I had a good meter of this gold foil fabric leftover from a top I made a few years ago. It’s been sitting in my stash just waiting for me to do something with it. Well, inspiration finally struck, and I sewed up this Bibi skirt from the Tilly and the Buttons book Stretch.
The skirt is so simple, folks. It’s two pattern pieces (a skirt panel and a waist band). The construction is straight forward, and fitting is easy as you can just baste the panel seams before you sew them up properly. A super quick make. Which is really what I needed – a quick win to break up the ongoing saga of my self-drafted bodice block.
My concern about this skirt is that there’s no elastic in the waistband. It’s made with ponte which is a stable, heavy knit fabric, so in theory it should hold its form, but I can easily see this stretching out over time. I guess it’d be easy enough to unpick and insert elastic down the road if need be.
The fabric is a bit awkward to sew. You can’t press it or the foil melts off (ask me how I know). It’s also pretty bouncy, so I’ve topstitched all the seams to make them lie flat. I also topstitched around the top of the waistband to get it to hold the fold in place, but for some reason I decided to stretch out the waistband while I stitched that (I guess I was imagining that there was elastic in there) so the top is a little bit wavy when relaxed. But that doesn’t really show when I’m wearing it.
It looks pretty great as a faux dress with the original top too (which is incidentally also a Tilly book pattern, the Tabitha tee from Make It Simple):
Maybe a bit too Christmassy for this time of year, but a good option to have in the bank. I think I may finally be sold on the idea of matching separates!
After many, many (many) iterations of trying to retrofit a bodice block from an existing pattern, I’ve decided to step up my game and do the damn thing properly. So I’m drafting one myself.
I bought myself a copy of Winifred Aldrich’s famous book Metric Pattern Cutting. This is a classic – and it isn’t cheap. It’s very much a text book, that teaches you the formulas for drafting patterns. It explains how to draft basic blocks, and then it shows you a whole bunch of different modifications you can make to those blocks – all mathematically. And I love it. I’ve fallen in love with the book. The technical angle works wonderfully for my brain. I’m a software engineer by trade, so I’m very much a precise/logical thinker. This makes so much more sense than guesswork.
I also treated myself to the Pattern Workshop course to learn digital drafting techniques using Adobe Illustrator. This was very much a splurge, and although I learned a huge amount from the course, I must say there are very decent free alternatives out there such as Pattern Lab, which I’m using to supplement my knowledge. At any rate, I’ve finished Pattern Workshop, I’ve watched many hours of Pattern Lab’s videos, and I am newly equipped with these fancy-pants skills that let me draft patterns digitally in Illustrator. VERY exciting.
Also I learned enough about Illustrator to be able to make a li’l logo for my site, so that’s cool:
My First Self-Drafted Digital Bodice Block
Here’s the first bodice block I drafted to my measurements, using the Close Fitting Bodice block from Aldrich.
I then used the tiling template from Pattern Workshop to print it out and tape it together (again, other alternatives are out there, I think Pattern Lab may have one):
Honestly, I was pretty giddy at this point. It felt like a PDF pattern that I’d bought. Obviously it doesn’t look at all professional at this stage, but it seemed surprisingly polished and real.
Here’s the first version sewn together:
I immediately altered the shoulder seam to slope the shoulder, which is why the armscye looks a bit short. Other than that, the fit was fairly decent for a first go. There’s a lot of excess around the back, and it was too long and too tight around the hips (so I folded it up). But not too shabby.
Version 2: Close Waist Shaping
I made a second version:
In addition to some minor tweaks (shoulder slope & dart angle changes), the most notable difference is that I’ve cropped it to waist length and added the close waist shaping from another formula in the book.
The close waist shaping instructions confused me. They stated quite matter-of-factly that the total waist dart intake needs to be 12cm. Surely this depends on the difference between your bust and waist? Yes. Yes it does. That 12cm is derived from the standard measurement chart given in the book, so I needed to follow the formula for my own measurements:
Width of block at bust line: Half bust plus 5cm ease from close-fitting block = 48cm
Desired width at waist line: Half waist plus 3cm ease = 39.5cm
Therefore my dart intake is 8.5cm.
This gives a 3.5cm difference from the total dart intake in Aldrich. Aldrich splits the 12cm over 3 darts (back dart, front dart and effective dart at side seam), so I simply subtracted my 3.5cm evenly across the given measurements for those 3 darts.
And here it is printed out (YEP, it’s still thrilling):
The fit is much better this time, and it’s starting to look like what I want.
Fit thoughts at this stage:
The front of the bodice rises up quite a lot compared to the back. I thought this was my own body shape (I have a flat back and upright posture so it wouldn’t surprise me) – but a little googling suggests that this is a known issue with the Aldrich instructions, as the front length doesn’t include any compensation for the bust fullness. So I will need to add a little length and curvature to the front.Edit 4/10/22: I just looked closer at the instructions and realised that they do actually tell you to lengthen the bodice at the centre front by 1cm, and I just missed that step. Sorry for doubting you Aldrich!
The length of the front darts is good but they are a bit too far apart. I guess you don’t really take a measurement of where your apex actually is, so it makes sense to have to adjust that.
I think there’s a bit too much ease, to be honest. There’s a good 7cm of ease at the bust and 6cm at the waist. Maybe this is down to taste, but that seems like a lot for what’s called a “close-fitting” bodice block. Although the ease is doing a nice job of concealing my torso asymmetry, so maybe I should roll with it.
And speaking of asymmetry, it looks as though my left shoulder is shorter than my right. I don’t really fancy drafting the two sides differently so I’ll need to compromise that shoulder length by getting the average of the two.
I’d like to do one more iteration to address some of the above issues before I draft a sleeve. There’s a bit of slack around the armscye, but I hear that’s a good thing if you’re planning to stick a sleeve in there, as it gives you greater motion. So I’ll give it a whirl and see how that goes.
Can’t wait to get this block sorted. I’ve got big plans, which I’m eager to get on with!
The other week, I wanted to make a dress but I had such a small amount of time that it barely seemed possible. But rather than give up, I used the pressure to try out a technique that would make my sewing more efficient – batching tasks. I’m never going back!
Batching your sewing tasks is such a time saver – and it doesn’t even involve cutting any corners. (Insert joke about trimming seam allowances here.) You’re not skipping any of the important steps – you’re just rearranging them.
What is Task Batching in Sewing?
The principle of task batching is that you group together as many similar tasks together as you can in one go, and then do them all before moving on to the next type of task.
Heard of mise en place in cooking? It’s a bit like that, but for sewing.
For instance, the pattern instructions may tell you to sew a seam, then finish it and finally press it. This makes clear logical sense, and is a fine way to write instructions, particularly for beginners. But if you follow these steps in this order for every seam, then you’re constantly switching up your workspace to suit different tasks. This might mean physically moving around the room, or moving machines around, or even reconfiguring your machine settings.
For example, these are the different spaces I use:
My sewing machine
My overlocker* (which shares a space with my sewing machine, so I physically swap them around)
My ironing board
My cutting table where I pin seams together, and also where I trim/grade seam allowances
*If you don’t have an overlocker, then you’re probably changing the settings on your sewing machine between straight seams and edge finishing. And you’re trimming seam allowances too!
All considered, that’s a lot of time spent simply moving around or moving machines!
So what to do instead?
Your goal is to do as much of the same kind of task in one go as you can, before moving on to the next kind of task.
For instance, identify a set of seams that can be sewn together. Pin them all, then move all your pinned pieces to the sewing machine and sew them all one after the other. Then overlock them all, and then finally press them all. Then you’re ready to pick up the next set of seams.
Obviously you can’t do all the seams in your project in one batch, because there are dependencies between them (i.e. you probably want to finish your side and shoulder seams before you insert a sleeve). But you can probably batch together more seams than the pattern instructions suggest.
Top Tips for Batching your Sewing Tasks
Take time to save time. Sit down for 5 minutes before you start sewing, and rewrite the pattern instructions. I even reword the instructions into very simple shorthand for myself. There’s no need to stop and read full-length pattern instructions between each step, especially if you’re an experienced sewist who doesn’t need the step-by-step instructions for everything.
Identify independent seams. It’s worth reading through to the end of the pattern and finding as many unrelated seams as possible. For instance, there may be a waist tie, collar, cuff or skirt that you can pin/sew/overlock at the same time as your shoulder seams. (I like to think of this in terms of dependency trees, but then again, I am a software engineer…)
Batch up all kinds of pressing tasks – not just seams. When pressing your first seams, also look ahead for any other pressing tasks that can be brought forward. Waistbands, neckbands or ties can be pressed in half before the time comes to sew them. Also, it can nice to press hems before sewing the pieces – particularly on sleeves, which become more fiddly to press after they’ve been sewn into the garment.
Consider the changes to settings on your machine. You’ll also want to batch up steps that involve changing the settings on your machine. Gathering stitches, bar tacks, topstitching in a contrasting thread colour, and rolled hems – these all involve faffing around with your setup. Plus if you batch them all together, that also minimises the number of times you can forget to put the settings back afterwards!
And that’s it.
I hope you enjoy using this technique. Enjoy your speedier sewing!
I’d planned to make this Shelby dress for a 90s themed birthday party I was going to. I bought the fabric and the pattern well in advance – but thanks to some other sewing deadlines I had, I ended up with only two days to make it! Spoiler: I managed it in time.
This time pressure gave me the impetus to try out a technique I’ve been meaning to do for a long time – task batching. I mean. It’s not exactly revolutionary. I do the same thing in the kitchen when I’m cooking.
I’ve got a blog post coming up on how to batch tasks, so look out for that!
I’m really pleased with how it came out, given the sheer panic I was operating under while making it. I actually cut the midi length, which meant the pieces were too long for my cutting table, and I had to cut on the floor (which also meant scissors rather than my trusty rotary cutter). That wasn’t great for my back as I have a condition that means I’m super prone to backache. Annoyingly, I actually ended up trimming the dress to just above the knee anyway, so I should have just made the short version and used my cutting table after all! Oh well.
The dress came together really nicely – even considering it’s viscose, which I really used to struggle with, but I’ve got enough experience with viscose now that I am better at manhandling it.
The only real issue I had was that the button band facing wanted to hang differently from the outer dress fabric, which caused some weird pulling around the front centre. I suspect I accidentally cut the outer fabric on a slight bias. I had to redo the hem a couple of times to get it to work, but I got there. I ended up hanging the dress and pinning it where it wanted to hang.
The buttons are actually pearlescent, which you can’t tell in the photos. I added the extra three up the neckline in homage to the original dress from the music video.
The fit isn’t perfect – but given how little prep I did (no toile!!!) I’m overjoyed at it. It’s slightly too big, which is fine at the waist as you can use the back ties to cinch it in. But around the bust, the princess seams don’t sit properly on the bust point, and there’s a little bagginess going on. But I don’t care. I’m very happy with this dress. And I’m very happy with the lessons it taught me.
It’s time to admit that we’re entering Autumn sewing season. Thankfully, I’ve got sewing plans that I never got around to last Autumn, which I’m still excited to get into this year. Assuming I get around to them this time.
First of all, I need to interrupt this broadcast to give a huge thank you to TipStitched for the How I Create Digital Sketches video, which explains how to make images like the one above. Game changer.
Let’s dig into it!
First up, I’d like to make myself another pair of Ginger Jeans. This will be my second pair of Gingers. I took a jeans making workshop at Bobbins and Bolts a couple of years ago and made a pair in indigo denim, but I needed a lot of handholding at the time and so far I’ve been too nervous to attempt them again by myself.
I feel like my sewing skills in general have come a huge way since then, so I’m ready to give them another shot. Plus, I need some more jeans for the cold weather.
I’ve coloured them in green here because that’s what excites me… but I don’t actually have that fabric in my stash! I’ve got some more of the indigo denim, so I’ll start there and if it goes well, then I’ll invest in some vibrant green denim (if I can find any with the right stretch percentage).
The Ottoline jacket is next on my list. I’ve picked a beautiful pink colour for this image, and I’m picturing that in canvas … but I don’t actually have any of that fabric either. (Did I get a bit carried away with my new Photoshop skills? Yes. Yes I did.) In reality I’m going to make a wearable toile in a beautiful light blue denim that’s already in my stash.
I’ve never made outerwear, so this will be a first. I’ve got a mild nervousness about it but I don’t have a rational reason for that. I’ve made collared shirts aplenty, and my machine is heavy duty enough to sew denim, so I don’t know what I’m scared of. The unknown, I guess. Another chance to face up and be brave.
The third thing on my list is this polkadot Shelby dress, which is vaguely based on Gwen Stefani’s dress in the Don’t Speak video. That video being on repeat when I was in my family’s home in the Philippines in 1995 is a pretty formative memory for me. That album was one of the first CDs I bought, and it remains one of my favourites.
I’m making this for a friend’s birthday, which is 90s themed. So it’s the only thing on the list with a deadline, and that deadline is freakin’ soon so I’m going to have to get a move on.
The other thing that’s on my list is to draft a pattern like this Gucci dress. I’m currently learning pattern drafting from Pattern Workshop and the excellent book Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich, and I reckon it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me to draft this for myself.
The dress retails for £2550 and if I can get this right, I can make myself a version for under £50 in materials I reckon! And probably £2500 in time and skills because this is going to take me ages…
I tend to prefer sewing clothes, but every now and then I’ll make something for the house. This week I made a cushion cover, and also made the cushion itself out of upcycled materials.
I have some old cushions from Habitat that are well over 10 years old and completely flattened and stained. They came round the world and back when we did our stint in Singapore. The last time I unzipped them to wash the covers, I discovered that the fabric of the cushions had completely disintegrated – and I mean completely. There was just dust left. Which is… kind of freaky?
Anyway I had this lump of cushion filling.
So I took a couple of old toiles, unpicked the darts, and sewed them up into a 45x45cm cushion casing.
If you look closely, you might notice that fancy felled seam. These piece of old toiles weren’t wide enough, so I had to piece them together. I took the opportunity to practice using the new felling foot I bought for my machine after reading David Page Coffin’s Shirtmaking, in which he heavily encouraged the use of the felling foot – and I must say, it is rather good.
Then I fluffed all the stuffing up to bring it back to life. This made a LOT of mess as all that disintegrated fabric was mixed up in there. I ended up putting on a facemask to avoid breathing it in 😷
Next up, I squashed it all in and stitched the gap shut on the machine. I did a crap job of making that neat because the huge stuffed cushion was a bit awkward to manipulate! I usually hand stitch cushions closed, but what’s the point? No one’s going to see it.
Finally I made a cover made out of a fat quarter of quilting cotton that has been in my stash for years. I made the cover in the same dimensions as the casing so it’s not saggy (had to mess with the seam allowances a bit to make it work as my fat quarter was a bit skinny).
There you have it. Trash & stash into something useful.
A lot of knitting updates this week, too. I went to Scotland for a week and didn’t fancy taking my big project with me, so I started a new one (I know, I know!!):
As you can see it’s going insanely quickly. Not only is it stockinette on nice worsted wool and lovely big needles (relative to my other projects), but it’s also my first time knitting a bottom-up sweater. I’ve been afraid of them for the longest time, but I now have no idea why. It’s so satisfying! I’ve already knitted the whole body up to the under arms, and am now on the first sleeve. Usually when knitting top-down, the fun bit is in the yoke, and the body and sleeves are tedious because you just want to be finished. But doing it bottom-up means I do the “boring” bits while I have all that new-project energy, and I get to look forward to ending on the yoke.
This one has a fun yoke, too. You’ll see.
Here’s the birthday sweater I’ve been working on since the dawn of time (or last Christmas) – far slower progress.
My plan is to finish the sleeves on the blue jumper and join them onto the body first, before I return to finish this project. It’s not long til it’s done, but second sleeve syndrome right?
And my third concurrent knitting project, the one I’m making with my knitting club, is going nicely too:
We’re a good way into the cables now. This is the most intricate of my three projects, and it takes the most work for sure. I find it quite hard on the hands to knit, although that has improved since I switched to the correct size cable!
A bodice block has been on my list for such a long time, and my recent experience trying to fit the Etta dress bodice to my asymmetrical body made me so disillusioned with the idea of fitting a pattern that I finally decided it was time to start on a block. If I can get a block right, then I can compare it to patterns I make in the future and get a clear idea of what adjustments I need to make. Plus, I’m very excited about the idea of drafting my own patterns using the block as a starting point.
I’m actually using the Etta bodice pattern as a base for my block, as I already have the pattern, and it’s shift dress with a bodice that’s reasonably close to what a block pattern would look like:
I chose the high back neck version rather than the V-neckline version that drove me crazy before. To convert it into a basic block I’ve raised the neckline on the front and back, and removed the back neck dart – I already know from my fitting journey that I have a flat upper back so it won’t be missed. I also moved the closure from the back to the front by drawing in a seam allowance at the front centre and adding in the centre line at the back. This makes it way easier to fit (just with pins) and I don’t need to bother with zips. (I wasted loads of time on zips with my Etta).
So far I have done three rounds of fitting on one toile. I failed to photograph it on my actual body, so you’re going to have to use your mind’s eye for the next few paragraphs. Sorry friends 🤷🏻
First I did a toile with my standard shoulder slope modification. To do this, I cut out the armscye, lower it parallel to the grain by 1/2″, and then redraw the shoulder seam line. I do this on the front and back. It’s a dead easy adjustment that took me ages to discover – but now I do it on every pattern.
I sewed up this first version and found that the bust dart was a good size (Tilly and the Buttons draft with a B cup, which is a 2″ difference between high bust and full, which matches my measurements). But the apex was too high, causing the bodice to ride up a bit as the toile naturally wanted to sit with the apex in the right place. This led to wrinkling above the bust. So I pulled the bodice down to smooth out the wrinkles, drew on the correct apex, then unpicked the dart and sewed it with the new angle, pointing at the next apex. This worked perfectly! I’m pretty happy with the fit of the front at this point.
Next I turned to the back, which is where I had all the issues on my Etta toile. The upper bodice was super baggy, which I expected after my Etta trials – but this time it was WAY less complicated to diagnose and fix because there was no V-neck or back dart! I just took a horizontal 3/8″ slice straight across the back. I also took a dart out of the centre back.
The fit looked reasonable at this point, although it is definitely more slack on my right shoulder than my left. So at this stage I decided to transfer all my adjustments to paper for my second toile. I moved the bust dart down properly rather than just pivoting it, and I converted that centre back dart by slicing the whole thing vertically and rotating out that excess all the way down to the waist. I also moved the shoulder seam forwards by an inch (really what is up with my shoulders? answer: scoliosis)
Feeling pretty good about round 1. I suspect I’ll still need to make an upper back adjustment of some form, and I’ll also look at the neck, length, and sleeve in the next toile.
As ever, here are some cat pics from the week! All taken from the same vantage point this time.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote – and my news is that I’m back on the sewing train!
I have an event to attend this weekend and I fancied making a nice dress for it, as my wardrobe is lacking in the “nice day dress” department. I have a couple of workhorse dresses that I always turn to, but I want more choices.
I’ve got a bit of post-viral fatigue going on, so I chose a familiar project to keep the effort level relatively low. I’ve made the Lyra dress by Tilly and the Buttons a couple of times before, and I had plenty of appropriate fabric in my stash. (Full disclosure – I was actually a pattern tester so I got my copy of the pattern for free.)
Proper photos coming soon. I just finished sewing the buttons on this afternoon and my hair is categorically not camera friendly today.
What didn’t click for me until I’d started cutting out the fabric was that I’m actually using the same fabric as is used in Tilly and the Buttons’ marketing for the pattern! Whoops. I usually try to steer clear of copying other people’s makes, but I don’t really mind with this one. I mean, the fabric really really does work for this dress. (Plus, I made the midi-length, so mine’s different anyway!)
While I was assembling the bodice, I tried it on and I got really excited about the idea of a sleeveless cropped shirt in this fabric – doesn’t it look great with these pink shorts?
I have a little leftover fabric, so I’m going to see if I have enough to make this happen. I’m thinking of using the Helen’s Closet Gilbert shirt pattern.
One thing I’m not super happy about is the collar stand. I find collar stands really fiddly to sew evenly, so I unpick and re-press and re-stitch until it works. This, obviously, takes ages. In the name of “perfect is the enemy of done”, I’ve allowed myself to have some sloppy stitching on this dress (where it’s not visible), but I’ve vowed to invest some effort into learning a good technique. So I’ve picked my copy of Shirtmaking off the shelf.
I first read this years ago, before I’d ever tried to make a proper shirt. But I think the information will be more meaningful to me now that I have a few stand collars under my belt (as it were). Looking forward to learning some more precise techniques.
On the knitting front, I now have two projects on the go. Here’s the Birthday Sweater (by Ankestrick) – so very close to done!
Annoyingly I ran out of the dark pink just before the end of the first sleeve – but I think the light pink cuff situation is effective.
I’ve cast on my Marzipan Pullover (by Sari Nordlund) for knit club, too – in Drops Nepal:
The cables have only just started – but I’m already enjoying them! It’s been literally 9 years since I last knitted a complex cable pattern – I made a whopping great big Umaro blanket as a gift for family:
Cables are super satisfying. A bit slow, but they look like magic.
Last but very much not least, a selection of cat photos from the last week. Today I am featuring cats asleep on the sofa in ridiculous positions.
I mentioned last week that I was planning to take a couple weeks off sewing, because life is super busy right now. Well. I didn’t expect to get ill and be forced to do absolutely nothing all week! At least I’ve watched Heartstopper 3 times through and read through half of Alice Oseman’s body of work. (I may have gone on one of my obsessive deep dives on the Heartstopper/Solitaire universe. It may also not be over.)
Although sewing’s been on pause, I have started to pick up the pace on my knitting over the last couple of days. But I’m definitely not going to finish this Ankestrick Birthday jumper before my knit club starts a new project at the weekend:
I don’t think I’ve ever managed to post about this jumper without also mentioning how slow it is to knit! It’s taking forever due to it being 4-ply (skinny yarn) and half-brioche stitch (2 rows required for every 1 row visible). My upcoming project, the Marzipan Pullover by Sari Nordlund, is going to be a very different experience since it’s on a thicker yarn (worsted weight). And although it does have cables to slow things down, they’re only on the yoke. The rest of the body and sleeves are on blessed rib stitch. I am excited for the feeling of knitting on turbo mode.
Ready for Marzipan madness. This will be my first time knitting with Drops yarn. I’ve heard such good things about it, and it’s so cheap I had to do a double take.
For cat photo time today, I am blessing you with a Rocket montage:
This week I finished sewing the Amelia skirt by the Pattern Stash! (NB. This pattern & the kit were sent to me in exchange for a post on Instagram.)
I was daunted by the corduroy as I’ve never worked with it before, but I found it surprisingly easy to sew with. Of course, now I’m daydreaming of sewing corduroy jackets and trousers. But I suspect I should probably focus on warm weather clothes, on the off chance we get a sunny spell here in the next few months. This is a short skirt though, so it should be versatile enough for the warmer season.
I actually found the lining quite hard to work with. It was probably because I focused so much on getting the corduroy right that I was blasé about the slippery viscose-acetate lining. I found it shifted and moved around a lot, and generally took on a different form every time I looked at it. I clearly need to invest a bit more time and care when working with such delicate fabrics in future. Still, it came out nicely enough:
Sewing to a deadline is never my favourite, as I’m very slow and methodical when it comes to sewing. The instructions for this skirt said it would take around 5 hours, but I must have spent at least 10, and that’s not even counting the toiles!
I’m taking a week or two off sewing now as life and work are super busy, but don’t be fooled – I’m still daydreaming and planning. I think I want to do an instant gratification tee out of fabric in my stash next, as I’m not very happy with my summer wardrobe. I like wearing tees but I generally have boring ones, so I’m ready to add a little more spice. (Read: block colours in my classic palette of pink and teal.)
In knitting news…
I had to frog the sleeve and start over! 😦 I misread the instructions and decreased way too early and too often. I don’t feel like I’ve lost much though, as this realisation coincided with my double-pointed needles arriving in the post – and I can knit a lot faster with those. So I’m not really that disheartened.