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.

Big Vintage Dress – Mark 2

My version of Vogue 2093 - check out the shoes!
My version of Vogue 2093 – check out the shoes!

I just can’t get enough of the Big Vintage Sewalong selection so have made a second, full skirted dress, this time from Vogue 2093. It has a choice of wide V-neckline or a fuller yoke to make the neckline less open (and for me, more suitable for day wear).


Vogue Pattern 2903
Vogue Pattern 2903

The princess seaming on the dress and skirt made this easier to fit as I could just add a little to the seamlines of the fronts and side fronts to accommodate my fuller bust – the easiest way to increase the bustline on this type of dress. Having taken my bust measurements and compared then with the finished garment measurements, I divided the difference between the four pattern edges (side front 2, centre front x 2) and added that amount just at the point I needed to. Then, I pinned the pieces together rand tissue fitted to check before cutting into my fabric.


The trickiest part of the dress is the yoke, facing and sleeves so it is worth reading the construction notes carefully in advance before tackling this. The sleeves are set in, but only partially stitched to the dress at the under arm, then to the facing/yoke. It does all come together, but needs bold clipping and lots of pinning to get the pieces together smoothly. I also took out quite a large section at the back to fit my narrow back.


Understitching on the facing, catching the seam allowances as you go
Understitching on the facing, catching the seam allowances as you go


I also did some understitching on the facing to hold it neatly in place and preventing it rolling out. To do this, stitch the facing to the garment right sides together, trim seam allowances and press them towards the facing. Then open out facing away from the garment and stitch on the facing, close to the previous seam line, catching the seam allowances in place as you go. I tend to work with the wrong side uppermost so I can see the seam allowances although patterns tend to tell you to stitch with the facing right side uppermost.


All zipped Up

I love the way the zip in the centre back seam doesn’t go to the top – it is inserted a little way down as the neckline is wide enough to fit over the head, so it doesn’t need to zip right up. This means that you have a lovely neat top and avoid any difficulties with matching the top edges! I did choose to insert an invisible zip as is my preference, which meant sewing the zip in before completing the centre back seam (I’ll blog my super fast invisible zip insertion method another day). Also I didn’t have the right zip length to do so, so shortened it – see below!


stitch repeatedly across the zip teeth at the new stop position
stitch repeatedly across the zip teeth at the new stop position
Cut the excess off
Cut the excess off

To shorten the zip

To shorten a zip, simple mark the position you want the zip to end then bar tack stitch across, by stitching over and over again at the mark to create a new stop. Then cut off the rest of the zip, leaving about 1.5cm zip tape as you normally get on a zip. I also cut out the unwanted teeth below my new bar stop.



The skirt on this dress is very, very full, which means it has a curved hemline. Also it definitely needed to be hung for 24 hours before hemming as the side seams did droop (they are bias cut) so I then straightened the hemline before ease stitching 6mm from the edge. Next step was to turn up a narrow 13mm hem allowance, pulling up the ease stitching a little to gently ease in the fullness of the circular hem. I then tucked the raw edge and ease stitching in towards the first fold, pressed and pinned ready to top stitch from the right side. Voila, a lovely neatly turned up curved hem without ripples or gathers.

Big Vintage Sewalong – Tea Party Dress

Butterick 5209 - the first of my Big Vintage Sewalong makes
Butterick 5209 – the first of my Big Vintage Sewalong makes

I love the whole vintage vibe and have been wearing big full skirted dresses I’ve made from Vogue, Butterick or McCalls patterns and worn with net petticoats for a few years now. They are flattering for a fuller busted figurer because when belted, they give the illusion of a nipped in waist and the full skirt hides any hip or tummy issues beautifully! And they are fun to wear.


THis pack has a halterneck dress or raglan sleeve dress

B5209So my choice from the fabulous selection of the Big Vintage Sewalong had to be another design that I could wear with a net petticoat! I chose Butterick  5209, sizes 6-20 (it actually comes in two size packs, AA (6-12) E (14-22)). I decided to make the view with the raglan sleeves as being more practical for our British weather. Because the bodice is fitted, the first job is always to check bust measurements – and for me that means taking high bust measurement as I am over a C cup! I then use this as my bust measurement and then because of the combination of bodice, midriff and raglan sleeve pattern pieces, I was able to cut out the tissue pieces without the usual full bust adjustment I normally make.


Fitting a fuller figure

Step one attaching bodice to midriff
Step one attaching bodice to midriff

I made full use of the multi-size cutting lines to create the right size and shape bodice pieces by cutting from one cutting line to another so at the fullest part of my bust, I was using the size 18 line, then grading down to the 16 then 14 as I cut towards the arm seam and neckline. Again for the raglan sleeve pieces, I cut from the 14 at the neck edge, down to the 18 at the under arm. For the midriff piece, I cut the side from 16 (for my less than tiny waist) to 18 along the top edge to cope with the fuller bust. I then tissue fitted by pinning the midriff sections to the bodice and raglan sleeve to the back to check for size before committing to cloth. This saved me making up a toile. Although I also always cut and stitch the lining which is in effect a kind of toile!


Bodice done and fitted ready for the skirt to be attached
Bodice done and fitted ready for the skirt to be attached

My chosen fabric is very cute (well I think so!). It is pale pink with dressforms, sewing machines, tape measures and other haby items all over it – so very apt I though! It is a lovely crisp cotton so very easy to work with.  I made up the lining for the bodice and tried it on. All was well, although I did need to pinch a bit of the seam allowance in the side seams of the midriff – so a good thing I had cut my notches OUTWARDS! I always do actually – old habits and all that. But I find it better t3 edges overlocked and ready to sew side seamso cut notches out so that should you need to decrease seam allowances for a little bit more room in the garment, you can do so as you’ve not got missing bits where you’ve cut in notches!



My only deviation from the pattern construction was to insert

An invisible zip foot makes inserting a concealed zip a breeze
An invisible zip foot makes inserting a concealed zip a breeze

an invisible zip in the side seam, not a centred zip insertion. Whenever possible, I do use an invisible zip as I much prefer the look (or lack of look cos of course it is invisible!) and I think it is far easier to insert. This did mean not sewing that side seam until the zip had gone in, but that is a minor change. I did of course neaten the seam allowances before attaching the zip as it is much easier to do so prior to zip insertion. For the other seams, I neatened them after sewing.



Wearing The dress at Beccles Sewing Centre, show here with Sue and Steve Taylor
Wearing The dress at Beccles Sewing Centre, show here with Sue and Steve Taylor

So dress done, teamed with a bright pink net petticoat and little shrug and worn at some of the Big Vintage Sewalong classes I’ve taught in shops around the country. I’ve another one of the Vintage dresses made in a lovely digitally printed cotton (Vogue  2093) which I’ll blog about another day and I’m busy making Butterick 5880 in an animal print cotton.

Beautiful Beccles Big Vintage Sewalong

group shot inivisble zip demo sewing an invisible zip staff and me at Beccles Sue and Steve Taylor with meI had the great pleasure of spending time in Beccles, Suffolk yesterday, meeting and teaching a bunch of lovely ladies at a Big Vintage Sewalong class. Organised by Steve and Sue Taylor of Beccles Sewing and Handicrafts shop the class had to be held in the local village church hall in order to accommodate the large group! But it was great as we had space to work, plenty of tables and a ready supply of coffee, tea and glorious homemade cakes!


The ladies came armed with patterns and queries for a lovely afternoon sewalong. We covered pattern sizing and fitting tips. Hopefully I dispelled the myth that you just make a size larger when sewing patterns! Unfortunately, it is true that you are probably a size or two larger than your ready-to-wear high street sizing as pattern sizing is not the same as high street. But what is vitally important is to take your own measurements and make the size that most closely follows those – don’t worry about what ‘size’ that is. Indeed, for most of us, it will be a different size at bust, waist and hips!


I showed how to take high bust/chest measurement for those that are over a C cup as patterns are designed for B cup with a difference of 2 ½” between high bust and bust measurement. Thus if you are a fuller cup, you will need to alter the pattern. You use the high bust measurement to choose your size and then do a Full Bust Adjustment just for the bust area – this way the garment will fit much better at shoulders, chest and back!


I also showed how to insert an invisible zip quickly and easily. It’s my favourite kind of zip and the type I use on almost everything (except fly front trousers!). It is so easy when you use an invisible zip foot. Once shown how, at least half the class then had a go and inserted this type of zip into their garments. Fortunately lovely Claire, daughter of Sue and Steve was on hand to nip back and forth to the shop to get the required zips, patterns and other useful haby we all needed. We used Brother sewing machines for the demos – which were a joy to use (and of course are sold by Beccles Sewing and Handicrafts shop).


Sadly the day came to an end all too quickly. I had fun, and I think the ladies did too. I certainly didn’t need to stop on the way home to eat – having been provided with lemon drizzle cake and coffee! Thanks also to Charley, another daughter of Sue and Steve who took all the shots of the day. Hopefully one day, I’ll be back….

Top Dressmaking Techniques class at Sew Creative

haberdashery and trims IMG_1599 I had a really lovely afternoon yesterday at a fabulous shop in Petersfield, Hants, were I taught seven ladies some top techniques for dressmaking. I’d been meaning to go to this shop for sometime, as it is an award winning one – and I’ve heard such good things about it! So it was a treat to finally visit. Packed with beautiful fabrics, trims and haberdashery there is also space for two ‘classrooms’ nicely furnished with Elna computerised sewing machines.

Whilst wasewing bee challengeiting for the ladies to arrive, I was bowled over by the window display, which owner Jo explained was the first makes from the Sewing Bee challenge. Entrants are provided with a box of fabrics and have to make something for three challenges. The first was to use 2 fat quarters creatively – with the theme based on the Queen’s 90th birithday. The inventiveness was awe-inspiring and all the entries very well made. The next challenge is to alter a T-shirt adding fabric, trims or whatever they like. I can’t wait to see them!

Back to the class. We covered lots of useful techniques that help with vintage dressmaking, and indeed, any dressmaking including piping, stay stitching, overedge stitching, understitching, ease stitching, clipping and notching, circular hems – both stitched and double turned and using a rolled hem foot. We then did buttonholes and I showed how to create an extra long buttonhole by deceiving the machine (!) and a French seam. it was full on and all the ladies managed to make lots of samples as guides for future projects. Oh and i mustn’t forget, Steve (husband to J0) kept us fuelled and energy levels up with delicious cake and coffee!

I shall be back in the shop later this month to help judge the finals for the Sewing bee contest – and I can’t wait.