This could very well be the perfect dress for the imperfect figure. It sits nicely on the shoulders with smooth set-in sleeves that blouse slightly at the cuff (if you’re going full-length) the French darts give it shape and the slight A-line flare of the skirt skims the body, it has pockets and finally there’s a funnel-neck collar to draw attention up towards the face if that’s your best feature! Oh, and there’s no zip, just pop it over your head!
I bought my pattern from the lovely Mike (son in law of Mrs Maven) who was manning the stand at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show for Mrs Maven who’d had to dash off for a family emergency. He must have done a grand job because I bought a pattern, as did many others while I was there, the samples on display were very enticing.
The French Dart Shift appealed to me because I liked it’s relaxed but stylish aesthetic, there are lots of possibilities. It has 3 sleeve options (plus sleeveless) and you could make it in a whole variety of fabrics from winter-weights like worsted wool or denim, through cotton poplins to softer fabrics like crepe or lace with suitable linings.
The patterns aren’t cheap at £18.50 but they are beautifully produced in a folding wallet, printed on quality paper with a comprehensive instruction booklet. I decided to trace off the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper rather than cut it out-I don’t always do this as I’m not an habitual tracer! I checked my body measurements and then using the measurements chart provided so I went for a UK 14.
I had a rummage in my stash and found some navy fabric with tiny dots which I bought ages ago in Hitchin market and there was just enough. I didn’t follow the cutting plan as I hadn’t got the suggested quantity but by careful refolding and some single-layer cutting I got everything out.
One detail you need to watch out for is that the seam allowance is just 1cmrather than the more usual 1.5cms. The instructions are comprehensive and thorough although if you struggle with following written instructions this might be a challenge for you. There are illustrations too which are very detailed but they could do with being just a bit larger for those of us who are a bit sight-challenged, I managed but that’s partly because I had an inkling of how it was likely to go together.
The instructions encourage quality details such as taping the neck and pocket edges to prevent stretching (I actually used iron-on tape which fulfils the same job) and reinforcing the joins between the pocket bags and the side seams.
I failed to take any photos during the making, sorry about that, but it all went together as intended. The band on the cuffs is quite narrow and a bit fiddly but it’s worth persevering because the end result looks nice. You could leave the cuff off i suppose and make a channel with elastic through it if you wanted, or you could shorten the sleeve to between wrist and elbow length too.
I finished the navy dress before Christmas-I wore it on Christmas Day in fact, but I’ve only just made a second version recently [a 2 week bout of flu put paid to any creative sewing for a while]
I’ve made this second version in a lovely Ponte Roma I bought from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting & Stitching Show 18 months ago (I don’t like to rush these things) Although Ponte isn’t one of the suggested fabrics it’s worked well but you need to make sure that the wide neck edge is taped to prevent it being stretched before you put the collar on.
I think I can safely say this dress is my ‘secret pyjamas’, it’s sooo comfy!
All in all I’m delighted with this dress and I can see me making several more for the summer. Take a look at the Maven website for more inspiration with fabrics, you could even leave the collar off, and I know Portia Lawrie has produced a colour-block version too which looks fab. I think I’ll investigate some of Maven’s other patterns now too as they look really appealing!
I’ve been asked recently to join the Simple Sew Bloggers so every now and again you’ll be getting the benefit of my wisdom (!) on their patterns. This first blog though is about one of their patterns which I’ve had for ages so I’ve done a quick write up on the Zoe dress and top because I’ve already used it a number of times.
Since the Zoe pattern was given away free with the very first issue of Sew Now magazine, which I reviewed here, I’ve used it 3 times. It’s a really wearable basic layering style which I think is similar to those you can find in Fat Face or White Stuff. I’ve made mine in fabrics with a bit of body and I layer long-sleeved T-shirts underneath. The neck has a deep facing which I’ve top stitched in contrast colours usually, the same on the sleeve bands.
I made the first using some interesting printed denim I got from Ditto fabrics in Brighton. There are only a few pattern pieces-front/back/neck facings x2/ sleeve band-and no fastenings to worry about so it can be a quick make. I like the front and back centre seams because they give it visual interest and contrast top-stitching helps give it individuality, although if you cut the pieces on the fold you could make it even simpler and quicker.
This first version threw up a couple of issues, namely the dress was much too long for this particular style I felt. Being a straight shift it ended quite a way below my knees (I’m 5’5’ so not especially short) and was unflattering.
The other issue is that the bateau neckline is rather wide and might not suit you if you’ve got narrow shoulders. It isn’t a problem if you’re wearing a top under the dress but if you’ve made the shorter version to wear on it’s own I think your bra straps would be constantly showing on one side or the other. I left it on the first 2 versions I made but when I made the checked one more recently I extended the shoulder seams in towards my neck by about 2cms. This means it’s much snugger although still easily goes over my head.
On the denim version I top stitched many of the seams using neon pink thread.
This was before I got my new machine which I can use a twin needle on so I laboriously did each line twice. One of the nice details about the dress is the patch pocket positioned over the side seam. My suggestion to make this a bit easier would be to only sew up that side seam and apply the pocket before you sew up the second side-it just gives you a bit more room for manoeuvre. There’s only one pocket-obviously you could have 2-and somehow I managed to sew mine on the left side when I’m right-handed! Oops.
For the second version I used a lovely printed needlecord which I got in Goldhawk Rd, London. This time I put the pocket on the right side and I top stitched in both pink and orange. I embellished the neckline with a few brightly coloured buttons from my stash, it’s a fun way of adding some individual touches to something you’ve made.
It’s looking well worn now as it’s been through the wash quite a bit, although that does mean the fabric is nice and soft now.
And finally….the most recent version made shortly before Christmas came out of a very modest remnant that was probably 15-20 years old, minimum! This is a dress that you can get out of very little fabric, particularly if it’s wide, because the main pieces are virtually straight, the sleeves are two rectangles and the facings aren’t very wide, or you could cut them in a contrast to save fabric. I had to cut the pocket across the fabric but that’s fine although it did mean that I couldn’t pattern-match it.
Incidentally, I didn’t follow the pocket instruction method they suggested because I think it’s a bit cack-handed, pressing the edges in is a palaver so I bagged it out like this instead, it’s probably quicker too.
Firstly, cut the pocket piece so that the pocket top edge is the fold, not the lower edge as they tell you. Next sew from the fold down one side, pivot at the corner and then sew a few more centimetres and stop. Backstitch, or secure the end by your usual method. Now, leave a gap of a several centimetres (no more than about 5-6 probably, it needs to fit your hand through it) Start sewing again towards the corner, pivot and continue to the top, backstitch and finish.
Now you can trim the seams slightly and turn the whole pocket through so that it’s RS out, push out the corners to form nice squares and press.
You should now have a nice neat pocket shape which you can place over the side seam and sew in position, making sure the fold is at the top. The stitching will automatically close up the hole at the bottom of the pocket piece as you sew. Simple!
This is the one where I narrowed the neckline a bit, I top-stitched in a bright blue this time to match the thin blue stripe in the check. I was able to pattern-match the front and back but not the sleeves or pockets with this one.
So there we have the Zoe dress, as you can see for such a simple dress it’s very adaptable, and so comfortable to wear, although it may not suit all figure-types admittedly. I haven’t made it as a top funnily enough, I think that’s because I like the dress length better.
I receive no payment for writing this, I’ve even provided all my own fabric, so you can be sure I’ll say what I think!
Two years ago I did a 10 week tailoring course at Morley College, London but it’s taken me until now to actually make my own coat. I settled on Butterick 6423 partly because it’s a fairly similar silhouette to a RTW coat I already own and wear a lot, and then, ironically, it came free with Love Sewing magazine just before Christmas.
Added to this I had 3 metres of lovely turquoise-coloured wool in my stash that was gifted to me about a year ago by a friend who was clearing out her mother’s belongings and wanted the fabrics and patterns (LOTS of them) to go to an appreciative home. Not only that, I had just under 2 metres of almost psychedelic lining fabric which came from a different elderly lady ( I had no idea what to do with it at the time but, as is often the way, it goes really well with this wool)
Because I had plenty of fabric, which makes a change for me as I tend to underestimate, I could cut out the coat without having to watch every centimetre. I didn’t have quite enough lining though so I cut all the pieces which would be visible inside the main body and the sleeve linings I cut from plain lining, again from my stash.
Initially, before I cut the fabric, I pinned the tissue together to check it on my dress-stand. I chose to take 3cms out of the overall body length and 4cms out of the sleeves because they seemed terribly long. This proved to be sensible as you’ll see in the finished garment.
I found the instructions very clear to follow and I don’t think at any time did I get in a muddle although I do think a common problem with the ‘big’ pattern companies is that the diagrams can be very small making it difficult to see exactly what you should be doing, particularly areas like clipping into important corners eg at the collar/shoulder seam.
Because I do a lot of alterations for people I’ve noticed various techniques employed in the construction of RTW garments. Cuffs, for example, are usually stabilised with iron-on interfacing of some kind so that’s what I did here.
By doing this it stops the cuff from stretching (my fabric is fairly loosely woven too) and gives it firmness and stability. I bought my iron-on interfacing in Goldhawk Rd, London so I can’t really give much detail about it except to say I was told it’s suitable for woollens and tailoring with a light jersey backing. I used it on the collar facing too and it seems to be absolutely fine. You could use a firmer one if you wish, that would make the collar firmer than mine.
There are a few places where you’re told to hand sew hand, attaching the sleeve lining to the inside of the cuffs for example, but if you’re not a fan of hand sewing it is possible to do this by machine, you just need to get them pinned correctly (double-check you’ve got it right first by turning the sleeve right-side out before you sew it)
It’s also worth attaching a small amount of the sleeve-lining seam to the sleeve seam inside, this stops any chance of the lining sliding out of the end of the sleeve.
You can do this on the machine, or a few running stitches will do the job.
Making the back pleat needs a bit of concentration partly because the lining gets stitched together with it-this makes sense because it reduces the bulk if you’d done them each separately. I opted to partly stitch the pleat together for about 10cms down from the top simply so that it didn’t have a chance to be to flappy in wear.
Once the pleat section is sewn on the instructions say to slip-stitch the lining down. Again, it’s possible to do this on the machine, you need to work your way into the right place by going in through the gap at the front between the facing and the coat front.
I sewed the coat hem up using herringbone stitch because I think it holds a hem nice and firmly. You sew this stitch from left to right, looping each stitch backwards from the previous one, one above then one below.
Throughout the making process I pressed often and used plenty of steam, with a pressing cloth to prevent shine. If you’re using pure wool you can press and re-press because it’s very forgiving although be more careful if you’re using a fabric that isn’t well or is made with mixed fibres. As my tutor on the tailoring course often said, “steam is your friend” A tailor’s ham is a great boon too because it will enable you to press in tricky areas or under curves seams, for example.
The lining hem was just turned and machined. To neaten the bottom of the front facing I applied a little bit of self-made bias binding, it’s looks nice and it doesn’t add the bulk that turning the edge over could do.
I also added 2 small loops of fabric to hold the lining and the coat together at the side seams, again this stops it flapping about in wear.
I added a hanging loop at the neck which I should have sewn on by machine at an earlier stage but I forgot so I had to sew it on by hand at the end.
The last thing to do is the single buttonhole. I had a rummage for a suitable button first and I came up with a single beautiful mother-of-pearl one which I’d bought a couple of years ago, simply because it’s lovely! I paid £1 for it and I’ve actually left the tiny price label on the back, just because…
I created a surround of tacking stitches to hold the area firm and stable before sewing the buttonhole. I did several trial ones first because my Pfaff is so new to me and I didn’t want to mess it up at this late stage. Unfortunately the thread I’d used for the whole garment was clearly too dark in such a prominent position so I had to go and buy a single reel of thread just for the buttonhole! When I sewed the button on I sewed another small button on behind it so that the fabric doesn’t have to take all the strain of a button being done up and undone constantly.
This is a coat with a slightly retro aesthetic, it’s a little bit 50’s, the back is a little bit 20’s. The result though is modern and wearable and I’m really happy with it.
I love the fun lining inside too. The wool fabric isn’t that thick though so I don’t think I’ll be wearing it when it’s very cold although there is room for a jumper underneath.
As you will have noticed it’s a difficult colour to photograph accurately, the outdoor ones are probably the closest to the real shade.
It’s been an enjoyable process, I took my time over it and I’m very happy with the result. It would be a good project to try if you’re becoming a bit more experienced with your sewing, nothing is terribly tricky, buy suitable but not too expensive fabric and take your time! I’m glad I took some of the length out of the body and sleeves as they would have been very long. I made the size medium and it was plenty big enough, I think the sizing is definitely on the generous-side though so don’t be tempted to go up a size, make a toile if you need to or tissue fit if you can. I didn’t bother neatening any of the seams inside because all of them were going to be enclosed but you could choose to leave the coat unlined and then bind all the seams (Hong Kong finish) which is practical and attractive.
…and the coat cost me barely anything at all!
Because it was the free pattern with Love Sewing I expect there will be lots of versions of this coat popping up over the winter so it will be fun to see how they all vary. Have you made this pattern, I’d love to know how you got on?
2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.
This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.
In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.
Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?
March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.
Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.
Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.
In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.
By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.
Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.
I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!
We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!
I spent Septembermaking the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.
Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.
I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.
I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.
Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)
After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.
November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.
I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.
I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.
The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use.
Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…
So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!
Have you ever found that just once in a while your off-spring are listening when you drop clanging great hints about what you’d like for Xmas?
I get the regular Tilly and the Buttons email updates and in early December received the one about Cleo kits, a complete fabric/pattern/thread/trims bundle at a reasonable price. My daughter happened to be lurking nearby so I casually mentioned this….
Anyway, I was quite startled when by chance the first gift I opened on Christmas morning was exactly that! whoop whoop! Of course I then thought there was no time until the New Year to start it but I remembered I’d bought a small quantity of peacock corduroy at the Rag Market in Birmingham when I went up for Sew Brum in October, I’d already pre-washed it so it was ready to go and a window of opportunity opened up so off I went.
In my opinion I’ve always found Tilly’s instruction booklets very clear and helpful, there’s lots of useful info if you’re a novice and the plan of making in the form of colour photos are excellent too. I decided that rather than use the bib-and-brace fixings for this one I’d use buttons and buttonholes instead.
This would also give me the chance to try out some of the features on my new toy…just before Christmas I finally invested (with my own hard-earned cash) in a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 from Sew Essential. They had it as a Black Friday (not a real thing) offer and, after driving for 2 hours to visit them and try it out, I bought one! [thank you to Irena for being patient with me while I got to grips with it, I’d really recommend you try out any machine you’re thinking of buying and Sew Essential are happy for you to visit for a demonstration of the various models and makes that they sell]
Cleo takes not a lot of fabric (if you’re using corduroy do bear in mind that it has a ‘nap’ or pile so cut all your pieces going in one direction or it will shade) I decided that rather than make the patch pockets by turning the edges under I’d bag them out with some scraps of Liberty Tana lawn I had. This has the additional benefit of giving them lovely neat edges, and once I’d stitched them on I tried out the bar tack feature on my machine. It’s a good way of reinforcing pockets and other potential weak points, or attaching belt loops.
There was just enough Liberty fabric to make a hem facing too using 2 straight strips too so this was a good way of neatening the hem without it being bulky.
After I sewed up the side seams I under-stitched and pressed up the facing. Next I used the top-stitch to secure it.
It was lovely to be able to make the buttonholes using the one-step buttonhole feature too, my previous machine didn’t have this method. I tried out a couple of test ones but then the first buttonhole on the dress wasn’t so great because I touched the ‘stop’ lever accidentally as it was sewing so it reversed before it finished sewing the complete side-oops.
These are the most erratic colour photos, sorry about that, it’s a really tricky colour to photograph accurately.
Many of you reading this will probably already be familiar with the Cleo so I’ve concentrated on what I’ve done to make mine unique to me and not so much on the step-by-step aspect of making it. I’m happy with the fit of this first one so as soon as I’ve washed the burgundy I’ll get the ‘Christmas’ one made up too. I’ve made the shorter length version, I’m not sure if I like the longer version as much in truth but who knows, I might give it a go sometime.
Tilly often create these pattern/fabric bundles so check out their website to see what is currently available. The Cleo has been super-comfortable in this post-Christmas podgy period-or is that just me?-and I can see why it’s been so popular as a pattern, it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s fun and comfy to wear-what more could you want?
Jennifer Lauren is a designer who is based in New Zealand and her patterns come in both paper and PDF format. She has several womenswear designs including dresses, tops, skirts and a cardigan, and there’s a man’s cardigan too and, just for a change, her newest pattern release is Nixie knickers! Her aesthetic is both modern and vintage, and lines are simple and unfussy with the occasional quirky detail which is what attracted me to her designs in the first place.
The Mayberry is a dress with a drawstring waist and an asymmetric button front, and 3 different sleeve lengths. It also comes with the choice of 4 cup sizes (A to D) alongside the actual bust measurement which means you should be able to get an excellent fit without having to do an FBA or SBA.
I was chosen as a reviewer for the dress and obviously I would be making the PDF version, so initially I was aghast when I thought there were 100 pages to print out! On closer reading it was clear that you only print the bodice front in the cup-size that you need, not all of them, phew! Also, you don’t have to print all the sleeves, only the ones you want. To help you decide which sets of pages you need to print there is a single page with all the plans for each section illustrated which is really helpful.
If you need help with deciding which size and cup you need to choose there’s a very comprehensive set of instructions, with illustrations, which should set you right. There are also several lay plans for the different sizes on different fabric widths so you shouldn’t have a problem cutting out.
As with previous PDFs I don’t print out the instructions, I read them as I go along. Jennifer suggests that you print out and stick together each of the sections, and then trace them off and cut the traced sheets out. I can’t be doing with all of that, I just want to get going but obviously the choice is personal so you might prefer to do the tracing/cutting out method.
Once I’d got everything good-to-go I could cut out my fabric. I used a gorgeous plain aubergine-coloured fabric I’d bought about two years ago from the Man outside Sainsbury’s at Walthamstow market, I’m not sure what it is though, possibly challis. Either way it has a nice drape so would be ideal for the Mayberry. Other suitable fabrics would be chambray or soft denim, soft woollens or cotton lawn, Jennifer lists a few choices and also reminds you to wash your fabric before using it.
It’s really important to bear in mind when you’re cutting out the bodice fronts and facings that because they are asymmetric you mustn’t flip the pieces over if you’re using a patterned fabric because they could be all wrong if you do. You should be OK with a plain fabric just so long as it’s the same on both sides-not needlecord for example. a note on that-if you’re making the Mayberry in a thicker fabric for winter then you could cut the facings in a lighter contrast fabric for a neat touch and to reduce the bulk at the edges.
It’s an idea to highlight important information as a reminder to yourself. You may notice in the right-hand photo that my cutting out looks a bit inaccurate, this because the fabric is a bit slithery and moved about a bit so I had to check some of the smaller pieces carefully. I’m always very fastidious about cutting out because if it’s wrong before you start sewing pieces together it will only get only more wrong as you go, especially if you tend to be a bit sloppy with seam allowances too! You have been warned!
Jennifer’s order of making has you putting the bodice together and completing the buttons and buttonholes at this early stage. This is good a good idea although it’s one that I didn’t follow!! That’s because I hoped to use some snap fasteners instead of buttons but I hadn’t got (and never did manage to get) any in the colour that I wanted. Eventually I used buttons so making the holes was less accurate than if I’d done them without sleeves and skirt attached, never mind.
One of the details I like about the Mayberry is the drawstring waist. I was really chuffed to find some cord in exactly the right colour in Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich on my recent visit, along with some cute little metal stoppers (if only they’d had the snaps in the same colour too)
Delightfully, there are pockets in the side seams which is always good news! Joining the skirt to the bodice is pretty straightforward and I thought the instructions for sewing the casing were good. You sew a wide 2.5cms seam allowance first of all then you trim one side down and press under and stitch the remaining side down to form the casing.
The sleeves are nicely full without being overblown and they have a pretty, narrow band to finish them off. The instructions for making the sleeves and inserting them into the arm-scyes are very detailed, along with helpful illustrations.
I decided to finish the hem off by hand because I didn’t want a row of machine stitching showing but you can also machine it up if you choose.
I think the Mayberry is a nice variation of the shirt-waister and I’ve made my version as a simple, elegant winter dress but I’ll definitely make more in other fabrics and with another sleeve length. You could make it in nice check brushed cotton for example, how about cutting the left front panel on the bias for a quirky feature? I appreciate Jennifer Lauren giving me the pattern for nothing in order to review it and luckily I’ve been very happy with the outcome. I made the 14 with a C cup and the fit is very good for me. If you’re a bigger cup size than a D then you’ll still need to do an FBA but at least you’ll be starting from a better position.
This would be a good style to try if you’re an ‘improver’ and keen to try something a little more tricky. You need to concentrate when you’re cutting out, and making up too because of the asymmetric front but it’s a satisfying make.
I responded recently to an invitation/request on Instagram by Sewrendipity for bloggers to contribute to a project she wants to put together to collate information about fabric shops in as many areas or cities of as many countries as people care to add. If you don’t know Alex she was a contestant in Series 3 of the Great British Sewing Bee, and she’s passionate about sewing and dressmaking.
It can be really difficult to know where fabric shops are around your area and even if you do know they’re there, are they worth visiting? I live just north of London so it’s not that difficult to go in to places like Liberty, The Cloth House, MacCullough & Wallis, Walthamstow market, Goldhawk Road and any number of other retailers. Googling doesn’t always shed much light on what you’re looking for so Alex’s idea of creating, over time, a go-to place for this information could be a big leap forward! It went live last Friday and you can now check it out here.
I don’t always want to go into London so I like to use shops and retailers that are in my own area. This isn’t an exhaustive list for my part of Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire by any means but it’s a few for you to give you an idea. I’ve been to some of them but not all so I’ll give more details for some than others but I hope overall it’s helpful. If you’ve got any other suggestions do let me know, you could add them in the comments at the end if you like. The list is in no particular order so don’t assume I’m putting them in order of my preference because I’m not.
Escape and Create, St Ives, Cambs
This is a brand new shop for dressmakers and crafters which had opened just one week before my visit.
Owner Julie Miles made me very welcome and was more than happy to share her vision for the shop, she has great plans and it will be lovely to see them unfolding over the coming months.
So far she has a small-ish but rapidly growing selection of printed and plain cottons, the Christmas fabrics were just being put out while I was there! There are some nice jerseys, fleece and plush fabrics too, and a selection of fat quarters as well. They don’t currently sell specific soft furnishing fabrics although they probably will eventually, they do offer furnishing-related courses though including lampshade-making, and roman blind and curtain making. The fabrics are beautifully displayed on ‘industrial-style’ metal and wood racking against an exposed brick wall, the effect is very striking and classy (when I saw a photo of it posted on Instagram before my visit I thought it was the newly refurbished Liberty fabric department!) fabrics are priced per metre. They don’t sell yarn or wool though.
The shop stocks a range of Indie patterns including Tilly and the Buttons, Cashmerette, Closet Case, Fancy Tiger Crafts, Sewaholic and Avid Seamstress at present, and the range will probably expand in the future. They carry a few of the major pattern books too including Burda.
You might be interested to know that Escape and Create offers a 10% discount if you have a valid membership card for the W.I. or Quilter’s Guild.
Escape and Create has a small but useful range of equipment and haberdashery, mostly essentials like needles, pins, unpickers, tailor’s chalk and markers etc. the Gutermann thread hadn’t arrived when I visited but I know it has now.
Upstairs there is a large bright room where all the classes will take place. It’s so spacious that it’s possible for 2 classes to go on at once if needs be. I was there on a sunny day but it would be a bright workspace even on a dull day. There is also more fabric up here but if you go in the next few weeks please be understanding because this is area is a ‘work in progress’.
Escape and Create has a good website https://www.escapeandcreate.co.uk (you can’t buy fabric through it yet but that will be coming) although Julie told me it will be having an update and refresh soon. The website carries a full list of all the classes they offer both in St Ives and several other locations in the area. Sewing machines are provided at St Ives if required or you can bring your own if you prefer. You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
St Ives is a small attractive Cambridgeshire town and it took me an hour to drive from my home. I came a bit unstuck once I got there because parking was a bit tricky (I missed a sign to the public car park so I ended up in the main shopping area which has quaint and narrow streets and not meant for lost drivers like me!) Anyway, there is a public car park behind the shops so make sure you look out for the P sign shortly before you get to main shops. There’s also on-road parking but don’t rely on that on busy days, I had driven past the shop as I came in so at least I knew where I was heading once I’d parked!
Escape and Create is open Monday to Saturday but not Sunday or Thursday afternoon, which is the local half-day closing. Their address is
40a, The Broadway, St Ives, Cambs, PE27 5BN,
phone: 01480 300092,
In my opinion Escape and Create is a lovely, promising sewing shop in a nice location. It’s ‘bedding in’ at the moment so I would say if you want something specific then give them a ring first to check, it’s better to go at this stage with an open mind and just enjoy looking around. They have some lovely things already with more to come and the new shop has loads of potential to develop and I really hope sewers and crafters in the local, and wider, area support them so that they can flourish.
Backstitch at Burwash Manor.
Backstitch is an independent fabric and wool shop based in the village of Barton just outside Cambridge and as such you’ll need a car to get there. There’s plenty of free parking though and, because it’s based in several converted farm buildings, there are a number of other deli, plants and clothes outlets as well as a nice little tea room serving tea, coffee, cakes and light meals.
The shop itself is modestly sized (although it is now double to the size it was a year ago) and it’s light and bright with the fabrics well displayed. They carry a good range of quality modern printed and plain cottons, linens, jerseys, denims, some boiled wool and coat fabrics as well as interfacings and haberdashery. There’s also a small selection of furnishing fabrics.
They sell a large range of various indie pattern brands which are catalogued in a flip file so it makes it simpler to look through them rather than wade through masses of patterns. They sell an extensive range of haberdashery, sewing and crafting equipment too although not sewing machines. They also sell an expanding range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns and equipment too.
Backstitch offers a variety of classes in dressmaking and crafting which are listed and bookable online via their excellent website http://www.backstitch.co.uk and they also sell their fabric online too.
I like the range of fabric they have on offer because it’s extensive enough without being too sprawling and unfocussed, the designs are well-considered and modern, or traditional with a twist but they have good basics too. One thing I noticed on my recent visit is that they have an impressive range of plain fabrics (not as crazy as that might sound, it can be really hard to find nice quality plain fabric to match a dizzying array of patterned ones!) These come in woven cottons, ponte roma jersey, lovely linens, sweat-shirting and ribbing, and craft felt by the metre.
The downside is that without a car it would be hard to visit….unless you can persuade a friend to drive you! It takes me around 45 minutes to drive there from my home but I generally come away with something nice…
I’ve written a review of them previously when I took a group of my sewing students for a visit last year and you can read about it here
You can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest too.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
Crafty Angel, Buntingford
Craft Angel is primarily an online shop at present but the physical shop is open on Saturdays and Sundays 10am-4pm. This is because the owner, Angela, is still a full-time graphic designer who happens to have an absolute passion for fabrics and crafting!
I went for a visit and was given a lovely warm welcome by Angela, she really appreciates the fact that customers make a choice to visit because it isn’t on a high street. Crafty Angel is based on a working farm outside the village of Buntingford in Hertfordshire. I won’t lie, I went a bit adrift when I tried to find it because instead of trusting the map on their website I put the postcode into my Sat Nav and it took me all over the countryside but nowhere near where I wanted to be!! My advice is to stay on the A10 between Buntingford and Royston as instructed and then follow the turn off for Therfield and Sandon from this direction. There are then pink signs up to direct you towards the shop, it’s probably a mile or so and is a bit further than the map on their website makes it look but keep straight until a sharp right-hand bend in the lane and then you should see another pink sign to go straight on up a farm drive. Go to the right past the farm buildings and park in front of the shop.
Hyde Hall Farm
The premises contains the shop and workroom combined with the tables in the centre, and shelves containing the stock are around the edges. Whilst not a huge space it is very pleasant and welcoming, the windows look out onto the yard. There is a kitchen onsite too so hot and cold food and drinks are possible if you’re there for a whole day course, subject to prior arrangement.
Crafty Angel has a modest but well-chosen and attractive range of good quality cottons, jerseys, denim and linens all priced by the half-metre. Have a look at their (not surprisingly) well designed website for full details of the brands they sell. They also stock a variety of Indie dress patterns too and a small range of haberdashery and equipment. Although cushion-cover making has been a class previously they only stock a very limited range of specific furnishing fabrics.
Crafty Angel also has a modest range of qood quality yarn for knitting and crochet, with patterns available for inspiration, and classes too.
Amongst the workshops on offer are dressmaking, free-machine embroidery, applique and even umbrella-making! [I really like the sound of that!] Ange plans to offer more courses over time, you can always contact her to see if it’s possible to tailor-make (sorry) a class to your needs.
I would say it’s best to ring first if you’re making a visit if you want something specific but otherwise it’s a nice place to drop in at a weekend, and Pixel the dog is bound to be delighted to see you too!
This shop was first opened 45 years ago but at the moment it’s future is in the balance because the lady who started it recently passed away and so it is up to her family if it will continue as a fabric shop. Efforts are being made to find a buyer so we’ll have to see.
I’ve been teaching here for a few weeks since November 2017, there is a small back room which is set up for classes (these are organised separately, not by the shop so contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or see her Facebook page)
In truth, the shop has a lot of stock but much of it wouldn’t appeal to a modern dressmaker. It was geared more towards quilting, patchwork and crafting and so there is an abundance of printed cottons better suited for these. They also have jerseys (mixed quality, some reasonable, some less so) and fleece (some quite nice ones for children) There are currently some tweeds and brushed cottons which would be good for autumn/winter projects, they sell lining too. There are plain and printed poly/cottons and a few satin and moire-type fabrics used for bridalwear. There are some printed viscoses in jazzy designs too, along with interfacings and quilting supplies.
There is a varied selection of haberdashery and equipment in the shop including zips, Gutermann thread, ribbons, trims, buttons etc, and they sell big-brand patterns but not Indie ones. They don’t sell sewing machines.
They have quite a large selection of wool and knitting patterns but these tend towards the more ‘traditional’ shall we say.
The thing with Fashion N Fabrics is that it’s got stuck and not moved with the times or the newer generation of sewers so it feels very muddled, cluttered and quite dated which is a real shame because it could be trading on its 45 year history and attracting younger sewers and riding the crest of the ‘Sewing Bee’ wave. All the staff are knowledgable and obviously keen for the shop to continue, and I know they’ve been having a sort-out recently and unearthed long-forgotten gems!
There is a website but it isn’t much use because it’s really only a collection of pictures and some background on the shop, with the address and phone number etc. They’ve only been accepting credit cards in the last year or so too!
I hope this doesn’t sound like a hatchet job because it really isn’t meant to be but in order for me to include it here I need to be truthful about what to expect from it at the moment. Definitely go for a visit if you’re in the area, it’s in a part of St Albans called Marshallswick on Beech Rd, there is free parking on the road and in front of the shop. There’ll be a bus route nearby too although I don’t know what number it would be, sorry.
You can find the shop at 24, Beech Rd, St Albans, AL3 5AS
Telephone: 01727 865038
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm, except Thursday 9am-1pm (although this may not be correct because I don’t think the website has been updated for quite a while, best to ring first)
Finally, my local shop is a branch of John Lewis, Welwyn. It’s a pretty good-sized department with a wide selection of fabrics including the usual printed cottons, viscose, jerseys and linings as well as woollens (suiting, coating etc) evening and bridal fabrics including sequins and lace. They offer a wide range of trims, haberdashery, threads, zips etc and equipment although this does feel reduced from what it used to be, annoyingly you can’t buy ribbon by the metre, just on rolls. Most lace and trims are still by the metre though. They have a range of sewing machines mainly Janome, Brother and their own brand [I think each branch might have different models in stock though so definitely check with the store if you’re making a special visit to view or buy] The regular department staff are very helpful and knowledgeable but because it’s a department store you can’t always guarantee that the sales assistant is a regular who knows what they’re talking about, or being asked about! the range of patterns is very limited now to just Vogue and New Look, they also have a few Tilly and the Buttons but not the full range. They sell Adjust-o-form mannequins too.
There’s some free parking on the street outside or a number of town centre car parks, and there is also a mainline railway station [Welwyn Garden City not Welwyn North] and a number of bus routes come into the town centre too.
Address: Bridge Road, Welwyn G.C. Herts, AL8 6TP
Telephone: 01707 323456
Their opening hours are currently Monday to Saturday 9am-7pm except Thursday 9am-8pm and Sunday 11am-5pm (10.30am for browsing)
The website is www.johnlewisplc.com you can find a map with directions on there. There is also a branch in Cambridge which stocks fabrics.
So that’s my list of fabric retailers that I’ve actually visited in my area. In addition to this there is a stall in Hitchin market who have a range of fabrics including the usual printed cottons and poly/cottons plus furnishing fabrics and oilcloth. He often has a number of bolt-ends which he’s bought from clothing manufacturers and I’ve found a few gems amongst them in the past. He’s definitely there on Saturdays and possibly Tuesday and Thursday but because it’s an outdoor market this might vary. By the way, he can be a bit grumpy! There are various car parks in the area as well as some street parking. The town has a railway station (10-15 minute walk into town) and is well-served by buses. There is also a good haberdashery stall nearby with a very helpful lady running it.
There is also a stall in Stevenage Indoor Market but I haven’t visited it personally. It isn’t open every day though [Wed-Sat only] I’m told it stocks a good range of specialist dance, stretch and lycra-type fabrics.
Among other shops in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire that I haven’t visited but have been told about are Needlecraft in Hemel Hempstead. It has a comprehensive website which seems up to date and interactive so I might try and get over there sometime.
In Hertford is the Hertford Craft Centre which has a website but it doesn’t look like the information is very up to date. I know the opening hours are a bit hit-and-miss, supposedly you ring a bell and someone comes to let you in. However a friend tried to visit recently but waited in vain to be let in, disappointing as she’d made a special trip based on website info.
There is a shop in Ely to called Sew Much to Do (great name!) which again I haven’t had a chance to visit. It doesn’t have it’s own website though, the website address directs you to a Facebook page. They are on Instagram though https://www.intagram.com/sewmuchtodoely
In Cambridge there are two other stores, CallyCo at 7, Peas Hill, Cambridge, CB2 3PP (no website) and Sew Creative at King St, Cambridge although they are both quite small.
[Right off territory is Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich which I visited recently-great shop, definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the area!]
You might be aware of other shops or retailers in this area of the country, we aren’t hugely well served for fabric shops without going into London I don’t think. The retailers I’ve talked about are ones I’ve shopped in or know about already, let me know if there’s a good one near you so we can all share the information, or if you think I’ve misrepresented a shop I’ve mentioned above. I’ve tried to be fair and honest but as I’ve not been paid to do these reviews so I want to speak as I find. I know trading is incredibly hard though so I don’t want to be overly harsh, the shop I was working at in Hertford ‘The Creative Sanctuary’ sadly closed at the end of September so we all need to try and support bricks-and-mortar stores as much as we can. That said, they have to sell what customers want and give excellent customer service otherwise we won’t go back or spread positive vibes about them.
Plenty there to keep you busy! New places to visit, or ones to revisit maybe. Let me, or Alex, know if there are others you think could be added, I bet there are. You might fancy compiling a list for where you live for others to use too.