Drafting Sewing Patterns

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

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All White

There’s something nice about white isn’t there?

White Dress

White Dress

The fabric is probably poly or rayon, its a textured weave bright white fabric which has been lurking for three or four years. You can see it better in this close up.

Textured White Fabric

Textured White Fabric

The steps in making up were:-

a. Fuse a strip of lightweight interfacing to the neck edge to stabilise, and along each side of the zipper opening. The side seam is quite shaped, so it’s worth taking extra care.

b. Stitch the darts, four in the front, two in the back

c. Stitch the upper bodice pieces to the lower front bodice

d. Stitch the shoulder seams.

e. Attach the facings round the neckline. A  non-classic method used. First the front facing was stitched to the neckline, taking one stitch horizontally across the base of the Vee, leaving about an inch unstitched near the shoulders, then the back neckline facing done again leaving about an inch unstitched near the shoulders. The shoulder seams of the facings were then stitched and the remainder of the neckline stitched. (Doing it this way helps to ensure that the facing shoulder seams match the bodice shoulder seams). Trim and edge stitch turnings to facings.

f. Roll each facing in turn round bodice to face the armhole, trim, pull through and edge stitch turnings to facings in two passes, back curve to shoulder then front curve to meet it.

g. Stitch the invisible zipper into the longer (left) side seam, and stitch bodice seam and facing seam above and below it, stitch right bodice seam.

h. Stitch side seams of skirt pieces, attach skirt.

i. Hem done with double row of straight stitch.

All seams with zig-zag.

The pattern is the one used for the African Batik dress. I’m getting a bit bored with it now, having made it up four times already. I’ve transfered the working pattern into a ‘proper’ pattern, seamlines walked, seam allowances on, and will probably re-slice it to get some variation in the seamlines, whilst keeping the overall fit and shape that DD rates.

Working Pattern

Working Pattern

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Two Dresses

Stash attack made slower progress this week.

The wrap dress in the black heart print got made up. The bust darting has been converted to pleats from the waistline, (there’s a waist seam) and the skirt is flared. It buttons across at the waist and has a sash.

Wrap Dress in Hearts Fabric

Wrap Dress in Hearts Fabric

The armholes and neckline are faced.  I used a gape resistance dodge of cutting the wrap facing on straight grain instead of on the same grain as the bodice. This can sometimes help to pull the neckline in tighter, though its technically ‘wrong’.

The second dress is for a different daughter,  made from a khaki cotton. I have only basic measurements for this pattern, there’s an element of guesswork about the fit. There could be a Mark 2. The shirtdress has the sleeves constructed shirt style (that is with a lower, flatter armhole). There’s a yoke, buttoned shoulder tabs, buttoned tabs pulling the sleeves up, visible front buttons to just above waistline, and concealed buttons below the waistline. The hemline is shaped, shirt-tail style. I made this in a khaki cotton, the buttons are a grey metal. Apologies for the poor pressing, rushing to the post.

Khaki Shirtdress

Khaki Shirtdress


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Clothes as Art

Whilst in London I saw this. If you haven’t braved the queues already, it is well worth it, and if  you can’t get there, maybe consider the book . I bought the paperback, £25.

The show was a stunning cornucopia of exuberant invention, tinged for me with the sense of our too soon loss of such talent. Decoration and totemism probably motivated first humans to start making clothing, Alexander McQueen’s work was infused with these elements,  magically contained within his own sense of discipline, and tied to a respect for form and materials . Yes, atelier staff at Givenchy initially worried about his habit of rapid cutting into precious cloth, but the tailoring background shines through the creations.  Grab the opportunity to see the clothes, (rather than photos of them), if you can.

I’m still plodding along the pedestrian route, making tried and tested patterns from my collected fabric , here’s a couple just finished.

An A line mini skirt in a printed cotton. The print fabric feels quite light, so I lined it with a cotton to give it some body. I didn’t mount the fabric on the cotton in case they launder differently.

Skate Skirt

Skate Skirt

A flared skirt in a chiffon decorated with a satin ribbon effect, same pattern as the Fuschia Skirt in the previous post.

Chiffon Skirt

Chiffon Skirt

I’m calling this chiffon, but it’s an anyone’s guess fabric from Whitechapel Market – could even be intended for furnishing. I lined this with a lightweight poly crepe.

Lining Essential§

Lining Essential

I’ve used french seams on both the chiffon and the lining, keeping the lining seams on the inside. My french seams are about 5mm in width, the narrowest I thought would stand up to the washing machine.

French Seams

French Seams

My last impulse purchase of fabric was made just after Christmas. I bought this 1.5 m piece from Joel & Sons in the Jan. sale.

Yellow Bouclé

Yellow Bouclé

Its here purely for the drool factor, plans for it are not finalised, suggestions welcome. The colours are bright,  the yellow of gorse flowers, not the pale washout my camera and monitor seem to be dishing up. It’s woven with yarns with some bouclé loops, giving it an interesting texture. Quite a change from my usual market stall hauls.

I’m cutting out a wrap dress next, in this cream fabric printed with tiny black hearts (you guessed it, East London market).

Tiny Hearts

Tiny Hearts

Ending a week when we learn that austerity plans in the UK are to include having young people work for a very small fraction of the minimum wage (their social security benefit), I find it poignant that the McQueen studio got off the ground in a collaborative effort between talented people with no money, who of necessity ‘signed on’ in the early stages. Not all talent comes via Eton.


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Old Friends

I’ve been in London, returning to a semi organised fabric stash and hoping to sew through it by the end of the year. A stash is handy, but mine’s at the point where I spend longer searching through it for a piece than it takes to make up the fabric.

DD paid a flying visit and organised part of it into fabric groups for ‘old friend’ patterns – that is already tried patterns which fit her.  A few garments got sewn this week from those fabric piles :-

Flared skirt in figured natural white silk with six panels. The silk has small flecks of a darker colour in it and an all over wavy pattern in a satin weave. Its unlined, seams top stitched and finished inside with zigzag. Side zip, waistband. Fabric from the North London area, it’s cut in panels because it was left over from another project as narrow strips, but too nice to waste.

silk skirt

silk skirt

Slip in lace. No brainer make – one seam at centre back, small darts at the side in lieu of seams, eased on to a wide stretch lace at the waist. A little tip to make darts less visible in semi transparent fabric, stitch the dart with wrong sides together, making it a little smaller than the finished size, cut away the dart fabric 3 – 5 mm from the stitching line, restitch it enclosing the raw edges, as for french seams. The lace came from a stall in Whitechapel market, the top band from an online lace supplier.

lace slip

lace slip

Dress with Vee kneckline in African batik print. It has a central shaped waist panel with four waist darts in the front and two in the back, and a flared skirt set onto the asymmetric line of this panel. The zip’s in the side. The fabric came from the Petticoat Lane area and is sold as lengths for traditional garments. There’s a lot left over.

African Batik Dress

African Batik Dress

Cowl neck blouse in Bordeaux silk satin. The fabric came from a Hong Kong supplier, and has a gorgeous soft sheen and drapes beautifully. The top is cut on the bias. I’ve made this countless times – once cut out its very quick to assemble, and looks so much dressier than a Tee shirt. This pattern works in just about any blouse weight fabric you throw at it.

Cowl Blouse in Satin

Cowl Blouse in Satin

Fuschia flared skirt with tie belt. This fabric length was left over from a dress made years ago. I’m struggling to recall whether I bought it in a London market or a local fabric shop, now closed. Its a lightweight poly, in a stunning colour which doesn’t quite show up on my monitor.

Fuschia Pink Skirt

Fuschia Pink Skirt

Navy and white polka dot satin dress with cowl neckline and cap sleeves. The fabric came from the Brick Lane area, if my memory is up to scratch. The satin is poly, but has a decent drape and a soft sheen, that is not from the nasty end of polyness. The front bodice part is cut on the bias to get the cowl to fall nicely. This is the one I’m least sure about fit-wise.

Polka Dot Dress

Polka Dot Dress

All were sewn from fairly basic and quick to assemble patterns used many times. I didn’t time myself sewing each pattern, but haven’t spent all of the last week sewing either, maybe dipping in for a couple of hours a day. (The 4000 sq metres plus outside space has taken a lot of time. I try to strike a bargain with nature. I say ‘you let me grow some of my flowers and I’ll let you grow some of mine’,  and nature laughs in my face and shoots out gazillions of brambles when I turn my back for a week. )

For beginner stitchers then, this post is supposed to be encouragement. It takes many hours to learn a new skill, but dressmaking can be pretty useful. After the tedium and frustrations of learning, it eventually becomes quite soothing to indulge in this mildly creative activity, which is more than can be said for weed wacking. Plus you end up with a heap more clothes for little outlay and a faintly smug feeling.



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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.






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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.


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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?

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