Simplicity have long been one of the most familiar big names in the home sewing paper patterns market but many of us are now choosing to use PDF patterns instead for a variety of reasons. Simplicity have recently decided to dip a toe into the waters and release a small collection of patterns as PDFs for the first time.
I was first invited to try one of this new range of PDF patterns way back in high summer but for a variety of reasons it’s taken until mid-October to get completed.
Simplicity have released a range of ten basics which are available now from Sew Direct including several tops, a skirt, a dress and a jumpsuit, plus two children’s patterns and a free clutch bag pattern.
I chose the tie-front robe jacket SP110 which appealed to me as a cover-up in place of a cardi or sweatshirt and, because it was July at the time, I picked a pretty, drapey Atelier Brunette viscose crepe in a pale ivory print kindly provided by Minerva. The robe jacket is a very simple silhouette with a wide grown-on 3/4 length sleeve, the neck is finished with a band and the tie waist is elasticated across the back.
For me, it depends how many pages a PDF has whether I print it myself or send it away (my usual cut-off is anything over 30 sheets, more than that and I’m not keen on the printing and assembling) However, we had been experiencing postal strikes here in the UK and I needed to get started so I printed at home this time. I think the paper in my printer was a bit out of alignment because not all the pages were printing as accurately as they should have been but fortunately I could see what had gone adrift as I assembled the pages and was able to rectify it. Make sure you print the test page and check carefully that all borders are present and accurate, don’t simply check the test square measurement and wander off into another room while it’s all printing out… With A0 printing this shouldn’t be an issue.
The pattern includes all sizes from UK6 to UK26 (up to 48” bust) which are broken down into two size bands (there isn’t a layering option to isolate which sizes you choose to print unfortunately) The robe jacket consists of just six simple pattern pieces.
The instructions sheet/booklet design is attractive and uncluttered with clear diagrams and straightforward step by step instructions. For the more novice sewer there is a glossary which includes all the sewing terms that will be used throughout, and a page explaining pattern markings. This being a US-originated pattern, all the seam allowances are only in inches so you may want to write your own metric equivalents on the page somewhere before you start, to avoid confusion.
This is a quick and easy make, not much more than half a day probably, and everything comes together well. I thought the instructions and diagrams were clear, well explained and thorough without being over-complex. Overall a relative beginner should be able to manage this pattern. I like to print my instructions in booklet form but I should have increased the font size a little as I struggled occasionally to see the diagrams. I think the diagrams are actually very good, I simply didn’t print them large enough. If you are reading them from a tablet or lap top then this isn’t so likely to be an issue.
My only ‘problem’ now is that I have a summer garment as we head into autumn/winter. I intended it to be a light cover over summer dresses and tops so I’ve tried to style it for the season as it is now. I made a UK14 but possibly should have gone up a size, I feel self-conscious about how it looks around my midriff. It falls exactly on my natural waistline (I’m 5’5” tall) rather than above it like the models who are probably 5’8”-5’10” minimum. Hey ho, I didn’t get the tall gene but I did get the yoyo weight one instead! Basically, I’m pleased with the garment overall but less pleased with how it looks on me just now. I’m determined to get use out of it though but it will probably not be much before next spring.
I have a small quantity of the fabric left so, if there’s enough, I may consider adding it to the bottom under the waistband. This shouldn’t be too difficult because the waistband is straight and it would then give a little peplum which I might feel more comfortable with. It wouldn’t be too difficult to add a longer skirt to turn it into a coat as an alternative.
Being a PDF means you can buy the pattern to use immediately, and all the others in the Simplicity PDF range from Sew Direct. I was paid a modest fee for my pattern review and generously provided with the fabric to make it from Minerva. All views expressed are of course my own.
This post was originally written in January 2021 as a Minerva post for their recently completely revamped their website. I didn’t publish it here at the time and I’ve now sewn another pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers so I thought I would share my thoughts. I have a paper copy of the pattern but it’s possible that it is now only available as a PDF, unless you can locate a copy somewhere.
I had chosen this interesting reversible woven jacquard fabric in black/cream because I was attracted to the random wavy stripes. When it arrived I found that they ran across the width of the fabric not down the warp so I had to bear this in mind when I cut them out. Fortunately, at 150cms wide with a nice firm selvedge, I didn’t need to alter my plans because I could cut them across the weft grain instead. I intended to make a pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers and I thought this fabric would look good in this wide-legged style, they have 3 front pleats, side pockets and a centre back zip. I opted to use the black as the outside but I could have used either side of this fabric, or both sides at once to make a contrast.
I folded the material carefully across the width matching the selvedges to each other so that it wasn’t twisted and then pinned the front and back pattern pieces on, ensuring they were at a right-angle to the selvedge on the weft rather than the usual warp grain line. To mix things up a bit I cut two of the pocket bags on the normal grain so that the stripes ran crosswise, plus the remaining two pocket bags in a scrap of bright pink lining fabric.
The fabric was best suited to garments like trousers, skirts, structured dresses, jackets or formal business-type wear although how much call there is for that just now I’m not sure. It doesn’t have much drape but I decided it was still suitable for the Portobello trousers.
The fabric sewed well although I think because I cut it on the cross-grain, there was quite a lot of fraying so I’d advise overlocking all the edges singly before beginning construction.
The style is close-fitting on your natural waist line so the instructions advise choosing according to your waist measurement and go up a size if you’re in between sizes, it’s almost always simpler to take something in that to let it out. The fit over the hips is very generous but if you have an extreme difference between your waist/hip ration then it’s worth double-checking before cutting out. I fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I went with a 14
I traced off the pattern and it went together well, it’s a very simple pattern with clear diagrams and instructions. I ignored the waistband pattern piece because I chose to use an interfacing product called Fold a Band which is perfect for straight waistbands as it gives exactly the right seam allowances and folds. After checking the fit without a waistband I worked out how long my band needed to be, including an overlap and seam allowances, which I then cut in fabric the same width as the Fold a Band rather than using the pattern piece. Fold a Band comes in black or white, and medium or firm weights, depending on your fabric type, and makes a finished width of 2.5cms once it’s sewn on. This is a fairly narrow finish which personally I think is just right. Once I had ironed the interfacing to the fabric I overlocked one long edge, this would be the one to the inside of the finished garment. Pin and stitch the un-neatened edge right sides together to the waist, you could add a couple of useful hanging tapes to the side seams at this point too. Make the turnings at the ends and then you can turn up the band in the usual way and slip stitch it by hand or sink stitch from the front to secure.
Finally, after one last check of the fit, sew on a fastening or make a buttonhole with matching button. Lastly, try them on and turn up the hem to your chosen length, I overlocked the edge and made a 5cms deep turning which I slip-hemmed in place.
Since making the black and white Portobellos I have recently sewn a new fuchsia pink crepe pair. The very inexpensive fabric was bought from Walthamstow market late in 2019 with the intention of making wide-legged trousers but they didn’t actually get cut and sewn until October 2022.
I urgently needed a project to sew at the Herts Sewcial with about 15 minutes before I had to leave the house. Initially I was flapping around thinking of all the garments I wanted to sew here and now but then I remembered I had suitable fabric along with the good intentions to make another pair of Portobellos. The pattern was already traced and I just had to locate the fabric but I managed to grab everything I needed (an orange zip but no one would see that!) and rushed out of the house!
I was pleased with the finished trousers, I think the unusual vertical stripes are striking and the wide leg is very comfortable to wear. They were a bit baggy over the bum though but I think taking them in significantly would have altered the overall look of the style, I’m not sure. Looking again at the back leg pattern piece I think it could be overly generous compared to the front, the darts might need to be a little longer, so I might make some changes on the next pair (I didn’t, because I forgot that I’d written this comment!)
I’m very happy with the new pink pair, even though they weren’t high on my list for Saturday. The bright colour will bring me a lot of joy when I wear them and I’ve always loved that Katharine Hepburn 1940s or ‘Brideshead Revisited’ insouciant look. I’m not sure I’ve personally achieved that look but hey ho, that’s never stopped me yet.
Recently on the @SewOver50 account a follower asked if we could help her with any suggestions for trousers/pants that featured a side zip and/or a flat front and, as we’ve come to expect, the hive mind flew into action.
Speaking personally, my primary reason for wanting a flat front is that it falls more smoothly over my not-so-flat tum [Years of fashion magazine input tells me that a flat tum is highly desirable, it’s what every woman of every age should want to achieve and anything less than perfect and a bit wobbly should be kept out of sight…Complete and total nonsense obviously but it’s very hard to undo so many years of conditioning] So, whilst I know it really shouldn’t matter it somehow still does matter to many of us and, because of that, we still continue to search for those perfect and often elusive trousers which give us just the thing we’re after, whatever it is. Sometimes we choose a smooth front because we want the top or blouse that’s worn with it to be the highlight and features like fly openings or pleats can be a bit bulky and change the silhouette we desire, but it isn’t always about hiding ‘figure problems’. One follower pointed out that as a person with physical limitations the trouser choices she made had to be based upon practical reasons which made her life more comfortable and straightforward and could not be influenced by mere vanity, a luxury not everyone have.
Much like the SewOver50 go-to T-shirt list I will simply give you links to the many and various patterns which followers have suggested. I’ll begin with the ones I have sewn myself so they are my personal opinions and then follow with the rest. Most of these patterns either have a side or back zip, a few have an elasticated back, some are pull-on and the majority have a flat or flattish front. Where I’ve mentioned sizing it will be UK sizes unless I state otherwise.
Let us begin…
Eve trousers by Merchant and Mills are as basic and classic a shape as it’s possible to have. They have a side zip and darts front and back with a fixed waistband. They have a tapered, slightly cropped leg shape without being close-fitting and a turn-up hem option. I’ve made 3 pairs (so far) in very different fabrics and they fill a gap I had in my wardrobe for just such a garment. There are two patch pockets on the back but I think this understated style lends itself to many hacking opportunities. Sizes available are UK 6-18 or 20-28 paper and PDF
Sidewinder Pants by The Sewing Revival The USP of these flat front and elasticated back trousers is the unusual side seam which winds from the waist starting slightly in front of the hip bone, down the side of the leg and finishing behind your ankle bone. There are pockets set into the seam and the Sidewinders can be hemmed with or without a turn-up or with a deep elasticated cuff. I found them very straightforward to sew-I’ve made 3 pairs of these too in a variety of fabrics including one pair in a really nice heavy jersey with the elasticated cuff. I wrote a review of them a while ago which you can read here. It’s a PDF only and sizes available fall into 4 brackets UK 6-12 10-16 14-20 and 18-24
Palazzo Pants by Simple Sew This style has darts front and back with a fixed waistband and a back invisible zipper which runs up into the waistband. It gives a smooth close fit around the body which then widens out to very voluminous legs. There are pockets in the side seams if you want them but could easily be left out. I think they are a lovely shape, and I reviewed them here when I was a Simple Sew blogger, but if I made them again I would sew a regular overlapping waistband which closed with a button and buttonhole or a hook and bar because they are a bit tricky to do up. UK sizes 8-20 paper and PDF
Portobello trousers by Nina Lee These trousers have a lovely Katharine Hepburn vibe, they aren’t technically flat-fronted because they have deep pleats but they zip up at the back, which has darts, so there’s no extra bulk in the front as a result. They sit on the natural waist with a fixed waistband, have wide straight legs and there are pockets in the side seams. I made a pair in a slightly-too-springy fabric but they look OK and are very comfortable. I reviewed them on the Minerva website, a better fabric choice would have been something like a nice heavy crepe or twill, anything with a bit of drape would look great. I believe Nina Lee patterns are only available as PDFs now, sizes are in two brackets UK6-20 and 16-28
6351 by New Look This is a pattern for separates and I’ve used the trousers a few times now. They have a drawstring (and elasticated) waistband, side seam pockets and the legs fall wide and straight. If these fit well on the hips then there isn’t too much bulk from the gathers at the waist-I’ve made them in linen and they are gorgeous in warm weather. I shortened another pair I’d made but didn’t wear so much and they have had so much more use as mid-calf cropped pants. Paper pattern only UK 10-22 (I think)
That’s all the patterns I’ve sewn myself so now it’s over to you, in no particular order…
Ultimate trousers by Sew Over It these slim-fitting trousers have a side zip and a facing rather than a waistband. They have been around since the very earliest days of Sew Over It and I’ve heard reviews which swing wildly in either direction. Some people swear by them and others say they can’t get a satisfactory fit. My advice would be to read a few reviews before making your decision. They only seem to be available as a PDF now UK sizes 6-20
Pietra pants by Closet Core these are a more recent release from Closet Core as part of their ‘Rome’ collection and they already have a legion of fans. There’s no zip, the back is gently elasticated with wide elastic, the front is smooth because of a grown-on slightly-raised waistband, there are quarter seams down the front with pockets plus there are three leg shape options-tapered, wide leg and shorts. That number of variations alone must make them excellent value for money! On top of that they come as a paper pattern US size 0-20 only and PDF in sizes US 0-20 or 14-32
Jenny overalls and trousers by Closet Core these are a wide-legged dungaree pattern with a number of options including trousers. They have a fitted waistband and darts for a close fit. Available as both paper and PDF in US 0-20 only. Closet Core have a reputation for comprehensive tutorials on their website so take a look if you need any help.
Chiara trousers by Tessuti these are a wide-leg slightly cropped length trouser with darts for a close fit around the hips and waist and a side zip. The waist is finished with a stitched-down facing. Available as a PDF sizes AUS 6-16 only.
Crew trouser by Chalk and Notch These trousers/shorts do have a side zip although they aren’t flat fronted, they are high-waisted with pleats and a tie feature. PDF only sizes US 0-30
Mountain View pull-on pants by Itch to Stitch Initially I thought these didn’t fit the brief because they appear to have a front zip but it’s a faux one so we’ll let them past. A jeans-style legging made in fabrics with stretch this is a PDF only pattern in two size brackets (you get both with purchase) US 0-20 and 22-40
Eureka pants by Fit For Art Patterns I wasn’t familiar with this brand but these trousers for woven fabrics have multiple options for the waistband and leg shape which should help you to achieve an excellent fit. Paper or PDF sizes XXS-3XL (whatever that means)
Calder Pants by Cashmerette are another good option. Wide legged in three lengths including shorts, smooth front and elasticated back to ensure an excellent fit. It comes in paper or PDF formats, sizes US 12-32 Cashmerette are renowned for their comprehensive fitting instructions which could be very useful.
Willow Trousers by Style Arc classic slim pants similar to Eve mentioned at the top. The Willow have a split hem detail and side zip. Paper patterns or PDF are both available in single sizes AUS 4-30 or multiple AUS 4-16 18-30
Bob pants by Style Arc a tapered, ‘balloon’ shaped leg with an elasticated waistband and side seam pockets, these trousers have become a stylish choice teamed with loose shirts and casual tops for a modern look. Sizing as with the Willow above. If you like these you might also like the Ethel pants by Style Arc.
Flint trousers by Megan Nielsen a wide leg pant or shorts without a zip at all, instead they have a crossover closure at the side which is incorporated into the pocket. Printed comes in AUS sizes 0-20 or PDF 0-20 or 14-30
Marilyn Jeans by Charm patterns These are a Fifties-inspired close-fitting jeans pattern but with a side zip, think Capri pants. PDF only at present but available in two size brackets US2-20 or 18-34
Clover pants by Seamwork another pair of slim-fitting pants designed for wovens with stretch. Side zip and ankle or mid-calf length, they can also have small inseam pockets at the waistband PDF only US 0-18
Duet trousers by Love Notions these trousers have an invisible side zip, two front hip pockets, back darts and two leg shapes-straight or tapered. They are suitable for both wovens and stretch fabrics. PDF only in sizes US 2-26
Miller trousers by Paper Theory These don’t have a zip, instead they have an elasticated waist with a tie option. There are pleats in the front, deep side pockets and long darts in the back to improve the fit in this area. Paper pattern or PDF UK 6-28
Free Range slacks by Sew House Seven These are another pair of slightly gathered elasticated trousers but the side seams on these have been divided and shifted to form a panel at the sides instead. They come with a tapered or wide leg option and look great in linen or similar fabric types. It’s a PDF pattern with two size brackets included AUS 00-20 and 18-34
So there we are, this isn’t in any way an exhaustive list of course, you may think there are glaring omissions, and the emphasis is strongly on Indie patterns rather than the mainstream pattern companies. These are the patterns which were suggested by the followers of Sew Over 50 so if you have your own favourites then feel free to let me know in the comments, a few of the patterns suggested were out of print so I haven’t mentioned them here. Don’t forget to tag #SewOver50 and #So50Trousers when you post on Instagram either, it’s such an amazing source of inspiration and ideas for others.
Well that was another weird year wasn’t it!? I’m not gonna lie but I’ll be glad to see the back of 2021. For every good event there seemed to be two or three stinkers which I found made it really hard to see positives anywhere. I know that there were some good things though and I’m incredibly grateful to have the life that I do so I don’t want to dwell on the downside, let’s move into 2022 with an air of cautious optimism!
I entitled my round up for 2020 as ‘sewing in a time of pandemic’ and I’m so glad I didn’t know then that 2021 was going to be ‘part two!’ Anyway, I’ve collected a few photos to round up my sewing and other events I was able to get up to during 2021 although I’m not sure if they are particularly chronological…the length and colour of my hair at any given time will give you a bit of a clue!
I was looking for new sewing challenges early in the year during the next long lockdown and Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few items including this Carmanah sweatshirt by Thread Theory. The fabric was kindly provided for me as I’m part of the Lamazi blogger team.
I was selected to contribute some articles offering sewing tips and advice for an online sewing project in the early spring but after just two such items they just stopped contacting with me or replying to my emails. Bit rude I’d say, I’ve no idea what was wrong because they never had the courtesy to tell me, and I’ve no intention of wasting more time on them frankly.
As you know if you read my posts I like to reuse patterns if they have lots of options so I’ve sewn several variations of a number of Sewing Revival patterns during the year, including the Fantail top below which I made in an ancient remnant in my stash which I believe somebody once paid 90p for!
I wrote just three specific Sew Over 50 blog posts in 2021, the first was a summing up of lots of ideas and inspiration for how to sew more sustainably which the followers of the Sew Over 50 account contributed. There was a lot of it and it definitely worth a read.
I was a guest editor on the Sew Over 50 account in the autumn when we chatted about mannequins in our sewing practice. Many of you contributed some brilliant and insightful comments, I wonder how many people have gone on to buy a dress form, or use the one they have differently, or more often, as a result?
Sew Over 50 stalwart Tina generously shared with us the many resources she has gathered together over the last couple of years for sewing and adapting patterns and clothing after a breast cancer diagnosis. It has been one of my most read articles on the blog since it was published in the autumn and I know Tina is happy for followers to contact her via Instagram for any advice or support she can offer them. For me, she very much represents the positive aspects of being a part of this worldwide community.
One of my favourite ‘in person’ events in the sewing calendar, Sew Brum, quietly took place in the autumn and my lovely mate Elizabeth kindly put me up overnight and we had some quality shopping and sewing time together. Our friend Melissa even joined us for a couple of hours for a Zoom sew! Plus I ran in my first (and so far, only) Park Run too! phew, it was a busy and almost-normal 48 hours.
I finally made a jumpsuit (or two) at the end of the year, it’s the Cressida by Sew Me Something Patterns.
For quite a while I had wanted to organise an informal sewing event and they were finally able to happen in October and November with #HertsSewcial It was such a joy to be reunited with my Sew Over 50 stalwart friends Ruth and Kate, along with meeting several other online friends like Bev and Elke in real life for the first time. We had so much fun sewing and chatting together, the time flew past far too quickly and I very much hope I can organise some more in the New Year, current situations permitting.
And my final sewing treat of the year was being able to meet up with Judith Staley in her hometown of Edinburgh!! It was much too brief but absolutely better than nothing, we had so much we could have talked about but that will have to wait until our oft-rescheduled and much looked forward to sewing get together next spring…fingers tightly crossed!
My final personal make of the year was another Maven Somerset top in this celestial jersey I bought at the Lamazi open day. It’s festive without screaming CHRISTMAS!
And so ends another year of sewing and other stuff, as well as the new garments I’ve sewn for myself there were many other occasions when I wore, and re-wore, favourites which didn’t need to be photographed! I fervently hope 2022 brings better times for everyone and that we can adapt to our new or changed ways of living. Sewing will continue be a big part of my life and I hope there will be some new and exciting projects and opportunities during the year. There are so many wonderful people in this community and the support and encouragement that swirls around has been so important during another trying year-I hope I will get a chance to meet up with more of you in person during the next twelve months.
Until then, thank you for reading my wafflings, happy sewing and a very happy New Year,
I seem to be constantly attracted to teal/turquoise/duck egg shades recently so this Art Gallery organic cotton jersey for my recent Minerva post looked perfect when it hoved into my field of vision!
I’ve used Art Gallery knit fabrics in the past and the designs and fabric, whilst fairly pricey, are lovely quality. This particular jersey is an organic cotton (with a little Elastane) and very soft, a lighter weight than many so it would be good for children’s and babies clothing as well as adults. I love the print, I think it’s a vaguely ‘Tribal-esque’ graphic stripe and I quickly decided to make a Tabitha T-shirt from Tilly and the Buttons book ‘Make it Simple’ which I’ve made a few times before but to try out the dress hack version for a change this time.
I traced off a new copy of the pattern using the horizontal lines indicated across the bodice specifically for the dress. I’m not long in the body but I thought it looked a little short so I added an extra 2cms to the bodice length. In truth I probably could have added more than that because I feel there isn’t as much blousing at the waist as there seems to be in the photo in the book [If you know, or suspect, you have a long body length then pay close attention to this before cutting your fabric, get someone to take your nape to waist measurement and compare it to the back pattern piece. If necessary then add any extra through the horizontal ‘lengthen/shorten’ lines, and don’t forget to do the front as well!] If you’re wondering why this matters, it will mean that the waist seam sits too high above your natural waist and could look more like Empire line.
I followed the instructions in the book to draft my own skirt pattern which was simple enough, you only need one because the front and back are identical (you’ll need a decent sized piece of paper to do this) I cut the new front and back as complete pieces so that I didn’t have to cut anything on the fold, I also wanted a short sleeve so I traced one off.
The fabric was a little bit curly at the edges so I took my time cutting out, be careful not to pull or drag the fabric at this stage because this could result in twisting of the finished garment. It’s helpful to mark stripes onto the pattern so that you can then match them to corresponding seams more easily. Cutting a single layer of fabric can really help make this more straightforward, and be less wasteful too.
Moving on, the suggestion for the waist casing is to use eyelets or buttonholes. I used a small round-ended buttonhole, whichever method you choose make sure you interface underneath first to stabilise the fabric. I used the quilting guide to help me sew an accurate 2cms seam to create casing. Once I’d sewn it I used a bodkin to thread the ribbon through.
The rest of the construction was pretty quick because I already knew the T-shirt in size 5 was a nice fit, the skirt was a bit ‘hippy’ though so I took some off in that area. Following the drafting instructions the pattern piece is shaped for the waist but, for me, a straight rectangle would suffice.
The length was educated guesswork but I’m very happy with it and it’s not too restrictive at the hem, any longer or narrower and the skirt might need a split in it to allow movement. I have the advantage of using a Pfaff coverstitch machine to hem the sleeves and skirt but a twin needle or a zig-zag stitch will do the job too, and don’t forget to use a ballpoint or jersey needle. I used a narrow grosgrain ribbon in a toning teal to slot through the waist casing to complete the dress. As I mentioned near the beginning I might add just a little more length to the bodice next time but otherwise I’m really pleased with this Tabitha dress, it will be comfortable to wear for everyday and easy to roll up in a suitcase if I ever get to go on holiday again!
Minerva provided me with this lovely fabric to write about, I’m delighted with the quality and I’m especially happy with the dress which is so just comfortable.
It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??
To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.
But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.
Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.
About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…
So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.
I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.
I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.
Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choicesfor specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!
One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew
One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities.
As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.
I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.
Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.
I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.
One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.
As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.
This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.
Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.
I’m beginning here with a faced hem…
The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.
If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.
The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.
If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.
I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.
For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.
If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.
I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.
The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.
Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.
Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.
If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.
This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.
I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…
To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.
This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.
I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!
I followed the progress of this pattern with interest on Instagram when it was originally released nearly two years, it was fascinating to see how Claire-Louise Hardie (the Thrifty Stitcher!) developed and finessed the various elements of it as she sampled it, up to the point that she was ready to release it for sale. It has attractive style lines with princess seams in the front which curve into hip pockets, the back also has princess seams and there’s a horizontal seam just below the natural waist. The collar curves up smoothly against the neck and the back collar has a ‘sunray’ of five darts spreading out towards the shoulder blades which I particularly like. The cuffs each have 3 similar darts, the details on this pattern has simple but so stylish.
This post was originally published last year by Minerva who generously provided me with a nice firm Ponte Roma in a plain navy to make the Dawson in, it would also work very well in a boiled wool, felted wool, Melton, not a loose tweed though as they can start to fray and you’d lose the details too much in the weave. Anything fairly structured and stable would effectively show off the style lines. You could get some interesting effects with checks or stripes if you want a challenge! I’d wanted to make another version for a while because I’ve had really good use from the navy one, I hadn’t got around to finding any specific fabric for it but then I hit upon the idea of using a single old heavyweight cotton curtain that used to keep the drafts out by our front door. It had long been replaced for this task but I just had it folded up underneath the heat-reflective mat that I use on my cutting table. In order to maximise the fabric in the curtain I undid the deep hem and the sides, and removed the tabs at the top. I gave it a wash to clean it but also to, hopefully, stop it shrinking later on.
Areas like the pocket edges and the neck need stabilising with some iron-on tape or strips of interfacing as per the instructions, especially if you use a knit fabric like Ponte. I would recommend stabilising the shoulders with seam tape or scraps of ribbon to prevent stretching too. I used a specific needle for stretch fabrics and you could use the ‘lightening’ stitch to sew with if your machine has it, or a very straightened out zigzag. If you do use boiled wool the layers could be quite thick, use a straight stitch but you may need to lengthen it a little more than usual.
The pattern comes in eight sizes which are not numbered in the conventional way, CL opts for letters instead, so you work from your own body measurements to choose which size should fit you. I cut and sewed a size F originally which was quite generous, for the newer version I’ve cut the next size down. I misjudged how generous the ease is in the garment so I usually wear the Ponte version layered up over jumpers or sweaters on warmer cool days if that makes sense. At the end of the day it’s intended as a casual coat so don’t make it too small as you’ll always be pulling it closed across you. The sleeves are nice and roomy too, I’ve noticed some coat/jacket patterns can be a bit snug around the bicep for me which is a bit dispiriting, I’m hardly a muscle-bound hulk! Just check before cutting out if you’re happy with the sleeve length too, I probably could have added just 3-4cms because it feels the tiniest bit short on me.
The pattern goes together beautifully and all that tweaking in the sampling stage is borne out in the final version. I found the instructions pretty clear, they are mostly photographs and there are some really useful hints and tips which will come in very handy if you aren’t that experienced in your dressmaking yet. Make sure you transfer your markings for the pocket pivot point for example so that you get a crisp finish for the corners.
You could top stitch all the darts down, possibly in a contrast thread if you like, but because the Ponte had a slight stretch I didn’t do this on mine. I did top stitch down the front facings though and caught them down in a couple of places on the inside to stop them flapping.
For the ochre version I topstitched more of the seams, I confess that I was incredibly slovenly and used up various threads in my collection so not all the stitching is the same colour…oops! Incidentally I didn’t use top stitch thread, instead I used the triple straight stitch which looks very similar although it is quite thread-hungry (hence the non-matching!)
This time however I didn’t top stitch the front facings down, I adopted a different approach. As it’s an unlined coat so all the innards are visible I used some ribbon to anchor the facing down in a couple of places. I chose to do this because I know from experience that when you’re sewing through several thick layers the triple stitch (which is a set length on my Pfaff and not adjustable) it can lead to puckering which doesn’t look so nice. Try a sample before you go ahead if you aren’t sure, that’s a LOT of slow unpicking if you don’t like it after all.
I finished the hem by hand using a herringbone stitch rather than machining it for the same reason that I didn’t top stitch the front facings.
I think the Dawson is a well-drafted and executed pattern from an independent designer (and CL’s art work features herself so it squeaks into the #so50visible category!) The Minerva Ponte Roma works well for the soft tailoring, using my old curtain gives the slightly cocoon-shape a little more definition. It shouldn’t be too difficult to do an FBA if you need to either. I’m much happier with the fit of the ochre one, but I love the navy and will still wear it regularly too.
Because the Dawson is a loose cocoon shape it would make a beautiful evening coat in a glamorous brocade, to go over the top of your evening outfit, denim would look great too (Have a look at my Simple Sew Cocoon jacket in denim here)
I guess this was also a useful exercise in upcycling, the curtain was years old and not being used for it’s original purpose so I thought why not give this a try. If I found I wasn’t mad about wearing the colour after all I know it’s 100% cotton so it would dye, I might come unstuck with the polyester sewing thread though which would take up the colour differently-it’s hardly Saville Row standard though! The Dawson took barely two metres of fabric (the front facing is helpfully cut in two parts which helps reduce the fabric usage, and of course you could always use a contrast fabric anyway) it doesn’t instruct you to use interfacing on any of the collar or facing parts but I did, just to stabilise the fabric a bit.
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
I first met pattern maker Dhurata Davies at my friend Sal’s ‘Sew2gether’ event last spring and then our path’s crossed again unexpectedly a couple of months later when I made a last minute decision to go to the Threads textiles fair in Farnham. Dhurata was exhibiting there and she offered me a copy of her Maxine Sweater pattern in return for a review. The pattern is intended as a sweatshirt, and I’ve made one in a jersey fabric already, but it also works well in a woven too. It was the diagonal seam lines with pockets concealed in them that appealed to me. The sweatshirt version was for a Minerva fabric blog review which hasn’t appeared yet at the time of writing but now that I’ve made a second top I can tell you all about the pattern here.
I had picked up a modest remnant of ‘Woolsey’, a linen/wool fabric in the Merchant & Mills shop in Rye last August, it’s a lovely deep teal colour which is one of my favourites (although it’s a devil to photograph accurately). When I made the jersey version I made a size 16 based on my body measurements and there’s plenty of room in it so I knew I could risk making the same size in a non-stretch fabric. [If you are making anything more usually intended for a fabric with some stretch you will almost certainly need to go up a size or two, especially if it’s in any way close fitting. Measure the pattern itself if you’re not sure and don’t forget you need to be able to get it on, will it need additional openings like a zip or buttons if there’s no stretch to get it over your head, or your hips?]
Before I cut anything out I made myself a ‘whole’ sleeve pattern piece, it comes as a ‘half’ sleeve vertically so this needs to be placed on a fold in the fabric (twice as you need two sleeves!) but I always prefer to have a complete sleeve. Just stick the pattern to a large enough piece of paper so that you can fold it down the central ‘place on fold’ line, fold it in half and pin in a few places then cut out a new symmetrical pattern piece.
I knew I would not have enough fabric for the separate collar, cuffs and hem-band pieces but I could lengthen the body so that it wasn’t ridiculously short. I added about 10-12cms to the bottom of the front and back pieces. I had to decide how to finish the neckline instead of the collar and I came up with a combination of piping directly on the edge first and then a band of jersey ribbing. I didn’t know how, or if, this would work but the piping would look fine on it’s own if the jersey wasn’t any good.
The instructions and illustrations are nice and clear and straightforward and it’s not as difficult as you might imagine to get the diagonal cross in the centre. The seam allowance is just 1cm so I always highlight the pattern when this is the case so that, when I make the pattern again, I don’t sew it up as 1.5 by mistake and it’s all too small!
Once the front was complete I joined it to the back at the shoulders and then made some bias binding for the neck. I had just enough scraps to cut 3 strips which were approximately 50cms long and 4cms wide which I joined to form one long strip. I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 which is really useful but you can usually use your zip foot if it allows you to stitch close enough to the piping cord. Not all zip feet are good at this especially if it’s the generic one which comes with the machine but there are usually adjustable ones you can buy which, in my experience, are better. The piping foot actually sits over the top of the fabric and piping cord rather than just beside it so it’s held more securely and stitches much closer to the piping for a better finish. If you want to see another use of the piping foot pop over to my review of the Simple Sew Lizzie dress.
Once I’d made the piping I sewed it around the neck, raw edges together and making a neat join at the back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a matching jersey so I opted for a complete contrast. I bought 50cms each of deep red and dark grey tubular jersey from Backstitch and when I put them together I decided that the red made a more interesting garment. Generally when you’re adding a stretch band you work on the basis of it being approximately 85% of the neckline/cuff/waistband measurement that you’re attaching it to, depending on the stretch of the jersey. I’d made things tricky by adding the piping first so the machine had to go through a LOT of layers of fabric. I must say that the Pfaff sailed through it all pretty easily. The only time it was hard work was over the seam allowances on the cuffs. Because I was making this bit up as I went along I sewed the piping onto the cuff first then sewed the under arm seams, if I were using this finish again I would sew the under arm seam first and then put the binding on ‘in the round’ because it would be less bulky where it crosses the seam. I used my little seam-hopper gadget to help lift the foot to help ease it over the bulky seams, this one came with the machine but you can buy something called a Jean-a-ma-jig or even use a piece of thick folded cardboard.
Having told you 85% is the usual amount for a stretch bands I should have made the neck one slightly shorter than that as it doesn’t sit completely flat even after a good amount of steaming. I left it though because it doesn’t look that bad and it would be a lot of work to re-do it. First join the band into a loop along it’s narrow edge then fold it lengthwise in the same manner as the cuffs and then divide it into 4 equal parts marked with pins. Next equally divide the neck (or cuffs) equally into 4 too. Pin the band onto the neck (or cuff) at the marks and stretch the band to fit and stitch in place. You can see from the photos that this was quite tricky because of the number of layers involved, I graded the layers so that it reduced the bulk as far as possible. All these layers plus the piping cord made it too difficult to get the cuffs under the overlocker so I finished the edges using a simple zigzag stitch. Around the neck I used the Coverlock 3.0 to coverstitch which had dual benefit of neatening on the inside and giving an attractive double row of top stitching on the outside.
To finish the hem I just overlocked the edge, turned it up and stitched twice. So that’s it really, I’m very happy with the finished top, I layered it up with a thin RTW T-shirt when I wore it to go to Brighton recently. The fabric doesn’t seem to crease so much as bend, it’s of a double-weave construction the same as cotton double gauze.
I’m really happy with the outcome of this top, the fabric has lent itself well to the more smocky kind of shape and although it was bit involved I really like the finished effect of the addition of the stretch cuffs and piping onto an otherwise simple garment. The ‘Woolsey’ fabric does fray a bit because of the loose weave but it’s manageable. Incidentally, this pattern looks great lengthened into a dress or with the pockets left out of the seams if you’re short of fabric.
Thank you Dhurata for the gift of the pattern, in my opinion it’s a goody and if you aren’t adding extras like me it’s a nice quick half-day make. Dhurata has also designed some lovely children’s patterns too which you might be interested in.