Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Pattern Testing: The Betty Dress from Sew Over It (and a giveaway!)

I was lucky enough to be asked a few weeks ago by Lisa from Sew Over It to test their latest pattern release; the Betty Dress. I jumped at the chance as it's a gorgeous classic design with the potential to be made up numerous times, each completely different from the next as Lisa herself has been proving by instagraming pics of her own 'Bettys' every day for the past week! Sew Over It is a beautiful sewing cafe and shop in Clapham South London that strangely enough I lived literally around the corner from when it first opened quite a few years ago now. Betty was one of the first patterns Lisa designed for her classes in the cafe and as the name suggests is based on the early style of Betty Draper from the ever popular Mad Men. As you may therefore expect the design features a full circle skirt and fitted bodice reminiscent of the 1950s.

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

I made mine up in a lovely lightweight cotton sateen which I came across in Simply Fabrics in Brixton. It's such great quality I knew it was perfect for this dress the second I saw it. It's that perfect weight that's drapey enough for a dress of this style yet completely opaque even in bright sunlight. This dress would be gorgeous in a floral but I was concerned about how much wear I'd get out out of such a feminine dress. This print on the other hand gives it a more modern twist (or at least I hope!). It's exactly the kind of print that I like, slightly random with no obvious motifs.

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

I cut the skirt on crosswise grain as I thought the directional pattern would look best this way. I really like how the lines of the pattern meet to form a different kind of pattern around the waist.
If you're thinking of making this up it's worth bearing in mind that that beautiful skirt is a real fabric eater! You will need around 3m of 140cm wide fabric (although to be honest I managed to squeeze mine out of less than 2.5) or 4.5m of 115cm wide. Totally worth it though, I love a circle skirt!

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

My favourite part of the design is definitely the neckline, skimming under the collar bone at the front and plunging into a deep v at the back it's so elegant. Mine unfortunately gapes slightly at both the back and front which I think is due to it stretching out slightly. Naughty me, should have stay stitched my neckline! I don't think this is helped by the fact that my fabric has a bit of crosswise stretch to it but I would recommend to anyone making this pattern to use twill tape to reinforce the whole neckline to give it a bit of stability. That deep v means the neckline edge is on the bias so very prone to stretching.

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

I finished all the inside edges on my overlocker so I just love how neat and professional it looks inside. The hem is, I'm not going to lie, pretty gargantuan so as this is quite a busy print I cheated for once and hemmed by machine. I used a trick which I picked up from the girls at By Hand London and Jen at Grainline Studio for dealing with the curved edge. I machine stitch around the hem 1/2" away from the edge first and then use this line of stitching as a guide for pressing up the first turn of the fabric. Not only does this save you the pain of measuring all the way around the hem but the tight row of stitches really helps to ease that slightly longer edge of fabric into the slightly smaller circumference you are turning it into.

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

The pattern is not lined but includes 'all-in-one' neckline facings. The method for attaching the facings caused a little head scratching to start with but a brief bit of fiddling about later and I was super impressed with the result. The facings also finish off your straps and there's a bit of pulling through to the right side to be done which reminded me very much of a scene in the most recent series of Great British Sewing Bee! Following Lisa's instructions for the construction will ensure that you get a lovely finish all round to be honest. It's all very simple techniques but is well thought out and ordered to come together as smoothly as possible. The instructions also include a great simple tip for helping to insert your invisible zip evenly and thanks to it my waistband matched up perfectly first time!

I cut a size 8 (the smallest size) and the fit came up pretty much ok but a teeny bit large all over. I think it's definitely worth tweaking to get it right though as I love this flattering style so much. It's slightly longer in length than I'd wear a skirt this full usually and perhaps a little long in the bodice but that's purely down to my lack of height at 5ft3! This picture below is a little odd but you can see the excess fabric under the bust quite well. Maybe I need to try Roisin's trick of sticking it in a fairly hot wash to shrink it a little! 

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

Speaking of Roisin, once I'd made this up I realised it was perfect to enter in the Sew Dolly Clackett challenge! Roisin is getting married at the end of may and as a little wedding gift some of my favourite blogging ladies have arranged an amazing surprise for her. There's a contest running in the sewing blogosphere to make up a dress inspired by Roisin's unmistakeable handmade style. She's a big fan of printed cottons, a fitted bodice and a full skirt and was even one of the other Betty Dress pattern testers! There's some brilliant prizes up for grabs which the bride herself will be judging the winners of. If you'd like to get involved you've got until April 23rd to get a pic of your make uploaded to the Flickr group. Roisin and Nic, I hope you have the most amazing day and wish you all the happiness in the world for the future!

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

Now to what you've all been waiting for! I have one copy of the Betty Dress pattern to giveaway to a lucky winner. The dress comes in a range of sizes, comes complete with instruction booklet and is printed on some rather lovely (which may be an odd thing to comment on!) pattern paper. It's perfect timing too as I know Lisa has a sew-along planned for this pattern on the Sew Over It blog soon. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post saying you'd like to be in with a shot. You have until 6pm (GMT) on Saturday 19th April to enter and I'll announce the winner on Sunday. Good luck!

EDIT: I should have said the giveaway is open internationally so feel free to enter from wherever inthe world you may be!

Diary of a Chainstitcher: Pattern Testing the Betty Dress Sewing Pattern from Sew Over It

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Swiss Dot Archer Shirt

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

Just to warn you, this post is going to get all kinds of photo heavy and talky talky about construction details but I'm so proud of all the new sewing techniques I accomplished with this shirt I'm not going to spare you any of it! I completed this shirt (and actually a shirt for my boyfriend too) before I made my tester version of Pauline Alice's Carme Blouse, so the whole sewing a blouse/shirt thing was entirely new to me. It's is by no means perfect but I feel like I did a pretty great job on this one, especially considering it was my first time sewing most of the major parts of a shirt including, collar, plackets and cuffs!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

So anyway, on to the details. I'm sure many of you will recognise this as the every popular Archer Shirt from Jen at Grainline Studio. I love Jen's patterns for their versatility and wearability; she designs the kind of garments that are handy to have in your wardrobe and that end up being worn over and over again because they work as part of so many different outfits. This is exactly how I feel about this finished shirt and it has been getting a lot of wear, especially as spring finally seems to have hit the UK!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

After seeing so many fantastic makes out there on the internet using this pattern I've ended up with plans for many, many more versions of the Archer, but I wanted a bit of a practise with the techniques before I branch out into anything too wild! This is partly why I chose a simple white cotton swiss dot first one; as well as just loving having a reason to use swiss dot and thinking it would work well with most of my wardrobe. The fabric is from Simply Fabrics in Brixton, in fact the same place that the buttons and interfacing for this project came from. I discovered some amazing reasonably lightweight cotton fusible interfacing there a while back which is a better quality than any other I have used before and it really does make a difference. I bought a fair few meters when I found it but supplies are already rapidly dwindling so fingers crossed they have more!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

I cut a size 4 as I didn't want it to be too roomy around the waist and managed to squeeze it out of 1.5m. I love how relaxed fit shirts look on other people, and may try making one of these up in a drapey silk or rayon, but I didn't love the idea of that style in a cotton on me. It fits just how I like it across the shoulders and back but has turned out just a teeny bit snug across the bust as you can see above it pulling in that area, although that may be partly to do with the way I'm standing. Next time I'll probably cut a 4 at the shoulders, grade out to a 6 at the bust then back in to a 4 at the waist. It's fine as it is for this version though as I've been wearing it mainly open over vests or under crew neck jumpers.

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

I knew this project was going to be a challenge for me so it was quite nice just to relax into allowing myself as long as it took to make it without imposing a deadline on myself. I made it alongside a couple of other less challenging makes so I could step away if I was struggling with a particular aspect and come back to it later with fresh eyes and a bit calmer! It's a really great make to spread out over a period of time as there are small involved parts to it that you can break up into individual sewing sessions. I found the whole thing really satisfying to put together as there's plenty of ready to wear aspects that you can feel super pleased with yourself for achieving. Lots of little pats on the back to be given the whole way through!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

I used Andrea from Four Square Wall's tutorial for 'sewing a collar in a different order' as I've seen this referred to a few times. I can't really comment on how good a technique it is, it being the first stand collar I have ever sewn, but I can say that I found it so much easier than I had imagined it to be! There's plenty of photos and she includes some really great tips and tricks. As an explanation it read more clearly to me than others I looked at and the order of construction just seemed to make sense.

I'm really proud of the collar itself but not so pleased with the collar stand. I gave it a few goes and tried shortening my stitches e.t.c but sewing around those tight little curves at the very front was pretty difficult! I think maybe I need to treat myself to an edge stitching foot at some point as the topstitching on Andrea's collar looks so perfect.

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

With the exception of the collar stand I found the cuffs the most fiddly construction aspect. It was more the binding of the slit and how that joins the cuff than the cuff itself. I've since discovered how to do cuff plackets like on men's RTW shirts which I've managed a much neater finish on and will probably add to the Archer when I make it again. For now I'm not fussed though as I wear the sleeves rolled up most of the time.

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

Is it strange that I really love topstitching? I think it's one of my all time favourite sewing techniques for the professional look it gives. There's plenty of it on this shirt and I love how it turned out, especially around those patch pockets which, can you believe it, I almost left off! I can't wait to make another and get some contrast topstitching going on. Another aspect I had no trouble with were the buttonholes. I used to be so apprehensive and wary of making buttonholes (only my absolute determination to make a Robson coat cured me of my avoidance!) and it's now one of my new favourite things to do. I whizzed through these like lightning!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

I overlocked all my seams on my lovely, shiny overlocker so I'm in love with how it looks inside. Jen's instructions for creating the look of a flat-felled seam without doing one create an awesome finish really easily, even around those pesky armholes.

I think the majority of sewing bloggers have already given this pattern a huge thumbs up and I'm definitely adding mine to the mix. Jen you're a bit of a pattern drafting wizard and I'm looking forward to seeing what else you've got on the way! Now just to decide what to make my next Archer out of...chambray or silk? A floral or a plaid? So many ideas!

Diary of a Chainstitcher White Swiss Dot Grainline Studio Archer Shirt Sewing Pattern

Monday, 31 March 2014

March Indie Pattern Update!

It has been one busy month for all our favourite Independent Pattern Designers and there is a lot to catch up on! I may well have lost track of a few bits of news this month so if you can think of anything else please do point it out in the comments!

First up this month I wanted to share a little bit of love for By Hand London's newest venture. The girls have launched a Kickstarter campaign to enable them to buy their own digital fabric printer on which they are planning to print not only their own carefully curated collection of designs but our very own designs too! Right here in London! This is taking home dressmaking to the next level, giving us complete control of designing our own clothing; no more desperate hunting for the perfect print for a project! If you read my blog regularly you will know that I am a big fan of the By Hand London patterns and I can only imagine that their fabric printing ambitions will turn out just as fabulously. You've got until to pledge your support and get your hands on some seriously awesome goodies in the process! Find out more info on the BHL blog or watch their Kickstarter video.

New Pattern Companies

  • Caroline announced her new pattern company named after her blog Sew Caroline with a blog tour of her first pattern the Out and About Dress. Caroline was a contestant in the first season of Project Sewn and I am really looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us all in future.
  • Jennifer Lauren gave us all a look at her first pattern the Afternoon Blouse which is due for release at some point in April. I'm a big fan of Jennifer's style and all her vintage inspired makes and her unique look really shows in this first pattern.
  • Measure Twice/Cut Once are the new pattern company for undies on the block! They have just released a gorgeous collection of PDF knicker patterns which I want to try just about every single one of! Which are your favourite?

New Patterns

  • Thread Theory released the first pattern from their new Alpine Collection, which is going to include new plus sizes. The Comox Trunks look to be an amazing pattern for creating some professional looking pants for the men our lives (or yourself if you happen to be a male reader!). They also released the paper pattern of their Goldstream Peacoat which is very exciting, my fella may be getting a new coat next winter!
  • I was a lucky enough to be a pattern tester for By Hand London's newly released Flora Dress. It's another stunner of a pattern and a very straightforward sew, including options for a wrap bodice and 'mullet hem' which is a term I never think does justice to such a beautiful feature!
  • I love it when thought is put into the design of the back of a garment and the new Winifred Dress pattern from Blue Ginger Doll has a gorgeous detail in the back! 
  • I'm loving the look of a lot of the newly released Style Arc Patterns for March. Which are your favourites?
  • French pattern company Deer and Doe (whose patterns are also available in English) released the Anemone Skirt which is high waisted with two variations. One of them has a gorgeous peplum feature!
  • Melissa from Fehr Trade released the next pattern in her range of activewear designs; the Duathlon Shorts. The pattern comes with options for various lengths and looks great for a variety of sports.
  • Last month I totally missed the release of Republique du Chiffon's Georgina Dress, which I can't believe I managed to do as it's an absolute stunner!
  • Sinbad and Sailor announced the impending release of their next pattern, the Hepworth Dress so hopefully I'll be able to share more info on that with you next month!
  • Amanda from Kitschy Coo has released her next pattern the Trifecta Top. Another knit pattern, if it's got the same quality instructions as her Lady Skater Dress I can only imagine it will turn you into a t-shirt expert!


  • Gertie's running a sew-along on her blog for her slip pattern which was recently released by Butterick. I think it will be a fantastic resource for tips for sewing underwear and nightwear. It starts tomorrow (April 1st) but you've still got time to get your supplies (there are even kits available in her Etsy shop) and catch up!
  • The Flora Dress sew-along starts on the By Hand London blog on 2nd April. This is a versatile pattern that will work in a such a wide range of fabrics that I literally cannot wait to see everyone's lovely versions!
  • The Blue Ginger Doll sew-along for the Winifred Dress has just finished but the posts are of course still available for you to follow. You have until April 10th to get yours sewn up and added to the Flickr group to enter the competition!
  • The Iconic Patterns Jess Jeans sew-along is underway. I'm really looking forward to seeing the results of this as I'd love to try my hand at making jeans soon.
  • Thread Theory featured an amazing tailoring series on their blog based around the construction of the Goldstream Peacoat. It's not so much a sew-along but it featured some fantastic tips for tailoring any pattern and is well worth a read.
  • They are also starting a sew-along for their new Comox Trunks pattern on April 4th complete with contest! I'm definitely going to be reading that one just to pick up some tips on working with stretch for underwear.
  • There's a sew-along running on the new Seamster Sewing Patterns blog for the Avocado Hoodie pattern. A fantastic way to pick up some tips on sewing a different item of clothing

Other Exciting News

  • Gather launched kits for their Tallis Collar pattern with fabric options including a polka dot and a fun leopard print. This pattern is also now available as a PDF pattern which I think is a great option for such a speedy and fun project.
  • Megan Nielsen provided us with a great round up of which of her patterns are now available as PDF downloads. Good news for all of you who have been waiting for some of these since the paper versions sold out.
  • Colette Patterns announced their big plans specifically focusing on sewing with knits. They are soon to be releasing a guide to sewing with knits and keep your eyes peeled on April 15th as they will be revealing two new knit patterns which will be going up to a size 3X (53" bust). Fantastic news for plus size seamstresses who love the Colette look.
  • Disparate Disciplines has been renamed Seamster Sewing Patterns and has a shiny new website and shop. Mari has also made some fantastic changes to the patterns including making the patterns easier to print worldwide as well as an A0 copy shop option and reformatting her instructions.
  • Iconic Patterns also have a new website and shop. Lena has got some great looking patterns coming up for release soon on there so keep your eyes peeled!
  • I was super excited when I spotted this bit of news. I'm in love with pretty much the entire collection of Named's patterns but have so far resisted purchasing any as I'm on limited sewing time. They have just revealed however that they are about to release paper versions which look stunning and that might just tip me over the edge!

And to finish things up as always here's a little bit of inspiration from around the sewing blogosphere!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

5 Sewing Tips that I wish I'd known (or paid attention to!) when I started sewing

Today I thought I'd share with you some of the things which have completely changed the quality, ease and speed of my sewing and that I can't believe I never did when I first started out! I've been thinking a lot about how I can improve my sewing this year and have been trying to sew slowly, considering what techniques I am using. This post has really come about as I've thought back over how and why my sewing skills have improved and what are the things I now can't live without.

  • The importance of pressing This first one is a big one. When I first started sewing I was just keen to be on the machine and actually sewing. I hated the hours spent cutting and resented all the up and down from the machine to the ironing board. However, making the effort to take time over pressing and pressing correctly has made a huge difference to the finish of my garments. It can also be a huge help in achieving those slightly tricky techniques; sewing a curved hem no longer daunts me thanks to this tutorial from Colette Patterns and a good press! The most important things to remember are to lift and move the iron rather than using a side to side motion as this can distort seams and that every seam/dart/pleat needs pressing before you sew anything that crosses it. This doesn't mean you need to get up and over the to the iron after each and every seam you sew but rather sew everything that you can until you are about to cross an unpressed line of stitching. This might mean that you can sew the shoulder and side seams on a blouse in one go but will need to press them before inserting the sleeves.

  • The difference under-stitching and stay tape can make This is right up there at the top of my best and most used sewing techniques when it comes to achieving a more professional looking finish. I've got to give credit for this one to Tasia from Sewaholic as this is a tip I picked up from making the Lonsdale Dress, which was the very first dress I made! There are great instructions for this included in the Lonsdale Sew-along. A stretched out and wavy neckline or lining flipping through to the wrong side at the edge of a pocket can ruin the look of a garment and be incredibly frustrating when you have invested so much time in an otherwise beautifully made project. Adding stay tape to your seam allowance helps curved edges from stretching on the bias over time and can also reinforce things like pocket edges which have to stand up to wear. I picked up my tape in New York's garment district last year but I've also used a narrow twill tape or the selvedge of my fabric. After adding your tape, stitching your lining or facing to both layers of the seam allowance (under-stitching) helps prevent it from peeking out on the right side when worn and can help a neckline stay nice and flat. I was delighted with the results on my Lonsdale.

  • Keeping a 'sewing journal' This is something that I actually haven't been doing all that long but have found totally indispensable since I started! I keep a little notepad by my machine just for sewing notes. In it I start a new page for each project and briefly jot down everything I've done for a particular project. Things like what size I cut, how much fabric I used, any alterations I made as I went along, any particular techniques and what worked well or didn't. Most importantly once finished I record any ideas or alterations I might have if I use this pattern again. This has really helped me to make sure each project is an improvement on the last, rather than forgetting what it was that I was so certain I'd do better next time. For lengthy projects this has really helped me write thorough blog posts too!

My thread box, also including Fiona's other sewing essentials...

  • Good general organisation saves time With limited space it's taken me a while to sort out a set up for all my sewing equipment and supplies that I'm happy with. I mainly found myself getting frustrated with all the time I was wasting hunting for my bias tape maker, my chalk pencils or that zip that 'I'm sure I saw somewhere the other day'. My sewing space is a room which also functions as a dining room and a music and teaching room for my boyfriend (Tilly wrote a great post about working in a shared sewing space like this). There isn't a huge amount of space for sewing equipment, some is even stored in other rooms, so things are split between boxes, baskets, a chest and a sewing table. I was loosing track of what was where but a good sort out a while back has made the world of difference. Tools are now all together, fastenings are now all together and threads are all together. I still have to root things out when I need them but I know exactly where to look. My most useful tip in terms of organisation is to figure out which tools and supplies you use frequently and keep these 'essentials' easily accessible by your machine. I have a little tin with useful thread colours, chalk, quick unpick, snips, bobbins, a seam gauge...all those handy things.

  • Using the correct tools When getting started with sewing it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of tools available. It's hard to know which are essential and which are an unnecessary gadget. I plodded along for ages thinking 'I don't need one of those, surely this chopstick/these kitchen scissors/this pencil' will do the job just as well'. In some cases yes (e.g. the chopstick for turning through straps) in other cases no (e.g. using a pencil instead of a tracing wheel. Don't ask how I know). Sewing can be an expensive hobby but some of these tools cost very little and will make a HUGE difference. A tailor's ham is amazing for getting that professional finish with beautifully pressed and shaped seams and is something you can make yourself basically for free. Using the correct needles for the fabric you are using is essential (e.g. ballpoint for stretch) and I've discovered choosing quality interfacing is worth taking your time over. Some tools are non essential but will make your life so much easier and your sewing more enjoyable. Kathryn from Yes I Like That wrote a great post on sewing accessories. Two of my personal favourites are my bias tape maker and my invisible zip foot. Both totally worth the investment. 

I'd love to know what you have found to make a difference with your sewing. What are your favourite sewing tips and tools?