A Word on Sewing Essentials and Gadgets

Mr Finch
Art work by Mr Finch http://www.mister-finch.com/

I see lots of sewing gadgets in catalogues, on shopping channels and often in photographs of people’s sewing rooms and I often think it looks like you need a lot of equipment for dressmaking which couldn’t be further from the truth.  So I thought I’d outline some equipment that I consider essential for dressmaking.

The Essentials

Three pairs of scissors


  • Cutting out scissors. Mine are Wilkinson Sword and I have had them for what seems like forever. To be honest they are getting a bit blunt and I know I could do with a new pair but I am very attached to these.
  • A medium pair which are useful for trimming seams. Not as bulky as cutting out scissors but not too small so as to cut through the trimming quickly and efficiently.
  • A small embroidery pair which are indispensable and in my mind one of the most versatile tools of the job. They are used for cutting threads close to the fabric, useful for unpicking, great at holding down fabric as you feed it through the sewing machine, in closed mode of course, and similarly for carefully pushing out the points on collars, cuffs, belts, etc as well as cutting buttonholes. I had a precious pair of Toledo steel ones but a few years ago they gave up the ghost. I replaced them with a pair of stork scissors but also received a slightly bigger pair of stork scissors in a beautiful rose gold colour as a present. I also recently bought some art nouveau styled iridescent small scissors which are so pretty that I don’t want to use them!
special scissors
My special little scissors – rose gold storks, toledo steel, art nouveau

Pins – I like the longer fine variety. These enable me to go in and out of the fabric twice if need be to create a firmer hold on difficult fabrics. I also have some extra fine pins for working with delicate fabrics such as satin, taffeta etc where standard pins would leave hole marks. I’ve also been working with leather recently and invested in some quilting clips in order to hold the leather down as again pins would cause hole marks. However, the little teeth on the clips also left a slight indentation, so I reverted back to using some clothes’ pegs for the job.


Needles – a variety of sizes depending on the fabric being sewn but now my eyesight is not as good as it used to be a large eyehole is appreciated!


Tape measure – goes without saying. I have two and I prefer my old one as it has good imperial measurements. I still tend to use imperial measurements on the whole but do switch between imperial and metric depending on which measuring system works best for a project.

Tape Measures

Threads for tacking – usually white in my case apart from when working with white fabric. I am a big advocate of tacking. There are some things I just pin before I machine but for holding collars, lapels, gathering and other tricky pieces I think it is a case of ‘a tacking stitch in time saves nine‘ or in other words multitudes of unpicking and resewing.

Tailors’ chalk and pencils – for marking things such as buttonholes and button placement.

Small safety pin – for threading elastic in casing.

Sewing machine – with needles in varying sizes for use on different fabrics, No 9 for fine fabrics up to No 16 for heavy denim but I find a No 12 a good all rounder and have that in my machine most of the time. I don’t do a lot of sewing with knit fabrics but if you do ballpoint needles are recommended so as not to ladder the fabric.


Regarding a sewing machine I like a fairly basic mechanical model with forward and backward stitching, zig-zag and buttonhole facility. I would have no use for a 200 stitch machine and I honestly think the more features a machine has the more likely it is to go wrong and I’ve read that computerised models are harder to repair than mechanical ones. My current machine is the Janome Sewist 525S which is slightly up from a basic model as it has a needle threader (hurrah, the best thing since sliced bread) and a one step buttonholer which frankly I am not that impressed with and you can read why here.

Optional Gadgets

I’m not really a gadget person when it comes to dressmaking and I think the list above gives you the complete toolbox for dressmaking. However I do have a few gadgets in my arsenal that I have found very useful.

A wheel chalk mouse – now if you are a Burdastyle magazine aficionado this device is a must. You pin your traced pattern pieces from the magazine onto your fabric and then set the mouse to 1.5 cm and whizz round all the pattern pieces to add the requisite seam allowance. There is also a 2.5 cm marking and 4 cm for marking hem distances. You can buy refills to replenish it. I couldn’t be without this now and go back to using a tape measure and tailors chalk or just eyeball it as I used to do (okay I admit I still do that sometimes).

Wheel Mouse

Small Quilter’s measure – I recently purchased this, again to help with my Burdastyle pattern drafting. It is so useful for measuring out those rectangular pieces Burda uses for cuffs, belts, button loops, zip flies, etc.

quilt measure

A small measuring qauge – great as a quick measuring reference when you are marking up hems of various sizes.  This is in imperial measurements.

sewing guage

Quick unpick – some people might list this as an essential toolbox item but I personally still prefer to use fine scissors for unpicking as I feel they give you more control. I have on several occasions ripped fabric using a quick unpick so that’s probably why I am wary now.

quick unpick

Expanding marker – this is useful for marking button or eyelet placement and you can see where I have used it here.

expander gauge

Scovill Dritz cutting board – I’m not sure if I can classify this as a gadget but it is so useful.  The fact that it is now described as vintage shows you how long I have owned it.  It folds out and protects your dining room table top.  There are grid measurements on it to help line up straight grain and some useful diagonal lines for cutting bias strips.


The prize for most useless gadget – now some people might disagree with me and think this is wonderful but I have failed to master it. I can see that it might work on thinner fabrics.  However for narrow tubes such as rouleau loops I resort to sewing a piece of string at one end of the tube and pull the string thus turning the tube the right side out. For large tubes such as belt ties I rely on the good old fashioned knitting needle method to push the tube inside out.


If you have any other gadgets which you have found particularly useful in dressmaking I would love to hear about them in the comments section. There might be something out there that I really need to add to my collection.

A Dolce and Gabbana Moment



I needed an outfit to wear at a steampunk event at which I was trading.  I had already made several costumes for the event (which I hope to blog about at a later date) but as usual had failed to create something for myself.  However this time I decided it was going to be different and I would have a new outfit whatever it took.

I’d been scouring Pinterest for ideas and had fallen in love with the designs from the Dolce and Gabbana Fall 2006 show.  The military, regency, slightly decadent look was right up my street.  I decided I wanted to replicate one of the looks,  Initially I settled on one of the black pinstripe ensembles but eventually was drawn to the beige/brown combination as the leather jacket just screamed steampunk.  As much as I love the full on steampunk look with loads of frills, flounces, goggles and paraphernalia, it just isn’t me, so I like touches of steampunk while keeping it fairly classical.  This seemed to fit the bill

The Jacket

I decided I needed to look for a second hand leather military style jacket which I could crop.  However the only military one I could find was too large and the wrong colour.  Eventually I picked up a small, weathered, brown leather jacket which I felt I could rework.  The plan sounded easy – crop, sew up the hem, cut the collar to create a stand effect and use the left overs to make the military revers. I bought some topstitching thread to match the already existing topstitching on the jacket and set up the machine ready to go.  However, it was hard work sewing with this thicker thread through leather. It kept shredding, skipping stitches and breaking, so what seemed like a simple task became hard work.  I persevered but the end result is not that pretty if you look too closely.  Donated military buttons completed the look.



The blouse

The blouse is the only part of the costume that is not a full on copy of the Dolce and Gabbana version.  The blouse I substituted has been in my collection for quite a while now. The pattern is Burdastyle 103 9/2010 and I made it up in a cream silk type fabric.  I love this blouse.  It made up beautifully, fits well and I adore the stock neck tie effect.  The only things I changed were the cuffs and because of fabric constraints the length of the tie neck.  This is never going to leave my wardrobe.




Burdastyle 105 8/2018 had the perfect hemline and seaming details for the style I wanted to create.  It looks like the Dolce and Gabbana one is high necked with a stand collar but I didn’t have time to redraft the pattern.  So I sewed it as is but created the splits around the hemline and added flap pockets.  I piped all the way around the edges of the waistcoat before adding the lining.  It was challenging sewing the lining around the piped splits.  It felt like sewing the seams underneath an inserted invisible zip but doing that task fourteen times over.




The trousers on the Dolce and Gabbana design are obviously hipster but I knew I wanted them to be more comfortable especially as I would be mainly sitting around in them all day.  I trawled my Burdastyle back catalogue and eventually settled on  121 1/2009 as the wide shaped waistband gave the illusion of hipster trousers for the pocket placement.  I redrafted the pocket shape to match the ones in the Dolce and Gabbana outfit.  I again used piping for the pockets and for the back buttoned belt holders.  I found some gold buttons with weathered edges on the local market which finished the waistcoat and trousers off perfectly.



The fabric I used for the waistcoat and trousers was a beige stretch gaberdine bought online from myfabrics.co.uk.  I don’t usually buy fabric online as I like to feel and see the real article.  However I had purchased some of the fabric previously in a different colour for another project and had a swatch of samples including the beige so I knew it would be suitable.  This fabric has become my new best friend.  It was fabulous to work with.  I am not a big fan of stretch fabrics but this had just the right amount of stretch.  It was a joy to cut out and sew and equally enjoyable to wear – comfortable and crease resistant.  The piping in a lovely desert gold colour was also a great find off ebay.

Of course no steampunk outfit is complete without a beautiful brooch.


I’m really pleased with the outcome of this outfit which definitely feels ‘inspired by’ Dolce and Gabbana.   I received a lot of compliments while wearing it which is always a bonus and makes the effort put into making something worthwhile.




Sew Your Kibbe: Dresses, Blouses and Tops

In my third and final post on plans for the Sew Your Kibbe challenge hosted by Dr T Designs  I am going to discuss ideas for dresses, blouses and tops. I covered jackets and coats in my first post here and skirts and trousers in the second one here.


Should always be elegant, with smooth shapes, softly tailored styling, and slim widths. Waist emphasis should be understated (narrow, elegant belts or ties). Shirtwaists, tailored wraps, soft sheaths, smooth knits, and belted coat dresses are all good.

Avoid: Sharply tailored styles, flouncy styles with ornate detail, oversized and wide styles.

To be honest I don’t wear dresses that often and when it comes down to it there is only one style of dress that I particularly like and that is a shirt dress.  Shirt dresses can come in various silhouettes.  I think a true Kibbe classic shirt dress would be more tailored, perhaps with princess lines, but I prefer a more casual looking shirt dress, either one made in two parts with a bodice attached to a flared skirt or else the elongated shirt type usually worn with a belt that can often double up as a tunic. 

I bought a medium weight stripey fabric in a sale last year with the intention of sewing McCalls M7623 View D.  However I’m now persuaded that I would prefer to make Butterick 6640 View C with short sleeves and the tie feature.  I feel this is a very versatile pattern which reflects the shirt dress styles that are currently so popular.  Now I know these look very good on tall, skinny models but might have a tendency to look granny on anybody else.  So we’ll wait and see! 


The Kibbe guidelines for classic blouses are:

Smooth tailored styles (elegant silks and soft cottons).

Avoid: Flouncy or frilly styles. Unconstructed styles.

I do like a classic shirt style and Burdastyle have a wealth of beautiful shirt and blouse designs to choose from.  Here are a selection I am considering.  I guess some of the ones with gathers would cross over into the Kibbe soft classic sphere.  However I keep reading that long gathered sleeves are going to be a trend this year so I would be on point!




Smooth knits. Moderate weight. Ribbed or softly textured.  

Avoid: Oversized and baggy sweaters, clingy knits, nubby or roughly textured knits.

Despite having an overlocker I don’t sew knit fabrics that much but I have been thinking that I ought to start making my own jersey tops as they would be so quick to run up.

Burdastyle 12/2017 111 has appealed for a while now.  I know it has a lot of flounces and so I would restrict it to just those on the raglan seams but even so I expect that feature would move the jumper into the Kibbe soft classic category.

That completes my round up of ideas and plans for Sew Your Kibbe and now I have just got to start working on them.  Writing these blogs has helped focus my mind and I think I have actually finalised 6 garments I am going to make to create a basic mini capsule wardrobe.  Unfortunately because of ongoing current sewing projects I won’t be able to really get going on these ideas until June but the challenge is year long and so my Sew Your Kibbe will be very much a project for the second half of the year.

Sew Your Kibbe: Skirts and Trousers

So this is my second post on plans for the Sew Your Kibbe challenge hosted by Dr T Designs I am going to focus on ideas for skirts and trousers. I covered jackets and coats in my first post here.


The Kibbe guidelines for classic skirts run as follows:

Should be kept smooth and simple. Clean lines. Soft and straight or slightly flared. Minimal detail. Moderate length to match jacket length (standard straight: one inch below knee; slightly flared, mid calf; paired with a long jacket). Softly pleated skirts.
Avoid: Long, pencil-slim styles, full, flouncy styles, over detailed touches (pockets, gathers, trim).

However when I saw Dr T’s illustrations of skirt patterns for the dramatic classic type they appealed to me far more than the basic classic skirts. The dramatic classic skirts are not really ‘dramatic’ in the true sense of the word but appear to have slightly more detailing that a standard pencil or A line skirt.

I’ve had Simplicity 8175  in my stash for quite a while and even have the fabric ready to sew. I would say the colour veers towards my love of khakis and greens. I make no apologies for my love of what I call ‘sludgey’ colours which fall under the broad spectrum of khaki which can range from light tans through to darker greens.


I’ve really liked the asymmetric pencil skirts which have been around for a while now and these two designs from Burdastyle have been on my radar. I think the skirt with the buttoned flounce might actually fall into the soft classic category but when worn with a plain polo neck would still look very classic.


During summer pencil skirts can often feel a bit restricting and so I often prefer a slightly looser style at that time of year.  I am thinking a more A line buttoned up style.  I don’t have a pattern in mind but am contemplating using the lower half of McCalls dress pattern M7623 view D which I have used to make a skirt before



The Kibbe guidelines for classic trousers are as follows:

Clean, tailored styles with a minimum of detail. Plain front or trouser-pleated. Slim, narrow shapes.
Avoid: Extreme man-tailored pants (deep pleats, cuffs, etc.), oversized, unconstructed or baggy shapes, draped, clingy, tapered shapes.

I actually like a lot of different trouser styles and so this is probably going to be the guideline I am going to find hardest to stick to.  I’ve been gathering inspiration photos on a pinterest board.

At the moment I am finding it very difficult to find ready to wear trousers which fit. I fall between two sizes. One size slightly too tight but the next size falling off me. I really can’t understand why there is the huge difference of about two inches between sizes. I have therefore been moving to the idea that I really need to make the majority of trousers just to get them to fit me.

To start off with I admit I do like a pair of basic slim black trousers in the wardrobe. I know they are a work wear staple and can be on the boring side but they are so useful for all kinds of occasions. I have been scouring my Burda back catalogue for ages and had settled on style 108 in 11/2005 edition. So imagine my joy when they popped up as one of Dr T’s choices for classic trousers.  Just a simple straight pair with darts back and front.

black trousers

The current high waist styles, which I have to say I love as I am a comfort first sort of person, are going to be included. I bought My Image magazine Autumn Winter 2017/2018 purely for the trouser pattern on the left. Then when I received the Patrones 393 magazine  I found it has a similar pair (on the right) but I had already traced off the My Image pattern and cut out the fabric (a blog will follow) but it would be interesting to make the Patrones version and compare notes.

Here are some other styles I like which I said would be eclectic and some do not fall into the Kibbe classic guidelines:

Burda 08/2017 Style 113 – cropped flared (but low waisted so I might have to add an inch in the crotch depth).  I think a stretch ponte would make these more comfortable to wear which I am seeing in boutiques at the moment.

Burda 08 2015 113

Patrones Magazine 393 – cropped formal (just look at that lovely high waist) but they are tapered and cropped which the classic guidelines say are to be avoided but in my opinion they look so classic.


Simplicity 8457 – Wide ankle length.  I’m sure I’m not permitted by the classic guidelines to have wide legs or cropped but I love this style.  In fact I’ve just snapped up the pattern in a sale.


Burdastyle 9/2009 style 109– narrow menswear style with turn ups- just imaging these in a lovely grey tweed or brown herringbone for autumn or winter. These aren’t too mannish and so fall into the dramatic classic category.

bwof-2009-09-109 (1)

Maybe I have too many choices now which I’m going to have to narrow down.   So while I’m contemplating that I’ll move onto my final planning post about dresses, blouses and tops.

Sew Your Kibbe: Jacket and Coats

So in my first post on plans for the Sew Your Kibbe challenge hosted by Dr T Designs I am going to focus on ideas for jackets and coats.


I love jackets and I love making jackets. One of the first garments I made for myself in my first year at secondary school was a jacket. Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end – collar, lapels, sleeve insertion, flap pockets and I remember there was a lovely angled seam where I learnt all about clipping! You can see a picture and read about it here. Anyhow from that moment I was smitten with making jackets.

I’ve got a few ready to wear jackets I live in during summer including a really comfortable ponte one but they do really need replacing this year and Sew Your Kibbe could be the perfect opportunity to do that. At the moment I am contemplating several styles of jacket. I keep referring to the Kibbe jacket description for classics:

Should always be narrow and tailored with a smooth outline. Standard length is best (just below break of hip). Lightweight unconstructed jackets are fine when they are kept sleek and narrow. Blazers, cardigan-style, elongated Chanel (not cropped) are all good choices. Slightly longer jackets are possible when the corresponding skirt is also elongated to match. Avoid: overly angular jackets, oversized jackets, boxy jackets, cropped jackets and flouncy jackets.

I’m glad it mentions blazers as I really like this style from Patrones magazine 393 a relative has just brought me back from Spain. I think it looks good in the plain black and that it could be very versatile for wearing over dresses, skirts or trousers. I’ve never used a Patrones pattern and I am really eager to try them out.


Another style I am contemplating is a simple collarless style. Burdastyle has produced some good designs and I am leaning towards replicating the grey ponte one in the February 2019 issue. As I have enjoyed wearing my current ponte one I know that it will be very comfortable and travel well plus I have some fabric already eyed up for this.

ponte blazer

There are another couple of styles I also like. The one on the left from Burdastyle from September 2016 and the one on the right from said Patrones magazine. Not much to choose between them but I think the Burda is more fitted and features princess seams.

Of course there is also the bog standard classic jacket. I have had Butterick 4610 in my stash for many years and I even bought some fabric to make it.

classic jacket

I still do like it but now that I mainly wear trousers I think I appreciate a slightly longer jacket like the one in Burdastyle October 2018.



I haven’t made myself a coat for several years and really feel I need to now because they are basically elongated jackets. However I am dithering about what style to choose.

I think a longer style (below knee) is really useful as they can be worn with skirts, dresses and trousers. After a bit of a drought Burdastyle did produce a great coat design in the October 2018 edition. I love how the lapels can be worn open or closed creating two quite different looks.


But I do have a love of overcoats because they wear so well with trousers. My pinterest board shows a selection of overcoats which I especially like in camel and grey. I am going back a long way to find an overcoat pattern I like in my Burda stash, in fact to March 1999.

Lutterloh also have a really nice design in their supplement number 308 but I don’t think it is economical to buy the supplement for just one design plus I would have all the pattern drafting to do – so much easier to do the tracing off of patterns.

Finally there is the lure of a simple trench coat and these are so good as transitional and lightweight summer cover ups. Burdastyle February 2019 issue has a lovely minimal relaxed design that I am imagining in a soft twill and I feel it is also a pattern which could also double up as a wrap coat if it were made in a woollen fabric.


So that’s my thinking so far on outerwear. I worry that they may seem too tame and I ought to throw a more flamboyant design in there. My flamboyancy would probably come through fabric choice and a nice corduroy or velvet could really turn some of those classic jackets into the dramatic.


I also feel some exaggerated lapels would feed into the dramatic classic in me and McCalls M4841 view B with its 70s retro feel has always appealed. Something to ponder on while I now move on to skirts and trousers choices.

Sew Your Kibbe Challenge

The Kibbe system is a new concept which I have been introduced to through an amazing series of blogs on the subject by Dr T Designs.

At a simple level it is choosing garment styles to complement body shape and facial features with four major categories – Dramatic, Romantic, Classic and Gamine – although there are also sub-categories of these four types. There are tests which you can do to identify which category you fall into. I suspected I was a classic and sure enough the test reinforced that belief with some leanings towards dramatic.

Dr T Designs has now set up a challenge whereby you look at your existing wardrobe through new eyes and add 12 me made pieces based on your particular Kibbe type. I love that this is a challenge rather than a competition and that if forces you to focus on the type of garments you should be making for your body type rather than going off into flights of fancy and ending up with garments that never see the light of day. I also love that there is a real ‘community’ feel to this challenge bringing sewists together, sharing ideas and working on the same project.

Despite time constraints due to other sewing commitments, with this challenge in mind I have begun planning what I would like to make and have been putting together a Pinterest board of inspirations and pattern ideas. The 12 garments should in a way comprise a ‘capsule wardrobe’. Dr T makes suggestions of how to go about this but so far I have come up with the following plan:

  • 2 x jackets
  • 1 x skirt
  • 3 x trousers
  • 1 x dress
  • 2 x tops
  • 1 x blouse
  • 1 x coat (I feel a coat should squeeze in there somewhere)
  • The last one could be another skirt, dress or top

To be honest I’m not even sure I will get round to making the full 12 and my ‘capsule wardrobe’ might be reduced to 6 garments.

My lifestyle has changed over the last year or so and I now work out of home so I do not need so many ‘office appropriate’ outfits. Most of my makes will therefore be at Level 1 (casual) with some Level 2 (more formal) but unless I’m suddenly invited to a wedding no intentional Level 3. I do know fabric choice could elevate a Level 1 to a Level 3, for example, by making a jacket in a velvet or brocade which could also even move it into the realms of dramatic but at this stage I do not have plans for that to occur. Although I have an overlocker I do not use it to sew a lot of knits so I might need to venture into that area.

What I really liked about Dr T’s series of blogs was the extensive use of pattern illustrations to suit the various Kibbe types. The visual referencing made it so much easier to understand the system. When I saw the classic jacket and blouse patterns I could not believe how many I already owned or had on my to sew list. However with the skirts and dress patterns I tended towards the Dramatic Classic. To make it more manageable I’ve decided to break the planning down and I intend to do three short blogs highlighting possible pattern and fabric options as follows:

An Edwardian Divided Skirt: Making Up

Following the drafting of the pattern, the skirt was very quick to cut out as it only has two pieces plus a waistband. I then proceeded to make the skirt up like a pair of trousers. I began by sewing the inside leg seams followed by the crotch. I then pressed and stitched the inverted pleats at CF and CB top-stitching them down to hip level to hold them flat . After a fitting I completed the skirt by sewing the side seams, inserting an invisible zip on the left hand side and attaching a straight narrow waistband.

The only alteration I made was that I found I needed to raise the CF and CB about an inch in order to get the pleats to lie correctly and I have my theories about why I needed to do this which relates back to the pattern drafting and pattern cutting.

When drafting the divided skirt pattern I needed to create a new slightly sloped CF and CB to allow the inverted pleat to hang correctly. However it was not indicated anywhere in my source books whether the old CF and CB or the new CF and CB were to be placed to the straight of grain.

As I was working with a self striped fabric I decided to put the new CF and CB to the straight of grain, that is along a stripe so that I got a vertical stripe up the centre of my skirt front and back. However because I found that I need to raise the CF and CB on my made up skirt I began to suspect that actually the original CF and CB on the pattern drafts were in fact the straight grain lines although if I had cut the fabric like that the stripes would have hung at an angle.

When I came across this sewing pattern picture during a Pinterest search I felt it confirmed that suspicion as I can see that the stripes on the check hang away at an angle from the CF creating an upside down V shape. To be honest I don’t suppose it looks that bad and with plain or flowered fabric it absolutely would not be a problem but I began to wonder what you do if you want your striped or check fabric to hang vertical at front and back and not at an angle.


I looked through all my reference books again and found that in Pattern Cutting Made Easy the author states that when using check or striped fabric do not create the new sloped CF and CB for an inverted pleat and just use the original CF and CB (it was also when I read this that I realised it substantiated my suspicion that the original CF and CB are the straight grain). I can see that this would lead to the check or striped fabric hanging vertically but I began to ask myself how would this affect the hang of the inverted pleat if you remove the sloped CF and CB. Obviously this is something I need to play around with trying out different pattern drafts with and without the sloped front and seeing how the inverted pleats hang (especially on striped and checked fabric) but that will be saved for another day.

Although I love the self striped fabric I have used for the divided skirt, it is very soft and I think the pleat will fall out readily and need regular pressing to maintain its shape. A crisp fabric is definitely better for pleats. Also another way to keep the pleat laying better would have been to cut the pleat as two pieces thus creating a seam on the inside fold of the pleat.  The photo on the left below shows front pleat and the photo on the right below shows the back pleat.

Anyway despite these observations, with some tweaking my CF and CB pleats now lay how I intended with the stripe vertical and overall I am very pleased with my attempt at drafting and making a garment from my own measurements.  It is certainly something I want to develop more and use for everyday garments as well as for historical and vintage items.