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!

Vintage Butterick 3108

Butterick 3108 front view

Can there be a more 1970s fabric than orange polyester suede? I found some on a trip to Goldhawk Road a couple of years ago and something possessed me to buy a couple of metres. Whatever plans I had for it then didn’t come to fruition and it’s been sitting in my stash ever since. The day finally came when the stash overflowed and the suede had to be matched with a pattern or else given away. But what pattern to choose?

I was vaguely inspired by the lines of the Louis Vuitton Fall 2014 collection: dresses with big pointy collars, front zip closures, and a-line skirts. Look 23 from the collection is a good example of the sort of thing. Unsurprisingly the most suitable pattern I could find with those features was a vintage one: Butterick 3108.

Butterick 3108 envelope front

Pattern envelope pictures sometimes lie, but this one is a pretty accurate representation of the finished dress. The collar is just as large and pointy as I was hoping for. The skirt is nowhere near as short as the Louis Vuitton dresses, but as I’m hoping to wear this to cycle in that’s not a bad thing.

I added top-stitching on the princess seams for a bit of interest. I also made patch pockets. I’m not entirely happy with those. They have come out too close to the centre front despite my best efforts to choose a pleasing position.

Butterick 3108 front full length

Luckily I was able to get a copy of the pattern in my size so I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments to the beyond adding length. The main change I made was to redraw the top of the sleeve pattern piece to remove all the sleeve cap ease. I didn’t fancy my chances of setting in the original sleeve without wrinkles as the suede has no elasticity at all. I’m pleased with the fit on the body, but the sleeves are very restrictive. Whatever I did to the sleeve caps obviously wasn’t quite right! And now I look at the pictures it could do with a touch more width at the back hip.


I made a couple of other small changes to accommodate the unforgiving fabric. I pleated the sleeves into the cuffs instead of gathering them. And the hem is faced rather than turned up. The hem allowance on the original pattern is two inches and isn’t tapered at all so there would be a lot of extra length to ease in if you tried to turn it up. I doubt that would work well even in cotton or wool fabric, never mind unshrinkable polyester.

The zip is brown because the orange is impossible to match and brown continues the 70s theme. The neck and hem facings are finished with some brown satin bias binding I had left over from another project. Unfortunately I didn’t change thread from orange to brown when sewing the zip in and the orange stitching shows up a bit against the brown zip tape, but I did remember for the binding. Not that you can see the stitching in the pictures anyway so I doubt anyone will notice.

Butterick 3108 side view

I’ve made the fabric sound awful but it does have some good points: it’s easy to sew, it’s machine washable, and it’s very warm to wear. I’ll be glad of the insulation when autumn arrives.

Problems with pockets – McCalls 3875

This dress fulfils two purposes: it should work for cycling and it uses up some stash fabric. I was getting bored of wearing jeans every other day, but I have very few dresses that are warm enough for winter and can be worn on a bike. This has long sleeves and a high neck so should keep the chill out.


The pattern is vintage, McCalls 3875 from 1973. I’ve had it a while – so long that I can’t remember where it came from although it was probably an Etsy shop. I love these 70s illustrated pattern envelopes. There’s something about the lovely clean lines and bright colours of the pictures that appeals to me; much more so than ones with photographs or more painterly illustrations.

McCalls 3875 envelope

This is a very simple style and extremely quick to sew. The only detail is that the bust shaping has been turned into gathers at the raglan sleeve seams. Not sure mine’s come out looking as gathered as the illustration.


Here’s a closer look. I was a bit dubious about the gathering originally – especially on the envelope’s maxi dress view where it’s paired with a ghastly floral print fabric – but now I have made the dress I very much like the effect. I think it needs a solid colour though, and probably a fairly neutral one. I’ve gone for navy blue because that’s what I had in stash of the right weight and hand. The fabric is a very drapey viscose doubleknit which was described as ‘crepe jersey’. It certainly has that matte, slightly textured, look of crepe on the right side. It came from Minerva Crafts.


I added side seam pockets to the dress. These have not been entirely successful. The jersey is not sufficiently stable to support them so they tend to gape. I took quite a few precautions: interfacing along the side seam lines, cutting the front pocket bag out of lining fabric to reduce bulk, and eventually adding clear elastic to the side seam, but they aren’t great. It doesn’t help that I put them in too low and had to rip them out again and reposition. The jersey hates being unpicked at the best of times and I’d already overlocked things, so this made a big mess and I lost a bit of seam allowance here and there which I think has contributed to the gaping.

The other alteration I did was to make a facing to finish the neck. The original pattern has an extra-wide allowance that you turn over and tack down, but I was worried it might be too floppy. My facing is interfaced with some light weight fusible. It turned out that this was a good thing; when I measured the pattern to check the length of the facing pieces I realised that the neckline is much wider than the pattern illustration shows. I took all the seams around the neck other than the CB seam in by 1cm (ie sewed them 0.5cm deeper) to get the neck to look the way it does.


The back view is intensely plain. I’m proud of my invisible zip though.

The hem is a bit limp; I probably should have interfaced it. And as always with 70s patterns I had to hack off quite a few inches to get the hem to the length I’d intended. The original pattern came to well below the knee. It didn’t look bad at that length but this is better.


I think I’d make this again if I could work out what to do about the pockets. It’s possible they’d work better if I’d placed them correctly first time, or at least not damaged the fabric when moving them. The style needs a drapey and stretchy fabric so I can’t see welt pockets or patch pockets working any better than side seam pockets. And not having pockets isn’t an option. If anyone has any bright ideas, do let me know. I like the dress despite the flaw though.

Shocking pink

It seems like a long time since I made this dress. I normally photograph new makes right away, but this one’s been sitting around for a few weeks while I’ve been unwell. Things are getting better now so I have slapped some makeup on and got photos of it at last.

simplicity 5320

The pattern is Simplicity 5320, a 1972 ‘jiffy’ design. I was drawn to the raglan sleeves and high collar. The fabric’s boiled wool jersey from Truro Fabrics in a shade called foxglove. Right now the fabric is still available here.

Simplicity 5320 envelope

This whole project was a bit of an experiment in colour and shape. I normally choose styles with a defined waist, which this certainly hasn’t got, and I was also dubious about the flared sleeves. Where would I store the pile of tissues that I normally keep tucked into my sleeves? Finally there was the colour. I never wear pink. I bought this fabric on whim after looking at colour analysis websites; those ones that try to divide people into twelve or sixteen categories based on seasons and assign a palette of flattering colours to each. I still don’t know what my season is but it made me think I might be able to wear some colours I’d previously avoided.

I got round the sleeve problem by adding inseam pockets. The pink fabric is very thick so I made the pocket bags in black polycotton, which means they show a little more than I’d like. I think the pink works, although it helps that my dye job has faded from its usual shade of red. The collar is great but it needs a lot of interfacing to keep its shape, which wasn’t mentioned in the instructions. And I had to take five inches off the length of the skirt. The short view was below the knee on me and I’m very tall.

simplicity 5320

Here’s the back. There’s an invisible zip which probably isn’t needed. My fabric doesn’t have a lot of stretch so I didn’t want to risk skipping it.

simplicity 5320

I’ve been surprised to find myself reaching for this dress a lot since I made it. It’s very comfortable to wear but slightly smarter than jeans. It’s an easy make too, especially if you don’t put in the zip. Definitely recommended.

Birmingham blogger meetup

Saturday was such a great day. Marie and Kat organised a sewing blogger meetup in Birmingham. Check out Marie’s blog post for pictures. We shopped, ate noodles, swapped a ton pf patterns and fabric, and then shopped some more. But absolutely the best bit was talking to like-minded sewists all day about fabric, sewing, and patterns.

So what did we buy? Quite a few of us bought some of this sparkly heavyweight knit from the Rag Market. When I saw Kat’s I had to get some of my own. I’m seeing this as a cowl-necked, long-sleeved knit dress worn with a big belt.

Sparkly heavy knit

This one came from the Rag Market too. It’s a really bright blue with a hint of purple. My camera insists on rendering it as a sort of sky blue. I tried reading the camera manual, but no amount of fiddling with white balance and lighting was effective so what you see here is courtesy of the GIMP. The fabric itself is a lightweight, silky texture and very narrow.

Strange blue fabric

I think it would work well as something like one of these two patterns. The 80s one is one of the ones I got from Katie in the swap! And coincidentally it has a layout and yardage for 90cm fabric. Were fabrics narrower in the 80s or something?

Possible patterns for strange blue fabric

I got bright pink lining for my chartreuse coat. Claire and Alice spotted it in the Fancy Silk Store. Here are the two fabrics together. Yummy.

Coat fabric with lining

I also found the fabric for my sister’s birthday dress which was lucky because her specifications were somewhat exacting. I’m not posting a picture of it just yet because she ought to see it first, but suffice to say I’m certainly looking forward to sewing with it. (And if she doesn’t like it after all I have an alternative plan for it…is that bad?)

Thanks again Marie and Kat and everyone else who came along!

Another shirt dress

After I made my Death Star shirt dress I found I couldn’t stop at one. They’re so practical for work. This time I used a vintage pattern, Simplicity 6270. I made the view in stripes on the envelope: long sleeves, shirt collar, and worn with a leather belt rather than a self-fabric one.

Simplicity 6270 envelope picture

I swear I didn’t plan to make it in the same grey as the left hand picture on the envelope. But I had some grey stretch cotton poplin that was perfect for a shirtdress and I’m trying to reduce the stash a bit. So here it is.

Unlike the Burda pattern I used for the previous dress this one has proper cuffs! They were quite a faff to make but worth it.

Binding the slashes in the sleeves was less fiddly than I expected.

Binding on sleeve slashes

I really like the 70s collar but if I was making this again I think I’d make a two piece collar. The one in the pattern has the collar stand as part of the main collar piece and it took a lot of pressing to make it sit right. This photo was taken just after I attached the collar; the buttonholes haven’t been made yet.

Close up of collar

Here’s the back view. I shortened the skirt by a good three inches. Vintage patterns have such low hemlines and they look terrible on me!

You can just about see one of the side seam pockets in this photo. They weren’t in the original pattern, but I’m trying to make the effort to add pockets to patterns where I can. I’m always glad I’ve done it after the event, even though it seems like a lot of extra work at the time.

So there it is. Next up will be the coat project I hope!

That’s no wrap dress, it’s a space station

I finally finished my wrap dress. It is a copy of a Vivienne Westwood dress I had for many years and wore until it wasn’t fit to be seen. The style is no longer available so the only solution was to make my own version. It has a lovely asymmetric collar detail. The left collar extends into a flap which tucks though a buttonhole on the right collar. If you wear it tucked, as below, you get a keyhole effect.

But it also works well worn open.

Here are some side views. Hopefully you can just about see that the front hem corners are curved and that there’s a wide line of top-stitching around the edges holding the facings firmly in place. Installing the facings was a bit of a nervous moment as they go the whole way round the dress, including the hem and the neckline. You sew the facings together in a loop and hope you were accurate with seam allowances and it’ll actually be the right length to fit onto the dress. I was very relieved when mine went on smoothly.

The back of the dress is fairly plain by comparison.

If anyone’s wondering about the post title, the Liberty print this dress is made from resembles the Death Star when viewed close up.

Despite the science fiction inspiration, I think the final effect is more vintage than modern. I’m no fashion historian but it it feels a bit 1930s to me. The sort of thing you might wear to take tea with the vicar in Agatha Christie or PG Wodehouse. Not the kind of event I regularly have to dress for! But this will get plenty of wear for fixing computers and teaching maths.