June 22, 2012

Getting all fancy with couture

 I am an almost entirely self-taught seamstress. I say almost, because I did take an “intro to sewing” class about 2 years ago when I first bought a machine, but it wasn’t… the best. The teacher seemed to barely know how to thread a machine, and the pace was veeeeery slow (however, I did meet a good friend, so it was totally worth it!). Recently I started to realise that books were only to take me so far, so when Craftsy did a $20 sale on a “Couture Dress” online course with the famous Susan Khalje I thought, why not? I’ll give it a bash.

And it’s been amazing! First of all I must say that Craftsy is a really excellent teaching platform. For this course there were about 10 hours of lessons, where Susan takes you step by step through every stage, demonstrating things in real time – there are remarkably few “here’s what I made earlier”. I learned more in the first hour that I’ve probably learned in the past 2 years.  Once you register, you have permanent access to the lessons – so if you want to go back and look at the best way to insert a zipper, it’s right there. Plus, you can ask questions to Susan and astonishingly she actually writes back within 24 hours! Her regular classes are thousands of dollars so it really is an amazing steal.
The class also comes with a ($29.99!) free Vogue dress pattern – but I wasn’t really feeling it. Not least because it’s a fairly fitted formal pattern and it’s 35 degrees celsius right now in Boston. So I decided instead to apply the couture techniques to the new pattern from Colette patterns, the Hazel dress.
It’s a summer dress with a simple gathered skirt but a really unusual bodice: it’s a inverted triangle, and I guess it’s a variation on a princess seam bodice.  Colette recommends making it with stripes, because the sides of the triangle are cut on the bias, which means you get a nice diagonal-stripe effect, alleged to be slimming, but at the least, charming. (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of bias: all fabric has a “grain” which runs lengthwise through the material – it’s basically the threads that all the others are woven into when the fabric is made. It’s typically the strongest direction of the fabric and most stable (i.e. not stretchy). Most patterns are cut on the grain – it’s really important to be precise, or it ends up draping weirdly. When you cut on the bias, you cut at a 45 degree angle to the grain instead. This gives much more movement to the piece, which can lead to it getting stretched out, but also means that it has a bit more give, so it’s good for waistbands and things like that.)
I picked up this gingham on my Goldhawk Road adventure to make myself a Hazel – I figured the gingham would have a  similar effect to the stripes. I”m not entirely sure what it’s made out of, but I think a cotton/poly blend.


Now, darlings, is when we go couture! Loathed as I would be to attempt to define “couture”, one way of explaining it is that it’s highly crafted clothing made with a lot of attention to detail and a lot of control. Often when you’re sewing commercial patterns there’s quite a lot of guessing as to how the dress is going to come out, because fabric tends to shift as you sew and take out pins and things like that. In couture there’s none of that: everything is done precisely and in a very controlled way so you know exactly what you’re doing.

Here’s the rough stages:

1. Make a muslin. This is a trial run garment which you do to adjust the pattern to fit your shape and size, and also to have a trial go at putting it together – it’s amazing how much better you are the second time you put together a tricky seam.

This couture class taught me a totally different way to make the muslin, though! Starting with the cutting.

First, you lay out your pattern pieces on the muslin (which is in double thickness, folded very carefully on the grain), and pin them down, making sure to get them exactly on grain.

Second, you cut very roughly around the edges, leaving HUGE amounts of space (like 2 – 3 inches) around each piece – this is crucial!

Third: you place these pieces onto a sheet of waxed tracing paper, which is face up, so the order from the bottom is: waxed tracing paper, muslin, pattern. Then you use a tracing wheel (a tool with a small serrated wheel) to run over all the pattern lines – which transfers the wax onto the back of the muslin exactly on the lines.  To transfer onto the other piece of muslin (remember, it’s a double thickness) you pin the two muslin pieces together, take the pattern piece off, flip the whole thing over, and then trace over the wax marks from the other side. This might seem obvious but this is SO MUCH EASIER than what I’ve done in the past….

Notably, you’re marking the STITCHING lines, not the seam allowance. This is a really big difference to “regular” sewing, but makes a lot of sense when it comes to fitting your pattern (as we will see) and I think I’ll always do it this way from now on.

Fourth: you “thread trace” your pieces. This involves sewing a basting (long) stitch on your sewing machine along all the lines. This seems a bit redundant but it is incredibly helpful because 1) you can now see the lines on both sides of the muslin 2) when you are pinning pieces together along seamlines you can *feel* the stitching lines and you don’t have to keep looking. Clever, eh?

Fifth: without cutting down those crazy seam allowances, you sew it together! And here is a terrible, terrible, terrible picture of my bodice muslin. I know it looks awful – that’s partly because I’m raising one arm to take the photo. But this muslin then went through lots of adjustments – I changed the neckline to *precisely* fit my braline, changed the location and width of the straps, and took in the waist a bit. I didn’t do a muslin for the skirt because it’s pretty straightforward.

And remember those huge seam allowances? Well they mean that if an area is too *small* for you, you can now let out some fabric – e.g. you could make the side seams another inch apart if the waist was too small, and you would still have fabric to do it with, rather than having to patch in fabric! This makes SO MUCH SENSE. I have re-made muslins in the past just to make them slightly bigger….

Here you can see three lines at the top of the side pattern piece – the bottom one is the original pattern line, then there are two lines showing me adjusting the piece – I ended up going with the top one. Surprisingly, I didn’t need to do an FBA (Full Bust Adjustement) on this pattern, but the raising of the neckline was effectively the compensation for my, er, quirks.

And here is the triangle bodice piece – again with a new neckline, which I have since made into more of a scoop.

Come back soon to see the next stages!

June 10, 2012

On hobby shopping

My youngest brother wisely pointed out to me recently that one of the fun things about getting really into a hobby is that wherever you go in the world, you can search out great local hobby shopping opportunities which make your trip even more enjoyable. Last time we did this together, it was him finding a tiny synthesizer shop in the Harajuku area of Toyko (I drank coffee in a rooftop conservatory while he spent literally hours playing with buttons and keys) – and this time it was me and fabric shopping on the Goldhawk Road in London.

I found out about this strip of shops from Alana at (highly recommended for her wide range of FBA tutorials) – and ironically it turned out to be located one road over from a good friend’s house, so I had unwittingly been in the presence of amazingness on many an occasion. Granted, the Goldhawk Road has few charms – if you didn’t know there was a string of about 20 fabric shops you would never guess: 
But there are (almost literal) Aladdin’s caves there: room upon room of mostly apparel fabric, of all sorts imaginable.

I had a few designs in mind, so I set off looking for printed jerseys (which, as predicted, proved elusive), nice light cottons for summer dresses, a soft silk for a new wrap dress pattern, and some silk organza…

 And I found them all! For remarkably low prices as well – I think I’m so used to the limited and overpriced Boston apparel fabric market that I’ve lost all sense of proportion, but getting enough good-quality fabric to make a dress for GBP 6 ($10) was unbelievable to me!

So here’s the new stash:

Black and navy blue gingham for summer dresses (I couldn’t decide between them, but after reminding myself they were only GBP 2.50 / metre, I just went for both….)

A nice turquoise and black wool knit (which unfortunately didn’t come out very well on this photo… it’s much nicer than it looks) – destined for a wrap dress this autumn, methinks…

A navy blue and cream polka dot jersey – sadly the only printed jersey I found that was half decent. This one will become a short-sleeved summer wrap dress shortly:

A cheap-as-chips bird-printed chiffon for a mere GBP 3.00! Perhaps a floaty top?

And two lovely pieces of stonewashed silk in charcoal and turquoise (again the colours haven’t really come out very well here….) to make my new wrap dress pattern:

In addition, there were several lengths of silk organza for underlining, and some cream jersey for t-shirts. Quite a haul!

So that’s it: no more fabric shopping for a while until I get through this, and the rest of my stash….

June 6, 2012

Feel the fear and cut it anyway

My family has a pretty distinctive approach to new hobbies. It goes like this:
1. Have a big revelation: I must conquer this new skill! I’M SO EXCITED!
2. Obsess, obsess, obsess
3. Buy all the various accoutrements that appear essential to mastering the skill, even though you have yet to establish if any of them are really needed
4. Sit on the floor in the middle of your living room thinking “what IS this stuff?”
Yeah, so that happened with me and sewing. The good news is, the fad kept and I am still obsessed! So that’s some progress. However, I did still go through the early stages, as evidenced by my purchase of a gorgeous and expensive piece of Thakoon silk within about 3 hours of buying a sewing machine. I got it from the incomparable Emma One Sock, which is run by a woman who goes around factories buying the ends of rolls of fabric from famous designers – think Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang et al.  Given how hard it is to get good quality and unusual fabric, Emma One Sock is a total godsend.
However, the second this silk arrived in the post, in 2010, I knew immediately that my skills did not match this fabric. Even remotely.
So how exciting is it that they finally do?!
Yeah, I know!
In a pique of newly found confidence, I decided to make a gathered maxi skirt  following this  great Anthropologie rip-off tutorial. Blinded by optimism, I also decided to line it with purple chiffon, which I’ve never sewed with before. 
And the great news is, it worked, more or less:

I was pleased with the interfaced 5-layered waistband, though the waistband gathering isn’t perfect… Next time, I’m going to follow the Colette tutorial and use three lines of basting stitches to get smaller and more even gathers.

Here’s proof it’s actually lined! The lining and zipper process took a couple of goes, and the reinforcement you see is actually a cover-up of a mistake… Shh! Don’t tell anyone.

All that’s left is for me to swish up and down my street…..


June 4, 2012

Crafternoon: Late Edition

 Brace yourself, readers, for a radical shake-up has occurred: crafternoons no longer take place on Sunday afternoons! That’s right: with the onset of the Bostonian summer (which, this Sunday, displayed itself with a mild drizzle) we have shifted to DCT (“Daylight Crafting Time”) and now meet on Sunday evenings.

Have you recovered? Have a cup of tea and a quick sit-down. That’s right. Better? Good.

So this crafternoon we welcomed two new members, Kate and Emily, and we old-timers showed them how it’s done.

 Specifically, we all made fabric rosette necklaces using this delightful tutorial from, which offers a much cheaper alternative to the accessories department of Anthropologie:

As per, lots of wine-drinking, tasty-snacking, gossiping, and sewing instruction took place:

We kept our crafting energy up thanks to many delicious things including a marinated chicken and asparagus salad, a home-made taboule, and a crafternoon first: desserts made by an attending pastry chef!: 

The crafting process itself was relatively straightforward, once we figured out that Gorilla Glue doesn’t work on fabric. 
– Make a strip of fabric, tie a knot in it, then wind the fabric around, twisting it upside down occasionally:

– make a few different ones in various sizes and colours:

– sew tiny beads into the centres:

– Arrange them onto a felt backing, sew on, and then attach some fetching ribbon.

–  Then proudly display!

 Here’s Kate’s extremely neat and polished polka-dot statement:

Jenny’s muslin and grey grosgrain version:

And Lauren’s Instagrammed white and striped creation!

Good times, good times.
Any ideas for future crafternoons, Cashmerettians?

May 8, 2012


One of the joys of learning to sew is that it makes you see the world in a slightly different way.

Take this equation.

One Gilt Group Daily Deal maxi skirt (RRP, $100):


3 yards of stripy jersey from


One jersey maxi skirt tutorial from the marvelously pregnant author of Elle Apparel! 

Continue to solve for that equation, readers, and what do you get?


Yes, this was my first ever ‘ready to wear’ rip-off! And quite proud of myself too, I am.
The pattern itself was super easy, just requiring four pieces, and two pattern blocks that I made from butcher paper (because trust me, I’ll be making this again). You read all the time on sewing blogs “oh this took me only 3 hours” but this ACTUALLY DID.

The main time was spent trying to get the stripes to line up. Because the pieces are slightly A line they couldn’t match up perfectly horizontally, but I wanted them to meet even though it was at a slight angle.

I used a tutorial from Colette on stripe matching, which made a lot of sense. Step 1 is make sure when you fold your fabric that the stripes are aligned. Knit fabric tends to shift, so I essentially had to pin the fabric together on every single stripe to make sure it matched up:

Then, when I had one piece done, I laid it back down on the fabric in line with the stripes, and used it as a template to make the next piece exactly the same. If you look really carefully at the photo below you can see that there’s a piece on the top, then butcher paper, then the fabric underneath that I’m about to cut:

And here is the toe-skimming result!

And it goes really well with a little purple cardi which my Mum bought me recently, so yay for prescient Mums!

May 6, 2012

Behold! A wearable wrap-dress with a passing resemblance to a sofa!

Drumroll please…. the grand unveiling of the last two months of sewing projects begins tonight! In fact, so much has been done but only recently documented that this is merely the first in a series of installments. Keep calm, dear readers, for you shall get your entertainment in due course.
So first of all, presenting: my first actually-wearable wrap dress! Now I must confess, there was a previous technically-wearable wrap dress. However: 1) it was made out of a shiny stretch zebra type fabric (oh, internet shopping for fabric is so hard) 2) it was constructed very hastily as part of an effort to finish and wear the garment the same evening 3) it did not afford sufficient, er…. nipple coverage (yes of course I wear something underneath, but, even so, general rule of thumb: dress must cover nipple-area. Take notes!). OK, enough about nipples. For all these reasons the technically-wearable dress did not make it to this blog.
However, now I finally have one with both appropriate coverage *and* nice fabric! This material came from Spoonflower, which custom-prints on a range of materials including stretch jersey. You can upload your own pattern, or, like me, order from someone else’s designs. In this case, I chose a material technically meant for upholstery, but I loved the big design and the grey and yellow colours, so hey, I’m happy to wear a sofa. 
All in all I’m pretty delighted: making wrap dresses was always my main reason for starting sewing, and it may be 2.5 years later, but I got there in the end!  I’m sure this will be one of many, many, many  more. 
Here are some of the innards, demonstrating the stretch stitches you can get on a serger, and a crack solution I invented (ok, adapted from a t-shirt pattern) for finishing the neckline: 
And here is me posing outside an art gallery:

And here I am laughing at something in the distance. It was hilarious, trust me.

More coming soon!

April 30, 2012

Great at sewing, rubbish at blogging

It’s been an incredibly busy couple of weeks…. and yet no blog posts. Curious! The main reason is that taking grainy pictures with my camera propped up on the ironing board, using the timer, seems to be an injustice to garments which took many many hours of sewing (and, ahem, seam ripping). But no fear, dear readers! A photoshoot is coming ever-so-soon. And there you shall see:

– my first proper, wearable wrap dress!
– two lovely Liberty-print Colette Sorbettos: one for each Cashmerette!
– a stretch jersey maxi skirt, inspired by a Gilt Group daily deal
– a Thakoon silk panel maxi skirt (lined with chiffon, no less) which was at triumph of hope over the-fear-of-cutting-into-very-expensive-fabric.


Watch this space!


Site by Spunmonkey