Toni dress closeup

Stylearc Toni dress

Toni dress closeup

I’ve been wanting to make the Stylearc Toni dress ever since I saw it on Kristin’s blog. It’s a style I’d wear at any time, but it’s particularly good right now as I’m pregnant and rapidly running out of clothes that fit. The Toni isn’t a maternity style but it has plenty of room for a bump. It also has pockets, shoulder coverage, a nice high collar, and sews up quickly: all good points.

Stylearc Toni dress

The length is unusual. From the pattern illustration it looks like it’s meant to hit at the bottom of the calf. I normally have to add a lot of length to most patterns but my flat pattern measuring suggested this one would stop just below the knee on me so I didn’t bother. I must have gone wrong because it’s come out at midcalf, which is the length I try to avoid above all others. If I make this again I’ll shorten it. I wouldn’t want to make it any longer unless I made it up in a stretch fabric, as the hem width is very narrow indeed and I’d struggle to walk in it comfortably.

Stylearc Toni long view

I made this up in a very silky lightweight woven fabric that came from the Misan Textiles sale room. I’m not 100% sure what the composition is but it’s definitely man made. I picked it because it’s very drapey and has a certain resemblance to the silk the pattern recommends, but it’s also tricky to press, has a slight tendency to cling, and frays at the slightest provocation. And yes, it’s monochrome again. But at least it’s not black.

Stylearc patterns use much smaller seam allowances than most home sewing patterns: 1cm on the main seams and 6mm around necklines and anywhere with tight curves. I was worried that the seam allowance at the collar would fray away entirely before I finished sewing it but it worked out in the end. And the small seam allowances make it much easier to sew accurately, and accuracy is essential for the tricky stage of setting in the collar and sewing the front seam.

Other than getting the collar sewn in symmetrically this is a very easy make. I couldn’t figure out one of the steps, which seemed to be about understitching the outside edge of the collar which sounded like a very odd thing to do. The actual words were ‘sew a flat stitch’ so perhaps it was topstitching that was meant instead, although I can’t see any topstitching on the technical drawing. The step was optional and skipping it doesn’t seem to have caused problems. I added topstitching to the armscyes, which are finished by neatening the seam allowance and turning it back. Topstitching isn’t mentioned in the instructions but I don’t see how else the seam allowances could be expected to stay put unless you hemmed them by hand, which as far as I’m concerned is not an option.

The back of this dress is extremely plain. There’s a centre back seam but it’s entirely straight so you could just cut the back on the fold. Another time I might do that. I suppose removing the seam makes the back even plainer but I had a hard time making that long straight seam look acceptable in my tricky fabric.

Stylearc Toni back view

The side drapes are fun. Mine stick out quite a bit more than the technical drawing suggests they would. The pattern suggests optionally sewing a small weight in on each side to make them stay put. I overlocked a scrap of fabric around a couple of pennies for each side and sewed that to the seam allowances but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference as the drapes still tend to pop out when I sit down. I like the pointy effect though.

Stylearc Toni side view

Here’s the obligatory ‘look, I have pockets’ shot. I am trying very hard to avoid making things without them these days.

Stylearc Toni front view

I had some serious doubts about this dress while I was sewing it. I fell out of love with the fabric very quickly, and when I put the dress on my dressform halfway through construction it looked more like a very unflattering choir robe than a dress.And then I sewed the side seams and that transformed it completely. I wore it for pictures (where it caused hilarity amongst local dog walkers), and kept it on afterwards, then the next day I found I wanted to wear it again which is unusual for me. I’m not sure if I’ll make another of these; it’s a fabric hog and most of the fabrics that would be suitable are expensive; but the one I’ve got is definitely a success. The pattern was beautifully drafted and Stylearc have a lot of unusual and attractive designs. I think I’ll be making more of their patterns in the future.


Fitting the Burda x-wrap dress

Burda 106-04-2014

This was my first version of Burda 106-04-2014. No sooner than it was finished I started working on a second one and took the opportunity to tweak the pattern a little. The version above isn’t bad, but the sleeves are a little constricting and I felt I could do with a bit more room in the bust. I don’t know you’re meant to do a full bust adjustment on this sort of pattern but here’s what I’ve done. The picture below is the front pattern piece, which is cut on the fold.

Burda 106-04-2014 front pattern piece

In the pictures below red areas are bits I’ve added and blue is where I have taken away. I slid a chunk of the front out sideways to give a bit more bust room, and reduced the shoulder width so that the shoulder seam would be sitting on my shoulder point rather than slightly over it.

Burda 106-04-2014 alterations

Those two changes affected the length of the armscye so I had to make the sleeve wider to match. No bad thing as the original sleeves felt slightly tight; I’d been planning to flatten the sleeve cap anyway.

Burda 106-04-2014 sleeve alterations

That’s it for fitting alterations, but the fabric I’m using is slightly transparent and so I also needed to do something about the neckline finish. The original design has a skinny back neck facing which is a single interfaced layer, overlocked on the outer edge. That clearly isn’t going to look good in a sheer fabric. Also the facing didn’t behave well on the first version and had to be top-stitched down to keep it in place.

I did a bit of snoop shopping to see how this sort of thing would be handled in ready to wear clothes. I found very few summer dresses with facings. Most were lined. A few, mainly in casual fabrics, had the neckline seam covered with a strip of binding. The ones which did have facings all had a centre back zip with the facings sewn to the zip tape to hold them down. The facings themselves were invariably much wider than those on the Burda design.

I didn’t fancy trying to bind the neckline seam in slippery silk, and I had nothing to line the dress with, so I had to stick with a facing. Although the original design has no centre back seam I had already had to add one because of a shortage of fabric, so I figured I could sew the facing to the seam allowances on that or stitch in the ditch to hold it in place. To try to make it look nicer I made the facings much wider around the neck than the original and cut two copies of each piece. Those then get sewn right sides together at the outer edge and turned out to give a facing with slightly more body than a single layer and a very clean finish to the edge.

Burda 106-04-2014 facing alterations

And here’s what it looks like. Acceptable if not brilliant, and probably the best I could manage with lightweight silk. It is not well-pressed for excellent reasons I shall go into in my next post, and I should have done a french seam on the centre back but life’s too short. It’s wearable and the facings stay put and that’ll do.

Facings on orange x-wrap dress

Next up, modelled finished object pictures.

Mappamodello Arab-Islamic Work Dress

Arab-islamic work dress front

One of my Christmas presents was an unusual sewing pattern ‘book’ called Mappamodello. It contains patterns for very geometric styles developed by the designer Nanni Strada in the 70s. The dress above is her ‘Arab-Islamic Work Dress’. It’s the only one I’ve made up so far but I suspect there will be more in the future.

I’ve described the object as a book but once you unpack it what you actually have is two very large pieces of paper. One is the (huge) pattern sheet, and the other includes brief notes on the history of each of the styles and some photographs and technical drawings of the designs. The only thing resembling sewing instructions provided is the key on the pattern sheet. The pattern for the dress I’ve made up didn’t entirely match the photographs and diagrams, but I found the process of reconciling the differences enjoyable. Having said that I made a fairly major mistake with this one which I would have avoided if there had been a photograph or a diagram of the back view as well as the front. More on that in a moment.

The designs are all one size and entirely flat in the sense that there are no seams or darts. They work by wrapping around the body and fastening with ties. The size is adjusted by fastening the ties more or less tightly. Most of the styles are very fabric-efficient and they almost all include pockets. You can see some of the fitting ties on the Arab-Islamic work dress in the back view below. If you’re familiar with the Walkaway dress it’s a similar ‘apron’ style. I was a bit cynical about the ‘one size fits all’ claim and added a few inches of length to the pattern for insurance. It probably wasn’t needed but does give a nice deep hem.

This particular style is supposed to be wearable in two different ways, but this relies on making the back neckline identical to the front neckline so you can turn the dress around 90 degrees and stick your arms though the neckline slits, tying the top neckline slit ties over your shoulders. The original ‘sleeves’ undo at the underarm, and those pieces then wrap over your chest and back, and presumably tie at your sides. As you can see I didn’t make a slit on the back of the dress so I haven’t got anywhere to put one of my arms through when I turn the dress around. I don’t think I’ve lost too much as wearing it that way doesn’t look very comfortable in the model photo.

Arab-islamic work dress back

I think the style I have made up is one of the earliest in the series. There are several very similar dresses in the book and it’s interesting to compare the later ones with the earlier. The shape of the neckline and sleeves evolves, the ability to wear the dress in two ways is dropped, the pockets become more complicated, and some purely decorative features creep in. I suspect the later versions make slightly more practical garments! Mine shouldn’t be worn without leggings and a t-shirt underneath because of all the gaps.

The book doesn’t go into any detail about fabric choice. For one or two of the designs it mentions ‘glazed cotton’ or ‘lacquered cotton’ which sounds to me like crisp fabrics. Accordingly I made my dress up in a polycotton poplin on the grounds that it’s got a crisp hand and is cheap enough for an experiment, but I think something with a bit more drape would actually have been better. By the way you need wide fabric for this style – 150cm/60″ – which limits the choices. I couldn’t find wide poplin from any of my usual sources and ended up getting it from eBay. The dress is mostly one huge pattern piece nearly the whole width of the fabric and well over two metres long. It makes efficient use of fabric. I only had small scraps left over.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

So does this pass the wearability test? I’m not sure. These photos were taken on a bitterly cold and windy day so you are not seeing the dress or me at their best. It does feel a bit like wearing an academic gown only not as warm. Despite the book’s claim that the styles work for all seasons I think this one is only for spring and early summer days.

This all sounds rather negative but I really enjoyed the process of working out how to make the dress up. I’d like to give some of the more sophisticated versions a try, using better fabric. I think there’s a great dress in here somewhere.

Arab-Islamic National Dress front

And in other news, I am in the current issue of Vogue Patterns magazine! Very flattered: thanks Vogue!

Frankentop – Burda 122-04-2011

Since I started cycling to work I’ve been wearing fewer dresses and more trousers. I made a couple of pairs of jeans earlier this year to fill in the trouser-shaped hole in my wardrobe. What I didn’t make were any new tops to go with them. My one jumper has been worn so much it has gone into holes.

So last time I was in London I got some fabric to make another version of the jumper. The original was just a basic boat neck t-shirt pattern made up in black wool jersey. It was originally based on McCalls 2401 but it’s evolved so there’s only the faintest resemblance nowawdays. I wanted a high neck for this one so I took Burda 122-04-2011 and traced its neckline onto my t-shirt pattern.

Burda 122-04-2011 technical drawing

The fabric is a wool-elastane doubleknit. It’s wonderfully thick and springy. I was worried at first that it might be a little too shiny because it had a very smooth face when I bought it, but a trip through the washing machine changed the texture to be slightly fuzzier. It came from Cloth House on Berwick Street. I started out a universal size 90 needle but got lots of skipped stitches which no amount of fiddling with tension cured. After switching to a stretch needle results were greatly improved as you can see below. The top line of stitching uses the stretch needle and the other two are the universal with differing tensions.

Doubleknit with stretch and universal needle stitching

So here are the final results. The neckline on this top is perfect. It’s high enough to keep me warm while cycling but it doesn’t annoy me. I’m less convinced by Burda’s combining the high neck with short sleeves. I once had a sleeveless top like that which worked well with a pencil shirt or slim trousers though.


It’s very hard to see the zip in the shoulder in these photos, but if you’ve spotted it in the closeup below: yes I put it on the wrong side. Having got it to go in pretty much perfectly there was no way I was going to unpick it when I realised. I pointed it out to a friend and she had to think for a moment about what side it ‘ought’ to go on in the first place, so I don’t think anyone’s going to notice. I can’t just turn the top around and have the zip on the left because the neck facings are very different, even though the front and back body pattern pieces are much the same. The back neck facing is longer and would bunch up awkwardly if put at the front.


The back is completely plain but it is nice and long. It’s not hemmed. I didn’t have quite enough fabric for the length I wanted and it doesn’t fray so I just cut the hem edge carefully with a rotary cutter and left it raw.


One more picture because I like this one, although it doesn’t show anything new. This frankenpattern is definitely a keeper.


Vivienne Westwood t-shirt dress knockoff

This is a dress inspired entirely by a piece of fabric; it’s a silver and black striped jersey that Amy from Almond Rock kindly gave me at a swap. As soon as I saw it I knew it was destined for a copy of a Vivienne Westwood style I’ve been admiring for years. The original is a boat-necked kimono-sleeved t-shirt dress that plays with the grain of the fabric. There’s a gathered section at the waist and that’s about the only place the stripes are horizontal. The reason it’s taken a while to sew this up is having to make the pattern. Here it is.

Westwood style stripey dress

Making the pattern didn’t go entirely smoothly. I started with the close-fitting jersey block from Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear by Winifred Aldrich and turned that into a kimono-sleeved t-shirt dress. Adding the gathers was just a case of slicing and spreading, but when I sewed the final pattern up it was quite a bit too large. I had to cut the side and shoulder seams down a lot. Easily done with the overlocker!

The back’s practically the same pattern piece as the front, just with a higher neckline. I should have spread the pattern a bit more and done more gathers; the grain changing effect is more subtle than I’d intended. There is a separate piece for the right front and left back sleeve which is cut on the regular grain. This adds some interest and also saves quite a lot of fabric! I had 2m of 150cm wide fabric, but there’s a piece left over.

Westwood style stripey dress

I finished the neck and sleeves with bands. I’m coming to prefer that to twin needle hems; it’s easier to sew and produces a better effect with my machine. Twin needle hems always seem to tunnel. I should have made the neck band shorter than I did because it stands up a little at the back.

So this hasn’t turned out exactly as I intended but it’s certainly a wearable dress. And in some of my favourite colours too – thanks, Amy!

Westwood style stripey dress

Knowing when to give up

There’s been a long silence from this blog. My latest project hasn’t been going all that well. It’s Vogue 8825.

Vogue 8825 envelope

I fell in love with the design when it came out: the sleeves! I didn’t initially realize it was a pattern for knits so decided to make it up in the electric blue chiffon I got from Birmingham Rag Market. A quick look at the pattern soon revealed the problems with that but I carried on anyway, tracing a size larger than normal and altering the sleeves and cuffs to have a button closure. I intended to put in a side zip so I could get in and out of it. And sew it with French seams wherever possible.

Some weeks later and I’ve got as far as only having the side seams (including that zip) and the sleeves/cuffsto do (and hemming of course…) but I’ve got no desire at all to finish it. Maybe it’s because the weather has turned really cold again, or the French seams are just too fiddly, or I’m avoiding putting a zip into one of the least well-behaved fabrics I’ve ever sewed with.

So today after a week of not sewing at all I put it away and got out some wool jersey. I have some delicious colours and thanks to all your helpful comments on my post about long sleeved dresses a few warm patterns to try. And it feels like such a relief to put the chiffon dress away. Should have done it days ago.

Wool jersey fabric

Electric blue

Thanks for all the kind comments on my sparkly Vogue 8866. A few people said it was more wearable than I thought; I’m not sure but I’m now on the lookout for some non-sparkly wool doubleknit to make it up again as a warm dress for work.

And in the meantime I’m sewing up another piece of fabric bought in Birmingham in November. This is an electric blue chiffon bought from the Rag Market for the astonishing price of £1 per metre. It has a very soft hand and the colour is amazing. It has another amazing property which is less welcome, as I discovered when I pressed it before cutting. As soon as I moved the free end off the edge of the ironing board it stuck itself to the sewing room wall.

Blue chiffon sticking to wall

By the time I’d pressed the whole length I could get it to do this.

Blue chiffon stuck to wall with static

I have problems with static at the best of times; I might have to find extra-conductive shoes to wear with this project!