It’s been a while since I wrote my first blog post for Backstitch way back in January but I’m happy to say that I have loved wearing the Ellsworth shirt I made then, it’s been a great addition to my wardrobe.
For my second post I’ve sewn a Homer and Howells Ingrid dress. Like many popular styles circulating this year it’s a loose-fitting dress but the USP of the Ingrid is its unusual asymmetric style lines.
The front and back are both quartered by differing horizontal and diagonal seams, plus the bust shaping is in the form of tucks in the centre front seam. It pops on over the head so no zips to insert, there are inseam pockets and a choice of two skirt lengths and two sleeve shapes.
I felt with all this unusual seaming going on that I didn’t want a busy printed fabric which disguised it (that said, you could have fun with stripes or even checks) My original plan was to use needlecord and deliberately cut the pieces in opposite directions to highlight the shading this would create.
However I wasn’t sure that any of the colours available in the shop at the time I was making it were really very ‘me’ so I plumped for the saffron yellow Broderie Anglaise double gauze instead! [I made this handbrake turn decision partly based on having recently seen a woman wearing a similar style RTW dress made in grey Broderie Anglaise and the fabric looked great, not too ‘girly’ or twee at all]
The stitching on Broderie Anglaise fabric usually has a right and a wrong side if you look closely at the embroidery but it isn’t always very obvious. My advice would be to choose the side you prefer and stick to it throughout! Because virtually every piece of the Ingrid is cut as a single I pinned paper labels onto each one so that I didn’t get them mixed up. Alternatively you could use small sticky dots to differentiate.
I gave the fabric a pre-wash before cutting, there was virtually no dye run and no obvious shrinkage either. Because of its asymmetric shape the Ingrid is almost all cut from a single layer of fabric so I would highly recommend keeping each pattern piece attached to the fabric until you’re ready to use them, or label them as I’ve suggested earlier. [Incidentally, if ever you’re short of fabric for a project, check if you can cut it out of a single layer rather than folded, it’s always more economical…just make sure you mirror everything as necessary] Helpfully Backstitch sell their fabrics in 25cm increments which can mean a lot less wastage, I bought 2m25 for this dress.
I found the instructions and diagrams for construction nice and clear and very straightforward, do read them through a couple of times first though because I made assumptions about the order of making in a couple of places which would have led me up the garden path and some unpicking. The right and left dress parts are sewn tops to skirts before joining vertically at the centre front and back. Some of the seams which would normally match one another on more conventional styles don’t on the Ingrid because of the asymmetry but if you start pinning at the top of each seam down to the hem you should be fine.
The fabric sewed up nicely although be aware that the weave of double gauze causes it to have a little inherent stretch so try not to pull it about too much during construction, and pressing causes some of the natural crinkles of the cloth to flatten as well but they will bounce back after the next wash.
I made a couple of other small deviations from the pattern by using self-fabric bias binding instead of the neck facing. I cut a bias strip 4cms wide, folded and pressed it lengthwise before sewing the two cut edges to the neckline on the dress. Next, I understitched the seam to the inside then finally topstitched it down to finish. I also chose to sew my own thread loop for the button at the back neck rather than try to make a rouleau loop with such ‘bobbly’ fabric, I was delighted to find a button in the shop which is a great match to the fabric colour.
I wasn’t convinced that either skirt length would be quite right on me so I went somewhere in between, finishing a little below knee length (I’m 5’5”) I wanted longer sleeves too so I used a bell-shaped pattern with a cuff which I had drafted myself for a different dress earlier in the year.
Finally, I turned up the hem by 2.5cms and then used one of the huge range of embroidery stitches on my Pfaff machine to sew it up, it took a while to go all the way around the hem but I love the little detail it gives.
The only fitting change I will probably make if/when I sew another Ingrid is to slightly reduce the width of the shoulders, the sleeves cause them to droop off my shoulders a little but it’s not a major issue. I sewed the UK14 with no fitting adjustments other than the length and it’s very comfortable.
Thank you to Backstitch for providing me with the fabric and supplies to sew with by means of gift vouchers, the Ingrid is not currently stocked in the shop though. Broderie Anglaise might not be typical winter fabric but I love the sunny colour on a miserable English day.
I hope you’ve found my review helpful, until next time,
Simplicity have long been one of the most familiar big names in the home sewing paper patterns market but many of us are now choosing to use PDF patterns instead for a variety of reasons. Simplicity have recently decided to dip a toe into the waters and release a small collection of patterns as PDFs for the first time.
I was first invited to try one of this new range of PDF patterns way back in high summer but for a variety of reasons it’s taken until mid-October to get completed.
Simplicity have released a range of ten basics which are available now from Sew Direct including several tops, a skirt, a dress and a jumpsuit, plus two children’s patterns and a free clutch bag pattern.
I chose the tie-front robe jacket SP110 which appealed to me as a cover-up in place of a cardi or sweatshirt and, because it was July at the time, I picked a pretty, drapey Atelier Brunette viscose crepe in a pale ivory print kindly provided by Minerva. The robe jacket is a very simple silhouette with a wide grown-on 3/4 length sleeve, the neck is finished with a band and the tie waist is elasticated across the back.
For me, it depends how many pages a PDF has whether I print it myself or send it away (my usual cut-off is anything over 30 sheets, more than that and I’m not keen on the printing and assembling) However, we had been experiencing postal strikes here in the UK and I needed to get started so I printed at home this time. I think the paper in my printer was a bit out of alignment because not all the pages were printing as accurately as they should have been but fortunately I could see what had gone adrift as I assembled the pages and was able to rectify it. Make sure you print the test page and check carefully that all borders are present and accurate, don’t simply check the test square measurement and wander off into another room while it’s all printing out… With A0 printing this shouldn’t be an issue.
The pattern includes all sizes from UK6 to UK26 (up to 48” bust) which are broken down into two size bands (there isn’t a layering option to isolate which sizes you choose to print unfortunately) The robe jacket consists of just six simple pattern pieces.
The instructions sheet/booklet design is attractive and uncluttered with clear diagrams and straightforward step by step instructions. For the more novice sewer there is a glossary which includes all the sewing terms that will be used throughout, and a page explaining pattern markings. This being a US-originated pattern, all the seam allowances are only in inches so you may want to write your own metric equivalents on the page somewhere before you start, to avoid confusion.
This is a quick and easy make, not much more than half a day probably, and everything comes together well. I thought the instructions and diagrams were clear, well explained and thorough without being over-complex. Overall a relative beginner should be able to manage this pattern. I like to print my instructions in booklet form but I should have increased the font size a little as I struggled occasionally to see the diagrams. I think the diagrams are actually very good, I simply didn’t print them large enough. If you are reading them from a tablet or lap top then this isn’t so likely to be an issue.
My only ‘problem’ now is that I have a summer garment as we head into autumn/winter. I intended it to be a light cover over summer dresses and tops so I’ve tried to style it for the season as it is now. I made a UK14 but possibly should have gone up a size, I feel self-conscious about how it looks around my midriff. It falls exactly on my natural waistline (I’m 5’5” tall) rather than above it like the models who are probably 5’8”-5’10” minimum. Hey ho, I didn’t get the tall gene but I did get the yoyo weight one instead! Basically, I’m pleased with the garment overall but less pleased with how it looks on me just now. I’m determined to get use out of it though but it will probably not be much before next spring.
I have a small quantity of the fabric left so, if there’s enough, I may consider adding it to the bottom under the waistband. This shouldn’t be too difficult because the waistband is straight and it would then give a little peplum which I might feel more comfortable with. It wouldn’t be too difficult to add a longer skirt to turn it into a coat as an alternative.
Being a PDF means you can buy the pattern to use immediately, and all the others in the Simplicity PDF range from Sew Direct. I was paid a modest fee for my pattern review and generously provided with the fabric to make it from Minerva. All views expressed are of course my own.
In the summer of 2021 Simply Sewing magazine invited me to choose an Indie brand pattern to sew and review for them. After some deliberation I settled on the Maker’s Atelier Asymmetric Gather dress which they generously provided me with free of charge. The article was published a year ago now but if you didn’t see it then I’m sharing some of my thoughts about the pattern here.
I like Maker’s Atelier patterns because they are deceptively simple to look at but many of them have stylish details such as notched hems, interesting seam lines, button-up backs or gathered sections which can elevate the garment out of the ordinary. On their website, and also in their newsletter, they always illustrate how much variety you can create from reusing a single pattern simply by sewing it in different fabric-types. I’ve made numerous iterations of their Holiday Shirt and Top using a number of different fabrics and embellishments for example.
If you’ve seen my various makes of Trend Patterns you’ll already know I’m rather fond of an asymmetric style and although the Maker’s Atelier one is a simple cocoon-shaped shift dress the gathered features really lift it out of the ordinary.
Because the front pattern piece is cut as a whole ‘right side up’ by flipping the piece over you can have the gathered neckline to the right or left depending on your preference. I love how the back is given shape and definition by adding the wide elastic at waist level too.
The style works best using a fabric that gathers softly and has some drape which is why the viscose twill kindly given to me by Sew Me Sunshine worked well. I wanted a fabric with a little bit of weight to it so that the elastication looked right, a stiff fabric without any fluidity would not flow nicely over the contours of the body. I really wanted a design that would look interesting whether it was gathered or not. This particular fabric from Mind the Maker contains 100% LENZING™ ECOVERO™ Viscose, which is a sustainably certified viscose fibre by LENZING™ with minimal environmental impact in the production process (compared to production of traditional viscose fibres). Some fibre and fabric production methods can be very damaging to the environment and the work force so this is at least a step in the right direction.
It was very satisfying to see the shape come together once I’d inserted the elastic, I know it probably sounds odd but I do love a bit of understitching on a facing. However I’ve found the back neck facing keeps creeping up though so I need to find a way to fix that.
Viscose often shifts around quite a lot so it’s important to not pull or drag it too much while you’re laying it up so that your pieces aren’t distorted once you’ve cut them out. If you have to cut on a table which isn’t quite big enough make sure the overhanging fabric is at least supported on a chair to prevent it pulling the fabric on the table out of shape. If you can manage to cut on the floor that would probably be preferable. Thankfully there aren’t many pattern pieces though so it isn’t a complex lay-plan.
My measurements at the time fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I measured the front and back pattern pieces to work out what the finished bust and hip sizes would be, from these I opted to sew a UK12. I was happy with the final fit, there’s just enough fullness without becoming too voluminous and baggy. I’m 5’5” tall and a little ‘pear-shaped’ but this style would suit a variety of body shapes because it skims over the waist and thigh area, it isn’t a ‘fitted’ style. The elasticated sections on the hip and back give the slightly-cocoon shape some definition and this could be adjusted to your personal preference. I’ve gained few pounds since I last summer but the dress still looks okay I think.
The one major adjustment I made was to shorten the pattern by 5cms before cutting out. I read a few online reviews before I started which all said they wish they had, or they did, make it shorter. I’m happy with how the finished length looks on me, it would definitely not have looked right if I’d left it as it was. I took the 5cms out horizontally across the front and back just below the hip/knee area, not from the hem. If you shorten it from the hem you will make the shape at the bottom a little wider which might result in it losing a little of its ‘peg’ shaping. The only other thing I did was to slightly raise the position of the elastic channels on the back and hip by approximately 1.5cms so that proportionately they sit a little higher on me, I think it looks better.
An easy hack would be to use a narrower elastic than suggested, or sew two or more rows of narrower elastic into channels, you could even use shirring elastic. Instead of elastication how about slotting ribbon or tape through the channels, sew buttonholes for the tape and leave the ends dangling so that they are decorative and adjustable, perhaps finish the ends with small toggles to make a feature of them? Leave the sleeves off completely maybe or turn them into full-length sleeves with elasticated cuffs, or a cap sleeve. If you’re feeling adventurous you could even elasticate the hem! What about having fun playing with the grain line, especially if you use a check or striped fabric. There aren’t any pockets so you could add at least one in-seam pocket, probably on the non-elasticated side seam.
As well as viscose-types like I’ve used you could also choose fabrics such as handkerchief or washed linens, crepe, softer types of satin, crepe de Chine, challis and wool crepe. Softer cottons like lawn or chambray-types would all work well too. You don’t want anything overly stiff or thick because you wouldn’t get the lovely definition to the elasticated folds, they could become a bit clunky. Ideally avoid fabrics which crease badly if you might be sitting in it for any length of time, creases would spoil the look of the front.
I chose to trace off the pattern, I find I’m doing this more and more often even though I’m not a big fan of doing so. Take your time if you’re tracing the pattern, transfer all the markings accurately. Because the neckline is asymmetric make sure you cut the neck facing to match and double check you have a mirrored any pieces that are a pair before cutting into your fabric. Read through all the making instructions before you start and highlight any areas that you think are, or might be, trickier for you.
The Asymmetric Gather dress isn’t a difficult garment to sew up, I would say anyone from an adventurous beginner upwards would enjoy making it. It certainly took me less than a day to make, especially as there are no openings like zips or buttons to construct.
I’ve found it entertaining to see my changing hairstyle since I first made this! I was paid for the original article last year but all thoughts, advice and opinions are my own.
I’ve had this Marcy Tilton trouser pattern Vogue 8499 for an absolute age, several years at least, and I took it out for consideration at regular intervals but for some reason it just kept going back into the box. Maybe the leg shape felt a little too radical for me on those occasions? But then the Style Arc Bob pants kept cropping up everywhere, especially in the Sew Over 50 community, so I returned to this pattern because of its similarities to the Bobs. Now I know I’m not six feet tall or a size 8 but the photo on the packet isn’t very helpful because I think it gives the distinct impression that the legs are fairly slim with a slight bulbous shape to the hem. The front is flat with deep pockets inserted into the side front panels while the back waist is elasticated, the curved leg shape is created though the addition of darts at knee level. They come in two size brackets UK 6-12 and UK 14-20.
You might think that visually the width of the front and back leg pieces would give some indication to the sizing but they are cut in two parts so the individual sections are slightly deceptive. I’m very familiar with the style of instruction sheets which ‘Big 4’ pattern companies (or is it 6 now?) use because they are what I learned with from the age of 11 and, in my opinion, the sewing instructions and diagrams are very clear. Because of the quantity of topstitching there’s a certain order to follow but it’s very methodical, I used a triple straight stitch rather than actual topstitching thread. I had a couple of try-ons whilst I was sewing them but I did have Covid at the time so maybe my brain was just not functioning clearly and I simply didn’t think they were going to be as huge as they have turned out to be.
So there we are, judging by some of the comments on my Instagram post about these trousers, a number of you have the pattern but haven’t sewn it up yet or, like me, you have had similar size choice issues with it. If you have an older copy like mine then I strongly suggest you pin the pattern fronts and backs together first and measure them before going anywhere near your fabric, or lay the pieces on top of a pair of me-made or RTW trousers which are similar and a satisfactory fit. This pair cost me very little because the fabric [some sort of linen/cotton/viscose type] was very cheap at Walthamstow market and I bought it for exactly this type of garment. As with any home sewn garment which doesn’t quite work out it’s feeling that the time spent on something I don’t love has been wasted which is annoying. That said, it’s been a learning process and I know I will make another darker coloured pair, possibly in a drill or denim-type cloth, but I will cut down the front by two sizes and the back possibly by as much as three sizes. I haven’t helped myself because I’m feeling really bloaty and despondent at present so I think these just emphasise this. I tried wearing them with a T-shirt tucked in but that just made me feel worse so it’s back to the drawing board for now. If, however, you love a very oversized trouser then these could be the ones for you.
As I said in my IG post, they will be great in warmer weather (which isn’t that often here) I’ll probably style them with my heavy black books, white Trend pleated shirt and denim Simple Sew cocoon coat in the winter hoping I’ll be rocking a little European-style continental chic, or I will simply put them on but not check in the mirror before I leave the house!
As one of the new team of Backstitch Ambassadors I relished the chance to go along to the gorgeous shop at Burwash Manor to browse their fabrics and patterns. It’s about 40 minutes from where I live and I love to go there whenever I get an opportunity, I’ve previously included it in this round-up of Hertfordshire based fabric shops. To be completely honest, I already had an idea that I would like to make the newish Merchant and Mills Ellsworth shirt but I had an open mind about fabric choice. In my head I was looking for a lightweight linen-type but as soon as my eyes alighted on the checked double gauze I was all in for that! It was folded on the bolt with the large check visible on the outside but when I discovered the reverse was small checks my mind was blown and I knew I could mix the two sides to create a unique garment. There are currently 4 colours available but I settled on the pretty shell pink variation. I took 2 metres as per the pattern instructions but after cutting it out (and as I’ve found before with M&M patterns) I had almost 50cms left over, even allowing for pattern matching. It’s very annoying when this happens and I’ve made a note for next time. I cut a straight UK 12 with no mods.
The Ellsworth is quite typical of M&M’s aesthetic, it is a very wide and loose fit shirt with a stepped hem, a collar and button placket and cropped, cuffed sleeves. It will lend itself towards fabrics which have an element of fluidity and drape such as soft linen or cotton-types, light woollens, crepe, chambray or babycord. Some light- or medium-weight jerseys would probably be okay but I wouldn’t recommend ones with a lot of stretch.
Another reason for choosing this shirt (apart from the fact I liked it anyway) is because I had seen a few makers on Instagram were having trouble interpreting the instructions for the placket. I hope what follows will give you a bit more information and guidance.
Away we go…
Definitely give your fabric a wash first, its light loose weave will shrink a little (it will be very crinkly when it comes out of the machine but don’t panic, it will press flat again. You may ultimately prefer the crinkles but they will be hard to work with during the making process so press as you go for now)
If you are a person with no patience when it comes to laying up your fabric, or time is tight, then this may not be the fabric choice for you because it does need some careful laying up and folding to get the checks straight and matching [or you could cut every piece on the flat to save on the head scratching] There were a couple of places where, in spite of my best efforts I was bit off but I won’t tell you where they were and you might not notice anyway! It does have the advantage of the large check being 3cms square and the reverse is 1cm squares so a 1cm or 1.5cm seam allowance shouldn’t be a problem to follow.
The problematic placket is made first so here’s my interpretation of the instructions for you. Begin by interfacing all pieces as instructed (although I interfaced the whole placket rather than half as the fabric is quite fine and a bit unstable)
Next I moved on to the sleeve opening which is neatened with a very narrow bias strip.
The hem facings are sewn on next, then join the shoulders using French seams. This is a useful technique if your fabric is very fine, sheer, or frays badly, or if you don’t own an overlocker. Obviously you can sew a flat seam and overlock/zigzag if you prefer. You could also topstitch these seams if you want a bit of interest on them. My personal preference is to press shoulder seams to the front, this is so that the seam is slightly less visible when looking at it.
I found the collar instructions straightforward so I won’t go into them as well, I opted to catch the lower edge down by hand so that I had control over it and a really neat finish. I also added a label from Little Rosy Cheeks.
The sides are then French seamed, be careful with the step at the lower edge and make sure you don’t take too much seam allowance on the seams because this could throw out the overlap at the top of the opening. I used the bartack stitch on my Pfaff to secure it as this could be a point of weakness further down the line.
I cut a straight UK 12 with no modifications and I’m 5’5” tall but if you’re taller you might want to lengthen the shirt as it’s quite cropped at the front.
I’m very pleased with how the Ellsworth has come out, I’ve worn it with flat-front Eve trousers but it will look good with a skirt or even a dress under it for layering. I’m going to have a look through the stash to see what other fabrics I can make it in now!
I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write for Backstitch because it’s a lovely little shop which I’ve been visiting for a few years now. It’s in a beautiful rural location and sells a really nice, well-considered range of quality fabrics and indie patterns and sewing books. As Ambassadors we are provided with gift vouchers to shop in the store, it’s entirely up to us what we make and how much of those vouchers we spend, the balance can be kept to spend on another occasion if we choose to. If you don’t live anywhere near enough to pay a visit yourself then Backstitch has a recently revamped website to shop through too, their range of yarn, knitting and crochet patterns are all on there too.
I hope you have found my review useful, that’s always my intention, do write in the comments if there’s something which still isn’t clear and I’ll try to help.
Essentially it’s a raglan cropped-sleeve sweatshirt or dress with ribbing cuffs, hem and neckline. The sleeves have darts at the shoulder to give them some shaping and the neckline is quite scooped out. Most of the sweatshirts I’ve made in recent years have been quite baggy and over-sized so I thought I would try the closer fit of the Fielder for a change. Based on my own body measurements and the finished measurements given on the packet I opted for a UK size 12, and I lengthened the sleeve to be wrist length.
I bought the unusual ‘quilted’ fabric from the M&M stand at the recently-revived Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London. It was so good to be able to browse a whole selection of stands once again, it had been over 18 months since any of us were last able to do that. The colour reminds me of old-fashioned sticking plasters, the triple-layer fabric is a clever weave but the loose threads through the middle layer do come adrift quite easily. Because of this I overlocked every piece around its edges to prevent further disintegration. I also stay-stitched the neck edge before it had a chance to stretch.
I haven’t mentioned the rest of the garment construction because it’s a very straightforward sew, I just made it a bit harder for myself…but in a good way.
Anyhoo, that’s one way to elevate a plain top into a slightly more interesting one (IMO!)
There’s been quite a lull in my sewing and blogging of late due to a distinct lack of motivation and generally feeling meh about everything. I don’t know about you but I’m utterly cheesed off with the persistence of the ‘Rona and, whilst I really try to find the positives as much as I can, there comes a time when I’m all out of good thoughts.
Anyhoo, I’ve finally managed to get my act together and to cut out and sew something which is worth blogging about!
You’ll know I use The Sewing Revival patterns a lot, and especially because they are SewOver50-friendly in their representation. Janine kindly offered me a copy of the new and improved Kingfisher top recently so here are my thoughts on it. The original version was one of the first in the Sewing Revival collection and it now features extra variations including 3 sleeve lengths and additional ruffles and frills to gussy it up.
Initially I’d settled on using a length of fabric I bought recently but in the end, whilst searching-sorry-shopping, my stash I came across a length of batik-printed lightweight cotton which had originally been a dress. I bought it as a remnant which was in two different-sized pieces pieces so I joined them right across the weft to make it useable. From that I turned it into a simple ‘pillowcase’ dress with a gathered drawstring top and hemmed at the bottom. Needless to say, this being England, I didn’t get a massive amount of wear from it because our climate is so unreliable. Sadly I don’t seem to have a photo of it now so you’ll just have to believe me.
The Kingfisher has raglan sleeves which are always so nice to make because they are simple and quick to construct. One of The Sewing Revival’s trademarks is to mix a stretch neck band, cuffs or hem with a woven fabric and this top features a ribbed, rounded neck band. But first I had to get all the pieces out of a length of fabric with a join across it at about 50cms in, plus a tear at right angles to the selvedge in another place AND a small hole just near that! I calculated that I could get a pair of 3/4 length sleeves but one would have to have the seam running horizontally across it. Another new feature of the Kingfisher is additional small ruffles to add so, instead of placing them vertically on the sleeves, I opted to cover the seam with horizontal ruffles, that way way both sleeves would look the same. After a bit of pattern Tetris I got everything I needed out including the ruffles. I started by making the sleeves.
Because of the limitations of the fabric the ruffles were only 5cms wide so, in order to lose as little of their width as possible, I finished each edge with a rolled-hem finish on the overlocker. Check your instruction booklet because I’m sure many models will offer this feature, it will involve a few simple adjustments to the settings to achieve. A rolled hem is a quick and attractive way of neatening fine or lightweight fabrics when you can’t afford to lose too much off the edges.
I created a cuff to finish the sleeve ends by cutting two pieces of fabric from along the selvedge and sewing them on. My original plan was to create an elasticated cuff using a casing but then inspiration struck(!) and I sewed three rows of shirring instead.
Shirring works best on lighter-weight fabrics such as soft cotton-types [lawn, batiste, voile, Swiss Dot, pique, poplin if it isn’t too stiff] also most viscose/rayons, many silks, and fine woollens such as challis. This isn’t a definitive list by any means, basically nothing too thick, or stiff or overly ‘bouncy’. As with anything you’re unsure about I’d strongly suggest sewing a few samples first to see how it goes.
To begin (and these are very much my own thoughts on shirring, you will find many others which might vary to these-trial and error before you startis the best plan of action) you ideally need a bare minimum of 1.5x the eventual finished measurement but as a rule of thumb I would say at least 2 or 2.5x your finished measurement, especially if the fabric is very fine. I also wrote advice on shirring the back of a sundress in a previous blog post which you can still read here.
I cut this top in a UK10 so it’s a closer fit than some tops I’ve generally made but I’m really happy with the fit, there’s still ample room for comfort and movement. From a fabric that was languishing in a box I’ve concocted a casual top I can wear in warmer or cooler weather.
Thank you to Janine for providing me with the pattern, I hope my review will be helpful, for a such a simple shape there are so many possibilities with it. If you haven’t tried any Sewing Revival patterns I’d definitely suggest you pop over there and take a look, and if you choose to follow any link I’ve created in this post or previous TSR ones, and you then make a purchase, I will receive a modest fee from it. You can also read my previous reviews for the Sidewinder pants, the Heron dress plus a hack, the Bellbird top and the Fantail top and it’s follow-up. If you want any more inspiration use the hashtag #KingfisherTop on Instagram or Facebook. I’ve got plans for a deep-cuff version later in the year, just so long as I don’t have another creative slump…!
Welcome back and thanks for reading this far, I’ll try not to leave it so long next time!
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?
It’s been such a tough time for so many and being a part of the wider sewing community has been a very real lifeline for many people. Those of us that enjoy making our own clothes already realise the obvious benefits this can give us; total freedom to choose types, colours and patterns of fabrics as we wish, the ability to emulate high-end or high street fashion at the price-point we can afford and the skill to make clothes fit our own particular body type, to name but a few. It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the wider world, whilst searching for activities to entertain and occupy them during the long weeks and months of lockdown, discovered (or rediscovered) that home sewing can be creative, absorbing and rewarding which is a VERY GOOD THING! Who knew there was a link between doing a creative activity and a more balanced sense of well-being??
To be honest it doesn’t matter what that activity is, or whether you’re really any good at it, the fact that it can take your mind away to other less stressful places for a time is what matters.
But at the start of the year none of that was of much interest to most. I was extremely fortunate in January to go on a cruise to the Caribbean so I made a couple of new things to fills ‘gaps’ but mostly I took old favourites…cue multiple photos of 3 versions of The Maker’s Atelier Holiday shirt on heavy rotation! One new item was the Trend Square dress I made in fabric given to me by Dibs from Selvedges and Bolts the previous year, I got a lot more wear later on in the summer.
Within a couple of weeks of getting back, Judith Staley and I hosted the very first Sew Over 50 meet-up in London. We very much hoped, and expected, that it would be the start of many more such meet-ups between followers of the @SewOver50 account all over the world but it wasn’t to be…not yet anyway.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while you’ll know that as well as meeting up for sewcials with fellow sewers I really enjoy my visits to exhibitions and galleries. At the end of February I caught up with Janet Poole who is a fellow Lamazi blogger at the Stitch Festival in London, I had such a lovely day shopping and chatting with her, and her friend Great British Sewing Bee winner Juliet too. We didn’t realise it then but we were very fortunate to be able to attend the event at all and I wouldn’t be surprised if others who went didn’t catch the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named because it was so crowded.
About a week after this I was able to go to the stunning new Kimono show at the V&A and, although we didn’t know it at the time, that was to be the final outing for several months…
So then we entered the first long lockdown and that’s when sewing (and some baking) became my primary occupation. During this time I had some blogging commitments for Simple Sew Patterns and Lamazi fabrics to complete. For my first Lamazi post I made a Trend patterns Bias T-shirt dress which was a tough make, not because the pattern was difficult but because I was making the dress for a wedding that never took place. And worse than that, I was making the Bride’s gown too so I still have an almost-finished dress waiting for the day that the wedding can happen.
I know I’m very blessed in that I have little to actually complain about in my life but that does not mean that these months of lockdown didn’t take their toll mentally so, when the call to help make scrubs came, it was something I could actually do! Eventually I made 10 sets, I believe they were headed to a maternity department in a London hospital.
I continued to keep busy by doing a few refashioning projects because the desire to make new things that weren’t going to be worn outside the house was just too depressing. I love the act of making clothes, the planning, the cutting out, the sewing, because that was taking my mind off what was happening in the real world but how could I justify making new clothes that I had little use for? Even dressmaking was starting to become a negative because I felt guilty about it. By doing some refashioning projects using things I already had, other than new fabric, I made a few items including pyjamas for my final Simple Sew post and another pair using the PJ pattern in the Great British Sewing Bee book written by Alex and Caroline of Selkie patterns and for which I had made a couple of samples. I used 4 old work shirts of my husband’s which were very well worn! I also made (eventually) two pouffes as well which took care of loads of scraps and off-cut furnishing fabrics and were extremely satisfying! I also refashioned a very old and redundant heavyweight cotton curtain into a Dawson coatigan by Thrifty Stitcher.
Early on in lockdown I had the pleasure of talking to Maria Theoharous for her Sew Organised Style podcast on a couple of occasions. I’ve set up a separate page so you can access this to be able to listen to her inspiring SewOver50 guests every week. One of our chats revolved around how we each arrive at our fabric choicesfor specific purposes or projects, I wrote this topic up as a post which you can read here, and I also wrote a further post which came from when I was guest editor on the @SewOver50 account and we talked about our cutting out processes-did we cut and make one thing at a time, or cut several things and have multiple projects on the go? Scissors or rotary cutter? Pins or weights? It was wide ranging and fascinating with so many excellent ideas and practices. I hosted another discussion about a variety of hem finishes later in the year and you can read that one here. Incidentally, by the end of this year @SewOver50 has reached an incredible 25,600 followers!!
One of my stranger tasks this year was to carry out a socially-distanced dress fitting on a doorstep! Before lockdown started I had been commissioned to make a dress for a work colleague of my daughter Katie. Thankfully I’d opted to make a toile of the bodice which I’d fitted just before lockdown kicked off so I managed to get the dress to a good stage of completion. However, I got to a point where I definitely needed her to try it on because even if she couldn’t wear it for the event she had hoped to, it would be nice for her to take delivery and wear it around the house!! So I went to their place of work and handed the dress over at arms length to Tracey to put on in the staff toilet, then she came out onto the porch where Katie, under my direction, pinned the dress for me. I took a few photos for reference too. From that I was able to finish and deliver the dress and my client was delighted with it…phew
One of the regular sewing highlights of the last 4 years for me has been the Sewing Weekender which generally takes place in Cambridge, UK in August. The organisers took the bold decision to put the whole event online instead which meant that many more people could ‘attend’ from all over the world. Myself and Judith Staley were delighted to be asked to contribute a video message each which was very nerve-racking but it turned out alright in the end. I published a transcript of mine here, along with the original video (you’ll notice that I had abandoned my signature pink hair by this time because, quite frankly, what was the point of bothering!) The Online Weekender also raised a significant amount of money which was divided between 4 charities.
As lockdown started to ease in the summer I was able to get out and about a couple of times. I joined an al fresco rag-rugging workshop in Hertfordshire run by Elspeth Jackson of Ragged Life which was so enjoyable, and I visited a couple of exhibitions in London including the Kimono show again, plus Andy Warhol at Tate Modern and Tricia Guild at the Fashion and Textiles museum both on the same day. Since then though things have been shut down then reopened, then shut down again. My heart goes out to everyone who is trying to run a business or an organisation that relies on visitors through their doors to make them viable, their future is very uncertain.
I’ve made a few other garments during the autumn which I’ve been really pleased with including the Prada-inspired shirt dress and a pair of Utility pants by Trend Patterns (not blogged yet) but I feel I’ve run out of steam with my sewing right now and I never thought I’d say that. My own teaching classes restarted for a total of 5 weeks in October but they’ve stopped again. I know some have adapted by using Zoom or other platforms but it just wouldn’t work for me, I feel dressmaking is too hands-on and needs real assistance for tricky bits, holding things up to the camera isn’t good enough sometimes. And being part of a group and all that shared enjoyment is a huge part of it too. I’ve had fairly regular online catch-ups with some of my lovely sewing friends and that has been a joy, albeit not as good as seeing them in the flesh.
Mr Y was the lucky recipient of a few handmade garments too during 2020 when I made him another two Kwik Sew 3422 shirts, and not one but two Thread Theory Finlayson sweatshirts! I’m happy to say he’s delighted with all of them and I’ve got plans for another sweatshirt for him in the new year.
I’m working on my own pattern which I’ve self-drafted so hopefully that will be something positive for the new year but I need occasional assistance from more expert friends and that’s making it a drawn-out process which would have been so much more fun person-to-person.
One final project I was commissioned by a friend to make was a Christmas chasuble for her to wear as she presides over her Christmas services in church. A chasuble is essentially a fancy poncho which the priest wears over their other vestments and Wendy wanted me to create one with a Nativity scene on it. She sourced the base fabric with my advice, and a printed quilting cotton Nativity which was sent from the US. This was square so I carefully cut it into approximate thirds with the central third featuring the stable scene and the star for the front, another third with Bethlehem for the back and the remaining third I cut into two parts to use on the stole, which is the long scarf priests wear around their necks. All of these I attached by appliquéing around the black outlines (I was literally making it up as I went along!) Wendy is delighted with the finished result (thankfully) and I’m sure she will enjoy using them during the Christmas season.
As I finish writing this (2 days before Christmas) we have no idea what lies ahead…some countries seem to be slowly recovering whilst the UK as a whole seems to be sliding further and further into disaster, or maybe not? I should try to think more positively as scientists have worked tirelessly to make a vaccine which will gradually be rolled out. Personally I’m a long way down the list for it but that’s absolutely fine, we must protect the most vulnerable first.
This has probably ended up not being a-not-entirely-coherent post but that’s kind-of appropriate I reckon! Wherever you are and whatever the new year brings for all of us I’d like to thank so many of you for reading my posts, sending me lovely or encouraging messages. Being a part of the online sewing community and Sew Over 50 in particular has been an absolute joy and a lifeline at times. We need to lift each other up more often, call out injustices when we see them but not to the extent that it becomes bullying of individuals, that isn’t right either. 2020 has been a year of huge upheaval, I plan to restart 2021 with fresh sewing plans to help me to feel more positive about it…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
The Festive season is often a reason to make, or buy, a special new outfit to wear for office parties or Christmas Day but this year’s Festive season things will be very different for most of us. I don’t want to be entirely negative though so, as part of the Lamazi blogger team, I thought I’d make something which is a little bit Christmassy but will double up as a ‘regular’ winter dress too.
I’ve chosen the cord velvetfrom Danish Design in a gorgeous shade of aubergine-I’m always a sucker for purple-but it comes in several other beautiful rich shades including a sumptuous gold and a stunning teal too. I picked this fabric because it’s a medium weight stretch jersey and has soft pile which makes it lovely to the touch. I’ve made a dress but you could easily make tops or wide-legged pants in it, or babies and children’s clothes too because it’s washable and crease resistant.
Whilst I love a complex make to really get my teeth into I felt this wasn’t a garment which warranted lots of time. Making a special Christmas once-worn garment wasn’t appropriate any longer so I wanted something quite simple but adaptable and for that reason I’ve picked the Somerset T-shirt by Maven Patterns. I’ve made a few of these now, the bones of it are beautifully simple, it has a self-neatened bateau neckline, a slightly fitted silhouette and four sleeve options. I’ve chosen the Bishop sleeve with a long cuff but I’ve hacked the sleeve to make it even fuller, and I’ll lengthen the body to create a dress finishing below the knee.
The Somerset has excellent very full instructions with lots of tips and advice to get a good finish. There’s a useful sheet to write all your information including body measurements and fit alterations, and a fabric stretch gauge to check you have enough stretch for the pattern to fit properly. You can also list the needle type and size you’ve used, stitch type and length and anything else you might want to remember for another time.
To increase the size of the sleeves I took the bishop sleeve pattern and drew 5 vertical lines from each of the notches from shoulder to hem. Each segment will become slightly wider as it gets nearer the bottom edge so make sure they are even in size.
Cut a piece of spot and cross or tracing paper bigger than the pattern as it is, mark a grainline running right down the paper and then lay the pattern piece on top of it, matching the grain on the pattern to the grain line you’ve just drawn. Next, I carefully cut up to the top of the marked lines taking care not to snip right through at the top, keep it attached by a tiny amount to act as a pivot point. [If you don’t want to cut your original pattern piece I suggest you trace off a new one to use instead] Then you splay the hem edge apart by a few centimetres each, I added 2.5cms between the each of the ‘side’ segments and 5cms to the central one. By doing this you’re adding fullness at the hem but not altering the sleeve head. You could put additional fullness to the sleeve head by opening the top edge too if you wanted. I lengthened the sleeve by 5cms too so that it would have plenty of blousy fullness into the cuff.
Trace around the new shape using a tracing wheel or pencil and cut out the new piece transferring all markings. One final change I made was to add a bias grainline because I knew I wanted to play with the stripe direction of the rib on the fabric.
I had pre-washed my fabric and partly tumble dried it on ‘low’ before letting it dry completely on the clothes airer, it seemed to survive the experience just fine.
I made an arbitrary choice of how long to make the dress by simply holding the tape measure at my shoulder and seeing where it came to at about mid-shin! I attached another piece of spot and cross to the bottom of the front and back pattern pieces and drew on the skirt length I wanted, plus a generous hem. I knew I would have to make some adjustments to the hip and thigh during the fitting stage, just make sure that the hip and thigh measurements are plenty big enough because you can always remove some, it’s much harder to add later!
The ‘cord’ runs across the width of the fabric and I wanted the rib to run down the length of my dress which meant I had to fold the fabric across the width. Try not to twist the fabric if you have to fold this way, I marked a single rib by following it across the width with pins so that I can see it clearly. Fabrics like corduroy, velvet or velour have a pile or ‘nap’ which will shade so if you cut some pieces facing one way on the grain and some pieces running the other way then you will end up with a garment that looks like it’s been made with two different colour fabrics, even though you know that isn’t the case. If you’re unsure what quantity of this type of fabric to buy go with the ‘with nap’ amount on the pattern information and follow the one-way layplan to cut out.
Once I’d cut all my pieces I followed the making instructions which are very comprehensive. If you have a walking foot for your machine I strongly recommend you use it because velour like this has a ‘pile’ and has a tendency to ‘creep’ as you sew so you might find that it starts off with all the edges matching but by the time you get to the other end the two fabrics are no longer matching. I also strongly recommend you tack any seams you are unsure about. You could use a million pins but by the time you’ve done all that you could have basted it in place which does the same job and usually more effectively. I was able to coverstitch the neck and the skirt hem on the Pfaff Coverlock 3.0 I have on loan as a brand ambassador but it works just as well by overlocking the raw edges and twin-needle stitching them down, or zigzag and twin-needle, or two rows sewn singly if you don’t have a twin needle. When it comes to pressing a fabric like this, if you don’t have a special needle board (and few of us do) then you should press on the reverse at all times. You could place a towel on your pressing surface and lay the fabric on top so that the pile of the cloth is against the pile of the towel which will help protect it. Use a pressing cloth as well. These tips will also apply to regular corduroy or any non-stretch fabrics with a pile too.
The bell of the sleeve is gathered using shirring elastic which helps to retain some of the stretch required for the cuff.
Once the sleeves were in I sewed up one side seam directly on the overlocker and then pinned the other side seam to fit myself. This was because I didn’t know if I’d need a split at the hem to be able to walk in the dress and I didn’t want to end up with loads of unpicking!
I looked at the fit in the mirror first of all and the sewn side seam was quite wavy, this could be cured by either adjusting the differential feed on the overlocker so that it doesn’t happen, or you could stitch the seam on the sewing machine and then overlock the edges [This is what I opted to do because I could see I had to take a fair bit off the side seams anyway to achieve a fit I was happy with] Then I put the dress on inside out in front of the mirror and pinned out the excess. I turned it right side out and tried it on again to check the fit, then finally sewed both side seams on the sewing machine, I used a ‘stretch’ needle, a ballpoint or jersey needle performs the same task. Either use a short straight stitch or a straightened out zigzag, make some samples to see which works best for your particular fabric.
Lastly, the cuffs go on and the skirt is hemmed.
And that’s pretty much it, it pops straight over the head so no tricky closures, because of the stretch it didn’t need a split, and that means there’s room for Christmas lunch and it won’t look like a dish rag after spending the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching Christmas telly!
I have to say that I’m really happy with this dress because it ticks all the boxes I wanted it to. It’s comfortable but it looks Christmassy, it looks great with opaque tights, heels and jewellery, but also with boots, a chunky belt, a roll neck top underneath for extra warmth or a cosy scarf…and did I mention it’s comfortable! #secretpyjamas It also has the advantage of rolling up and going in the corner of a bag or suitcase and coming back out again not needing a press. Bonus!!
At 160cms the fabric is very wide so a little will go a long way, and because it’s so soft it would be lovely for children’s wear too. It needs a little bit of careful handling but a lot of that is in the ground work. Make sure you lay it up and cut it accurately to minimise unnecessary stretching or distortion (try to keep it flat on the table or lay it up on the floor) pin or tack the seams so they don’t move about and press carefully as you go and you should be fine.
It’s been an incredibly tough year for so many and I wouldn’t blame you for not feeling like making anything new to wear. However, if crafting and creating bring you joy and respite then you could view it as a gift to yourself, and when you choose to buy from small companies like Lamazi and Maven then you are helping them too.
Thank you to Lamazi for providing me with the fabric for me to write my review, and I hope you find it helpful.