I think this is a fairly comprehensive album of my makes in 2018, most of them have been worn a good number of times although not all were for me.
When I look back like this I realise what a busy sewing year 2018 was ( and a bit of knitting too!). Also, there seem to be a LOT of dresses and tops but very few skirts and trousers! I think this is definitely as a result of me gaining weight in the last two years and feeling self-conscious so, with the exception of my Megan Nielsen Ash jeans from autumn 2017, I really haven’t wanted to make close-fitting clothes.
I’m addressing this now, with some success so far, but the other truth is that I like wearing looser-fitting clothes anyway, although hopefully I can go down a size or two when I make them in future…time will tell.
Some of the garments you see here have been worn loads since I made them whilst others were less successful. Sometimes this was bad fabric choices, sometimes they didn’t suit me after all, also the weather became so hot that I didn’t wear the heavier items as much as I expected at the time.
I tend not to set myself up for ‘sewnine’ or other year-long initiatives because I’d rather see what takes my fancy as time passes, or whatever gap I feel needs filling. I’ve really enjoyed making a few jackets and coats this year and they have all had a good amount of wear, they aren’t something I’d done much previously. I’ll be making a couple of posh frocks soon because we’re going on a cruise in March which will need a few fancy threads in the evenings, I’ll be taking old favourites like the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt and New Look 6351 trousers, and Papercut Moana to keep cool in during the day though.
Have you got sewing plans already for 2019 or are you more like me and just see what takes your fancy? We’ve got the new series of the Great British Sewing Bee to look forward to very soon and I’m sure that will inspire even more people to take up this brilliant activity with us! Dressmaking is an activity anyone can try fairly easily these days and there is so much inspiration, help and encouragement out there too, in a way it never was when I was first sewing.
I can’t wait to see the two blockbuster exhibitions at the V&A next year, Dior: Designer of Dreams opens in February and Mary Quant in April so there’s lots to look forward to there. It’s well worth considering membership this year I’d say, I’ve had excellent value-for-money from mine these past four years. [alternatively, Art Fund is also worth considering if you don’t live near London because that gives you reductions to lots of galleries and museums all over the UK, including the V&A)
I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot more SewOver50 activity from all over the world too, have you joined yet?
Maybe our paths will cross in 2019 and we can talk sewing together in real life?
Sometimes makes jump to the top of the queue just because the fabric grabs you, this is one of those makes. At the recent Sewing weekender Stoff and Stil generously gave each attendee 1 metre of fabric in their goodie bags and mine was this pretty vintage-toned georgette. It doesn’t take a sewing genius to notice that my dress took a lot more than 1 metre! My lovely friend and neighbour Elizabeth @eliza_sew_little and Melissa @fehrtrade had the same fabric and it wasn’t to their taste so they gave me theirs too.
What to make? Because of it’s drapey sheer qualities I wanted a style that exploited these features without being over-clingy, but also the fabric was in three separate pieces so I had to work within those constraints. It needed to be something where the top came out of 1 metre and the skirt came out of the other two metres. In the back of my mind I remembered an 80’s shirt pattern that was in my collection, I think donated to me by my neighbour although I have plenty from that era myself, it’s when my sewing life properly started so I still have virtually every pattern I ever bought!
I had enough fabric to use style B with collar C and the pockets from D.
My neighbour had obviously made it at some point in the past as the 14 was already cut out so I just went with that, the 12 would have done though.
Georgette is a bit wriggly so take your time cutting it out, try and keep it as flat as possible on the table and don’t shift it about if you can avoid it. Pin carefully (I’m not a weights person) and sharp scissors are vital so as not to snag or catch on the fabric as you cut. Because it’s sheer and lightweight I didn’t want to spoil this with clunky interfacing in the collar and front facing so I used some sheer organza that was left over from a wedding dress alteration. This has to be basted in position temporarily while everything is put together, the stitches are removed at the end.
Take your time sewing with a fiddly fabric like this, it’s hopeless if you’re in a rush because it shifts about and is quite ‘bouncy’ when you gather it up, hence the simplicity of my design. If you want a real quality finish I’d suggest using French seams wherever possible, especially if the fabric is plain because the seams will show through however because my fabric was patterned and I was being lazy I overlocked! Fine or sheer fabrics can pucker a little so use a fine needle and smallish stitch, not all machines handle sheer fabrics well though so you could try sewing with a layer of tissue paper underneath, tear the tissue away after you’ve sewn. If the needle pushes the fabric down into the needle plate you could try a foot with a small hole in it rather than wide hole (like a zigzag foot) that might help, or you can put a bit of masking tape over the needle plate to reduce the size of the hole and so reduce the risk of the fabric being pushed down it.
Once the top part was all put together I simply joined the other two remaining pieces of fabric at the selvedges to form side seams and gathered the top edge to attach to the lower edge of the ‘blouse’. This made a monsterously long skirt even when I made a deep double-turned hem so I turned it once more, for my own safety!
The seam and the pocket aren’t actually very visible but that’s fine, I know they’re there.
It’s all a bit floaty with a gypsy vibe going on but do you know what, it’s sooo lovely to wear, very liberating!! It’s a bit ‘out there’ for me but I feel really feminine in it, it’s pretty, it’s comfortable, even with tricky fabric it didn’t take that long to make. I’ll definitely be making another in something else, or even just the shirt part because it’s a really simple collar and the horizontal seams make it more interesting, best of all it just pops over my head. It isn’t a million miles from the Deer and Doe Myosotis that everyone is making either, that’s probably where I got the idea from without realising. Gifted fabric and a gifted pattern, buttons from the stash, organza from the offcuts make this, basically, a free dress and you’ve gotta love that! I wore it to the handmade fair at Hampton Court over the weekend and bumped into Karen Ball, she’d been one of the speakers at the sewing Weekender and she recognised the fabric!
Why not have a look at your patterns for tops, blouses and shirts, can you add a skirt? It doesn’t need to be anything tricky, just gather or pleat straight widths of fabric onto the bottom-that’s all a ‘dirndl’ skirt is anyway. Be aware of the gathering properties of the fabric you’ve got though. I know georgette (or chiffon, or even cotton voile) are very fine so they can take a lot of gathering, a firmer fabric can end up too chunky and less flattering so experiment first.
Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.
When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.
When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!
Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.
In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.
Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.
Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!
I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.
Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.
I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photosdon’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.
So, where does that leave us today?
The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.
I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.
I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.
In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.
Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?
Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.
I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.
I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.
Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.
All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.
Did you take part in Me Made May? At the outset I pledged to try and wear at least one self-made garment every day during May and, by and large I achieved that. I say ‘by and large’ because although I definitely wore a me-made item of clothing every day there was the odd occasion when I failed-or couldn’t be bothered-to take a decent photo!
The first few I managed by balancing my phone on top of a loudspeaker and setting it on a 3 second timer. This proved imperfect and the novelty quickly wore off when it fell to the floor for the umpteenth time!
Neither of the next garments were new either, the red broderie anglaise was amongst some fabric I was gifted and was already cut out, I just sewed it together. The blue and white was self-drafted 2 or 3 years ago in a cotton/linen mix fabric and it’s a summer favourite of mine.
The georgette kaftan is new and was the try-out version of my most recent Simple Sew make for their blog.
The stripes is also the same Burdastyle top but in a striped jersey and with short sleeves. I’d didn’t like it much as a regular T-shirt but it’s been great as exercise wear!
Awesome dragon pattern-matching and zip insertion even if I do say so myself! Bias binding and hand-sewn hem too.
This top was drafted from a RTW one and I extended the shoulders to form sleeves. It’s sheer georgette with a slightly sparkly stripe which I get from a market and worn with a RTW camisole underneath. I made it 3 years ago but it’s been a real favourite.
The next ‘make’ is a big old cheat because it’s the etchings I made not the clothes! I loved my visit to Sudbourne Printmakers in Suffolk, and the sewing connection was meeting Chrissy Norman the tutor at the first Sewing Weekender two years ago. take a look at her work, it’s beautiful.
This is only half new-I made a top from this lovely broderie Anglais I bought at Walthamstow market last year but I hadn’t bought enough and it was too snug around the hips. Luckily I managed to get a bit more so I unpicked and started again. This time I used the top half of my favourite Holiday shirt and used wide elastic in a casing under the bust to give it some shape. There was just enough for sleeves this time. I used a ‘daisy’ bias-binding to finish the neck edge and opening.
Not everything I’ve made has been an unqualified success and this teal blue dress is definitely one of the disappointments! It looked lovely on the packet but the back is ridiculous because the zip bulged out giving me a strange hump so I took it out again and inserted it in the side seam instead. Frankly it’s not much better. The top is far too wide and the V neck flaps about undecided whether it’s a V or a fold-back revere. The fabric was super-cheap from Walthamstow again but it’s the amount of time I spent which makes me grumpy. I might turn it into a skirt…
And so to the last outfit of the month…
The top for my last outfit of the month was originally a dress but, even though I’d made one previously for winter, this version just wasn’t right. The length wasn’t flattering and the sleeves, which had decorative darts, were too tight. After a bit of a refashion which removed most of the skirt, put short splits in the side seams at the hem and took the darts out of the sleeves making them a bit more floaty it was much more wearable. There were pockets in the side seams which I wanted to keep so this governed the length overall. I wore it with my trusty Ash jeans which I’ve absolutely loved since making them last autumn.
So to sum up, Me Made May encouraged me to really look in my wardrobe and get out some of the things which get worn less often, as well as the favourites. The weather has ranged from freezing cold to boiling hot and I realised that my summery dresses are rather lacking when it’s warm, and cooler plain bottom halves are needed to go with my many patterned tops. I know I’ve been prolific in the last 3 years or so compared to a long fallow period for years before that and that makes me very happy. Looking through the clothes I’ve worn during May the vast percentage are things that were made more than a year ago, a lot are more than 2 years old and some older than that. Even when I used to buy more clothes if there was a garment I really liked I kept it for a long time, I think probably because if I’d taken the time to choose it then I wanted good use from it-££ per wear and all that. The same is now true of my makes, I’ve invested my own time into making them so I want to enjoy wearing them (although it’s frustrating when they aren’t a success, but I’ll often refashion them if I can)
Did you join in with Me Made May and did it encourage you to to make more use of your self-made clothes?