This was going to be my new winter coat. Only I didn’t finish sewing it until after lockdown started and we were only allowed out for really essential things – blog photos definitely didn’t count! Things have eased up a bit now.
The pattern is Burda 114 11/2019, made up in an unusual black and white tonic fabric that reads as silver at a distance. It’s a Lady McElroy fabric called Uttoxeter, but I don’t think they’re making it any more because it’s not been available anywhere I’ve looked lately. It’s a shame because it’s lovely fabric and it’s my favourite colour. I went back and bought the end of the roll from the company that supplied me with the first lot, so I still have some in stash for future projects.
I haven’t had many chances to wear this yet but so far it’s proved quite practical. And it looks like I’d imagined it which is a bonus. It’s very roomy and the pockets are nice and deep. It’s warm too, although I’ll have to wait for winter to see if it completely replaces my long wool coat.
I’m glad to finally get photos of this project on me. It feels like it’s finally finished, after almost six months. Thanks to my husband for braving the park in the rain to take them.
Time for another review of how some of my projects have worn over the years. This time I’m looking at three different black dresses, all sleeveless.
The oldest is Vogue 1410, a Lynn Mizono design. I made it in 2014 and it’s still going strong. It’s a very clever pattern. The insides are finished beautifully with French seams and the hem is adjustable to four different lengths by way of buttonholes and buttons on the inside of the side seams. I added side seam pockets to my version but otherwise made it up as the pattern instructed, scorching my fingers pressing the tiny hems around the neck and armscyes.
Here’s the second shortest length. This is flattering but I find it is a bit too short for comfort most days. The shortest one is much too short to be wearable and the second longest doesn’t look good on me.
When I made this I didn’t expect I’d ever wear it at the longest length, but to my surprise I find this is the best of all. It reveals the lantern shape of the skirt and feels modern and architectural. But best of all it is easy to throw on, requiring no great thought about choice of footwear or matching with other pieces.
The dress has an elastic cord which pulls it in under the bust. When my son was small he found it soothing to play with, so wearing the dress now reminds me of him as a baby.
The black fabric is a little faded after six years; otherwise it’s in good condition. I’ll definitely remake this one when it finally falls to pieces. But I’m going to finish the edges with bias tape next time to save my fingers.
Next up is an old favourite, Burda 117 02/2012. I’ve made this pattern many times, tweaking it in every iteration. This version is made from a dirt cheap mystery black scuba bought in the Birmingham Rag Market. It’s probably polyester with lycra.
It doesn’t show well in the photos but the pattern has lots of diagonal seamlines. This is a great pattern for colour blocking but I have preferred my solid versions. The scuba fabric is perfect for the style: thick enough to provide coverage but still with plenty of stretch. When I wear this I feel smart but still very comfortable. This version has become a staple for work days, especially in winter when I put a long sleeved black t-shirt and thick black tights under it.
I made the pattern again more recently in a grey ponte, slightly thinner than the scuba, and it’s not as good. The grey fabric is showing wear already. But the scuba is indestructible; a good thing because I think I’ll be wanting to wear the black dress for years to come.
The last dress of the three is the least successful. This is Vogue 1501, a Rachel Comey design. The pattern didn’t appeal to me on first release but then I read a few blogs where people raved about their versions. What sold me on it was the promise of an interesting shape that was still easy to wear. The bodice only attaches to the skirt at centre front and the rest floats free so it’s a summer-only dress.
I was very pleased with it when I finished it, but the weather turned just then and I didn’t get a chance to wear it until the following summer. And since then, for some reason, it has mostly stayed in the wardrobe. I think it’s a little too fussy for me. The bodice doesn’t stay in place particularly well, and the fabric is too warm to go with a sleeveless style. I normally like a garment with shoulder pads, but they don’t seem appropriate for the sort of hot sunny weather when I’d wear this.
I’m not sure what to do about this one. I probably should have made it out of linen and skipped the shoulder pads but it’s too late now. I can’t bring myself to part with it just yet so it will stay in the wardrobe a while longer while I try to come up with a way to wear it.
Last week took a rather unexpected turn and I ended up first in A and E and then having surgery. I’m home now and feel a lot better – thank you NHS! And I bought a sewing pattern to cheer myself up so I thought I’d share it because this has got to be the ultimate 80s power dress. It’s Vogue 1376, I think from 1984. The design is by Claude Montana.
I’m pretty sure it’s the dress from this magazine ad.
I even found a YouTube video of the Montana 1984 spring/summer show with several models all wearing the same dress.
Here are the line drawings.
I love the pockets. They’re quite fancy welt pockets made using a clever technique that was new to me. The pocket bag is sewn on to the pocket opening, turned through, and then folded up and back to form the welt. There is no separate welt piece so it’s much less faff. And then that triangular flap gets sewn on top, hiding the beautiful welt. Or the not so beautiful welt if it goes wrong.
The pattern doesn’t have a photo of the dress back which is a shame as there’s a lot of interesting detail there. The video shows that the back belt is made of a different fabric which looks like leather. I think I’d stick to self fabric though.
The shoulder pads are immense. The pattern says 2.5cm thick. I think it would take two sets of modern ones to get that height. It amused me to see that at the time Vogue offered a shoulder pad pattern which the envelope suggests as an alternative to buying pre-made pads.
Although it’s obviously very much of its time I think there is a wearable dress in here. Just need to find the right fabric.
I have finished making the jacket from Vogue 1466, an out of print Donna Karan design. I’ve been working on this since the start of lockdown; it’s been a slog. It was actually done a week or two back, when the UK was going through an incredible heatwave. Not the best time to be finishing a heavy boiled wool jacket. I was so fed up of it after trying it on multiple times in the blazing heat that after the last snap was sewn I left it sitting on the dressform and didn’t even take photographs. The weather has cooled down since then. In fact the last few days have been rainy so I still haven’t got any modelled photographs but I did try it on and take some detail shots.
Here’s the technical drawing. The unusual thing about this design is the high collar with the tab. The tab is a separate piece held on by snaps.
Closeup of the collar. I was concerned this might not be comfortable to wear in practice but so far it has been all right. I originally chose this pattern because I’m often in need of warm layers to wear indoors and I fancied something a bit smarter than a sweater. I don’t feel comfortable in most cardigans – don’t ask me why – and definitely not in traditional tailored jackets. This one is unlined and made in a stretchy boiled wool, which makes it a lot easier to wear.
The insides of this are all finished with bias binding on the seams. It took forever, and I can’t say it’s the most even binding the world has ever seen. I almost wished for lining, but the wool is so thick and warm that adding another layer would have made this like a winter coat.
The shoulder pads are just visible here. They’re the largest ones I had in stash – this jacket really needs them.
After all the shenanigans involved in finishing the welt pockets with French seams, they end up barely visible. Nice and roomy though.
I’m looking forward to wearing this now. Hopefully I’ll get some pictures of it on a body soon.
My last project took six weeks, and isn’t blogged yet; I’m sick of the sight of it. This little top took about three hours, which was a very refreshing change. It’s Burda 106b 06/2011. Four pattern pieces: front, back, and facings, and uses less than a metre of fabric. There is also a dress version, 107 06/2011, which uses lengthened versions of the same pattern pieces.
The fabric is tencel twill from Merchant and Mills, left over from a dress I made last year. It’s very drapey and cool to wear. I didn’t think the facings would stay put in the twill, so I added some random lightweight stretch iron-on interfacing I had lying around to them. The pattern doesn’t call for any interfacing.
The shape is mostly boxy but there are small bust darts, which I should have lowered a little. The armscye is almost a straight line. I’ve lengthened the pattern by my usual 5cm to allow for my long back, and I’m very happy with where the hem has ended up.
There are slits at the hem. I mitered the corners instead of just turning the hem up as it gives a much nicer finish.
I’m hoping this will be a real wardrobe workhorse as it’s so simple and neutral. I’m wearing it with my silver Vogue 1247 skirt here. Many thanks to my husband both for the photos and the quarantine haircut. Feels very good to have it off my neck.
Pockets are essential for me these days. Inseam pockets are the kind I use the most but it’s always bothered me how most patterns instruct you to sew them. Generally it goes: sew a pocket piece right sides together to each of the body front and back pieces, press them outwards, lay the front on the back and sew up the side seam of the garment making a detour around the edges of the pocket bag. It’s simple to construct but I’ve always found it a pain in the neck to finish the seam edges neatly afterwards. And if I finish the pocket edges before sewing the pocket I have to overlock around all four pocket pieces individually and that’s really tedious. If you look at inseam pockets in RTW they aren’t constructed like that.
Recently I’ve been using a method I came across in Burda instead. It’s harder to explain but I think it gives a nicer finish and it also means you can put a zip alongside the pocket or make French seams fairly easily. I keep forgetting the steps so I took some photos and am writing it all down here so I can refer to it later.
Sew the front pocket piece right sides together with the front dress piece. Start sewing at the raw edges of the fabric level with one end of the pocket opening. Sew inwards at right angles to the raw edge until you get to the side seam seam line. Pivot, sew along the seam line, and at the end of the opening pivot again and sew out to the raw edge. The stitching should look like three sides of a rectangle with the fabric edge being the fourth side. Clip into the corners of the rectangle.
Close up shot of a clipped into corner.
Turn the pocket to the inside and press. Here’s what it looks like from the wrong side of the dress.
And here’s the right side.
Finish the seam that was just sewn. In this picture the little triangular flaps you get from clipping into the corners are just about visible at the two ends of the seam. I’ll come back to those in a minute. This picture also shows a strip of interfacing. I always fuse a bit along the pocket opening edge on the dress front piece.
Understitch the seam.
Now place the back pocket piece over the front one, right sides together. The wrong side of the back pocket piece will be facing up. Sew just the pocket pieces together around their edges. At the two ends catch in the folded back triangles from the clipped corners.
Finish the edges of the pockets. This can be done by whizzing them through an overlocker.
From the right side it now looks like this.
Baste the pocket bag to the dress seam allowance above and below the opening.
Now the side seams can be constructed as normal, in theory as if the pocket wasn’t there, and finished however one likes.
In practice it’s possible to accidentally sew the pocket shut if you don’t sew very accurately. I find it helps to rub a piece of chalk over the back of the pocket opening on the wrong side of the dress front before sewing. It gives a very clear outline of the pocket edges so I know where to aim.
After I made the samples above I sewed a Vogue designer pattern which has yet another method for doing the inseam pockets, where the pocket bag ends up French seamed and the side seam is bound. I didn’t love the method but it’s a useful variant to add to the toolbox. I’d be interested to know about other methods too.
I keep meaning to write more wearability posts. I blog about garments I’ve made when they’re new, but rarely come back to record how they proved in the long term. The UK has just had the hottest May on record, so this post covers three different summer dresses that I’ve been wearing a lot recently.
I’ve chosen this group of three because they’re the same colour and they’re made from very similar fabrics, allowing me to concentrate on the differences in the patterns.
The oldest of the three is a Style Arc Toni I made in 2018. My original blog post is here. I’ve made the pattern a few times but this one is my favourite version. The dress is just below knee length (shortened from the original pattern length). It’s sleeveless but has dropped shoulders that provide a lot of coverage. The main features are the side drapes and the high collar which runs into a deep and narrow v neck. There are pockets hidden in the side drapes.
This is an easy dress to style. I’ve been wearing it with trainers or flipflops and no accessories other than my chunky titanium bracelet.
It’s great for very hot weather. It hangs from the shoulders and otherwise doesn’t touch the body. The high collar and dropped shoulders provide a lot of sun protection and it still looks fairly smart. What I’ve never managed is to make it work on cooler days; it looks awkward with a long sleeved layer underneath and very peculiar with tights or leggings. Oddly my dark grey version of this dress doesn’t have the same problem.
The one thing I don’t like about this dress is the armscye. It’s not got any shaping; you just stop sewing the side seam at a certain point and put your arm through the resulting gap. I normally sew the side seam up higher than the pattern says to, but even so there is a risk of bra band exposure because the dress is so unfitted. And the end of the side seam is a weak point that takes a lot of stress; I’ve had a couple of my Tonis tear there. It ought to be possible to adjust the pattern to improve this. I shall have a try next time I make it.
The next one is McCalls 7727, a dramatic fabric hog of a shirt dress. Original blog post here. The top half is a fairly standard shirt dress with a yoke, concealed button placket, long sleeves, princess seams, and a stand collar. The unusual feature here is the enormous circle skirt with a high-low hem. The back of the skirt is almost floor length. There are pockets in the side seams.
I usually wear this one with the belt from the photo above and trainers.
This looks like it ought to be a lot of work to wear. The length can certainly be a nuisance: it drags on stairs and sometimes catches on the backs of my shoes. And I always wear the dress with a half slip in case a sudden gust of wind makes the skirt fly up. It’s certainly not for days when you want to fly under the radar. However despite all that it always puts a smile on my face when I put it on. I made this thinking I probably wouldn’t wear it all that much but found it is a regular pick for hot days. I occasionally think about making a version in black poplin too, although the prospect of cutting out those enormous panels has meant I’ve not done it yet.
When I make this again I’ll make the skirt a tiny bit shorter at the back and longer at the front. I’ll also line the yokes and use flat felled seams on the sleeves so when I roll them up there aren’t overlocked seam allowances showing.
The last one of the three, Burda 116 9/2014, is much more recent. I made it in January this year. Original blog post here.
It has long sleeves ending in elasticated bands, a deep shirttail hem, a drawstring waist, and a lot of pockets. The collar is unusual. It’s a band collar but ends before the button placket. The placket itself is concealed and runs to just above the waist.
This one is the least successful of the three. It’s comfortable but I’ve yet to find a way to style it really successfully. The original version in Burda was worn as a dress with bare legs and the top two buttons undone, carefully photographed. In practice that means it’s open almost to the waist and requires a concealing layer underneath, so no good for very hot days. One button undone looks wrong with the unusual collar. All done up is definitely a Look and needs a jacket over the top. OK if in the mood but not easy to wear.
Worn over trousers it tends to look like a protective smock and not a dress. The best thing I’ve found to put with it for cooler weather is my black fake leather leggings. I should have made the dress in black instead of white as it would have been much more versatile. It’s saving grace is the elasticated cuffs – a detail I am going to steal for other projects.
Three white dresses is enough for my wardrobe. When they wear out I’ll definitely remake the white Toni, and probably the McCalls. The Burda won’t get remade, but I’m not throwing it out right now either.
Here’s how the french seamed welt pockets on my current project are constructed, with bonus paper models of the process. I suspect it will be easier to see what’s going on with the paper than with fabric samples. I’ve used origami paper which has one white side and one coloured side. The coloured side represents the right side of the fabric, and the white side the wrong side.
This picture represents the right side of the jacket front with the opening for the pocket marked. When doing these in fabric I like to make the markings on the wrong side and line things up by poking pins through to the right side, but I know some people prefer to mark the right side of the fabric with something that can be removed without a trace, like basting in a contrasting thread.
Step one is to sew the welt on. It goes on the lower marking with the opening edge pointing down. The side of the welt that will be visible goes against the jacket front.
Then the front pocket bag gets placed over the top, right sides together, with the marks for the opening in the pocket bag aligned with the marks on the jacket front. The pocket grainline marking isn’t right on my model, just ignore that.
Then slash the pocket opening through both the pocket bag and jacket front, cutting diagonally into the corners. The right side of my paper pocket piece is brown, which is why brown bits are visible around the edge of the opening. The raw edge of the welt is making the slash in the jacket front difficult to see but it is there.
Turn the pocket bag to the inside through the opening and press as normal. It should look like this from the front, with the welt covering the opening.
And now the clever bit: turn the pocket and welt back to their original positions and place the back pocket bag (red paper) on top, with wrong sides of the pocket bag pieces together.
Sew around the edges, trim the seam allowances close to the seam, and turn the whole pocket back through the hole. The welt points up again and covers the opening. Then sew around the pocket bag again with right sides together, completing the french seam.
Finish as normal: sew the pairs of fabric triangles at each end of the opening together, sew the ends of the welt to the jacket front, and sew the pocket bag as close as possible to the top edge of the opening, sewing through both layers of the bag and the fabric flap from where the opening was slashed, but not the jacket front.
One thing I love about sewing is seeing how things like this get put together. It reminds me of when I was at university and learning to really think in three dimensions.
I am the proud possessor of a copy of the wonderfully 1980s Doctor Who Pattern Book. My mum bought it for me as a bit of a joke because I’ve always been a Doctor Who fan. And now it seems my offspring is following in my footsteps. A couple of months ago he was looking through the book and asked for the cuddly K9 toy. For those who don’t know Doctor Who, K9 is a robot dog who was a regular in the programme in the late 70s and early 80s. He was and is hugely popular with small children.
I didn’t have any fabric of the right weight for the original K9 pattern from the book, but then I found a free fan-made pattern on an old Livejournal post that would work with what I had in stash. And we’ve been very slowly putting K9 together ever since. My son is still too young to use a sewing machine, but he likes to watch the process and helps by passing me things. We only worked on K9 when he was in the mood so it took a while. We started shortly before lockdown and have only just finished.
The main body of K9 is very heavy grey denim left over from my trench coat. The letters are scraps of silver foiled denim (originally a skirt and a pair of jeans). The tail and ears are scraps of the metallic denim I used for my quilted coat. The tail is meant to be black so I used the wrong side of the fabric for that.
I think the face has come out really nicely. The head is perhaps a bit too heavy for the neck and droops slightly but he’s still cute.
I didn’t stuff the body enough. I’ve opened him up a couple of times to try to cram more stuffing in but try as I might it all just seems to vanish inside him! So he’s slightly more squidgy and rounded than he ought to be. The tv screen is more of the silver quilted coat fabric.
I don’t have much of a button stash so his control panel is a bit random; I only just managed to scratch together nine buttons of approximately the right size. It amuses me a great deal that one of them is marked Vivienne Westwood.
The pattern says it’s for advanced beginners. The trickier bits, like the soft sculpting to pull in the sides of the body, are very well explained. That’s a fearsome process involving a six inch long needle and ending with very sore hands.
I had a few problems with making the pleated overlay for the neck sit nicely. The neck is meant to be very curved and that makes the pleats open up. I still haven’t worked out a good way to do it. I resorted to lots of hand sewing and making the neck a straighter shape than the one in the pattern. I think if I ever made another I’d probably just skip the overlay as it’s not very visible and a more curved neck will make his head stand up better.
Anyway we had a lot of fun making him and I think he’s come out quite well. I haven’t got any contact details for the author of the pattern, but if you’re out there Clarice thank you very much!
I haven’t forgotten about the method for making french seamed welt pockets but I’m finding it so hard to explain clearly I may have to make a sample. Which is probably more fun in the current heat wave than working on a boiled wool jacket.
This blog waxes and wanes, but of late I’ve been managing to post consistently every week. I can’t say I’ve made a lot of progress on my jacket project since my last post though. I’ve made the welt pockets…which is basically step one of the pattern. Not a single construction seam has been sewn. I haven’t even made the darts.
The pockets are nice, though. Admittedly from the outside they aren’t the greatest welt pockets I have ever made. Slightly uneven welt, and the ends are a bit squashed.
But the insides are gorgeous. The pattern instructions (Vogue 1466, an out of print Donna Karan design) include a new-to-me technique that makes the pocket bag end up french seamed. Not an untidy or even overlocked edge in sight. I’m not normally one to care about beautifying the inside of a garment, but this jacket is unlined so the pocket bags are going to be seen. I’ll have to go through with the Hong Kong finish the pattern recommends on all the other seams now, simply in order not to let the pocket bags down.
Anyway I imagine anyone who’s still reading has heard more than enough about welt pockets by now. I also wanted to share a couple of links to blogs I’ve enjoyed reading lately.
Some Use Some Wear is a blog about the evolution of a wardrobe. It’s not a sewing blog, but I enjoy it because the author talks about the stories behind her clothes.
The other one isn’t a single blog – it’s a whole series of blogs about creating incredibly screen-accurate Doctor Who cosplays. They aren’t being updated any more but there’s a huge amount of reading material in the archives. Even if you’re not into Doctor Who, the process the author goes through to source authentic fabrics and develop accurate patterns is fascinating. He covers several of the classic and new series Doctors. My favourite is his Fourth Doctor costume blog and all the others are linked from there.