First a bit of preamble, because the origins of the fabric I used for this top were important. In June 2022 me and Mr Y were finally able to return to mainland Europe again for a four day stay in Florence, one of my favourite cities. We knew it would probably be very busy with visitors during the summer but frankly I didn’t care about this, I was just so happy to be able to see all those magnificent buildings and beautiful art again.
In between looking at the art and strolling the ancient streets I indulged in a little window shopping at the stores where I can afford literally nothing, including Alexander McQueen, Missoni and Gucci.
Amongst all these shops though I *may* have come across a fabric emporium….In truth, there are quite a number of fabric shops in Florence, what with this being Italy and home of fabulous quality textiles.
I had, however, been given the name of another more accessible shop by a kind Instagram follower so we set off to find it with only the vaguest idea where it was. Bacci Tessuti is quite close to the Medici Chapel and San Lorenzo and, with a little help from Google Maps, we found it eventually.
The air-conditioned shop was a very welcome haven from the extreme heat Florence was experiencing during our visit and I was not disappointed by what I found, there is a wonderful selection of lovely cloth to browse.
The choices in a beautiful store like this can be quite overwhelming so I had a sort-of plan to buy something which felt ‘Italian’ to me. I set out looking at their fine linen, personally I would call it handkerchief linen and it’s much lighter and softer than most of the heavier and more durable linens I’ve seen on sale in the UK. I homed in on one with a large design in blue, red and pink flowers (I love a floral fabric but I don’t often wear it) but this one ’spoke’ to me. So that was great but then the helpful shop manager, who spoke excellent English, pointed out the Liberty Tana lawn he had at a very good price! I would have resisted but my husband wanted to buy some for me so who am I to turn him down!
These were going to be my total purchases but when I went over to the counter the manager told me that the linen cloth was by the textile designer for well-known Italian brand, Pucci. At this point he produced from under the counter several short length pieces of some beautiful Italian designer fabrics including Dolce and Gabbana! They were all very lovely (and still expensive) but I wouldn’t have a use for them. The one I did fall for though was a small piece of silk/cotton cloth from Pucci with their trademark psychedelic design in delicate ice cream shades. It still wasn’t cheap but it was just a bit different and there was enough to make a top of some kind. So of course it came home with me…
With my purchases safely stowed away we got on with enjoying the rest of our holiday (although I spent a fair bit of time planning in my head what I was going to make when we got home!)
As I said earlier, I had no more than 1m30 of fabric to play with and I still wanted to do a decent job of matching the print as best I could. The basic pattern fitted on the fabric, it’s only a front, back, sleeves and facings, but I thought it might look a bit meh, and there would still be some wastage. After a bit of a rethink, by shortening the body and making two deep ruffles across the width of the fabric I knew I would get a much more interesting design and have very little wastage in the end.
Basically it was a case of working out how long I could afford to make the top section and still get ruffles that were a balanced length [I had the Merchant and Mills Florence top in my head as inspiration] I took a line horizontally straight across to the centre front/back from the side seam approximately 15cms down from the bottom of the arm scye of both the front and back. What I should have done if I had stopped to think about it was make the centre front longer, I didn’t though and as a result the front hem lifts up because of my bust. The back is fine though.
I was able to cut the front and back pieces side by side on the folded cloth which meant the design ran smoothly around the garment. From the remaining fabric I calculated how deep two full widths of the fabric could be (approximately 28cms each strip) and still have enough to get two sleeves and the neck facings out too.
Once I had all the pieces it was just a case of assembling. First I did my usual scavenge through my button boxes to find enough suitable colours in matching sizes. After joining the shoulder seams and attaching the neck and back facings I sewed all the buttonholes at this stage, by doing this first it meant I wasn’t fighting the bulky seam of the gathered ‘skirt’ later.
As for the other Italian fabrics, I have plans to make a shirt dress with the beautiful linen, I have a design I’ve drafted and sewn a couple of versions of but there’s probably still a few tweaks I want to make to it before making it in the ‘real thing’. The Liberty lawn is waiting for the right project to present itself too, no need to rush these things. I’m all for sewing the good stuff but it’s really upsetting if you sew a dud with it!
As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.
The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch.
Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance.
Away we go…
Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)
If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.
The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)
Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.
The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.
I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.
The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.
I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.
I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.
I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.
I’ve been dithering for aaages about sewing myself a jumpsuit for various reasons. The main one is because I’m haunted by the memory of an ill-advised white cotton get-up purchased one lunchtime from Leather Lane market in about 1986….ah the folly of youth. Of course I was channelling Pepsi and Shirlie and thought I looked the bees knees but I’m just grateful there’s no photographic evidence to prove very much the opposite was true!
I digress. My other reasons are simple enough; what about when I need the loo? (which is often) and, will my bum look big in it? [Of course the size of my bum should never be up for discussion but decades of reading articles in magazines telling a woman what she can wear because of her age/ weight/ height etc etc can’t be unlearnt overnight]
I know there are some cracking patterns for jumpsuits (and I cannot bring myself to call it a boiler suit because that just makes me think I should be in the inspection pit under a Class A4 Pacific locomotive with a monkey wrench in my hand) and I’ve even got as far as buying and printing the uber-popular Paper Theory Zadie but that’s where it ended.
Anyhoo, I went to the recent Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally and while I was at the Sew Me Something stand I signed up to receive their newsletter. The upshot was my name was randomly chosen and I won a pattern of my choice from their selection. [You might know that one of my favourite tops is their Imogen blouse which I’ve reviewed here in the past] This time I decided to go mad and choose their Cressida jumpsuit. It is a simple shape with short grown-on sleeves, a collar and rever, bust darts, a waist seam, hip pockets, slightly cropped length and an optional belt. I received mine as a paper pattern but it is also available as a PDF, plus PDF with a printing service too if required.
Because this was a completely new type of garment for me I decided to make a toile version first so I used some medium weight denim I bought in Hitchin market. I made the slightly rash decision not to pre-wash it because I was in a hurry to get started so I gave it a really good steam press instead. With hindsight this probably wasn’t entirely wise because the colour came off on my hands terribly and there was some shrinkage when I eventually washed it, although fortunately not enough to make it unwearable.
Based on my body measurements and the finished garment measurements I opted to make a UK size 12. Aside from my own foolishness with the fabric shrinkage I’ve found the 12 to be a good fit. The body length was just right which means I can sit or move comfortably in it, the only change I made was to the second version which I made using some beautiful Cousette viscose twill provided for me by Lamazi Fabrics to wear at their very first open day in mid-November. I decided to add 1.5cms to the bodice using the lengthen/shorten lines marked on the pattern. However, I probably didn’t need to have done so because I was making that decision based on the slight shrinkage of the denim! Not to worry, it means that getting in and out of the jumpsuit is a bit easier because of the extra wiggle room.
A couple of details I tried out on the denim jumpsuit were to use a variegated sewing thread for the decorative top stitching and buttonholes which I bought from William Gee. I also added belt loops which aren’t included as part of the pattern but I wanted these so that the belt sat in roughly the right place and covered the seam. By the way, I felt the included belt pattern piece was very long so I shortened it quite considerably, by at least 50cms. I had recently bought some gorgeous buttons from Pigeonwishes, also at the K&S Show and these were exactly the right colour, size and quantity I needed-perfect!
Overall I was very pleased with my denim Cressida so I was happy to go ahead with the viscose twill version. As I said earlier I added a little bit of length but possibly didn’t need to, being a button front opening does mean that I’ve given myself just a little bit more space to get the sleeves up and down from my shoulders. Because we’re heading into winter in the UK now I have opted to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt underneath at present (both ancient RTW ones) Although I made the fabric belts for both I can put a leather one through the loops instead and it looks good.
I have found the instructions for Sew Me Something patterns to be very thorough and clear and the Cressida is no different, the pattern goes together very well. Jules uses a slightly different method for sewing the collar together which I haven’t used before but it gives a very nice end result. I would rate this pattern as a moderate level of difficulty because of the buttonstand at the front but otherwise there’s nothing here to scare the horses particularly.
When I made the second Cressida in the viscose twill I didn’t make the same mistake twice and pre-washed the fabric first! The viscose has a beautiful weight and drape to it and I love the autumnal colours. It has a lovely soft handle too, you just need to be as careful as possible when sewing it together because viscose twill does have a reputation for snagging which can result in slight ‘catches’ or runs in the print which is irritating and disappointing. My advice would be to make sure you use a new fine needle, possibly a Microtex, and certainly no larger than 70/75 size to try and minimise any risk. Also, viscose is often known for creasing a lot but I didn’t find this twill to be too bad-damning with faint praise possibly but I’ve come across far worse.
As I mentioned earlier, I made the Cousette viscose jumpsuit to wear at the recent Lamazi open day, I’ve been one of their blogger team for some time now so it was lovely to have the chance to visit their new premises (they aren’t a retail shop but check here for their visiting arrangements) fellow blogger Sharlene Oldroydwas also there having travelled especially from Northern Ireland so it a real treat to finally meet her in real life.
So there we are, a lucky win from Sew Me Something and a generous gift of fabric from Lamazi means that I’ve broken my long-held suspicion of jumpsuits. Both have been worn a few times already and, because of the short sleeves, they will get worn in the summer months too. Taking into account my worries of getting in and out of the jumpsuit, it hasn’t been too much of an issue. The denim one is a little more tricky to get over my shoulders because the overall length is slightly less but I haven’t had a problem with the viscose edition.
The Cressida would also look lovely made up in a variety of fabrics including linen or crepe, or even a luxurious silk-type perhaps?
Did you keep any of your old college course work? I am by nature something of a hoarder but even I was surprised when an unpromising cardboard folder came to light recently while we were having a grand clear out. It said “Russia 1980” on the outside so I was excited to think that it contained some memorabilia from my school trip of that year [The trip caused some local controversy at the time because that year the USSR had invaded Afghanistan just a matter of weeks earlier and some people felt we should no longer go. Our Head Mistress, the doughty Miss Pagan, was having none of it so we went regardless! Many countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics later that year in protest…about the invasion, not because my school trip went ahead]
I digress, upon opening the folder I found it contained nothing of that trip at all but it did contain many of the sketches and designs I produced whilst at London College of Fashion between 1983-85 including the final project when I produced two ‘mass market’ bridal outfits. Well what a trip down memory lane they proved to be! It was a period of my life when I was so happy with what I was doing, I’d finally found the right course for me (technical garment construction and not just design) I had a great bunch of college mates, I loved it.
I’m sharing the sketches partly because then I’ve documented everything for my own reference and enjoyment, but also because I hope there might be things of interest to others as well. Fashion-wise the early eighties were a time of puffball skirts and massive ruffles, enormous sleeves and ra-ra skirts, wide collars and even wider shoulder pads! Princess Diana was the style darling of the fashion magazines and whatever she wore became a trend. Last year I shared lots of press clippings and photos from my early working career which you can still read here.
What follows are the design and development sheets for an evening wear module [you can see now why it’s my first love when it comes to making] We had to design variations of similar dresses and gowns to illustrate how a garment could be adapted and simplified to cater for it’s appropriate market.
For my final project I opted to make two bridal outfits, I’m guessing they were mid-range and the jacket and skirt was probably intended as a register office outfit whilst the ‘Laura Ashley” dress and jacket was probably for a simple church wedding or registry office. I had a real client for the suit which was my then-boyfriend’s sister. This was handy because she paid for the fabrics for it, the jacket and skirt were white crepe-back satin and the blouse underneath was a soft green georgette. I think my ‘brand’ was possibly Jacques Verts who specialised in smart workwear for the modern working woman (definitely power shoulder pads with everything) or mother-of-the-bride type outfits with matching everything, dresses, jackets, hats, bags, shoes, the lot.
Laura Ashley were hugely popular in the Eighties with their feminine and floral styles, they also produced a range of dresses for brides and bridesmaids at reasonable prices so that will be why I picked them as my brand for this project.
Well, there we are, another wander back into the past for some Eighties fashion extravagance. You’ll see why I probably won’t embrace the current trend for wide collars because I did them the last time around (although fabulous sleeves will always hold an attraction for me) we were all busy being New Romantics but that Steve Strange eye make-up was difficult to pull off with glasses!
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.
Two years ago I wrote a review of the Sewing Revival Heron dress which you can still read here. I liked the pattern so much that since then I’ve made another knee-length version in a viscose/linen mix fabric from Ditto in Brighton and a blouse variation too in a beautiful soft Italian cotton voile, also from Ditto. I wore it often although not so much lately…
While I was at Sew Brum in October 2019 I bought some lovely soft brushed printed viscose twill from Barry’s Fabrics with the express intention of making another Heron but this time making it longer and more cold weather-friendly. There had been a lot of Wilder Gowns by the Friday Pattern Company popping up everywhere at the time, I liked the tiered style a lot but I knew I could create my own take on it by using a pattern I already had. A multiple-layered skirt like this isn’t difficult, it’s really a case of working out the number and sizes of rectangles you want to use. If you take a look at this post I wrote about recreating a sun dress for a client in 2019 you’ll get the gist. Because I like the top section of the Heron so much I decided this was a good pattern to use and it wouldn’t be difficult to adapt it to what I wanted.
All the quantities and proportions I have used for this dress were completely arbitrary and had to be based primarily on the quantity of fabric I’d purchased [which I can’t actually remember as it’s well over a year ago, probably 3m of 150cm wide fabric I’d guess] and my own height of 5’5” so bear this in mind if you decide to have a go yourself. I wanted the dress to be nice and long so eventually I settled on approximately hip length for the bodice, the finished length of the side seam is now 40cms. I folded the front and back dress pattern sections up out of the way when I pinned them to the fabric (obviously you could trace or print off a new copy of the PDF if you wish) Once both bodices, sleeve and pocket pieces are on the fabric [pockets could be cut from something else if you’re a bit short of fabric] I could see exactly how much I had left to create the skirt from. I kept it very simple and divided the remaining fabric into two equal rectangles across the full width, each one measured approximately 56cms long but that had to include the seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.
Initially the construction of the dress followed the normal method up as far as putting the pockets into the side seams of the bodice as per the pattern.
Making the skirt was very straightforward, I joined the short selvedges to one another [if it’s a one-way design make sure the print is running the same way on both pieces] to form a large cylinder of fabric with two side seams. Press the side seams open, if you’ve been able to use the original selvedges they might not need finishing. I made the hem at this point too, it seemed easier than wrestling with a complete dress at the end, although this could have backfired on me if I hadn’t been happy with the length but I was pretty certain it would be OK.
I ran two rows of gathering stitches within the seam allowance of the top edge, I pinned them in position matching the side seams, centre front and centre back, plus the quarter seam positions too. Gather up carefully so as not to break the threads, small pleats would also work here especially if the fabric would be bulky otherwise, it depends a bit on the weight of the fabric to some extent. Once I was happy with the gathering distribution I sewed the skirt on and overlocked the seam.
And that was it. Now, I have to say that because I was taking a risk with proportions and limited by the quantity of fabric I’d bought that if I were to repeat this I would definitely make the bodice quite a lot shorter and make the skirt from more than one gathered tier instead. I’m happy with the overall finished length but I think the seam at the hip isn’t quite right. But, by wearing it with a narrow leather belt (there wasn’t any fabric left for a self-belt anyway) and bringing it in at the waist I’ve saved it, the belt gives it a lot more definition.
I added a tie at the neck this time using a bit of grosgrain ribbon which I had knocking about.
The dress was finished around a year ago and these photos were shot in the autumn but it’s taken until now to write up. I just wanted to demonstrate how easy it can be to make your own version of popular patterns using one you already have-there’s a certain risk involved because it might not be completely successful but that’s always the risk anyway when making our own clothes-a style might turn out not to suit us after all, or we make a wrong fabric choice, or it could be a triumph so why not revisit what you already own before buying another pattern?
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!
The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too.
I’ve chosen the cord velvetfrom Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant.
Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.
The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time.
To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.
Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff.
Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.
I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine.
I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later!
The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.
Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.
The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff.
Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!
I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric.
Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed.
And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!
I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!
At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine.
It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.
Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful.
This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.
I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.
This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.
The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.
I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.
I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.
I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.
The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.
So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.
So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…
I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.
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!