A l’eau, c’est l’heure*

Or the “Are you a matelot?” top**

Having identified that stripes are fun, and nicely nautical, I decided to make a marinière top. Not a proper official French navy 21 white stripes version, but my own version of it. I was shopping online at Fabricland, and popped an extra metre of stripy jersey into the cart, for a bargainous £3.99. It arrived in double quick time (excellent service, thank you very much!).

I’ve decided I’ve made enough changes to the Shannon pattern to call this top mostly-self-drafted by now. There’s really only the side seams that remained untouched, as I’ve tinkered with both the sleeves and the neckline. I made a version to t-shirt length, with my favourite 3/4 length sleeves. I used my usual construction method: Sew the shoulder seams, then sew the sleeves in flat, then sew the side seams.

I tried it on, once it was put together, to see if there was anything I wanted to change about it. I decided it was a smidge too huggy around the hips, so I opened up the last 8cms of the side seams, to create a short side split. Oh boy, that was a job and a half! This jersey is quite a spongy fabric and the stitches sink into it. Plus my stitches were quite small. It took AGES to unpick neatly without making any holes in the fabric.

The other thing that trying it on revealed is that really I should be adding a curved bit to my front pattern piece. Here’s a picture of the side view:

Longer in the back than it is in the front

You can see how the bust pulls the fabric up at the front, It looks ok front on, but next time I’m going to add an extra 5cm at the centre fold, and curve it up to the outer edge.

I had done my best to stripe match while cutting the pattern pieces out, but I could tell that something had gone slightly wonky, around the neckline, and I haven’t been able to work out why. It’s a printed stripe, rather than a woven one, so maybe that’s something to do with it. But I wasn’t going to spend all evening trying to identify the problem and fix it, when it really wasn’t that much of a problem, and the whole point of this top was to make it quick.

I made a band to go on the inside of the neckline, to stabilise it and finish it nicely. But I did bog-standard turn-it-under-twice hems for the sleeves and lower edge. I did them by hand, on the train up to that there London to go to the V&A Bags exhibition. Very good exhibition, lots of beautiful handbags, including the design and making processes.

I was trying to do a Sailor’s Hornpipe, but realised, I didn’t know how a Sailor’s Hornpipe actually goes…

So that’s the story of this super-quick top, all ready for the summer. I highly doubt I’ll be able to go to the seaside in France this year as I normally would, so I might have to wear it for walks along the canal instead.

* The motto of the French Navy***.

** An extremely niche Steeleye Span/Peter Sellers reference.

*** No, of course not! It’s a Barry Cryer joke! Try saying it out loud.

The rosy pink, or is it ruby red, dress – Part 1

I decided to try another online workshop, a couple of weekends back. This time it was with Sew Different.  It was taught by Tree of Stitchless TV. It was to sew Sew Different’s Everyday Chic dress.

The premise of the workshop was to sew a pattern-hack which would turn it into one of these new Buffet dresses, by making it more gathered below the bust line, and adding an extra flounce. I had bought a length of fabric to do this with, as I didn’t have a stash piece long enough to cope with the gathering and flounces.  It was a floral viscose from Fabricland. But on the day, I realised that although the pattern does go up to large sizes, it was still going to need some alterations. I didn’t want to waste my lovely fabric on a toile that might not be wearable.  I did a quick stash dive, and settled on this cotton which I had bought in France about 3 years ago.

Officially, it’s a khaki/beige colour, not really me at all. But it has a beautiful wrong side, which is a deep ruby red. At least the thread is, but the way it’s woven with the khaki, it’s two-tone and comes across as a rich pearly pink. And just look at that selvedge… There’s no way that was going into the recycling bin – I had to find a use for it somehow.

The change of plan on fabric did mean that the dress in my head stopped being a buffet dress and started becoming one of those loose floofy dresses that I had been eyeing up during Me Made May.  So I wasn’t feeling so bad about that change.

So the first thing, after taking measurements and decision-making, was to make the various alterations to the pattern. I basically needed to add 14cms around the bust.  Tree’s suggestion was to add 2.5cms to the width at the side seam and to add 1 cm on fold. Once that was multiplied by 4 (the two front and two back halves) that gave me my 14cms in total. But… it meant that I had to add 2.5cms to the raglan sleeve pattern piece.

I have to say, I already feel a bit conflicted about raglan sleeves. I’ve been coming to the conclusion that they don’t do me any favours at all.  They always seem to have quite a lot of spare fabric flapping around around the bit between my shoulder joint and my armpit. This just draws attention to my upper chest, making my bust look even bigger than it is.  I’m all for body positivity, and I love my breasts, I think they’re amazing. But generally my aim is to try and balance out my silhouette because I’m top heavy with narrow hips, and it looks a bit weird.

I was also concerned about the size of the sleeve. Even before adding an extra 5 cm to them, the armscye (armhole/sleevehole) was very low, a good 8/9 cm below my actual armpit. Freedom of movement is a good and fine thing, but this was running the risk of turning into Shapeless Sack-ery. With a floppy viscose it might have been ok, but this cotton had structure, it wasn’t so forgiving. But I decided to trust the process, make only the necessary amendments, to see how the basic pattern worked out. It’s just a toile, a hopefully wearable one, but this is why I’d changed fabric.

Because I was making all these alterations to the pattern, I was trailing behind everyone else in getting my fabric cut and prepared. It was starting to be stressy. It was a really hot day, and I hadn’t eaten, because I was trying to catch up on the fabric cutting during the official lunch break.  By the time we started some sewing I was already feeling pressured on time, and still playing catch up. It was starting to turn into an Unfortunate Experience…

As a group we took the decision to sew the bodice first, rather than the skirt.  My own reason for wanting to do this, was that the bodice was the part of the dress that needed the most fitting. The first thing we sewed was the facing for the front of the dress.  I’m not sure mine turned out brilliantly, but it’ll do.  Then it was on to the raglan sleeve seams.  We were leaving the side seams until last, but I pinned my sides together to see how the bodice had come out.  I was pleased to see that the bodice sat quite nicely.  But oh my stars, the sleeves were… humungous. They stuck out like Dumbo’s ears.

Sorry about the light – it’s supposed to be midsummer, but you wouldn’t know it. Also sorry for the grumpy expression!

Too bad, there was nothing I could do to rescue them at this stage. Tree suggested elasticating them. Nah! Not my style. Too Little Girly. And again, it’s just pointing out to the world: Hey look – Béa’s got massive norks! Though to be honest, even without elastication, the sleeves are still broadcasting that message. Tree explained how you could create a dart in the sleevehead of the pattern piece and rotate some of the excess fabric out of the arm that way, but it was too late for any of that with this make, it was already cut out. I hated those sleeves. But I told myself I could find some way to fix them, later.

Tree then moved us on to the remainder of the facing. I don’t know how, but when I tried to add the back facing to the front one, my facings were too short. I had next-to-no seam allowance. I must have stretched the fabric somehow and/or sewn with a wrong seam allowance… Again Tree made some helpful suggestions, sewing the facing pieces by overlapping and zigzagging together, or overlocking them together, but there wasn’t even enough for either of those. So I wasted even more time cutting out a new back facing piece with longer “arms”, so they would actually join up.  I was so behind already and with having to cut this new piece I was even more behind, so I missed pretty much everything that Tree said about how to actually sew the back facing on. I’d have to do that based on my own skill & judgment. More stress…

At that stage I really did feel like throwing the whole bundle into the bottom of the cupboard, never to be spoken of again. I was getting really hot and bothered. The Unfortunate Experience was turning into an Impending Disaster.
I decided to call Time Out on the sewing of the bodice.  If I continued with it, I would be out of time for the rest of the entire dress. Also, I needed to do a load of overlocking for neatness, and I wasn’t set up for it. And it was making me stressed and angry with myself, and I could feel the distinct possibility of bursting into tears in front of everyone.
But then we were going on to the skirt. Trust the process, Béatrice,  trust the process… 

Things went a lot more easily with the skirt.  We created the pockets first and I really enjoyed that technique. It worked, which put me in a better mood. The only thing I worried about was that the pockets themselves were possibly too deep and at some point I’d have to shorten the pocket bags so that I can actually reach the bottom of them.  But until I’d actually sewn the skirt on to the dress and tried it all on, I wouldn’t know how  far down the pockets went.  Once the pockets were done, I was able to get the skirt front and backs gathered, and stitched to the bottom of the bodice front and backs.

At that point, it was officially past the end of the session, and Tree had said she’d stay on a while longer. But I decided that I’d quit while I was ahead(ish), and do the finishing work another day. I promised faithfully to let her know how I finished it.

I still have quite a lot to do. I have a bodice shell, but it still needs overlocking on the raglan seams, and the facing added. I have to decide if I’m going to do anything about fixing the humungous sleeves, and if so, what possible options I have. The waist seam needs to be overlocked, and it turns out that yes indeed the pockets are massively too long, and the bags will need to be shortened. Once I’ve got all of that sorted out, I can sew the side seams and do the hemming. And I want to try and use that selvedge as a hemming decoration somehow or another.

There will be a Part 2, and I’ll add the link once there is one, when I’ve worked out how to fix the things that aren’t working for me. I’ve got some ideas, so it’s not all doom & gloom. In fact, trying it on a week after the event, it’s not quite as horrendous as I was remembering, so giving it a bit of distance has already helped. I’m sincerely hoping I can rescue this. I don’t want this dress to hang in my wardrobe unworn, because it has horrible associations for me. Or worse, end up on the WIP pile, never to be heard of again.

So, see you on the other side!

Me Made May Reflections

As ever, it’s good to look back over the excitement of Me Made May with a bit of analysis and clear-headed reflection.

My original pledge was to wear me-made during the month (the low-hanging fruit of my challenge tree – tick!), and to post daily outfit pictures (harder work, but also – tick!). As the first couple of days of May went by two additional elements crept into this part of my challenge – wearing make up (I think I did for all the weekdays, and most of the weekends) and wearing me-made jewellery (again, I think I did for most days, with just a couple of weekend can’t-be-bothered days), so although they weren’t official pledges, tick and tick!

Here’s the final round up image from my instagram profile.

The final part of my pledge was to comment on other people’s MMM posts, and I set myself the goal of 10 comments per day. As I mentioned in an early round-up post, this was harder than I thought. I started with comments on my friends’ posts, but that was easy pickings again. My intention was to reach out and participate more in the wider community, so I put on my big girl pants and started commenting on complete strangers’ posts/outfits. It was hard work, because it meant spending quite a bit of time each evening going through all the MMM posts in my feed, and finding new people’s posts to comment on. Sometimes my comments were just a row of heart-eyes emojis, especially for non-English instagrammers, but it turns out, people still appreciate that! I was following the #memademay2021 hashtag, but I’m certain that Instagram wasn’t showing me everything in that stream. Sometimes I was refreshing my feed time & time again, to get some new posts I could like and comment on! It was a great way to get to know other sewers/knitters/makers on instagram, and I’ve got a whole new set of people I’m following. Technically there were days that I didn’t meet my 10 comments, but I did enough extra on other days for it all to even out, so I’m counting it as my final (and official) tick.

This year I discovered and followed the #memademayplus hashtag. There were lots of plus-size hashtags for MMM, and I feel like I should maybe have followed more of them. I’m glad that I’ve started to be aware of it. It meant I got to see a whole load more people who look more like me. I love seeing how people with my sort of shape make their clothing work for them. A lot of instagrammers were adding, not just the pattern they used for their outfit, but the size range that those patterns came in, which is heartening for us curvier ladies. Some were choosing not to @ or # pattern companies and patterns that weren’t size-inclusive, which is fair enough – why support companies that don’t see us as part of their market? Yeah, yeah, I know all the reasons why it’s hard for a small pattern company (and large ones too) to create extra sizes (at both ends of the range), and if a company wants to stick to safe medium sizes, that’s fine, but grading is a pain in the posterior, and I’ll think carefully before spending £10-20 on a pattern I’m going to have to completely re-create.

Which leads back to my own wardrobe thoughts from this year’s MMM. I didn’t want to do too many repeats. Which is rather ridiculous, because left to my own devices, I’m perfectly happy to wear clothes two days in a row, never mind two weeks apart. But that’s all part of the Outward Facing aspect of MMM. The weather here in the South-East of the UK was pretty cold and wet for most of May, and it was really only in the last couple of days that we got any sunshine and warmth. This had quite an impact on my choice of daily outfits. With previous MMMs, I’ve been able to transition from early Spring to late Spring to Summer, which has allowed me to use a wider range of my wardrobe. But this year, it was all jumpers and cardigans.

I’ve also realised that I’m now much more into dresses than separates. I did wear some separates, but I always wanted to be wearing dresses! I just didn’t have enough winter-wearable ones. This realisation, made quite early in May, led to me making the two new dresses in my wardrobe, the black & ivory one, and the stripy teal one. I know MMM isn’t necessarily about making more, but I’m really glad that it inspired me to do some more sewing, because lockdown has been a real sew-jo killer. It’s nice to be creative again, and to make some inroads into my fabric stash.

Finally, there have been a lot of lovely outfits going past my eyes throughout the whole month, and some items/patterns have found their way onto my list of things I’d like to make/use/wear:

  • Wrap dresses – It started with close fitting Diana Von Furstenberg style ones, but then I started noticing quite a few lovely BHL Hannah dresses, and they do them in an inclusive size range, so this one is now on my radar as a pattern to investigate sooner rather than later.
  • Plain cotton shift dresses – To showcase lovely prints – and I’ve got plenty of those in deep stash. I’ve just bought the SOI Ultimate Shift Dress (despite it not yet being in their inclusive size range, so it will need a shedload of grading, sigh).
  • Big floofy dresses. There were lots of different ones, but generally they were fairly loose fitting dresses with an empire line and gathered skirt from below the bust. I saw a lot of Hinterland dresses from Sew Liberated and I might go for that as a pattern, or I could wing it and self-draft something. The BHL Hannah would also work for this as well.
  • The Pona Jacket from Helen’s Closet, as a casual blazer.
  • Swiss dot cotton – because if you have to work with plain colours it’s nice to have some textural interest.

I’m repeating to myself very severely: “These are not plans, they are ideas and inspiration. Do not feel obligated!”

So that concludes a, for me, successful Me Made May. Zoe you are a total star for keeping this tradition going, and keeping it fresh and inspirational and fun for us all. Thank you!

The Stripy Dress

So, remember I said I was probably done with the Shannon pattern for a while? Turns out I was mistaken!

I had a beautiful stripy jersey in teal, that I’d used before in my Sweatshirt dress.

Imagine this being a much greener/teal-ier colour

I had nearly 2½ metres left over, and I’d been mentally putting that aside for making a Tilly & the Buttons Coco (because I’ve had that pattern for years and still haven’t made it). I took the Coco pattern out, and looked at it, and it looked like it would basically need completely re-drawing, because it’s drafted for a pear-shape, and I’m an upside-down pear. So I put it back in its envelope, and had a re-think for this fabric. I thought about the Shannon, and decided, no, I’ve got enough of those for now.

But then I got an idea of a dress in my head.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can’t draw for toffee! Especially legs, it would appear.

And I thought, actually, yes, the Shannon would work for the top of the dress. And the bottom is just basically two rectangles, gathered. So that’s how I played it. I worked out (from one of my other Shannon dresses) where I wanted the waist to sit, and cut the Shannon pattern, as a top, cropped to a little longer than that for the seam allowance. I did my usual sleeve add-ons, but I cut the sleeve tops on the body pieces a bit shorter than the pattern calls for, because I wanted it to look more “dropped shoulder” than “grown on sleeve”. That meant my sleeve add-on pieces needed to be a bit wider at the top.

I added a strip of tape at the shoulder seams, as I knew the skirt would be fairly heavy, and everything would be hanging off those shoulders.

I cut into the two skirt rectangles from the remainder of the fabric and stitched the sides to make a tube. It was quite wide so the gathering at the top was a monumental task.

Next I had to join the top and the skirt. There was a lot of gathering to manage, so took my time over it. First, I didn’t want the stripes to look out & out wrong. So I had to work out how to match them, horizontally. I did a lot of pinning, and then I did two rows of tacking, because I wanted it to be as stable as possible before I did any machining. I added an elastic, again, to support the waist seam, with all the heavy skirting. Finally I stitched it with a suitably stretchy zigzag stitch. I had to redo a couple of sections where the gathering got caught up, but that’s what Nature gave us seam-rippers for.

Seen from the top, looking down towards the skirt

As for the stripe matching? Well, let’s focus on the fact that I started with good intentions. As the French would say, it’s beautiful from afar, but it’s far from beautiful. And as I would say, it’s good enough for jazz.

Finally I had to decide on the hemming. Oh the hemming! Hand stitching or machine? It was a no brainer – this skirt has a LOT of hem! Machine it was, stitching with a tiny zigzag to maintain some stretchiness… And that worked out fine for the skirt and the sleeves. But the neckline was a whole different ballgame. I’d cut it as a slash style neck, shallow so it would sit on my collarbone. But however I pinned it, a normal turn-under-twice hem just looked hideous. I tried with just one turn under (not ideal, but I could overlock it for neatness, which wouldn’t be so bad), and that looked better when I pinned it, so I tried tacking it to see better. But it was still not quite right. It was a bit flappy, not sitting nice and smooth against my throat. What it needed something to pull it in & make it slightly smaller/tighter. Elastic? A neckband? Neither of those solutions were floating my boat, for a range of reasons. Then I had a brainwave. I could use some plain white jersey (I’ve got plenty of it in my stash), to create an internal bias binding finish, and use that to gently tighten the neck hem a smidge, and get it sitting just right. So that’s what I did.

And voila! I reckon it’s pretty close to the original picture in my head.

It feels slightly “Hallo Sailor”, but I’m choosing to see that as a good thing.

I really love it! And it’s making me think that I need a bit more Nautique in my wardrobe. Maybe some t-shirts for the summer.

Making a hip scarf for bellydance

So I teach bellydancing…. It’s all online at the moment, and in order to keep the sound quality as best I can, I need hipscarves that don’t jingle. I’ve seen some scarves on a number of American teachers, which consisted only of fringing made from threaded sequins – silent but very visual.

I haven’t found any UK sellers selling them, and the shipping costs from US suppliers were prohibitive, even for such lightweight stuff (also, they were very small, I’d have had to buy two). So of course, I did what any self-respecting maker would do. I sourced some sequin fringe and made one myself.

The belts I’d seen on the US dancers seemed about 20-30cm long, and the fringe was layered, so I looked for sequin fringe of 15cm on Ebay. I found several options, so I checked on the density of the fringe drops, and what the braiding at the top looked like, to make my decision. I decided that with the size of my boom-boom, 5 metres would give me four circumferences, and I guessed that would be enough. If I was wrong, I could always get more. But as it turned out, four layers was just fine. My plan was to make the bit that goes around my hips first, then add some ties to the ends.

I picked a piece of white cotton jersey to mount the fringing on. It wasn’t ideal – if I’d had something pale silvery grey in my stash, I would have used that, but I didn’t. White was a reasonable second best. Use what you’ve got, is what I say. I cut a long rectangle, a bit longer than my hip measurement, and a bit wider than the 8cms required for four widths of 2cm braiding with no gaps. I cut my braid so that the top layer would be about my hip width (a little smaller to account for the knotting of the ties), the one below that would be a little shorter, the third one shorter again, and so on, so that there would be a graduation where the scarf was tied.

I wanted my braiding to be edge-to-edge, so that the white underneath the silver wouldn’t show through. When I looked at the original vendor photo up close, I could see they had a gap between their layers of braid. If you look closely you can see some plain yellow showing through. So their fabric base was wider than mine. But I know hip scarves have a tendency to bunch up once they are in use, between the rows of embellishment. I didn’t want the plain fabric to mask the shinyness of the fringe.

I could probably have machine stitched this, but I didn’t want to risk the sequins in the upper braiding, and I like hand-sewing. My technique, to keep things as mess-free as possible, was to work so that the fringe always fell to my left, since I’m right-handed, and to work from the base of the belt to the top. My first line of stitching was to sew the bottom of the braiding (where the fringing starts) to the bottom of my fabric. I had the braiding firmly pinned in place, and I used a basic whip stitch to attach the edge of the braiding to the underlying fabric, taking care not to catch any of the fringe. I hadn’t really thought it through, and I tucked the fabric under for neatness. Then I stitched the top edge of the braiding. I didn’t do anything about turning the braid under at the tie ends at this stage – I was planning to do that once all the layers were added.

The second layer was a bit trickier. But I followed the same basic principles: pin like heck, and work with the fringe dangling over to my left. I wanted the second row of braiding to be attached to the fabric base, and also to the top edge of the first row, so when sewing, I did one stitch into the base fabric, then a stitch into the top of the previous row’s braiding. For the top of the braid, I was back to my simple whip stitch again. The four layers came out well, and the fringe fall is nice and dense.

Since I’d turned the bottom bit in for neatness, I did the same at the top of the fourth layer. Then I neatened the ends, by turning the braiding under and stitching the jersey down onto it, which helped to fix the ends of the braid. It was a bit tricky working around the sequins on the braid, I pricked my thumb more than once – I had to use the old trick of rubbing your own spit on the bloodstains with a balled up bit of cotton!

Next I made the two ties, just simple tubes. I cut two pieces, 44cm long and 15cm wide, folded them both in half lengthways, and stitched across one short end, and down the long edge and turned them inside out. I pleated the ends and stitched them to the base layer.

Finally, because I didn’t want all the stitching to be on show, I added a lining layer to enclose it all.

It all worked out really well! It’s even blingier than the original inspiration hip scarves!

And to see it in action, you can click this video from my Dance instagram account!

This was a nice, quick project, despite all the hand stitching! I’ve a mind to try the same again with some chainette fringe.

A May Make

I did some sewing at the weekend. It’s been a while. But I fancied making something out of some fabric that I impulsively bought a few months ago.

I’m a big fan of black & white – well, this is more ivory than white, but I’m down with that too. I really love the random splotchiness of the pattern. I got it from Pound Fabrics, but I can’t see it on their website now. It’s a double knit of some kind. It’s got two layers, lightly attached to each other, so it’s quite warm. The wrong side is plain black. It has a small amount of stretch across the width of the fabric.

I reached for my Simple Sew Shannon pattern – its simple lines are great for showcasing a fabric like this. By now my Shannon has morphed quite considerably from the original design. I’ve ditched the neck and sleeve bands, because they make a dress look t-shirt-y, whereas I usually want my dresses to look a smidge more formal. I often lengthen the dress, although I do have some short versions. I added 18cm to this one. I also narrow the skirt a bit – the original pattern is quite A-line, and that uses more fabric, but also I like the straighter silhouette. I narrow the neckline a bit, because even with the neckband, it’s wider than I like, and it would show my bra straps. In this one, I took the neckline in by 1cm each side. Finally, I added a sleeve piece, so that I can make dresses and tops that are more wearable in cool weather. I’ve usually kept the sleeves to 3/4 length, because I don’t like sleeves flapping around my wrists, I inevitably push long sleeves up my arm.

I think that’s it for Shannons, for a while at least (famous last words!). Me Made May has provided some inspiration for other styles of dress that I fancy trying out, and other patterns to try out (more on that when I do my MMM learning roundup). However, I’ve still got 2.45m of this fabric left over, so you’ll be seeing more of it, one way or another.

Me Made May continues apace. I’ve worn me-mades every day, I’ve posted my outfit every day so far on Instagram, I’ve commented on lots of people’s #MeMadeMay2021 posts, and #MeMadeMayPlus posts, as well as liking hundreds more.

Me-Made May, the story so far…

It’s twelve days in, and I’m feeling really positive about my participation in this year’s MMM.

My pledge was in three parts, and I’ve kind of added a couple of informal elements. I’ve been wearing my me-mades, which was always going to be the easiest part, but I started wearing my me-made jewellery to dress them up, so I’m intending to keep on sticking to me-made jewellery for the rest of the month. I’ve also been photographing my daily outfits and posting them on Instagram. This has led to my other additional element, namely to wear a bit of makeup this month! I haven’t gone full slap, but a bit of eyeshadow, liner and lippy still makes quite a bit of a difference!

The third part of my pledge was the one that I thought would be the hardest part – to comment positively on at least 10 other people’s MMM instagram posts every day. It’s been harder than I thought. I started by just commenting on posts by my friends, but I soon realised that if I did that all the way through, it would look really creepy and stalkerish! And my intention was to engage with the wider Insta sewing community, so I’ve been mostly commenting on random peoples’ MMM-tagged posts, and it’s doing what I wanted it to do, namely giving me more people to follow, get inspiration from and connect with. I have to confess, I’ve had a couple of days when I didn’t achieve it, but I’m cutting myself plenty of slack, because on the days when I’ve met that goal, I’ve usually exceeded it, so I’ve got some comments “in hand”!

This year I’m using and following the #MeMadeMayPlus hashtag, because while I love all my sewing friends, I particularly love seeing how bigger, curvier girls navigate the sewing world, and how they look in patterns that I may never have considered for myself. I’m already gaining some excellent inspiration.


MMM is just around the corner

How did that happen? I was pretty rubbish with MMM last year. It was chaotic and although I did wear Me-Made every day, I didn’t actually meet my personal challenge, and I didn’t join in much of the online Instagram MMM fun. And you know what? That was just fine. Last year was a weird one, and it was ok to just chill and do what I could.

So what can I do for my Me-Made May 2021? I don’t want to create a challenge for myself that will stress me out, or that I am unlikely to succeed in. There still has to be some kind of effort involved, otherwise, it’s not really a challenge. Just the wearing of me-mades is not enough by itself. MMM requires something more. Something that’s broadly manageable. I don’t really need to make more clothes, so I’m thinking I can use this time to re-engage with Sewing Instagram friends and find new makers to follow. I’ve been a bit missing there, so it will be good to get back into the swing of it.

So my pledge this year is:

I, Béa of Bea’sSewingAdventures.wordpress.com (aka @missbeacurtis on instagram) pledge to wear me-made clothing throughout May 2021, to post daily outfit pictures on instagram, and to comment positively on at least 10 other people’s MMM posts each day.

Online sewing

As the weather warms up, as the sun brightens our days, as the evenings stay light for longer, my creativity is waking up. I did my usual thing to kick-start my sewing, and booked myself on a course. Naturally, it wasn’t a face to face course, we’re not out of the lockdown just yet! But I didn’t know how a Zoom course would work, so I thought I should at least try one.

Claire Tyler has a wide selection of Online Sewalongs. I picked the Nina Lee Mayfair Dress course. This pattern is right in my wheelhouse. It’s designed for jerseys, so it’s comfortable, and it looks smart so it will work for when I have to go back to the office (one day…). And it’s got an interesting neckline, so it works for all those Teams meetings while I’m still working from home. It’s got a stand up collar, grown on to the front, with loose pleats, that give you the fullness for the bust, without darts.

Mayfair-Dress-nina lee site

Image from Nina Lee Patterns website

At the start of our Zoom, we had a bit of social chit-chat, much as you would in any face to face course. There were six of us, and the others had all done quite a few of Claire’s courses, both in person and online. We turned to discussions of which version of the dress we were planning, and what fabric we were using.

I was using a fairly recent purchase, a viscose jersey from the Textile Centre – we all know what I’m like with a floral print! It’s light-weight, with a beautiful drape, and it has 4% elastane, giving it really good stretch recovery.


Pretty but a little bit edgy, maybe?

I was going for the knee length dress with the 3/4 sleeves, basically the blue one in the image above. I don’t like having fabric flapping around my wrists! I was seeing this as more of a transitional Spring/Autumn dress. Some of the others, including Claire, were making the maxi version with short sleeves, as a billowy Summer dress.

One thing that some of the others were doing was adding in-seam pockets. I’m one of those weird sewers who doesn’t actually care one way or the other about pockets, so I wasn’t planning on adding any this time around, but I did pay attention to what those others were doing at the time, so if I decide to go ahead with pockets on a new version of this dress, or indeed any other dress, I’ll know how to go about it.

The first thing we did was check our own measurements against the finished garment measurements, to make sure we were cutting the right size, and to see what adjustments we would need to make. The great thing I discovered when I was buying the pattern was that Nina has expanded the size range for her patterns up to a size 28! Hooray for not having to do a massive grading exercise! I thought I’d have to do some kind of FBA, but when I measured up the pattern pieces, and compared them to my own measurements, it was all looking fine, no FBA needed. As it turned out, the main adjustment I needed was to lengthen the bodice of the dress, by a massive 15cms, to cover my expanse of bosom. That was straightforward enough. Claire checked in with everyone to make sure they were clear about what their adjustments were, and made sure we knew what we were doing. Then it was a matter of cutting it out, and marking it up. That always seems to be the longest part of any sewing project.

The cutting out revealed something I hadn’t realised. I had assumed I had 3m of my fabric, because that’s what I’d ordered, when I bought it. But it turned out I actually had 3 yards, i.e. 2m75. That would have been enough, if I hadn’t had to add the extra length to the bodice. I was wondering if I’d have to go for the short sleeves (as per the pink version above), but I decided I could get away with cutting the waistband tie pieces on the cross-grain, using the bits left over from cutting the front, back and sleeves. This wouldn’t have worked if the fabric was much less stretchy along the grain that across it. Fortunately there was a reasonable 4-way stretch, so I could keep those mid-length sleeves. I’m a bit annoyed with the Textile Centre, but I should have measured the fabric as soon as I received it, and raised it with them at the time, so it’s my own stupid fault. And there was a workaround, so it was ok in the end.

We got started with the collar, which is probably the trickiest bit of the whole dress. And as I said, it’s a nice feature. We had to create pleats, and then do one of those seams where you have the shoulders joining straight onto the collar, which involves some tight pivoting on the intersection between shoulder & then we had to sew the collar facing to that seam. Nina’s instructions use the burrito method, but there’s quite a lot of fabric to try and roll into it, especially for the ladies doing long dresses. So Claire suggested either a straightforward stitch-in-the-ditch join, or just hand-stitching the facing down. I love a bit of hand stitching so that’s what I opted for. We finished the session with the centre front seam, and that was it for day 1.

Day 2 had us working on the gathered front. The instructions that come with the pattern say to use an elastic to create the gathers t, or to gather in the traditional way with thread. One person had already tried the elastic method, and she’d found it a bit fiddly, but also she pointed out that the elastic would be straight against her skin, so she was planning on unpicking that and doing a traditional gather. I think once she’d mentioned that, most of us decided to go with a thread gather. Then we created the belt, and attached it over the gathers. The last major jobs were then to attach the sleeves (flat), sew the side seams and do all the hemming. Claire was demonstrating how you could use a coverstitch machine to do the hemming, but I was going for a basic twin-needle hem. Claire had some really useful hints for working with twin-needles, to avoid “tunnelling”, including using a specifically stretch twin-needle, lengthening the stitch a bit, and the big lightbulb moment for me, loosening the tension on the foot (using the little wheel at the back of the machine). It worked an absolute treat! Nice flat twin-needling.

And here’s the finished article… 



I love the neckline, the soft pleats are so gentle and flattering, and the collar stands up which lengthens the V for those of us with short necks.

I’m now treating this version of the dress as a wearable toile, and I’m planning to make another. I’ve got my major alterations done, and now I can fine-tune the details. I want to tweak the length of the shoulder seams, as the shoulders are a bit dropped on this version. Claire has shown me how to do that, and I think I can stand to lose 3 or 4 centimetres there. And if I’m shortening the shoulder seams, it will mean the sleeves shift up, so I will probably have to lengthen the sleeve pattern. I’d also narrow the sleeves a bit, as I like them a bit more close-fitting. 

I always love the social element of doing courses, and I feel like this was a reasonable substitute for being in the same room with other people, given that we have no other choice. It kept me focussed and “on target”. It’s nice to see other people’s sewing spaces. – some of them had beautiful sewing rooms! I don’t have a lovely sewing room, with cutting table, and shelves full of stash. I have to do my pattern adjustments and my cutting out sitting on the floor, and my sewing machine is in a different corner of the room than my desk and laptop, so all that people would have seen of me is my wall most of the time! I was perfectly able to ask questions when I needed to, but once I got working, it didn’t really feel like I was working “with” everyone else in quite the same way as you do when you’re all together. Hopefully we’ll be back to that soon – I’ve got a Sewisfaction Swimming Costume workshop that’s been booked since January 2020, and keeps having to be reorganised, so I hope it will be sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, thank heavens for Zoom, and the internet, for giving us the next best thing.



Ah, go on, one last Christmas make!

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m on my own at home, and not knowing what to do with myself (all presents wrapped and handed over, all food shopping done), I picked up the Purple Velvet Shannon that’s been on my WIP pile for aaaages. This one is at least a year old, because I started it with the intention of it being a possible Christmas dress last year.

This is one of my hacked Simple Sew Shannon Collection dresses. I used a gorgeous stretch velvet that I’d originally bought for dance costume making purposes. I used my sleeve extension pattern piece, which I trialled with my Massive Roses dress, to make the otherwise sleeveless Shannon winter-wearable. I cut it long and quite straight to make it a more elegant line. I originally cut it out and sewed it together during OWOP 2019, as I was on a Shannon with sleeves bender! And then I didn’t get around to doing the hemming. I wanted to hem it with a nice satin bias binding, and I’d got as far as sewing that on, and pinning it in place. All it needed was the hemming. But as I’d missed my Christmas deadline, I sort of forgot about it. Then Covid happened, and my sewjo took a nosedive. I didn’t feel any urge to do anything for months, so this dress sat in the WIP pile. When I occasionally summoned up the courage to look at the pile, it would look back at me, accusingly! “It’s just hemming,” it would say, “you can do that while you’re watching the telly. It won’t take you more than one evening”.

So one evening back in November, I took it out and did that hemming. “Yippee!” I thought, “I’ve got a nice party dress, for all those parties I’m not going to”. Then I tried it on and decided it wasn’t working at all. Firstly the bias binding was making the hem bell out a bit, which was not a look I wanted. It worked fine for the neckline and sleeve hems, but not at the bottom. Secondly, it just didn’t look right long. I took various pictures of me wearing the dress with the hem hoiked up to different levels. From a well-below-the-knee level, I decided it needed to go to mini length.

I decided no 5 was the right length, no 6 is a smidge too far!

And back onto the pile it went…

This afternoon, I decided it could still be a Christmas Dress, so I pulled it out again, and cut a chunk off the bottom. I used a fairly deep herringbone stitch for the hemming. The velvet is quite bouncy, so I thought it would help to keep the hem flat. It would also allow for the stretchiness of the fabric. It takes longer than a basic hemming stitch, but I didn’t have anything else to do particularly.

And all for the sake of this blog, I’ve I’ve even bothered to slap a bit of makeup on, and wear a bra (it’s been a jimjams kind of a day till now), so that you can see the nice dress all finished off…

Unfinished Object now definitely finished – ka-ching!

When the partying starts up again, I’ll be ready!