Burda 117 02/2012

The sewing police will never take me alive

Burda 117 02/2012

It’s so difficult to get photos at the moment! There’s very little daylight and the garden is now a sea of mud covered in building supplies which doesn’t make for a good backdrop. Hence the indoor shots, as ever kindly taken by my husband.

This pattern is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. The technical drawing is below. Previous versions: black wool knit, red knit, colour blocked ponte, failed version in red and white stripes.

Burda 117-02-2012 technical drawing

This version is made in black scuba from Birmingham Rag Market. The fabric was an absolute steal; I think the amount I used for this dress cost me all of two pounds. It’s pretty forgiving: stable, no need to finish any seam allowances, and it presses pretty well for what must be polyester. It definitely required a stretch needle and a few tension adjustments to get a good stitch in it on my sewing machine though. I sewed the whole dress with a longish straight stitch as that has enough give for a stable knit fabric.

I made a few changes to the pattern. There is meant to be a back zip (not shown on the technical drawing, oddly) but it’s not needed so I skipped it. I also skipped the shoulder pleats; I prefer a strong shoulder line to a rounded one. On previous versions I also shortened the skirt but this one’s at the designer’s intended length. These days I think it looks better long; perhaps it’s a sign of age!

I added inseam pockets in the diagonal seams on the front. Those worked out better than they had any right to. I was in two minds about it, but I knew I’d never wear the dress without pockets so I had to try.

Burda 117 02/2012

I also changed the front closure completely. The left bodice front piece (the bit which underlaps) is designed to attach to the right front with snaps, and so the pattern piece only extends just as far as needed to do that. I’ve always sewn the opening shut and not bothered with the snaps in the past. That works, but the closure doesn’t always sit quite right. This time I decided to extend the left front to run right under the right front and catch it in the underbust seam so the front becomes a true crossover style. Only I tried to do this by mirroring the right front pattern piece, forgetting that the underbust seam is on a diagonal. I ended up with a left front that still wasn’t long enough to catch in the seam, and no fabric left to recut because I’d already used up the rest of it cutting out something else. I managed to save it by stitching the left front down along the line of the right front dart. The insides are a complete mess though; there’s a flapping raw edge running from centre front to the right dart on the inside. Scuba doesn’t fray so it will hold up, but the sewing police won’t approve.

Burda 117 02/2012

There’s also something odd going on with the seam allowances around the sleeves. This is my error from when I originally traced the pattern and I always forget to go back and fix it. It looks OK from the outside but the inside is another mess.

So not my best work but it’s wearable. I’m not sure how to style it either. For these photos I didn’t put it with a lot of other things but it’s more likely to be worn with a long sleeved t shirt and leggings underneath.

Style Arc Mara front view

Style Arc Mara shirt dress

This dress seemed to take forever to make. I started it during the heatwave and with hindsight a cotton shirt dress with lots of fiddly details wasn’t the ideal project for weather that’s too hot to have the iron on. I got there in the end though. I’m hoping this will be a useful transitional dress that will work for autumn as well the summer.

Style Arc Mara front view

The pattern is a very classic shirt dress style: breast pockets, two piece sleeves with proper cuffs, and a hidden button placket. The pattern drawing on the Style Arc site is wrong, by the way. It shows a tab for rolling up the sleeve and there isn’t one; also the pattern has two buttons on the cuff and the drawing shows only one.

I’m slightly surprised there’s no back yoke in the design. The back of the dress is extremely plain; the only detail is the centre back seam.

Style Arc Mara back view

The fabric is a wide (150cm) turquoise stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics. The pattern says it takes just under two metres which is pretty good for a long sleeved dress. I didn’t really believe the length estimate on the pattern and was quite prepared to buy more fabric if the pieces didn’t fit on the 2m I had, but to my amazement it was fine, even with my usual length additions. I had just enough left to cut a second pair of the breast pockets when my first pair went wrong but the rest of the scraps were so small they went straight into the bin.

Those breast pockets are a tricky sew. The pocket pieces have rounded corners which you are supposed to press under, and it’s hard to do smoothly. I had most success when I made a cardboard template of the curves to press the fabric around but even so they’re a bit jagged. Another time I might line the pockets as making the curves would be a great deal easier and there would be less chance of burning my fingers. As well as the breast pockets there are inseam pockets on the side seams.

Style Arc Mara front view

The instructions are pretty minimal. They suggest making a plan in advance for which seams to topstitch but don’t actually tell you which ones to do. I definitely topstitched the wrong sleeve seam. You can only do the one you sew first, and I think it’s best to top stitch the one that runs into the cuff opening because by sewing that seam first you can do a much better job on finishing the cuff opening. Mine isn’t great because I sewed that seam last and I won’t be rolling the sleeves up on this dress as a consequence. Which is a pity, because I suspect they were designed to be worn with the cuffs turned back given how long the sleeves come out.

Another thing I’d do differently next time would be to add some interfacing to the placket. It’s a bit wobbly in this fabric. It would probably be fine in something heavier.

Will there be a next time? Possibly. It’s a pattern with very good bones but this particular version has a few execution problems that bother me; a more experienced sewist probably wouldn’t have had the same issues. The weather’s cooling down here so I probably won’t make another this year but I might revisit it in spring. Maybe in a bold print?

Special thanks to my husband who managed to take the photos while simultaneously toddler-wrangling.

Style Arc Mara front view

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

Schiaparelli pink Burda 116 08/2011

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

This is an old favourite pattern, Burda 116 08/2011. Five or six years ago I used to have three versions in my wardrobe; it was my perfect dress at the time and it sews up really quickly so it was easy to have multiple versions. I made it up again this summer at the height of the heat wave. The fabric is a stretch cotton poplin from Tissu fabrics in bright pink. The original pattern was meant to be made in something drapey, but I find I like the effect in a crisp fabric.

It’s taken a while to get photos and the first opportunity was a very windy day so excuse the strange folds. Thanks to my husband for patiently taking photos from several angles while we tried to keep out of the wind!

I made some very minor changes to the pattern. I added 1cm to the side seams below the waist for a total extra 4cm circumference because the original hasn’t got a lot of ease at the hips. The pattern has you make bias strips to finish the armscyes. I cut an extra strip to bind the inside edge of the cowl too as it makes a much nicer finish than overlooking it. I added some interfacing to the back collar and the pocket opening edges.  And finally I cut four of the pocket pieces rather than two so that I could have the pocket bags loose inside the dress rather than top-stitched to the dress front.

Burda 116 08 2011 back view

I think the fabric is very slightly too light in weight for this style, but I love the colour. This time around though I am noticing a few little issues that I wasn’t conscious of in previous versions. The sleeves are a bit restrictive, and the cowl neck has a mind of its own. I keep thinking that I won’t make another of these, but I also keep wearing it. Maybe I’ll make another in a heavier fabric. Sateen perhaps? I don’t think I want something as drapey as a crepe.

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

McCalls 7727 front view

McCalls 7727 shirt dress

I’m trying to make more wearable clothes, I really am. It just depends on the definition of wearable. And what could be more sensible and practical than a shirt dress? Well this particular shirt dress all but has a train, so I don’t suppose it really counts as sensible, but I love it anyway.

McCalls 7727 front view

The pattern is McCalls 7727 which comes with two views, a tunic and a dress, both with a sash and a dramatic high-low hem. There is a sleeveless option or full length sleeves, so it’s easy to produce four different looks. It’s a great pattern but my goodness it’s a fabric hog. I made the dress length version with long sleeves so the worst case. I skipped the sash and ignored the pattern layout, cutting some of the pieces out upside down, and I still used five metres of wide fabric. It’s ivory stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics, and it’s great quality for a pretty low price.

Cutting this out was very hard work. If you make a lot of McCalls/Butterick/Vogue you’ve probably noticed the special instructions they always include for when there are pieces cut in pairs that need the full fabric width. The cutting layout has a big asterisk which means you fold the fabric in half across the grain, cut down that fold, and then turn the top bit around 180 degrees. Then the nap on both pieces runs the same way, and you can cut the pairs of wide pattern pieces out of that.

It is really difficult to realign the two layers once one is turned over and on this fabric, which has no nap that I can detect, it absolutely wasn’t worth the effort. Next time I’d just fold it crosswise.

McCalls 7727 back view

I meant to look up all the best ways to sew shirt collars and plackets and all those fiddly shirt bits, because we all know pattern instructions don’t always give the easiest method, but in the end I just switched my brain off and followed the pattern. Not only did their methods work beautifully, they were easy too. One exception: I didn’t slip stitch anything down by hand but stitched in the ditch from the right side.

McCalls 7727 3/4 view with pockets

The sleeves can be worn rolled up – the pattern includes a tab and button to do that. I wish I’d french seamed the sleeve seams because the overlocked seam allowances show when the sleeves are rolled up.

Speaking of the sleeves, these went in with no ease stitching and very little pinning. There’s lots of mobility in the arms too.

McCalls 7727 sleeves

I was originally going for a sort of Carolina Herrera look with this: a wide floor sweeping skirt with pockets, a crisp white shirt on the top half, and a very tight, defined waist between the two. But floor length skirts are definitely not practical and I think the high-low hem is a nice compromise which keeps the drama without sacrificing the ability to run up stairs. Not so sure how it’ll cope with a crowded bus though.

I added the pockets; the pattern doesn’t have them. It also doesn’t have much in the way of a waist, relying on the sash or a belt to pull it in. I thought having a white sash would make the whole thing look bridal, hence the belt.

I don’t think I really achieved my vision – the skirt should be in a contrasting colour for starters – but I’ll wear this and that’s the main thing.

Pictures all by my husband. We did these in the early evening and the light has worked out nicely.

McCalls 7727 back view full skirt

Style Arc Toni front view

Style Arc Toni dress the third

White Style Arc Toni front view

This dress was an experiment which worked out far better than I expected. The pattern is Style Arc‘s Toni ‘designer dress’, which I’ve made twice before in very drapey fabrics as the pattern recommends. I loved both versions, but sadly neither fabric aged gracefully and both have now been thrown out. However I’d always suspected that the pattern would also look good in something crisp and structured. So here it is in white cotton sateen, and I think it’s the best version I’ve made yet.

White Style Arc Toni side view

I’ve shortened the pattern 10cm from the original length as I found it’s much easier to walk in that way. Otherwise this is made up straight out of the packet in a single size; the fit is very forgiving.

White Style Arc Toni back view

In previous versions I sewed weights into the drapes to keep them in place, but that wasn’t entirely effective. For this one I tried to encourage the drapes to stay put by tacking the seam allowances together in a couple of places. They still move about a bit. I think I’m just going to have to embrace that. I think I was trying to adjust the drapes in the picture below!

White Style Arc Toni bending front view

The crisp fabric really gives the skirt some volume. This pattern is a bit of a fabric hog, but I got very lucky: a friend of my mum’s was destashing and passed on 3m of this sateen. It’s an unusually narrow width; only just over a metre; and I used it all. Thanks Sue! I interfaced the collar and facings with Vilene G405. I wondered if that was going to be too heavy but it worked out OK because you need something fairly supportive for the collar on this one. I also added strips of interfacing on the front pocket opening edge.

White Style Arc Toni back view

I did some top stitching around the sleeve openings. The pattern just asks you to turn the allowances under there, but I don’t see how they’d stay put like that. I tacked the neckline facing to the seam allowances to make it stay in place but that could have been topstitched down as well.

White Style Arc Toni front view

Of course the big question is how wearable it is. It has the obligatory pockets (built into the pattern so no need to add them) and once shortened it’s quite easy to move in. The colour isn’t entirely practical but it’s easy to wash. Only time will tell for sure, but I’ve worn it for a day at work this week and was happy with it.

Pictures all by my husband (and his fancy new camera lens!)

White Style Arc Toni front view

Vogue 1548: weird but wearable

Vogue 1548 front

This is my Vogue 1548 dress, yet again. I finally have pictures of it on me rather than on the dress form or the floor.

One of the things that drew me to this pattern was that the style looked as if it might be fairly wearable in day to day life. I made it up in a black wool and polyester blend gabardine from Croft Mill. This is a lovely fabric that looks good but is surprisingly tough. It can tolerate a lot of pressing without picking up iron marks, and takes a pleat well but doesn’t crease much when worn. At the time I wrote this there was some left here.

Vogue 1548

So how is the dress to wear? The sleeves are a little restrictive, which is visible in the pictures. The skirt is quite short. I added 3cm to the skirt length on top of the usual 5cm I add to bodices, and I would not want the dress to be shorter. The waist seam of the dress is well above the natural waistline which disguises the length in photos, but I was very conscious of it when sitting. Altogether it’s a dress that you can’t just forget you’re wearing. But it was comfortable enough for a day in the office and I really enjoyed wearing something with such a definite Look. It kind of reminds me of the clothes in the Nikolai Dante comic strip.

Vogue 1548 back

The sleeves are very long. I’d normally add 5cm to Vogue sleeves, and here I added nothing at all. I like a long sleeve, and I think the original is meant to have them a bit on the long side. On the pattern photo and the runway photos they are well over the model’s wrists. But I think the pattern length is excessive even allowing for that. I also think the cuff circumference is larger than it needs to be.

Other than the sleeve this pattern runs smaller than most Vogues I’ve made: which doesn’t mean small. I still went down one size from the measurement chart.

A lot of the pictures of this dress you find on the Internet show the plastron partially unbuttoned. This doesn’t work for me at all. The neckline edge of the buttoned side ends up sticking up in an annoying way – picture below – which it doesn’t on the original dress. I wonder if my bodice length alterations have messed up the way it hangs.

Vogue 1548 front half done up

The bodice was not easy to sew. It has very deeply curved princess seams and sharp Dior darts. It was difficult enough in the wool shell fabric; the lining was even worse. My darts have ended up pointy despite loads of pressing. They’re also in the wrong place, which was my laziness in not making adjustments. The plastron hides all; another reason I love it. But here is what it looks like without.

Vogue 1548 front without plastron

I haven’t got a good picture of the pockets I added to the skirt, but they’re ordinary side seam pockets. I put the pockets in upside down at first by mistake because the skirt pattern piece is much wider at the top than the hem. The pleats take all the width up to produce the dramatic tulip shape. As always I wish I’d made the pockets bigger. But I got the height right this time.

So the verdict is that I love this dress. I won’t wear it every week but it won’t be stuck at the back of the wardrobe either. And now I’m off to sew my next project: something so simple it has no pattern and where most of the seams are straight lines.

I need a lie down: Vogue 1548 finished

It’s finished. I sewed the last few buttons on today. The finished version of Vogue 1548 is both brilliant and weird, and I suspect it is one of the most complicated things I have ever made.

Modelled pictures will have to wait a bit but I do have flat and detail shots, and some construction notes.

Here’s the full length view. Those gathered bands at the cuffs and hem were surprisingly tricky. I did the cuffs the standard way: sewing two rows in each seam allowance with a long stitch length and low tension and then pulling up the threads. The end result wasn’t very even. For the hem band I tried zigzagging over a heavy thread (two rows again) and pulling that up. That was very slow and fiddly but slightly easier to control.

And here’s the back. The centre pleats don’t quite meet at the zip because I needed a little extra room there. But I’m pleased with how well the waist seam and the top of the zip are matched up.

Less pleased with the back neck facing which has an annoying mismatch where it’s sewn to the zip. I don’t do hand sewing if I can possibly avoid it, so I did the all-machine method for attaching the lining and facing to the zip and got a bit sloppy. It won’t show when the dress is being worn so I decided not to unpick it.

I bagged out the lining, again to avoid hand sewing.

The sleeve linings have little pleats at the cuff.

The really special feature of this dress is the plastron. It has a lot of precision top stitching and 12 precisely placed buttonholes. I didn’t try to use the original pattern markings to position any of that because I’d had to alter the pattern piece to add a lot of length and they all needed redrawing. I made up the basic plastron and then used a patchwork ruler and marked new guidelines directly onto the fabric with chalk. To stop the layers shifting under all the top stitching I put some fusible web inside the plastron before closing it up. That worked well although I suspect quilters may have better methods.

Here’s the dress without the plastron. The neckline is pretty but I doubt I’ll wear it like that because the buttons look a bit odd to my eye.

One last picture with a better view of the amazing sleeves. I can’t wait to wear it.

Vogue 1548 sleeves

I’m currently working on Vogue 1548, a recent Guy Laroche design. It has everything I love in Vogue designer patterns: a really unusual style with loads of interesting detail. Quite how wearable the end result is remains to be seen…I have to finish it first and it’s very slow going. So far I have a bodice (without a lining or a zip) and two sleeves (not attached to bodice).

Vogue 1548 line art

And what sleeves they are. There’s a weird pointy bit near the elbow, two very curved insets (one inside the other) decorated with self-fabric binding, and gathered cuffs. I don’t usually bother with construction pictures but these sleeves deserve to be commemorated. Below is the small inset just having been sewn into the larger one. The pattern pieces are just behind them. They’re sewn wrong sides together and then the seam allowance is trimmed, encased in binding, and stitched down on the right side of the fabric.

Vogue 1548 inset seam

The binding is supposed to be self-fabric bias binding. Normally I’d just use ready-made rather than faffing about making my own, but for this pattern I think the binding needs to match the sleeve fabric perfectly or it’ll look odd. Vogue’s instructions blithely say to do this by constructing a long bias strip about 25mm wide and then pressing over 6mm on each edge, giving approximately 12mm finished width. No further details about how to achieve this impressive feat are given, but then it is a ‘plus difficile’ pattern so I guess you’re supposed to know what you’re doing. I don’t know about you but pressing under exactly 6mm by hand on a wriggly bias edge is completely beyond my sewing skills and any attempt would certainly lead to burnt fingers and much cursing. Good thing there are bias tape folding gadgets to be had. Slow but effective.

Making bias binding

Here’s a picture of the bound edges basted down before being sewn. That was another massively fiddly job. In the very unlikely event I make this pattern again I would just sew the insets right sides together and top-stitch them. And I haven’t even got to the cuffs yet.

Vogue 1548 sleeve binding basted

Brainteaser: Vogue 1400

Making this dress was a learning experience. It looked straightforward on the pattern envelope: a cotton shirt dress with very little shaping, rated Easy. But look a little more closely. The chest pockets are not simple patch pockets; they have tiny little gussets. There’s a slightly fiddly shoulder cut-out feature, which you probably can’t see on the first couple of pictures. And to get the prescribed clean internal finish on the neckline facing involves turning under and stitching smoothly around some extremely curved edges. Getting a good outcome on this one doesn’t call for a lot of fitting expertise, but it requires great precision at all stages of cutting and sewing. I found it a moderately challenging project; more of an “Average” than an “Easy”.

Vogue 1400

Here’s the original envelope picture. I kind of wish I’d made mine in white too, although I know that in reality I wouldn’t wear it much if I had. A lot of the detail is lost in a darker fabric, particularly that beautifully shaped neckline facing. I top-stitched mine on the machine (the original is hand top-stitched with a running stitch) and it blends in a bit too much. I also considerably shortened the front and back slits to make my version bra-friendly. Sizing is consistent with other Vogue patterns: as usual I made one size down from the one the size chart suggested and added 5cm length.

Vogue 1400 envelope photo

The shoulders are surprising. The small cutout gives a very square shouldered effect, especially from the back, despite the actual shoulder seam being dropped. If I made this again I think I might pinch out a bit on the back shoulder to soften the line. On the other hand, it’s certainly a dramatic effect. And it’s a version of the current cold shoulder trend that I actually like, which is unusual.

Vogue 1400

Choosing interfacing for this was tricky. The shell fabric is a black cotton poplin shirting from Croft Mill. I interfaced with Vilene G700, a lightweight woven fusible, and I think even that is a touch too heavy. But on the other hand you need some structure around the cutouts and the splits. Self fabric interfacing might work well.

Getting a clean edge on the facing is a nightmare. I block fused it, which was probably my first mistake. The pattern has you turn and press a tiny little hem, trim it down even further, and then edgestitch it. I stitched a guideline along the foldline first which was a great help but it was still tricky to do on the interfaced fabric and I burnt my fingers a few times. I am wondering if the facing would be better made of two layers of shell fabric stitched together and then turned out. Or perhaps even the technique where you sew a layer of fusible interfacing to the facing with the non-glued side of the fusible to the right side of the fabric, turn out, and then fuse the two layers together.

The instructions for facing the cutout edge along the top of the sleeve were similarly fiddly, although there I’m not sure I can come up with any improvement other than binding the whole armscye seam, which is also a faff and means making bias binding from the shell fabric. However there was an awful lot of ‘sew a 1.5cm seam and now trim this edge down’ in the directions where it would have been simpler to just cut pieces out the right size to start with and instruct the maker to use a smaller seam allowance.

Vogue 1400

I sound pretty grumpy here but in fact this pattern was a good workout for the brain and I have worn the end result. It needs a wide contrasting belt to look good, which is faff, but I like all the pockets! I’m kind of tempted to try making it again just to try out my construction thoughts…if only I had the time.

Birthday dress: Vogue 1305

Vogue 1305 front

This is Vogue 1305, a dress that at first sight might seem hopelessly impractical. It’s floor length, with only one sleeve and an open back. But it’s made for knit fabric and with a little bit of tweaking I think there’s an interesting but wearable summer dress to be found here. Here’s the envelope photo (no link to Vogue because the pattern’s no longer on their site):
I checked out a few reviews before making this and I’m very glad I did! Thanks to Erica BunkerHelen Sadler, and The Mahogany Stylist for very useful information about this pattern.

It’s clear that it runs amazingly long. I normally add four inches to Vogue patterns and I didn’t add a thing to this; it’s still slightly too long for me. Other than in length it is unusually small. I normally make a 10 in Vogue; this is a straight 14 and it’s just right.


The shell fabric is a lovely viscose jersey from Croft Mill which was a birthday present. The lining is a black polyester mesh from Tissu Fabrics; no link because it was an end of roll. Matching coloured lining fabric would have been slightly better than black  because the dress is lined to the edge, but grey mesh wasn’t available.
So on to some details. The left side has a walking split. As drafted it’s very short which makes this practically a hobble skirt. I lengthened mine to just above the knee so I can walk comfortably.
There’s a tiny bit of lining peeking out at the left armscye despite understitching. I should have interfaced the seamline there and also around the neck.
I added pockets by creating a horizontal seam across the front and putting inseam pockets in there.

Vogue 1305 side

Here’s the right side with all that wonderful draping. Several reviewers mentioned that their drapes flattened out and they had to sew pleats into the side seam to get the correct effect. Mine fall the correct way naturally. I suspect the difference might be that I didn’t skip adding the lining, which gives the shell a bit of extra support because the lining and shell seam allowances get sewn together down the right side seam. I also fused a strip of interfacing down the centre front and centre back seam allowances to help support the weight of the drapes.

Vogue 1305 right side

The original style has a centre back opening that goes down to the hips. I shortened mine to just above bra band level.

The dress isn’t very forgiving when seen from the back. It really clings at the hips; I’m very glad I made my true size which has a small amount of positive ease there.  Even with that wiggle room it pays to choose undies carefully. I’ll admit it took a lot of trying to get a photo of the back I was happy to put on the Internet. Not that this will stop me wearing it.

Vogue 1305 back

The pattern claims that you can wear the dress in a second way by putting your head through the sleeve seam opening. In fact if you look up photos of the designer original (I’ve collected a few on my Pinterest board for the pattern here) it’s worn that way in some shots. And it’s true that you can wear it like that, but only if you don’t mind the world seeing an inappropriate amount of chest though the original head opening. It’s OK if I stand extremely still but I will not be wearing it in real life like I am in the picture below.

Vogue 1305 alternative neckline

The pattern itself was a lot of fun to sew. The lining is inserted by bagging out so there is no hand sewing in this dress other than attaching the button. I constructed it all on a regular sewing machine – I threaded up the overlocker but never felt the need to use it. The instructions were fairly easy to follow but it helped that I’d made this sort of thing before.
This definitely isn’t a good ‘first knit’ project because the pattern pieces are huge. They were pretty difficult to cut out because I only had space to do one at a time. It really was a case of cutting piece each in turn while praying Vogue’s layout was correct and I wouldn’t run out of fabric on the last piece. Adding the pocket seam made the cutting out easier by reducing the size of the front pieces. It did all work out in the end but it was much the hardest part of making the dress.

One problem I noticed about the pattern: there are incorrect bodice lengthen/shorten lines on some of the pieces in my copy. And most people will want to shorten this dress.

So what’s the verdict? I love how it looks. It’s not quite as easy to wear as I’d hoped; a few inches off the length would help. I certainly couldn’t wear this to work. I can see myself making a shorter version at some point though.

Vogue 1305 pockets