Category Archives: Sewing

Getting my sewing mojo back with a black Belcarra

After all my recent fitting and toiling, making this Sewaholic Belcarra blouse felt wonderful!  I could enjoy taking my time getting a good finish as I knew I’d have a well fitting garment at the end of it.

Belcarra 4 front

The black one is actually my fourth Belcarra blouse – I made this third flowery version shortly after my second from a lovely viscose fabric brought on Goldhawk Road.

Belcarra 3 front

For the third Belcarra, I used a narrower bias strip and sewed it on using a 3/8 inch seam allowance to make the neckline a little smaller.  It doesn’t feel like the neckline actually is any smaller, but I wonder if I had stretched the neckline out a little, so for the fourth version I made sure to stay stitch the neckline as soon as I’d cut out the fabric.

I also had a valuable lesson in paying attention when using scissors near fabric when I snipped some of the sleeve while trimming the french seam.  Oops!  Luckily, it was only small and near the underarm so just took a little darning and isn’t really visible.

Belcarra 3 hole

The only niggle I have with the third version is that the fold on the cuffs doesn’t want to lie flat after washing.  I suspect this could mean that I didn’t cut the fabric exactly on the bias.  Hence for this fourth Belcarra, I really took my time over the cutting.

The fabric for the black Belcarra is my first online fabric purchase – this viscose from Minerva Crafts.  It is wonderfully soft and drapey and it comes in twelve other colours so I’ll no doubt be ordering more soon.

Black Bercarra side view

I had thought about going for the pin tuck sleeves version since I was using a solid colour, but a plain and simple (but well made) black top was what I really wanted.  Perhaps not the most exciting blog make, but a top I am very pleased with and one that should get lots of wear 🙂

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt with buttons

The original intention for this fabric and wonderfully matching buttons was a Tilly and the Buttons Miette skirt with button tabs instead of the waist ties along the lines of this.  However, when Sewaholic started converting their existing patterns to PDF, I decided to make things easier for myself and go with the Hollyburn skirt which had everything I wanted from the skirt already in the pattern.  I purchased the PDF and starting putting it together within 24 hours of release!

Fabric and buttons

Since the skirt is only fitted at the waist, I didn’t make a toile.  It fits pretty good although if making again I’d probably change the waistband so it is slightly curved as I’m generally not so keen on the look of straight waistbands on me, maybe because I tend to prefer wearing skirts lower than my natural waistline.

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt

I went with view B for the length/flare as well as the button tabs.  I thought it was likely I’d want my skirt a bit shorter than this, but view C looked likely to come up too short on me given my height.  I ended up cutting 6.5 cm off the hem and using a 2 cm hem allowance.

The fabric is a lovely soft cotton drill/twill (I’m not quite sure of the difference yet!) from the same shop on Goldhawk Road that I got the fabric for my Miette skirt.  The buttons are from John Lewis – I was so chuffed when I found them as the small bit of pink is a near perfect match to the fabric colour.

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt button tab and top stitching detail

I decided to try top stitching instead of slip stitch around the waistband.  I’ve seen a tip on a few blogs to use a blind hem foot to help keep the stitching even.  This worked a treat and as a bonus means I’ve now used all the feet that came with my sewing machine!

Another first was inserting a regular, centred zip (I’d only used invisible zips previously).  I didn’t practice on a scrap beforehand and did end up unpicking and starting again, but that was more me being a bit picky and thinking I could do better rather than there being anything especially wrong with my first attempt.

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt back with centred zip

To finish off I decided to use one of the decorative stitches on my machine while hemming.  There’s something about decorative stitching in a shade to match the fabric that I quite like – maybe it is the added texture or maybe it just feels a bit more luxurious.  Given the width of this hem, I was quite happy to be finishing it by machine!

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt hem with decorative stitching

Overall an enjoyable make resulting in a skirt I can definitely see getting a good amount of wear.  And to finish, I couldn’t resist trying out a twirling shot, partly to see how much the skirt flared, but mainly just for the fun of it!

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt twirling

A whole lotta toile

We had been having a lot of hot and sunny weather this summer in London and I’ve found that I’m happiest and most comfortable wearing shorts in such weather.  So since I’d been admiring the Sewaholic Thurlow trousers/shorts pattern for a while it seemed time to take the plunge and make my own shorts!

This pattern has a couple of key new sewing features that I was keen to learn (welt pockets and a fly zip front) and I really like the style of these trousers – I cannot imagine making shorts or trousers that don’t have good functioning pockets – so was excited at the prospect of making many different versions once I had the basic fit right.

Getting the fit right proved a lot more challenging than I expected!

I of course started out making up a toile (muslin).  This looked pretty good from the front straight away, but the back was all kinds of wrong.  Around the seat it looked like my bum was eating the trousers, but just above I had excess fabric causing an unsightly bulge.  I referred to LOTS of online resources on trouser fitting (Lladybird’s Thurlow sewalong is a great starting point for this) but was left feeling rather confused as the fabric eating seemed to imply I needed a longer centre back seam, but did the excess fabric higher up imply a shorter centre back seam was needed???

Thurlow toiles

To cut a long story short, four toiles, copious notes and plenty of help from the fitting lesson of Craftsy class “One pattern, many looks: pants” later I was finally getting towards a pattern that fit.  The key adjustments I needed to make seemed to be full seat and dropped seat (this is how Kathy describes them in the Craftsy class) but I also took in the centre back seam a lot (I think this was probably due to starting out with too big a size) which then meant adjusting the side seams on all relevant pattern pieces to get the balance back.

This might sound like a lot of effort for a pair of shorts, but during this process, I came across a few articles on the topic of learning which felt very relevant.  It seems that many of us as adults can be prone to giving up on learning something because we feel stupid for making mistakes, it is getting too hard or we just get really frustrated.  I particularly liked this post by Tara Mohr on Giving yourself permission to learnI’d forgotten — or maybe never fully realized — how much effort and failure is involved in learning anything“.  Being conscious of this, I gave myself breaks when I needed them and was determined not to give up.

When I finally had a toile that was looking decent I found myself putting it on a few times just to check that I hadn’t dreamed it!

Since I was making quite a lot of changes to the pattern pieces, I made up a fifth toile and this time included most of the details for some practice.  Funnily enough my first welt pocket looks better than the second – my attempt to streamline clearly didn’t work so well.  It took me three goes to get the fly zip installation correctly aligned so I’m very glad I practiced that and I’m now finally ready to make up a proper pair – just as the weather is turning and starting to feel like autumn!

Thurlow toile welt pockets

Thurlow toile fly zip

While I may not get much more chance to wear shorts this year, I have a few ideas for trousers I’d like to make so shouldn’t have to wait until next summer to feel the benefit of all this hard work.

Hacked Sorbetto top with gathers

I felt I needed a bit of a break from the Colette Sorbetto top pattern after my first couple of attempts, but since then I have seen a few takes on it that have inspired me again.  In particular, this version where the bust darts are rotated to neck pleats.

Sobetto top with gathers front view

Instead of pleats, my initial idea was to move the darts to the neckline and then create a gathered neckline.  However, on further reflection, I thought that may not be the best idea for my first go at gathering as without something stable to sew the gathers to I could easily imagine ending up with a rather wonky neckline.  So instead I decided to create front yokes and then rotate the dart towards them.  I also removed the pleat, as felt the gathers were enough for design detail.

Moving the dart

Final front pattern pieces

Before adapting the pattern for the gathers, I made similar adjustments as for my London version (since after wearing the two Sorbettos a bit I realised that the first attempt was actually not such a bad fit).  With the London version I had thought that I’d lowered the armscye too much as the arm hole had a lot of gaping, but after making up this one I’ve realised that the extra length works, but that the base of the armscye is too wide, which was why I was getting all the gaping.  So I took the side seams in by 2.6 cm at each arm – took a bit of time as I’d used French seams, but felt the top was unwearable prior to this so it was definitely worth it.

I also trimmed the front of the armsyce a bit, would have liked to trim a little bit more but couldn’t without needing to redo all the gathering and I didn’t think it was that bad.

I made bias tape using the continuous loop method and hand stitched this down for a neat front finish.  The fabric pattern is probably busy enough that the stitching wouldn’t have been very noticeable, but I actually found the hand stitching quite relaxing and am happy to have done it.

Gathers and bias trim detail

I think the smallish pattern of this fabric makes for good bias tape that would look nice as a trim on a solid coloured top.  (Or maybe I’m just trying to talk myself into buying more fabric…)

The fabric is viscose from Goldhawk Road that has a lovely drape.  Finally feel like I’m starting to make some good fabric choices.  I loved the look and feel of this fabric so much that I had to stop myself going back and buying lots more as they had a few different prints.  I will of course be buying more of this fabric, but am trying to restrict myself to using the fabrics I already have or only buying new fabric for a particular project that I intend to sew straight away so that I don’t end up with an overwhelming stash.

Sorbetto with gathers back view

Looking at the back photos, I wonder if I ought to widen the hem a bit next time.

Sorbetto with gathers front

I’m really happy with this top, it is a very welcome addition to my summer wardrobe.

I would like to make this again, but might try adding a bit more gathering.  Also, I think it could look a bit better with a lower neck line and then longer yoke pieces/lower down gathering.

Have you ever had inspiration from other sewers that makes you go back to a pattern that you were struggling with?

A-line skirt: The Purple Ginger

For my next skirt I thought I’d go a-line – clean and smoothly fitted around the waist but more room for movement than a pencil skirt, and hence much more likely to get worn.  The Colette Ginger skirt gets pretty good reviews and I thought the instructions for their Sorbetto top were excellent, so this looked to be the clear choice.  I also liked the fact that it uses clever shaping instead of darts.

Purple Ginger skirt front view

“The purple ginger” reminds me of a fun weekend in Paris a few years ago with some friends as they took to calling me “purple carrot” (I have no idea why), maybe it is just my weird brain that makes that connection, but it makes me smile 🙂

Ginger skirt with pockets front view

Anyway, the main downside of the pattern was no pockets, but that’s one of the big joys of learning to sew – I can adapt the pattern to suit me!  I was particularly inspired by this version with side slant pockets (I also really like her use of piping and was tempted to add that too, but decided to leave that for another version).

Ginger skirt with pockets side view

I used the pocket pattern pieces from the first trouser pattern of Dressmaking: The complete step-by-step guide as a starting point.  Those slant pockets were straight but a lot of similar pockets I’d seen on skirts were curved, so on my toile I made one side pocket straight and the other gently curved to see which I preferred.  The curved version was definitely better as it sat flat against the body while the straight pocket stuck out and distorted the skirt shape.  For a fun hidden detail I used some of my London fabric for the pocket lining.

Ginger skirt pocket pieces

This skirt is designed to have a pretty high waist, but that really isn’t my style so I went up a size so that the skirt would sit lower.  However this meant that the straight waistband left a lot of gaping around the waist so I adjusted the waistband to be curved as per the explanation given by Mrs C in the comments of this Scruffy Badger post.  I quickly learnt the importance of keeping the fold line and edges at right angles though when I opened up the first front waistband piece:

First attempt at curving the waistband

Other adjustments I made to the pattern were:

  • Removed the curve near the top along the skirt centre front seam
  • Shortened the skirt centre front seam by 1.5cm at the top
  • Lengthened the skirt centre back seam by 0.5cm at the top of the skirt piece
  • Removed the curve near the top along the skirt centre back seam

I found it amazing how much of a difference just a small adjustment can make – initially I was getting some very unsightly diagonal lines from the centre back out towards the side hem, but lengthening the centre back seam by just 0.5cm sorted this out.

Ginger skirt with pockets front view

The fabric is a cotton drill from Goldhawk Road.  It is fairly thick and sturdy so not entirely sure it was the best choice for this skirt as the waistband stays upright and thus gapes at the front when I sit down.  I love the colour though.

I wanted this to be a skirt for all seasons, so as I was making it up I tried it on with tights – as soon as I started to walk I could feel it doing that annoying climbing up the legs thing, so the skirt had to be lined.  The lining is acetate from Goldhawk Road that I already had as it was originally intended for a cord skirt (that I won’t make before the autumn), but I liked how the colour worked with the purple shell.  It was a nightmare to sew!  I now know what people mean when they talk about fabric slipping all over the place.  I hand basted every seam before taking it to the machine which seems to have worked, well enough for a lining anyway.

Ginger skirt with lining

For the invisible zip, I referred to Sunni‘s Craftsy zipper class and Lauren‘s Invisible zipper tutorial along with the pattern instructions and am pretty happy with how this turned out both on the outside and inside.  The zip isn’t completely invisible at the waistband join, but I think this is due to the fabric being so thick.  I’ve since noticed that a lot of more experienced bloggers don’t use invisible zips with thicker fabrics, so I’ll remember to use a regular zip with such fabrics in the future.

Ginger skirt back view

This skirt actually took quite a long time to make with all the pattern adjustments and figuring out how to work with the slippery lining, but I’m very happy with how it has turned out.  Despite loving the colour and the finish, sadly I don’t think this is going to become a frequently worn skirt as it just feels a bit too stiff (hopefully it will feel so bad in colder weather), but I’d definitely use the Ginger skirt pattern again with a different fabric.  I’d like to try out the bias cut version too in order to create the chevron effect, especially after seeing Caroline’s lovely version.

Cotton Belcarra Blouse

As I was so happy with my first Sewaholic Belcarra blouse, it wasn’t long before I made a second one:

Belcarra blouse in cotton lawn

This time I used cotton lawn (from Goldhawk Road), so it doesn’t drape as much as my first viscose version but it still looks ok and is great to wear in the hot weather we’ve been having in London lately.

While shopping for the fabric, I was choosing between a few lovely (but very colourful and busy) cotton lawn prints and so decided to step out of the shop for a little breather while I debated the look I wanted.  But then as I was leaving the shop, I noticed this fabric by the door – pretty unassuming in comparison to the others, but I was drawn to it (and it didn’t hurt that it was a lot cheaper!).  I decided to go for this one as a trial run since I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the look of the top in cotton.  However, I’m now very glad I went with this simple print as it is so easy to wear.   I’ve also noticed that I don’t have many light coloured tops, so this is a welcome addition to my wardrobe.

Must try to remember to give plain and simple fabrics fair consideration on future fabric shopping trips!

Belcarra blouse in cotton lawn

Since it is a simple print I thought it would be a good one to try out the shoulder pin tucks of view B.  I like how this detail adds a bit more interest to the top.

Belcarra blouse pin tuck detail

Adjustments wise, I narrowed the neckline and broadened the shoulders as with my first Belcarra and I shortened the front by 1.5cm (gently curving to meet the original hem line in the back) so it sits better on me.

Not too much to say about the construction as it was straightforward the second time around.  There was a bit of unpicking when I realised I’d folded to a seam notch instead of a tuck notch on my first shoulder, but luckily the holes from the incorrect stitching line pretty much disappeared with a bit of steam pressing .  As with my first version I found the cuffs a bit tricky to insert, but this is definitely getting easier with practice.

My first two Belcarras are getting a good amount of wear, so there could be another one soon…

Simplicity 1693

My sewing plans at the moment have a focus on summery tops as with the good weather we’ve been having of late, I’ve realised I don’t have many tops that I like to wear when it is warm and sunny.

Recently I was kindly offered a Simplicity pattern of my choice in exchange for a review and after drooling over a few dresses that in reality were beyond my current capabilities (and that I’d be unlikely to wear much), I homed in on Simplicity 1693 as it fits right in with my more summer tops plan and includes an impressive number of variations.

For my first version I made view C but without the waist elastic.  I was so pleased with the finished top that I wore it out just a few hours after finishing it!

Simplicity 1693

You may recognise the fabric from my first Belcarra.  It felt a little weird making another top from the same fabric so soon, but I knew that it would drape the way I wanted so went ahead.

The only issue I had with the pattern was the sizing.  Going by the size chart, I should have been a 14 grading to 16, but luckily I made a quick toile and found that the top swamped me.  I then compared the pattern pieces to those of the Belcarra and Sorbetto tops I’ve made and decided that a 12 grading to 14 should fit better.  I also lengthened the pattern by 3 cm at the hem since I’m tall.

Simplicity 1693 side view

The top is pretty straight forward to sew together and I used French seams throughout (the pattern instructions include details on how to do them).  My darts ended up rather wonky, which I think was due to a combination of my trying a new method of making the pattern marks (dressmakers carbon and tracing wheel instead of pins and marking pencils) and the fabric being more mobile than the cottons I’d generally used so far.  Luckily the dark fabric and print do a good job of hiding the wonky-ness!

The neckline and armholes are finished with bias binding facings, so I made bias strips with the same fabric.  For the armholes I tried out the technique described by Lauren of lladybird as part of her outfit along, except I folded the bias tape in half before applying (a la the Belcarra instructions) instead of folding and pressing twice once sewn on.  Even though I’m not taking part in the outfit along, I’ve really been enjoying Lauren’s detailed posts and feel like I’ve learnt loads – the time and thought she has put in is quite something.

Simplicity 1693 front view

I like the button closure detail at the back of this top (the neck is large enough for me that the button opening isn’t necessary, but I like how it looks) and this provided my first go at making a thread loop.  I found a few different ways of doing this online, but ended up just following the diagram in the pattern, think it has worked out ok for a first attempt, you can’t really see it anyway.

Simplicity 1693 button detail

The button closure means there is a centre back seam to this top.  I did think about pattern matching this seam, but didn’t have much fabric left so decided instead to place the pieces such that there wouldn’t be a bright or big flower along the seam so that it is somewhat disguised, I think this worked out ok.

Simplicity 1693 back

Trying the top on pre-hemming it looked a bit longer at the front than the back (I think this must be due to my shape or posture because I noticed the same with the Belcarra).  This was really noticeable if I wore a belt (to try to test out how it would look with the waist elastic), so I decided to trim a bit off the front.  I got a bit carried away and took about 4.5 cm off the centre front, tapering to the original length at the side seams.  I didn’t think the top looked very good with the belt any more so left out the elasticated waist, but I quite like the gentle high/low hem that this has created (like a subtler version of view F).

Overall I’m pretty happy with this top and now will be on the lookout for suitable fabric to make a contrast collar version…

New for me with this make:

  • Making a thread loop
  • New method of applying a bias facing

Second skirt

First, I need to make a confession – this skirt isn’t quite finished.  All that’s left is to hem the shell, but it has been sitting like that for a while now so it is time to admit that I’m unlikely to finish this any time soon.  However, I learnt a lot while making this and feel it was an important part of my learning to sew journey so want to blog about it.

pencil skirt front

The pattern is the Naughty Secretary skirt from Diana Rupp‘s Sew Everything Workshop book, which I discovered when I took her Craftsy Sewing Studio class.  I really enjoyed the class, which features two projects – a simple cushion cover and this skirt.  While pencil skirts are not my usual style, I had enough fabric left over from my Miette skirt to make this so thought I’d give it a go.

pencil skirt side

Making the shell went pretty smoothly.  I’m quite happy with the invisible zip – helped out from the extra practice I got while struggling with the toile zip!

pencil skirt zip

There isn’t a waistband, instead bias tape is used as a facing.  I’d recently brought some navy blue cotton with a strawberry print so decided to make my own bias tape using this for a fun detail on the inside.  I understitched the facing so that it would lie flat and not peak out.  This little detail is my favourite part of the skirt.

pencil skirt bias facing

I definitely wanted to line this so I could wear it all year round and not get annoyed by the skirt riding up when wearing tights.  Initially I brought a fairly cheap lining fabric from Goldhawk Road, but it felt horrible when I was pressing it in preparation for cutting – very clingy and lots of static, definitely wouldn’t do.  So instead I ended up buying a lining fabric from John Lewis that cost as much per metre as the main fabric, but it feels lovely and was easy to work with.

The class goes through making up the lining in the same way as the main skirt, which is obviously fine, but I didn’t want to have the lining showing through the slit.  So I was very happy when I found this tutorial on sewing a vent lining.  I’d gone through all the steps for drafting the lining including adding a bit of extra room around the hips, so it was disappointing when I tried the lining on and found it was too tight.  I guess my main fabric must have a bit of give, but the lining doesn’t.  I unpicked the seams and sewed again with as small a seam allowance as I could get away with, so it is now wearable but still a bit tight when sitting down.

pencil skirt lining

I tried to sew the curves above the lining vent by machine, but was having such a hard time getting the concave and convex curves to match properly that I ended up hand sewing this bit.  I am happy with the end result of the vent though – the lining is nicely attached and is unlikely to show when wearing.

pencil skirt vent

So why don’t I just quickly machine hem the skirt and be done with it? – I’m afraid the perfectionist in me won’t allow it!  I’ve finished the waistband such that stitching is not visible on the outside and feel the hem ought to get the same treatment.  If I think I’ll wear this skirt (or a friend would like it), I’ll be more than happy to take the time to slip stitch the hem, but for now I’d rather spend my craft time on other projects.

Plenty of things learnt with this project:

  • Inserting an invisible zip
  • Fitting a skirt
  • Making sure you check the fit of tight skirts sitting down as well as standing and walking
  • Using bias binding as a facing
  • Understitching
  • Lining a skirt
  • Sewing and lining a vent