Steely Seamstress

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Modes 4U giveaway

I’m not much for advertising, but I spotted this fantastic giveaway on The Japanese Sewing Books blog.

The Japanese Sewing Books blog is a great resource if you are interested Japanese sewing books and magazines. The Japanese have quite a unique take on sewing and if you appreciate simplicity and minimalism in your style or admire designers such as Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto, there is plenty to enjoy. I especially appreciate the posts that Yifarn writes where she just “flicks through” a new sewing book. How better to know if you like a book than just being able to view the contents? This one covers Stylish Wraps by Yoshiko Tsukiori.

The giveaway is for four beautiful Cosmo fabrics of 1m from The fabrics include double gauze, canvas with gold metallic embellishment and cotton fabrics.

Modes4U stocks Japanese brands Kokka and Cosmo, but also many American brands such as Michael Miller, Andover, Robert Kaufman and others. Here are a few selected fabrics from the site, showing the range that is available.

Top Row:

  1. Origami Crames Broadcloth (Trans-Pacific Textiles)
  2. Foxes Flannel (Michael  Millar)
  3. Gemoetrics Canvas (Echino)

Bottom Row:

  1. Polar Bears Cotton Interlock (Kiyohara)
  2. Pacman 100% cotton (Timeless Treasures)
  3. Paris 100% cotton (Robert Kaufman)


They also stock a variety of stationary and other goods with a distinctly Japanese flavor. Do check out the Bento boxes and accessories. I love this Little Red Riding Hood box, or how about these colour pencil chopsticks. It’s definitely a website that I could browse all day!

I bought some Kokka fabric a while back and made my Helicopter Jacket from it. I really enjoyed making this and the jacket has become a firm favourite in the summer months. I’m on the lookout to make another jacket from another quirky print.

The giveaway is available until 19th October. There are instructions in this blog post on how to enter.

Good luck!



Capri Trousers from Modellina Magazine

When I’m truly enthused about making something, I just want to fall under the sewing spell.  I can’t wait to get back to my machine or, when I don’t have much time just read through the next steps in the pattern instructions or imagine my finished garment.

This month however, I was not feeling enthusiastic or excited about what I was sewing. It all started so well. I’m sewing a pair of Capri trousers. I picked up this edition of “Modellina” (more information about this magazine here) in Italy and I snapped up the fabric on my return to England back in June. I couldn’t wait to start this make and immediately cut them out. But then The Monthly Stitch’s Independent Pattern Month and the Summer of Basics followed. This pair of trousers didn’t fit with my ideas (or the rules for Independent Pattern Month) so they languished unloved, under my ironing pile.

I picked them up again in September, but I was feeling half-hearted about this pair of trousers. I know that it is Autumn now and they won’t be worn till next year. I also got puzzled by the pattern too. I think there may be a pattern piece missing as I couldn’t work out how else the pockets would work. Whilst I was quite happy to draft this piece, I was still left wondering whether I had interpreted the instructions correctly. Of course, this sort of set-back, increases my level of trepidation and I proceeded more cautiously and then lost the pace needed to maintain my interest.

It’s cold and I only removed my socks for the photo – I can the marks on my ankles!

Anyway, enough about my “exsewstential” crisis, I have now completed the garment! Here are a few details – the fabric came, very cheaply from my local Fabric Land and is moderately stretchy cotton sateen. The pattern from Modellina is a trousers pattern that comes in three variations featuring different lengths and pocket combinations. I chose to add two pockets to the front of the trousers and only one patch pocket on the back (as per the instructions). I chose the middle of the choice of three trouser lengths that were included in the pattern, which is more or less calf length.

As noted above, my only real problem was with the front pockets. I thought these needed to be constructed from three pattern pieces – the facing, and each side of the pocket bag.

The pattern layout shows one side of the pocket bag (called “sacchetto tasca con sprone fianco” in the pattern) and the facing (called “paramontura apertura tasca davanti”), but nothing else. I was confused and ended up making my own pattern piece. Even the instructions weren’t much help here as the main instructions just referred me to an illustrated section at the back of the magazine. That would have been good, but the pockets were really more like in-line pockets in these more detailed instructions so I was left none the wiser.


I can see the pocket facing in this photo and also see the line of the pocket on this photo. So, I think I did get the construction more or less right.

The rest of the pattern came together easily enough. I was very happy that a graded waistband was included, instead of a straight one. I think they work better for me for fitting reasons. I did use the Ginger Jeans tutorial for the zip fly construction.

Essentially I’ve made a pair of jeans with a few inches missing from the bottom! I suppose then it isn’t surprising that this make took me a while. The fit was almost spot on using size 42 and I only trimmed a little excess width off at the hip.

I’m not going to get to wear these for another seven or eight months, and I’m rather sad about that. Should I avoid making “out of season” projects? I’m sure knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to wear these trousers, made me less enthusiastic about finishing them. Or should I book a holiday to wear them before next May? (Now that’s an expensive option!)


Italian Sewing Magazines – Part 1

I often holiday in Italy and frequently peruse the sewing and pattern magazines in the newspaper kiosks there. I’ve grown more partial to magazines recently. When you have a magazine that has twenty or so patterns in it for roughly 5 Euros, it certainly makes sense to buy them rather than spending £10 alone on one regular Big 4 pattern or an independent pattern, which can be even more expensive.

I’ve bought a handful of publications in Italy in the last few years and have even used some of the patterns, so I thought I’d write a little about them.

Where can I buy magazines?

There are lots of newspaper / magazine kiosks dotted around in most towns or cities in Italy. They have a bewildering array of magazines, but usually only one or two copies of each magazine, which means unless you are lucky that your holiday coincides with the publication date you might not be lucky.

There are plenty of magazines in the “tabaccherie” as well. However, again they may only stock one or two copies. I have asked for magazines to be held for me for my next visit, and the owner very generously agreed. Obviously, this only works if you visit the same area frequently.


I’ve also found that larger supermarkets, like Emisfero, have a good selection of magazines and frequently enough copies that they do not run out quickly after publication.

What publications are available in Italy?


The Marfy designs are Italian, high-end / couture and very stylish. They include dresses, coordinating suits, coats and a limited selection of separates. There are no instructions for these patterns and Marfy really do assume that you are a competent sewer to tackle their designs.

I’ve not bought this magazine myself, simply because the designs don’t fit into my rather casual lifestyle, although I could perhaps justify a smart jacket or coat.


Modellina is a magazine produced by Simplicity. There are sister publications too, including Modellina Facile (Modellina Easy) and Modellina Extra.

Modellian Cover

The magazine is full of simple, easy-to-make designs. In the edition that I have there many patterns with two or three variations, which means you can mix and match the features to get the design you’re after. For example, this jumpsuit has two different sleeve lengths, three different leg lengths and different collars.

Modellina Jumpsuits

I’m currently making a pair of Capri trousers with a pattern from this magazine.

Modellian Capri Trousers

La Mia Boutique

This magazine contains patterns from Italian designers and has more adventurous designs in it in my opinion.

I nearly bought the August edition of this magazine when on holiday, but I wasn’t particularly interested in more than a couple of the patterns in it. In contrast, having looked at the website, the preceding month has some excellent designs. I’ll look again at this magazine on my next visit, perhaps La Mia Boutique will have moved on from the weirdly asymmetrical garments (see below) in this last issue. Not that I dislike asymmetry, just these particular designs.

La Mia Boutique Menu

The Sewing Princess reviews all the editions of La Mia Boutique and I’d recommend looking at her blog for in-depth reviews of each edition of the magazine.

La Mia Moda

La Mia Moda and additional publication La Mia Moda Speciale – Solo Abiti (Only Dresses) is also known as Fashion Trends in Germany.

I went out late one evening to purchase this magazine from the store near our hotel and found that the experience left me with a huge crop of fresh mosquito bites. For my pains though I did get this rather super magazine. The patterns are based on ready-to wear designs and this means that they are mostly made with knits or stretch fabrics. For this reason I haven’t made many of the designs – I consider myself still rather more keen on sewing wovens. However, I have used one of the t-shirt patterns for both this and this t-shirt.

La Mia Moda Cover

This particular outfit has been on my to-do list for a while. I’m sure I’ll make it one day….

La Mia Moda Top and Skirt

Fashion Style

Fashion Style seems to be the Italian version of Patrones magazine, which is a Spanish publication. It is also known as Fashion Style in Germany and The Netherlands. I did ponder when I bought this magazine where it originated, since there are German words on the patterns. I think the Italian version is actually translated from the German. There is also an article with two Dutch ladies in it, giving it truly international feel!

Fashion Style Cover

I’ve yet to make anything from this issue, but I am drawn to this jacket.

Fashion Style Jacket

Burda Style

Burda magazine is published in a large number of countries including United Kingdom, France, Spain, Gemany, Russia and The Netherlands as well as Italy. They also occasionally publish collections of patterns following a theme. I bought the magazine below in Italy, long before it appear in the UK. It is a collection of the “Sewing School” patterns, which are quite simple to make. Of course, if you are ever stuck with the instructions, they are free to download them from the Burda website in English, but don’t expect much, Burda are renowned for the incomprehensibility of their instructions!

Burda Style Scuola Cover

Burda Scuola Trousers and Blouse

I made this shirred top from this magazine.

How are the patterns printed in the publication?

The patterns are printed on large fold-out sheets and you’ll need to trace off the patterns. As is usual with magazines there are no seam allowances included in the patterns for those magazines that I have tried – Modellina, La Mia Moda, Burda Style and Fashion Style.

What sizes are the patterns? / Are there plus sizes?

Pattern Sizes

This chart is only a rough guide. I have found that the sizing does vary between the different companies and it is wise to select your size based on the company’s own body measurement charts.

Where can I buy these magazines if I’m not going to Italy?

After looking online I’ve found a couple of websites where it is possible to order Italian magazines; Edicola Amica and Prima Edicola

I haven’t tried these out yet, but I think I would like to order an edition of La Mia Boutique. I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

Is it worth picking up a sewing pattern in a language I don’t understand?

If you’ve been sewing for a while you’ll realise that even when the instructions are confusing, there are always ways to resolve your problems. It is possible to sew something just by finding alternative instructions either online or from your own trusted repertoire of sewing patterns. Having said that, sometimes it’s wise to have some knowledge sewing terms, especially those that crop up on the pattern pieces. I’m lucky I lived in Italian and have some knowledge of the language, so I’ve put together a sewing glossary in Italian that might help here. This glossary is more a work in process than a comprehensive guide at the moment. I’ll keep on adding words to it as I go along.


#SummerOfBasics – The Full Outfit

Summer of Basics Outfit

This is the full outfit for the Summer of Basics, a sewing and knitting challenge where participants sew or knit three items over the summer months to create an outfit that fits the theme of “Basics”. For more information on the challenge, hop over to Fringe Association.

Summer of Basics Outfit

I’m a bit late with my final post (roughly three weeks in actual fact, yikes), but even though the deadline has passed, I’m not unhappy. I have a fantastic new outfit that fulfilled my need for wardrobe basics! I made the knot blouse from a spotted grey double gauze using Burda pattern 11/2016 #105, a pair of black skinny jeans with Burda pattern 03/2014 #115, and a cable hat using a knitting pattern from the Fall 2016 Knit Along from Craftsy from some beautiful Shetland wool.

Summer of Basics Oufit

I’ve described how each of the garments is made, here for the top, here for the jeans and here for the hat. In hindsight, I feel it was quite a challenging outfit to put together – two Burda patterns and a cabled knit hat, when I’d never made a hat before nor knitted cables. There were lots of new skills to be learned and the usual struggles with Burda instructions, but all three were very satisfying makes.

Summer of Basics Outfit



#SummerOfBasics – And finally I have a hat

I’ve now finished the long-awaited hat. I can’t quite believe that a project dubbed as “five hours” has taken about a month! I’m very much a newbie to knitting and therefore I’m a slow knitter. However, I think the thing that really slows the pace of the project down is referring to the Craftsy video for the difficult bits, once I’m underway I did even manage a bit of “TV knitting”, although I expect that may have contributed to some of the dodgy bits in the hat and my inability to follow Victoria on Sunday!

The Craftsy course I used for this hat is the 2016 Fall Knit-along Cable Hat. It is actually a superb course and was perfect for the level I’ve reached with my knitting. It expects you to be able to knit and purl, but nothing else. All other stitches, such as the cable stitches are well explained and if you haven’t tried using circular or double-pointed needles there is help for that too.

The course has three different accessories projects in it; a cowl, a hat and fingerless mittens. I think I may have a go at the mittens at some point in the future, as they use colourwork and that would be a new knitting skill for me.

I thought I would take a photo of the eccentric blocking technique being used – my hat is drying here on a balloon!

Hat Blocking

The most important thing about the hat, for me, is that it actually fits. I do struggle with headgear in general and have a hat that is basically child-sized or freakishly small, if you prefer. The Craftsy cable hat pattern has 13 cables around the hat. Even though I perfected the gauge required, I still took out one of the cables to make sure that the hat was smaller than even the smallest size in the knitting pattern. It was needed – I feel that this hat will sit securely on my head and I will not have to constantly worry that the wind with whip it off.

FInoshed Hat

Next time, the big reveal of my completed Summer of Basics outfit – better late than never!


On the doorstep – Blaise Castle House Museum

I’m sure many of us go on holiday and enthusiastically embrace the cultural delights on offer . But how many of us, have neglected to visit the wonderful museums and art galleries on our doorsteps? A little while ago I decided that I hadn’t visited the House Museum at Blaise Castle for years. The main reason for my visit was to take a look at the costumes and social history exhibits. The museum has a huge collection of costumes dating from the early eighteenth century onwards. Sadly only a fraction of them are on display, but the small exhibition is an interesting insight. Apparently it is possible to arrange a visit with the curator if you want to see some of the other items which are in storage.

First, there is a display of shoes and accessories. These shoes are made of brocade cloth and have vellum soles. It’s a shame, but I didn’t make a note of the date of these shoes, but I can see the left and right shoe are not differentiated, which is typical of shoes before the nineteenth century.

Regency Shoes

Eighteenth century shoes

These boots from the 1850s were made of cloth and have leather toes. This type of boot was generally used for walking and travelling


Nineteenth century walking boots


1930s Shoes

1930s Shoes


1960s shoes

1960s shoes

These beautiful court shoes date from the 1950s.  The stiletto heel, is for me always associated with the 1980s. However, the phrase “stiletto heel” was first recorded in the early 1930s. The stiletto heel is made of a metal spike embedded in the heel, but there is uncertainty about when this technique was first used, but thin high heels were certainly around in the late 19th century.

1950s shoes

1950s shoes

My favourites, though, are the boy’s football boots from the 1930s. They are, of course, made of leather and very different from their modern counterparts!

Children's football boots

Children’s football boots

This brocade evening dress dates from about 1927.

1920s evening dress

1920s evening dress

This fantastic velvet and chiffon dress from the 1930s would have been an amazing dress for a glamorous occasion.

1930s evening dress

1930s evening dress

A couple of dresses from the 1960s. On the left, a silk cocktail dress and on the right, a maxi-length evening dress

1960s dresses

1960s dresses

Muslin regency dress

Muslin regency dress

There are also a few older dresses. I particular like the regency dresses. This white muslin dress dates from 1812 and shows the silhouette evokes classical Greek statues.

The embroidery is created using tambour work, a popular and fashionable style of embroidery at this time using a pick to pull thread through the fabric. I think the embroidery has a Greek feel to it too.

Muslin regency dress

Muslin regency dress

This striped silk dress is more triangular in shape, as favoured by Parisian ladies. The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 the Paris influences could once more be seen in British fashions.

Regency Dress

Regency Dress

The hem of this dress is padded, this helped to hold the skirt of the dress in the desired shape and was also decorative.

Bodice of Regency Dress

Bodice of Regency Dress

Hem of Regency Dress

Hem of Regency Dress

This pelisse robe was worn over the dress like a coat. It dates from around 1825. It is still a beautiful vibrant colour.

Pelisse 1825

Pelisse 1825

The decorative squares at the hems and cuffs are made by covering small squares of cardboard with fabric.

Pelisse Cuff

Pelisse Cuff

This next dress shows the lower waistline and fuller skirts of the early Victorian era (1840).

Early Victorian Dress

Early Victorian Dress

This dress is from the later Victorian era when bustles replaced the crinoline.

Victorian Dress

Victorian Dress

The great advantage of this museum is its small size and being able to get so close to the clothes.  Not only could I get a real feel for the details and embroidery, but I could even see the hand stitches on some of the dresses.


#SummerOfBasics – Black Skinny Jeans and a Feline Friend

Well, time has marched on and we are nearly at the end of August. I tried to get on top of my sewing and knitting this weekend, but despite quite a reasonable amount of time at my disposal (unusual for me) I am admitting defeat. I know that I will not make the Summer of Basics deadline. But all is not lost. I already have a new top. My skinny jeans are finished (see below) and I have started my hat. I had to rip back to a lifeline last night and I know that the hat won’t be finished by the end of the month. However, I am confident that it will fit me – I tried on the ribbed cuff and it was perfect!

Both the grey top and the skinny jeans I’m making for the Summer of Basics use Burda patterns. I’m not exactly sure why I decided to sew two Burda patterns so quickly in succession – bad planning on my part or perhaps once I had the outfit formulated in my mind I couldn’t step away from it. I have a feeling of trepidation at the start of every Burda project. The instructions are generally minimal and often lacking in linguistic clarity. Fortunately, I had shared this pattern with my Mum and she was first off the starting blocks her pair of jeans. This was very handy as when I got to the usual head-scratching stages, I knew we could compare notes. I was in despair over the instructions describing the fly zip insertion and decided to go my own way with some good pointers from my Mum.

Skinny Jeans

I am extremely pleased with the fabric I bought for my jeans from Fabric Godmother. The fabric seems to have gone from their website, but this is similar. It is described as cotton/ spandex mix, with 40% stretch. I’ve found it hard to find stretch woven jeans fabric and certainly nothing with this amount of stretch. I suspect these jeans will replace my current pair of jeggings, which were bought many years ago and are a cotton / polyester / elastane blend. They have stretched out of shape badly at the knees. I’m hoping that the lack of reliance on polyester in the fabric I’ve chosen for my black skinny jeans will circumvent this problem. I’m actually rather disappointed I didn’t decide to make a pair of jeggings out of this fabric – jeggings are so handy for travelling since a belt isn’t a necessity!

In terms of the fit, I made the size 42 straight from the pattern, but I did trim down the leg seams at the hips a little to make a tighter fit across the hips. I also needed to adjust the length as they were somewhat long in the leg.

I did use my jersey interfacing rather than conventional interfacing in the waistband. I wanted to keep some of the stretch in the waistband. Time will tell if this was a wise decision. I’m a little concerned about the amount of wrinkling, but I wonder if this is partly due to rushing out and taking photos without wearing a belt. I think they need more of a road test – I may take in the side seams a smidge more.

All in all, these jeans are a great addition to my wardrobe. They can be worn with almost anything and I wear jeans all year round – a perfect basic!

Skinny jeans

Photo-bomb by all means, but please can you do that bottom-licking thing somewhere else?

I’m off, you’re just not interesting any more!

I almost forgot about the photo-bombing cat. It’s my neighbour’s cat, who has typical feline pretensions around ownership. I often find him lounging on the bench in my back garden and giving me accusing stares when he’s asked to give up an inch or two for me to sit down. Looks like he’s owning my photo shoot now too!