Inspiration from the big screen: 20th Century Women

I’ve spent a lot of time on planes over recently – at least 24 hours by my count. Like most people I never sleep properly on transport, so I’ve been catching up with all the films I’ve missed at the cinema. Watching films that are intended for the big screen on the back of an airline seat isn’t ideal but I reckon I’ve done pretty well out of it. I’ve now seen all but two of this year’s Oscar nominees for best picture (Fences and Hell or High Water) plus filling in some long-lasting gaps in my viewing (Avatar. Don’t bother).

One of these plane movies was 20th Century Women starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig. Bening plays Dorothea, a bohemian single mother in her 50s who enlists two other women to help raise her teenage son, Jamie, in late 1970s California. It’s an interesting take on raising a child – all three women use their own experiences to influence him. They don’t necessarily get it right (whatever ‘right’ is), but they all act with Jamie’s best interests at heart, showing him the world as they see it. There aren’t any plot twists but a great ensemble cast playing well-crafted characters. I’d recommend seeking it out if you can.

And do you know what? They wear some lovely clothes too! I love the late 70s fashions in the film. It’s modern vintage – no fussy features, simple to wear and comfortable. If I want to go for a vintage look, it’d be my era of choice. A lot of the clothes could be easily recreated using indie patterns – here’s a quick round-up.

Dorothea (Annette Bening)
Dorothea wears a lot of Liberty-style prints throughout the film, but my favourite has to be this pussy-bow blouse that features in the publicity shots.

I’m thinking the Sew Over It pussy-bow blouse or a hacked version of Tilly and the Buttons Mimi blouse would work here. And obvs, you’d have to use a Tana lawn like this one.

Abbie (Greta Gerwig)
Abbie’s style is a bit more punk than the other characters – think Patti Smith with a dash of Debbie Harry. My choice for her slouchy shirts and rolled up sleeves would be the Sew Over It Alex shirt in bright rayon. I did have a shirt like the one below planned, but then I used my red rayon on my Winslow culottes. Kinda wanna buy more now…



Alex shirt

Julie (Elle Fanning)
I loved just about everything Julie wore in this film, which is basically a lot of denim skirts and blouses, and we all know about my current love for a good shirt… Anyway, I particularly loved this midi length skirt, which I reckon would be great as a Colette Zinnia (version 1) in a simple blue chambray.

Front view resize

My Zinnia from last year.

I’m also a big fan of this outfit (yellow and blue developing into a bit of a theme here), which I can see as a Tilly and the Buttons Miette skirt and a SOI Ultimate shirt in light cotton lawn.


Red ultimate shirt

One of my Ultimate shirts in cotton lawn.

Do you ever get inspired by the costumes you see on the big screen? Let me know in the comments!

Oh, and hello to Jason Isaacs.



You’d give me a job, right?

Morning all! I’ve got a morning of shorts-toiling planned (toile and toil are so close, aren’t they?), so I’m coming at you early doors to share an outfit that’s been sitting in my blog queue for a bit too long.

At some point, I’m going to get a job here in Seattle. However, there’s no sign of that work permit coming through just yet and boredom is beginning to set in. That doesn’t stop me from making interview and work-appropriate clothing though! Truth be told, I didn’t sew either of these pieces with jobs in mind, but I think the outfit would work nicely for a summer office wardrobe.


More roof porn. I love the roof. Had my dinner up there last night and everything.

The blouse is the Ultimate Shirt by Sew Over It and is one of my May makes. I’ve been hankering after a plain white shirt for so long. I think they’re a great basic – they layer well, they can be smart or casual and look super-crisp.

I managed to squeeze the class in before leaving the UK and I’m so glad I did because I learned so much about shirt construction. The shirt is fitted (thanks to Julie at SOI for helping out with that) and has bias bound cuffs and a collar stand to get to grips with. The only feature it doesn’t have is a lined yoke, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those on a fitted shirt (please prove me wrong though!).

Cuff close up

Here’s a close-up of that bias-bound cuff. You could add top stitching to the cuff itself, but I think it doesn’t need it here. I’m most likely to wear it with sleeves rolled up anyway, cos I’m ready to get stuck in. Obvs.

I’ve made three versions of this so far (pictured below) but this particular version is in some cotton shirting I picked up at District Fabric not long after I arrived. It was generally beautiful to sew with, though I will admit that it was possibly a little bit too thick for the French seams I attempted as my machine struggled a bit. We got there in the end, but I’d overlock throughout if I was doing it again. No matter – I’m really pleased with the finished effect and think it looks properly smart. Obviously, given my current obsession with shirts and shirt dresses, I’ve got another planned – this time in a floaty red rayon. Can’t wait.

Red ultimate shirt

This is the one I made in the class. That’s Atelier Brunette cotton lawn, which is lovely!

Blue ultimate shirt

My second one is in blue cotton lawn and this is an awkward photo taken at the Seattle Symphony Hall while waiting for Russell Howard to start (he was awesome).

The other half of the outfit is a long-overdue revisit of the Colette Zinnia skirt (V2). I first made this a few years ago and ended up throwing it across the room in frustration at my inability to insert an invisible zip. While I eventually ended up loving the skirt and wearing it all the time, it bit the dust earlier this year so it didn’t make it to Seattle. Not a bad excuse to make a new one though, eh?


The back. The only thing that is wrong here is I think I put the button band on the wrong side. It just feels wrong when I do it up. Oh well.

I don’t have much to say about the construction, other than I have now conquered my fear of invisible zips. This one went in with no issues. First time! The real star of this skirt is the fabric, though. It’s a pink chambray that I picked up in the Village Haberdashery before leaving the UK. Nowt special about that, you might say, but this one SPARKLES! It’s got gold thread woven through it so it’s got a lovely sheen which screams summer to me. Unfortunately the photos don’t pick up on the sparkle, but I assure you it is there.

If you’re a long-term reader of this blog, you’ll know that I love versatile separates. These fit the bill perfectly. I’ll wear both of them throughout the summer, and if/when I get that work permit, they’ll be ready for interviews/office work at the drop of a hat. Anyone want to employ me?! (pleeeeeaaaasssseee?)


Thinking of making this my Linked In pic tbh.


Revisiting the Zinnia

Isn’t it good to be on holiday? I’m just coming to the end of a lovely week off work. Chris and I went to Madrid for a few days over the Easter weekend (two words: Iberico ham *drools like Homer Simpson*) and we’re now sitting on the train to Bath to see some friends and watch some rugby. In between we’ve played some laser tag, got a leak fixed and I’ve even managed to squeeze in a couple of makes. The first was my nautical Scout t-shirt, but today it’s all about my new skirt – a Colette Zinnia.

Front view resize

Now that the weather’s better, one of the downsides of taking photos outside is squinting into the camera cos the sun’s in your eyes.

I’m still (mostly) dedicated to my stash-busting mission, and this make uses up some fabric that’s been lurking in my flat for a little bit too long now. I bought this navy blue stuff from the shop in Balham well over a year ago now, and its first incarnation was the skirt for my contrast Grace dress which I made for a wedding. I ended up with about 1.5m left over. Then I took the Vintage Shirt Dress class at Sew Over It (the product of which needs to be photographed and written up), so I bought some more and used it for the skirt on that too. Again, I ended up buying more than was necessary so I had another metre to add to the pile. I obviously like the stuff (decent weight but with a nice drape), but it was getting a bit silly. Something needed to be done.

I sewed version two of the Zinnia about two years ago and I wear it pretty regularly to work. The other week I noticed that it had a small yet unmendable hole next to the zip. Unsurprising, really, since inserting that invisible zip caused many a tear and tantrum before I finally got it right. It’s pretty sad – that skirt is nowhere near perfect, but it was time to make up a new one, especially since I’ve been lurking Version One on Pinterest for a while now. The navy blue fabric sprang to mind – more than enough for a full skirt and just the right colour for a good wardrobe basic.

I’m happy to say that sewing up this gathered skirt was nowhere near as fraught as its first incarnation. The instructions were really clear, but after a while I stopped referring to them and got on with the job.

Although it’s a seemingly simple gathered skirt, there are a few nice details to keep things interesting. The pleated patch pockets are fully functional, but require a steady hand and eye for top stitching. I think they’re pretty nifty – I probably won’t be putting anything in them, but I like the extra bit of give that the pleat lends, and they sort of remind me of the pockets you see on khaki safari shirts (like this one). I told Chris this and was met with a blank look.

Pocket resize

A slightly wonky pocket, but I love the look.

I’m also a big fan of the placket. The skirt pattern is only two pieces (front and back), but the placket on the right is heavier than the one on the left, so you have to trim a thin strip off the left piece to compensate. You then fold the fabric in on itself and top stitch it down to form the plackets. I really like the look you end up with – it’s thin and neat and really pleasing when you’re sewing. Only trouble is, in this fabric it makes the placket quite thick, so when I came to open up my buttonholes it was really difficult to get my seam ripper through it.

Placket resize

Placket close up. So thin! So neat!

I was in a bit of a rush to finish this one (I had a pancake party to get to), so I dispensed with turning and pressing the hem, and just overlocked it and stitched it down. Since the hem is slightly curved anyway, this means that easing in the excess was much easier and I made it to the pancake place on time. (I had a Greek pancake. I thought I was getting something relatively healthy – you know, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, maybe a bit of feta. But no. It came with ALL THE CHEESE – halloumi, feta and the Greekest of all cheeses, cheddar. I like cheese as much as the next man, but I couldn’t finish it.)

Back view resize

Back view, with an idea of the skirt’s fullness.

Anyway, when this pattern was released I remember seeing a few negative reviews from sewists across the Internet. It was too simple, the pattern was boring, and nothing much of a challenge for the more experienced out there. But I think Colette actually played something of a blinder with the Zinnia. Over the last few years I’ve seen loads of similar skirts on the high street, so if you can make one pretty quickly and save yourself some cash, why wouldn’t you? I think this one cost me about £1.50 for the buttons, and everything else I had in my stash.

What’s on your sewing table at the moment?


Keep it simple, stupid

After promising to keep this blog up to date with a weekly post on my Me Made May progress I completely failed to do so. That’s not to say that I stopped taking part in the event, it’s more that I got really, really bored with taking pictures every day. Sorry (not sorry). You’ll just have to take my word for it that I kept my pledge. In fact on Week Three I absolutely smashed it with six handmade garments within one week!

Apart from learning that I find daily photos pretty tedious, I did learn some valuable things about my me-made wardrobe:

  1. I wear mostly separates. I don’t think I wore a single dress throughout the whole month. I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re more versatile – you can style a top or a skirt many different ways whereas a dress is more restrictive. I do love a good dress, but they’re just not my first choice of a morning.
  2. I love my Scout tops. My black and white zigzaggy Scout was my most worn item of the month, clocking up three wears in all and proving that you can’t knock a good basic (especially when it’s in a funky fabric).
  3. Next year I probably need to be a bit better at planning. There are some pieces in my wardrobe that just didn’t get worn because by the time I got round to them it was getting a bit too warm. My office turns into London’s biggest free sauna at this time of year (i.e. the aircon doesn’t work as intended) so long sleeves and woolly trousers are pretty much out. If I had planned a bit better, I could have worn them earlier on in the month when it was still a bit cooler.
  4. I’m pretty satisfied with how my clothes fit into my life. I am not in a client-facing role so I don’t need to be suited and booted every day, but more smart casual. I wear a lot of my clothes in the office and at the weekend so I think I’ve got the versatility thing down. Obviously there are a few things that don’t cross over – e.g. my Coco top is distinctly casual, and my Zinnia skirt only gets worn at work, but otherwise there’s a lot of mixing business with leisure.

So apart from the picture laziness I think Me Made May turned out pretty well. I even managed to keep the second part of my pledge, which was to finish off the Moneta that has been my only UFO for the past year. I only just managed it though – I finished it in the evening on 31st May, so it really was the equivalent of Indiana Jones snatching his hat back from that rapidly descending door. Incidentally Facebook reminded me that 31st May last year is the day I took the Moneta class at the Village Haberdashery (and here’s the result of that). I think it’s fate. I should make or finish a Moneta every 31st May from now on. Maybe it could be a blog community thing? Who’s with me?! Ok, just me…

You might be able to make out the lack of gathering on my left (your right). But that's only if you're not distracted by my boobs, which for reasons beyond my comprehension just look huge here. I'll blame the bra.

You might be able to make out the lack of gathering on my left (your right). But that’s only if you’re not distracted by my boobs, which for reasons beyond my comprehension just look huge here. I’ll blame the bra.

Anyway, the dress! This one, in bright pink cotton interlock, had been hanging off the back of one of the chairs in the kitchen for nigh on a whole year while I got myself scared about sewing with knits. I really shouldn’t have been so upset about it all because it is a pretty quick and easy sew all told. I made the simplest version – plain neck with short sleeves – and to be honest it was mostly fine. Having got my confidence back after making the Coco, I really don’t know what I was worrying about because in terms of the actual sewing it was pretty easy.

Once again, what I found difficult/awkward was the clear elastic. I stabilised the shoulders with it and felt that it mangled them a bit, so instead of using it to do the neckline I used Wundaweb instead. In hindsight this was a mistake – it’s too thin to do anything other than stick the fabric down so the neckline is a little bit wrinkly on the finished dress. Nothing to stop me from wearing it (in fact I’m wearing it as I type), but I think I need to suck up my issues with it and get some practice in.

I also used it for the waist, where you gather the skirt and then attach that to the bodice. You’re supposed to do it in sections and I managed to do it properly on about three quarters of the skirt, so there’s a section that isn’t as gathered as the other. And it’s on the front so noticeable. Again, it doesn’t bother me enough to prevent me from wearing it, but I’ll take it as a learning point for next time. To be honest I think it might have worked in my favour though. As I’ve mentioned recently I have put on a bit of weight (let’s say it’s through being content with life) and when I cut out the pattern last year I was a small. Based on my measurements now I really should be a medium. However, with the error in gathering the skirt now sits comfortably on my waist and I can quite happily wear the dress without feeling like I’m going to pop a seam somewhere.


I did the whole thing on my machine, but next time I might have a go with my overlocker instead. After looking at the finish on my Coco I also whipped out my twin needle and I have to say I much prefer the look it produces – so very professional! So while this Moneta is by no means perfect, I’ve learned some good lessons which will stand me in good stead for the next one.

I’ve worn it in to work a couple of times and loads of people have complimented me on it with my best friend even telling me today that it looks like RTW. Not sure how much she’s massaging my ego there, but I’ll take it! It’s a great basic dress that will take me right through the summer and probably into autumn and beyond (I can see this with tights and a cardi). I’ll definitely make more and I’m looking forward to having a go at some of the special features it comes with. However, for the time being I think I’m going to try and put a dent in my stash before buying any more new fabric, so hold on – I might be some time.

Over and out.

The back. One of the nice features about this dress is that the front neckline is higher than the back. I quite like this - it's a cute feature that you don't necessarily see a lot. Nice work Colette.

The back. One of the nice features about this dress is that the front neckline is higher than the back. I quite like this – it’s a cute feature that you don’t necessarily see a lot. Nice work Colette.

What I wore on my holiday, by Jo, aged 31 and 0 months.

OK, I swear I’ll stop going on about my holiday after this post, but I promised pictures in front of famous Italian landmarks like all the other tourists, and that’s what you’re going to get. Here is a round up of what I wore on my holiday, interspersed with some photos of nice buildings, pigeons and ice cream.

The Salvaged Sorbetto in Pompeii

The Salvaged Sorbetto in Pompeii


A spotty Sorbetto in Siena

A spotty Sorbetto in Siena


Ice cream as far as the eye can see in Siena

Ice cream as far as the eye can see in Siena


Chris about to enjoy said ice cream

Chris about to enjoy said ice cream


Non-posed box pleat skirt at the Duomo in Siena

Non-posed box pleat skirt at the Duomo in Siena


Floaty Sewaholic Hollyburn at the Colosseum

Floaty Sewaholic Hollyburn at the Colosseum


A Colosseum pigeon. Not in handmade wear.

A Colosseum pigeon. Not in handmade wear.


Gather Mortmain, or my birthday dress

Gather Mortmain, or my birthday dress


Ponte Vecchio, Florence. Must go back.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence. Must go back.


Messing with the iPhone's panorama setting, Pisa

Messing with the iPhone’s panorama setting, Pisa


Another box pleat skirt and the Grainline scout tee, with Vesuvius sleeping in the background

Another box pleat skirt and the Grainline scout tee, with Vesuvius sleeping in the background


The monster pile of ironing I had to do when I got back.

The monster pile of ironing I had to do when I got back.


Not pictured: my Colette Moneta and my Wiksten Tank. Sometimes you just can’t be bothered to take pictures.


A salvaged Sorbetto

The dress that never got worn. The shame.

The dress that never got worn. The shame.

It’s confession time. A long, long time ago I bought this dress in Warehouse, mainly because my flatmate had the same dress, it suited her and I loved the fabric. It never suited me as well as it did her and as a result I’m ashamed to say that I never wore it.

The other day we got a charity bag through the door and I took the opportunity to have a good sort out. When I pulled this dress out of the wardrobe I was struck with a Great British Sewing Bee moment. Because of all the gathering and the shirring, I was convinced that there was enough fabric in the skirt to eke out a Colette Sorbetto. So I grabbed my seam ripper and spent quite a tedious and messy hour and a half taking out all the stitching, elastic and overlocking from the skirt/bodice join and the bubble at the bottom. There was just enough usable fabric for a Sorbetto as long as I took about an inch off my normal pattern length which I’d lengthened by two inches anyway as I have a long body and generally find Colette bodices to run a bit short on me.

This would be my fifth Sorbetto and I thought that by the time I had done the third and fourth versions last summer, I had just about nailed the fit working off a size 4. However, when I went back to it and looked a bit more closely I decided that the bust darts were sitting a little bit too high. The only alterations I’ve ever made to a pattern have been length alterations, so I had to do a bit of research. This post on Megan Nielsen’s blog was particularly helpful, but with lowered bust darts and a couple of inches added, my pattern is looking a bit mangled now!

I may have just had my hair done.

I may have just had my hair done.

I also lined my top with some cream polycotton as the patterned fabric is a bit sheer (I think it’s some sort of voile). I’d never done this before but I figured that as long as I took the pleat allowance out of the front pattern piece and sewed up the bust darts I’d just be able to sandwich the fabric pieces together and treat them as one. It worked a charm. I used loads of pins so that it wouldn’t move, but everything fits together pretty nicely. I used French seams throughout, and I managed to get them lying properly, so the insides of my top look pretty fricking neat and professional too.

Finally, I was worried about turning up the hem and therefore removing extra length, so I used bias binding on the inside instead – I think it only took up about an eighth of an inch, which is really very pleasing. With the length taken off the pattern I thought the finished article would turn out shorter than usual, but by a very happy accident Sorbetto number five is EXACTLY the same length as Sorbettos number three and four! What a triumph!

Sorbetto back

It’s nice to revisit an old pattern like the Sorbetto. I remember when I made my first I spent most of the day trying to fathom out how to sew the pleat (I was over complicating it massively) and the bias binding properly. Now it absolutely does not faze me. This top took me an afternoon to put together, but that includes two lots of cutting out and a trip to the fabric shop for supplies. I’m sure I’ll keep on coming back to it every summer, or when I need a new pyjama top, but I think I need to try something new with it, like a collar or some sleeves.

My Moneta, or why fabric choice is important

It looks ok when it's on, but it's not my best make ever.

It looks ok when it’s on, but it’s not my best make ever.

Having booked this last week off work, and not having much to do beyond pottering around the house and watching bad tv (Millionaire Matchmaker anyone?!), I thought I would fill my time with something productive. Knit fabrics seem to be the current trend around sewing, with Tilly releasing her Coco pattern, the Lady Skater doing the rounds and Colette Patterns going nuts for knits with two patterns and a whole book about the stuff coming out this spring. I’d heard knits can be a bit tricky, so I thought it’d be a good idea to try them out in the safe confines of a class – luckily the Village Haberdashery in West Hampstead was running a Colette Moneta class, led by Zoe of So Zo, What Do You Know. The Moneta is a cute, skater style dress and we were going to be doing version 2 or 3 (the one with sleeves as opposed to a fancy neckline). I lengthened my bodice by an inch so that the waistline would sit a bit better and went off on my merry way.

Now, the Village Haberdashery have some gorgeous fabrics (actually, they’re ALL gorgeous) but they’re a bit expensive, so I took a trip down to Goldhawk Road to see if I could get anything a bit more bargainous. I picked out a black cotton jersey with white polka dots, and at £4.50 a metre I thought I was quids in. Not so much. I should have known something was amiss when Zoe felt my fabric and asked if I liked a challenge… She said because it was so fine, the fabric would be a bit more difficult to sew with, and boy, was she right!

This elastic is most probably the spawn of Satan.

This elastic is most probably the spawn of Satan.

We stabilised the back shoulder seams with clear elastic (which was a faff in itself), but the fabric got caught in the feed dogs from the off and made a nice hole in it to boot. Turns out I needed to ease it through from the back as well as the front of the needle. I also needed a finer needle as it kept messing up the fabric. However, a finer needle means a finer eye, which snagged the thread so many times I lost count (but not my patience – well done me). All this meant that the first couple of steps were a bit stressful, and I have to say that my stabilised neckline is not my finest piece of sewing (it was also my first time using a twin needle).

That is not nice stitching.

That is not nice stitching.

It did get easier though – as we went through the steps I started to get the hang of it, and though there were a few slip ups, it started to become a bit easier. Sewing more of the clear elastic to gather the skirt was also a bit of a faff, especially as the needle wanted to chew it up. I have to say that Zoe was a star throughout – she was constantly cheerful, encouraging and best of all, patient.

After attaching the gathered skirt to the bodice, the only thing left to do was hem the sleeves and the skirt. More twin needle action. I took it really slowly to try and preserve the thread, but the stitching just wasn’t catching the raw edge, so I had to move my stitching in by about half a centimetre. This means my hem will look a bit wonky on close inspection, but since I used black thread, you wouldn’t be able to see it unless you were looking for it.


One from the side. Those fabulous red shoes again.

One from the side. Those fabulous red shoes again.

I am really quite pleased with the dress – it’s perfectly wearable for the summer and even quite cute, but my fabric choice played such a large part in my sewing experience that I think I’ll always look at this dress with a certain amount of pain. Next time (and there will be a next time), I’ll use a thicker, better quality fabric, that’s less slippy and easier to handle. It’s worth it for an easier life and in the meantime, we just won’t look at this one too closely.

One of the cool things about this dress is the back is lower than the front. Might need to sew a label in so I can remember that.

One of the cool things about this dress is the back is lower than the front. Might need to sew a label in so I can remember that.

Look mum, I made a skirt!

Zinnia frontAfter weeks of talking about it, I finally made my Zinnia this weekend. And do you know what? I’m pretty damn pleased with it. And do you know what else? Since I made it in March, it still counts to my tally of sewing projects for the month!  *Hi-fives self*

Ooh lovely fabric
I want to update my work wardrobe for Spring/Summer as everything I have is just a bit too wintry and dark, and it’s time for a bit of colour. Although I work in a professional environment, thankfully I don’t have to wear a suit to the office (thinking about it, not a lot of people do – male and female), so I can wear what I like as long as I’m smart. I chose Zinnia Version 2 with its lovely sewn down pleats and not-so-lovely invisible zip as an office-appropriate start.

I picked a lovely emerald green chambray and pre-washed it as soon as it arrived. Unfortunately I forgot to switch off the tumble dry function on my washing machine – when I pulled it out I found that it had frayed. A lot. Plus because it was bone dry getting the creases out was a right pig of a job. However, the fraying let me see how the fabric is constructed – with lime green threads crossing with royal blue to produce the deep green colour. I just ended up with piles and piles of green thread sticking to everything else in the machine.

Pattern alterations?
The pattern is easy enough to follow and having made up my muslin last week it wasn’t as if I was going to come across anything brand new (though I still did a couple of practice buttonholes before the real thing), and I knew it would fit me OK. So, no alterations to the pattern itself, but I did make a couple of tweaks to the instructions:

  • All visible stitching was done with black thread to provide a contrast. I had to be super-careful with this ‘cos every single mistake would stick out like a sore thumb. So that includes the stitching on the pleats, the waist band, the hem and the buttonhole. That’s a lot that could go wrong, but didn’t really. Thankfully.
  • I understitched the pockets to the side seams so that they wouldn’t roll out. I’m pretty pleased with the results here – you can’t really see them unless you’re looking for them.
  • My muslin is ok, but one thing I did notice was that the hem puckered a bit, even though I measured it. I did some Googling to see how I could prevent it and found Colette Patterns’ tutorial for curved hems. It produces perfect results! Basically you baste the bottom of the skirt at a specified width from the edge (I did ½ inch), use the line to fold the hem up and press, then fold it over again and press. I measured my hem to make sure it was even as I was pressing and pinning, then I stitched it, holding the fabric taut as it went through the machine. There is NO PUCKERING and for the first time ever my stitching is just about even. Yay me!

I still hate invisible zips
However, despite some real triumphs on this project, I still had a few issues. Once again the invisible zip proved to be problematic. The difference is that this time I stayed calm. The first side went in perfectly, but the second side just wouldn’t go in at all. It took a bit of wrestling and unpicking, but I eventually managed it – after about an hour and a half of trying (compared to three or four for the muslin). We’e just not going to look at it that closely.

Zinnia frayed seamsI also didn’t finish my seams in the way I wanted to (plus I managed to sew one side seam into the waistband the wrong way so it tries to pull the wrong way. Need to watch that one for the next time). I bought some bias tape for the purpose, but maths and spatial awareness have never really been my strong points, and I couldn’t work out whether it would show through on the seam if I went ahead and stitched it on. As a result I erred on the side of caution and zigzagged up the seam allowances instead. The seams now fray a bit, so I might go back and pink them to reduce the amount of bright green threads sticking to my tights.

Would I make it again?
These issues are not insurmountable, and I’m really happy that I’ve got a skirt that’s good enough to wear out of the house! I will make another version one day, perhaps in red or a plain black or grey, though I am wondering if that will just remind me too much of school uniform… Anyway, it’s time for something different and I have my sights set on the By Hand London Anna dress for my April sewing project.

This skirt was brought to you by the Stuff You Should Know podcast. I found out all sorts of things – from who really shot JFK (it really probably was Lee Harvey Oswald), to the representation of werewolves in other countries, to how they train guide dogs, and came out better informed at the end of it. Check it out!

Zinnia side view

Zinnia muslin, or how I learned to love my seam ripper

Zinnia muslin resizeWith no sign of the Zinnia sewalong speeding up any time soon, I decided that I would push on with my muslin over the weekend. I read a lot of blogs by people who are considerably more proficient than I am and the Zinnia would take them an hour, maybe two, tops. It took me TWO WHOLE DAYS. That might include cutting and transferring the markings (a particularly tedious task on this project), but the real issue was the invisible zip. More on that later.

The fabric I’m planning on using for my finished project is a lovely green chambray. I’d like to be able to wear the skirt to work, so I really want to make a decent job of it, but there are a few things in there that are new to me (pleats, zips, buttonholes), hence the muslin. I figured that since Colette list the Zinnia as a beginner’s pattern, I should at least be able to fashion a wearable garment on the first try and hang how it looks on the inside! I used some floral fabric I’ve had in my stash for about a year. It’s not something I’d usually choose to wear – it’s a bit too girly for my liking, but it could be ok in the summer…

To begin with it was plain sailing sewing-wise – I’d marked up my fabric pretty accurately so the pleats were easy to do and ended up evenly spaced. Sewing the side seams and pockets was easy enough too. But the problems came with the invisible zip.

Zinnia muslin zip (2) resizeInvisible zips – my new nemesis
I’ve never done one of these, and to be quite honest, I’m not exactly overjoyed about inserting ordinary zips. I bought an early version of the pattern which omits instructions on how to insert it on Version 2 (I believe it has since been corrected), so I got out my Colette Sewing Handbook, cos that’s got to have some sort of help in it, right? Not so much. I followed the instructions, putting the right side of the zip to the right side of the fabric, and ended up with a zip on the inside of the skirt. Argh. I tried different instructions and ended up with the zip the wrong way round, twisted, one side correct, but the other side wrong… You name it, I did it. I started off calmly ripping out the stitches, but after a while my frustration turned to anger and I ended screaming profanities and throwing the skirt across the room. Chris made me some eggy bread halfway through this debacle, which did help, but for the most part he very sensibly stayed away. Eventually I managed it by laying out the zip on the fabric in some semblance of what would be it’s finished state. Unfortunately having ripped it out about eight times, the fabric was looking in a sorry state and I’m not sure how secure it’s going to be in the long run. Anyway, I’ve fathomed out a method now, and hopefully it’ll go in ok when I do the real thing.

After I managed that, the rest of the skirt was straightforward. The waistband went on really easily because my pleats turned out to be pretty accurate (*smug face*), and I managed to work out how to do buttonholes on my machine without too much bother. I was even really very careful about measuring an even hem!

Now it’s finished, and I’ve tried it on, there are a couple of things that I’d change/do better.

  • Take an inch off the bottom cos I’m pretty small.
  • Insert bias binding on the raw seam edges – I do like it when all the raw edges are properly enclosed.
  • Make sure the seams are pressed appropriately. The pattern instructions don’t tell you which way to press.
  • Understitch the pockets so there’s less chance of them gaping out.
  • Potentially extend the stitching on the pleats by half an inch or so, but I will take a judgement call on that.

Next step – cutting and marking my chambray ready for the real thing!


zinnia skirt

This is version 2 – the one that I want to make. With pleats and belt loops and an invisible zip! From Colette Patterns.

Has anyone else been doing the Stitchery Studio’s Zinnia skirt sewalong? I wanted to do it because I’ve had the pattern for ages but never actually managed/bothered to do anything with it. When I saw that the Stitchery Studio was running a sewalong I thought I’d found the impetus to final get it made. I signed up for email updates and was hoping to get some top tips on making my Zinnia look good, fit perfectly and lose my fear of inserting invisible zips and button holes.

However, it’s now 11 days since the Stitchery’s last post and I’m starting to wonder if it’s died a death before it’s even got going. Over the two posts so far there’s been a lot of useful info about preparation, e.g. taking your measurements and fabric choice. Now I’m itching to get sewing!

I’ve contacted the Stitchery Studio to find out if there’s a schedule for posts as I think I’d benefit from the extra advice a sewalong adds to the pattern instructions (I still class myself as v much a beginner when it comes to dressmaking). I got an out of office reply to say that they’re closed this week. It doesn’t look like there’ll be a new post anytime soon, so in the meantime I’m going to tentatively make a start. I’ve assembled the pattern and my fabric – a nice green chambray from the Village Haberdashery – is on order. I’ve got some cotton in my stash I can use for a [hopefully] wearable muslin, so here we go. Wish me luck.