African Inspired

My last stencilling project using the Matisse cut-out was very enjoyable, but at the same time I found it quite hard to find something equally as satisfying for my next one. Seems Matisse is a hard act to follow, even by another one of his own shapes. I still want to use his birds and maybe his swimmers too, but they will need to be in blue and white, and I want to use more of my natural coloured linen up first. So in the end I went for something completely different and chose an African look. My choice was a a variation of the P.Kaufman fabric below.

I chose a chunk of this, and changed and enlarged it a bit. I like large prints, — and slimming be damned!

I made my changes in Photoshop, printed it out in sections, then taped it together so I could lay the stencil over the top for tracing. Clear acetate is better for this purpose than the opaque white stencil medium and cutting out was easy with a fine-tipped soldering iron. A hot-knife would probably be even better, but the one I bought from the US via Amazon has a silly polarised plug which needs replacing before it will fit into any of my adapters. It is also 120 Volt, which doesn’t bother me because I have a converter from when we lived in the Middle East. But if you don’t have one and are thinking of buying something similar, be warned!

The printing was easy. I sprayed the back of the stencil with adhesive, let it dry, the pressed it on my fabric, making sure it stuck well around the edges of the printing area. Iron your fabric first if there are any wrinkles, ask me how I know!

I roll the ink on pretty thickly, which is supposed to be a no-no but works for me. I think this is because I use screen printing ink, which doesn’t bleed. The only bit of bleeding I ever had was when the foam roller was too wet. Normally I wet it, then squeeze it out quite thoroughly before rolling it in the ink. I must have only squeezed lightly that time. Fortunately with abstract shapes it is easy to fix this up with a brush and a bit of paint, and nobody will be any the wiser.

Again I used the Tessuti Mandy t-shirt pattern for the top, with the armscyes widened to accommodate a woven fabric and cuffs instead of the sleeves. I also shortened the pattern, although less than last time. I wanted to wear this with long pants, instead of the culottes I intended for my black/grey Matisse top. This top is around 60cm long, the black one was more like 55cm.

Sewing instructions can be found here.


A Tribute to Matisse

How designers manage to put a collection together twice a year with entirely new ideas beats me. I must be a very boring person because once I have hit on a style that works for me I do it to death. The last couple of years have been Lagenlook tunics with harem pants of all descriptions, and now I am onto boxy tops with culottes or Oska-type bubble pants. The Tessuti Mandy with cuffs instead of sleeves looks like it will go the way of the Tessuti Fave Top, being made over and over. I just love the silhouette and it’s such a terrific backdrop for my fabric printing.

Which brings me to Matisse. I don’t know what his contemporaries made of him at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, he is so radically modern. His cut-outs seem childishly simple but are at the same time such supremely pleasing shapes. I have quite a few earmarked for my fabric printing, and here is the first one.

My interpretation is monochrome, I don’t think I quite have his skill with colours. I started with blue on cheap white cotton, as a muslin, to try out my new stencilling method before risking more expensive fabric.

I used a large sheet of stencil plastic bought in an art supply store and cut my stencil out with a knife. To get the outline from my laptop onto the stencil I enlarged it to the size I needed, printed it out in sections, assembled it, then cut it out with scissors and placed it on the plastic sheet so i could trace around the outline with a pen. The cutting out was painful, literally, as you have to press quite hard to cut. Or maybe my blade was just blunt. In any case, I plain to use a hotknife to cut my stencils in future, which is a sort of soldering iron with a fine tip. It melts the plastic and makes cutting much easier.

I also had a few issues rolling on the paint. I used a foam roller and it took a lot of applications to get good cover. Everyone recommends to apply the paint thinly or it will bleed, but I got frustrated and slapped it on quite thickly in the end. No bleeding, so there. The thick paint is a bit rubbery and stiffens the fabric, but I can live with that until I find a better way.

My other issue was that my blue screen printing ink was old and had partially dried out, and so didn’t blend well with the white to make a light blue. I had dark blue lumps in the paint which eventually dissolved into dark blue blotches. Fortunately it didn’t seem to matter, a bit of colour variation actually looks quite good. I like the top and will definitely enjoy wearing it.

Fired with zeal I used a beautiful black linen next, with a grey print. The linen is from the same piece of fabric as the culottes and so makes a nice set.

This time I applied the paint quite thinly, again no bleeding thank goodness, but no matter how many coats I applied, the texture of the linen came through. It is quite smooth, so I don’t understand why, especially since a stencil I did before on a much rougher fabric did not have this problem. Not the end of the world, I love the resulting top, it just didn’t quite turn out as I had imagined. I am thinking that perhaps this was because I used the foam roller dry, while before I wet it and squeezed it out before rolling on the paint. But live and learn, and it is still a nice top.

The Accidental Zero Waste Dress

I’m all for zero waste, but the last time I attempted a zero waste garment it didn’t turn out so well.

What can I say. Not great unless you are after a Japanese look.

This time zero waste wasn’t my intention, but this is all that was left of 2m of batik, 120 wide. Not quite zero, but pretty darn close!

We are about to treat ourselves to a holiday in Vanuatu, after a very stressful and extremely busy year. Once upon a time I had 3 weeks off for my Christmas summer break, but this year it appears not only to be late, but to have shrunk as well. Still, one week is better than nothing. I am so tired I intend to veg and do nothing but eat and sleep. Forget sightseeing, culture and shopping, I intend to be almost exclusively in the pool or in the horizontal. (Well, maybe a bit of fabric shopping, if there is anything interesting.)

What I thought was needed to swan around the resort, on my way to meals, was a tropical style caftan. Not the sort of garment I need in my everyday life or will wear once back home, but I had some batik left from my last Bali trip and was going to give it a go.

I started off tearing a 6cm strip off along the end of my fabric, for the shoulder strap. Then I sewed the fabric length into the round with a French seam and topstitched that. I made this the side seam opposite the draped side and used a bodice pattern piece (Eva dress) to cut the armscye. I didn’t bother to make the front and back armscye different, just layed the back piece onto the doubled fabric and cut the armscye and shoulder with a rotary cutter. I sewed up the shoulder seam and finished the armscye with a bias trip in a matching colour. This resulted in a rectangle with an armscye in the top corner, worn on an angle.

The shoulder strap had to be placed carefully to hide my bra straps and this would have been a great deal easier with some help. But DH was at work, as he always is right now, and I eventually managed to get the straps in the right place. This took longer than all the rest of the sewing time on this garment! Then I sewed up the open fabric below my armpit and let it drape down.

All that was left now was to use the cut off piece from the armscye to make a tie to gather the straps on the top of my shoulder into a sort of simulated bow and hand sew this in place. Mission accomplished!

…and some location shots…

Lizard Print

Creativity needs energy, and all my energy has been syphoned off by endless hours of work lately, so I haven’t done much printing or fabric painting for yonks. But a few days off over Christmas have revitalised me somewhat, so I have got stuck into block printing. It didn’t hurt that my first project has turned out really well, so then I wanted to do more. Here is a lizard print, grey on light blue cotton.

The Tessuti Mandy, sleeveless and in a cotton woven, is the ideal backdrop. Super simple shape, although you need to enlarge the armscyes etc to make the pattern woven friendly (instructions here). The fabric is the other side of the doona cover I already used for the Sydney dress. I also made a shirt out of the same side as this top, so I really had to eke out the top from what was left. A shirt, a top and a dress isn’t bad for the $11 the ‘as is’ Ikea doona cover cost me! Who says you can’t save money sewing?

However, I have been a little dissatisfied with the quality of block printing. It doesn’t deposit a nice thick layer of paint on the fabric like stencilling or screen printing. Here is a close-up of what I mean.

Not the end of the world that the prints are patchy, but I am going to try some stencilling to see if this will make me happier with the quality. Because I print whole garments with repeating motifs, block printing has been convenient. Put the block on the fabric, apply pressure, take it off, ink it again and put it in the next spot to build up a pattern. With stencilling I could create a stencil with several motifs at once, tesselating, but getting it all to fit together nicely is a bit more effort. So I think I will attempt the same MO with one motif on the stencil. For that to work the important thing is to use a transparent stencil, so I can see where the motifs have to go.


My doona covers tend to not wear out evenly all over, because DH perspires a lot during the night, which means that the top of his cover gets weak and tears while the rest is still good. Sometimes I can patch it, but often I have to replace the doona covers, which leaves me with a lot of fabric on my hands. One lot I made into furoshiki, Japanese wrapping cloths, to cut down my use of plastic bags, and some has been good for muslins. This particular fabric yielded summer and winter pyjamas, a nightie and a top.

So here are the summer pyjamas, authentically rumpled and photographed one morning before getting into the shower. The top is based once again on the Tessuti Mandy Tee with a cuff instead of sleeves, and the pants on my Vogue 8712, my favourite pants pattern but unfortunately OOP, cropped short. Any wide leg pants, elasticised at the top for comfort, would be similar if cropped to above ankle length.

The fabric came from IKEA and originally made lovely bedding, and now has a second life as equally lovely night wear.


I always thought the linen I salvaged from a sofa slip cover would make some nice garments one day. ‘One day’ took a decade or two, but fortunately linen only gets better with age. So here is what I made out of one of the cushion covers, after a little judicious block printing (sofa cushions tend to pick up stains).

The pattern was another version of the Tessuti Mandy, shortened to high hip level and minus the sleeves. For this I needed two pieces 75x55cm for front and back, and a couple of small pieces for the cuffs I added where the sleeves would have joined. I made them 15cm wide and folded them double. This makes a terrific summer top, even if I say so myself, it was absolutely free and repurposing makes me feel virtuous. What’s not to like? 🙂

Wedding Guest

My niece was married a couple of weeks ago and it was such a happy occasion! You could tell that the brides had been planning this event for years and had put a lot of thought into the service. Not a dry eye in the house! Each wore the wedding dress of their dreams (not the same, that would have been weird), but both traditional long and white, one featuring lace and the other beading.

It was a daytime mid week summer wedding, so quite informal, and a hot day. I have quite a lot of dresses I could have worn, but at the last minute I decided to use a beautiful cotton/silk print I have been sitting on for years waiting for the right occasion. It had arrived!

It is the sort of fabric that wants to do all the talking, so a very simple style without too many seams to interrupt the design was in order. I used my trusty TNT, the Tessuti Lily Linen dress, hybridised with the armscyes and short sleeves from the Tessuti Eva, another trusty TNT.. The sewing took next to no time, including the cutting out and some frog stitching after a brain blip when I attempted to attach the bias binding for the neck to the hem. 🙂

I thought seriously about ballooning the hem by attaching it to a cotton slip, and possibly twisting it a bit, but work has been very busy lately, and time and energy are at a premium right now. So I folded back the hem at the sides by about 15cm to add some interest to the hem. Flat sandals with bling, a straw hat and a baroque pearl necklace completed the outfit. I felt very comfortable and stylish.

The StyleArc Sydney Designer Dress

Even though I am quite short (1.61cm), I always have and still do like oversized clothes. The Sydney has tempted me to try a new pattern,  but like all oversized styles it is designed for the tall and slim. It was pretty clear that it would need some modifications to make it suitable for short, round-ish me.

Lets look at the drawing on the StyleArc website.

And now the fashion pic.

I think you need to be pretty tall for it to look like this. The pic below I found on the net gives a better idea of how much volume there is, although unfortunately it is slightly sideways.


Too much volume for me, as I discovered when I made up a muslin. I cut a size 12, which should fit me pretty well according to the size chart. It was huge, as I more or less expected.

I have said it before and at the risk of sounding like a cracked record I will say it again: a lot of volume in the skirt only looks good on me when the bodice is fairly fitted. so I took in the bottom of the bodice by about 10-12cm, which is a fair whack in anyone’s book. I know there are some wrinkles above the bust, which make it look as if it is too tight, but there is plenty of room. I get those wrinkles all the tim when taking photos, even with loose garments, because my camera is up quite high and I need to lft my arms to turn on the timer to take each shot. The fabric seems to be getting bunched up on my bra when I raise my arms and I never remember to pull it down for the photo. Anyone else have this problem?

After I had narrowed the bottom of the bodice I took a good 30cm out of the skirt circumference as well, divided up between the 6 vertical seams. The result was much better.

But what I also discovered was that the front of the dress has a lot more volume than the back. So for the real version in a light cotton I decided to use the pieces for back of the skirt at the front as well. Then I made 1.5cm seams, which would have taken a further 6-8cm out of the circumference all up. Even 2cm at each seam wouldn’t have hurt.

I skipped the front pockets because I wanted to top stitch the vertical seams. This looks nice but would have been difficult with the pockets. If you really want them it would be very easy to put them in the side seams instead.

All the sewing details are on PatternReview and here are the pics.

Win Some, Lose Some

Not everyone of my projects ends up being absolutely awesome, I have to say. Some things are just a little ordinary and maybe I should write about them too, in the interests of passing on what I have learnt.

This tunic started life as a cover-up for plane travel. Australians are cursed with very long flights if we want to go anywhere but New Zealand, and achieving any sort of comfort is not easy in cattle class. The cotton seersucker I used does not crush and is light and breathable. Planes are often hot, especially when the airline wants you to sleep, and the air is invariably extremely dry. Having a cowl around my face to breathe into saves my air passages from becoming dried out and vulnerable to infection, and a light cover over any exposed skin stops the rest of me from turning into a prune.

There was no real pattern, only a very large square, with dropped shoulders to just about my elbows, and sleeves starting from there. As much as I used to love wearing a tent, these days that seems a tent pole too far. But the tunic had also been very useful in previous years as a light cover when the days are warm enough for short sleeves or even sleeveless, but the mornings are still cool. So instead of keeping it only for travel and make something new to better fit my now preferred silhouette, I decided to fiddle with it, taking out volume and making the dropped shoulders less extreme.

I liked the result a lot, that is until I saw these photos. Funny how some things look so much better in the mirror! I don’t mind looking short and round instead of long and lean, but judging from the photos the wide hem across my hips doesn’t do me any favours, at least not when the black underneath highlights it as it does. Maybe it will look better over a light coloured top, must remember that next time I wear it.

The cowl is quite long and I think would look better just collapsing into itself rather than being rolled like in the photo. That just makes the whole top look even more chunky.

On the upside, my new haircut looks rather good, which is a win. I can take the tunic off, but the hair is more permanent, at least until it grows again. After 15 years of a more or less shoulder length bob I took the plunge and went short, sort of by degrees, but the latest iteration is really really short! I must say I love how easy it is to maintain, because I have quite thick hair and when it is long it takes forever to blow dry. With this cut I just blow it about with the hair dryer for a couple of minutes after towelling it off, without even using a brush or trying to shape it, then brush through it and I am ready to go. How good is that!

I was lucky to find a hairdresser who doesn’t object to someone my age still wanting to look as good as I can, and was prepared to put some effort into making it happen. Worth his weight in gold, that man. For anyone in Sydney, allow me to recommend Ambrogio in Crows Nest. I am in no way affiliated, just a happy customer.

This is the photo on Pinterest that inspired my latest look. Doesn’t she look great!

The Tessuti Iris Dress

I finally got around to buying and making the Iris dress, after my first attempt at it using the Eva as a base and winging it from there. Of course it is the depth of winter now, so linen and sleeveless wasn’t going to cut it. Fortunately I found some Ponte in a suitable colour combination (always a problem!) at a sale, for a winter friendly version.

The actual Iris turned out to be a bit more slimline than my fudged version, and as much as I like the extra volume in a light batik for summer, I do love the more neat and trim version in Ponte. There are other differences too, the lower skirt is wider (I think I had lack of fabric issues with the batik) and the bodice seems a little longer, — not to mention the long sleeves and cowl!

For those who want to know, all the sewing details are on PatternReview.