Sewing with Stretch: Sportswear

Kwik Sew 3813 is a great sports top for leisurewear or sport activity
Kwik Sew 3813 is a great sports top for leisurewear or sport activity

Sewing with stretch fabric can be wonderful – after all stretch fabrics stretch – which makes fitting much easier. But stretchy fabrics can be challenging to sew – particularly those that are two or four-way stretch with a high content of Spandex or Lycra. Of course, there are some useful sewing tools that make it easier and following a pattern with helpful sewing tips on sewing with stretch fabric takes a lot of the guess work out of the project.

McCalls, Kwik Sew and Butterick do have some great sporty pattern packs so you can make your own with confidence. And as wearing sportswear is one of the key fashion stories this year – now is definitely the time to sew with stretch! (See below for some of my suggestions for sporty patterns.

Sewing tips

  • Stretch needle – You will need to sew two-way stretch fabric with a stretch needle (not just a ball point needle). A stretch needle is designed for these very stretchy fabrics and will prevent skipped stitches, or uneven stitching.
  • Seams – If possible sew most seams on an overlocker, but if not available, Use a stretch stitch on horizontal seams – which looks like a bolt of lightening on your sewing machine too. This will stretch with the fabric when pulling a garment on and off.
  • Seam neatening – you don’t have to neaten seams as they won’t fray, and if you have used an overlocker for seaming, you definitely don’t need to. But if sewing seams with a sewing machine, you might want to neaten seam allowances because some stretchy fabrics do tend to curl at the edges. To prevent this, once the seam is sewn, stitch the seam allowances with a zigzag stitch, and then trim close to the stitching.
  • Zip insertion – fuse interfacing to the seam allowance where the zip is to be inserted to prevent it stretching and buckling when inserting the zip.
  • Hems – neaten the raw edge to prevent it curling, and then turn up once. Sew from the right side with a twin needle which results in two parallel rows of straight stitch on the right side of the garment with a zigzag stitch underneath – this is the closest you can get to mimic a ‘high street’ cover-stitched hem. (A cover stitch machine is similar to an overlocker, but just stitches this type of hem. Great if you are sewing a lot of stretchy fabric, but a twin needle is a great alternative).

For patterns take a look at Kwik Sew 3813 – it includes a gilet and top with full length zip but of course you could pattern hack it (!) and shorten the zip to finish at the end of the contrast section if you want something like the one in the first challenge of the show.

McCalls 7293 is a sporty looking top with contrast yoke and two-fabric sleeves
McCalls 7293 is a sporty looking top with contrast yoke and two-fabric sleeves

I also like McCalls 7293 which has different options mixing two colours such as this one with a contrast yoke and two colour sleeves.


McCalls 4261 is for serious exercise!
McCalls 4261 is for serious exercise!

Another great design is McCalls 4261 which is a pack of hoody, tops, trousers and skirts.




I love the dress below, it is sporty’ish – but certainly comfortable and has the added benefits of being sewn in a stretch fabric so it is comfortable to wear too! It is Butterick 6241.

Butterick 6241, My favourite type of sportswear - comfortable leisure wear!
Butterick 6241, My favourite type of sportswear – comfortable leisure wear!




Enjoy sewing your sporty outfits.

1960s Retro Dress – You Too Can Make the Mondrian!

Make the Mondrian using limited edition Vogue Pattern 1557
Make the Mondrian using limited edition Vogue Pattern 1557

Wow! I love vintage and retro and of course, McCalls, Butterick and Vogue Patterns have a nationwide promotion – The Big Vintage Sewalong running right now.

And now I will let you into a little secret – the original Mondrian dress was a Vogue Paris Original pattern by Yves St Laurent, which was based on artist Piet Mondrian’s bold block style. I predict it’s one we can expect to see everywhere! Retro and vintage fashions are still such big news and so very popular  – will this be the 2016 ‘walkaway’ dress?

Best news is that capturing the mood of the moment, Vogue Patterns has issued a limited edition pattern so that everyone can Make the Mondrian (look for Vogue Pattern 1557). The pack includes a simple shift dress with round neck and back zip, and instructions on how to ‘hack’ the pattern. With it you will be able to recreate this iconic design with its bold vertical and horizontal stripes and strong contrast colour on the left yoke – just like the original Yves St Laurent style.

It is available from all Vogue Patterns, Butterick, McCall’s and Kwik Sew stockists or now.

Whilst the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian used bold red, blue, yellow and white colour blocks, always divided by the black bands in his artwork, in the dress Yves St Laurent created for Vogue Patterns, he chose classic black and white with a vibrant splash of red. Of course, the beauty of making your own is that you can use any combination of colours you like. Imagine it in Mondrian colours of red, blue and yellow, or a stylish cream and navy with a splash of emerald green, or red with white stripes and yellow yoke, or different colours for each panel? The choice is yours.

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….

Going International – Great British Sewing Bee

First we saw contestants make a Chinese style top in sumptuous embroidered satin, then they had to use a sari length to create their own style in the 90 minute Alteration challenge and then an African inspired dress using a waxed printed cotton. So from shiny medium weight fabric, to soft slippery silky sari fabric and then a more robust printed cotton that needed pattern matching. Definitely challenging.

McCalls 7047, sew in satin and the peplum will stand out beautifully
McCalls 7047, sew in satin and the peplum will stand out beautifully

Making your own clothes is wonderful – it does mean that you can choose, not just what colour you want, but what type of fabric – which in turn can make or indeed break an outfit!  So my blog for this week is all about using these lovely fabrics successfully.

Of course, the pattern envelopes have guidance in the ‘suggested fabrics’ on the back of the pattern envelope – and any of these suggested fabrics will work well. But you can also experiment. A soft slippery fabric will drape into soft folds, whilst a crisp waxed cotton is better at holding a shape and satin  – well that just shouts glamour! To determine which type of fabric will work well, compare the suggested fabrics with your chosen one, is it a similar weight, will it pleat, gather and drape etc? This is easier if you are in a fabric shop and can handle the fabric – be bold, unroll a little and try draping, pleating or gather a little in your hand.

Having made your choice, arm yourself with the right needles for the job and suitable interfacing. Make sure you use a new needle which is properly sharp. A blunt needle can cause so many stitch problems, ranging from skipped stitches to snagged fabric. In fact you should change your needle every 8 hours of sewing or with every new project. For silks, satin and indeed cotton fabrics, a universal sharps is ideal, or even a lovely microtex needle which is fabulous for lightweight sari fabrics that are often made from georgette or chiffon if not polyester silks.


Vogue 8849, a peplum top with definite style – almost a mane! Definitely my favourite peplum top

Choose a stitch length of 2.2-2.5 for lightweight fabrics and consider seam choice. Satins can fray easily as can georgettes and silks, so raw edges must be neatened. Quickest is overlocked edges with a three-thread overlock stitch (remove the left needle for a three thread overlock stitch, which is narrower and therefore neater). For straight seams you can of course use a French seam, again particularly good for transparent fabrics as the seam allowances can be visible from the right side of the garment. Also to hem a transparent fabric, opt for a narrow rolled hem which minimises the see through of a hem allowance. For cottons, a double turned top stitched hem is ideal and for satins, a blind hem by hand or machine.

Oh, and my favourite pattern for a peplum top has to be Vogue 8849 – shown above. That shaped peplum definitely looks African inspired – indeed almost like a mane!

Butterick 6025, not actually a peplum, but the seam and deep pleats look like a peplum when worn with a belt
Butterick 6025, not actually a peplum, but the seam and deep pleats look like a peplum when worn with a belt

I also like Butterick 6026, because although not a peplum as such, the seaming is so slimming and easy to fit and worn with a belt as shown here, it looks like a peplum.

Sew on for now…

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.