Friday, 28 August 2015

Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress (and a US visit!)

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

I loved the first version I made of By Hand London's Zeena Dress and knew my wardrobe would benefit from a couple more. They are just so easy to throw on in the morning and feel great in all day, especially when it's hot. My first version was in breezy cotton voile and I knew I wanted something similar for the second version as it suited the design so well. I'm a bit of a Pinterest addict and have been making an effort to recreate looks and styles I've pinned to my sewing inspiration board this year. When I spotted the image below a long way back and found this lovely plaid double gauze on Goldhawk Road I bought it with the intention of making a similar dress but it got put away in the stash and semi-forgotten about. I was flicking through my Pinterest when I was in the process of testing the Zeena pattern and realised that the relaxed style of it was perfect to recreate this look and that discovery was all I needed to spur me on and dig out my plaid! It was one of those instances of everything coming together almost accidentally to make a great project!


If you haven't come across double gauze before it's a wonderful summer fabric. It's formed of two layers of gauze caught together at regular spaced intervals by a thread from one layer passing through the second. It means it retains it's breathable, lightweight properties whilst having the added bonus of being less sheer than a single layer. The two layers obviously don't need to be the same so double gauzes often have a different design/colour on the reverse to the front. In this cause one side has an almost tartan like plaid with thin checks of red a black crossing through the thicker green and white check while the other side has a stripped back version of this with just the green and white. I was planning on using the more intricate design but once I had the pattern all cut out I decided I preferred the bolder look, especially for summer!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

It was my first time working with double gauze and it is certainly not going to be my last!  I might have to treat myself to a purchase from Miss Matatabi as I often find myself flicking through her Etsy shop and drooling! It's so lovely to work with, the machine goes through it easily, it stays put and presses so well as well as being easy to wear and wash. The only trouble I had with it is that I frayed like crazy!! To combat this I overlocked all my pieces before assembly. It has an almost cheesecloth like texture which was a great match for my inspiration picture as it has that soft and crinkled look. As I had hoped, it turned out to be the perfect weight and drape for this relaxed fit style.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

Pattern-wise I cut the size 8 again and my bodice was shortened by 3/4". I made the same alteration of taking 1" out of the width of the neckline each side as I did with my first version. I have quite small shoulders and have problems with the width of many patterns in this area but the Zeena in particular seems to be unusually wide here. I took some more off the length but this was really down to a lack of fabric rather than being a design choice! I think it was about 2" and I used a scant 1/2" for the hem. It's now just about long enough for me to feel comfortable in it with bare legs but I don't think I'll be wearing it on a particularly breezy day!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

I actually used this double gauze to make up my test version of this dress as I had 3 metres of it and figured I'd still have plenty left for another project. I didn't like the fit of my test version at all as the relaxed style was already an unusual style choice for me and the size 10 which I usually cut with BHL patterns I felt swamped in. Also the neckline was wide and the bodice a little long. It wasn't terrible but I knew I didn't feel comfortable enough in it to get much wear out of it. However, I did adore the combination of the bold plaid paired with the shape of the design and decided I absolutely had to make a better fitting version out of the remaining fabric! However, I didn't have quite enough of my beautiful double gauze left so I opted to make some changes to the skirt pattern pieces so I could squeeze them on.

I could have unpicked the skirt from my test version and used that but after looking back at my red plaid inspiration dress I was quite taken by the idea of experimenting with slightly less fabric in the skirt and redistributing the pleats so it was flatter across the stomach and centre back. To do this I worked out the maximum skirt width I could fit onto the fabric I had, then folded this out of my pattern pieces and redrew the notches for the pleats. This was very straightforward to do as the skirt pattern pieces are just big rectangles so I didn't have to worry about ruining any shaping.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

Unfortunately the lack of fabric meant that any pattern matching went pretty much out of the window! I did make an effort to ensure that the vertical stripes of the plaid were spread evenly either side of centre as I felt keeping the design looking balanced was most important. I also focused on getting the plaid to line up horizontally across the centre back seam as that is really obvious compared to the skirt side seams which are partially concealed with the pleats of the skirt and are broken up by the pockets. The movement of the skirt also hides the lack of pattern matching in this area so I'm pretty satisfied by how it turned out!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

Another benefit to working with double gauze which I hadn't foreseen was that the double layer means it's great for any hand stitching as you can just catch one layer with your stitching and it won't show at all on the right side. This was really useful when it came to the facing on this dress as it really wanted to flip out to the right side, despite me vigorously clipping, under stitching and pressing along the neckline. Just stitching it down at the shoulder seams and centre back didn't do the trick so (as with my first version which I had underlined) I caught it down with a slip stitch all the way around the edge.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

Despite having to figure out fitting the skirt pieces onto the fabric the dress only took me 4 hours to make in total including the cutting! Another reason why my wardrobe might end up full of these! The dress is unlined which is one of the reasons why it's so speedy, but it's worth bearing in mind when you make your fabric choice that you need something completely opaque. The instructions are great as usual and I particularly liked the tip to baste the pleats in place at 6/8" rather than within the seam allowance as it kept them tightly closed when you actually stitch the seam line. It does mean you absolutely have to go back and remove your basting stitches but avoids the risk of the pleats  spreading apart slightly as they move through your machine. The only thing I did differently to the instructions was to under stitch my pocket openings.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Plaid Double Gauze Zeena Dress

It looks like summer is already on the way out in London so I'm not sure how much more bare legged wear I'll get out of this here this year sadly. However, I'm heading to California in a few days so it should be handy in the sunshine over there at the moment! I'll be visiting LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas during my trip and will definitely be squeezing in a bit of fabric shopping so if anyone fancies meeting up let me know in the comments below and include your email address so I can loop you into plans! I'm planning to visit Mood Fabrics and the Fabric Store in LA on the afternoon of Tuesday 1st September and then have some time on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th in San Francisco/Oakland/Berkley, hopefully including a visit to Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics and Britex. It would be lovely to see anyone that's around! I've got a few posts scheduled for when I'm away so it won't be all quiet on the blog. Can't wait to share my adventures with you all when I get back!

Monday, 24 August 2015

Purple Bamboo Agnes Top and Denim M6696 Skirt

Today I've got an outfit to share with your which has become one of my favourite combination of garments over the rather temperamental British summer. It's been great for the muggy heat but also good on a chilly evening, the perfect replacement for a floaty skirt when dealing with breezy tube escalators and also super practical for me a work! The two parts are the Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top and the skirt portion of the McCalls 6696 shirtdress. Let's start with the top.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top & Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

When Tilly released this pattern a couple of months back she also released 'Learn to Sew Jersey Tops', an online workshop aimed at people who have a small amount of sewing under their belt and want to take things a little further by getting to grips with knit fabrics. Tilly offered me a place on the course so I could see what I made of it and I was really excited to try out a new method of learning. My confidence sewing with knits has really grown over the last year so I'm probably not the exact target market for this course but I still picked up some great tips along the way. Plus it was fantastic to SEE someone else sewing with a knit and know that I hadn't got anything disastrously wrong!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top & Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

I've only ever tried a couple of free short Craftsy courses but I don't know why I haven't made time for more as I love the idea of being able to work through a course at your own pace at home whilst still benefiting from being able to see and hear the course instructor and watching demonstrations of a technique. Sometimes with sewing it's a little tricky to work out from an illustration or photograph whether you have got a step quite right; I know I would have found a video like this useful when I first tackled a lined kick pleat! I found the videos themselves to be really clear compared to some YouTube videos I've watched in moments of confusion when I've turned to Google for advice! They are very crisp and bright, as you would probably expect from Tilly's pattern branding and instructions, and it's obvious that what it would be useful to see has been well thought through. The course as a whole is very thorough and broken up into good sized chunks. It takes you right through from selecting your size to finishing up and includes very useful tips and practices to get into the habit of such as stabilising your shoulder seams. I also like that whilst the course uses a particular pattern the pattern itself is a good basic and includes all the main construction elements you might need to know about when working with knits so it would be a great guide to making up any other knit pattern.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top & Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

Tilly just focuses on how to sew knits with a regular machine which is great as I think it's very tempting to just jump on the overlocker for speed (of you have one) but actually over the last year I've found I get the best results when assembling with a narrow zig zag stitch and just using the overlocker for finishing. Particularly when just getting started with knits I think working on the regular machine makes it feel less off a foreign concept and also helps you to be more accurate than on the speedy serger. Despite not including instructions for it as seam allowances on knits don't need to be finished to prevent fraying, I did opt to overlock all my seam allowances together after assembly as I like being able to trim them down nice and small and get that professional looking finish inside.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top

As for the actual top; I opted for the plainest design with the round neckline and slim sleeves as I just wanted a classic top that I could wear with a lot of things. I felt like the puffed, ruched sleeves weren't very me to be honest and the gathered, sweetheart neckline, whilst beautiful, was on a personal note giving me flashbacks to the shiny lycra leotards I wore for dancing when I was young and I'm not quite ready to welcome that into my wardrobe! Design-wise the sleeve length is gorgeous and something I don't have a lot of in my wardrobe and I really like the shape and size of the neckline. The proportion of the band width really works in my opinion too. I'm pleased with how flat and smooth the neckline sits.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top

I cut between the size 2 and 3 as my measurements fall exactly between the 2 and I absolutely love the resulting fit. For me it has the perfect amount of ease, not too clingy, not too loose. Especially for wearing tucked into a skirt like this. I used a scrummy bamboo jersey which I have been stashing since one of my first orders from Mood. I'm a total bamboo convert, I love the stuff! It's so soft and snuggly with both a great weight and recovery. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's not the cheapest jersey option but I easily got this top out of a yard.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Bamboo Jersey Tilly & The Buttons Agnes Top & Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

The eagle eyed among you will probably recognise the skirt as looking very similar to my denim version of the McCalls 6696 shirtdress a little while back. (Sorry that it's looking a little wrinkled in these pics, I'd been wearing it all day!) This dress has been such a huge hit in my wardrobe (I think it's probably the handmade item I've worn the most) and I had such a great time sewing it that I decided I absolutely needed a skirt version so I could mix and match it with various tops and wear it even more! There's something about the practicality of those still stylish pockets and the slightly seventies style when made up in denim which has me reaching for it again and again.

For this version I went down to a size 8 as the dress I made in a 10 and it has a bit of ease around the waist which I wanted to fit snugly to keep the skirt in place. It is now ever so slightly snug around the hips so if I make the dress again I'll probably cut an 8 at the waist and bust (but go up a cup size) and stick with the 10 at the hips. As I did with the dress I took 3.5" off the length and used 1" for the hem, I'm 5ft 3" for reference.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

I used exactly the same denim as I did before (from Unique Fabrics on Goldhawk Road, £9.50/m) but in the darker colour. The weight and softness of it worked perfectly for a dress so I figured if it's not broken don't fix it! I could just about squeeze this size out of a metre but I'd recommend getting slightly more to be on the safe side. Both the dress and skirt have seen a lot of the washing machine and this particular denim has washed really well and started to develop that slightly worn in look which I love.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Denim McCalls 6696 Skirt

I had to make a few small changes to the pattern and construction order to make this work as a skirt as on the dress the placket runs right up the centre, dissecting the waistband, but I wanted the waistband to run right around the top as it does on most skirts or a pair of jeans. It was fairly straightforward to do. I cut the front placket pieces shorter but didn't measure them. I sewed them to the centre front of the skirt before the waistband, then trimmed them down to the right length and followed the pattern instructions for finishing off the bottom edge. I cut the waistband and interfacing 3" longer than the pattern pieces which is approximately the width of the front placket x2. As with the plackets, because of the way I constructed it I didn't need to be super accurate with the length, I just needed to make sure the pieces weren't too short. This briefly explains how I did it:
  • Sew the interfaced waistband piece to the top edge of the skirt, right sides together and press the seam allowance up towards the waistband. 
  • Sew the waistband facing to the main waistband piece along the top edge.
  • Trim this seam allowance and press towards the facing. 
  • Turn in and press the seam allowance of the waistband facing along the long raw edge (by 1.5cm)
  • Fold the facing over the waistband, right sides together. Stitch up the small ends making sure catching the seam allowances you have just pressed in place. If like me you have just cut the waistband to roughly the right length you want to make sure your stitching line butts up against the edge of the front button band rather than using a specific width of seam allowance.
  • Trim the seam allowances at the ends and corners then turn the waistband right side out and press, using a point turner/chopstick/other handy implement to create a nice crisp corner. 
  • I then topstitched around my waistband which secured the bottom edge of the facing in place but if you don't want to topstitch you could slipstitch by hand or stitch in the ditch.
I'm delighted with how my skirt has turned out, it has been a really useful addition to my wardrobe. I did think perhaps it was a little silly to make as skirt pretty much exactly the same as the dress (even using the same buttons and colour of topstitching thread!) but I'm really pleased that I didn't change a thing!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The History of the Sewing Machine

Just a quick post for you today! Terry's Fabrics sent over this infographic about the history of the sewing machine and I found it really interesting so I thought some of you might too! Even more amazing than the fact that the first sewing machine was around over 250 years ago, is the fact that up until then the clothes of every single person were made entirely by hand. No wonder people wore the same clothes day in, day out! I sometimes work at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London and the costume department there has an 'original practice' store of costumes. All the costumes in there have been made as they would have been in Elizabethan times...entirely by hand! There are some absolutely spectacular pieces in there; doublets and hose, farthingales and gowns. All made with such beautiful tiny stitches. I can't even imagine how long each item must take and the skill involved.

Anyway, I've got a little side tracked! Enjoy!


History of Sewing Machine by Terrys Fabrics

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Tanya Taylor Viscose Print Two Piece Set

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

The fabric I used for this month's Mood Sewing Network project was one of those that jumped straight off the page at me and I ended up ordering without a specific project in mind. It's described as a Stretch Viscose Twill so I pounced on it as I've always had a good experience sewing garments with viscose in the past and often struggle to find it in interesting prints and colours here in London. When it arrived I was really surprised, but in a good way! The description on the Mood Fabrics site is perfectly accurate but it's a really quite unusual fabric and difficult to picture until you've got it in your hands. Previous viscose/rayon twills I've worked with are fairly fine and lightweight with quite a visible twill weave. This on the other hand has a reasonable thickness to it and seems somewhat spongy to the touch. The surface is so smooth and it also has a decent amount of stretch one way. It's almost like a lighter-weight scuba fabric but with the most amazing drape! I was so excited to start working with it.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

Both the hand and print of the fabric have a really modern feel so I knew I wanted to make a garment/outfit with a contemporary look to it. I decided to dip my toe into the two piece trend that's been so popular recently. I figured even if I don't like the two pieces together I'll have two new garments to wear separately! Rather than purchase an all new pattern I rummaged through my stash to see if I had a dress pattern that I could adapt. I settled on McCalls 6887 which I was yet to try, as I wanted something fairly fitted and I liked the look of the classic princess seams and little cap sleeves. I used view D which has the high back without the cut out to balance out the fact that I was going to be bearing a bit of midriff which was enough of a change for me! The pattern does include instructions for adding piping or colour blocking the bodice panels but I omitted these steps as I wanted to keep it clean and simple.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

Like the ever popular McCalls 6696 shirtdress this pattern comes with pieces for different cup sizes so as I did with the shirt dress I started by making a muslin of the size 10 with the A/B cup size. It turned out pretty great first try. If I wanted it closely fitted I could have gone down to an 8 and up a cut size but I was worried about making the waist too snug and I also wanted it to have a bit of ease because of the cropped style. Instead of going down a size I just made a simple alteration of pinching out some of the extra room I had above the bust along the princess seams. It was about 1cm on the double by the armhole, grading out to nothing just below the bust point. I could probably still do with taking a little bit of room out of the neckline if I make this again but it suits me just fine for this style. Turning the bodice into a crop top was a simple as taking 1" off the bottom of all the bodice pattern pieces and used 1" to create the hem (folding it up twice by 1/2" each time).

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

The muslin helped me work out how I wanted the top to fasten at the centre back. Despite having a fair amount of stretch it was going to need a fastening to get on and off but the only open ended zips I could find in the right length were of the chunky, exposed variety and I really wanted to keep this look sleek. I realised when removing the muslin that I could get it off over my head with centre back closed for a few inches below the neckline. I needed the room at the waistline really. So I simply decided to insert the invisible zip upside down! It might not be the technically best solution but it works for me!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

Having already assembled the bodice for the muslin really helped me work out how to get away without lining the bodice. I actually cut lining pieces from some gorgeous silk crepe de chine I had left over from my very first MSN project! But I realised lining with the silk crepe would combat the usefulness of the stretch in the fashion fabric and had second thoughts. Amongst it's other amazing properties this fabric is completely opaque, even in direct sunlight and is also lovely and smooth against the skin so I thought not lining it would actually probably be preferable. At first I drafted a facing for the neckline, thinking I could use this and simply turn and stitch the hem of the body and sleeves. However I failed to realise until I made the muslin that the lovely cap sleeves are only inserted into the top part of the armhole which would leave the underarm edge completely raw if not using a lining. To solve this issue I drafted a larger all-in-one facing which continues across from the neckline and under the arms. I do love this method of cleanly finishing a garment and on this particular pattern it means the armhole seams are neatly concealed within the facing. I inserted the sleeves before attaching the facing and then kept the sleeves in the same position, with right side against the right side of the bodice and treated those two parts as one when I pinned the facing in place. That probably makes no sense but man, that is difficult to explain in writing! If you attach the facing before sewing up the side seams or centre back you can stitch it around the full neckline and armholes then pull the back pieces through the armholes to the front to turn it right side out.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

Rather than use the skirt from M6887 I decided that a simple half circle skirt, with only the one seam  would show off the print best. Plus this fabric has a lovely body and bounce to it that I hoped would suit the style perfectly. And I'm pleased to say that I think it did! I drafted the skirt myself which is so straight forward to do if you fancy dipping your toe into the world of pattern drafting. I used the formula's that By Hand London provide in this circle skirt maths post and drew the shape with chalk directly onto my fabric. The length of the skirt was entirely determined by the width of the fabric as I really wanted to cut the skirt in one piece on the fold. The waistband is interfaced with a lightweight fusible (as is the facing of the bodice) and the raw inside edge is simply pressed under and hand stitched. It was such a great fabric for hand sewing, the stitches just vanish!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

The fabric itself was lovely to work with throughout the whole process; easy to cut and sew, the stitches sink in beautifully and it pressed well. I used a medium heat with my iron or I started to get a bit of a sheen on the surface. I'm especially pleased with how clean my two invisible zips look! The only issue I had with it was that it did snag quite easily. I finished all the seam allowances on my overlocker and this is where the problem with the snagging seemed to crop up most. Thankfully any little pulls remained within the seam allowance! I was careful to keep any pins within the seam allowance too.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Tanya Taylor Viscose Twill Two Piece from Mood Fabrics using McCalla 6887

I was pretty apprehensive half way through making this project about how it would look on me as an outfit but I'm so happy with it now it's done! I like how the proportions of the two pieces work together and how it almost looks like a dress until I move. But I also like the top paired with my favourite high waisted pencil skirt and the skirt with a simple t-shirt. However, overall I'm most pleased with how well the fabric worked for both of the separate pieces. The slight stretch and thickness of the viscose suited the structure of the top and the body and beautiful drape gives the skirt a lovely flare!