Speedy Sewing

Although I enjoy working on sewing projects that require a long-term commitment I also like being able to create something quickly to meet a particular whim.

The company I work for sponsors a prize in a national art competition and last Wednesday was the exhibition launch and prize giving, with me presenting our prize (alongside none less than Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones!).  I had intended to make a skirt from this vintage fabric – I thought the paintbrushes were rather appropriate.  Here it is pinned on Doris in no particular fashion.


I couldn’t make up my mind what to sew with it but having finally settled on a Clémence Skirt from Tilly’s Love at First Stitch I had really run out of time to calculate the measurements and sort out the fit properly.  It was Wednesday morning at that point and I was due to catch a train mid-afternoon. Also my poor dad was taken poorly which left me in something of a panic for part of the morning but thankfully he was fine in the end.  Why didn’t I wear something I already had you may ask – which is a very good question but I like to make life difficult for myself!

I decided to stick with an old faithful which I know I can make up quickly and is pretty much a perfect fit.  I’ve had this pattern for years and really should trace a new copy from the original which is now looking rather moth-eaten with a couple of missing corners!

McCalls 3830

As it’s a very simple shape with just a couple of darts front and back I wanted to use an eye-catching fabric and this one, bought at the Fabric Godmother’s open day, fitted the bill.  It’s a sturdy cotton canvas which was fairly pricey but I only bought a metre (it is now in the sale  if you’re interested!).


To save time I decided to underline the skirt, having just learned this technique from making the Laurel dress, to avoid making a separate lining.  The fabric has quite an open weave and does fray quite easily so I finished all the seams with a zig zag which seems to be holding up well.  Once I’ve got the hang of my new overlocker this will all be so much quicker and easier.

Due to the time constraint I ended up hemming the skirt on the machine which I wasn’t happy with but I don’t think anyone noticed on the day.  From start to finish I managed to make this skirt in a couple of hours.

I found this fabric didn’t hold a sharp crease very well which made it difficult to insert the concealed zip as neatly as I would have liked.  I like to press in a really good crease to pin the zip against to get the best finish.  I’ve since been watching Karen’s short video on using a tailor’s clapper for pressing seams etc. and I think this would have been an ideal tool to have to hand.  I’m not going to try and improve on what I’ve done, I’ve tried that before and made things worse so I shall leave well alone.

Looking down at the skirt on the train home I decided I couldn’t live with the machined hem because the stitching was too obvious.  It would have to be unpicked and re-sewn by hand.  I’d also found as I was walking around that because the fabric is quite textured it tended to catch on my tights.  I’ve now used bias binding for a neat finish and to smooth off the inside of the hem.  I used the extra hour on Sunday for this hemming task!

Here’s the finished skirt – not bad for some speedy sewing!  I’ve already worn it a second time and I think this fabric is really striking.  Not sure Ronnie Wood noticed it mind you!


And the winner is ……

Sorry to take a few days to announce the winner in my Fabric Giveaway but it has been a busy week.  Rather than use a random number generator I cut up all the comments, popped them into W’s panama hat and the first one out was ………..


Beth from After Dark Sewing!  Beth, if you’d like to email me at janeybmakes@gmail.com with your address then a parcel of this lovely fabric will be on its way to you.  Hope you enjoy using it – we may end up with matching skirts!



A Party Laurel

Some while ago I went to a fabric sale in Petworth run by the Cotton Wool Store.  I seem to remember I was trying to be restrained that day because I’d had a bit of a fabric spending spree a few days before but I couldn’t resist buying a couple of metres of this fabric with absolutely no clear idea of what I was going to make with it.

It is silk with a design which looks like it it’s been painted on with gold paint!   The fabric is very stiff – imagine a sheet of thick paper that’s been left out in the rain and then dried in the sun!  Possibly a bit of an exaggeration but it certainly doesn’t drape!

The fabric sat on the shelf until I decided to make a small zipped purse for a present, and then a second one.  Why I decided to cut these out from different ends of the length of fabric I have no idea and it was an action I came to regret!


I was then in need of a party frock and having made a casual version of the Colette Laurel which I absolutely love I began to think this pattern might just work with this fabric.  I stuck it in the washing machine on a cool wash and kept my fingers crossed.  It came through pretty much unscathed.  There are a couple of areas where the gold pattern is slightly faded but it may have been like that before the wash.

Laurel Dress

This time I went with Version 2 which is underlined.  I decided this was essential to stop the fabric being scratchy against my skin.  My intention had been to make the dress without buying anything new except a zip.  The only lining I had in a sufficiently large piece was a silvery grey which wasn’t ideal but I decided to go with it.  I cut everything out one evening and learned a salutary lesson about working in poor light.  When I looked at the lining pieces the next morning there was a long tear in one of the back pieces which I’d not noticed before.  In a way I’m glad because it forced me to buy some more lining in a dark red and the end result was so much better.

I cut the size 4 for this version of the dress not just because I wanted a more streamlined fit than my chambray version but also because I had no option because of the daft way I’d cut out the two zipped purse pieces previously!  Even cutting the smaller size was a bit of a squeeze!

I’ve never underlined anything before but I was really pleased with how it turned out.  The Colette instructions are excellent and the finish is lovely.  Although the silk doesn’t fray at all I was concerned about the lining so I stitched all the seams edges together with a narrow zig zag to prevent fraying and also to try and smooth off the sharp edges of the main fabric.

I had some wide black bias binding which I initially used to finish the sleeve hem.


However, when I tried the dress on at this stage on the sleeves just looked out of balance with the rest of the dress.  I’d been looking at lots of other Laurel’s online including Vintage Rock Chick’s whose tartan version can be seen in this post.  Gill’s version has the 60s style gathered cuffs and I decided these would probably work better.  I had just enough fabric, although I had to cut the cuffs in the opposite direction to the rest of the fabric. Off came the bias binding and on went the cuffs.  These were so easy to do and were a definite improvement.

Next step was the concealed zip.  I was worried that this would be tricky given that there were two layers of fabric to deal with, crispy silk and smooth lining, but it went in beautifully.  I’m not keen on hooks and eyes so I always try to ensure that my zip comes right to the top.

No pattern matching – insufficient fabric and given the busy pattern I don’t think it’s too much of a problem.

Everything was going so well and I knew I had the Friday evening to finish it off.  Luckily I decided to sew the neck binding on before I left for work because as I started sewing the machine just ground to a juddering halt!   I took it apart, cleaned some fluff out and put it back together again.  I repeated this step several times over the next half an hour to no avail, swore a lot and then took it to work to see if one of my colleagues, who is a very practical chap, might be able to fix it.  No luck.  I then rang the lovely Kay from Clothkits in Chichester to see if she might be able to hire me one of her machines over the weekend and she said ‘yes’.  I dropped mine in to her for collection by the sewing machine doctor and took away one of the machines they use for their excellent classes.  Thankfully the machines are exactly the same model as mine so no delay while I worked out how to operate it.  Weirdly when I rang them today it seems my machine has made a miraculous recovery all by itself so I’m going to pick it up tomorrow!

The neck binding was sewn on as soon as I got home but as I was hand stitching the edge of the binding to the lining I realised that where the outside of the fabric was rubbing against my leg as I sewed it was leaving scuff marks on my tights!  This did not bode well for an evening of standing around in a dress where the inside of the hem was going to shred my tights.  Another last minute problem which was quickly solved …. I found a wide piece of ribbon long enough to cover the inside of the turned up hem.  At this point it was 10.00 pm and there was going to be no time on Saturday for any sewing so I’m afraid I resorted to sewing the ribbon on with the machine instead of hand sewing it.  Not ideal but by this time I just wanted it finished.  The white stitching on the picture below is not the machine stitching!  I think the ribbon came from some fancy packaging and I tend to save anything like this that might come in useful.

Hem Protection

Traumas aside, I think this dress has turned out pretty well!  I was worried that it would be difficult to sit down in and that the fabric might be uncomfortable but I was wrong.  I love it and will definitely be wearing it again over the party season.

These photographs were actually taken post party.  I am usually very camera shy but I was the other side of a few gin and tonics so somewhat less inhibited!  I think the dress stood up pretty well and it only needed a very quick press before I hung it up to put it away.

This definitely won’t be the last Laurel I make.  It is a great pattern!


A New Acquisition and a Fabric Giveaway

I’ve bought a serger/overlocker!!

I’d never really thought much about owning one until recently but I’ve started to feel that I might be missing out.  I noticed at the weekend that LIDL had these coming back into stock today at £129 and given the national TV advertising and announcements on IG etc. I thought I’d better get down there first thing.  This model seems to retail at about £250 elsewhere so definitely something of a bargain.

I arrived just before 8.00 am and the car park was already filling up with people who looked very much like they were after the same thing as me!  It was a very civilised and sociable group outside the front door, some people were after the serger, others the sewing machine which also looks good.

This is the actual model.

Singer Serger

As the doors opened we all piled in and made a beeline for the back of the store where the boxes were piled up.  By the time I got to the checkout about two minutes later they had already sold three so I suspect they will run out quickly.  I also bought some of the thread cones at 50p each, I wish hadn’t decided to give the trolleys a miss as I was struggling to carry everything!  I might pop back again later as there were some other sewing-related items I didn’t have time to look at.

Having to go to work straight afterwards was a bit of an inconvenience as I really wanted to get it out of the box straightaway!  I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing with it.  I’ve had one very short session on a serger during a course at Clothkits in Chichester and was slightly terrified.  I’m going to have a proper read of Portia’s three-part Serger Series on Makery before I even try to use it.

In the meantime …. while we were away in the Cotswolds recently I visited Tinsmiths in Ledbury.

It is curtain and upholstery fabric (and gift/homewares) heaven but they also stock some dressmaking fabrics including pre-cut lengths of hand-blocked African fabric.  The fabric I’d previously spotted online was no longer available so I picked another one.  I’d not really given sufficient thought to what I was actually going to do with over five metres of fabric so I thought I’d see if anyone would like a share in it?  It’s a medium weight cotton, 110 cms wide.  I’ve not tried washing it yet so can’t say whether the colours will fade but they are certainly pretty bold at the moment. I think it has quite a vintage/retro look to it.

Here it is pinned to Doris.  That’s the whole lot pinned round her because I couldn’t face unfolding and refolding it so it is obviously going to drape a bit more than this!

I’m giving away two metres and if you’d like to welcome this fabric into your stash just leave a comment below and say what you might use it for.  I’ll get W to pull a name out of one of his hats after midnight on Sunday 18 October.  If it’s not your cup of tea then spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested.


Thoughts on a Laurel Dress

Some while ago I saw the Laurel Dress by Colette Patterns made up in chambray in The Eternal Maker and decided it was exactly what I needed.  I already had the fabric – bought to make a jacket, then transferred to the possible pile for a Brumby Skirt but still sitting on the shelf.  I chose Version 2 with pockets (always pockets for me if there’s the option!).

Laurel Dress

My intention was make the dress to take away on holiday but I ran out of time and left for the Cotswolds with it looking like this.  I knew I was being too ambitious (I only started it the day before we left and I still had washing/ironing/packing to do).


At this point I was most concerned that the armscyes seemed worryingly small and that there was an annoying crease down the centre front which was already there when I bought the fabric.  I’d hoped it might wash/press out but of course it hasn’t.

I was also concerned that, despite of the small arm holes, I had cut the dress too large even though I measured myself properly (I hate doing that!) and picked the corresponding size.  I decided to carry on regardless.  I think this must be a hangover from my childhood when I was always told that I would grow into things – but I never did!  I remember heading off for my first day at secondary school wearing a gaberdine raincoat which nearly reached the ground.  It still did at the end of the fifth form and I was also wearing the same blazer.  The only reason I got replacement skirts/shirts/jumpers was because they wore out and I’m pretty sure I had the same hockey/netball culottes right the way through – although that was probably partly because I did everything I could to avoid wearing them.  Whoever thought culottes made from something resembling hessian were a good idea for running up and down a hockey pitch in the freezing cold?

Back to the Laurel.  I know from reading other people’s experiences that inserting the sleeves can be a bit of an issue but I didn’t find this too much of a problem, although there was a moment when I thought perhaps I was putting them in back to front – my notch cutting was rather poorly executed!  I was very lazy and only used one row of gathering stitches on the second sleeve (instead of the recommended three) and that one was a bit more tricky so I should have done as I was told.  There is no noticeable puckering which I’m pleased about and once the sleeves were in I realised the fit round the arms was more than generous so I’d worried unnecessarily.

I followed the sewing tip in the instructions to use a cardboard template for the patch pockets and this made all the difference.  I’d already read about this method on Linda’s blog, Remake, Remodel, Recycle, so I knew it was the right thing to do because everything she does turns out so well!

Onto the neck and sleeve binding.   I didn’t have enough fabric to make my own bias binding and I don’t like the stiff feel of most ready-made bindings.  I decided to splash out on this lovely Liberty version from Clothkits but once I started to sew it in I decided that perhaps it wasn’t the look I wanted and maybe I should just turn it inside.  Having looked online this seems to be what some other sewers have done.   Since then the binding has been in and out like the proverbial fiddler’s elbow with the final decision being IN.  On reflection I think a more robust binding would have worked better with the chambray and I would prefer the neckline a bit higher which would be achieved with the binding on show.  I think the faffing about has also stretched the neckline slightly which hasn’t helped.

I’d never done double darts before but the ones in the back worked perfectly first time and give a lovely shape.  I was a bit nervous about snipping the centre of this dart because the fabric does fray quite easily.  I had a bottle of Fray Check which I’d never used so decided to give this a try.  My first attempt to snip the end of the nozzle off was unsuccessful, the second resulted in a opening that was far too large and consequently a bit of a mess on the fabric.  Thankfully it all dried out OK and although the fabric does feel a bit crispy in that area it will probably improve with washing.

I really like the length of the sleeves, although they could be lengthened for a more wintery version and, although I say it myself, the concealed zip insertion was almost perfect.  Well, the best I’ve even done anyway and it was a long zip with more margin for error!

The fabric looks different colours in these pictures – they were taken in different lights.   The actual colour is somewhere between the two.  The thread in the photo is Gutermann’s jeans thread using ‘bi-colour optics’ whatever they might be.  It really does blend in well so I decided to stitch the hem by machine to save time.  I should have ironed the dress before putting it on Doris – and I’m not sure it is really her style!

When I tried the dress on before pinning up the hem it did feel slightly frumpy so I decided to take it up quite substantially.   I’m wearing it to work today – it works with a scarf and a cardigan – two important requirements for me as my office has a 1960s heating system which is somewhat variable.  I’d forgotten how much I like wearing dresses – so much quicker to get ready in the morning!  I’m also wearing some fancy cable knit tights which you can’t really see in the photograph.  I bought them in an independent department store in Malvern called Brays while I was away.  This is a proper old-fashioned shop where they still write out receipts on a machine with a pull down handle and all the lingerie is stored in those gorgeous glass fronted units.

I wrote this post before coming to work.  It is now lunchtime and after a morning’s wear I’m even happier.  The dress is so comfortable I’m not sure I will go down to the next size!  I will just make a slight adjustment to the shoulder which is marginally too wide and I’ll sort out the neckline so it is more fitted.  Apart from the official pattern variations I can see lots of potential for personalising this dress – changes to the pocket, embellishment etc. so I’m very glad to have tried it.  I’m wondering if it might just work as a party frock with this fabric – a printed silk which I got for £4 a metre.  I’ve already used a corner of it for a couple of zipped purses but there’s plenty left.