I sew ..

And draft patterns. This blog will log some of the processes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Betting My Upcycled Shirt

PR’s Sewing Bee Contest Round 2 requires making something from up to 5 men’s shirts this week. I was only able to get one desperately dull white poly cotton number which was more of a handicap than an opportunity. Guess what! Piles of cast offs in Goodwill don’t happen here. Still, many good entries for round 1 got eliminated with some bruised feelings.  I feel obliged to show the flag  -  if a white one ha ha!

To get away from the shirt’s native blandness my sewing machine churned out this wacky little number.

Upcycled white shirt

Upcycled Shirt as …Shirt


What I did.

  • Used my standard 12 block to make a rough pattern.
  • Put the front on the front shirt upside down with the opening at an angle
  • Cut the bottom hem in angled scallops to echo the skirt I made in round 1.
  •  Cut an asymmetric neckline and used the original (huge) white collar on it
  • Made undercollar and details made from scraps of black silk
  •  Re-cut the sleeves as set in with a small gather at the head
  • Made tucks above the sleeve opening to give a pushed up look
  • Closed the opening with a tie in the black silk.
  • Shortened the pocket, made a flap in black silk and repositioned it


Result – not my greatest, but several ideas I didn’t have the fabric for got added to my potential patterns sketchbook whilst making it.




Posted in Designed by me, Pattern Making | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Song of the Shirt


Song of the Shirt

by Thomas Hood
With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

   "Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!             
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!

Till the brain begins to swim;
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                    
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!

   "O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
   But human creatures' lives!
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,      
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

   "But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own, 
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!

   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!

   From weary chime to chime,   
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.

In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—         
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.

   "O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,            
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!

   "O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
   She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

So bravely plying my needle and thread I come to round 2 of the Sewing Pattern Review Sewing Bee. 

The challenge is to take up to five rtw men’s shirts and create another  garment , a sort of recycling project or Make Do and Mend revisited. Exactly the kind of thing any housewife could be expected to knock out on her hand crank in 1940 .

WW2 Apron from shirt

Just the thing for serving tea at the WI

Too bad I’m limited to one boring white shirt. What I might have done with stripes!




What I need now is a visit from the Inspiration Fairy. (I swear, that was what happened when I googled ‘Inspiration Fairy’.)  And he’s not wearing a shirt.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Pig in a Poke Sleeve Patterns

I nailed my colours to the mast on the set in sleeve pattern issue last post.  But how to put right a bad job ? Peggy Sagers says “Sleeves are so simple”. Not sure I agree with that, (or much of the rest of the video)

Sleeve drafting is at the complicated end of pattern  making. It was surprising to see the contestants in Episode 7 of the Great British Sewing Bee series 2 landed with the problem of drafting sleeves for a sleeveless rtw dress. Lynda was the only one to attempt a set in sleeve, the others were a bit more savvy in interpreting the challenge loosely. Do you think of  sleeve drafting  as a sewing challenge?  My heart still sinks when I pull a stinker of a sleeve pattern out of an envelope. Its often harder to redo than draft from scratch. Sleeves are tricky, the arm articulates, and not in a symmetrical way .

You need some pattern measurements first:-

The distance round the armhole, tape measure on the edge

The distance between the underarm points on the sleeve, CD in the diagram, Top Arm

The total distance round the sleeve top

The distance along the vertical centre line of the sleeve from the Top Arm line to the high point of the sleeve crown, AB in the diagram, Depth of Crown

This is how you might see them relating to each other and body measurements:-

Top Arm , about 2 inches or 5 cms bigger than the measurement on you round your arm, taken high up close to the armpit. Depth of Crown, about one third of the Top Arm measurement, Armhole or Armscye about 4-5 inches or 10-12cms bigger than Top Arm, distance round the top of the sleeve about an inch, 2-3 cms bigger than the armhole.

These are ballpark figures – a coat sleeve needs to be wider than a dress sleeve, some styles sit higher on the shoulder so have slightly more ease in the sleeve head, some lower, having a smaller depth of crown and less ease. If the pattern measurements roughly correspond with this plan, its at least halfway there.

Next you might check the shape of the sleeve head. As mentioned last post, it shouldn’t be symmetrical. Fold the sleeve in four vertically, open it out and check the sleeve head.  Drawing straight lines between the points helps to evaluate the shape of the curves.  sleeve

If you’ve been landed with one of those inexplicably symmetrical sleeves, you might want to try redrawing the curves to give yourself a better fitting line.

Those points where the creases are make convenient balance marks, back, front and the centre one which lines up with the shoulder. Now is the moment to walk the pattern round the armhole and check if its looking good, and the amount of ease is reasonable, repositioning  notches on the bodice as necessary.

This much work should get you to a reasonable working pattern stage.





Posted in Pattern Making, Techie Stuff | 6 Comments

Sleeve Serendipity and Bad Sleeve Patterns

This dress was posted on Gomi a couple of days ago.

sleeveIt set me off trying to figure out the sleeve. By a happy chance I found my old pattern for a strap sleeve and tried a bit of slash and spread on it.

This is the result – is it close or not? Ignore the seam down the middle in my test piece, I used an old skirt.

pinned on dolores

pinned on dolores


Right side

Right side

How it's stitched

How it’s stitched

Not completely sure I’ve got it yet.

Checking out the strap sleeve, which fits precisely into its armscye, brought the question of  Bad Sleeve Patterns to mind.

Have you come across any unsettable sleeve patterns lately? I seem to have spent some resentful hours redrafting a few. Chief problems are ease in the sleeve, how much and where, and the shape of the curves at the top of the sleeve.

Sleeve Head Ease

I think you usually need some ease, something like 2-3 cms. Its usually better with more placed slightly forward of the centre line at the top. The best diagram I’ve found that explains how this should work in a sleeve is from Natalie Bray “Dress Pattern Designing”. The underarm point in this diagram is forward of the bodice side seam, which is not essential. (The draft I use now has these ponts matching.)

Natalie Bray's diagram

Natalie Bray’s diagram

The ease helps to shape the sleeve round the shoulder if the sleeve is a fairly close fit, high on the shoulder, and the fabric is woven. The strap sleeve I made in 2012 actually illustrates the question of getting three dimensions into the top arm quite well, though a strap sleeve converts ease into seamed sections to get that shape round the shoulder.


The higher on the shoulder a sleeve is set, the more ease is needed. If the shoulder drops lower across the shoulder bone, like in a shirt for example, you need less or no ease.

Sleeve Head Shape

Increasingly I’m finding patterns  with symmetrical, or near symmetrical sleeve heads. Occasionally, this is ok. If its a pattern for a young child, or its for a cardigan in a soft and stretchy knit, or if for some style reason the armscye is lowered and has very similar curves front and back. Otherwise its just lousy drafting.

Folding the pattern along the centre line of the sleeve, it should be obvious which is the back and which is the front of the sleeve. The back sleeve needs flatter with more gradual curves, the front is scooped out more below the balance mark and rounds out more near the top. Of the drafting books I have Helen Joseph Armstrong stands out as having the closest to symmetrical sleeve. Rohr, Hillhouse and Mansfield, Natalie Bray, Shoben and Ward, Cooklin, Ann Haggar, Winnie Aldrich all show sleeve drafts which produce easily differentiated front and back curves on the sleeve head.  The curves need to be different because the shapes they have to fit round aren’t the same, so why are we getting patterns which overturn sixty years of drafting experience? Have I missed something?

OK that’s enough of a rant. Next post – how to fix a duff pattern to give yourself a fighting chance.

Isn’t nature wonderful – these growing in the weeds in my garden.


Just about the same colour as that lovely 40s dress.











Posted in Pattern Making, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Vogue 1408

I made a few things for others whilst away. One was Vogue1408. I have no photo of this, but in case you’re thinking of working it here’s how it went for me. Sizing – I made a 12 which is, by the measurement chart, one and a half bust sizes down from me and the daughter who was the lucky recipient. It fitted without alteration, both of us, though if I’d been feeling picky I’d have added a small FBA for a better fit.

There’s a lot of pieces and seams, but its not difficult to assemble – just be sure you keep accurate on the seam allowances . I used a heavy medium stretch jersey in a single black (no happy colour combo found). The skirt as drafted is very short – measure it before you start. I lengthened by about five inches .

I put a zip in, but could get into the dress with it closed. I didn’t line it, but there are lining pieces if you want to (hooray!). The skirt is full, the shape hourglassy.  A reasonably quick and easy pattern if stitching concave to convex curves doesn’t cause you a headache. A vague plan to make myself one with sleeves is hatching.  Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Congratulations Carmen!

I’ve been away on RL issues again, and guess what one of my fellow sewists in this corner of France has done in the interim?  Well done Carmen!

She’s walked away with the best amateur couturier in France trophy from the Sewing Bee à la France, Cousu Main. The winning dress was chic and original. I just watched the nail biting finale here


Such a brilliant idea for a dress – I want one!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Teeing Off

Anyone remember a couple of years ago I designed and drafted some fitted Tee shirts?
T Shirt cI’m using this navy striped one for the  Pattern Review Contest as a base to make four different looks. The contest called for using a TNT.  This is the pattern .


It has the side seams moved to the front and back, giving the pattern that twisted look.

There are cap sleeves drafted on, and the bust darts are angled from a half yoke seam from one shoulder. Many commercial T-shirt patterns don’t have bust shaping, and rely on the fabric stretch to do the work.

Making up is a breeze. One angled dart is sewn first, then the half yoke seam that extends into a second dart, side seams, hems, and neck binding.

First adaptation is a  Tee top in black stretch lace and black jersey.  I extended the half yoke seam  to make an asymmetric yoke in the lace front and back, and finished the shoulder of one side with a tie instead of a cap sleeve.


Second adaptation is in a natural white jersey with a raised knitted pattern, and plain black jersey  for shaped sections to emphasise the displaced side seams. It gets a new neckline, faced to the right side in black with a decorative shaped facing. I moved the darts to shoulder drapes in this one.


Third adaptation in  brown jersey , the original top extended to dress length. I used the darts as folds  and redrew the neckline to use a purchased beaded collar. I’m using a purchased belt with this.


Fourth adaptation took on a seventies vibe with a bit of flower power appliqué, and a flounce wrapping round the edge of the cap sleeve and extending down the displaced side seams. I used a pink viscose jersey, appliqué in black cotton jersey. pnkt


When I designed the original pattern I worked it in a standard 12 before drafting it from my personal block. I still have the 12 draft. Would anyone like to do a test run of this?

12 finished garment measures 35 inches at bust, assuming moderate stretch in the fabric.

Posted in Designed by me | 3 Comments