The Refashion Checklist – ’80s peplum blouse

80s blouse 1I love it when a refashion comes together.

What once was a monstrosity of an ’80s blouse, complete with shoulder pads which made me look eligible for the Lions, is now a cute peplum blouse with a touch of the ’50s about it. Much better.

blouse backTo begin with, the blouse was fairly shapeless. Rather than darts, it had some tucks gathering it at the waist, where it was attached to the peplum. On Instagram, Clare suggested sleeves off and sides taken in to take the blouse back 30 years to the ’50s.

In the end, I decided to rip the whole thing apart, taking off the peplum and ironing out the tucks. Using a bodice block pattern, I turned the top back to front, adding waist and bust darts, as well as a pair of darts at the back. I kept the buttons at the back as well as part of the collar, enclosing the raw edges around the sleeves and the neckline with black bias binding.

I ended up sewing most of the seams with my overlocker, as the fabric was pretty bad for fraying. It’s not a tool I use as often as I’d like – I forgot how satisfying it can be to have a seam stitched, trimmed and finished in one fell swoop!

80s peplum blouse refashion

One reattached peplum later, et voila! A blouse I will actually wear. Please excuse the unflattering jeans/jeggings I’m sporting in the pics – they’re the only “jeans” I actually own, but fit horribly because they’ve got an elasticated waist. Fit.

DSC00076I hope the nice pictures make up for the lack of Me Made May posts this year. Truth be told, for the latter part of May at least, I absolutely did not want to take pictures of myself at all.

On the plus side, things are on the up – not least due to a fancy pants new camera! I had lots of fun having a play with it this weekend.

That’s one item off the refashion checklist. Huzzah!

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The Refashioning Checklist, or, six garments I need to chop up

One of the great benefits of sewing is being able to take a pair of scissors to an unwanted garment and create something worth wearing.

That’s the logic, anyway. But more often than not, I’ll buy or adopt something second-hand with the best refashioning intentions – yet it ends up at the bottom of my wardrobe all the same. Usually, it’s discarded in favour of a sewing project with new and shiny fabric. As Zoe pointed out recently, adding to the stash is not that much different to buying new.

To remedy this, I’ve rummaged in the deepest depths of my darkest drawers to find six items I need to refashion, pronto, lest they be banished to the wardrobe whirlpool until they get eaten by moths or something.

They include second-hand purchases I’ve since had second thought about, donated items, found items and even a very recent me-made. The main thing is, I can’t just leave these unworn in my wardrobe much longer – otherwise, what’s the point of having them at all?

The 80s hangover blouse

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Sew For Victory – Rosie the Riveter shirt dress

Happy days – I managed to finish my Sew For Victory wartime-inspired dress!

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A little more than a week ago, I told you about my last-minute change for this project, opting to take inspiration from women working in WW2 rather than the post-war pattern I had originally planned on making. I couldn’t resist getting my friend Martha, who designed this blog’s header and logo, to make me a Rosie the Riveter-style poster as well as taking some snaps of the dress for me. She’s a talented cookie, that one!

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As you may have already guessed, I used yet another pattern from Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing. Man, oh man am I in love with this book. The patterns are beautiful and the instructions even more so. Due to lack of time, I just winged it with this one and went muslin-free. Daunting! But it’s turned out quite well.

The only major alteration I made was the length – I lopped off a whopping eight inches from the skirt. EIGHT INCHES. In case you hadn’t guessed, I am pretty much a hobbit. Gertie must be ridiculously tall. I crave her power.

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The only other adjustment made was to the sleeves. Originally, the puffiness looked absolutely ridiculous on me, so I fudged it a bit and managed to make them a bit more conservative. I think I needed to take a bit off at the top of the armhole because the shoulders were a little wide for me. Everything else worked like a dream. The elastic shirring at the back makes the dress fit beautifully without making you feel constricted. Thumbs up on the design.

I would tell you what kind of fabric I used, but I’ve completely forgotten…

Those of you who have followed the blog for a while may notice one little milestone here…

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Bound buttonholes! ALL SEVEN OF THEM! One’s a little bit wonky but I don’t actually care because I finally managed to do more than one vaguely presentable buttonhole. There is something rather therapeutic yet distinctly horrifying about making bound buttonholes, but it’s the best feeling ever when it all comes together.

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In all, not half bad considering I only started a little more than a week ago. Now I can look forward to perusing all of the other lovely creations on the Sew for Victory Flickr group. Exciting!

Hopefully, I can pull it out of the bag for the Mad Men challenge and all…

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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!

Two challenges to see Spring through

It may not feel like Spring what with all this BLOODY SNOW but there’s nothing like a sewing challenge or two to pep you up for some warmer months.

Sew For Victory



The first comes courtesy of the lovely Rochelle of Lucky Lucille, who has challenged the blogosphere to a trip back to the ’40s – when fabric was scarce, fashion took a back seat to the war effort and everyone was encouraged to make do and mend.

She’s already provided a plethora of inspiration to get us going over on her blog since the challenge was announced, which means I should really get my skates on! I have a pattern picked out but have yet to actually get cracking on a muslin or even choosing fabric, erk!

I was in two minds about this challenge – with dreams of making a pair of high-waisted trousers and pairing it up with the Mathilde blouse from Tilly and the Buttons, which would have been more 40s-inspired than an accurate reproduction.

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But then I found this great Butterick repro pattern (Butterick B5281) from 1946 which has remained in my sewing box unmade for a number of years now. The pattern looks absolutely beautiful on the envelope, but then I saw Butterick’s version, which just looks AWFUL.

I’m starting to worry a little bit, even more so because i haven’t started work on it at all! 

Being a post-war pattern, I feel I can plump for a brighter colour like purple, but I may still keep it to a darker shade. At this stage, anything could happen!

Mad Men challenge

Secondly, we’ve got Julia’s Mad Men challenge. How did I miss this last year?!

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As it happens, this challenge is far simpler for me! I’ll let you all know a bit later which particular dress I’m hoping to emulate, but it’s definitely a Joan make, for sure. I may not be as bombastically curvy, but I’m sure I can rock a good wiggle dress…

Those of you who have signed up for the super-fun-cool project for Seamless – THANK YOU! I’ll be sending out the top-secret instructions ASAP. There’s still time to register your interest – head to the post here to find out a bit more.

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!

Stitching to deadline – let’s get this dress done!

I like to think I can “do” deadlines. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline of a big deadline inching closer and closer by every second.

At least if you make a mistake in an article, you can get it corrected in a matter of seconds once you’ve spotted it. But say you end up sewing something topsy turvy, you’re guaranteed to have a solid half hour of unpicking on your hands – and that’s only if you were lucky enough to make a mistake on the bodice.

This is partly why the Twitter dress has taken me so long to get done. But with the Wales Blog Awards presentation coming up this week, I really wanted to get the dress done so I’d have a me-made dress for the evening – it would be a bit embarrassing if I wore anything else, wouldn’t it?

Making progress!

I don’t know what it is about an imposing deadline, but I managed to get most of the dress done last night! A lot of what I have left now is hand-sewing, which I can do on the train back to Cardiff tomorrow evening.

How satisfying! Do you perform well under deadlines?

Coveting a dressmaker’s dummy

There’s something human-shaped missing from my sewing life. I’ve been coveting my very own adjustable dressmaker’s dummy for some time now.

Once upon a time, I found a ratty mannequin at a flea market in Germany. I snapped it up for 25 euro and got some funny looks on the way home, clutching this tea-stained dress form as the metro whizzed underneath Dortmund.

I ended up naming it Sally, as you do. Sally was a bit broader in the back than I was, so I couldn’t really drape accurately using the form, but it was so handy to have a general idea of what a garment would look like without having to put it on and inspect it in front of the only full-length mirror in the house.

At the moment, fitting a garment is an odious case of trial and error as I guesstimate how much needs to be taken from a waist of a dress for it not to look like a potato sack. I often feel like a human pincushion as I wiggle my way in and out of half-finished items in an effort to get the fit just right.

So I guess it’s safe to say I’m in the market for a new Sally. There are a few options I could go for:

Buy new

Probably the most expensive and un-Seamless option, there are plenty of places I could get a brand-new dress form. John Lewis have a whole host of dress forms on sale starting at £139 for the Easyfit model. Not my first port of call as you’d imagine, but John Lewis do sell some good quality sewing wares so might be worth checking out.

Second-hand or vintage

Much more Seamless-like, don’t you think? Ebay always has a few vintage or second-hand dress forms on sale, but the price will fluctuate depending on how much competition there is for your chosen dummy. You never know, you might just get lucky. Also, I spotted a few ads for second-hand dummies on auction site alternative Preloved.

Do it yourself!

Yup, it’s possible to make your very own dress form. There are several tutorials available on the internet, the most popular being the duct-tape method. A more time-consuming but potentially rewarding method involves making a plaster mould of your upper half. You’ll need a good friend to help you out with either one – needless to say, it’s far cheaper than either of the first two options.

Personally, I’ll probably go on the hunt for a second-hand dress form if I can get a good price. Sad to say, I once passed up an amazing vintage wooden dress form I found in a charity shop in Swansea. It was the worst timing really, I’d just packed everything to move out of my flat and there was definitely no room for it, but I still wonder if it would have been worth the hassle anyway.

Do you own a dressmaker’s dummy? I’m dying to know if anyone’s had any success with the duct tape method!

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?

Meringue disaster! Or, why I should have made a muslin

sew colette meringue sewalong
There’s trouble in sewing paradise… that is to say, my Meringue skirt has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Not only am I month behind, but the end product looks AWFUL. So awful, I couldn’t bring myself to photograph it.
This is a classic example of when I’m really, really rubbish at sewing. As you know, I’m quite behind on the Sew Colette Project (I’m nowhere near starting my whatever it’s called dress!) so I was really hoping I could get this done this weekend.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. My lovely Meringue looks a bit like, er, well, a potato sack for lack of a better phrase. I’ve made a number of rookie errors here.

The fabric I’ve used just isn’t stiff enough for starters, making it awfully fiddly to get the scallops to work. I also did what I vowed not to do at the beginning of this year and cut corners – I didn’t mark the stitchline clearly enough on the scallops, meaning it’s turned out awfully on the hem.

As for the sizing, it’s actually a touch too big. I say a touch… I can actually fit my whole hand in the waistband when I’m wearing it. This does absolutely nothing for me, as you can see, I’ve got quite a small hip to waist ratio, so this just isn’t working out.

Sometimes I get projects like this and I feel like I want to just throw the towel in altogether! But I think I’m going to try and make this one work. Sadly, the scallops are probably going to have to go, and I’m going to resize the damn thing. I’ll probably keep it as an a-line skirt, but I’m a bit gutted it’s going to be quite a boring a-line rather than with the fun hem detail.

Tune in next time for home-sewing gone horribly, horribly wrong…