I always had an affinity for collecting stones; and so do several other members of my family. When I was a child my late dad would often take me to the nearby quarry, on the quest for interesting stones, which were carried there by the last ice age. I remember we found geodes, agate, all kinds of quart (the workers found two mammoth teeth in said quarry). He created an impressive rockery from the finds*. My mom and I are particularly keen on worry stones, and the stones you find in the fields that show human impact, such as flint that was worked for blades. To my shamanic-self stones have ‘mana’ as much as the trees in our garden, or the deer passing by the kitchen window.
*It was like a stone rescue mission this way they did not become ground up into sand for cement
In shamanic (in the widest sense of the definition) cultures objects, plants, animals can become sacred. Hierophany, is mainly determined by the shaman—apparently at random (Eliade, 1992). Shamanic cultures are not the only ones assigning sacred or spiritual meaning to stones. If you are more familiar with the bible, than anthropology, in Genesis 28:17 Jacob placed his head on a stone, had a dream (vision) of God and subsequently consecrated the stone. There are coronation stones representing rightful kingship, in a time where kings were still considered as ruling by divine right. Here in Scotland, in Kilmartin Glen—an area brimming with ancient history—we find standing stones, cup-stones, cairns and stone circles. If this stuff is too big for you: there are rune stones used for divination, and energy work, or healing crystals. So across the world, across times, across cultures, people have assigned the sacred or spiritual to stones.
Kilmartin Glen, Cup-Stone
I have a collection of pebbles from the coast, from rivers, and mountain tops. The sometimes smooth, sometimes sharp edges are calming and grounding. I made a dress (The Magic of Stones (2)) that has the colours of Scottish pebbles. When I wear it I think of our hikes, of the raven circling below, the smell of rain. On a bad day wearing this dress is grounding.
The lining of the dress are elephants, symbolizing inter alia strength, power and longevity. So to me both the stones and elephants are symbols of permanence, of peacefulness. In stressful and chaotic times a dress which symbolizes permanence and strength can feel like wearing armor. And maybe somehow, when making my clothes, I sew into cloth my own sacred meaning—making a shamanic dress?**
**but this is a whole other story
I see you still have your eyebrows raised. Go look at the first two photos in this post, as a keen hiker, I encounter people building small cairns, on tops of mountains, at holy wells, at ancient sacred places, or somewhere in the middle of the woods. Every time I pass one of these constructions I wonder what compels us to participate in their creation. Yes, on top of mountains they are likely a mark of achievement, but the two I posted above were in Kilmartin Glen and the other at Lindisfarn Castle (Holy Isle). Are they more than simply a tourist activity? Maybe we have the urge for a shared history—a shared narrative? For acknowledgement that ‘I was there’, ‘I belong’, with the tribe of everyone who was there before me, and who will come after? Maybe it is a silent prayer? An offering, acknowledgement to something we cannot craps? Maybe it symbolizes our want for something that is bigger than just our selves? A collective self? And we participate in this small ritual, and maybe all it does is make us smile for a moment, and pause for a moment, and hold silence, before the mobile phone buzzes again. But for me, my stones are mnemonics with mana.
I ordered some and then tried to come up with a design that would work. As I am not yet able to create my own patterns I had to dig a bit deeper than usual and found the Butterick B6242 vintage reprint.
Don’t Judge Yourself by a Number
One of the soul-destroying and confidence-killing things when working with vintage patterns in the size numbers do not add up. So according to my measurements I would have been I think somewhere in the region of size 24 or so for this pattern. So I dutifully did calculations, and luckily ran a test pattern on an old piece of cotton. … I was still size 12-14! Even in the vintage sizing. I used the measurements on the back of the pack to calculate my size but the actual measurements in reality came to a different size. It was very strange.
Well one thing I want you to pay attention to. Have a look at the graphic of this pattern:
I went through a fat-and-ugly-moment and then continued creating the dress.
The first iteration though wasn’t quite right, without a zipper the waist was not tight enough to create the hourglass effect this pattern is supposed to work on, and keeping the fabric and lining at the same length simply creates this weird effect that makes one look much larger. Also the top bit was not sitting properly. So I took scissors and cut off the hemming disconnecting fabric from lining again, took in a good two inches on both sides at the waist and inserted a zipper.
I hate inserting zippers! This is my sewing Achilles heel! So I tried an invisible zipper as I had to sew it in top fabric down and the top fabric is stretchy gauze the zipper was too close to the top fabric and constantly became stuck. Now I took it out again (luckily before taking in the dress for it’s final measure) and inserted a normal zipper. The next step was to carefully hand-stitch the fabric over the zipper without it constantly becoming caught but making the zipper less obvious.
Another challenging part was the waist band for this dress. You need to take care to stretch the top material really tight for the ruffled effect, but also to ensure it won’t hang loosely. So I ruffled it and then pinned one side tight, pulling the top fabric as much as possible while stitching it to the lining.
Last but not least I cut the skirt lining about 25 cm shorter than the fabric, this already created the petticoat effect I had hoped for but I also bought an actual petticoat to wear underneath.
The Final Dress
Anyways. I am fairly happy with the outcome. As usual there a quite a lot of things that could have been done better, but I think they might not be too obvious with this statement dress.
‘You are what?’ ‘I am making a wrap dress.’ ‘I have tried this once; never ever again.’ Unfortunately when I had this conversation with mum I was already in the middle of the experiment. After all the pattern does look nice.
And it is a Simplicity Pattern so what could go wrong—right? I love them. They always work.
I think you need way more experience and understanding of how patterns work than I had at the time. Apparently wrap-dresses are notoriously difficult to fit, it was either too loose or too wide in all the wrong places, and I could not figure out why it wouldn’t work. Never ever had I ever had such problems with fitting. Did I say never?
To make it fit and stay in place I inserted a hidden zipper underneath the back-decorative hemming, and the frog buttons are not symmetrically in their distance because they cover fitting sins and hide the bobbles from my fitting problems.
The Obi Belt
So after some botched-job fixes—just don’t look too closely or into the inside of the dress—the result was still not quite what I wanted it to be. As there were already frog buttons I decided to add an obi-style belt to it. So ensure it keeps its shape I inserted extra strong lining into the wide area of the belt.
So without much further ado some detailed shots … AND … the one thing that made all the fuzz worthwhile: The twirl!
I have created an Instagram account that goes with this blog but still need to transfer media across.
This is my first time trying to write sewing instructions for something. Let me know what you think and how helpful they were. Or where you still have questions.
The light grey one was my prototype this is why it still looks a bit disheveled. The darker grey one I used the patter. Also the textile I used was heavy Ikea curtains. I had to shorten these to fit our windows and wanted to make something with the off-cuts.
Tip: If you want to give your knitting bucket a bit more stability to can iron on some heavy weight interfacing to one or two of the wrapping panels.
I am adding a link to the pdf so you can download the document and print the instructions. Otherwise these are the steps for making the bucket.
Length: 69 cm
Height 39 cm Inner Wrap
Length: 63 cm
Height: 39 cm
Length for all pockets: 69 cm
Height first layer: 31 cm
Height second layer: 11 cm
1 cm seam allowance
Hem all pieces of fabric once you have cut them.
If you want to decorate the pockets with vintage lace as in the example don’t forget to cut two strips of 69 cm long lace.
Sew on the lace before you stitch the pockets.
Stitch the pockets before assembling the bucket.
Begin with the first layer (31 cm) pockets
Depending on your needs draw lines for long knitting needles so you can sort them according to size (see picture below)
I also added two 5 cm wide pockets for bigger items
Then place the second layer of of fabric for the small pockets on top of it, before stitching it together, mark out the seams for the pockets and make sure you do stitch exactly on the lines of the other pockets or just leave a space there
Once you have stitched all the pockets take the inner bottom (page 3) and fix it to the inner wrap, outsides facing inwards (see picture below).
Make small incisions around the seam-allowance of the base to ease curvage of material
Repeat for outer wrap
Sew the long edged of the wrapper
Now you have two buckets
Leave the inner (smaller) bucket with the outside facing material into the inside
Turn the outer bucket so that the pockets face outwards
Place smaller bucket into the bigger one
Use the top hem-allowance to fold seams into the inside and then carefully top-stitch
You could also use decorative bias binding to stitch these together
The fabric used for this dress is one of the vintage ones I mentioned in the previous post. Whilst it is not actual Art Nouveau the design is very much reflecting the continental Art Nouveau designs I love so much. Finding the right pattern for it took a while. As I mentioned before there is only so much fabric I have from mom’s stash so I had to find a pattern that would allow me to show off the pattern as best as possible yet wouldn’t use a vast amount to fabric.
NewLook 3641 seemed to be the best fit. There were several reasons for this choice: I had barely two meter of fabric, therefore I needed a pattern where pattern matching would not be too much of an issue. If you notice I managed to align two of the figures front centre of the dress but the rest is not pattern matched.
The advantage was that the pattern of the fabric had the main design character alternating head-up or head-down, which meant I could use the fabric most efficiently. Further, I wanted a dress with pockets, and one that would lend itself to lining, as the fabric is very thin and fairly transparent. And look at that gorgeous lining I managed to obtain from the left-over bin at Mandors here in Glasgow.
So there are some tips and tricks on how to sew on the lining. The best way is to sew two independent dressed and then put them together outsides facing, leave the bottom open you can hem this fairly easy or even sew bias tape around.
However, if you need a bit more control between the layers of top fabric and lining I would recommend to sew the panels together. This is what I did with my dress as the top-fabric would otherwise not stay in shape. There is a trick to how to make the seam across the shoulders where front and back come together nice.
For putting the shoulder straps together. Leave the seams between the lining and the top-fabric open, fold the fabric and lining into the shoulder strap, by width of seam allowance, and iron into place. Then move the front strap into the created ‘pipe’ again by width of seam-allowance and then carefully top stitch it together.
While I love dresses with pockets, or skirts, trousers, any item of clothing with pockets. I really don’t like making them they are so fiddly and I still haven’t entirely gotten the hang of it. BUT! I finally hacked the invisible zipper! Which, until this dress, has been the bane of my sewist-existence.
I can highly recommend this pattern. It is a very comfortable fit, easy to wear. You can dress it up or down and it has pockets. (Just in case I haven’t told you about the pockets yet.) I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to sewing and this pattern was really easy to follow. If you pay close attention you can see the pink iron-away textile marker guides on the fabric. As long as you make sure you stick to these the dress will come out really well.
I tweaked the pattern a bit and changed the straight line front hem into the curved front and added curved hem to the back as well. With the type of fabric I used it provided nicer movement and fit.
Last year my mom send me a huge pile of vintage fabrics, after the first excitement I noticed two problems. One was that they came in varied and non-standard lengths, and the other problem was a very musty old smell that still hung in the cloth even after two washing cycles with disinfectant.
Tips against smelly vintage fabric
The internet of things had various suggestions for treating the musty old smell of vintage garments. Two seem to be the most effective.
Vodka and Vinegar.
I soaked the fabric for two nights in my bathtub. Fill the tub with cold (or warm) water and then pour 1 liter of clear vinegar into it (like pickling vinegar or simple white vinegar). Avoid any dark vinegar to prevent discoloration. Depending on how bleach safe the colour of the fabric is you can make the solution much stronger (e.i. add more vinegar).
It is usually recommended to test on a small piece of fabric if the fabric can handle the vinegar treatment and doesn’t bleach.
Vodka or for that matter any form of clear alcohol (Schnaps). Pour the alcohol into a spray bottle and spray the fabric with it. Then let it air out. Repeat as necessary.
After the Vinegar or Vodka treatment you still might want to wash the garment or fabric with disinfectant. The smell entirely left my fabrics and I could enjoy sewing with it and more importantly wearing it.