Create Chunky Neckline Pleats

1 Chunky pleatsSo, The Vivienne Westwood Challenge!  I’ve had to postpone the deadline to a more manageable Saturday, 7th June (email  your submissions any time; I stay up late!).  If you’re trying to plump up the courage to make something, you may like this easy drafting project.  The approach is more butchery than couture but it seems to work.  You’ll end up with an asymmetric, sleeveless top (though you can add sleeves, as I will do).  It’s particularly cute if you turn your fabric on the bias.

You will need:

  • A bodice block, copied, darts moved to waist (as in this tutorial)
  • 1.5 – 2 metres, depending on your size (and whether or not you’d like sleeves) of lightweight check or plaid fabric.  Mine is a linen/cotton blend at £6 per metre from Rolls and Rems
  • Plenty of paper.  I often draft on packing paper that arrives stuffed into boxes of online shopping which I press with a hot, dry iron.


3 trace bodice

1. Move bodice front darts to waist and trace

4 Draw neckline

2. Lower neckline by e.g. 10cm. Narrow shoulder seam to e.g. 6cm

6 Cut on double

3. Draw a more shapely side seam to desired length. Pin onto another paper layer and cut

Bodice Front ready to start

4. Join left and right (I know this looks wonky, but it’s the tilt of the camera, I think!)

1 Bodice front slash and spread

5. Draw a grainline (Centre Front). Draw where you want the pleats to appear. Extend to the seam and slash. Note how my pleats extend to the two side seams and the hem. Label pieces.

1 Straight grain to sg

6. Draw grainline on target paper. Pin grainlines together

1 Spread on target paper

7. Pin the remaining pieces in order, making sure that they’re anchored together at seams. I have deliberately made the three gaps in the neckline different measurements. e.g. 8c.m, 10cm and 9cm

1 define

8. Trace all around then remove top layer

1 Fold pleats and pin

9. Pin pleats closed (try to be accurate and press with a dry iron if necessary!)

1 add seam allowances and cut

10. Draw a seam allowance/hem allowance and cut out. Before unpinning pattern, use it to make a pattern for the facing (5cm depth plus seam allowances)

Back Bodice 

You will need to make a pattern for the back too but this is relatively simple.  You will need to:
1. Trace the Bodice Back Block/Sloper
2. Draw an elegant neckline: Firstly, lower the back of the neck by 5cm approx.  Make the shoulder seam the same width as the front of the bodice, e.g. 6cm and join to the centre with a smooth curve.
3. Place the front pattern over the back and trace the side seam and hem so they’re the same at front and back.
4.  If you have a shoulder dart in your back block, it’ll be quite reduced by the time you’ve lowered the neckline.  You can sew gathering stitches here and ease this area instead of sewing a dart in the neckline.
5. Draw seam allowances and make a pattern for the back facing.

Cutting: Remember to place the grainline on bias for a looser, more draped effect.

Ask if you have any questions about sewing the top and good luck.

1t Check linen cotton mix


1 Chunky pleatsThis is a demo of the simplest method of dart manipulation which is slash and spread.  If you’re to alter your block by adding design lines like I’ve done to the neckline here, you might first need to move any darts that may be in the way.

Before you begin, make at least one copy of your bodice block/sloper.  Unlike with the ‘pivot method’ (explained here), you’ll be cutting and I don’t want you to destroy your original!

If, on the other hand, you came here because of the filthy-sounding post title or ’cause you’re stalking the Guitar Hero dude, go away!  There’s nothing to see 🙄


EXAMPLE 1: moving the shoulder dart into the armscye.

Step 1
Trace the bodice front.  Draw a line from the bust point to where you want your new dart to lie on the armhole1t Bodice front move shoulder dart to armscye

Step 2

Cut the new line to bust point.  Cut one of the dart lines (legs) from the shoulder dart to the bust point and ‘close’ the dart by joining the dart legs together (use some tape).  The new dart will swing open.  1t Shoulder dart opens in armhole


EXAMPLE 2: moving the shoulder dart to the neckline

You can put the dart anywhere between a seam and the bust point.  You can also join the two darts into one big one.  In the second example, we’re moving the dart from the shoulder seam to the neckline.

Step 1 Draw a line from bust point to a point on the neckline

1t Bodice front move shoulder dart to neck

Step 2 Cut the new line to bust point.  Cut one of the dart legs to bust point and tape the dart closed 1t Shoulder dart moved


Challenge  Want some homework to see if you’ve got it?  OK, this time, move the shoulder dart into the waist dart.  Your bodice front will end up having a single dart, rather wide, in the waist seam.  In the next post, I’ll show you how to go from here to making a chunky pleated neckline pattern, Vivienne Westwood-style.  It’s not too difficult.  In the meantime, why not experiment a little by doodling where you want the pleats to be?1 Sketching pleat positions

Renfrew to the Rescue

1 Shroud

I’d been schlepping around town for too long, was probably dehydrated and unable to think straight when I bought this hideosity.  Look how it hangs over the dummy’s curves.  You’d be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of podgy Grim Reaper in there.

Le GarrotteSewn inside the neckline is a strip of ribbon designed to help the garment stay on the hanger.  Does anyone know if this helpful feature has a name?  I know what I‘d call it!  Is it just me who manages to nearly get garrotted whenever I put on a top like this?

1 NECKI decided to give the shroud a new lease of life because I liked its faux leather neck binding and I think the centre front/centre back seams are a nice touch.  The end result is not quite stunning but it’s much more flattering and endlessly wearable with my many bright skirts.  And I get to keep the centre seams and neckline!


How To:

You will need: a baggy jersey top with dropped sleeves, a close-fitting T-shirt pattern (mine is Sewaholic Renfrew), a ballpoint needle, a machine or overlocker and thread.

1.  Cut off the sleeves.  Try them on to see if they fit to the top of your arms then put aside.

1 hOW TO2. Cut the side seams (the shoulder seam should stay).

3. Lay the top as flat as you can.  Place your bodice front pattern on top, centre lines matching, then cut around it.  Both centre fronts should match and the shoulder/armscye lengths should also be equal.  Flip the pattern piece over and cut around the other side.  Keep the cut-off fabric in case you want to make a pocket.

4.  Repeat step 3 on the back.

5.  Sew the side seams together.

6. Hem the bottom.

7. Attach the sleeves, pinning them first and matching each underarm seams to the side seam.  You may need to stretch one or the other to make the sleeve circumference and the armscye fit.  Luckily, jersey is forgiving.


Postmodern Scrunchie

DonutsDo you remember when Carrie Bradshaw determined that a woman wearing a scrunchie in her hair was either:

a) washing her face, or

b) a scrubbed-cheeked hillbilly from Hickville?

1 The NieceWell, no more.  A recent discussion panel on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (a programme where they normally tackle such weighty issues as gender pay inequality) suggested the Scrunchie is back and with a vengeance.  No longer an apologetic substitute for a decent hairstyle, the Scrunchie worn ironically is the hairstyle.

Make one that’s a bit out of the ordinary for your daughter or fashionista niece so that she can wear it with a donut: use the scrunchie instead of pins to tuck in hair. Or, as the Radio 4 programme suggests, make it enormous and out of Dutch Wax cloth like a youngster’s version of a traditional headdress. Or use Day-Glo neoprene or paper silk.  Make it from the leg of some old jeans (especially if they’re leather!).  Liberty fabric leftovers make a good choice too and striped shirting is good for tomboys.  Just don’t underestimate the amount of material this will require: the postmodern Scrunchie is a monster.

How to sew a ScrunchieNon-Metal Hair Ties

You will need:

a) One of these metal-free hair ties.  These vary in quality so make sure they’ll last by giving them a reasonable stretch before committing to purchase.  If they snap, walk off nonchalantly!

1 70 cm by 10 cm rectangleb) A rectangle of fabric some 70cm x 12cm for a smallish scrunchie or 90cm x 15cm for a jumbo.  If using jersey, the end result will look even bigger.

If possible, cut with pinking shears.

Step 11 Press under 1cm on short ends to wrong side

Press under 1cm on each short end of the fabric.

Step 21 Insert Hair Bands

With right sides together, fold the folded corners together over the centre of the hair tie.

Step 3 Stitch

Stitch the long side with a 1cm seam allowance, keeping the hair tie stretched out of the way.  When you get to the end, leave long strands of thread hanging.

1 Inside out scrunchie
Step 4

1 Feed to right side

Feed to the right side.  I use a safety pin.

Step 5

1 Slipstich the opening

Use one of the long thread ends to slipstitch the opening closed.


And no, you won’t catch me wearing one of these but then I live in England and my ears are usually cold 😉

Are you a (closet) scrunchie wearer?  Any interesting fabric suggestions?

Christmas Pressie 1: Silk Scarf

This is a labour of love, not only in terms of the time the project takes but also the cost of the silk.  Ideally, you should only make this for your mum or yourself 🙂  You don’t actually need a lot of silk but do ensure that what you buy is fine and feels sumptuous!

A rectangle of pure silk is first hand-rolled then beaded around the edge.  I estimate this would take an intermediate sewist some 10 hours, including the essential 2 hours of practice that I really recommend you do on a patch of your silk if you haven’t hand-rolled before.  Without a bit of ‘previous experience’, your hem is in danger of looking more professional the further you progress around the scarf.

You will need:

1. A piece of soft silk measuring about 75cm x 55cm.  This amount wouldn’t be enough to wrap around the neck if it was fleece but silk has this way of elongating as if by magic if you turn it on the bias.

2. Thread in as close a match to the fabric as possible (very important).

3. Matching beads.  If you leave gaps of two ‘invisible’ beads between each one, you can use the perimeter of your scarf to estimate the number of beads required.  E.g. in my case:  (75+75+55+55) / 3 = 87.

4. Small scissors.

5. A fine needles.

How to:

Part 1: Hemming

I couldn’t show you hand-rolling better than Ami does in this brill You tube demo.  It’s one of my all-time favourite sewing tutorials. (And Ami, I don’t at all mind you being left-handed; I relish the intellectual challenge of mirroring your actions!)  The video quality and tuition are top notch but Ami also has a calming, gentle manner that had me immediately reaching for needle and thread as if hypnotized.

Be sure to watch to the end to find out how to do corners.  If you want a sample of what I’m on but don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip to minutes 6:00 – 7:00

Part 2: Beading

Sew on with a running stitch, making sure you backstitch every 5 beads or so.  That way, if one bead snags, it doesn’t drag its friends down with it.


1. Have plenty of light.

2. It helps to keep sections you’re working on flat and taught.  To do so, I sat with my knees up wearing tightish jeans and pinned the fabric to myself.  Er, to my jeans, not thighs!  But you can also put a firm pillow on your lap and pin to that! .

3. The video recommends a product called Thread Heaven with which to coat the thread and prevent slipknots.  I used beeswax instead thinking it would do the same: not a good shortcut as it really made knotting worse.  After one of your reader comments below, I’ll really give Thread Heaven a try.  It might even speed things up.


Do you have a sewing video to recommend?  Have you worked with silk?  Are you mad and making any presents??  Tell all.

Next time: something much quicker and mum-friendly

Quick Drac Cape

You could make this out of some bin bags, with a strip cut off for use as neck ribbon (the ribbon can be stapled on, with the ends of the staples on the outside so as not to scratch or damage clothing).  I‘m not cheap though!  I used 2.5m of satin which is enough “wing” for a teenager or a small mum.  For a tall adult, 3m would do. 

For good shimmer, use the smoother, shinier side of the satin as the outside of the cape.

I actually made 6 of these for a show at my kid’s school using the instructions provided by another mum.  I was impressed by how effective her design was and thought it might help some rushed soul out there if I prepared these instructions.

You will need:

• 2.5m of a black fabric, preferably satin.  The width of the fabric (here 150cm) is your centre back

• 80cm – 1m of black (satin) ribbon, at least 2.5cm wide

• Pinking shears

• Thread


1. Fold your fabric in half along long side and cut out a small quarter circle for the neck and a larger quarter circle on the other side.  When opened up, the fabric should look like the above diagram.  The distance from A to B (the diameter of the smaller circle) should be about 12cm or you could work out your own using this formula:

Diameter = Neck circumference ÷ Π.

For cutting, use pinking shears if possible so as to eliminate the need for hemming the bottom of the cape (this would take a while).

2. If you’re posh 🙂 hem the sides by folding under twice.

Otherwise, you can keep the selvedges and save yourself some time.

3. To shape the cape, add two darts, both placed 8cm away from the centre back.  Press towards centre (on low heat!).  This gives the cape a nice squared off back.

4.  Attach the ribbon. Mark the centre of the ribbon.  Double fold and pin the neck edge then sew the ribbon onto the right side of the cape, matching centres. 

The ribbon should thus form a kind of small collar.

Now enjoy the bleeding victims!

My Mini Betty

Mad Men first arrived on UK TV at the same time as I was learning to sew.  I had no idea what I was doing so rather than spend money on expensive fabrics, I’d cut up my husband’s worn work shirts and use the big pieces to make dresses for our daughter.  These would be typically toddler in style, with voluminous skirts and puffed sleeves.  We called them her “Betty Draper dresses”.

Five series of the show later and dear daughter hasn’t seen a single episode, yet she knows all about the stylish Mad Men ladies, thanks to Julia Bobbin‘s Mad Men Challenge.  Many times I’ve found her studying last year’s copycat creations, so when she asked if I would make her a sixties-style dress and Julia very wisely initiated a second Mad Men Challenge, it seemed a heavenly match!

This print with its ‘mid-century-modern’ colours struck me immediately as a perfect fabric for the job – it’s actually a quilting cotton from Jeff Rosenberg.  But we struggled to find a dress to copy.  Sally Draper’s wardrobe is rather frumpy compared to her mother’s: collars seemingly inspired by Oliver Cromwell; dull fabrics as favoured by religions that forbid frivolity in dress.  What to do?  My daughter knew what she wanted: a full skirt, none of that Swinging Sixties Psychedelia, and – here she was adamant – “no collars”.  I was insistent that the dress had to be for parties and play, not merely for a photo-shoot.  In the end, I designed a pattern with a tentative link to the series and took most of my inspiration from this blogger lady in her beautiful dress from Shabby Apple.

Everyone loves the results.  I’m mostly proud of the pleated waistband: the colour is a vibrant contrast to the grey and the pleats just beg to be played with.  If you’re wondering how such a waistband is constructed, my trick was a strip of interfacing fused at the back and hidden by the bodice lining.  The sleeves were made quickly and easily with casing and gathering elastic.  It’s a good little girlswear technique I picked up from Akiko Mano’s book.  Tutorial below.


Tutorial for Short Sleeve with Casing for Elastic

1 If your sleeve has a gathered head, begin by sewing two (or three) rows of gathering stitches.  If you’d like a fuller sleeve, you can add height to your pattern and easily gather the extra: just remember that adding a height of 2cm to the pattern will give you only 1cm extra since the top of the sleeve is folded in half, as it were.


2 Stitch the underarm seam.  If you’re using 0.7cm elastic, stop stitching 2cm from the end, leave a gap of 1cm and stitch 1 cm to the end.  Edge-finish and trim.  Press open.


3 Fold under 2cm.  This has now formed an opening on the inside of the sleeve.


4 Fold seam allowance in half and stitch 1mm from edge.  Attach the sleeve to armscye as per your usual method.

5 Thread the elastic
through the casing with a safety pin and sew the edges together.  If you allow an extra centimetre or two of the elastic, you can let out the sleeve later when the child has grown.


6 Slipstitch the opening closed.



Back Pleat with Lining

Very rarely do I look for something on the internet and don’t find it, but that was the situation when I needed a tutorial for a kickback pleat with lining.  I eventually worked out what to do by staring intently at a RTW dress of mine and scratching my head.  

Here’s the tutorial.  Enjoy (no need to hobble in that pencil skirt no more)!

How to Sew a Back Pleat with Lining

In this demo, I’m using scraps but on a dress or skirt, you start here after you’ve attached the centre back zip but not yet sewn the seam below.  The lining is loose and should be some 4cm shorter than the outer fabric.

1 Apply fusible interfacing to the pleat seam allowances of the outer fabric and lining.  With the lining, you only need to interface the seam allowance, not the body of the pleat (this is why it’s a good idea to keep scraps).  Use light to medium interfacing. 


2 Hem the lining


3 Apply tailor tacks at the point where the vertical and the diagonal stitching lines intersect.  Sew centre back seam to the tailor tacks.


4 Clip to 2mm of the tailor tacks


5 Pin lining to outer fabric, wrong sides together, matching seams and tailor tacks.  

6 Press under seam allowances of fabric and lining on left side of pleat only (i.e. right side of garment)



7 Pin and stitch


8 On the right side of pleat (left side of garment) flip fabric and lining right sides together and stitch down from the tailor tack 


9 Clip corner and turn right side out.


10 On the inside, place both extensions to the right (garment left) and stitch along the diagonal through all thicknesses.


11 On the left, hem so the fabric fold meets the lining.


12 Finally, hem the right side taking care when pinning so that the final fold faces down (out of view) and not to the left


13 Done And the outside:

Adding Seam Allowances

One of you emailed me with a question that got me thinking: how do you add seam allowances?  I wonder if it’s one of those things so simple that everyone assumes they know how everybody else does it.  I hope some of this looks familiar!

Method 1 With a Sewing Gauge

Adjust slider to the desired SA and place along the stitching line.  Draw little lines against the edge of the gauge.  Repeat at regular intervals and join with a ruler.

For curved areas, draw smaller lines at shorter intervals.  To join up, I go freehand: a good method if you haven’t a fashion curve (or prefer not to use one).  Turn the pattern so the line curves in towards you (i.e. not away from you) and with your elbow pivoting on the table and your hand still, turn your forearm in a smooth arc with the pencil skimming along the little lines.

Method 2
Using a Fashion Curve

Align the desired seam allowance with the stitching line and draw along edge.

As before, on curves such as the armscye, keep realigning and mark lines a little and often.


So far so simple.  But there’s more…


3 How to Add Seam Allowances to Darts

Draw seam allowances up to the dart (on both sides).  Pin dart closed, folded in the direction you want it pressed on the garment.  The seam allowances and stitching lines should now meet. Cut along the seam allowances.

Remove pin and the pattern looks like this:

Try not to skip this step or you may have a shortage of fabric in your dart when you come to sew the seam.

4 Adding Seam Allowances to Angles

When two stitching lines meet at a right angle, no problem: the SAs are also right angles.  It gets trickier when the angles are sharp, large or curves, for example in the neck to shoulder corner, or waist to side.  If you serge your seams, what follows is perhaps less of a concern.  If you press seams open or don’t trim the allowances much (for example, if you might need to let out a garment later), you may want to add the following to your method:

Step 1 Draw the Seam Allowances up to the corners but don’t cut.

Step 2 Fold the pattern back along the stitching line then cut along the seam allowance on fold.

Do this on all curves and angles that are not L-shaped: i.e. fold back at stitch line, cut on fold along seam allowance edge.

The opened up piece will have pointy bits like this:

When the seam allowance is pressed open after stitching, there is enough fabric to align with the fabric of the cross seam.


So, any revelations?  Did I miss any tricks?! How do you add yours?



Pattern Making Equipment

Here’s the equipment I use in drafting patterns: some essential, some items less so but I find that they help.  Most of these you’ll have already.  Please add to the list with your own favourites or suggestions.  Tips on favourite brands welcome!

1 Pattern Paper – Of any kind.  In the past I have used parcel paper, newspaper, greaseproof paper (great for tracing) and gift wrap.  Then I splashed out on 300m of the proper stuff which is tough and, given sufficient light and a decent eyesight, can be used as tracing paper.  I consider it one of my best investments: I save so much time by no longer faffing with scraps! 

Blogstalker mistrusts it.  The roll is like a big, heavy pillar.  Soon as it arrived, he peed on it like a doggy on a post!

2 Glue Stick for when paper pieces are not large enough or for mistakes.

3 Sticky tape – Two tips here.  Buy the frosty, “magic” tape that you can write on, not the shiny kind.  Also, get a dispenser as it’ll save you time when you need a piece in a hurry and your other hand is busy!

4 Paper ScissorsTips again! A) with long scissors, you’ll be more likely to cut straight lines accurately. B) If your fabric scissors look like your paper ones and you get them mixed up, tie a strip of bias or ribbon to the fingerholes of the fabric scissors and wrap some papery masking tape (painters tape) around the paper pair.

5 Long ruler

6 Mechanical pencils – a.k.a. propelling pencils.  I was sceptical but my tutor persuaded me to buy these so as to always have a sharp line (important for fine detail like darts).  Along with her recommendation for “frosty” tape, this is one recent adoption that I’m never going back on.

7 Rubber – otherwise known as an eraser!

8 Set Square – not an essential, but if you don’t have a fashion curve, this is great for drawing accurate right angles and parallel lines (tutorial soon).

9 Tracing wheel – tbh, my plastic one leaves hardly an impression.  If you need to buy one, a Toothsome Tracey is a better alternative.  Or, place two layers of fabric between paper and the table and the teeth can sink in.

10 Sewing gauge – for marking seam allowances.  Useful if you’re not yet up for the commitment/expense of buying a fashion curve.

11 Bradawl – you can also use a pin, the point of a pencil or a compass.

12 Tape measure

13 Calculator – good for calculating dart width , e.g. when making the Basic Skirt Block.

14 Fashion Curve – this does many things: mine has a 50 cm ruler, seam allowance markers, bias markings, curves for neckholes and armholes.  Not all fashion curves are the same (mine’s from Shoben) so think what you would like to use it for before you buy.  One feature I particularly like is the centring scale, e.g. for finding the centre of a dart, you place the crosshair in the approximate middle then slide it until the measurements are equal on both sides of it.  Quicker than a ruler and calculator!  This is another purchase where I had to bite the bullet, hoping the expense wasn’t an indulgence but I quickly decided it was worth it.

Finally, if all this looks interesting but scary, check if there are any classes at an adult education college near you.  If there isn’t, phone up and ask for one!  You never know, somebody else may have done so too and interest in all things sewy is on the rise.  I’m currently voting for a tailoring course!!