The Crazy Butterfly Dress

Apparently there is an age limit on wearing butterfly fabric. I’m fairly sure that at 43 I’m well past that age limit, luckily however I’m also well past the age where I care what anyone thinks of what I wear so when I put this dress on, and my 18 year old daughter said I look like a crazy person, I thought: Good! I was hoping it would look nice but crazy is any unexpected bonus. No one is going to mess with me when I’m wearing this dress. Maybe I should wear it to work… every single day.


I actually made it for the Zoo at the zoo event today with the Wellington Sewing Bloggers Network (WSBN). We all turned up to Wellington Zoo this morning with some yummy food (food is always a fixture at our get togethers, which I’m happy about, food and sewing are my favorite things) wearing something we’ve made which is animal themed in some way. Ok butterflies are an insect but let’s not get too hung up on technicalities. I had five metres of butterfly fabric in my stash and the pattern for the Flirty vintage day dress class on Craftsy turned up in time for me to get it made. I’m not sure how much flirting I’ll be getting done, I think any sane man is likely to run a mile from a crazy lady in a butterfly dress.

My slip is showing!

I’ve never made myself a 50s style dress but it’s the kind of thing I’ve always wanted to try and recently I’ve acquired two vintage 50s petticoats while clearing out my mother’s house. She’s downsized from a massive 6 bedroom house with a 4 car garage to a 2 bedroom apartment so I’ve acquired a lot more than just petticoats!

So with all the stars so meaningfully aligned it seemed like the time to dive into sewing retro.

It all went quite well, there were no major hiccups. I didn’t make a muslin as Laura Nash recommended in the class because the pattern is drafted for a B-cup which I am so I figured I’d just crack on. The great thing about this pattern is that, with seven pieces making up the front bodice, there are plenty of places to make fitting adjustments on the fly so when I found that the fit in the bust was much too big it was very easy to eliminate the extra in the under bust seam.

Left: before alteration. Right: after

The upper bodice is obviously a bit roomy for my little B-cups so I pinned the excess out of the under bust seam.

I didn’t want to make the lower bodice/midriff piece any shorter as it was actually just right for my midriff so I took all the excess amount out of the bust section. I measured the distance I had pinned out and then doubled it and marked that on the bust piece.

Then I unpicked the under bust seam and matched my pen marks to the seam line on the midriff piece, tapering to nothing at the centre front and the sides.
Because my alteration slightly shortened the length of the bust piece, after the seam was sewn the midriff jutted out about 6mm past the edge of the bust piece so I just trimmed it off tapering to nothing at the waist.

I have a special technique for sewing perfect intersecting seams which I used to get a really good result on this bodice. You can check my tutorial out here.

After that everything went swimmingly. Here’s my clever lapped zipper with “privacy panel”. With the wind in Wellington today I could have used some kind of privacy contraption to stop my skirt blowing up over my head, there was quite an updraft by the otter enclosure!

Here are the WSBN having a photo break at a hut in the African village. I had a fantastic time, it’s always great hanging out with the other sewing bloggers and I enjoyed scaring the animals. From front left: Sophie-Lee, Kat, Sandra, Gemma, back row: Jo, Juliet, Joy, me

The particulars:

Pattern: Sew Chic Tia Dress

Craftsy class: Sewing vintage: The flirty day dress

Fabrics: This project was made almost completely from stash stuff, the only thing I had to buy was the zip. From left: Quilting cotton for trim, spotted cotton lawn for privacy panel on zip, fine striped stretch cotton for lining, butterfly print cotton

But wait, there’s more

Here’s some interesting useless information. There are a bunch of collective nouns for butterflies. According to Ask.com they are; rabble, flutter, kaleidoscope, rainbow or swarm. Christchurch City Library gives only two collective nouns; rabble or flight.

I think, because of the Wellington-wind-assisted aerodynamics of my dress I’m going to name it ‘a flight of butterflies’

A useful wind control technique
Kat’s photobomb

Perfect intersecting seams tutorial

I’ve just used this technique to make the Sew Chic Tia Dress and it works so well I thought I’d share it.

Here are the bodice pieces from the Tia dress. I’ve sewn the upper bodice pieces together and on the centre seam I’ve marked the point 1.5cm from the centre front and lower edge with a dot and finished my stitching there.

Pin the upper bodice to the lower bodice matching notches and the centre front dots.

Stitch each side of the seam separately. Hopefully you can see that I’ve sewn off the edge on each side a little. There is a minute gap at the intersection which will allow the intersecting seams to lay perfectly flat.

In case it’s not clear here it is with some lines to help show the gap. The blue lines show the positions of the edges and the centre front seam, the yellow lines are the stitching. The gap is very small, only the width of a stitch.

Clip seams and trim the point a little. Press one side of the seam open.

Then press the other side open creating a neat fold with the excess fabric at the point.

Et voila!


My Alabama Chanin sampler corset top is finally done. I sewed the zipper into the side seam last night and now it's all finished. I can squeeze into it and it fits like a glove (quite a snug glove – if I had gloves this tight I wouldn't actually be able to bend my fingers)

There have been a few months of procrastinating along the way and it was a time consuming project to complete, but the nice thing about it is that the embellishment can be done while you're doing other things like watching TV, in morning tea and lunch breaks or on public transport and it's surprisingly relaxing and enjoyable to do.

Because I took it with me so many places and it's been seen by a lot of people I've actually had a few requests to make one for other people. Of course my answer was no, but then I'd tell them they could buy their own from Alabama Chanin. No one actually has yet but at least they understand why they're quite costly to buy.

I learned the techniques from the Craftsy class Hand Embellishing Knit Fabric. You could learn the techniques from any of Natalie Chanin's books but I always like to see techniques demonstrated which is probably why I'm such a big fan of Craftsy classes and have enrolled in lots of them. My daughter bought me all three of the books for my birthday last year so I have plenty of material for inspiration for my next project. Next time I might stick to just one embellishment technique for the entire garment.

Alabama Chanin sampler corset front
The front

Alabama Chanin sampler corset top back
There was no way I was going to be able to get into this without a zip

The details

Fabric: Two recycled t-shirts and some blue stash fabric

Pattern: Corset top from Alabama Stitch Book by Natalie Chanin

Stencil: Anna's garden stencil from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or download from the Alabama Chanin website

Paint: I mixed a grey blue colour with Atelier acrylic paints and mixed it with a Jo Sonja's fabric medium. I didn't use textile paint because I already had acrylic paint and fabric medium in my art supplies.

Other stuff: John James milliners needles, King Tut variegated thread, vintage glacé cotton thread, quilting DMC embroidery thread, Shamrock fine bead thread, Gutermann beads and standard polyester thread for sewing the seams. Invisible zipper. The Button craft thread which Natalie Chanin recommends isn't available in New Zealand and it was going to be expensive to mail order from an international source so I made do with alternatives.

My daughter the pro photographer taking a photo of me putting the cat down, but as it turns out it shows the back quite well


Mr and Mrs Aquarium

It's time to catch up on my blogging! This is what I was doing in November (or Movember)

The theme of my work social club's Christmas party was 'under the sea'. I thought for a bit about making a mermaid outfit or some other kind of nautical/marine costume and then I remembered I had eight metres of tropical fish printed cotton in my stash. I know you're wondering why I would have eight metres of this fabric and I must admit I wondered the same thing. I purchased it so long ago I can't remember why I got so much of it. I know it was very cheap and for me to have bought that much of it it must have only cost $2-3 per metre. I have a feeling I bought it at spotlight but can't be sure. I must have had some kind of plan for it, curtains maybe?

So suddenly I had a brilliant plan to make a matching shirt and dress for my partner and I out of this outrageous fishy print. My bloke was pretty reserved about the whole idea and his children were absolutely horrified when they saw the fabric but I kept going and got both garments finished (I sewed the last button on my dress 10 minutes before the party started). He looked spectacular in his shirt and was pretty impressed with the quality, he said he'd just expected a bag with holes for his arms and head.

Two people wearing this fabric together looks completely over the top, and if you weren't at a costume party you'd look completely bonkers, so I had a minute of extreme horror when we walked into the party and I couldn't see a single person in costume, only people in normal clothes!! Fortunately once we walked around the corner we found all the pirates and sailors, whew!

To cut a long story short I got the prize for the best dressed woman, which I think I probably got because everyone was so impressed that I'd gone to so much trouble to make our outfits. I've worn the dress again to our December WSBN pretty dress theme picnic and my bloke actually wore his shirt to work on casual Friday. He was delighted that he managed to upset so many of his colleagues with it (his boss hated it) so hopefully it'll have a few more outings. Here's a photo of him in the shirt at work. Check out that fantastic mo, he grew it for Movember and shaved it off on the 30th. November 30, most disappointing day of the year

The technical stuff:

Dress pattern: McCalls 6696

Shirt pattern: Vintage Style 1226

Fabric: 100% cotton tropical fish print

Extras: I used David Page Coffin's excellent Shirtmaking book because I'd forgotten how to do flat felled seams. I bought it years ago with the video. The techniques are fantastic for producing professional shirts. I used a vintage men's shirt pattern, men's shirts don't change much so I just chose one with a slim fit




When I told one of my workmates that this month is Frocktober she thought I'd said a completely different word beginning with F and ending in K

Frocktober is the Monthly Stitch challenge for October and after a delayed start I've managed to make two dresses in 10 days and have plans for more.

Here's the first one which is a Burdastyle pattern I made up in a silk/rayon blend I got from the Fabric Warehouse pop-up sale shop for $5 a metre. It was a bit of a gamble because the pattern is pretty weird looking with those enormous sleeves but I had the fabric and I thought that for once I could actually make up a fabric in the same month I purchased it instead of adding it to the stash so I took the plunge.

I omitted the pockets and cut the front on the fold instead of having a centre front seam and slit. Instead of a tie I used elastic in the casing. The sleeve bottoms were insanely huge and looked ridiculous at first. They completely dominated the dress and swamped me. My daughter suggested the seam between the middle and lower sleeves should be at my actual elbow so I shortened the middle sleeve so it the seam was at elbow length and then reduced the depth of the lower sleeve by 4cm which was a vast improvement. I'm very pleased with this dress, it fitted perfectly, it was easy to sew, it turned out well and when I wore it to work I got a lot of compliments.

This is my second Froctober dress. When I saw McCall's M6696 I loved it. I've always had a fondness for shirtwaister dresses, I remember my mother talking about them a lot. I think they featured in her wardrobe when she was young in the 1940s and 50s. I'm planning to make several of these dresses, so first of all I made it in a striped cotton seersucker from my stash to check the fit. I'm a very standard size 12 so it fits pretty well. Next time I'll lengthen the bodice front because it's a tiny bit short and it's slightly wide across the upper chest so I'll adjust that too.

What next? Well there are a lot of possibilities. Here are some of the stash fabrics and patterns which I pulled out as potential Froctober projects

Here's the most likely next project. The fabric is a silk chiffon print from Global Fabrics which was on special for $8 a metre.

I'm thinking of finishing this UFO which I started a long time ago, it's a size 10 so I'm not sure it will fit me now and it's very very low cut in the picture so I'll have to have a really good look at it to see if it's going to be worth putting the effort in. It's not like I'm short of other things I could sew!

Another option is to make this dress from yet another Craftsy class, Sewing vintage: the flirty day dress, which I signed up for last week. That's dependent on the pattern for the lovely Tia Dress from Sew Chic arriving in the mail from the other side of the world in time for me to make it. I keep checking the mail box excitedly everyday. I hope it arrives on a day when it's not raining, my letterbox isn't very waterproof.

The Tia dress by Sew Chic

Watch this space for more lovely frocks from me and, in the meantime, head over to the Monthly Stitch to see the gorgeous creations everyone else has been making. They're so inspirational, my pattern wishlist is getting crazily long after seeing what everyone else has been doing.



The Ball Dress (or thank God that’s over)

It's been ages since I blogged but I have been very busy. First I was very busy convincing Monica that she didn't want the extremely complicated dresses she had on her wish list. Then I helped her shop for some fabric and guided her towards something which seemed like it would be easier to sew – a dark brown velvet with a lurex stripe in the half price sale at Global Fabrics*. I know what you're thinking, velvet isn't easy to sew! And you're completely right but to give you some perspective copying this couture dress by Elie Saab was one of her first choices:

Dress by Elie Saab

Eventually she ended up with a short list of design features including: skin tight, very low back, wide neckline, full length and sleeveless – to which I added draped back, cowl front and fishtail. Then I spent a bit more time being very busy dreading making the dress and procrastinating. Finally, when I really had to actually start or I wouldn't get it finished in time, I got cracking (apologies for the lack of photos, I just wanted to get it over and done with):

The good:

The bodice block turned out perfectly. I used a butterick fitting pattern from my stash and some techniques I learned in a Craftsy class: Fast track fitting with Joi Mahon. The class shows you how to measure the body and the pattern, make comparisons and alter the pattern before cutting so when you get it made up it fits really well and you don't have to do much fitting afterwards. As you can see from the toile photo it worked out exceptionally well and I'll definitely be using those techniques again.

I don't have a photo of the paper bodice pattern because it sort of got mangled by the cat after I'd finished with it but I did several alterations:

  • narrowed at centre front because her bust points are so close together
  • shortened above bust point and below lower bust curve because she has a short torso
  • Added the amount I took out at the centre front to the side seams so it was still wide enough to fit her.

Meanwhile I made myself a wrap around skirt (just to keep myself sane).

Vogue 7427 and Butterick 5627

I joined the bodice pattern onto a skirt pattern which was luckily exactly what we wanted and fortunately was in my stash already. Here's a picture of the two patterns I used for the dress:

Making the back drape was an interesting challenge, but it wasn't difficult and I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. I used the instructions from Dress pattern designing by Natalie Bray. I took some stitches in the bottom of each fold on the wrong side, leaving a strand of thread between each one so that the folds would stay in alignment.

Cool vintage draping
The drape pleated and ready to be sewn in place
Stitches on the underside to hold the pleats in place


The bad:

Because the dress is backless, she decided to buy a stick on bra to wear under it and it was a bit of a nightmare because her bust ended up completely different sizes, shapes and places depending on where she stuck it. Sometimes she had to reposition it three times before fitting to get it in the right place. It's certainly an interesting object though, her boyfriend was quite fascinated with it and I think he may have tried it on himself at one stage.


The fabric has a very spongy pile and even with my walking foot it crept all over the place. I had to hand tack every seam and dart before I could machine sew it
Chalk marks wouldn't stay on either side of the fabric so I had to thread mark everything I wanted to refer to later


And the ugly:

A couple of days before the ball I suddenly gained some perspective when I realised she would only be wearing this dress once. It was just as well because at the end it got all very project-runway-stressful in an only-just-keeping-it-together, just short of having to curl-into-the-fetal-position-in-a-corner-and-cry kind of way.

I have to admit there is some very dodgy, thrown together at the last minute, sewing in this dress which I wouldn't want anyone to look too closely at but the springy pile of the velvet hides all kinds of amateurish handstitches and even makes the machine stitched hem much less obvious.

Dodgy machine stitched hem
The lining was roughly cut out and then handstitched in tucking in the excess under the arm but it didn't affect the appearance of the dress at all so didn't matter
The armhole edges were clipped folded down and handstitched in a hurry before the lining was attached by hand. These long stitches are actually unnoticeable in real life even though they're quite visible along the edge of the armhole in this photo


After I dropped her off at the pre-ball function she suddenly realised that when I took the back seam in at her request to make her butt look good it actually made it too tight for her to lift her skirt up to go to the toilet, but it decided that was her problem. By then I'd washed my hands of the whole thing.

Now that it's over we can all move on with our lives. There has been a bit of a delay getting this blog post done because I had to spend a week basically semi-comatose on the couch watching TV recovering in the evenings after work because I was so tuckered out and then everything got very busy again and WordPress isn't friends with my iPad so I got very frustrated trying to wrestle this post into shape, but then I discovered Blogsy so everyone's much happier now they don't have to listen to me swearing as much. Better late than never!

*I know Global Fabrics have changed their name to the Fabric Store but I think that's a really naff name and I don't like it so I still call them Global. They can't possibly have passed that name by a focus group before deciding on it.





My cats like to “help” sew


Monica is drafting a pattern for the culotte shorts she’s making for textiles at school. In this picture you can see Spider helping her position the square correctly. He’s done an excellent job of marking the tape measure with strategically placed teeth marks, placing precision holes in the pattern paper in random positions and leaving dribble spot marks. I honestly don’t know what we’d do without him.