Sunday, 12 November 2017

"Fancy a kiss?" The Dementor costume

This costume has been 2 years coming. The halloween before last I had big plans to be a dementor. It was me and my girlfriend's first halloween together and we had spent a lot of time discussing costumes. Cut to the night of the party and due to bad teaching times I am exhausted, antisocial and have made about 5% of the costume. Eventually we go out late with me wearing an old red riding hood cape and a serious case of costume anticlimax.

But... the dementor costume was still haunting me. Just too creepy to forget.

So this year I started slightly earlier and actually planned some stuff. I was still making it up to the wire, but I was cheerful and finished it (part due to planning and perhaps part no longer being a teacher!)

It's actually a pretty simple costume. I made a series of layers and ragged the edges. They just have a hole in the middle and the longer ones have holes for my hands to go through. To make it creepier I made a hat from cardboard with a dome of pillow in the middle. This extended my head height by about 5 inches, and I then added another 2 layers of thin material. Which looked extremely creepy and I could just about still see.

To complete the effect, I made some finger extensions using those costume witch fingers, long bits of wire and some electrical tape. These proved quite uncomfortable (I think the costume fingers were for kids) and I could only manage one hand at a time, but they looked great!

Overall the costume was a great success and I won second prize at the party!

Monday, 18 September 2017

The "Baby I'm a firework" Upton hack

Well yesterday my littlest brother got married, in a lovely wedding where I danced until my feet were sore. Despite having already made a wedding attending dress a month ago, I had an urge to make another (not anything to do with me know wanting to try and fix the button band fiasco from the other dress!).

Now I am trying to be thrifty and I have a stash that fills 8 large drawers, so I was determined to work with something I already had. As I had had some slippage issues with my wiggly viscose in the last dress, I decided to use a more stable fabric. This significantly cut down my options, as most of my stable fabric selection is 1-1.5m lengths intended for pencil skirts. The fabric that therefore jumped out at me is one of my oldest stash pieces, 3m of thin cotton with a crazy flower/firework print. I must have bought this a good 4-5 years ago in Edinburgh. I had intended it for a fitted dress, but then learned more about fabric and realised that it was a bit flimsy and creasy. It then sat in the stash... waiting..

Until now! (Pardon the wrinkles, I had already been to the ceremony and meal.)

(Being photobombed by my other brother and cousin!)

(The fabric photographs fantastically - even when nothing else is on focus!)

Now, as I mentioned in a recent Instagram, I always sew in a bit of a rush, but can spend hours planning, so I originally had something very complicated planned. I have always loved tiki sarong dresses, and had a whole boned and pleated top, wrap skirt thing planned. As is typical with my planning however, I planned so long that I had no time to make it, so I scaled my plan right back.

I had always intended to use the Cashmerette Upton bodice as the basis for the dress, though I found it funny that I was planning an elaborate hack before I had even made a normal version. For the scaled back plan, I simply decided to just use the top as is, and combine it with a simple fitted pencil skirt (which I rubbed off an existing skirt that I knew fit me).

Now previously, I have only made the Cashmerette Appleton wrap dress (which I have still not blogged despite LOVING!) and I was a little concerned that a woven top would be harder to fit, even when designed by the talented Jenny. This assumption meant that when the pattern piece slipped slightly when cutting out the bodice that I didn't fix it, I figured I would need to make adjustments anyway. I WAS WRONG - I SHOULD HAVE TRUSTED JENNY! Once it was all sewn up, the fit was perfect, except very slightly too wide across the centre front, where it had slipped. Sigh.

To reinforce the bodice given the thin material, I underlined the bodice with white cotton from a second hand sheet. This was really convenient, as I could draw straight onto it with my heat dissolving pens to make all the markings. (I love my those pens!) I should have also reinforced the skirt, but did not for time reasons. This wasn't a critical error, but meant that there was a slight rip later that could have been avoided.

I tried quite hard to make sure the print worked and wasn't odd. I carefully lined up one of the bright explosion areas onto the neckline which was very successful I also did some pattern matching up the centre back seams, but then had to let it out as it was too tight.. still, it still reads as one image, even if isn't perfect!

For the Upton bodice I made a 14 e/f and the only alterations I made were to lengthen the straps by 1.5 inches (I basically sewed along the cut line), take in the upper back by about half an inch along the zip, and to lengthen the bodice by about 3 inches to lower the waistline (the Upton sits at the high waist). I also had to add a short dart at the centre front to lose that pesky additional width.

(Oops - really should have remembered to sew on the hook and eye at the top of the zip!)

Overall - I love it! Even though it got very creased and I should have lined the skirt - I felt very glamorous in it and it is very comfortable. For next time I will have to fix the back tear (I caught the slit area on a chair arm), and find my pretty slip (I couldn't find it for this time, and my other one is a bit long, hence you can it in these pictures. When I make the Upton again, I will take an inch out of the back length, as the zip buckles a little when I stand up straight.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

This year's wedding attending dress

I hate finding fancy clothes to wear to weddings. It always seems more stressful than other types of shopping or sewing. Fancy fabrics and not quite fitting bodices.. Therefore once I make a more dressy dress, I tend to wear it to everything!

I have two weddings this year, one of which is my brother's so people might actually photograph me. Unfortunately, my previous wedding outfit, along with much of my usual wardrobe, is now a little snug. Also, I am wearing it in the pictures from my other brother's wedding a few years ago so that might look a little odd!

Clearly, some new fanciness is needed. As a warm up , for the other wedding this year (some lovely friends) I decided to make a new dress. As ever, I spent a long time planning it, and insufficient time making it (though better timed than the last wedding dress, where I sewed the facing down in a toilet when I got there).

I used some lovely viscose, which I probably got off ebay (I went through a significant ebay viscose buying frenzy at one point). It is a fantastic bright tomato red with white flowers and is very drapey.
The basic bodice shape is essentially a simple button up with spaghetti straps. There are then two drapey sleeve bits that go off the shoulder round from centre front to centre back. As I didn't have a remotely similar pattern I drafted it myself on Agnetha. This was reasonably successful though I ended up with some rather odd dart ends.. luckily once i extended them a bit and ironed it they looked ok. I was very pleased with the straps. I normally leave those kind of things until the last minute, when I am then too bored and rush it. This time I did them first, turning them through properly and everything! The sleeves are just long hemmed rectangles that are pleated at the centre front and back.

Viscose is a bit of a beast to work with. It hangs beautifully, and you can press it any way you want to fix the sloppiest dart installation. It also however shifts continually, misshapes itself at any moment,  stretches unexpectedly and twists randomly when you (inevitably) lose the grainline. 

I love almost everything about the dress, but let's not overlook the elephant in the room. The front button band is horrible. It's crooked, uneven, a bit too tight and the fabric ripped around the poppers so half of them don't do up and the other half are barely attached to the dress. Luckily, many safety pins corrected the structural problems, but I am going to have to make a whole new band and sew it on straighter!

Other slight issues - the straps stretched a bit and the the back neckline is therefore a bit too low. I just wore a slip under it.

The skirt is just a longer version of Colette patterns Ginger. I found the cutting of it more stressful than it should have been as to make straps I ripped off a bit of fabric at the top, only to realise it was actually the side. This made it all a bit narrow, but I worked it out. I was worried about hemming it, but that part went beautifully.

Overall I love the dress, but I will have to do some serious work at the front. I may wear it to the next wedding, or maybe something else new- I feel like I'm getting my sewjo back a bit!

In other news, I am super thrilled that Mena and the Sew Weekly is back on instagram. I have been missing that regular entertainment and inspiration basically since it went away! To find it look for #sewweekly and add your own posts! Mena has set monthly and weekly challenges to get involved with.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

On stashes....

Talk to a sewist, and you will talk about THE STASH. It is a strange topic really, as it is both an emblem of pride, of identity, of potential, but also of failure, guilt and waste. On one hand, we collect fabric to give ourselves options, to express ourselves. We see endless options and dreams and we get all excited. On the other hand however, we often collect more fabric than we use, so it sits there, reminding us of all the dreams we had, all the plans we made. Now don't get me wrong, not all sewists build up stashes at all (you efficient people slightly terrify me!) and many others love their stashes, viewing them as a fabric shop in their own home. I don't though, and based on my wanderings on the interwebs, a lot of other sewists don't either.

If I see some fabric I love, I want to own it. It eats at me, "BUY ME , BUY ME! I would be so perfect for a .....". Sometimes I buy it, sometimes I don't. But the stash grows. I don't sew nearly as much as I think I do, and so the stash keeps creeping up, overflowing another box in my spare wardrobe, another bag on the floor of my sewing room. Drip, by drip, by drip. Even when I have used a piece, there's some left, a bit too big to throw away,; so into another bag it goes.. I might need to repair it, I might want to contrast line a pocket, or make a cushion cover...

I love the pieces of fabric in my stash, I have a plan for each, touching them thrills my fingers and looking at the colours and patterns makes my eyes happy. I love the potential of it all, that I could whip up anything I wanted in a weekend - screw shopping! I feel like a sewist in my room, looking at it all, it is evidence of this aspect of my identity, of the community I belong to.

It troubles me though. It sits there, taking up space, requiring organisation, gathering dust. And I can see the money invested in it. The ideas I had that I haven't put into practice. As you go further back, the identities I had that no longer really apply, but which I am still attached to. It is full of memories, and not necessarily pleasant ones, memories of enthusiasm for things that never ended up happening.

The trouble is that I approach buying fabric the way I buy clothes - I see that, I want it, I possibly buy it. And clothes also costs money, and take up space, and you get weirdly nostalgic about them. But the key difference is that you can at least wear the clothes. I actually have to use the fabric for it to help me. It is like I am thirsty, so I keep buying drinks, but instead of drinking them and feeling relieved, I just put them in a cupboard, and keep being thirsty.

I had a moment of realisation earlier (and hence this post). I was looking at my fabric options form the stash on Trello (this has been a very useful app for me btw), thinking of some things I could make over Christmas. And I realised that the idea of making things with my stash bothered me. I was worried about using the fabric. Worried that I would waste it, that I wouldn't have it later in case I needed it then. Which is utterly ludicrous. What is the point of having it if I don't use it? That's what it is for! What weird fabric emergency am I an anticipating that I need to keep half a fabric shop in reserve?! 

So I am going to use it. Make things with it as quickly as I can, experiment, give bits away, sell some. Make it an active thing again, not just a museum.

How though? so I have some plans:

1) Make some stuff. Motivation is a muscle they say, the more you sew, the more you want to. I am going to make some stuff over Christmas, some new stuff that is making me excited now, and some old stuff that got me excited before. 

2) Tear up old plans. This is a big one for me. When I look at pieces of fabric I have had for YEARS, I still see the original plan for it. That might be a great plan, but frankly often it isn't. Who I am, what I wear, has moved on, and my understanding of what fabric would be good for (based on quality, fabric type etc) has drastically changed. So I look at some soft cotton and think: "I should make this into a lovely pencil skirt -why have I not done this yet. I am a failure, I should place it here in this pile where I will see it and make the skirt soon." But I don't make it, because I know really that it wont make a good pencil skirt, it will be see-through, and crease, and annoy me. So I don't make it. But I still remember the plan, the dream, so it stays in the stash. It is time to stop this. I am going to look at every piece I have, and really think about that dream plan. If it is rubbish, I abandon it. I shall abandon it by either making a new plan that might actually work, or getting rid of it. I need to write over all my old plans. It is bad enough having good ideas you haven't yet got round to, it's ridiculous to beat myself up over stupid plans!

3) Get rid of fear. Probably easier said than done this one! When I started sewing I sewed more. I had no idea what was hard, or shouldn't be attempted. I consequently sewed all kinds of stuff, with mixed results. Now I am scared, I know slippery fabrics are hard to work with, I know wool is expensive and can shrink weird. About a quarter of my stash is fabrics I am too scared to use - put away for "when I am a better sewist". I am probably never going to be much better. And when I am I will just know more things I can be scared of - that is the nature of knowledge. The only thing that makes you braver is trying. So I am going to try. I am going to commit to ruining fabric and making wonky things again. Because I probably wont. And if I do, it is no more a waste than them waiting forever. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Using the high bust measurement for more accurate bodices.

I posted this over at the Curvy Sewing Collective's Facebook group, and thought I might as well stick it on here too.

A major problem that people have who are not a B/C cup is that patterns use full bust measurements to judge how big a bodice you should make. The bodice, at every size, is proportioned for a B/C cup lady, so if you pick the size that fits you and you have a larger or smaller bust then it will end up the wrong size as it is based on a different shape. The easiest way to get the right proportions thorough your shoulders, neck and back is to use your high bust measurement.

The diagram above shows two ladies with the same size bodies but different size boobs. Both ladies need a pattern with the same size shoulders, back and upper chest, but the E cup lady can't work out what size that is from her full bust as it will all come out too big, as the bigger bust size is just larger all over.

On the E cup diagram the lower red line is showing the measurement to the full bust of the B/C cup lady, so that you can see it is basically the same as the measurement of the high bust (the top red line) of the E cup lady. Using this measurement, the E cup lady can start with the size that fits her upper body apart from her boobs, then just do a FBA to add in extra boob space at the front.

Whilst this shows the general idea! (I hope), when measuring yourself, you don't have to have the tape on a crazy diagonal as in the picture, as your back gets a bit wider as you go up and it's wider where your arms attach, which compensates. Just measure where it is comfortable to do so, it shouldn't make that much difference, and should certainly be a better fit that using your full bust!

This should also work if you are smaller busted, you just do a Small Bust Adjustment afterwards instead.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Those poor unfortunate souls! The Ursula costume

I love Halloween, and dressing up generally, I love the planning and thinking and working bits out. I was really annoyed with myself last year as I was a bit under the weather and tired and so had a hissy fit and just reused a costume. This year I was determined to do better!

I always find it had to decide on what I want to be. I am not a Halloween purist who thinks you have to dress up scary, but I do like my Halloween costumes to have some creepy element, or have some connection with death. Previous costumes have included Cruella deVille, a weeping angel and dead Amelia Earheart (I used to have blog posts about these but I removed a lot of material when I trained to be a teacher - Sorry!). This year I eventually decided on Ursula from the Little Mermaid, as she is excellently evil! I always think she gets a bad rep, she should totally have won, Ariel is a bit useless!

So.. to the costume! I decided right away that I wanted actual tentacles. Lots of the costumes online are a bit lacking in this respect, often with flat ones or teeny ones. There are also some amazing cosplays with enormous tentacles, but I wasn't going to be standing in a big empty convention centre so mine were going to have to be more practical! I was going to a semi-crowded pub so my costume needed to be squashable, not trail on the floor, not too hard to sit in and possible to use the toilet!

Now another key issue, as a fairly well endowed lady, I do not ever wear strapless bras. They just don't work, they are uncomfortable, need tugging up all the time and just look rubbish on me. But Ursula is very strapless. I decided to experiment -  I read somewhere that bustiers are better for the larger busted, but I couldn't find any size appropriate ones easily to hand. I instead compromised, and got a cheap corset from Amazon and wore it with a strapless bra, so the corset bits held me up. I wasn't sure if this would work but it did brilliantly! I didn't lace it that tight so it was actually very comfortable, and I never had to worry about the strapless bra at all! Frankly it was a revelation - I won't be wearing it under a summer top of anything but it would be great for formal wear. Here is Agnetha wearing it - its fits me better as Agnetha doesn't squash like I do!

I went round a bit on the plan for the skirt and tentacles, but eventually ended up with a series of layers.

I have to confess with slight shame as a sewist that the top didn't really involve any sewing at all. I ruched the front a bit with some elastic, but then I basically made a rectangle of t-shirting and just wrapped it round and pinned it at the front with a safety pin. I then just tucked it in to the corset at the back. I was going to hand sew it but when I put it on it worked fine so I just left it.

The next layer was a long, full skirt. I made it out of very thin slippy poly cotton. It's extremely full, and when I first tried it on I kept dancing round the flat like a Disney princess as it was very swooshy. BUT NO - I am not a princess, I am a villainess! I was going to gather it onto elastic but it was too full, so I sewed it on every couple of inches instead; as it is an underlayer it didn't matter that it wasn't all joined on. Conveniently, the width from selvedge to selvedge was exactly right for my height so I didn't have to sew it. (You may be sensing a theme, there is surprisingly little sewing involved in this costume!)

So, the tentacles... This had me scratching my head for a bit, but after some excessive googling I decided on stuffed tentacles, attached to a waistband. They tentacles are made of half black pvc, and half purple sequin. (I got all the fabrics from Leeds market.) I had to add another layer of black t-shirting under the purple as it turned out a bit see-through and you could see the stuffing. I just cut out long triangles that were rounded at one end. I made the purple sections slightly narrower so the black would curve round more. Once I had sewed each side, I added some medium thickness green garden wire, just bent into a long v shape. I tacked this into the seam every 6 inches or so. I then stuffed them with old pillow innards, it took 3 pillows. I then sewed the open ends up, using a longer section of the underneath (so the end was sort of squared off 3-dimensionally).

I needed to be able to take the tentacles off, so I wanted them to be separate from the rest of the costume. I decided to sew them onto a wide elastic waistband. This worked well, but was a bit tricky to do, as the tentacles got in the way once I had sewed a few on! Not the straightest sewing I have ever done, but it worked. I then used clear fishing line to pull them up at the front. I left the back not pulled up as they are easier to squash and were more flexible that way.

To cover the waist join and made it all a bit dressier I then cut a short circle skirt of weird black sparkly material (it's like a flat tinsel, close up it looks like woven binbags) and popped it over the top.

My hair and makeup were fantastically done by the lovely Vee Hartley - she did an amazing job! She also made my shell necklace from Fimo. Here she is showing some more excellent makeup work as Cleopatra.

Overall I absolutely loved it! I got loads of compliments and the dress is enormously fun to wear. I thought, what with the corset and tentacles, that it might be difficult to wear for long. It was actually really comfy and the fun to swish!

(I hadn't finished my arm makeup here!)

As I finished it quite late, the light wasn't great for pictures so I put it all on again (minus makeup) for more detailed photos in daylight today. I really enjoy wearing it - would it be weird to wear it to work?


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Summer rain Lady Skater

So this dress has been a long time in the making. Probably about 3 or 4 years. After meeting the charming kitschy-coo at the Crafter's Ceilidh back in the day I purchased some lovely raindrop print jersey from her shop (stop by- she has a great selection now too!). I always intended to make it into a Lady Skater - but I was always too chicken because I liked the fabric too much!

So... years pass and I eventually decide to cut in! Of course then I realise that I only bought a meter and a half... Sigh.  Cue the most fiddly and time consuming piece layout jigsaw I've ever attempted!  It took about 2 hours and at the end I had all my pieces and a remarkably tiny amount of scraps- this dress ended up almost zero waste! I did have to piece the sleeves and back waistband but otherwise perfect! Here are the remains!

Once cut out it was very straightforward - the pattern goes together very easily. I was a little worried it would be too tight and too short, and I didn't have any extra fabric to extend, but I needn't have worried. I added an inch to each side bust area and it was all fine. The dress is super comfy and relaxed, though perhaps a little mad due to the raindrops! It still needs hemming but I'm at my parents and forgot to bring the hemming tape!

I also managed the best neck binding in my history - its not perfect, but it lies properly flat and hugs my upper chest - Result!

Thanks as before to my lovely photographer (ie my sister with time on her hands!) who coaxed some half decent facial expressions out of me (let's forget about the 30 or so photos that did not make the cut due to my inexplicable face pulling!). Also thanks to my mother, who's gardening skills have really paid off!