Saturday 28 September 2019

On The Fence: Fringe Dress

So, this dress. I have a lot of conflicting feels about this dress. I actually made it one whole year ago, to wear to my children's 2nd and 5th birthday party. Next week they will turn 3 and 6, but have yet to share this dress until now. I just couldn't work out how I felt about it, and therefore, wasn't sure what to write. Having failed to fall in love with it during its first outing, the weather then turned too cold to wear it again that year. When I saw it hanging in my wardrobe during the colder months I'd have some vague thoughts about cutting it up, harvesting the larger sections of fabric to combine with the short length I have left, and making a top instead. But then this summer came rolling round, and I ended up wearing it a ton, which kind of muddied those plans.


No prizes for recognising that I've used the Chalk & Notch Fringe dress/blouse pattern here. It was a smash hit in 2018, so I had ample opportunity to see lots of different versions on social media. I am really NOT a dress person, but I do sometimes fantasise about breezing around in a dress. I was struck by the clever proportions of the Fringe's loosely-fitted bodice, and the not-super-gathered skirt, plus the gently shaped skirt hem. I really dislike wearing fit-and-flare dresses because I feel too 'little girl in her party dress' in them, but I was intrigued but this pattern's updated take on that style. 

(image source: Chalk & Notch)

The Fringe dress pattern includes two neckline/bodice variations: a V-shaped, button-up front and this dramatic cut out. I appreciate the button-up version for a nice day look, but the cut out appealed to me the most. You can also choose where (or if) you insert the waist ties. I chose to insert them in the front waist darts, so they tie up at the back. 

Normally I pinch out a couple of centimetres from the length of bodices and tops to account for my short-waistedness, but the waistline of the Fringe dress seemed to hit somewhere slightly north of the natural waistline anyway, so I decided to leave it be this time. Although it was a year ago, I remember really enjoying the construction of this dress. That's largely because my fabric behaved so nicely, but I can only conclude that the instructions must also have been clear and logical. 


An embarrassingly long time ago, I was offered a voucher code to try out the fabric printing service offered by Cotton Bee. Thanks so much for them for their generosity. I apologise if this is inaccurate, but from what I understand, Cotton Bee offer the same type of fabric print-on-demand service and products as Spoonflower, but are based in Poland. Which was a real benefit for UK-based sewers before Spoonflower opened a new branch that ships out of Germany. I haven't made any comparisons between prices or details of service and products, but I can say that ordering through the Cotton Bee site was easy and very fun. I managed to make my voucher stretch to two lengths of fabric, the other one being this amazing hand print interlock that became a TATB Freya top.   

Both the fabrics I ordered from Cotton Bee used prints by the same designer. I've since been on the site and was unable to access the function that allowed me to look through all the work of a specific designer, which may well be my fault, so I'm afraid I can't link to her collections in this post. I was obsessed with most of it though. I chose this jewels and gem stones print because of the gorgeous colours. The site allows you to monkey with the scale of the print, so I tried to replicate a kind of ditsy, Liberty-esque design in which the jewels wouldn't be completely noticeable unless you were up close. 


I went for the cotton lawn type base cloth and it is gorgeous quality. I think is the one they call cretonne, but I'd advise you to order a swatch book before you place any orders to be sure you're getting what you want. Anyways, it's not quite tana lawn-level amazing, but easily as good as basically any other cotton lawn I've encountered. I took a long time to pull the trigger with this fabric and cut into it for this project. I love it so much but, for a couple of reasons, in the end I'm not convinced I made the best choice of use for this fabric.

Firstly, I just don't know that this dress generally suits or fits me that well. I guess the suiting-me bit is entirely subjective, and to be honest I'm not sure what I would tweak to improve the fit. Secondly, and more specifically, I don't think the busy, ditsy print works very well with that cut out neckline. Or maybe it's that the base colour doesn't offer sufficient contrast with my skin tone. Either way, a bolder, solid colour would have packed more of a punch to help the cut out detail really shine. 

But as I say, I have ended up wearing this dress a lot this summer and it does feel lovely to wear, so it wouldn't make sense at this point to dissect it. I do have just under a metre left of this fabric. Enough to squeeze a Scout tee, or some kind of woven tank. What would you think I should make from the remainder? Enquiring minds need to know....

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Kabuki Tee Experiment

You know when you have a ma-hoooossive list of projects that you want to sew, many of which you already own both the pattern and the fabric for? And then you have an idea for a new project, something clicks in your mind and you push aside all your carefully laid plans because you have to make it RIGHT FREAKING NOW? You do? Good, then I don't need to explain. 


I had been aware of the Kabuki Tee by Paper Theory Patterns for a couple of months before the sudden urge to make it took hold. If Hunter S Thompson had been into sewing, that last sentence would definitely be something he'd have written I think. Anyways, the Kabuki tee is a definite deviation from the rest of my wardrobe, but after the success I had with my recent experimentation with volume, I felt the Kabuki tee pattern just might work out for me. With a contemporary Japanese feel that I very much appreciate on others, but is something I have yet to dabble with personally, I decided to take the leap. I kept my fingers crossed that I had some other items in my wardrobe that I could match it with, so that it wouldn't be an orphan. 

(image source: Paper Theory Patterns)

I love the drafting of this pattern. Those sleeve insets-come-bust darts look so simple but are executed so nicely. The bias-bound neckline and basic hems complement the general clean look of this style. The pattern's body measurement put me (as per usual) in two sizes: a 12 for the bust and 14 for the waist and hips. Looking at the finished garment measurements, I decided that the design ease was sufficient for me to just go with a straight 12, and the resultant fit is great. 

The instructions are lovely and clean, with very clear illustrations. However, when I got stuck into the construction, I was a little disappointed at the sparseness of the guidance. There was one mention of possibly overlocking the raw edges of just one of the shoulder seams, and that was the only reference to finishing raw edges throughout the project. Similarly, there was little mention of pressing seam allowances, and the instructions for the hems were just to turn up and stitch, with no direction to finish the raw edges first or to double fold them.

The lack of seam allowance finishing and pressing directions left me feeling somewhat in the dark when it came to those tricky sleeve insertions, more hand-holding would definitely have helped me feel a bit more confident there. I'm a fairly experienced sewer at this point, and I've inserted panels like this before so it came out alright (FYI, I overlocked the seam allowances of the sleeve insertion together, pressed them towards the body of the garment, and decided to topstitch them down), but I suspect that the explanation for this part of the project might be a head-scratcher for someone who hasn't been sewing for long. Which is a shame, because the lack of fitting required with this style would otherwise lend it well as a project for a newer sewer.


As we know, fabric choice is key and can totally make or break a sewing project. I adore the plain linen sample version photographed on the Paper Theory website, however I wanted to work with what I already had in my stash if possible. I was also carrying a mild concern that this top might end up looking a bit 'flouncey pottery teacher in her 60s' (no disrespect intended to anyone, that is OBVIOUSLY where my style is ultimately heading, I just don't want to get there too soon!), so I aimed to pick a fabric that would work for this pattern but be a type of fabric I do already wear, to bridge the gap between the new-to-me and the more familiar.  

I had recently become the grateful recipient of a remnant length of this 4oz washed denim from Fabric Godmother that had some light damage in parts. It's the same fabric I used for my most favourite, and possibly most worn, top ever so I already new its properties and how it will eventually age. I was able to cut this pattern whilst avoiding the most obvious light damaged sections. I think the fabric has just enough structure to hold the shape of the Kabuki pattern style (although probably not by it's millionth wear and thousandth laundering I'll wager), and I'm excited to see how it fades at the seams, neckline and hems over time.


Luckily for me, as soon as I finished this top, the climate dealt us an extra helping of late-summer warm, sunny days to wear it in. It felt so breezy and nice. I've also found a surprising number of bottoms that it looks pretty good with, including these Cobra corsage Luna pants, and my three knit pencil skirts. Will I make another Kabuki tee? Possibly. If some lovely linen or linen blend lands in my lap at some point, I may take the next step towards my inevitable complete Art Teacher aesthetic. 

Thursday 12 September 2019

Panda Pants!

I'm so into busting fabric scraps at the moment, that I've started busting other people's scraps too! After talking to my lovely colleague Linda about my sewing plans for my 2yo, Frankie, she very kindly brought me in a bag containing pieces of leftover fabric from some of her sewing projects. Her own daughter is now a teenager, so using scraps by making tiny-people clothes isn't on Linda's agenda. I was the grateful recipient of some lovely pieces, including this awesome panda Ponte Roma. When I brought it home and told Frankie I was going to make him some trousers for him out of it, he wrapped it round himself and was annoyed when I kept telling him that it wasn't ready for him to wear just yet!


Coincidentally, I had just received the offer to review some sewing patterns/ebooks by German kids' sewing pattern brand Koko & Dolores. They offer a small-but-ever-so-fun range of styles, to make the kind of clothing that you see the kids of super cool families wearing in the playground! But before I even saw their patterns I was into them because of their name 😉. I decided to try the Big Easy pattern: loose, harem-style trousers designed for knit fabrics which provide a great canvas for a fabulous print.

(image source: Koko & Dolores)

These ebooks are written in German, which I do NOT speak or understand, but the instructions include such clear illustrative photos that I had zero trouble putting these together. The Big Easy pants pattern is graded between sizes 86 and 116, which translates to height in centimetres. And priced at just € 4.90, it's a major bargain. 


As previously mentioned, I used a Ponte Roma fabric for the front and back leg pattern pieces, as well as for the ankle cuffs. To get the pattern pieces to fit the leftovers, plus keep the pandas the right way up, I had to add a centre back seam rather than cut the back piece on the fold as per the original pattern. Although this Ponte has moderate stretch (for a Ponte), I knew it wouldn't have enough stretch and recovery for the waistband. 

The waist is finished with a band of fabric, no elastic involved, so I needed to use something with a hefty elastane/Lycra/spandex content for sufficient stretch and recovery. I had some scraps of solid black cotton/Lycra jersey from Girl Charlee that worked perfectly. I love a fabric band waistband for ease of construction, plus it allows for lots of growing room. However, it has to be said that the trousers don't stay up quite as securely as they would do if elastic was inserted. 

I'm pretty sure that the samples shown on the Koko & Dolores website also use jersey for the leg pieces as well. And I'd be really interested to see this pattern sewn up with the leg pieces made from a light weight woven, double gauze perhaps. I must admit that I have little experience of combining stretchy knits and wovens in the same garment...


We all adore these trousers! When Mr SoZo is dressing Frankie, it's almost always the panda pants that he reaches for, if they are clean. And when given a choice, Frankie himself usually chooses them too. The volume gives him lots of room to move and play: freedom of movement should always be the most important criteria in children's clothes, IMO. I'll definitely reach for this pattern again in the future, and and when another suitable fabric crosses my path. 

Friday 6 September 2019

Free Pattern Friday: Women's Mandy Boat Tee

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

The free sewing pattern that I'm talking about today has been available for yonks and is already well known around the sewing community. Caroline from Blackbird Fabrics has talked about it many times on the Love To Sew podcast. What I'm saying is, I've haven't unearthed any rare gem here. But a gem it certainly is.

Luckily for those of us who are interested in trying to keep the cost of our sewing addiction down, Australia-based Tessuti Fabrics offer a range of free sewing patterns. I loved listening to the Love To Sew podcast episode which featured an interview with Tessuti founder, Colette Guanta, and hearing about how most (all?) the Tessuti patterns began life as the patterns designed by her mother, which were then made into garments in her clothing factory. I wasn't massively into the Mandy Boat Tee when I first saw it as it was too loose and boxy for my then form-fitting, retro/Rockabilly aesthetic. These days my style has more of a more relaxed look and silhouette, plus Tessuti have met me half way by rereleasing the previously-one-size-only Mandy Boat Tee pattern, which is now graded to four sizes. Thanks so much to Tessuti patterns for sharing this, plus the other free patterns, for us all to enjoy gratis. 

(image source: Tessuti Fabrics)

Pattern type:

The Mandy Boat Tee is a boxy, knit top with drop shoulders and a gently scooped boat neckline. The sleeves are designed to be quite fitted, and a choice of full length or 3/4 length is included. 

Sizing info:

As previously mentioned, the Mandy Boat Tee was originally a one-size-only pattern, but is now available in four sizes. These sizes span 81cm to 116cm bust measurements. I would be interested to know which of the four sizes was the original, one-size-only Mandy Boat Tee pattern. My measurements put me in the size 2 group, so that's what I went for. The fit through the the body is roomy, and what I expected from this style, however I found the sleeves came out uncomfortably tight. More on this in the 'Findings' below... 

Fabric info: 

The pattern calls for two-way stretch cotton, wool or viscose jerseys or knits with elastane, lycra or spandex content. I went with this fantastic red/white/blue striped cotton jersey, kindly given to me by Girl Charlee UK. It's 100% cotton, so no elastane/Lycra/spandex, however this fabric has a good amount of mechanical stretch, and it has proved to be fine for this pattern and the casual knit-top-with-jeans look I was going for. I'd hunt out a slinkier knit, a viscose or bamboo knit possibly, for a Mandy with a more drape-y look.   


Accessing this pattern was easy: you simply make a transaction through the Tessuti Fabrics site but without having to input any payment info. The pattern is comprised of two downloadable PDF files: the instructions and the pattern itself. The instructions were illustrated with step-by-step photos and were very easy to follow. This project does include the use of a twin needle, but if you are up for that, or feel emboldened enough to defy the instructions and swap it for a zigzag finish, this would be a great project for anyone new to sewing with knits and/or sewing generally. 

The pattern PDF itself, as with all Tessuti patterns as far as I understand, is a hand-drawn pattern that must have been scanned. I was kind of surprised that a relatively large independent fabric and pattern company hadn't taken the extra step to digitise their patterns. I'm not complaining of course, this is a free pattern that I'm grateful to be able to access, however, I'd probably be a bit disappointed with this if I'd bought one of their paid-for patterns.

So as I mentioned above in the 'Sizing' bit, at first try I did find that the sleeves were uncomfortably tight. It may be worth repeating that my knit doesn't have any elastane content, and my upper arms are on the full side compared to the rest of me. Therefore, this might not be something that would necessarily effect you, I just mention it so that you may proceed with caution. Aside from feeling a bit tight, I also wasn't keen on the look of the fitted sleeves combined with the loose, boxy fit of the torso. Luckily, I had sufficient fabric left to recut the sleeves. If I hadn't, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have got very much wear from it as it was. In the end, I probably cut the replacement sleeves a little bigger than the largest size of the pattern, and I'm now much happier with both the feel and the proportions of this top. 

Customisation ideas:
  • Shorten the length into a boxy, cropped top
  • Lengthen into a boxy dress (I'm imaging of the proportions of the Tilly and the Buttons Stevie Tunic)
  • Make a seam line just above the natural waist and add a gathered rectangle skirt to make a dress (think I Am Patterns Cassiopee Dress).  
  • Add a ruffle into the seam where the sleeves are attached. (I was actually attempting to do that with this top but when I cut the strips to form the ruffles, I could tell that the edges were going to roll too much to look any good).
  • Add a little ruffle around the cuffs. I think this would look particularly cute on the 3/4 length sleeves.

Would I make it again?

Yes, I think I probably will. I'm wearing this top properly for the first time today, and it was the perfect top to throw on this morning before corralling my scamps out the door for the first day back at school. I have a pair of tight, navy jeggings that I haven't worn for a year or so, but combined with this top, I can see them being brought back into regular rotation. If I were to make another Mandy Boat Tee, I would like to try a really slinky, light-weight knit in a solid colour. Rust, because I'm currently obsessed with rust. 

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