#sewtallandcreative2017: design

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:

Liesl Gibson’s own version in specially dyed silk

Helena’s dress with pom pom trim

Elise’s denim version

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…

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist

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.

Re-worked 50s sundress

Me sitting on the lawn wearing my black sundress

Me sitting on the lawn wearing my black sundress

Three years ago, I made a black broderie anglaise (aka eyelet) dress for a friend’s wedding using Vogue V8725, view B. I had been hoping to get lots of wear out of it, but it turned out to be a bit low-cut for my strapless bra, plus I decided it made me look fat (!) So I’d only worn it twice altogether, and I spent most of that time hiding it under a jacket.

Close-up of the eyelet fabric.
The broderie anglaise pattern in close up – although it’s actually black, not grey.

This year, I thought I’d see if I could fix it. I’ve learnt a lot about the particular quirks of my figure since then, and I suspected that I’d probably made the wrong size. And indeed I had.

I’d originally cut out a size 16 for the top, using the B-cup pattern piece. Since then I’ve learnt that my high bust measurement is misleading, and I actually need to make a size 14 with a 2-3″ FBA. So this time I used the D-cup bodice front and cut out a 14, grading out to a 16 at the waist.

Then I lengthened the front bodice by 2″ (all added at the bottom, since it’s effectively a strapless dress) and adjusted the back bodice to match. I was a bit short of fabric, so I had to cut the front bodice in two pieces, adding a seam at the centre front. It all went together swimmingly – I ripped out the zip and replaced it with an invisible one  – my first one, because I didn’t have an invisible zip foot for my old machine.

Janet standing up wearing her 1950s sundress
It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. And it’s so much fun to have pockets for once.

Then I tried it on again, and it was huge around the top edge because I’d forgotten to do my usual narrow back alteration. There was almost two inches of spare fabric under each armpit, and the dratted thing wouldn’t stay up. I was also worried that the bust darts were too long – making everything look a bit, er, pointy in that area. I like a 50s fit, y’know, but that was going too far. Aaaargh. I couldn’t face taking out my lovely zip work, so I just took it in under the arms and fished around under the lining to try to shorten the darts and fix the other problem. Then I top-stitched the bodice to hold the lining in place and shortened the centre back seam a little to help my sway back before putting it back together again.

Back view of the sundress
I think I could have removed even more from the centre back seam – you can still see a slight swayback droop here.


What I like:

It fits much better on the top now, and I feel I could jump up and down in it without if falling off.

I’m less sure about:

I had some finishing issues at the centre back – despite careful marking and stitching in the same direction my bodice ended up about 2mm higher on one side than the other. And my attempts to neaten it seem to have made it worse, not better. If you know of a great tutorial for finishing little corners like this neatly, I’d love to know where I’m going wrong.

I should probably have closed the hook and eye for this pic, but even then, there’s still a noticeable height difference either side of the zip. Luckily my long hair covers it up 🙂



  • The broderie anglaise was from Rags in Worcester
  • The lining is a fairly stiff (possibly too stiff) acetate from my stash
  • I used a longer zip than the pattern suggests because I’d lengthened both the bodice and the skirt
  • And I swapped the ordinary zip for an invisible one.
  • Vogue classes this pattern as ‘very easy’. I’d say it’s very easy to make, but pretty difficult to fit.

Have you made altered a previous make? Did it turn out as you hoped?

Moneta ice cream spot dress

I’ve finished the Moneta I started last weekend at the overlocker workshop. This must be record for me – a whole dress in only ten days! Here’s how it turned out.

I'm thinking that these really aren't the ideal shoes for this dress...
I’m thinking that these really aren’t the ideal shoes for this dress…

So it’s definitely not my usual style – my clothes aren’t usually as lightweight or as girly as this – but I like it. Maybe because the colours remind me of ice cream… it feels like the sort of dress you’d wear to a picnic or a barbecue in the heat of summer. But I can also see myself lounging in the garden or the park in it, and that’s something I want to do a lot more of.



I originally thought I’d make the medium, and grade out to a large at the waist, adding an FBA, but the course tutor at Guthrie & Ghani, Layla, said to go with a straight large as my fabric wasn’t all that stretchy. I think this was probably the right choice (and definitely meant fewer adjustments, although next time I’d do a 1″ FBA). I added an inch to the back waist length, and nearly three inches to the length of the skirt as short skirts aren’t my thing. It’s come out perhaps a little bit large at the waist, but I’m not too worried as it’s such a fluid fabric.


The pattern

I made the short-sleeved version, but you can also opt for longer sleeves, or a more formal version with a collar and a lined bodice, which I think looks great in a slightly heavier fabric like an interlock or medium-weight jersey. It’s the first time I’ve made a Colette pattern, and I like the way they use a C-cup as standard rather than a B (less adjustment needed – hurrah!). But I wish Colette gave the back waist length measurement they work to for each size on the pattern envelope, or even printed on the pattern pieces. You have to get the waistline of this dress exactly where you want it for it to look right, and providing those measurements would take the guesswork out of it. (NB The weight of your fabric, as well as the amount of stretch in it will affect the length of the bodice.)

What would I change? I think I’d try version 1 next time, with the cowl neckline – the crew neck isn’t all that flattering on me.

The back neckline is cut slightly lower than the front.
The back neckline is cut slightly lower than the front.


The gathers in the skirt are made using clear elastic, which you stretch out as you sew it to the top of the skirt. Getting this evenly stretched, and an even distance from the edge of the fabric was tricky, but hopefully it’s one of those things that gets easier the more you do it.

I also had my first twin needle experience on the neckline, sleeve hems and skirt hem. My machine can’t take a twin needle because it only has a single point hole in the throat plate. I got the neckline and sleeves finished in the class, but I still had the hem to do. Uh-oh. Luckily, my mother-in-law came to the rescue. I borrowed her 1967 Singer 357 – which is about ten years younger than my machine. It has a zig zag function, so I could put in a twin needle and finish the job.

Here's my mother-in-law's Singer 357 - from 1967. It was the first twin needle experience for me and for this machine.
Here’s my mother-in-law’s Singer 357 – from 1967. It was the first twin needle experience for both of us.
The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.
The twin needle threaded up and ready to go.

I think I’m now finally convinced that it might be time to invest in a more modern machine. There are so many functions I miss, and I’m wondering if I could stitch more slowly (and therefore more neatly) on a newer machine. But how to choose?

Overlocker workshop at Guthrie & Ghani

I had a really lovely day yesterday at a sewing workshop at Guthrie & Ghani in Birmingham. I’ve been wrestling with my overlord overlocker for a while now, and despite my best intentions of sitting down and sewing samples of each stitch, I’ve really only used it for finishing seams so far.

Given that my sewing machine only has a straight stitch – no zig-zag (until I can get my zigzagger attachment working, grrr) – it has been useful. But I’ve been keen to find out how to use it for stitching as well as finishing.

Because I can put off my own goals forever without some sort of deadline, I signed up for a workshop to make sure I’d do it. I’ve also been hankering after a reason to visit Guthrie & Ghani since it opened! The workshop was led by Layla Totah, and the project was a Colette pattern (another first for me there). Everyone chose between the Moneta dress, and the Mabel skirt. I opted for the Moneta – pencil skirts are NOT for me, and took along 3m of spot-print cotton jersey I bought online from Tissu fabrics.

Mine doesn't look like this. It's spotty, not stripy, for one thing.
Mine doesn’t look like this. It’s spotty, not stripy, for one thing.

I really enjoyed it. Six hours wasn’t a lot of time, so we scurried through the project to try to finish on time. I’ll confess I didn’t quite make it through the hem, so I’ll save up a full report on my Moneta for another post when it’s done. Layla was very knowledgable – showing us not just how to grapple with an overlocker, but also how to handle knit fabrics, and some tips for speed sewing, too.

If I were being super-critical, I’d say that Moneta start-to-finish is probably a bit too much to cover in the time, and that it might be easier to start with a simpler pattern (and one that uses less fabric to make more space in the classroom), but I think the smart folks at G&G may be already on to this, because the overlocker class currently advertised on their site uses a T-shirt as the example project.

There was eight students altogether, each with some experience in garment-making. They were so friendly, and everyone shared tips and ideas. I don’t usually get to meet other sewists IRL, so it was a really fun to spend the day with people who understand exactly what you mean when you say you must work through your stash, or that you’re scared to try Ginger jeans…

G&G is a lovely place to sew – upstairs is a beautiful room, light and airy, and equipped with so much kit. And the temptations of the shop downstairs are pretty strong too. Now I just need another excuse to go back!