Adventures in Retrofitting a Bodice Block

This week I’ve been working on a bodice block.

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 ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿป

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.

First toile, showing the lowered bust darts. It looks better on me, I promise! I think my dress form is an dressmaker’s A cup

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)

Pattern pieces after round 1. Not pictured is the adjustment I made to the sleeve head to match the 3/8″ removed from the upper back.

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.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

The Hotel Sewing Kit

In lieu of this week’s “My Week In Sewing”, since I’ve been poorly and haven’t done very much of anything at all, I’m sharing some creative writing on the topic of sewing. I wrote this a couple of months ago in a 5-minute writing challenge on the topic of “an object related to my hobby”. PS. I’m just dabbling in creative writing, be kind ๐Ÿ™‚

I often collect miniature mending kits from hotels and stash them in my handbags, because the time you need a mending kit is not when you are in a hotel room with your luggage – and therefore hopefully also with a spare change of clothes – but rather when you’re out and about, at a nice dinner, or in the office, with only the clothes on your back, and a significantly higher need to look presentable.

Once, I repaired a seam at the centre back of a grey pencil skirt while sitting, by necessity in my knickers, on a (closed) toilet in a cubicle in the loos on the fifth floor of an office block in central Leeds. Turns out you want a little more kit than just these tools to fix a broken zip, but you can do a temporary salvage, in a pinch. 

The zip had come away from the fabric just three quarters of an inch, and I suppose I might have been able to get along without repairing it, but I’m not really that sort of person. So I found myself perched in my pants on the cold toilet lid, making the burst seam worse before I could make it better, and not entirely convinced I could make it better in the ten minutes before my next meeting anyway. What would happen if I only made it worse, without making it better? Well, there was that flimsy gold safety pin – though I didn’t have a huge amount of faith in its ability to support the strain on the seam that holds my bum in. So I had to get it right.

I discovered it’s hard to thread a needle while sat in your knickers in a cramped space under fluorescent lighting and time pressure. 

And that my insistence to favour the sewing machine over any hand-sewing at all had robbed me of an opportunity to develop a useful life skill.

It also turns out there’s far less thread in these kits than you think.

What do you do when once you have miraculously managed to slip-stitch that seam back into place? Rip the thread with your bare hands like an animal? Yes, yes that’s exactly what you do. And then you sit there staring at it for a full minute, cursing the amateur nature of your handiwork and lamenting the fact that this toilet stall does not feature a steam iron so you could at the very least press out the crumples impressed into the skirt by your frantic hands. But now you’ve only got ninety seconds left before your meeting, and you’re still in your pants, so you hoick the skirt on – and thank god that the zip doesn’t immediately burst open – do a quick sanity check in the mirror, not that you have any time to correct any mistakes now. Then you step back out into the office, and say not a single damn word about any of it. 

My Week in Sewing, 25th March 2022

Each Friday I write about what I’ve done in sewing land over the past week – plus any knitting or other crafts I’ve managed to slot in. Plus cats. There will always be cats.

I made my Agatha dress this week! Here’s a teaser pic ahead of the full post I’m writing about the making of this dress.

My latest make

In short, I adore it. It’s not my typical style as I tend to lean more cutesy, but I’m looking to add more elegant pieces to my wardrobe and this dress nails that brief. Can’t wait to share more about it soon.

The next thing I want to share is not actually a make from this week, but a new pattern release: the Tilly and the Buttons Erin dungarees. You might have seen this pattern all over Instagram this week. I was a tester for this pattern a few months ago, and I’d never worn dungarees as an adult before so I had no idea what to expect!

There have been some changes to the pattern since the test version, so I’m not going to write a proper review until I’ve made a pair in the final version of the pattern. But I am showing off my tester version now that I can.

I made a couple of mistakes on these that mean I’m probably not going to wear them outdoors, but they’re good for around the house. I could have done with sizing down around the hip – I hadn’t checked the hip measurement so it’s a bit baggy around the bum. I also picked a denim that I think is actually too structured for the pattern, so I’m not crazy about the way it hangs. At least I know exactly what changes I want to make next time.

My final bit of sewing news is that I got a bit carried away with my Thea wearable toile last week. I put the sleeves and the collar on and did the fancy topstitching and everything. Then, when I was trying it on to figure out where to put the buttons, I realised I’d forgotten to use it as an actual toile – and it still doesn’t fit! Argh. So, it’s just a fancy unwearable wearable toile. Here’s a photo of it for posterity.

I am going to size up for my proper Thea, as I think I read the numbers wrong on the measurements. Back to the drawing board. Or at least, the tracing table.

What’s next in sewing land for me? Not sure just now – might do an instant gratification project before I approach the Thea again. Perhaps those Erin dungarees. I also have some exciting project plans that I can’t reveal just yet!

Here’s my customary weekly knitting progress shot. I feel like I’ve been close to the end of this ball of yarn for weeks. Surely it’s going to run out soon? I’m going to decide on a whim which colour I switch to next. It will probably be dark pink.

And the cats, as promised.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

My Week in Sewing, 18th March 2022

Each Friday I write about what Iโ€™ve done in sewing land over the past week โ€“ plus any knitting or other crafts Iโ€™ve managed to slot in. Plus cats. There will always be cats.

I’ve been following my heart this week. By which I mean I’ve changed my mind a LOT and flip-flopped between 4(!) different sewing projects. Remember last week I was saying I only work on one project at once? Ha.

My goal at the start of the week was to finish with the fitting the bodice of my Etta dress, and then I could switch onto another project. I’ve been working on this fitting project for weeks and frankly I’m bored out of my mind with it – and frustrated too. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for ages, as I was hoping to turn it into a bodice block for drafting my own tops and dresses. But it’s very challenging for me.

I’ve got scoliosis, which means if you look at my back from behind it looks like a reverse “S” shape, rather than a typical spine which looks like an “I”. Fortunately it causes me no physical discomfort at all, despite what I used to tell my PE teachers to get out of netball lessons. It does have a cosmetic impact though, which generally doesn’t bother me. I never wanted to be a ballerina anyway. But if I want a well-fitting bodice, I have to be a bit clever about it, because if it fits nicely on the right it doesn’t fit nicely on the left.

The pooling isn’t a posture thing – my left upper back is flatter than my right upper back, so it needs less fabric. My shoulders slope differently too, and my ribcage is rounder on the right

Turns out I’m not clever enough yet to figure this out. Perhaps a V back bodice with a neckline dart was a bad place to start. After about 6,000,000 toiles with a mirrored back bodice, I finally had one attempt at modifying the left independently of the right and immediately lost all motivation when I realised that taking a wedge out of one side was going to have implications on the angle of the neckline and the overall pattern placement of the Ankara fabric I wanted to make this dress out of. Utter disillusionment. After 4 weeks of faffing with this pattern, I’ve said sod it. I’ll try again when I have more fitting and drafting skills.

So, in comes project number 2 for a bit of ~excitement~. It’s this combo again:

Because I don’t learn, I made a toile again. This time it went really well, actually. Too well. Look how nice these old bedsheets actually are.

Liberty Thea toile #1. Needs an FBA, reduce length of bodice, and increase length of sleeve – but really not bad otherwise

There are a few modifications I needed to make after the first toile, but I liked the fabric so much I actually decided to make the second toile a wearable toile. That is, make it up like a real top. Which essentially makes it project number 3.

Here I go again.

Because the fabric is a little bit formal-shirt looking, I’ve decided to spice it up with a little contrast top stitching. I’m thinking a bit of pink and teal (classic) and maybe use some of the weird stitch patterns on my machine to create a design element out of it.

But I mentioned 4 sewing projects, didn’t I? I was falling asleep on Wednesday night when I remembered my work Christmas party is next week. Yes I know it’s March, but it was also Omicron in December, so we’re doing it now. Am I actually mental, deciding at the last minute to make myself a dress? Probably yes. Especially when it’s a dress of a style I’ve never even tried on before, so I don’t know if I’ll like it on me. But apparently I am hyper-motivated to sew this week, so I crack on.

The knitting project seems to be taking forever. I’m not sure if these weekly photos are helping or hindering. They’re encouraging me to push at it so I can see progress, but then I take the photo and I can hardly see any progress. It is feeling super squishy though!

Half brioche stitch is still slow

And to close off, as ever, some cat photos from the week:

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

My Week in Sewing, 11th March 2022

Each Friday I write about what I’ve done in sewing land over the past week – plus any knitting or other crafts I’ve managed to slot in. Plus cats. There will always be cats.

Loads to talk about this week, even though I haven’t actually switched on my sewing machine.

The dress hack I was working on last week hasn’t really excited me, so I’ve just let it sit for now until the urge to pick it up returns. I always try to keep a “one project at a time per craft” rule (a WIP limit of one, for all y’all in software engineering out there ๐Ÿ‘€). I’m moderately strict about it because every time I’ve broken that rule, I essentially end up parking the first project for months, and then I end up feeling guilty about letting it languish, and it’s a whole mental burden, and another pile of mess in my house, and so on.

Anyway, with all that in mind, I printed and taped the PDF pattern for the Fibre Mood Agatha dress this week. ha! I couldn’t stop thinking about making it in this vibrant rayon jersey I picked up in town a couple weeks ago:

I am feeling a little unfinished-project guilt about the Etta dress so I’m not 100% sure if I’ll cut into this fabric yet. That said, I do think it’s important to work on the project that you’re drawn to. This is a hobby after all. No one’s holding me accountable other than me.

I’ve also been daydreaming about shirts and shirt dresses a lot. I love shirts! I love collars and sleeve plackets and button bands and yokes and pleats. I have this one fancy shirt from Anthropologie that I wear loads because it’s so pretty:

Anthropologie shirt (photo from last year). Yes I am aware my hair is blocking much of the shirt detail. But you get the idea.

I want more shirts like this in my life – not so much the patchwork thing, but the bright prints and slight blousiness. A bit of a statement piece but not too loud. So I’ve been mashing up patterns and fabrics from my collection in my mind:

I LOVE all of these fabrics. But the problem is they’re all so super special and delicious and beautiful that I’m terrified of cutting into them. They are the fanciest nicest most expensive fabrics in my stash and I know I need to just use them as I’ll enjoy them more as garments that I can actually wear, but I’m still intimidated about starting. Also pretty much all of them are going to require some level of pattern matching (because it would be a shame not to really show off those lovely prints) which only adds to the fear level.

I get pretty excited imagining the combinations with these shirt patterns though:

The combo I’m most likely to start with is the Liberty Thea in the Liberty Glastonbury fabric. I’m thinking the collar and necktie from view D, and the sleeves from view C. Assuming I have enough fabric.

In knitting news, my Birthday Sweater continues at a nice pace. I’m just about at the point where I have to switch from my medium sized project bag to a full size tote bag.

I have loads more of the pink, so I’m thinking of doing one sleeve in pink and the other in a different colour.

My pattern weight collection has expanded considerably this week too. I use antique brass bell weights of 1lb or under, and my rule is that I can only buy them if I see them in person. I spotted four 1lb weights in the window of a local antique shop, and simply had to snap them up!

Antique weights as pattern weights

And as ever, some cat pics from the week!

Thanks for reading, see you next week! ๐Ÿ™‚