Perfecting techniques

I haven’t managed to buy new needles for the sewing machine yet so haven’t got much further on the latest project. Thanks all for the advice and encouragement! I will definitely try out different needles with this fabric and the petroleum jelly trick.

However it occurred to me that this dress isn’t particularly ambitious in that it doesn’t incorporate any techniques. There’s a lot of advice out there that you should try something new with every project, but I find I actually enjoy doing the same things a few times in a row because I definitely improve each time. It’s so satisfying to eventually produce a garment where everything lines up nicely and neatly. (I have managed this exactly once so far, on my fourth version of McCalls 5799, the world’s simplest A-line shift dress so I am certainly not claiming to be any sort of perfectionist – it’s just nice when it does work out.)

Years ago I was told that a good dressmaking exercise for beginners is to take a simple pattern and make it five or six times, altering it slightly each time. The lady who was giving this advice started with a basic blouse and did a sleeveless version, a wrap version, a couple of others I don’t remember, and ended up with a shirt-dress. It’s a great idea – pity I don’t wear blouses. But maybe it would work with a dress with a waist seam – you could do a sleeveless version, add sleeves, turn it into a skirt by taking the bottom half and putting a waistband on, and then there are collar and neckline variations. Anyone out there done that? Did you get bored? I’m wondering if I have a dress pattern in my collection that would lend itself to this. It might be a good way to reduce the fabric stash as well.

Anyway I should stop procrastinating and start cutting out what I’m working on right now. And buy needles. And, erm, fabric for the Vogue fall 2010 patterns I ordered because somehow I have nothing in the stash that goes with them.

Creases and needles

My latest project has been slow to get started because of a problem with creases.

It started with the metallic drill I bought in London a few weeks ago. I’m a sucker for anything sparkly and this fabric is both sparkly and yet subtle enough to wear to work. It’s supposedly 93% cotton and 7% ‘metal’ which didn’t sound plausible to me.

I thought that would go nicely with Vogue 8644.

As usual I put the fabric through the washing machine before starting to avoid shrinkage. I didn’t have space to dry it easily as it’s quite a long and wide piece. In the end I draped it over the clothes horse. That wasn’t wide enough and I didn’t want to let it hang over a corner so I didn’t lay it out flat, just left it sort of crumpled up. Experienced sewers are probably wincing. In fact if you have strong opinions about the correct way to treat fabric, better skip the rest of this.

It dried in amazing crinkles along the cross grain. I wish I’d photographed it now, Issey Miyake would have been impressed. The effect was quite attractive but obviously it wasn’t going to be possible to sew with.

I bashed away at it with a very hot iron and lots of steam and completely failed to remove the creases. My iron’s steam function is a bit feeble so I put it through the washing machine again on the very short cycle to get it to a state where it was damp but not too heavy to handle, and ironed it again as soon as it came out. This made very little difference.

The next day I put it through the machine again on the longest cycle on the grounds that a good soak might help. When it came out I pegged it to the washing line along the selvedge and pulled on it from the other selvedge so I was pulling on the cross grain. That actually started to reduce the creases a little but my arms got tired. Also the weather was so warm it started drying out. So I ironed it again on the highest setting with steam and the occasional cup of water thrown onto it. This has removed enough of the texture that it’s just about usable.

I don’t know if it’s the metal fibres that make it so resistant to ironing. I pulled a scrap of the fabric apart. The metal fibres are wound round the crossgrain fibres and are very fine indeed. It was quite difficult to remove one without breaking it. To my surprise they really do seem to be metal – the one I extracted bends and holds its shape just like a very fine wire. On checking my books I discovered that you should never iron fabrics with metal fibres because ‘they may melt’. Mine certainly aren’t melting though!

Amazingly, despite all the abuse, my fabric was still on grain when I squared up the ends and folded it in half. That’s an impressively tough fabric. Which raises the question, what sort of needle is going to be able to sew through it? I’ve got a collection of different sizes of universal needle, but I doubt they’ll manage.

I was searching the web to see what other sorts of needle are out there (rather hoping for Teflon-coated needles) and came across this fascinating page from Schmetz (although I wish they said a bit more about the manufacturing process). Teflon-coated needles don’t seem to exist, but it sounds like what I really need is a denim needle. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find one in town.

Vogue autumn 2010

I love Vogue patterns. I don’t know exactly what it is about them but in general they appeal to me far more than McCalls, Simplicity, or New Look. It’s not just the lure of ‘designer’ patterns because I often find myself passing over those in favour of the Easy Options and Divine Details ranges. Maybe it’s the styling of the envelope pictures?

So the autumn 2010 range is out. These are the ones that took my fancy.

8666. This one could have been made with me in mind – sleeveless princess seamed sheath dress with colour blocking potential? Yes please! There’s a view with sleeves as well, but I’m not sure how to colour block that. I’d like to make this in yellow or white with the side panels in black.

This is 1192, an Anne Klein design. I think the envelope photo doesn’t do it justice as the busy print hides the style lines. I’m not sure what fabric I’d make this up in but it would be plain to show the tucks!

1194, a DKNY design. I didn’t go for this one at first sight but the long sleeves and pockets won me over. I think this would be a good winter dress for work, comfortable but not boring.

8667. This is an Easy Options pattern. The variations include a fitted skirt, short sleeves, and a collarless version, but this one’s my favourite. I like the tweed fabric as well as the style, although I’d want something less beige. I’m fantasizing about making this in white.

1195, Badgley Mischka. This is a combination of a very plain spaghetti-strapped dress and an amazing drapey top. It’s the top I’d go for here. The line art is a bit strange-looking but if you stare at it long enough it sort of makes sense. I think I’d make it up in a plain silk jersey. Something neutral and sumptuous anyway, rather than the bold print shown in the picture. Not that the print isn’t good too, but more for evening than daytime.

There’s plenty more but these are the ones I want to make right now. You can see the whole collection (at least for the moment, those do not look like permanent URLs to me) at or What are your favourites?

Burda shirt finished


I finally finished the shirt. I’m pleased with it although, as always, there are things that could be improved. The fit isn’t quite right around the arms, so I’m getting creases across the top of the sleeve. It’s maybe clearer from the back view where there’s a funny fold near my armpits.


It’s not uncomfortable to wear so I’m not going to try fixing it on this attempt. I think I know what to adjust if I make the pattern again. The underarm is too high and needs scooping out a bit, and there’s also too much ease in the sleeve cap. I’d also change the position of the gap in the right side seam that you thread the sash through. It’s a bit too high on me so I have to wrap the sash quite carefully to avoid an unattractive gap.

After wearing this to work for a day I have decided I’d also prefer to gather the extra-long sleeves and stitch them in place rather than just push them up every five minutes.

I thought it might go well with my grey cotton skirt (half of an ancient suit)


It’s OK but it doesn’t really pop. Maybe the sashes need to be longer. Someone also suggested wearing a necklace with it but I’m not sure what colour.

However I’m really pleased I managed to sew a proper shirt collar with a collar stand. I don’t wear shirts much because I don’t like ironing, but it’s good to try something different to my standard sleeveless dress for once. Having said that, the next thing I’m planning to make is Vogue 8644, yet another sleeveless dress. You could probably wear this shirt over a wiggle dress though, or would that just look weird?


I’ve been making a BurdaStyle shirt in a fairly transparent electric blue muslin. Burda’s instructions were great, for once. None of that reading everything seven times before it even starts to make sense. Considering I’ve never made anything with a collar stand before that’s a pretty good recommendation.

However BurdaStyle doesn’t tell you things like how to finish the seams, assuming you know roughly what you’re doing. Most of the seams in the shirt are enclosed around the yoke and collar areas so those weren’t an issue, and I’d decided in advance to use french seams for the side seams, but then I got to this instruction:

Set in sleeves, easing sleeve caps

OK, fine, I know how to set in sleeves (best of three anyway), but how do you finish the armscye seam in a sheer shirt? All my sewing books said it’s not a good idea to do curved french seams because the seam allowances get too bulky. So in the absence of any other suggestions I got out my two remaining ready-to-wear shirts and a shirtdress, plus a few of my husband’s shirts, and had a look at how they were finished.

This is one of his shirts. All of them had flat-felled seams. However, in my clothes it was quite different.

 This is the shirtdress, which is a fairly hefty cotton fabric. The seam allowances are just overlocked together.
That probably doesn’t matter on the dress because you can’t see the seam from the outside, but rather to my surprise my two shirts were also finished like that, even though the fabric is quite lightweight.

This blouse is pretty sheer but I’d honestly never noticed the seam finish before. I wondered if this was because it’s a blouse and doesn’t have quite the same styling as men’s shirts. However my fairly masculine white shirt (no picture) also has the same finish.

┬áSo here’s how the Burda shirt ended up.

Vogue Sewing, my normal guide, says sternly that this armscye finish is only seen on ‘cheap ready-to-wear’! However I’m not convinced there’s anything wrong with it. I’ve never noticed the lack of flat-felled seams on my RTW shirts as unusual or annoying. I wonder if the fact that all my husband’s shirts have flat-felled seams and mine don’t is just one of those differences between mens’ clothes and womens’. If you’re wearing a shirt, check your armscyes!

Style scrapbook

Ages ago I read an interesting post on A Dress A Day about finding your personal style, or something along those lines. I can’t find the post now to check. The gist of it was to read fashion magazines, tear out all the pictures you like, and once you’ve collected a few sit down and work out what they have in common.

I’ve been tearing pictures out of mags for years but never did a lot with them. I have a scrapbook but I manage to stick pictures into it at a much lower rate than I accumulate new ones. So recently I dug out my folder of pictures to see if there’s a common theme. Turns out that once you remove the completely unwearable, there are several categories:

  • Silver. Any item of clothing made out of a silver fabric gets selected. Since I started making my own clothes I have made three silver dresses and two silver skirts. There is a much smaller group of gold metallics too, but gold only appears in heavily textured form – hello, Balenciaga C3PO leggings.
  • Sheath dresses. Mostly in black, grey, or red, and especially ones by Roland Mouret. Again, my collection of homemade sleeveless sheath dresses is alarmingly large. However I don’t own a copy of Vogue 8280, the Roland Mouret Galaxy knockoff pattern, despite having carefully preserved every picture of the Galaxy that ever appeared in Vogue.
  • Colour-blocked dresses. I’ve made two of those so far. Both sleeveless sheaths so two for the price of one! Lots of Marios Schwab here.
  • There’s a large category I can only describe as ‘cyberpunk’. A lot of black shiny stuff with some very acid brights. I’ve mostly failed to find fabric to make anything like this. I do have a favourite black dress in a 100% nylon stretch twill which came from Oasis over ten years ago. Sadly it is now too tatty to wear. I’ve never found fabric like it on sale anywhere so this category is not contributing to my dressmaking yet.
  • Tartan, mostly as dresses, and mostly Alexander McQueen, but the occasional Vivienne Westwood suit.

So, does this tell me anything useful (apart from the fact that I have horrifyingly expensive taste and therefore better learn to sew…oh wait)? The strange thing is that I don’t own anything at all in tartan, nor have I ever bought any tartan fabric. I once saw a tartan Yohji Yamamoto dress in Selfridges that I’d love to make a copy of, but I suspect my sewing skills aren’t up to it yet. It was fairly punky with a very uneven hem and a zip down the front. It had a V-neck and I think was sleeveless. The fabric was mostly blue.

So tartan is something I should probably try out some time soon. That’ll mean learning how to match those stripes though. In the meantime I’m working away on my plain blue Burda shirt, which doesn’t fit into any of my style categories, but certainly comes under the heading of learning new skills. Hopefully I’ll have that finished next week.

New horizons

I can’t remember the last time I sewed something that wasn’t a sleeveless dress. After I finished the balloon dress I’d run out of planned projects and inspiring fabric so I had a rummage through my old copies of Burda and checked out the online pattern stores in the hope of finding something different to spark some creativity. This shirt, 122 from March 2010, appealed:

I have never made a shirt before but this one looks quite easy. The lack of cuffs and buttonholes is a big plus (I never get good results with my machine’s buttonhole function) and for once Burda have provided instructions for a pattern that make sense to me. Of course just because they seem to be clear now doesn’t mean I’m not going to run into horrible trouble while constructing the shirt, but it’s a start.

Having picked a pattern out of Burda I nevertheless also picked up Vogue 8644 and Colette Patterns’ Lady Grey coat. The Vogue is yet another sleeveless sheath dress, but this one has pockets so I’m claiming it counts as different. The Lady Grey coat is something I want to sew but I’m not totally sure my skill level is up to it. I bought it so I could read the instructions. They seem very straightforward but I keep hearing dire warnings in the blogsphere about attempting anything tailored without using ‘proper’ tailoring techniques so I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not.

Finally I have a pattern I bought last month at the Hay Festival from Merchant and Mills – yet another sleeveless shift but this one has an asymmetric seam feature. The pattern is unusual in that it’s a cardboard pattern, not paper, and comes with very detailed instructions suitable for complete beginners. The idea behind the range is that in the shop there are samples of the designs made up in every size, and you try them on before buying a pattern, thus no need to make a muslin. This appeals to my laziness! The designs are very simple classic dress styles. These patterns are beautifully packaged in a cardboard tube.

Having acquired some patterns I then needed fabric to go with them. I didn’t succeed in finding anything for the coat, but I did get this peacock blue muslin for the Burda shirt:

and this metallic drill for the Vogue sheath dress:

I also got some lovely silk to use for the top half of the asymmetric dress but I need to find a toning fabric to go with it for the bottom half, so I’ll save that for later.

Now I’m off to iron and cut out the blue muslin. And try not to think about what on earth I’m going to use to interface the collar. Advice most welcome!