Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


The Adventures of the Six Napoleons

“It’s the Napoleon bust business again,” said Lestrade. “You seemed interested last night, Mr. Holmes, so I thought perhaps you would be glad to be present now that the affair has taken a very much graver turn.”

It’s the finale of the Six Napoleon dress challenge, set by (used to be sewing friend) Marianna of Sew2Pro. About six of us intrepid and quite possibly over-confident sewers decided to take on Sew2Pro’s challenge to make a Six Napoleon dress. None of us challengers met the first deadline of Bastille Day and I have to admit that I was one of those who requested an extension. But here it is, in all it’s Great British Sewing Bee scrappy state – my interpretation and version of Dogstar’s Six Napoleon dress……

It might look OK but truly believe me, the insides and the finish is crap (that’s an official technical sewing term just in case you are unaware of it).


The bodice is Alabama Chanin’d down one side only with reverse applique. The skirt is 4m of a fine jersey mesh pleated and sewn to the bodice. There’s a white half circle underskirt  which I left on show at the shortest part of the skirt. All fabrics are from Fabworks.

Styling accessories include opera length fingerless gloves and a plaited neckband with intertwined pearls. My nod to the black pearl of the Borgias.

DSCN6538 The hem of the skirt is faced with a 4″ band of red jersey and (lazy girl) just serged the edge. The red peeks out as the skirt drapes and moves.


The good news, I suppose, is that I can actually get into the dress and it fits well. I am not proud of this dress – well maybe just a wee bit pleased that I got it started, figured out, finished and worn.


This challenge turned out to be much more difficult than any of us thought. A little bit of tedium was creeping in.



When did I wear this dress?



In the kitchen of course! I made a chicken curry for dinner although I did remove the gloves for that part. Then reclined on the sofa to watch the Olympic weightlifting on TV. A totally fascinating sport – a mix of strength, concentration, psychological mind games and sheer impressiveness.


And Marianna – maybe the next time you set a challenge it could be a shift dress………….?


“Well, well, we can’t expect to have it all our own way, Watson,” he said, at last. “We must come back in the afternoon if Mr. Harding will not be here until then. I am, as you have no doubt surmised, endeavouring to trace these busts to their source, in order to find if there is not something peculiar which may account for their remarkable fate.”

The Adventures of the Six Napoleons by Arthur Conan Doyle




6Nap: The Plot

optimized-maxW950-The-Adventure-of-the-Six-NapoleonsOnce upon a time there were six identical porcelain busts of Napoleon and inside one of them was a black pearl that belonged to the Borgias. The busts were stolen from their owners, one by one, and smashed as the thief attempted to find the priceless pearl.

Sew2pro has gathered together a small but talented team to find the gem by each one recreating their own priceless Six Napoleon dress.

There are few rules; one of them being that we have to at least show a bit of progress……I’m far behind the others of the crack detective squad who have sketches done, bodices fitted and made and are now draping their skirts. The original dress by Dogstar, Japanese fashion designer Masayo Yasuki’s brand is our inspiration (centre below): it has a black organza skirt with a black boned bodice.


Red, white and grey are my colours and all in stretch. The roses is a mesh fabric probably used for underwear and the red is a solid cotton jersey and the white is a burn out cotton jersey.

No time to learn how to bone a bodice right now but I do have Alabama Chanin’s jersey corset pattern. To shape the bottom hem I just cut the bodice longer and will mark the off-centre point later.


I found the muslin pattern from my Vivienne Westwood knock-off (another of Sew2Pro’s challenges).


Put the two together to get a dress.

Then I thought that if I’m using an Alabama Chanin pattern I may as well Alabama Chanin it too.


I’ve got a plot: red jersey bodice with roses underneath, roses skirt with a white underskirt. The bodice is half-way Alabama Chanin’d and should be completed this week. Then on to that 14m skirt………



End of Knits

Really and truly, how could I not venture into Alabama Chanin territory, what with all that jersey / knit / stretchy stuff just lying about like washed-up treasure on a beach in a spring high tide?

My fingers were itching and twitching; the hand sewing needles were singing like wind through railings; thread was twanging like guitar stings in an attic; it was calling, calling…

So, a marriage between the Tilton’s Artful T-shirt and Chanin’s plain foundation wardrobe pieces. Like all marriages (at least mine anyways) some things work out without effort and some things need a little bit of work. These items were mostly sewn on the machine and overlocker, not by hand – a compromise. …

AC basic T-shirt with contrast sleeves, neck band and uneven cuffs

AC A-line skirt. Double layer with asymmetrical top layer, tied waistband (not seen).

AC poncho: one rectangle sewn together off kilter, with contrast bands and inset piping to match the T-shirt body. This one was hand sewn with thick pink silk thread and coordinates with almost all my olive green and raspberry clothes that I have (or not) sewn for the failed SWAP ’16.

I know the poncho-thing is not to everyone’s taste and I have only worn it at home on the sofa watching House of Cards, but maybe I’ll venture out in it one day and demonstrate my 50 and Not Dead Yet styling.

The T-shirt pattern is in Studio Sewing and Design. I scooped the neckline way more than the original design. The poncho pattern is also there. The skirt is the Swing skirt from Stitch Book. Fabrics are from Fabworks for the print the solid.

There’s very little jersey fabric left now after this adventure, so I might venture back to wovens and see what happens.

Welcome to all new readers and followers and I hope you gain some nugget of experience or inspiration for your own sewing. It’s lovely to have you along for the journey. Thank you.




I had intended to create a new Alabama Chanin collection this summer but my desire for instant gratification triggered a flurry of machine sewing and I’ll be lucky to get one AC skirt finished at all. I had a tonne of cotton jersey that was ordered in prep DSCN5343for hand sewing but it was crying out to be made into something to stop me feeling guilty about not meeting my own goals and objectives. There now follows a collection of stuff that has no skirt to match……..

First, Drape Drape 2 asymmetrical top. I received the book as a birthday present – lovely, and traced off the eponymous top immediately. Ironically, this was hand sewn, AC style. Reading reviews, everyone said that the sizing is small so I graduated the pattern up, especially around the hips for me, but I think the neckline is now too loose. Small adjustments to be made on the next (and there will be) one.


The body is pale grey with dark grey neck and hem bands attached with embroidery thread using a slightly stretchy back-stitch. The single side seam and the sleeve hems are hand sewn too.


Next,  Alabama Chanin’s corset top. This pattern is included in the new Patterns book but I had it already traced off from one of the earlier books. Except this time the serger was employed and not a hand stitch in sight.


The top is double layered with a neutral coloured cotton jersey as this is a very fitted top and it needs a bit of strength. No embellishments apart from a little strip over the back neckline; the armhole bands are machine stitched with a large zig-zag.


I do like how the back is dipped lower than the front in this top – means when you sit down there’s no flesh on show.DSCN5404

Finally, Alabama Chanin’s classic jacket from the Patterns book except my version is a little weird. A simple pattern with front, back and one-piece sleeves but I cut a load of 1″ strips and sewed these onto the jacket to resemble a check or a convict?


I serged the side seams and then sewed the strips sort of straightish onto the ‘flat’ jacket.


And the benefit of sewing your own stripes on is that you can be sure they match across the seams…


It’s a great wee jacket – cardigan-like, easy to wear yet finishes a very simple outfit. Mine is the length it is because of fabric limitations but the pattern comes with various lengths including a long version. The edges are finished with a handsewn band. I didn’t add pockets and I miss them.DSCN5396I did make a fundamental mistake with the stripes though – I sewed them with a straight stitch and some rows have broken. If you are mad enough to try this for yourself – use a small zig-zag or lightning bolt stitch to allow for natural body stretch and movement. I’m going to have to go back and mend the broken bits before the stripes start falling off!

And finally a scarf and brooch. The scarf is what’s leftover from the dark grey and I’m being bold calling it a scarf – it’s a bit of fabric! The brooch is beaded and slightly resembles a flower.


Gather your bits and pieces together – strips of fabric, brooch pin, beads and thread: start with a circle of fabric and I put a bit of batting behind mine for a bit of structure. Turn under a hem and you’re ready to go.


Start on the outside edge and sew on one of the strips. This one was gathered first but it’s easy to pleat as you go.

DSCN5371The next strip covers the raw edges of the first and so on until you reach the centre.


I beaded the centre but another little circle of fabric works too.

DSCN5375The back is a mess, so cover this up with another circle of fabric and sew on the pin. I used larger circles that show at the front of the brooch too.You’re not aiming for perfection here – merely the hint of a bloom of some sort – a hybrid.



Pin to your scarf or lapel and wait for the compliments! In my experience, people always comment on the brooch and not the clothes beneath!


So, there you have it – Alabama Chanin patterns made on a machine and a Japanese pattern made in AC style. DSCN5410DSCN5398


Alabama Cheats

Summer is here and work has finished so it’s time to do some slow sewing, sit in my deckchair in the garden and hand stitch some new Alabama Chanins.

AMZUTFor my birthday in June I received the latest AC stitching book and before we broke up for the summer, I printed out a couple of the new patterns and taped them together on the big sewing table in work – it makes life so much easier. DSC00610

I now have the wrap skirt and the classic jacket to add to my collection of AC patterns. In the latest book the patterns and stencil designs come on a disk which you can either print at home on A4 sheets and tile together or take to a printers who will print the pattern on A1 or A2.

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I had already purchased 12m of cotton jersey in anticipation of this moment arriving: two shades of grey, light and dark; white and stone. Three meters of each colour.

I know I’ve documented previously how I go about sewing a AC garment but today I’ll show you my cheats – things that break the rules and make life a little easier and the sewing a little faster.


I print off the stencil design onto bog standard printer paper and tape the pages together just like a regular pattern. Then I Spraymount this onto a manilla folder and using a scalpel (exacto knife) cut through the page and the manilla. However, I don’t use the whole stencil. I look at the shapes and the layout and make a decision on what is feasible to sew around and what can be eliminated. Sometimes I’ll duplicate a shape or mirror it – just depends. I use the original as a guide only.

On the left, the original design and on the right what I chose to use.




AC recommends fabric dye, either sprayed or painted onto the fabric. I’m a wee bit frightened by this as dye will not wash out – it is permanent and what if I want to change the design a little? To reproduce the stencil design onto the fabric I draw around the shapes with felt-tip pens – washable, of course. Even at this stage I will leave some shapes out, draw a few new ones in and will make decisions on where best to place the design. I am currently making the wrap skirt and know full well that it is very unlikely I shall wear this skirt with a short or tucked in top – so why bother embellishing the top of the skirt when it will be covered?


All previous AC garments that I’ve sewn were put together using embroidery floss for embellishment and seams. I do not use the AC recomm0170205_2006718-IMG_3480_01_400ended ‘strongest thread know to man’. I use a single strand of 100% cotton embroidery thread doubled over. This has been plenty strong to hold my clothes together and doesn’t twist and knot the way other threads do. There’s also hundreds of colours to choose from.


This time round I am using a single strand of Terko satin. It’s a heavy, stiff thread but doesn’t knot and a single strand is still strong enough to hold the garments together.


AC rules state that you have to tie a knot on the thread and then tie another knot exactly over the first one. This is really tricky to achieve and I usually end up with a string of single knots stretching over about 1″ of the tread. So now I just make a loop and thread the needle through it three times and pull tight. I get a large enough knot that won’t pull through the fabric and none of the hassle. I also do the same at the other end when I’ve finished sewing – just remember to leave enough length on your thread to be able to do this.



I’m the first to admit that my embroidery skills are dreadful, so I avoid any fancy stitching and stick to good old plain running stitch. If a stencilled shape is too small to run a few stitches round then I leave it out. Apart from that, all the shapes are stitched around. If a shape is too small or narrow to cut then I’ll sew it bigger and wider.



AC rules state that you must sew each and every shape separately, ie start with a knot, sew around the shape and knot off – start on the next shape. If my stencil design has shapes that are close enough to each other then I just carry on. I can get a whole section sewn with a single length of thread.



When sewing with the embroidery floss I use size 10 needles  these are very fine and slide through the cotton jersey like a hot knife through butter but the eye is small and threading them is a pain. I usually thread about 18 in one go so that I’m ready to sew and sew. This time I’m making life much easier and using a self-threading needle. It’s thicker than the 10 but is working out just fine and I only need one needle so my projects are easily carried about without risk of injury to anyone.


So far I’ve completed one front panel of the skirt, started on the second and then just the back to do. Assemble the pieces and wear!


Of course, when I started writing this the sun was shining and the sky was blue – now however, it is raining and the sky is grey! So when (if) the sun comes back out I’ll maybe get some sewing done……….

So I cheat on the Alabama Chanin rules but then again rules are there to be broken, and I want to wear my items this summer, not next.