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.)