Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life


Tai Chi Uniform: The finished jacket

I’ve been writing a series of posts about my progress with this self-drafted jacket that is part of a Tai Chi uniform. Here are the previous posts:

First thoughts on designing the pattern

Selecting the fabric

Cutting out and first sewing steps

It’s all coming together

Since my last post, I have completed the collar and the sleeves with their contrast cuffs. I have also finished the mitred corners and jacket hem. These were relatively easy steps given that I had worked out what I needed to do in each case. I did have to redo the collar, because I decided that I needed to work with white bobbin thread to make my slightly wobbly stitching less visible. I am now reasonably happy with the collar, although it isn’t particularly neat. I have even attached a special Kylie and the Machine “Ta Da” label.

Finished Tai Chi Jacket: worn unbuttoned

The last month I have mostly been finishing off the Chinese ball buttons. These, along with the button-holes that complete the frog fastenings have been extremely time consuming. I also managed to replicate the very fancy top button and button-hole which are finished with spirals. I found finishing buttons and button-holes very tricky. I am left wondering whether the materials I have been using were actually the most suitable for such a fiddly job. The video I used is in Chinese and although I could follow it very easily, it doesn’t tell me in English what materials they used. I used some shiny polyester bias binding, but would silk bias binding have worked better? Is this actually easy to get hold of silk bias binding. Then at one stage some “starch” is used, presumably to stick and stiffen the frayed ends together. I purchased some starch that looked similar from the internet, but again I have no idea if this was a good approximation of that used in the video. The buttons are also quite a different navy blue, but I am trying to think of that as a “feature”. This is very noticeable in all the photos below, so I expect given time I’ll stop noticing it too.

Finished Tai Chi Jacket, worn buttoned

On Tuesday the jacket had its first outing at the Tai Chi class and everyone was very complementary. I took it as a compliment (as was intended), but I do wonder why people say “you wouldn’t know it was home-made”? I mean, essentially every sewn garment is hand-made and there isn’t a huge difference between the fabrics, equipment and construction techniques used at home and commercially. Why wouldn’t it look like something you’d buy in a shop?

A bit of a Tai Chi pose!

I was pleased with the fit of the jacket. I definitely made the right choice changing the design so that the sleeves came out horizontally, rather than at a slant. I talked about that design change here. I do notice that the jacket rustles a bit when being worn and I felt a bit conspicuous because of the noise it was making. I bet no-one else noticed, though!

Finished Tai Chi Jacket: Really easy to move and I think it does look the business!

At the moment I am still in the mental phase of seeing all the “faults” with this jacket. But I’m sure that in the winter I will really appreciate wearing it. Our teacher is a bit of a fresh air fiend and with COVID still circulating, even in January I bet the doors and windows in the hall where we practice will be fully open!


Tai Chi Uniform: It’s all coming together

In my last post about my jacket I was uncertain about large parts of the project and it”felt” like I was a long way from the finish line. Now I “feel” I’m not far off finishing the Tai Chi jacket, even though there is still quite some work to do.

The Frog Fastenings

After some investigation I found this video on YouTube. When I watched this video for the first time I was struck by the skill of the person making the knot buttons; I really felt that I was watching a master craftsperson at work here! However, watching someone so competent can also feel intimidating. Would I really be able to emulate their skill?

At first, I tried to use the jacket fabric to make the Chinese buttons. The original jacket that I am copying uses the same fabric for the frog fastenings as the jacket. However my fabric is more substantial and I couldn’t turn the fabric to make a long rouleau loop. I then purchased some bias binding. I was somewhat sceptical about the shiny nature of the bias binding, but at least I could turn the fabric to make the loops successfully.

Chinese buttons using bias binding

I followed the instructions on the video and produced two beautiful, but not identical buttons. I’m quite pleased with the result. I did also buy some silver bias binding, and wondered whether to make contrast buttons instead. Either way, the two buttons I have made are a proof of concept, and I will need to make six in total.

Silver and blue bias binding

Front and sleeve facings

The original jacket uses a contrasting white fabric for the front and sleeve facings. The sleeves are constructed with facings so you can turn up the sleeves when you wear it and reveal the contrast facings. I bought some white cotton lawn for these facings on my copy. I drafted my own facing pieces. The front facing was somewhat different from the original jacket as I wanted the facing to extend to the shoulder seam so it could be secured tidily.

Adding the front and sleeve facings

I haven’t really been keeping track of the steps I have been doing as I go along. It has all become a lot more haphazard. The reason for this is I just wanted to plough on with trying lots of different things. So far I have done the bottom hem and side slits on the front left side only, half-finished the sleeve facings and half-added the collar. At least this way I have practiced the techniques and just need to duplicate them on the right side of the jacket.


Tai Chi Uniform: Cutting out and first sewing steps

After the Lander trousers interlude I am now back with my Tai Chi uniform. I deliberated for a long time before I bought the fabric as I wasn’t exactly sure how much I needed and the Mind the MAKER cotton twill isn’t exactly a cheap fabric at £22.99 / metre (ouch!). In the end I bought 1.7 m and prayed that my skills at tessellation would suffice. I know this quantity will be enough for the two front and back pieces and I just hope that I’ll manage to get the pockets, facings and collar out of this as well.

The cutting out was therefore a little stressful. I was worried that I would accidentally cut out two left fronts, or some such error, and therefore use up all my fabric. The right side and reverse side of the fabric are very similar, but not identical. There is a slight sheen to the right side so I suspect that if I had got this wrong it would have been truly visible in the finished jacket. To make sure I didn’t mess up, I went really slowly, checked and checked again, and labelled all the pieces as I went along. (You can see my label pinned on to the jacket front on the picture below). Labelling was very useful as it meant I didn’t “forget” that I had already cut a certain piece.

I was incredibly relieved when I had all four pieces cut out. I then cut out the pockets. There are four of these. They are all patch pockets, but the bottom two are larger and are slanted at the top.

My next dilemma is that I have no instructions for the construction. Well, obviously, as it is self-drafted, so I had to have a good think about what to do first.

My first steps have been as follows:

  1. Join two back sections together at centre-back seam, press, finish seams.
  2. Construct front patch pockets
  3. Attach pockets to front of jacket

And that is where I am at the moment…..I think my next step will be to add the facing, but I may have an obstacle here. I haven’t cut the facings out yet, as I think I am going to struggle with the amount of fabric I have left. Admittedly, on the original jacket, the facings are cut from a different fabric, so I could do this, but of course, that will probably need a trip to a fabric shop, unless I can find something suitably neutral in my oddments stash.

Tai Chi Jacket: Starting to add the front pockets to the jacket

In the meantime, I could take a look at the frog fastenings, which I think I’ll probably save for my next instalment.


Tai Chi Uniform: Selecting the fabric

I haven’t been able to visit many bricks and mortar fabric shops so far this year. For this reason, I decided that I needed to order some swatches to select an appropriate fabric for my Tai Chi uniform.

First of all, let me try to explain the original fabric on the jacket I am copying. The fabric is a poly cotton blend in navy blue, with quite a smooth surface texture. It is quite crisp in nature, but crinkles smooth out relatively easily. It is quite light-weight too and I am guessing when I say that my inclination is that it is made of something like poly cotton sheeting.

I ordered four quite different cotton fabrics from Minerva crafts. I was keen to avoid a poly cotton blend and chose cotton fabrics only. I imagined, even before I ordered these fabrics that they would be more substantial / thicker than the fabric of the original jacket. I liked the idea of a thicker fabric, particularly as we have been practicing Tai Chi with the doors open for months (and some sessions I hardly seem to get warm despite an hour and a half of exercise). However, I didn’t want this concession to compromise the drape or flexibility of the design.

The fabrics were as follows:

  1. Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Indigo
  2. Mind the MAKER Stretch Cotton Twill Indigo Night
  3. Soft Duck Canvas Navy
  4. Klona 100% Cotton Navy

Unfortunately it looks like navy blue photographs as badly as black so you’ll have to take my word about them all being different! The links to the Minerva site should provide more of an idea about these fabrics.

Four samples for my Tai Chi Uniform: clockwise from top left: Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Indigo, Mind the MAKER Stretch Cotton Twill Indigo Night, Soft Duck Canvas Navy, Klona 100% Cotton Navy

Straight out the packet I noticed that the four fabrics were very different; colour, thickness, softness all varied, so I made a grid to assess them. I assessed the colour on the basis of its proximity to the colour of the original jacket. With drape, I screwed the fabric up to judge how crisp it was and also looked to see how much the crinkles were retained when I smoothed it out again. For the surface texture, again I visually judged how close this came to the texture and weave of the original.

FabricColourDrape*Weave / Surface TextureTotal
Sevenberry Kobe Cotton Twill Fabric Indigo2327
Mind the Maker Organic Stretch Woven Cotton Twill fabric Indigo Night44311
Soft Cotton Duck Canvas Navy Blue3216
Klona 100% Cotton Fabric Navy1146
Comparison of different jacket fabrics *see crinkle test above

As you can see there was an overall winner. The Mind the Maker cotton twill comes quite close to the original fabric. Strangely, it is described as a twill fabric, but the weave is quite fine so this is not particularly evident at first glance. My only reservation with this fabric is that it is a stretch woven, unlike the others. Perhaps this will in fact improve the comfort of the finished jacket, and hopefully won’t be too obvious.

Looking at the uniform I will also have to order the frog fasteners and some contrast fabric for the facings and cuffs.

Tai Chi Uniform jacket: Note the contrast cuffs and the frog fasteners.

My next step will be to order my fabric. Of course, drafting your own pattern means that I will have to work out how much fabric I need too. No handy envelope guide here!


Tai Chi Uniform: First thoughts on designing the pattern

I was intending to crack on with sewing more of my #makenine for this year, however a new make has jumped to the top of my schedule. I have practiced Tai Chi for some while with the Wu Tan Tai Chi school.

My teacher has long been nagging me to sort out my clothing and wear something more “Tai Chi”, but knows I do make my own clothes. So, she has lent me some jackets to try on that I can use as a basis for a sewing pattern.

Tai Chi uniform

Naturally, I decided to also purchase some more Swedish Tracing Paper, which I reviewed here. I have used it previously and really liked using it. It has the added bonus that it behaves more like a fabric than a paper so you can sew it and try it on!

My first dilemma on trying on the jackets is that to me they seem quite restrictive in the shoulder. The grown-on sleeves actually pivot downwards. This means that with any movement of the arm at shoulder height or above, tends to make the bottom of the jacket ride up and all movements quite restrictive. I suspect that my square shoulders are contributing to this problem, because on less square shoulders I’m sure that the fit of the jacket would be fine.

I decided to investigate if there were any Chinese jacket or Tai Chi uniform patterns on line. My search revealed various different arm shapes, some with sloping arms and some with completely horizontal arms.

This is a wrap design, which isn’t what I’m after and the arms are too flamboyant, but it does have the horizontal arms.
This is the Chinese Jacket #114 from Folkwear patterns. This resembles the overall design of my jacket, but does include the horizontal arms too.

My first step is to make a sewing pattern using the Swedish Tracing paper. As I already have the sloping arms, I will make this pattern with horizontal arms and see if it improves the fit for my shoulders. The jacket is made of a quite light-weight cotton. It looks like and feels like a high-thread count sheeting. I don’t know if I will be able to get something similar (and I don’t want to use poly-cotton sheeting). I suspect that I will end up purchasing something heavier weight, so any restrictions in movement will be exacerbated by this.


#MakeNine2019 – Making a bodice block for a sleeveless top using Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich Part 1

One of my #MakeNine2019 projects was to make a bodice block. The reasons for this are simple; I have an unusually shaped upper body. All my life it has been tricky to find tops that look good on me; I never wore RTW fitted shirts or blouses because they simply didn’t fit at all. But even since I started sewing my own clothing, I have struggled to create sleeveless tops, in particular, that are well fitted with the more usual fitting adjustments. I end up with gaping arm-scyes in particular.

For this reason, I thought I’d stop the tinkering-round-the-edges approach I have until now adopted for fitting my tops and try creating a bodice block from scratch using a pattern cutting book as a reference. I found Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich in a charity shop, and immediately snapped it up. It’s old, but a classic.

Step 1

According to the book, the first step is to take all the measurements I need. The book has a handy section on which measurements to take and how to take them. For example, the sleeve length is measured by placing your hand on your hip so tat your arm is bent and then measuring from the shoulder bone over the elbow to the wrist bone above the little finger.

Body measurements

Body measurements

Before I started, I made some predictions about how my body might vary from the standard measurements and it was no surprise to find that I have a very much shorter waist to hip measurement, larger waist and wider back.

Here’s a table of my measurements. The dart and armhole depth (in red) are standard measurements and I didn’t include the measurements that would be needed for a dress / skirt, like the waist to floor measurement, because I won’t be needing that for making a top.

Bodice block measurements

Bodice block measurements

Step 2

The next step takes you through drafting the block. I used some squared paper and followed the instructions for the “close fitting bodice block”. To make everything clear, I marked my final lines in green felt-tip pen.

Close fitting Bodice Block

Close fitting Bodice Block

Step 3

For a sleeveless block there are some additional instructions to transform the bodice block from step 2 above so that it will work for sleeveless tops. These involve drawing new side seams and armhole depths. I’ve marked these onto my block in orange felt-tip pen.

Sleeveless Bodice Block

Sleeveless Bodice Block

So far so good. My next step involves transferring my front dart from the shoulder to the underarm and then making a toile. I think this is where the fun will start. I have some more predictions for this step; there will be some further adjustments to make as there will be some gaping at the armhole, which means I’ll need to make a full bust adjustment….just a prediction….

I can see why I’ve put off doing this process before. It does seem easier to just go with the rough size on a pattern, make some small adjustments and live with the fit I get on the finished garment. I would say that the fit isn’t too bad (nothing anyone else would notice), but I’m getting fussier as time goes by. I can see though some more benefits for getting this right. I’ll have a block that I can use to make my own designs and I’ll really be able to dive into the Pattern Magic books with more confidence.

Leave a comment

Weaving Destination Fashion Show Dress

I did wonder what I was doing with another sewing deadline looming, but as I sewed the last embroidered centre to one of the silk flowers on my Weaving Destination dress I felt I simulaneously sad that I’d come to the end of this project and at the same time breathed a sigh of relief that I managed the deadline. I have enjoyed making this dress. This may surprise for some of you, but this is only the second dress I have ever made! I rarely wear dresses and therefore prefer to make anything but dresses – skirts, trousers, tops etc…. Who else out there in the sewing world has more experience making trousers than dresses? I guess I’m just a little weird.IMG_0427

In my first post on the dress, I described using the book, Bias Cut Dressmaking to create my pattern. This book is particularly geared to lingerie patterns and as such there wasn’t a sleeve pattern at all. I’m a regular reader of the splendid Seamwork magazine by Colette and there has been a series called “Block, Paper, Scissors” in the magazine. In the July issue, there was an article on how to create flutter sleeves from a sleeve block. I used this tutorial to make my sleeve pattern.

My design was mostly cut and sewn on the bias, which creates its own difficulties, but after some reading around the subject, I  found that there were many techniques and recommendations that could help with the construction. Given all this, I’m particularly proud of the insides of my dress. It’s probably gratuitous to show lots of photos of French seams (much that I love them), but I’m very glad that I finished the armscyes on the inside of the dress with bias-binding. It really gives the whole inside a very polished finished.

Bias bound armscyes

I also used the same bias-binding for my hem. I think using bias-binding for the hem is a particularly tidy finish that looks good from the inside and the outside.


The silk ribbon flowers I’ve attached to the dress are made from recycled sari silk which I sourced from Yarnyarn website. The silk flowers were made quite simply. This excellent tutorial on youtube shows how the flowers are made with silk ribbons. Basically, you sew the ribbons into a loop and then stitch a zig-zag along the length of the ribbon. Pulling the ends of the thread tight, ruffles the ribbon loop into a ruched “flower”.


Although silk is quite light-weight I was still mindful of the possibility of it dragging on the fabric so I adding a little square of cotton as backing to my flower and then sewed it to the dress.

Back of ribbon flowers

The finishing touch was a few stitches of pale-coloured embroidery thread for the centre of the flower.


And here’s the finished dress. Sadly I didn’t get a lot of choice about the weather and it was absolutely tipping with rain when I took these photos. I do feel like I’m about to go to a wedding, very elegant and way too dressed up for posing in the park!




Skirt Experiments

You may recall the True Blue Skirt from earlier in the year which is quite a simple self-drafted skirt I made. After I made that skirt, I experimented with a couple more variations.

I introduced some in-seam pockets and lots of top-stitching for the blue denim version. I think this version has a seventies vibe about it. I love the little tricolore buttons I found too.

Denim Viale 2

Denim Viale 1

The black and white version has some piped details and the pockets too. To my mind, this is definitely a sixties mini skirt.

Black-White Viale 3

Black-White Viale 4


Black-White Viale 2

Of the three skirts, the back and white version is my absolute favourite. I wore this quite a few times during Me-Made-May and it makes a perfect work skirt worn with tights as it isn’t too tight getting on and off trains! I’m not so sure about the denim version. For some reason the yoke doesn’t sit as flat as on the other versions – it bubbles a bit. In fact, now I’m looking at the photos even the hem doesn’t sit flat. Perhaps the fabric was too stiff. It is, what I would call, a medium-weight denim so I thought it would work. Perhaps I should put this down as a bad fabric choice on my part. On top of this, I’m not that smitten with the colour of denim. It really is very similar in colour to the first blue skirt I made and I was really after a darker indigo type of denim. Still perhaps it will grow on me as a skirt. I’m debating whether some applique or embroidery on it might give it a lift.

So much for my skirt experiments! I also thought I’d share something with you that I’ve been working on for the last few months. I’ve been dabbling with pattern drafting….well, all the cool kids are doing it! I’ve drafted a digital pattern for this skirt. It’s called The Viale Skirt.

I hadn’t realised quite how much work this was until I started and I’m really in awe of those who manage to produce more than about one pattern a year. But, I’ve had to do a lot of learning and I’ve been using a rather badly installed version of the freeware program Inkscape, which might explain my woes. So, because this is an experiment and I’m unsure of my abilities in this area, I’m offering the pattern for free!

Click here to download the Viale Skirt PDF pattern.

Click here for the Viale Skirt Instruction booklet.

Any feedback is very welcome. However, there are some things that I know I will definitely include or spend more time on. I’ve only tested this pattern on myself, for instance and there isn’t a cutting layout in my instructions. I simply ran out of time and I really wanted to post this during the monthly stitch’s indie pattern month. Enjoy and tell me what you think!



Corduroy Trousers Knock-Off and the Joy of Top-Stitching

This pair of trousers have been a long time in the making. At the end of last year when I was contemplating the magnitude of spending a whole year without buying a single item of clothing, this pair of trousers was near the top of the to-do list. Why? Well, for starters they are a direct replacement for a favourite pair of trousers that were worn so much that they became thread-bare. Also, for me, the ability to just make a copy of a ready-to-wear item either an old favourite or a copy of something I see in a shop window has got to be the pinnacle of sewing. On top of that, they are almost a pair of jeans in terms of design. All that top-stitching, all the pockets….. But, I knew at the beginning of the year I wasn’t able to tackle this project. I made a brief attempt to get started in May when I took the thread-bare trousers apart and made a pattern from them, but then the pattern just sat on my shelf waiting for me to have sufficient courage .

I then made some trousers (to make sure that I could do a fly zip) and also a corduroy skirt, which helped me practice flat fell seams and finally I was ready!

Of course, I had no instructions for this project either, so I had to make it all up as I went along and make sure I didn’t do things in the wrong order and have to unpick.

I’m very pleased with the result. The fabric colour is stunning and really brings to mind these autumnal days.

Autumn Trousers 2

I got to use my new toy top-stitching foot. It worked a dream. I had struggled on my Grainline Moss Skirt with doing all the top-stitching by eye. The new foot makes my stitching so much more reliable.

Everyday trousers tend to wear out the fastest so I will make another pair, perhaps in blue next year.  My self-imposed shopping fast is definitely continuing. There are a few things I will change. I can’t actually remember how tight the original ready-to-wear trousers were, I took them apart so long ago that I can’t remember, but the fit is probably a little more comfort fit than I had intended. I think this was due to the extra seam allowance I gave to myself when I was cutting out. I felt convinced that I needed to be more generous to get the fell flat seams right. The original had faux fell flats, by comparison. Next time I’ll just stick the the pattern’s seam allowance and I’ll get a slimmer fit.

I also religiously followed the top-stitching on the original trousers. I think next time I’ll cut back on that a bit. Perhaps do two lines of top-stitching down the outside leg seams to the level of the bottom of the pockets and then just have a single line after that. I’ve seen that in quite a few ready-to-wear jeans and it looks good. Also using two different colours of top-stitching looks attractive too and I may dabble with that.

Autumn trousers pockets

At one point I did make life difficult for myself by making the seam (outside leg seam) that I was top-stitching the second leg seam that I sewed. Thank goodness the legs weren’t any slimmer otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to top-stitch all the way down! I won’t make that mistake again! But I suppose that is the danger with having no instructions to follow. Speaking of which, instructions are not only a good guide for doing things in the right order, but also stop you forgetting things. I completely forgot to add interfacing to the waistband. I’m annoyed, but actually it isn’t too major a problem as with all the top-stitching and belt loops the waistband could hardly be described as floppy. I’ll always wear it with a belt anyway. I can give myself a hard time over these oversights, but my trousers are definitely wearable and comfortable, what more could I ask for?

Autumn Trousers 1




Study in Black

Remember my black blouse from earlier this month? Well, I’ve now finished it, I’m pleased to say. The blouse is a simplified version of the Lucinda Shirt I made back in July. This time I added short sleeves and a much less elaborate collar.

Black blouse

I self-drafted a pattern for the collar to fit the top of my blouse. I decided to make it form a triangular notch where the two sides of the collar meet at the centre-front. I had noticed this on a few ready-to-wear blouses and liked this idea. I had a vintage pattern from the 1970s, that I had thought I’d use as a pattern, but with the adjustments I made, I can’t really say that I used the pattern as a template. In particular the collar was just a bit to large and 1970s-ish, so I made mine quite a bit narrower.

However, I did use the instructions to help me attach the collar to the blouse. Getting the front to form that triangular notch at the front required a lots of adjustment, no end of seam trimming and a little origami. (I’m not sure that I can use the word origami, as it means paper-folding, but it was fiddly and required lots of folding and pressing to get it right!)

Black blouse

All in all, I’m quite pleased with the look. It’s been a little cold outdoors to wear it short-sleeved, so I’ve gone for wearing it over a long-sleeved t-shirt. I just about managed to brave late October without a coat to pose for these pictures, but I don’t think it shows the blouse off to best effect; it is looking a little crumpled.

Black blouse

The photos were taken at Ashton Court Estate, a country park near Bristol.


We spent a fair while enjoying watching the deer in the deer park. The stags were being quite noisy asserting their authority. The does were just ignoring them!