Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

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An examination of rise (also known as where is my waist?)

I’m periodically bemused by all those Sunday Supplement views on fashion. I’m showing my age here, because I don’t think that many people actually buy printed copies of newspapers. However, I couldn’t think of another generic term to describe those articles where the author tells you about the latest “must have” trend and seems to imply that your life isn’t work living unless you have this blazer or that midi skirt. So, one of these trends that is commonly spoken about is for high-waisted trousers. In fact, I would say that the high-waisted trouser is something much talked about in the sewing world too. The trouble is I don’t really know what is meant by “high-waisted”. Sounds odd I know, but bear with me as I try to explain.

Where is my waist?

First of all, I suppose let’s define where the waist is, because I’ve found there isn’t just one answer for this.

According to this site (medical) this is how we should measure our waist:

  1. Remove or wear thin clothing around the abdomen and hips.
  2. Hold the tape measure between the top of the hipbone and the bottom of the ribs. 
  3. Breathe out normally.
  4. Bring the tape around the waist. 
  5. Do not hold the tape too tight and ensure the tape measure is straight around the back. 
  6. Record the measurement.

The above instructions sound logical, but how about “between the top of the hipbone and the bottom of the ribs”? Depending on your body there could be quite a bit of difference between the hipbone and the ribs.

This site (scientific) maintains that the waist circumference should be measured 2.5cm above the umbilicus. However, the authors were interested in the measurement that the best explains abdominal fat mass.

When I am taking measurements for sewing though, my primary aim is to make comfortable garments, so what do the sewing websites say? I found Jenny at Cashmerette advice probably the best. She asks you to consider the following question – “where do I want the intended waist on my garment to hit me?” She also provides the following advice for people who are pretty straight and up and down (which best describes my shape) – “You can pick wherever you want, and it becomes more about the proportion of upper: lower body in a garment that you prefer”. This explains a lot about my ambivalence when it comes to rise.

What is rise?

Rise is the distance from the middle of the crotch seam (right between your legs) to the top of the waistband. According to my online research, rise can vary from 7 inches to 12 inches (both these websites mention this range – I find it odd that the range is quoted as the same for men and women).

I found this handy picture on this website, describing the fit of jeans:

Diagram showing the fit of jeans

How to choose the rise I prefer for my trousers?

I have just been measuring the rise of the jeans I am currently wearing. It is 6 inches. The measurement is so low it fits below the range I quoted above. These jeans are very old and were bought in the noughties when rise so low you can see most of the person’s bottom was the prevailing trend. But on me they sit exactly at the top of my hip bone and across my belly button. What I can conclude from this is that my anatomy is quite different from the average in this respect and I have a very short body.

Using this website as a guide, low-rise is described as 3 inches below the navel (even lower than the diagram above), mid-rise is described as 9 – 11 inches , and high-rise as over 10 inches. This means that for my body wearing a low-rise pair of trousers at two to three inches below the navel would be very indecent on me! Given that my preferred rise is about 6 – 7 inches, this means that all those trendy high-waisted trousers with rises of over 10 inches wouldn’t be high-waisted at all, but would come up over my ribs and be competing with the bottom of my bra! Or most likely they just wouldn’t stay at this height and just ride down the whole time.

Below I’ve inserted a picture of me wearing my Palisade shorts. These shorts are a toile and the rise is really too high. It isn’t that evident from the picture, but the shorts tend to slide down resulting in a drop crotch look, which isn’t the look I’m after.

Shorts – t-shirt tucked in

I have learned that rise is a measurement unique to the individual and where they wish to wear the waist of their trousers. It seems rather neglected by the pattern companies though. Why don’t we get jeans patterns, for example with different rises, just like there are many pattern companies now doing different cup sizes? I had a look at a few jeans patterns and quite a few describe the pattern according to rise. Of course, that rise will look quite different on different people:

Ginger jeans (Closet Core Patterns) are described as low-rise

Jamie Jeans (Named Clothing) are described as regular-rise

Birkin flares (Paper Dahl), Ames jeans (Cashmerette)and Dawn jeans (Megan Nielsen) are all described as high-rise

Admittedly it isn’t a particularly difficult adjustment to make, provided that the pattern has lengthen/ shorten lines. For me, it is one of the most common changes I make to trouser patterns. It is also worth bearing in mind that you may need a different size of zip if you alter the rise by a substantial amount. (This is one of the reasons why I buy haberdashery as I go along and not at the beginning of a project, tempting as it may be to have everything to hand at the start). The explanation for short rise given here makes me wonder about how this rise is drafted trousers in menswear. Short rise is not the same as low rise. Sadly, I couldn’t find more information on this. I wonder whether there should in fact by two lengthen / shorten lines on trouser sewing patterns; one above the zip and one below?

So, am I any the wiser about what high-waisted trousers are? Yes, I suppose I am. But at the same time, I realise that I am never going to wear them “off-the-shelf”, either from a shop or directly as drafted by the pattern company. They simply wouldn’t fit or be comfortable. I think I’ll continue to do those rise adjustments.


Vintage Seventies Simplicity 8924: blouse with a mahoosive collar

Every now and then I see a pattern envelope from the seventies that looks completely awful. It looks dated (and not in a cool retro way) and best relegated to the bottom of the drawer. This is Simplicity 8924, a wardrobe pattern printed in 1970. The wardrobe includes a skirt, trousers, a blouse and a sleeveless jacket. I found this pattern lurking in a box at Like Sew Amazing. It was in fact being given away free, so let’s just say that it was a profoundly unloved pattern.

Simplicity 8924: an ugly duckling of a pattern from 1970.

Let’s look at the artwork on the envelope:

From the left, model 1 and 4 wearing the blouse, matching vest and skirt – I think these are probably the only two ensembles that I would consider wearing, so almost cool? Model 2 wearing the trousers and Model 5 with the big scarf somehow seem a little too office-ready for my taste. Model 3 with the stripy blouse and corduroy vest and trousers just oozes the 70s, but the look seems a bit costume-like to me and dressed-like-a-crayon model 6 just doesn’t appeal, although I do like the idea of adding a belt.

However, despite my less than favourable opinion on the styling, somehow the pattern still spoke to me. I looked at that big-collared blouse and an idea was born! The blouse has a real statement collar – very on trend at the moment, I suppose. And, even though I can see that the collar is huge, in real life, as I discovered, it seems to take on an extra dimension!

The fabric

I chose a geometric print which has a very retro feel to it for this project. The fabric was from Minerva and comes in a variety of colourways. Just thought I’d share a tip here. I seem to find it difficult to find fabrics again on the Minerva website, but I have discovered that each fabric has a unique code, which is printed on the swatch label, which is very handy for finding out the details again (and providing a link for the blog, you’re welcome!). I chose the blue-brown combination, which I’m sure will fit well with other items in my wardrobe, but there is also brown, red and mint. The fabric is a stretch woven viscose. Strangely, I haven’t sewn much with stretch wovens this light-weight, but it was a very easy fabric to sew and I do like the feel and texture of it.

The construction

I didn’t make many alterations to the fit from the standard size 12 pattern that I had. I made the sleeves a little shorter and although I cut the body length as directly I make the zip aperture a little shorter to fit in with my higher waist and then lopped off a bit of extra length once I had tried the blouse on.

I could tell that this is a pattern of some vintage just because of the the construction techniques used. First of all, there is a long zip that runs down the back of the garment; to be honest it makes the blouse seem reminiscent of a dress. I’m not sure if I made this again I would bother with such a long zip, it isn’t even necessary for putting the blouse on. I could probably get away with the centre-back seam sewn up until a few inches from the top, leave that open and add a little button and thread loop at the neckline. In fact, I find the contortions needed to do up the zip irritating, but I suppose I haven’t worn a back-zipped dress in years so it isn’t surprising that I would be annoyed by this.

The other “vintage” construction features include the use of an elbow dart. I mean, when was the last time you saw one of those? I have seen them on bridal wear and on leather motorcycle suits, when the sleeves are worn tight against the arm and the darts enable movement, but on a casual-ish blouse?

Being a pattern of some age, of course there was a great deal of hand-sewing involved too. I skipped some of this, for example I just machine-hemmed the blouse. I also left off the hook-and-eyes from the collar. I really have a problem with these small metal hook-and-eyes. Just a warning here, as I’m about to relate a rather revolting story! When I was a teenager I used to sew and craft on my bed at home. One day I was scratching at my ear when a large lump of wax and dried blood fell out onto my lap. After picking at it (sorry, I said this was a revolting story!) I found that at the centre of this lump that had resided in my ear-hole, goodness knows how long, a small metal hook (one half of a hook-and-eye). It may be that the hook had been from a bra, or a skirt or something, but I suspect sewing on the bed was the most likely culprit. I suppose the moral of the story is not to do craft activities on the bed! And as you can imagine I have entertained an aversion to these hook-and-eye things ever since.

The construction itself was relatively easy although it did expect me to have some knowledge. There were no instructions on how to insert the invisible zip, just “follow the manufacturer’s instructions”, but there was precision in the pattern. There were a great many useful notches and markings so everything, the collar, the neck facings, the sleeves all lined up beautiful when I inserted them. There were lots of reminders to trim seams and under-stitch too. In fact, the pattern and its instructions were superb for getting absolute precision.

Not quite the weather for this outfit yet, but look at that huuuuge collar!

The Outcome

Do I like this blouse? It is a hard question to answer. I’m not so happy with the long zip down the back, but I suppose I could get used to the fight with the zip that’s necessary when I put it on. I am pleased though with the sewing and I do like the statement collar; somehow it looks even bolder in real life than on the pattern envelope. Have I turned this ugly duckling of a pattern into a swan-like garment? What do you think?

About to trail my cardigan in a puddle?

I’m now thinking about how this will work with my wardrobe, and will probably need to pull out a few items to see how they look in combination.


Swedish Tracing Paper – A review

When we first entered lock-down back in March, I really hadn’t given much thought to sewing or more importantly what sewing supplies I had. I suppose I was mostly preoccupied with what I needed to be able to work from home and for Master Steely to study from home. But as the dull days ticked by I turned to my hobby. Then my machine stopped working and I was left with quite a limited sub-set of possible projects / activities. Essentially, I thought doing some pattern tracing would fill the time, so I ordered some Swedish Tracing Paper. I’d never tried this before, but had heard that it was more resistant to tearing and you could actually sew with it, so I thought I would try it out.

Patterntrace – 10m Swedish Tracing Paper

What is Swedish Tracing Paper?

First of all, mine isn’t actually Swedish, but produced in the UK! Also, it isn’t actually paper either, or at least not the conventional type! It’s made from Abaca fibres. Abaca fibres are extracted from the leaf sheath around the trunk of the abaca plant (Musa textilis), which is a close relative of the banana, native to the Philippines. It is quite widely used for making tea and coffee bags, cigarette filter papers and even banknotes (Japan’s yen banknotes contain up to 30% abaca). This means than any left-over pieces can be put straight in the food waste / compost bin.

What are my impressions of the product?

The Swedish Tracing Paper was supplied as a roll. I know this seems like a small thing, it was immediately obvious that even this made tracing patterns easier. I could manipulate the roll and only unroll what I needed. Much easier than using the huge map-like sheets of paper I have used in the past. There are also 10 metres on the roll, so it can be used for multiple projects.

The paper itself is quite translucent and this makes it easy to use to trace off my patterns from my vintage patterns or PDF patterns. Despite this, it is still much more robust than normal paper. I didn’t manage to tear it when I was doing the tracing. (This often happens when I’m trying to trace normally, manipulating my tracing paper in a relatively small floor space).

Swedish Tracing Paper

The Swedish Tracing Paper is quite translucent and it is easy to see pattern markings through the paper.

It also responds well to being taped together. Because I often alter patterns for fit, I often tape extra paper on and normal sticky tape could be removed easily without tearing too. I think this tracing paper will be very useful for those patterns that I repeatedly use since it is far more resilient to folding and pinning than normally paper. In fact, I scrunched up a piece of it and it is indistinguishable from paper that has never been used, once it has been flattened out and then ironed.

Scrunched vs flatterned Swedish Tracing Paper

Swedish Tracing Paper showing 1. Before where the paper has been scrunched up 2. After the same piece of paper has been ironed flat.

It is also easy to write on it. The results were good when I used biro, pencil and tailor’s chalk. However, when using Crayola felt-tip pen, the ink spreads. I included this type of pen because Crayola Washable felt-tip pens are one of my favourite means for marking fabric.

Marking on Swedish Tracing Paper

Marking on Swedish Tracing Paper: 1. Biro 2. Pencil 3. Crayola Washable pen 4. Tailor’s chalk

For comparison, below I’ve listed different tracing papers to show how the Swedish Tracing Paper compares. I’ve also included greaseproof paper – I haven’t used it myself, but Hila at Saturday Night Stitch apparently uses catering size baking parchment as a cheap alternative.

Name of Paper Company Dimensions of pack Price per pack Price per metre
Swedish Tracing Paper Patterntrace 1000 cm x 100 cm £15.80 £1.58
Pattern Paper Prym 1000 cm x 100 cm £8.90 £0.89
Tracing Paper Hemline 3 sheets – 76 cm x 102 cm £3.20 £1.36
Tissue Paper Burda Style 5 sheets 140 cm x 110 cm £5.96 £0.77
Greaseproof paper WIlkinsons 5000 cm x 37.5 cm £.50 £0.03

I haven’t used it yet for sewing or draping, just because I haven’t tackled that type of project this year, but it could prove useful for making a rough sort of toile.

Final thoughts

It was only when I folded up several patterns and put them back on the “pattern shelf” that I noticed another benefit of using this Swedish Tracing Paper, a bonus not mentioned by other people who’ve reviewed it. It folds up really flat compared to paper. I can see my stack of traced papers really diminishing in size if I carry on using it. (So greater storage space for more patterns, of course!)

Swedish Tracing Paper folds up much flatter than paper.

Swedish Tracing Paper folds up much flatter than paper. Left: paper patterns, right: Swedish Tracing Paper patterns

I would thoroughly recommend using the Swedish Tracing Paper. It makes tracing easier; it’s easy to manipulate and resilient to folding, taping and pinning. It is also translucent, so I don’t miss any notches or critical markings on my pattern by accident. However, it is quite pricey and for this reason, I will limit its use to those patterns that I intend to use time and time again.


Sewing The Seventies: Make 1 – In-seam pockets for a faux fur jacket

My faux fur jacket needed some pockets. After all, who wears a coat without any pockets? I didn’t want to include all this detailed information in my post about the finished jacket, and thought this was worth a tutorial-type post instead. I didn’t think to take photos of all my steps at the time, but did some diagrams instead. The reinforcement steps (8 – 10) were adapted from the seventies (of course!) dressmaking book, The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden.

 book, The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden

The Complete Dressmaker by Peggy Hayden

Materials used:

1 metre x cotton tape (3 cm wide)

Medium-weight, or relatively stiff woven iron-on interfacing


Carry out steps 1-4 before the side seams are sewn in the jacket.

1. Create a pattern piece for the in-seam pockets

Pocket with hand

Make a pattern piece the size of youir hand.

2. Cut out left and right pockets in lining and in faux fur fabric

Cut Out Pockets

Cut out 4 pockets – 2 in the lining fabric and 2 in the jacket fabric

3. Mark the proposed position of the pockets on the jacket. I positioned mine at about hip height.

4. Sew the faux-fur pocket pieces to the back of the jacket, with right-sides together using a 1 cm seam allowance. Sew the lining pocket pieces to the front of the jacket using a 1cm seam allowance. A smaller seam allowance is used here instead of the usual 1.5 cm so that when the side seams are sewn, the pockets will sit slightly inside, for a more discreet finish.

5. Pin the side seams of the jacket and around the pockets, pinning the front of the pocket (lining fabric) to the back of the pocket (faux fur fabric).

6. Sew the side seams with a 1.5 cm seam allowance. When you get to the top of the pocket, pivot and stitch the two pocket pieces together following the curve of the pockets.

With right sides together stitch along seam line following the curve of the pockets

7. Clip the back seam allowance below and above the pocket.


Pocket attached to inseam

Clip across the back pocket seam allowance almost to the stitching lineabove and below the pocket.

The following steps reinforce the pocket seam and prevent it from sagging under its own weight and also to help it to lie flatter within the jacket.

8. Iron the interfacing onto the cotton tape. This will make the cotton tape much stiffer. I used cotton tape as I knew my iron-on interfacing wouldn’t stick to my fluffy fabric!

9. Pin the interfaced cotton tape to the back seam of the in-seam pocket. I needed about 40 cm for each pocket.

Pocket reinforcement attached to inseam

Place reinforcemnt strip on top of seam and slip stich the strip to the seam allowance / jacket.

10. Slip-stitch the cotton tape to the seam allowance, the pocket or the jacket.


#1year1outfit – The Hacking Jacket Part 5 (aka The Final Post)

There are only so many progress posts that any one garment can justifiably warrant and this is my final progress report on the “Hacking Jacket” for my #1year1outfit.


The original jacket pattern (New Look 6035) was an unlined garment, but since I’ve been following Steffani Lincecum’s excellent Craftsy course on tailoring I decided to add a lining made from shibori-dyed silk (see my previous post). I followed Steffani’s instructions much more for these final stages in the construction as I was very much moving away from the original pattern at this point.

To cut my lining pieces, I basically discarded the Back facing from the original pattern and cut the Side back and Side Front pieces as they are in the pattern. I used the Front facing, as it is, cut in the hemp, rather than the lining fabric. I realise that quite often in a lined jacket, that the front facing might be smaller than in an unlined jacket, but I didn’t feel like drafting an extra lining piece and stuck with the front facing as it is. For the Back piece I added an extra 3 cm at the centre back. The reason for this is to add extra ease in the lining. It sounds counter-intuitive to have a lining that is actually larger than the jacket, but Steffani explains that this is really essential. The outer jacket has a different “hand” with a slight stretch whereas the lining, which is a woven silk, has no give at all. To make sure that there is no distortion and the jacket hangs well with no pulling, it is necessary to make the lining bigger.

After cutting the lining out, this was sewn together. I used Steffani’s hand-stitching technique at the facing. This keeps the lining from shifting around too much at the facing and it looks beautiful. I do like these extra technique’s that Steffani puts in the course. They make the garment look extra special.


Once, I’d attached the lining to the jacket, the jacket was then turned the right way round. This is definitely the moment when you start the see what the finished jacket will look like.  To ensure that there is the correct “turn of the cloth”, Steffani recommends tacking the lapels and collar to hold them in place before you press the jacket. When pressed, the seam line should not be visible from the front of the jacket. This means that on the collar and lapels the seam line is underneath, but as you travel down the edge of the lapel and get to the button area, the seam line should then tuck around to the other side so that it isn’t visible from the front of the jacket. I had never considered this when making a jacket and it makes it look so professional.


There was one step where I really went my own way with the construction. For the back of the button-hole, I felt that my hemp fabric was too prone to fraying to be able to use the technique in the Craftsy video. The video suggests that a button-hole size hole is made and the fabric just rolled under and slip-stitched in place. I decided to sew an extra piece of fabric, as you would for the button-hole in the front of the jacket and then fold this to the inside through the hole and secure it in place with hand-stitching. This made me feel happier about the robustness of my button-hole. I found that this technique is more or less described in this tutorial on the Colette website.


Just a few more jobs to complete my jacket, finishing the jacket hem, sewing in the sleeve linings and adding the button and hey presto, finally my jacket is complete!


I’m a little unsure about the placing of the button on the garment. I checked the pattern and I have placed it correctly. Looking at the front of the pattern envelope I can see that the button is placed at approximately waist height.


I think I would have preferred the button a little higher, or maybe even two buttons on the jacket? It would have made the finished jacket more cosy and less open. I suppose though that the original jacket is supposed to be a more summery garment, so I can’t really blame the pattern for this.


Overall, I’m proud that I sewed this. It has taken me a long time to complete and I’ve learned many new techniques and taken my sewing to a whole new level with this jacket.




#1Year1Outfit – Linen trousers Part 1

I’m a little past the end of the year, but I’m still working on my 2015 outfit for the #1Year1Outfit project challenge. My last garment is going to be a pair of trousers and I have decided to make these from linen. I’ll write a little about how I sourced my linen next time, but here’s a post about the first part of the construction.

I’m using Vogue pattern V8546. I have used this pattern before to make a pair of grey trousers in cotton which have a smart, yet relaxed style. I’ve been very pleased with the fit and style of these trousers, so another similar pair will be a good addition to my wardrobe.  I chose a natural medium-weight linen fabric. I actually rather like the colour and so I’ve decided not to do any natural dyeing on the fabric.

Since these are being created for the #1Year1Outfit project, I have made one significant change to the pattern. Instead of a zip closure, I’m creating a button-fly closure instead. I can source buttons made from natural sources locally. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a pattern with instructions for a button-fly closure, so I am using a little guess-work and some help from a pair of Mr Steely’s button-fly jeans.

The anatomy of button-fly jeans

The anatomy of button-fly jeans

Below are the steps I used to create my fly closure. I didn’t make any changes to the pattern to accommodate this change and cut out the trouser front leg pieces as originally intended. I just cut out extra pieces to create my button-fly closure fly shield and fly extension.

1.  Cut out two strips of linen fabric measuring 15cm x 10cm. These will form an additional fly shield sewn on the right front and a left front fly extension.

Measure two 15 cm x 10 cm strips

Measure two 15 cm x 10 cm strips

2. Fold each of these strips in half along the length and press.

Pressed linen strip

Pressed linen strip

3. Shape the strip that is to be used as the button-hole fly shield (for the right-hand side) of the closure.

Shape one of the pieces

Shape one of the pieces

4. Finish the raw edges of each of the pieces with a zig-zag stitch on the machine

Zig-zag finish on the fly extension

Zig-zag finish on the fly extension

5. Mark two button placements on the fly shield. I measured 1.5 cm from the top edge (this is the seam allowance for yoke) and then measured 3.5 cm for the first button and then measured 3 cm from the first button placement to make the second button placement. My buttons are 1.2 cm in diameter. I made the buttonholes slightly bigger (about 1.4 cm) to accommodate these.

6. On the right-hand side, fold over the right front extension to the inside.

7. Place the button-hole fly shield under the overlap so that the fly shield is lined up with the top of the trousers and it is just inside the folded edge of the fly. Top-stitch the fly shield to the trousers, following the stitch guide provided on the pattern. (I marked the top-stitch line on the fabric using tailor’s chalk so I had a guide to follow).

Fly shield revealed

Fly shield revealed

Right hand side of the fly closure from the outside

Right hand side of the fly closure from the outside

8. On the left-hand side, fold over the left front extension to the inside.


Left front extension folded to the inside

9. Place the fly extension piece under the overlap with the top edge of the fly extension aligned with the top edge of the trousers. The fly extension will have buttons sew on it. For this reason the fly extension should extend behind the fly shield to the edge of the fly buttonhole shield so the buttons can be placed directly behind the buttonholes.

Stitch the fly extension to the trousers, along the fold-line on the left-hand trouser front.

Left fly extension attached from the outside

Left fly extension attached from the outside

Left fly extension attached from the inside

Left fly extension attached from the inside

10. Top stitch the left front fly closure following the edge of the fly extension. This will mean stitching through the two layers of trouser front and two layers of the folded fly extension.

Top-stitch left fly extension

Top-stitch left fly extension

11. Finally, lining up the left fly button-hole shield and the right fly extension, mark where the buttons will go.

12. Sew the buttons on the right-hand side of the closure.

I hope this tutorial is useful. I have noticed that button fly closures seems to be quite popular on RTW garments, but I’ve hardly ever seen a button fly closure on a sewing pattern. Perhaps it is regarded as a little too fiddly to bother with and in truth I have only abandoned using a zip because it’s a #1Year1Outfit make.

Do you think button-fly closures are worth the bother, or a faff to far?





An unseasonal make

This poor top has remained unfinished and unloved in my stash for many months. I was just about to put in an extra effort to finish this top during August, before a long weekend. But the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t be worn, so I put it off. In fact, since I haven’t been anywhere hot this year and it hasn’t been especially hot in the UK this year, sadly I don’t think I would have worn it anyway. Anyway, it’s now December and I need to diminish my stash before it takes over the living room, so with just the spaghetti straps and the hem to add, this was easy to finish.

The fabric is a cotton lawn that I picked up in Fashion Fabrics. The bright and cheerful hot-air balloon fabric really caught my eye. I decided to use a pattern (Gathered Tube Top 03/2012 #125) from the Burda magazine I’d bought in Italy. Actually, it isn’t much of a pattern, more of a set of instructions, since the top is constructed from just two rectangles of fabric!

Air-balloon top

The technique used for shirring here is a little different from that which I’ve used before. Previously I’ve always hand-wound a bobbin with shirring elastic and therefore added the elastic as the lower thread when machine-stitching. The Burda technique suggests laying the elastic in a straight line on the wrong-side and zig-zagging over it. To be honest both techniques work well. Although, there is the added advantage with the Burda technique that you can adjust your top by pulling more or less on the shirring elastic to tighten or loosen it.

Close-up of shirred detail

I felt a little wary about wearing a strapless top, so decided to add some spaghetti straps, which are just turned tubes of the same fabric. I think that this top is most likely to be used to go to the beach. It slips on and off easily and would be a good cover-up for going into a cafe or a shop.

Now I just need to dream up a beach holiday for next year, unless we have an unexpected heatwave in March!



#1year1outfit – The Hacking Jacket Part 3 (and a little cheating)

All I can say is that I’m making slow progress, in fact very slow progress. When my hemp fabric arrived I realised that making a fitted jacket was definitely the most apt use for the fabric. However, I have become quite side-tracked in this project and the process has become a far more involved  than when I first came up with the idea. In order to create the inner structure for the jacket from natural fibres, I soon realised I was going to need steer away from fusible interfacings and get to know more about traditional tailoring methods. I therefore enrolled on the Classic Tailoring by Steffani Lincecum course on Craftsy. This has been the first Craftsy course I have enrolled on and I love it. Once you enroll the course is yours forever and it is great that I can just keep going back and refer to it. Steffani explains everything very clearly and it’s possible to ask questions too which seem to get swift responses. I can even annotate the video with my own notes so I can quickly find important points again. What can I say, it’s awesome! If you haven’t checked Craftsy out yet, give it a go, there are even some free courses too – I’ve enrolled on a free Know your Wool class too.

The traditional methods of tailoring aren’t particularly difficult, although they require some confidence in hand-sewing. Fortunately I really do love hand-sewing – it is my favourite activity in front of the TV during the evenings. However, it does take time and I’ve spent the last week or so, just sewing hair canvas to the front of the jacket and the undercollar.

Front of jacket


Here I must confess a slight amount of cheating. I wasn’t able to find any hair canvas that I knew was made in the UK. Most of the websites don’t seem to specify the origin of their tailoring supplies. I bought mine from Fabricland locally, but I have no idea where it was made. At least with buying locally I could go and feel it and check the weight. I do know that it is made of horse hair and wool. It’s natural at least. It’s cheating I know, but only a little – forgive me, please?

Whole front of jacket

I’ve also managed to make my first bound button-hole. I was actually pleasantly pleased that I pulled off this technique. I was very worried that my fabric wouldn’t cope with the manipulation required to make a bound buttonhole. Would it fray horribly? Be too heavy? I needn’t have worried at all, as it made perfect buttonholes.

Bound buttonhole

I have already bought the button for my jacket too. I decided to go for a button carved from antler. The buttons are made from Scottish Red Deer antlers. They are surprisingly light. The website also supplies smaller uncut pieces of horn and antler. Maybe I could craft my own buttons? Or maybe a belt buckle?


All this work has given me such an appreciation of old-fashioned tailoring skills. They do make a garment special. These methods are hardly seen in clothing today, except very high-end garments.

Overall, I don’t feel I’ve made much progress in the last couple of weeks, but I’m hoping now I’ve done all this groundwork that the jacket will come together quickly and I’ll have more to show you.


5 thoughts on being a slow sewer

For ages I’ve struggled with admitting that I’m slow at sewing. I always look jealously at those online sewers who produce gorgeous garment after gorgeous garment with scarcely a pause. How do they manage it? I’m learning, (slowly!), to embrace my slowness this year. I’m trying to enjoy the process, reflect on that and learn that I don’t need to produce more than a handful of good quality additions to my wardrobe each year.

1.It’s a hobby and not work

The world of work can sometimes be frenetic. There’s often a rush to get a belated project “out the door”, and quality is often overlooked. Sometimes conscientious, considered work is not even appreciated. There are times when speed is necessary in life admittedly, but there is always something lost on the way. Sewing something beautiful, with an investment of time and care is my way of bringing the speed vs diligence scales back in balance.

-42. I’m a time-deprived working mum

I’m sure there is nothing unusual about being a working mum, in fact it is probably the norm these days. It can be frustrating to find that my hobby is the thing that comes only after everything else has been done each day. Generally, I squeeze my sewing into small gaps. Often days will go past when I only manage to sew one seam. Big projects, like a jacket will often take weeks to complete. It’s disappointing that I don’t find more time, but all that matters to me is that I do get some hobby time and I enjoy it when I can.

Stressed out mum3. I like to be precise

I’ve realised that I scarcely ever just pin a seam or hem and then go straight to the sewing machine. I like to tack / hand-stitch it all in place before machine-stitching.

Why do I do this, possibly needless extra work? I do find that pinning often doesn’t result in the straightest, most precise seam. Precision isn’t important all the time, but sometimes it can be critical. For example, I always tack a zip in place as it always turns out better when I do this.

If my life depended on sewing quickly I’m sure I’d change this habit. Certainly when I’ve been in a hurry I have just pinned a seam and machined it. I even have some Wonder Tape, which perhaps I should use more. This could hold my seam more securely than pins while I’m machining and might be a good alternative. But for now, the tacking is my favourite; it’s so reliable.


Tacking my zip in place as usual…

4. I’m a traditionalist

There are some times when it really pays off to sew by hand. A hand sewn hem will ensure that the stitches are invisible on the exterior of the garment. I realize you can also achieve an invisible hem with your machine using a blind-hem stitch, but those hemline stitches are never nearly as invisible as the ones you can sew by hand. I always feel that the extra investment makes a hand-finished garment particularly special too.

Blue Skirt View of hem

The bias binding is hand stitching to the skirt at the hem

5. I enjoy hand-sewing

Strange as it may seem, I actually enjoy sitting listening to music or watching the TV whilst hand-sewing. It’s something to do to keep my hands busy, but doesn’t engage the brain much. It’s just the perfect thing to do at the end of the day.

In the words of Carl Honore’, author of In Praise of Slow – “Being slow, means never rushing, never striving to save time just for the sake of it. It means remaining calm and unflustered even when circumstances force us to speed up. One way to cultivate inner Slowness is to make time for activities that defy acceleration – meditation, knitting, gardening, yoga, painting, reading, walking, Chi Kung.” I would add sewing to that list!


Tips for Accurate Top-stitching

I am a great fan of top-stitching, there’s no denying it! It is just one of those techniques that just adds a certain pizazz to the garment I’m sewing and elevates a boring make into something more interesting.

For my top-stitching I usually use “top-stitch” thread like this Gutermanns thread. The thread is extra thick and is available in many different colours; great for selecting a contrasting or matching thread for your garment.


The only drawback is that it is harder to thread the machine needle with this thicker thread. I usually use a jeans needle or another heavy-duty needle when top-stitching. Apparently, there are specialist top-stitching needles that have bigger eyes. Has anyone else tried these?

I increase my stitch length usually to “6” or “7”, which is the maximum stitch length on my machine . Sometimes I wish my machine could do longer stitches – lots of RTW jeans have quite long stitches.

The biggest problem with top-stitching is that it is very visible. Every single wobble you make is there for all the world to see. I thought I’d share a few tips that I’ve found useful on keeping the top-stitching looking good.

Unfortunately, my sewing machine, an old Singer 348 didn’t reach me with any feet other than its standard foot. I have spent a long time trying to locate new feet for it, but with limited success. I now have an adjustable zipper foot and also this “overlocking edging foot” foot. I find this foot very handy for doing my top-stitching on straight lines. I can line up the guide with the edge of the seam and it is so much easier to sew a straight line when you have an edge guide.


For my denim Viale skirt, I topstitched semi-circles on the front and back of the skirt. To get this effect I used freezer paper as a guide line.

1. Create a freezer paper template from the semi-circle on the front pattern piece


2. Place the freezer paper onto the Skirt Front. Press the freezer paper onto the skirt with a hot setting. The freezer paper adheres to the fabric.


3. Thread your machine with top-stitch thread and use the standard foot.

4. Stitch around the freezer paper template using the paper as a guide.


Many of the horror stories I’ve read online about top-stitching detail problems with skipped stitches and machines that can’t cope with bulky seams. I will thoroughly admit that I’m no expert in this respect, my old Singer makes light work of sewing through multiple layers and doesn’t tend get stuck on bulky seams. I feel rather blessed with my machine – are old machines are more adept at this sort of work?