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?
My first blog of 2021 features my last make of 2020. After several quiet weeks where I didn’t sew any garments, I had cut this project out a couple of months back but then hadn’t felt motivated to make them at the time…the days between Christmas and New Year was the right time to get my head around a nice involved project though. There has been so much going on in the UK recently, (understatement!) especially in these last few weeks, that I wanted something I had to concentrate on to take my mind off other events outside of my control.
If you’ve read my blog in the past you’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Trend Patterns but these are the first trouser pattern of theirs that I’ve tried.
I saw Lucy wearing her own version of TPC12 on her stand at the Stitch Festival in London back in early March 2020 (just before everything went weird) and it was the unusual split hem detail that initially I really liked. On closer inspection there are some other nice features too, like the topstitched front seams with optional faux pocket flap, and a button fly. These are the kind of details that attract me to a pattern but I would say before I go much further that this is definitely an intermediate pattern as a result, you will need to be a confident sewer or at the very least game to increase and expand the skills you have already. Before I left the show that day I bought some nice heavier weight plain black linen from Rosenberg’s to make them with.
It was then literally months before I decided to tackle the pattern though. I’m not going to lie, and don’t judge me either, but I had piled on weight during lockdown which I wasn’t happy about and as I got bigger the last thing I wanted to do was make a pair of trousers that emphasised that fact. Eventually however I began dealing with the weight issue which in turn encouraged me to revisit the Utility trousers in the early autumn.
Instead of using the linen for the first pair I bought some grey stretch cotton twill from Backstitch near Cambridge. It’s lovely fabric for trousers and a very good quality at a reasonable price. Because the Utility’s are a fixed waistband I went by my waist measurement at that time (it was shrinking!) so I chose the UK 16 and I could tell that the hip would on the big side but that was OK.
I patiently traced off all the pieces which took a while because there are quite a number of unique pattern pieces that need to be cut right side up (RSU) Labelling them all is of paramount importance so that you don’t end up with unusable pieces of fabric cut the wrong way. Once I had cut the fabric out I left all the pattern pieces attached to the fabric until I had either interfaced them or until they were ready to be sewn. I made both my versions exactly (apart from fit alterations) as the pattern but you could leave off the pocket flap detail by cutting a pair of side fronts, or you could have two pocket flaps by doubling up those pieces instead. An advantage of having so many single pattern pieces is that you might have a more economical layplan because they will interlock better, folded fabric is a much less efficient way of cutting out, a single layer just takes a bit longer.
I said at the start that this is an intermediate pattern in my opinion and that is largely because the hem vents and the button fly are quite involved, although not actually difficult, plus I found the instructions and diagrams were a bit tricky to follow. I didn’t go wrong but they do require absolute concentration. What I’ll do in this blog, so that’s useful to you if you decide to make the trousers, is simplify the order of making down to a basic list which you can use in conjunction with the actual instruction booklet. I won’t give you specific, press here, topstitch there, instructions though, they are in the booklet and the diagrams are very detailed.
My first piece of advice, after you’ve attached all the interfacing to the relevant pieces and transferred all markings to the fabric, is to overlock all the cut edges (except the waist and fly front) first. I don’t normally do this because I prefer to overlock as I go along but it makes more sense here to do it as a batch process, just make sure you don’t trim away too much or lose your notches in the process.
Start by making the ‘pocket’ flap [make up the optional pocket bag if you are going to have one but set it aside for the moment] also, make the back darts and set the pieces aside for now.
Join the front seams for both fronts as far as the vent markers, do not join the fronts to the backs just yet. I found it easier to have only the vent sections to work on flat first although the instructions tell you to join the fronts to the backs. Once you’ve made both the vents except for the final single topstitching to hold the flap in place and are ready to turn up the hem join the fronts and backs at the side seams first. Now complete the topstitching to hold the ventin place then join the inseams, turn up the hem and topstitch to finish. [If you’re using the additional pocket bag I would add it whilst the leg is still open and flat, before sewing up the inseam. I sewed mine on earlier and it got in the way a bit when I was joining the various leg seams]
Pin and partially stitch the crotch seam as per the instructions then apply the outer waistband and press the seam up towards the waistband. [If you want to include belt carriers I would add them before attaching this waistband so that they are caught in the waist seam, the tops of the carriers will be enclosed when you add the facing]
Next, make the right fly section and buttonholes as per the instructions and diagrams. I’ve included a photo of where I stitched through the layers of the right front to hold them all together, I’m not sure if this is quite what is intended but it works-I couldn’t make sense of it otherwise!
Make the left fly front and attach the waist band facing, I’ve included the photo below of how this should look from the inside (yes I did use jazzy overlocking thread just because…)
Sew the remainder of the crotch seam to complete it, then sew the entire crotch seam again about 1-2mm away from the first stitching line.
Sink stitching-to complete the waistband-is simply the industry term for ‘stitch in the ditch’.
Obviously there are points where you would be advised to try the trousers on to check the fit as you go so you could do this by pinning on the stitching line (parallel, not at a right angle!) to avoid unpicking. The advantage of having a split waistband on the centre back seam (like good quality men’s trousers) is that you can fit into the small of the back more effectively.
So that’s, hopefully, a simplified method for you, it isn’t that I think the instructions aren’t good, it’s just that I got a bit confused between what was written and which diagram to follow, and that’s why I wrote it down in a clarified form as I made the second pair.
The fit of the first pair is technically not that good but they are soooo comfortable. The waist was a good fit initially although I’ve lost more weight since then so it’s very roomy now. The major issue (and I’ve read this in a few reviews) is that the crotch length is very long and looks quite droopy. You can see this in the photos of my grey pair, and this makes the cropped leg length look a bit too long as a result. For the second pair in the black linen I redrew the pattern down one size and also folded out 3cms horizontally at hip level on every pattern piece to reduce the rise. The second pair are a much better fit but that won’t stop me wearing the grey pair, it doesn’t particularly bother me that they are overly generous because the shaped waistband can’t fall off my hips anyway. Yes the grey pair are very baggy but that’s fine.
The black linen pair are a better fit at the waist, there’s still plenty of room (too much room?) over the thighs but I don’t mind that. Maybe I’ll shave a little off the next pair, or maybe I won’t…
Overall I’m a big fan of the Utility trousers and I’ll probably make more, now that I’m getting better with the fit. The design details are worth the effort but it is a project you’ll want to take some time over, I had to turn off the radio so that I could concentrate completely and I read aloud each instruction several times to ensure I was going the right way. I sewed matching topstitching but you could use a contrast thread, or maybe you could line the waistband and button stand with contrast fabrics? Apart from the pocket bag if you add one there are no other pockets so you could add some in the side seams quite easily I would have thought, or patch pockets on the back perhaps? I quite fancy a pair made in chunky cord too…
I hope you find this useful, or I’m happy to try and help if I can.
By being a part of the organisation of the first Sew Over 50 challenge it has meant I’ve come across pattern companies which I hadn’t heard of before. In several cases they made contact with me directly through the comments at the end of the first blog post. Not all of these companies make patterns that appeal to me personally but The Sewing Revival in New Zealand was one which did. Janine Pomeroy has created a small but growing number of simple, chic and wearable styles and because they are PDFs they are easily available to you wherever you are in the world.
Janine very generously gifted me the Heron dress (it also comes as a top too) and I’ve just finished making it up in time for my upcoming holiday.
The PDF was initially just available as A4 or US letter format but is one one of their first to also come as A0 copy shop format too. It comes with LOTS of useful and helpful information for when you print it out-there’s even instructions in how to print only the size you need if you prefer, I can’t think of another company I’ve come across which actually talks you through it, I have limited IT skills and wouldn’t have known how to do this for myself so that was helpful. Also, when ordering your pattern, you opt for the set of 3 sizes closest to the size you require according to your measurements. I like this arrangement because you don’t have an overwhelming number of lines to try and cut out from. I’m a UK 12-14 in RTW so I’ve made the size Medium and I’m very happy with it. If you do print all the sizes because you want to cut between different measurements for example then each size prints in a different colour-this is worth bearing in mind because if you print in B&W only they aren’t various styles of dot and dashed lines.
I bought some lovely pale blue viscose/linen printed with navy and red flowers from my recent visit to Ditto fabrics in Brighton specifically for the Heron. If you’re a novice sewer there is plenty of guidance included on which fabrics would work well, as well as other lay plan and cutting tips too.
There are only a few pattern pieces so it doesn’t take long to cut out and start sewing. There are some clever details which mean you don’t have lots of extra facings or elastic casings to cut and sew on, they are included which means the sewing doesn’t take that long either.
I printed out the making instructions in booklet format and I found the photos a tad small that way, I should have left them A4 for clarity although, that said, it’s fairly obvious what you’re doing and there are plenty of written instructions too.
I like the clever way the front facing is ‘grown-on’ so you just neaten the centre front seam and, eventually, once the backs and sleeves are sewn together [raglan sleeve so not tricky setting in] the neck edge gets folded over twice and stitched. This becomes the casing for the elastic.
The deep cuffs fold up in a similar way which is clever because it does away with the need to neaten the cuff hem or to sew on any binding to create a casing for the elastic. It all forms one finished unit in the end.
I should add that the Heron includes in-seam pockets which are a must, and there is a belt pattern too with additional ideas on how to add D-rings to it so it isn’t just a tie belt. I was so eager to finish that I didn’t notice until after I’d sewn it that the hem is finished using bias tape! This gives a lovely neat finish without losing any length, I just did a narrow rolled hem which looks fine too.
As I said earlier, I was given the pattern to try out but I can honestly say I’m really pleased with my Heron and I look forward to wearing it. I’ve already got another fabric lined up for a blouse length version. I thought the sleeves looked like they might be too short but actually they are fine.
The reason The Sewing Revival came to my attention is because they use realistic models to promote their patterns, Janine made a conscious decision to do that whilst still creating covetable and wearable styles of the sort that dressmakers of any age will want. I’d love to know if you’ve used this brand and what you thought, or do you know of any others like it that could be brought to a wider audience? The Sew Over 50 challenge runs until March 15th 2019 so you’ve still got time to join in, and you don’t need to be over 50 to participate!
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?
2017 turned out to be a very busy sewing year for me. Not only did I make a loads of projects for myself and occasionally others but I wrote two articles for sewing magazines, and did a multitude of alterations (some very complex and time-consuming) to numerous wedding dresses, along with more mundane hems and sleeve-shortenings too.
This is a quick dash through many of the things I got up to although I’m not sure everything got photographed at the time. I’ve included a lot of links too if I’ve written blogs on some of the things I mention.
In February while I was having a week’s holiday in the Lake District I managed to squeeze in a visit to Abakhan fabrics in Manchester and bought fabric by weight for the first time in my life. I also went to a meet up organised by the lovely Emily of Self Assembly Required in a pub at King’s Cross station! I met loads of fellow-sewers there as well as picking up some new patterns and fabrics from the swap including the Holiday Top by The Maker’s Atelier which I’ve made twice over the summer.
Another February highlight was seeing the latest Burberry collection alongside the fabulous capes, each one of which was a stunning one-off! I wonder if there’ll be a similar show this season?
March saw the Moneta party (dress pattern by Colette) so I made my first which I altered to include full-length sleeves, a roll collar and a fake exposed zip (I made a short-sleeved one later in the summer too) I wore it when I went to the spring Knitting and Stitching show where once again I met up with a few fellow-sewers organised by Gabby Young (no relation!) from Gabberdashery vlog.
Collette patterns, ‘Moneta’
One of the new people I met was Juliene from Zierstoff Patterns who gave me the opportunity to try out several of their patterns during the course of the rest of the year.
Another new departure was a fundraising initiative with my weekly sewing group. We all spent an afternoon making little ‘pillowcase’ dresses which would eventually be sent off to a girl’s school in Africa.
Moving rapidly into April I visited the wonderful ‘Five Centuries of House Style’ exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, made another Holiday top utilising a few fancy stitches on my sewing machine, as well as a Sophie bolero by Zierstoff. Also during April I was approached to teach some dressmaking classes at a local craft shop so I made some sample garments for that including a dirndl skirt and a jersey tube skirt. I made the first of 3 Imogen tops using Sew Me Something’s pattern too, more about those later.
In May I went on my travels with my good friend Sue when we walked a section of the Camino di Santiago in France which was a fantastic empowering experience.
In June Mr Y and I went on a cruise to the Baltic and it happened to be a Strictly Come Dancing cruise! The company that make all the costumes, DSI-London, were on board along with many of the dresses so I was in seventh heaven being able to see them close up. I had to write 2 blogs about that just to be able to include all the pictures! you can read them here and here.
By July I was teaching in Hertford and one of the garments was a ‘no-pattern’ kimono which was popular and also the ‘pillowcase’ dress (nothing to do with pillowcases other than a child’s version could be made from one) It’s basically two rectangles of fabric sewn up each side, hemmed at the bottom and a channel at the top with ribbon through it.
Also in July I made my first visit to the fabulous Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A in London which was wonderful. I’ve actually been 3 times now, each time taking a different friend, I’ve had excellent value from my V&A membership and I’d urge anyone local enough and interested in the decorative arts to think about joining.
I had hoped to go to the second Sewing Weekender in August but I hadn’t been lucky enough to get a ticket….or so I thought! About 10 days before the event I got an email from Rachel at The Foldline telling me that sadly someone had had to drop out and would I like her ticket? Silly question! So off I went to Cambridge and had a wonderful time amongst so many fabulous sewing people, friends old and new. It was my birthday too! I made a simple top while I was there this time, one I’d made before so it was quick, meaning I’d have plenty of time for chatting…and taking on Elizabeth for a Ninja sewing challenge!
We each got given a copy of the same pattern and some stretch fabric off the swap table and away we went, with one hour to get it done. The results were ‘mixed’ shall we say, Elizabeth left out a section and didn’t notice until it was too late and I only cut one piece where I should have cut two so I had to go back and cut that. It was a lot of fun though, even if we looked like stuffed sofas!
I spent Septembermaking the top and trousers that I’d be modelling in Love Sewing magazine! This was certainly one of my sewing highlights in 2017, although there have been lots really.I made a third Imogen blouse from fabric I got off The Foldline’s swap table at the first Great British Sewing Bee.
Another favourite top this year was the Merchant & Mills Camber Set which I also got from the King’s Cross meet up in the spring. It’s been a really useful pattern and I love the neat way the binding and the neck yoke finish off the neck edges, it’s a really clever piece of construction.
I also made this top with 1 metre of fabric generously given to us in the Weekender goody bag by Stoff&Stil, it’s Burda 6914 which I’ve used 3 times now although this is the first time as a top. I really like the pleated neckline with a bias binding finish. There was just enough fabric to add slim ruffles to the sleeves which I neatened using the rolled hem finish on my overlocker.
I spent a lot of time during August and September making my entry to The Refashioners 2017, an Alexander McQueen-inspired jacket which I was extremely proud of when I finished it.
Into October and more fabric got purchased at the Autumn Knitting and Stitching Show at Ally Pally (oops) I made my first pair of jeans this month but I can’t talk about them yet as they were a pattern test which still hasn’t been released-I’m really happy with them though so I’ll publish the blog as soon as it’s released into the wide world. (I think the designer needs to get on with it otherwise the whole world will think that Ginger jeans are the only pattern available!)
After literally months of dithering I finally bought a new mannequin, or ‘Doris’ as she’s known to me. Old Doris was falling to bits and only held together by the t-shirt that covered her, I’d had her for well over 30 years so I reckon I’d had good value out of her. I chose the ‘Catwalk’ model from Adjustoform which I bought from Sew Essential and I’ve been very pleased with it.
Also in October I went up to Birmingham for the SewBrum meet up organised by EnglishGirlatHome, Charlotte where I had a really fun day (apart from the sweary drunk woman on the train coming home!) catching up with chums and visiting Guthrie & Ghani for the first time. I took part in the fantastic raffle while I was there but was unsuccessful….or so I thought (again) About 6 weeks after the event I got a message from Charlotte asking if anyone had told me I’d won a brand new mannequin in the raffle!!! So now I have New Outdoor Doris who lives in Threadquarters and Indoor Doris who lives…indoors, and I use her to take photos on.
November saw another new departure for me when I volunteered to write some reviews of fabric shops in my area. This was for Alex of Sewrendipity as part of her plan to create an unbiased worldwide database of fabric retailers, available to everyone to use. It meant I visited some new places as well as some old favourites.
I made another entry for our annual church Christmas Tree festival. It was a refashion/upcycle of the fabric I used for the previous year and sadly it was Old Doris’s last outing before she heads for the tip! The net petticoat was a tube of fabric with the baubles and lights inside it.
I had also volunteered as a pattern reviewer for Jennifer Lauren Vintage so I made a really nice Mayberry dress and wrote a blog for that very recently. One other new pattern I tried out but haven’t blogged yet was the French dart shift by Maven Patterns. It’s a lovely flattering shift dress with a funnel neck and a variety of sleeve styles and no zip. I made it in a navy fabric of unknown origin and wore it on Christmas Day.
The biggest deal of the year in some ways was in December when I finally, finally, decided to buy a new sewing machine! This was such a big deal because I’ve had my beloved Elna 7000 for probably 27 years and it’s still going strong (only the occasional hiccough) and I have a strong emotional attachment to it. Thing is, technology moves on and whilst that really isn’t the be-all-and-end-all for me there are processes and functions that I would like in order to keep (even after all these years) on top of my sewing. In early November I went to a fun jeans refashioning workshop hosted by Portia Lawrie and Elisalex (By Hand London) and we were provided with gorgeous Pfaff sewing machines to use.
Anyway, I was thinking about it long and hard for a while because it’s an awful lot of money when I came upon a Black Friday (not even a real thing) deal where this model was virtually half-price. Sooooo, after a visit to Sew Essential a new Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has come home to live with me and we’re getting to know one another…
So that just about sums up my sewing year. It’s been a lot of fun at times, and hot and frustrating at others (sweltering under mountainous wedding dresses in the height of the summer is no fun) I’ve met some lovely new people and been reacquainted with lovely ‘old’ ones too! I’m looking forward to another busy year of sewing, blogging, teaching, chatting, tea drinking and generally feeling connected to sewers all over the world. It really feels like dressmaking is an activity that is worthwhile again and not just some strange little hobby that old biddies do, besides, it’s surprising what you could learn from an old biddy, she may just have made the same sewing mistakes as you have but 30 or 40 years earlier!
I can finally publish a blog all about the making of this dress so I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful or insightful…
I was very excited when Sew Now magazine asked me to review a pattern for them. What an opportunity! Editor Sam asked me to suggest 3 patterns that I’d like to make which were ‘me’ so I thought about the various patterns that were around at the moment and which ones I wouldn’t mind having a go at.
It’s funny but when you’re given the opportunity to push something to the top of your ‘make’ pile it really concentrates the mind. I thought the best way of seeing lots of patterns together was to go to The Fold Line where there’s a brilliant online database of virtually any pattern brand you can think of. I spent a happy hour (or two) browsing until I eventually settled on 4 patterns to submit. They were the Farrow dress from Grainline, the Talvikki sweatshirt by Named Clothing, Ivy pinafore by Jennifer Lauren Handmade and the Landgate jacket by Merchant and Mills. I spent quite a while sourcing suitable fabrics for each of the garments too so that, once Sam had made her final pattern choice, I could tell her the fabrics I thought would work well for it.
Because I really liked all the patterns, and they were quite diverse, I didn’t mind which one Sam chose. I’ve made a dress a little like the Farrow already and it’s actually one of my favourites. What made the Farrow different is the diagonal seams which bisect the front and back, and there are pockets set into the front seams. It has sleeveless and long sleeve variations too. I was stupidly excited when it arrived speedily in the post courtesy of The Draper’s Daughter
There was a slight hiccup with the first fabric I chose because the supplier hadn’t got quite enough so we had to go with my second choice, a lovely turquoise squared design viscose crepe at £12.99 per metre kindly supplied by Ditto Fabrics in Brighton.
And so to begin….
Because Grainline are an American brand it’s important to remember that their sizing bands are different to UK and European sizing so I took my measurements and then chose accordingly. I’m usually a cutter not a tracer with patterns (always have been because it was never suggested to me there was an alternative, patterns are there to be cut up and used)
The Farrow doesn’t have loads of pieces and, apart from a curiously-shaped front piece for the pocket which needs a bit of space, I do think the lay plan is a bit over generous although the largest sizes will inevitably need more fabric overall. On a wide width fabric-especially if it is plain-you could easily reduce the quantity needed although I would urge you to double-check before buying if you’re not sure.
Luckily for me the Ditto fabric doesn’t have a distinct one-way design so I could interlock the pieces successfully and get the dress out of 2m60 instead of the suggested 3m20 (incidentally another factor of being a US pattern is that the fabric widths and quantities are in Imperial not metric so you’ll need to convert these)
Once cut out it’s a very straightforward sew. The instructions are clear although the diagrams could perhaps be a little bit bigger and also the right and wrong sides of the fabric are coloured the opposite way around to most other patterns I’ve ever used. This could lead to confusion and mixing up which side you’re supposed to be sewing so you’ll need to concentrate!
Stitching the lower edge of the pocket, the crossed pins higher up mark the pivot points for the seams creating the upper edge.
Since first making the dress it’s been through the wash once and I’ve noticed the top edges of the pockets have stretched slightly because they are on a bias grain. I would suggest for future makes that you use a strip of iron-on interfacing approx 3cms x the top width of the pocket to reinforce the edge and stop it from stretching and bagging out of shape.
Once both fronts have their pockets sewn it’s a case of matching the centre front seams and stitching.
So far, sew good. Everything from now on was pretty simple. The neck is faced, as are the cuffs-this gives them a really nice crisp finish to the edge. I’d made another Farrow when the pattern first arrived and I used a contrast fabric for this, so that it has one of those little secret details that only you know about-that’s one of the things I love about making my own clothes, their uniqueness.
One final thing that I changed was the hem. I decided I wanted to use contrast bias binding to give it a nice finish, the hi-lo hem means whatever finish you choose it will be partly visible at the back.
Obviously you can machine the hem up if you wish but the point is I wanted the stitching to be barely visible and hand-stitching is by far the best way to achieve this.
The final detail was to use a button and hand-sewn loop at the back neck closure (the pattern calls for a hook and eye but I don’t think they stay done up very well and a button looks much nicer anyway)
So there it is, the Farrow dress is a satisfying, moderately quick sew. I’ll definitely be making a sleeveless one for the summer in something a bit lighter, a chambray or soft linen would look nice, or a cotton shirting in a check or stripe could look really interesting if you’re up for the challenge of matching on the those pockets and diagonal seams! Broderie Anglais fabric would look gorgeous too!
I really enjoyed writing the article for Sew Now and was dead chuffed to be asked. I spent a long time considering which patterns I’d like to make and which fabrics would be suitable for any of them. I was more than happy with editor Sam’s selections in the end. Funnily enough, getting everything into 300 words was the hardest part! There were so many things I felt it was important to talk about (it’s a review after all and there are facts that I’d want to know about if I’m considering spending £15 on a pattern and I thought they were important to include) and I still wanted it to sound like ‘me’ too. With strict editing I got it all in there and I’ve gone into greater detail here on the blog.
I was so thrilled when my copy of the magazine came through the post! I’ve had photos of garments I’ve made featured before in a few publications but this is the first article I’ve been asked to write, I’d love it to be the first of many (hint hint)
Thank you for all the feedback I received when it first appeared and I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about my writing experience in more detail.