Sunday, 31 March 2013

Summer shirt dress

More sewing for the holiday! And for summer in general... I've been trying to use some more of my patterns - this is one I bought fairly recently. Apologies that I am not modelling any of the clothes in the next few posts, I didn't have time for a photoshoot in the last couple of weeks, and now they are all folded up and packed for holiday... I will post photos of them "in use" when I'm back!

Pattern description

Vogue 8613: close fitting dress with front yoke, three bust darts, collar, cap sleeves and slightly flared skirt.

Pattern sizing

Available in sizes 8-24. I cut the 16.

Fabric used

Stretch rayon challis, with non-stretch rayon challis for the collar and facings.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope/sketch/idea when you were done?

Not entirely. As many have noted on Pattern Review, this is actually much closer fitting than the picture on the front would lead you to believe. I was concerned that I'd misread or mismeasured something, but checking the garment measurements printed on the pattern confirmed that it really is very close fitting. It is very low cut at the front (even for me - and I like fairly low cut tops!), so I raised the top button about 2cm (and re-spaced the buttons accordingly). If I made this again, I would alter the shape of the front piece slightly so that the lapel curves out only above the top button.

I also really don't like zips in stretchy garments if they can be avoided (and I knew that with this particular fabric it would be a nightmare to put in neatly), so I extended the centre front so that the buttons continue into the skirt. I would imagine that if this was made in a jersey, the zip could easily be eliminated without extending the buttons to the skirt.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

They were mostly pretty good. The only part I got a bit confused about was the collar, I had to read it through a few times to work it out. Other than that it's pretty straightforward.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

I like the front yoke and interesting bust dart placement, and jersey dresses are always useful in anyone's wardrobe! I really didn't like how much ease there is in the sleeve caps: 4cm!!! In a dress drafted for knits!!! I couldn't get the sleeves in as intended without some puckering, so decided to fold out the excess to create a small pleat at the top of the sleeve. I actually quite like how this looks.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

As already mentioned, I extended the buttons all the way down the front, extending the centre front of the skirt by the same amount as the bodice, and adding a facing. If I'd thought about it earlier (and had had enough fabric) I would have cut the facings as one (i.e. without a seam at the waistline). I added a fair amount at the waist seams, but it fitted well enough elsewhere, even without my usual FBA. (It would fit better with an FBA, but I couldn't be bothered working it out here. I will probably do so if I make another one.)

Construction details

I serged all exposed seams. Enclosed seams were sewn on my regular machine and pinked (i.e. where the facings were joined to the front edges, and where the collar was attached). I did much more topstitching than the pattern indicates, as I liked the look of it.

I used cotton batiste to interface the collar and the facings. The collar has actually ended up a little bulky, but I don't know how I would avoid that. I also added elastic at the waistline, serging it on as I sewed the seam. My fabric is pretty heavy, so this provides some support for the weight of the skirt.

I added a hook and thread bar at the waistline.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I might sew this again - I quite like the idea of it in a plain fabric. However, repeats of most things generally take a low priority for me, so I think I will give it a few wears to see how much I like it before deciding.

I would recommend this to others, but be aware that it is actually very close fitting.


When I finished this dress, I was rather down on it, as it wasn't particularly fun to sew - the fabrics I chose were slippery and stretchy and blah. I'm not super happy with the finishing on this dress, but after leaving it a few days I don't think it looks quite as sloppy and "home-made" as I first did. I'm not convinced the hem is totally ok, but I'm really not feeling like redoing it right at the moment. I am slightly in two minds whether it looks retro and funky, or just a bit frumpy, but I'm coming down on the side of funky and retro I think, as long as the styling is right. It is certainly very comfortable to wear, and is a lovely cool fabric for the summer.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

A summer blouse

My husband and I are going to Sri Lanka to visit family in a month's time, via Qatar to visit a friend. Both places are hot hot hot, but are also places where strappy dresses and shorts are not really acceptable to wear, so I need to procure some suitable clothing (plus I need some long-sleeved tops to avoid mozzie bites). Most of my summer tops and dresses are sleeveless, so I'm focussing my sewing in the next month on making things I can take with me, but will also be suitable to wear afterwards. Natural fibres are a must so I don't boil, and when I was choosing March's Burda Challenge, I spotted this shirt and thought it would be lovely and airy. Well-fitting shirts are also something I find very difficult to find in RTW, so this is a win-win.

Pattern description

Easy fitting shirt-styled blouse with sleeve and side hem tabs, roll collar and cut-on front placket.

Pattern sizing

36-44. I cut the 44.

Fabric used

Rayon challis from Instead of fusible interfacing I used a layer of cotton lawn together with a layer of cotton batiste to keep the drape-y qualities of the challis.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Pretty much - except with proper cuffed long sleeves. And a lot more 70s.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

Mostly the instructions were fine for anyone who has sewn a little before. I was a bit confused by the instructions for the sleeve vent lapped placket, but I consulted my sewing books, and it became clear what I was meant to do once I had a go with the muslin, and realised that one half was folded under whilst the other half extended out from the slash underneath.

The only bit I found completely opaque was for applying the bias strip neck facing. It says to lay the bias strip on the collar, but then that it is resting on the body of the shirt, which was rather confusing. As it went to to tell us to fold it upwards, I went with putting it on the underside of the collar seam. As the pattern has it, the facing seems to come out super narrow, just 5mm wide when folded and sewn over the raw seam allowances. This means that even with trimming and grading the seam allowances that it encloses, it comes out rather bulky. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what I ended up with is correct and if I made it again I would probably try and work out something a bit different.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

I like: the button tabs on the sleeves and the side hems, the interesting button placement, and the overall fit. I dislike: the bias neckline facing.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

I decided to muslin this unaltered as it is easy fitting, and found only minimal alterations were needed: forward shoulder adjustment, raising the back neckline, adding a shaped CB seam, and a small FBA. I moved the shoulder seam forward 1cm at the neckline and 1.5cm at the shoulder point. The sleeve cap was slashed horizontally at the level of the balance point and slid forward 1.5cm so the shoulder point matched, then reshaped, ensuring that the length of front and back matched the armscyes (this style of shirt sleeve has zero sleeve cap ease, which makes this simpler).

The back neckline was raised 1cm, and the collar piece reshaped to take account of the new shoulder seam placement and back neckline shape. I wanted to make sure the shape was not distorted, so rather than just simply adjusting the length at the CB, I folded out the excess length in the front section, and added a little to the CB to match the length in the back section.

The CB was shaped inwards at the waist by about 1.5cm (for a total of 3cm) and a seam allowance added. I made an FBA of about 1.5cm (for a total of 3cm), adding a bust dart, and shaping the side seam to remove the excess added at the waist (so that the bust dart wasn't too large).

As for design changes, I added vents and cuffs to the sleeves. The pattern pieces for the sleeves to 124 are identical to pattern 125, so it was simple to add the cuffs using the instructions for the other pattern (but without the topstitching). This made it much more versatile as I can wear it with the sleeves unrolled as well.

Before making the buttonholes on the front band, I tried out (with pins) the placement as marked, having adjusted for the size 44 (the pattern is marked for size 36). I found I needed to move the second group of buttons up about 2.5cm so that my bra didn't show (I will be wearing this blouse with the very top set undone). I moved all the buttons up accordingly so that the spacing was even, but this left the single button too far from the bottom, so I added two more buttons to make this into another group of three.

Construction details

After the last project there isn't much to say about the construction here. The seams were sewn on my standard lockstitch machine with the seam allowances finished together with the serger. I topstitched the sleeve seams and hem as the pattern indicated, and also the shoulder seams to stabilise them a little.

I only needed to do a tiny bit of hand sewing for this garment: stitching down the cuffs on the inside, attaching the front plackets to the neck facing and hem, and sewing on the buttons. I'm a little concerned about how the button plackets will hold up as they are held in place only at the top, bottom and by the buttons/buttonholes, so it's possible for them to flap open a little, exposing the raw edges, especially at the bottom section. I'll see how it goes and whether I need to add an extra tack or two. If I make this again I guess it would be advisable to finish the edges of the placket before folding it under (or add topstitching).

I did do some nominal pattern matching, but didn't do anything particularly accurately - which makes it both surprising and pleasing that it worked so well! The CB seam is nearly invisible, and even the sleeves nearly line up!

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I may well sew this again, although I have other shirt and blouse patterns that I'd also like to try. It would be nice to have another version before going on holiday, but I'm not sure I'll have time to make it as there are several other things I would like to make.

I would recommend this pattern, but not for absolute beginners as it requires a bit of precision. I think it also works best in slightly drape-y fabrics, and these can be a little hard to handle during construction.


At last, a flattering shirt! It still pulls slightly to the back, despite the forward shoulder adjustment, but this doesn't bother me too much. The button bands also sag slightly, but I think this is unavoidable with such a lightweight fabric. I'm super pleased with this though, and it will certainly be useful for my holiday as I can cover up a bit without boiling. The rayon is so light and airy to wear, and (despite my husband telling me it reminded him of his 70s pyjamas) I can see myself wearing this throughout the summer.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

High-waisted pencil skirt

I am in desperate need of some more well-fitting and flattering separates in my wardrobe, particularly bottoms, so I decided the next few things I make need to fit this category. I had originally intended to make this as a denim skirt to replace my jeans skirt (which is wearing out in various places). However I want my next denim skirt to have similar jeans-y styling, including pockets, but this would have competed too much with the style lines of the waistband here, so I switched to this dark red twill and kept the design simple.

Pattern description

BWOF 01/2009/112: High-waisted pencil skirt with corset-style wide waistband.

Pattern sizing

36-44. Previously I had sewn the 44, but this time I graded up to a 46 as I was using a non-stretch fabric.

Fabric used

Fairly heavyweight cotton twill. Plus lighter-weight cotton twill for the "stay" layer with the boning channels, quilting cotton for the waistband facing, and some of my endless yellow probably-poly-lining.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope when you were done?

Yes, pretty much, although the internal structure is rather different.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

I didn't really follow the instructions in the magazine - the basic skirt is very easy to make up. The more difficult bits were the additions I made, so I found various tutorials and inspiration on the wonderful world wide web.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

I like the corset styling of the yoke, I think it is very flattering for a wide range of body shapes. I've found it to be very well drafted and very simple to put together. Their use of a narrow facing for the waistband/yoke is bizarre, but it's simple to face it completely using the yoke pieces.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

I pegged the bottom of the skirt by a total of about 6cm, and added a vent at the back for walking ease. I would highly recommend doing this for the larger sizes at least as otherwise it ends up being ridiculously wide and square. I used an exposed zip instead of an invisible one. As per my previous version, I fully faced the waistband - adding just a narrow facing as per the pattern seems really odd to me. However, I also decided I wanted to bone the waistband. This brought up a whole lot of... joy... when making it as I decided I wanted to somehow make the boning removable so I could machine wash it (dry cleaning here is stupid expensive and very slow, and I'm not forking out that much for a cotton twill skirt). I sort of winged this - notes on how I did it are below.

Construction details

As I was making this version with a less forgiving non-stretch fabric than last time, I made a quick muslin of the waistband portion only. I needed to add a teensy bit to the lower part of the back seams (~1cm each side), and make about 5mm swayback adjustment to the CB. I actually forgot to then add this to the lower portion of the skirt, so the CB seam on the skirt portion ended up very narrow.

So this is a condensed and ordered version of how I went about making this, i.e. how I would actually order it if I made something like this again. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing whilst working out what I was doing, so the actual make wasn't anywhere near as efficient... Seam allowances were pinked (with the exception of the lining, which was serged as it was super ravelly) and graded where needed to avoid bulk.

  • The yoke and skirt pieces were cut in the shell fabric, and the zip opening and CB seam to the top of the vent were reinforced. The yoke pieces were sewn together, and the side seams of the skirt were sewn. These seam allowances pressed open and topstitched. The yoke was then sewn to the skirt, the seam allowances pressed upwards and topstitched on the yoke.

  • The skirt pieces were adapted to make lining pieces for the skirt portion, using this tutorial (note that despite the picture, the vent portion is moved downwards only, not outwards as well). The side seams were serged, as well as the raw edges of CB edges. The CB seam was sewn only between the bottom of the zipper opening and the start of the vent opening.

  • A set of the yoke pieces were also cut in the facing and stay fabrics, with the CF cut on a fold in both cases. These were interfaced, each set assembled and the seams pressed open. The facing seams were topstitched, and boning channels were stitched in the stay layer using the seam allowances where possible. The extra boning channels were originally created with ribbon, but I bought some cotton tape and switched them out after the photo below was taken. The facing and stay layers were joined together at the top edge, just inside the seam allowance, starting and stopping at the seam allowance at each side.

  • I measured the length of the channels and cut the spiral steel boning a few mm shorter using whatever the tool in the picture below is called (I had to make a special trip to the DIY store to get them as the boning just made dents in my wire cutters!). The end caps were secured with few squishes at the sides and flat-on with pliers. I actually ended up cutting the bones nearly 5mm shorter as I forgot to allow for the space needed for the "turn of cloth".

  • I had originally intended to access the bones for removal through the bottom of the channels, but I couldn't work out a way to do this and keep all the raw edges enclosed (I think this would have been possible if I had neatened the bottom of the stay layer with the serger before sewing it together, and this way would probably reduce the bulk too). I had a little fiddle, and worked out a different way to remove the boning. Openings 4cm long were cut in the boning channels, starting 1cm from the bottom of the channel, and the edges treated with fray check.

  • For the lining layer, it was simple to create openings in the seams to access the boning there: the top and bottom of the openings were staystitched and then the stitches between were cut. To access the extra channels required a bit more thought. I had originally thought to make machine-stitched buttonholes, but the openings were 4.5cm long, longer than my buttonholer foot, which meant I had to stitch them "freehand". They were awful. So some time with my seamripper and some internet searching later, I made narrow bound buttonholes, which were so much better. I used this tutorial - it is absolutely excellent, and has totally removed my fear of bound buttonholes; I will definitely be making them in other garments.

  • To finish the inside of the yoke neatly, the facing and stay layers were flipped and sewn right sides together, starting and stopping at the side seam allowances. The facing layer was offset slightly, so that when it was flipped back the right way the stay layer didn't show. I think I must have done something odd with the seam allowances, as this should only have overlapped by a few mm at the bottom of the yoke, but ended up being nearly 1cm over. Hmm.

  • The zipper installation came next, but I needed to do some fiddling to prepare the zip first. I knew I wanted an exposed zip, and also wanted a fairly chunky metal zipper, both for looks and for the extra strength as it would be under stress with the tight waistband. However, the only available chunky metal zips long enough were the sort that separate at the bottom, which was no good - they also didn't have the "locking" type of slider used in jeans zips, which I wanted so that it wouldn't come undone. So I did a bit of zip DIY... I bought the shortest jeans zip and a long separating zip, and chopped the stops off the jeans zip so the slider could be removed. I obviously wanted to keep the top stops on the longer zip, so in order to swap the sliders the bottom stops were chopped off, the original slider was removed and replaced it with the locking slider, carefully to match up the teeth correctly so the top stops ended up level. The length required was marked on the back of the tape and a section of the teeth below this were removed using pliers and a bit of brute force. A new bottom stop was made with a thick bar tack, and the excess tape chopped off. The raw ends at the bottom were neatened with a piece of petersham ribbon.

  • The CB seam was sewn from the bottom of the zipper opening, pivoting at the top of the vent extension, along the top of the vent and stopping at the seam allowance at the side of the vent. The zipper opening was basted shut, and the CB seam was pressed open between the top edge and the start of the vent, clipping at the top of the vent so that the seam allowances at the top edge of the vent extension laid flat together. The bottom of the zipper opening and top of the vent were reinforced with bar tacks and the seam allowances between these topstitched. The seam allowances of the zipper opening were topstitched (with just a regular straight stitch) to keep them flat, stopping about 1cm short of the seam allowance at the top.
  • The zipper was laid on top of the opening, making sure the teeth were centred over the seamline, and the top stops were a few mm short of the top seam allowance, and it was sewn on around the edges. You can see some extra staystitching on the back in the photos below - I had originally intended to apply it using my usual method so that the edges were hidden, but then I realised that this would be way too bulky with this fabric. I left the staystitching in though as I figured it would help reinforce the zip area.

  • The yoke and facing/stay were sewn together along the top edge. I originally topstitched the yoke and understitched the facing separately, leaving gaps in the understitching for the boning channels. However, this meant the top edge didn't lie terribly flat, so I went over the topstitching with a regular straight stitch going through all layers and shortened the boning.

  • The lining was pinned and basted into place and then sewn on with a second line of topstitching along the yoke seamline. The facing was then flipped down, pinned and basted, and held in place by stitching in the ditch along the yoke seamline. The sides of the facing were folded inwards and slip stitched in place.

  • I had added 5cm hem allowance, but when trying on the skirt without the hem folded up, it was pretty much the right length. I could have just turned up a very small hem allowance, but this sort of skirt really needs a more substantial hem to help keep the shape. I slept on it, and realised I could add a hem facing! Marvellous. The corner where the hem facing joins the vent overlap was mitred. I couldn't get my head around how this should be sewn, so I folded the pieces as they would lie when finished, marked with pins where the seam would be on each piece, flipped them over, pinned along this line and marked an exact 45˚ line to sew along. When turned the right way out this gave a nice neat square corner with minimum bulk. The hem was topstitched twice, and the vent was also topstitched.

  • The bottom of the lining was serged off to the same length as the skirt, then folded up twice so it was slightly shorter than the main skirt. I decided to use a wide zig-zag stitch to sew the lining hem, partly because I was bored of switching thread colours by this time, and partly because I thought it would look pretty. It actually turned out quite nicely as it gives a slight scalloping to the hem edge (dodgy thread tension FTW!). The vent seam allowances were turned in and the lining slipstitched to the skirt vent.

  • The belt loops were a long strip (I used the dimensions given in the magazine) folded in three and topstitched with the raw edges underneath. This strip was cut into four, the ends of each loop pressed under, and then topstitched into place on the skirt. I had to handcrank my machine to sew these as it was going through so many layers of fabric.

  • The skirt was finished by slipstitching closed the openings in the facing.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I'm not sure I'll sew another version as there's many other skirts I would like to sew. Having pegged this at the bottom, I much prefer the shape to my first version, so I'm definitely going to go back and redo that one. I would definitely recommend this pattern to others, although I'm not sure I'd recommend as much fiddling as I did! Without all the boning palava, it's actually pretty quick to sew.


To be honest, when I finished this skirt, I wasn't sure that the amount of wear I envisaged from it would actually be worth the time I spent on it. However, having worn this today, I feel much better about it. The skirt is surprisingly comfortable to wear and I felt good in it, although I need to get used to wearing tops tucked in. I am also pleased with the new skills and techniques I learned making this: using spiral steel boning, lining a skirt with a vent, and making bound buttonholes; I will definitely be using all these again.