I woke to find the sun peeping through a slight gap in the curtains, one Sunday morning recently. Highlighting the dust in the air, as it sliced decisively through the room like a finely-forged sword, intent on bringing shame to the slothenly occupant.
Two thoughts hit me. First, I really should get round to vacuuming soon. Maybe today. Or tomorrow, but more pressing was the tantalizing idea that today was one of those wonderful days I could don a summer dress and enjoy the summer warmth.
Even if only first thing. The weather might turn later.
I’m British. We talk about weather. It’s part of our salutations.
“Hello. Nice to see you. I think it’s going to rain.”
“Hi. Long time, no see. How are you faring in this heat-wave?”
“Morning. Nice day for ducks and slugs again. Heh?“
You get the idea. Our weather is so unpredictable it is almost predicatable. Making it the perfect conversation opener. We respond to each change. Dressing accordingly. Or at least talking about what we should wear. Revelling in how it challenges us. Caught out without an umbrella. No problem. At least it gives us something to talk about.
Back to my summer dress. Today was going to be a dress day. Springing out of bed, because I am a morning person and that’s how us morning people do it, I opened my wardrobe. Work dresses were ignored. All two of them. I pushed my party dresses to one side. A tad too dressy for the day. This left one empty hanger, gently swaying in the nothingness. Sigh. My new handmade dress was in the wash. I had no dress to wear.
Hmm. One dress was obviously not enough. What was I thinking? I needed to make another dress. After all there was a good chance that the sun would wake me up again, in the same way. If not this year, maybe next. It was time to do one of my favourite things. Dig through my fabric and select a pattern.
I settled on Simplicity 8345. I bought the pattern about 19 years ago and used it once. I think it was the scalloped neckline that sold it to me. The dress is fit and flare. It takes a lot of fabric, which probably explains why I’ve not used it since.
My previous dress was yellow. Just like the one on the packet. I suspect I was heavily influenced by the photo. I too could wear a yellow dress and laugh, like the happy person in the picture. She looks like she’s having fun. Me too! Me too! Equally, I may also have been persuaded by the “easy to sew” wording. Turns out they weren’t exaggerating. It is a straightforward pattern.
Apart from the scallop neckline, which I love, the sleeves are worth a mention. They are fulled faced, giving them a no-nonsense feel. No easing to fit the sleeve either. The pattern suggests shoulder pads, but I’m still undecided. Did shoulder pads make it out of the 90s?
The zip is fitted by machine basting/tacking the opening first, sewing the zip in place and then removing the basting/tacking. It makes a very neat zip, with no gaping holes, showing the zip teeth. I did sew it the other way up than they suggested, as I wanted the sewing lines from the outside to look good. After all that is the part people will see. From the back.
(Pup was determined to join in.)
This pattern is no longer in print. The 8345 number is now a different style of dress. More laughing ladies on the front, having fun. After a quick search, I can see the older version does get listed on the second hand sites.
(Freshly painted leaves and bench. Leaves unintentionally blue!)
I had a Liberty Rose fabric in my stash. So beautiful to work with. A cotton poplin. I bought the fabric a few years ago from Minerva Crafts. I don’t think they stock it anymore.
There was not quite enough fabric, but I’m learning to excel at adapting the pattern to fit the available length. For all my adapting, this time, there was no way I had enough for pattern matching. Saving grace, this pattern is busy enough, that roses, cut in half, were not going to stand out.
Finally. One finished dress. Ready to hang in my wardrobe. Ready for one of those wonderful, summer days. I’ve been invited to a wedding. Not sure if I’ll wear this to it, or is it too loud for a wedding?
I am on a roll. I finished another dress, while waiting for a dry day to photograph this one. Fingers crossed, that the weather holds so I can take photos of that one too.
Hopefully next time I reach for a dress, they’ll be just the right one swinging on the hanger.
So, how’s the weather in your neck of the woods?
I’ve been sitting (hiding) in our clematis covered bench recently. It is perfect for grabbing a quiet moment. I can hear, and catch glimpses of the children as they play in the garden, but they seldom seem to spot me. Even when they walk along the path just 2 metres away. They are so focused on where the path takes them that they don’t look over to the bench. It is the most perfect hidey hole.
This gives me time to read my latest obsession. I’ve recently been revitalizing my dress making skills. I have made lots of garments over the years for the children. Looking back, I can identify which items I like the most. It’s not just the pretty fabric but the construction that I value in them. My sewing knowledge is pretty good. I am more than capable of doing different clothing construction techniques, but I have just become a bit slap dash.
So to breathe some life into my skills, I picked up a book. I love this book. Already made use of it to help make myself the nightie in the photo. The book has reminded me of lots, but also it has opened my eyes to a whole new level. Inspiring in its approach. Its one of those books that I can’t help telling my very patient husband about bits that I have discovered. He now knows a whole lot more about haute couture and design houses than I think he ever wanted to know, but that doesn’t stop me. I’m sure he sighs a little every time I lower the book and start with a “Did you know…”
Limiting myself to list of just 5 things I never knew:
- There is a lifetime guarantee from some design houses for the garments they create, even if the client changes their mind about the colour. Of course, the price tag is not inconsiderable. (“But I got home and it does not match my geraniums!”)
- They will run thread through beeswax and iron it (!) to prevent it fraying for certain techniques.
- Design houses will commission fabric and then reengineer it if they need the stripes in another order or they need it to zig zag rather than run as stripes.
- Seams don’t always run straight or gently curve. They can intricately go round predominant features in the fabric print, so that the join is almost invisible. No headless horses or flowerless bouquets at seam edges to potentially traumatize the client.
- Instead of sewing darts in wool fabric, it can be shrunk with water and a hot iron, in just the right places. (I fear my journey to dressmaking nerdiness has been reached!)
This is a whole different league, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t pick up some useful hints for my home sewing, without going overboard.
Five things that I had forgotten and I’ll more than likely be posting about over the next few months:
- Thread the needle before you cut the length from the reel. The direction of the twist helps to stop thread knotting while you are hand sewing. If you have already cut a length then you can find the right end by threading the end that is not starting to unravel.
- Lining doesn’t just hide the horrible seams, it helps strengthen the shape.
- I need three lines of gathering when I hand sew, instead of the two lines when machine stitching.
- Slip basting would be very handy when lining up stripes and gingham.
- Invisible hemming using blind stitching
The book is a cross between a how-to and a coffee table tome. It is not for a beginner sewer, but does talk to the home seamstress. It has the most lovely clear drawings to explain the techniques. Maybe its me, but I find line drawings easier to follow than a photo with patterned cloth. I find the book inspiring and already I have put a few techniques into practise. It has also rekindled my search for a dressmaking dummy. One like this for me:
A girl can dream. And one for the children. They are none to keen about finding forgotten pins in the clothing when I forget to remove them before I do a fitting!
All this reading about design houses remind me of a book I absolutely loved as a teenager – Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. If you’ve not discovered this gem of a book then, I can recommend it. It is about a cleaning lady who scrimps and saves to go to a Paris, to fulfill her dream to own a Dior dress. Wonderful characters and I still find myself thinking about the story, even though I’ve not read it for years.
In case you may be concerned that, with all this sewing and reading, that the children may now be well dressed but exceeding hungry, the garden has started producing. We’ve had lots of salad from the garden and the hens are busy laying, so theoretically, I could sit back and read while the children go out in the garden to eat. Tempting, but I’d miss them.
I have rediscovered the joys of tacking thread and sewing with it. I used to tack all clothes together when dressmaking, but I have become lazy. No, maybe I should write that I started taking short cuts to speed up production. Using pins and the sewing machine I could make a whole article in a very short time, which is/was very tempting. Once I discovered that I could skip the tacking stage, I also started using the machine where before I would have sewn by hand. Faster production, but poorer quality, as it turned out. Maybe some people are talented enough to pull off these short cuts, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.
I have no real excuse. I know enough about dressmaking to know the techniques and why I should use them. I know how to make the inside of the garment look as neat as the right side. I know the difference between a fitted garment and a fudged one. Yet, one by one I’ve let all these techniques slip. I even remember the moment when I used my trusty machine to sew the hem of the skirt instead of carefully hand sewing it. Who would notice and who would care?
Why the change now? (And what is tacking?) I’d best start from the beginning. Four years ago, my eldest was in her first year at school and it was the start of the summer term. In the UK, children, on the whole, wear uniforms to school. The style is dictated by the school governors, but left for the parents to source. For our school, there is an option for the girls to wear gingham dresses in the summer, widely available from supermarkets or other national outlets.
Four years ago, I was 7 months pregnant and all my hormone controlled emotions told me that I could not send my daughter to school wearing a school summer dress potentially made by another child who was working rather than going to school herself. Whether I was right or wrong, I firmly blame this dressmaking decision on my hormones!
The only cotton gingham fabric that I could find was a slightly bigger check (3/8th of an inch) than most, but the regulations did not specify the size, so I went ahead. I made two dresses. They fitted, and daughter was happy, but each day I took her in, I noticed the little mistakes in the way that I had put the dresses together. Maybe a non-dressmaker would not notice. I had taken care with the matching the lines, but I wish I had lined up the colours of the squares better, so that the pattern flowed from one section of the garment into the next. I knew the machine stitch tension on one of the shoulders was loose. I wish I had added a lining into the top to hide the seam finishes. Little things, but they niggled.
One day, I passed a friend as we dropped off our children at school. She asked if I had made the dress my daughter was wearing. It was a fleeting question, and we were both swept away in the general flow of dropping children off at different classes, so I had no chance to enquire what made her ask. (Hormones raging and I brooded over the question.)
Roll on four years. This school term, I cut out new versions of the dresses, as both girls have now outgrown those first dresses. Practicality rather than pregnancy hormones meant I had to make the dresses. I couldn’t find 100% cotton dresses in gingham and I really don’t like the straight dress design that can be bought in the supermarket. Try sitting cross legged, on the floor, in one of those without needing to wear a pair of shorts underneath to defend your modesty. Hmm. Another two dresses to make. The last two dresses are not good enough to pass on to someone else, as I’d be too embarrassed by the finish. There will be no niggles with these new dresses as I’m going to make them right. I guess the final test will be if I’m willing to pass them on afterwards.
As for the question from my friend. It turns out that I read too much into it. It was the larger than usual squared gingham and slightly paler green that she had noticed on the original dresses. Not the errors, but the appearance of the gingham check. Obvious really!
For the record, I am lining up the colours in the checks and the lines this time. Does it matter? Oh yes! To me it does and seeing as I’m the one looking at the dresses every day, I think it does matter. Almost forgot the tacking part. Basically temporary stitches that help to line it all up, enables the first fitting of garment and makes it possible for me to make a dress that I am happy with. If only I had used it four years ago.