Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Floral Viscose Sofia Dress

This dress was born from a desire for more dresses which would work worn with dark tights and boots. I've got a good number of summery dresses which get a lot of wear during bare legs season but so often throughout winter feel a bit of a mess just through need to be warm and comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I've focused so hard on sewing practical garments I need and will get a lot of wear out of that my wardrobe has become rather boring, particularly in winter! Does anyone else feel the same?

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

The Sofia Dress from Victory Patterns grabbed my attention on Instagram as soon as it was released. I loved the shape of it, particularly those gorgeous sleeves and was also lured in by the challenge of trying a new sewing technique - shirring. I must admit I almost didn't buy this pattern and instead used the By Hand London tutorial for creating a shirred dress from rectangles of fabric. In the end I decided as it was a new to me technique I could do with a bit more hand holding and also I just really liked some of the design details and finishing on the Sofia Dress. I was pleased I invested in the pattern when I saw the detailed instructions and troubleshooting advice included. I would say if you've never tried shirring before it is worth the purchase just for that!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

Despite all of the guidance provided for shirring I had a real nightmare trying to get my machine to play ball. I hand wound my bobbins, played with stitch length and tension and no matter what I did the fabric was only lightly gathered up when shirred. The Sofia instructions advice that you are looking for shirring that reduces the length of your fabric down to half of what you started with (after completing a number of rows and hovering your iron over to give it a good steam) in order to end up with a dress the right size and with the correct amount of stretch. My practice pieces were no where near that. Luckily the wealth of information on sewing blogs never fails to solve a sewing problem and I came across this post on Grosgrain Fab about problems with shirring on a Brother Sewing machine. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

From what I can gather the bobbin tension on a Brother isn't set high enough to achieve good shirring and you need to manually adjust it. I was a little apprehensive about this as on models like mine which don't have the option to adjust the bobbin tension you have to open the machine up and tighten a tiny screw on the bobbin case. This little screw is covered in green paint (I presume so you can't fiddle around with settings you shouldn't be playing with!) but I dutifully scraped the paint off as instructed so I could tighten the screw as much as possible. It worked a treat and I was happily shirring away in no time. If you do this I would advise making a careful note of how many times you turn the screw so you can turn it back to the original setting when you have finished shirring. I had visions of my machine not sewing correctly ever again but with the bobbin tension back to normal everything sews like usual.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

Actually sewing the shirring was so much easier than I expected. Rather than drawing out lines to follow when shirring I just drew the first one and then positioned my needle so that I was able to follow the edge of my presser foot and maintain a nice even 1/2" distance. This worked really well apart from where I started to go under the arm as I worked my way down the bodice pieces and think I started to curve my shirring along the armhole a little. This meant by the time I got to the bottom edge that last line of shirring was a bit curved rather than running neatly along the straight bottom edge of the bodice. It wasn't by much though and now the skirt is attached it doesn't really notice.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

I'm generally not a fan of designs with elasticated elements like elastic waistbands as I find them a little uncomfortable sometimes and find they shift about and ride up with wear. However the shirring on this sits so nicely and it is really comfortable and secure to wear. I was a bit nervous about getting the sizing right with the shirring but I think the elasticity makes it quite forgiving. The bodice is perhaps a little on the short side. The waistline is at the right spot on me but I'm quite short at 5ft 3.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

For reference I cut the size 6 and the only adjustment I made was to shorten the sleeves by an inch. The skirt is slightly longer than intended on me but I really like this length for winter. I of course chose the option to include side seam pockets in the skirt but as this viscose is nice and weighty opted not to line it. I love that instructions are included for lining the skirt if you wish though. The neckline is wide and only works with a strapless bra or no bra. I like it but it is quite a different shape for me and on future versions I'd be tempted to bring those sleeves in ever so slightly. I love the width across the back though.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

The fabric is one of the reproduction vintage prints from Fabric Godmother. This is the Hana print on a viscose twill base and is a winner for this project on so many levels! Firstly the black background to the floral works well with tights and boots and looks right under a snuggly jumper or cardigan. Secondly I really like the scale of the floral motif. I'm not a fan of small, disty florals and this is nice and bold. I love what the shirring does to this print, how it shrinks it up to another scale so it almost looks like you've mixed two fabrics together to make the dress. Thirdly this is a fairly weighty and opaque viscose which works so well for this style of garment. I think a diaphanous and flimsy fabric would be great for hot summer days but a drapey fabric with a bit of substance to it gives the skirt a lovely shape and adds body to those dramatic sleeves. I love the way the skirt hangs and swishes around my body. The fullness of the skirt is spot on and doesn't feel at all bulky around the waist.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

Once I'd got the shirring done the rest of the dress came together really quickly and was a really enjoyable sew. The pattern has clearly been well thought out and for the most part I found the instructions and illustrations really good. I particularly liked the way the skirt pieces were gathered up to fit on to the skirt bodice using a line of shirring...I absolutely detest gathering so might try this method on other patterns which require it! Stability and strength is added to the waistline seam and neckline by adding some 1/4" elastic. The shirring on its own probably wouldn't be resilient or sturdy enough.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Victory Patterns shirred Sofia Dress in Hana Viscose Twill from Fabric Godmother

I love these sleeves so much. I feel like a shirred cuff might be a feature I continue to add to any top of dress with a billowing bishop sleeve! As I shortened my sleeve above the shirred cuff I feel like perhaps a couple less rows of shirring might have worked better proportionally but I quite like the drama of that deep tight cuff. When finishing the top of the sleeves I recommend feeding the elastic through, stitching down one end and pinning the other in place then trying it on. It is key to get the length of the elastic in this area right so that the wide set sleeves don't slip off your shoulder or the armhole doesn't end up too tight. I'm quite short through the shoulder so shortened my elastic by half and inch and now it sits nicely. 

I couldn't be happier with my new dress, it was worth the many hours of practising shirring before I could even get started! What garments to you turn to in winter when you want to be comfortable but yet still feel stylish and put together?

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Merino Jersey Daniella Dress

I chose to make the Daniella Dress from the latest release of Fibre Mood patterns mainly for the sleeves! The weather has turned cold here in the UK and I need more comfortable, snuggly garments to see me through...and not give the impression that I'm wearing pyjamas to work! I already have a couple of handmade turtleneck dresses (made using the Seamwork Neenah pattern) which are on heavy rotation through the winter months. But I was sold on adding another to my wardrobe when I saw those lovely voluminous cuffed sleeves! I don't have any knit garments with that kind of detail and the Neenah dress is more form fitting which sometimes I'm not in the mood for wearing.

My go-to fabric for knit winter dresses and jumpers is merino jersey and I thought this would be a great choice for this style as it is a good weight and has a beautiful drape. The Fabric Store kindly sent me a length of this beautiful deep navy merino jersey during the first lockdown earlier this year. It is their popular premium merino which I've sewn with a lot before and absolutely love. It presses and sews beautifully (with a stretch or jersey needle) and has a good amount of stretch and recovery which works for various styles of garment. I've gradually built up the number of merino garments in my wardrobe over the years and now have a seriously cosy winter wardrobe! I love that I can wear it day to day as it can go in the washing machine and that many of them are fine knits so you can layer them up without too much bulk.


I was slightly hesitant about the relaxed fit of this dress as (being fairly short) I didn't want to feel hidden in swathes of fabric but it has turned out better than I expected. I was tempted to size down to avoid the tent-like effect but I stuck with the closest size to my measurements (size 36) and am glad I did. The dress hangs beautifully in this jersey and there is actually a bit of shape to it. It is actually a touch narrow on the shoulders and I was surprised that the length of the sleeves is about spot on as I am used to shortening them. Detailed finished garment measurements are provided so luckily I checked those before cutting and automatically taking off an inch! If you're planning on making this I'd definitely suggest cutting your recommended size and if you're tall or broad shoulders check the lengths and measure pattern pieces carefully. 

For me the amount of ease below the bust is spot on and it is balanced well with the neat fit across the chest and shoulders. It is really comfortable (definitely in secret pyjamas territory!) yet still feels chic because of the way this fabric flows around the body. I think fabric choice is key here and something thicker with more structure would have a very different effect. I debated cutting this to be more of a midi length as I'm really drawn to dresses of that style at the moment but I think, given the relaxed fit, the 'just above the knee' length works a lot better on my petite proportions.

The gathering at the sleeve head is slightly less pronounced that I expected. I think probably because this merino is a soft and drapey medium weight. In fabric like a ponte you might get a bit more drama. The instructions don't say which way to press your seams for the most part but in the illustrations it looked like the armhole should be pressed towards the body which I did. If you pressed it towards the sleeve the seam allowance might give the gathered top of the sleeve a bit more oomph. In a similar way to how you might add sleeve heads to a tailored jacket or coat.

Gathering is possibly my least favourite sewing technique and I have never gathered a knit fabric before but there's actually not much of it involved to create the shape of the sleeves. Just a small section at the top of the sleeve head and around the cuff. Other than that it is sewn together much like a t-shirt, with the sleeves set in flat before sewing up the underarm and side seams as one. I really enjoyed making this and it came together in just 2-3 hours one afternoon. Just the kind of satisfying project I need at the moment with not a lot of sewing time and a tired brain!

Navy isn't generally a colour I go for, there's not much of it in my wardrobe and I'm not sure why! I tend to wear a lot of black and grey in the winter as they are easy choices that go with everything but actually after looking at 'my colours' apparently navy suits my colouring better. I like the rich tone of this navy and think I'll try incorporating more of it into my wardrobe. Ruby seems to approve of it too!

I can see this dress getting a lot of wear over the next few months and I'd like to try out a jumper version of this pattern too, perhaps with the hem gathered into waistband to mirror the cuffs. Definitely a pattern you could have a lot of fun hacking and adding your own stamp to.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Floral Challis Tudor Blouse

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

This is another slightly spontaneous sewing project which wasn't initially on my plans for summer. I don't usually have a tendency to jump on a pattern the instant it is released. I'm one of those sewers who likes to sit back and see it made in a few different fabrics and on a few different body shapes first. Particularly when it is a pattern from a company I haven't used before. However, I've been totally sucked into the square neck with big sleeves trend of this summer and when Stitch Witch Patterns released the Tudor Blouse I knew it was for me! It felt slightly more accessible as a way to dip my toe into the trend rather than a full on dramatic dress. Plus I'd identified that I needed some more tops to go with the high waisted skirts and trousers in my wardrobe.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

The fabric is a beautiful floral rayon challis from The Fabric Store which unfortunately looks like it has now sold out. I could absolutely envision the top in this print but deliberated over using the fabric for a while as I thought the challis might be too lightweight and drapey to work for the sleeve. The sleeves would definitely have more of a dramatic shape and impact in a crisper fabric but I actually really love the softer look of this. This one has already become a real workhorse in my wardrobe so I will definitely be making up a more structured version in a cotton lawn or poplin anyway too! Don't you think this would look so good sewn in Ankara?!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store

The top is really straightforward to assemble and is finished nicely with a facing at the front and back as well as a nice deep hem. You create elastic channels at both the top and hem of the sleeve and insert the elastic before sewing up the underarm seam and attaching them to the bodice. This works well at the shoulder but next time I'd probably create the cuff channel after sewing up the underarm seam so you don't end up with bulky bits of elastic in the seam allowance/ I opted to hand stitch down this flappy little bit of seam allowance and also hand stitched down the seam allowance where the sleeve meets the neckline so I didn't get any unsightly bits poking out. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

I did find the sizing a little confusing as there are options for full bust and small bust sizes but I could only see one set of measurements on the pattern and no further information about cup sizing...I took a punt at the smaller cup size in a size 8 at the bust and 10 at the waist and hips, then measured the pattern pieces to be sure once I had assembled the PDF. Luckily this turned out spot on. I also got confused when the instructions said to use the 'button guides' to mark your buttonhole placement and ended up making mine up before realising they were in a separate folder with the pattern download! Note to self - when making your first project from a new to you pattern company make sure to look everything over and read all the instructions before you start - different companies do things differently!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

The fit overall is great and for me personally includes a nice amount of ease. It is fitted without being tight to the body and sits really nicely. I did shorten both the elastic over the shoulder and around the arm which is probably to be expected as I am quite short in the shoulder and have quite skinny arms! I'm not usually a big fan of elastic in clothing, particularly elasticated waistlines as I don't like how they move about and ride up to unwanted places sometimes. However, the elastic on this works great and is very comfortable. I haven't had any problems with the sleeves slipping down off the shoulder but if you did (as is potentially likely with a wide low neckline front and back) you could add that slightly sticky silicone elastic or even bra strap holders. Bra-wise I can wear a balcony style bra with quite wide set straps with this - non need for strapless. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

This is actually the longer version of the blouse just tucked into my high waisted jeans. I was tempted by the cropped length but ultimately saw myself wearing this top at work and didn't fancy flashing my midriff as I lifted stuff about. My jeans are my third iteration of the Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans and I absolutely love them! This pattern is such a gem. I'm certainly not done with it and all its plentiful variations yet. This is the View C wide leg in the cropped length with purple topstitching! I've previously made the shorts and straight leg variations. This time I chose a denim with just a little bit of elastane content which makes them SOOO comfortable! I love the rigid high waisted fit of my previously pairs but they don't half take some wearing in to make them comfy. These are super soft straight off the machine! To accommodate for the stretch in the denim and keep the figure hugging fit I used a 1" seam allowance down the side seams. This worked a treat although the fit around the crotch has taken slight hit, I'm seeing more wrinkles in this pair and they feel like they could do with shortening a touch through the back rise. Something to remember next time. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

Back to my Tudor Blouse, I ended up using these pearly blue buttons because they were the only thing in my button box in the right size, quantity and vaguely correct colour. I'm not completely happy with them and in fact since taking these photos five of them have been removed and used on the set of Carolyn Pyjamas I just finished! I think an off-white button to match the flowers might work better and stand out a little more than the blue.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store

Over the course of the pandemic the one thing (I'm talking sewing-wise obviously) I've found problematic is getting the right buttons and zip colours for my projects as these are things I'd usually buy in person with some of the fabric to hand. Now we can venture out to the shops again I'm still a little stuck as there is no-where local to me with a wide selection of either. I used to buy my buttons and zips while I was shopping for work in London, in places like MacCulloch and Wallis and John Lewis. But as the theatre industry has ground to a halt I'm not show shopping or even going in to town. Has anyone got any tips for notion shopping without access to those big haberdashery stores? I'm in Surrey about an hour out of London.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans

I'm delighted with this whole outfit and know both garments are going to see a lot of wear. My wardrobe could still do with a few more tops like this. What are your favourite top patterns for with high waisted trousers and skirts?

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Stitch Witch Patterns Tudor Blouse in Floral Rayon Challis from The Fabric Store with Megan Nielsen Dawn Jeans


Thursday, 30 July 2020

Floral Viscose Crepe Frankie Wrap Skirt

I try really hard to put thought into my projects and sew practical clothing which is going to earn its place in my wardrobe. However, sometimes I just cannot resist a gloriously frivolous make which I've chosen to sew just because I WANT to. This project today is one of those. I deliberated over how much I would actually get to wear it and whether it was the best use of this beautiful piece of viscose before thinking 'sod it' and diving in. Let me tell you that was an excellent spontaneous decision. I loved every single second of making this skirt and I love the final outcome so much that it is inspiring me to get more dressed up every sunny day of this summer!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

This is the Frankie Wrap Skirt; a free pattern download from the reasonably new pattern company Made Label. When I made this a few weeks ago this was the only pattern available, but since then three more patterns have been launched. Before I start talking about the skirt itself I just wanted to mention a couple of things I spotted which really impressed me about the company. They work with the Batwa Rock & Cave Project in Uganda to support the Batwa Pygmy Tribe, something that means a lot to me personally since Ed and I visited Uganda in January this year and were able to meet some of the Batwa. The Batwa lived in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest up until 1992 when it became a National Park and World Heritage Site and they were evicted. A percentage of what you pay for your pattern goes to provide food, shelter and a sustainable future for the Batwa. I also noted that Made Label give a pattern credit for any projects that they share on their Instagram. I feel like this is a pattern company looking to do things the right way from the start.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

I'd been looking at options for wrap skirt for a while and it was the more fitted shape of this pattern which really appealed to me. I love the the slim body-skimming cut but combined with the drama and movement of that looooong ruffle! I really like the length and the proportions of the ruffle which is formed of a series of semi circular pieces without any gathering which I love. Firstly because I really dislike the process of gathering and secondly because it has a much less bulky effect. It works sort of like a circle skirt. The circular pattern pieces mean less volume at the top but a lot at the bottom.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

The pattern recommends a fabric with a good drape like viscose of rayon to make this and that is exactly what I chose. This floral print viscose crepe is from The Fabric Store. Unfortunately it must have sold out since I ordered it but they often have a great variety of modern and wearable prints on a viscose base. This one has a very similar weight and hand to their plain viscose range. The properties of viscose crepe make it perfect for a flirty little skirt like this. It has movement but a bit of substance so that the ruffle doesn't hang too limply. It is probably my go-to choice for summer dresses and skirts.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

The pattern is advertised as perfect for beginners and whilst I agree that it is fairly straightforward to put together with no fastenings or complex techniques, the suggested fabric of viscose/rayon combined with all those curved edges I think needs a bit of experience. Viscose and rayon can be quite delicate and prone to stretching out especially along bias and curved edges so you need to handle it with care.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

I added in some stay-stitching along the waistline and the front curved edges of the wrap as I was worried about this delicate crepe stretching out. I also in a way stay-stitched the hem edge of the ruffle as I find the quickest and easiest way to do a long narrow hem like this is to stitch along the raw edge at the depth you want your first turn of hem to be. The stitching provides a clear marking line to press up along so you don't have to keep measuring all the way along and also kind of keeps that edge nice and tight making it easier to ease in as you press it up. I think the only other thing I did differently to the instructions was to add some lightweight fusible interfacing to the waistband and tie. I wanted the waistband to have a bit of structure and the tie to have some body rather than hanging limp.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

Whilst straightforward to construct without much fitting to fiddle with, it does take a while to put together especially if you follow the instructions to use french seams throughout. That and the miles of narrow hem to do along the ruffle certainly eats up time. 100% worth it though and I love that the instructions suggest french seams. I really enjoyed putting the time into this beautiful and robust finish and not using my overlocker for once! The instructions in the video for french seams are really good and clear if it is you first time doing them. In fact the instruction video is really clear full stop! I did slightly wish there was a brief set of written instructions alongside the video so I didn't have to try and find the right point in the video if I had a query. This is a free pattern though, so I can't really complain! The new patterns also have sew-along videos, I don't know if they come with written instructions too. The seam allowances are included on all the pattern pieces so for a simple pattern like this you can kind of do without the video or instructions if you have a bit of sewing experience.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

I was between sizes and ended up sizing down to the 4 as I thought my fabric might stretch a little. The wrap is quite forgiving so I didn't bother with grading between sizes to get my exact size or anything. It turned out absolutely great but I am conscious that I wouldn't want the overlap of the wrap to be any less, I do flash quite a bit of leg when the wind blows in the right direction! Each size is in a separate file to print out which makes grading between sizes a little problematic but I do like that it means that if you are cutting a smaller size you save on wasting paper. The instructions are really clear about what pages you need to print for each pattern piece which is good but because there is no more than one pattern piece on each sheet it felt like there were some quite big offcuts.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

One thing I did like about the PDF if that there is a page of labels for you to print and cut out to pin to your pattern pieces. I think that's really useful for a project like this when you have a lot of similar looking pieces that you don't want to mix up.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Made Label Frankie Wrap Skirt in Floral Viscose Crepe from The Fabric Store

I highly recommend this as a bit of meditative sewing. You can get nicely lost in the rhythm of pressing and sewing all those long french seams. I think because the pattern was free I was expecting it to be quite basic and simple to whip up. But I was so impressed with the thought that has been put into both the pattern and the instructional video. This isn't a simple gathered or pleated skirt with a gathered ruffle along the bottom edge. It is cut really well and sits beautifully on the body. It is a simple and fun style done really well.