Sewing for Summer – Feeling Slightly Spanish

McCalls 7046 - perfect for my stretch jersey fabric
McCalls 7046 – perfect for my stretch jersey fabric

tiers of the dressI’ve had this brightly printed stretch jersey fabric for over a year, waiting to find the right pattern to make up. Now I have it! I chose McCalls 7046 which is an easy design including a top with two sleeve choices and a dress with or without sleeves. You can also opt for one long ruffle, or add a second shorter ruffle too.

gathered sidesI particularly like the ruching at the sides, created by attaching elastic to the side seams – stretching it between marked points to create the gathers. I feel it is more flattering for those of us who don’t have a perfectly flat tummy!


I opted to make the dress with short sleeves for summer
I opted to make the dress with short sleeves for summer

I also want to wear the dress in the summer, so chose to add the short sleeves from the top, rather than long sleeves (or the sleeveless option). They are cut from the same pattern piece as long sleeves, so there was no problem fitting them. Again these have elastic stretched part way up the centre on the inside to ruch them.


Cutting out probably took the longest as you need to cut the circular tiers from four pieces of fabric. I didn’t follow the pattern layout exactly because my fabric was wide enough to cut from two layers at a time but it is worth taking time to cut out – it does mean the making up is quicker as all notches match perfectly etc.

Sewing time was just over 2 hours – I stitched most of the seams on an overlocker, just finishing the neck and sleeve edges by sewing machine and sewing the elastic to the side seam allowances using a triple zigzag stitch. I used a stretch needle on the sewing machine because the fabric has two way stretch – and this prevented getting skipped stitches.


lettuce edged rolled hemFor the hem of both tiers, I decided to use a rolled hem on the overlocker, but stretching the fabric slightly as I stitched to create a frilly lettuce edging. I think this adds to the slightly Spanish feel of the dress


It definitely lived up to it’s promise of being easy to sew – not just easy but quick too. So I can wear it to the Edinburgh Knitting and Stitching show this week!

fabric under presser footTIP: It’s often difficult to remember which type of needle is in the machine when you return to it, so I keep a scrap of the latest fabric used under the foot to remind me.


My La La Land Cocktail Hour Dress

I loved the dress, which I wore with a big petticoat, bolero jacket and black court shoes
I loved the dress, which I wore with a big petticoat, bolero jacket and black court shoes

I decided to combine two projects in one by making one of the lovely new Cocktail Hour Collection dresses at the same time as making it in a brilliant canary yellow – the result, my very own La La Land dress.


I used Vogue Pattern 8997, which is a Very Easy Vogue design with Custom Fit for A,B, C and D cup sizes which are such a boon if you have a fuller bust. I’ve made view B, the sleeveless option with full skirt which I can wear with a cropped jacket to cover the arms.

As usual I took my measurements and then following the chart on the first page of instructions, I could see that I was just over a D cup. It’s important to check your size every time you make a pattern and compare these with the size guide on the envelope of course, but with the custom fit bodice pieces, you also need to determine which cup size to cut out – and it is not the same as ready to wear! When buying a bra I can be E, F or even a G, depending on the bra style. For patterns, I am just over a D cup – I like that!  Because I was just over, I knew all I had to do was add a little to the seam line to cater for the extra ½” I needed. It’s one of the great things about the custom fit patterns, you don’t have to do a full bust adjustment, the custom fit pattern pieces do it all for you.

The other thing I decided to do was raise the scoop back so that it would cover my bra strap as otherwise it is rather low – lovely if you can go braless and for evenings, but not right for me. I did this by using a French curve to redraw the curve, raising it up by approx 8cm (3”).


My version of Vogue Pattern 8997
My version of Vogue Pattern 8997

I chose to make the dress in a soft furnishing cotton I had in my stash for years and years – too many to remember! I washed it first which again is something you should always do – but its particularly important with soft furnishing fabrics that often have a ‘finish’ on them and are prone to shrinkage.


The dress calls for lining of bodice and skirt, but because of the weight of fabric I only lined the bodice, leaving the skirt unlined (and I wear a big net petticoat to give it volume anyway). I started by tissue fitting the bodice sections together to check – again something I always do as usually I have to alter patterns to fit my figure – high bust is a size 12, with full bust at 18-20, midriff a size 12, waist size 16-18, hips 12. I did need to adjust the fullest part of the curve of the bodice as it was too high for me – another sign of age unfortunately is the bust point moves south! Once I’d done that I cut the fabric and lining and then made up the lining first as a kind of toile so I could make any further adjustments to the main pieces before making them up.


The original pattern image, Vogue Pattern 8997
The original pattern image, Vogue Pattern 8997

I inserted an invisible zip rather than a centred zip as per pattern instructions because it is definitely my zip of choice. Finally I left the dress to hang for 24 hours before hemming and then once it was straight, I overlocked the edge before turning up a narrow hem and top stitching. This is the easiest method when working with a full skirt as it avoids the need to ease in fullness. However, if the fabric I’d been working on was lighter weight, I would have eased in the excess – by stitching with a long stitch length about 12mm from the edge, turning up the hem allowance, gently gathering the stitching to ease in any fullness as you turn under the raw edge. Any gathers are on the hem allowance only and the outside is lovely and smooth.


wendy with cocktailI’m pleased with the result, the shaped waistline gives a flattering silhouette and I love the full skirt. It’s such a lovely bright colour too that it will see me through summer beautifully. So now I am ready to sip a cocktail or two in the sunshine!

Cocktail Hour Sewalong – it’s started!


Make your own cocktail dress and join the Sewalong parties  Vogue Pattern 1471
Make your own cocktail dress and join the Sewalong parties Vogue Pattern 1471

Join the 2017 Sewalong and make your self a lovely little cocktail outfit. A cocktail dress, or little black dress (LBD) is an essential item in any woman’s wardrobe. Useful to take you from drinks to dinner, it can be long, short, sleek and fitted or frilly and full.


It doesn't have to be black to be a fabulous LBD. Vogue Pattern 1208
It doesn’t have to be black to be a fabulous LBD. Vogue Pattern 1208

The Cocktail Hour Collection has been put together by the team at Vogue Patterns to provide a great mix of styles to suit all figure shapes and styles. The idea is for everyone to make something to fit their lifestyle and of course, whether it is shown in traditional black or not doesn’t matter one jot. As sewists, we get to choose in what fabric and what colour we make our own unique outfit. So whether you want to make the traditional knee skimming LBD, or a classic trouser pattern to wear to your special event is entirely up to you.

The first step is to choose styles that suit your body shape which can eliminate a lot of pattern adjustments. Vogue Patterns has a Figure Flattery symbol system to help you determine your body shape and thus choose patterns to suit you.

Figure flattery shapes are shown on most Vogue Patterns to help you choose designs to suit you
Figure flattery shapes are shown on most Vogue Patterns to help you choose designs to suit you
  • Inverted Triangle – large bust and/or broad shoulders with narrow hips
  • Triangle – Small bust and/or narrow shoulders with full hips and/or thighs
  • Rectangle – Balanced on top and bottom, but boxy with little or no waist definition
  • Hourglass – Equally balance on top and bottom with a trim waist

Ease and Designer ease

Another elegant Cocktail hour design , Vogue Pattern 1532
Another elegant Cocktail hour design , Vogue Pattern 1532

Another thing to consider when deciding which designs suit you and your lifestyle is to look at the descriptions on the back of the envelope which includes how a garment is designed to fit. The difference in the body measurement and the garment measurement allows for ‘ease’ and Designer ‘ease’. Garments are designed to range from close fitting through to very loose fitting. A close fitted garment will have from zero to 7.3cm ease so will be that much bigger than actual body measurements at bust and 4.8cm at hips whilst a very loose fitting garment may by over 20 – 25cm at bust depending on the type of garment. So do check the description and the Finished Garment Measurements (on the back of the envelope), compare these with your own body measurements and even a similar garment in your wardrobe.

Sewing ratings

It doesn't have to be a dress if you prefer an elegant floaty jacket to wear with trousers, Vogue Pattern 1505
It doesn’t have to be a dress if you prefer an elegant floaty jacket to wear with trousers, Vogue Pattern 1505

As well as choosing a design by the style, do take a look at the sewing rating which will help you determine whether you have the skill base and/or time to make your chosen pattern. Nothing is more frustrating than getting bogged down with techniques that are strange to you, or simply running out of time to finish it perfectly!

Very Easy – these are quick and easy to sew, great for beginners or those with limited time available. They include only limited construction methods, little hand sewing and simple fitting. Easy to sew fabrics are recommended.

Easy – these will have more details than the Very Easy category but will also be easy to sew so ideal for those with limited sewing knowledge or time. There will be more pattern details requiring simple techniques and a few with more detailed techniques. Some fitting knowledge is also needed.

Average – perfect if you have more time to sew and more experience. You will find more challenging designer techniques, tailoring and unique construction details. You will also need to master more fitting and inner construction. Fabric choice will be more varied, ranging from the stretchiest knits to synthetic leathers and suedes.

Advanced – the best of the European and American Couture patterns will be advanced. Perfect for those who like a sewing challenge, professional tailoring and fine couture techniques, you can expect intricate fashion shaping, hidden construction details, touches of hand sewing and bias draping. Fabric choice will be totally varied ranging from sheers and laces to beaded, sequin, furs and more.


Have fun deciding which of the Cocktail Collection you wish to make and do share. We will be adding blogs and pictures on our website of course and the event will culminate in special events – so watch this space.

Quick guide to Hemming

This McCalls 7531 dress pack is a Learn to Sew design finished with a top stitched hem
This McCalls 7531 dress pack is a Learn to Sew design finished with a top stitched hem

Often the last technique used to complete a garment it is still worth considering the method you will use to hem, which  may depend on the type of garment and fabric used. For instance a stretch fabric made into a fully A-line skirt can look fabulous with a lettuce edging. Equally stretch fabrics are often finished with a twin needle, top stitched hem whereas a woven fabric may have a blind hem. Whatever method chosen, there are also some general hemming tips to ensure that the finished garment hangs beautifully.

Lettuce edging is a lovely finish for full skirts on stretchy or lightweight fabrics
Lettuce edging is a lovely finish for full skirts on stretchy or lightweight fabrics

Hemming tips

  • Allow the garment to hang for 24 hours before hemming, particularly if working with stretch knit fabric or a garment cut on the bias. This allows the fabric to drop and settle so that the edge can be cut level before hemming.
  • Measure up from floor to desired length, wearing the heel height that will be worn with the outfit to ensure both front and back are even.
  • Place pins horizontally around the hem length required, then hold up the hem allowance with pins placed vertically. If necessary, cut the hem allowance evenly all the way round.
  • Hem weights are used on tailored skirts, dresses and jackets to provide a nicely weighted hem that will hang straight. These can be a fine chain laid along the hem fold, or small button shaped discs sewn into the front edges and back seams.
  • How much to leave for a hem allowance depends on the garment style and fabric being used. As a general rule, allow a narrower hem allowances of 3-5cm on lightweight trousers, circular and A-line skirts and dresses. Straight dresses, skirts, jackets and coats benefit from a deeper hem allowance of 5-7cm.


Top stitched hem – this is the easiest and quickest hem finish. Fold the hem allowance up at the hem depth and then fold it in again so the raw edge meets the first fold and is encased. Pin and stitch close to inner fold. Use matching thread so the stitching is almost invisible, or contrast thread and decorative stitch to make a feature of the stitching. If working with heavyweight fabrics, or very full skirts, neaten the raw edge of the hem allowance then turn up just once.

Linings are usually stitched with a top stitched hem and should finish just above the main garment hem.                                                                                     

Use a twin needle to stitch a hem which then replicates a 'cover stitched' hem
Use a twin needle to stitch a hem which then replicates a ‘cover stitched’ hem

Bright Idea: Use a twin needle to create a top stitched hem that looks like the cover-stitch found on ready-to-wear garments. Alter the top tension to 7 and use two spools of thread for the needles. The bobbin thread will then zigzag between the two to create a zigzag stitch underneath, with two perfectly parallel rows on the top.

Handling curved hems – A curved hemline needs an extra step to ease in the fullness before turning up to prevent excess bulk, bumps and ridges in the hem area. This effects full skirted dresses or bias cut dresses and skirts. To achieve this, use a long stitch length to ease stitch about 6 mm from raw hem edge and then gently gather the hem allowance by pulling up the bobbin thread. Spread gathers evenly and turn up hem. The gathers will be in the hem allowance only.

Blind hem – this is a good choice of hem for medium to heavyweight fabrics, smart clothes, jackets, dresses, trousers etc. Use a blind hem foot, which has a guide against which the folded fabric sits and select a blind hem stitch (a row of straight stitches and occasionally zigzag stitch to the left). First neaten raw edge and then turn up hem allowance. Holding it in place, fold it back on its self so that about 6-13mm of hem allowance protrudes to the right. Place under the foot so the folded fabric butts against the left edge of the protruding guide on the foot. As you stitch, he straight stitches are formed in the single layer of hem allowance and then the zigzag swings to the left to catch the folded hem allowance and garment. Once finished, flatten out the hem and press with a press cloth to embed the stitches. All that will be visible from the right side is a tiny ladder stitch.

McCalls 7513 is a lovely tailored jacket
McCalls 7513 is a lovely tailored jacket

Tailored hems – adding a strip of interfacing to the wrong side of the garment within the hem allowance will help the drape of tailored garments, producing a lovely crisp finish. Simply cut a length of fusible interfacing the width of the hem allowance and press in place. Neaten raw edge of hem (with overcast stitch or bias binding) and turn up then blind hem or hand stitch hem allowance to the interfacing only. This ensures that there no stitches visible on the right side. Adding dress weights will also aid the drape.

Bound hem – this is another technique that works well with tailored garments or heavyweight fabrics where a single turn of hem allowance is preferred. Open out and stitch bias binding to the right side of the raw hem edge. Press then fold up hem allowance and either blind stitch or hand stitch binding to the inside of the garment.

Use a rolled hem foot to create rolled hems quickly and easily
Use a rolled hem foot to create rolled hems quickly and easily

Rolled hem – this type of hem is particularly suited to lightweight and transparent fabrics where the hem allowance would be visible.  Using a rolled hem foot is ideal as the front of the presser foot has a curl through which the fabric edge is fed and rolled as it is stitched close to the edge. The hem allowance is minimal, a scant 6mm. A rolled hem can be stitched without a specialist foot. Press up 3 mm hem allowance and stitch close to fold then trim any excess hem allowance away. Fold up again so stitching is just inside hem allowance, press and pin. Stitch again close to the inner fold.

Getting Started – You can be a dressmaker

McCalls 7531, a Learn to Sew for Fun pattern suitable for stretchy fabrics
McCalls 7531, a Learn to Sew for Fun pattern suitable for stretchy fabrics

I am often asked about getting started in dressmaking and am told wistfully that ‘I can’t sew or dressmake’. But of course, anyone can – and as usual, it’s easy when you know how! So I’ve put together some answers to some of the frequently asked questions.

How do I know what size pattern I am?
It is vitally important to take your measurements and compare these with the pattern measurements on the pattern envelope (also in the back of the pattern catalogues and on our website). Remember, your pattern size is unlikely to be the same as your High Street size, and indeed, can be 2 sizes larger. The good news is that unlike ready to wear high street shops, where a size 10 can be different in each shop, with our patterns, a size 10 is the same for all patterns.

Another Learn to Sew design, this time a hooded jacket McCall's 7511
Another Learn to Sew design, this time a hooded jacket McCall’s 7511

So, take bust, waist and hip measurements and compare them to the measurements on the pattern envelope. If you are over a C cup in the bust, take your high bust (around your back and above the bust at the front). Use this measurement as your ‘bust ‘ measurement and choose the size to make by this for tops, dresses and jackets. You can then alter the pattern for a full bust, without having to worry about the shoulders, chest, back and torso being too big.  There are easy steps to follow for a Full Bust Adjustment on the internet, and in many sewing books.

I am not the same size for bust, waist and hips so how do I choose a size?
Few of us are the same size for all parts of the body! Which is why the multi-size patterns are such a joy. You can cut from one size to another for bust, to waist to hip without difficulty. There are also lengthening/shortening lines on many patterns to help you increase or decrease the length to suit your height and style.

If you want to start making for a child, this is an great Learn to Sew pattern, McCall's 7111
If you want to start making for a child, this is an great Learn to Sew pattern, McCall’s 7111

How do I know how much fabric to buy and what sort of fabric I should use?
If you have a pattern in mind it is easier to know what to buy because you can look at the pattern envelope to see what is recommended. All commercial patterns show Suggested Fabrics as well as the quantities required for each of the garments included in the pack. Those suggested will definitely work well. (Even if you don’t have the pattern yet, you can check on pattern websites to see what is recommended for individual patterns – look on

If however you are buying a fabric you just can’t resist but don’t yet know what you will make, you just need to consider its suitability. Is it lightweight and flowing – will it gather or pleat for a full soft draping garment? Or has it got ‘body’ (stiffness) that makes it more suitable for a fitted garment such as trousers or shift dress, is it a thick material, suitable for jackets etc. The amount to buy depends on the garment and fabric width as well. Allow at least 2 metres for a top with sleeves, jacket or sleeveless dress, 3 metres for a dress with sleeves, 4-6 metres for a long dress with full skirt etc. One metre that’s 150 cm wide will make a pencil skirt or sleeveless shell top, but you will need more if it is 115cm or even 90cm wide.

I made this dress in a medium weight jersey. It's quick and easy and so lovely to wear (Butterick 6388)
I made this dress in a medium weight jersey. It’s quick and easy and so lovely to wear (Butterick 6388)

I am worried about cutting into my fabric in case the garment won’t fit properly?
It is a big step of course, so you can check whether a pattern will fit using two methods. I always ‘tissue fit’ first. To do that, cut out the pattern to the size you need. Pin out any darts, pleats etc and then pin back to front at side and shoulder, remembering to pin with a 15mm (5/8”) seam allowance. Slip this on, over underwear or light t-shirt and leggings only, and check – is the centre front and centre back seam running straight down the centre, is the side seam running down the side. If you need to add some tissue now is the time to do it.

You can then use the adjusted pattern to make a ‘toile’ which is a test garment in a lightweight cotton or calico (or if working with stretchy fabric later, use a stretchy fabric for the toile too). Use basting stitches (longest stitch length) to sew darts and seams and try on the test garment. Check it isn’t too tight across the bust, waist or hips, or too baggy at the neckline. Make any alterations by cutting up vertically and adding fabric to loosen the garment but take care you do NOT add extra to the neckline. There is a very useful booklet called How to Figure your Fit available from our website for just £3.95 –

Unpick the seams of your test garment, if you’ve altered it, use this as your pattern or transfer the alterations to the pattern pieces. You can now confidently layout the pattern on your fabric and get started!

The instruction sheet shows you all the pieces included with diagrams showing the shapes and numbers of each piece
The instruction sheet shows you all the pieces included with diagrams showing the shapes and numbers of each piece

How do I know how to layout the fabric and pattern pieces?
Take a look at the instruction sheets that come with the pattern. In fact I recommend that you sit down with a nice cuppa and read through the instructions so you have an idea of how it all comes together. The instruction sheets really are full of so much information – number of pieces in the pack, what each section looks like. Which pieces are needed for each garment ‘view’ as well as tips on laying out fabric, what the shading and pattern markings mean.

Follow the layout for the garment you are making and the fabric width you are using.
Follow the layout for the garment you are making and the fabric width you are using.

For each garment or ‘view’ there will be a list of pattern pieces needed and a pattern layout for each fabric width. Mark the layout you are following for the ‘view’ you are making and the fabric width so you don’t inadvertently start following another if interrupted. Then place all pieces on the fabric as shown, checking placement before pinning carefully and then cutting out. Remember that the long black grain line on the pattern needs to be parallel to the selvedge of the fabric (bound edges) – this is important as failure to keep them parallel can result in fabrics being cut off-grain, which may result in twisted and sagging seams!

Cut OUT around notches, don’t be tempted to snip into the fabric as you may need that seam allowance when fitting later.

What are all the different markings on the pattern for?
These are helpful guides for where to make the darts, where and how big pleats, the position of zips, pockets and buttons etc. You transfer these marks from the pattern tissue to the wrong side of the fabric pieces using marking pens or chalk markers. I also always keep the tissue folded with the fabric piece in case I wish to refer to it again during construction. But always remove pins as soon as you can (I have left pins in a project waiting to be made for over a year, only to find they left rust marks when I removed them!)

A pencil skirt is one of the most popular styles and great for beginners (Butterick 5466)
A pencil skirt is one of the most popular styles and great for beginners (Butterick 5466)

The pattern says I need to interface some pieces, why is that?
Interfacing is an additional layer used to support specific parts of a garment, providing support and stability – in areas such as facings, collars, cuffs and button areas. You can buy fusible (iron-on) interfacing and sew-in varieties in white, black/charcoal and nude, in lightweight, medium and heavy weight. Use one that suits the fabric you are working – ie lightweight with lightweight fabric etc. Cut the interfacing from the same pattern pieces as for the fabric, but then trim the interfacing down by about 1cm all around. If using the iron-on varieties make sure you put the interfacing glue side down on the wrong side of the fabric (the glue side will be a rougher texture and slightly shiny). And to fuse properly you need to do so for at least 10 seconds – it feels like a very long time. It is very important to cover the interfacing and fabric with a press cloth and press with a hot steam iron for 10 seconds before lifting the iron, moving to the next section and repeating the action.

You are now ready to begin construction. Follow the step by step notes and it will be a breeze!

Next time I will continue with some basic sewing tips for stay stitching, darts, zips and seam finishingfor professional results

Which Needle for What Fabric

Soft stretch velvet needs to be sewn with a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)
Soft stretch velvet needs to be sewn with a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)

Ensure your outfits are perfectly stitched every time – use the right sort of needle! Problems with stitching are rarely caused by the wrong tension and more often caused by blunt or the wrong type of needle. Having the right sewing machine needle helps stitch evenly, prevents snags, unwanted gathering or visible needle holes etc.  And blunt needles can snag fabric or cause skipped or uneven stitches. So here is my guide on which needle goes with which type of fabric.

NEEDLE imageNeedle choices
There are lots of different types of needles to suit all types of fabric, from Universal needles for general purpose sewing of woven fabrics to specialist needles for fine fabrics, leather, jeans, stretchy fabrics and embroidery. They also come in different sizes (strength/thickness) to suit the weight of the fabric – ranging from 60-120 (or American sizing 9-20). The lower the number, the finer the needle. Most needle packs will have both the European and the American sizing listed.

It is important that the needle is changed regularly as blunt needles will cause stitch problems. If your machine is starting to sound a bit clunky – change the needle and clean out the bobbin race. This should be done every 8 hours of sewing or with every new project anyway.


Use a Universal needle with woven fabrics such as challis, cotton, gaberdine etc (Butterick 5893)
Use a Universal needle with woven fabrics such as challis, cotton, gaberdine etc (Butterick 5893)

Wools, gabardine, cotton, polyester, challis, brocades, satins etc
Use a general purpose universal needle, the size to suit the fabric weight. So for a lightweight blouse or skirt, use a 70/9 or for  a twill fabric use a 90/14.

A fine floaty fabric is best sewn with a Sharps needle (Butterick 5892)
A fine floaty fabric is best sewn with a Sharps needle (Butterick 5892)

Fine silks, voiles, chiffons
Try a Sharps –also known as microfiber needles, these have sharp tips and are ideal for sewing silks, microfiber fabrics and densely woven fabrics. They are also great for top-stitching and sewing buttonholes.

Sew denim and other heavyweight fabrics with a Jeans needle (Butterick 5682)
Sew denim and other heavyweight fabrics with a Jeans needle (Butterick 5682)

Denim, Canvas and heavy duty fabrics
Use a Jeans needle  – these are robust, thicker shafted needles suitable for any type of heavy, dense fabric such as canvas, upholstery fabric and of course denim. Great when sewing thick layers too and as with other needles, they come in different sizes for the different weights of these heavier fabrics.


One of my favourite dresses this year - use a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)
One of my favourite dresses this year – use a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)


Single Knit, Double Knit and Jersey fabrics
It’s important to use a Ball point needle with stretch fabrics.  These have rounded tips designed for sewing, stretch knits, velvets and fleece. The needle tip parts the fibres, rather than pierces them. Using a universal needle on stretchy fabric can result in skipped or broken stitching.

Two or four way stretch with lots of Lycra or Spandex need a Stretch needle for successful sewing (Kwik Sew 4163)
Two or four way stretch with lots of Lycra or Spandex need a Stretch needle for successful sewing (Kwik Sew 4163)

Two-way or four-way stretch fabrics
If you are sewing with stretchy fabrics that have a high content of Lycra or Spandex, such as lingerie or swimwear fabric, you will need a Stretch needle. These have a specially designed ‘scarf’ to help stitch two-way stretch fabrics evenly and neatly. Again if you use a universal or even a ball point needle you can get skipped or tiny bunched stitches.

When sewing with leather or suede use a Leather needle (Vogue Pattern 9074)
When sewing with leather or suede use a Leather needle (Vogue Pattern 9074)


A leather needle has a chisel point to help penetrate real leather and suede and other non-woven materials. Take care though as the point can leave definite holes, so unpicking is not advised!


  • Use a new needle with every new project, or change it every 8 hours of sewing.
  • Make sure you insert the needle as far as possible, with flat part of shank towards back of sewing machine, and then tighten it with the screwdriver tool provided (which will prevent it working loose as you stitch).
  • Use a needle size appropriate for the fabric or number of layers. Generally small size (lower number) needles are for lightweight fabrics and larger size for heavyweight or multi-layers.
  • Keep a pack of mixed size universal needles in the workbox so you are ready to start whatever project you are working on. Universal needles are suitable for most woven fabrics, synthetics and knits.

    Other specialist needles include:
    – these generally have a longer sharper point, to pierce layers of fabric and wadding easily whilst maintaining a straight stitch. Use a quilting needle if making a padded quilted jacket or coat and of course, when quilting.

    – the larger eye, sometimes with special coating makes these suitable for machine embroidery – which is generally a highly concentrated amount of stitching.

    – these have a specially coated eye to cope with the metallic threads that can otherwise shred as you sew and bore a notch into the needle eye of a universal needle.

    Top Stitch needles
    – again these have a larger eye, so are useful for sewing thicker threads and top stitching as the name suggests.

Twin – one shank, two needles, which will stitch two parallel rows of stitching in one pass. Great for decorative heirloom, stitching or topstitching and creating tiny pin tucks, the gap between the needles can vary from approximately 1.6 – 6mm. Twin needles are also available as ball point, universal, stretch and embroidery needles.

Wing – these have wide wings on the shaft that are meant to leave little needle holes in the fabric as they stitch. They are best used on lightweight fabrics for heirloom stitching.


  • If the machine sounds a bit clunky, change the needle – it might be because it is blunt.
  • If the needle breaks without apparent justification, try a larger size as it may not be robust enough for thick or multi-layers of fabric.
  • If the seam pulls up and gathers or leaves little holes as you sew, the needle may be too large, try a smaller size.
  • If Stitches skip, change the needle, it is probably blunt.


So now you are needle wise, get cracking on your next sewing project with confidence!

Spectacular Vintage Sewing Sign Off

group shotThe Big Vintage Sewalong had a spectacular finale with two vintage style tea parties at the Knitting and Stitching Shows in Alexandra Palace, London and then Harrogate. It was so good to mix and mingle with like-minded sewists who were proudly wearing their beautiful creations, chatting together and enjoying the camaraderie that has built up over the year through classes, blogs and news stories in many of the sewing magazines.

Vintage Tea Party26 Vintage Tea Party32It all started in March when the Big Vintage Sewalong was launched through shops and magazines. Many retail shops also organised sewing classes, and indeed, I had the pleasure of running classes all over the country, meeting so many keen sewists along the way. I travelled to Wimbledon Sewing Centre, Wincanton Sew & Sew, Sew Creative in Petersfield, Beccles Sewing and Handicrafts, Exeter Sewing Centre, Tudor Rose Patchwork in Oakley, Crafters Companion in Durham and Coles Sewing Centre in Northampton. Thanks to everyone who made me welcome at these lovely shops. But of course, there were so many other outlets running their own classes, including Alison Smith in Ashby de la Zouch and the Cloth Shop in Warrington.

Vintage Tea Party13 Vintage Tea Party WendyWe also had a series of blogs from sewing bloggers throughout the year, each sharing their make from the 20 designs selected for the Sewalong. I made a few myself of course, and still enjoy wearing them – and indeed will continue to do so next year.



So to everyone who joined in – congratulations, I hope you enjoyed it all. Over £8000 from the pattern sales was raised and given to The Eve Appeal again this year – which is tremendous.
ladies in red
So what’s the big promotion next year? Well there will be one and again it will be an opportunity to sew and share so watch this space….

Sew your own LBD – Little Black Dress


A LBD is a must-have for every woman
A LBD is a must-have for every woman (Vogue Pattern 8904)

Traditionally the Little Black Dress (or LBD as it is now commonly known), was designed by the house of Chanel, and was a simple fitted shift – think Audrey Hepburn. But now, we can use a little imagination and stretch the LBD limits – including making it in vibrant red!

Sassy in red, a great alternative to traditional LBD (Butterick 5814)
Sassy in red, a great alternative to traditional LBD (Butterick 5814)

Remember when choosing a pattern, just because it is not shown in black, don’t discount the design – because you choose the fabric and colour.

Butterick 5814, sizes 6-22  – shown here in sassy red, the front mock tie and gathered bodice add some fabulous designer detailing. Dare to make a LBD in scarlet!

Deciding on the style can be a challenge, but help is on hand. Lots of Vogue patterns have figure flattery guidelines to show which figure types they flatter and which patterns will require minimal adjustment if chosen to suit your figure. These cover:

Triangle – small bust, and/or narrow shoulders with full =hips, the traditional pear shape

Hourglass – proportional bust and hips with small waist

Rectangle – balanced at bust and hips but with little or no waist definition

Inverted triangle – large bust and/or broad shoulders with narrow hips.

I’ve picked my favourites for this year. But don’t be restricted in your choice – go wild and find a style that suits you. Remember a simple style can look stunning in a rich satin, brocade, velvet or shimmering taffeta.

A classic style looks stunning in lacy fabric (Vogue Pattern 9050)
A classic style looks stunning in lacy fabric (Vogue Pattern 9050)

Vogue 8904, designer original by March Tilton, sizes 6-22 

This is a LBD with a difference – it has asymmetrical layers and looks great black on black (as shown above), or in toning fabrics. It’s easy to make and suits all figure shapes.

Vogue Pattern 9050, sizes 6-22 – suitable for all figures shapes, an easy to design to make, it is suitable for all figure shapes.

This dress has interesting pleat detail on the front, great for shaping at waist and hiding tummy bumps! (Vogue Pattern 8946)

Vogue Pattern 8946, sizes 8-24 – this dress would look stunning in matt black. The pleated detail at the front is figure flattering for hourglass, rectangle and triangular figure shapes and it has back darts for a fitted silhouette.



Make the knee skimming version as a LBD (Butterick 5710)
Make the knee skimming version as a LBD (Butterick 5710)

Butterick 5710, sizes 6-22 – although this is usually shown as a Pippa Middleton style bridesmaid dress, the shorter version is the perfect, comfortable to wear, LBD. It is a close fitting, lined bias dress with front self faced drape over the front bodice and back invisible zip. Make it in soft to lightweight crepe or satin.



More than a LBD but stunning! (Vogue Pattern 1520)
More than a LBD but stunning! (Vogue Pattern 1520)

And if you are looking for a floor length Wow factor dress, consider this new arrival, Vogue Pattern 1520 by Badgley Mischka. It’s a floor draping long dress shown here in rich red velvet, softly gathered to the side and has long sleeves with beaded cuffs. Who says a LBD has to be short!


Sewing in Nottingham for the Big Vintage Sewalong

colesshopfront (1)Last week I was on my travels again, this time to Coles Sewing Centre in Nottingham to meet and teach two half day classes covering a series of essential sewing techniques.


shopquiltI’ve known about the Coles Sewing Centre for many years so was excited to be there and see it for myself. And as anticipated, it didn’t disappoint. Not only is the shop big, light and airy, there is an enormous upper floor dedicated to teaching. The area can be divided into three or four classrooms, as it was on my visit, or for bigger classes, the dividers are removed to make a massive classroom. All equipment is supplied and often, the materials needed too.

shop2Using Husqvarna Viking sewing machines (which Coles are particularly well known for), my students enjoyed trying out some new techniques, such as piping, under stitching and reinforce stitching, as well as stay and ease stitching, mastering buttonholes – including the nifty trick of an extra long buttonhole. I also demonstrated the rolled hem foot and showed how to fold the fabric ready to blind hem, which they then had a go with. It’s all in the folding!

It was a great day and all too quickly came to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the wonderful students who were so friendly and the staff, particularly Rose Coles, a wonderfully calm and attentive lady.

Vintage Tea Party in Ally Pally
Vintage Tea Party in Ally Pally

Next stop in the Big Vintage Sewalong is the vintage tea party at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate (on Thursday 24th November). I’m looking forward to seeing the many visitors wearing their vintage makes. If the London show is anything to go by, it will be spectacular.  For details and tickets visit: and look under ‘Whats On’


Sew for Autumn



My version of Butterick 6388
My version of Butterick 6388

Sad to say, the nights are drawing in and it is getting cooler so I am definitely on the hunt for patterns to make something a little warmer! I’ve just finished making Butterick 6388, with a few amendments!


I had a metre each of a fabulous double knit jersey in pink and royal  blue (I bought from Bloomsbury Square Fabrics) so have made the dress a two-colour dress. I cut the shaped side front pieces and sleeves in the pink and the rest in the blue. I did add the pockets to the front, but then decided to remove them as they don’t sit as flat as I’d like. So I just cut them off and sewed up the seam!


It has sewn together like a dream, the fabric doesn’t curl, so doesn’t need seams neatening and of course, because it is a double knit, there are no fastenings and fitting was easy.


Techie bit:

I added bias binding in pink to finish the neckline
I added bias binding in pink to finish the neckline

I did a full bust adjustment and added bust darts as I always have to. And because I left off the shawl collar, I have finished the neckline with bias binding turned to the inside.


I used a ball point needle, size 80/12 and straight stitch. I didn’t use a stretch stitch because the style is loose and doesn’t need to be able to stretch. I also prefer to use straight stitch, even on knit fabrics, for all vertical seams. It is only the horizontal ones I use a stretch stitch.


hemming with twin needle

I used a ball point twin needle with 4mm gap for hemming
I used a ball point twin needle with 4mm gap for hemming

For the hems of both sleeves and dress I used a ball point twin needle with 4 mm gap – this neatly finishes the hem with a mock cover-stitch so looks like shop bought hems. It’s so easy to do, just remember to stitch wit the right side uppermost as the twin needles stitch two parallel straight rows and underneath, the bobbin thread switches between the needle threads to form a sort of zigzag.


sleeve hemI always stitch circular pieces, such as sleeves, sewing from the inner side of the circle – such as on sleeves. To do this meant turning the garment inside out of course. It just ensures you don’t catch the rest of the sleeve edge underneath by mistake.


dress2Minor adjustments

I did find that the back needed taking in (I have a sway back) so took in about 2inches at waist, graduating back to the seam line above and below. I also took a bit out of the underarm and sleeves as I felt they were a bit loose on me.

Now I just have to decide what shoes to wear with it. I have pink boots and pink flat pumps!


Butterick 6388
Butterick 6388

Pattern info

Butterick 6388 comes in sizes XS-M (4-14) and L- XXL (16-26). It’s an easy design to make and includes the dress, a gilet with waterfall front, a top and pull on trousers.