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 know many of us often sew patterns multiple times because we like them but I’ve taken this to a new extreme recently. I last sewed this blouse pattern Simplicity 8704 when I was around 16 or 17 years old, the date on the back is 1978 so I must have made it while I was still at school! I remember I used a burgundy-coloured viscose (or similar) with a floral print on it and it was definitely one of my favourites as I wore it a lot, probably swanning about in the Sixth Form common room!
There have been several times when I’ve been tempted to revisit it but for one reason or another I’ve put it back in the box for another day but this time I kept it out and went in search of fabric in the stash. Initially I was going to use a really pretty pastel pink lightweight checked cotton I got from Sew Me Sunshine (I can’t see it on the website now though) but when I realised I was going to have to pattern match the deceptively tricky check I thought better of it. I wasn’t in the mood for taking an age over that so I continued to rummage until my eyes fell upon the (also) pale pink linen I acquired from the local Scraps Store last year. I found it in a container full of various unwanted fabrics and there was nearly 5 metres of it so, for a donation, it came home with me! I laundered it at the time but put it away. I thought I might make a dress with it originally but, because it’s such a pale pink, I didn’t want to end up looking like a blob so I left it for another time.
A plain linen blouse appealed to me though and I didn’t have to fiddle about pattern matching so away I went and it was cut out in no time. Even though the pattern was a single size-this is how most patterns were sold until multi-size patterns were introduced-and my size has fluctuated to say the least over the years, amazingly it was still going to be the right size with no alterations.
There’s not much else to say about making it up except I remembered that an @SewOver50 stalwart, Lisa, had shared on her grid the day before that she had used a wing needle to decorate a plain linen tunic she was making which reminded me that I’d intended to find a use for the same effect at some point but forgotten all about it-Thank You Lisa!
The wing needle (I’ve also seen it called an ‘heirloom’ needle recently too) is like a regular needle except it has fine metal ‘fins’ to each side of the shaft which creates a little hole like a tiny eyelet in the centre of the stitch as it forms. A stitch which looks like a little star works best for this effect but you could try experimenting to see if any others look nice
I made a little video of my machine in action.
It’s worth bearing in mind a couple of important points if you’re going to use this decoration. Firstly, you can’t easily pivot at a corner with the needle down in the work-I sewed the collar in three separate moves, secondly you won’t be able to use the automatic threader if your machine has one and thirdly (thank you Lisa for telling me this because I don’t have this feature) you can’t use your automatic thread cutter if you have one.
As well as the collar I embroidered the cuffs, the front raglan seams and down the button placket, although I did this last one after I’d hemmed the bottom and sewn the buttonholes so that it was the exact distance from the edge and the buttonholes.
I love the way the blouse gathers into the collar, which is a two part construction incidentally, the raglan sleeves are straightforward but the gathered cuffs add a nice touch. I found a selection of Mother of Pearl buttons amongst my tidied-up button boxes to add another of my usual quirky details but otherwise that’s it. It’s a reasonably quick make but it was lovely to sew the details of collar construction and the cuffs, there’s an elegant simplicity to it I think. I will either wear it loose over the top of trousers or tucked in, or underneath a pinafore dress maybe?
It might sound strange but it feels a bit like an old friend has come back to visit, and I might even make the placket front version now too!
Yours truly has been on several times now to natter about various SO50-focussed blog posts I’ve written including fabric buying choices and batch sewing, as well as the first official meet-up back before the world went wonky! I have to say that Maria makes it so easy to chat, even though she’s on the other side of the world to me! Zoom is a marvellous invention…
I added a specific Sew Organised Style page to my blog recently so that should always link you to their latest episode.
Tune in on Thursdays to hear what the community has been up to or chatting about or sewing…
These have been very strange times of late and many of our regular activities have been curtailed or stopped completely. I’ve carried on sewing because it’s my creative outlet but a few weeks ago I started to feel like I had no clue what particular projects to settle on. Lots of vague ideas would float into my mind but then just as easily float back out again before I got underway with any of them. I had a couple of things which I had to sew for blog posts but beyond those I didn’t have a plan, or a clue!
My friend Melissa @fehrtrade happened to comment in our WhatsApp chat that she had sketched out her summer sewing plans, complete with their fabric needs. Most fabrics were from her stash and a couple of other items needed to be purchased.
This got me thinking, if I actually wrote down a list of all the things I wanted to make then it might give me the impetus to move forwards in a positive direction. So that’s exactly what I did. Some items on the list are patterns I’ve made previously, and love, whilst others were new ones I’ve been wanting to try. Once I’d created a reasonable list I ‘shopped’ from my stash which was good fun, I have some lovely fabrics just waiting for the right project. Whilst I can be something of an impulse purchaser of fabric I’m pretty good at sticking to my own fabric purchasing rules which I listed in the recent @SewOver50 post about fabric-buying which are as follows:
Do I really love this fabric?
Is it suitable for my intended purpose?
Do I really need it?
Price is obviously an important factor too but, for me, it’s loosely covered by these criteria anyway.
I knew with some canny cutting I could get more than one garment out of some of the fabric so eventually I settled on about 8 things from the list. In some cases I had two patterns for one piece of fabric because I couldn’t decide between them.
Once I was ready to cut, initially I picked the patterns I had made before, several times in a couple of cases. Primarily this meant the pattern was already cut out but also I would have things which were reliable because I knew they would fit, I enjoy wearing the style and there’s always room for another version in my wardrobe. Once I’d started cutting I couldn’t stop! I ploughed on for about a day and half until I had a pile of half a dozen items cut out, four of the six were remakes and two were new patterns. I felt very satisfied with this.
So why exactly am I telling you how accomplished I felt!? Because @SewOver50 right-hand woman Sandy messaged me to draw my attention to Lis @ThreadTaylors who had recently posted something similar on her feed whereby she had cut two shirts at the same time for her son and then made them both up too. Now, even though I’ve just told you that I’ve cut lots of things this isn’t my usual practice, I’m normally a ‘one thing at a time’ sewer. When I’m sewing for myself I like to complete the process from cutting to wearing before I move on to the next project, unless something goes disastrously wrong! (it might go on the naughty step for a bit while I sulk!) If I’m making for someone else there are the inevitable delays if there are fittings to schedule but otherwise the same would apply to that as well. Sandy had spotted a topic for discussion here so she invited me to manage a post on @SewOver50 asking if others cut/made in batches, made one thing at a time, or were somewhere in between?
Well the followers of @SewOver50 did not disappoint! Like the recent discussion about ‘cheap’ fabric, this was a topic where lots of you shared your thoughts so I was kept very busy reading, and responding, over the course of the next couple of days.
This is a distillation of your comments and we all seem to have a similar practices at one time or another. Many said they were like me in that they prefer to have one project on the go at a time and this was most often because they want to really enjoy the process. We take time to select the pattern, choose the fabric, match the thread and source the trims or haberdashery. Then very often it’s time to make a toile, finesse the fitting of that toile, maybe even make another toile or two before they are completely happy and ready to cut the fashion fabric, interfacings and linings! It’s all part of what makes dressmaking and sewing an enjoyable pastime for many and it’s not something to be rushed. Personally I wouldn’t say I rush but I don’t always take as much time as possibly I should. Many felt this made them more focussed, or if plenty of time wasn’t an option then they could break it down into 10-20 minute chunks which felt manageable and was still making progress.
To list or not to list? Or sketch for that matter? Melissa likes to create a page of sketches which is great because you can see a style to remind yourself what it looks like, especially if you’re likely to forget which style the pattern number or name refers to, or from a magazine like Burdastyle or Knipmode for example. I’ve made a long written list, selected a few items from it and ticked them off as I cut them. I also have a large whiteboard on the wall of my workroom on which I write different lists for the various things I’m up to and in normal times that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Some people suggested this kept them more focussed and I think I agree with them, I can still slot other items in as required. Personally I’d never want any list to be completely regimented with no flexibility because that would suck all the joy out of sewing for me. There are times when I do have to sew things which I don’t really want to but it’s a necessity and so the pleasurable makes are the ones which I ‘reward’ myself with.
A few people said they didn’t like the idea of lists or batches because they felt it took too much organisation, I probably feel less like that because I have lots of haberdashery, trims, interfacing etc so I don’t need to think too much about “have I got so-and-so” in order to make a start.
If you’re a serial non-finisher then there’s every chance you’ll end up with quite a large UFO pile. I think lockdown and Me Made May (which has just finished) has forced/encouraged quite a lot of people to revisit these projects on the naughty step and to reassess them. There is a distinct feeling of achievement when working through them to either finish a garment, repurpose it, recycle it or take it apart and start again!
The space we need for cutting out was one of the biggest factors for concentrating the cutting to a certain amount of time. If you use the dining table or the floor then there’s every chance you’ll need to move your things for practical reasons, family life/mealtimes for example, the floor is very hard on the knees, pets interrupting are a recurring theme too! All of these may mean you can only use the space in small bursts which limits how much can be cut. For many dressmakers cutting out is a necessary evil which they don’t enjoy so want it over with as quickly as possible. As a former sample cutter I always make sure I cut as accurately and efficiently as possible to ensure the best results. You can read a few of my top tips in this blog. If you really hate cutting out then batching could be a good thing because it gets it out of the way for a while!
In order to be efficient many told me that they will cut several of the same pattern at the same time if they have a favourite. Tops and T-shirts were probably the most popular of these but dresses and trousers/jeans also cropped up too. This can work well when you know a garment fits and you aren’t tweaking and fitting as you go along. Whilst making several versions of a single pattern one follower told me she writes notes onto the pattern each time in a different colour so that she knows what she’s done, and to see its development during the process. If you’re making a number of the same thing it’s efficient to keep the threads the same but personally I like to use a reasonably-matching thread to overlock as often as possible. Others are less precious and will use the same colour for everything because repeatedly changing threads takes time and keeping a range of colours can be costly.
Many of us have spent at least some of lockdown cutting and sewing scrubs, bags and face coverings, some sewed lots of them, others just one or two sets. I’ve no doubt at all though that they were well received but there’s no getting away from the fact that they became very tedious after a while. The repetition was pretty boring, although it could also have the positive byproduct of making us become more efficient sewers, and we all agreed it gave us a new-found respect and admiration for those who had no choice but to sew in factories, often with very little pleasure or decent wages involved. Some of us developed ‘production’ techniques whereby we would complete each operation the same on every garment before moving on, for example, join all the shoulder seams, attach all the neck facings, insert all the sleeves etc etc. This undoubtedly saved a lot of time but it does make you a bit boggle-eyed after a few days! @alexjudgesews did admit though that making scrubs nearly put her off sewing for life! I’ve no intention of getting into the discussion of whether or not any of us should have been sewing scrubs but I do know that I’m really really proud of how the home sewing community rose to the challenge and did it any way.
Many of us gather each prepared project together in some way, ready to begin. I like to use large ziplock-type bags which I can reuse over and over, I’ll put the pattern and cut fabric in although I don’t tend to include inter, threads or trims (many do) I’ll grab those as I go along usually from what I have. One suggested idea I liked was to use baskets to contain everything, that’s certainly more attractive than plastic bags!
A few comments made me chuckle, someone said she batch cuts but then forgets about them, where they are or even what they are! My friend Corrie @ceramic67 told me “I often cut 2 or 3 at the same time, I’m still slow but it makes me feel faster!”
A recurring comment was to spend separate days doing each part of their own creative routine so, a day printing and sticking PDFs then a day tracing them off, a day or more cutting the fabric and then the enjoyment of the sewing uninterrupted. We all have our own version of what works for us and it will vary depending on the types of pattern we like to use.
For lots of us it’s more pleasurable to be free to decide what to make and when to make it, pre-planning is no fun!
Amongst the ‘planners’ some use mood boards with sketches, photos and swatches, others will often create mini-capsules to accompany clothes they already have, or make a new, related, group of clothing. I keep swatches of the fabrics I have in a little book, it’s very low-tech but it’s good to leaf through and reminds me what I have without getting everything out.
So as you’ll see there’s no firm consensus and ultimately we do what works for us and our situation. Maybe you just batch cut small projects like Xmas gifts of pencil cases or wash bags for example, or maybe you only ever one thing at a time and nothing will persuade you to do otherwise! Having more than one item on the go could give you the option to move sideways onto something else if you realise you’ve got to wait for a delivery, or head out for some buttons or something, has anything you read here made you think you’ll try a different method next time?
Whatever works for you, until next time, happy sewing!
I originally wrote this as a review for the MinervaDotCom blog but I’m not actually sure if it ever appeared. Rather than waste my efforts I thought I’d publish what I wrote here instead.
I’m sure it was a combination of an over-generous stated fabric requirement, my just-to-be-on-the-safe-side ordering and then super-stingy cutting out means that I managed to get not one but TWO sweatshirts out of my Minerva fabric choice this time. At the time of writing last autumn, Minerva were introducing a collection of textured jerseys made in a polyester/ viscose/ spandex mixture which came in a wide range of colours and textures so I opted for a geometric design in lilac to try out. I would suggest that this fabric is not as firm or thick as some jerseys suitable for sweatshirts, it isn’t fleecy on the reverse for example but it has reasonable drape, is soft to the touch and has a fair amount of stretch but not in a ‘really difficult to control’ kind-of way (it isn’t like lightweight jersey for T-shirts for example) it’s actually pretty stable so manipulates well into armholes or cuffs.
I already had a pattern I wanted to try, the Maxine sweatshirt by Dhurata Davies that has interesting diagonal seams across the front which have pockets in them. This actually made cutting out a whole lot more tricky than I anticipated because the ‘check’ design of the fabric I had picked turned out not to be square but rectangular so matching the lines was a real challenge. In some areas I’ve failed so my advice would be “don’t choose a pattern that has too many intersecting seams or style lines” because you could end up tearing your hair out when you can’t get it to match! Once I’d committed though I decided to press ahead and settle for ‘almost but not quite’…not my usual route but there we are.
When it became apparent that by folding and cutting really carefully I’d have oodles of fabric left over I pulled out a very simple sweatshirt pattern Simplicity 8529 and cut that at the same time. You might recognise this pattern as the Toaster sweater by SewHouseSeven if you think it looks familiar. If you fold the selvedges in towards the centre so that you have two folds then it’s often possible to get more pieces out of less fabric, any sleeves, yokes or facings can be cut out of what remains.
I currently have a Pfaff Coverlock 3 on loan to me so I used it to sew up much of the two tops on it’s 4-thread overlocker setting but you can easily sew this fabric on a regular machine, just use a ballpoint or stretch needle and set your machine to a very elongated zigzag if you can (regular stitch length and a narrow width) or a ‘lightening’ stitch if your machine has it. Unlike some jerseys or sweatshirting you’ll definitely need to neaten the seams though because I found the fabric frayed and went fluffy at the cut edges quite badly as a result of the woven nature of the surface design. Use a zigzag stitch on the edges if you have limited options, or pinking shears.
The ‘Maxine’ is a great design which stands out in a crowded field of many other sweatshirts and the well-written instructions and diagrams are very clear and simple to follow. The tricky area could be the point at the centre where the seams intersect, I simply made this more complicated for myself by choosing the geometric design! And of course it has pockets! I’ve made another version of it since the lilac from a remnant of linen/wool which you can read about here.
The Simplicity/Sew House Seven pattern has a very simple ‘grown-on’ collar and self bands on the cuffs and hem. I cut and made this one up in less than two hours and it shows off the textured surface of the fabric very well.
I would suggest that this fabric will make very comfortable loungewear like track pants, tees, sweatshirts, dresses and children’s wear. I don’t know what the other designs in the range are like but if you are pattern match averse then this particular one might not be for you! I thought at the time it would be interesting to see how well a fabric with a raised surface texture like this wears and now that several months have elapsed I’ve found that it catches quite often and has started to pill quite significantly which is disappointing given the price per metre.
My thanks to Minerva for providing me with the fabric to write about, this is a significantly different version of the blog post which may, or may not, have appeared on their website. I did try to find it but their search function doesn’t make it very easy to find specific posts.
It’s back! After the success of the first #so50visible challenge in 2019 we thought you might like to do it again, especially the thousands of you who have discovered @sewover50 since last year and who might have missed joining in.
In early 2019 we set you a challenge to find a pattern which featured an older model (at least 45+) and make it. If you thought this would be easy then you would have been mistaken, because once we had started looking more closely we realised that this was going to be much harder than it sounded.
Rather than me reinvent the wheel again here I suggest you take a read through the extensive post I wrote at the time, and its follow-up, so that you have some understanding of the challenge we set and how the whole idea came about. There is also a VERY extensive list of as many patterns as we could source at that time.
Since last year I’m cautiously optimistic that the situation seems to have improved somewhat. Sandy and Judith have been diligently saving in Highlights over on the Instagram account many of the new patterns that have been released in the the last twelve months which feature older models-male as well as female. Some of these patterns are by companies which have been consistently good at using a variety of models of all ages whilst for others this is a first toe in the water, which is great to see.
It seems that a lot more companies are actively using older women amongst their choice of models now (although a few still think we all want to wear the frumpier selection of what’s on offer-very wrong!) For the most part though, of the pattern companies who are choosing older models, they realise that we can be stylish, creative, outspoken individuals who do not have a shampoo and set once a week, don’t want to be stereotyped and who have money to spend on quality products.
I’ll list as many of the new patterns as I can but, if you’re tempted to join in with the challenge, I would strongly urge you to take a look at those I’ve already listed because each website will include that brand’s new patterns anyway.
Among the new ones we know of are, in no particular order:
Cashmerette-Washington dress and Rivermont Top and Dress
The Maker’s Atelier-there is wide range of patterns to pick from including several new designs Shawl Collar Dress, Shawl Collar Coat, Over-sized shirt dress, Blazer and Wrap Dress
Style Arc-Sheryl stretch or woven pants, among others.
That Wendy Ward-brand new book ‘Sewing Basics for Every Body’, the Kim jumpsuit and the Dylan Peacoat particularly
Simplicity and Butterick have improved considerably since last year and we have been told that they are actively including more mature models in their catalogues now, let’s hope this is the case. There are now a reasonable number of patterns to choose from (too many to list here individually) so browse their website or catalogues to see if there’s something that appeals.
I’m going to leave it there because I’ll never quite know where the end of this list should be! I would urge you to look through pattern company websites, books and catalogues for your inspiration if you’re keen to participate. I would also add that there are quite a number of small pattern companies who are hugely supportive and involved in our community but they either don’t use older models, or they use illustrations, so we can’t include them for this challenge. That said, we are very appreciative of every repost, share and use of the #sewover50 hashtag that any pattern company gives to a SewOver50er, they are always welcome and it helps to keep our little, occasionally slightly wrinkled, faces in the public eye to prove that we’re still here, and have no intention of keeping quiet.
We’ve got prizes again too so thank you to our list of sponsors (so far) who are offering a selection of patterns, and Wendy Ward is offering a copy of her new book too. Winners will be chosen at random after the challenge closes. You’re welcome to share works-in-progress but only completed garments shared with a photo of the original pattern after the closing date will be eligible to win a prize.
Stay in touch with the Instagram account while the challenge is on because that’s where you will find any new information as it crops up. Make sure you use the new #so50visible20 hashtag although the original #so50visible is OK too. If a pattern company reposts your outfit (which obviously we really hope they will!) use the #so50thanks hashtag too. Keep an eye on their Stories feed too because sometimes they forget to tag us, or the tag doesn’t work for some reason.
The #so50visible20 challenge begins on March 1st and runs for the whole of the month so what are you waiting for? Share a photo of your garment along with the source pattern, have a look in saved highlights on the IG account for various ideas how to do this, it doesn’t have to be a brand new garment this year but it should be a new photo of it, not one you’ve shared before. You could even use a flatlay this time, particularly if you don’t like putting yourself in the frame. Have a look at #so50flatlay for ideas on this. There is no limit to the number of entries you can put in either.
We can’t wait to see how SewOver50ers rise to the challenge, the more we keep this in the public eye then the more chance we have of seeing older faces featuring on pattern covers, in magazines, in sewing books. And part of the worldwide fun of this challenge is seeing makes for the opposite seasons to the one we might be living in because, let’s remember, we’re a global account, and that’s a really big deal!
I first met pattern maker Dhurata Davies at my friend Sal’s ‘Sew2gether’ event last spring and then our path’s crossed again unexpectedly a couple of months later when I made a last minute decision to go to the Threads textiles fair in Farnham. Dhurata was exhibiting there and she offered me a copy of her Maxine Sweater pattern in return for a review. The pattern is intended as a sweatshirt, and I’ve made one in a jersey fabric already, but it also works well in a woven too. It was the diagonal seam lines with pockets concealed in them that appealed to me. The sweatshirt version was for a Minerva fabric blog review which hasn’t appeared yet at the time of writing but now that I’ve made a second top I can tell you all about the pattern here.
I had picked up a modest remnant of ‘Woolsey’, a linen/wool fabric in the Merchant & Mills shop in Rye last August, it’s a lovely deep teal colour which is one of my favourites (although it’s a devil to photograph accurately). When I made the jersey version I made a size 16 based on my body measurements and there’s plenty of room in it so I knew I could risk making the same size in a non-stretch fabric. [If you are making anything more usually intended for a fabric with some stretch you will almost certainly need to go up a size or two, especially if it’s in any way close fitting. Measure the pattern itself if you’re not sure and don’t forget you need to be able to get it on, will it need additional openings like a zip or buttons if there’s no stretch to get it over your head, or your hips?]
Before I cut anything out I made myself a ‘whole’ sleeve pattern piece, it comes as a ‘half’ sleeve vertically so this needs to be placed on a fold in the fabric (twice as you need two sleeves!) but I always prefer to have a complete sleeve. Just stick the pattern to a large enough piece of paper so that you can fold it down the central ‘place on fold’ line, fold it in half and pin in a few places then cut out a new symmetrical pattern piece.
I knew I would not have enough fabric for the separate collar, cuffs and hem-band pieces but I could lengthen the body so that it wasn’t ridiculously short. I added about 10-12cms to the bottom of the front and back pieces. I had to decide how to finish the neckline instead of the collar and I came up with a combination of piping directly on the edge first and then a band of jersey ribbing. I didn’t know how, or if, this would work but the piping would look fine on it’s own if the jersey wasn’t any good.
The instructions and illustrations are nice and clear and straightforward and it’s not as difficult as you might imagine to get the diagonal cross in the centre. The seam allowance is just 1cm so I always highlight the pattern when this is the case so that, when I make the pattern again, I don’t sew it up as 1.5 by mistake and it’s all too small!
Once the front was complete I joined it to the back at the shoulders and then made some bias binding for the neck. I had just enough scraps to cut 3 strips which were approximately 50cms long and 4cms wide which I joined to form one long strip. I have a specific piping foot for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 which is really useful but you can usually use your zip foot if it allows you to stitch close enough to the piping cord. Not all zip feet are good at this especially if it’s the generic one which comes with the machine but there are usually adjustable ones you can buy which, in my experience, are better. The piping foot actually sits over the top of the fabric and piping cord rather than just beside it so it’s held more securely and stitches much closer to the piping for a better finish. If you want to see another use of the piping foot pop over to my review of the Simple Sew Lizzie dress.
Once I’d made the piping I sewed it around the neck, raw edges together and making a neat join at the back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find a matching jersey so I opted for a complete contrast. I bought 50cms each of deep red and dark grey tubular jersey from Backstitch and when I put them together I decided that the red made a more interesting garment. Generally when you’re adding a stretch band you work on the basis of it being approximately 85% of the neckline/cuff/waistband measurement that you’re attaching it to, depending on the stretch of the jersey. I’d made things tricky by adding the piping first so the machine had to go through a LOT of layers of fabric. I must say that the Pfaff sailed through it all pretty easily. The only time it was hard work was over the seam allowances on the cuffs. Because I was making this bit up as I went along I sewed the piping onto the cuff first then sewed the under arm seams, if I were using this finish again I would sew the under arm seam first and then put the binding on ‘in the round’ because it would be less bulky where it crosses the seam. I used my little seam-hopper gadget to help lift the foot to help ease it over the bulky seams, this one came with the machine but you can buy something called a Jean-a-ma-jig or even use a piece of thick folded cardboard.
Having told you 85% is the usual amount for a stretch bands I should have made the neck one slightly shorter than that as it doesn’t sit completely flat even after a good amount of steaming. I left it though because it doesn’t look that bad and it would be a lot of work to re-do it. First join the band into a loop along it’s narrow edge then fold it lengthwise in the same manner as the cuffs and then divide it into 4 equal parts marked with pins. Next equally divide the neck (or cuffs) equally into 4 too. Pin the band onto the neck (or cuff) at the marks and stretch the band to fit and stitch in place. You can see from the photos that this was quite tricky because of the number of layers involved, I graded the layers so that it reduced the bulk as far as possible. All these layers plus the piping cord made it too difficult to get the cuffs under the overlocker so I finished the edges using a simple zigzag stitch. Around the neck I used the Coverlock 3.0 to coverstitch which had dual benefit of neatening on the inside and giving an attractive double row of top stitching on the outside.
To finish the hem I just overlocked the edge, turned it up and stitched twice. So that’s it really, I’m very happy with the finished top, I layered it up with a thin RTW T-shirt when I wore it to go to Brighton recently. The fabric doesn’t seem to crease so much as bend, it’s of a double-weave construction the same as cotton double gauze.
I’m really happy with the outcome of this top, the fabric has lent itself well to the more smocky kind of shape and although it was bit involved I really like the finished effect of the addition of the stretch cuffs and piping onto an otherwise simple garment. The ‘Woolsey’ fabric does fray a bit because of the loose weave but it’s manageable. Incidentally, this pattern looks great lengthened into a dress or with the pockets left out of the seams if you’re short of fabric.
Thank you Dhurata for the gift of the pattern, in my opinion it’s a goody and if you aren’t adding extras like me it’s a nice quick half-day make. Dhurata has also designed some lovely children’s patterns too which you might be interested in.
The @sewover50 account is nothing if not helpful. When Cathy messaged Judith and Sandy recently she said she was ‘nearly 60, keen as mustard, but where do I start?’ Well she picked a very good place to start…hold on, that’s the Sound of Music but you know what I mean.
So Judith and Sandy turned it over to you and you really didn’t let us down (as if you ever would…) I’ve trawled through all your comments and collated as best I can all the wise and helpful advice you’ve contributed here. I’m not sure how coherent it will be but here goes…
First up is simply get to know your machine-assuming you have one [choosing a machine is a whole other post] if possible have a lesson on it at the shop you bought it from, definitely look through the manual and watch the DVD; familiarise yourself with threading it and winding a bobbin; learn to change the needle; practice sewing straight parallel lines before moving on to curves and pivoting corners. You could draw lines onto paper and practice that way (don’t use the needle on fabric after that though, it will probably spoil your fabric by being blunt) one contributor said she taught her child by using dot-to-dot puzzles from a book-one page at a time presumably, not the whole book under the needle…. Learning to manipulate and manoeuvre fabric is something which comes in time with practice, you’ll get there and rushing won’t actually help…take your time.
Get used to ‘driving’ your machine, can you adjust the speed manually? Sometimes the foot pedal has a switch you can change. Have it on a slower setting if that’s possible, otherwise it’s all down to your foot control which again will come with practice. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably right in front of the work area so you have a clear view of what you’re sewing, do you need an extra light? a daylight lamp or a daylight bulb in an old one can be really helpful. If you have the option to leave your machine out so you can use it at any time this will allow you to sew whenever you get a chance and not have to keep getting it out and putting it away.
Gradually compile yourself a ‘stitch bible’ of what your machine can do, use pieces of plain fabric (two layers) old sheets or a duvet cover are perfect for this, then use a coloured thread so that everything shows up clearly. Even if your machine can only sew straight and zigzag it’s still possible to make buttonholes and neaten seams. If there are other feet or attachments what are they for? They might be useful as you progress, the zip foot will probably be an essential although they are usually the most basic type unless you’re buying a high-end machine. Learning a few seam finishes without an overlocker will help you make longer-lasting garments too. You might like to make examples of gathers or darts and other seam types to create your own reference resource which you can always go back to. It might sound ‘old-school’ but whatever works for you is fine.
Ready to think about what to sew? Things like tote bags, aprons or cushion covers are an excellent place to begin because they will enable you to practice sewing plenty of straight lines with a few corners and/or curves. You can include patch pockets, possibly a zip, add trims, embellishment or applique for interest. Everything will help you to become more confident using your machine. Having a bash at making costumes for kids is another great way of getting more confident, you don’t have to be so precious about the materials you use, the fit might not be spot-on but you’ll have fun exploring new ideas. Or what about accessories or clothes for dolls or toys? Kids clothes can be lovely to make but they can also be very fiddly if you’re making something tiny with little armholes for example. Stick to little T-shirts and leggings to begin with perhaps.
This brings me onto another area: you’ll find masses of free patterns online especially for simple things like bags and aprons, sewing magazines always feature these types of project along with well-photographed step-by-step guides. As you progress there are also free patterns for all sorts of other things including garments, many pattern companies will have one or two free ones which, if you’re happy with it, will hopefully encourage you to buy from them too. The Mandy Boat tee by Tessuti is only 3 pattern pieces and really simple to construct for example. With regards to fabric choices it’s probably sensible to stick to a woven fabric like cotton poplin or lawn, or a stable knit like Ponte Roma to begin with, they don’t wiggle about when you’re cutting or sewing, chiffon and slippery satin will have to wait just a bit longer. Another contributor suggested choose a pattern with no more than 5 pieces to start with, what about pyjama shorts or an elasticated waist skirt for example? A really simple dirndl skirt doesn’t need a pattern at all, just gather widths of fabric onto a waistband.
So you’ve got the machine and you’ve got the pattern and now you need to sew it. You don’t need masses of equipment to start off with but I would suggest that you invest in decent quality pins, scissors and a tape measure for starters [I’m set in my ways here because I never use rotary cutters or weights]
Look out for classes locally-is there a fabric shop nearby? what about a college offering part-time courses? There are so many online tutorials that you could learn entirely via the internet and never pay a penny. There are also specific online courses which you can pay for, these are probably of a higher quality and consistency as a result, whichever you opt for you can access them at any time wherever you are in the world. Many indie pattern companies create sewalongs for their patterns so you can follow at your own pace, Closet Case and Tilly and the Buttons are just two for example. Others like Sew Essential, Stitch Sisters and GuthrieGhani (all in the UK) have created easy to follow tutorials, often for specific techniques and processes which can be really helpful. That’s all online but there are plenty of excellent books to help, a really good one is the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing which has been in print for years but has such clear illustrations and instructions that it’s useful as ever. It covers SO many different techniques and examples of garment and fabric types, many that you’ve probably never even heard of! Seamwork magazine and Tilly’s book ‘Love at First Stitch’ were also suggested as excellent sources of clear, concise patterns with instructions, there will be many others which might be equally useful.
Other sources of support and advice (apart from SewOver50 obviously!) are Facebook groups-McCalls patterns have one which offers ‘massive global support for fellow sewists of all abilities’, there are area-specific ones too which you might prefer if they are more local. These forums could be especially helpful if you live miles from anyone else who sews. If quilting or patchwork are more what you want there many groups or guilds for these, I was also told about the American Sewing Guild and the Australian Sewing Guild.
If you like Instagram try using a specific hashtag for a pattern #lbpullover #wikstenhaori for example. You’ll get to see what it looks like on real people of all figure types which can be so helpful before you start. There are loads of SewOver50 ones too including #so50dresses, #so50tops or #so50visible for example. Or listening to a podcast like Love to Sewwhile you sew can be both entertaining and informative.
Another suggestion was to take a good look at the ready to wear clothes you would buy to see what the fabric is like, does it drape well or how has it been cut, or does the style even suit me? These days you can try things on and take sneaky photos in the changing rooms so that you’ve got a clearer idea when you’re planning your makes. It’s also a really good idea to make a ‘toile’ or ‘muslin’ so that you don’t spoil your ‘good’ fabric with errors that can’t be rectified, why not use a old duvet cover or sheets? It’s always a good idea to make a toile in a fabric which is similar to the fashion fabric you intend to use. This is because all fabrics behave differently with different properties which might not work appropriately. Make sure you read the pattern envelope carefully for fabric-type advice, or ask in the shop where you’re buying it; get a sample from online shops to avoid costly mistakes.
As you improve you could treat yourself to a complete sewing kit which include everything you need-pattern, fabric, trims, notions etc to make a project, or what about a subscription box?
What about trying refashioning? Take an old or unloved garment and reinvent it as something new. Or you could unpick a worn out garment to make a pattern from and recreate it in new fabric.
Don’t forget that sewing and fitting are two different things and there’s no quick and foolproof way to learn either, it just takes time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the size you buy in the shops is the size that you cut out-check your own measurements! Better to cut a little big and take it down than try to add extra (the voice of bitter experience!!) You will make mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them, do a step at a time and don’t worry about step 7 or 11 or whatever until you get to it. By all means browse through the instructions before you start (especially before you cut anything out though!) to familiarise yourself, gather your favourite books or other information if you’re going to need clarification of a technique. Above all, enjoy the process, this is your time and you’re investing in yourself even if the project isn’t ultimately for you. Don’t be put off by those who finish projects quicker than you, they’ve probably been doing it for longer than you. Blanca of @Blakandblanca said “thoughtful making gets the best results” and I agree. Even those of us who have sewn for decades were beginners once and I certainly still make mistakes, to quote Einstein (approximately) “a person who never made a mistake never made anything” or something like that.
Thank you to every single person who contributed their thoughts and advice on the original post, I can’t possibly attribute each one I’ve used unfortunately but I hope everyone, especially nervous beginners, will find this post useful. If there’s anything else you’d like to add you can leave a comment at the end. Incidentally, I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago where I detailed a few starter thoughts when it comes to getting yourself ready preparing and cutting out your projects. I’m a stickler for accurate cutting because if that is correct to start with, and then something goes a bit wonky, you’ll have some idea if it’s your cutting or the pattern (and there’s been a lot of talk about accuracy or otherwise of pricy Indie patterns recently!)
I haven’t attempted to put too many links in here because you’re all over the world so what might be appropriate for the UK probably won’t be where you are. Hopefully you’ll get some generally helpful ideas as a springboard though.