Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Black Corduroy Trousers and Possibly a Compliment?

I’ve finally got round to posting about this make! Mr Steely has been extremely reluctant to strut his stuff in these new corduroy trousers, but finally I seem to have managed to get him to pose.

Black Corduroy Trousers 4

These trousers were made as a copy for a much-loved pair that were very thread-bare. In fact, Mr Steely willingly let me pull them apart to make a pattern, because they had become so worn. It’s always much easier to make a copy if you can just take the old pair apart!

Black Corduroy Trousers 2

I made some adjustments to the pattern at his request. First of all, the originals were a bit on the long side so the length was adjusted (easy enough!). Secondly, as Mr Steely is left-handed he wanted the coin pocket on the left-hand side. I was going to leave this pocket off, as I’ve always thought these pockets were a bit small and fussy, but Mr Steely assured me that he keeps his keys in this pocket and the pocket was essential. So it stayed and was even made a little larger.

Black Corduroy Trousers 3

He also wanted a longer zip for the fly opening. Slightly delicate matter here, but the original opening was apparently “not toilet-trip friendly”. I only just made this amendment in time, as I was all set to re-use the zip from the original trousers. (I won’t waste a good zip!).

The corduroy fabric is a black needlecord from Truro Fabrics. I used a grey top-stitch thread. Black clothes don’t tend to photograph that well, in my experience. I’m not sure that these photos give a good impression of the trousers, but I know you all have good imaginations and can perceive all the stitch-craft in them without needing to see every stitch!

Mr Steely tells me he’s pleased with the trousers, although he hasn’t worn them much since I made them. I did wonder whether that was because he didn’t like, but he always brings new clothes and shoes “online” gradually, saving them for best. Perhaps it’s a compliment then that he hasn’t worn them much? For my part, I think these are a successful make and since the autumnal-coloured corduroys I made for myself, I have honed my instructions significantly. I suppose this is the problem with copying RTW (ready-to-wear) garments; the pattern is there, but I have to glean how to make the garment as I take it apart and from any experience making items that did have instructions.

I particularly like the way the back pockets turned out. The motif on them was quite simple, but effective. It was easy to get this design to work symmetrically on the two pockets.

Black Corduroy Trousers 1

I think I’m seeing the beginnings of a new phase in my hobby. People are now asking for me to make things for them. I’m pleased, of course, it is a compliment, after all. I’m just not going to have so much time for my selfish sewing anymore…..


The Horror of Time Management

The last month for me has been a pretty busy affair, particularly at work. I don’t really talk about work much on here, if at all, but it’s getting a mention here because sometimes home and work overlap. At work I have been trying to use a few those time management techniques to help me through my busiest days. And being busy at work has had a knock-on effect at home. I’ve been pressed for time here as well and I’ve found those same time management techniques spilling over into my home life. The lists, the time-vigilance, the prioritising…..and this is bad!

Sun dial

Five tenets of time management to avoid at home:

1. Make a list

I’ve found myself making lists for things I need to do at home. Do I need to make a list to remind myself to phone my friend, compete a sewing project or book our holiday? I’m taking this as a sign that all is not well. Spending time with a friend, going on holiday and sewing are the stuff of my daydreams, something is wrong if I haven’t space in my brain to remember them. These are the things that help me relax and I should be thinking about them, not putting them at the back of my mind, because I’m too preoccupied.

2. Don’t waste time waiting

Sometimes there are times we can’t fill efficiently. It might be while we are commuting on the train or waiting in the opticians. Time management tips suggest how we might fill these moments productively. But do you know what? I need down-time. We all need down-time. Sometimes it is just pleasant to just sit and do nothing, or at least not much. Why not watch the scenery slide past while you’re on the train? Forget planning your next meeting agenda! Why not daydream whilst waiting in the opticians? Forget the messages on your phone!

3. Don’t fall prey to time-wasters

Apparently 31% of us waste roughly 30 minutes daily at work and fill this time with activities such as net surfing, Facebook posting, texting, or making personal calls. Do I waste this amount of time at home? Of course I do! Does it matter if a spend 30 minutes of un-focussed time surfing, or slouched in front of children’s TV with Master Steely as soon as I get home from work? When we are on holiday we don’t call “lying on the beach” a time-waster, so why is unfocussed time an “enemy” the rest of the time? Besides, I can find some interesting things while surfing and children’s TV can be delightful!

4. Prioritise

I really struggle to exclude this time management behaviour at home. Making priorities in my home life is really necessary, but at the same time, I have to be careful otherwise all the tasks heading to the top of the list would be those that other people want me to do. I try to make sure that I do something I want to do everyday – it keeps me sane!

5. Introduce time management goals

Once you are on the time management treadmill, it’s hard to jump off. There is, apparently, always room for improvement. Time management websites advise changing our behaviour over time to achieve increased productivity or even decreased stress.

More targets = more stress

As far as I’m concerned, more targets generally means more stress. I have read this article though. I think I can identify myself as a “Perfectionist”. It might explain why I feel I need Hermione Granger’s time turner to get everything done. On the other hand, perhaps this is what makes me improve as a sewist?

Time turner

By the way, I’ve have spotted the irony of writing this as a list! I really need to ditch the time management at home – it isn’t a recipe for contentment. Enjoy the moment and happy sewing!



Blouse in White Cotton Dobby Part 2

This is my second post about a blouse I have made which is a copy of a shop-bought top. The first post is here.


I’ve now finished my top and I’ll be wearing it for the first time tomorrow. I’m rather proud of this top, but not for the usual reasons. We’re all feel excited when we’ve made a new garment that looks good, but this time I feel that not only is it good, but it’s better than the original top which I copied. The main reason I think it’s an improvement is that I revised the way it was made. I discovered that when I took the top apart to create my pattern there were lots of raw edges just covered with trim. To me that just seemed like a shameful short-cut and I decided to attach the yoke to the front of the blouse by folding the raw edges under and then covering with the trim. Yes, it was still covered by the trim, but I have to wear this top and I need to know that it’s constructed well!

Front Yoke

Unfortunately, my deviation from original construction has meant that the front of the blouse is slightly shorter than it should be because I didn’t add in the extra seam allowance needed by the yoke. I don’t think it is a critical problem though, but I’ll change my pattern to make sure that is now correct.


I have noticed that shop-bought clothes have excessive amounts of trim. In fact, the original top, is a good example of this. There are three different types of trim used – a ruffle around the yoke opening, ribbon used around the edge of the front and back yokes and oodles of grosgrain ribbon around the collar and dangling down the front of the blouse. When I came to making the copy of the top, I was sure that I didn’t need that much trim and I limited myself to the using a grey velvet ribbon around the front yoke and along the bottom of the back yoke and a ruffle along the yoke opening. The ribbon around the collar and the dangling bow just seemed completely unnecessary to me. In fact, I’m not even sure that the ruffle is really needed either. It is a trend I have seen with many RTW items. I’ve often wondered whether the bling dazzles us and hides the lack of quality in the garment.

Another observation about the original blouse concerns the sleeves. Traditional sleeves (i.e. ones with sleeve caps that you ease into the garment) generally are not symmetrical. The front half of the sleeve varies in its shape to the back half of the sleeve. However, in this blouse the sleeves seem to be symmetrical. I guess it doesn’t matter too much they are fairly loose sleeves, but I do think that perhaps the sleeve should have been cut better.

Sleeve pattern

Image from

I have learned a new technique too. I finished the bottom of the blouse and the sleeves with a rolled hem using my overlocker. I have used my overlocker for finishing raw edges and for knit fabrics, but until now I hadn’t been brave enough to fiddle much with the settings. (Let’s face it I haven’t been too keen on changing the thread colour, it usually involves bringing out the manual, because that method of just knotting the new threads onto the old and running them through just doesn’t seem to work well and I usually get a thread break). I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to set up though. I took out one of the needles so that I was using just the right needle and three threads. I then increased the tension on the looper threads and switched the setting to “R” (for rolled) and hey presto! I fiddled a little with the tension on the loopers to get the width of hem just right, but that didn’t take long. This is a finish that is simple and easy to do, but I do think it is far more popular in RTW clothes. I certainly don’t often read about in on sewing blogs. What do you think, do you think this is an interesting finish or a RTW short-cut that lacks finesse?


Overall, I think that this top has provided me with some good lesson. I think that it has shown that I shouldn’t slavishly follow instructions or copy and that branching out is often a good approach when we feel it could improve the garment. The blouse I’ve made actually has a very different vibe to its original. I think my copy has a crisper finish and is less casual. Perhaps my choice of ribbons and construction has accounted for that.

I think I would like to make this blouse again, and really break away from the original, perhaps using a cotton lawn in a darker colour or with a print. I would like to draft different sleeves, some 3/4 length sleeves would suit this top too.



Blouse in White Cotton Dobby Part 1

I’m currently making a copy of an old favourite. The original was probably bought about ten years ago and has been on constant rotation ever since. The reasons I think this blouse works so well are that it is white (goes with everything) and it hovers on the mid-ground when it comes to smartness; it is quite acceptable with a skirt or smart pair of trousers, but equally can be worn with more casual attire, like a pair of jeans.

RTW blouse

The original blouse

Sadly, this top has suffered from being worn to a ridiculously hot office too many times, there are some nasty yellowish stains in the underarm areas (easy to see on the photo below). Also, I managed to melt some of the trim whilst ironing it. It is really in a sorry state and because it is such a favourite I thought I’d make a copy.

RTW blouse

Close up of the original blouse

The first job was to find a suitable fabric and luckily I found a very similar fabric at Stone fabrics. It is a white cotton dobby – why tamper with a winning formula?

My next step involved taking the top apart and creating a pattern. As I had no intention of keeping the original, I was quite happy to cut it up. I traced my pattern pieces onto tracing paper and labelled them.

I spent a long time thinking about what trims to use. The original used a lot of sheer floppy trim for the ruffles and the edge of the bib. I couldn’t find anything similar to that and after a lot of deliberation I chose some velvet ribbon in grey and some wide sheer ribbon in white. I gathered the wide ribbon down the centre to create the ruffles.


I came to a realisation when I was taking the original top apart that it was actually quite a cheap top. On the front of the top, the bib yoke piece at the front had just been placed over the main front piece and the trim used to hide the raw edges of the fabric. Somehow this just seemed quite a shoddy construction technique to me. I didn’t feel comfortable just repeating this method, and so I figured out a way to give the bib yoke a tidier finish. Even though the seam was still going to covered by the trim, I just felt like I was using a finish with more finesse.


I’ve now completed the front and back of the top. I’m going to investigate using a rolled hem for the top’s hems on the body and the sleeves. I haven’t tried this method using my overlocker yet and I’m quite excited about this possibility….more to follow…..



Library of Dressmaking from the Interwar Period Part 4

This month I’m delving into the chapter entitled “Upkeep of Clothing” in the Women’s Institute library of dressmaking volume. I’m now quite used to the judgemental tone of this book. I definitely feel like a lesser mortal because of my “slovenly ways”. But if I’m going to be judged, I may as well judge myself without reserve and this month I’ve decided to make myself a checklist to compare myself to the “ideal homemaker” in the book.


The list consists of the suggestions in the book for the proper care of clothing. I’m giving myself a score between 0 and 5, with the highest score awarded when I’ve made an exemplary effort in that area and 0 when I’ve made absolutely none.

Clothes hangers

Here’s the checklist. Do you score any better than me?

Number Description Comments Score
1 Are clothes hung up in the wardrobe? I’m not too good at keeping my clothes in the wardrobe. I have a massive pile of clothes heaped up on the chair beside my bed and another pile on top of the case carrying my extra duvet. I blame the yo-yo British summers where I often have to change what I’m wearing each day to suit the weather and keep on leaving clothes I’ve worn only once on the chair. 1
2 Do I have enough hangers? Yes I do. They are nearly all wooden and I have even covered one myself. I even possess skirt hangers. Perhaps I could improve by sewing some skirt hooks into my me-made skirts. Anyway, I’m going to give myself a high mark on this. 4.5
3 Is there enough space in the wardrobe so clothes can hang properly Absolutely not. My clothes are way to squashed in and I often need to iron clothes when they come out of the wardrobe as they have got crumpled in there. I really need a big tidy up in there. 2
4 Are moth treatments used? Yes, I have some cedar wood little squares that I put in drawers and some cedar hangings that can be put on the clothes hangers. I’m not sure they are doing their job well though – I spotted lots of eggs in my woollens drawer. I gave the blocks in the woollens drawer a bit of a sand paper the other day and aired the clothes – scarves, gloves and hats. I’ll give myself a middle-range score for this, as I did tackle the woollens drawer, but really need to do the same in the wardrobe. 3
5 Do I air my clothes frequently? Actually, no, but this book is converting me on this score. It has lots of benefits including preventing discoloration, discouraging moths and preventing mould. 0
6 Do I make sure others in the house tidy their clothes away? Mr Steely is a very organised person and he doesn’t have too many clothes. Master Steely is the complete opposite, being very adept at mess, but I think we may have trained him well, as he hangs his coat up and any muddy football gear is shed near the washing machine. 4.5
7 Are my socks darned? Actually, I have darned a couple of pairs of socks this year. I still haven’t made myself any socks yet, and haven’t bought any in about 3 years, so I have to be very careful with those I do use. I still have some more to darn though. 3
8 Am I up to date with other mending jobs? No, I have a pile of these – including a crotch seem on my grey trousers which needs stitching up again. And yep, those cardigans with the holes in them. Enough said, this work is a priority! 0
9 Are my shoes and boots repaired at the heel? I don’t have many pairs of shoes or boots that can be repaired in this way, but I did get my grey boots repaired recently. I wonder if it is possible to get a whole rubber sole replaced? 2
10 Do I store shoes so that they keep their shape? Well, I don’t use shoe-trees or tissue, so I don’t think I score too well on this front! 0
11 Do I have a well-stocked mending basket? Well, I guess I do have a good sewing kit. Specifically, for mending I do have some darning wool for my socks, but no darner. 4
Wearing clothes responsibly and upkeep
12 Do I roll down tights to put them? Is there any other way to put on tights? 5
13 Do I pull off gloves gently? Yes, generally I do. I think this advice is really for leather gloves and yes I do treat those with care. 5
14 Do I take care to make sure shoes don’t get wet? This is clearly written by someone who doesn’t live in the South West of the UK. I would never venture out the house at all, if I only went out when rain wasn’t forecast. I do have a hierarchy of shoes though and I don’t wear the “best” ones in the rain unless caught unawares. Wet shoes should be dried slowly to prevent cracking, according to the book. I always make sure the shoes are never near a radiator and I leave them to dry without wearing them for a few days. 4
15 Do I polish my shoes? Occasionally – I probably could take better care of them. 1
16 Do I remove stains and spots promptly? Yes I do. I’m usually quite upset when I spill something on my clothes, so I generally try to remove it as soon as possible. 5

My total is 44 out of a possible 80 points. My challenge for the next couple of months is to try to improve on my score and I shall start with organising the wardrobe properly and doing my mending jobs.


Sequin Bird T-shirt

It’s July and Independent Pattern Month has come to an end. I have enjoyed it very much, but I feel I need to sit back, relax and not feel the heat of sewing deadlines. Having said that sometimes it is good to have a deadline because I have now made myself a complete outfit in the last month, which is really getting a lot of wear; a Classic Lekala shirt, a pair of skinny Peter and the Wolf jeans and a sequinned t-shirt.


The sequinned t-shirt is inspired by this Markus Lupfer t-shirt that I saw online. It features three sequinned origami-style birds. The t-shirt is priced £397.83. I didn’t know you could actually buy a t-shirt that expensive!

Markus Lupker

I started out by making a few origami birds myself. I was intrigued to see if the ones on the Marcus Lupfer t-shirt were real origami birds or just origami-inspired.

I made a flapping bird. You can make the wings on this bird flap when you pull on the tail. It looks a little like the top left bird on the t-shirt.

Flapping Bird

I also made a heron as I thought this had quite a contrast in shape.


I think that the Marcus Lupfer birds are origami-inspired. They don’t quite look like birds that can be made. The closest one is the flapping bird, but the wings are positioned upwards.

Next, I made a sketch of each of these birds and used these sketches as the template for my sequinned birds.

Origami Bird Sketches

This website has some good instructions with videos for making birds if you’re interested.

The sequinned birds were created on organza, using some metallic-looking beads for the outlines and sequins of different colours – metallic white, metallic black and silver.


This photo is strange, I just noticed how I managed to get “red-eye” from the sequins – completely unintentionally! The sequin is actually silver.

I made the t-shirt from a fine bamboo jersey from Stone fabrics. It is very light-weight, very much like the fabric used in RTW t-shirts. I was very worried about using it, though. I felt sure that it would be difficult to handle, and possibly pucker and stretch out easily.  I was really scared that the sequins and beads would be too heavy and pull on the fabric. I was though, pleasantly surprised and although very stretchy it wasn’t at all troublesome to sew and the weight of the beads didn’t seem to be a problem.

The pattern I used for the t-shirt was the Laurie Tee by Named. It was given to me through the pattern swap at The Monthly Stitch. (Thank you, my pattern swap fairy!) The t-shirt has quite a relaxed fit, fairly similar to the original Markus Lupfer t-shirt. I left out the pleats on the front on my pattern by folding and pinning them in place and cut out the front so that it was just a plain t-shirt. I used the size 10 (UK size) as per the pattern and it seemed to work out well.


It was quite easy to sew up and didn’t present me with any problems.

My final step was to attach my organza-backed birds to the front of the t-shirt. I spent quite a while positioning the birds trying to get a balanced look.




Anyway, I spotted some interesting historic trivia about sequins when I was leafing through Francesco da Mosto’s excellent Venetian cookery book “Francesco’s Kitchen” for a “Spaghetti alle vongole”(clams with spaghetti) recipe. Sequin is a French word, derived from the the Italian word “zecchino”. A zecchino was a gold coin used in the Venetian Republic in the Middle Ages. The zecchino coins were issued up until the early 19th century, and the term sequin in its original sense fell out of use, but the name was taken up in France to refer to the small disk-shaped beads we sew on clothes and accessories.  Not sure how all that relates to clams and spaghetti, but they were delicious (couldn’t get the camera out quick enough to take a snap of them)!




Hacking it in Batsford

I’ve just made another pair of Peter and the Wolf trousers from Papercut patterns. I made a pair last year and have enjoyed wearing them. I have been looking forward to making another pair. This time I chose to make a denim pair with grey top-stitching. The fabric came from Ditto fabrics and is a dark indigo stretch denim.




I usually find that I have to rely on belts to keep trousers sitting at the waist. So unfortunately, a side closure and waistband with no belt loops was always going to be a bit of a risk for me.


This new pair are therefore also a pattern hack. I’ve married the Grainline Moss Skirt front fly closure and shaped waistband with the Peter and the Wolf legs and yoke for this pair. I also added more top-stitching and belt loops, using the Ginger jeans tutorial instructions to give a more jeans-like look. There are more details on my hack on my Monthly Stitch post.




I decided to give my new pair of trousers their first outing on a visit to Batsford Arboretum. The arboretum is home to one of the largest private tree collections in the UK, and is famed for trees which originate in Japan and China, including the Handkerchief tree.


There are some beautiful views across the Cotswold countryside.



The arboretum dates back to the early part of the 17th Century. It was created to look like a wild garden. There is an artificial stream that runs through the gardens and our walk took us over wooden bridges and past a waterfall. Batsford Park’s most well-known residents were probably the infamous Mitford sisters, who lived there during World War I.



Being a weekday, it was very quiet and tranquil.



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