Indian Pink Dress

If it wasn’t dripping in healthy colour, I’d call this my “Frankenstein Dress” as I’ve stitched it from 3 tutorials and in the spirit of experimentation.  The Sleeves I made back in October (don’t worry, I’ve kept them in the fridge!), the Bodice is from Pattern Magic 2 and the skirt is based on Adele Margolis’ “Pegged Skirt” instructions in my favourite drafting book

A pegged skirt is wider at the hips than at the hem, the shape of a typical clothes pegA tulip skirt is a more fashionable term for pretty much the same.  If you’d like to create the tulip effect using darts for shaping and if you want to ensure that it fits you well, it’s easy enough to draft with the Basic Skirt Block as your starting point.  Tute below. 

Pegged trousers could presumably be drafted by a similar method, with the darts changed to pleats.  It’s a very eighties look though, best avoided by the less than willowy!

The fabric I used is calico, dyed Powder Pink with a tiny pinch of blue (a gloved pinch, I hasten to add: this stuff isn’t good to handle).  I was aiming for a dusky pink but got a richer, deeper shade I’d like to call Indian Pink, or maybe Honeysuckle.  I had no luck finding a matching concealed zip but eventually settled for a lapped one.  To me, lapped zips are a bit of a forgotten skill so I referred to this great tutorial.

The dress was a pleasure to make and soon as I realized I was happy with the fit of the pegged skirt, I adapted the pattern to make a full lining.  The sleeve lining was stiffened with interfacing to help retain some rigidity in the square shoulders.

Tutorial: Drafting a Pegged Skirt

Step 1 Begin with the Basic Skirt Block (make a muslin to make sure it fits you).  Draw a straight line from dart point to the corner of side and hem.

Step 2 Cut along the line and close dart.


Step 3 Draw two new dart lines in the area between the centre front and the original dart.  They should be about 4-6cm in length, depending on your size, with the inner line being longer of the two.  As for their exact position, it’s up to you.  You could draw them and place the block against you to see what looks ok in proportion to you.



Step 4 Cut out the area between the lines drawn in previous step.  Open out the two parts of the block by hinging them at the side-hem corner.



Step 5 Place pieces on a larger sheet of paper.  Separate the two major sections by a distance of 4.5cm (or 5cm for bigger sizes) in the area of the original dart point.  Place the smallest piece in the gap and draw two new darts on each side of it.  This is the fiddliest bit, but you can move the middle piece about till each of your darts has equal leg lengths.


Step 6 Fold darts toward centre and redraw the waistline, keeping close to the original and smoothing out any jaggedy bits.  Draw seam allowances and the hem allowance (notice my rubbish short hem allowance?  I ran out of paper!  Don’t do that!).  Draw a fold line to complete the pattern and cut out.

Step 7
Repeat all of the above for Skirt Back, remembering to add the centre back seam allowance in the final step (if that’s where your zip will be).

Facing Magic

I needed a simple bodice for the dress I’m designing and used this cowl idea from Pattern Magic 2.  It’s from the Different Facings, Different Looks chapter in which Nakamichi demonstrates how with some simple dart manipulation, you create a garment front which is a different shape from its facing, though, crucially, the two are the same length at the point where they’re stitched together, i.e. the neckline.  The method can be used to achieve different looks – a V-shape or a square, for example.  I went for the simplest round facing.  This is how it looks in the book:

And here’s a tutorial for how to do it: 

1.  Start with a copy of the basic bodice block.  If yours has shoulder darts, move them away from the neck and shoulder lines.

 2. Draw the neckline for the facing.  Approximate measurements are given below; you can vary them slightly.  Carefully measure the length of the new line, e.g. xycm.  Close waist dart.

3. Trace this line and make a pattern for the facing from it.  Remember to add the fold line and seam allowances.  It should look something like this:

4. Draw a line from the bust point to the neckline which meets it at a right angle.

5. Cut at the neckline then cut along the new line.  Close the armhole dart, either part-way, or completely for a more dramatic look.  Now, place on a larger piece of paper and extend the centre front upwards.  Draw towards it from the shoulder side of the neckline.  It’s important that this line is the same length as the facing neckline, i.e xycm from step 2.

Now trace the bodice outline and complete the pattern by adding seam allowances, cutting instructions, a foldline and the grainline.  Unless your fabric is very drapey, cut the bodice front on the bias 

You can alter the back bodice by the same method for a lavishly cowled, open neckline: I kept the original basic bodice back.

I hereby declare this bodice my February contribution to Project Pattern Magic.  Have you checked out this challenge?  Lisa’s project for this month is a beautiful dress featuring the Bamboo Shoot.  If you’d like to join us, remember no 
project is too small (nor big!) and you have months to prepare.  Just blog about it on the last Wednesday of any month or, if you’re blogless, send me an email with your pics and I’ll host a post for you.

Check in next week for the details of the rest of my dress: I’m hoping it’ll fit me better than what’s-her-face Boleyn!

Gifts IV: Cossack Hat

Only two sewing days till Christmas!  What to do?!  How about adding to the mayhem and stress by making a Cossack Hat?  You know… so as to stylishly meet the oncoming Siberian winter?!  Here is daughter’s, rustled up from the leftovers of her coat

The thick, fluffy fur is from Jeff Rosenberg.  I used leftover acetate lining for the inside.  You can get away with a quarter metre of fabric and lining, though you might need twice more if you’d like the nap of the fur sweeping in a particular direction. 

For my hat, I used shearling-like fur leftover from a Christmas stocking I once made.  Whilst daughter is Empress Lara, I’m more Taras Bulba

Since the fur is doubled at the point where it wraps around the head, the outside of the hat is bigger than the inside.  When making your pattern, base the inner part on the hat size and make the outside larger, tapering towards the crown.


The Pattern

You’ll need paper, a compass, a ruler and a pencil.

Step 1 The Crown 

Begin by measuring the head circumference, work out the radius then using a compass draw a perfect circle the same size as your head.  If you’re making this as a surprise for someone, use one of the online hat size charts like this one to estimate.  Head size can vary quite a bit but if someone looks like they’ve got a big head, they probably do and vice versa!  Big or thick hair also adds on a bit! 

Just for reference, my head is 55.5cm, the dummy’s is 55cm, daughter’s is 52cm and OH is 60cm!!  My radius is 8.8cm, i.e. 55.5cm divided by 3.14 (Pi, or Π) divided by 2.

Once you’ve drawn your circle, add a seam allowance of 1.5cm (the compass comes in very handy for this as you can draw another, larger circle around the first one), or more if your fur is very thick.

Step 2  Pattern for the Side of Hat and Lining 

If you aren’t in a rush, you might want to experiment with a few paper shapes.  The simplest thing would be to cut a rectangle, the width of which is the same as the hat size, plus seam allowances.  I made such a hat out of paper and thought it too Pork Pie (Pork π?) so I decided to go for a slightly tapering shape (above right).  As for the height of the Hat, anything over 10cm looked a bit Nefertiti (left) atop of my small face.  A height of 9cm looked just right: this on the inside is 3cm of fur sewn to 6cm of lining.  A shorter hat might blow off your head in the wind!

Making the Hat

1. Sew sides of fur.  Fold on fold line and try on for fit.

2. Sew sides to crown. 

3. Repeat 1 and 2 with the lining fabric. 

4. With right sides together, sew lining to fur, leaving an opening of 20cm.  Turn right side out, pin at fold line below opening and slipstitch the opening closed.

Tips for Sewing Fur

  • Sewing faux fur gets a bad press but I think it’s very forgiving on those seam lines which hardly show.  Using a seam ripper, when necessary, is pretty quick too.  Trim fur at the raw edges if all that lovely fluffiness is obstructing the seam guidelines on your machine.

  • Use a medium zigzag stitch.  On the right side, comb out the fluff around the seam.  I use a wire pet brush or a pin.
  • Vacuums and lint rollers ready!  If you’re secretly sewing fur for someone who lives with you, allow plenty of time for clearing up.  Otherwise, your loved one might come home and wonder what poor creature you sacrificed!
  • Buying fur: white fur looks great on very dark or very pale skin but may not be great for the in between complexions.  Check fur colour against your skin (and teeth).  Avoid grey fur if this is close to your hair colour as people might confuse the hat with your actual hair and will think you’re looking unkempt!  Avoid faux leopard if you resemble Mobutu Sese SekoKids on the other hand look good in anything, especially monster fur.

Merry Christmas, everyone x x

Gifts III: Quick Pencil Cases

These pencil cases are super easy and great for using up leftovers of favourite fabrics.  It’s also a good project for beginners wishing to practise sewing zips; however, do watch out for fabrics with a geometric pattern that has to match across the two sides of the zip (such as in the top example).  An irregular print will be easier.

Buy an ordinary zip, not concealed, and bear two things in mind.  Firstly, it has to be of a sufficient quality to put up with frequent use.  The other thing to remember is that the zip has to be the length of a new pencil, or slightly longer.  Mine are 24cm.

Step 1: Cutting the Pattern and Fabric

Make a paper pattern for a rectangle that’s the width of your zip plus 4cm and the height of at least 24cm.  Do make sure your angles are square!  Cut one rectangle of your fabric and one of your lining.  My lining is babycord which is velvety and soft yet with helpful parallel lines:

Next, trim just one zip side of the lining by 2mm:

Step 2: Sewing the Zip

Open zip.  Put the fabric and lining wrong sides together, raw edges even.  Using them as one, and with the fabric and zip right sides together, edges even, sew together.  Start with a back stitch.  On approaching the zip pull, leave the needle in, lift up zipper foot, pull the zip closed and sew to the end.  Backstitch.  Repeat on the other side.

Tip!  If you can’t get the zip pull past the zipper foot even when it’s raised, you could try doing as I do:  pop the foot off, close zip, replace foot.


Step 3: Making Pull Tabs

This step is optional – skip if you’re in a hurry!

Find or make a design for your pull tabs, adding a 2cm seam allowance.  Interface a scrap of fabric (this is where to use up those off-cuts of interfacing that normally get thrown away).  Draw your tabs x4, cut around them and sew.

Turn inside out (I use old tweezers) and press.

Pin tabs over zip ends, keeping raw edges together.


Step 4: Sewing Short Ends

With the pencil case inside out, sew the short ends using your 2cm seam allowance.  This should cut out the unsightly silvery stops at the ends of the of zip.

Two things to note: 1) keep the zip exactly in the middle.

And 2) Very important: remember to leave your zip partially open!  Otherwise you’ll sew the pencil case shut inside out….

Trim seam allowances.


Step 5: Making Corners

This is another optional step by which you convert from a flat to a boxy shape.  Still working on the wrong side, pinch each corner so that the seam is in the middle and the short end seam allowance is away from the zip.  Sew with either a 2cm seam allowance (for a boxy shape) or 1.5cm (for a flattened box shape as in my first image).  

Trim seam allowances, turn right side out and you’re done!

Let me know how it goes… and how long it takes!  I made four in an hour.  The first was to jog my memory and took up half the time.  The other three were a production line.  If you’re making several at once and in different fabrics, it helps save time if they all take the same thread.

Gifts II: Space Invader Cushion

This cushion is a Christmas surprise for my son (he’ll get other stuff too, don’t worry… ).  It’s to help gradually transform his bedroom from a little boy’s abode into a cool grunge lair.  Making it is very simple.  At the back, there’s a 10cm of overlap of fabric which eliminates the need for a zip or buttons.  The bright piping adds interest and is beginner-friendly, though be sure to make more than you think you’ll need!

I’ve had a go at this before, many years ago when I used a print fabric (a sweet “Ready Steady Robot” design from Alexander Henry, long discontinued) and it was quicker still, but this time I wanted to use applique after seeing the gorgeous asterisk cushion made by Vacuuming the Lawn.  My OH and I looked at various Space Invaders images and agreed at once which little dude would appeal to our first-born the most:

Drawing him isn’t difficult: he’s basically a bunch of squares on an 8 by 11 grid.  Should you want one of your own and you’re in a hurry, I’ve put him on a Space Invader Excel Graph for you.  Or would you prefer the version of him cheering with his hands in the air!?  Here it is: Cheering Space Invader!

I chose cotton sateen as it’s washable (this is a cushion that the cats will sneak up to sleep on).  It has a richness of colour and a shine that isn’t unlike the brightness of a monitor.  One bonus of working in this bright yellow colour was that even after I interfaced the fabric, I could trace the design through it from a sheet of paper.

Oh look, once you cut the dude out, you can use the offcuts to play Tetris!

The Space Invader Cushion Tutorial

You will need: a cushion, 0.75cm of full-width fabric (more for a bigger cushion), 0.25cm of applique fabric plus fusible interfacing.  2mm piping cord.

1. Firstly, buy (or somehow obtain) the cushion and design a template for the applique to fit.  My cushion is a 55cm square and the Invader is printed onto an A4 sheet.  I cut a 55cm paper pattern for the cushion, plus 1.5cm seam allowance all around (that is, a 58cm square).

2. Fuse some interfacing onto your applique fabric and cut out your design.  Stitch the applique to your cover fabric.  I use a stitch length of 0.4 and a width of 2 on my Elna zigzag.  It takes a good 45 minutes to do an A4-sized Invader!  For  the piping, I cut 4cm bias strips and inserted a 2mm cord inside.  This creates piping to fit a 1.5cm seam allowance.

3. Next, pin piping to the cushion front seam allowance, lining up the raw edges.  Overlap the ends of the piping and clip piping seam allowances at the corners:

4. Add cushion backing.  Make the pattern first: half of the pattern for the cushion front + 5cm for the overlap + 3cm seam allowance for the overlap side.  Cut twice.

5. Pin and stitch the backing, first one side then the other.  Stitch twice over the overlap, especially if your cushion is a firm one.  This will prevent the stitches ripping when you insert the cushion.

I really hope my son doesn’t read this but when I was his age, we had an Atari 2600, an early video game console, on which I’d blast away at Space Invaders for hours each day, or till my mum realized and chased me off into doing something more useful.  Don’t remember the little buggers looking this cute though…

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?

Gathered Hole

If you‘re a Pattern Magician, how are you getting along?

When I initiated the Challenge, I expected to find the process of recreating one of Tomoko Nakamichi’s designs, er… challenging.  So you might be pleased to hear that halfway through the project that is the Gathered Hole Dress, I find myself tired, frustrated and wondering if it ain’t all going to hell in a handcart.  Here’s the Work in Progress: 

The dress has a gathered hole to one side of the waist and a gathered hole on each of the upper sleeves.  The sleeves worked out fine (below are some notes on creating Gathered Hole Sleeves if you’d like to see what I did).  The problem is in the hole at the waist, as modelled here by Anne Boleyn, my dummy.   

Anne isn’t a proper dressmaker’s mannequin but a display model with idealised, Miss World-like proportions.  According to my son, she looks nothing like me…  On my more substantial frame, the hole will reveal a more meaty side but don’t worry, I won’t be exposing my kidneys for all the world to see.  The dress is to have lining! 

If I can be bothered to finish it. 

When I try the dress on, it is much heavier on the gathered side that it feels weighed down and this even distorts the neckline.  Maybe the design is only meant for lighter fabrics… Any ideas for how to fix this?  I don’t like the idea of wearing clothes that feel asymmetrical: I’d be constantly tempted to tug at things in an attempt to restore balance!


Notes on Drafting the Gathered Hole Sleeve

I started off with a close-fiting sleeve block and added 4cm height to the sleeve cap.  I drew a 5cm diameter circle in the middle of the bicep (the centre of the circle exactly 5cm above the armhole line) and created 8 segments from the circle.  You can divide these further into 16 segments as in the book but make sure you number the pieces – it might help if there’s a gust of wind during “slash and spread”!  Click on the picture for a larger view.

Size of hole: If you’re thinking of creating a garment with a Gathered Hole, I recommend having some circles of various sizes and placing them against your body, or muslin, to see what size hole works best with your proportions.  My sleeve hole was 5cm across, the centre exactly 5 cm above the armhole line. 

Now, rather as in Matisse, “The Snail”, cut out and rearrange the sleeve segments spreading them slightly.  This will take a few goes.  Start from the middle if it helps.  Pin to another sheet of paper and draw around the new sleeve pattern.  You will need a very wide (though narrow) sheet of paper for this: mine was nearly 150cm.  Add seam allowances.  If, like me, you’re going to make the casing out of a separate piece of fabric, you’ll need to make a pattern piece for this too. 

Trace the edge of the hole and add seam allowances on all 4 sides to make the casing pattern piece:

Making up the Gathered Hole with Separate Casing Piece

Step 1 – Sew the seam up to the casing seam allowance.  I like to zigzag the edges first.

Step 2 – Press open, edge finish the hole.

Step 3 – Edge finish the casing (the 2 short ends and the longest side)

Step 4 – With right sides together, pin and sew the seam that will form the edge of the gathered hole.

Step 5 – I like to repeat and sew a second row (belt ‘n’ braces, me) then trim as close as possible to the seam.

Step 6 – Flip casing over and pin with the wrong sides together. 

Step 7 – Stitch, keeping close to the zigzaged edge-finish and ensuring that there’s a space of around 1cm in width for the insertion of tie into the casing.

Have you ever attempted the Gathered Hole?  Did it work in your fabric?   Did you decide to bare all with your garment or was there a modesty’s-sake base layer?!

Witch Sleeves

This Leg of Mutton Sleeves Tutorial isn’t just for witches, you know.  Maybe you’re here because you’re making the fineries of a Renaissance princess like this sweetie. 

Or perhaps you’re an 80s throwback?  Preparing for an 80s-themed wedding?  (Imagine the music!  I want an invitation!)

Or maybe you’re here because you got roped into making costumes for an Am-dram period production. 

Let’s not ask wherefores.

All are welcome here….

Close-fitting Sleeve Block

To start drafting the LoM, you will need a close-fitting sleeve block with a wrist to elbow dart.  If you haven’t a close-fitting sleeve block, you can make one to the following measurements:

1.  The sleeve cap (curved area on top) should measure the same as the bodice armhole (front + back) plus an extra 3-5cm for ease (3cm if you’re petite, for example).   The back of the sleeve  is “fleshier” than the sleeve front.

2.  The height of the sleeve should be  equivalent to the length of arm from the shoulder bone to the wrist, the measurement taken with the elbow gently bent (this provides the ease).

3. The width at the elbow should be the girth of elbow, the measurement taken with the elbow gently bent (ease again).  The elbow is half-way up the underarm seam.

4.  The block width half way between the elbow and the shoulder should be your bicep girth plus ease of 5cm.

5.  The block measurement at the wrist should be your wrist girth plus ease of 2cm-2.5cm.

6.  Copy your sleeve block, add seam allowances and make up a sleeve muslin.  Try it on and see if you need to make any adjustments.

An important note: all drafting is made on copies of the block.  Keep the original intact so you don’t have to remake it every time there’s an adjustment.

Drafting Leg of Mutton

1. Draw equally spaced slash lines in the top half of sleeve.

2. Place onto another (larger) piece of paper.  Trace around the lower half of sleeve.  Slash the vertical lines. Spread.  Pin into place.

My spread is a modest 2cm.  Click on pic below for a close-up.

3. The action of spreading will naturally result in the sleeve rising slightly in the middle.

4. But you need more rise.  Lots more.  If you’d like the sleeve to rise 3cm above the shoulder, you need to add double that, i.e. 6cm, to the top of the sleeve.  I added a measly total of 3.5cm, slightly less at the sides.  Gradually taper to original positions at the underarm seam.

5. Smooth the sides of the sleeve in the elbow region.

6. Copy the LoM then add seam allowances.  My finished pattern looked like this:

Making up

LoM doesn’t work in floppy, sheer fabrics.  If in doubt, apply interfacing.  

When I made up the muslin it looked like this:

I put it on and the effect was a bit matronly: more Lady Bracknell than Cecily Cardew.  So I tried again, aiming for fullness around and above the bicep and a closer fit below.  Back on the drawing board, I cut my slashed pieces in half and repinned the lower portion to a tracing of the elbow line and bottom half of sleeve:

I then repeated steps 2 – 6 as above, spreading only the upper quarter of the sleeve.  The second pattern, more trumpet-like in shape, looked like this on top of the first.

The muslin was more flattering.  I wonder if you can spot the difference.

Here they are together.  Version 1 on the left, Version 2 on the right.

An elbow-length version 2 in black looks lovely I think, though I could have gathered the back of  the sleeve more evenly (lumps!!).

Now I must get back to the cauldron: the kids are expecting lamb stew.

Bamboo Shoot Tote

For the Pattern Magic Challenge, I’d like to make a garment featuring the Bamboo Shoot Bodice and being slightly overwhelmed by the task, I thought I’d get to grips with the design by trying it out in its simplest form: 2D.  Putting it on one side of this tea-dyed calico tote bag enabled me to make those folds and to see what happens behind the scenes (i.e on the wrong side) without the added complication of darts getting in the way.

Of all the Pattern Magic designs, the Bamboo Shoot seems to be one that’s both eye-catching and universally appealing.  It’s also simple, or simpler than it looks.  If you’re thinking of giving it a go, do!  Just be prepared to first try it out on paper, lots of it.

Drafting the 2D Bamboo Shoot Pattern

I’ve prepared this tutorial not as a definitive guide but as demonstration of what I did, should you need a bit more than the instructions in the Pattern Magic book.


Step 1 

Cut out a piece of paper the same size as the area in which you want the design to appear.  Make a note of the measurements (you’ll refer to them in Step 4).  Draw the bamboo lines, extending them to the ends of the paper (if you were working on a bodice, you’d only go as far as the bust point as the book specifies).

A note on the positioning of the lines:

The lines should intersect at 45°.  I’ve made my parallel lines 5cm apart.  If I were designing a bodice for a size 12 frame, I’d space them closer together at 4cm.  On a petite or larger frame, 3.5cm and 4.5cm might be more in proportion.

Step 2

Cut along the lines, almost all the way to the ends of the paper.  Place on a larger sheet and spread, leaving gaps of equal width (mine are 2cm).  Pin to the target paper.

Step 3

Trace around the top layer.  I’ve used a highlighter, half on, half off.

Step 4

This is where it gets interesting… and kind of fun.  Unpin the original piece.  Start folding, making long straight folds along the lines, working top right to left then down.  

This becomes similar to the process of french-plaiting hair, where you have more material to deal with the further you go down.  When the area gets too crowded, unfold and cut the paper on the fold lines.  I’ve coloured the fold lines orange to help me see where I’m going.    

Towards the bottom, the area between the fold lines can be cut away.  Refold the paper, using pins to keep the sections in place.  The wrong side will eventually look almost as neat as the right side.   

Measure the area: it should be the same size as the original piece, before you began cutting it. 

Unpin and your pattern is revealed! 

When I added this pattern to the tote, I started off with a copy of the bag pattern: 

I drew the Bamboo Shoot lines as in the process above, extending them right up to the seam allowances (if it’s easier, you can cut off the seam allowances then add them back on in the final stage).  Here’s what the pattern looked like with the middle cut out (Blogstalker enjoying himself in the role of pattern weight….)

Sewing the Bamboo Shoot

One advantage the paper pattern has over the fabric version  is that you can use pins to keep the folds in place and behaving.  When it comes to sewing the pattern, the instructions in Pattern Magic specify:

I’m hoping this gentle control of the folds will be enough for my garment to hold its shape.  It didn’t seem enough for the folds of the tote so I backed my fabric with iron-on interfacing.  Whilst this fused the folds permanently to their backing(and provided the calico with some desired stiffness), I don’t suggest doing this to a bodice as it’ll ruin the softness of the original design.  Some kind of lining will be necessary to protect (and hide) the business-at-the-back side of things.  And, I suspect, the garment will have to be one for the more delicate end of my wardrobe.

Pattern Magic Challenge

The deadline for the challenge is mid-November so if you’re feeling brave and inspired, get in touch!

Thoughts on the French Seam

It’s your favourite garment and when you take it off, would you rather see this:

Or this:

If you answered B, then maybe you’re thinking of incorporating more French Seams into your work!  Perhaps you haven’t a serger/overlocker and, like me, you’re aiming for a more professional finish.  The French Seam certainly brings a touch of couture-like neatness in return for very little effort.  It’s also:

  • Durable – so you get a second chance if you burst a row of stitching on your overtight trousers….!
  • Enclosing – useful if your fabric is light and frays easily, such as the wonderful voile

We’ll get to the downsides too!

The Tutorial Bit

It’s not rocket science but there’s more than one way of adapting the typical 1.5cm (5/8″) Seam Allowance of a commercial pattern into two lots of stitching that form the French Seam.

Option 1: 1cm followed by 0.5cm

Use the 1cm Seam Allowance guide on your machine to sew the first row.  Remember: wrong sides together.

Press (to embed stitches) and trim the seam.

Flip the fabric so it’s right sides together, then using the 0.5cm Seam Allowance guide stitch again, ensuring the fabric is folded as close to the first seam as possible.

On the wrong side, the finished seam when pressed to one side will look like this.

Advantages: neat, no bulk, inconspicuous.

Disadvantages: if the garment proves too small, there’ll be only about 1.5cm total in the seam to remake it.  

Option 2: 0.5cm followed by 1cm

Swap the Seam Allowances around, so with wrong sides together, sew with a 0.5cm Seam Allowance. Trim very carefully, aiming to take off a mere 2mm (or skip the trim).

Flip to right sides together and sew along the 1cm Seam Allowance guide.

The result is neat, if slightly bulky.  Good for medium-weight fabrics or denim.  Also useful if you might need to let the garment out later, e.g. kids’ clothes.

The Golden Middle: 0.75cm followed by 0.75cm.

How about splitting the width of the Seam Allowance exactly in half?  Sure, except that most sewing machines don’t have a 0.75cm seam guide.  Or maybe your machine has Imperial SA guides so none of the above was helpful anyway.  Well, there’s a solution…

First, adjust your stitch length to something like a basting stitch.

With wrong sides together, run some basting stitches along the 1.5cm (or 5/8″) Seam Allowance. 

Then change your stitch length to normal and sew half way along the width of the Seam Allowance.  You can eyeball this measurement.  Trim. 

Pull out the basting stitch.

Do not press to embed stitches as the fabric will puff out and those helpful needles holes will just disappear.  Instead, pin fabric with the right sides together and stitch, using the needle perforations as your Seam Guide

And voilà, the wrong side and the right.

No bottoms will be bursting out of these Bermudas!

How to Notch (and Not)

When using French Seams, beware of Notches.  Don’t cut them out like this:

Or else, you’ll end up with Fish Lips.  Which isn’t the end of the world, but still…

Knotch out instead.  The extra fabric can be trimmed away after seam number 1:

When Not

French Seams are not always appropriate: for example, you don’t French Seam Neoprene.  The seams would bulge like sausages.  French Seams are your worst enemy if you’re making a costume for a marathon-runner as even if the garment was loose, the chafing would amount to some serious wounds .  Flat-locked seams are the way to go. 

And sometimes, for example when making a pencil skirt, when an area needs to look as smooth as possible, seams that can be pressed open are a safer bet.

How do you like your French Seams?  Do you use them 
or do you think they add unnecessary bulk?  Do you call them something else?  Dites moi tout!