Sunday, 21 December 2014

Navy wool coat

I made a winter coat! And it's in time for the festive season. 

Ladies and gents, I am super pleased to share my latest project with you. This is the first winter coat I have ever made, and I don't think it will be the last!

Don't I look proud in my new coat?

 The fabric

The fabric is a pretty special one. When I was in Beijing visiting family and friends back in September/October, my mum took out a beautiful piece of wool from her cupboards. She had bought it when she was about my age, which also means that the fabric is probably as old as me. The price at the time was £1 a metre, and apparently she bought it due to peer pressure, as her friends were speculating that fabric prices were about to shoot up. I'm not sure if the prices did surge shortly after, but I do know that you can't get 100% wool for £1 a metre any more, or at least in the parts of the world that I've set foot in. . 

It's a truly lovely fabric, and has survived the years extremely well. But boy did I feel the pressure to do it justice! My mum has already requested a picture of the end product so that she can show it to her friends! 
The Surrey Hills, ladies and gentlemen! We are so lucky to have this right on our doorstep. 

The pattern

I've had the Simplicity 2311 (Project Runway) pattern in my stash for a while, but hadn't quite had the fabric or the courage to have a go at a full winter coat. Now that I've claimed back my sewing room from all the building mess, and as my normal winter coat started to fall apart, I knew that it was time. 

I've always been a fan of Project Runway patterns, and this one was no exception. I wanted a long-ish coat, to keep me warm and cosy through the winter months, but also one that is classic and timeless, without too many decorative details which might go out of fashion. After a lengthy debate, I went with the long, double breasted version with the tie belt and non-gathered sleeves. 

I had some issue with the fabric, as my mum, in her attempt to beat inflation, only bought 2 metres of the wool... Good job I am quite small (I cut a size 4), and just about got away with fitting all the pattern pieces on the fabric after spending a morning playing with the "puzzle" and shortening the pattern by a couple of inches. 

I did a muslin for it, with a plasticy fabric that frayed like there was no tomorrow (you can probably sense my relieve that it is no longer in my stash)! I did this because I couldn't afford to make a mistake with the wool (as there is literally tiny pieces of scrap left after carefully cutting out), and also I wasn't quite sure about the huge lapels from view B. 

Pattern adjustments

I made a few adjustments after the muslin, but overall the fit was decent anyway. Sewing the muslin also boosted my confidence with the project, as it was really no different from making a princess lined dress. 

I also consulted a couple of my sewing books, including Vogue Sewing (revised and updated) and Couture Sewing Techniques

After the muslin and the research, these are the adjustments I have made to the pattern:
  • The petite adjustment to raise the waist;
  • Shortened the length even further (it ended up being about 5cm longer than the shorter version) to squeeze into the fabric;
  • SBA on the side front piece using this method;
  • Took in a couple of cm at the centre back seam;
  • Reshaped the lapels - reduced the width and raised the breaking point. To make the latter effective, I also had to shift the dart;
  • I didn't use the same pattern pieces for the lining. Instead, I followed the pictures here. This method reduces the stress on the lining fabric, which is often less stretchy than the fashion fabric, and also allows the lining to be bagged without hanging down from the hem. 
Construction and instructions

The sewing process didn't take too long - I broke it down by constructing the outer shell without sleeves (as I have a bit of a sleeve-setting phobia), constructing the lining with the sleeves, setting sleeves on coat and attaching the belt carriers, and finally bagging out the lining. 

A word to say about the bagging out method. After a bit of searching, I ended up following this tutorial, which explained the steps really well with great photos. What I did do differently, was that instead of opening up a seam in the sleeve lining (as I had already serged all the lining seams due to excessive fraying - the thought of the seams melting within the bagged lining was driving me crazy!), I left a 20cm opening in the coat and lining hem to turn the coat inside out. It worked wonderfully, and took no time to slipstitch the opening afterwards. I will happily do the same thing again next time. 

Now I wanted to mention the pattern instructions. They are fine, and with some dedication and a highlighter I managed to follow them, but please be warned that they do jump around an awful lot, especially if you are looking to make the coat with Front B, and also there are often lots of steps cramped into each point. For those reasons, if you are a beginner to coat making/tailoring, I would highly recommend marking the instructions as you go along, and read everything twice! 

Finishing touches

I spent a bit of time umming and ahhing about whether to go with buttons with the belts or the tie belt with the carriers (following the phraseology in the actual pattern). I went as far as ordering some navy French vintage buttons, which are yet to reach me. In the end I liked the streamlined look with the tie belt, and liked that it cinches the waist in appropriately. I also inspected my wardrobe and realised that all my coats have buttons! So it's certainly time for something a bit different. 

Finally, the lining. This is an Indian silk/poly mix that I bought from my recent work trip to Dubai (at about £2 a metre!) and it was a match made in heaven with the wool fabric. I haven't quite decided whether to add a hidden button yet (as currently the coat seems to retain its shape pretty well without it) but this would be one international coat if I do, with the Chinese vintage wool, Indian fabric purchased from Dubai and vintage French buttons. How fabulous!

So there you have it, my first home made winter coat. I am 100% happy with it (and I don't say this about many of my projects), and am relieved that I was able to make use of such a lovely piece of fabric gifted from my mum. I am sure it will see me through many winters to come. Then I realised - this is the beauty about sewing outerwear, isn't it? This coat is going to see the world with me a lot more than my favourite dress/blouse would ever have the chance to. 

What's next? Perhaps I'll keep the momentum going by making a trench coat for the spring! I sense some planning/day dreaming coming up. In the meantime, I hope you all make the most of the Christmas break, and enjoy the wonderful festive season wherever you are! Allow me to leave you with the festive picture of Rudolph in front of the house at Polesden Lacey (where we were today for some festive fun, and where the photos above were all taken) to get you in the holiday mood :)  


Sunday, 7 December 2014

My new sewing room!

Hello my dear readers! How have you been? I know, I know, It's been an awful long time since my last post, and I've been a busy bee. In this time I've gone to a couple of places (for work and for visiting my parents), and had quite a bit of works done to our house (knocking through the kitchen/diner plus a few other bits), which had some complications and delays, as well as a mess in a few of the rooms. I'm pleased to report, however, that I've now claimed back my sewing room, and completed the finishing touches to it. So greetings from my new sewing room! I can sew in peace again, and in warmth too as the radiator is now fitted - a must as the temperature has really been dropping lately! Some of you will know that we moved to this house back in March, and I thought I'd share a few snaps taken from this room when we first moved in:  



There was some old carpet in the room, which smelled badly, so that was thrown out on the day we moved in! 

Interesting colour choice eh? Odd place for the ceiling light, and what a shame to have the fireplace blocked up, with that radiator? 

So they all had to go. 
I'm particularly fond of the patchwork hearth (I just couldn't resist!), the framed vintage pattern envelopes, the stripped floors, and the classy radiator. Oh alright, I love every bit of it! 


 Then there's this little piece. I picked this up from a charity shop, and man, doesn't it clean up well with some elbow grease and a lick of paint! I love the little bureau compartment in the middle, and the mixture of open shelves/cabinet and drawers. It's also just the right size for the alcove.  

 

Those Liberty boxes are my 2nd anniversary present (cotton) from the hubby. Aren't they fabulous?


Here are all my sewing books:

Then we have the extendable dining table (fully extended) in the bay, where I do my sewing and cutting (except for the bigger pieces, where the floor is used), and the little shelving unit which keeps some of my fabric stash, and my overlocker. You'll also see a clear box and a vintage suitcase, where I keep the remainder of my stash. OK... you got me, there's not the end of my stash. Some of it is hiding in the chest of drawers and cabinet, too... and there's another box! 


So that's it! I'm returning to the blog after a little break, with a tour of my sewing space. It took us 8 months to finish it off, and I'm so pleased with it. I know I'm super lucky to have such a wonderful space to enjoy my sewing in, and I shall make the most of it in the months and years to come :) 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

30 minutes skirt - yes, really!

Are you looking for an ultra-quick project? Have you ever done any last-minute holiday sewing? Would you like to sew with knit but are somewhat afraid of it? If so, read on! 

I have tried out too many patterns which claimed to be "1-hour projects", but an afternoon later, when I´m still sitting in front of the sewing machine, with tired legs, back and eyes, I do wonder how on earth I can be so much slower than the "average" seamstress. In fact, I´m not sure if I´ve ever started and finished one sewing project within the hour... until now! 

I came across Simplicity 1368 from the Summer 2014 collection, and decided to give it a go. Although I have got an overlocker, and have used it on several occasions, I still have a fear for jersey. This pattern looked really simple, yet effective, so I decided that it was going to be the perfect starter project for me to start my sewing journey with knit. 

It did not disappoint. View A has one pattern piece, one fabric piece (as it´s cut on the fold), and only one real seam to sew! And better still, all of this can be done with a normal sewing machine, which is exactly what I did. I also liked that it´s very understated - it makes no bold claims about how quickly it can be done, so even if I did take a while, I wouldn´t feel so inadequate to have taken a longer-than-expected amount of time. 

So here it is! 

 It doesn´t even look like something that I knocked together in half an hour, does it? 
And here´s a close-up

I had this 4-way stretch knit in my stash, and it´s wonderfully soft. I love the funky and busy print, and thought it was ideal for this maxi skirt. 

I cut the pattern in a size 6, and the only alteration I made was to shorten it slightly. I didn´t even need to bother with a hem, as knit doesn´t ravel. With the elastic casing at the top, instead of a straight stitch I used a zigzag, to prevent any risk of the stithcing snapping under pressure, and literally a few minutes after cutting the pattern piece, I´m done! I couldn´t believe how easy this was. 



In case you were wondering where I am, I´m spending the weekend in Barcelona before flying to Beijing! It´s been really lovely so far, but I couldn´t wait 2 weeks before sharing this wonderful little project with you! 

So here´s the question - what´s the quickest project that you´ve done? Be it a cushion cover, a gadget case, a skirt, a top, a dress - please share with us! 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Giveaway winner!

Thank you for all of you that have participated in the giveaway. I am really appreciative of all the stories and experiences that you've shared about how sewing changed your lives - I very much enjoyed reading them, and it was nice to see some common themes coming out. 

But without further ado, it's time to announce the winner! 

Drum roll please..... and the winner...by random selection...is....

Sabine Delannoy! 

Congratulations Sabine! Please could you drop me an email with your address at xinyuealice0803 (at) gmail (dot) com. If you could do this in the next couple of days I'll be able to post the fabric over before I head off to China this weekend, but otherwise I'll send it when I get back in 2.5 weeks time :)

Have a great weekend everyone! 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Floral Elisalex - wedding guest dress

Since my attempt at Sew Dolly Clackett, I have been meaning to make a "proper" version of the Elisalex, with its signature tulip skirt. 

I had the fabric all-along - a beautiful heavy cotton sateen from the home furnishing department of John Lewis. Not only it would make lovely curtains and blinds, I could see a floral Elisalex emerge before my eyes. Wouldn't it make the perfect wedding guest dress? It's lucky then I still have 2 weddings to go to this year. 

And here it is, just as I envisaged. 

I pulled out all the stops with this one. I fully lined it with a lighter weight cotton lawn in a similar colour palette, with a cloth allowance built in (don't know what it is? Sherry explained it in detail here), finished and pressed the seams as I went along, and handpicked my zipper (after umming and arring about an exposed zipper). As much as I'd like to think that I pay great attention to detail for all of my projects, this one got just that little bit more attention. 

This is the dress inside-out:



Isn't it a beautiful delicate pattern?Here's the lovely low back, and the handpicked zipper: 






I must admit, I wasn't sure about the shape of this dress, and in particular, how the tulip skirt might look on my petite frame. But after seeing all those great versions on the blogsphere, I decided to give it a go. I knew, though, that the tulip skirt will need to fall just above my knees to even give me a chance of pulling it off. So after measuring the pattern, I hacked 10.5 inches off the length from the bottom of the skirt front and back pieces. I did contemplate shortening it from the hip area, but decided that the tulip would be even more profound, more likely to drawn my legs in it. I think it worked well. If anything, it probably could've done with shortening even more. 

The other alterations I made was to remove some back gaping issues, which were identified in the toile previously, and an SBA

Have you seen the photos on the By Hand London website for this pattern? They are all fabulous, and more importantly the skirts all fall way above the knee. I know that I'm only 5'3'', but I could only imagine that Elisalex is a super tall lady with extremely long limbs in person. 

Now a few notes on the construction, and instructions. When I made this pattern (the bodice anyway) last time, I did not read the instructions, as I wasn't lining the bodice, or using the skirt, so it was really just a straightforward princess seamed bodice. But this time I paid more attention to the instructions. 

For a beginner/intermediate pattern, I think the instructions could do with more details and tips. I don't mean this to be a criticism, as I do think it's a well drafted pattern, but for people who might be sewing a princess seam or lining a bodice for the first time, here are a few things that I would expect especially from an Indie pattern, as they would no doubt help beginners develop their sewing techniques:

1) For a smoother finish of the princess seams, staystitching and clipping on the side front seams would help achieve a more professional finish. I use this article here on threads

2) There could be more blurb on how to finish the seams which will be hidden under the lining. Here's what I did:



Can you see it? For both the fashion fabric and lining, I sewed a parallel line close to the seam in the seam allowance, before trimming the excess and pressing the seams towards the side. 

3) After joining lining to bodice at the neckline and armholes, I think there's a crucial step missing -- grading, and understitching as far as you can. I referred back to my last (and only) fully lined dress before, my modest raspberry dress, and I looked at the instructions again (McCalls 5921) closely. Grading and understitching in my opinion is the key to make the lining or facing lie flat inside the dress, without riding up to be on shown on the outside. Here's another in-progress photo before I pulled the lining out of each shoulders. 
Can you see that I've trimmed the lining at the armhole, and have graded, clipped and understitched the neckline? 

4) Comparing to the detailed instructions on McCalls 5921, I was disappointed to find that for step 8, this pattern stated "this is a little fiddly and unfortunately impossible to clarify with a drawing so please read carefully", when I could clearly see a drawing done for the McCalls pattern. 

Other than the above, I do think that the pattern is well drafted, and overall the instructions are ok, albeit a little basic. It's lightheartedly written, with little tips for a couple of steps, and I liked that there's space for the notes to be made at the back of the instructions booklet. Although I don't think I am very much a By Hand London type of girl, I can see how this style could be appealing to a lot of people.  

I realise that I may have started off a bit negative about the instructions here (I'd like to think it's more constructive, as opposed to negative), so credit when it's due -- I would say that the somewhat basic instructions were made up by the detailed sew-along for this pattern. Although obviously I missed that by about a year and a half, a quick glance shows that it provided more details and pictures on the construction, as well as a platform for Q&As which is great. 

Anyhow, ignoring all that geeky talk, I am very happy with how this dress turned out - it's exactly as I envisaged when I purchased the pattern and fabric. I don't feel silly in the tulip skirt, and I would be very proud to wear this to the upcoming weddings! 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Kindle case no.2

It's been a while since my first Kindle case, which happened to be one of the first projects completed together by my loyal sewing machine and I. Since then, the boyfriend has become my husband, and the Kindle has certainly evolved a rather lot. How time flies!

As I'm heading back to Beijing to see my family and friends in just over a week's time (I can't wait!), and my dad reads a lot, and I mean, a lot, of geeky English books (he's a bit of an academic), to the extent that 4 bookcases have become 8 in a matter of 2 years, and their home study is rapidly running out of space -- the poor desk in there must be worrying about its place and its eventual fate on a daily basis. 

So, as an attempt to avoid an overweight luggage fee for my trip, as well as to ease the pressure on the home office space situation, I've bought my dad a Kindle, and loaded it up with the books that he would like. To top it off, I wanted to make him a cover for it. I know, I'm spoiling him rotten! 

I wanted to make something a little more fancy than a pouch this time, so I found this wonderful tutorial. It was really well-illustrated, and you can't go wrong! 

Here's the complete gift:
When you open up the cover, the Kindle is in the pouch:
And it acts as a typical book-cover style holder, too, for reading on the go, thanks to these clever little corners:
Before slipping it back in your bag, there's an elastic to hold everything in place: 
I must admit, I had given this project a lot of care and attention, ensuring that everything lined up (especially with the stripes), all the corners are nice and sharp, and the ends are all tied up subtly on the wrong side. I am really happy with how it's turned out! I love how multi-functional it is, and how easy it was to put together. So if you are in the market for a Kindle cover, do pop over to Deborah's blog and you won't regret it! 



Sunday, 7 September 2014

Mint robe - Vintage Butterick 7056

Hello readers, I hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend wherever you are. If you haven't done so already, you still have one week to enter the Blogiversary GIVEAWAY! What are you waiting for?

It's been a while since I shared a sewing project with you, but I finally have one all ready -- sewn, pressed and photographed :)

It's a "tailored robe", made from a vintage pattern, Butterick 7056. It's fabulous. The copy of the pattern I had (in bust size 30) isn't in "mint" condition (get it?), as the envelope has disintegrated on all 4 edges, but given that it's survived all the way from 1950s, I was pretty happy to just be able to get my hands on it. 


There were a couple of pieces missing, including the front piece, but thankfully the front lining piece was included, which helped a lot. I made view A, the short version, and didn't bother with the pockets. 

I made this in a mint polka dot viscose (or rayon, for those of you across the pond), a purchase from my NYC trip in June, from a store called Fabric for Less in the Garment District, at $5 a yard. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it -- I loved the pastel colours, which are very calming to look at. And as you probably know already, I always have a super soft spot for a super soft viscose. I knew straight away that it would make the perfect robe.   


As much as I love 1) vintage sewing patterns and 2) viscose, I had some trouble with this project. Viscose isn't the most stable fabric, and with the long lines of stitches for the top to bottom front and back pieces, as well as the super long facing at the front, as well as the tie, the fabric moved a lot with the ordinary presser foot, and more specifically, the top layer of my fabric kept creeping forward, wanting to be long! I realise that it is not the first time I'm having this problem, and I did encounter this when making the Giant Baby Blanket, but usually after a few times unpicking and sewing again, I can smooth it out.

But not this time. Not with viscose, or a facing piece that's almost 3 metres long (ok that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea). After painstakingly unpicking, sewing, unpicking, sewing, and unpicking again, I decided that enough was enough, and it's time to invest in a walking foot. And boy, what a difference it makes! I took off the presser foot, the shank, and attached the walking foot, and off I went. All sorted in one go, with no fabric creepage. It was so easy. 

If you haven't discovered or invested in a walking foot yourself, I found this helpful post which describes it well. My advice? Get one now, and it will come in handy some day. I had to wait for mine to come in the post, but it did give me a bit of breathing space to get over my frustration with the facing. 

The other issue with viscose is that it wrinkled really really easily. When I sewed everything up, the end product didn't look very appealing at all. But after a careful press, didn't it sharpen up nicely! Crisp lines, and a beautiful drape, and let's not forget just how wonderfully soft and luxurious it is. No wonder it is also known as the artificial silk. 

So there you have it, my new robe, for wrapping me up in the mornings, or on a lazy day (until it gets too cold!). Look, I even have a bra to make it a matching outfit! 


It's a bit of a departure from my usual makes, as I have only made clothes that are designed to be worn outside of the home. But this project, which I have no intention of wearing outside of the house, has brought me a wonderful sense of satisfaction. What will be next? Pyjamas? Underwear? Only time will tell ;)

How about you? Have you made items that will not been "shown off" to the general public? And do you enjoy making them all the same?
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