Steely Seamstress

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Me Made May 2018 – Some thoughts about layering

March at The Monthly Stitch was all about layering. Unfortunately missed out on that month’s challenge, I was rather caught up in all things from the seventies. But the notion of layering is something that I have been giving more thought to lately. Layering is important in the UK because most of the year, heading outdoors without layers is just not possible. Even when it is relatively warm, we can always expect a downpour or a cool breeze (actually more likely a gusty wind blowing off the coast here).  But I can truthfully say that I do layering badly; I struggle to find cardigans and jumpers that “look right” with my chosen outfit and too frequently resort to the same old, tired combinations.

To start with I looked on the internet to see what advice there is available about layering and to find some inspiration. Would this elevate my layering skills and create “a look” above my usual thrown-together outfits?

Sadly, I found a fair number of the articles very irritating to read. They seem to follow the usual Sunday supplement template with a tone that appears to be closer to coercion than inspiration. Garments are labelled as “essential” and “should own” and the “advice” is clearly designed to encourage the reader to shop rather than galvanize them to open the wardrobe door and confidently select an outfit.

That said, I’ve tried to distill the ideas I’ve found into an easy to follow list. These aren’t rules, that’s far to “Sunday supplement”, I’m thinking of these as concepts to experiment with.

1. Under-layers

It’s recommended to keep under-layers as more fitted and the thinnest garment. In fact the general advice is to layer from thinnest garment nearest to your body and the thickest garment as the outermost layer.

Layering thin layers close the body

Layering thin layers close the body

“The key to not looking bulky is to make sure your bottom layer is made from a lightweight fabric and is a snug fit.”

This seems like sound advice to me, plus if it is particularly cold outside it makes it possible to easily discard layers when you go inside.

I do see some outfits where the inner layer is definitely thicker, like in the image below, but it is close fitting and the outer layer is looser and sheer.

Layering a thicker layer close to the body

Layering a thicker layer close to the body

Most of the websites seem to stop at three layers, for example, shirt, jumper and coat. I find that I often struggle with just three layers when it is cold. Adding more layers can make me look bulky, perhaps I need to evaluate the warmth of those layers and perhaps lean towards buying more wool fabric / knit more, to stick with three layers.

Another thought is to top off the look with a belt to allay concerns about looking bulky and give more definition to the waistline.

2. Silhouettes

When you have to layer up, it’s difficult not to look swamped in too much fabric. The recommendation here is to pair a more voluminous blouse or a slouchy cardigan, with something fitted below like skinny jeans or a pencil skirt. Likewise, if you’re wearing a flared skirt or wide-legged trousers, pair it with a more tailored top.

Voluminous tops with skinny trousers

Voluminous tops with skinny trousers

Voluminous skirts and wide-legged trousers with fitted tops

Voluminous skirts and wide-legged trousers with fitted tops

I don’t normally have this problem. I’ve had a particular dislike of being drowned in fabric since childhood. As a child, I was on the small side, and therefore frequently dressed in things that I’d “grow into”. If anything, I have a tendency to wear too many fitted things.

3. Length

Similar to the above consideration on silhouettes, the articles advocated longer-length jacket, coat, tunic, with shorter hemmed skirts and shorter tops with floor-grazing maxis as a more flattering combination. I’ve also been intrigued by the way that longer lengths in the under layers can work with shorter garments worn on top. For example, a shirt peeping out from under the hem of a sweater or a jacket with ¾ length sleeves worn deliberately with a t-shirt with sleeves to the wrist.

Handmade by Carolyn

Handmade by Carolyn

I see this style worn time and time again, but when I try this it always looks like something that “isn’t supposed to happen” on me. Am I getting this wrong somehow or is it that my scepticism about this look colouring my opinion here? Carolyn from Handmade by Carolyn is the queen of layering. She always seem to pull together beautiful outfits. Just thought I’d point out that in the photo above Carolyn is wearing a jacket which has shorter length sleeves that the t-shirt underneath and it looks right!

4. Colour

I was intrigued to see what advice there is about layering with garments of different colours. Obviously the more layers you wear, the risk of colour clashing is greater. Therefore wearing colours that match or complement each other is important. Perhaps the most interesting tip I picked up here is the idea of wearing colours of different hues or tones to create depth. For example, wearing a blue scheme, you could mix and match light blues and navy blues and wear the lightest blue close to the body and the darkest as outerwear.

Another colour scheme that seemed to be mentioned in these articles was Donna Karan’s classic palette of black and camel.

Donna Karan - Black and Camel Look

Donna Karan – Black and Camel Look

5. Texture

The advice with texture is all about using a mix of materials. The idea is to create interest and avoid the use of the same fabrics, which can look heavy and dowdy.

Layering Textures

Layering Textures

6. Patterns

Creating outfits which include patterns has got to be one of the trickiest things to pull off, particularly if you’re going to include more than one pattern. Wearing too many patterns or clothes with clashing patterns can look overwhelming.

The articles recommend placing the most complex pattern on the top layer. This article that covers menswear advises that it you’re wearing a shirt with strips, then not to wear a tie with stripes; perhaps team a striped shirt with a checked pattern instead.

The simplest way to avoid these pattern dilemmas though is just to wear clothes in simple block colours. I admire the clean minimalist style as worn by Jen of Grainline Studio or Karen of Fringe Association.

Jen at Grainline Studio

Jen at Grainline Studio


Karen at Fringe Association

Karen at Fringe Association

I do have a reasonable collection of plain simple garments, but for me personally I would miss the excitement of wearing something patterned. And it is possible to be quite adventurous and combine patterns in an outfit. Just take a look at the outfits in the images below, where there are garments sporting floral designs paired quite successfully with stripes or checks.

Layering Patterns

Layering Patterns


Next month, I’ll be joining in Me Made May as usual and I thought instead of wearing as many of my me-mades as possible, as in previous years, I thought this year I would experiment with layering. So here’s my pledge:

“I, Steely, of, sign up as a participant of Me-Made ’18. I pledge to wear thoughtfully selected outfits each day of May and challenge myself to wear stylish layered looks that use my wardrobe to the max, especially my me-mades.

[1] Idle Man – Advice on layering for men

[2] Guardian website – How to do layering

[3] Gurl website – Winter layering style tips

[4] Glamour magazine – Winter layering fashion essentials


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Sewing the Seventies 2018 – The votes are in

I was so pleased to see the lovely seventies makes entered this year! I thank you all for planning your makes, sewing and joining in, and also everyone for following the blog over the last couple of months.

Most importantly we have a winner! Congratulations to Admin Boss from Sewliloquy who wins my seventies themed fabric and a selection of patterns from Katie. Well done – your outfit is amazing!

Thanks also to Liza from Liza Made who took part too. I’ve really enjoyed looking at your posts on Instagram.

Until the next time…..


Sewing The Seventies: Make 3 – More on Burda “Dusty” Dress

I was just looking through all the posts from my Sewing The Seventies makes and remembered that I hadn’t written a proper post about my third make the Burda “Dusty” dress. And because this is my first garment for the Burda Challenge I thought I’d better write a proper post.

The “Dusty” dress was published in the Burda 70s vintage edition last year. Does anyone know what this dress could be called? I’ve thought it might be a pinafore dress, because of the lack of a back, but that doesn’t really provide a good description of it.

Seventies Dress (Burda)

I was glad that I made a toile of this dress. I don’t usually make toiles, because I have found that I tend to make the same adjustments on all my makes and therefore a quick check that certain measurements, for example, the width across the back are adequate, I’m usually happy with the fit. However, I was scared of this pattern! It looks so different from anything else I’ve sewn, and I wanted to get the fit right. The toile gave me more confidence over the fit and also made it possible to mark some button and button-hole markings on the pattern, which didn’t exist for my size on the pattern traced from the magazine.

The construction was relatively easy, but the instructions needed re-reading a few times. I’m still a little confused about the step to tidy up the side seams; how should I secure the front facing where it joins the side seam at the waist? I actually haven’t completed this step as I keep on considering the fit of the skirt and wondering whether I need to take the skirt side-seams a little. So much for doing the toile! I suspect the fact that there weren’t button and button-hole markings for my size didn’t help here. I’ll probably give the dress another wear and come to some conclusions on this.

The fabric I had chosen sadly, frayed rather badly. I wish I’d finished the edges as soon as I’d cut out the pieces, because just manipulating the fabric just resulted in more fraying. This made the hand-sewing of the facings at the shoulder seams quite tricky and I’m still not convinced this is as neat as I would like.

Shoulder Facing Finish

Shoulder Facing Finish

With this in mind, I decided to use bias-binding to finish the skirt hem. This way any unfinished edges would be fully enclosed and wouldn’t present any fraying problems.

Hem Detail

Hem Detail

Burda Dusty Dress

Side View Dusty Dress

Here’s the unusual back view. Personally I think it looks best from the front and actually I’ve mostly been wearing it with a cardigan over the top anyway.

Dusty Dress Back View

I’ve worn the dress in combination with my deep purple shirt quite a few times now and it’s a combination I like for a day in the office. I do wish I had a non-bulky turtle-neck top that I could wear it with. I think this would be a good outfit for cold days and we’ve had a few of those lately.

Dusty Dress


Sewing The Seventies: 2018 Contest Entries

Welcome everybody! Today is the day that I can reveal the contestants and their makes for this year’s Sewing The Seventies! It’s been great running this contest again and I’ve very much enjoyed seeing everyone’s comments, even when it all got a bit mad during the ten days when I wrote one post per day!

But first, I have an admission to make …. I have a technical problem that has been bugging me over the last week. I don’t have a smart phone and I’m finding Instagram incredibly difficult to use without a smart phone. I’ve managed to post things by getting my internet browser to behave as if it were an iPhone, but somehow it doesn’t seem to tag the posts properly. The Edit option also seems to be missing. Anyway, the upshot is that I don’t think all my posts have been tagged with the Sewing The Seventies 2018 hashtag. Do you have any great ideas on how I can bend Instagram to my will? I’d be extremely grateful!

Anyway, I don’t want my moans about Instagram to invade this post too much, because we’re all here to see the participant makes are:

Admin Boss from Sewliloquy

Admin Boss has made a paisley blouse using the intriguing Lutterloh system. Take a look at her post to get an idea how this pattern drafting system works. Admin Boss has picked a modern Burda modern to complete the outfit. These are a really cool pair of trousers with a mock lace fly detail at the front.

Liza from Liza Made

Liza has created a top made from lightweight wool. This looks so fabulously warm with its high collar. It is so interesting to see how this has worked with the blouse underneath. It’s really interesting to see the difference between how this design works in the wool and the drawing on the pattern envelope.

being very aware now of my Instagram problems; I do hope I haven’t missed anyone. I know that a couple of others started their makes, but didn’t manage to finish within the deadline. Of course, we would still like to see them, when you do get to complete them!

Vote below for your favourite. The voting lasts a week – I’ll announce the winner then! Good luck!


Sewing The Seventies: Prize Announcement

Our deadline for Sewing the Seventies is nearly here! I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of months making my seventies-styled garments and making some culinary creations, which weren’t always successful, but definitely evoked the era.

I’ll post all the recipes and photos of the food on Instagram shortly under #LivingTheSeventies. I can thoroughly recommend the Smoked Haddock and Cottage Cheese Flan. Even the Orange and Chocolate Cheese Cake wasn’t bad. I think the problem was mostly my substitution for the gelatine. But I think I’ll steer clear of the rest of the recipes I tried!

I’d like to give a big thanks to all those who contributed thoughts and memories on the year-by-year posts. They were really interesting to read; from the sobering recollections of bombings in Birmingham to the amusing discussion around Ryvita and other boring diet products.

They certainly brought the whole experience to life for me, since most of the seventies is a childhood haze to me. Of course, I’m not surprised that sexism was ripe in the seventies, but it was interesting to read that trousers were not acceptable in the office for a long time. When I look at my collection of seventies sewing patterns, I think the trouser patterns would be great for the office, but they must have been worn more as casual garments back then.

Anyway, I’m sure there has been too much waffle from me in the last few weeks, and I’m sure you’re all waiting to hear more about the prize. First of all there are some fabrics. The first is a viscose crepe with a dramatic floral pattern and lots of drape. I can definitely see long flowing caftans and maxi dresses in this. The second is a fun, retro-styled surfing print jersey. I think this would make some great t-shirts or even underwear. Katy has contributed a selection of great seventies patterns too. There’s a cute pinafore dress pattern in her selection. And that halter neck dress with the big collar is really cool!

Viscose crepe

Viscose crepe


Retro surf jersey

Retro surf jersey


Prize patterns

Prize patterns

Finally, I thought I’d just mention that Sewing the Seventies finishes on 26th March. If you are taking part let me know by replying to this blog post (if you haven’t already replied to a post already) or posting on Instagram under #SewingTheSeventies2018. I will then gather all the entries and post a round-up of all the makes in the following week. until then, happy sewing!



Sewing The Seventies: 1979

It’s my final year of the 1970s and today is the final year of my tour through the decade. The start of 1979 was the coldest winter for sixteen years, and during a freezing January, the widespread industrial action spread to the public sector as the “winter of discontent” continued. With many workers in the private sector having secured substantial pay rises, public sector workers became concerned that their salaries were not keeping pace with those in the private sector.

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Winter Of Discontent Cartoon

Rail workers began a series of 24-hour strikes. Ambulance drivers took strike action in mid-January. Piles of rubbish, due to a refuge collectors strike, built up with local authorities running out of space and using local parks to store the rubbish. Leicester Square, in London became one of these storage points and was unofficially renamed “Fester Square”. Even more notorious was the industrial action by gravediggers. Eighty gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool and the council had to hire a factory to store the unburied bodies. The gravediggers settled for a 14% rise after a fortnight’s strike.

Fester Square

Rubbish uncollected in “Fester Square”

On 28th March, James Callaghan’s government lost a motion of confidence by one vote, forcing a General Election. The famous “Labour Isn’t Working” advertising campaign was run by the Conservatives in the lead-up to the election. It featured a queue of people outside an unemployment office, snaking back into the distance. It remains one of the most iconic political posters to this day.

Labour isn't working poster

Labour isn’t working poster

On 4th May the Conservatives win a land-slide victory in the General Election and Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of the the United Kingdom. On winning the election, on the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street, she remarked:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony;
Where there is error, may we bring truth;
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith;
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
She later won two successive general elections and has become one of the dominant political figures of the twentieth century
Margaret Thatcher1979 Election

Margaret Thatcher 1979 Election

Today I’ve opted for some warmer clothing as it is snowing again. I’m wearing my new late seventies popover Liberty shirt and my jeans.

This evening I decided to try a recipe that I remember from my childhood – meatloaf I’m also making a recipe that I’m simply dreading. It is an atrocity of the seventies that completely offends my Italian heritage. It’s “Macaroni Fritters with tomato sauce”. Essentially, cooked pasta is cut up into smaller pieces, covered in egg and cheese and fried. If I had to come up with a recipe for left-over pasta, this would not be it, but actually it was harmless, if slightly weird. The meatloaf which featured layers of meat and egg was deemed rather bland by all, but again edible.

Macaroni Fritters

Macaroni Fritters

Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf

I apologise for the photos which seem for some reason to be blurred. You can’t go back and take more photos when you’ve already eaten the food! Incidentally I decided to check to see if Italians do make anything like fried pasta and I did find this recipe, which seems to be a frittata, therefore more like an omelette. Somehow that looks so much more appetising.

Finally, we’re about to settle down to watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall and just a little word on my reading from this week. I’m still reading Joan Aikin’s “Voices in an Empty House”. I’m been really enjoying this book. Rather than appearing dated, it actually seems to read as a book that is just set in that period. The story revolves around a kidnapping of the son of a famous scientist and author, but it isn’t a straightforward plot. The story jumps around and is told in chapters, by the boy, his mother, his uncle and his step-father. The characters are richly drawn and interesting. I read the many books in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series by this author as a child, I’m just left wondering why her adult fiction is not well known.



Sewing The Seventies: 1978

“Now is the winter of our discontent” is the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III, but it’s also the phrase applied to the events of the winter of 1978 – 79. In September, the Prime Minister, James Callaghan announced that he would not call a general election despite being ahead in the opinion polls – “I am not proposing to seek your votes because there is a blue sky ahead today.” It was a stance he would regret in the coming months.

Later that month, 23 Ford car plants closed across Britain due to strikes. The Government had introduced pay policies throughout the 1970s in order to combat rampant inflation. Part of this policy was a guideline for pay rises to be capped at 5%. Sanctions would be imposed on companies that chose to breach the pay policy. To bring an end to the strike, Ford offered their workers a 17% pay rise and decided to accept the sanctions. The Ford workers accepted the deal.

This outcome though, seemed to signal that the government had no way of enforcing its pay policy and other industrial disputes quickly followed. Bakers went on strike and bread rationing was brought in as a bread-buying rush got underway in Bristol. The city’s smaller bakers step up their production to meet the demand.

Main brand bakery workers strike

Main brand bakery workers strike

The Times newspaper closed for nearly a year. A smaller 3p edition of the Bristol Post appears towards the end of 1978.

3p edition of the Bristol Post

Large numbers of the lorry drivers working for oil producers, BP and Esso began an overtime ban in support of rises of up to 40% and the army were put on standby to take over from the tanker drivers if the disruption of oil supplies developed into a crisis.

I decided to try to make a cheesecake from the Farmhouse Kitchen book. Now, I must admit that I am renowned for my inability to make a decent cheesecake. I try all sorts of recipes, but it’s usually unsatisfactory. This cheesecake was an Orange Chocolate Cheesecake and on paper had the approval of all the family. It seemed quite easy to make as it was a no-cook type of cheesecake and here it is in the tin:

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

Well, sadly it didn’t really set very well, but it was actually rather yummy. The cheese layer had a great citrus flavour and wasn’t too sweet. The chocolate biscuit base was particularly good. I think I can take the blame for the cheese layer not setting properly. I used vegetarian setting agent rather than gelatine. Perhaps with more of this added to the cheese mix it would set, I must have just got the quantity required wrong.

Today has been a little warmer and I chose an outfit that included my Butterick 3065 jeans and a shirred sun top made from a Burda pattern. I think that shirring was quite popular for sun dresses in the seventies. It wasn’t the warmest of outfits to wear even with the cardigan. Apparently the snow is due to arrive again tomorrow, so I’ll be reverting to something warmer.

Hippy Jeans and Shirred Top

Hippy Jeans and Shirred Sun Top