Top five sewing hits of 2019

Sewing Top Fives  of 2019 logo

It’s that time of year again: Sewing Top Fives. This is definitely my favourite blog series! So without further ado, here are my top five projects of 2019.

First up is a garment that wasn’t for me: it’s a fleece top for my son. I used Burda 138 03/2014 as a basis for the pattern but the collar and neckline is copied from a much loved RTW top. He wore my version a lot until he grew too big for it. I think a big part of the appeal is that his dad has a hoodie made from the same fabric. I should definitely make it again, a size or two bigger.

Burda 138 03/2014

The next one is a pattern repeat; this is the fourth version of Style Arc’s Toni dress I’ve made. It took a few iterations but I’ve got the pattern completely adjusted to my liking now. It’s a great summer dress; very easy to wear but still looks stylish. There will be more of these in the future.

Three is another well loved pattern: Burda 117 02/2012 made in a grey ponte. This is another one where I’ve adjusted the pattern quite a bit over several versions. I think I am finally happy with it now. I have this one and a black scuba version in regular rotation at the moment.

I haven’t made many trousers much this year but this pair of cargoes have been a huge success. The pattern is Burda 121 02/2018. They have a lot of fiddly details but the end result really looks like RTW and I have worn them lots despite a less than perfect fit (hard to see in the picture but they’re too big on the waist). I’m slightly disappointed in the fabric though. It has already faded from a mid grey to a very light grey.

But this has to be the best project of the year, my Burda trench coat. It gets worn most days and it’s the perfect combination of easy to throw on, goes with everything, but still looks like I’ve made an effort. The original pattern is 105 02/2019 but I made a lot of changes to the shaping.

Burda 105 02/2019

Four out of five of these are Burda patterns. This isn’t a surprise: I mostly sewed from Burda this year because I’ve been cutting back on envelope pattern purchases. I have to say that my Burda back catalogue has provided a suitable pattern for practically everything I’ve wanted to make, so there’s a lesson there.

Next up: top five fails.

Pattern adjustments

So I’m making Burda 116 09/2018, very slowly indeed. It’s got quite a lot of pieces and I’m making things slightly worse by adding hip yoke pockets, although I’m also skipping the zip and most of the lining.

I’ve got a longer than average torso so I always add 5cm to the length of dress bodices to make the waist match up with my actual waist. I started sewing with Big Four who always put a lengthen/shorten line between the bottom of the armscye and the waist. Adding a ton of length there can leave the bust point too high, but it’s easy to do. But I notice Burda recommends doing it differently: adding only 2/3 of the extra length there, and the other 1/3 above the bust point. Which lowers the bust point but means changing the armscye and sleeve too. So in a fit of enthusiasm I decided to try that this time. Here are my adjusted front bodice pieces.

I’m…unconvinced. That looks like a huge change to the armscye to me. I’m carrying on for now but I won’t be surprised if the sleeves fit strangely.

Winter coat musings

So about this time last year I was agonising over what pattern to choose for my winter coat. And the perhaps inevitable result was that I didn’t make a winter coat at all in the end but made my ancient version of Vogue 1276 last another year. The lining is destroyed and there are lots of shiny patches where the fabric nap has worn off but it’s still plenty warm. Just don’t look too closely.

But I’d still really like to replace it with something less scruffy. I am currently trying to decide between two patterns, neither of which was in the running last year. The first is (out of print) Vogue 1321, a Donna Karan design that I’ve got a copy of in my pattern stash.

I’m pretty sure the design is this one from her 2011 Fall collection, although it looks a different colour from the pattern envelope one. Anyway it ticks most of my boxes: it’s quite long, should be warm with all those yards of fabric in the skirt, and I love a dramatic collar.

One detail that’s not very apparent from the photos is the raw edge finish. This means using a fabric that won’t fray too badly; Melton or boiled wool probably.

Of course it’s not a perfect choice: the pattern is unlined. If I make this one I’m definitely going to have to add a lining. It’s unsurprisingly a complete fabric hog as well; something like four and a half metres of wide fabric.

My other choice is completely different and very new: the long padded coat from the November 2019 Burda. I’m showing the technical drawing and not the model photo because I don’t really care for the fabric they used for the sample. I’m also not sold on the ribbon tie, but that’s purely decorative and can be left off: there’s a zip and snaps as well.

Burda 114 11/2019 puffed coat line art

I think this would look great in a high shine metallic fabric – real science fiction vibes.

There are possible construction issues with this plan. Sewing the lines of top stitching on metallic fabric will be tricky. They are sewn through the shell fabric and a layer of batting, so there needs to be some way of preventing the batting from shifting. I can’t use pins because they will leave marks. I understand that basting spray for quilting is a thing, but I’ve also read that it doesn’t work well with high loft batting which is what this pattern needs. Maybe basting spray and then pins in the seam allowances? Anyone with experience of basting spray willing to advise?

I’m very torn as to which of these to pick. They’ll cost about the same and they’re both big projects. The Donna Karan is more classic, but the Burda is more fun. Decisions, decisions…

Burda 117 02/2012 dress

This dress is an old favourite pattern from one of the best issues of Burda ever. This must be the sixth time I’ve made it, although I’ve altered the pattern somewhat from last time so hopefully this won’t be a totally boring blog post. Anyway. The original is Burda 117 02/2012 which came in a plain black and a colour blocked version. Both had an exposed zip all the way down the centre back seam, no pockets, little tucks at the shoulder seam, and a snap closure at the front bodice. Here’s the line art (curiously missing the zip). The tucks are only just visible as the slight dip in the shoulder line.

Burda 117a 02/2012 line art

I’ve added pockets in the slanted front waist seams, left off the tucks to give a stronger shoulder line, and extended the left front bodice piece (the underlap) to end at the same line as the right front bodice, removing the need for the snaps to hold it in place. That gives a better finish and there’s no danger of anything popping open.

I also made facings for the armscyes this time rather than adding hem allowance and turning under as the pattern suggests. It’s surprisingly tricky to shape the hem allowance to lie correctly because the armscye is pointed at the bottom and on the left side three seams come together there. Every previous version I’ve made had a gap in the hem at the bottom of the armscye, saved only by the fact that knit fabrics don’t fray. Separate facings are a big improvement.

I also skipped the zip. The dress is made of ponte knit and is no problem to get on and off without closures. The zip can look great but I think it’s a bit too much in a plain version. I wanted the seaming to be the main focus.

The fabric is a viscose/poly/elastane ponte from Croft Mill. It’s a mix of dark grey and brown fibres although I think it looks almost purple in these photos. As I write it’s still available here. It’s probably very slightly too lightweight for the style because there is a bit of cling; a heavy scuba works best. But I love the colour.

This dress is the second creation from my probably futile attempt to sew my way through my entire wishlist of Burda dresses. Two down, only another fourteen to go…

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

All The Burda Dresses project

I’ve been feeling a complete lack of sewing inspiration lately, while still really wanting to make things. Some kind of system for choosing projects seems like it might help with that. I have had a Burda subscription for quite a while and I know how to make their draft fit me, so I decided to sew my way through my favourite Burda dresses from the collection.

Obviously there are a lot of dress patterns to choose from in ten years of magazines. If I just put everything that caught my eye on to the list it would be completely impossible to get through it. So I narrowed it down by only including ones which either have pockets or are easy to add pockets to. After that I tried to analyse which are likely to suit my figure. I’ve been finding Doctor T’s series on Kibbe style types very interesting. No style typing system is ever going to work for everyone but this one is useful for me because I clearly fall into a particular Kibbe category and more importantly, I generally enjoy wearing the kinds of things Kibbe recommends for it. (Dramatic, if anyone’s interested: lots of long vertical lines, monochrome colour schemes, angular shapes).

Don’t worry I’m not about to go through the whole list of patterns right now…for one thing it’ll be deadly dull and for another I doubt I’ll actually manage to sew them all. But here are the first three. I’ve made one and two, and the third one is in progress.

The first one is 110 08/2017. It has long vertical lines so that’s an instant win. I added pockets hidden in the pleats across the skirt front. I bought shoulder pads (a Kibbe recommendation) but my fabric choice meant they’d be far too visible so I ended up not using them.

Burda 110 08/2017 line art

Here’s how it came out. It’s not perfect but it’s been getting a lot of wear.

Then there is 117 02/2012. At first sight this doesn’t look like an ideal selection according to Kibbe’s guidelines; there’s too much waist emphasis and it’s not long enough. But I’ve made it five times before and the versions done in solid colours have been firm favourites (the colour blocked one and the striped one, not so much). I think it works because of the angular seaming and v neck. I added pockets in the front seams and left off the shoulder tucks which gives a stronger line. Pictures of all that next week.

Burda 117 02/2012 line art

The one I’m working on now is 116 09/2018 which reminds me strongly of the white dress worn by the character Luv in Blade Runner 2049. So, erm, secret evil replicant cosplay.

Here’s Luv.

Luv from Blade Runner 2049 in a white dress

And here’s the Burda dress.

Burda 116 09/2018 line art

The lines of the dress are not quite the same: hers has a separate collar and the princess seams continue into the skirt; there may not even be a separate waistband section as it is always styled with a belt. But the overall shape is similar. I’m not making mine in white though, at least not for the first version. If it works I might do it again in white scuba just for fun.

I’ll keep posting about this as I work my through the list, although I’m certainly going to allow myself to sew other things in between – I still need a winter coat after all!

Black ruched dress: Burda 110 08/2017

Black is so difficult to photograph! This is my version of Burda 110 08/2017 (the link is to the Russian Burda site because of the recent changes on the US site). Hopefully you can see the details, because this dress has a lot going on. Gathering, pleating, buttons, and believe it or not there are pockets too, hidden in the skirt front pleats. Those aren’t part of the original pattern. They are horizontal inseam pockets inserted in an additional seam added by slashing the skirt front pattern piece along the inside fold of one of the pleats. Once the skirt is made up the pleat folds itself over the top of the pocket and hides the opening.

Here’s Burda’s version. Beautiful, but I bet they had to photograph it carefully. The fabric has to be lightweight and very elastic to work for this design, and when it’s white as well there must be huge potential for accidentally revealing more than intended. I added an underlining to the skirt in my version to get better coverage, and if I ever make it again I’ll do the same with the bodice as well. To reduce bulk at the seams I made separate underlining pattern pieces from a basic pencil skirt shape without any details, and then mounted the gathered and pleated fronts and backs onto them.

Burda 110 08/2017 model photo. A woman in a white dress sits beside a swimming pool

You can see in this back view that my slip is showing through at the shoulders. A second layer would probably have helped with that. The fabric is a lightweight single knit viscose/elastane jersey from Croft Mill. At the time of writing it’s still available. With my pattern alterations I used pretty much every scrap of three metres; I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to cut the whole thing. If I remake this I’ll buy a bit more fabric next time so I can underline the bodice too.

This is a Tall pattern, and the design is certainly proportioned accordingly, with the long slim skirt and cuffs. I found the cuffs came out a little baggy on me and would narrow them slightly another time. I don’t think I have unusually thin wrists so that’s worth watching out for if you’re making this.

What’s slightly surprising about the design is that they have you put in a really long zip, from the neck point right down to the hips. This is somewhat tricky to do: the fabric isn’t particularly stable to start with and then there’s the thick gathered section at the centre back skirt seam to negotiate. The zip isn’t necessary for getting the dress waist over your hips, because the waist’s elasticated anyway and the fabric, as previously mentioned, has to be very stretchy. I can get the dress on without undoing the zip or buttons at all. Admittedly it messes up my hair, but if that’s a consideration then a shorter zip to centre back would solve that and be a lot easier to install.

I like the button detail at the back of the neck. They’re secured with thread loops which are oddly satisfying to make. Pleased with the buttons too; they’re just plastic but they are exactly right for this dress.

This has turned out to be a surprisingly wearable dress. The stretchy fabric means the long pencil skirt isn’t as restricting as it looks, and it’s quite warm. The pockets haven’t worked as well as I’d hoped; the fabric is too light to support much weight so anything like a phone tends to distort the skirt front. I think that could be reduced by adding interfacing, or maybe extending the back pocket into a stay that could be caught in the waist seam. I cheated for the photos and didn’t put anything in the pockets.

I do think it needs a belt to make it look finished, and it needs to be leather (or fake leather) rather than fabric. Or maybe I should add more length to the bodice to make it blouse out and hide the waist seam.

I’m kind of tempted to make this again. White would look great but I don’t have any shoes that would go with it so I’d never wear it. Maybe beige or taupe?

Modelled photos of Burda 105 02/2019

It seems like ages since I finished making this coat. I posted about it at the time but didn’t manage to get photos of it on me. Now it’s had a couple of months of wear so time to see how it’s held up. The pattern was originally Burda 105 02/2019 but I have shortened it and given it a lot more waist shaping. The fabric is a very heavy cotton/acetate blend denim.

I don’t wear it every day, but it’s getting a lot of use at the moment. The fabric isn’t intended to be waterproof but it’s sufficiently heavy and tightly woven that light rain bounces off. It’s also nicely windproof. I thought all the structure and the very stiff fabric might make it a bit awkward to wear but it’s actually very comfortable. I do slightly regret putting the buckle on the end of the belt. It looks great – it’s really solid hardware and the perfect shade of pewter – but it’s also rather a liability as I keep knocking into things with it. If I wear the coat open I have to be careful to arrange the belt so I can control it.

Here’s a back view. I’d been sitting down just before we took these as you can probably tell from the creases. Let’s just call it keeping things real.

The storm flap sticks out more than on the original because of the adjustments I made to the back to give myself some arm mobility. With hindsight I should have put a couple of darts in the bottom edge of the flap to control the volume, which I’ve seen done on RTW.

The collar works well worn up as well as down. I definitely should have added sleeve heads because the shoulder seam hasn’t come out totally smooth despite removing all the sleeve cap ease.

The fabric is holding up well. I was a bit concerned it would show wear quite quickly as it’s slightly shiny, but so far so good.

The pockets are good; roomy enough for things like gloves and nothing falls out of them.

I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy wearing this coat. I thought it might end up in the category of garments which look good in photos but are just slightly too much fuss for every day. But it’s very easy to throw on, goes with everything, and still makes me feel like I’ve made an effort to be smart. Sadly we had our first really cold morning of the autumn this week and the coat is clearly not going to be warm enough for winter weather, so the hunt for a winter coat continues.

Thanks to my husband for the pictures, and my brother for toddler wrangling duty while we took them.

Where does all the fabric go?

So you buy a length of fabric online. An enormous parcel arrives. You wrestle the contents into the washing machine, and hope the weight doesn’t overload it. The washed fabric takes over half a room while it dries, carefully arranged so as not to pull off grain. You get your pattern, cut out the pieces. The fabric is gone and all that’s left are some scraps and a tiny pile of cut pattern pieces a fraction of the size of what you started with. It can’t possibly be enough to cover a body. And yet it all works out in the end. It is a mystery.

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.