Thursday, 31 July 2014

Book Review: And Sew To Bed

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last couple of months, you’ll probably have seen the various nightwear projects that I’ve made from the book And Sew To Bed by Caro London (not to be confused with this book of the same name by Vanessa Mooncie – although this one looks nice too!). As I’ve now used a few of the patterns, I thought I’d write a more detailed review of the book itself to share with you.

The book includes 30 sewing projects for nightwear and accessories, for both women (S, M and L sizes, for UK sizes 10-18 – I’ve used M for all my projects) and children (ages 3-4, 5-6 & 7-8) – 12 patterns for women’s nightwear, 4 girl’s nightwear, 2 boy’s nightwear (the “boy” patterns could probably be used for girls too, but the “girl” patterns are definitely girly), and 12 accessories (ranging from a headband, to a jewellery roll, to pillows). In addition to this, there’s a section at the back of the book with instructions for the techniques used, such as French seams, using bra sliders, piping etc.

There are tear-out pattern sheets included for 18 full-size patterns. You have to trace the patterns, and the sheets are a little bit confusing because there are a lot of different lines overlapping. Each pattern is drawn in its own colour though, and personally I haven’t had any problems with tracing, but I read a couple of reviews on Amazon from people complaining that the sheets were too confusing. For the projects that don’t have a pattern, there are instructions for the size of simple shapes that you need to cut.

Pyjama trousers

I’ve now sewn up three different projects from the book (pyjama trousers, dressing gown, short pyjamas), and the instructions have been fairly clear and easy to follow, if sometimes a bit brief. As some of the projects reuse the same methods, and also the techniques from the back section, the instructions will quite often refer you to other pages rather than writing out the same sections repeatedly. I can see why they’ve done this, and it probably means that you end up with more projects in the book than if everything was written out in full for all of the projects, but flipping backwards and forwards between pages can get a bit annoying, and I think there’s a risk that doing this will lead to missing out steps.

My least favourite thing about the book is the diagrams used to accompany the instructions, which I think suffer from the same problem as lots of craft books by seeming to focus more on trying to be pretty than being clear. Yes, the book needs to be nice to look at, but there are photos of the finished projects that can do that job, so I think it would be better to stick to line drawings for the diagrams as sewing patterns would.

Summer pyjamas

Those are really just niggles, but I thought I’d put them out there in case any of them would be deal-breakers for anyone thinking about buying the book!

There are plenty of positives about the book. There are a nice range of different styles in the women’s section (4 nightdresses, 4 pyjama sets and 4 robes/dressing gowns), with nothing too complicated but still a few interesting details. The patterns come together really nicely and the instructions are clear and generally easy to follow. It’s also pretty good value for money if you compare it to how much you’d have to pay for individual patterns to make all the projects included in the book. Really, if you’ve got this book, then you’re probably not going to need to buy any other nightwear patterns ever (provided that you stay within the slightly limited size range obviously!).

Dressing gown

All in all, I probably wouldn’t want to give And Sew to Bed to someone who was completely new to sewing, but I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone who has a bit of confidence in what they’re doing, and there are still plenty more projects that I’m planning to make from the book - looking through it again to write this review has reminded me quite how much there is in there!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Love At First Stitch Lilou Dress

Hello! How are you all today? I'm enjoying all the lovely sun we've been having here in the UK, and I'm excited to show you my latest creation - which is also particularly appropriate for this hot weather. Here's my second project from Love At First Stitch, the Lilou dress...

I mentioned when I posted about my Clémence skirt that I was particularly taken with this lovely dress, so it's no surprise that it was the next project that chose to sew. Having made the Lilou, I now feel like I'm even more qualified to recommend treating yourself to Tilly's lovely book as I've now used one of the patterns that's included with the book (the Clémence skirt has instructions for drafting your own pattern so I didn't use the pattern sheets for that). Yes, you have to trace the patterns because the pieces overlap, but these are the clearest pattern sheets that I've ever had to trace from so that's really not a problem. Everything came together beautifully and, as with Clémence, the instructions were completely clear and easy to follow.

The Lilou is the last project in the book, making it theoretically the most complicated, and it might be a bit challenging if you'd never sewn anything before, but even then it could still be achievable if you work through all the steps, and if you've got a bit of experience then it'd be no trouble. I'm a firm believer that if you've got good instructions, which you definitely have here, and you follow them at your own speed then most things can be done.  

Size-wise, I cut a 6 on the bust and hips, grading down to a 5 at the waist. I like this fact - it makes me feel like I have a small waist rather than abnormally large hips which is what lots of patterns often make me feel. Not that it bothers me, I know I'm pretty much the definition of pear shaped and I'm fine with that.

I wanted the dress to be comfortable for wearing every day, so added quite a bit of length because I like my summer dresses to hit at about knee length. I added an 1.5 inches to the bodice (fairly standard for me) and another 2.5 inches to the skirt, and this gave me just the length that I wanted.

If I wanted the dress to be super-fitted, I could probably afford to take a tiny bit of extra width out of the bodice, but I'm completely happy with how it is - it's nicely fitted whilst still having a bit of room to move, and I don't like clothes to be too closely fitting when it's hot. 

Also, I got over my temporary hatred of invisible zips - yay! They do give dresses a nice finish after all. I've definitely found that stabilising the seam allowances with strips of interfacing helps with inserting invisible zips, and didn't have any trouble at all when I was sewing this one. It's not completely totally and utterly invisible, but I'm happy with it so it's all good. 

Can we talk about the fabric now? I LOVE this material! Not only is it really pretty and full of most of my favourite colours, it feels gorgeous. It's a John Kaldor cotton sateen that I got from Fabric Rehab. It was lovely to sew with, and drapes really nicely whilst still having enough body to hold the pleats in the skirt (you can see the pleats quite well in the top photo - they're flattering and give the skirt a great shape) and allowing for a bit of twirl factor. Twirl factor is very important to me for dresses!

I decided to go with Tilly's suggestion of using a contrast fabric for the bodice lining - mainly because I've had this turquoise blue fabric in my stash for a while and wasn't sure what to use it for because it's quite sheer, and it was a perfect match for the bright blue flowers in the dress so surely it was meant to be. I got it as part of a bundle on ebay a while ago, so I have no idea what it is, I suspect it may be a polycotton of some variety, but its a good weight for the lining and feels nice so it seemed like a good choice. Tilly recommends that you trim off a tiny amount of the neckline of the lining to encourage it to lie nicely on the inside of the dress without poking out and I think that worked really well.

So, yes, in case it isn't already obvious, I'm pretty pleased with this dress - so pleased that version 2 has already been cut out (and my Mum's bought fabric for me to make one for her, thankfully we're pretty much the same size!). Plus, as an added bonus I think it's pretty perfect for joining in with the Summer Sun Dress Sew-Along - and who doesn't love a sew-along?!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Collarless Bluegingerdoll Winifred Dress

A little while ago I was lucky enough to win a giveaway hosted by the lovely Liz of Sewn By Elizabeth and Indie Stitches for a Bluegingerdoll pattern. I chose the Winifred dress and, after a slight bit of pattern hacking, here's my version...

As Bluegingerdoll patterns are designed to fit a D cup, which I'm not, I thought I'd have to make some fit adjustments to the bodice - to be honest this was probably why I hadn't already bought the Winifred (or the Billie Jean - so pretty!) for myself! In the end though, this turned out not to be much of a problem and the fitting was straightforward. From comparing the paper pattern to my measurements, I knew I needed to add length to the bodice so I started out by making my standard addition of 1 inch, and then made a muslin to check what other changes might be needed.

That showed me that I needed to add another inch again, and that I'd added the length in the wrong place - I'd added it above the tuck dart as suggested in the Winifred sewalong (which includes lots of tips and tricks if you're thinking of making your own Winifred), but that made the dart too low and left me with excess fabric under the bust. So, for muslin no. 2, I removed the inch I originally added, and instead added 2 inches in the middle of the dart. Problem solved!

At this point, the shape was really nice once I had the dress on, but it was ever-so-slightly on the tight side and a bit of wiggling was needed to get the dress on and off. I was fairly sure that going up a size would make it too big though, so I decided to sew the dress with a 1/2 inch seam allowance instead of the usual 5/8 inch. Probably not technically the right approach to take, but it worked fine and now the dress fits nicely without any need for wiggling.

Fitting aside, those of you who are familiar with the Winifred pattern will probably have noticed the big change that I made - mine's collarless. When I was making my muslins I decided that, lovely though the collar looks on other people, it didn't entirely suit me so I wanted to make it collarless instead. Luckily for me, Heather had already done the hard work for me and written a fantastic tutorial about how to make a collarless version of the Winifred dress on the Bluegingerdoll blog. It worked a treat, and I'm really glad I made the decision to go collarless.

Once I'd got through making all my adjustments, Winifred came together really quickly as there are no zips or buttons to worry about. The shaping is provided by the two tuck darts on the front, which act kind of like pleats, and an elasticated waistline at the back. The back is also meant to have a fabric belt which covers the elasticated section, but my hacking came into play again at this point. I had actually added the belt, but when I tried the dress on to work out where I needed to secure the belt buckle, I decided to take it off so that I had the option of wearing the dress with other belts.

I really like the shape of the front, but I feel like it's slightly less flattering on me from the back. On the plus side though, the elasticated back waist means that it's really comfy to wear whilst still looking nice, which makes it great for when I'm working - I work from home so being comfy is more of a priority than looking smart, but I still like to be presentable. This definitely fits that bill!

The fabric I used for this is a floral chambray that I got on ebay. I like the look of it up close, but the floral pattern kind of disappears at a distance so the fabric ends up looking pretty plain. This was actually the look I was going for because I wanted something that would be easy to wear with anything on a daily basis, but I think the colour can end up looking a bit dull on me (in some lights it's lovely, in others it ends up looking a bit more drab grey than pretty blue) - one of the reasons why I wanted to be able to wear a belt with the dress to brighten it up a bit. 

All in all, this isn't my favourite dress that I've made, but then not every dress can be your favourite dress can it? That's not to say that I don't like it, I definitely do and it's so easy to wear that it definitely won't be getting left unloved at the back of my wardrobe. Some days you just need a fairly plain dress that you can pull on and be good to go without having to worry about what you're going to wear with it - this definitely fits that bill, so it's a winner in my book!

Friday, 11 July 2014

I heart the Emery dress

While variety may be the spice of life, sometimes it's nice to stick to something tried and tested that you know is going to work out perfectly. With that in mind, here's another Christine Haynes Emery dress...

I figure it's OK to keep making different versions of the same dress (my other Emery dresses are here, here and here) as long as each version is a bit different - which I think mine definitely are, so it's all good. Plus, I know it's going to fit me without having to make a muslin (I know to add an inch to the bodice but other than that a size 12 fits me perfectly), I know it's a shape that suits me and I know that it's a dress that's nice and comfy to wear. What's not to love?!

This is the short sleeves from view A but with the collar from view B. I still need to make myself a version with the bow from view A, so there will be at least one more Emery in my sewing future (who am I kidding, there'll be many more!), but I might give it a rest for a couple of months now so that I can try out a couple more of the patterns on my ever-growing "to sew" list. At the moment it seems like almost every time I catch up on blog reading there's a new pattern or pretty material that gets added to my inspiration list, I can hardly keep track of them all - does anyone else have that problem or is it just me?!

The fabric for this one is a lovely cotton from Croft Mill, although it seems to be sold out now, which is a shame because it was great to work with and it's really nice to wear. I wouldn't usually go for a heart print because I think that they can be a bit overly cutesy, but this one has enough randomness and quirkiness to make it pretty rather than excessively twee. From a distance, I don't think you even necessarily notice that it's hearts. 

The white for the collar is some cotton of unknown origin from my stash. I'm really happy with how the collar turned out and the way it makes the white of the main fabric stand out a bit more.

Like my last two Emery dresses, this one has a normal zip instead of an invisible one. It started out life with an invisible zip, and not any old invisible zip but the best invisible zip that I have sewn to date. The seams matched up perfectly first time and the zip was actually invisible, I was a happy bunny! Once I'd finished the rest of the dress and excitedly went to try it on, disaster struck - the zip broke, argh! Definitely not a happy bunny any more! The dress was then left to one side until I could bring myself to unpick the once-perfect-now-broken zip, at which point I wasn't trusting invisible zips so I went with a normal one. I'm over the trauma now though, and my invisible zip in my Clémence skirt seems to be doing fine, so I'll stop being irrational and give invisible zips another chance. They do give dresses a nice finish after all.

As this is my fourth Emery, there's not much else to say about it. I'm really happy with how it turned out (as I was fairly sure I would be), and it's already been worn a couple of times, hopefully with many more outings to come this summer.

On a different note, excuse the slightly odd blurring round the edges of these photos - I didn't realise when we were taking them that my camera was accidentally set to one of its "art" modes, and by the time I did realise I no longer had a field of daisies to pose in front of, and I think you really should make the most of a field of daisies when you find one so I decided just to go with it!

I'm now looking forward to the start of the weekend - I'm hoping to combine celebrating my Mum's birthday and enjoying the sun with a bit of knitting here and there in my quest to join in the Outfit Along. What's everyone else up to?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Summer pyjamas

This week I've managed to be sensible with my sewing, and make something that I actually definitely need, instead of something that I just want. What's more, this project cost me next to nothing - never a bad thing! Here are my new summer pyjamas....

(You'll be glad to hear I'm not modelling for you today - the shorts are just a bit too short for me to want to do that! Also, sorry about some of the colour differences going on between the photos, this shade of blue seems to be particularly tricky to photograph accurately!)

So how did I manage to make pyjamas almost for free? The pattern is the third one I've used from And Sew To Bed (my pyjama trousers are here, and summer dressing gown is here), which I got for Christmas from my sister, so that cost me nothing. As for the material, it's the leftovers from my Sureau dress (I just had enough to squeeze out all the pieces, yay!), so although I did have to pay for it at some point I think I've already got my money's worth out of that piece of material from the amount I've worn my Sureau dress, so I'm counting the material as being free too! Plus it means there's one less thing in my growing material stash, which is probably not a bad thing.

The set is pretty easy to sew up, but with enough interesting details to still keep it nice and not boring - like these pretty pintucks on the camisole top. The pattern also includes instructions for adding lace edging along the neckline and around the bottom of the shorts which would make things even prettier, but I didn't have any and was being impatient and didn't want to wait till I could get some, so I left it out, and I think my set looks just fine without it. 

The camisole is slightly wider at the bottom than I had expected it to be based on the photo in the book, but that may partly be down to the material I used - the pattern recommends lightweight cotton, whereas mine's probably somewhere between lightweight and mediumweight and not particularly drapey, so maybe the wideness at the hem would be less pronounced with a different material.

The camisole straps are secured using a bra loop and slider set, which is nice because it means they're adjustable and I think makes the finish look a bit more professional. The instructions in the book weren't 100% clear on what should be attached where for the slider, and the diagrams are also not the best in the world, so I ended up getting out one of my bras to check that what I thought I needed to do was definitely right - thankfully it was so maybe the instructions were OK after all!

The shorts are just a shortened version of the pyjama trousers that I've already made, so that made things nice and simple for me. The back of the waistband is elasticated and then there's a drawstring at the front, which you're meant to make fabric ties for. At this point I decided to have a rummage in my little stash of ribbon and see if I had anything that might be suitable, and happily came upon this length of blue ribbon. Not only was it pretty much the perfect shade, but there was exactly the amount left that I needed for the drawstring - obviously it was meant to be! 

All in all, the pyjamas are comfy and cool to wear, which is the most important thing for summer pyjamas, and have some nice little details thrown in to keep them pretty and interesting. So, I think for something that cost me almost nothing, this project has got to be a winner! And now I might get back to the pretty dresses...