The Saga of the Upside-Down Bird Shirt…

Oh what a tale of woe I have to tell! Though I’m pleased to say it has a happy ending. Things have gone fairly smoothly for me so far. I was probably long overdue a catastrophe. I’ve had the odd eek! the odd eh? the odd scratch of the head moment but nothing to prepare me for the saga that was…. The upside down bird shirt.

The Upside Down Bird Shirt

The Upside Down Bird Shirt

The pattern is by Pattern Runway; the pussy bow blouse. Pattern Runway have some really pretty, modern patterns. This was the first time I had worked with a PDF pattern and I can honestly say I would be loathe to do so again. I printed the pattern at home and could not get it to print to the correct scale. I took it to a professional printer. Same problem. Each piece seemed to have lost about half an inch. It also takes forever cutting out and assembling the pattern pieces and then tracing them off. Despite this, the shirt fits perfectly and I’ll definitely be making this blouse again.

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I picked up this beautiful 100% silk pelican print fabric from the fabrics galore stand at the Spring Knitting and Stitching Show. Any of you who have been will know that picking anything up here involves dodging the elbows of a hoard of vicious octogenarians. I braved it. And it wasn’t cheap. It’s also really, really pretty. I hope I’m building a mental image of my attachment to this fabric so you can better understand the heartache of the butcherings that followed…

I shall recount the tale in a catalogue of my failings/lessons learnt:

1. Despite taking precautions, cutting out silk proved taxing

I sought advice from several shop assistants/blogs/animals/Gods as to the best method of cutting out silk. I was advised weight the fabric down as I cut. This I did. I was advised to cut between 2 sheets of tracing paper. This is also did. I was advised to minimise pinning. This I did not do as I figured a few pinholes were the least of my worries (the finished article is something of a Swiss cheese :D)

All this was very helpful and I dread to think how things would have turned out had I not taken such precautions but I still found the process very fiddly and time consuming for a not-entirely-accurate result. I also got horribly confused at one point and chopped off the end of the tie, which is now considerably shorter than it should have been – hence the tie-tie instead of the pussy bow-tie!

2. Patterned fabric has to be cut out a certain way up (i.e. the right way up – who knew?!)

I have only worked with plain fabrics or fabrics with a random pattern repeat. I have never had to think about tops and bottoms. I am almost too ashamed to write this down but having cut out all of my pattern pieces I realised, to my horror, that I had cut out most of them with the bird print UPSIDE DOWN. I could not believe my stupidity. I almost cried. I decided the only thing to do was to carry on and treat the whole thing as a huge learning curve, with no expectation that the finished blouse would be wearable.

One thing’s for sure, I will NEVER make this mistake again.

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3. See 1 above; replace “cutting out” for “sewing with”

I bought a new size nine needle for my machine and I worked with polyester all-purpose thread, as I was advised silk thread would be too weak and liable to break. I decided I wanted to french seam absolutely everything because it looks so much neater and I didn’t really know how else I would finish off the raw edges. This post by Sew Mama Sew is a great guide to different seam finishes. French seaming was worth the trouble but it did mean everything took twice as long and I ended up with some bits of fabric poking out on the right side of the garment.

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My top tip for sewing with silk is “slow and steady wins the race”. Obviously you don’t want to go pinning and tacking every single seam when you’re working with delicate fabric but my personal philosophy is it’s better to risk the odd pinhole than to end up slashing 5 inches of fabric when you rip out an entire arm (See below. Sigh)

4. Instructions on intermediate patterns assume an intermediate skill level (not merely a bold beginner’s optimism)

There were parts of this pattern that were just beyond me. It definitely wasn’t the instructions, it was me. When it came to sewing in the sleeve placket and cuffs it honestly took me about an hour just to work out what the instructions meant. I watched dozens of youtube tutorials and ended up with cuffs that were half the size they should’ve been – who knows how that happened! It was definitely a good exercise in improvisation! I also boldly decided I would mark on the buttonholes afterwards, when I’d decided exactly where I’d like them to be. I couldn’t use tailor’s chalk on this fabric so I improvised and used tape to mark the beginning and length of the holes.

Yes, that would be a Moomin on my tape!

Yes, that would be a Moomin on my tape!

5. There is a right way and an oh so wrong way to sew in sleeves

Never sit down to sew when you are tired. I got the first sleeve in without too much trouble but somehow managed to sew the second sleeve in the wrong way round. Things were complicated slightly by the fact that I was french seaming the armholes (and sew beginning wrong side to wrong side) but there was absolutely no excuse for this momentary lapse of concentration. What a schoolboy error!

6. Silk + Curve does not an easy hemming task make

I would be so grateful for any tips on how to hem silk. I tried a few different methods (damaging the fabric in the process), I even tried hand rolling but this definitely didn’t work. I ended up stay stitching two rows, folding, pressing and topstitching. The end result is far from perfect.

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So here it is! The finished article! For all my moaning above, this is definitely the best thing I’ve made and I’ve learnt so much. Don’t be deterred from trying tricky fabrics as a beginner, just have a little more patience than I did and take things super steady.

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