I’ve had this gorgeous solid heavy red wool crepe in my stash for over two years, but as the trees began to turn, it felt like the right moment to finally cut into it and make something bright to wear on dull autumn days.
I used New Look 6346 – a really simple flared skirt pattern with two basic variations and a contoured waistband. I opted for view D, with the plain front and an invisible zip at the centre back. I also considered the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern, but didn’t want the centre-front seam.
This pattern has so much hack potential – I’d like to try adding pockets or belt loops and a midi version would be great for work. On the down side, I think it comes up a bit large. I originally cut the size 18, based on my body measurements, but ended up downsizing to a 16 so that the skirt would sit neatly at the waist.
Because the heavy wool crepe fabric is a bit itchy, I opted to use a scrap of quilting cotton for the waistband facing, and also to add a contrasting lining. This tutorial helped me work out how to construct the skirt with the lining included.
And for a super-smart finish, I hand-stitched the skirt hem using a bias facing finish. There’s something about wool – I just can’t quite bring myself to machine the hems.
Looking at the results, I think I might end up removing some of the flare from the skirt in this heavy fabric – and I definitely need to put more thought into what to wear with it (long brown boots? chunky knitwear?). But to begin with, I’m just going to wear it around a bit and see how it feels.
My sister Alice got married last weekend, so this is what I wore to be one of her bridesmaids.
(I have a feeling that technically I was a matron of honour rather than a bridesmaid, but no one knows what that means, so I’m sticking with bridesmaid.)
Alice and her new wife, Kate, let us choose our own dresses. The only rules were that it had to be a dress, and it had to fit with the day’s blue/turquoise/silver colour palette. We don’t live close to each other so we each chose our own dresses and only saw the others’ dresses on the day. (If I can get one or two of the professional photos to share I’ll try to remember to add them here.)
I opted to make Sew Over It’s Betty dress, which probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s a simple darted bodice, with a slash neckline at the front and a V at the back. It fastens with an invisible zip up the centre back, and the neckline and armholes are finished with a combined facing. The pattern is fabric-hungry because it has a knee-length circle skirt.
In cotton, this pattern is a great first dress for a beginner sewist. There’s nothing very tricky in the construction, and the darted bodice is the one that most fitting tutorials use as an example. The instructions are pretty clear and there’s also an online sewalong.
What I really love about this dress is the possibilities it offers. Sew Over It have released an add-on pack, with a scoop-neckline variation and a set of sleeves. But you could also try drafting these at home, add a lining or attach this bodice to any skirt you please. There are so many great variations and hacks around to choose from.
First time out, I stuck with the suggested fabrics and chose a medium-weight cotton in this gorgeous swallow print from Guthrie & Ghani. I squeezed mine out of 4.3m, despite lengthening both the bodice and the skirt.
I made two toiles to get the fit right – you can read about those here. In the end I made the following alterations:
added 1″ to the bodice length just above the waist
added 1″ to the skirt length at the bottom
graded from size 12 at the shoulders to size 14 at the waist
did a 2″ FBA and moved the bust dart both up and back from the apex
removed a tiny 1/8″ from each outer shoulder as a sloping shoulder adjustment
1/2″ swayback adjustment at the back waist
removed a little vertical distance from the right side at the waist seam to allow for my shorter side
re-drew the facing pieces to mirror the changes to the bodice.
If I were making it again, I’d also tweak the fit at the back a little – possibly a narrow back adjustment or taking larger back darts. And I’d increase the sloping shoulder adjustment on my right.
If you need to alter the bodice of this dress to make it fit you, the pattern doesn’t help you much. There are no lengthen/shorten lines marked, and nor are the bust apex or the natural waistline. Not deal breakers, and one or two tutorials are on the SOI website, but a similar Big 4 pattern would include these markings.
The instructions tell you to staystitch the back neckline, but I’d suggest you also do this to the front neckline and the facing.
If you can sew an invisible zip, you can make this dress. The trickiest part is the facing, which doesn’t feel intuitive the first time you try it, but does (honestly) work in the end. If you’re struggling with the SOI instructions, you could try reading this Threads tutorial, which also helped me to get my head around it.
I made two small changes to the inside. I finished most of my seam allowances on the overlocker, but for the facing, I used some pink bias binding I had lurking around. You’ll need to make sure that your bias is really lightweight so it doesn’t add bulk, but it adds a nice contrast in a place where you’ll see it every time you put the dress on.
Secondly, I decided to overlock and then hand catchstitch the hem rather than turning it up twice and machine stitching it as the instructions recommend. I’ve had problems in the past machine stitching curved hems – they tend to creep sideways on me, creating diagonal wrinkles in the hem. A machined blind hem would also work well in a medium-weight cotton like this, especially if you tack it in place first.
I gathered the excess fabric in the hem curve using my overlocker. I don’t have a special gathering foot for it; I just fiddled with the differential feed setting, practising on scraps until it produced the right degree of curve. I used this to finish the edge and gather (just ever-so-slightly) in one, then pressed it up with plenty of steam ready to stitch. The handstitching was a pain (did I mention this is a humungous circle skirt?), but I do think it gives a nicer finish, and I had some TV to catch up on…
The wedding went off without a hitch – apart from the actual hitch, of course.
It’s a free pattern, and great for using up any too-big-to-throw-away-but-not-all-that-useful-really scraps of cotton fabric you have left over – it’s ideal for all those fabulous printed quilting cottons, too. I chose leftovers from the lining of a Schooldays Jacket and my husband’s Fairfield shirt. This gives the hat a sensible side and a silly side – something that seems to run in our family… and anything reversible is automatically exciting to a preschooler.
The instructions are good for a free pattern, and anyone except an absolute beginner could zip through this fairly easily. The only disappointing thing is the sizing – my son is four, and I sewed the largest size, but it’s only just big enough for him. Admittedly, his RTW sunhat is labelled age 7-10, but I’d love it if this pattern would cover him for a bit longer. There are only three pattern pieces, so I might possibly venture into grading if I can find a good tutorial online.
You could have all sorts of fun with this pattern, playing around with trims, colour blocking, piping and so on – there are some great examples on the Oliver and S blog (follow the links at the bottom of the tutorial page). Go, on make a whole stack of them for your favourite small person.
I love the idea of this pattern, but I can’t quite get it working for me.
My first one was a bit tight across the chest and the arms, and this one (a large rather than a medium) is just a bit, well, meh. It’s not sweatshirty enough for slobbing around or smart enough for going out.
I used the leftover fabric from the first to try this second version and I had just enough to squeeze out the 3/4 length sleeved version.
Fit-wise, this one is much looser overall, but I’m now getting that tell-tale extra fabric just above the armpits (front and back) that reveals it’s too large at the upper bust.
It’s a bit big in the back and it doesn’t really nip in at the waist.
Plus the 3/4 length sleeves have come out more like 5/8, even though I added the same amount of length to these as I added to the full-length ones before – and those were way too long. (Why? Do I have oddly long upper arms and weirdly short forearms?!)
I’ve learnt some useful things: I do need an FBA, even in a C-cup pattern line like Colette/Seamwork. I should go back to the size M and add the extra room at the bust and on the arms. And I think it would be less meh –and more me – in a sweater knit or a ponte knit – I’m thinking a marled grey or a berry colour?
What do you think?
Can you recommend a great tutorial for an FBA on knits, and what’s the best EU-based online shop for sweater knits?
My little boy LIVES in T-shirts. He doesn’t have to wear a uniform for pre-school, so he puts on a t-shirt pretty much every day. Although he’s not quite four, he wears age 5-6 clothes so he’s grown out of some of the really fun prints and appliques you find for toddlers.
And although t-shirts can be found pretty cheaply on the high street, it’s really hard to find t-shirts for boys his size that feature something other than dinosaurs, sharks, superheroes, stereotyped messages, camouflage or vehicles. And in our house, we’re sick of all of those. For a pretentiously middle-class t-shirt that doesn’t feature any of these, the going rate seems to be £15 and up.
In my head, I think I should be the sort of mother who can easily whip up a batch of neatly made t-shirts with a custom fit in a selection of fun fabrics. It doesn’t seem to be that easy, but here’s my latest attempt.
This time I tried a dropped-shoulder, long-sleeved t-shirt pattern from Ottobre Kids issue 2015/1 on the site. My little boy has narrow shoulders and I wanted to see how a dropped-shoulder style would look on him.
I cut the pattern with no alterations to see how it would fit straight out of the envelope, and it turned out oddly long in the arms, so I think the shoulder was too wide still. It’s a little large on him, but the weirdest thing is that the neckline turned out a lot wider than you would usually get on a boys’ t-shirt. (Are Finnish children oddly broad in the shoulders with thick necks?) So I won’t use this pattern again for George.
The downside of using 100% cotton, of course, is that without some spandex content, the fabric doesn’t have great recovery. I did know this, but I got distracted by the lovely print and forgot. It’s also printed just ever so slightly off-grain – aaargh! Not a lot, but when I thread-traced down the grainline it definitely shifted across the print by around 1cm over 1m. Disappointing, at £19/m.
Sewing it up
I cut the pieces so there would be a complete line of pencils along the hem, and along the sleeve hems, and then sewed it up on the overlocker. As with the last Ottobre T-shirt I made, I ran into trouble with the binding. I’d love to know what I’m doing wrong here, but the pieces didn’t seem wide enough to do the job properly, and when I stretched both fabrics to sew it on as per the instructions, the cotton jersey didn’t recover and I ended up with a sort of lettuce edge on the neckline and both cuffs…
The sleeves were too long anyway, so I cut the binding off and just did a simple folded hem instead. (Well. I say simple, but the cuffs were too narrow to go around the 12″ circumference free arm on my machine, so I had to negotiate sewing them from the inside while stabbing myself with all the pins…)
To get the neckline back into shape, I ripped out the binding and switched it to a band instead. Then I washed and steamed the shirt furiously with the iron to get it to shrink back again. It seems to have worked, at least for now.
George loves the print and he’s got it on today, so I hope it’ll be popular.
Have you made t-shirts for your children? What fabrics and patterns would you recommend? And where can I source fun t-shirt prints that have enough stretch and enough recovery?
The only one I found was this Burda PDF pattern, which was reduced (so possibly soon to be discontinued?) It’s labelled as for boys, but obviously it would work for girls if you swapped the buttons to the opposite side. The sizing covers roughly ages 3-8. These had exactly the look I was going for, and as it was a PDF I could get started straight away. Hurrah.
I was slightly worried when I opened the PDF file and discovered there were no diagrams at all in the instructions. Never mind, I thought gaily, it’ll be fine – I’ve sewed lots of Big 4 patterns and I can probably use the Carolyn sewalong to help with the tricky bits.
I set to printing, cutting, sticking, tracing and re-tracing the pattern and adding seam allowances (yes, it’s one of those…). I used the same quilting cotton fabric as for the bottoms. Sadly, it’s not printed straight on the grain so I had some awkward choices about whether to go with the grain or the pattern in places and not everything matches up neatly. I made a batch of bright red piping to pick out one of the colours in the fabric and I love how cheerful it makes them.
When it came to sewing them up, these are the MOST minimalist instructions I’ve ever worked with.
“Set in sleeves.”
The pattern doesn’t tell you what to interface, or what diameter of piping to use, and it doesn’t even mention notching, clipping or staystitching – each of which is critical to getting the collar sewn on.
But where I really ran into trouble was where the piped, notched collar meets the lapel. On reflection, my piping cord was too thick. Then I carelessly missed off one of the pattern markings, leading to me cutting some of the piping too short and having to piece it. That made getting the collar lined up a bit of a nightmare and I’ve had to fudge it a bit. (And the Carolyn sewalong? It’s not a full sewalong, and it uses a slightly different facing method so I wasn’t able to crib much from it.)
I made one deliberate change to the design – my three-year old hasn’t mastered buttons yet, so the closing is done with Velcro instead – you can see the stitching for it on the front edge if you look closely. But he can now take the pyjamas on and off himself, so that’s all good.
I made the size 116cm (roughly age 5-6 – he’s tall), and it’s turned out a little broad in the shoulders, so next time I might make them narrower, or I could equally go down a size and add a bit of extra length in a loose-fitting garment like this.
Overall, it’s ended up as a borderline wearable toile, but given the trouble I had with this pattern, I’ll settle for that and hope to make a better fist of it next time. After all, he’s only going to grow.
Have you wrestled with any patterns that aren’t big on instructions? And where do you go for help with the awkward bits?
It’s finished! Two months after a beautiful box of fabrics arrived in the post from MARGE, I’ve sewn a silk and crepe dress. A big thank you to Sallee at TallGuides for inviting me to get involved in this, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learnt a whole sackful of new skills.
I, and the other fabulously tall sewists who took part, have enjoyed mixing and matching the different fabrics and puzzling over how best to incorporate two of them into a new dress for summer – or winter in Allison’s case perhaps, as she’s in Oz! Tiffany, Allison and Beth have produced fabulous dresses, and I confess to being just a bit in awe of each of them.
I used view B from B6169, part of Liesl Gibson’s line for Butterick. I love pretty much everything Liesl does, and although this dress didn’t scream my name when it first came out, the pattern has everything I like in a relaxed summer dress.
The belt gives it shape – although you could leave this off for an easier life and use a RTW belt instead; it takes full advantage of any drape; and the gathered shape with no closures makes it fairly simple to construct. Princess seams make fitting easier (other than a swayback adjustment…) and the instructions are clear and straightforward for a Big 4 pattern. Plus it also includes a great-looking moto jacket that’s going on my list for the autumn.
I picked the rough side of the coral crepe and the pale pink spotted silk from the four fabrics we were all given. The colours are in my comfort zone, and I was fairly confident they’d combine well. Both were a little trickier to work with than I’d anticipated – the crepe creases like mad and doesn’t drape quite as much as I would like, and the spots on the silk drove me to distraction.
I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out, and especially because I was trying so many of the techniques for the first time. Cutting out was awkward – I sandwiched everything between two layers of tissue and cut with shears, which worked pretty well.
To sew up, I used the walking foot throughout. The crepe went through the machine without any problems, and I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seams. The silk was tougher to sew – I switched to fine cotton thread and went down to a size 60 needle. Even so, I still needed tissue under the fabric to stop it being dragged into the feed dogs, and each time I hit one of the spots my seam line wobbled a bit. I used French seams on the yokes to seam and finish in one go. Both fabrics were tricky to press though: the silk wouldn’t press cleanly over the spots and the crepe didn’t stay pressed for long. But I got there in the end.
Overall, I love the relaxed feel of this dress and I think it works dressed up or down. I opted for down for these pictures, but I reckon a pair of heels and some bling would glam it up enough for a summer wedding or you could toughen it up with boots and that moto jacket.
As the final reveal for the #sewtallandcreative2017 design challenge approaches, I and the other three participants (Allison, Beth and Tiffany) have been working hard to complete our dresses. I am dying to see what they’ve made, and I’m not sure I can hold out until the end date of 20 May!
In my sewing room, I’ve been getting to grips – quite literally – with silk and slippery crepe we received from MARGE/Tall Guides.
I started by using a polyester crepe de chine to sew up a toile. This dress is fairly forgiving on fit, but I still made some alterations:
I added 1″ to the length above the waist
And another 1/2″ to the length between waist and hip
I took in the vertical back seams a little around the waist area
I nipped 3cm of length out of the centre back seam to compensate for my swayback
I let out the side seams around 1/8″ from the hipline downwards
The swayback alteration isn’t the easiest thing to do in a dress with no centre back or waist seams, so thank you to Pattern Scissors Cloth for this excellent tutorial. Making the adjustment itself isn’t too bad, but getting the grainline and centre back straight again afterwards was messing with my head.
Cutting out was a challenge, even with the crepe. I don’t own a rotary cutter and mat, so I heeded the advice in this post from Grainline Studios and sandwiched the fabrics between two layers of tissue paper before cutting out. Genius – no slipping, no shifting and I saved about £100. No long-term damage to my shears, although I should probably sharpen them again soon.
To sew up the crepe, I used a size 70 needle, and sew-all thread. I installed my walking foot and shortened my stitch length to 2.2. I finished the all-crepe seams on my overlocker.
For the silk, hmmm. The polka dots create a raised bump every inch or so, which causes the fabric to skip about under the needle, and pressing across them is a nightmare. A size 60 universal needle, some fine cotton thread and the walking foot were all deployed on a stitch length of 2. But for this fabric I also layered the fabric over tissue paper and stitched through that as well, tearing it away afterwards. Not bad, but there are still some wibbles in some of my seams…
I used a French seam finish where I could for this fabric as it’s sheer, but on the belt (which is stitched and then turned inside out) I had to try something else. I used the selvedge as much as I could so the edges wouldn’t need finishing, and on the rest I tried out a double zigzag seam, as recommended by Threads magazine.
I’ve just got the neckline and the hem left to do now, so hopefully I’ll be sharing pics of the finished article with you next weekend!
For the next part of the MARGE/Tall Guides sewing challenge, each of us now has to decide what we’re going to make, and which fabrics we’re going to use.
Getting down to practicalities, I started by measuring the four fabrics. With between 2m and 3m of each, this ruled out some of the floaty maxi-dress options that had been running through my mind. Sigh.
Incorporating two different fabrics, getting a good fit, and working with drapey fabric was going to be enough of a challenge for me so I wanted a pattern with a simple silhouette to exploit the drape, without fiddly closures or lots of darts.
I also needed a pattern that could be easily lengthened above and below the waist without disrupting its style lines. So I’ve settled on View B from B6169, using the coral crepe and the spotted pale pink silk fabrics.
It’s a pull-on sleeveless dress with a tie belt and a high-low hem by Liesl Gibson for Butterick. The princess seams should make fitting easier and I can alter the skirt shape and hem if I change my mind. I can’t find many in-the-wild examples of this dress (overshadowed by the jacket, I suspect), so I’m intrigued to see how it’ll turn out. The examples I have found so far are:
I’m planning to cut the main body of the dress in the coral crepe, using the spotted silk for the yoke pieces and the tie belt. I’d love to layer the two fabrics over each other, but there isn’t quite enough of either to make this work.
I’ll use french seams on the yoke pieces to give a neat finish and perhaps play around with different options for the neckline binding. But first, I’m going to make a toile to test the fit in some polyester crepe de chine. I’ll let you know how it goes.
You can see the dresses Allison, Beth and Tiffany are planning to make over on their blogs. I have a feeling they’re going to produce some real showstoppers…