Silk, lace, organza and performance anxiety

Hullo, hullo! Gosh, doesn’t it feel like just yesterday…uh…nine months ago that I was here talking about fluorescent skirts.

I fell into a bit of a creative hole last year but sewing was always whirring away in my brain, pinkie swear. Especially since I had a project I knew I had an unmovable deadline for: a gift for my friend’s wedding.

A wearable on the day kind of gift.

Not her dress! Yikes! But a little jacket to keep her shoulders covered. I deliberated on this garment for even longer than I’ve been absent from here because I’ve never really had such an open brief with such an important outcome. The design was churning round my brain for so long that actually sewing it became even more intimidating. Have you ever had this kind of sewing performance anxiety?

I’m going to post more about the project because it’s ended up being quite a head-scratcher, in no small part because I used silk, lace and organza. But here’s a taster of how things have been looking recently:

Performance anxiety B

And then, because why not, how about sewing my bridesmaid dress for the same wedding? No pressure. The pic on the right is how you put an end to the terrible procrastination, set up a little workstation right next to your BED:

Performance anxiety A

There’s beautiful fabrics and a bucket load of neon pink ahead, hells yeah!

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Flouro Clémence skirt

Flouro clemence skirt A.jpg

This summery skirt is the clothing equivalent of driving around in a convertible, roof down and music booming. It isn’t subtle but it is a whole lot of fun.

That’s all down to the combo of this incredibly bright fabric and a simple gathered skirt pattern to show if off.

The fabric is a polyester crepe which you may recognise from this post. The colour is (understandably) what drew my eye. Fluorescent apricot is the closest description I could come up with. Since buying it, I’ve seen it used in Miss Selfridge for a loose kimono jacket.

Flouro clemence skirt E.jpgThe pattern is the Clémence skirt from Tilly’s Love at First Stitch. The book walks you through drafting your own pattern so given that this is made-to-measure, I really should have done a better job with the fit around the waist. Instead there’s some gaping. I think I might have measured a large dinner in there or something but hey, this just means if I want to wear a visually arresting skirt to a ten-course banquet, I can. Any girl’s dream.

Flouro clemence B.jpg

I made several deviations from Tilly’s instructions and on most occasions that didn’t work out well. These were:

  • Inserting a lapped zipper rather than an invisible one, hence bungling the ‘sew the waistband facing along the top and zips and then flip inside out for a clean finish’ bit. See gross close-up of that below, yuck. It’s a cool method though so I hope to nail this in the future.
  • Not using Tilly’s provided in-seam pockets but drafting my own in a fit of madness. Something fell out of my shallow pockets as a consequence yesterday morning.

I did overlock rather than use french seams and I was happy with the finish.

Flouro clemence skirt C.jpg

Other minor hiccups included unpicking the waistband twice, and shrinking the waistband when pressing even though I pre-washed. After turning down the heat I didn’t have anymore issues with this.

The finishing is a bit sketchy in places but I’m pretty pleased with my summery treat of a skirt. It’s a classic shape with an acid-bright twist, which ticks all my boxes. All I need now is for the sun to keep shining, and the iced beverages to keep on coming!

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Just your standard neon, plastic, lace, animal print knit orgy

To the victor go the spoils and I was very, very spoiled by the NyLon meet-up trip to Goldhawk Road. I picked up some humdingers of intriguing fabric my friends.

I give you neon crepe polyester:

Goldhawk fabric 3 A.jpg

I give you quilted metallic animal print knit (I mean, come on, how could I not? Was a union ever quite so fated?):

Goldhawk fabric 1 A.jpg

And the piece de resistance, the very luscious cherry on top of the frothiest of frosting…white laminated lace:

Goldhawk fabric 2 A.jpg

Basically that’s a tablecloth.

When I pulled this out of my pillage tote at the meet-up there were some raised eyebrows from my fellow sewers but the consensus seemed to be a raincoat was the only conceivable thing I could turn it into.

But meh, seemed too obvious to me. Plus I never wear raincoats. If it’s raining then it’s most likely cold and wrapping myself in plastic is not insulating/too Laura Palmer.

So what to do with plastic? I actually had a very specific influence in mind when I seized on this end of roll piece (exactly, people before me had loved it too!). Designer Simone Rocha’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection focused on white and sheer materials. It featured several totes made of laminated lace which created a set of tensions I found incredibly interesting: practical vs ethereal, modern process vs old craft, wipedown vs delicate handwash.

Simone Rocha S/S 12 via Style Bubble

At the moment I’m toying with the idea of a panel in a full skirt, potentially with some fabric underneath to create body. There are several high-street skirts around at the moment which work with a similar idea of a sheer organza panel creating a glimpse of skin but in a fairly restrained way.

ASOS Midi Skirt In Scuba With Sheer Panel

Using a strip of the material would also avoid the noise issue when the fabric makes contact with itself.

What do you think? Any other non-raincoat ideas? Any tips on sewing plastic? I’ve sewn vinyl previously but it had a fabric-y backing which made my life easier. Perhaps sandwiching it in tissue paper will help.

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MMM ’14 days round-up!

MMM '14 week 4 collage A.jpg

1. Kaleidoscope Coco/ 2. Polka dot Tova/ 3. Metal polka dot dress

Huzzah, pictorial evidence of the final stretch of MMM ’14!

I did face failure at the last hurdle. As my commitment stated, I wanted to wear 3 me-made items each week, which I did, but also sew one new item as well. I didn’t manage my third new item for this month, darn it.

However I still sewed up two new things this month, my metal polka dot dress and the Kaleidoscope Coco, both of which you can see I love already ’cause they’re in heavy rotation.

Let’s analyse the teeny tiny ladies and find out what MMM’s dealio has been this year:

MMM '14 collage week 1 - 4.jpg

Well my colour palette is pretty easy to hone in on from these pics, no shocks there.

What did come as a slightly sad revelation was how many things I didn’t reach for during this month, or more importantly, didn’t even consider. Items like my neon pink lace Kelly skirt or my French Mustard top are rarely worn. My animal print Hemlock and Earl Grey sweater also didn’t pop to the front of my brain.

Some of these are older pieces so aren’t necessarily my taste right now but I think I sometimes forget what my usual style is. Regardless of whether I’m at work or at home, I want to feel colourful, stylish and feminine. That final part means showing off my shape in some way, so by wearing a skirt or something fitted. It means I always feel a little put together and at least 6 days out of 7, that’s what I’m aiming for.

(Of course some days I just stay in my pyjamas and eat cereal out of the box when my plans for world domination and lasering my face on the moon take it out of me.)

The wardrobe architect series by Colette would undoubtedly be a useful re-focusing exercise so I might make use of this.

Many thanks to Zoe, who as ever is the brains behind the MMM spectacular. Even though I scaled my commitment back this year, I still really enjoyed the pride of wearing my handmade things and the opportunity to reassess what I’m sewing vs what I’m wearing is always valuable.

Roll on MMM ’15!

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Kaleidoscope Coco

Kaleidoscope Coco collage B.jpg

You might have seen a glimpse of this in my last MMM ’14 post; my second me-made sew for this month, and it’s the adorable Coco pattern from Tilly and the Buttons!

I bought the Coco pattern back in March but wasn’t sure what knit fabric I wanted to use for it. When I came across this kaleidoscopic bad boy in Simply Fabrics in Brixton (where else) I knew it needed the clean uncluttered lines of the dress version to show off its bold print.

Have I ever mentioned to you I like a bold print?

Kaleidoscope Coco collage C.jpg

Sewing up the dress was very straight-forward. I cut a straight size 3, chopped the 3/4 length arms to my elbows after a fitting and then sewed on the cuffs. I probably could have sewn the arms a little narrower but I quite like the volume above the cuff, makes it a bit fancy.

You may also notice that the pattern on the back and front is not symmetrical. When I looked at the pattern repeat it felt too sixties to have one motif running down the centre but I was a little nervous about not having it match until I sewed it up, especially after the strict pattern matching talk on GBSB this year! Once I had it on though, I was happy with how it looked.

Kaleidoscope Coco collage D.jpg

I did plough my own furrow in several other areas:

  • I finished the neckline with a straight-stitch since the stay-stitching had held up well. The boat neck means this edge comes under little strain but I did do some test yanking to make sure the stitches wouldn’t pop.
  • Rather than sew the shoulder tape on the back bodice, I sewed the tape in as I connected the back and front bodice. I think Tilly’s approach is designed to reduce bulk at the shoulder seam, so I may try this method another day.
  • I didn’t finish the hem. It felt pretty short on me already, especially when worn sans tights. This fabric doesn’t fray so I can get away with it.

If I was to sew it again, I might try a size 2 as the shoulders are a little too large, leading to some gaping around the neckline where the boat-neck doesn’t sit quite right.

The pattern gets a definite thumbs up. It was a breeze to sew especially with Tilly’s excellent instructions and the pattern pieces all matching up (no sleeve easing issues!) It’s also easy to wear, both simple and elegant. Have you gone loco for Coco yet?

Posted in Dresses, Knits, Me-Made-May '14, Modern patterns | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

MMM ’14 days 8 – 21

MMM '14 week 2 collage A.jpg

1. Metal polka dot dress/ 2. Bejewelled sweater/ 3. Green and black knit top (unblogged)

I have fallen a liiittle behind with my recording of MMM. But I’ve been distracted by sun, sewing and sewer meet-ups! Here’s two weeks all at once.

MMM '14 week 3 collage A.jpg

1. Blooming kimono top/ 2. Kaleidoscope Coco/ 3. Blooming kimono top

The Kaleidoscope Coco is my second me-made item this month and I’ll be posting all about it shortly. It’s already a favourite, appearing on Day 19 and 17, which was the NYLon 2014 meet-up organised by the lovely Rachel of House of Pinheiro. Many thanks to Rachel again for all her work!

Here’s a quick snap of some of the 71 people who gathered at the V&A on a beautifully sunny Saturday, getting into formation for our mass photo:

NYLon 2014 A.jpg

I think everyone around us was rather taken aback at the sight of so many women (and I think I spotted a solitary man) wearing fabulous dresses, blouses, skirts, bags etc. The meet-up was a blast as expected and I will take a snap of some of the completely (un)essential purchases I made on Goldhawk Road.

Laminated lace anyone?

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Metal polka dot dress

Metal polka dot dress G.jpg.jpg

Above is my first item made as part of my MMM ’14 commitment and it’s also the culmination of a long succession project. Off and on over the course of six months I’ve been tracing a Topshop midi-length woven dress to create my own: a princess-seamed front bodice with waist darts in the back bodice, short sleeves and a gathered skirt. The original is starting to look a little limp as you can see below so I needed an heir to the throne.

Original polka dress collage A.jpg

Rather than jump in with sewing princess seams for the first time with a woven, I decided to ease my way into it by sewing a knit version.

And what a knit. I love polka dots, I dig studding, and I embarrass myself over knits, so you can understand why this fabric came home with me from Simply Fabrics in Brixton. It almost feels like a neoprene fabric but is quite thin. I’ve over-exposed some of these photos so you can see the gold studs clearly.

Metal polka dot dress collage C.jpgNot gonna lie, it was rather a struggle to sew with the studs and the finish on the fabric. I used a ballpoint needle as usual but it skipped a lot of stitches the moment I picked up speed and a stretch needle might have been more suitable. There was a lot of cries of ‘why do you hate me?!’ during this dress. (A bit of melodrama makes sewing more fun right?)

To fit the gathered waist, I folded both the bodice and the skirt in halves, then quarters and eighths and marked with pins, and then matched the pins up so the fabric was evenly distributed. I did a bit of a stretching of the bodice to match the larger skirt but I tried to avoid stretching the whole thing out.

[I checked the Colette tutorial on gathering with transparent elastic but it seemed to require enough elastic to go the moon and back, so I probably read it wrong!]

Metal polka dot dress collage B.jpg

Some notes on the construction:

  • When copying the pattern, I used this method to copy the back bodice darts.
  • I added a 5/8 inch seam allowance to my traced pattern. To cut it for a knit, I placed the back bodice piece on the fold without the seam allowance to allow for no zip being required. I sewed up all the pieces with a 5/8 inch seam but did tweak the fit once it was done by taking in the sleeves and waist.
  • Darts were sewed using a triple stitch.
  • The skirt is the width of the fabric cut in 2.
  • The princess seams over the bust and the waist seam have shown a little strain since sewing up which is disappointing. I may sew over these seams to make them stronger.
  • Given the gnarly stitching inside, I left my sleeves, neckline and hem unhemmed but you can get a nice clean edge on this fabric so I’m pretty relaxed about it.

I’ve already worn it twice so far this MMM and it definitely fits the bill as a fun party dress so I’m more than happy. With a few tweaks in the upper bodice, this is ready for a whirl as a woven.

The polka dot dress is (almost) dead, long live the metal polka dot dress!

Posted in Dresses, Knits, Me-Made-May '14, Self-drafted patterns | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

MMM ’14 days 1 – 7 and ‘Love at First Stitch’

MMM '14 day 1-7 collage A.jpg

1. Flocked wallpaper skirt/2. Blue brocade skirt/3. Blue and white striped knit top

So far I’ve had it pretty easy. My commitment to wear 3 me-made items a week takes some of the pressure off and even more helpful, we had a long weekend in there too so I didn’t need to be as smart.

But actually this week I also managed a fourth me-made day, day 7, though you can’t really see my outfit. You’ll understand why I included it though…

MMM '14 day 7 A.jpg

Yayyy, it’s Tilly, me and her exciting new book which is out this week, ‘Love at first stitch’! All captured at her lovely book launch yesterday evening which Marie has some great pictures of on her blog.

You will probably have seen the patterns featured in the book and I’m particularly excited by the Mimi blouse, which has a cute gathered yoke on the front and back.

The book itself I’ve only just started reading but it already feels like a very well considered introduction to sewing. Only presenting the techniques that are absolutely essential to carry out the next task feels like a really smart move as it eases the newbie into it.

One thing that caught my eye on the first few pages was reading what the spool and bobbin actually are. Seems obvious but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that in a sewing intro book! Concise and clear instructional writing is not only an art, it’s something you graft at, and I think Tilly has really nailed it.

As a sidebar to all that excitement, let’s talk about meeting other sewers. I can be pretty shy in a social setting so rocking up to an event like this can make me a little nervous. But just in case I’d forgotten, I was reminded sewers are some of the nicest, friendliest people around and was shortly chatting away to lots of cool ladies. If you ever get a chance to take part in a meet-up, definitely do it. Case in point, Rachel’s NYLon meet-up (with international attendees!) taking place Saturday 17th May. Love to see you there!

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Me Made May ’14: three is the magic number

This year is the third year I’ll be doing Me Made May, Zoe’s fantastic event where you wear the heck out of all your lovingly fashioned clothes. This year I wanted to do something slightly different, so here’s my pinky swear:

‘I, Julia of the secret life of seams, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’14. I endeavour to wear one self-made item 3 days a week for the duration of May 2014 and sew 3 items the same month.’

I’ve scaled back from my previous goals to wear handmade everyday. But in 2012 I managed all but 3 days and in 2013 I skipped just one day. So I can certainly do MMM everyday but this year I had two things playing on my mind. After getting a promotion at work (yayyy!) I feel really swamped so recording daily outfits would probably make me late every morning. And that promotion means I feel I need to be a little smarter at work, which rules out more of the clothes I’d usually wear.

So rather than abandoning MMM entirely, ’cause I enjoy it, I’m going for three days a week, with the additional challenge of sewing three new items that hopefully will fit into my work wardrobe better.

Here’s what I’m playing with:

MMM '14 Dresses.jpg

Four dresses…

MMM '14 jumpers and skirts.jpg

…two jumpers and two skirts…

MMM '14 knit tops.jpg

…five knit tops…

MMM '14 woven tops.jpg

…and four woven tops.

Missing is my pink tiger stripe skirt and several other items I just don’t wear anymore.

A count of 18 items is pretty respectable and it gives me some latitude depending on how the weather turns out this month. I’m feeling excited! What about you, are you getting involved this year? Do you find it hard to be objective about the wearability of your me-made clothes?

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Blue tiger knit top and gifts

Blue tiger top collage C.jpg

It’s pretty appropriate to post this on Mother’s Day since my model is my Mum. Hi Mum! Making a Christmas knit top for her is the piece of clothing I’ve tried to perfect the most. Christmas 2011 and 2012 saw mixed results so after a few anvil-sized hints from my customer, for Christmas 2013 I did a fitting session to get a better end result.

Using my original pattern, which was traced from one of her existing tops, I cut out the bodice pieces around the neck and armscye as I had before but then tapered out in a straight line until the waist was wider by 2 inches so I could tinker with the fit.

I then followed the standard knit top construction model: sewed shoulder to shoulder on the bodice, including stabilising stay tape and inserted the sleeves in flat. This left a vaguely cross-shaped piece of fabric, which I then pinned to her. Or around her, our relationship hadn’t broken down so far in this process that I was deliberately jabbing at her with pins.

Predictably the fit ended up being a lot better and I had a much happier recipient!


I’ve inherited many things from my Mum, and pretty obvious from these pics is that we both love bold colours and fantastic prints. So when I spied this snazzy design in Simply Fabrics I knew she’d love it. Key to the pattern placement was where the off-white section fell. I placed this across the bust so the emphasis fell there and then continued the placement across the sleeves.

You’ll see this section tapers away across the back but I don’t mind the asymmetry there whereas across the chest it would run the risk of looking unbalanced.

So, that’s the top! But more important is the person I made it for.

This blog, and what it represents, the way I look at colour, at shape, at light, my urge to make something, all of that comes from her and it’s a big part of who I am. Something that gives me a lot of joy and a part that is all the more important for being something she gave me.

Happy Mother’s Day Mum xxx

Posted in Knits, Tops | Tagged , , | 1 Comment