new neckline, new sleeves

Two posts in one day – you lucky readers! Way back in August, when I was waxing lyrical about my new sewing light (still fab by the way) I showed a top (smaller image below) I’d made from leftover ponte de roma fabric. I subsequently didn’t like the neckline much. Turtles and tortoises came to mind each time I tried it on so I restyled the neckline to lie flatter with an additional button detail. No piccies of that I’m afraid and not long after I did that, I decided I’d change the neckline again. I’m a woman, go figure.

This is the third and final change – Tee shirt fabric of a lighter weight than the ponte was used for the sleeve cuffs and neck binding with top stitching at raglan seams etc in matching pink thread. The upper sleeves were also re-shaped to give a better fit. I’ve worn it a few times and I’m happy with it. It might seem from the image that one sleeve is shorter than the other but I assure you they are both the same length and the hem is level all round too!pull on top


dress to top #2

Yet another charity shop dress bought recently. I wanted at least three-quarter length sleeves if possible but with only cap sleeves and an un-generous amount of skirt to work with, I had a real challenge on my hands. How did I miss those cap sleeves when I was buying this? Any fabric left after cutting the dress to an acceptable length for a top would be used to cut new sleeves, no matter what length they turned out to be. I unpicked the existing cap sleeves from the bodice and used them to draft a pattern for the new sleeves, knowing that they would then fit the original armholes. I don’t like myself in close fitting wrap-fronts so I inserted a centre panel and gave the front neckline a little detail using the original neck-edge binding opened flat. The centre panel sits cross-wise to the main bodice and I had to add extra fabric pieces to the bottom edge but the pattern helps to camouflage it and the neck detail hopefully takes the eye upwards. It’s not a brilliant top but it’s wearable and it was another excellent exercise in sewing with knit fabrics. I even enjoyed finding the best way to unravel yards of overlocked seams and bindings in one go. Well, two goes at least.




refashion lessons learned

This blue top was made from a finer knit fabric than the wrap dress in the previous post. At first I planned to reduce the waterfall effect of the original cardigan, shorten the length to remove the points, and reduce the width at the shoulders. Well, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious… soooo I removed the set-in sleeves, trimmed the shoulders, took in the side seams to adjust for the now widened arm scye and re-cut the sleeves to fit but it didn’t work out too well. The shoulders and sleeves were fine but now it was a little less roomy across the back – I had forgotten to consider that altering the shoulder width and reshaping the arm scye would also narrow the width of the back. I then convinced myself that it would still be wearable if I wore slinky sleeveless vests underneath so I went ahead and pinned and basted my proposed refashioning for the hem and front edges. Unfortunately it now looked Very Boring Indeed instead of just Slightly Dated But With Possibilities. Another top was beginning to look like a better option and this time, if the refashioning failed, it had only cost me £4, several hours of dithering, and some lessons learned the hard way.

To hang on to what was left of my sanity a little longer, I unpicked every single seam whilst semi-watching three episodes of Suits, at the end of which a raglan sleeve top was climbing rapidly to the top of the possibles list. I found excellent instructions from Autumn on how to draft a raglan sleeve from a standard tee shirt and downloaded her breezy tee pattern to work from. Thanks to Autumn, the raglan sleeves ended up being the easiest part of this refashion project. A godet inserted into each side seam addressed the problem of the front and back pieces being slightly narrower than desired due to the limited fabric available. I couldn’t add any length to the body which is a little shorter than I’d like but it’s still a decent length. I increased the sleeves length by adding a band of scrap fabric cut cross-wise and then added a cuff for visual interest and even more length. The cuffs and neck facing were cuttings from the hem of another knit fabric dress I had shortened previously. The photo shows my third (and best) neck facing thanks to Sarai Mitnick’s Colette patterns blog, where I found brilliant instructions on various methods for attaching neck bindings.






refashioning clothes

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy with patterns and fabric and refashioning charity shop finds. I thought that it was time to expand my limited skills when it came to sewing knit fabrics and a larger size wrap dress in a charity shop was an excellent candidate for practising on. If the end result was less than perfect or totally useless, I had only spent £6. I used the Retro Jersey Top pattern from the September issue of  Make It Today! Dressmaker magazine but altered the pattern by raising the front neckline a little, omitting the centre-front inverted pleat, giving the side seams a little flare, and stitching the neck facing on the inside. I don’t own an overlocker so I tested various stitches on fabric scraps before settling for the standard knit stitch on my Janome and then trimming the excess fabric with scissors. The knit stitch is a pain to unpick and there’s really no need for you to ask how I know that. My new top is very comfortable to wear and has a nice drape to it and whilst wearing a bold patterned fabric like this is well out of my comfort zone I didn’t get odd looks from anyone when I wore it in public so that’s a win as far as I’m concerned!








jacket re-styled

I bought this jacket a couple of years ago but have only worn it twice and the reason for that is that deep down I knew I was swamped by the waterfall collar. In my recently re-discovered dressmaking mode I realised I had nothing to lose by attempting to make it more wearable. To begin with I narrowed the collar all the way to the hem but it kept flipping outwards, probably because the edge was curved at the point where the collar joined it so I unpicked the collar stitching from the hem to about half-way up the front and changed the shape of the bottom edge from curved to straight but the collar still wanted to flip out. The solution was to shorten the collar and I like it better that way. I also took in the side seams by a couple of inches which helped the drape and those diagonal wrinkles only appear when it’s on the dress form. If I don’t get any of those ‘did-she-look-in-the-mirror-before-she-left-the-house?’ looks from passersby when I wear it outdoors, I’ll know that the re-styling’s been a success (or at least acceptable).

Trouser update:-

I’ve all but given up on the McCalls trouser pattern and after reading lots more about making trousers I have come to this conclusion: 99% of women wear trousers that do not fit properly, particularly trousers of the RTW variety. Even tailors and seamstresses tell us that trousers are difficult to fit. It’s easier to fit a muslin (of any kind) if you have a friend. A husband should not be considered as a friend for this particular role unless they also happen to sew. In my decades of dressmaking up until this summer, I can only remember making two pairs of trousers for myself and those had very wide legs (stylish at the time!) and a close fit wasn’t required.  In my continuing determination to make a custom trouser pattern that fits, yesterday I ordered the Pants Kit from Sure-Fit Designs. I’ve watched their videos and visited the website on and off for months as well as reading some great reviews on various blogs that have no affiliation to the company, so I thought I’d give it a go. The company has a UK/Ireland rep now so there’s no import duty or taxes to consider and it’s due to arrive tomorrow after only ordering it yesterday. I had to think twice before parting with the money but if it does what it claims to be able to do I’ll have considered the money well spent. I’ll keep you informed…

denim jacket

trousers anyone?

Or pants if you’re from the other side of the pond but whatever you call them, they’re giving me grief at the moment. In a previous post I said that a pair I had recently made only needed hemming but when I put them on to mark the hem, something niggled about the fit so I took them apart, checked the fabric pieces against the pattern and decided that I’d sewn them with the backs as the fronts. I cut new back pieces and began again. I did several more test fits and made a few adjustments and after stitching them properly to completion, tried them on to mark the hem and thought that the fit was no better than when I had sewn them back to front! Arrrgh! I cannot explain this. It is beyond my understanding. The fabric obviously has a life of its own and does not care to be wrapped around me. I am however not yet defeated.

Enter McCalls trouser pattern M6901 from their Fashion That Fits range to the rescue! I’d seen one of their tissue-fit methods demo’d in a You Tube video and with 8 sides of printed instructions in the packet how can I go wrong? I know, easily. Anyone tried one of these pattern types? Any success?

Between sewing and ripping out, I’ve been dipping in and out of three volumes of The Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier books, formerly owned by a tailor which were given to me last week. My copies are the ‘new and revised edition’ which I think was published in 1949. One thing I keep noticing in the books is how the trouser back crotch seam is more acutely angled than the front crotch. This is illustrated quite well in the image below which shows a pattern for military overalls (trousers to us) which according to the book are “worn with full dress uniform for parade purposes  … the waist and seat must not show any surplus material … sitting room is of no great importance, the chief essential being an elegant and smooth effect when standing”.   Perhaps this is the pattern I ought to be using! Along with the books, I was given the wooden L square you can also see in the image. I’m not sure I’ll be using it to make test patterns in quarter or third sizes which I believe is its primary function but it’s already come in handy for marking long perpendicular lines.

tailor's books

dressmaking with light

I have been busy sewing and the first thing I made was up-to-date pattern blocks. Those took ages as it’s difficult to fit the body block easily without the assistance of someone else who sews but after much trying on and marking and re-marking I’ve got new basic blocks that I can use. I also looked through my various books and the trusty internet for help when I got stuck.

The first actual wearable item I subsequently made was trousers with an elasticated waistband for keep-fit class which turned out well and are a suitable weight for wearing all year round. Encouraged by those, I used the remaining fabric (ponte roma) to make a pull-on top which will be handy for keeping the chill off in the autumn/winter when I’m scruffing around the house. I based the design on a combination of a Guernsey fisherman’s top and a kimono-type sleeve and the amount of fabric available.

pull on top

Next I made a proper pair of trousers with a fly front (not shown). I had several yards of suiting-weight grey fabric bought years ago and reckoned that if the trousers didn’t turn out too well, I hadn’t lost much except a few hours of my time. They do fit me well but are still unhemmed as I’m undecided about whether to reduce the leg width a little more. Sewing with 100% matching thread meant that I could hardly see the seam when I needed to rip out some stitching. Luckily for me I had some birthday money to spend and bought a flexible sewing machine lamp (model DN1180) which was unexpectedly delivered within 24 hours. It’s fab! It has two sticky mounts so you can transfer the lamp for use with something else. I’m not being paid for this review but I would highly recommend this lamp to anyone whose machine lighting is not as good as they’d like. An alternative to the additional lamp is not to use matching thread – I watched a tailor explain on YouTube that it didn’t matter much what colour thread you used as it was on the inside and not seen. Fair point.

sewing lamp

I currently own nine books about pattern drafting, cutting, and fitting (you can just see them behind the sewing machine). The earliest was printed in 1951 and the most recent in 2003. The styles in most of them are now extremely old-fashioned but as ‘vintage’ is currently very popular does that make me up-to-date for a change? Fortunately the basic principles of drafting and fit remain the same so if you fancy dabbling in pattern drafting and come across an old book on the subject, don’t let the illustrations put you off.

I’ve enjoyed all of The Great British Sewing Bee and I’m currently watching a series of Project Runway USA but I’ve never understood how the contestants are able to pull off some of those outfits (particularly tailored ones) in such a short space of time. I’ve never considered myself slow at dressmaking but I would find it difficult to match them. Do they have assistance off-camera or is there some judicious time-editing going on or am I just jealous?





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