Janine at The Sewing Revival, the pattern company based in New Zealand, is gradually creating a growing collection of stylish patterns and there is something very appealing in their deceptive simplicity I think. I’ve made a few versions of several of them now, including the Sidewinder pants, the Bellbird top and the Heron dress.
When Janine kindly offered me my choice of the range to choose from I picked one of the more recent releases, the Fantail top. At first glance it appears to be a simple raglan-sleeved top but along with the high/low hemline and elasticated front hem it offers variations of scooped, ribbing or V neck, elasticated or ribbing cuffs, and the back hem can be finished with ribbing too.
I had a rummage in my stash for some suitable fabric, ideally something with a bit of drape works best so soft viscose, crepe, georgette or chiffon if you fancy a challenge, cotton lawn, wool challis or fine linen would all work very well. Light- or medium- weight jersey will make it into a very chic sweater. I’ve no idea where my piece of navy fabric came from, probably I was given it by an elderly lady because it had a little ticket pinned to one corner saying it was 1 1/2 yards x 54” wide and cost 90p! It certainly smelt a little bit musty so the first thing I did was give it a quick hand-wash, it turns out that the colour ran quite a bit and I was left with blue hands for several hours afterwards!!
The patterns are sold in size bands which each contain 4 sizes (there is some overlap between the brackets) and each band is layered which gives you the option to print only the sizes you want so I printed UK 10 and 12 because, having lost some weight recently, I wasn’t sure which size would be best. In the end I cut a UK12 and it looks fine I think, it’s a roomy style so I could possibly go down a size but as I’m one of life’s ‘fluctuaters’ where weight is concerned maybe I won’t.
I like the instructions on Sewing Revival patterns because they are well explained and illustrated with photographs. If you’re an experienced sewer like me then you won’t necessarily need to follow them closely all the time but I do keep half an eye on them so that I don’t miss a step or construct in the wrong order which might have repercussions later on.
I made the scoop-neck version with elasticated cuffs which is probably the most straightforward variant, the round neck is just the right amount in my view, not too wide, not too deep. Raglan sleeves are super-quick to construct, I usually sew the neck facing on after the shoulder seams and before sewing the under arm seams.
The front and back hems are very different lengths and finished differently so don’t rush through these elements. I ignored the suggested bias-binding finish on the back hem and used one of my favourite techniques of a pin-hem instead ( I wrote instructions for this last year in this blog post on hems )
The USP of this top is the deep partially-elasticated front hem. It looks great but it’s really not difficult to achieve. There are suggested lengths to cut your elastic for each size although you could use a shorter piece over the same length if you want to pull the front in a bit more. Or you could also use a narrower elastic but the pattern is cut for wide width like this so you may have to make an alteration to the hem depth accordingly for the channel to work.
As I said, this is a simple top with eye-catching details, it’s probably a half-day project if you’re got everything you need when you start.
I’ve already got some fabric lined up for another Fantail hopefully very soon, a nice piece of soft viscose from Sew Me Something and ribbing given to me by my friend Kate which by sheer good fortune coordinates perfectly! There’s lots of possible variety with the Fantail, short sleeves is another for example. Incidentally, there is also a slightly different sleeveless version of the Fantail available too.
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?
The Amelia tea dress isn’t one I’ve sewn before but Jane who comes to my sewing class had made one last summer and I remember liking the shirred elastic midriff section. The brief for our makes this time was ‘festive’ (we usually don’t have a brief, it’s free-choice) Bearing this in mind Bobbins n Buttons had offered to provide me with fabric so I had a browse on their website and selected the Lady McElroy ‘beauty and the bees’ stretch velvet.
The pattern isn’t intended for jersey but it is simple shapes and a bit of gathering which I knew would still work well, what you don’t want is a fabric that’s too thick or stiff though because the shirring won’t work properly. I planned to hack the pattern a bit so I decided to add long bishop sleeves as it’s winter, I also lengthened the skirt (more on that later) and of course I added pockets!
Because of the distinctive large print I opted to remove the centre back seam and put the zip into the side seam instead, this was to save me the hassle of trying to pattern match the print across the zip. Because I’d removed the CB seam in the bodice I took it out of the skirt too, for the same reasons. If you’ve got a tricky print to match over a seam like this consider whether you can move the zip to the side, it’s not much different to put in and the opening can be a little shorter but still give you sufficient room. Now I could have a line of bees central down the back (and front of course) and just needed to get a good horizontal match too for me to be really happy.
As I said before I wanted the skirt as long as possible but there needs to be a compromise between length versus flare because of the width of the fabric. If you want the skirt to be longer you’ll need to reduce the amount of flare at the hem because you’ll be restricted by the fabric width. The wider the fabric then the more scope you have. I measured how long I could make the skirt before it would need reducing at the hem and decided it would be an acceptable length. I could add around 10cms to the hemmaking sure the new side seams were at a right angle to each other so that the hem will run in a smooth line. I traced around a few bees where they crossed the cutting line so that I could ensure the front and back matched as well as possible.
In order to cut everything as efficiently as possible from the fabric I first cut the skirts against the main fold-don’t forget to exclude the CB seam or the piece will be bigger than your back bodice (if you’re excluding the zip)
Then I refolded the fabric with the selvedges into the centre to cut the bodice pieces on the folds. This is vital to get those bees running down the centre.
From the remaining fabric I cut a pair of long sleeves. I used the pattern from another design I’ve made a few times, I measured the armhole of the dress and compared it against the sleeve I have. It was a little smaller at the crown so I added a small amount to give it sufficient width. Finally, because it’s jersey, I chose to use a neck binding instead of the facings so I cut two narrow strips which were each the same length as the CF to CB measurement of the neck plus a couple of centimetres seam allowance.
Ok, so I mostly followed the instruction with a few minor changes because of my alterations. One thing I did first of all was to stabilise the back shoulder seams and the left side seams where the zip was going to go with iron-on interfacing because I don’t want them to stretch out of shape. I chose to leave the back darts in although I possibly could have eased them out as it’s a stretch fabric.
After joining the shoulder seams I added my neck binding. I folded the strips with RS out along the long edge-I didn’t join them to each other at this stage-then, starting at the V, I stitched just that section into place. This way you can sew just a small part, snip into the V and pivot at the corner more accurately. When I was happy with this I sewed the rest of the binding on leaving just the CB part unsewn, then I could join the two strips in the right place and finally attach it to the neckline. Finally I neatened the edge all the way around and then topstitched it down close to the seam to stop it rolling.
The next part is the shirring which really isn’t difficult so don’t panic. First wind shirring elastic onto an empty bobbin BY HAND stretching it very slightly as you go, put it into the machine in the usual way (you may wish to check the manual if you have an older machine in case there is anywhere else you need to thread the elastic through) Use your matching colour thread on the top in the usual way and lengthen the stitch slightly, it doesn’t need to be zigzag or anything though. Definitely try out a test piece first and don’t forget to secure the start of each new row so that the stitching doesn’t come undone. I don’t secure the other end at this stage though in case I find I need to pull the threads up any more later. You should be able to sew 8 rows of stitching parallel to each other to complete the strip. The fabric will naturallypucker up pretty well but when you’re done stitching hover the iron with plenty of steam over it and you’ll find it gathers up some more as a result. Finally knot the ends of the threads to secure.
Then you need to attach the gathered band onto the lower part of the bodice making sure it’s evenly divided as you go.
Attach the skirts (I’d sewn the pocket bags on to each side seam before doing this. I just use my handy cardboard template which I made ages ago, I just trace around it directly onto the fabric and cut out.)
Next the zip goes into the left side seam. I sew it here out of habit as I’m right-handed and find it easier to do up that way but put the zip in whichever side works for you. After neatening both side seams separately first I sewed up the top of the side seam by about 4cms from the armhole edge. I used an invisible zip and inserted it in the usual way, making sure the waist seams matched, and then joining the rest of the side seam once I was happy with the zip insertion. I sewed up the other side seam and I was ready to tackle the sleeves.
The sleeves are set-in so I made the elasticated cuffs on the flat first using straight strips of jersey the same length as the curved cuff edge. With the strip open and RS together I sewed it once.
Then I folded the strip in half and sewed it on the overlocker to create a channel.
This will turn downwards to form the cuff which I slotted wide elastic through, securing at both ends.
Finally, I sewed the underarm seams to create the sleeves which are inserted into the dress as per the instructions.
All that’s left to do is the hem which I sewed on the coverstitch machine which is on loan to me by Pfaff at the moment.
I’m really pleased with how the dress has turned out, it’s very swishy and has a slightly 1940’s vibe to it. I like the extra length on the skirt and the sleeves look fab. I was a little alarmed when I saw the large scale of the print but actually I really rather like the bees now. One thing I’m not keen on (and this is down to the manufacturer and not the supplier) is that they have printed a black background design onto a white base cloth. Because the cloth has a pile it means that anywhere there are joins there is a slight hint of the white showing through which is not ideal. The velour isn’t too tricky to work with as the pile is a bit flatter than velvet but it does still ‘creep’ a bit in places so if you’re in any doubt that pins aren’t enough to keep it all in alignment make sure you tack (baste) seams together. If you have a walking foot I would definitely advise using it.
I hope this will help you to feel inspired and perhaps have a go at ‘hacking’ a pattern for yourself. This was a very simple one but if you look at my Simplicity blouse hack you can see just how carried away it’s possible to get!
When Harriet asked me if I’d contribute a blog post for Sew Me Sunshine I was excited and very happy to help. After I’d had a good look at all their lovely fabrics I settled on the pink colour-way of the Gemma viscose/linen mix, it’s such a pretty shade with a magnolia flower print. When the fabric arrived Harriet has included a helpful card with full fabric details including fibre composition details plus width and quantity purchased. There’s a space to note if you pre-wash or not before it goes in the stash or straight to use.
The print is quite wide spaced and one-way [actually there are one set of flowers which run in one direction and another set which go the opposite way] so it’s worth bearing this in mind with pattern placement, and all your pieces should be positioned one way or the other.
I decided to make a Maven patterns French Dart shift dress which I’ve made twice before because it’s a lovely simple shape with no fastenings which makes it quite quick to make, three sleeve options, side seam pockets and an elegant roll collar.
Because of the positioning of the print I opted to have the smaller flowers running down the centre rather than the large blooms which would have resulted in a more wasteful lay plan. As I had enough fabric I opted for the long sleeved version which I’ve made both times previously, the gathers at the cuff are so pretty. I cut the sleeves so that similar flowers are on a level with the dress front.
Because the fabric is quite loosely-woven and a linen mix it tends to fray a bit you’ll need to be aware of this. Making a style with lots of gathers may not be wise because it will start to come apart eventually the more you pull the gathers up-the cuffs on this dress were fine as it’s fairly short. The fabric would look lovely in pleats or folds too.
The fabric sews up beautifully, it isn’t overly drapey but it’s nicely fluid and responds well to pressing although like most linen, and linen/mix, there is noticeable but not excessive creasing-this is one of the features of the fabric and you have to accept that as part of it, it isn’t a fault. You could also use it for loose-fitting shirts or trousers, for example the Zadie jumpsuit from Paper Theory would look gorgeous in it or what about the Tilly and the Buttons Seren dress, nothing too tight-fitting though as it will crease badly or ‘seat’. You can always add a soft cotton lawn lining to a fabric like this which might help, this particular fabric isn’t sheer though so you can’t really see through it.
The structure of the fabric lends itself to the roll-neck collar and this one doesn’t have any interfacing in it, it stands well on its own.
I’m really happy with the finished dress, it’s very feminine and in a very unpredictable British climate I think it will be ideal on cooler warm days (does that make sense!?) I’ll wear it with tights in the autumn. Incidentally, I hand finished the hem so that the stitches are invisible, you could machine it up though.
Thank you Harriet for providing me with the fabric and the opportunity to write about it-it also comes in a pale blue colour-way too which is equally lovely if pink isn’t your thing.
My latest Minerva blog post is on their website from today and it’s a bit different from the others. This time I used a soft and fluid jersey to make a dress for my younger daughter Katie, not me.
In the post I explain how I wanted to use a single pattern [Simplicity 8602] which, ultimately, I’ll adapt for 3 of us in my family-24 year old Katie, my 84 year old Mum, and me. The first two are done, the version for me probably won’t happen for a while yet though.
Katie made life a bit difficult for me by wanting the blouse lengthened into a dress, plus altering the sleeves AND the neckline. I’ve written up all the details in the post if you’re interested in finding out how I did it.
I hope you find the post helpful and you can read it here.
This could very well be the perfect dress for the imperfect figure. It sits nicely on the shoulders with smooth set-in sleeves that blouse slightly at the cuff (if you’re going full-length) the French darts give it shape and the slight A-line flare of the skirt skims the body, it has pockets and finally there’s a funnel-neck collar to draw attention up towards the face if that’s your best feature! Oh, and there’s no zip, just pop it over your head!
I bought my pattern from the lovely Mike (son in law of Mrs Maven) who was manning the stand at the autumn Knitting & Stitching show for Mrs Maven who’d had to dash off for a family emergency. He must have done a grand job because I bought a pattern, as did many others while I was there, the samples on display were very enticing.
The French Dart Shift appealed to me because I liked it’s relaxed but stylish aesthetic, there are lots of possibilities. It has 3 sleeve options (plus sleeveless) and you could make it in a whole variety of fabrics from winter-weights like worsted wool or denim, through cotton poplins to softer fabrics like crepe or lace with suitable linings.
The patterns aren’t cheap at £18.50 but they are beautifully produced in a folding wallet, printed on quality paper with a comprehensive instruction booklet. I decided to trace off the pattern onto Swedish tracing paper rather than cut it out-I don’t always do this as I’m not an habitual tracer! I checked my body measurements and then using the measurements chart provided so I went for a UK 14.
I had a rummage in my stash and found some navy fabric with tiny dots which I bought ages ago in Hitchin market and there was just enough. I didn’t follow the cutting plan as I hadn’t got the suggested quantity but by careful refolding and some single-layer cutting I got everything out.
One detail you need to watch out for is that the seam allowance is just 1cmrather than the more usual 1.5cms. The instructions are comprehensive and thorough although if you struggle with following written instructions this might be a challenge for you. There are illustrations too which are very detailed but they could do with being just a bit larger for those of us who are a bit sight-challenged, I managed but that’s partly because I had an inkling of how it was likely to go together.
The instructions encourage quality details such as taping the neck and pocket edges to prevent stretching (I actually used iron-on tape which fulfils the same job) and reinforcing the joins between the pocket bags and the side seams.
I failed to take any photos during the making, sorry about that, but it all went together as intended. The band on the cuffs is quite narrow and a bit fiddly but it’s worth persevering because the end result looks nice. You could leave the cuff off i suppose and make a channel with elastic through it if you wanted, or you could shorten the sleeve to between wrist and elbow length too.
I finished the navy dress before Christmas-I wore it on Christmas Day in fact, but I’ve only just made a second version recently [a 2 week bout of flu put paid to any creative sewing for a while]
I’ve made this second version in a lovely Ponte Roma I bought from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting & Stitching Show 18 months ago (I don’t like to rush these things) Although Ponte isn’t one of the suggested fabrics it’s worked well but you need to make sure that the wide neck edge is taped to prevent it being stretched before you put the collar on.
I think I can safely say this dress is my ‘secret pyjamas’, it’s sooo comfy!
All in all I’m delighted with this dress and I can see me making several more for the summer. Take a look at the Maven website for more inspiration with fabrics, you could even leave the collar off, and I know Portia Lawrie has produced a colour-block version too which looks fab. I think I’ll investigate some of Maven’s other patterns now too as they look really appealing!