If I Find That Goddamn Bloody Murphy I’ll Kill the Bastard.

Referring to the Murphy of the proverbial Murphy’s Law, of course.  I don’t think I know any actual Murphies, but if you are one, please don’t run around in fear of your life.  Unless you are THAT Murphy.  In which case, hide.  It’ll make it more interesting when I come after you with a chainsaw.

But I digress…

Remember the little black lace rib-hiding crop that I spent ages lovingly hand-sewing stubborn polyester ribbon on like bias binding?  Remember how it was designed specifically to go with a dress that I was so absolutely certain that I knew exactly where it was that I would have merrily staked the lives of thousands of fluffy kittens on it?  Turns out, on the morning of the Gala, that it was not where I thought it was, in fact, it wasn’t anywhere at all and in a hypothetical universe lots of hypothetical little kittens may have lost their lives because of my memory-hubris, may they hypothetically rest in peace.  The only explanations I can think of are: 1), I accidentally bagged it up and sent it to Savers in the massive wardrobe purge I did earlier this year; or 2) the House Key Snatching Poltergeist has expanded his operations beyond just house keys.

After much hyperventilating and general panic, my mum, who was down for the Gala, came to the rescue by suggesting that we (gasp!) BUY A NEW DRESS.  I was horrified.  I am someone who Does Not Buy Dresses.  Unless they pass the studentine frugality test, the construction test, the fabric test and the style test (picky?  Who, me?).  Mum had spent the morning indulging herself down at Peter Sheppard, so she was all warmed up to the idea of spending the equivalent of almost two months worth of my rent on what she saw as An Entirely Necessary and Not Outrageous Because Aren’t We Lucky To Find Something In Your Size Long Black Dress by Bianca Spender.  It’s lovely.  I’m tremendously grateful.  But then I spent 3 hours cutting and doing a rolled hem on the damn thing because I have stunted legs (I swear one day they’ll do my autopsy and find Harris lines in all my long bones.  Self-inflicted, of course, because when I was a kid I wasn’t picky about clothes, but I was damn picky about food), and, it being made of some very stubborn very floaty silk georgette, my hands didn’t stop twitching for about half an hour afterwards.

Then the end bit fell off the heel on my favourite performance shoes.  Then I ran two minutes late to chorus warm-up, and had to do the Scamper of Shame to the end of the row and suffer Accusing Scrutiny.  Lucky that having a memory for music like a bear trap meant that I had everything off the book just because that’s how my brain works, and I could then weather the Accusing Scrutiny with the Smugness of Having Been Able to Pick Up Where They Were From Outside the Room and Continue on Without Having to Either Ferret in My Bag for My Score Or Read off the Person Next to Me.

To change topics, my most recent adventure in Sewing Land!

The other year I got a black lace skirt from Savers, with a mind to (what else?) bolstering my collection of performance blacks.  It was Jigsaw, but it was a bit too big, and it was a frumpy mid-calf length that made me feel about 40 whenever I put it on.


And here it is, complete with pins to mark how much I’m taking off the top.

For some reason I hung onto it.  Boy am I glad I did, because not so long ago I excavated it from the roof cavity and noticed that the lace was quite nice.  Sort of like a slightly lighter version of last year’s Collette Dinnigan dresses.  Then I got inspired by a skirt from Lover A/W ’13; a black lace skirt lined in white to really show the detail of the lace.  Inspired, I had a gander to see what my skirt might look like if I were to say, re-line it in white:


… Not bad at all…

So with the aid of some cheap unknown content synthetic that I had in my stash, I shortened the skirt to non-frumpy length from the top to retain the nice bottom edge of the lace, and re-lined it in the white synthetic, which wasn’t too bad to work with, it just needed the darts flat-felled because it didn’t iron super-crisply.  Unfortunately I had a little screw-up on the zip side that makes the top edges a bit un-matchy, but hey, it’s a good effort for me!  The lining is entirely flat-felled so that no little synthetic fray-beasties have the slightest chance to escape, and the lace looks a treat now that you can really see the detail.

… Which you’re going to have to wait until I find my camera again to see.  The Key Snatching Poltergeist has snatched my camera.  Sorry.

Bleugh! Too Hot to Sew

As you might’ve guessed from the title, it’s been over 30° for at least three days now, and it’s not going to cool down in the foreseeable future.  The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting MINIMUMS of 24°.  Yuck.  I’m going slowly batty and getting mighty tempted to pull a Caligula and try and battle the sky into submission.  Only, Caligula tried it with the sea.

Not a lot of sewing’s been done, partially because it’s too hot to think about turning the iron on, and largely because there have been plenty of rehearsals and opportunities to go and fry my poor unsuspecting Irish hide with friends at the MSO in the Bowl.  And I’m sure my intonation would’ve been just as unpalatable if I’d been the one on the stage in a suit in 34°. (Yowch!  Surely an unfair assessment, I hear you cry.  Nonsense.)

So I guess this is the ideal opportunity to get all show-and-tell with some of my previous successes/blunders.  Let me just get my teeth-whistly old-person voice on.  I’ve been sewing since year 7, when I joined the Sewing Club at my (then American) middle-school (I know, let’s hear it for the ol’ U S of A, right?), and demonstrated an absolute lack of affinity for it, in much the same way that jellyfish lack an affinity for carpentry.  I persisted in dribs and drabs through high-school, making a grand total of three draw-string costume skirts for Fiddler on the Roof, one hideous crushed-velvet elf-dress that I don’t think I ever took off between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and one appallingly historically-inaccurate *aghem* “Tudor” gown.

Come university I renewed my interest, only to find my Grandma tried to do everything for me.  To be fair, I did actually make some clothes that saw public wear, including a rather charming little rough cotton babydoll dress that I wore to my 18th, a black cotton version of the much-maligned “Infinity” dress that I wore to my graduation, and a black linen sheath dress that I had to alter the pattern so much for it to fit me that I almost ran out of fabric.  And it still wasn’t a great fit.  Thanks a bunch, Burda.  Realising that as an ultra-petite-long-waisted-pear the commercial pattern industry wasn’t going to offer me much, I turned my back on them and went to the dark side.

…only to find that the first draft of my dress block (which, as the book advised, wasn’t completely unrelated to the Table of Average Measurements) had about 4″ extra room in the bust.  But now that it’s been corrected (and now that my dress block looks more like a group of bacon rashers than a dress pattern), I can do the whole draft-my-own-dress thing.  To be fair I’m still not a crash-hot seamstress.  It’s not a skill that’s come easily to me.  You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

The Misses:

Most of them have been relegated to the salvage yard to be cut up for zips and spare fabric, but some of these relics yet survive…

The Mothball Tablecloth Dress:

I picked up the yellow fabric at an op-shop in Newstead in the form of a round tablecloth.  It STINKS of mothballs once ironed, and as a result of some very sloppy adjustment on the fly due to the small-ish nature of the tablecloth, it’s quite obviously wonky.  Doesn’t look so bad with a black belt, but I’d be embarrassed to be seen out in it by anyone who knows anything about sewing.


Oh the shame of the wonkiness…

The Frumpy Dinosaur Dress:

Don’t get me wrong here, the print is awesome and it’s a super-comfy dress with pockets that work, and I’m rather proud of my even topstitching.  But the pattern is frump-tastic and doesn’t flatter me.  My über short legs make many skirt lengths look strange and frumpy, but don’t agree with my brain, which likes the whole sensible-can-ride-a-bike-without-flashing-too-many-people-in length.  Unfortunately I think I just need to bite the bullet and alter it.


And the pattern-match at the sides is atrocious.

The Unexpected Wins:

The Velvet Going-Out Dress:

 There was only 1.2m of 90cm wide blue velvet that I fished out of Grandma’s stash, and some madness possessed me to make a dress.   Due to a rather substantial measurement error, I had to re-make the whole front of the bodice and I thought I was going to die, because there was no fabric to do a re-cut, and it meant that all of my beautifully-matched darts got pulled all skew-whiff. 😡 GRRR.  But yet it still works.  It could still be improved on (a lot), but I’m not too ashamed to wear it out in public as it is, my strange-looking figure notwithstanding.

Bear in mind it looks much better with fancy stockings, red lippy and an elaborate ’50s/’60s updo.


Look at them matched bands!  Win Win Win!

The Nasty Polyester Crop Kimono Tee:

It’s wonky.  It’s badly-finished.  It’s badly-drafted.  BUT YET IT WORKS???  It’s comfy AND relatively stylish in a grungy uni-student sort of way?  Whatsmore, I wear it all the time? I still can’t believe it myself.


I think the print distracts from the wonkiness…

The Faux Atonement Gown:

Like every other girl who saw Atonement, I wanted that dress.  But I’d never made a gown before, and I didn’t know what working with silk would be like.  So I researched the hell out of it, made a toile and then did a test run in just under 4m of apallingly stained and narrow-bolted bargain-bin silk satin from *shudder* Lincraft.  It was only ever meant to be a working toile, (and if I made it again I know what I’d fix), but it looks good from on stage (which is all you need for a performance gown), and the experience was great.  Cutting one’s own pattern on the bias on not enough fabric while trying to avoid the stains and then being able to wear the result?  Hell yeah!

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Ignore my anaemic-looking face.  I’d had the flu for about 3 weeks at that point.

And yes, I know it’s orange.  Turns out I like it in orange, as I like most things in orange.  But next time I’d get a silk-cotton blend from Cleggs and avoid the whole stains saga.

The Actual Wins:

The Lace Panel Crop Top:

I am so pleased with this thing in so many ways.  It’s a good pattern, the finishing is all nice (French seams on the sides, flat-felled at the panel edges, self-bias-binding everywhere else), and I love wearing it.  The only problem is the black silk was so tightly-woven that my machine didn’t like it much and there was a lot of hand-wheel action to avoid snapping another needle.  So worth it though.  I’m wearing it now.  It’s wrinkly in the photo because I wear it so much.


It’s not the top that’s wonky there, it’s me.

The “Anachrogasm” Gown:

Earlier this year, I decided to make a gown that was a combination of all my favourite ideas and shapes from history, and at the same time fulfil the requirement for the bog-standard soprano-gown (ie: a strapless poofy thing, usually tasteless and unflattering, beloved of old-lady-eisteddfod-adjudicators everywhere).  Taking most of my cues from the phenomenally-inspiring Dreamstress, I somehow managed to pull together a bodice-foundation complete with boning channels (filled with no less that 38 cable-ties, what else?) and hand-bound eyelets, to the effect of an 18th Century silhouette.  I was hoping for the “two-apples on a plate” look, but unfortunately I ain’t got much in the fruit department.  Then I covered it in emerald green silk satin, and made a half-knife-pleated-half-cartridge-pleated skirt, with a little ruching on the sides and a ruffled underskirt to get a little late 19th Century bustle-esque action going on.  This was the result:

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Excuse my camera.  It likes to change exposures without telling me.

Due to the flexy nature of the cableties, it’s still quite comfy to sing in, though it doesn’t change my shape much.  Mind you, being made of solid bone, I’m not sure I could expect anything to have changed my shape much.  I still have some issues with the back closures that I need to fix (mostly that the skirt waistband ended up too big.  Maybe I should just have sewn it straight to the bodice?  But I didn’t like the idea of the extra strain on it. Now I’m thinking waist-ties.)  So far it’s the best I’ve done.

Maybe I’ll get down to some hand-sewing to fix it this evening.  Beats turning on the sewing machine.


Why Didn’t I Think of This Myself?

Wandering blithely through the costume department to the kitchenette to make a cuppa at rehearsal last night, I noticed that the costumer’s sewing machines all had these little velcro-on pincushions attached to them.  “Egads!” I cried.  “This is the best idea since the little pincushions you velcro around your wrist!  And it’s kind of the same!  Why didn’t I think of this myself?”  Though, admittedly when I sew I adopt the mindless determination of a zombie gnawing on some poor bugger’s frontal lobe, so I guess it’s not surprising I never made the connection.  Anyway, I improvised my own little dodgy pincushion this morning out of an old unfinished dress (in a poly-cotton print so ghastly I’m wondering if I was quite well when I chose it) and a heap of fabric scraps, inspired by Cation Designs’ recent Mountain plushies, which are SO CUTE and stuffed with scraps: http://cationdesigns.blogspot.co.nz/2013/01/purple-mountain-majesties.html  She makes squids too!  They’re squee-worthy.

Okay, enough fan-girl-time.  On with the pincushions.Here are my little shapes.  They are fairly basic and when sewn together they made a shape like a little crown, or maybe a Mongolian hat (though I’m pretty sure Attila the Hun wouldn’t be seen dead in florals).  All I did was make sure that the bottom of the quasi-triangular shape was 1/4 the circumference of the circular base, and checked the top point with a set-square to make sure it was a 90° angle (to get a nice flat top.  If I wanted to dress my sewing machine up as Madonna in some sort of weird sewing-machine cosplay moment, maybe 90° wouldn’t have been the best option, but I didn’t so 90° it was.)

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Having added the scraps (which as you can see have come from all kinds of sources and have all kinds of content from cotton to silk to poly to acetate.  I hope it doesn’t matter too much), and slipstitched the bottom shut, it looks vaguely like a little cricket ball.

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Then all it needed were some little straps, which I tied nice and snug around my machine (seeing I didn’t have velcro and am too much of a cheap-arse to go and buy some).  The fabric looks way better as a craft item than it did as a dress.  Though I’m tempted to make a stand-alone Peter Pan collar out of it too, just because it’s a law of the universe that I die a la the Wicked Witch of the West if I’m caught out in public in a jumper without a little collar sticking out of it.

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Seeing this was a kind of stash-busting, and I’d estimate the cost of the materials was something to the order of 0.5 cents, I’m going to say this was pretty much free.  HOORAY!  It is a well-documented fact that uni students love free stuff.  It took me all of ten minutes, and it’s made me consider maybe using other bits of scrap fabric for the purposes of plushness, which in the long run can only be a good thing.   The thought of collars has also made me think of little blouses.  It’s damn near pointless for me to make dresses (except for performance gear) because my wardrobe is about 80% vaguely retro blouses and 20% jeans.  And seeing as I’ve pretty much fulfilled my ballgown quota for this year (ALREADY!  Maybe I’ll do a looking-back-style post about it soon, it was a doozey!), there’s no more reason.

To round off, here is Stash-Buster again to once again extol the noble joys of stash-busting.


Erg, Fine, I’ll Start a Blog Then…

To be fair I’ve tried to blog once before.  But that poor little tumblr had the life expectancy of a sea cucumber abandoned in the Gobi Desert, bless its boots.  So here I go with Attempt the Second.  May it be better equipped to survive in the arid wilderness that is my sense of commitment. 

My general aim:  To bestow upon all ye who sit around wondering how I do the stuff that I do the chance to see the seamy (…geddit?… sorry.) underbelly of creativity, and perhaps work out how to do it yourself (and occasionally to make classical music in-jokes).  Sewing, cartooning, writing, and the like; well, they’re fantastic.  You can be a cheap-arse and have boasting rights over your creations.  If you’ve never had someone do the slow jaw-drop followed by the disbelieving and searingly envious “Oh my God, did you MAKE THAT???”, let me tell you it’s a damn good way to counteract your self-esteem issues, even if you know that the darting is lopsided and your hemming’s got puckers in it.

Which brings me to my first sewing walkthrough… 

1) The Little Lace Rib-Hider

The Background:

I got an email from my opera company about the dress code for our upcoming Gala Concert: Chorus Ladies: long black dress, no plunging necklines. I already had a long black dress, which came from an op-shop in Parkdale ( My terribly un-PC grandmother likes to say of it: “you always get a good fit”, because it supports Epilepsy Australia.   Cringe-worthy on so, so many levels…) and it was $6 (win!).  The only problem is that because I come up as “malnourished” on the BMI test, the dress looks much plungier than it would on a normal person, and instead of cleavage all you see is the ribs-like-corrugated-tin effect.  Which, let’s face it, isn’t what the opera punters like to see.


Stuff Annoying Old Ladies Like to Say

The Solution:

Stashbusting.  Tip #1: if stashbusting can come to the rescue, that’s always a good thing. Any respected sewing blogger will tell you that (and I have found their advice to be true!). I had in my stash about 1.2m of good black nylon lace, and thought: small lace crop top + plungey-dress = not so much rib-cleavage, therefore, win. And ultimately, it meant I didn’t have to spend money on another dress which could be spent on rent or delicious food, and I didn’t have to waste time running up and down Bourke St or Sydney Rd engaged in a desperate search for a long black dress in my elusive size.  Here is Stash-Buster (geddit?  Buster? I make myself cringe sometimes…) is a lovely little Scottie dog to represent the noble act of stashbusting:



So on with the tee! Earlier in the year (i.e. January…) I made a little crop kimono-sleeve tee out of the most horribly Satanic polyester that I have ever had the misfortune to work with (but that nevertheless I enjoy wearing because the pattern and print are both awesome).  This was the Tee of Death.  Please for the love of God don’t look too closely.  It slipped everywhere and it frayed like a beast and it stretched to hell on the bias and it damn near broke my sanity.   The lace one will be similar, just better, and wider at the neck, and shorter at the sleeves and waist:


Yuck yuck yuck so wonky!!! Yet so comfy…


They’re a bit hard to see, and yes that’s a crack in the wall of my studentine abode. 

Shock horror, I draft my own patterns.  Commercial ones always require so much adjustment to fit my strange long-waisted-super-pear shape that it’s not worth the effort, so I forked out for “Dress Pattern Designing” and its imaginatively-named sequel: “More Dress Pattern Designing” by Natalie Bray, and I haven’t regretted it for a moment.  They’re a little old-fashioned, but the principles are all sound and adapt easily to modern designs.  

The Sewing:

Because this top is lace, I went with French Seams. Ooh la la!  It’s a bit tedious because feel like you’re sewing every seam twice, but your raw edges are safely encased where they can’t hurt anybody by going all feral and fray-tastic.  There are numerous good tutorials on youtube for French seams.

Then I folded a black ribbon over the raw neckline and arm-hole edges and hand-sewed it down like a bias-binding (which is a good thing to google if you don’t know what it is).  I like hand-sewing.  It’s boring in the best possible way, i.e. you can still watch Buffy or Red Dwarf while you’re at it


My progress so far (not well pressed in this shot), and teeny hand stitches.  I didn’t trust my temperamental machine.


More photos when the hand-finishing is done.  I’m thinking of sticking a bow on the back of the neckline.  Or would that be too frou-frou?

Total cost: c. $15. Total Hours: about 2 so far, might be 3 at the end. Yardage: 0.5m black nylon lace, 2.5m 18mm black poly satin ribbon,  Notions: none. Pattern: moi 

To finish, a frequently-butchered Jane Austen quote:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a blogging girl in possession of a sewing machine must be in want of a cat”


This is Bella, my housemate’s cat.  She’s helping in her own quiet way.



Also, look out for my illustrations in the upcoming edition of Farrago, which will be available from stands in Union House and around the Uni in general very soon!