Loopy Dress

1 loopy loops1 Measurements BackMy newest client, who got in touch via this blog, lives on the other side of the world so I’ll never even see her 😥 She asked for a copy of a dress I made for myself that I blogged a while back.  We exchanged a few emails to get an idea of how this would work, discussing fabrics, a deadline, payment and measurements – but mostly measurements.  I sent a couple of pictures like this one.

Then off I went.

The main worry was making the dress too small.  The black fabric I picked has the tiniest amount of stretch and I used the Winifred Aldrich close-fitting dress block (which, as you may know, isn’t all that close-fitting) to design a sloper on which to base the dress pattern.

Making the inside of the garment nicely finished is very important to me, even more so when sewing for a client who might only have RTW garments to compare to, but on this occasion I abandoned my usual French seams.  The dress will probably have to be adjusted by the client and while contour darts can quickly be narrowed or widened, letting out a French seam can be a bit of a nightmare.  Not only are there two stitching lines to unpick, but the inner seam is likely to be closely trimmed.

1 inside outInstead, I left the seam allowances untrimmed (in case there are places where the garment needs to be made bigger) and bound them Hong Kong style.  The white binding is consistent with the colour scheme of the dress: can you guess what it is yet?!

1 scrap practice


The dress has a ‘loop and button’ closure but not of the delicate, bridal variety (this is meant to be a utalitarian garment).  I’ve only done loops once before so thought I might do some desk research to enable me to do it as professionally as possible.  The buttons on the left side are placed exactly at the centre front, as for a shirt with buttonholes, but the loop side edge therefore has to move back and it’s really the loops that are placed at the centre front of the right side.  But which part of the loop is the exact middle?  The  outer edge?  The hole?   And as for the rouleau strips: how long to make them in relation to the button size?

Well, maybe there’s a magic formula somewhere but I realised I’d have to make some samples and take measurements from those that worked!

I did pick up one helpful tip (from here, as usual) for sewing loops.  Use sticky tape when aligning the strips with the raw edge of the garment as there’s less movement than if using pins or tacks.

1 raw edges together

Place loop strips at tailor tacks, raw edges aligned, stitching facing up, and affix with narrow strips of tape

Trim away SAs and remove tailor tacks

Oh, and place the stitched side of the strips up so when the sewing is done and flipped over, the stitching doesn’t show.

No need to peel off all those bits of tape: this whole section will get cut away.

It was hard to ‘let go’ and put the dress in the post.  I guess I feel it’s not quite ready as I haven’t seen it on the client.  And I no longer have control, if that makes sense.  But we posed for a photo together, the dress and I, with the ever-present Blogstalker looking on.

1t blogstalker is so silly

McCalls 5766

1.1 Marianna in M57661 Sleeve improvisation McCalls 5766The sun came out today, if rather shyly, which made it ideal weather for giving my McCall’s 5766 its virgin outing. When I finished it some 10 days ago, it was very cold and as I tried the coat on indoors, I could feel a breeze around my legs! Though it’s woollen, this isn’t a warm garment. It even feels light when I pick it up.

I remember once reading how Swedes, or maybe Scandinavians, tend to own four coats: one for the winter, one for autumn, a spring one and – poor souls – a summer one.  Well, this is my April, May and October coat. I apologise for how awfully I’ve styled it (black doesn’t go at all) but I was in a rush to get to Down House with the kids (visiting Charles Darwin’s home has become an Easter tradition as they do a great Egg Hunt).  A dress and high heeled boots or my blue dancing shoes would do this better justice. Also, I’m having a rather enjoyable search for some ballet flats that would go with.

mccalls 5766 times 3

Are you familiar with the concept of “treats” from the book Couture Sewing Techniques? A treat is a finishing touch that makes the handmade garment a pleasure to put on and take off, like a private reminder that your piece is unique.  Well, let me introduce you to the opposite concept in couture: the clanger. This is the shaming mistake, or act of omission, you’d be wise to cover up as anyone in the know will otherwise mark you out as a hopeless amateur.  I’d rather not list all of my clangers as  I’ve rather come round to thinking they don’t matter. The marathon-effort that was McCalls 5766, begun with Shrek in January, is  wearable. I have passed.  Thanks for sticking with me, for your brilliant comments and insights!

1 Coat and Blogstalker

But there are the two main areas in which I’d do things differently the next time:

1. I’d borrow a trick from speed tailoring and back the entire fabric with fusible weft interfacing (discovered herebefore cutting. Not only would it save time finishing the seams, it’ll make the coat warmer too.  And unless I was making a summer coat, I’d probably go for a thicker lining such as satin.

Do you know of any professional place that applies the fusible weft for you in London or thereabouts?  The service is I believe called block fusing but that may be a non-UK term.

2.  I’d do a proper job of tailoring the collar, using collar canvas, pad stitching and lots of steam power.  I just stuck to interfacing as per instructions which was lazy but I was nervous that I’d make a hash job of the notch, having never done that to satisfaction before.  In the end, careful marking and slow sewing ensured the notch worked out fine, but the collar is a bit of a pancake to be honest.

Here’s Gertie’s tutorial on making a proper collar.

Also on the subject of collars, let me share this interesting tip I found in the Morplan’s Tailoring book.  It’s to help ensure that collar doesn’t roll in:

1 Step 1 pin and markBefore you join the garment to the lining and facing, pin them wrong sides together. Pin at the neckhole seam and at the shoulder seams.  Put the coat on your dummy.  If the collar and undercollar are exactly the same size, fine.  If however the undercollar protrudes, mark the edge of the collar with a line of pins.  Now, pin your garment and lining right sides together but match the raw edge of the collar with the line of pins before you sew.1 Bloggie speaks



1 Clownie 6

Tamara's blouseIf you watched the second series of The Great British Sewing Bee, you may have been charmed by the 1930s blouse made in Episode 6.  Tamara’s blouse in muted, natural colours particularly evoked the era for me.  When I found out that the publishers Quadrille had made many of the patterns from the series available for free download from here, I printed out the pattern and took a sneaky peek at the instructions in the book that had been kindly donated for my Sewing Bee Challenge.  This is the result:

1 Clownie 4

I have mixed feelings about it.  I’d disregarded the advice to make this from something drapey and went instead with poplin (I ripped up a dress I made two years ago so you could say this is a genuine refashioning project).  Although the flowers are exotic, the largeness of them makes me feel like I’m the kind of chintz sofa that was fashionable in the 1980s and can now be found fading away in dilapidating English conservatories.  I also feel rather broad and puffed, like I’m wearing a clown suit.

On the other hand, it’s a look I suspect would work quite well with a pencil skirt, heels and Winehouse-style make-up.  It’s worth giving this a go, even if just to scare the kids!

1 CollarPattern changes made: I added shirring to the centre bottom of the sleeves (in the pattern, the area is cut away).  I also pleated the sleeve head rather than gathered it.

Sizing for this pattern (and other downloads from the book) can be obtained from here.  It’s pretty standard.  According the chart, I’m a 14 but I made 12 anyway.  The muslin I made fit perfectly on the waist though had to be taken in a good 5cm in the shoulders and under the armpits.  The instructions aren’t available from the download.  For that, you have to buy the book and even then, there isn’t that much detail and there certainly aren’t enough diagrams.  I mean, I’m still not sure what a placket is supposed to look like.

You’re all very welcome to snigger viciously at my pathetic attempt at it:1 Oh, plack it!

Should I decide this blouse is a keeper, you can bet I’ll be replacing the placket with an invisible zip.  Boy, wasn’t the 20th century clever with its inventions like the zip!?  And rockets.  But best, zips.

1 Leftovers mmm

1 1930s Blouse

Corduroy Trick

Take a look at these two swatches of corduroy.  Both are on the right side.  What do you think is the difference?

1 Corduroy Trick

The answer?  The swatch on the right, which appears deeper in colour, is upside down.  The appearance is dependant on how the light hits the direction of the nap.  The piece on the left has a pearly, whitish sheen which the eye would pick as you look down on the garment.  Most corduroy garments are sewn in this direction.

2 Corduroy trick

My tutor once told me she makes all her corduroy skirts on the reverse nap (i.e. so that if you run your hands down your hips, you go against the nap); this is to gain that darker, velvety shade.  There is a disadvantage; the nap picks up fluff and dust which will show up against the dark fabric so you have to regularly lint-roll.  This is more of a problem with black than with other shades.

What therefore puzzles is me is the apparent success of the Cordarounds: a company which specializes in garments made with the corduroy turned on its side.  I’ve made sleeve cuffs and a waistband with cord at crossgrain (on this dress) and the light made one side appear darker than the other.  What do you think?

4 Corduroy trick

Feelgood Hits of 2013

After a rate of almost a garment a week in 2012, this was a quieter and less impulsive year of sewing.  I made outfits for others and invested time in picking up tailoring techniques (canvasing up, making pockets and bound buttonholes).  

But as I still  don’t seem to have the right thing to wear half the time, I’m glad I’ve added the following mini-gems to the wardrobe.  Here’s the countdown with the most favourite at number 1 (click the pics for links):

5. Two Peas in a Pod

Pattern Magic that’s wearable?! How novel!  I didn’t think I’d get much out of a T-shirt that makes me look like I’ve swallowed someone.  But for a one-day job – half of it spent at the photocopier – this shrink pattern/enlarge pattern experiment paid off.

I’d file this under “Barmy, but works for me“!


4. Anna

May 2014 bring me a small castle in which to wear this medieval princess number.   Actually forget that.  I just need lots of long days of summer.

There’s a subtext to this Anna project as I was persuaded to make it by a very good friend who’s also really caught the sewing bug.  One of the highlights of the year have been our fabric-acquisition expeditions to Goldhawk Road and Walthamstow!

That’s right, readers: one more woman with a stash problem!

3. Cactus

Not as prickly as I’d feared!

2. Teal Isn’t Just For Ducks, You Know

I attempted to design an interesting pattern and though it needs tweaking, this muslin is so vibrant and mood enhancing that I want to wear it all the time.

Shame then that it’s too draughty!

And finally…

1. Zen Charmer
The Alexander Henry print steals the show here; the pattern is the simple Laurel.  But I’m quite proud of having matched the two to make a dress that plays with the idea of a Chongsam without being so enclosing around the neck as a traditional Chinese dress.  I’ve not had one bad day in this dress. It must be magic or something…

Anyway, thank you all for reading my blog this year.  It was great to steadily increase readership and I’m always encouraged along by your feedback and comments.   Stick around in 2014: we’re going places!


P.S.  Here’s another list of good things that happened (it’s actually just an excuse to sneak in a picture of Blogstalker!).

5. Best car song: Counting Stars, One Republic

4. Favourite album: Like Clockwork, QOTSA

3. Best Book: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (reread after 27 years)

2. Best cinema trip: Life of Pi

And …

1. The hot summer of 2013! I finally got to wear the summer dresses I made last year…

Junk Stitching

You might hear runners talk disparagingly, or concernedly, about “junk miles”.  These are runs during which one does absolutely nothing to try and improve.  No bursts of speed, no hills, no attempts at furthering the distance: just putting one foot in front of the other and staying safely within one’s comfort zone.

junk miles 🙂

I also sometimes like the sewing equivalent and this dress is it.  Junk stitching is the best sewing I can do while the kids are on holiday and pulling themselves up by my hair for amusement!  This is a TNT (tried ‘n’ tested) pattern from prehistoric times that’s given me one highly wearable dress after another.  I have waxed lyrical about the New Look 6459 before but it’s now only available from Ebay, through theft or borrowing!

View D, The Halter Neck

I’d decided that if this summer was truly going to last (what brilliant luck, eh, UK?), then I needed a halter dress, like, already.  Why everyone else isn’t wearing one, I don’t know.  Maybe because these require a special bra adjustment, but it’s worth the hassle as they’re so flattering and tend to accentuate the one area of a body –  the collarbones and shoulders – that looks pretty good on most of us.  Sewing halters from woven fabrics can be tricky  though.  As the back is held up by nothing other than the wearer’s ribcage, if the fit isn’t tight enough, the whole thing can sag towards the butt!

The Fabric

I had 1 metre of some rather unusual perforated and dyed cotton left over from the first Laurel which was lying around almost unused!  For the sake of decency, I underlined it with a lightweight and very bright green acetate.  The layered dark and light effect worked out brilliantly.  When the light hits it right, this dress reminds me of the intricate, exotic patterns on Moroccan lanterns.   

Do you have a favourite junk stitching pattern?

 Location: Crystal Palace Park

Quilting Cotton Curtains

So, you think you can sew and are wondering if it’s a good idea to try making curtains out of quilting cotton?  Well if you ask me, based on my hair-raising experience of doing just that, I’d give you my typical sit-on-the-fence rounded answer: yes and no.

Yes, it’s a good idea if you’re

a) young, or

b) strapped for cash, or

c) unsure of how long you’re going to be staying in your current place.  Made-to-measure curtain don’t travel well, though you can take them with you and re-use the fabric for other projects.

d) Or if despite your advancing years you find that your taste in furnishings definitely isn’t turning towards the traditional as everyone said that it would.  A year ago, when I started looking for curtain fabric, I told a friend I had trouble finding something for my bedroom that I liked  She directed me towards Laura Ashley saying, “It’s not as bad as you think, you’ll be surprised!”  So I listened, popped in and ran out moments later, screaming and waving hands in the air. 

It wasn’t difficult to find lovely, expensive fabric.  Furnishings shops had books and books of samples and very boring it was too flipping through them 🙄  When I picked a few favourites, like the Designers Guild sample on the right, they varied in price range from £36 a metre to over £100 per metre.  We needed 13….   

So, we turned to quilting cotton, searching online from the comfort of having bums on the sofa and the telly on.  Bliss!  We wanted a fabric that  matched the love-at-first-sight bedroom lampshade we’ve had for years (from Lush).  It also had to be cheerful and not block out the morning sunshine on our south-east facing window.  Finally, we both had to like it…. (We didn’t dare ask the kids for their opinion!)  Here to There in Blue from Frumble Fabrics matched the criteria and was within budget.

While making the curtains, I did have moments of wonder about whether or not I was actually going mad….  It was hard: making the panels with a vertical as well as a horizontal repeat, and all without a walking foot (never again).  I had to trim off lots: these aren’t quite fat quarters but seem too nice throw away.  Any ideas what to do with them?  They’re on the grain or crossgrain but too small for bias.  

I bought cheap curtain lining from Rolls and Rems and added little parcels of curtain weights wrapped in fabric, which look like ravioli, to the inside of hems at the corners and where the panels join.  And I bought “curtain tidies”: it’s not a good idea to cut off the surplus cord in case you have to ungather the curtain for adjustments (please, NO! Not again..). 

Total cost: well under £200.

But do the curtains “hang beautifully”? 

Er, they’re alright.  Not great.  The right side is better.  That could be due either to my relative inexperience in making curtains or maybe the fault is in the grain of the cheaper fabric, which admittedly appeared ok. 

No, it’s me. 

Or, is the reason why furnishing fabric is so expensive because it’s perfect and other fabrics often aren’t?  Let me know if you have experience of this.  I’ll be making more curtains soon.

In the meantime, I’ll be using this gem of a tip a friend gave me for sorting out those sides when they’re looking a bit …. er, wavy:

A Quick Alteration

My mother asked if I could shorten her Liberty Lawn dress to make it less swamping.  The original (top left) was nearly floor length.  The fabric is fresh and the colours very much classic but the voluminous, dropped waist style….  With shoulder pads??  I didn’t dare whisper the embarrassing question: “Mum, is it from the eighties?!”  😯

We agreed to slice off 20cm which would have been a 15 minute job had I just taken them off the hem.  But that would have made the dress unbalanced, with a long waist and a relatively boxy skirt.  Instead, I took 10cm off the bodice and 10cm from the hem, a more time consuming job which involved:

1. Basting the skirt pleats in place

2. Unpicking the bottom of the zip from the centre back bodice

3. Separating the bodice from the skirt, trimming off 10cm from the bodice, creating a centre back seam in the skirt and re-attaching the zip to run into the skirt

4. Shortening and hemming the skirt

I’m not sure if the alteration (top right) is a particularly flattering improvement as I haven’t yet seen the dress on, but I hope that it gets a few outings over this summer, something this dress hasn’t had in a while.

The job took 2.5 hours.  Ok, so I did stop off for at least one dreamy tea break during which I wondered how much I’d charge for this kind of job had it been for a client rather than mum.  “Twenty quid?  For shortening a dress?  I can get a new dress for that,” I imagine the indignation. 

When I came back from the kitchen, I found this:

And this:

Stuart Skirt

So, tonight The Great British Sewing Bee reaches its final, only 3 weeks after the show’s start.  4 episodes!  We wait decades for a show like and that’s all we get.  How apologetic!  Did the commissioning team have doubts that anybody would watch?!  Oh, how I wish I’d been on that commissioning team.  I’d have demanded that the show based its format on the worst excesses of the Roman Empire – think Gladiatorial  Combat – with an exit policy straight out of the song Hotel California, i.e. you can never leave.  If it’d been up to me, those contestants would be sewing for our viewing pleasure forever unless a self-sacrificing member of the audience volunteered to step in and proved a like-for-like replacement.  So, for example, a handsome amateur tailor of Matrix-style costumes could take the place of Mark, a fellow-blogger could replace Tilly and as for the lovely Stuart, he’d only be allowed to leave if some kind of sewing equivalent of Paul Hollywood could be found. 

But enough of my sick fantasies.

Daughter and I had the idea to design this skirt after the Tulip Pocket Embellishment made by Stuart in Episode 2.  I was curious to see how long it would take: as somebody who’s thinking about sewing professionally, I try to keep in mind how long a project takes so should I get a commission, I’d know to charge more than the minimum wage. 

Here’s the breakdown of the Skulls as Pockets applique, a total of 1 hour 40m not including the making of the skirt.

Design of skulls: 10 mins

Making and attaching the skulls: 1 hour

Sewing the ric rac bodies on skirt:  30 mins

I did also spend some extra minutes looking for bits, blaming the kids for taking my stuff, coaxing Blogstalker off my work and lint-rolling the residual hairs….

After I finished, daughter immediately named this her “Funnybones Skirt”.  And then I remembered that the skeletons in the book had a dog.  How brilliant it would have been to have the skelly dog on the back of the skirt!?  But that’s the sort of idea you get when you have the benefit of time.  As Ann said, “I like having time to think.” 

I made the pattern for the A-Line skirt by first making a Basic Skirt Block and then adapting it.  I’ve been asked if the formula can be used for a child’s skirt and having now tried it, I’d say yes, but it helps if there’s a real difference in waist and hip measurements otherwise the skirt will be more of a tube and will slide off!  The other thing to bear in mind is that the dart has to be shortened: here I made it 7cm.  One advantage of sewing a girl’s A-Line skirt is that it’s so quick: this one is lined and it took an hour!