Three dresses in three days: sew-insanity

Several Fridays ago, i took my sewing machine to my partner’s flat. His flatmate was on holiday for two weeks, and in this narrow timeframe I am allowed to commandeer half of the dining room table for the machine and its little collection of gadgets.

I am insanely grateful for this because i have been wanting to make dresses for months, but my flat gets too hot for it. Temperatures reach 29C in my room (normal temperature in the summer in there is 27C, 3 to 7 degrees warmer than outside), the side effect of which is that the second i walk in, instead of digging for fabric, i remove hot clothes, lie on the bed, and launch netflix while trying to move as little as possible…. “Unbearable” is a word that comes to mind. I avoid staying at home these days. And am planning to move out, ahead of contract end, in march next year. I do hope that goes all right. That place is not liveable from June to September, and does not deserve the nearly £1000 of rent (all bills excluded) i pay for one of two rooms. Ok. So flat-hate rant over (it is impairing my productivity!!!!) let’s go back to dresses.

So what’s been going on?

Saturday, I made a dress.
Sunday, I made a dress.
Monday, I made a dress.
Tuesday, I wore Monday’s dress to work and then to meet friends for dinner.

On Wednesday, I was going to dinner with colleagues, ostensibly to talk about work and taking over the world. So no sewing. And no new dress.

The fun thing is that for two of the three dresses, i made a pattern from scratch. The Sunday dress, i used an old faithful i love. And i didn’t finish it, i am still missing the zipper and hem…

For the Saturday dress, a bamboo jersey maxi dress with a button placket (that was the dumbest idea…), i measured myself and plotted the basic half-torso pattern pieces. One for the front, one for the back. (The back one is 10cm narrower in the bodice part, and 4cm longer in the skirt part)





There are no photos of the finished dress…. It aggravated me too much.

Turns out bamboo jersey is like liquid mercury! A slithering little devil that tries to break your machine! I don’t think I have a single straight stitch on the entire dress! It was very difficult to work with, kept snagging, breaking threads, warping, wiggling, moving at different speeds under the foot….
I got super angry. But then two days later i wore the dress around the house….

So I will try again with two changes to my strategy:
One: teflon sewing foot so things glide nicely.
Two: masking tape! Apparently one way to make sure slithering fabric stays straight is to put tape next to where your seam will be! I’ll be trying that.
I already have jersey needles. What i might do is buy some thinner thread. Maybe my plain cotton one wasn’t right for the uber-lightweight stretchy fabric.

About sewing feet. DO NOT BUY THEM ON AMAZON IF YOU OWN A BERNINA 330. I bought 4 sewing feet compatible with my type of machine. Except one nearly broke my machine when the needle hit the foot, and on all the others, the needle also hits the foot, it doesn’t go through the hole. That would be a good £35 i have thrown away. And i still cannot apply bias tape or put in an invisible zipper. More money needs to be spent. Don’t make that mistake!!

Sunday dress was a pleasure to work with. I had bought the fabric in the winter, a lovely half cotton half viscose blend, with a brushed side that felt soooooo soft! (The other was a bit shiny) I bought it in two colours, and worked with the pink one this time. Stitches were perfect. Thread was perfect, everything just worked. One of the perks of working from a pattern and with fabric that resembles muslin (imagine lightweigt bedsheet fabric).




And here is the dress I wore to work and then to dinner. It was fairly quick to make. Just one evening.

Beach bag with 50x150cm and 60min

Last week i went on holiday. I’m Greek, and love the greek islands (best sea in the world!), so it’s where i always go for my summer sea & sun fix. This year, it was Crete.

The night before my sparrow-fart flight, at about midnight, i realised i could not find my beach bag. Maybe it’s at my parents’ in Athens. Maybe it’s under my bed. Go figure. I needed to get to bed pronto, because my alarm would go off at 4:30am. So. What to do?

I could not wager on finding a beach bag on holiday. I know the gift shops down there. You can get olive oil soap and wooden salad stirrers easier than a fabric bag. I looked at my collection of generic fabric bags (many thanks to London Fashion Week, IKEA, SPSS, Mathworks, and many others) and thought “no. And where will the towel go?”

My options:
– go on a beach holiday without a beach bag.
– make a beach bag. Quickly.

I had fabric. Cath Kidston’s London landmarks print. Barely 50cm of it, but full width (150cm).

I knew i wanted thick handles, so my sunburnt shoulders wouldn’t be cut into, so i cut out two strips of about 20cm width each (of the 50cm height). I folded them, stitched them into tubes, and flipped them to make handles. I did not stitch them down again, i did not want them flat.

Then i cut a strip of about another 15cm (again 50cm high), and split it in half. This yielded 2 pieces of 15x25cm which i proceeded to turn the edges on so they could become patch pockets. Ah. Yes. A feature of my favourite beach bag of all time were two outer pockets, one of which carried a bottle of water, and the other sun lotion.

The rest of the fabric was my bag. I had about 95cm left (by 50cm height).

Here is a rough sketch of what the “pattern” for slicing up the fabric looked like.


First, i folded in the top edge and stitched it down.

Second, i applied the patch pockets and also stitched them onto the bag.

Third, i stitched the side seam of the bag, to make it into a nice tube. I did a french seam on that (sew wrong way together, then right way together, to get a tidy and stronger seam).

Fourth, i stitched the bottom. I also made a modification. Instead of sewing a single line bottom, i made a T-seam, so the bottom would be wider. Think of the Longchamp bags. That seam. This was a bit tricky to do on the fly without measuring, but i was aiming for speed, not precision.

Fifth, longest, and last step, was to put on the handles. I wanted a narrower top, so i stitched them folded into the body rather than flat against it. Imagine having the bag pinched around the handle rather than the handle flat against the side of the bag.

This is the bag finished! (I am gutted that i was too rushed, tired and stressed to think of taking more photos of the work in progress!)


And here it is in use, on the amazing beach of Elafonisi in Crete.




Many many months ago, I bought a most excellent book about draping. I almost immediately started plotting a pattern on my dressmaker’s doll… Where it stayed until last night. It must have been a solid 6 months on that doll. So long, in fact, that some of the green Sharpie marks I had made on the baking paper (who needs specialised pattern paper?) have begun to wash out from light exposure. The thing to learn, clearly, is that green sharpies are not lightfast.




I took the marked pieces off the doll, laid them out on top of 2-way stretch jersey, and cut. With my new fiskars tool! Think pizza cutter, but with a razor-sharp disc, which cuts through layerS (the capitalisation is intentional) of fabric.

I have assembled nothing yet. I only cut the fabric last night! Curious to see what will come of it.

Meanwhile, I did use the rolling cutter to make my traditional shift dress, in turquoise this time. It was SO much easier to follow the curves than it is wi scissors!! I wish I had known about these cutters earlier, they are a godsend.


I have no photos to post of the finished dress. Messed up there. And it’s in the laundry by now.

How about some changing room selfies that i will be using for inspiration in my (very near) future projects?

First up, a Roland Mouret dress.


A bit of Dior (the dress) and Chanel (the bag), which i may also attempt to make variations of. I’m a big fan, with a small budget than i would like, and an appetite for craft!



Practice makes perfect… dresses for little girls

The lovely man i have been with for two years now got me a present this winter. He sponsored the acquisition of an amazing Bernina 330.

Here are some unboxing photos of that legend of swiss engineering.




Thing is… I do not know how to use these fancy things. I’ve always used old machines. By old i mean late 19th or early 20th century. So. What to do?

Well, this calls for a new project, of course. With infallible (and humble, clearly) logic, i concluded that making a dress for myself might use most of the stitches, but would take forever. So. What to do?

Fortunately, i have an almost-niece. The lovely man’s brother has a daughter. I’ve never met her in person, but i’ve seen her on skype dozens of times. She’s going to be 18 months old very soon, and is adorable.

So a plan, and project, hatched: make a dress for my man’s niece. If I muck it up, i will have destroyed a lot less fabric than if i tried to make a dress for myself. If i succeed, she ends up with a lovely new summer dress of my own devising.

Here is a photo story of how this project is going.










The teal silk dress

A long overdue post, because I finished the dress and wore it in July.

This dress posed three huge challenges.

1 – I’d never worked with sandwashed silk before, and it’s a very delicate fabric

2 – I lost my trusty shift dress pattern, and had to create a pattern using my own body measurements from scratch

3 – My mother’s sewing machine was eating my fabric and tearing holes in it last time I used it. She confirmed it was “broken”, and so I was left with needing to hand-stitch every single part of this dress.

How did it go? Well let’s just say I’ve never worked harder in my life on a dress. And I made a friend’s wedding dress last year! This was harder. Less stressful, because I did have a backup plan for what to wear… But harder, for the three reasons listed above.

How did it go? Scroll past the photos to read a short version of the highlights.

I was lucky enough to have found, a few days before leaving, this amazing book on pattern making. It’s very simple, has practically no instructions, but for someone who can solve complex mathematical equations and likes building IKEA things without instructions (or, ok, confirming her guesses before ending up with a table instead of a bookcase…), it was enough.

One of the photos above shows me being creative and trying to use baking paper as my pattern paper. An excellent idea. Except I pulled the paper out of the roll, and had about 30cm in my hand. It was empty. And as I started this on a Sunday when shops are closed all over Greece… well… I was lucky to find some IKEA craft paper nearby.

The first version of the dress had no straps on the shoulders. Seeing how it sat, however, I had to do something, and decided to add straps. I made them by hand, each stitch done by hand, and flipped once I was done. I used an interesting trick and stitched thread inside the tube. I’d attached it at one end, kept it inside the tube I was stitching (while inside out), and when it was ready to flip, I used that thread to pull it inside-out! Worked like a charm 🙂 Of course I had to be careful and not tug at the thread until I broke it. It was more about using it to help ease the fabric through. It made a huge difference though!

The fitting was a bit difficult, as I had limited assistance from my mom. She likes things very loose, I like them well-fitted. In retrospect, having had dinner in the dress and danced for more than 5 hours wearing it, I should have made it a little bit looser. My stitches held beautifully (I was more surprised than you are), and the dress looked amazing.

Another trick I used to help the cowl drape properly. I noticed the dress was falling backwards. Normal, given how I’d cut it. So I decided to weigh it down on the front. I made tiny pouches from the same fabric as the dress, put three loonies ($1 coins from Canada) in each, and stitched them closed, and to the base of the straps on the front of the dress. I had to secure them on the sides, too, as they had a tendency to dangle and get in the way. They held really well through the night, and even through the subsequent handwashing of the dress. I didn’t have to tug at my neckline, it stayed where it was supposed to be, which was great!

What I learnt:
– You CAN make a dress entirely by hand. But you really don’t want to. It takes forever.
– If you’re going to dance in a dress and feed in a dress, leave yourself a couple of inches of room for it.
– Making a pattern from body measurements involves some guesswork and 3-dimensional magic (which I’m not sure I possess)
– You can make a gorgeous silk shift dress with barely 1m of material (at £15/m, this is a bargain dress!) and it looks stunning. I did spend a good 20 hours making it though, so your call.

Final sketches and draft handmade pattern for a new dress

I want to make a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding this weekend. Yes. This weekend. In 5 days. I’m not sure I’ll manage, but my sketchbook looks more optimistic.

I have the fabric, the zip, the matching thread and the dress idea.

Alas, mother says the (terrible anyway) sewing machine we have here is broken. And, more critically, i do not have a pattern to make the dress with. So here i am exploring designs, taking measurements, and trying to make my first ever pattern from scratch. Well. First ever non-jersey pattern.




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How to keep going…

The tiny Singer shop in Woking doesn’t have any red cotton jersey (or at least not as much as I’d like) so I can’t make the freeflowing red dress I was hoping to wear to go shopping at London Fashion Weekend (one needs comfy clothes that slip off easily. And I like red.)

The pattern I’d ordered from the same Singer shop before Xmas never made it into their order, and I’m still waiting on last week’s Vogue pattern order I put in myself from the USA. So I can’t make another dress I want. Thankfully I have found the perfect fabric to make it in: a beautiful teal weave (now that _does_ exist at the Singer shop… I might line it in yellow!

While I wait for either the fabric for the red dress or the pattern for the blue dress to show up (I do have 2 alternatives, whichever gets here first) I am going to buy myself some delicious velvet, fleece and lining to make this decadent not-so-little piece. And I am referring solely to the jacket. The fleece will be to use as interlining to keep me warm. Jackets that are purely decorative should never be made, or allowed to be sold. Unless they’re called cardigans or fit under a *real* jacket.

I am not sure if I’ll add scalloped lace edging to the sleeves, but I am looking forward to putting in the shiny lining in a nice fabric. I’ve seen some pretty burgundy velvet, but perhaps, if they have something in green, I’ll go for that instead. With teal lining, perhaps? I haven’t decided, it will depend on what’s available. But for 2m of fabric, I think this is one of the coolest jackets one could have. I am immensely amused that the pattern is being sold as a historical costume, when jackets with a similar collar, buttons and sleeves are flooding the marketplace in 2010. The bottom flaps are shorter on the ones being sold, but you know what? I like my bum warm, so this will be just perfect!

Well, here’s to hoping that getting my hands and brain busy will dispel the clouds hovering over my head, at least temporarily, so I can breathe. And on the plus side I’ll end up with a beautiful jacket, too!