Sporting Mabel

Making things to fit into my everyday wardrobe does not come naturally to me. The endless opportunities sewing allows means I get swayed by the dressy and fabulous, neglecting the things that I actually choose to wear.

Trying to be more mindful of my every-day clothes, last summer I noticed that I mainly wore a short denim skirt I’d picked up on Walthamstow market for about £1.99. The skirt doesn’t really fit and is a-line, one of my not-so-flattering silhouettes. So, whilst it suited my mood and lifestyle, I knew I could make something much better.

I chose some denim coloured cord that I have in my stash. It has a slight stretch, thus I chose Mabel by Colette Patterns to pair it with. (This is my second Colette make with this fabric, the other is my frequently-worn Clovers.)

I decided to play up the jeans look, as I had with my clovers, by cutting the front pattern as a pair. I planned to sew a flat-felled seam. However, after sewing the first part of the seam, wrong sides together, and pressing it open, I decided that I liked the contrast of the grey (wrong side of the fabric) against the darker blue of the right side. I changed plan and left the wrong side exposed, simply turning the raw edge under and sewing the seam allowance down with some grey thread to blend in.

This led me to think of a ribbed waistband I had that was left over from a sweatshirt I used in an earlier refashioning project. So I used this instead of cutting a waistband from the pattern. The ribbing was pretty light-wight so I interfaced it with some wool jersey.

This is the second time I have made up Mabel. It’s a great pattern for heavier-weight jersey or, in this case, woven fabric with some stretch. I’m pretty pleased with the organic way the design for this skirt came together and I’ve already paired it with a number of wardrobe staples.

Mabel out flat.

Mabel out flat.


On Eastney Beach

The beaches that surround my new home are mainly shingle, made up of millions of shells and pebbles. Many of the pebbles are flint and I’ve been having fun collecting a myriad colours.

A selection from the beach

A selection from the beach

Mostly they’ve been piling up around the house, but this gem in my latest haul inspired me to draw this.

The front panel reminds me a bit of the Polly Top from By Hand London.

Denim MoJo

I’m breaking a long sewing/blogging hiatus with something nice and simple.

I’d earmarked this Burda pattern for a wollen woven top that I didn’t get round to making last winter.

Burda Shift Dress Line Drawing

Burda Shift Dress Line Drawing


Then inspired by a suddenly remembered spread in a fashion magazine, the first few exercises in Colette Pattern’s Wardrobe Architect series, and an article in InStyle about current denim trends, I came up with the idea for an jean-y version I could throw on or style up.

A page from my inspiration book

A page from my inspiration book

I tried to incorporate some of the features from my inspiration dress; all seams have a dark red top-stitching and I finished the openings with a facing flipped to the outside. However, as the fabric faded a little in the pre-wash, I had to abandon the super-smart denim look and so I left the edges of the facing raw, they’re fraying nicely. The straight seams are flat-felled and the darts are clipped close to the top-stitching.

Here’s the dress on a lovely breezy beach walk. I’ve also worn it with tights and a long-sleeve jersey top underneath. I will see if I can style it for a night out, but I can’t see me wearing it to work though! Or at least only on a dress down day.

Finally, something to show.

Ah, yes, so that’s where two and a half months goes to. In amongst the job hunting, sewing has been taking place (albeit not as much as I would have liked) and I’m ready to reveal the first item in my summer sewing plan, Colette Clovers.

Stefan and his lovely bread.

Stefan and his lovely bread.

The pattern calls for a fabric with drape. I was worried throughout the construction, that I picked a fabric which was too stiff. It’s sort of a baby corduroy. In the end I think my fabric choice worked well in all but one respect; it caused the waist band to sew up a little tighter than my muslin fabric. But it’s also a little difficult to tell because of that whether the wrinkles are caused by fit or fabric.

Size & Alterations:
I started with a size 14. When I first tried my muslin on I was a little disappointed. It looked good round the legs, but I had flappy droopy poulter-wang crotch syndrome. I started by pinching this out, planning to take a wedge out of the front crotch rise. However, on reading Colette’s sew-along posts for this pattern, I decided that the problem was more that the waist was too big and thus sitting too low. It was also too loose round the hips, so I took it in from the lower hip up to the waist by about three inches.

This solved my dodgy sounding “front area” problem. I then added length to the back crotch rise as the back at the waist was dipping down a little.

In the finished article these alterations were perfect apart from the waist. With hindsight, I should have made the waist a little looser to accommodate the stiffer fabric I was going to use (or it could just be that I put on some weight since the muslin; sitting around at home applying for jobs all day will tend to do that to you.)

I love Colette’s pattern instructions. They are simple, concise and easy to understand, and backed up with a wealth of extra material online. I read the preamble to these instructions (rather than diving straight in) and got the idea to draw round the pattern pieces with tailor’s chalk. Yes, this is not new, my mum was doing it in the 60s I suppose, but I’d never really considered forgoing pinning. What convinced me was the thickness of my double layer of fabric. I was never going to get a pin through that. I’m now hooked on tailor’s chalk and have been using it ever since (more of that later).

Instead of a simple inside leg and crotch seam I decided to try out flat felling to make it a bit more jean-ey. I’m glad I did. I’ve got a nice neat seam which will hopefully stand up to some wear. I used an orange cotton thread for the top stitching, which adds to the effect. I finished the out side seams using a Hong Kong finish with coordinating cotton bias binding. Other than this I followed the instructions, except that I forgot to try Colette’s interesting method for attaching the waist-band facing. I got carried away by the finishing line and thus forgot… D’oh.

Wearability: make again?
I’ve worn these trousers multiple times since, despite the waist band being too tight. I love them. They coordinate with, and have brought into heavy use, other me-made items. I’ve got at least another five or so versions of this pattern in my head, but I may try to limit myself to two or three more! OK, before I adjudge that excessive, one pair will be a work version and another a brightly patterned version to tie in with the patterned trouser trend (although, by the time I get round to making them, that trend may be over… oh, well).

Anyway, in the spirit of Criticism is Good, any thoughts on the fit of these trews? I personally like it (i.e. it feels like it fits), but are there any obvious adjustments you’d make based on my wrinkles!

Is it a skirt/top? Is it a dress? No! It’s Super Versatile

I was hoping to have finished Vogue 1247 by now. I am in the home stretch, but stretch is the optimal word. Last minute impatience had me rushing to finish the sleeve cuffs and hem, this has led to some wonky and ripply edges. I’m taking a break to return when Little Miss Impatient is asleep (er, that’s my brain, not an actual child or anything…).

In the mean-time, I’ve been dreaming of the next items in my wardrobe challenge. Which is probably part of the problem described above, so I know I shouldn’t, but, well, I can’t help it…

From somewhere I seem to have become obsessed with tops and skirts masquerading as dresses. I first became aware of this phenomenon from vintage patterns, where things I would call a two-piece seem to be called a dress.

Picture sources @ Melanie on Pinterest

(And, conversely, according to Claire Shaeffer, Chanel would oft-times sew a shell top to a skirt in order to make the skirt hang better. This wasn’t meant to be seen as a dress, so seemingly was still called a skirt. Who knew you could play so fast and loose with the terminology?)

Then there came the much-made peplum combo from Burda Aug 2012.

Source: via Melanie on Pinterest

You would think this is dress. Fooled again! It’s a skirt/top. I wanted to make that skirt/top so badly. I think it was about that time that a small neuron stuck up its dendrite and suggested ever so quietly that, even better, if I made two, I could mix and match them, the skirt from one with the top from the other. Might I still do that? Well, maybe… there’s a piece of black hound’s tooth that’s got peplum written all over it. But the turqoise linen is getting made up into a two piece peplum. right. now.

So to meet the requirements of the challenge without looking like a great big peplum weirdo, my plan is to take one of the other fabrics and make both a skirt, which can also be matched with the peplum, and a second top of a different design. That way all four items will co-ordinate with each other, but I still get to indulge in the skirt/top masquerade gimmick, and I’ll have two different looks. I know!

However, (and it’s always more complicated when my brain gets involved), back to the actual Burda pattern, I decided, after reading Fehr Trade‘s review, that I would want to swap the bodice for something else. Various plans ensued: redraft the supplied bodice by manipulating the waist dart into a princess seam; use the top half of the wiggle-dress from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing; oh, wait, what’s that weird non-pattern at the start of Pattern Magic 2?

Pattern Magic: 'Basic Lesson'

Pattern Magic: ‘Basic Lesson’

So, without further ado here are my initial designs for the turquoise linen/silk blend and African wax fabrics.

Mix and match

Mix and match

I’ve tried to find an on-line example of someone making this, but it seems that most people did what I did initially and skipped over it. The only reference I can find to making this top is in a post, again by Fehr Trade, describing a course she took at Morley College. They’re doing another one this year, look.

So you’ll just have to look at my grainy photo and the shaping lines in my design illustration, until I show my pattern.

This also ticks off one of my challenge aims: using some instructions from the Pattern Magic books.

I’m getting excited about sewing my peplum a year after the trend hit, although, there are some who are, apparently, ‘over’ it already! I don’t care!

Slippage, bubbles and seam impressions…

I’ve been getting on with the first two items in my Spring/Summer 2013 wardrobe challenge. The Colette Clovers are done (and have been worn out and about) and I am half way through the Vogue top. I’m saving a reveal till I can photograph the two of them together, but here’s a teaser.

Top front constructed

Top front constructed

Sewing a version of this top in blue silk had two purposes: a muslin before cutting into the patterned chiffon, and my first experience of sewing with light-weight silk satin. Some sort of drapey silk is a current wedding-frock contender and so I wanted to see how it handled and whether I could handle it before I got too far along in my plans.

As this pattern is for an unstructured top I didn’t need any complicated backing or control, so I focussed on learning how to cut, sew and press silk.

Cutting: I used the Grainline tutorial for cutting the silk, that is cutting it through paper, and I think, on the whole it worked. I haven’t got a very big cutting surface and I don’t like crawling around on the floor, so I handily recalled a tip from Roberta Carr’s Couture book. She advises you to cut with the smallest piece of fabric you can get away with. I happily ripped away at my fabric to give me strips that would fit on my table and then sandwiched them between paper, using the edges of my paper as my grain lines. The one thing I found tricky was inserting the pins; the weight of the three layers, and stiffness of the paper, meant that I couldn’t bring the pins back up through the sandwich easily. The combination of these two methods is very profligate with materials. As a recycler, I’m not sure what I think about this, yet.

After cutting out the first back piece, I hastily pulled out the pins to see my results. Whilst, happy with the piece itself, I realised how badly the fabric frayed and so I left subsequent pieces sandwiched in their paper until I needed them. I think this stopped both wrinkling and fraying.

Pattern Pieces

Fabric sandwich, hold the mayo

Sewing: I read quite extensively before starting sewing but then just went by feel. I used these resources:

I set the machine up with the smallest needle I had, following Claire’s advice. The pattern calls for french seams, which I sewed on the 2.5 setting.

My seams still slipped a little (Seam Slippage) and; I now have two pieces of conflicting advice, Claire suggested a ‘normal’ stitch length would be fine, but the link above suggests the opposite to avoid slippage. In any case, don’t think this will be noticeable in the final garment as it has a loose fit and wont be pulled tight.

I didn’t use any stabilisers; the way the pattern called for the neck to be finished was almost a stabiliser in itself:

Bias edging

Bias edging

That is, a bias band stitched to the right side, pressed under and then top stitched. The second row you see there is understitching. It remains to be seen whether I should have stabilised the lower front panels when I try to stitch them to the upper front.

I think I’m going to need to sew a more structured garment to really improve my abilities with this fabric.

Pressing: Again my source material was the two couture books. I wanted to press with a cloth to protect the fabric, but found it really tricky getting the seam in position under it. I really worked on my technique, eventually realising that I needed to hold the seam down with my fingers, place the cloth over the top and then press, rather than holding the fabric from above the cloth.

Unfortunately this fabric was VERY unforgiving when pressing. The small amounts of steam I dared to use have given a bubbly look to bits of the fabric and I’ve got seam impressions on the right side, as you can see from the picture on the left.

I also tried putting paper between the seam and body of the top, as suggested by Roberta, but by then I’d pressed the seams so many times, the results of this method weren’t clear.

Next time, I will try both paper and using less pressure, possibly not even touching the fabric, just using the heat. I picked that up from Ann in the Great British Sewing Bee.

From the Wardrobe: Decanter Fine Wine Encounter

I’m going to delve back into previous makes and blog them for posterity! First up, a Burda Magazine dress I made for our annual jaunt to the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, where I encountered a LOT of wine.

Pattern: Dress 111, September 2009 edition of Burda Magazine.

Made/occasion: Made in Oct/Nov 2012 for special occasion (see above)

Alterations/Fitting: No design alterations apart from fully lining the dress. Fitted well, apart from at hips. Decreased hips by inch or two (this is a normal adjustment for me as my hips are narrower than the pattern models used).

Fabric: Not sure of the fiber content. Structure is taffetta like. Main colour is black with small woven grey diamonds at intervals, and there is a woven boarder of antique gold, copper and pewter flowers. My biggest mistake was pre-washing this fabric. The fabric didn’t shrink, but there are now distortions in the weave which show up as grey crease marks. No amount of pressing gets rid of these babies (but I might try sending it for dry cleaning to see what happens).

Pattern instructions: They were typically minimally Burda-y. I.e. you could follow them, but they’re not giving you any extra. HOWEVER, there is a mysterious ‘lining’ piece that I didn’t figure out until half way through the muslin stage. Why, oh why, I thought, is there only one lining piece? Well, it isn’t a lining piece, that’s why. This dress is unlined as drafted in the magazine. No! The ‘lining’ piece is actually an internal structure keeping the two princess side pieces where they’re supposed to be. Absence of this piece means the front and back pleats are free to pull open. As I wasn’t lining my muslin I omitted this piece at the fitting stage only to hastily stitch it in as my pleats went flapping around all over the place. In the finished piece I used silk organza for the, ahem, structural lining.

The mysterious 'lining'

The mysterious ‘lining’

My construction notes/ thoughts: I picked this dress because I really wanted to showcase the border weave on this fabric. Most of the fabric is boring black and I didn’t want to just have the border around the skirt hem. Therefore I pieced the dress using the border in the central front and back pieces (upside down), and in the cap sleeves as well as round the skirt. I deliberately pieced the cap sleeves differently so that I didn’t have two bold flowers staring at you from my shoulders. I like the way the fabric placing highlights the face and decolletage.

I lined the dress by using the drafted pattern pieces, but cutting and sewing the bodice pieces at the pleat overlap lines, so the lining is smooth (this will make sense if you look at the pattern pieces). Instead of constructing the cap sleeves as full circles, folded in half and basted before setting in, as drafted, I cut a half circle from the shell fabric and one from the lining, hemming them at the long straight edge before setting them in as per the instructions. I hand-picked the lining at the neck and round the armholes.

Recommend/make again?: This is quite an elegant dress. It is also unusual with the front and back pleating, and I like the way the pleat matches up with the skirt pleats to look like a continuous fold when wearing a belt (when not, you can see the waist seam). This is quite a sophisticated design element for Burda, I think. I’ll leave you to decide if you can cope with the extra fabric over the boob area. I was concerned before-hand, but decided it’s not too much for me.

I would make this again. I like the style, but the fabric means I won’t be wearing this unless for best. A nice, red, woolen version would be smart for work, I think.

Look what I found...

My first Encounter of the day

WordPress likes to offer me related content when writing posts. Here’s one to help you matching those lovely pleats on the front of the Burda dress. Making sure they line up means you can take advantage of this sophisticated style element

Like water on shale: reviewing Laurel

Although I sewed a proper muslin to test the fit of the Colette Laurel, I decided to further test fit and construction by sewing and entering another version in the competition. I’d had this stripy silky fabric in my stash for a number of years. I’d fallen in love with the muted colours (like the colour of shale or slate when wet) but had no idea what to do with it. The lines are not regular enough to create optical illusions with clever cutting and I didn’t want to break them up anyway. When Laurel came out with only bust darts to break up the pattern I decided now was its moment in the sun and it seemed the obvious choice for my second entry.

Dabbling in cloning

Dabbling in cloning

Pattern Used: Colette Patterns Laurel (released March 2013)

Size and Version: Size 14 & Versions 1/2/3 (it’s hard to say which because I didn’t use many of their features, just the basic dress)

Modifications: I decided against the drafted sleeves as I feared they’d elide with the main dress causing one big mass o’ fabric. The last dress I sewed had nice little cap sleeves so I decided to recreate them and pair them with a peter-pan collar in solid colour (black nubby silk) to bring out the pattern. For the cap sleeves, I used the included sleeve pattern, but just cut it off in a straight line under the front and back notches. (I did make sure this worked by sewing a draft on to my muslin.) I drafted the collar myself.

Fit from pattern: Size 14 fitted well across the bust, but was too large everywhere else. I also found the bust dart points were too high, so I lowered them (and they still look high in the photos). I took out about 4 inches around the waist and hip circumference; 0.5 at each back waist dart, and 0.75 at the side seams front and back, graduating from nothing just below the bust. This seemed to make the muslin fit, but after finishing the final garment I decided it was still too large/sacky, and took out another 3 inches by sewing down each side seam, again from below the bust.

Construction: Because the fabric is thin and I didn’t want it clinging to everything, I underlined AND lined this dress. I used muslin (in the British English sense of the word), this has given it a nice spongy feel. The lining is of unknown fibre, but is a Pierre Balmain remnant, apparently lost in a West German warehouse for the last 30 years! I have never caught my man-outside-Sainsbury’s telling porkie-pies, so I’m generally convinced that this is true.

I basted the underlining to the fashion fabric round all edges and then treated as one. Because I was lining the dress I didn’t follow the pattern instructions, but used, instead, what is rapidly becoming my favourite construction method. Sewing the lining and fashion fabric right sides together at the neck and armholes, then pulling the back pieces right-way-out through the shoulders. The zip is then inserted and the side seams finished last. Because I’d sewn the sleeves and collars identically, with the solid fabric sewn to the lining fabric along the outside edges, I treated them the same when attaching the lining to the dress fashion fabric. That is, I just sandwiched them between the lining and fashion fabric so that when I turned the dress the right way out, the were in place and caught in the seams (if that makes any sense at all!).

Feelings on the final dress: I wasn’t sure if I would like this dress. Because of my shape I try and steer clear of anything that falls straight from the bust. The fabric I used is silky, and so I just about avoid the sack look (IMO), but I did take the sides in quite considerably just before hemming, to give it a better fit; possibly too much as there is a little pulling across the back. That said, I like it and I will wear it. Probably to up-market day-dos, like a conference or networking.

Lessons learnt & future focus:

  1. I need to do Full Bust Adjustments from now on. I have to face the fact that choosing the size based on my bust measurement and scaling down the waist and hips doth not a good fit make elsewhere
  2. D’oh, when drafting the collar (which wraps round from CF to CB), I drafted a piece for the front and a piece for the back, sewing them together at the shoulder. Because I had a top collar, under collar with fusible interfacing, fashion fabric, underlining and lining all seamed at the shoulder, this gave me a seam with 12 (six fabrics x tw0 for the folded over allowance, you follow?) layers of fabric to sew through. I could’ve just eliminated shoulder seam on the collar…
  3. Silky fabrics, silky fabrics, must learn to cut silky fabrics on grain (although please note that the stripes on this fabric are not on grain anyway, so they squiff off to the right on purpose), and to sew them well (sewing this really was like walking on wet shale)
  4. Zips, in silky fabrics; mine is bubbly, not good
  5. Hemming, argh, I’m always too impatient and for some reason I can never cut a straight one. I really need to make sure I spend the time perfecting this. I had hoped with the addition of the underlining that you wouldn’t be able to see the hem, but you can and it’s bubbly

Make again?: I’m going to have to say… No. I like this dress and I love my other one, but I sewed these two dresses for the competition. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could make something I would normally avoid, look good on me. I’ve concluded that I prefer shaping at the waist.

Notes on the Pattern: Although I used an alternative method to the instructions, I did read through them before starting to get a basic idea of the pattern, and they are very well written and easy to understand. I like the hand-holding explanations of common sewing terms. I think they can up a new seamstress’s game quite quickly (I mean, who ever learnt about stay-stiching from a Burda Magazine pattern?).

Plan A

Final selection (a couple more might have sneaked in...)

Final selection (a couple more might have sneaked in…)

When pulling fabric from my stash there were a fair few that I’d bought with a purpose in mind (rather than grabbing them in a frenzy of colour, like a magpie, which is my other modus operandi), therefore in my choice of palette, I already had the bones of a plan. As mentioned in a previous post, one reason I picked this colour-way was to use the turquoise/orange/brown African wax-print I bought last summer. This was at the height of a micro ‘ethnic’ trend and I wanted to make a pencil skirt, but life was getting in the way and last year’s summer wasn’t exactly tropical…

As it stands, here is it is:


1) Colette Clovers in indigo stretch cord; I made a muslin for these back in October last year, then got hung up on the fit and never progressed

2) A simple self-drafted skirt in the turquoise linen and,

3) one in the African wax fabric.


1&2) I’ve been obsessed with a number of versions of Vogue V1247 that have been knocking around other blogs, mainly this one (the first I saw).

But I’m not sure if it will suit me (the tent effect), we will see; regardless, I’m planning two of these tops, a wearable muslin with a blue silk  and the ‘real’ one out of the patterned chiffon/gauze;

3) A peplum top with the turquoise linen;

4) One shirt from the pattern magic books with brown cotton;

5) A top, as yet un-designed from the white furry lace fabric;

6) One from the African wax fabric;

7) AND, if I’ve the will after all of these, one from a small piece of brown double gauze (likely to be something like a Colette Sorbetto).

First up, the Clovers and a blue silk V1247.

Uber-Eyelet Design ‘process’: how the eyelets were born

The page in my ‘design journal’ where I brainstormed Laurel dress designs shows that the eyelet design was really the only one I contemplated seriously out of all the other ideas I came up with.

Laurel design ideas

Laurel design ideas (not sure what ‘bias bingling’ is…)

Yep, there it is, all big and with loads of detail at the bottom of the page there. What other dress designs…?

For about a week though, I wasn’t sure whether it was feasible. I’d already decided that silk organza would be just the thing for the eyelet laden over-dress, but my ideas for actually creating an eyelet were hazy at best. Looking at my source photos the edge of the eyelets are not embroidered as a broderie anglaise would be, and, quite frankly, I’d ruled a zig-zag edging out of my plans. Have you seen how much organza frays? To avoid a hairy-edged mess, I’d need to pack those zigs in. And I’d already experienced zig-zagging at 0.1mm length stitches on my machine when trying to sew neat button holes; hours later…

So I went to work on the only idea I’d had so far which was to use bias binding round the edges. I pulled out some scraps of organza, some white ‘cotton’ and got to work on a test sample.

And that there test sample almost made me give up for good.

After a drink (possibly alcoholic) I mused over my mistaken physics. Bias binding would never lie flat, because the circumference  of the outer circle edge would be the same as that of the inner, but a ‘facing’ would. That was when I remembered some wool jersey.

The advantage of the wool jersey is that it doesn’t fray, therefore I didn’t have to finish the edges, and I could cut quite close in to the stitching on both the inner and outer edges of the eyelets. On both edges I turned the stitch length down to its lowest setting (1). When cutting out the central hole I got in as close as I felt comfortable, cutting round the shape, and then cut very small nicks into the point of the eyelet and around the curves. I then pulled the facing through and steamed the life out of it to give me a good flat edge. In the picture of the back you can see the that the organza isn’t quite pulling round to the edge, and I need to get better at a cleaner point, but this was just the first one! I originally hand stitched the outer edge, turning it under slightly, but it didn’t look very neat, and was time consuming, so I tried machine stitching and decided it looked better. (Which is why you can see that strange line in the photo above, that was my original pressing crease when the edge was turned under.)

Now I knew it could be done all that remained was to brace myself for rather a lot of sewing.