Bridesmaid Betty


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.)


The pattern

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.

The fabric

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.

And one of the best things about a full circle skirt is that there’s enough fabric for a four-year old to hide behind!

Bridesmaid Betty – fitting the bodice

Screen Shot 2017-07-09 at 20.43.00

Since my sister asked me to be one of the bridesmaids at her wedding next month, I’ve been pondering what to wear sew. I’ve finally settled on the Sew Over It Betty dress – a full-skirted knee-length dress with a straightforward sleeveless bodice, designed to be sewn in lightweight woven fabric like cotton lawn.

I like the neckline (front and back) on this dress, and once I get it to fit, I’m hoping I can hack this pattern around to make a few variations later. Lisa Comfort has dozens, apparently!

So task number one was to toile the bodice to make sure I could get it to fit. My measurements are currently 39-32-43, so I started by sewing the size 14 with no alterations. Here’s how that looked…

From the front, you can see there’s some puffiness in the front bra strap area, between bust and shoulder. The neckline is sitting quite wide on the shoulders, and it’s obviously too short – take off 1.5cm from the bottom edge and I’m suddenly wearing a crop top rather than something that lands at my waist. On the up side, the bust darts are almost exactly in the right place, so I won’t need to move those.

From the back, again it’s too short; the back looks slightly too broad overall at bust level – a sign that my ‘girls’ are dragging the back piece fowrards; and there’s more sagging at the sides of the upper chest area.

From the side, you can see the side seam is bowing forwards at bust level, but the armscye looks more or less OK, other than the puffiness at the upper chest.

(I’m sorry these photos are a bit grainy – the lighting wasn’t ideal yesterday and I’m still learning how to deal with that.)

Looking at these pictures, I decided to make three changes:

  1. Go down to a size 12, grading out to a 14 at the waist
  2. Add 1″ to the length
  3. Do a full bust adjustment to increase the circumference at the bust back up to the same as the size 14

There’s no lengthen/shorten line marked on the pattern, so I drew my own – about 1″ above the natural waistline (also not marked – grrrr…), perpendicular to the grainline. At this point I also made a note on the envelope to buy a longer zip than it says in the instructions.

For the FBA, I used this excellent tutorial from Mary at Idle Fancy. There are lots of FBA tutorials around, but this one has a kind of all-in-one method so you don’t have to trace off the pattern multiple times. And Mary also reminds you that for a larger bust, you may want to position the dart points further away than the standard 1″ that works well for a B cup.

This time around I also trimmed off the seam allowance on the front and back neckline, and around the armhole to get a better idea of where these would sit on me. Toile number 2 looked like this:

I’m almost happy with this. The length and bust fit well, with fewer draglines pointing to the bust. The only area that’s not working is the upper back at the sides. This could be a couple of things – I usually need a swayback adjustment, but I don’t think that’s the only thing.

In the past, I’ve made narrow back adjustments, but looking at this, I’m wondering if I need a sloping shoulder adjustment.

Or do you think it could be something else?

#sewtallandcreative2017 – my finished dress…



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.


Catch up on the other posts in this series:

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist
  4. Design process and choosing a pattern
  5. Construction process – and tips for working with slippery fabrics

Sewing with slippery fabrics – B6169


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!

No fancy pattern weights here!

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!

Other posts about #sewtallandcreative2017

  1. A tall order – the challenge launch
  2. Inspiration
  3. What it means to be a tall sewist
  4. Design process and choosing a pattern
  5. The finished dress…

#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
  4. Construction process – and tips for working with slippery fabrics
  5. The finished dress…

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!