Heidi heidi heidi, hi!

I’m downloading BurdaStyle’s Heidi dress pattern right now. I’ve had mixed success with BurdaStyle and I think they’re buggers for charging after wooing us all over with the original, everything’s-free model, but the Greek chorus of compliments about the pattern has won me over. Erin of A Dress A Day has made an army of them, and I would quite happily follow her directions in most things. Except the penny loafers. I think they’re dreadful. But everything else, very wise.

I’m particularly schmitten with motozulli’s version.

I’m also schmitten with the Cackle Sisters (via boing boing)… enjoy their amazing vocal stylings while admiring their delightful 1940s attire! Striped skirts ahoy!

Climbing back in the saddle

I’ve been on a quick trip to New Zealand so not much sewing recently. I found a fabric shop while walking around one night and dashed there at its opening time the next day for a hunt-and-gather before getting on a plane home. I found this cotton lawn – lovely soft stuff in colours I love. Best kind of souvenir, the one you can make something with!

I confess I skipped the last patternmaking class. Mostly because I was lazy and a little jetlagged, but also because I hadn’t tested the work from the week prior, and I just couldn’t face another battle with the teacher. In class 4 I asked him a number of direct questions and got no answers. For example, “This sleeve is too big, I need to reduce the ease. There are too many gathers at the top. How do I do that?” His reply? “Oh, waffle waffle waffle, that could be a design feature, waffle waffle.” Was driving me crazy. The point of a block is something WITHOUT design features. You add them LATER. Gah.

From here on in, I’m on my own. Which is pretty much where I was at the beginning. But many folks have left lovely comments for me and I hope that you’ll continue with the helpful suggestions when I get stuck!

Easy win frock

I’m going into battle with my sleeve draft tonight. To boost my morale, I needed an easy win. A simple frock that didn’t require complicated adjustments and I could wear immediately. Fossicking through the pattern stash produced this funny old pattern from English Woman magazine that I picked up in an op shop eons ago. Note there’s one pattern for bust sizes 32″- 40″, all you do is change the size of the seam allowance!

I loved Emma Destruction’s birthday dress and wanted something similar. Reckoned I could omit the neckline slit from this pattern. And lo, behold, I did, and it was good.

Fabric is 100% cotton with a tiny white square print. It’s actually an old sheet… see that white stripe at the hem? That’s the turn-down detail on the sheet. Cunning, or what? There’s a tuck in the skirt because it was a bit long and I plan to do another, plus pull it in at the back so it doesn’t slip off my shoulders so much. I also improvised the skirt pleats because I couldn’t be arsed cutting and marking. Worked a treat.

Easy win done. Self-worth and confidence inflated. I can do this sleeve. I can. Off I go, into battle now.

Homework fail

This is NOT a close-fitted bodice.

I could store a spare tyre or seven in here.

I’m feeling a bit hang-dog that this is my third bodice and they’re getting worse! I can’t understand where all this extra room came from, since it certainly wasn’t in its predecessor. Bah. I’m supposed to test out my sleeve pattern now, but it seems pointless when (desperately-needed) changes to the bodice will demand changes to the sleeve.

Most frustrating is that I have two classes left – not time to fix this, check sleeve, and draft skirt. Grrr.

Sewing reference library

I went to a show at Craft Victoria yesterday and was mortified to see that one of the artists had chosen, as his medium, decades-old textile and sewing books. He had carved sewing tools – thimble, scissors, seam unpicker – into the book cover and pages. I had to leave.

Like many sewing geeks, I love old sewing reference books. They contain techniques from an age before adhesive hem tape and velcro; they are often lyrically written and amusingly old-fashioned; more often than not, they are beautiful objects in their own right. I collect any and all I can get my hands on. So to see eight of these books destroyed in the name of art pissed me off, frankly. For example, a book about British textiles that was published around time of the Festival of Britain and a lovely book called Custom Tailoring for Homemakers. Art, schmart. I grieve for those books.

sewing reference library

This is part of my sewing book collection. Inspired by Gertie’s post on building a sewing library, here are books I use all the time for reference.

From top to bottom, with links where I could find them:

  1. How to make pants and jeans that really fit by Barbara Corrigan – nice little 1970s book that explains all those mysterious wrinkles and crinkles.
  2. Shirtmaking by David Page Coffin – nothing I can add here that hasn’t already been gushed by 23,525 other sewing bloggers. Wanna make a shirt? You wanna get this book.
  3. Tailoring by editors of Creative Publishing – I bought this when Gertie was making her coat upon her recommendation. She should take a commission.
  4. Timesaving sewing edited by Janice Cauley and Bernice Mauhren –  features cringeworthy early 90s fashions but dang, in among the dross are some truly handy tips.
  5. Couture sewing techniques by Claire B. Schaeffer – a total contrast to #4, a book that tells you how to do everything the beautiful, luxurious, labourious, time-consuming way.
  6. Practical home mending made easy by Mary Brooks Picken – from 1946. I love the tips on how to rework your frocks during wartime rationing.
  7. Complete dressmaking in pictures edited by Constance Howard – this one’s fascinating for its 1940s conservative dowdiness.
  8. Pattern design by Gloria Mortimer-Dunn – I reckon this must have been the standard text for Australian home ec classes in the 1960s.
  9. Successful dressmaking by Ellen and Marietta Resek – Moggy and I reckon this book is a local secret all you overseas people should know about. It’s published right here in Melbourne-town and is one of my absolute favourites. Beautiful little pictures throughout, and really common sense advice. I’ve seen it for sale a few times on eBay Australia. If you see one, bid high and bid true!
  10. Singer sewing book by Mary Brooks Picken – this is the 1950s edition which is lovely because it has Victoria era illustrations interspersed among more contemporary pictures.
  11. Make your own dress patterns by Adele P. Margolis – this is the Dover reprint of a classic book. Again, the sewing blog world have waxed lyrical about this one, and I agree!
  12. Modern pattern design by Harriet Pepin – this one is brilliant. And, lucky us, it’s available online, it its entirety, at VintageSewing.info.
  13. Dress fitting by Natalie Bray – I’d forgotten I owned this because its slender black spine is easy to overlook. Then after patternmaking class #2, in which the teacher said, “you people all need to go read a book by Natalie Bray called Dress fitting”
  14. Readers Digest complete guide to sewing – the big, fat, friendly bible that will walk you through all kinds of things you need to know with clear instructions and ace diagrams. I have a 1970s edition. The older ones are better for vintage sewers because they describe the fabrics of the era, many of which you just don’t see for sale anymore.

There are a couple more but these are the most-thumbed ones. Did I miss any classics?

I sewed up the new bodice pattern but I’m so discouraged I can’t bring myself to report back yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Patternmaking class #3

Well, that was interesting.

Back with the regular teacher. While he’s not as outgoing as last week’s replacement, he is very generous with his time and knowledge if you show interest and know what to ask. I showed him the better-but-not-perfect second bodice and he said no, not to do the FBA because that adds length, whereas I need more width. He also didn’t like the wee bit of gape at my neck (not really visible in that picture).

So, two things – first he showed me how to trace a template of of the neck-waist-dart-shoulder section, pare off a tiny bit at the neckline, and hide it in the shoulder dart. Cunning. Secondly, he didn’t like the big bust dart and thought much it should be moved to the waist dart. A bit of slashing and spreading and redrafting later, and he was pleased. “You’ll have a really nice fit now, a real 50s bodice,” he said. One of the happy results of this is that the corner of the bodice, the bit at the sides between the two darts, now sits on the true bias. Lovely. Will cut another muslin in the next few days and show y’all.

I also drafted a sleeve, too. I’m suspicious… it looks an odd shape to me.

The gentle decorum of the patternmaking terminology cracks me up. ‘Bust and seat’ are so coy and demure. I’m dying to just say ‘tits and arse’ but the teacher might kick me out.

Oh, and I just saw JuliaB put up instructions for a skirt block at House of Marmalade. What brilliant timing!

Curse of the spider dress

We’ll start this post with the good news, shall we? That is, I used my custom pattern – the one that is exactly the right length for me – to adjust a commercial pattern.

Commercial pattern (circa 1974 pattern, Style 4743) on the right is about 4cm too short. So I lengthened it. Hurrah. Simple.

You’ll note too that the commercial pattern has smaller and fewer darts. I wasn’t worried about this because I was going to cheat and make it from cotton jersey – you can get away with a lot thanks to the stretch.

Cute pattern, right? Kinda kicky 1970s-does-1940s, right?


Oh my lord, this came out as the frumpiest Texan Polygamist Compound dress ever. I’m embarassed to post it, but here ’tis.

I don’t have much luck with jersey frocks. I think I’ll give up. I liked this fabric so much, being, as it is, crawling with thousands of SPIDERS:

…but I think the fabric is a big part of the problem. Bleh.

Essential sewing tool: physicist

I was trying to think how, when making a hat, you’d shape the crown piece when it has to fit the smaller circumfrence of the crown at the top, and the larger circumfrence of the brim at the bottom. So I asked my tame and friendly physicist, who produced the explanation above. Since so much about patternmaking is about mathematical modelling (3D forms into 2D versions) I highly recommend y’all get yerselves a physicist.

Patternmaking class #2

Class #2 was a revelation. The regular teacher was absent and his replacement was awesome. She was loud and bustling and chatty and, most important of all, demonstrative! She walked us through the next steps as a group, drawing up a block with us and telling us not just the whats but the whys of the process.

She took one look at my ugly, badly-fitting toile and showed me how to take up all that excess fabric in the dart. The class was really fun. And look, at the end of it, I have an actual pattern:

Something surprising to note was how rugged that white paper is. We folded and slashed and taped and pinned and the paper took it all.

At home, I made up another toile. Better, but still not good:

It’ the right length and less baggy in the armpits, but I think all those ugly wrinkles are because it’s too flat across the bust. Damn. This isn’t going to be so easy to fix – I think the next stage is to slash it open like so:

In polite circles, this is called a full bust adjustment or FBA. But that’s a bit dull, don’t you think? How about a ‘brick house renovation’ or ‘big rack attack’? Other suggestions? In any case, it looks like a drag but worth the effort. If I get this info onto my block then I won’t have to do it again.