Fitting woes

I had some denim left over from my grey cargo trousers, not enough to make an adult garment, but far too much to throw away. I’ve made simple elastic waisted trousers for my little boy before which were successful, so I set to and cut out Burda 127 03/2018 in what I thought was his size. These are pretty detailed: slash hip pockets, a fly front, welt pockets on the back and one of those useful adjustable waistbands with buttonhole elastic.

Obviously I wasn’t going to do back welt pockets or belt loops in such tiny trousers, and I noticed that my son’s similarly styled ready to wear trousers don’t have a zip inserted in the fly front, so I planned to skip that too. It sounds odd but the fly is so short that it works.

And then life got in the way and the cut pieces sat in the sewing room for a few months. You can probably guess what happened. I finally made them up last week and they don’t fit; he’s obviously grown a lot since I cut them.

They have a strangely short back crotch length even accounting for being a size too small. I think they also run long in the leg which is why they’re rolled up.

So not my most successful piece of sewing. I definitely made the wrong size, but I’m not convinced the pattern is quite right for my son either. So he got new ready to wear trousers instead, and I’m going back to making dresses for me! I’ve finished the black Burda dress with all the gathers, and am well on the way with the project after that. Just need to find time to take photos.

Slow sewing ahead

I am at the ‘what on earth possessed me to pick this pattern’ stage with Burda 110 08/2017. OK I know what it was: the glamorous model photos, as seen below, and the promise of a smart but comfortable dress that can cope with being slung in the washing machine.

All that gathering requires a lightweight knit with lycra. Those things are a pain in the neck: they curl up at the edges and wriggle all over the place. I was impressed I managed to get it cut out with vaguely even edges.

Then I spent a whole sewing session just putting pockets into the skirt front (pockets are not part of the original pattern) and pleating and gathering the front, and then basting that to my underlining (also not part of the pattern). So far I haven’t sewn a single construction seam.

I always forget how difficult I find it to sew gathers. It’s a lot of fuss to get them even and then as soon as the gathered edge goes under the machine they move about again. This time I have a secret weapon in the underlining layer. I am fixing the gathered layer to it with the assistance of rather a lot of pins and then stitching them together. It’s working fairly well although it’s still not perfect.

Who knows, I might sew some pieces together soon.

Pattern tweaks

I need to have pockets in clothes these days. I know a lot of people say they ruin the line and it’s just as easy to carry a handbag. But for me if a garment doesn’t have pockets it languishes in the wardrobe, unworn. And it often happens that I fall in love with a pattern that doesn’t have them and need to add them. This one is a case in point. It’s Burda 110B 08/2017. I found it when messing around with fantasy wardrobe plans earlier this year, and it hasn’t let go of me.

Burda 110b 08/2017 model photo

Sometimes it’s obvious where you can put pockets but this one’s a little difficult. Although the skirt is a basic pencil skirt shape with side seams, there are both pleats and gathering just where a side seam pocket would normally go.

The gathering means it also needs to be made in a fairly lightweight fabric. But as it’s close fitting that has the potential for showing off things I’d rather hide. So I’m going to add an underlining layer to give some extra coverage. My plan is to cut another set of skirt pieces but with the extra fabric for the pleats and the gathering removed. I’ll pleat and gather the outer pieces and then baste the inner pieces to the back of them.

But what about the pockets? Rather than trying to put them into that lumpy side seam I’m going to try to hide them inside the horizontal pleats. I’ve cut the outer front piece across the fold line of the middle pleat and added seam allowance, plus an extension on the top piece to form the back pocket bag. I would have added an extension to the bottom piece as well but I don’t have quite enough length of fabric to fit such a big pattern piece into the layout. Instead I’ve made a separate pattern piece for the front pocket bag that I should be able to fit elsewhere on my layout.

I’ve a feeling this one’s either going to be a triumph or a complete disaster. Wish me luck.

Style Arc Toni in tencel twill

Here’s probably my last summer project of the year. It’s Style Arc’s Toni dress, yet again, this time made up in tencel twill. This is my fourth version of this particular pattern. Previous versions were in mystery grey synthetic, black lightweight viscose, and white sateen. The grey and black versions were worn until they were rags, and the white one is starting to look a little sad, so I’d been thinking of making another.

And then we went on holiday to Rye and I took the opportunity to visit Merchant and Mills’ shop. I was only intending to have a browse. The fabric prices are fair but they’re definitely not cheap: they specialise in high quality fabrics, mainly natural fibres, in beautifully tasteful muted colours. But they had a dark grey tencel twill reduced because of some minor damage close to the selvedge, and it’s perfect for a Toni, so it had to be. It’s exactly the sort of thing the pattern was designed for, although I also think it looks pretty good in a much less drapey fabric. Right now it’s still available here.

I’ve shortened the pattern a lot from the original. I also shaved a bit off the centre back seam at the top because do what I may the collar and facing never go in right without this adjustment. The original pattern seems correctly drafted – the seamlines match – so I don’t know what is happening when I sew it. I also made the pockets deeper this time. They’re hidden away in those side drapes.

The armscye on this pattern is a bit odd; there’s no shaping at all. The side seam just stops at a certain point and you turn the seam allowance under on the opening and stitch it down which works because of the lack of curves. I find the drafted arm opening is a bit large and tends to reveal bra band. This time I sewed the side seam up about 3cm higher than the pattern marking which has improved things. It hasn’t affected my arm mobility either.

I only have one very slight complaint and that’s that the fabric picks up little marks very easily. It’s beautifully soft to wear though, and the marks don’t show in photos so I’m living with it.

I expect this won’t be the last of Toni but I’ll be waiting until next year to make another now. Thanks as always to my husband for the photographs.

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in silver grey denim, seated, in botanic garden

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in dark silver denim, front view, in a botanical garden

This is one of those projects that came from the fabric rather than the pattern. I had a surprising amount of this dark silver denim left over from my trenchcoat and wanted to do something with it. It’s very heavy fabric and hasn’t the slightest stretch which limited my options considerably. After going through my entire Burda collection I found 112A 03/2012, a pair of straight cut culottes. Burda made them up in canvas, so they ought to work in a heavy non draping fabric. Here’s the technical drawing. The back pocket detail is a little unusual but otherwise they are fairly plain. I traced my usual Burda size and set to work.

Technical drawing of Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes

Burda describes these as ‘roomy’. Well my fabric choice probably didn’t help, but I’ve had to let them out considerably on the hips and waist to be able to wear them at all, and they’re still quite close fitting even now. I really should have gone up a size. If you’re thinking of making these check the finished measurements carefully before cutting – I wish I had!

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in dark silver denim, back full length view, in botanic garden

Having said that, I really like the style. They might be from seven years ago but the shape seems very modern to me with the very high waist and wide cropped legs. The length is good, and the heavy fabric helps the wide legs to hang well. I never like that effect you sometimes get with wide legged trousers where the legs collapse and cling to your calves. This pair could practically stand up on their own so there’s no danger of that happening. There is something a bit off with the balance though, as you can see below with that diagonal fold running towards the back. I’m guessing if I’d made the next size up that wouldn’t have happened.

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in dark silver denim, side full length view, in botanic garden

I would never have managed to get the centre back belt loop sewn over the centre back seam in this bulky fabric so I replaced it with a pair sewn one to each side. I’ve yet to find a belt that goes with them though.

The back pockets are excellent: very roomy and well positioned. They don’t look huge here but they easily hold a phone.

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in dark silver denim, back detail view

Despite the size issue I’ve worn these a lot. By the time we managed to photograph these (thanks as ever to my husband for patiently taking a great many pictures in difficult light) they’d been worn and washed multiple times, and the fabric is starting to show some fade marks. I’m tempted to make them up again some time but the thought of tracing the pattern over again is putting me off slightly. Maybe next summer.

Burda 112A 03/2012 culottes in dark silver denim, side view, in botanic garden

A digression about hair

This is supposed to be a blog about sewing clothes. But that involves a certain amount of posting pictures of myself wearing my productions, and it seems a bit odd not to mention my drastic change of hairstyle at all. So here we go: after struggling to grow it out for six months I’ve cut it all off.

I am so much happier with it this way. Reactions from other people have been varied but I wish I’d taken the plunge earlier.

Sometimes the reviews are right: Burda 118 09/2010

Burda has really great outerwear patterns, and one in particular has been on my to-sew list for years: number 118 from the September 2010 issue. It’s modern, architectural, and it doesn’t hurt that the sample is made up in white which I always think looks wonderful for outerwear (yes I know it’s not remotely practical but I can dream.)

Unfortunately the pattern has terrible reviews. The instructions are said to be dreadful, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but everyone I’ve found who’s reviewed the pattern itself says it is astonishingly oversized and the sleeves in particular are over long. It’s a Tall pattern but the only difference between Burda’s Tall and regular sizes is supposed to be in length measurements, and even that doesn’t account for the sleeve problem.

But despite all this I still find myself wanting to give it a try; I haven’t found a similar enough pattern anywhere else. So I traced it, going down a size and reducing the sleeve length, and made a toile. When I first put it on I could see exactly what people were talking about. The front wasn’t too bad but the back was vast. At that point I only had one sleeve in and hadn’t pinned up the hem or marked the location for the closure. It looked so awful that I wasn’t sure I could be bothered to complete the toile and left it a few days. But eventually I returned to it and here’s what it looks like now. I’ve not removed the seam allowance from the front opening edge, although I have folded it down on the top of the collar.

It’s still boxy, but the style is meant to be roomy. Marking the front closure in the right place and pinning it there has improved the baggy back view. I suspect shoulder pads might help it more, as would making it out of something a bit thicker than calico. The features all seem to be in about the right place on the body. The next shot shows my hands where the pockets would be.

And there’s certainly no difficulty reaching forward or raising my arms.

The instructions are as bad as everyone says. Most of the space is taken up with an oddly described method to sew the front zip pockets which I’m not convinced would work all that well – assuming I’ve followed it correctly anyway – and then they skim over the rest of the construction.

The drafting also seems a bit off. The armscye in the side panel comes to a sharp point at the bottom which can’t be right. I had to round it off to sew it smoothly. The pattern comes with hem allowances built in which is unusual for Burda, but they’re oddly skimpy at only 3cm. It’s tricky, although not impossible, to make them deeper because of the way the side panel comes to a point just where the hem starts to angle down towards the front of the coat. I suspect facing the hem would work better than turning a hem up.

So, am I going to make this for real? I’m on the fence at the moment. The pattern still needs a lot of work because I haven’t made pieces for facings or lining yet, and I need to sort out the armscye problem. My current warm winter coat is worn out so I need to replace it with something this year, and this style ticks almost all my boxes. Maybe if I find the right fabric.

Burda Fantasy wardrobe planning

My sewing output isn’t what it used to be and consequently I’ve been concentrating on making practical clothes. But I’ve been enjoying making fantasy wardrobe sewing plans lately. The ‘sewing with a plan’ challenges I’ve seen up to now haven’t worked for me – the rules never produce the type of things I like to wear – but I’ve come up with my own personal challenge that I’ve been having fun with. The idea is to take a Burda magazine pattern collection and find suitable fabrics to make it up into a coherent capsule wardrobe. That’s really all there is to it.

Burda has done some collections I really love over the years: Hong Kong Garden from February 2012, Big Picture from November 2013 and New Shapes from September 2010 (the patterns for that last one are on the website but there’s no page for the collection as a whole.) But when I come to look at any of those three as the basis of a capsule wardrobe they aren’t very satisfactory: the separates don’t work together, or there are several pieces of outerwear and not a lot to go underneath them. So sadly they were all non-starters.

Right now I’m going with Ready for Business from August 2017. It’s fairly small – eight patterns – and has a good mix of pieces: three dresses, a coat, a skirt, one pair of trousers and two tops, both of which work with the skirt and the trousers. I don’t understand the title because it doesn’t look very office formal to me, but then I don’t work in an office with a dress code, so that’s all to the good.

On to the fun bit: picking colours and fabrics! I mostly wear black, white, and grey and try to stick to one colour head to toe if wearing separates. I often wear yellow shoes and handbag, so I needed colours that won’t fight with yellow.

Starting with a couple of the dresses:

110b 08/2017 is for lightweight knits. Burda’s version is stunning in white, which I’m quite tempted by, but I think it would be most practical in black. I’d use viscose-elastase jersey which is easy to find in black.

111b 08/2017 is a 60s style dress with a beautiful boat neck. Burda’s version is in wool jersey but that’s practically impossible to come by around here. I see this made up in black boiled wool which is a lot easier to source.

Moving on to the separates there’s 112a 08/2017, a boxy top, and 101 08/2017, a long narrow skirt with an interesting feature zip. I’d make both of these up in the same black boiled wool as the 60s dress, with a really nice shiny metal zip for the skirt, to make a two-piece dress. The boxy top could also be worn separately over the ruched jersey dress for a bit of extra warmth. I don’t think the top’s neckline is compatible with the 60s dress neckline though.

The other separates are 104 08/2017, a knit top with a wide drapey collar, and 121 08/2017, narrow trousers with unusual chevron shaped pockets and ankle zips. I’d make the top in the same black jersey as the ruched dress, and use black ponte knit for the trousers. They could be worn together or mixed with the black boiled wool separates.

That’s an awful lot of black. The last two items are where I’d break out into something more exciting. The last dress, 109a 08/2017, is a classic wrap dress which needs a stretchy knit. I’d make this in zebra print jersey. It’s not as easy to find as leopard print but I’ve located three options online in the UK so I think it’s viable.

And finally the coat, 108 08/2017. Everything else is so neutral that this is a safe place to go wild with colour. The original pattern calls for non-fraying fabric for a raw edge finish but it shouldn’t be hard to adjust for something more conventional. I’ve got my eye on some cerise wool/poly melton for this one. I also found a bubblegum pink wool coating. And my third option is non-fraying: a weird and wonderful silver mesh faced neoprene-alike fabric.

I estimate that’s at least six months worth of sewing for me so I doubt I’ll make all (or any!) of these up for real. But it’s fun to plan, and I am wondering if I could get away with a bright pink coat over a zebra print dress or if I’d look like a madwoman.

Three views of Burda 105 02 2019 trench coat

Finished at last

I finally finally finally finished my coat. It got a bit frantic towards the end when I came to sew the lining in and realised I’d seriously messed up. I went to pin it around the back vent and realised it was impossible to attach the lining to the coat on the overlap side because the vent facing wasn’t wide enough to reach the lining stitching line. Cue puzzlement as I tried to work out what had happened and how to fix it.

I eventually discovered I’d cut off almost the entire overlap facing by mistake at a much earlier stage in proceedings. I was supposed to just trim it a bit. I can’t even blame Burda because their pattern instructions weren’t wrong, I simply cut on the wrong line. That’s what comes of being lazy and using the same pattern piece for the left and right back instead of making separate ones.

After some swearing I cut a rectangle out of scraps, ripped out the vent stitching, sewed the rectangle on to the edge I should not have cut along and put the vent back together. It’s not perfect but can’t really be seen from the outside. If you squint there’s a tiny ridge where the seam allowance of my repair lies, and that’s all.

Outside view of coat vent
Inside is another matter, but at least it’s neat.
Inside view of coat vent

Luckily everything else has gone pretty smoothly. I’ve been following a sewalong for Ready To Wear Tailoring from Pattern Scissors Cloth for this project and it’s been a huge help. My coat’s a little bit different to the one in the sewalong, not least in having the nearly fatal vent, but thanks to Sheryll’s advice about adjusting the pattern in advance the potentially awkward steps like the collar and lapels were easy to sew. It gave me a new appreciation for Burda patterns too; I noticed that several of her suggested pattern adjustments to allow for turn of cloth were already drafted in. It’s Burda 105 02/2019 although I’ve shortened it from the original length and reduced the ease at the waist.

With perfect timing I’ve finished this just as the UK weather goes insanely hot, so I haven’t worn it even once yet. Normal cool and cloudy service is expected to resume next week though. But in the meantime here it is on the dressform.

Butda 105 02 2019 on dressform

Vogue 1501

This is going to be a tricky dress to write a blog post about because I made it right at the end of last summer and have forgotten some of the details. As soon as I finished it the weather turned cold, and so I didn’t wear it last year at all. Now summer is back it’s finally having its moment.

The pattern is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. It’s got some beautiful and unusual details. The bodice is only attached to the skirt for a short distance along the front, floating free elsewhere, and there are thickly padded shoulders.

The pattern is written to produce a neatly finished inside without a single exposed seam. What it is missing is any reasonable way to hang up the finished dress in a wardrobe. A couple of long ribbon loops sewn into the waistband at the side seams would have been a useful addition! As it is I have to hang it using a skirt hanger connected below a regular hanger with a bit of string.

Here you can see the inside of the skirt and the waistband with all the edges either bound or sewed with french seams. It’s beautiful but it took forever.

I think I made my usual length additions on the bodice. If I was making this again I would take a little of the extra length out because the pleats in the bodice tend to collapse. I notice the skirt is a smidge shorter on me than the model which I find is a more flattering look, but I can’t now recall how I got to that point. I do remember getting the skirt pattern piece upside down more than once while sewing though; all the pleats mean it is very wide at the top.

The back has a nice little keyhole opening which adds some interest but mine’s not hanging quite right on the body. The keyhole is slashed into the pattern piece. It looks to me that I needed to make the button loop longer to account for the lost width from the allowances at the keyhole edges. Apart from that little annoyance I really like the back view. The open back is airy without showing lots of skin.

Now let’s talk about the shoulders. I read a lot of reviews of this pattern before making it up and every one skipped the padded shoulders. The pattern has you insert a gusset into the outer shoulder shell/facing seam to make space for a pad that’s supposed to be 2cm thick. I decided to give it a go but I’m not 100% happy with the results and I think the pattern could be improved to give a better finish. The gusset as drafted is symmetrical. It’s a long thin oval with a point at each end: the same shape as a marquise gem. But a shoulder pad has a curve in it to shape over the shoulder, so the gusset should be a crescent shape: concave on the side closest to the shoulder. The facing’s armscye should be made slightly shorter than the shell armscye to match the shorter length of the concave edge. If you make it up as drafted you inevitably end up with wrinkles on the underside of the shoulder where there is too much fabric trying to fit into too little space. They aren’t very visible in these pictures (hooray for black fabric, it hides a multitude of problems) but I assure you they’re there and you can also see them in Vogue’s model photos if you zoom in, so it’s a problem with the original designer dress and not the adaptation to a home sewing pattern.

Speaking of fabric, this is made from a poly crepe I got from Barry’s Fabrics in Birmingham last summer. It was great value and I’m very happy with it; it drapes beautifully and feels nice to wear. It was a little tricky to make the narrow hems for the back bodice edge in this fabric though. A silk or cupro twill would be absolutely perfect for this pattern.

Despite all the niggles this is a good summer dress for me – not too fluffy and very wearable. I can’t see me making another one soon but I’ll hang onto the pattern just in case. It would look amazing in white linen.

Thanks to my husband for the pictures.