Art class Ottobre children’s t-shirt


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.

The pattern

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.



How cute is this print for a pre-schooler? It’s by Rae Hoekstra, and it’s from Cloud 9 Fabrics’ 100% organic cotton jersey range. I’d say it’s a medium-weight jersey – almost interlock weight. And I think Rae has even used the other colourway to make an Astoria sweatshirt. It was £9.50 per half a metre, but I was hoping I would get something that would last a long while.

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?




Rainbow bicycle pyjama top

Since I finished the bottoms for these pyjamas in August, my son’s been asking for a matching top. Pester power can be applied to sewing, it seems.

The fabric is the same organic printed cotton jersey I used for the bottoms, and an earlier T-shirt. It’s a fun design, but it’s printed slightly off-grain and it pilled disappointingly after one wash.


The pattern is from Ottobre Winter 2015, and I made size 110cm, with no alterations for this first attempt. The sizing seems fairly generous to me; these aren’t skinny fit pyjamas.

Now Ottobre instructions are pretty brief, with no diagrams. And although I’ve now made a few knit tops with neckline binding, this was the first one I’ve tried with a placket opening. (Am I right in thinking this style is often called a Henley?)

That part didn’t go so well. I just couldn’t work out how to get a neat edge on the ribbing I used for the binding without it becoming incredibly bulky. After two attempts at folding it under and ending up with a huge knobbly bit on the end I got grumpy and just cut the ends off.


When it came to topstitching the neckline, I wanted to make up for the fudging on the corners, so I used yellow and green thread in my twin needle to blend in with the different lines in the rainbow ribbing. (NB This is a really quick way to lose your sewing sanity.)

The twin needle stitching is almost invisible – I’ve lightened this picture so you can make it out more easily.
I love the cuffs. I used a decorative stitch on my sewing machine across the seamline to hold the raw edges of the overlocked cuff in place. (Coverstitch machine owners would, of course, use that instead.)

As with the top, my overlocker didn’t like dealing with four layers of the ribbing at once and chewed up the fabric. Would adjusting the presser foot pressure would help with this, or is four layers just too many?

Either way, my son’s pretty happy with the results and they’re getting some wear already.


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…




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.


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?


Scoop-neck white T-shirt

After my T-shirt fail last month, I wanted to get back in the saddle and find out if I’ve learnt from my sins. So here is the redemption.

I’m really happy with this one – it’s clean and simple, it fits (yet I can still move in it) and it’ll go with pretty much everything in my existing wardrobe. I have a feeling this one is going to get lots of wear this summer.


I used the same self-drafted pattern as for the boat-neck T-shirt, but varied the neckline and added a small pocket. This Colette tutorial for binding knit edges was really useful – it is a fiddle getting it on evenly and distributing the stretch around such a large area, but I think it was worth the two hours I spent taking it on and off again.

For the sleeves, I thought I’d try a folded cuff this time for a change – I just winged that part, so if you know a great way to get a more slouchy cuff in lighterweight jersey, please enlighten me.


The fabric is a plain white jersey I bought in Cheltenham last year. It feels like an interlock, so it was more suited to a fitted shape than a fluid one. The stretch recovery on it isn’t great, but I’m hoping the double pre-wash will help prevent it from going out of shape.

That might be it for T-shirts for a while. I’ve got one or two more jersey projects in my queue, but my overlocker needs a service. So next up is curtain-making (snore…) and, if I can get the fit sorted, hopefully some unselfish sewing for a change.

Do you like to sew the same thing on repeat, or is it more fun to switch between different fabrics and patterns each project?

T-shirt fail

I was hoping not to add to the Sewing Blunders category this year but this one definitely qualifies. A real-life case of pride coming before a fall. Or a fail, in this case.

I was so pleased with my self-drafted boat-neck breton top that I’d thought I’d quickly sew myself another T-shirt from the same pattern. This time I used the scoop-neck variation and some substantial beige cotton/spandex jersey I bought from the Fabrics Galore stand at Sewing for Pleasure.

But as you can see, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself.

Here are the mistakes I made:

  1. I forgot to trace the scoop-neck cutting line from the fabric onto the pattern so I did it after I’d started sewing, but obviously not very well as it came out lopsided.
  2. I didn’t take a large enough seam allowance when I attached the sleeve pieces with my overlocker, so the shoulders came out too wide, and don’t even match each other.
  3. I serged the raw edge of the neck opening before adding the neckband – accidentally taking too much off, meaning that I definitely can’t bend forwards in this top.
  4. My attempts to use up some cheap thread I had lurking in my stash rather than make another trip to the shops (I know, I know… ) backfired spectacularly when my twin needle chewed up and spat out the hem.

t-shirt fail

I tried to fix all these mistakes by giving the top a really good press, but it actually made things worse because I accidentally turned on the self-clean function and the iron spat dirty water that stained the back neck.

Unlike previous blunders, these mistakes are down to carelessness and rushing rather than ignorance, so I suppose you could say I’m learning. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Have you had any disasters recently?

Self-drafted boat neck breton top

After a serious think about the contents of my wardrobe – and the gaps in it – earlier this month, I settled on sewing the things that would get me through an average week. Top of my list was t-shirts – mainly because I had two patterns and plenty of knit fabric ready to go.

I opted to try out my self-drafted T-shirt pattern first. Since the initial fitting, I decided to  revise the block to include more ease, and I made four small alterations to the fit:

  • I narrowed the shoulder by 0.5cm
  • I added a smidgen more width around the bust
  • I took in the back waist a touch
  • I raised the armscye by 1cm to give more freedom of movement

I then added the three neckline variations I wear most often – boat (or slash) neck, scoop and crew.


The fabric is leftover from a (pre-blog) maternity top I made back in 2013. It’s a lightweight cotton jersey with decent recovery, bought at Sewing for Pleasure at the NEC, but I can’t remember the name of the shop or the price unfortunately.

I stitched the shoulder seams on my ordinary sewing machine so I could add clear elastic as a stabiliser, but then used my overlocker for the other seams and to finish the remaining raw edges. Instead of the usual bands or twin needle finish, I opted for a zigzag stitch after reading the Grainline Lark sewalong.

I’m really pleased with the fit. It’s close-fitting but not too tight, and that balances the looser-fitting bottom halves in my wardrobe nicely. If I can avoid getting caught in the crossfire of flying egg and blackcurrants that constitutes dinnertime with a toddler, then hopefully I’ll be wearing it every week for years to come.

The pattern was free and the fabric and notions were all leftovers, so I’m calling that a zero-cost new top. Huzzah!

(I considered calling this T-shirt Boaty McBoatface, but thought better of it.)



Ottobre children’s T-shirt

It’s all about the knits here at the moment. This week, I wanted to try out a technique I haven’t used before – binding the neckline with ribbing, rather than a jersey band. So I asked my two-year old son to pick out his favourite knit fabrics from my stash and hunted through my Ottobre magazines for a suitable pattern.

He chose the bicycle-print organic cotton jersey leftover from his latest coat for the front and back. And we agreed on beige jersey (purchased from Fabrics Galore at Sewing for Pleasure in March) for the sleeves. He really wanted to use the rainbow ribbing I found in Stone Fabrics, and it goes surprisingly well with the colourful bikes. The pattern is number 17 from Ottobre 3/2015 in size 104cm and has a two-piece raglan short sleeve.

I don’t do a lot of tracing, so that was a mild annoyance, along with adding on the seam allowances by hand. Because he’s long and lean, I also added 2.5 cm to the length in the body.

This was a quick make, made even faster by using a four-thread overlock stitch for all the main seams. I spent some time puzzling over how to apply the ribbing because there were no instructions with the pattern, but I eventually located them tucked away in the back of the magazine. And them promptly did something different!


For the hems I fused on some seam interfacing before pressing them up and topstitching with a twin needle. The seam interfacing really helps prevent the puckering and twisting you can sometimes get with a topstitched hem on knit fabrics. But it does also restrict the stretch a bit, so I’d like to try another method next time – maybe bands, as demonstrated in the Renfrew top sewalong.


I’d love to show you how it looks on him, but so far he’s refused to wear it. I’m trying not to take that personally. Toddlers, huh?


Sourcing children’s duffel coat supplies in the UK

It’s happened. He’s grown. Again. So I’m starting my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket ahead of some of the other things in my queue that I’m itching to get stuck into.


Most of the versions of this pattern (including the official sew-along) I’ve seen have been from US-based stitchers like Cashmerette, so I thought it might help to compile some links and tips to help UK sewists find everything they’ll need.

The pattern

I’ve used the Oliver + S School Days Jacket. I love this pattern – it’s cute, it’s adaptable, it’s unisex. The instructions are spot on and you don’t need any special tailoring skills or tools.

Loads of lovely sewing shops in the UK now stock Oliver + S but they rarely have this particular pattern, preferring to stick to simpler stuff like T-shirts and summer dresses. So you’ll probably need to get it from Backstitch. I’d recommend the PDF version because kids are a different size each time and I find it easier to re-print than trace it off each time.

One minor grumble – the pattern comes in sizes 6m-18m up to 3T and then for 4T and up you have to re-buy it in the larger size bundle. I read Todd’s post explaining why this is the case, and I do appreciate the reasons. But it still grates a bit, especially as there’s no overlap for grading between 3T and 4T.


Main fabric

Tons of options here. For a proper duffel coat, you’ll want to use a fairly heavy coating fabric. Obviously you can get wool, tweed, or even cashmere (!) but for a coat that’s only going to fit for one year and that you’re likely to want to wash or at least scrub regularly, that’s probably not a great idea. So I’ve used a polyester melton from Croft Mill. It washes well, doesn’t fray much and sews up well. The downsides are that it’s tough on your hands to cut out and you can’t press it into shape as easily as wool. Small price to pay, I think. (And actually it really is a small price at £10.50/m rather than upwards of £20/m). I also think it would look amazing in needlecord but my boy is determined to stick with what he knows.

Lining fabric

I made the first two versions with quilting cotton – it was on the list of fabric suggestions and there are so many brilliant patterns and colours to choose from.


For the third version, I’m going to try something I see in lots of my son’s RTW clothes – a cotton jersey knit fabric for the body lining and an acetate (slippery nylon type) fabric for the sleeves. The theory is that this should make it easier to take on and off over winter jumpers but I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve bought this slightly extravagant bicycle-print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother and I’ll use some plain acetate lining from my stash for the sleeves.

For the pockets, although a contrast lining is really tempting, I’d strongly recommend something that closely matches the outer fabric. They’re patch pockets, and try/understitch as I might, I can’t get them on without a tiny peek of the lining showing through at the sides. So this time I’ll use a black acetate lining fabric.


I embraced Liesl’s suggestion to interline the coat for a really cosy look and feel (toddlers don’t do layering, after all). It’s a lot simpler than making the optional quilted vest that comes with the pattern. I am definitely not a quilter so this is much quicker.

Pennine Outdoor sell a Thinsulate lining which works well here. It’s a bit like sewing with snow at roughly 1cm thick, but it squashes while it’s under the presser foot, it’s held up well and I’m pleased with the way it looks. You don’t need as much of this as the lining fabric because there’s no straight grain so you can arrange the pieces any old how for your cutting layout.


Don’t go with the Velcro option if you’re using a wool-type fabric – it sticks to everything and damages your outer fabric. Choose the snaps/press studs option instead. Nice chunky ones will help the coat sit better.

I’ve seen a few versions of this pattern with the button tabs, but for a proper duffel coat you can’t beat toggles. Myfabrics and Weaver Dee both sell ready-made leather-look toggle fastenings in a range of colours. I’d really love to make my own (using Jen’s instructions for the Grainline Cascade duffel coat) with real leather pieces but I haven’t found anywhere near me or online in the UK that sells leather cord or leather laces. Can you recommend anywhere?

For my third version, I’ve also decided to add some reflective piping to the hood and yoke seams. Pennine Outdoor sell this ready made and you’ll need between 1 and 2m to do the same seams as me, depending on the size you’re making.


Leather needles for the toggle fastenings – I sew mine by hand

Sticky tape or fabric glue to hold the toggles in place while you sew them

Size 90 or 100 regular machine needles for stitching the coating fabric

Nice long pins to hold all those layers together

Piping or regular zip foot for adding any piping

A walking foot for joining the lining to the coat and stitching together the interlining

Possibly a hump jumper, depending on your machine and your fabric.


That’s it. Not so hard when you list it all out – plus you get all the fun of ticking off the list, right?