Summer sewing plans

coloured threads in a box

The weather’s finally starting to warm up after some freak snow last weekend and my thoughts are turning to summer clothes. I don’t have any weddings to go to this year, so I can concentrate on the clothes I wear day-to-day. I’m determined to make more clothes I’ll wear regularly – more cake and less frosting, if you like. Here are some ideas I’ve been pinning.

I started by listing the things I do each week and the kind of clothes they demand:

  1. Walking the dog. I do three or four long hilly walks over the Malvern Hills each week, so I need some lightweight trousers or shorts and knit tops, or possibly sportswear to wear with my hiking boots or walking shoes.
  2. Childcare. Summer days mean lots of playing in the garden, trips to the park, and generally crawling around on hands and knees with a side order of chores. Everything has to be machine-washable, and surprisingly warm – where I’d walk faster or move more to keep warm, a two-year old often can’t keep up or is too tired. So good options are T-shirts,and other non-iron tops, jeans and trousers, lightweight jumpers, plus the odd relaxed-feel skirt or dress. Usual footwear: trainers. And there are to be no delicate fabrics in this category…
  3. Working from home and weekends. These categories are virtually the same. So for summer that’s lightweight skirts and trousers, the odd woven top, along with yet more knit tops and jumpers.
  4. Child-free days (and the odd evening out). There really aren’t many of these! But when I do break out of my usual routine, it might involve lunch with friends, an evening at the cinema with Mr Wardrobe, or a day trip for shopping or culture. I’m not a high heels kinda person, so a skirt or trousers with a smart top that will go with flats is probably the order of the day. And it’s time to upgrade from my childcare-appropriate hiking waterproof to a more grown-up summer jacket or raincoat.
  5. Nightwear. A very neglected catgeory! I badly need a dressing gown that won’t make me too hot in warmer weather – as well as something to sleep in on warm nights.

These are the clothes I reach for every day; and they’re currently the RTW clothes I grumble about every day because they don’t fit properly, or they’ve faded or shrunk or fallen apart.

Translating all that into patterns and fabrics, my ideal summer wardrobe probably needs:

Hmm. That’s way more than I’ll manage to make this year.

I suppose it gives me a longlist to work from. Stay tuned to find out which ones make it to the cutting table before October…


How to make trousers that fit: part 1

This is a huge topic, but it’s one I feel I can’t ignore. Well-fitting trousers (or pants for our American cousins) have been my holy grail ever since I started sewing. But it can be such a confusing world to launch yourself into that I thought this new series might help others grappling with the same problem.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the process, so I’d welcome your suggestions for improving and updating the posts in this series as I go along.

So where do we start? By choosing the right pattern.

If trying on trousers in a shop has ever brought you to tears, you’ll know that there are styles that do and don’t suit you. (You’ll also appreciate this awesome long read post by the Holistic Seamstress.)

Does the style suit you?

Being large of hip and thigh, I accepted long ago that skinny jeans are unlikely to ever feature in my wardrobe. I live in wide-leg, flared and (unfashionable horror of horrors) bootcut trousers. I’m tall but not all that leggy, so I avoid cropped trousers, side seam pockets, pleats in the front and anything too high or too low waisted.

You might be the opposite – petite, or very slim of leg and larger of tummy. Whatever your shape, find what suits you and avoid the heartbreak of finally making trousers that fit you perfectly but which don’t suit you. If you’re a confident sewist, you might want to alter a pattern to suit your style. Personally, I prefer to take an easier route and choose a flattering style to start with.

Another straightforward option is a flexi-fit pattern with different pieces for different styles. In my stash (but so far untested) is this Simplicity Amazing Fit trouser pattern 1696, which contains three different trouser shapes.

How closely does your shape match the basic measurements on the envelope?

When it comes to fitting, not all trouser patterns are created identical. Each pattern company uses its own fit model and if your proportions are the opposite of theirs then you’re just creating extra work for yourself blending different sizes.

For example, the Thurlow trousers by Sewaholic are designed for pear shapes like Tasia and aren’t recommended for non-pears. You can read Lauren Guthrie’s post about her (non pear-shaped) experience with the Thurlow pattern if you’re curious.

I suspect apple shapes would get on better with Sew Over It’s Ultimate Trousers or the Papercut Guise but I’d welcome your suggestions and experiences.

Not sure what shape you are? Try on different RTW trousers and study where they’re tight and where they’re loose. Or take your waist and hip measurements – if the difference is greater than 10″ you’re a pear; less than 10″ and you’re more of an apple. If the difference is exactly 10″, lucky you – you can choose a mainstream pattern and you’ll have one fewer alteration to do.

If you can’t find a pattern you like anywhere, there’s another route you can take – drafting your own. With the right instructions, it’s fairly simple to draft a basic trouser block using your own measurements. On the upside, you’ll then have only minimal fitting alterations to do. The downside? You’ll need to add in all the styling yourself (and it won’t come with instructions for sewing them up!). So this is a good option for confident drafters, or if you’re looking for a relatively simple trouser pattern.

See part 2: choosing the right fabric and why you’re going to have to make a toile



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.

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.

Choosing your first pattern

So you’re ready to get stuck in and try making your own clothes. Where to begin?

Most people start with a commercial pattern – all the pieces you need to cut and instructions are provided. But which one should you choose?

1. Choose something you love

If you don’t love it, you won’t feel like finishing it, or wearing it when you’re done. So go with something you really like. Try to see past any cheesy illustrations and imagine it made up in a fabric you like, or with different trims. Smaller, newer pattern companies often have better illustrations  – and much more stylish packaging if that’s your thing. Check out Sewbox for a good selection.

2. Know your limits

If this is your first make, then pick a pattern that doesn’t call for too many different skills, tools and techniques – they’re often graded for difficulty, so pick something easy. Look critically at the design and description and try to work out how many pieces of fabric are involved. Six or fewer is a manageable number to begin with. If you can open the envelope or find them online, then read through the instructions too to see what’s involved. I’d suggest you avoid welt pockets, a fly front or lots of buttonholes for your first project, for example.

3. Go for something small in a cheap fabric

If your first make is an Atonement-style, long, silk evening dress, then it’s going to be quite an investment – perhaps £100 or more just in fabric. You might opt to start with a loose-fitting cotton top, an A-line skirt, a T-shirt or even an item of childrenswear for one of yours, or the child of a favourite friend. And children are easier to fit than women, as well as smaller, so you won’t need so much fabric!

4. It’s OK to ask for help

If you choose your pattern online, then smaller shops often have an email address (or a Twitter account) that you can contact for advice. They’ll tell you whether it’s suitable for beginners, or suggest another option that might be better. You’ll find the larger pattern companies stocked in fabric shops and some department stores, so staff there might be able to help you. Failing that, the more experienced sewer leafing through the bridal patterns can probably give you some good tips!

5. Check out reviews online

Sites like Sewing Pattern Review house thousands of reviews of commercial patterns, and just typing the pattern’s brand name or number into Google or Pinterest can bring up photos and blogs about other people’s makes you can cast your eye over. People love to share information about how they’ve adapted a pattern, so you might get some useful tips from looking through their ideas.

What was your first make, and how did it go? Is there a pattern you’d recommend to a beginner?