2010 sewing review

I love looking at other people’s ‘what I sewed this year’ posts. I think there are a couple of reasons. Some of it is just the inspiration factor of seeing all the beautiful garments people have produced. The other reason is that I really like the extra context you get from seeing all of a person’s projects together.

I was going to do my own ‘what I sewed this year’ post. I estimated I’d made about six dresses and a few skirts and other bits and pieces. Then I counted. Sixteen dresses, four skirts, one shirt, one cardigan, and a jumpsuit. And that doesn’t include the failures I didn’t finish. I’m not really sure where I found the time for all that! Anyway I’m not going to inflict the lot on you, just the ones I made in 2010 before I started blogging.

Burda 112-12-2009 skirt. Not a complete success but it got some wear, usually with a flouncy blouse rather than this T-shirt.


Vogue 8512. I’ve worn this to death, usually as a layer over a bright orange t-shirt dress. The terrible lighting in the photo doesn’t do it justice. I really should make this again.


McCall’s 5241 one-hour cardigan. Love this, although it’s basically a blanket with sleeves. It’s made out of a wool-blend jersey and is really warm.


Burda 119-10-2009. I was really pleased with this dress.


Vogue 2091. This was a disaster because I didn’t make a muslin.


Simplicity 3775. There’s a reason this was one of Pattern Review’s patterns of the year in 2007. I have worn this dress a lot. It’s warm and cosy, but smart enough to wear when I need to look like I’ve made a bit of an effort.


Vogue 8594. A long long slog that produced an OK dress at the end. I wore it a lot in the warm weather but the fit problems are starting to annoy me.


Vogue 8633. My favourite pattern. I made this one twice. The fit isn’t quite right in this version but unlike the previous one I don’t notice it.


Here it is again in silver silk dupion. I have worn this out of the house on more than one occasion. This is a bit of a cheat because I have blogged about it, but not while I was making it.

And that’s it for ones you’ve not seen before.

Tartan Philosophy skirt finished

Just before Christmas I finished what will probably be the last project of 2010, another version of my knockoff of the Vivienne Westwood Philosopy skirt, this time made out of the fabric left over from the tartan dress project.


I tweaked the pattern from my previous attempt. I pegged the skirt hem a little, although it’s still not as dramatic as the original.I haven’t tried the original on but mine is only just OK for walking in, so I don’t think I’ll try to take it in any further. I also redrafted the waistband, which on my first version was much too tight. The waistband’s still far from perfect. You can see in this view that it doesn’t form a smooth curve but has a sort of peak at the closure. This is probably because I tried to make it too curved.


The back view’s OK. There’s a slight wrinkle caused by the zipper on one side and the weight of the pleat on the other. I put interfacing in the wrong place on the zipper side and forgot to put anything at all on the other side to support the seam. I should go and write a reminder on the pattern piece!


The side seam on the side with the pleats is surprisingly straight given the weight of the pleats.


The execution of this one isn’t great. There are a few wonky seams and the inside isn’t pretty (which is a shame because I used a really bright scarlet lining) but it will do. And it looks surprisingly good with my clunky steel toe-capped safety boots, which are the only footwear I’m going to be venturing outdoors in until the weather improves.

Emergency sewing supplies

Being on holiday from work but at home means I have some extra sewing time. However I have no projects lined up after the current skirt (about a third of the way though and progressing rather slowly) as I was intending to go fabric shopping in London after Christmas and see what inspired me, and at the moment the weather in the UK is sufficiently bad that I can’t rely on being able to do that.

This means if any sewing is going to happen over the break it will have to be from my fabric stash, or whatever John Lewis in town can supply. John Lewis’ fabrics are lovely high quality things, but the range is extremely limited and the prices are much too high to take a chance on fabric that’s not quite right, so realistically I’m going to be going through the stash. This is a combination of random bits of impractical fabric I bought on impulse, and the leftovers from the many, many projects where I overestimated the required yardage.

I don’t have a notions stash other than a collection of chunky dress-length zips, so I ventured into town today to buy some emergency notions. Not knowing what I’m going to be sewing makes this a bit tricky, but I came back with two skirt-length black zips, one invisible, one not, and the reel of red thread I need in order to complete the current skirt. I must be able to find enough usable fabric for a couple of skirts in the stash. If I do manage to reduce the stash I’ll report back at the end of the holidays!

Dream fabric

I often find myself imagining a project and then being completely unable to find suitable fabric to produce it with. We’re fairly short on fabric shops where I live so serious fabric shopping means taking a whole day and travelling to London. I know a lot of people buy online, but I find I really need to touch fabric in order to have a good idea of whether it will work for me or not.

Only being able to shop for fabric occasionally means I often use fabric that’s ‘good enough’ – if I held out for ‘perfect’ I’d hardly sew at all! However if I could wish up any fabric I wanted, regardless of price or availability, this is what I’d go for:

  • Very stretchy wool jersey (maybe with a bit of lycra?) in white and black. This would be t-shirts and very simple dresses with cowl necks
  • Lightweight wool doubleknit in black, white, and red for 1960s style dresses
  • Tonic suiting in yellow/black and green/black just because it’s gorgeous
  • Black and white printed chiffon to be a maxi dress
  • Quilted silk in a neutral, preferably olive green or brown for a skirt
  • White wool tweed for a very ladylike boat-necked dress

Does anyone else have a fantasy fabric list?

Non-obvious in hindsight

After finishing the tartan dress I had quite a lot of the fabric left over. It’s a polyester/viscose tartan bought from Remnant Kings in Glasgow.

I was casting round for something to make out of it and eventually decided to do another version of my Vivienne Westwood Philosophy skirt knockoff. Tartan is a very Westwood fabric to start with, and this particular style looks really good in fabric with a woven stripe as it shows up the deliberately skewed grainline.

I always carefully file my patterns away in A4 envelopes when I’m done with them, so this should have just been a case of pulling out the right envelope and getting cutting. Unfortunately I ran into the problem that what seems obvious when you’re drafting a pattern is completely non-obvious when you come to use it again a few months later. Rather like computer code when you come back to it a while after writing, come to think of it.

So for your amusement and to remind myself, I have discovered it really helps to:

  • Write on the pattern whether it includes seam allowances or not. (A careful comparison of pattern with skirt indicates not!)
  • File all the pieces in the same envelope. No, really. And label them with what they are so that when you fail to put them in the right envelope you don’t have to examine every stray pattern piece in your collection to find the lining pattern.
  • Give some indication of which cryptic markings are important for construction and which were just part of the drafting. Again, I had to lay the pattern over the finished skirt to work it out.
  • Write on the pattern what notions you need. I know there’s a zip, but roughly how long did it need to be? (No, I didn’t mark the zip placement on the pattern either so I had to measure the skirt.)

Presumably with practice you get to know what you really do need to write down and what can safely be left to be deduced next time round. Come to think of it, there’s a whole chapter of That Which You Shall Write Down in Adele Margolis’ Make Your Own Dress Patterns. I may just go and read that again.

80s flashback

I finished the tartan dress. The background to this is that few years ago (long before I started sewing) I saw a Yohji Yamamoto dress in Selfridges that I really liked but couldn’t possibly afford. I can barely remember a lot of the details now, but this is my take on the features that did stick with me: tartan, exposed zip, narrow waist, wide skirt, and drapey bits.


I think there’s something quite 1980s about it. (For the avoidance of doubt I’m pleased with that! Hence the pirate boots in the pictures rather than heels.)

I was planning to wear it with a belt but having tried that I now think it’s better without. Here it is again with the belt for comparison.


I’m really pleased with the exposed metal zip. I did wonder if the weight of the zip would make the skirt hang awkwardly, but in fact it doesn’t seem to make any difference. None of the back views we photographed looked strange. I always find that any faults show up in photos even if they are totally invisible to me in the mirror, so I think the zip is a success.


I ended up having to let the side seams out a little – I should have done a full bust adjustment but I thought I wouldn’t need it with the cowl neck. I don’t think it really shows though.


I love the circle skirt but hemming it took a whole evening. I machined it (can you imagine hand hemming six metres? I can’t!) but even so the marking, pinning up, easing, basting, pressing, and finally stitching it took an age. I could have left it raw for a more punky look, but I like this dress too much to want to risk it fraying into nothing!

Many thanks to all who gave me such good advice and encouragement about this one – it turned out to be a much more difficult project than I expected, but I’m so pleased with the results!

The zip is IN

I have produced the first half decent exposed zip I’ve ever managed!

I can really recommend the exposed zip technique at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_c/C-221.pdf (it’s a PDF so you’ll need Acrobat Reader or Foxit or similar to view). This is for the kind of exposed zip where the zip is installed under the fashion fabric, like an ordinary centred zip, but you fold back the seam allowances of the seam you’re sewing it under to make a slot. The fashion fabric edges don’t meet over the zip and the zip tape shows. A picture probably makes more sense than a description so here’s my finished zip:

Here are a few extra notes on how I did it because I didn’t quite follow the tutorial.

I was using a separating zip so I zigzagged over the bottom end with a zero-length stitch to hold it together. The zip’s tape stopped at the bottom of the zip stopper, so I sewed a scrap of fashion fabric to the end to give me a longer ‘tape’ to sew onto the dress. This was a big help and I’ll definitely do it another time. I finished the edges of the scrap before sewing it on. It was cut to the same width as the closed zip and straight-stitched to the zip tape for about the last 1cm of tape.

I marked the ‘slot’ by laying the zip onto the fabric to determine the length of the slot. The tutorial has you just measure the length of the zip plus an inch, but anything involving measuring and zips doesn’t work for me. If I put the zip onto the fabric and mark exactly where I want the thing to go I find the end result’s more accurate.

I used strips of fusible interfacing to keep the edges of the slot stable. I applied it outside the stay stitching lines on the wrong side of the fabric. It really helps.

The clever bit in the method I used is that you sew the end of the zip to the little triangle of fabric at the end of the slot before sewing the sides of the zip into the slot. This seems to keep the end of the slot in good shape. My first attempt at sewing the end wasn’t very accurate, but I discovered it’s a bit like an invisible zip – you just keep sewing over it until it looks OK from the outside. The less said about the state of the inside, the better, though. And I am very glad I didn’t sew the side seams before doing the zip. This bit would have been really tricky if I hadn’t been able to lay everything out flat. Oh and I should have sewed the back seam a little bit further than I did. You can see the triangle is coming apart in the picture.

Here’s the end of the slot. I’m really pleased I got the white stripe in the fabric to line up with the plastic bit on the end of the zip tape. You can just see the scrap of fabric extending the zip tape below the stopper – the original zip tape stops where the plastic stops.

So I’m very nearly done. I haven’t actually tried it on yet, but as the side seams are still open I have a bit of wiggle room for fitting!