Following on from Basics

Following on from my previous post and the mission to get a return on investment with my pattern selection I have taken New Look 6356 a step further by deciding to lengthen the top into an A line tunic/shift dress.
One of my favourite items in my wardrobe is a dress I purchased many years ago from Wallis. It is comfortable, easy to wear and hides a multitude of sins which I really need following the walnut whips!
I took this dress as my base for lengthening the body of the dress and the sleeves. I measured the circumference of the dress, the length and then measured out a point on the pattern.


Point A is the length of the dress as I wanted it indicated by the blue line, the green line is the original length of the pattern and the rather wavy pink line is the new length where I calculated the width as ¼ of the circumference of my original dress. As you can see this is rather a simple pattern! I did the same for the back and used the same principle for lengthening the sleeve where I took the length and sleeve circumference from my original dress. This is not very complicated pattern drafting by any stretch of the imagination.
I also designed my dress as I wanted to learn some new techniques – welt pockets and exposed zipper.


What do you think of my drawing capabilities? Don’t be too impressed as I purchased this wonderful title from Amazon:


This sketchbook is packed full of croquis just waiting to be your muse! There are a variety of on-trend poses and a garment encyclopaedia. The good thing is the outlines disappear when scanned or photocopied. Of course the figures have fashion industry proportions and certainly bear no resemblance to normal women especially ones who have a diet packed with walnut whips!
Anyway cracking on with the dress I found 2 excellent sources on YouTube for exposed zipper and welt pockets which I will share with you:
Sewing an Exposed Zipper
Double Welt the Pocket
Anyway here it is:


Looks just like my sketch doesn’t it :)
I had some issues with this dress – firstly the exposed zipper. I ironed on some fusible interfacing before putting in the zipper as instructed in the video but when I turned my zip over a lot of the interfacing was exposed outside the zip on the front of the garment so then spent an hour or two unpicking it – not the easiest or the best job in the world!
Secondly the collar was a nightmare from start to finish – it did not sit well and when I put it on it was too short as it didn’t match in the front which was a surprise as it was the same pattern as my previous top but then I think that putting in the exposed zipper had lengthened the neckline but to be honest I could not be bothered to draft a new one so I left it and put in a brooch to cover the gap. The collar does not bear close inspection as it is wavy and has been stitched to the dress in a last ditch effort to get it to lay flat. In retrospect I wish I had just abandoned the whole collar thing.
The only other thing is that I wish I had made the welt pockets a bit longer as they are a bit lost in the expanse of material but I was really pleased with my first effort at doing a welt pocket.
Well that dress looks like an old sack on my dress form so here it is actually on me:


The photo was taken at work – yes I actually wore it out in public – by my friend Isobel although why she made me stand in the corner to have it taken is anyone’s guess!


Me and the original drawing/vision well we could be twins!!!

Back to Basics

I had such good intentions this year to keep my blog updated on a regular basis. Unfortunately I have had nearly 3 months of back pain caused by a herniated disk pressing on my sciatic nerve which has made it impossible at times to sit down let alone do any sewing.  The pain was intense – worse than childbirth and that was bad enough. It has been a challenge to work let alone do much else but lay prostrate on the sofa eating walnut whips and catching up with the box sets.

I was inspired earlier this year by a blog post by Sunni of Fashionable Stitch on basic patterns. I don’t know about you but I have a lot of patterns – most of which I will probably never get around to making up. Every time I try a new pattern I have issues with fit and spend a lot of time making a toile and adjusting fit – this usually takes more time than the final construction of the garment. If I want a return on investment of time then I need to be able to make several looks from one basic pattern which makes sense to me.  When I thought about it there seems to be quite a lot of different ways you can change the look of a pattern by simple adaptations, choice of fabric, embellishments etc. If you are interested in finding out more then Sunni also has a pinterest board where she has collected a series of basic patterns which lend themselves to this ethos.

With this in mind I selected New Look 6356 as it has a variation on necklines and I was intending to lengthen this to create a tunic dress. I also wanted to try out some new sewing techniques but more of that later.
New Look

My first challenge with this pattern was to make a basic top that actually fitted me well as a base for further adaptations. I also chose to add a collar in black leatherette as my first new sewing technique challenge.
I chose to make a basic shell but elected to add a collar to the top. Bearing in mind my recent failures with commercial patterns I measured up and chose the size according to my upper bust measurement and attempt my first full bust adjustment (FBA). I am very narrow across the shoulders and back but a bit sticky out at the front! I have struggled with commercial patterns for this reason. Up until a few months ago I had never heard of an FBA but thanks to the wonder of the internet I have learnt a lot about fitting issues.
Some time ago I bought the Threads archive and went with the method in a special fitting issue from May 2009 – Issue 142.
I went to my well thumbed Aldrich book on metric pattern cutting for drafting the collar.


Aldrich recommends overlaying the shoulder seam by 1.5 cm at the sleeve side when drafting the collar. Do you see the additional bits I have stuck on at the centre back and front? That is because I forgot to add on the seam allowance first time around! I could not work out why my collar was too short – attention to detail Gill!

Working in the leatherette fabric was a challenge due to trying not to use pins. I tried to pin inside the seam allowance but also used magic tape where a pin was inappropriate plus the fabric was really slippy but I am pleased with the result. I used the top fabric for an undercollar.




The collar is a bit bigger than I would like but I can live with it. I haven’t got any photos of the garment on – not warm enough yet plus I put on a few pounds with all those walnut whips and haven’t been able to get into my black trousers lately.

If you are interested then I have a pinterest board myself with 75 pins for shift/A line dresses which I think are all doable from this one pattern with a few adaptations. I have already created 2 dresses from this pattern but more of that later – hey one post in 3 months – count yourselves lucky!!


Reflections not Resolutions

I have given up making new year resolutions – it has taken me 56 years to realise that for the most part I never stick to them and then I just beat myself up for failing. Last year I vowed to lose weight, sew more, make regular posts on my blog and reduce my fabric stash. Well I think I weigh more than I did at this time last year, I definitely did not sew as much as I wanted and the posts on my blog definitely dried up after July. As for my fabric stash – well let’s not just go there.

Over the last few days I have been reading the round up for 2013 from some of my favourite bloggers – I am envious of some of their achievements. To date I can confess that of the many things I made last year I have probably worn 2 of my shirts and 1 dress and I cannot claim to have worn these on a regular basis. One of the blog posts that really stuck with me was from Lucky Lucille. It struck a chord and made me think about why I didn’t love the things that I sew. Here are my thoughts:

  1. I spend a lot of time on fitting, toiles and muslins so that in the end I lose interest in the thing that I am intending to make. When I look back there are lots of abandoned projects in my sewing room.  I should concentrate on a few basic adjustments and then get on with the thing.
  2. When making an item for the first time I use cheap fabric which means that although I may get a good fit I don’t love the item I have made enough to wear it. I buy a lot of clothes (and I mean a lot of clothes) and there is always something that I have purchased that is more interesting, more stylish and nicer than anything I have made. I have a lot of expensive fabric in my stash, some of which I have had for a very long time. It is almost as if I am frightened to cut into it in case I make a mistake.
  3. My fabric choices are a bit suspect. When buying RTW I tend to stick to a basic colour palette – I always think about whether or not a new item will go with a pair of shoes, handbag etc. that I already own. However, I do not apply the same rules to fabric buying where I am seduced by a pretty print. I have a multitude of different colours and patterns in my stash which bear no resemblance to the type of clothes I buy or wear. I know that sometimes sewing your own clothes does give you an opportunity to try new colours, ideas etc. but I don’t really want to waste the time and effort on something that isn’t going to work for me.
  4. The same really goes for pattern choices. I know what suits me in RTW but am then seduced by a particular pattern. Why have I got so many patterns for full skirts when I know they do not suit my pear shape?

This isn’t intended to be a whinge and I am not beating myself up but merely a reflection on why my sewing efforts have not given me the rewards I was hoping for. I love to sew – I find it calming and a great stress release from my job  – but I would like to have something to show for it at the end of the day.

There is no such thing as failure only feedback so although 2013 was not a great year sewing wise I have learnt an awful lot and will take this into 2014 ready to start afresh and may be I will start cutting into that expensive fabric after all!


2013 Update

I can’t believe it is so long since I put a post up on my blog. It is not because I haven’t been sewing although that has taken a bit of a backseat lately with everything else that has been going on. I thought the last day of the year was a good place to upload some of my sewing adventures and take time to reflect and plan for 2014.

The last 6 months has been a bit of a whirlwind – we moved house which was stressful but every cloud has a silver lining and we found a house with a turret which means that I have my own sewing room – no more sharing a corner of the spare bedroom. I can retreat upstairs with a cup of coffee and Radio 4 to spend many an hour thinking of things to do!


I will post a photo of the interior once I have tidied up a bit – it is organised chaos at the moment (that is gill speak for a complete mess).

I also got an opportunity for a working trip to Dallas in the US for my company conference followed by a week in California which was great fun but hard work and I flew out 2 days after moving house so my suitcase was filled with whatever was to hand which meant that I had completely the wrong clothes for the 30 degree heat in Dallas. You just can’t imagine that sort of heat when it is a cold, miserable and wet day in the UK.

Anyway to the point – what have I been doing on the sewing front? Well I did have some success with the Anna dress from By Hand London which is described as “an effortless dress” – not so sure about effortless as it took me a few goes to get the fit right on top.


I did make another one in an orange tie dye fabric but didn’t get around to hemming it before the 6 days of summer passed! I did actually wear this dress a couple of times which is unusual for me.

Other than that not so much success with the following:


Actually this was a simple top to make and the fit was good even though I didn’t spend as much time fussing over the fit as I normally do – however I am wondering what on earth possessed me to make this up in a very heavy spandex type of fabric?


Absolutely hideous – it did nothing for me apart from make me look fat and frumpy and then … and then to make matters worse I went and sewed a skirt in the same material!!!!!!!!


Needless to say neither has been worn by me outside or inside the house. What was I thinking? I will make the top again but will choose something light and silky next time.

Next I turned my attention to this:


… and made this ….


I really liked this and I learnt how to do a stand up collar but then I have absolutely nothing to wear with it apart from jeans. The trouble is that being a pear shape to start with this was not a flattering look as it made me look very hippy to say the least. I did flirt with the idea of making a straight skirt in the same fabric as the collar – what do you think?

By now I was totally sick of making clothes that did not fit or flatter so started doing some crafty things and made lots of fabric boxes and totes to give as Christmas presents. A sample of which can be seen below:


So there you have it – a round up of the last 6 months. There doesn’t seem to be much to show for all the effort, perspiration and tears but then I have learnt some lessons which I will be posting about tomorrow. Yes – posts on this blog are like buses – you wait ages for one and then two come together!

Happy New Year everyone x

Gorgeous Gingham and Gratifying Gores

I can’t believe it has been so long since I uploaded a post to this blog! Where has the time gone? Since my last post I have been on a knicker making course (more to follow), lost a stone in weight (and put 5lbs of it back on), been on holiday to Spain for a week (seems like ages ago), sorted out my sewing space (which was threatening to engulf me) by having a ruthless clear out of excess patterns, fabric and yarn. I made £800 on eBay so you can tell how out of control it was all becoming.

I also sewed a couple of quickies in the interim. What is it about quickies? At the time they seem so satisfying but on reflection I thought I could have bought something similar for less money – this is not why I sew!! Anyway to catch up here is the first quickie I made which was inspired by the acquisition of an Enid Gilchrist pattern book.

Enid was an Australian fashion designer,  well known for her numerous self-drafting sewing pattern books which were very popular in the 1950s to 1970s.


This is a great publication if you are interested in drafting your own patterns -there are 52 pages which give you measured out diagrams to make your own basic dress pattern and shows you how to transform the basic pattern into countless different designs. The instructions show you how to manipulate darts, change necklines and countless other drafting techniques. It also includes instructions on how to enlarge or reduce the sizing. I got mine from a seller on Etsy but I think there are some free versions knocking about the internet.

I wanted to make a sundress with a square neckline so followed the instructions below to change my basic sloper pattern that I self drafted.


I used my own skirt block but created a fuller skirt using the slash and spread method of pattern drafting. I decided to do a wearable muslin in gingham.  I think we have to get past that image of checked tablecloths – there are some very fresh ideas out there using gingham:


So then I did a quickie sew – no fancy shenanigans although I did hand insert my zipper. I was really pleased with the result but decided at the last minute to add a frill to the skirt – oh so reminiscent of my 70’s sewing when I was obsessed with frilled skirts with a lace petticoat underneath – I must dig out some photos of my 70’s dressmaking. I had no idea about how to make something fit properly or how to adjust a pattern and it was all pot luck if something fitted. Of course in those days my motivation for sewing was entirely different – I wanted clothes cheaply and making your own was the way to do it. In my hometown we had a high street with a couple of fashion shops – Richards was one of them. Nowadays my home town has a huge shopping centre with so much choice.

Anyway back to the main topic – all photos taken on the balcony of my Spanish hotel by my ELP. I forgot to pack my red belt for my holidays but overall I was really pleased with the way it turned out. I am thinking of now doing another one but with a fuller skirt

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Just in case you were wondering the first photo is on the dummy – even I don’t have skin that white!!

The back isn’t really wrinkled – it’s just the way I am standing – honest vicar!

I will also show you another no-frills, no time-spared item – a self-drafted gored skirt. I have never tried inserting gores before and it was so easy. I loved this skirt while I was on holiday – very cool ( a bit like me then!)

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Debbie Abrahams Kaleidoscope Workshop

It may come as a surprise to you to know that I also knit. There is a reason why I don’t post many of my knitted items and that is because while I really enjoy the knitting process ( it is something that I can do while watching the TV as long as the pattern isn’t too complicated) I absolutely hate the sewing up process. You would think that by the time I get to the end of knitting something that I would be in a tearing hurry to finish – not so! I did have a phase of knitting lace shawls and socks which was great as no sewing required! Most of my knitting friends feel the same way and I can only explain it by saying that I enjoy the process of knitting. It has been widely documented elsewhere that knitting is a form of de-stressing – any benefits gained here are automatically lost when it comes to sewing up! I must have about 6 things that need finishing. One day!

Anyway aside from all that I did go to a workshop before my holiday in Spain – the lovely Debbie Abrahams has brought out a new book in partnership with Jane Crowfoot called ‘Kaleidoscope’

Book cover

The book is full of inspiring knitting and crochet projects for the home – cushions, blankets and throws as well as a handbag. 24 designs in all – 12 knits and 12 crochet.

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John Lewis in Peterborough organised a workshop at the store and Debbie came along with some of the items from the book as well as a small project for us to do. The project was a simple pocket purse but it used many of the techniques in the book and guess what? Although I didn’t finish the purse on the day I made a BIG effort to finish it that weekend and here it is – tah rah!

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My intarsia is a bit ropey to say the least but as it was the first time I have attempted this I was not surprised. I love the star stitch on the back of the purse. I even sewed it up and put a button on it. I tell you this is a miracle!

It was a lovely day out with lots of knitting minded people (and a superb lunch provided by JL) and big thanks to Angie the Rowan Consultant for organising the workshop – let’s have lots more Angie!

(Let’s hope this is not my first and last knitting post. If anyone out there is on Ravelry then please look me up – my ravelry name is gill10stars.)

Colette Peony – the misery continues

Well I am nothing if not determined and after the misery of my previous attempt with this pattern I was determined to get it right this time. I actually drafted the pattern for the top myself and used the existing peony skirt pattern – does this make it a peony – probably but not as we know it. I spent ages on this dress – literally ages. I handpicked the zip, put the lining in by hand, added my signature lace to the hem of the lining and then looked at it and thought to myself  “what a boring, frumpy looking dress”


As Steve said – if you saw this on a hanger in John Lewis would you bother taking it into the changing room? Probably not. I played around with a few ideas – added a belt, tried it on with my new Kurt Geiger shoes but nothing seemed to me to make much of a difference. It was still boring!

In a flash of inspiration I decided to drop the neckline and before you could say ‘Edward Scissorhand’ it was done – what a bloody stupid thing to do! My beautifully stabilised neckline became a gaping hole that looked AWFUL! It may have been boring before but now it was practically unwearable unless I covered it with a big scarf. I even managed to get 2 shoulders with different widths.

Okay, deep breath, I had put my life into this dress and I wasn’t going to give up now. So I added a band at the sides, put a pleat across the front and tried out a few things

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So by now I am totally fed up with this dress – I am contemplating just ripping off the top and having a skirt instead. What would you do fellow bloggers? Persevere, cut your losses and make a skirt or put it away until the Autumn for a revisit?

When I have a disaster such as this I am inclined to throw my pattern and fabric stash on eBay. Is it worth treading on pins in your bare feet, trailing cotton all over the house, turning your spare bedroom into a cluttered mess, having the ironing board as a permanent fixture in your living room? Is it? Is it really?