The Ruffle neck dress from The Girls Style Book- pretty Japanese sewing patterns

Back in the days when I was a teenager and the internet did not exist to make ideas and products as readily accessible as they were today, I remember my mother’s pride in some beautiful Japanese knitting pattern books that were sent to her by a friend in the Japan. The glossy photos of feminine and elegant designs were presented so differently to the english speaking magazines I used to see about- presentation was everything.

Recently I ordered a copy of the Girls Style Book by Yoshiko Tsukiori (Tuttle Press) and decided to give Japanese sewing patterns a go. There are a number of these books which have been published by Tuttle in English- despite the fact there was pattern tracing involved (and adding seam allowances, a bit of an extra investment in time), I was undeterred. The patterns start at a size 2, I figured I would simply make a slightly smaller version of “Dress A” for a one year old in some pretty floral cotton I have had in my stash forever. Admittedly, I barely had enough fabric (!) so the ruffle is a bit narrower than I would have liked… ah well… next time).

The Ruffle neck dress- Dress A from the Girls Style Book...

The Ruffle neck dress- Dress A from the Girls Style Book…

As you can see, the design is simple- had I not needed to constantly stop and start sewing, it probably would have taken less than two hours to put together (but anyone out there with a toddler knows that sometimes such blocks of time are hard to come by- I have to be satisfied at times with doing things incrementally)!

The book is beautiful and the photographs are very inspirational and worth having for that reason alone… if you haven’t tried sewing with Japanese pattern books, I do encourage you to try them, particularly now that some of them are available in their english translations… I have to admit, I couldn’t help perusing a few in Japanese online and have bravely ordered a few… I am hoping I can decode the instructions armed with a little internet searching! I definitely plan to make more designs from this book.

Does anyone else have a favourite Japanese sewing book they would recommend? Would love to hear… I have also found a great flickr group, for your reference

The Oliver + S ice cream blouse- Part 2

Since my last post, I am on my fourth ice cream blouse- three in sizes 6-12 months and one in 12-18 months. Most are completed except for the sewing on of a button and I am still debating whether to do cloth covered buttons (always so stylish) or to just go with something simpler and straightforward. The button is at the back, it won’t be worn forever (I’ll be lucky for a few months wear, I bet)… but still… I want it all to look just so. Once I understood the pattern and got working on it, it was all really straightforward… clearly I liked it and promptly ordered a few more patterns from Purl Soho in New York ( they have a great sale on incidentally)!

For the benefit of those making this blouse I thought I would post a picture of one of the issues I came across whilst making the pattern… this was essentially failing to do the “vertical pull” trick at the underarm curve (see instructions) when making french seams. So the photo below is a picture of the lower blouse part where this has been done and where it hasn’t been done (the fabric was a very light, almost sheer lawn, FYI).

With and without a pull and a press!

With and without a pull and a press!

Whilst the puckers don’t disappear completely, pulling the seam after stitching and pressing it into submission certainly helped. I think the gathered front design also lends itself to disguising any apparent or slight imperfections (for those who love the clean finish of a french seam).

So I bring you two versions of the ice cream blouse… tada… The larger size is actually my favourite, however, I have to find what I have done with it… its grown legs!

Mustard ice cream dress

The ice cream dress in blossom covered lawn... so light and pretty!

The ice cream dress in blossom covered lawn… so light and pretty!

A side note, I had more trouble with the thicker cotton at the back where the two yoke pieces met the lower part of the bodice… am concerned this will fray more with time and not as neat as i would have liked.

The back of one of my blouses, I did the little snip in the instructions but still not as neat as I wanted...

The back of one of my blouses, I did the little snip in the instructions but still not as neat as I wanted…

In the background I am working on two other girls dresses, very similar styles. The second one is in a really cool Marcus Brothers juvenile 1930s reproduction fabric I picked up some years ago and that has been sitting patiently in my stash, waiting to be made into something beautiful… I have looked at a few designs I like on flickr, gone through my patterns to create a base sloper, sketched, altered and am close to finishing. It will be sized for a 12 month old. The second is a yellow girls dress that is quite similar (for a three year old) in stripes and pinwheels with ruffles… just waiting on some batiste as I decided to go the whole hog and make a lining for a nice finish.

The Marcus Brothers (Judith Rothermel) 1930s reproduction fabric for the one year old dress I am currently working on in the background... yummy!

The Marcus Brothers (Judith Rothermel) 1930s reproduction fabric for the one year old dress I am currently working on in the background… yummy!

With the new baby due in early September, every minute is precious, I feel like I am doing 2-3 things at any one time… I remember vividly the early days with my son, when the baby arrives, that will be my focus for a while. I’ll be lucky to even look at my sewing machine for the first few months and lucky to touch it in the first six!

Life beckons, so signing off for now… What are you sewing???

The making of my first Oliver + S ice cream blouse/ dress – Sewing Notes- PART 1

A test scrap- getting an idea of gauge for the ice cream blouse, using the ruffler/ gathering foot

A test scrap- getting an idea of gauge for the ice cream blouse, using the ruffler/ gathering foot

Despite descending into the bowels of Winter illness, my mind has been ticking over my most recent projects. One of the things I love about sewing is that it often presents me with technical issues to problem solve that are far removed from what I have been doing for most of my adult life, in both my career and home life. Its hands on. Its not just that I love the idea of making things myself, I like the challenges present by putting together the pieces of a pattern “puzzle”… and I love the reward of getting it “right” or arriving somewhere different but equally pleasing by thinking around what might essentially be a design or process issue. Sometimes I choose patterns not just because I want the finished garment but because I want to learn a new sewing skill or technique along the way.

Oliver + S are new to me, but their patterns have been around for at least a few years and judging by their enormous following on blogs, flickr and the rest of cyberspace, are inordinately popular. Not least of all because of the learning process provided in each pattern but because the end result are highly wearable kids clothes. I like that their website is elegantly designed and offers a range of tips and tutorials useful for anyone who likes to sew, frankly. I think “wearability” is really the key to accessing the legions of “home artisans” who want to dress their kids smartly with their own unique creative touch. This is something that I think made Enid Gilchrist wildly popular in Australia a few decades a ago… back in her day however mass imports from other countries like China had not flooded the local market, her clothes were practical and most importantly economical to make. Whilst I think ‘economy’ remains an element of what drives the home sewing movement, I think its no longer the cornerstone. It can be far more expensive to make a kids dress in Australia than to buy it- the difference is style, individuality, durability, quality… and learning. Thats certainly my own goal with my projects. Economy is always nice though, when it works out that way!

Today I am specifically blogging a few notes about the Oliver + S ice cream blouse (view C on the ice cream dress pattern). The great thing about trying this particular pattern isn’t just the design. The prolific amount of photos that can be found on the internet of other peoples projects as a source of inspiration. What fabric combinations would you choose? Being a few years old, there is also quite  a lot of material to support the “making process” of this particular design (another PLUS about the way Oliver + S have established their presence). Have I convinced you to try it yet? (Smile).

The pattern is fairly straightforward. In the interests of efficiency I decided to try and make two in the 6-12 month size at the same time. (As a busy mum, if you manage to find time to make one, you might as well make two in tandem, I say). I downloaded all 44 pages as an epurchase, went to the trouble of cutting and pasting the printed “tiles” together (better than waiting for the regular post to arrive)!

The bit that I am going to focus on is the gathers. In light of my last post on the elna gathering/ ruffle foot (to does both), imagine how I felt starting to mess round with the old fashioned technique of gathering. I actually did start doing this because I wanted to try the instructions and there was a good support tutorial but quickly abandoned this as time consuming and excitedly pulled out my elna gathering/ ruffle foot.

If you want to try it, dear reader, and like the idea of sewing these gathers evenly … ONCE… in about 20 seconds with a bit of prep (and decreasing the need for a seam ripper), this is what I did:

1. TEST- use some scraps of the same fabric and run some quicks tests to get a gauge on your machine that you’re happy with. I love gathers and giving the blossom covered lawn (fabric) I was using, I liked the effect achieved by the attachment “gauge” I selected. I recommend running the area to be gathered as a single layer and not attaching it to anything. If you are worried about the edge line up of gathers as you feed it through the machine- which can be a very quick procedure- you could use a bit of bias binding (I have tried this for another garment but feel more confident I can keep it all even just by looking now)

The gathered lower garment piece- ready to be attached to the yoke... the gathers are lovely and even!

The gathered lower garment piece- ready to be attached to the yoke… the gathers are lovely and even!

2. MEASURE- Taking a look at the length of the scrap (I recommend cutting  the same length as the garment piece to be gathered), roughly estimate where specifically you want the gathers to start on your garment, whether you need to change the gauge to get the length right, etc. I actually chose to “gather” about 1-2 inches from each arm seam because I think it looks neater given the gauge I chose, but make a call based on how the test strips turn out for you. If you don’t gather the entire piece, my tip at this point would be, gather a few stitches longer than your estimated start and finish spots (I just marked this with a crosswise pin on the garment piece for a self reference/ reminder before I started). It is much easier to release a couple of gathers on either end if you have underestimated the length of this garment piece post gathering than to run the edges through the machine again (avoid the potential messiness and protracting something that should be fast and easy).

3. SEW- Sew the edge of the garment piece to be gathered (the lower bodice section) with the gathering attachment. Like, I said, 20 seconds and voila, gorgeous even gathers. Isn’t it magical?

4. CHECK- Check the garment piece against the area its to be attached (in this case the yoke). Gently release any gathers at start/ finish of gathers if necessary to ensure a good Match. I actually then pinned the garment pieces to be attached together, just to be extra sure I was happy with how the finished look would be and to make sure I was happy with the effect.

Pinned to the yoke for a visual, as part of the checking process... I just adore this Japanese style cotton voile- the blossoms are so pretty and there isn't too much pink everywhere!

Pinned to the yoke for a visual, as part of the checking process… I just adore this Japanese style cotton voile- the blossoms are so pretty and there isn’t too much pink everywhere!

Now you’re ready to attach a very stable, easy to handle gathered garment piece to the yoke as per the original instructions.

NOTE: I recommend making a note somewhere about what you’ve done. I actually keep a sewing notebook now, documenting what I do with my projects. Whilst you’d probably need to run a test every time you make the garment in a different type of cotton (for example) it makes it easier the next time around. Plus, if your machine/ gauge settings were tested on something Liberty tana lawn, you can be sure they’ll be consistent the next time you make the pattern in the same fabric. The process of making just gets shorter and faster…! I loved the effect and style of the garment so much its now my plan to make our little girl at least one of these in every size!


Stitched! The yoke and lower front now attached... Pretty pretty pretty...

Stitched! The yoke and lower front now attached… Pretty pretty pretty…

Little Prince holding the new blouse made for his sister - an image of the hemmed, finish hemmed garment will feature in the next post.

Little Prince holding the new blouse made for his sister – an image of the hemmed, finish hemmed garment will feature in the next post.

Sugar and Spice, vintage girls dresses and the magic of a little ruffle

I have just opened my bedroom window. The mid-morning light is brilliant, a typical sunny day in Canberra, Australia’s capital. Its like that in Winter… deceptively sunny, but alpine chilly outside! Being laid up in bed with a flu like bug I figure its not a bad time to blog… I can sit up and type after all and I can convince myself that typing is a form of exercise… okay, so maybe not really.

But lately I have been feeling very inspired by our unborn muse- our daughter who will be arriving at the beginning of September.

Simplicity 5695 made up in a gorgeous, vibrant Japanese cotton and linen blend- ruffle made using the traditional gathering technique (ie by hand)!Love the vintage look.

Simplicity 5695 made up in a gorgeous, vibrant Japanese cotton and linen blend- ruffle made using the traditional gathering technique (ie by hand)!

I have had so many memories lately about my own childhood and the beautiful dresses my own mother used to make for me when I was growing up. I rarely had store bought clothes, in fact I am pretty sure that at least the majority of my wardrobe was made by her until I was about seven when injury meant she had to put her sewing machine away. That machine was an elna SU, a little workhorse that my father proudly bought for her in the 70s despite its exorbitant price tag and upon which I learnt to sew little things as I got older. There can be no question of my faith in this particular machine when I started sewing a few years ago- I wanted an elna SU. It had to be an elna SU. I bought one on ebay for three times the price of a new machine. I didn’t get to try it for a few months because I was moving in with my then fiancé (from Sydney to Canberra) only to discover I had been sold a machine with a broken “reverse” function. I used this anyway for a couple of years (it otherwise worked) and was thanking my lucky stars and the universe when fate brought me to find another elna SU sitting forlorn on the bottom shelf of a thrift shop for $20. I snapped it up, paid the $120 to get it serviced and it works like a little dream for me today…. reverse function and all!


With little girl dresses fixed squarely in my mind, I had opportunity to dig through some of the accessories I have bought on ebay over the years and brandishing the rather intimidating ruffle attachment (or ruffler foot as I have soon in referred to) I set to figuring out how to work with it. I admit, after a few successful traditional gathering attempts on the peasant dresses I have been working on, I had one UNsuccessful gathering experience with a ruffle and was keen to find a way to do things better and faster.

There are some really useful write ups on the web about how to use the ruffler foot. My own success with it is still a bit trial and error but I have tried to help myself out a bit by doing a number of test swatches, making a record of machine settings and the amount of fabric required to ruffle at different gauges for different garments. I have no doubt that when our little girl arrives and I start to think about sewing again this will be a real time saver. Ruffles and lace are synonymous with little girls after all!

Not an automotive spare part, I promise.... this is a vintage ruffler foot which I use on my elna SU... scary looking but very cool, very handy

Not an automotive spare part, I promise…. this is a vintage ruffler foot which I use on my elna SU… scary looking but very cool, very handy

How do you record your sewing notes? I have taken to being more faithful and making notes about my projects… Below is an example of how ruffles can turn out using the ruffler foot.

A pretty ruffle

There is a little boy calling out for his (toy) fire truck, alas I must go and be apart of the hubbub, even briefly before back to “rest”. But not without a sneak peak at my next project (when I am on the mend of course)! My first attempt at an Oliver + S pattern will be….

digitally downloaded!

digitally downloaded!

Simplicity 5695… ice cream pastels and dreams

One of these days I know when our little girl has arrived and grows, she’ll have a fight with me over something stupid (as children are want to do with their parents). I hope my husband reminds her how much we looked forward to her arrival… and how I wanted to sew up a storm for her!


Have been working with a cute little girls pattern, Simplicity 5695. I had been perusing it on ebay (and debating about the pros and cons versus other patterns) when I chanced upon it at a thrift store. I cut a size 4 and then a size 2… I find it faster to work with multiple dresses at once …less time spent between the machine and the iron… Many thanks to grandma of course for watching my little boy a few hours a week so I can have some “mummy time”.

Loving the contrast ruffle and the way these are turning out, really enjoy playing with the colours in my fabric pile… .. I used version D which I thought would work well as a play dress. The cotton is nice and light, perfect for Aussie Summers. Shown below.. ready for a good press and the insertion of elastic at the neck and sleeves…