I actually squealed out loud when I saw this material online. I’m not quite sure if that’s something I should admit or not, but there, I said it.
So. Cute. It was from Yuko Hasegawa’s “Everything but the Kitchen Sink” collection on Burda Style UK. I snapped up the last couple of metres in their summer sale – sorry! – but it’s still available as part of a fat quarter bundle.
I was originally imagining a tea dress, but, paranoid about running out of fabric, I decided on a little top from the latest Great British Sewing Bee book, Fashion with Fabric. The pattern is called “Button Back Blouse”. The instructions are quite clear and the construction isn’t too tough. I do have one complaint though – the sizes are only given as finished measurements. I find it harder to judge from those which size to pick. Is that just a quirk of mine, or does anyone else find it tricky?
I think the top has a nice fifties feel to it – simple but cute. I’ve paired it with some capri pants whilst the sun has been out, but I’m thinking I might need to make some kind of deep green skirt to go with it for autumn??
I try to make sure that each new project includes something I haven’t done before, so that I slowly but surely build up my stitching repetoire. The book recommended French seams (where each seam is stitched twice to hide all the raw edges), and included buttonholes and non-visible bias binding. Triple whammy.
The French seams and buttonholes went nicely, but the bias binding is definitely much better in some places than others!! Do you have any special tricks for keeping your stitching neat? I can’t seem to stitch straight AND catch the binding the whole way along.
I think I’d count this project as a sort of “wearable toile” – I’ll be making the pattern again, but I think I’ll fiddle with the darts and take a little width out at the back.
This June I had to take a trip to London, and I finished my book unexpectedly quickly. Lacking reading material for the long and unglamorous Megabus journey home, I ducked into a fancy-looking shop in Holland Park called Daunt Books. It took a few moments for me to realise that there was something rather special about the way the books here were arranged: they weren’t just alphabetical, they were laid out by country. So I visited Japan. I took a quick trip to west Africa. But finally, I ended up in a small corner of Europe, facing a title that seemed somehow familiar: When the Doves Disappeared, by Sofi Oksanen. It was only once I read the blurb that I realised why the title rung a bell: I’d read an article in the Guardian and decided that this was a book I’d like to read. And here it was in my hands – so off to the cash register I went. The book is set in Estonia, but cuts back and forth between the country during the Nazi occupation and the Soviet Union. It’s so easy – especially for a Westerner like me – to forget how multinational the Soviet Union actually was – and how many of those people wanted their independence. That’s something that is clear from the very beginning of Oksanen’s book, and something she has made clear in her public statements and other fiction – take a look at that Guardian article for more background. Sofi Oksanen is no stranger to literary prizes, and I liked her writing a lot. (Of course, I read it in English, so I also have to thank her translator, Lola M. Rogers.) The first thing that struck me were some unusual metaphors: on receiving a visitor, “Mother’s smile had shone like a greased skillet”; one of the characters picks a false name for himself that’s as “fine as a rayon shirt”. Not everything is described in detail – often, things are left unsaid, and as the story jumps between the 1940s and the 1960s, there are gaps to fill in. This cleverly interwoven plot also ratchets up some serious tension – it’s definitely the kind of story that can be difficult to put down. Just the next chapter, I have to know if he finds out about… Wait, but on the next page, she might realise that… Right now is an interesting time to be thinking about Russian colonialism, as Oksanen describes it. And her latest offering is a great place to start, giving the reader a window into the history of this corner of the world, while at the same time being a compelling and exciting story in its own right.
I live in Sheffield. It’s a reasonably big city (half a million people) with an industrial history. Have you had an operation? They probably cut you open with Sheffield steel. Ever been for a really fancy dinner? Bet it was Sheffield cutlery. Although we still make an awful lot of steel and are home to some pretty amazing craftspeople, many factories have long since closed down.
One of the areas that’s not so industrial these days is Kelham Island – now home to a brewery and a pretty great museum. This weekend, the museum hosted its annual 1940s weekend. As soon as I saw the poster advertising the fayre, a sewing pattern I had at home popped into my head: Butterick B5951. I love, love, love photo of the view B dress on the envelope – I just think it’s so adorably 1940s, the simple shape with the pretty little details.
I love this fabric – I found it at a market stall in the Moor Market here in Sheffield called Grace’s Fabulous Fabrics. They have some great stuff at very reasonable prices. It’s is a lovely drapey viscose (which I think is just another word for rayon? Can anyone enlighten me?) with tiny blue flowers, and I used just under three metres of it (3.3 yards).
I am quite a lazy person, which is why I decided to forgo an FBA (full bust adjustment – for ladies over a B cup, so you can cover your breasts adequately whilst avoiding giant saggy shoulders). Although the dress does fit, I think I could really have done with adding a couple of inches in length to the bodice – the waist of the dress is definitely sitting higher than my actual waist.
Butterick officially rates the pattern as “easy”, and I suppose there was nothing really confusing about the construction – but it WAS fiddly. There is gathering on the sleeves and bodice (that’s the name of the technique that makes it scrunch up) and also some elastic in the sleeves to produce a similar effect. I can’t blame the pattern for all the fiddliness – my sewing machine wasn’t keen on the fabric, which didn’t help. All in all, I wouldn’t say the dress is a really tough sew, but that it is one I’d have preferred to take my time over, rather than knocking it together in two long sittings.
The pattern has a lined bodice, but I 1. wanted the dress to be cool enough for a summery day, and 2. didn’t have much time, so I made some facings out of silk. Facings, for anyone who doesn’t know (as I didn’t before I started sewing) are small fits of fabric that attach to armholes or necklines. They tuck inside the garment, neatening the edges and helping it hold its shape. Making them is reasonably simple – I followed the instructions in Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing.
On to the event itself! As you can see from the photos, Kelham Island is very well preserved, and the museum has a little street and lots of workshops set up as they would have been “back in the day”. They also have plenty of great photos and examples of metalwork.
The weather held up for us (always a worry in England), which was handy, as an outdoor stage in the courtyard played host to some great singers. Unfortunately, I can’t find their names online and I couldn’t get a very good photo, but a woman in a pretty natty vintage army uniform sang some Vera Lynn classics, which made me feel sentimental, despite having been born a long time after the war. The second woman was a redhead in lilac, who performed a mixture that included lots of Andrews Sisters’ songs – and inspired the title for this blog post. (A linguist’s side note – bay mir bistu sheyn was originally a Yiddish song, but it’s more often seen written the German way, “Bei mir bist du schoen”. It means “To me, you are beautiful”.) There were also plenty of vintage stalls, selling everything from gloves to clothes to magazines, plus some Sheffield-baked cakes and Sheffield-made chutneys.
And whilst I’m inundating you with photos – take a look at my friend and photographer, Kat. I can’t say I made her dress, but I think it’s cute anyway!
I love a good wax print. That’s the type of fabric usually associated with West Africa – bright, bold, huge patterns. Actually, they first found their way over to the world’s second largest continent via the Dutch – who themselves borrowed a printing technique from Indonesia to produce the patterns. Actually, there’s some pretty fascinating history behind this fabric, including a lot of menacing colonialism – you can take a look at this guest post on Beyond Victoriana if you want to know more.
Troubling history or no, these prints remain very popular in Africa, and I love them too. One of my friends, the stylish and beautiful (and half-Cameroonian) Simo, is also a fan, so I offered to sew her something if she bought the fabric. Here’s the material we picked – this is a UK site, but if you’re somewhere else, just give Dutch Wax Print or African fabric a Google – there are some beauties out there.
Originally, I was planning on making her some shorts or maybe a fitted top, but when the fabric arrived, the print was much bigger than I expected, and the cotton was quite stiff, even after a wash. I decided it would be better to take advantage of the body in the material, so I began flipping through my patterns and back issues of magazines. It didn’t take me long to find just the thing.
The Sewgirl Matilda was lovely to work with. At first I got confused with the construction of the pockets, but I think that is my inexperience rather than faulty instruction! The dress is made up of seven pieces, plus a few extras for the sleeves, pockets, and facings. Construction was very easy – the fiddliest bit was probably topstitching the seams (actually if you look closely, my topstitching is quite wonky, but it’s a learning curve…). That part is optional, but I thought it helped pull the dress together (especially as I didn’t pattern match).
Actually, I loved this dress so much, do you know what I did?
I made one for myself. I am normally a bit scared of shorter dresses, but I think this one is very flattering, and I don’t feel like the world might be seeing my bum at any moment (always a concern).
Wax Print fabric usually comes in lengths of six and twelve yards (5.5m and 11m), and making one “small” and one “medium” dress used up the whole lot, apart from scraps – so I’d allow about three yards (2.25m) for a dress. And whilst we’re on the sizing – if you use the Matilda pattern, there are only three sizes: small, medium, and large. The magazine gives finished measurements, but only for the bust. The medium fits me (I usually wear as UK size 14 or 16) beautifully, but I had to take in the small a few inches at the waist to fit Simo. If you’re worried about sizing, go for the Simple Sew pattern – they have a bigger range of printed sizes, so it will be easier to adjust.