Apple peel

Apple Peel leggings front view
I made these leggings a couple of weeks ago but have only just got pictures of them. They are the Apple Peel leggings from the Pattern Magic 3 book. Pattern Magic doesn’t provide you with patterns, rather instructions for drafting your own pattern from a block. I drew up a stretch leggings block from Metric Pattern Cutting for Womwn’s Wear and used that as the basis for making the pattern. The rippled effect comes from adding length to the outer leg so that the shape of the leg ends up like this. Hence the name.

Pattern Magic Apple Peel Leggings flat

The style is obviously intended for two-way stretch knit fabrics, but mine are made up in a very stretchy mystery stretch woven fabric which I happened to have on hand. I probably should have used a knit. The draft needs fine tuning to fit my legs and the woven is less forgiving than a knit would have been. As it is, they’re more than a little tight on the calves. They’re also slightly too loose on the thigh to keep the ripples firmly in place there, but I suspect they’d become uncomfortable if I took them in.

Apple Peel Leggings back view

They’re very easy to make up. I did all the sewing on the overlocker in this order: inside leg seam, crotch seam, outside leg seam, waistband, hems.
You can’t see it in the pictures, but the waist is finished with a straight waistband with elastic inside. The waistband folds over to enclose the elastic and then the whole thing is overlocked onto the waist. I didn’t have any wide elastic on hand so I flatlocked two narrower lengths together on the overlocker. That worked well enough from the point of view of making a functional waistband, but unfortunately the flatlocking shows though the waistband fabric so I’m only going to be able to wear these with a top that covers the waistband.

I also used a flatlock stitch to do the hems. This is a finish I hadn’t tried before. I found this tutorial while I was working out how to deal with the elastic, and gave it a go. It worked OK, although being a first attempt and on a very small circumference it’s not perfectly even. However it has stood up to a couple of wears, and I wasn’t confident a twin needle hem would have lasted beyond the first try on. I’ll definitely use the technique again.

Apple Peel Leggings front view

Drafting success, fabric fail

We’ve all got pieces of stash fabric that are too good to cut, haven’t we? One of mine is a wool-silk-elastane jersey. It’s a rib knit, so looks the same both sides, but it’s so lightweight you’d think it was a single knit at first glance. The colour is a dark greenish grey. It came from Goldhawk Road some years ago and has been lurking in the stash ever since, waiting for the perfect pattern.

Well right now I’m trying to sew from stash (at least when sewing things for myself), and I need new tops, and I am a great admirer of Rick Owens’ skinny fine-knit jersey t-shirts…so it seemed the time had come to use the special fabric.

I like my t-shirts extra long and quite close fitting. For a while I’ve been using a t-shirt pattern I evolved out of McCalls 2401, but recently I’ve been a little unhappy with the fit on it. So for this project I started with the close-fitting jersey block from Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich. (This was actually much lazier than it sounds, because I’d drafted the block months ago for another project so it was ready to use.) The basic block seemed a bit boring for the special fabric, so I flipped through my Burda collection looking for interesting details to add. I didn’t have a lot of extra fabric to play with which limited the choice. Eventually I came across 119-01-2013 which has a gathered sleeve that I thought would work well in the fine jersey.

Burda 119-01-2013 technical drawing

I traced Burda’s sleeve and laid it on top of Aldrich’s. Burda’s seemed considerably wider in the wrist but I was fairly confident that the Aldrich block was going to give me the sleeve width I wanted so I narrowed the Burda sleeve. Here’s what I ended up with.

Burda 119-01-13 sleeve pattern piece

What I completely failed to notice was that the wrist end of the sleeve ends up on the crossgrain of the fabric. My fabric is one-way stretch, so the finished t-shirt has no stretch around the wrist at all. That might have been OK if I hadn’t narrowed the sleeve so much, but as it is I can only just get my hands through them. Not good.

The final result is wearable but not particularly quick to get on and off.


I think the sleeve detail looks quite nice once it’s on. You can see it much better in the picture below.


I’ll definitely use this pattern again, but with two-way stretch fabric. I don’t think I did the grey jersey justice with it, but at least I made something out of it that I’ll wear.

Vivienne Westwood t-shirt dress knockoff

This is a dress inspired entirely by a piece of fabric; it’s a silver and black striped jersey that Amy from Almond Rock kindly gave me at a swap. As soon as I saw it I knew it was destined for a copy of a Vivienne Westwood style I’ve been admiring for years. The original is a boat-necked kimono-sleeved t-shirt dress that plays with the grain of the fabric. There’s a gathered section at the waist and that’s about the only place the stripes are horizontal. The reason it’s taken a while to sew this up is having to make the pattern. Here it is.

Westwood style stripey dress

Making the pattern didn’t go entirely smoothly. I started with the close-fitting jersey block from Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich and turned that into a kimono-sleeved t-shirt dress. Adding the gathers was just a case of slicing and spreading, but when I sewed the final pattern up it was quite a bit too large. I had to cut the side and shoulder seams down a lot. Easily done with the overlocker!

The back’s practically the same pattern piece as the front, just with a higher neckline. I should have spread the pattern a bit more and done more gathers; the grain changing effect is more subtle than I’d intended. There is a separate piece for the right front and left back sleeve which is cut on the regular grain. This adds some interest and also saves quite a lot of fabric! I had 2m of 150cm wide fabric, but there’s a piece left over.

Westwood style stripey dress

I finished the neck and sleeves with bands. I’m coming to prefer that to twin needle hems; it’s easier to sew and produces a better effect with my machine. Twin needle hems always seem to tunnel. I should have made the neck band shorter than I did because it stands up a little at the back.

So this hasn’t turned out exactly as I intended but it’s certainly a wearable dress. And in some of my favourite colours too – thanks, Amy!

Westwood style stripey dress

Wrap dress mark 1 – the first muslin

I’ve just done a muslin for my Liberty fabric dress. The pattern is an attempt to reproduce an elderly and much loved Vivienne Westwood wrap dress that has been sitting in a box for the last few years because I wore it to destruction but can’t bear to chuck it. Here’s the now rather sad-looking original. The most interesting feature aside from the amazing fabric is the collar, which extends into a sort of long flap on the left front that gets tucked through a buttonhole on the right front. Alternatively you can wear the flap loose. The original never looked quite right on me when worn tucked in, but it’s effective on the dressform.

Here’s the muslin on me. It needs a few changes, in particular bit of extra width over the hips, but I think I’ve managed to make the collar work!

What changed was that I moved the buttonhole down quite a way. The muslin now has three buttonholes. Here’s the collar tucked into the highest one, which corresponds to the one on the original dress.

And here it is on the lowest buttonhole, which is the one I shall use.

And here’s the collar worn loose.

So this is looking quite hopeful so far. Of course I still have to do all the adjustments, draft facings, and work out how to construct the real thing, but I’m very pleased with this for a first effort.

Breaking my duck – making a kimono

I’ve somehow managed to not do any sewing for the last few weeks. This morning I had a few hours free, with husband out of the house and nothing to do until lunchtime. I got out the pattern pieces and fabric for the Burda pattern I’ve been intending to make…looked at them and put them back in the cupboard because I couldn’t bring myself to cut the pattern out of my good fabric. Despite having gone to all the bother of tracing the pattern, making a muslin, making a new copy of the pattern with corrections on it I think I’m giving up on this project. Something about the dress just isn’t grabbing me.

So I decided to start on my kimono instead. I had a brilliant kimono dressing gown years ago that I wore until the fabric shredded, and I’ve always wanted another. I bought fabric for this a few weeks ago at Karen’s Fabulous Fabric Fandango on Goldhawk Road. It’s the multicoloured cotton one on top of the pile.

Now the thing about making a kimono is that (apparently) you don’t need a pattern. It’s just a bunch of rectangles sewn together. So this is a good easy project to get me back in the sewing groove. I’ve been basing it on the information at these three sites:

Having measured myself (and my fabric) I came up with this layout which will fit on 45″ fabric and hopefully produce a kimono big enough to go around me. I’m a lot wider than the average Japanese lady! I haven’t really worried about seam allowances. I shall make them as small as I can and hope it works out. Kimono are supposed to have tiny seams anyway.

The broken lines on the diagram are fold lines where the garment hits the shoulder. My fabric doesn’t have much of a selvedge, although there is a manufacturer’s name printed down one side that reduces the patterned width of the fabric to about 44″ from the full 45″. I am going to use the unpatterned bit in the collar piece, which can be reduced in width slightly without breaking anything, and in the hem of the sleeves where it will be folded under.

That diagram is probably only going to make sense read in conjunction with which explains how all those pieces go together.

Then it was just a case of drawing the layout on the wrong side of the fabric with chalk and chopping away with the scissors. A rotary cutter would been even easier but I didn’t think of that until I’d started cutting. I have to say this fabric was perfect for this style of constructing shapes directly on the fabric. The pattern has lots of perfectly horizontal and vertical lines of symmetry which made it really easy to mark the lines without doing a lot of measuring. I’d have gone insane with something like my skull print fabric where what appear to be vertical lines of symmetry are in fact very slightly slanted. A complete accident, but something I’ll try to remember for the future.

Of course the proof of all this will be in the sewing, which I haven’t actually started yet, but I’m really pleased I’ve got some pattern pieces cut out at last. Even if they’re all rectangles.

Patterns or drafting? Or somewhere in between?

I love dressmaking patterns. I have only been sewing for a couple of years but my stash of pattern envelopes and magazines is getting to the point where I can’t easily lift the box it lives in. Despite all this, when I have something very definite in mind that I want to sew I often can’t find a pattern in the box that’s exactly what I want.

The current case in point is my skull-print dress, which is inspired by the lady with the pink hair in the centre of the back row in this cartoon by John Allison. (If you like the art, check out his webcomics Bad Machinery and Scary-go-round.)

It’s an empire-line maxi-dress with a surplice-style bodice. There isn’t any bust shaping visible but clearly any real-life version of this dress that’s going to fit is going to need darts or gathers at the bottom of the bodice.

I briefly considered trying to draft something but I’m fundamentally lazy and drafting is complicated. I decided to go for the very unscientific method of taking two patterns I have that already fit and munging them together. Simplicity 3775 is a modern knit dress with a surplice bodice (sadly now out of print). I’m showing you my version rather than the envelope art, because the envelope manages to make the dress look utterly frumpy, and it’s really not.

Simplicity 5349 is a vintage halter-neck maxi dress that I made last year for a bit of a giggle, and have worn and worn and worn.

But these two have their problems. The maxi-dress has off-grain centre front and back seams in the skirt, which will look very odd with the regular print on my fabric, and the knit dress is, well, designed for knits. My skull-print fabric is a woven.

Skull print fabric

After much dithering I decided to cut the skirt pieces on the fold, even though it’s going to mess up the grainlines, because the alternative is just going to look strange.

I changed the gathers on the bodice to a couple of darts, then laid the midriff pieces from the first pattern over the top of the skirt pieces for the second and traced round them. I also added some tiny darts to the bodice back to give it a bit of shaping as the knit version has none.

And amazingly, my muslin of it seems to have come out looking like a dress. This is the muslin on my dressform. The back has a wrinkle on the left side, but that’s mainly to do with the sloppy way I sewed the zip into the side seam.

The funny thing is that I feel much happier tweaking something like this than a Real Pattern. If the pattern is a horrible mashup to start with then the sewing police are not going to come and get me for what I do with it. This may explain why it’s worked somewhat better than some of my attempts at fitting Real Patterns.

And it’s too late now anyway because I’ve cut out my real fabric, all four metres of it. I really hope this works out!

Check this out – Computational Couture

One of my colleagues drew my attention to a really interesting project called Continuum. The idea is that you go to a website, scribble a drawing of a dress, and a program translates that into a pattern sized to your measurements. You can then download the pattern and sew the dress. It’s only a demo so far, but you can have a play with it at

Mary Huang, the designer behind it, has made three real dresses from patterns generated by the software. You can see them at her project website here although you’ll need to scroll down a bit. The styles produced are very futuristic and angular because the software works by generating a grid of triangles based on the original sketch. Personally I love that sort of thing and I really hope this becomes more than just a demo. She’s currently trying to raise funding to set up production via Kickstarter. This is a pledge bank arrangement – you can pledge to support a project, usually in exchange for promised rewards, but if the project doesn’t reach its target level of support by its deadline then no money changes hands. One of the possible rewards on this project (for a pledge of $25 or more) is your own Continuum dressmaking pattern! So I’ve signed up, and fingers crossed the project becomes a reality.

I should say I have no affiliation with Kickstarter or the Continuum project beyond having signed up – I just think it’s a great idea and wanted to spread the word.