Drafting Sewing Patterns

Another sewing blog, with an emphasis on making patterns for garments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Maxing out

Maxi Skirts?

On ‘Flog it’, a British tv prog about antiques, the presenter brought us a snippet from the archives of the British Film Institute, a clip from 1896 of Blackfriars Bridge. A woman crossing the bridge wore (of course) a full length costume.  My grandmother was born in that year, so her lifetime took her from a period when skirts above the floor were unthinkable, to the opposite extreme of the 60s mini.

Shorter skirt fashions have usually been flagged as liberating. Now, anything goes, what is actually a convenient and comfortable length?

Do you wear maxi skirts/dresses? I don’t mean as special occasion wear – just every day, daytime or relaxing at home evening? (I have 3 or 4.) Advantages – zero legwear problems and greatly reduced footwear angst. Extremely cool for summer, pretty cosy for winter. Disadvantages, not so easy to negotiate stairs whilst carrying stuff, hemline grubbiness, escalator danger, cycling impossible.

Ultra short skirts don’t feature in my wardrobe now, but I recall the major disadvantages – restricted movement to preserve decency, damn cold in winter necessitating thick tights which were expensive and invariably snagged. It was marginally easier to stride purposefully than in a knee length pencil skirt, which probably reduced the chances of getting frostbite.

Any fans of the mid calf length? It’s had a few runs through and threatens to return to the fashion stakes. Will you take up the trend?

Knee length hangs around as the safe compromise and the business wear uniform, see-sawing from just above knee cap to just below. I wonder why.

Maxing Pattern use

Jeans went on hold this week as I rushed a dress for a family member. I used a pattern I’ve made at least 8 times for different people, and finally put its tattered pieces onto brown paper. People new to sewing often remark that its not the cheaper alternative, by the time you’ve bought your pattern, fabric and notions. Old timers know that if you make the same pattern in six different fabrics, no-one will notice.

Maxi Stash

I started yet another re-organisation of my acres of fabric, inspired by Kate’s post. Not that its going to get the kondo treatment. All fabric brings me joy, and that’s the rub. If I got rid of the stuff in my house that I didn’t love it would be the tax form on my desk,  and all the other piles of papers I’d love to ditch.

I do have too much fabric though. A rough project is forming, to sew through all of it by the end of 2015. Wish me luck.






Posted in Opinions Questions Rants | 5 Comments

Prepping Fabric

Do you wash all the fabric you buy before working with it?

Fabric manufacture includes processes resulting in a finished fabric, which should not shrink appreciably if correctly laundered. A raw state fabric from a natural fibre, like the knitted silk noil I bought recently to make tops, hasn’t undergone the dyeing and finishing process and will almost certainly shrink . Some natural fibre fabrics shrink over several or many washes, (typically cottons). I pre-washed the noil and I’m prewashing black denim bought for jeans from Fabricland. It has shrunk a little, but not appreciably over the 3 metre length. I’m making up this pattern first.

Cig Pants

Cig Pants

It makes a garment which is smoother under close fitting tops than typical jeans because the zip goes in the side, the shaped waist lies flat and there are no pockets. If it were tighter and made in a jersey it would be leggins.  The denim I’ve purchased has some 2 way stretch in it, good for this pattern. I’ll keep you posted about how it makes up.



Obviously, RTW manufacturers don’t launder thousands of yards of fabric.  They often wash test the sample garment to see if the fabric is suitable before ordering for the full run.

Most fabrics from man-made fibres don’t shrink.  Shrink testing by taking a measured square of a decent size (at least 6 inches) and laundering this instead of the whole length is a good alternative.

Another argument for washing yardage is that it might not be clean enough to work with.  Certainly,  some stuff I’ve purchased from a market stall has spent time in a warehouse, been chucked in a van and stacked on the pavement without any protective cover.

Have you ever bought wonky fabric?

This is much harder, sometimes impossible, to correct. When fabric in the finishing stages of manufacture has been stretched so that the warp and weft are no longer at right angles to each other, or the knit runs across at an angle, it’s a bad bet. Wovens which have a slight distortion can be brought back with the aid of a helper ( three helpers for wide fabric). Each person grabs the piece near the selvedge and tugs opposing the direction of the distortion until the fabric straightens up, finishing with a good pressing . Knits – no chance.

Clothes made from distorted weaves invariably distort in wear. Who hasn’t ended up with a twisted jeans or wonky T-shirt purchase? Inferior fabric or bad pattern lay is responsible.

The most critical part of the cutting out process is making sure the pattern grainline is running parallel to the warp. If you run short of fabric and want to risk a compromise, don’t mess with the grainline on the major pieces.


Posted in Techie Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Me Made Maid

Its that time of year again. The sewing blogsphere blossoms with people strutting their stuff in May. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines. I tried to join in one year, but fell by the wayside on photography – A picture every day? We have rain here. Lots of it.
The idea behind Me Made May was, I think, to prove that you don’t just make but actually wear your stuff. This seems a bit weird to we ancient tightwads, born at the tail end of rationing, christened in parachute silk, mother still making do and mending, cutting down and re-purposing anything with any useful fabric left in it. The transition from Mum Made Maid to Me Made was …. er… seamless.

Obviously discounting the occasional fail rotting in Damnation Alley, and the special occasion dress made two sizes too small whilst swearing to shun all chocolate and shrink into it, why would anyone make clothes and not wear the creation? Spending hours stitching and ripping, tweaking and fudging for nothing? That sounds rather like a penance, three Hail Mary’s and eight hours struggling with the new Vogue cut in what now seems to be the wrong size.
Sew to get a better fit. Sew for economy. Sew to get proper choice. Sew for individualism, and the colour you choose. Sew to shake a little fist at corporations exploiting too young machinists abroad, and staffing their first world shops with workfare and zero hours contract slaves.

Whatever the motivation, wear what you sew, twelve months of the year surely?
Instead of a blow by blow account of my May get-ups, I’m spending this month getting to grips with listing my patterns. (see new page Pel Mel Patterns top bar). Some designs have already had their moment in a post, others not. If the pattern has even one star in the Satisfaction category, I certainly wore it or someone else did. If it doesn’t it’s waiting a remake. How about you – are you a Me Made Maid or Closet RTW addict?

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Waffling about Pattern Making Again

This week I played around with the overshirt pattern and made it into a shift.

The fabric is a soft blue silky something or the other from stash depths – about the colour of Petula’s overdress in this clip.   La Nuit N’en Finit Plus might be my theme song.

My dress has side slits too. I added a pocket in the right side seam, changed the classic underarm dart to a shaped french dart, made the neckline work as both closed with slit and turned back and redrafted to the measurements of a daughter who often gets to be my pattern guinea pig. I’m slightly regretting the last decision in this list as now its done I quite like it – and the sleeves aren’t as impractical as you might think. They stay put by your sides when your hands are in the washing up bowl.  It almost, kind of,  fits me …..hmmm. Would make an excellent hot weather frock.

Blue Dress

Blue Dress

Neckline Fastened

Neckline Fastened

If anyone reading this doesn’t know how to work a slit opening like this one, it goes like this:-

1. Mark the cutting line (I usually use one or two rows of close stitching).

2. With facing piece RS together over the slit, stitch each side of the marked line, leaving the smalles space you dare between them. Use a small stitch length. Bring the stitch lines to a Vee at thebottom but take one stitch across (i.e. don’t do ‘needle down and swivel).

3. Snip right in to your stitch line at the Vee end, dabbing on fray check if you’re nervous. Turn the facing in.

To insert a rouleau loop like the one I put at the top, you need to have it positioned between the two layers, raw edges to the centre. Its easier if you stitch or baste it in place on your garment layer first.

During  web browsing breaks, I came across another of those comments on indie pattern makers, this time in the ‘why don’t they design something different’ vein.

True enough, there are a lot of patterns  travelling well trodden paths. My guess is that making a ‘different’ design is a lot more work, and might have limited appeal and a short life.

To illustrate this point let’s list what went into the shift dress above. Let’s say I already had the basic dress block in the size I needed (I did). Below are the processes and in brackets next to them the decisions involved. Its the decisions that take the time.

Trace round front and back blocks. Draw new neckline front and back checking shoulder widths and plunge. (Worry about bra strap clearance? How deep a plunge? Will it work as a turned back shape? Fastening?)


Draft neck facing (How much depth of facing to guard against facing flip? Will too much create ugly bulk?)

Draw in hemline and position of side slits (Length? Depth of slit?) Draft pocket (Position, size?)

Swivel Bust dart to new position  drawing curve for it (Length? Shape of curve?) Recut side seam to incorporate bust dart fold. Measure dress girth (Need zip?)


Trace round sleeve block twice. Draw Front overlap curve on one.Draw back underlap curve on the other (Position? Shape?). Slice off pieces. Slash through to get bell shape (How much flare? Where to position flare?). Re trace as single pattern piece.

Slash across new sleeve piece to get more fluting on vertical line of front overlap curve, open, trace. (Position and amount of flare?) Draw in new grain line.(Will that work? Drape nicely or twist awkwardly?)

sleeve pat

This shift dress is a fairly simple but not totally standard item. There were quite a lot of steps. Each decision is a shot in the dark, unlike when you churn out a totally textbook pattern. Experience reduces the number of trial garments, but sometimes you just guess wrong. Don’t get me started on fabric requirements. If your design is one of the basic shapes, a long list of fabrics will work with it. Make even a little foray into difference and the fabric can make or break it. That’s only the beginning – still grading or drafting different sizes and tidying up and checking the patterns to do.

I struggled to dream up a sewing hook for this non sequitur.



Uncovered in our wood-box. Isn’t it marvellous?



Posted in Designed by me, Opinions Questions Rants, Pattern Making | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Overshirt Progress

I’ve been slowly assembling a pattern test for an overshirt with floaty sleeves. The fabric is a man made crepe in a petrol blue which has been in stash too long for me to recall purchasing details. So long in stash in fact that its proving hard to press out the wrinkles!ghandistyle



The sleeves are cut on the bias, open at the front, overlapping at the sleeve head, the rest of the shirt is pretty basic. The neckline is a high wide Vee front and back. There’s a shirt style opening on it at the moment.

Back of Overshirt

Back of Overshirt

It has a narrow long tie belt and the side seams are slit for 5 inches.



I have some blue buttons which look fairly good, but I’m hoping to stumble on some in old gold similar to one in my button tin, and use a narrow gold belt instead of the tie.

Reasonable match buttons

Reasonable match buttons

metal buttons

metal buttons

Button on the left is the one I like for it. Its a warm broken gold which might or might not show up on yer screen . Nefertiti or whoever it was on the right is brassier and a bit heavy.

There are two changes I’m considering for this draft. The sleeves are cut in two pieces with an underarm seam which made it easier to fit on my fabric. The seam serves no structural purpose so that could go.

open bell sleeve

open bell sleeve

The shirt style opening might get changed  to a keyhole with one button at the top or faced slit with rouleau loops inset. In fact looking at it through the camera lens, the facing could be designed so that the opening could turn back. The length of the shirt might also need to be adjusted, but that’s minor.

Its cut to fit one daughter and isn’t the size of the dress form it’s on here. This is giving it  blousier look in the top than intended. (The form is my standard 12 and the pattern is 12 with a DD cup size change.) Usually unfitted waistlines are a bad idea on D cup and above, but here I’m hoping that the floaty crepe fabric will knock any tent-semblance on the head.

I really like the sleeves, but probably need to tweak the sleeve head pattern a bit and am musing about changing the dart to a french dart.

Basically, as a first run through I’m happy.


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

Ufology dilemmas

Backstory.  I saw a sleeve I liked in an Armani collection. I ordered red bouclé for the coat, but didn’t want to risk hacking into it without testing the pattern. A test jacket got half made. Afficionados of Fabricland will recognise the cheapo tweed . I had a vision of covering it with appliquéd flowers picking out the colours, probably clustering on one shoulder and dropping casually down the arm and half the front. I cut some experimental shapes and pinned them on. Running this inspiration past the gals in a sewing forum got the coded “have you lost the plot” response. (Nice things said about jacket, ultra lukewarm on the big idea).  I couldn’t find matching fabric pieces in the right texture and colour for the putative appliqué . The half done jacket got tossed in Damnation Drawer, the coat was made and posted.

R C _DSC7649 This week, I thought “to hell with the appliqué” and stitched in the jacket lining. Sadly, in the intervening years, the sleeve idea has gone off the boil. I’m not so wild about it. See the jacket with buttons posed imploringly where the buttonholes would be. Stitch or ditch?


Meanwhile,  the overshirt in blue crepe progressed a little. Here’s the seam finish I’m using – turn under 3mm and stitch. Balancing the many disadvantages of having learnt to sew pre-zig-zag on a handcrank Singer, the repertoire of old techniques comes in handy.



Another pre-loved technique that gets an airing occasionally is old-world back stitching. The handcranks didn’t have a reverse, you had to make a couple of stitches in the wrong direction, needle down, swivel, stitch the seam. I used that method yesterday when turning under  3mm at the pointy end of a facing for a Vee neck. Even the Bernina likes to chew up and swallow tiny points with nothing for the foot to grip. What fun it is dismantling the bobbin race to tease out your facing and untangle it from the thread nest.

pointy end

Posted in Designed by me, Sewing methods | Tagged | 7 Comments

Hobnobs v Batting

On the left is a form padded out to my size12 block which includes functional ease, on the right is a form padded out to my own block plus functional ease. (The one on the right can fit in size 12 or sometimes 10 Vogues. Just saying.)

12 and Tub

12 and Tub


The wavering blue line below the waist on fatty reflects my mental wavering – stuff more batting into the abdominal cavity and more MCVities into me, or call on Dr Dukan. Hmm. Close.

Besides this soul wrenching job and a couple of others too tedious to mention, the sewing room saw the birth of a project for an overshirt this week. Pattern is drafted and pieces are cut. Marking darts the quick way below.


Posted in Pattern Making, Sewing methods, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 10 Comments