Simplicity Hackalong Challenge 2020

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.






A Word on Sewing Essentials and Gadgets

Mr Finch
Art work by Mr Finch

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.