Toni dress closeup

Stylearc Toni dress

Toni dress closeup

I’ve been wanting to make the Stylearc Toni dress ever since I saw it on Kristin’s blog. It’s a style I’d wear at any time, but it’s particularly good right now as I’m pregnant and rapidly running out of clothes that fit. The Toni isn’t a maternity style but it has plenty of room for a bump. It also has pockets, shoulder coverage, a nice high collar, and sews up quickly: all good points.

Stylearc Toni dress

The length is unusual. From the pattern illustration it looks like it’s meant to hit at the bottom of the calf. I normally have to add a lot of length to most patterns but my flat pattern measuring suggested this one would stop just below the knee on me so I didn’t bother. I must have gone wrong because it’s come out at midcalf, which is the length I try to avoid above all others. If I make this again I’ll shorten it. I wouldn’t want to make it any longer unless I made it up in a stretch fabric, as the hem width is very narrow indeed and I’d struggle to walk in it comfortably.

Stylearc Toni long view

I made this up in a very silky lightweight woven fabric that came from the Misan Textiles sale room. I’m not 100% sure what the composition is but it’s definitely man made. I picked it because it’s very drapey and has a certain resemblance to the silk the pattern recommends, but it’s also tricky to press, has a slight tendency to cling, and frays at the slightest provocation. And yes, it’s monochrome again. But at least it’s not black.

Stylearc patterns use much smaller seam allowances than most home sewing patterns: 1cm on the main seams and 6mm around necklines and anywhere with tight curves. I was worried that the seam allowance at the collar would fray away entirely before I finished sewing it but it worked out in the end. And the small seam allowances make it much easier to sew accurately, and accuracy is essential for the tricky stage of setting in the collar and sewing the front seam.

Other than getting the collar sewn in symmetrically this is a very easy make. I couldn’t figure out one of the steps, which seemed to be about understitching the outside edge of the collar which sounded like a very odd thing to do. The actual words were ‘sew a flat stitch’ so perhaps it was topstitching that was meant instead, although I can’t see any topstitching on the technical drawing. The step was optional and skipping it doesn’t seem to have caused problems. I added topstitching to the armscyes, which are finished by neatening the seam allowance and turning it back. Topstitching isn’t mentioned in the instructions but I don’t see how else the seam allowances could be expected to stay put unless you hemmed them by hand, which as far as I’m concerned is not an option.

The back of this dress is extremely plain. There’s a centre back seam but it’s entirely straight so you could just cut the back on the fold. Another time I might do that. I suppose removing the seam makes the back even plainer but I had a hard time making that long straight seam look acceptable in my tricky fabric.

Stylearc Toni back view

The side drapes are fun. Mine stick out quite a bit more than the technical drawing suggests they would. The pattern suggests optionally sewing a small weight in on each side to make them stay put. I overlocked a scrap of fabric around a couple of pennies for each side and sewed that to the seam allowances but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference as the drapes still tend to pop out when I sit down. I like the pointy effect though.

Stylearc Toni side view

Here’s the obligatory ‘look, I have pockets’ shot. I am trying very hard to avoid making things without them these days.

Stylearc Toni front view

I had some serious doubts about this dress while I was sewing it. I fell out of love with the fabric very quickly, and when I put the dress on my dressform halfway through construction it looked more like a very unflattering choir robe than a dress.And then I sewed the side seams and that transformed it completely. I wore it for pictures (where it caused hilarity amongst local dog walkers), and kept it on afterwards, then the next day I found I wanted to wear it again which is unusual for me. I’m not sure if I’ll make another of these; it’s a fabric hog and most of the fabrics that would be suitable are expensive; but the one I’ve got is definitely a success. The pattern was beautifully drafted and Stylearc have a lot of unusual and attractive designs. I think I’ll be making more of their patterns in the future.


Orange Burda 106-04-2014

Orange x-wrap dress

Orange Burda 106-04-2014

Here’s version 2 of Burda 106-04-2014, the x-wrap dress. This one is made in one of the most awkard fabrics I have ever tried to sew: a very lightweight, slightly sheer silk. I normally steer well clear of such things but it was a very cheap bolt end in the sale room at Misan Textiles, there was just enough of it for the pattern, and I couldn’t turn down that almost fluorescent orange colour.

I hate cutting out shifty fabric. I did a bit of googling for tips for dealing with lightweight fabrics. A lot of sites suggest spray starch but there seems to be no consensus as to whether you should press starched fabric with or without steam, and lots of warnings about potentially burning the starch and marking the fabric if you get the iron too hot. Eventually I came across this recipe for using gelatine to stiffen chiffon before cutting and sewing. The method seemed pretty clear and sensible so I gave it a go – thanks Jo! The gelatine I could get came was in leaves rather than a powder and was ‘platinum grade’ – apparently there are lots of other grades available and they have different setting power which makes it kind of tricky to substitute. I think I used three leaves to three litres of water. It certainly stiffened the fabric and made it a lot easier to cut and sew. The downside is that you can’t use any steam when pressing or the fabric might go sticky. And the fabric didn’t press well without steam as you can see from the generally wavy effect. I washed the dress once it was finished but it doesn’t seem to have completely removed the gelatine as the fabric is still less fluid than it was when I bought it. On the upside it doesn’t wrinkle as badly as I thought it would. These photos were taken after wearing the dress all day. I didn’t press it at all before we went out to take them, so what you have here is what it really looks like after a day’s wear. Maybe more washing will gradually soften it up again.

Orange Burda 106-04-2014

I already posted about my fitting and facing changes but I also left out the zip as it’s not needed, and slip-stitched the shawl collar down to the outer neckline seam to make it stay put. I couldn’t use interfacing with this fabric so the sharp points where the wrap pieces grow out of the front of the dress are reinforced with bias squares of the outer fabric sewn to the wrong side along the seamlines. I kept the inseam pockets, which are a lot easier to sew when you don’t put a zip in the seam right next to a pocket.

I tried to take a little more care with the hem on this version but it’s even worse than the brown one: uneven and very wavy. I hoped it would look a bit better after washing the dress and pressing with steam but no. I’m not going to unpick it as I don’t think a second attempt’s likely to be much better and the fabric might not survive the experience. It looks less fragile in the pictures than it is in real life.

Orange Burda 106-04-2014

I don’t think this is as successful as the brown version, but it’s a perfectly wearable summer dress (well OK, wearable with a slip) and I love the colour. The fitting changes seem to have worked too. Two copies of this pattern is enough for now, but it’s one I might go back to at some point.

Worth it in the end: Burda 106-04-2014

Burda 106-04-2014 side view

Burda is sometimes unfairly accused of churning out endless boring patterns based on rectangles. There are certainly plenty of boxy tops and dresses in the magazine (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) but also no shortage of more complex designs like this style, 106-04-2014. This is a wonderfully practical summer dress: it is very roomy, has pockets, and protects my shoulders and neck from the sun. I was very boring and made it up in practically the same colour and type of fabric as Burda’s sample: a greyish brown silk. Mine’s from the sale room at Misan Textiles.

Here’s the line art.

Burda 106-04-2014 line art
I was very glad this was the illustrated ‘sewing course’ pattern for the month with detailed instructions; the x-wrap detail isn’t technically very difficult to sew once you have worked out what’s going on, but the pictures were a great help in determining which edges to sew to which. Burda’s usual terse instructions probably wouldn’t have been enough.

I made a couple of very minor changes, which were to top-stitch the hem and to top-stitch down the back neck facing to stop it flipping up. I didn’t do a brilliant job on either but I can live with it.

Burda 106-04-2014 back view

I love that the dress has pockets although I did have a bit of trouble with them. The side seams of the front are cut slightly on the bias and they stretched out very slightly despite my applying strips of interfacing to the seam allowances. The pattern also has a zip in the left side seam. Successfully combining a zip with an inseam pocket, wriggly fabric, and a bias edge took a couple of tries and a bit of hand sewing to get a good insertion. And then after all the faff getting the zip in I found I can get in and out of the dress without it, even though the fabric has no stretch at all.

I swear that weird wrinkle below the pocket isn’t normally there. In fact this side of the dress is the one without the zip and hence has the better pocket insertion.

Burda 106-04-2014 side view
When this issue of Burda first came out I remember reading a review where someone (sorry, can’t remember who!) expressed the opinion that the hem on this dress was never going to hang well. It’s a bit odd. It looks fairly straight when I’m walking.

Burda 106-04-2014

But not so much when standing still. I considered interfacing the hem to try to reduce the wavy effect but after making samples I found I preferred the softer hem.

Anyway despite all the quibbling I really do like this dress. It’s a slightly unusual style but easy to wear. The silk feels very luxurious and was worth all the sewing problems. I have just cut out a second one, in a rather more experimental and even more temperamental fabric. Wish me luck.

Burda 106-04-2014

Vertical lines: Vogue 1390 finished

Vogue 1390 front view full length

This is my version of Vogue 1390, a Sandra Betzina Today’s Fit pattern. I say ‘my version’ because while I didn’t alter the design I made a lot of changes to the method of construction. But the style lines are what really count and the reason why this pattern’s been on my to-sew list ever since it came out. Here’s the line art:

Vogue 1390 line art

I combined the colour blocking, lining, and neckline of view A with the tucked front panel of view B. My tucks are more numerous and narrower than the those in the pattern. They were such an effort to sew they got their own post. But apart from the tucks the dress comes together very quickly indeed because there are no closures.

The shell fabrics are a medium weight linen/cotton blend from Truro Fabrics in black and charcoal. The lining is a fairly heavyweight black acetate/viscose satin from The Lining Company that I had left over from another project. There’s no interfacing other than around the pocket edges.

I think the line art misses one minor aspect of the style: the bottom bands look rectangular in the drawing but the pattern pieces narrow slightly towards the hem, giving the dress a very subtle egg shape. It’s just about visible in the picture below. I like the effect; it adds a little extra interest while still being very wearable.

Vogue 1390 front view

The back of my dress is very plain. I very much admire Angela’s lovely version of this pattern at Collected yarns which has tucks on the back too, but I haven’t the patience to make two tucked panels.

Vogue 1390 back view

I added very tiny horizontal pockets in the side panels. I would have liked them bigger, but the width of the side panel limits them. I made them just deep enough to hold my phone; any deeper and small items would slip down beyond the reach of my fingers. With 20/20 hindsight it might have been better to add larger vertical pockets in the side panel seam but I was worried they might sag and spoil the line.

Vogue 1390 side view

So what did I change in the construction?

The pattern as designed uses an unusual method where each side panel is cut twice and the two parts seamed together at the bottom edge. The front and back hem bands are cut double with a foldline at the bottom edge. They are attached to the front and back panels and those units are then seamed to the side panels. As everything is already finished at the bottom edge by this stage there is no need to construct a hem. As a confirmed hater of hemming I completely approve of this method, but I also had doubts about my ability to join the panels accurately enough to avoid a step at the panel seams. I was also worried the seam allowances might poke out at the hem as there would be nothing covering them.

I ended up using a much more traditional construction with single layer side and hem panels and deep facings around the bottom edge. The dress lining is bagged: attached to the yoke facings and armscyes according to the pattern instructions, but then machined to the hem facings via a gap left in one of lining seams, which is subsequently top-stitched shut. The armscyes are finished with bias strips which are top-stitched down. Facings would have been possible there too but the top-stitching doesn’t show much in these colours. There isn’t a single hand-stitch in this dress.

Vogue 1390 front view

As usual with Vogue I made one size smaller than the size chart suggested. That normally works out fine but on this one I could do with a bit more ease at the bust. If I make it again I’ll go up a size or do a full bust adjustment; Today’s Fit is sized for a more straight up and down figure than Misses so it’s my own fault for not checking the chart more carefully before picking a size. I didn’t make any fitting changes to the pattern other than adding my usual two inches to the length above the waist.

I am very happy with this dress. The design is beautiful and it was fun to sew. Might be a while before I make anything else with tucks though.

Mappamodello Arab-Islamic Work Dress

Arab-islamic work dress front

One of my Christmas presents was an unusual sewing pattern ‘book’ called Mappamodello. It contains patterns for very geometric styles developed by the designer Nanni Strada in the 70s. The dress above is her ‘Arab-Islamic Work Dress’. It’s the only one I’ve made up so far but I suspect there will be more in the future.

I’ve described the object as a book but once you unpack it what you actually have is two very large pieces of paper. One is the (huge) pattern sheet, and the other includes brief notes on the history of each of the styles and some photographs and technical drawings of the designs. The only thing resembling sewing instructions provided is the key on the pattern sheet. The pattern for the dress I’ve made up didn’t entirely match the photographs and diagrams, but I found the process of reconciling the differences enjoyable. Having said that I made a fairly major mistake with this one which I would have avoided if there had been a photograph or a diagram of the back view as well as the front. More on that in a moment.

The designs are all one size and entirely flat in the sense that there are no seams or darts. They work by wrapping around the body and fastening with ties. The size is adjusted by fastening the ties more or less tightly. Most of the styles are very fabric-efficient and they almost all include pockets. You can see some of the fitting ties on the Arab-Islamic work dress in the back view below. If you’re familiar with the Walkaway dress it’s a similar ‘apron’ style. I was a bit cynical about the ‘one size fits all’ claim and added a few inches of length to the pattern for insurance. It probably wasn’t needed but does give a nice deep hem.

This particular style is supposed to be wearable in two different ways, but this relies on making the back neckline identical to the front neckline so you can turn the dress around 90 degrees and stick your arms though the neckline slits, tying the top neckline slit ties over your shoulders. The original ‘sleeves’ undo at the underarm, and those pieces then wrap over your chest and back, and presumably tie at your sides. As you can see I didn’t make a slit on the back of the dress so I haven’t got anywhere to put one of my arms through when I turn the dress around. I don’t think I’ve lost too much as wearing it that way doesn’t look very comfortable in the model photo.

Arab-islamic work dress back

I think the style I have made up is one of the earliest in the series. There are several very similar dresses in the book and it’s interesting to compare the later ones with the earlier. The shape of the neckline and sleeves evolves, the ability to wear the dress in two ways is dropped, the pockets become more complicated, and some purely decorative features creep in. I suspect the later versions make slightly more practical garments! Mine shouldn’t be worn without leggings and a t-shirt underneath because of all the gaps.

The book doesn’t go into any detail about fabric choice. For one or two of the designs it mentions ‘glazed cotton’ or ‘lacquered cotton’ which sounds to me like crisp fabrics. Accordingly I made my dress up in a polycotton poplin on the grounds that it’s got a crisp hand and is cheap enough for an experiment, but I think something with a bit more drape would actually have been better. By the way you need wide fabric for this style – 150cm/60″ – which limits the choices. I couldn’t find wide poplin from any of my usual sources and ended up getting it from eBay. The dress is mostly one huge pattern piece nearly the whole width of the fabric and well over two metres long. It makes efficient use of fabric. I only had small scraps left over.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

So does this pass the wearability test? I’m not sure. These photos were taken on a bitterly cold and windy day so you are not seeing the dress or me at their best. It does feel a bit like wearing an academic gown only not as warm. Despite the book’s claim that the styles work for all seasons I think this one is only for spring and early summer days.

This all sounds rather negative but I really enjoyed the process of working out how to make the dress up. I’d like to give some of the more sophisticated versions a try, using better fabric. I think there’s a great dress in here somewhere.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

And in other news, I am in the current issue of Vogue Patterns magazine! Very flattered: thanks Vogue!

Blingtastic jeans

Burda 103-07-2010 front view

With some makes the pattern comes first and with others it’s the fabric. In this case it was definitely the fabric. It’s a fairly heavy-weight stretch denim with a thick coat of gold paint. The underlying fabric is a brownish black, not that you can tell. I’m a sucker for anything metallic, and stretch denim in any colour other than blue is scarce in the UK, so I snapped this up as soon as I saw it. Originally I thought I might make a jacket, but I eventually realised that jeans would get far more wear. These are Burda 103-07-2010, a skinny trouser pattern with a little extra seam interest. It’s a really good pattern; I’ve made it a few times. Technically speaking it’s not actually a jeans pattern as there are no flat-felled seams or rivets involved, but made up in denim it certainly gives a similar look.

The side seams are shifted a long way forwards and there’s an extra seam down the back of the leg. I made view C where all seams except the inseam are top-stitched. Here’s the line art, which omits the top-stitching:

Burda 103-07-2010 line art

You can see how far forward the side seams are in this shot.

Burda 103-7-2010 side view

I added back patch pockets and lowered the waist about an inch. The original pattern is designed to hit the natural waist. I also added a bit of length to the legs beyond my standard adjustment for extra height.

Burda 103-07-2010 back view

I had a bit of trouble choosing top-stitching thread. The gold paint is bound to wear off over the lifetime of the garment so I wanted to pick a colour that would work with both the gold and the base fabric. My first choices were black or a bright brown, but the black was too harsh with the gold and the bright brown clashed. I ended up with a dull brown which looks fine with the gold but not so good with the brownish-black base fabric. I guess I’ll just have to wash these as little as I can get away with.

I bought a new packet of size 90 denim needles for this make and broke most of them doing the top-stitching; the waistband was particularly difficult. I had to switch to size 100 in the end which worked a lot better. Here are some detail shots:

Burda 103-07-2010 top-stitching
Burda 103-07-2010 top-stitching

The belt loops were slightly tricky. The pattern would have you sew a skinny tube and turn it out. I tried, but the fabric was far too thick to turn. It might have worked if I’d cut the belt loops on the bias but I didn’t want to waste fabric. In the end I cut a rectangle three times the width I wanted, overlocked one edge, and folded it in three as in the picture below. When I top-stitched the belt loops I was careful to go far enough in to catch down the overlocked edge.

Belt loop construction

But the real question is how practical are these? I made them a few weeks before writing this post and they have actually had some wear at weekends. I think they look best dressed down with boots and a sweater.

I’ve got two more metres of the fabric left…maybe a skirt?

Burda 103-07-2010 front view

An apology to Burda 117-11-2014

Burda 117-11-2014 front

This is a project that didn’t quite work. The fabric isn’t quite right. It’s a stretch denim that is too lightweight for the style and an odd shade of black. The fit isn’t quite right either. I don’t think it’s the fault of the original pattern, which is Burda 117-11-2014, described as ‘skinny pants with insets’; more what I did to it. Sorry, Burda. Here’s the line art:

Burda 117-11-2014 line art

I liked the overall shape in the drawing but not the placement of the insets, so I decided to go for some padding and quilting at the knees instead. I traced the quilting lines from another Burda pattern, 106-03-2013. Unfortunately I did it very slightly too high up the leg and the padding I used was a bit thin: just a layer of boiled wool left over from another project, backed with cotton. As a practical feature it just about works – I was very grateful for the padding when I found myself having to kneel down on a concrete floor to reach something at work recently – but it would work a lot better if it was a few centimetres lower.

Burda 117-11-2014 close up

The sizing is off because I’ve increased in circumference this year and the last two pairs of Burda trousers I made came up much too small. Determined not to make the same mistake with these I measured myself and decided to cut a size and a half larger than normal. I did not think to measure the pattern. I may have cut too generously, or perhaps there’s more ease in the pattern than one might expect from trousers described as ‘skin-tight down to the ankle’; of course they are much too large. It’s not all bad though. It might look sunny but was extremely cold when we took these and I was able to get two layers – tights and leggings – on under them. But yeah, look at those wrinkles. Skin tight they are not. I also added less length than I usually do, because Burda trousers always seem to turn out longer than I expect. This was the ‘correct’ decision because objectively on me they are exactly the length the pattern is intended to be, but I want them to be longer! I normally wear them tucked into knee boots because they feel too short.

Burda 117-11-2014 back

Although it may sound like these are a complete failure they’re not. I made them a couple of months ago and have worn them about once a week, mostly at work. And denim trousers usually get better with age.

Burda 117-11-2014 front