Summer Sundress Tutorial (part 1)

I’ve had a few people ask me how I made the dress in my profile photo.  I blogged the finished project here, and mentioned that I drafted the pattern myself.  I have to put a caveat on this tutorial:  I have next to no proper pattern drafting experience.  I’ve never even read a book on the subject.  To draft this pattern, I just did what felt right (so, I traced a shirt that already fits me), and I ended up with a pretty decent result.  If you follow my instructions, you should end up with something very similar to what I made.

I’m doing this tutorial from a child’s top, and so I’m going to make the back identical to the front.  You, like me, may know that normal garments that normal people wear aren’t the same on the back and the front, and wonder what on earth I think I’m doing here.  In a child’s size, trust me, you won’t know the difference.  If you’re making it for yourself, though, it might be worth it to draw out a strap for the back that’s different from the one at the front.  Indeed, I did this when I made the dress for myself, and I liked it.  I’ll follow up on this idea in Part 2, next week.


To draft the straps:

Place a shirt that fits onto a piece of tracing paper that you can see through.  Draw a point at each collar, and a point at each underarm.  I realise you can’t see the points in my photo, so I drew arrows on the paper to demonstrate where to draw them.


Remove the shirt. Fold the paper in half, lining up the shoulder points and the underarm points. Open that back up and draw a line down the fold – this is both your centre line and your grain line, so it’s important.

Trace the Left Hand shoulder seam onto the paper, from the collar mark to the shoulder seam. Place a mark on this line to the desired width of the shoulder strap.

Trace the Right Hand side seam onto the paper, from the underarm mark to about three inches down. Place a mark on this line to the desired width of the strap under the arm. It should be at least 25% wider under the arm than at the shoulder (ie. if your shoulder width is 1.5 inches, then the strap under the arm should be at least 2 inches)

Sketch out the strap curve, by connecting the mark you made for the collar to the mark you made for the underarm. Be careful to start and end the curve at 90 degree angles to the shoulder and side seams. Complete the strap by connecting the other two dots with a similar curve. It should look something like this (obviously, you’ve removed the shirt to follow the tutorial, so that will be gone, and you’ll have your pattern piece sketched out on the paper):


Add a ⅝ inch seam allowance , and label this piece as STRAP (cut x8)

To draft the skirt:

Fold the strap at its centre mark, and place it in line with the Left Hand edge of a fresh sheet of paper. Place a mark at each end of the bottom seamline (ie. at the centre and under the arm of the strap, where I’ve placed the red marks below).

skirt 1

Ignore that the strap is labelled front – it is the front AND back.

Draw a straight line at 90 degrees to the Left Hand edge of the paper to the underarm mark. Double the length of this line. Draw a straight line from the end of this line to the mark for the centre of the strap (you can follow the red x’s in the photos – I’ve placed them in the same spots in each photo).

skirt 2

Decide how long you want your dress to be, and place a mark at the left hand edge of the paper. I’ve chosen a length of only 30cm from my horizontal line, as this is for a child. Draw the side seam, ensuring that it is the same length as the centre from the horizontal line. Draw the hemline.  (more detail: the proper way to do this is probably to draw a perfect rectangle, then slash and spread it.  I’m lazy, so I’ve just drawn the side seam at an angle, and estimated what I thought a hemline would look like)

skirt 3

Add a ⅝ inch seam allowance to the top and side.  Add 1.5 inches to the bottom for a hem.

Mark the pattern: SKIRT (cut x2 on fold)

My next post is going to cover making different-shaped straps for the front and back, and the construction. Watch out for the tricky part around the strap!


Handmade Buttons – Tutorial

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This is more craft than sew, but I assure you, I am not turning into a craft blogger.  I’m a sewist all the way, but because I’ve featured my handmade buttons here, and here, I thought I would share my process with you.

The first step is to acquire shrinkplastic.  You may be able to find it in craft shops, but I bought mine online.  The brand I have is called Lucky Squirrel, and I’ve been happy with it, although I assume the brand doesn’t matter much.  (Lucky Squirrel is not sponsoring me in any way, it’s just what I used.)  It comes in A4 sized sheets, and in a variety of colours.  I used clear, because I like being able to see the design on both sides, and I love being able to trace images onto the plastic.

You also need:

  • 400 grit sandpaper,
  • a wide-mouth shotglass,
  • coloured pencils,
  • scissors,
  • a single hole punch, and
  • clear nail varnish.

To prepare the surface for your design, you need to scuff it with fine sandpaper.  You do this all over the sheet of shrinkplastic, in a crosshatch pattern.  Be thorough!  You’re going to draw on the scuffy side, so keep that facing up.

Next, you create a button template.  Place the shotglass upside-down on the shrinkplastic (or cardstock – this is just a template, afterall) and trace around it in pencil.  There is no need for precision, so you can eyeball these next steps.  Draw a line straight down the middle of your circle and place a mark at the middle.  Cut out the circle, and use the hole punch to create holes on the line, just either side of the middle.


I also used my template to test out my pattern and colour combinations! Still, you can see the line I drew down the centre for the placement of the holes.

Trace your template onto the shrink plastic several times to make several buttons.  Now, use coloured pencils to draw any design you like.  Here, I traced scraps of printed fabric to create a flurry of airplanes.  I traced the airplanes first, then I coloured in the background, and finally, outlined the shapes with a sharp pencil.  Don’t worry if your drawing is imprecise, because it will look much better after shrinking.


Buttons before shrinking. I put down 5 pence, for scale. (That’s the size of a dime, if you’re North American)

Your next step is to cut out all of the rounds, and punch out all the holes.  Place them on a piece of cardboard (I use the side of an empty cereal box) on a baking tray, making sure they do not touch.  Put this under the grill and watch it closely.  Soon, you’ll see the buttons start to shrink and curl – they will normally uncurl on their own, but you might need to help them out.  When they flatten out again, they’re done, and the pigments have become permanent!  Remove the buttons from the oven and let them cool before applying clear nail varnish to protect the scuffy side, and to add some shine.


Buttons, after shrinking. They shrink quite a bit!

Trousers Muslin

I’ve finished a trousers muslin!  The pattern I’m using, pictured above, is from Burdastyle December 2011.  Although the trousers are styled for winter in the photo, my finished ones will be made from a drapey linen for warmer weather.


You might remember my muslin fabric from my latest ‘What’s on my sewing table’ post.  These actually started their life as a duvet cover that was getting a bit shabby.  I had originally thought to add an additional strip of fabric in the side seam, to turn my trouser muslin into a pair of working pyjama trousers.  This was an idea I came up with during Karen’s Pyjama Party [], but I didn’t get started in time for her deadline.  Anyway, the duvet cover was scratchy to sleep under, and it’s going to be scratchy to sleep inside as well.  It looks to me like the next stop for this muslin is going to be the rag bin.  However, I’ve still got the rest of that duvet cover to use for testing out new-to-me patterns, so it won’t be the last you’ll see of it.


I’m so very happy with the fit of these!  They don’t need much adjusting at all, although I can make those funny wrinkles over my hips disappear if I pinch about a half inch out of the front to lower the front waistband.  I can’t see any need for other alterations after that (aside from choosing the perfect length).  But check out that fit – no weird wrinkles in either the crotch or the leg.  Way to draft a pattern, Burda!

I can’t wait to get these trousers cut out in my real fabric!

New Mathilde Winner!

Sara didn’t get in touch with me during the last week, so… I generated a new random number to determine the new winner.


I’ve chosen from 87 entries (so, that’s the original 88, less Sara’s non-winning entry) so here’s my new winner of the Mathilde blouse and a bunch of lovely buttons!


Congratulations, Candace!  There’s an email on its way to you right now.

Candace also left a link to her own blog at Sewlseeker.  It looks like she’s waist-deep in muslins at the moment, so go have a look at her fitting processes!

Finally, thanks Karen, for coming up with the original giveaway, and to Jen for participating in the contest too and picking me as her winner (even if the promised buttons never did materialise). I hope Candace is as happy with the Mathilde pattern as I am!

I’m making a bit of fitting progress myself, which I’ll be posting about in the next couple of days.  I hope you’ll look out for that too!

Mathilde winner!

We have a winner!  Of the 93 comments, only 88 of them were entries in the contest.  I asked you all to let me know who you’d make your Mathilde for, and most of you… said you’d make it for yourself.  Lots of selfish sewists out there, but hey, who am I to judge?  The one I made is all for me me me, too.

On to the contest!


The random number generator says: Sara is the winner!


Now, here’s the problem, Sara.  I haven’t got a way to contact you.  I can’t see an email address associated with that Gravatar, and there’s no link to a blog or anything.  I guess… I hope you see this post, and I hope you get in touch with me.  For my email address, look to your right, it’s under my photo.

If I don’t hear back from Sarah by say, a week from the contest close (so, 9:00am on Saturday, July 13) then it looks like I’ll need to draw someone else’s name from the pile.  Get in touch, Sara!

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AND – I nearly forgot: here are the mystery buttons, a swarm of pink and red aeroplanes on a blue sky background.

I’m done, I’m done, I’m done! (and a giveaway)

I’ve finished my airplanes Mathilde!  (and I’m giving away a copy of the pattern!)


The fabric, as I think I already mentioned, is from Stone Fabrics, but it’s unfortunately no longer on their website.  I dunno if that really means they’ve sold out, but certainly they don’t have it online.  I’d have loved to buy a whole bolt and make an entire wardrobe out of this gorgeous fabric.  I love it!

I used shell buttons, and I even made my own bias tape, using a piecing method.  I’d have tried the method that Claire describes, but that would have meant cutting into the one precious metre of fabric I have left.  Instead, I drew out diagonal lines on the scraps, using the width of my ruler as a guide so as to avoid measuring.  I pieced the strips together, and ended up with several metres of bias tape which I’ll be sure to use in future projects.


The epilogue to my fit fiasco is that I tried the top a second time, and realised that it wasn’t really very much too small.  The bust darts are a touch too high still, and  I did let out the sides just a little.  I was lucky enough to avoid having to cut into my remaining metre of fabric, so I should still have enough to make a sleeveless top.  The Mathilde blouse is super easy to sew,  and it’s a great addition to any wardrobe.

Now that I’ve finished my blouse, I get to host a giveaway of my own!  This is a threeway giveaway, which was started by Karen at Did You Make That to celebrate three years of blogging!  She partnered with Tilly and the Buttons to give away three copies of the Mathilde pattern (with buttons), and her first winner was Jen from Made on the Couch.  Her second winner (via Jen’s give away) was yours truly, and her third winner… could be you!


These could be yours

Not only will you get a .pdf copy of the Mathilde pattern for your very own, but I’ll also send you some buttons which you can attach to the back of your blouse.  You’ll get 6 mystery buttons, plus these 6, which I bought at a little shop in the St. Nicholas Market in Bristol on the weekend.  (I rode there on my bike from Oxford.  That’s 100 miles of sore, sore legs. I can say with certainty that the National Cycle Network is a meandering beauty of a thing, and I definitely want to see more of it!)

To enter my giveaway (to win a Mathilde and two sets of 6 buttons each), please leave a comment, telling me who you’d make a Mathilde for.  Don’t forget to leave me some means of contacting you: an email address or a link to your blog.  I’ll leave a week and a bit to enter – my giveaway closes at 9:00 a.m. GMT on Saturday, July 6.  I’ll choose my winner that morning at random, but I wish you all good luck!


Gratuitous photo of me, as an airplane, wearing a bunch of airplanes.