Saturday, 15 February 2014

Two new tops

It feels like a long time since I made any clothes for myself.  When I checked on my blog I discovered that it was indeed a long time ago - May 2012, just before I applied to University and started my nursing course.  Dressmaking takes time - even the simplest piece of clothing is a challenge to make in one day when you've also got to cook tea, take someone to ballet, clean out the chickens, draft an essay and read a couple of articles on diabetes.  I used to set aside whole days at a time to making new clothes, but I just can't do that any more.

So I've approached it differently.  I took my time, did a bit of pattern tracing one day, and had a happy few hours choosing fabrics the next day.  Then I had a couple of days at University and some more studying at home, before I spent another few hours pinning and cutting the fabric out.  The next weekend I sewed everything together, and finally finished the hemming as I waited at the station to pick up Olivia a few days after that.  Of course I can still make clothes when I am working or studying.  It seems obvious now I write that, but having been given the luxury of staying at home the last few years, it took me a while to understand how.

Over the past few weeks I've made myself two cotton tops.  I used the Lisette Market Dress pattern, Simplicity 2211, which I just discovered is now sadly out of print.  I bought the pattern when it came out and just hadn't got round to making it.  I made the first version exactly as the pattern directed, except that I left off the strange fake button placket down the centre front.  When it was finished and I wore it for a day, I had a number of issues with it.
  • it has rather a boxy shape on me - snug around the hips and too roomy around the waist.
  • the puffed and gathered sleeves look too babyish on a woman of 41
  • the interfacing I used on the contrast fabric around the neck and sleeves, left the top feeling a little too stiff at these points.  The neck is very high anyway, and the interfacing in it made it sit very awkwardly on me.

Resuming dressmaking. A simple top in a jazzy fabric to ease me in. Very pleased to have something new to wear
Version 1 - not bad, not great

Hemming my new top, as I wait at the station to pick up O #sewinginthecar
Hemming the first top, waiting in the car to pick up O
So, I embarked on version 2.  This time I left off the interfacing, left off the cuffs at the bottom of the sleeves so that they were no longer puffed, and took the side seams in at the waist and out at the hips.  I also bound the bottom edge with ribbon rather than hemming it.

I am delighted with this version.  Leaving off the interfacing made the process of putting on the neck much more sweary, as the fabric really takes some serious manipulation in order to lie nice and flat.  However, my patience (and swearing) paid off as the resulting neck is still neat and clean, but much softer to wear and somehow a little more casual too.

Swiss top. Crazy but fabulous. #dressmaking
Version 2 - much better tailored to my shape, and with more grown-up sleeves

Finally sewing something with the beautiful, thick, embroidered Swiss ribbon I bought when I was in Interlaken in 2010. #ribbon #switzerland #sewing
Thick, richly embroidered Swiss ribbon
For both tops I used fabric that I absolutely love.  The first one uses a wonderful spring-fresh quilting cotton from Amy Butler and the second one is an insanely patterned printed cotton which I bought in Switzerland in 2010.  It has little scenes of Switzerland on it, including my favourite - a tiny fondue pot!  The ribbon on the hem is also something I bought in Switzerland - a traditional Swiss, floral, embroidered ribbon.

There will be a third version too - incorporating all the changes I made for the second one.  I am just dithering over fabric choices at the moment.  A home made top deserves distinctive and beautiful fabric, and one of the reasons I love making clothes is that I end up with something you would never be able to buy in a shop.  I wear jeans a great deal, and their plainness is off-set nicely by a fancier top. 

This term at University we've been talking a great deal about how we will cope with the stresses of the job once we qualify, and one topic that keeps coming up is that of hobbies and interests outside nursing.  Mental wellbeing is something I wrote about a little bit on this blog back in October last year, and I now consider my mental health much more than I used to.  I am beginning to realise that although I love having new clothes to wear, I actually love dressmaking just as much for the creative challenge it provides.  All the measuring, adjusting, fiddly lining up of notches, pinning, overlocking and stitching requires just enough concentration to take my mind off whatever else is going on around me.  And now that I spend my working hours in a uniform with a high polyester content, the importance of beautiful, well-made clothes in natural fibres becomes even more significant.

Nancy's New Wardrobe Spring 2014 now underway! #excitement #tailorschalk
The best tailor's chalk in the world, ever
Setting the sleeve #pintastic
Ready to set the sleeve


  1. They're brilliant, clever you. I especially love the second one, you've made great improvements. I'd love to be able to make clothes, it must be lovely to have something so unique and beautifully made.

  2. …high polyester content… *shudders*.

    Whose mental well-being wouldn't be enhanced by that alpine beauty? I really must pull my finger out - I need to sew an elastic belt thingummy to hold tennis balls and I keep thinking I don't have enough time. You are an inspiration in more ways than one.

  3. I LOVE your little swiss version of the top. Well, ok, that first version is pretty spiffy too, and I actually like the little contrasting band at the bottom of the sleeves. Can you wear fun tops with your nursing uniform? Here in the states, nurses often wear "scrubs" out of different, fun fabrics. Sometimes, you'll find doctor's or dentist's office staff all dressed in the same fun prints. I'd always thought it would be fun to be a nurse just so I could wear scrub tops out of different novelty prints!

    1. Hi Thimbleanna - how interesting. I didn't know that about nurses' uniforms in the US. Here we only wear scrubs if we are in theatre or on intensive care wards - and never in funky fabrics! Just plain blue or green scrubs which are given to you by the hospital. Everybody who needs to wear scrubs gets a daily allowance - nurses usually get an allowance of 3 sets per day I think - and then you go to a big vending machine in the staff changing rooms, swipe your security card and type in your size, and the machine dispenses you a clean set of scrubs to wear. Very cool! Then at the end of the shift you put your dirties back into another vending machine and they get laundered and dispensed again. Nancy x

  4. truly truly love that ribbon trim x

  5. I love this post. I've been having the same conversation with myself for about the last year, and it's come down to how much I can do in an hour; between the children going to bed and Mr Coffee looking up from his own essay-writing. Can I put a placket on a sleeve? Okay then. And tomorrow night, the other placket. I have a Colette Hawthorn summer dress which just needs the buttons sewing on, and I consider that in March, that's pretty good going. Yes, I did buy the fabric in about last March, but still. The process is making me a lot less forgiving of bad patterns - I'm still cross with myself for even buying the Lisette Portfolio, since it was never going to fit my body shape and both my perfectly fitting if unflattering versions have ripped under the arms. I gave away a few of my worst culprits to the charity shop, and it was a happy day indeed.

  6. I'm always in awe of your creativity. You have made such beautiful things. I'd like to try something very simple to make for me but am always lacking the stretch of time that I'd need. Why it had never occurred to me to break it down into sections (as I do in my job!!) and take it a little bit at a time - I don't know. Looking forward to seeing more of your makes.

  7. The tops are lovely and I am impressed by your time management skills fitting all that you do into your life.

  8. I love the tops you've made, especially the bottom one, the fabric is wonderful and I'd never have thought of putting that lovely braid on the hem. I used to do so much dressmaking and even had my own label, twice, but these days I find it hard to make clothes, I think I over saturated myself with it, pity.


Even though I often do not have the time to reply to everybody, I really appreciate all your comments so much - thank you for taking the time to read my blog and share your thoughts on what I've written.