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Retro / Vintage, Sewing & Craft

That Time I Made a Skirt From a Duvet Cover

This month I made a skirt out of a bedspread. I know exactly what you’re thinking…

The Sound of Music

But let me start by saying The Sound of Music is one of my favourite films of all times, so I’m more than happy to take inspiration from the inimitable Maria Von Trapp. There is no shame in home furnishings-turned-outfits.

So to the story behind the skirt. A couple of seasons ago Asda’s George Home started producing affordable bedding sets with pin-up girl prints on. There have been a few iterations, the most popular being a sailor print with stripes and anchors. They look nice enough on a bed (though you may struggle to persuade a boyfriend or husband of that) but a few clever sewists worked out that they’re also perfect for dresses and skirts, and buying these bedspreads for under £15 worked out much cheaper than buying similar fabrics from the likes of Alexander Henry. Thus #ThatsSewGeorge was created!

George bedding and handmade skirt

Recently, George has been challenging bloggers to make clothes, accessories and other exciting things out of their cute and affordable bedding sets. I’m already the proud owner of a palm tree printed duvet cover (see here!) which I think would make a killer maxi dress, but when George offered to send me some more bedding to work my sewing magic on, I had to go with those pin-up girls. I picked a print with a polka dot lining, threw one straight on my bed, then used the other to whip up a modified circle skirt.

Pin Up Skirt and Gingham Shirt

I thought a dress might be tricky with the large print so decided to do a skirt first. The pattern was a bit of a mish-mash. I used the skirt panels from the Gertie for Butterick dress I made a couple of years ago, as I didn’t want to lose all the detail in a gathered or pleated skirt. This did mean I had some tricky pattern matching to take into account: in the end I only worried about this on the front of the skirt so it’s not perfect, but it did mean I could easily get the whole thing out of one duvet cover. I made my own wide waistband from the polka dot fabric used on the underside of the duvet, and put in a hand-picked zip at the back. I still love a hand-picked zip, not just because it’s much easier to keep tidy, but also because I like to sew in front of the TV so the less I have to use the machine, the better.

Hand Made Pinup Skirt and Gingham Blouse

The skirt is a little see-through and could do with lining, but other than that, I’m really happy how it turned out. Since I’m an old lady I own a beige slip so I just popped that underneath for a bit of coverage. The gingham blouse is from Mango, and the very old sequinned shoes are from Kurt Geiger. I hope you like my finished look, now if only it would stop raining so I can take it outside!

Disclosure: The bedspreads were a gift from George to allow me to get creative.

Sewing & Craft

Sewing Butterick Retro shelf bust 50s style dress

My recent holiday in Antigua gave me the perfect opportunity for some slightly more glamorous outfit shots than usual – the Caribbean backdrop definitely makes the most of my latest sewing project, Butterick B5882, a 1950s inspired shelf bust dress pattern by amazing retro sewing blogger Gertie. This is my favourite sewing project so far because it’s so ‘me’. The moment I saw this pattern I knew I had to make it, and I decided to go all out in leopard print fabric with a black trim for the full-on retro reproduction vibe. The pattern is gorgeous – a lined and boned top with a ‘bra’ shelf section, and a huge full skirt which hangs beautifully. Here’s the full-length photo…

Shelf bust dress in leopard and black - Butterick 5882 pattern by Gertie

I made a few small pattern adjustments – I made a quick toile because the bodice pattern pieces seemed very big and found that while the front section of the size 14 fit me well, with the side seams sitting just about in the right place (in hindsight, I’d take them in a bit more) I had to cut down the back panels (thus the skirt) by a good few inches for a good fit there – I’m definitely front-heavy! The straps are made from one big bias strip that runs right under the pleated bra detail, and since I’m cheap and fabric is expensive, I ended up putting a centre seam in this piece rather than cutting it on one, to save on fabric. I also decided to remove the skirt lining, because my leopard fabric was quite heavy. I’d just put a slip under it (or a net underskirt) if I wore it at home.

Here’s a close-up of the bodice and the pleated bust panel. It’s not as neat and tidy as it looks in Butterick pictures and I think I pleated and folded it a bit messily, but I was happy to see that Gertie’s own version of the dress seems to be similar, in that the pleats puff up a little bit. That said, hers is a much better fit – mine sticks out in places, possibly because I needed to pull in the sides a bit more.

Shelf bust dress close up of bodice - Butterick B5882 pattern by Gertie

You can wear the dress two ways, so to speak. The band can be worn folded downwards, as in the above pictures, or flipped upwards which makes the whole bust panel smaller. Here’s how that looks on me – I prefer it down I think, having studied the photos. For some reason in this shot, the bra bits look a bit pointy at the top – possibly due to those Caribbean winds moving the light cotton about!

Shelf bust dress - Butterick B5882 pattern by Gertie

I think I’d like to try this dress again with a few adjustments to the bodice for a better fit on the bust – the black cotton I used was quite light, I’d use a heavier fabric for the bra panel so it doesn’t move about and puff up so easily. I’d also play with the side seams to make sure they’re absolutely straight. I am proud of the finishing on this dress though, much of which I did by hand. As well as stitching in the bodice lining, I hand-picked the zip which made it much neater than my machined zips which always go wrong, and I also sewed the rolled hem by hand. It took me about 4 hours to do the hem alone – there’s a lot of fabric in that skirt – but it was worth it to avoid any visible stitching on the outside of the skirt.

I really loved this pattern – it was a bit of a challenge, but worth it for the results. I’ve bought some of Gertie’s other patterns and I hope they turn out as well as this one.

Also, some of you probably picked up on the dramatic new haircut. It’s not looking its best in the holiday humidity, but I can’t tell you how much I loved saving all that drying time!

ps. The shoes were a gift, more on those in a post coming shortly.

Dresses, Sewing & Craft

I’ve been sewing: Simplicity 2444 dress with cape collar

The last thing I sewed and actually finished was my bridesmaid dress for Kat’s wedding. Given that she’s been married for two years now, I thought it was time to get some more use out of my sewing machine and dressmaker’s dummy! So spurred on by seeing how fab it looked on Roisin, I decided to raid my pattern stash for Simplicity 2444 (I have patterns, just never actually *make* them). I’d read nothing but great things about this pattern, which has four darts in the front to really shape the bodice for a good fit. It’s one of the Project Runway sewing patterns, which means there are lots of elements you can add and remove to make different dress styles. I decided to go for the cape collar version (as seen on the model in blue floral print).

It took me about a week to put together, just doing the odd hour here and there. I reckon it could easily be constructed in a day if you really concentrate (I tend to work slowly in front of episodes of Fringe). I used about two and a half metres of black gingham I bought from eBay and notions from my stash – the only other expense was the zip, taking the total cost of the dress up to about £10 excluding the pattern (which I will definitely use again). Here’s the final result…

Simplicity 2444 dress

I’m really, really happy with the finished item. Sewing pattern sizes don’t usually equate to UK or US clothing sizes, so you really must get to know your measurements. I cut the 14, which is actually closer to a UK 12, but I know from experience that the ease in most patterns means I can go down a size. I made the darts ever so slightly smaller than they were meant to be to allow an extra cm or so on the waist, and the dress fit perfectly. I’d read that it was good for big busts and it definitely is – I wish I could find dresses in the shops that fit like this!

Simplicity 2444 with pockets

One of my favourite things about this pattern is that it has pockets! Never underestimate how useful a dress with pockets is. It was my first time sewing in pockets, so that was a good little trick to learn, too. I’d also forgotten when I bought the fabric that I have the perfect shoes to go with this dress, an old pair of slingback wedges with bows in matching gingham. I can’t wait for a sunny day (please?!) to show this off somewhere other than my flat!

Simplicity 2444 50s style dress sewing gingham

I’ll definitely be making this pattern again, though I think next time I’ll leave off the cape top and just make a simple sundress. I’m hunting down an interesting fabric as we speak – I’m wondering about the car print from Ditto Fabrics for a Prada-esque look?

Before I go, here’s a little extra pic for those who don’t follow me on Twitter. I went to Royal Ascot on Friday (as a guest of the fabulous folks at Longines) and this is what I wore. We were in the Royal Enclosure, so hats and modest hemlines were a must!

Outfit for Royal Ascot

My nan was right. People should wear more hats.

Sewing & Craft

Gemma’s adventures in sewing…

A bit of a departure from the shopping-related norm today…I want to talk about my latest rediscovered hobby, sewing!

My mom taught me to sew when I was about 12, and I made quite a few of my own dresses when I was a teenager. Nothing beats the thrill of putting on a garment you’ve made yourself. Not only is it a guaranteed one-off, but if you struggle to find clothes to fit all or a specific part of your body, learning to sew means you can make things fit perfectly. So few women make clothes any more, which I think is a real shame. We can buy things so easily (and often so cheaply) that it often seems a waste of time to sew our own clothes. But I think it’s a real shame that we’ve stopped at least learning the basics, as it’s a really good skill to have.

That said, the last time I did any ‘proper’ sewing was when I made my dress for the school leaver’s meal. Since then, apart from the odd cushion cover or armchair cover, I’ve not really had the time to get behind the sewing machine despite having one at my disposal. I have a handful of patterns and a box full of fabric but actually sitting down and finishing a project seems to have eluded me to this point.

But then my friend Kat said she wanted her bridesmaids dresses made from Liberty print fabric. I was her maid of honour, so I offered to make my dress (her mum made the others). The joy of sewing for yourself is that you can tailor things precisely and try on as you go, meaning a perfect fit by the end, and I do love a good challenge!

Kat picked the fabric (a Liberty pink and cream pansy print) and the pattern, which was McCalls 5319, a now-discontinued 50s inspired party dress with a ruched waist panel, full skirt, and crossover bust with wide straps. It’s definitely a pattern designed with the curvier woman in mind. In fact the other bridesmaids eventually ended up with a different dress because this one swamped their slim figures.

I won’t go into reams and reams of detail about the pattern, except to warn that the sizing is really off, and though I cut the size that corresponded to my bust, hip and waist measurements for the toile (a practice in a much cheaper fabric – see left on the photo) I ended up having to take it in a lot, and went down almost two sizes by the time I made the real thing. I did lose some weight during that time, but definitely not two dress sizes! I also had to take the waist up by about two inches. I have a short torso anyway, but this pattern does appear to have been made for a giant.

Sewing it was fairly straightforward, however. If I could follow the pattern after almost 10 years of not sewing, then I’m sure nobody else would have trouble. Technique-wise, it was a bit fiddy in places – there are a lot of gathers (on the bust, back, waist panel and skirt) and at times you’re sewing up to four layers of dress and lining at one time, which can be tricky. I’d advise people to use a similar colour thread to tack and gather the waist section rather than a contrasting one, because removing multiple layers of tacking thread can be difficult once you’ve sewn all the layers together, and you do end up with lots of tacking thread as you secure various layers and gathers along the way.

Here I am with the wedding A Team (the gorgeous bride Kat and our fabulous friend Darika) in the finished dress (topped off with a Miss Selfridge lace cape). I was really happy with how it turned out. The fit-and-flare shape is a favourite of mine anyway because my waist is my smallest part, but I rarely wear light colours because of my pale skin, so I had to get used to that! I’ve got a fair amount of fake tan on in the pictures, would you believe!

The one thing I did learn a bit too late with this pattern is that the dress is far more revealing around the bust on photos than it seemed in real life. I’m quite big up top and constantly aware of showing inappropriate amounts of cleavage, so I fiddled with the dress a lot! If I made it again, I might cut a larger bust section and cross it over more in the middle for a bit more coverage, or perhaps adjust the gathers to accommodate.

Now I’ve got the bug again, I’m going to start sewing a lot more. I’ve been given an early birthday present of an adjustable dressmaker’s dummy, so I can now pin and fit to my measurements in the future. Next on the list is a vintage 50s sundress in peach with white polka dots. So watch this space!