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Minimum Viable Dress (and speed sewing tips!)

28 August 2014, 11:58

In the tech industry, there’s a term “Minimum Viable Product”, which means the absolute minimum you can do to get code out the door. It’s not your best work, but it works.

Like half of London, we had tickets to see Secret Cinema’s performance and screening of the first Back to the Future film, where they recreated the entire 1955 town of Hill Valley, California, complete with about 20 business, the clock tower, full fun fair, a cast of hundreds of actors, you name it. We were also all asked to assume an identity (I was “Tiffany Hyslop, developer!”) and dress in 1955 styles. Now, I’ve only got one 1950s dress pattern (which I made into that Porsche dress a few years back) but it’s too big in the bodice now and would require too much work.

So instead, I picked a modern dress with a 1950s feel – the Simplicity Cynthia Rowley pattern (1873) which I had already made in fuchsia and really liked the fit of.

The pink version was the wrong colour for the 1950s and definitely too short, so I bought some striped cotton poplin from Minerva that had the right vibe, and figured it’d be close enough.

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A colourblocked Cynthia Rowley satin jacket

13 November 2013, 12:00

Last week I mentioned a few projects I’d been working on, including a little satin jacket to wear with both my purple Matthew Willamson birthday dress and my swirl sheath dress. Well, the Welsh wedding was over the weekend and we managed to squeeze in some photos in the hotel room before the big bash so you all can see how it coordinates with the Matthew Williamson sheath!

As I mentioned before, the pattern is the same Cynthia Rowley Simplicity pattern I used for my fuschia party dress – a simple, loose, open jacket with dropped shoulders and wide sleeves.

I didn’t have enough of either satin to make the entire jacket in one colour so I decided to colourblock it. Since there weren’t many seams in the jacket itself, I just drew some extra seamlines onto the pattern pieces for my colourblocking.

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Roundup of updates

5 November 2013, 15:54

I appear to have found myself again in the position where I’ve been doing an extreme amount of sewing and sewing-related activity, but I can talk about only a small portion of it, and I don’t have any proper photoshoots for the things I can talk about… Bad, Melissa, very bad!

So consider this a little roundup post to let you know what I’ve been up to, until I can get my act together properly…

Silver cowl top

I cut out this MyImage cowl top pattern before we went to Mexico, thinking I might have enough time to quickly sew it up before we left. I would’ve, too, if I hadn’t decided I needed to make a quick travel bag. So it was waiting for me when I got back to cold, grey London, mocking me with its sleeveless-ness. I finally just sewed it up so I could have the space back in my sewing room, though I’m afraid I won’t really get to wear this until next year.

I made it out of some absolutely glitter-tastic jersey I bought at Tissue Reine in Paris a few years back, and I recall it was on the pricey side. It also left a trail of silver all over my sewing room… Boo.

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Spring 2013 Sewing Ideas

30 April 2013, 13:52

Thank you all so much for your lovely comments on my asymmetric Drape Drape teeshirt! A girl could get used to that level of flattery…

It also marks the start of my sewing short sleeves, which means it must finally be Spring, and hence, time to start thinking about marrying up the patterns and fabrics I’d like to sew for the next few months. I really do these only for my own benefit, and so they’re not a “SWAP” in the sense that everything must coordinate against each other (lord knows I have enough clothes that I don’t have problems putting combinations together!).

This is more just a set of ideas towards which I’d like to work, so when I get to the end of a project, I can quickly refer to this image and go “oh yeah, I want to sew that next!”

For the first time I’m also including running/exercise gear in my plans, since I’m wearing lycra as a significant portion of my weekly wardrobe, and I want to contain all of my sewing ideas together. So you’ll find all the running stuff on the bottom row, and the rest of life’s wear on the upper two rows!

Top row:

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The Fuchsia party dress

29 August 2012, 14:09

Ooh I am so excited to show off this dress to you, and even moreso because it has a great origin story!

Did you know there’s a new sewing, knitting, and jewellry-making social network in town – Kollabora? It’s from some of the people behind the original BurdaStyle.com and I helped beta-test their new site a few months ago.

As a big Thank You for sending in tons of detailed bug reports (a nice side-effect of my day job, which involves a lot of online testing, is that I can write a mean Steps to Replication!), they offered to send me any fabric and pattern combo from their shop! They stock loads of great independent patterns like Colette, Wiksten, and Sewaholic, but I thought I should pick something I wouldn’t normally buy myself. So keeping that in mind, I chose this very! bright! fuchsia stretch cotton sateen from Mood + matching thread + Simplicity 1873 (one of the Cynthia Rowley designer patterns).

I made View C – the low neckline & short hem option, but without the button tabs at the waist. I ended up making size 14 instead of my usual Big Four size 16 because 14 was the biggest size in the envelope I was sent, but it turned out just perfect in the end – nicely snug at the waist, but not overly tight. With a skirt this full and pleated, I really think it needs a nipped-in waist, and that’s another reason I didn’t want to add any bulk in the form of the button tabs there, either.

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Details matter!

10 August 2012, 15:00

I spent part of last evening working on the fuchsia Cynthia Rowley party dress, and I just love it when I come across a lined bodice without neck or armhole facings, as it’s the best opportunity to do some beautiful prick-stitching!

Contrast prick-stitching is not for the faint of heart, but I enjoy both the process, and the finished result.

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Inspiration from all angles

9 August 2012, 12:57

I’ve got lots of bits and pieces on the go right now, and I’m finding that I’m being inspired by lots of little things – not just from the fantastic last few issues of pattern magazines (hello, August Burda!), but also some supplies which have found their way to me, like this amazing laser-cut eyelet zipper from my friends Alex & Liz, bought at the V&A shop!

Mine’s skirt-length and now I totally want to make a pencil skirt with an exposed zipper just so I can show this off! After I got mine, I’ve since seen that they’re available on etsy in a bunch of different colours, too.

Not long after that, I was approached by the owner of Lots of Buttons asking if I’d like to try their shop for free. My initial reaction was that the prices in dollars surely meant exorbitant shipping to the UK (boo!) BUT as it turns out, all the orders are fulfilled in Hong Kong so the shipping is the same anywhere in the world (great for the Antipodeans, too!).

So I picked out some basic black horn buttons (just like the ones my stash was missing for my black knit trousers the other week), and some gorgeous overlapping metal buttons I thought would go really nicely on a jacket. All in, these would’ve cost me $10 total (with shipping), which is like half the cost I pay to get nice buttons in central London, with a travelcard cost on top of that!

These arrived in 7 days, too, along with a discount code for my next purchase. I also really like that they seal off each button type in its own clear plastic bag, so you can see what’s inside without them all getting jumbled up together. Genius! So I went from being skeptical to totally pleased and very happy to recommend them in the space of about 10 days!

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Summer sewing shortlist

24 May 2010, 15:36

Last week you got to see the newest Patrones that Aisling sent over, but you all have been far too good to me, because last week I also got a surprise parcel from Daisy!

She did some awesome detective work and worked out my size and style and picked out Simplicity 2754 and Butterick 5317 for me! And she did a great job, because I really like them both! I always have a hard time seeing the potential with the Project Runway patterns because the pattern covers are so horribly done that you can’t see any details at all, and Simplicity’s site makes it really awkward to browse by technical drawing (what I do as a general rule with Burda magazine previews). Anyway, as it turns out, I really like the details of this one, and doing some research myself, I remembered that Trena made it a few months back and I absolutely loved it! And she’s so got the right idea with those back view enhancements! And the Butterick Maggy London dress is just screaming out for a border print, as far as I’m concerned – the skirt is just a rectangle with pleating, so anything with a border or lace at the edge would go perfectly as you don’t have any cut, curved hem or side seams. So it actually is as easy as it’s labelled, seeing as how you’re really just making the bodice…

These patterns all came at the perfect time, because not only did I finish the second bridesmaid dress this weekend (photos coming later this week), but London has stumbled into a mini-heatwave which always gets me raring to sew! After spending the last two months solid on these dresses for my girls, I’m more than ready to sew for myself now, and I’m not scheduled to start on my wedding dress muslin until July.

Sooooo, how much can I cram into the next month, eh? Granted, I’ll still want to make a few things here or there while I’m working on my gown, but I thought it’d be a good idea to get all the things I want to sew together in one place. I’m not calling it a wardrobe or SWAP since they don’t all go together, and I don’t want to commit myself to ALL of these since I tend to get bored easily, so let’s just call this a shortlist so I can choose from these at will…

The FehrTrade Summer 2010 Sewing Shortlist!

From the top:

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Techno and sequins

25 January 2010, 18:13

Now that all the 2009 projects are out f the way, here is the first of my sewing partnerships I dreamed up around the end of the year! This skirt & top partnership consists of an “egg skirt” from the April 2009 Manequim magazine

…and a cowl-neck sleeveless blouse from Simplicity 2580 (which is a dress pattern that I modified before to become a very versatile top).

I always pictured these two fabrics together, and I am loving the resulting outfit! I really think I got it right in matching both the fabrics and the patterns! I originally saw it as club/party wear, and it turned out that I finished it just in time for a big party on Saturday night!

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Planning Sewing Partnerships

26 December 2009, 22:49

In an attempt to get myself to focus on pairing up the lovely (and overflowing) fabrics I’ve got on hand with the lovely (and overflowing) patterns I’ve got on hand, I did a bit of mental and virtual pairing using my scanned catalogues of fabric and patterns and a bit a Photoshop wizardry. I don’t particularly like doing SWAP wardrobes as they’re so rigid they end up feeling like a chore by about the third garment, so instead I wanted to focus on partnerships of fabrics and garments that could go with each other.

The first is the most straightforward: a skirt and blouse combo.

The skirt is one from last October’s KnipMode and features two big chunky zippers on the wide waistband. I just took the plunge and bought two fantastic brass teethed ones with big ring pulls from Zipperstop’s eBay store, only to find out that the brown colour in their photo was actually bright purple. They’ll now definitely be a “feature”!. The blouse is from my beloved August issue and is the Marni catwalk clone – I’ll be sewing that in some pewter silk charmeuse from Goldhawk Road that really brings out the blue in the skirt’s wool flannel.

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Easy cowl knit top

13 June 2009, 10:10

After over week of agonising waiting, I’ve finally now got a revised admission date (29 June) which means I’ve got two more weeks to sew!

First up is a modified version of Simplicity 2580 (which my mom brought me from America), sewn up in the £1.70 lycra knit remnant from Brighton! I realised wearing it to work yesterday tht the pale turquiose here matches my spring coat exactly, too…

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Patterns from a suitcase

1 June 2009, 12:02

My mom arrived on Friday morning, bearing a ridiculous amount of American cookies, candies, chocolates, cakes, and kitty treats, but also a few patterns that were on my wish list!

Vogue 1109 is a Sandra Betzina pattern for a knit top/tunic with really interesting seam lines. It kinda feels expected for all sewers to love SB without question, but to be honest, I don’t find her “all that” and this is the first pattern of hers I’ve even remotely liked (though not in either of those fabric choices, ugh) so I wanted to give it a try.

Simplicity 2647 is a knit dress with varying lengths and bodice treatments, but I really liked the short version with the wrapped side even though it’s quite similar to a Vogue pattern I already have.

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Blue kimono teeshirt

21 July 2008, 12:25

I’m still working through my backlog of posts to show you everything I’ve made over the past fortnight, but the good news is, I’ve taken a lot of photos this weekend and should have enough for at least five delectable nuggets of sewing glee to share over the next few days.

Last weekend I revisited an old friend, the kimono sleeved-top of Simplicity 4020 which you may remember from when I made it in chocolate brown way back in October 2006.

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The quickest pirate coat ever

14 July 2008, 11:29

SCENE: Last Sunday night on the boat…

James: So for Simon’s stag night on Saturday we’re going to dress him up like Dick Whittington. I thought he could wear my pirate coat and we’ll get him a tricorn hat and he can carry Bagpuss as his cat…

Me: If anything happens to that coat, I will murder you. I would sooner make a whole new coat than see anything happen to it after I slaved for two years making it.

James: Oh really? You’d make another coat? Would you?

And so begins the tale of how I made a pirate coat in less than a week.

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The Porsche dress

28 April 2008, 12:10

What a difference a week makes! Spring has finally come to London, meaning I could wear my new dress outside without fear of goosebumps (the reverse – I actually got a bit sunburnt!).

If you recall from earlier, I bought a vintage Porsche cotton duvet cover and pillowcase off eBay for £8 (including shipping). It was in great condition and even had a full wraparound print which meant I had a lot more fabric to work with than I ever imagined when I clicked Bid Now…

I decided it’d work best with a suitably vintage pattern, so I decided to use Simplicity 3780, using a bit of careful pattern placement to get the most out of the different printed areas of the duvet cover (so the stripes along the bottom of the duvet became the red halter straps, for instance).

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A Walking Advertisement

21 April 2008, 16:19

I was away all day Saturday hiking near Guildford with our monthly walking group, but a friend staying at ours said it snowed back in London. Ugh. It’s still too cold to wear either the silk blouse or the ikea skirt apart from their hurried photoshoots, so of course I’m sewing practical winter clothes to suit the weather…

Ha! Gotcha! No, I’m sewing a sleeveless, cotton halter-top dress, out of this vintage Porsche duvet I bought on eBay:

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Birthday bolero and Thames jeans

25 March 2008, 12:51

I’ve just spent nearly all of my four day weekend (double bank holiday, woo!) behind my sewing machine and ironing board, and I couldn’t be happier! For the last few years I’ve made myself something nice and new to wear on my birthday, so today I’m wearing my new clothes! It dulls the pain of turning 29, you see… ;)

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Silky Secretary Blouse

10 October 2007, 13:41

Following on from the jedi jacket, I thought I’d stick with Simplicity 3631 a little while longer and make a blouse using the bodice from the dress and the poofy, cuffed sleeves from the long jacket. On closer inspection, however, I realised that the jacket and coat both have raglan sleeves, which wouldn’t work to just attach to the bodice (which needs a cap sleeve). So rather than go through some extensive redrafting session, I just used a cap sleeve pattern piece from elsewhere, widened the hem, and created my own cuff to button closed at the wrist.

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Jedi master

1 October 2007, 12:31

I’ve now completed two pieces for my FW/07 Collection, a pair of chocolate brown trousers, and a white cropped jacket.

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The Pirate YARRty

18 September 2007, 16:43

Wow. After nearly two years, I finally finished my boyfriend’s black velvet pirate jacket. Lined with gold satin, with functional pockets, functional buttonholes, brass buttons, tons of interior pockets for his gadgets, and hidden pocket inside the cuff for his Oyster card. There was so much handstitching on this and velvet is such an jerk of a fabric that I seriously wasn’t sure I’d ever finish it. I had problems at pretty much every step of the way, the majority of which stemmed from the fact that you can’t iron velvet. At all. Made in a different fabric, with non-functioning costume parts as indicated on the pattern, this would be a fairly straightforward project.

But since he wanted silk velvet and satin and for everything to function, plus have pockets absolutely everywhere, combined with a hem a mile long, this turned into a complete nightmare of a jacket. The handstitching alone took more manhours than I actually want to think about without bursting into tears. I did manage to make one big mistake near the end, even though I was so careful to NOT do it in my planning. It would’ve been impossible to fix without a complete deconstruction (and stitching lines remain in velvet forever), so I just left it as is. See if you can tell what it is from the photos, and I’ll reveal all below…

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Spending Spree

28 August 2007, 12:44

For the past few months, I’ve been very disciplined about not buying any new fabric and working solely from my stash. I’ve been very good at reusing fabric leftover from old projects, but also in finally using up ones I just never got around to using after purchase. While this may seem rather angelic of me, it all hid a dark secret – I went on a veritable fabric buying orgy while in America on holiday. As much as I love Walthamstow Market, nothing in the UK compares to the price, quantity, and breadth of fabric available in America.

To give you an idea, here’s most of it laid out:

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Vest of all

15 July 2007, 15:29

Simplicity 4951 is one of the first patterns I ever bought, and is by far the most frequently made out of all of the patterns I own. I made the jacket once (which is now happily worn by my mom), but it’s the camisole I come back to time and time again.

It’s a very simple design – a top piece with two joined triangles and a gathered underbust seam that you double (and since it’s lined if you’re small like me, there’s no need for a bra), a rectangular bottom front piece, and a taller rectangular back piece. Add some bias tape or ribbon straps, and you’ve got the perfect summer top in under an hour and under a meter.

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Hot chocolate

10 October 2006, 14:24

I’ve been doing so many long and involved projects for other people recently, that I’ve realised that I haven’t done anything for myself in a while. My sewing schedule is pretty much booked solid through to Christmas now, so I wouldn’t be able to make anything for me until at least January! So this Sunday, when I finished my housemate’s Gez’s party dress early (more on this later this week, I promise!), and got to a good stopping spot on my boyfriend’s pirate jacket, I suddenly found myself with a free evening. Starting at 5pm with an unopened pattern, I had the following shirt finished by 9pm (in amongst making dinner, too!).

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The pirate jacket

25 June 2006, 13:17

My boyfriend and I are currently saving up for the mortgage deposit to buy a boat (a huge barge, not a tiny narrow canal boat) to live on starting this winter. We don’t want your average housewarmi- sorry, boatwarming party, so we’ve already decided it’s going to be a full pirate fancy dress theme. And if you’re throwing a fancy dress party, you’ve got to be the best dressed ones there!

For him, I bought Simplicity 4923 and have very slowly started to make the jacket portion out of a gorgeously thick, black silk velvet I scored at Walthamstow Market for £3/mt (by rights, it should’ve been at least £20/mt). He picked out some very nice hemispherical antique brass buttons from MacCulloch & Wallis plus some dark gold braid for the accents.

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Vintage black satin evening gown

27 November 2005, 12:37

I made this in November 2005 with ten day’s notice. My boyfriend told me that his best friend’s birthday party was back on for the weekend. This wouldn’t cause too much alarm in most cases, but this was her 30th birthday and she was renting out a country house for an entire weekend with a black tie catered dinner on Saturday night.

Yes, I said “black tie” – that means I needed a posh evening gown in 10 days!! I don’t have posh money, but I did have a this pattern, Simplicity 5876, for a vintage evening gown that I fell in love with but had no occasion to make or wear

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