Get Ham!

A tailor’s ham is an essential piece of kit, used for pressing curved areas, for example in shaping princess seams or bust darts, and for moulding collars.  It takes no more than an hour to make so if you’re a keen dressmaker with some rags to spare, get yourself a ham!  Sooner or later, a project that requires it will land on your sewing table.

These instructions are based on those in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

You will need:

Rags (I use old toiles, cut to shreds, old socks and tights).  Or sawdust.

Two pieces of calico, 45cm x 35 cm each approx.  This is for the lining.

Two pieces of outer fabric, sized as above.

Step 1

Place your iron on the calico and draw around it.

Step 2

Enlarge this area all around by 7cm to an egg-like shape and cut out.  Repeat.  Cut two more from the outer fabric.

Step 3

Using the outer fabric and lining as one, stitch together the two pieces, right sides together and leaving a gap of 10cm open.  Stitch again: the reinforcement is important as the ham will be tightly stuffed!  Turn right side out, stuff with rags and slipstitch the opening securely.

Done!

Ham in action

For pressing princess seams: place the curved seam on the curve of the ham.  It’s useful to have one of these not just for constructing the seam but for pressing the completed garment after laundering.

For moulding the undercollar of a jacket: fold along the roll line and pin to ham, interfaced side out.  Press against ham.  Seam press if appropriate for your fabric and allow to dry before continuing.

When attaching a collar, rather than working on a flat surface, insert tailor’s ham inside the garment and pin the collar to the neckline.

P.S. You can’t put these in sandwiches, you know!

Burn After Reading

Since Christmas, when Santa gave my daughter these sweet and luxuriously soft wrapover pyjamas, I’ve been meaning to copy them and make my own.  No buttons, you see, thus perfect for sleeping on the tummy.  Did You Make That‘s Pyjama Party Sewalong  provided the perfect incentive for getting on with the project, with Karen’s well-timed and clearly explained tutorials illuminating every step of the trouser-making process.  What could possibly go wrong? 

Well, considering:

1. My tendency towards thriftiness, coupled with a knack for picking loony fabrics….?  Once upon a time, this Morocco-inspired duvet cover from Jonelle attracted much admiring comment.  I loved its deep indigo colour with light blue and silver embroidery .  Nine years of hot washes were beginning to show though and the fabric was looking thin in places, but reluctant to turn it into dust sheets yet, I decided it deserved a genteel retirement as my pyjamas.  A bit of upcycling, thought I.  How now! 

It wasn’t a good idea.  Here’s a lesson: tired fabrics don’t make tired people look any fresher!   

And here’s lesson 2.  To the amateur designing her own patterns: it’ll take more than one draft!  I thought a wrapover top design would be fairly straight-forward.  After all, there aren’t any darts or contours.  But whilst this may be true of designing a wrap for a child, it doesn’t much flatter a woman’s shape.  The result is a flat, mannish silhouette, made far worse by the “exotic” fabric;  less Coco Chanel, more manservant bringing a tea platter to the memsahib.  And the ties create bulk in the waist area.  

Reader, if you want to show this picture to your friends, for a laugh, like, I’d urge you to do so right away because this post is gonna be torched!

So did anything go right?   Sure, not only did I learn a couple of valuable lessons, I also got to draft the “Trousers Master Pattern” from the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.  It was easy and the only adjustment I made was to straighten the sides for a looser shape.  Karen’s tip on the triple-marked back notches was noted and I appreciate the clear explanation on telling the front from the back: I’ll keep these in mind when I make these again out of some lovely flannel.  If anyone knows of a flattering yet comfortable wrapover pattern that I could use for the top, I’d appreciate the tip.   

Oh,  and my bedtime book.  3.5 out of 5 for “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer.  It centers around Juliet, a young writer in post-war London, who by chance begins correspondence with a group of characters from Guernsey.  They reveal how their literary society came to be formed against a background of the island’s German occupation.  It’s a moving and thought-provoking story set in a time and place of which I hitherto knew nothing.  But like my mannish pyjamas, I don’t want to reveal too much!!  You’ll have to read it yourself. 

One Week, One Pattern

Inspired by the blog Tilly and the Buttons, from Saturday 24th to Friday 30th March, we pledge to wear garments made from one pattern.  My chosen favourite is the BSB which is the Skirt Master Pattern in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Saturday 24th: Macculloch’s

It’s 10:30a.m and I’m at Macculloch buying the zip and thread for my Mad Men Challenge Dress.  Being very new to this posing-whilst-looking-presentable business, I got side-tracked by an argument with my photographer  (“Don’t make me look short!”  “But you are!” etc.), and so failed to check if my skirt was on straight.  This Basic Skirt Block is made of claret corduroy and cut on the bias with the ridges meeting in a V in the middle.  To line it, I had valuable help from Slapdash’s tutorial.  The top is Nicotine Surprise.

Sunday 25th, Slummy Mummy

A hybrid of the BSB and Vogue 1247.  I haven’t bought the V1247 pattern, but added pockets to the basic skirt after getting the idea from Vacuuming the LawnHere’s her photo of what the innermost layer looks like.  My internet research suggests that the V1247 is shockingly short and as a rule, it’s best to add a centimetre length for each year over the age of sixteen.  These pockets are deep enough to stash roadkill.

This is the first garment I made where the seams across the zip lined up at first go, so to celebrate the momentous occasion, I enhanced the feature with some yellow top-stitching.  This adds to the jean skirt effect, but the fabric is actually an old,  mock-denim IKEA curtain….

The whole thing is hardly in the Vogue spirit!

Monday 26th, Pattern-Cutting Class

Today, my Pattern-Cutting Course here comes to an end, sadly. 

This skirt is made from a snipet of super-silky faux fur which I bought without checking the length: 43cm!  Finished skirt length: 41cm!!  The jackboots detract from the Cougar Lady effect.

Tuesday 27th, Space Grapes

Today, the claret Basic is teamed with a charity shop top and my old Dune sandals – their first outing of ’12.  The kids have named these sandals Space Grapes.  Apparently, if you eat the grapes, you become very heavy.  That’s probably because they contain heavy metals.

Incidentally, we call this plant Snake Grapes.

Wednesday 28th, Home Education and Brownies

BSB/V1247 Hybrid worn whilst at home with my near-teen and his friend – both turfed out of school due to the teachers’ strike.  In the evening, I help out at a Brownies Egg Decorating session.  Here’s a young artist and her impression of me in Egg:

 

 

 

 

Thursday 29th, Still Sunny

My plans to wear a woolly Basic for OWOP have had to be trashed in favour of this hybrid.  The top of the dress is New Look 6459 with added waist darts which have been merged into the Basic Skirt Block for the lower part.

This dress looks great with high heels, tanned legs and two months of a lower-stodge diet, but as it’s March I haven’t had two months to prepare!

Friday 30th, Birthday Boots

Out in claret corduroy and Nicotine  as I road-test the new boots I got for my birthday. 

So OWOP, I’ll associate you forever with sunny skies.  You’ve forced me to rethink my wardrobe, I discovered a top I’d forgotten I had and through reading others’ blogs, I’ve got more projects than even in my stash.  Ciao!

Basic Skirt Block

I was wondering what to wear for the OWOP! (One Week, One Pattern) project: this is the initiative organized by Tilly and the Buttons where for a whole week from Saturday 24 March we wear and post pictures of garments made from a single pattern.  Now, were it summer, I’d have worn the many dresses I’ve made from either of my two favourites patterns: Burda 7378 or New Look 6459.  But the weather at the moment is capricious so I’m going with the various skirts I’ve made from the Basic Skirt Block which I’ve drafted by following the instructions in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.  

If you’ve never drafted a pattern and would like to give it a try, this is a simple way to start (don’t let the amount of verbiage below scare you!).  You’ll end up with a block (or sloper) suitable for making a knee-length skirt fitted to your shape by means of two front and two back darts.  As I only had a remnant of this beautiful, faux leopard fabric from here, the skirt I made turned out a mini, but the process is exactly the same, only the length is shorter. 

You will need:

Equipment: a tape measure, a long ruler, a triangle/set square, paper (newspaper or wrapping paper on the plain side), pins and a sharpened pencil.  And a long mirror!  If you want to add seam allowances (see Step 4) to make a skirt pattern out of the block, I recommend one of these sewing gauges that I can’t live without.   

Measurements in cm:

Hips (at widest point) e.g. 100cm

Waist circumference e.g. 70cm

Skirt length from waist e.g. 50cm

Tip: not sure where your waist is?  Tie a string firmly around your middle and it’ll settle at the narrowest.  If this seems higher than you’d like your skirt to be, don’t worry as we’ll be “dropping the waist” in Step 3.

Tip: if you’re unsure of your desired skirt length,  stand in front of a mirror whilst holding a towel over your bare or stockinged legs.  Raise and lower the towel whilst looking at its edge and your legs in the mirror.  When you find the view that’s the most flattering, measure from the waist to the towel edge. 

Creating a Basic Skirt Block

There are three steps to creating the BSB:

Step 1: Skirt Back

Step 2: Skirt Front

Step 3: Shaping the Waist

Please note that the block includes ‘ease’ but no seam allowances (ease is the extra width given to a garment to ensure that it’s not skin-tight).    Seam allowances are added in Step 4 so that the BSB become a pattern.   Keep your original block (it’s the “master pattern”) and you can use it for other skirt patterns (I’ll be developing it into A-line and pencil skirts in future blogs) or to check against measurements of any commercial patterns you might use. 

Step 1: Skirt Back (click to open PDF diagram)

Using a ruler and a set square, draw a rectangle A-B-C-D where:

A – C = Skirt length (i.e. 50cm)

A – B  = Hips divided by four, minus 0.5cm (e.g. 100cm/4= 25cm -0.5cm = 24.5cm)

Label each line:

A – B Waistline

C – D Hemline

A – C Centre Back

C – D Side

Mark a new point E on the waistline by measuring 2-3cm from B to A.  If your figure is of the “straight up and down” type, go in 2cm, but if your waist is relatively narrow compared to your hip, go for 3cm.  I’ll opt for 3cm, so my A-E=21.5cm. 

Mark a new point F on the side by measuring 15-25cm from B towards D.  This marks the widest part of your hip. The widest part of my hip happens to be very low on account of something technically known as ‘saddlebags’ so my point F is 25cm below B. 

Next, join points E to F with a gentle curve which should mimic the side of your waist going down to the widest part of your hip.  Look in the mirror to get an idea of the shape of your curve.  If you need a guideline, join E to F with a straight line then draw a curve some 0.5-1cm beyond it.

To draw the dart, find the midpoint between A and E and from there draw a vertical line perpendicular to the waistline.  This is the fold line of the dart and it should measure 15cm (or 1-2cm longer if your hipline is low like mine).  To decide on the width of the dart, divide the waistline by 4, and subtract 1cm.  The difference between this number and the length A-E is the total width at the top of the dart, half on each side of the foldline.  So using the above measurements:

70cm/4=17.5cm 

17.5cm- 1 = 16.5cm 

21.5cm-16.5cm=5cm

5cm/2=2.5cm

Mark the dart by drawing diagonals from the waistline to the bottom of the foldline.  Cut out the Skirt Back, making sure all the letters and labels are on the block.

Step 2: Skirt Front (click to open PDF diagram)

Copy the rectangle A-B-C-D for the Skirt Back and make two modifications:

a) Widen the block by 2cm to the left: extend line B-A by 2cm to create point a.  Extend line D-C by 2cm to create c.  Join a-c.  The waistline a-E is now wider than at skirt back and in my example measures 23.5cm.

b) Front dart is located by finding the midpoint between a and E.  From here, make a 12cm (1-2cm longer for a low hip) foldline at right angles to the waistline.  To establish the width of the front dart, divide the waist measurement by 4, add 3cm, then subtract this figure from length a-E.  So in my example:

70cm/4=17.5cm

17.5cm+3=20.5cm

23.5cm-20.5cm=3cm

My front dart is 3cm wide.  Draw the two diagonals on each side of the foldline, narrowing  from the waistline to the bottom of the dart.  Cut out and label as in Step 1. 

Step 3: Dropping the Waist (click title to open PDF)

Here, the waistline of the two blocks is shaped to the figure.  First, drop point A on the Skirt Back by 2cm to a new point WA.  Fold the dart and pin it closed.  Draw a smooth curve from E to WA.  Keeping the dart pinned, cut along the line of the curve.  Repeat the process for the Skirt Front.  If you like to wear your skirts lower-slung than mine, you could use a sewing gauge to mark a lower waistline and slice into the block again.    

Step 4: Making the BSB into a Skirt Pattern

This means adding seam allowances, cutting instructions and grainlines to a copy of the block.  For the Skirt Back, copy the block onto another piece of paper (or trace it:  I use the cheapest greaseproof paper) and add seam allowances of 1.5cm for the waist, centre back and the sides and 3-5cm to the hemline.  Label with “Cut 2“, mark the zip placement on the centre back if you wish, draw the grainline and cut out along the edges of the seam allowances. 

To add seam allowances to the Skirt Front, copy or trace to another piece of paper and 1.5cm seam allowances to the waist and the side, and 3-5cm to the hemline.  Draw a foldline on the Centre Front side and label with “Cut 1 on Fold“.  Cut out.

Making up the Skirt

After what might seem a lengthy and labourious process, you might want to rush out and cut your fabric right away.  Unless you’re using a dispensable fabric, I’d urge you to test out your pattern on some calico or a dust sheet: yes, it’s time to ‘fess up and admit that the Reader’s Digest formula for the BSB is not foolproof and may need tweaking.  My “ghost skirt” demonstrated that I could have done with a more generous hip allowance and a tighter waist.  It didn’t take long to adjust my BSB and pattern and the final result fits perfectly.  Though it might be a bit short and cougarish.