Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane


The Only Park Lane

DSCN7260A long, long time ago I bought a dress pattern from Merchant and Mills: the company started in 2010 and  I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I purchased the pattern not long afterwards. It is stored in a sturdy cardboard tube and the pattern pieces are equally sturdy manilla card that require weights and not pins to hold them to the fabric. It will last for years and years. I never made the dress. There were no pattern reviews, no Google images (apart from M&M’s, below); I was a little wary and then I lost the whole lot!

Quite recently I relocated The Park Lane and just happened to have a very fine windowpane wool that didn’t have a pattern partner, so the two were paired together.

The dress is simplicity itself: sheath style, shaped shoulders that elongate into short sleeves, funnel neck and comes with a tie belt, in-seam pockets. I don’t do belts on loose dresses as they create folds and gathers on my considerable sway back and looks terrible – belt was ditched. I ditched the pockets too because this fabric is practically transparent and the black lines of the window panes showed through to the right side.


However, without a belt the dress was even looser and, quite honestly, shapeless. There are two little dart/pleats at centre front which are relatively pointless – I added three more on each front, total of 8.


I get to keep the shift style but with the extra pleats I get a bit of shaping at the waist and creates some construction interest too.


I like this dress. It’s not weird, far-out dressing, just a classic shape with a wee bit of unusual that might make someone look twice – in a nice way!


I have a small dilemma that you, dear readers, can help and advise on. I made the dress straight from the pattern and this is the length (which I personally like).


Here it is pinned about 6″ shorter.

Which looks better?

It is difficult to raise one’s arms as the whole dress lifts up; I’m not planning on cleaning out the high kitchen cupboards so it’s not that much of a problem.


I went with matching the horizontal windowpanes. They match up (mostly) at centre back and side seams.


Merchant and Mills no longer sell this pattern and I’m truly wondering if this is the only one ever made – please let me know if you’ve made it too or know somebody who has.


Should I sew another one?




Plain and simple

The other day I had a dental hygienist appointment and teenage son had the car so I had to take the bus and not wanting to be late I left the house early and when I arrived I then, of course, had a tonne of time to kill. I walked the local shops: bought a T-shirt, a loose cardigan, a pair of olive green jeans; visited but didn’t buy, the Textile Studio and bought a sewing magazine because it had three free patterns and thought I could look at the pictures as I sat in the waiting room. This, of course is all beside the point – the pattern is the point here. And, it turned out to be ultimately a very expensive trip to the hygienist!


Anyway, one of the patterns was New Look 6231 – the jacket’s not my style but I quite fancied the very plain but perfectly serviceable trousers. In fact, these might actually be the same pattern that was used for the British Sewing Bee series 3 ep1. Does anyone know what patterns they use? I wouldn’t normally blog about something so plain and simple, but I’m really impressed and thought you should know about this little gem too.

The pattern is actually good value for money if you’re buying it on its own as you get at least three garments in one envelope.



Two darts at the back, waistband, invisible side zip, narrow legs and finish at ankle length.


Boy, I am impressed with this little pattern!

I made this first pair – note first! – in a very fine plain black wool with just a touch of Lycra. I shortened the back thigh by 1″ and the next pair will be shortened another 1″, but these are perfectly wearable, no worse than RTW and I think will become a staple in my wardrobe.


Because the pattern is so straightforward, it can easily be adapted to include front pockets of all designs, add turn-ups at the hems, include back welt pockets, capri or cropped lengths- the options are limitless. This pattern is replacing Clover for me.

Photographing black clothes is notoriously difficult, so please just believe me when I say these are great!


The new cardigan


I was rather blessed that the crotch fitted perfectly straight out of the envelop which might go some way to explain my joy.  The only thing I would suggest is that any fabric you chose to use, consider 1% or 2% of stretch, just for comfort’s sake and recoverability. Mine aren’t even lined which is unusual for me but the seams were pressed three times and then overlocked.


I reckon I’ll be wearing these with a plain black top and a colourful cardi or jacket. They look equally good with high heels or flats and have slim enough legs that they will easily slip into a pair of boots.


This die hard Vogue girl is mightily impressed with a different pattern company.







Swinging Thistle

This is just what the stitching doctor ordered for New Year’s Day : simple, straightforward, cosy, practical: a snuggle for cuddling sore heads and all over general grogginess; perfect for curling up on the sofa for watching good old black and white movies; yet finished enough to wear out – The Swinging Thistle!


This is what your pattern piece will look like or you can chalk straight onto fabric.


Essentially a half circle with a hole. One end will be the collar and the other the centre back hem.

The straight edge will be your length. I am 5’6″ (1.7m) and mine is 45″ (116cm) – adjust this straight edge to taste. Widest point measures 29″ (73cm).  This will determine the ‘swinginess’. Join the dots – the ends of the straight edge and the width in a curve, making a semi-circle-ish shape.



Fold the pattern piece in half (1/4 circle). On the fold is the bottom of the armhole. The armhole is an oval.



Mine measures 4 X 8″ (10 X 21cm) and is 6″ from the straight edge. Again adjust the size to suit your shape and fabric. Measure your upper back and half it – this is YOUR armhole placement.


Cut out.

If your fabric frays – either make a hem all the way around the outer edge, or bind with self fabric or contrasting bias.


Bind the armhole edges too.



The wrong side of the fabric will show at the collar so bear this in mind when making your fabric choice.

Try on. Cut a couple of bits of fabric that fit your hands comfortably and position the pockets to suit.

Stitch the open end of the pockets and then sew them onto your Thistle.


Wear in a multiple of variations.






Collar up as hood and/or brooch at one side to keep closed




Open and swinging




If it is particularly cold, then add sleeves the easy way……



Make a bolero from the leftovers…..wear under the Thistle




Wear upside down for a shorter length and fuller collar


The Thistle is a good choice for wearing under a coat too as you don’t have to grab a sleeve hem to get a coat on and there’s no bulk. And you can have a scarf/hood all at the same time.

Fabric choices:

  • Boiled wool (or similar as it’s the same both sides and doesn’t fray)
  • Any knit
  • Towelling for a southern hemisphere post-swim wrap
  • Chiffon for a pool cover up
  • Taffeta for a night at the opera coat
  • Tartan blankets for a feminine lumberjack look
  • Red velvet for Little Red Riding Hood

This fabric came from Chrysalis and is Sample #37, Thistle flower (hence the name of the vest), 140cms wide.

Variations are only restricted by imagination and extent of hangover:

Double sided – make two, join all the way around the edge, turn through the armhole and bind.

Square-off the circle from the armhole height for a straight front version.

Make the circle into an oval for less swing.

Easy to lengthen or shorten – full length chiffon with ostrich feather trim for a glamorous 1930s look for those moments when you swan around your penthouse with a cigarette holder in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Add more swing for this version by making a fatter circle – can’t skimp on glamour!

So if you’re feeling a little under the weather today but still have the urge to sew, grab a length of fabric slightly more than 1yd (1m), at least your preferred length. Remember to save the off-cuts for the bindings.

If you make a Swinging Thistle, I’d love to see your version. E-mail pics to me at the address at the top right column.

Happy New Year and good sewing wishes for 2015.




Mildly interesting….

…….or nerdy post on tailored jackets!

I love a jacket: warmer than a cardi, dressier than a cardi, can be worn indoors without looking like you haven’t taken your coat off and outside because, well, it’s a jacket: it finishes off an otherwise mundane and ordinary outfit, covers the ass and a multitude of other human flaws. I wear a lot of jackets all year round. One thing I learnt yesterday at our Belfast sewers’ meet-up was that we all only see the mistakes and errors in our makes which are all but invisible to everyone else so this time, we’re focusing on the positive, not the wrinkles!

BTW, thank you all so much for such interesting fitting comments and suggestions on the wrinkles. I certainly learnt a lot and everyone who has read the erudite comments has benefitted too. Thank you too to all of you who dug out your jackets and tried them on – I hope I didn’t raise some other fitting issues for you! Too much inspection and reflection can be a bad thing too.

pat875So today, let’s start with a neutral background – white shirt and jeans, then top it off with Jean Hardy pattern number 875 – three times.

All versions are tailored, ie. pad-stitched lapels and collars; canvas interfacing on the fronts, sleeve hems and back vents and across the back shoulders; taped roll lines and fronts; shoulder pads and hand stitched lining.

The jacket is a three buttoned single breasted hacking jacket – genuine equestrian wear. It has a double back vent (for sitting on saddles while still keeping your rear covered obviously), princess front seams and centre back seam, vent front  pockets with flaps and inside vent pocket, two-piece sleeves, side front and back panels. It sits comfortably at high hip.  The pattern instructions include two versions of tailored collars, pad stitching directions and separate pattern pieces for the lining and interfacings. Although I would recommend you work hand-in-hand with a tailoring book too. I use these.. click image for Amazon


Classic Tailoring Techniques. Roberto Carbrera


Vintage Couture Tailoring. Thomas von Nordheim


Jacket 1

Heavy brushed cotton in brown made exactly from the pattern. Lining is petrol blue and a matching waistcoat was constructed to use up the leftover fabric. I made a muslin for this one in woven cotton which ended up as an interlining to scaffold the shell fabric. Wears well with jeans, straight skirts in brown, moss, green and blue. I have also slung the jacket on over all white underneath – white linen trousers and a white T-shirt on a chilly summer day.

Made in Nov 2011 and still a favourite.



Flash of the lining that matches jeans so well








I can’t help it – sunburst wrinkling at front when top button is done.





























Jacket 2

Checked wool with burgundy lining – no leftover fabric as it was all used up matching the checks and was a Herculean task. This one was sewn a little more fitted than the first, if I remember rightly, just by sewing larger seam allowances. This one is also underlined and fully tailored. Only worn in autumn/winter because of the colour but very versatile in terms of colour co0ordination. Made in Nov 2012


A bit of gaping at the bust that I never noticed before

DSCN4745 DSCN4746


Jacket 3

Wool tweed in small petrol blue check with various coloured shades woven in from Chrysalis and the one with the wrinkles and the rose. I deliberately made this one very fitted tightening up the seam allowances and really can only be worn comfortably with just a shirt underneath. I had enough fabric left over to make a waistcoat and made use of the beautiful selvage edges as trim. Made this year in Oct. This jacket is practically an annual event in my sewing calendar!








Wrinkles along the back waist but I still had the waistcoat on as extra padding (which I don’t need)



Some more little details…


Co-ordinating Fran shirt, waistcoat pocket hankie and piping around jacket lining



Front pocket with flap


Front pocket with flap folded in










But of course….



So, in your opinion which one is best fit? Which is most dashing? Which most wearable? – 1,2 or 3


Falling Leaves

Just in time for autumn, although right now the sky is blue, the sun is shining and temperatures are hotter now than in August, my penultimate Alabama Chanin outfit from the flurry of needles and thread that started in the summer. I feel a wee bit daft wearing all this black and autumnal colours when it’s still practically summer.

This is especially for all those sewing bloggers who have decided to retire – this outfit is for you……(oh! and me too!). I miss you.

A knee length skirt with leaf applique, a coat embellished with black bugle glass beads with a reverse applique collar to mirror the skirt (the T-shirt is shop bought). Hand sewn in black and brown, it is supposed to straddle the navy/black outfit and the brown/pink outfit.


The coat is the fabulous vintage Vogue 8875: fitted and flared, cut on sleeves, princess darts, detachable collar, tie belt and I added two patch pockets. I shortened it quite considerably as I wanted the co-ordinating skirt to hang below. This is a double layer – black on the outside and brown on the inside, both mid-weight cotton jersey.

V8875 V8875







Quite honestly, the coat could be made out of sack-cloth and still look good. It is such a good shape. Mine is more like a cardigan because it’s made from cotton jersey but still retains an element of formality when paired with a skirt and hopefully will work just as hard well with a pair of jeans.



Two strips of cotton jersey around the hem held in place with a catchstitch and a running stitch, embellished with glass beads. And adds a good weight to the hem


Additional patch pockets made with a double layer of black and brown: more glass beads along the top and matching beading on the sleeve hems.



Detachable collar with one row of glass beads along the edge

The Vogue pattern instructs you to slip stitch the detachable collar in place but in my eyes that’s not detachable, so I sewed a few snaps to the back neckline and waist. Now it’s truly detachable and I might just make a navy/black version if I have enough fabric left over to perfectly match the navy/black skirt and tunic.



Detachable collar detached in an instant and last week’s brown bolero sleeves worn long under the bracelet length coat sleeves.


DSCN4536 And onto the skirt….

Pattern from Alabama Studio Style book; mid weight black cotton with light weight earth brown leaves. Knots left on the outside.


The stencil pattern was downloaded for free from AC website and printed out full size. I used a piece of heavy weight interfacing to make the stencil, although it wasn’t large enough for the whole stencil, so I just used part of it.


I’ve given up with dying and fabric painting techniques and now just trace the shapes with felt-tip pens directly onto the skirt pieces.


Then a fast and large running stitch around each shape. I’ve also abandoned the buttonhole thread – this skirt was made entirely (seams and all) with embroidery floss – a single strand doubled over. And it hasn’t fallen apart yet!


Once a reasonable area is stitched then I cut the uppermost brown layer away, leaving the leaves (ha ha)



Four panels later; the centre and side seams are stitched and felled, a bit of elastic stitched to the waist, a wash and press and Bob’s your uncle – a skirt!


My original intention was to embellish the coat the same as the skirt but it really would have been tooooo much, so I’m happy with the plainness and a bit of decoration on the collar only. Anyway, I’ll be able to wear with coat with more things.


The skirt also goes with the brown bolero from the pink/brown set – a real mix ‘n’ match ensemble.


Anyway, I’ve somehow acquired a steadily growing pile of wovens – wool and tweed and cotton and viscose and rayon and corduroy – Oh my! so I suppose I ought to cut into it and get the sewing machine cranked up again.


A last glance at a hand sewn outfit (for a little while anyway….) And let’s hope autumn comes soon so I can wear it!


For £62.82, some thread, a few packs of needles and some beads I’ve now got – three skirts, a tunic, two boleros, a T-shirt, a coat and a scarf  and a dress (unfinished) – about £8 each!