Back to Front Blouse

When daughter expressed a wish for a shirt with a Peter Pan collar, I took her measurements, grabbed some cotton and voile and flew into making the Balloon-Sleeved Blouse with a Back Opening from Jolies Tenues Pour Fillettes Coquettes: to me, one of the most charming designs in Akiko Mano’s book.  Pity there wasn’t a project consultation.  When the quickly finished blouse was presented to my client, her dear face fell and she cried in horror: “It’s back to front!”  

Ah.  Bummer! 

So, we have a cute, well-made and perfectly-sized blouse totally unsuited to the independently-minded female who wishes to dress without a lady-in-waiting doing up her buttons.  Which is ok.  I highly value independence.  And the blouse will, I’m sure, grow on her before she grows out of it!


The Review

It took 4 hours to make this, including tracing the pattern.  I’m thrilled that despite the minimalist instructions, I’m quicker with each new project that I try from this book.

What I particularly liked here is how the casing for the sleeves leaves two perfectly-sized openings for the insertion of the elastic.   

I also liked the neat, easy method of hemming a button opening.  Sorry if you’ve seen this before; it has something of novelty-value to me:

When it came to attaching the Peter Pan collar with a bias strip, I admit I had to take instructional
supplements.  I’m grateful for this excellent tutorial to which I’d like to add a couple of tips: 

a) Press your bias strip the way it comes from the shop (second picture below, left to right) so that you sew into one of the creases… this visible line will be especially helpful if you’re sewing a small-sized collar.

b) Instead of knotching the curved seam, sew two lines of stitching, the second being 2mm (or less!) inside the seam allowance, then trim as close to the second seam as possible (picture 5):

During my attempts with the translation of this book, I discovered that in French, a Peter Pan collar is named after a character from Colette and is un Col ClaudineJamais! (Cor blimey!)

Flannel Playdress

My daughter wanted me to make her this dress: her favourite from Akiko Mano’s book Fashionable Clothes Girls Like.  When I suggested some of the fabrics groaning in my stash, she looked rather put out and I realized she really wanted the dress in the book.  That meant finding some dark check flannel. 

A tour of the Goldhawk Road shops threw up three choices: black and yellow, black and magenta or black and white.  I chose the last of the three (in a wool blend, from Unique Fabrics) as it seemed the closest to the monochrome simplicity of the original….   though this of course will expose us to the danger of tomatoey pasta landing on, and staining, particularly the white squares!

What’s to like @ Pattern O:

Quick – the lack of a collar makes for a simple construction

Easy – the diagrams are sufficient to overcome the language barrier!

Practical – the pockets are useful for hankies, etc.

Stylish – the pretty pleats!

Exact – you get what you see in the book 

Cosy – for the wearer

Cuddly – when including the wearer!  

What’s not to like: my daughter joked that the only problem is that there are so many buttons to do up.  But I think she now only uses the top 5 and shimmies out! 

One of the comments on my SPR review of the Playdress described it as a “live in” dress and this is so true: DD has hardly worn anything else these holidays, (except maybe pyjamas…)!  That’s what’s so great about Akiko Mano’s book: the clothes are uniforms for the job of being a kid and that means playing in comfort, having fun, even spilling food.  Forget jeans and sequins: make the girl in your life something from this book instead.

What next from Akiko’s Book?

After a few teething problems of learning how to use a Japanese Pattern Book, this dress and the collar blouse I also made (ed – post soon) have worked out so well that I’m encouraged to make everything before daughter grows up too much and I have to grade the patterns (she’s already on the biggest size).  But my suggestion to her that I now make her the Reversible Gilet (above middle) was met by squeals of outrage and distaste! 

Don’t you think it would be cute to dress up as a little gentleman?!” 


Oh well…

Mao Top and Jodhpurs Jimjams

After borrowing Akiko Mano’s book from a friend, I bought the French edition Jolies Tenues Pour Fillettes Coquettes.  Although my French is basic, I’m finding the book easier to use than the original because I can type any unknown phrase into Google Translate and it comes up with the English equivalent.

Well usually.  Not always.  I did freak out when “…rabattre les marges de couture vers le col…” came out of my magic interpreting machine as “fold the seam allowances toward the cervix.”   😯

But mostly it does work.  I wish I’d used it before cutting my fabric, as half-way through the project, I discovered two facts which you’ll need to know if you too can’t resist sewing from this beautiful book (but don’t actually speak the language it’s in): 

 1.  The patterns do not come with seam allowances: you’re supposed to add them….  🙄  Well I never.  This explains why the neckline and the armholes on the Bubble Dress seemed so wide! 

2.  The sizes at the top of each page of instructions are finished garment  measurements, not body measurement (see below for how I found this out :oops:).  To determine the size you require, go the page 35 (in the French book) or check here:

Size in   cm
Height 100 110 120 130
Chest size 54 58 62 66
Waist size 49 51 53 56
Hip size 57 60 63 68
Length of sleeve 33 36 40 43
Head circumference 51 51 52 53

A Note on the Fabric Used

I love good-quality shirting fabric – which isn’t cheap – so I’m reluctant to throw away DH’s work shirts just because they’re worn at the collar and cuffs.  Instead, I keep them till I have enough to sew something for my daughter.  When she was a toddler, I’d make her Betty Draper-style dresses with voluminous skirts.  

These pyjamas are made from 3 shirts, two shown above, and one plain blue.  Can you see where the released back darts of the shirt are visible on the back legs of the jodhpurs? 

If you have other ideas for how to upcycle small pieces of (usually striped) crisp cotton, please share here.  By the time I next have a shirt stash, DD will be too tall for everything but bloomers!

Pattern C: Jodhpurs-Style Trousers

These trousers are comfortable.  They can be worn all year round.  Choose colour and fabric that most suit you.”

Difficulty Rating: Advanced Beginners.  These are quick to make, though you might like previous experience of making buttonholes.  The cuff construction diagrams are minimalist but adequate.  If you’d like more pictures of the cuff-making process, see below.

Sizing: I went for height 130.  I mistakenly used the finished garment measurement to pick a hip size.  Yup, I learn by mistakes.  This has made the trousers narrower than they should be though they fit fine.

Modifications: I substituted the corded waistband with an elasticated one – it makes getting changed so much quicker.

Constructing the Jodhpurs Cuffs: a pictorial supplement!

Starter kit: all the pieces you need (8), interfaced and with the inside leg seam (entrejambe!) sewn then pressed open.  The bottom row is the facing (the inside of cuffs).  I’ve pressed in to mark the buttonhole area.  The facing has been pressed under along the top seam as in the instructions.  I’ve flipped the bottom right piece over to show the reverse.

With right sides together, pin cuff to finished trouser leg.  Pin from buttonhole marker to the seam allowance edge (1cm) on the opposite side.

Stitch.  This is what it should look like when done:

With right sides together, pin cuff facing to the cuff: pin from the buttonhole flap downwards then along the bottom seam then up the opposite side.  Leave the pressed edge on top unpinned.

Stitch then trim seam.

Turn right side out and handstitch the pressed edge of the facing to the inside of the trousers (or you can topstitch: it’s quicker).  It might be wise to have a fitting at this point and see whether the cuffs are going to be on the tight side or too wide.  You can then decide where to place the  buttonholes.

Pattern H: Chairman Mao Blouse

Would this blouse design be inspired by the famous Chairman Mao who stalks this blog, seen here sleeping on calico and pattern paper?

No, not him


This blouse can be worn over other clothes.  It is better to choose classic colours.  The centre seam construction makes it easy to sew.”

Did  you see that?  No buttons!  Not even the setting in of sleeves!  I dare say you could make this for a boy too, and  – the real Chairman Mao would surely agree – it would be a very practical, day-wear top, or substitute for a school uniform where your school doesn’t have one. 

The Centre Front Seam

Remember to cut a 4cm seam allowance for the centre seam.  You then sew it wrong sides together, press open and press under the last 1cm of the SAs. Sew this down then sew rows of parallel stitching (which I didn’t do as they wouldn’t have showed up on my stripy fabric).  Add cute detail!

Easy Sleeves

Sew shoulder seam, lay shirt open and pin gathered sleeve to it, right sides together.  Sew.

Finally, sew the side seams all in one.

Difficulty Rating: Beginners welcome!

I look forward to making this in linen next year.

Bubble Dress

Would you like to make girls’ clothes that are both “Wow” and understated?  If so, I recommend this book of Japanese sewing patterns by Akiko Mano.  The book hasn’t yet been published in English so I’ve had to resort to Googling to get an approximation of its title.  The French translation – Jolies Tenues pour Fillettes Coquettes – rings nicely but perhaps isn’t true to the original.  My favourite English title is provided by the blogger Japanese Sewing Books who in her review calls it: Fashionable Clothes Girls Like.    

A friend bought the book in Japanese and using the most skeletal translation made a beautiful Bubble Dress such as featured on the cover.  If you’re not familiar with the Bubble (or Balloon) dress – and I wasn’t – it’s made up of two layers.  The inner layer is, in this case, a simple A-line dress; the outer layer is longer and wider, like a mini tent.  Its hem is gathered and tucked under to be stitched to the inner layer.  This is the final step of making the dress, which in the instructions looks like this:

Using my friend’s notes and a tip on sewing the straps which I’ll pass on below, I managed to finish Bubble in about 4 hours, a chunk of which was spent on tracing the pattern (the patterns come in several sheets as with the Burda magazine though with seam allowances! and long after making this dress, I realised I was supposed to add seam allowances).  If it wasn’t for the instructions being so minimal, I’d recommend this pattern to an absolute beginner, as the structure is simple and with a little modification the results can be look very professional: all but one seam allowance are hidden!

Here are my notes if you wish to supplement the sparse Japanese (or French) instructions; also my modifications.

Sizing: I traced out the largest size (height: 130cm) and extended the length by the width of a ruler so that my 8-year-old wouldn’t grow out of the dress overnight.  There’s plenty of room for her to grow width-wise too: this pattern is cut more generously than I’d expected. 

Cutting: The dress pieces are cut on the crosswise grain.  I don’t know why: could it be so that the weight of the layers doesn’t pull down so much, i.e. to counteract the draping effect?

Here’s the cutting layout:

The side of the outer layer (the one that flares out dramatically) is on the bias.  This means that the outer side seams will stretch and stretch.  It’s therefore a good idea to leave the dress to hang for a day before hemming.  After I did this, I decided the sides were too droopy and the dress would look less like a bubble and more like a bubble letter  .  So, I trimmed 3cm off the sides but kept the length in the centre and this helped lift the sides a little.

Fabric: 2m of full-width linen at £6 a metre from Fabric World, 49c Goldhawk Road.  The linen creases terribly but as Straightgrain points out: the Bubble looks just as good wrinkled! 

For a pro touch, I recommend that you also get 130cm of 2cm bias binding tape with which to enclose the hem seam allowance (see Step 7). Or read Anne’s tip below (5th comment) about how to make with all-hidden seam allowances.

Seam allowances: 1cm.


Step 1 Button loop.  I made the loop slightly thicker so I’d have room to turn it with a safety pin.  In the finished article, the closure looks like this:

Step 2: The side seams.  Pretty straight-forward. As the dress is fully lined, the seam allowances won’t show on the inside of the garment though it’s still a good idea to finish them!

Step 3: Pockets. I didn’t follow the instructions here.  Being new to patch pockets, I turned to the ever-informative RDCGTS.  My pocket looks like this:

If you haven’t Reader’s Digest, here’s a good tutorial on “patch with flap pockets”.  Unlike with mine, the top of the flap is topstitched down which is probably an easier way of doing it.

Steps 4: .Shoulder and neck seams. Easy.

Step 5: The straps.  The quick way is to sew the lining and outer straps together with the seams finished together on the inside.  I recommend the more professional way, with which the seam allowances are tucked out of sight, like I did in Step 5 of Julie’s Dress.

Step 6: Topstitching the neckhole and armholes.

Step 7: Joining the outer and inner layers.  Once the two layers are joined together (as in the diagram I showed you earlier), you can encase the seam allowance with bias binding. Totally optional, of course, and probably no one would notice the extra effort, except you when the dress is kicked up during some fast running!

Here are some more pics. 

And how did Moonchild contribute to the sewing process?