Utterly impractical sewing

Remember this? It’s a old Vogue designer pattern I bought earlier in the year because it is everything I love about the 80s.

It hasn’t just been sitting in my pattern collection; I am actually making it up. It’s been quite a journey so far and it’s not done yet. But I have finally got it to the point where it looks like a dress, so I thought I’d post some progress pictures.

The pattern envelope does not lie. The shoulders are seriously wide. Consequently the waist looks tiny. It hasn’t got shoulder pads in yet either, so those shoulders are going to be even bigger when it’s done.

The hip pocket flaps form amazing sticky out fins when the dress is on a body or dress form. My other half said it reminded him of a 50s Cadillac. Underneath them are welt pockets.

The fabric is gaberchino. It needs to be something that is drapey enough for the pleats in the bodice back but has enough body to make the more structured details. I’ve used a lot of interfacing to beef it up in places.

Here’s a better view of the shoulder and neck. The pins are holding the armscye facing in place as I haven’t topstitched it yet.

And here is the back; there is a lot going on there. There are going to be buttons and button holes on the upper back bands and at the collar and the back half-belt. My dress form has a much shorter waist than I do so it won’t be quite so blousy on me.

I still need to add insets under the arms, do a ton of topstitching, put the shoulder pads in, and make all those buttonholes. Oh and hem it, too. There is loads of work in this and that’s without making any effort to make the insides look nice – the pattern doesn’t call for anything special there so it’s all overlocked seam allowances. It’s a wonderful pattern though; beautifully drafted and full of interesting details. It’s been a lot of fun to sew.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the end result is going to be less wearable than I’d originally thought, what with the high neck and the very narrow skirt. But it will be a spectacular dress for going out somewhere fancy in, if we ever get to do that again. And when I finish it I will do my best to get some good photos…I’d better look up some 80s makeup inspiration.

A woman in grey trousers and white shirt sits on grass

Merchant and Mills Strides finished

A woman in grey trousers and white shirt stands by a window

When I last posted about these trousers I was struggling with the pockets. But as you can see I finished them and I’m very pleased with the results. These are the Merchant and Mills Strides. They don’t seem to be available as a standalone pattern but are part of the Merchant and Mills Workbook, a collection of six patterns making up a wardobe. The Strides are described as classic menswear style trousers. They’re straight legged, very high waisted, and have slant pockets and pleats on the front. Mine are made up in a mediumweight non-stretch grey denim. It’s heavier than any of the recommended fabrics for the pattern but it’s unusually soft and drapey for denim, which makes it work. I’d link to it, but it seems to have sold out.

Closeup of grey trousers

I really like the fit on these but it’s only fair to say that other people have had mixed results. The sizing is a little hard to fathom as there is no size chart provided, only finished garment measurements. The size numbers look like they’re meant to match UK retail or Big Four pattern sizing, but in fact they aren’t equivalent. I’d say to go down at least one from your usual size. There’s no inside leg measurement given but after checking the pattern I lengthened the leg something like 8cm, which is more than I usually do.

What I ended up with is close fitting on the natural waist and roomy everywhere else. Very comfortable to wear. The pockets worked out ok after I recut the back piece longer to match the front one, although I’d prefer them to be a bit deeper overall. If I’d used the original pattern pieces with the shorter back piece they’d be far too shallow for a phone (at least for the size I made; I haven’t been back to check the others).

A woman in grey trousers and white shirt stands by a white wall

The pattern is described as inspired by classic menswear but it’s simplified from traditional men’s trousers, which makes it a much easier sew. There is no centre back seam on the waistband for adjusting the size and no back pockets of any sort. However there is a very nifty shaped fly guard with an internal button closure to keep the front lying really flat. I had a bit of difficulty with the button placement on that – the buttonhole seemed placed much lower on the pattern pieces than on the diagrams in the instructions – but that might have been my mistake in tracing and marking. I made it work but next time I’ll check the pattern pieces really do line up before making the buttonhole. Interestingly the photos in the book of the insides look more like how my fly guard ended up than the diagrams do.

Here’s the back view. I get those wrinkles under the backside on most trousers. I suppose I could take some length out of the back crotch curve to try to deal with it but it doesn’t really bother me.

A woman in grey trousers and white shirt stands by a window with her back to the camera

I’ve been wearing these a lot since I finished them. They feel effortless to wear but I’d like to think they have a Katharine Hepburn vibe. And I love the proportions I get when tucking in a top to the high waistband. It’s as if they were drafted for me personally. I’ll definitely be making this pattern again.

The shirt is Style Arc’s Juliet – another one I have plans to sew again. Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

A woman in grey trousers and a white shirt sits on grass

Child’s silver bomber jacket: Burda 133 4/2017

Normally the person wearing silver clothes in this household is me. But not this little jacket. This is for my pre-school aged son. One of his heroes is Andy Day, the lead singer of Andy and the Oddsocks, who wears a silver bomber jacket on stage. My son was rummaging through my fabric box and found a piece of silver foiled lycra exactly like the fabric Andy’s jacket is made from, so it had to be done.

The pattern is Burda 133 04/2017, somewhat simplified. No way was I making welt pockets in stretchy lycra fabric.

Technical drawing of Burda 133 04/2017
Burda 133 04/2017 technical drawing, burdastyle.ru

It’s fully lined in white mesh fabric. Seems like overkill for a costume but the lycra is pretty flimsy. I ended up bagging the lining so no hand sewing required.

Inserting the zip looked like it might be a challenge. I used strips of interfacing along the front opening and sewed really carefully. It’s come out quite well.

But I’m kicking myself for not trimming the seams closely enough around the collar. I could open the lining back up and fix it…but I won’t. And I didn’t top stitch the zip either.

Back view for completeness. I’m pleased with the colour of the ribbing against the silver. The ribbing and the zip had to be bought online and colours are always a bit of a gamble when you do that, but this time it worked out.

Incidentally I think there is a mistake in the pattern for the ribbing pieces. The measurements given in the magazine for the cuff piece are far too small; you’d have to stretch it an amazing amount to get it into the sleeve. Luckily I noticed when tracing, and made them quite a bit longer. Other than that it’s a good pattern. And I swear Burda’s instructions are better than they used to be. I had no problems making this up.

I’m very pleased with how it came out. But despite measuring my son and making a size up from what I thought he needed, it’s still only just big enough. I swear they grow when you’re not looking.

This isn’t our first Andy homage. Previously we made the Gizmo prop from his TV show Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures…and then we made the one from Andy’s Wild Adventures too. I just need Andy to branch out into literature now, as that way I’d have the dreaded World Book Day costume covered well in advance.

Stash busting: Burda 105 04/2019

This was a somewhat experimental project. I would never have bought this shirt because the silhouette is totally out of my comfort zone. But it’s been hot and sunny in the UK lately and I burn very easily, so making a voluminous and lightweight coverup seemed like a good idea. My Burda magazine collection yielded 105 04/2019, which fitted the bill. Here’s the technical drawing.

The combination of the loose fit, the clean front, and that architectural pleat at the back was appealing.

The fabric is a cotton shirting from Croft Mill that I’ve had in the stash for a while. I originally bought it for a shirt dress, but when it arrived it didn’t look the way I was anticipating. What caught me out was the scale of the pattern. It has tiny little woven dashes of bright purple and olive green on a white background. The sample I got looked great. But as soon as you have a bigger piece and look at it from any distance the dashes blend with the background and the whole thing reads as a solid greyish lilac colour.

A pastel dress is not a good look on me, so the fabric went into stash and I made the original dress in white poplin instead. I’m glad to have found a use for the patterned shirting at last. And as a bonus: violet, green, and white are the colours of the suffragette movement, and knowing that cheers me up in an odd way.

The main feature of this shirt is the pleated back. Otherwise it’s very simple.

The front closure is made with snaps on the original pattern but I’ve changed mine to buttons on a concealed placket. I didn’t bother putting a button on the collar band. I think it clashes with the otherwise clean finish and I’m never going to do it up.

In practice I’ve been wearing it tied at the waist to tame the volume a little.

Here’s how the back looks when tied. Lots of interesting folds, which bring out the colour of the fabric.

I used rather nice dark grey shell buttons – completely wasted on the front but visible on the cuffs. I think they’re probably a little too dark for the fabric.

I’ve worn this more than I expected to. I can’t see myself making the pattern again, or indeed wearing a lot more lilac, but this one is a slightly surprising success.

Silver trousers again: Vogue 1347

Work on the Merchant and Mills Strides trousers continues. But here’s a trouser pattern I recently finished instead.

Long time readers of this blog know I have a thing for silver trousers. I usually have at least one pair in my wardrobe and they get a lot of wear. Recently I’ve changed shape – I lost weight while sick – and my clothes no longer fit. Things should return to normal soon but in the meantime I need some trousers that don’t fall down. Enter the bottoms from Vogue 1347, wide leg trousers with a drawstring waist. No link to the pattern because this one is out of print, although it’s often available second hand on eBay and Etsy. Here’s the line drawing.

Vogue 1347 line drawing, McCalls

The lines of the trousers are pretty simple but this is a Ralph Rucci designer pattern so the finishing is amazing. If you followed the pattern instructions closely you’d get an absolutely exquisite garment: fully lined without an exposed seam allowance anywhere. I’m afraid I didn’t bother with the lining at all, and my seam allowances are finished with the overlocker. I’ve never seen such comprehensive instructions for lining trousers with a fly front anywhere else though, so I may come back to the pattern in future just for that.

I always find things drop out of inseam pockets on trousers so I added zips to mine. And I couldn’t be bothered to make a long skinny drawstring out of self fabric so mine is an acrylic cord. The fabric itself is Lady McElroy Uttoxeter, a black and white tonic twill that looks silver from a distance. It’s no longer available anywhere I’ve looked but this particular piece came from Sherwoods Fabrics.

And now the obligatory back view, because this is a sewing blog after all. I’m standing up straighter than I usually would which I think explains the folds. They have plenty of room anyway, and would even if I was at my normal size. I normally need to go up one size for the hips in most sewing pattern size charts, but this pattern has so much ease built in I didn’t bother when I traced it. I added 5cm to the length, as I usually do with Vogue, and they’ve come out just above floor length which is perfect. The hem allowance is a huge 8cm so there is a lot of wiggle room even without lengthening the pattern but I wanted to be sure to have a deep hem.

I’m really pleased with these. They are a lovely shape and I like that they have a proper fly front despite the adjustable waist; it makes me feel slightly more dressed up. And it’s so nice to have something that fits.

Thanks to my husband for the photos.

Pocket problems: Merchant and Mills Strides

Update: a kind reader informs me that the problems I describe in this post were down to an error in the first edition of the book I was using that has been corrected in subsequent editions.

Well I’m baffled. I’m making the Strides trousers from the Merchant and Mills Workbook. These are high waisted straight legged trousers. I’ve got Burda patterns in similar shapes but the appeal of the Strides is that they have a very traditional menswear fly and front pocket construction which sounded like it would be an interesting thing to sew.

There are not all that many reviews of the pattern out there, but a few people have made them up and blogged about it, so I was aware of a couple of things to watch out for before I started (thank you Ruth for mentioning the left/right confusion in the fly instructions). But no one else seems to have had trouble with the pockets. They are your basic slanted hip pockets for trousers which I’ve made lots of times before; the interesting bit is that instead of the back pocket bag being cut as part of the hip yoke and therefore made in the shell fabric, the bag is made entirely from lining and has deep facings of shell fabric attached.

You start off by attaching a facing to the back pocket bag like this; this piece is the bit that would normally be made entirely from shell fabric.

Faced pocket piece

Then the front pocket bag gets lapped under a very deep self facing on the front trouser edge and stitched down. Then the facing is folded under and the pocket opening edge is topstitched. Odd to have that overlocked edge visible at the edge of the facing, but pretty sure it’s what is intended, going by the diagrams. And admittedly I could have gone for a closer match with my overlocking thread colour which would have looked better.

Back pocket bag and self facing

Next you lay the back pocket over the front one and stitch the edges together, like normal. But mine do not line up.

Back pocket bag laid on front, not lining up

Now obviously I could just trim off all that extra on the front pocket bag, but that would make for some very shallow pockets.

I tried a few things. If I line up the bottoms of the bags things don’t match up at the waistline, which would be disastrous. If I line the pocket up at both ends there is way too much extra length in the middle to be eased in, and it would lead to lots of gapping at the pocket opening anyway.

I double checked that I’d sewn the facings to the pocket bags at the correct points, but what I’ve done clearly matches the diagrams on the pattern instructions. I checked I’d traced the pattern pieces correctly – yes. Normally I’m pretty good at checking patterns line up when I trace them, but I obviously skipped it with this one, because here they are.

Paper pattern pieces for pockets not lining up

I even checked the errata for the book on the Merchant and Mills website but there was nothing about the Strides, although kudos for posting errata at all. I think it’s entirely possible I’ve lined something up wrong, but I can’t for the life of me see what or how.

So I swore and cut new, deeper, pocket bags. And another set of facings because no way am I ripping the old ones off the original bags. Here’s an old pocket bag next to a new one. The difference is subtle but it’s there.

Old and new pocket pieces

Much better with the new ones; it lines up now.

New pocket bad overlaid, lining up

So I sewed the pocket bags together and moved on, and then discovered I’d completely run out of thread in any shade suitable for the fly front. I’m not a massive stickler for matching but I think the fly topstitching would look a bit odd in either black or white. The new reel of grey I ordered last week seems to be stuck in the postal system somewhere in the depths of East Anglia. Gah. I’ve a feeling these won’t be finished for a while.

If anyone else out there has made these, did you have the same thing with the pockets? Have I missed something?

Vogue 1466 modelled photos

Vogue 1466 jacket in black boiled wool

Here’s another project I finished during lockdown and didn’t get modelled photographs of until now. This is the jacket from out-of-print Vogue 1466, a Donna Karan design. Boringly I made it in the same colour as the designer original, although I think the Donna Karan fabric is woven (wool melton) and mine is a stable knit (boiled wool). Here’s the pattern envelope photo.

Vogue 1466 envelope photo
Vogue 1466 envelope photo, McCalls

And my terrible photo of the line art from the back of the envelope, because by the time I went looking for that the pattern had long since vanished from the McCalls site.

Photo of Vogue 1466 line art from back of envelope
Vogue 1466 line art from back of envelope, McCalls, my photo

I made this as a warm layer for wearing at work, because the room I work in at home is much colder than the rest of the house.

The back is very plain indeed.

But there’s all sorts going on at the front between the asymmetric closure, the pockets, and the collar tab. The pockets should be double welts not single but I couldn’t make it work with my very thick fabric.

I had to add an extra snap to the front to get it to not gape at the waist if I don’t stand up perfectly straight. The model on the pattern envelope is wearing a belt so doesn’t have that problem and all the runway pictures I could find had belts too. I tried mine with a belt but prefer it like this because there is a ton of ease at the waist and it looks a bit bulky when pulled in.

I noticed Donna Karan did some variations on this style with various bits of embellishment on the sleeves which looked very nice, but definitely not everyday wear.

I doubt this is going to get worn much until the weather cools down but I think I’ll be very glad of it in the autumn. I keep reading about how we’re all dressing super casually now thanks to coronavirus but it doesn’t seem to be true for me. I like putting an outfit together even if no one is going to see it other than my husband and son. On which note, thanks again to my husband for taking the pictures and managing to capture detail in black boiled wool…not easy. Although the high quality pictures did make me realise just how tired the skirt I’m wearing here has become (also Vogue, 8956 but out of print so no link). I’ve carefully edited out the shots where the sad saggy hem is visible. Going to have to either fix that one or remake it this year.

Remember this? Burda 114 11/2019 quilted coat modelled photos

This was going to be my new winter coat. Only I didn’t finish sewing it until after lockdown started and we were only allowed out for really essential things – blog photos definitely didn’t count! Things have eased up a bit now.

The pattern is Burda 114 11/2019, made up in an unusual black and white tonic fabric that reads as silver at a distance. It’s a Lady McElroy fabric called Uttoxeter, but I don’t think they’re making it any more because it’s not been available anywhere I’ve looked lately. It’s a shame because it’s lovely fabric and it’s my favourite colour. I went back and bought the end of the roll from the company that supplied me with the first lot, so I still have some in stash for future projects.

I haven’t had many chances to wear this yet but so far it’s proved quite practical. And it looks like I’d imagined it which is a bonus. It’s very roomy and the pockets are nice and deep. It’s warm too, although I’ll have to wait for winter to see if it completely replaces my long wool coat.

I’m glad to finally get photos of this project on me. It feels like it’s finally finished, after almost six months. Thanks to my husband for braving the park in the rain to take them.

Wearability: sleeveless black dresses

Time for another review of how some of my projects have worn over the years. This time I’m looking at three different black dresses, all sleeveless.

The oldest is Vogue 1410, a Lynn Mizono design. I made it in 2014 and it’s still going strong. It’s a very clever pattern. The insides are finished beautifully with French seams and the hem is adjustable to four different lengths by way of buttonholes and buttons on the inside of the side seams. I added side seam pockets to my version but otherwise made it up as the pattern instructed, scorching my fingers pressing the tiny hems around the neck and armscyes.

Here’s the second shortest length. This is flattering but I find it is a bit too short for comfort most days. The shortest one is much too short to be wearable and the second longest doesn’t look good on me.

When I made this I didn’t expect I’d ever wear it at the longest length, but to my surprise I find this is the best of all. It reveals the lantern shape of the skirt and feels modern and architectural. But best of all it is easy to throw on, requiring no great thought about choice of footwear or matching with other pieces.

The dress has an elastic cord which pulls it in under the bust. When my son was small he found it soothing to play with, so wearing the dress now reminds me of him as a baby.

The black fabric is a little faded after six years; otherwise it’s in good condition. I’ll definitely remake this one when it finally falls to pieces. But I’m going to finish the edges with bias tape next time to save my fingers.

Next up is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. I’ve made this pattern many times, tweaking it in every iteration. This version is made from a dirt cheap mystery black scuba bought in the Birmingham Rag Market. It’s probably polyester with lycra.

It doesn’t show well in the photos but the pattern has lots of diagonal seamlines. This is a great pattern for colour blocking but I have preferred my solid versions. The scuba fabric is perfect for the style: thick enough to provide coverage but still with plenty of stretch. When I wear this I feel smart but still very comfortable. This version has become a staple for work days, especially in winter when I put a long sleeved black t-shirt and thick black tights under it.

I made the pattern again more recently in a grey ponte, slightly thinner than the scuba, and it’s not as good. The grey fabric is showing wear already. But the scuba is indestructible; a good thing because I think I’ll be wanting to wear the black dress for years to come.

The last dress of the three is the least successful. This is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. The pattern didn’t appeal to me on first release but then I read a few blogs where people raved about their versions. What sold me on it was the promise of an interesting shape that was still easy to wear. The bodice only attaches to the skirt at centre front and the rest floats free so it’s a summer-only dress.

I was very pleased with it when I finished it, but the weather turned just then and I didn’t get a chance to wear it until the following summer. And since then, for some reason, it has mostly stayed in the wardrobe. I think it’s a little too fussy for me. The bodice doesn’t stay in place particularly well, and the fabric is too warm to go with a sleeveless style. I normally like a garment with shoulder pads, but they don’t seem appropriate for the sort of hot sunny weather when I’d wear this.

I’m not sure what to do about this one. I probably should have made it out of linen and skipped the shoulder pads but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to part with it just yet so it will stay in the wardrobe a while longer while I try to come up with a way to wear it.

Ultimate 80s

Last week took a rather unexpected turn and I ended up first in A and E and then having surgery. I’m home now and feel a lot better – thank you NHS! And I bought a sewing pattern to cheer myself up so I thought I’d share it because this has got to be the ultimate 80s power dress. It’s Vogue 1376, I think from 1984. The design is by Claude Montana.

Vogue 1376 envelope photo

I’m pretty sure it’s the dress from this magazine ad.

Ad from Vogue (image from Pinterest)

I even found a YouTube video of the Montana 1984 spring/summer show with several models all wearing the same dress.

Here are the line drawings.

Vogue 1376 view A line drawing
Vogue 1376 view B line drawing

I love the pockets. They’re quite fancy welt pockets made using a clever technique that was new to me. The pocket bag is sewn on to the pocket opening, turned through, and then folded up and back to form the welt. There is no separate welt piece so it’s much less faff. And then that triangular flap gets sewn on top, hiding the beautiful welt. Or the not so beautiful welt if it goes wrong.

The pattern doesn’t have a photo of the dress back which is a shame as there’s a lot of interesting detail there. The video shows that the back belt is made of a different fabric which looks like leather. I think I’d stick to self fabric though.

The shoulder pads are immense. The pattern says 2.5cm thick. I think it would take two sets of modern ones to get that height. It amused me to see that at the time Vogue offered a shoulder pad pattern which the envelope suggests as an alternative to buying pre-made pads.

Although it’s obviously very much of its time I think there is a wearable dress in here. Just need to find the right fabric.