Slow progress

I’m still working on my 80s coat, which is from this Vogue pattern.

The original is only half lined so I decided to line the whole thing, and picked a very contrasting lining: a bright pink satin when the shell fabric is green (I had it in stash; in fact it was originally bought to use with the green coating fabric on a long abandoned project). But then I realised I’d need some more sober lining fabric for things like lining the patch pockets and the inside of the concealed button placket. And the green is proving impossible to match especially as in person fabric shopping isn’t happening at the moment. I have ended up with grey lining, again from the stash.

The first sewing job should have been the bound buttonholes. I’d never done these before and wondered how well they’d go in such a thick fabric. I was particularly concerned about what fabric to use for backing the hole as I don’t have anything that’s a good colour match to the shell fabric. After making some samples I found a bright green quilting cotton was the best because it pressed well enough that none of it was visible from the front, so the poor colour match didn’t matter.

I’ve finished the buttonholes and the front welt pocket, and finally started sewing the shell together. Feels like there’s a long way to go at the moment. My pile of fabric pieces still looks enormous. But I put what I’ve got on the dress form yesterday and the shape is amazing; it’s basically triangular. I may need even bigger shoulder pads than I thought.

A slight miscalculation

I’m making an 80s jacket right now which requires serious shoulder pads. The pattern says to use one inch pads, or make your own with Vogue 8817. One inch thick pads are not something that’s readily available on eBay these days (or maybe I’m just not looking in the right place). In the past I made do with using two pairs of purchased pads for a similar project, but the shape wasn’t quite right. And then a copy of Vogue 8817 came up on eBay and I decided to have a crack at making my own.

The pattern calls for cotton batting to make the one inch jacket pads. I’m not a quilter and don’t have cotton batting on hand, but I do have the remains of the polyester batting I used for my quilted coat a couple of years ago so I pulled that out.

The way it works is you cut out a set of templates of gradually decreasing size from the pattern, then cut out several copies of each in batting, and layer them up.

There are five sizes of template.

The pattern doesn’t say in so many words how many of each size to cut out, but the cutting layout shows no less than five copies of the smallest one, four copies of the second and third smallest, two of the next, and one of the biggest. And that’s laid on a double layer of batting, so you’re cutting ten of the smallest piece, five for each shoulder. My batting seemed pretty lofty so I started off with just two each side of each of the smaller layers. Here it is stacked up.

That’s three inches high.

I reduced the layers to one of each size.

Two inches. These are meant to be one inch pads. Now obviously the pad will squash a bit when the jacket is hanging off it. I estimated the degree of squash by the highly scientific method of pulling out the pile of cut fabric pieces for another project and sitting them on top of my stack of batting shapes. That reduced the height to about one inch, but I’m not hugely convinced this is going to be accurate. Maybe I’d better get hold of actual cotton batting.

Review of 2021

I’m shamelessly using the old Sewing Top Fives series from Gillian and the Sewcialists as the template for this post. There isn’t an official Sewing Top Five blog series this year but I’ve always enjoyed doing it in previous years so here is my version for 2021. Since I started writing this post Gillian’s posted their own top five so it’s not quite dead. Gillian if you’re reading this many thanks for the inspiration.

The usual top five categories are highlights, misses, non-sewing highlights, reflections, and goals.

My highlights will be over quickly because this year my favourite pieces work together as two complete outfits so only two pictures to show. First up, a dress, jacket, and t shirt (not seen in the picture).

The dress is vintage Vogue 1308 by Claude Montana. The jacket is Burda 105 2/2021. Underneath the dress is a v necked Burda top made up in wool jersey. The top now really belongs to the dress as I never wear it with anything else; I need the extra warmth from putting a layer under the yellow knit fabric. The jacket is also essential because it provides pockets.

The other outfit is simpler: a jumpsuit and another wool jersey top (again not seen). With a pair of thick tights underneath this is the perfect thing to wear for work.

The jumpsuit is the Closet Core Blanca and the top is a simple t shirt based on Winifred Aldrich’s drafting instructions and made up in wool jersey. The Blanca is such a favourite I keep thinking about making another. This one is made from Empress Mills 7.5oz stretch denim which comes in a wide range of colours; maybe a blue or green next time?

On to the misses. Luckily I don’t have a lot of these this year. The first one is very recent; Vogue 1558. I have only worn this for blog photos.

This wasn’t an ideal style choice for me and then I doubled down on it by picking unsuitable fabric which stretched more than I wanted. I’m glad I finally used the pattern, which I’ve had since it was released, but I think this version is going to be relegated to the dressing up box. Lots of people made helpful suggestions for saving it, but right now I’m just not loving the white enough to rework it.

The Vogue 1378 pleather leggings have had a couple of wears but aren’t a favourite. Odd because I have worn previous iterations of this pattern to pieces but this pair is too shiny. I’m hanging on to them though because a very warm and almost waterproof pair of slim trousers can be a useful thing to have in winter, and they don’t take up much space.

And finally the Burda 111 6/2021 twisty cardigan which I immediately cut into a non twisty tie front cardigan. I’ve worn it a couple of times but it needs warm weather and a day when I don’t mind dealing with the fussy ties. I doubt I’ll still have it this time next year.

Non-sewing highlights is the one I skip because this blog is strictly for dressmaking. But I can come up with some sewing-adjacent highlights: finally finding a use for the green wool coating that’s been in my stash since 2012; having an LED light strip for my main sewing machine – I really can’t recommend that enough; introducing a bit of colour into my grey and black wardrobe; getting a heavy duty snap press; discovering Claude Montana’s 80s patterns for Vogue which led me down a rabbit hole of fashion history.

On to reflections.

Advance planning my sewing in ‘wardrobes’ still works well for me; I thought I’d get tired of all the restrictions but in fact it’s been great to make things that are planned to go together. I sewed my way through an entire second wardrobe plan this year and many of the pieces became favourites.

I was unusually productive this year – 25 pieces in all, not all of them blogged – because I used a lot of fairly quick patterns, repeated a few, and didn’t make a coat. I doubt this particular trend will continue though. I like making new-to-me patterns and I really enjoy a complex project. And I’ve just started a lined coat which will require home made shoulder pads, so look for my next finished project round about the end of February.

My pattern stashing habits changed. I’ve always been a pattern collector, primarily Vogue and Burda magazines, but this year I didn’t buy a single Vogue pattern. I suspect the problem with Vogue is that they’ve almost completely stopped doing designer collaborations. What I loved was finding images of the original designer’s styling of the garment, which usually turn out a lot more appealing to me than the toned down version shown on the pattern envelope. I’m obviously still not good enough at seeing the potential of a garment from the envelope photo. I do have my eye on their recent men’s coat pattern for my husband but it’s yet to reach the UK distributor.

Burda abruptly stopped working for me round about the August issue, after a couple of years of being absolutely on fire. It was so sudden I wonder if they’ve had a change of designer. My subscription runs until the summer so I’m still getting the magazine and hoping this is a temporary thing.

I discovered a few great sewing blogs this year. But I’ve been pretty bad about commenting on Blogger blogs because every browser I can install on my phone simply fails to display Blogger’s captcha popups, and I cannot find a way around it; it’s so frustrating, especially as the sewing blog world is still shrinking rapidly. So thank you so much to everyone who blogs their sewing! I’ve been trying to use Instagram a bit more as it seems that’s where a lot of sewing bloggers have migrated to, but an Instagram post isn’t the same as a long form blog post.

And finally goals. I have a lot of those. I want to make up the 80s Vogue patterns I’ve collected; in particular 1476 from 1984 and 1071 from 1983.

Vintage Vogue 1476 envelope art, Pinterest
Vintage Vogue 1071 envelope art

I intend to carry on expanding my colour horizons by making some blue pieces which will hopefully work together. In fact I’ve already turned a length of stashed royal blue satin into a pair of fancy joggers and now I need to make a top that goes with them.

I want to keep the number of items in my fabric stash spreadsheet at or below the current total of 40. Having 40 lengths of fabric make it sound like I have a huge stash, but the majority are leftovers of less than a metre or lengths of lining fabric; there are only five or six pieces left that would make a complete adult garment. I need to find things to do with all those big scraps though, or rehome them.

And finally I want to carry on blogging regularly and discover new sewing blogs. Suggestions very welcome!

Happy new year all.

Planning the next project: 80s jacket

I’ve had a piece of chartreuse green wool coating in my stash for years. I originally bought it to make a Burda coat and then rapidly changed my mind about the colour. The Burda got made up in a more neutral colour and the green coating sat waiting for the right pattern to come along.

Green coating from Stone Fabrics

Years and a house move later I still haven’t found anything to do with it. Occasionally I pull it out, look through my entire pattern stash, and then put it back again. There is only three metres of it which isn’t enough for the sort of big dramatic coat or cape I’m drawn to, and it’s too heavy for any other sort of clothing. I even considered selling it.

Lately I’ve been getting into vintage Vogue designs from the 1980s, especially those by Claude Montana. I’ve picked up a few patterns off eBay, including this one from 1986. It only needs three metres.

Vogue 1767 envelope

And I also have the Vogue pattern that the jacket pattern recommends to use for those enormous shoulder pads.

I haven’t been able to find an image of the original garment other than the one on the Vogue envelope, but here’s one with a very similar feel. This sort of coat often seems to come in very bright colours and be styled over black garments.

Bill King for American Vogue 1984, clothes by Claude Montana, periodicult.tumblr.com

And here are a couple of links to rather blurry YouTube videos of Montana shows with very similar coats in the most amazing colours.

Claude Montana 1985/1986

Claude Montana Fall 1986

The chartreuse green should fit right in amongst that lot. And even better, I have most of the other things I need for making the coat in my stash.

There are a few unknowns: the coat requires a bound buttonhole which is a new technique to me, and I still haven’t quite got my head around the construction of the concealed button band which closes it down the front. And the pattern calls for finishing all the internal seams with home made bias binding because the jacket is only half lined. No way I am doing that, so I need to line the whole thing which means working out how to make it go around the back vent.

I think this one will keep me busy for a while.

Hindsight is 20/20: Vogue 1558

If I ever need a quick fancy dress costume I think I’m sorted; I’ll just wear this dress, borrow a toy lightsaber from my son, and say I’m Princess Leia.

This is the original pattern: Vogue 1558. It’s a Rachel Comey design from maybe 2018. Surprisingly it seems to be out of print already. I think I bought it when it was first released, but never got around to making it up because it’s difficult to find the right fabric for. It needs a lightweight but relatively stable knit. Anything too heavyweight would make the pleats at the waist very bulky, but the wide skirt needs a lot of support so too much stretch is to be avoided.

The original Rachel Comey dress is made from silk jersey, which was never going to be an option. I decided on ‘silk touch’ poly lycra from Tissu Fabrics. It’s stretchier than I’d like, but I attempted to compensate by not lengthening the bodice pieces by as much as I normally would. It’s also inexpensive so I bought some extra to make underlayers for opacity: a basic crew necked t shirt and an underskirt. I had a clever idea I wanted to try out with the underskirt: I put side seam pockets into it and left slits in the dress side seam to make them accessible. That way the dress has the benefit of pockets without all the pulling you normally get from pockets in a lightweight knit.

Unfortunately I underestimated the stretch and everything ended up much too long. I needn’t have lengthened the bodice at all. The pocket idea worked, but as I can only just reach the bottom of them they are not exactly practical.

I did manage a good invisible zip insertion, which in this difficult fabric is a minor miracle. Yes the pleats aren’t quite symmetrical.

It’s not just the stretch though. The whole style is wrong for me. This dress is soft and pretty whereas I feel more comfortable in something sharper edged. I thought the strong vertical lines of the pleats and the high neckline would make it work for me, but the midi length and bishop sleeves are what is coming through. I could chop off some length – it’s not currently hemmed – but I’m not sure that would save it and anyway it’s winter here right now. So I think I’m chalking this one up to experience and moving swiftly on.

Layers wardrobe post mortem

The final nine pieces

I spent quite a few months earlier this year working on a set of pieces that were intended to all work together to give me layering options. It’s been a while since I finished the last one so it’s time to see how well it worked: have I actually worn them, and if I did was it in the way I planned?

Five of the pieces are firm favourites: the jumpsuit, the two wool jersey tops, the long jacket and the straight legged trousers. The jumpsuit and trousers get worn with the crew necked wool t shirt regularly, as planned. In fact the jumpsuit is such a favourite I keep thinking of making another.

Jumpsuit – the v neck top might be underneath but I suspect not

The jacket and v necked top come out regularly to be worn with my 80s button back dress. The 80s dress was not part of the wardrobe plan but I’m still using these pieces as layers so that counts. The jacket also gets thrown over lots of other outfits to provide pockets or a bit of extra insulation. Here it is with the printed dress from the wardrobe plan.

Jacket worn with printed dress

The trousers are not holding up well to wear: I made them from the remains of two different cuts of the same fabric and sadly there’s a very slight colour difference between front and back which is getting worse with washing. They have already been demoted to the category of things I wear for hardware work but I’m still glad to have them. I love the shape so I should make the pattern again some time in a better choice of fabric.

Trousers and crew necked top

But let’s talk about the failures because that’s always more interesting.

The printed dress has only been worn a few times but I’m not sure I’d class it as a complete failure. It’s too fussy for a regular day but it’s nice for special occasions and always gets compliments. I don’t think I’ll be making the pattern again though.

Printed dress

The pleather leggings ought to have worked. I had made the pattern twice before and wore the results a lot, and I’m always in need of warm layers for my legs. The problem is they just aren’t flattering; they’re too shiny and that brings the eye straight to the calves, my least favourite part of my legs. I also can’t find the right shoes to go with them: long boots make the calf problem worse – see below – and they look odd with trainers.

Jacket worn with pleather leggings

The cargo dress on is an interesting case. It looks best when worn alone, which you’ll have to take my word for as I have no pictures, but I’m less keen on it with layers underneath. Consequently it hasn’t left the wardrobe since the end of September. I’m hanging onto it in the hope of wearing it in the summer.

Cargo dress with a black cotton t shirt and the pleather leggings

Finally there’s the twisted loop cardigan, which I found annoying and immediately chopped up into a tie front cardigan. The trouble with this one is the fabric. A cardigan needs to be made from something warm, and lightweight bamboo jersey is not something I reach for on a cold day.

Bamboo cardigan worn with the trousers and crew necked top

It’s proved very useful to actively plan to make garments that can be layered, but they didn’t all work out. I should definitely stop trying to make cardigans work for me. And I should make more wool jersey t shirts; they are one of my least favourite things to sew but they always get worn and worn. If they could be bought at a reasonable price I’d buy them instead.

Thanks to my husband as always for photos.

Back to the 80s: Vintage Vogue 1308 Claude Montana dress

One thing that always strikes me when I look at fashion images from the early 80s is how warm those power dressing ladies must have been. They’re invariably wrapped in several layers, often of heavy wool, and with gloves and hats on top. Perfect for a UK winter.

This dress is very much part of that sort of look. It’s from a vintage Vogue Claude Montana pattern, number 1308. My copy came off eBay. This one comes up fairly often and inexpensively second hand so I imagine it sold well when it was in print. There’s no date on it, but comparing with the numbers and dates of Vogue patterns recorded in COPA suggests it is from 1983. I haven’t been able to find an image of the exact garment on the catwalk, unfortunately, although YouTube videos of Montana collections from 1983 have some similar styles.

The pattern has three pieces: the dress, a jacket, and a stole (the latter winning the award for the most unnecessary pattern piece ever – a giant rectangle with no markings that must have taken up an entire sheet of pattern tissue). The dress has huge 80s shoulder pads and some shaped topstitching detail around the neck and shoulders which is echoed in the jacket. But the main feature is the opening bands down the back and arms.

You’re supposed to use snaps as the band closures, which matches what I’ve seen in a lot of contemporary fashion images, but Vogue suggests buttons as an alternative and I agree – I’d be terrified of the snaps coming undone down the back. I was surprised that 1.5cm buttons were suggested which seem rather on the small side for the width of the band. Presumably that matches the size of the snaps on the original garment. My buttons are 2cm which I think looks better.

I had a hard time deciding on fabric for this. The envelope says ‘wool jersey, wool double knit, challis, lightweight crepe and raw silk’ but it’s not stated which of the pieces each fabric suggestion is for. Clearly the fabric for the dress needs to be heavy enough to support the closures so I went with the double knit option, although mine is a poly-viscose-elastane mix from Minerva rather than wool. It comes in a huge range of colours. This one is ‘ochre’ and I’m really enjoying having a change from neutrals.

This was a fairly easy sew although I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. They would have you turn under a tiny (6mm) hem on all the facings and then topstitch exactly along that line to secure the facing. This was not at all easy in a thick and bouncy ponte knit, so after the first few attempts I gave up and left the remaining facing edges flat and unfinished before topstitching. In a fraying fabric I’d have overlocked them, or I suppose they could be bound for a really fancy finish.

Those big shoulders aren’t just shoulder pads alone. There’s an extra crescent shaped stiffening layer inside the dress at the shoulder edge to help produce that very wide and rounded shape. This sort of detail is one of the things I love about Vogue patterns. Sadly I wasn’t able to track down a copy of the recommended vintage pattern for making authentic 80s shoulder pads, so I had to buy my pads from eBay and they aren’t quite the right shape or size.

I had a hard time getting the top of the back button band to sit nicely when worn. It looked fine on my dress form, but on me the outer corner of the top band kept curling outwards. The closures aren’t needed for function so I tacked it down.

I’ve only made the dress from the pattern, but my Burda 105 2/2021 jacket is a similar style to the Montana jacket and looks good with my dress. It also provides much needed pockets to the outfit.

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve worn this dress considering it was a bit of a stunt project. It’s so roomy I can get a jumper under it which has been great for keeping warm. Forget the nineties revival, I’m sticking with the eighties.

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

Experiments with colour: Vogue 1567 top

I’ve been wanting to add a bit of colour to my mostly black and grey wardrobe. Admittedly blue and black stripes is starting off very cautiously, but I wanted to make something I’d be sure to wear. Too many brightly coloured clothes have ended up festering in my wardrobe because I always reach for the grey things.

This is the top from Vogue 1567, which sadly is out of print. It’s very simple: the sleeves are cut in one with the bodice so there are only three pattern pieces. However it’s thoughtfully designed. There is a hidden stabiliser that keeps the front slash neckline from drooping. The pattern calls for hand stitching a piece of tape on to the wrong side, but being lazy I fused a strip of interfacing on instead and it worked fine. I also reinforced the hems with stretch interfacing which makes a twin needle hem produce a better result on my machine.

Vogue 1567 line art, somethingdelightful.com

The back neckline is a slight v neck. I was tempted to put the stripes on a slant to line up with it but with two metres of fabric I didn’t have enough fabric to do it. In fact I barely squeezed the pattern on to the fabric on the straight. This design is a fabric hog. But I’m very pleased with the stripe matching I ended up with at centre back.

The fabric itself is a lightweight sweater knit from eBay. I searched high and low for blue and black striped knit and this one is all I came up with, but it’s exactly what I envisioned even down to the width of the stripes. There was also a red and black version which was quite tempting but for one thing I’d look like Dennis the Menace, and for another red is one of the many colours that I like the idea of but never wear in practice.

Blue and black stripes was definitely the right option because I’ve worn this quite a lot already. In fact if the weather hadn’t suddenly gone cold I’d probably be wearing it right now.

Thanks to my husband for taking the pictures.

Wearing a rectangle: Vogue 1567 skirt

This is not a skirt for fading into the background in. It’s Vogue 1567, a Paco Peralta design from 2017. The original sample was made up in red satin; mine’s plain black cotton poplin, but it still brings the drama while being slightly more practical to wear than satin.

I’ve been feeling uninspired by Burda for the last few months, and Vogue’s new releases haven’t appealed either. But I do have a collection of older Vogues that I’ve never got around to making up, and this is one of them. I wish I’d got to it sooner; it turned out to be a quick and interesting project with a great result. I should say it was only quick because instead of painstakingly binding all the seam allowances according to the instructions I whizzed them through the overlocker instead.

The main feature is the origami pockets. The construction is fun to do and I can report they are actually practical for holding stuff. Nothing slips out when I sit down and they hang fairly well even when loaded. These things are important. And here’s the obligatory ‘if I spread out the pockets my skirt is really a rectangle’ shot.

The picture above also shows off what I think is the one flaw in the pattern: the skirt front is almost completely without shaping. The skirt is very slightly longer than the waistband and supposed to be eased on, but even with that there’s not a lot of stomach room and consequently my version tends to pull up at centre front. It wouldn’t be difficult to add a bit of width and a couple of darts next time though.

The back closes with an invisible zip and a hook and eye, very necessary to take the strain at the top of the zip. I made my usual Vogue size, ie one down from what the chart recommends, and that meant almost no ease in the waistband. However as the skirt is big and heavy and the waistband needs to sit at the natural waist I think that was the right choice. And talking of sizing this one runs really long. I’m 5’10”/175cm tall, I did not lengthen it at all, and the back corners are ankle length on me.

That zip gave me a hard time. I don’t know if it was a different brand to normal but it didn’t feed nicely through my invisible zip foot. I had to rip it out three times before I finally got it inserted without the skirt ending up gathered onto the zip tape. Other than that this was a remarkably painless project.

A slightly better view of the back. I’m wearing it with the top from the same pattern, of which more another time.

I’m quite tempted to make this again in a wool for winter. Thanks to my husband for the photos!

The end at last: Burda 119 10/2012

This is the very last item in my current wardrobe sewing plan, and now I think I’m done with sewing with a plan for a while. It’s Burda 119 10/2012, a close fitting v necked long sleeved top. I chose it because I thought having a layer to go under the summery v necked short sleeved dress might make it wearable into the autumn. I also thought the top might be wearable with jeans. In these photos I’m wearing it with my straight legged black denim trousers from the plan.

Here’s the line art. It’s a very low cut design which means the neckline doesn’t show when worn under the dress. Despite this it stays in place beautifully – no worries about bending forward. The fabric probably helps. It’s John Kaldor Isabella wool/elastane jersey in charcoal. Super stretchy and quite warm, highly recommended. I got mine from Sew Essential but I’ve seen other fabric shops stock it.

Burda 119 10/2012 line art, burdastyle.ru

I made a right mess of tracing and cutting this one. I somehow missed adding the placement marks for the front pieces and ended up guessing where to attach them, getting it completely wrong, and then having to rip out overlocked seams in black thread on black fabric. I also got immensely confused as to which side of the front wrap goes on top. The two fronts are not mirror images – the side that goes underneath isn’t full length. I cut out the larger, top, piece first, suddenly thought that I’d done it the wrong side up, hacked it down to be the under piece and then realised I had been right the first time. I didn’t want to waste fabric by cutting new front pieces so my shirt ended up with the right front on top although Burda’s has the opposite. What threw me is that women’s clothes normally close right over left.

There’s not a lot to see on the back view, but I do like Burda’s technique for the back neckline. It’s finished with a narrow stretch binding strip turned to the inside and top-stitched down, which is something I often see in ready to wear. I’m less keen on the hems. The hem allowance given for the sleeves is 6cm, which was impossible to sew with the machine – I couldn’t reach inside the very narrow sleeve far enough to sew close to the edge without the whole thing getting caught up around the presser foot. I ended up trimming the sleeve hem allowance back quite a bit to avoid hand hemming. I’m not sure what the function of such a deep hem was; I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

While I doubt I’ll wear this on its own much – I don’t want to blind people with the glare from my pasty chest skin – I think it’ll be a useful under layer. But now I’m off to sew less practical and more fun things for a while. Thanks to my husband for taking the photos!