Saturday, 14 April 2012

Tova, embroidered

I thought about dyeing my Tova top, but to use natural dyes you apparently have to boil cotton fabric for a couple of hours to "scour" it. That would have shrunk my top disastrously. I suppose I could have just bought a pack of Dylon, because I've been told it's not that toxic - I don't think it has that symbol on it with the dead fish and the dead tree (I can't bring myself to buy anything with that on). But I asked my mum to add some embroidery to the front inset instead. I chose some threads from a bundle of half-used skeins that I got on Ebay a while ago. Then I picked the stitches from a book Mother has, drew the lines on the fabric, and gave it to her to sew. Didn't she make a nice job of it? I was so pleased when I got it back! We agreed that we might share out the designing and stitching like this again.
I thought it was best to have the embroidery on the outside edges of the inset rather than along the placket, because of the way the neck falls open. The design's deliberately not precisely symmetrical.
The stitches are back stitch, feather stitch (which the book said was traditional on English smocks, so seemed appropriate), French knots, and Danish knots. My mum used two strands of cotton and stitched very delicately to avoid pulling the fine fabric.
I'm entering this in Rae's Spring Top Sewalong, so - horrible! - I had to get a photo of myself wearing the top. I'm not a person who feels at home on that side of the camera. I just don't even know how to look "natural"; as soon as the lens is pointed at me a kind of appalled tension and awkwardness takes hold. (Or maybe I always look like that...?) Posing is so embarrassing - maybe even worse than having to look at yourself in the mirror with someone observing. Readers, have any of you managed to overcome this problem? What's your secret? It's such a relief that headless photographs seem to be entirely acceptable in the sewing blog world!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


The first I heard of the Tova top and dress pattern from Wiksten was when Florence recently mentioned that it was newly available as a PDF download. It seems everybody else had been excited about Tova for some time already. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I'm glad I did - no energy wasted hankering after a paper pattern I couldn't afford (which I'm sure was a thing of beauty, by the way, because even the PDF has a certain style about it when taped together). Having done a little Google and Flickr research, I told myself not to buy any more patterns until I'd used at least a few of the ones I already had. Then I spent a rather sleepless night picturing how good almost every fabric in my stash might look in Tova form...
I like buying sewing patterns as PDFs - no trip to the shops, no postage to pay, no waiting for delivery, no CO2 from transport, no packaging, and I can make it more eco-friendly by printing on recycled or scrap paper. There was a slight hitch caused by Ronald Reagan, but Jenny Gordy sorted it out very swiftly. In fact, probably the biggest advantage of buying patterns as downloads from small companies is that you can email the pattern designer personally with any questions or problems you have. I know some people think internet shopping is very impersonal, and it can be, but in this case it involved considerably more meaningful human interaction than a trip to the shops to buy a mass-produced pattern would have.
I decided to use some organic cotton muslin that I had for a toile this time, rather than the usual old bedlinen. My thinking was that if it turned out to be a reasonable fit, I could finish the seams and hems properly and it would be a wearable garment. I sewed it all with organic cotton thread, too, to leave open the option of dyeing the top. One lovely thing about the Tova pattern is that it doesn't require any notions at all - no zips, buttons, elastic or interfacing - so this one is 100% certified organic cotton and entirely biodegradable.

I made a size small and, although it seemed a good fit at the point when Jenny suggests trying it on, once the sleeves were added it was just slightly too snug around the bust. I was able to let the armhole seams out a bit so it's wearable, but I'm wondering what adjustment to make next time - will a medium be just right, or would a small with a full bust adjustment be better? I'd also like to add to the seam allowances as it's very fiddly to finish a fraying 3/8" seam allowance without an overlocker (I did mock-French seams for most, and zigzagged the armholes). My mum's suggested sewing a medium with 5/8" seam allowances, so I'd end up with something in between a small and a medium. Thoughts, anyone?
The inside of the double-layered inset
As the muslin's so sheer, I wanted to add a double layer of fabric to the inset. Kerry, who's been leading a Tova sew-along that I've been a bit too impatient to follow, simply treated two layers as one to achieve that. But I wanted to deal with the seam finishing issue at the same time, so I stitched my second layer on behind, after joining the inset to the main front piece. This encloses the inset seam between the two layers (except for a tiny bit at the base of the placket). I machine-stitched the long sides, and then slip-stitched the other two straight edges by hand. Next time I'll do all this before top-stitching the inset or sewing the shoulder seams, and I might try to stitch the long seams of the inside panel at the same time as joining the inset to the main front. This isn't a perfect solution because it creates an extra seam inside the placket, but I haven't managed to get my brain around it any other way yet.
Inside of the inset again
$10 is fantastically good value for a well-designed top and dress pattern in all sizes. Jenny's instructions are concise and clear, and her photos are so much more helpful than the indecipherable diagrams you get in commercial patterns. I haven't done set-in sleeves by myself before, and I did have to get my sewing reference book out to confirm that I was easing, not actually gathering, the sleeve cap (as opposed to the centre front and the cuffs). I ignored Jenny's advice to slip-stitch the inside of the cuffs and collar before top-stitching them, but I won't skip that step next time. All in all, the Tova pattern's lovely and I plan to use it again before very long.

p.s. My mum and I collaborated to add some embroidery to the inset of this top - see this post.