Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Slight sidetrack...Ooh la la Pin Up Sew-Along

I know I'm meant to be focusing on the bridesmaid frock right now, but I just stumbled across this fabulous new sew along courtesty of two fabulous bloggers: A Few Threads Loose and Ohhh Lulu.
It's a sew along that includes two absolutely gorgeous vintage French lingerie items, a garter belt and a corsolet bra. I'm seriously tempted to get in on this as the garter belt in particular looks divine. The patterns are by Anna Depew and you can see both these and many more of her lovely patterns at her Etsy store - Mrs. Depew Vintage.
Pattern from Mrs. Depew Vintage
Pattern from Mrs. Depew Vintage

For information about the sew-along and a give away (if you're really quick!), check out A Few Threads Loose and Ohhh Lulu.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Butterick B6582: Full Skirted Floral Frock

 A while ago I saw this gorgeous Jerry Gilden dress on Couture Allure:

While this particular dress was beyond my reach, I put it in my inspiration file. A little later I came across this fabric and immediately thought of the dress. 

I wanted to make a similar style dress and was keeping my eye out for suitable patterns. Then I realised I had an excellent candidate already in my stash. Remember Butterick B6582? I made the straight skirted "screen sirens" version last year. The pattern includes a full skirted version as well. 

Since I'm already familiar with the pattern and the bodice fit quite well with minimal alterations, it seems a good choice for my next frock project. After the Crepe dress that needed so many muslin changes and the fabric that was a nightmare to work with, I'm looking forward to something a bit more straightforward.

And I have strong motivation to make this dress. My best friend is getting married in May and I will be her maid of honour. It's a nice simple ceremony so I've been spared the usual horror of bridal party wear. I'd like to have a new dress to wear and having a rough idea of what the bride will be wearing, I think a full skirted vintage style frock would be quite appropriate. And it will give me a chance to finally have something I can wear my very frilly petticoat with.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2011 was the Year of Knitting

 I really am a terrible blogger. Somehow I've managed to completely fail to mention all the knitting I've been doing.

When we moved to Melbourne, I started working as a consultant and was fortunate enough to have a terrific mentor who has been coaching me along the way and providing fabulous professional support. She's also a seamstress, knitter, quilter, textile designer, and lover of vintage. She loves knitting and when she found out that I couldn't knit she decided to teach me. It was ideal for me as I was finding it difficult to sew with fibromyalgia and my usual "couch in front of the TV" embroidery was proving too much for my hands. Knitting was a good fit.

My First Scarf
My first project was a scarf. My mentor gave me a pair of needles and four balls of yarn. The first couple of rows were a bit dodgy as I was learning tension and the art of ending the row with as many stitches as you started. Eventually though the scarf was just a long rectangle in stocking stitch which I finished in early 2011. It's nothing fancy, but it certainly got plenty of wear during my first Melbourne winter!

Once I got the hang of the basics, I was off and definitely bitten by the knitting bug. It was great to have projects that I could pick up and put down whenever I liked. I started having multiple projects on the go, some that I needed to pay attention to in order to follow the pattern and others that I could do without looking.

Red Knitted Slippers
My first project that involved something other than a straight rectangle was a pair of knitted slippers. These slippers are two pieces - a sole and an upper - worked in moss stitch using bamboo/cotton yarn. This was my first attempt at following a pattern than involved increasing and decreasing. I think they turned out pretty well. They were a little large for me, so I threaded some plaited natural yarn around the top as a drawstring to help keep them on my feet. They're nice and warm and look very cute :)

Escheresque's Birthday Rib Scarf
I soon figured out that I could knit all manner of things, not just for myself, but for friends and family. The first piece of "knitting for someone else", was a scarf I made for my good friend Escheresque. It was a rib pattern, worked in a lovely muted green yarn made of soy protein of all things. The rib pattern had some mathematical significance. Escheresque has a love of mathematics and the scarf was X* stitches long and the rib pattern alternated Y/Z*. Unfortunately I was so happy I finished it (rather belatedly as a birthday present), that I posted it before I took any photos. I will have to ask Escheresque to take some photos for me.
*Where X = Escheresque's age and Y/Z = Escheresque's birthday day and month

Mum's Birthday Infinity Scarf
This was one of those projects where I spotted the yarn first and immediately thought "Mum would love those colours". I'd remembered my Mum  had commented that she liked scarves in winter, but as a teacher found they often came undone and got caught on things while she was working with the kids. I'd seen a couple of infinity scarves around Melbourne and knew they were simply a scarf that is joined at the ends to form a big loop. The infinity scarf I made for Mum's birthday was a straight stocking stitch worked in a wool/acrylic blend yarn that had lovely purple, blue, green graduated tones. I bought a brooch made from a large button to go with it. I also made a little instruction sheet for Mum showing some of the different ways the infinity scarf can be worn.

Dr Krystal's Birthday Beanie with Flower Brooch
My fabulous birthday twin, Dr Krystal, was the recipient of my first attempt at head wear. The beanie was made from Patons Wilderness yarn (Wool/Acrylic/Viscose) in a muted mauve/purple colour. The pattern was the one that came on the yarn label. It's a simple stocking stitch beanie with a wide rib turned up edge. I felt it looked a bit plain, so I decide to make a brooch to go with it. I knitted a strip in the same yarn, pulled it into circular ruffle/flower, and sewed a button in the centre. The back was a circle of felt sewed onto the back of the flower with a brooch finding sewed to the felt. Added to the beanie, it definitely lifted the overall look. The last finishing touch was to sew a label to the inside of the beanie. I found a couple of packets of labels at Spotlight in their discount bin. The one I picked for the beanie says "Especially for you by me". The project was completed at the end of 2011 and gifted in January 2012 :)

So that was 2011 - The Year of Knitting! There will continue to be more knitting in 2012. After having made a series of gifts for friends and family, I'm currently back to knitting some things for myself. This year I plan to tackle knitting garments and venture into the sweater and cardigan territory. Maybe even dabble in some vintage knitting patterns. Most of all, I plan to actually blog about them as they are completed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sewing projects for 2012

Last year I didn't really make any sewing plans. This year I've decided that it would be useful to make a list of things that I'd like to make. I'm hoping it will give me a bit of focus when I find myself stuck for a project. I've also started trying to line up patterns with fabric I currently have in my stash.


The following isn't in any particular order, just how they happened to come out of my head. I keep the list in Evernote, which I've found is vey handy for organising, well everything! It means I can keep adding to the list as ideas come up and also remind me of what projects I want to do when I'm out and about looking at potential materials.


Sewing projects - clothing

  • Full skirted version of Butterick B6582 in white with black floral print linen, for a wedding in May
  • Jacket/cape from Burdastyle 8/2009, possibly from the dark green wool reclaimed from an SCA frock
  • Slip from black cherry print satin using Ruby Slip pattern
  • French knickers. From this pattern. First try with cheap satin, then if works use black cherry print silk satin
  • Pajama shorts - soft cotton or linen, for summer
  • Pair of linen pants from Colette Clover pattern
  • Colette Parfait dress - possibly in black with white polka dot fabric
  • Simplicity 2261 - Pair of casual 3/4 pants


  • Refashion bamboo pleated tops
  • Refashion vintage navy and white dress
  • Refashion second hand black and white houndstooth dress to a vintage style pattern 
  • Replace buttons on red trench coat with something more interesting

Craft, non-clothing sewing

  • Dog coats for the Lost Dogs Home. Pattern from Stitches magazine. Aim to make from recycled materials. Second hand polar fleece from jackets/blankets. Secondhand weatherproof material from umbrellas, rain coats. 
  • Lavender sachets. I cut a large bunch of lavender from a neighbours garden end of last year and dried it. I've got it stored in an airtight container with desiccant sachets, so it should still be okay. Would like to make little lavender sachets to give as gifts.
  • Banana lounge cover. Light padding. Probably something similar to an ironing board cover that can slip over the whole lounge and then be tightened with drawstrings or elastic. Or like a pillow slip where you have sleeves that slip over both ends and then opening the lounge out pulls the fabric taut. Have seen some terry towelling ones for sale in Spotlight, but would like something nicer.
  • Dog treat bag that attaches to belt or harness with drawstring closure. Needs to be easy to open with one hand to fish out treats, but close tight enough to keep out prying noses. Will be "lab" tested as a matter if course :)
  • Knitting needle case - like a pencil roll, to keep my growing collection of needles organised.
  • Gardening apron based on my red Japanese apron, but with waist belt and more pockets. 
  • Refashion domestic goddess apron
  • Hand towels with loop at top for the kitchen, made from recycled towels
  • Knitting project bags, with pockets for needles, yarn, and pattern. Could have Rigid panel with plastic sleeve to insert the patten (to be viewed from the outside of the bag). That way you could see which project is in the bag and also prop the pattern up to read while knitting. Needle pocket could run along the long side of pattern sleeve. Maybe a small internal pocket for small scissors, tapestry needles etc.. Small drawstring bags to contain working yarn to keep it clean but still allow it to come out easily. Project bag to have zippered closure to prevent things falling out. Should be large enough to fit a book if necessary. 
  • Reusable bags using the black and white bag design (rolls up and is fastened with a snap). Use recycled fabrics that are light weight but sturdy. 
  • Covers for Aussie farmers direct boxes to make them look a bit nicer for storage.


  • Andes shrug, in black wool (started)
  • Rug from recycled t-shirt fabric
  • Owl sweater
  • Escargot cloche hat
  • Tea cozy, haven't pick a design yet
  • Possible yarn bombing


Saturday, December 31, 2011

Crepe dress completed!

Well it's only taken a year and a bit, but I've finally finished the Colette Crepe dress that I started as part of the Crepe Sew-a-Long, way back in November last year.

Why has it taken so long? Partly having trouble finding enough energy to sew as my fibromyalgia has flared on and off, but also I discovered part way in that the fabric I'd chosen was a right pain to work with. I was obviously so seduced by the colour and print that I failed to notice just it was completely unnatural.

I discovered the synthetic nature of the fabric when I managed to accidentally melt some of it while pressing a facing. Fortunately, it was the facing that melted, not the bodice itself. It did however lead to the death of my iron after attempts to clean the melted mess from the iron plate managed to get water or something inside and fritz the electrics. Aside from it's tendency to melt, the "right" side of the fabric had a slightly raised print which the iron would constantly catch on. In short, the fabric turned an otherwise simple project into a complete palaver.

Fabric palaver aside, the dress is actually quite straightforward and easy to sew. I had no problems following the directions. I did french seams on the skirt, including the pockets. I under stitched my facings. The pattern needed a far amount of adjusting for my figure. As usual, I had to take a good inch off the bodice length. I also found that I needed to make the back narrower and adjust for my small, sloping shoulders.

Here's how the bodice pattern pieces ended up changing with my final pattern overlaying the original pattern.

The end result is fits and looks okay. But just okay. I have to say honestly that I don't love this dress. I may still be scarred from dealing with the nightmare fabric, but I also think this isn't the best style for me. The cross over at the back was difficult to fit and still manages to gape when I move, which then makes it slip off my small shoulders. I think it could use some decoration to emphasise the neckline. I had elected not to do the waist ties in contrasting fabric as I find a contrasting band can often cut me in the wrong place and emphasise my very short-waist. I'm happy with what I've made, but I think this may be joining a number of other dresses in my wardrobe that just don't feel quite right.

At least my dog Princess was still happy to be seen (and photographed) with me. As often happens, the one photo that is in focus, is the one where I'm pulling a face or in this case, have my eyes closed. Look at the dress and the cute puppy, ignore the rest :)

Right, next!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Buy Nothing New: Thrifty French Maid Costume

What do you do when you decide at the last minute you need a costume and nothing in your wardrobe fits the bill? In the spirit of Buy Nothing New Month, buying something new was out. I also don't like buying things that will get limited wearing. I could have gone to Savers to see what I could get second hand that could be reworked into a costume. However, thrifty sort that I am, I decided to see what I could do with what I already had to hand. This led to the Thrifty French Maid Costume.

The finished costume: Front, Side and Back views
 I used completely reclaimed material from my refashion/reuse stash including:
  • An old pair of black/dark grey satin pajamas I gave up on wearing as the polyester was too sweaty
  • An old white work shirt
  • Some offcuts of white netting from making curtains
  • A zipper reclaimed from a previous garment
The pajamas and shirt were disassembled into their separate pieces. I was going to make the dress from the black satin of the pajamas, the apron from the shirt, and a petticoat from the netting. The basic dress design was a fitted bodice, pleated short skirt, short puffed sleeves, and a zip at the back. I'll confess there was not a lot of preparation and planning that went into this project, so there was a fair bit of "design on the fly" and "winging it". It's also why there aren't any "before" or "in progress" photos. It was serious last minute sewing. However, I have drawn up a little diagram of how the dress pieces came out of the pajama pieces. The black line is the pajama piece and the red line is the dress piece.

I laid out the pieces of fabric I had to work with and started to plan pattern pieces. I used the bodice from a dress pattern that I'd recently fitted as a base and re-worked it to suit the shape I wanted. No time to do a muslin, I went straight to cutting out pieces, leaving a generous seam allowance where possible. I did a quick self-fit as I went along. For the skirt I cut eight slightly trapezoidal panels and sewed them into a circle. I then stitched the netting fabric to the top of inside of the skirt panels, then added some extra tiers to the lower edge of the netting to give it some "floof". To attach the skirt to the bodice, I put in box pleats placed to hide the seams of the individual skirt pieces. The zipper was inserted so it went down centre back of the bodice and into the skirt (so I could get it over my hips/shoulders). The small puff sleeves were made from the pajama sleeves buy cutting the sleeves in half and attaching the lower half to the upper half to create a wider circle to be gathered in to the bodice armscyth and create the puffed look. To do the gathering quickly, I used a trick I'd read recently and turned the sewing machine tension right up to 10. It effectively gathers the fabric as you sew, then you can just fudge the fabric along the stitching line to make it fit. On the ends of the sleeves I sewed a channel and inserted some thin elastic.
The "petticoat" layer under the skirt

I decided at that point that the dress really needed some kind of trim. I cut a bunch of long strips around 2" wide from the white shirt, pressing them half to create a smooth edge. I applied this around the bottom of the skirt and the bottom of the sleeves. I then used the white satin piping from the pajamas to edge the neckline.

The apron was fairly simple. A square for the top and a trapezoid for the bottom, plus a waist tie. I made a bunch of white strips from the shirt (as above), then gathered them using the sewing machine method above, to create a ruffled edge for the apron. I then soaked it in starch and pressed it to get that crisp feel.

 I also needed a little pleated head piece. I ended up using the shirt cuffs, which were nice and sturdy. I removed the buttons and cut off the bit with the button hole and stitched the two cuffs together to create a longer piece. I then pleated it and sewed it into what was the shirt collar band. It wasn't quite right until I folded the sides of the pleated cuffs down to the band to create a curved shape. Stitched those bits down and made the band taper thinner towards the ends. Tried it on and it stayed in place with bobby pins, so worked nicely.

And voila! The costume was made complete by the essential pair of black seamed stockings and a pair of black and white heels from my wardrobe. Not bad if I do say so myself.

A pair of pajamas, an old shirt, some curtain offcuts + 10 hours sewing = One thrifty (and sexy) french maid costume.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Buy Nothing New Month: Make Do and Mend

One of the easiest ways to avoid having to buy new things is to look after and maintain the things you already have. You'd think that would be a statement of the obvious, but in the current throw-away consumer culture, people seem unwilling to consider making simple repairs to extend the life of an item.

The "Make-do and Mend" slogan  arose during World War II, where all kinds of resources were being redirected to the war effort and civilians had to learn to make-do with strictly rationed items of clothing, food, and other items. An interesting post on Make-do and Mend and rationing can be found over at the Coletterie blog here.

Some Make-do and Mend media from WWII, though I would recommend getting your bloke to take off his pants first before attempting to mend them.
There were a couple of notable books on how to make-do and mend, both in the UK and in the USA. Make And Mend For Victory was from the USA and published in 1942. The lovely Susannah from Cargo Cult Craft has put this on her website as a two part downloadable pdf. Make Do And Mend was from the UK and published around the same time. Reproduction copies can be bought from Amazon and similar places.

This is a darning mushroom
This weekend I decided to tackle my mending pile, which contained a couple of socks with holes, a pair of knickers with an unravelled side seam, a pair of pj bottoms with a rip, a dressing gown sash that had come apart, and a carry bag where the handles had almost pulled off. I was fortunate in growing up with a mother who sewed and often mended our clothes and household furnishings. I found out that not everyone had this experience growing up when I discovered that most people have no idea what a "sock mushroom" is. So let's start with my socks.
What I grew up calling a "sock mushroom", is more accurately called a "darning mushroom". It's a mushroom shaped item that you use to stretch the rounded toe or heel of a sock over so you can darn it. My mum had a plastic one where the "stem" could be unscrewed and you could store needles and pins inside. I'm more low tech and use a light bulb. It does the job quite adequately.

I'm not going to go into detail on how to darn socks. There are a variety of tutorials on eHow.com. Basically it involves sewing some base threads and weaving a patch over the offending hole in the sock. It really doesn't take long to do once you get the hang of it. It's something I often do in front of the TV in the ad breaks.

The grey pair I did with black thread so you can see the darned patch more easily. When darned with matching colour thread, it really isn't very noticeable, as you can see in the black pair, where I've circles the darned patch so you can actually find it!

The other items in my mending pile I repaired using the wonders of modern technology - the sewing machine and the overlocker (or "serger" if you're American). The overlocker is great for sewing up seams and finishing edges at the same time. I fixed the side seam of my knickers in about 5 seconds flat.

The pajama bottoms had torn where the fabric was getting a bit worn and thin. I'd previously stitched it up with the overlocker, but it had torn along the stitching line. So this time I decided to do a more stable repair and use a tight zig-zag stitch over the tear. It means the repair is more visible, but these are just pajamas so I'm not concerned about that.

The carry bag was a straight forward fix. It was a freebie with another purchase and a really good sized bag for carry larger items. Unfortunately, my partner had taken to using it to carry heavy tools and it had been picked up by only one handle, which caused it to rip away from the body of the bag. The repair simply involved finding some matching thread and resewing the handle back on along the original stitch lines. To prevent future repairs, I added some reinforcement stitching at the top. 

The dressing gown sash was a slightly more fiddly repair. It had mostly come undone at the join, but the fabric had also frayed. So the seam was completely unpicked, the frayed edges trimmed and joined with the overlocker, then flipped inside out and top-stitched in matching thread to close the seam.

On the whole, maybe an hours work on a Sunday to clear my mending pile and get six items back in use and avoid having to buy replacements. Next time you go to throw something out, think about whether it could be repaired and put back into service. It will save another item going to landfill and save your hip pocket from shelling out for a replacement.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Buy Nothing New Month - October 2011

I've submitted my pledge to Buy Nothing New for the month of October 2011. As you probably have gathered from this blog and my sustainable living blog over at Greening Our Life, not buying new things is a regular part of how I live. However, even though I think I'll find it easy to go without buying anything new for a month, I'm keen to encourage other people to give it go.

What exactly do you mean by Buy Nothing New?
Buy Nothing New month means that for one month (October 2011), with the exception of essentials* (food, drink, medications, hygiene products) you can beg, borrow, barter, swap or buy secondhand whatever you need. You just buy nothing new.
*I'm still out on whether I'd count buying supplies to make/repair things as "new". E.g. buying a new zipper to replace a broken one on a skirt, buying matching thread to fix a seam etc.. As much as possible I'm going to try and use things from my stash.

Why have a Buy Nothing New month?
Buy Nothing New is not about going without, nor is it Buy Nothing New Never.

It’s about taking October to reassess what we really need, think about where the stuff we buy comes from (finite resources), where it goes (landfill), and what our alternatives are.

It is about conscientious consumption and by not spending on stuff we don’t need, increasing our savings for the things we do need.
Pledge to Buy Nothing New during October and challenge over consumption.  

One of my biggest complaints about modern society is how much people are obsessed with having "stuff", especially cheap stuff. I cringe every time I go past yet another discount store selling crap mass produced from unsustainable materials using underpaid and undervalued labour.

A large part of my love of vintage clothing is that it came from a time when people valued quality of materials and workmanship. I have several beautiful suit jackets from the late 1940s that are far finer in the quality of the materials (pure worsted wool) and the workmanship. The tailoring is neat and well finished. No sloppy stitching and weak seams. They've lasted far better than anything I've ever bought new from a modern department store, including brands that are supposedly good quality.

Vintage to me also harks back to a time of "make do and mend". Clothes and other items were well cared for so they would last longer and mended when necessary to keep them usable. Modern society is very much a disposable society. Fashion moves so fast that clothes are considered out of date within months and the rapid turnover and desire for ever cheaper fashion has driven manufacturers towards the lowest cost materials and labour. While it may be great for some that they can get jeans for $10 from Kmart, the hidden costs are those born by those who labour in poor conditions, who are made sick from industrial pollution from the materials manufacturing process, and countries that exploit their own people to gain Western investment.

Things to think about
  • How many times have you bought a piece of clothing only to have it languish in the back of the wardrobe unworn? 
  • How many times have you succumbed to buying clothes because they were "such a bargain" only to have them fall to bits within a year? 
  • How many times have you thrown out a piece of clothing because it lost a button, broke a zip, had a stain, or had a seam pop?
I know in my lifetime I've been guilty of all of the above at some point. However, a few years ago I decided to make a conscious effort to put more thought into the clothes I buy. I look for quality rather than the cheapest option. I look for ethically and sustainably produced clothing. I look for locally made clothing. I'm prepared to pay more for better quality materials, good working conditions, and a fair wage for labour. I select clothing with consideration for how much use I will get from it. I am less inclined to buy clothing for a "one off" event. I take care when laundering my clothes to make sure I get longer wear from them. I alter and mend my clothes to keep them in my wardrobe for longer. Any clothes I no longer wear are donated to charity if they are in reasonable condition, or go into my refashion/fabric scraps box to be recycled into other things. Rarely does anything go into the rubbish.

Over the years I've acquired some of my favourite wardrobe pieces from non-new sources such as:
In a city like Melbourne, we really are spoilt for choice when it comes to second-hand or vintage clothing sources. Not only is buying second-hand more sustainable, it's also often less expensive which is great for the budget conscious.

As we go through October, I'll be posting what things I've sourced from non-new sources, as well as sharing some of my favourite ways to buy nothing new.

I encourage everyone to give Buy Nothing New month a go. It's just one month. When you go to buy something new, take a moment to pause and think:
  • Do I really need this?
  • Does it need to be new?
  • Is there another option to get this second-hand?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crepe Sew-Along - Cutting out the muslin

High on sewing success, I swung back into the Crepe Sew-Along project. Gertie has long since finished posting the sew-along steps on her blog, but that's the great thing about internet sew-alongs, you can technically join at any point and follow the posts.

Today I cut out the muslin of the bodice, following the steps posted by Gertie here.

It was just the right amount of sewing for me today. I found the instructions easy to follow. I noticed that Gertie uses tracing paper to transfer pattern markings to her muslin. I'd never thought about doing that. Make sense now that I see it. I didn't having any tracing paper so used the usual method (tailors tacks and eye-balling).

Gertie's next step was to thread trace the seam allowance. This is another new thing for me. I've never thought about machine sewing as a way of marking the seam allowance and certainly hadn't considered whether a muslin needed stabilising. Then again, I've usually made my "muslins" out of calico, poplin, twill or other fairly sturdy cotton rather than actual muslin (the only stuff I've ever found is that ultra fine muslin for baby wraps or the crinkly cheesecloth stuff). Still, open to trying new things so by the end of today I had my bodice muslin pieces cut out, markings transferred and seam allowance thread marked.

Just the right amount of sewing to fit the time I had between other activities.