Friday, 20 November 2015

Winter Berry Satin Dress with Leopard Sleeves

Wow, what a quick make this turned out to be!  This satin dress with transparent sleeves was cut, sewn and finished in no time at all.  I had a short hold-up in the middle when I had to go and purchase a zip in the right colour, but other than that it was the work of but a few hours over a couple of evenings.  Snip, sew and ready to party!

I love this luscious deep winter berry shade fabric.  It's a medium weight, stretch satin with a beautiful drape and was originally destined for either a bomber jacket or a dress.  After completing a number of jackets and coats over the last couple of months I decided on this dress, New Look K6144 which was free with Sew magazine earlier this year.  

The pattern is quite straightforward with only three main pieces and easy-peasy raglan sleeves, but it has a bit of interest around the neckline with a deep fold that also shows off the fabric a little bit.  I had already started making a toile for this dress back in the summer with the idea that it would make a cotton poplin dress for the summer holidays, but I never got round to it.  Partly this was because the weather was so awful at the time (rain, rain, rain) that I was rather put off making pretty sundresses.  So making the same dress style in satin for the winter, using this pattern and using the adjustments I'd already tried on the toile, seemed to make sense.  I was already half way there.

I had bought the contrasting plum and navy leopard print at the same time as the satin and I used it on this garment for the raglan sleeve sections.  As luck would have it I found just enough light-weight navy blue lining in my fabric stash that was perfect for the job too.  The pattern doesn't include instructions for a lining, but it was easy enough to draft one.  I used the same pieces as the body of the dress and used the shape of the finished neckline after pleating it as a template for the front neck.  The neckline of the dress itself is slashed down the middle and then each side folded together to make and crossover two way pleat at the front.  

I took two or three attempts to get this right and had to unpick and re-sew in the end as the fabric is very drapey and naturally wants to drop.  The pleat needed securely sewing in place to make the correct shape.  If I was using a fabric with a bit more structure like cotton or silk then I think the fold would be a more obvious feature  The raglan sleeves then fitted nicely onto each armhole.

I hemmed each sleeve with the slimmest double hem I could manage to make the most of the transparent fabric.

These photographs above, of the fabric and dress in construction, were taken as the light in my studio faded from early evening into night and the colours are appearing to change quite dramatically!  The dress is actually a deep berry shade rather than cerise pink and the leopard is the same colour with navy print.  The sheen on the fabrics do create a nice depth of colour when the light changes.

I photographed these winter berries on my daily dog walk and they are a pretty good match.  I quite like the bright golden yellow lichen colour as a contrast here too!  

The rest of the dress is simply a plain shift, shaped with darts front and back.  I only lined the main body of the dress using the same pieces as cut from the satin, not the sleeves as I needed them to remain floaty.  The size I cut is a 12 however I did end up needing to let the side seams and darts out a little around the hips and could have done with grading out to a size 14 here.  I've made a note on my pattern.  Because the fabric is shiny it does tend to spotlight every curve in high definition, so although the top half is fine, with the soft folds around the neck, I felt more comfortable with a bit more ease further down!

There is the option to make a wide, wrap around obi-belt, however I chose to keep the lines simple and not add anything else.  I always have the feeling that my proportions don't really suite belted dresses because they tend to ride up right under my ribs where the smallest part of my waist naturally is, and the phrase 'sack tied in the middle' comes to mind.  There is enough shaping in the dress through the seams and darts for my liking, although you could cut the body of the dress straighter and create interesting shapes by cinching it in the middle with a tie belt.  

I realise I haven't shown any photos of the back (I find this hard to do with my iPhone set on timer, propped up on the bird-table as I can't see what's in the frame with my back to it!).  However the zip is set into the back seam and with hindsight should probably have been down a size seam, or alternatively an invisible zip.  It's fine, but the shiny fabric does make it slightly more obvious that I would have ideally liked it to be.  

I like using up stuff I already have lying around, like this blue lining, especially as my fabric hoard is I admit getting a little bit out of hand.  There is everything from lime green fun-fur to navy and yellow wool tweed and fine silk organza in here.  There are green and purple suede skins, recycled lace curtains and two crammed shoe boxes of antique lace trim.  I have furnishing fabric in wine coloured brocade as well as 60's psychedelic satin, gold sequin mesh and some cotton bought from Thailand with peach coloured Hello Kitty print.  The Cloth House bag hanging in pride of place is filled with gorgeous fabric that they were selling off for only £3 per metre, feather light pure wool suiting and beautiful silks too good to turn down for the price and yet I've still no idea what half of it will be made into.  In fact, diving into my stash cupboard is often where I get my ideas.  Recycling and reusing bits and pieces or putting different textures and prints together is a favourite way of getting inspired for me and something that often keeps happily awake at night.

Having just photographed and properly acknowledged this stash of fabric by writing about it here, I really should step away from the fabric shops and tell myself I don't need to buy very much more fabric in the next year or so.  There must be plenty of projects in here for a while yet and probably some of the long-term residents could be given away in order to fulfil their potential elsewhere and free up some space.  In the meantime, a Hello Kitty and sequin ballgown perhaps? Or lurex and suede pyjamas??  Who knows what Frankenstein creations might emerge!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Foxy Tweed and Leather Cushion

I'm starting to think about all the things I want to make for my home that I still haven't got round to doing.  We have been decorating over the last few weeks and when all the painting is done and the furniture moved back into the sitting room, I'd like to have some lovely new cushions to throw around and a new cover for the old ottoman.  Also I'm planning my list of Christmas gifts to make this year.  I don't make clothes for other people as I think choosing clothes is a very personal thing and I'm also aware I personally have quite eclectic tastes, some of which won't be for everyone!  But I do like making other kinds of things for people and last Christmas I really enjoyed sewing some handmade gifts for family.  Obviously I will have to take care how I blog about them as I make them this year, as that would be a bit of a give away.  But here is a gift that I made last year, a wool tweed cushion trimmed with leather.  The appliqué design is of a fox.  He looks just like the fox on my allotment, who I sometimes see standing motionless with his pointy nose sniffing the air, before he spots me coming down the path and melts away under the bramble bushes.

I used larger sections of tweed for the background in soft cream, grey and beige and at the bottom left a forest green.  Then I enjoyed spending time piecing together my foxy face using deep reds, heather and rust coloured tweed scraps.  I have a whole box full of offcuts and samples that were given to me in the hope I could use them up somehow as they are such gorgeous colours and lovely quality wool.  Some of the pieces are only a couple of inches square, but perfect for this sort of project.  I've also seen bags of offcuts come up on eBay from time to time as factories and mills sometimes sell these by weight.  You can never be sure what you get in the bag of course, although you may be lucky and find one or two of good lengths.  But for crafty projects a nice mix of scraps is just as good.

I drew a fox head first on sturdy paper and then cut up the drawing into pieces.  I used the paper shapes to work out how the sections would fit together and play around with the colours.  I wanted to leave some of the background showing through where his brown felt eye is in the middle.  I also wanted his neck ruff to gradually disappear into broken sections, almost as though he's melting away into his tweedy background.  I've used a mixture of stitches here to simply appliqué the design onto the backing sections and decided to use one colour thread all the way through, making the stitches visibly part of the patchwork effect.  I've also used pinking shears to crimp the edge some of the pieces to add more texture.

His nose and one section of his neck ruff is cut out in brown leather and there are leather button loops at the back.  The leather is recycled from an old garment.  I used a fairly deep overlap section at the back of the cushion to insert the pad through and two button closures.

The back is one piece of lovely cream and caramel coloured wool and edges are finished with piping in the same fabric.  I always use feather cushion pads on the inside as I think they look and feel nicer than synthetic ones and they mould better to the shape you need them when snuggling up.  Another good tip, if you're using feather pads, is to always cut the cushion cover slightly smaller than the size of your cushion pad.  This makes sure the feathers really fill the whole area right to the corners and the cushion looks plump and luxurious.  This won't work if you use a synthetic pad though, when you should cut the cover to fit the pad exactly or it will just buckle inside.  I'm glad to say the cushion was received well and went to join a collection of foxy furnishings in his new abode!  I think I might take the idea and re-work it to create a design for my own home.  I have some lovely grey and blue shades of herringbone and check, which might make a bold badger or a cheeky rabbit.  

A collection of blue-grey toadstools could also work in these colours and I quite like this off-cut of Osborne & Little fabric called 'Mementoes' that I have in my stash.  This would make lovely cushions, which I can pop them straight over the existing cotton cushion covers and instantly have a new and different look for the room this winter.  Cosy!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Halloween Costume Hack!

Around here, Halloween is a big deal!  It was never something I remember celebrating as a child, although we did have turnip lanterns on bonfire night.  Nowadays in our neighbourhood, local streets and houses are transformed on 31 October into a village of creepy cottages, magical mansions, flickering pumpkin lanterns and plenty of freaky fun.  For the younger kids it's a chance to dress up, grab your swag bag and go around in the dark collecting sweets galore at each of the houses taking part.  Always with an adult hovering in the background to run back to, just in case the sweetie-giver happens to be dressed in a particularly convincing mask!  The older kids and teens revel in scaring each other and chancing their arm at getting a few goodies too.  It's definitely a family friendly affair and there are strict rules to the game.  If there is a pumpkin twinkling away outside to welcome you, then it is an invitation to knock and see who might be waiting inside to treat you, or make you jump.  If no pumpkin, then you respect that house's privacy and don't knock on the door.  

There is no such thing as going 'over the top' with decorations and some of the creations were truly theatrical in their ambition, with whole front gardens transformed into hammer horror style settings.  Even cars, wheely-bins and garages are dressed to thrill and the all important pumpkins ranged from simple smiley faces to works of art in carving. 

Our Halloween preparations started back in the spring, planting 'jack o lantern' seeds for home grown pumpkins on the allotment.  We watched them grow, proudly pointing out the biggest ones marked out as having the best lantern potential.  We harvested them last week, lugging them back with aching arms, turning one into soup, and the others have been sitting in jolly trio in the kitchen.  They've been glowing away, seasonally orange and waiting to be transformed into candle-lit, goblin-faced characters!  A good tip if you do grow your own is to always cut them with a good bit of stalk left on.  They'll keep a lot longer.

This year, there has been a lot of talk about children's dressing up costumes and the dangers of cheap synthetic fabric when in the presence of flames.  It horrifies me to think how easy it can be for a child in a witches costume to brush against a flickering candle and instantly find themselves trapped in a melting plastic prison.  So easily done and a life changing consequence.  It has made me think very differently about popping out for a quick and easy supermarket outfit for my kids to dress up in and so this year I'm taking a home made approach to kitting the the little demons out.  I have to be realistic and confess that I don't have the time or patience to create home made versions from scratch, although there are lots of great patterns for sale to make your own spooky outfits if you feel so inclined.  I have to confess also that I do have previous form in trying to cobble together my own costumes for parties we've had at home that have achieved varying levels of success.  In fact we used to hold a party every year and it became quite a challenge to make something that was even more outlandish than the last.  Brilliant fun, but less realistic with the ever growing list of other demands upon our time and energy and the increasing size and general boisterousness of the little demons.  The last house party saw me bound from head to foot in ripped sheets dressed as a mummy, which seemed like a good idea until I realised I'd spent the afternoon wrapping myself so meticulously well that I couldn't move or raise my arms to even eat and drink!

So I thought this year I would use up some of the kids' old clothes, some scraps from my stash, a few props and a bit of imagination instead.  No sewing!  I've also invested in some really good quality face paints, which I hope will not only transform a rather cobbled together costume into a convincing Halloween character, but I also reckon they will come in handy for future parties and school dressing up days too.  They've already been called into service to address a sudden request from school to dress as an alien.  One blue-painted child and a pair of deely-boppers and bingo!  One alien! Having spent £20 on 4 colours of paints as an investment then, I wanted to spend no more on the outfits, only working with what I have already.

And so, to the costumes.  The first items to get the Halloween treatment was a pair of red corduroy trousers that had worn through at the knee and a rather stained and crumpled t-shirt.  Both have been hanging around and used as play clothes, being too battered for the charity bag.  A few scissor snips and some artful ripping and we have a suitably zombified ensemble.  Face paints did the rest of the job, and thus complete the desired 'Sean of the Dead' look!  Scary!

The next outfit, a little witch, was basically a collection of grey 'normal' clothes (woolly dress and tights) with the addition of witchy hat and a cloak.  The cloak was simply a square of novelty material with black cobwebs on it that I have in my stash cupboard and have used as a table covering for halloween parties in the past. Of course black clothes would have been more traditionally witch-like I suppose, but I didn't have any black kids clothes and anyway, I didn't feel the need for a forensic level of accuracy here. Once again the face paints provided the transformative element to the look.

The little witch was a tricky moving target to snap and so she escaped me getting photo of her! I think it's fun to try and put together a 'home made' outfit and it's definitely more fun for the kids as you all try to collect together all the bits and bobs and make them work.  Then explaining who they're supposed to be to others when they fail to guess.  It does take more time of course than picking something off a rail, and sometimes you have to use a bit of imagination.  But that's all part of the charm.  Visiting friends and offering a makeover was fun too and I managed a skeleton, two cats and 'Malificent' before our motley crew headed off into the night.

The great thing about Halloween is that, while you can indulge covering everything and everyone in sight in heaps of glorious tat, it has all virtually disappeared by lunchtime the next day.  All the lost souls and living dead, jolly jokers and grinning goblins have been sent packing and the neighbourhood turns back into normal again.  Until next year! Mwah ha ha ha!