Sunday, July 25, 2021

Weekend Review: She Came to Stay

 

She Came to Stay / Eleni Kyriacou
London: Hodder & Stoughton, c2020.
426 p.

I first noted this book in my Cover Designs series, and have been meaning to read it ever since. I finally got my hands on a copy and found that it's a great summer read. 

Dina Demetriou has come to London to live with her brother, after being rejected by her fiancé in her Cyprus hometown. She's ready to make a new life but her brother is very protective and controlling, and it's driving her mad. He's also a gambler, so any hope they have of saving enough to leave the moldy bedsit that they share is a tenuous one -- Peter can't hold on to any cash at all. 

He's found her a job at a local café, where she makes a friend of a fellow waitress, and manages to secrete some cash slowly. Then she finds an opening for a seamstress at the Pelican Revue; the nightclub needs someone to help sew and mend costumes for the performers. Dina is a great seamstress and passionate about it, so she applies and gets the job -- but doesn't tell Peter. There is a bit of sewing content here, and some scenes with Dina analyzing dresses in Vogue, but the sewing isn't that huge of an element -- too bad for me!

At the Pelican, she meets Bebba, a blonde, confident fellow Cypriot, who takes her around Soho and introduces her to a life she wasn't aware of. She is enjoying having a new friend but this friend has secrets...ones that will threaten everything. 

This is Kyriacou's first novel, and it does show in parts. There is a love interest for Dina who shows up about halfway through, and I had to turn back a few pages to see if I'd missed something when he just appeared out of nowhere and seemed to be accepted by the others at the café as a regular. It's clear that there's something a little off about him and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop for a while, but did figure out the plot twist a couple of chapters ahead. 

Bebba is so charming in the beginning, but becomes more and more nasty and selfish as the book goes on and she reveals her true obsession -- not friendship, but money. Her back story of her life in Cyprus makes you feel sorry for her, but it's also the cause of all the drama (melodrama?) that follows her. When she sees the opportunity that Peter offers, she grabs hold. He is easily influenced, will fight for her, and is connected to the London underworld via his gambling habit. The two of them together become a bad mix that eggs on the worst in both. Dina can see it happening but is powerless to stop them or change her own circumstances, at least for a while. 

The chapters move back and forth between Dina's point of view and Bebba's, alternating more frequently the further you get into the book. This allows information to be shared with the reader but not the other characters, and also shows the varied perceptions of one another as they get more enmeshed in their situation. I think this element worked well and added to the suspense and characterization in the book. The writing itself was pretty good (Kyriacou is a journalist; this is her first novel) and adds to the tension in the book.

Unfortunately I did find that there were some easily guessed at elements, and some plot devices that seemed obvious and easy choices; if they'd been avoided this might have been a stronger story. However, it was an entertaining read with an unusual concept and lots of ups and downs to keep you reading. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Muslining a Self Drafted Dress

As I've mentioned a few times now, I've been sewing along with some members of my local Garment Guild this summer (via Zoom) as we work through 10 lessons on pattern drafting by Cal Patch on CreativeBug. 

This week's challenge was to take the dress draft from last week and muslin it, so that you could do any necessary adjustments and then rework the pattern. 

As suspected, I am going to have to make sure to trace off a separate back piece and make some tweaks there -- specifically to take a 1/2" swayback adjustment. In this class the front and back are drafted as one piece, with no bust darts included. If you have a larger bust you may have many more adjustments to make but I didn't have to worry about that. I do have to adjust the back though! 

One other small tweak is that I had to shorten the lower back darts by a fair amount -- I raised them 1.5" but could even raise them another 1/2" -- I have a shorter waist to hip and the original dart I'd drawn in had the points sitting way down on my butt. Now it's much better! 

The primary adjustment that I had to make with the actual muslin was in the shoulder area, however. I basted the muslin (made from an old sheet) together and added one sleeve. Then tried it on and realized that my shoulder slope was pretty significantly different from my first draft. The shoulder is drawn in by measurement and then you add in a recommended 1/4-1/2" point at the neckline to slope down to the outer edge, but that didn't work for me in reality. 

I ended up with a shoulder that had far too much fabric in it - I could pinch a good inch up as excess. Not only were both the shoulder seam and sleeve cap too high at the shoulder point, the shoulder seam sat slightly below my shoulder hinge as well. So I changed the shoulder line by marking a spot 1/2" lower at the shoulder edge and 1/4" down at the neck edge, and basting a slanted line between them, on the side without a sleeve attached. That allowed the shoulder line to sit flat, and lie right across the top of my shoulder.

Before

After

I also shaved a scant 1/4" out of the armscye, starting at the shoulder seam and blending back the original line by about halfway down. I also lowered the bottom of the armscye by a 1/4". I then removed almost an inch from the sleeve cap so that it was still only about an inch larger than my armscye. I basted that in carefully, and found that it was perfect. No excess fabric to pool at the shoulder, but enough movement in the sleeve to be able to reach and move my arm normally. I am going to add in a bit of width at the bicep for a little more comfort but overall I am very happy with this draft, and think that I'll retrace the pattern onto heavier paper so that I have a basic close-fitting sloper of sorts to compare with commercial patterns and to use as a basis for any designs I want to play with.

I really enjoyed this process and feel like I've learned a lot. As one of my fellow sewists in this project mentioned, this feels empowering. We're now more comfortable with adjusting patterns to fit ourselves, aside from the whole self-drafting excitement ;) 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Cover Designs! 22: Paris Never Leaves You

 

Cover Designs is a feature in which I try to match up the outfit on a book cover with a dress pattern and sometimes even potential fabric matches as well. Today's choice is a pensive historical set in Paris during the war and New York in the 1950s.

Paris Never Leaves You tells the story of Charlotte, who with her young daughter Vivi, makes it through WWII working in a Paris bookshop. She's a survivor. After the war she goes to New York to work in publishing, where her survival skills are tested again.

As the publisher notes, "Paris Never Leaves You is an extraordinary story of resilience, love, and impossible choices, exploring how survival never comes without a cost. The war is over, but the past is never past."




A great match for this is Burda 139, from the March 2016 issue. All you would need to do is change it from black to white and add a line of tiny buttons down the front and you'd have a nearly exact match!


You can see that this dress closes with a line of buttons up the side seam, but that could easily be altered to an invisible zip and decorative buttons added to the centre front for a perfect match. This dress also has a slip and the overdress is made from organza -- exactly like the pensive woman on the cover is wearing. 

You could find a beautiful organza at G&S Dye, in black or white (or a few other colours) to make the Burda version directly.



Or, if you want a closer copy of the cover image, you could use a sheer swiss dot with a similar floral element, like this one from Telio. Just add a silk charmeuse slip and you're set. 



This would be a lovely summer dress for a fancy occasion; you'd look elegant and retro chic for sure. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Weekend Review: Gertie Sews Jiffy Dresses

Gertie Sews Jiffy Dresses / Gretchen Hirsch
NY: Abrams, c2019
144 p.

This is another of Gretchen Hirsch's sewing books, but it's one in which the dresses are a bit simpler. She's well known for her vintage oriented style and with that some more complex patterns and techniques. 

But this book lightens up a little and provides 5 patterns for easier dresses. It includes a Popover, Chemise, Swirl, Boatneck, and Patio Dress. Each includes variations and ideas for adding trim or details that change it up. For example, the Popover Dress can be made completely A-line to be worn with a belt, or you can shirr the waistline (instructions included). Some skirts can be switched between bodices to create different looks as well.


The patterns are all on paper sheets in the back of the book and need to be traced off. The sheets don't have too many overlaying lines though, and aren't confusing.  Many of the skirt options are simply rectangles that you cut directly from fabric, which does reduce the tracing. 

The sizing runs from 2-16, which is a 32/36 Bust/Hip to a 46/50. Seam allowances are included. All of the finished garment measurements are also given so that you can evaluate your preferred fit as well. I fall into Size 8 by my measurements but might adjust to a 6 or 10 depending on the project. 


There are even some video tutorials to go along with this book if you like to have some visual guidance when you are making up the patterns! (the video shows a close up of the pattern sheets as well)

I like the aesthetic of these patterns -- they are appealing day dresses that seem fairly straightforward in construction and I would make any of them. As usual the photography is well done, and there are lots of sections on fabric choices, techniques, sewing kit, fitting  and so on. All of her books are good at including this kind of preparatory info. 

Overall I liked this one and think I am most likely to use it out of all her books. The easier styles really do appeal to me, but I also like the potential for variations and personalization. It was an enjoyable read.


Friday, July 9, 2021

Drafting a Dress Block

Following along with the pattern drafting series in CreativeBug means that I'm not really getting a lot of other sewing done! I've cut out three dresses from stash fabric that are now awaiting the sewing process, but in the meantime I've kept busy rewatching old seasons of the Great British Sewing Bee, and the lessons in the CreativeBug summer sewalong my guild is doing.

This week's lesson was pretty straightforward -- take a whole whack of measurements and draft out a basic dress block. This is based on your own measurements but also has a couple of standard issue elements like darts and armscye to add in. The next step is to sew up a muslin and do the fine tuning required. 

I found this quite straightforward. The lesson was easy to follow and the draft looks like a basic dress shape, that's for sure. In the class, it's drafted as front and back as one, with differing necklines drawn in. However, I usually prefer making my pattern as two pieces, front and back, since there are differing adjustments I like to make on each part for a better fit on my figure.

I'm not much of a muslin maker in my regular sewing life; I like to make as many flat pattern adjustments as I possibly can before starting on a project. So I think that I will also be doing the same here -- looking at the drafted pattern and evaluating if any of my usual adjustments need to be made around the dart length, bust point, back length etc. before starting my first muslin. Reduce any extra work in the muslin stage is my mantra. I'm hoping that because this is based on my own measurements to begin with that there won't be many changes to worry over. We will see...

My plan is to get my muslin sewn and tested, and adjustments made asap, so that I can sew up a sample dress testing out the theory that I can draft something wearable for myself. If so, I think I'll have a lot of fun with this over the next few months! Never mind the literal hundreds of dress patterns I own, I'll just make some of my own too. In all my spare time. 

I am enjoying the technical skills here and the very entry level style of pattern making that these classes offer. I do have the series of pattern drafting classes by Suzy Furrer on Craftsy as well, and perhaps after working my way through these Cal Patch classes I won't be so intimidated by the more complex work in the Suzy Furrer ones. It's always good to stretch the mind and learn something new, and I'm finding this sewalong is definitely delivering there. 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

July Sewing!

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

I don't know how it's already July! But as we are here, I thought I'd make some plans to help me accomplish some sewing this month. 

I'm already working through the pattern drafting courses by Cal Patch, via CreativeBug, and plan to continue those this month. 

But aside from that, there is also some summer dress sewing that needs doing. I love a summer dress, and I have lots of great fabric that is calling out to be made up. Plus some patterns have been in my stash for quite some time -- so I had to take some time to match them up. Here are just a few that I've sorted so far. I'd like to make at least 2 of these 4 options this month.


I've also decided to finally make myself a Charlie Caftan, and have repurposed a cool thrifted tablecloth to do so. I'm making the non-gathered View A, since this fabric will not adapt to gathers well. If it works, I may try out the gathered view in a rayon challis next. This one has already been cut out -- once I saw the fabric/pattern combo I knew I had to get this one going!

I also have an idea for a quick sewalong challenge later this month, but I'm still working out that one and will be giving more of a Hint about it when I am ready with the details. It'll be a fun Canadian themed dress sewalong, stay tuned for more info...

Have you been enjoying your summer sewing so far? What's your favourite kind of summer project to sew? 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Weekend Review: The Vintage Pattern Selector

 

The Vintage Pattern Selector / Jo Barnfield
Hove, UK: Barron Educational, c2013.
192 p.

I picked this up in the library -- the cover and the concept were appealing. You can tell it's a little old now -- patterns are included on a cd in the back of the book. I haven't tried one yet, but I am planning to printat least one off to test the sizing and drafting. 


I found the book's concept interesting; it's laid out by garment type - dresses, skirts, blouses, coats, pants, lingerie, and accessories. Each section highlights a couple of examples of different eras and what the original items would include, and then shows images of a modern interpretation plus pattern. There really isn't much content, though, for what I might expect from a book like this. A lot of it is about the modern take on the vintage concept, there's not very much detail on the vintage itself. It's kind of a page or two of bullet points on both ends, and lots of pictures of current outfits. 

The book ends with a section on basic dress construction, and also includes some vintage specific sewing instructions like making a side placket for a snap closure, or creating nice flat bows for belts and trim, or even making shell trims. But overall I wasn't sure who the intended reader was. The information given on the vintagey topics is pretty elementary, but the sewing instructions seem to assume a bit of knowledge in the reader. 

The primary issue I have with this book is the sizing. According to the measurement chart at the back, standard sizing here runs from S - XL (or B/H of 32/35" to 38.5/41"). But I am sized out at XL. My bust measurement corresponds to somewhere between a L and XL but my waist and hip are bigger than the biggest size on offer. I don't think there are many sewists who would find this tiny size range useful or appropriate. 

I am going to print and measure one of the patterns, and try it out so I've actually tested one of the designs here -- likely the 20s slip as it's simple and straightforward and will be a good test case. There are a couple of cute patterns included, but with the sizing issues and the scant instructions, most readers will likely just move on to one of the many vintage inspired pattern lines out there these days. Charm Patterns, Decades of Style, or even actual vintage patterns, will have more to offer, I think.