Who needs a cutting table?

Something I’ve wanted for a long time is a proper cutting table. At the moment I have two options. There’s the the dining table, which is too low for cutting standing up and not large enough for big pattern pieces. I also have a huge foldable cardboard cutting mat for the floor. The mat is a really good surface and has a printed grid which has proved surprisingly useful, but it’s hard on the knees.

But we have never had space at home for it, unless I got one of those foldaway ones and they cost something ridiculous. However we’ve just had a new kitchen. I swear I wasn’t thinking about dressmaking when we planned the layout, but look at this…

It’s the perfect height and plenty long enough; that’s most of the pattern pieces for a pair of jeans laid out there on wide fabric. Guess I don’t need a cutting table after all.

Burda 101B 06/2016

Marmite top: Burda 101B 06/2016

Burda 101B 06/2016

Don’t laugh, but this simple creation was originally inspired by an awesome Rei Kawakubo sweater from the 1980s. I’d post a picture but I haven’t been able to find one that’s definitely legal to use on a blog. I encourage you to click the link to see it! Anyway it’s black, knitted, very rectangular in shape, and has panels that weave over and under each other. I considered trying to knit something similar before sanity prevailed and I realised that what I actually wanted was a boxy black knit top with some interesting texture and no complicated knitting was required.

I came across this unusual sweater knit from Empress Mills while browsing their website. It’s loosely knitted in a wide rib pattern. And that seemed to go quite nicely with Burda 101B 06/2016, a simple kimono sleeved top designed to show off stripes.

Burda 101B 06/2016 garment photo

Burda’s stripe placement is fine for striped fabric but mine has raised ribs which I think would look peculiar running parallel to the hem, so I put the horizontal ribs on the top half and the vertical ones on the bottom. Cutting it out was a challenge. I knew it would be obvious if the ribs weren’t perfectly aligned so I made full sized pattern pieces and cut it single layer instead of on the fold. That took up a lot of paper and space.

I went all the the place with sizing. The top half is cut in the largest size the pattern came in, and the lower body in my usual size. This was in order to get a bit more depth over the bust because on all the model photos the horizontal seam seems to be too high. I also didn’t add any length to the lower body when normally I would need at least 5cm. I wanted this to be fairly cropped. I wish I’d straightened the side seam. This is one of those patterns that can be a dress or a top depending on where you hem it, and so it’s got a bit of waist shaping for the dress version that the top doesn’t need.

Burda 101B 06/2016

The original pattern has a turned and stitched edge at the neckline but I made deep facings and blind hemmed them to the body to make sure they stay put.

I was really pleased with it when I finished it and put it on with my black asymmetric wool skirt. The next morning I put it on with my black wool trousers and hated it. I switched to my black jeans and loved it again. The black jeans are what I’m wearing in these photos.

Burda 101B 06/2016

Blue Burda 114 11/2011

Blue Burda 114 11/2011

It’s been a while since I posted. Despite the silence I have been sewing a lot, but for other people. This top is a Burda 114 11/2011, for my sister. It’s difficult to get an accurate impression of it when it’s flat because of the unusual neckline; it needs to be on a body. Here’s Burda’s picture.

Most people who have reviewed this pattern comment that they needed to size down and the neckline is much higher than on Burda’s photo and that has been my experience too. Here’s my first version.

I made a bit more of an effort with the insides on the blue one than I did on my own grey version of this; I overlocked the seam allowances and finished the hems with a flat lock hem. The fabric is a blue and white heathered jersey that came from Misan a few years ago. The inside is covered in loops like a terry so hopefully it will be warm despite being very lightweight.

My own version of this has proved very wearable. The only thing I have doubts about is the sleeve length. They’re meant to be extra long, but I think it’s overdone. I like my sleeves longer than average but these are ridiculous. I keep thinking about using the sleeves from Burda 119 01/2013 instead, which have gathering at the end so they look extra long without actually covering your entire hand. They need a lot of fabric though.

Next up: a foray into menswear.

Burda 128 10/2010

Burda 128 10/2010 modelled pictures

Burda 128 10/2010 black sateen

Here is my latest attempt at a practical winter dress, Burda 128 10/2010. I’m not saying it’s a bad pattern: it’s certainly not bland or boring. But it’s not the easiest thing to wear.

I almost never make toiles and there are a few fit issues. I could have done with a bit more room at the hips and there’s something a bit off with the hem at the back – but I’m going to have to lengthen it anyway so that can be fixed at that point.

Burda 128 10/2010

Side view, although it’s very difficult to see any detail. The bust point is a bit high for me. Burda doesn’t mark that on magazine patterns.

I wore it to work today (with very thick tights!) and it was ok, but definitely only suitable for a day spent mostly behind a desk.

I might tackle lengthening it this weekend. And then after that I have several much more colourful projects (for other people) lined up!

Thanks to my husband for the photos.

The lure of the little black dress

No model photos today but I have a finished object to talk about. It is Burda 128 10/2010, a little black dress with inset panels, a boat neck, and amazing leg-of-mutton sleeves. I first made it up in 2011, the first project I made using my what was then my brand new overlocker.

Here’s Burda’s version:

And my previous version, in black double knit with silver pleather panels. This one was given away a long time ago. I usually don’t regret getting rid of clothes in the slightest, but this is one of the very few things that I eventually wished I had kept.

Burda 128 10/2010

A few months ago I spent hours going through my entire Burda stash looking for a winter dress pattern. I wanted something with long sleeves and a highish neck (so I can fit layers underneath), that fits my personal style, and at least has the possibility of having pockets added. There were not many that fitted the bill and this pattern looked about the best to me. Never mind that these days I live in jeans and jumpers; I had done the analysis and this was going to be the ultimate wearable winter dress.

The new version is made in black stretch sateen for both the panels and the body of the dress. I rarely wore the silver and black version because it was too dressy for work.

I added welt pockets to the panels this time. They aren’t perfect; they never are! I can’t seem to find the sweet spot between cutting too far and getting a hole at the corners, or not cutting far enough and getting a pucker. The imperfections always stop bothering me after a wear or two though.

I also added zips to the wrists. When I started making this I could have sworn the original had these, because the sleeves are very tight at the wrist, but no. Don’t Burda designers ever have a need to roll up their sleeves, for example to do the washing up? Surprising when Burda tends to put ankle zips in any pair of trousers that’s even vaguely close fitting.

You can probably guess what happened. My new version is not the practical garment I was hoping for. It’s pretty close fitting and has come out unexpectedly short. I added 10cm to the pattern when I cut it out and it’s still short! Oddly the previous version looks like it came up much longer but I don’t think I hemmed that one, which was made in a stable knit. I did put the shoulder pads in this time which I skipped before, and I suppose that might have taken away a tiny bit of length. I think they’re the actual pair I bought for the first dress. I can’t think why else I’d have a set of raglan shoulder pads in my stash.

This one is going to have to sit in the wardrobe for a while until I figure out what to do with it. It isn’t the only little black dress I have stashed in there not being worn!

Vado jeans finished

I finished my Vado Bootstrap skinny jeans at last – just as there has been another glut of articles saying that skinny jeans are dead and we’ve all got to wear wide legs now. Oh well. I like wide legged trousers but nothing is as practical as skinnies.

I talked a bit about the sewing process in previous posts but I stand by my assertion that if you didn’t know how to make jeans the instructions that come with this pattern aren’t enough.

What the instructions are good for is some little details that give a nicer finish. Things like top stitching down the outer side seam from the waist to the end of the pocket bag. The method for the fly front led to the best top stitching I’ve ever done on a jeans fly. You make the fly closure before sewing the front crotch seam, which is sewn as a lapped seam. It sounds tricky but it works nicely and means you have a much flatter space to do the fly top stitching on. I was determined to do a better job on the top stitching than my usual slapdash effort and these changes helped.

I’m slightly less keen on the way the photos showed to top stitch the ticket pocket, with a leg of top stitching continuing past the top corner of the pocket and into the waistline seam. If everything was sitting perfectly flat this would be hidden under the outer hip pocket but the whole front pocket area tends to move about and reveal it. Also I don’t see a good functional reason for it: one less end of top stitching to tie off I suppose?

And I haven’t sewn the fly button in quite the right place…I’ll have to do that again.

Anyway the important thing is, was the custom fit pattern an improvement over my usual Burda jeans pattern? I made one small adjustment while sewing them, which was to take in the centre back seam along the yoke and reduce the waistband length to correspond, but otherwise they are sewn up as drafted.

Well it’s win some lose some. The fit on the crotch and legs is a bit better than my Burda patterns, although having carefully compared photos of these and the various Burdas the difference isn’t as huge as I thought. It was really nice not to have to lengthen the pattern. Really nice. Yes it’s a simple alteration to do but it still takes time, finding the sellotape, and clearing a big enough space on the dining table. The back pocket placement is also pretty good, which I was worried about based on the pattern photos where they looked much lower than they’ve come out on me.

The bad news is that the waist is too large. In the picture above I’ve pulled them up to where they should sit, but in practice they tend to creep down and look more like this.

Here are some full length shots. I am not really nine feet tall by the way. It’s a combination of a low camera angle and the jeans having a very high waist. Thanks to my other half for taking the pictures!

They’re a bit too long for the boots I’m wearing here but I prefer jeans to be on the long side.

The real question is whether next time I make jeans I reach for this pattern or something else. I think I will use this one, but I’ll definitely adjust it. Not just the waist either; I prefer jeans front pockets to have an extension that reaches centre front. They sit flatter that way. The pockets on these are also too deep for this style; it’s not so easy to extract things from the bottom of them. They’d be fine with a looser leg.

I’m glad I made these and they’ve got me a step closer to my perfect skinny jeans pattern, but more iterations are definitely required.

Vado jeans part two

My custom Vado jeans are coming on nicely. I haven’t got the waistband on yet but so far the fit looks pretty good! I still have wrinkles under the bum but fewer than on my Burda jeans.

The only adjustment I’ve made to the pattern is to pinch out a little bit on the top of the centre back seam because I had gapping there. Of course the waistband will make a huge difference so no photos as yet.

I’ve been trying a new sewing gadget I got for Christmas on this project. I’ve read that in industrial sewing pins are not used at all. On the rare occasions fixings are really needed they prefer clips apparently.

Clips are also good for anything that might show pin marks. Obviously it’s not a problem with denim, but I thought I’d try them out anyway when I sewed the long leg seams.

They’re pretty easy to use. It’s harder to remove them quickly while sewing than it is with pins, but the fabric sits so much more flat than when pinned that it’s worth it. I need a better container for them than a plastic bag though. Definitely a useful addition to the arsenal.

Unfortunately just as I was finishing the leg seams on the overlocker I had a spectacular needle failure. It got to where the inseam crosses the crotch seam and the needle bent instead of going through the layers.

The overlocker seems to have survived the experience but I still haven’t finished the jeans. Maybe this weekend.

Vado Bootstrap skinny jeans part one

This project is the last one I bought fabric for in the summer. I wanted a new pair of jeans but I am not a fan of traditional blue denim, so when I saw some dark yellow denim in Barry’s Fabric Warehouse I got a couple of metres despite not having a pattern lined up. I say it’s dark yellow, but I think that’s actually the wrong side of the fabric. The other side is a classic jeans blue. The wrong side was originally off-white but has been overprinted with the yellow colour. I am using the yellow side regardless of whether it’s the ‘right’ one.

I’ve made lots of pairs of jeans over the years from various Burda patterns. They have all been good enough to get worn but the fit isn’t quite right: I get lots of folds under the seat no matter what I do. Rather than go through yet another round of tweaking I decided to give the Bootstrap Vado skinny jeans pattern a try. This is a custom PDF pattern that’s generated to match your personal measurements. It comes from the Bootstrap Patterns website, which supplies custom PDF patterns from a range of designers. Vado Designs has a few others besides the skinny jeans; in particular there’s a bootcut jeans pattern that quite a few other sewing bloggers have written about. All the reviews I’ve read have been positive which is a good start.

I haven’t finished sewing the pattern yet, but I’m about halfway so I thought I’d blog about my impressions of using the custom pattern before I get mired down in the details of fit.

The pattern is very customisable. We aren’t just talking hips, waist and inside leg: there’s the rise, the knee, thigh, and ankle sizes to enter. You can also select your desired paper size and file format, choose whether to add seam allowances (for a small extra cost) and even select the degree of stretch of your intended fabric.

I don’t think the process of taking and entering measurements is particularly easy. I found it helped a lot that I already had a pair of ‘almost right’ jeans that I could use to sanity check things like the desired rise and waistband measurement.

I really like that the pattern comes with non-overlapping pieces so no tracing is required. I got my pattern printed at a reprographics shop on A0. Annoyingly I’m tall enough that the pattern overflowed onto a second sheet by a few inches, but it was wonderful to just cut out a pattern without needing to trace it in order to add length or make any adjustments for once…although we’ll see how well it fits when it’s done.

One curious thing I’ve noticed about my final pattern is that there is absolutely no shaping in the back yoke seam. I’ve long suspected I have a flatter backside than average so this may just be the effect of the customisation, but it will be interesting to see how it fits. I’m not making a toile to check because it would need to be done in the same or very similar fabric to be useful.

The fabric length estimate is no help at all. This isn’t a surprise for a completely custom pattern and it does warn you of that. Having said that, I looked at it, decided it was a massive overestimate and then struggled to fit my pattern into two metres of fabric which is normally plenty for jeans for me. The problem is the waistband piece. The waistband is one long piece and the grain runs around the waist. My waistband piece is rather curved so it took up a huge amount of space as there weren’t many other pieces I could lay alongside it to fit into the curve. My Burda patterns have the waistband in several pieces which are cut on the cross grain. I think I prefer that even though it means more seams.

The pattern comes with fairly detailed instructions (at least by Burda standards) but if I didn’t already know how to sew jeans they would not be sufficient. In places what’s shown in the photos doesn’t match the text, and they miss some fairly important information. In particular they don’t give any direction as to which side to sew asymmetric details like the ticket pocket and the flat felling on the centre back seam. Having said that, I’ve learnt a few things from this pattern. The method given for the fly is clever and different to any I’ve tried before, so I am intending to give it a go. The instructions also have a very slick technique for the front pockets which gives a nice clean finish.

So far I’ve constructed the back, the front pockets, and am about to tackle the fly. Watch this space.

Top five of 2018: goals

top 5 of 2018 logo

Time for the last of the Sewing Top Five of 2018: Goals. Once again I haven’t got a tidy list of five things but I do have a big project in the early planning stages so I’ll talk about that.

A few years ago I made a winter coat from Vogue 1276. It was my first attempt at coat making but it was such a success I’m still using it. It’s starting to show its age though: the lining has ripped around the armscyes and the nap has worn off at the wrists and where I fasten the belt. Incidentally, what is it about coat linings ripping at the armscyes? Every coat I have ever had, whether ready to wear or home made, has done this. I’ve tried reinforcing the seam with tape and using stretch lining but it still happens. Anyone know how to prevent this?

So I need a new coat. I have been looking for a pattern for a while. It needs to be long: below knee length. It also needs to have a proper closure which wraps over; so many coat patterns close edge to edge which is no use in the cold. And I would prefer it to be fairly streamlined and unfussy in shape.

I think I have it down to three.

First is Burda 107 10/2011 : an ankle length double breasted coat.

I’m not wild about the buttons; I think I’d replace them with snaps. I like the size of the pockets, but patch pockets aren’t great for putting your hands in.

Then there’s the option of repeating Vogue 1276. I’d link to the pattern but it’s out of print now.

The only reason I’m dithering is I’m not sure it’s absolutely the most flattering style for me. But people often ask me where I got my current one,which is always nice! I know the pattern works and it is already traced and adjusted. And I would also like to improve on the construction I did last time. I remember being very annoyed that the pattern said to sew in the sleeve lining entirely by hand and gave the reason that it was too complicated to explain how to do it by machine. Since then I’ve learnt how to bag linings and I suspect I could make this without needing to hand sew anything.

Finally, Burda 120 10/2017 . Another one I can’t link to, unfortunately.

This seems to be a magazine exclusive; I can’t find it on the English language Burda site at all. It is one of their ‘designer’ patterns. Now obviously the colours it’s shown in are not going to be suitable for the rainy, muddy UK winter. And even if I could pick three other colours that would work, it’s doubtful I could find the chosen three in matching coating fabrics. But I think this pattern might be successful made up in one fairly light colour with top stitching to emphasise the seams. A grey would be practical and still allow the seams to be seen. But it’s a four dot pattern (Burda’s highest difficulty; there are very few of those) and there are no reviews of it that I can find, so I’m not sure what I’d be letting myself in for here. And yet I keep coming back to this one.

I’ve been going round in circles about choosing for weeks. I really want to make the last one but it’s very risky. The Vogue is a safe but slightly boring choice. And the other Burda ticks all the right boxes but somehow doesn’t thrill me. So I guess my goal is to have chosen a new winter coat before winter is actually over!

Top 5 of 2018: Highlights and reflections

top 5 of 2018 logo

On with the Sewing Top Fives of 2018. I’m combining Highlights and Reflections because I don’t have a tidy list of five of each and anyway I think they’re related.

I’ve been actively trying to change the way I plan projects and purchase fabric and patterns over the last year and a bit. I have much less sewing time than I used to, so I wanted to get more successful projects out of it. My fabric and pattern stashes were also starting to expand beyond my storage space so I had to do something about that. This is what I did and how it worked out.

The first thing I did was to catalogue everything I already had. I use spreadsheets for fabric and notions, and Pinterest for patterns. Why both? Pinterest is great for cataloguing patterns but not as good for fabric. What I want in a pattern catalogue is primarily pictures of the envelope art. I can quickly and easily find photos of most of my patterns on the web and add them to my Pinterest pattern stash board with a couple of clicks. The picture is then automatically linked back to the original web page for when I want to look up yardage or recommended fabrics. At least it is until the original page goes away: I got caught out when Vogue took down all their Donna Karan patterns and all my links broke. I should start pinning the envelope back pictures as well as the fronts but I haven’t done that systematically yet.

The Pinterest method isn’t good for fabric and notions because most of my stash wasn’t bought online so there are no handy photographs available. Even for the pieces that did come from an online shop it’s very rare for the original shop page to stick around for long; it usually vanishes once the fabric sells out. You can upload your own photos to Pinterest of course but there was no way I was going to photograph my entire fabric stash. Using a spreadsheet instead also means I can sort and filter by things like fabric length and width.

I also made a Pinterest board for my current wardrobe. This was fairly easy because I’ve been blogging for so long that I had photos of practically every item of clothing I own on the blog. This has been surprisingly useful. It helps me identify wardrobe gaps but it also reminds me what I already have so that perfectly good garments don’t get forgotten about.

Finally I keep a Pinterest board for the sewing queue with one section per project idea. It contains inspiration images, possible patterns, and sometimes fabric photos from online fabric shops. I also look through the virtual stash to see if I have suitable patterns or fabric for the project and add them to the section.

Has it worked? I think it has. I have bought far fewer patterns this year and the fabric stash is steadily reducing in size. I’ve also had quite a successful year in terms of projects: most of what I made is in regular rotation. I can also do a lot of the planning stage of a project while commuting on the bus, which frees precious sewing time.

The system definitely isn’t perfect. I’d like to do something with the spreadsheets so that I can easily access them when on the move; unfortunately everything I’ve tried so far hasn’t been very satisfactory. I also don’t have my magazine patterns catalogued, although Burda Navigator is a huge help for browsing. I don’t know of anything similar for any of the others though.

And I have to mention one more highlight: a fabric shopping trip in Birmingham with Elaine of The Demented Fairy and Kim of The Material Lady. It was a lot of fun! And thanks to the new planning regime I’ve already used two of the three bits of fabric I bought and the third is on the ironing board waiting to be cut…