Gifts I: Uke Cosy

If your loved one’s instrument of choice is a Stradivarius or something equally priceless, then a gift of a padded gig bag isn’t a good idea.  But a banjo or a ukelele player would most probably be overjoyed to receive a custom-made gig bag in which to keep their instrument safe, especially if it gets lugged about a lot on public transport or in school.    

The uke is becoming a popular beginner instrument and in some primary schools in the UK, it’s replaced the recorder in music literacy classes.  Hm, if you were a music teacher, what would you rather have?  A classroom full of gently plinking ukeleles, or an equivalent number of peevishly whistling recorders?  🙂

When you buy a uke or a guitar, it usually comes with its own gig bag which helps to get the instrument home but then falls apart (usually the zip goes).  If you’re planning to make a gig bag, shop around carefully for a good quality zip.  It needs to be at least half of the outside measurement of the bag, two thirds if possible.  The first place I looked for such a zip was charging a whopping £9 (the uke cost £25!).  Luckily, around the corner in Shepherd’s Bush market, there was a stall where a similar chunky zip cost £2.50.  Look, you can customize further with a zip pull!

To make a gig bag for a small ‘soprano’ ukulele like this one or a banjo, you will need 0.75m of fabric, the same of lining and light-to-medium wadding, and  a good 2.5m of bias binding.  I used leftovers.  

The binding took very little time but as for the rest of the project….. let’s just say it was more intermediate than beginner’s.  Or maybe that’s just me as I do find wadding annoying.   

Much as I’d like a print fabric gig bag for our guitar, I think the price of a sleeping-bag zip would make it not as cost-effective as buying a good quality gig bag in bog-standard black.  If however a rock star were to commission one from me (in return for a small chunk of his or her fortune), it’d be pretty much the same job as with the baby bag, but with added shoulder straps. 

P.S. If you make one of these, don’t forget to start off with a pocket for the picks (or cake sale money…)!


Pattern Magic Challenge: the Reveal

So, Pattern Magicians, here we are: to display triumphs, maybe lick wounds and most definitely to give ourselves a pat on the back for having taken a bold leap forward with our pattern-drafting.

Back in August when I initiated the Pattern Magic Challenge, I had certain misgivings about the patterns being a bit too challenging for most amateur sewists (including myself).   The take-up was low.  So it cheered me up when Carolyn sent pictures of several of her favourite Pattern Magic makes (she’d been trying out the designs for a few years from the original books in Japanese).  It was most encouraging that she looked fabulous in each one:

(N.B.  Click on any image to view source or for more information.  This also applies to any text in bold.  All bloggers in the Reveal are also linked to in my Blogroll on the right).

Thanks Carolyn.  Your creations and beautiful photography deserve a book of their own!

Shortly after, this beach gem arrived: 

Do you recognize the Stingray from Pattern Magic Stretch?  It’s one of my favourites and I was hoping someone would make it – someone with a sense of fun and a more svelte figure than mine!  This skirt comes form Pella of Pattern Pandemonium.  Pella drafts most of her patterns – she has a half-scale mannequin on which to try out designs – and thinks that Pattern Magic should be approached with admiration but also caution!  Some of the designs are purely concepts which would take a lot of work to be made into wearable garments.  “There are two or three things in each of the books which aren’t too difficult to adapt though.”  Thanks, Pella!

The Bamboo Shoot Bodice from the first Pattern Magic was a design I particularly wanted to try out as it’s just so elegant.  Though busy, it seemed easier to tackle than a design such as the kakurenbo which projects forward and hides backward and seems a dimension too far for my “advanced beginner” brain to handle.  I had a go at transferring the design to a (flat) side of a bag which I was very pleased with:  

But this lady did one better and came up with a deliciously-hued Bamboo Shoot Bodice with Peplum (click for blog post with design tips and adjustment details). 

Thanks so much G, for finding the time to take part 🙂  Hope you get lots of compliments wearing it (send in a pic too please, if you get the chance!).

A word of warning to the uninitated: certain Pattern Magic projects take a lot of time, what Meggipeg called “a month of Sundays”.  Here is her kakurenbo (hide and seek) top:

Meggipeg’s post revealed a useful tip for dabbling in Pattern Magic: get yourself a stiff drink when the going gets tough.  So that’s how to tackle these seamlines…

Thanks very much for taking part, Megan!  (psst, I actually prefer your top to the Pattern Magic original…)

My own project, a dress of Gathered Holes, also took ages, interrupted largely by a half-term holiday in which the kids kept stealing my equipment and laughingly threw it back and forth over my head… ok, I exaggerrate but that’s how it seemed.  Carolyn had sent in her own version: this beatifully fitted and draped number.

So, no pressure then 😕   I finally made this:

That wrinkly plughole at the waist needs cutting out and I could put on some sexier boots, but overall I’m quite pleased with it.

I contacted Tracy, the Material Girl after finding her review of the Morley College Pattern Magic course and she joined the challenge with an idea for a Disappearing Scarf Top (from Pattern Magic 2).  It is now apparently somewhere near the bin!  The back view gives an idea of what might have been. 

The front….

I was hoping for glitzy – I ended up with tacky, creased and puckered.”  A combination of tricky fabric and not enough clear instruction.  If anyone else makes this successfully, please post us a tutorial for the next glitzy season!!

Unwilling to admit Pattern Magic defeat, Tracy then turned to page 40 of Pattern Magic Stretch and using a tube of fabric as well as a mere 20 minutes of her time, she made “The Magic’s in the Wearing”!

 Excellent!  Thanks Tracy.

Violette à Paris, a self-taught pattern maker, also picked one of the quicker projects: the Twist top.  She made it twice though!  The first one was made from cotton jersey.

For the second version, she used a striped material to emphasise the twist lines, changed the shoulder seam from the back to the front and added flourescent piping.

Merci beaucoup, Violette, for taking part!

Here’s another Twisted Top from Lisa of Only the Small (pattern makers: check out her drafting a folded mini tutorial). 

Lisa isn’t won over by the twist and thinks it looks like “a top sewn by someone who’s just seen a sewing machine for the first time”.  Hang on a minute!  That sounds suspiciously like the sort of comment a boyfriend would make…. Lisa, it’s great!  In fact the whole outfit is fantastic.  I’m jealous, but thanks!

New blogger Eszter of Creatuu had no previous drafting experience but very daringly wanted to join the challenge so she gave the Twist Top a try.

She seems to have done a fine job though apparently the top has a mind of its own and wants to “twist back” during movement…!

Sew Ruth is a blogger who sets herself ambitious projects almost weekly.  Leather, jackets, lingerie: hasn’t she heard of the comfort zone?!  Oh, hang on, she has!  A comfy yet glamorous nightdress and robe:

Reminds of something Greta Garbo would wear gliding through her mansion in an old black and white movie.  Here are the beginnings:

Thanks Ruth, I knew the challenge wouldn’t worry you!

Finally, let’s end with a clear triumph.  Here’s Sally of Charity Shop Chic:

This take on the Union Jack was inspired by “Like a Jungle” in Pattern Magic 2 and worn to a US/UK party (blogged here with tips on how to design).  Thanks Sally for making me realize that the Jungle isn’t as scary I’d thought.  And isn’t it magic that a thrift-store rescue could end up so dazzling?!

Pattern Magicians, thanks so much for taking part and for all the support you’ve thrown into the challenge through your links, buttons and encouraging comments on my own efforts.  I realize this was no ordinary sewing challenge: more like a sewing challenge combined with scary coursework/essay/half-marathon.  I look forward to following your progress  and if there’s anything you’d like me to add, remove or change here, let me know!


Steampunk Dress

Why on earth am I hanging around these dummies, you may wonder.  In my Gathered Hole dress? 

Well, after adding the black lining to the shell of the dress, I thought the gathered holes had the appearance of apertures on old-fashioned cameras: the way they can be closed by pulling on the cords as well as those dark, dead interiors.  This, together with the raised, Victorian-ish sleeves, made me think that my new dress wouldn’t be out of place in the wardrobe of a Steampunk so I’ve come to Bromley High Street and the birthplace of H.G. Wells, the writer whose sci-fi machines have fuelled the Steampunk genre.

Wells is said to have been quite sneering of Bromley, calling it a “morbid sprawl”!  He may have had his reasons but it’s in the neighbourhood and I find the fabric and haby stalls at the Thursday market quite useful actually…

By the way, the site is currently a branch of the pile-’em-high clothing emporium that is Primark.  Oh, the irony!

The Design

Inspired by the Gathered Hole concept in the first of Tomoko Nakamichi’s Pattern Magic books, the dress is my contribution to the Pattern Magic Challenge.  I’d wanted an elegant daytime dress that I could wear with high-heeled boots and perhaps a scarf this autumn and winter.  It had to be:

  • Warm.  I have plenty of summer dresses and nowhere near enough summer.  This meant that the dress needed lining and sleeves.  The sleeves made it impossibe for the dress to have an opening tab at the shoulder as the one in the book did.
  • A-line.  The dress in the book is designed around a basic block and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stride about if it was narrow around the knees.  Normally, I’d put in a kick pleat around the centre back but the back is gathered and can’t accommodate a middle seam.  This meant that the zip had to be a side one.

I’m not sure if the project was a success or a failure. Here are a couple of good pics that might help you help me decide.  What do you think?

The kids like it.  My OH has reservations about the asymmetry, as I do too.  In wearing the dress, I’ll often have to check that the neckline is not pulling to the side of the waist hole.  He also said he’d prefer there not to be any lining, just flesh!  “What kind of blog do you think I’m running here?” I told him…

The Making of the Dress: a Gallery

The original concept:

My sketch:

A-Line Dress Muslin:

Some steps of the pattern-drafting process:

Another toile:

The paperwork involved (the dress isn’t as “green” as it looks):

Back View:

 Side view:

Just two more days till the Pattern Magic Reveal post.  Email me your entries, Pattern Magicians, however late, and I’ll add them to the updates!


Status Sleeves, cont’d

Here’s an easy tutorial on drafting corner pleats for sleeves.  Sleeve pleats have been a frequent feature of RTW tops, dresses and jackets in recent years and are one of the many ways of adding detail and structure to a part of garment that had for a couple of decades remained overlooked. 

I’m beginning to believe that just as padded shoulders of 1980s womenwear gave the impression of power, the extra width gained from these corners pleats somehow serve to enhance the status of the wearer!  Unlike in the 80s though, the means are more subtle and the result feminine. 

The pictures show the pattern with the underarm seam sewn but the seam allowances and sleeve hem unsewn.  The drafting is very beginner-friendly: you’re just adding squares to the sleeve cap.  The method is from  Adele Margolisbook: ’Design Your Own Dress Patterns: a Primer in Pattern Making for Women who like to Sew’.  

Corner Pleat Sleeves: a Tutorial

(Sometimes, it helps to see all the steps in one.  To do that, skip to here.)

Step 1: Make a symmetrical short-sleeve block

Make a copy of the short-sleeve block (sloper). (If you only have a long-sleeve block, copy to 4cm above the elbow and checking your upper arm measurement, ensure you have about 5cm of ease around the bicep.)  Fold at the centre and trim so the front and back of sleeve (left and right of centre line) are symmetrical.   

Yes, with this baby, it won’t matter if you put the sleeve in back to front!

Step 2: Extend upwards 

Pin the sleeve block to a larger piece of paper.  Extend the centre line upwards and create a T-shape.  I raised my sleeve by 4cm but you can be more dramatic, especially if your fabric is firmer!

Step 3: Draw  points on original cap

Draw 2 points on the original cap, equally apart from the centre line.  Mine are 5cm from the middle of the sleeve.  Label A and B.

Step 4: Extend points to top of T

Extend the points to the top line, making sure the lines are at right angles to it, and parallel to the centre line.  Label points.

Step 5: Extend to the side by same amount

Extend and label.

Step 6: Complete the square 

Close up and join to new points X and Y.

Step 7: Smooth out

Redraw around X and Y to make the line smoother.  Now trace around the whole outside area.

Step 8: New outline

Your sleeve, once you’ve unpinned the original, now looks like this: yes, an apron!

Step 9: Complete the pattern

Add seam allowances, grainline, fold instructions (that is, the four points to each pleat square) and knotches.  As there are no balance lines, when it comes to attaching the sleeve to the bodice, pin to the shoulder seam first then to underarm sleeve.  The rest should fit without tucks or gathers.

Step 10: Making up

To make the sleeve from your fabric, fold C to E and D to F.  The fold should stop at points A and B.  Baste along the armscye.


You may wish to fold the opposite way, from the outer side of the sleeve towards the centre, that is, from E towards C and F towards D.

And if you do so then turn the sleeve inside out, you get this interesting diagonal pleat as on the right….

If your fabric is on floppy side and can’t support such corners, you could try interfacing.

A nice addition to the bamboo shoot bodice?

Pam Ayres Sews!

When home alone, I sew and at the same time I like to be drip-fed continuous Radio 4 content.  Woman’s Hour, consumer affairs, political comment or (often quite dodgy) afternoon drama: any of them serve as equally engrossing grown-up company to me.

One discussion you sometimes hear amongst the Radio 4 commentators is on the topic of whether female comedians can ever be as funny as male.  Well, I’d like to start a different debate: could a man ever write a funny poem about items of equipment in one’s sewing space so frequently ending up …well… borrowedPam Ayres can.  “Who’s Had Me Scissors?” broadcast yesterday on “Ayres on Air” was a real treat that had me bending double over my seam-ripping.  You can hear it at the start of this iPlayer episode (it expires in 5 days).  If you share your home with those who can’t comprehend the sanctity of your creative space, you’ll recognize the frustration!

The rest of the episode is very much worth a listen too, as Pam performs a wintery striptease for her fictional husband Gordon (the hilariously grumpy Geoffrey Whitehead) and pays a poignant tribute to her mum. Enjoy.

P.S.  Here’s the lining for the Gathered Hole dress.  Home straight!