A very belated Christmas dress: Dolores Batwing Pattern

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a relaxing break. I had a few weeks off in which I meant to post this, but then my parents’ internet decided that I needed some non-internet time, and that went by the wayside. So, with any more delay, here’s my favourite not-so-new dress: The Dolores Batwing Dress!

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When Zoe released this, I was a lucky non-tester, i.e. one of the people who got this pattern to spread the word about it truthfully. So, truthfully, I will now tell you that this is my new favourite dress. I definitely always need one of these in my wardrobe, since it fills a gap I didn’t know I had, and has a different shape to my usual Ladyskater dresses and big skirts, which makes it interesting.

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I hate taping things together, so I timed that aspect. It took a grand total of ten minutes. So, if you have ten minutes, you can start this. I trialled this in different configurations – T-shirt first, then a jumper (trials with a few errors), and last a dress, but the dress is my absolute favourite, so I’ll talk about that here. After my first two items from this pattern, I settled on a mixed size with the arms in a size 12, the neckline in a size 10 and the waist a size 8, and I added an extra 5cms to the sleeves as they were a bit short.

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At first I thought I wouldn’t ever make the dress – it being a different style to what I wear and all that, but after the jumper, I could totally see the potential, so I made it up from a fabric in my stash (yay, stashbusting!). I needed all of 115 cms (but had to cut the lower arm in two pieces instead of on fold) and maybe, um, two hours maximum? That probably is a conservative estimate. It’s seriously quick.

As you can probably tell, I absolutely love it. The fabric is quite a chunky cotton-knit, so it’s pretty stable, but still drapes well. I could have probably tapered the skirt slightly further, but I’m not too bothered. The dress is an absolute staple now – it’s supercomfy, took a felt three seconds to make, and is really easy to dress up for the office with a nice necklace and shoes. For the weekend, though, I can wear it with comfy boots and be snuggly all day. It doesn’t get more comfy than this dress, a chunky cardigan and some nice warm socks. I’m so sold on this that I’ve already cut out another one. (Same fabric, different colour, and I cut it easily from 1.25ms – I thought I’d splash out on the extra 10cms to avoid cutting the sleeve bottom in two pieces).

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Overall, for the dress, I would say – great success! You might want to watch out with sleeve length and the tightness of the sleeve band, but apart from that, this is a great pattern to make. Also, if you find any fit issues, or want to make the jumper and the dress, it’s really quick to re-tape and print thanks to the good layout. The only change I made apart from lengthening the sleeves is that I topstitched the neck bands down to keep them lying nicely flat (the fabric didn’t take to the iron kindly).

Stylewise, it’s a bit of a departure from my usual style, but I really love it. I feel really put together in this at work, I’ve also trialled it travelling and lounging around and it’s just a great all-rounder for me. This is definitely sewing cake, but of the best kind. My only gripe with my dress is that I wear it so often it’s already starting to pill. Sniff. At some point, I might also experiment with cutting the front of the dress a bit lower – sometimes I catch myself getting irritated at the front neckline being quite high up, and fiddling with the dress, so maybe in the future I’ll try to fix that. If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

So, for 2015, this was my last revelation – a superquick dress I didn’t know I was missing, that’s supercomfy. This was the dress I wore on Christmas day. Which meant I put on a dress which looked like effort, but felt like pyjamas. Hoorah!

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Breaking news: The Very Slow Quilt is finished!

Breaking news: The Very Slow Quilt is finished!

Readers, I hope you fell off your chairs at that. You read it right: The quilt-guilt got the better of me, and I finished the Very Slow Quilt. Lo and Behold:

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Just for context – I started this quilt at least in 2012, if not 2011. It’s losely based on Elizabeth Hartman’s book, “The practical guide to patchwork”. Mind you, I could have read more of her book before actually starting the quilting, or the binding, or… Anyways.

In the end, it didn’t take as long as I’d thought it would to put the quilt top together. When sorting through my fabrics (yet again), I found it and realized I was being ridiculous: a) I had almost everything ready cut out to finish it, b) it was really getting on my nerves, c) it was the perfect size to finish up as a baby blanket, in happy colours, and d) I had a nephew on the way. Happy coincidences!

But, of course I couldn’t just make my life easy. First, I finished off the front, which was fine, apart from the fact that I used scraps, and some of them were very very soft and became distorted in this process. Grrr. Secondly, I decided that just using plain fabric on the back would be boring. So, I settled on some left-over fabrics I had from pj-bottoms (nice and soft), but wanted it spruced up with colourful things. So, I took some cookie cutters and traced them off and appliqued this to the back:

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Now, this would have been easy, had I bothered to read the instructions on appliquing in my great quilting book first. Spoiler: I didn’t, so they were a little misbehaved. We got there in the end, and I hear babies aren’t all about the detail, so we’re probably alright. And who knew I had so many bizarre cookie cutters? Or that they’d be so useful for sewing?

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But, the biggest hurdle was actually the quilting itself. My sister and husband live in a flat with wooden and tiled floors, so I wanted this blanket to be a super-soft crawling-and-lying-on-the-floor blanky. So, I picked extra thick wadding in John Lewis. Now, while I can attest to the fact that it’s supersoft, let me tell you, when you’ve never quilted before, starting with something superthick is probably not the best way to learn. The stitches sunk in so much they distorted the fabric, the back puckered, there were folds, then the fabric didn’t match up. I don’t think I’ve ripped out so many stitches in a long time. It probably didn’t help that this was my first time working with a walking foot, and I’m not sure that my walking foot and my feed dogs feed the fabric through at the same rate. In the end, I stitched around the animals to hold everything in place, stitched around the rim, and realized that pins are my best friends ever, apart from when they disappear into the very soft cotton with loose weave I should never have used in the first place. I had nightmares about my nephew choking on the one needle I might accidentally loose track of. I also walked around for a few days with a lot of pinpricks and scratches in my hands from trying to get the quilt all done (and not loose needles). Once it was vaguely well-behaved and together, I then quilted in straight lines along the seamlines. I was a very happy bunny when I was done. It’s still not perfect (you can see the sides and corners are a bit wobbly), but I decided that it’s perfect for my nephew-blanket, and it didn’t have any leftover pins in it in the end.

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The stitching around the animals from the front

I used some leftover wax print cotton for the binding. Stitching this down by hand to finish it off was also a challenge – I’m not convinced it’ll hold up, because the fabric on the back is very soft, and it didn’t seem to be very tight. I assured my sister that the blanket comes with a lifetime guarantee, so I hope it’ll be ok. If I ever do another quilt, I’ll need to work on my corners though – they’re a bit wonky. Ahem.

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Overall, I’m really happy with it though – I wanted it to be supercheerful for my nephew, and happy colours, and I think that worked. It’s fluffy and cosy for him to lie around on, colourful enough that a few babyjuices won’t ruin it immediately, and hopefully a little bit robust as well. It even matches his new mobile plaything over the bed:

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He’s tested it and given it his approval. Horrah! And the very slow quilt is now no longer in my stash. Double Hoorah!I have a nephew – Many Hoorahs!

This quilt, even though small, made me appreciate what my mum told me: Quilting is a lot of work. (Hats off to all you quilters!). If there ever is a next quilt for me, I’ll stick to very big squares. And instructions.

Now, I can’t be the only one with a project that took multiple years (and wasn’t couture) – which skeletons lurked in your closets that you eventually finished off?  How many years did you manage to drag it out over? And was it as bad as my quilt-guilt and Very Slow Quilt?

Spring is coming, so I’ll show you my winter jumpers!

I don’t know about where you are, but here in London, my Minoru jacket has taken over regular duty from my winter coat over a week ago, a good sign that spring is on the way. I’m already dreaming up lots of spring outfits, so I thought, what better things to write about on my blog than my winter jumpers? Here they are…

The Blue Jumper

Look, I found some daylight for you! In February!
Look, I found some daylight for you! In February!

Fun things to do with your jumper

This is very loosely based on Francis Revisited, but I think it’s fair to say that the end result doesn’t have much to do with the original inspiration. From the beginning, my gage was off, but this being my first ever knitted jumper, I had no way of fixing it that I understood, so it was a lot of trial and error (loooots of errors) to get it to fit. I think I restarted the jumper three times, then knit it down to the bottom band, bound it off, realized the fit around my chest was way too lose and looked bizarre, opened most of it up again, and started again. This time round, I then started the decreases straight below the armholes – turns out that for my body, the widest point at my chest is my shoulders, not my chest. Let’s not dwell on that 😉 This time round, it fit. By the end I had made it to the bottom of the main body, I was out of energy though, so I just stopped. No arms, no collar. I unceremoniously gave up for the time being, and started Miette instead.

And then? Miette taught me that hey, I can knit sleeves. I started to understand a little bit more about taking up stitches where before, there was only a bound edge, decreases and so on, which alltogether just made me more comfortable tackling the sleeves. So the sleeves I knit. It was slooooow, but I got there eventually. Then I tackled the collar, and I finished it over Christmas – it took far longer than expected. In total, this jumper took me nine months (!) to finish, but at least I finished it. I am glad to report that I actually also wear it. Somewhat disappointingly for this jumper, this winter was not as cold as last winter, but the jumper still filled the chunky-jumper shaped hole in my wardrobe a little bit. Given the current weather, it might be out of the rotation soon though for another, hmm, nine months? Maybe only six.

As you can see, the front and back differ in exactly... nothing. I didn't even block it, and the only way I can tell which way round I'm wearing it is from a small mistake on one of the arms.

As you can see, the front and back differ in exactly… nothing. I didn’t even block it, and the only way I can tell which way round I’m wearing it is from a small mistake on one of the arms.

Last picture of the blue jumper, I promise

 You can see the arms are not as fitted as they could be, but I really didn’t care anymore by then.

So, before really finishing this jumper, I knitted Miette. This was much easier to jump into – Rachel (at MyMessings), at last year’s summer blogger meet-up in London, let me try hers on, so I knew it would fit (she inspired at least three Miette’s to be knit that day! Mine, Ela’s, and Rachel’s.). The instructions were easy to follow, which definitely was a bonus. I didn’t really make any changes, apart from making the sleeves full length.

The daylight above was short lived. Sorry! But, can you see how nicely it goes with Mrs Ladyskater?

The daylight above was short lived. Sorry! But, can you see how nicely it goes with Mrs Ladyskater?

Not much to say about this – the body knit up really quickly, the sleeves took forevaaaaaaaaa (and then longer). I used DROPS Nepal wool, which I’d used before for Andy’s scarf, so I knew my gauge would be spot on without even knitting a proper test square. Yay! I wish I’d made it an inch longer – I do this with my sewing patterns, but strangely didn’t even think of it for Miette! I’m currently thinking of re-blocking it to make it longer, but really, I haven’t done that yet, so apparently it’s not that important. The next one will be longer. And yes, I’m boring and predictable enough to want another one of these (D’uh, I bet you expected that. After all, this is me!).

Better view of the lace pattern

Better view of the lace pattern. The wool was fairly thick, so you don’t see the pattern as well as on some of the other Miette’s I’ve seen.

Miette neatly fills the gap in my wardrobe for short jumpers and cardigans – I’m pleased to report that it works excellently with my Cambie dress, as well as with my lady skaters. Sadly, that’s about it, and it doesn’t really work with anything else. Woops. At least it does one thing well, and will probably force me to make more cambies/other high waisted dresses.

I’m currently blocking and seaming and then knitting the last bits of my new knit. When working on it in my lunchbreak, my colleagues have been joking that by the time it’s finished I won’t get to wear it much. Being out of synch with the seasons in knitting and blogging seems to be a pattern for me – anybody else do that? Are you still finishing a winter coat, jumper, scarf or hat? Some nice warm wooly skirts? Or in Australia and just getting round to that summer dress or those shorts? Spill the beans, and we can share some motivation!

Two and a half Ladyskaters

Before starting to write about the dresses I made, an advance apology for the terrible pictures – it’s winter, it’s forever raining, I don’t seem to be ever in at the same time as Andy for pictures when it’s lighter than night (you can’t call it light), and me and the camera don’t quite get on well enough for good self-timer pictures yet.

Mind you, that’s the only negative thing in this post. Yes, the weather is awful, but I have two and half Ladyskater dresses to wear in the wet and grey weather, and they are the bees knees. I decided on the cap sleeve version – for me, it seems like the most versatile. You can wear it with a cardi/jumper in winter, wear it without one in spring and summer, and I practically never have to wear anything else ever again.

Ladyskater. Despite what it looks like, this is purple. I promise!

What I think of only ever wearing Ladyskater dresses.

I first made a navy blue one as a wearable muslin – and wearable it certainly is. I practically lived in it before the second one joined it.There were some modifications – to start with, a one-inch broad shoulder adjustment after measuring the pattern. I then had to take out some excess from the top of the shoulder as a result, as they came out hilariously square. I put some small darts into the shoulders going into the cap sleeve, and then shaved the extra centimetre off the top of the outside shoulder of both front and back bodice pattern piece, and took 2cms out of the cap sleeve curve to make up for it. I’m sure there’s a scientific method to do this, but it hurt my brain to think about it, and this worked. I then also added an extra centimetre length in the bodice in my second version, and took the sides in by about a centimetre or so at the waist only.

This is actually the second Ladyskater - they're so similar, I couldn't be bothered to change into the first one, since the colour was all messed up anyways, and therefore you wouldn't be able to tell the difference *at all*.

This is actually the second Ladyskater – they’re so similar that I couldn’t be bothered to change into the first one, since the colour was all messed up and therefore you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference *at all*.

Here’s a picture of what the colours actually look like:

Hey, look! It's actually quite close to their real colour. Phenomenal for January!

Hey, look! It’s actually quite close to their real colour. Phenomenal for January!

The dresses are so similar, they’re actually the same fabric, just in a different colour, ha. It’s a really thick, spongey, sturdy knit, well-behaved, and just a little shiny. I then realized that the dresses also look really good with a jumper on top, like a Renfrew or a chunky knit, so then I decided to make a Ladyskater skirt in black. The skirt is the same fabric *again*, just in black. God, I’m so boring.

To make the skirt, I cut out the skirt part of the pattern only (d’uh), traced the very top five centimetres of it for a facing, sewed up skirt and facing, then sewed them together, added some clear elastic for stability, understitched and topstitched over it all, and had a skirt in about an hour. Win!

Photo where I stand around awkwardly so I don't cut my head off with the camera on self-timer.

Photo where I stand around awkwardly so I don’t cut my head off with the camera on self-timer.

I could have probably made it a size smaller – without the bodice holding it up, it sits almost alarmingly low. Since I like to wear long tops, it’s still fine; I’ll just have to watch it and make sure it doesn’t accidentally stretch out too much and then slides off in the middle of a busy street/the office. Stuff for nightmares, eh?

I was also really lazy and didn’t put a zipper or anything – I figured if I couldn’t get it over the hips, I could always take it off/put it on over my head, since that worked for the dress. Laziness, yay!

Side view of the skirt

Side view of the skirt

So, there we go – Ladyskaters to make me happy on rainy and cold days! These are so, so, so quick to make, so a great thing to sew up after finishing Andy’s coat; and they seem to work with a lot in my wardrobe. They’re what I reach for when I have no idea what to wear and can’t be bothered to think about it; and they seem to look good too – some of my friends are a little jealous of these dresses, hehe.

I bought the fabric for the purple dress and the skirt in December, so this counts as stash busting or dieting (yay!). Sadly, I now have no more suitable fabric for another one in my stash. Meh. My plan for a million more skater dresses to avoid not knowing what to wear ever again is therefore currently on hold.

These 2.5 dresses made me realize, and you might have noticed already, that I like making the same pattern over and over again. 2.5 Ladyskaters, 5 Renfrews, 3 Maria Denmark cowl necks, I’m currently working on Alma 2, 3, and 4… How many of one pattern is too many? And what’s the most you’ve ever made of one pattern?

Secret Selfless Sewing: Testing the Goldstream Peacoat

While pretending to tidy up, move house, celebrate Christmas, and tidy up again, what’s really been keeping me busy is that I got to test the Goldstream Peacoat Pattern by Thread Theory.

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I really wanted to make the coat for Andy’s birthday, and this heart-warming cause was enough (with a bit of perfectionism and coatmaking experience) to win Morgan and Matt over. Yay! The pattern arrived in November, and most of the coat was finished by early December. But between moving house, Christmas and spending a lot of time on the sofa, it didn’t get finished until the second week in January. Woops. That was a little later than his birthday (mid-November), but hey, he had the fabric on his birthday. That counts, right? It wasn’t actually a secret from Andy. I figured I needed to measure him, and he is picky with what he wears, so he definitely needed to pick the fabric himself. Andy had surprising amounts of fun choosing the fabric – I took him to Goldhawk Road, and after a lot of fabric touching, we settled on a dark, almost-black wool with polyester (confusingly, it’s called ‘cashmerette’), and a blue lining (silk and viscose, with quite a lot of body). I got away with 2.2m of the main fabric, and have a lot of lining and nice interfacing from the English Couture Company left over (oh, what a shame. I’ll have to make myself a coat to use it up!)

Now it’s finished, I thought I’d share some pictures with you and sing the pattern’s praises. I really enjoyed making the coat; I love love love coats and jackets in general, and with this one, I learnt lots of new tricks. Here’s the result:

Coat on coathanger

Coat on coathanger

And in action:

Coat on Andy. If you want to pose there yourself, head to Holland Park!

Coat on Andy. If you want to pose there yourself, head to Holland Park!

Inner Pocket!

Inner Pocket and Lining

Side shot

Side shot

With a few detail shots:

Shoulder Epaulets and Collar

Shoulder Epaulets and Collar

Sleeve Tab

Sleeve Tab

Pocket and sleeve tab

Pocket and sleeve tab

I made Andy the classic version of the Peacoat. The whole coat came together beautifully – I particularly enjoyed the sleeves (once I’d figured out how to set them in. I don’t recomment trying it with a massive cold!), since I’d never sewn two-part sleeves before, and I think it hangs really nicely and gives a great shape. The collar, too, was great fun to sew, and the sleeve tabs, and the pockets, and… Lots of little neat teachniques to discover on this coat!

The wool itself behaved very nicely, once I’d figured out that it didn’t like being ironed from the right side. I steamed it before, as several sources on the internet suggested, to make sure that it wouldn’t shrink during construction and later on at the dry cleaners.

I eventually persuaded myself to hand-stitch the hem – I was very very tempted to machine-stitch it, but am glad to say I actually handstitched my first invisible hem. I know. It took long enough, huh? And no, now that it’s finished, you can’t actually see it.

Since finishing this, I’ve gone on a post-big-project jersey quick sewing spree, which was very satisfying, but not quite as satisfying as sewing this label into the coat:

Labelled Coat

Labelled Coat

The main issue I had with the coat where things didn’t go smoothly were the button holes – the fabric thickness meant that it was out of the comfort zone for my machine, which meant it was out of my comfort zone, too. For every buttonhole, I had to do a) maths to figure out where to start sewing b) lower the feed dogs c) put the fabric in, try to shift it into the right place, with everything where it’s meant to be, and so the button holes would be straight and d) remember to both raise the feed dogs and lower the presser foot. This simple combination of things to do before sewing each button hole was somehow beyond me. Oh, and to lower and raise the feed dogs, you have to take the free arm extension off my sewing machine, but in order for the fabric to feed properly underneath the feet, it needed to be in place, so I had to put it back… There was a lot of swearing, almost a lot of tears, a very strong wish to throw an epic tantrum, and finally button holes I can live with, but only because they’re hidden by buttons. I learned that button holes by my new machine rip out much neater than those by my old machine, but frankly, I could have lived without that knowledge. Next time I make this coat, I’m going to attempt bound buttonholes. There, I’ve said it. Maybe that’ll be easier to do for my machine (and me).

I can highly recommend this pattern – I’ll certainly make it again. Next time, like I said, bound button holes, and maybe I’ll also do a small shoulder adjustment, since it’s a bit wide for Andy. The shoulder pads (I know! I used them for the first time, and it was exciting) hide the fact well, but he says movement upwards is a little bit restricted, so that’s something to work on for the next one. Other than that, I’m sure I can keep up the one coat a year pattern. Maybe a little break first, but then? Bring on the next one! Special thanks to Morgan and Matt for having me as a pattern tester, and to Andy, for happily modelling this so I can share it with you 🙂

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