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….. Making pretty things
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Three children (17, 15, 13)*** Two parents *** one dog *** Country loving *** Cottage dwelling in the South-West of the UK. That’s us!

We’ve been blogging since January 2010, about everyday happenings that bring us joy.

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dressmaking for yourself

I made a Cleo

I’ve done it. I made something for me. Little dance of joy. It has been a while. This is my Cleo and I love it, but it almost didn’t happen.

I wanted to sew something that was straightforward and easy to wear. Something I could wear on an ordinary day, which, let’s face it, is most of my days. It had to be quick to make without posing any potential hurdles like fancy fastenings and fittings. My tendancy to procrastinate steps in too easily. The Cleo seemed to fit the bill.

To start with, I had my doubts. I wasn’t sure if a pinafore, with a bib and buckles, would be the right choice for someone cruising crazily towards…  ahem … her half century. Was it too young a look? Would I look like I should be serving tea in a tea tent? Could I expect flashbacks to the 70s?


As you can see, I totally ignored the nagging voice in my head and went for it. I’m old enough to care less what others think. So if I was OK with it, not much else mattered.

It was the first time I’ve used a pattern from an independent pattern designer. I loved the thickness of the paper, which meant I could use it as a template to chalk around, instead of pinning and cutting along the fragile tissue paper edges of my usual patterns. A definite improvement. The instructions were clear with photos showing the stages.

I did add a few changes. Instead of spending time pattern matching the fabric’s swirly embroidered twirls on the front, I avoided a centre seam altogether and cut the front on the fold. Overlapping the paper by the same amount as the seam allowance, to avoid making the front too wide.

Instead of the split in the front hem, I added it to the back. I also added a lining to the dress, as the corduroy clung to my legs when I walked. With the lining, it hangs better too. I lengthened the knee length version by 4 inches, which suits me more.

For the facing, at the top of the bib, I used an off cut from a pair of pyjamas I made a while back. Wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at it that the brown cord and the plaid facing combination that I realised that it shouted Barbour waxed jacket. I guess it fits in fine for country living, not that the green chequers show.

(The split does hang straight. A moment when I could have done with someone else taking the photos rather than me.)

I’m going to have fun working out the best tops to wear under this pinafore. Don’t be fooled by the sunlight on the wall behind me in the photos. Today was cold, so it was layers and boots. I’m sure I’ll find some terrible combinations too. So long as it looks right to me.

I am so glad I made this dress. It is so comfortable. Easy to walk. Sit down. Dance in. The fabric has been in my stash for a couple of years. I think it cost me £1.99 per metre from Minerva Crafts, but has probably all gone by now. The pattern is Cleo by Tilly and the Buttons. At £12.50 it is more than I usually spend on a pattern, but I know I will use this again and may even make teen versions for my two teens. I’ve already picked out denim fabric from my stash to make another one for me.

My first make of 2018 for me. I used my old Singer sewing machine. As my youngest pointed out, it meant that I used no electricity to make this dress.

You’re right“, I said as I stepped in front of my iron to block his view, “not a lot of electricity used.

I wasn’t going to ruin a good observation.

(edited: I made another Cleo. This time for my teen. More info here, if you’re interested.)

English Garden Blouse – McCalls M7094

I’ve finished my latest sewing project. A blouse, this time.

After sewing so many dresses this summer, I needed a new challenge. Also, I needed a blouse. I can easily get stuck in a rut, if I’m not careful. Dresses may be one thing but, I tend to opt for sewing with cotton, especially poplin. It behaves and is easy to sew, but it doesn’t drape effortlessly and it needs ironing. I’m not an ironer.

Yes, a bit of a rut. In need of a change.

To shake it up, the solution was to try a different fabric. One that I have never used, as far as I can remember. I decided on a silky satin fabric, which drapes like a dream, in the most amazing, vibrant print. I can only describe it as an English cottage garden. The kind that I dream of growing in front of our cottage. I’m working on the garden, but in the meantime, I could wear it, right?

The dress pattern took longer to settle on. I read up on working with slippy fabric and decided I’d be best going for something not too complicated for my first attempt. Nothing fiddly. No cuffs or complex collars. Loose, free flowing and no fastenings. McCalls M7094 seemed to fit the bill. Designed to be shrugged on.

The pattern came with Love Sewing magazine. They had a few pages, in the magazine, dedicated to made up versions and useful tips. I also searched for other bloggers who had made it. First tip seemed to be, make it smaller than you imagine. The ease on this top is about 10″. I know. That is a lot.

So I made it in the medium size.

Even so, once made up, I still found it a bit ….tent like. I’m curvy. The drape went from the top part of me to my hips, missing my waist completely. The result was rectangular, rather than the subtle draping effect I was after.

So, I added darts front and back, and took it in at the side seams. I sewed the front top pleats down about 3 inches to tame the billowy effect. Despite all my messing around alterations, the ease is still enough to slip it on without even a remote struggle, which is perfect. The difference between a blouse I could wear and one…that never sees the light of day. This one will see daylight. Plus it no longer skips my waist. I have shape again.

Next time I make the blouse, I would be tempted to add a tie at the back to reduce the bagginess around the tummy area. Or abandon the front darts and sew down the front pleat. It would be worth it as I like the neck opening and the top part of this blouse. Not the bottom half. Doesn’t work for me.

Here I am pretending I’m in the South of France beside a sunflower field. I’m not. I’m no further than my own patch of sunflowers in the garden.

Somewhere along the journey, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t ready for free flowing. Not a wild child, after all. Either that or I’m deluded when it comes to my size and I am a lot smaller than I think. Or both. Probably both.

Not that any of that matters. I’m really pleased with my new blouse. I would make it again. I love the fabric. It’s not see through. It is soft and yummy to wear. The children love giving me extra hugs when I’m wearing it. A recommendation in its own right.

I now have a blouse that I don’t need to iron and drapes the way I wanted it to.

Mission accomplished.

I thought it might be a good idea to note down a few tips I picked up for sewing with slippy fabric, before I forget. It might help someone else, but I know I’ll find it useful next time.

– New project, new needle. No skimping
– Use a fine machine needle size (10) and sewing needle
– use lots of pins
– apply stay stitching to stop necklines, etc from stretching
– pin beginning and end, then the middle, then the middle of middle, etc
– cut notches to stick out to help prevent fraying near the seam line
– change foot tension
– don’t use very small stitches
– neaten seams as you go along, to prevent fraying

Big thank you to Middle daughter for taking the photos this time, to the Boy for directing (and creating humorous outtakes), and Blue the Hound for being a far keener model than me. Again.

The nice-day-for-fish dress

When I asked the family when they could see me wearing my latest handmade dress, there seemed to be a consensus. On the whole. Not shopping. Maybe not to work. Not too formal an occasion. To a gallery or theatre trip, perhaps. A restaurant. Especially a fish restaurant. (I love fish) To an event.

There were suggestions that I might want to break it up with a plain cardigan or shawl.

I see their point. The print is big. In retropect, it might work better as a top.

Putting that aside, I like it. It is so comfortable to wear. I used the Butterick  B4386 pattern again. I contemplated adding the sash this time, but I suspect it would have condemned the outfit strictly to special occasions only.

Having learnt from my previous dress, I made a few alterations. The back sagged, so I took 2mm off each of the side seams and made the back darts bigger, which narrowed the back without losing the comfort. The back hugs me more than the first time I used this pattern. I have plans to alter the darts on the brown one too.

I’m pleased I cut the fabric out carefully for the back. The fish swim effortlessly across the zip perfectly. I made an error when sewing it. Hmm. I guess that’s what seam rippers are for. After careful re-pinning, I managed to match the two sides up again.

I usually hand sew hems, to give them a polished finish. This time I went for a decorative stitch. I kept it subtle. Trying to give the impression of waves, to go with the fish. It was so easy to do and just adds that little detail, that I will do it again. Maybe experiment with contrasting thread next time.

The cotton poplin fabric came from a local shop. It does crease easily, given half a chance. I forgive it as the colours are beautiful. It is vibrant, which is best seen in the sleeve photo.

Raining today, so I retreated to my sewing room for the photos. Eldest helped take them, until all three children ran off with the puppet and left me to figure out the self timer. Ah well. Needs must. Shame though. I’ve always felt that particular puppet was flamboyantly dressed, making it the perfect companion for this particular dress.

I love this dress. A good rainy day dress. I shall find as many occasions to wear it as possible, because it feels fun to wear.


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