Last week I set myself three tasks the first of which I blogged about in Handmade Tale – Baking – hop on over and take a look I won’t mind (and it includes a link to a wonderful lemon and raspberry cake recipe from Richard Burr!).

The second and third of my personal tasks were sewing based, something that my Mum taught me many years ago.  I remember a beloved polka dot circular long skirt that I wore and wore and wore that Mum had made for me.  Simple but perfectly proportioned, it made me feel like I was 5 foot 10 instead of the diminutive 5 foot 3 and a half (don’t forget the half people, it does make all the difference!) as it swirled around my ankles.  Then, there was the ball dress Mum made with a red silk dupion bodice and short layered chiffon shirt that Mum hand hemmed and which took her hours and hours because it was so full.  The school ball turned out to be a disappointment as my then boyfriend got hideously drunk and ended up spending the evening in the toilets, but the dress.  Oh, I loved it, more than the boyfriend by a long stretch, and it made me feel positively beautiful.  I still have it hanging in the wardrobe, along with the Liberty print hand smocked dresses Mum had also made when I was a child.  You’d have thought that with this maternal influence I would have regularly sewn clothes for myself and my children but sadly I have never made time to do it.  I have however regularly lusted after the fabrics sold at Millie Moon in Frome and the gorgeous retro kits from the legendary Clothkits.  I have even devoted many evenings to knitting jumpers and cardigans for the children.  I realised recently that I now have the time to sew and the Great British Sewing Bee had motivated me enough to get the sewing machine out of its rather dusty box.

I love the Great British Sewing Bee, the combination of Patrick Grant and Claudia Winkleman, along with a plethora of beautiful fabrics (oh, what I wouldn’t give to spend and hour in the fabric room of that programme) and talented sewers that make you think, WOW!  Truly a wonderful way of spending a midweek hour when the husband is on yet another overseas trip.  This year it was particularly brilliant because Matt Chapple claimed the title, snatching it at the final hurdle from the series favourite when the latter made a series of errors and the former came up with an awesome final dress that fulfilled the brief and showcased his talent.   Anyway, the last two of my tasks required time, concentration and a bit of creativity:

  1. Finish the dress I started for T about 3 months ago
  2. Upcycle J’s old dressing gown into a pair of summer beach shorts.

IMG_0010About three months ago I decided to make T a dress, it had come about following a trip to Ikea and falling in love with some of their fabrics.  Ikea sell a range of fabrics by the meter at ridiculously reasonable prices and so they were perfect for attempting to create a dress without a pattern, or rather without a bought pattern as here in Switzerland I can only get them in German, French or Italian and as we know my language skills are little ‘rusty’.  I decided to replicate one of T’s existing dresses and create my own pattern.  What could possibly go wrong?  The thing was because the fabric was so reasonable it didn’t matter if it did go wrong as I hadn’t spent a fortune on it.

IMG_0011The first day I didn’t even touch my sewing machine as it was all about creating the pattern.  This is how amateur I am at this as I didn’t have any pattern paper but instead used the paper from the children’s art easel!  Tracing round each of the individual parts of the dress to get a rough guide and then measuring, and re-measuring at crucial points to get even proportions and a correct fit – in theory.  I decided to make a couple of changes to make it a bit easier for me, omit the inserted panel around the hem to create a dropped back hem for example.  This dress would just have a level, all round hem.  I think I drew and re-drew the pieces four times until I was happy with it and had added in seam allowances.

The next day it was time to start cutting and constructing.  It started well, with a self lined bodice and little cap sleeves which, when it came to insert them, I pleated at the shoulder to give a bit more of a puff out.  Skirt attached, now just the zip in the back which was to be a zip that showed.  That’s when I realised I had made an error in my pattern making, I hadn’t allowed for a zip to be inserted.  I could alter it to do a hidden zip but that would have changed the look and feel of the dress.  So I stopped.  I decided to get my Mum’s advice when we went home pre-Christmas.  So the dress sat in the sewing box.  It travelled to England and back to Switzerland again with no progress as I forgot all about it during our trip home.  It sat in the sewing box again.  Every now and then I’d get it out, have a look, sigh and put it back.  Then I watched the last series of the Great British Sewing Bee.  I found my motivation.  So last week when I got it out I decided to unpick a couple of seams and managed to get the zip in and the back seam sewn – ok it’s not perfect, but I’m pretty darn proud of this creation.  It even fits T.  Hooray!


This spurred me onto the alteration challenge I had set myself of converting J’s old towelling dressing gown into some summer beach shorts.  I had a pair of his current shorts to create the pattern from, but I decided to freestyle and make it up as I went along.  The back of the dressing gown became the back of the shorts using the existing elasticated waist.  The front of the shorts was made from the front panels of the dressing gown – complete with the patch pockets.  Just a case of sewing together all the seams, making sure that the legs weren’t too narrow and sewing a front waistband.  All inside 90 minutes.  Job done.

Towelling Beach Shorts

Thank you Great British Sewing Bee and the lovely Matt Chapple for giving me the boot up the backside that I needed to dust off the sewing machine and get creative.  I love the fact that I am doing something for myself, the satisfaction you get in completing a garment that looks good, and even fits the person it was intended for, is wonderful.  My next projects will be to upcycle some old duvets and sheets into various garments including a skirt for T, a shirt for J and possibly even a dress for myself, I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime I’d love to know if you have any projects on the go?  Where do you buy your fabrics from?  What garments have you upcycled into something else?