Monday, 16 April 2012


Somehow I have strained the ligaments on my left knee so I can't be sat with it bent at the computer for long. For this reason, I will not be publishing any more blog posts for the foreseeable future.

Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Monday, 9 April 2012

How to Make a Sleeveless Dress or Top Using a Pattern that has Sleeves

Simple, right? Just use facings instead of sleeves. Then you try it and find that the dress looks miles too big! Even with patterns that have a sleeveless option, this happens. So you have to take the dress in at the side seams and it looks a lot better. But what about the shoulders? Unless they went right to the shoulder point, they gape awfully.

Simplicity 2927 (now out-of-print) is a good example. I know because I have used it twice. The first go was my first dress made from scratch in 2007. I used the long sleeves and (after some considerable taking in) it fits okay. It looks terrible to me, but that's first sewing projects for you. : )

Last year I made it sleeveless. It looks better because my sewing has improved. I still had to take it in. When I tried the dress on I found that the shoulders on its yoke stuck up. Why? I thought it must be because I didn't use interfacing so the fabric must have stretched out of shape, but now I have Pattern-making for Fashion Design 5th Ed. by Helen Joseph-Armstrong, I have learned that it was because the shoulder's needed contouring. I.e. they needed the shoulder seam to have 1/8" (3mm) taken off at the shoulder end, tapering back to the original measurement at the shoulder tip.

This is done to all the relevant pattern pieces, i.e. front and back, self and facings (and linings if you are lining the garment). You can "fit" this alteration before you sew the facings in if you like. That will probably give you a more accurate measurement which you can then transfer back to the pattern for future reference. You can just draw the alteration on in case you want to make the version with sleeves in the future. The 1/8" (3mm) is just a standard measurement.

The Side Seams

As your dress pattern is drafted to have sleeves, it has ease at the side seams so that you can raise your arms. When you make a sleeveless version, you have to take it in at the side seams. The best way to do this is to try the dress on and pin fit it.

The Armholes

Also, now that the dress is narrower, the armhole will be closer to you and will probably be a very uncomfortable shape if you intend to use your arms at all. The front of the armholes will need scooping out. With the dress on, lower your arms, reach forward, and you will see the creases at the front armhole (not to mention feel the dress being very uncomfortable). With dressmaker's chalk, draw a rough line of where the armhole should be to be comfortable. Then thread trace it. Now you can sew the armhole facing on along that line. The adjustment will probably be the same for the other armhole. When you have finished the armholes this way, they should be much more comfortable and much more practical!

I hope that helps!
Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

P.S. I refitting the sleeve in my blouse and if fits much better now (although I have found some more fitting issues -- apparently I have uneven shoulders). It's amazing what a difference the sleeves make! Even being rotated my 1/2" makes all the difference. : )

Monday, 2 April 2012

My blouse is finished

This is my blouse now that it's been washed and pressed. Now, I know the fit is off, but I found out why: when I fitted the sleeve I didn't finish altering the pattern and then when I was cutting the blouse fabric, I didn't notice the notes I had made on the pattern to change it later. There's another reason to make a toile.

Next time I make a blouse I will of course make sure the sleeve fits right. I ought also to underline or "back" it. And press as I go because somehow, the collar still isn't quite right at the back.

I don't remember if I mentioned it last time, but I have added sleeve heads. I think I may have to stitch them down somewhere because the left one keeps coming out of place. Next time I may make them wider.

Still, it's a nice blouse and a good first try, don't you think?

Muslin Vs. Toile

And while we're briefly on the subject of toiles (or as the Americans call them, "muslins") let's clear up the issue of which fabric to use. Given that the Americans publish far more sewing literature than we British do, we often read of making a muslin. That can be confusing because we would naturally assume that a muslin ought to be made of muslin. Not so.

In England, we call muslins "toiles" (a French word, pronounced "twals") and we make them out of calico or cheap cotton. Muslin fabric as we know it is for face cloths and cloth-nappy linings. It's far too sheer for making test garments when we are going to make the real garment out of an ordinary fabric.

In America, they call calico "muslin" and make their test garments out of calico, just a we do (or ought to do). I don't know what they call muslin fabric.

I hope that has cleared the matter up for people. It will certainly help me now that I know. But what am I going to do with the 6 metres of muslin that's sitting on my sewing desk?

This week I have been studying pattern-making

And I have been looking at BurdaStyle magazine. I have only one issue: October 2010 (our nearest WHSmiths is a bus-ride away and I haven't another reason to go to town). Two of the reasons I got it are that there are Jackie O. styles and Career clothes (I started learning about Power Dressing when I was about twelve.)

I was browsing though the instructions when I noticed the shape of the collar pattern for blouse style 130. It's not shaped like a standard convertible collar: it's curved. I thought they must have drafted an exceptionally well-engineered collar pattern, and they may have, but as it turns out, it's not a convertible collar as the photo might have you think -- it's a small notched collar. It does say this in the caption, but it hadn't really sunk in until I noticed the pattern piece's shape. 
Please ignore the blue lines on the technical drawing - I added those.

(As a side note, they also suggest that we use a bias strip as a back-neck facing. I would have just turned the raw edge in and stitched invisibly by hand. The buttons are invisible in this blouse - the buttonholes are on the facing only, not the outside. How unusual!)

Here's a photo of inside Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich. I think the BurdaStyle blouse must have been drafted like style 19 - the Standard Rever - with a collar with a low stand. It's the curved shape of the collar that tipped me off. The standard rever collar is drafted like the Gent's collar (notched collar) but is rounder at the neckline and, in this example, can be shaped more. I suppose the Gent's collar could shaped in the same way. It would just result in a lower "stand".

To find out how much the collar pattern had been slashed and spread, I traced it, tore up to neckline (I didn't have my scissors handy) and overlapped until it was more or less straight. There was a 1cm overlap, which means that they had inserted 2cm, which is how much is in the Metric Pattern Cutting collar with stand. I assumed that Burda, being European, most likely use the metric pattern cutting method, rather than the American one. As an extra clue, their measurements are not the same as other companies, and they are known for their cut.

So that's what I've been doing this week. I hope you found it interesting. You know, when I started to learn to sew, I wanted to be able to make whatever style I wanted, having designed clothes for years, but not been able to make them. It's only now that I can really start to do that because I am learn pattern-making. I didn't adapt patterns beyond not cutting holes at the neckline (if you can call that adapting a pattern). Isn't it great that things are usually really very simple, once you get the basic idea?!

Until next week, happy sewing (and possibly pattern-making!)
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner