A voluminous candy striped pillowcase

I ordered one more stretchy bargain jersey along with the two that I had ordered for Moneta Fail and Moneta Success.  This was the most spectacular yet. Oh yes: GIANT pink and white diagonal stripes.  It was in a gorgeously drapey polyester jersey that was made to be a maxi dress. Or at least in my world it was. Other people might not want to walk around looking like a giant candy cane, but I did.

It was however, quite a thin fabric, and I was a little nervous around it after the horrors of the orange moneta, so I chose the laziest option I could find. I actually had a proper simple maxi dress pattern in my stash, but the instructions said the pattern was ‘not suitable for obvious diagonals’. These diagonals were about as obvious as one could get, so I opted instead for this kind of non-pattern. As the author herself says, what you are essentially making here is a giant pillow case with arm and neck holes. As it’s in jersey, the seams aren’t even finished and there are no hems.  Crazy right?  Except being a bit anal at times, I did finish the seams, and attempt to hem things, which didn’t really help or do anything much,  but made me feel a little bit better.

Bad dodgy attempt at neckline hemming

Bad dodgy attempt at neckline hemming

It must be said, without a neat little curvy figure and a flattering angle, the thing can just look like a pillowcase. Look:

The pillowcase at its most pillowy

The pillowcase at its most pillowy

However, belts are a wonderful thing, and I copied Sweet Verbena, and voila! It looked a bit more maxidress, a bit less bedlinen.

Ta da! I almost have a waist...

Ta da! I almost have a waist…

I have worn this more than I thought I would, despite bad hemming, actual horrible faults on the fabric selvedge (that I couldn’t cut off because otherwise it wouldn’t be wide enough) and, well, the ostentatiousness of it, it is so darn comfy. The arm holes are a bit too big as well and you can see the side of my bra, but I just make sure I wear a nice bra as I waft around gloriously in it. As non-patterns using dodgy fabric go, this one is fun and simple and just brilliant to wear. You can knock one up in about 20 mins if you feel like it. Just maybe spend a pound or more on your fabric so you don’t have this weirdness that won’t wash out on your side seam.

Close up of fabric fault

Did someone spill acid on the roll? What is this? (Please excuse total lack of attempt to match stripes)

What’s the quickest or cheapest thing you have ever made?

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The Stripey Moneta: A Success!

So, after my major failure with my first Moneta, I did not lose heart. On the contrary, I was filled with a determination to get it right. I was also equipped with a far superior fabric. Oh yes, I had a really nice thick, nautical double jersey knit from Minerva , that was actually cheaper than the orange horror at only £3.99 a metre! By then my super new Sheffield steel scissors had arrived too, and cutting out was a delight. I shortened the waist back to its normal length (which was actually slightly short: third time lucky!) and cut a size smaller. I made the version with the three quarter length sleeves and sewed with a ballpoint needle and twin needled the hems. I have never felt more professional when I threaded the double needle and it actually worked.  I felt like this was the sewing equivalent of making a 6 foot high stack of profiteroles from scratch. It felt ADVANCED. And it looked jolly nice too.  It just goes to show the difference that having good materials and the right kit can make to your sewing. It also really taught me that making a wearable or not actually really wearable muslin beforehand is to be advised, even with forgiving knits. If I hadn’t totally buggered up the orange one, I would have ruined this lovely fabric which has made such a nice dress.

Here it is: my wonkily striped but pretty successful Moneta

Here it is: my wonkily striped but pretty successful Moneta

What I didn’t quite manage was to remember that I might want the stripes to look a bit smoother or match at the waistline. I was so bothered about sewing a nice smooth seam under the elastic (I  had tried to sew over the elastic last time, ending up with a ridiculously small seam allowance which turned into holes instantly as the weight of the skirt pulled it down) that I didn’t even think about how the stripes would look sewn together. I also hadn’t thought about how the stripes would look when I was cutting it out.  As you can see, they don’t look quite right. When you are learning to sew, trying to remember all the new things you are learning is like juggling, and I’m dropping balls all the time. But still, this dress is pretty good: it’s robust, comfortable and flattering, so what do a few wonky stripes matter?  I wear it all the time and get lots of compliments. Another new Moneta is happening this weekend when a friend is coming to stay and sew with me. I’m making a lined sleeveless one with a collar, and my friend who is pregnant is making a teal one with room to expand in. Hopefully I will get the waist line right finally, and hers will look good now, and in a few months time when she is rounder! Watch this space!

The Collette Moneta Giant Orange Monstrosity

I know everyone is making the wonderful Moneta. I know it’s supposed to be foolproof. But it wasn’t quite me-proof.

The reasons it all went a bit pear-shaped (or should I say saggy orange tube shaped) were these:

1: I genuinely didn’t know how tricky jersey could be
2: So I bought really fine, thin, super stretchy cheap jersey
3: I didn’t follow the Collette sewalong and was a bit casual in my reading of the instructions. I’m really not good at reading instructions properly.
4: I didn’t have twin needles or a ballpoint needle.

The first two points led to total disaster, the second two, had I understood the first two better would not necessarily have doomed the project, but combined with the fabric and the naivety were pretty fatal.

When I made the orange tube, I also did not think about my sizing properly. As the Collette Sorbetto size 18 was a bit small, I decided the obvious size to make would be a 3xl (approx size 26). This despite the fact that I was using a much more forgiving stretch fabric. I think what had happened was I read somewhere that for dresses waist size was the crucial factor, and being an apple shape (I’m pretty generous around the middle), I was a bit nervous about the clear elastic it said it needed digging in, so I picked the biggest size. This may be the case for non stretchy dresses that you have made a full bust adjustment on, but is emphatically not the case for the Moneta. I also decided, based on the fact that the waistline of  many of my dresses tends to rise up and become a bit empire line on me due to big boobs and middle, that I definitely needed to add 6 inches to the bodice length. I didn’t measure myself or the pieces to know this, I just ‘knew’.

Me trying to make the orange tube look good in the work toilets

Me trying to make the orange tube look good in the work toilets

Turns out ‘just knowing’ isn’t what sewing needs. Sewing requires accurate measurements and cutting out. Sewing requires that you pay full attention to the instructions, even if they do appear to be written in a foreign language, in shorthand. This is is an incredibly good discipline for me, because as my husband will tell you: I’m not a details person. I regularly declare that I am going to cook a dish for dinner that sounds delicious from a recipe I saw, buy all the ingredients and then get home and discover that I need to soak something overnight, or the cooking time is six hours long, or I don’t have any of the equipment I need.  Inevitably I will have skim-read the recipe at best, not read it at all at worst, and it will end in disaster. My husband now does pretty much all of the cooking. However, sewing is changing me slowly. Because I am so new to it, because I don’t know enough to muddle through: I have to pay full attention. This is good. It is helping me to concentrate and focus much better than I normally do, and sometimes I even achieve ‘flow‘. I will write more on the meditativeness of sewing at a later date. But it is incredibly good discipline for a distractable, flighty, flibbertigibbet like me.

Anyway: back to the dress.

Just cutting it out was enough to make me want to throw either my cheap scissors or myself out of the window.  I don’t have very much room at home and had to cut my fabric on the wooden floor. Oh dear me it was awful. It slipped and stretched and WOULD NOT OBEY. I hated it. I made cut marks on the parquet floor and so very nearly gave up entirely. But, using another zygotic skill, patience, I got through. And ordered a beautiful new pair of scissors  (Sheffield steel: whoop!) for next time. And then the sewing. I used a standard needle on a small zig zag stitch for everything because I didn’t have the right kit. This meant all my hems and seams didn’t look crisp, and in the thin jersey, puckered. For some reason I used white cotton as well which just added to the amaturishness of it all. But the big issue was the waist. I was actually ok with sewing on the clear elastic to gather the skirt, and found it easier than I thought. But I hadn’t looked at the Sewalong about how to attach the skirt to the top (or more accurately, read the questions from other sewers in the sewalong as the demonstration uses a serger which I don’t have), and wasn’t sure whether join the bodice to the skirt on the clear elastic again, or under it. I wasn’t sure if the elastic was just supposed to float around in the seam. I thought that if the join was the stitching and not the elastic this would snap. So I tried sewing the bodice to the skirt on the elastic, with the effect that the seam allowance was so small, I missed bits, and had lots of gaps and holes all around.  Instead of trying again, I went for the ultimate bodge-job fix, which was to try to cover it up with another bit of fabric. This also served as a kind of suspender belt as it had the triple function of covering the holey waistline, pushing the too long bodice up so it could billow over it, and holding the skirt up which was pulling the whole thing down as the waist band was too loose, and too low to actually sit on my waist, and the fabric was too thin and to stretchy to hold itself up.  It looked ok, ish but I knew it wouldn’t survive many washes. Also, I just hated it. Everything was too big and the fabric was just too thin and too clingy to be flattering.  I wore it once, then chopped it in half with the aim of reusing the skirt fabric for something and turning the top into a t-shirt, then decided that I didn’t want anything in that crappy thin stretchy orange fabric of doom and binned it. By this time I had made a smaller, much better Moneta in a  gorgeous stripy, thick double knit, and I didn’t need this orange monstrosity.

A close up showing too big sloppy shoulders. By the way, these aren't my shades, I was trying on my friends, they look terrible, I know. But not as bad as the dress.

A close up showing too big sloppy shoulders. By the way, these aren’t my shades, I was trying on my friend’s, they look terrible, I know. But not as bad as the dress.

So what did I learn?

1: Do not buy cheap thin jersey

2: If you do regardless (because you are a sucker for cheapness): make sure you have good scissors, have read all the instructions  and reviews for your pattern, take your time and use the right needles.

3: If you have buggered it up: don’t try and patch it up, but unpick and start again. Otherwise what you have made will end up in the bin.

4: It is a very good idea to make a muslin. This was essentially a not-very-wearable muslin for my successful Moneta as the fabric was cheap and I wasn’t very attached to it. Even though it ended up in the bin, I am so glad I made it as otherwise I would have had all these issues in the fabric that I really liked, and that would have ended up in the bin instead.

5: Measure yourself: don’t guess.

6: Round sunglasses don’t suit me.

The Passive Aggressive Dress

After making two sacks, the Colette Sorbetto and a very simple elasticated waist skirt from a metre of gorgeous V+A bargain print  cotton, I decided I really would like to make something a bit good. So I booked myself on a one day ‘make a dress’ course just outside London. I shan’t say what course it was because though I have a lot of positive things to say about it, I was slightly horrified by the attitude of the teacher and I want to talk about it without being sued for libel and defamation.  If you want to know which course you might want to avoid you can ask me privately!

But anyway, off I eagerly went to learn to sew a summer dress. When I signed up for the course the instructions said that those up to a size 16 would sew from one pattern (with three different neckline/strap combinations to choose from) and those sized 16-24 would sew a different pattern. All patterns would be cut out ready for us to start immediately on.  I thought it was a little strange that they hadn’t just chosen a dress pattern that offered the full range of sizes (which err, loads of them do) so we could all sew and learn together, but whatever.

When I arrived there were four of us in the class: all a bit daunted that we were going to make our first lined dress with a zip. Two women had chosen a sweetheart neckline and the other had chosen a halterneck. I had no choice and just had to sew the ‘flattering’ style pre selected for me. (And the dress was quite flattering, though not for anyone with boobs. Which obviously curvy women don’t usually have.) But what the hell, I thought between four of us we are sewing three different dresses in a range of different fabrics, so we would all have different experiences.  I didn’t quite realise how different my experience would be until the (slim) teacher started talking about the patterns we would sew. She gave the three smaller women their pattern pieces and talked them through them, which I listened to, and then she loudly and faux jauntily announced that they could all start sewing while she talked me through my ‘SPECIAL PATTERN FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE’.  Why I had to be given some kind of separate treatment when we were all making different dresses I don’t want to know. The other ladies looked at me a bit confused as if I had some kind of impairment  or had paid for an extra gold-plated service, so I just loudly and faux jauntily announced right back that ‘I AM MAKING A BIGGER SIZE THAN YOU’. For fuck’s sake. There ain’t no shame in my game.

Sewing machine and fabric

Doing some sewing

We also had a joyous  moment when my skirt needed gathering. ‘You can’t do this on the machine.  With HUGE amounts of fabric like this, it’s just not going to work. You are going to have to do it by hand’. To be fair to her, my hand stitched gathers came out very nicely and we were both pleased, and she was probably right that it wouldn’t have come out as nice on the machine.  But she still made sure I knew I was a ‘special person’. So very ‘special’.

I am ‘pleased’ to announce that her sneering was not just reserved for me.  Another woman in the class was perfectly capable, but very nervous and underconfident in her sewing. The teacher’s way of dealing this was to shout at her to ‘USE SOME COMMON SENSE’ and to berate her for her lack of confidence. An excellent and productive approach, I think you will agree. She regularly told us not to ruin the sewing machines, and spent most of the lesson making a cuddly toy out of a sock while sighing at our lack of  knowledge. Why she thought we were on a course, I don’t know. I didn’t realise that you needed to come to a dressmaking class with professional dressmaking skills already.

The Finished Dress. Up Yours Mean Lady!

The Finished Dress. Up Yours Mean Lady!

However, tyrannical, judgemental, sighing teacher aside, I made an awesome dress! And I learnt a LOT. I had previously been scared of lining dresses, because the instructions and diagrams  on patterns are not really able to communicate the turning inside out jiggery pokery that one needs to do once one has sewn the bodice up right sides together.  I needed someone to show me with fabric and hands what I needed to do. This, the scary teacher did, and I was thrilled. She also taught me to put an invisible zip in, which made me feel super professional. Despite her extremely odd manner, I learnt so much, just by having someone to ask questions of, to show me, and from being able to watch my three other terrified sewers. The dress is stupendously low cut, (seriously, why couldn’t I just sew a halterneck or a sweetheart neckline one rather than this slightly strange combination of Jennifer Lopez meets grandma) but otherwise, pretty neat. I sewed in a very wonky modesty panel when I got home, and for the first time, really felt that I had made something really good quality. It’s a shame I had to overcome someone’s weirdness to do this, but I would really really recommend taking a course to get some basic skills in. Just maybe not this course.