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.

Mathilde Roadblock and a pressie

Alternate title: Damn you, .pdf. patterns!

When I printed my Mathilde pattern, the test square measured only 95% of what it should have.  I did some crazy maths on the measurements, which led me to believe I should cut a size larger than normal, and it would probably be alright.  This, because a 5% size difference is not much of a size difference at all.

In the stolen moments between work and my busy life, I’ve managed to get most of the construction finished.  Before finishing the neckline or the hem, I tried the top on to check the fit.  And wouldn’t you know it… that missing 5% is big enough to matter.

The armholes are too tight, and there’s pulling across the shoulder and the bust.  The bust dart is way too high (although I think that’s more than 5% too high, so I’ll watch out for it if I make this pattern again).  Now I need to unpick, and unpick some more.  I think my best option is to cut a new, slightly larger and definitely longer yoke, to let out the tucks just a little bit, and to do a minor alteration on the armscye.  I am not a fan of this option, because I have never messed with an armscye, and because I currently have enough left over fabric for another little sleeveless top.  If I cut the new yoke, I risk using too much of my remaining fabric.  Another possibility is to narrow the seam allowances, but I think that’s going to be a lot of work for a very dismal result.  I’ve done french seams and all of the associated trimming, so I will get no more than an additional one or two eighths of an inch out of this method, and I’ll need to zigzag everything.  I hate a zigzagged seam finish.  Plus, it won’t do anything for that annoyingly high bust dart.

In other news, and to give you something pleasant to look at, look at this!Image

This is a magazine that my colleague surprised me with.  One afternoon, he plopped two 1941 issues of Stitch Craft onto my desk, and I let out a yelp of excitement, even though I work in a library.  Yelps of excitement are not welcome in libraries, but I just couldn’t help myself.  He’d bought two – one for himself, to check out the wartime-era advertisements, and one for me, just because.


There’s a lot more than wartime-era ads in this mag!

The most exciting thing about this magazine is that it contains iron-on transfers which, from the looks of it, have never been used.  What gorgeous kitchen accessories I could make!


On my sewing table

Thank-you, everyone, for helping out with my reader survey.  Thanks to you, I ended up buying the gorgeous green airplane print from Stone Fabrics.  It felt like a bit of a risk, leaving the decision up to others.  Lucky for me, you were being asked to choose between three fabrics I knew I liked already, and your impeccable taste nearly unanimously chose my clear favourite.  Sneakily, I also bought some of the taupe floral, with another project in mind.  I’d have loved to get some of the white floral, but when I looked again, it’s a Liberty print, and costs over £20 per metre.  Either I’m tight as heck, or that’s just too steep.  But I will continue to day dream about making it into a top to pair with navy blue trousers.

ImageRight now, though, I have some sweet white airplanes on a green background to think about.  Although this fabric is just described by Stone Fabrics as a cotton lawn, it’s actually a viscose blend, and is pretty slippery and drapey.  I think it’s a good fabric choice for the Mathilde blouse, but it does present a neck facings challenge.  I don’t want the facings to be visible from the outside, but the fabric is so fine that they probably will be.  I’m thinking about bias tape for the neckline, but this presents its own kind of challenge.  Namely, I don’t like the stiffness of bought cotton bias tape, but I’m intimidated to try making my own.  I’ll probably worry about this for about a week before just sucking it up and going for it.  Deep breaths, self-bias binding.  More deep breaths.

With my fabric pre-washed and ironed, I began to tape the .pdf together.  There is a part of me (always wrong, every time) that believes .pdf patterns to be instant gratification.  You download, and BAM there’s your pattern.  Nevermind you have to spend hours lining everything up and taping everything together.  At least the Mathilde is ready to go straight out of the download, with no need to add seam allowances or draft any rectangular bits.  Way to go, Tilly!


I started laying the pattern out on my fabric tonight, but then I have the facings problem to solve, and (here’s me being tight again) I can’t let myself cut into the fabric without first working out the absolute most economical way to lay the pattern out.  Must! Not! Waste! Anyway, I’m still too exhausted from my weekend to try and problem solve, so cutting and stitching will have to wait for another day.

Keep looking though, because when I get this baby finished, there will be another Mathilde giveaway!  With buttons!

Great Gatsby Fail


Earlier this month, I signed up for the Great Gatsby Sewing Challenge over at Miss Crayola Creepy.  It was perfect timing because at the time, I was planning to attend a 1930s themed birthday party, and I promised myself I would wear something I’ve made.  I am a bit of a fancy-dress fiend, as you might have noticed.  I’ve only posted a couple of finished garments on here so far, and they’ve all been costumes!  I swear, I also make normal stuff.

My original plan was to make a navy blue version of these Burdastyle wide legged linen trousers to wear with an art-deco blouse and fabulous dripping jewelry.  I kept putting the project off, however, until the very last minute.  Two days before the party, tragically, this happened.


I can’t very well make a pair of trousers out of that.  I didn’t have anywhere near enough fabric, so…  panic-time!  Frantically, I tore through my belongings, and managed to find a dress I’d made for a Prohibition event last year, using a Burdastyle pattern for a beautiful velvet dress.

I had intended to make my version from a luxurious navy blue velvet.  However, I didn’t want to take the chance of buying velvet online, because it’s so hard to tell what it’s like from a photo.  There was also the problem of matching the fabric to a chiffon, which I can’t do confidently from a computer screen.  I went to my local fabric shop and could not find a non-stretch velvet anywhere.  I finally settled on a navy blue poly satin, with a seriously beautiful white chiffon with a shimmery but very subtle flower pattern.  When I finished the dress, I declared it an ill-fitting abomination of low-quality materials, and I hated it so much, I didn’t even take a proper photo.  I did wear it to the party, and I have never been so grateful in my life for dim lighting!  At the end of the night, I dumped the dress in my Wupsie Pile (where all disasters go to die), and never thought about it again until last week, in my last-minute panic.


Although the shape of this dress suits the Gatsby era just fine, it didn’t suit MY shape at all.  It bagged out in the mid-section, the straps were too far apart and tended to fall off, and the dress was far too tight at the hips.  I took a massive three inch swipe out of the back of the bodice, moved the straps closer together, and added gores from the waist on either side of the skirt.  I added some metallic embroidery thread to the front bodice, but I have so little patience for embellishments, that I stopped after I’d made two sparkly diamonds.  I tried the dress on and, although it was improved, I still didn’t like it much.


I don’t even like this dress well enough to take a decent photo.

The day of the party, I put my dress on, took one look in the mirror, and just felt… awful.  I do not like this dress, no matter what I do to it.  The photos I’m showing you do not do it justice at all – I don’t hate these photos at all.  It’s the awful poly satin, it just doesn’t look good at all.  I felt like a complete hobo in this dress, so at the last minute, I changed tack and dressed as a fancy depression-era hobo.  Problem solved!


Hobo-me with my friend. She came up with the name for this blog and is generally a pretty funny lady.

I made this dress, too, and the kerchief on a stick, so at least I kept my promise to wear something I’d made.

Better luck next time, eh?