Sunday, June 28, 2015

The City Lights Dress and a little Canberra Frocktail

When a sewer loses her confidence in sewing after more than 24 years of doing it, it takes some serious real-talk and pepping to get her back to her former sparkling self. This is what happened to me a few weeks ago. I made an Astoria top and it was a disaster. All over the internet people were making Astorias that look fantastic, and I couldn't get a simple muslin to be even close to fitting. Seams were taken in, shoulders were raised, but it just didn't work. My body measurements have changed recently, and now the usual shape I expect to sew for just isn't there anymore. And with that one simple, stupid top, all confidence I had went out the window.

Silly isn't it? As a beginner sewer 24 years ago I was self-drafting pinafores and making crazy crushed velvet knit tops. Making boxy Chanel jackets from raw silk. Inserting pockets in everything and pleating like a boss. Anyway thanks to a few friends who talked me down (one even extending her friendship to going through the online Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls catalogues with me via email one morning. Bless you Siobhan) I found a dress I thought could give me my confidence back, and also double as a Canberra Frocktails dress.

Simplicity 1466 - City Lights dress

It's Simplicity 1466, which on the packet photo has a top and skirt and pants, but over to the side in a teeny drawing, a dress.  A lovely, princess seamed, yoked, tabbed dress with a flared skirt and a certain vintage feel to it. No lining. No bodices. Plenty of seams to take in and take out if needed.


Due to some time pressures at home and work, and being away for a week prior to Frocktails, I knew I wouldn't be able to cut it out until the Saturday before Frocktails. What I wasn't counting on though was injuring my back quite badly (again) the week I was away, and coming down with a chest infection and asthma the moment I hopped on the plane to come home. The spirit to sew was there, but my body let me down big time. I managed to cut the dress out on Saturday afternoon when I was still feeling ok, but sewing was done in five minute blocks eveery few hours in between naps. I didn't expect to finish the dress, but I wasn't stressed about it at all mainly because I was feeling too sick to give a toss.

Simplicity 1466 - City Lights dress

I finished stitching those buttons on at 10.20 pm on Friday night. It's a dress that could normally be cut and sewn within a few hours. 

Simplicity 1466 - City Lights dress

Construction wise, this dress was a bit of a doddle. Contrary to instructions, I basted all the seams first and tried it on without the yoke attached. Immediately I knew I would have an issue with the neckline gaping - I seem to be about two sizes smaller in the upper bust than the actual bust, and I have narrow shoulders. There wasn't too much I could do about it as I had no fabric spare to redraft the yoke, so I forged on. It worked out ok on the night but could have been better. I also did away with the zip. It was stretch sateen, so didn't really need the zip, but I also had to be clever about how I spent the time I could at the machine, so the zipper went out the window.

The fabric was a cotton sateen I picked up in Spotlight on Anzac Day when I went shopping with Siobhan and Kirsty. They are fantastic enablers. It reminded me immediately of city lights, kind of like this:

Sydney at night, from Potts Point

That was my view from my apartment in Sydney last week. 

Unfortunately the fabric was a complete disaster from the get-go. When I pre-washed it, it lost all of the sateen finish of the fabric - and I was left with lumpy, flat, dull, dusty looking fabric. Then when ironing it before cutting it out, noticed a lot of faults - brown streaks going all the way through the fabric. It wasn't in the pattern as it was irregular, and definitely a fault. By this time I lost my temper at the fabric and at Spotlight, especially as I could have found a replacement fabric in Sydney the week before, and also I wasn't in any state (with a bad back and laryngitis) to go back to Spotlight and argue the point with them. So I cut the fabric out and hoped for the best, and ignored the fact I'd ever seen the faults. This self-brainwashing seemed to work, because when doing the final press I couldn't find them anymore.

Overall I'm really happy with this dress and I will make it again but I will also take in the upper chest seams and redraft the yoke in response. The tabs are a visual replacement for a bodice - bodices on me tend to sit mid bust, not below the bust, and these just provide enough of a break in the dress to give it interest. I used vintage buttons from my collection. The top patternin the envelope has a sleeveless version, so I can see this being a summer staple in my work wardrobe.

Simplicity 1466 - City Lights dress

Photo by Myra.

Now, on to Frocktails. Some friends and I got together and decided to hold a Canberra Frocktails. For the uninitiated, Frocktails is where the online sewers of Australia get together to drink, eat and wear fabulous frocks they have sewn. There have been Frocktails held in Sydney and Melbourne before, but we thought hey, what would be great about holding a Frocktails in Canberra in the middle of winter?

Absoutely everything, we said. And we were right. It was a fantastic evening. We had 27 sewers from Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane join us last night at Hotel Hotel.

Shoe game




Liz and I

With Liz. She was also wearing Simplicity, although vintage. I'm sure she'll blog about it.

So the sewing confidence is back, but I've realised in the last week I have an enormous stash that is scattered across the house and I'm starting to misplace fabric, like the lovely black ponte I was going to make a jacket from. No idea where it is, but this afternoon, as a hangover cure, I'll be sorting the piles and giving everything a bit of a spring clean. And then I will start cutting out things and actually sewing them to wear. Winter here in Canberra is long and cold and I'm desperate for some more warm clothing. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Marg's Star

I'm in Sydney for the quilt show this week, and I have a couple of hours spare this afternoon back at my apartment. It's pouring with rain outside and I can barely see the view of the city. I have a few packs of Marg's Star blocks and some fresh fabric from the show, plus some fresh juice from the guy in Llankelly Place which he swears will cure my laryngitis.


If I can work out how this beast comes together I may have a new addiction.

Also how cool is this fabric I found?


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The "Stealth Pyjamas" Knit Skirt

A few weeks ago, just when we were starting to get a taste of what winter in Canberra was likely to be this year (answer: freaking cold and windy and OMG get me a hot toddy STAT) I rocked up to my local fabric store and spotted some gorgeous red faux quilted ponte stuff. Except it was snuggly in ways that ponte could never be. I resisted that day because all I could think to make was a self-drafted elastic-waisted straight skirt and that's just boring. So I bought some other fabric for other projects, and put the thought of the red quilted snuggly knit out of my mind.

Until a week later when I went back and bought half a metre of it because I couldn't get it out of my mind, like the insane woman I am.

Red quilted knit skirt

I sat on the fabric for a couple of weeks while I quilted quilts, until my friend Amanda made and blogged her Moneta/Violet Frankenfrock from the same fabric (but in black) which she described as "stealth pyjamas". Are you kidding me? Get me on the PJ train!

The first day I had free from quilts (oh blessed day that was) I made this skirt. To be honest, it would have taken me less time to buy the Colette Mabel pattern, print it out, stick it together, cut out the fabric and sew it. Except I don't really like the Mabel pattern, and I'm a bit stubborn.

First I measured my hips, and sewed up a back seam using those measurements for a snug fit. I realised then that the bulk of the skirt with an elasticated waist would end up being mega bulky, so I created some side seams and shaped them to be less bulky at the waist.

Red quilted knit skirt

My only problem with this method is that I should have switched the single back seam to a side seam and created another side seam on the other side. That would have done away with a back seam altogether instead of having a knit skirt with three seams. I can be such a sewing noob at times...

Red quilted knit skirt

I constructed all the seams with my overlocker, and they bubbled like crazy to the point I couldn't even steam out the wonk. That's when I realised my new overlocker had a very close stitch. I lengthened the stitche length to 4, and redid the seams (no I didn't unpick them - I just took another run and made the skirt a little, ahem, slimmer.

Red quilted knit skirt

I absolutely adore this skirt. It's comfortable, and it really does feel like I'm wearing stealth pyjamas. I can see me wearing this every single day through winter - it's warm and cosy and I'm not forever pulling my skirt up like I do with non-elasticated ones.

Red quilted knit skirt

The fabric gets a lot of comments because it is quite unusual and begs touching. And did I mention comfortable? I can see me getting another half metre in the black and pulling another skirt out of the hat, except without a back seam next time, and maybe less waist again.

Red quilted knit skirt

Because a girl can never be too comfortable when it's freezing cold outside.

Monday, June 1, 2015


I finished my red and white quilt with just enough thread - there must be a Tardis of threads out there, because I can't work out how a 60 inch quilt quilted half an inch apart used less than 750 m of thick thread.


So for the last few days I've been doing the finishing - the binding, labels and sleeve, and of course burying the threads.

There is something quite exquisite about being so close to the end, but yet so far (hand sewing over 11 metres of binding will make you feel like that). But the slowness of binding, of threading 5 needles at once, of the rhythm of the stitching less than a centimetre apart lends itself to a calmness not usually seen in the way I sew quilts (usually fast, frenetically and a little bit maniacal, but always with a great deal of joy).


For the first time in my quilting life (almost 20 years) I followed the instructions on the exhibition pack and made a sleeve to specification. It didn't make an ounce of sense at first, but then that "a ha" moment happened and I'm wondering why I hadn't done it this way before.


And this year the Guild has provided labels for their special Red and White category. They are quite lovely.


Ever since they announced the special category for 2015 at the 2013 presentation ceremony, I've been looking forward to entering and seeing the display. Apparently 110 red and white quilts have been entered in the exhibition and I suspect it might be spectacular. I haven't entered the quilt I thought I would, but I've entered something I'm pretty proud of, and stepped outside my comfort zone a little bit (but not too much, because that would be, well, weird.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Red and White

Red and white

I showed a photo of my red and white quilt in progress over on the Book of Faces the other day and someone commented "cheer cheer the Red and the White" and I'm all "NO WAY José" (oh when the Saints go marching in...)

Anyway, this quilt.

Red and white

This quilt was one. Big.  Mistake.

I meant to quilt straight lines one inch apart. Except the metal gauge on my walking foot is too long, sticks out into the throat space and just gets in the way so I decided to gauge it by the foot only and my foot only goes to half an inch. So I have stitch lines going this way and that. HALF AN INCH APART oh dear baby Jesus save me now.

Red and white

Last night in a fit of shoulder pain, I switched it up a little and did something one inch apart and sod that bloody walking foot gauge. It looks good. Sloppy, but good.

In the meantime, the other 4/5 of the quilt is half an inch apart, and it's a 60 inch quilt.

Red and white

Oh, and I should tell you that I went to the quilt shop yesterday to buy more thread because 750 metres of Aurifil 28 weight is never going to go very far. The quilt shop that is only open Tuesday to Saturday and I can only go on Saturdays because I don't have a car during the week. And I bought a shedload of fabric for a group quilt I am organising, and not one spool of thread. NOT ONE. By the time I realised it was 3.57 pm and I was 20 minutes away.

Yeah, so the quilting of this quilt is going really well.

On the other hand, the orange peels are looking fabulous.

Orange Peel quilting

Five days to finished quilting a 3/4 finished quilt; and trim, sleeve, bind and label both of them. Sir, can I get an extension please?*

* I know I should be quilting and not blogging, but I'm on a break, ok?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Orange Peel Special

My days are filled with cycling to work, work, cycling home, cooking dinner, gardening, household chores. My nights are filled with this:

Endless rows of this:

Backwards and forwards, trying to relax my shoulders, remember to use the knee lift, needle down, turn, one two three stitches, turn.  And do it all over again.

It took me ages to settle on a quilting design. The modern quilt group I go to asked me how I was going to quilt it, and I said "well, on the exhibition entry form, I used the words '... and the quilt is then heavily machine quilted'". I'd built a rod for my own back. But I like how it's turning out.

Of course, once this quilt is finished, I have another quilt to baste and quilt as well. For that one I've said 'The quilting design swirls through the leaves.' Shit. All in three weeks. No pressure or anything.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Michelle vs the StyleArc Brooke Skirt

I made the StyleArc Brooke Skirt because I wanted to make a skirt that wasn't my usual a-line skirt pattern.

StyleArc Brooke Skirt

I was so proud of myself. After adding a second dart to the back for the swayback issue, and taking in the sides a little at the waist, I had myself a really lovely skirt. And it was a bit different!

And then I wore it to the inaugural CBR Sewing Crew session back in February, and while sitting on my arse for 4 hours (with breaks to use the iron and raid the cheese platter), it stretched about 4 inches in the waist. It was embarrassing to say the least, especially when I had to hold my skirt up with both hands on the way to the car to stop it falling down. I blame both the fabric and the construction method equally.

The fabric is a linen print from Spotlight purchased about 5 years ago I think. It is heavier than a handkerchief linen, but lighter than the usual cotton-linen blends I use, The weave is not that big, so I was surprised it stretched so much. But the construction method used is different for the back and the front. For the front, you sew the two panels together along with twill tape, and turn them the right way round so the seam is completely hidden. I even added edge stitching on the inside for extra strength. The back section involves a fold-down facing complete with iron on interfacing.  Neither construction method was enough to temper the stretching possibilities of me sitting down in it for 4 hours.

Line drawing from the StyleArc website

I ended up washing the skirt, then taking the skirt apart from the hip up. I unpicked the waist stitching at the front, and basted the skirts together with a raw edge. I cut off the back facing completely (and the interfacing had fallen off in the wash anyway). Then I joined up the side seams, and added my usual petersham ribbon facing. So much better - and while it still stretches a little bit, it's not enough to affect the daily wear of this skirt. I love it!

StyleArc Brooke Skirt

This skirt is the classic a-line I love, but with an overlapping front panel. I made the long version of the pattern, but it is still far too short for me. I am making this again in a blue tencel for work, and to make it a little more modest I've added 2 inches to the pattern.

The hem on the front panel is constructed first and it involves a mitred hem at those pointy bits. Yes, I felt very clever when I worked it out and it looked so neat! I struggle with the StyleArc instructions a little bit (well, a lot) as they are so different to the way the Big 4 set out their pattern instructions. But I actually got this one.

StyleArc Brooke Skirt

I didn't use an invisible zip, as per instructions, because this skirt was meant to be a wearable muslin, and I couldn't find the stash of invisible zips I bought at ClearIt last year. (Probably my sewing room needs a bit of a tidy up). I also apologise for the creasing and the wonky edge to the upper zip - I took these photos after sitting at a Berry cafe for breakfast for a couple of hours

StyleArc rated this pattern as "challenging" but I would add that the construction came together quite quickly once I'd worked out the instructions. If you are going to make it and you don't have a curvy shape that stretches waists when sitting, I'd recommend using a thicker interfacing on the back section. Or do what I did and add a different waist finishing altogether.

I'm looking forward to finishing off the blue tencel version this weekend, and then I will blog it with a top, made a couple of months ago, but never worn because I had nothing to wear it with. And then, I promise, I will stop being in denial over summer being over (sob) and start sewing more seasonally appropriate clothes. As I write this, it is 10 degrees and I'm wearing flannel PJs and knitted socks ... with Birkenstock sandals because I just can't let summer go.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Last Days of Summer - A Tale of Two Skirts

Summer is winding down here in the Nation's Capital, and I have much sadness.  My local outdoor pool has closed for the season, the morning bike rides into work are getting decidedly nippy (and dark), and my sandals tan is fading.

But the good news is that while I haven't been blogging (four posts this year - what the heck?) and doing all the householdy things that become essential when your partner busts his hip (later this afternoon I am apparently getting up on a tall ladder to check the gutters. Yeah.), I have managed to make a little time for clothes sewing.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but I've made a couple of skirts from a TNT (tried and true) pattern. How boring, right? I had a think about this while we were taking blog photos this afternoon - why is it that I keep returning time and time again to the same patterns, the same shapes, the same wardrobe staples? It's not as if I don't have the skills to make something different, but I suppose when your figure has the foibles mine does, you tend to stick with what you have worked hard to adjust, and know works. And when you are in desperate need of a couple of skirts because you've thrown out all your old ones, you kind of get lazy (well, I do).

McCalls 2873

Oh McCalls 2873. I'm so glad I met you.

McCalls 2873

I actually cut both of these skirts out together - one piece of fabric on top of the other, both on the fold. It's easy enough to mark out the darts this way - just insert a pin in each marking point, and peel the layers apart as you mark where the pin is.

McCalls 2873

The gingko skirt was very straightforward to make. I do love the 2 1/2 inch hem the pattern gives me. And I've worn this skirt all day - at the movies, and at drinks after, and it hasn't crushed too badly at all. The fabric is a linen/cotton blend by Kokka that I picked up at Addicted to Fabric a couple of years ago. I also bought a citrus handkerchief linen to make a shirt to go with it, but I still haven't made that, and it's getting a little late in the season for a sleeveless linen shirt anyway. Next summer.

McCalls 2873

I'm not one for pattern placement at the best of times, but this one I took a little care with, and while it's not perfect I do love the results. And referring to the back view, I once again did my "third dart" adjustment on each side of the back - adding an extra dart to counteract swayback and sharp hip-to-waist incline.

McCalls 2873

The red and cream fabric in this skirt in another Japanese linen/cotton that I bought at Addicted to Fabric. I can't remember the designer (and I think the selvage was in Japanese anyway) but it's quite soft for linen cotton and wears really well. The shirt is a Simplicity 2938 in white linen that I made quite a few years ago. I don't wear white often, but it's handy to have in the wardobe when nothing else goes with your skirt.

McCalls 2873

For the first time in my life I put a zipper on the outside. I like it, although this zipper, bought at Studio Mio at the last Canberra Quilt Show, hasn't worn well at the sides. I suspect it is supposed to be washed by hand, but in this house that kind of behaviour is verboten! So a shabby exposed zipper it is.

McCalls 2873

I've since made a couple of more McCalls 2873s for work, and there will be more again before autumn is done. Next post I might blog about how I am questioning my style at the moment. It always happens when the season changes.

Or perhaps I'll post something new that I made. Not a TNT pattern at all.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Not a finisher

Design Wall today

This is my design wall at the moment.

There is really no plan here - just the start of six quilts I'll probably never finish.

Oh dear - that sounded a bit negative didn't it?! But in reality I did a bit of a mental stocktake the other day of all the quilts I have started, half finished, almost finished and just-need-to-quilt-it and just-need-to-bind-it.  And there are a lot.

The reason I did a mental stocktake was because just before I fell asleep the other night, I had decided  I wanted to make a really epic quilt.  Super epic. Preferably by hand. I didn't have a quilt in mind - although La Passacaglia papers have been patiently waiting for me since July last year.

And then it struck me.

Chester Criswell

I'm already making epic quilts.  I just have to bloody well finish them.

I'm making the Chester Criswell Quilt. Hexy MF. Anna Brereton. The Lotta Jansdotter Hexies.

Lucy Boston

And Lucy Boston.

Orange Peel blocks

And I've got some crazy plans for some needleturned orange peels (I'm just not entirely sure what sort of crazy, and how crazy it will get).

And then there is the Red Maple Leaf Quilt which is getting so close.

The funny thing is, I've always been more of a starter than a finisher, and in the last year I've worked at being at peace with that. But you know, it might be nice to finish something.  Anything, really.

Last year, after the Sydney exhibition, Australian Patchwork and Quilting got in touch with me about doing a showcase on my Across the Universe quilt. So that's how my story of my quilting life and two of my quilts got to appear across three pages in the latest edition. (Vol 24 No 8 in case you wondering, Mum. I talk about you a lot.) It feels a little weird being in a major quilting publication, but I'll be back to being anonymous again next month which will make me So. Much. Happier.

Magazine feature