Thursday, 28 May 2015

Lekala dress

I've been meaning to try Lekala patterns for several years, but for various reasons hadn't got around to actually doing it, mostly because the Russian-based site was pretty hard to work out, and the payment method was crazy complicated. I'd been seeing them crop up here and there recently though, and after realising they had an US-based English site too (with payment by PayPal), I thought I would give them a go.

If you haven't heard of them, their USP is that they supply patterns drafted to custom measurements - and they have many many styles to choose from (apparently there's even more choice on the original Russian website). Basically you simply enter your measurements, plus a few optional modifiers, and a PDF pattern is emailed to you a few minutes afterwards. They're also super super cheap (and even cheaper if you register or buy pattern bundles), and also royalty free, meaning you can sell what you make from them. Bootstrap Patterns license the software from Lekala but also have a few extra patterns that aren't on the Lekala site.

I bought a few patterns to try - this is actually the second one I made up. The first is pretty appalling - but that is not the fault of the pattern, but rather me picking a style that just wasn't terribly flattering...

Pattern description

Lekala 4158: Knit top with front shoulder yokes and gathering at bust (lengthened into dress).

Fabric used

Rayon-lycra printed jersey.

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

Yes, but in dress form!

Were the instructions easy to follow?

The instructions were clearly written (this was one of their patterns that has been edited by a native English speaker), but they weren't particularly great as actual instructions, particularly in the methods used for finishing the armholes and neckline. One key bit of information that was missing was what length of elastic to use for the gathering at the centre front. I also thought I'd somehow managed to print it out too small as the seam allowances weren't 1cm as I thought was standard for Lekala, but actually 0.7cm (although the seam allowances were actually noted in the instructions).

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Like: I love the shape of the front yokes and sweetheart neckline effect with the gathering, and especially love the custom fit.

Dislike: The instructions.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

Although Lekala patterns are drafted to your customised body measurements, there are of course limited numbers of measurements they use, so there will always be some adjustments needed. To test the fit, I made up a T-shirt version in cotton jersey with no adjustments except for adding a CB seam.

The first version fit perfectly on the front - for reference, I normally need to do an FBA around 2.5-3.5cm width and 2-3cm length on knits - although the back was a bit wonky, as I expected. This was an easy fix though - I did my usual adjustment of rotating the back shoulders and neckline down 2.5cm to shorten the back length above the waist, and shaped the CB seam at the waist.

To lengthen the top into a dress I simply extended the side seams into a cut-on A-line skirt shape. I went with a longer length than I normally wear as it seemed to suit this style, and I rather like it.

Construction details

As I mentioned above, there was no indication of how long to cut the elastic for the gathers at the front. I used my judgement and a piece 7.5cm long (plus extra at the ends obviously!). I used a little Fray Check on the bottom end of the elastic so it didn't shred too much (the top is enclosed in the binding).

I finished the neckline and sleeves differently to instructed. Lekala would have you use bias tape for the lower front neckline, and just fold over and topstitch the rest of the neckline and armholes. I hate this method, so used self knit binding for all of these places.

For the top, I sewed it as instructed, where the front yokes are sewn to the lower front, then shoulders sewn together and then the neckline finished. This is a little bit fiddly though when finishing the neckline at the corners where it joins the front, and also makes some weak points where you need to clip into the seam allowance at this corner. For the dress, I sewed the shoulder seams first, finished the neckline and armholes with topstitched binding, plus the lower neckline, stopping the topstitching a few centimetres before the join. I then sewed the front yokes to the lower front and finished the topstitching so that the corners of the visible stitching matched.. I also added a small piece of fusible interfacing at the intersection on the front yokes as the seam allowances still need to be clipped slightly.

If I make this again I would leave the ends of the binding a little bit longer on the edges of the yokes and neckline so that these end up a little neater when they are sewn together (I cut them flush with the ends of the pieces, which means theres a little gap on the wrong side when they are folded in, which doesn't look so neat). The centre front could also probably do with a few stitches in the binding to keep the V shape neat. I would also probably use either a single layer on the binding strip, or sew the binding to the edge with the regular machine rather than the serger - as it is, with a narrow binding it gives a slightly bulky finish.

The seams are all serged, and the hem is serged at the edge to give it some stability, then simply turned up and topstitched.

To save fabric, I cut the the front and back with the print in opposite directions, but I don't think it's particularly noticeable (unless you're doing very intense CSI inspection of the direction of the paint splatter...). The two back halves look slightly different though, as I discovered after cutting (and sewing the CB seam) that there was a big fade mark on one half - near the hem I might have left it as is, but it would fall right under my bum so I'd look like I'd sat in something, so recutting it was! As it was a different area of the print it seems a bit different in intensity, but I'm not bothered by it (I rarely see my back).

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

I might well sew this again, it's a flattering pattern and very quick to make. On this experience I would definitely recommend Lekala to others too. I can imagine at extremes of figure the software would struggle without a human influence to fine tune the drafting, and also the normal choices of what is likely to work on your figure still applies; however, for an investment of a couple of dollars (and they even have some free patterns to try) plus nominal printing costs, it's worth a go.


This has been a pretty good experience, although so far I've only tried knit patterns, but I have a woven blouse I want to try in the near future, plus many other choices lined up! I'm expecting I may need a couple of iterations with the measurements to get exactly the fit I want when I don't have the more forgiving fit of a knit fabric, and this is one of the drawbacks of the system - if you want the same pattern with different measurements, you need to buy it again. Once I have it down-pat though it should result in minimal fiddling.

I like that it cuts out much of the bits of sewing I find boring - tracing patterns and making adjustments. It's even inspired me to work out how to use the Russian site as they seem to get the new patterns much more frequently (Melissa did a handy summary of how to order). The instructions really are quite bad (and I'm someone who thinks BurdaStyle instructions are fine), but I'm not buying the patterns for those, and have a reasonable grasp of construction and decent reference books, so for me that is not off-putting.

In terms of the dress itself, it's turned out very well, and is exactly the sort of thing I like wearing during the summer. I think next time I will also lower the bottom of the armholes a smidgen, and looking at the photos (which were taking on a particularly windy day...!) I need to adjust how it sits a little and remember to pull down the front enough when putting it on (the neckline is sitting a little high), but I really like this length on me - this pattern would even look nice lengthened into a maxi-dress.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Shawl collar cardie

There's some pieces of clothing that I find myself reaching for again and again because they are comfortable, flattering or just work with lots of outfits. Obviously when it's something I've made, I can duplicate it easily, but I have several RTW things that I want to try and copy.

This cardie is the first iteration copy of a black H&M linen cardie that is seriously versatile and fits pretty much perfectly. Although it's now getting a little old (I've had to mend a couple of holes recently), it still gets worn constantly, so I didn't want to take it apart. Instead, I traced it onto paper (a technique I definitely need to practice and improve!), which turned out to be surprisingly difficult with this top. I think this was partly due to the fabric having been cut a little off grain, and having distorted over time. It may have also been really badly cut to begin with - I was struggling to get the two halves to match when it was folded in half, and discovered it was far from symmetrical - the hem to shoulder seam height differed by around 2.5cm, and the centre of the shawl collar is completely off from the centre of the back neckline... It was also super hard to get things to lie flat with the dropped shoulder seam.

So, the tracing I got was a bit wonky to say the least. I did a bit of measuring and corrected some things, trued it up and cut into some fabric. This was always meant to be a trial, but I actually quite like how it turned out! There's a few minor tweaks that need to be made to the shape of the armscyes, but other than that it turned out pretty great (despite some substandard construction in places - and a lot of creases that could do with a pressing). I have some bright blue and green linen knits that I bought with the intention of making these cardies, so once I have some suitable thread I will cut those out. I'm hoping that the extra stretchiness of this yellow knit isn't disguising any issues, but it's looking hopeful (although I'll add a little bit to the width of the arms so these don't get too tight in the less stretchy linen).

The fabric is a light-ish weight jersey, not sure of the fabric content but I think it's a rayon blend, with a bit of lycra and poly. I stabilised the shoulder seams with fusible bias tape, and all the seams were sewn with the serger - I used yellow thread in the left needle and grey for the rest, and rather like the effect (grey and mustardy yellow is one of my favourite colour combinations). The shoulder seams and the shawl collar seam were topstitched (the back neckline was topstitched twice to help stop it stretching out) - I used the walking foot on my regular machine here.

I also got out my coverstitch machine for the first time to do the hem and the sleeve hems! I could do with getting some wooly thread for the looper in this machine so that it's softer against the skin (and that would also be useful in my serger and for rolled hems), but other than that it wasn't too hard to use. I obviously still need a lot of practice (it's a leeeetle bit wonky), but I think we will be friends... Oh, Melissa gave me a tip on ending the stitching and pulling the threads through to the back easily (the way the manual tells you to do this is bizarre), but rather than repeating everything here, Debbie Cook has a great post on this with lots of pictures.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Parisienne poodle cocoon coatigan

I love it when a plan works out...! This is fabric I bought back in March last year during my trip to Paris, and as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what pattern I wanted to make: BurdaStyle Magazine 2013/11/107. I've finally got around to making it, and it's pretty much exactly as I envisioned!

Pattern description

BurdaStyle Magazine 2013/11/107: Long-length cocoon-style jacket, with raglan sleeves, pockets and continuous hem band, and without fastenings.

Pattern sizing

36-44. I traced a 44.

Fabric used

Mystery blend wool knit from Coupons de Saint-Pierre. It was marked as wool and definitely includes it, as it has that slight wet dog smell after washing and when using steam, but there's also probably poly in there, as it didn't shrink or felt with machine washing, and without a pressing cloth it was a little melty on the iron. It also sheds like crazy on dark colours, hence the title - after sewing it, I looked liked I'd been rolling around in pale dog hair... I'm hoping this will reduce a bit in time.

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


Were the instructions easy to follow?

Mostly straightforward. I didn't really understand the directions for the pockets, but then I never do for Burda. I always do mine the usual way of sewing the pockets pieces separately to the front and back pieces, then sewing the side seams including the pockets.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

Likes: I really love the cocoon shape - once again Burda were ahead of the game with on-trend styles (although of course us Europeans are terribly fashionable - my three-year-old winter coat is also a cocoon shape). I think it's a surprisingly flattering shape - I am a long way from the slim model they use, and according to the "rules" I should probably emphasise my waist, but I really like how I look in this shape. Plus no issue after a big meal. Or over a big jumper I suppose.

Dislikes: It would have been really useful to have some notches on the hem band in order to distribute it evenly. As it is, only CB at neck and hem are match points. The pocket openings are also a bit narrow and a bit low for me.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made

Be warned - this jacket is really long. I knew from previous reviews that this was the case, so I shortened it 15cm so it fell between mid-thigh and knee (for reference I'm pretty tall, 178cm or 5'10" in old money) - I actually need to refine the shape of the front just a little bit more to soften the front curve at the bottom, and shorten the hem band slightly more to draw in the bottom of the back to more of a cocoon shape.

I also shortened the sleeves about 4cm. Apart from slightly enlarging the pockets I made no other changes.

Construction details

As I was using a fairly beefy but not super stable knit, I stabilised the seams with Vilene bias tape (love this stuff, buy it by the roll when I visit London). I also stabilised the front of the pocket openings with silk organza selvedge.

As the knit wasn't super stable I knew I'd also need to stabilise the pocket bags. I'd originally planned to use silk organza, and totally should have gone with this (or at least regular lining fabric). In the end I used a nylon tricot, but this is surprisingly heavy and bulky, and makes the pockets pull downwards a little weirdly. In order to try and counteract this, I pick stitched the top and bottom of the pocket to the jacket front, as well as the pocket opening. This supports the weight of the pocket a little so there's a bit less distortion, but is also fortunately pretty much invisible with this fabric.

Although I could have constructed it mostly on the serger, I actually serged the edges and then sewed nearly all the seams with my regular machine, with a straight stitch as stretch wasn't important in such an oversized garment.

The hem band is interfaced with the same nylon tricot used for the pocket interfacing (although here it was the perfect choice). I had originally contemplated sewing just one half of the hem band to the edge of the jacket, then folding the other seam allowance in and hand sewing that edge to the jacket so that the seam was fully enclosed. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't do this, possibly I thought it might be too bulky - in the end I attached it as directed (folded in half and serged), and it's not too bad. Maybe I'll pick stitch the seam allowance here too to keep it flat. The sleeve hems are catch stitched and invisible from both the outside and inside - I needed very good lighting whilst I was doing this bit!

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

I might sew this again in a lighter weight knit for the summer, or even in a lightweight woven (there's a lovely version on the Russian BurdaStyle website in a bias cut yellow plaid...). It's a very quick make, and a fashionable and easy-to-wear shape too.


Despite being very pleased with this, I've managed to finally make it just in time for it to be too warm to wear it! I wore it on Friday night (when these photos were taken), but I think that's going to be the last time for a while... But it's a still a useful garment that means I'll have something to pull out when the weather does cool down again - I just need to work on a summer jacket now!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Cross-stitch brooch

I made this as a leaving gift for a friend who is moving to the US to be with her boyfriend, after nearly ten years in Switzerland. I only decided I wanted to make her something the day before her leaving do, so chose something small. This is actually the first time I've done cross stitch (or really any proper embroidery) since I was in primary school, but am really pleased with how it turned out.

I designed the motif myself. The red is three strands of embroidery floss, but the white is two strands of heavyweight sewing thread as I didn't have any true white floss on hand. I didn't use a hoop, as I didn't have one of those on hand either! The piece was only small anyway so wasn't particularly prone to distortion. I did at least have aida fabric on hand though!

I embroidered to just outside the finished size so that the edges of the brooch would be covered. I'm particularly proud of the back - it's not super neat, but I tried hard to keep it fairly tidy, and made sure not to use any knots.

To stiffen the brooch I used two layers cut from some random plastic packaging. I ran gathering stitches around the edge of the embroidery to help turn the fabric neatly and evently, then sewed back and forth across the gap to secure it in place. The back is covered in red felt and I used a blanket stitch around the edge to try and make it look semi-neat.

I was really glad that she genuinely loved it, and hopefully it will remind her a little of us all during her cool new life in Portland :)