• Why don't commercial patterns fit properly?

    How many times have you been excited about starting a new dressmaking project, raided your stash for the perfect fabric, carefully cut the pattern out and faithfully followed the sewing instructions – only to be disappointed with the result?  More times than you care to remember, if you’re anything like me.

    Loads of people I speak to say they’ve simply stopped bothering to sew for themselves because nothing ever fits.

    So why is that? Why do so many of us get such disheartening results when we’ve taken so much care over our sewing?

    Well, it’s because commercial pattern companies – whether big American ones like Vogue, European like Burda or even small independent ones like Colette, all work their own standard set of measurements.  People, on the other hand, don’t come in standard sizes.  An even bigger factor is that tops, dresses and jackets are all drafted for a ‘B’ cup bust.

    It would be so great if we could just buy a pattern and whip up a fabulous garment that fits perfectly straight out of the envelope. For the vast majority of us though that’s just not the reality. In fact, guaranteed if you’re bigger than a ‘B’ cup.

    You can’t blame the pattern companies. It would be impossible for them to produce every design in a myriad of size variations.  Even if they did, it would just be totally bewildering trying to work out which one we needed.  The only way to guarantee a perfect fit from a commercial pattern is to think of it as your starting point, rather than the finished article.

    As Pati Palmer of Palmer/Pletsch often says “The pattern is your manuscript and you are the editor”.

    Once you learn how to customise patterns to fit your shape, the world of fashion is your oyster!

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  • Top sewing tools

    One of my lovely ladies at a recent Beginners Sewing class asked me a great question – ‘what’s your favourite sewing tool?’ I have to admit I was speechless for a few moments (and that doesn’t happen very often!).

    Like with most hobbies, there are loads of sewing gadgets and bits & bobs out there begging for us to buy them. Go to any sewing show or exhibition and you’ll see all sorts of weird and wonderful things designed to make your sewing experience easier / more rewarding / orgasmic (well, maybe not the last one … unless I’ve been missing something all these years).

    Especially tempting are the gadgets you see being demonstrated. Let’s face it, in the hands of the person who’s had who knows how many hours training on it, anything would look easy to use and indispensable (take pasta makers, for example). But in the cold light of day when you’ve got it back home and struggling to even get it out of the box or packet, how many times have you thought to yourself – what possessed me to buy that?  Bit like a bicycle for a fish.

    Anyway, putting aside my what was I thinkings, I settled on three things in no particular order: (good scissors and fine sharp pins are a given)

    Magnetic pin holder

    This is the thing that gets the most “that’s clever!” comments.  Really, really useful.  I’ve got three from Prym, Clover and Grabbit and they’re all much of a muchness to be honest.  The Clover one is the most expensive (no surprises there) and has a cover.  Sounds like a good idea, but the pins are not going to fall off, are they – it’s magnetic.

    Seam gauge

    These are great for accurately marking seam allowances, turning up hems, marking buttonholes and loads of other things.  Dritz is a good brand and easily available from Amazon – just be aware that they usually ship from the US and so take a week or two to arrive.  Worth the wait though.  Hemline make one as well but I find them quite flimsy and easily bent.  I prefer this one of theirs although it can be confusing, especially for a beginner.

    Ergonomic rotary cutter

    I have mixed feelings about rotary cutters.  Great for long straight lines, like in quilting for example, but not too sure when it comes to more complicated shapes.  That is, until I had to cut out 5 bridesmaids’ dresses in chiffon! This Martelli cutter was recommended to me and it worked like a dream.  It looks a bit weird, but it is really easy and comfortable to use.  There’s a left-handed version too.

    So those are my choices – how about you?


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  • Hemming a full-circle skirt

    Are you watching the new series of GBSB? Love Esme, the new judge!

    In the first episode, many of the skirts in the final round were marked down for having uneven hems. I sympathise!

    A little while ago I made the dresses for my daughter’s bridesmaids.  The younger ones (three of them!) had full circle skirts with a chiffon overlay and so I got loads of experience hemming and working with slippery fabric.

    The secret to an even hem on a circle skirt is to hang it for a good 24 hours before marking the level. Obviously the GBSB contestants don’t have that luxury!

    The hem ends up uneven because, although the CB & CF are usually cut on the straight grain, the side seams are on the cross-grain and everywhere else is on the bias which has natural stretch.  The poor fabric doesn’t know if it’s coming or going!

    full circle skirtYou can see from the white heads of my pins just how unevenly the skirt dropped.  Although it’s pinned up out of the way in the pic, the chiffon overlay is even more wiggly-woggly.  I was really surprised by that.  I’d imagined that, being more lightweight, it wouldn’t have dropped as much.  Maybe it’s just naturally more unstable or something?

    Anyway, to get the hem level I measured the finished length down from the waist first at the CB & CF, then the sides and then points in between.  I did this while it was still hanging up.

    dress hemI didn’t add any hem allowance because I was going to do a rolled hem on the overlocker, but I wouldn’t add more than 1/2 inch (or 12mm) if I was going to hem it on the sewing machine.

    bridesmaid dress

    Tah – dah! The finished dress 🙂

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