I’ve been a habitual indie pattern sewist since I came back to dressmaking in recent years. I’ve loved everything about it: the stylish patterns, the sense of community, the fangirl culture. But most of all I’ve appreciated the companies’ efforts to teach people to sew, with detailed instructions and sew-alongs. I’d found the ‘Big Four’ commercial patterns quite intimidating and difficult to fit. My 21st Century measurements didn’t fit neatly into one size, but my skills weren’t yet up to major adjustments.
Check out the morning hair!
But recently I’ve felt a change. I’d spent much of last year focusing on fit and had developed confidence in my skills. The final shift came when late last year one of my favourite Indie companies launched a pattern that was almost impossible to fit. The ensuing drama made me take a second look at the Big Four on the assumption that their patterns were the product of a more thorough design and production process. I gave up on the toile of said dress, but saved the charcoal grey and silver quilting cotton for something worthy.
So here it is: the culotte dress (aka Vogue 9075). I referred to ‘The Complete Photo Guide for Real Fitting’ by Sarah Veblen to figure out how to fit a princess seam bodice. Following the book’s instructions I made up a size 14 bodice and identified where to release the seam to get the fit right. No FBA required! I just had to let the bust seams out 5mm above the bust and then reduced by 5mm below the bust. It worked!
I made a few other tweaks to improve the bodice fit: I’d got the bust spot on but had to take a curve of 5mm from the side seams, and angle the invisible zipper seams to remove excess whether the fabric was pooling a little at the lower back. This time around I machine basted the seams so i could fit on the fly. It was all going swimmingly until I basted the bodice to the culottes: the result was serious discomfort! My final adjustment was to reduce the culotte waist seam allowance to 10mm and increase the bodice waist seam allowance to 20mm. This raised the waistline to it’s rightful position and gave me just enough room for comfort!
I’m now looking at the Big Four’s catalogues with new eyes…. Any suggestions?
At the end of last year I made a dress. It wasn’t just another dress, it was The Christmas dress. And it turned out better than I’d hoped.
I learned valuable lessons along the way, so I thought I record them here for my own future reference.
Lesson Number One: Just get on and make it
How often do we aspire to a project but feel it’s just beyond our current skill set? Or the fabric is too precious to risk making a big mistake? Or our perfectionist tendencies make us reluctant to have a go at something that might end up less than perfect? I’d wanted to make this McCalls M6696 shirt-dress ever since Idle Fancy’s Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses. That was TWO years ago! After a few early disasters with big four sewing patterns I’d been too nervous of tackling fit without the comprehensive hand-holding that usually goes with indie patterns. But surely the time was now. Or if not now, when? In the words of a much-loved and sorely missed President, my new sewing mantra is ‘Yes We Can’.
Lesson Two: Do the maths
After calling out for emotional support/hand-holding on Instagram (thanks ladies!!), I realised that I just needed to be methodical in my process. I had no idea where to start on selecting a basic size to make, so I did my homework by reading my fitting textbooks (Fit For Real People; The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting). These gave me a clue as to how much ease is included in commercial sewing patterns. I also measured the flat pattern pieces and concluded that I could start off with a size 12 or 14, C cup. I went for the larger of the two, grading up another size at the waist, which I subsequently removed (see Rule 3). It wasn’t rocket science but from past experience I’d allowed myself to believe that measuring/selecting sizes/grading between sizes was beyond me!
I read a few pattern reviews and noticed that many versions had removed much of the pattern ease on the back yoke. The back bodice is gathered at the yoke and waistline, giving the bodice a ‘blousy’ effect. I wanted to retain some of the original design, so removed 1.5″ from the yoke gathers and 2″ from the waistline gathers. Any more and the back bodice wouldn’t fit well and would require waist darts to provide shaping.
Lesson 3: Take It Slow
For this dress I Slowed. Right. Down. I made a muslin of the bodice and was pleased to find that my size 14 C cup best guess was close to perfect. But I still needed to take some excess from the bodice side seams. I transfered the muslin alterations back to the paper pattern pieces so when I cut into the brushed cotton I was confident I’d incorporated my changes.
Thimberlina had directed me to a blog post by Sew Nip Tuck, entitled Stop Right There! Don’t Cut McCalls 6696 Til You’ve Read This! In it she advises cutting the waistband into segments matching the bodice pieces, and sewing the side-seams from arm scye to hem last. This is a RTW construction technique, and allows you to construct the whole garment and then fine tune the fit on the side seams. This tip made all the difference. Thanks, Thimbers!!
In recent months I’ve found that there’s more satisfaction to be had from these slow sews. They have tended to be complex projects with numerous pattern pieces and processes, not to mention adaptations and alterations. But I have learned more along the way. Maybe now I have a predominantly hand-made wardrobe there’s no sense in producing at the pace I used to. There’s simply too many clothes in my wardrobe. I’ve therefore been focusing on adding more complicated/thoughtful projects that take longer to sew. Oh, apart from my New Year Liberty Linden – but that’s another story!!
Happy almost end of 2016, friends! My sewing year ended last week with possibly my finest dress to date…. so I’m in a good place to look back on what was sewn this year.
There’s been less sewing than in earlier years. As life has got more hectic I wanted to be more structured in chosing my projects. My goals for 2016 were twofold: to focus more on silhouette and shape, and to try and perfect a well-fitting shirtdress.
Inari Tee Dress I clocked up a total of four Inari Tee dresses this year – easily my most prolific pattern of 2016. Top of the pops was this red linen version in Tessuti fabric, but my silk and denim-linen versions are in regular rotation. See some of them here.
Next up for fulfilling the brief on silhouette was this amazing bat-winged Charlotte Kan Elskan dress. This was a spontaneous pattern purchase and within a few hours I’d made a black and a purple one. You can see how much I love this one: the black overlocked hem still hasn’t been turn up!
I fell hard for this jacket when I saw Heather’s of Closet Case Files. I made a navy blue version last year but still lusted after a grey one. With only a small alteration to the bodice length, I ended up with a really well-fitting jacket. I bought this gorgeous Robert Kaufman Essex linen twice to complete this jacket. Yes that’s right! I didn’t buy enough the first time around. I managed to source another piece, but ‘someone’ in my household threw the remnants away before I’d cut the facings.
Another impulse purchase was the Frankie dress by Tessuti. Well, it did fit my objective of being an interesting shape! I bought another ton of striped jersey in Japan this summer so when I saw this pattern I knew it would be a perfect match. I made Frankies in black and red too.
Where do I begin? I had wanted to make this McCalls shirtdress since Idle Fancy’s Autumn of 1000 Shirtdresses. I bought the pattern around two years ago and had been intimidated by the potential alterations. I’ve had a few Big Four disasters in my time! Remember The Big Purple One of Christmas 2015?! Instead, I had a crack at a couple of Grainline Alder shirtdresses followed by an Alder-Archer mash-up as a warm-up. In the end it was the classic shirtwaister shape that I was craving. It’s these longer, more involved projects that seem to bring me the most pleasure.
Well here she is! It was worth all the time it took. I think she deserves a blog post to herself to describe my alterations and amendments. If there’s one thing I learned this year it was to just get on with it!! Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year. X
I set myself the minimum of sewing goals this year. That’s not to say I wasn’t going to sew as much, but that there were other areas of life worthy of goals too: namely do less, enjoy it more, get fitter, be happier (the yoga practice is working well in all areas!). So setting fewer sewing goals was part of my master plan.
I had two sewing goals. The first was to focus more on silhouette/structure and sew more items in solids. This would bring my handmade wardrobe more into line with my taste. I’ll write more about that next time.
My second goal was to sew some shirt-dresses with all the requisite pattern alterations required by my shape (FBA every time!). I had in mind a range of Grainline Alder variations, and the ubiquitous McCalls M6696. My goal-setting took place in the heart of the Festive season, so naturally it included some plaid aspirations.
I started well early in the year with a couple of Alder version B dresses in cotton chambray and one in Cotton and Steel shirting (pictured below; never blogged). Both dresses involved moving the bust apex northward by 1.5″ and adding a 1″ FBA.
So by mid-October it was time to move onto my Northern Hemisphere winter aspirations. I had wanted to tackle Grainline’s Alder-Archer hack, whereby the shoulder section of the Alder shirt dress is altered to accommodate the Archer shirt sleeves. I had even bought the brushed cotton plaid on Goldhawk Road back in January! I followed the instructions to a tee, apart from only adding 1/2″ to the shoulder, rather than the full 1″ suggested by the instructions. I found that my Archer shirt falls slightly off the shoulder and I wanted my shoulder seams to sit on top of my shoulder.
I moved the bust apex up, pivoting on the existing dart legs, and added the FBA to the existing Version A, before altering the shoulders to take the sleeves. I really like the fitted shape of the bodice before it flows out to an A line. Belatedly I found that Grainline had also published instructions for an Archer-Alder variation, where the start-point is the Archer shirt bodice, extended to Alder proportions. This is undoubtedly an easier hack as it’s only the bodice length that is altered. I am pleased with the shape of the Alder-Archer, so it was worth the work!
As usual, there were a few silly mistakes: I wasn’t sure how best to align the two front pieces, so cut with the centre front lined up on the vertical stripe. When I sewed the bodice together the mismatch in horizontal stripes was impossible to ignore. So I unpicked and re-cut, aligning the armscye on the pattern. I also used the Four Square Walls tutorial for attaching the collar in a different order. This made eminently more sense to me, and I have used it on every collar.
It’s funny wearing brushed cotton in this climate – even being on the balcony in the shade for 10 minutes taking photos was enough to overheat. I also look strange wearing my more usual Northern European palette here. And I don’t think I’ll be able to wear this dress with bare legs for looking like Wee Willie Winkie!
Deep breath….. it’s surely time to tackle M6696…..
Greetings fabric fans! I hope you’ve been enjoying your summer. Mine is coming to a close rapidly, with the kids back at school and me back at work tomorrow. New pencil cases all round!
In the run-up to our break I’d found it harder and harder to squeeze any sewing in, apart from a quick and satisfying binge on Inari Tee Dresses. So I felt more than a little in need of some inspiration on our recent holiday to Japan. I absolutely couldn’t wait to get back to Nippori fabric town, where I’d spent a few yen at Christmas. As luck would have it, our hotel was only two metro stops away. Off I went, as soon as it was polite to excuse myself!
I headed straight for the behemoth that is Tomato. You can see from this picture why I retreat here in my dreams (and the more boring work meetings). It’s just packed with the most delicious and reasonably priced selection of fabric I have ever seen. I had a wander round, but knew that my biggest treasures were to be found in the striped jersey section. I took a deep breath and bought four different varieties of stripe. I am renown for being quite careful when it comes to purchases. Tight, some may say. So much so, thst I usually have to add in a return visit to buy all the fabrics I didn’t buy the first time around. I’m not frivolous, and I only buy fabrics that I know I’ll love. So I made doubly sure that I had bought everything I needed before I left, as there may never be another chance!
I thought I’d done well. I thought I’d scratched the striped-fabric itch. But then I spotted a new dress pattern on Instagram: Tessuti Fabrics’ Frankie Dress. And it was striped. I knew I had to make it as soon as I landed back in KL. But I wanted one more chance in Tomato to make sure that I had the perfect fabric for it. So back I went. Twice. In the pouring, pre-typhoon rain. And it was shut. There was a hand-written note in Japanese stuck to the shutters. I couldn’t read it. But it was definitely closed.
Thankfully, with four flavours of stripe in my suitcase, and at least another three at home, there was more than enough for a Frankie. Not wanting to waste a single piece, I tested Frankie out on some bright red viscose I’d recently picked up in Hanoi. I was smitten. The pattern is exquisitely drafted. Whilst it’s essentially just a jersey tee or dress, the shoulders and chest are a close fit, with the garment flaring out from the bust down. Further, the neckline construction is more detailed than you’d expect, with a facing on the back neckline that hides reinforcing tape. It’s then stitched into place to give a really tidy finish. The red dress was such a success that I wore it straight away without a hemSo I knew that Frankie was worth a stripe or two. I had this 100% cotton knit from my Christmas trip to Tomato. A couple of hours later she was here. I love her! She’s comfy, she’s chic, she’s swishy!
Happy Sunday, sewists! The world seems to be descending into all hellish colours of chaos, but here at Sew South London I am seeking solace in the peaceful pleasures of sewing. I hope I find you in a similar state.
True to form, I’ve been sewing up a few multiples. The Named Clothing Inaree Tee Dress has reached mythical status in the online sewing community. It’s taken a while for me to get round to it, but once I did I could not stop. How can such a simple shape be so universally flattering?
I made my first version in a cotton linen fabric from Simply Fabrics in Brixton. Anyone who has ever shopped there will know that every bolt has an interesting heritage. This fabric was apparently ftom Paul Smith. I’ve made several tops from it already, including an early Tilly Mathilde hack. (Gosh I look young in that photo.)
The wearable toile turned out so well that I bounced straight on to the next one. And the next. In fact I’m making a fourth in Chinese Shanghai Tang silk as I write!
I’d read lots of reviews of this pattern, almost all positive, but there were a couple of mentions of armhole issues. I made it up as designed and was happy with it. I guess it’s a matter of how close to perfection you wish to be. This is the perfect casual and almost-smart dress for the climate in Malaysia.
Yes, the annoying electrical socket is still there, I think to myself! This gorgeous red linen fabric came from Tessuti Fabrics in Melbourne. There’s a certain starstruck feeling when you finally visit a real bricks and mortar shop on the ‘other side of the world’ when you’ve spent years looking longingly at their website! This fabric was a dream to sew with. Thanks to the generous fabric requirement of the pattern, there’s enough left over for an Inaree Tee too!
Hello (sheepish whisper). It’s been quite a while. i honestly didn’t know if I’d come back to writing this blog. Which is a shame. It was an absolute lifeline when I was at home in London with two very small children. Being in touch with the sewing community kept me on the right side of sane. Just. A year into life in Malaysia and with a full-time job, I have a lot less desire to spend my evenings in front of a computer screen, but I am still sewing and I do stay in touch with my favourite bloggers even if it tends to be on Instagram!
I answered the call to Me Made May with a pledge to wear something handmade every day, which I more or less do most of the time these days. I got to the end of the month with no repeat outfits and learned a couple of things to boot.
Although I wear my handmade clothes almost every day, I really missed my favourite Muji linen dresses. They are so comfy and loose-fitting but after this week’s new Inari Tee Dress even they may become obsolete. FYI: I think this just may be the most versatile and flattering dress ever!
Over the course of this year I have been consciously making clothes in solid dark colours and in jersey to redress the balance of my wardrobe and to reflect my fashion preferences. MMM was reminder that my early handmade clothes were often inspired by my love of colour and print. As I reached for my favourite black Moneta, I realised I wanted to look more sleek and elegant than ‘colourful art teacher’ chic. We all had one, didn’t we?! There’s still a fair bit of colour in these photos, but some solids too.
The month also revealed my pattern company loyalties. When I like something, I want it in every colour and texture. Chances are I will buy all of your patterns. Witness my numerous Colette Patterns outfits (Wren, Moneta, Laurel), and multiple Tilly and the Buttons numbers (Mathilde, Agnes, Bettine), not to mention ALL the Grainline Studio patterns! There was a profusion of indie patterns, and according to these photos, only a couple of big pattern companies (the floral scuba McCalls M6886, Simplicity 2444, and the Big Purple One – Simplicity 2406).
Being ‘coerced’ into wearing all the handmade clothes I could lay my hands on meant that I rediscovered a few gems that have been languishing at the back of the wardrobe. I kicked off Day 1 with my first ever Tilly Mathilde (not pictured here). It was like a reunion with a dear friend. Why was I not wearing this every week like I used to? Is there such a thing as too many handmade clothes??
The daily selfie-taking did me in eventually. The light in the tropics is unforgiving and harsh. If I didn’t get my photo taken pre-school run it wasn’t possible. Lord knows there’s enough pressure in my life getting myself and two small people out of the house by 7.45am without a blog-worthy photo shoot thrown into the mix. My five year old did me proud and snapped a few of these – clever girl. The downside is that her school photo came this week. There she is with hand on hip and giving good ‘right leg’ while the other kids stand up straight. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…!
I’ll sign off (for another 3 months!) with one of my two new garments from May – a black Colette Wren (the other was the Grainline Alder at the top of this post). It’s a winner and ticks all the boxes for dark, solid colours in a flattering, work-friendly jersey dress. It’s been lovely to catch up. Take care all. x