Red alert: New Look 6346 skirt


Autumn has definitely arrived in these parts.


The Forest of Dean: canine heaven

I’ve had this gorgeous solid heavy red wool crepe in my stash for over two years, but as the trees began to turn, it felt like the right moment to finally cut into it and make something bright to wear on dull autumn days.

I used New Look 6346 – a really simple flared skirt pattern with two basic variations and a contoured waistband. I opted for view D, with the plain front and an invisible zip at the centre back. I also considered the Sewaholic Hollyburn pattern, but didn’t want the centre-front seam.

This pattern has so much hack potential – I’d like to try adding pockets or belt loops and a midi version would be great for work. On the down side, I think it comes up a bit large. I originally cut the size 18, based on my body measurements, but ended up downsizing to a 16 so that the skirt would sit neatly at the waist.

Because the heavy wool crepe fabric is a bit itchy, I opted to use a scrap of quilting cotton for the waistband facing, and also to add a contrasting lining. This tutorial helped me work out how to construct the skirt with the lining included.

And for a super-smart finish, I hand-stitched the skirt hem using a bias facing finish. There’s something about wool – I just can’t quite bring myself to machine the hems.

Looking at the results, I think I might end up removing some of the flare from the skirt in this heavy fabric – and I definitely need to put more thought into what to wear with it (long brown boots? chunky knitwear?). But to begin with, I’m just going to wear it around a bit and see how it feels.

Cosy, I hope.


Another School Days Jacket – now officially a tried and tested pattern


This week I completed my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket (kids will keep growing, won’t they?). I’ve written a fair amount about this pattern before when I made versions one and two, so I’ll stick to what’s new this time.

  1. I added reflective piping to the yoke and hood seams. The little beastie is pretty fast on his feet these days and I thought this might be a useful safety feature if it lasts him into next winter.
  2. Instead of a quilting cotton for the lining, this time I copied some of the RTW children’s jackets I’ve seen and used single jersey.
  3. I switched to an acetate lining fabric for the sleeves, again copying some of the RTW jackets and hoodies I’ve seen for toddlers.
  4. I added an inch to the length between the armscye and the waist – not that toddlers exactly have a waist –  as he’s very tall for his age.
  5. Learning from experience, I used a coordinating fabric for the patch pocket linings, rather than a contrasting fabric. So if the lining does peek out at the sides, it’s not so obvious.

I really like the lining in a knit – you get the stretch you need from the fabric rather than from putting a pleat in the centre back, so I adjusted the pattern piece to remove this. Keeping a slippery fabric for the sleeves makes it easier to get the jacket on and off over a bulky jumper. I’d worried about joining a knit to a woven but my walking foot coped OK.


He requested the same outer fabric as last time, so it’s another charcoal polyester coating from Croft Mill. Cheaper than wool, but harder to press into shape. I used the same Thinsulate interlining as last time, from Pennine Outdoor, but I fancy trying something a bit thinner and less fluffy next time – any recommendations?

The lining is a bicycle print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother (which looks now to be sold out). Love the print, love that it’s organic, but it’s a real shame that it’s printed slightly off-grain. I splashed out and bought three metres with the idea of making the rest into pyjamas for him, but pattern matching is going to be a problem.It also pilled slightly when I pre-washed it, which is disappointing at £18 a metre.

The sleeve lining is a bog-standard acetate in cream which came from my Grannie’s stash. It’s a huge piece and has a label still attached saying ’50p’. Bargain!

The toggle buttons are from Weaver Dee. Not real leather, unfortunately, (I can’t find real leather ones or leather laces anywhere round here) but they were inexpensive compared to others I’ve seen and they come with pre-made holes so you don’t need a leather needle.

I made size 3T, which is the largest size in this bundle of the pattern. So if he wants another one next year I’ll have to invest in the larger size version of the pattern – well worth it, I reckon. I’m adding this to my list of TNT (tried and tested) patterns.

Yes, you can buy cheaper duffle coats in chainstores, but I’ve really enjoyed crafting something unique and personal. Would you make this, or would you rather buy a ready-made one?

Sewing thick fabrics

On Saturday night, I spent the evening at home – wrestling with a monster seam. IMG_1202 (1)

This is the toughest seam I’ve ever sewn, and I thought I’d share some tips for dealing with these, without breaking too many needles.

When you make a coat, there’s usually a point when you ‘bag’ the lining. You start by assembling the outer coat and the lining separately. Then you stitch them together along three sides, turn the whole thing inside out through the fourth side and hey presto, you (almost) have yourself a beautiful lined coat.

In this seam, because there was also a lined hood, I had six layers altogether: two layers of polyester coating, two of cotton jersey lining, plus two of fluffy Thinsulate interlining. And when I got to the point where the shoulder and hood seams aligned, it was briefly doubled to 12 layers.

So, how can you get all this under the needles smoothly?

Use the right kit

Being realistic, a portable lightweight machine is probably going to curl up and die if you ask it to sew a seam like this. So if you’re lucky enough to have more than one machine, thread up the stronger of the two. My new Janome DKS30 and my old Singer 201k have both sewn this seam successfully – although only the 201k actually enjoyed it.

Pick the right needle and thread. If you’re making a coat, you’re probably using a size 100/16 needle. If you can’t remember what needle you put in, or you changed it to sew the lining, now is the moment to double-check. A strong sew-all polyester thread, or potentially even a topstitching or buttonhole thread is a good idea too.

If you’ve been using your walking foot for your coat so far, you might need to change back to your ordinary foot just to get the fabric under the needle. But if you can stick with your walking foot, that will give you a better result when seaming all these different fabrics together.

You could also try a Jean-a-ma-jig (also called a ‘hump jumper’) to help you over the seam allowances. It helps the presser foot lift and stay level over the hump when the fabric suddenly gets thicker.

Extra tips and tricks

Fish out your sewing machine manual again and look for any advice on sewing thick fabrics. I found that mine has an extra lever position that lifts the presser foot even higher to help you get all the layers into position.

Set your presser foot pressure and needle thread tension according to the advice in the manual. (On my Janome DKS30 I set the presser foot pressure at 6 and the needle thread tension at 3.)

If your fabric stops moving through the machine you might have to help it along the way. You can try gently pulling and pushing it through with one hand on each side. Or you can switch to using the hand wheel instead of the motor – sometimes a few stitches done like that will get you through the hardest part.

A cup of tea or a stiff G&T can also make all the difference…

If it does go a bit wonky, try not to panic. Unless you’ve dropped a layer or created a pucker you probably don’t need to unpick. And because this seam will never lie flat on the body, if it’s not 100% perfect you mightn’t even notice.

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?

Work in progress – with a mystery fabric

I’m sorry. I’ve been neglecting you. I’m rushed off my feet at work at the moment, so here’s a sneaky peek at the project I’m trying to squeeze into what’s left of my evenings and weekends.


This fabric came from my Grannie’s stash. I’m not really sure what it is – she picked up lots of her fabric at charity shops and in remnant sales, so it could be almost anything. It’s a woven, medium-weight wool sort of fabric, but I think it probably contains a fair proportion of something synthetic too. I was attracted to the crazy blue-green print and thought it might make a great A-line skirt.


I was quite tempted by the pattern on the reverse, too, but I’ve decided to stick with the front for now. (There’s some leftover, so you might see it again!) It also frays pretty badly, so I’ll have to work quickly and overlock the edges. And it’s quite scratchy, too, so I definitely need a lining.

I’ve realised there aren’t nearly enough bottom half garments in my wardrobe, so I’m having a concerted effort to sew more skirts and trousers this year. We’ll see how long I can go before I’m tempted by a gorgeous dress pattern…

I’m using a pattern I’ve created from my skirt block. It’s its first outing, so we’ll see how it goes, and I’ve also had to add a little extra width at the side seams as unfortunately there’s currently a bit more of me than when I drafted the block. Boo. Here’s the pattern laid out on the lining:

My pattern doesn’t have seam allowances, so you can see a 2cm border around the pattern on these lining pieces. I’ve allowed a bit more than the usual 1.5cm so that I can adjust the fit – I didn’t make a toile for this pattern.

It’s just a rough draft at the moment – I expect I’ll need to make some adjustments as I go, but I’m getting excited about all the possibilities. I love a good A-line skirt, and I’m already visualising another version made from some scarlet wool crepe that I have stashed away.

Once I’ve got the shell to fit, I’m planning to put in a concealed zip at the back – another first for me – I only found a concealed zip foot to fit my vintage machine last year so this’ll be its first project. And then I’ll need to work out what to do at the waistline – I prefer the look of a facing rather than a waistband, but this fabric is so itchy I’ll need to find the best way to do that.

If you’ve made a lined A-line skirt, I’d love to see how you did the waistline.

School Days Jacket version two – with added elephants

My little boy is growing fast – so fast, in fact, that he grew out of his first School Days Jacket just before Christmas. As it’s pretty cold in Worcestershire at this time of year, I thought he’d better have another one.

The rolled-up cuffs are just a temporary feature - until his arms grow a bit longer.
The rolled-up cuffs are just a temporary feature – until his arms grow a bit longer.

Second time around this project felt much easier. And I got to tick off one of my 2015 resolutions – to make the same pattern more than once. I used a polyester mix grey wool coating this time, from Truro Fabrics and cut out a size T2, but enlarged the hood to a size T3. It was harder to press than the wool fabric I used for version one, but it was cheaper and I’m hoping it’ll be easier to clean! The lining is a fun elephant print from Ditto Fabrics – I’ve seen this fabric in a few places, and the sharp-eyed among you might recognise it from this sunhat I made back in 2013. I used an interlining again – the same Thinsulate as the first version. It is a bit like sewing through snow, but it gives a lovely cosy feel to the jacket.

I learnt from my mistakes the first time – for this version I used ready-made toggle fasteners. I love the way they look but I wasn’t confident attaching these using my machine (and I didn’t have any leather machine needles) so I hand-stitched them. It nearly killed my fingers so I think I must have had the wrong size leather needle. But hey-ho, they’re on and they work.

I also solved the hem-facing-lining join issue I had with the first version – I’d missed a note in the instructions about stopping short of the bottom when stitching the front facing to the front lining. Ahem.

I really like this pattern, and I feel I’ve got to grips with how to sew it. But if I’m ever persuaded to make a third version there are a few fit issues I need to work on. The interlining makes the coat smaller on the inside, and the sizing is on the small side anyway, so I’d recommend sizing up if you’re in any doubt. For my son, this then meant that the shoulders were too wide, and that made the sleeves too long for him. It would be pretty easy to shorten the sleeves, but I think I need to research whether I can do anything about the shoulders. And as he’s relatively tall, I’d also add around an inch to the length.

If you’ve made a children’s coat, I’d love to see it, and if anyone can solve the fitting issue at the shoulder for me I’d be really grateful.

School Days Jacket Version 2: nearly there

I was hoping to have the finished article to show you by now, but it’s not quite there yet. Instead, I thought I’d show you how I’m getting on and maybe get a little help with the finishing stages.

Here it was yesterday – I’d just stitched the lining and the jacket together and turned it right-side out for the first time.

2015-01-24 16.11.33

Last night I blind-stitched the sleeve lining to the inside of the outer sleeve. And next I need to unpick the bottom two inches of the seam that joins the facing to the front lining – I think this is the same mistake I made with the previous version – I got so carried away with my success in joining a concave and convex curve that I didn’t notice I was supposed to stop sewing before I got to the bottom!

Then I should be ready to press up the outer and lining hems, topstitch the front placket and bottom hem, and stitch the bottom of the lining to to the hem.

Fingers crossed…

Oliver + S School Days Jacket pattern review

As promised, here are my thoughts on what it was like to make this children’s duffel coat. In my first post about this project, I explained the materials I used, so this post is more like a pattern review.

A small boy wearing a grey wool coat and red wells
Taking his new coat for a test run.

Fit and sizing

I measured my son in August, and I wanted him to be able to wear the coat until next spring. The Oliver + S size chart makes it easy to work out what size you need – provided your child will keep still to be measured. (My strategy was to get my toddler to stand at a low table and put a favourite book in front of him.) He measured up as a size 6-12m around the chest and waist, so I made a size 12-18m.

But he’s also quite tall. So I did my best to lengthen the sleeves and hem of the coat to accommodate his longer arms and body. I wish that the pattern included a lengthen/shorten line to make this easier, but Oliver + S do provide a tutorial on how to do this on their website – which I only found after I’d finished the coat. I succeeded in lengthening the arms, but I don’t think I’ve made the hem long enough – I ran into some problems finishing this part and had to trim more off the length than I wanted to.


The instructions are clear and easy to follow. I liked the way they explain that topstitching and edge stitching are pretty much the same, and that it’s just up to you how far from the seam or the fold you do them. There are lots of steps, but then it’s a lined coat, you’d expect that.

Two things are missing though. There’s no mention of adding a hanging loop, so I forgot to put one in. I’m loathe to pick it apart just to add one, so this coat is going to be hung up by the hood, which is a shame. And I had trouble with the Velcro. I could swear I followed the pattern correctly, but my Velcro pieces didn’t match up. They also got stuck to the toggle cords so I’d definitely recommend the poppers/press studs option instead. Also, is the front placket supposed to be the same width as the front facing? Mine definitely didn’t end up the same, and this caused some problems when I came to finish the coat.

Things I messed up

I chose a contrast fabric for the lining, which I used for the pocket lining too. I don’t think I manipulated the seam where the pocket pieces join the pocket lining very well, because you can just see a tiny white line where the pocket lining is visible at the side of each pocket. So you might want choose a fabric for the pocket lining pieces that’s the same colour as the outer coat fabric.

The toggle buttons I bought didn’t have holes so I wrapped the cords around them and then stitched through the cords to prevent them coming loose. But I didn’t think to account for the way this uses up some of the cords’ length. So they’re possibly each 1cm or so too short.

The hem! I struggled with this for ages. It sounded so simple in the instructions but I just could not get the front facing, front lining, back lining, front jacket, back jacket pieces and my Thinsulate interlining all lined up and hemmed neatly in place. So I’m looking forward to getting some help with this from the sew-along and finding out where I went wrong.

Overall, I really love the design, and it’s a very doable coat for anyone without that much sewing experience. If I can find the time, I’d love to try making another one next year and applying some of the lessons I’ve learnt.

Oliver + S School Days Jacket

No, not for me!


Well, this one has taken some time – it’s the only thing I’ve been sewing for the past six weeks. But it’s been completely worth it. My little boy is 15 months old now, and I wanted to have a go at making him a winter coat now that he’s getting a bit grown up for all-in-ones.

I used Oliver + S’s School Days Jacket pattern, which I bought as a download from Backstitch. I wanted to try a digital pattern because I thought I might make it in several sizes over the coming years, and to be frank, I’m too lazy to trace off a paper pattern each time. With the digital version, I can just re-print it and cut straight in again.

The grey wool is actually re-hashed from an attempt to make a coat for my husband a couple of years ago that didn’t work out. (That’s a whole other story.) And the winter forest cotton lining fabric came from Fabric Rehab.

To keep the little man nice and cosy, I also included an interlining. I got the idea from reading Liesl Gibson’s post on the Oliver + S blog. I bought Thinsulate from Pennine Outdoor.

I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy. Toddlers grow so quickly so that I was terrified he’d already have grown out of it by the time I’d finished. I made a size larger than he was when I measured him, and luckily it fits for now. But I’m not sure if he’ll still fit in it come March.

I’ve got some thoughts on how I’d do things differently next time, and some comments on the pattern too, but I’ll save those for another post. Meantime, if you’re thinking of running up a coat before the winter sets in, then Oliver + S are going to be doing a sew-along on this very pattern shortly.

The weather’s not quite cold enough yet for him to wear it, but when it is, I’ll try to get some pictures of the coat out and about.