Category Archives: sewing challenge

When Zadig met Apollon: Designin’ December and the MAGAM sewalong

When Sarah Liz announced that the theme for December’s MAGAM (Make a Garment a Month) sewalong was going to be a joint challenge with Linda’s Designin’ December, I felt torn. I really wanted to take part for so many reasons: the idea is fantastic, both hosts are lovely, and I love how these challenges push me to think creatively about gaps in my wardrobe, BUT… it’s December. You know, the month I spend running around in manner of over-achieving headless chicken, baking, buying gifts, writing cards, sewing nativity costumes, wrapping gifts… not to mention preparing for my son’s birthday, which is 2 days before Christmas and always needs extra thought to make sure his celebration isn’t eclipsed by Christmas. Not much time for selfish sewing.

Oh but come on!!! Designin’ December?! You know where this is going, don’t you? I made something. A great thing. This thing:

So, the idea of Designin’ December is that you find a look from the catwalks and recreate it. If there’s one thing I learnt from my Sewing the Scene coat (apart from the importance of not losing pattern pieces at a rate of knots) it was that I need the make to be something I’ll actually wear (I STILL haven’t worn my Deneuve coat, despite the weather being perfect for it!) so I wasn’t sure I would find something. For a brief moment I flirted with the idea of combining this challenge with my red velvet dress for the Little Red Dress Project, since velvet has been big this season and I was sure to find something on the catwalks that I’d like, but it kind of felt like a cop out to basically lump three challenges together (whether or not I finish my red dress in time for the pre-Christmas reveal is anyone’s guess, by the way). So I looked at too many images of the Autumn/Winter collections, and got no real ideas. Focus, Helen. What do you like to wear?

I went back to the winter collection of one of my favourite fashion houses, Zadig & Voltaire, and noticed they released a lot of sweater dresses this year. I was particularly drawn to the shape of this one:

Photo credit: www.vogue.com

And when I realised it looked very much like the dress version of my trusty Apollon sweatshirt… well that was that.

Yellow isn’t my thing, nor are geometric lines, and nor is ostentatious wearing of a brand name (though I did wonder what would happen if I followed Zadig & Voltaire’s lead and emblazoned the first word of our logo across the front – can you imagine the awkward situations if I’d strutted around with “VALENTINE” written across my chest?!), but the whole point of this challenge is that you adapt it to suit your style. And when I found this glorious grey marl sweater knit on the Califabrics website, practically begging me to be made into a sweater dress, I decided to just go for it.

Let me take a moment to wax lyrical about this fabric. It’s cotton, which is a BIG WIN in my book – I hate synthetic fabrics, I just end up sweating and feeling unpleasant (plus I found out recently that polyester contributes to the pollution in our oceans, as the fibres can get down drains and into the open waters! Eek!) and when it arrived I actually did a little “yippee” noise! It’s so soft and snuggly, and I confess to having instantly gone back on their website to order it in the other colourway

The construction held no surprises. It’s the first time I’ve made Apollon in anything other than sweatshirt fabric, but it came together really well. At first I thought I might widen the neckline a little to be more like the Zadig & Voltaire one, but I love the neckline as it is and so I reined myself in. Again, learn from the Deneuve coat! I also debated about sizing up, to get the “oversized” look of the Z&V version, so I tried on one of my older Apollon sweatshirt dresses and actually it’s pretty oversized already. Add that to the fact that the sweater knit is less chunky than sweatshirting, and the oversizing pretty much did itself. So, note to self: if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. I also decided against lengthening the arms à la Zadig & Voltaire, as I’d have gone crazy pushing those sleeves up every time I wanted to wash my hands or pick something up or just, you know, do anything. So basically, all this to say I sewed up my Apollon without any modifications, and as a result…

Even bare legs in winter can’t stop me smiling at this one

I have a garment I will WEAR TO DEATH.

Seriously, I love it.

The only thing I would normally do but didn’t is to topstitch down the seam allowances on the neckband, cuffs and waistband. I mentioned here that I like to do this so that they don’t ping back up after washing, but with the delicate sweater knit I thought it would be a shame to add in any visible stitching (since all the raw edges are finished with a band, there is otherwise no stitching visible on the right side of the garment).

You can see that the inside seam isn’t stitched down, but it looks so pretty from the outside!

If I have to press my seam allowances after washing, it will be worth it (I’m not sure if it’s clear how significant a statement that is; I rarely press clothes apart from while I’m making them!!)

One thing I didn’t mention in my last post about Apollon is that the waistband is one long piece with a centre back seam, rather than two pieces joined together at the sides.

Thumbs up for the waistband

I quite like this as a construction method: no effort needed to match up the side seams! Though speaking of matching up the side seams, can we just take a moment to admire the cuffs?!

Pause for cuff love

I’ve styled the dress with chunky boots here to emulate as far as possible the styling of the Z&V image, but this is waaay too short for me to wear with bare legs! Not to mention how cold I’d get. But just for fun, I did a tiny homage and put on a beanie hat like the catwalk pics anyway. I even did a little “catwalk strut”, but clearly I need to work on my “effortlessly cool” face.

Yep, if I have to wear a hat, it’s going to be pink!

It’s safe to say I felt a little daft wearing a hat and boots and bare legs outdoors in December, but in real life I’m going to be wearing this with leggings, as styled here:

I absolutely LOVE this sweater dress. It may not be the most haute couture garment from the catwalks this season, but it’s one that suits my style, my wardrobe, and my life. Plus I’d never really thought of sewing a sweatshirt patterns with a sweater knit fabric, so once again the MAGAM sewalong has made me think outside my usual box.

Thanks to both Sarah Liz and Linda for this fun challenge! It was worth getting cold legs for 😉

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Winter wardrobe staples: Papercut Patterns Rise turtleneck and Jalie Patterns Eléonore jeggings

I love sewing pretty things, show-stopping things, “wow” things… but I hardly ever wear them. I’ll let you into a secret… I still haven’t worn my Deneuve coat. It might be beautiful, but it’s not my style, and this was an expensive and labour-intensive realisation. Most days I wear a t-shirt and jeans: they’re the things I reach for and wear to tatters, so they’re the things I need to spend time on. These thoughts were prompted by the theme for the November MAGAM (Make a Garment a Month), sewalong, which was “November Needs”: look in your closet and see what you need, then pledge to make it. I don’t know how Sarah Liz thinks of these brilliant themes each month, but I’m so glad she does, because I took a long hard look at my clothes and it was pretty obvious what my wardrobe is missing… SOLIDS. So here’s the outfit I made, and the story behind it:

I feel I have a split personality with clothes: the few RTW things I still have left over from the days before I was on a mission to have a 100% handmade wardrobe are pretty much all solids, whereas the fabrics I choose to sew with are predominantly patterns. And not mix’n’match patterns, not stripes or polka dots or geometrics… no… flowers. Colours. The deepest expression of some wild and free side of myself I must have been repressing in my RTW years. I don’t know why it is that I’m always drawn to fabric that’s the opposite of what I’d buy as a garment, but there we are. Let’s not start analysing it, or I’ll never get to tell you about these two makes…

Of all the handmade things in my winter wardrobe, the only things in solid colours were my Edie cardigans, my jeans, two dresses and two barely-worn pencil skirts. So I wanted to make a top and a bottom that could be mixed and matched with lots of different things.

For the top, I chose a pattern I know and love: the Papercut Patterns Rise turtleneck. I’ve made this a couple of times and I really like it. It’s a closely fitted top or sweater (there is also an option called Fall in the same pattern, which is a more relaxed fit with dropped shoulders; I haven’t tried that one yet).

For the bottom, I took a gamble. I had made the Jalie Patterns Eléonore jeans back in the summer. They call for woven stretch denim, but the denim has to have at least 20% stretch (i.e. more than most woven denims available to me actually have). Back when I blogged about that pair, Sue commented that she had never thought to make them in a woven, and had always used ponte for her versions. I thought this sounded like a super plan, as I found them to be more jegging-y than jeans-y, and I liked the idea of a ponte-esque jegging, but wanted something with natural fibres. So I ordered this denim-look heavyweight cotton blend jersey from Lillestoff, and set to work.

The top went together really easily: I did my standard grading of an XS at the bust to a S at the waist, and it’s a lovely fit. I chose a plain black cotton jersey from Girl Charlee for this, it’s 95% cotton and 5% spandex, and I love sewing with it. The whole top went together really easily (one of those where you don’t really have to look at the instructions: shoulders, neck, sleeves, sides, hem). I really like it in plain black, it feels timeless and elegant.

Hard to go wrong with a black turtleneck!

But it wasn’t much of a risk, was it? TNT pattern in a solid colour, and a fabric I’ve already used in several colourways. So let’s talk about the jeans…

I cut out the same size I had used in the woven stretch denim: size R. I didn’t want to try sizing down to compensate for using a knit fabric as I’d found the woven ones a bit too skintight and so I liked the idea of these having a bit more give in them. I did consider omitting the more “jeans-like” details such as the pockets and the faux fly front, but I’m an “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of girl and I thought why not go the whole hog, then if I don’t like them I won’t torment myself wondering if the pockets would have made all the difference! So I followed the instructions to the letter, including the topstitching. I did my topstitching in standard navy thread though, as I wasn’t convinced that a contrast topstitching thread would work on the jersey.

The jeggings came together much faster than I anticipated – I can’t decide whether this is because of using a knit fabric, or because I’d already sewn the pattern once before. Let’s call it a happy combination of the two! But did it work?

Oh yes. Oh yes. OH YES!!!!!! I *LOVE* this pattern made up in a jersey fabric. So comfortable, but still stylish. And because of the denim-look jersey, they look like jeans but took a fraction of the time to make and have a stretchy waistband! I seriously cannot wait to make a few more of these.

There were no problems with either of these makes, and I’d highly recommend both. As for what they have brought to my wardrobe, well firstly I love how they look together. But they also both go with loads of other handmade garments, so my choices are multiple! The turtleneck looks great paired with my floral Margarita skirt and my ponte skater dress:

And the jeggings go with EVERYTHING! Seriously, everything (though I’ll spare you photos of me parading my entire wardrobe to prove the point)! Plus the whole look can be made more wintry with boots and a maxi cardigan:

So this month’s MAGAM theme was a massive success for me. I’m not stopping there: I have a few more solid fabrics now, and plans for them all! Watch this space…

Me “watching this space” 😉

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Sleevefest 2017: we have a winner!

It hardly seems any time at all since I sat down to write a blog post for the launch of the Sleevefest summer sewing challenge… and now here we are at the start of Autumn, after more than 200 entries to the challenge, 6 prizewinners drawn at random, 10 sleeves shortlisted for the final prize, nearly 500 votes cast, and many new sewing friendships made!

The ten finalists

I’m going to talk about all ten finalists in just a moment, but first let me give you the big announcement: the champion of sleeves is… Ersan! He made this sublime bustier with deconstructed sleeves for his beautiful niece:

Diane and I were particularly impressed with the fit (Ersan self-drafted this pattern based on his niece’s measurements) and the creativity of the make, and you all were too! So Ersan wins a £25 voucher to spend at Sew Essential, and a bespoke Angelina pattern from us here at Valentine & Stitch, tailored to the measurements of a person of his choice.

Ersan’s sewing in progress

So now onto the selection process and the other nine finalists. We didn’t know how on earth we were going to choose only ten sleeves with all the amazing creations that Sleevefest had generated (check out the #sleevefest2017 hashtag for some wonderful inspiration!), but Diane’s original idea for the challenge had been to do something creative with sleeve design, so we decided to focus on sleeves that had some kind of hack, self-drafting, or original design. Then we each whittled it down to ten favourites, and had some discussion back and forth about the final shortlist. And without further ado, here are those lovely sleeves!

Melissa wowed us with her take on the Sew Over It Ultimate shift dress: she did a three-quarter sleeve, but added a pleated picot-edged trim to both the sleeves and the hem. The result is both classic and original: the perfect little black dress!

 

Sarah made this gorgeous shirt with a ruffled cuff detail that goes all around the sleeve placket and sleeve hem. She said in her Instagram post that she had been inspired by a picture posted by someone she follows on Instagram, and she had recreated the look on New Look 6599. As always, Sarah’s sewing and attention to detail is meticulous, and the finished result is just beautiful.

 

Michelle made this stunning red coat: it’s based on the Named Patterns Isla trench coat, but she added these fabulous ruffle sleeves to create a unique piece that we all want to borrow! You can find out more about Michelle’s sewing adventures here, but in the meantime swoon over her coat:

 

Next up is Kelly, who designed this dreamy sleeve. A friend of hers had a RTW top with a similar cuff detail and so she self-drafted the sleeve based on the RTW garment, and attached it to the Simplicity-New Look 6378 kimono pattern – you can read more about her process here, and see more photos of her beautiful floaty kimono!

 

Pauline loves to recreate designer styles in her sewing, and this entry was no exception. She had seen an Anthropologie dress with grommets and a ribbon tie on the sleeves, and she made her own version using the Tilly and the Buttons Coco pattern. Also, look at her perfect stripe matching, and check out her blog post on how she made this dress!

 

Barbara’s top is not only beautiful to look at, but has a lovely story behind it too. She was given a beautiful nightgown as family heirloom, and she refashioned it to make something new. She wanted to honour the original garment with its delicate crochet detail and micropleats, but make something she could wear in everyday life, and she came up with this fabulous bell-sleeved top. Wearing this must be like wearing a little piece of family history.

 

Arianwen stunned all of us with her original take on the “sleeve”: when she hears “sleeves” she always thinks of tattoos, and so she hand-embroidered the bodice of her Butterick 6412 dress with tattoos – anchors, mermaids, “Hello Sailor”, you name it, she embroidered it! Inspired and one of a kind.

 

Suzy made some beautiful garments for Sleevefest, including an amazing sheer sleeve for herself and a bridal kimono for a friend of hers, but the one we chose was this fabulous lace insert. Suzy took a tried and true pattern (Simplicity-New Look 6179) and deconstructed the sleeve to add these inserts with bell cuffs, which make the whole top look so pretty and stand-out.

 

And finally, Carolyn is wonderful at refashioning garments to make something unique to her. She created some wonderful sleeves for Sleevefest by using oversized men’s shirts and tailoring them with different details such as peplum, puff sleeves, and mixing and matching designs. The one that really stood out for us was this gorgeous blue checked one, which manages to be both casual and smart at the same time!

 

We loved all the finalists’ entries so much, so Rich and I have decided to offer each of the nine runners-up a Valentine & Stitch pattern of their choice. Congratulations to all of our finalists, and thank you to everyone who supported Sleevefest: our sponsors, our entrants, and all of our fellow sewists who made this so much fun.

Diane and I are hoping to bring you another fest next summer, so stay tuned!

Thank you so much to everyone who was involved in Sleevefest, and keep up the sleeve love 😉