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A pea green dress for a perfectionist

My mission: to design, draft and make a dress for Catherine, secret ninja, BFF and ultimate perfectionist to wear to the By Hand London party. Simple, non? Actually, no. This was a task fraught with peril at every turn.

First of all, let me tell you a little more about my lovely friend Catherine ... Behind that beautiful smile and those sparkly eyes lies a warrior princess. Seriously ... don't be deceived by the banana grinning loon, she is actually trained to kill. With nine years in the army, not only is she at home with a variety of lethal weapons, but she can also do combat rolls (personally verified) and can still do wonderful marching if you make loud tschtschtsch noises (despite being a civilian for almost two decades).

In addition to her military skill set she is also a proud guardian of all wildlife and is the only person who has ever convinced me to drive two and a half hours with an injured crow on my lap to take it to the wildlife hospital in the hope it would recover. (Yes, actually, it did). It also pecked my hand, cawed and poohed on me during the journey – just saying. From bees to beetles and frogs to hedgehogs, no rescue is too small or too arduous. Trouble is, this has rubbed off on me, and I now rescue all kinds of creatures for rehousing from inside our little cottage. (Rumour has it the spiders of the world would like to personally thank her for my re-education.)

More astonishingly, this new skill set of mine has proved useful. Having watched Catherine save all manner of creatures over the years, I recently had the chance to try one of her wildlife saving tips for myself when a very poorly bee landed on a blanket right by my hand. The poor thing looked exhausted and couldn't even get up the energy to fly. I moved it to a spot in the full sun to warm it up and then administered a teaspoon of honey mixed with warm water on a spoon as per my carzy friend's instructions. To my astonishment, the battered bee crawled towards the spoon and then drank almost all the honey nectar. After half an hour or so of cleaning himself, warming up and wing testing, he then flew off restored.

Amazing! I only knew how to do that thanks to intensive training because I am besties with crazy nature girl.

To top it all Catherine is an hilarious and brilliant person to have adventure with. We have had some epic days and riotous evenings in the many years we have been friends, from the night sharing an upside down bed in the dairy of a medieval castle to a long weekend foodie trawl through Antwerp (who knew that there is actually a limit now much marzipan ice cream two women can eat?) We've even donned kaleidoscope specs and sailed in a mini fruit slice rowing boat through a spangly banana tunnel underneath pineapple island and breathed in the banana smoke (there were no drugs involved in that incident I can assure you.)

The only other thing you need to know about Catherine is that she is a high maintenance perfectionist. At this point in the proceedings she will of course protest that she is in fact low maintenance – but it's not true. She is like Sally in When Harry met Sally when she orders food … "I would like that but without the dressing, and with that on the side, oh and can I swap that for this, and I'd like this in this way …" She is the only person I have ever met who will try on every single size 6 shoe in the shop in the style she likes to make sure she gets the optimum fit for both individual feet. (Nope, I am not joking.) As you can imagine, it makes shopping a little bit like an endurance race and the assistants think she's a little bit "special" while the whole 'every shoe in the shop' trying on ensues. This is just a weeny example of her "just so" attitude … and I am telling you the girl can't help it. I love her for it and normally it makes me laugh, but then normally I am not making a garment for her.

Anyhow, I digress. It was summer and as a contributor to the By Hand London ladies printing start up campaign I received an invitation to their little launch do up in London. I asked Catherine if she'd like to accompany me up to London for the evening, and bless her, she said "yes". (I am aware that it is a great sacrifice for a non sewing person to agree to spending the whole evening in the company of sewing fanatics, but I did add to the appeal of the event by telling her about the Prosecco that would be flowing). And then I thought, "Ah, but as everyone will be sporting handmade garments, so perhaps I should make Catherine a dress …"

I know, I know, at that moment I didn't even think about what I was getting myself into (that only happened later). I should also tell you that I have only once before tried to make something for Catherine and that was when I got married. I foolishly thought that in the run up to the wedding, as well as making shirts for two ushers and a pageboy, that I would be able to make my wedding dress, a shirt for my bloke and two bridesmaids dresses (one of which was destined for Catherine). Three toiles later, and with a fit that still resembled a sack of potatoes in silk dupion, we piled the whole lot in the cupboard, drove to the department store and bought her a bridesmaid dress.

With just a couple of weeks to go before the "do", I did rationalise a little and plumped for a knit fabric for the new dress, as with a serger this was a more realistic and manageable goal. Then, when I couldn't find a pattern that either of us liked, I turned instead to a jersey maxi dress that Catherine had recently bought. "Well", I said flippantly, "I can make you one just like that." *Sigh* My mum always said my mouth would get me into trouble one of these days! Actually, to start with I thought it would be okay. After all, it was just like a long T-shirt dress, how hard could it be?! It was only when I started to lay out the dress onto my tissue paper and stick pins in through the seams to mark out my new garment seam lines that I realised this was going to be very tricky indeed … as the dress I was copying was an extremely lightweight and slippery viscose jersey and moved as if it was alive. Once this hurdle was overcome (pinning down the offending garment with every manner of tin from my larder as improvised pattern weights) I realised I had absolutely no idea how I could work out the volume of the fabric that was extra in the puffs at the top of the sleeve or the gathers around the neckline. Oops.

After a couple of sleepless nights of putting it off I realised I was just going to have to improvise, or Catherine would be going to the party naked, so I cut the dress out with my best guesses at the neck and sleeve head. The construction was okay, until I got to the neck band. On the original dress this was a kind of bias rollover finish, but I couldn't figure out how they then got the gathers in. I tried it like this and then after a very tearful evening in the company of a large glass of wine and the stitch ripper I realised that wasn't going to work. Instead I gathered and basted the front neckline and then stitched the folded band on, a bit more like my lady skater dresses and that worked a treat. Not so neat on the inside as the shop bought version, but mine laid flatter and had a lovely curve.

I still love the fabric I used, a bargain buy off ebay at just £3.99 a metre. Green is Catherine's favourite colour … from peas to frogs … and as soon as I saw this print I knew it was the one. There was some drama in the hemming of the frock, as by now we were two evenings away from the function, but in the end it all turned out fine. The hem has dropped a little since its first wearing so I think another wee chop and rehem will be in order soon. I was so relieved that I finished the dress (in the nick of time) that the bits that aren't so perfect I've decided to ignore.

Luckily, Catherine seems to love it anyway. Here is the dress on party night attending a train picnic (courtesy of Catherine ably assisted by Marks and Spencer), and outside the venue chatting to the gorgeous and leggy Rachel from House of Pinheiro. We had an absolute blast that evening.

The moral of the story? That I can draft a dress from an existing garment, even if I end up stabbing myself repeatedly with pins in the process and swearing enough to fill up the largest swear box in the world. I also learnt not to obsess over perfection when making for your friends as it will cause you an awful lot of additional stress and worry, and let's face facts … how many totally perfect garments have you sewn? I probably have two things I have made that I can find not a single fault with – it's a tricky business this sewing lark. Lastly, try and remember that the recipient will almost certainly be delighted by the fact that you took the time and effort to make something for them, and even the ultimate perfectionists out there will overlook any flaws, because that is why they are your friend! :-)

 

Las Isla Bonita Señorita Skater

Hóla! The urge to make something Iberian inspired overtook me as soon as I laid eyes on this gorgeous floral jersey. A seductive and passionate mix of hot pink, turquoise and lime flowers on a deep black background it said sultry and Spanish to me straight away. It demanded ruffles and flounces, hoop earrings and the stamp of flamenco shoes to the click of castanets. I imagined myself wearing it in a tiny bar in one of the squares in Seville, sipping aromatic sangria while shooting steely glances over the top of a lace fan.  

It also made me think about the dresses my mum used to wear in the late seventies. She was queen of the flounce in those days, and when you look back at the patterns from the time they are laden with ruffling, frills and tiering in every conceivable place. My mum's favourite make at the time was a ruffled skirt. A plain waistband with a gathered skirt, that would then fall into more and more ruffled tiers as you reached the hem. My favourite was a black and white polka dot version that she would pair with wedges, a cheescloth peasant blouse and a velvet choker. As she moved you would catch peeks of the broiderie anglaise trimmed cotton petticoat that gave the skirt its added swoosh. 

I looked at loads of knit dress patterns as a starting point. For a short while it was almost a Moneta. Some things were a given – as we fall headlong into summer here in England it would absolutely have to have short sleeves. However, I'm not keen on plain T-shirt style sleeves on my upper arms. Hmmm, some planning was in order before I cut this baby out.

I was definitely set for ruffles on my dress, and in the end I decided the skirt on my TNT Lady Skater pattern would work best for that. But the short sleeves didn't appeal. I thought about the summer sleeve shapes I liked in my ready to wear tops – and found the bell sleeve. That added flounce would be perfect on this dress! I set about turning my plain short sleeve into a flouncy bell.

I painstakingly cut and pulled apart the traced tissue piece for my sleeve, extending the bottom hem edge significantly in width. I tweaked and fiddled and amended the new bottom curved edge til it looked perfect. Because this was such an extraordinary undertaking for me I decided to take pictures of the process, as they would make a great tutorial to share with you lovely people. Excellent plan! I took photos at each step, so that anyone wanting to make a bell sleeve adjustment on a sleeve wouldn't have to suffer my traumatic exerience. This is where I share that process with you …except … I've lost my camera.

I should also point out that this was not a little camera to lose. It was a massive and clunky Nikon D300 with a big ole lens wacked on the front. It's not the kind of object you can lose between some sheets of paper or tucked into a pile of newly washed socks. Neither my bloke or I have seen hide nor hair of the Nikon for the best part of a month now. We have ransacked the whole house top to bottom many times, along with the car, the sewing shed, my office, his office … and it has literally gone without a trace (my lovely sleeve adjustment pics along with it). 

Anyway, because I wasn't sure if my new sleeve pattern piece would work I cut it from some other scrap jersey fabric and basted it in place. It was pretty perfect for a first attempt. A little on the long side so I shaved off some of the length, cut them out and set about inserting the new sleeves into the dress for real. 

I love the little flounce that the bell sleeve gives the Lady Skater. It's unexpected and girly and incredibly comfortable to wear. Next up was the skirt. As usual I added to the bottom circumference of the skirt piece to use the full width of my fabric - it just gives it more va va voom in the wearing. I cut some pockets from my Moneta dress pattern (I T, do solemnly swear, that I shall never ever make another dress or skirt without pockets because they are such darned useful accoutrements). Then it was all about the frill …

There are basic maths rules to do with frill widths and as I recall to get a nice looking frill you need at least double the measurement of your edge. I looked at the fabric I had left – I had enough to cut four widths of the fabric. At 60"/150cm wide that gave me 240"/6m of fabric. Yay! Ah, foolishly I started out by thinking this was a good thing. Then I realised there is a very good reason that you don't normally see ruffles on knit dresses. It's because they are, as my ex mother in law would say, "a whole lot of work honey". Let this be a warning to you all – jersey does not gather well by traditional methods. Believe me, I tried and I quickly realised the only way I was going to get even gathers in this frill would be to pin the whole thing by hand. 

It took three evenings to divide the frill around the skirt and then pin and gather each segment. I would work on each section until I had used all my pins, sew it and then pull out all the pins to start again on the next. Did I mention I took some lovely photos of the process so that … oh. *sigh*

Sometimes, though, painstaking things are worth the effort and I was delighted with my finished frill hem. The weight of the jersey at the bottom gives the skirt this wonderful swing, so that it continues moving long after I have. I submit all skirts and dressed to the twirl test (a patented move I have been practising since my sixth birthday) and this one's a doozie!

So there we have it, one La Isla Bonita Senorita Skater dress, perfect for sultry spanish nights or prancing through an English meadow. Did you notice my lovely matchy matchy necklace and bracelet? These are entirely credited to my mum who gave up one of her leisurely Saturday afternoons to help me make them. What can I say – she's great like that and a total jewellery making goddess. 

I have already cut out and nearly finished another bell sleeved Lady Skater, although this time sans ruffles and in a very short length for me (knees out and all). Shocking. More details coming soon. In the meantime, if you happen to see a sad little Nikon wandering the streets looking lost, with his lens cap tucked into a folded kerchief on a twig, please send him home again. The house isn't the same without him.

 

The Curvy Sewing Collective Launch

My mum always said that when I went quiet something was afoot – and guess what, she was right! In the midst of the radio silence over the last couple of weeks and distinct lack of blog posts I have been busy beavering away on a different project. A project that goes live today.

It has taken months of planning and talking and writing (and sometimes synchronising virtual meetings over three continents) but it is finally done. So, without further ado, ladeeze and gentlemens … the Curvy Sewing Collective would like to present our brand new website.

*fanfare*

www.curvysewingcollective.com

This new website is a dedicated online resource for curvy sewists to meet, share and be inspired. In addition to tutorialstechniquescurvy stylepattern reviews and articles on curvy confidence, there is also a forum you can join to help us build an amazing international curvy sewing community. Or, if you'd like to be even more involved, why not sign up to become a CSC contributor?

Today, launch day, we already have a host of wonderful articles to inspire you. Head on over to the site to check it out.

To keep up to date with news, sewalongs and giveaways you can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

What are you waiting for? I'll see you there!
 

p.s. I have been sewing, promise. Normal blog posting will be resumed shortly.

 

Shorts … the final frontier?

For me, being part of the Curvy Sewing Collective is about pushing the boundaries and challenging the stereotypes for curvy and plus size women. This is particularly true of the sewing world where almost every pattern designed as a specific plus size range magically transforms itself into a shapeless, wafty tent. Quite why the big four pattern companies feel that anyone over a size 16 should hide themselves 'neath heavily patterned interpretations of potato sacks is beyond me. Obviously, not all garments should be fitted like corsets, but even if you're making a simple shift dress, it should at least skim some of your body, rather than flood it in gathers, pleats and acres of extra fabric. Basically, this limited choice sucks.

However, what is wonderful is that there are a growing number of forward thinking indie designers out there who are prepared to challenge this thinking. They are making fun and fitted patterns for a never seen before range of shapes and sizes. The impact of this on us plus sizers should not be underestimated. It allows us to sew things that previously would have been unthinkable. Things like fitted shorts. *gulp*

I am pretty happy with my legs, well, truth be told, some bits of my legs. I am blessed with a shapely ankle and an okay pair of pins til I get to my knees, and then, I have to be honest, I lose the love a little. They are perfectly serviceable upper legs, they can tap dance up a storm and carry me miles in any chosen direction, but mostly I prefer not to have them on full show on a daily basis. Apparently I am not alone in this opinion. It also turns out, after some discussion with my girlfriends, that shorts on a plus size figure are a contentious issue. Seriously. This rational bunch of modern thinking women made the following comments when I mentioned I was pattern testing a pair of fitted A line shorts:

"Well, you know there are some things a big girl just shouldn't wear."

"Really? Are you sure you want to have that on your blog?"

I could feel my slack-jawed incredulous fish mouth approaching, so I shut up and let the topic die. You know what makes me most sad about those remarks? The fact that these women, my friends, feel that just because you are bigger you should be limited on what you are "allowed" to wear. You may have gathered that I am not an "it's allowed/not allowed" kind of gal. F*** it. If I want to wear a floaty potato sack, a pair of hot pants or a bikini, I will damn well do so, because I will not have society dictate how it is okay (or not okay) to express myself in fashion. As an act of outright "allowed to" rebellion I am seriously considering making a swimming costume this summer and yes, if I do there will be blog photos. Better watch out Fat Fashion Police … I'm gunning for you!

Okay, mini rant over … back to the shorts pattern in question.

This particular pattern is the brain child of Katy & Laney and is their debut pattern. The Tap Shorts are fitted at a high waist and A-line in silhouette, much like the movie stars of the 1950s would wear, and feature three versions, with options including an invisible zippered side seam, an unusual front pleat and back welt pockets. Like many of the Curvy Sewing Collective I tested View A. The pattern was easy to assemble and cut out, with perfectly matching symbols. 

Because I was unsure how the pattern would work for my shape I decided to make a muslin. Much though I hate to do them, recent fit issues on seemingly simple patterns have led me to be a bit more cautious than normal. I cut the straight size 18 which worked perfectly for fit. I made the waistband a bit deeper and overall it was good, but I had two issues. First up was the design pleat …this looked perfectly lovely on someone with a flat stomach, but my stomach is not flat. In fact, even if I lay down on the floor and suck it in, it still has a gentle curve. The implications of a rounded belly in combination with the pleat in my muslin version made it look like my stomach was trying to talk every time I moved. The huge fabric "mouth" was going to need some addressing. Secondly, I felt it the fit was too tight over my stomach, again I think because I need extra width in the centre front area.

For the final version I used a lovely tiny star print stretch denim from myfabrics.co.uk, a sister fabric to the gorgeous floral denim I used for my Betsy skirt. To alleviate my fitting issues I topstitched down the front pleats (I think pretty much everyone in the Curvy Sewing Collective who made the View A shorts did the same). I also added half an inch or so to the centre front as per the instructions in my Pants for Real People book. That made a massive difference to the front view. As for the back view, I decided that the full welt pockets would add too much bulk, but I was keen to break up the expanse of fabric over my rear, so I added two fake welts.

The jury is still out on the length of these shorts as for me I think they would be more flattering in a slightly shorter or longer fit. When I looked at my RTW shorts they are either a couple of inches longer or shorter than these, so that will definitely be an adjustment I make in the future. So in summary, this is a good A line shorts pattern. The high waist makes them very comfortable to wear, but if you do have a rounded stomach you may find yourself having to fiddle with the fit. I would definitely recommend a muslin.

Why not mosey on over to the other sewistas on the Katy & Laney Tap Short blog tour to see how these shorts work on a myriad of other figures. Mary at Idle Fancy ran up view C with slash side pockets and a fly front which I think look awesome.

The Katy & Laney Tap Short Tour

Thursday June 12th: Heather at Closet Case Files

Friday June 13th: Ping at Peneloping

Saturday June 145h: Jenny at Cashmerette

Monday June 16th: Mary at Idle Fancy

Wednesday June 18th: Sarah at Grey's Fabric & Notions

Thursday June 19th: Jennifer at Workroom Social

Friday June 20th: Kelli at True Bias

Saturday June 21st: Mary at Young, Broke & Fabulous

Sunday June 22nd: T at Uandmii

Tuesday June 24th: MacKenzie at Some Real Things

This garment concludes a long line of pattern testing over the last few months and it's been extremely enjoyable to push myself and make things out of my sewing comfort zone. It's been a wonderful opportunity to work with some great indie designers and raise awareness of the curvy and plus size sewing community. That being said, I am aware there has been something of a hoo-haa of late about the whole pattern testing business. Just to set the record straight here, I am always honest about the good and bad points of patterns I post about and will continue to do so. Without exception all the indie designers I have tested for have been brilliant at receiving feedback and have given me great tips in the making process. No payment is made by the designers other than the goodwill gesture of sending me the new pattern to test for free (and there I was holding out for a basket of kittens!). Hope that clears that up.

Anyhoo … now the testing is over I am so excited to sew whatever I like from my stash! I have such plans. I am tempted to take a day off work just so I can lay in the middle of a nest of fabric stash and wait for the sewing mojo to overtake me. I have already cut out and nearly finished a very European take on the Lady Skater dress … with ruffles. Yes, I do think I am John Travolta's girlfriend in Saturday Night Fever. Bring me my cork heeled wedges and let's go to the disco! More details coming soon.

The Heavens to Betsy Skirt

It's officially June, so that means summer in these parts, although given how much terrible weather we have had recently this news may come as a shock. For me, summer is a time for florals, polka dots and frivolous prints (you know how much I love a good novelty print). Anyway, when I caught sight of the lush parade of vivid flowers on this stretch denim (from my new favourite online fabric shop myfabrics.co.uk) the magic internet fabric pixies intervened … and by the end of that week it was draped alluringly on my sewing table.

Originally, I was thinking of making some floral shorts with this fabric, but when I was asked by Abby of Blue Ginger Doll to try out her new skirt pattern I knew this had to be a Betsy skirt. The Betsy skirt is a lovely retro styled pencil skirt with three options, a simple version with button tab waist detail, a wrap skirt version and a high waisted version with concertina kick pleat at centre back. The skirt is cut to flatter a curvacious, hourglass figure, and is one of Abby's newest patterns, available from a US size 6 to a 24. I plumped for View A, the plainest of the options, as I thought the fabric was pretty busy on its own.

I cut a straight 22 on the pattern (based on my hip measurement) and it fits perfectly straight from the packet (Abby always advises sizing up with her patterns if your measurements fall between sizes as her patterns have reduced ease). It was a wonderfully quick sew and I fell head over heels for the double dart detail on both the front and the back of the skirt. These little darts are a breeze to sew and there-in lies the magic of the skirt – it will really fit you. I nearly forgot to mention that Betsy also features an invisible zipper closure, but please don't let that put you off. If you follow the instructions it's really easy and it looks so amazingly neat once you've done it that you'll never want to do an ordinary zipper again (I promise). Okay, so check out those double darts and kickpleat action!

Now, let's be clear. This is no ordinary pencil skirt, for girls I have to tell you, this skirt has wiggle! A whole lotta wiggle. In fact, I defy you to wear this and not sashay as you walk.

I don't often wear pencil skirts as I find it hard to get a good fit (because of the dramatic difference between my waist and hip measurements). But in this pattern that is all taken care of, and better yet the skirt then nips in further towards the hem to give you that full on Jessica Rabbit silhouette. For me, this is a skirt that begs to be worn with heels. It cups your curves, accentuating the good and seemingly smoothing over the less good bits of your body … and I like that.

It reminds me of something Joan in Mad Men would wear, which is where I got the inspiration for the little cardi draped over my shoulders, although I'm sure Joan would opt to wear hers with a plain short sleeved blouse and pearls. That girl has style. 

My recommendation for this pattern is almost any fabric you can think of, from wool in winter to a lovely bright cotton in summer, satin for a party and tweed for afternoon tea … a world of opportunity awaits.

As for my choice? Well, it is me, so I went a little crazy, you know what I'm like with mixing colours and patterns. Florals and polka dots and chevrons … I say bring it on! The key to making this "I don't give a damn what the rules are" look is to pick colours that are repeated in each element, and you can have two or three key colours that you mix and match. I focused on the hot pink for shoes, jewellery and cardigan/jacket and then picked up the blues for my bag. By sticking to the simple rule and using the same key colours in your print choice and with your accessories, you can really go to town on the prints that you use. Also, think about the scale of the print, so a large floral with a small polka dot will look more balanced than two large scale prints alone. Most of all, be brave! Clothes are so much more exciting when you start to wear what you really love. Trust your instincts.

I am not the only one to pick a floral for this skirt. You must head over to check out Tanya's wrap version in a covetable rose print. Just gorgeous! Hey, the Curvy Sewing Collective girls rule.

Talking of which, there are more CSC makes coming up in the blog tour of the Blue Ginger Doll new patterns, so do check all the lovely makes in the link below.

29th May: Tanya at Mrs Hughes (Betsy)
1st June: Liz at Sewn by Elizabeth (Betsy & Ava)
2nd June: Me (Betsy)
3rd June: Mary at Young Broke & Fabulous
4th June: Mary at Idle Fancy
5th June: Andrea at Four Square Walls
6th June: Tanya at Mrs Hughes (Ava)
7th June: Melissa at Scavenger Hunt
8th June: Me (Ava)

Lastly, it always makes me smile when my Dad tells me he has read my blog (bless him). Unlike my Mum, he has no interest in sewing, and I think he reads it just to catch up on my adventures. This morning though, he made this comment on his Facebook page,

"Just read T's blog. It's possible I may be a bit biased but she can write a great story. The sewing's not bad either. I can't believe this is the same person who cried when the school tried to take a picture of her age 5."

It made me laugh. He is referring to an incident in my first months at school. It was essential for every schoolchild to have their photo taken, so it could be printed out for purchase by parents and then framed and put on the sideboard of all the doting grannies and grandads. I have foggy memories of that day, but I do remember them putting me on the chair in the bright light and telling me to smile. I kicked off … big time. Seems I was not pleased with this turn of events and I had a total bawling fit until they gave up and left me alone. This is why the school photo my parents had of me that year was sitting at a desk with the hair over my face concentrating really hard on making a fish collage from eggshells, rather than the trad cheesy-mcsqueezy grin fests of my classmates. I have glue on my sleeve and red rimmed eyes, but I appear happy in my task. 

The thing is, the more I think back to that day the more amazing I feel about where I am now. I spent much of my life hating having my photo taking, lurking at the back of group photos trying to hide from the lens and avoid the limelight. Nowadays, I may still be equally as happy in spending time making an eggshell collage, but this blog has made it okay for me to stand in front of the camera. I am now fine with putting my plus size self out there for the world to see. I have been so inspired by other plus size bloggers over the last couple of years, and it was them who gave me the courage to stop hiding and start my own blog last autumn. Long standing followers will note that my first makes on the blog did not appear on me, but I quickly gained the confidence to change that and step in front of the lens.

So, to all the sewing bloggers out there, whatever your size, shape or hang ups, thank you. You have helped me learn that it's not just about the sewing, it's about learning to be happy with who you are and understanding that by sharing that you can help others overcome their own fears in turn. That kind of confidence is a gift and you wear it with you everywhere you go. It will change your life. It has changed mine.

The mythical Shirt of Perfect Fitting

There is a legend. I don't know if you've heard it, but if you stand very still next to the pattern section of a fabric store and listen really, really hard you can sometimes hear it… the faintest echo of a story told long ago, from lands far away. Hush now, and really listen to the soft whispers of the pattern catalogue as you turn its pages … can you hear what it says? "Once upon a time in a land far, far away there was a perfectly fitting shirt …"

Pah! So many times I have slammed the book shut in disgust and marched from the store in outrage at such tellings and well, let's be honest, lies. You see, I have made a veritable cavalcade of shirts. It's not quite millions (sometimes it feels that way) but let's say I am no stranger to a stand collar and cuffs, sleeve plackets and yokes. I have made them for men through to teens and even wee ones, so have used a lot of different patterns over the years, all with their own distinct flaws. Patterns from the big four are the main ne'er do wells in this tale. They promise so much with their shiny faced metrosexual models on the front covers, all crisp contrasty bands, muscular arms and white teeth. Even though you should know better you fall for it, buy the pattern, cut out your awesome fabric and then your hopes are dashed as your bloke ends up looking like this …

*sigh*

No, I did not inadvertently cut out the size XXL … amazingly this is a New Look size large, for a 42" chest. (Clutch stomach and roll around the floor laughing hysterically.) Coincidentally, my bloke also has a 42" chest. Fancy that eh? Yes, I am sure, I double checked with two totally different tape measures when I started to fear I was losing my mind. The problem, it seems, is ease, or E---A---S---E in the case of this shirt! Can you guess how much ease there is in this pattern? It's over eight inches on the width. Eight extra inches? One can only imagine what a man would be doing to need that much ease in his shirt – swashbuckling perhaps, or swordfighting, or smuggling kittens – the mind boggles. However, I think it is safe to say that your average man on the street does not need such a loose fit.

I am sure that these shirts would run up perfectly for a hero (or villain) in Game of Thrones, after all with all that womanising and pillaging they probably need such roomy garb, whether for launching themselves into bed with a bevvy of beauties or slicing someone's head off (the ultimate active lifestyle) but for a modern day man in quiet Oxfordshire … not quite so relevant. Then there is the no small matter of the sleeves – surely drafted for the gene pool remnants of neolithic man, they pass over the entire hand and finish an inch or two above the fingertip. And I haven't even mentioned the giant Brady Bunch-esque collar line. Yes, safe to say this one is an epic fail. My bloke looks like an orphan in it.

I have tried so many shirt patterns over the years. Some are cut massively wide, or short, or feature miles of painstaking hand stitching (an automatic rejection in my book). But then a few months back I was reading a blog that talked about a man's shirt pattern that actually fitted! "Wow, that's raising the bar," I thought. I scribbled down the make and name onto a post-it note and stuck it in my purse. When the fabric store was having a sale on patterns recently I unearthed my tattered note and bought the pattern. Time to start the quest…

I gathered my materials, set aside my cynicism and started making. So, did I learn my lesson and cut a toile? Ummm, no. Hey, life is short and I have enough fitting to do on myself … if I'm sewing for my bloke it need to fit from the packet people! What I did do was compare it to a couple of his best fitting RTW shirts. And you know, it looked pretty good side by side. I used some quilting cotton I got a while back from the States and paired it with an offcut of buttercup yellow cotton for the contrast and then cut it out. It was an easy sew and I loved some of the details in the instructions, much of it eliminating hand stitching but still giving an excellent quality finish.

And then I had finished. With a final press I went off in search of my bloke for the final test … the fitting. What is amazing is that the finished fit is pretty darn perfect. On the next one I will slightly tweak, by lengthening the body half an inch and shortening the sleeves a tiny bit, but other than that it is very good indeed. 

So, here it is ladies and gentlemen, the mythical Shirt of (almost) Perfect Fitting – Burda 7045. Put it on a pedestal, light some scented candles and bring it gifts. Men's shirt patterns don't get much better than this.

A lazy girl's polka dot Olive

I was practically doing cartwheels last month when I was asked if I would like to test the latest pattern release from Amity at Lolita Patterns. As you probably know, once you reach the boundaries of "plus size" sewing patterns, choice thins dramatically, often veering dramatically into the ubiquitous human cube/circus tent silhouette. For me, that is not a good look, so anything I can do to help promote indie designers who graciously include plus size grading in their patterns is a given. 

Olive is a little fitted peplum top, with a couple of options, from a sheer draped overlay to optional flower details and a lovely pleated sleeve head. The pattern comes in sizes 2 to 24, so there's plenty of scope in there for almost every body shape! There have been some truly lovely versions on the blog tour (check them out in the links at the bottom) from crisp white linen to teal chiffon, the pattern can look very different depending on your fabric choice and styling options. I am always very cautious of flowery drape over my capacious bosom, so I thought View B was more my cup of tea.

This is the first Lolita pattern I've made and I was extremely happy with the way the pdf pattern went together. Maybe it was being able to match all the tiny little skull icons when piecing it together (appealing to my inner goth) that made it so quick and easy, or the fact that every single part matched perfectly (no, really), but it was a breeze. Do pay attention to the cutting instructions though, especially if you are making the version with the overlay, as many pieces should only be cut on a single layer. 

I cut a straight 18 for this top and it was an almost perfect fit straight out of the pack. Amity does tell you to choose your size based on your hip measurement (so that you get a nice fit on the peplum) and that's a really helpful note, as if I had started with the size 16 I think there wouldn't have been quite enough booty room. I made my muslin from some really crisp cotton and was pretty pleased with the overall fit and design. Now, I don't know about you but when I have made a muslin I do lots of parading around the sewing room in it, posing this way and that in front of my full length mirror to check I am happy with both the fit and the overall look of a piece. Normally I have pins in my mouth as I tackle any errant or ill fitting seams (yeah, I know, living on the edge). Apologies to any health and safety conscious sewers who are currently wincing (I blame my mother). Anyhow, somewhere in the midst of these proceedings my bloke walked in and made that face, you know, the 'Hmmmm, I'm not sure' one. There was a pause before he said, "Wow, you look like Krystal Carrington."

My sewing brain screeched to an immediate stop. Could it be true? Was I really rocking the look of the ultimate 80s power dresser who could simply biff people out of the way with a twist of her shoulders if they pissed her off? She took 80's power dressing and shoulder pads to a whole new level. Now, it's no secret I am a child of the 80's and spent my teenage years draped in ruffles and velvet waistcoats – thanks Duran Duran and the New Romantics. At the time, both myself and Princess Diana (then Lady Spencer), could be found sporting sheer blouses with lace inserts and ruffles teamed with burgundy velveteen knickerbockers. You did read that right first time, I said knickerbockers. *sigh* Please note, fashion police, I have paid for those crimes repeatedly over the years in all the photos of me in aforementioned outfit.

I checked out my puff sleeves in the mirror again. Yep, they were of an extreme puff level due to the firm and crisp cotton I was working in. I needed to find something with more drape. As you know, I have a lot of fabric in my stash. Actually, I have decided to adopy Carolyn's strategy and start calling it my Collection (doesn't that sound distinctly more purposeful?). So, back to … the Collection … despite rummaging in every colour set and storage box I couldn't find any fabric that would work, everything was either too firm or the wrong kind of print – I have very little in the drapey section. As I sat back surrounded by piles of lush textiles, my eyes caught sight of this lovely polka dot print in the corner. It's a funny kind of colour, like a slately grey purple which I've decided to call chocca-mocca-lilac. I picked it up on my last trip to Goldhawk Road. It would look lovely in the top, but … it was a knit fabric. Hmmm, controversial. Would the lovely Olive top work in a stretch jersey?

With no experience of making a pattern designed for wovens in a knit, I used a mix of luck and common sense to guide me. I cut a whole size smaller throughout (back to the size 16) and changed the order of construction too. With a knit I could do away with the back seam, side zip and the facings. The order of sewing was now construction of the main upper bodice I then serged the waistband front and back together before attaching and likewise with the peplum. The sleeves I sewed on to the bodice flat before doing the bodice side seams. Lastly I nicked the idea from my Moneta dress of simply hemming the neck edge which worked a treat. 

It was a pretty fantastic fit for a renegade make and it was super quick and easy. The ultimate lazy girl make perhaps as it has minimal fit issues because of the stretch and no time consuming fastenings to worry about. Please forgive me the creased sleeves in the photos but I wore it to the office the day before so it has held up pretty well. I will be making a few changes to my next one, grading down a little more at the waist for a slightly more defined silhouette, narrowing the shoulders a smidge, maybe adding another inch to the peplum and reducing the sleeve width slightly, but these are all tiny tweaks to what is a suprisingly flattering top on me. How lovely to have a truly plus sized design that is figure defining rather than hiding. I still fancy a version in a woven fabric, especially after falling in love with Carolyn's ethereal white linen make, and I have now learnt that as long as I avoid anything too thick or crisp I can avoid any previous shoulder issues.

A big thank you to Amity who gave me the opportunity to test her new pattern, you should also check out her other lovely patterns. I have seen so many wonderful versions of the Gunmetal Dress that it is now firmly on my to sew list. If you'd like to see some other amazing versions of this new pattern then do check out the rest of the blog tour…

The Olive Blog Tour

Three Dresses

Handmade by Carolyn

Velosewer

Peneloping

Made with Hugs & Kisses

Quirky Pretty Cute

Susie Homemaker MD

Awesome job ladies!

Lastly, a note about my newest bag. Bloke and I recently went to Brittany, France to celebrate our birthdays. In the winding cobbled streets of our medieval town on the hill we spied this lovely little shop with this bag in the window. Every day on one of our walks along the ramparts or across the town square to the market I would press my nose against the glass of the window to gaze at its floral lusciousness, yet the shop remained firmly fermé. We found out that as it was the May Day holiday many of the little boutique shops had closed for the week. I resigned myself to the fact that bag of wonder and I were destined never to be united. Then, on our very last day, I noticed that there was a light on in the tiny shop. I tentatively pushed the door to hear a tinkling bell announcing my arrival … and the bag became mine. Oh Bag of Floral Gorgeousness, your ability to make me smile has in no way diminished since we returned to English climes. My latest accessory love affair.


 

I'm taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River Line ...

I love Manhattan. I have a very complicated relationship with the city that goes back many years. You see … I met my ex-husband in New York City, in the aftermath of a huge airport closing snowstorm.  It was my very first time Stateside and I was in total shock and awe mode from the moment I left the airport. The whole city was perfectly iced in swirls of irridescent white snow and the arctic February temperatures were not the only thing to take my breath away. Everything was bigger and brighter and bolder than I anticipated and to suddenly find myself in the midst of yellow taxi cabs, sidewalks with grates puffing out steam fountains into the chilly air and looming skyscrapers in every direction was, well, utterly intoxicating. It was like starring in my own movie.

I suppose I am something of a country mouse at heart, despite living neatly between London and Oxford and visiting both cities regularly for business and pleasure, I had never really seen myself as a city kind of girl … well, not until I met Manhattan. I gawked at every new sight, sound and sensation that assaulted me in those first few days. This is no small thing from someone who grew up in England you know. Gawking of any description is not encouraged because, well, it's just not very British (stiff upper lip and all that).

It was love at first sight with the city. I marvelled at almost everything … slices of paper thin pizza as big as your head which oozed down your fingers as you ate them, dark little all night jazz clubs in the basements of Greenwich Village bedecked with gas lights, and people, all kinds of people, just everywhere. On top of this heady mix I was in the midst of a whirlwind romance … we went skating on the ice rink in Central Park amid the snow capped buildings (even my thermal long johns did not deaden the romance of that experience), we ate in tucked away little restaurants surrounded by the locals, and drank cocktails in Manhattan's coolest piano bars. Less than a year later we were married.

Over the next few years I became better acquainted with the city. I discovered the delights of the 18 miles of secondhand books at the legendary Strand Bookstore, and would frequent it just to stand besides the shelves and inhale all those words waiting to be discovered. I shared the ups and downs of the different neighbourhoods, unearthing new favourite places in each. My trips became longer and I felt more and more at home.

When my relationship suddenly ended, I feared my dalliance with the city was over too. How would I feel walking through the park, watching the people, grabbing some cheescake from our favourite deli, when almost every block and street corner had a memory attached? It took me more than two years to decide I could face going back … and I have to admit, there were some tough bits on my first return. To this day I can't visit the ice rink in Central Park, but mostly, it was fine. And better yet, I still loved the city. Each time I return it is easier, with new memories overlapping the old.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was when I first saw this crazy digital print pop up on the myfabrics.co.uk website. The perfect antedote to those "I miss NYC" moments it featured a beautifully graphic photo montage of some of NYC's finest architecture. Even its autumnal palette of purples, aquas and golden yellows (a world apart my normal tonal range) wasn't going to disuade me from purchasing a few yards. This soft viscose and spandex jersey did not disappoint when it arrived, it was the perfect mix of bold and bright, with New York, New York typography splashed over the print with abandon. It just had to be a dress.

Now remember, this was a couple of weeks ago, before I discovered the uncomplicated beauty of the Colette Moneta (if that pattern had been published, who knows what this dress would have been!) so I instead turned to my ultimate TNT dress pattern … the Lady Skater. (Also note that these photos were taken pre my latest hair cut.. Every time I get close to a birthday I have my hair cut a bit shorter as I see it as an antedote to ageing … heaven knows what this means I'll be sporting when I'm a pensioner, but I'm pretty sure it's going to make people stare.)

Back to the Lady Skater dress … because of the very large elements of the print (gigantic arched windows and huge skyscrapers) I was very, very cautious how I cut it out. I did not want to risk an arched window frame over each breast, or worst still, an error in the centre front skirt that would give Gateway to Manhattan an unforgettable new meaning. This pattern has hit the sewing table so many times I could practically sew it while I'm asleep, so after my shennanigans with fabric placement, from start to finish the dress took just two hours. I made my usual adjustment for a short bodice, sewed the neck facing band in one piece rather than around and then shoulder seam (I just prefer the neater finish this gives) and added a little extra width to the skirt for swooshiness. Other than that is was an easy sew … in fact I made it in the morning and wore it to a family birthday dinner in the evening. Sewing doesn't get better than that!

Anyway, here it is … my New York State of Mind Dress, a patchwork of old memories and new ones. 

Curvy Colette: my "Don't Eat the Daisies" Moneta

Grab your bunting people, wave a few pom poms, or perhaps bring on the marching band to announce the arrival of this fabulous new dress pattern. The Moneta is the latest number from the team at Colette patterns, and part of the Curvy Colette's plus size blog tour. Believe me when I tell you this is a life changing dress.

Let's be honest, I can occasionally be a bit of a fickle creature, and my friends know I have the attention span of a drunken butterfly when I am excited. I flit from this to that, ooohing and ahhing over this pattern or that print but not committing in a big way to anything new. So, it may surprise you to know that I am totally in love with this dress pattern, and I see more endless style possibilities every time I look at it.

What's so special about a simple knit dress pattern? It is all in the cut. I have to be honest, when I first looked at the bodice pieces next to my Lady Skater dress pattern to check sizing I couldn't imagine how the bodice was going to fit as the pieces have a slightly unusual shape to them, but do not doubt them … that is where the magic happens! 

My starting point with this dress was this lovely emerald and white daisy border print jersey which has been languishing in my stash for many months. I bought it on a whim in a local fabric shop last year, and what drew me to it – the very strong border print running along both selvedge edges – made it quite limiting when contemplating new projects. However, as soon as I saw the Moneta technical drawing I thought it could be perfect for the daisies. 

The dress has very simple construction, with just 10 pieces in the version I made (and 4 of those were pockets!) so it can be made very quickly. I cut the XL, grading up to a 2XL for the armhole scythe and using the 2XL sleeve (I have really wide upper arms and hate a knit dress that hugs them too tightly). I also cut a 2XL for the skirt to add extra width and swoosh to the finished dress. It was quite a fiddly layout to get everything to work on the border, and in the end everything was cut at 90° to the grain so I could get the tumbling daisies at the bottom of the skirt hem and at the sleeve edge. My knit fabric had even stretch both ways so it worked out perfectly.

The Moneta also comes with lots of options for collars and bodices, including a fully lined sleeveless version, a short sleeve version, a very "Audrey" collar and a myriad of other downloadable neck treatments. I believe there are 21 different designs if you count all the mix and match options. Because of my busy and bold fabric choice I opted for the plain neck and three quarter sleeve for this incarnation. Also, all the views have pockets! I am obsessed with pockets and love them in dresses, they increase the wearability so much, but I can't explain why! I have never put pockets into a knit dress or skirt before so this was new, but I will be using these pockets in every single knit garment I make from now on. They were a breeze to do and hang really nicely.

The bodice ran up very quickly and I was delighted with the fit … no changes at all. I moved on to the skirt. Now, this is where I had a few problems. The idea is that the skirt width is simply gathered up using clear elastic. You mark four divisions on your elastic width (measured so it corresponds to the bottom width of your bodice) and then align these markers at centre front and side seams of the skirt pieces and then just   s--t---r---e--t--c--h  to softly gather the skirt. Ahhhh … this is where it went a little bit wrong. I don't know if I am just special or if we have the wrong kind of clear elastic here in the UK but mine just wasn't especially stretchy and I had a devil of a job to get this bit to work. In the simple process of trying to stretch my non-stretchy clear stretch elastic I broke two needles in half, scraped the flesh off one of my knuckles and generally had a bad time of it. Worse still, when I tried it on once I had finished the gathering, the skirt was too wide and sat a long way from my body and with the weight of my skirt fabric the bodice had dropped, so I now had a dropped waist style dress (how very 1980s). It was time for the scissors.

Sewing sometimes requires blind faith and extreme scissor action so I was brave and simply chopped the whole lot of skirt gathering off. Then I reduced the length of the bodice by two inches and started again with the elastic on the skirt. This time, instead of trying to stretch to the four markers, I just stretched the elastic as much as was physically possible (without injury) all the way round the top width of the skirt pieces. This meant a little more stretching was required when I attached it to the bodice, but it worked out perfectly. 

The neck on this pattern also surprised me, as it suggested a simple turned under and stitched hem. This isn't something I've ever done before, but I overlocked the edge and did a 3/8 hem and it worked a treat. What's wonderful is that it still creates a stable and pretty neck. The neck is the perfect height and width for me and this is cut straight from the pattern with no alteration.

A quick hem of the sleeves and skirt and I was done. I was so excited by my new dress that I donned it immediately, and after doing some test twirling in the back garden (yes, it is a suitably swooshy finished skirt) took it for our afternoon walk by the River Thames in Marlow. Not only is this dress a stylish addition to any wardrobe, but I think you could be really creative with the styling given the number of design options available. I am already planning a nautical version with the little tie collar, a blue and white floral maxi version and …

I have a feeling this dress is going to turn into an addiction, much like my recent Lady Skater fetish. In comparison to the Lady Skater it stacks up really well and I like having all the neck options to play with in future versions. I also have to say I love the softly gathered skirt on this style and think it's very flattering and easy to wear. Unlike my skater dresses this one is more forgiving after consumption of cake and that should not be underestimated! 

If you'd like to see more Monetas in action then don't forget to check out the other amazing Curvy Colette Plus Size Blog Tour makes. The girls have already produced some outstanding garments, from Jenny's nautical stripes to Tanya's bright pink tropical number and Laurence's super cute eyelet dress. And there are more on the way! 

Here are all the details so you can keep up to date and see what's happened so far:

The Curvy Sewing Collective presents …

THE CURVY COLETTE PLUS SIZE BLOG TOUR

Wednesday 16 April: Jenny at Cashmerette

Thursday 17 April: Mary at Idle Fancy

Saturday 19 April: Laurence at QuirkyPrettyCute

Monday 21 April: Tanya at Mrs Hughes

Tuesday 22 April: T at UandMii

Saturday 26th April: Sophie-Lee at Two Random Words

Wednesday 30 April: Mary at Young, Broke & Fabulous 

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