Monday, 17 August 2015

A peasant blouse in Scotland

When I was packing for our holiday in Scotland I kept a close eye on the BBC weather forecast. When rain, more rain and 16 C was predicted I quickly unpacked all skirts and dresses and added more jeans, long sleeved tops and cardigans. The weather forecast didn't bother us, it's always part of the experience when visiting Scotland!
A few days before we left I found some time to finish a peasant blouse, made from a patterned viscose fabric bought earlier this summer. The pattern I used was Knipmode KM1405-26.

The fabric is very lightweight, doesn't wrinkle and can be folded into a tiny square, win-win-win when packing for a flight! I used French seams, added a center front seam (had to, because of the print error in the fabric) and changed the keyhole opening into a triangle.

There was no time to make a muslin, not to mention the questionable use of doing so from an economic point of view, given my fabric cost a whopping 2 euro.

Not my best look ever for a variety of reasons. Too much length above the waist, too much width at shoulders/upper bust/raglan and an overall look, as mr Foxgloves described it, 'like those sack garments you see in sewing books for beginners'. Thank you very much dear, I already noticed.

Something else I have to learn is to look at patterned fabric from a distance. In close-up the fabric is black, white and yellow. I even noticed happy little birds when I was sewing (too) late at night. When I look at the pictures I see a print that's too small for my frame, and a rather dull grey-ish shade.
Enough with the nagging!
I'm sure you all know the benefits of a large garment with an elastic waist when on holiday!

See? When in Rome....After a visit to St Andrews we had fish&chips by the seaside. And onion rings, just because we could. If we had stayed in Scotland any longer that blouse would actually fit me.

We had a wonderful time! Driving left, but not too left, was a challenge. As always. Once we got the hang of it we visited The Trossachs, Loch Lomond, Stirling, Edinburgh, The Highlands and the West Coast. We had bacon, eggs and haggis for breakfast, fresh salmon for lunch, draught cider and ale in the pub and tasted whisky in distilleries. We watched baby seals, climbed castle towers and met a lot of very friendly people.
Talking about friendly people: my Scottish sewing friends on Instagram provided me with a list of fabric shops in Edinburgh and Glasgow. A list I'll keep for future use, as we were running out of time in Edinburgh and did not visit Glasgow this time around. Thanks again, girls, much appreciated!

As close as got to fabric: Tartan weaving in Edinburgh

No fabric, but I did bring the next best thing: patterns! Butterick 4281 (Oxfam, 30p), a sewing magazine with free Simplicity K1418 and of course I could not leave without a lambswool scarf. In plaid. What else ;)

Next up: more holiday sewing. Different pattern, different countries!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Good year for the roses

In the middle of an unprecedented heat wave I finished a new summer outfit. The top is from the April issue of Knipmode, KM1504-22. It will come as no surprise the skirt is another Colette Patterns Mabel skirt.

The top is made of a very lightweight viscose satin with a rose print on a midnight blue blackground. The line drawings show the use of darts at the neckline.

I made a quick muslin to check for neckline gaping (there wasn't any) and after that it was a straightforward project.  I used French seams and hand stitched hems and although I considered different finishes for the facings in the end I just used the serger.

The top is pretty boxy so I've been trying out some styling options. With a tiny belt for some waist shaping, without belt, which I may try again paired with white straight legged jeans. But not know, I'm done taking pictures at 38 degrees Celsius! I'm not a fan of tucked in tops cause it makes me look short waisted and top heavy. Paired with a silk cardigan it looked all right-ish, I guess.

For details of  Mabel skirt #4, in midnight blue ponte, there's nothing I didn't already mention when constructing Mabel #1#2 and #3

Today my father-in-law celebrates his 96th birthday. Despite his age he always notices when you make an extra effort to dress up and he is a big fan of a handmade wardrobe. His eyesight is letting him down but he will be able to see this bright and colourful print so this is my outfit for the birthday dinner he will be hosting on Saturday. Happy birthday, Dad!

Clockwise: the back (with belt), detail of the neckline and both garments inside out. Sneak peek: for the lining of the waistband I used a bit of polka dot fabric from my next project!

O, and in case anyone wonders about the title of this post? While hand stitching a rose print underneath the giant rambling rose, Elvis Costello's version of the song got stuck in my head. Not complaining ;) It's a good year for the roses!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Fabulous finds

Did you ever buy sewing hardware on an impulse and start dreaming about how to use it afterwards? When I laid eyes on these cord ends for drawstrings, embellished with tiny Swarovski crystals, I just knew I had to have them.
At the counter I was informed these were custom made for fashion designers Viktor& Rolf. O well, I'd better come up with something special then to do them justice! Not sure yet what I'll make but these little gems look beautiful on a deep purple or midnight blue background. Their subtle shine is hard to catch in a picture! There's a tiny screw inside to fixate the cord end, underneath the screw there's room for a knot.

I found these beauties in one of my favourite fabric stores, Trickle Down Fabrics in Arnhem. It's a little shop selling left-over fabrics and notions from designer collections. The shop owner, a Arnhem Academy of Art and Design graduate, started out in order to give Fashion Design students the opportunity to work with high quality materials for their collections, at an affordable price.

Trickle Down Fabrics
It used to be a students only shop but it's now open to everyone. The fabric collection is quite small but certainly worth checking out.
Next time I'm there I'll take a look at the woolshop next door too, look at that furniture!

Zin in breien
Two streets away from these shops you can find the Arnhem fabric market, Fridays only. I had never before visited the market and quality wise it's at the other end of the spectrum. Lots of cheap fabrics and nothing really caught my eye, except at the last stall. They had fine quality pre-cut fabrics for sale, with little, or not so little misprints. I found some nice chiffon with a white stripe running through at 2/3 of the width.

At 1 euro for 1,5 meter I splurged and bought 3 meter, thinking it would make a nice summer blouse. Plenty of fabric to work around that stripe.

This week I hope to finish another blouse I'm working on. Some in progress pics featuring rose print satin can be found on Instagram (@foxglovesandthimbles), more about that project in the next post.

Happy new week!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A special outfit for a perfect day

Until a few years ago this was an outfit I frequently wore. As a wedding officer* I married 551 couples before taking a sabbatical. I never looked back and pursued another career, but I am still available for the job by request. When my daughter's best friend visited me in November and asked me to be involved in his wedding of course I felt very honoured. I've known him, and his lovely wife to be, for a lot of years and they've become good friends of the family. Fast forward seven months and here we are, waiting for the bride.....

The wedding venue was a scenic old water mill in the Belgium Ardennes, surrounded by woodlands. Friends and family gathered in the sunny orchard and the only sounds that were heard when the bride walked down the aisle came from birds, bees and the murmur of running water from a nearby brook.

Some pictures of the ceremony, and of course the beautiful dress!

The bride's dress had a beautifully draped chiffon bodice, a small train and a lovely embroidered lace detail at the back.

After the ceremony I was reunited with my chauffeur and personal assistant for the day, mr Foxgloves.

That man is always willing to bend some rules, so here it's time to kiss the bride the wedding officer.

We had a wonderful afternoon, met a bunch of very nice people and had lots of cake.

It was also fun to catch up with miss Canal Couture, who was a witness for the groom, and mr Canal Couture, who did an outstanding job as photographer.

Cheers to the newlyweds, and may they live happily ever after!

During all my years as a wedding officer I completely forgot to take detailed pictures of my toga so now was a good time to do so. (When I worked more frequently the gown was kept in a wardrobe in the Town Hall and brought out only on the days when I performed at weddings in said Town Hall or nearby castles and manors).

The bespoke ceremonial gown, sewn by a tailor, is made of lightweight wool suiting with velvet inserts. It is unlined, except for a back stay to balance the heavy velvet collar. I've always loved the pleated sleeves. Speaking of pleats, that jabot is a bit of a nightmare when it comes to ironing! Over the years I learned by trial and error how much starch was needed to prevent a sad and droopy look. Too much starch though and it's standing out at weird angles.....

Of course style wise the toga isn't doing me any favours but when in Belgium, land of brilliant beers and excellent food, one can do without waist definition!

We stayed in the Ardennes for a few days and, needless to say, had a wonderful time!

* Finally a burning question. Native English speakers all over the world, what would you call a person hired by the mayor and sworn in by a judge to perform legal and ceremonial acts at weddings? Is it a wedding officer / registrar / officiant / marriage officer / other?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Finished coat

Last week I finished my spring coat. Lately we've been having lots of showers and some heavy winds and I'm happy to report my coat was just the right weight for walking the dog and cycling to the grocery store! Taking pictures was a bit of an ordeal, hair and coat either soaking wet or blown out of shape, but I finally took advantage of some dry spells. The joys of Dutch spring ;)

First some construction details. In the previous post I just finished the bound buttonholes. I continued by adding the collar and collar stand, cutting the lining and adding flat piping between front facing and lining.

On the left you see the outer shell and lining ready to be joined. I added some piping to the hanging loop because I love these little details that make a garment truly one of a kind. Not speeding things up, but it brings a smile to my face whenever I grab my coat. Fast forward six weeks and it's starting to look like a proper coat:

From leftover lining fabric and some fringe I made a matching scarf.

Why did it take so long? A mix of sewing time being scarce and a lot of time consuming details. The pattern (Ottobre 2/2014#20) was well drafted, the instructions were well written and very clear. My own decisions to add underlining and make bound buttonholes caused some delay but I would not have it any other way. 

Clockwise: ivory piping, epaulettes, bound buttonhole, collar detail

Told you it was raining! Some thoughts on the fit: I would have preferred this coat to be slightly longer. As I mentioned here I already added 1 cm above the waistline and 5 cm below and ran out of fabric. The upper bust and upper back regions are a bit roomy. Part of it is intentional because I want to be able to wear the coat over tailored jackets for work. When I'm wearing a jacket with shoulder pads on the coat all wrinkles disappear, when I'm wearing just a shirt underneath the coat it looks like I should have gone one size down. Well, you can't have it both ways and I tend to wear my coats open all the time anyway.

Edit: after test driving the coat for a few more days I think the length is just right for cycling.

What's next? Tempting as it is to pick up my Chanel jacket and finish it, I want to make some summer skirts and tops first. Quick results please, for a change!

Happy sewing!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Coat sewing and a vintage beginners book

As I'm entering my sixth week of coat sewing it's time for an update, if only to prove to myself that I actually am making progress. Once construction began it felt good to finally reduce the number of cut pieces scattered around my sewing room. Look, it's on a hanger!
Why is it taking so long? Although it's not a pattern for beginners, it's not very difficult either. There's just this immense to-sew list. Add a busy schedule to the mix and suddenly it's a never ending story. However, I do enjoy this kind of project when sewing time is scarce. It's easy to break things up in smaller tasks and babysteps will get you there in the end. My fabric choice is not helping much, to put it mildly. As I mentioned in my previous post sewing coated poplin is like sewing leather. As little pinning as possible and no unpicking or you'll end up with permanent holes. Also, there is a pattern of skipped stitches. I tried everything: change needles, change tension, bring out the walking foot, clean, oil, and change needles again. Working fine for every kind of fabric, except for my coat shell. I finally found settings for topstitching that worked, but when I tested buttonholes disaster struck again. I made 26 test buttonholes on different settings and finally settled for tiny corded buttonholes for the epaulettes and sleeve bands.

They looked okay, but not perfect. For the other buttonholes, like the ones who are in plain sight when you wear the coat unbuttoned, I wanted a better finish. Bound buttonholes could be a solution but I had to take a few issues into consideration.
* For a coat my buttons are on the small side. Tiny bound buttonholes means fiddling.
* On a double breasted coat there's a gazillion of them.
* That fabric again. Totally unforgiving.
* As the picture below shows the coat can be buttoned in different ways. Some of the buttonholes need to look good from both sides.

It's been a while since my last bound buttonhole so I did a quick search on the internet for tutorials. Wow. If I were a beginner I would never ever dare make a bound buttonhole after reading one tutorial after another telling you how scary and terrifying they are. If you are a beginner reading this, please read this great post on skills by Robin of A little sewing. I so agree, never underestimate the importance of manual dexterity. So practice, practice, practice! Eventually all you need to know about bound buttonholes can be reduced to some simple diagrams. You don't need to be a daredevil to do some testing on scraps and it's the fastest way to build your skills and confidence.

One of my most treasured sewing books dates back to the 40s, the one on the right in the picture below. It's a concise guide for sewing garments.

It starts with the usual 'what you need to start sewing' and ends on page 95 with how to draft and make your wedding dress. Bound buttonholes on the bottom of the right page:

Next step in the book: go practice and then make yourself a dress with 16 bound buttonholes. That book is such a gem!

Back to my coat. First thing to do was to rescue all scraps from the bin in order to cut rectangles for the buttonholes, their counterparts in the facings and some spares for the test runs. It was close, but I had just enough fabric left! In an ideal world I would have been making the buttonholes as one of the first steps, on a flat bodice front. Stitching and pivoting was a bit harder because of the volume of a coat with the sleeves already attached. Backwards designing isn't smart. But, so far, so good.

Next on the list is the collar. To be continued!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Spring coat progress

Did I mention cutting 42 pattern pieces? Check! As a result every surface in my sewing room is covered in glorious coral pink. But let's pick up where I left in my previous post. I started by making a muslin since I had never made an Ottobre pattern before. The fit was spot on, except for some length issues. I added 1cm to the bodice and 5 cm below the waistline.

Ottobre does not provide pattern layouts or cutting suggestions. After adding 6 cm to so many pattern pieces I got a little worried about the amount of fabric I had bought, knowing it was no longer available. Can you believe my luck? After cutting 3.20 meters this was all I have left:

Careful sewing ahead! Messing up the collar, late night scorching incidents or other mishaps and it's game over. Not to mention yet another reason to sew very carefully, coated poplin is hard to handle. It's like sewing leather: no pinning and no unpicking seams. Even the tiniest pin will leave a permanent hole. After finding this out the hard way I reduced the number of pins to the bare minimum and made a quick trip to the hardware store for more washers. Not the heaviest of pattern weights but for this kind of fabric they were doing just fine. Several tests for the topstitching resulted in the use of a microtex needle and stitching at half speed. Note to self: slowing down is clever when unpicking is not an option!

When I finished the cutting I was a bit disappointed by the looks and the hand of the outer shell. Although windproof it was very thin. The print of the lining showed through and it just didn't feel right. Back to the cutting table to add a layer of light weight cotton underlining. By that time I lost count of the number of pattern pieces lying around. 

After the epic cutting session life got busy. Work, tax forms, househunting for a friend. My sewing time got reduced to half an hour to an hour a day. Well, this trench coat may be complex and time consuming but it's easy to split it up into nice, small tasks!

On some days there's just enough time to produce some pockets.....

..or sew mitered corners for the lined vent. For the next few days epaulettes, collar, belt, loops and sleeves are on the do list. Splendid lunch break sewing! Fingers crossed for some more sewing time next week to join all 60+ bits and pieces together. Only time will tell how long it takes to finish this coat but in the meantime I'm enjoying every step of the way.

Happy sewing!