Top 5 of 2018: Hits

top 5 of 2018 logo

I’m away from my sewing machine at the moment so Gillian’s Top Fives of 2018 blog series has come along at a particularly good time. It’s been a good year for sewing though: I’ve made fourteen things but had a hard time narrowing the hits down to just five.  I’ve decided to choose the things I’ve worn the most rather than the most technically challenging or dramatic projects. And because they’ve all had a lot of wear I now have more to say about what works about these projects and what doesn’t.

First is Style Arc’s Juliet shirt made up in white cotton poplin. I made it in the summer but it’s kept going for autumn and winter, worn over a long sleeved white t-shirt. I like the extra-long length and the asymmetric tie. Next time I’d make the sleeves full length as the three-quarter length is slightly annoying.

Style Arc Juliet

Then there are my silver jeans The pattern was originally Burda 103B 07/2010 but it’s been modified quite a bit from the original. Any slim legged jeans pattern would do; the silver foiled fabric is what really makes these. Unsurprisingly it’s fading; they’re more of a dull silver now than the mirror like finish shown in this photo, but they still get worn about once a week. I find they work best with a very casual top and boots.

Burda 103 07 2010 front

McCalls 7727 shirt dress doesn’t seem like a practical pattern with its dramatic high-low hem but I have worn this a lot more than I expected to, and I really love wearing it. It’s made from the same cotton poplin as the Style Arc Mara shirt. The length is slightly too much in real life: it drags on stairs, and it catches on my shoes. I’d also do French seams on the sleeves next time because the overlocked seam finishes show when I roll the sleeves up. But a dress which caused someone to mutter ‘Princess Leia’ as I swished by in it has got to be good.

Vogue 8956 was my first project of 2018. The day we took the pictures was very sunny and the fabric is black wool flannel which soaks up light so it was hard to get shots where any detail is visible; this one is about the best. The skirt is very warm and practical, and the wrap front stays put surprisingly well. I think this is a really good pattern. It’s easy to sew and the end result is no fuss to wear despite looking very dramatic.

My favourite project was unplanned: a friend of my mother’s gave me the white cotton sateen fabric from her stash and there was just enough for Style Arc’s Toni dress, a pattern I’d already made up twice. It’s intended for drapey fabrics but it works really well in this heavy cotton with very crisp interfacing in the collar. I wore it a lot in the summer. Despite the sculptural shape it’s actually very comfortable and being cotton it washes well. When I first made it I was concerned that the drapes didn’t stay put when I moved but I no longer notice that.

White Style Arc Toni front view

So that’s it for the successes…next time the failures!

Burda 114A 11/2011

Pathological fabric and Burda 114A 11/2011

Burda 114A 11/2011 front view

This was a quick but not an easy project. The pattern is Burda 114A 11/2011, a fairly simple wrap over knit top. The pattern photo shows it made up in a very loose and drapey sweater knit; you can see it’s slightly transparent.

I got some fairly similar stuff from Croft Mill’s sale recently. It was an end of roll so there’s no more available. It’s a loosely knitted polyester sweater knit in various shades of grey, black, and white. It came with a warning that it was tricky to sew and they weren’t kidding! You can stretch it a long way and it doesn’t snap back. I spent a long while trying to get it arranged on grain and without tension before cutting, but one of my sleeves still ended up 10cm longer than the other, and the back hem edge was on a steep angle. This was particularly obvious because the fabric has a subtle striped effect. I took my shears and cut the extra fabric off freehand, following the stripes, to end up with two matching sleeves and a hem that is on grain. I think it’s worked surprisingly well considering how misshapen my first attempt was. I really should have cut the whole thing out single layer.

Burda 114A 11/2011 back view

Most people who have made this recommended going down at least one size. I did size down but I also made my usual length additions and they weren’t needed. The sleeves are meant to be extra long anyway, but I think the body has come out much longer than on the model photo.

Burda 114A 11/2011 right side view

The neckline on the model photo is very low but most people who have made this have found it comes up much higher and more wearable, me included. I can arrange it to be lower but it naturally settles as you see it in the photos.

I constructed this mostly with a straight stitch on the sewing machine using a ball point needle and slightly lowered needle tension. I tried the overlocker on a few seams but it didn’t like the loosely knit fabric at all. The fabric caught around the loopers at one point and required some vicious hacking with scissors to free it. The overlocker seems to have survived the experience but I lost a bit of width from the top around the bust area (I regretted using only 1cm seam allowances) and after that I didn’t risk overlocking again. I left the remaining seam allowances raw and sewed the hems with a wide zigzag positioned to go over the raw edge of the hem allowance. Hopefully it will hold up. Knits generally don’t ravel but this one might be an exception.

Burda 114A 11/2011 left side view

I really like the finished top. I’ve seen a few versions of this in more stable knits and those looked pretty good too, so I might give it another go at some point. In a more stable knit this would be a great first knit project because there’s no neckband to deal with. I think I need a break after this particular version though; my next project is going to be made from nice well behaved denim.

Thanks to my husband for taking the photos.

Burda 114A 11/2011 full length

Neutral basics: Vogue 8866

Vogue 8866 top in black scuba front view

This is another pattern repeat: the top from Vogue 8866, a wardrobe pattern now sadly out of print. (Grey top, blue top, sparkly dress from the same pattern). The envelope picture doesn’t do this one justice at all. But the technical drawing reveals interesting seamlines. I’ve lightened my photos slightly in the hope they’ll be visible there too.

Vogue 8866 line art

It is made from some bargain black scuba knit I got from the Birmingham Rag Market. I constructed this almost entirely on a regular sewing machine with a straight stitch, using a size 90 stretch needle and lowering my thread tension slightly. Most of the seams are top stitched so don’t need to be super stretchy. The scuba doesn’t need any seam finishing either because it doesn’t fray.

I originally cut out the dress version of the pattern and added side seam pockets. But I got them in the wrong place – too low – and they wouldn’t sit flat. I couldn’t face redoing them and I knew I wouldn’t wear a dress with no pockets so I cut the whole thing off at the hip and made it into a top.

A more carefully planned change was to swap the back neck opening and snaps for a short invisible zip. It stops just above the back yoke seam. It’s just enough to get the top over my head but no more.

Vogue 8866 top in black scuba back view

I haven’t bothered hemming this. I didn’t want to fight with a twin needle. I ran the hem and sleeve edges through the overlocker with a fairly short stitch length to give the impression of some sort of intentional finishing and that’s good enough.

I think this will be a useful basic top. It goes with most of my other clothes and it’s good for layering. It’s not the most exciting thing I’ve made this year but it’s the basics you wear the most.

Photos by my husband, taken on a very windy and sunny day so excuse my hair. I’m wearing the top with my gold Burda jeans here but it should go with most of my jeans and skirts.

Now I come to write this blog post I realise I’ve never made any of the other items from this pattern, and there’s an excellent pair of culottes and a skirt in there too. Maybe some time soon I’ll have a go at those.

Vogue 8866 in black scuba, Burda 103-07-2010 gold jeans, Fly boots

Again, again, again: Vogue 1247

I don’t normally find that sewing clothes is any cheaper than buying them, but this project is one of the exceptions. The pattern is one I’ve made several times before: a modified version of the skirt from Vogue 1247 (previous versions: green, silver knit, grey). The fabric is the scraps left over from my silver jeans. I had plenty of suitable top stitching thread to go with it left too.

The technical drawing for the pattern is below but my version has some changes.

Vogue 1247 line art

I am trying to use more things from my stash, and amongst my zips I had a metal one of about the right length with a large silver decorative puller. It was a good match for the fabric but there was no way I wanted the puller digging into the small of my back, so I moved the zip to the side seam.

Close up of zip

The puller meant it had to be installed as an exposed zip. I used a lot of Wonder Tape to hold the zip in place while I stitched it because you can’t pin or baste this fabric anywhere it might show!

I wasn’t sure what to do about the waistband. Previous versions I’ve made of this skirt have an invisible zip which stops just below the waistband, and a hook and bar closure on the waistband itself. I couldn’t find a picture of an exposed zip installed like that, but I was worried that it wouldn’t stay closed without the help of an additional closure at the top; the waistband is close fitting and so takes a lot of strain. In the end I stopped the zip just under the waistband and made a small overlap on the waistband with a hook and bar to hold it. Seems to work and looks fine.

Another change I made was to add a centre front seam and top stitching along it and the yoke seam. The front of the skirt is very plain and I thought it needed something to break up the expanse of shiny silver.

Silver skirt with centre front seam

Here’s a back view. Yes it needs pressing, but on the other hand this is how it really looks after I’ve been sitting down.

The reason I keep going back to this style is the pockets. They are well placed and nice and big. I’ve got my purse, keys, and phone in them in the modelled photos.

I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to style this. I thought black would look too stark against the silver and so tried various grey tops and tights, but they all looked wrong. It would probably work with a white top and bare legs but the UK is well into autumn now so that’s not going to be an option for a long time. The black top and tights seems to be the best option.

Modelled photos taken by my husband; flat ones by me.

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.

Nearly perfect: Style Arc Juliet

Style Arc Juliet

Here’s Style Arc‘s Juliet shirt being worn. This is an asymmetrical style with a front tie that is sewn into the side seam on the left and grows directly out of the front bodice piece on the right. It’s an interesting variation on a classic shirt. These photos were taken with it in its fresh off the sewing machine state, hence the relative lack of creasing.

I really like this shirt. But at the same time I want to pull the pattern apart and change things to make it even better. For one, the back is unshaped and quite plain. I think it could do with some darts, and I’d like a yoke to break up the large expanse of fabric. I’m also not entirely convinced by the three quarter length sleeves. They look good in photos but I prefer full length. Incidentally this pattern runs very long in both body and sleeve. I have lengthened it, but not nearly as much as I normally would need to. Otherwise I’d say it’s true to size.

Style Arc Juliet

The asymmetric tie was what originally drew me to the design but now I’ve sewed it up I find the conventional left side tie (the one sewn into the side seam) a bit unsatisfactory. It doesn’t sit as nicely as the right tie. Next time I’d do the left front as a mirror image of the right front piece with the grown on tie. That will use a lot more fabric; the pattern piece for the right front is so big you couldn’t cut it on the fold even on wide fabric.

One other interesting little detail on the pattern is the stepped hem. The back is about 5cm longer than the front. I wasn’t convinced the difference was enough when I saw the pattern pieces; maybe it would look like a mistake! But I went with it and the effect is growing on me now.

Style Arc Juliet

I’ve put the shirt with my silver jeans here, but I suspect it’ll go well with a wide variety of bottoms. It might even work tucked in? I will have to experiment.

Thanks to my husband for taking the pictures.

Style Arc Juliet

Style Arc Mara front view

Style Arc Mara shirt dress

This dress seemed to take forever to make. I started it during the heatwave and with hindsight a cotton shirt dress with lots of fiddly details wasn’t the ideal project for weather that’s too hot to have the iron on. I got there in the end though. I’m hoping this will be a useful transitional dress that will work for autumn as well the summer.

Style Arc Mara front view

The pattern is a very classic shirt dress style: breast pockets, two piece sleeves with proper cuffs, and a hidden button placket. The pattern drawing on the Style Arc site is wrong, by the way. It shows a tab for rolling up the sleeve and there isn’t one; also the pattern has two buttons on the cuff and the drawing shows only one.

I’m slightly surprised there’s no back yoke in the design. The back of the dress is extremely plain; the only detail is the centre back seam.

Style Arc Mara back view

The fabric is a wide (150cm) turquoise stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics. The pattern says it takes just under two metres which is pretty good for a long sleeved dress. I didn’t really believe the length estimate on the pattern and was quite prepared to buy more fabric if the pieces didn’t fit on the 2m I had, but to my amazement it was fine, even with my usual length additions. I had just enough left to cut a second pair of the breast pockets when my first pair went wrong but the rest of the scraps were so small they went straight into the bin.

Those breast pockets are a tricky sew. The pocket pieces have rounded corners which you are supposed to press under, and it’s hard to do smoothly. I had most success when I made a cardboard template of the curves to press the fabric around but even so they’re a bit jagged. Another time I might line the pockets as making the curves would be a great deal easier and there would be less chance of burning my fingers. As well as the breast pockets there are inseam pockets on the side seams.

Style Arc Mara front view

The instructions are pretty minimal. They suggest making a plan in advance for which seams to topstitch but don’t actually tell you which ones to do. I definitely topstitched the wrong sleeve seam. You can only do the one you sew first, and I think it’s best to top stitch the one that runs into the cuff opening because by sewing that seam first you can do a much better job on finishing the cuff opening. Mine isn’t great because I sewed that seam last and I won’t be rolling the sleeves up on this dress as a consequence. Which is a pity, because I suspect they were designed to be worn with the cuffs turned back given how long the sleeves come out.

Another thing I’d do differently next time would be to add some interfacing to the placket. It’s a bit wobbly in this fabric. It would probably be fine in something heavier.

Will there be a next time? Possibly. It’s a pattern with very good bones but this particular version has a few execution problems that bother me; a more experienced sewist probably wouldn’t have had the same issues. The weather’s cooling down here so I probably won’t make another this year but I might revisit it in spring. Maybe in a bold print?

Special thanks to my husband who managed to take the photos while simultaneously toddler-wrangling.

Style Arc Mara front view

Victory is mine

I set the sleeves in on this shirt perfectly in one go. Normally with set in sleeves I find I have to go back and restitch little bits where I’ve got a pucker.

The pattern is Style Arc‘s Juliet shirt. I am liking Style Arc patterns more and more: their small seam allowances are so much easier to sew than standard 1.5cm ones. They use 1cm in most places and 6mm for things like necklines where there’s a tight curve and the seam allowance doesn’t need to be finished afterwards. 6mm sounds tiny, but it works. The collar on this went on very easily with no stay stitching and clipping required, just a few pins.

The only downside is that I find it tricky to finish the smaller seam allowances where they have to be pressed open. I now overlock those edges before I sew the seam which works better for me.

The picture was taken before I made the buttonholes but it’s all done now. Hopefully I’ll have modelled photos soon.

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

Burda 103 07 2010

Full on Cyberman silver jeans

I’ve made various pairs of silver jeans over the years, but never in fabric quite this reflective. It’s a foiled stretch denim from a new-to-me company, Top Fabric. I found it in their online shop a while ago but ummed and aahed about it for quite some time because it’s quite pricey and narrow enough that my favourite jeans pattern would need at least two metres. Anyway I was lucky enough to get fabric money for my birthday, so here are the ultimate silver jeans.

Burda 103 07 2010 front

The pattern started life as Burda 103b 07/2010 but I’ve made it five or six times over the years and tweaked here and there each time. The most dramatic change is probably lowering the waist by a couple of inches. The original pattern is astonishingly high waisted; something I often find with Burda trousers. I also added the back pockets to the pattern at some point. Looking at this version I think they need to be a bit larger and closer to the centre back seam. Maybe I’ll fix that next time.

Burda 103 07 2010 back

One thing I really like about this design is the extra panel down the side of the leg. It’s just about visible in the picture below.

Burda 103 07 2010 side

The top stitching caused much agonising over thread choice. I went with a very light grey and it seems to have worked well. I did the buttonhole and bartacks for the belt loops in regular thread in the same shade. I find I get a much better result that way; neither of my machines likes making dense zigzags in thick thread. The rest of the stitching and seam finishing was done with black thread because the base fabric is black.

Burda 103 07 2010 front closeup

The fabric is a bit more difficult to work with than regular stretch denim. You can’t unpick without leaving marks and the foil surface is very slippery. I used Wonder Tape instead of pins to hold things in place while sewing the fly front and back pockets because pin marks would have been very visible.

Burda 103 07 2010 back closeup

The fit isn’t perfect in that I have my usual problem of folds under the bum. But I have only worn these for try ons so far. I find the fit on skinny jeans improves after a bit of wearing time. My gold jeans had the same problem when I made them and now they’re much better. The silver ones currently feel quite tight but again I expect they’ll ease up with wear.

I’m hoping these will be very versatile. I’m wearing them with a t shirt here but I think they’ll also work with a big white shirt, and worn under either of the white dresses I’ve made recently when the current heat wave finally breaks. And I think I have just enough scraps of the fabric left to make a Vogue 1247 skirt too. Silver is a neutral, right?

Burda 103 07 2010 front