Life with Laurel

In honor of Selfish Sewing Week, I bring to you not just one, but two incarnations of the Laurel by Colette.  One is the Laurel in dress form in Anna Maria Horner Pretty Potent Echinacea in rayon challis.  The other is a blouse version in Nani Iro double gauze.  (Full Disclosure:  I made the top a couple of weeks ago — but the dress is a 100% Selfish Sewing Weeker, cut out on Monday and finished on Friday.)


(Yes, it’s weird to see two photos of yourself side by side.  One is awkward enough, but this is just over the top.)

I’d like to start by saying that this pattern is the bomb.  All three times I’ve made this (there was another top made last spring), I’ve cut out a size 8, and the fit has been spot on with no futzing at all.  There are horizontal darts at the bust and vertical darts in the back that give just enough fit to be flattering, but is forgiving enough to be easy to wear.

If you’re thinking of making your own Laurel, I highly recommend getting yourself a 1/2 inch Clover bias tape maker.  To make the keyhole neckline version, you need about 4 yards of the stuff, so don’t fool around.


I had several of these in various sizes before starting my first Laurel, but somehow none of them were 1/2″.  Crap.  Instead of waiting until I could get my hands on the right tool (which would have been the right thing to do, but I’m incapable of waiting once I’m ready to start something), I decided to make the bias tape the old fashioned way — folding the whole thing in half, pressing, folding one edge in toward the center, pressing, folding the other edge in toward the center, pressing, then folding the whole thing in half and pressing again.

After singeing my fingers numerous times in the steam and contemplating killing myself a time or two before getting through the several yards of bias tape required, I vowed never to do that again.  So, I ordered the bias tape maker in the proper size this time, and voila — in no time I had a huge amount of perfectly folded and pressed bias tape without any burns or thoughts of suicide.


As soon as I saw this echinacea print in rayon, I knew I was destined to make a Laurel Dress with it.  Rayon challis has a fab drape, totally perfect for dresses and tops.  It’s a little on the slippery side, so you have to be on your toes when cutting and pinning.  But otherwise it’s a no brainer — throw it in the washing machine on delicate, dry it on low, and it looks spiffy as soon as you pull it out of the drier — my kind of fabric.  When the Pretty Potent line came out this summer, I was so happy to see some rayon in the mix. These echinachea blooms are so gorgeous — they make me think of the sound of cicadas in the last evenings of summer.

Another cool thing about Laurel is that the folks at Colette provide a free e-book of full of fantastic variations with photos and complete instructions.  I decided on the keyhole neckline variation on both the top and dress.  (The original pattern has a plain neckline finished in bias tape.)  For the dress, I did cut the keyhole about an inch shorter than the pattern piece included in the e-book.  As you will soon see, the original size of the pattern piece produces a rather plunging view through the keyhole on me 🙂


Another plus with the keyhole neckline is that you have a great excuse to finish all that bias tape with your machine, rather than hand stitching it, which is what Colette recommends for the plain neckline.  I mean, you could machine finish the plain neckline too and no one would be the wiser —  but it’s nice to not feel like you’re cheating.

Here’s the tricky part . . . I knew I wanted to be sure to match the print in the back center seam, so as not to have hacked-up flowers all the way down the back.  I was pretty nervous about it.  Between the slipperiness and the invisible zipper, I wasn’t sure I’d be up to the job.  But, I gathered up my courage, re-read this cool tutorial, and went for it.

I spent about ten times longer cutting those back pieces than I have for any other project. I could literally feel the sweat coming down as the rotary cutter met the fabric.  I was so relieved when it came out pretty well — not perfect, but good enough for me.


And, it must be said that invisible zippers are nothing to fear, as long as you have a handy invisible zipper foot (which is not the same as a regular zipper foot).  The pattern instructions send you to a a great tutorial on the Colette site, complete with photos, written instructions and a super video that really take the mystery out of the whole thing.

One more thing I’ll tell you about this dress is that I used a blind hem for the first time. The instructions advise you to do it by hand.  But I happen to have a brand new blind hem foot, so I thought I’d give it a go.  I also checked out this tutorial for moral support. Turns out that it’s easy and pretty darn cool.

So, with the mostly matched up print in the back and the fact the husband says I rock this dress, I’m pretty happy.


Now for the top . . .


I, like everyone else in sewing world, think that double gauze is dreamy.  This is a very nice way to use it.  However, I would not recommend using it for that famous bias tape.  I did it here, because I couldn’t find a solid that was just the right color, and I didn’t want to take away from the awesomeness and subtle coloration of those dots.  Maybe things would have gone better if I had used spray starch — but  folding it, pressing it and sewing it was pretty much a thready nightmare.  And, truthfully, my new bias tape maker hadn’t been ordered yet, so you know what that means.  I prefer to forget the whole experience.

But, once I got passed all that, it was lots of fun to put together.  No patterns to match, no zippers to install, no loss of sleep.


Oh, and here’s what happens when I use the full length of the keyhole cutout pattern piece . . .


The ties obscure things a bit, but suffice it to say that I will avoid standing next to any very tall persons while wearing this top.


So that’s my story about Laurel.  I hope you had fun sewing something fabulous for yourself this week!




A Poppy in Koi

To celebrate the start of Selfish Sewing Week hosted by Imagine Gnats, I thought I’d show you one last summer dress I made for me.

Poppy Tunic Make It PerfectThis is, perhaps, the final expression of my somewhat unhealthy obsession with koi fabric, only because my stash is just about spent.  I’m not sure what it is about these fish, but I just can’t get enough.

Once Kiki decided that she would never again wear the koi top/skirt combo I made for her (right after I took the photos for the blog post, uhem), I realized that sometimes good fabric is wasted on the young.  It’s my turn to wear koi!

Koi Poppy 4

This is my second Poppy Tunic by Make It Perfect.  My first chambray version has been worn at least once a week all summer long, so I figured that a second one was in order — not just because I love this pattern, but also because I have a feeling my family is ready for me to wear something else!

Koi Poppy 2

In case you need more details on the fabric, the contrast yoke and band at the hem are the fabulous Eiko Playing Koi in cream from Birch Organics, which seems to be unavailable just about everywhere now — and the main is the coordinating Eiko Stamp Stripe in pool, which is still up for grabs at Fabricworm.

Koi Poppy 3

The first time around, I sewed up a medium and ended up taking it in a bunch on the sides.  This time, I took a chance and cut a small.  I am very rarely a small these days (after two kids, you know) — but believe it or not, the fit is much better!  I still took it in a bit where the bottom of the yoke meets the bodice in the front and lowered the arm holes a tad, but that’s it.  How nice when fitting becomes easier instead of harder.

Koi Poppy 5While questioning the wisdom of making another summer dress so close to cooler weather, I’m happy to say that I have a cardigan in just the right shade of sage-y green that will be perfect for layering with this tunic in the fall, along with a pair of leggings.  I’m also thinking of another chambray version with maybe a corduroy contrast for fall and winter.

Are you taking some time to sew for yourself this week?  I’m just about to cut out a Laurel Dress in Pretty Potent Echinacea rayon.  Exciting!

A Painted Portrait for Me

As I was getting outfits ready for our family photo shoot a couple of weeks ago, of course I needed something for myself as well — so as not to be completely overshadowed my the fabulousness of the girls’ outfits 🙂  I decided on a summery version of Anna Maria Horner’s Painted Portrait Dress.

I’d seen this dress pop up online lots of places, and was especially inspired by Ivy Arch’s version to try it out for myself.  The pattern is pretty great — with blouse and dress options, with and without sleeves and pockets.  I went with the pockets and without the sleeves here for my end of summer dress.  The instructions were clear, and the whole thing was fairly simple to put together.


I sewed up a medium, and the fit was pretty good.  I did end up taking it in a little bit at the bottom of where the yoke meets the bodice — but alas, I think I overdid it a tad, causing a little bit of puckering on the sides.  You know what they say . . . once you go too far, it’s hard to go back.

For fabric, I used Art Gallery’s Emmy Grace  — Knotty in Rain for the main and Gillie Wishes in Cool for the yoke.  I really love these prints and feel like they made a beautiful dress.  But next time, I’ll resist the urge to use quilting cotton, despite the draw of all those fabulous prints out there.  I know, I know — we’ve all heard this warning a million times.  I thought I’d get away with it here, and I almost did.  The problem is that the drape below the gathers isn’t quite right in both the front and back.  I can see how this would be a knock out dress in a fabric with the right drape.  But this one is a little lumpy looking, let’s just admit it.

20140907_144736But despite these issues, I love this pattern.  I can’t seem to get enough of yokes, and this one really delivers in that department.  Check out the back . . .


So, with a few lessons learned, I’m ready to give this dress a second chance.  There’s already a beautiful piece of Anna Maria’s Sinister Swarm in rayon challis on the shelf to make a long sleeved dress version for fall.  I think this will be a winning combo.



A Little Geranium for a Big Day

Believe it or not, it’s time for Lulu’s very first day of preschool.  This kid has been dying to go to school for about as long as she could walk — and finally, her moment has arrived.  Needless to say, she must have something awesome to wear on this momentous day!


As you’ve probably guessed, the pattern is the famed Geranium Dress from Made by Rae. I’ve sewn this dress more than any other pattern, and I’m sure I’m not done with it yet. This time, I chose the cut-out neckline option and the flutter sleeves.

The thing I love most about these sleeves is that all you do to finish them is to zig zag the raw edges, which gives them a very laid back, rustic look.

20140827_123940I found this Riley Blake Sidewalks cotton at Pink Castle Fabrics during a trip to Ann Arbor last winter, and I’ve been saving it for this very day.  It seems a no brainer for the first day of school, right?


CRISIS ALERT:  When I was cutting the fabric for the back skirt, I forgot that I needed to match the pattern at the back center seam.  (Ummm– this isn’t the first time I’m done that.  Will I learn, ever??)  Because the size of the pattern repeat is so large in this print, I didn’t have enough fabric to cut again to match the pattern.  So . . . I had to get creative.

If you haven’t sewn up a Geranium before, the pattern instructions call for cutting the back skirt in two pieces, sewing up the back center seam and leaving the top three inches unsewn to accommodate the buttons in the back bodice.  Since I mucked up the cutting and didn’t want to have an unmatched seam in the back of the skirt of such an important dress — I decided to try cutting the back skirt in one piece with a slit cut at the top to accommodate the buttons, and to add a small facing to finish the slit.  Believe it or not, it worked pretty well!  Yay!  Here’s how I did it . . .

First, I cut the back skirt piece on the fold, rather than in two pieces — just like the front skirt piece.  (Luckily, I had just enough fabric left for it!)

Then, I cut a narrow rectangular facing piece from the bodice lining fabric and serged 3 of the edges.  I found the center of the back skirt piece and pinned the facing piece over where I wanted to add the slit, right sides together.  I marked the facing with a dot 4″ from the top of the back skirt piece — the same placement as the dot on the pattern piece.


Then, I cut the slit down to the dot I marked on the facing.


Next, I sewed around the slit as close to the edges as I could.  In retrospect, I realize that it would have been easier to sew around the slit before cutting it.  I’ll do that next time.


Then, I turned the facing to the back of the skirt piece and pressed like crazy.

20140816_150714As you can see, the facing bunched up at the bottom of the slit.  I went back, picked out the stitches around the bottom of the slit, and restitched — making sure that I had only one stitch across the bottom, which I backstitched a couple of times to keep it secure.  That helped the facing to lie flatter.

Then, after pressing well, I top stitched around the slit.  And voila!  I had a back skirt piece without a seam all the way down the back!

20140816_151304The bottom of the slit doesn’t look perfect, after all that picking out and restitching.  I’m looking at this as a first draft and will improve on it next time, as you do.


What do you think of this seamless back skirt?  Yeah, baby!

20140827_120218I had one other little happy accident while making this dress.  When it came to hemming the bottom of the skirt, I did a pretty crappy job of it the first time around.  I sewed on the right side of the fabric, and I didn’t catch the underside of the hem all the way around.  Before picking out the stitches to fix it, I went ahead and hemmed again, with stitches about 1/8″ lower than the first try.  And low and behold, I had a double stitched hem that looked pretty fab — so I left it that way and pretended I did it on purpose.  I may do double stitched hems on all Geraniums from here on out. 🙂


Now Lulu is all ready for her big day.  How in blazes do they get so big so fast???


As Summer Comes to a Close

In order to really savor the last days of summer, I felt that the girls needed the appropriate diaphanous attire.

Presentation1My real excuse for sewing these up so close to the end of summer dress wearing season was the annual family photo shoot (and my deep denial about the cold weather to come).  We don’t have the photos back from our photographer yet, so my backyard versions will have to do for now.

I wanted the girls to be coordinated for the shoot, but not too matchy-matchy of course.  So, they got different dresses in complementary patterns of Palos Verdes voile.

Kiki’s skirt/top combo is the lovely Mara Blouse from Compagnie M and the Swingset Skirt from Oliver & S.


I am a real fan of Marte’s patterns from Compagnie M.  I’ve tried a couple of versions of the Louisa Dress and have tried the Mara once before as a dress.  I’m also anxious to try the Lotta Dress this fall for Lulu.

I’m a sucker for pintucks, so this top makes me pretty happy.  I also love the yoke and piping details.  I used flat piping made from the same fabric as the skirt, which is pale pink cotton shirting from my local fabric shop.  I thought corded piping would be too heavy with the voile, and the flat turned out pretty well — plus, it’s faster to make.  The lightness of this voile works nicely for this top, I think.


The only change I made was to cut a couple inches off the length.  If Kiki was going to wear this with pants or shorts, the original length would’ve been fine.  But, the volume of the Swingset Skirt needed a shorter top so that it could achieve maximum twirlability.

This was my first time making the Swingset skirt.  And given the fact that Kiki will wear nothing but skirts everyday, I’m glad to add this one to my repertoire.  The shape is so fun, and the waistband and drawstring make it unique and, dare I day, professional looking?

20140813_162853For the lining, I just used white muslin.  Before I sewed this up, I had the idea that a lined skirt would feel a bit formal.  But now that it’s done, I think the lining makes it fun and gives it more vavavavoom when it’s time to twirl — and let’s face it, for a four year old, it’s always twirl time.


Now, on to Lulu . . .

Bohemian BabydollFor the little one, I sewed up a Bohemian Babydoll Dress from Elegance & Elephants. The high low bodice and hem was what really sold me on this dress, and is what makes it stand out from other dresses with a similar shape.  There are no closures, which makes it fast and pretty simple to sew.  Honestly, in my experience, dresses without closures tend to be hard to get little arms into and out of — but Lulu and I haven’t had too much trouble with this one.

20140813_105509This pattern calls for a lined bodice with an unlined skirt.  I was planning on making mine that way, but once I saw the sheerness of the voile, I decided that the skirt really needed a lining too.  Luckily, I had the Swingset Skirt lining instructions handy, which served as the perfect guide.  I cut the lining (from the same white muslin that I used on Kiki’s skirt) an inch or so shorter than the main fabric of the skirt.  Then, I basted and gathered them together as one piece.  Easy peasy.

20140813_163243The next time I make this dress — and I’m sure there will be a next time — I think I’ll follow Erin of Hungie Gungie’s suggestion of using the “Sausage Step” to attach the lining to the bodice at the armholes.  Yes, I love that name, too 🙂  The pattern instructions have you press the raw edges of the bodice and lining armholes under separately and then top stitch them together.  This other method allows you to sew them together with right sides facing and turn it all out magically.  Erin leads you to this tutorial from Heidi of Elegance & Elephants, and also to a cool video by Made by Rae.  Super helpful.

This pattern includes a very cute hem facing option, which would be pretty awesome in a contrasting fabric.  But after some thought, I decided to go with a regular hem here.  In my next version in a slightly sturdier fabric, I’ll definitely try it.


So we say farewell to summer, and both girls will be starting preschool in a few days. Hmmmm — it must be time for back to school clothes . . .