The results are in and I’m overwhelmed that my seventies inspired garment based on pattern S8888 which I entered into the Simplicity Hackalong Challenge 2020 was chosen as the winning garment in the vintage category!
As I am a lover of all things seventies fashion related I am over the moon that the garment I created by adding seventies style features was recognised and appreciated by the judges of the competition.
The prize I received is an incredible Janome Atelier 6 which has so many features I was wishing for in a sewing machine and I know it is going to make my dressmaking so much easier and enjoyable.
On top of that my dress will be featured in an article in Love Sewing magazine alongside the winners of the other two categories – Day and Occasion. So I have provided pictures of my garment being worn by my model Sineade and photographed by Mark Clayton Photography for the publication. These photographs will be accompanied by a paragraph I have written about my hackalong process of transforming S8888 into a vintage style garment. I can’t wait to read it!
I stumbled across this challenge on my Facebook feed. The premise of the challenge is that you take one of the Simplicity Hacking Patterns (these are patterns that show you how to create different looks from one basic pattern) and come up with your own twist on one. As part of this competition Simplicity are donating towards the Eve Appeal for every Hack-along pattern bought in the UK during the event.
There were three categories to choose from; Day, Party and Vintage. It goes without saying that I was drawn to the vintage category.
As I am a great lover of 70s fashion (you can read about my take on that in this post) I decided to create a garment reflecting that era. I decided to use Simplicity dress pattern S8888 as I felt this style with its slightly high waist lent itself to a lot of the styles that were around back then as can be seen on my Pinterest board of original 70s patterns.
To create my dress I did away with the front opening and created a square neckline. I attached the pattern to my mannequin in order to determine where to put the neckline. Originally I was going to ‘hack’ into the pattern but decided instead to fold the pieces back to preserve the pattern.
I also made some ties about 3 feet long and 1 and 3/4″ inch wide which I sewed into the front bodice seams just above where the gathered skirt pieces are attached. This added a nice feature as the ties can be seen at the front of the dress too.
I drafted a long puffed sleeve gathered at the sleeve head and gathered into a deep cuff.
I did wonder whether to go full on Laura Ashley by keeping the dress long and adding a wide frill to the hem. However it wasn’t the look I was really after but obviously this is another hacking option. I decided to cut the dress to just around knee level and is in keeping with those on the original 70s dress patterns.
Talking of Laura Ashley I knew I was keen to create the dress in some type of small floral cotton print similar to those produced by Laura Ashley and Liberty during the 70s . I found some 100% cotton fabric with a small sprig pattern on a slate blue background which fitted the brief. I don’t often work with cotton but when I do I really enjoy it as it always sews beautifully and is a pleasure to press. Plus it is easy to tell the right side from the wrong side which always helps when you are sewing!
The construction process was fairly straightforward and I followed the pattern instructions for attaching the side gathered pieces to the back and front bodice sides but then branched out on my own. I didn’t use facing pieces at the square neck line but interfaced and turned back the seam allowances as hems before adding an ecru lace trim which picked up the colour of the sprigs in the fabric.
The pattern suggests using an invisible zip and also gives instructions for an exposed zip but I decided to use an ordinary closed zip to reflect the era.
The deep cuff is fastened with three buttons and I choose ecru coloured ones to match the springs and lace trim at the neckline.
To complete the 70s look I style the dress with a wide brimmed floppy hat, a black ribbon choker and a pair of genuine 70s Dolcis platform shoes. There really were some great shoes around in the 70s.
Overall Simplicity S8888 is a great little pattern that can serve as the basis for so many styles. By taking one basic pattern and adding small details which reflect a particular time period plus the correct choice of fabric it is very easy to create a garment with a vintage vibe. Finally it is always nice to have a little helper when working on a project.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
A small measuring qauge – great as a quick measuring reference when you are marking up hems of various sizes. This is in imperial measurements.
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.
Expanding marker – this is useful for marking button or eyelet placement and you can see where I have used it here.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
As part of a planned costume, I want to make an Edwardian style divided skirt. These skirts, along with bloomers, became popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century as women began to participate more in sports such as tennis, golf and particularly bicycling.
Divided skirts look essentially like a pleated A line skirt but are actually culottes and therefore, as well as providing more freedom of movement, they also help to preserve a lady’s dignity, for example, when trying to mount a bicycle. Occasionally the skirt was part of a stylish suit which made a totally practical outfit for outdoor activities. Edwardian designs were often referred to as bifurcated skirts and the front of the culottes was often disguised with a centre front panel sewn into the seam on the right hand side but left to hang loose on the left hand seam as in first picture below. I suppose our modern equivalent would be called a skort. However my design is going to be a straight forward A line divided skirt with centre front (CF) and centre back (CB) pleat.
Initially I thought I would make the divided skirt by drafting an original Edwardian divided skirt pattern buttoned up the CF from Turn of the Century Fashion Patterns and Tailoring Techniques but when I began to do this I realised I just didn’t have enough space on my dining room table for the size of measurements used especially the length of the original vertical line A-B from which other measurements are taken. This drafting method is based on the circular skirt method of swinging a pencil on a string round which is still used today – often in the Burdastyle magazines.
For some time now I have been planning on creating some blocks using my own measurements in order to design my own patterns, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to create a skirt block using my own measurements. I had three source books (the first two from the local library, the third being one I picked up from a flea market) as follows:
Although all skirt blocks begin as a basic rectangle measuring 1/2 hip measurement x required length of skirt, the way in which the drafting was undertaken varied in each book. The Teresa Gilewska method does not use any ease allowance on the drafting (I presume you must add this when cutting out) and was very calculation based. I did draft her basic pencil skirt for future use. The Pattern Cutting made Easy used a similar system but did add some ease to the measurements and did include a culotte variation.
However in the end I decided to use my Natalie Bray book mainly because the follow up book More Pattern Cutting (which I bought at the same time as the basic book) has instructions for a pleated divided skirt. It is an older system and I suppose some may say old fashioned method but the book is often seen as the definitive guide for pattern cutting. There are updated versions but the copy I have dates from the early 1960s and so many of the variations illustrated have a lovely vintage feel. The book uses the technique of cutting and spreading the original basic rectangle. As I began to draft this skirt block the technique began to feel familiar and I realised I had used it before when I did some basic pattern drafting at school. This method creates more of an A line skirt which is what I wanted for the Edwardian style but the book does show how to reduce hem width to create a pencil skirt style.
1. Creating the Rectangle:
2. Cutting and Spreading the Rectangle at the hip line, then tracing the outline on to new paper:
3.Inserting the seamlines and darts to create the final block:
My completed block
Ideally the block should be made on something durable like thick card but I had to make do with thick paper.
Once I had made the block I traced off a copy to alter for the divided skirt pattern below. A divided skirt is a full length skirt with a crutch part and usually inverted pleats added on CF and CB. To create the divided skirt the width of the standard skirt block is slightly increased in such a way that 1 inch is added to the CF and CB at the hem but nothing at the waist to enable the CF to slope more for the pleat to hang correctly. A crotch part is then added to the new CF and CB (this would create simple culottes pattern) but to create the divided skirt the crotch part has to be cut off and pleats added to the new CF and new CB and then the crotch part re-attached. Stage I below shows the new CF and CB added and the crotch part drafted on. Stage II shows the pleat added at back and crotch ready to be reattached and the front shows how it lies with pleat closed.
Here is the pattern for the front showing the pleat and also with the pleat on the pattern folded to make sure it lies correctly.
The pattern is now ready to be cut out and made up. Ideally with self drafted patterns it is advisable to make a muslin to test the pattern and make any adjustments to the muslin which can then be transferred to create a final correct block pattern. As I am pushed for time I am going to bypass the muslin (risky I know) and cut out my fabric direct. I shall be writing about the final outcome and any problems I encounter in the next blog, so stay tuned.
This is a project I have had in mind for while and seeing the Refashioners’ contest gave me the impetus I needed to get started. The challenge, outlined on Portia Lawrie’s Makery blog, is to upcycle or refashion a garment, textiles, accessories, etc, to create an item you have been inspired by. When I came across the photos below of an Alexander McQueen corset during an internet search I was intrigued that it did not look like a traditional corset and seemed to be a cross somewhere between corset, waistcoat and Wrangler/Levi jacket. However, the rounded elongated centre front sections appear to emulate the spoon busk corsets of the late 1800s and the garment also has an armour like feel reminiscent of the tight cuirass bodices, again popular in the late 1800s, which were named after a piece of close fitting medieval defensive armour worn over the torso and chest. The distressed look and use of leather hardware particularly appealed to me and I wondered if I could replicate its style imagining it in a white denim with tan top stitching.
It is often difficult to get the exact fabric you visualise for a garment but when I came across a pair of white denim jeans in a charity shop, on their £1 sale rail of all places, I scooped them up with this corset in mind. As they were a size 10 long there was some extra fabric to play with for an upcycling project.
I browsed my back catalogue of Burdastyle patterns to find one I could use for the basis of the corset and settled on style 112 size 38 from 07/2008 as it had centre pieces which would be perfect for creating the elongated fronts. I had do some tweaking with the pattern including creating a v neck and yokes, the said elongated front pieces, shortening the pieces to just below waist length, adding more curve to the side seams and finally creating my own collar and cap sleeve patterns.
All in all I needed to cut out 17 pieces from the jeans but some unpicking of seams was required to acquire extra fabric plus piecing of the side back pattern. All pattern parts were cut out with scant 1/4 inch seams. I decided I could reuse the unpicked belt loops on my project and so matched up the topstitching thread to that on the original garment which was fortunate to be the required tan.
I did need a few reels of thread to create the myriads of topstitching this garment calls for. I originally tried using one of my wider double needles as I hoped this would speed up the topstitching process but my double needle kept shredding the topstitching thread and so I had to resort to a single size 16 needle and rely on eye to create the double rows. They may not be entirely perfect (in fact they are not on the original McQueen corset either) but that was not the look I was after and there is charm in the imperfections.
Ideally I would have chosen an antique brass metal zip but I had a 16 inch silver metal open ended zip lurking in my stash which was perfectly suitable for the project. I attached a strip of the white denim to the zip puller as per the original. Before attaching the leather strips and boning I machine washed the garment to create the frayed edges as this process had previously worked well on some denim shorts. It was nerve wracking cutting into the collar and sleeves but it had to be done!
A corset implies boning and this is when it would have been useful to handle the original item and see which seams had been boned. It may well be that all the vertical seams are boned as in a traditional corset but some of the seams do not look to have that rigidity about them. The denim fabric provides a fairly solid garment. I toyed with putting boning in the front panels but decided the zip and leather provided enough structure and boning might be uncomfortable when sitting. In the end I settled on just boning the side seams. I used rigilene boning because I had some spare strips left over from previous corset making. I normally make boning channels using a wide seam allowance (at least 5/8 inch) but in this case did not have that luxury. The beauty of rigilene boning is that it can be sewn through and so I decided to securely zig zag the boning to the insides of the side seams before topstitching them down.
For the leather strips at centre front I used a leather belt also gleaned from a charity shop for £1. I already had a leather belt I wanted to use on the corset which has a curved buckle echoing the one on the McQueen corset and so I was pleased to find a leather belt in almost the same shade of brown. It was actually a rather nice leather belt and I felt guilty cutting into it but needs must. I cut out two 3/4 inch wide by 16 inch long strips. There was some curvature in the back of the belt from wear which made it quite difficult to cut entirely straight strips.
I had some brass dome claw studs but the claws were too short and delicate to go into the leather so after racking my brain I remembered I had a pack of copper colour rivets lying around. As the pins are designed to go through several layers of denim on jeans they were perfect for my leather trim. I had 17 rivets left and so it had to be 8 rivets on each strip. I marked the rivet placements using an expander gadget.
I’m not really a gadget person but I recently bought the expander to help with eyelet placement on corset construction. If you read my blog on the fan laced corset you will see that it means I can skip the maths part when working out where to put eyelets! I marked the top and bottom rivet placement and stretched the expander out between the two and hey presto it shows where to mark the others equally. I had to create the holes for the rivets but my punch would not work on the thick leather and so I had to resort to an awl and hammer. The rivet and attachment pin are then loaded in the insertion device provided and more hammer whacking later the studded strips were completed ready to be sewn onto either side of the zip. I did wonder whether I would be able to sew the leather strips to the garment as the leather is quite sturdy in addition to two layers of denim. As I don’t have a leather needle for my sewing machine I stuck with a size 16 using the longest stitch length and also a piping foot to avoid the rivets.
It’s been a bit of a time consuming project from having to create the pattern, fiddle with the cutting out, sewing all the top stitching, washing and riveting but overall I am very pleased with the end result.
Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Sure there are tweaks I would make if I were to repeat the project but as with all upcycling challenges there were constrictions regarding the amount and shape of the fabric available. These photos show the piecing of the side back panel. It sits on the waist line and so looks part of the design but is also hidden by the belt. Three of the belt loops were sewn back on and matched the topstitching perfectly.
Here is a photo of the leftovers. I shall be removing the zip from the jeans to add to the stash. Both ends of the belt remain. The large buckle is lovely and I am sure I will find a use for it. In fact I actively hunt down belts in charity shops to obtain nice buckles as they are so expensive to buy new. The leather scraps will also come in useful for creating small details on corsets and waistcoats for example.
Finally I must say thank you to my valiant sewing machine (the Janome Sewist 525S). I know I complain about its little foibles but overall it is a good little work horse and has coped admirably with thick layers of denim and leather.