Saturday, January 8, 2011



It's been a wonderful, relaxing summer so far. There have been daily swims with friends, dinners on the back deck, card games and Cointreau, and gardening. There has also been a lot of sewing and a little bit of crochet. After the hectic months leading up to Christmas, it has been lovely to relax and live life a little better. To smell the air and listen to the croaking frogs, and most importantly engage fully with the people who are so important to me.

Plum jam

Speaking of holidays, I'm sending this little old blog on one. A hiatus (I love that word). Or a sabbatical even. I don't know when or if I'll come back to it, but please know that I have loved the friendships I have made and the lovely comments you have provided me with over the last six years and 503 posts.

But for now it's time to make more jam, plant more lettuce, sew more quilts and spend more time just being.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shell top

The pattern for this shell top, McCalls 2873, is the same pattern I used for my Christmas skirt. On paper, this is the perfect top - sleeveless, a little roomy, and BUTTONS! All the way up the back of the top! It was going to be perfect for a lovely cream silk/cotton fabric I have with red thread stripes, with red vintage buttons going up the back.

On looking closer at the pattern however, I suspected this top was in danger of being quite shapeless. The only shaping is in the bust dart, and it's the worst kind of bust dart - the kind you sew and then trim. Bleurk. So the safest thing to do was try this top in a fabric I didn't care too much about, just in case it didn't work out.

Enter grey and charcoal double gauze from Spotlight, circa 2008 or 2009.

McCalls 2873 Shell Top

The first thing to notice about this top is that I cut it about 2 sizes too big, even though I followed my measurements. I should have left the sizing as it was at the hips, but graded it to the smaller size for the bust and shoulders. It hangs loosely off my shoulders, is far to short at the front but long at the back, and my God, that bust dart drives me nuts with it's awkwardness. It's almost like the pattern drafters designed this for a flat chested woman.

However the back is quite lovely. I am annoyed that I didn't have any black or grey vintage buttons to put on the back, but I had some modern black ones in the stash.

McCalls 2873 Shell Top

Despite the fabric acting like a limp rag, the extreme shortness at the front and the fact it keeps dropping off my shoulders, it's actually a very comfortable top. Today is quite warm, and I've been getting hot working in the garden and exercising at the pool this morning. This shell top has managed to cool me right down. And I just love the print and the colour of the fabric.

So it's a keeper, but would I make it again? Probably not without major re-drafting. That precious cream and red fabric I mentioned above will have to find another perfect pattern, and at this stage I am actually tempted to make my own pattern based on the bodice in yesterday's dress. Stay tuned!

Also, today is my my 20th anniversary of first arriving in Canberra as a naive 21 year old. Not much has changed except my age. We are going out to celebrate with friends and dumplings tonight, and I'm planning on wearing a new dress I have just made. I'll show it off tomorrow!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


There are a lot of skirts and some blouses being made around this joint, but not a lot of frocks. I made a frock last year, and was disappointed in the pattern, fit and fabric. It has now gone to a better home (St Vinnie's) where hopefully someone with a "Burda Shape" and a perkier boobage will fit into it beautifully and forevermore praise my superb overlocking and curse the awful zipper fitting.

Simplicity 2929

But last week I made a frock. See? And it's lovely. And very long. I wanted to take it up a lot but the Mister had an opinion and to be honest, he was right. The fabric lends itself to being a bit more formal and longer. This is actually a dress I could wear to work when we have Frock it up Friday in summertime. I wore it to lunch with a friend yesterday and I did feel a wee bit overdressed, but that's not such a bad thing when I wear skirts and singlets and thongs all day at home and to the pool.

Simplicity 2929

I used Simplicity 2929 * and made the bodice pieces about 2 or 3 inches longer to account for my longer torso. I can't remember - I cut the fabric out out a year ago! Hopefully it was 2 inches, as I've just cut out another one to make in time for the weekend. The bodice does this elegant little blousey thing over the waist, and the waist actually has some hat elastic inserted into the skirt seam to cinch it all in. It's not at all uncomfortable, even with the belt at the waist (made in the same fabric but you really can't see it very well in this photos. I wouldn't want to make this dress in a thicker fabric. This one is in Swiss Cotton, and I probably could have lined the skirt, as the fabric is very soft and a little see-through (if I stand in front of a blazing sun, it is). But I didn't line it, and it looks and sits fine.

I love the little details on this dress. Like the gathered neckline (next time I will gather it a bit better, and start the basting stitches an inch before the pattern says).

Simplicity 2929

And for the first time ever I made a proper loop. I used embroidery floss rather than thread and it turned out beautifully.

Simplicity 2929

* A note to add that Simplicity patterns are currently half price at Lincraft, including this one!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's the simple things

Cutting out

This is the 499th post of this little old blog, so I thought I would try and share some tips that have helped me out when cutting out pattern pieces in dressmaking. They might help you too!

Tip #1:
When I first started sewing clothes, I cut out my fabric and pattern pieces on the floor. Carpetted floors were both a blessing and a curse - a blessing in that it was at least soft on the knees, but a curse in that I'd end up pinning my fabric to the carpet, carpet burn on my knees were a reality and the points of dressmaking shears always got caught in the carpet loops.

Sometimes I'd have to move furniture around so I would have enough room to cut out. And not only that, being on my hands and knees for up to half an hour, spreading fabric, working out the best cutting position for the pattern and then pinning and cutting is painful. As in ouch.

Using a cutting board on the dining table

Then one day I was given a cutting board. My sewing life changed. This board is just cardboard, folds up to lean against the wall or in behind book shelves, and basically extends and protects your dining table or kitchen bench to make things easier to cut out. Fabric sits flat on the board. It's brilliant - no more sore knees, no more pushing furniture (other than dining chairs) around.

And the best thing is they cost between $20 and $25 at most sewing stores.

Tip #2:
Every sewer should have a pair of Good Scissors for dressmaking. Mine are Fiskars Soft Touch. They are ergonomic and have a blunt end, so when Dropsy McDropthings (a.k.a. me) drops these, they don't spear into her foot or the cork tiles. I've had mine for years and have used them constantly. And they still haven't needed to be sharpened.

The Good Scissors

Tip #3:
When you are cutting out your pattern pieces, you will notice on the instruction sheet some diagrams for how to lay out your pattern on the fabric length, depending on fabric width, size, and nap. Nap? Basically it means fabric that has a direction in the print or the texture. It means you need to think about the fabric being the right way up so your daisies aren't upside down on the back of your dress, and right side up on the front.

So I look at these diagrams ... and then ignore them. Because in my experience they are usually wrong, or waste too much fabric. And on the issue of wastage, it usually pays to cut out your pattern pieces first, lay them out on imaginary fabric (of both 45 inch and 60 inch width fabric) on your cutting board, and then measure how much fabric you'll actually need. Write this new calculation down on the back of your pattern envelope. A very useful tip if you are looking buying expensive fabric!

With nap or without?

Tip #4:
When your pattern says "cut 2 interfacing", do it. Interfacing gives your fabrics shape and muscle. It is usually used in skirt yokes and shirt and jacket facings. I use soft woven iron-on interfacing, and I buy 4 metres of it at a time so I always have it on hand. Don't be tempted to not use it, because your skirt/shirt/jacket will end up looking like a sad old rag.


So what cutting out tips can you share? I'd love to hear them because I know there's always a better way of doing things!