Little Black Dress – Vogue Patterns Cocktail Hour

Vogue Pattern 8997

My Little Black Dress is the second version of Vogue Pattern 8997 I’ve made recently as part of the Vogue Patterns Cocktail Hour collection. My first version is in a bright yellow cotton with big blue spots – fabric I’d had in my stash for over 20 years and which is actually furnishing fabric. But it holds the shape beautifully and makes the full skirt really stand out. Unusually for me, I’ve now made it again, but this time as a real cocktail hour dress, my first Little Black Dress!

The beautiful fabric without any interlining yet

I say unusually, because I very rarely make a pattern up twice – mostly because of the steady supply of new designs that are introduced – and which just call out to be made! But this time, it was the perfect pattern for the fabric I wanted to use – which again I have had in my stash.

The Fabric

I bought it from Sew La De La at a Knitting and Stitching show a few years ago with a view to make just this kind of dress. It is a black net with a swirling ribbon design appliquéd on it resulting in a very textural piece of fabric. Much of the fabric is see-through and the swirling pattern is busy, so the pattern needed to be simple! Hence Vogue Pattern 8997.


The beauty of using the pattern again is that I had already done the full bust adjustment needed (which was minimal because this design has Custom Fit bodice pieces for cup sizes A, B, C and D which are such a boon if you are full busted).  It’s also a Very Easy Vogue design – which means simple lines and minimal piecing – another good thing for this busy fabric.


I have to say, the fabric was a pig to sew too! But so lovely I persevered! The undulating appliqué, varying from thick rose clusters to thin trailing ribbon tails meant it was difficult to sew through. I used a sharps needle, size 80/12 – a bit big for the netting, but just right for appliqué.

Pattern adjustments
Fabric interlined with a flesh coloured lining

I pretty much followed the pattern, making the same view as before. The bodice is supposed to be interfaced completely, but of course, I didn’t want to do that and ruin the transparency and lightness of the fabric, so I interlined it instead with a flesh coloured lining (cutting the pattern pieces again in the interlining fabric and then sewing them around the edges to the reverse of the pattern pieces. From then on I treated the joined pieces as one and continued to construct the garment). I then lined the whole garment with a nude colour lining which also doesn’t detract from the lightness of the netting nor deaden the impact 3D appliquéd ribbon.


I did attach the lining so the right side faces the wrong side of dress rather than the usual way of having wrong sides together. This means that where you can glimpse the lining through the transparent netting, you don’t see any seam allowances. I also left gaps in the lining at the pocket position, and made the pockets out of the lining fabric (less bulky) so that they slipped inside the lining too – again making them invisible.


Some parts of the base fabric didn’t have the applique so I needed to cover these
I covered bare patches of netting with remnants of the appliqued pieces

At a couple of places, where I had to use the full width of the fabric for the full skirt pieces, there were patches without any of the appliqué, so I cut some spare fabric from remnants and stitched it in place over the netting – seamless joins (and as the pattern of appliqué is fairly random, no careful pattern matching was necessary).

Invisible Zip Insertion
An invisible zip is just that, virtually invisible!

I chose to put in an invisible zip (my preferred zip method anyway). It went in easily and is only visible by the little zip pull at the top.

To hem the fabric, I used a rolled hem on an overlocker. It gave a neat finish without worrying about hem allowance being visible from the right side and as the fabric is bouncy and bulky (although very light and floaty too), I didn’t need anything to add support in the hem – the skirt flares out beautifully all on its own.

Which shoes!?

Now the big decision is which shoes to wear with it when I attend the Cocktail Hour party at the Knitting and Stitching show in October (Alexandra Palace). Do I opt for the black and gold sandals, the silver/gold sandals which change colour depending on the light, the ultra high, golden heeled black and gold sandals or my newest acquisition, the dusky pink glittery sandals. Or maybe, I need four occasions to wear all four!!

Sew Creative Challenge 2017 using McCalls patterns

Winners of the Sew Creative Sewing Bee challenge 2017
Heidi and Grace, winners of the Sew Creative Sewing Bee challenge 2017

I had the pleasure and pain of  being part of the final day for the 2017 Sewing Bee Challenge for Sew Creative last weekend. I say pain because all the entries, without exception, were so good, it made picking out winners devilishly difficult! So not just a challenge for the entrants, one for me too! I also gave a talk about my career and responsibilities as Brand Ambassador for the McCalls Pattern Company.


Sew Creative is a lively fabric shop in Petersfield, Hants which is always abuzz with activity, classes and happy customers. So it’s no wonder that the aptly named annual Sewing Bee challenge attracts so many entrants.

The Sew Creative Challenge

Customers buy a Challenge box put together by Jo, Sew Creative’s owner, which has the materials needed to make the three challenges. This year it included two co-ordinating fat quarters, one with a whale print on it, a plain tote bag and a McCalls pattern.

McCalls 6095 used in the Superb Stitching Challenge by entrants to the Sew Creative Sewing Bee challenge
McCalls 6095 used in the Superb Stitching Challenge by entrants to the Sew Creative Sewing Bee challenge

Superb Stitching Challenge with McCalls 6095

The entrants were given a McCalls craft pattern (6095) and tasked with making a sewing machine cover, apron or circular organiser from the pattern. They had to use one piece of Bee fabric provided in the Challenge Box, but could add co-ordinating fabrics, trims and embellishments.

The challenge was to stitch superbly and add techniques to embellish such as appliqué, piping, quilting and binding etc. What an array of choices – from multi-pocketed craft aprons to organisers trimmed and filled to sewing machine covers with beautiful embellishments.

This was probably the hardest category to judge because the entries were so diverse but the same! (The same three options, but with so much individuality).

My chosen winner was beautifully embellished with appliqué and hand embroidered lettering, finished inside with quilted lining and bias binding around the edges.

The Fat Quarter challenge produced amazing and diverse results
The Fat Quarter challenge produced amazing and diverse results

Two fat quarters Challenge

Contestants could add trims and embellishments and make anything they wanted but had to use only the two fat quarters for fabric. The collection of projects submitted was outstanding – ranging from cute lined waistcoats for tots to soft toy Whales, bags, wall hangings and booties. Picking out one to win the Category was very hard, but in the end I plumped for a Wash Caddy – with pockets and straps for all sorts of lotions, potions, toothbrush etc. I liked that it was different and well stitched, but when I then found out it had been made by Matt, who is visually impaired too, I was amazed all over again!

My favourite tote to... entry is a lampshade, hand painted and stitched
My favourite tote to… entry is a lampshade, hand painted and stitched

Tote to…. Challenge

The next challenge was to make-over a calico tote. Again the range of ideas was fabulous – many creating something so different its origin was hard to believe! I loved the wall tidy with lace pockets – very vintage inspired. Some had deconstructed the bag, dyed the fabric and then turned it into something else. Others had added amazing hand stitching, bargello panels down the sides etc.

Pat made a cute doll with clothes for the Tote bag challenge
Pat made a cute doll with clothes for the Tote bag challenge

The winner for the Tote Bag challenge was a lovely doll with clothes by Pat. Such a beautiful doll, very cuddly and I can imagine it will be loved by a little girl.

I also chose a ‘Wendy Wow’ winner for this category –  a lampshade created from the bag front and back. It had been hand painted and then hand and machine stitched creating a beautiful scene which was then turned into a lampshade.

Grace, winner of the Children's Sewing Bee tie-dyed the tote and turned it into a little dress
Grace, winner of the Children’s Sewing Bee tie-dyed the tote and turned it into a little dress
McCalls 7551 pattern was used by the the children to make Alphabet cushions for their stitch challenge
McCalls 7551 pattern was used by the the children to make Alphabet cushions for their stitch challenge

Kids can sew too

Of course, there was a Children’s competition running alongside the main one and there were six excellent entrants for this. They also restyled a tote and used fabric provided to stitch a cushion from a McCalls pattern (7551). Their pattern included alphabet cushions which involves sewing around curves and corners, and being able to clip and turn through smooth edges.

Again the tote challenge showed their creativity. The winner Grace had tie-dyed her tote and turned it into a baby’s dress with patch pocket and tie shoulder straps. But as always, all of the entrants deserved to win a prize and of course, all did – a bag of goodies from Jo and Sew Creative.

The overall winner, Hazel made cute fabric booties, top hat from the tote and appliqued, patchwork embellished sewing machine cover with piping and quilting
The overall winner, Heidi made cute fabric booties, top hat from the tote and appliqued, patchwork embellished sewing machine cover with piping and quilting

Overall winners

As well as having category winners, there had to be an overall winner. Fortunately for me, there was a short list but even so it was a task and a half! Finally I chose Heidi who had made a pair of cute booties from the fat quarters with decorative stitch detail, a top hat from the tote – with black keyboard and notes and an appliquéd machine cover. The top had had a tune around it which Heidi later said was ‘Let it Bee’ – so appropriate!

Sally Ann created a collection that we all considered Outstanding
Sally Ann created a collection that we all considered Outstanding

We then had an Outstanding Entry winner- Sally Ann whose collection of Challenges were fabulous – with a fish metal frame bag made from the fat quarters, ice-dyed baby dress from the tote and bee-hive machine cover from the pattern challenge.

So a fab day in a great shop that is understandably a very successful enterprise. Indeed, the collection of delicious fabrics tempted me to add to my stash! I bought the softest, cuddliest double sided fleece to make a blankie and a new flower printed cotton to make a full skirted dress.

It had to be done!

Enjoy sewing, Wendy

Butterick by Gertie Vintage style Dress

B6380_aI made this fabulous vintage style dress from Butterick 6380 which has a sweetheart neckline created by the tabs on either side. A nifty idea!


I made up the pattern to check the fit and finish for this design. Usually I have to do a full-bust adjustment before I can cut into fabric, but first, I always check what the finished garment measurements say (on the pattern envelope) and what the garment measurements say on the pattern tissue. Noting that there was a generous extra 5 inches between actual bust and finished garment measurement, I didn’t think I’d need to do the full bust adjustment but I did double check by doing a tissue fit – pinning together the front and back pieces, gathering the fabric below the bust as shown on the tissue etc. It was fine without the FBA so I launched into the fabric!

Gertie dress 1I’ve used a red cotton print with white spot that I’ve had in my stash for some time. It is  a lovely medium weight fabric so holds the shape of the skirt well. I also lined it with a poly/cotton – not only do I prefer a cotton lining, especially for summer dresses where a polyester lining can get hot and sticky, but again, it helps hold the shape better I feel.

I also decided to use the Surface Mounted zip insertion method because I had a pretty red zip with lacy edging that fitted the bill perfectly. I blogged about how to do this insertion in June’s Zip Tricks – Surface Mounted Zips so do take a look if you want the step by step instructions.

gertie dress2To hem the dress, after allowing it to hang for 24 hours, I cut the edge straight, overlocked it and then turned up a narrow hem of just 1cm and top stitched it in place. This is a quick way to deal with a curved hem such as this and avoids having too much excess fabric in the hem allowance. The alternative is to stitch with a long stitch length (4.5-5) about 13mm from the edge. Turn up the hem allowance tucking raw edge under and pin in place, slightly gathering the hem allowance where necessary to ease in the excess. The excess gathers should only be in the hem allowance and invisible from the right side.

gertie dress 3I’m pleased with my Gertie dress and luckily have a pair of red and white spot shoes that match exactly!


Enjoy sewing. love Wendy

Zip Tricks – Surface Mounted Zip

front of dressGone are the days when a zip was simply inserted with teeth covered into a centre back seam. A fashion favourite nowadays is to lay bare the teeth or even mount the zip onto the top and use the zip fastening as a design feature. With the introduction of pretty zips and decorative teeth, it makes sense to show them off. I’ve used the Surface Mounted zip insertion method on my zebra dress


Butterick 4386

Dress details
The dress I had chosen is a simple shift dress with front and back darts for shaping through the torso. It is Butterick 4386, available in sizes 8-22. I decided to reshape the neckline as I prefer not to wear high round neck garments (I don’t feel they suit a fuller bust, so prefer to lower it or add a V-neckline). And as the fabric is so dramatic, decided to add a surface mounted zip to further enhance the design.
close up of zip

Surface Mounted Zip

The ideas of a surface mounted zip is that it is totally on display so it’s great when using a zip with decorative teeth and pretty edges like this zip with lace edge tape.

  1. Neaten the raw edges of the seam allowance into which the zip is to be inserted and then fuse strips of interfacing, 2.5cm wide to the wrong side of the fabric in the zip placement area.
  1. Still working on the wrong side of the fabric, draw and then machine baste the zip placement lines 2cm either side of the neatened edges and the length to just below the zip stop..
  1. Fold the dress sections, right sides together and stitch the remainder of the seam from bottom of basting stitches to hem, taking a regular 15mm seam allowance.
  1. At the bottom end of the basting, snip diagonally into the seam allowance down to the corners, taking care you don’t snip the basting. Press the triangle at the base down to the wrong side.
  2. Turn the seam allowance for the zip opening to the RIGHT side along the machine basting. Press.
  3. Working on the right side of the fabric, place the zip, right side down hanging down towards the hem and with the zip stop just below the horizontal basting. Stitch across the bottom of the zip tape across the teeth section only, just below the zip stop.
  1. Bring the zip up and over the exposed seam allowances so that the teeth back of dressare over the gap between the two fabric pieces, pin and baste in place. Note that some seam allowance may extend beyond the zip tape on either side. Attach a zip foot and machine stitch the zip tape to the seam allowance close to the teeth.
  1. Unpick the basting, and then carefully trim back the seam allowance only from under the zip tape, Take care you don’t cut the garment fabric underneath nor the zip tape.
  1. Still with the zip foot attached, stitch down both long edges of the zip tape again, effectively encasing the raw edge of the zip opening under the zip tape. NB: If working with a lacy edged zip tape like the one I used, zip just inside of the scallop edging.

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!