Category Archives: Dressmaking

Vintage Clothing article: Sydney Morning Herald

Photo by Jon Reid, Sydney Morning Herald

I am absolutely delighted for my dressmaking teacher that the Sydney Morning Herald decided to do a story on the rising popularity of dressmaking in a vintage style. I’m sure there are many dressmakers and many sewing teachers out there in Sydney but I doubt any of them could rival Bev. As she says to me, if I re-told half the stories she’d told me, or some of the things I’ve seen her do and say, no one would believe me. To top it off she’s an excellent teacher. Some people teach you how to do something. Bev teaches you why and that I think is much more valuable as you can learn to adapt it. Best of all, she knows my likes and dislikes so well that if I come to her with a pattern – vintage or otherwise – and a concept; if she thinks it will look awful, she’ll tell me! I’ve watched her be diplomatic with other students. It’s only us lucky long term ‘permanent fixture’ students who get the warts and all version.

Lastly – because I know Isobel will say it – I’m not looking at the camera because we were instructed to pretend the photographer wasn’t there.

Related Links: 

SMH Article: These Dedicated followers have vintage fashion all sewn up


Packing the high school exam

My boss is going to Peru in 3 months. He’s already started buying supplies for the trip. I’m going away the day after tomorrow. I haven’t finished packing.

Why is it that packing is like studying for a high school exam? Packing a week in advance is only for the nerds in this world. I can normally count myself among the geekery. Not this time. I seem to have slipped into holiday mode too early.

Last minute princess line dress

Delighted by not going to work on Monday, I started making a dress. But I couldn’t even finish my distraction properly! I had intended to complete all the facings today so it only left the hem for tomorrow. Did I do it? No! [80% completed dress pictured left].

Delighted that it was the second day of my break, I started compiling pictures for Andrew’s Christmas photo book instead. Yes, making Christmas presents in February! He says he is going to start calling my BTF. I racked my brain hard to think what that TLA meant. Big tall female? Brown truffle feet? Bristly touched face?

‘Back the Front’ apparently.

Fair call, I should be packing, I’m cropping photographs instead. I should be tidying; I’m making a dress!

The girls have been safely delivered to mums for their little ‘vacation’. Licorice has apparently explored the house (while the 3 cats in residence were outside) and found the bed to her liking. Saffron hasn’t emerged from under the chair.

Tomorrow it’s time to round up the boys and ship them off for cat boarding. Fortunately the boys don’t mind car travel. The girls on the other hand wailed in unison; as irritating as C-3PO but without the off switch.

As I try to write this blog, Andrew is complaining that the blog is getting more attention than he is. I roll my eyes at him. He replies:

‘One day your eyes are going to roll all the way back like a poker machine and never come back.’

9 days together in a car. A small car at that. Do you want to start taking bets on how many kilometres we get before the first debate about the appropriate speed at which the car should travel?

Fortunately we have a camera each and I’m on a mission to actually do some travel photography during February. Given I declared it the theme of this month’s challenge, I think it would be quite useful if I could come up with a few pictures myself.

Our first stop is Coffs Harbour. Someone asked me, ‘why Coffs Harbour?’ They stopped short of adding ‘there’s nothing there but a big pineapple.’ I at least I think it’s a big pineapple. Maybe it’s a banana. Or a lobster. I know it’s not a big sheep. That’s at Goulburn. I digress! No, I have no secret passion for Coffs Harbour. The answer is very simple. It’s about half way up the coast and the only place I could find a disabled hotel room. It looks like it may have some gorgeous 1970s furnishings to match. I’ll let you know in a couple of days. If they run to wireless in Coffs Harbour that is. If you hear nothing, just imagine: exposed brick with brown and orange soft furnishings. Yum.

PS: If anyone is more prepared than I and has February travel photos done, you can leave a link here.

It is woman

Princess line dress

Saffron coming to inspect my new creation

Today I finished sewing this princess line dress. (Although it looks black here, it’s really brown).

I had originally bought this fabric intending to use it for a vintage pattern. The experience with the ‘slippery’ black floral I used with a 1940 pattern convinced me otherwise. I couldn’t let the fabric go to waste so I turned it into a princess line dress.

My poor princess line pattern: it has holes it in. It has multiple length marks; it has bits and pieces to change the shape of the neck – round, V-neck, sweetheart; square back, higher back, lower scoop back. In places it’s held together with sticky tape. It’s the legacy of using the one pattern to make… um… let me see… 6 dresses.

I know that some people may ask – ‘don’t you get tired of the same style?’ Absolutely not! To start with it looks so different depending on the fabric and the length.

More importantly, it is one of the most feminine and flattering styles I know. As a very experienced dressmaker said to me – in her Ukrainian accent – ‘it is woman.’

I only have photos of 5 of the dresses – these have all been made using the one princess line pattern. I think I got my money’s worth out of that pattern purchase! (For the sewing aficionados it’s a McCall’s Laura Ashley pattern. I’d get the exact number if Licorice wasn’t sitting on top of the pattern box.)

Princess Line dress in Organza 2008

Leonardo Fabric - back of dress

Princess Line Dress in Sheer Crinkle with Leonardo Da Vinci print

The black one was so versatile – I made two the same! I wear them all year ’round.

Sleeveless princess line dress with top underneath

Sleeveless dress with top underneath for winter wearing

Princess Line Dress Foundation Pattern

This photo really shows off how beautiful the line of that seam is... oh and that I have cat hair on the dress.

Lysh and pickle

Made to mid-calf length - super comfortable!

Lastly, the most spectacular incarnation of the dress. As two dresses in fact (so I’ve sewn it 8 times in all!) The ‘lining’ is wearable on its own; not that I ever would. The colour without the olive lace on top makes me look ill. The outer layer was joined at the seams using rolled hem setting on the overlocker and serafil to make them as fine as possible. The bias was hand-stitched around the collar. I have my wonderful dressmaking teacher to thank for this version of the princess line dress. Without her, it wouldn’t have been. I had a vision for what I wanted. She used her wealth of experience to help me adjust the pattern and make it a reality.

Wedding_2009_0_24 128_s

Princess Line dress pattern made into evening dress

You can see in the second photo that it is floor length. It swishes beautifully as you walk. As Olga said:
It is woman.
Wedding_2009_0_24 144_s

The cat sat on my homework

Gesso assistanceLast night, I had to write a presentation for work today.

Gesso had other plans for me, blocking my access to the laptop in the only way he knew how.

Me being slightly peculiar, took a photo of him in situ, turfed him off, then wrote my presentation and included him in it! I’m sure my colleagues think I’m completely cracked but then again, they don’t tell me my presentations are boring, which I think is what many people expect from the data person. I met a new member of staff today. She said to me, ‘are you the IT person?’ I felt almost insulted. Am I that drab?

Through today, Gesso and Saffron must have had a conversation, for tonight, it is Miss Saff’s turn at stopping me from completing my homework. She has adopted a similar approach to gesso. She just happens to be twice the size and far more determined to stay where she is. My dressmaking teacher has 3 cats of her own. I’m sure she will accept my excuse for not cutting out the whole pattern… no?
Saffron assistance

My overlocker is evil

My overlocker is evil. Not David Berkowitz evil, but evil just the same. More like Jack Nicolson’s character in A Few Good Men; a fastidious pain in the butt. After I carefully tied the threads so I could avoid re-threading the overlocker, the said beast snapped the thread in the lower looper.

After cursing subsided I got the overlocker working and was able to progress. There were a few more hurdles along the way; unpicking the wrong sleeve and running out of bobbin chief among them. However today the sleeves finally went in and I’m delighted. I’ve hung it in the wardrobe to let it drop for a week before I tackle the hem.

Made from original 1940 Simplicity Pattern 3459

I was so happy that I used the flurry of energy that followed to revisit an old friend. I’ve been working on this overcoat since… well, I don’t actually remember. Is it one year, or two? Either way, I am determined to finish it before this winter. Yes 2012’s winter.

The reason it is taking so long is the cornelli work on the upper part of the collar. I’m completing it in gold-bronze coloured deco thread. It’s in the bobbin with ordinary cotton on the top, so it’s sewn upsidedown following a template I hand-drew on stitch and tear. The lines below took me about 1 1/2 hours to complete. It is it not quite an inch wide.

Cornelli work - deco thread on brown wool

At that pace, it is little surprise that it’s been a multi-year work in progress. I shall see how long this new found energy stays. It is going to be a big week. I get the joyous task of trying to look after 4 cats in a one bedroom unit for a fortnight. The two old girls – Licorice and Saffron (the latter pictured below assisting with sewing the collar) and the two ‘bounce-off-the-walls’ boys – Pickle and Gesso. I know from past experience that the Pickle – the ginger ninja – is not well loved by Licorice and Saffron. They view this spirited adolescent with contempt. Only a mad man would expend that much energy going from one side of the room to the other. Yet this time, it may be Pickle doing the sneering as Licorice and Saffron will be on his turf.

Saffron and the half finished collar

The plan is segregation. The old girls get the bedroom and the indefatigable lads get the living room. I have to go between the two dishing out reassurance that all is well with the world; the usual cranky, funny two-wheeled owner will be back shortly. I have arranged with work to only be at work ever second day so I can be home to play umpire. This may seem extreme however in the context of Saffron’s FIC (feline idiopathic cystitis), it’s far less stressful to take a couple of days annual leave than to have a trip to the vet.

It’s also a big week as I’m starting on liteneasy. I’m not sure that I will take to this regime easily as I’m a fussy eater. Yet I’m willing to give it a shot. It will be a lot easier than trying to cook meals in between emptying litter trays for 4 cats! It may be a very quiet week on the blogging front; or a very busy one depending on the antics of the boys and girls.

The sprightly boys

And the not so sprightly girls

My 2011 in photographs

It’s only natural to reflect on the year as it comes to a close. So here’s some highlights – and lowlights – of 2011.

New Cats

It’s hard to believe that Andrew has only had Pickle a year! He arrived in mid-January 2011 and was a playful and bitey kitten.

Bitey pickle

Now look at him… all grown up!

I can see you!

Then came Gesso! Much smaller than Pickle had ever been and far more sooky from day one.

His deafness has brought a few new challenges. Getting Pickle to steer clear of walksticks and wheelchairs was difficult enough. Gesso has taken ‘challenge’ to a whole new dimension; culminating on Christmas Day when he got too close to Andrew while he was standing and ended up being trod on. He sunk his teeth in to Andrew’s foot in protest. Fortunately, Gesso was unharmed and although left with a nasty bite, Andrew’s foot is healing. I’m hoping that after that experience, Gesso will learn to dodge feet, walking sticks and wheelchairs as well as Pickle does.

My girls, Licorice and Saffron, continued to be good company; for me and for each other:

Licorice and Saffron kisses

The learnt how to get food from their new three-tiered cat toy; how to get nibbles from the treat ball; plus basic targeting skills using clicker training. (Short videos hyperlinked)

New Art

There were few surprises in the artistic area. I continued my pattern of putting things in paintings and then removing them. (The daschund below first had a skateboard; later replaced by stilts.)

Daschund issues

I rediscovered an old canvas and turned it from this:

textured background

to this:

Self portrait (unfinished) 23.5.2011

Andrew started art school (of which I am more than a little jealous). I don’t have many photographs of his work… I wish I had more. Here’s just three from this year:

These two oil paintings are still in progress:

New Sewing projects

Some things never change. Saffron continued her dressmaking assistance into 2011. Her favourite habit is sitting on the fabric one is trying to sew!

Saffron doesn't want me to sew

I embarked on some heirloom work for a white cotton sateen slip:

Heirloom work

and completed a thoroughly indulgent silk slip.

Silk bias cut slip

Somehow I quickly forgot how difficult it is working with slippery and lightweight fabrics, for I moved on to this 1940 pattern:

2 dresses in one

which, as at the time of writing, remains incomplete (needs sleeves, facings and a hem!)

1940 dress in progress

New places

I explored some other parts of Sydney in 2011 and we ventured a little further afield. First to Fitzroy Falls (reasonable disabled access):

2011-02-25 Fitzroy Falls Gardens

then to Mogo Zoo: (access was a bit dodgy due to uneven and steep paths combined with recent rain!)

2011-02-26 Mogo Zoo Giraffe

Tiger eats his chop!

To Balls Point Reserve in Sydney: (inaccessible!)

View from Balls Point Reserve of Sydney

Of course, I couldn’t forget the Dubbo trip! (Dubbo Zoo is wonderfully accessible and we had such great experiences photographing countryside on the way there and back).

Between Wellington & Orange

Near Dubbo

La Perouse was not new but offered up some beautiful sunsets for us.

2011-01-29 Kite Ship and Sun

New Wheelchair

Looking back on this, I have to laugh. Below is a cake I made to celebrate receiving news that Andrew would get a new wheelchair.

Celebratory cake!

We received confirmation we would get a chair back in April. Naively, I made this cake in May thinking the chair would arrive any day! We finally took delivery in September!

For anyone wondering why the mm’s on this cake are lime green and orange… well that was the colour choice being debated. The triffid, as I like to call it, brought much needed relief in the form of a more lightweight chair. It also caused a crisis by being too wide to fit through the bathroom door.

New home

Once it became clear that the bathroom door could not be widened, after much drama, it was time to move house! Now I can only be thankful that Andrew has nowhere near as much crap in his place as I do in mine. Even so, packing was not easy. Pickle helped by packing himself in a crate.

PIckle packed himself

New family

Not content with expanding our feline family, my brother and sister-in-law, gave me a niece as well!

Io I

Lysh & Io I

New job

A minor little thing that happened this year!

New ‘disabilities’

This is one ‘new’ thing 2011 brought that my family could have done without. However, we don’t get to choose these things, so I went about learning what I could about MS and being as supportive as possible.


Well, put like that, it was one hell of a year. Here’s to 2012.

Cats and sewing don’t mix

I started on my 1940s dress this evening – well at least the calico version. I moved out the cutting table, started putting out the pieces and measuring to check my grainlines were straight. Like most dressmakers I hung my measuring tape around my neck to have it handy through the process. Next thing I feel a strong tug on the measuring tape. At first I thought I’d just lent forward and got it stuck between me and the cutting table… but as the tugs got more vigorous I knew I had an assistant. Saffron thought this was a great game. When I withdraw the measuring tape, she decided to ‘bat’ at my arm instead. To my surprise I did managed to finish cutting out the fabric. At the end of it when folding away the excess calico I had to yank it out from under 6.5 kilo of cat who had decided it was a good bed.

Not content with this interfence, Licorice then tried to ‘assist’ me in putting in the tailor’s tacks. [As an aside, yes, my dressmaking teacher encourages the use of ‘strings’ instead of chalk marks. I think the more I moan about my dislike of tailor’s tacks the more she insists I use them].

I think the girls had a secret ‘cat’ agreement to take it in turns ‘assisting’ the sewing. Once Licorice had thoroughly interfered with my markings, Saffron then stole half my chair space at the sewing machine table. I persisted. Then I ran out of bobbin.

At this point, I threw my arms up in the air and slumped in the armchair where I was quickly leapt upon by Saffron. Not content with selecting anywhere else in the unit to sleep but my lap, Licorice tried to muscle her way in to my lap. For once, Saffron was stubborn and wouldn’t move even an inch. This wasn’t enough for Licorice to give up. She just sat on top of her until they both ‘spread’ sideways like expanding pancakes.

Meanwhile, over at chateau de Andrew – according to a text received – Pickle was running around like a squirrel on crack.

Behind the times

I must remember to adjust my wristwatch to daylight savings time. In this digital age, every other appliance seems to have adjusted the time for me. Then again, being an hour behind probably won’t matter to much. I’m 70 years behind on my clothing!

2 dresses in one

This is my next sewing project. The plan is to make a black slip and then two dresses out of these sheer floral fabrics. I had wanted to use cotton sateen, also known as polished cotton, for the slip. I’ve made slips from this previously (to sleep in) and they have a lovely feel. Unfortunately obtaining black is a wee bit tricky! I bought a georgette instead but I’m not convinced that it will work. I’ll have to check with my sewing master.

As for the top part, I’m confident that these fabrics will look lovely. The black one on the right I bought at a vintage show (although the seller was honest enough to tell me that it wasn’t actually an old piece of fabric – just an old look!). At the same show I bought a piece of unused 1940s black crepe. I’m saving that for a special piece. The brown print I bought on the left yesterday. Wedding_2009_0_24 054_sIt reminds me of the ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress) Thienhuong’s family gave me for her wedding. The flowers on the ao dai are far prettier than on this fabric but given all those ‘soft pleats’ I don’t think it will matter. I’m intending to use a ‘cross’ of the pattern on the left and the one on the right. I don’t want the puffy short sleeves which are on the left and I’m not fussed on the large collar. That said, while pretty, that high ‘boat’ neck would look silly on me. (I’d look like a giraffe in a floral print) In the end it will probably be more like the one on the left but with more subtle sleeves and a small turn back collar. I have some calico to make a sample bodice which I hope to cut the pieces for this weekend. Of course this depends on whether Saffron and Licorice choose to assist with the fabric. The last time I cut something at home, Licorice curled up in one end of the fabric which was draping off the end of the cutting table. It took me some time to realise she was there… I just couldn’t fathom why the fabric wouldn’t slide across the table.
Cat assistance aside, I shouldn’t really be cutting fabric, I should be tidying as I have guests coming next Saturday. Well, actually, I’m not ‘the host’. Andrew and I were invited to dinner at a friends house. They have a lovely single storey old style house. Unfortunately that means it comes with a small bathroom with a narrow door which Andrew can’t access. When I told my friend that Andrew couldn’t make it but I could come, she and her husband offered to cook all the food and bring it over the my place. I now just have to clear enough art and sewing stuff out of the way to set-up the table. At least I don’t have a Pickle cat in permanent residence on my table like this one…
My table II
…although Licorice did some table top dancing last time we dined.

DIY Nightwear

Silk bias cut slip Silk is beautiful to wear. It shapes around your body and is so soft.

Sewing with it is quite another story.

The main difficulty is that this slip was based on a vintage pattern and is cut on the bias. The silk easily warps and stretches.

Throughout the process of making this slip I kept saying never – ever – again will I make something out of silk.

Then one gets to the wearing part and is just such a beautiful fabric that hmmm… maybe one day I will again.

Cotton on the other hand, I was happy to attempt twice. While the fabric is easy to sew, it gets a little tricky when you sew the back piece bodice piece on upsidedown! I only realised that this was the case when making the white one. (Entirely my doing, Bev would not have been witness to such a silly move!)

The pattern is pictured below together with the final white one and close-up of the heirloom work.

Slip - current sewing project
Cotton sateen slip
Heirloom work

To Ruffle

Ruffler foot

Originally uploaded by scroobious_pip

Ruffle. Verb and noun. 1. disturb the smoothess or tranquility of. 2. upset the calmness of (a person), 3. gather (lace etc) into a ruffle.

PIctured (right) is my newly acquired ruffler foot for my sewing machine. I was hoping that this evening there may be some use of this foot in achieving dictionary definition 3: to gather. However instead, Saffron came along and certainly disturbed any sense of tranquility I may have gained from smoothing out the fabric ready to cut… and after she started pawing at the piece I was trying to cut with a rollerblade, she most certainly upset my calmness. Given Saffron’s persistence I can only show you a photo of my ruffler foot and NO ruffles! I need to cut 17 strips of fabric for a gypsy/peasant skirt and so far I’ve managed 7. The first two or three were unimpeded. The fourth had saffron involvement but mainly at the end of the fabric I wasn’t cutting. The fifth involved trying to chew the ruler and sticking her paw right in front of the rollerblade (a scary moment). I ceased cutting for a while.

Saffron quickly lost interest and about 10 minutes later she was laying several metres from the fabric. I thought it was safe to cut the remaining strips. Grrrr. She assisted me in cutting the sixth and the seventh before I called it quits for the night.