Skin Traps

1 Embrace your inner evil

1 SleeveIn the last two weeks I’ve been busy with two projects, both picked on the spur of the moment and causing other plans to be put aside.  Both turned out to be epic fails.   The first –  a Renfrew hacked into a dress – I will go into on another occasion when I’ve dusted myself off the defeat and remade it.  The second is this self-drafted T-shirt with leather elements, initially inspired by this gem I found via Pinterest.  Of course, I had to experiment and make the design more complicated and that’s when things went wrong.  Twice (that is, in two places)!  But I’m glad I didn’t jettison the whole thing into the bin.

1 Wested Leather bundle of offcutsI don’t suppose you’ve ever wondered where Indiana Jones‘ brown leather jacket came from?  Well I’ll tell you anyway.  🙂  It was made by Wested Leather, a company and workshop near here, in Kent.  I bought online one of their £5 bundles of off-cuts.  I wasn’t sure what I’d get; I was told to expect a mixture of black and brown.  I ended up with this: the biggest piece being a half (front?) bodice in thick brown leather and the other pieces smaller and finer.

The industry that produces leather is a notorious pollutant and – being a hippyish type –  I take no pride in being mad for it.  But to me, there is no good-enough substitute: the shoes and boots that with wear adopt your shape; the feel, warmth and durability of a leather jacket or jeans.  The look of the grain; the softness of suede.  Most of all, I love how leather smells.  Is there anything more heady?  When I opened the package, my living room turned to nirvana and all the time I was working on this project, the cat (who stalks me) and I operated at a heightened level of exciement.    😯

1 Back viewFor the pattern I drafted a blouse from my block.  A bust dart provides shape and ease replaces the front waist dart.  The back has contour darts (the back looks a mess!)

I used my corner-pleat sleeve tutorial to draft the sleeves, then made another pattern with added style lines that would enable the insertion of some small leather pieces from the bundle.

But just as I thought I was done, I looked in the mirror and saw…. the love child of an American Football player and Darth Vader.  My shoulders were HUGE and not in a sexy Alexis Colby way either.  I sewed down some of the corners, thereby ruining the square geometry but just about getting away with a less conspicuous look: – the result you see here.

t 1 Floppus EpicusSewing the neckline caused more problems.  The needlecord and the leather wouldn’t fold under equally –  and it didn’t help that I could press the cloth but not the leather.  This is what the shirt looked like last week, when again I thought I was done.  Each photo accentuated the dog’s dinner of a neckline, with a pulling to the side.   I simply couldn’t take the risk of wearing it like this and having people say: “Did you make that yourself?” while wearing a disgusted expression.  But I couldn’t throw away, not after all that work.  Besides it still smelt good!  So I unpicked the neckline, exposing holes in the leather that would never heal. 🙄   I trimmed off some of the distortion (you may notice an unevenness in shoulder width) and made bias binding out of needlecord  as I didn’t have enough matching leather for the purpose.

1 sideIt was an adventure!

I’ll be wearing this next week to a gig, when one of my favourite bands rolls into town.  No one will see the imperfections – it’ll be too dark.  But boy, will those jutting shoulders smell good as I push through the crowd!

Burda 7494

I'm ninety four you know
Black dresses, like black cats, are notoriously difficult to photograph. The detail is easily lost and this apparently is the reason why ‘the little black dress’, usually a girl’s best friend, has fared badly in online sales in relation to frocks featuring prints and bright colours (read all about it).  On screen, it can look a bit boring.

Burda 7494 View ABut while a tiger can woo multitudes with its splendid array of stripes, looking at a plain black moggy (or panther) allows you to notice its equally admirable silhouette.  (If you think my Lemmy’s outline is a little bit scraggly,  can I just point out  he is actually ancient! 😯 ).

There’s much to admire in this Burda 7494 dress.

Burda 7494The faux collar, which attaches to dress front only, is easy to make and is guaranteed to sit flat.  The four front and back pleats create a tulip-like shape, giving the impression of there being more bum than is actually the case as well as narrowing the waist.  Most interesting of all I found the bust darts which are shifted to the centre side of the princess seams.  This creates a nice curve which isn’t difficult to sew (but check out my tips on Princess Seams if you’re new to this).  It’s a design that deserves more boldness than the picture on the envelope or my rendition of the pattern have given it.  If you imagine this same dress in red tartan, with black velvet piping, you can imagine the drama.

Alterations

I had to make a few changes and didn’t get out unscathed….  1 Cuff

1. I added sleeves (obviously).  You like?!

2. In order to add sleeves, I had to substantially slice off from the shoulders.  The original ended a good inch beyond the usual armscye line which leads me to suspect this wouldn’t suit sloping shoulders.

3. I lowered the neckline 1.5cm, for two reasons.  The original collar is too big (bib-like?) for me.  I also think that a very high neckline makes anything but the most pert bust look a bit, er, southern 😯

4. I went the extra mile by making the dress fully lined (the pattern has lining for the skirt only).

The fabric, by the way, is extra fine Italian needlecord from Fabric House, one of my favourite shops on Goldhawk Road.  The plaid bias binding used for the piping and inside the cuffs came from MacCulloch & Wallis but you can get it anywhere.

Achtung!  Achtung

a) Beware that the neckline, though high, is very wide.   This might not suit you if you like to keep bra straps hidden (or if your neck muscles are a bit strong…).

b) The sizing for the dress is way over (so go by garment measurements) but perplexingly, the size of the lining isn’t.  Measure carefully before cutting because when the lining is tighter than the skirt, it will quickly rip!

Overall, I love the Burda 7494 and it was worthwhile sweating it out drafting the add-on sleeves as I now have a warm day dress for when I want to blend into the general winter gloomth.  This picture was taken a moment after the first one, after a cloud settled over the sun.  See?  Boring….There's no food in that hand, stupid woman

Nicotine Surprise

For a while now, I’ve wondered how to create one of those pleated necklines so often seen on Ready-To-Wear tops and dresses like this.  Were the pleats a part of the pattern?  Could I pleat the fabric first and place the basic block on top afterwards (er, no…)?  Where would I place the pleats and how wide should they be? 

My questions were answered by my pattern-cutting tutor who showed me how to adapt my bodice block into a pattern for a wide-necked, pleated top that would need no zips or closures.  I sewed the top impatiently one weekend afternoon, desperate to see how it would turn out but not holding out much hope for making a wearable garment.  No money was spent: the thread had been a giveaway and the green bias tape was a remnant so old that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thrown it away!  The fabric – a beautifully printed Alexander Henry poplin – was also a freebie.  I doubted that I’d ever be able to create a wearable garment out of it, on account of its strange background colour which I can only describe as Nicotine!  So, imagine my surprise when this first draft, my glorified calico, turned out to be quite graceful and a real pleasure to wear.    

My Nicotine Surprise is not without its faults.  The poplin is too stiff to show off the design to any advantage.  The pleats point downwards towards the bust point whereas ideally they should radiate out like sun rays from a circular neck.  Also, the next time I make this top, I’ll place the neckline on the bottoms of the pleat stitching, so that their construction is entirely hidden in the seam allowance. 

All I need is a trip to Goldhawk Road for the right fabric and lots of tracing papers to show you guys how to do it too!

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.