McCalls 6503: 1950s style dress

Summer’s here guys! I made a new dress to celebrate. Here I am enjoying the sunshine on my balcony.

McCalls 6503 1950s dress

Oh alright. This is me pretending there isn’t a biblical downpour going on around me. The constant, miserable rain in London is really getting me down. Personally I blame Thames Water. As soon as they launched their huge media campaign telling us all to conserve water due to a massive drought in the South of England,  the weather gods decided to take the piss by ordering 40 days and nights of constant drizzle. It’s very ironic, or something.

McCalls 6503 back

The pattern is McCalls 6503. I went a bit mad when Jaycotts had a half-price pattern sale and bought loads. McCalls are the only one of the big 4 that I haven’t sewn from before, and I was really impressed with this pattern. The styling on all their envelopes is uniformly terrible though. Exhibit A below:

The garish fabric totally obscures the lines of the dress, not to mention the truly nasty 80s shoes and whatever’s going on with the hair styling. See how much better the midriff and bust gathers actually are in real life:

I think this dress has a very 1950s look, with the midriff band, the cross-over bodice, and the gathered skirt. It even closes up the side, so you could go really authentic and do a lapped zipper, although I couldn’t be bothered on this version.

The fabric I used is not vintage, but it’s along those lines. It’s from Fabrics Galore and I’ve hoarded it for about 3 years. The print is so crazy I needed to do it justice. Here’s a close-up:

Yes, it’s a black and white line-drawing of some scarily intense ballet dancers. My boyfriend described it as looking like ‘a scene from hell’, and there is a slight hint of Dante about it. These are not pink tulle wearing ballet dancers. They are ripped and will probably cut you if you get in the way of their jetés.

At first I wasn’t sure about this dress. I love the print on the fabric so much I should probably have made an everyday item with it,  not something so costume-y. .But after wearing this dress all day today, I’ve come to appreciate it more. It’s super comfortable, and looks okay with a cardigan and tights, which is no doubt how it will be worn for 51 weeks of the year.

I added lace trim to the collar, and black piping to the midriff seams (the piping was another score from the Brighton meet-up! Thanks Clare!). I also added some big old pockets which are always necessary.

The only fit changes I made were to lengthen the bodice an inch, the skirt two inches, and the sleeves one inch. I also took out a bit of the fullness in the bust gathers, as recommended here, but I think they could be left in if you’re working with a lighter fabric. I didn’t need to do a FBA on this as the style is very forgiving.

Prior warning: this dress needs a lot of hand-tacking to hold down the cross-over bodice, otherwise it will never sit right.

Now all I need is for it to stop raining…

New Burda plaid skirt – 104/02/2010

I wear a lot of skirts. But somehow I hardly ever sew them, which creates a problem. I did have a try with my blue pencil number, but it’s a bit too formal for everyday wear.

With Me-Made-May coming up, I needed to even up the skirt balance a bit, so I made this simple A-line from Burda (104 from 02/2010- many good reviews on Pattern Review here). I sewed a version in denim first, which is wearable but a bit rubbish. This second try was more successful.

The fabric was another awesome score from the Brighton swap meet-up. It’s a sort of thick, wool-like plaid cotton, and I added a lining of American D-Kripp from Ultimate Craft in Stoke Newington (still no idea what the hell it is, apart from 1.50 a metre. Some sort of polyester?). As you can see, I made no attempt to match the pattern on the back, which I’m cool with.

Not much else to say about this – it’s a great basic pattern and a minimal amount of tracing. Burda sheets are such crazy illegible messes now that anything more than 4 pieces will give you a free nervous breakdown along with your new pattern. I was tempted by the drapey jersey dress in this month’s issue until I saw that there was FOURTEEN pieces to trace. Maybe I should get an intern just to do my Burda tracing (‘exciting new position in the fashion industry!’)

I cut the pocket pieces and the waistband on the bias to make the most of the plaid, and I used the Sewaholic brilliant zip insertion method, on Tasia’a blog here.

Sorry about my usual awkward posing. Bonus points if you can name any books/items of furniture from IKEA in the photos!

Colours on the canal

One of the things I like about walking along the canal (where I took my Scout tee pictures) is all the colour you can see. I spotted my favourite thing on the boat below: lovely rusty old flaky paint.

Rusty boat

We ended up at Victoria Park. I always forget how massive it is! There’s a lovely wide road on a gradient that’s so great for cycling on, you can glide all the way along. There’s always kids learning to ride there.

I reckon free-wheeling down a hill on a bike is the closest thing we can get to the feeling of flying. That’s why I don’t really understand the whole fixed gear thing – on a fixie you’d be pedalling away like a hamster in a wheel the whole way down. Ah well, I guess we all have our hobbies.

Golden spider silk cape at the V and A

I saved this special exhibit at the V&A for a separate post, because it’s just so captivating and crazy.

This is a cape woven and embroidered entirely from spider silk. The silk from over 1.2 million spiders, to be more exact (but don’t feel sad if you’re a spider lover – they were all released into the wild afterwards to roam free). It took four years and hundreds of people to make and it’s now on free display at the museum until June.

The best thing about this is that the yellow colour is entirely natural. The silk from the spiders comes out in this shimmering golden saffron shade, which is stunning when you see it in person.

The embroidery patterns are incredible, with raised spiders and foliage running all over the cape.

There’s a page on the V&A website about it here. You should definitely watch the video which gives you a great overview of the process and the finished object. Apparently the silk is so smooth and light the cape almost feels weightless. I loved this quote from one of the creators:

‘This isn’t about fashion. This is about creating something magical’

If you’re anywhere near London and you’re interested in textiles, I urge you to go and see this fairy-tale object. It reminds me of the grandmother princess spinning away at an invisible thread in the Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.

It makes me happy that something so ridiculous, beautiful, and totally unique now exists.

Scout woven tee in yellow gingham

I made a new top! It’s a t-shirt pattern designed for woven fabric, from grainline studios.

Scout woven tee in yellow gingham

Here’s the details:

Pattern: Scout woven tee from grainline studios, which you can buy here

Material: (Allegedly) Paul Smith yellow gingham from Fabrics Galore, left over from my sunshine dress.


  • I added a pocket, because of my sick compulsion to add stupid tiny pockets to everything.
  • I put three lines of shirring just below the shoulder seam line.
  • I folded my neckline bias binding to look a bit like faux piping, which is not in the instructions.
  • It was tiny bit too big, so I tapered in the sides quite a lot. I sewed a 8, next time will prob go for a 6.

Sadly we have not suddenly sprouted a graffiti wall in our flat, these photos are from a bike-ride down the canal to Victoria Park.

I really like this pattern. It’s very customisable and it’s QUICK, coming in at just 2.5 TAL units*. If  you put a seam down the back, as I did, you can make it with a tiny amount of fabric.
* ie. I listened to two and a half This American Life episodes while cutting out and sewing.
I love the drafting on this with the slightly forward shoulder seams. The sleeves are just a tad too puffy for me, but that’s mostly down to my material, which is a fine but very crisp shirt fabric.

Hopefully this will be the first of many. It’s perfect for those special patterned fabrics that need a simple pattern to really show them off. Highly recommended.

Me-Made-May and what not to sew

Are you doing Me-Made-May this year? I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a great way to identify all the gaps in my hand-sewn wardrobe (at the moment there’s too much frosting and not enough cake, as Tasia of Sewaholic recently put it).

It’s also got me thinking about what items I would never make for myself, and it’s a surprisingly short list:

  • Shoes: I know this is obvious, but some clever people out there do actually make their own footwear. Have a look at this interesting blog by a London based shoemaker – The Bottermann Empire

  • Sportswear: One of these days I’ll get round to sewing myself some trousers for yoga, but something like a waterproof bike jacket? Too complex and technical. I also include what the fashion mags like to call ‘luxe sportswear’ in this category. Hard to replicate without the right fabrics and equipment.
  • Underwear/swimwear: Both of these seem too fiddly, and I don’t have a problem buying stuff I like in the shops. I prefer to spend my sewing time on clothes that show on the outside.
  • Knitwear: What would life be like without machine-made knitwear? Rubbish, in my opinion. Chunky hand-knits don’t always do the trick. You can prise my Uniqlo cardigans from my cold dead hands.

  • Socks: I’ve knitted socks in the past, but those days are over. Making the second one makes me want to pass out with boredom, and I don’t even love wearing them. They’re too bulky (but don’t tell any knitters – not liking hand-knitted socks is woolly blasphemy)
  • Trousers: I just can’t make them fit. BUT I do want to change this and make a pair that works this year. I think stretch fabrics will be involved.
  • Well-made RTW clothes that would be tedious, expensive, and/or impossible to replicate: I’ve got a circle skirt from COS that I love. It would be super easy to draft, but sewing a copy would mean having to hem two enormous circles of fabric (it’s double-layered). It’s also well-made and the perfect coral colour. So it was a no-brainer to buy rather than sew.

So, everything above is exempted in my personal Me-Made-May challenge. I don’t want to buy any more cheap rubbish! Or sew from materials I hate, or make patterns I’m dubious about. I just need everything in my wardrobe to feel loved and special and wanted. Basically my wardrobe needs some serious therapy.

What do you reckon? Is there anything you would never sew? Do you think RTW does some things better?

(p.s. – This is my 100th post! I didn’t think I’d ever keep up with this blog, so hooray to me for proving my own pessimism wrong.)

The Rainbow Queen

I’m not exactly the world’s most ardent monarchist, but there’s one aspect of the Royal Family I will always have a soft spot for.

The Queen’s outfits!

The Queen was working the block colour look many years before it appeared on the runway. And I’m pleased to announce that Vogue have finally acknowledged this, with a fantastic infographic on the back page of their May issue.

The Rainbow Queen in Vogue
Click for a huge royal close-up

My favourite bit is the line up of floral frocks to the bottom left, which looks a bit like the Queen is doing a robot dance.

I’m going to frame this and stick it on the wall to remind me to sew more with bright colours. If it’s good enough for Her Majesty, it’s certainly good enough for me.

(p.s. – if you’re into Royal outfits, you have to check out The Royal Order of Sartorial Splendor, a mesmerising blog which covers in exhaustive detail every unnecessary ruffle, Euro-trashy hat, and bizarre ceremonial sash you could ever wish for)

V and A British Design: exhibition review

So last weekend I went to see the new show at the V&A – British Design, 1948-2012.

This exhibition definitely wins on the ‘oohs per square inch’ factor. Everywhere you look there’s something that makes you shout across to whoever you came with ‘ooh, come and have a look at this one!’.

There are some beautiful clothes on display, including one little section with dresses by Alexander MacQueen, John Galliano, and Hussain Chalayan. The Chalayan  dress is breathtakingly great and insane, this huge, bleeding, tulle egg which probably has like 500 metres of fabric in. The picture below does it no justice. It just goes to show how different it is seeing things in real life and seeing them on screen, something I often forget (I blame Pinterest).

Hussain Chalayan tulle dress
Tulle egg dress by Hussain Chalayan

I was also pleased to see an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell dress which I always visit in the V&A fashion galleries, which are currently being renovated. It was like bumping into an old friend who is now famous, I felt so proud that it was getting a moment in the spotlight. Hope they put it back on permanent display, along with my other favourite, a green velvet Elizabethean riding jacket I always go and say hi to.

Rubbish artist's impression of the dress from a few years ago
Rubbish artist's impression of the Ossie Clark V&A dress from a few years ago

Another highlight was the small clutch of stagewear from rock stars. I loved these because they looked so worn-out and used. The Marc Bolan gold lame suit (below) had a rip in one sleeve that had been patched up with safety pins. There was also a David Bowie knitted jumpsuit, rather scandalously high-cut in one leg, which was all bobbly. That jumpsuit has definitely seen some action.

Marc Bolan gold lame suit by Granny Takes a Trip

The first room in the exhibition is packed full of all this lovely public British design from the 50s. Things like re-designed road signs which are easier to use, and new unified rail signage for a new nationalised rail service (now fragmented into expensive privatised pieces). The weirdest thing were these gorgeous 60s posters for Milton Keynes, which somehow made it sound like a modern utopia, full of trees, space, culture and light. Now MK seems like a punchline for every suburban joke. Where did all the optimism go?

There’s even a photo in a later section which makes motorways look glamorous – a couple leaning against an E-type Jag on the newly opened, totally empty M1. The caption said that it seems to ‘predict all the youthful excitement of the coming decade’. This made me a bit sad. Any trace of glamour along the M1 has long long ago vanished into oblivion. Although I can see a fashion shoot taking place in a motorway service station now, I suspect it would be of the ‘Look at the beautiful model amongst the hideous, chip-eating proles!’ style.

E-Type Jaguar on the M1 Mororway, 1960. Photo by Brian Duffy.
E-Type Jaguar on the M1 Mororway, 1960. Photo by Brian Duffy.

The exhibition also features the classic Robin Day polyprop chair which we bought two in the John Lewis sale last year (one is my sewing chair!). It’s such a great design and the bright yellow always cheers me up. They’re selling them in the V&A shop.

Robin day polyprop chair (in my house, not in the exhibition obvs)

Last but not least, I had to mention this fabric by textile designer Shirley Craven. It’s called Simply Solar and I love it.

Simply solar by Shirley Craven
Simply solar by Shirley Craven

An exhibition worth a visit, I reckon.



Spring is my favourite time of year. I am an obsessive tree-watcher and get over-excited when I see little green buds appearing on the dead winter twigs.

Every day I’ve been cycling past this massive cherry tree in someone’s front garden in Hackney.

Cherry Tree

It’s so huge and amazing!

Cherry tree blossoms

The blossoms remind me of clumps of soapy bubbles.

Cherry tree blossoms

The green/yellow shade of trees in spring is my favourite colour. Haven’t quite captured it below but you know what I mean.

Spring trees

Everyone needs to stop panic-buying petrol and queueing in airports. Stay at home this Easter and gaze at trees, it will be much less stressful. Okay it’s been snowing, but the clocks have gone forward, the trees are green, spring is here and that’s reason to be cheerful.

Double Peter Pan collar blouse AND my grand unified theory of sewing

So, speediness is not what you come to this blog for. It’s taken me just over six months between talking about sewing blouses and actually sewing one. What can I say, I’m a tortoise, not a hare.

Double peter pan collar blouse

It’s from the original Built by Wendy Sew U book, which was all the rage on the internet, about 5 years ago. I’ve made two versions already, and for this one I wanted to try something a bit different – drafting up a double Peter Pan collar.

Double peter pan collar

The top collar is made from left-over denim from my Beignet. The bottom collar, and main fabric, is some really beautiful shirting from Shaukat, which my mum kindly donated to me after a shopping expedition to South Kensington.

Okay, so in some ways this shirt was successful. I love the fabric, I like the way the collar turned out, and the insides are neat (I overlocked them). But in another way it was a failure – the fit. If you’ll forgive me, I’m going on a bit of a diversion here…

The Yes I Like That grand unified theory of sewing:

To my thinking the most challenging (and interesting) thing about home sewing is that you have to combine three elements, which are completely separate in your average high street garment. They are:

  1. Design. I’m using this word widely, to include: the garment style (whether you buy a pattern or draft it), the fabric and trimmings you use, and the design elements you add or take away.
  2. Fit. Including learning what good fit actually looks like (and I’m definitely still learning).
  3. Making. The actual sewing and pattern-making. All the little tips and tricks and manufacturing skills.

As a home sewer, you’re in complete control of all three. Which is liberating. But also a bit scary.

To me, 1 + 2 are the most important. I find pure technique pretty boring. I like problem solving, but I like having something nice to wear even more. I want the final product to work.

It was the second element that failed here. The first two versions I made fitted well, but the shoulders were wide. For this one I trimmed a tiny amount (honest!) off the armholes and sleeve tops. Well, that tiny amount must have added up, because this shirt was incredibly tight across the shoulders, resulting in a V-shaped wrinkle which was super obvious in the first set of photos I took:

shirt with V yoke lines

I managed to partially fix it by sewing into my armhole seam allowances and it’s not so tight now. The V-lines are still there, but not as prominent. Overall, I’m happy.

The more I make, the more I learn, but it does all seems to break down into these three elements. The hardest two are the fit and matching the right fabric to the right pattern. I’ve got gorgeous fabric sitting in boxes because I just can’t visualise the perfect garment to do it justice.

I’d be interested to know what you think. What’s the most important aspect of sewing for you? Do you think there’s more to it than just these three elements?

(P.S. one more thing! I lined the cuffs with denim as well for a little surprise…)

Denim blouse cuff