Now that I got some basic sewing techniques under my belt (that is, after I made a shift dress, skirt and top), I decided that it was time to get into a more challenging project. I have some Liberty of London fabrics from the summer sale that I had originally planned to make into vintage style dresses.
I love shirt dresses; got six of them and Adiben recently gifted me with a new one from her recent trip to the Philippines. If I had to choose a favourite era, it would be the 50s and the 60s. I love the long and slender shapes, the tiny waist and full skirts, the hats and gloves, etc. — more conservative and certainly more classic in style and design. But I must say that the bright colours, the ‘Mary Quant London look’ of the 60s isn’t my favourite.
When I visited the V&A Museum ‘History of Fashion Gallery’ on my first trip to London, I learned that London, not Paris, became the center of the fashion world for the first time in the early 19th Century, and that the influence of the British in worldwide fashion didn’t begin nor did it stop with The Beatles. Apparently, with the worldwide fame of The Beatles, British influence swept into all parts of life, especially clothing and music.
Now, on to the sewing project!
I made a pattern on my own for the first time — a shirt dress that I’d like but I wasn’t too sure if I did it right. So I went to my mentor once again, and because Tita Mely already taught me how to use a pattern as a guide to cut the fabrics, this time, she showed me how to do it straight into the fabrics using only the body measurement.
She’s been sewing for over 30 years and it was amazing to watch her do all of that. Two meters is enough for the 3/4 sleeves shirt dress.
After a couple of hours tutorial, I came home with a fabric that’s been cut according to my specifications and complete with the interfacing, markings, etc.
And because I forgot to tell Tita Mely that I wanted two secret pocket on my dress, I had to do it on my own. I just measured the palm of my hands and added 2-3 inches allowance then attached it to the fabric.
Connecting the arm hole and sleeves together was the most challenging task I have so far encountered in sewing. I had to redo it 3x! As you can see in the photo above, it’s not a pretty sight with needle marks on the delicate fabric. Liberty of London Tana Cotton Lawn fabric is the finest cotton available in the market with a silk like texture so, it’s fragile and requires careful sewing. Thankfully, I didn’t damage the fabric and was able to perfectly attach the sleeves after the third attempt.
Tita Mely had given me some instructions on how to do the shirring of the skirt and how to attach it to the top, which I gleefully did without a hitch. For the sleeves, I forgot to ask her about the ruffles I wanted to add and decided to do it on my own without her advice. Because there wasn’t enough fabric to double it up, I wasn’t very happy about it.
The last work was sewing the buttons and button holes. Since I never made a button hole in my life I had to refer to the Sewing Machine Manual on how to do it. It’s straight forward but takes time to master. I practiced it 3x on a piece of cloth before I finally did it on the dress. I found some buttons at a Haberdashery in Notting Hill that perfectly matched with the fabric albeit rather costly.
It took me two hours for five days to finish sewing the dress. And it turned out beautiful, if I may say so myself. This is exactly why I sew — start with a fabric that I love, and I enjoy the creative process of making the pattern, picturing what I want to make, sewing it, and then turn it into reality.
It is a summer dress; it’s already autumn here but I decided to wear it to church for the first time last week. Jared took some photos of myself — not very good but these are the only photos I got with the new dress on. By the way, I had a petticoat worn over a slip (plus a black and white photo) to complete the 50s look. Although I love dresses and skirts, and only wear jeans/trousers in the autumn and winter months, trousers are definitely on my ‘project list’ over the next few months.
Every summer Jared and I organise different activities for the kids at church as part of our youth ministry outreach program. We always encourage them to spend time with their church friends rather than with their school friends simply because they usually get themselves in trouble when they are with their school friends (yes, we do our best to keep them out of trouble). Whether or not the kids travel during the summer holidays, we always have some activities lined up for them and those that remain in London have the option of joining whatever church activity we’ve planned.
The lavender field trip wasn’t part of our young people’s summer activity. It never was. It’s rather on my personal bucket list this year; I’ve been wanting to do it since the ‘Burlington Ladies’ lavender picnic didn’t materialise last year. (Take note Aimee, Dynah, Kristine, Marj and Precy!) I wanted to do this excursion on a weekday when it’s not too crowded. So I’ve invited Joy to join me for three reasons — first, she and I both have free time during the week to do an out of town trip together; second, we both share some common interests like baking, crafting, etc., and we enjoy talking about those things other than spiritual matters; and third, it will be our first time to do things together on our own outside of the church. But alas, it never happened. For good reasons. Every time we set a date to go last month it gets either too cloudy and/or rainy, or something else comes up. In hindsight, we realised that the Lord arranged it that way for specific reasons.
When I mentioned to Jared at the beginning of summer that I thought about inviting the teenage girls to join us for the lavender field trip, he thought it’s not something they’d be interested in doing, and that, it would be the last thing these teenagers would ever wanna do. I told him he was wrong but I didn’t mention anything to the girls until three weeks ago.
The topic came up when we took Angeli and Anisa out to dinner (we had pizza btw). I was wearing my new maxi skirt and the topic of ‘skirt-sewing’ and ‘lavender trip’ just naturally came up. But before any of our teens and/or anyone from church reading this blog raise their arms up in protest or get jealous that we took the two girls out to dinner without the other kids, let me just say that that week we only had four of our teenagers in town while others were traveling. And we had planned a special activity for those who were in London but for some reasons, two of them couldn’t join us. So with only two girls able to do something with us that week, Jared and I decided to just take them out to dinner after the Wednesday night bible study rather than do something else the following day.
Over dinner I mentioned to Anisa and Angeli that I was going to a lavender field with Joy wearing the skirt I just made. The girls were thrilled with the prospect of visiting a lavender field for the first time (which greatly surprised Jared. I proved him wrong ha!), they were giggling talking about walking in the field and taking loads of photos in maxi skirt. Anisa even mentioned that she will tell her Mum she needs a new maxi skirt. I told the girls I could teach them how to make the exact same skirt I had on — they got more excited about it so right then and there we planned a sewing workshop. A couple of days later, I took the girls out to a fabric and haberdashery shop to buy the materials. It only costs each of them a total of £9.50 — the fabric was on sale from £5 per metre down to £2 but because they bought 3 metres they got an extra 50 pence discount hence, they only paid £5.50; zipper – £2.30; thread – £1.50, and 20 pence for the hook and eye.
As soon as we returned to church, we started the workshop. I’ve given the girls detailed instructions on how to take a proper body measurement to determine their waistline; to take the desired length of the skirt; fabric allowance for sewing; width and length of waistband, and so on and so forth — it was clear-cut. Easy enough to follow and they did a great job measuring and cutting the fabrics on their own.
Sewing is a little bit tricky for beginners but they very quickly learned how to use the sewing machine. Angeli brought her grandma’s sewing machine; Heather brought her dad’s sewing machine; but regrettably, Anisa’s didn’t work, she has the cutest and ‘girliest’ (just made up the word, it’s not in Webster dictionary yet) sewing machine I’ve ever seen. With only 3 sewing machine and five girls, two of them had to wait and work on something like redo the plaits, or cut the fabrics for the belt while others were sewing. I had to quickly move from one girl to the next, keeping an eye on what everyone was doing to make sure they’re on the right track. It was a lot of work and I was moving around like a headless chicken. At the end of the second day, I was dead tired and felt like the puppies on the pics below haha! (photos from the internet)
Except for Heather who, instead of a maxi did an easier midi-skirt version, it took the other girls three sessions to work on their skirts. Sewing the invisible zipper was a bit complicated so I had to do it for them except for Heather who had the courage to do it on her own, it was a trial and error but she did it right after two or three attempts. All of them had to remove the stitches or redo whatever mistakes they made, and at times, they showed their frustrations like rolling their eyes or something — that’s expected from teenagers, right? They seemed excited and happy doing it, but Heather and Angeli were the ones who showed so much enthusiasm and excitement. And for their first ‘real sewing’ project, I must say that the girls did a great job. I am so proud of them. See photos below of all five girls — Anisa, Angeli, Heather, Jasmine and Jemimah — with their skirts on.
And yes, we finally got to do the lavender field trip last week! Heather was away and missed it. (Sorry Heather!) We couldn’t put it off for another week simply because the lavender season is almost over. In fact, mid-July is the best time to visit when the lavender crop is at its finest. As you can see in the photos, the purple hue isn’t as bright as it should have been a month ago.
The girls look fabulous in their outfits.
They had fun goofing around the field and posing for photos like there’s no tomorrow!
Some people passing by actually looked at the girls from head to toe probably wondering why they were in their Sunday’s best.
Loved seeing them very happy and having loads of fun. But they’re teenagers so at times they’d roll their eyes when they’re told, ‘Come on girls, give me a big smile!’
Oh, and this ‘sleepy-dreamy’ look? Blame it on the photographer and the magnificent smelling lavender. The gorgeous smell was very relaxing and made us feel sleepy haha! (I love lavender. I could live in a ‘bahay kubo – ‘small hut’ in the middle of a lavender field.)
If anyone (am guessing may be some of our church mates who skipped reading the story and just wanted to see the photos) is wondering why Joy and Oliver ended up joining our young people’s outing (as they’re not part of our teens ministry), here’s the short answer — please scroll up to read the full story — the teenagers just tagged along with us. Joy and I originally planned for this excursion on our own. We talked about going very early as soon as the field opens, taking selfies and/or photos of each other and sitting in the cafe to catch up over tea and scones. But alas, we didn’t even get to sit down and have tea! Lord willing, next year we’ll get to do that ha!?
Trystan was our official photographer and he did a wonderful job! Thanks to Oliver/Joy for T’s solo picture below. So cute. He had fun taking pictures of everyone.
Photos below (courtesy of Joy & Oliver) show the kids and adults alike in action. Even Elijah ended up posing like a model with his head tilted and lips slightly open (with thousands of bees buzzing around us, I was afraid that a bee would actually end up in his mouth as he posed for photographs).
There were loads of honeybees around the field and being stung by a bee is not part of the lavender tour.
Trystan took this picture of Oliver, Joy and the girls.
He also captured Elijah and Jeremiah — either gazing at the horizon or watching people, and also, probably arguing on who’s gonna carry the bags. (We made them carry our bags to free up our hands for the photo shoot. See Elijah carrying my bayong? Thank you man!) Part of the fun of being in the lavender field was actually watching people posing, selfie-taking, or sometimes just staring at the flowers swamped with bees (lavender fields are a magnet for bees).
We didn’t get to tour around the 25 acre field but we got to walk around a portion of the field where the lavender are still in bloom and waiting for harvest. We stayed for about 4 hours and it was long enough for us to leisurely meander around, enjoy the scenery, and take loads of photos.
We first ended up at the lavender shop, about a mile and a half from the field, but it actually was a blessing in disguise because we got to see Mayfield’squaint shop.
I love its rustic charm, and all the beautiful smelling lavender products.
Mayfield Farm is in a remote but charming part of the Surrey countryside, not in Kent as I originally thought. It’s the only lavender field in England that’s quite close to Britain’s capital city, only 15 miles from central London.
It has a small shop and a cafe at the entrance of the field where anyone can buy fresh and gorgeous smelling freshly harvested lavender, soaps, aromatherapy, cosmetics, and pretty much everything lavender infused products; the guests can also try their lavender tea, lavender scones and other lavender flavoured sweets. They have a car parking which is free of charge, if you’re able to find somewhere to park. It gets quite busy and the field was crowded when we arrived. In fact, we could hardly get any photos without a photo bomber. But at 5 pm people started leaving and we were able to get some good photos without anyone walking, standing or taking selfie behind us.
Jared and Trystan both don’t mind taking photos of everyone but themselves. In saying that however, they happily posed for a nice photo with me before we left. (Photo courtesy of Jas).
Jared took loads of photographs and the one below is my number one favourite — the gorgeous blue skies, rows of green and purple hues, and my eyes aren’t shut — they usually are in most photos — and to top it off, I am holding a lovely bouquet of lavender like a bridesmaid haha!
Mayfield isn’t like any of those lavender fields in Provence, France (the lavender capital of the world) but for Londoners who love this gorgeous-smelling plant, it is a great place to visit. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes lavender or wants an ‘Instagram-worthy’ photographs. I wish they do allow picnics in the field but sadly, they don’t. Food and drink can only be enjoyed in the sitting area provided in the coffee shop.
There is no time limit in place for the guests, they can stay for as long as they want, between 10 AM to 6 PM.
The wafting gorgeous aroma of lavender was overwhelming. I love lavender and just couldn’t get enough of it. It was a blessing to be there; I was reminded while traipsing around the field that only a Wise God can create those magnificent smelling plants. The Lord is the only One who has the power and the ability to provide the increase — growing plants, blooming flowers, bees collecting pollen and nectar to make honey — practically everything around was a beautiful reminder of God’s power in creation. Our teens may not have the time to even pause for a minute and think about God and His glorious creation, but I am so glad they have been a big part of this venture — maxi skirt sewing and lavender farm traipsing — we created a lot of memories together that, hopefully, will linger on long after Jared and I are no longer around. I can only hope that someday their first lavender field trip will become one of those funny stories that they can tell their grandkids.
A few weeks ago I shared a little story how I got into sewing and the reasons for learning a new skill. After I finished my first handmade shift dress, I ventured out into a new project — a pleated maxi ball skirt and a cropped top. I found this tutorial for a skirt that doesn’t require a pattern and the instructions are pretty straightforward and easy to follow. For the cropped top, I couldn’t find any tutorial and just decided to use the pattern I made with Tita Mely.
I had fun making the skirt and it made me feel like I could easily create even the more complicated skirt.
Sewing the top was a different story altogether. It was a little bit complicated to make, at least for the first time. The fitting wasn’t right when I tried it on and it took me 2-3 hours a day for about 5 days to finally get it right. The arm hole was the most challenging part to sew and I had to work on it at least five times to make it perfect, partly because it has a lining and I wanted a perfect fit. It was purely experimental — trial and error and yes, it was a huge success if I may say so myself. Definitely learned a lot and will apply the little skills I learned the next time I sew a sleeveless blouse.
Top photos show some of the mistakes I made — invisible zipper sticking out, twisted fabrics, etc. It was a bit frustrating having to redo the arm hole a few times and I thought about getting Tita Mely to continue the work but decided not to. I started the project and was determined to finish it. And I am so glad I did because in the end, I am happy with the result. The skirt is made of cotton and the top is of poly cotton; both with a cotton lining so it is not see through.Photos below show the evidence of my hard work. It’s a rather simple maxi skirt and top but putting them on made me feel like a million dollars haha!
Unpretentiously, I was happy to model my own creation. This maxi skirt is my new favourite; it’s a classic, always in fashion skirt. It fits my size perfectly and the abundance of fabric makes a beautiful flow as I walk, or rather, frolic around the lavender field.
The next post will be about the ‘maxi skirt project’ with our teenage girls at church and our trip to the lavender field.
So I have finally started learning how to sew! When I told an old friend of mine back in Manila that I was in the process of sewing a dress, she told me it’s pretty ambitious to do a shift dress for a first sewing project, and that I should have started with a pillow case or a placemat. I reasoned out and told her, “But it would be very easy sewing a pillow case or a placemat.”
Anyway, I’m doing this for a few reasons, and here’s why I am doing it:
Because I wanted to learn how to make my own clothes. Learning a new skill is really important to feeling enthusiastic about being creative even if it means trying and failing. (And I am not very creative so this is a big challenge.)
Because I thought it would be a lot of fun. I like buying fabrics and I especially love Liberty London fabrics. I also convinced myself that I could make my own clothes; that I could create something, but just the act of taking my body measurement out on a piece of paper then make a pattern and cut the fabric sounded fun — seems like a delightful release from the seriousness of my work.
Because I simply want to challenge myself and prove to myself that I can do it. The challenge of a task that I consider really big is quite exciting.
So yes, dressmaking it is that I have added into my list of hobby! But the truth is I’ve been here before — many moons ago. In high school I had a Dressmaking/Tailoring class — it was part of the secondary school curriculum back in the Philippines. All the girls in my class were taught how to make a pattern for a set of pajama; I actually made one for myself and wore it until it did no longer fit me. Regrettably, I did not develop any of those practical skills I have learned in high school (I was more interested in scholarly pursuits), but I do have great memories about my Dressmaking/Tailoring teachers, Miss Monica and Mrs. Avila. Both ladies were very gentle and soft-spoken, and I absolutely adored them.
Anyway, three months ago I was chatting with one of my church mates, Melita, and she informed me that her mother (who is a dressmaker in the Philippines) was coming to London and stay with her for five months to help out with the kids. Melita heard me say a few times before that I wanted to learn sewing so she kindly offered me to come over to their flat and take lessons from her mother. I thought it was a brilliant idea. So I spoke with her mother about it as soon as she arrived in the country and she happily agreed to teach me but it took me a month or two before I could finally come over to their place to finally do it. I must mention that Tita Mely is a very gentle and soft-spoken lady who reminded me so much of my dressmaking/tailoring teachers back in high school.
I showed up at their flat one morning with some fabrics, pattern drafting paper, tape measure, and other sewing accessories, and Tita Mely (pictures above) very patiently taught me how to take my body measurement, how to make a pattern for a dress, skirt, top and trousers, and even showed me how to cut the fabric. It took two and a half hours to do all of that. Thankfully, Ken Zion, Tita Mely’s grandson, slept the whole time and there was no interruption.
After that crash course, I had a fabric ready for sewing and it took another 2-3 weeks before the sewing machine I ordered online was finally delivered. I originally wanted a brand named Robert but it was out of stock and was told I have to wait until mid-summer for a new stock to arrive. Incidentally, I found this sewing machine brand named after myself Elna (or was I named after it? haha), and it was on sale and came with special offer such as free extended guarantee for 5 years, 50 pieces of threads, 5 scissors, 5 bobbins, and many other sewing accessories. When I checked it online and found out it’s good enough for me, I went ahead and ordered it. (BTW, I’ve only heard about this brand 3 months ago while searching for a new sewing machine to buy, and I got mine fromSewing Machine Direct and received an excellent service.) And as soon as it was delivered I played around with it; learned how to load the bobbin, the 20 Stitch selection, etc.
The next day I talked to Tita Mely and asked her where to start — she explained that I need to cut the interfacing from the leftover fabrics and start sewing them together, then the arm hole, and so on and so forth. I thought it was a bit daunting that she won’t be around when I finally do it. And by the way, she is taking care of her 10 month-old grandson when her daughter goes to work (Melita is a physical therapist and works at a hospital in north London), so it would be too much for me to carry my 6-7 kilos sewing machine to their place or to ask her to come over and take me through the whole sewing process.
So I took her instructions and also referred to the Sewing book that Phebe, another lady at our church, gave me. As soon as I started sewing to connect the interfacing, the fabric got stuck, the needle was twisted and I had to do it all over again.
After sewing the arm hole, sides, etc., it was time to put the zipper on. I hand stitched it rather than use pins, then after sewing it I found out that the zipper wasn’t concealed as it should be. I obviously didn’t do it right. After reading the sewing machine manual I was reminded that there’s a little device called ‘Zipper Foot’ I need to use for sewing the concealed zipper. Anyway, the Seam Ripper came in very handy and I spent a good 15-20 minutes taking the stitches off before I could finally fix it.
The last thing I worked on was the hem of the dress — the easiest bit — started sewing the one end of the slit (top left photo) to the other end to finish it off. I devoted 2 hours each day for 4 days sewing this dress, and that was the end of my first dressmaking journey.
The dress is made of one meter Liberty Cotton Tana Lawn fabric (which I bought for only £9 — regular price is £22.50), and it was good enough to make this simple shift dress. When I brought Tita Mely and Melita to Liberty department store to show them the fabrics department (I love going there just to admire their massive collection), they were on sale and we were able to buy some at a bargain price. I love the pink and purple flower print on my new dress and couldn’t be any happier with my first project.
I got all these five other Liberty fabrics and plan on making a maxi ball skirt, a top, and more dresses. Can’t wait!