Merry Christmas!

There are so many things I have been wanting to write about but I have been a Christmas misery this year.  For the first time in my life I had to work Christmas day.  I LOVE Christmas. But this year the run up to it just kept on reminding me that I would spend the late afternoon walking the three and a half miles into work.  In the dark.  And then walking the three and a half miles back at 10:30pm – in the rain – before I could breathe and truly enjoy myself.

So I thought today, after my fixed weekend off giving me the opportunity to eat my weight in satsumas and mince pies, I would share some Christmas cheer.

Gifts for the People! Administered by Comrade Santa.
Gifts for the People! Administered by Comrade Santa.

Christmas at Margaret’s house means Comrade Santa!  He has an interesting biography having been part of a Christmas window display in the quirky gift shop Margaret used to work in.  Christmas scallywags smashed the shop window and stole Comrade Santa!  After an article in the local paper condemned this behaviour, Santa was anonymously returned in the night.  Seeing as he was more than a little shop (and street!) soiled he eventually came home with Margaret.  The first year I was here for Christmas I leapt on him.  He has been a marvellous custodian of the gifts under the tree and always makes me smile when I walk into the livingroom and see his enervated expression leaping to attention.

And he had a remarkable package to watch over:

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Top marks for effort.  My mum and sister teamed up to purchase a present they had delivered direct to the house.  The Boy managed to squirrel it away and conceal all identifying features leaving me guessing at what on earth they could have got me.

No Peeking! No Squeezing! No Shaking!
No Peeking! No Squeezing! No Shaking!

No guessing was added to the list of interdictions.  I was thinking electric piano? – not long enough; Bicycle? – not wide enough for the wheels (although Margaret pointed out that it could be a fold up bike and teased me about going out to ride it before our Christmas lunch).

With the excitement growing, I tried to throw myself into the usual Christmas build up but the bizarre working hours thrown into the mix scuppered anything approaching normality.  The beauty of this time of the year, with the winter solstice shrinking the daylight hours to nothing, is to curl up snug in the darkness and quietly glow in our little bubbles of winter warmth.  Working in a government call centre I would spend the daylight hours indoors and as darkness falls find myself bustling out the door and onto public transport then into a huge fluorescent tubed office straining my eyes at computer forms with people from places I have never been to or heard of on the other end of the phone sharing their small disasters and the accompanying panic in a flurry of contextomied words.

I did ‘get glam for Santa’, as one sister put it:

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But I couldn’t bring myself to make the batch of Christmas eve mince pies.  It’s not the same without collapsing into a chair afterwards with tea and and satsuma.  And the obligatory feast of nine lessons and carols just depressed me.  Perhaps it doesn’t help that the parade of Draco Malfoys and patriarchal scripture seems to become less anachronistic each year we endure a Conservative establishment and their media minions.  But chiefly I am missing the music.  Christina Rosetti always makes me maudlin – I love the ‘proper’ version of ‘In the Bleak Mid Winter’ so much! – and this year being away from my mother’s house for the whole of Christmas it really ramped up the stinging nostalgia for childhood Christmases.  These were always a clutter of choir practices, carol and Christingle services all swathed in the smell of the thurible mixed with oranges, mulled wine and candle wax.

So no pies dusted with icing sugar, no smell of turkey giblets with half a carrot and onion and 6 cloves, no church, no music, no pine needles.  I guess I was a misery on Christmas Eve but I did get a gin and tonic after work on Thursday and that put a little crackle in my Christmas spirit.

And then on christmas day this little guy arrived:

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Last action hero? No! It’s PHIL!

Let me introduce you to Phil!  Well he is not the original Phil but another instantiation of the little action figure found at a bring and buy sale when we were at school and part of a youthful hide and seek game – Where’s Phil? – which ended with him being decked in wrapping paper and tinsel and settling on the top of the christmas tree.  Very happy Jem.

Happy Christmas!!!
Happy Christmas!!!

And lest you think the crafts are being neglected, The Boy gave me a roll of pattern paper and the latest Yoshiko Tsukiori pattern book! (comprehensively reviewed here!).  First impressions though bring a little disappointment as the sizing doesn’t  range as wide as the original.  There is a reason The Stylish Dress Book gets around so much!  It transpires that none of the others have the sizing of the original Tuttle translation.  I think I will be alright though.  Time to get that “boy’s brain” out, which a (female!!) maths teacher accused me of having, and start problem solving…

And that surprise present:

Of course the only pick I had in the house was this one given to me by Masafumi one of the Japaneezu PUNKusu. SERIOUS?
Of course the only pick I had in the house was this one given to me by Masafumi one of the ‘Japaneezu PUNKusu’. SERIOUS?

It turns out they sent me a guitar! So I did get some music for Christmas after all.  I used to play on an acoustic that went walkabout, although it took me till after dinner to remember how to tune the thing.  I blame the violin interference.

And as for vegetarian Christmas dinner:

Complements to the chef and his mother!
Complements to the chef and his mother!

The Quinoa pie was a triumph.  The Boy is blogging it as I type.  Tandem blogging.  The quinoa makes for a consistency very like a pork pie when cooled.  I have requested quinoa and apple mini not-pork pies next!

Heading off to work I was informed that The Boy would be walking me all the way in, returning home and then walking back out again to meet me coming out of work at half ten.  Isn’t he lovely!

Work was not.  But there was some consolation in the tonally erratic funnies gifted me by my sister:

Not actually a font of wisdom at all! But dark humour is just the recipe for those eating their satsumas at their desk.
Not actually a font of wisdom at all! But dark humour is just the recipe for those eating their satsumas at their desk.

My favourite, as a fan of internet cats and goats, being the following:

I trust it is understood that the butt of this joke is our twisted manipulated modern desires rather than the elderly. If you're very, very old you might not know anything about internet cats and screaming goats. Sorry.
I trust it is understood that the butt of this joke is our twisted manipulated modern desires rather than the elderly. If you’re very, very old you might not know anything about internet cats and screaming goats. We are sorry.

The background sound of community care alarm calls was appropriate.  Not that I take any of those yet – so my being there on Christmas day wasn’t even particularly useful!

Thank You! Japanese fabrics, PHIL!, a knitted bear from my Aunty Jackie - I think he's telling me his name is Marcel but he seems to be speaking French.
Thank You! Japanese fabrics, PHIL!, a knitted bear from my Aunty Jackie – I think he’s telling me his name is Marcel but he seems to be speaking French.

Never mind though, it’s over for another year.  Thank you for all my wonderful presents!  I shall be writing more about the beautiful japanese fabric Margaret bought me soon.  And I shall try to write something on paper too and get it in the post.  Or saving that at least an email.  I just haven’t got round to it yet.  I guess I was trying not to think about it.

Big Green!

I have been in hibernation mode. I have been making things but mostly gifts and this usually leads to bad pictures taken in haste before I bundle them into the post to arrive for a deadline. My Japanese baby blanket being a case in point.

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I would love to show you a little Idris inside but I don’t know when I’ll next make it down south to meet him. I hope the ends stay put. I think I should have been a little more determined with them and knotted each ball change rather than just weaving them in. It’s still amazingly shiny but I was surprised by the crispiness that got into the yarn after blocking it out. Not as rough at the corners as cotton can be but not as fluid as pre-blocking. Margaret said – well it’s a tree isn’t it! – so I suppose the bamboo is doing its thing. Still very slinky though with this lace pattern – the odd stitch count error definitely emerged but it seems to have flowed into the pattern okay with my little fudges here and there.

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The other project I’ve completed recently is The Boy’s jumper! But I think I’m going to have to have another go at the sleeves. After blocking they really shrank lengthways. Pretty pictures though. It looks alright with his (handmade by himself!) shirt sleeves poking out the end but catching his wrists and forearm flashing at me the other day I thought – I can’t leave that! It looks chilly!

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Shame about those sleeves! But it is such a lovely shirt.

The pattern is Isabell Kraemer’s Daelyn Pullover  which has some simple touches embellishing a conventional top down raglan jumper.  Short row shaping over the shoulders and hips and some slight variation in the raglan increases make for a well tailored shape and the style lines separating the textured garter stitch back and sleek stocking stitch front panels give it character.  There’s a women’s version too so I might have a go at one for myself one day.

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I’m not entirely happy with how I worked this up.  Aside from the sleeves I’m not entirely sure about the length of the body.  I’m worried the continuing decreases on the front panel have come in too far and it is slightly off balance.  I wasn’t terribly sure about the measurements as I was knitting – before blocking there was a big difference between the length of the garter stitch back and the stocking stitch and Troon Tweed has a tendency to shrink in ways I can’t predict.  Substituting yarn is always an adventure.

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Aside from running out of WIPs in my knitting bag and having a wedding shrug/cardigan/shawl question looming (for some reason the Imperial March starts playing in my head as I type this!), I got some fabric for my birthday and I have got as far as drawing out the pattern for dress ‘R’ in The Stylish Dress Book 1.  I only have two metres is the trouble so I’m restricting myself to a short smock.  I think the pale greys and blues will look quite floaty and lovely on their own and will be subtle – for a dress covered in cute sheep!

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Prints for the knitter who has lost her yarny inspiration at present.

I was toying with the idea of smock ‘B’ but I think the garibaldi sleeves will get away from what I want which is really a summery cool floaty simple smock top that will sit nicely under a cardi.  So ‘R’ dress it is with shortened sleeves…

Ta Dah! ‘T’ Dress

The ‘T’ dress is complete.

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I even got some photos about a month ago when it was still warm enough to stand outside in a cotton frock but this was before I’d managed to turn the hem so I didn’t feel I could legitimately write a finished object post.  I truly finished it the day after my birthday and wore it to work complete with PURPLE tights.

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I was glad that I’d already taken some pictures in the sunshine as November has been grim with the end of a hurricane and now snow and sleet to contend with.  Despite my tendency to wear the same clothes in all seasons, thermal base layer and stuffing myself into an oversized cardigan being my approach to winter, I do feel a little daft having taken so long to make up this cotton tunic dress.  I need to get better at judging the gestation periods of slow design so I stop finishing wool jumpers in May or August and cotton frocks after the clocks have gone back.

Happy Birthday to me!
Happy Birthday to me!  Just to bring out that purple hiding amongst all that batik.

Now let the judgement commence:

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I love this batik print so much that all the flaws of this dress do not matter.  I will wear it and love it and even just stop and look at it on the hanger and feel immense happiness at the vibrancy of the spots of contrasting colours against the orange ground.  Speaking of which, I think perhaps the batik could (or should?) have held its own against a plain fabric and the same for the green William Morris print.  When I wore this out for the first time (with purple tights and my new PURPLE DMs!) I did feel a little overwhelmed by the swathes of green and blue and did I say green!?.  But once I was inside my favourite bar in Aberdeen – now called Krakatoa (always the Moorings in my heart!) – I felt quite at home under the neon lights.

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Serendipitous co-ordinating earrings gifted to me by Anne. Not that you can tell under the neon but they are exactly the same shade of light blue and green of the dress.

The sewing is functional.  It emerged from the washing machine this week unscathed – if showing a little more of the thread I’d sewn the gathers with.  And, although I have little love for ironing, my excitement at the fabric spurred me to crack on and get this back in the wardrobe ready to wear.  I was nervous putting this in the machine. Not that anyone else can see, I don’t think much of my seam finishing.  Zig zag edges always feel a bit rough and crinkly and my previous attempt at french seams was far more aesthetically pleasing – and has lasted really well to boot.

Look at those creases! Makes a girl hanker after stretch viscose...
Look at those creases! Makes a girl hanker after stretch viscose…

The top stitching I was so critical about really doesn’t show with the variegated thread I used on the neckline.  When I look closely I can still see an angular lurch on the front but given my first time epic fail at attempting this neckline I am so thankful that I didn’t lose this fabric and it turned into a wearable garment.

Its other main failing is the sizing.  But again I am trying to see the positives here.  I measured this pattern (and myself) A LOT!  I was perfectly ready to adjust things – at least I thought I was.  But when the garment measurements came out fine round the bust and I lengthened the sleeves and skirt (perhaps a little too much!) I thought that would be enough.  But when I measured the vertical shoulder to under bust distance I worked out that my measurements were nearly four centimetres longer than the pattern.  Which you would expect.  There isn’t any vertical difference between the sizes and this being a Japanese pattern it is probably not aimed at the 5’8″ woman.  But I brushed it away thinking – if it ends a little high it won’t be unwearable, it’s an empire line after all.  And it could really do with having those four centimetres built in.  So next time (really?!) YES next time! I shall add those four centimetres by putting two above and two below the bust darts by extending the straight side seams.  This hardly moves the seams out horizontally and puts the extra fabric on the vertical plane.  I had a quick go bashing out the drafting of the altered pattern and enjoyed the problem solving so much that I almost want to make one straight away.  But I think onward is best.  And I am glad that even if I didn’t follow my instincts that length was needed in the bodice – I did get a realistic idea of how the flat pattern would make up into a three dimensional garment.  The more sewing I do the more I will be able to trust my judgement and ACT on it.

Side seam pockets - drawn by copying the shape of the pockets in a well loved corduroy smock from my wardrobe.
Side seam pockets – drawn by copying the shape of the pockets in a well loved corduroy smock from my wardrobe.

My first attempt at adding pockets is a success!  They could be angled a little deeper but they have nestled in beautifully and stay closed neatly when I haven’t got my hands stuffed in them.  Chuffing pockets!

Not so keen on the voluminous sleeves.  This isn’t my fault😉 But I have had the experience with a corduroy smock dress that I ended up altering to turn garibaldi sleeves (much like those in smock ‘B’) into tiny little fluttering tea dress cap sleeves.  And in this heavy cotton it is quite a challenge stuffing myself into a cardigan.  I also came up against the problem that even though I wanted full length sleeves I wouldn’t be able to cut two at a time out of 45″ wide fabric if I extended them the simple way (I just continued the line straight out).  And it is VERY difficult to pull a cardigan over long sleeves if you can’t keep hold of the cuff with your hand as you shove it down the sleeve.  Annoyingly they are just a smidgen too short to grab onto – although I like the wrist flashing orange cuffs.  Cute.  If a little hippie choir girl.  Maybe it’s the hair on top of it all.  I could definitely do with a trim…

Cassock and surplice being channelled here!
Cassock and surplice being channelled here!

 

Autumn Days

The clocks have skipped back over to Greenwich Mean Time.

Starlings and Goldfinches bickering over berries.
Starlings and Goldfinches bickering over berries.

This weekend, before the nights began closing in in earnest and after a night of hammering rain, the clearest calmest last evening of sunshine impelled me and The Boy to get out to watch the light on the sea.

Flaring winter sun.
Flaring winter sun.

I haven’t been very eager to get out walking of late.  The birds are mostly deserting us for warmer places and the coast is eerily quiet without the kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills.  The guano stains will be there for a few more storms I think but the air is certainly fresher than it was in August.

Patriotic flowers.  And PURPLE!
Patriotic flowers. And PURPLE!

And there is the odd bit of Scottish Wildlife:

Chomp, chomp.  Ouch!
Chomp, chomp. Ouch!

But this evening it was so still…

Moonrise.
Moonrise.

I don’t know whether it’s down to geography but evening walks along these cliffs often have us stopping out into the gloaming with a huge moon rising over the sea.  My amateur attempts (and camera) hardly do it justice but time seems to stop here.  The moonlight competing with the last of the sunlight behind the hills casts a spell, each blurry moment punctuated only by the lugubrious wash of waves over rocks.

Pensive.
Pensive.

Saucer-eyed, we see a gigantic moon singing over the waves.

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Eyes slowly adjusting to the light once the sun had set the moon was dazzling-bright and sparkled on the sea.  Not that I can show you…

Moonshine!
Moonshine!

And I mustn’t forget to tell you: the sea foam had a message…

Big Love from the North Sea!
Big Love from the North Sea!

The amazing deconstructing reconstructing ‘T’ Dress!

I have been making progress on my Japanese sewing adventures.  Mainly thanks to the (now nearly blunt) unpicker which came with my sewing machine which (rather pointedly!) has ‘JAPAN TECHNIX’ stamped into its shaft.

Japan Technix! For Japanese unpicking.
Japan Technix! For Japanese unpicking.

It has been a learning experience.  But now clipping and flipping is in my neckline toolkit.  It’s probably a lot easier when you do the sewing BEFORE the clipping.  But no harm done.  I’m much happier un-knitting than ripping out stitches but on thick cotton like this it doesn’t seem to have done much damage.  Woven fabrics are really entirely made up of holes and if you give them a decent iron before you stab them full of stitches they seem to recover.

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JOY! It looks like the picture! And no one got thrown out the window.

The top stitching was of course a different story.  I unpicked once and then thought – sod it!  If I attempt this dress again I will practise that curved seam line on paper ten times.  It’s a characterful frock anyway so a few more ‘one of a kind’ features won’t hurt.  It functions at least.  And I am much happier with the variegated bright green thread I used this time.  It matches better with the acid green and yellows of the batik fabric than the dark green I matched to the background of the William Morris print.

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I came back to this dress after a double hiatus.  Firstly a psychological distancing before I tore the whole thing up.  I had attached the skirt (and made pockets!) before I figured the thing out – what can I say, I guess I’m very ‘special’ when it comes to sewing.  Then after sewing the neck seam correctly and pinning the thing down onto the bodice I had to whisk myself away to London.  While in Walthamstow, I managed to pop into the William Morris Gallery – always inspiring: politically as well as aesthetically.  And came back to Aberdeen with a few days left off work to have another run at the dress.

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Despite all the chaos and wonky top stitching I am dead excited!  Just shoulder seams and the hem to go…

Purple Craze!

I’ve been on a bit of a purple kick.  I don’t know whether I mentioned the colour of my wonderful new internet box but comPURPLEtron is not the only purple presence in my life at the moment.

Hello, ComPURPLEtron!
Hello, ComPURPLEtron!

I have these colour affections which phase in and out of my life.  Recently it was that shade of orangey red which my nail varnish tells me is ‘urban coral’.  I never did get a yarn in that shade but I did see a fabulous madeleintosh colour way that was made up into one of my favourite versions of ‘Japan Sleeves’ on ravelry.

Celtic cross - my go to spread and very compatible with telling stories about transitions in your life through speculating on the influences on the recent past, present and immediate future.
Celtic cross – my ‘go to’ spread and very compatible with telling stories about transitions in your life through speculating on the influences on the recent past, present and immediate future.  The Rider-Waite based Shadowscapes Tarot with PURPLE backs.

My latest pack of tarot cards – tarot for me being an exercise in narrative contemplation and imagination rather than any belief in my possessing magical divinatory powers – is the ‘Shadowscapes Tarot’ by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.  I think I probably found her work through Tumblr – my favourite visual magpie site.  She does some beautiful work, incorporating botanical elements into her watercolour and ink paintings.  Her photographs of works in progress are fascinating with the sparkling gold and translucency of watercolour shining like jewels.

Queen of Pentacles - I'm very drawn to this card in the Shadowscapes deck. She emanates an Earth Mother vibe, grounded in the element connected with this suit.
Queen of Pentacles – I’m very drawn to this card in the Shadowscapes deck. She emanates an Earth Mother vibe, grounded in the element connected with this suit.

It’s interesting to see how such delicately textured work will translate into a mass produced tarot deck.  She has published the paintings in book format focused on larger scale reproductions as ‘The Art of the Shadowscapes Tarot’.  The deck itself has a great deal of detail in each card and lends itself well to a ruminative interpretation of each card – the tiny fairy folk or creatures in the edges of each scene offering further aspects of each card to consider as you inspect it.  But it is to her credit that it seems that some of the beauty and details have been lost in sizing the paintings down to fit the 7x12cm cards.

Queen of Swords - I like modern interpretations (often from a female perspective) of this card. Less miscarriage and loss, more power through experience.
Queen of Swords – I like modern interpretations (often from a female perspective) of this card. Less miscarriage and loss, more knowledge as power through experience.

The pale irridescent lilac borders to the cards and dominant purple and blue green hues of the swords and cups made me realise that I’m mad for the purple at present.  I’m seeing it everywhere:

In the tropical house at Duthie Park - thinking of the Queen of Swords
In the tropical house at Duthie Park – thinking of the Queen of Swords and her purple lilies.

And I found a purple blouse and purple notebook jumping into my life.

A frivolous expense. But it cheers me up at work.
A frivolous expense. But it cheers me up at work.

And of course…

Squishy fluffy baby camel and merino. And it glows! PURPLE!

Purple yarn!  This is the Dye for Wool shade: Poisoned by love – a far less gothic name than they usually go for.  Kleptomaniacal Orchid plans for this one.  But I’m still ploughing on with my ‘T’ dress.  I haven’t thrown it out of the window and managed to affix the neck trim securely if not very beautifully – I don’t think my pride will bear any close up photos of the top stitching!  And I think it helped while I was creeping round the neckline clipping, pinning and basting that I had such lovely random batik blooms to keep me entertained with mad shades of orange and green.  And Purple!

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This neck is never going to lie flat but at least it’s got exciting purple patches to lend it some beauty of sorts.

 

Ouch! Painful Japanese sewing adventures.

I have a very different relationship with sewing to the one I have with knitting.  I’ve written before about the soothing calming experience of slow knitting under a toasty warm jumper as it grows.  Sewing is in contrast, well, painful!

screw you, 'T' dress!
screw you, ‘T’ dress!

Knitting I just sort of gel with.  Mistakes are undone and reworked with minimal grief and I believe I can knit anything provided the yarn and pattern are engaging enough.  Unfortunately I seem to have taken this intrepid attitude into my sewing endeavours forgetting that I really have very little experience.

William Morris print. I managed to squeeze out my pieces with the vines all growing upwards.
William Morris print – lovely curving vines!

I tried to get back into sewing a while ago.  I hadn’t really sewn anything since school where I got taught the basics and made a turned down pillowcase with some pretty programmed machine embroidery to liven up what was a few straight seams.  I carted this William Morris print fabric bought at John Lewis around for a few years.  It was bought for a Simplicity pattern sized for a skinnier me.  But even skinny me doesn’t fit into traditional pattern measurements.  I went back to the pattern a few times and tried to get creative with adaptations but always ended up angry – surely the whole point of sewing your own clothes is so they actually fit!  If I wanted a dress cut for someone else’s body then I could buy hundreds off the peg  – and at least they might get close to fitting me.  Simplicity patterns seem to be cut for a scaled up 1950s housewife in a corset.

Last summer I got back on the sewing machine with an experimental harem pants self drawn pattern.  The sewing shop round the corner was really inspiring and I just wanted to make anything from their batik fabric.  They weren’t quite what I expected and I got nervous again about experimenting.  But I still have a pinterest board called making stuff where I put shapes and ideas for clothes I think I may attempt to make one day.

That’s where I bumped into Ivy Arch and discovered her fantastically vibrant take on the patterns in the ‘Stylish Dress Book’ by Yoshiko Tsukiori.

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I would never have considered a Japanese pattern book – having lived in Japan I know that Japanese sizes are not exactly accommodating for the European figure but they are sized up to a UK 16 and apart from that the styles are loose fitting at the lower body.  The patterns are not easy by any means but there are a range of styles and the patterns are drawn out clearly once you’ve deciphered the colour coded overlay on the pattern sheets.  Tuttle have done a fantastic job translating the instructions and extending the size ranges here.  I was cautious at first and did some careful measuring of the garment measurements for my favourite patterns – thinking I might have to alter the patterns slightly.  But they really are a size 16 (unlike Simplicity’s bizarre sizing which bears no relation to modern sizes).

My overconfident magpie eyes had been browsing pinterest images of various versions of these dresses and it was immediately the ‘T’ and ‘E’ dresses that caught my attention.  Once I took my desired skirt length into account and using the longer ‘J’ dress sleeves I had just the right amount of my William Morris fabric to make the ‘T’ dress and use some lovely batik for the trim.  So I went for it.

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It has been rather slow going.

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I don’t think that neckline trims are something I EVER want to do again.  I have had a backwards learning experience.  Sort of like what must have been going on in the Meno.  I didn’t have a clear recollection of the process – and the instructions do not hold your hand any more than indicating an order for piecing things together.  And then as I went along, discovering that my pieces were not a neat fit at all – the back neck trim just doesn’t fit the neck at all – I had a vivid memory of being taught how to clip a neck line curve and hand basting before finishing the neckline on a machine.  Or rather, I had a vivid memory of the realisation that this takes ages and thinking: why would anyone want to do this!  And it hurts!

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So it has spent most of the last fortnight next door in the sewing room with me creeping in to attempt to baste another two or three inches without throwing the whole thing out of the window.

This morning I finished basting but I need a rest before attempting to top-sew a curved seam in contrast thread.

Gambarimasu!