Ottobre bicycle PJ bottoms


After my Sallie jumpsuit earlier this month, I had the overlocker all set up, so I thought I’d whip up a speedy stashbusting make for my son. He’s growing so quickly at the moment that he seems to need something new almost every month. (No, I do not make it all!)

As I’d hoped, there was plenty of the bicycle print jersey left over from his coat lining and T-shirt, so I chopped into this again to make some pyjama bottoms. I used the same rainbow-striped ribbing from the T-shirt to make the cuffs.

The pattern is from Ottobre magazine, issue 6/2015, and it’s graded easy, so it’s a nice straightforward make for a beginner. Plus there are only two pattern pieces so there’s not too much tedious tracing either.

I used my overlocker to sew it up, switching to my sewing machine just for the waistband casing, and to topstitch the cuff/leg joins.

The trickiest part is stretching the ribbing as you join it to the leg pieces. This ribbing didn’t stretch very much, and my overlocker didn’t enjoy starting at the edge of the seam and chewed it. Next time, I would definitely follow May Martin’s advice and start stitching on a scrap, feeding the garment through once the machine has got going.

Overall, it’s a lovely simple make that doesn’t use much material. I’ve still got plenty of both fabrics left, so hopefully there’ll be a matching top in the offing soon…




The long and the short of it


No, there hasn’t been a terrible CSI incident in my sewing room.

The book that went along with series 2 of Great British Sewing Bee has a curious suggestion to help with fitting. The idea is to look at the different proportions of your body to find out where you’ll need to lengthen or shorten a pattern to fit you. I thought I’d give it a go so you don’t have to.

You will need:

  • An empty piece of wall
  • A large sheet of paper that’s as big as you (several pieces taped together would also do the job)
  • Masking tape or Blu-tack
  • A plumb line, or something else you can use to get a vertical line
  • A felt-tip pen
  • A spirit level
  • A friend to help you

Start by taping or sticking the paper to the wall just above head height. Use a plumb-line or a weight on a string (I used my fabric scissors tied onto a length of yarn) to draw a vertical line down the paper.

Wearing close-fitting clothing (or ideally just your underwear if you’re not planning on taking pictures to share with the world!), and in bare feet, stand with your back against the paper, positioning the vertical line directly behind the centre of your body.

Get your helper to draw around you, creating that essential murder-scene style outline.

Mark the following points with dots or crosses: the top of your head, either side of the base of your neck, the end point of each shoulder, both armpits, either side of your waist, each side of your hip, and your knee line.

Then use the spirit level to draw  horizontal line in each of those places.

Finally, take the paper down from the wall and cut along the line you marked across the top of your head. Fold the paper in half lengthways and make a crease at the fold. Then fold it in half lengthways again and crease the fold.

Unfold the paper, and you should have an outline of your body that’s been folded into quarters lengthways. You’re going to compare the fold lines with the lines you drew earlier.


In a standard figure, the book says, the first quarter would be head-armpit, the second armpit-hips, the third hips-knees and the fourth knees-toes.

I marked the crease lines on mine in blue, and comparing them with the red lines you can see they’re pretty close, meaning that I’m not especially long in one area or another. But I am at least 4″ taller than Ms Average, so I know I’ll need to lengthen each area of a pattern an inch or so to get it to fit.

(The comparison also shows up my lop-sidedness. My left leg and pelvis are larger than the right-hand side, and this causes a corresponding slope in my shoulders.)

Overall, this isn’t a massively accurate way to take your measurements for fitting, because it only compares proportions rather than absolute numbers. That said, it’s quite fun, and you do get a life-sized drawing of yourself to cut out and keep.

Would you try this at home? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

IMG_1202 (1)

The horse chestnut trees are just beginning to go golden here in leafy Malvern, and my thoughts are meandering in the direction of coats.

If you’re thinking of making a coat for the first time, I’d encourage you to go for it. Yes, you’ll spend a fortune on fabric. Yes it’ll take a lot longer than a skirt. But you’ll end up with something you could potentially wear every day of the winter for years and years. Plus people are always amazed that you made something as difficult as a coat. I’ve made four so far – one for me (unblogged), and three versions of the same Oliver + S Schooldays Jacket pattern for my son.

Here’s my edit of the five coat patterns I’d love to try this year. (OK, realistically I’ll probably only manage one…)

Top to bottom, left to right, they are:

  1. V8875, a vintage Vogue dress coat pattern. This fit and flare design has a detachable shawl collar and a tie belt. If I had a wedding to go to over the winter, this would be my go-to pattern. It also formed part of this year’s Great British Vintage Sewalong. I know some sewists have made the dress, but I’ve yet to see anyone make the matching coat. If you’ve seen one in the wild, let me know – I’d love to see how it turned out.
  2. Lisette for Butterick B6169. I need a moto jacket in my life, definitely. It goes with jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses, and gives you that nonchalant I-haven’t-tried-too-hard vibe that’s the perfect urban antidote to a dress. The recommended fabrics for this are linen and twill, so this pattern would be a good introduction to this style before working up to a full-on leather version.
  3. Another Liesl Gibson/Butterick collaboration, B6385 is the kind of wool coat I used to wear every day when I had an office job. Wouldn’t this look fabulous in claret or burgundy? Or pretty much any colour that’s named after a wine…? With three different collar options, and four cup sizes included in the pattern, there’s a coat for you here.
  4. Burda 6772 would take you from early autumn into winter. A slimmed-down version of the classic trenchcoat, this would sew up well in gabardine if you’re going for a Burberry copycat. Or you could use a heavyweight poplin or a jacquard to create a coat-dress. Critically, this pattern is single-breasted, so those of us above a C-cup can avoid the ‘matronly’ effect that a double-breasted trench can create.
  5. Lastly, I’m still in love with the gorgeous vintage yellow coat that Tamara made in series two of the Great British Sewing Bee. I’ve never managed to find out which vintage pattern she used, but it’s been reproduced in the book that accompanied the second series. There are some fantastic 1960s details in this pattern, like the shoulder and elbow darts – features that just aren’t found in most modern patterns. It’s not a simple project, but it would be a terrific addition to any winter wardrobe. Whether you choose to make it in yellow or not is up to you.

Are you planning to stitch a coat or a cape this autumn? And which patterns are you eyeing up?

A sea-green Sallie jumpsuit


P1120963I’ve been feeling the need for both more glamour and more comfort in my wardrobe lately, so my latest make should provide a bit of both.

I’ve succumbed to the jumpsuit trend (despite swearing I wouldn’t two summers ago) and I’ll admit that all the things other people have said about them are true. Secret pyjamas? Check. Potential for dressing up? Check. Lazy afternoon in the park? Check.

P1120960The pattern

After deciding I needed a jumpsuit in my life, there was only one indie pattern in the running: Sallie by Closet Case Patterns. (For a Big 4 version, V9116 also looks promising.) I love the wide-legged trousers, and the way this style combines slouchy Sunday afternoon insouciance with the potential for 1970s-style Saturday night glamour. Can it be worn during the week, do you think?

There was some initial headscratching during the cutting out process. The front and back pattern pieces for the kimono tee top are identical, and I couldn’t work out if this would leave enough room up front so I made a top-half toile. It turns out there was enough room for me, but it’ll depend on your FBA size and the stretch percentage of your fabric.

I love the look, and the shape. And there are some tempting hack opportunities. If I were being picky, I’d request a few more notches, and some more detail in parts of the instructions would have made construction easier for me.

P1120952The fabric

It’s a beautiful deep sea green midweight cotton jersey with some spandex content from Fabrics Galore, bought back in the spring at an NEC sewing event. With just enough stretch, it has the structure I wanted through the bottom half, and it wasn’t too much of a pain to cut out.

P1120965The fit

I started with a size 14 on top and graded out to a 16 below the waist. The identical front and back pieces mean it does have to stretch at the front so there’s some spare fabric at the back and if I were making another one, I’d probably do a small sway back adjustment.

I lengthened the bodice by 1″ and the crotch length by 2″ to ensure that the waist seam ended up on the waist.

If you have a waist, I think you have to get this spot on, or at least very close for it to be wearable. If you’re not sure whether you’ve got enough length, add plenty of length in both these places, and tack/baste both the stitching for the casing and the waist seam to begin with so you can remove any extra length after a try-on. Remember that the weight of the trousers will pull on the top,  stretching it downwards.

P1120955The process

Although this is a fairly straightforward project, and could be attempted by anyone who’s made one knit garment before, there are one or two places where things get tricky, and I made a few mistakes along the way.

I’d really recommend labelling your front, back, front lining and back lining pieces clearly, especially if it’s hard to tell the right and wrong sides of your fabric apart.

If you’re making the kimono tee version, use your regular machine rather than your overlocker to stitch the side seams on the top. You have to stop/start exactly at the circle mark to get the underarm seams neat.

And if you’re a pear-shape grading up a size on the bottom, remember that you’ll have to get the neck opening over your hips to get in and out, so it’s best not to narrow the shoulders too much – the neck tie will stop it falling off your shoulders.

P1120959In the end

This is a project that’s divided the Wardrobe household. I love it. But Mr Wardrobe hates it. He looked distinctly worried when I said I might wear it for our next night out together.

So where do you stand on jumpsuits? Throwback, fad, or comfy chic?

And apart from wedges, what shoes would you pair with this for a more casual look?

Update: I’ve joined Allie J’s social sew for August, and included this as my ‘hot, hot heat’ make. The social sew is open until the end of the month, so if you’re sewing some warm weather gear, join us.


In progress: a jade Sallie jumpsuit


I’ve given in. I need a jumpsuit in my life.

After admiring the way other people have pulled off jumpsuits during the past year, (I’m looking at you, Begonia Sews, Crafting a Rainbow and House of Pinheiro), I’ve cracked and decided to have a go myself. I’m using the Closet Case Patterns Sallie, view A, with the v-neck top and trousers.

V-neck tops and wide leg trousers are a staple of my evening wardrobe already, so I’m hoping they’ll still work if they just happen to be sewn together at the waist.

I’m using this gorgeous deep sea green jersey I bought from Fabrics Galore at Sewing for Pleasure. It’s a medium weight with a small spandex content so it recovers well, and in another life it would be perfect for a man’s T-shirt. I wanted something that wasn’t super-lightweight for this project so I wouldn’t have to deal with VPL!

I love love LOVE this colour, and I’m hoping it’s dark enough to exude a mysterious sophistication, rather than just turning me into a disco version of the Incredible Hulk.

We’ll find out soon…P1120922

Fairfield shirt toile – number 1

Two blue striped and checked shirts laid one on top of the other to compare size

After the epic woman v fabric battle that has been constructing two pairs of blackout curtains (30m of fabric, small cutting table), it was time to get back to making something a bit more manageable.

I haven’t done much unselfish sewing recently (unless you count the curtains) and I wanted to try making my first shirt. So I decided to combine the two and make a Thread Theory Fairfield shirt for Mr Wardrobe.

The Fairfield sewalong has really clear instructions for taking measurements so we measured him up and I began making a toile (muslin) from an old striped cotton bedsheet.

This pattern uses lots of enclosed flat-felled seams to give a neat finish on the inside of the garment and these were new to me, so I spent some time working out how to do them accurately. As suggested in the sewalong, I didn’t bother with interfacing, buttonholes, the second collar stand or the second yoke piece for a toile, and I didn’t even attach the second cuff.

I’d been feeling fairly confident about taking on a shirt until I watched the final of The Great British Sewing Bee – where the contestants made a man’s dress shirt for their final pattern challenge. Luckily this one doesn’t include six rows of pintucks, although the tower placket isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around if you’ve never sewn one before. The sewalong is really clear, so I’d recommend this pattern to any non-beginner sewist wanting to attempt their first shirt.

I sewed up a size M, which matched Mr Wardrobe’s measurements, but when he tried the toile on, it wouldn’t meet across his chest! In fact, it came up a whole size too small. So I initially suspected I’d made a mistake with the measurements.

Having compared it with one of his favourite RTW shirts, I think I’ve worked out why it was too small.

As you can see here, the toile is probably around 1/2″ narrower at the underarm seams, typically the widest point of a man’s shirt – and the place you would take a chest measurement to determine the pattern size.

Mr Wardrobe’s widest point (in blue marker pen) is 1/2″ higher up this, in a spot where it’s almost impossible to measure the circumference. And when you look at the shoulder seams, they’re significantly narrower on the toile than on his favourite RTW shirt, making the whole upper chest area roughly a size smaller.

So I’m going to need to make a second toile, in a size L. Judging by the first one, I think there are going to be some other adjustments to make at that point (shortening the shoulder seam, shortening the sleeves, narrowing the waist and potentially a forward shoulder adjustment as well), but I’ll have to wait and see about those.

Having fallen in love with the fabric Morgan used for one of the promotional images (the casual version in these pictures), I’ve been hunting for something similar for sale in the UK. Draper’s Daughter probably has the loveliest selection of linen and chambray shirtings I’ve seen online so far, but if you can recommend some other options, I’d love to take a look.

And I hope to have a better-fitting version to show you – on the model this time – later in the summer!

Updated sewing shop map

Great Malvern isn't exactly thronging with fabric shops.

Even though I usually shop online these days, fabric is my exception. I prefer to buy it in person, where I can touch and manipulate potential purchases to see how they drape, how they feel and how they handle.

Because unlike a pair of shoes you buy online, once your fabric’s been cut you can’t return it.

To help sewists find the materials they need, I’d like to build up a sewing shop map, listing as many tried and tested UK brick and mortar fabric shops as possible, complete with info on the kinds of things they stock. So I’ve made a start.

So you know what it’s like to actually visit each shop, I’ve decided only to list shops I’ve visited. To be listed, the shop must sell items or services that dressmakers would use such as fabric, patterns, notions, tools, workshops or sewing machine repair.

I always enjoy visiting new fabric shops, but I’m unlikely to be able to cover the whole country. (I do have a job, after all.) So if you’d like to contribute a shop or two that you love to visit, let me know in the comments and I can elevate you to contributor status!

Ultimately, I’d like this map to connect people to a great sewing shop near where they live, or in an unfamiliar town they’re going to visit.

May Martin’s sewing tips from the Simplicity Blog Meetup

May Martin holding a length of purple jersey fabric.

In May, I went along to a blog meetup organised by the Simplicity pattern company. Guest of honour was May Martin, who held a kind of sewing masterclass slash Q&A. May’s very different in real life from her GBSB persona – I found her much chattier and less serious than I’d expected. Perhaps that was because we weren’t being judged!

She was full of useful tips and advice for us, and we quizzed her about the best way to do this, that and everything.

Having finally tracked down my notebook from the day, I thought I’d share some of the tips she gave us. There were dozens and dozens, so I’ve jotted down the ones that were new to me, or that I thought you might be interested in.

Sewing with stretch fabrics

Most of us know that we should use a different machine sewing needle for knits, but I hadn’t realised that stretch needles and ballpoint needles aren’t one and the same. May recommended stretch needles for sewing spandex and lycra, and ballpoint needles for jersey fabrics.

If you sew knits on an overlocker, May says that fine needles will give good results on knit fabrics. You don’t have to switch your overlocker to ballpoint needles. Phew.

If you find your knit fabric is getting sucked into the feed dogs on your sewing machine at the start of a seam, you can try using a washaway or tear-away stabiliser (like stitch and tear). Or you can start sewing your seam on a scrap, start sewing and then feed your garment seam through the machine once you’ve got going.

Curved edges and enclosed seams

If you’ve got a critical curved seam to sew, this can be scary because it’s naturally unstable. Instead of cutting out the curved pieces and then sewing them together, try doing it the other way around: draw the curved seamline onto the uncut fabric, stitch it and then cut it out.

Pattern instructions usually tell you to notch enclosed concave curves after stitching, and before turning them inside out. This is tricky to do, and won’t always give you a nice even curve on a scalloped edge, for example. Instead, try using a shorter stitch length, then trim and grade the seam allowance but don’t bother notching them. If you think it still needs notching, use pinking shears to avoid a lumpy curve when you turn it inside out.

Ironing and interfacing

May’s a big believer in interfacing. If you don’t have the right weight of interfacing in your stash, you can always apply two layers of a lighterweight interfacing that add up to the weight you need. This is also useful if you’re not certain what weight to use – you can build it up a bit at a time.

And my favourite tip of the day – especially since I lunched my ironing board cover with some interfacing earlier in the year – put a layer of oven liner on your ironing board before applying fusibles like interfacing. This will stop you getting sticky glue all over your ironing board cover, and once it’s dried you can simply scratch it off the oven liner so it’s ready to use again next time.

If you’d like to have May Martin in your sewing room, then she has a book out. Or you can sign up for one of her classes in Oxfordshire.

Big thanks to Hannah at Simplicity’s marketing agency for organising the event, and for laying on so much cake for us all!

Sewing pet hates

Sewing machine feet arranged in a circle.

I love sewing. But I can’t pretend I enjoy every single minute of it. There are a handful of tasks that I put off…dodge or duck. I’m curious to find out who else has the same nemeses as me and if there’s anyone out that there actually enjoys these things.

‘1. Putting a zip into the back of a lined dress.

My sewing brain can’t seem to work out how to get an unwrinkled, unpuckered seam when sewing two different fabrics. And somehow I always feel as though I’m fudging that bit at the bottom of the zip.

‘2. Curtains

I don’t have any new makes to show you at the moment, because I’ve spent the last three weeks making lined curtains. Grappling with 30m of fabric in huge pieces and stitching mile-long seams has not been fun in any shape or form.

‘3. Finishing off anything with corners

Mitred corners, corners where linings meet jackets, sharp corners that need turning out. I sneakily dread all of these because this seems to be the spot where all your tiny inaccuracies are compounded into one giant squelchy mish-mash that will haunt your garment forever. Pattern instructions never cover off what to do when this happens, do they?

‘4. Folding knits for cutting

Until I get my dream cutting table (for which I definitely need a larger house…) I won’t be cutting anything except childrenswear in just one layer. Wovens usually fold along the grainline fairly easily, but I can spend hours wrestling with a slinky jersey trying to fold it neatly and evenly along the grain.

What are your least favourite sewing tasks, and do you tackle them head on, or try to find a way around them?


Transferring pattern markings – three options but no clear winner

Or you could try adding in a bit extra manually, and marking it on your toile.

Did you watch the first series of the Great British Sewing Bee? I lapped it up – it’s one of the things that inspired me to get on and start writing this blog. One of my clearest memories of the show is watching Ann, the eventual winner, calmly doing tailor’s tacks during a typically tight-for-time challenge.

Why use tailor’s tacks?

A tailor’s tack is just one way to transfer markings from a pattern to your fabric. In its favour it’s accurate (since you mark the fabric before you remove the pattern piece), and done thoroughly it’s quite hard to dislodge. On the down side, if you then stitch that marking into a seam you might struggle to remove your brightly coloured marking thread.

Alternatives to tailor’s tacks

You can use a tracing wheel and special coloured carbon paper. Again, it’s accurate, because you don’t have to remove the pattern piece to get the carbon paper in the right spot, and it’s quick. If you use a serrated wheel, you will damage the paper pattern slightly. But the biggest disadvantage for me is that I just can’t get it to work on most of the medium and heavier weight clothing fabrics I use. Tartan cotton flannel, shocking pink boiled wool, brown linen – none of these fabrics have accepted a carbon paper marking. I love the idea of this method, but I’m starting to suspect I’m doing something wrong…

Or you can grapple with pins and chalk/pens, poking a pin through the marking on the pattern and then lifting up the pattern to mark the fabric at the right spot. Not that easy unless you have three hands, especially not if the marking is in the middle of a large pattern piece. I’ll admit I’ve done it sometimes, but I think it’s prone to distortion because you can’t get all the way around the pin this way.

What’s your favourite method? Do you even transfer all the markings, or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your only partially-marked pants?