Swirl dress sewalong

I’m a binge sewer. I like to cut something out in the morning and wear it that night. Terribly impulsive and impatient, me. When Beccie posted about a sewalong for a swirl dress, I signed up in a flash. It’s an old-skool design I’d always wanted to try but hadn’t a pattern (or energy to draft one). Huzzah! But then I had a pattern! And I wanted to sew it up! So I did. swirl I added about 2″ to the bodice length but found the skirt surprisingly long. I also tucked one edge of the pockets into the side seams. Pink is not really my colour, so it was a wearable-muslin sort of effort that I might end up passing on to a friend who is less pink-phobic, and I’ll make it again in a more me-ish colour. I can attest to its comfort and utility, though, particularly in hot weather!

I’m very much looking forward to seeing all the other versions pop up in the sewalong, but looks like, this time, I’ll just have to be patient…

Things I’ve learned sewing this year

1. When you find a great palazzo pants pattern, you’re going to need to make more than one pair.

Because, according to Else, “since the days of the Romans, there is no style more graceful, elegant or more flattering to the feminine form.” Seriously, the marketing copy on these suckers is just one florid adjective away from AS SEEN ON TV. (The pattern copy also declares them ‘party pants,’ a term better left to German Sparkle Party, I feel.)


Also, if you make a pair out of a large blue and white gingham, your boss will tell you “I have pyjamas just like that” every time you wear them to work. Oh, and, the legs are so wide – so wide – that you can tie the ends in a bow when you’re riding your bike to prevent oily caught-in-chain mishaps, and sport a temporary pirate pantaloon look.

2. The stakes are very high with wedding dresses. Especially when the fabric is hand-woven.

But if you can hack the pressure, it’s just about the nicest thing you can do for a beloved chum. I don’t have a photo of her wearing it (actually, rocking it is probably more accurate because she looked flipping amazing) but I do have a photo of the silk she wove, YES, WOVE, to make the bodice. The pattern, the drape, the lustre – oh so very lovely.

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However I was filled with terror that one foul snip would send her back to the loom and our friendship on the rocks. Because you can’t just buy more fabric if you bugger it up. To insure against buggering up, there was a lot of fitting and hand-basting-with-silk-thread, and prevaricating and hand-wringing. It paid off.

3. If it’s nice, make it twice. Immediately.

A lesson learned with the palazzo pants but reinforced with Butterick 7394.



The first iteration made from a vintage 1960sish poplin (thank you, Queensland op shop) uses the bodice from Butterick 9394 with a frankensteined-on-the-fly full circle skirt. Because I wanted something new to wear to the wedding, and circle skirts are good for dancing, and you dance at weddings. Plus, geometry is cool; I like pi and any practical applications thereof. Then the simplicity and goodfittingness of the bodice persuaded me just days later to try once more with feeling, using a stretch cotton sateen from the stash (Rorschach or dalmation spots? You decide) and the original 6-gore skirt from the pattern. It is pink, though, so I don’t quite trust it yet.

4. Gelatine is amazing

I read somewhere on teh interwebs (aha! It was in Threads) that putting slippery fabrics in a gelatine bath makes them stiff and much easier to cut and sew. I fished out an ancient jar of edible gelatine from the spice shelf, dissolved it and chucked in some silk twill that had vexed me and my sewing machine in the past. Hung it over a clothes horse and waited for the magic to happen.

THE MAGIC, IT WAS EXTRAORDINARY. That bratty vile stuff turns into docile papery compliance. A complete piece of piss to handle – why did I not know this sooner? Suddenly I am unafraid of the whole swathe of my stash I had felt unable to tackle.


And lo, I whipped up these silk pyjama pants for my sister-in-law’s BD in just an hour or two and I did not cry or swear [much].


Smug mastery of silk twill.


Nice photobomb, dog.


5. W.M.C. Jackson is delightful

If you live in Melbourne and your machine needs a tune-up, go to W.M.C. Jackson. I took my Bernina sewing machine and Janome overlocker in prior to sewing the wedding dress, and scrawled a note to the technician with descriptions of their ailments. In return I received detailed diagnosis over the phone and a reply neatly written below my messages. My overlocker, which has NEVER worked well, is  now *perfectly* balanced. Plus, when I couldn’t get a taxi home, one of the fourth-generation owners gave me a lift because he was heading to the bank near my place anyway. So, so lovely.

6. You can survive a stash cull

Between eBay, a garage sale and making things, my stash has taken a significant hit. And look! I still leave and breathe! Who knew?


So, what did you learn this year?

Mulberry madness

What colour are we calling this? Purple? Burgundy? Magenta? Plum? Mulberry?


No, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes. This is a blurry photograph. Let’s call it an arty action shot, shall we?



Still swirling.

Having made a rather slapdash and short-lived version of this old English Woman magazine pattern once before, I took a bit of time to get this one right. There was a muslining operation, there were fitting tweaks (narrow the neckline, lengthen bodice, futz with darts til they were right) and an all-important bilateral pocket installation. I was thinking of frankensteining a straight skirt, but at the last minute the deflated balloon won out. (I’ve used the skirt pattern before in this tropicale number and this Burda concoction.)

The fabric is this cheapie poplin from Spotlight which is wonderfully crisp. It makes a swishy noise when I move so it sounds like I mean business. And the colour is fabulous.

I made a very quick and easy belt with a wide strip of leftover fabric and a big belt buckle I found on the road. Really, I did. One side has asphalt marks on it from where it was run over by a car. I am the recycling champion of the universe!

Polyester girl

“The best thing about this polyester is that you don’t have to pre-wash it. This stuff ain’t going to shrink,” I gloated to Moggy as we both bought metreage of bargain basement poly brocade, she in grey, me in pink.

We went on a jaunt far far away into the ‘burbs to see the Mad Men frocks at Chaddy and felt it our duty to visit shops of op and fabric while we were on that side of town. Full update about all that in next post… for now, we’re staying true to the pink poly and its pleasing palm-tree pattern.

Inspired, I came home that evening and began chopping into it, schnippety schnip, unwashed. The pattern arrived in the post last week from etsy, a sterling example of a genre that I’ve been seeking for many months – frock with an  extravagant shawl collar.

There was a wee bit of alterating. I alterated the bodice length by 4cm and the collar accordingly. I shortened the sleeves to reduce dowdiness. I took the back neck in a bit because I have pissy shoulders. I was flummoxed by one of the front skirt pieces which was missing a whole 6 inches or so of width, which I had to improvise and add on (was it snipped off by previous owner? Were pattern pieces confused? Who knows?) but it all came good. There’s a bit of extra room in the back I’d take out next time.

The biggest surprise was the toxicity of the fabric. Oh, the stink of it… add an iron and it smelled like burning rubbish, an odour that clings to the throat. I was wrong about the pre-wash – it would have helped. It still smells plasticky but after a wash and an airing in the sun, I’m no longer choked by a dense cloud of putrid hydrocarbons. It will probably take weeks to cough up the deposits from my lungs.

In happier news, the buttons are flippin’ awesome:

I’m definitely making this pattern again. Maybe from one of the 23,523 other metres of fabric I bought on this trip… I might even treat myself to natural fibres. I’m worth it. And a straight skirt, even.

In wedding recap news: frock worked a treat, as did the hair doodad I whipped up on the morning of, from scraps of the Post-it Dress and some plumulaceous barbs of peacock, to wit:

Organza is the devil’s cloth

The dress to wear to my friend’s wedding this weekend is finished. And it almost finished me. Silk organza is EVIL… it’s probably made from REAL ORGANS. What a monstertrucker it is to sew, what with the unravelling and the wiggling and the stretching.

It’s the 1963 pattern, McCall’s 7052, with modifications. I just used the double-cowl bodice and then frankensteined skirt pieces from TWO different patterns. That’s metafrankensteining. I wanted a straight skirt at the front and a full one at the back, which means I could be vaguely sleek but still engage in wild, abandoned, drunken dancing (I anticipate it will be that kind of wedding. I hope it will be.) So I have a mullet skirt. Excellent.

I bought the fabric ages ago from Rathdowne Remnants, and lined it in an avocado-green silk you can still pick up for a song at Clear It. (Or, if you run out, and you know Moggy, you can raid her stash on a Sunday night like I did. Thanks, Moggy!) I couldn’t resist the blue roses, which I’m always drawn to for their genetic impossiblity, even though I don’t actually like roses much.  Also, I like the 1960s Readers Digest illustrative style of their rendering. It was before I knew how diabolical organza is and I won’t hurry to sew with it again… it’s just not worth it.

But after all that, I’m quite pleased with the result. Bring on the festivities!

Mid-winter? Tropicale!

Nothing like a bit of sartorial anachronism. Nope, I’m not talking about the 1950s pattern (Advance 8591 on top, same pattern as an earlier blouse, with a tacked-on skirt from an old English Woman magazine pattern), I’m talking about the use of loud and cheerful tropical print in the middle of winter when almost everyone else in Melbourne is head-to-toe charcoal, black and grey.

The fabric was once a pair of curtains from a junk market, quite sturdy weight. I love it. I’m also enjoying the rather silly shape of the skirt which, thanks to curved side seams and some deep inverted darts, hangs like a deflated balloon.  What I don’t love is the gape at the high square neckline due to my complete lack of shoulders (anyone know a good way to adjust this without losing any girth at bustline?).

In other news, I’ve taken up Moggy‘s recommendation to organise my ludicrous stash of fabric with a database app called Bento. It’s the ultimate in fabric nerdom. And it means you can (virtually) admire your stash anytime and carry it with you to see if you’ve got enough of something to justify buying another pattern (and yes, I’ve built a pattern database, too. What a dork).

Sulphurous delight

My 50s sheath made up in 70s lurid sulphur-yellow rose-printed corduroy that I warned you about in the previous post is finished and I’m delighted with it!

Who knew that mashing up two such disparate decades would work?! Love it. So soft and cosy. And the fit is great – the only thing I’d change for next time (and I suspect there WILL be a next time) is to bring it in a bit at the top of the back seam where it’s a bit roomy because I have no shoulders.

Otherwise, usual adjustments, blahdy blah, lengthened bodice, widened hips, same old same old.

I would like to make special mention of lsaspacey for two reason. One, is her series on designers on the Colette Patterns blog is awesome. Secondly, she requested that I make the sassy neck detail (done) and talk about the instructions for this given my proclivity to charge ahead without reading them properly. Let’s have a close look at the neckline, eh?

Right. Now the eagle-eyed among you will notice that the wee pointy bit does not line up with the raglan sleeve seam. It’s set back about, oh 1.5cm. How could this be? This is not in the pattern illustration! They lied, again!

Nah. I just didn’t read the instructions again. I sewed the facing on in one fell swoop whereas I should have stopped and started and pivoted and so on to work around this seam. Never mind – it worked out ok, but next time I’ll do it right, if for no reason other than penance, and I feel I owe it to lsaspacey…

Bad drafting indignation

So we rabid fans for old stuff love to shakes our heads nostalgically and talk about how modern sewing patterns are made for the masses and fitting is a dead art, woe, lament, etc. Old patterns were just so beautifully drafted, we say.

Not always so. I’m going to show you a zinger of an error in a pattern I’m working on. It’s a small thing… but surely, because it’s a small thing, the fact that it’s wrong is more puzzling and infuriating.

Here’s the offender – Simplicity 4232, a ‘4 Season Dress’ they say. Cute, eh? Raglan sleeves, French darts, sassy next detail.

Here’s the pattern piece for the bodice. That’s quite a deep dart, non? That’s to be expected because it’s doing the work of both a bust dart and waist dart. Ambitious little thing. Sure to go far in this world.

Let’s see how it lies when the dart is sewn and pressed flat. Traditionally you press bust darts down so let’s examine that first…

Oh my, that’ll never do. See how the dart isn’t caught in the side seam the whole way down? What’s that little triangle going to do flapping away in there, unrestrained? It’ll fray and make a weird bump on the outside, that’s what it’ll do. No no no. So maybe it’s meant to be pressed up? I advocate pressing up anyway because if you’re going to have extra bulk hanging about, wouldn’t you rather have it enhancing your bustular region rather than upgirthing your midriffery? I’m not the only one who feels this way – pattern~scissors~cloth is a bit more scientific about it, though…)

Oh my word, that’s even worse! Outrageous! You can imagine my indignation as I made up my muslin. Well, let’s see how Simplicity explains this disaster! Get me a time machine so I can zip back to whenever this pattern was made so I can shake my fist at the Simplicity patternmakers!

LOOK AT THAT! They don’t even DRAW DIAGRAMS accurately! Those bust darts are huge, how on earth are they little skinny slips of things now?


TRIM darts and press open.

Trim them.

Ahahaahahhaaa. Right.

My tip to you…. read every word of the instructions. Don’t just look at the pictures. Because old patterns were so beautifully drafted and they thought of everything.

By the way, if you’re easy offended by anachronism and the colour pallette of the 1970s, look away now.

I’m making this dress (with trimmed, open darts) out of some printed corduroy that my sister in law gave me when her mum cleaned out her fabric stash. I love to think the her mum had plans for a suit, or maybe overalls for this. And believe me, that gold colour is even more radioactive in real life. So awful it’s good. I”ll be like a walking velvet painting and eyeballs will be insulted everywhere.