The Seamstress Tag

Helen says…

Thanks so much to Hollie from Hollie Sews for putting this together! I’ve loved watching everyone responding on YouTube. Here are my answers…


1) Who are you?

I’m Helen, obviously, and I live in the Hills which is in the very outer Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. I’m studying history at the moment, undergraduate, and hoping to do post-grad in costume/fashion history. I’m just shy of 24 years-old. I also study French at University.

2) When & why did you start sewing?

I remember being a child, maybe 7-8 years-old, and having my mum teach me how to do blanket stitch on a little felt vest for my teddy-bear. Other than that, I started sewing clothes for myself in 2010. At the start my makes were very dodgy, and I never really learned proper techniques. I then stopped sewing steadily for a few years, basically because things just weren’t working. In the last couple of years I’ve started sewing properly again, and in the last 6 months particularly I have noticed a steep increase in my skills and confidence – basically coinciding with my discovery of Lisa from Sew Over It and the other vlogs on You Tube.
3) What is your favourite or proudest make?

Everything I’ve made in the last two weeks!! I just finished a couple of cotton tops that I LOVE, which will soon be on the blog. Also, a bow tie for my friend Ellie, 2 sleeveless dresses….and just a few days ago, a Mesa dress. The Mesa dress in particular has the NICEST neck band I have ever dreamed of making!

I think that these two weeks really represent a consolidation of skills I have been learning in the past year or so, and also show that I am taking more care, not necessarily more time, with each make.

4) What is your most disastrous make?

There were so many in my early days! One that particularly stands out though, not because it was so horrendous but rather because it was so disappointing, was a t-shirt I made for my sister. It was using the Chickadee raglan sleeve t-shirt pattern free on BurdaStyle, from the user Prudence Rabbit. Which, by the way, is a brilliant pattern if you’re size 8 or can grade patterns! Go get it! So I made the t-shirt from a thin, sheer white knit, with opaque hearts dotted all over it, and then used an old white t-shirt to line the bust area so it wasn’t see-through. Unfortunately the fabric was just too thin for my machine, and it all got eaten up. So then I added a strip of lace to the front (to cover up how messed up the seam was), but that then was hand-stitched on in the most embarrassingly awful way, and was a brighter shade of white than the rest of the top. I still gave it to my sister, and for some lovely, kind, generous, ill-advised reason she accepted it gracefully.

The next time I saw it was when she included it in a bag of clothes she was throwing away, a couple of years later (probably unworn). I actually pulled it out and decided to keep it, and even stubbornly wore it twice before admitting it was awful.

The sad part is that the fabric was very sweet, and I think if I had owned an overlocker and chosen a better fabric for the lining, there wouldn’t have been any problems. She might not have liked it still, but it would have been at least wearable!

5) Where is your favourite place to go fabric shopping?

The Fabric Store on an unlimited budget, for sure.

In my dreams, Sew Over It in person, also on an unlimited budget.

In reality, Spotlight. I could go to Remnant Warehouse which is also affordable, and have had some success recently with buying fabric online through them. It isn’t close to our house at all though, and it’s tricky-ish to get to from Uni so I haven’t gone there yet in person.

I am moving to the UK soon though, and seriously looking forward to fabric shopping there! If you live in Glasgow or Edinburgh, please let me know!

6) What is your most used pattern?

This is a tricky one, because I have a lot of patterns that I have used three times or so, but they aren’t necessarily my most favourite ones. I do tend to try loads and loads of patterns and never really get confident with any, although in the last few weeks that attitude has been changing. A top three would look like:

The Chickadee tee – I’ve made three of these, and I love this pattern. It fits me perfectly and they layer well, there are five pattern pieces but they’re small and easy to put together. I think this will soon be equaled in the knit top stakes by the Erin top from Sew Over It’s So City Break ebook though.

Vintage New Look 6425 – I’ve only made two of these so far but it is such a simple, flattering woven pattern, bangs together easily and I’ve just about worked out all my adjustments on it. If you find this pattern, I do have some recommended hacks, but I will save them until I post about the dresses I have made.

Seamwork Mesa Dress – admittedly I have only sewn two of these, but honestly they are brilliant and so, so easy. Great for layering, great neckline, great instructions. I’ll definitely be making more, hopefully a lot more before I move to the UK and no longer have access to an overlocker 😦
7) Your most dreaded sewing task is…

Buttonholes, zippers, any hand sewing.

There are so many unfinished makes of mine which just need fastening. I have just noticed a free craftsy course on zippers though, which I will be doing hopefully next week. I think if I could do zippers easily that would drastically change my top three patterns. Also if I can work out how to sew a button on using the machine!

Actually, specifically, I hate hate hate and don’t really know how to tie knots/secure the ends of thread in hand sewing. HOW DOES ONE DO THIS NEATLY????

8) And your favourite sewing task?

….side seams? Straight stitching? Over-locking?

Or, designing and planning the makes!!
9) What is your favourite ‘sewing entertainment’?

There are so many TV shows I have watched the full seasons of and now miss! But generally I netflix TV shows, although I also love listening to the Threadcult and Seamwork Radio podcasts. You’ll notice the TV shows below are a mix of detective and costume-rich drama, finished with a lovely combination of both genres…

TV shows:
Downton Abbey
Upstairs Downstairs
The Bletchley Circle
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – watch this if you’ve never heard of it, funny, Australian, and great vintage costumes

10) Printed or PDF?

I’m going to say PDF at the moment, because they force me to trace the patterns which is better in the long-term, and easier to make adjustments to, and harder to lose because you always have the PDF.

I’ve also gotten very time-efficient at cutting out, sticking together, and tracing PDF patterns and I am planning to do a blog on my tips and tricks for the whole process.
11) What sewing machine do you use?

My mother’s Brother Super Ace II, Singer Confidence Quilter or something-or-rather Overlocker which I can’t quite remember the name off…

I have a more simple Brother which I have been meaning to get fixed all year, but haven’t been bothered to spend the money on (instead I’ve spent it on fabric!)

12) Do you have any other hobbies?

I like to knit simple things, I’m currently making my first jumper. I love beer tasting! Australia is so great for good craft beers. I also love to read, although with Uni I do tend to feel a bit text-fatigued and haven’t managed it as much in the last year. At the moment I’m reading The Old Ways which is a memoir/non-fiction book about walking ancient trails across the world by Robert Macfarlane. I also love walking! Although, again, I don’t do enough of it.

Well, thanks for reading and to everyone who has answered the call of the seamstress tag! I nominate, of course, Catherine!!!


Pattern Haul/Stash and Exciting News…

Helen says…
Sorry its been so long! I’m only going to show pictures of patterns on this blog entry, rather than fabric as well, because I want to get this up quickly and give you guys something to read before I put my makes up. Catherine will be posting soon too, just as soon as I remember to pass on our password to her again (she is hopeless with remembering passwords)!
So until the end of December, I plan on making one project per week, and working on or finishing an additional project from my pile of unfinished makes. Most of these just need buttons sewn on, or to be hemmed, and there are a few garments I’ve made or bought which need some minor adjustments.
Exciting News!! At the end of December I will be moving, for a whole year, overseas! I’m doing an exchange year with University, probably to Glasgow, or if not Dublin! I’m a little daunted as well though, because I started Uni later than most so I already tend to feel a bit isolated by my age at Melbourne, and I think moving to a new country will be more isolating still. SO, if you are in the area, please please please let me know – I’d love to meet up and do some fabric shopping! I will most definitely also go to London at some stage to see Sew Over It and that street everyone goes on about, so if you’re in the UK and want to meet let me know too.
So, back to the projects/patterns. Almost everything I am planning is (hopefully) something I will be able to wear in Melbourne Spring, and also layer up when I get to Glasgow. This may turn out to be wishful thinking, but if I don’t wear it over Winter in Glasgow hopefully I’ll at least be able to in Spring. The aim then, are interesting but trans-seasonal garments. I’m trying to make quick patterns for the most part, which I can manage to make in the time I have leftover from Uni and work.
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Enter Pattern One: Vintage (looks 70s but actually 90s) New Look 6425
I got this at the op-shop for just over $1. It looks like an easy make, but one with a few features I can add to make a more interesting garment. If I find some lightweight wool, I’d definitely use it to make view B with the buttons up the side, and do those as self-covered buttons. For the moment though, I’m going to make View D with the v-neck, out of two fabrics. Firstly a dark green cotton with cream coloured flowers that I got at The Fabric Store (they do ship to the UK and have a great range), and secondly in a lovely silky tencel in a blue grey with little grey pineapples on, for a summery version. I think both will be able to be worn with tights, and I actually have a dark green long-sleeve dress that will go under the floral one, so both have packing potential. Best of all, View D has no fastenings!
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Pattern Two: Simplicity 1370
This pattern was recommended by the lovely Rosa from Sewn, as something simple, very wearable, and quick to make. I’ve already made a version in black cotton sateen with an exposed zipper for work, and it does go together quickly and easily (although I need to learn how to use a zipper foot properly). I have a hounds tooth stretch bengaline from the Remnant Warehouse to make this in, which is almost a direct copy of a skirt Rosa made! I am also recycling a tablecloth of my mothers, which is a navy linen with white and red birds embroidered on it, quite South American looking. I’ll use some trims to add some details to this one, kind of a shorter version of a Frida Kahlo skirt (and much more fitted). Finally, I have an old pair of white jeans with a blue and black Aztec print on them that are too small for  me now, I think there should be just enough fabric in them to make this skit from.
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Pattern Three: Simplicity 1887
I bought this pattern because I love how the waistband is flat at the front but elasticated at the back – quick to make but a smarter finish. I’m going to make Version A, without the elastic at the ankle, and probably with some volume shaved out at the side seams so they’re a bit less clown-like. Hopefully you can add the tie to this version, because I think that’s a really lovely feature.
This will be out of a khaki tencel from Spotlight. It won’t be something for overseas, just for Spring/Summer in Aus. I have a little cropped bustier-type top with a khaki jungle print that I love, but struggle to wear. I don’t like just wearing it with jeans, because it is so cropped – but until now I also haven’t had any other bottoms it will go with. These will hopefully change that.
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Pattern Four: Vogue 1168
I’ve had this pattern for a few years and have never made anything from it because it looks, well, hard. Classy, not something I could just mess up. I love the shirt, but I think I’d reserve it for a sewing class or some one-on-one tutorials because I’m not comfortable with collars. I am finally planning to make the wide leg/palazzo pants though. I bought a RTW pair last Summer, and found them luxurious and flattering to wear, lovely and cool even in a Melbourne heatwave. They cinch in my waist, hide my larger bum and thighs, and exaggerate my height which is all fab.
I’m going to make them from a dark blue tencel with paler tiny polka dots on it. The fabric will probably be a bit heavy for most of Summer here, but perfect in Spring or at night. I think that there is enough softness and drape to the tencel for it to suit the wide leg. They might just be fine for Glasgow/Dublin as well, although I’m not sure about the rain…
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Pattern Five: Mesa Dress by Seamwork and Closet Case Files Nettie Bodysuit
I’ve put these two together because I’m not sure which pattern I’ll use with which fabric.
I have 3 or 4 knits sitting at home waiting to be sewn into it, I’m just a little terrified of using a twin needle and all the other fiddling things to be done with knits. We do have an overlocker so that will make it easier, and I really should just take the plunge.
The Fabrics: First off I have two $3 a meter knits I bought on sale at Spotlight. One has a white background with a sort-of abstracted large neon floral print, outlined in black. The other is a floral again, but in much deeper colours (and is a little harder to describe).  Both have a bit of a sixties feel to them. I have three meters of the first and two of the second so I could potentially make both from each fabric.
I also have a dark blue sweater knit with a gold chevron, I’m hoping to make this in a long sleeve Nettie with a high back and scoop neckline. And finally I have a black knit with silver swirly designs which I’d also like to make the long sleeve version from for Winter/nights out.
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Pattern Six: Simplicity 1284
I love sixties fashion! The boxy shapes of this pattern look as though they’ll be easy to make. I’m going to try View D, or possibly View E, maybe with long sleeves, out of a bright but dark chevron wool I bought yonks ago at The Fabric Store. I may end up needing to use contrast sleeves, I think I only have a meter of fabric.
I do need to find some lining for this which is slowing me down – although so is being terrified of messing up the beautiful wool. I think once something has been in your stash for over a year, though, you should just put aside your fear – you’re not going to wear it if its sitting in a box un-sewn, either.
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Pattern Seven: Simplicity 2365
This is kind of cheating because I have already made one version of this top, a sleeveless view B. And I love it. It was actually quick to sew up and the pin tucks were effective but easy. However, I’m going to hack this pattern to make it suit my style a bit more. I’m hoping to adjust the neckline so it doesn’t have a collar, and the neck itself is more open – maybe a v-neck or maybe just a lower round neck. It’s hard to tell in the line drawing but that top darker bit on the center front is a split. I’m also going to make a cropped version, with the pin tucks extending to the hem – this will probably look weird on its own, but tucked into jeans or a high-waist skirt I think it will be slimming. Also both for the version I’ve made and those I plan to make, I’ve omitted the sleeves. I tend to wear sleeveless tops and dresses with long-sleeves underneath in Winter, also with this made out of cotton it leaves it light enough for Summer in Melbourne.
 I have a light cotton with a beautiful vintage-y kind of odd floral pattern, and also a black rayon to make this with. I am thinking of making the black rayon with sleeves with half-circle flounces at the elbows, if I have enough fabric.
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Pattern Eight: Simplicity 8131
I do like to support indie pattern makers as much as possible, so I should have bought Sew Over It’s pussy bow blouse (which I have been looking at for yonks). This one was going for cheap online though, and I don’t have much money so I just went for it. It will probably have less-good instructions and fit and I’ll end up regretting it…oh well.
I have two rayons I bought a few weeks ago for a pattern hack attempt, but I think at least one of them will end up being a trial of View B or D. I can’t decide whether I want the wide or narrow tie…I think wide?
I’m sure I have lots of suitable flowy fabrics in my stash, but the other one that comes to mind is a silk or chiffon (or something) I bought around 5 years ago from The Fabric Store. It was going to be a maxi skirt, but I had an argument with Catherine about how to construct it and I think that soured the idea for me (I know, ridiculous). Anyway, I’m glad now. It has quite a big digital print on it, with some unicorns and a full moon, in a lilac/silver/pale blue delicate colour scheme. I’m hoping to have enough for View A, although I might alter the sleeves to just be straight, not bell sleeves (those are bell sleeves, right?)
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Last But not Least: Triple Triangle Dress from No Patterns Needed by Rosie from DIY courture.
Catherine bought this book and when it arrived a few weeks ago I fell head over heels for this version of the triple triangle dress. I love the African Wax print, I love the length, I just think it looks so elegant and interesting. Almost straight away I thought of this scuba we both bought a while ago, which has a cream background and this burnt orange/khaki kind-of striped pattern. It reminds me of pipes under the ocean which have a whole lot of different coral growing on them, in maybe an artsy video game?
I got on Instagram and commented on one of Rosie’s posts, asking if it would be possible to make this dress from scuba instead of the woven its designed for. She said it definitely would, and put me on to Melissa from Fehrtrade who was planning/has now made one from scuba. They were both so lovely and quick to respond, so thank-you guys! I can’t wait to make this one, and if I see any African wax print I’m going to make a version with that straight away as well!
Inspired by House of Pinheiro’s recent Instagram challenge, I’m going to tackle a stash buster in the next few months as well. My wonderful friend Ellie is a musician, and I’ve noticed her wearing bow ties on stage recently. I have quite a lot of scrap fabric in pieces big enough, so I’m going to use this Liberty pattern and tutorial to make some for her (and hopefully I’ll get to see her play in them).
OK! That was a lot! If you’ve managed to read until the end, thank-you so very much for enduring my rambling! And a few questions for you – what should I expect in Glasgow, weather and fashion wise? Have you made or been looking at any of the above patterns? How did you go, or what will you be making them in?
Happy sewing! Helen, x.

Party dresses for grown-ups

This is about little girl dresses for grown ups. I’m an enthusiast of Marcy Tilton’s cirque dress – so much so that I’ve made enough to warrant a blog post solely on the different incarnations I’ve made. I will do that soon. But my latest excursion into dress-up world is Marcy Tilton’s French apron dress. I bought the pattern because I saw it modelled at a craft show. I’d looked at the pattern & thought, hmmm those shoulder straps – quite complicated & not sure about those deep pockets. Then I saw it in person and thought, lovely mix of fabrics & what a great thing to do with left-over stretch fabrics. In other words I was sold.

French apron dressFortuitously Helen & I had an all-day sewing workshop planned, so I bought some stretch knit, cut out the pattern pieces – so many! – & took them along to the workshop. What I didn’t have were all of the instructions. Pattern companies should realise that some less-than-organised sewers cannot possibly get the pattern pieces and the instructions back into those too-small envelopes. I’ve taken to putting the little envelopes into bigger envelopes but this pattern had eluded my new system & the instructions had fallen out, somewhere. I’d looked in all the usual places to no avail. Oh well, I thought, if anyone can make sense of this pattern without instructions, it’s our mistress of calm, Anne from Sew Classy. She raised an eyebrow when she saw the one sheet I had – fortunately that was for the frightening pockets – but she assured me that we could nut it out together.

We could & we did. I’m wearing the dress as I type this. Do I love it? Well, I’d have to admit that I don’t love it yet. Quite. I think the shape isn’t particularly flattering. When I put the original dress on, the back, which is shorter than the sides, looked weird so I added a piece of the mesh fabric that was my second contrast fabric to equalise the lengths. I didn’t use three contrast fabrics because a) I’d failed to buy one & when I looked through my stash there was nothing suitable and b) I just felt it would all be a little overwhelming. This additional strip might mean that the back doesn’t hang the way the original should, but it does look less – well, frankly, less as though something is missing.


Although I don’t think it’s a particularly flattering garment, I do think it’s very wearable. The vivid colours mean that it is an immediate autumn & winter pick-me-up. The deep pockets mean that you can attend a wine-tasting & shove your sunglasses safely away. The dress is made to go with leggings – making it an ideal in-between season wear, but also extending it into winter wear – and I like the mesh lace I’ve used which means that the leggings are also on display.


I think my daughter’s quite right – Marcy Tilton’s dress patterns are little girl dresses for grown-ups. I could put a small doll in one of these pockets, or a shell collection. The bottom is swingy & in today’s strong winds, I felt I might just be blown up into the clouds. There’s something festive about wearing a dress that speaks to your inner child. Will I make another? Now that I’ve actually found the missing instructions sheets, I might.

Where were they? Oh, you had to ask, didn’t you? They were in my office. I had searched that room. I’d claimed to have been through it from top to bottom. The instructions were sitting in plain sight on the auto-tray which holds my (overdue) library books where I can’t miss returning them to the library. They were right beside those books. Quite probably I’m not emotionally ready for tailored suits and knife-pleated skirts….

Not-so happy pants…

Helen says…

As you might remember from my inspiration, I love cropped trousers (talking of inspiration, check out my cropped trousers pinterest board). That little bit of bony ankle poking through makes me feel much more slender than I actually am! Whether you’re wearing heels, ballet flats, or sandals, I just love them.

I’m also a fan of high-waisted trousers, I just find them more versatile and flattering.

Enter Burda 4632, or that vintage pattern Catherine found for 25c at the opp-shop;

View ‘b’ has belt loops and centered splits at the ankles, while view ‘a’ has welted pockets (optional) and side splits at the ankle. Both have darts at the back and two pleats on either side at the front. I made view ‘a’, and in the end left the welted pockets out (more on that later).


Enter major problem #1. All in a fluster when I found some whimsical, lovely blue checked fabric, spotted with daisies, at Spotlight, I asked for the wrong amount. I read a different pattern and got about .6m too little. No worries, I thought, I’ll just make them a little shorter or something.

Enter major problem #2. This pattern does not include seam allowance. Did I read the instructions first? No. So off I go, carefully arranging the pieces so they just fit (when I say just fit, I mean they were lying exactly next to each other, edge on edge). Then I cut them out. Then I read the instructions. Then I cry.


This fabric has no stretch, so I couldn’t just keep my fingers crossed. In the end, I made my seam allowances as small as possible, left out the pockets so there would be no extra bulk, and only put one pleat in the front. And viola! They fit perfectly…at the waist and bum.


I actually can’t walk upstairs or sit in these, because the calves are too tight. Do I have abnormally big calves?? I did try cutting off the bottom legs of the pants, so they finished just below the knee, but that looked awful. So I’ve sewn them back on, and while they look great in photos, they’re totally impractical.

Really the solution is to turn them into a great pair of high waisted shorts, which I will do soon. I’ll update this later when my heart is a little less broken.


Having said all this, I still love the pattern. I’m not happy with the fit at the back of the thigh, I wish it was a little tighter – although I understand that is not how this pattern is supposed to fit, and also it couldn’t be tighter in a non-stretch fabric. I’ve bought some cotton sateen with a slight stretch, so I’m going to try again with this and make a pair for work. I must look up how to keep those front and back folds nice and crisp, however.

Wish me luck and common sense!

Ferns and thread and more ferns…

Helen says…

I always check the upholstery section at Spotlight for bargains, and this was one of those – 100% cotton for $4.99/m. I subconsciously fell in love with this print, and have been back three times for more fabric. Than the other day it hit me why – Sew Over It and Lisa Comfort. In one of the very first sewing vlogs of hers I saw, Lisa was wearing a cropped t-shirt in a similar green and blue fern print. The bright, almost washed-out video reminded me of sitting in a colourful cafe on a Summer morning.

This print is not quite as good as Lisa’s, but like I said, the association is strong. I wanted to make a top and dress that would be comfortable on hot days, but layer-able for the crisper mornings before a hot day. On those morning I might add a light grey base underneath, or a cropped jumper on top.


1. This is the third ‘twirly top’ I’ve made from McCall M6751. It’s an easy project, although it takes a long time to do the bias binding. I was in a rush so I left out the pocket. This one hangs a bit better than my last 2 because the cotton is stiffer, it also doesn’t fly up at the back when it’s windy. I must admit, in this photo it hasn’t been ironed, so it doesn’t look as though it hangs better. But it does, you’ll have to trust me!


If you make this pattern up yourself, I would consider putting a press stud in the back to stop it flying up in the wind. Otherwise, this is a great, easy pattern and the sizing was perfect for me. Really easy instructions to and I can see this working on a lot of different women.

My only problem with this is the bias binding – although I love glitzy stuff and it’s really pretty, it’s also really scratchy even after a wash. Hopefully a couple more washes and it will settle down, but that is preventing me wearing it without a layer underneath.


2. The fern shift dress was a pretty easy pattern to work out, the only difficulty for me being the front seam – one of those fitting-a-triangle-int-a-square type jobs. Having said that, once you start it isn’t really as hard as you think, and I’m sure I’ll get better at this the more I practice. It also is a lovely seam, so flattering for my bust line and shape. So worth it.


The only adjustments I’ve made to the pattern are adding a hook and eye at the back and shortening the length. I also  machine-stitched in the zip, in my own rather uncouth method without a zipper foot. I also didn’t line the dress or use a facing, finishing the arm holes and neck with bias binding. You are supposed to use interfacing, but again I felt the fabric was stiff enough without it.

So I do love this dress, but I have one tincy problem with it – there’s a bunch of fabric around my stomach. Does anyone else have this routinely happen with shift dresses, and how do you fix it? Just scrap the idea of a ‘shift’ and add princess seams?


3. And last but not least, and in fact first in order of making, is a second fern top. This was a self-drafted pattern from a little top Catherine found for me at an op-shop. I spent ages working out how to try and make the pattern and I think I can confidently say I failed miserably. I have no idea how to draft patterns. This is definitely something I’d like to learn in the future.

A really dodgy picture of the original…

The struggle I had was working out how to insert darts into a pattern piece – I could find instructions on how to move them, but not how to insert them. I knew that bust darts were the gem of the original. In the end I decided I would sew the darts in once I’d fitted straps and tried it on. Typically, I forgot – and did all of the bias binding.

I love the idea of this, but I think I really will have to unpick that bias binding and add the darts, because it just doesn’t fit properly and looks nothing like the original.


I also did the shoddiest possible job on the straps because I couldn’t work out how to use Catherine’s tube inside-out-er gajiga-thing. If you know what I mean. Finally, the straps aren’t cut on the bias so they have no stretch to them at all, which does make it hard to tie up.

So plans? Unpick bias binding. Add darts. Take off straps. Buy some matching leather or tubing or complimentary straps. Redo bias binding. Sew on good straps. Wear and smile.

Goodbye for now, and wish me luck & common sense!!


Winter must be coming – soon!

Catherine says…

Okay, I admit it. It’s too hot to knit. However, earlier this summer when it was really really hot, we went to the beach – which is an hour & a half drive there, an hour & a half drive back. (Why yes, I can do simple maths!). This led to at least 9 hours knitting time during which I finished the Crescent Phases shawl, which is the colour of the ocean, and will always, now, remind me of those Phillip Islands trips with combinations of my husband, daughter & step-daughters.

The pattern was modified when I read on Ravelry that some knitters found the shawl a little narrow – a narrow shawl was not going to be a good use of this hand-spun warmth. I added some rows, which I think also meant that the shawl is a little longer than it would otherwise be. Due to its shape, it hangs beautifully from the shoulders & it will be very warm – the fibre is soft, squishy & luxurious. The fibre is the Loch Ness Mystical spin along fibre from Ixchel Fibres – the colours are glorious. I didn’t have enough, I didn’t think, to make an entire shawl, so I plied it with some merino tops I bought at Open Drawer. The Loch Ness fibre was a blend of North Ronaldsay-Valais Blacknose, Silver Infused Seaweed, Cashmere & Angora.

I can’t wait until winter!

Crescent Phases Shawl


Unfinished Sewing Projects…

Helen says…

I’ve found there are usually three reasons why I will abandon a project partway through. Most commonly, after cutting it out and sewing most of it together, I will find it doesn’t actually fit very well. I’m not experienced with placing darts, making muslins, or adjusting patterns – so these are definitely skills that I need to learn this year.

The second most common hiccup is that I have run out of thread, don’t have a zipper or button, or other notions I might need. Even today, I have been working on a shift dress that I first had to put on pause because I hadn’t bought a zip, and now my thread has run out (and it doesn’t fit well!). With a little organisation, this could be easily fixed.

The third reason is that I crave instant gratification. I long for 2-hour dresses and skirts. If only all commercial patterns were made simply and for my exact size so that I could just piece them together, literally in a jiffy! So often I will start a day with a new project, hoping that this one will be more simple than the dress I started the day before that isn’t quite working properly. Then I will end that day with 2 partly finished projects, no instant gratification, and the feelings of frustration and incompetence.


Sewing should be fun, and should provide satisfaction and finished projects, as far as I’m concerned. For too long I have been doing things half-arsed, as something to do, and giving myself more frustration than joy. If I want to enjoy this blog, and a me-made 2016 wardrobe, something has to change. I need a goal, and a plan.

My goal is to end 2016 with no unfinished projects.

My plan is;

  1. To make lists of sewing to do and unfinished planning in Evernote, and be scrupulous in updating these
  2. To stick to the patterns I own, as repeatedly making and adjusting them will allow me to eventually ‘learn’ the pattern and be able to complete it more quickly
  3. To book in for a casual sewing class with my local seamstress when I need help to finish a project – for example when something needs darts put in or to be taken in
  4. To buy all the notions, interfacing, and thread at the start of a project, before even cutting it out, so that I don’t have to stop halfway through to go and get them.


So for the moment, here is a gallery of the unfinished projects I will be working on, for this first quarter of 2016:



Self-portrait with Frida

Catherine says…

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I discovered the work of Frida Kahlo but her stern self-portraits with their challenging, sometimes even hostile gaze, enchanted and disturbed me. I read a biography of her and was charmed by her suffering, her wildness and her impetuosity. Back then I believed in art and style, and thought that suffering might well be a necessary part of that equation. My own physical suffering was limited and I read about Kahlo’s with grim, vicarious interest.


I grew up in Brisbane – in the sub-tropics, and I’d been to Central America when I was fifteen, with my step-grandmother. I’d visited Mexico and seen beautiful pottery in a museum, I’d see women weaving by the roadside in Cusco and walked through markets in Guatelmala. Long after the details of the trip faded, the vivid colours, handweaving and playful pom poms remained in my memory. I wasn’t brave enough to buy anything other the ubiqutous poncho, but when I became interested in Frida Kahlo I had a tactile memory of the clothes she wore in those self-portraits.

If I had a style back then, it was eclectic and based more on economics, reading and a wistful imagined life, like those I read about so voraciously – Anais Nin, Colette, Colette2Kahlo and others. A phrase from a novel could inspire me – D. H. Lawrence’s mention of coloured stockings in Women in Love sent me on a search for coloured tights – I don’t think I found any in Brisbane in the early eighties! I bought a pale blue Country Road dress because I imagined it was the colour of a prairie sky. I wore khaki overalls I found in Paddington Market in Sydney and which I’d embroidered with an illustration from Le Petit Prince.LePetitPrince

At eighteen, I purchased a hand-spun, hand-knitted shawl – it was unbelievably expensive and ate up a good deal of my student allowance, but I had it for years. There was something about the quality of the undyed yarn that I’d coveted. I had a spinning wheel and could spin then, but I wasn’t a knitter and this shawl, with it’s lace border, gave me a sense of what I could aspire to, one day.  I was delighted with the old-fashioned nature of the shawl as a garment. Wrapped in it, I could imagine walking on the moors, composing heartbroken poetry as I laboured against the wind and the rain to reach my home and the meagre warmth of a small fire.

My relationship with clothes was like that – I had an exiled Russian princess dress, an ‘Edwardian’ silk blouse, a Colette French dress and an androgynous corduroy jacket that was part Annie Hall, part Radcliffe Hall.Radclyffe_Hall I op-shopped keenly but was just as capable of imbuing new clothes with the same glamour – a sequinned boob tube was my answer to Nicholas Roeg‘s doomed protagonist in Bad Timing – a movie I saw at least three times. I didn’t wear it much – the sequins scratched and the stretchy elastic flattened out my already flat-chest. Still, when I put it on, I was Theresa Russell in my head, if not in my mirror.

Theresa Russell

What has all this to do with Frida Kahlo? I’m now at an age when I can unravel and embraace my own style and eccentricities. I’ve long since relenquished any notion of being ‘groomed’. I just don’t do that well. I love colour, texture, an eye-catching handcraft feel which isn’t too shoddy. One of my favourite garments is a black wool stole my mother bought for me on my twenty-fifth birthday. The folkloric embroidery is a vibrant mix of colours – it’s very Frida.

Last year I found some machine crocheted material at Spotlight in a similar mix of colours. I snapped up a metre. Helen looked at it with disdain and my best friend tried to hide her scepticism. When I put on that skirt with its carnival colours and scalloped festivity, I feel happier and braver in Melbourne’s grey winter. It’s very Frida.

12607117_10153415744100698_893093648_nThis year I’m restriciting my purchase of new clothes to necessary items I can’t make. I might add a couple of warm basic garments in winter – I have my eye on some available from a local store, that are made from beechwood. I might have to spring for a new bathing suit – if I can find anything that is a flattering one-piece, rather than a tankini. I will buy boots in winter – that’s as inevitable as catching the winter cold. Other that that, however, I’m making things or buying clothes on ebay. In the making department, I’m embracing colour, texture and eye-catching handcrafted detail. I can no longer get away with an exiled Russian princess dress, but I can add appliqued exotic flowers to the hem of a black linen shirt. I can afford a ruffle. I can ditch balance for assymetry, factory banality for handstitched details and make some flowers to attach to my hats. It can all be a little Frida – at least in my own head!Frida2


Sewing Plans

Helen says…

We’re expecting it to be quite a hot Summer in Australia this year, and in fact we have already been blasted by heat a few times. So over the next few months I’m going to focus on heat-resistant clothing – simple shift dress shapes, shell or airy tops, and slightly longer skirts which aren’t uncomfortable when you’re sitting on sweaty seats.


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  1. This Burda cropped top is so cropped! I have made one in a striped linen which looked lovely, except it’s impossible to take advantage of the cool a-line shape when it is this short and you have to wear something underneath it. I can’t wait to try this again though, extending the front to my hip line. Not sure which fabric I’ll choose for this one.
    2. Catty found this pattern at the op-shop for 25c! Such a bargain. I love high-waisted slim trousers. For Summer, I’m hoping to make it work with a shorter length, cut just below the knee.
    3. I originally had this pattern to make trousers from, but actually I think the pattern Catty found is much more sleek and attractive.
    4. So this is my fabric for the first go at these trousers. It’s a simple cotton gingham, but the little daisies are kind of sweet.
    5. A while ago I bought a black linen pencil skirt off ASOS that finishes below my knees and features a split at the center front. It’s very flattering, cool in Summer, and doesn’t let you stick to seats! I’ll be making view C, with a slim waist and a bit shorter than shown here.
    6. This is the soft chambray I will use to make the pencil skirt. I’m going to try and find some dark wooden buttons to match this fabric.
    7. Ever since I watched Lisa from Sew Over It UK’s vlog on her shift dress collection, I’ve longed for a shift dress pattern. I hate printing and cutting out patterns from all the A4 sheets though, so I haven’t bought her pattern. Instead, I’ve found this one with my favourite v-neck, and a couple of others to round out my options.
    8. Originally I was going to make this into pyjamas, but I kind of think the fabric is too unique and interesting for something hidden. So I’m going to showcase it with the shift pattern, and try and find some white embellishment for the neck.
    9. Aren’t the cape and jacket adorable?! I can’t wait to make them in Winter. This is another potential shift dress pattern, for when I don’t want a v-neck.
    10. I’m going to give this a go without sleeves or the belt. I’m trying to dress more bravely like Catty does – so I think the option for contrasting fabric will be a subtle way of achieving this.
    11. Vie Domestique has made the most beautiful interpretation of this dress! That’s why I bought the pattern. Again, there is the opportunity to use a contrasting fabric.
    12. So, this is actually an old sheet of my step-dads…Because it is so old, the fabric has become so lovely and soft. I have always loved the print too. This will become a simple shift that’ll be great for heatwaves.
    13. Again, an old sheet. I’m not sure what I’ll make from this – another shift with contrasting yoke in the blue?
    14. So this is the most versatile fabric I have ever bought and I am In. Love. I also have it in grey tones and it was only $5!! A meter! At spotlight in the upholstery section. I have it in these greens and also in  grays. I might make a shift dress from this, or another open back tank top, or who knows…
    15. I think this will be a really useful pattern to wear under sheer shirts with high-waisted trousers or skirts. I love vintage patterns, as you can probably tell. I don’t like looking all pin-up or all rockabilly though. Something like this is great for me, because I can pair it with very modern shaped shirts, leather-look jeans, etc.
    16. I think this fabric is so adorable, it reminds me of a Kimya Dawson song. I’m going to make it into the halter top.
    17. O.K so this fabric was originally a tulip dress, which was never very flattering on me. The bodice is beautiful, and I’m thinking of leaving it intact and just adding some matching halter straps, again to wear under sheer shirts.
    18.Another little halter top will be made out of this, to match a full circle midi skirt that I have already made. This will probably be my first go at the halter top pattern. This fabric is synthetic something, and not the nicest to touch, but it does look nice and it’s not super uncomfortable. But I still don’t mind wasting it if the pattern doesn’t turn out right.
    19. This open-back tank has been an absolute lifesaver during the couple of heat waves we’ve had already this year. I’m definitely making more!
    20. I got this as a remnant for $1.65, and it matches a Zara shirt I just got perfectly! It’ll be a simple, high waisted straight skirt.

I mean, that’s not too many projects…right??


Catty says…

Plans for 2016 sewing (with a little bit of knitting!)


  1. Beat the heat – I love Marcy Tilton’s cirque dress & have made three now, all collarless. I’m planning on making another two out of summer weight fabric & a third for winter to wear with long sleeved t-shirts.
  2. Merchant & Mills factory dress – I ordered this pattern ages ago but it wasn’t until I saw a version that had different fabrics for the bodice & skirt that I decided I had to make it. I also want to make some more from the All Season Wardrobe Workbook.
  3. Working on finding a good long-sleeved t-shirt pattern for winter. I’ve tried a Burda boatneck & might modify that.
  4. Working also on some good cardigan patterns for winter & in-between
  5. Also want to find a good short- & long-sleeved top pattern, suitable to wear with skirts & jeans. At the moment, I’m tempted by Style Arc.
  6. I also want to try the Marcy Tilton patchwork dress for an in-between seasonal dress.
  7. More leggings! There was a beautiful cherry red velvet pair in one of the Poirot series which made me crazed with envy – I am definitely on the look-out.
  8. The long-sleeved Marcy Tilton shirt might be one of my shirt answers, too. I have a pale blue chambray denim for this. I plan to have feature buttons.
  9. A pair of knitted socks each month – how hard can that be?
  10. More hats – I won’t actually make these….but I might make the patio lounge pants to go with them.
  11. Knickers – part of my waste-less year. Beautiful knickers from scraps.
  12. Spinning! Yes, please….


2016 sewing is going to be about colour & texture & handstitched details. It’s going to be flowers & appliques & artful patches. It’s going to about fabric combinations that are unexpected & pleasing, buttons that draw the eye. I want hats for summer, shawls for winter & berets with pins. I want bold tights, gorgeous leggings & colourful socks. I want strappy summer sandals & stompy winter boots, boots & more boots! Marcy Tilton may just be my favourite designer at the moment, but I’d like to give Merchant & Mills a run for their money & I will be returning to Style Arc & Burda, too. This is the year I’d like to trace patterns, keep better track of patterns & make pattern notes. I’d like an organised stash, an organised workspace & a mending basket. I’d like to reduce impulse buying, but be bold about colour choices & fabric mash-ups.

I want to also try my hand at some fabric printing – oh the plans, the joyful plans. Now, if I can just ditch my day job….