Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


M&M – Heron Wrap

Merchant and Mills Workbook – Pattern 2 The Heron Wrap Top

Spurred on by your enthusiasm over the Curlew dress and my own happiness, the next pattern in the book I made is the Heron wrap top. This is the only pattern that doesn’t have a variation, although I’m sure some of you could think of something…….


Once again, the seemingly simple design has some little details that add to the sewing pleasure and the finished item: pleats at the front, interfaced lapels, hems and fronts, separate front hem bands and little side splits.

My fabric choice was a cream linen with a black/grey border print which created a few pattern laying out issues and I had to cut on the cross grain instead of the straight so mine doesn’t have the natural stretch that a properly cut top would have.


The workbook gives comprehensive pattern payout directions along with photos and line diagrams of the finished garments, sketches of construction details complemented with written instructions, so there is really no reason for things to go wrong.

The wrap is a simple classic with wrap fronts, secured with ties, no sleeves just wide shoulders but the revere collar lifts it to almost jacket status.

I had to cut my ties from the cream section of my fabric but apart from that, once again, I’m really pleased with this.


The tones in the fabric mean that I can wear black, grey or cream on the bottom half, which makes a very versatile addition to my wardrobe. The wrap top just lifts a boring monochrome outfit.


You do need to wear a camisole or something underneath because the sides are sewn up only a short distance and there’s plenty of room for a breeze to blow through there.


Just a few things you might want to focus on when making the Heron; I am wary of finding fault with patterns that you have to trace off, tile together or otherwise put together yourself as the fault could always be mine and not the designer’s. For this top I had to extend the long back tie by 10cm (4″). I also had to add a pleat in the centre back which is cut on fold, so I might have inadvertently added seam allowances there. I’ll check my pattern against the original for the next one.


As there’s not too much can be done to make variations of the top, you can always think of different ways to tie it around.

Here it is with the long back tie inside the top, which makes a loose but secure wrap top.


Talking of which, it is secure wrap, no gaping or shifting at all. I didn’t use interfacing on this fabric but used muslin instead and it gave just the right amount of stability and firmness while still allowing flexibility and softness. Silk organza would work just as well (if not better).

I’m still waiting for summer to arrive: it has rained for 24 hours non-stop here so apologies for more pics in front of a radiator and poor light.


In my book – another winner from the Workbook! That’s 2/2 so far…….



M&M – I shouldn’t like it….

Merchant and Mills Workbook : Pattern 1 Curlew Dress

Here’s a sad dress: like a deflated balloon.


Merchant and Mills style photograph

Or rather, more like the balloon in a 100 pack bag of Pound shop balloons that didn’t even get to be blown up and left in the bag to be thrown out the next day with the empty beer bottles, the burned down candles, the tattered party streamers, the popped poppers and the burst balloons that at least went to the party in the first place.

But put a living, breathing (slightly curvy) body inside it and it comes ALIVE!


My sewing plans have lacked focus this summer – I’ve started this and started that and not really finished anything, nor has my heart be in my makes and that is always a bad combination for success. However, I am now the proud owner of the Merchant and Mills Workbook, some linen (ramie?) arrived from Cheapest Fabrics UK, I’ve raided my meagre stash for linen, cotton, muslin and the like and now I’m on a roll……..


The M&M Workbook has 6 distinctive patterns but with variations each one can be made at least twice – so the plan is to work my way through the workbook and I’ve got 4 weeks before I have to go back to proper work. With no vacations planned and the summer weather still very elusive it just might be achievable.

The patterns and variations

Bantam – vest top/dress

Curlew – dress/sleeveless T-shirt/long sleeved top

Saltmarsh – skirt (any length)

Heron – wrap top

Haremere – jacket/coat

Strides – trousers/shorts


The patterns come on printed sheets in sizes UK 8-18 and need to be traced off first but really this is no big deal if you have the paper and a pencil. Normally I cut a Vogue 14 but I’m down to a 12 with Merchant and Mills, so check the sizing against your measurements before you trace and cut.

So far I’ve traced the Curlew dress and sleeveless T-shirt, the Bantam vest and the Heron wrap top.

I shouldn’t like the Curlew dress: it’s bias cut and I always balk at bias patterns – so much fabric needed and the clinginess is generally unflattering; it’s a shift and I like a defined waist; it has a shallow scoop neckline and I prefer V or a deep scoop.


I had this linen and wool mix fine tweed in navy and white, which viewed from a distance looks grey, in my box ready to be made into a Donna Karan Jacket Vogue 1440. I even had the piping made and ready…….but Curlew was calling. Luckily, there was a good 3m so plenty for a bias cut dress and I got it in a sale so not too much lost if it all went wrong. I’m not much of a risk taker – which is why I’m employed and not an employer!


Bias cut sleeves mean I can roll them up when doing the dishes

I followed the detailed instructions to the letter and it was quite refreshing to make the extra effort and add stabilising cotton tape and finish seams and just generally take-my-time and enjoy the moment.


The back has a curved waist seam and that needed stabilised as well as armholes and neckline. The side seams are sewn with the lightning bolt stitch to allow the bias to gently stretch and drape. I let Doris wear the dress overnight before hemming just to let the bias hang for 24 hours.DSCN5422

The result is that I’m overjoyed! Really I can’t explain why I like this dress so much (see above) but it is comfortable to wear: it is a wee bit sexy in that it’s not so much clingy but skimming: it doesn’t have a zip but is a cinch to pull on and off; it moves with me no matter what I’m doing or reaching for: it doesn’t form a “bum” at the back and it totally disguises my sway-back. I might even walk with a wiggle when I wear it …..and I’ve been wearing this ever since I made it.

There are no bells and whistles, no frills or ruffles, no lining or buttons – there’s just a dress.


It’s not pretty or summery or trendy. It’s maybe not even that flattering – there are a tonne of other patterns and designs that I look much better in – but still….


So enamoured, I went ahead and made an underlayer in white cotton voile – the Curlew sleeveless T and a self-drafted underskirt. My version here is not cut on the bias and hence is slightly tight but wearable. The underskirt is fabric-width with an elasticated waist and single back seam, hemmed to sit 1-2″ below the Curlew dress.


The Curlew T-shirt has a slightly higher neckline so that it shows when layered under the dress.DSCN5447

I was tempted (slightly still aim) to sew some darts in the front for a better fit but so far I have managed to leave things well enough alone. Suggestions welcomed in the comments section….

DSCN5448While all those other frivolous party accoutrements have had their day, are long forgotten and are now in the bin – but this Cinderella poor balloon will stay inflated, will float higher and brighter and for very much longer.




I had intended to create a new Alabama Chanin collection this summer but my desire for instant gratification triggered a flurry of machine sewing and I’ll be lucky to get one AC skirt finished at all. I had a tonne of cotton jersey that was ordered in prep DSCN5343for hand sewing but it was crying out to be made into something to stop me feeling guilty about not meeting my own goals and objectives. There now follows a collection of stuff that has no skirt to match……..

First, Drape Drape 2 asymmetrical top. I received the book as a birthday present – lovely, and traced off the eponymous top immediately. Ironically, this was hand sewn, AC style. Reading reviews, everyone said that the sizing is small so I graduated the pattern up, especially around the hips for me, but I think the neckline is now too loose. Small adjustments to be made on the next (and there will be) one.


The body is pale grey with dark grey neck and hem bands attached with embroidery thread using a slightly stretchy back-stitch. The single side seam and the sleeve hems are hand sewn too.


Next,  Alabama Chanin’s corset top. This pattern is included in the new Patterns book but I had it already traced off from one of the earlier books. Except this time the serger was employed and not a hand stitch in sight.


The top is double layered with a neutral coloured cotton jersey as this is a very fitted top and it needs a bit of strength. No embellishments apart from a little strip over the back neckline; the armhole bands are machine stitched with a large zig-zag.


I do like how the back is dipped lower than the front in this top – means when you sit down there’s no flesh on show.DSCN5404

Finally, Alabama Chanin’s classic jacket from the Patterns book except my version is a little weird. A simple pattern with front, back and one-piece sleeves but I cut a load of 1″ strips and sewed these onto the jacket to resemble a check or a convict?


I serged the side seams and then sewed the strips sort of straightish onto the ‘flat’ jacket.


And the benefit of sewing your own stripes on is that you can be sure they match across the seams…


It’s a great wee jacket – cardigan-like, easy to wear yet finishes a very simple outfit. Mine is the length it is because of fabric limitations but the pattern comes with various lengths including a long version. The edges are finished with a handsewn band. I didn’t add pockets and I miss them.DSCN5396I did make a fundamental mistake with the stripes though – I sewed them with a straight stitch and some rows have broken. If you are mad enough to try this for yourself – use a small zig-zag or lightning bolt stitch to allow for natural body stretch and movement. I’m going to have to go back and mend the broken bits before the stripes start falling off!

And finally a scarf and brooch. The scarf is what’s leftover from the dark grey and I’m being bold calling it a scarf – it’s a bit of fabric! The brooch is beaded and slightly resembles a flower.


Gather your bits and pieces together – strips of fabric, brooch pin, beads and thread: start with a circle of fabric and I put a bit of batting behind mine for a bit of structure. Turn under a hem and you’re ready to go.


Start on the outside edge and sew on one of the strips. This one was gathered first but it’s easy to pleat as you go.

DSCN5371The next strip covers the raw edges of the first and so on until you reach the centre.


I beaded the centre but another little circle of fabric works too.

DSCN5375The back is a mess, so cover this up with another circle of fabric and sew on the pin. I used larger circles that show at the front of the brooch too.You’re not aiming for perfection here – merely the hint of a bloom of some sort – a hybrid.



Pin to your scarf or lapel and wait for the compliments! In my experience, people always comment on the brooch and not the clothes beneath!


So, there you have it – Alabama Chanin patterns made on a machine and a Japanese pattern made in AC style. DSCN5410DSCN5398


What Do You Think – Style?

Personal sewing is in progress but not much to show and tell and I’ve been working on a secret project which I can’t reveal yet………. so I’ve been thinking……….

Style icons and icons who have style.

Recently on a girly weekend away and I mentioned to my best mates that I’d love to have “A Style” – one that as soon as you saw it you would think – Ruth!

Partly it’s down to dressing for your shape but then certain dressing styles can also change or disguise your shape; a good tailored jacket can minimise round shoulders. Looking your best also means dressing for your colour but as home sewers we are free to select our own palette whether we suit it or not; it is gorgeous fabric after all!

FabricKated has always good and forthright advice on style – what suits and what doesn’t and sits very comfortably in her own classic and couture 1960s style. Margy with her distinctive monochrome and dash of red that somehow on her looks colourful. Gertie with the 1950s vibe but is still up to date. Twotoast with her recent layered look that is both simple and comfortable yet well thought out and put together. You know what I mean?

I want that! It is so difficult to choose which style is MINE.

Sometimes I like sloppy; sometimes I like couture; sometimes I like RTW; sometimes I like dresses and sometimes I prefer jeans; sometimes I wear high heels and then again I like flats; sometimes I like whatever is clean and ironed! At the same time as wanting a defined style I don’t want to be limited to only wearing (and making) one shape of dress with slight variations.

So far this summer I’ve been collecting patterns in an attempt to narrow down and define “my style”. I haven’t sewed anything much yet as I keep flitting from one idea to another. I started with Alabama Chanin – cotton jersey, comfy and totally wearable all day: have moved to Drape Drape 2 with a couple of asymmetrical Japanese tops: made a Style Arc top: have Donna Karan Vogue 1440 still in circulation with the intention of making another shirt and jacket. Now, just look at all those different styles and shapes – Do you see a common denominator because it’s escaping me?


AC style


Japanese draped and asymmetrical


Loose and casual StyleArc


Formal and fashionable Donna Karan

To throw another ingredient into the mix most recently I bought Merchant and Mills Workbook – ‘a collection of versatile sewing patterns for an elegant All season Wardrobe’.

DSCN5356 2


I love to love this company with their brown paper parcels tied up with string aesthetic. From the introduction:

“..there was a simpler time when ‘clothing’ had clear and explicit tasks; to keep us warm and covered up.

As the population grew and our tiny brains grew exponentially…..what we wore became a statement, an overt visible admission of who we thought ourselves to be for all to opine upon.

At some invisible point in time, fashion grew a capital ‘F’ and became important.”

The book has six patterns printed Burda-style on paper which has to be traced off. The clothing is relaxed made best in natural fabrics like linen, cotton and silk which highlight the unstructured and simple lines. There are variations for some pieces which gives a total of 11 garments – of course you can make a skirt any length you want, so the variations are endless.


The straightforwardness of the designs belie the detailed instructions for construction and attention to finishing details. It is not a book for absolute beginners, you do need to know a bit about sewing techniques and tailoring for the jacket. I’ve just ordered a small haul of linen and when it arrives shall start making and report back. You can then critique this style on me!

So, I also like the unstructured and natural.

Is liking a style, enough to make you suit it?

I’ve just finished watching a marathon of House of Cards and my current style icon is the First Lady Clare Underwood. Her clothes are what I want! Oh I know it’s a TV programme and it’s not really real, but how I would love to wear Manolo Blanik for 48hrs. How does one wear a pencil skirt with a back centre split and it doesn’t crease when you sit down? How do you keep a wrap chiffon blouse from gaping in front of  the media?


Is a strong personality “The Style” and the clothes merely follow, or is it the otherway around – dress well and your confidence grows? Chicken and egg question.

So who is YOUR style icon? Do you have one? And why? Can you define your own style?



Alabama Cheats

Summer is here and work has finished so it’s time to do some slow sewing, sit in my deckchair in the garden and hand stitch some new Alabama Chanins.

AMZUTFor my birthday in June I received the latest AC stitching book and before we broke up for the summer, I printed out a couple of the new patterns and taped them together on the big sewing table in work – it makes life so much easier. DSC00610

I now have the wrap skirt and the classic jacket to add to my collection of AC patterns. In the latest book the patterns and stencil designs come on a disk which you can either print at home on A4 sheets and tile together or take to a printers who will print the pattern on A1 or A2.

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I had already purchased 12m of cotton jersey in anticipation of this moment arriving: two shades of grey, light and dark; white and stone. Three meters of each colour.

I know I’ve documented previously how I go about sewing a AC garment but today I’ll show you my cheats – things that break the rules and make life a little easier and the sewing a little faster.


I print off the stencil design onto bog standard printer paper and tape the pages together just like a regular pattern. Then I Spraymount this onto a manilla folder and using a scalpel (exacto knife) cut through the page and the manilla. However, I don’t use the whole stencil. I look at the shapes and the layout and make a decision on what is feasible to sew around and what can be eliminated. Sometimes I’ll duplicate a shape or mirror it – just depends. I use the original as a guide only.

On the left, the original design and on the right what I chose to use.




AC recommends fabric dye, either sprayed or painted onto the fabric. I’m a wee bit frightened by this as dye will not wash out – it is permanent and what if I want to change the design a little? To reproduce the stencil design onto the fabric I draw around the shapes with felt-tip pens – washable, of course. Even at this stage I will leave some shapes out, draw a few new ones in and will make decisions on where best to place the design. I am currently making the wrap skirt and know full well that it is very unlikely I shall wear this skirt with a short or tucked in top – so why bother embellishing the top of the skirt when it will be covered?


All previous AC garments that I’ve sewn were put together using embroidery floss for embellishment and seams. I do not use the AC recomm0170205_2006718-IMG_3480_01_400ended ‘strongest thread know to man’. I use a single strand of 100% cotton embroidery thread doubled over. This has been plenty strong to hold my clothes together and doesn’t twist and knot the way other threads do. There’s also hundreds of colours to choose from.


This time round I am using a single strand of Terko satin. It’s a heavy, stiff thread but doesn’t knot and a single strand is still strong enough to hold the garments together.


AC rules state that you have to tie a knot on the thread and then tie another knot exactly over the first one. This is really tricky to achieve and I usually end up with a string of single knots stretching over about 1″ of the tread. So now I just make a loop and thread the needle through it three times and pull tight. I get a large enough knot that won’t pull through the fabric and none of the hassle. I also do the same at the other end when I’ve finished sewing – just remember to leave enough length on your thread to be able to do this.



I’m the first to admit that my embroidery skills are dreadful, so I avoid any fancy stitching and stick to good old plain running stitch. If a stencilled shape is too small to run a few stitches round then I leave it out. Apart from that, all the shapes are stitched around. If a shape is too small or narrow to cut then I’ll sew it bigger and wider.



AC rules state that you must sew each and every shape separately, ie start with a knot, sew around the shape and knot off – start on the next shape. If my stencil design has shapes that are close enough to each other then I just carry on. I can get a whole section sewn with a single length of thread.



When sewing with the embroidery floss I use size 10 needles  these are very fine and slide through the cotton jersey like a hot knife through butter but the eye is small and threading them is a pain. I usually thread about 18 in one go so that I’m ready to sew and sew. This time I’m making life much easier and using a self-threading needle. It’s thicker than the 10 but is working out just fine and I only need one needle so my projects are easily carried about without risk of injury to anyone.


So far I’ve completed one front panel of the skirt, started on the second and then just the back to do. Assemble the pieces and wear!


Of course, when I started writing this the sun was shining and the sky was blue – now however, it is raining and the sky is grey! So when (if) the sun comes back out I’ll maybe get some sewing done……….

So I cheat on the Alabama Chanin rules but then again rules are there to be broken, and I want to wear my items this summer, not next.


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