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My May Minerva Make – Polka Dot Shirt Dress

May 26, 2015

Greetings.  I hope you all had a lovely weekend.  Today I’m showing you my latest sewing project for the Minerva Crafts blogger network: a shirt dress made with some lovely red and white polka dot fabric.

McCall's 6696

McCall’s 6696

I have made two shirt dresses before using the ‘shirtwaist’ pattern from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, but I wanted to try McCall’s 6696 this time because I prefer the collar and it has more options for variation.  For this particular project I decided to start with view A – the sleeveless version with a full pleated skirt.  The fabric was a pretty obvious choice for me given that I like polka dots and red is my favourite colour.  The added bonus was that this fabric is 60″ wide and it’s a really lovely quality.  It is described as ‘stretch cotton designer dress fabric’.  It has quite a heavy drape and it’s sturdier and thicker than regular cotton.  It has a very smooth finish to it and I was very impressed with it.

McCall's 6696

McCall’s 6696

This dress took me a few days to make as there are lots of pattern pieces and lots of markings to transfer to the fabric.  Cutting the fabric and transferring the markings was the most tedious part.  I’m not the most patient of people and I often find that as soon as I start a project, I just want to get on with the sewing bit!  Once I did start the sewing though I really enjoyed making the dress and everything seemed to fit together perfectly.


I did have two upsetting moments when making this though: first of all, I accidentally chopped a bit of it off.  It’s the bit right at the bottom of the front button placket/band.  Whoops!  I could have shortened the whole dress but instead I interfaced the back to hold it together and then carried on sewing it.  I’ll have to see how it holds up in the wash and maybe patch it or something if necessary.  The second stressful moment was when my sewing machine decided to stop working!  I was extremely worried but after I dismantled it, cleaned it and oiled it, luckily it decided to work again.  Thank goodness!

It was a bit windy in this photo which is why the dress is hanging not quite straight and my hair looks a bit odd!

It was a bit windy in this photo which is why the dress is hanging not quite straight and my hair looks a bit odd!

I’m not 100% sure about the fit of the dress.  It’s actually quite loose, especially under the arms, but when my arms are down (i.e. most of the time) it certainly isn’t noticeable.  I realise that shirt dresses aren’t meant to be too tight, and it is comfortable, which is good, and most importantly it isn’t pulling or straining anywhere.  So maybe it is how it’s supposed to be!

Back view. I love the pleats!

Back view. I love the pleats!

I think I would like to get a narrow white belt to wear with it.  There is no button on the waistband itself, just either side of it, which means when sitting down it has a tendency to gape open.  I think a belt would help disguise that a bit, or maybe adding a hidden hook and eye fastening on the waistband would be another option.

I'm sitting on a hay cart.  How awesome is that for a photo opportunity?!

I’m sitting on a hay cart. How awesome is that for a photo opportunity?!

One final thing I’d like to change is that I think it would look nice with turquoise buttons instead of white.  Obviously the white buttons are a good match, but I think turquoise would just give it something extra and make it more unusual.  So maybe I’ll get around to doing that at some point!

Thanks to Minerva for sending the supplies :-)

My third White Tree Fabrics Make – The Tilly and the Buttons Francoise Dress

May 19, 2015

Hi there!  I am extremely happy and relieved to be able to show you my final version of the Tilly & the Buttons Francoise dress, made for the White Tree Fabrics blog team.  I have already shown you two previous versions, both essentially acting as toiles for this project.  The first one was too small for my liking (even though it perhaps didn’t look small to anyone else) and the second one had something fishy going on at the back…something I thought might be improved by making a sway-back adjustment to the pattern.

For my third toile, I made a sway-back alteration of 1″, re-positioned the lower part of the back darts to line up better, reduced the centre back seam allowance at the very top by 1″, adjusted the facings to match and lengthened the dress by 2″.  It was not good.  The problem at the back seemed to have worsened, so I concluded that the sway back alteration needed increasing.  I made a fourth toile, this time increasing the sway back to 1.5″, and reducing the centre back seam only by 1/2″, and increasing the length of the dress by a further 2″.  It was AWFUL.  I threw away both the third and fourth toiles without taking photos.

I was feeling pretty depressed by this point.  I’ve been trying hard to find the motivation to sew as I mentioned in a previous blog post, and I felt like I had wasted effort and time (not to mention fabric!) trying to get this dress to work.  It enraged me.  This is a simple dress!  How simple could it get?  Why is it I can make a coat or a shirt but I can’t get a shift dress right?!

I decided to give it one last go, but this time I planned on keeping it simple.  I’ve been sewing for five years and I’ve never needed a sway-back alteration before, and it didn’t seem to be working now, so to hell with it.  I retraced the pattern, lengthened the dress by 4″ and took out 1/2″ at the centre back tapering to nothing.  And that’s all.  If there was going to be a bit of wrinkling over my bum then so be it, I was past caring!!!

Back when I first started planning this dress I wanted it to be a special Francoise.  I wanted it to be just that bit different.  I wanted it fully lined and I wanted the collar to also feature some lace.  I chose the Tilda fabric ‘Olivia Red’ for the main fabric, which I think is more pink in real life.  I chose to make the collar with contrasting plain cream cotton and an ivory lace overlay.  I chose a lovely ‘premium’ viscose lining which feels far superior to the polyester linings I have used in the past – much softer and smoother.

I made the dress with the 3/4 length sleeves, but for the lining I followed the directions for the sleeveless version.  The lining is attached at the neckline (like the facing would have been) and it is sewn into the zip but otherwise it hangs free.  The armholes of the lining are finished with bias strips.

The lining - sewn into the CB zip

The lining – sewn into the CB zip

For the lace collar, I cut two layers of collar pieces, a layer of interfacing and a layer of lace and basted the lace onto the upper (outer?) collar before sewing.  I think it works quite well although maybe a heavier lace would have stood out more – I don’t know whether understated is better or worse in this case!

Lace collar

Lace collar

Making this dress has made me realise I’m not a fan of raglan sleeves.  They make my shoulders seem too rounded, I prefer the definition of the seam on a regular armscye.  I want to see where my shoulder stops and my arms begin because otherwise it feels as though my shoulders are slopping halfway down my arm.  I also think regular sleeves are easier to fit, even though they are (slightly) harder to sew.  The raglan seams wrinkle a bit on this dress and it’s probably down to my apparent lack of ability to sew well but whatever, I JUST DON’T LIKE THEM OKAY?!

The Francoise Dress - front view

The Francoise Dress – front view

Fit-wise, this dress is thankfully better than its four predecessors: loose enough fit to be comfortable, and a better length.  The full lining is lovely, and means I’ll be able to wear it all year round over tights etc.  The back still needs work, but I’m not a complete glutton for punishment – Francoise and I are done!  One thing I noticed when I looked at a lot of other Francoise dresses with collars was that the collar pieces at the centre back seemed to be very far apart.  I bore this in mind when altering the dress so although I took out 1/2″ per side of the centre back neckline, I kept the original length of the collar pieces, hoping they would meet closer together at the back.  In hindsight, obviously I should have actually measured it, because there is still a pretty large gap between collar ends.  What is that about?!

Back view

The Francoise Dress – back view – with creases from when I had been sitting down!

Luckily the main fit issues and the gap in the collar are both at the back, and I can’t see the back when I’m wearing the dress so I’m not too fussed.  I like the dress from the front and I know I’m being about 1000% more critical than most other people would be anyway…so this dress is going to get worn.  All that effort has to be worth something, right?!  Besides, I love the fabric!

The Francoise Dress

The Francoise Dress

Thank you to White Tree Fabrics who sent me the pattern, the Tilda fabric, the lining, the lace and the cotton – all beautifully packaged :-)

Last one!

Last one!

My April Minerva Make – Toddler Liquorice Allsorts Pyjamas

April 28, 2015

This month’s project for the Minerva Crafts Blogger Network is a pair of Liquorice Allsorts pyjamas for my son.  I chose Simplicity 1574 – a toddler pyjama pattern for a traditional woven pyjama set (although it does also have options for a t-shirt top, and even a robe!)  I chose the fabric by searching through all the novelty prints and choosing one that wasn’t too cutesy or babyish, but still fun, but not so cool that I’d rather make myself a dress out of it.  It might surprise you to learn that I don’t want a Liquorice Allsorts dress, despite my penchant for novelty, so the fabric was safely destined for my son from the word go.

Simplicity 1574

Simplicity 1574

When it came to choosing what size to make him, I was already thinking I might have to go up a size bigger than his age.  He’s not quite two and a half yet, but he’s a 91st-centile baby for both height and weight, so when I measured him I wasn’t surprised to find I’d need to cut him the age 3 size!  The pyjama bottoms have turned out a teeny bit long, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before he’s grown taller again, so I’m leaving them as they are.

Morning pose

Morning pose

The pattern came together really easily.  The construction of the shirt top is well designed, and the pyjama bottoms are easy peasy to sew.  I’ll definitely be making him some Christmas pyjamas using this pattern!

My little sweetie...haha

My little sweetie…haha

The insides are all overlocked.  I could have faffed around with enclosed seams, but as this was my first major sew since February I just didn’t have the patience to make it unecessarily complicated.

Milk and muslin before bed

Milk and muslin before bed

When I presented him with the pyjamas, I also bought him a packet of Liquorice Allsorts and we had fun matching the sweets to the pyjamas.  Us teachers have to make everything educational, you know.

In bed

In bed

So there you have it – a very tasty pair of pyjamas!  Thank you to Minerva for sending me all the supplies I needed for this project!

I want to leave you with a pointless, non-sewing related question: which is your favourite Liquorice Allsort?  I like the blue and pink bobbly ones.  I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for them.

I’m back!

April 26, 2015

I’ve been struggling this year to motivate myself to sew.  I think I had a touch of the winter blues after new year and there were lots of occasions that required my time, money and attention, such as birthdays and parties etc, as well as a few unexpected bouts of illness for both me and the children, which completely threw out my normal routines.  I stopped sewing around mid-February and haven’t made anything blog-worthy since.

Another thing that reduced my desire to sew was that I felt like I had undergone a complete change in personal style since my daughter started school in September.  I used to wear dresses EVERY SINGLE DAY.  If you saw me in trousers, it was bound to be a sign that I was having a really bad day.  But since September I have bought five pairs of skinny jeans.  I think because they are practical to tuck into boots and walk to and from school twice a day.  I never even liked skinny jeans.  In fact I hated them.  But suddenly I’m buying them.  And I like them.  But I’m not going to sew them.  So what’s the point of sewing?

Then the ‘I haven’t been sewing’ thing grew in my mind, to the point where I’d find myself with the opportunity to sew, with absolutely no impediment whatsoever, except the fact that I hadn’t been sewing recently made me feel somehow worried about starting again.  It sounds strange, and I haven’t adequately put into words how I felt, but I guess you’ll get the idea.  There were times I’d sit on the sofa thinking about how I could be sewing, even how I should be sewing, but instead wasting time faffing about on my phone, achieving nothing.

After Easter, once my eldest child had gone back to school, I decided to try and get back on track.  I returned to eating more healthily and running, and I planned on getting back into sewing, too, because the weather is getting warmer and I don’t need to rely on my ‘Mum Uniform’ of skinny jeans tucked into boots with a parka.  I still have a Francoise dress to make for White Tree Fabrics, but I wanted to alter it a bit after being unhappy with my first two attempts.  I tried out some adjustments and made a toile, and it wasn’t right, so I made further adjustments and made another toile, and that one was even worse!!!  Not a great way to motivate oneself!  I felt like I’d put the effort in and completely wasted my time.  Normally, I could take this in my stride, but at the moment it just resulted in demotivating me further.

Hey ho.  A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending a sewing meet up in Leeds, with a small bunch of ladies who I’m getting to know a bit better, and although I wasn’t planning on spending any money, I returned with a few exciting purchases and some goodies which I totally just grabbed in the swap!  I donated a skirt length of 100% Welsh wool, with matching lining and zipper – Simona was the one who ended up taking that home.  I got some thick stripy jersey from Ruth and the Sewaholic Thurlow pattern from Not Sew Simple.  The trip made me feel enthusiastic and excited about sewing again, it was just what I needed!  Many thanks to Craft Alchemy for organising the trip – it did me a power of good.

This week, I had my Minerva deadline looming, so I had to buck my ideas up.  I temporarily put aside the Francoise and concentrated on making my Minerva project (which I’ll be blogging on Tuesday).  I got that done quickly and easily, and made a Coco top with the fabric from Ruth as well.  Two completed projects in one day?!  I must be getting back on track!

So…hopefully you’ll be seeing a bit more of me from now on.  I’ve got lots of ideas about things I want to make, it’s just a case of getting down to it.  And getting that darn Francoise dress done and dusted!




My March Minerva Make – The Lady Skater dress

March 24, 2015

I have been meaning to buy the Kitschy Coo Lady Skater dress pattern for sooooooo long, after admiring it on so many other sewing bloggers.  I don’t quite know why it took me so long to get around to it, but I’m glad I finally did as I love my new dress.  The pattern comes as a PDF, which made me think twice before buying, but I was relieved to find it’s very simple to assemble and doesn’t use tons of paper.  It’s also a quick project to sew up: once I had assembled the paper pattern, I was able to cut and sew up my toile in just over two hours.


The fabric is Ponte Roma stretch jersey in red and black dogtooth.  It is LOVELY and I want MORE.  It’s quite a sturdy knit, which I like, and it feels so smooth and soft.  It also comes in grey and black, tan brown and black, and a rather lovely royal blue and black, too, but of course I had to have red ;-)


Before I used the fabric, I made a toile in a size 5, using some plain purple jersey I got from The Man Outside Sainsburys (TM).  This is just regular single jersey – actually from the handle, drape and finish I’d say it was viscose jersey.  The dress turned out ok, but I wanted it to be a bit tighter.  It didn’t seem to hug my waist in the way that I would expect this style of dress to do.  I know that last sentence may make you think I’ve been replaced by an imposter, as I usually complain about things being too tight, but to me the bodice of this dress needs to be a snug fit.



I think the dress looks nice with this jacket (the jacket was not made by me, unfortunately).  I have worn it a few times, and it’s ok, but I definitely prefer my dogtooth version, for which I retraced and made a size 4.  I think it’s miles better on me, but I’m open to other opinions if you have them!


I don’t know if you can tell, but I haven’t hemmed either of these dresses.  I know you don’t technically need to finish the raw edges of knits because they don’t fray, although there’s still part of me that feels a bit naughty for not ‘finishing’.  But then I saw jersey skirts for sale in H&M the other day and they weren’t hemmed either!  Not that H&M is the pinnacle of high quality, of course.


Perhaps I ought to get a twin needle and give that a try.  As it happens, I didn’t really want to take anything off the length of these dresses so that was another reason to not bother.


I love the simplicity of this pattern.  I would recommend it to others although I’m pretty sure that I’m the last person on earth to buy it anyway?!  I’m sure I’ll be making more versions once I get my hands on some more nice fabric.  Thanks to Minerva for the supplies – they sent me the fabric, thread and some clear elastic for stabilising the shoulder and waist seams.  It’s the first time I’ve used clear elastic and I really liked it because it’s less bulky than other elastics.

And now I’m off to drink a cup of tea and maybe start a new book.  Bye for now!

My February Minerva Make – Burda 6931 Men’s Shirt

February 24, 2015

It’s been a while since I made a shirt for my husband.  Like, two years.  The first three shirts I made him using the Colette Negroni pattern were fine (each an improvement on the preceding one), but when I tried a Simplicity pattern for a Western style shirt, it all went a bit wrong (my fault) and scared me off sewing shirts.  It was way too big, and to top it off I accidentally sewed the buttonholes on the wrong side.  Ooops.

Finally I felt ready to tackle a shirt again but I wanted a different style this time, more in keeping with what my husband likes wearing – a fitted shirt with a regular collar (not a camp collar like the Negroni) that could be worn with a tie if desired.  I found Burda 6931, and was at first put off by the contrast sleeves, collar and pocket of view A, but the line drawing showed potential so I ordered it, along with some really lovely quality cotton poplin which is perfect for making shirts with.  My husband chose the colour, Claret, and I think it’s lovely.  I neglected to see that the fabric recommendations are for fabrics with elastane, and having made the shirt I can now see why – it is very fitted!

Burda 6931 pattern

Burda 6931 pattern

After the disastrously big shirt I made last time, I wanted to make sure I didn’t get it wrong this time.  I measured him and after consulting the size charts and the finished garment measurements, I opted to cut a size 36 for the chest but to grade down to a 34 at the waist.

Burda 6931 in Claret Red poplin

Burda 6931 in Claret Red poplin

I wanted this shirt to be beautifully finished, so I chose to sew flat fell seams for most of the seams, but when I was attaching one of the sleeves, I accidentally snipped into the seam allowance of the fabric (which when sewing a flat fell seam is on the right side of the garment).  I was very, very annoyed with myself and I just couldn’t think what to do to fix it.  I left it a whole two days before it suddenly occurred to me that I could unpick the sleeve and sew it the other way around, so that the snipped bit would at least be on the inside of the shirt!  So it’s still a flat-fell seam, just that the overlapped part is on the inside – but you still get the second row of stitching showing on the right side parallel to the seam, so it looks good from the outside, too.  Phew!

Burda 6931 - ignore the girly coat hanger!

Burda 6931 – ignore the girly coat hanger!

After having made several shirts before, and two shirt dresses, I was mentally prepared for the task of sewing the collar.  Good job, too.  Burda instructions are a bit sparse, to be honest – there’s none of the hand-holding that you might get in patterns from other companies.  I remembered to ensure that the interfaced sides of the collar and collar band would be facing out when the collar is turned down, and when I was attaching the collarband piece to the neck edge, I clipped a scant 1/4″ into the neck edge of the shirt to help with the curve and avoid puckering.  Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve ever sewn a shirt without a back yoke!

This is no yoke.

This is no yoke.

The sleeve vent instructions were extremely basic, and my previous experience means I’ve only ever made sleeve plackets rather than simple vents, so I had to consult one of my sewing books instead to get my head around what to do.  They turned out ok to look at, but my husband did say that the vent seems to want to sit too far to the front, so perhaps the position of the vent needs to be further to the back next time.

Sleeve vent, cuff, buttons and collar

Sleeve vent, cuff, buttons and collar

I’d pretty much got this shirt all sewn up when I did a fit check.  I basted the side seams together and, when husband returned home from the gym, I asked him to try it on.  I was mortified to see it was too tight!  I measured him again and he did seem to have grown a bit since I first measured, but I couldn’t understand how the ease built into the pattern didn’t cater for this!  He claimed that he was bound to be a bit bigger directly after lifting weights, so all I could do was just wait and see if he’d shrunk again by the next day.  I was sooooo disappointed – I felt like the shirt was looking perfect, but what good is a shirt that is too tight?  He looked as though he’d been vacuum-packed into it!

Between this trying on session and the next, I undid the side seams and sewed them up again with a seam allowance of 1/4″ – which would give an extra 3/4″ width each side.  In hindsight, I should have only done this at the side seams and not the underarm seams as well, as the sleeves didn’t need any extra width and now I think they look a bit billowy in comparison with the fit of the rest of the shirt.  Decreasing the seam allowance to such an extent meant that I was unable to do flat fell seams at the sides – very disappointing.  I didn’t want to overlock it, so I sewed a reinforcing extra line of stitching and then pinked the raw edges.

It fits!

It fits!

Because of the extra width in the sleeves, I had to increase the depth of the pleats in order to fit the cuffs.  This could perhaps be a contributing factor to the not-quite-perfect fit of the sleeves.  I wanted to create as much extra room as possible in the shirt, so the final change I made was to move all of the buttons over so that they were nearer the edge of the centre front.  When my husband returned home from work, he tried the shirt on, and due to a magical combination of him shrinking and me making the shirt bigger, it fitted him!

It is very fitted, although I wonder if I’m hyper-sensitive to it because I made it.  I think next time I’d like to sew a size larger and see how that turns out.  Anyway, my husband likes it and demanded to wear it for an applicant day at work, and he said it was nice to wear and didn’t feel too tight.  There isn’t any straining at the buttons, which I think would be the most obvious sign of it being too small.

Ready for work

Ready for work

Overall I really enjoyed making the shirt, despite the problems I encountered.  I like the precision of shirt-making, and I take great pride in making something to the best of my ability, and solving problems when they occur.  I’ll definitely be using this pattern again!  I think I’d sew a size bigger and then I know I’d be fine to use a regular, non-stretch cotton.  I’d definitely want to use the same interfacing, too.  The woven interfacing from Minerva is THE BEST.  Seriously.  It’s my favourite.  Love it.

Right, I’m off to sew some pretty dresses.  It can’t all be selfless sewing around here, after all! ;-)

The Francoise toile

February 19, 2015

Hi there!  Today I’m just going to quickly show you the first toile of the Tilly Francoise dress, which I deliberately made in a nice fabric and hoped it would turn out to be wearable.  The fabric is Amy Butler, and I got it in a fabric swap when I met up with some sewing bloggers in Leeds last year.  The print is pretty big and it just seemed perfect for a 60s style shift dress.


I had 2.2m of the fabric so I decided to also toile the sleeves.  When tracing the pattern, I knew it was going to come up pretty short on me so I added in an inch of length at each ‘Increase/Decrease Length Here’ line, so 2″ in total.  The first of these lines bisects the waist dart, so I had to redraw those to fit the amended pattern.


Foolishly using the ‘finished garment measurements’ as a guide, I cut a size 4, but I realise now that you don’t want the finished garment measurements to match your actual measurements in this style of shift dress, because it isn’t meant to fit your waist or hips closely!


I basted the dress together, tried it on and came to two conclusions: first, it was too tight for my liking, second, the sleeves had to go.  The print plus the style of the dress just demanded to be sleeveless.

Too close-fitting and the sleeves don't look right in this fabric!

Too close-fitting and the sleeves don’t look right in this fabric!

I unpicked it all, cut yokes instead of sleeves, and sewed it up again with a 1/4″ side seam allowance!  Luckily, this made all the difference and I feel a lot more comfortable in it now.  I still traced the larger size for my Valentine’s dress though, and will use the size 5 again for the version I’m making for White Tree Fabrics – perhaps with a swayback adjustment as suggested by some commenters on my last post!


Annoyingly, although I’ve pressed and steamed and ironed a billion times, I can’t get rid of that centre front crease!  Any tips of how to get rid of it?


I love the finished dress, anyway, even though it’s a little tighter at the top than my ideal fit.  It’s so 60s, I couldn’t resist pairing it with some knee high boots!  I was bloody freezing getting these photos taken though so for now it will be worn with tights, but it’s going to be great for the two days of summer we might get in August.


Also I have new hair!  I cut a fringe mid-January and I’m loving it!  It seems to complete the 60s look!  The next photo is a bit overexposed but I still like it so I’m adding it in just for the hell of it.  Indulge me.



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