Las Isla Bonita Señorita Skater

Hóla! The urge to make something Iberian inspired overtook me as soon as I laid eyes on this gorgeous floral jersey. A seductive and passionate mix of hot pink, turquoise and lime flowers on a deep black background it said sultry and Spanish to me straight away. It demanded ruffles and flounces, hoop earrings and the stamp of flamenco shoes to the click of castanets. I imagined myself wearing it in a tiny bar in one of the squares in Seville, sipping aromatic sangria while shooting steely glances over the top of a lace fan.

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It also made me think about the dresses my mum used to wear in the late seventies. She was queen of the flounce in those days, and when you look back at the patterns from the time they are laden with ruffling, frills and tiering in every conceivable place. My mum’s favourite make at the time was a ruffled skirt. A plain waistband with a gathered skirt, that would then fall into more and more ruffled tiers as you reached the hem. My favourite was a black and white polka dot version that she would pair with wedges, a cheescloth peasant blouse and a velvet choker. As she moved you would catch peeks of the broiderie anglaise trimmed cotton petticoat that gave the skirt its added swoosh.

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I looked at loads of knit dress patterns as a starting point. For a short while it was almost a Moneta. Some things were a given – as we fall headlong into summer here in England it would absolutely have to have short sleeves. However, I’m not keen on plain T-shirt style sleeves on my upper arms. Hmmm, some planning was in order before I cut this baby out.

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I was definitely set for ruffles on my dress, and in the end I decided the skirt on my TNT Lady Skaterpattern would work best for that. But the short sleeves didn’t appeal. I thought about the summer sleeve shapes I liked in my ready to wear tops – and found the bell sleeve. That added flounce would be perfect on this dress! I set about turning my plain short sleeve into a flouncy bell.

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I painstakingly cut and pulled apart the traced tissue piece for my sleeve, extending the bottom hem edge significantly in width. I tweaked and fiddled and amended the new bottom curved edge til it looked perfect. Because this was such an extraordinary undertaking for me I decided to take pictures of the process, as they would make a great tutorial to share with you lovely people. Excellent plan! I took photos at each step, so that anyone wanting to make a bell sleeve adjustment on a sleeve wouldn’t have to suffer my traumatic exerience. This is where I share that process with you …except … I’ve lost my camera.

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I should also point out that this was not a little camera to lose. It was a massive and clunky Nikon D300 with a big ole lens wacked on the front. It’s not the kind of object you can lose between some sheets of paper or tucked into a pile of newly washed socks. Neither my bloke or I have seen hide nor hair of the Nikon for the best part of a month now. We have ransacked the whole house top to bottom many times, along with the car, the sewing shed, my office, his office … and it has literally gone without a trace (my lovely sleeve adjustment pics along with it).

Anyway, because I wasn’t sure if my new sleeve pattern piece would work I cut it from some other scrap jersey fabric and basted it in place. It was pretty perfect for a first attempt. A little on the long side so I shaved off some of the length, cut them out and set about inserting the new sleeves into the dress for real.

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I love the little flounce that the bell sleeve gives the Lady Skater. It’s unexpected and girly and incredibly comfortable to wear. Next up was the skirt. As usual I added to the bottom circumference of the skirt piece to use the full width of my fabric – it just gives it more va va voom in the wearing. I cut some pockets from my Moneta dress pattern (I T, do solemnly swear, that I shall never ever make another dress or skirt without pockets because they are such darned useful accoutrements). Then it was all about the frill …

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There are basic maths rules to do with frill widths and as I recall to get a nice looking frill you need at least double the measurement of your edge. I looked at the fabric I had left – I had enough to cut four widths of the fabric. At 60″/150cm wide that gave me 240″/6m of fabric. Yay! Ah, foolishly I started out by thinking this was a good thing. Then I realised there is a very good reason that you don’t normally see ruffles on knit dresses. It’s because they are, as my ex mother in law would say, “a whole lot of work honey”. Let this be a warning to you all – jersey does not gather well by traditional methods. Believe me, I tried and I quickly realised the only way I was going to get even gathers in this frill would be to pin the whole thing by hand.

It took three evenings to divide the frill around the skirt and then pin and gather each segment. I would work on each section until I had used all my pins, sew it and then pull out all the pins to start again on the next. Did I mention I took some lovely photos of the process so that … oh. *sigh*

Sometimes, though, painstaking things are worth the effort and I was delighted with my finished frill hem. The weight of the jersey at the bottom gives the skirt this wonderful swing, so that it continues moving long after I have. I submit all skirts and dressed to the twirl test (a patented move I have been practising since my sixth birthday) and this one’s a doozie!

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So there we have it, one La Isla Bonita Senorita Skater dress, perfect for sultry spanish nights or prancing through an English meadow. Did you notice my lovely matchy matchy necklace and bracelet? These are entirely credited to my mum who gave up one of her leisurely Saturday afternoons to help me make them. What can I say – she’s great like that and a total jewellery making goddess.

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I have already cut out and nearly finished another bell sleeved Lady Skater, although this time sans ruffles and in a very short length for me (knees out and all). Shocking. More details coming soon. In the meantime, if you happen to see a sad little Nikon wandering the streets looking lost, with his lens cap tucked into a folded kerchief on a twig, please send him home again. The house isn’t the same without him.

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Colour mad designer rampages gleefully through the world of plus size sewing! Oh, and there may be shoes … and cats.

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