Sewing and other bits in 2021

Well that was another weird year wasn’t it!? I’m not gonna lie but I’ll be glad to see the back of 2021. For every good event there seemed to be two or three stinkers which I found made it really hard to see positives anywhere. I know that there were some good things though and I’m incredibly grateful to have the life that I do so I don’t want to dwell on the downside, let’s move into 2022 with an air of cautious optimism!

I entitled my round up for 2020 as ‘sewing in a time of pandemic’ and I’m so glad I didn’t know then that 2021 was going to be ‘part two!’ Anyway, I’ve collected a few photos to round up my sewing and other events I was able to get up to during 2021 although I’m not sure if they are particularly chronological…the length and colour of my hair at any given time will give you a bit of a clue!

I’ve decided that the Trend Utility pants are definitely my favourite trouser pattern of the year-I had made two pairs by the end of 2020 and finished a third, in orange linen, in spring 2021 and I’ve worn them all fairly constantly. I find them interesting to make, they aren’t a completely straightforward sew and need a bit of concentration but they are all the better for that. The leg flaps are their USP and they are a design feature that make me very happy!
I was wearing them in the late summer when we finally escaped with one of our daughters on a week’s holiday, along with another favourite, the Maker’s Atelier Holiday Shirt.
The orange linen pair were perfectly autumnal at Kew Gardens in November, and the colours were absolutely stunning.
This hacked Sewing Revival Heron dress was one I finished in 2020 but wore a lot in 2021, and will do in 2022 as well.
I’m still not convinced about the ribbon bow but I haven’t actually done anything about changing it.

I was looking for new sewing challenges early in the year during the next long lockdown and Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few items including this Carmanah sweatshirt by Thread Theory. The fabric was kindly provided for me as I’m part of the Lamazi blogger team.

This is the Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirt I made for Mr Y at the start of the year and he’s worn it on heavy rotation. These items of menswear led to me writing an article for Love Sewing magazine about sewing for men, and by men, in the spring and I joined Maria at Sew Organised Style podcast to chat about it too.
Mr Y celebrated his 60th birthday quietly at home in March, we both wore hand-mades!
…and we celebrated a second wedding anniversary in lockdown too. Cabin fever had taken hold a bit as I dug out my wedding dress and flounced around the garden in it! I really hope our 33rd anniversary this year can be outside of the house!!
Let joy be unconfined because mid-March saw us going for our first vaccination and I wore entirely hand sewn garments to mark the occasion, including a Holiday Shirt, a Nora sweatshirt and my self-drafted rain coat.

I was selected to contribute some articles offering sewing tips and advice for an online sewing project in the early spring but after just two such items they just stopped contacting with me or replying to my emails. Bit rude I’d say, I’ve no idea what was wrong because they never had the courtesy to tell me, and I’ve no intention of wasting more time on them frankly.

Moving on…

Lucy at Trend generously gifted me the kit for the Box Pleat shirt from her capsule shirt collection. Like all her patterns it is so well drafted, I should have gone down at least one size though (my fault for being overly-cautious) There are currently three patterns in the shirt collection but I know there are more in the pipeline.
I only made two Minerva projects in 2021 and this Tabitha dress from Tilly and the Buttons book ‘Make it Simple’ was one of them. I really like the Art Gallery fabric and I’ve had plenty of wear from it.
I was so happy to see my dear sewing chum Claire after far too long at the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the V&A in the summer. It was an interesting show although I suspect we nattered all the way around it! [it seems there was a ‘wear checks’ memo sent out too!]

As you know if you read my posts I like to reuse patterns if they have lots of options so I’ve sewn several variations of a number of Sewing Revival patterns during the year, including the Fantail top below which I made in an ancient remnant in my stash which I believe somebody once paid 90p for!

The wide elastic casing in the front hem is such an interesting detail.
This is another version of the Fantail featuring jersey cuffs and back hem.
This Sewing Revival Kingfisher top was made using the fabric from a summer dress which I never wore. It’s been a satisfying project because I worn it often (I‘d had a haircut by this point too!)
I enjoyed the challenge that this Heron adaptation presented because I used linen jersey provided for me by Lamazi fabrics. It was a learning experience and I shared lots of hints and tips in the accompanying post. It’s been such a lovely fabric to wear, it’s very comfortable and it has a beautiful sheen which is not particularly obvious in this photo.
I made another pair of Simple Sew Palazzo pants in a linen remnant I bought from Lamazi, they are comfortable and very nice to swoosh about in! That’s a M&M Camber Set top with them.
I sewed a third version of the Trend Bias T-shirt dress which I made specifically for an occasion at Capel Manor College in north London when the Japanese ambassador to the UK came to plant cherry trees. I’ve only had a chance to wear it once so far because the weather was getting colder but I have every intention of wearing it a lot in 2022-you know I love a floaty dress and this pattern is perfect for that!
I managed to get an outing to the Fashion and Textiles in the autumn to see ‘Beautiful People’ and it was well worth it because the colours and fashions were so uplifting.
One of my personal favourite posts of the year was this one where I had rediscovered lots of my college work and sketches from the 1980s. It was so much fun to find them unexpectedly and it seems it was a trip down memory lane for many of you too.

I wrote just three specific Sew Over 50 blog posts in 2021, the first was a summing up of lots of ideas and inspiration for how to sew more sustainably which the followers of the Sew Over 50 account contributed. There was a lot of it and it definitely worth a read.

Judith Staley joined Maria on the podcast to chat about it too.

I was a guest editor on the Sew Over 50 account in the autumn when we chatted about mannequins in our sewing practice. Many of you contributed some brilliant and insightful comments, I wonder how many people have gone on to buy a dress form, or use the one they have differently, or more often, as a result?

Sew Over 50 stalwart Tina generously shared with us the many resources she has gathered together over the last couple of years for sewing and adapting patterns and clothing after a breast cancer diagnosis. It has been one of my most read articles on the blog since it was published in the autumn and I know Tina is happy for followers to contact her via Instagram for any advice or support she can offer them. For me, she very much represents the positive aspects of being a part of this worldwide community.

One of my favourite ‘in person’ events in the sewing calendar, Sew Brum, quietly took place in the autumn and my lovely mate Elizabeth kindly put me up overnight and we had some quality shopping and sewing time together. Our friend Melissa even joined us for a couple of hours for a Zoom sew! Plus I ran in my first (and so far, only) Park Run too! phew, it was a busy and almost-normal 48 hours.

We got VERY wet at the Park Run but we earned extra smug points in our me-made Fehrtrade running kit! [I wrote a post about the Tesselate Tee that we’re both wearing here]
I didn’t even buy any of this green fabric at Barry’s in the end…

I finally made a jumpsuit (or two) at the end of the year, it’s the Cressida by Sew Me Something Patterns.

I made this second one to wear at the first Lamazi open day in November. It was so much fun to be a part of and I really hope there will be the opportunity to hold more events during 2022 because it so good to meet up with people in person and to just chat about sewing all day.
This was fun outing to the V&A that actually happened rather than being cancelled like so many others, it was an in-person talk by Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell and it was absolutely fascinating. I’ve really missed these talks in the lecture theatre and it was great to be back.
Being an actual grown-up at a fun event!
I splashed out on this unusual quilted fabric from Merchant and Mills and sewed it up into their Fielder top plus I wrote up a blog post on how I made the too-wide elastic fit around the neckline.
These Eve pants are also a Merchant and Mills pattern and they became my second-favourite trousers of the year, made in their Elinore checked linen and worn with a long-sleeved Holiday shirt in Swiss Dot.
This second Hug hoodie of the year by Made It Patterns is definitely one of my favourite makes of the year. It looks tricky but is very straightforward to sew and the style lines look very effective.

For quite a while I had wanted to organise an informal sewing event and they were finally able to happen in October and November with #HertsSewcial It was such a joy to be reunited with my Sew Over 50 stalwart friends Ruth and Kate, along with meeting several other online friends like Bev and Elke in real life for the first time. We had so much fun sewing and chatting together, the time flew past far too quickly and I very much hope I can organise some more in the New Year, current situations permitting.

Can you tell that Ruth, Kate and me are happy to see each other again after far too long!?

And my final sewing treat of the year was being able to meet up with Judith Staley in her hometown of Edinburgh!! It was much too brief but absolutely better than nothing, we had so much we could have talked about but that will have to wait until our oft-rescheduled and much looked forward to sewing get together next spring…fingers tightly crossed!

My final personal make of the year was another Maven Somerset top in this celestial jersey I bought at the Lamazi open day. It’s festive without screaming CHRISTMAS!

And so ends another year of sewing and other stuff, as well as the new garments I’ve sewn for myself there were many other occasions when I wore, and re-wore, favourites which didn’t need to be photographed! I fervently hope 2022 brings better times for everyone and that we can adapt to our new or changed ways of living. Sewing will continue be a big part of my life and I hope there will be some new and exciting projects and opportunities during the year. There are so many wonderful people in this community and the support and encouragement that swirls around has been so important during another trying year-I hope I will get a chance to meet up with more of you in person during the next twelve months.

Until then, thank you for reading my wafflings, happy sewing and a very happy New Year,

Sue

Mannequins, and is it worth owning one?

An object synonymous with sewing our own clothes, or a typical sight in a fashion atelier, is the mannequin. A dress form, dress stand, tailor’s dummy, call it what you will, it is a representation of a human form frequently in an idealised way and often without any of our bodily idiosyncrasies.

They are used for fitting and draping, for working out tricky styling or seam lines, for planning, frequently for sticking pins into, or they can stand silent in the corner of the room under-used and gathering dust.

Mannequins aren’t a new idea, they have been used for a long time to assist in the display or manufacture of clothing, as these antique examples will testify. In a domestic setting women had to make their own, or their families, clothes so the dress stand was a familiar sight in the home.
The British-based company Kennett and Lindsell was established in 1877 and are based in Romford, England. They still supply the fashion industry and colleges with high quality dress stands, and will recondition old models too. The body is glass-fibre polyester with a layer of padding and finally encased in linen fabric. A useful attribute this level of product can have are collapsible shoulders, they push in to allow very form-fitting garments to slip on over the shoulders, and then they spring back out into position again.

The Parisian company Stockman was established in 1867 and still supply the French couture and fashion industries with their own version of the mannequin, this time being a papier mache base with padding and cotton fabric over the top.

I’m fortunate to own two dress stands, although I didn’t set out to have two! My Mum bought my first stand for me when I was studying for my A levels at school and I kept this mannequin for decades! I padded her out and encased the padding with an old T-shirt which I sewed onto her tightly to try and achieve a smooth outline. I carried on with her like that until the poor thing was falling apart from the inside-it was only the T-shirt holding her together in the end! (She had one last outing before heading to the dump when I used her as the base for a ‘Christmas tree’ at a Christmas tree festival at our local church) )
Doris as a Christmas Tree!

Once you start looking you will see there are lots of options for the home sewer when it comes to mannequins and it really boils down to how much you have to spend.

For this article I’ve researched some of the options for you, believe me when I say it’s a bit of a rabbit hole! I’ll give you some idea about each of them beginning with my own purchase of an adjustable stand.

I opted to buy another adjustable mannequin from Adjustoform here in the UK, there are probably similar products worldwide too. Rather than me repeating particulars here I suggest you take a look at the company website because they had loads of useful and helpful information there including what size to pick, how to adjust it successfully and how to pad it to meet your own particular measurements.
There is no benefit in vanity when it comes to padding the mannequin, if it is to be any use to you then it must have all of your figure traits whether you’re happy about them or not. First take your measurements accurately (or get someone to take them for you) and adjust the mannequin using the dials. You could also get someone to take a few photos of you wearing something close-fitting so that it’s clear if you have one shoulder higher than the other, asymmetrical breasts, or a magnificent booty!

I used a bra I didn’t wear much and, as you can see, I also used pieces of wadding. you could use those chicken fillet ‘bust enhancers’ that might be lurking in the back of a drawer too although you can’t easily stick pins into them if you need to. While researching for this post I also saw suggestions to use dried beans, this could be useful if gravity has taken a hold of your attributes. I added extra wadding where my fatter areas around my midriff are, on the tummy and also on the butt to give shaping (I guess you could put a pair of briefs on her too and pad them if you have a particularly luscious booty!)

Finally I invested in a smooth, tight-fitting cover to go over the whole lot. This has proved to be a worthwhile investment because fabrics and half made garments slip easily over it, the original T-shirt was cotton jersey and put up a bit of a fight trying to slide things over it. (yes of course you could make your own cover but the cost was the same as buying fabric and sewing it up, without the hassle of getting the thing to fit properly) I saw a suggestion to wrap the padded-out mannequin with clingfilm so that might be another idea, although it might be a palaver if you need to make adjustments at a later date.

I should tell you that very shortly after buying my lovely new dress stand 3 years ago I won the second one in a raffle!! I had thought that I wouldn’t keep it but it’s actually been very useful when I do bridal and other alterations. She is Indoor Doris because she’s in the house whilst my body double is Outdoor Doris because she lives in Threadquarters-simples!

This is the display in my local department store which gives you a small idea of some of the options available of this type of mannequin, including the base. It all starts with your budget, most of these will probably retail for around £220 or less
I chose casters on my mannequin which has been handy to roll her about but one major issue is that the base isn’t heavy enough so she tips if I don’t keep a foot on the base if I’m pushing against her. One fine day I’ll address this with weights of some kind…

If you don’t have loads of cash to spare I discovered that there are quite a number of tutorials out there to make you own using various different methods. They all involve wrapping the body in some way, starting with wearing a close-fitting T-shirt or dress to protect the skin of the model and then encasing the torso in duct tape or plaster-soaked bandages. Try searching Pinterest or YouTube, or Threads magazine had a number of articles on how to make your own. These probably won’t last a long time as they aren’t very robust but if you are a cash-strapped student for example then it might do the job for a while. I also found patterns to sew your own which looked pretty good but you do need patience and tenacity to get a good result.

Since publishing this, and as a result of lots of comments on the SewOver50 account, Beatrice Forms got several positive mentions, as did Bootstrap fashion so I’ve created links to their websites.

If doing things on a budget isn’t an issue then you can go to the other end of the spectrum and have a custom-made mannequin to your exact needs and requirements.

This company, Alvanon, creates their products by taking body scans to produce tailor-made dummies to exact requirements.
If you’re spending big bucks on a dress form you might consider adding both arms and a head. I also found that this brand would customise the mannequin to your exact requirements for an additional fee.
Melissa Fehr of Fehrtrade activewear patterns has this specialist mannequin to help her design and assess the fit of her products. She’s called Eileen…(think about it)
If you want to create elaborate designs and shapes but want to keep fabric usage to a minimum then a half-scale dress stand could be very useful-Vivienne Westwood has always used one as part of her design process.

Once you have your mannequin what will you use it for. My friend Theresa Hewlett is a pattern cutter and tutor extraordinaire and one of her favourite methods of making a pattern is to drape, or model, on the stand. This often involves pinning flat pieces of cloth onto the stand and manipulating them to create pleasing and original shapes which might not be possible by flat pattern cutting alone. Try it sometime, it’s great fun and very liberating and creative.

Theresa created this style by using the draping method
And of course you can use your mannequin to assess and adapt in response to your own personal fitting needs, like Elke is doing here. This does go back to having an accurate stand to reflect your own body type though.
Even if you only ever use the hem marker then that’s better than nothing, it can be so difficult to get a level hem without assistance from a someone else especially on flared or bias-cut skirts. This marker is attached to the support pole
Des Whitehorn of @sew.professional has a little video of exactly how to use the hem marker, thank you Des, I had no idea before this and I’m sure many others didn’t either! This is a fee-standing version of a hem marker, I’ve seen homemade ones too using a long ruler and a large cable clamp.

So before you buy a mannequin it is wise to have a budget in mind to start with, and to understand what your needs might be from it. There shouldn’t be any need to spend loads of cash because there are plenty of cheaper options, secondhand or reconditioned could be a good bet too. Shop around, there are lots of models to choose between so pick the one that is best for you and not just the one that looks pretty. This is one of the more expensive pieces of equipment that a home sewer can buy so choose wisely. My first mannequin lasted many years, although the base had been replaced before she gave out altogether.

For me personally my mannequin is a very useful piece of kit which I use often, and I’m happy with the adjustable kind because I’m a person whose weight and body size has always tended to fluctuate. Even if I had the money to buy a beautiful professional mannequin I don’t think I would because there would often be periods of time when it wasn’t actually ‘me’ which would be both irritating and depressing!

If you have the room and the budget for one though it’s well worth considering.

What have been your experiences with using a dress stand or tailor’s dummy? Have you found it an invaluable piece of equipment, or is it a home for spiders in the corner?

Until next time, happy sewing

Sue

Replicating a favourite shirred sundress for a client

I had a client recently who I did a few alterations for initially but then she asked me if it was possible to replicate a favourite dress she had. It was a tiered sundress in plain cotton with a shirred back panel.

Of course, said I.

It was very straightforward to measure the skirt panels, there were three tiers of almost identical length, each layer was more full than the last, plus a small ruffle on the hem. Next I took accurate measurements of the bodice front and drew a ‘plan’ plus the shirred back. I haven’t made anything using shirring in years and it was going to be guesswork a bit but I found a really helpful tutorial by Seamwork magazine on You Tube which gave a few good tips.

Once I’d got all my notes and diagrams I could calculate how much fabric my client would need, I also gave her advice on what sort of fabric to choose. She was going on holiday in less than six weeks so a speedy decision was needed. I saw three fabrics in our local John Lewis branch which I felt met our requirements so she hot-footed it into there and bought all that was left of a 100% cotton poplin in navy.

As the skirt is a series of rectangles I made that up first. I used the longest straight stitch for the gathering which I divided into manageable length sections-don’t be tempted to sew the whole of a very long strip of fabric in one go, break it down into manageable sections because if one of your threads snaps you’re back to square one.

I decided to toile the bodice front so that I could be certain it was correct as I knew there was no option to buy more fabric if I got it wrong…and I’d got it a bit wrong! The cups were much too shallow and didn’t come far enough up my client’s bust and a lot of her bra [which she wanted to be able to wear underneath] was showing. Back to the drawing board. The shirring element however was fine. I didn’t know exactly how much I might need so I used the full width of the fabric and sewed lots of rows of shirring until my reel of elastic ran out! [If you’re using an actual pattern then it will hopefully give you more guidance than this!]

Wind the shirring elastic carefully BY HAND onto a bobbin, use regular thread on the top. You could draw on your parallel lines first if you wish or you could trust your own skills and use the edge of the presser foot to guide each new row. The shirring doesn’t look like it’s gathered up enough but a good going over it with plenty of steam causes it to shrink up beautifully.

Because the first bodice didn’t give enough coverage I redrafted it but that was worse (I didn’t even try it on my client as I could see it was all wrong) On to Plan C…I decided I would try modelling the pattern on my mannequin so I pinned some very narrow black ribbon to the mannequin using the style lines I required. You only need to do this on one half if it’s going to be symmetrical, make sure you start at the centre front working round to wherever the pieces finish, in my case this was just to the side seams.

These were the important lines for the fitted section of the bodice.
Make sure your piece of calico is perfectly on grain and quite a bit bigger than the section you’re working on. Start by pinning the grainline of the fabric to the CF line and then gradually smooth the fabric over the mannequin. push any creases and wrinkles away to the edges. Push pins through in various places to keep it like this, when you’re happy with it then you can draw the style lines (which should be visible through the fabric) onto the calico. Cut away some but not all of the excess fabric, you need this to be able to draw on seam allowances. I left this piece in position and started on the gathered under-bust piece. I smoothed the fabric across from the CF in a similar way but this time I added quite a bit of fullness under the bust before smoothing the rest of the fabric to the side seam. Again I drew on the lines and cut away some of the excess fabric. Draw on balance marks and notches as required before you remove the pieces from the mannequin-make certain you have the CF marked-from these pieces of fabric you will create paper patterns.
After I had made paper templates from the ‘modelled’ fabric I was able to sew this bodice together in fresh calico. The under-bust strip was the original which was OK.

I joined this new bodice to the skirt and the shirred back and carried out another fitting on my client. Fortunately this time it was fine and I set to to finish the dress just in time for her to take it on holiday!

The finished dress modelled by Indoor Doris, she’s not quite as voluptuous as Outdoor Doris!
The original dress featured beaded embellishment over the bust which there wasn’t time for me to replicate but my client might add this herself in the future.

I made the straps wider than the originals and they are stitched to the correct length on each shoulder for my client-we all have one shoulder higher or lower than the other so don’t automatically make them identical lengths, pin and check before sewing them in position. If one strap always falls off your shoulder this will be the reason why!

This was a rather convoluted way to make a shirred sundress because my client wanted a replica of a favourite but if you like the idea of it the why not take a look at Cocowawa’s Raspberry dress pattern which has a fully-elasticated bodice instead?

My client wanted fabric as similar as possible to her original but you could easily use cotton lawn, seersucker, chambray, soft linen, lightweight jersey, voile, muslin….the list goes on, just keep it soft and not too thick or it could get very bulky. You could also make it just as a skirt and leave the bodice section off if you wanted, that’s definitely a 70s hippie vibe going on right there, add ribbons, ric-rac, bobble trim, sequins etc etc…

Until next time, happy sewing,

Sue