Wedding planner

One of my sisters is getting married this year – hurrah! And she’s asked me to be a bridesmaid. Eeek. After getting over the initial wobbles (I definitely feel too old to be a bridesmaid), I said yes.

I get to pick my own dress, and the wedding won’t be all that formal or traditional, so I can probably choose something that I’ll be able to wear again as a guest at future weddings. My other sister is going to be a bridesmaid too, along with a friend of my sister’s partner – and we don’t all have to wear the same dress, just fit with the colour scheme.

Basically I think that means I can wear whatever I want as long as it’s bridesmaid-appropriate, weather-appropriate for August in England, and blue. So I’m  very tempted to sew my outfit – although a bit worried that I might leave it too late and end up stitching the hem while walking down the aisle.

I’ve started a Pinterest board with some initial ideas for patterns and fabrics:

Is swallow print ‘appropriate’? Would silk crepe de chine be too much of a challenge? Would cotton look too casual?

Pattern-wise, it’s almost certain to be a fit-and-flare dress on the grain, in a woven fabric. I’m open to a maxi length, but realistically I’ll probably get more wear from a knee-length dress.

All ideas and suggestions welcome… have you sewn a great bridesmaid’s dress pattern for yourself or someone else? Which fabrics would look smart, stylish but also stand up to wearing and resist creases – I’m likely to spend a fair amount of the wedding with a four-year old sitting on my lap.


Top five pyjama patterns for Christmas

Pyjamas. Pretty much my favourite item of clothing throughout the winter months. So whether you’d like to make a pair to see you through to spring, or some for a (very lucky) friend or family member, here’s my shortlist of pyjama patterns to try.


In order of difficulty:

  1. Simplicity 2290 (pictured above). Possibly the easiest pattern in the sewisphere, Simplicity 2290 doesn’t technically bill itself as pyjamas, more as ‘lounge pants’. But in a soft cotton flannel they’re cosy, comfy and pretty much perfect for lounging or sleeping. The pattern is suitable for wovens or knits, although it doesn’t include a top so you’ll need to supply your own T-shirt. Sizes include children’s (roughly age 5+) up to adults with 49″ hips.
I’ve made Simplicity 2290 three times so far and they’re all still in rotation.

2. Oliver + S children’s knit pyjamas.

This is more of a hack than an off-the-shelf pattern but I actually prefer the look of these to Oliver + S’s official pyjama patterns. The link takes you to a post on the Oliver + S blog, which shows you how to addd cuffs to children’s knit patterns. So if you start off with the Oliver + S School Bus T-shirt and Playtime leggings, you can then add cuffs to create perfect pyjamas for the small people in your life. Oliver + S Patterns are beautifully drafted with clear instructions, so as long as you’ve sewn with knits before then you shouldn’t have any problems running these up in time for 25 December. Sizes 6m-4 years and 5-12 years. Alternatively, you could use the tutorial to hack any long-sleeved T-shirt and leggings patterns you have (for children or adults), adding cuffs to create super-dooper pyjamas.

Ottobre magazine is a good source of children’s knit pyjama patterns – like these

3. Tilly and the Buttons Fifi pyjamas.


I tried this pattern earlier this year, and although it’s not a straightforward sew, I think it definitely falls into the intermediate category because the instructions are so clear and well explained. Designed with summer lounging in mind, this camisole and shorts set works well in cotton lawn or voile, but you could also try silk for added ooh-la-la. Sized for up to 47″ hips.

4. and 5. Lisette for Butterick B6296 and Closet Case Files Carolyn Pyjamas

Try as I might, I really couldn’t separate these two. They’re so similar in my mind – traditional button-up pyjamas with collar, pockets, elasticated waistband and piping with options for shorts and short-sleeves.

You can copy Liesl Gibson’s own version of B6296 in Liberty lawn, and I love Allie J’s double gauze version of Carolyn in which she replaces the piping with ric rac.

Neither of these patterns is a quick make, what with all that piping to do. And they’re both pretty fabric hungry at around 4m of fabric for the long-sleeved, long-legged option so you’ll be investing some serious time and money in your perfect pyjamas. But they will probably remain your perfect pyjamas for years to come.

Have you sewn any or all of these patterns? And are you making pyjamas for anyone for Christmas?

Five cosy coat patterns for a/w 2016

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?

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!

PDF sewing patterns – copyshop or print at home?

PDF sewing patterns – people either love them or hate them, but whichever camp you’re in then if you sew indie patterns it’s hard to escape them.

Why not just use a printed pattern?

Many indie designers only offer pdfs, with some patterns starting life as pdfs and then going into print later if they’re financially successful. (Morgan from Thread Theory explained her decision-making process for this on the Thread Theory blog.) Likewise, some indie patterns that were available in print can now only be bought as pdfs – as set out in this poignant blog post from By Hand London.

I love the instant fix of a pdf pattern – you can start sewing the same day without waiting for the post. That counts for more if you’re ordering from overseas. They’re great for patterns you might want to sew in multiple sizes: you don’t have to trace, you can just print them again and cut out another size. Great if you sew for ever-growing children.

Go large, or cut and paste?

But do you print and stick at home, or do you prefer to use the copyshop files?

Until recently I’d always printed out the pattern on A4 paper, and then laboriously stuck it together myself. It is a pain but you can finish it in an hour and get started straight away. And for childrenswear , the pieces aren’t that large so I didn’t use up all our ink or printer paper.

But last month I ordered 3 pdfs at once – the Sallie jumpsuit, the Ginger jeans and the Fairfield button-up shirt – so I started to look into the copyshop option because I couldn’t face so much cutting and sticking. After a few phone emails and calls, I found a local business that would print my patterns onto A0 paper for £3 per sheet (Each of these patterns has three A0 sheets.)

Admittedly, this made the total cost comparable with the printed version, even given the favourable CAD/GBP exchange rate. But it has saved time overall, and made the whole experience more like buying a printed pattern. Plus I get to keep the files and I can always re-print them at any time if I need to. So on balance, I’ll probably do it again for larger garments.

Which option do you prefer, and have you found a great UK copyshop you’d recommend to others?

And does anyone know why the Big 4 pattern companies (except Burda) don’t offer pdfs?

Do you sew along with sewalongs?

Partially made shorts with waistband still to attach and hems to finish

I love a good sewalong. I think it’s one reason indie pattern companies have been so successful since 2009. It’s one of the key advantages they have over the Big 4.

A good sewalong really makes the most of all the things you can do on the internet that you can’t do in printed instructions. So I’d expect to see:

  • Fabric suggestions that include links to retailers in different continents
  • Tips on choosing good-quality notions, and substitutes
  • Many more images of the garment in different fabrics than you get on the pattern envelope
  • Advice on altering for common fitting problems like a full bust or sloping shoulders
  • Additional tips, pictures or even videos for difficult construction steps
  • Ideas for hacking the pattern
  • An opportunity to ask the designer or the host questions – this could be in the comments under a sewalong post, or in a live social media event

For the pattern company, a sewalong can generate buzz about a design and enthuse people to buy the pattern when it’s released. It can encourage people to take on (and finish) more difficult patterns. And the designer gets direct and immediate feedback on the pattern and the instructions.

I appreciate they’re not cheap or quick to put together, but I really enjoy them. It’s often what convinces me to spend more on a new indie pattern than I would pay for a Big 4 pattern. I’ll confess I also haunt older sewalongs to find out how to do techniques that I’m planning to use on a completely different garment!

The one thing I never manage to do is follow the schedule for a sewalong. There must be people who have all their supplies ready to go, and are champing at the bit for the next post, but I’m invariably at least a week behind – like some kind of sewing tortoise.

Do you sew along or could you do without sewalongs in your blog feed?

Save or splurge?

Five sewing patterns on a table.

January’s not a month that most people have a ton of cash to flash. You might have bought such terrific presents for your nearest and dearest that your credit cards are all maxed out, or you might just be trying to kick your addiction to fabric shopping.

So what’s a good way to save money on your sewing habit and what’s a false economy?

Five sewing patterns on a table.
The lure of the new: just a few of the uncut patterns trying to tempt me away from finishing my Thurlow trousers

Five tips that help me cut costs are:

  1. Buy the stuff you use all the time in bulk – for me that’s black and white sew-all thread, lightweight fusible interfacing, and size 90/14 machine needles. If you live in a sewing shop desert and usually buy online, you’ll save a fortune on shipping and delivery costs this way.
  2. Don’t shop for new patterns! For me, pattern shopping almost always leads to fabric shopping, and to throwing aside whatever I was working on at the time in favour of the shiny new pattern.
  3. Sew your stash is an obvious one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. If you’re anything like me there are at least four projects in there you could be getting on with, no outlay required.
  4. Scour the secondhand shops, charity shops and flea fairs in your area for vintage patterns and toile fabric at a fraction of the new price. Or if you’re the upcycling sort, you might find plenty of garments you can refashion – look among the plus sizes to find larger pieces of fabric.
  5. Think carefully about whether you need that clever-sounding sewing machine foot or specialist tool. I’ve learnt that a regular zip foot can be used in place of a piping foot, and you can make your own non-stick (Teflon) foot with an ordinary straight stitch foot and some masking tape. A tightly rolled towel can double for a seam roll and you can definitely use a chopstick in place of a point turner. Hopefully that’s £20 saved already.

Stuff I wouldn’t scrimp on? I find cheap thread is rarely up to the job, and I wouldn’t be without my (15-year old) pair of tailor’s shears.

I’d love to hear what you think is worth investing in, and what you do to keep costs down.

Anatomy of a vintage pattern

Last week I was lucky enough to find a huge stash of secondhand sewing patterns in a local charity shop. I bought a couple, just to see what they were like. Here’s a look inside the oldest one…

Sewing pattern envelope for pattern V7941 from 1953. The illustration shows two variations of a pintuck blouse.
The envelope is a bit torn, but the pattern pieces and instructions are in good condition. And best of all – it was only £2

It’s a Vogue blouse pattern, and the copyright date on the envelope is 1953. The styling and illustrations seem to fit with that – making it the sort of thing that my Grannie might have made using her Singer 201k.

Close up of the pattern envelope showing the copyright date of 1953.
You can just make out a copyright date of 1953 in the bottom left-hand corner.

As with most patterns from this era, it’s for just one size. It’s labelled Bust 36″ which was then a size 18! (In today’s Vogue patterns that would be a 14.) The other details on the envelope are pretty much as you’d expect – fabric suggestions and quantities, notions and some basic measurements.

Reverse of vintage pattern envelope showing the sizing chart and fabric requirements
The back of the pattern envelope is pretty similar to a modern Vogue pattern.
Close-up of the size and yardage chart on the back of the pattern envelope
The size chart shows just how small the sizing was back then.

Inside, the first thing you notice is that the pieces are ready cut-out, and that there are no markings printed on the pattern. Instead, there are holes punched in the pattern pieces to indicate which piece is which and all the other markings you would normally find on a pattern – including the seam allowances. That’s an awful lot of tailors’ tacks to make.

Close-up of the word 'sleeve' punched in a pattern piece
There are no marking printed on the pattern – all the markings are indicated using holes punched in the pattern.

I was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail in the instructions. Considering that this was designed in an era when almost every woman would have learned to sew, I think the instructions give you quite a lot of information that you wouldn’t get from most modern patterns.

Pattern instructions saying how to prepare your fabric and lay out the pattern for cutting
These instructions on preparing your fabric definitely don’t appear on many modern patterns.
Close-up of pattern instruction sheet explaining how to correctly fit a garment
Wow – some great advice on fitting. If only this was included in more patterns today

The sewing process would have been slower in the 1950s – my Singer 201K only has a straight stitch, so seam finishing would have been a painstaking process if your fabric frayed. But I suspect that my Grannie’s generation were also much more experienced and faster at sewing than me.

I think this pattern’s been used – there are some pinholes in the pattern pieces. But I’m not able to tell whether it’s been cut into to make any alterations. If I want to find out, I’ll just have to be brave and try making up a toile.

Have you got any vintage patterns in your collection? And have you sewn from them, or do you just like looking at them?

Drafting a T-shirt block

Close-up of sleeve head
Self-drafted T-shirt block on squared paper
My new t-shirt block, ready to toile

My second pair of Thurlows is still under the needle, so here’s a look at something else I’ve been up to.

After trousers, the next thing on my ‘gaps in my wardrobe’ list is some well fitting T-shirts. I’ve been eyeing up both the Sewaholic Renfrew and Grainline Lark patterns, but I was worried that they’d need a lot of fitting adjustments. I have terrible trouble getting RTW T-shirts to fit. I thought I’d probably need to lengthen the bodice and sleeves, raise the bustline, do an (undarted) FBA somehow and potentially also a swayback adjustment. That seems like a lot of adjustments to make to what’s actually a pretty simple three-piece pattern. I should know how to construct a T-shirt because I made the Colette Moneta earlier this year (one version of which is basically a T-shirt top attached to a gathered skirt).

Then I remembered that one of my resolutions for 2015 was to draft a bodice block from my own measurements, and I realised this week that if I just got on and did a block for knit fabrics rather than the one I’d been planning for wovens I could probably get some T-shirts and vest tops completed this side of Christmas. And I can also spend the £13 I would have spent on either pattern on some fabulous knit fabric. That’s the theory, anyway.

So I dug out my copy of Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear and rifled through it for a T-shirt block. It looked a lot simpler than the darted block for wovens, so I knuckled down and, Nike-style, just did it.

Pattern grading square, tape measure, french curve and pencil
You don’t need much in the way of equipment.
Close-up of sleeve head
The sleeve block was quick to do, too.

I already had a list of my measurements and some ready-squared paper so it only took an hour to get the block drafted. Now to add seam allowances and sew up a rough toile to see if it fits…

Indie pattern companies v the Big 4

Six sewing patterns from different companies.
Six sewing patterns from different companies.
Big 4 on the left, indies on the right.

September has been sewing indie month – to encourage people to discover and buy from independent sewing pattern designers. But which pattern companies are indie and what’s the difference between them and ‘The Big 4’?

The Big 4  – comprises Simplicity (including New Look and Burda), plus Vogue, Butterick and McCalls, all of whom are part of the same group along with Kwik-Sew. So maybe they should really be called The Big 7? Or 2?

In the other camp are the independents (i.e. all the rest) – you’ll find a pretty comprehensive list on Sew Independent.

I’ve used several patterns from Simplicity*, New Look*, McCalls*, Vogue and Kwik-Sew* in the past. This month, I’ve tackled a pattern from Sewaholic. And I’ve previously used patterns by Megan Nielsen*, Colette and Oliver & S.

So what’s the difference?

Buying the pattern

Big 4 patterns are sold by high street retailers and by online retailers like Jaycotts. Indie patterns are available direct from the designer’s website, and many are sold through smaller sewing retailers like Guthrie & Ghani or Backstitch. Most indie patterns are available as .pdfs but some are also available on paper. Most Big 4 patterns are only sold on paper.

Price-wise, the retail price for a Big 4 pattern is usually a bit less, at least in the UK, and when they’re on sale the discounts are bigger.

What are the patterns like to work with?

Indie patterns tend to come with more stylish packaging and more inspiring illustrations – some of the Big 4 photography can be really dated with frumpy photos.

Some indie patterns are printed on tissue, and some on more substantial pattern paper.

Sizing varies, too. While Big 4 Misses patterns all use very similar body measurements on the envelope (although it’s widely thought that Simplicity patterns include a heck of a lot of wearing ease – a sneaky form of vanity sizing, perhaps?), each indie pattern company has its own system. A small selection of Big 4 patterns also come in different cup sizes (usually A, B, C and D like my 50s sundress)

I’d say that the Big 4 patterns I’ve used have been marked up more thoroughly to help with fitting than the indies. They’re more likely to include markings such as lengthen/shorten lines, hiplines and bust points, and to indicate the measurements like the distance from the hip to the natural waistline. This makes them easier to alter to fit you without a toile, I think.

I’ve found that the level of detail and clarity of the pictures in the instructions can be hit and miss with all the companies I’ve tried so far, which brings me onto far and away the best thing about indie pattern companies – the sewalongs!

What’s a sewalong?

Exactly what it sounds like. The pattern company provides a step-by-step online guide to sewing the pattern to supplement the instructions. This usually gives extra tips on choosing fabric, making the garment and includes photos to supplement the line drawings in the pattern instructions. Tilly and the Buttons has taken this one step further, creating an online class you can buy to help you make the Agnes jersey top.

Sewalongs are rare for Big 4 patterns, although an honourable mention must go to the McCalls peacoat #1467sewalong, hosted by House of Pinheiro.

I’m not sure I’d have ended up with a pair of (almost) finished Thurlow shorts without the sewalong from Lladybird.

So… Big 4 or indie?

I’m on the fence here. Indie patterns have a lot going for them, and I love the sewalongs. But I wouldn’t write off the Big 4 because there’s so much choice and I do find them easier to fit.

Which do you prefer? And can you recommend a great indie pattern I haven’t tried yet, or a hidden gem among the latest Big 4 collections?



*I tried these patterns before I started this blog, so you won’t find these among my makes on the site.