Monday, 31 January 2011

Stitching and swinging

I went to the lindy hop class I mentioned this weekend, and I had a fabulous time! I didn't do much dancing, as I've had pretty low energy levels the past couple of weeks and it was quite full on (if you never exercise like me!). Even so, I have learnt some basic steps, turns etc. and more importantly, Tom has learnt how to lead me in dancing! We are definitely going to get along to some more lessons and social dances in the near future! I'd highly recommend the tutors if you're in the Bristol area and their weekend courses will give you enough confidence to do some basic dancing on your own, without having to commit to 8 weekday evenings!
I wore my aeroplane dress and got a lots of compliments - it looked great when I was spinning!
There was a girl there wearing a fabulous red skirt. She said she got it from 20th Century Foxy so I looked it up when I got home. Sadly it's £55 and I really don't have that to spare. However, it's a pretty simple, bias cut, 4 gore skirt with flared gores so I'm going to have a go at making one myself!

After the dancing, I went over to The Nylon Shop, a poorly named fabric shop in Kingswood which sells lots of dressmaking fabrics and foam, cut to size. It's a pretty horrifying mess, with stuff piled everywhere and no real organisation that I can tell. Lots of fabrics are marked down because they're dirty and the pricing is a bit haphazard. Despite this, the fabrics are, on the whole, excellent quality and very cheap. They have a very good range of basic dressmaking and costuming (fur, leather look, tulle etc.) fabrics and I was able to find everything I wanted, except for a choice of wools and heavier suiting for skirts and trousers. I am most definitely going back!
I did pick up this medium weight cotton mix in charcoal grey with black stripes which I'm going to use to make my trousers with.

I also saw this dress on ModCloth and fell in love. It's out of stock, though, and very expensive, so I started to think about making one. Then I realised that the pattern is very close to the Swing Dress, which I've already bought. I reckon once I've adjusted the pattern for the dress, I can alter it enough to make something similar!
 Then I found the fabric below in the Nylon Shop. The colour looks all wrong in this picture - it's actually close to the dress' colour - a deep blue tinted pink. It's 100% cotton and a nice weight. I'll probably have to line the bodice as the white is a bit transparent but otherwise it's perfect!

Finally, I spent most of Saturday night cutting out pieces for my next few projects - it's my least favourite part of sewing, so getting more than one project cut out at a time makes me more likely to actually sew them in future!
I have a nice light herringbone wool for this Vintage Vogue skirt.
 And this pretty floral linen for the EvaDress 1930s blouse.

I'm also still working on my Glamour girl dress but it's causing me no end of problems, so I'm diverting myself with what I'll do next!
I think I have a busy few weeks coming up!

Problems in the trouser department

I made up a toile for my simplicity 3688 trousers yesterday and was very happy to find that they only took about 2 1/2 hours start to finish - these trousers are REALLY easy to make.
Granted, I haven't hemmed them, and the zip and waistband are pretty crude, but it makes me hope that I can make and line these for real in around 4 hours, which is pretty damned good for trousers.


I'm not sure I like the fit in the back. The front and sides look fine to me (creases in the front are just from sitting down in the linen!), but the back has 2 issues;
1 (yellow arrows) - bagging in the lower back. I think this is what is meant by a sway back, and I've found some adjustments in books and online for that - but am I right in what the problem is here?
2 (red arrow) - very 'shapely' in the curvy part of the bum. Basically, although they're not too tight here, they're a little bit more figure hugging than I like my trousers. How do I correct this? What's the problem called?

These are minor problems but I feel like if I can get them sorted, I probably should!
All help gratefully received!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

RAF dress

I'm partial to a flyboy. The RAF blue and the moustache just do it for me. As such, I couldn't resist when I came across  this aeroplane fabric in a lovely blue.
I used the same pattern I used to make my blue spotty dress, the Decades of Style House Dress #4002, 1942.
As I found last time I made this dress, it's very quick and east to put together. I did struggle with the collar again and I'm beginning to think it's the pattern and not me! Still, I think it came out very well and I'm going to wear it to my Lindy Hop lesson I'm taking this weekend!
I didn't add the pockets as I thought they would break up too much of the pattern. The rikrac, though, is great and I find it very helpful for tidying up my seams! I more than doubled the number of buttons used as the last dress I made had a tendancy to gape. As I'll be wearing this as a dress and not a housedress, I thought the more buttons the better!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


I've been very busy of late, hence my sporadic posting over the last few weeks.
The biggest news is that I took my first exam for my history A-Level last Thursday. For anyone older than 28, or outside the UK, the current A-Level system (which are the courses taken between 16-18) is split into 2 qualifications. The first year you study 2 modules with exams taken in January and/or June. This earns you an AS level, which is a qualification in its own right.
The AS can also be extended with a second year of study (A-2) into a full A-Level with another 2 modules and in my case, one exam and one coursework essay.
I was in the first year of teenagers to take this new qualification in 2000/01 and I keep forgetting that everyone older than me finds it confusing that the courses are very modular and flexible. Anyway, I digress.
Since the end of the summer I've been studying a module in British History 1906-1951 with a private tutor and a lot of books (and a few old movies). I had hoped that being a reasonably intelligent 20-something with a degree and a job where I do a lot of report writing would mean that I could breeze the study and exams designed for 17 year olds, but that hasn't really been the case. It's been a slog to fix all of the dates and Acts of Parliament and important people in my head, but I think I managed it and I actually didn't find the exam too much of a slog. Except the writing - when was the last time you wrote frantically by hand for over an hour? Typing I can keep up for hours on end, but my hand nearly fell off after about 40 minutes. There was serious pain for a whole day after!
I've now moved on to my second module - Life in Nazi Germany (1933-45) - you see I'm looking at a broad range of the past ;). I'll get results in March some time and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good mark.

The study of that period led nicely onto my weekend, when I spent my time in a massive Youth Hostel in the Lake District pretending to be an ATS girl in late 1940, caught up in a murder mystery (with zombies).
The whole thing is hard to explain so I'll just describe it as Foyles War meets Indiana Jones or the start to Hellboy. There were magic-using Nazis and resistance fighters and an unlikely group of heroes consisting of (amongst others) me and Tom (playing a detective), some RAF pilots, Gracie Fields and some scientists. Bizarre, scary and hugely fun, I came back exhausted but very happy, and I can't wait for the next one.

Sadly I didn't get many good pictures of me in my uniform, but I'll try to take some myself over the next few days. It's not all accurate yet, the rank badging is all wrong for a start, but I was very happy with how it looked for the weekend!

Friday, 21 January 2011

More stock for my stash

I took a trip to my local fabric shop yesterday to pick up supplies for Casey's Swing dress sew-along and came home with a little more than I'd bargained for!

My first purchase was the dress fabric, which I chose some wine red wool crepe for. I was looking for something with a good drape and not only did this fit the bill, being medium weight and very soft, but also because of the wonderful colour. It's very close to Mac's Russian Red lippie which is my favourite, so I know I'll be coordinated!
The fabric only cost me £16 for 4m (which will be more than enough for the dress) so including the pattern and findings, should cost less than £30 to make. Good stuff!

While I was browsing, I came across this black net. It has a slight stretch to it and is very soft. I figured I could use it for sleeves and maybe a collar on a blouse at some point. I only bought a meter so I'll have to be a bit creative about what I use this for!
The other net I picket up was this millinery net. I bought a brown hat a while ago which is very 40s other than the very chunky net, which looks very 80s to me. I figure I can replace it with this and make it look a bit older. I'm going to be a bit careful how I do this though, as millinery is a totally new art for me!

Finally came this lovely cotton. It's very light and not the finest quality fabric but I couldn't resist the print. There was a whole batch of slightly different rose prints to choose from and I had a really hard time deciding. I think if the pattern grows on me I might go back and get another colour. At only £3.39 it won't break the bank! All I have to decide now is what to make with it. My first thought is a dress, but that's all I've made for ages and I have several more lined up, so I'm not sure. I have 4m of the stuff. Maybe a circle skirt? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Gifts galore

I thought I'd share some of my more interesting presents from Christmas with you. I had a number of other great things like a hair dryer and slippers that I won't bother to photograph and write about, but I figured that some of these might be of some interest!
First up is a bit of a wild card - the Rune Primer by Sweyn Plowright. I have had an interest early English society and culture for a long time. The period between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving (somewhere between 500 and 1000 in broad terms), often called the Dark Ages, is fascinating as the beginning of England as I know it. If you're familiar with Chaucer's language as an early version of English, Anglo-Saxon writing in this period is just about recognisable as being English. It has an odd rhythm to it and a lot of the words are unfamiliar, but it's definitely English. Anyway. Runes were the alphabet of the Anglo-Saxons and were used to write normal messages, as well as having magical properties and being a tool for writing charms and curses and what have you. The idea of rune stones being used like tarot cards for divination is a new one (1970s really) and a lot of esoteric books out there spout absolute nonsense about runes when actually there was enough information left by the Anglo Saxons and Norse peoples that we don't need to invent anything.
This book gives an introduction to the runes based on this principle and uses the old poems from across the North of Europe to discuss what we really know for sure about the runes, as described 1000 years ago. It's an excellent book and is a very good starting point for a serious study of runes and Norse culture in general, without being too academic.
Next up are my DVDs; the complete Foyles War (woo! Good husband!), Rebecca and Mrs Miniver.
If you haven't seen Foyles War, I demand you go and do so now. Foyle is a detective in Hastings when the second world war kicks off. He's assisted by a driver from the MTC (Motorised Transport Corps - a female branch of the British Army) and spends the war years investigating murder, sabotage and suspected German spies in a calm and charismatic way. Higher quality all round than Midsomer Murders, Foyle is excellent fun. And the costumes are pretty excellent too!
Rebecca is the 1940 film of the Daphne De Maurier, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. I haven't watched this yet but I love the book for its sinister characters and wonderful depiction of 1930s upperclass society. I understand that the film is an excellent adaptation.
Finally Mrs Miniver. This film was made in England in 1942 and is quite obviously a propoganda film. Mrs Miniver is a normal middle class housewife with one son at University and two smaller children, and her Architect husband. Throughout the film, scenes of rosy domesticity (buying a hat she can't really afford - loved it!) are replaced with air raids, a German pilot in the kitchen and, eventually, a death. Through it all Mrs Miniver 'keeps calm and carries on', showing us all the ideal of a British housewife in war time. Despite the pretty obvious Ministry of Information hand in this film, it's very enjoyable, funny and touching in places and, in my opinion, just as valid as magazines etc. from the period for showing what many people would have aspired to. I think this is a must see for anyone interested in the 1940s.
This next isn't actually a present but it was bought with Christmas money, so it sort of counts. It's a new camera and a gorillapod! I'd come to realise that my phone had a better camera than my usual digital, which to be fair is about 8 or 9 years old. Technology has come a long way in that time! I think my favourite feature so far is the timer which gives you 10 seconds and then takes 3 photos in quick succession. Perfect for outfit shots! The tripod is so that I can take self portraits when out and about. Blogtastic!
My in-laws bought me a little owl to go with this big owl I bought with Birthday vouchers last year. He's a paperweight with a scented head! I do love owls and these two are so smart and grand, just as owls should be!

Finally, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend gave me some lovely handmade goodies. I think that these are my favourite gifts of all - handmade are so much more special.
I'm really chuffed with all of these.
This is a selection of preserves, one is a cider jelly, one's quince jelly and the other is a chocolate and brandy spread (described as nutella for grownups). I'm not sure if I like the fillings of the branding better. Awesome present!
Then there is a jar of grapefruit and lemon body lotion. It's as nice a cream as any I've bought from the shops and the smell is divine. I'm really impressed with this one too! I have to keep smelling myself now...
There were also handmade chocolates. They were so nice there aren't any left to photograph...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

McCalls 4728 - 1942 summer dress

I started my New Years Resolutions off with a bang this year, by making 2 of the 12 garments I've set myself to finish in 2011. On New Years day, feeling not in the slightest but hungover and with nothing to do, I started sewing around midday and finished at 11. It's amazing how much you can achieve with solid, uninterupted sewing time!
This pattern is a direct copy of an original 1942 issue that I bought last year (annoyingly I can't remember where from, and I can't find it via google!).

**Edited to add - I found the pattern!**

It's a simple day dress with a 6 gore skirt and gathered blouse top. It has 3 buttons in the front with bound buttonholes and a side zip.
The pattern has been well copied and I found all the darts, circles and tacks in the right places, which was a relief as some features like the collar relied quite heavily on accurate placement.
The fabric was a cotton tana lawn that I picked up in John Lewis in the summer. I managed to find thread and a zip to exactly match the greenish blue shade and I used white plastic buttons.
This was my first attempt at bound buttonholes and I'm very pleased with how they came out!
As you can see, the top has darts on each shoulder and gathers top and bottom.
I think that the cotton I've used could be a little too heavy, and I think these could drape better, but they still give the fabulous 40s blousy effect.
The sleeves have these lovely darts round the top edge which give a very structured shape.
The pattern does show you how to make your own shoulder pads, but I didn't bother. There's also a belt to make with this but I don't have a buckle I can use yet, so I haven't started that yet.
All in all, good dress and nice pattern which I'll almost certainly sew again!

The other thing I ran up before bed (and finished off on the 2nd) was a gathered dirndl style skirt. I've been meaning to make this for ages and knew how quick and easy it would be, but needed the new year to kick me into action!
 I used Gertie's instructions for a gathered skirt, only I made the waistband with a tab and button at the top using the instructions from the simplicity 3688 skirt, which I know pretty well now!
Easy and pretty natty if I do say so myself! The fabric I used is an odd loose weave cotton (I think) so it's summer wear only, but it's nice to have some new items waiting in my cupboard for the good weather!

My next projects are a winter dress, lining a jacket I already have and possibly a second house dress. So much to sew, so little time!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Living with less doesn't apply to shoes

In all honesty, I bought these before I made my New Years Resolution to live with less and spend less so it doesn't count against me. Also I was given money for Christmas, so these shoes doubly don't count. Plus they were in a 50% off sale!
Anyway, now that I've justified their purchase, I present my new shoes!

I'm learning to be more honest and therefore I will say that actually I think I only have one pair of shoes that aren't from Clarks. It's pointless me trying to pretend I ever shop anywhere else now. If only they'd sponser me I'd be in heaven.
Their sale (still on) took both pairs of shoes down to around the £25 mark, so they were really affordable.

Cadiz treasure in Claret
The red pair are suede with a mock-snakeskin patent toe, all in a wonderful red. I had a pair of red ballet pumps a few years ago but the soft leather got so torn and tatty that I binned them and regretted it ever since. Red shoes go with a surprising large number of other colours and brighten up an otherwise dull outfit. Plus, as flats I can wear them to work without hobbling to the bus stop and for casual times with jeans. You see, cost per wear will be virtually nothing!

Cubin Hat in Navy Suede
Slightly less practial were these blue suede wedges. Step on them at your peril. I love the details and the shape around the buckle.
I'm always dubious about women who describe high heels as 'surprisingly comfortable', but I'm about to. They're higher than my average day shoes would be, but certainly wearing them briefly round the house was a breeze. I might even wear these to walk to the bus stop in, but only if it won't rain. My poor suede - it does love to get wet and it's never quite the same afterwards!

Oh, and I 'needed' a pair of blue shoes to go with my navy skirts. Honest!
Just tell my husband I've had them for years, ok?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Quilts in review

Before Christmas I got a couple of books out of the library to give me some gift making ideas. I thought I'd give them a brief review as I'm not sure I found either very helpful.

First up is Quilting in No Time, by Emma Hardy. This book focuses on the home, so there are lots of throws, pillows, curtains, table linens etc. There are also a couple of bags and things - I particularly like the knitting bag and notebook bag.
These are not really quilting projects, they're more sewing projects with a patchwork theme, and some quilting done on top of this. Although I haven't made anything from this book, the instructions seem limited and as a beginner in both the patchwork and quilting worlds, I was hoping for a bit more help. I think I'll be trying a couple of the project in here, so I may change my mind later! Most of the designs are clean and fresh and the sort of thing I would be happy to have in my house.

Second is Mandy Shaw’s ‘Quilt Yourself Gorgeous’ which is full of different projects. There are a couple of bags and purses, some dolls and some quilts and cushion toppers, bunting and a tea cosy. The style of the items is often not to my taste - most of the items have a 'crazy patchwork effect', with blocks unevenly sized as seen on the cover. Personally I like all my corners to match up in straight lines (OCD? Maybe a little). Plus the use of ricrac and ribbon edging on everything makes the designs a bit 'busy' in places. Even so, I really liked the shopping bag, cosmetics case and the Anja doll. Again, most of these are patchwork and sewing projects, not true quilting projects.
I decided to make the 'Strippy stripy bag' for my Mother in Law as a Christmas present. Sadly, I found the instructions not only thin on the ground, but confusing as well. For example, when I started cutting out my fabric I couldn't find directions for how big to make the lining. After reading all the steps through, I couldn't find anything that said the lining has to be turned under or anything so I made it the same size as the completed outer for the bag. Fortunately this was right but it was a complete guess. And there were lots of steps like that. Previously unmentioned features for the bag came up in the instructions and some steps, felt needlessly complicated. I was never sure whether I was supposed to be working on the wrong or right side of the bag at any given moment.
I increased the width of this bag so that big folders would fit, and didn't add all the trimmings recommended. I have to say, though, that Karen made a version recently which looks lovely and she included the trimmings, so maybe I was too hasty in my decision...
I think of myself as a reasonably experienced sewer, and capable of working most things out myself, but I found this fairly simple bag a real struggle.
It's a shame, as all of the projects in the book are lovely and the bag turned out very well in the end. I would think twice before making anything from this book again though.