Layers wardrobe post mortem

The final nine pieces

I spent quite a few months earlier this year working on a set of pieces that were intended to all work together to give me layering options. It’s been a while since I finished the last one so it’s time to see how well it worked: have I actually worn them, and if I did was it in the way I planned?

Five of the pieces are firm favourites: the jumpsuit, the two wool jersey tops, the long jacket and the straight legged trousers. The jumpsuit and trousers get worn with the crew necked wool t shirt regularly, as planned. In fact the jumpsuit is such a favourite I keep thinking of making another.

Jumpsuit – the v neck top might be underneath but I suspect not

The jacket and v necked top come out regularly to be worn with my 80s button back dress. The 80s dress was not part of the wardrobe plan but I’m still using these pieces as layers so that counts. The jacket also gets thrown over lots of other outfits to provide pockets or a bit of extra insulation. Here it is with the printed dress from the wardrobe plan.

Jacket worn with printed dress

The trousers are not holding up well to wear: I made them from the remains of two different cuts of the same fabric and sadly there’s a very slight colour difference between front and back which is getting worse with washing. They have already been demoted to the category of things I wear for hardware work but I’m still glad to have them. I love the shape so I should make the pattern again some time in a better choice of fabric.

Trousers and crew necked top

But let’s talk about the failures because that’s always more interesting.

The printed dress has only been worn a few times but I’m not sure I’d class it as a complete failure. It’s too fussy for a regular day but it’s nice for special occasions and always gets compliments. I don’t think I’ll be making the pattern again though.

Printed dress

The pleather leggings ought to have worked. I had made the pattern twice before and wore the results a lot, and I’m always in need of warm layers for my legs. The problem is they just aren’t flattering; they’re too shiny and that brings the eye straight to the calves, my least favourite part of my legs. I also can’t find the right shoes to go with them: long boots make the calf problem worse – see below – and they look odd with trainers.

Jacket worn with pleather leggings

The cargo dress on is an interesting case. It looks best when worn alone, which you’ll have to take my word for as I have no pictures, but I’m less keen on it with layers underneath. Consequently it hasn’t left the wardrobe since the end of September. I’m hanging onto it in the hope of wearing it in the summer.

Cargo dress with a black cotton t shirt and the pleather leggings

Finally there’s the twisted loop cardigan, which I found annoying and immediately chopped up into a tie front cardigan. The trouble with this one is the fabric. A cardigan needs to be made from something warm, and lightweight bamboo jersey is not something I reach for on a cold day.

Bamboo cardigan worn with the trousers and crew necked top

It’s proved very useful to actively plan to make garments that can be layered, but they didn’t all work out. I should definitely stop trying to make cardigans work for me. And I should make more wool jersey t shirts; they are one of my least favourite things to sew but they always get worn and worn. If they could be bought at a reasonable price I’d buy them instead.

Thanks to my husband as always for photos.

Back to the 80s: Vintage Vogue 1308 Claude Montana dress

One thing that always strikes me when I look at fashion images from the early 80s is how warm those power dressing ladies must have been. They’re invariably wrapped in several layers, often of heavy wool, and with gloves and hats on top. Perfect for a UK winter.

This dress is very much part of that sort of look. It’s from a vintage Vogue Claude Montana pattern, number 1308. My copy came off eBay. This one comes up fairly often and inexpensively second hand so I imagine it sold well when it was in print. There’s no date on it, but comparing with the numbers and dates of Vogue patterns recorded in COPA suggests it is from 1983. I haven’t been able to find an image of the exact garment on the catwalk, unfortunately, although YouTube videos of Montana collections from 1983 have some similar styles.

The pattern has three pieces: the dress, a jacket, and a stole (the latter winning the award for the most unnecessary pattern piece ever – a giant rectangle with no markings that must have taken up an entire sheet of pattern tissue). The dress has huge 80s shoulder pads and some shaped topstitching detail around the neck and shoulders which is echoed in the jacket. But the main feature is the opening bands down the back and arms.

You’re supposed to use snaps as the band closures, which matches what I’ve seen in a lot of contemporary fashion images, but Vogue suggests buttons as an alternative and I agree – I’d be terrified of the snaps coming undone down the back. I was surprised that 1.5cm buttons were suggested which seem rather on the small side for the width of the band. Presumably that matches the size of the snaps on the original garment. My buttons are 2cm which I think looks better.

I had a hard time deciding on fabric for this. The envelope says ‘wool jersey, wool double knit, challis, lightweight crepe and raw silk’ but it’s not stated which of the pieces each fabric suggestion is for. Clearly the fabric for the dress needs to be heavy enough to support the closures so I went with the double knit option, although mine is a poly-viscose-elastane mix from Minerva rather than wool. It comes in a huge range of colours. This one is ‘ochre’ and I’m really enjoying having a change from neutrals.

This was a fairly easy sew although I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. They would have you turn under a tiny (6mm) hem on all the facings and then topstitch exactly along that line to secure the facing. This was not at all easy in a thick and bouncy ponte knit, so after the first few attempts I gave up and left the remaining facing edges flat and unfinished before topstitching. In a fraying fabric I’d have overlocked them, or I suppose they could be bound for a really fancy finish.

Those big shoulders aren’t just shoulder pads alone. There’s an extra crescent shaped stiffening layer inside the dress at the shoulder edge to help produce that very wide and rounded shape. This sort of detail is one of the things I love about Vogue patterns. Sadly I wasn’t able to track down a copy of the recommended vintage pattern for making authentic 80s shoulder pads, so I had to buy my pads from eBay and they aren’t quite the right shape or size.

I had a hard time getting the top of the back button band to sit nicely when worn. It looked fine on my dress form, but on me the outer corner of the top band kept curling outwards. The closures aren’t needed for function so I tacked it down.

I’ve only made the dress from the pattern, but my Burda 105 2/2021 jacket is a similar style to the Montana jacket and looks good with my dress. It also provides much needed pockets to the outfit.

I’ve been surprised how much I’ve worn this dress considering it was a bit of a stunt project. It’s so roomy I can get a jumper under it which has been great for keeping warm. Forget the nineties revival, I’m sticking with the eighties.

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

Experiments with colour: Vogue 1567 top

I’ve been wanting to add a bit of colour to my mostly black and grey wardrobe. Admittedly blue and black stripes is starting off very cautiously, but I wanted to make something I’d be sure to wear. Too many brightly coloured clothes have ended up festering in my wardrobe because I always reach for the grey things.

This is the top from Vogue 1567, which sadly is out of print. It’s very simple: the sleeves are cut in one with the bodice so there are only three pattern pieces. However it’s thoughtfully designed. There is a hidden stabiliser that keeps the front slash neckline from drooping. The pattern calls for hand stitching a piece of tape on to the wrong side, but being lazy I fused a strip of interfacing on instead and it worked fine. I also reinforced the hems with stretch interfacing which makes a twin needle hem produce a better result on my machine.

Vogue 1567 line art, somethingdelightful.com

The back neckline is a slight v neck. I was tempted to put the stripes on a slant to line up with it but with two metres of fabric I didn’t have enough fabric to do it. In fact I barely squeezed the pattern on to the fabric on the straight. This design is a fabric hog. But I’m very pleased with the stripe matching I ended up with at centre back.

The fabric itself is a lightweight sweater knit from eBay. I searched high and low for blue and black striped knit and this one is all I came up with, but it’s exactly what I envisioned even down to the width of the stripes. There was also a red and black version which was quite tempting but for one thing I’d look like Dennis the Menace, and for another red is one of the many colours that I like the idea of but never wear in practice.

Blue and black stripes was definitely the right option because I’ve worn this quite a lot already. In fact if the weather hadn’t suddenly gone cold I’d probably be wearing it right now.

Thanks to my husband for taking the pictures.

Wearing a rectangle: Vogue 1567 skirt

This is not a skirt for fading into the background in. It’s Vogue 1567, a Paco Peralta design from 2017. The original sample was made up in red satin; mine’s plain black cotton poplin, but it still brings the drama while being slightly more practical to wear than satin.

I’ve been feeling uninspired by Burda for the last few months, and Vogue’s new releases haven’t appealed either. But I do have a collection of older Vogues that I’ve never got around to making up, and this is one of them. I wish I’d got to it sooner; it turned out to be a quick and interesting project with a great result. I should say it was only quick because instead of painstakingly binding all the seam allowances according to the instructions I whizzed them through the overlocker instead.

The main feature is the origami pockets. The construction is fun to do and I can report they are actually practical for holding stuff. Nothing slips out when I sit down and they hang fairly well even when loaded. These things are important. And here’s the obligatory ‘if I spread out the pockets my skirt is really a rectangle’ shot.

The picture above also shows off what I think is the one flaw in the pattern: the skirt front is almost completely without shaping. The skirt is very slightly longer than the waistband and supposed to be eased on, but even with that there’s not a lot of stomach room and consequently my version tends to pull up at centre front. It wouldn’t be difficult to add a bit of width and a couple of darts next time though.

The back closes with an invisible zip and a hook and eye, very necessary to take the strain at the top of the zip. I made my usual Vogue size, ie one down from what the chart recommends, and that meant almost no ease in the waistband. However as the skirt is big and heavy and the waistband needs to sit at the natural waist I think that was the right choice. And talking of sizing this one runs really long. I’m 5’10”/175cm tall, I did not lengthen it at all, and the back corners are ankle length on me.

That zip gave me a hard time. I don’t know if it was a different brand to normal but it didn’t feed nicely through my invisible zip foot. I had to rip it out three times before I finally got it inserted without the skirt ending up gathered onto the zip tape. Other than that this was a remarkably painless project.

A slightly better view of the back. I’m wearing it with the top from the same pattern, of which more another time.

I’m quite tempted to make this again in a wool for winter. Thanks to my husband for the photos!

The end at last: Burda 119 10/2012

This is the very last item in my current wardrobe sewing plan, and now I think I’m done with sewing with a plan for a while. It’s Burda 119 10/2012, a close fitting v necked long sleeved top. I chose it because I thought having a layer to go under the summery v necked short sleeved dress might make it wearable into the autumn. I also thought the top might be wearable with jeans. In these photos I’m wearing it with my straight legged black denim trousers from the plan.

Here’s the line art. It’s a very low cut design which means the neckline doesn’t show when worn under the dress. Despite this it stays in place beautifully – no worries about bending forward. The fabric probably helps. It’s John Kaldor Isabella wool/elastane jersey in charcoal. Super stretchy and quite warm, highly recommended. I got mine from Sew Essential but I’ve seen other fabric shops stock it.

Burda 119 10/2012 line art, burdastyle.ru

I made a right mess of tracing and cutting this one. I somehow missed adding the placement marks for the front pieces and ended up guessing where to attach them, getting it completely wrong, and then having to rip out overlocked seams in black thread on black fabric. I also got immensely confused as to which side of the front wrap goes on top. The two fronts are not mirror images – the side that goes underneath isn’t full length. I cut out the larger, top, piece first, suddenly thought that I’d done it the wrong side up, hacked it down to be the under piece and then realised I had been right the first time. I didn’t want to waste fabric by cutting new front pieces so my shirt ended up with the right front on top although Burda’s has the opposite. What threw me is that women’s clothes normally close right over left.

There’s not a lot to see on the back view, but I do like Burda’s technique for the back neckline. It’s finished with a narrow stretch binding strip turned to the inside and top-stitched down, which is something I often see in ready to wear. I’m less keen on the hems. The hem allowance given for the sleeves is 6cm, which was impossible to sew with the machine – I couldn’t reach inside the very narrow sleeve far enough to sew close to the edge without the whole thing getting caught up around the presser foot. I ended up trimming the sleeve hem allowance back quite a bit to avoid hand hemming. I’m not sure what the function of such a deep hem was; I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

While I doubt I’ll wear this on its own much – I don’t want to blind people with the glare from my pasty chest skin – I think it’ll be a useful under layer. But now I’m off to sew less practical and more fun things for a while. Thanks to my husband for taking the photos!

Change of direction

For about the last year I’ve been steadily sewing through a couple of wardrobe plans, with a bunch of pieces designed to mix and match. I rarely wear colour so I’ve been sticking to black, grey, and white so everything goes with everything. A couple of weeks ago I finished the last piece, a fairly plain black v neck top – photos to come – and started thinking about what to do next.

While I’ve made some pieces I really love from the wardrobe plans, the whole mix and match thing isn’t working as well as I expected. I don’t mix my separates up much: for each bottom I know the top that goes with it best, and rarely pair it with anything else. But it is nice not to have wardrobe orphans, so perhaps the solution is to sew outfits rather than whole wardrobes. And that has the advantage that it’s slightly easier to add a bit of colour…and after a year of grey even I’m ready to introduce some variation.

I cautiously set out with Vogue 1567, a Paco Peralta design which comprises a boat neck knit top and a dramatic skirt.

Vogue 1567 line art: a dolman sleeved top and draped skirt

Here’s the result. Dress form photos only because I haven’t had a chance to do modelled ones, but I’m really excited to wear this.

A dressform wearing a blue and black striped top and a long black skirt stands in front of a bookcase

Admittedly the skirt’s black. This is because it’s a huge fabric hog and I already had a suitable length of black poplin in my stash, but I haven’t made a coloured top for…well, I can’t actually remember.

I’m also planning a yellow dress, a green jacket, bright blue trousers. There’s a bit of white in the scheme too because it’s bright. I’m not going too overboard: the blue and green fabrics have been lurking in my stash for years.

Blue, yellow, green and white fabrics on a grey tile floor

We’ll see how long this lasts.

The refinement process

One of my favourite designers is Rick Owens. Unfortunately pieces of his post-apocalyptic vision are seriously expensive to buy, and even the more basic and wearable designs are pricey. One of these basics is a skinny wool knit t shirt with an exposed back seam, a deeply curved raw hem, and extra long sleeves. I made a knockoff of it a couple of years ago and have worn it so much it’s now starting to look a little sad. Here it is when it was just made.

The neckband has stretched and gone wavy since then. I made it too long right from the start and only aggressive steam pressing ever made it sit flat. I’ve also never been 100% happy with the shape of the hem; it’s a little too long. So this is version two, made out of the same John Kaldor Isabella wool jersey as the first one, with a shorter neckband and reshaped hem.

Weirdly it seems to fit better too, but I think that’s because I’ve changed shape rather than any improvement I made to the pattern.

I only made it a couple of weeks ago and have worn it four or five times already so this is a definite win! Thanks to my husband for the photos as always.

Burda 111 06/2021…sort of

This cardigan is what remains of my version of Burda 111 06/2021. The original design’s extended fronts join in a loop and go around the back of the neck. I sewed it up according to the pattern and spent some time figuring out how to make it lie neatly. But it just doesn’t work in the very drapey bamboo jersey I picked; as soon as I move the loop pulls itself into a long skinny tie rather than an elaborate drape, which looks very odd. I also seriously regretted my decision to ignore Burda’s finishing instructions for the edges. Burda says to fold the raw edge under twice, press, and topstitch. I decided life was too short and my fingers too sore for this, and did a twin needle hem instead. But the wrong side shows enough when the loop is draped around the neck that it looks bad: I never managed to trim the inside edge on a twin needle hem completely evenly. In this case I even made some holes by trimming too much and had to darn them. So sorry, Burda, you were right on that one.

After several failed attempts to fix the messy drape in place by connecting its edge around the neckline I gave up and picked up the shears on the grounds that I couldn’t make it any less wearable than it already was. I cut the loop apart by cutting out the original joining seam. This was not only therapeutic, I like what I’ve ended up with even though it’s very different to the garment I imagined.

This is how skinny that draped section goes when hanging in the bamboo; it’s meant to cover half the chest.

Burda’s instructions say to use ‘fine jersey’ . I’d interpret that as something slinky – hence the bamboo – but I think what’s actually needed is fabric with sufficient body to not collapse under its own weight. Cotton jersey without any elastane might do, or a ponte. I’m not sure what Burda used, but in the model photo it looks quite heavyweight.

Burda 111 6/2021 model photo, burdastyle.ru

The pattern has a hook and eye at the front so instead of tying the fronts they can hang loose and still provide a bit of coverage. I’m surprised to find I like it styled this way. The shape is interesting. And there’s always the option to tie the fronts up if I suddenly have to climb a ladder or something.

The back view is completely plain and the back is not at all fitted. I found it looked sloppy on me with the original loop arrangement, but oddly seems better with the fronts loose. Perhaps the weight of the fronts dragging down draws it closer in to the body.

This was made as part of my current wardrobe plan, so I’m wearing it with the trousers and crew necked t shirt (not yet blogged) from the plan. Thanks to my husband for the photos.

Twisty tops: understanding Burda 111 6/2021

I just finished making Burda 111 6/2021, a sort of cardigan jacket thing with a drapey twisty front bit (scientific description there). I put it on, and then spent twenty minutes in front of the mirror trying to figure out how to best arrange the drapes. The two fronts extend from the hem and are joined into a long loop with a full twist. Here’s the technical drawing:

Burda 111 6/2021 line drawing
Burda 111 6/2021 line art, burdastyle.ru

I’d chosen black fabric where the right and wrong side were very similar, so it was a bit difficult for me to see what was going on with my garment. So here is my assistant, Gabrielle the Playmobil figure, wearing the same design made up in origami paper with different coloured sides.

Jacket with one full twist, extended
Jacket with one full twist, looped around neck

The flattest way to arrange it is like the picture above. The two fronts cross over and the wrong side of the fabric faces out on the drapes. The direction the fronts cross over depends on which way it was twisted before joining the fronts.

Then I started wondering what would happen with different numbers of twists.

With no twists the fronts don’t want to cross so it ends up as an open jacket. The wrong sides still show.

jacket with no twists, extended
jacket with no twists, lopped around neck

With two twists it likes to sit with one side wrong side out and one side right side out. Might look interesting if you had a fabric with two good sides.

jacket with two twists, extended
jacket with two twists, looped around neck

I tried half twists too, which means the front extensions end up joined right side to wrong side, making the whole garment a Möbius strip with one side and one edge (if you ignore the sleeves). That didn’t work at all: I couldn’t get it to sit flat in the paper version. Whole numbers of twists it is.

Hopefully I’ll get some pictures of the fabric version soon.

Burda 110 05/2008

Finally some modelled photos of Burda 110 05/2008, part of my current wardrobe sewing plan. The weather’s turned cooler so while I’d originally intended to wear it on its own, I’ve had to put the pleather leggings from the same plan and a t shirt underneath. And as we went to a park on the other side of town to take the photos there are creases and the pockets are laden down with hand sanitizer and the like. So this is definitely a realistic set of photos!

Here’s the line art. Note the distance between the bottom of the pockets and the hem; this is meant to be a very short dress.

Burda 110 05/2008 line art, burdastyle.ru

And compare with my version, which has come out a lot longer. I think the explanation might be that hem allowance was already included on the pattern pieces and then I added it again. Normally you have to add both seam and hem allowance to Burda magazine patterns, but sometimes when there is a feature at the hem like the drawstring casing here, or a turn up, the hem allowance (but not the seam allowance) is already included. I have checked the instructions and it doesn’t say it’s included, but every other version I’ve seen of this one is a lot shorter than mine. I’m not sure the longer length of mine is the best proportion on me, but it does make it wearable with bare legs.

For once Burda have come up with a pattern with an interesting side and back view. Those cargo pockets can hold a lot of stuff. I was a bit worried I’d made permanent shiny iron marks on the pocket corners while trying to press them but the fabric recovered very well after a steam. It’s Merchant and Mills 8oz sanded twill in Aubin grey. It’s a beautiful fabric: it has a very soft hand but is also sturdy. I’d definitely use it again. Burda’s fabric recommendation for this one is poplin which seems a bit on the lightweight side to me.

The belt loops held on with snaps look good but the back ones do occasionally unsnap themselves when getting out of a car.

I’m pleased with the collar and front zip. It was a lot of effort. Overall I’m not sure the style works for me though; the whole thing seems like it needs to be a bit crisper. Maybe I should have used poplin!

Thanks to my husband for patiently taking the photos as always.