Steely Seamstress

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The Good, The Mad and The Ugly – Review 2017

Here we are again, at the beginning of a new year! I know you are all probably fed up with seeing yet another review. Sometimes I feel that these reviews are a self-indulgent pursuit. I mean, the only person who cares about how my clothes fit or whether they blend into my current wardrobe is me. But I think it’s important for me to critique my work, and hopefully learn a few things along the way. I hope you can stay on board while I satisfy my need to scrutinize this year’s output.

Sewing is one of those hobbies that is orientated around projects and it’s just easy to move on to the next exciting make without fully proessing all the things I’ve learned from the experience. This is the reason that I feel it is worthwhile to calmly reflect on the new additions to my wardrobe, especially now that most of them have been in general use for a while.

This year I’ve made 13 sewn items and 1 knitted item. Generally I’m very pleased with this year’s crop of clothes. There are a good mixture of garments, both casual and more smart, winter and summer. This page is a view of my me-made wardrobe, if you want to take the whole year in at a glance. Unlike in previous years, I feel I have made more items that complement the existing items in my wardrobe.

This isn’t quite the return of the “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” though. This year, it’s morphing into “The Good, the Mad and the Ugly”. The original had two negatives and only one positive, so I wanted to redress the balance with something more upbeat. “Mad” will explore a garment that pushed boundaries for me, and is well, slightly mad.

The Good The Mad And The Ugly2017

The Good

I have decided to pick my seventies jeans for this accolade. These jeans fit wonderfully and I’m really proud of the embroidery that I did on the back pockets. It took a very long time, and all the episodes of Roots to complete, but I’m very pleased with the outcome. Like all jeans I could live in them and this pair is no exception!

There are other items that I’m pleased with too including my Deep Purple shirt and my latest Moss skirt, but my jeans are just special.

Hippy Jeans

Original Post – Hippy Jeans

The Mad

This year, I’ve been exploring Japanese patterns and designers. I bought myself a copy of Drape Drape 2. I haven’t delved into the patterns too far, but did make this top. When Linda announced the Designin’ December Challenge I starting looking at catwalk images and I was particularly drawn to the Japanese desginers. I settled on a top by Issey Miyake from his Pre Fall 2017 collection. It’s quite unusual in design, and I knew it would test my drafting skills. I drafted the front of the top from scratch, more or less and did some dart manipulation. I didn’t really have any instructions to follow for the construction either, but I have made (much to my surprise) a wearable garment!

By the way, the voting is open for this contest, do take a look at all the other fantastic makes and cast your vote (preferably for me….)

Designin' December Issey Miyake Inspired Top

Designin’ December Issey Miyake Inspired Top

Original Post – Issey Miyake inspired top for Designin’ December

The Ugly

Weirdly, the garment that I’ve chosen for this category actually ended up with being one of the most popular posts of the entire year. What can I say about this top? Lots of things were wrong here; I’m not particularly smitten with the colour, you get an eyeful of my nipples as the fabric is  thin and the fabric pilled like crazy from the first time I wore it. I intended it to go with a much-loved woolen cardigan, but somehow the cowl doesn’t look right in combination with that cardigan. Altogether, it’s disaster territory! But there are a few small plus points. I think I did mostly nail the fit of this top. My only change would be to make the neckline even higher. I had made the neckline higher than the pattern at the front anyway, but it could do with more. Next time, I’ll choose different fabric, of course. Perhaps I’ll also use the cowl variation (View B) or just a standard round neckline.


Kwik Sew K4028 Long-sleeved Tee

Original Post – Excitement followed disappointment Kwik Sew K4028



Designing December Part 4 – My Designer Version Completed

I can now report that I’ve finished my Designin’ December contribution! My top is inspired by this asymmetrical top from the Issey Miyake 2017 Pre-fall collection:

Sadly, I only found this one picture of the top online, see above, so I’ve guessed / invented the rest of the garment. From the way the fabric sits at the model’s waist, I surmised that the top is held by ties at waist level – one tie attached to each front piece. As the right side of the front passes underneath, the tie on the right side passes through the side seam so that the ties can be tied at the back. The back itself, in my version, looks quite like a jacket with vents added either side of the centre back.

Here are some of the techniques I used for cutting and construction:

I cut out the pattern pieces single-layered to make sure that I had the stripes exactly as I wanted them. The front pieces are cut off the grain, not quite on the bias, and all the back pieces are cut on the grain. The two ties are cut with the stripes along the tie, to provide interest. I didn’t want the top to look too thick and bulky so it is unlined. I finished all my seams with bias-binding, which I made myself from a light-weight viscose fabric. I wanted the inside of my top to look as good as the outside and I think the bound seams give it a polished look. I did deliberate for a long time about what colour bias-binding to use, but I’m pleased with the contrast of the navy blue with the fabric. Making that much bias-binding took rather a long time and I hope the finish on my seams doesn’t look too scruffy as I was really struggling with my eye-sight in the December light. I really do need to go to the opticians…..


My garment was drafted based on this Burda wrap top, but in reality the front of the garment is very different, but I kept pretty much the same, including the vents. The instructions, as with most Burda patterns are difficult to follow and I used this tutorial to help me through this step. I also under-stitched all the facings to hold them in place.

I tried hard to get the pose the model has in this photo. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it quite right and my head is turned in the wrong direction.

I believe that the garment is reasonably similar to the original, although obviously only having one view of the garment gave me a huge amount of free rein.

My Designin’ December garment though is made of wool and so I don’t think I’m actually going to wear it as I’ve styled it in these photos. I think I’ll probably wear it with a long-sleeved top underneath, perhaps in grey or navy blue. However, I think it works well with my grey wide-legged trousers. I do admire the Issey Miyake’s original ensemble though. Perhaps I’ll make those culottes too when I have more time or now I’m confident that my pattern works made a summer version.

All in all, I have enjoyed joining in with Designin’ Decemeber. I found it really stretched my drafting skills (see more about that part of the process here) and I have been amazed that I have managed to complete this before the end of the month. I did have a few tense moments yesterday as I had to finish and photograph the top before travelling across the country.

Thanks Linda for hosting this amazing challenge. It’s been great to see everyone else’s makes and inspirations.

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Designing December Part 3 – Stripes, and more stripes….

Sometimes you have an image in mind of the garment you want, but the fabric choices available just don’t seem to be quite right. The Issey Miyake original for Desginin’ December uses a very distinctive striped fabric.

I’m not entirely sure what this fabric is, but when I zoomed in the photo on the Vogue website, it appeared to be have a “slubby” texture. I expect it is either a silk or linen fabric. The top also sports some rather bold stripes. Finding a fabric that has both these qualities has proved tricky.

Here are a selection of fabrics I considered:


From left to right: Indian Silk handloom stripes, Japanese cotton indigo stripes, Nani Iro stripes

These are beautiful fabrics and they would definitely work well for this garment, but they are rather expensive. Added to this, each of them is available in a narrow width. Sadly, the Burda pattern, which I have used as a guide for fabric quantity only quotes fabric requirements for a wider fabric (145 cm). Usually, I would supplement the length with another half metre, but this will just add another uncertainty and potential expense into the mix.

I also toyed with the idea of abandoning the stripes altogether and using a dotted fabric or patterned fabric. This particular interpretation of #132 05/2014  on the Burda website looks fantastic. In the end, I thought this diverged too much from my Issey Miyake original. However, I could see myself making a top using a spotted fabric as a summer variation.

Finally, I settled on a pure wool suiting fabric from Stone Fabrics. I chose this because it is winter and I wanted to create this garment so it could be worn over another layer. I was also determined to use a striped fabric. I think the placement of the stripes on the Issey Miykae original is particularly striking and a part of the design that I wished to recreate.

Wool Stripes

I’ve been poised to cut into my fabric for the last week, but kept on getting scared off by nervous questions that kept popping into my head:

Have I got the stripes placed on the top front pieces as I want?

I spent some time using Master Steely’s water-soluble Crayola pens to mark some stripes on my toile (see below) and see how these looked. I then transferred these onto the pattern pieces so that I could line these guidelines up with the stripes on the fabric.

Stripe placement

Have I got enough fabric?

To alleviate this problem I created all the main pattern pieces, both left and right and laid them out on the fabric. I wanted to cut out single-layered as I felt that getting the stripes placed properly would be too difficult when the fabric is folded and cut double.

Next, I have had some thoughts on construction. I have been thinking about leaving the top unlined. I don’t want to add too much bulk, as the garment needs to wrap around the body. I’ve been reading up on using Hong Kong seams, which I’ve not tried before. I feel they will give the insides a polished look.

I think I’ve spent far too long on the planning process and now I can’t wait to get sewing…..


Designing December Part 2: No pretty pictures

This post comes with a warning…. there are no pretty pictures here! In fact, I can only promise some downright ugly shots of me in a faded old blue sheet!

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to make a toile for my Designing December entry. So far, I’ve been making rather slow progress, but I’ve now got some photos to show on this.

I used this Burda pattern as a starting point. I’m not sure it was the best starting point, given how many changes I have actually made, but I liked this pattern as it was so unusual and I could see myself making this, without modifications in the future.

Line drawing Burda 05/2014 #132


I traced the pattern onto tracing paper, without alterations at first. The only change I made on the pattern I traced, was to change the front piece so that instead of comprising, for example the right front and right shoulder, it is made up of the right front and right shoulder. Basically, I transposed the front shoulder area in the pattern piece onto the same side of the front. I really hope that makes some sort of sense as it is hard to describe…..

Toile Number 1

The next step was to make my toile. Here’s the back. As you can see there is a significant gaping at the neckline, but otherwise it looks pretty good.

Designing December Back View Attempt 1

…. And here’s the front. I can see that there are some problems with the arm holes. Look at that ginormous gape!

Designing December Front View 1 Attempt 1

There are pocket placements, which are slits in the front pattern pieces. Since, I’ve now decided not to include pockets, these will need to be removed. I will also need to decide what to do with the front hem, but that adjustment should be easier on my second toile, when some of my initial problems have been sorted out.

Designing December Front View 2 Attempt 1

The front pieces are pinned at the sides to get an idea of the final shape, but I plan to add ties that will fasten at the back.

Toile Number 2

This is my second attempt. For the back I added two small darts at the neck. I feel far more confident now with the neckline. I also added ties at waist height. The tie attached to the right front goes through the left side-seam to tuck around to the back and meet the tie that is attached to the left front. For some reason I have some weird bunching going on here at the waist. I think that perhaps my gap in the left hand seam is too low. I’m going to change that and see it the back looks better. After all, this is the part that fitted before, but the front was just pinned in place on my first toile.

Designing December Back View Attempt 2

On the front, the gaping was fixed, by putting extra fabric into the bust dart. I followed this Burda tutorial to do this on the pattern. I also added a waist dart to replace the pocket placement slit. Finally you can see that I have played around with the hem on the left front; I’ve just pinned it in place to get a more reasonable length for the top. I’ve translated this to the pattern too.

Designing December Front View Attempt 2

I’m more or less ready now for the cutting out stage, although I’ve still got some thinking to do. I have bought striped fabric, and I’m not sure how to place the pieces on the fabric to recreate the original piece (see below). I think I’ve going to get some fabric paint or use some of Master Steely’s water-soluble pens to try out stripe placement.

Of course, I only have this front view of the Issey Miyake garment, so I still have to dream up how those stripes will look on the back pattern pieces. Have I got enough fabric for a wacky and interesting placement of those stripes? I’ve been collecting a few ideas on Pinterest for inspiration. Do you have any ideas to inspire me?


Burda #107A 03/2013 – Lace Cardigan

I seem to be going a bit mad for Burda patterns at the moment. This will be my fourth Burda make this year. This is quite a turnaround from being a pattern company whose patterns used to fill me with fear, to now having enough confidence to tackle them without a second thought. The pattern I chose this time is a simple cardigan with a V-neck opening. The front is gently gathered, which provides a little more shape to the garment.

Burda #107A 03/2013

I have a small length of lace fabric in my stash, which was a bolt-end. It has been lurking in my stash for a few years, but I was reluctant to use it as I knew it would be a tessellation nightmare trying to figure out how to cut out the required pieces from the fabric I have. But finally I plucked up courage and gave this a go. After I’d traced my pattern I spent quite a while positioning my pattern pieces on the fabric to get the best placement. Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t quite have enough. However, going ahead with 3/4  length sleeves, I would just about be able to make a cardigan. I’m quite happy with the reduced sleeve length given that the cardigan is made from a lace fabric and will purely be used as a light layer in summer or perhaps an evening event (should I be invited to one!)

Burda lace cardigan

The construction was relatively simple at the start. It didn’t take long for the body and sleeves to be stitched together. The trickier part was the front. First of all, the front sections have to be gathered. A good while ago I remember using the overlocker to gather, so I got the instruction manual out and tried this out. It essentially requires changing the differential feed and once stitched pulling on the two needle threads to gather the fabric. It worked a treat in getting an even gather.

Burda Cardigan Gathering

When I was trying to tame the front band, I got the iron out and starting on a low temperature ironed the fabric. Much to my surprise, the fabric seem quite happy with the heat, so much so that I took a small piece of left-over fabric (there were only small pieces remaining) and wacked the iron up high. The fabric didn’t melt. I had thought this fabric was just a bit of polyester, but I couldn’t believe anything completely synthetic could survive the full heat from the iron. I was now quite intrigued to find out the fibre content of my fabric. I decided to conduct a burn test. Coming from a scientific background, I just love doing experiments and got quite excited about the idea of lighting pieces of fabric! Anyway, I lit a small remnant in the sink and it continued to burn in the sink once the flame was removed. I used this web page as a guide.

I noticed that the smell wasn’t particularly plastic-like, and indeed it smelled quite natural. I put my burned fabric on a plate and got Mister and Master Steely to smell it too. They declared it a non-plastic smell too. Master Steely said it smelled like rice. I suspect the fabric is viscose. Here’s what the guide said about rayon / viscose:

“Rayon keeps burning after the flame is removed, and although it has an odor similar to cotton or paper, it does not have an afterglow.”

Burda Lace Cardigan

Burda lace cardigan

There are quite a few of these cardigans posted on the Burda website, take a look here and here for versions in lace. I notice that it also looks great made with jersey as well, like in this version and I expect I will try this out too at some point.



Designing December Part 1: Decisions, decisions….

I’ve watched this challenge from the sidelines for a couple of years, and always wanted to join in. Trouble is December is a really manic month for me and there isn’t much sewing time, but I thought with careful planning, and starting the process early I might just squeeze in a make.

Earlier this year, I bought one of the Drape Drape books and was immediately delighted by all the slightly avant-garde, asymmetrical designs. This got me interested in Japanese designers and I started looking at catwalk videos and photos. I’d never been particularly interested in fashion shows before, since I’d always regarded them as somewhat irrelevant to my wardrobe. However, I found that there are wearable styles and interesting ideas if you look beyond the flamboyance. I have been particularly drawn to the Issey Miyake collections. Now here’s a designer who uses interesting lines and doesn’t find trousers boring!

I started collecting a few ideas on Pinterest and planning which of the garments I would make. Here are a few of the garments that I particular like with my notes.

Asymmetrical Ideas

Clockwise from left: Spring / Summer 2016 Resort, Spring/ Summer 2016 Resort, Spring/ Summer 2017 Resort, Spring 2017 Ready To Wear, Spring / Summer 2017 Ready to Wear

After much deliberation, I finally settled on this outfit. It’s from Autumn / Winter 2017 Pre Fall collection. I love the asymmetrical vest. I can see myself wearing that either as a top or perhaps over a long-sleeved jersey top. The culottes are a far more summery item, although I think they could be part of a glamorous party outfit. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll make these yet. Let’s just say that I’ll see how much time I have.

Issey Miyake Outfit

My next step was to establish whether I could use or adapt a pattern from my collection, or even buy one. I found this vest pattern by Burda and downloaded the PDF. The pattern is a cross-over vest, similar in style to the Issey Miyake original. It seems to have been made by a few sewing enthusiasts in denim or linen. I particularly like Ellen’s denim version with its embroidery.

Despite the similarities with the catwalk vest, I will still need to adapt the pattern. I think the cross-over on the catwalk garment is more pronounced with the left and right front pieces overlapping beyond the waist, right across the front of the body. I think also, judging by the photo that the Issy Miyake top has some sort of waist tie that holds the garment in place at the waist. The Burda top has some jacket-style pockets. The photo of the Issey Miyake garment doesn’t show clearly enough whether there are any pockets, but perhaps some sort of welt pocket might look cool?

I’ve now printed out the pattern and I’m just about to trace it onto tracing pattern whilst making some initial changes. These include modifying the lower half of the pattern to make the front left and front right cross over more. I’ve also marked in the waist and waist tie placement. I’m still undecided about pockets.

Next, I’m going to make a toile. I know that I don’t make toiles much; I’m too familiar with the changes I need to make now for fitting reasons to feel it is time worth spent. But I feel it is necessary for this project as I am making some considerable changes to the pattern and I want it to fit well across the shoulders and bust. I’m just going to use an old sheet, and although this is going to be much floppier than my intended fabric I hope that I’ll still be able to make the fit and pattern adjustments with reasonable accuracy.

Next post, I’m sure I’ll be a bit further along with my project and I’ll be able to show you my toile and the fabric I’m going to use for the project.





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Sew Brum 2017

Saturday saw this year’s Sew Brum event. I attended this last year and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Sew Brum is organised by Charlotte from English Girl at Home and open to bloggers and non-bloggers alike. In short, it is a day of manic fabric shopping and a chance to meet like-minded sewing addicts.

We started the day in John Lewis this time, which was extra convenient for those of us who came by train. Perhaps it’s the mixture of prints, familiar from online browsing, or just that sewists are a well dressed bunch of people; either way,  I could instantly recognise the Sew Brum contingent when I entered the cafe.

Sew Brum John Lewis

Gathering at the John Lewis Cafe

First, we headed to the Rag Market. There are fabric stalls outside and also in the covered market. There was a fantastic selection of sequined fabrics and velvets this time, perfect for party outfits, which seemed to be firm favourites with the group. I totally indulged myself at one of the stalls that was selling Liberty fabrics. I bought a beautiful cotton lawn for only £8 a metre and a jersey for £6 a metre. I can well see myself visiting this stall again in the future.

Liberty Fabrics

The next stop was the Fancy Silk Store. The first floor, in particular, is well worth a visit. There are fantastic lace and silk fabrics there.

I noted some great brushed cotton fabric on the ground floor, but decided I wasn’t too sure about it. I’m regretting it now as I knew they would be great for some winter PJs, but I was on strict orders not to buy too much!

Fancy Silk Store

Fancy Silk Store

Our final stop in the centre of Birmingham was Barry’s fabric store. This store is very overwhelming and I really wasn’t sure where to start. I spent most of my time just migrating between the rows of fabric bolts, fondling anything fluffy in a daze. My rumbling stomach was an added distraction and I really couldn’t make a decision. I was very taken though by the beautiful wool fabrics. There was a wide selection here for jackets and coats.

Barry's Fabric Store

Barry’s Fabric Store

Arriving in Moseley on the bus, our first priority was some lunch. This year we ate in The Village pub. The food was great and we started to feel better equipped to make more fabric purchasing decisions in Guthrie and Ghani’s.

Guthrie & Ghani

Guthrie & Ghani

I had brought a wish-list with me, but I’d so far managed to buy nothing that could be used for any of my proposed makes. With this in mind, I bought some sweatshirting in a dark turquoise. At least one item, a sweatshirt, will be made from that list!

Guthrie & Ghani

Guthrie & Ghani

As usual there was a raffle. This year I was thrilled to get a prize, the Marshmallow dress pattern from Cocawawa Crafts. It’s rather a departure from my normal style, but I’m wondering if I can wear it more as a tunic or perhaps adapt it to make a top – just some plans whizzing around my head!


From the left – Liberty Jersey with “secret cat” pattern, Liberty tana lawn, Marshallow dress pattern, Sweatshirt fabric

Thanks to Emily, Vicky and Charlotte for joining me around Birmingham. I really do see the attraction of shopping with an “old lady” trolley, however, my fabric stash is already taking over it’s allotted space. I forced myself to be quite restrained buying only three fabrics.

I managed to get back home just after seven, thoroughly worn out, but with a reinvigorated desire to get back to the sewing machine.

Many thanks to Charlotte for organising this fantastic event – it was a very enjoyable day. I’m looking forward to next year already!