Adventures with reflective fabric

A while ago my husband asked if I could make him a top out of high visibility fabric for running in the evenings. Not something I’d ever sewed with before. A bit of research revealed that stretch reflective fabric is seriously pricey stuff. So I started out buying a pack of samples from Hello Reflectives, whose website I’d bookmarked some time ago. I received a mixture of wovens and knits. There’s quite a range of weights and textures, but as you’d expect most of them have a plasticky hand and very little drape; I wouldn’t want to wear many of the types next to my skin. The knits with reflective prints are drapey but not super stretchy – it’s the nature of the printing. Fine for a loose fitting running top though.

We eventually decided on a printed knit in a design that didn’t come in the sample pack, and when I ordered it they threw in another, slightly different, pack of samples. So my photos are of a combination of the two sample packs plus a bit of the fabric I actually bought.

These are the wovens (except the perforated one). Mostly quite light weight, plasticky, very little drape. Think of oilcloth. They’d be good for things like raincoats or bags.

Mostly woven samples from Hello Reflectives, right side up, natural light
Mostly woven samples from Hello Reflectives, right side up, flash
Mostly woven samples from Hello Reflectives, wrong sides

These are the knits. The three printed ones are quite drapey and would be OK to wear against the skin. The fully coated knits are much heavier, have very little stretch, and don’t drape; they’d be good for outerwear. I quite fancy making a jacket in that silvery grey one, but I’m not sure I’d dare wear it.

Knit samples from Hello Reflectives, right sides, natural light
Knit samples from Hello Reflectives, right sides, flash
Knit samples from Hello Reflectives, wrong sides (except the circuit board print which I forgot to turn over, oops)

We picked the circuit board print in the end. They have a few other prints in the same silver on black effect but this design is their best option for an all over print in my opinion. Some of the other designs have pattern repeats with very obvious edges, so they’d be better as accents.

The fabric was supposed to be very narrow so I had to order two metres, but what arrived was so much wider than advertised that I was able to get two tops out of it. I was a bit concerned about washing the fabric – the website says not to wash it hotter than 30 degrees, but realistically you can’t be precious about exercise gear. I washed a sample on my normal 40 degree cycle and it came out OK. I’m guessing it will probably shorten the life of the fabric to keep washing at 40, but that’s life. So far it’s holding up fine.

The pattern is a tracing of an old t shirt that my husband likes the fit of. I was intending to use something from Burda, but would you believe in ten years of back issues there isn’t a single pattern for a loose fitting men’s t shirt.

Having enough fabric for two tops meant that I could treat the first one as a trial run. I had to reshape the neckline a lot on that version, but it ended up wearable. It’s certainly bright.

Reflective print t shirt back view, electric light
Reflective t shirt back view, flash

So overall a success. And they’re certainly getting a lot of wear in the current dark evenings.

Getting in a flap: Vogue 1347 shirt

Back to sewing with a plan. This is the shirt from OOP Vogue 1347 made up in black linen. This is a Ralph Rucci design so it has tonnes of top-stitching and is beautifully finished on the inside. When I was getting ready to make it I threaded up the overlocker to finish the seams, and then realised I needn’t have bothered because there isn’t a single exposed seam allowance in this pattern. They’re all flat felled, bias bound, or hidden under folded and top-stitched bands. Needless to say it took a long time to make.

Here’s the technical drawing. The obviously interesting bit is of course the bands. But the sleeves are worth a look too; the top sleeve is cut in one with the front and back yoke. There’s a dart where a shoulder seam would normally be. The whole piece is on the bias so it curves nicely over the shoulder. This caused me a problem making my usual sleeve length additions: the lengthened bias piece only just squeezed into the width of my fabric. Incidentally I think there’s a problem with the body lengthen/shorten lines on the pattern: they were missing on one piece so things would have gone horribly wrong if they were followed blindly.

Vogue 1347 technical drawing, patternreview.com

I do like a pattern where the back view has some interest. Not 100% sure of the best way to wear those back bands though. The technical drawing shows them hanging loose but I’ve been wearing them knotted to hide the slight mismatch of levels where I sewed them down on each side. Oops.

The fabric is 100% linen. It was lovely to sew and press, but it had some little holes in it. I noticed one when cutting out and managed to cut around it, but to my horror I found two more in the shirt after I’d sewn most of it. I fixed them up by putting a small patch behind and doing triple zigzag over the top, and they’re practically invisible now. I’ve only seen with linen once before so not sure if this is common or if I just got unlucky?

I’m on the fence about the flappy bands. They look fantastic, but I find I need to be a bit careful not to sit on them as they crease horribly. The ones on the arms are not as annoying as I expected though. As they dangle from the elbow they mostly stay out of the way.

I’m wearing it with the trousers from the same pattern here. I haven’t been able to find any pictures of the exact original garment besides what is on the pattern envelope which is a shame – I like to see how the original was styled! The closest I found is this ensemble from Resort 2012 which looks like the same two patterns but made up in black satin rather than linen. More like very glamorous pjs than proper daywear.

Ralph Rucci Resort 2012 look 19, vogue.com

Although I haven’t worn it a lot yet I am liking this one. It looks really good with my black pleated culottes. Currently I’m putting a warm knit and several t shirts underneath but it should work worn on its own for a UK summer too. But this is definitely not a pattern to make more than once; it took about a month. Standards were definitely slipping by the end. I’ll enjoy wearing it but I need to make something a lot simpler next.

Thanks to my husband for pictures as ever!

Sewing top fives: goals

Last of the Sewing Top Fives of 2020: goals. I didn’t complete most of last year’s goals, so I’m setting the bar low for 2021.

I want to complete my sewing with a plan wardrobe. This should be achievable. There are three more garments to go. I already have fabric for the last pair of trousers, and I have the fabric and have even traced the pattern for the white blouse. The third piece is a simple Burda top that I’m having some doubts about now I’ve read a few reviews of it. I may replace that pattern with something else.

However I think I may have to make an extra wardrobe piece to replace the black blouse that didn’t fit. I’ve got a fairly basic Burda shirt pattern lined up for that. So maybe it’s four more pieces. That should take me until April or May. After that, all bets are off. I’m hoping the world will look quite different by then, and who knows what I’ll feel like sewing.

Sewing Top Fives: Reflections

Next up in Sewing Top Fives of 2020: reflections. I skipped the non-sewing highlights prompt because I like to keep this blog focussed on the clothes and not everything else going on in the world. I guess that makes it a Sewing Top Four.

I only set four sewing goals for 2020, which were three patterns I wanted to make and to carry on with my project to sew my way through my Burda wishlist. And I failed almost completely: I made only one of the three patterns and stopped sewing the dresses after January. I never do well with New Year resolutions. The two patterns that didn’t get made weren’t the most practical of items: a particularly ridiculous Vogue coat which resembles a turtle, and a sleeveless wrap jumpsuit. Where I live, sleeveless works for about one month a year. However I don’t find myself all that disappointed about the failures. The jumpsuit pattern is great and I might go back to it in the spring, but the coat is probably a project best kept for a point in my life when I have a lot more free time. And as for the dresses…well, I don’t have the lifestyle for most of them and my wardrobe space is very limited. So I doubt I’ll go back to those.

I did try something new this year: sewing with a plan rather than making whatever happens to take my fancy next. The aim was to make pieces that work together and use up some stash fabric. It took a surprisingly long time to come up with a suitable set of projects and I’m still working my through the list. At the rate I sew, even the eight garments I have planned will take six months. I’m half way through now, with four finished garments.

I’m honestly surprised I’ve stuck with it even this far, although it helps that I already have most of the necessary fabric. I am starting to get slightly bored, although that might be because I’m currently working on an involved Vogue designer pattern in black fabric with miles of black topstitching at the darkest time of year; I seem to have been making it for weeks and it’s still not done.

Three of the finished items from the plan have fitted right into my wardrobe. The one failure was down to poor fit rather than the choice of pattern. So it’s been mostly worthwhile, but if I carry on planning in advance like this I need to find a better balance of short and long projects. And I do miss the fun of planning frivolous projects based on my latest whim.

On the subject of patterns, I’m slightly saddened by what’s happened to Vogue Patterns this year. It’s not the rebranding of the parent company from McCalls to Something Delightful, although I don’t love that. Vogue are still by far the most interesting of the Big Four ranges, but they’re clearly winding down the designer pattern section. The designer’s name is no longer a prominent part of the marketing, and there are fewer and fewer designer patterns in each release. Conversely Burda magazine is going from strength to strength, so I haven’t bought any new envelope patterns all year.

I did buy and make up a vintage envelope pattern though: a Claude Montana Vogue from the 80s. It was beautifully designed; if modern Vogue designer patterns cease to be an option I’ll certainly be stalking eBay for vintage ones.

eBay has also supplied a few back issues of Burda this year that filled in some gaps in my collection from before I subscribed. I was struck by how different the magazine was ten years ago. There were fewer patterns per issue but they were very much more detailed. And of course the patterns were spread over eight sheets rather than four back then, so they’re much easier to trace than modern Burda. I can see myself sewing up a few things from these old issues next year.

Well that was an unstructured ramble. Next up: goals.

Sewing top fives: misses

This is my favourite part of the Sewing Top Fives blog series: the failures. There’s much more to say about the projects that didn’t work than the ones that did. When I went through my projects for the year I found three that didn’t work out. Which is one less than 2019, so that’s progress.

I’d completely forgotten this Burda dress, from my long abandoned attempt to sew my way through my Burda wishlist. It looks all right on the dress form but the fit was horrible. No prizes for guessing why there are no photos of it on me.

I chose the wrong fabric for the pattern, made some misguided experimental fit adjustments, and added pockets in a bad place. A sad waste of nice fabric. I still occasionally hanker after the dress that inspired the project though: Luv’s fitted white dress from Blade Runner 2049. I was intending to use this pattern as a base to reproduce it once I’d worked the bugs out. One day perhaps, but definitely with a different pattern as the starting point.

The next one seemed like a success at the time I finished it, and I still like the way it looks in photos. But sadly it’s so low cut and boxy that it’s only suitable for lounging; anything involving movement, never mind bending over, is extremely dicey. I wore it to take my son to the playground once. Never again. I haven’t thrown it out because I cling to the hope that I might one day have a lifestyle where I can wear it; that or I find some magical underpinning for it that I don’t mind people seeing.

The last one should look familiar because I only posted this blouse two weeks ago. The fit is definitely not right; odd because I’ve been sewing Vogue for years and I thought I had a good handle on how their block fits me. Maybe this one’s just a bit unusual. Anyway I haven’t decided what to do with it yet; probably wear it less done up but with a camisole underneath. I can’t face setting those sleeves again to try to fix the pulling.

Interestingly my historic failures are predominately down to poor fabric choice, but this year it’s been more of a mixture. Not sure if that means I’ve gone forward or back, not that it would be statistically significant anyway.

Sewing top fives: hits

I’m continuing to sew my way through my wardrobe plan. And this week all I’ve got to show is a pile of black linen pieces that’s supposed to become a shirt eventually. I can barely see to sew it, let alone photograph it. So the appearance of the Sewcialists’ annual Top Five blog series is a welcome distraction.

The first prompt is Hits: the best or most worn things you’ve made this year. I don’t think mine are exactly either: they’re the things that make me feel good every time I wear them.

First up is Burda 121 04/2020. This is a very unusually drafted top – the front and back pattern pieces are identical – that I made more on a whim than anything. It was a quick sew and used up some fabric that had been sitting in my stash for years. I wasn’t expecting to wear it much. And yet I find myself reaching for it frequently. Even in winter I’m still wearing it over a long sleeved t shirt.

Keeping the casual theme, my silver drawstring trousers have also been a winner. I made them at a point where weight fluctuations meant most of my existing clothes didn’t fit. It felt so good to have something to wear that didn’t need constant adjusting. The pattern is a Ralph Rucci and has the incredible level of finishing you get on his designs. I didn’t sew all the fancy details it called for, but they still feel luxurious.

Next up more trousers: my Burda flared jeans. These were another slightly experimental project. The shape came out very exaggerated; I was slightly concerned I might look like I’m on my way to a 70s fancy dress party. But it turned out that I love them. It’s not just the style but the fabric (Empress Mills 7.5oz premium denim) which is nicely black, has just the right amount of stretch, and amazing recovery. No baggy knees here.

The next one appears much less practical: my Burda pleated culottes. Admittedly they aren’t something to wear if it’s raining as they turn into a heavy damp mess. But on a dry day they’re a lot of fun. I like the fact that the style mixes femininity and toughness.

But last and best is my silver quilted coat. Yes it’s the same fabric as the drawstring trousers. And I have on occasion accidentally left the house wearing both together. But this gets worn most days so that’s not surprising. It’s not waterproof but is thick enough to cope with ordinary rain, and it’s very warm. The colour’s good for visibility after dark too.

So that’s it for my top five hits: next up are the misses.

The best laid plans go awry: Vogue 9299

This blouse is from Vogue 9299. It’s part of my wardrobe sewing plan but in this case the plan didn’t survive contact with the reality of fabric and the pattern. I wanted a slightly fancy black blouse to wear with my flared jeans and pleated culottes; not massively frilly but definitely feminine. The huge puffed sleeves and sash on view D seemed to fit the bill nicely. It’s the striped one the model is wearing on the pattern envelope.

Vogue 9299 envelope art, somethingdelightful.com

I was planning to make it in solid black and ordered 3m of wide cotton poplin. I’m now fairly sure I received the wrong fabric: it’s a lawn rather than a poplin and is much narrower than the one I was expecting. Unfortunately I didn’t spot it right away. Three metres of black shirting fabric arrived, I washed it, put it away, and only noticed the width when I pulled it out again to make up the blouse. It was far too late to do anything about it by then. I ended up shortening the pattern 20cm in order to fit it onto the fabric. The very lightweight lawn worked well for the sleeve gathering though, and I’m not convinced the longer length would have been easy to wear, so nothing was lost.

What didn’t work out is the fit. I am lucky enough to fit into Vogue’s standard sizing without needing a tonne of adjustments, but there’s no denying that the shoulders on this are far too narrow for me. Admittedly I adjusted the pattern to include a hidden button placket, but the collar still fits into the neckline so I am sure my adjustments aren’t the cause of the problem.

There is another annoyance with the pattern which is that there are no notches make sure you get the cuffs the right way around. Or if there are, I completely missed them. The slit in the sleeve which allows the cuff to open is just the open end of the underarm seam. I was honestly a bit puzzled as to which side the buttonhole went on and which the button. There were no RTW examples to be found in the house to check. I followed the very tiny technical drawings on the envelope to try to get things the right way round, but now I’m wearing the blouse I’m not even convinced the drawing way is the right way. No one’s going to notice if it is wrong, it’s just an annoyance.

Here is the back view. Apart from the shoulders there is plenty of room. I haven’t got a picture of it without the sash, but it’s voluminous.

I was hoping to be able to wear it tucked in as well as loose, but looking at the picture below I’m not entirely sure it works, at least not with my flared jeans.

When I finished this I was a bit disappointed with the results. I’ve worn it once since then, with wide legged trousers, and really enjoyed the big sleeves and the feeling of being slightly fancy. So I’m on the fence right now. Honest opinions welcome!

Still sewing with a plan

I’m making Vogue 9299, a blouse from their Easy Options range. This one really lives up to the name: two significantly different sleeve options, two collars, and two lengths; one with a straight hem and one with a curved one. There’s also a cuff variation on the puffy sleeve option.

Vogue 9299 envelope cover art, somethingdelightful.com

I’m making this as part of my attempt at sewing a wardrobe. It’s going to be in black cotton poplin so should go very well with the black pleated culottes and black jeans I’ve already made. It might also work with the silver drawstring waist trousers and the planned lantern trousers, but we’ll see.

I had to adjust the pattern quite a lot. I bought my fabric online a while ago, and the website said it was 150cm wide so I bought three metres to do the view with the long body, the shirt collar, and the puffy sleeves with cuffs. I checked the length when it arrived, but didn’t think to check the width. And when I came to use it, it turned out to be 115cm. No way was the view of the pattern I wanted fitting into that, especially as I always need to lengthen tops and sleeves. And I really wanted the curved hem version, but it was more the sash and the shape of the hem I liked than the extra long body length. I compromised by tracing that view with my usual 5cm extra length addition, which gets added between the bust and waist, and then taking 20cm length out below the waist. After that I was just able to squeeze all the pieces out of the cut I had. It helped that it was a generous three metres. I even had room to add a hidden button placket. And it’s satisfying to only have little scraps left over. I couldn’t even get a face mask out of what’s left.

Being lazy, I googled how to draft the hidden placket rather than trying to work it out for myself, and came across a tutorial from Threads. It has a nice little touch where you sew the under layers together by machine between the buttonholes. It doesn’t show on the outside but keeps everything sitting really flat. Definitely using that one again.

I’m getting on with sewing it together very slowly. I’m doing it in the evenings and really struggling to see what I’m doing on the black fabric. I need better light bulbs for the sewing room!

Flared jeans: Burda 118 04/2009

I picked this jeans pattern to make because I thought the shape was refreshingly different to anything I’ve worn in recent years. I remember having a pair of blue denim trousers from TopShop in the early 2000s with this style of leg. The pattern itself dates from 2009. I could have sworn bootcut jeans were over by then and we’d moved on to skinnies. Anyway it’s Burda 118 04/2009, which has great reviews online. The technical drawing is below but I think the real thing is much tighter on the thigh and lower on the waist than the diagram suggests.

Burda 118 04/2009 technical drawing, burdastyle.ru

I was aiming to reproduce some jeans I’d seen in a Dior ad, so I altered the shape and placement of the front patch pockets and added back ones to match. I found I didn’t need to add anything to the length of the pattern, which is very unusual for me. I added 2cm as insurance anyway and ended up removing it again by making slightly deeper turnips. I also went down a size because the fabric I used has a lot of stretch. It’s Empress Mills’ 7.5oz premium denim. It was a pleasure to work with despite the stretch. The colour is called black but it’s really more of a charcoal. I didn’t have any black top stitching thread and used a very dark grey I had lying around, which turned out to be a great match. And once again I’m baffled as to why top stitching thread is sold in such tiny reels. I always need two to do a pair of jeans.

They haven’t come out much like the inspiration garment; they would need much more ease and a higher waist for that. The style is also different from the bootcut jeans I remember wearing twenty years ago which had a very low rise. These are much easier to wear.

This is the third garment in my vague plan to sew some things that go together and although I’ve managed to stick to the list of planned garments, all I’ve made so far is trousers. So definitely a top next.

Thanks to my husband for the photos and the quarantine haircut. The UK is back in lockdown with only essential services open so it was clippers or nothing. It feels much better to have it short.

Unusual jeans pockets

I’m making flared 70s style jeans right now. The inspiration for these came from a weird coincidence. I bought the April 2009 issue of Burda off eBay to fill in a gap in my collection, and when it arrived style 118 caught my eye.

Technical drawing of Burda 118 04/2009 flared jeans with front patch pockets
Burda 118 04/2009 flared jeans with front patch pockets, burdastyle.ru

It has a definite resemblance to these Dior jeans which I’d just seen featured in a big glossy ad in a recent issue of Vogue. Something about these really attracted me, although I have to say I wouldn’t pair them with a matching denim sleeveless jacket.

Flared cotton jeans, Dior.com

Well I was looking for an interesting trouser pattern to go with a piece of black denim I have, and the Burda pattern has excellent reviews, so it had to be done. The pockets on the Dior jeans are much larger and lower than on the Burda style, but the basic lines are much the same. Both are high waisted with back darts instead of a yoke. The Burda has turn-ups and the Dior has an ordinary jeans hem. I think the Dior waistband is wider, and it has additional patch pockets on the back. It’s possibly also baggier in the thigh area.

Luckily the Dior site had some good photos of the style laid flat which give a good idea of the size, shape, and placement of the pockets. Here are the back ones.

Flared jeans, Dior.com

And here’s where I’ve got to so far.

That’s the really fiddly part done…just need to sew up the seams and put the waistband and belt loops on now. I’m probably keeping the turn-ups from the Burda style too. Maybe next week I’ll have something finished to show.