Vintage embroidered tablecloth to sunhat

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I’ve got a small collection of vintage table linens, some are family items, some I purchased myself.

This one was made by my great aunt in 1950 or earlier.

It’s beautifully bright and colourful, so perfectly embroidered, you can barely tell which is the back and which is the front.

The bright pinks, blues and yellows have been expertly stitched. The scalloped edge has been blanket stitched by hand, the base linen looks and feels silky like cream.

I’ve had it since 1993, the date of a different great aunt’s death and no one else wanted it. Its been in storage in a bag of mine and rarely seen the light of day in 28 years. Prior to that, I don’t ever remember seeing it in use and it was found in a suitcase under the bed, so this beautiful item has not been used and loved for 70 years.

There are stains, and I washed it in my machine on a delicate hand wash cycle, which did not damage the expertly stitched embroidery in any way but also did not remove the stains.

The reason it got washed this week was because there was a plan.

I find these pieces difficult to repurpose because there is not a lot of fabric to make a whole garment and the embroidery is delicate and positioned to suit a tablecloth not clothing.

I had purchased the Brighton bucket hat from sewgirl patterns

This hat has a small and large brim version and is reversible. I had already made a small brim version from a 2nd hand skirt and some vintage Laura Ashley homeware fabric:

It occurred to me that the size and curved shape of the brim pattern piece may fit the curve of embroidery typically sewn into the corner of a vintage tablecloth.

I cut my large brim hat pieces from the vintage tablecloth – fabric and pattern were a match made in heaven.

For the reverse I used a Orla Kiely curtain which had a similar background colour.

As both fabrics were mid weight I only interfaced one of the brim pieces – the instructions suggest more liberal use of interfacing.

What is great about the design of this hat is that the small brim version provides sun protection without being too large, and the large brim version is meant to be turned up so that the alternative fabric shows, and this showcases the flowery embroidery when the alternative fabric is outermost.

I am so pleased with both hats but especially with the large brim version because I have found a way to give the work of my talented ancestor a new life and a new set of viewers, both here online and in real life. A hat doesn’t need washing that often, doesn’t have areas of heavy wear and so should endure. The tablecloth maker died in 1959 so I never got to meet her, I suppose she never would have guessed that the youngest daughter of her husband’s niece would still be appreciating her work more than 60 years later. I am pretty sure none of my own sewing will stand that test of time.

Sew wear are they now? 2016 edition – what happened to clothes I made in 2016

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I made 17 things in 2016, 5 of which I still have. I won’t review all 17 just a representative selection.

There seem to be quite a number that didn’t go too well in 2016 so I will start with one of them

By way of explanation from 11.10.19 I started keeping records of how many times I wear clothes and refer to this in the post. I wear clothes in 10 wear blocks then put them away.

Deep Purple

I took a waterfall chenille cardigan with frills on the cuff and hem as well, and turned it into a jumper with a fake button band. There were multiple problems with this refashion – the fake button band was too thick and looked too odd, the neckline was too low, it was too bulky to fit under a coat, and I just felt uncomfortable wearing it.

Positives – nice colour, cheap buy which was barely worn

Negatives – Impractical and uncomfortable to wear

Estimated number of wears – less than 5

I discarded this refashion at least 3 years ago, barely worn.

Jeans to dress refashion

This was my entry for therefashioners 2016 the challenge was to make something out of used denim, the dress was modelled in 2016 by my daughter. I did these challenges for 3 consecutive years, each one pushed me out of my comfort zone but ended up with a result I was pleased with.

Positives – fits me perfectly and used denim is my favourite fabric.

Negatives – Can’t think of any

Estimated number of wears – 40 including 20 since 11.10.19

I still have this dress and but its probably only got 10 more wears in it.

22 inch waist scuba skirt to 2 hour top refashion

I made this top from a very small sized scuba skirt which had large pleats so contained enough fabric to make the front and back of a top. I used a free pattern so was ahead of my time as free patterns are very current in the sewing community!

I was just dipping my toes into the pattern world and although unable to complete the top in 2 hrs did find it a simple make. It was the first time I used scuba and it was a dream to sew. Some of the creases from its life as a skirt were very persistent, and it is a little sweaty to wear as the scuba was mid weight. My work lanyard made some little pulls in the front of the top as the lanyard had a sharpish corner to it.

Positives – simple design in plain fabric, wearable with many trousers and skirts

Negatives – a bit sweaty, some of the creases took a long time to disappear.

Estimated number of wears – 35, including 20 since 11.10.19

I still have this top and have worn it this week. It’s probably got another 10 or 20 wears left in it.

Auntie’s antimacassar to skirt refashion

Out of many rather odd refashions I have done, this may be the oddest. I took a t-shirt, 2 pairs of cord trousers, a vintage antimacassar (damaged), a bit of old pillowcase, and made a skirt out of them.

It was actually comfortable and quite successful in that it got a reasonable amount of wear. The yoga waistband had to be made smaller as it tended to fall down and the antimacassar did not really tolerate washing.

Positives – I made an antimacassar into a skirt

Negatives – It was a bit odd

Estimated number of wears – 20

I discarded this skirt at least 3 years ago as the antimacassar was falling apart.

Scarf to top refashion

I made this top from a large scarf with a striking design, which I had found on the way to work.

I copied a tutorial found on pinterest (you can see details if you follow the link in the title) and though I had never heard the term at the time, it used an almost zero waste technique to make a top out of any scarf. This technique did involve sewing a bias cut, fray like hell, flimsy fabric so sweat and tears were involved in its making.

The top received many compliments when I was wearing it ( I was always a bit nervous wearing it to work in case someone claimed it as theirs)

The fabric was fragile and faded when (hand) washed, so after at most 20 wears it was looking scrappy under the armpits.

Positives – striking zero waste top

Negatives – scarves are not meant for this type of wear

Estimated number of wears – 15

I discarded this top at least 3 years ago as it was looking tatty.

Skirt made bigger

This was a simple refashion where I took a nice but too small skirt and made it fit by increasing the waist size, this is a bit of a go to method for me as I have a 2 sizes difference between my waist and hip measurements.

I’m including this skirt because mostly because I still have it but to be honest am now a little bored with it.

Positives – good quality skirt

Negatives – I added quite a lot to the waist and if effects the drape and is still a bit tight.

Estimated number of wears – 25, including 10 since 11.10.19

I still have this skirt but its fate is 10 more wears this summer then out.

This concludes my review of 2016 makes, there are more of them back there in blog post history but I don’t want to labour the point.

Revisiting these older makes has brought me joy, 2017 to follow soon.

Sew wear are they now? 2015 edition – what happened to the things I sewed in 2015

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Inspired by

I decided to look back on some of my older makes and reflect on their life history.

I started recording what clothes I wear on a daily basis from 11 Oct 2019 so prior to this date number of wears are estimates but after that they are accurate.

I bought a sewing machine in 2015 and it has changed my life…. well my wardrobe anyway.

I habitually bought second hand clothes at charity shops, so the first clothing items to be tackled were refashions.

I refashioned 13 items in 2015, 4 of which I still have, so here is the life history of some of my 2015 makes.

Dress and skirt to dress refashion:

The first item I ever blogged was this dress, the bodice of which was made from the skirt of a well worn RTW dress which I owned and the skirt was made from a drill type fabric 2nd hand skirt.

With this item I had beginners luck because the dress was a good fit, probably due to knit fabric on the top, and was comfortable to wear. It looks like a skirt and t-shirt but is more comfortable because there was no waistband. I loved the before dress and refashioned it because the armpits were getting a little grotty.

positives – comfortable and nice fit

negatives – weight of skirt tended to drag the bodice down a little

estimated number of wears – at least 20 in this re-incarnation and at least 20 as the before dress.

score 9 out of 10

I can’t remember when I discarded this dress but it must have been at least 3 years ago and the component parts had a final life as cleaning cloths in my home.

Shirt made bigger

This was my 2nd make and a found item which I noticed in a bin bag near my home, picking it out with the intention of using it as a fabric source. I actually ended up making the shirt fit me by sewing a rudimentary triangle into the back to make it bigger, the fabric for which came from shortening the shirt considerably. The reason I did this was because when I tried it on I was surprised how good a fit the shoulders and arms turned out to be. This shirt is something of a curiosity to me even now because the armholes are a perfect fit and I can lift my arms up and the body of the shirt does not move at all.

positives – perfect armhole fit

negatives – triangle on the back looks a bit odd and the side seams are thrown quite a bit forward as a result.

estimated number of wears – 20

score 5 out of 10 good fit but not many wears.

I have kept this shirt for sleeve fit reference and wore it 10 times in 2020 but then retired it from my wardrobe.

Party dress to gypsy skirt refashion

I bought a too small dress 2nd hand because I liked the fabric which was a mid weight cotton with some stretch. I made it into a skirt and added a denim ruffle at the hemline. I really enjoyed wearing this skirt because it was comfortable and had some structure.

positives – good design and fit

negatives – the fastening wasn’t very well done

estimated number of wears – 30

score 8 out of 10

I no longer have this skirt and threw it away at least 3 years ago as the fabric was pretty faded.

Club Tr Op icana t-shirt refashion

This is pretty typical of the refashions I was doing at the time. I bought a lightly worn t-shirt with a logo I didn’t like, lowered the neckline and created a pleated ruffle to cover it up. This refashion was pretty successful and got enough wears at the time

positives – fairly good design and fit

negatives – the neckline gaped a bit

estimated number of wears – 20

score 7 out of 10

I no longer have this t-shirt and threw it away at least 3 years ago as it was looking worn. It probably had a final life as a cleaning cloth.

Refashioners 2015 entry – alternative angles

Seen below in 2015 (on left) and now

This shirt refashion was my entry for therefashioners challenge for 2015 which was to refashion a men’s button down shirt. I was, and still am, quite proud of my creativity in this make as I turned the shirt round 180 degrees so a former armhole became the neckline, and did the rest of the construction by draping, re-attaching the shirt collar with some added trim and re-positioning the pockets as one at the front. I could have probably done with a bigger sized shirt as this was a bit of a limitation. This top has a limited hot weather wearing season due to the low back but I do like it, and the pocket was useful on holidays for small items like tickets or credit cards.

positives – creative design

negatives – limited wearing season, its a bit snug on the bust

estimated number of wears – 15 including 5 in 2020

score 8 out of 10

I still have this top and intend to wear it some more this year. I will probably keep it long term as I am quite attached to it.

Keep your cloth as long as you can as long as you can shirt refashion

Don’t seen to have a 2015 photo of me wearing it so this is now:

With no time to plan I bought this men’s shirt new for a particular event and paid £40 for it. It was too tight on the hips and too long, so after wearing for the event I decided to shorten it and make a shaped hemline.

I made a mistake and cut too much off the length. In addition poor armhole fit made the shirt ride up and expose my midriff, so I made a 2nd refashion of adding some knit fabric to the armpit area. This helped a bit but not enough. Having just tried this on again I am determined to bring it back into use as I now have more high waisted trousers and skirts it could be worn with comfortably.

positives – quality fabric

negatives – too short which limits wear

estimated wears – 10 but none since oct 2019

score – 2 out of 10

I still have this shirt as it was too good to throw out and did use the trimmed hemline piece for some other garment but can’t remember what now. I haven’t worn it for a long time but it will get 10 wears this year or my name’s not Helen.

That concludes my 2015 review. I haven’t included everything but a representative sample. The original blog post are still there if you wish to look. I used to favour making tops and so I am planning to target wearing some out this year. My records are showing me that most items will be looking quite worn after 40 wears and ready for retirement.

maxi dress to lounge skirt refashion

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I’ve been going through some unfinished drafts on my blog and decided to complete them. This is one from 2019, or possibly even 2018.

Attracted by the bright orange colour pallet I bought this maxi dress at a charity shop in Bristol for £7 with the specific purpose of converting it to a maxi skirt to lounge around the house in.

The fabric is some kind of synthetic knit and the refashion is basically cutting the skirt portion off and adding a waistband.

I used some grey jersey, also bought in Bristol at Fabricland, from my stash to make a simple fold over waistband and salvaged the ties from the dress to use on the skirt.

The remaining fabric from the bodice came in handy for a later t-shirt refashion project.

I like wearing maxi skirts, they are warm and casual but only really wear them outside the home when on holiday, my problem, not the skirt’s problem.

This is a great skirt to put on when you’ve had a really big meal, can’t wait to get tights off and it’s too early to go to bed yet.

How do you decide what to sew next?

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So Sewists how do you decide out of all the patterns you already own and all the fabric you already own and all the new stuff out there what you are going to make next?

For myself it’s a combination of pattern, fabric stash, wardrobe gaps and season and thoughts going round in my head all coming together.

The pattern in question here is M6436, shown on the right above – a McCall’s button down shirt pattern with sleeve, pocket and cup size options, owned because it was ‘free’ with ‘Love Sewing’ magazine which I have on subscription.

I have read some opinion about free patterns with magazines, whether or not they should be included, for example, with the #frugalfrocks2021 challenge.

I probably buy the magazine mostly for the free patterns, it’s a win win situation because if I like the patterns I ‘ll keep them and if I don’t I will sell them on ebay and this will probably cover the price of the magazine. In defence of the magazine there are always 2 or 3 PDF patterns included as well so you have 5 or so patterns each month for your subscription price and surely are going to like at least 2?

Anyway, onto the fabric stash element…. I bought 2 1970’s era Marks and Spencer double sheets 50% poly cotton, some time last year in my local Salvation army shop priced £2.99 for both

Attracted to them because the design screamed 1970’s plus the price, plus there were 2 of them, these sheets were too small for my bed as the mattress was too thick, but I bought them for the fabric.

At home it was difficult to see what could be made out of them – conclusion was a shirt would probably be OK, and this idea fermented away in my brain and gradually popped up as the thing to make next. I am a sequential maker, don’t have garments cut out and not sewn up, only think one or two makes ahead, usually only make one thing per month.

As to wardrobe gaps and season, well I don’t honestly have any wardrobe gaps at all. Making my own clothes is something I do for me and is not really driven by actual need, but it is my main hobby, I use a lot of 2nd hand fabric, and that’s how I justify it.

When making a new pattern it’s a headache to decide what size to cut with the shoulder, armholes, bust, waist and length to consider. My experience with McCall’s tells me to cut a size 14 shoulders and sleeves and size 16 everything else, even though my body measurements would place me in a size 16 & 18.

This is my first time of using a pattern with cup sizes and from my measurements I should have cut a D cup, that dart was extraordinarily huge on the pattern piece so decided to go for the C because after all I saw this garment as a toile. Unusually for me I went for the most complicated version with full shirt collar and stand, pleated pockets and full sleeves.

Other regular adjustments were to lower the bust apex by 1 inch and take 1 inch out of the length of both body and sleeves.

As you can see from the photo above I just re-draw the dart pointing to my actual apex which is much easier but has implications for the side seam which bothers me because to square up it involves taking out a bit of the extra bust room which you’ve added in from the larger dart. One day I will learn to do this properly and move the dart en masse.

This time I also curved the dart in a little at the point to avoid a conical effect and it did look better but was then covered up by the pocket so could not be seen.

My sheet was thicker and less willing to take a crease than most sheets you would buy today. The cuffs, collar and pocket tabs required sewn in interfacing and I just used another piece of sheet for this which worked fine.

Whenever you sew something there are inevitably small pieces of fabric left over, too big to throw out but too small to make any garment from. I keep these pieces in a shoebox but recently the shoe box is getting a bit difficult to close so I decided to use these small pieces of fabric for small pattern pieces whenever I make something, regardless of whether I had enough main fabric to complete the garment or not. Hence I used for the button band and pocket flaps, some navy and orange 100% cotton poplin fabric with a fox pattern which I had previously used for a Helen’s Closet Suki Robe.

As I said, the sheet was quite thick and reluctant to respond to pressing. The fox fabric pressed like a dream. The instructions for this pattern were easy but I made a mistake and followed the instructions for view A which just has a collar stand and no collar, instead of view C which meant I sewed up the collar stand when it should have been left open to attach to the collar. I covered up this mistake with some bias binding although I did have plenty of sheet left and probably should have cut another piece and sewed it properly.

This pattern uses 2 interfaced plackets and in the finished garment this seemed a bit bulky. Next time I will just interface the buttonhole placket and not the button placket which seems to be the standard with a button down shirt anyway.

I started working on this shirt at 10am and apart from a few meal and exercise breaks did not finish until 10pm. Once I got started I just didn’t want to stop.

The fit is pretty good, it could go an inch or 2 shorter but is still OK at this length, therefore a success as a toile but does it look obviously home made and like a sheet? Does that bother me?… well not much. I am not aiming for a RTW look I’m aiming to make something that fits me using supplies I already own and I like this shirt more every time I put it on. It was meant to be a toile but every sewist hopes a toile will be wearable don’t they? The shirt (sheet) fabric is quite thick and warm so I think it’s going to be good across 3 seasons. The flowery pattern makes it more difficult to find something it goes with but as I don’t make many plain garments (should make more) that’s not a unique problem for me.

I still have another full sheet left but that’s a make for another day. However, plans for a version in a different non- sheet fabric are already afoot.

Coat from a curtain

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Some time last year I was offered curtains which were being thrown out and obviously said yes please.

There were 3 different types and although not keen on the brown ones, took them all because I think that’s the best thing to do all round. If you go through the bag picking out some things and rejecting others its like criticizing someone’s taste who is trying to do you a favour, and if you don’t take everything you are not helping them as much because they still have stuff to get rid of.

I put all of them up in my loft for a while waiting for inspiration to strike – and before long it did, but for the disliked brown ones.

A few years ago I found myself away from home and having misjudged the weather, in need of a coat. This was an annoying situation for me because I don’t like to make unplanned clothing purchases and in this case bought a value coat from a supermarket – it was a hip length duvet type coat:

I have given this coat a chance and worn it quite a lot – I washed it and some of the padding clumped together, so now its time was up and it wasn’t that warm anyway – enter the brown curtains, which I pre-washed on my normal cycle. I had already removed the lining and used it to line some other curtains.

The curtains were going to be a Helen’s closet Pona jacket – the longer version, and be lined. I am fast becoming a walking advert for this pattern company having recently made 4 x Arden pants, 4 x Suki robe and now 2 x Pona Jacket, note to self, diversify more.

I am not sure what to say the curtain fabric type was but will attempt to describe it – there is a chenille element and a silky element and one side is the shadow of the other.

The warp (grainline) thread, seen here on the left is a thin brown cotton type which holds it all together. There are 2 weft threads, a silky turquoise one which only appears on one side of the fabric to make up the leaves and is hidden in the warp the rest of the time, and a chenille type brown one which appears on one side of the fabric or the other to make up the flowers. The right side of the curtains was the silky side but I decided to use the chenille side as I thought it looked less curtainy. The previous owners of these curtains also owned a cat which had spent some time scratching the silky side.

It was a luxury to have so much fabric, normally I select a fabric piece for my project which is smaller than the recommended size and do tetris to reduce waste, but with this jacket I had plenty and abandoned my normal fabric frugality.

Fraying was a big issue, so much so that even though I was going to line the jacket I started by zig zagging every piece.

The jacket came together well and as I have previously made the shorter view from some old jeans, Helen’s closet Pona jacket from upcycled jeans I was familiar with the instructions. The curtain was thick but my walking foot coped well with it. There is a blog post on Helen’s closet website taking you through the steps needed to line the jacket which I had planned and also needed to do due to the fraying. The lining fabric was some from stash left over some trousers made last year More Arden pants. I struggled with the hem part of the lining instructions and ended up sewing the lining on to the jacket by hand at the hem.

I like the way the other side of the fabric shows on the lapel and am enjoying the oversized pockets. I had to topstitch every edge because this curtain did not respond to pressing. Here is the coat on a hanger

And on my daughter – its not for her, I just used her for photos, then realised I couldn’t then tag sewover50.

The coat is very snuggly and warm but I am going to end up putting some sort of fasten on it as I just think its needed on a coat of this nature.

Bonus feature

I had a message from my daughter that some 2XL scrubs were needed at the nursing home at which she works so sewed up these ones from a duvet cover using a sewdifferent pattern found online.

Vintage fabric and thread purchases

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I recently had 2 sewing shopping experiences that dreams are made of.

Exploring a nearby village with my daughter we saw a few charity shops. I love charity shops and second hand items generally. There’s the thrill of the chase, the bargains and the variety and unpredictable nature of items on offer for sale which appeals to me. Plus, I feel as if I am giving older items the respect they deserve, they get another chance to be useful and avoid landfill for a few more years.

At one particular charity shop there were some sewing notions for sale – a pincushion and some thread, some curtain tape etc. I bought them for a total of £11 asked if they had any fabric for sale. The sales assistant told me that there was some upstairs and she would go and look. I was expecting a few small pieces, not 3 carrier bags full of wonderful vintage fabric. I could see that one of them was suiting which I am unlikely to use, and rejected that one but said I would buy the other 2 bags, suggested price (from her) was £5. I hadn’t properly looked through the bags but could tell that this price was too cheap and gave her £10.

I couldn’t wait to get home and get a proper look at what was there but could not have anticipated how good the contents were, most likely the fabric stash of a lady who had died. I wish I could have known her and heard her sewing stories. There was a good number of larger pieces, 3m seems to have been her go to length, including what I believe is vintage liberty cotton lawn – I bought some Liberty lawn from the shop last year and this fruity fabric has the same look and feel.

There was 3m of this sheerish blue fabric from 1981 – its probably my favourite of the lot but I haven’t got a plan for it yet.

And 5m of monochrome of a narrower width – this ones a bit slippery.

and so much more…… some pieces look like the 1m you sometimes have left over or maybe remnants but the bag also included some Ikea bedding type fabric from 2007. Most of the fabric was woven but there were some smaller sized knits as well.

At the bottom of one of the bags was a box full of threads, notions and trim, some were very old.

There was some rick rack wrapped up in a 1962 newspaper

Some fancy trim

And some India tape, which I had to look up what it actually was, (its a kind of stabilising tape) made in Manchester with very old styling on the package. There is a lot of this India tape and I doubt I can use all of it it but will absolutely keep and cherish it.

There were also a lot of sets of buttons like this

It was the best ever charity shop find possibly never to be repeated. I will treat this find with respect, for me its not about getting a bargain but about enjoying these treasures.

As luck would have it the next day I was browsing face book market place and near to me someone was selling a box of thread. I went to buy it and the box was a very mixed bag.

There were several overlocker spools and again some very old thread.

Some mending wool – didn’t know that was a thing.

Plenty of older wooden spools, although the owner of this box did seem to like winding new thread onto old bobbins as the dark smoke one is actually yellow.

Look at this war Issue thread – I don’t even know if I should use this as its so old.

There was also an assortment of overlocker threads, some of which were dirty at the edges but I’ll still use them.

It’s official, I now have thread beyond life expectancy, but looking through my fabric and thread is almost a hobby in itself, and I know that if similar treasures presented themselves to me tomorrow I would buy them again.

A Christmas Wilder gown

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This is the 4th Wilder gown or top I have made and probably the last.

Here is the first gown and top

This year I moved away from London and the day before I left I got the urge to go into Brixton market one last time for a souvenir, and what better one to choose than some fabric.

I was not interested in Ankara, that has too many issues, not the least of which is that you often have to buy 6 yards of the stuff, so I chose some drapey olive green viscose with cream flowers and a paisley print. It was the last of the bolt which was about 2.7 metres, and at the time of buying there was no particular plan for it.

After my previous Wilder I made a note to increase the bodice length by 2cm, in line with a 2cm FBA. Although the 2.7m I had is quite a lot of fabric, it is not the recommended amount for a full length wilder so I made the panels slightly shorter (would have done that anyway as I am short) and as wide as I could with the fabric available – the first tier has less gathering than the bottom tier.

The Wilder gown involves a lot of gathering, and I decided to try the dental floss and zig zag stitch method which is basically sewing a zig zag stitch over some dental floss, pulling on the floss to achieve gathering, then sewing down the gathers with a straight stitch. I did a practice piece, it seemed straight forward. For the first layer I used a zig zag width of 3 but increased it to 3.5 for the second layer just to make things easier for myself.

On the second layer I must have been a bit casual about stitching my straight stitch beneath the zig zag because annoyingly it bit of it shows though if you look carefully.

I am not sure if extending the bodice by 1 inch was a good idea either, it seems a bit too long now especially when sitting down. Its still a good dress ready to wear on Christmas day.

Bonus feature: foray into knitting

I do knit but am not particularly frequent or adventurous.

I had a bag of various odd balls of wool and decided to knit them up into a cardigan, using round needles to knit the whole bodice so I could just carry on knitting until the balls ran out and always have consistent stripes. This made for a very long row.

I didn’t have a pattern and this make almost felt like a sewing and refashioning exercise, just made a boxy bodice with dropped sleeves.

The bodice turned out too wide so I used some buttons to wrap it around and fasten it down.

Somehow I still seem to have just as much wool left as I bought a few extra because not all the ones I already had were the right thickness or colour.

Charity shop behind the scenes

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I have been a life long charity shopper and prefer to use 2nd hand items wherever possible.

This is for several reasons, probably the least important of which is cost. I have always disliked waste, it upsets me, and view buying second hand items as reducing waste.

I prefer the shopping environment in a charity shop, no pushy and snooty assistants.

You never know what you might find and there’s always the possibility of finding something unique that probably only you will really treasure.

Anyway, I’ve recently starting volunteering and here are my behind the scenes experiences.

I know some writers focus on gross and disgusting stuff which they have found amongst donations but my experience is that most people are well meaning and donate what they consider to be quality items.

My shop is in a fairly poor area of London but there are some more wealthy customers and donators as well. We are situated next to a supermarket which is to our advantage as people pop in for a look without having to make a special trip.

The main fact to be swallowed is that supply of donations far exceeds demand from customers. This means that the vast majority of donated items can not be sold in the shop. Even if something makes it to the shop floor it may not be sold, but replaced after a few weeks by some other item.

In our society most people already own everything that they need so to buy more stuff either means they must clutter up their small properties or get rid of things that are not yet beyond use. Most people do the latter, assuaging their guilt by donating.

Here are some facts about donations we receive, and this is specific to the shop I work in which is part of a small local chain.

1. People donate loads of stuff at a time, typically a bin bag or more full.

2. The quality of the bag is usually quite homogenous ie all good or all poor.

3. Our typical bag would consist of cheap womens’ clothing from Primark or H&M in a small size barely worn ie bought and quickly discarded by the very demographic which is supposed to care most about the environment. These items are largely unsellable, or go in the 50p bin.

4. Men donate more clothes than women but buy less. I say if you donate you should buy a few items as well.

5. Anything dirty, broken or stained can not be sold. This sometimes causes dilemmas when we receive a designer item which needs a wash.

6. Some people are incredibly generous and donate high value items, for example today we received a brand new mens’ suit with a tag of £300. In the same bag was a jacket which had been newly dry cleaned.

7. What applies to clothes also applies to books.

8. Electrical goods should go to specialist centres that can test them before sale.

9. Staff don’t like donations right at the end of the day and your donation is more likely to make it to the shop floor if given early morning midweek.

10. All staff take some things home, especially things that can’t be sold such as slightly damaged goods or partly used toiletries.

11. We still get ‘rag’ money from unsaleable clothes, currently £4 per bin bag full, so its still worth taking unsaleable clothes to donate, just tell the staff they are rags.

12 . Most of the purchases are not from poor people buying essentials they would not otherwise be able to afford, the typical customer is buying more things they don’t actually need to clutter their homes with – how do I know this? because they return weekly and buy large volumes of the same type of stuff. The regular customer however, is out lifeblood and we are always pleased to see them.

13. Generally we have oversupply in all areas except mens’ trousers, cutlery and vinyl records.

Finally please, please buy. If you buy an item second hand and only use it a few times the charity will have got some money and you will have made the shop staff very happy – they have sales targets and get stressed out if they are not met. Chances are if you did not buy, the item destiation was landfill.

You can have fast fashion the charity shop way – buy, wear a few times then re-donate, and help a good cause at the same time.

Vogue V8379 wrap dress

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Fabric and style choices

On a recent trip to Walthamstow I saw this bottle green polka dot knit fabric for the bargain price of £3 per metre and purchased 2 metres.

V8379 was released in 2008 and is still in production. Nothing lasts the course like that without having some merit.

It’s for knit fabrics with moderate stretch (35%), the waist tie passes through a hole in the side seam and some bust shaping is provided by 2 pleats at the waist.

There are 2 views, with and without long sleeves, cuffs and collar. I chose to make long sleeves and collar but no cuffs in size 14 but grading larger at the waist.

There was loads of internet help available about how to sew this dress up, but as expected from its popularity, most sewers reported a positive experience.

Internet suggestions I followed were:

The neck facings tend to roll out, omit them and just turn the seam allowances under, adding clear elastic to stop stretching out.

The belt is too short, add some length – I cut the size 22 belt.

Stabilise the shoulder seams with interfacing

Size adjustments and cutting out

I haven’t made a wrap dress before so didn’t have pattern pieces available to compare the size with – normally comparing pattern pieces with something I have already sewed and know the fit of would be the first part of my planning process – I dug out a RTW dress and the sleeve pieces seemed OK in a straight 14.

Some sewists reported making a straight size without their normal adjustments and it had worked out fine due to the style and stretch fabric but I decided to go with my usual adjustments of bust one size bigger and waist 2 sizes bigger. There is a FBA out there online which basically involves adding an extra waist pleat.

The pattern sheets come in size 8 – 14 and 16 – 22 which made grading up more fuss. The front bodice pieces are strange shapes because of the pleats and there are a lot of pattern markings to transfer – some are only needed for the collar and cuffs or one side of the bodice.

Fabric requirements are 2.75 yards so I was clearly some way short but I never worry about these things, confident it can be made to work somehow. I laid my fabric out and all the big pieces seemed to fit and I was not cutting the neck facings and sleeve cuffs anyway.

The skirt and front bodice pieces were all fine, cut from single layer fabric and all were on grain. The sleeves had to go on the cross grain but that was also fine, then things started getting tricky as there were only small pieces remaining to get the back bodice out of. The back bodice ended up bit of a dogs dinner TBH and there was still the long belt and the collar to cut and this was all the fabric I had left.

How was I going to cut the long belt and collar pieces out of this?

I slept on it and in the morning raided my stash and found some black rib fabric which had been a very small dress I had saved from the charity shop (at which I volunteer) rag bag for another project but not used. I cut the collar and belt out of this black rib and sighed with relief – the whole cutting out process felt like a project in itself all before I’d even threaded a needle.

Sewing the dress together

Starting off with a ballpoint needle for a test seam it kept skipping – I thought this was supposed to be what happened if you don’t use a ballpoint needle, and its not the first time I’ve had this experience, so I reverted to a universal needle which was fine. I don’t know what’s going wrong with the ballpoint.

A narrow zig zag seemed to work better than lightning stitch (I don’t have an overlocker) but the uppermost fabric did want to stretch out a bit while sewing. When no stretch was needed such as the shoulder, skirt and sleeve seams, I put the walking foot on and this was much better.

Not fond of interfacing and also trying to use up small pieces of fabric in my stash, some cotton gingham became my interfacing to stabilise the collar and shoulder seams.

The dress construction was quite straight forward – sew the bodice together, sew the skirt together, attach bodice to skirt, attach sleeves to bodice but I stopped following the instructions half way through because I didn’t have neck facings, just turning the neck edge seam allowances under and tucking in some clear elastic as suggested by the internet. I didn’t know whether to stretch the clear elastic or not or if so my how much, and after trying on did stretch it by a marginal amount as I sewed it in.

Collar meets turned under seam allowance at the neckline

Because there was no facing I had to snip the seam allowance where it met the collar, and hand sew it down, same where it met the waist.

Finished result

The dress fits well and is comfortable, the neck doesn’t gape. I don’t think it’s obvious the back bodice is pieced together.

The big skirt does make it feel bottom heavy on the hanger and when putting it on, as reported by other sewers, but overall its also been a positive experience for me. I have some more expensive jersey fabric with the same amount of stretch in my stash which may be turned into one of these dresses thus making this polka dot version that common item beloved of most sewers ie a wearable toile.