Style Arc Toni in tencel twill

Here’s probably my last summer project of the year. It’s Style Arc’s Toni dress, yet again, this time made up in tencel twill. This is my fourth version of this particular pattern. Previous versions were in mystery grey synthetic, black lightweight viscose, and white sateen. The grey and black versions were worn until they were rags, and the white one is starting to look a little sad, so I’d been thinking of making another.

And then we went on holiday to Rye and I took the opportunity to visit Merchant and Mills’ shop. I was only intending to have a browse. The fabric prices are fair but they’re definitely not cheap: they specialise in high quality fabrics, mainly natural fibres, in beautifully tasteful muted colours. But they had a dark grey tencel twill reduced because of some minor damage close to the selvedge, and it’s perfect for a Toni, so it had to be. It’s exactly the sort of thing the pattern was designed for, although I also think it looks pretty good in a much less drapey fabric. Right now it’s still available here.

I’ve shortened the pattern a lot from the original. I also shaved a bit off the centre back seam at the top because do what I may the collar and facing never go in right without this adjustment. The original pattern seems correctly drafted – the seamlines match – so I don’t know what is happening when I sew it. I also made the pockets deeper this time. They’re hidden away in those side drapes.

The armscye on this pattern is a bit odd; there’s no shaping at all. The side seam just stops at a certain point and you turn the seam allowance under on the opening and stitch it down which works because of the lack of curves. I find the drafted arm opening is a bit large and tends to reveal bra band. This time I sewed the side seam up about 3cm higher than the pattern marking which has improved things. It hasn’t affected my arm mobility either.

I only have one very slight complaint and that’s that the fabric picks up little marks very easily. It’s beautifully soft to wear though, and the marks don’t show in photos so I’m living with it.

I expect this won’t be the last of Toni but I’ll be waiting until next year to make another now. Thanks as always to my husband for the photographs.

Vogue 1501

This is going to be a tricky dress to write a blog post about because I made it right at the end of last summer and have forgotten some of the details. As soon as I finished it the weather turned cold, and so I didn’t wear it last year at all. Now summer is back it’s finally having its moment.

The pattern is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. It’s got some beautiful and unusual details. The bodice is only attached to the skirt for a short distance along the front, floating free elsewhere, and there are thickly padded shoulders.

The pattern is written to produce a neatly finished inside without a single exposed seam. What it is missing is any reasonable way to hang up the finished dress in a wardrobe. A couple of long ribbon loops sewn into the waistband at the side seams would have been a useful addition! As it is I have to hang it using a skirt hanger connected below a regular hanger with a bit of string.

Here you can see the inside of the skirt and the waistband with all the edges either bound or sewed with french seams. It’s beautiful but it took forever.

I think I made my usual length additions on the bodice. If I was making this again I would take a little of the extra length out because the pleats in the bodice tend to collapse. I notice the skirt is a smidge shorter on me than the model which I find is a more flattering look, but I can’t now recall how I got to that point. I do remember getting the skirt pattern piece upside down more than once while sewing though; all the pleats mean it is very wide at the top.

The back has a nice little keyhole opening which adds some interest but mine’s not hanging quite right on the body. The keyhole is slashed into the pattern piece. It looks to me that I needed to make the button loop longer to account for the lost width from the allowances at the keyhole edges. Apart from that little annoyance I really like the back view. The open back is airy without showing lots of skin.

Now let’s talk about the shoulders. I read a lot of reviews of this pattern before making it up and every one skipped the padded shoulders. The pattern has you insert a gusset into the outer shoulder shell/facing seam to make space for a pad that’s supposed to be 2cm thick. I decided to give it a go but I’m not 100% happy with the results and I think the pattern could be improved to give a better finish. The gusset as drafted is symmetrical. It’s a long thin oval with a point at each end: the same shape as a marquise gem. But a shoulder pad has a curve in it to shape over the shoulder, so the gusset should be a crescent shape: concave on the side closest to the shoulder. The facing’s armscye should be made slightly shorter than the shell armscye to match the shorter length of the concave edge. If you make it up as drafted you inevitably end up with wrinkles on the underside of the shoulder where there is too much fabric trying to fit into too little space. They aren’t very visible in these pictures (hooray for black fabric, it hides a multitude of problems) but I assure you they’re there and you can also see them in Vogue’s model photos if you zoom in, so it’s a problem with the original designer dress and not the adaptation to a home sewing pattern.

Speaking of fabric, this is made from a poly crepe I got from Barry’s Fabrics in Birmingham last summer. It was great value and I’m very happy with it; it drapes beautifully and feels nice to wear. It was a little tricky to make the narrow hems for the back bodice edge in this fabric though. A silk or cupro twill would be absolutely perfect for this pattern.

Despite all the niggles this is a good summer dress for me – not too fluffy and very wearable. I can’t see me making another one soon but I’ll hang onto the pattern just in case. It would look amazing in white linen.

Thanks to my husband for the pictures.

Burda 128 10/2010

Burda 128 10/2010 modelled pictures

Burda 128 10/2010 black sateen

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

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

Burda 128 10/2010

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

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

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

Thanks to my husband for the photos.

The lure of the little black dress

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

Here’s Burda’s version:

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

Burda 128 10/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burda 117 02/2012

The sewing police will never take me alive

Burda 117 02/2012

It’s so difficult to get photos at the moment! There’s very little daylight and the garden is now a sea of mud covered in building supplies which doesn’t make for a good backdrop. Hence the indoor shots, as ever kindly taken by my husband.

This pattern is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. The technical drawing is below. Previous versions: black wool knit, red knit, colour blocked ponte, failed version in red and white stripes.

Burda 117-02-2012 technical drawing

This version is made in black scuba from Birmingham Rag Market. The fabric was an absolute steal; I think the amount I used for this dress cost me all of two pounds. It’s pretty forgiving: stable, no need to finish any seam allowances, and it presses pretty well for what must be polyester. It definitely required a stretch needle and a few tension adjustments to get a good stitch in it on my sewing machine though. I sewed the whole dress with a longish straight stitch as that has enough give for a stable knit fabric.

I made a few changes to the pattern. There is meant to be a back zip (not shown on the technical drawing, oddly) but it’s not needed so I skipped it. I also skipped the shoulder pleats; I prefer a strong shoulder line to a rounded one. On previous versions I also shortened the skirt but this one’s at the designer’s intended length. These days I think it looks better long; perhaps it’s a sign of age!

I added inseam pockets in the diagonal seams on the front. Those worked out better than they had any right to. I was in two minds about it, but I knew I’d never wear the dress without pockets so I had to try.

Burda 117 02/2012

I also changed the front closure completely. The left bodice front piece (the bit which underlaps) is designed to attach to the right front with snaps, and so the pattern piece only extends just as far as needed to do that. I’ve always sewn the opening shut and not bothered with the snaps in the past. That works, but the closure doesn’t always sit quite right. This time I decided to extend the left front to run right under the right front and catch it in the underbust seam so the front becomes a true crossover style. Only I tried to do this by mirroring the right front pattern piece, forgetting that the underbust seam is on a diagonal. I ended up with a left front that still wasn’t long enough to catch in the seam, and no fabric left to recut because I’d already used up the rest of it cutting out something else. I managed to save it by stitching the left front down along the line of the right front dart. The insides are a complete mess though; there’s a flapping raw edge running from centre front to the right dart on the inside. Scuba doesn’t fray so it will hold up, but the sewing police won’t approve.

Burda 117 02/2012

There’s also something odd going on with the seam allowances around the sleeves. This is my error from when I originally traced the pattern and I always forget to go back and fix it. It looks OK from the outside but the inside is another mess.

So not my best work but it’s wearable. I’m not sure how to style it either. For these photos I didn’t put it with a lot of other things but it’s more likely to be worn with a long sleeved t shirt and leggings underneath.

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

Schiaparelli pink Burda 116 08/2011

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

This is an old favourite pattern, Burda 116 08/2011. Five or six years ago I used to have three versions in my wardrobe; it was my perfect dress at the time and it sews up really quickly so it was easy to have multiple versions. I made it up again this summer at the height of the heat wave. The fabric is a stretch cotton poplin from Tissu fabrics in bright pink. The original pattern was meant to be made in something drapey, but I find I like the effect in a crisp fabric.

It’s taken a while to get photos and the first opportunity was a very windy day so excuse the strange folds. Thanks to my husband for patiently taking photos from several angles while we tried to keep out of the wind!

I made some very minor changes to the pattern. I added 1cm to the side seams below the waist for a total extra 4cm circumference because the original hasn’t got a lot of ease at the hips. The pattern has you make bias strips to finish the armscyes. I cut an extra strip to bind the inside edge of the cowl too as it makes a much nicer finish than overlooking it. I added some interfacing to the back collar and the pocket opening edges.  And finally I cut four of the pocket pieces rather than two so that I could have the pocket bags loose inside the dress rather than top-stitched to the dress front.

Burda 116 08 2011 back view

I think the fabric is very slightly too light in weight for this style, but I love the colour. This time around though I am noticing a few little issues that I wasn’t conscious of in previous versions. The sleeves are a bit restrictive, and the cowl neck has a mind of its own. I keep thinking that I won’t make another of these, but I also keep wearing it. Maybe I’ll make another in a heavier fabric. Sateen perhaps? I don’t think I want something as drapey as a crepe.

Burda 116 08 2011 front view

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

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 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.