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Two Summer Dresses

With the weather turning as hot as it has been recently I discovered a distinct lack of work - appropriate dresses in my wardrobe.

I knew I wanted to make a couple but couldn't decide on a pattern.  I've had a love of loose shirt dresses develop over the last few months, but they tend to be a bit shapeless and not necessarily the most figure flattering.  I wanted something loose-ish but not so loose it was sacklike.

I couldn't decide which pattern to use, but then I remembered a black linen dress I made a couple of summers ago (I think) based on the Lily Sage and Co Branson top.

I quickly reprinted the pattern and taped it together, then dug out my fabric.  For my first dress I used some lovely drapey viscose challis I bought recently from Minerva Crafts.  It's a really nice weight and the colours are gorgeous; I'm tempted by one of the other colourways as well.

In terms of the pattern, I cut the bodice back as per the original pattern, albeit taking an inch out of the height to account for my lack of height.  For the back skirt I lengthened the back peplum by 18 inches.

The front is all one piece - as in not separate pieces for bodice and skirt - and this I lengthened by the same 18 inches after smoothing out the dipped hem at the centre front.

Construction-wise I followed the pattern directions, but from my last one I found I could get it on and off without undoing the buttons, so this one has no buttonholes.  The buttons are sewn through both front bands, which is incredibly lazy I know!  I was pleased to find I had exactly the right bright orange buttons in my button jar. 

The second one I made has turned out a little fancier than I planned.  I probably wouldn't wear this one to work, but I'd wear it outside work for anything from a casual walk to the local pub to a fancy birthday party.  In fact I'm planning on wearing it to a 70th birthday party this coming weekend.

The fabric is another viscose, this time from Barry's in Birmingham, purchased quite recently.   It's thinner and not quite as nice as the previous fabric, but at £4.00 a metre I can't complain!

I decided to maxi-fy this one; I'm not quite sure how much length I added on I'm afraid, enough to make it ankle length on me. 

I also decided to do a little something different with the sleeves.  I had the Burdastyle Alexander blouse pattern in my stash, so I decide to use the sleeve from that for this dress.  The sleeve is actually cut as part of the bodice and gathered into a kind of dart, so I overlaid my two patterns and traced a new shoulder/sleeve.  Luckily the sleeve blended really easily into the underarm/side seam junction on the Branson bodice.

Again I cheated and didn't make buttonholes.  I don't hate making buttonholes quite as much as I used to, but I'd definitely avoid making them if at all possible.

I'm trying to stop myself making another dress using this pattern as a basis and move on to something else. 

I'm off to Portugal in September and could do with some holiday clothes.  I don't do shorts, but I'd love some flippy culottes I could make at around knee length, and I've got a desire for a loose strappy jumpsuit.  Any pattern recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

Embroidered Denim Jacket

I love having something creative to do while I'm sitting watching television in the evening - or any time of day! - and recently I've been working on embroidering the back of a denim jacket.

I did one last year, but sadly it's a bit too small for me, so I've been looking around for another design to stitch onto the back of a jacket I bought a while ago.  I hadn't found anything I really fancied until I saw this design pop up in my Instagram feed.

I loved not only the overall design, but the "Choose Kindness" sentiment of the banner.  The design was created by Lolli and Grace, who's Etsy shop can be found here and Instagram here.

There are various ways you can transfer your embroidery design onto your fabric.  I decided to use Aquasol water soluble fabric, available from Barn Yarns.  I've used this before and got on really well with it.  You can also get sticky versions that actually stick to your fabric, but I don't like the feel of my needle and thread going through the adhesive as I sew.

I printed off the design template and traced it onto the Aquasol with a black fine liner pen.  I pinned it into place on the back of the jacket before putting it into the embroidery hoop to ensure that it stayed exactly where I wanted it. 

The Lolli and Grace pattern was really lovely to follow, the instructions were so detailed, with lots of colour photographs and illustrations to help you create a fabulous piece of work.  I'll definitely be back for more patterns from them.

I did the embroidery over the space of two or three weeks, spending a little time most evenings working on it.  I have to say it stitched up quicker than I thought it might when you think about how detailed the design is.  Below is a collage of some of my "in progress" shots.

Once finished I removed the hoop and cut away the excess fabric from around the edges of the embroidery with a small pair of scissors.  You can see this in the bottom right photo above.  You need to be careful that you don't cut through any of your carefully worked stitches, but the fabric cuts very easily so as long as you're careful you should be fine.

Once you've cut away the excess fabric from around the edge you need to soak the piece to removed the rest of the soluble fabric.  This just needs to be done in cool water and it doesn't take long for the fabric to dissolve and disappear.  If the Aquasol isn't rinsed away completely it can make your base fabric feel a little stiff once it's dry, so it's worth taking your time on this step.

Finally here's a photo of the finished piece being modelled by me.

I love how the bright colours pop against the slightly faded denim, and I loved the whole process of doing this piece.  I find embroidery so relaxing to do after a stressful day at work.

Have you ever tried embroidery?  Are you tempted?  Or do you prefer another craft to help you relax?

Book Review: Layered and Stitched Pictures by Katie Essam

My love affair with free motion embroidery was started by a workshop I took with textile artist Katie Essam six or seven years ago so I was very excited to discover recently that she was in the process of writing a book on the subject.


The book - Layered and Stitched Pictures - has now been published and my pre-ordered copy popped through my letter box last week. 

I taught a couple of free motion embroidery workshops yesterday and mentioned the book to the workshop participants, so I thought it would be good to give it a little review.

Part of "The Textile Artist" series by Search Press, it's a gorgeous book, full of lovely photographs and inspiration.  If you like free motion embroidery and Katie's style in particular it's lovely just to look through even if you never made any of the projects from it.  But I'm sure you'd be inspired to sit down at your machine and have a go at one or two as well!

The introduction section firstly tells you a little about Katie herself, then goes on to talk about the materials you will need.  It covers everything from threads to backing and applique fabrics and various types of interfacing and fusible webbing you might need.  This section also lists other tools and materials you might find helpful, including paints and found items for collaging, and has a few tips and advice for before you start and what to do if things don't feel quite right.

This tip below is one of my favourites:

I always tell participants of my workshops that they shouldn't pressurise themselves to create something "perfect" first time; and what is "perfect" anyway.  Having fun and playing with the techniques is good for you!

There are a number of projects within the book, starting with a stitched beach scene, all with detailed photographic step by step instructions.

Each project focusses on a slightly different technique or uses different materials and then goes on to suggest how you could take what you've just learned further.

There's also a lovely section on finding ideas and inspiration and planning your work. In this section Katie talks about composition - do you remember the "rule of thirds" from your school art classes? - and colour.  This page shows how different the same piece can look when mounted on different backgrounds.

One of my favourite projects in the book is the applique hare.  Again, there are step by step photos showing how to layer the applique and add detail.

There are also projects featuring chickens, a pretty painted blue tit sitting on a blossom branch and a section on collaging pictures.

Towards the end of the book is a section on choosing your own design, with advice on how to choose a technique and making templates for your design, with plenty of gorgeous inspiration included.

It really is a great book.  I was expecting something good, but it's better even than I hoped for.  I love that Katie gives you not only step by step projects to complete but gives you encouragement and inspiration to use your own ideas.

If you're interested in free motion embroidery, then I'd highly recommend you treat yourself to a copy of this book.


My Favourite Free Motion Embroidery Tools


A while ago I posted a tutorial showing how I stitch detail in free motion embroidery pieces, either to add fiddly, precise features or when I don't want to have an applique fabric 'edge' to follow.  This technique involves stitching through a layer of tissue paper with the design drawn on and then carefully removing the tissue once the stitching is complete.

Today I thought I'd tell you a bit more about some of the tools I've found helpful in getting a neat finish.
The first is a common or garden stitch unpicker / seam ripper / whatever you like to call it.
As I showed in the tutorial, it's really handy for gently poking the tip under the tissue paper you need to peel off and easing it away from the stitching. It's much easier than trying to find an edge you can lift up with your fingers!

Once you've removed most of the tissue in this way, you'll probably find you're left with tiny bits in between lines of stitching, or stuck underneath individual stitches. A pair of needle nosed craft tweezers is brilliant for getting rid of these tiny bits.

I got these in the card making section of my local craft shop, as you can see from the photo below the points are really fine.  You can use them to gently scrape out the tiny bits of tissue you can't get with the unpicker or your fingers, and then lift them away.

The final tool I'm going to recommend is not just useful for this technique, it would be handy anywhere you need to cut threads really close to your work. 

These are curved blade micro snips.  I bought this pair on Amazon for about £6.00, the photo below shows the curve on the blade, enabling you to cut threads very close to your work without fear of snipping the work itself.

I've found they make a lot of difference to the neatness of my work and they're very light and easy to handle.

I'm currently trying to justify a pair of these Tula Pink Hardware ones, at about 4 times the price of the pair I bought.  No difference in how they work, but they're much prettier!

I hope you've found this useful.  As always, if you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below and I'll respond as quickly as I can.