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!

Worth a second look: Spring 2015 Vogues

The Spring Vogues are out! Pause for hyperventilation.

In all honesty I wasn’t expecting to love this release. Spring pattern releases are almost always disappointing for me because so few of the designs are practical for the weather around here – spring in the UK requires long sleeves and lots of layers. And with this particular collection there was no immediate wow factor either. Normally there are a few knockout designer patterns that leap off the (web) page at me but not this time. This release requires a close look, but it’s worth taking the time to do so.

The designer section is normally full of spectacular dresses. And it still supplies a few: look at the amazing seam detail on the bodice of the Kay Unger design, V1432.

Vogue 1432

I’m not entirely sure why Vogue picked both V1434 (Isaac Mizrahi) and V1433 (Tracey Reese) for this release, as they are suspiciously similar princess seamed poufy skirted party dresses – surely one would have done and for my money it would have been V1433, which comes with a petticoat. But there’s also the much more grownup V1431 (Tom and Linda Platt), a long-sleeved pencil dress with a bodice overlay detail I’ve not seen elsewhere.

But this time around we’ve also got plenty of wearable but interesting separates. The Ralph Rucci pattern, V1437, is a case in point: jacket, skirt, and blouse with lots of detail.

Vogue 1437

And look at the back of the blouse in V1440, the Donna Karan pattern. This one also has an interesting jacket and it’s not alone; this is the best release for jackets I can remember.

Vogue 1440

There are two Marci Tilton Vogue Designer Originals this time around. V9089 is a romantic blouse, and V9081 is a colour-blocked dress and cardigan. Something about 9081 doesn’t really work for me – perhaps it’s the colours because I like the shape.

Vogue 9081

There are two Sandra Betzina patterns. V1442 is a knockout. It reminds me of something from Japanese pattern books or Burda when it goes wacky and nonetheless makes it work.

Vogue 1442

The other one, V1433, is also appealing – at least if you look past the sample fabrics to the line drawing. To me this design is crying out to be made in solids not prints.

Two vintage Vogues as usual – V9083 and V9082. No date that I can see, but they look like fifties designs to me – or thereabouts anyway. I presume this must be what sells best, but I’m afraid I’m thoroughly bored with these and long for something from the late sixties or the seventies.

Vogue 9083

There are two custom cup size patterns: V9078 is an Easy Options dress and V9092 is a Very Easy Vogue top, trousers, and dress.

9078 is a rare miss for Easy Options in that it doesn’t have many options. The two skirt variations are very similar indeed, and the other options are the usual short sleeve/long sleeve/sleeveless choice.

9092 is much more appealing, although it gets points taken off for having fake pockets. I vaguely recall a YSL look from a few years ago with a tunic top and slim trousers made up in a charcoal grey wool and although some of the details are different I think this would be a great starting point for knocking that off.

Vogue 9092

Very Easy Vogue is back on form. I love these culottes/palazzo pants (V9091). The designs in this section are all interesting, although I’m not sure how flattering the jumpsuit variation of V9075 will be in practice. That one hasn’t been photographed whereas the dress variation has, which may tell us something. (Edited to add: jne4sl and Isaspacey have pointed out I’m wrong, it is in fact the jumpsuit variation in the photos. I confess I didn’t look at the back view where it’s a lot more obvious!)

Vogue 9091

On the subject of photography it’s excellent, as it has been for the last few releases. More views of the garments than ever and plenty of detail shots. It really helps.

And as for the rest? There are some real gems this time around. V9077 is a very interesting shirt dress with enough variations that it really ought to have been the Easy Options pattern. I’m definitely buying this one; I love the bands.

Vogue 9077

I’m torn on V9097. I love the idea but I’m not sure how well it will work in practice and there’s no photo of it. The fabric suggestions given (Silk Crepe, Silk-like Broadcloth, Heavy Georgette, Lightweight Linen) don’t seem to lend themselves to making that top corner at the left neckline nice and crisp.

Vogue 9079

But the real standout is V9096, this amazing jacket. Do click through and have a look at the other views too because if the version below is too fussy there are not one but two simpler variations on the same idea. I like the middle one myself.

Vogue 9096

Overall I’m loving this release. There’s lot of patterns here that I could wear in real life, but with the sort of detail that inspires me to actually go out and sew. I’m already thinking about fabrics for some of them and they haven’t even hit the UK yet.

Wearability: trousers

A while ago I muttered something about some day reporting on the wearability of some of the more unusual designs I’ve made. And as we’ve been unable to photograph any new makes for the blog for a couple of weeks it seems like a good time for that post. I’m going to concentrate on trousers this time around and have picked out three patterns I’ve made in the last 12 months.

The clear winner in the wearability stakes is a surprise: my Burda wrap trousers. This is style 120-112-2013 made up in black satin-backed crepe. I made these in September and they come out at least once a week despite being slightly too large. I think the thing that works so well about these is that they’re unusual enough that they give the impression I’ve made an effort. In practice though they’re just as easy to wear as jeans.

Burda 120-11-2013 front

Second place goes to my neoprene Vogue 1378 skinny trousers. The big problem with these is that they lack pockets and so are not a lot of use for wearing to work. In addition the fit is not perfect: I could do with making the back rise higher. But recently these have starting getting a lot of wear because they are warm and almost entirely waterproof. I need to look out for more of the thin neoprene I made them out of! If I’d made these in a doubleknit I doubt they’d be such favourites.

Vogue 1378

The pair that have barely left the wardrobe are the Apple Peel leggings from Pattern Magic. They’re neither good trousers nor good leggings: too form-fitting to be worn alone, but they don’t work under skirts or dresses either. They also require frequent adjusting! They were a fun experiment but definitely not a wardrobe workhorse.

Apple Peel Leggings front view

Winter Vogue patterns review

Hooray, the winter Vogue patterns are out! Is it sad that I look forward to each new Vogue release?

I always go to the designer patterns first (does anyone not?). This time they are almost all occasion wear. If there’s any common theme beyond that it’s seam detail and cutouts.

Cutouts can easily be over the top but the 1423 and 1424 both look very wearable. The one below is 1423.

Vogue 1423 envelope art

Donna Karan does not disappoint with a wonderfully OTT metallic one-shoulder wrapped style, 1427. I have no need of this dress, nor ever will, but I’d love to try it on. One very minor quibble: there are no finished garment measurements on the envelope for this one. Vogue been great about putting these on the envelopes of late, and all the other patterns I checked have them.

Vogue 1427 envelope photo

The two designer patterns which aren’t evening wear are nonetheless very smart. There’s a sharp day dress from Anne Klein, 1420, with interesting lapels.

Vogue 1420 envelope art

And then there’s 9046, a lovely, feminine, style from Claire Shaeffer. It’s not me at all but I can admire those tucks from a distance!

Vogue 9046 envelope art

I didn’t find any must-buys in this section which is most unusual. It may be because I have absolutely no need for posh frocks any more, but that doesn’t normally stop me. And sadly there’s no Ralph Rucci pattern, but we did get two last time so I can’t grumble too much.

The Easy Options pattern, 9050, is a princess seam dress with pencil or flared skirt, and two-piece sleeves with two length options. It must be difficult to get a lot of interesting style detail in a pattern that has to be both easy to sew and provide many different options, but this one succeeds. The neckline shape and seam detail at the waist keep it from being dull and all the variations look very wearable.

Vogue 9050 envelope art

Very Easy Vogue seems to have a focus on daywear this time out. There are one or two styles with interesting details. 9049 has unusually shaped lapels, pockets, and fake pocket flaps. And 9048 is a simple dress lifted by the addition of a collar. There’s also a nice basic princess seam jacket, 9068. 9056 is the inevitable peplum top. The peplum trend seems to have been going on forever; I won’t miss it when it finally dies.

Vogue 9049 envelope photo

There are two vintage patterns: 9051 is a day dress that I think is from the 40s, and 9052 is a day dress and jacket combo that’s described as circa 1949. It makes a break from the occasionwear of the designer section, but I’m slightly disappointed that both styles seem to be from the same era. I say this every time, but I long for a day when the vintage patterns are from the 60s or 70s.

Vogue 9051 envelope art

The Marci Tilton patterns are appealing. 9070 is a raincoat with lots of interesting detail. The sample is made up in a shiny burnt orange fabric, which gives a very creative vibe, but if made in khaki or black this could also be a very utilitarian look.

Vogue 9070 envelope photo

There’s also 9060 which is an unusual skirt, and 9057 a simple top.

The rest of the collection is very small and mostly consists of casual tops. There are also three wardrobe patterns, 9067 which is very casual, and a slightly smarter one in 9066. 9066 is also the custom cup size pattern. The pick of this section for me is the third wardrobe pattern, 9064, a boxy top with unusual seamlines combined with very simple skirt and trousers.

Vogue 9064 envelope art

Overall impressions? I’d like there to be more daywear in the designer section and that could probably be balanced out with dressier styles elsewhere. It seems to be a smaller collection than last time which might also be why I found less to like. The photography continues to be spot-on with lots of clear views of each style. And I’m still grateful for the much wider range of finished garment measurements on the envelopes.

Fundamentally though this collection didn’t dazzle, unlike the autumn release. My overstuffed pattern box is grateful but I’m now looking forward to spring.


After making four knit dresses in a row I finally feel like tackling a woven project. I am also still in need of interesting clothes that I can cycle in. I’ve been gradually improving my cycle friendly wardrobe over the last year, but I find myself wearing my Burda jeans a minimum of once a week. And then I need tops to go with them. Putting on a dress involves so much less thought than finding separates that go together.

Clearly the answer has to be a jumpsuit. All the convenience of trousers with the simplicity of a dress. Surely that makes up for the aggravation of having to take it off when going to the toilet.

So I went looking for patterns. This is the one that first caught my eye, from Burda April 2014.

burda 107-04-2014 tech drawing

I like the fact that it’s fairly smart, but that notched collar looks complicated. I’ve never made one, and tackling it for the first time with only Burda instructions for help probably isn’t going to produce a polished result.

Then there’s this one from Ralph Pink.

Ralph Pink jumpsuit tech drawing

I’ve seen a great version of this from Kazz the Spazz (sadly no longer blogging). I really like the style (click on the link, Kazz looks amazing in hers) but I’ll admit that the fact it’s a PDF pattern puts me off. I don’t mind tracing at all but I hate assembling A4 sheets.

I’m also not convinced I could do a good enough job with the fly on this one. The instructions say something brief at the end along the lines of ‘attach buttons and work buttonholes in your fly to match’. I’m not sure it works to wait until the very end to make buttonholes in a fly; wouldn’t you want to do it before the whole thing was assembled? Kazz left her buttons off altogether but I’d be worried about the whole thing falling open if I did that! I think this might be a pattern to leave until I’ve got some more experience.

Burda have produced many jumpsuit patterns over the last few years.

burda-103-10-2010 tech drawing

This is Burda 103-10-2010. It looked considerably less boxy in the model photo where it was made up in grey silk and worn with a belt. I think I’d take off the breast pockets. Who needs pockets right over their boobs?

burda-119-05-2010 tech drawing

And this is 119-05-2010. I like the elasticated ankles. This was styled as a safari look in the magazine. I think this one needs the pocket flaps to make the style work, but I’m not keen on sewing fiddly details that are not functional. Yes, I’m very lazy.

And finally the one I’m actually planning to make, Burda 130-09-2011.

burda-130-09-2011 tech drawing

I like the casual drapiness of this style and the turnups at the wrists and ankles. There are no really fussy details. It’s not very fitted, which is probably a good thing as I’ve changed shape a bit and will be trying a new size in Burda in future. The plan is to make it up in a brown cupro fabric I have that looks like washed silk. Fingers crossed!

Vogue hits it out of the park

I said I’d blog about fasteners for the white jacket next, but Vogue have released such a great autumn pattern collection that I want to talk about that instead!

I always start with the designer patterns, because that’s what Vogue is all about. And this time there are not one but two Ralph Rucci patterns. V1404 is a sweet dress (perhaps too sweet for me, but very Rucci) and V1419 an awesome unlined coat. I’d make it in a fairly light fabric and wear it as a winter dress. I was curious about the original styling and looked these up on Ralph Rucci’s collections on The coat is look 1 from the 2013 pre-fall collection and the dress is actually from spring 2013. I wonder if that one was originally intended for the previous Vogue release, where we didn’t get a Rucci at all?

Vogue 1419 pattern photo

There are three patterns with wonderful seaming from Donna Karan and DKNY: V1407, V1408 and V1409. I’m not so keen on Vogue’s fabric choices for these (to be fair to Vogue, V1409 at least is simply imitating the original look), but they would look fabulous made up in contrasting colours of the scuba knit that’s everywhere at the moment. The original V1408 is made up in different shades of blue – at least I think so, it’s hidden under a jacket in the fashion show. I couldn’t find the original V1407 at all.

Vogue Donna Karan seam detail designs

The fourth Donna Karan design, V1417 is a dramatic but very wearable asymmetric top and trousers combo. I’m not totally sold on the use of knit fabric for the trousers though. You’d need something with a good deal of lycra to avoid bagging.

Vogue 1417 pattern photo

And it doesn’t end there. Look at this wonderful dress from Mizono, V1410. It has an elastic drawstring allowing the length to be adjusted. Perfect for cycling. This is the sort of interesting detail that is the reason I use so many Vogue patterns.

Vogue 1410 envelope pictures

And talking of interesting details, check out V9035, the Marci Tilton pattern. The pockets are something you won’t see anywhere else.

Vogue 9035 envelope pocket detail

I could go on much longer, but the last one I want to highlight is V1405. At first it looks like a simple batwing knit dress. But read the description: draped midriff with stays and (p)urchased elastic, slides and rings for shoulder straps on bodice lining. There’s some internal structure there that would make it an interesting sew.

So that’s the designer section. What about the rest?

Easy Options has a blouse with cuff and placket variations and a princess seam dress with sleeve, collar, and skirt varations this time around. While I seem to have seen similar things to both before, they’re both nice styles and both rated Easy. I’d certainly have gone for the dress if I didn’t already have a few patterns like it.

Very Easy Vogue has some gems. There are stylish tops, jackets, and dresses. Some have subtle details that raise them above the ordinary, such as the unusual slightly set back shoulder seams on V9028, the side seams on V9026, and the curved shoulder yokes on V9019. Although I have to say my favourites are the simple but effective V9038 cape and the batwing dress V9021.

Vogue 9021 envelope art

The regular Vogue patterns seem a little too grown up for me this time around, although they continue a lot of the themes seen in the other sections. There’s an asymmetric dress V9024. V9031 is a skirt with seam detail reminiscent of the Donna Karan designs, but being a skirt rather than a dress it’s probably more wearable. And there are two very traditional patterns for little girls, V9042 and V9043 and an interesting man’s jacket in V9041.

The vintage patterns are conspicuous by their absence in this release which surprises me as 40s and 50s designs still seem to be everywhere in blogland. I’m not keen on wearing styles from those eras myself but there are plenty of people who are! I hope Vogue aren’t discontinuing this range for good. I’d love it if they re-released some of their sixties and seventies styles.

So in summary, Best Vogue Release Ever. And now I just have to wait until they come out in the UK!

Girly dresses: Summer Vogues

It doesn’t seem five minutes since the spring Vogue pattern release and now the summer patterns are out. As usual they aren’t available in the UK yet but that never stops me picking my favourites.

The designer section is strangely samey this time around: it’s one sweetly feminine dress after another. If that appeals, there are plenty of interesting variations to choose from. Want scallops? 1398 has you covered. Peplum? See 1399. Lace? Try 1393. Pleats and a button back? 1394, although making it up in a splashy print as in the photo below completely hides the details.

Vogue 1394 envelope photo

If you’re not into sweet and feminine there are a couple of edgier styles. DKNY has a throwback to the eighties in 1396 (and for the avoidance of doubt, that is a good thing.)

Vogue 1396 envelope photo

And Guy Laroche has an unusual shirtdress, 1400. I’m not convinced by the pockets over the bust, but look at the cut-out shoulders and the bands. I recommend clicking through to the Vogue website because the back view is good as well. Now if only we get a summer this year.
Vogue 1400 envelope photo

There are two new Vintage Vogue patterns: 9000 is a cute shirt-styled dress, and 8999 is a dress with a fabric hogging 20 gore skirt. You’re going to need about six metres of wide fabric to make it, but the end result will be spectacular. The pattern includes a bolero, but Vogue didn’t photograph it.

Vogue 8999 envelope photo

There are two Sandra Betzina Today’s Fit patterns. 1390 is seriously tempting. The shape is unusual and I love the pintucked version. I’m showing the line art because Vogue only photographed the plain one. I wonder about the fabric options though: linen, silk, cotton stretch wovens, knits, soft leathers or suedes. So, pretty much anything at all then?

Vogue 1390 line art

The Easy Options patterns are solid as usual. Two more very feminine dress patterns, and unusually a 9008 is a pair of shorts. At first sight the shorts don’t seem to have many variations but you can have pleat front or flat front, back yoke or darts, and two types of pocket.

Very Easy Vogue is the most interesting section. There are lots and lots of pretty dresses, but also some more unusual styles. 8996 admittedly is yet another pretty dress, but it has pockets. 8994 is an original shape. And 8992 is an interesting take on the wrap dress.

Vogue 8992 pattern photo

As for the rest? There’s a Claire Shaeffer Custom Couture jacket, which is not for me but is sure to delight many other people. The regular Vogues have a couple of great tops in 8991 and 9004

Vogue 9006 envelope art

Overall it’s a very girly collection, big on puffy skirts and tiny waists. But for those of us who prefer other silhouettes there are one or two options in there. And major kudos to Vogue for providing more finished garment measurements on the envelope. All the ones I looked at had at least bust and hip measurements. It makes such a difference when you don’t have to unfold the tissue to choose your size.

I thought this would be a popular collection- everyone loves a dress after all – but the overall reaction I’ve seen so far has been lukewarm. What did you think of this one?