my fabric length would allow. Then I chopped it on an extreme angle from one side seam to the other, using my patchwork ruler as a rough guide and hit the serger with it. The lack of stretch recovery did cause me problems, however, and I ended up taking in almost an inch and a half on the side seams to make it fit properly. The hem was also to prove problematic … in the end I ran it through the serger and used that as the hem finish which actually gave the top a really contemporary feel. It’s a bit rough round the edges because of the fragile knit fabric, but it was dark and I thought it was just about passable. I popped it on with 30 minutes to spare then I danced the night away in it!

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If I’m brutal, this top, much though I love it, is the garment equivalent of a mayfly. I predict a short but glorious life, as already, just one wash out of the laundry, it is slightly misshapen and looks a bit the worse for wear. The neck has stretched and is resistant to ironing back into shape and the hem is already a bit tatty. Sad times, people, sad times. I fear it is the nature of the ethereal cloth in question. I am wondering if there is any chance of salvaging this, as the main bodice itself is still in good shape. I’m not sure I can bring myself to chuck Grafitti Elvis in the bin. Perhaps adding a black jersey neckband and armbands instead of the self fabric ones? But then what to do with the hem? All advice gratefully received.

So, I think I’ve finally reached the end of the run on this pattern for now, but it’s given my some lovely tops which are in constant daily rotation. I am still contemplating a Pony Dress in the near future, although as the weather turns increasingly autumnal I may have missed the boat on that idea this summer. Time for something new methinks!

Shout out also to the lovely Hannah and her little brother James, our next door neighbours when we go on our weekend camping adventures. They thought me doing a photoshoot in the middle of the children’s play area on our campsite was hilarious and came to help. Here’s Hannah and I giving our very best Cashmerette inspired twirls – it’s a wrap!

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Featured

Creatures on wing & paw

A butterfly print Pony Tank

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Butterfly prints have had a pretty bad rap in the fashion media over the last few years. According to Cosmo’s list they are high on the list of things you shouldn’t wear as a grown up. Well, lovely readers, you know my unrepeatable response to that, don’t you? As a plus size sewer careering down the hill towards 50 with embarrassing speed, I think I’ve earnt the right to wear anything I darn well please. From kitties to elephants, Chinese lanterns to teapots, I never feel more at home than when sporting a conversational print. And so, may I present to you … butterflies. Bloomin’ huge ones at that.

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This fabric has been lurking in the sewing shed for a good year (maybe even two). I bought it from myfabrics to make a Moneta, yep, you remember those years, before we realised that unfortunately the drafting on Colette patterns for us plus size gals was appalling a slightly different approach that needed some work (I’ll let you decide which of those comments is more appropriate). And so I pulled out this pretty expensive viscose jersey and cut out a Moneta. It was a total pain in the arse to cut out, like some kind of shape shifting fabric river which should have been a warning to me! I persevered and decided that my wibly wobbly cutting lines would work out fine once it was made up, and so I pressed on with the bodice.

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It was a disaster. I think the problem was the daisy Moneta I made previously was a much more forgiving fabric. It was more robust than this version and stretched in the right places, perhaps also my bust was a little higher in those days. I tried to sort it out, really, and forged ahead with adding a maxi-length skirt. I don’t know what madness it is that fogs your brain on a garment that’s obviously not right in the early stages, nor the heady optimism that makes you continue sewing regardless, hopeful that it will all come together in the end, but it’s pretty intoxicating. Sadly, all sewn together I looked like a butterfly coated sausage. Quite possibly one of my worst ever makes. I’m not going to lie, I had a bit of a tantrum and threw the whole gaddamn thing into a pile in the corner of the sewing shed.

A brief interlude

*Tumbleweeds blow through the sewing shed and fourteen months pass.*

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I found it there a few weeks ago when I was having one of my new season sewing shed tidy ups and picked it up to throw it out. Dang, though, I do love those butterflies, I thought, as I caught sight of a beautiful acid yellow wing peeking out of the black plastic sack. I shook the dress out …. and decided I could salvage the skirt fabric if I chopped it off at the serged waist. A little hacking later and the metre and a bit for the skirt was refolded and eased back into the stash awaiting a project just right for its fragile fabric ways.

Cue Meg at Cookin’ and Craftin’ and her continually inspiring makes that pop up in my Instagram feed. When I saw her tester version of the new Chalk and Stone Pony Tank pattern, I knew right away that it was ‘the one’. It fit so nicely at the shoulders and then flared to cover any potential for wobbly bits. Perfect for me! I was in such a rush to get this pattern on the table that I had to email to my bloke at work (I was in meetings all day) so he could print it out for me to start that night … luckily we’ve been together long enough for him to know that these things matter and when I need instant sewing gratification I need it RIGHT NOW!

Assembling the beast

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It was so quick and easy to tape together and then cut out (I used scissors for the main body pieces and my rotary cutter for the bands). Boom. I decided to risk cutting the straight 18 and see what happened. I am such a sewing renegade. It was really easy to put together and the instructions for the v neck were really good and broken down step by step. The only thing I did find was that after sewing the bands on as per the instructions I felt they were a touch on the slim side and maybe should have been another couple of mm wider. However, when I tried it on I thought the slender nature of the bands really made it look more RTW than handmade, so it was a nice design touch. The moral of the story? Trust the pattern designer.

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Overall the fit is spot on, amazing for something with no alterations and most satisfying of all is the no gape cut of the armholes … perfection! I love the gentle flare below the bust, just enough for comfort and swingyness but not too much. I might add a little bit more width to the bottom on my next one just so it doesn’t cling to my arse quite so much (although my top half is a perfect 18 my bottom half not quite so much.)

I used the trick of knit tape to stabilise the hem, and it really is fantastic stuff and stops everything slipping around when you’re trying to get a neat hem finish. So there we have it … a simple, quick and immensely wearable staple for my wardrobe.

In other news

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Since my last blog post much has happened – I’ve had a weird mystery illness that has resulted in episodes of anaphylactic shock, paramedics and epi pens (all very dramatic!) My auto immune system has gone haywire, and although it’s a little more under control now than in the spring, I have lost many months of useful sewing time in the zombie haze of horse strength antihistamines. I have slowly weaned myself off the drugs, and as long as I don’t use skin creams, add any new stuff into my diet or touch alcohol the effects are minimised and bearable. (Yep, the alcohol thang is hard, real hard.) Still, I am surviving till my appointment with the immunology specialist next week. Meanwhile, my bloke has been diagnosed with late Stage 4 renal failure, so we’ve both had a big run of medical appointments, visiting dialysis wards, making notes and frowny doctors. It’s been rough, but we are both starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

I also lost my sewing muse last year, when the last of my cats, Mr Ferris, aged a perfectly respectable sixteen and a bit years, purred his last purr and shut his beautiful green eyes just a few days after my birthday. My grief was immense. I stopped making things, whether sewing knitting or crochet and at work I found my creativity had abandoned me. I knew it would take a long time until I was ready for a new furry companion.

Furry helpers

Now it’s almost exactly twelve months later, and we were asked if we could find room in our hearts to adopt two little tabby kittens, born to an unsuspecting parent (Charlie the Cat thought he was a boy til he got really fat, when to the vet to find out what was wrong with his rapid weight gain and his pregnancy was revealed.) We welcomed these little minxes into our lives at the end of May and they are just adorable. With their tiny purry presence my sewjo returned and I’ve been restudying patterns, sorting through fabric, cutting out and making ever since. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Chalk_Notch_Pony_Tank-kittensThe ‘girls’ love sewing patterns, scissors and bobbins with a passion so they are fitting in just fine. It makes me smile every time they hear the rustle of a pattern pieces and like all cats, rush to lay across the middle of it all, just where you want to cut. #catternweights. Despite these furry handicaps I have a viscose Cashmerette Webster top all ready to go, alongside the must have of the season, a Vogue kimono dress, so details and photos coming soon.

Pink plum (almost) perfection

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I have become something of an Instagram junkie of late … loving its happy upbeat tone, visual appeal and inspirational effect … I’m frequently distracted by the rainbow of sewing possibilities that pop up in my feed. What I love, as well, is the fact that it makes you look again at sewing patterns you may originally have dismissed as being ‘not for you’. This was definitely the case with the Springfield Top, the latest in the line of curvy patterns released by Jenny at Cashmerette.

I am gonna put my hands up here. I LOVE all the Cashmerette patterns. Why? Because I am at heart a very lazy seamstress and the fact that I can cut something out, straight from the pack pretty much ‘as is’ with no swayback adjustment or FBA, or any of the other myriad of pattern fit shortcomings that leave me silently crying head in hands, studying my Fit For Real People book, whilst lamenting the trail of discarded fucked up toiles in my wake is nothing short of miraculous. The instant success of Jenny’s pattern line obviously means I am not alone in feeling like this!

Still, when I first saw the Springfield Top pattern I was a bit, ‘meh’ about it’s styling. Yeah, that’s a nice wardrobe basic I thought. Now, those of you who know me of old understand that I am not a wardrobe basic type of sewer. I like icing covered razzmatazz, girly dresses in bird print and ric rac and petticoats and … well, basically my clothing of choice is like something from a Doris Day movie in the 1950s. I would happily spend all my time in gingham and ice cream print day dresses twirling around humming On Moonlight Bay to myself 24/7, but in the midst of this I have to … work. *sigh*

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Luckily, I am in the creative industry (so have a little more leeway in my working wardrobe than many people) but it still has its limits on acceptable workwear. Yes, I have a crazy and diverse line in Converse sneakers that fulfils a large part of my glitzy and off the wall need when in work attire, but there still need to be core items that go with that look. I wear a lot of three quarter length trousers, patterned tops and little lace jackets with my crazy shoe choices. I am aiming for quirky, yet credible. (It is a life project and having geek chic glasses makes the look a little more achievable).

On further scrutiny I wondered if the Springfield could be a good choice for getting some of my much loved loud and highly patterned fabric choices into this everyday mix. Then when I saw this lovely version by Meg at cookinandcraftin pop up in my instagram squares I knew I was going to give it a whirl.

Trouble is, it’s also summer. Although that makes it the ideal time to whip up a few immensely wearable sleeveless tops, it also means there’s a lot of other stuff going on that gets in the way of proper sewing. Stuff like lying on beaches, lazy evenings drinking cocktails and reading weighty novels, visiting grandchildren, going camping, entertaining friends, making the garden look presentable, trying not to be hot and mid afternoon nana naps (as I am a nana I am officially allowed to have these little kitty naps, in fact I think it may even be the law.) Amazingly, none of these things help get my sewing done.

I’d had the pattern sitting on the table in my sewing room for two weeks without any progress at all. Occasionally I’d pick it up and have another look at how quick and easy it was going to be to sew but then it way straight back on top of the ‘to sew’ pile. Something had to be done before summer passed me by! With another holiday on the horizon I had a brainwave – why not combine two of my favourite things … sewing and camping?

My bloke’s eyeball roll as I jammed Swedish tracing paper, scissors, pins, fabric and a sewing machine into the car for our camping escape was legendary. What was fortunate was that his distraction at so much sewing stuff being piled into the carmeant that the number of pairs of shoes I also smuggled into my packing passed without mention! Result. The ace up my sleeve was my mum loaning me her spare teensy but perfectly formed sewing machine. I have never seen another like it, a tiny scaled down but perfectly formed Elna machine under the Elnita sub brand. It is two thirds the size of my normal machine and half the weight.

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It turned out that sewing in the wilds of North Oxfordshire was easy peasy. The camping table was plenty large enough once tea making stuff was cleared into the corner, and we had an electric hook up, so once plugged in I was raring to go although I did get some weird looks from our fellow campers. I have some beautiful cotton lawn to make my proper Springfield, but it was far too nice to risk on anything less than a certainty, so instead I plumped for a bargain piece of lawn from ebay, covered in massive pink plums for my (hopefully) wearable muslin. I decided to start with View B, a slightly more fitted top with a seamed back. As I fall between sizes in the patterns I cut a 16 E/F cup at the shoulders grading to the 18 at the hip.

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Sewing it up was easy enough. Well, I say that now, but if I’m being really honest, actually I had a few blips. First up, the machine decided the cotton was so fine and gorgeous that it wanted to eat it, so I had issues when stay stitching the neck and doing the seams at the start point. Once I’d managed to recovery my ravaged fabric from the hungry feed dogs I happily sewed my 1.2cm seams for the back sections then the shoulder seams and side seams. Yay! I slipped it on and when I was halfway in I realised I had a problem, it was just a smidgen too close fitting in the lower body for comfort. No problem, I thought, I’ll just do a teensy bit smaller seams on the back panel and at the side. Pause to reach for stitch ripper …

What I had forgotten is that my sewing machine at home is a helpful little beast. You can be super lazy and tell it the kind of fabric you have and what you are trying to do – so in this instance a fine weight woven and a seam and it selects the appropriate stitch length and tension for you. Yeah, I know, mindless in the extreme (told you I was a lazy seamstress) but equally awesome, so I rarely stray from these defaults. Mindful of what machine would set this fabric at I twirled the Elite’s dials to a tiny 2mm stitch. Great, it holds all your seams together with a lovely fine finish, but when you want to rip it all out it is a total pain!

I grumbled my way through the unpicking, using four or five different stitch rippers all of which seemed to suddenly be blunt (I think they must have been on some secret seam rippers party night out where they spent the night zipping their way through metres of velveteen and denim just for fun, cos I swear they were sharp when I last used them). I am becoming more and more convinced about the merits of investing in a brass stitch ripper, which although cost as much as a small car,  apparently never suffer from blunting. Nope, never. Well, until my bloke decides to use it for pulling apart a plug or something else equally shameful. Yes, just ask my prized dressmaking scissors why I know this happens when I am out of the house! In the end, with my tired blunt rippers in the bin, I used my needlepoint scissors and a pin to do the job. It was laborious. Still, once I finally pulled it on again with the new smaller seam allowance the fit was near perfection.

Then there was just the binding to do. I am always wary of bias binding finishings because, well, to be honest, I’m not very good at them. Turns out I was right. I very, very carefully did the sewing of the binding around the neck and then understitched and pressed (over my sewing ham) … but it turned out like this. Fail.

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I posted my woes on instagram and on the Curvy Sewing Collective forum and because fellow curvy sewers are so fantastic I soon had loads of responses on how to sort it out. It seems that I had not allowed enough of the bias to fit into the curve as I sewed. What should happen is that the inner curve should have a slight ripple to the bias as you’re sewing it, so that it’s perfectly flat on the seam line – this means it doesn’t tighten up so much on the turn. I should also have pressed the bias into a curve before attaching at all, then grade, clip and under stitch. Ah, it all suddenly made sense.

Normally, I would have screwed the whole thing up and thrown it in the bin at this point, but I loved the fabric so much I thought I’d give it another try, armed with my new improved knowledge. Take 2. I sewed one of the armhole bias finishes. It came out pretty perfectly, BUT. The fit definitely wasn’t right.

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I seem to be suffering from a fast approaching droopy old lady bosom thang, *ahem* hollow chest issue, as I have a little too much room at the top of the neckline and on the armhole, even though the cup and full bust fit is perfect. (Interestingly enough this was the only change I had to make to my Upton Dress bodice too, so I think it’s definitely a developing fit issue with my post 45 body.) Rumour has it that as all body parts start their downward descent and you lose muscle tone this is a common problem area for the mature woman. What next I wondered – a Dowager’s hump? I may jest but actually my rounded shoulders are in evidence as the fit is even better if I pinch the merest mm from the centre back neck. Apart from that the back fit is spot on, no gathers at the back waist either which is so very rare with woven patterns.

I really like this pattern on me and I do think it could be a total workhorse of a garment, good for layering in autumn and winter and perfect for summer with jeans or shorts, so I’m determined to get the fit perfect. I have also bought some gorgeous cotton lawns to make two final versions, the left for View A and the right for View B with its contrast band.

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I’m off to dig out my Swedish tracing paper and make these fit amends, losing the pinched excess in the bust dart before making another muslin (hopefully wearable this time!). Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ta Da! My disappearing act

*SPOILER ALERT*  I’m still alive!

Okay, so we both know some people need a bit of a blogging break now and then. It’s normal right? Often this involves a week or two of not blogging just to get some balance back or concentrate on a life project …. and it’s no different for me. Except that, well, let’s not beat around the bush, my couple of weeks became a year … (and a half)! Oops.

Those of you who read my last posts before my disappearing act will know that the sewjo was at an all time low. It was lots of things, over commitment, too many sewalongs, an endless procession of pattern testing …. an avalanche of things I HAD to do. Just for the record I am not especially good at things I HAVE to do. I am not a process driven sewer, I love and am driven by the ‘idea’ of things …. the endless choice of an inspiring tumble of fabrics, cavalcades of pattern and an ocean of making possibilities. My bloke calls this my butterfly brain. There are many things butterfly brain does not go well with: rules, spreadsheets, admin stuff, in fact non self-imposed structure of any kind. No wonder then, that the more rigidly I felt bound to sewing deadlines and pattern testing projects, the more my interest disappeared. Til it was … well, til it was gone.

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Honestly, it was just like that. I woke up one morning and it wasn’t there. I went to the sewing room, looked at all the heaps of beautiful fabric, lovely patterns, yarn, buttons and silks and I felt nothing. Nothing at all. Not even the merest rustle of interest. It felt ‘empty’ and that kind of scared me. I decided to ignore it. Instead, I concentrated on other things I enjoyed. I read, baked, worked, watched old movies and distracted myself by every other means possible in the hope that my crafting mojo would sneak back up on me and I’d feel creative again. However, it was to be MIA for a loooong time.

Several months later I was still ignoring. Slowly month followed month, through Christmas to Easter and I didn’t want to sew, knit or make anything. During this time I also expanded my business, moved premises and hired more team members. I started running (I know, how random!) and completed the couch to 5k program (then I fell over on my way to a client meeting and split my leg open on some iron fencing. Doh. I stopped running). It was now summer and work was crazy busy. I had no spare time at all and making things seemed like a distant memory.

In late summer something arrived. Unfortunately not the little creativity butterflies but instead a thumping big CLEAR IT OUT mindset. Now, I have no idea how this happened to me. There was a lot of blog talk at the time about Kon Mari and her magic books of tidying. I was my normal cynical self and laughed when a friend first told me about the book, but she begged me to read it and told me it had changed her life. So, somewhat reluctantly I read the first few pages.

I finished the book that same night and with autumn approaching my bloke and I started on a BIG clear out. I’m not going to lie, it took us months. We live in a small cottage, yet the staggering amount of stuff we had managed to accumulate in the nine years we’ve lived in our house was mind blowing. No wonder it wouldn’t all fit! I knew I meant business when I managed to give away three sackfuls of shoes to the local charity shop without flinching. It even had red shoes in it! Red shoes … possibly my favouriteist things in the known universe. From bedding to underwear, DVDs to baking equipment we decluttered, minimised and organised. It was November when we finished. The house (and we) breathed a massive sigh of relief. (Just a wee note to those of you still cynical about the process and how long the results last … the house has stayed like this for months and we never have to hunt for stuff any more. It truly has changed our life and our buying habits).

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As for the sewing shed … it was unrecognisable in its newly organised and colour coordinated layout. I had destashed massively and donated huge swathes of fabric to charity quilting groups and our local resource centre, only keeping things I really loved. As I stood in the centre of my creative space I felt the little sparks of potential all around me … and the joy of rediscovering fabric long since buried. I am lucky to have some really lovely stuff. I spent a couple of Saturday afternoons mulling over patterns and looking at yarn and then something really wonderful happened … we welcomed a brand new member to our family. Meet Miss E.

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Now, for those of you with good memories you’ll recall that babies and I have a somewhat chequered history. Generally I have to force my face into a reluctant smile when I am handed one, trying not to remark that it looks like an evil gnome whilst secretly wishing it would transform into an entirely more appealing basket of fluffy kittens. Baby are, well, let’s face facts … dull, with only four distinct operational modes: sleeping, crying, poohing & puking. However, not this time. As soon as she was born I was smitten and got an immediate itch to make something. Surprisingly, first out of the creativity shed was some wool to make a tiny berry hat. I’ve made these before and they are quick and simple to do and make any new mum coo with cuteness. As E’s mum’s fav colour is purple, I opted for a rich damson for this version, to make a mini plum hat. I finished doing the icord leaf stalk just two minutes before we went to meet our new addition. Needless to say it was a hit!

I had forgotten just what a lovely feeling it is to give someone something you have made with your own hands. Powerful stuff.

Following the plum hat success I was loitering around the yarn section of my local John Lewis when I saw an adorable pattern for a knitted fox. I fell in love with him and before you could blink had some orange, cream and black wool and a pattern tucked under my arm. When I told my Mum I was knitting a toy for a baby she looked at me like I was crazy. “You … You are knitting a toy?!” I must admit, it is out of character, and I have spent many happy years laughing scornfully at Jean Greenhowe’s wonky scarecrows/clowns etc, but now I too have gone to the stocking stitch dark side! Lo and behold Rupert Foxley of Foxley Manor was born. I had a hard time giving this little fellow away (and between you and I have bought enough yarn to knit another for myself. Shusssshhh, don’t tell my mum!). Miss E loves him.

Ruper_Foxley_Knitting_Pattern

Now, do ya see what I did there?! I snuck in some sewing when you weren’t looking. That cute little winter fox dress and the eyecatching elephant adorned tunic dress with matching stripey binding and leggings … yep, you’d best sit down because I know it’s a shock but I actually SEWED something. Ta da! Both are Lillestoffe fabric from the lovely KitschyCoo, the most divine organic cotton jersey in gorgeously graphic jewel toned prints. Surely the best possible thing for children’s wear. The little fox dress is an adaptation of the Skater Dress (a special sized down version for wee bairns) and then the tunic and leggings were picks from Etsy downloadable pdfs. I have to say that children’s clothes are great … tiny pieces so you can make them from the eensiest bits of fabric, zero fitting (woo hoo) and short, short seams. I ran these babies up on the overlocker and they took less than an hour each. Ultimate feel good sewing.

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With these under my belt I decided it was time for a little sewing for me. So what to sew when it’s been a long time since you made anything for yourself? Well, I knew it would have to be a knit as they are so much more forgiving in the fitting department. I went through my saved posts on Bloglovin and kept coming back to Cashmerette’s Appleton Dress. When the dress was released I was immediately intrigued …. patterns you could make as a full busted woman that didn’t require messing around with sticky tape, tissue paper and rulers for the afternoon … count me in! I also couldn’t find a single bad version of the dress in the blogosphere – it seemed to work with all kinds of stretch fabric on every kind of figure. My fellow CSC buddy Jenny had also been kind enough to send me a copy of the pattern when it was released.

DISCLAIMER: Just FYI, a free pattern does not equate to a biased review. I’m always going to tell it exactly like it is, because, well … that’s how I roll!

Anyhow, I spent the whole of Sunday in my newly organised sewing space. I found some thin viscose knit I ordered from the internet several years ago to use as a toile. My plan was to make a wearable muslin (we’ll come back to this shortly). I started by cutting out the fabric (in single layers so as to get the best possible outcome) while listening to the David Bowie tributes on the radio. I sang along loudly along to Diamond Dogs, Life on Mars and generally remembered all the reasons I loved sewing in my little shed as I worked. Ferris the cat came along throughout the day to helpfully lay in the middle of my fabric, rub his face on the sewing table and paw at my knee for food. It was a lovely time.

Happy with my cutting out I gathered up my pieces to start sewing. I had the handy sewalong posts to reference for the tricksier parts of the pattern (although it’s simple it does require some thought on the facing bands and ties), when I realised something had gone awry. I don’t know if it was the singing a-long that meant my attention dropped or constantly opening the door for my visiting purry friend but somehow I managed to end up with this …

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Eeek! Oh dear. I somehow managed to cut two fronts the same way round (even after spending ages checking I wasn’t). Bugger. Please excuse the inside out lower front. Still, at least it’s a pretty good fit. I think my biceps are a bit bulgier than most as I need another inch or so on the widest part of my upper arm, otherwise, for something run up straight from the pack it’s looking pretty good. I am going to go for a slightly thicker knit in my final version as I feel pretty exposed in this and it seems to highlight a bit of a sausage belly issue at the moment. That may not be the pattern, it may just be my sausage belly, but I’ll keep you posted. I guess I could always wear it with a pair of Big Pants. For me, at 5ft 6 the waist was perfect and the built in swayback adjustment also a blessing. My only other observation is that the three quarter length sleeves run a little short to the norm (although if you check out the picture of Jenny on the pattern envelope it’s a good representation) – once hemmed I would definitely say they were more of a long elbow length so you might want to add a little length depending on your personal preference. However, the big bonus of the pattern? As promised by the blurb, the girls are safely covered and the wrap section does not move … at all! Awesome.

Meanwhile I have made a crazy eBay purchase of some outrageous leopard meets denim meets rose print polyester knit to give this pattern another go. It’s a better weight but I’m not sure even I can pull off such a crazy print. It’s on the cutting table so time will tell.

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I have to say, it’s good to be writing again. I have missed this whole blogging thing. Thanks, as always, for reading.

The Sewjo Returns Rose Dress

If any garment could pull me from a seemingly endless sewing slump it would be a Lady Skater Dress. I have made so many versions of this Kitschy Coo number that I have had to trace the pattern twice already, as my first version has fallen apart! This is my easiest “go to” pattern for a work outfit. Pick any random jersey fabric, cut it out, spend some quality time with your overlocker and 2 hours later it’s done. Ta da! It always fits perfectly, is so comfortable to wear and you can dress it up or down.

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I have made so many versions of this lovely pattern. But I have to admit that this one started as a disaster. The fabric was something I picked up cheap off ebay and although I was smitten with the print online, when it arrived, although I still loved the huge cobalt blue roses with copper centres, I noticed the fabric had a weird brushed feel to it on the right side. Undetered, in one of those misguided “oh it will be alright” moments, I ploughed ahead with a flouncy sleeve spring/summer version. I made the bodice, inserted the sleeves and then realised it wasn’t going to work. The fluted sleeves that looked so gorgeous on my La Isla Bonita dress were totally out of kilter with something that felt autumnal when you touched it. I remember throwing it dramatically onto The Pile.

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The Pile is a dangeous place in my sewing room. It houses all kinds of creations, from those that took ages to make but just aren’t quite right (normally sans hems or proper finishing) to things I have totally fallen out of love with but can’t bear to get rid of the fabric I invested. I am convinced it is a wormhole to another dimension as things seem to magically appear and disappear willy nilly. Not many garments make it out of The Pile.

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Fast forward to the Christmas holidays. In a final bid to overcome by missing sewjo I undertook a major tidy up and renovation of the sewing shed. Including, yes, you guessed it … The Pile. This half-make and its remaining fabric was a couple of inches down – I had forgotten how soft and lovely it felt. I yanked it out for closer inspection and decided to do a mini makeover on the half finished dress. I should like to pause for a moment here to remember those garments lost in another dimension from my tidy up. Once The Pile was cleared the inter-dimensional portal closed and those makes the other side are now lost forever … However, I shall await the day with interest when one of our space probes encounters a giraffe print blouse bodice with no sleeves floating above the dark side of Uranus. Don’t say I didn’t warn you …

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Anyhow, it was time for some major seam ripping as I got rid of those summery sleeves. I didn’t have much fabric left but there was enough to cut out full length sleeves, having decided if it was going to be a warm and cosy dress it needed the warmest and cosiest option. I inserted the seam in the round rather than described in the pattern simply because I had run out of love for unpicking more seams on a fluffyish knit fabric. Yeah, I know, sometimes I am such a lightweight!

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It was time to attach the skirt, after I added some side seam pockets (using those from my Moneta pattern). For me a dress or a skirt feels lacking without pockets nowadays. Adding pockets doesn’t take long and, although many sewers pooh pooh the idea of side seam pockets in a knit dress, I am a convert. I tried it on and the top and sleeves were great but, oh dear … what had happened to the skirt?!

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The skirt was very short. Not just “Hello peeking knees” short but more of a “Uh oh, please don’t bend over” short. The more I looked in the mirror, the more I realised it was very, very short indeed. It appeared in my hurry to cut this dress out I had forgotten to add my customary 2 inches to the hem, and for some reason with the way this fabric falls it came up even shorter. I looked at the fabric I had left over … there really wasn’t much, but I though there might be just enough to squeeze out a band to use for the hem if I pieced it. So that’s exactly what I did. It is a very long way around the hem of a Lady Skater skirt. Just saying.

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Actually, I’m really pleased with the finished dress, although it’s still about an inch and a half shorter than my ideal. (I have now written a big note to myself on my skirt pattern piece as a reminder.) Those eagle eyed readers will probably also notice my dramatically placed grey rose over one boob. There were so many obstacles to pattern placement with this fabric I can’t tell you. In the end the choice was rose over boob or slap bang in the middle of my chest. The centre front option looked terrible, that kind of central placement I think only really works with a mirror print, so I picked floral boob instead (I decided I have the “tude” to carry it off!).

This will be my last dress for a while as I am about to change up my sewing over the next few months. After lots of feedback The Curvy Sewing Collective is about to launch the Season of Separates challenge, where we will be tackling trousers, skirts and tops. As this is a major gap in my wardrobe and something I always have problems with in RTW I am looking forward to honing my separates skills. If you’d like to join for February’s instalment as we learn the intricacies of crotch depth and other “pant” sewing mysteries then pop over to the Curvy Sewing Collective site and grab yourself a badge.

I am lost in the sewing wilderness

An epic adventure starring a hapless curvy sewer, dangerous pointy needles, extra sharp scissors, a missing mojo and fabric. Lots and lots of fabric. WARNING: This post contains an image that organised sewers may find extremely upsetting.

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You know, even now I am not quite sure how I got here. I think it was a combination of too much work, a giant charity branding project and other everyday stuff just piling on in that made me first lose my footing. I was a working twelve hours a day in my real job and slotting everything else in to weekends. At the end of September I started working weekends too. From there on in it was a steep decline, a short holiday, weeks of extra late nights at the studio, followed by building and launching a charity bookshop (goodbye the whole of October), working part time in the charity shop, baking for the shop – all little bits and bobs that chipped away at any moment of potential free time and left sewing at the very bottom of my agenda. More recently a couple of our friends became very poorly, and two weeks ago we lost someone dear. Yesterday, I woke up and thought, “Wow, when did I last make something?” Scarily, I couldn’t remember.

“Forgive me sewing gods, it has been 16 weeks since my last French seam …”

So here I stay, midst the sewing thread tumbleweeds and pincushion cacti of the sewing wilderness.

Now, you long term sewers out there will know that serious crafting has ebbs and flows. When you sew, knit or make for many years you can go through odd moments where you just … stop. I have had a couple of these myself, normally after moving house, at the end of a bad relationship – you know the kind of thing – all life stuff that mean you need to take a little time to readjust and reset. Then one day it just “clicks” back in and you start making stuff again.

This time though, I am still waiting for the “click”.

Worse still, in these months of sewing abstinence something very odd has happened in my sewing shed. This well ordered and cathartic space at the bottom of the garden has been ransacked by what I can only assume is an undiscovered species of fabric loving alien. How else, my friends, could you explain this?

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Holy shit.

The best thing about having a sewing shed at the bottom of the garden is that it is tucked away undisturbed by the day to day household business. The worst thing about having a sewing shed at the bottom of the garden is that it is tucked away undisturbed by the day to day household business! This means that in the course of many weeks of; “Oh, I’ll just pop it in the shed.”, “Babe, where are the scissors?” “I think they are in the shed, go and have a rummage …” you are left with this result. Or, of course you may also have been visited by a new alien subspecies desperate to make fabric nests in which to repopulate the earth. Just saying.

I show you these photos purely in the interests of scientific research and in the hope that many of you will understand my current dilemma. You see I really want to sew, but it has been so long to be honest I am almost afraid of starting. Obviously, first I have to clear away the debris of hurricane fabric storm, but then … well, then I just don’t know. Sewing I think is like baking, you have to be in the right frame of mind, which is why making stuff when you’re stressed never ends well.

So my sewing sisters, any ideas on how to find my sewing mojo? Tips on what to tackle first? Or advice on how to remove aliens from your garden shed? All gratefully received.

The Heffalump Top (+ bonus nipple decor)

Brace yourself lovelies … there will not only be discussion of private pointy body parts in this post but also a curvy plus size body wearing an elephant print no less. (What can I say, I enjoy living life on the edge.)

Well, with that warning in place, let’s get down to details.

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You have probably noticed that here in the sewing blogosphere it is Selfish Sewing time. This is normally no biggie for me as I love to make myself stuff more than I like sewing things for other people … but this year it has been tricky to say the least. In the midst of three new people joining my team at the design studio and adding a whole new arm to the business I have had very long work days. I am also helping in turning a small run down warehouse into a fully functioning charity bookshop (opening in one month) which is where I have been spending pretty much every other spare waking moment. Basically, it has left me with no time at all to sew.

I didn’t realise how much I love the time I have to sew until I didn’t have it any more. Sewing is my ultimate quiet time – just me and the machine tucked away at the bottom of the garden. The process of making something can be a slow and serene experience (I know, it isn’t always) but there is something wonderful about the process that makes me calm. Then I had six weeks where I couldn’t sew.

I am sure non sewers wouldn’t have a clue what I am talking about, but just two weeks in to my sewing diet and I was tetchy. I started to get sad everytime I caught sight of a lovely make on bloglovin, or a new pattern that caught my eye. I have to be honest, by week five my need to sew was almost overwhelming. This is why, when I was contacted by Rachel at ImagineGnats to see if I fancied being one of this year’s Selfish Sewers I said an immediate “Yes!”.

As one of the featured bloggers you get to pick an indie pattern to sew with (kindly donated by the designer in question). I picked the Trifecta Top by Amanda at Kitschycoo. As you all know, I am totally smitten with her Lady Skater dress and have also had brilliant results with the Comino Dress. I also knew that I could find time to squeeze it in, because knit tops are so speedy!

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I already had some of Amanda’s lovely knit fabric in my stash, so decided to use this striking elephant print for the top. I cut the straight size eight although next time I will allow a little more width as I near my hips, but, other than that one change it fits really well. It was a breeze to sew up although there were some issues to think about regarding the print placement.

So, let’s look a little more closely at those lovely elephants. Obviously, with this large and bold pattern it needed to be cut symmetrically, so I used the central pattern design of the vertical heart motifs as my midpoint. Now, see that blue dot underneath the elephants? This was my problem area … I first thought that the top would look better with the elephant pattern teardrop centrally placed over each boob …. but then was a little concerned about the blue dot (secondary droopy nipple anyone?) once on. The next plan – I moved the pattern piece down but then I ended up with a little flourish right over each nipple – it looked far too much like a nipple tassle – so it was back to the drawing board.

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After much umming and ahhing, in the end, as you can see, I went back to my original plan, centering each elephant teardrop over my chest, and other than the worryingly dropped blue nipple issue, I am very happy with how this turned out. It was so quick to sew and makes a lovely easy top to wear with jeans. The pattern also has other options for combining print, from a triangular inset to shoulder accents and a gorgeous V-neck version.

The other slight error in my construction of the top was due to me fiddling with the sleeve length (That’ll learn me, as my nan would say.) I decided to cut the sleeve a little longer than marked on the pattern – but I didn’t decrease the width of the accompanying contrast band, so these are wider than they should be. I’ve decided to live with it as is for now and see how I feel after a couple of wears, as I can always use the magic stitch ripper of destruction and try again. Anyhow, I kind of like how that sleeve works for now.

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Lastly, the length was very long on me (I am so short waisted) so I lopped off a good two inches on the hem and also gave it a gentle curve before I finished it with a twin needle hem.

So, there you have it, the no nipple tassle pink heffalump top. Awesome.

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Many thanks to Rachel and to Amanda. Here’s wishing us all lots of time for sewing (selfish and otherwise) as we tumble into Autumn.

Shorts … sewing’s final frontier?

For me, being part of the Curvy Sewing Collective is about pushing the boundaries and challenging the stereotypes for curvy and plus size women. This is particularly true of the sewing world where almost every pattern designed as a specific plus size range magically transforms itself into a shapeless, wafty tent. Quite why the big four pattern companies feel that anyone over a size 16 should hide themselves ‘neath heavily patterned interpretations of potato sacks is beyond me. Obviously, not all garments should be fitted like corsets, but even if you’re making a simple shift dress, it should at least skim some of your body, rather than flood it in gathers, pleats and acres of extra fabric. Basically, this limited choice sucks.

However, what is wonderful is that there are a growing number of forward thinking indie designers out there who are prepared to challenge this thinking. They are making fun and fitted patterns for a never seen before range of shapes and sizes. The impact of this on us plus sizers should not be underestimated. It allows us to sew things that previously would have been unthinkable. Things like fitted shorts. *gulp*

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I am pretty happy with my legs, well, truth be told, some bits of my legs. I am blessed with a shapely ankle and an okay pair of pins til I get to my knees, and then, I have to be honest, I lose the love a little. They are perfectly serviceable upper legs, they can tap dance up a storm and carry me miles in any chosen direction, but mostly I prefer not to have them on full show on a daily basis. Apparently I am not alone in this opinion. It also turns out, after some discussion with my girlfriends, that shorts on a plus size figure are a contentious issue. Seriously. This rational bunch of modern thinking women made the following comments when I mentioned I was pattern testing a pair of fitted A line shorts:

“Well, you know there are some things a big girl just shouldn’t wear.”

“Really? Are you sure you want to have that on your blog?”

I could feel my slack-jawed incredulous fish mouth approaching, so I shut up and let the topic die. You know what makes me most sad about those remarks? The fact that these women, my friends, feel that just because you are bigger you should be limited on what you are “allowed” to wear. You may have gathered that I am not an “it’s allowed/not allowed” kind of gal. F*** it. If I want to wear a floaty potato sack, a pair of hot pants or a bikini, I will damn well do so, because I will not have society dictate how it is okay (or not okay) to express myself in fashion. As an act of outright “allowed to” rebellion I am seriously considering making a swimming costume this summer and yes, if I do there will be blog photos. Better watch out Fat Fashion Police … I’m gunning for you!

Okay, mini rant over … back to the shorts pattern in question.

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This particular pattern is the brain child of Katy & Laney and is their debut pattern. The Tap Shorts are fitted at a high waist and A-line in silhouette, much like the movie stars of the 1950s would wear, and feature three versions, with options including an invisible zippered side seam, an unusual front pleat and back welt pockets. Like many of the Curvy Sewing Collective I tested View A. The pattern was easy to assemble and cut out, with perfectly matching symbols.

Because I was unsure how the pattern would work for my shape I decided to make a muslin. Much though I hate to do them, recent fit issues on seemingly simple patterns have led me to be a bit more cautious than normal. I cut the straight size 18 which worked perfectly for fit. I made the waistband a bit deeper and overall it was good, but I had two issues. First up was the design pleat …this looked perfectly lovely on someone with a flat stomach, but my stomach is not flat. In fact, even if I lay down on the floor and suck it in, it still has a gentle curve. The implications of a rounded belly in combination with the pleat in my muslin version made it look like my stomach was trying to talk every time I moved. The huge fabric “mouth” was going to need some addressing. Secondly, I felt it the fit was too tight over my stomach, again I think because I need extra width in the centre front area.

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For the final version I used a lovely tiny star print stretch denim from myfabrics.co.uk, a sister fabric to the gorgeous floral denim I used for my Betsy skirt. To alleviate my fitting issues I topstitched down the front pleats (I think pretty much everyone in the Curvy Sewing Collective who made the View A shorts did the same). I also added half an inch or so to the centre front as per the instructions in my Pants for Real People book. That made a massive difference to the front view. As for the back view, I decided that the full welt pockets would add too much bulk, but I was keen to break up the expanse of fabric over my rear, so I added two fake welts.

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The jury is still out on the length of these shorts as for me I think they would be more flattering in a slightly shorter or longer fit. When I looked at my RTW shorts they are either a couple of inches longer or shorter than these, so that will definitely be an adjustment I make in the future. So in summary, this is a good A line shorts pattern. The high waist makes them very comfortable to wear, but if you do have a rounded stomach you may find yourself having to fiddle with the fit. I would definitely recommend a muslin.

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Why not mosey on over to the other sewistas on the Katy & Laney Tap Short blog tour to see how these shorts work on a myriad of other figures. Mary at Idle Fancy ran up view C with slash side pockets and a fly front which I think look awesome.

This garment concludes a long line of pattern testing over the last few months and it’s been extremely enjoyable to push myself and make things out of my sewing comfort zone. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to work with some great indie designers and raise awareness of the curvy and plus size sewing community. That being said, I am aware there has been something of a hoo-haa of late about the whole pattern testing business. Just to set the record straight here, I am always honest about the good and bad points of patterns I post about and will continue to do so. Without exception all the indie designers I have tested for have been brilliant at receiving feedback and have given me great tips in the making process. No payment is made by the designers other than the goodwill gesture of sending me the new pattern to test for free (and there I was holding out for a basket of kittens!). Hope that clears that up.

Anyhoo … now the testing is over I am so excited to sew whatever I like from my stash! I have such plans. I am tempted to take a day off work just so I can lay in the middle of a nest of fabric stash and wait for the sewing mojo to overtake me. I have already cut out and nearly finished a very European take on the Lady Skater dress … with ruffles. Yes, I do think I am John Travolta’s girlfriend in Saturday Night Fever. Bring me my cork heeled wedges and let’s go to the disco! More details coming soon.

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A pea green dress for a perfectionist

My mission: to design, draft and make a dress for Catherine, secret ninja, BFF and ultimate perfectionist to wear to the By Hand London party. Simple, non? Actually, no. This was a task fraught with peril at every turn.

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First of all, let me tell you a little more about my lovely friend Catherine … Behind that beautiful smile and those sparkly eyes lies a warrior princess. Seriously … don’t be deceived by the banana grinning loon, she is actually trained to kill. With nine years in the army, not only is she at home with a variety of lethal weapons, but she can also do combat rolls (personally verified) and can still do wonderful marching if you make loud tschtschtsch noises (despite being a civilian for almost two decades).

In addition to her military skill set she is also a proud guardian of all wildlife and is the only person who has ever convinced me to drive two and a half hours with an injured crow on my lap to take it to the wildlife hospital in the hope it would recover. (Yes, actually, it did). It also pecked my hand, cawed and poohed on me during the journey – just saying. From bees to beetles and frogs to hedgehogs, no rescue is too small or too arduous. Trouble is, this has rubbed off on me, and I now rescue all kinds of creatures for rehousing from inside our little cottage. (Rumour has it the spiders of the world would like to personally thank her for my re-education.)

More astonishingly, this new skill set of mine has proved useful. Having watched Catherine save all manner of creatures over the years, I recently had the chance to try one of her wildlife saving tips for myself when a very poorly bee landed on a blanket right by my hand. The poor thing looked exhausted and couldn’t even get up the energy to fly. I moved it to a spot in the full sun to warm it up and then administered a teaspoon of honey mixed with warm water on a spoon as per my carzy friend’s instructions. To my astonishment, the battered bee crawled towards the spoon and then drank almost all the honey nectar. After half an hour or so of cleaning himself, warming up and wing testing, he then flew off restored.

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Amazing! I only knew how to do that thanks to intensive training because I am besties with crazy nature girl.

To top it all Catherine is an hilarious and brilliant person to have adventure with. We have had some epic days and riotous evenings in the many years we have been friends, from the night sharing an upside down bed in the dairy of a medieval castle to a long weekend foodie trawl through Antwerp (who knew that there is actually a limit now much marzipan ice cream two women can eat?) We’ve even donned kaleidoscope specs and sailed in a mini fruit slice rowing boat through a spangly banana tunnel underneath pineapple island and breathed in the banana smoke (there were no drugs involved in that incident I can assure you.)

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The only other thing you need to know about Catherine is that she is a high maintenance perfectionist. At this point in the proceedings she will of course protest that she is in fact low maintenance – but it’s not true. She is like Sally in When Harry met Sally when she orders food … “I would like that but without the dressing, and with that on the side, oh and can I swap that for this, and I’d like this in this way …” She is the only person I have ever met who will try on every single size 6 shoe in the shop in the style she likes to make sure she gets the optimum fit for both individual feet. (Nope, I am not joking.) As you can imagine, it makes shopping a little bit like an endurance race and the assistants think she’s a little bit “special” while the whole ‘every shoe in the shop’ trying on ensues. This is just a weeny example of her “just so” attitude … and I am telling you the girl can’t help it. I love her for it and normally it makes me laugh, but then normally I am not making a garment for her.

Anyhow, I digress. It was summer and as a contributor to the By Hand London ladies printing start up campaign I received an invitation to their little launch do up in London. I asked Catherine if she’d like to accompany me up to London for the evening, and bless her, she said “yes”. (I am aware that it is a great sacrifice for a non sewing person to agree to spending the whole evening in the company of sewing fanatics, but I did add to the appeal of the event by telling her about the Prosecco that would be flowing). And then I thought, “Ah, but as everyone will be sporting handmade garments, so perhaps I should make Catherine a dress …”

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I know, I know, at that moment I didn’t even think about what I was getting myself into (that only happened later). I should also tell you that I have only once before tried to make something for Catherine and that was when I got married. I foolishly thought that in the run up to the wedding, as well as making shirts for two ushers and a pageboy, that I would be able to make my wedding dress, a shirt for my bloke and two bridesmaids dresses (one of which was destined for Catherine). Three toiles later, and with a fit that still resembled a sack of potatoes in silk dupion, we piled the whole lot in the cupboard, drove to the department store and bought her a bridesmaid dress.

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With just a couple of weeks to go before the “do”, I did rationalise a little and plumped for a knit fabric for the new dress, as with a serger this was a more realistic and manageable goal. Then, when I couldn’t find a pattern that either of us liked, I turned instead to a jersey maxi dress that Catherine had recently bought. “Well”, I said flippantly, “I can make you one just like that.” *Sigh* My mum always said my mouth would get me into trouble one of these days! Actually, to start with I thought it would be okay. After all, it was just like a long T-shirt dress, how hard could it be?! It was only when I started to lay out the dress onto my tissue paper and stick pins in through the seams to mark out my new garment seam lines that I realised this was going to be very tricky indeed … as the dress I was copying was an extremely lightweight and slippery viscose jersey and moved as if it was alive. Once this hurdle was overcome (pinning down the offending garment with every manner of tin from my larder as improvised pattern weights) I realised I had absolutely no idea how I could work out the volume of the fabric that was extra in the puffs at the top of the sleeve or the gathers around the neckline. Oops.

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After a couple of sleepless nights of putting it off I realised I was just going to have to improvise, or Catherine would be going to the party naked, so I cut the dress out with my best guesses at the neck and sleeve head. The construction was okay, until I got to the neck band. On the original dress this was a kind of bias rollover finish, but I couldn’t figure out how they then got the gathers in. I tried it like this and then after a very tearful evening in the company of a large glass of wine and the stitch ripper I realised that wasn’t going to work. Instead I gathered and basted the front neckline and then stitched the folded band on, a bit more like my lady skater dresses and that worked a treat. Not so neat on the inside as the shop bought version, but mine laid flatter and had a lovely curve.

I still love the fabric I used, a bargain buy off ebay at just £3.99 a metre. Green is Catherine’s favourite colour … from peas to frogs … and as soon as I saw this print I knew it was the one. There was some drama in the hemming of the frock, as by now we were two evenings away from the function, but in the end it all turned out fine. The hem has dropped a little since its first wearing so I think another wee chop and rehem will be in order soon. I was so relieved that I finished the dress (in the nick of time) that the bits that aren’t so perfect I’ve decided to ignore.

Luckily, Catherine seems to love it anyway. Here is the dress on party night attending a train picnic (courtesy of Catherine ably assisted by Marks and Spencer), and outside the venue chatting to the gorgeous and leggy Rachel from House of Pinheiro. We had an absolute blast that evening.

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The moral of the story? That I can draft a dress from an existing garment, even if I end up stabbing myself repeatedly with pins in the process and swearing enough to fill up the largest swear box in the world. I also learnt not to obsess over perfection when making for your friends as it will cause you an awful lot of additional stress and worry, and let’s face facts … how many totally perfect garments have you sewn? I probably have two things I have made that I can find not a single fault with – it’s a tricky business this sewing lark. Lastly, try and remember that the recipient will almost certainly be delighted by the fact that you took the time and effort to make something for them, and even the ultimate perfectionists out there will overlook any flaws, because that is why they are your friend!

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