Friday, 6 October 2017

Knitting: My first socks!

What's your attitude to trying new techniques? When I'm sewing I'll happily dive in and give things a go, but when it comes to knitting I tend to be a bit more reticent. I think that's in no small part because knitting involves a much bigger time investment so there's more to go to waste if things don't work out quite right. That's why it's taken me until now to get around to knitting socks, even though the idea has intrigued me for a while.

To give me added incentive to finally give sock knitting a try, I included knitting a pair of socks on my #2017makenine list. So when September came around, I thought I'd better get on with it before the year completely slipped away.

The pattern that I chose was, appropriately, My First Socks by Sandra of Cherry Heart. These are top down socks with a simple texture pattern, flap and gusset heel and rounded toe. I thought the pattern was excellent. As it's intended for beginner sock knitters, it's really detailed with plenty of help along the way and helpful photos to illustrate all the key steps. I didn't have any trouble at all knitting these socks - I was actually surprised by how simple it all was. I don't know why, but I was imagining all sorts of magic and trickery would be involved in knitting socks, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. If you're new to knitting socks, I'd definitely recommend this pattern.

There are instructions in the pattern for using both DPNs or the magic loop method on one circular needle. I've used both techniques in the past, but marginally preferred the magic loop method so that's what I went with. I started off using the Pony circular needles that are readily available in most knitting shops, but moving the stitches around the needles started getting on my nerves as they kept getting caught on the join between the needles and the cable. I'd heard other people mentioning HiyaHiya needles, so I decided to give them a try - and I couldn't believe the improvement! They may be over twice the price of the Pony needles, but they're well worth it in my humble opinion.

The yarn that I used is Stylecraft Head Over Heels in the Etna colourway, which I picked up at a local yarn shop. It's a 75% superwash wool/25% nylon blend and from wearing the socks for the first time they feel lovely and cosy, and not at all scratchy. It was also nice to knit with, and I love all the colours in the yarn. Actually the colour changes made knitting these socks quite addictive because I kept wanting to get to the next colour.

Overall, I loved knitting these socks and don't know what I thought would be so "scary" about knitting socks in the past. I'd really recommend the My First Socks pattern if you're also tempted but slightly intimidated by the idea. I'm looking forward to having some handknitted socks to keep my toes warm this winter, and I don't think it'll be long before I'll be casting on another pair. Does anyone have any recommendations of other sock patterns I should try?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Pauline Alice Seda Dress - Take 2

Do you have any fabric that you love, but aren't sure what to do with? The main fabric in this project was a Christmas gift from my sister last year and, while I really like the print, whenever I held it up against myself while pondering what to make, I couldn't shake the feeling that the green and yellow in the print aren't very flattering colours for me. Recently I realised the solution was obvious - sew a Pauline Alice Seda dress with a contrast yoke.

After I'd had the idea, I wanted to get on with the sewing because the fabric had already been in my stash for quite a while by my standards. Thankfully it was easy to find a plain fabric to match the navy in the print, so after a quick trip to a local fabric shop I was ready to go.

I've already sewn one Seda dress this year and I was really happy with how that one turned out, so I did almost exactly the same for this one - with the exception of shortening the sleeves. I'm not sure why exactly, but this fabric just felt as if it should be made into a dress with short sleeves rather than three-quarter. Shortening the sleeves was obviously very easy, and I just used the sleeves from the Emery dress as a guide for the length.

In fact, while I'm calling this dress a Seda dress, it is very much a hybrid with the Emery dress because, like my first Seda, it also uses the skirt from the Emery. While the Seda skirt is also just a simple gathered skirt, the pieces were too wide for my 45" fabric so I couldn't use them. I still think that this is more a Seda dress than an Emery though, because the contrast yoke of the bodice is the distinctive feature of this version (view B) of the Seda pattern, and using the Emery skirt instead doesn't really alter the overall look of the dress.

I think the combination of the floral print with the plain navy yoke is really successful. With the two fabrics combined, the navy in the print is highlighted and the yellow and green which were originally bothering me don't seem as noticeable. Green and yellow are always slightly funny colours for me - I'm a fan of them on paper, but for me to wear them near my face they have to be just the right shade or they end up making me look ill. It's probably more in my head than anything anyone else would notice, but if I'm not happy with something then I won't wear it, and I didn't want that to be the fate of this fabric.

The navy yoke solved the problem in this case though, and I'm really happy with my finished Seda (or mostly Seda!) dress. I'm glad that this fabric has finally been sewn up so it can be worn instead of languishing on the shelf. Now I just need to find solutions for what to do with a couple of other long-term stash residents...

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Granny square crochet blanket

This little (well, quite big actually!) crochet project has been a long time in the making. The date on my first work-in progress photo of it tells me that I started it in February 2016. I haven't exactly been working on it flat out, and I know quite a few months went by last year without me picking it up at all, but I decided that finishing it would be one of my #2017makenine projects - and now I can tick it off my list!

This colourful beauty was made using a pattern from the book Granny Squares by Susan Pinner - it's actually the project featured on the cover of the book and is listed as the 'Double-bed or sofa blanket'. Looking back at the book as I write this, I'm cheered by the fact that the intro to the pattern says it "is a big project, one to be picked up and put down often. But by making a few squares at a time you will eventually create a fabulous family heirloom." So that obviously justifies the fact that it took me over 18 months to make this!

The blanket is made up of 196 individual granny squares joined together in 14 x 14 rows, and finished with a border of 3 rounds of granny shells (although I actually did 2 rounds in the dark blue rather than 1, so I have 4 in total). The squares aren't the traditional granny square, but instead have colourful circular centres which are turned into squares in the white outer round.

The book gives instructions for making the blanket up either using the join as you go method or sewing the squares together. I chose (without much hesitation) to use the join as you go method; I've got a pile of granny squares sitting in a drawer somewhere which are testament to the fact that I get bored of a blanket if it's sitting in piles of squares rather than looking like a blanket. And why spend the time sewing squares together if you can join them as you go? I made up batches of 14 squares at a time and then joined them on to the blanket so that it gradually grew as the months went by.

Now, let's talk about all of that colour! The squares are all different colour combinations - well, some of them use the same three colours in the centre but in a different order (if that makes sense). I used 14 different colours, so I decided half way through making the blanket that I wanted each horizontal and vertical row of the blanket to have each of the 14 colours used in the outer circles of the granny squares like some sort of giant crochet Sudoku. I think that would have been possible if I'd thought about it and planned it from the start, but it didn't quite work out without the planning. Never mind, I think the random arrangement works nicely!

The yarn I used is Stylecraft Special DK. While 100% acrylic yarn may detract slightly from the heirloom status that the book claims for its 100% wool version, it did make this a much more affordable project and means that I can use the blanket without being too protective of it.

The colours I used are Pomegranate, Royal, Turquoise, Sherbet, Wisteria, Sunshine, Lipstick, Fondant, Emperor, Kelly Green, Aspen, Spice, Cloud Blue and Magenta, with White for the joining rounds and border (I did find that I needed quite a bit more white than the book suggests - I used over 400g), and Midnight for the contrast row in the border. I really enjoyed putting together different combinations of colours as I worked up the squares, and it make me rethink some of my ideas on colour - I'd never realised before quite how nice pink and green can look together!

This project may have taken a fair while to complete, but I'm really glad that I put in all that work and that I now have a lovely snuggly blanket ready to use once autumn arrives!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Tilly and the Buttons Fifi Pyjamas

When the Tilly and the Buttons Fifi pyjamas pattern was first released, I thought that it looked pretty but not necessarily for me. Gradually as I saw more versions pop up online, I decided that maybe I needed to give the pattern a go after all. Then pretty much as soon as I'd bought it, Megan Nielsen released the Reef pattern and that took priority in my sewing plans. So Fifi was left sitting in my stash until recently when I decided that it was time to finally crack the pattern open.

At this point I'll apologise for the fact that the photo above is the only modelled one you're going to get in this post. While I've happily posed for photos in pyjamas before, the Fifi set is just that bit more skimpy than the others that it made be feel a bit too exposed. But I know I always like to see what a pattern looks like when worn, so I braved one photo with the added protection of my dressing gown in the interests of the greater good of the sewing community.

Anyway, back to the sewing...the Fifi "boudoir set" (although I definitely think of them as pyjamas, I'm not fancy enough for a boudoir set) features a camisole and little sorts. The camisole is cut on the bias, with pleated cups, a princess seamed back and bias binding straps. The shorts have a narrow stitched-in elastic waistband and are definitely quite short!

I found the Fifi pyjamas were a really enjoyable project to sew. Tilly's patterns are well-known for having very comprehensive instructions, and Fifi is no exception. Everything was very clearly explained and came together easily. I'm always a fan of French seams, so I liked the fact that they were used throughout this pattern - the insides really are as neat as the outside for Fifi. I hadn't sewn an elastic waistband like this one before (you stitch the elastic straight onto the shorts, and then turn it under to encase it before stitching again), but I really like the finish and it was nice not to have to thread the elastic through (I don't know about you, but that always seems to take me longer than it should!).

In terms of size, my measurements are 38-32-42, and I made a size 5 camisole and size 6 shorts. I added an inch to the length of the camisole, but other than that made no adjustments. I didn't make a toile because I reasoned that pyjamas don't necessarily need to fit as perfectly as day-to-day clothes, but as it turns out the fit is pretty good anyway.

The fabric that I used is some more ebay bargain Liberty tana lawn (from Katsfabrics), this time in the 'Kathy' print. I bought this fabric to make a Susie blouse for my Mum's birthday earlier this summer and, since fabric from Katsfabrics comes in pre-cut lengths, I ended up with a fair bit left over for myself. Definitely not complaining! I pondered what to do with it for a while before realising that I probably had just about enough for a Fifi set. Thankfully I was right!

All in all if I'm honest, I probably prefer my Reef PJs in terms of wearing - but that is really just a personal style preference and is in no way a negative reflection on Fifi as a sewing pattern. This was a really enjoyable project to sew and my finished pyjama set will definitely be worn a lot - after all, who wouldn't want some tana lawn PJs for the summer?!

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Knitting: a pretty pink cardigan (King Cole 3541)

We're drifting into late August and heading rapidly towards the autumn so, in the grand tradition of my knitting habits, obviously it's the perfect time to have just finished knitting a very summery cardigan. The temperatures will hopefully still be appropriate for a short-sleeved cotton cardi for a little while though, so I'm going to wear it as much as possible before longer sleeves have to make their seasonal reappearance.

The pattern that I chose to use for this summer's knitting project is King Cole 3541, which features the short-sleeved round neck cardigan that I made and a long-sleeved V neck option. Both of the cardigans have the same cable panel running up the centre fronts and down the middle of the sleeves.

I have to admit that I was slightly daunted at first by the 28-row repeat for the cable panel. I've tackled cables quite happily before, but in simpler patterns and with a smaller number of rows in the repeat so you quickly memorise the pattern. While I don't think I ever completely memorised the cable repeat in this case, I got the basic idea of what I needed to knit in my head fairly quickly. There wasn't anything to be scared of in the cables and I didn't have any problems with knitting the panel as long as I always had the pattern leaflet by my side to consult.

By the time I'd finished knitting the back and fronts and was moving on to the sleeves, I was feeling a bit lazy and wanted to get the cardigan finished quicker so I considered leaving the cable panels out of the sleeve and just knitting them in stocking stitch, but I'm glad that in the end I opted to include the cables. It definitely made knitting the sleeves more interesting, and I think it's a nice detail to have the cables from the fronts mirrored in the sleeves. When I've knitted long-sleeved cardigans I always slightly dread the sleeves because they seem to take forever, but these short sleeves were finished in no time by comparison.

I made the size based on my bust measurement, and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. The cardigan has 2 inches of positive ease, and I think it's just the right level of being fitted enough to be flattering without it being so tight that the button bands end up gaping when they're done up. The cardigan has also turned out to be the perfect length to wear with all my waisted dresses, which is always good.

The yarn I used is the King Cole Cottonsoft as called for in the pattern, and I used colour 712 Rose. I haven't always enjoyed knitting with 100% cotton yarn in the past (memorably when I knitted some baby hats in 100% cotton yarn a few years ago, my mum told me she thought they'd make better dish cloths!), but I didn't have any problems with this yarn. It was good to knit with, and the finished cardigan is nice and soft to wear, but also feels like it will wear well. Which is good when you've put so much time into making something!

All in all, this cardigan is definitely a winner for me - not least because it goes really nicely with quite a few of my summery dresses (I'm wearing it here with my original New Look 6723 dress that I made a couple of years ago). I enjoyed knitting the cardigan and I'm tempted to have a go at a long-sleeved V neck option at some point. Who knows when that will be though because I've already got a list as long as my arm of knitting patterns to try! Next in the queue is a shawl, and I'm thinking of casting on my first pair of socks too. What are you knitting at the moment?

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Sew Over It Doris Dress

Do you have any garments in your wardrobe that get a bit overlooked? Until recently, the Sew Over It Doris dress that I sewed up last year had sadly slipped into that category. I wore it a fair amount just after I made it, but somehow since then I'd forgotten how lovely it is and the dress had stayed neglected on the hanger. Once I put that right, I enjoyed wearing it so much that I quickly decided that I needed to make a second Doris dress.

I wonder whether one of the reasons that I hadn't been wearing my first Doris dress so much is that the ties get a bit in the way of cardigans (because you often need a cardigan still in the British summer!), so this time I decided to use the fixed back belt instead. That also creates a bit more of a difference between my two versions than just using different fabric, which is never a bad thing.

Other than switching the ties for the belt, I did everything else just the same as I did for my first version. I blended between a 12 at the bust and 14 at the waist/hip, with 1.5 inches added to the bodice length. Also, the buttons down the front of the bodice are there for decoration only - there's no need for them to function because of the side zip so I just sewed them through both front bodice pieces.

The Liberty tana lawn that I used for my first version worked so nicely - it's the perfect mix of fabric that's easy to handle but has just enough drape for the Doris dress - that I decided to use a prized length of Liberty fabric from my stash for this second version. The print is called Suzy Elizabeth, and is my favourite Liberty print that I've used so far. I made a dress using the navy colourway of the same print a couple of years ago, and I've got another length of the navy in my stash which I'm intending will become a shirt this autumn. How many times do you have to use the same print before it becomes an obsession?! What can I say? I just love all that tiny crockery!

I should mention that my fabric buying budget isn't generous enough to just be buying Liberty fabric at RRP as often as my last few projects would suggest! A lot of the tana lawn that I've used has come from Kat's Fabrics on ebay which sells factory seconds, making them much more reasonable prices. I've bought fabric from them quite a few times now, and I've only found a small fault on one piece - the rest of them have all seemed perfect to me.

While we're on the subject of fabric, I think the fabric requirements stated on the pattern envelope for the Doris dress are really generous. I made a 12/14 (with length added to the bodice), and the fabric requirements state 3.2m for 12 and 3.7m for 14, but I used well under 3m - I'd say 2.8m at the very most, and this is a directional print. That's OK (it just means I have bonus fabric left over for another project!), but it's something I'd bear in mind if I were buying fabric for another Doris.

All in all, I'm really happy that I rediscovered my original Doris dress and gave myself the motivation to make this second one. It's a lovely floaty dress to wear and, as I've already detailed at length, I love tana lawn for summer weather. Let's just hope that we get a bit more of that soon so that I can wear it some more!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Vogue 9239 dress

As many of us are aware, with commercial sewing patterns it's often a good idea to look past the photos on the pattern envelope and pay closer attention to the line drawings, and that's definitely true for Vogue 9239 as far as I'm concerned. While some people would love the oversized and frilled sleeves that are a key feature of most of the views of the dress, they're not really my thing (if nothing else, because I couldn't be trusted not to get them caught on everything or covered in food when cooking or something!). The simplicity of view D, on the other hand, really appealed to me.

Alongside the host of dramatic sleeve options, Vogue 9239 features a fitted, princess seam bodice and a choice of a slim or full panelled skirt. Views A and D omit the sleeves altogether and instead have wide yoke pieces which almost feel slightly like cap sleeves. The shape reminded me a bit of a more everyday version of Simplicity 1418, which I made last year - while I love that dress, the off-the-shoulder look isn't the kind of thing I wear on a daily basis.

I debated a bit about what size to sew given that commercial patterns are notoriously generous in their sizing. Looking at the finished garment measurements, I was pretty sure that the size based on my measurements would be a bit roomy, but the size down might be a bit tight. I decided to toile my actual size (with my standard addition of 1 inch to the bodice length), going with the theory that it's easier to make things smaller than it is to add extra material to make things bigger.

As expected, the toile did turn out to be a little on the spacious side. I took a wedge out of the side seams measuring 2cm at the underarms, tapering in to 1cm at the waist and that greatly improved things. I've decided that I like to have slightly more ease in the waist of dresses when it's warm so I haven't made it overly snug still - it's fitted enough to give shape without making it too clingy in the heat.

I also decided to raise the side seams by 1.5cm at the underarms. As you can see in the photo above, I think if I hadn't done that then the underarms would have been a bit low and there would have been a risk of exposing underwear. Similarly, I brought the neckline in by 1.5cm at the shoulders just to make sure that bra straps wouldn't be too much on show. My final adjustment was to add 5cm to the skirt, which is just a height/length preference thing.

The dress was nice and easy to sew. I admit that I didn't pay too much attention to the instructions - I lined the bodice, but left out the underlining that the pattern calls for (I'm intending this to be a summer dress so I didn't want to add unnecessary layers), and I didn't line the skirt. I also used an invisible zip instead of a lapped one, which meant that I altered the order of the construction steps slightly. On the odd occasion where I did do what the pattern told me though, the instructions were clear and easy to follow.

Having said in my last post that I wanted to have a whole summer wardrobe of tana lawn dresses, this is another one to add to the collection. This time the print is called Eleonora, and it was an ebay bargain (there's currently none available from the seller I got it from). It's a really lovely print, and happily goes perfectly with the greeny bead necklace that I'm wearing here, which I've had for ages and love but have never been sure what to wear it with until now!

I really like how this dress turned out, and I'd definitely think about making another version of Vogue 9239 in the future - although I don't think it'll be happening any time soon because there are too many other plans swirling around in my mind!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A double dose of New Look 6723

It's been a little while since I last posted. There's been no shortage of sewing going on in the meantime, but the projects I've been making have either felt not worthy of their own blog post (pyjama trousers for my nephew, and a very simple t-shirt for my dad) or they have been for people who don't necessarily want to be subjected to a whole blog photo session (my mum). Thankfully the dress I made for my mum turned out so nicely that I decided to make my own version which I'm here to share with you today.

The pattern is New Look 6723. I made a couple of versions of view D of this pattern a few years ago (here and here) and I've worn both of them a lot so, given my proclivity for making certain patterns repeatedly (I'm looking at you Emery dress!), it's surprising that it's taken me this long to make another version.

I was mainly prompted into making this because, having promised to make a dress for my mum, I was having a bit of trouble getting toiles of the original pattern she picked (Simplicity 8294) to fit. I'd got a bit frustrated with the whole thing so one weekend when I was staying with my parents, I had one of my earlier 6723s with me and got her to try it on because we're a pretty similar size other than the fact that I'm a bit taller. It fit really nicely, so the original pattern was abandoned and I set about tweaking 6723 slightly to fit with my mum's requests.

Mum definitely didn't want the sweetheart neckline, so I used view B of 6723 but lowered the neckline slightly using the Simplicity pattern as a guide. Other than that, the only changes I made were the same as for my two first versions, namely using an invisible zip instead of a lapped one (which meant I slightly altered the construction order) and adding in pockets. And as soon as I'd finished my mum's dress, I cut out a second version of my very own!

I persuaded my mum that she did want to make a cameo blog appearance really, so this is the version I made for her. It's sewn using some lovely Seasalt fabric. I'm extremely happy about Seasalt selling fabric! I've been saying for ages that they should - I love a lot of their prints and in the past I'd have happily bought their dresses, but now that I sew I have to admit that, like most RTW dresses, the waistline is slightly high on me. So it's excellent that they've somehow read my mind!

The fabric is lovely quality - it's fairly light weight so I think you'd want to line bodices at least, but that's fine for me because I prefer lined bodices anyway. I've got a length of the Corde Fleur Night print sitting waiting for me to decide what to sew with it, and I'm seriously tempted to treat myself to another print as well.

Anyway, I'll stop gushing about Seasalt fabric now and gush about Liberty tana lawn instead because that's what I used for my version. This particular print is called Mushaboom, and I picked it up in the Liberty sale back in January. I love the fact that the print is a bit larger scale than most tana lawns, and also that the colours are so saturated.

It really is gorgeous, and tana lawn is great for wearing when the weather's hot. So much so that in the recent heat wave I semi-jokingly declared that I want enough Liberty dresses so that I can get through any heat waves clad exclusively in tana lawn. My fabric budget is far from limitless though, so I might have to build up that collection gradually by taking advantage of sales and/or ebay bargains!

All in all, I'm really happy with how both of these dresses turned out. It's a lovely summer dress shape - nice and breezy for when the weather's hot without being so sundress-y that it looks like it should only be worn on a beach. Don't be surprised if you see more of them round these parts in the future!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Cocktail (Shirt) Dress - #sewtogetherforsummer

When I made my first Vintage Shirt Dress nearly two years ago, shortly after Sew Over It had released the pattern, I ended my blog post by asking what fabric I should use to make version number two. Well, it's taken me a while to get round to it, but now I can answer that question - better late than never hey?!

The fabric in question is a fun cotton poplin print which features multi-coloured cocktails, interspersed with little hearts and stars. It came from Backstitch, but I picked it up back in the January sales so unsurprisingly it doesn't seem to be available any more. When I bought it, I did have in the back of my mind that it might become my second Vintage Shirt Dress, but I put it away until the weather was slightly more suitable for a sleeveless dress.

I was given the incentive that I needed to dig the fabric out of the stash and get sewing by the #sewtogetherforsummer challenge that's being hosted by Sarah, Monika, and Suzy on Instagram. It's a very simple challenge - just sew any shirt dress that takes your fancy and post a photo on Instagram before 21 June to be in with a chance of winning some lovely prizes! And if you're pondering sewing a shirt dress but aren't sure of what pattern to use, browsing through the beautiful dresses already posted using the challenge hashtag will give you lots of inspiration.

I was really happy with how my first Vintage Shirt Dress turned out, so I kept things pretty much the same for this version, cutting a size 14, but with 2 inches added to both the bodice and the skirt. Like last time, I again had to take a bit of width out of the side seams at the underarms - I really should make that adjustment on the pattern pieces.

The only thing I did slightly differently was to use a couple of extra buttons. If I had any complaints about my apple print version, it would be that the neckline sometimes gapes open a bit more than is ideal. It's not so bad that I've felt the need to go back and alter it, and I still happily wear it, but it's noticeable enough that I made a mental note to add another button higher up when I sewed the pattern again. It's only slightly visible in most of these photos, but my top button is right at the bottom of the lapel - when I'm wearing it, it's actually mostly hidden by the lapel.

The buttons I used are some fairly basic plain bluey green ones that are a perfect match for one of the colours in the print. I had an ambitious idea that I'd somehow manage to find a range of plain buttons which were available in all the four main colours of the cocktails on the fabric, but sadly that wasn't to be. The shop where I bought these bluey green ones also had some perfect red ones in the same range, but just the green and red together had a slightly Christmassy appearance which wasn't really what I was after. So I let go of the multi-coloured buttons vision, but I'm not at all disappointed - the greeny buttons look great!

I'm very glad that I finally got around to making a second Vintage Shirt Dress, and I think I might possibly like this one even more than my first one. This summer could become my own little season of shirt dresses because I have ideas for a couple of others that I've been mulling over - Vogue 8577 or another Pauline Alice Cami dress are currently top of the list. Have you got any other favourite shirt dress patterns to recommend to me? Are you joining in with #sewtogetherforsummer?