Liberty ‘Alice’ blouse pattern hack

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The day I went to London to see the Nick Waplinton exhibition at Tate Britain (which I talked about in a previous blog) I took myself on a bus adventure afterwards up to Oxford Street, and my favourite shop, Liberty of London. [the number 87 is a great route, travelling from the road behind Tate Britain past Horseferry Rd magistrates court-often on the news but no idea where it was-up to Westminster Abbey, around Parliament Square and Big Ben, along Whitehall, past Trafalgar Square, into Piccadilly Circus and up Regents St]

If you love fabric and quirky or unusual things for the home and you’ve never been to Liberty in Regents Street then you’re really missing out. 

Inside Liberty of London, the only shop I know of that's built with old ship's timbers!
Inside Liberty of London, the only shop I know of that’s built with old ship’s timbers!

It’s beautiful to just wander around-it looks gorgeous, it smells lovely and, if you buy something, they put it in a very covetable purple bag!

Anyway, I’m telling you this because I have a Liberty Loyalty card and they were offering 20% off purchases so it would be rude not to…make a purchase that is. I fancied the Liberty print Vans so I snapped up a pair of them in a design called Gallymoggers Reynaud (no, me neither) which is a modern interpretation of the original Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Having bought these from a rather sweet young man I trotted off to the fabric department (newly redecorated and streamlined) and what should I spy but the very same fabric on the roll. At £22.50 per metre Tana Lawn (so called after Lake Tana in Sudan where the high quality cotton it’s made from was grown) it ain’t cheap but it’s beautiful quality.

Gallymoggers Reynaud Tana lawn from Liberty. Lawn is a very soft, lightweight cotton best suited to blouses, shirts, dresses, baby clothes and nightwear. I wouldn't use it for anything which needed to be very durable as it isn't sturdy enough for that.
Gallymoggers Reynaud Tana lawn from Liberty. Lawn is a very soft, lightweight cotton best suited to blouses, shirts, dresses, baby clothes and nightwear. I wouldn’t use it for anything which needed to be very durable as it isn’t sturdy enough for that.

Because of its price I only bought 1.5m (if you consider that a shirt bought in Liberty in their own fabric will set you back £95 this represents a bit of a saving in fact!!)

It actually took me quite a while to decide what sort of style I was going to make with it but eventually I went with a pattern hack of another of Pamela’s vintage patterns.

McCall's 1981 dress-I used style B with a collar
McCall’s 1981 dress-I used style B with a collar

I wanted to make some sort of blouse and I decided that the top half of the dress was a good basic shape. It had a collar and yoke with tucks, long sleeves and a reasonable amount of fullness in the body. If you’re looking to ‘hack’ a pattern then start by choosing one that has as many of the features you’re looking for in your projected finished garment as possible. I traced-off all the pieces I needed from the original using a tracing wheel and carbon paper or directly through the spot and cross paper. If you’re using a tracing wheel don’t forget to protect the table top as it will mark it.

tracing wheel
tracing wheel
Tracing a pattern using a tracing wheel with carbon paper onto spot and cross paper.
Tracing a pattern using a tracing wheel with carbon paper onto spot and cross paper.

I altered the sleeve to a short sleeve initially but that didn’t use enough of the fabric I’d bought (there would be a quite a big chunk left over) so I created a longer, fuller one. [I made a toile of this sleeve which turned out not to be as full as I wanted so I made a further alteration to the pattern to make it ‘blousier’] I also added some fullness across the back to make the blouse a looser fit. I cropped the dress a little above hip level and gave it a rounded hem shape. One of the things I also liked about the dress was that it had no buttons or zips to worry about, I was feeling lazy and wanted an over-the-head style so this was perfect.

My original interpretation of the blouse with a short sleeve.
My original interpretation of the blouse with a short sleeve.

Once I was happy with my pattern I could cut it out. Because the front and back were each one piece these had to be cut on folds. The yoke was double too.

The fabric is initially folded in half selvedge to selvedge and you can see where I've already cut one yoke piece (on the left) and then moved it up to cut the second
The fabric is initially folded in half selvedge to selvedge and you can see where I’ve already cut one yoke piece (on the left) and then moved it up to cut the second
I then refolded the fabric so that the selvedges meet in the centre, this enables both the front and back pieces to be cut on folds.
I then refolded the fabric so that the selvedges meet in the centre, this enables both the front and back pieces to be cut on folds.

I should add that this fabric is a ‘one way’ design which means that all the pattern pieces must be cut facing in the same direction-you don’t want bits of your garment having the design on it’s head!! [This sometimes necessitates buying extra fabric-always check your pattern carefully for quantities if you’re buying a ‘one way’ fabric] 

Once I’d cut everything out the first thing I did was run 2 rows of gathering stitches between the tailor tacks on the back. The threads are pulled up to the required length and then the piece is ‘sandwiched’ between the 2 yoke pieces.

gathering stitches in position and pulled up
2 rows of gathering stitches in position and pulled up, the first yoke is partially in place.
the yoke 'sandwiched' between the 2 yokes and stitched together.
The back ‘sandwiched’ between the 2 yokes and stitched together (slightly blurry picture-sorry)
The front neck facing going in position. This needs to be stitched carefully for the point to be really sharp when it's turned through later.
The front neck facing going in position. This needs to be stitched carefully for the point of the V to be really sharp when it’s turned through later. You’ll notice that the facing has iron-on interfacing fused onto it.

After this I made the tucks in the front sections which, in turn, attach to the yoke at the fronts. 

Now make the collar by pinning and stitching the 2 parts together, turn the points carefully by pivoting the needle on the spot. 

The points of the collar carefully pivoted  so that they will be beautifully sharp when turned throughout to the right side.
The points of the collar carefully pivoted so that they will be beautifully sharp when turned throughout to the right side.

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Some of the fabric needs to be trimmed away like this so that the point turns through smoothly, without bulk to make it lumpy.
Some of the fabric needs to be trimmed away carefully like this so that the point turns through smoothly, without bulk to make it lumpy. Do not trim it too close as the stitches could come loose and the points be spoilt.

Next the 2 front edges of the yoke need to be pressed under by 1.5cms. This is so that they can be stitched in position from the front and having been pre-pressed helps with this.

press under the seam allowance on the front of the yoke ready to stitch in place
press under the seam allowance on the front of the yoke ready to stitch in place
This is what the yoke should look like from the reverse. It's pinned and stitched  on the other side though.
This is what the yoke should look like from the reverse. It’s pinned and stitched on the other side though.
This is what I know as 'sink' stitching  but I've seen it called 'stitch in the ditch' elsewhere. Basically you stitch right on top of the join so that you're 'sinking' the stitch into the gap. If done well the stitching shouldn't be visible.
This is what I know as ‘sink’ stitching but I’ve seen it called ‘stitch in the ditch’ elsewhere. Basically you stitch right on top of the join so that you’re ‘sinking’ the stitch into the gap. If done well the stitching shouldn’t be visible. The pin is holding the previously pressed under edge in place until it’s sewn.

 

This is what the reverse should look like, only a small amount of the fabric is caught down. You can also see the front tucks in this photo.
This is what the reverse should look like, only a small amount of the fabric is caught down. You can also see the front tucks in this photo.

Next the collar needs to be pinned and stitched in place. The photos I took of this part of the process don’t really illuminate very well what happens but basically the collar must first be turned through RS out and pressed neatly. The open edge can be pinned together and tacked or stitched if you wish, to prevent it moving about whilst you sew it in position. Pin it to the neck edge, matching notches where necessary, and stitch in place.

The collar should look like this once it's in position, turned through so that you can see the facing which finishes off the V front opening.
The collar should look like this once it’s in position, turned through so that you can see the facing which finishes off the V front opening.You can also see how I’ve neatened the edge of facing using the overlocker.

The neck edge (if you haven’t machined it down) now needs to be slip-stitched in place.

Slip stitching the neck edge closed
Slip stitching the neck edge closed

[ http://www.sew-it-love-it.com › learn to sew     Have a look at this website for a good description of slip stitching, with photos]

Once I’d slipstitched the collar and neck edge in place I was ready to put the sleeves in. I’d decided to bind the cuff-edge with self bias binding. This is very easy to make for yourself by following a few straight lines and right angles.

Lay the selvedge or a straight edge of your fabric parallel to the edge of your cutting surface (this is my cutting board)
Lay the selvedge or a straight edge of your fabric parallel to the edge of your cutting surface (this is my cutting board)
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Take one end of the selvedge and lift it up until it forms a right angle to the edge and creating a 45 deg angle in the process.
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Now carefully cut along the fold-you can pin it occasionally to stop it shifting about while you do this-don’t let it twist as you cut because the bias will be wonky when you try to use it.
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Decide how wide your binding needs to be, probably an absolute minimum of 3cms I would guess. I use my Pattern Master to mark the parallel lines which will keep the binding an even width. I’ve heard using masking tape stuck to the fabric works well on floppier, flimsy fabrics but I haven’t tried that method, this works fine for me. Use a ruler or tape measure with a marking pencil/pen or tailor’s chalk. By calculating how much bias you need (be over generous-better too much than have to go back and cut more later) cut as many strips of fabric as you need-don’t forget it’s double cutting it like this.
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Once cut your strips should look like this.

In order to attach my binding I used my groovy new binding-making gadget to press the folds into it. I’d known of these for years but didn’t ever see the need to use one. However I was buying some useful little bits and bobs on http://www.jaycotts.co.uk so I thought I’d treat myself as I had loads of bias to make for my niece’s 50’s housewife style apron. Turns out it’s really handy!!

You cut your bias to the recommended width (it's different for each bias-maker as they produce different sizes of binding) Slot it through the maker and pin the end of it to your ironing board cover. Now you slowly pull the maker along with one hand whilst pressing the fabric with the iron in your other hand, this takes a little bit of practice as you need to be looking in 2 places at once. Eventually you get a bit of a rhythm going.Unpin and move the fabric forward as necessary until you've done the whole strip.
You cut your bias to the recommended width (it’s different for each bias-maker as they produce different sizes of binding) Slot it through the maker and pin the end of it to your ironing board cover. Now you slowly pull the maker along with one hand whilst pressing the fabric with the iron in your other hand, this takes a little bit of practice as you need to be looking in 2 places at once! Eventually you get a bit of a rhythm going. Unpin and move the fabric forward as necessary until you’ve done the whole strip.

Now I ran 2 rows of gathering 3-4mm apart and within the seam allowance, along the bottom edge of the sleeves-this is simply the longest straight stitch that your machine will do. Do a reverse backstitch at the beginning of each row but not the other end, leave the threads dangling as you need to pull them up from here. Now join and overlock the underarm seams of the sleeves so that they form a tube. As an alternative at this point you can leave the seam unsewn, apply the binding out flat and then sew up the underarm sewn right through including the binding too. If you’re sewing small things like children’s clothes this would be better because it can be so tricky to get tiny armholes etc under the machine foot. 

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This is what the gathering stitches should look like once you’ve pulled them up. They may be quite closely packed, or not, depending on the distance they need to fit into. Anchor the ends of the threads before it’s all sewn together by wrapping the 2 threads around a pin in a figure of eight movement.

 

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Now pin your bias onto the gathered edge, one of it’s folded edges should sit on the the 1.5cms seam allowance and hopefully all your gathering stitches will be enclosed within that. Stitch along the fold, not forgetting to go back to normal stitch length for this.
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Once you’ve done this you’ll need to trim off a little of any excess fabric so that you can turn the binding right over the edge to completely enclose the raw edges. Having done this then slipstitch the binding neatly in place.

I did this part of the process twice because, once I’d gathered the cuff and put the binding on, I decided it needed to be more gathered so I undid a small section at the join to pull up the threads a bit more and then restitched it all back together. This is perfectly normal (although a bit frustrating) when you’re making your own patterns as you can’t be certain how it will turn out and it won’t necessarily be right first time.

Finally I set in both the sleeves (I’m not going into that this time, this blog is quite long enough already!!) I overlocked the edges and you can either use a zigzag stitch or your own machine’s equivalent of overlocking if you have it. Binding the armhole is another method if you want a really classy finish although it’s more usually used on jackets and coats.I overlocked the lower edge of the hem and stitched it up with a straight stitch.

Overlocked and stitched hem.
Overlocked and stitched hem.

So there you have it, one blouse that started life as a dated 1980’s dress. I’ve left a few of the details out but you get a good overview of the processes involved in it’s evolution and making. There’s still a little bit of fabric left over too so maybe I’ll make some pants with that (I just won’t tell you  about it!) 

The blouse looks a bit crumpled in the photos because I’d forgotten to take pictures when it was more pristine! oops. 

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