I’m guest pattern reviewer for Love Sewing magazine!

I could hardly believe it when I got an email out of the blue from Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas a couple of months back. She was inviting me to make and review the two patterns which were going to be the free gifts with upcoming issue 46. They were two separate patterns, Butterick 6461 trousers in two lengths with top-stitched seam details and a stretch waist, and McCalls 7322 a simple top with several variations for neck and sleeves.

 

Once I’d agreed to the challenge (I didn’t need any persuading!) Amy suggested which companies I could select fabric from so I browsed their websites for quite some time until I found what I was looking for. The trousers called for a fabric with some stretch and eventually I chose from Danish company Stoff and Stil their stretch 10 1/2oz denim in dark blue [Amy had advised me that black doesn’t photograph well and, although I would have liked a printed stretch cotton, I couldn’t find anything suitable or to my taste] The top could be made with either a jersey or drapey woven fabrics and I chose a really pretty crepe with watercolour flowers in gorgeous inky shades of plum and blue. Stoff and Stil are breaking into the UK market and have an extensive range of fabrics and patterns, wool and haberdashery available on their website. Their delivery charge however  is quite high and I wouldn’t suggest them if you’re impatient or in a tearing hurry as delivery is usually 5-7 days.

While I waited for these to arrive (a slightly nerve-wracking wait because I was up against time to get the patterns made up by a tight deadline) I decided to make a wearable toile of them both to check the fit and any other idiosyncrasies they might throw up.

I had a colourful cotton sateen in my stash which I hadn’t found a use for yet so I made the trousers up in that. I cut a size 16 according to my measurements although I suspected (hoped) that would be a bit big. [You should always go by your own measurements before anything else if you’re making a fitted style because the sizing bears no relationship to shop-bought clothing and will almost certainly be too small if you ignore it. Just because you’re a 10 or a 16 or whatever in the shops doesn’t mean you’ll be the same in paper patterns-that’s the voice of bitter experience talking!!]fullsizeoutput_1ec7

In spite of all I’ve just said I soon discovered they were miles too big though the legs and were an unflattering baggy shape that looked nothing like the shape in the photo. The inseams are sewn up first so, to remove some width, I skimmed at least 2cms off each outer or side seam.

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several changes of mind on the side seams!

This was an improvement but still quite generous in the legs-as a result though I knew I would need to cut at least one, if not 2, sizes smaller when I made the actual trousers. The waistband wasn’t very successful either-I didn’t like the way they told you to put the elastic in, I did it as instructed although I changed the toile later and did the denim version my own way (more of that later)

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The original elasticated waist finish before I changed it. The elastic was too stretched by the process and was all baggy around my waist.

I’d opted to make Style B which are cropped length with turn-ups.

 

 

Once I’d toile-d the trousers I turned my attention to the top. I decided on the longer sleeve version with a bateau neckline, Style F. I fancied style C or D with a neckband initially but I got cold feet!! I’ve been sewing on and off for over 40 years and I just thought “If I mess this up it will be there in the magazine for everyone to see!!” Nightmare! 

I made a very quick toile in a rather boring viscose, again from my stash, and the result was a rather boring top!! Ok, what to do?

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It looks quite pretty here but it’s featureless….

Fortunately the fabric order arrived and the printed crepe was really lovely, much nicer colours than it’s photo online suggested so I decided I’d use it’s drapiness and work the current sleeve-detail trend by making a floaty gathered cuff instead. Crepe is a fabric which often has a slightly rough, matt feel and has a nice inherent drape  which is caused by the way the yarn is twisted and then woven into fabric. It works well for bias cut skirts, dresses or blouses and anything slightly ‘flippy’.

One thing that the toile had thrown up was that the neck was slightly too wide and my bra straps showed so I increased the width of the pattern pieces. IMG_3712IMG_3713

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It’s easy to increase the shoulder width. Start by sticking a piece of spare tissue from the off-cuts onto the shoulder where you want to make the increase. Using a ruler extend the shoulder line out at tfirst. Mark the length of the extension, I was adding 1.5cms, then take a line down in a right angle towards the neck making it into a smooth curve where it meets the neck edge. Hopefully the photos make this a bit clearer. Obviously you’ll need to do this to both the front and the back, as well as the front and back neck facings.

Because the crepe is 150cms wide it meant that I could fold the selvedges into the centre line and then the front and back pattern pieces are side by side. This matters because any pattern of the print which runs across the fabric will run in a pleasing line around the body.

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Selvedges folded into the centre and the front and back pieces placed onto the 2 folds.

Another alteration I chose to make to the top was to add a little more fullness at the hem level. The toile was a tiny bit snug at hip level so to increase at that point I pinned the neck edge against the fold but pivoted the hem level away from the fold by about 1.5cms.

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Pin at the neck line
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The hem is pivoted out by about 1.5cms at hem level.

For the sleeve-hack I used the short sleeve and then cut 2 rectangles that were 50cms x 30cms (50cms is approximately 1.5x the bottom width of the short sleeve) You can make them as full as you want but if they’re too wide they can get a bit annoying catching on things or dripping in the washing up!!

One of the things I liked about the pattern was it’s explanations of various techniques used during the making up. If you’re a complete beginner it isn’t always obvious what a ‘back-tack’ is or how wide the seam allowances are for example and the instructions with many patterns expect you to know things like that already.

So I made up the top again (you could use French seams if you haven’t got an overlocker or your fabric frays badly) I joined the shoulder seams and then attached the neck facings because you can have the whole thing open fairly flat which makes it a bit easier. Self- or contrast bias binding would look nice as an alternative but take care not to stretch the neck edge as you do it because it would be all droopy-dangle…

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Neck facing in place ready for stitching
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trim the seam and snip carefully at the curviest places so that it will turn and press smoothly
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Understitch through the facing and seam allowances and press the facing flat, rolling the seam slightly so that comes to the inside a little. Bar tack in place to the shoulder seams to prevent the facing rolling to the outside and showing- V annoying!

Now sew up the side seams, try it on to check for fit and make any necessary adjustments then it’s ready for sleeves.

This time I made up the short sleeves then made 2 tubes of the rectangles for the floaty bits. Around the top edge of each tube I ran two parallel rows of gathering stitches within the 1.5cms seam allowance. I always back-tack at one end and leave the other loose to pull up.

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The gathering stitches are the longest straight stitch your machine will do, don’t get too close to the edge with the first row and make sure the second row is then parallel to the first.

I neatened the bottom edges of the tubes at this point too by making a ‘pin hem’.

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Start by folding over about 5mm and sewing very close to the edge with the wrong side up towards you. It’s the bobbin thread that will show on the right side of this technique so make sure you’re happy with the colour match.
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Then trim the excess fabric very carefully!
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Fold again, it should be very narrow, and sew again over the first row of stitches, this should also be close to the edge. The picture shows what it should look like on the right and wrong sides.

 

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Sew up the sleeve underarm seams and then pin a ‘tube’ to the lower edge of each sleeve, matching the underarm seams. Gently pull up the 2 top threads [you don’t pull all 4 threads because nothing will happen]  until the tube matches the same size as the sleeve. Secure the pulled-up threads in a figure-of-eight around a pin so they don’t unravel. Make sure you return your stitch length back to normal then sew together on the 1.5cms line.
Repeat for the second sleeve then neaten the edges of the joins by your chosen method.

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Frill in position. I ran two more rows of ease stitching around the crown of the sleeve ready to set them into the armhole.
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The small circles indicate where the ease stitches should start and finish but on the toile this wasn’t enough and I got puckering putting it into the armhole. Where I’ve placed the pins is a better place to start and finish the stitching, it eaks out the fullness better I think.

When I’m setting in sleeves I always start by matching the underarm seams, then the shoulder seam balance mark followed by the front and back armhole notches. Next I pull up the ease stitching gently until the sleeve fits into the armhole, this may take a little while to get a pleasing fit so don’t rush it. Once you’re happy with the fit stitch the sleeves in (there’s nothing wrong with tacking them in first if it helps) Try the top on to make sure the sleeves look OK and then neaten the armhole seam by your chosen method.

Finally I made another pin hem on the hem itself. Although the top looked lovely as it was I like to add little details to make a garment really original so I rummaged through my vast collection of buttons and found a selection in various sizes and colours which I grouped on both the gathered sleeve seams.

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I’ll often sew them on with contrast threads too and with the holes at different angles.

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So that’s the top, now for the trousers.

I washed and tumble-dried the denim as soon as it arrived because there will always be excess dye in denim and some shrinkage will occur too. I used a denim needle to sew with and I had specific top-stitch thread ready for the seaming details although you could use regular thread, I used regular thread to sew them together. A denim needle is also not essential but it deals with the extra thicknesses involved much better, a sturdy-sized universal needle would be ok if not.

Because I’d made the toile I cut the denim version out making them two sizes smaller. One little change I made was to raise the centre back waist a bit higher because I felt they drooped down at the back.

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I raised the CB seam by about 1cm. There’s a handy tip in the magazine about lengthening this seam further if you need to increase the ’seat’ length.

Sewing them together was straightforward after that, I used a slightly contrasting blue top-stitch thread for the seam details.

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The top-stitched pleat details on the knees.
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Top stitch nice and close to the seam. You could probably use a twin needle but mine is very temperamental and it’s often quicker to sew twice than spend ages unpicking and re-doing!
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Joining the two legs together. Stitch this seam twice for extra strength, the second row close to the first inside the seam allowance.
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I invested in this cunning little gadget called a ‘jean-a-ma-jig’ You slot it under the presser foot to raise it up slightly and then it sews better over the thick layers of material. It worked a treat I thought and they aren’t expensive (although a folded up piece of card might work too) I’ve heard them called a ‘hump-jumper’ recently too!

Then I got to joining the legs up and, even though I’d cut two sizes smaller, they were still too baggy! I skimmed yet more off the side seams to slim them down some more. It might have been more sensible to measure my thighs and compare that figure to the paper pattern!

I put the elastic in according to the instructions again but it was a disaster! By sewing through the elastic as directed all that did was sew in a stretched position and it couldn’t retract back so it was all baggy and horrid around my waist! I unpicked all of that and sewed it instead into a channel using my zipper foot to sew close to the edge of the elastic under the fabric without catching it (hopefully)

 

If you’re not confident sewing it this way then you can also sew a channel and then pull the elastic through separately using a bodkin or a strong safety pin.

All that remained was to sew the turn ups as before and they’re complete!

They’re still a bit baggier than I wanted and I might even bring them in some more although better that than make them too tight in the first place, they have hint of maternity trouser to them at the moment although useful if I’ve eaten a big dinner!!

On September 28th I travelled to Stockport with my makes for a photoshoot that many of you will by now have seen in issue 46 of Love Sewing magazine. It was so much fun and it was a real treat to have my make up done by professional Nina Rochford and and be photographed by Renata Stonyte. Along with Editor Amy they really put me at my ease and, whilst I’m not a natural model, they managed to get some nice pictures. It’s been a real thrill to feature in the magazine and to have the opportunity to share my hints and tips with readers. I do hope they have been of some use or help to you, you can email me at susanyoungsewing@gmail.com if you want to ask a specific question, or advice.

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I’ve rarely looked so glamorous…thank you Nina
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Laughing at Amy’s ‘hilarious’ jokes!
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Hmmmm….
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She’s got the moves like Jagger!!
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I like this shot with Amy

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Love Sewing page 3
I’m a page 3 girl!!

I’ve loved writing for Love Sewing and I’m more than happy to do it again! I’m not saying I’m an expert on everything sewingwise-far from it-but I’ve made a ton of different garments over the years, and made a ton of mistakes over the years too!

Whilst I was invited to write the pattern review, and provided with the fabric by Love Sewing, all opinions expressed and advice offered are my own and I hope you might find them helpful if you’re making up the patterns in the future.

Happy Sewing

Sue

a vintage-inspired posh party frock

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So party frocks are a thing I like to make but, like most people, I’m not a red-carpet celebrity and I don’t often get a chance to wear them.

This time though I had a reason because back in the spring we set the date of November 5th for a dinner-dance to celebrate Mr Y’s year in the Chair at his Lodge (don’t ask, I’m not going to try to explain) It’s an excuse to get gussied up and put on your best bib and tucker and as I am the President’s Lady (like Michelle but not as cooool) I have to look pretty darn good.

I didn’t have any clear idea at that time of what I might want to make but on a trip to Brighton in May which inevitably included a visit to Ditto I spotted the most gorgeous striped and printed organza. It was love at first sight! I like to think I know my fabrics and I honestly expected it would cost in the region of £20-£25 per metre. When Gill told me it was just £8 per metre I was astonished!! The thing is, the first roll of fabric I saw was pale orange flowers on a black background. I would happily have bought this if Gill hadn’t then said she’d got it with pink flowers! so now a dilemma…which to choose? It looked for a while as if there wasn’t going to be a choice to be made because the pink version couldn’t be found. This didn’t put Gill off (despite it being a busy Saturday in the shop) so while we tootled off to spend time in town she searched for, and eventually located, the pink. What a star she is!!

I’d formulated an idea in my head by now which was basically the skirt shape of Dior’s 1947 New Look. The stiffness of the fabric lent itself to it so I fancied a straightforward dirndl pleated into the waistline ought to look good. DiorDior New LookIMG_0003
I bought 2.5 metres which was roughly 2 skirt ‘drops’ and a bit extra. Happy days!!

The next part of the jigsaw was to decide what form the bodice should take, and what colour, because the background for the pink colour-way was an olive green not black. I didn’t mind this because I don’t wear much black anyway. As I’ve said on more than one occasion I rarely throw a decent bit of fabric away and amongst my pile of ‘things that might be useful one day’ was a panne velvet skirt which I’d never worn much but loved the fabric. Guess what? it was a perfect match!! would it be enough though? IMG_0026fullsizeoutput_119

The answer, thankfully, was yes, although I couldn’t be sure about sleeves at that stage…cross that bridge when I get to it!

So I motored on now with constructing the bodice using one from Simplicity Project Runway K2444 [originally free with Sew magazine] which I’d snapped up from the swaps table at The Sewing Weekender in August and had used once already for my waxed cotton dress.

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Wearing the waxed-cotton dress with my first refashions jacket (outside Buckingham Palace in 2016)

Another reason for using it was because it had darts and not separate panels thereby saving valuable fabric.

Panne velvet is very slippery and unstable so I mounted the pieces first onto a more stable fabric, in this case some ordinary black poly/cotton that I had. If you’re going really ‘high-end’ you’d use something like silk organza. You do this by laying everything carefully together matching the cut edges but taking care not to have the velvet misshapen and then, keeping it all flat on the table, tack around the edges by hand. On a fabric like this it just isn’t enough to pin and hope for the best. I did this for the darts too before machining them. By tacking carefully it helps to stop the velvet creeping in different directions under the machine foot. I don’t possess a walking foot but I found I’d got a roller foot so I used that satisfactorily instead. To help prevent the side seams wrinkling too much in wear I put in some boning, directly onto the seam allowances.

Alongside this I had to decide what to line the skirt with as it’s a sheer fabric. I mocked up a couple of colours on Doris to see the different effects.

I settled for dark but with pale pink net under that to echo the roses. While I was at the Knitting and Stitching show in early October I found a lovely quality Italian lining at just £2 per metre in a ‘shot’ red/green colour. I wasn’t totally sure if it would be right and, as I said to the guy on the stall “it will either be a triumph or a total disaster!” At £4 for 2 metres it wouldn’t be the end of the world anyway.

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I mocked up the whole thing from time to time on Doris just to make sure it would become a unified whole and not lots of segments that didn’t really work.

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trying out the pleats

Getting the pleats to fit the waist was a bit of a trial but with some patience and lots of tacking I got it to the right length to fit. I’ve made many dresses like these over the years (although rarely for me) and it’s best to keep all the parts separate for as long as practical so you can work on each of them more easily and then join them together at the last possible moment-that way you’re not wrestling with a huge amount of fabric/net etc for any longer than necessary.

Amazingly I managed to getting a pair of short sleeves out of the remaining fabric which I was delighted by.

I cut the bias-cut collar in organza twice as wide as the original so that it would roll over prettily.

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On the hem of the skirt I decide to use crin (just like in Strictly Come Dancing!) to finish the edge neatly and invisibly and to give it some ‘bounce’. After machining it on along one edge I turned it and stitched by hand.

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The under-lining was a straightforward flared skirt although I cut it on the bias to allow the waist to have some ‘give’ if it needed it. I’d decided on rose-pink net underneath that so that the overall effect of the dress wasn’t too dark, I used two different shades together in the end. Again, I’ve made masses of these in the past and they aren’t difficult (when you know how)

For example, you can get a pretty decent amount of zjoosh (is that even a word?!) from just 3 metres of dress net (140cms wide)

  • keeping the net folded in half lengthways, cut one piece your desired finished length e.g.. 70cms [If you want a fuller petticoat you can cut two of these and join them at the narrow ends to form a longer strip, you’ll more net for the next part though]
  • now cut 2 or 3 widths of net that are the same or slightly shorter than the first one, e.g. 60-70cms. These need to be joined at their narrow edges to form a long strip. Fold this in half LENGTHWAYS. It will now be a strip that is half as wide as the first piece, and very long. Now stitch close to the cut edges with the longest gathering stitches your machine will sew [if you have a gathering foot or your overlocker gathers effectively you can use those to do the gathering for you] Pull up the threads until the long strip fits onto the original single cut length. Matching the folded edge of the ruffle against the bottom edge of the single piece, pin and stitch in position. This part can be a bit tricky because of all the fabric involved but be patient.
  • Now cut another 2 or 3 widths of net approximately 50cms each (or evenly divide into 2-3 whatever you’ve got left) Repeat the step above, you’ll have another even narrower strip which you’ll sew in position UNDER the first one but again with all the hems level at the bottom. It should be looking like a net petticoat by this stage.
  • The fuller you want it to be the more layers you can add although there comes a point where it will just collapse in too much again your legs without something like a hoop or a very firm lining under it.
  • You’ll need to join the two narrow ends together so that it now forms a tube-shape. This is your basic petticoat which you can put a lining inside to stop it being itchy, you can either insert it straight into the dress or, a better method, attach it to a narrow strip of lining or ‘basque’ and join that to the garment, it’s less bulky.

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I didn’t want there to be a seam in the back of the organza to spoil the stripes so I made a small slit-opening and then carefully bound the edge with a bias-strip of lining. Once I’d joined the bodice and skirt together I sewed the zip through to the lining. Putting the zip in was a bit tricky and even though I tacked it, didn’t go right first time. I had to take one side back out and try again-the zip moved because of the pile of the velvet causing it to shift as I sewed.

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Once the dress was all together (I hadn’t needed to refit anything as I went which was very good news-all I’d done was narrow the shoulders slightly when I cut it out because I knew they were too wide for me from the waxed cotton version) I wanted something to finish off the waist seam. I had a slightly sparkly belt which looked nice except the buckle wasn’t right. I hit upon the idea of making a temporary bow in organza, on elastic, that would sit over the top of it.IMG_0242

I’d decided a while ago that rose-gold shoes were what I wanted to finish the ensemble off but of course I couldn’t find any that were right! In the end dear Mr Y found a perfect unworn pair of L.K.Bennett courts on Ebay! Result!!

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So there it is, that’s how simple it is to make a New Look-inspired fancy party frock!

Actually I really enjoyed making it because I only had myself to please and I didn’t have to make fitting appointments or worry about weight loss or gain (much) changes of mind etc etc. Because I started in plenty of time I was never in too much of a rush and I have the advantage of knowing what I’m doing. I LOVED wearing it on the night and I had so many lovely comments about it. I’ve been both touched and staggered by the response on Instagram and Facebook too.

I’d love to think I might have inspired some of you to have a go at something like this if you get the opportunity, or the right occasion.

When Amy Thomas invited me to write my pattern review for Love Sewing last year she suggested I brought along my dress so that we could get some nice photos, this is one of the results.

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With Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas in September

For some strange reason, since I originally wrote this blog, lots of the photos disappeared from it. I had a problem with my laptop a couple of times so it may have happened then. I’ve recently replaced most of them although I’m not sure they are all the same as the originals. Never mind, you’ll get the gist of it.

Until next time,

Happy sewing

Sue xx