This whole project all came about because I couldn’t resist some ex-Prada fabric I spotted on my friend Dibs’s website, Selvedge and Bolts! She specialises in sourcing gorgeous quality high-end and ex-designer fabrics from Italy and France. This one caught my eye because funnily enough it doesn’t scream ‘designer’ but I liked the graphic print which stands out amongst so many florals.
I ordered 2 metres although I didn’t have a plan for it, then it occurred to me that I should look at actual Prada designs to see if there were any that were at all wearable by someone like me (ie. not six feet tall or looking about 17 years of age!) Somewhat surprisingly there were some really lovely shirt-dresses in eye-catching fabrics.
This was just the springboard I needed so, after a bit of a search through my patterns, I found this McCalls 7470 which had originally been free with Love Sewing magazine at some point in the recent past. The Princess seam lines and shirt styling were exactly what I wanted except I would change the skirt to be a dropped waist dirndl to echo the original.
The #7470 is a Palmer Pletsch fitting method pattern which I’ve never attempted before. I’ve been thinking lately that many of the garments I’ve made in recents months have either been old favourites or very simple shapes with little use of interesting techniques or style lines. I needed to stretch my sewing muscles a bit more-use them or lose them-so I set about following the instructions to tissue fit the bodice first. By a combination of body measurements, knowing my body quirks, periodically trying on the pinned tissue and using my padded-out dress stand Doris I arrived at a fit that I was happy with.
I’m not going to claim it was particularly easy but there are a lot of written instructions on how to approach it on the accompanying sheets to help you, plus online tutorials too. I’d recommend making a toile (or even two) if you need to before using your fashion fabric to avoid expensive mistakes.
I knew fairly early on that my 2 metres of fabric wouldn’t be enough for what I had in mind, and I didn’t want to waste my lovely Prada fabric so I opted to make the pattern instead in a vibrant printed stretch cotton which I’d bought in Paris at last year’s Sewcial event.
I took my time sewing the dress, I wanted to enjoy each part of the process. There is a two-part collar for example, pleated patch pockets with flaps, and a band running right down the front. I had a few problems with insetting the sleeves though. I’d made a small alteration the back of the arm scye which resulted in it getting a little smaller so I expected there to be a discrepancy but it was much bigger than I anticipated, the sleeve head was far too large and wouldn’t fit without puckering and gathering. I looked at a few examples of #7470 on Instagram and many versions were either sleeveless or didn’t mention it as a problem. Anyway, after a lot of fiddling about in the end I dropped the arm scye down to make it larger so that the sleeve head fitted properly.
The skirt was simply 3 rectangles, two for the front and one for the back which I pleated onto the shirt top using a fork to make each pleat even.
So what started as a Prada-inspired dress for one fabric has still ended up as a Prada-inspired dress but made in a different fabric! I finished the whole thing off with these beautiful buttons from Textile Garden all the way down the front.
So that’s my Prada-inspired dress up to this point, just not made with actual Prada fabric. I have a plan for it though because there was another shirt-dress that caught my eye…
I’m really pleased with the outcome and the way it fits, and because I took my time and didn’t rush, it was an enjoyable process. I’d fallen into the habit of making simple projects, I felt something more complex was needed.
Over on the @SewOver50 account recently I shared a few of my favourite ways to finish hems or raw edges, although course it is absolutely NOT a definitive list by any means. I thought I would expand a little here on the blog using more photos of projects I’ve made in recent years. They are in no particular order either and if I wrote a blog post about the whole garment then I’ve linked it so you can read more if you want to.
Obviously there are the usual hand-finished hems using slip hemming stitch or herringbone stitch for example, which I use a lot too, but I thought I’d share a few alternatives which you might not know, or haven’t used for a while.
I’m beginning here with a faced hem…
The next one is an interesting hem finish which is very useful especially if you want a quality finish on evening or bridal wear. It uses something called ‘crin’, crinoline or horsehair braid (it doesn’t involve actual horsehair any longer though!) I’ve used it here on an organza skirt for the Dior New Look-inspired evening dress I made 4 years ago. As well as a crisp finish I wanted the hem to have distinct body and wave to it so this was the ideal technique. Crin comes in various widths, this was 5cms, lots of colours too because it’s more commonly used these days to trim hats and fascinators.
If you’re making a wedding dress for example and mounting all the skirt pieces onto another fabric, when you use crin on the hem (or bias binding for that matter) by hand-sewing the hem all your stitches will be invisible because you can catch them just through the mounting fabric. This is a couture technique so if you look at red carpet dresses with no visible stitching at the hem this will be how they achieved it. You can apply it as appropriate to any garment that you’ve mounted to another fabric though.
The next couple of photos are where I’ve used bias binding to neaten a hem. I find this a really useful technique if you need the maximum amount of hem because you can sew a very small seam allowance. It’s good if you’re letting down hems to gain length too, on trousers or children’s clothing for example.
If you have fine fabric why not consider using your overlocker if you have one on the rolled hem setting? Refer to your manual for specific instructions how to adjust your machine and make samples first to ensure it’s going to be satisfactory for your particular fabric. You’ll frequently see it used on chiffon or georgette but I’ve used it successfully here on fine cotton lawn, jersey and a stretch velour. If you don’t have an overlocker you can probably achieve a similar finish on your sewing using a rolled hem foot ideally and a small zigzag stitch-as always I would urge you to experiment to see what is possible. Some of the simplest machines can still give you an interesting variety of finishes.
I find the next couture/tailoring technique very useful on sleeves as well as coat, jacket or dress hems. I’ve used it here on my Tilly and the Buttons tester-made Eden. I wasn’t taught this method as such, I discovered it for myself whilst doing alterations taking up sleeves for people. I haven’t ever encountered it in pattern making instructions but I think it’s an excellent way of stabilising the cuffs of coats and jackets.
For this next finish I’ve used a triple straight stitch to create the effect of top stitching on the hem, and several seams, of this Simple Sew Zoe hack I made last summer.
If you have the foot attachment and stitch capability for your sewing machine you can always try blind-hemming. I must admit I don’t use it that often, and only then on completely straight hems. There is a bit of a knack to it and I tend to only use it on a busy print which will disguise any botched bits (yes really!) or if I’m tight for time compared with any other method. It’s not quite the same quality of finish you will see on RTW clothes though which uses a specific machine to blind stitch the hem.
I think it’s worth mentioning that I like to use bias binding to neaten necklines (and armholes) too. I particularly like this as a way of avoiding using a neck or armhole facing which can be notorious for constantly rolling into view or flapping about annoyingly. The version you can see in the following two applications is a strip which I’ve folded in half lengthways first, the raw edges are matched and sewn. The seam is trimmed slightly and snipped if necessary, then turned so that the edge is enclosed and finally topstitched close to the folded edge to secure. In both the following examples I have sewn the binding on the wrong side of the fabric so that the binding turns to the outside to be visible and decorative but you could just as easily sew it to the right side so that it turns to the inside of the finished garment.
I’ve have included another variation of binding on a hem to show you how it can be combined with other techniques to achieve a quality finish. I used it here on a sheer organza which was mounted onto a backing fabric of slipper satin. This meant that when I turned the hem up the hand-stitching was invisible from the outside because the stitches only went through the mounting fabric.
The next technique is more usually the choice of the pattern designer than the dressmaker, although if you know a little about pattern cutting you might be able to do it for yourself. This is an example of a deep grown-on faced hem on the Trend Patterns Square dress which I’ve made twice. It works brilliantly on this dress because the hem edges are straight (square!) plus it gives real weight to the hem which is another satisfying detail.
Pin hemming is a technique I’ve used for decades on fine fabrics. You can replicate it using a rolled hem foot attachment on your machine although it can be trial and error which size works best for you with variable results. I have two different sizes of foot, 2mm and 4mm and I can’t get on with either, I’ve since been told that 3mm is the optimum size for most fabrics but I’m not prepared to risk another mistake when I know I can achieve a good quality result this way instead.
Simply put, I turn over the raw edge by approximately 5mm and stitch very close to the folded edge. Carefully trim the excess close to the stitching line and give it a light press. Then turn again and stitch a second time on top of the first row of stitching. This particular example is from the Trend Bias T-shirt dress I made a few months ago.
If you read about my pattern hack of the Simple Sew Cocoon dress you will see how this variation of hemming came about. I added a large chunk of fabric to give extra length to a dress that would have been too short without it. This method is probably best on a straight hem, you could use it on sleeves too.
This next one is a very much trial and error. I used an edging stitch on my Pfaff sewing machine to hem this Broderie Anglaise blouse which I made recently.
I’ve used a variation of a faced hem recently when, instead of bias binding, I used straight strips of fabric to turn up a straight hem on a dirndl skirt. There will be a blog of this particular garment coming soon…
To finish with is a very simple method of rolling a fairly narrow hem. Overlock the edge first using three (or even two) threads then carefully turn it once and then again so that the overlocking is enclosed inside. If the fabric is quite ‘bouncy’ and won’t stay in position you could press the edge over once first and then roll it the second time. Whilst the result is wider than pin hemming it is narrower, and possibly quicker and more accurate, than a simple turned hem.
This last suggestion is from a project which will be blogged very soon. I cut 6cms wide bias strips which I used to create a self-neatening hem on a pair of pyjama shorts.
I hope you’ve found my suggestions useful or thought provoking, is there something here which you’ve never encountered before, or that’s made you think how you could use a technique you already know in a different way? The idea is to show you a few ways of finishing hems, or raw edges, in new and interesting ways. I’ve not included the usual hand stitching methods because there’s nothing new to think about, although please let me know if you use these methods in a more unusual application. Just because the pattern instructions tell you to finish the hem a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way…although think it through carefully just in case the really is a reason!
I had made two Simple Sew Cocoon dresses without alteration when the pattern was first released a couple of years back, and you probably know that I love a bit of a pattern hack so I decided that the style would be good for an adaptation. I’d drawn a few sketches of ideas and had a rummage in the stash for some suitable fabric when a funny thing happened…
I found I had already cut out a hacked Cocoon in the past!! I realised I must have done it easily two summers ago but then abandoned it because I decided it would be too short. I remember it was a limited amount of fabric, probably 2 metres, but I put it to one side and forgot about it.
Fast forward to now, I wanted to make it up but I needed to lengthen it in a way I was happy with. I had truncated the bodice at Empire line just below the bust and then the skirt was two widths of the fabric, a simple dirndl. I’d cut the facings too but there was literally nothing else left except small scraps.
I went through various options including adding extra frill layers but to do that you gradually increase the amount of fullness needed for each layer, in other words, layer 1 would be 1.5x the waist measurement, layer 2 could be 2x the length of layer 1, and layer 3 could be 3x the length of layer 2. In simple terms this means longer and longer strips of fabric are needed to form each frill to be sewn to the previous one, and the longer the length of the dress the more layers you might need. Basically I couldn’t make the skirt any longer with what I had because it was already cut, and because of the lockdown I couldn’t go out to look for a suitable plain cotton. I returned to the stash and eventually found 50cms of cotton poplin which I know I bought at the same time as the original, I must have intended it as a contrast but never used it.
By cutting the 50cms piece across the width into two 25cms pieces I could join them at the side seams to form a loop and then fold them in half to create a 12.5cms deep band which I would sew to the hem of the dress! Simple!
Once I’d worked all this out I sewed up the bodice, rather than hemming the cap sleeves I used some binding from my stash so that I could maximise their length. I planned to twin needle some top stitching in various places and I used two different coordinating threads for this.
I did the same around the V neck once the facing was sewn on, in order to get a pristine join at the point I carefully unpicked a couple of stitches and secured them on the reverse.
I wanted side seam pockets (of course) so I had to cut them out of some plain cotton scraps,each piece was added to the side seam and then the side seams sewn up.
The new band was initially slightly wider than the lower edge of the skirt so I restitched it until the two were the same width and matched exactly at both side seams. I used the overlocker with four threads to join and neaten the band in one step, I pressed the seam upwards and then twin-needle topstitched it to decorate.
The final step was to run two rows of gathering stitches at the top of the skirt then sew it onto the bottom of the bodice, matching at the side seams. I pressed this upwards too and topstitched it as well.
For a dress which had languished with not much hope for two years I’m really happy with it!! I loved the fabric (which was from John Lewis originally I think about 4-5 years ago!) and I was so cross I’d cut something which I couldn’t imagine I’d wear if I sewed it up. By adding the deep band the skirt now has weight as well as length. It’s been so comfortable in the hot weather, why did I wait so long?!
Lockdown is easing in the UK since I originally finished this dress but I hope, as always, this hack has given you an idea of how simple it can be to take a section of a pattern you already have and give it a twist to become a different garment. I had very limited fabric with a print which still needed to match everywhere, by adding the hem band I’ve given it the look I was after…it just took a couple of years to think of it!
I first made the original of this top two years ago copying a Jigsaw top which I wrote about here (the words are still there if you want to read it but something has corrupted the photos unfortunately) but this is what it looked like, the grey one is the original.
When I made the first version I started by making a plan of all the measurements and dimensions of the original top.
I wanted to experiment with a couple of changes to this pattern so I used some plain jersey from the stash which wasn’t earmarked for a specific project. It wasn’t as fluid as the striped version so I decided to make it a slightly more structured shape with a curved and faced hem, I brought the neckline in a bit and changed the collar, and finally made the cuffs more ruched.
In order to make the cuffs ruch and stay like that, rather than collapse into random folds, I stitched a piece of narrow elastic onto the seam allowance using a 3-step zigzag stitch and which I stretched as I sewed. Once I’d done that I turned the hem up with a twin-needle.
I wanted a different collar to the stripes so I brought the neckline in much closer and cut a deep straight band to fit it exactly. This is sewn on folded over and can be worn standing straight up or folded down as a roll collar, a bit like a fisherman’s smock.
I think this version has turned out a bit more tunic-like than I’d intended but that’s fine, it’s still wearable.
I might make it again in something softer and drapier, and possibly not even jersey because there are details like the faced hem and gathered cuff that I like, although I might use them on a different garment altogether. I’m not wld about the colour in the end even though I chose it myself!! This one is more like a slightly upscale sweatshirt I think with it’s slouchy shape.
What do you think? Have you ever tried copying a favourite pattern?
Have you ever found that just once in a while your off-spring are listening when you drop clanging great hints about what you’d like for Xmas?
I get the regular Tilly and the Buttons email updates and in early December received the one about Cleo kits, a complete fabric/pattern/thread/trims bundle at a reasonable price. My daughter happened to be lurking nearby so I casually mentioned this….
Anyway, I was quite startled when by chance the first gift I opened on Christmas morning was exactly that! whoop whoop! Of course I then thought there was no time until the New Year to start it but I remembered I’d bought a small quantity of peacock corduroy at the Rag Market in Birmingham when I went up for Sew Brum in October, I’d already pre-washed it so it was ready to go and a window of opportunity opened up so off I went.
In my opinion I’ve always found Tilly’s instruction booklets very clear and helpful, there’s lots of useful info if you’re a novice and the plan of making in the form of colour photos are excellent too. I decided that rather than use the bib-and-brace fixings for this one I’d use buttons and buttonholes instead.
This would also give me the chance to try out some of the features on my new toy…just before Christmas I finally invested (with my own hard-earned cash) in a Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 from Sew Essential. They had it as a Black Friday (not a real thing) offer and, after driving for 2 hours to visit them and try it out, I bought one! [thank you to Irena for being patient with me while I got to grips with it, I’d really recommend you try out any machine you’re thinking of buying and Sew Essential are happy for you to visit for a demonstration of the various models and makes that they sell]
Cleo takes not a lot of fabric (if you’re using corduroy do bear in mind that it has a ‘nap’ or pile so cut all your pieces going in one direction or it will shade) I decided that rather than make the patch pockets by turning the edges under I’d bag them out with some scraps of Liberty Tana lawn I had. This has the additional benefit of giving them lovely neat edges, and once I’d stitched them on I tried out the bar tack feature on my machine. It’s a good way of reinforcing pockets and other potential weak points, or attaching belt loops.
There was just enough Liberty fabric to make a hem facing too using 2 straight strips too so this was a good way of neatening the hem without it being bulky.
After I sewed up the side seams I under-stitched and pressed up the facing. Next I used the top-stitch to secure it.
It was lovely to be able to make the buttonholes using the one-step buttonhole feature too, my previous machine didn’t have this method. I tried out a couple of test ones but then the first buttonhole on the dress wasn’t so great because I touched the ‘stop’ lever accidentally as it was sewing so it reversed before it finished sewing the complete side-oops.
These are the most erratic colour photos, sorry about that, it’s a really tricky colour to photograph accurately.
Many of you reading this will probably already be familiar with the Cleo so I’ve concentrated on what I’ve done to make mine unique to me and not so much on the step-by-step aspect of making it. I’m happy with the fit of this first one so as soon as I’ve washed the burgundy I’ll get the ‘Christmas’ one made up too. I’ve made the shorter length version, I’m not sure if I like the longer version as much in truth but who knows, I might give it a go sometime.
Tilly often create these pattern/fabric bundles so check out their website to see what is currently available. The Cleo has been super-comfortable in this post-Christmas podgy period-or is that just me?-and I can see why it’s been so popular as a pattern, it’s quick, it’s simple and it’s fun and comfy to wear-what more could you want?