Saturday, 29 June 2013

Men's Shirt Refashion To Cute Summer Top

Regular readers (hello! :) ) will know I fell in love with a couple of checked/plaid tops uploaded to the Flickr group during Me-Made-May and have been hunting for an extra large men's shirt to refashion ever since. I still haven't found one that yields enough fabric for the little sleeves I envisaged, but I did find one just large enough to make a sun top. Since the sun is making sporadic appearances here in the UK at last, I needed this urgently as I had precisely no shoulder bearing tops...

Completed front

Completed back

Most people who read this blog can already sew and make stuff much more complicated than this, but in case anyone is searching for men's shirt refashions and by some freak of the internet ends up on this page, there follows a run down of how I made the top. These are more guidelines as the beauty of refashioning is everyone's finished garment will look different and basically you can do whatever you like to put your own stamp on your top. It's a good idea to read all the instructions before you start to make sure you incorporate the ideas you like best.

These are the first set of instructions I have ever written so I apologise in advance if they aren't crystal clear. I haven't described how to do every bit of sewing - such as how to make a buttonhole, how to hem, how to sew a seam, in great depth because otherwise these would be a book and they are already pretty long. For beginner's sewing lessons on the net, one place to go is here (use Learn To Sew tab).

1. Choose a short sleeved shirt that is as large as possible as this style requires gathering and a close fitting shirt will not yield enough fabric. Mine was a men's European size Large. As it's going to be a sun top, make sure the fabric is light and made of cotton, or you will be too hot!

2. Wash and dry your shirt then carefully remove the collar and sleeves by cutting close to the stitching line.  Measure half an inch/1 cm up from the stitching  used to form the hems of the arms of the shirt. Cut the thick hems off from the bottom of the arms of the shirt plus this additional half an inch/1 cm approx. - this is to turn a hem to make straps with these later if you want to. If you look at the picture above of my straps you will see how these are used. Set all pieces aside, do not throw any away.

3. Select the front and back pattern pieces from your favourite gypsy/peasant style top pattern, in your usual size. I used Butterick 4685 pictured below, but pretty much every mainstream pattern company offers a pattern of this style (through virtually all decades from the 1930's onwards, if you want to buy a secondhand one - there are lots on Etsy).

4. Fold the back of the shirt in half using the centre line as the fold. For both front and back, I kept the existing seam of the shirt as I wanted a long shirt I could style in different ways (untucked with skinny jeans/shorts, tucked in, belted), but you can keep to the pattern if you prefer. Cut new front piece from old back of shirt.

5. Fold the old front of the shirt in half keeping it buttoned, using the button holes as a guide for centre line. Cut your new back piece.

Note: If you want the buttons to appear on the front of your top, use the front of the shirt for cutting your new front and the back for cutting your new back.

6. Sew your side seams using the seam allowance given on the pattern, finish seams and press.

7. You will now have a large tube of fabric with unfinished edges at the top that would usually join with the bottom part of your sleeve. You can choose to either finish them with a contrasting bias binding from fabric you already have, or bought bias binding, or do as I did below:

Front                              Side seam                                                 Back
Unbutton your shirt so that you can lay the underarm out flat. Using the (already trimmed) sleeves of the former shirt, sew them right side to right side along the armhole using the seam allowance suggested by your pattern. (It should look like the above photo when complete.) Although the sleeve fabric that has been reused isn't cut on the bias, the armholes aren't very rounded for this style so this works fine for binding. Finish or trim the resulting seam to approx. 0.5cm/ 2/8ths of an inch, so it is narrow for binding.

8. Then trim the sleeve fabric approx. 2.5cm from the underarm seam (see below). Press the seam upwards, away from the body of the garment.

9. Now enclose your underarm seam using the fabric you have attached by folding it over the seam and then under again as you would bias binding. You can pin and slip stitch the inside or tack and stitch in the ditch from the outside by machine, whichever you prefer. Press.

Inside of underarm ready to stitch

10. Gather or pleat the front section. I worked out how much gathering/pleating to do by measuring across the top of my chest to either side of my bra straps, at the height I wanted the top to be. 

I went for pleats along the top front, you could do these randomly but I measured mine to space them evenly, pinning then tacking them in place.

Front pleats close up

I then made binding using a single thickness of fabric from the yoke of the old shirt, attaching in the same way as for the underarms and finishing in a neat point.

The front should now look something like this. Ignore the buttons - they were added later!

11. Either pleat or gather your back section using the same method. I gathered either side of the button stand and pulled up the threads separately, as the button band had some interfacing in which meant it was unsuitable to gather. I then made binding in exactly the same way straight across the top of the back. (See photo of completed back at beginning of post for visual reference).

12. Finally make your straps. You can use any style of strap you like - ones the same thickness as the binding would look nice, ribbons would add a pretty touch or if you have used a contrast binding contrast straps would carry on the theme nicely. If you don't like faffing you can attach them front and back to tie on the shoulder, that way adjustments are easy.

I wanted my bra straps covered, so I made thick straps from the edging of the sleeves of the old shirt saved earlier. I turned under the half inch/1 cm hem I left at the beginning and topstitched them. I sewed on a funky label from the old shirt, too.

If you go for thicker straps you will need to try on your top before you attach them and ask a nice someone to pin  them in the appropriate place so that they cover your bra straps. Measure afterwards to ensure they match. Somehow one side always seems to look better than the other so use this one as your guide for measuring (or is that just me?!).

How to attach your straps is up to you. I went for sewn down points on the back and functioning buttons and buttonholes at the front. You could also sew the straps down over the points, maybe sewing on non-functional buttons, or hide the ends away inside.

13. If you haven't kept your existing hems, hem to preferred depth and press the whole garment.

14. Finally, go outside and get yourself some SUN!!

I think this top would also look cute with some lace sandwiched between the binding and the main body, to prettify it further. For me, I am a practical type and very happy with my functional new top!

For more tutes on what you could do with old shirts, go here! Click on Refashion Resource for lots of fab ideas.

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Simplicity 2599 - Special Sari Top

Before I was ill I made this top.

It's for wearing at smart-casual events such as my daughters' concerts and plays. It fills a big gap in my wardrobe. I did a mini-wardrobe review for MMM but didn't post about it in the end as it didn't make interesting reading, but I have to acknowledge the downside of my ultra-casual minimal wardrobe is looking 'presentable' on occasions such as these.

This project had a good feeling about it from the start. I had high hopes of the pattern because of the separate pieces for B,C and D cup sizes (needless to say I cut the D) so I thought a toile for such a basic shape would be unnecessary. For once my fabric also matched the fabric suggestions on the back of the pattern, so I hoped the loose but not sack-like fit of the cover photograph would be achievable.

Front - please excuse swollen face. Still
have eye & sinus infections!
Side view for fit

I used a favourite fabric from a beautiful sari I had bought from our local charity shop years ago (and had already made one top from, sadly now defunct). I love the stylised floral design, with the dark background and muted colours. It looks as though it's block printed, as you can see slight misalignments in places like the border, which for me only adds to its charm. I think it's a synthetic material, but it's very silk-like in look and behaviour, with a lovely sheen and as light as a feather. Unsurprising, as the original garment was designed to wrap and flow around the body. I am sure the original owner must have looked very graceful in this design. I decided on the length before I cut the top out to incorporated the border.

Border close up. Colours are richer in real life!
The only slight glitch I had was cutting out the first piece which looked like I had used my teeth. Too late I remembered Gertie's trick of stabilising delicate fabrics with tissue paper before cutting.  

I used a new finer needle than I use for cotton and made French seams for the first time I can remember, as I was convinced my overlocker would cause the fabric to bunch. I must have learnt French seams at college, but I can't remember using them, no exaggeration, this is love!  (Once I had got over the wrongness of sewing wrong side to wrong side first.) I actually feel guilty when I look at my overlocker because I was so pleased to get it, and now I have these and they are so much better...I showed one of my daughters, (who was polite enough to take an interest), and declared that from now on everything would have French seams, even pyjamas! She enquired whether pyjamas really need French seams, which was rather missing the point...I am like a toddler who has just learnt to run, I want to make French seams all the time! Maybe it's time for me to tackle the my pattern of fear, the much sewn by the more experienced V1247. Could a beginner in French seams pull off such a thing, or will it demoralise me for ever?

In addition to having the right fabric, I also followed most of the pattern instructions, although leaving off the frills. My main change apart from this was to do a lot of handsewing. As the garment came together, I thought machine stitching on the surface of the fabric would spoil it, so all the places which would normally have machine stitching such as armholes and hem have very small, barely visible hand stitches instead. It was very therapeutic, calming work and I felt it honoured the original material constructing the top this way. Which sounds pretty stupid written down, but it felt right at the time. I also covered a button for the back fastening.

I think this pattern would be suitable for a fairly new sewer as French seams wouldn't be essential on all fabrics suggested. The only change I would try if I made this top again is to use a bias finish instead of a neckline facing as per the pattern. On a light fabric I think it would be more flexible.

When I wore the top I felt very comfortable in it. It's a bit special without shouting "look at me". I need something to wear with it now, the two styles that have come to mind are navy three quarter length linen trousers that taper towards the ankle or maybe a skirt but I am not sure what style would complement a loose top.

I also wanted to show you the jewellery I am wearing. It was made by my very talented friend, who I made this apron for. Doesn't she have a fabulous, fluid and individual style? I thought these pieces really complemented the top.

I hope you are enjoying your projects, too.

Happy sewing, 'till next time!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Weirdly Productive

Weirdly, because I am ill with tonsillitis and an eye infection. Somehow my general good mood seems to have stayed intact and while I am instantly exhausted if I go out, I have been (slowly) working my way through all the little jobs I have been meaning to do around the house...the photo above means a lot more to me than it will to anyone else. It's the top of my pattern storage unit, the pink box contains jewellery making bits and the zip up case contains overlocker threads.

It's what isn't there that's pleased me so much. In January when I started this blog, I pledged to get through the huge amount of mending, UFOs etc., that had accumulated over the (ahem!) years. These offending items lived in a big toppling pile where you can now see wall (and the corner of a map!). This morning I finally mended the last trouser hem, sewed on the last button and repaired three bags belonging to my daughters. That's better. 

Let the new sewing projects commence!

Hope you are all in good health, and feeling productive too!

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Beautiful Bag

I didn't make this lovely bag, sadly.
But someone did!


I spied it in a deli we frequent on holiday for it's lovely coffee and cake, and my husband offered to buy it for me :)


 It's very sturdy and well-made with boxed corners, and is fully reversible.

The reason I am posting it (apart from to share it's loveliness with you all!), is to ask whether anyone knows the name of the special effect on the front, so that I can look up how it's done. At first I thought it was slashed tucks, but on closer inspection there is more than one layer of fabric in each row. The rows remind me of furrows in fields and the bright sunny colours just say "sea and sand" to me. Possibly I am reading too much into the design, although it was produced in the country by the sea, and maybe that influenced the maker's choices.

Gorgeous texture

Admiring this bag lead to another thought which seems so obvious now but hasn't really occurred to me before. (I think I am a bit slow sometimes!) Next time I want an item I can't make myself or thrift I will check out what is available made by someone else for sale.

Thank you to whoever made this bag :) I know it will accompany me on all my forays this summer!

Happy sewing, 'til next time!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Me-Made-May Last two weeks & thoughts on thrifting v sewing

Hello everyone :)  It's fun to be back blogging after a week away on a family seaside holiday. I don't take any technology with me except my radio and mobile phone as I like to have a change from my normal life, so I hope to have a lot of blog reading to look forward to and a few things to catch up on here.

Firstly, Week 4 of Me-Made-May:
Day 22
Still cold but determination to get a picture
under the clematis meant gritting my teeth
Day 23
Remembered just before bed, excuse
knackered look!

Day 24
More knackered - getting ready
to go away is tiring
Day 25
Another late one. Stylish socks
tell you all  you need to know
about outside temperatures
Got dressed on autopilot this week, was wading my way through all the stuff I had to do before I could take a break!

Week 5 was my holiday week. I wore my denim skirt four times (by choice!) but failed to get any photos, however I think we all know what it looks like by now ;) It survived an active holiday including a wetting with seawater while climbing in a boat (not my finest, or most modest, moment. May need to make some shorts!), and a trip through the washing machine. I am happy.

Me-Made-May Conculsions

What I wanted to do:

- appreciate and contribute to the wonderful handmade on-line community.
I commented on many inspiring garments (and still have a week's worth to look at!), had a few conversations with new-to-me folks and added some new blogs to my reading list! (Soon, I will do nothing other than sew or read about sewing...)

- to find out my most urgently needed garments and make them myself instead of buying if possible.
A work in progress. I did make a denim skirt and buy a slip from a charity shop that needs altering (well practically remaking - it's a UK size 22 and quite long!). One of the things I realised during May is that the growth of my me-made wardrobe is going to be slow.

- to have fun mixing and matching.
I can't really call this a success. The weather was so unseasonably cold that I couldn't bear to wear thin cotton, and the fun summer feeling I was hoping to evoke was replaced by warm jumpers, scarves and sore throats! Still, I feel much more confident about wearing the me-mades I could out and about. Quite proud, actually!

As the month went on it became clear to me I had another, secret, goal. I wanted to see if handmade clothes were the main way I wanted to clothe myself in the future. Over the last few years I have largely chosen thrifted clothes (from charity shops), as I feel they been though the production cycle already so are the most environmentally friendly option. Most of my sewing has been alterations, gifts and simple clothing items like pyjamas, rather than the main deal like (gulp) jackets and jeans. I have had lots of conflicting thoughts this month. These are just my reflections and aren't intended to be comprehensive or conclusive (if only I could reach 'conclusive'!):

Charity shops/ thrifting

Pluses: keeps stuff out of landfill, raises money for charity.
Minuses: can't fulfill every requirement (I don't want to wear secondhand nightwear, swimwear or underwear, and woollens are like gold dust). The clothes are often poor quality High Street cast-offs on their last legs.

Making my own

Pluses: I can make what I want, within the limits of my skills (which I can develop). If I choose the right fabric, I can help support organic cotton farmers and weavers and others in the supply chain who need work. I also gain a creative outlet and pride in my creations.
Minuses: due to time restraints I am unlikely to make anything very quickly and I will need to plan ahead much (much) more.


One thing I like to do is use second-hand material in my sewing, often taken from garments that would be much too big for me - the best of both worlds.

Another thing I can actually recommend is keeping things simple. I find clothes that cross the seasons get the most use and a limited colour palette helps too, as does the realisation I can only wear one outfit at a time! "One on, one in the wash" works well as long as I can keep on top of the laundry (this sadly does not always happen). If you would like to read more about keeping it simple, I have found this website full of practical suggestions.

I know I am just one of many thinking about this stuff, I don't pretend it's new or original. Neither do I pretend to be perfect - I bought new wool cardigans this year to prevent freezing, for example! (Sadly I cannot knit.) Nonetheless I am thinking about these issues again. Did Me-Made-May cause you to reflect on your wardrobe? Any tips, or anything else I should be thinking about?

Happy sewing, 'til next time!