Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Sewing The Seventies: Make 2 – A sporty t-shirt

My next make this year is again a seventies pattern. I found this pattern for a t-shirt, tennis dress and shorts on Ebay. I have some white jersey and a small amount of purple jersey, that was used for this t-shirt to serve as contrast raglan sleeves. I decided to make View B, which is for the t-shirt with contrast sleeves and round neck.

McCalls Tennis Outfit

The construction was simple, but it did use a method for the neck and sleeves that I hadn’t used before. In the past, I have always made a band and then just attached that with the overlocker to the raw edges of the neck, sometimes using a zig-zag stitch to finish. This pattern called for folding the neck band over the raw edge and top-stitching through all the layers. I’m actually quite pleased with this finish. I was worried that with my sewing machine I would stretch out the neck opening and it wouldn’t look good, but with careful use of the walking foot and lessening the foot pressure, the top-stitching turned out well.

One of the design features of this t-shirt is the loop at the front. I hadn’t realised it was there until I started looking at the instructions.

The loop can be used to attach your sunglasses to the t-shirt. Do you think it will catch on? Well, obviously not, else we’d all be wearing t-shirts like this now! I think it’s still a cool design feature so I kept it in my make. I’m just trying it out here:

Does the sunglasses loop work?

Does the sunglasses loop work?

I actually really enjoyed making this top. It was a great quick make and a great addition to my wardrobe, which is lacking activewear. I can see myself making more of these tops. The raglan sleeves and contrast bands are also a fantastic way to use up leftover jersey fabric from other projects.

I’m still contemplating whether I should make the shorts or not. I’m very much more in favour of wearing full-length bottoms for exercise. The climate here hardly ever means I would need to wear shorts. However, they would be a quick simple make and they could be worn on holiday.

Just had to give you one more pose, something more sporty in my new top….

Ready for action?



Sewing The Seventies: Sportswear

At the start of the year, everyone focuses on kicking off the sloth from Christmas and the New Year and starting the year with laudable intentions to do more exercise. The shops seem to be full of activewear and January’s issue of Burda magazine always has a collection of patterns specifically for wearing to Yoga class. Although I never make exercise one of my new year resolutions, I will concede that activewear is one of the biggest gaps in my current wardrobe. I’ve been wearing the same tracksuit bottoms and t-shirts to my Yoga class for what seems at eternity (probably about ten years) and I’m keen to make myself some alternatives. As I’m well into Sewing The Seventies now, I’ve been looking through sportswear sewing patterns from the decade, and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on these.

The sewing patterns for sportswear in the 1970s seem to reveal the fitness crazes of the decade. There are tennis dresses and tracksuits, leotards and dance outfits.

In the UK I can only surmise that the popularity of tennis ensembles may be, at least, in part due to the success of Virginia Wade. There is nothing like a successful UK tennis player to bring out the forgotten tennis racket from the under-the-stairs cupboard!

Virginia won three Grand Slam singles titles, but her most famous success was winning Wimbledon in 1977. I remember seeing this particular match as a kid and my Mum commenting about Ms Wade’s frilly knickers!

The American sewing patterns on sale from this era are often branded with Chris Evert’s name. She was extremely successful winning 18 Grand slam singles championships and three doubles titles in the seventies and early eighties.

Chris Evert Butterick sewing pattern

Chris Evert Butterick sewing pattern – These tennis outfits are so cute!

Later in the decade there seem to be a variety of tracksuit patterns for running or jogging. The craze for jogging seems to originate from the late 1960s. In America there had been a decline in physical activity and sedentary lifestyles in the general population. This prompted William Bowerman, a Professor of Physical Education at the University of Oregon along with co-author, Seymour Lieberman to devise a fitness programme.  They launched the “Joggers Manual” and the jogging craze really took off.

Tracksuit from the seventies

William Bowerman, incidentally was also a track and field coach and co-founder of Nike. He pioneered many developments in running shoe design. His inspiration led to the introduction of the “Moon Shoe” in 1972, so named because the pattern of the tread resembled the footprints left by astronauts on the moon. Bowerman, also developed the idea behind the “Waffle Trainers

“We were making the waffles that morning and talking about (the track). As one of the waffles came out, he said, ‘You know, by turning it upside down — where the waffle part would come in contact with the track — I think that might work.’

There was also interest during the seventies for forms of exercise such as Yoga. Several influential Indian teachers of yoga including B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) had already come to the west. The teaching of Yoga during this time was mostly Hatha Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, which are both forms of Yoga practice that focus on poses, although Ashtanga Yoga tends to be more fast-paced.

In the UK, London Weekend Television treated its audience on Sunday mornings to a Yoga lesson. These were presented by Richard Hittleman, with Lyn Marshall demonstrating the poses. Lyn went on to front her own series, called Wake Up to Yoga.

Although there were not any particular outfits designed for specifically for Yoga among the 1970s sewing patterns . I did have a look online to see what people wore for Yoga in the seventies and it does seem that people either favoured wearing a leotard or just some loose-fitting clothing.

Yoga in the seventies

My next make is going to be a seventies style outfit that I could wear to Yoga practice. The pattern I’ve chosen is a tennis outfit, but there are two lengths available. I’m going to make the shorter, t-shirt length top. I’ve chosen some white jersey and I’m going to use some left-over jersey from my purple v-neck t-shirt for the raglan sleeves.

McCalls Tennis Outfit


1. William Bowerman  – Obituary in the Guardian and Biography

2. Lyn Marshall – Wake up to Yoga

3. Wimbledon fashion – A history in pictures


Sewing The Seventies: Make 1 – Popover Shirt in Liberty Tana Lawn

Liberty Shirt

The first seventies make I’ve made this year is this shirt. It is a classic popover shirt. I suppose at first glance it doesn’t look very much like a seventies pattern. It is from the later half of the decade and I can see that its boxy shape is a nod to the eighties. However, it does have a large collar which is definitely a seventies detail. I suppose it shows that fashion changes in a gradual manner and the styles at the beginning and end of any decade could easier be taken for fashions of the adjacent decades.

Butterick 5024

Butterick 5024

I selected this particular pattern simply because I’d never made a popover shirt before. In fact, I’ve actually never had a popover shirt in my wardrobe, so breaking new ground both for sewing and my wardrobe. I also liked the checked shirt modeled on the pattern envelope. Can’t we can all be swayed so easily by pattern envelopes? Although I love the checked shirt, I decided that I had better choose some fabric from the stash, which definitely needs reducing. I had purchased some Liberty Tana Lawn at Birmingham market at the Sew Brum event. Obviously, Liberty have been around since the nineteenth century, so someone sewing in the seventies would definitely have been familiar with their fabric and designs.

I’m feeling very relieved that I’ve finished this make. It was actually quite an involved sew; there were many details such as the pockets, epaulettes, the front band to be sewn. Perhaps this is something that needs to be considered with vintage patterns – the assumption being that women (and after all it would be women) had lots of time to sew and could spend time on intricate detailing.


I wanted to pattern match the pockets. This was tricky as there were pocket flaps to consider as well, but the effect is largely that the pockets are almost invisible except for the buttons!

Spot the pockets!

Spot the pockets!

I was somewhat perplexed by the order in which the shirt instructions were put together. The front button bands are sewn on, but the bottoms of the two front bands are left flapping without being sewn to the front of the shirt. Meanwhile, the rest of the shirt including the addition of the back and sleeves follows and then as the last stage the front band is completed. I found this order was a bit tricky and would probably have completed the sewing of the front bands before adding the back of the garment; it would certainly have made managing the garment on the sewing machine easier. What purpose is there to sewing the shirt in this order? It seems odd to me.

The last step of the instructions

The last step of the instructions

Anyhow, I thought I’d also mention why this shirt has taken me so long to construct. Fairly early on when I was ironing the fabric and before cutting out, I noticed a small nick in the fabric. It wasn’t a problem as I realized I could easily place my pattern pieces around it. However, once I had cut out the fabric, I discovered two other small nicks in the fabric, which I hadn’t noticed earlier. (Possibly, the fabric design is so busy that it’s hard to notice these problems).  I also realized that I didn’t have enough fabric to re-cut that pattern piece. (Of course the problem would have to be on the largest pattern piece, wouldn’t it?)

Fortunately, the nicks are at the bottom of the back piece and I thought I could just “get away” with slightly shorter length. Certainly, it would only make the shirt as short as some of my other tops so I wasn’t horrendously bothered. But when I was finishing the shirt and deciding on the length, the shirt proportions didn’t look right when un-tucked. So, I set about repairing the two holes. I used some of the left-over fabric and sewed on two small patches. Now I was thankful for the busy pattern on the fabric as the repairs are scarcely visible! (see below) They are also right at the bottom of the shirt and are half included in the seam allowance. I’m hoping my repairs will stand up fine in the wash. The whole experience though, made me feel less inclined to finishing the shirt and a bit dispirited.

My repair

My repair

I didn’t deviate much from the instructions, but I did make a curved hem on my shirt, partly to cover up the repair.

I’ve now been able to wear my shirt and I’m feeling far more positive about it now. I love the fabric – it’s a really mad busy design. I’m proud of the patterned-matched pockets. And that shoulder-warmer of a collar is a real statement!

Liberty Shirt

Liberty Shirt

I’m wearing it in the photos with my skinny black jeans and an old RTW cardigan. I think wearing the shirt with a cardigan tones it down a smidge!

Liberty Shirt


Buying vintage patterns

I’m sure many of you do buy vintage patterns, but if you are yet to try this, I thought I’d put together a post with some information on buying vintage patterns. I do buy many patterns from the seventies, but I hope that much of this post applies to all eras.

Where do I buy my vintage patterns?

1. Charity shops

I’m always on the look-out for new patterns and generally have a browse whenever I find a charity shop. I have bought many patterns for 50p to £2.

I do try to check to see if the patterns are complete, which can be interesting to do in a crowded shop. Alternatively, you could just put your trust in the original owner and hope he or she was an organised soul who stored the patterns with care. All is not lost though, if there is a missing piece or two. I have made up garments when I’ve had to guess some pattern pieces. This isn’t too much of a challenge if you are missing a belt carrier, pocket or even a facing. These can often be reliably reconstructed from the shape and markings on other pattern pieces. Generally it is these smaller pieces that are most commonly absent.

2. Etsy

The sellers on here have more of an idea of the value of the patterns they are selling and therefore they tend to be more expensive. I usually buy only patterns on Etsy that I really lust after or are a difficult find in the UK. I bought my seventies jeans pattern on here simply because I have never seen a jeans patterns in the UK from this era.

3. Ebay

With Ebay there is quite a high turnover of stuff. This means that I will browse nearly every week to see if anything interesting comes up. Prices can be very much down to the individual seller. Sometimes I can pick up a complete bargain (I’m assuming the seller is having a clear-out!) Sometimes the pattern can be rather pricey. Pattern job lots are a particularly cheap way of picking up a bargain, although not all the patterns may be of interest to you. I ended up with a bunch of sixties patterns this way. Most were great, but I did get several cape patterns that were very similar and I’m not sure that my wardrobe needs that many capes!

A note on sizing –  Vintage patterns use sizing that often different from modern sizes. Usually the sizes are smaller. I would recommend referring to the waist, bust and hip measurements to select your size, or measure the pattern against a garment that fits.

4. Reproduction vintage sewing patterns

I must admit this is an unexplored area for me. For fashions from the 1940s or 50s or earlier these patterns can be extremely useful as it is so much harder to find vintage patterns from the earlier part of the twentieth century.

There are also reasons why you may find a reproduction pattern more convenient to use. The language and sewing instructions have been updated, which makes them easier to follow. Plus, you don’t have to worry about damaging the flimsy tissue paper of your original vintage pattern.

Vintage patterns usually only come in one size per envelope and if you don’t feel comfortable grading up or down, you might not pick the pattern simply because it is the wrong size.  Some reproduction patterns are supplied in multiple sizes (see below), which is helpful.

Vintage patterns with multiple sizing:

Decades of Style

The large pattern companies also produce a variety of reproduction patterns in their vintage ranges. These also have multiple sizing:





Here are a few other sites with a selection of vintage pattern reproductions:

Mrs Deprew

Lady Marlowe

The Vintage Pattern Shop

Since last year I have, of course, added to my collection of patterns, so I thought I just share some of these with you:

Molyneux Dress (Vogue)

I succumbed to the temptation with this pattern.  I’m not usually a dress person, so the fact that this pattern called to me in itself makes it special. Most of these Vogue Paris Originals are particularly pricey too. (I’m obviously a girl of expensive taste. The envelope recommends either a stable knit or a woven. I would like to make this up in a ponte roma fabric, but haven’t yet found the right fabric for it yet; it’s so hard to come by wool or cotton ponte.

Vogue Molyneux

Long-sleeved jersey top, trousers and skirt (Simplicity)

This is one of those patterns that has lots of potential. I’m especially interested in the trousers with those waist ties. Unusually, this pattern has a jersey top included which is quite rare for a charity shop find. There’s also a maxi skirt.

Simplicity 5729

Selection of Shirts (Style)

I have lots of shirt patterns already, but I clearly couldn’t resist another one! This one has both short-sleeved and long sleeved options.

Style 4798





Sewing The Seventies 2018

Matching dungarees

When the Sewing the Seventies challenge finished last year, I got a few inquiries about whether it was going to run again next year. I had such a great time last year making my garments and seeing everyone else’s makes that I thought I’d run it again.

Like last year, I’m going to run the challenge over the next few weeks and dedicate my blog to all things 1970s related. This year, as well as the contest to make a seventies outfit, I’m also inviting you all to join me in “Living the Seventies”. I’m planning to spend ten days (in March) immersing myself in the decade; listening to the music, watching the films, eating some seventies-inspired food and of course, wearing the fashions of the era.

Here’s the important information:

What is Sewing the Seventies?

It is a sewing and knitting challenge to make clothing inspired by the fashions of the seventies.

The challenge starts today and you have until 26th March to sew or knit your garment or outfit.


How do I join in with Sewing the Seventies?

You are all invited, no matter where you live.

  1. Leave a comment on this post if you are interested.
  2. Write a post about your seventies make in the next two months including at least three pictures of each make.
  3. The post must have “Sewing The Seventies” in the title
  4. Add a link back here to the Steely Seamstress site so that others can see what Sewing the Seventies is all about.
  5. Grab the Sewing the Seventies button. The code on my side bar can be copied and pasted into a Text Widget on WordPress, or you can download the image and use it on your site.
  6. I will share all your posts on this site towards the end of March.

I’m slow at sewing, or I have lots of other sewing to do?

I know the feeling! Life just keeps getting in the way of my sewing plans too. That’s why the challenge is open for two months for more sewing time. I’m not the world’s fastest at sewing either – entering just one garment is fine too! If you don’t wish to sew or knit, join me for “Living the Seventies” and immerse yourself in the decade in whatever way you wish.

I don’t have any vintage seventies patterns?

No problem! This challenge is all about the seventies vibe, so using a modern pattern with a seventies look or a seventies-inspired fabric is great too.

In fact, I’m planning to write a few “inspiration” posts in the next month, with lots of suggestions, watch out for those!

Tell me now! What’s the prize?

That would be telling! I’ll announce this in a couple of weeks time!

Abigail's Party

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Bath Fashion Museum – Lace Exhibition Review

Each year Bath Fashion Museum, as well as it’s long-running History of Fashion in 100 objects, hosts a themed exhibition. I suddenly realized that I’d visited the museum last year and failed to post anything about the exhibition. Even worse, I noticed that the exhibition had actually finished, so I apologize if this post tempts you with an exhibition that is no longer running. According to the Bath Fashion Museum website, a new exhibition on Royal Women is starting in February, which I’m sure will be just as extraordinary.

The first garments that you see as you enter the exhibition really intrigued me. They are these two stunning dresses made by Grace Weller, a graduate from Bath Spa University. They won the Gold Award at Graduate Fashion Week 2014. The lace used is Chantilly-style and Raschel machine-made lace from northern France.

Grace Weller 2014 Machine-made lace

Navy blue Raschel, and Chantilly-style lace ensembles Grace Weller 2014 Machine-made lace

Close Up of Grave Weller’s lace dress

Next, we are taken through the history of lace, exploring the traditions of lace-making from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

Making Bobbin Lace

Apparently, no one knows exactly when lace was invented.  Lace began to appear in the dress of the most affluent members of society from the late 1500s. There are two different lace traditions; bobbin lace where the pattern is formed by weaving pairs of threads, which are wound on cylindrical bobbins and needle lace, which uses tiny stitches with a needle and thread to build up a design.

I remember seeing someone making bobbin lace at a craft fair when I was a kid, but I haven’t seen anyone making lace since. It would have been good to see someone working on this lace at the museum, it all looks so complicated and intricate to me.

The high levels of skill required for making hand-made lace meant that lace was costly to produce and could only be affordable to the most affluent in society. Lace was used in fashionable outfits from the stiffened collars and cuffs in the Elizabethan era, the frilly cuffs on a gentleman’s shirt in Stuart times and dresses worn by elegant regency ladies.

By the 1800s lace-making was a major industry and several lace production centres were established across Europe. Bobbin lace was predominantly made in Flanders and Brussels and needle lace in Venice. Devon, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire in England also made high-quality hand-made lace.

In the early nineteenth century machines were developed which could create nets that could then be decorated by hand. This fine muslin dress is decorated with two types of hand-made bobbin lace.

Yellow Spotted Muslin Dress (1815)

One of the gems in the exhibition is this net dress made in 1805, decorated with white lace. It may be the only surviving dress worn by Queen Charlotte.

Silk Net Bobbin Lace Dress worn by Queen Charlotte

Silk Net Bobbin Lace Dress worn by Queen Charlotte

According to the Guardian article, Charlotte was never regarded as a fashion leader and stuck to the styles that were popular in her youth for much of her life. This exquisite dress would have been extremely fashionable in 1805, when Charlotte was in her 60s. I do wonder whether this dress survived so well, simply because Queen Charlotte didn’t favour wearing it!

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Jacquard loom had been adapted for net-producing machines. These could now create patterned laces. Mass production of lace was now possible. Where previously lace had been used sparingly to decorate, now whole dresses could be made with lace.

Lace-making centres like Nottingham produced vast quantities of machine-made lace. and many leading fashion houses, particularly in Paris pioneered using lace in their collections. Machine-made lace was used in the latest fashions, like these cocktail dresses by Paquin and the Callot Soeurs from the 1920s:

Black silk Raschel lace dress (Callot Soeurs) and Orange silk and gold lace negligee (Paquin)

In the 1930s, British designers were establishing their own couture houses. Lace featured prominently in their designs too. There were several dresses on show by Norman Hartnell, who dressed debutants, aristocrats and Royalty and Edward Molyneux, who worked in Paris but had a branch of his couture house in London.

Green Silk Dress (Molyneux) 1930

The exhibition then moves into the last half of the twentieth century and showcases some very glamourous eveningwear. There are dresses worn by Princess Margaret in the 1950s and evening dresses worn at red carpet events. Lace is used in all of these; a fabric we still identify with opulence and grandeur.

36 Cream Leavers lace and gold jersey Balmain 1953

This dress was worn at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 by Lady Ward.

Norman Hartnell Evening dress worn by Princess Margaret in the early 1950s

40 Red machine-made lace evening dress Jacques Azagury 2012

A red carpet choice by Jacques Azagury for Kimberley Walks of Girls Aloud for the music Industry Trust Awards in London in November 2012

The exhibition was a feast for the eyes; there were so many beautiful garments on display. However, I was left feeling that I wanted to know more about the story behind the garments, about their wearer or the designer. This particular dress (below) piqued my interest. It was made in the 1970s from an old Edwardian lace curtain.  But wouldn’t it be interesting to know who wore the dress, what was the occasion and whose lace curtains were they? Perhaps we will never know.

Dress made from old Edwardian lace curtains

Dress made from old Edwardian lace curtains



Repairs and Alterations

Who has a pile of clothes that sit around waiting to be repaired? Who puts off making alterations in favour of a totally new project? I’m going to hold my hand to both of those!

This past year I have been trying to break these bad habits. It hasn’t been entirely successful, but I can claim that I did do some repairs and alterations. And because I want to feel positive about doing this and I suspect, I just want to hear some encouragement from you super people in the blogosphere, I thought I’d write a post about it.

On the repair front, I managed to darn quite a few socks (although there are a few pairs of thick tights that need my attention). I also managed to sort through all the socks and re-pair (that’s put them in pairs again) when I could. The rest just hit the graveyard of lone socks.

For alterations I picked three items that needed something doing to them. They ranged from simple to time-consuming.

Sorbetto Top

This is my favourite Sorbetto top and one that I wear regularly. I think I know more about how to fit a sleeveless top these days, but my main gripe with this top is that it cuts a little too high under the arms. It isn’t a bit deal; it’s not hugely uncomfortable nor does it look bad on me. It’s just a niggle really. To make the adjustment I took off the bias-binding from the armholes, cut the holes a little deeper and reapplied some new bias-binding.

Written like that it doesn’t seem like I did much, but given that I made the bias-binding myself from the same fabric as the top, it did take some time to do.

It’s a really small change and just improves the fit a little. If I was going to make a sleeveless top now, with hindsight I’d add a little more fabric into the bust dart to stop the gaping at the armhole.

Effort required 5/10

Happiness 6/10

Favourite Sorbetto Top

Favourite Sorbetto Top

Corduroy Trousers

This pair of trousers has always been a little on the loose side and since I made them I’ve discovered that I really do prefer a graded waistband on my trousers. With this in mind, I used the pattern piece from the Grainline Moss skirt and made a new waistband. Sadly, as I was doing this extensive alteration I noticed that these trousers are getting rather threadbare. To some extent, I feel that I shouldn’t have bothered with the alteration as there is such limited life left for them.

Effort required 7/10

Happiness 3/10

Autumnal Corduroy Trousers

Autumnal Corduroy Trousers

Classic checked shirt

My last alteration was very simple. One of the problems with the shirt pattern I used was that it only had xx buttons marked on the pattern. Fortunately, I realized early on that the number of buttons were not going to be sufficient and so I added some extras.  However, I don’t think I added enough buttons. When I wear a low rise pair of trousers I notice that the buttons finish before the waistband and this means that the shirt front doesn’t sit just right when it’s tucked in. It could result in the revealing of a tiny amount of belly.  This was easily fixed by adding one extra button at the bottom of the front band.

Effort required 2/10

Happiness 9/10

Classic checked shirt

Classic checked shirt

Do I have any future plans for alterations? Of course I do…..but perhaps I won’t share them just yet. Without the pressure of sharing them as a plan on the blog, they might actually get done!