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!