Blogger Network #14 – Summer Strawberries

strawberry country kitchen table matsHappy May! OK, so this post is a bit late to the table (I can only apologise for both the pun and the delay) – my Blogger Network projects are always done and dusted for the start of the month…. but this one didn’t exactly go to plan. I had originally intended to make a dress – Simplicity 1699 in fact – but, well, I’ve got some place mats to show you instead! I’m trying to be optimistic about it because this month’s post features gingham and strawberries in abundance. In fact, it’s is pretty much Wimbledon in fabric form and I can’t exactly pass up on that…

Now, I absolutely love the pattern I had intended to show off this month. It was from Simplicity 1699, which has a dress, peplum top, jacket and trouser pattern option included (which I definitely plan to come back to). I was originally going to make the dress but then decided I’d actually rather try the peplum top, as I’ve never made one of those before. To cut a long story short – it just did not go well. You can read more about that over on the Minerva Crafts blog if you can bear to look ;)

The fabric I’d picked was a navy blue gingham and strawberry print cotton poplin and it’s incredibly soft, a little like a cotton lawn. It’s great to work with and is perfect for country-kitchen based sewing projects. So, to avoid calling my original make a total disaster, I decided to use my remaining fabric to make something completely different – table mats! This fabric is calling out to be used for a homeware project and I wish I’d listened to my instincts in the first place. I love how they’re a bit nautical-come-Wimbledon and the little gingham cutlery pockets are just my favourite.

liberty simple sewing table mats

The pattern for the place mats comes from the Liberty Book of Simple Sewing and they really are a joy to make. I actually already own a set of  mats just like these – you can see that post here – so I’m unsure as to whether I’ll keep these for myself or hand them out as a gift. Saying that, I think they’d do great for a wedding present for someone this summer.

Do you ever have a great idea in mind that just doesn’t turn out quite how you expected? Or have you ever experienced a fabric/dress pattern clash like I did? I love to learn from my makes but it’s always disappointing when things don’t turn out quite as planned. Bring on my next make is all I say!

Deer & Doe Bleuet Shirt Dress

Deer and Doe Bleuet shirt dressThis post has been a long time coming! I started this dress in July last year (yes, you read that correctly – JULY). Now that it’s finished, however, I wish I’d gotten it done a lot sooner! It’s a definite gem of a dress pattern. The problem was that I sewed a load of the pieces together wrongly and then life got in the way as it tends to do and, well, it just hung on it’s hanger as a WIP for months on end… anyway, now it’s finished!

The Deer and Doe ‘Bleuet’ is a shirt dress made up of lots of panels, with buttons down the front, little puff sleeves and a collar. Oh and an adorable little bow at the back! I do love it, although I definitely don’t recommend the pattern for a beginner seamstress – the pattern envelope is marked as ‘advanced’ and probably for good reason: there are a lot of parts to it.

The dress body is made up of a back panel, which is stitched to 2 side back panels, then 2 front side panels, then 2 more front panels. I made the mistake of not paying enough attention to the instructions (we’ll come to those in a minute) and got my side back panels mixed up with my side front panels… meaning that I had to unpick the entire dress to be able to rectify my mistake. What’s worse is that I’d French-seamed every single one of them. Can you see why I abandoned it for so long?

deer and doe bleuet dress

My problem is mainly that the instructions that come with the pattern are really not very clear. They’re described on the website as ‘a detailed instruction booklet’ but I honestly do beg to differ here! For a start, there are only about 4 pictures, meaning that the majority of instructions are just big blocks of text along the lines of ‘Now stitch this to that, and that to this, and hem that bit, then finish this bit’. Without a picture to refer to, I frequently had to look at other people’s blogs for help or resort to asking for a hand on Twitter. But I got there in the end. Thank you if you were one of the people who gave me advice!

Once I’d sussed the instructions out the overall construction of the dress turned out to be fairly straightforward – the puff sleeves are just cap-style sleeves with a bit of gathering and a band of contrasting fabric attached around the bottom and the collar is fitted in the same way as every other pattern I’ve come across. I did omit the hem facing though – as many other bloggers seem to have done – because after a lot of thought I decided it was a bit unnecessary and so I just hemmed the dress as normal instead.

deer and doe bleuet shirt dress 2

bleuet bowMy fabric, by the way, is a little out of the ordinary: the denim-look cotton came from a ‘coupons’ shop in Paris and cost me 5 euros for about 5 metres. I’m not even sure how to describe it, it’s kind of a cross between a chambray and a lawn? It doesn’t crease like a chambray but it doesn’t have as much sheen as a lawn, and isn’t as stiff or thin as a polycotton. Whatever it is, it’s really lovely! I used a piece of Liberty fabric (from a big roll of scraps and strips my mum got me as a present) for the bow detail and the sleeve bands. I think it makes an otherwise plain blue dress just a little more interesting.

So, now that it’s finally finished (almost a year later), what do you think? Have you ever made the Bleuet dress or other Deer and Doe pattern? I’m intrigued as to whether any of the other patterns have similarly difficult instructions! Let me know!

PS – isn’t this just the perfect dress for Sunday brunch at Betty’s?!

Simplicity’s Star Sewist Competition: My Nautical 6145

simplicity star sewist new look 6145 shift dressSeveral months ago I spotted a Boutique by Jaegar dress on ASOS and saved it to my wishlist immediately. It was stripy – check. It had a nautical rope detail – check. It was £99 – come again?! Once you become a dressmaker you often find yourself looking at clothes, tutting at the price/quality/fabric and thinking ‘I can do that’ – and so, I did!

For my entry to Simplicity’s Star Sewist competition I chose to make my own version of the stripy ASOS dress, using the New Look 6145 shift dress pattern provided for the contest. The pattern reminds me a little of the Tilly and the Buttons Coco, in that you can choose to add a collar and/or sleeves, although it’s a lot more roomy than the Coco and has a zip down the back – definitely more of a shift dress than a fitted dress.

The pattern itself is easy to make – for view B (the one I picked) there’s a front piece with darts, two back pieces with vertical darts, two sleeves and an invisible zip. No problems there! I used some black and white striped jersey from Minerva Crafts to make my dress as I wanted to emulate the one that I’d seen on ASOS – if you plan to do the same note that this fabric does carry quite a bit of weight and, due to the stretch, this makes it quite a difficult fabric to fit. I had to do a fair bit of tweaking to the size of my pattern pieces in order for the dress not to gape so much round the sides. Lesson learnt!

asos striped dressnew look simplicity 6145 dress

The best bit about this dress though has got to be my rope detailing across the front – doesn’t it look effective? ‘The dress’ on ASOS has two rows of squiggly rope but I chose to just do the one. And that was absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I ran out of rope. Nope, definitely not. You can find the polyester cord I used on the Minerva Crafts site here – it’s a bargain at 39p a metre, perhaps I should’ve bought a bit more!

rope detail new look 6145How do you like my finished dress? Here’s hoping it’s good enough to earn a round of applause from the judging panel in the Simplicity Star Sewist competition (hello Lauren, Claire-Louise, Rachel and Wendy if you’re reading!) Has anyone else entered the competition? And did you choose to make the dress, the top, or the skirt? Send me your links!

PS – hope you enjoyed my pics this week!

Simplicity Blogger Circle

A Dotty Chambray Shirt – Burda 6849

burda 6849 polka dot shirtGuys, I made a shirt. I actually made a shirt! That fits! I demand that you all go and help yourselves to a celebratory cocktail in my honour right now (or a celebratory cup of tea if you’re at work). The idea for this project came about when Minerva Crafts started to stock this amazing, incredible, fantastic polka dot chambray fabric. I think I ordered my 1.5 metres of it about 30 seconds after it went up on the website (side note – there’s also a stripy version which I’m trying my hardest to resist!) Because chambray looks rather like denim, I thought it’d be the perfect fabric with which to make a denim-look-a-like-chambray-shirt: enter Burda 6849, courtesy of the lovely Hannah over at Simplicity. The pattern back declares that ‘these blouses ensure a young and clean look’ and that the pockets and snap fasteners have ‘all the attributes of a classy blouse’. This sounds like the pattern of my dreams right from the off – and it turns out I was right! I absolutely love this pattern – whilst it’s at least 3 steps ahead of my normal ability, I actually out-did myself with this one (if I do say so myself). I think the key here is to take your time and measure everything very carefully: it took me a few weeks to sew all the pieces together but I’m glad I didn’t rush it. Shirts require a lot of clean lines and neat edges so it’s essential that you go slowly. burda 6849 dotty blouse I chose to make view ‘B’ – which has the slightly longer length – but with the details of view ‘A’, which simply means adding snap fasteners rather than buttons. Have you ever used snap fasteners before? I got some pearl-effect ones from Minerva and had a right laugh trying to insert them – if you plan to use them in a project of your own, be aware that you’ll need a hammer, plenty of space and a patient husband. I’m not sure what our neighbour thought whilst I recklessly hammered in 12 individual snap fasteners but, you know what, I don’t care. They look great! This pattern is definitely one for the more confident sewer as it requires a multitude of different skills – top stitching, vertical darts, pockets, pocket flaps, setting in sleeves, the collar, the cuffs, sleeve plackets, snap fasteners, a curved hem… I didn’t let that put me off though, and neither should you. I think as long as you follow the instructions word-for-word then you won’t have any problems – just take your time! I can’t emphasise that enough. burda 6849 details I really hope you like my finished chambray shirt as much as I do – I’m really very proud of it (if you can’t tell!) I even did French seams on the inside to keep it all neat and tidy – particularly because chambray has a tendency to fray. Have you ever made a shirt/blouse before? How did it go? Do you plan to make one now I’ve made it look like an absolute doddle? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

By the way – this post was written to run alongside the launch of the Simplicity Blogger Circle! You can find out more about the club below (go on, you know you want to join in too…)

Simplicity Blogger Circle

Blogger Network #13 – Floral Françoise Dress

tilly and the buttons francoise dressWhen Tilly brought out her latest dress pattern – the Francoise – at the end of last year I knew immediately that I wanted to make one. My little sister actually bought me the pattern for my birthday back in December but it’s not until this Spring time that I’ve actually found the right fabric with which to make it! If you’ve not seen the pattern, the Francoise is a sixties-style dress with 3/4 sleeves and – my new favourite thing – a collar. It’s just darling!

The pattern recommends that you use a medium weight cotton or twill to make the dress, so I chose this fabulous navy floral print twill from Minerva Crafts. It feels a bit like upholstery fabric but I don’t half love it. It’s such a great floral pattern for this dress too! (The contrasting collar is made using bit of denim-blue chambray that I had leftover from another project, by the way). The reason for using slightly heavier fabric than your normal lawns and polycottons is because you need the fabric to hold its shape: the flared-out skirt will hang differently if you use ‘drapey’ fabric rather than ‘stiff’ fabric.

tilly and the buttons francoise floral dress

As with all of Tilly’s patterns, the Francoise dress is a delight to sew together. It’s definitely a step-up from the Coco in terms of technical ability, but the instructions are lovely and clear so I’m sure anyone at any level could easily give it a go. For my first attempt at the dress I’m rather surprised by how well it turned out! My ‘can’t be bothered with making a toile first’ approach catches me out sometimes but not today ;)

francoise collarThe finished dress fits me rather well too – as with the Cocos that I’ve made. I think Tilly has got it nailed when it comes to designing patterns for the more petite amongst us! If you’re taller than 5ft6 then I’d probably recommend lengthening the skirt a bit as I imagine it’d be fairly short otherwise (I’m 5ft3 and the length is perfect). I think my finished Francoise will be great for British Spring though, what do you reckon? Bonus points for those amongst you who have spotted my cat slippers in the photos above! Also – have you made a Francoise yet?

Where to Start if You’re New to Sewing

sewing booksI’ve been a ‘creative’ all my life. Whether it’s sewing, cross stitch, painting-by-numbers or simply doing a jigsaw puzzle, you name it I’ve tried it. As a child my Christmas lists were generally based around circling numerous craft kits in the Argos catalogue – anyone else remember experimenting with sand art, weaving looms and Plaster-of-Paris animals?

I’ve always done a bit of hand-sewing here and there, but I only started proper ‘sewing’ and ‘dressmaking’ in the summer of 2010. I’m not sure what inspired me to begin but I’m so glad I did! Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of my lovely readers are telling me that they, too, are new to sewing and could do with a helping hand of knowing where to begin. So, here we go:

Sewing Machines for Beginners

toyota sewing machineMy sewing machine is a Toyota 15JSPB. It’s very simple to use, cost around £100 and has minimal stitch choices – that’s about all there is to it! Many bloggers talk about their fancy Janome, Singer or Brother sewing machines (or worse, their overlockers) but, for a beginner, I really would recommend keeping the cost down and starting simple.

My sewing machine may not be a Rolls Royce but, you know what? Look at all the things I’ve made with it – this blog is proof of that! My machine can help me to straight stitch, zig zag stitch and make button holes – and that’s really all you need.

Threads, Bobbins and Bits and Pieces

sewing accessoriesMy advice is to start your collection of sewing accessories small and then add things as and when you need them. Buy a good pair of fabric scissors, some sharp bead-headed pins and a reel of thread then you’re good to go! All the extra bits and pieces – like pattern weights, curved rulers and fancy sewing machine feet – are things you’ll pick up over time as the patterns you make get more complicated. Remember that all patterns come with a ‘things you need’ list, so check that before you get started.

In regards to sewing thread – I recommend a better quality thread (like Gutermann) for dressmaking and anything else will do for smaller projects. Yes, even those 500m reels you get at the market for 50p are useful!

Sewing Patterns for Beginners

This is a tricky one as what’s ‘easy’ for one person is quite difficult for another (I’m looking at you, Vogue)! I suggest choosing sewing patterns that don’t use too many different skills to begin with. Of course, the choice is yours, but here are a few simple patterns that I found useful for starting out with myself:

sew by cath kidstonSew! by Cath Kidston – this was the first sewing book I ever bought and I just cannot give it enough praise. If you’re looking for a wide range of homeware projects to make, with clear instructions, then this book is a must! I’ve almost made every single thing out of it.

tilly and the buttons cocoTilly and the Buttons Coco dress/top – this pattern is so incredible and so easy! I’ve made more Cocos than I can count – it’s such a simple pattern with minimal pieces and very clear instructions. An absolute essential for beginner dressmakers.

simplicity 6022Simplicity/New Look 6022 – a basic dress pattern, great for cottons and other easy-to-sew fabrics. I made this dress in gingham which is super cheap! There’s a sleeveless option if you don’t fancy making sleeves just yet and you get to practice simple bias binding around the neckline.

sewing bee bookGBSB circle skirt – this is the only pattern I’ve made from the first GBSB book but it was such a treat to sew. Only 2 skirt pieces and a folded over waistband then you’re done! Also a great introduction to inserting a zip.

Helpful Sewing Guides

The following is a list of useful online guides to various sewing techniques. Never be afraid to Google something if you don’t know how to do it! There’s no shame in not understanding what so-and-so on Twitter means when they say their interfacing won’t sit right despite their understitching. Sewing truely is another language…

I’m aware that I’ve not covered the obligatory ‘fabric for beginners’ module that other blogs always include – but I really do think that the choice is up to you! Cottons, jerseys and chambrays are easier to handle than laces, brocades and silks but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them! I’ll give anything a try – practice makes perfect – and you’ll never learn new things if you don’t experiment. That’s my opinion at least :)

If you have any sewing-related question then please leave me a comment below or get in touch via my contact page. It makes my heart smile to know that I’ve inspired so many people to give sewing, dressmaking and crafts a try – so thank you! And good luck :)

V8949 Lace Dress- Inspired by GBSB 3 Episode 5!

v8949 GBSB lace dressDid you catch the Great British Sewing Bee final? Well done to Matt – I think he was my favourite from the start! However, did you see all those lovely lace skirts they made last week? Last year for GBSB Series 2 I took part in my very own ‘Sewing Bee Sleeveless Top’ challenge (you can see how that make went here). Not one to break with tradition, this year for GBSB Series 3, White Tree Fabrics were very kind to set me another challenge! This time it was a lace challenge – though ‘challenge’ is perhaps an understatement.

The pattern I used for my GBSB lace challenge was the Vogue V8949 dress, an ‘Easy Options’ sewing pattern that features both long sleeve and sleeveless dresses with a lace overlay. I chose to make view C for the a-line skirt but then added the lace sleeves from view B to make it a bit more ‘demure’ and more like an evening dress.

The fabric I used is the black large flower lace from White Tree Fabrics – the same black lace that Neil used in the Sewing Bee episode – with a simple, ivory-coloured lining underneath. The lace has a lovely scalloped edge which I think looks just lovely around my dress hem. If you’ve never sewn with shiny lining and silky, stretchy lace before (like me) then my goodness you’re in for a bumpy ride. These fabrics are gosh-darn slippery! Basting and pinning are your friends for this project, believe me. I got quite frustrated with this dress at one point and put it away for a few weeks whilst I calmed down – I really don’t know how those Sewing Bee contestants managed to cope in such a small time-frame! No walking away from the challenge for a breather in that room…

great british sewing bee neil lace skirt

The pattern itself is made up of lots of separate panels for the skirt, a front bodice, a back bodice, a waistband and two decorative peplums over the hips. I quite like the added peplum feature, it’s not something I’d ever have thought to try but the end result is quite effective. Definitely one I’ll be keeping in mind for future projects! I also rather like the addition of lace sleeves, although I did make them a little too big for my liking. You live and learn – and I certainly did learn a lot whilst making this dress.

vogue 8949 lace dress gbsb

Overall this GBSB lace challenge was exactly that – a challenge!  I’ve learnt such a lot about delicate fabrics and sewing techniques through making it. Practice makes perfect! Who knows, this time next year you might be watching me on the TV as I battle with these fabrics in public rather than in them privacy of my living room ;)

What do you think? Have you ever sewn with lace before? Has the episode inspired you to try? Here are a few of the other White Tree Fabrics bloggers makes (which are all so much better than mine!) – check them out!