Ungrateful Mermaids

Sometime around Christmas, Tris became obsessed with being an “Elsa Mermaid.” And, of course, convinced that I could help her with this transformation.

I was… less enthused. Partly because I was worried she expected me to make her a literal mermaid (and probably then provide a suitable ocean to explore). Mostly because I was pretty sure the confinement of the legs inherent to a “real” mermaid tail just wasn’t going to feel great after a max of five minutes.

So I dragged my feet.

River got in on the excitement, requesting a Rainbow Mermaid tail with only slightly less urgency.

After a fair bit of cogitating, I hit upon the (I thought) brilliant idea of a tail made as a wrap-around skirt, allowing the mermaid look while still running and playing. I even drew up a sketch to try to sell the idea to my three-year-old clients.

They were cautiously receptive, at least once I assured them I could make a pocket in the fin so they could also put their feet inside. So I took some measurements, drafted a couple of rough pattern pieces, and dug through the stash for suitable fabrics. Rainbow was easy, as my aunt gave me a couple of pieces of cheap rainbow-printed satin to make stuff for the twins. Ah, the gift of getting to sew one’s least favourite fabric for someone else. I also had some low-stretch slippery knit with an indistinct white and blue and silver pattern that has always reminded me of the Frozen aesthetic. For the tail fin itself, I opted to use the last of a spongy purple polyester sweater fleece that I had made into baby sweatpants at one point. Actually both fabrics featured in other projects on this post here. But I overlaid the fleece with translucent fabrics to get that iridescent fishy feeling.

For the rainbow tail fin, I picked a purple-y tulle with a bit of a silvery fish scale pattern to it, and intermittent clusters of beads. It had been kicking around stash for several years since one of Syo’s friends deconstructed a ball gown in our basement to make a Hallowe’en costume, and left giant swathes of shorn tulle behind. For Tris I chose a blue organza with random silvery dots, also from my aunt. I then quilted these overlays to each side of the tail separately, creating fish-tail rays. This was far and away the most time-consuming and annoying part of the whole thing.

I completed River’s tail first, as I figured she was going to be less devastated if she didn’t like the result than Tris was, and I could perhaps use its example to manage Tris’s expectations.

River was quite excited, and eager to put it on. However, she was completely unwilling to wear it as a skirt, only as a full tail with her feet tucked into the tail fin pocket.

And the frustration of being unable to walk properly like this got to her fairly quickly, so she hasn’t really worn it after the first day it was delivered. (Oh and I still should topstitch around the tail-fin so it holds its shape better, but my motivation is… low.)

Tris was distinctly lukewarm to River’s tail, and I contemplated just making it as a basic step in tail, but the pieces were already cut out and taking up room in the sewing room. So, eventually, I decided to finish sewing it up, if only to move them from the sewing room to the dress-up box.

When I showed it to her, all completed. Tris said, “no thank you, I’m a princess, not a mermaid.”

Anyway, while I take some deep breaths, I’m going to make something for me now.



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Black underneath

I obviously needed a petticoat to go with my Edwardian skirt (the 1880s ones just don’t quite work). And I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of an all-black set of underthings (hence the black corset, and there’s a black chemise cut out and living in limbo at the moment, too.) So, why not a black petticoat, particularly since I had a nice chunk of black batiste in stash for just such a purpose.

Now, what to use for a pattern? Well, I could have gone with the same as my skirt, maybe just omitting the above-waist extension. And I might still make one like that.

But I ran across the following draft in the “Art of Dressmaking,” copyright 1903 by Madame Marie Boudet, one of an assortment of historical sewing manuals I’ve collected digitally. In particular, I liked that she works in metric (being French), and also that it’s designed to be drafted directly on the fabric. It’s also extremely economical and low-waste, requiring only two skirt-lengths of fabric, and only a few bits are cut away to form the curves at hem and waist.

Now, working out the pattern was not quite as simple as I might have liked—there was a lot of on-the-fly calculation I would rather have worked out beforehand, and her order of describing what to do left a bit to be desired. I also realized partway through that her calculations seem to assume a fabric width of about 32”—not surprising but I had to make some adjustments for my 60” wide fabric. But aside from some issues (mainly losing track of some of my measurements) I still do really like the draft. Even if it does consider 60 cm (23.6”) an “average” waist size. Because of my wider fabric, I had to make my flare a bit more extreme, and I have more gathering at the back waist than is probably intended. On the other hand the draft does mention that a more full petticoat might be desired, requiring three lengths of fabric, so I don’t think my version is beyond the realms of the possible.

I added about a 6” ruffle at the bottom, which was what I planned for, but I really think I do prefer the wider ruffle I used on my earlier petticoat. Although maybe I just need to press it more. I also would’ve liked a nice black lace at the bottom, but I definitely don’t have that much of anything suitable in stash.

For the waist finishing, I used a method from Sew Historically, which I’ve also found described in period sources (isn’t it nice when we’re all reading the same books?). It’s basically two drawstrings anchored at the side backs, that run opposite directions through a casing and emerge from eyelets to get tied together. Although I didn’t follow it quite right and I think I have a lot more gathering at the waist than might be intended due to my overly-wide fabric, so for me it works best to pull the drawstrings around and tie them in the front. Otherwise it looks a bit wonky, as below:

There isn’t much else to say, other than the obligatory complaints about photographing black. So I’ll just let it be that.

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Fluffy up front

So now that I have an Edwardian skirt, obviously I need a proper blouse to go with it. You know the kind—the ones that are mostly lace. But those are, y’know, notably sheer, and my current corset is, y’know, black, so a corset cover is kind of in order.

Now, ever since I started the Victorian Sewing Circle I’ve been collecting “resources” for attendees. Mainly some reproduction catalogues and a couple of original sewing manuals, some older Folkwear patterns my mom had kicking around, and of course the relevant Janet Arnold book. But we’ve received a few donations as well of odds and ends people have collected—including an Edwardian corset-cover pattern someone had painstakingly hand-traced from a magazine article, and photocopied the instructions, I’m guessing in the 90s if not 80s, allegedly based on a 19-aughts original. It’s also, by the way, the exact opposite of size-inclusive. I sewed up the largest size, which was intended for a 40-42” bust.

Inspiration: Random Pinterest photo with a broken source link.

So since I had that on hand, I used it. But, the pattern is designed for vertical pintucks and lace insertion as decoration, and I wanted the horizontal lace ruffle (bust improving) version.


If I were buying a pattern, this Truly Victorian one would be the one. View A, right there.

My pattern is a little different as it goes below the waist and has gathering at the neckline as well, but the ruffle layout was the same.

I also wanted to take this opportunity, because I’m kind of messing around here, and the result won’t be visible, to use up some of the massive stash of questionable lace I’ve somehow accumulated.

Now, on digging through one of the bins of random white fabrics, I settled on a piece of stretch cotton sateen. The stretch is a bit unfortunate, but I already knew I wasn’t going for high historical accuracy here. It’s also a bit on the heavy side, but I figured that would be a bonus for the bust-volumizing I was going for. But most importantly, it was a tiny remnant that was just exactly big enough for a sleeveless pattern like this.

Of course, I didn’t begin diving through the lace stash until after I had cut out the main body pieces. Turns out the wider, ruffled laces I remembered were all beige, rather than white. And I really did not feel like gathering up a flat, nasty polyester lace for this purpose.

So, I wound up going with the nicest, and lightest coloured, of the off-white pre-ruffled lace. And this one is very pretty, not too nasty-feeling, and there was enough for the two ruffles I wanted, with very little left over. It’s a weird lace, with a ruffled top and bottom joined to a flat kind of connecting piece, but I think it will serve its purpose. And if I want to run ribbons through the joining I can.

If I had realized I would end up using the off-white lace before I had cut out the main fabric, I would probably have tried tea-dying the fabric to be a closer match. I might still try with the whole thing, after I test how the lace reacts to a tea dye. (Polyester won’t be affected but if it’s nylon it will take up the tea stain too and might end up even darker). But, I’ll survive either way. The binding I used for the neckline and armscye, and the drawstring casing at the waist, are all ivory, so the whole thing has a tone-on-tone vibe, in theory.

I REALLY wanted beading lace (the flat kind you thread a ribbon through) to finish off the neckline. However, that’s the one kind of lace I do not have in stash, and I just couldn’t make myself spring for the polyester stuff at Fabricland, even if the ruffled lace is already polyester. So I bound the neckline, then realized I had JUST enough lace left to do a third tier right at the neckline. Which solved the issue nicely.

A lil bit goofy all on its own.

Now, on looking at the finished creation, I think my lace might be just a little bit too wide. The ruffles are VERY full-bodied, even allowing for the part where the original inspirations are a little compressed after over a century.

In an attempt to tone them down a bit, I shortened the bottom row of lace, so that doesn’t reach all the way around to the side seam, as it just seemed to make the whole thing look huge.

I kept the pintucks in the back, but I think maybe they should have been 1/8” instead of 1/4” tucks. Also this is the only photo I got of the back, because obviously this piece is all about the front. This is the first time in a long time that I was working with a pattern with pre-marked tucks (as opposed to making the tucks before cutting out the pattern piece, or just doing some calculations and I have decided I much prefer marking my folds one at a time and measuring from each fold to the next. But also this fabric was a bit heavy for all those tucks.

I’m not 100% sure I’m in love with the below-the-waist ruffle created by the drawstring as it’s pretty pronounced in my heavy fabric, but I guess if I hate it I can cut it off later. It was on the pattern, and would be good to have if your skirt didn’t have an above-the-waist portion like mine.

While I’m not so sure I love the piece itself, I THINK I do like it with my skirt, and that it will work well for it’s intended bust-improving purpose. Part of me wants to take the entire bottom row of lace off, but I’ll leave it at least for now.

Because now I can make a blouse!

(Or. Y’know, make the twins that “Elsa mermaid” costume they’ve been desperate for since before Christmas.)


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A long awaited party (dress)

Back in the day…

Way back in 2015, I started coordinating a little monthly get-together I like to call the Victorian Sewing Circle, based out of the Marr Residence, the Oldest House in Town* that the City operates as a sort of mini-museum. I was hoping to indulge my latent interest in historical costuming, meet some like-minded people, and give myself a venue to WEAR at least some historical stuff. Since the house was built in 1884, a mid 1880s outfit seemed like a good goal.

Inspiration dress

I picked an inspiration dress from a reproduction of the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalogue, acquired a ridiculous amount of discount wool blend suiting in my favourite muted blue colour, and ordered two Truly Victorian patterns for the bodice and overskirt, TV462 and TV368.

I started work on the skirt in October of 2015. Later that winter, I got sidetracked and made a “quick and dirty” version to actually wear to our little meetups… and then my progress on the blue “good copy” slowed to an utter crawl. And then when I got pregnant early in 2019, it stalled completely. And what started as a planned hiatus of a year or so turned into three, and I didn’t dust things off until this past fall.

At which point pretty much every measurement on my body had gone up 4-5”. And the “quick and dirty” outfit (the first pic in this post) no longer even remotely fits, so making the blue version wearable became a lot more urgent.

I was pleasantly startled, actually, when I pulled everything out again, at how close to complete it actually was. The skirt just needed the waistband finalized. The bodice just needed boning—but it also no longer fit, and I had accidentally used a very rigid ticking for my underlining, which wasn’t ideal in any way. And (which I had completely forgotten), the overskirt was complete, just needing a way to connect the back tails to the front apron. And perhaps some trimmings.

New waistband, new waistband pleats

Adjusting the skirt wasn’t going to be a big deal—I had only basted on the waistband, and it needed length taken out at the top. I marked the new length on the front, basted and trimmed down to it, but then for the back I folded the extra down and just stitched the edge of the pleats to the waistband, so the seam allowance doesn’t add bulk to the waistband. This is a technique I’d read of in both historical sources and costuming articles, but never actually tried before. The transition from “seam allowance in” to “seam allowance out” is maybe not perfectly smooth, but every original Victorian skirt I’ve examined (which isn’t a high number, granted) had the most half-ass slapped on waistband, so I have a hard time being too fussy over it.

I had made a whole new corset, back at the end of summer, so all I had to do now was adjust the waistbands of both petticoats. For one petticoat this was no big deal as I had originally made it far too big and had to put in two large tucks in the waistband to make it fit. Ripping those out took about 30 seconds and it was good to go.

The second, on the other hand, was snug even when I first made it, and by the time I last wore it in 2019 I had already added a hair elastic looped through the buttonhole as a makeshift extender. But that no longer did the trick so the only option was to unpick the gathered back portion of the waistband and attach a substantial additional piece, then re-attach my painfully stroked gathers one by one, just spread out over a larger space.

It’s definitely an improvement though. I think even my hand-worked buttonhole is better, not that it’s a thing of great beauty.

And then there was the issue of the bodice.

I had steeled myself, frankly, to make a new bodice from scratch. The seams were only 1/2” and already somewhat frayed from a ridiculous amount of handling, and the rigid ticking underlining made the whole idea of altering just seem unpromising. I had enough fabric left over, just. But every time I went to start tracing out a new size of the pattern, a wave of exhaustion struck me.

I decided to try, just try, and see what happened if I let all of the back and side seams out as much as possible. Some of them, especially the waist, had been taken in quite a bit in my previous fitting adventure. And while 1/2” seams don’t allow for a lot of letting out, there are quite a few of them. I tried the bodice on again… it wasn’t enough. In particular, actually, the BACK just didn’t seem wide enough. Not at the waist, but the upper back, and there was still a stubborn 2” gap all along the front. I did toy with a plan where I could add a panel to the centre front, creating an “open jacket” look that is pretty common for the era. But the back still felt uncomfortably tight. If only I could just add more fabric, right at the centre back seam.

Well, why couldn’t I?

So I ripped open the CB seam, from just below the collar to about mid back. Try on. Rip a little further. Try on again. And lo and behold, after ripping it all open except for about 3” at the bottom, it closed in the front.

So I pulled out my scraps, cut a long, tapered spindle-shape, and set about stitching a panel into the back.

It’s not an ideal fix—it’s added some of its own fit issues and ripples, and makes boning the CB of the bodice difficult. But it’s also saved me an immense amount of work. Which these days, I’ll take.

My joy when the alterations actually allowed me to close the bodice!

After all that, all I had to do was add all the boning to the bodice, which I wound up doing by stitching the casings on by hand since my seam allowances were both narrow and quite irregular. Unfortunately, I also had to pull off the bias facing at the front hem to add the bones to my darts, because past me got ahead of herself in the finishing department. Mistakes like that played a huge role in why this damn thing took forever to make, by the way.

I swear in real life the hem looks symmetrical.

Anyway, the bones definitely help smooth out the look, though I might need to redo my buttons to get a truly smooth front. I’ll face that some other day.

After a fair bit of waffling, I decided to attach the tails to the overskirt apron the same way I did with my first version, with elastic loops and large buttons. It’s not historically accurate, but it’s easy, comfy, and highly adjustable.

And, at last, I finally got to wear it!

There are a few more tweaks that could be made. The back of the skirt, where I had omitted one of the overlay panels, looks a little plain. I’m not sure that my draping of the bodice tails or the back of the overskirt is finalized, and I do have some black tassel trim that might look good there.

But after a saga like this, wearable, in any degree, is a huge step forward. And for the first time in ages, I can actually say to myself “what’s next?”

(Actually, I finished this back in early December, so what’s next was the Edwardian skirt. But I really wanted some pictures that weren’t taken in my hallway. Thank you to my mom for digging out her good camera to take most of these, and for braving the technological minefields of iCloud and Dropbox to get them to me.) Next up… an Edwardian-style blouse to go with the skirt. Unless I get highjacked by one of my children, anyway…


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Truly Edwardian

K I’m on a bit of a costuming binge, though a lot of it hasn’t hit the blog due to waiting for pictures (never a smart thing for me to do). Maybe I just like wearing corsets right now, maybe I’m just not feeling mainstream sewing fashion, maybe I actually have enough clothes… anyway. I bought the Truly Victorian 1906 Ten Gore Princess Skirt back in the fall, probably like everyone else who watched Bernadette Banner’s video around that time. I finally got it printed in early December, and over the holidays began very, very slowly poking away at it.

The process began with an epic hunt through the fabric stash. I had a feeling, not even a memory really, that I should have an appropriate length of black suiting somewhere in stash. My (arguably excessive) stash these days lives in a series of clear plastic bins stacked along one wall of my sewing room, and while this isn’t an ideal setup by any means it’s space efficient and protects the fabric from at least some of the hazards of a basement storage space. I usually have a rough idea of where most things are, but in this case I wasn’t even sure that the fabric I was looking for existed.

Anyway, my quest wound up taking me through approximately three quarters of my bins. I (re)discovered a half-forgotten length of black linen, several suiting pieces that would’ve been appropriate except for size, a VERY large length of brocade I had completely forgotten about that wants to become a tea gown of some kind, and several other pieces that would make nice skirts. But then finally, after a couple of hours and creating an impressive amount of mess, I reached the bottom of the last stack of bins (well, technically there were two other stacks, but no way I was tackling them that day)—and there it was. Five metres of soft wool twill suiting, light and drapey and utterly perfect. I can’t describe my exultation.

Anyway, once the fabric was located (and at least some of the mess tidied) the work could begin. I steamed the wool in the dryer. I muslined the lining/corselet pieces for the upper skirt, after doing a small swayback adjustment on the back and side back pieces, and determined (as I expected from the pattern measurements) that I needed to go down a size in the waist. In hindsight I wish I’d gone up a size in the hips, too, because it’s quite fitted over the hips and I always like more room there, but I should probably just let the hip seams out a bit anyway. A small adjustment gets you a fair bit of room when there are ten seams. A slightly larger swayback adjustment might be in order for the next version.

Centre back section with satin lining and hooks applied.

Like most of my sewing this fall (or the last few years) construction has proceeded in incremental fits and starts. I spent a lot of time researching my construction via a number of original sewing manuals, both electronic and paper. Not that there’s anything wrong with the methods the pattern describes, they are historically accurate and in the end my deviations were quite minor.

My biggest curiosity was on how to do the lining. I’ve sort of had it drummed into my head that historical (Western-style) clothes were flat-lined (aka underlined.) This is how Bernadette Banner constructed her lovely version of the skirt. However, that’s not the directions for the pattern, and I was curious about the disparity.

It turns out that in the 1890s, a new method of lining skirts started to gain popularity—the “drop skirt.” This is made by sewing the lining (and materials like taffeta and “lining material” are mentioned rather than cotton) entirely separate as its own skirt/petticoat, or sewing separately then sewing both skirts into the same waistband—aka a modern, free-hanging lining. By the early 1900s, the separate lining is considered the preferred method with flatlining being distinctly old-fashioned, and my 1908 copy of the American System of Dressmaking states the following:

Anyway, eventually I settled on an unlined (except for the waist area) skirt, and hopefully I will make the appropriate “drop skirt” eventually.

To line the waist/hip area I used a heavy crepe-backed satin. A lightweight coutil or heavy cotton might have been better—I thought the black denim I used for my corset was too heavy, and most of the other black fabrics I had around seemed too light. We’ll see how it wears, I guess. On the other hand, having a slippery surface on the inside may come in handy since it’s pretty hard to hook up the back placket behind myself so I often end up turning the skirt around backwards to put it on. I added a tiny red tag to the inside of the front to make it a bit easier to make sure I end up with the right seam in the right place.

I considered binding the seam allowances, as would have been period appropriate. Then I serged them. I didn’t make a lot of concessions to speed in this project, but I feel like I’d still be binding seams if I had take that route. Sometimes speed is just what you need.

I added piping to the top edge as I thought that would be a nice touch, and it is, except for the part where it’s almost invisible since it’s black and this will probably mostly be worn with blousy tops that will cover it anyway. There is a narrow bias facing sewn on the inside of that to finish the top. Potentially it might have been easier and less bulky to just use a wider bias tape for the piping and use that for the facing, but having a bit more structure at the top of the skirt also doesn’t hurt. It is VERY bulky right around the top hook, though, despite some very aggressive trimming of the seam allowances in that area.

I added a piece of spiral steel boning to each seam, more or less the length of the inner corselet/waist lining. This keeps the portion of the skirt above the waist from folding down, and smooths over the upper hips, but it did also cause the skirt to stand out from my corseted waist in a way that the un-boned skirt hadn’t. I added a waist stay to combat this effect, but I’m thinking that either the waist shaping wasn’t an adequate match to the corset or my fabric + lining combo still has too much give. On the other hand it means that even though the skirt was cut with corset-wearing in mind, I can wear it uncorseted as well.

The pattern calls for a bias hem for the facing, made out of self fabric. I wanted to add a velveteen binding to the bottom of my skirt. long story, but basically velveteen seems to have been a material of choice for this purpose. Or braid. I do actually have a length of vintage braid that I think must be similar, but it is only about 3m long and the skirt requires over 5m, so that won’t work. But I did have a lovely little remnant of black velveteen, that turned out to be just enough for what I needed.

Most of the descriptions I read of the velveteen have you apply it after creating the hem, faced or otherwise, but one from 1903 mentioned how the velveteen could serve as a facing. Since the pattern calls for facing the hem anyway, that’s what I went with. And also I’m a lazy 21st century person disinclined to hand stitch around a hem like this three times, which seemed to be what most of the descriptions called for. I will say, intentionally rolling a facing out so that 1/16” of velveteen showed at the bottom of the skirt felt VERY unnatural, and there are definitely places where it doesn’t show as much as it probably should. Will I go back and fix that? I’d like to say yes but, um, probably not.

I wasn’t sure how to finish the top of the velveteen, but eventually decided I didn’t want the bulk of folding over the hem. I didn’t have 6 yards of black seam binding in stash, but I did find a rather lovely red vintage rayon seam binding, so I went with that. It did NOT like being sewn to the velveteen, and stretched it out terribly, despite my best efforts, so it’s incredibly wrinkly and gathered in the final skirt, but I don’t hate the effect.

So the pattern is drafted to have a finished length of 41” at the front, from the waist down. My measurement was 42”, so I added 1” to the skirt length all around when cutting. Now I’m not sure if it’s just that my soft wool fabric is prone to stretching, but when it came time to hem I wound up turning up close to 2”… so I could most likely have saved myself that added effort and fabric. Oh well.

Anyway, I’m super happy to have this in my wardrobe, hopefully bridging the (ever diminishing) gap between costume and everyday wear. Before the twins I had a black wool gored skirt made from a 1970s Burda pattern that was an absolute workhorse, and I have missed it sorely. The only thing this skirt is lacking is pockets, which I may yet decide to add… I don’t want to interfere with the gorgeous line of the hips, but I really, really like to have pockets at work. Next: definitely need to start planning a lacy blouse to go with.


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Redundant but cozy

A couple of years ago I acquired 2m of this waffle-knit in my favourite muted blue colour

I then waffled (hah!) about what to do with it. I should maybe have gone for 3m as that would’ve given me more options for cozy-wrap-blanket-clothing, but it was full price and I’m cheap so I didn’t.

Anyway, since the twins started preschool this past fall, they and I have basically been sick the entire time. I think we have this in common with most of the country (don’t get me started on the great Tylenol shortage of 2022), but it really highlighted the limited nature of my casual/comfy wardrobe. I’ve run into this issue in the past, because frankly I’d generally rather sew (and wear) fancier stuff, and I haven’t really spent a lot of time at home lounging around in the last decade. Except for my maternity leave three years ago, but I didn’t have a lot of sewing time at that point.

So I was determined to get this fabric sewn up. To do so I finally caved and went the easy route—my much beloved McCall’s 7622. I have made this pattern at least five times before, and it does nicely straddle the line between cozy comfort and the drama that I crave in my wardrobe. Even if I almost always make the boring scoop-neck-and-long-sleeve version.

I should mention that my main hesitation in using this pattern for this fabric is that I already have a version of this pattern in a stretch velour of the EXACT SAME COLOUR. So technically I don’t need another one. But that version has some issues around the neckline that keep me from wearing it for much except bumming around the house, so, um, still justified?

Anyway, this pattern is a bit of a fabric hog and I wound up needing to add a narrow yoke to the back piece to get everything to fit. I also used a lightweight cotton spandex knit in a complementary blue to do the neck binding and make the pockets.

Pockets, incidentally, aren’t the best idea in a knit dress of this style, as they inevitably pull and drag on the side seams—but this is also clothing for function and I require pockets in pretty darn near everything these days. I did use 1/4” clear elastic to try to minimize how they stretch out the seam, which does help a bit but it’s pretty easy to go the other way and get wrinkly side-seams. So damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I shall wear it regardless.

I am quite happy with how the Euphoria handled coverstitching the hems, which I was a bit worried about. I just turned up the differential feed, and then the pressing after took care of the small amount of rippling. I haven’t actually used any seam stabilizer for hemming since I got the Euphoria!

Oh, and I had just enough scraps left to squeak out some matching Rosalie Stockings, cut down to knee length. They are cute and comfy, and adding more clear elastic to the junction of the cuff seems to keep them up. I could maybe take them in around the ankle a bit, but I probably won’t

So yeah, not much to say, but it’s warm and cozy and exactly what the winter has called for.


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Tiny Princess Highjackers

Lately, the twins have had a breakthrough realization—Mommy MAKES clothes.

Which means she can make dresses

All dresses must be PRINCESS dresses.

Which means she can make PRINCESS dresses.

Tris in particular is super keen to sew by herself, diligently selecting a fabric (anything pink… yes, we’re in THAT phase) and shoving it through the under-arm space of the sewing machine in the hopes that it will magically come out the other side a dress. I also need to double check all my machine settings every time I sit down (we won’t go into the time she somehow changed all my server’s tension settings to 0 WHILE I was sewing with it)

Anyway, the result is that instead of a measured progression through my sewing queue, I keep getting side-tracked by adorable and insistent requests to make dresses out of THIS fabric. And they’re so excited it’s difficult to resist, and all of a sudden I’m highjacked.

It doesn’t help that my friend Temperence Swimwear Intimates, gave me a bunch of kid-print knit remnants, that I really need to use promptly lest they linger in stash beyond the twins’ interest in them.

Of course, the twins’ sense of what a suitable amount of fabric for a princess dress is a bit, ah, flexible. There was the day Tris was determined to make herself a pink princess dress out of a single small mitten. I was able to divert her only by digging out some of the fabric for Temperance (and I don’t have a lot of pink fabric at all, by the way…) It was really just scraps I think were supposed to become undies.

That resulted in the first highjack dress, a revisit of the same pattern I used for the little ghost girl dresses last summer. If this version looks more like a shirt in flat-lay, it’s because I decided to use a band for the neckline and then, instead of gathering the neckline and sewing it to the band, tried to rely on the band’s own recovery for the gathering. It’s a pretty beefy cotton-spandex with great recovery, but even so there are limits. As a result, the neck is pretty large. But she’ll be able to wear it as a shirt until she’s ten or something.

I did irresponsibly dodge my parental obligation to make River a dress next, well, until a couple of days ago when they were digging through the fabric again and she spotted this tool print cotton interlock… of which there was a scant half-mètre or so.

I did, however, also have plenty of plain white interlock, purchased in the days when I was fantasizing about making my husband T-shirts. I figured I could eke it out.

Now, long and long ago I made these cute little dresses for the twins, which are basically just a long-sleeve tee pattern, slightly cropped, with gathered skirt attached. And I really think that’s the best basic style for making a winter-friendly dress for a smallish kid. These are long since outgrown, and frankly were outgrown far too quickly, so I didn’t want to make anything that fit “just right”. My go-to pattern for kids tees is Jalie 2805, but I didn’t really want to use the size I traced out for these tees last year and I was much too lazy to trace a new size, so instead I dig through the mass of un-filed patterns sitting on my basement counter until I settled on the fairly forgettable McCall’s 3315, which stood out only in that it was a single size, 3, and was “for unbonded stretchable knits”.

Actually it’s a pretty cute, slightly flared turtleneck dress pattern with a non-knit jumper to go over top, but it’s also an early 70s knit pattern—designed for stuff without too much stretch, and with way too much ease in the sleeve cap. But, I wanted roomy, and a bit of a puffed sleeve cap just adds to the princess cred of the dress, so I went with it, or at least the portion above the waist. Since I didn’t want a turtleneck style, and did want to add a band, I cut the neckline down a good 3/4”. I ended my use of the pattern at the lengthen/shorten line, which created the slightly cropped length I was going for, and omitted the CB seam since no I’m not going to put a zipper in a knit.

For River’s dress, we had extremely limited print fabric. After I had cut the sleeves, I had wanted to use the remaining print for the square skirt, but it would’ve made a very scant, not very twirly princess skirt. So I cut the piece in two to make a bottom tier, and cut the upper tier out of the white interlock. I added a print “waistband” to the top, too, to break up the white, using a bit more of the stuff I had cut off for the band at the neck. I had been envisioning two gathered tiers, but it turned out that my two lengths of print put together was only slightly longer than the single length I had cut of the white. I could of course have reduced the amount of white in the skirt, but instead I just eased the two together. You can see that it gives a slightly more flared shape to the skirt. The most important part is that it twirls, though. I used a fair bit of coverstitch topstitching to flatten down the extra seams in this dress; this worked well for the tiers of the skirt, but I don’t like how it turned out on the waistband so I will likely rip that out.

I asked them for Princess poses. Apparently this meant standing on one foot.

Tris’s second dress was made after (trying to take turns) and under no such fabric limitations as I have a full 2m of this abstract rose print in stash, purchased way back when my nieces were small enough to enjoy it. I’m happy to get to use it on the twins, though this project didn’t come close to using it up. I did want to harmonize with River’s dress, though, so I asked Tris if I could make the bodice white like River’s, and she agreed. Part of me wishes I had done the tiered skirt part as well, but also that adds a butt ton more time to the project and this is cutting into my me-sewing time already, dammit. As it is, Tris’s dress came together in just over an hour thanks to all the machines being already set up (give or take having to check all the settings and occasionally rethreading things, thanks to my very helpful helpers.)

In the end, it was pretty fun to see these come together quickly and how excited the twins were by them. I didn’t really sew when my older girls were in the twirly-dresses stage; I did sew a few twirly dresses for my nieces when they were young, (like this one) but they were done as presents, not collaborations where they got to pick the fabric and “help” with the sewing.

I’m also wondering if this is the end of the era of twinning outfits. Since starting school the twins are much more vocal about their sartorial preferences, and they’re rarely wanting to wear the same thing at the same time. I already mentioned how Tris wants EVERYTHING pink right now. And thank goodness for the plethora of hand-me-down tights they’ve finally grown into because it’s all dresses all the time right now, so their adorable overalls and jeans and flannel shirts are getting less than no love.

Ultimate Princess Level unlocked.

So now I can get back to finishing boning my Victorian bodice. Except, um… I stumbled on this Butterick pattern while looking through the mess. Have you ever seen a more ultimate princess dress??? I’m loathe to give the decade of my birth credit for much, but they could do a princess dress like nobody’s business. Anyway. I’m exhausted just looking at it… but also… can I not? Maybe I’ll just read the instructions…


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A long-awaited skirt

(Photo from November of 2012)

Somewhere around a decade ago, when blogs were shiny and new, a dear online sewing friend sent me a gift of some fabrics she didn’t think she would get to use. It’s perhaps a little embarrassing to admit that I, also, went on to not use them for, y’know, a decade, but anyway. That coating is earmarked for the Next Coat when my grey coat wears out, which is on its way but not quite yet.

And then there was the glorious, sequined, black linen border embroidery. One of those fabrics relegated instantly to the “too good to cut” pile. I’ve fantasized about making it up many times over the years, but kept waiting on the perfect plan, or the perfect moment. Needless to say, such a moment did not arrive. It didn’t help that in addition to being exquisite, there was a scant two yards there. I don’t often think too much on the difference between a yard and my native mètre, but when you’re trying to eke a garment out of only 2, that extra 8” of fabric can make or break.

Anyway. Last spring, when the Leslie Skirt by Wearing History came out, I was blown away. I have a bit of a thing for front buttoning designs, and her sample in linen just ticked all of my boxes. Despite the skirt featuring that most dreaded of features in my wardrobe—waist gathering. But I instantly purchased the pattern, and started going through fabrics I had on hand (and more importantly, in sufficient quantity) to give it a go. And I thought of this long-languishing border embroidery.

But no. On further inspection of the pattern, the gathering was limited to a tiny section at the side of the front. The skirt as a whole is A-line (which is great for me in general), with a very curved hem. Completely unsuitable for a border embroidery. Not to mention, the part where there was only two yards, and the pattern calls for a minimum of 3 1/4.

But, my brain couldn’t leave well enough alone. Especially once another piece of linen-type fabric turned up, a remnant from a shirt I made my husband once, of an almost identical colour, weight, and weave. Enough there to make the waistband/buttoned front piece, preserving all the precious embroidery for the skirt itself. Surely two yards is enough circumference for a skirt hem? Surely?

So I dove in.

The pattern calls for interfacing in the waistband segment, but nothing down the front where the buttonholes are. This seems suspect to me, so I wound up adding strips of knit interfacing down my button bands, while I used a beefy twill fused to armoweft for the waistband interfacing, and added little plastic boning stays in several places to support the raised waistband. It’s possible I went overboard, but I regret nothing. (Except that some of the bones are a tiny bit too long.)

Should have at least one more button, but somehow my brain told me 5 cards x 2 buttons/card=12 buttons. Bad brain.

The waistband and front button panel were all cut according to the pattern, but to make the border embroidery work went pretty far off road. Basically I took the front edge of the skirt pattern, with the curve where it gathers into the waistband, and put that along the cut edges of my fabric, while I used the length of the centre back pattern to get the right “height” at the back fold, and drew a line connecting the two. I think it might be slightly longer in the back, which accommodates booty? Anyway, I cut this and just extended the gaaa an athers all the way around, gathering my fabric to fit. And while I would love it if I had, oh, an extra yard of fullness for that skirt, it’s pretty darn fine just as it is.

I had meant to finish the edge of the border embroidery nicely and trim it around the scallops, but I wound up just folding it under and hemming instead. I think the more structural nature of the folded edge works better with the weight of the front button placket anyway. Or something.

The pattern calls for quite a deep hem, which is great, but it also has the same amount of hem at the bottom of the button placket, which just seems odd. I didn’t trim the excess away, but it does make the bottom of the placket/front panel a bit odd and bulky. We’ll call that vintage pattern oddities.

Anyway! It’s a skirt! It worked! It’s a garment which does challenge me on a few levels. I don’t usually care for anything gathered at my waist, ever. The length is a bit odd, too, although that weird midi length seems to be popular of late. Most notably, it doesn’t have pockets, which may be an issue if I ever try to wear this to work.

I don’t regret overengineering the waistband, and would (will) do it again, as I’d still really like to try a true-to-pattern version of this skirt. The design does put a lot of stress on that second buttonhole, and I’m tempted to add a hook and bar to support the waist there, with the buttons just keeping things closed. You do definitely want to be aware of where you want the pattern to sit and make sure your size works, as you don’t have a lot of room to futz with the button positioning without changing the look of the overlap at the top of the shaped waistband. That being said, I did find it true to size. Also, if you’re shortwaisted like me, it will look a lot different than on the drawing where there appears to be about 4” between the top of the waistband and the bust—for me, there is no such space, and depending on the look you want you might want to adjust for that.

Anyway, it’s made, and fun, and I am so happy to have finally used that fabric!


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Mushroom Munchkins

Sometime around the end of September, a costumer on Instagram I happen to follow, Ariel, posted pics of a red with white spots mushroom capelet she had made. Now, hers contains LEDs making the spots light up and various other fanciness, but I was struck by the sheer adorableness of it. The various algorithms which govern our lives may have thrown a few other mushroom hats into my feeds as well, but I really loved the capelet idea.

Anyway, this was right around the time where the twins started talking non-stop about Hallowe’en (that would be courtesy of the YouTube algorithm), and Tris declared vehemently that she wanted to be a princess. I carefully suggested the wonderful idea of… a mushroom princess!

And, as a great miracle, they both went with it.

Beyond the initial inspiration, this was a fairly basic costume. We picked up some discounted red softshell (fleece on one side, windproof on the other), and I used old bedsheet for the pleated white lining. I drafted up the capelets as a near-circle, and the hoods as excessively gigantic. I did end up cutting my first hood down a bit, if you can believe it. They’re still a little excessive.

The construction is nothing to write home about—lots of raw edges, even (especially) on the edges of the bedsheet. I could’ve planned it better if I’d been a bit more intentional, but a) it’s a Hallowe’en costume for three year olds, and b) I’ve been sick for the entire month, so I really didn’t have a lot of brain-cells to apply. I used the ruffler foot for my Featherweight to pleat up the lining to resemble mushroom gills. No way would I have been able to make this work with my available time and energy without that. Though I still did have to do some hand-pleating and hand-sewing to get the lining to fit the neckline.

All the lining portions were just rectangles, pleated at both edges. So the back of the hoods is bare, while the inner edge of the capelet lining required extra pleating to fit the neckline. I had some vague preliminary thoughts of adding tea stripes to the lining gills but didn’t follow up (see above about limited time and mental energy.)

I bound the edges of the capelets with straight strips. This didn’t work super well as the fabric had very little stretch and I really didn’t want tension on the edges anyway, so there’s a fair bit of puckering. A walking foot would have been a smart idea. I did use the binding to enclose a lightweight wire for more support for the capelet edge, but I’m not sure it really improved the look. Plastic boning of some kind might have worked better. In any case, I can remove it if I want.

The final stage (which wound up taking almost as much time as all the rest of the construction) was painting the spots on. This was a lot more labour-intensive than I expected, which I guess says something about how little I paint fabric, especially off-white on a red background which took three coats or so to get opaque.

I love the painterly look of Ariel’s capelet, but with my plasticky material (that didn’t really like the fabric paint, either) and making for preschoolers and lack of energy I found myself leaning towards a more cartoony treatment, so I didn’t try to do any shading or fancy edging of the mushrooms. I think they’re still pretty adorable.

I originally planned to have them wear the capelets over white or off-white clothes as the mushroom stem (even fantasized about mushroom-coloured princess dresses for underneath, which obviously did not happen), but the fact is we live in Canada, and not in one of the parts known for its nice weather. The weather on Hallowe’en was about as nice as it could ever be here, by which I mean about 8C when we started trick-or-treating and getting colder as the night went on, but jackets were still going to be a requirement. The twins already have these red jackets, which worked well enough underneath the capes and hopefully didn’t detract too much from the mushroom vibe.

I was, however, a little worried the twins would call me out on a lack of “princess” elements to the mushroom costume. A mushroom crown would’ve been the logical thing, but I wasn’t sure how that would work with the hoods. On the other hand, the boundary between princess and fairy is a little vague at the twins’ age, and I was pretty sure mushroom WANDS might seal the deal. So I recruited Tyo, who has dabbled in wand-making before, to spend a good chunk of her Hallowe’en weekend creating some papier-mâché wands.

I sculpted the mushrooms, using tinfoil for a base and then toilet-paper papier-mâché, while Tyo worked on the wand portions. I think she was a little dismayed at how big I wanted the mushrooms, but she was a good sport. I must admit there were points in the process where I thought I was in way over my head, having done most of my papier-mâché work back in elementary school, but it was fun once I got a feel for what I was doing.

I mean, they’re a little lumpy, but so are mushrooms, right?

Tyo did the lion’s share of the painting and other finishing details, though, and I really think she knocked them out of the park.

Honestly, they deserve their own photo-shoot.

Moss. She added real moss. And string.

And the twins were actually really good about carrying them while trick-or-treating, which takes some skill navigating steps with a treat bag in one hand and a wand in the other. Though they did take enough tumbles that both wands will need some touching up, alas.

Anyway, that was our Hallowe’en. I’m just glad the twins got to go out and try their hands at trick-or-treating.

And the wands were so stinking cute.


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The jeans I didn’t want to make

Unlike the subject of my last post, jeans are arguably something I need, um, pretty badly. I have technically three me-made pairs still in rotation, but two of those have been out for mending most of the last year, and the remaining workhorse pair is of a fairly thin super-stretchy denim that’s rapidly approaching widespread systems failure. And at both of the perpetually-mending pairs are getting snug.

Now, two of those pairs are Closet Core Ginger jeans (the high-waisted, skinny version). But I was pretty sure it was time to up-size my pattern (and pretty sure I had mislaid some if not all of the pieces of my old printout anyway). So I dutifully got it reprinted… but then thought, why not make up the other view?

Back when I bought the Ginger Jeans pattern (not long after it first came out, if I recall correctly), view A was exactly what I was looking for in a pair of jeans—low-rise waist, stovepipe leg. But by that point I had already modded the snot out of Jalie 2908 to get that fit that I wanted, so I just kept on using that pattern. When I did finally try out the Gingers, it was to test out the high-waisted view… which worked fairly well, but both versions were made in extra-super-stretchy fabric (which really minimizes fit issues, at least), and the high waist, while more fashionably appropriate these days, doesn’t give me that nipped-in, round-butt look that makes them so cute on other people. I just look like I go straight up from hip to waist, like a cylinder.

Now, the biggest factor in my cooling relationship with denim has been that as my body has changed over the last ten (and especially last three) years, I haven’t been able to find a style that makes me feel cute the way they used to. I have too much muffin-top these days for the low rise (which is terribly passé, too, don’t you know), high rise just makes me look like a box… oh, and mid-rise, on my body shape, just rides down to sit in the “low rise” position. Much easier to just find a cute dress or skirt.

Anyway, I decided, since I wasn’t really excited about ANY style of jeans, to go back to my old standby. Low-rise; at least it can be covered by shirts, and the stovepipe legs seem like they would go well with the modern looser jeans aesthetic. (Also, as low rises go, I’d call this one pretty moderate, which is what I suspected. The fly zip is at least 4” long!)

So I put on my big girl pants, re-measured myself, didn’t quite faint at the pattern size that number put me into, and then went to work.

A dig through my stash turned up this piece of really nice stretch denim, already pre-washed. Sturdy (about 10oz at a guess), but very stretchy. I BELIEVE it’s the Cone Mills denim I got from Closet Core as a jeans kit ages ago. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to cut into it for a project I was, frankly, kind of dreading, but there it is. It also wasn’t doing me any good sitting in stash, and it promised to be pleasant to work with even if I wasn’t thrilled with the results.

I made three pre-emptive changes to the pattern: lengthened the leg by 1” (to go from a 32” inseam to a 33” inseam), raising the back rise height by about 1”, and taking some tucks in the shaped waistband to make it more strongly curved, particularly in the back portion, where I tend to be most curvy. It’s still not as curvy as the modified one I used before, but it seems to work. These are most of my “standard” fit alterations, but I didn’t make them on my previous Gingers (except for the leg length anyway) because of the high waist and the extremely stretchy denim I was using.

I also took the time to cut out all the leg pieces in a single layer. I’ve ignored this advice countless times, and almost always had one twisting leg on my jeans, and just endured it as the price of laziness. It’s early days yet, but I’d say they do, in fact, twist very little, at least.

I followed the pattern instructions to fully baste it together to try on, and I’m glad I did as it let me make some major changes to the crotch curve: mainly, I needed a MUCH curvier front crotch to avoid camel-toe (also an issue in my high-waisted versions, but less intense because of the super-stretchy fabrics), and I took in the CB seam about 1” at the waistband, tapering to nothing at the bottom of the curve. If I do another version, I would curve the yoke as well by adding some little darts like so:

Man I miss having the time to make helpful diagrams like this for my blog posts.

Which is exactly the same thing I did, extensively, to the yoke of my Jalie Jeans pattern, actually. So it’s nice when things are consistent. I might add a bit more height to the back rise, as well—but maybe through the yoke since I’ve already added 1” to the lower piece. I could’ve recut the yokes but I just decided to ease them in to the waistband, which also works.

Basting first let me make these tweaks, which was great. It’s not hard to tweak the side-seams at the end of jeans construction, but at that point you’ve got two rows of topstitching in the crotch and inseams and those are not going anywhere.

Construction wise, I did most of the sewing on my mom’s Featherweight machine (long story, but the short of it is that her machine is at my house and mine is not. This was not on purpose). I got it into my head to try doing the topstitching on my coverstitch, which was a mixed bag. It was nice to do long straight sections with the twin needles, but it’s hard to go slow and I didn’t like the lack of reverse. So I did the pockets, fly, and waistband topstitching on the Featherweight as well. I did a not-terrible job of matching my stitch length, but there are definitely some subtle differences. It also made for a LOT of rethreading, especially since I only had two spools of topstitching thread (this was just Guterman extra-strong, I didn’t want to complicate things by using actual topstitching thread) so one of them had to keep going back and forth between the coverstitch and the Featherweight. I only broke out my modern Janome (which needs a spa day BADLY) for the bar tacks and buttonhole at the very end. For that part I used a coordinating regular thread, though it’s not quite a perfect match so maybe I should’ve gone for a contrast.

I actually liked the pockets better pre-bar tack.

I sewed the side-seams with a fairly generous seam allowance, and wound up taking them in 1/4” more after that—and I’m fighting the urge to take them in more, telling myself we’re going for a slouchy boyfriend aesthetic as opposed to the sprayed-on-skinny look I’ve been pursuing since I got my first pair of stretch denim jeans in 2000.

I did interface the waistband, but I used a knit interfacing. So a belt is definitely a necessity for wearing with them.

And… I don’t know if I feel cute in them, but the process was pretty satisfying especially considering what a tragic mess the last pair I did was, and I did wear them for basically a week straight after finishing. I didn’t feel rushed because I wasn’t super excited for the end product, so I guess that was a win? I was also stupidly sick while making these, so they got worked on in five to fifteen minute bursts between lying down while the twins watched obscene amounts of questionable kids YouTube programming.

I do think I could’ve taken in the hip and thigh another 1/4” or so on each side, but I don’t know if I will now that they’re completed. I do, however, think that I’ll wear the snot out of them—my casual wardrobe hasn’t been strong in the last ten years, but it’s particularly terrible right now.


Filed under Sewing