The Accidental Renovation Part 2 Getting Floored

I have a strange fascination with flatpack. I love the puzzle. The way it all resolves itself to go together nicely to create this shiny new piece of furniture gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction. Bit like sewing really.

So the 130 pieces of flatpack on my back veranda were a special kind of torture because of one giant problem: the floor had to be layed first. Mr Rivergum had done a stirling job getting rid of the old tiles (some of which required a mini jackhammer, covering the mess in my house with a nice even layer of dust). But while the new tiles weren’t expensive, the quotes for laying them most certainly were. The gentlemen doing this kind of work must all get around in their Porsches on the weekend, judging by the kind of money they are charging, tax free from what I can tell.

We were outraged, upwards of 2k for a little bit of floor? One chap wanted 2.5, claiming the work would take him 4-5 days. We thought that hilarious.

So we would do it ourselves. How hard could it be? The tiles are huge, consequently there aren’t many of them to lay, you put them down on a bed of cement, one after the other, then wipe the grout into the spaces in between with a sponge. Job done!

There are lots of videos on YouTube showing you how to lay your tiles, but let me tell you, the time-lapse used in those videos is quite deceiving! Laying our own floor has given me a whole new appreciation of tiling. It is really hard work, not at all kind to your knees and your back. Good luck to the tradies, they probably need all that money they are charging for regular knee replacements and back operations.

But while it gives your back and leg muscles a workout, it isn’t really very difficult. You get lots of help these days, with little bits of plastic to keep your spaces even between the tiles, and a nifty clip and wedge system to make all the tiles nice and level on the slightly uneven surface of a previously tiled floor.

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It did take us more than 5 days, a week in fact. Because it was DIY in our own home, we could take it easy and work in stages in the evenings, an hour or two at a time. This made it much less physically demanding than doing it solidly for a whole day, like a tradie would have to do.

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Doing it ourselves was not only cheaper, but also tremendously rewarding, because I am so happy with the result. If the floor had tuned out badly it would have been a much less positive experience. I wish I could show you now a beautifully washed pristine floor, but there is no point washing it just yet. We can’t grout anyway because we need to be able to walk on the floor to do work on the walls over the next few days, so this work-in-progress pic will have to do for now.

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After the walls are done we can finally get stuck into the flatpack pile properly, but as an hors d’oeuvre, after a fair chunk of the floor was good to walk on, we did put together a couple of the base cabinets to support a worktop, still in its protective cardboard cover.

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We now have a kitchen surface! After one take-away dinner we decided we really needed somewhere to put together our own meals, even if they came out of the freezer. Weeks on take-away are just too horrible to contemplate. Yay for a kettle, a toaster and a chopping board!

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The Accidental Renovation Part 1 How to Get a New Stove

So my stove was cr*p. The geriatric oven could just about manage a pot roast, but otherwise even simple stuff such as baking nicely browned potatoes or pumpkin? More like dry boiling them in their skins.

The hotplates didn’t work very well either, at least one of them was either heating full blast or not at all, no matter what setting it was on.

I needed a new stove. That’s how it started.

A months later, my kitchen has been demolished and my whole house is in an uproar, with stuff absolutely everywhere. Tasteful raw chip board floors. The only functional living spaces left are our bed and a couch, with sight line to the TV as a bonus. Otherwise every bit of floor space or surface is occupied with the former contents of all our cupboards, book shelves and other assorted furniture. To top it off, there are 130 packages of my new flat pack kitchen cluttering up my back patio.

How did this happen? Well, be warned, once you start looking at all those glossy new kitchens it is hard to draw the line where to stop.

When we bought this house a couple of years ago, we always planned a major renovation, or possibly demolish and start again. But after drawing up the plans and watching a gazillion ‘Grand Design’ episodes we kept putting it off, deciding that we could not cope with managing our business, which was at a complicated growth stage, and a house build as well. So we put up with a 30 year old kitchen, inadequate storage and horrible carpet. For 3 years.

Until we cracked.

The deal was that I was getting a new stove and Mr Rivergum was getting a new floor in the living room and hallway. But, oh how easy it is to get carried away!

Letting yourself think about home improvements is a very slippery slope, so now I am getting a new kitchen, a bank of wardrobes for storage in the hallway, new floating wooden floors throughout, and a walk-in storage room, taking the floor space from part of the laundry and a small access corridor to our toilet, which is separate from the bathroom.

Just a second, don’t we still need to get to the toilet??? No problem! Just relocate the vanity in the bathroom to make room for a direct doorway straight from there.

That is a lot of work on a house we might possibly demolish down the track, or at least reconfigure again with a major reno. Wasteful, so very probably not all that smart. But the labour involved is by far the greater part of the expense, and we have no trouble justifying our extravagance by intending to do all the work ourselves. Ahem, in the evenings and on the weekends.

— Come on, it will be fun! And we will be a whole lot more comfortable afterwards. When we retire in a few years we will tackle the rebuild or whatever. Or, having made the improvements, we will sell and buy something else.

See how easy it is to talk yourself into something you really want to do? So here we are, a month later, surrounded by utter chaos, aiming for the stars and hoping to clear the hedge.

We were sure from the beginning that a custom built kitchen was out of the question. Too expensive to have done, and beyond our skills or time available to do properly ourselves. So it was always going to be a flat pack number. Elsewhere there might be more choice, but Australia is a small market and there is either Bunnings or IKEA. Some independent businesses also do flat pack, and there are direct importers from China on eBay etc, but we considered this a bit more risky than buying from an established brand with a track record and a local presence.

I had a look online to check out the reviews. There were quite a few negative comments about the quality of the board used in the carcasses of the Bunnings Kaboodle kitchens. IKEA had lots of complaints about installers and delays in delivery etc, but nobody had a bad word to say about the quality of their kitchens.

We really liked their designs and interior fittings when we looked at them in the store. Then they had a 25 year warranty compared to Kaboodle’s 10 years, we could get the light grey colour we wanted and hallelujah! — they were actually cheaper! That clinched it, IKEA it was.

I am really big on planning, so I appreciated being able to do that myself using their online 3D planning software. What I appreciated much less was that, even though it is browser based, it needed a proper PC or laptop to run, and could not be used on my iPad. Very inconvenient, when I mostly use an iPad at home like a lot of people, and surprising that such a big company would ignore this in this day and age. Maybe because iPads are not Swedish? Just kidding, but get with it IKEA!

 

 

That said, the software worked really well and I soon had my kitchen planned out. Next was a trip to the store, to get their their human kitchen planners to check it all and get their expert advice on a few things I was not sure about.

Big tip: measure, measure and measure your space again! Then double check your measurements! Then check with the in-store kitchen expert what extra few cm more you might need for cover panels and for doors/drawers to open properly in corners. You don’t want any nasty surprises!

We chose the Ringhult light grey glossy fronts for the bottom cupboards and the white version for the top. As many drawers as possible and a good balance between bench space and high cupboards for maximum storage.

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As for the benchtops, I know stone is all the rage, but we wanted a budget kitchen. In any case, though stone is undoubtably beautiful, it is a bit of a primadonna and not as easy care as laminate. After a brief flirtation with natural wood, which I have always loved, we decided that the maintenance required was too off-putting. And even though I have always hated laminate that pretends to be stone or wood, in the end we settled on wood look-alike laminate benchtops. After scouring Pinterest for pictures of IKEA kitchens, we decided that wood benchtops looked so much better than the grey concrete I had originally picked, and after scrutinising them in the flesh I decided that they did not have the visually offensive fake look I had feared. IKEA seems to fake it so much better! The laminate actually has a pleasing natural looking texture, not just a printed wood grain picture, and the colours are really good. So for us, light oak laminate it is.

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I have to say, the process of buying the gazillion individual pieces that comprise my kitchen was surprisingly easy. After finalising the design on the computer, the kitchen designer will print out a list for you of everything you need. It is long! You can pick it all out yourself from the racks and put it in your car, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you have it delivered, everything is picked for you and all you have to do is pay with your printed list at the checkout. Then it will all turn up on your doorsteep a few days later. There is a flat fee, which was very reasonable, considering it was well over 1 tonne of weight, 130 individual packages, and everything had to be carried up a steep driveway and another 35 steps to our house on the high side of a hill. The two guys delivering weren’t thrilled, but they did it cheerfully, and were even polite enough to initially refuse my tip. I insisted. 🙂

Not much sewing will be happening here in the next few weeks, as we are installing our kitchen, but plenty of blogging about the process. So if you are interested, watch this space!

Leopard Spots

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Animal prints have been in fashion for quite a few years now, so it is rather surprising that leopard spots are still an ‘in thing’. Normally I would not care, Lagenlook is much more long lived than mainstream fashion, so I am used to being able to wear my favourite pieces for many years. But when you venture into the obviously mainstream trendy such as a leopard print top, you want to avoid still wearing it when the trend has long passed. Fortunately I need not worry with this tunic yet, which is just as well because it is one of my go-to ones when the temps get chilly. The weather has suddenly turned cold, and while a top daily temperature of 17 degrees may seem balmy to some, here on the sunny Central Coast of NSW it represents the depth of winter.

The pattern I used is one i developed myself and has been a favourite for a good number of years. I initially got the idea from this Eileen Fisher top I saw on Pinterest.

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And here are a few more versions of the ‘wide body with dropped shoulders halfway to the elbow and skinny sleeves’ silhouette.

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Pinterest is a wonderful source of inspiration and you can even find this version with the pattern obligingly attached.

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My own version has a hi-low hem and you can find the details about the pattern and sewing process here. Instead of the cowl I made a matching infinity scarf which I am wearing looped double. This was mostly because I could not decide whether I wanted a cowl or not, classic indecision, but I should have just gone ahead and made the cowl as I have never worn the top without the scarf.

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The skirt is a bengaline pencil skirt with a yoga style waistband, one of my all time favourites. I winged it when I made it, adding a little extra width for the bum, then tapering inwards towards the hem. It is the classic quiet achiever and I wish I had preserved the pattern to make more skirts, but bengaline is such a stretchy, forgiving fabric that a few cm here or there don’t matter and I can probably wing it just as successfully with the next one. The important thing is to make it just wide enough below my saddlebags so it doesn’t pull inwards, highlighting them unnecessarily.

I used Australian bengaline, which is the stretchy kind, not the ribbed unstretchy one sold elsewhere as bengaline. The fiber mix is similar to Ponte, but it is a woven, not a knit, despite the stretch. The best version is viscose, nylon and Lycra, NOT the one containing poly. I love ponte for tops and dresses, but you really can’t go past bengaline for pants and skirts, because it doesn’t bag, pill or wrinkle, and it wears like iron. You will be enjoying your pull on pants and skirts for years and years, which is unfortunately rarely the case with Ponte.

If you fancy a similar pencil skirt of your own, Maria Denmark has posted a great tutorial on her website. Hers is much shorter, but of course every sewist will adjust the length to their preference.

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Blue Lizards

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Sometimes it takes a bit of perseverance to get a garment to behave. This top started life as an unattractive shade of khaki and although I liked the fact that the cotton jersey was fairly hefty, the colour got me down. I had also been a bit lazy when carving the lizard stamp and hadn’t carved all the little lizard toesies quite nice and round enough. So the print was scrappy as well.

Then my first attempt to improve the colour was a disaster. I had overdyed in a turquoise, hoping for a nice sea green. As if! There was far too much yellow in the original khaki and it ended up a hideous shade of sickly light green. Oops.

The only way to fix it after that was to get the big guns out, meaning to overdye with a much stronger colour. So I mixed 2/3 of mid blue with 1/3 of blue black, off again into the dye pot, and here we are: much better! From flop to favourite, even the scrappy print does not show because of the reduced contrast. Happy days!

The pattern is my usual TNT tunic pattern, based on the Burda Lydia t-shirt. I paid for mine years ago, but it has now become a free download. The details of how to adapt this pattern to make a tunic are here.

 

 

Getting Ready for Winter

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I really love cosy quilted knits like the one I have used for this tunic. Precisely because we barely get a frost on the sunny coast of NSW, nobody bothers much with proper heating, and sitting for hours on a computer in a chillly office has given me an appreciation for warm gear.

The design is a nod to the StyleArc Toni Designer Dress, without the CF and CB seams and the collar, shortened to tunic length. For an actual pattern I once again used my TNT t-shirt, the free Burdastyle Lydia, cut one size larger to accommodate the thicker, less stretchy fabric. The pointy bits are 20cm below the bottom of the armscyes, vertically measured, and the tunic is around 110cm wide there, then comes in again slightly towards the hem.

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I usually just fold the neck edge inwards and coverstitch, but this time I cut the neck larger and added a wide band. I would have preferred a cowl, but cowls are fabric hungry and the 2m I had was not quite enough. It rather surprised me how much I ended up liking the look of a traditional plain round neck with a shirt collar peeking out.

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The points are pushed inwards when worn, forming a sort of pouch, and although there is no actual pocket you can put your hands in these if you want to keep them warm. If you like pockets, you could easily insert a pocket bag into the seam just above the point and maybe even a zipper to make the pocket secure.

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TNT Dress With Variation

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TNT stands for Tried ‘n True, a pattern that you have used over and over and know that it works for you. Not merely from a fitting point of view, but also because it looks good on you, and you like wearing that kind of garment because you feel comfortable in it, and it suits your way of life. As a bonus, using mostly TNT patterns, the colours that look good on you and the sort of prints you like, will result in a strong personal style. So what’s not to like?

I rely heavily on TNT patterns and rarely sew with anything else. This makes it possible for me to sew as fast, if not faster, than I could buy RTW. Not always of course, a special occasion dress or a jacket or coat will take longer. But my steady diet of separates and the occasional simple dress can be made in a few hours, no longer than it would take me to drive to a shopping centre, cruise the shops, try on a heap of garments, despair about the quality, feel bad about my figure and end up with an expensive compromise. And make no mistake, any garment, other than perhaps a tee-shirt, that is not made entirely of polyester WILL be expensive.

Much more rewarding to pull out a TNT pattern, shop my stash of cottons, linens wools and silks, spend a couple of enjoyable hours at my sewing machine and end up with something that will fit and look good, at least to my way of thinking. My non-mainstream style is not everybody’s cup of tea, but then it doesn’t have to be. As long as I feel good in what I have made, my mission is accomplished!

Any TNT pattern is of course open to all sorts of variations to keep things interesting and adapt to the seasons. Here is the latest iteration of the dress pattern I discussed in my last post, a little bit more cold weather friendly with warmer fabric and a cowl instead of the V-neck. This time I also left off the CF and CB seams. But again it is based on my favourite tee-shirt pattern, with the front and back pattern pieces lengthened to a midi length dress. I kept the side splits, so this has to be worn over an under-dress, or a pair of pants, or possibly over a skirt. I haven’t tried this yet, but I will.

The sewing nitty-gritty is as usual on Pattern Review.

The fabric is a heavy cotton velour knit bought at Clear-It in Melbourne maybe 10 years ago. I bought a lot of it because it was only $1/m and have made other garments using it which I have worn and worn. It is a lovely quality, very comfortable, washes up like a dream and is warm as well. Who says you can’t save money sewing? The dress would have taken a bit under 2m of the velour (less than $2) and 3 hours of a rainy Sunday afternoon to sew. As a bonus it goes really well with my me-made jade and silver necklace.

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A New TNT Dress Pattern for Winter

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I think I have mentioned before that I don’t sew based on patterns. What I mean by that is that I don’t browse the offerings of pattern companies, pick one that appeals to me and sew it up. I find that way of building a wardrobe ends up being deeply unsatisfying.

Why? Because what I want is a stylish new outfit, not a pattern. And because I am not a genius it is much easier to find a look online that I really love and try to recreate it, than to invent something from scratch based on a pattern. Especially since most pattern companies are rather pedestrian as designers and fixated on making patterns ‘interesting’, so as many people as possible will buy them, not on creating exciting fashion.

So when I browse Pinterest and other online sources and come across an outfit I love, I have a close look at how I can recreate it. Sometimes I will conclude that it is too difficult, but often I can figure out how to find a pattern or adapt one I already have to do the job. I keep a board of these inspiration pieces and the vast majority of them never get made, but it helps me calibrate my personal style, and browsing my board usually motivates me when my sewing mojo is a bit blah.

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Ironically, my latest attempt is of an outfit created by a pattern company, on the front page of Tina Given’s new pattern magazine. But then Tina Givens is a fashion designer turned pattern company, not the other way around. Her patterns are pedestrian but her outfits always look great.

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This time I would have been very happy to go buy the pattern, a rare luxury to be able to do that when I see an outfit I want, but after scouring Tina Given’s website I found the mag is no longer available, or at least I could not figure out how to get my hands on it. So after a good look I decided that this dress is just a long sleeve t-shirt with a seam at CF and CB, and extended to maxi length with slits from about the hip down. My trusty TNT t-shirt pattern would easily be up for it. So below, allowing for the much less glamorous model and the lack of stylist and fashion photographer to create the perfect photo, is a good look at my first version.

 

There is some room for improvement with the V-neck not being quite as low as it should be. I am not used to making them, preferring round necks as a whole, and I was too conservative when cutting out. 5cm lower would have been better. Other than that I am pretty happy. Fabric restrictions meant that the dress is shorter in length than the original, so I left the four sections at different length according to what the available fabric would allow. I rather like the result.

The cupro viscose I used is not as beefy as the knit of the Tina Givens original, but it has been in my stash for yonks, and I am glad I found a good use for it. This style of dress would look good too in a heavier knit, or a Ponte or even a merino, so watch this space for more. It makes for a very comfy outfit, like going to work in your nighty, and is easily varied with different scarves and jackets or cardis. I think this will be my new TNT pattern for winter, with and without the CF and CB seams, and with and without a cowl. Seems I am transitioning to a slimmer version of Lagenlook to go with my slimmer body. For more detailed sewing instructions have a look at my write-up on PatternReview.

The under-dress is a Tessuti Lily dress, with long sleeves and lengthened to a maxi, which has been an orphan in my wardrobe for at least 5 years. It is too plain to be worn on its own, but I always knew it would come in handy one day.  🙂

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The Jac Shirt

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I do love Tessuti patterns and have made their Jac shirt several times now. The first time I made it as per pattern and it turned out fine. However, I can never resist fiddling with a pattern, and have since settled on some modifications for further versions.

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As you can see in the pic above, I have added some ‘swing’ to the back of the shirt by tilting the back pattern piece away from the fold of the fabric when cutting out. This leaves the top part unchanged so it will still fit the collar and shoulders, but adds volume at the CB hem. You can’t really see that I have lengthened it by 5cm too, but here is my original make for comparison, sewn as per pattern. I am wearing it with harem pants, in case you are wonderin what the funny garment is.

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Nothing wrong with this version of the Jac, except I am probably acclimatised to the volume of Lagenlook, so I prefer a bit more swing and length, especially when the shirt is worn open as a light jacket. A bit more length also lets the shirt tails peak out from under my jumpers, which I quite like. One thing I have discovered though, lengthening does not look so good without a simultaneous increase in volume at the hem, as you can see with the version, below, cut from the good parts of another worn out doona cover. I have used only the collar stand for a grandpa style collar variation. It is sort of ok, but not quite, without the swing at the back.

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The original green version is silk dupioni, which has lost some of its shine and acquired a subtle distressed look after a few years of being worn and washed. Just right for a casual shirt, and I don’t do dry cleaning in any case. All my silks are washed, usually with shampoo as that is formulated for protein fibres, which both human hair and silk are, but in the machine and without fuss. I line dry everything, using my dryer only in emergencies, and to cure my hand-printed projects. All my silks so far have coped very well with this treatment. I don’t cater to primadonna fabrics, except maybe for very special occasion garments like my MOB and MOG dresses, and they get worn only once anyway.

The blue striped fabric is a batik bought in Bali, originally grey and white striped, which had an encounter with the dye pot. Unfortunately I got distracted and forgot to agitate for about an hour, which is a big no-no if you want an even result. So it is a bit blotchy, but thankfully that is not very noticeable due to judicious cutting out. I really like the colour, and with winter around the corner, under jumpers only the collar and tails will be visible in any case.

Regarding the sleeves, I am not a huge fan of traditional sleeve plackets and cuffs. They are useful if you want to roll up your sleeves, but I never do. At least, when wearing the shirts where I have made plackets and cuffs, I don’t remember rolling them up even once. So, being a lazy sewist, I ask myself if the extra time making this is worth it. The Jac has a bracelet length sleeve with a notched hem that can be folded back into a 3/4 length sleeve with a notched cuff. I have lengthened the sleeve to make the full length in shirts I want to wear in winter under jumpers, to avoid potentially scratchy wool around my inner wrists. More about the sewing nitty-gritty on PatternReview.

And here is one more version of the Jac shirt, this time collarless for summer, again in a cotton batik. Like the other versions, it works really well as a light jacket.

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The Eva Dress on the Straight and Narrow

 

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I have used the Eva bodice and sleeves for so many of my frankenpattern projects, and yet I don’t believe I have ever shown an Eva dress sewn as the designer intended it to look. Let me fix that today!

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These are the very first Eva dresses I ever made, one sleeveless and the other with short sleeves. The red is a fairly hefty linen, originally a tangerine/peach and later, when it began to look a bit washed out, overdyed to cranberry red. The grey was my wearable muslin, repurposed from an old doona cover my son left behind when he first moved out of home to go overseas and work in Amsterdam. I missed him, but that I cut up his bed linen to wear because of that is a vicious rumour!  🙂

Anyway, the doona cover originally came from the ‘As Is’ bin at IKEA, so using it for the, at that time, still untried Eva pattern was not a huge gamble in financial terms. It is quite a nice light grey cotton jacquard, a little discoloured from wear in certain places, but there was plenty of fabric to cut around those areas. I believe there may even be still enough left for a pair of pants, but that is a project for another day.

I made this version of the Eva straight out of the packet as far as the pattern is concerned, although of course it was a PDF, so no packet involved. The only changes I made was to forego the bias bound hem at the bottom and the sleeves. A narrow, topstitched hem is very doable despite the curves. Besides extra fabric, bias tape takes time and effort, and I felt I had expended quite enough of that with all the piecing and topstitching required for the skirt sections. I even made the pockets, which I don’t use of course. I never use pockets, unlike a lot of other people who find them indispensable. For me they are only indispensable for forgetting the odd used tissue in, which then causes me hassles in the wash, so I usually leave them off.

I really like the result. The grey jacquard looks quite classy ( — ok, so it is an old doona cover but nobody need ever know!) and it suits the lovely lines of the Eva very well.

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The dark red Eva is quite a heavy linen and hardly crushes at all since I overdyed it. Score! I should overdye a few more linens to get that effect!

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Details about the sewing process are on Pattern Review.

In Stripes from Head to Toe

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Although I like stripes I haven’t worn them much lately. This dress is an exception and, being a maxi, the stripes are pretty much all over. The black and grey combo has a bit of a Japanese vibe, at least as far as the colours are concerned. Japanese people seem to like a very subdued colour scheme of black, grey and white, with black and white checks being a particular favourite. I once took a JAL flight to Osaka and as I was standing in the boarding queue I noticed that pretty much everyone was wearing black, grey and white, with the exception of one brave rebel who wore a purple dress. No doubt everyone thought her outrageous!

Black and grey are also very much colours for autumn, although summer is hanging on stubbornly here and we are still having temps of over 30 for a few days this week. Today was a bit cooler, so I thought I might make a start digging out the autumn wardrobe. I hear New Zealand is already having snow, so it won’t be long before we will need our woollies here too. It usually takes a week or so for the weather to cross the ditch (the Tasman Sea between NZ and Australia, for those not familiar with the term).

I have used this pattern quite a few times before and have blogged about it here. The basic shape of front and back looks like this, cut on the fold, with the back neck line higher than the front, of course.

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I based the above on a t-shirt pattern for the bodice, then did the rest based on a pattern found in a magazine. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I later found the StyleArc Toni Designer Dress pattern to be much the same basic shape if you ignore the collar detail and centre seams, although it is a bit wider in the bodice. Good for wovens but for knits I prefer to overlay the Toni pattern with t-shirt pattern at the top to make it narrower in the shoulders and bust. I have explained this in detail on Pattern Review here.

When wearing the dress you can tuck in the pointy bits or just leave them to hang on the outside. I prefer to tuck mine in a fair way. The skirt sort of collapses into interesting folds. Sorry it is not very easily visible with the dark colour, which is why you might want to look at the dresses in this earlier post too.

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I have blogged about a sleeveless summer version made with a cotton woven fabric here.