Instant gratification Part 1: Why we love PDF sewing patterns

PDF Sewing patterns

Regular ClothSpotters will know that we like to offer sewing pattern suggestions for all our fabrics. We think it’s helpful to illustrate the kind of garment that a specific fabric could be used for; it also focuses our mind on the purpose and potential of a particular cloth. Our suggestions regularly include PDF sewing patterns as well as the more usual printed paper versions. Following questions from some of you we thought we might explain why, as well as offer some tips for using PDF sewing patterns.

Pattern anticipation

Invariably we find ourselves carried away by a potential project for every fabric that comes through the door – leading to a certain amount of excitement as deliveries arrive, photographs are taken and fabrics are described for the website

That excitement is a familiar feeling. In my case I’m standing in front of a large, hardbacked Vogue Pattern book in one of the two (imagine – two!) fabric shops in the small town where I went to school. They were a doorway into another world, confined only by imagination, skill and a suitable occasion for wearing my latest creation. In the absence of the latter, ‘wear it anyway’ became my motto as I became bolder and older. For the sad tale of what happened after that, I refer you to my Style Crisis posts – but the enchantment and excitement of leafing through those pattern books is aptly summed up by Stanley Tucci as Nigel the Art Director at the fictitious Runway magazine in the film The Devil Wears Prada.

You think this is just a magazine, Hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for – oh I don’t know – let’s say a young boy growng up in Rhode Island with six brothers, pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight.

Yes I know – we might all have issues with other aspects of that film – but this moment was heartfelt and a perfect illustration of the positive potential of the fashion press.

Despite my waxing lyrical about those pattern books however – there were drawbacks. Getting to the shop when it was open was always an issue, living miles out of town with a limited bus service. There was also that moment where I’d ask for the pattern number in my size and wait, breath bated, while the shopkeeper fingered through her drawer of envelopes. Sometimes I’d have a list of two or three alternatives – just in case – but on other occasions it was my chosen design or nothing.

Of course the obvious solution to that was ‘make my own pattern’ which I gradually began to do, with varying degrees of success. However where a design involved complicated construction or a new technique, that wasn’t always an option.

But then – the internet! An early adopter because of my work at the time, the potential for downloading sewing patterns as documents was an obvious opportunity for the sewing pattern industry. The excitement – just imagine – any pattern in any size at the touch of a button! My anticipation was almost unmanageable.

The reality was, however, that this vision took a long time to come to fruition, partly because this was the mid-1990s with the home sewing market  in decline as fast fashion took over the high street. However over the course of the last few years the market has taken a turn for the better and we now have a wealth of independent sewing pattern designers and publishers. As you might imagine, I couldn’t be more excited.

Why we love PDF sewing patterns

Here at ClothSpot we have a limited stock budget and what we do have, we like to spend on gorgeous fabrics rather than keeping stocks of multiple sizes of pattern design. That’s in no way a judgement on paper patterns or their stockists – far from it! We love a nice-to-handle paper envelope and we do appreciate a beautifully-produced instruction booklet.

PDF Sewing patterns

Obviously I still have a paper pattern collection!

On the stock front however, we have to cut our cloth according to our means. (Thank you! Yes, we were quite pleased with that too.) So – although we offer some patterns that can be sent direct from the distributor or publisher, we don’t currently stock physical patterns ourselves.

Like many of you, we’re located some distance from a large town – and we’re not immune to a bit of instant gratification when it comes to our sewing projects. For us then, it’s a natural inclination to turn to downloadable sewing patterns as a means of getting what we want when inspiration strikes. Frankly, PDF sewing patterns are a bit of a dream come true – and we love to share the joy, especially now there are so many to choose from. Many independent publishers increasingly offer their patterns in both formats – and the BurdaStyle site in particular has been built around its digital offering for some years now.

However we know from conversations with many customers that many of you are new to online sewing patterns – so in Part 2 of this post we’ll try and to demystify, reassure and offer some guidance on how to get started and make the most of what’s out there waiting for you.

Click through to Part 2!

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Style Crisis breakthrough: Leah Lounge Pants

Leah Lounge Pants topperNow I admit – a pair of taupe trousers might not have been what you were expecting to emerge from my style crisis deliberations. But please – no eye-rolling or comments about backsliding – for me, these Leah Lounge Pants are more than a pair of trousers – brown, grey or otherwise.

Trouser troubles

Last year I had a shot at fitting a pair of trousers based on a BurdaStyle block (or ‘sloper’) pattern. That fitting process turned into a two-part blog and resulted in a pair of beautifully-fitted (if I say so myself) bronze wool crepe trousers.

Predecessor to Leah Lounge Pants

Bronze wool crepe trousers from BurdaStyle block pattern

However I’m no professional pattern cutter – and although I’m perfectly able to replicate those trousers and cut them in different leg styles, I was struggling to incorporate the right amount of ease in the right places, especially for more tailored or loosely-fitted designs.

I was still hankering after a better understanding of where off-the-peg trousers and commercial patterns were parting company with my fit – in particular my bottom. My style crisis resolution has reached the stage where more trousers are definitely required and so I needed another approach.

Sailing by…

My first outing in this direction proved to be a bit of a false start. I had hopes that Vogue Pattern 9067 might be my solution for a more relaxed cut.

Vogue pattern 9067 predecessor to Leah Lounge Pants

Vogue Pattern 9067

Despite my qualms regarding its elasticated waist (Danger, Will Robinson!) I told myself this was a feature of many a sport-inspired trouser these days. I pressed on, with our ‘Classic capsule’ ivory stretch suiting fabric.

I don’t have many sewing disasters nowadays but these trousers certainly fit that bill, if they fitted nothing else. With a crotch at mid thigh and enough fabric to keep me ahead of the field in Cowes week, my trousers inspired a raised eyebrow and an invitation to bowls from one of my two evaluators – and a suggestion that they ‘might be a bit big’ from the more polite of the pair. In the hope that I can recut the fabric into something a little less accommodating, those pull-ons (and drop-right-off-agains) are now in my ‘rescue’ pile in the ClothSpot workroom.

Retail investigations

With the intention of trying some different styles to see where I might be going wrong, I headed off to our nearest shopping centre with Rebecca (the better-mannered of my advisory duo). There, my gaze fell upon this pair from John Lewis’s Modern Rarity collection.

Modern rarity trousers prior to leah lounge pants

‘Cross-front trousers’ by Modern Rarity at John Lewis (Tent pole not supplied)

These have a fold across the front of the stomach, constructed from the fabric of one leg; my hope was that they would hang nicely with an elegant line down the front.

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture (we were laughing too much) but suffice to say that far from hang, they just about stood up by themselves. Except, that is, for the acres of spare fabric that were collapsing under my bottom. The fabric was uncomfortably stiff and the trousers really were seriously enormous. So much so in fact, as to beg the question:

If a pair of trousers flaps its legs in a John Lewis changing room, can it really cause a tornado in Texas?

“Do you think they’re a bit big? Is my bottom actually in there?” I mused.

“Dunno” replied Rebecca, idly lifting up the front fold with the end of a coathanger. “What’s behind here?”

“Not sure. It’s all a bit mysterious down there”

“They make you look at bit…well…flat. Everywhere. Do you think they’re for someone taller?”

I pointed out that I at almost 5′ 8″ I’m well above average height. Eventually we stopped laughing; I wiped my eyes, got dressed and handed the trousers back before we were thrown out for creating a disturbance.

Over tea and cake, we figured out that in order to cope with a wider leg, my trousers needed something to hang from, other than my waist (e.g. hips, bottom). Otherwise they were always going to look ridiculous. (Is this right? Please, do tell!)

However, further investigation revealed that although my upper hips are in the same size bracket as my waist (let’s leave out my shoulders on this one), my lower hips are at least a size smaller. The challenge now was to find a pattern that could accommodate that difference.

The pattern

A number of you have been reporting lots of trouser success with Style Arc patterns. So, in search of a more relaxed, sport-luxe style of trouser to add to my nascent wardrobe, I eyed up their Leah Lounge Pants and decided to give them a go.

Leah Lounge Pants pattern by Style Arc

Leah Lounge Pants pattern by Style Arc

Working with their PDF patterns (that’s a whole other post) Style Arc helpfully send you the size you order, together with one up and one down from that size. I made a quick toile based on my selected size with no alterations – and lo! What resulted was the best-fitting first-go pair of trousers I can remember, straight off the pattern. It helps that they’re not a high-waisted design, but the crotch shape and rise were near perfect. However I still had quite a bit of excess fabric in the under-bottom area.

Toile 1 leah lounge pants

Is this what I’m reduced to – bottom shots on the internet?

There are lots of online guides on trouser fitting as detailed in last year’s post; one solution in particular according to the handy Colette guide to trouser fitting, might have been a fish-eye dart under my bottom. However before resorting to the numerous toiles that I feared that option might necessitate – I wondered if there was a more obvious solution. What if I simply graded down a size between my upper and lower hip – and flattened off just a sliver of that curve around the hip area?

This I did (thanks to the additional size downloaded) and hey presto!

Toile 2 Leah lounge pants

That’s better…

Running out of old toile fabric here (hence the ankle-swinging), but plenty to reassure that this was the way to go.

The fabric

I’ve been itching to get trousering with our triple crepe fabrics for ages – and the drape in this design seemed to call for a spot of creperie (fabric, not pancakes).

Taupe brown triple crepe fabric for Leah Lounge Pants

Draping taupe-brown triple crepe fabric

My choice of our Draping taupe-brown triple crepe might give just cause for concern to those of you who’ve been urging me to be brave on the colour front – but I reasoned that:

– I needed a neutral colour to work with black, white and ivory – and a plain fabric to cope with a (potentially) patterned top.

– I needed a dark-ish colour for practicality – I might want to go out in these – but I also want to use them for work and not have to worry about being overly careful.

– I know from experimenting in the ClothSpot workroom that this colour is a fabulous base for pinks and teal blues to ‘pop’ against – and that if I wanted to ‘go brave’ with a top then these trousers would be a great complimentary colour.

The making

This triple crepe fabric is wide at 150cm – and had I not forgotten that I only needed one of each of the two facings, (one at the front, one at the back; not difficult, Alice) then at a size 10 (and a few sizes up from there, I’d say) the length of fabric required would be dictated by the length of the trouser leg. In my case 1.2m should have done it.

The triple crepe fabric was surprisingly well-behaved. It was stable to cut and since I overlocked each garment piece right away, no fraying. Aided by the ClothSpot pressure steam iron (the kind that doesn’t have a heating element in the plate) the seams eventually pressed well – I might have had to be a bit more cautious with a regular steam iron.

A word to the wise – the Style Arc instructions are minimal. As in, they’d make a haiku verse look verbose. Fine if you’re confident – but if you’re used to Vogue Patterns’ clarity or Tilly’s pictures then a phone and a friend – or access to YouTube – are advised.

In the event I only had one hiccup – my front facing was at least an inch too small. It was cut precisely to size and although the unfaced trouser front might have bagged when being tried on, it was overlocked so should have been stable. The back facing fitted perfectly. Eventually I cut another and all seemed well.

The result

If I’m being picky then I’d say there is something funny going on with the front waistline which doesn’t quite seem to hug my tummy as it should. I can only assume that I pulled it out of shape when overlocking, hence the non-fitting front facing. Other than that though, it’s a case of ‘Hurrah!’, ‘Yippee!’ and ‘Deck the halls!’

Leah lounge pants front

Trousers!

They actually fit my bottom…

Leah Lounge Pants bottom

Bottoms up!

…and I love the way they drape and pool a little over my feet – suggesting width and excess when in fact they’re not that wide.

The wearing

My Leah Lounge Pants feel incredibly comfortable. They’re about to endure a weekend involving multiple long car journeys, lounging around (fittingly) and general wandering. If they can do that with an air of elegance as well as practicality (and I think they will) then I’m onto a winner. I will report back.

Leah lounge pants jacket

The look of relief…

The feeling

It’s very early days, but in these trousers I really feel like me. I love that they have some movement – and (whisper it) I actually feel a little bit elegant in them. I don’t feel in the least swamped – they make me feel lively and energetic – able to get on with what I need to do.

The decision

Time will tell – but I’m very hopeful that these will be keepers. If the trial weekend goes well, then versions in navy, black and even something bright might be in the offing (not that I’m going overboard or anything). I’d like to try something a bit more decisive on the style front – perhaps a wider leg, a turnup, some structured shape perhaps – but the idea that I can adapt a commercial pattern with a fairly simple adjustment is unfeasibly exciting. In fact, I’m getting quite worked up about the upcoming autumn season.

So…

…any suggestions for tops? For what it’s worth, my Leah Lounge Pants look great with my ‘Selja’ knot tee but I wouldn’t mind expanding my shirt wardrobe… Ideas for that – as well as for other autumnal trouserings – welcome as always!

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Last-minute make: ‘Aurora’ slip dress

So here’s the scenario. I’m away for the weekend with friends. Hurrah! I’m in need of something a with a little summer elegance to it and which doesn’t involve jeans or black jersey, however my Style Crisis programme hasn’t really catered for that eventuality. (Weekends away? Perish the thought…) The thing is, a fabric has just arrived that I adore, want desperately to use NOW, and which is screaming ‘summer frock’ at me. Add to that the fact that certain colleagues are on holiday this week – and we have a time crisis on our hands. And yet, and yet, that urge…

I share this dilemma over a morning cup of tea.

‘Well’, comes the helfpul response. ‘You could make the dress during the week – because your sewing machine is here – then you could take your laptop anywhere and do your blog later’.

I point out that the purpose of going away for the weekend is to experience something called a ‘break’.

‘Well yes’ comes the reply. ‘But I’m just saying, you could blog anywhere, couldn’t you? You don’t have to be here’.

And repeat. Several times.

Many of us are fortunate enough to have people like this in our lives. For reference, this one is called David. Wisely, he decides to go on for a morning run.

I mull the situation over and decide, with some maturity, that indeed yes – I WANT MY FROCK!

However I also decide that in order to justify this indulgence I should still post about it, even though it’s going to be a little bit of a rush job and (did I mention?) I’m going away.

I should say at this point that I usually indulge in taking my time over my projects where possible (mostly in order to avoid sewing sleeves on upside down). I’m firmly committed to slow fashion and I revel in the delight of a garment that has been lovingly created over many hours, if not days or weeks, even. However we all find ourselves in situations where we need a quick fix – and so please excuse this inaugural ‘Last-minute make’ post. There will be others, inevitably – but I promise not to make too much of a habit of it. Here goes.

The fabric

‘Aurora’ soft taupe and lavender printed viscose fabric Wonderfully draping and perfect for the job.

Lavender printed viscose fabric for last-minute make

The pattern

Slip Dress 09/2013 from BurdaStyle. Chosen because it had a just a bit of detail at the front, as opposed to being totally plain. Also it was cut on the cross and would (I hoped) make the most of the drape in my fabric.

BurdaStyle Slip Dress for last minute make

BurdaStyle Slip Dress 09/2013

The inevitable tricky bit

That would be the detail at the front. The dart angles are critical, as is the need to keep a really straight line over those tucks. Also, it’s cut on the cross as mentioned. I did take the time to make sure the grain was straight but it slowed me down a tad.

The result

Achieved within the day, and styled (yes indeed, styled) with a plain white tee. I have plans for a short sleeved shell top to layer under it but that will have to wait.

Last-minute make slip dress

About to dash off…

I’m well aware that the dark colour, mostly neutral colour of the fabric doesn’t confirm to my most recent Style Crisis objective but sometimes the comfort zone is just too close to resist. Ideally I would have found a pattern that had some darts too as the shape is pretty undefined. However it looks better with a defining layer on top (e.g. my leather jacket – in my opinion at least) and it moves beautifully – if I say so myself.  I promise to get back on the programme ASAP.

And finally…

Here’s our slip dress post from last year, including lots of styling and pattern suggestions and details of our Slip Dress Pinterest board, too!

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Style crisis: getting practical – a Selja Knot Tee

Selja Knot Tee knot shot

At the end of my last Style Crisis post I mentioned that I was contemplating a navy linen shirt – probably as an unconscious reaction to the doubts I had regarding the print pattern on the shirt I’d just blogged. One of our customers called me up: “Noo! Don’t make the navy shirt!” she pleaded. “Blimey” I thought. “She must really mean it. Maybe I’ll think again”. So I did – and here we are with the ‘Selja’ Knot Tee by Named Clothing.

I had two concerns here.

First – to get back on the horse as quickly as possible. I had a day without any commitments at the weekend and I wanted a quick result.

Second – I was determined to have another go at colour and pattern. That navy shirt might still be on my list but I’d been well and truly warned off retreating to my comfort zone before time.

A top to go with jeans (in the first instance at least) was still top of my list on the basis that it would get plenty of wear and immediately give my daily ‘uniform’ a lift. The priority then was practicality – plus a quick win was what I needed.

The pattern

I was brought up a ‘Vogue Patterns’ girl. In the days before YouTube I was taught to sew by my mother, my grandmother and the instructions in Vogue patterns, as well as a healthy dollop of ‘make it up and try again’. Stepping into the burgeoning world of independent pattern publishers has been like stepping into the unknown for me – but I’m inordinately excited about some of the designs out there and am steadily working my way through the different publishers. I’ve liked the look of Named Clothing’s Selja Knot Tee for some time and we’ve suggested it for a number of our single knit jersey fabrics.

Selja Knot Tee by Named Clothing

Selja Knot Tee pattern by Named Clothing

The simplicity of the cut appealed to me – as, in this instance, did the apparent simplicity of the make. Single knit jersey fabrics are perfect for playing with stretching and draping – and this design seemed to allow for just that – but without too much fuss. Fitted on the shoulders, the knot helping shape it just enough with an interesting asymmetry, but without too much fabric swinging around.

I had one concern in that on the model, the top appears to sit on the upper part of the hip which is never a good place for me.

(Is it for anyone? Really? Surely I’m not the only one who picks up the cardigans in M&S and just cannot comprehend why they cut them like that. Square, down to ribbing which sits on the top of the hips; no shaping; folding inelegantly around the midriff like a toad flattened under a stone. In my opinion.)

I just hoped that the asymmetric drape of the Selja Knot Tee pattern design would avoid any such toadiness.

The fabric

Obviously it was going to be a bit of a drag, sifting through the ClothSpot jersey collection, *rolls eyes* but happily I had snaffled an offcut of our ‘Shadow dance’ red, blue & grey floral viscose jersey fabric a few weeks ago. It still has a soft tomato red in it, but also blues to pick up my denim and lots of subtle neutrals to calm the horses. Based on my previous experience it also seemed appropriate that the print pattern was a much larger scale and more abstract in nature.

This is a particularly soft-handled viscose jersey fabric with some stretch in it – helping with the drape as well as the fit. Perhaps a little bit more ‘gentle’ than my usual work clothing but I decided to be a grown-up and give it a go.

The making

I’m a latecomer to sewing with jersey and so still getting to grips with what my machine can do. Its predecessors were unpredictable and stretch fabrics would often end up being consumed by the feed dog – however my current machine and my overlocker made sewing this fabric as easy as pie. Of course I still managed to make a mistake – I was distracted while stitching the side front seam and took it all the way down to the bottom instead of stopping level with the hemline to leave the two ties free to knot. Doh. I can now tell you with authority that unpicking a stretch stitch on relatively fine jersey doesn’t work. Shamefully, two more front pieces had to be cut and re-sewn.

Aside from that debacle, it was all plain sailing. Aside from my re-cut, the top would have easily come out of the 1.4m of fabric required – in fact I could have got away with less as this jersey is quite wide and there are only 5 pattern pieces to contend with.

Selja Knot Tee cutting layout

I used a decorative stretch stitch to sew the neckband (although that probably wasn’t my finest hour) and the only point where I (respectfully) disagreed with the pattern instructions was to overlock the inside edge of the neckband and not turn it under before top-stitching. I figured this would make for a flatter finish and indeed I think it did.

Slja Knot Tee chest shot

More practice required…

I had toyed with the idea of lengthening the sleeves to above the elbow, but decided not to. Partly because I was working with an offcut of fabric; also because it was warm and I thought I’d see how it looked once finished. I might reserve the right to fiddle in that department with a future version.

The wearing

I was pleasantly surprised at how practical this top is – and how comfortable I was wearing it. Starting at the top, for a round neckline, it sits at just the right point – not so high as to cut my neck off or make me feel throttled. It was a warm day and I didn’t feel overly hot either – the relatively light weight of this jersey helping there. I liked the sportiness of the sleeves – and the fit across my broad shoulders was just right – so for reference the sizing is pretty true-to-size, perhaps bordering on slightly generous.

The biggest relief was the fact that it sat nicely around the lower part of my hips. There was no M&S cardigan toad factor and that angled drape even managed to do something rather elegant across my middle. I was probably least enamoured with the length of the ties – they were a bit dangly for my liking but that’s just an issue of personal taste and easily remedied.

Selja Knot Tee mannequin blog

The acid test was that I went to put it on again the next morning – it did two days on the trot. It even weathered a photography session, which involves me attaching my fabric clips to the hem of whatever I’m wearing. For that reason, dresses are a pain on photography days – but tops are handy – and this one worked a treat.

I still got the inevitable knowing smirks from my colleagues – but they were tempered with (apparently) genuine noises of approval – and I even received a compliment from someone who didn’t know that it was a Style Crisis experiment. (And yes – I admit it was my mother – but it still counts – she’s not short of a direct opinion as previously noted).

The feeling

In terms of a learning experience on the style front, this top taught me lots. I’ve learned that I’m definitely more comfortable with larger, more abstract print patterns; also that my fit preferences (close on the shoulders, a bit of shape through the middle) work well for me. I will also keep an eye out for garments that work some asymmetry into the torso – since they make the most of my wider upper body and bring a sense of movement. (The side front seam in the Selja Knot Tee is a subtle design element but it definitely adds something).

I also learned that I have pushed my tolerance for drapiness just about as far as it will go. Floating sleeves, for instance – or any additional frippery on this design, would have pushed me over the edge. I like the sportiness of the upper half of the top which allows me to feel OK with the draping and knotting around the hips.

I enjoyed the punchiness of the red in among the subtler shades of blue and grey and could easily have coped with more on the colour front. Most importantly though, I felt like me. Admittedly it didn’t elevate my sense of self to ‘creative superhero’ level – or break any new ground – but it fulfilled the ‘practicality’ brief as well as teaching me a good deal too.

The decision

It’s a keeper. It might not sum up every aspect of my inner style self – but it’s easy to wear, has a bit of character and probably a bit more elegance than I am used to. I haven’t tried it with my jackets and although I’m keen to see if it works with those, I’ll definitely do a re-run in due course.

Alice in Selja Knot Tee

Oh, go on then…

However having done two tops, I am now feeling the need to cater for my bottom half. Primarily because even I can’t live in jeans forever and my pants collection isn’t really worth of display. Also, though, because my making is beginning to feel a little piecemeal and I’d like to try coming up with a whole outfit. It might just be a dress – or it might be time for summer trousers. Or both!

Do let me know what you think – as I discovered last week when I was redirected from that navy linen shirt – opinions and guidance are not only appreciated, but apparently, necessary…

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Style crisis: You say ‘tomato’, I say ‘shirt’

Tomato shirt topper

In an ideal world, this is the post where I would swan into shot on my newly-minted vlog (Ha! Don’t hold your breath…) sashaying elegantly to a tall stool. There, poised and articulate I would announce myself transformed; an accurate representation of my stylish inner self, only slightly distracted by the sound of my alarm clock going off…

Nope – not happening. No surprise that the reality is a little more prosaic. I have dipped my toe into the waters of my new personal style adventure and come up with – a shirt! Now – hold onto your hairpieces there, people – I know it’s not the most inventive of directions but the aim here at least in part, was for me to understand a bit more about me and my style. I’m sure I won’t be challenging Stella McCartney any time soon – and frankly you could probably drape me head-to-foot in Dior and it wouldn’t stop me behaving like a Duracell bunny with an inappropriate sense of humour.

A shirt was the first thing on my list – something cool (in the practical, rather than stylish sense – let’s be realistic) to wear with jeans in the summer. Not only did I make it – but I road-tested it for the day, too. Here’s how it went.

The pattern

Tried and tested, all over the Internet – Vogue Pattern 8772. Minimal agonising here – I had it to hand, knew it just needed a small bust adjustment (SBA) and I liked the idea of a no-sleeves, tunic length version.

Vogue Pattern 8772

Vogue Pattern 8772

Plus, it has a little bit of dart-shaping – enough to give it a bit of shape but not so much as to be too fitted. So off we went, with View E; sleeveless, tunic-length, proper collar, no bow.

The fabric

I’ve had my eye on our Coral-floral printed purple cotton lawn fabric for some time. It first arrived last summer and the colours cheered me up right the way through a long, dark winter, glowing in the cotton store. I wanted to try a cotton lawn for the shirt – and was already inclined towards it for this project when comments on my last Style Crisis post suggested purples and tomato-reds as being colours which might work well with my colouring.

I needed no further encouragement. Stepping away from black and grey was a definite goal for this project and not only does this fabric feature a background of purple and a print pattern of tomato reds – upon closer inspection those red berries almost looked like little tomatoes. Or pomegranates, perhaps? Rosehips? Who knows – tomato-ey enough for a decision to be made.

The making

I think this has to be the cheeriest make I remember. I knew that something was different when I realised that my black/grey/navy/white overlocker threads weren’t going to do the trick – and rummaging in my thread box I found a set of red ones. Red – I ask you! Unheard of hereabouts.

Tomato shirt overlocking

Cheery red overlocking!

Overlocking pattern pieces prior to construction is one of my pleasures in life – it makes me feel in control, organised and tidy. Not a feeling that ever lasts long in my experience – but it served to launch me into my Happy Place with a smile on my face. And in fact, that smile stayed put throughout.

Having shortened the back length by 1.5cm and reduced the bust darts down a size, I risked going without a toile having made the pattern up once before as a sample and knowing it was fairly true-to-size. For once my judgement was fairly accurate; a quick try-on after the main pattern pieces were assembled was reassurance enough on that front.

Rather than hope for an entire day to make my shirt (another entry in my ‘favourite dreams’ catalogue) I spent a happy wet Sunday afternoon followed by a few hours here and there later in the week. I’m a great subscriber to Lladybird’s belief that ‘little and often’ is the key to getting a sewing project done and although I do need a fair run at a project to get it going, I’m fine picking it up in shorter sessions thereafter. (Just in case anyone was wondering, running ClothSpot doesn’t magically conjure up lots of sewing time – quite the opposite.)

Happily however there were no disasters to report. (Something to do with no sleeves to sew on back-to-front, I imagine.) Top-stitching the collar reminded me that I really do need to do more practicing – one collar point requiring a couple of re-runs. My only pattern gripe was with the sleeve binding method. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue with patterns instructing me to create binding using the main fabric and sew my binding strips in a circle prior to attaching to the armhole. In my experience, the binding strips always, always end up too large, necessitating much unpicking and re-sewing. Any suggestions as to why would be greatly appreciated.

The fabric however was a dream to work with. Stable and well-behaved, it kept its structure throughout (even while unpicking and restitching the aforementioned collar point) and pressed up a dream. My machine (a Janome Atelier 3 which I still think of as ‘excitingly new’ nearly two years on) created 10 perfect buttonholes with ease (oh, joy!) and we were away.

Tomato collar close up

Loving a proper shirt collar

The wearing

This is where it all gets a little weird. I happily went to it on the Monday morning with my (increasingly dishevelled) jeans and my brand new orange clog sandals. Orange is a new shoe colour for me (as I suspect it would be for most) but I felt an infectious jolliness from my shirtmaking when I ordered them with my birthday money. On went the shirt and off I nipped to the local shop to pick up milk and ClothSpot’s traditional Monday lunchtime soup. Walking into the shop, a polite chap stood back from the door to let me through and smiled. Not in a dodgy way – just a cheery smile. Then at the checkout the store assistant commented on my scent and told me all about the perfume her husband had recently bought her. Definitely not the kind of reaction I usually expect – not that people aren’t friendly  round here – quite the opposite. It just seemed…different. My ClothSpot colleagues were enthusiastic (although one of them should know that I caught that look of amused scepticism that she flashed around the workroom).

Alice in tomato shirt

The big reveal. (Ignore the hair. Apparently I did…)

It all went a bit downhill when we had a rescheduled visit from a supplier in the afternoon. My usual habit is to make a selection of fabrics then play with then on the floor so I can decide what works and how. The clogs came off as their wooden soles wouldn’t flex as I squatted on my knees. I then discovered I’d over-cut a buttonhole on my midriff which annoyingly refused to hold onto its button. Finally, kneeling on the floor for half an hour rendered my holey jeans even more so. As a work outfit then, this clearly wasn’t the ‘killer app’ I’d hoped for

The feeling

In my last Style Crisis post I listed all the ways I’d like my new wardrobe might make me feel more like me. There are some feelings I was searching for that my red and purple shirt delivered on; I did indeed feel ‘fresh’, ‘lively’ and ‘energised’. Partly to do with the colours; also the sleevelessness of the shirt worked for me on a hot day. I was cheery and jolly – and, apparently, so was everyone else around me. I’m suspect they weren’t responding to my shirt; is it actually possible they were reacting to the liveliness and good humour that I was projecting, partly as a result of wearing vibrant, happier colours? The jury is still out…

I’m less certain that this is a garment that made me feel ‘inspired’ or ‘connected’ however – and I’m pretty certain that it doesn’t fit my definition of ‘sophistication’, ‘elegance’ or a number of other criteria that I’d set for it. And as it turned out, my outfit as a whole wasn’t particularly practical either – certainly not for the job in hand that afternoon.

The colours I loved, actually. It was just that I had a sense that the scale and style of the print pattern were perhaps less ‘me’. I’m not so used to wearing such a small-scale, delicate print – and just maybe I should have warned myself off wearing actual tomatoes, as opposed to the colour. In addition I think that a longer tunic shape might have worked better in a less crisp, more flowing fabric. So – I might well have another go at the pattern – but possibly with a more draping fabric in a simpler design.

The decision

Keep or give away? Well – it’s hard to contemplate abandoning so quickly a garment that I enjoyed making and which in part, I enjoyed wearing. I’m going to hang on to it for the summer to see if it’s the kind of thing I might like wearing on a holiday road trip or to the seaside. I think it might cheer any of those – but if it doesn’t get that opportunity, even during summer weather like this, then realistically it’s not the style for me.

Opinions are welcome as as ever! Meanwhile a new shirt pattern has just arrived from France and I’m eyeing up our ‘Café Bleu’ rippling navy blue Irish linen fabric

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Style crisis – time to get personal

Style crisis couch - getting personal

Hard at work, analysing my style crisis

A favourite pastime of certain acquaintances is to see how quickly they can prod me into an agitated diatribe on a contentious issue. I’ll know precisely what they’re doing – even that I’m probably being timed – yet eventually the red mist will descend. Moments later I’m surrounded by folded arms and smug grins – with realisation finally dawning that I’ve fallen off the deep end into a well-laid trap. Again. Add to that the fact that my entrance into a room at home is frequently heralded by the theme from Jaws (I mean, really) and you’ll understand why I was so gratified (taken aback, even) at an email response to the full wardrobe disclosure in my last post.

Alice, you have such a sunny personality and you’d never guess that from your clothes!

When I’d finished basking in the warm glow (how lovely was that?) I took another look at the pictures I’d posted. True enough – the black, navy blue and grey on display there was pretty overwhelming and not at all how I feel about myself. Although I’m not sure that even wafting around in a fascinator, butterfly bra and a tulle skirt would silence my provocateurs (once they’d picked themselves up off the floor), I’m convinced I can do better at projecting the real me. As the next stage in resolving my style crisis then – it’s time to get personal.

How do I really feel about what I wear?

Time to get personal – analysing my style

Before I lean back on the style analysis couch, I should say that what follows started off as a vague list of questions I thought I should ask myself. In an attempt to add some structure and detail I remembered the Wardrobe Architect by  Colette Patterns – which in turn references online resources such as the Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees. They provide a far more rigorous (and I think, very useful) framework for analysing your personal style. I’m never one for re-inventing a perfectly good wheel and would recommend dropping in on those sites. What follows here are my responses to questions posed there – as well as the odd preoccupation of my own.

Facing up to my wardrobe reality

I am forced to confess that until I saw all my clothes together (or at least a representative selection of them) as well as pictures of me in (or with) my clothes – I would not have been able to answer these questions. If you want to confront the harsh reality of your own style crisis, that you might want to do the same. I’m not of the generation or inclination to have a personal selfie history on Instagram or Facebook – but if you are, then it might not be a bad idea to review it.

How do I feel about my clothes?

How do I feel about how I look now?

Frankly, shocked at how dark, shabby and plain tired my clothes make me feel. I just hadn’t realised. My everyday clothes seem very utilitarian in a baggy sort of way – with the odd bolt of colour looking out of place, as if it’s trying too hard. I feel like a roadie, lurking to the side of a stage of a gig in a dark black-painted pub, waiting for the lights to come on so I can start packing the gear up. There’s spilt beer on the soles of my trainers making them stick to the floor; the dry ice is making me sneeze and I’ve run out of tissues. It’s hardly a style statement.

How do I want to feel when I get dressed?

I want to feel energised; fresh, lively and as sparky as I feel (most mornings at least). I want to feel as if I’m in touch with the wider world – and I want to feel inspired by what I’m wearing but not dominated by it. I’d like to feel a little bit sophisticated and grown up – but with a bit of rebellion and practicality thrown in there too. I want to feel comfortable and ready for action but sharp and (at least a little bit) well-groomed. Would graceful and elegant be to much to ask for in the middle of all that?

How do I not want to feel when I get dressed?

I don’t want to feel stiff or formal – and I don’t want to feel ‘dressed up’. I don’t want to feel girly, posed, traditional or staid.  On the other hand I don’t want to feel like a rock chick, an extra from Sesame Street or someone who’s trying too hard to match or contrast all their clothes. I don’t want to feel as if I’m decked out in this week’s fashion fad – but neither do I want to feel out of touch and dated.

What silhouettes do I love and hate?

I know that my body shape tends more towards the athletic (although that might be pushing it as a description) than hourglass or pear. I have broad shoulders, a high (but not well-defined) waist, narrow hips and long limbs. In general I’d prefer ‘tomboy’ or ‘geek’ to ‘Marilyn’ or ‘Stepford Wife’ any day of the week. Frills, flounces and general frivolity are not my bag; I prefer long, simple lines. Similarly I prefer angles and clean shapes to drapery although I do like my clothes to move and hang nicely. I love the style of sleek late-mid-century tailoring but recognise the impracticality of wearing it.

Necklines – boat-shaped or V-shaped. I prefer higher necklines to have collar stands; I like jacket fronts to be cut deep. Round or scooped necklines don’t work so well.

Getting personal - good t-shirt

A good T-shirt shape for me – fitted around the shoulders, cutting in from a wide neckline to a semi-fitted waistline

Tops – better when semi-fitted or fitted – bagginess or volume gathering into the shoulders tends to make me feel like a 1960s maternity advertisement or an American football player. A little bit of shape or fit helps.

Getting personal - bad t-shirt

A bad T-shirt for me – no shape, round-necked and baggy from the shoulders

Sleeves – I’m small-busted and strong-shouldered so cap sleeves don’t really work for me as they give the impression that a garment is too small. Halternecks and even sleeveless shell tops (I think) are fine – but a short, baggy sleeve is not. Fitted sleeves ending just above the elbow are good – 3/4 or bracelet sleeves make me look like an orang-utang who has outgrown its clothes. I usually add a few inches onto full-length sleeves in patterns to make them fit properly. Frilly and fluted sleeves make me feel daft. Experience tells me I usually manage to trail them in food, ink or worse.

Time to get personal - bad frills

My idea of a frilly, short-sleeved, crop-topped nightmare.

Waistline – Empire line dresses work for me – as does a longer line or perhaps a bit of shape cut into a tunic, dress or jacket. Gathering into the waist – are you joking? Belted volume and cropped tops makes me look (and feel) like a toffee apple.

Getting personal - bad skirt

Might make me cry

Legs and length – my legs are relatively long and I like shorter dresses, tunics and short skirts – happily these also tend to lengthen my relatively short torso. However the widest part of my calves is not much less than my thigh (which tells you more about my calves than my thighs) and my size 8 feet are attached to strong and serviceable ankles. Anything that stops mid-calf on me is never going to work – whatever this season’s trend for longer dresses might be according to Vogue.

Time to get personal - bad dress

Probably cause for a tantrum

Shape and volume – shapelessness around the shoulders or chest really doesn’t work as I have a broad shoulders and chest so without some fittedness there it’s easy to give the impression I don’t have any shape at all. Longer tunic lines and anything that lengthens my torso are generally Good Things. Garments look better if then terminate or fit further down my hips than on or above them. Volume at longer lengths is fine as it balances out my shoulders (and I don’t mind a bit of drama).

Getting personal - good skirt

Now we’re talking skirts…

Colour – what’s not to like?

It occurs to me that any non-neutral clothing items I have seem to be ‘statement’ pieces from a colour perspective. They work (if you can call it that) against black or denim – but I don’t have many (any?) non-neutral-coloured items of clothing which work with other garments which are also colours. I adore colour – working with it is one of the many things I love about ClothSpot. So why can’t I incorporate it into my wardrobe?

I know enough about colour to know that I tend to suit typically ‘autumn’ shades – but that I can also wear some brights and even some pastels. Bottle green and dusky pink make me look as if I have food poisoning. Rich petrol or teal blue cheers me up no end and the right shade of cream can make me feel quite elegant.

I like the idea of strong neutrals such as (the right) navy blue, dark brown, charcoal and even black. However I expunged most brown from my wardrobe a few years ago as it made me feel very ‘samey’ from top to toe and I can now see the danger of my over-using any colour of this type.

What am I frightened of?

I have many fears when it comes to colour. These include (but are not limited to) the following:

– If I take the plunge with a garment in a decisive colour then it might not work with anything else I have;
– With limited time or money to spend on lots of different garments (especially having weeded my wardrobe so ruthlessly) anything new has to work with as many other things as possible;
– It might make me look too old;
– It might make me look too young;
– If I wear too much colour then the overall effect will either be too matchy-matchy. I don’t want to look as if I’ve fallen in a vat of dye;
– If I wear too much colour then the overall effect will be too scattergun. I don’t want to look as if I’m presenting an episode of Rainbow or Play Away.

Style crisis - time to get personal

Worried I might Bungle my colour choices…

So – nothing much to worry about there, then.

Pattern

I am happy with the idea of abstract patterns in any scale – as you can tell from my blue and gold shirt that looks as if it was thrown up over on a heavy night out.

Style crisis - getting personal - Patterned shirt

Apparently quite comfortable about wearing all my favourite colours at once. Not scary at all…

I can just about cope with more abstract or digital florals on a small or medium scale. However I don’t do animals or objects. Flamingos, buttons, monkeys, giraffes in balloons and what have you – not for me.

My next job…

…is to translate all this personal baggage into something coherent in terms of actual clothes. The weather has warmed up and I am getting desperate. In an ideal world I would construct a detailed plan that resulted in the perfect capsule wardrobe. I’d have it made by the middle of June and the summer would be my lobster. However the more I’ve thought about that, the less likely I think it is to happen – if I wait any longer before leaping into action, it’ll be October before I knock out a single T-shirt.

Based on my analysis, I think I’m quite confident about my preferences in terms of garment style and shape – however I need to be more decisive  in terms of colour.

I think a practical approach would be to queue up a couple of garments that seem to reflect those preferences and begin to challenge my colour fears. Low-investment garments (in terms of time as well as expense) that will bear re-making in different fabrics if they work. My hit list includes:

– A cool shirt that I know will work with jeans

– A skirt that’s easy to fit

– A top that will go with the skirt

– A dress that will give me an instant outfit

– A pair of summer trousers (non-jeans)

That’s my plan. Any other suggestions? Are there other considerations I need to take into account? What would you start with? Advice and suggestions welcome as always!

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Quick fabric cutting tip: get a lot from a little!

We thought we’d share a quick fabric cutting tip that we often find ourselves recommending to customers. We’ll begin by apologising to those of you who are old hands at making the most of your remnants when it comes to fabric cutting. (You know who you are!) However we get lots of calls from customers who want to know how much fabric they need for a pattern, particularly when a fabric is an unusual width – or when we’ve posted an oddly-shaped remnant on the website!

Most patterns will give fabric cutting layouts for fabrics that are 115cm wide (aka 45″) – and again for 150cm widths (that’s 60″ in old money). What happens though, if there’s a mis-shapen (but potentially useful) remnant on offer? Or if the fabric you want to use is an odd width, such as 140cm? You’ll often find that linen and viscose fabrics in particular lie between the standard widths – and obviously the pattern publishers can’t cater for every eventuality.

You could of course use the amount given for a 115cm fabric – however if you do, then you’re probably going to have lots left over – and unless you’ve a use for that surplus, then that’s money you could have spent on something else (shoes, bags, more fabric – take your pick…)

We’re always very happy to advise on a project whenever we can, but when it comes to pattern cutting, even if we have the pattern in question and can see the recommended layout, there’s not a lot we can do to help. Absolutely, we know that if you can squeeze a sleeve alongside a bodice piece then that might be half a metre saved at least. However layouts can change between sizes – and never underestimate the width of a sleeve head. Before you know it, a couple of centimetres in a fabric width has become the difference between triumph and disaster.

However we’re just as keen as you are to get maximum monetary value from your sewing. That’s why we usually recommend that you get yourself a roll of sticky tape and a newspaper – in true Blue Peter Style.

Cut and stick your newspaper until you have a length that’s the width of your folded fabric and then use this as a template to represent your length of fabric. Lay out your pattern pieces to try out different fabric cutting layouts.

Fabric cutting tip

Here’s one we made earlier…

For a start  you might want to stick to the approximate layout recommended by your pattern, but as you become more expert, you can get quite cunning. However we should sound a couple of notes of caution…

DO make sure that you take note of pattern and nap directions as you position your pieces – your newspaper print might not be important but the print on your fabric might be!

DO be accurate in measuring to make sure your pieces line up with your newspaper ‘selvedge’ too – that’ll affect the angle of your pattern pieces and how they’ll fit.

It won’t take long – just 10 or 15 minutes. If you like, email or call us first and we’ll be happy to reserve your fabric while you do your calculations. Don’t forget – we’re always able to cut to any length if you place your order by telephone or email.

Do you have any other clever tricks for saving fabric or for fabric cutting? Let us know if so!

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Jersey top, three ways

Frosty morning for jersey top blog

The ground outside is hard; every morning this week has seen a pale sun rise through icy fog, gradually revealing a frosty landscape. We’re trying hard to envision our spring wardrobes but it’s not easy in freezing weather when the stove in the ClothSpot workroom has yet to take the edge off the chill. Probably a bit late to be thinking of making a winter coat and our bank balances are yet to recover from Christmas – but we need warmth! All of which explains why jersey fabrics have been flying out of ClothSpot over the last few weeks. Inexpensive, quick results, practical and stylish too – what’s not to like? However with those purchases have come myriad questions – either from novice sewers or those wanting to know a little more about specific fabrics. With that in mind we thought this might be a time to make a jersey top (or three) to demonstrate the qualities of three different types of jersey fabric as well as to offer a few tips for working with knit fabrics. And so – with apologies to MasterChef – we have ‘Jersey Top – Three Ways’.

We embarked upon our jersey top exploration with the Cowl Neck Top/Dress pattern from Sew Over It.

Cowl Neck jersey top pattern

Cowl Neck Dress & Top by Sew Over It

It’s a simple, classically-styled starting point for sewing jersey fabrics, with Sew Over It’s usual clear instructions. Only three pattern pieces – it really is a design that you can take from download (we used the PDF version) to finished garment in an afternoon.

Cowl neck jersey top layout

Laying out our Cowl Neck top pattern pieces

Version 1 – ponte Roma jersey

Its sister design the Heather Dress is currently popular – as demonstrated with elegance by HandMade Jane on her blog earlier this month. Like our first iteration of the Cowl Neck top, Jane used our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric – a fabric which has had great feedback – it washes, presses and wears well and we found it very easy to work with (no, really!!)

Ponte Roma jersey fabric is an example of  a ‘doubleknit’ jersey. Constructed by interlocking two layers of fabric together, ponte Roma jersey fabrics come in a variety of thicknesses; some are very soft and flowing; others are much more structured. They’re great for layering as well as for stand-alone garments. They usually combine yarns of polyester and viscose, with a small percentage of spandex. They wash well and tend to be fairly crease-resistant. Our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric is a versatile version of this type of doubleknit, offering a soft handle and sitting somewhere in the middle of the ‘drape v. structure’ spectrum. (We always describe our ponte Roma jersey fabrics individually so it’s worth checking to see what we have to say about specific quality and potential uses). Generally, we’d say that a ponte Roma jersey fabric is better at holding the shape of a garment in comparison to a single-knit jersey fabric which will drape more. It will tend to have more body and although it can be ruched, draped and gathered, it often works better with simpler, more structured designs.

Here’s our version of the Cowl Neck top using our Navy blue ponte Roma fabric.

Navy blue ponte roma jersey top

Cowl Neck top using ponte Roma jersey fabric

We cut a Size 12 since previous outings with Sew Over It patterns have worked for us in that size. Our mannequin is roughly the same size. Interestingly the Dress version of this pattern has a different cutting line for the side seam, introducing a shaped curve into the waistline. We think that this line would have worked well for our Cowl Neck top too – although it’s worth noting that the fabric suggestions for the pattern suggest a lighter-weight jersey for the top version. We love the elegant drape of the neckline…

Navy blue ponte roma jersey top

Draped neckline using ponte Roma jersey fabric

…but we may yet re-seam the sides as we think a little shaping might be preferable. The appeal of this pattern is that it doesn’t have any darts or fastenings – so it’s a great starting point for working with jersey fabrics. However more experienced sewers might miss some of the structure those elements bring. We’ve belted our top here just to give you an idea of how it might look if more fitted.

Navy blue ponte roma jersey top

Our Cowl Neck top with a narrow belt

Version 2 – single-knit stretch jersey

To demonstrate how different jersey fabrics behave when made up, our next jersey top outing with the same pattern was with our ‘Bright garlands’ purple & pink floral jersey fabric. This is a single-knit jersey fabric, a viscose knit with 6% spandex which gives it some added stretch and a little more weight. As viscose jersey fabrics go, it’s a medium weight example with just a touch more stretch than some. We cut this exactly the same as the ponte Roma version. Despite this, we felt the resulting garment was too big…

Single knit jersey top

Cowl Neck top using a single knit stretch jersey

…although it draped beautifully at the neck as you can see here.

Single knit jersey top

Draped neckline using a single knit jersey

The sizing at the shoulders especially however, was just too big. We think this is probably because of the added stretch in the fabric – and the absence of the structure you’d find in a doubleknit. As such it’s a really useful illustration of making the right fabric choices. For our money, we’d have sized down using this fabric for this design, making more use of the stretch to help with the fitting. In addition, if using this fabric again, we’d probably use a pattern with more in the way of gathering and ruching that used the stretch in the fabric to create shape. This isn’t any reflection on the pattern itself – it’s simply an illustration of how important it is to match the right fabric to design.

Jersey top 3 – cotton jersey

Our final jersey top was one we made last autumn but didn’t have time to share. Since then it’s been worn, washed, worn and washed countless times. We used our Richest marsala wine stretch cotton jersey fabric…

…which sadly has sold out *again* (but we hope to have more – and there’s a black colourway arriving shortly!). This cotton jersey isn’t your usual t-shirt fabric. It’s been manufactured using mercerised cotton yarn – cotton that’s been treated to increase the take-up of dye and lend a smooth, almost silky finish to the fabric.

To make up this fabric we used BurdaStyle’s Knotted Keyhole Top pattern…

BurdaStyle Knotted Keyhole jersey top pattern

BurdaStyle Knotted Keyhole Top 02/2014 #130B

…and here’s our version.

BurdaStyle cotton jersey top

Our version of the BurdaStyle jersey top using cotton jersey fabric

We love the ruched and gathered keyhole neckline on this pattern; also the fact that the fit uses the just a little of the natural stretch of the fabric to create a lovely shape. As usual the instructions on the BurdaStyle fabric were just a tad enigmatic (that’s an understatement…) but we got there in the end.

We did have to re-shape the neckline as the original pattern cut just didn’t fit – the top of the keyhole seemed far too high to pull down the scarf shape to create those ruches, whilst the bottom of it revealed far more of our underwear than we were prepared for. We’re honestly not sure if that’s down to ‘broad shoulders and not a lot in the bust department’ at our end – or the pattern – but be prepared. Certainly the version in the BurdaStyle image shows the scarf element sewn into the front of the neckline which isn’t clear in the instructions. However our fiddling around was worth it in the end to achieve our version of the neckline – which we love, whether or not it’s as intended.

BurdaStyle cotton jersey top

Ruched keyhole neckline using cotton jersey

Stitching & finishing jersey fabric

The main thing to bear in mind about sewing jersey fabric is that it stretches – so your stitching needs to stretch with the fabric. If it doesn’t, then your thread will snap when your garment stretches along a seamline – and you’ll end up with holes in your seam. But don’t worry!! All you need to do is make sure that you use a stitch that has some give in it. You don’t need a special machine to do that. Most sewing machines will have a stitch that is intended for stretch fabric – just check your instruction manual. If all else fails, just use a shallow zig-zag stitch.

Similarly, you only need a zig-zag stitch to finish your seams too. Yes – if you have an overlocker then that can bring a professional finish to your garment but you can make a perfectly lovely jersey top or dress without one – so don’t be put off. Lots of our customers have discovered how easy it is to sew with jersey in the last few years and most don’t have an overlocker.

The other main tip we’d have is to use a fine gauge of needle (a 10/11 or 70/75 diamater) with a ball point – also helpfully known as a ‘jersey needle’. The ball point will make sure that the needle goes through your fabric without creating any pulls.

You’ll find lots more about sewing with jersey on the internet – Here’s some fabulous guidance at Seamwork which we can’t better, so rather than repeat it here, we’ll just suggest you take a look.

Hemming jersey fabric

Hemming your jersey fabric is another process that you can do perfectly well with your regular sewing machine. Again, the trick is to use a stitch that has some give in it, so that it allows your garment to stretch at the hem, cuffs and neckline for instance. A decorative or zig-zag stitch can do the trick perfectly well – or you can use a twin needle, which will fit in most sewing machines.

Twin needles for jersey top

Twin needles for finishing jersey garments

Twin needles come in different widths and will give you the characteristic double line of stitching that you find on lots of jersey garments. It’s a classic finish and using a twin needle will mean that you don’t have to go out and buy a ‘coverstitch’ machine – yet another specialist piece of kit that doesn’t come cheap. Of course if you sew lots of jersey then that might be the way to go but we think for occasional use, a twin needle is just fine.

However we had a bit of a problem with our twin needle in that our threads kept fraying, snapping and tangling. Aaagh! Our machine is a Janome Atelier 3 which we’ve had for 18 months – we simply adore it and nothing we’ve thrown at it has been in the least problematic – until the twin needle. So to the internet we turned – and found an excellent blog by Moonthirty on just that issue in which she suggests:

– Reducing the foot pressure

– Turning round one thread reel so it unwinds in the opposite direction

– Slowing down

There’s more too – take a look – but we tried these three tips – and guess what – not a single skipped stitch! What really worked was the slowing down. And we mean SLOWING DOWN. Your blogger grew up with her grandmother’s treadle Singer in the cupboard under the stairs (Harry Potter eat your heart out). That cast iron treadle would go so fast that the whole house would shake with the vibrations – and the same approach has been taken with most machines since, sad to say. On this occasion the speed control of the Janome was set to absolute minimum – and yes – it was a bit like watching paint dry. But it worked.

Finally…

The message is – have a go! Sewing with jersey is surprisingly easy. Yes, there are a few learning points – but that’s all part of the fun of creating your own wardrobe in your own style.

Fabric choice is important – not all jersey fabrics are made the same – the trick is to find the right pattern and fabric for the look you want.

We’ll be putting together our patterns, fabrics and tips in a Pinterest board and we’ll let you know when that’s up and running. Meanwhile don’t be afraid to ask if you have questions – and do let us know how you get on!

 

 

 

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Static charge!

We’ve just had a query from a customer battling the curse of static with a blouse fabric. As we were advising her about how to overcome that most infuriating of problems, it occurred to us that we might share our response since it’s a common issue, especially with finer fabrics that don’t have the weight to resist static cling.

Any fabric can suffer from static cling – but the finer the fabric, the worse it can be – since a lighter-weight fabric simply won’t have the heft to resist the static charge. Natural fibres (cotton, wool, silk) are less likely to suffer from it but they’re not immune – whereas fabrics made from non-natural fibres can suffer more.  We know from infuriated experience that static can be an issue when you’re working with a fabric as well as when you’re wearing it.

There’s nothing intrinsic to any fabric beyond its composition and weight that will make it more or less susceptible to static. It’s simply the case that if a fabric rubs against certain surfaces, including other fabrics, then static electricity will be generated. The drier the fabric and the environment, the more static there’ll be. It’s all to do with atoms attempting to balance out their electrons as materials become electrically charged through friction – if you want to know more, click here – see you in a while!

The problem gets worse as the weather gets colder at this time of year. Why? Because we all turn on our stoves and central heating – and the air tends to become quite dry inside the house. Your working environment will probably exacerbate the problem. Judging by 90% of all photos of sewing spaces we’ve seen (including ours!), you’re quite likely to be using an electric, plastic-shelled sewing machine perched on a white-laminated Ikea worktop – the perfect dry, electrically-charged, static-generating environment.

But don’t despair! There’s no need to throw your machine at the window, take an axe to your worktop or stick pins in any family member who dares to approach you as you struggle with an annoyingly-clingy piece of fabric. There are a number of things you can do to resolve the situation.

– First – pre-wash your fabric where appropriate (see our Fabric preparation and care pages for details) since detergents and fabric conditioners do help reduce static.

– We don’t use tumble-driers here – but if you do, then don’t over-dry your fabric as that will increase its capacity for static.

– Still suffering?  If you dampen your hands then lightly dry them and stroke the pattern pieces then that will help by intruducing a tiny amount of moisture.

– Alternatively you could spray a fine mist of water into the air then waft your pattern pieces through the mist . (Don’t spray directly onto your pattern pieces as you don’t want to risk water marks, depending on your fabric.)

– When we’re working with finer fabrics, we tend to lay the pieces on tissue paper rather than on the top of a laminated table top (if that’s what you’re working on) since laminates tend to make static worse.

– Use a fabric conditioner sheet to gently stroke each of the cut pieces – that’s a quick and easy solution if you have some to hand. We keep a stock in the workroom for that purpose.

– As a last resort, you can purchase anti-static spray – but only if all else fails. It’s not expensive – but do run a test on a spare piece of fabric first.

– When you’re wearing a garment, the above measures will all work – but also wearing a small amount of well-absorbed moisturiser on the skin will help too, as it works to reduce dryness in the immediate environment of your garment.

We know there are lots of other tips out there – including (apparently) running a garment over the bar of a metal coathanger  – but we’ve not tried it. We’d love to hear your solutions so please let us know!

About our winter wool tunic

Winter wool tunic blogAfter a glorious, glowing autumn to date, there’s a definite change in the air today. Leaves are flying from the tree outside and flailing into the ClothSpot window with an insistent north-easterly behind them. Our idea of a warm, lined winter wool tunic seemed a little premature just a few days ago in the face of blue skies and warm sunshine. Now we can’t wait to grab it off the mannequin and wear it.

Choosing our wool tunic pattern

Having researched and found a wealth of pattern possibilities for our ‘When is a tunic a tunic’ blog post, we had quite a dither over our pattern choice. In the end we went with Vogue Pattern 9048, opting to go with both the collar and sleeves from the perspective of style and warmth, respectively.

Vogue pattern 9048 for winter wool tunic

Vogue Pattern 9048

We also thought the lining would be a practical choice since the ClothSpot workroom can be a tad parky first thing in the morning while the stove fires up. We assumed that since it had a zipped fastening, it would have some degree of fitting, even though the design clearly wasn’t a closely-fitted one. Since we were using a wool and a lining, we didn’t want a pull-on design as we were concerned that our fabric didn’t have quite enough drape to carry off that kind of design with elegance.

Fabric selections

We decided to go with our ‘Saltmarsh’ grey and gold wool twill fabric for the main body of our fabric. However partly to provide some contrast as well as to minimise the amount of wool that we used (can’t go using up all the stock at once…) we went for our ‘Capsule classic’ charcoal stretch suiting fabric for the collar and sleeves.

Fabric choices for winter wool tunic

‘Saltmarsh’ wool twill with our charcoal stretch suiting fabric

We love the drape of this British-produced, 100% wool fabric – and we’re also just a little bit in love with the green-gold yarn mixed in with the more sober grey and chestnut colours. It works with other fabrics on the basis of the individual colours as well as the overall appearance of the fabric. On the lining front, we decided that a stretch satin lining would be both comfortable to wear, but would also have just a little give in it. This, we thought, would be a good response to the stretch in the sleeves as well as the natural ease in our wool twill fabric. Once we’d seen our Dark olive stretch satin fabric with the wool, it seemed silly to consider anything else. So we didn’t.

Fabric and lining choice for winter wool tunic

‘Saltmarsh’ wool twill with our Dark olive stretch satin fabric

Making our winter wool tunic

We can’t count the number of times we’ve embarked on a ClothSpot make with the intention that it’ll be quick and easy – and done in no time. Then of course real life takes over – with distractions, unpickings and the need to take time over the fiddly bits… Our wool tunic was no exception and although cutting out was a relatively quick process, the rot set in as we had  to go back and cut another piece of the bottom part of the tunic having omitted to notice the ‘Cut 2‘ instruction. Hmm.

On the up side, the fabrics were all stable to lay out and cut; the spandex in the lining providing that satin with some additional body. We tend to be a little old-school here – pins and shears are our tools of choice. Although we know that weights can make things quicker, we’re not full-time makers and we like the time to think and check that comes with taking time to pin our pattern pieces. The same with marking up – it’s tailor’s tacks most of the way for us. We do like using coloured chalk paper and a tracing wheel for darts and some lines – but you should know that as with lots of more textured fabrics, the chalk doesn’t ‘take’ so well on this wool and you’ll definitely need a needle and basting thread to mark up.

It’s been a while since we sewed up a Vogue pattern. We usually assume we’re in good hands with their instructions so we tend to try and resist the temptation to follow our noses while putting one of their designs together. This was one occasion when we might have diverted without causing any difficulty. The zip instructions were a little opaque – not because the method was strange (basically, sew up the seam and place the zip on the seam line, just like you might have been taught at school) but the wording made a bit of a meal of it.

The only thing approaching a hitch came about as a result of our decision to go with both the collared neckline and sleeves. Our logical brain expected instructions with an ‘if adding a collar, do this, if not, then do that’ element to it – but no. Each of the two views (one with collar no sleeves, the other vice versa) has its own specific set of instructions and you’ll have to watch that you don’t take a step too far and sew up your sleeves (and even clip the seams – doh!) before realising that you overshot and should have skipped to the instructions for View B…

Winter wool tunic

Our completed wool tunic

We liked the simple styling of the design – and we think it’s one which benefits from time taken to press and hand finish. As far as sizing is concerned, our measurements spanned two sizes. Ideally we’d have done a toile but there isn’t always time. Based on the fact that the waist measurement was the one that would have taken us up a size, and that this isn’t a closely-fitted design on the waist, we opted to come down a size in order to obtain a good fit on the shoulders and hips. That was the right decision as it turned out – it left just enough ease for the lining and a nice sense of movement without being swamped by what could have been an overly boxy shape.

What we liked most

The collar on our winter wool tunic is a deceptively simple design. Straight-edged, the temptation is to try and press it into a fold once fitted. Don’t! Just let it fold over and that’ll give you a lovely angled line from the centre front up along the side of the neck and down again at the back.

Winter wool tunic collar front

Tunic collar at the front

Winter wool tunic collar back

Back view of the collar

Furthermore, clever understitching on the outside edge means that the undercollar is pulled underneath, allowing it to sit nicely as we hope you’ll agree. It saves having to trim around the undercollar piece to achieve the same effect.

Wool tunic collar showing understitching

Wool tunic collar showing understitching

Finally, lining our tunic was definitely a good call. However lovely our wool is (and it is!) it would need a slip to allow movement against the body. The lining adds a lovely feel and enhances the drape.

What we liked least

Truth be told, we were a little disappointed that our wool tunic wasn’t just a little more fitted. We knew that there weren’t any waist darts but we’d hoped that the side seams and back seam might have incorporated just a little more shaping.

As mentioned, keep a close eye on the pattern instructions – you might want to scribble a reminder to yourself if you’re combining collar and sleeves as we were.

Finally we were a little bamboozled with the sleeve cuff finishing. The instructions suggest understitching the lining (which is attached at the cuff after the sleeve seams are sewn). If anyone wants to let us know how we might have achieved this, and neatly to boot, then we’d be genuinely thrilled to know how. Also we think we’d have left off the top-stitching at the cuffs, and settled for a good press instead. We think the top-stitching cheapens the finish, frankly – but we’re not about to unpick it.

Winter wool tunic full length

Completed tunic showing cuffs

Fabric amounts & cost calculations

By using an alternative fabric for our sleeves and collar, we kept our costs down while still having the style and quality of 100% wool for the majority of our winter wool tunic. For a Size 14 on the Vogue sizing chart we used:

Fabrics

‘Saltmarsh’ grey and gold wool twill fabric – 1.5m @ £17.95pm = £26.93
‘Classic capsule’ charcoal stretch suiting fabric – 0.8m @ £8.50pm = £6.80
Dark olive stretch satin fabric – 1.9m @ £5.95pm £11.30

Haberdashery

1 x 22″ grey dress zip – £2.20
2 x threads (1 to match collar and sleeves, 1 to match fabric & lining) @ £1.70 ea. = £3.40
(We used just a small offcut of medium-weight interfacing for the collar.)

Total: £50.63

(That’s about 30% of the cost of our original inspiration on the High Street. Just saying…)

…and finally…

We like tunics! And this won’t be the last wool tunic we make or wear this AW16 – we’re eyeing up a couple of others still. However we think we’re going to have a go at a less structured style, perhaps with a little more fit and drape as an alternative to this more formal design. We’ll let you know what we come up with.

Meanwhile let us know if you’ve any winter tunic plans – and don’t forget to have a flick through our Tunics board on Pinterest – it’s still growing and we’ll carry on updating it.

 

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