Category Archives: Finished Projects

Ladies Who Lunch Dress

Hello! I hope you’ve had a good week. I’ve sure had a lovely one, full of evenings out for cocktails with my wonderful fiance and a very social weekend with friends.  On Friday night I had a friend over for wine and cheese. On Saturday I went with friends to the Stockholm gospel music festival, which was really uplifting! It’s a shame it had to rain though, because it meant we were too cold to stay for some of the later acts.  I also did some sewing last week, and finished a project to wear to lunch with the girls, so here it is!

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Presenting the Ladies Who Lunch Dress, named for its debut at lunch with two wonderful friends and fellow ladies of leisure.  This dress is vintage Simplicity 1577, and like my first year in Stockholm, it should have been easy but I ended up making things complicated for myself. Watch out, the Stockholm Seamstress is about to get real with you here (and if you aren’t interested in my story, just scroll down to the next photo!).

When I first moved to Stockholm, I had just finished my degree in Canada, started my first post-college office job in a place that related to my desired career, and things were seemingly moving forward.  But then love took over, we moved to Sweden, and I found myself in career and adulthood limbo.  I didn’t speak the language, was waiting several months on my work permit to finish processing through my fiance’s company, and had nothing to do but go for fikas and lunches with other expat ladies, at my fiance’s expense.  I had become a Lady Who Lunches, and I hated to think of myself that way.

You see, when I moved abroad with my partner as an accompanying spouse, I left my career, friends, and my identity behind.  I had always seen myself as a hardworking person who could take care of herself and pave her own way financially.  My identity was tied into my ability to support myself, and to suddenly have to let go and place all the responsibility in my fiance’s hands not only felt wrong, but it felt like a betrayal of myself.  I grappled with these feelings for many months, meeting plenty of lovely women who probably could have helped me to get through it, but a lot of us were going through the same struggle.

But it’s not always easy reaching out, especially when it feels like you’re alone in your struggles.  I found that the majority of fellow expat women I met here had children, and this provided them with an outlet, an automatic social circle, and an understanding of their place in the world.  They had somewhere to be, a purpose in life, and the way I saw it, they could rely on their identities as mothers and bond over that.  I on the other hand, was in  a strange place, barely 24, not yet married, my career underdeveloped, and childless.  I met a few other young women in my position, and nearly all of shared the same goal, which was to find a job as quickly as possible.  This was alienating in itself because job searches are very consuming, and many of us found jobs, which no longer left time for bonding over leisurely lunches and coffees.

I eventually found a teaching job as a maternity cover for a year, which distracted me from these feelings, until my contract ended at the end of the school year.  Once that was over and I had once again become a lady of leisure, I was able to reach out to some of the young women I’d met when I first moved here.  I began to embrace a new identity as a housewife, and appreciate the low-stress lifestyle I now lead which gives me plenty of time for sewing and to socialize with friends as a lady who lunches.  If I had embraced  and accepted my new lifestyle from the beginning, maybe I would have had an easier time adjusting to Swedish life.

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And if I had just followed the instructions and measured better, maybe this dress would have been easier and quicker to make! I started making this dress a few weeks ago when the weather in Stockholm became unusually and uncomfortably hot.  We had the same temperatures as California for a couple weeks!  Being indoors behind my sewing machine seemed like the best place to be, so I pulled out a lovely soft floral cotton I’d bought last summer and got to work choosing a pattern.

A couple weeks ago, I rounded up and cataloged all of my digital patterns via Pinterest, and that got me thinking about how many patterns I own and which ones I actually use. A few years ago I bought a plus sized vintage pattern lot on ebay, put them in plastic protectors, and never touched them again. Well, I went through my patterns and found vintage Simplicity 1577, which almost exactly matched my current measurements. Lucky day. I didn’t bother with a muslin, just cut it out and got to work. I like to live dangerously that way. 🙂

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Let me tell you, this pattern was a pleasure to work with, and very simple. I mean, let’s get real here, in 90 degree heat, I would much rather spend extra time putting nice finishing details on an easy pattern than spend all my time struggling to put together a more complicated pattern, so this pattern was just right.  All it took was two main pattern pieces for the bodice, and the facings. But oh, facings! I was lured by the promise of quick cutting and a shortcut to finishing the neckline. NEVER AGAIN. I matched the notches, pressed, and understitched, but they still wouldn’t stay put! I ended ripping them out, sucking it up, and making a full lining for the bodice–much better!

It seems like all vintage patterns use facings, but I can’t stand them. I have never met a facing that hasn’t betrayed me! It’s too bad I forgot this when sewing the bodice, because I was really enjoying making this dress and working with the pretty floral fabric up to that point.

After I resolved my neckline issues, I was just looking for an easy end to my frustration, so I skipped cutting out the gored skirt pieces and used a gathered dirndl skirt instead. Lätt som en plätt! –easy as a pancake! I also left out the collar pieces, dresses with collars aren’t my thing. I am afraid of looking like an overgrown little girl, but I envy those who can actually pull them off because they can be pretty cute.

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After all the time I spent creating a nice lining and finishing with hem tape, I tried the dress on and was disappointed (and yet not disappointed) that my diet and exercise efforts were successful, which meant it no longer fit.  So it just sat there on my sewing table, all pretty and floral and sad, waiting a couple weeks til I finally sucked it up, put my mannequin to use and adjusted the darts.  It only took about 15 minutes to do, but sometimes you just run out of steam on a project after so many frustrations.  Once that was done, I was pleased to find the fit issues were mostly fixed, so  I added a zip and hemmed it before it was time to meet my lovely ladies for lunch. Hurrah!

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And that’s all I have to say about that. 🙂  Until next week, hej då!

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Carmenklänning

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Hej hej! Can you believe summer is almost over?  My fiance and I enjoyed a quiet weekend which included dinner out at a local German bar (after he patiently accompanied me to the fabric store for the first time) and lots of sewing. I wanted to get another summer dress finished before the end of the season, and I knew I could finish this one before fall weather takes over, so I spent a leisurely weekend sewing a summer dress. I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines–literally! In a few months it will be dark for most of the day.

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I followed the instructions in Swedish Burda magazine 07/2014 for the tiered dress they charmingly called a “Carmenklänning–” a Carmen dress (for its Carmen Miranda ruffles). I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but I think it’s surprisingly cute.

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As the magazine promised, this was really easy to sew! I finished it at a leisurely pace over weekend. The pattern fit accurately. The only trouble I had was with the ruffle in the off the shoulder part.IMG_1439

The instructions told me to only gather the ruffle piece between the straps in the front and the back, but not gathering the sides meant I had to take out about 4 inches of extra fabric from the sleeve area on each side.  Before I did this, the neckline was drooping in the front and the off-the-shoulder sleeves looked really weird. Luckily, this was easy to fix by just taking it in about 4 inches on each side. Next time, I think it would be best to gather the whole thing or just make the ruffle piece shorter.

This was the first time I’ve ever made my own bias binding. I was surprised how easy it was to do and how little material I needed, which was great because I only had a little over 1.5 meters of fabric. I don’t have a bias tape maker so I used the sewing pin method described here on Creative Little Daisy’s Blog.  It’s such a clever DIY idea! Of course it took a little more time than having the proper tool would, but it got the job done. I used bias binding for finishing the armholes and neckline around the ruffle, and for the straps..

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Closeup of neckline, and a happy doggy!

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It was also the first time I made a dress with an elastic waist.  Why haven’t I done this before?  It’s so much easier than a zip!  Another great thing is this will still fit as I get in shape for our wedding in two months.  Nothing is more frustrating than sewing something up and it not fitting by the time you’re done–especially when you forget to add the seam allowances like I did.  The pattern only goes up to a 44, so I graded this pattern up to a Burda size 46 the easy way (using the tutorial here on BurdaStyle’s website), and ended up with something closer to a size 44 in the end, so that was pretty silly of me.  At least I had the elastic waistband to save me.  Next time I’ll remember my seam allowances!

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Hopefully I will get at least a few weeks wear out of this dress before the fall weather sets in.  If not, I can always wear it when we visit California, where the sun is always shining!.

What are you sewing right now? Are you trying to make any more summer items before the warm weather ends?

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Sommaren är kort!

Hej Hej!  I have been absent for a while, but I am not apologizing! As we are reminded every week in the Skansen singalongs on Swedish TV, and by last week’s thunderstorms, Sommaren är kort! Summer is short–too short to be spending time sewing indoors! I have to replenish my vitamin D levels before we get back to several months of darkness.

If you are wondering what I mean by a Skansen singalong, here is a video, filmed at Skansen, and this article explains more about them:

I have been barbecuing, picnicking, attending concerts at Gröna Lund, walking around the lake, had my maid of honor visit, celebrated midsummer, and spent many weekends taking trips around Stockholm county looking at houses to buy so we can get out of the expensive secondhand rental trap we have been in since we moved here.  Sewing has not been my first priority!

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Wearing the midsummer crown I made and NOT thinking about sewing!

With a few babies of friends and family on the way, I did try my hand at a small quick project, sewing baby bibs. You can find the tutorial here from Simple Simon and Company.

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Bibs, made using fabric scraps

This was just what I needed to get back on the machine!  Unfortunately, it also jammed my bobbin case while I was trying to quilt some of the pieces, but lucky me, my fiance suggested we just go to the sewing shop and buy me a new one!  We did, and I came back with a wonderful computerized machine, the Janome 4120.  It’s perfect for quilting, so I may have to learn how!

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My precious!! Janome 4120. The thread cutter is my favorite part!

I was meant to get one last summer, and almost bought a ridiculously expensive (but amazing) embroidery/sewing machine that did everything.  I changed my mind though and decided we should use the money to take a trip to Iceland for my fiance’s birthday, which was a great call, because I got both a new machine and the trip of a lifetime in the end *Side note: Seriously, if you are thinking of visiting Iceland, this travel company was fantastic, and no, I am not endorsed by them!

It took a few days for me to say goodbye to my faithful old Kenmore, which I managed to fix and plan on keeping as a backup machine.  But I finally set up my new Janome yesterday and went through the instructional video a couple times.  Now I have no excuse for abandoning my sewing (besides the fleeting Swedish summer)!  I have to say, on my old machine, I sometimes felt that the quality I was coming out with was not always great, and blamed myself, but the new one runs so smoothly that I’m beginning to think it wasn’t just my skills that were to blame!

Farewell, old friend!

Farewell, old friend!

I am going to miss my old Kenmore though.  I picked it up in California for 50 dollars on Craigslist from a woman whose mother had used it as a professional seamstress before she started getting macular degeneration.  It had the original Sears receipt and a bunch of great attachments, including a ruffler foot.  The daughter told me her mother had treated it like her baby, regularly oiling and servicing it.  I made my first dress on it, and have learned how to do pretty much everything I know about sewing beyond the basics on this machine. It has been in California, Montreal, and Stockholm, and it holds a lot of sentimental value and memories for me!

Tell me about your first sewing machine. What kind was it, and do you still have it? 

The Vanadislunden Picnic Dress

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I know it’s spring when I see wild daffodils!

Hej Hej!  After a couple months of hibernating, I looked outside and saw that it was spring, so I decided it was time for a new post! Well, I haven’t just been hibernating, we’ve also had some big things going on.  Like moving our wedding from Scotland to California.  We had planned a lovely castle wedding for June, but it all got to be too much pressure on us and my family, so we talked to my parents and agreed to get married in the fall close to my hometown.  I spent two straight weeks rediscovering the joys of planning yet another wedding from abroad. I was researching venues 24/7, booked an awesome one, and have been busy nailing down some of the other details.  After all that, I decided to take a break from sewing, and everything else! Phew, wedding planning is very consuming!

Anyway, with the big details out of the way and the save-the-dates sent, I finally started a(nother) new project, based on the bodice of Lekala 5212.  I’m still in the cutting phase.  I also have made an Elisalex muslin and have put my Monthly Stitch Miss Bossy Challenge for March on the back burner because I was overthinking how to resize the vintage pattern, but I will get around to it.  I have always been one to just dive into a pattern head-first, without measuring the pieces or making adjustments, so I think trying to do it the right way overwhelmed me, because I froze up a bit in the process!  While I am working on finishing one of these, I don’t want to completely abandon my blog, so I thought I’d share something I made last summer.

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This is Simplicity 2444, and I guess what you would call a wearable muslin.  It was made at the end of the summer last year, so I only wore it once before it got too cold. Image

This is such an easy pattern to put together! I lined the bodice and enclosed the zipper in the lining. I do not know how I did that, because this was one of my first zippers and I was just kind of faking it til I found the Sunni’s Craftsy class on zippers last fall and learned out how to do it properly.

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Pattern: Simplicity 2444

Fabric and materials used:  I used around 3 meters of cotton fabric I bought ages ago when I lived in Montreal, from a little fabric shop run by a sweet old couple who had terrific prices.  I just love the roses!

Things to try next time: I had a fit issue with this, probably thanks to my narrow shoulders–there is gaping at the underarms, which seems to happen to me a lot, and a lot of gaping at the chest. It makes me wonder–do I have a hollow chest, or is it just the pattern? I think I may try using this gaping neckline adjustment tutorial from Phat Chick Designs next time I make this to see if it helps.

New Skills/Lessons learned: I only used the bodice, and did my first full circle skirt.  Hemming that was a little time consuming, but I am glad I know how to do it now, thanks to this Colette tutorial.

Would you make this again?:  Yes, when I am in the mood to make a muslin and adjustments!  It’s a very flattering pattern thanks to the waist darts.

I wore this dress out today, for an impromptu Easter Monday picnic on Vanadislunden.  Eugene and I were cleaning the house to prepare for my lovely friend and maid of honor’s visit this week, when he looked out at the sunny weather and suggested he prep a picnic. He made us some nice sandwiches, which the dog tried to steal, and we stopped and bought beers and chicken drumsticks at the grocery store.

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ImageImageWe found a nice sunny spot on the hill, next to a building which looks like fortress, but is actually a water reservoir.  Vanadislund is a pretty neat place with a large dog park, playground, church, and it’s where a lot of locals come in the summer to picnic, sunbathe, exercise, and walk their dogs.  A lot of people had the same idea as us today.

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It was wonderful, and the dog had fun too! 🙂 I hope you had a nice Easter weekend, and happy sewing!

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“The Battlefield Dress” Burda 07/2011

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Burda 07/2011 Off the Shoulder Dress (Plus Size) worn with fur stole, a gift from my godmother

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This gives you a good idea of the color of the dress, which turned out much darker in my other photos. Sorry, I think my photography assistant/ sweetheart is on strike because I am too bossy!

In Kunsträgården after the party--it started snowing!

In Kunsträgården after the party–it started snowing!

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The Berns Hotel Grand Salon

Last week, my fiance’s company hosted a party at the Berns Hotel in the beautiful grand salon.  The event called for “smart casual” attire, which is open to wide interpretation.  A few Google image searches of the dress code yielded a look that is more office casual than party chic, but I have so few opportunities to dress up in Sweden (even office attire here is more ‘casual Friday’ than business professional), so I decided to finish my Burda Off the Shoulder Dress.  I am opting to call it The Battlefield Dress, because completing this dress was a like a battlefield with all the fit and construction issues I encountered.

With just a few hours to go before the party, I put Breakfast at Tiffany’s on in the background and got to work. I have had this dress hanging on my mannequin and sitting on my sewing table since November. Trying to figure out which way the collar piece sandwiched into the shell and lining fabric was tricky, and the instructions may as well have been written in German.  I was daunted by them, so I called in reinforcements. With a little help from my friend Helen of Button and Snap, I was able to figure out what the heck was supposed to happen with the collar piece, and she also gave me a little moral support when she confirmed that those Burda instructions were indeed confusing.  Thanks Helen, you gave me the push I needed to dive in and get over my fear of the collar.  🙂 WIN_20140225_160424

When I finally completed my first kick pleat and lapped zipper, I was so proud and the result was great, except for the fact that the bust was now too big and the collar was drooping too far off of the left shoulder.  I ripped out the back part of the collar and sewed it back on so that it sat a little further down, but this was no help.  It became apparent to me that I was going to have to really get into the guts of the dress, so I ripped open the lining tried a little pinning to adjust the fit.  I soon became so intimidated with the task that I just left it sitting there as a UFO, until now. No longer will this dress taunt me!

When I finally revisited it yesterday, I thought I was going to have to adjust the whole bust area, and struggled for about an hour to try and get my head around how to do it, until I realized I was running out of time and just decided to move the front of the left collar piece downwards to make the sleeve tighter. This probably would have worked well a few months ago when I first made the dress, but blessed/cursed weight loss has caused my bust to decrease a little more since then, so it was still loose.  At this point, I only had an hour to get ready, so I pinned the collar pieces where they needed to go, and did a quick hand-sewing job on the inside. The fully lined dress isn’t as pretty as it could be now in that area, but this quick fix along with a nicely padded pushup bra, did the trick.

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This dress, thanks to the full satin lining, feels amazing to wear!  I can’t help but feel good and elegant in it.  After watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the background, I was happy I had a dressy outfit to wear to the party. Don’t you just love how formal clothing was during that era?  I kept Holly Golightly’s poise in mind all night, but I resisted the urge to call everyone “daaarling!” as she does in the film.  I must admit I felt like Marylin Monroe in this dress, and my sweetheart kept saying how beautiful I looked and how he was so glad I was there. So I guess I won the battle in the end, and it was worth it.  Until next time, daaaaarling!

Pattern: Burda 07/2011

Fabric and materials used: Around 3 meters navy stretch satin (good quality) for shell, 2 meters bargain bin blue stretch satin for lining, regular zipper, iron-on vilene tape to stabilize the zipper, and iron-on vilene stabilizer (which was useless because it would not stay–next time I will just stay-stitch).  I could really tell the difference between the two fabrics in terms of quality.  This was my first time working with any sort of slippery or stretchy fabric and I must admit I really loved it.  It was not as scary as I read it would be, though I took ages to cut it out.

Changes I made/things to try next time: On the burda measurements chart, It said I was a size 48 bordering on 50 at the time I cut this out (holy hips!).  I cut a 48 in the hips and a 46 in the bust.  I really could have sized down even further, especially in the bust area.  However, I found the armholes way too tight and ended up modifying these to account for my bulging biceps. 😉  I cut them down this twice, measuring carefully to make sure both sides were even.  Maybe I went a little too far though, since the left collar piece/armhole ended up being too big.

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New Skills/Lessons learned:  This is the first time I properly excecuted a lapped zipper, and for extra gold stars, I made the lining nice and tidy too.  This was also my first vent.  I am sold on the lapped zipper. I reinforced it with vilene iron-on waist stay tape, which made it nice and sturdy.  Although it looks wrinkly in the photo, I assure you I have a more ample backside than my mannequin, and it fits smoothly on me.

This was the first time I worked with nicer quality fabric. In the past I always used cheaper cottons, which was fine while I was improving my skills.  Now that I have improved, I must say, I can finally see the value in spending a little more on fabric. I feel like this is the first time I have produced a piece that is more handmade than homemade,  and this has given me the confidence to start looking more at actual dressmaking fabrics rather than strictly cotton prints.

Would you make this again?:  Possibly. I loved the end result, and it is not as confusing now that I have made it once, but I would have to take more time to fix all the fit issues. Maybe I’d make it for a friend though, as every voluptuous girl deserves a dress like this!

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Lady In Red–By Hand London Georgia Dress

Laaady in reeeeeedddd!

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By Hand London Georgia dress in red cotton canvas

I still have to hem it and adjust the straps, but I am excited to share my this one.  After letting it sit in my pattern stash for a few weeks, I finally dived into By Hand London’s newest pattern, the Georgia dress.  And what a perfect project to follow up my challenging (and still unfinished) Burda off the shoulder dress.  This fantastic pattern came together in two evenings, which included tracing and cutting my size.  It was so easy, and very well drafted.  My measurements fit the hip and waist measurements on their size chart almost perfectly, except in the hips. The hips were a little tight in the finished dress, but I expected that because my hips are about a half inch bigger than the size chart.  Also, I didn’t use a stretchy material like they recommended, which would have helped. My bust was a couple inches smaller around than the size chart, but all I had to do to fix this was to tighten the straps a little in the front. Easy peezy!  Usually, I have gaping in the underarm area with most patterns that are a little large in the bust, but not with my girl, Georgia!

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While I was attaching the skirt to the bust, I noticed that it wasn’t quite lining up to form the “crisp point” the instructions talked about. On closer inspection, I realized that I had attached the bust piece upside down!  It wasn’t too noticeable in the way the skirt hung, and fixing this would mean ripping out the lining where I had already trimmed the seam allowances, so I decided to just roll with it.  Or rather, bounce with it.  It definitely resulted in some va va voluptuous cleavage!

I like the way this dress could be casual, pinup-y, or formal. There are so many possibilities!  I think I have a new go-to pattern.

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He likes wearing red too.

Side note: I haven’t done a photo shoot since my mom had me model for her eBay vintage clothing business in high school, so it felt really weird taking these photos.  Thankfully I had a very patient photographer–thanks, Eugene!

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