Disaster is narrowly averted

Thanks everyone for the comments on the Westwood skirt knockoff! Emily H. mentioned a pleated skirt from the August Burda. There are two in that issue and strangely enough one of them was what I was already planning to sew next. I want to sew the other one too but I don’t have any suitable fabric for it yet and I’ll have to grade it, so that’s a way off.

Here’s the technical drawing of the one I’m doing now.

I am making this in a beautiful 100% wool blue and black tonic suiting from Textile King, which is on Berwick Street in London. I really didn’t want to risk washing it so I tried pre-shrinking using a method I found on the Internet. You wash a big sheet and while it’s still wet lay it out flat. Lay the fabric flat on top, and roll the two together. Pop the lot into a bin liner, tie it closed, leave for a few days, then remove and iron the fabric. It worked pretty well for this fabric. It certainly shrunk a bit and it also got softer. When I bought it the fabric had a rather scratchy feel and that’s gone completely. I will definitely use this method again when sewing with wool, although next time I’ll use a towel rather than a sheet as it might crease the fabric a bit less. I’m not a great fan of ironing.

Here’s the fabric. It’s more of a royal blue than the periwinkle shade it’s come out as in the photo.

So where does the disaster come in? The pattern calls for 1.55m of 140cm wide fabric, not that I bothered to check this in advance because everyone knows a tiny little skirt takes less than a metre, right? Wrong. Not when it has pleats and is self-lined.

My piece started out 150cm wide and probably a bit over 1.5m long so I thought I had plenty. The fabric was cut very off-grain, so I probably lost 5-10cm length in straightening that up. I don’t know how much it shrank when I wet it because I didn’t measure, but some. Then I added 5cm to the length of the skirt when I traced the pattern. This becomes 10cm in terms of fabric because the skirt pieces are all cut double with the hem on a fold, another thing I didn’t really think about in advance.

So after I’d cut all the skirt panels I didn’t have enough fabric left for the four yoke pieces. This was a new experience because normally I buy far too much fabric and have large bits left over. Eventually, after much rearranging, I managed to squeeze all the pieces out of the remaining fabric by cutting the inside back yoke out upside down. That’s bad on shiny fabric as the shine might be directional, but it’s the inside piece so it won’t show. And I have marked it very carefully with my new favourite gadget, the chalk wheel. So all was not lost but you can bet I’m going to check the yardage in advance next time.

Westwood skirt knockoff finished


I finished it at last! If you’ve not been reading along, this is my attempt to make a version of Vivienne Westwood Anglomania’s Philosophy skirt.

I’m really pleased with it. The camera has done something a bit strange to the stripy fabric in the long shots so there’s a sort of moirĂ© effect going on in some of the pictures. It’s better in the closeups. The fabric came from the remnant bin at Remnant Kings in Glasgow. I’m pretty sure it’s wool. It’s certainly warm to wear.


Here’s the back view:


The fit isn’t perfect because the waistband came out a bit tight. This is because I drafted the skirt to end at my natural waist, and checked the fit at the waist, and then added a waistband of the same width on top of that. Oops. Next time I’ll know better. I used hooks and eyes for the closure of the waistband so I just sewed them on a bit further out to give me some breathing room.

I tried adding an inseam pocket to the design but it really didn’t work. It had to go on the side with the pleats because the other side has the zip. The side seam went all wonky with the pocket in place so I ripped it out. It’s quite hard to unpick seams in this fabric because stitches just vanish into it, but once you’ve managed to remove them it doesn’t leave a mark.

I like it with the plain black T-shirt (Marks and Spencer‘s finest). I’m not sure about shoes. The blue ones are nice but I couldn’t resist trying it out with my Vivienne Westwood platforms.

Unfortunately they aren’t very practical. In fact I can only just walk in them, but they’re good for posing!


I made a lining by cutting it out from my original tailored skirt draft. This is a regular skirt block with darts for shaping. I made the draped pattern by cutting up a copy of the block, so in theory the lining ought to be the same shape as the skirt once I’d sewn the pleats and darts. I could have used the same pattern pieces for the lining as the fashion fabric but I had visions of catching a toe in the pleats while putting it on. Amazingly this did work.

I wasn’t sure what the correct way to finish the lining hem would be. I definitely didn’t want it hanging free at the hem as it would be bound to show at some point given that the skirt hem isn’t straight. I originally considered using my lining fabric as underlining, but couldn’t bear the thought of itchy woolly seam allowances so the skirt had to have a proper lining.

In the end I attached the lining in the usual way and stitched in the ditch at the side seams to fix the lining to the fashion fabric near the hem. That allowed me to treat it like an underlining when hemming and sew the fashion fabric to it.

This project has been a really educational experience. I’d like to try drafting some more things now, although I’ve got a couple of projects from patterns ready to go now. Next up is a BurdaStyle skirt, if my fabric survives the bin-liner-and-wet-sheet preshrinking method. I’ll let you know on Sunday!

Skirt construction

No pictures yet, but my skirt project is coming on steadily. It’s a knockoff of a Vivienne Westwood design which has a drape on the front made by two roughly horizontal unpressed pleats. I’ll post pictures when it’s done, but in the meantime here’s a quick list of things I’ve discovered during the process.

  • It’s a lot easier to put in an invisible zip if you interface the edges of the fabric first. My zip’s in a curved side seam and in the muslin it went a bit bubbly. I fused Vilene bias tape down both sides before inserting the zipper in the real thing and it went in very evenly.
  • Point turners are better than pencils. I usually use a blunt pencil for turning out corners, but recently picked up a proper point turner. I got pretty good corners on my waistband with its assistance. The end of a 60-30 set square might have the same effect although it would be harder to fit in the sewing basket.
  • Muslin the waistband as well as the rest of the skirt…mine turned out a bit tight! Too late now but I’ll know for next time.
  • Woven stripes make fitting a lot easier. Probably obvious but I’d never tried it before. You can see every little distortion and bump very easily.
  • Those chalk wheel things are brilliant. If you’ve not seen one, they’re a triangular plastic device with a little plastic wheel in one corner and a container of powered chalk in the opposite edge that coats the wheel as you run it along your fabric. They make a really fine accurate line, but the real win is that it means I don’t have to sharpen the chalk every five minutes.

And in other news, many thanks to Alice for coming up with a fix for my meh dress! The lining isn’t sewn to the waist seam so it should be possible to scoop out a bit of the front bodice seams and reduce the bagginess. That’s next after the skirt.

Westwood skirt muslin

As my last project turned out to be a big disappointment I couldn’t wait to get started on something new. I’m going to try to make a version of a Vivienne Westwood skirt. The style is called Philosophy. I originally saw it while browsing in the Vivienne Westwood shop in Glasgow. There are some good pictures on Net-a-Porter. It comes in a few different fabrics.

It’s basically a pencil skirt. There’s a drape at the front which is made by a pair of pleats that are caught in the right side seam. On the back of the skirt all the shaping comes from two darts, both on the left, which slant towards the right. There’s a zip in the left side seam and a narrow waistband. The hem is on a slant at the front and back and so the length doesn’t match up at the side seams.

My starting point was to draft a basic pencil skirt block to my measurements. I used Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich. I measured myself (that was a nasty surprise…I blame the Glasgow restaurants) and started following the book’s drafting instructions for a tailored skirt block.

I immediately hit a problem because the book would have you use a fixed measurement for the length between your waist and hip which you read off from a table based on your pattern size, ie your bust size. I really don’t see how this can produce a correctly fitting skirt on a person who isn’t averagely proportioned. I’m pretty tall and my waist-hip length is 20% longer than the one in the table. In the end I just used my own measurement at the appropriate point rather than the one from the table. Much crumpled paper later I had a very plain pencil skirt block which looked far too big. I carried on regardless.

The next part was a lot more fun. I cut the block into pieces along the existing dart lines and the lines where I wanted the new darts and pleats to be, and moved the pieces to close up the old darts and make gaps where the new ones are. I wanted the pleats to be extra deep so I spread those out further by cutting all the way to the opposite side. I have no idea how you’re supposed to draft this stuff properly; I just made this up as I went along with a bit of inspiration from Make Your Own Dress Patterns.

From the pictures of the original made up in stripes it was obvious that the hem’s on the straight grain so no head-scratching about where to draw the grain line! Here’s what it looked like at this point.

I cut it out, adding approximate seam allowances, and sewed it up. It was a bit too big on the waist and tight on the hips so I altered those, but on the whole the fit was surprisingly good. The front shaping came out right straight away but there was a funny wrinkle at the back. I also should have pressed out that crease in the fabric before taking pictures…never mind.

Lengthening the darts and taking the waist in a little improved the wrinkling.

It’s still not perfect but I think it’s good enough to go now, so at that point I ran around the seam lines with a black marker and took the muslin to pieces to use as a pattern. I drafted a waistband by the unscientific method of tracing the waistline of the muslin and adding width to that curve. Now I just have to work out how to line it.



I finally finished Vogue 8644. You may remember that this has been a chapter of accidents, all my own fault on account of having washed the original fabric, so this is a second attempt.

The result’s a resounding ‘meh’. There’s nothing dramatically wrong but I’m just not that keen on it. I haven’t got the fit quite right on the bust. The colour’s not good on me. I don’t like the neckline. It needs a belt, or a necklace, or something, but I don’t know what.

The bust fit issue surprised me, as I measured quite carefully and tissue-fitted the pattern, but the dress needs lifting up on the front shoulder seam by as much as an inch. Why no, I didn’t fit as I went. I am astoundingly lazy, have made a few Vogue dress patterns that fit OK, and so thought the tissue fitting would be enough. On the upside, the fit on the back is better than I normally manage – I did a rounded back adjustment for the first time – so I learnt something useful there.


The colour…well until I put lipstick on you wouldn’t have seen me if I stood against a white wall in this dress. I normally stick to dark colours but having recently discovered I can wear white I thought I’d give this a go. Nah. Lesson learnt. Ice cream colours definitely to be avoided in future, even mint choc chip.

The neckline feels wrong. I like my necklines high but am forever being told they ‘look uncomfortable’ so I didn’t raise this one. It may look comfortable but it doesn’t feel right! That might grow on me in time I suppose.

On the up side it does have pockets


although they aren’t really big enough for a screwdriver, a bunch of keys, a pager, and all the other junk I often carry around at work.

The good news is that there was no way I was going to hand hem this after having seen it on me, so I gave my machine’s blind hem function another go. I have had very little success with it up to now unless I’ve been hemming onto an underlining, but this time I got it adjusted correctly! It shows a little but no worse than my hand sewn hems. So I am proud to announce that this dress has no hand sewing in it at all, something I have been aiming for since I started dressmaking. Also having a dress form made measuring the hem length really easy, so that’s another gadget I can recommend.

That’s probably the last summer dress for this year. I am now going try drafting a Vivienne Westwood skirt knockoff which I’m pretty excited about. And yes, I am going to make a muslin this time.

Admitting defeat

I am admitting defeat with my metallic drill fabric. I should never have washed it.

I thought I’d got enough of the wrinkles out that I could still sew with it despite the strange texture. I cut out Vogue 8644, fashion fabric and lining. I armed myself with some denim needles and wound a couple of bobbins. I gave the sewing machine a really good clean. I tried sewing some practice seams on a scrap of the fabric and can report that a denim needle in size 90 worked well.

Then I picked up the bodice front, which is cut on the fold, to staystitch the edges. The fold had turned into an impressive crease which I thought I’d better remove before sewing. I took it to the ironing board and pressed it. Leant on it. Wetted it. Turned the iron up to maximum. The crease wouldn’t budge. I folded the crease in the reverse direction round the edge of the ironing board and pressed it like that. That just raised a shiny patch on the right side of the fabric. OK, I thought, I can cut this piece again out of the leftovers as it is small. Luckily before I did that I thought to check the skirt front, also cut on the fold and much larger, and that had a similar crease. At which point I threw in the towel. The metallic drill pieces are in the scraps bag and I’ve just washed some pale blue cotton drill from the stash to use instead.

On the up side, my machine appears to no longer have the nagging tension problem it’s been developing for a while.

Fabric shopping in Glasgow

I can really recommend the fabric shops in Glasgow. Good thing I have a lovely husband who was prepared to put fabric in his suitcase because I ran out of space in mine.

I only managed to visit Mandors and Remnant Kings but that was more than enough. They’re both central, easy to get to, and strangely situated well above ground level.

I started with Mandors. This is huge. As well as dressmaking fabric it sells haberdashery, furnishing fabric, and patterns. I only looked at the dressmaking fabric and there was enough of that to occupy me for a long while. The range was amazing but I think the best things were the woollens. After a lot of agonising I settled on some beautiful red tweedy stuff for Vogue 8667. I never know the correct names for fabrics so it may not technically be tweed. It’s 100% “pure new wool” woven and a lot more chunky and textured than suiting fabric. There are fibres of two different shades of red.

Incidentally what is the difference between “new” and other wool? Do they recycle wool? Is “new wool” the first stuff off the sheep, kind of like extra virgin olive oil? Does it make any difference in practice?

Mandors is quite pricey but much better value for money than the West End in London. Pity the train fare to Glasgow more than redresses the balance! The whole shop is very well organised. Fabric is arranged by type and colour. Every bolt had the price, fibre content, width, and care instructions attached. You take a ticket to get in the queue for cutting and can mark bolts you’ve selected so they don’t get tidied away while you’re browsing for other things. It wasn’t busy enough to justify any of that while I was there but that was a weekday. I suspect Saturdays may be a different matter.

I nearly didn’t find Remnant Kings at all. The address is Argyle Street, one of the longest and busiest shopping streets in Glasgow. I wandered up and down searching while my iPhone was insisting I was right on top of it. I couldn’t see it until I looked up and noticed a sign in a first floor window. The entrance turned out to be round the corner from the street address.

Remnant Kings was smaller than Mandors and had a lot less stock, but they had just finished a sale and hadn’t got their new stock in yet. As well as dressmaking fabric they also do haberdashery and a very small range of furnishing fabrics. There is also an odd little corner full of cheap plastic accessories for fancy dress – devil horn hairbands and the like. However there’s another branch that I didn’t visit that specialises in furnishing fabric.

I got 4m of cheap and cheerful poly viscose tartan to attempt my Yohji Yamamoto knockoff and a beautiful black wool remnant with a gold stripe from the bargain bucket that’s going to be a Vivienne Westwood skirt knockoff.

Remnant Kings is a lot cheaper than Mandors but everything’s still well laid out and labelled. Except my tartan but trust me to pick up the only bolt without a label in any shop. In shops where only samples are on display I always pick ones that the staff can’t locate the bolt for. Apologies here to anyone who’s ever been behind me in the queue.

And if that wasn’t enough I found the August Burda in WHSmiths! It’s been quite difficult to get hold of round my way since Borders closed down. There’s lots of really good things in it but that’ll have to wait for another post.