Jennifer Lauren is a designer who is based in New Zealand and her patterns come in both paper and PDF format. She has several womenswear designs including dresses, tops, skirts and a cardigan, and there’s a man’s cardigan too and, just for a change, her newest pattern release is Nixie knickers! Her aesthetic is both modern and vintage, and lines are simple and unfussy with the occasional quirky detail which is what attracted me to her designs in the first place.
The Mayberry is a dress with a drawstring waist and an asymmetric button front, and 3 different sleeve lengths. It also comes with the choice of 4 cup sizes (A to D) alongside the actual bust measurement which means you should be able to get an excellent fit without having to do an FBA or SBA.
I was chosen as a reviewer for the dress and obviously I would be making the PDF version, so initially I was aghast when I thought there were 100 pages to print out! On closer reading it was clear that you only print the bodice front in the cup-size that you need, not all of them, phew! Also, you don’t have to print all the sleeves, only the ones you want. To help you decide which sets of pages you need to print there is a single page with all the plans for each section illustrated which is really helpful.
If you need help with deciding which size and cup you need to choose there’s a very comprehensive set of instructions, with illustrations, which should set you right. There are also several lay plans for the different sizes on different fabric widths so you shouldn’t have a problem cutting out.
As with previous PDFs I don’t print out the instructions, I read them as I go along. Jennifer suggests that you print out and stick together each of the sections, and then trace them off and cut the traced sheets out. I can’t be doing with all of that, I just want to get going but obviously the choice is personal so you might prefer to do the tracing/cutting out method.
Once I’d got everything good-to-go I could cut out my fabric. I used a gorgeous plain aubergine-coloured fabric I’d bought about two years ago from the Man outside Sainsbury’s at Walthamstow market, I’m not sure what it is though, possibly challis. Either way it has a nice drape so would be ideal for the Mayberry. Other suitable fabrics would be chambray or soft denim, soft woollens or cotton lawn, Jennifer lists a few choices and also reminds you to wash your fabric before using it.
It’s really important to bear in mind when you’re cutting out the bodice fronts and facings that because they are asymmetric you mustn’t flip the pieces over if you’re using a patterned fabric because they could be all wrong if you do. You should be OK with a plain fabric just so long as it’s the same on both sides-not needlecord for example. a note on that-if you’re making the Mayberry in a thicker fabric for winter then you could cut the facings in a lighter contrast fabric for a neat touch and to reduce the bulk at the edges.
It’s an idea to highlight important information as a reminder to yourself. You may notice in the right-hand photo that my cutting out looks a bit inaccurate, this because the fabric is a bit slithery and moved about a bit so I had to check some of the smaller pieces carefully. I’m always very fastidious about cutting out because if it’s wrong before you start sewing pieces together it will only get only more wrong as you go, especially if you tend to be a bit sloppy with seam allowances too! You have been warned!
Jennifer’s order of making has you putting the bodice together and completing the buttons and buttonholes at this early stage. This is good a good idea although it’s one that I didn’t follow!! That’s because I hoped to use some snap fasteners instead of buttons but I hadn’t got (and never did manage to get) any in the colour that I wanted. Eventually I used buttons so making the holes was less accurate than if I’d done them without sleeves and skirt attached, never mind.
One of the details I like about the Mayberry is the drawstring waist. I was really chuffed to find some cord in exactly the right colour in Anglian Fashion Fabrics in Norwich on my recent visit, along with some cute little metal stoppers (if only they’d had the snaps in the same colour too)
Delightfully, there are pockets in the side seams which is always good news! Joining the skirt to the bodice is pretty straightforward and I thought the instructions for sewing the casing were good. You sew a wide 2.5cms seam allowance first of all then you trim one side down and press under and stitch the remaining side down to form the casing.
The sleeves are nicely full without being overblown and they have a pretty, narrow band to finish them off. The instructions for making the sleeves and inserting them into the arm-scyes are very detailed, along with helpful illustrations.
I decided to finish the hem off by hand because I didn’t want a row of machine stitching showing but you can also machine it up if you choose.
I think the Mayberry is a nice variation of the shirt-waister and I’ve made my version as a simple, elegant winter dress but I’ll definitely make more in other fabrics and with another sleeve length. You could make it in nice check brushed cotton for example, how about cutting the left front panel on the bias for a quirky feature? I appreciate Jennifer Lauren giving me the pattern for nothing in order to review it and luckily I’ve been very happy with the outcome. I made the 14 with a C cup and the fit is very good for me. If you’re a bigger cup size than a D then you’ll still need to do an FBA but at least you’ll be starting from a better position.
This would be a good style to try if you’re an ‘improver’ and keen to try something a little more tricky. You need to concentrate when you’re cutting out, and making up too because of the asymmetric front but it’s a satisfying make.
I could hardly believe it when I got an email out of the blue from Love Sewing editor Amy Thomas a couple of months back. She was inviting me to make and review the two patterns which were going to be the free gifts with upcoming issue 46. They were two separate patterns, Butterick 6461 trousers in two lengths with top-stitched seam details and a stretch waist, and McCalls 7322 a simple top with several variations for neck and sleeves.
Once I’d agreed to the challenge (I didn’t need any persuading!) Amy suggested which companies I could select fabric from so I browsed their websites for quite some time until I found what I was looking for. The trousers called for a fabric with some stretch and eventually I chose from Danish company Stoff and Stil their stretch 10 1/2oz denim in dark blue [Amy had advised me that black doesn’t photograph well and, although I would have liked a printed stretch cotton, I couldn’t find anything suitable or to my taste] The top could be made with either a jersey or drapey woven fabrics and I chose a really pretty crepe with watercolour flowers in gorgeous inky shades of plum and blue. Stoff and Stil are breaking into the UK market and have an extensive range of fabrics and patterns, wool and haberdashery available on their website. Their delivery charge however is quite high and I wouldn’t suggest them if you’re impatient or in a tearing hurry as delivery is usually 5-7 days.
While I waited for these to arrive (a slightly nerve-wracking wait because I was up against time to get the patterns made up by a tight deadline) I decided to make a wearable toile of them both to check the fit and any other idiosyncrasies they might throw up.
I had a colourful cotton sateen in my stash which I hadn’t found a use for yet so I made the trousers up in that. I cut a size 16 according to my measurements although I suspected (hoped) that would be a bit big. [You should always go by your own measurements before anything else if you’re making a fitted style because the sizing bears no relationship to shop-bought clothing and will almost certainly be too small if you ignore it. Just because you’re a 10 or a 16 or whatever in the shops doesn’t mean you’ll be the same in paper patterns-that’s the voice of bitter experience talking!!]
In spite of all I’ve just said I soon discovered they were miles too big though the legs and were an unflattering baggy shape that looked nothing like the shape in the photo. The inseams are sewn up first so, to remove some width, I skimmed at least 2cms off each outer or side seam.
This was an improvement but still quite generous in the legs-as a result though I knew I would need to cut at least one, if not 2, sizes smaller when I made the actual trousers. The waistband wasn’t very successful either-I didn’t like the way they told you to put the elastic in, I did it as instructed although I changed the toile later and did the denim version my own way (more of that later)
I’d opted to make Style B which are cropped length with turn-ups.
Once I’d toile-d the trousers I turned my attention to the top. I decided on the longer sleeve version with a bateau neckline, Style F. I fancied style C or D with a neckband initially but I got cold feet!! I’ve been sewing on and off for over 40 years and I just thought “If I mess this up it will be there in the magazine for everyone to see!!” Nightmare!
I made a very quick toile in a rather boring viscose, again from my stash, and the result was a rather boring top!! Ok, what to do?
Fortunately the fabric order arrived and the printed crepe was really lovely, much nicer colours than it’s photo online suggested so I decided I’d use it’s drapiness and work the current sleeve-detail trend by making a floaty gathered cuff instead. Crepe is a fabric which often has a slightly rough, matt feel and has a nice inherent drape which is caused by the way the yarn is twisted and then woven into fabric. It works well for bias cut skirts, dresses or blouses and anything slightly ‘flippy’.
One thing that the toile had thrown up was that the neck was slightly too wide and my bra straps showed so I increased the width of the pattern pieces.
Because the crepe is 150cms wide it meant that I could fold the selvedges into the centre line and then the front and back pattern pieces are side by side. This matters because any pattern of the print which runs across the fabric will run in a pleasing line around the body.
Another alteration I chose to make to the top was to add a little more fullness at the hem level. The toile was a tiny bit snug at hip level so to increase at that point I pinned the neck edge against the fold but pivoted the hem level away from the fold by about 1.5cms.
For the sleeve-hack I used the short sleeve and then cut 2 rectangles that were 50cms x 30cms (50cms is approximately 1.5x the bottom width of the short sleeve) You can make them as full as you want but if they’re too wide they can get a bit annoying catching on things or dripping in the washing up!!
One of the things I liked about the pattern was it’s explanations of various techniques used during the making up. If you’re a complete beginner it isn’t always obvious what a ‘back-tack’ is or how wide the seam allowances are for example and the instructions with many patterns expect you to know things like that already.
So I made up the top again (you could use French seams if you haven’t got an overlocker or your fabric frays badly) I joined the shoulder seams and then attached the neck facings because you can have the whole thing open fairly flat which makes it a bit easier. Self- or contrast bias binding would look nice as an alternative but take care not to stretch the neck edge as you do it because it would be all droopy-dangle…
Now sew up the side seams, try it on to check for fit and make any necessary adjustments then it’s ready for sleeves.
This time I made up the short sleeves then made 2 tubes of the rectangles for the floaty bits. Around the top edge of each tube I ran two parallel rows of gathering stitches within the 1.5cms seam allowance. I always back-tack at one end and leave the other loose to pull up.
I neatened the bottom edges of the tubes at this point too by making a ‘pin hem’.
Repeat for the second sleeve then neaten the edges of the joins by your chosen method.
When I’m setting in sleeves I always start by matching the underarm seams, then the shoulder seam balance mark followed by the front and back armhole notches. Next I pull up the ease stitching gently until the sleeve fits into the armhole, this may take a little while to get a pleasing fit so don’t rush it. Once you’re happy with the fit stitch the sleeves in (there’s nothing wrong with tacking them in first if it helps) Try the top on to make sure the sleeves look OK and then neaten the armhole seam by your chosen method.
Finally I made another pin hem on the hem itself. Although the top looked lovely as it was I like to add little details to make a garment really original so I rummaged through my vast collection of buttons and found a selection in various sizes and colours which I grouped on both the gathered sleeve seams.
So that’s the top, now for the trousers.
I washed and tumble-dried the denim as soon as it arrived because there will always be excess dye in denim and some shrinkage will occur too. I used a denim needle to sew with and I had specific top-stitch thread ready for the seaming details although you could use regular thread, I used regular thread to sew them together. A denim needle is also not essential but it deals with the extra thicknesses involved much better, a sturdy-sized universal needle would be ok if not.
Because I’d made the toile I cut the denim version out making them two sizes smaller. One little change I made was to raise the centre back waist a bit higher because I felt they drooped down at the back.
Sewing them together was straightforward after that, I used a slightly contrasting blue top-stitch thread for the seam details.
Then I got to joining the legs up and, even though I’d cut two sizes smaller, they were still too baggy! I skimmed yet more off the side seams to slim them down some more. It might have been more sensible to measure my thighs and compare that figure to the paper pattern!
I put the elastic in according to the instructions again but it was a disaster! By sewing through the elastic as directed all that did was sew in a stretched position and it couldn’t retract back so it was all baggy and horrid around my waist! I unpicked all of that and sewed it instead into a channel using my zipper foot to sew close to the edge of the elastic under the fabric without catching it (hopefully)
If you’re not confident sewing it this way then you can also sew a channel and then pull the elastic through separately using a bodkin or a strong safety pin.
All that remained was to sew the turn ups as before and they’re complete!
They’re still a bit baggier than I wanted and I might even bring them in some more although better that than make them too tight in the first place, they have hint of maternity trouser to them at the moment although useful if I’ve eaten a big dinner!!
On September 28th I travelled to Stockport with my makes for a photoshoot that many of you will by now have seen in issue 46 of Love Sewing magazine. It was so much fun and it was a real treat to have my make up done by professional Nina Rochford and and be photographed by Renata Stonyte. Along with Editor Amy they really put me at my ease and, whilst I’m not a natural model, they managed to get some nice pictures. It’s been a real thrill to feature in the magazine and to have the opportunity to share my hints and tips with readers. I do hope they have been of some use or help to you, you can email me at email@example.com if you want to ask a specific question, or advice.
I’ve loved writing for Love Sewing and I’m more than happy to do it again! I’m not saying I’m an expert on everything sewingwise-far from it-but I’ve made a ton of different garments over the years, and made a ton of mistakes over the years too!
Whilst I was invited to write the pattern review, and provided with the fabric by Love Sewing, all opinions expressed and advice offered are my own and I hope you might find them helpful if you’re making up the patterns in the future.
This has become one of my favourite patterns this summer because I’ve made 3 now and I only bought it in March at the Spring Knitting and Stitching show! What I like about it is it’s beautiful simplicity with just a bit of detail on the neckline. Sew Me Something are based in Stratford Upon Avon and designer Jules sells lovely fabrics, teaches classes as well as producing a range of very wearable pattern designs. Whilst I haven’t been able to visit the shop, I’ve met Jules a number of times now at various shows in London. I admire her personal style and we have similarities in our work background, I used to work in high-end bridal and evening wear too…back in the day.
After I bought the pattern in March I made the first one in a slubby white poly/cotton (I think) origin unknown as a wearable toile. Rather than cut up the pattern I traced it off onto Swedish tracing paper which is stronger than regular tracing paper. I’m not always in the habit of tracing patterns off (especially if they’re tissue paper anyway) but, perhaps bizarrely, when it’s good quality paper I often do. I was short of fabric so the back had to have a seam in it but that wasn’t a problem. The instruction booklet is clear and well illustrated, the only possibly tricky part of the design is the notch neck front but following it slowly and methodically it works a treat. I’ve photographed my most recent version which hopefully makes it clear if you’re reading this as a bit of help.
Once you have the placket pieces overlapping I stitch through all the layers at the bottom to secure them, then I zigzag the edge to neaten them (easier than trying to put such a tiny piece underneath the overlocker.
Finally ‘stitch in the ditch’ carefully from the front to hold the placket in place.
With my first plain white version I followed the balance marks for the gathering but actually I felt the gathers looked too spread out so when I made my second version (and now the third!) I’ve condensed the gathering into smaller areas on the front, shoulders and centre back which I’m happier with.
Another thing I like is the instruction to sew hems separately before joining the side seams. This sounds a small thing but because the hem is dipped and rises at the side seams it means you get a much neater finish at the side seams-genius!
My second version was made using the gorgeous coral lightweight linen I bought from Jules with the pattern in March.
I’ve made all my versions with the longer length sleeve with loose elasticated cuff, you could obviously make them tighter but I prefer them like this.
I wore the coral top to the Sewing Weekender in August and it got plenty of compliments (and obviously I told everyone what the pattern was, although several people recognised it straight away)
The jolly fabric for my newest version came from the swap hosted by The Foldline at the recent Great British Sewing Bee Live, it’s a sharp contrast to the plain fabric of the first two that’s for sure! Thanks Kate, hope you like what I’ve done with it…
What I’ve loved about this top is how comfortable it’s been in warm weather, and the details are pretty but understated-a trademark of Sew Me Something patterns to be honest. I know I’ve made 3 but I reckon there’ll be more, it would be gorgeous in a silk chiffon or crepe de Chine, or fine wool challis for example. You could add a trim to the neck, in the seam perhaps or beadwork perhaps? This third version I’ve cut a little longer than the previous two simply because I had plenty of fabric. I’m going to layer it up in the winter with a long-sleeved tee underneath. Another thing I like about this brand is that the sizing is for real women and goes right up to a 22-not all independent companies have this range and I’m not sure why. and that seems a shame.
I want to stress that I bought my own copy of the pattern and the fabric so any opinions expressed are entirely my own. I’m trying out a few trouser patterns lately (more on that to follow in a few weeks) so I’m tempted to try one of Sew Me Something’s trouser patterns in the future but there’s a long Autumn sewing list to work through before I buy anything more….famous last words!