I sew ..

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

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Drafting Patterns

Random thoughts on the debate about ‘indie’ pattern makers, their testers, followers, blog tours.

- inspired by the ongoing sewing community debate about value

Fit Issues.

If an indie designer’s, or a plain old Big4 designer’s pattern doesn’t fit you out of the envelope, there’s a good chance that it isn’t all their fault. It should fit the imaginary figure flagged up in their size chart.  Putting a pattern out to a bunch of randomly selected bloggers to test will not determine if the fit is correct per size chart. The person drafting a pattern has to know that it fits their chart, that pockets fall in a good place, openings are big enough, collars sit well.

Pattern testing is part of designing and drafting. In a stint in manufacturing I had a sample maker, but she sat in the same room as me, close enough to throw the pieces back if there was an error. Nice ladies who sew, whom you ‘met’ in blogland having a go at your pattern are something else. They might be able to help you to know if the set of instructions you put out are comprehensible, but for design and drafting purposes, their work is useless.

How It’s Done

Patterns get made in one of two ways – draping or flat drafting. If you drape the pattern you need a stand which is the right size, or a person, then the pattern necessarily turns out to fit. If you flat draft, you work from a set of blocks which you drafted to the right size. Since you input the correct measurements to get the block, the garment will fit the same measurements, unless you wander off for a coffee part way through and forget that you added ease or seam allowance already, or absent mindedly pick up the wrong size block. Realistically though – the system works like a dream.

There are some rumours to the effect that one or more newly indie pattern makers get the patterns by rehashing old commercial patterns. You could work this way, but lose control of those measurements and risk passing on errors – the Chinese Whispers of drafting.  Does that matter? Possibly. A pattern with an element of fudge on sizing won’t give your customer a good start. Much of the flack going Vogue’s way from this and other blogs has been about variable ease in patterns.

How Hard Can It Be?

In her open letter to indie’s Debbie asks independent designers to flag up their training. I don’t think this is realistic. There’s no single route to designing and drafting and no one ‘test’ for getting admission to the club. There’s pretty much nothing to stop someone from making claims which gloss. Those of us who took full time training might smell a rat, but the average home dressmaker probably wont. Not all training is equal, not all students are equal. There could be a privacy issue too. No-one else has to tell all to the online world.

There’s been an upsurge in interest from home sewists in learning to draft. Its not rocket science, but you don’t get to the position of being able to draft pretty much anything for anyone in a short course. At least, I never had a student who could pull off this trick.

How Great Is the Design?

One of the gripes about the newest indies is that they design for one figure type. Is this fair? Most fashion is aimed at largely fictional women. Gravity challenged, chubbily bulging, stooping, wrinkly don’t sell well. And its more complicated to design something fitted that works in a larger size on a G cup. I made many  office shift style dresses in this figure type. Those designs which worked best don’t translate as-is to a standard 34 B size, and vice versa. Its a different challenge.


If we want a big choice in designs for other figures we’ve got to get good at voting with our feet. I don’t want to pick on individual pattern makers or bloggers, but how many brave attempts at getting a sweet little mini A line  dress to work on un-doll-like figures do we need? I couldn’t get these to totally work on me first time around. (as a young, fit inverse pear.) A fifties pattern for a wiggle dress with a drawing on the front that looks like the model had an eighteen inch waist doesn’t come with a free magic spell either. I wish. Seriously, the question we need is ‘how great is the design for me’.

Price or Why Doesn’t the Indie Realise I Can Get Patterns For $3.99?

I’m guessing they do know this. Check out printing costs or the work involved in putting out those horrid horrid horrid pdf’s. Hats off to those with the commercial know how to get this going, I’m not surprised they don’t compete on price with the labels who have pretty much the monopoly of the pattern printing, and a big single currency, single language  market on their doorstep. Its like wondering why the corner grocer doesn’t carry discounts like the supermarket. Qui pro quo – we don’t owe them our custom. Suspending  critical judgement when checking out an indie pattern won’t do the indie market any favours. If the designs are awkward, dull, or unoriginal, or don’t work with your figure type, or the patterns are iffy, pretending otherwise will make it harder for other independent designers to put a toe in the home pattern market. Indie will end up meaning not so good.





Posted in Opinions Questions Rants, Pattern Making | 8 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.


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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.





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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.











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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

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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!

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