Sew For Victory – Women at work

I’ve had a change of heart since I last wrote about Sew for Victory. Instead of a post-war Butterick 5281, I think I’d rather channel Rosie the Riveter on this one.

women of britain factories

Before war broke out, society had clear expectations of where a woman should be – at home. If she were to work, she shouldn’t earn more than her husband and marriage was meant to put a stop to any semblance of a career. But when World War II began, society had to buck up its ideas.

Suddenly, women weren’t just working in industries previously considered ill-suited for females, they were also actively encouraged to get stuck in as part of the war effort.

In the UK, unprecedented amounts of women joined the industrial workforce out of sheer necessity. Between 1940 and 1945, in engineering alone, the amount of skilled and semi-skilled female workers jumped from 75% to 85%. The picture was very similar over the pond, as thousands of American women helped make machines and airplanes in their hundreds.

It’s fascinating – while there are still problems with sexism in the modern workplace, we’ve come a long way from the idea of a female engineer being “radical” or just a plain necessity because of a shortage of men. For probably the first time since World War I, no one batted an eyelid at women carrying out so-called unfeminine work because they had more important things to worry about.

When the war ended, it was automatically assumed these women would leave their jobs as the men returned. In London, the monument to the Women of World War II depicts 17 sets of uniform and clothing which represents the hundreds of jobs women undertook and then left at the end of the war.

I think it’s safe to say, that while things didn’t change immediately, the work women did during the war began a shift in the perception of women’s role in society. The more I thought about this challenge, the more I wanted to pay tribute to that.

Practicality is key. The plan is to make something which isn’t restrictive and which could easily fit in to the wardrobe of a 40s working woman. And hey – while I usually sit in an office most of the day, every now and then I have to do something silly like tramp around mud looking for evidence of fly tipping (this resulted in some embarrassing photos), so it wouldn’t hurt to have a smart yet practical item for any journalistic eventuality.

Given my last-minute decision, I won’t be making trousers, because I’ve never made them before and I wouldn’t want to rush it! Instead, I’m going to take inspiration from Rosie and go for a classic shirt-dress. Comfy and non-restrictive, that’s the aim of the game!

How are your challenges going? It’s just as well Rochelle extended the deadline on this one, phew!

An ensemble from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing

I swear, you wait weeks for a project and then two come at once – my first two projects of the year are the blouse and pencil skirt from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing.

gertie skirt and top

Suffering from some wonky tripod syndrome…

In all, these two were a breeze to sew up – which is just as well considering how low my sewing productivity has been of late. As many reviewers have pointed out before me, Gertie’s book is a dream and full of classic and easily customisable patterns.

I put far more effort into the skirt than I did the blouse, which is refashioned out of a floor-length lace skirt I bought second-hand months ago. In the end, I decided to bother with neither a lining nor facings, instead finishing the raw edges with bias tape. The whole thing was stitched together using my overlocker, getting trustier by the minute now I’ve got the hang of it. A few adjustments were made to account for the scant fabric I actually had, as the original skirt was constructed out of four rectangles rather than the two.

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I had to fudge the sleeves a bit in the end because, lacking a muslin, the bust darts somehow ended up closer to my waist. Oops! To remedy the sagginess, I just did two tucks which I sewed on the outside of the fabric – you can barely notice really. I also widened the darts on the back of the neck, again due to some unnecessary sagging. The top’s too short to wear with anything other than a pencil skirt, but I love it.

Speaking of pencil skirts – this bad boy took a lot more effort. It was all about the muslin-making, meaning the whole thing took twice as long as it would have normally. Definitely worth it with such a form-fitting garment.

The only adjustments I really needed to make were to take in the skirt at the sides and to shorten it. I’m a petite one at 5″3, so this is a standard procedure for me by now. While I was reticent about the double darts at the front of the skirt, I actually really like them now.

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As suggested by Gertie in the book, the high waistband is boned. But instead of using Rigilene or steel boning, I opted for plastic cable ties. I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t cut corners – but they really have worked a treat. I’ll let you know how they hold up after multiple washes, but I’ve heard good things. To give it extra strength, I ended up using the muslin’s waistband instead of iron-on interfacing.

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Then there’s the buttonhole. Er, the less said about this, the better. We all know I hate buttonholes. For some bizarre reason I thought things would turn out better if I did it by hand. It looks like it’s been sewn by a child. Perhaps these things get better with time…

I opted for a more expensive lining than usual – I forget what kind of fabric it is, but it’s so smooth and keeps static away a treat. The main body of the fabric is a floral cotton poplin, the kind which sticks to your tights if you don’t line it!

Excuse the crinkles!

Excuse the crinkles!

While it’s by no means the tidiest, for the first time, I’m not ashamed to show you how this garment looks on the inside. My new favourite toy has to be my pinking shears – you wouldn’t think it to look at them, but these bad boys are unbelievable at keeping unravelling fabric at bay. All that was left to do by the end was to cover the raw edge on the hemline with a matching pink ribbon.

As I said before, my aim was to make a perfectly fitting pencil skirt and I think I’ve achieved that. The only change I would make would be to taper the lower half of the skirt in just a touch.

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Next up on the sewing block are two sewing challenges – the first being Sew For Victory (which began yesterday, but I shall post my plans later this week!) and the second the Mad Men challenge. Woo!

The Twitter Dress – finally!

Well, wasn’t this just a project that went on and on and on and on?

Pattern: Colette Patterns‘ Pastille (adapted)
Time taken: TOO BLOODY LONG
Fabric: Turquoise cotton fabric plus quilting cotton for bodice
Details: Wonky embroidered bird, lapped zipper, princess seams.

As I mentioned in my last post, setting myself a deadline really helped me get this project done eventually. It was a dress which started out with the best of intentions, inspired by a pair of earrings resembling the Twitter logo. The original dress used a vintage pattern I gave away earlier this year and I thought it would all be so easy because there were so few pattern pieces.

Except that didn’t quite work out and I was left wondering what on earth I should do with a dress which wouldn’t look out of place on the operating table. Enter Pastille, a pattern I’d originally pictured in this colour.

Because of the way the original bodice was cut, I had to make some adjustments to the front bodice, namely changing darts on the front to princess seams so I’d have separate pieces to work with. I also did a swayback adjustment because I knew my muslin of this pattern gaped a lot at the zipper.

Then it was a seemingly endless process of basting and unpicking as I tried to get the fit just right on the bodice. At first, the front stuck out at the armpits because I hadn’t taken enough out to accommodate the extra seams. I remedied this by taking half an inch off the shoulders and a little extra off the princess seams. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s the best fit I’ve managed in a garment yet.

Well, you all know how I feel about the embroidery, but I don’t think it was too shabby for a first attempt.

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough fabric to create the cool pleated effect on the skirt. I initially thought of adding a black band, but I thought it would a bit naff.

To finish, I added a lapped centre zipper because, while they’re certainly extra effort, I’m a big fan of how it keeps everything nicely hidden. Especially useful when you don’t actually have the right colour zipper to hand…

All that was left to add was a snippet of a ribbon I got free with Mollie Makes magazine a couple of months ago. I think it adds a nice touch, no?

This pattern, by the way, save for the back piece, is absolutely fantastic. I’ve honestly never made anything where all the darts lined up so perfectly and everything (save for the bits I had to change because of fabric limitations) went very smoothly. It’s a testament to how well-designed the Colette Patterns’ range is.

But, more than anything… I’M SO GLAD IT’S OVER. Finally, I can move on to something else! I’m planning to do a bit of experimentation with dye this weekend, but my next proper project will be part of the Peony sewalong.

In fact, I have another deadline for this one. Oh, and it’s a biggie.

In November, I’ll actually be in the Guardian’s offices for the Guardian Student Media Awards, because I only went and got nominated!!! (I’ve been keeping this under my hat for what feels like an eternity…) I can’t think of anything better than to show up in something I’ve made myself as part of a digital sewalong.

Who else is taking part? I’m properly excited!

What do you do when you hate your work-in-progress?

There are always going to be projects which don’t work out so well.

A poor choice in fabric, a cut which isn’t quite as flattering off the pattern envelope or even just the sheer effort of trying to force a project to go your way can turn a work-in-progress to an unfinished garment. These are the projects which make you want to run out to the shops and just buy a similar garment because it would be oh-so much simpler.

This is where I find myself with my Twitter dress. It started out so well! I found the fabric in Boyes while I visited York, even found some super-cool buttons and was planning to whip up a turquoise version of the sixties dress featured in the blog’s first giveaway.

So I cut out the pattern pieces and started basting them together to fit. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think this garment has ever not looked like a potato sack, that is, a potato sack with an uncanny resemblance to medical scrubs.

As it stands, this dress would probably be more at home in a doctor’s surgery than wherever I would be wearing it. I toyed with adding a collar, but it didn’t really work out too well.

I don’t know about you, but when I hit a brick wall with a project, my sewing motivation goes right downhill. Add to this a couple of failed job interviews and you haven’t exactly got a match made in stitching heaven.

I need to claw back my motivation. As I post this, I’ll be searching for another style in the hope I can salvage what I have left of the fabric before I forever associate it with the medical-scrubs gone wrong.

What’s on your sewing table at the moment? Have you ever had to turn around a failed project?

Finished Meringue – making the best out of a bad situation

After much in the way of seam-ripping, frustration and snipping of scallops, my Meringue skirt is done, but it looks a little different from how I’d originally intended.

Grainy image is grainy – I need Martha!

First of all, I’d like to say a HUGE thanks to everyone who offered their tips and sympathies in my last post.

I’ve shyed away from blogging about sewing mistakes before, because you lot are so bloody talented I don’t want to show myself up! All joking aside, I think it’s better to admit to mistakes, move on and make the best of such things.

In this case, it meant doing away with the scallops. Despite the Colette book explicitly saying I should choose a fabric which holds shape well, I was swayed by the lovely bottle-green colour and drape of this swishy crepe from a fabric shop down the road from my new place in Cardiff. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a bit of swish!

When it came to ironing the scallops, it became clear they wouldn’t set. They were all puffy and bulky in the wrong places. Then there was the fit of the skirt itself – it was so, so loose! It looks a bit too tight in the above photo because I’d just cooked an epic meal for some friends, so you’ll have to trust me on the fit being a lot better now!

Obviously I’m way, way behind on the Sew Colette challenge, but nevertheless I’m going to move on from this one and get on with the Parfait dress. This time, I’m definitely making a muslin!

Apologies for being really behind on catching up on blogs of late, I promise I’ll be back commenting soon!

Sew Colette : When life gets in the way

sew colette meringue sewalong

The Meringue skirts for the Sew Colette sewalong look absolutely amazing! Hats off to those of you who got them finished because the ones I’ve seen on the Flickr group are amazing. One of my favourites so far is Lucille’s two-tone beauty, which you can read about here.

Sadly, this is what mine looks like at the moment. (excuse the crappy phone-camera shot, my camera is broken) Hopefully I’ll get it done this week so I can get involved with the Pastille dress, but for now, I’m a little behind.

Life gets in the way of sewing sometimes. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before – the course I’m doing is pretty demanding and while 2012 has been much better in terms of sewing than the beginning of 2011 was, sometimes I get home and don’t much feel like sewing at all.

The logo for our in-house paper. 

Let’s take yesterday for example. Far from being entirely unproductive, yesterday our team put together our very first newspaper in the first of our 18 production days.

These are part of our assessment – basically, we all take different roles within the newsroom and work together to create the paper by our deadline of 4.30. So yesterday, instead of being a student, seamstress or a blogger I had to put on a Chief-Sub hat and hope for the best.

Basically, I was the one in charge of the layout of the paper, what went where and assigning stories to people who checked them over and made sure they fit into boxes on the page.

…it’s alright, we got the paper out, we survived!

I have a tendency to match up new experiences to various hobbies I have. My first production day as a whole was a lot like the very first time I had a full-contact fight in Karate – I certainly felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me after both days and I’ll let you guess which one had me sat with a bag of frozen peas on my head for the evening…

In some ways, when we saw the entire paper up on the board completely finished, it reminded me a bit of the first time I ever sewed a piece of clothing.

By my sewing standards now, it was utter crap – the seams weren’t finished, pretty sure the waistband didn’t match up and the invisible zipper was definitely on show. It’s also made from a quilting cotton which creases really easily (huh, sounds familiar…) and I’m pretty sure it’s falling to pieces.

We’ll probably look back on what we’ve done in our first paper and cringe at  the mistakes we made – but there’s still this sense of accomplishment (and relief!) at creating the product itself.

My first ever skirt is hidden somewhere at the bottom of my drawer… what about you? Any first sewing memories? I’ll try and dig out some pictures so I can show you, but I’d love to have a look at any of yours – the good, the bad and the ugly!

Sew Colette: Muslin or no muslin?

sew colette meringue sewalong

In the Sew Colette sewalong organised by Sarah and Erin, this week was designated Meringue muslin week.

As you know, my week has most certainly not been a sewing week! With an exam on public administration on Monday and an essay on phone hacking due on Thursday, it was all journo hands on deck, which, as I’ve mentioned before, doesn’t tend to leave a lot of time for sewing!

The Flickr group is already filling up with bloggers’ renditions of the a-line skirt, but I’ve decided to skip the muslin part of the project. Not exactly in-keeping with my less quantity more quality sewing ideal for 2012!

After all, winging it and skipping the muslin stage is probably one of my worst sewing habits! There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Laziness: One of those fast fashion habits I’m afraid! When I have made muslins, I’ve rushed through the process without really taking the time to check fit and wearability.
  • Cost: While muslins tend to be made from easily-afforded cheap fabrics, my fabric budget isn’t exactly significant while I’m still training as a journalist.
  • Waste: If I buy fabric, I want to use it and wear it. Where’s the sense in my taking a pledge against buying unnecessary garments from the high-street when I’m sewing garments which gather dust after I’m done adjusting the fit?

A popular tactic in the sewing blogosphere is to make a wearable muslin. The fabric may be cheaper than what you’ve bought for the garment proper, but it’s still a garment you would wear. Take Melizza for example, who has made a wearable muslin to see how the scallops would look in a lightweight cotton.

Photo by Martha Moreno

Before Christmas, I drafted up my own pencil skirt pattern. In this case, a muslin was a must because it’s such a closely fitted garment which had been drafted up based on my measurements in the summer – even a minute change in measurements is going to affect the fit on a garment as form fitting as this one.

The result is a pencil skirt I’m still going to wear (because I’m stubborn!) but with clear indications of fit issues. Take the wrinkles across the front and on the zipper – this means I need to add a bit more width to this garment.

Photo by Martha Moreno

I made this in a cheap-as-chips polycotton I had lying around in my stash – imagine if I’d made it with something a bit more expensive? Mind you, the fabric wrinkles very, very easily – does anyone know if the wrinkling would be less obvious in another fabric?

I’ve popped more photos of the skirt up on my Flickr page if you want to take a further look! 

The Meringue skirt is less formfitting than my pencil skirt, so I should be OK if I make sure to use a generous seam allowance in case any adjustment is required! I was gong to draft a waistband according to the Coletterie’s helpful tutorial, but I’m not sure if this would be sensible when I’m not making a muslin.

Any readers taking part in the sewalong? I can’t wait to see everyone’s finished garments! I have no internet at my new house which has made catching up with blog reading a bit more difficult!