An experimental White Russian

Thanks for all of your comments on my last post. It seems that many of you have one or two sewing projects on the go at any one time, or have a knitting project alongside a sewing project. This seems much more manageable and reasonable to me and I’m glad that I have cleared most of my projects now – just four more to finish and three of them are very nearly at the end.

Moving on, here is another of my recent makes. There was a gaping hole in my winter wardrobe – a cosy sweatshirt for those cold days when all you want is something casual. I also completed a 5k which meant I got to buy a few patterns, including the White Russian from Capital Chic.

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The fabric is bright aqua green sweatshirt which I got in a fabric swap in Leeds. Amy brought so much of it that I went halves with Ruth. I just cannot resist this colour – it is practically the same as my fitted winter fleece. It’s such a happy colour for mid winter. I couldn’t be bothered decided not to try and find ribbing that matched so went with the self fabric option for the cuffs, waist band and neckline. I had to squeeze all of the pieces out – reducing the seam allowance to 5mm in most pieces. I was slightly surprised how small these patterns are – I’m hitting right at the higher end of the sizing rather than my normal middling sizes. It isn’t a problem, just sometime to be aware of if you use these patterns.

I don’t have a lot to say on the construction as it is a simple and quick make. If you can get the tension right on your overlocker, I’m sure you could whip this up in an afternoon or less from start to finish. I struggled to get the tension right and it took a little longer than an afternoon. I used my twin needle on my machine for the first time on the neckline and waistband to hold the seam allowance in place although in the pictures it is only on the waistband for reasons that will become clearer later.

I wanted to keep the sweatshirt fairly simple with just a touch of detail. So what did I add? A turtle, of course! I used carbon paper to trace a copy of the turtle in my banner that my brother drew for me and then used a very narrow zigzag stitch. It is a long way from perfect but you can definitely see what it is meant to be!

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This version is definitely a wearable toile. I wore the finished item for a full day travelling up to Sheffield and wandering around the city. It was a good test for the fit and I found a couple of things I didn’t like. First, it was way too big at the bottom and instead of staying warm I got rather cold at times. I also hated the neckband. The width of it is just too big for me and felt like it was creeping too far up my neck. I unpicked it, reduced the width by half and it feels much better to wear. I also took in the side seams by 2-3cm on each side to solve the shock of cold draughts. It has worked very well and the change in warmth was immediately noticeable. I'm also a lot happier with the neckline and don't notice it at all. I will stitch the neckband with my twin needle but that will need to wait while my machine is serviced (I'm missing it already and it has only been 24 hours!) 

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So, not one of my best makes but it is a useful addition to my wardrobe and I think it will get a reasonable amount of wear, especially in the evenings when you want to change in your pjs as soon as you get home. I’m now on the lookout for more fabric to make another version. Any fabric suggestions?

The Buchanan dressing gown

The Fall Essentials Sew Along has certainly got me back on the sewing wagon as I have another finished make to talk about. I’ve wanted a new dressing gown for the mornings for some time. I have a lovely fluffy fleece one for mid winter but it is too warm for autumn. I was deliberating about the kimono in the Liberty sewing book but then Gather released the Buchanan. It looked perfect, and I wouldn’t have to draft the pattern - a bonus when you’re feeling a little lazy. 

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Another bonus is this gown cost only my time. I was lucky enough to win the pattern in the SewBrum raffle, got the main fabric in the SewBrum swap and the black satin is left over from my magpie outfits. The main fabric is from Merry May Fabrics but I can’t find the fabric’s name. Victoria brought along two meters and it was the perfect amount for this project. I was drawn to the colours and print, which has a mystical, moody feel and reminds me of the Andes and my time travelling in Ecuador. It might be stretching it but there’s a black shape against the, um, not really sure what the object is, that reminds me of a condor. I’m not sure what bird the one against the sun is though. You can see both of these across my shoulder blades in the photo below. 

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This was a quick make as it is mostly long, reasonably straight lines. As I wanted a clean finish throughout, and to stop the fraying edges escaping, I used French seams. Unfortunately not all of the seams were completed this way. I did remember to switch the sides to get a clean finish on the cuffs but completely forgot to do this for the neckband and only realised once I had trimmed the seam allowance. Never mind, overlocker to the rescue! Slip stitching the black satin belt closed was a little difficult in the evening light. Note to self, only sew black in natural daylight where possible. Unsurprisingly I chose to leave out the pockets. I’ve never used them on previous dressing gowns and didn’t see the point in the extra cutting and stitching. 

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The Buchanan is described as a relaxed dressing gown and I would have to agree. I’ve worn this for most mornings and I love it. The poly fabrics are just the right weight and drape for a dressing gown. It is warm enough for these reasonably warm autumnal mornings without any heating (plus I’m a stickler for holding out as long as possible without putting the heating on. Generally early November). The front wrap is big enough to ensure you’re fully covered without the feeling of drowning in fabric. The gown doesn’t have any inside ties and closes on the outside with the belt. I haven’t had a problem with unintentional revealing which has been a problem with RTW ones in the past. I didn’t make any alternations to the pattern, mainly because it is a loose fit, and it is designed for someone my height. It hits a little above my knee which is fine. I might add a little extra if I was to make this again and I’m tempted to make another but floor length as it would be quite easy to extend.

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Have you made a dressing gown before? And how long do you leave it before the heating goes on?

The Cressida Skirt

Have you seen the Cressida Skirt, the latest pattern from Jennifer Lauren? I was lucky enough to be selected as a pattern tester. 

Cressida is a half circle skirt with two versions. View 1 is a double breasted button up. View 2 has a single button placket and button waist tabs. Both versions have in seam pockets. I knew immediately that the second version would be a perfect addition to my autumnal work wardrobe. I love the more simpler, elegant lines of this version. 

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To test the pattern I originally used lightweight cotton as I anticipated I would need to make alterations (as I do with most patterns). The test garment came together very well - the skirt drapes well in lightweight cotton. However, for my final version I used a grey suiting fabric I got from The Man Outside Sainsbury's at Walthamstow Market for about £6m. It has a beautiful drape, is wonderfully soft (even after washing) and was a delight to handle. 

I made just two alterations. I added a little extra to the front parts of the skirt, a reasonably common alteration for me. I also moved the waistband tabs to make them a little more central as they were coming up at the sides. This is something that Jen has altered for the final version. 

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The skirt is pretty easy to construct and Jen's instructions are clear. It is designed for all levels and anyone can tackle this as long as you're ok with, or willing to try and tackle, button holes. It is a perfect project for dipping into over a week or is easily completed over a weekend at a leisurely pace. 

As this is an autumnal item, I chose to fully line the skirt to prevent the skirt sticking to my tights when the cold weather really bites. Lining the skirt is not included in the instructions. I cut the skirt pieces only and added them when I stitched on the button plackets. Incorporating the lining here gives for a really lovely finish. If you need to length or shorten the skirt, you can do so by adding or taking away from the hem. I didn't chance the length at all. 

I used a 1.5cm hem on the outer fabric.

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Amazingly, I kept the pockets! Regular readers will know I'm not a fan of pockets in skirts and dresses. I was pleasantly surprised by these though. They had the potential to stick out slightly and give that ugly shaping at the hips. Nope, none of that. Jen really took care with the width of the skirt to ensure they lay flat. Once I saw this, I just couldn't resist them.   

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The biggest problem I had was getting buttons to complete the skirt. I picked up these light blue and grey buttons with flowers on them at Hobbycraft but they didn't have enough to complete the project. I put out a call for help on Twitter and Vicki Kate came to the rescue. I love the sewing community! 

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In short, I absolutely love this skirt. It is flattering and feminine while being practical. It drapes very well from the waist and I don't feel like my small hips are drowning in a huge amount of fabric. I paired the skirt with an unblogged cotton Alma blouse. I really hope that this isn't my last version - I could definitely find a place for an everyday version in my wardrobe. As a bonus, this counts as my second piece for the Fall Essentials Sewing Along. How is your autumn sewing coming along? 

In the interests of transparency, I did receive a copy of the final pattern in return for testing. All views are my own - I was under no obligation to post my version. 

The Nicola Dress

Here’s my first make of the Fall Essentials Sew-Along, my Nicola dress. 

Like many of the patterns I sew, I have wanted the Nicola dress by Victory Patterns in my collection for quite a while. A woven wrap dress with tulip sleeves and skirt - yes, please! There isn’t anything that screams autumn as much a wrap dress so it was the perfect pattern to get me going. 

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I won’t go into the issues I had with fitting the bodice as I’ve already covered them. Despite my toiles, I was still a little anxious about whether this dress would fit properly and I think these

 small fears are justified. It fits like a glove around my waist although it doesn’t have as much room as I am used to. It is definitely a one course only dress! The length of the skirt is straight out of the packet and feels good. I’m sure I’ll be grateful for it going beyond my knees when it starts to get colder during the days. The bodice still isn’t quite right though. I’m realistic enough to know that you won’t get rid of all pulls in a wrap bodice otherwise you won’t be able to move properly. However, the neckline feels a little too big and gaps at times. The twill tape in the neckline has stabilised it and prevented some gaps but not enough to stop you seeing more than I would like if I move in a certain way!  As I want the option of not wearing a cami underneath, I’ll be adding a little snap where the bodice wraps over to prevent any loss of modesty. 

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The shell fabric is a beautiful printed cotton from Ghana. Adam’s friend lives in Liberia but has a friend who sources good quality fabrics for her tailoring businesses and he very kindly got me some fabric. Jonathan - I owe you a few drinks the next time you are in the UK! This cotton is top quality - it is well made, is light-medium weight, supple and washes beautifully. It glided through the machine and wasn’t difficult to press. It has a reoccurring print which I tried to make the most of. In the end, I cut the dress on the cross grain in order to make the most of the green print that only ran down one of the selvedges (I was also short on length). I’m happy that the print is lined up across the corresponding pieces although it does repeat a little too early on the skirt. The sleeves have an extra seam in them as I had to cut the piece in half in order to get them at all. The print doesn’t match at all across them. Ah well, it certainly won’t stop me wearing it! 

The dress is fully lined with lilac Bremsilk which I found in Masons. It is my first time using Bremsilk and I quite like it. It is rather slippery to cut and pin in place but the finish makes the extra effort worth it. I was surprised at how cool the dress was on a warm day. It was in the low 20s when these photos were taken and I didn’t feel too warm or get that clingy feeling you can from some linings in warm weather. 

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Construction is pretty simple and the instructions are clear. I made a few changes from the directions. I skipped the facings due to lack of fabric. Instead you can see a small amount of the twill tape on the inside neckline. I could only get wide tape and decided to make a little feature of it by placing it on top of the lining and under stitching the seam to it. It holds the lining down nicely. I also changed the buttons. The original design has one button in view and another hidden under the dress. I opted for two buttons to be on show and added button holes just about the waist line where the skirt pleats are. The buttons are the left over ones from my Anise jacket. 

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I’m really pleased with how neat the dress is on the inside. It is quite possibly my best to date. There isn’t a seam in sight with all raw edges overlocked before being encased by the lining. The arm holes are hand stitched as this is where I turned the dress through after stitching in the lining. 

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There is no doubt that this dress will get a lot of wear. I’ve already worn it twice in a week and half. I feel great when wearing it and I think a lot of that is due to the shape as it is very feminine. I love the nipped in at the waist look and how the dress skims over the hips. I did wonder if I would feel a little conscious about the print but I haven’t at all. It is nice to have something so different in my wardrobe. I’m looking forward to wearing this most of the year round as I suspect it will look good with tights and heels and possibly boots in the winter. This definitely won’t be my last Nicola - I already have another version stitched up!