Loving Etta


Once in a blue moon a pattern is born that stops me in my tracks. In recent times I have been honing my fitting skills with Big Four patterns such as the McCalls shirtdress (M6696), rather than keeping up with all the new indie releases. But when Tilly and the Buttons released their latest pattern, Etta, I immediately fell in love.

Etta is described as ‘a classic, sixties-inspired fitted dress that everyone needs in their wardrobe’. I couldn’t agree more. The numerous darts on the bodice and skirt provide flattering shaping. I had been longing for a Mad Men-inspired fitted sheath dress. Etta is her name!


After seeing Meg’s gorgeous floral tester version, I remembered a fabulous floral scuba that I’d made into a McCalls M6886 close-fitting pullover dress (see image below). I hadn’t worn and didn’t love it. The silhouette did not flatter, and the lack of structure didn’t suit the scuba. It was the perfect fabric for Etta, and I thought I would have enough….

So I merrily started cutting, and found that there wasn’t enough fabric to cut the front bodice in one piece. Undeterred (although somewhat panic-stricken), I cut the front bodice in two pieces and added a centre front seam. I tried to find places in the print where it would be less noticeable. You can see the seam in the photos, but given that the scuba seems to lend itself to a structured look I don’t think it matters. I suspect that the close fit of the bodice over the bust will distract the eye from the seam, if ya catch my drift!

I made a couple of modifications to the pattern to take into account my fabric choice. Apart from the ill-fated M6886, I hadn’t worked with scuba. It has quite a thick, spongy texture which I thought would be too bulky for a zip and facings, so I omitted both. I joined the back bodice down the centre back seam. I would have cut the back as one piece, omitting the seam allowances had i had sufficient fabric. Instead of facings, I turned the seam allowance under and stitched it in place.


The most significant modification I made was the order of construction. The key to this style of dress is a close fit. To achieve this I left the side seams until last, just before the sleeves were set in. I completed the front and back bodices, joined them at the shoulders and added the front and back skirt pieces. I didn’t know how the scuba would affect the finished garment sizing in the pattern instructions, so I pinned the sides of the dress and fitted as I went. I had originally cut a size 4 at the bust and hips, and had graded out to a 5 at the waist. By fitting the dress at the side seams I was able to remove the excess and achieve a close fit, removing all of the extra size I’d added at the waist and a bit more.


I couldn’t be happier with the finished garment. Well done Tilly – Etta is every bit a show-stopper of a dress.



Vogue 9075

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?

M6696: Proud as Punch

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 New Year! x

Fabric Shopping and Frankie

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 hemimg_4823So 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!

The stripe matching even went well, although after Thimberlina’s recent post on high-end fashion at society events I’m not sure I’m going to waste my time worrying about stripe matching anymore!

I hope you’ve all had a joyous and sewing-fuelled summer. Take care! x



Me Made May 16: I did. Did you?

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


The Big Purple One

At this time of year I find I have a yearning for a special dress: something a little bit out of the ordinary; modern yet suitable for festive occasions. I should have learned my lesson from last year’s experience with my birthday dress….

This year I came across this Cynthia Rowley for Simplicity 2406 and thought it would be perfect. The pattern had a nice gathered neckline, with the option of sleeveless, short sleeves or three-quarter length sleeves. I really liked the raglan sleeves and the idea of an elegant opening on the back, balanced with a sash around the waist.
I have a historic nervousness of commercial pattern companies due to the vagaries of sizing. I’ve only made a couple of garments from the Big 4, and every one has had issues with ease and has been far too big, despite paying attention to the finished garment measurements. I really don’t understand where I go wrong, but I have read of people going down several sizes to offset the generous amounts of design ease. Foolishly, I graded up a size at the hips based upon mine and the finished garment measurements.

A somewhat wrinkled back view, fresh from the suitcase!

So, having consulted my measurements, I plunged right in. I had high hopes of a cute, almost-cocktail style dress and decided to make the first one from a lovely rich purple viscose. If all went well, I might even have used some of my precious Shanghai Tang silk for the ‘real one’. Herein lay the first problem. I hadn’t spotted that the fabric requirement only covered the dress itself and the amount required for the sash was not included. I dashed back to the shop to find that the fabric was no longer in stock.

So no matching sash. My next revelation was that, once stitched up, my ‘almost-cocktail’ dress resembled something more akin to a cassock, or, as I now like to think of it, a giant Quality Street chocolate – the Big Purple One in fact.

Unsure whether to salvage it or not, I ended up taking around 4 inches from the underarm side-seam down to the hips to give it some shape as you can see in this photo. Despite it being nothing like I envisaged, I do rather like the raglan sleeves and the gathered neckline. So much so, that here I am wearing it on Christmas Day.

There’s probably more to be removed from the sides if I’m really to salvage it. What do you think? Is it worth it?

Oh, and pardon the facial expressions. My small people were running riot at the buffet breakfast while we tried to get some quick snaps!

BHL Anna Maxi

Here’s a dress I’m not entirely sure about. I mean, it looks fine, well better than it ought, despite an epic last minute alteration. It’s just not my usual style or palette. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘maxi type’ but I was curious to make the Anna dress as By Hand London intended it to be.

I have had success with this pattern previously. After a few alterations I ended up with a really well fitting bodice for my Nautical Anna dress. I chose to add a gathered skirt from the Christine Haynes Emery dress, rather than adding the gored skirt, and was very happy with it.

I’ve seen some gorgeous maxi versions of this dress, so I thought I’d make it in viscose and see if it might work as an evening gown in something fancy like satin backed crepe or silk. I mean, everyone needs a floor-length evening gown in the wardrobe for a rainy day, right?

I added the same alterations to the bodice: a 0.5″ FBA and lengthened the bodice by 1″. I had a lingering suspicion that the bodice had been too long on my Nautical Anna, but it still looked fine. My suspicion of a case of over-alteration was confirmed when the maxi skirt added to this dress. The waistline was way too low, so the extra 1″ was wholly unnecessary. It’s funny, isn’t it, how when you learn to fit there’s a real risk of over-doing it! This fitting issue came to light rather late in the day after the skirt had been stitched and overlocked to bodice. There’s also a big difference in fit on this diaphanous viscose number compared to the cotton poplin of the last one. I had to execute emergency procedures and removed the extra 1″. I moved waist seam by 1″ without undoing the stitching. A total hack in the literal sense of the word; this involved moving the waist seam up by 1″ and easing the skirt to fit. I am disappointed that at this stage I’m still bungling my mistakes, but the miracle of print and the generosity of viscose means that you can’t actually tell!

There is a residual fit issue: the waist seam lower at back than front on both dresses. Can you see? Any ideas? Hopefully my Christmas stocking will contain ‘Fit for Real People’, so I should get to the bottom of it. No pun intended! This photo also helpfully shows how I moved the zip to the right side. It’s quite possibly the neatest, most invisible zip I’ve ever inserted.
Here’s the ubiquitous leg split shot! This dress had lain half-competed for a while as my seasonally-inappropriate urge for a sweatshirt got in the way! I received a metaphorical kick up the backside to finish my Anna courtesy of Amanda at Bimble and Pimble, the blogging genius behind #Sewvember where people are prompted to post a sewing photo a day. I’ve been merrily snapping away on Instagram (@SewSouthLondon). The prompt for Day 16 was unfinished makes (UFO). It’s amazing how airing your neglected projects and have others urge you to complete them works like a charm.    

So here she is: Anna in her full length glory. It’s a bit cooler and wetter in Malaysia at the moment, but still around 30 degrees most days. As I write this I’m amazed to hear that my UK friends might be waking up to snow today! It’s a bit early for Christmas!