These days when we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we should be living a more sustainable lifestyle, why is it that I so seldom meet people who are actually trying to do it? Am I as guilty as them of not making an effort and what can I do to achieve this? We have massively cut down on plastics, we try to eat seasonally and organically and I diligently recycle as much as I can. However, when it comes to my own wardrobe, I am guilty of not always practicising what I would like to preach and it is time to change. I have taken up knitting again (I am slow and not brilliant at all) and you may have seen an earlier post about my first cardigan.
While I have been knitting, I have succumbed to another modern vice - Netflix, but in particular, I have been fascinated with the Marie Kondo ‘tidying up ethic’ - this wouldn’t even be ‘a thing’, if we all didn’t have so much stuff! Her idea that your belongings in general should ‘spark joy’ is a simple one and takes me back to being a kid when we had everything we needed but not much more.
A couple of months ago, the house that I was born in and grew up in, came on the market. My mother sold it in 2007 after 47 years. With the wonders of ‘Rightmove’ I was able to see how it had changed under the 3 different owners it had subsequently had. It was barely recognisable of course. I struggled to even find my bearings for a moment, it had been so fundamentally remodelled. It is a 1920’s semi detached house but if you were just looking at the inside, you would think it was a modern build. I was sad that some of the original features had gone, as I personally believe that these can be adapted to a more modern house, but anyways, it was minimalist and plasticky and not at all cosy. Of course, houses should have different lives, time moves on and for sure it was in need of massive renovation when my Mum sold it. And of course, I am biased because it was my home, filled with memories of growing up and people who aren’t here any more. However, what struck me is how different our lives are now - I closed my eyes and visualised my bedroom in that house 45 years ago and felt sad that actually there are no photos of the house as it was. It didn’t seem important at the time. I think I grew up in a very normal, middle class family in the 1960’s and 70’s - my father worked for the coal board, my mum was at home making sure the wheels of domestic life turned smoothly and everyone had what they needed. She knitted our jumpers, sewed nearly all of our clothes. I had a my school uniform, a best dress, some play clothes and usually a wool kilt and matching cardigan. We had a pair of school shoes, a pair of pumps for playing in and a pair of sandals in summer and flip flops for the seaside. I can still remember the excitement of going to Woolworths and choosing my flip flops for the summer - what colour would they be this year? I never for one moment thought I needed anything else. So what have we done in the intervening time that has changed all this out of sight? We are bombarded daily with images of what we can have, might want, don’t want. We give little or no thought to where all this ‘stuff’ came from (the sweatshops of fairway places) and where it is going (landfill). This is not respecting your things. I think this is why I like Marie Kondo - she starts with the idea that your house is an important thing to be appreciated and that all the things you put inside should be too. I like that.
So …. the dressmaking idea of using good quality fabrics, taking your time and creating unique and well made pieces for a capsule wardrobe. Sounds good but can I do it? Well, I am not a great fan of clothes shopping and never have been really. I am much more of an accessories type of gal and here I am guilting of having too much! On the other hand though - if I could live my life all over again in that dreamlike way you think about, I should want to be a costume designer for the BBC period dramas. I always loved drawing pictures of ladies in victorian or georgian dresses as a kid. I can remember getting books out of the library about fashion design and my brother teasing me and my father saying ‘yes well you can do sewing with your mother at home, at school you’ll do chemistry!’ I have a state of the art sewing machine and as I have written before I probably have more knowledge than I think about dressmaking as it was always going on in the dining room! I am a bit older now and have my own ideas about the sorts of clothes I would like…time to do something about it. When I saw all the buzz on instagram about this free ‘Peppermint Peplum top’ I downloaded the pattern immediately. It has been sitting about my sewing room for a couple of months ….so let’s go.
So this is the first dress making pattern I have ever downloaded. It’s clever, the way it works - the software somehow enables you to find the layer for your size and just print that. It took me a little while to suss it out, but once I had it all printed I fixed it together like a jigsaw puzzle. At this point, I was already thinking that I should probably use some of my Swedish pattern paper to make a copy … if it turns out well.
A dear friend and expert dressmaker said to me…make a toile. What!!! Yes…make a toile. She looked at the pattern and said, well it is short in the length and looking on instagram we could see that some people had made it longer. I am not very tall, but am a little rounded so we don’t want all that peplum to look too faffy and wide - make a toile and then you can see if it needs adjusting. I went and bought some curtain lining material and made a toile. I thought this was hassle, but actually for a novice like me, it is probably essential. I understand the making process now and I can see what needs to be done.
So the first attempt…..
It was a bit weird sewing with a 5/8th seam allowance - I am so used to a quarter inch that this took a bit of adjusting too. My sewing machine foot plate has a guide though and adding a bit of tape on the extension table helped to keep things lined up.
I decided not to bother with the armhole and neck facings on the toile as really it was just about the fit. It was very simple to put together. The gathers were as easy as pie, using two rows of the longest stitch on my machine. Stitching them in place was fine too, although I would keep the fabric more in line on the real thing.
So when it was done, I was glad I had not bothered with the facings as it would have wasted a lot of time. The result was perfect for trying on…
As predicted, the toile was too short in the body for me - probably because I have boobs and even though I am only 5’2” I definitely needed it to be longer in straight body section. The peplum was the perfect depth though and the right amount of fullness too and the general size was right. I thought it might benefit from a couple of darts across the chest - again a body shape adjustment.
I went back to the cutting table and using my Swedish pattern paper - I attempted to make the body sections of the pattern a bit longer. I wanted to make sure the peplum still fitted so need to keep it straight.
Can I just say that I have never attempted such a thing before…..
I decided to add 3” in length. Using the tracing paper on my cutting mat gave me the unexpected benefit of being able to see the grid beneath which was really useful. First I outlined the original pattern and as this was on good quality printer paper I had a sharp edge to draw around. I drew the outline down 3” on the straight side, but realised immediately that if I continue the underarm seam line 3 inches it would make the slightly top wider. However this was going to be over my tummy area, so I decided it was ok because it was less than an inch in total and the peplum could be gathered slightly less. I used (for the first time) my sew easy imperial french curve ruler - this enabled me to draw the curve line neatly ….worth every penny.
When it came to choosing fabric for my top, well I do love the Scandinavian ‘white’ style, but, I do have also have a fundamentally english default button - hence the roses! Don’t you just love this fabric! It’s from Bonnie & Camille and I know it’s a bit Laura Ashley, but hey….she was style icon and fashion designer that influenced millions…it’s ok. I cut out my new pattern.
I decided not to make a toile and just go for it. It all seemed easy enough - I even added some topstitching to shoulder panels in a darker green and it looked great.
The first real difficulty I had was with the neck binding. I did this out of sequence with the pattern as I wanted to leave the armhole facings until the end, when I could see if I needed darts or not. The neck facing instructions seem straight forward enough, but I had some trouble with getting the front to lay flat. I ended up with two rows of top stitching, which looks pretty enough, but somehow it didn’t seem to lie quite right. When I tried the top on though, it sat better on me than on a hanger. It looks kind of ‘boat necked’ and absolutely fine.
The peplum was next and here you can waste alot of material. The pattern requires a long continuous strip. In fact, I don’t think that is absolutely necessary - I feel sure you could piece the strip, but I was a little nervous about it, so cut way more fabric than I needed to. It’s not really a problem because the left over bits will find their way into a quilt (of course!)
I neatened the top edge of the peplum with a small zigzag stitch before I did the rows of gathers. I also zigzagged around the bottom of the body as well because cotton frays so terribly. With the peplum on, it seemed more weighted as a garment and I was encouraged to carry on and hem it, which was easy. The final step was to decide on whether or not I needed darts and to do the armhole facings. I looked at a lot of images on instagram of different versions that people had made of this top and no-one had added darts and to be honest there were all shapes and sizes on there. I decided to leave it, especially as adding darts might mess with the facings.
It’s finished now and although it is not perfect, it’s not bad for a first attempt. It looks very pretty with my cardigan and as such can be worn all year around. In conclusion, it’s a good pattern to begin with because it is meant to be loose and swingy and all the gathers cover up a multitude of sins! There are no fastenings or complicated shaping and it’s boosted my confidence to keep going with the dressmaking in general. I am considering now whether to make some more colour ways or to try something else. In the meantime, if you feel inspired check out the instagram #peppermintpelumtop and:
You can download the Peppermint Peplum pattern from here
Swedish pattern paper is available from here
You can buy the sew easy Imperial french curve ruler from Amazon
See you soon when I should have my ‘Sweet escape quilt along’ almost finished.