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Two quick tops

Not everything I made while I was ill was an involved as my navy Harriet jacket – I made quite a few small and quick projects, too, just to boost my mood. I wanted to show you two different quick tops today – it didn’t really feel like I had enough to say about either to warrant separate posts, but I wanted to document them just the same.

Seamwork Akita in Japanese floral

My friend Alex brought me back a ton of fabrics fro Tomato in Tokyo (which you’ll be seeing more of, I’m certain!), but this narrow, textured floral shrunk a TON in the wash and was narrow to begin with, so afterwards it was very narrow indeed. So I pulled out the Seamwork Akita blouse pattern since it only needs a narrow, non-directional print fabric because it’s just one pattern piece (no shoulder seams). In the end, the pattern piece touched both selvedges and I had to trim off some of the sleeve depth to fit it in!

I haven’t seen this pattern made up much, but I was disappointed in the fit – this runs HUGE, even for an over-the-head top (in contrast, the woven, over-the-head Sorbetto pattern fits much closer). In hindsight, I think I could’ve made the absolute smallest size and still be swimming in it (and no, no printing errors!). I chopped off about 6 inches in length, too, and it’s still on the long side.

But the worst bit is that the bust point is ridiculously low, which just looks bad. Luckily, it gets lost in such a busy print, but it’s still disappointing.

By the time I tried it on and realised it was massive, I didn’t have any bias fabric left to do the neckline facing, so instead I pulled out some silk charmeuse bias strips I had squirrelled away and used those to finish off the neckline in my preferred way. This is actually my favourite part of this top!

I’ve worn it with layers on top because I like the colours, but I’m glad I didn’t make it in an expensive silk like I was planning! The other Seamwork patterns I’ve made have been true to size, so I’m not sure what happened here…

Sweaty Betty striped tech tee

I had some weird, small offcuts of tech fabrics from my Sweaty Betty-working friend, one of which was this teal, black, and grey striped, slubby wicking teeshirt material. I cycle commute in street clothes that I wear at work all day (unless it’s pouring, in which case I change into dry clothes at the office) and I like to have a base layer which dries quickly. I never get that sweaty on my ride, but when I was ill it felt a bit harder than it does normally, so tech tees were useful.

A geometric art print teeshirt

Isn’t it funny how the most boring, basic garments somehow end up being the ones we wear the most? Take this top – it was really only meant to be a wearable muslin to test out a new teeshirt draft I was working on last Fall. I wasn’t even planning on even taking finished garment photos of it, as it was a rough pattern (no seam allowances or extraneous notches for my private patterns!) and I just grabbed some fabric out of a bag ready for donation and sewed it all together without much thought.

And it’s ended up being something I wear all the time. Like, I have to make mental notes to make sure I don’t wear it twice in the same week!

Long time readers may actually recall that I’d used this fabric for a long sleeved teeshirt a few years ago. Well, that particular top has since gone off to the charity shop because the neckline was just too low and wide for me to wear more than occasionally, and I hadn’t even worn it enough for the black and orange print to start doing their cool crackle/fading thing! The fabric was originally from Mood via Kollabora, so it’s probably long gone, but everything I disliked about it then I actually really like in this teeshirt. Funny, eh?

Pleated denim leggings

The three words in the title may not seem like they naturally go together, but it’s all made possible by the super stretchy denim I bought from Mood when we were in NYC for my birthday in March. The weave definitely looks more like a denim/twill than a knit, but strangely, there’s more lengthwise stretch than widthwise (about 50-60% compared to only about 20%). There’s still plenty of stretch there for them to just pull on with an elastic waistband, and the fit is definitely more “leggings” than “jeans”, despite the denim.

I made these well over a month ago, and I’ve been wearing them pretty much twice weekly since then – they’re unbelievably versatile and so much more interesting than just a basic stretch denim legging (or, ugh, “jegging”). They were one of the last items to be made in my old sewing room, and I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken so long to photograph these, because I really do like them!

There’s no pattern to talk about here, I’m afraid – I just opened my basic leggings sloper in Illustrator and made some modifications to fit what was in my head.

In short, I drew some design lines on the Front where I wanted the pleated panel to be, sliced that off as its own piece, then digitally spread it apart again to have twelve 1cm pleats with 2cm in between. (You can do this really quickly by overlaying a grid onto the pattern piece, splitting it apart, then moving the top (or bottom) piece by the amount you want the total spread to be (in my case, moving it 12 × 2cm=24cm). Then just set those pleat pieces to distribute vertically!) IMHO, this is so much easier then getting out scissors and tape and a ruler and trying to draw out all the pleats myself. I truly am a digital native when it comes to pattern drafting now, I swear!


Worn here with my mustard Drape Drape top – still a favourite 2.5 years later!

StyleArc Lalitha Leggings

I’ve been on the Aussie pattern company StyleArc‘s mailing list for a while now, and I always like to keep an eye on their new patterns, but their fabric options have never really appealed to me, to be honest (I’ve got to really like a fabric to pay for it to be shipped halfway around the world!).

Until March, that is, when they sent round details of their new range of “cut & sew” leggings, printed directly onto activewear knits:


They’ve since removed these from their site due to demand, so I’m reposting the original ad here so you can see the other colourways.

I’ll be honest – I was as intrigued by the concept as I was the prints, and for $60AU (£30) shipped, plus the freebie March pattern (knit top Melinda), I was sold. Quality leggings in great prints go for the £80-90 range in London, so for me, £30 was worth a gamble in the name of research. StyleArc had teamed up with a company called Fifth Element for these leggings, which you can also buy ready-made for about £45.

I ordered the “Lalitha” colourway the very next day, and then waited over 6 weeks for delivery (maybe they printed on demand?), but the kit finally arrived in mid-April. I was kinda hoping that the fabric would be printed all over, or in zones, like my collaboration with Laurie King, but you really only get the outline of the legging, with the rest in plain white.

Before I get into my complaints, let me just say that the fabric quality is fabulous – it’s soft, and stretchy, with great recovery and super vibrant colours, and from handling enough activewear fabrics in my day, I believe the that this is proper wicking fabric. I pre-washed it before cutting out, and everything remained vibrant, too.

Book Review: Two Pattern Grading books

I’ve got not one, but two books to talk about today, both on the subject of pattern grading, which, to be honest, has hardly any books published on the topic and seems to be a bit of an industry secret or something.

If you’re not familiar with what pattern grading is – it’s the process of taking one pattern and adding or subtracting amounts at various points to make it another size, or multiple sizes. This isn’t just a simple equation of “well, size Y is twice as big as size Q” because humans’ shapes don’t grow at the same rate (ie: the difference between a size 0 and a size 18’s shoulders aren’t likely to be as great as the difference in hip sizes). In general, the measurements around the body change much more than the vertical measurements, so you need to follow some rules to know how far to move different points and in which directions.

Now, there’s an old-fashioned way of doing this with paper patters, scissors, tape, a special “grade ruler”, and several hours of your time, and this was covered pretty extensively in the September 2014 Threads Magazine (#174). In my personal opinion, this is fine if you only want to change one pattern to one other size, for instance if you have a vintage pattern but want it in your own size. Doing more than one size this way is a great way to end up throwing everything into the bin after several hours of swearing.

In my opinion, the far less stressful way to do pattern grading is digitally. You select a point, tell your software (like Adobe Illustrator) to move it xx cm vertically and yy cm horizontally, and you do that to all the points around the pattern. No taping, no cutting, and no weird ruler. Plus it’s way more accurate. So with this in mind, my reviews of both books are skewed heavily towards how they deal with digital drafting.

Let’s look at “Grading Workbook” by Connie Crawford first. It’s been out as a print book for a while, but I bought an early edition of the pdf ebook last year, which has been extensively cleaned up and digitised. I checked about a month ago, and there haven’t been any revisions so the copy I’m reviewing here is indeed current.

The book is targeted at someone who has some knowledge of pattern drafting, but is a beginner at pattern grading – most home sewists would be able to follow along with the introductory chapters which explain the methods and theory, and how to select different grades.

For each of the grade tables (ie: bodice, skirt, sleeve, stretch, child, etc), there are a few pages which show which point is being selected and which direction to move it, shown in a series of diagrams, like these two:

Navy blue Pattern Magic "Jutting Edge" dress

I drafted a few patterns over the summer on the Morley College course based on the Pattern Magic: Stretch Fabrics book, this design included. To be perfectly honest, the photos in the book do absolutely nothing for me, so I flipped right past it when reading it on my own:

But the instructor, Moni, saw its potential, and thought that it might be nice in a softer jersey. She was totally right! The sample that was made on the course in similar, lightweight jersey had a chic cowl effect, but without a low neck like you normally get to achieve a cowl.

So I’d been meaning to make this all year, but finally unearthed my pattern pieces on Christmas Eve day, when I fancied sewing something quick that wasn’t workout gear for a change!

The pattern here is essentially just a long teeshirt dress, but with an added very wide (180 degrees!) dart that runs from shoulder to abdomen. It means that it’s a bit of a pain to draft, but extremely quick and easy to sew. On the course, I’d thought ahead and brought my own knit sloper so not only did I draft this to my body (at the time, anyway), but I also kept the armscye unchanged here so I could easily add sleeves!

A note on sizing…

Thank you all so, so much for your kind words and enthusiasm on my pattern announcement! It’s been literally months in the making and it was totally nerve-wracking to hit the Publish button.

Some of you commented on the XS size not being small enough, however, and I wanted to talk you through the background on this.

As we all know with multisize patterns, you can only have a limited number of sizes. Each size you add on must be graded (which is no mean feat!), then double-checked, adjusted, sewn up, and all the various trims must be calculated as well. For my first collection, five sizes seemed a reasonable number without biting off more than I could chew. I have huge respect for companies like Jalie that create their patterns in an epic amount of sizes, but that’s not something I’m qualified enough to do right now (nor am I particularly interested in designing for children)!

So I have to make choices. For me, I feel very strongly about supporting Plus sized ladies to exercise. I’ve had conversations with Plus sized fitness bloggers like Fattymustrun about the absolute lack of exercise gear for size 16+ in RTW – companies may say they offer it, but in reality, it’s almost impossible to actually buy, and when it does, you usually only get the choice of black (or worse, pink!). So when it came to choosing between offer one size smaller or one size larger, I made the choice to offer one size larger, so that larger women can have the opportunity to wear some fun exercise clothes, too.

You may think, “well, it’s no extra room on the pattern sheet to add another smaller size!” but it’s nowhere near that straightforward. Multisize patterns aren’t exactly like Russian nesting dolls – the way patterns are stacked to allow people to cut between sizes if they wish, there are multiple places where the smallest size line is actually outside the largest size!

Turquoise lingerie set – bra and Lacey Thong

I arrived home from Mexico and wasn’t particularly filled with sewing mojo, to be honest, but happily this was short-lived, because I saw that Pattern Review had announced a short, two week Lingerie Sewing Contest for the second half of October! This was just what I needed to kick me into action and remind me that I’d been meaning to alter the seaming on my bra cup pattern after I’d made the eyelash bra.

The cups on that one were fine, but I have some gorgeous turquoise lace in my stash from Danglez’ closing down sale (sniff!), and it was too narrow for my one-dart cup pattern. So before I could even start sewing, I had to do some pattern drafting manipulation first – introducing some seam lines to account for the narrow lace, split and rotate the dart around a bit, and voila! Now I’ve got a three part cup!

I was so happy with the fit of this bra that I made myself a matching pair of Lacey Thongs (my free downloadable pattern, if you’d forgotten!) to go with it.

Seriously though – I think this must be about the 8th or 9th bra I’ve sewn, but only about the second I’d wear out of the house. Sewing a bra is easy – getting the bra to fit properly, feel comfortable, and look flattering is beyond challenging. I think I understand other people’s frustrations with trouser fitting now, because this bra fitting journey has been character-building!

My real breakthrough came when I stopped using commercial patterns and just traced existing RTW bras instead. For me, they were a much, much closer starting point than the bizarre cup shapes provided in the KwikSew and Elan patterns I’d previously tried.

Blue neopreney leggings

You’ve already seen the sister skirt to these leggings planned for my upcoming Mexico trip in a few weeks. I wouldn’t normally make two things out of the same fabric in rapid succession, but I ended up buying the end bolt (3m instead of the 2m I’d wanted) and having two bottoms in the same colour is quite handy when packing, as obviously the same tops will coordinate with both!

These were a super quick but comfortable make using my standard leggings draft from the Kristina Shin book plus my own preferred elastic waistband technique. I reckon I probably had these sewn up in under an hour, and I’d cut out the fabric at the same time as the skirt.

As you recall, the fabric is a royal blue hefty jersey that really feels very much like a thin neoprene – this stuff couldn’t wrinkle if it wanted to! I bought the last of the roll at “A-One Fabrics” on Goldhawk Road, and I’ve still got a little bit left that I think might be fun to mix & match with something like denim or even leather!

The Swirl Sheath Dress

This dress has been an awfully long time in the making. The idea started back when I took the Pattern Magic 2 class at Morley College last winter, where we learned a technique called “Fundamentals: Create three-dimensional forms with design lines only” (it just rolls off the tongue, eh?).

Essentially what this means is you sew up a muslin, draw design lines all over it, cut along these lines, then introduce snips of ease until the pieces lie flat, and there’s your new pattern! I did all this (based on a sheath dress from the June 2012 Burda magazine, which doesn’t appear to be on the US BurdaStyle, sorry) last summer, but then the project stalled when I couldn’t find any heavyweight stretch satin anywhere in Europe, and had to import this gorgeous salmon stretch duchesse from Gorgeous Fabrics.

Then there were further delays as I didn’t have a wide enough cutting table to lay out the asymmetric and strangely-shaped pieces, until a few weeks ago when the Thrifty Stitcher invited me to pow-wow at her studio and suddenly my swirl sheath dress was back on track!

Because all the darts from the original pattern (bar one) are now incorporated into a bunch of curved seams, this means there’s a lot of easing going on, so if you don’t like easing princess seams, for example, you really won’t like sewing this. My easing motto is “pin the crap out of it”, and I’m proud to say that I didn’t have any tucks or unpicking in any of these seams. Though I did use 58 pins on just the lower semi-circular seam!