Friday, June 20, 2014

Well, you were right about one thing. It definitely wasn't Bigfoot.

Hello again! Two posts in one week, I'm really spoiling you, aren't I?!

As I mentioned in my last post, I have something of a backlog of projects and adventures to share with you. This is why I am so late in writing about the lovely day I spent at the John Lewis Sewing Bee on 31st May. Yes, it was over two weeks ago. I suck. I know. But whatever, it was a good day!

I was very excited when John Lewis got in touch to invite me to take part. I was initially going to decline as it was happening the day before Nic and I were going to Paris, but when it came to replying I found myself writing OMG YES PLEASE, which was curious! Anyway, although the prospect of spending the day sewing on the haberdashery floor of John Lewis Oxford Street was a bit daunting, it was too exciting to turn down. The whole thing became even more exciting when I realised I'd be sharing the day with fellow Spoolettes Clare, Emmie, Fiona and Amy and meeting two other seamstresses I hadn't met before, Elena and Charlie.

Our brief on the day was to sew a dress using some of the beautiful fabric that John Lewis has produced in honour of their 150th anniversary. I loved all of them and was immediately drawn towards the floral print that Emmie ended up using, but in the end I couldn't resist the mid-century feel of the 'bacteria' print I chose. We had a choice of patterns to choose from and although I had brought my Emery pattern with me (as I knew I'd be able to sew her up in a day) I went for a Vogue pattern - V8998. This was kind of a risk as I have never sewn from a Vogue pattern before but I figured that if I came unstuck with the fitting I had many talented and knowledgable friends on hand as well as the wonderful Sew Over It ladies Lisa Comfort and Freia.

Me, trying to figure out which pattern pieces I need. Photograph by Michael Taylor

We spent some time taking over the haberdashery in the morning cutting out our pattern pieces and fabric - we were provided with an amazing sewing kit, which included some really badass sewing shears. Cutting out my pattern pieces felt like it took ages. The dress I chose had many variations AND was one of those where they have different bodice options for different bust sizes, so as well as having to measure everything to figure out the best one to cut, there were about 17,000 different pattern pieces to navigate. I wasn't on top form that day as I was suffering from a horrible head cold and sinusitis and hadn't slept at all the night before, so I did make one stupid mistake and totally forgot to cut out one of the skirt pieces! Thankfully there was lots of fabric available so when it came to assembling the skirt I was able to just cut out what I needed out of the remaining fabric. Still, I felt like a total dope.

Cutting out that pesky missing skirt piece.

The day itself was kind of a blur. As well as the pressure of sewing a dress to a deadline, there were lots of distractions. Really fun distractions like playing with a new sewing machine - we were given the use of a Janome DC3050 for the day and it was a lovely machine to use - and an overlocker. I've only used an overlocker a couple of times before, so it was fun to finally have the chance to get to grips with one. Of course the biggest and most fun distraction was the fact that I was sewing with friends and the day passed in a blur of chatter and laughter. Lisa and Freia did a good job of keeping us on task - and getting us all started again after a long and tasty lunch in the John Lewis brasserie!

Sewing bee!

I was pretty determined to get my dress mostly finished on the day, and I'm proud to tell you that I did. I totally ignored the instructions - the dress has a princess-seamed bodice, an inset waistband and a 6-gored skirt with some gathering. Nothing outlandish and I was confident I could use my previous sewing experience to work out the best method of construction. The pattern calls for the dress to be lined, but in the interests of speediness, I decided to line only the bodice. I self-lined it, because there was lots of fabric available! Going by the finished garment measurements (once I found them - they appear to be well-hidden on Vogue envelopes) I cut the size 10 with the C cup bodice. I basted it together and - shamefully - tried it on over my dress. Freia and I agreed that I needed to take a couple of inches out overall, so I did this by taking in the side seams by an inch each (although I left the seams of the bust as they were.)

This is my 'concentrating' face

Getting to grips with a new machine and an overlocker was suprisingly enjoyable! - although it made me realise how much I rely on muscle memory when sewing with my own machine! The DC3050 was lovely to use - my own machine is a Janome so I could figure out the basics easily enough - and it was so quiet and smooth! I'm not ready to upgrade my machine yet (I am ridiculously attached to my totally basic little machine, and it does everything I need it to well and reliably) but something like the DC3050 would be a good next step for me, I think. I had very little previous experience with overlockers but I enjoyed using one on the day. I'm not in any immediate need for one, but I must admit to really liking the way my serged seams all looked so I might very well invest in one at some point this year.

By the end of the day, my dress was ready for a zip. I just whacked the zip in as quickly as I could so I could see what the finished dress looked like on, but then I ended up being too tired and overwhelmed to want to go and try it on. Still, it was really pleasing to see what it looked like on the mannequin. I am still not at all convinced that a dressmaker's dummy is for me, though. Those things seriously give me the creeps.

One of the highlights of the day was having our photographs taken in the garden on the roof of the building. I'm not sure if this roof terrace is open to the public, but it's just beautiful. Also, it was really nice to get out into the fresh air after an intense day underneath electric lights.

Me and my almost-finished dress, modelled by my much taller, sadly mutilated friend.

The biggest highlight of the day was getting to spend the day sewing with such lovely friends, and in such an unusual surrounding. We had the run of the haberdashery department, and were so well looked after. It was really lovely to meet the shoppers at John Lewis as well - we had some Spoolette friends drop in to see us, and chatted to customers and blog readers alike. It was brilliant!

I love the look of concentration on Emmie's face in this photo.

Organised chaos

The Sewing Bee Gang - from left to right - Freia, Lisa, Fiona, Elena, Clare, Charlie, me, Amy and Emmie

When we had finished and packed up for the day - leaving fairly well laden down under the weight of the fantastic Prym sewing kits we'd been given, along with our dresses, fabric, patterns and notions needed to finish - Charlie, Amy, Elena, Nissa (who had joined us) and I headed to the Irregular Choice shop on Carnaby Street. I had a £100 voucher that was a wedding present from the Spoolettes that I was determined to spend! The ladies helped me pick out some shoes and from there I dashed to Tottenham Court Road to meet my sister Kelly, who happened to be in London for the weekend. We had time for a quick drink and a catch-up before I got the train back up to Leamington. By the time I arrived home I was thoroughly exhausted and fit only to eat some toast and get into bed. My dress would have to wait until I got home from Paris to be finished.

So, when we got back from Paris (and I had recovered a bit from the journey home) I did finish it. I needed to sew the bodice lining down and hem the dress, but I wanted to also re-do the zip as it wasn't my finest hour. I did all of this by hand because I wasn't that fussed on getting my machine out.

Darkness Falls dress - Vogue V8998 worn with Irregular Choice Dippy Daisy shoes

Overall, I'm really happy with this dress. I must admit that when I put it into the bag at the end of the day, I wasn't totally sure if I was ever going to wear it. I didn't especially like the way it looked on the mannequin - but then, that thing is a totally different shape to me, so that's probably why! I'm happy with the fit, too - I know there are some wrinkles under the bust there in that photo, but that is really more my posture than anything else. I seriously need to learn to stand up straight one of these days.

The skirt on my dress isn't nearly as sticky-out as the one on the pattern envelope or in the sample photos - but this is because mine isn't lined, and also the dress in the sample photos is hemmed with horsehair braid. There is a nice bit of fullness at the sides and towards the back - the version I chose to sew has some gathering on the skirt pieces there. It's a very nice dress - similar to my usual style but I think the inset waistband is a bit different - and I'm pretty sure I'll sew from this pattern again. I think I actually need a little bit more ease so will decrease the seam allowances a bit the next time I make this - it's not too tight and it's comfortable to wear as it is, but it might get rid of some of the wrinkling. Or, you know, once the post-holiday chub has shifted I might not need to!

Bodice view. My posture really is terrible, but this photo is nice because you can see the fabric in better detail.

If I sound like I'm not overwhelmed with love for this dress - well, I'm honestly not, although I do like it a lot. I had a great time sewing it and it'll always have happy memories attached to it, and I'll certainly wear it, but it's not my favourite thing I've ever sewn. It does look good with my shoes, though, which are my Spoolettes shoes!

They have flowers on the front...

...and bows on the back!

So, that was my day at the John Lewis Sewing Bee! It was pretty freaking excellent. And I do like the dress really, because the fabric reminds me of one of the scariest ever episodes of The X-Files, and not just because Scully is dressed like this...


Oh! And before I forget - not only did the lovely ladies at Sew Over It invite me to take part in such a wonderful day, they also gave me a copy of their newest sewing pattern - the Ultimate Trouser Pattern - to give away to one lucky reader. I got a hilarious little note with the pattern saying they'll be interested to see how the Queen of Dresses will sell a trouser pattern but, you know, I know a lot of people like to wear trousers. And as trousers go, these are seriously cute.

These cute trousers could be yours! Dog not included.

All you need to do to win is leave me a comment telling me you'd like to win! I will post to anywhere in the world, and I'll leave this giveaway open until next Friday 27th June at 9pm BST. It'll be good. I promise you won't end up looking like this:

Girl, No. Just... no.