Sunday, 27 July 2014

Summer swimmers OMG OMG OMG!

Sun, sand...

Feet (mine)

... sea, surf....

Son and sister (also mine)

No prizes for guessing where this is going!


Let's play "Insert your favourite Bombshell blogger cliché here": OMG I made a swimming costume! OMG it totally wasn't as hard as I thought! OMG Heather Lou is a genius! OMG this is the simultaneously the most covered and most sexy I have felt in any swimwear ever and OMG it beats the pants off literally everything to be found in any shop anywhere!

Delete as appropriate: NO NOT DELETING ANYTHING IT's ALL TRUE.

Fully water tested at one temperature extreme in a hot tub (family holiday fun!) - and, at the other, in the North Sea.  Yes, I swam after we took these pictures.  It was... refreshing. The suit holds up really well when wet, despite the enormous amount of fabric it contains, and although I have to admit I was sceptical about the actual swim support it'd give, it was fine. Which is not insignificant - my small back-band and large cup bra-size combination means that I have never in my life been able to find a satisfactorily wearable bikini/swimsuit. And, while wearing this does not feel as 'solid' as wearing an actual bra, it's nonetheless feels pretty darn safe.  In turn rather impressive, as to achieve this I only made a couple of tiny adjustments to the pattern.  For those who're interested,  the lowdown is below.

But in the meantime.


  • Pattern: Bombshell duh, size 38 (I think. Maybe it was 40. Anyway: straight up, no FBA or grading between sizes).
  • Fabric outer: cotton/elastane from the Chien Vert. Fairly heavyweight for swim fabric - my only complaint about this suit is that because of this, it dries slowly. But, the stripes make me think of ice cream, which is good.
  • Fabric inner: cheap-as-chips matte lycra from Berger.
  • Swim elastic: I ordered some from Fabricland UK (bad website but great phone service) and it was really good quality. However, I am an idiot and didn't order enough. To compare, I got some more from Lijfgoed (in Holland). Sadly this was much flimsier and broke easily. Particularly if you want to stretch your elastic to prevent gaping, I wouldn't recommend it.

:: :: ::

What I did: tips for adding support if you too are blessed with large bosoms

Heather Lou mentions in the sewalong (here) a couple of ways to add support, one of which is to sew a strapless bra to the inside front at the side seams, hanging 'free' and next to your skin under both layers of the swimsuit itself.  However, I didn't want the extra layer of bra fabric, and I didn't want the bra itself to be visible - I wanted it hidden between the lining and outer. I also didn't want to go and buy a strapless bra specifically in order to cut it up (plus, I've never liked them anyway, so).

Attempts to just add a line of elastic under the bust quickly demonstrated that this would not keep the girls where they needed to be, so in the end I took the scissors to an old bra - in the process fully vindicating my hoarding of all old items of clothing, worn to death or not, in case they ever come in handy. IT WAS HANDY so take THAT obsessive-clear-outer husband!

Um, anyway - so I turned the suit inside out and sewed the bra's side elastic to the side seams (I'd already cut off the back straps). The middle of the bra was left hanging loose between the lining and the outer, but at the very end I stitched through the centre part when I sewed down the tab over the bust ruching. This keeps everything exactly in place where it needs to be.  For the bust ruching itself I had extended the gathering line by about an inch, to make sure the ruching ended up between my bosoms rather than sitting on top of them. And that was it! Here are some (badly lit, indoor) pics in case it's helpful.

Overall placement - I put the suit on and wriggled till I'd got it about right.

Sewed on at the side seams. After finishing the top edge, the bust-ruching tab holds everything in place at centre front.

Does that all make sense?? Comment or shoot me an email if not!  Hope it helps, fellow busty ones :-)

Monday, 7 July 2014

La robe Lucie jumps the queue

I've always liked my collar bones as an anatomical feature.  Add piping and an interesting shoulder detail, and I'm sold.

This pattern was not part of the sewing plan (like there's a plan. Ha!)  It's also not what I intended for this rather gorgeous lightweight denim interwoven with yellow.

But when I saw the robe Lucie on - who else? - Jolies Bobines, I had to do it. Immediately!  I have been lusting over this shape of oversized, gathered-skirt dress on Pinterest for at least a year, all along wondering if I could be bothered to hack it myself.  Well, I guess good things come to those who procrastinate - now Republique du Chiffon has drafted it for me, and impeccably so.

Now, it's immediately obvious that I added some length to the short skirt: 12cm, to be precise.  (Also obvious: my face was not really up for photos yesterday morning. Apologies.)  Looking at these pictures, it definitely could stand to be shorter, even with my slightly chubby upper legs.

However, as it is, just above knee-length, this dress is absolutely perfect summer daywear.  What I couldn't get the camera to grasp, struggling as I do with the tripod and self-timer, is how flattering this dress actually is in person. It hangs wide - the light denim fabric, while recommended for the pattern, is stiffer than all the samples I've seen so far - but the oversized shape both looks and indeed IS breezily, casually stylish.

And I LOVE the low back.  It does gape ever so slightly, and I think for my next version I'll size down in the bodice and do an FBA (no-dart version, natch) which'll probably deal with that. But straight off the printer, the fit is nigh on perfect, which left me to happily concentrate on the pattern's lovely little details.  The piping at the shoulders is self-made from some scraps of grey linen, and I also made the bias from self-fabric to bind the neckline & armholes. The label is a scrap of coarse ribbon and I really like the textural elements these all give. No-one else will notice, but I'll know :-)  And then I edge-stitched and top-stitched the bindings and waist seam to give it a kind of jeans-light look, stopping and starting before and after the piping - it was all pretty bulky, and the contrast thread would have looked awful anyway.

And there you have it - a quickly, happily made and entirely unplanned dress that came from nowhere and swept to the front of the queue, on to the blog, and all without so much as a do-you-please to either my finished, unblogged makes or the many ideas-in-waiting.  La robe Lucie is, in fact, just like the best and most imperious of French ladies.

(If you've ever been in a queuing showdown with one, I suspect you'll know what I mean).

Thursday, 3 July 2014

School's Out maxi skirt

The teachers are freed tomorrow!

Yes, end-of-year show yesterday, reports today, and then just one more morning to go - with all this week's school-related busyness and pre-summer holiday gift-giving, it's hardly surprising that teachers were on my mind as I photographed this skirt.

Though specifically, actually, it was art teachers.

Perhaps it's the pompom trimmed hem or simply the colourful, swirly swishyness of the whole thing, but yes, I think of this as an art teacher skirt - in a fantastically comfortable, utterly lovely and I-don't-care-how-stylish-anyone-else-thinks-it-is kind of way.  An initial measurements fail led to a lovely, tidy but HUGELY too big waistband with invisible zip, so after some highly frustrating seam ripping it's ended up with a yoga-style knit waistband. FYI guys: yoga-style knit waistband + legs draped in rayon challis = BEST SKIRT EVER.

Yes, rayon challis.  Now I know what the fuss is about - this stuff is pure gorgeousness. It's Sinister Swarm from Anna Maria Horner's Field Study range, which I have long coveted and to my total astonishment managed to WIN in a rather generous giveaway by Jane at Pelly Melly. THANK YOU Jane!!

Which brings me to the other reason that teachers were on my mind this morning. Because as I was taking my photos, I remembered that Jane is a French teacher.  And not only do I owe Jane herself a massive thanks for getting rid of this beautiful fabric, I also owe a huge amount of gratitude, and in fact a great deal more in life too, to French teachers in general.

My secondary school French teacher was Mrs Harrison, a woman with the no doubt generally unrewarding task of getting English girls to learn foreign words, and who was probably therefore rather pleased to recognise both an aptitude and enthusiasm for languages in the incredibly shy 11 year-old that was me. For the next four years, until she went on maternity leave, she kindly, gently encouraged me, and in the process set me up with probably the most useful life-skill I have. (It's also my favourite. Truthfully: French even beats sewing).

One of the things Mrs Harrison told me was that when she was learning, she used to try to think in French, because once you can do that, you know you've got it.  So I spent almost all of my teenage years persistently translating my own thoughts as I was having them (did anyone else notice, I wonder?), all along knowing that at some point I'd "get it" too.  I didn't study languages at university, but I did know that once I'd graduated I'd be going to live in France for a year to become really, truly fluent.  The frenchifying of my thoughts turned into daydreams of a garret flat with shutters in Paris, plus a sexy French boyfriend-with-Vespa and a convenient family home with swimming pool in Provence or the Pyrenees. All soundtracked by Air and Daft Punk, of course.

When it came to the practicalities, it turned out that France was not my destiny. Native English-speaking admin staff were (and still are) in high demand in Brussels, and if my colleagues were ever-so-slightly put out that I refused to speak a word of my mother tongue with them, it never showed. They corrected my blunders until eventually, finally, I got there - and never looked back.

Then I met and later married a Flemish man, and accidentally learned to speak Dutch too. The year in France turned into 15 years (and counting) in Belgium, and to be honest, I don't think a be-stubbled French bloke on a moto would have suited me really anyway.

So, these are the entirely untranslated thoughts in my head when I think about this skirt. A little detour from the sewing - let's call it the scenic route around this post, and my little ode to those here who have one day left until their eight well-deserved weeks of holiday.

Back in the gritty reality, we also have this going on:

My first ever foray into bra-making territory!  Drum roll please - it's a glamorous adjustable strap to make my bras racerback-friendly...

Now, it's exactly the same as the plastic straps I saw in the shop (and didn't buy, because my version is not-plastic). But of course, because of the way it hooks on, it doesn't lie flat across my back. Is this a design fault with all bra-strap adaptors??? I demand to know!

See the floaty flaring...

I think I've found my summer non-school uniform :-)

Friday, 27 June 2014

Mashed up, hacked up and perfectly fitted: By Hand London Anna

OK, I've had these photos for a while, but the other day Kelly at Cut Cut Sew posted her first Anna dress, and I suddenly got all inspired to blog mine too. So without further ado... here it is!

To say I am pleased with this would be a tremendous understatement. I am OVER THE MOON!  As everyone knows (come on, who doesn't by now?) this is a lovely, lovely dress pattern which is straightforward to sew, and both easy and flattering to wear. But what I'm most pleased with, beyond all other things and beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the fit.

Now, some people tend to find that patterns fit pretty much straight out of the envelope. In fact this is the thing about Kelly's post that prompted me to get writing my own immediately. Because I most emphatically do not tend to fall in that category, and this dress was no exception.  It took 5 or possibly 6 muslins, tweaking here and there and redrawing those marvellous pleats over and over again - I was so very fed up with the whole thing.

But then, in the end, I got this:

That, my friends, is the best fitting bodice I have EVER had. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's the first bodice I've ever had that fit properly at all, either homemade or ready-to-wear. It took a lot of adjustments, but they were the right adjustments, and I'm willing to bet I can now rely on variations of those same adjustments to work for me on any number of patterns.

Let me say, here, that this is something I long feared would never happen. I know what it is to despair of ever managing to fit your clothes properly. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. But I do think that if we keep at it, anything is possible - no-one's the "right" shape or the "wrong" one, it's just a matter of figuring out what works for you. Get yourself a good book, ask the sewcialists, and know that eventually all that trial and error will pay off.  If I can do it, you can!

For those who're interested, my ridiculously long list of fit changes is at the end. For now, can I show you the skirt fabric? It's yet another piece swiped at a sewing-meet swap, and yet again I've forgotten who from (I expect it was Anneke because almost every piece of fabric I've ever acquired at a swap turned out to be hers, oh she of marvellous fabric tastes). It was a fairly small length - just under a metre - so my only option if I really wanted to use it (which I did!) was to swap out the pattern's panelled skirt for pleats (gathers would have worked too, but I dislike them). I used literally all of it, not a single scrap left, cutting it on the cross grain so I could get these cows (are they cows??) walking around the hem:

I like having the name there on the selvedge too. It's at the centre back hem:

Another side effect of having a bit too little skirt fabric was that I couldn't afford to cut a centre back seam for the zip.  So, aside from all my bodice fitting, I also adjusted the pattern to cut the whole back of the dress on the fold, and then inserted the zip in the side seam.  Sounds like quite a lot of fiddling around with an entirely new-to-me pattern company, doesn't it?

To round the whole lot off, I decided to fully line it too.

Pretty darn pleased with that there invisible zip

Inside out!

So, there you have it.  A hacked-up and mashed-up By Hand London Anna dress, which fits me like a dream :-)  Since finishing this I've also made a maxi version, following the pattern precisely this time - and I absolutely cannot WAIT to show it to you, it's a beaut! Just the small matter of getting some good photos first...

Fit-geeks, read on. The rest of you can go now if you like :-)

:: :: ::

Pattern: By Hand London Anna dress.
Size: 6/10 at the shoulders and sleeves, graded out to a 12/16 at the waist.

Adjustments for fit:

  • FBA to add 1.5 cm width and 3 cm length (at the front bodice, not the side seams).
  • Split the two under-bust pleats into four (much more flattering on a full bust).
  • Moved the under-bust pleats 1.5cm towards the side seam (what can I say, they're not as perky as they once were...)
  • 4cm petite adjustment to the upper bodice (I just sort of pinched out what I had to on my first muslin and worked it out from there). I think this means I have a hollow chest - in any case it completely dealt with the gaping and excess fabric above the bust that I've had with most patterns ever. Apparently it's a common full-busted/slim-shouldered thing.
  • Straightened the centre back seam. This was mainly so I could cut the back in one piece, but I also realised early on that it would deal with some gaping at the top.
  • Shortened the back darts 4 cm.
  • 2cm swayback adjustment.
  • Phew! I think that's it!

Other modifications:

  • Cut the back on the fold.
  • Replaced the back zipper with an invisible zip at the side.
  • Replaced the panelled skirt with a pleated one. The back skirt is slightly wider than the front - I just felt it balanced well like that.
  • Fully lined both bodice and skirt in cotton poplin (the outer bodice is poplin too). The skirt fabric needed lining as it's pretty light, so I just did the whole thing.

End. Someone pass me a G&T, I'm exhausted again just typing it.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The happy camper glamping dress

Ah, camping!  Who doesn't love camping?*  The fresh air, beds beneath canvas, barbecues every night... mmmm I'm drifting off into sweet holiday daydreams just thinking about it.


I do have to admit, yes, that it's not exactly glamorous. Glamorous camping is a thing, of course. But our tent does not have solid floors made of reclaimed railway sleepers. There's no wood-fired stove, ethnic bunting or fridge stocked with champagne (because camping is for beer duh!)  What there is, in my world, is fabric. And that, I can work with...

Enter the Lillestoff.

No, we are not glampers. But we can have fabulous, tent-celebrating skater dresses to tart things up. Oh yes indeed.

What, you thought I might have been talking about my daughter?  Where's the fun in that? She doesn't even like the green! No, the cleavage leaves no room for doubt - that there is clearly a LADY skater! And the six-year-old, usually the centre of Lillestoff skater dress attention, got relegated to the job of photographer - a job to which she enthusiastically, if erratically, took. From now on her dad's "I took one picture why isn't that enough" approach certainly doesn't earn him any ice creams. (Though if I want results, perhaps maybe it should? Hmm).

There were many of this quality.

So yes, a Lady Skater, size 4 at the bust and 6 at the waist (I'm a rectangle!)  The waistband is a strip I topstitched on at the end, to break up the ever-so-slightly overwhelming print and delude people into thinking I actually have a waist. Serendipitously, and completely unforeseen, it also creates the illusion of print matching all the way down the dress. While this wasn't planned, I had actually thought about print placement for once - mainly to avoid positioning any bright red tents right on my bust apex. Once that was behind me, this was a very quick and easy make.

See that guy behind me in that pic, doing bike stuff? That's the husband, preparing for his first ever half-triathlon. This was the reason for the weekend's camping trip. An entirely unexciting but perfectly satisfactory campsite on the bank of the Moselle river in Luxembourg, which just happened to be located 3km down a cycle path from the start & finish of the Iron Man 70.3.

My Iron Man at the finish line!

He did it in 6 hours and 4 minutes, including the time it took to stop and change a punctured back tyre. I'm of course extremely proud - and boasting as if I'd done it myself. 

Also, wondering just how long it'll take him to decide that the next step is the full length version.

In the meantime, I'll be wearing this dress and daydreaming of kicking back in my folding armchair-with-cupholder. This girl's got the right idea...

Like so:

Hmm, I should do a knitting update. I have a finished thing and some gorgeous Malabrigo cables going on...

Are you a camper, dear reader? Do you not agree that it's the most superior form of holiday? (If you have children under 5 you are excused - in that case it is a horrendous nightmare and you should go somewhere luxurious with complimentary babysitting).

Would you attempt a triathlon? Or dress head-to-toe in Lillestoff for daywear (PJs don't count!)?

And are you knitting? If so, what?

I am aware that a small number of people do not love camping. I have no idea why though.

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