"" The girl who makes things

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Culottes of flowers

A while ago I made a resolution not to buy any more flower print fabric. And then I completely broke it. The trouble is, the way I feel about floral fabric is similar to the way I feel about beautifully displayed patisserie cakes. I know I don't need them, but I want one. Plain fabric just doesn't get my heart racing, even though it's far more versatile and I'd probably wear it more. It's the carrot sticks of the fabric world.
Feira dos tecidos in Rossio, Lisbon is one of my usual haunts for interesting patterns at low prices. The off-cuts of slightly spoiled fabrics are thrown into bargain buckets and sold for 2-6 Euros for a metre or two. I found this drapey viscose and fell in love. I had vague plans to turn it into a skirt or pair of trousers.
This summer the trouser shape de jour seemed to be culottes. I wasn't so sure about how this style would suit me so I did a bit of 'virtual shopping' (going into shops, trying on clothes, turning them inside out to see how they're made and then putting them back on the rail). I particularly liked the culottes with an elasticated waistband. So comfy! As I don't have ready access to paper patterns in Portugal I had to make do with a pattern I already had, Simplicity 1520 pyjama trousers. The trousers made a good base for what I had in mind, all I had to do was widen and shorten the legs.
I'm pleased with the outcome of these culottes but I haven't worn them as much as I wanted to. The simple truth is, the large flower design is too loud for my slightly minimal sartorial tastes. I'm quite a shy person and big, bold patterns make me feel too noticeable. And there's the paradox: sometimes I don't like wearing what I really want to sew.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

A botanical Kielo dress

Bom dia qeridos. You know you've been out of the UK for a long time when the rain makes a refreshing change from the intense heat. I've finally finished work for the summer and now I'm back in Yorkshire for a much needed break. Getting a bit more free time means that I've been able to take stock of some of my sewing projects. 

You know, the hardest thing about updating this blog is taking the photos. I'm not a natural model, in fact I'm intensely camera shy and I'd rather just stick the clothes on a mannequin, but that would hardly be authentic. So in a fit of productiveness I gathered up my recent items and snapped a few pictures. I'm afraid you'll just have to put with my goony face. First up is this Kielo wrap dress.

This was the first Named pattern I ever bought and it sat on my shelf for three years. It's one of those patterns that looks incredibly simple, but for some reason I kept botching it up. In my first attempt I drew out the pattern pieces but forgot to add the seam allowances (I think Named now include them). In my second attempt I had no idea how to handle stretchy fabric and cut out three decidedly wonky pieces. Everything went in the bin and I didn't touch the pattern until June this year when I took a deep breath and started again.

Thankfully, experience has taught me a lot about how to handle stretchy fabric (thanks to some online tutorials) so my third attempt was a resounding success.

I had a particular destination in mind for this dress, an August wedding in Wales. I found this gorgeously soft cotton jersey in Feira dos Tecidos in Lisbon. It's very thin so an underskirt is needed. What I really love about it is the botanical print which reminds me of those detailed drawings botanists used to make in the Victorian period. It's a floral design without being chintzy or twee.

The whole project didn't take much time, about half a day. The design is simple and consists of just four pattern pieces. The instructions were minimal so I had a few doubts about how to finish the armholes, but I believe that Named has updated most of it's patterns so this might have changed. It's possible to add sleeves too if you follow the company's instructions here.

The wrap effect is created by wrapping the two 'wings' of the dress around your body with a waist tie. I haven't seen any ready-to-wear dresses in the shops which are anything like this design so it really feels like a special piece. And isn't that the point of dressmaking? To make clothes which are unique? I wore it to the wedding and got lots of nice compliments, I just hope the summer lasts when I go back to Portugal so I can wear it a bit longer!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Beach Ready - sewing swimwear

Well hello there! I'm back on the blog for the first time this year, how did that happen?! I certainly wasn't planning on staying away this long but, as always, life and procrastination took over.

This year has definitely felt a lot busier than the last. I've been trying to do more with my free time, in particular read more, exercise more, make home improvements and work on my Portuguese. The result of this is that I've had very little time for sewing and even less for blogging as they move further and further down in priority. It's a shame as one of the few things that helps to relax is being at my sewing machine.

It's a good thing, therefore, that my partner bought me a sewing workshop voucher for Christmas, otherwise I might never have made the time for what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable day.

I found Campanhia das Agulhas on Instagram last year. I spent a lot of time browsing their feed and searching through their workshops, almost coming close to signing up before chickening out, worrying that my Portuguese wasn't good enough to participate. In end I mentioned it to my boyfriend and he dutifully bought me the voucher.

I think it was the push I needed. Once I had the voucher and the pressure to spend it I started researching the workshops and thought I wouldn't mind trying my hand at swimwear. I've experimented with sewing lycra before but definitely felt that my skills were lacking.

Before the workshop I received an email from the teacher, asking what fabric I wanted and the type of pattern I was going to use. A bikini, trikini and swimsuit were the styles on offer so I opted for a trikini as I've never owned one, or even tried one on before and thought it'd be an interesting experiment.

The workshop was one full day with all materials and equipment provided. The night before I slept badly, worrying about spending a whole day speaking and trying to follow instructions in Portuguese. As it turned out, my worries were completely unjustified. I had a fantastic day, surrounded by wonderfully supportive women (and a man!) who helped, guided and encouraged me and each other throughout the day.

We started in the morning and our teacher talked us through each pattern and the properties of lycra. Then we went to our separate work stations and traced our patterns. My trikini consists of two pieces: a bikini top and a body. I cut a larger size for the body as I'm fairly tall and lycra doesn't stretch as far length-ways.

Next we drew our pattern pieces directly on to the fabric using a pencil - it's a bad idea to pin pattern pieces as the fabric can distort. After we'd cut out our pieces we attached lining to the front bikin top and body only.

Once I'd assembled the whole suit, I tried it on for fit. I made one small adjustment - the gusset was too wide so I narrowed it by a couple of centimeters either side. The final, and trickiest, stage was attaching elastic to the outer edges of the trikini. For this we needed to use an overlocker, and the margin for error was tight. The elastic had to be attached to the wrong side so that it could be folded over and top-stitched. By the end of the day I was so mentally exhausted that I sewed the elastic to the right side of the bikini top - an hour of unpicking ensued. Luckily I was able to finish everything at home.

The day was a challenge for both my sewing and linguistic skills, but I learnt so much, it was like fitting ten Portuguese and dressmaking lessons into one day. My head felt like it'd been pureed with an electric whisk, but once a week had passed everything settled in place.

So here's my take home message: if you've ever felt like doing a workshop or trying something in a different language, but held yourself back with feelings of inadequacy, just do it. It totally pays off to throw yourself in every now and then.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

A Holly-Anna hybrid

This post may be a little out of season. Apologies. I made this dress in late September when the weather was still warm in Portugal and it was feasible to walk around in little more than a frock and cardigan. Now, as I type, I'm huddled up in a big fluffy dressing gown with a mug of tea in my hand. I don't know why it's taken me so long to publish this post but still, it's cheering to look back at photos of warmer times and be reminded that they will come again!

The fabric came first. I found it in Feira dos Tecidos when the summer sales were on. I think it's a kind of synthetic crepe with a bold palm leaf print. I had some idea about turning it into a skirt or tunic, but nothing too complicated or time-consuming. I haven't been very ambitious with my sewing recently, partly due to lack of time and resources.

While I was perusing Instagram over the summer, I saw a number of BHL Holly jumpsuits come up on my feed. I have the pattern for both the Anna dress and the Holly jumpsuit so I came up with the idea of combining both in a summer dress. I've used the Holly pattern a couple of times, but I've never used the draped-front bodice before. The fabric seemed like the perfect material to try.

I fore-went the muslin and cut a size 10 all over. Unfortunately this didn't work out on the bodice which was way too big. Also the Holly top and Anna skirt side seams didn't match up, which showed my classic lack of planning and perfectionism. In the end, I unpicked the bodice and took a massive 2 inches out of the back panel. Once I'd attached the bias binding the mistake was well covered.

I can't remember exactly why I decided to use halter-neck straps. I think it was an unplanned, momentary decision that just seemed to work. I really like the way they look and the flexibility they afford, through being able to adjust them.

It's probably going to take another six moths before I can actually wear this dress again. Nevertheless, I'm pleased with the outcome and I'm glad it's in my wardrobe, ready and waiting to be worn.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Summer 2016

Olá amigos, I'm back from my super long and unintended blog break. I hope all is well in the sewing world.

My boyfriend and I bought our first apartment together back in February and things have been pretty busy since. We've decided to stay in Lisbon for the long term as we love this city so much and going back to England now seems like strange idea. I stopped reading blogs and posting due to the disruption, so that goes some way to account for my silence!

I've been doing a bit of sewing here and there and updating my Instagram account as I go. Mostly I've been concentrating on filling in wardrobe gaps and honing my pattern drafting skills. At the moment it's all about basic but necessary stuff with a little bit of frivolity along the way.

First up is this New Look 6349 midi skirt. I bought the fabric from Feira dos Tecidos in Baixa Chiado. I had absolutely no idea about what to do with it but I loved the pattern so knew I had to buy it. I had some vague idea about turning it into a dress but when I looked at my work wardrobe, I could see a big skirt shaped hole in it.

The fabric is slightly see-through so I had to make a last minute underlining to save me from knicker-showing embarrassment. The waistband is hand stitched but everything else came together easily on my little sewing machine.

I've been wearing this skirt to work a lot. Lisbon averages 30c in the summer and I'm especially sensitive to temperature changes. Wearing a long, floaty skirt allows the air to circulate around my legs and keep me cool. I don't think I've worn a pair of trousers for three months!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

2016: Looking forward

So here we are, on the cusp of 2016 and I literally can't believe that another year has gone past. It's been a fairly eventful year for me personally; I became an auntie for the first time and completed a whole year of teaching in Portugal. In a way, I'm looking forward to things settling down a bit more in 2016. I'd like to explore more of Lisbon - I know there's a lot of things happening in this city, I just need to go out and find them. I'd also like to hone my shaky Portuguese.

Sewing-wise I've kept things going at a steady pace. I've made a few pieces which I really love - namely my Alder shirt dress and my Plantain dress (which is threatening to fall apart I wear it so much). I've also had a number of fails - I'm yet to wear my jersey jumpsuit and I made a pair of high waisted denim shorts which never even made it on to the blog. In the coming year I'm not going to set myself any ridiculous challenges (sewing is fun - remember!), but I have five resolutions which I've outlined below:

1. 2016 will be the year that I get to grips with fit. My Mum got me a fantastic book for Christmas called Pattern Drafting for Fashion; Advanced by Teresa Gilewska. I'm going to measure up and make a good pattern block which I can use to start designing.

2. Following directly on from pattern blocks, I'm going to design more of my own patterns. This will obviously consume a lot more time, but what I love about sewing is the artistic freedom to make whatever you want, so now I feel ready to take sewing to the next level.

3. I will make a pair of Ginger jeans which have been waiting in my sewing queue since forever.

4. I will not beat myself up about not blogging any of these projects. I recently picked up on a post by Karen from Yes I Like That about why she stopped blogging, most of the points she made I totally identified with. I'm a self confessed social media sloth - I dip in and out and tend to be slow to react. But, hey, I set up this blog for fun and my sewing is a self indulgent creative outlet, so if I'm not Instagramming or blogging every single finite detail then I'm ok with that.

5. I will, however, resist going the other way and give up on blogging/instagramming completely. The greatest thing about keeping this blog is being able to connect with the sewing community. So I will hang on in there.

How about you guys, any similar/different resolutions for the new year?

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Primavera peplum

For this month's Minerva project I decided to go slightly off-season and make a floral peplum shirt-top. Well, winter only lasts about six weeks here in Portugal so it won't be too long before I can wear it!

The pattern is k4102 from Kwik Sew which is a totally new brand to me. From the outset, the instructions and pattern pieces were very clear and well laid out. I was taken through each stage, step by step with illustrations to help guide me through the process.

Following the size guide on the back of the envelope, I opted for a size small. I wish, however, that I'd gone for extra small instead as the shirt turned out to be way bigger than I'd anticipated. Mid way through sewing I took about an inch off either side to get a closer fit, but I think the waist is still slightly on the larger side and the bodice is a bit too long.

The whole thing came together within one Sunday, making this a fairly quick (or should I say kwik?) project. There aren't too many difficult or fiddly stages, with maybe the neckband being an exception, but nothing a moderately confident sewist can't overcome.

I used some lovely floral cotton from Minerva which was really easy to handle and pressed neatly. I think this top would work well with a silky fabric too as the soft gathers at the side would lend themselves well to it.

If I used this pattern again I'd be tempted to lengthen it into a shirt dress which would be perfect for summer or layered up with tights and a cardi for winter. Overall, though, I'd definitely go back to Kwik Sew patterns again, I'd just have to remember to go a size smaller!