This is a journey through time and space……well, about 6 weeks and two 360 mile round trips, and the trouble is I’ve got to squeeze it all in to one blog post.
Let’s start this blog post in the same way that I got in the mood for the photo shoot – a breakfast of fresh pineapple, with a healthy & very robust white orchid in view on the window sill (not mine- I do not have a way with orchids) as I looked out at the lush green garden – it was full of vitality. The sky (unusually for this May) was a deep blue and the sun was warming, coaxing us to venture out to the beach.
And we did. We nipped out to catch some sand & some surf in order to bring my latest make to life. I am evoking mother surf, or trying to, I mean this is the UK, I have made it to the closest we come to Hawaii-Five-O – Fistral beach, Newquay. This is my entry for the Simplicity Star Sewist, the dressmaking category using New Look 6145 which is a pattern for a simple shift dress with various sleeve lengths & a collar option. In other words a great basic- this is what my Hawaiian two-piece is made from with a little bit of pattern cutting.
People, it’s going to be a long one, this, so if you are curious enough to read on, grab a cuppa & maybe some energy bars…
Rewind to the beginning. I happened upon the Simplicity Star Sewist contest through Twitter- an initiative for the Simplicity Blogger Circle & I was excited enough to request the pattern straight up (every entrant gets a free copy – yay!)
Taken from the blog, Simplicity Star Sewist had three categories with different patterns for each and I chose …
“Best dressmaking project
The pattern in question for this category is the NewLook shift dress 6145, showcased in the Simplicity catalogue in chic check print.
This simple interpretation offers bloggers the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild, through their choice of fabric, trimmings or styling, with the dress able to be adapted to various sleeve lengths and necklines.”
And what about the rules?
Again, from the blog,
Your challenge is to use the above patterns as a basis for your own bespoke creation. The only rule is that there are no rules!
Using the pattern as your foundation, go wild with fabric, colour, nips here, tucks there and feel free to accessorise to the hilt! Whether fabric is your forte or your signature style is more haute couture, simply show us what you’re made of and stamp your very own style on these pattern.”
This is about my entry. I had plenty of time, the deadline being the end of May (yes, tomorrow).
What’s great about a challenge is when you feel like you’ve extended yourself, for me a challenge is supposed to be a challenge, at whatever level that might be for you. I have different types and the one I guess I succumb to the most is the ‘ make it as quickly as possible for wearing at a certain occasion’. That is my weakness. I totally love the speed-sewing-by-the-seat-of-my-pants challenge. I positively relish it. And I tend to perform well in that sewing environment. (I would get an A from teacher & a shake of the head from my Mum who hates leaving anything until the last minute).
So to take part in the Simplicity Star Sewist challenge, to feel challenged, I needed to make it about something else. I decided to go to town on design. This is a shift dress pattern, and I love shift dresses. But to play around with the design, the possible nips and tucks and embellishments? I consulted my 1970s Japanese pattern cutting books for inspiration. I was going retro. (Yes this means I can also count this towards my Vintage Pledge!)
I started this thinking that I would find some cool collar/ pocket combination to add. Maybe that would give me some colour blocking options- I was imagining tab pockets, colour blocked bibs…get my drift? But through perusal of my source of inspiration I kept returning to this design- a two piece dress that would accommodate the shift dress (New Look 6145 in this case) as the starter.
The one in the middle!
This two piece dress has a side front opening top, (asymmetric) with a skirt that has a knife pleat in alignment with the side front opening (again asymmetric) .
All the adjustments to the basic pattern are shown alongside the design. I just had to implement them.
But what this design also suggested to me was my fabric choice. The drawing shows the model wearing the two piece made out of a border print with the big florals growing up from the skirt hem, through the skirt and the hem of the blouse, but the print disappears the further away from the hem that you come. I needed to find the right border print in a cotton ( or suitable woven) and that my friends was not as easy you think. I wanted colour, scale and type of fabric to be right.
I scoured the internet. All my favorites, searching for “border print”. I searched eBAY which had a few border prints, quite a few were jersey. But to get the right border print for this? Tough. I mean I had to like it as well as it being in the right colours for me & as well as it looking like it would work with this design. and I came across Lazy Island, a specialist in Hawaiian fabric, some of which are border print. I can’t link exactly to the one that I chose, but you can find it on that link (& it looks as if it has been reduced since I ordered it too). Anyway this is it.
I love purple & green. I love the Hawaiian hibiscus flowers, and the palms & is that a cheese plant? Anyway, this seemed to be the best shot. The fabric arrived very promptly & is a poly cotton, with a hand that reminds me of bowling shirts – the slightest sheen & crispness to hold a crease.
So this is the outcome of my very definite “creative/ design” phase – plenty of thinking time. That was about 6 weeks ago. About four or so weeks ago I started the making of this project. First things first was to prepare my pattern, taking the pieces from New Look 6145 and then performing all sorts of incredibly satisfying measurements & line drawing to replicate the pattern adjustments described in the Japanese pattern book.
You can see the original pattern & how I added to it. Yes, I have cut it to make the bodice & before that traced to make the skirt pattern pieces. Am I shocker to say that I cut my patterns? – whether it is to make the short sleeved version, the shorter length, whatever. I make sure I keep the pieces I cut off because they can always be stuck back on again. And I do. I have a very healthy relationship with my scotch tape 😉
So, what I had to do to the simple shift bodice was to create not just a front opening – but an asymmetric one. And take away the seam allowances for the back opening. I kept the same shaping at side seams as the shift dress, I kept the same darts & eventually the same sleeves. All I had to do differently was to add extra to the centre front for the right front, with a narrower left front all with facings. I did make a toile, actually I made two, before settling on the amount of overlap at the left front that felt & looked right.
Top Toile #2 with markings
The skirt is also based on the dress- the lower part of it. According to the Japanese pattern there is an asymmetric knife pleat that falls in line with the right front edge – a key part of the charm of this ensemble. I needed to add front & back darts to the skirt pieces & felt a side zip would work well. The off-centre pleat needed about 10cm adding to the width of the skirt front – & the pleat actually covers the left dart. No changes to the skirt back, except to move the zip from the back to the side. I made a toile for the skirt too & tried both toiles on together to check on the bodice overlap & the skirt’s pleat. The skirt & blouse also had to work together – the blouse could not be too tight & had to allow the skirt to be its A line self – which meant that the blouse would not be figure hugging.
I was incredibly fortunate to be sewing this whilst staying with my parents. (No it was not planned that way, but it’s just how it worked out!) Not only was it a lovely project to chat to my sewing-guru Mum about- initially (ie in my design phase) I showed her the 1970s books for us to enjoy styles & my Mum’s sewing memories, but last week I benefitted from a second pair of hands and an experienced eye to hep with the fitting – Oh my word- as someone who always struggles in front of the mirror, a mouthful of pins, desperately trying to see the back (& adjust the back) whilst holding a reasonably normal posture – for attempts one, two & three…Yes, if you can ever enlist the help of someone to help with fit & pinning adjustments it is indescribably pleasurable rather than a cause of stress & frustration!
Toile with skirt, checking side seams against skirt
So once the toiles were at a point – it was time to progress. It was time to cut!!! I have to admit I was rather scared. I had bought 3m of fabric & it seemed heaps! I would have loads left over to make coordinating tops, shorts etc etc! But first I made the skirt. Once I had made the skirt, I could then decide about pattern placement for the blouse. The skirt was easy for me – I wanted the big flowers, the hibiscus & cheese plant leaves to be growing up from the hem. The tops of “pointy” tropical flowers might be obscured by the blouse when wearing both together, but that was OK. I could have had the “pointy “ tropical flowers as the focus in the skirt- but the hibiscus won that particular battle with me. I made sure that the pattern on the back was balanced too – it is off centre, but balanced. That’s by design, I didn’t want it too symmetrical.
Excuse creasing, it’s survived being worn whilst driving
So I made the skirt up ( you can see it is a simple skirt – darts, side seams with an invisible zip). I did not attach the waistband until much later. The setting of the pleat would be a step I took after the blouse was finished, so that I could make sure the final position of the pleat was exactly in line with the blouse front- matching the asymmetricals.
Inside showing the dart and the pleat
So cutting out the blouse. I had to play around with the fabric & the pattern on the skirt to get the best effect together. If I was making the blouse on its own out of this fabric I would have kept it predominantly purple, but had the pattern growing up from the hem. However, that looked absolutely pants with the full-on hibiscus action that was going on with the skirt. Too much. The effect of the “two-piece dress” would be lost. So the pattern needed to come down from the shoulders. Fronds of palms & this time, the “pointy” flowers were the feature.
I used the toile as pattern pieces
Again, paying attention to how the back looked – how balanced it was- was important. At this point I began to see that there was not going to be a lot left over for shorts! The fabric was getting eaten up! Mainly the pattern – there was still enough plain purple for the facings & the waistband. And luckily there was enough pattern to plop a hibiscus on each of the sleeves. So the blouse looks as if the plants are growing over the top half, before there is a big expanse of the purple before your eyes get to the flower power skirt.
Thread tracing showing where the right front ends
Sewing it up felt like the culmination of all of my plotting, my designing & my chats about process with my Mum. All the ground work had been captured by the toile process. I tried it on again just to tweak the front edge, then drew generous facings from the toile. At this point I realised that the left front needed to become slightly narrower to make sure that the position of the buttons would be supported by the facing underneath, for strength. My original drafting had not really taken anything off the left front, and the overlap between the right & left was huge. This was easy but necessary to remedy.
The longest part by far of the blouse construction was the facing-rouleau loops & button covering stage. I made sure to measure every placement & every length of loop to ensure they were equal (I have been know to eyeball such things in the past ). And now – fastening & unfastening rouleau loops to wear seems to take just as long 😉
11 loops. 11 buttons to cover
Carefully covered buttons to blend from pink to green
The only thing I am less happy with is the interfacing which I bought locally from a craft shop – they only had one variety which I think is medium & hasn’t fused as nicely as a softer one would have. But hey ho.
As I mentioned, once the blouse was finished I could set the skirt’s pleat & then add the waistband. The hem was stitched using an invisible hem by machine. Popping a purple button on it was the final touch.
I have lots of amusing thoughts about this “two-piece dress”. First of all, at some point in my adult life I have owned three out of the four plants showcased in big scale – our Cheese plant was called Derek – I think he got rather straggly & didn’t make it. I still have parlour palms in my house but they really don’t like the conservatory, even if I like them in the conservatory. I thought a hibiscus (tropical plant, right?) would enjoy living in my conservatory. I was wrong. So out of the three, only one still survives.
Other amusing thoughts – now I have never been to Hawaii so I might be really far off the mark here – however as a two piece this could be the kind of “uniform” worn by someone in the hospitality industry? OR someone in beauty – a manicurist or masseur? I think it is the asymmetric front & tunic effect! If anyone would like to satisfy my ignorance I’ve always wanted to visit & would love to see for myself 😉
But what other thoughts do I have now I have finished it?
I’ve got a unique outfit – actually I have three unique outfit possibilities – as a dress it is one of a kind. Is it too much? I am not sure.
As a blouse it feels almost like a bowling shirt worn with jeans.
My body’s a bit twisted here- it looks as if the darts are out!
The fit has enough room for movement – ?bowling too!
The skirt is a classic beach skirt when worn with a vest top, or here, with a halter top.
I can see it getting worn more as separates than as a two-piece but I always have that option. That’s what’s so great about two-pieces – they have- two- pieces!!
But , it really was a challenge that I enjoyed. Yes, having a dabble with pattern cutting and for it to work is a clear winner for me. It makes me feel like I am learning & am able to push my limits. This is ‘design’ & with a basic pattern, it’s amazing what can come from it.
I also loved having the chance to share my thinking & the fitting with my Mum. We live 180 miles apart & so don’t get the chance to do any more than chat about sewing when we get together. This time I was staying for longer & brought my overlocker (for seam finishing) & used my Mum’s machine- which is the same as mine. Involving my Mum in this project was great. And that I used one of her pattern books from the early 1970s was even more special. Looking through the book brought back all her sewing memories, the things she had made from it!
So, it’s been a project of many elements. I have no idea whether it is too far away from the intention of the Star Sewist competition, to revisit:
- Using the pattern as your foundation (check)
- Go wild with fabric, colour (check!)
- Nips here, tucks there (er, yes if more than nips & a very big pleat count!)
- and feel free to accessorise to the hilt (I’ve accessorised with the surf 😉 )
- Simply show us what you’re made of and stamp your very own style on these pattern….
How I love the sea ….
So thank you Simplicity for hosting this challenge, I’ve loved it for all the reasons above & am going to have some real fun wearing it too.