Andy’s gizmo

When I was doing GCSE Creative Textiles many many years ago one of the things the course included was ‘soft sculpture’: using fabric to create facsimiles of objects. I never thought I’d be using those techniques in real life. But last weekend I found myself recreating a prop from my son’s favourite TV programme in fabric and it’s actually a pretty similar process.

The prop is the ‘gizmo’ from Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures. It’s a blue mobile phone-like device that the lead character wears strapped to his arm. The gizmo is quite thick, so I used some scraps of foam heat resistant table covering to stuff it and give it shape. I also used heavy weight iron-on interfacing on the back of the blue felt body fabric.

The gizmo has a screen, which I made with black felt, and some controls which I machine embroidered. It attaches to an arm band with Velcro. Here’s the body fabric with the screen, embroidery and Velcro applied before I sewed it up.

The arm band is a rectangle of sweatshirting fabric. It is wrapped around the arm and is held together with Velcro on the long edges. The gizmo attaches to two smaller strips of Velcro.

And here’s the finished object. It’s already been well loved and the felt fabric is showing the effects. In Creative Textiles we used to use cotton twill fabric and paint it with glue to make our soft sculptures have a bit of body. I don’t think I’ll be going as far as using glue, but I bet denim or gabardine would work for the body fabric and be harder wearing.

I made a proper pattern for this, which turns out to be a good thing because we recently discovered Andy’s Wild Adventures; a very similar series to Dinosaur Adventures but the gizmo in it is red not blue. So this weekend I may be making a red version.

Knowing when to give up: Burda 116 09/2018

Looks OK on the dressform, doesn’t it? This is my version of Burda 116 09/2018, a fitted dress from my list of favourite Burda dresses. Here’s Burda’s version:

Model photo of Burda 116 09/2018. Blonde woman wearing fitted grey dress.

Sadly however the end result does not look at all OK on me. It’s oddly droopy in most places, and yet tight across the bust.

I did make a few changes which may have contributed to the problems. I used a stable ponte knit instead of a woven. I checked the ease on the pattern and it seemed OK for a knit, but once I tried the dress on I realised I should have sized down and done a full bust adjustment. I also added somewhat unsuccessful hip pockets; the lines don’t harmonise with the princess seams on the bodice very well. And I made the sleeves full length, only I got that wrong too and they are only full length because they’re not hemmed!

This is the dress where I followed Burda’s method for adding length to a bodice by splitting the adjustment above and below the bust point, instead of adding it all below as I’ve been doing for years. Many commenters said Burda’s instructions didn’t sound like a good idea and you were right! Look how deep the armscye is. At least I know now not to bother with that again.

I’m also not terribly happy with the neckline and collar. Burda’s version has square corners and a sharp v, but the sewing lines on the pattern are curved. I followed the pattern without really thinking, and the end result is pretty different to the one photographed in the magazine. It’s not curved enough to look intentional in my opinion.

I’m pleased with my top stitching though. There’s a lot of top stitched seam detail on the back. I skipped the centre back zip as I was using a knit.

I’m also quite pleased with the finish I got on the inside. The lining is black tricot mesh. It was an absolute beast to sew; it slipped and snagged at every opportunity.

But unfortunately I don’t think the dress is savable because of the armscye problem. Everything else could be fixed or lived with, but that would need recutting the whole bodice and I haven’t got any more of the fabric. And to be quite honest I’m pretty much over this one and don’t want to put the effort in! I’ll just have to chalk it up to experience.

Sewing top fives: goals

Sewing top fives of 2019 logo

And here is the last post of the sewing top five of 2019 series: goals. To make it more interesting I’m not making any concession to practicality. This is what I currently want to sew regardless of climate and lifestyle.

First up is a quilted winter coat in silver. As soon as I saw Burda 114 11/2019 I wanted to make a metallic version. Here’s the technical drawing. I’m intending to skip the bow.

Burda 114 11/2019 padded coat technical drawing

This one is quite likely to get made. I really need a warm winter coat and I already have a fabric in mind for it: an amazing bright silver foiled denim. I still need to do a toile and gather quite a lot of supplies apart from the shell fabric so there’s a way to go.

I was lucky enough to get some of the recent Vogue patterns from my wishlist for Christmas (thanks!) and the one I am really itching to make is V1645, the Rachel Comey Standfast jumpsuit. The pattern envelope recommends ‘cotton blends’ but some versions of the original were made in a fabric that’s described as ‘white pebbled foam’. I still can’t quite work out what that might mean. I think I’ll play it fairly safe and look for a tencel denim for my version. I’m not sure what to do about the buckle detail. The original has a self fabric covered buckle but I quite fancy using a metal one. The trouble is I’m not sure if that will make it tricky to wash.

And the last one is a real stretch: this amazing Pamella Roland Vogue coat/cape. It’s out of print and I can’t say I’m entirely surprised because it’s not exactly practical. But I do love it.

I’m also carrying on with my project to work my way through my wishlist of Burda dresses, and in fact my next couple of posts will be about the next two on the list. That seems like more than enough plans for one year. So thanks to the Sewcialists for running this blog series again, and on to 2020.

Sewing top fives: reflections

So, on to sewing reflections for 2019. I find this is the hardest post in the series to write so apologies if it’s deadly dull.

For a while now I’ve been trying to reduce my fabric stash by sewing from stash where possible, only buying fabric one project ahead, and always getting samples before buying fabric online. The idea is to make better choices and sew up new fabric before I can change my mind about it. I managed to stick to that for most of the year. I also gave away some stash fabrics I knew I would never ever sew because the colours and prints didn’t suit me.

The stash has shrunk somewhat as a result, but there’s still a way to go and it’s getting more difficult to reduce it. I’ve already sewn up the easy stuff and am now left with lengths that I am struggling to find a suitable project for. There’s one length of green wool coating in particular that’s a problem. I don’t sew it up because I’m not really convinced the colour suits me, but I can’t part with it either. This picture gives some idea.

Green coat fabric with pink lining

I can’t possibly dye it; I’d need an industrial dye vat for that much heavy wool! Nor am I really up for sewing an entire coat for someone else. My current hope is that I’ll find a coat pattern I love that’s sufficiently out there that I wouldn’t risk buying new fabric for it.

I’m also on a pattern buying diet. This year I only kept up my Burda subscription and didn’t buy envelope patterns. Again this is getting slightly harder now because Vogue, my favourite brand after Burda, are really on a roll at the moment.

I did buy the Bootstrap Vado custom jeans PDF pattern this year which was a fun experiment. The fit was better for me than unadjusted Burda jeans, but it was not perfect enough for me to get over my general dislike of PDF patterns and go back for more yet. I might consider Bootstrap or Lekala again for something I was finding really difficult to fit though.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do this year is to feed Kibbe style advice into my choice of projects. (If you want more on Kibbe, check out Doctor T’s in-depth blog series). I’m pretty dubious about style typing systems in general but some of the ideas in this one work for me: it recommends I wear vee and boat necks, monochrome colour schemes, dark neutral colours, long lines, and avoid any fussy details. Of course I also have my own rules: pockets are essential, metallic is a neutral, everything must be machine washable.

I’m not sure using Kibbe has made a huge difference to how I dress – part of the reason I like the system is that it agrees with my existing ideas about what suits me – but it did make me consider choosing longer skirt lengths, which I’ve found aren’t as dowdy as I would have guessed…or maybe this is all a coincidence as fashion’s just come around to longer skirts. Anyway I shall carry on keeping his recommendations in mind, and doubtless reject them the minute they clash with something I really want to wear.

Phew. Next up: plans for 2020!

Sewing top fives: highlights

On to the next sewing top five post. This one is ‘Highlights’ – for things that aren’t sewing projects, which were already covered in Hits.

I’ve got one that vaguely relates to the subject of this blog. We finally finished building our extension. It took nearly a year and there was a grim few weeks when we had to move back into the house before the kitchen was finished; we also didn’t have any windows! But it’s lovely now it’s done and it turned out the new kitchen island makes a handy cutting table. And there is no longer a leaking and decaying conservatory in my blog photos. Before:

And after…this is obviously taken from outside the house but that patio is where the conservatory was.

And here’s part of the new kitchen and dining room with the island.

I’m so glad it’s finished…it’ll be a while before we can face anything like that again!

Sewing top fives: Misses

This is my favourite part of the sewing top fives: writing about the ones that didn’t work. And the good news is that I’m struggling to find five complete fails from 2019 – this year there are only four.

The first was a pair of trousers for my son. I traced the pattern (Burda 127 03/2018), cut them out, and then left them for a couple of months. Which was stupid because children grow. By the time I made them up they were much too small.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the drafting either; they’re intended for that awkward size where the child may or may not still be in nappies, but you’d never fit a nappy under these. What I’ve learnt from this is that it’s a lot cheaper and easier (in the UK at least) to buy trousers for toddlers than make your own.

The next fail was also for my son, but the same pattern (a RTW copy based on Burda 138 03/2014) also featured in my top five hits. I first made it in green polar fleece as a trial run, and he loved it. The red ‘real’ version here is made from soft shell and is not loved – in fact I can’t get him to wear it. I think the problem is that the fabric is too robust. It’s much more of a coat fabric than a sweater fabric. Pity because it’s a lovely colour and I was very pleased with how it came out. I may have to pass this on to one of his friends.

Now on to things for me. I made a toile of Burda 118 09/2010, a coat I’ve loved for years, thinking the pattern couldn’t possibly be as bad as all the reviews said. And I think it could be made into a wearable garment. But have I done all the work needed to fix the many problems with the pattern yet? No. Maybe next year. Maybe never.

This last one is probably my worst fail. It’s a remake of Burda 128 10/2010 in black sateen. It’s a bit tricky to sew and I put quite a lot of extra effort into adding pockets to the design, but I’ve hardly worn it. It’s too short and tight. The first time I made it I used a knitted fabric and I suspect I’ve also put on a few inches since then, so it was silly to think I could use the same pattern pieces this time around. Funnily enough it doesn’t look too bad in the picture. I wonder if there is some styling trick that would mean I can get some wear out of it.

So that’s one poor fabric choice, two fitting fails, and one bad pattern. The only one I’m really frustrated about is the black dress – the too-small trousers were made from leftover fabric, the coat never got beyond a toile, and at least I got one good garment out of the toddler top pattern.

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.