The Patient Party Dress

This dress waited a long time to be made, re-made, and finally celebrated here: so voila, the most patient party dress.

The dress started off as one of my mother-in-law’s old skirts, passed on to me after a wardrobe clear-out – it’s a linen blend gored below-the-knee skirt (seems Diana was having a short day in the picture below, it’s not really maxi).  Not my style, but great colour and print, so I queued it straight up in the restyle pile.

linen skirt before

Of course, the design of the skirt isn’t ideal for a restyle – although it looks like a lot of fabric, it’s all split up into those itty bitty gored panels, with seams all over the place.  So there weren’t many other options but to turn once again to my Favourite Pattern of All Time:

Simplicity 2588

Yes my friends, a princess-seamed bodice with raglan sleeves is the answer to this sort of fabric conundrum.  Many of the pattern pieces are so small, you can squeeze em out of a hankerchief.  I also varied up this version by omitting the collar and turning it into a V-neck, thus using even less fabric.  Simplicity 2588 rocks, and yes I probably will be forever making some version of it as long as I can sew.

But linen flower fabric alone does not a party dress make.  Until I rediscovered this blue shiny stuff, I think it’s taffeta:

party dress 3

It’s so shiny!  (Unfortunately, in this picture, so is my face. Huh.)  And just the word taffeta takes me back to all the Ballet Shoes type childrens’ books I read when I was little, in which party dresses always seemed to be made of it (Or velvet. Or organza.  Always wanted an organza dress).

So far, so good.  I wore the dress to a friend’s wedding back in August 2012.  But throughout the day, something didn’t seem right with my full circle skirt.  It just didn’t swish right, or fall right.  Finally, in the ladies’ loo at the evening reception, I figured it out.  Can you see it…?

wonky circle skirt

To get the most out of the fabric, I didn’t cut the pieces with the grain down the middle.  Instead each quarter circle is positioned so that, if the piece was divided into thirds, the grain runs down one of those third divides.  Messing around with the grain on a circle skirt gives you some interesting drape options, and you can see two of those in the picture above… because I forgot all about my asymmetric grain when I came to sew the pieces together.  On the right hand side as you look at the picture, a few smaller folds are more bunched up around the centre front.  Whereas on the left hand side, there’s one big fold at the front, with more bunching towards the side seam.

All I need to do was unpick one of the pieces, flip it over (fabric is the same both sides, that was my undoing) and sew it up again. Easy peasy. So why did it take me 18 months to do?

party dress

Back in December 2013, we had our first night out together since our daughter was born – Mr B’s work party.  And while there wasn’t enough time to sew a whole new outfit, she napped just long enough for me to make the changes on the skirt.  Now it swishes beautifully.

party dress2

…and it’s just waiting patiently again in my wardrobe for the next party.

Simple little things

Third trimester, and I’ve never been so tired in my life (and thanks, but please don’t leap in to enlighten me on how much worse it’s going to get once the baby’s born).  Fortunately, I do get short energetic bursts periodically, just enough for a step or two of a mini-project…

I picked up this top for £5.50 after a little indecision, as I usually don’t go over a fiver in a charity shop, but it is Monsoon, with some lovely silver embroidery on the placket.  I took in the seams at the sides and the back, leaving the front nice and full, and shortened the sleeves.  I actually took the extra out at the shoulder (cutting the sleeves off at the shoulder seam, shortening, and reattaching) to keep the finished gathered cuff:

Maternity top restyle

Taking some length off the sleeves is a small thing to change, but makes a big difference – that original length always looks a little awkward to my eye, sliding about and making the wrists look gangly.  Now: a much-needed addition to the maternity wardrobe!  Just not while it’s 27 degrees outside.

Next up, a restyle on a display box from a junk shop for £1.  I’ve had it for years, waiting for a purpose… which arose recently when I wanted a new way to store my stud earrings.

Display box

The fabric choice was entirely dictated by the weave – it was one of the few things in my stash that would easily allow the earring posts through it to bed in the foam squares underneath (and the foam came from the stash too, hoorah for free projects!)

Earring display box

None of my jewellery’s valuable, but it all has good memories attached – these earrings range from the smiley faces I bought from Camden market at 15, to the wire drops made bespoke for my wedding day, to the sparkly crowns Mr B bought to cheer me up on a glum day…  I’m enjoying being able to see them all in their new home.

And then a little paper project – a hand-stamped birthday card of seasonal strawberries:

birthday card pic

What’s your opinion on mini-projects?  Satisfying creative fillers or just distractions from the big stuff?

(By the way, thankyou lovely people who commented on my last post – the MRI results came back positive, so that’s one more worry off the list x)

Here’s one I made earlier…

…and forgot to post about here.  But it’s one of the decreasing group of me-mades that still fits in my second trimester, so I feel it deserves a proper mention at last.

I’d finished it just in time to wear to Day 5 of the London Olympics last August:

Olympic Renfrew 1

Welcome London 2012

We bid for quite a few different events when the tickets were first released, and ended up with women’s water polo (don’t knock it – I first watched a match at university when my friend Anna played for Yorkshire. It’s fast-paced, exciting, pretty easy to follow, and extremely violent. No, there are no horses involved. People keep asking me that.) And we got to see Team GB play!

GBR supporter

We later lost 16-3 to Australia.

We’d probably have gone to pretty much anything though, to see the Park and soak up the atmosphere:

London 2012 fans

The fabric came from a thrifted slightly-too-big t-shirt that caught my eye in a charity shop: look, they’re actually proper little British lions!

Lion print

When I checked the label, it turned out to be by Pringle of Scotland (prestigious luxury brand dating back to 1815), so a total bargain at four quid – as the lady at the till in the charity shop pointed out; she seemed a little miffed about the whole thing.

And it was just perfect for refashioning, because it came with two layers of fabric – there was a whole other t-shirt of the solid blue colour under those lions!

Original Pringle top 3

I managed to squeeze a Renfrew out of the top layer with some creative cutting and positioning, and then had plenty of blue for the contrast banding.

Olympic Renfrew 3

It perfectly fit the bill for a subtle show of London 2012 support – a very British design from a UK firm. And blue, just like Stella McCartney’s design for Team GB.

It was a brilliant day out, and I’m so glad we got to go – it’s probably the only time in my life I’ll actually attend an Olympic event. So I bought a keyring to show off to potential future grandkids, and legged it for the last train home.

Water polo arena

Restyled dress to peplum top

This dress came from last summer’s House of Fraser sale for £11 – I bought it for the zingy blue and the nice thick knit fabric.  But I didn’t like:Restyled dressSo restyle choice number 1: to stick with the dress and lengthen it with a contrasting panel of fabric; or go even shorter and turn it into a top?  Meandering across this pin speeded up the decision-making:

Source: via Amy on Pinterest


A peplum!  Perfect: once I’d removed the skirt and unpicked the original pleats, I had loads of fabric to play with.  I shortened it (keeping the hem intact), improvised some new pleats, and ended up with this:

Peplum top

The neckline created restyle question number 2 – I had that cake/frosting dilemma kicking around at the back of my mind.  Should I keep it blue and basic for easy co-ordinating?  Or frost it up a little with some stripes… yeah! 

Peplum top neckline

For a moment, I was worried I’d gone a bit too Dr Seuss with it, but I think I’ve got in in perspective now.  You can’t beat mixing bright blue with a little red, can you?  Outfit-wise, I’ve played it safe with jeans so far, but I’d like to have a go with a pencil skirt a la that pinspiration outfit…

Peplums: love em or hate em?  How do you wear yours?

Shoe restyle: painted espadrilles

Mmm, espadrilles… summer in a shoe.  I’ve wanted a pair for ages, with a nice chunky wedge heel – but being on the tallish side, I tend to have an unrequited affair with high heels.  All my pining after them doesn’t change the fact that I’m limited to about a 3 inch heel, to avoid ending up a head taller than most of my acquaintances.  So I was interested to see this pair shimmy up on eBay:

They were a shade of pink that I never wear, needed a good clean and had ratty laces – but, they were espadrilles with a 3″ heel.  I masked off the soles and got going with a stencil brush and a jar of yellow Dylon Fabric Paint for dark coloured items (I also tried a normal paintbrush, but found the stencil brush much better at working the paint in evenly.)

It took 3 coats to get the yellow consistent… with IRONING to set the paint after each layer.  No, it’s not easy to iron a shoe.  Stuffing the toes with scrunched-up paper worked best, but it wan’t ideal.  If I’d been braver at straying from the instructions on the jar, I might have tried using a hairdryer to heat it instead.

I wanted my espadrilles to lace up like Dita’s, so I sewed on a D-ring to each front section using a simple blanket stitch. They’re laced up by threading a metre of grosgrain ribbon through the D -ring, then through the already exsisting holes in the slingback strap, then criss-crossed over and tied in a bow at the side.

First wearing was to my sister-in-law’s barbeque in the brilliant sunshine last Sunday, with the cuffs of my skinny jeans rolled a little higher than usual to show those bows!

I think they’d look super cool and Coachella-glam when I go camping with 50-odd teenagers in a couple of weeks’ time (part of a youth work team taking the group to Newday) but the kids tell me it always rains, nearly always floods, and everything gets ruined in the mud.  Hmm.

Would you risk your handmade creations camping in the UK?

The evolving crazy Pendrell

This started with a men’s shirt that I tried to refashion into a women’s shirt. I put darts in, moved em up, moved em down, took em out… took the sides in little by little by… too much. I finally had to accept it was too small, and needed a dose of extra fabric.  How about… roses?

The check print and colour of the shirt put me in mind of gardens, and trellises – and therefore – tumbling roses.  I think princess seams are one of the best ways of mixing fabrics in a garment, so over to the tried and trusted Sewaholic Pendrell pattern.

It was pretty experimental, so I didn’t take pictures, but basically I cut the front and back centre panels as one complete piece (so I could keep the collar of the original shirt).  Once I’d worked out where the natural shoulder seam should be (by hanging it on a wire coathanger and marking the line) I folded down the shoulder seam allowance on the pattern pieces, lined them up and cut them.  Then the rose sections were just cut as per the pattern.

I had enough fabric to do the ruffly bits, but once I’d started sewing them in…

… it looks a bit like a frilly apron, doesn’t it?  Argh.  It went in the UFO pile (that was back in June 2011 – yes, it was supposed to help me out with Me-Made-June!) and didn’t come back out again til April 2012.  I ripped out the ruffles, and this time I kept the seamlines clean.  And added the pocket back on, to cover the little hole I made when I over-enthusiastically ripped it off in the first place.

So it’s a little crazy – those roses hit you straight in the eye – but I’m pleased.  And hah! I reclaimed something from the UFO pile at long last!  I will eventually be victorious, and conquer all of those sad half-projects loitering around…

Shirt restyle

Do you remember I was a bit unsure about this fabric combination?

The plaid fabric is a man’s Gap shirt from the charity shop, which turned into this: (Claire, you were right, the shiny blue stuff was for the pockets!)

I kept the buttoned placket, cut the front bodice as one piece, and re-attached the collar a la So Zo.   I used one of my all-time favourite patterns, Simplicity 2406, which was also responsible for these two:

I’ve had a couple of attempts now at refashioning men’s shirts, and they’ve generally gone hideously wrong – especially when I’ve tried to turn them into a fitted women’s shirt.  I was inspired by Zoe’s version to have another try, going for a loose style and avoiding extra darts and seams.  Key lesson learned: it’s not necessarily helpful to rip all the original seams to get separate fabric pieces.  When I cut the bodice, it took in an inch or two of the sleeve section – fabric I’d have lost by removing the sleeves first.

Having mentioned Zoe, it’s a good a time as any for this:

I, Amy, of Diana & Me, sign up as a particpant of Self Stitched September’11.  I endeavour to wear at least one item of self-stitched or refashioned clothing each day for the duration of September 2011.

This is the same thing I pledged for Me Made June’11… but I’m treating that as a practice run (having skipped a few days, and worn Pendrell tops more or less continously for the month).  With a few more projects completed since then, and lots more under construction, I’m looking forward to September as a much more sartorially interesting month.  Anybody else joining in?

PS – though Pendrell tops will not be taking up such a high proportion of SSS’11, I love the way Debi’s wearing hers here.  And her skirt pattern is up for a giveaway, finishing at midnight tonight!

Peaches and Picnics

What a beautiful summery Sunday we’ve had.

Mr B and I are a little bit sunburned after a massive picnic and rounders game in the park with about 40 friends from church… a perfect outing for the dress restyle I finished off yesterday.  Here’s the original:

I bought this peachy dress just last Saturday in Oxfam – honestly, I went in purely to drop some stuff off, but I had to go all the way to the back of the shop to find a lady to take it off my hands, and on the way back out ended up handing over a fiver for this.

On first glance I liked the print, and on closer inspection, I couldn’t resist the shoulder pleats:

And best of all it was size 22 – lots of lovely fabric to work with.  I removed the sleeves and shoulder pads, took in all the seams, altered the hem, and found the perfect piece of red ribbon in my stash:

I got quite a few lovely compliments, including one from a very cool teenager, and someone who told me I ‘always look so glamourous’!  (which is an adjective I’d never have applied myself).

It got me thinking back to this post by Tilly.  I wouldn’t say that taking up sewing again has completely changed my life, but it has radically altered my approach to fashion and shopping:

Prints and more prints: my pre-sewing wardrobe was very very plain.  I could rarely find RTW garments where I liked both the print and the cut or style – not a problem when you can match them up yourself.  Plus, I definitely gravitate towards to interesting print designs because they’re much more fun to sew with!

A concious shopping mindset: Ok, so I still shop – but usually for zips, thread, and exciting fabric.  I’m far less likely to be sucked in by a clothing shop’s sale or advertising campaigns.  If I do shop for RTW clothing, it’s either for something very specific that I’ve admired and mulled over for a long time, or it’s something I can’t make myself.  Either way, it’s a calmer, rational process that doesn’t net endless spur-of-the-moment garments which never get worn.

Individuality: a year ago, I’d never have worn a dress like this to an afternoon picnic, and probably not even a skirt.  I like to fit in, and hate feeling wrongly-dressed for something, so I’d tend to play it safe (and that nearly always meant jeans, apart from formal wedding-type events).  Somehow though, I’m free to be much more adventurous with me-made items – I can’t completely put my finger on why.  I think that naturally we feel more comfortable in clothes that fit well, and have pleasing colours and/or patterns and texture – but maybe it’s also the creative process of designing and making?   Me-made-clothes include something of my personality and skills as well as personal taste, as if what goes on in my head authentically matches up with my outer appearance – not trying to be someone else, or hide behind a new look.  Even if no-one else knows my outfit’s handmade,  it boosts my confidence.  Anyone relate?

I’m aware this is straying into daytime TV talkshow host territory…that it’s all about being yourself and what’s on the inside that counts… but much as we mock it, it’s true.  Fashion only works when it’s a) fun, and b) matches up with who we are and what we do.

So this dress ticked all the boxes – cos I could still run fast enough to score an awesome rounder while wearing it.

A bit of button restyle

I picked this linen top up for 3.99 in a charity shop recently, on the appeal of the polo-mint embroidery.  Diana’s modelling it here, as that neckline is more revealing than it looks, finishing well below the average bra.  I guess it’s supposed to be a holiday top for throwing on over your bikini, but seeing as I a) never wear bikinis, and b) rarely go on a hot enough holiday to wander round in swimwear and a linen top, I wanted to make it a bit more wearable.

So, aside from the resizing adjustments at the side seams and darts, I stitched in a piece of fabric behind the V (usefully repurposed from cutting off the hem) and added on some self-covered buttons:

I’ve got a bit of a thing going on for self-covered buttons.  Honestly, if you’ve never tried them, give them a go… they’re easy easy easy and make everything look a little bit more fabulous.

I wore this for a boat trip up the Thames with Mr B’s family.  The reason I’m sitting inside?  We had about 10 minutes of sun followed by over an hour of solid rain. Sigh.  But hey, I felt simultaneously summery and nautical in my restyle, and Bobby’s Aunt brought a big box of food, happy days!  So I really don’t know why I’m pulling this face:

Day 25: neverending toile

Once upon a time, there was a competition called Rae’s Spring Top Sewalong, where any sewing maiden could enter three beautiful tops in a quest for wonderful sewing prizes.  This girl had two in the bag well in time for the deadline, but three is a magical fairytale number, and so three it had to be.  She toiled away for a whole morning, forsaking Saturday Morning Kitchen, to produce a thing of such beauty that all the Sewalong judges would fall at its feet and bestow said prizes instantly.  But…

the top would not go right.  The fabrics which looked so fetching together in the planning stages now looked odd; the cut was too tight here and too big there.  The girl was glum.  Princess Karen offered kind words of wisdom, but there was no fairy godmother to rescue the top, and so it was cast into the Miserable Pile of Failed Projects.

Fortunately, the girl was not downcast for long, and bravely attempted a new challenge: Me Made June!  To begin with, all went well, and there was much wearing of Me Made items… but alas, as the month went on, the girl began running out of new things to wear.  Desperate for something different, she returned to the Miserable Pile, retrieved the top and frantically stitched and stitched…

Oh, so close!  As she tried it on, the girl realised the top would have been really cute, if she hadn’t rushed and decided to attach the collar piece to the bodice by eye, instead of measuring it properly.  Could she live with those strange puckery bits around the neckline? No. So the top remained a toile, and the girl had to wear a Pendrell to work.  Yet again.

But she was feeling plucky, and prompted by Refashion week over at the Sew Weekly, she gave it one last try.  Perhaps she could have unpicked the ruffled collar and reattached it, but instead she got ruthless and hacked the whole thing off.  She wanted simplicity and summer all rolled up in one – yes, of course, something like the Sorbetto top – so fortuitously similar from the bust darts down.  But having already made a Sorbetto top, could the pattern be adapted into something different…?  A little bit of drafting, measuring, and fairy dust, and by the end of the evening she had this:

YES!!!  Finally, the girl and the top had overcome their animosity.  The top fit, and made the girl feel pretty… it just got a bit creased after they’d skipped around in the sunlight all day. 

And so they lived happily ever after.

The end.