The results are in: topstitching thread for silver fabric

Thanks everyone for all the advice about picking top stitching thread for bright silver fabric! I washed a bit of the fabric, and then did some samples of the best two thread colours so far. Lefthand fabric is unwashed; top row of stitching Gutermann topstitch 40, bottom row Gutermann topstitch 38. Righthand fabric is washed; top two rows are the Gutermann 40 and the bottom row the Gutermann 38.

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Rather to my surprise, the lighter thread (Gutermann 38) looks slightly better on both. The fabric has held up fairly well to washing considering I put it in with a regular wash. I’d normally wash something like this on a gentle cycle. It’s darkened and picked up a few crease marks, which is about what I expected. Not like a previous silver fabric I had where I washed it once and it came out black…

Several people suggested trying out more unexpected colours than grey and I was really tempted, but I haven’t had any spare time to visit a bricks and mortar shop with a fabric sample. And I wanted to get on with sewing the actual garment, so in the end I went with the 38. Here’s what it looks like so far.

Top stitching on silver fabric

Not my greatest ever topstitching, but you can’t unpick on this fabric at all, and it’ll look fine from a normal distance. I find going round the pocket edges on jeans at an even width is surprisingly difficult, even when I chalk a line to follow. It’s very difficult to see the chalk on the reflective surface and I resorted to using black chalk, which has rubbed off on the topstitching thread and darkened it slightly so I might as well have used the Guterman 40 after all. Oh well. I think I have enough fabric left to make a little skirt, so I might yet experiment with a pink or a purple thread!

McCalls 7727 front view

McCalls 7727 shirt dress

I’m trying to make more wearable clothes, I really am. It just depends on the definition of wearable. And what could be more sensible and practical than a shirt dress? Well this particular shirt dress all but has a train, so I don’t suppose it really counts as sensible, but I love it anyway.

McCalls 7727 front view

The pattern is McCalls 7727 which comes with two views, a tunic and a dress, both with a sash and a dramatic high-low hem. There is a sleeveless option or full length sleeves, so it’s easy to produce four different looks. It’s a great pattern but my goodness it’s a fabric hog. I made the dress length version with long sleeves so the worst case. I skipped the sash and ignored the pattern layout, cutting some of the pieces out upside down, and I still used five metres of wide fabric. It’s ivory stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics, and it’s great quality for a pretty low price.

Cutting this out was very hard work. If you make a lot of McCalls/Butterick/Vogue you’ve probably noticed the special instructions they always include for when there are pieces cut in pairs that need the full fabric width. The cutting layout has a big asterisk which means you fold the fabric in half across the grain, cut down that fold, and then turn the top bit around 180 degrees. Then the nap on both pieces runs the same way, and you can cut the pairs of wide pattern pieces out of that.

It is really difficult to realign the two layers once one is turned over and on this fabric, which has no nap that I can detect, it absolutely wasn’t worth the effort. Next time I’d just fold it crosswise.

McCalls 7727 back view

I meant to look up all the best ways to sew shirt collars and plackets and all those fiddly shirt bits, because we all know pattern instructions don’t always give the easiest method, but in the end I just switched my brain off and followed the pattern. Not only did their methods work beautifully, they were easy too. One exception: I didn’t slip stitch anything down by hand but stitched in the ditch from the right side.

McCalls 7727 3/4 view with pockets

The sleeves can be worn rolled up – the pattern includes a tab and button to do that. I wish I’d french seamed the sleeve seams because the overlocked seam allowances show when the sleeves are rolled up.

Speaking of the sleeves, these went in with no ease stitching and very little pinning. There’s lots of mobility in the arms too.

McCalls 7727 sleeves

I was originally going for a sort of Carolina Herrera look with this: a wide floor sweeping skirt with pockets, a crisp white shirt on the top half, and a very tight, defined waist between the two. But floor length skirts are definitely not practical and I think the high-low hem is a nice compromise which keeps the drama without sacrificing the ability to run up stairs. Not so sure how it’ll cope with a crowded bus though.

I added the pockets; the pattern doesn’t have them. It also doesn’t have much in the way of a waist, relying on the sash or a belt to pull it in. I thought having a white sash would make the whole thing look bridal, hence the belt.

I don’t think I really achieved my vision – the skirt should be in a contrasting colour for starters – but I’ll wear this and that’s the main thing.

Pictures all by my husband. We did these in the early evening and the light has worked out nicely.

McCalls 7727 back view full skirt

Top stitching thread colours

I have some very special fabric in the sewing queue right now. It’s a stretch denim with a shiny silver foil finish and is destined to become skinny jeans. I’ve made a few pairs of silver jeans before, but never from fabric quite this reflective. And the question is, what to do about top stitching? I’ve always used a black or a dark grey thread on silver before, but this fabric is so bright that those will be highly contrasting. I want top stitching with a bit of definition, so that the garment looks like jeans and not trousers, but the fabric should be the star and not the stitching.

Here’s a collection of top stitching threads against a swatch of the fabric.

Silver fabric sample with various top stitching threads

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (ie black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

It’s clear to me that two lightest shades are best, but the Coats seems too dark and the Gutermann too light. The pictures only give a vague idea because the fabric can look anything from white to almost black depending how the light catches it. Normally the rule with thread choice is to go with the darker shade if in doubt, but I’m not so sure here. I’ve looked for images of garments made in similar fabric and am none the wiser as to what shade the top stitching is because they are all taken from too far away.

I acquired an intemediate shade of Gutermann thread, and realised that I ought to be looking at one strand of thread against the fabric rather than the whole spool:

Various grey topstitching threads against silver foiled denim

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 40, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

The new one is the second right, and that still seems too dark and too blue in shade and the rightmost one too light.

Here are those two on their own.

Gutermann topstitch thread colours 40 and 38

Left: Gutermann Topstitch 40. Right: Gutermann Topstitch 38.

I still can’t decide. I think once I’ve cut the fabric I’ll have to do stitching samples on the scraps. Anyone else had this problem? Did you go darker or lighter, and were you happy with it?

Style Arc Toni front view

Style Arc Toni dress the third

White Style Arc Toni front view

This dress was an experiment which worked out far better than I expected. The pattern is Style Arc‘s Toni ‘designer dress’, which I’ve made twice before in very drapey fabrics as the pattern recommends. I loved both versions, but sadly neither fabric aged gracefully and both have now been thrown out. However I’d always suspected that the pattern would also look good in something crisp and structured. So here it is in white cotton sateen, and I think it’s the best version I’ve made yet.

White Style Arc Toni side view

I’ve shortened the pattern 10cm from the original length as I found it’s much easier to walk in that way. Otherwise this is made up straight out of the packet in a single size; the fit is very forgiving.

White Style Arc Toni back view

In previous versions I sewed weights into the drapes to keep them in place, but that wasn’t entirely effective. For this one I tried to encourage the drapes to stay put by tacking the seam allowances together in a couple of places. They still move about a bit. I think I’m just going to have to embrace that. I think I was trying to adjust the drapes in the picture below!

White Style Arc Toni bending front view

The crisp fabric really gives the skirt some volume. This pattern is a bit of a fabric hog, but I got very lucky: a friend of my mum’s was destashing and passed on 3m of this sateen. It’s an unusually narrow width; only just over a metre; and I used it all. Thanks Sue! I interfaced the collar and facings with Vilene G405. I wondered if that was going to be too heavy but it worked out OK because you need something fairly supportive for the collar on this one. I also added strips of interfacing on the front pocket opening edge.

White Style Arc Toni back view

I did some top stitching around the sleeve openings. The pattern just asks you to turn the allowances under there, but I don’t see how they’d stay put like that. I tacked the neckline facing to the seam allowances to make it stay in place but that could have been topstitched down as well.

White Style Arc Toni front view

Of course the big question is how wearable it is. It has the obligatory pockets (built into the pattern so no need to add them) and once shortened it’s quite easy to move in. The colour isn’t entirely practical but it’s easy to wash. Only time will tell for sure, but I’ve worn it for a day at work this week and was happy with it.

Pictures all by my husband (and his fancy new camera lens!)

White Style Arc Toni front view

Vogue 1573: unintentional mom jeans

Vogue 1573 front view

So I wanted to make a pair of black jeans to fill a gaping hole in my wardrobe. I wanted a skinny jeans style with a bit of seam interest, and the trousers from Vogue 1573 looked absolutely ideal. Here’s the line art. Look at all those pieces! It’s one of the designer patterns, a Guy Laroche style from Autumn 2015.


V1573 line art

I don’t have the patience or the time for toiles, so I just dived straight in. I was slightly hampered from the start by the fact that I’d ordered the smaller of the two size ranges but my pattern envelope arrived containing the larger one. I’m pear shaped, and based on the finished garment measurements I calculated my hips needed a 12. Luckily that is where the ranges overlap so I had that one in the envelope. I traced the 12 and graded the waist down. I used 14 for the lower leg because I have footballer calves, and added 7cm to the length, 3cm of which I took out again when hemming.

And it appears I have inadvertently made mom jeans: high waist, tapered leg, baggy thighs and seat. These pictures were taken after several washes, so they’re better than they were straight off the machine, but there’s still plenty of excess fabric.

Vogue 1573 front view closeup

I always have extra folds of fabric under the bum on trousers but this pair is really baggy there. This picture is not the worst one we took. I haven’t made woven trousers from a Vogue pattern before and I suspect part of the problem is the standard Vogue crotch curve doesn’t suit me. Burda’s is better on me and I understand that they draft for a different body shape.

Vogue 1573 back view

Anyway this all sounds a bit negative, but I have in fact been wearing these a lot. They aren’t the most flattering jeans I’ve ever made but they are practical and comfortable, and I don’t have another black pair right now. Incidentally the fabric is Black Marl stretch denim from Croft Mill. The pocket lining is black cotton poplin I had scraps of left over from something else, the interfacing is Vilene G405, and I used up two of those 30m spools of Gutermann topstitching thread.

Vogue 1573 side view closeup

Apart from the sizing I actually really liked the pattern. The method used for the pockets was new to me and gives a very clean, bulk free finish on the inside. I’ll be using that one again elsewhere. The belt loops are also a bit unusual. They are sewn into the waistband seams at both top and bottom rather than sewn into the top and bar tacked at the bottom. Then the top waistband edge is top stitched right over the belt loops. My machine found that very heavy going, and I can’t say I think it’s an improvement over the usual method, but it was interesting to give it a go. I didn’t like the instruction to hand stitch the waistband facing down though. I stitched in the ditch from the right side, although the sewn in belt loops got in the way a bit so I have little gaps in the facing stitching.

I was puzzled by the waistband grainline. The waistband is cut in such a way that centre front ends up almost on the bias which isn’t conducive to making a nice neat front closure, and my buttonhole is a bit sad looking too.

Some reviewers said they found the fly construction instructions confusing. The method used is almost exactly the same as Burda’s, which has always come out well for me, but I ran into problems with the fly top stitching on these. I couldn’t fold the fly shield completely out of the way as instructed because of how it was attached, so I had to do the curved end part of the top stitching through all the thicknesses. Then the fly shield edge fell exactly along the line I wanted to stitch along, so my stitching line kept falling off it leading to skipped stitches and tension problems. I managed, but it took about four tries. I think if the fly shield had been longer then what I did would have worked, but I’m not sure I got the construction quite as Vogue intended in the first place.

I might have another go at these, but grafting the style lines onto a jeans pattern that fits me better in the first place. So they are a partial success, and I expect I’ll wear them to shreds anyway because who doesn’t need a pair of comfortable jeans?

Vogue 1573 action shot

Ikat Kimono

Ikat kimono

This project came about because of dire necessity. A few years ago I made myself a kimono style dressing gown out of cheap and cheerful cotton. In terms of number of wears it’s probably the most successful thing I’ve ever made, but it is showing its age! I’d been resisting replacing it for a long time because it was still basically functional, if tatty, but when it developed huge tears running across the front from under each arm I finally caved in. And after using it for seven years I had thought of a few improvements I could make too.

Here is the new one.Ikat kimono

I had a hard time finding fabric. I originally set my heart on an ikat fabric I saw on Pinterest, but there were no details about the source in the pin and I couldn’t find anything like it in my usual online fabric shops. Eventually I gave up on the idea of ikat and started considering prints. After hours of online searching I still couldn’t find anything I really liked that wasn’t outrageously expensive. I very nearly splurged on a beautiful but pricey palm leaf print, but luckily I sent off for samples first because when it arrived I found I didn’t like the feel of it. Finally I looked in John Lewis more in hope than in expectation, and there was the very fabric I’d seen on Pinterest in the first place. It turned out to be a John Louden fabric called Cross Hatch in black and white, although the black looks dark navy to my eye.

Once I had the fabric in my hands I found it was quite a tricky one to work with. The weave is very open so I had to line it. I don’t normally finish seams on lined garments but I had to do these otherwise they’d have frayed to nothing. It’s also narrow – 110cm – and a kimono takes up a lot of yardage even on normal width fabric. Finally you have to match that very geometric pattern, so it consumes even more fabric than you might expect. But it is pretty and I like the irregularities that come from the ikat weave.

Ikat kimono back top view with mirror

The ‘pattern’ is a very basic kimono pattern, ie all rectangles. I originally got it from a cosplay website that has sadly ceased to exist or I’d link to it. Anneliese’s Fibres and Stuff was the site name (be careful if you google it because the domain it was hosted on has recently been redirecting to a site serving malware). There are no paper pattern pieces involved. You work out the sizes of your rectangles based on your body measurements and chalk them straight onto the fabric. I’ve made a few of these over the years both for myself and other people, and always been happy with the results. I normally make them with what I understand are the traditional kimono sleeve style for younger women: very wide ‘swinging’ sleeves which are only attached half way down the armscye, so there’s a gap under the arm. It looks great but isn’t so good for toddler wrangling, or decency when answering the front door come to that, so this one has narrower sleeves with no gap.

This time around I added a few refinements. It has belt loops and a hanging loop. Those were made from some cream coloured twill tape I had lying around that was almost the same colour as the shell fabric. There are large patch pockets on the front, although they are invisible in these pictures. I interfaced the belt with Vilene F220 to give it some body. I wish I’d done the same with the collar. It works OK without interfacing in something crisp like cotton poplin, but this fabric needs a bit of extra help.

I bagged the lining and it’s not quite right; the lining is too short for the shell so there are sometimes wrinkles at the hem. I measured really carefully but I think the shell fabric grew. But it’s only a dressing gown so I’m not going to go back and fix that. I’m very pleased with the pattern matching though. There is a centre back seam but it’s almost invisible.

Ikat kimono back view

I was a bit frustrated with this when I finished it because of the hem issue, and also the fit isn’t quite right – I had to compromise slightly on the width of the panels in order to match the pattern and not require a truly outrageous amount of fabric. But it’s grown on me and I’m going to wear it anyway because it’s a vast improvement on the torn one. I hope this is going to last me the next seven years!

Ikat kimono lounging view

Vogue 1548: weird but wearable

Vogue 1548 front

This is my Vogue 1548 dress, yet again. I finally have pictures of it on me rather than on the dress form or the floor.

One of the things that drew me to this pattern was that the style looked as if it might be fairly wearable in day to day life. I made it up in a black wool and polyester blend gabardine from Croft Mill. This is a lovely fabric that looks good but is surprisingly tough. It can tolerate a lot of pressing without picking up iron marks, and takes a pleat well but doesn’t crease much when worn. At the time I wrote this there was some left here.

Vogue 1548

So how is the dress to wear? The sleeves are a little restrictive, which is visible in the pictures. The skirt is quite short. I added 3cm to the skirt length on top of the usual 5cm I add to bodices, and I would not want the dress to be shorter. The waist seam of the dress is well above the natural waistline which disguises the length in photos, but I was very conscious of it when sitting. Altogether it’s a dress that you can’t just forget you’re wearing. But it was comfortable enough for a day in the office and I really enjoyed wearing something with such a definite Look. It kind of reminds me of the clothes in the Nikolai Dante comic strip.

Vogue 1548 back

The sleeves are very long. I’d normally add 5cm to Vogue sleeves, and here I added nothing at all. I like a long sleeve, and I think the original is meant to have them a bit on the long side. On the pattern photo and the runway photos they are well over the model’s wrists. But I think the pattern length is excessive even allowing for that. I also think the cuff circumference is larger than it needs to be.

Other than the sleeve this pattern runs smaller than most Vogues I’ve made: which doesn’t mean small. I still went down one size from the measurement chart.

A lot of the pictures of this dress you find on the Internet show the plastron partially unbuttoned. This doesn’t work for me at all. The neckline edge of the buttoned side ends up sticking up in an annoying way – picture below – which it doesn’t on the original dress. I wonder if my bodice length alterations have messed up the way it hangs.

Vogue 1548 front half done up

The bodice was not easy to sew. It has very deeply curved princess seams and sharp Dior darts. It was difficult enough in the wool shell fabric; the lining was even worse. My darts have ended up pointy despite loads of pressing. They’re also in the wrong place, which was my laziness in not making adjustments. The plastron hides all; another reason I love it. But here is what it looks like without.

Vogue 1548 front without plastron

I haven’t got a good picture of the pockets I added to the skirt, but they’re ordinary side seam pockets. I put the pockets in upside down at first by mistake because the skirt pattern piece is much wider at the top than the hem. The pleats take all the width up to produce the dramatic tulip shape. As always I wish I’d made the pockets bigger. But I got the height right this time.

So the verdict is that I love this dress. I won’t wear it every week but it won’t be stuck at the back of the wardrobe either. And now I’m off to sew my next project: something so simple it has no pattern and where most of the seams are straight lines.

I need a lie down: Vogue 1548 finished

It’s finished. I sewed the last few buttons on today. The finished version of Vogue 1548 is both brilliant and weird, and I suspect it is one of the most complicated things I have ever made.

Modelled pictures will have to wait a bit but I do have flat and detail shots, and some construction notes.

Here’s the full length view. Those gathered bands at the cuffs and hem were surprisingly tricky. I did the cuffs the standard way: sewing two rows in each seam allowance with a long stitch length and low tension and then pulling up the threads. The end result wasn’t very even. For the hem band I tried zigzagging over a heavy thread (two rows again) and pulling that up. That was very slow and fiddly but slightly easier to control.

And here’s the back. The centre pleats don’t quite meet at the zip because I needed a little extra room there. But I’m pleased with how well the waist seam and the top of the zip are matched up.

Less pleased with the back neck facing which has an annoying mismatch where it’s sewn to the zip. I don’t do hand sewing if I can possibly avoid it, so I did the all-machine method for attaching the lining and facing to the zip and got a bit sloppy. It won’t show when the dress is being worn so I decided not to unpick it.

I bagged out the lining, again to avoid hand sewing.

The sleeve linings have little pleats at the cuff.

The really special feature of this dress is the plastron. It has a lot of precision top stitching and 12 precisely placed buttonholes. I didn’t try to use the original pattern markings to position any of that because I’d had to alter the pattern piece to add a lot of length and they all needed redrawing. I made up the basic plastron and then used a patchwork ruler and marked new guidelines directly onto the fabric with chalk. To stop the layers shifting under all the top stitching I put some fusible web inside the plastron before closing it up. That worked well although I suspect quilters may have better methods.

Here’s the dress without the plastron. The neckline is pretty but I doubt I’ll wear it like that because the buttons look a bit odd to my eye.

One last picture with a better view of the amazing sleeves. I can’t wait to wear it.

Vogue 1548 sleeves

I’m currently working on Vogue 1548, a recent Guy Laroche design. It has everything I love in Vogue designer patterns: a really unusual style with loads of interesting detail. Quite how wearable the end result is remains to be seen…I have to finish it first and it’s very slow going. So far I have a bodice (without a lining or a zip) and two sleeves (not attached to bodice).

Vogue 1548 line art

And what sleeves they are. There’s a weird pointy bit near the elbow, two very curved insets (one inside the other) decorated with self-fabric binding, and gathered cuffs. I don’t usually bother with construction pictures but these sleeves deserve to be commemorated. Below is the small inset just having been sewn into the larger one. The pattern pieces are just behind them. They’re sewn wrong sides together and then the seam allowance is trimmed, encased in binding, and stitched down on the right side of the fabric.

Vogue 1548 inset seam

The binding is supposed to be self-fabric bias binding. Normally I’d just use ready-made rather than faffing about making my own, but for this pattern I think the binding needs to match the sleeve fabric perfectly or it’ll look odd. Vogue’s instructions blithely say to do this by constructing a long bias strip about 25mm wide and then pressing over 6mm on each edge, giving approximately 12mm finished width. No further details about how to achieve this impressive feat are given, but then it is a ‘plus difficile’ pattern so I guess you’re supposed to know what you’re doing. I don’t know about you but pressing under exactly 6mm by hand on a wriggly bias edge is completely beyond my sewing skills and any attempt would certainly lead to burnt fingers and much cursing. Good thing there are bias tape folding gadgets to be had. Slow but effective.

Making bias binding

Here’s a picture of the bound edges basted down before being sewn. That was another massively fiddly job. In the very unlikely event I make this pattern again I would just sew the insets right sides together and top-stitch them. And I haven’t even got to the cuffs yet.

Vogue 1548 sleeve binding basted

Asymmetric Vogue 8956 skirt

When I started sewing I was more than a little frustrated by the complete lack of beginner patterns for styles I wanted to sew. Vogue 8956 is a skirt pattern I would have loved to have seen back then. It’s unusual and stylish, and it’s dead simple to make. And for bonus marks you get three views and two skirt lengths. I made view B  which is the version in the envelope photo below: the longer length with one side drape.

Vogue 8956 envelope art

Here is a less arty but clearer shot of it on me which shows that it really is a wrap skirt. That wrap stays put beautifully by the way. This is a well drafted pattern.

Here is the back. The fabric is a black wool flannel from Croft Mill. I also made a pair of trousers from this. It has a little bit of lycra in it, not enough to make it stretchy. I hoped the lycra would repel creases but it doesn’t seem to. It had to be ironed immediately before taking these photos.

The original pattern isn’t lined. I suspect that is to keep it simple, but it does mean you can see the wrong side of the fabric on the asymmetric version where the hem dips down, including the inside of the side seam. Lining the skirt hides all that and in theory should be fairly simple to do. The easiest way would be to hem the lining and the skirt separately. I decided to go a bit further and completely seal up the insides by making a hem facing for the skirt and attaching my lining to that. The next picture just shows the lining (black acetate/viscose satin from The Lining Company) and the hem facing.

I definitely won’t use this lining method again for this particular pattern. The hem facing reduces the drape of the skirt and needs a lot of help to stay up: I ended up catch stitching it to the skirt by hand. It was also a pain in the neck to make all the extra pattern pieces. And in a fit of madness I interfaced the hem facing which was fiddly to do and reduced the drape even more. Next time I make this I’ll hem the skirt and the lining separately. It would be great with a swishy taffeta lining. Incidentally the original pattern calls for making a narrow hem on the skirt, which sounds tricky in wool. I’d be inclined to go for matching bias binding turned to the inside.

I added side seam pockets. The one on the non-drapey side of the skirt tends to show a bit. I forgot to understitch the pocket bag which does not help. But for once I got the placement just right: not too high, not too low. The back pocket bag is made from the flannel and the front from lining.

The sizing on this one runs slightly smaller than I am used to in Vogue but I still needed to make one size down from what the size chart suggested. If in doubt look at the finished garment measurements on the tissue as they are much more helpful than the size chart. It’s also a generous length. I did not add to the length at all and I would normally add 5cm. I wouldn’t want it longer than it is.

I am very happy with this project. Someone at work even said they liked it and it’s very unusual for my colleagues to notice clothes at all. Now I just need to find the right fabric for the next version.