Working with Velvet

Project: Long Robe commissioned by friend

Fabric: Wine coloured polyester velvet and 15cm pink fringing from House of Adorn, cotton lawn for lining from Spotlight

When my friend commissioned me to make this robe, she told me she used to think velvet was the height of sophistication when she was younger. It lead me to visions of 1920s Erte illustrations of beautiful women swathed in luxuriously draped garments whilst reclining on a chaise lounge. Indeed they looked effortless in their style, but I had somewhat of an idea that the making of such a garment would require a fair bit of effort.

Erte illustrations.

Velvet is not something I work with often. It can be a very tricky fabric, and has to be treated quite differently than other fabrics. Every seam can bring with it new challenges, and I found making samples along the way to be very useful. House of Adorn had a great range of high quality velvets and fringing and they were great to communicate with.

The reason why velvet can be so tricky to work with is mostly related to the pile. The pile is created in the weaving process when two pieces of velvet are woven at the same time joined by the pile, and then sliced through the middle to create the cut pile. Piles can be of varying lengths and velvet can be made from a number of natural and synthetic fibers. This velvet also had some stretch in it so I had to account for that at different stages.

Marked up pocket pieces on single layer of fabric.

One thing I had to work around was the fact that you can’t use too much heat or pressure when pressing velvet or you could crush the pile and leave shine marks. One way to press velvet is by using a needle board, I didn’t have one of those around so instead I used a large offcut of the same velvet plain velvet for the robe, and I covered my ironing board with it and used pins to hold it on the underside. In a way this works similarly to the needle board, so when pressing the piles should always sit on top of each other (right sides together) and provide support when pressing. Having done this, I still never applied full pressure when pressing, maybe only using the tip to open seams and steaming with the iron hovering over the fabric.

The other thing I had to work out was interfacing. I wanted to stiffen the collar section but fusible interfacings need full pressure to adhere to fabric. I would recommend a sew-in interfacing or in my case I used a stiff organza fabric. I secured it to the seam allowance at the front and back neck then sewed the full collar piece into the neckline. Matching notches from the collar and neckline also made sure I didn’t stretch the main fabric whilst I was sewing.

Collar lined with organza to stiffen instead of interfacing.

The pile proved difficult at a few stages. I realised that when I sewed against the pile it really didn’t work out. The fabric would jump around whilst being stitched and be almost impossible to sew in a straight line. Doing samples along the way where I could match the exact same way the pile was running and test out how it would sew, made it a lot easier and meant I didn’t leave stitching marks in the velvet which can get damaged after repeated stitching in one place.

One thing I did notice once I had the robe together, was that because the sleeves were quite dramatic and heavy, the shoulder seam was getting stretched out and not sitting where I had cut it to sit. One way to help those seams hold weight and not stretch out more over time, is to add cotton tapes. Before adding the lining to the robe, I steamed some cotton tape to pre-shrink it, then I used my pattern piece to measure out the tape to exactly the measurement of the shoulder line. I attached one end of the tape to the seam allowance at the neck line and the other to the seam allowance at the armhole. You can add stitches through the whole seam allowance, but you still want the movement to look somewhat free and not like its pulling anywhere.

Cotton tape securing shoulder line from stretching.

So to wrap up, here are my main tips when working with velvet:

  1. Decide which way you want the pile to go in your garment. Usually it feels nicer to have the soft pile running down the body, but you may prefer the way the light hits it going in the other direction. Whichever way you choose, always double check before you cut out your pattern.
  2. When you do cut it is much better to cut your pieces in a single layer. Cutting two pieces with the fabric right sides together will result in uneven cutting as the pile will move the fabric around as you cut. I know it takes way longer, but for large pieces especially it is worth it.
  3. Do lots of samples along the way. Velvet can be really sensitive and overstitching even a couple of times can leave marks and create holes.
  4. Don’t over press or over steam. It doesn’t take much for velvet to get shiny marks or a crushed pile from the iron. Use a needle board or press velvet pile to pile with limited steam or pressing.
  5. Use sew-in interfacing instead of fusible if needed.
  6. Test out the best finishes for your garment. I ended up doing a blind hem on the robe using my domestic and a stretch needle, but you could also hand stitch. Avoid topstitching or creating too much bulk with double fold hems.
  7. If your velvet starts to creep when sewing, baste your seams before sewing, check your stitch length isn’t too small, or try stitching in another direction.
Finished robe! I love how the light bounces off velvet.
My beautiful friend looking like a truely luxe and glamorous Erte babe in her new robe. Thank you Bon!

The (Over/Under) Fitted T-Shirt

Pattern: Tarlee T-shirt by Muna and Broad

Fabric: Long sleeve – Little Little knit stripe in burnt orange and grey. Short sleeve – Organic cotton jersey in black. Sleeveless – Cotton corded rib in forest.

I love a classic t-shirt. I like them loose, I like them tight. I like to layer them, I like to tie them in at the waist. The comfort level of an oversized t-shirt puts me in peak relaxation mode, and a tight fitted tee can make me feel super confident.

Oddly I haven’t made many t-shirts before, and maybe I had a sort of smug attitude when it came to making them; I thought it would be a walk in the park. I love the result, but I made some silly fitting decisions along the way that led to both an over and under fitted garment.

I decided to use the Muna and Broad Tarlee t-shirt as a base pattern to work from. I really liked the neckline and collar options offered in the Tarlee. There are options for a simple crew neck, a turtle neck, and a mock turtle. I went with the mock turtle neck just because I don’t always like the feeling of too much fabric bunching around my neck. I also wanted various sleeve options, so I did one long, one short, and winged a no sleeve crop top as well. I used 3 different knits all from Fibresmith online fabric store.

Looking at the fit of the Tarlee on different bodies, I determined I wanted a more fitted shape. With my measurements sitting over 3 different sizes, I rationalised that because I wanted a more fitted shape, I should start with the smallest of those sizes (size C) and make alterations from there. This is where my under fitting started, as I should have gone for the middle size and graded between the others.

I know now that I was not in the right headspace to alter patterns. I always try to come in to sewing with a clear and focused idea of what I want, but that can sometimes spiral into questioning every step that I make. When I took in through the side seams for the tighter fit I desired, I also played around with the armhole, thinking it too needed to come in. On any normal day, I would know never to alter the armhole unless absolutely necessary, so why did I do this now?

Reading Broad In The Seams latest blog I can see my experiences with fitting are shared, but not always with similar results.

I definitely think some level of fitting is necessary. We all have different features that we can be aware of and make allowances for when it calls for in a pattern. But sometimes they are simply unnecessary. Sometimes they are a result of over thinking; seeing others having to make adjustments and determining I have to do the same or the opposite also; not properly testing the pattern before/after making adjustments.

In this case, I would have benefited from toiling my alterations first, but I was in a bulk cutting zone and nothing was going to stop me! The final result is ok. I like the fit through the body and the mock neck is so good, but the armhole swings in too high on my shoulder.

The sleeveless top took a lot of changing for me to be happy with the fit. The rib knit fabric is pretty chunky and stretches out really easily, so that had to be taken in even further at the side seams. The armhole for this DID need work done, as an armhole with a sleeve is a very different shape to one without it, but I’m really happy with the result and my decision to crop. I’m entering a new faze of loving my exposed belly with high waisted pants, and maybe I need to give the same sort of acceptance and love towards my need to over fit and under toile sometimes.

Mending a Treasured Garment – My Gulp!! Knitted Cardigan

I have always had good intentions when it comes to mending my clothes. But just like my unfinished sewing projects, the follow through on my good intentions isn’t always a long lasting desire. Like many, I am easily distracted by the allure of new projects, fresh fabrics, and expanding my wardrobe and personal style, and sometimes I do that at the cost of strengthening what I already have. Particularly the items that I consider dear to me, that hold memories, and that evoke a certain emotional response when holding or wearing them.

Hows that for a label!

We are in lockdown here in Sydney, and it’s also about as cold as it gets right now (comparatively not very cold lol), and as a big home body I cling to everything that provides comfort and warmth right now. One of my most precious but also most worn winter garments, is my mum’s vintage knitted cardigan. The style gives off a very 80s silhouette with the oversized shape and the shall collar, with a very 70s colour palette. Warm tones of orange, red and yellow highlighted with blue, black and white in vivid zigzag patterns. The label shows a very unique brand name “Gulp!!” which I haven’t been able to find any info on. Mum bought it some 40 years ago in Jindabyne, the traditional land of the Ngarigo people, and a popular holiday destination in winter. I can see just how appealing a garment like this would have been in a setting like that, and I feel like it would have turned heads just as much as it does now.

I’ve worn it sooo much; at home on the couch, bogan glamour shopping in uggs, rolling in the grass with friends, and sitting around a campfires with hot chocolate. It has been brought out of winter storage every year with a glee that is unmatched. It’s pretty magical. It provides so much warmth and is so amazingly cozy. The oversized nature of it means I can wrap it around myself like a blanket. The collar acts like a scarf and the length is just right. Wearing it feels like the biggest most satisfying embrace of not only warmth but emotional comfort and support, which is why it is one of my most treasured garments. But after being on this planet longer than I have, it was in desperate need of some mending. There were many holes from broken threads and dropped stitches, and the longer I left them, the bigger they grew.

With the help of my recent book purchase – Visible Mending by Arounna Khounnoraj, I set about finding a method to mend my cardigan. The book is beautiful with both line drawings and coloured photos of the techniques used. I was able to find that duplicate stitch would allow me to mend the holes in a way that mimics the knitted stitch that is already there. Now I am not a knitter (yet!) so I also did some Youtube searches for video instructions I could follow along with and found these helpful resources for Swiss darning.

Creating a ladder over a hole before darning – https://pattylyons.com/2016/10/tuesday-tip-fix-hole-knitting/

Swiss darning –

It was actually a bit harder than it looks to get the hang of! I kept going in and out of the wrong loop at first couldn’t get the tension on the stitches quite right. I also didn’t know how to tidy up the holes, but through more research found how to do this and made my own little reel on my IG for that process.



Already this seems like a lot of work just to fill in a few holes, but I also felt such joy in the process. Like Khounnoraj says “Hand sewing makes me feel very connected to the piece I am working on”, and it’s so true. Spending time learning these new techniques has given me even more appreciation for the work that went into creating the cardigan and it has breathed new life into it, restoring the emotional connection and memories I have with it.

I only used yarn that I had on hand so sometimes the colour matches aren’t spot on, but this is how through mending you can stamp your own creativity into a garment. I have seen it written that ‘to repair is radical’ and I fully understand it now. You could take something that is mass produced in a fast fashion setting and not only extend its life but give it a uniqueness that sets it apart from every other garment. It should be just as meaningful (if not more) to put time and effort into restoring a treasured or well worn item, as it is to create or buy a new one.

Zero Waste Sewing – Pattern testing extended size of ZW Cropped Shirt

Pattern: Birgitta Helmersson ZW Cropped Shirt sz 2

Fabric: Black washer finish cotton from The Selvedge Society – 157cm wide

Buttons: Coconut shell buttons – KATM

I have been super intrigued by the idea of zero waste sewing for a while now. With each sewing project there has always inevitably been scraps, even if you try to be diligent when buying fabric for a pattern, most patterns will add that little bit extra to the fabric requirements anyway. I didn’t quite understand the joy that having to clean up zero scraps following a sewing project would bring. When literally every single piece of fabric has a purpose and a place, it feels like pattern magic.

I put my hand up to test the new added sizing (size 2) to the ZW cropped shirt. Cruising through the hashtag, there are mostly straight sized sewists in the top, and it seems difficult to know what the limits of the new sizing are. The pattern doesn’t necessarily recommend a certain amount of fit or ease that should come with the garment, only saying that the sizing will go up and down depending on the width of the fabric. It’s recommended that the size 2 tops out at a bust measurement of 128cm/50 inches, which isn’t extensive, and from the outset will exclude many sewists. Perhaps there is a solution that would include more sewists that uses the length of the fabric instead of the width and cut single layer instead of on the fold…IDK. This was why I also wanted to use the widest fabric I could access to test just how oversized this top could be. I used some black washer finish cotton which has a stiff finish that holds the shape quite nicely, but next time I might try something a bit softer. With the fabric at 157cm wide I think the finished top is a bit too oversized for me, but I’m hesitant to alter as that ruins the whole point of zero waste! Next time I would probably go for 145-150cm wide fabric and I still think it would have enough ease for my 118cm bust.

The marking out of the pattern was quite straight forward, I will say it made it much easier having a set square ruler to get those really accurate lines. I did however have little moments of confusion in the construction. There is a lot of information to process when reading through the instructions and so I gave myself time to read everything thoroughly. This doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes! I had to back track a little when I made the armhole too narrow for the sleeve band, and the triangle side inserts just didn’t make sense until the 5th read.

It’s all trackies and slippers these days at home!

Maybe my brain struggled a bit to think outside of regular pattern and construction methods. Another possibility may be that I am so used to being surrounded by scraps of fabric waste that I couldn’t see the bigger picture for what was a simple assembling of mostly rectangles. I’ve never been in a sewing workroom that doesn’t have scraps strewn across the floor, a clump of threads under chair legs, or a waste bin overflowing. Most patterns will also add that cautious extra 20cm just in case, and sometimes you are left with the oddest and most useless shaped cut out that there would be no use in keeping.

But zero waste patterns make for a very clean and intentionally thoughtful process, where every piece of that 1 metre fabric has a purpose and a place. I call it pattern magic, but it’s also just a really simple and satisfying concept to bring to clothes making.

The statistics on waste in the fashion industry are extreme. In terms of fabric consumption “About 15% of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor. This waste rate has been tolerated industry-wide for decades.” At home we have the ability to creatively repurpose our scraps, but for fashion companies profiting from mass production it’s impossible to see them making the necessary changes. More statistics on waste in the fashion industry on this page.

It’s worth saying that I was not paid for the pattern testing. This was the first time I’ve done pattern testing. I wanted to try the process before I made any judgement on what it would be worth. There was no request for social media posts, just a number of questions relating to the sewing instructions and the overall final fit. During the process I took detailed notes when I didn’t understand instructions and made suggestions of what might be said instead or added to improve the flow.  Whilst I enjoyed the pattern testing and realised that I am quite good at it, I will not be rushing into it as quickly as I did here. What I did was work, and I don’t work for free. I did find joy in learning the process of making a zero waste garment, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I was providing a service to a business that may well result in profit for them. Again these are my personal thoughts, I understand pattern testing can be undertaken for a number of reason, and under the right circumstances I will give it another go.

I commend Birgitta for dedicating serious brain power to this project and coming out with a super cool, zero waste garment at the end. I can only hope this will extend even further in sizing so that more sewists can experience the joy of a zero waste project. 

Calling All Small Fats

Another week, another set of patterns released without extended sizing. It’s been just over 2 years since the online community started calling out pattern companies for their serious lack of extended sizes. Many if not all of those companies resented the notion that they were being exclusionary, citing it as a lack of resources, knowledge, or demand. But we all know how that went, somewhere along the line many of them found the resources and did the work to extend their size range and opened up their products to an eagerly awaiting community of makers. Just last week By Hand London announced all future pattern releases and updates of older patterns will come in a larger size range UK 16-38. It seems like there are new standards that pattern companies are being held to, which makes me wonder why new companies are still choosing to exclude fat people with limited sizing? 

To be clear, I classify myself as a small fat. The chart below gives you a short idea of what I mean when I say that, but in Australian terms I wear a size 16, 18 or 20 in ready to wear clothing. For more information I’d recommend looking at the ‘fat spectrum’ highlights of @jordallenhall on instagram here. Oh and incase you haven’t noticed by now, I am very comfortable with the use of the word fat. If this doesn’t sit right with you, maybe you should analyse the kind of negativity you place on fatness.

Image from https://fluffykittenparty.com/2019/10/05/fategories-understanding-smallfat-fragility-the-fat-spectrum/

For paper patterns my sizing is very different from company to company. Often I am able to fit into the very top range of sizes offered by companies that don’t offer extended sizing, but sometimes one of my measurements (usually my ‘don’t lie’ hips) will push me out of the size range completely. At the beginning of my sewing with patterns journey I simply accepted this and thought it was ok that I fell just out of the sizing range, knowing I’d be able to grade my measurements and redraw the lines to fit me. Never did I think this was an extra step that many other people did not have to take in their sewing journey. And it took me a while to acknowledge that this process would be very difficult if impossible for people fatter than me and they were being completely excluded from the process. And this is where my small fat privilege had a bright light shone on it. I think as small fats it’s easy to get caught between the straight size and plus size worlds, but make no mistake, the word fat is there for a reason. And what I experience on a micro level, people fatter than me will experience on a macro level. Not to mention if their fatness is also intersectionally layered with experiences of being BIPOC, disabled, elderly, or LGBTQIA+.

Buying from size exclusionary pattern companies always left a taste of bland satisfaction in my mouth. And yet I STILL sent my dollars their way in some vain attempt to feel like I was part of them, and in a misguided thought that they were truly providing their product for me.

The truth is they weren’t. They decided who their customer was long before they released their product, and it was not me or anybody fatter than me! It was their and my inner fatphobia at work telling me that I should be thankful for being somewhat included, and offering extended sizes from the launch of their pattern was just too difficult to accomodate. Or perhaps, however unintentional their decision was, they just didn’t want to see their patterns on bodies that they deemed too fat. And that’s just not good enough anymore. One of the main reasons fat people turn to sewing is because there are no more options for them to clothe themselves. It is often the first time that we are able to cultivate a style that is truly unique to us. The market is there and ready, and yet we are still going through the measurement chart and realising it doesn’t come in our size. That’s why there is still a need for pressure to be applied and fat voices to be amplified, because the damage is already done when excuses are made for not being inclusive.

I believe many small fats and straight sized people need to acknowledge the part they can play in pushing for size inclusivity. I also understand that inclusivity will never truly mean everyone will be included or provided for. But in highlighting the voices of those more marginalised than us can we unlock experiences that have never been factored in before. The train is slow, but the wheels are turning!

It is no longer enough for me to accept that only parts of my body and only some of my measurements are deemed acceptable by pattern companies, so I no longer grade patterns if the company does not provide a line for me to grade to. But I also know that I have the ability to push back in other ways, and this is what I call my fellow small fats and also straight sized people to do if they can.

1. Don’t buy patterns that don’t come in your size. It seems basic and yet I still did it for some time. Remember, they don’t want you, so why should you give them your dollars!

2. Sit with and evaluate your privilege. Acknowledge where you sit on the scale, don’t discount your experiences, just think how they factor into a larger narrative of experiences.

3. Question pattern companies that don’t have extended sizing. Ask them if they intend to extend their patterns and do they have a timeline in which they hope to achieve it.

4. Do your research. There is a wealth of content and creators that already exist who have worked hard to define and call out fatphobia and how it is intersectional. For more nuanced explanations of these experiences please look into the work of people such as Ijeoma Oluo, @fatangryblackgirl, @chairbreaker, and podcasts like this between Roxane Gay and Nicole Byers, or from an Australian Indigenous perspective this episode from AJ and Ginny in Unapologetically Blak, also the entire podcast series Maintenance Phase.

5. Amplify the voices and images of those that are fatter than you. Share, re-post and support them in making a stand.

I realise that none of this information is hugely revolutionary, but maybe the story resonates with some people, and maybe you’ve already set up some of your own ways to manage anti-fat bias that exists in the sewing community and beyond. What are some of the strategies that you use when faced with anti-fatness? Is there anyone else whose voice you’d add to the list of varied fat experiences? Let me know!

Me Made May 2021 – Why I’m not pledging

May is almost here, and I’m girding my loins for the onslaught of posts related to the Me Made May sewing challenge. Last year I was still quite new to the me made community, so I posted pretty much as normal, I didn’t set a pledge, but I did post a few times when I wore my me mades. It was nice to feel like I was participating in something, but I also felt a little overwhelmed by the daily mass posting of images and content. I began to question if my participation was worthy enough, and maybe I should be setting myself a greater challenge. Maybe I should post everyday and try to make everyday and try to push myself to the limits of what I can achieve. This was a challenge after all so I should be trying to challenge myself right?

Beginning my me made journey in 2020

This time last year was pretty manic for me and many others. Covid had put an indefinite hold on my job, and there was extreme uncertainty of what was to come. I work freelance, and often I’m employed as a costume maker, sitting at a sewing machine for upwards of 10 hours a day. There are deadlines, and you have to work efficiently but also neatly. It can be truly exhausting work. When that work was abruptly halted leaving a void of time and energy, I needed to recalibrate and relearn how to sew in a way that supported me mentally and physically. I learnt that if I was going to sew for myself, I had to remove all pressure to perform. There’s no clock counting down how long a task is taking me, I have some relaxing lo-fi beats playing, I have a steaming cup of tea (that may turn cold from neglect), and a scented candle flickering away. I still set myself small daily tasks and goals, but I truly assess if they are manageable and I leave a wide amount of buffer time in case things don’t go as planned (which happens a lot!). 

I think at any stage of the self made wardrobe journey it is possible to have feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings of disappointment in your own progress, it’s more than easy to be incredibly critical of ourselves. I am also slowly learning to engage with the voice in my head that loves to self-criticise. She’s still there, but I’m learning how to balance what she is saying with self love.

Hands on hips confidence!

Perhaps this is why I’m not going to make a pledge for MMMay. My job is already a sewing challenge EVERYDAY, so it makes sense why I don’t want to join another one. But it’s also because I have carved out an idea for what I want my me made experience to be, and for now I will be sticking to it. One thing that is clear about MMMay is that it is not a challenge with one objective or goal under its banner, we all have the ability to set our own challenge or pledge unique to our circumstances and me made journey. Try to be specific and generous with your pledge, and know that it is more than ok if you don’t meet the challenge you set yourself. No one is going to come after you for not sewing or posting! It is not mandatory to post photos or content everyday, nor is it mandatory to increase your usual rate of sewing.

I definitely understand that this challenge means different things to different people, and in many circumstances it will benefit makers in their process, not just to sew but to understand how to better work their me mades into their daily wardrobe. It encourages experimentation and allows us to focus in on what we have made so far, where there are gaps, and also the pieces we don’t reach for so much. Perhaps this is a time to remake a tried and true pattern in a new fabric. Maybe it’s a time to slot in an alteration or mending of an old garment in between every new make. Maybe it’s an opportunity for you to celebrate and uplift other makers on their journey and let them know if they’ve inspired you in some way. I plan to be following and using the #mmmay and #mmmayfat and supporting my fellow makers, but continuing to post as per usual.  

So what are your plans for Me Made May? Have you made a pledge? Or are you going rogue like me or doing a MMMay lite version? What’s your thoughts on sewing challenges?

Shirt Making

Pattern: Cornell Shirt by Elbe Textiles, View B, Size H

Fabric: Green white/blue check cotton/linen from The Fabric Store

Notions: Rasant 120 thread, 1.2cm clear buttons from All Buttons Great and Small

Tools: Point turner, sleeve board, pressing ham, clapper.

I really enjoy shirt making. Something about nailing an even collar shape, perfect topstitching, and getting the buttonhole right in one go is extremely satisfying for me. Having said that, it almost never turns out exactly perfect, and this shirt had me taking a lot of breaks when I was frustrated or couldn’t quite see the best option.

I chose this cotton/linen check from the Fabric Store in the really bright pale green. The fabric has a really nice weight for shirts and doesn’t crease up as much as linen. I’m not usually big on prints but I do love checks (maybe it’s my Scottish heritage), but this does mean pattern matching if you want a really shmick look and for this one, I was going SCHMICK. Pattern matching does slow down the process at nearly every stage of making, so I was prepared this might be a longer make than usual.

I decided to do some initial alterations to the pattern. I added 5cm length to the body, shortened the cuff to about 2.5cm, and shortened the sleeves by 2cm. It was very difficult to see how long the sleeve would be without toiling the whole shirt first. I’ve made cuffed shirts before where it wasn’t a big deal if the sleeve was a little long because I’d be rolling them up most of the time anyway. But this shirt I wanted to have the fit right with the sleeves down and buttoned at the cuff. I ended up having to take out an extra 8cm from the sleeve! I took some from the cuff, some from the sleeve head, and ended up taking a tuck through the sleeve as well which doesn’t look great and definitely takes away from the schmickness. But these are the lessons I learn for not toiling! For future use I will probably size down and remeasure along the shoulder seam and sleeve length to get a more accurate fit.

When I altered the sleeve head/armhole, I also had to take in at the shoulder slightly. It was very clear that I was gathering the armhole slightly to fit the sleeve in place and it looked like an oddly puffy mess! No amount of steaming would reverse this error, so I had to take in the shoulder so no gathering would occur.

Redrawn shoulder line to take in armhole
My puffy armhole!

When cutting out the pattern and attempting to pattern match the fabric I found it easier to cut one piece, like the shirt front and lay it directly next to the back piece, folding back the paper pattern and making sure the check lines match at the side. When sewing and pattern matching it can be quite a process as well depending on the print. When sewing this check, I matched the lines and cross pined (put one pin on the warp grain and one on the weft grain making a cross with the pins), and sewed right up to the pins before removing carefully. 

Pattern matching at the side seam.
Mark out pattern on the paper to make magic disappearing pockets!

I was also keen to pattern match the pockets on the front, as I’ve seen Cornell’s with this feature and think it’s magic when the pocket disappears into the pattern! To get the pocket print to line up exactly I marked the position of the pocket on the shirt front fabric. I then placed the paper pocket pattern piece (!) over the fabric and drew the check pattern on the paper. This makes it easy to cut these small pattern pieces from scraps, which is what I had to do. 

I used a lightweight fusible interfacing and only applied it to one side of the collar and cuffs. I always do some tests with interfacing on scrap fabric just to see how it will feel under multiple layers. I also knew this shirt had more of a casual feel so too much stiffness was unnecessary. 

Basting stitch allows for easier and more accurate pressing.

Elbe Textiles had some really great tips and tricks in the instructions to follow and test out along the way. Shirt making is really aided by accurate pressing at every step of the process. Doing a basting line of stitching at the hems really helps to get an accurate and even press line. This also makes it easier to topstitch in places like the cuffs, button stand and collar.

This make definitely forced me to slow down at a few points and step away for a broader look at all my options. But I was glad I took the time to make the necessary alterations for a better fit. This shirt is definitely a bold colour and print choice for me but I’m so excited to introduce more pieces like this to my wardrobe.

My top tips for shirt making:

  • Take your time! There is nothing better than having that perfectly schmick finish to a shirt because you allowed the time for clean finishes like topstitching and button holes.
  • Tools are your friends. A point turner for perfect collar points or bagged out cuffs, pressing tools (sleeve board, ham, clapper) for shape or flatness.
  • Pressing is essential. In many cases you cannot continue to the next step without a crisp press. This also helps settle the stitching into the fabric.
  • When unsure, re-read the instructions multiple times. Like in the Cornell, pattern makers usually work hard to make instructions understandable and extremely detailed. If it’s still not making sense, Youtube!
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or look right in the process, don’t be afraid to undo it and try it again. Redoing is not failing.

It’s Not Working…

Project: Light robe jacket

Pattern: Started with Peppermint Robe Jacket size D

Fabric: 5oz linen/cotton chambray mid blue from The Fabric Store

At what point of a sewing project do you know it’s not working? You have the fabric, the pattern, and you know exactly what you want to do with them, but as you are putting it together, you realise something just isn’t right.

At the beginning of each project I usually write down “an intention”. Something that gets to the heart of what this make will be, whether it’s testing out a new pattern, or filling a gap in my wardrobe, it’s something I can come back to if I get lost. The intention I wrote for this project was “to make a light layer to wear over long sleeves in winter, or layer in summer for coverage”…sounds simple enough!

Then I came up with the really cool idea; What if I made the jacket reversible? I thought it would be really great to have a dark and light tone layer to choose from, and two jackets are better than one right? I had two blue tone fabrics and the pattern from Peppermint magazine and I began cutting with fervour! I cut and constructed the jackets up to the point of joining them. I laid them one inside the other, put it on and looked in the mirror. I squinted at the reflection staring back. This was just not working…It was not what I wanted.

The jacket was heavy from the two layers, the shape of the pattern also wasn’t right, and I saw right then how far I had drifted away from my original intention with one little idea. I had over thought what was in essence a very simple project, and I knew in my gut it wouldn’t be something I’d reach for. Feeling annoyed, I left the jacket for the day.   

It was easy to be hard on myself and overly critical in the moment, but with some time away from the project my frustration eased. It’s not always the case that these projects can be saved, and indeed at this point many end up in the “unfinished outfits” pile. But that does not mean they are FAILS. When I first learnt to sew, nearly all my projects went to the “unfinished outfits” pile. It’s HARD! And it’s easy to lose focus.

That’s when I returned to my original intention and it was like the clouds in my brain cleared, and I knew what I had to do to get back on track.

So satisfying!

I separated the layers and chose only to work with the top light chambray. I cropped the jacket taking off about 15cm from the bodice hem and 10cm from the sleeve hem and straightened the lines. This gave it a much more square and structured feel. I decided to make the collar more of a simple bind 1.5cm wide, topstitched in place. I’m not a huge fan of overlocking seams, especially if there is a chance they may be seen, so I used some left over bias binding and did a Hong Kong finish over the seam allowances together.

There was a junction where all the bias bound seams met that I found really satisfying to look at! I made a small patch pocket and added it to the front on one side.

What I ended up with was very different to the original pattern, but it completely fulfilled my original intention. I’m so happy with this simple addition to my wardrobe and I know it will become a well worn item.


To Toile or Not To Toile

Pattern – McCall’s 7969 size XXL

Fabric – Double cloth “Earth” from Spotlight, calico for toile

Notions – Rasant 120, clothing label

Definitions – Toile: make a test garment in a similar fabric to evaluate fit.

Look, I’ll start by saying, I rarely toile. If I have fabric and a pattern in mind, I’ll usually jump right in and start cutting and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I can make alterations on the fly, and sometimes I’ve just got to live with what I cut.

But I want to get out of that habit. I feel like patterns can only start to become tried and true (TNT) when I know they suit my style, they can be made up in the fabrics that I like to wear, and when all alterations have been made for the desired fit.

So when I fell into the sea of gorgeously gathered balloon sleeves on the #M7969 pattern, I knew I wanted to take my time to get it right. So here is a run through on how I toiled and made alterations to the pattern.

I toiled in calico, which is pretty standard. It was close enough if a little stiffer than my main fabric but did the job. Sometimes washing and machine drying calico can soften it up if that is what’s needed.

I realised I would only need to toile the top half of the garment so I only worked with the bodice and sleeve pieces. Often when toiling I will only make up one half of the garment, especially if I’m only fitting to a mannequin. I went into auto mode and only cut one sleeve and bodice…lol this was just not going to work with this pattern!

Looking at some of the alterations that folk my size made, I had an idea where alterations would need to be made. I marked out the pattern quickly in pencil and added extra seam allowance (SA) to the waist, the side seam, and the raglan armhole on the bodice and the sleeve. I wrote on the pattern how much SA was there in total so I wouldn’t lose track. On refection I probably didn’t need to add so much, but it’s one of those things that is a bit awkward to add or guess if you don’t have it!

I used a contrasting thread on a long stitch to mark the waist and centre front. You can do this with any visible design lines like hems, necklines, or cuffs as well to give you a better idea of the finished length.

I like to sew my toiles using a long stitch so they are easier to unpick (or rip open!) on the go if need be.

I decided to do some tests on each sleeve to see how different the gathers on the sleeve head and cuff would sit if I used a longer or shorter stitch length. The longer stitch length created larger tucks which made a slightly rounder, higher puff. The shorter stitch length made smaller, more delicate gathers that sat slightly flatter and were easier to disperse more evenly.

Long stitch gathers and wider opening at wrist
Small stitch gathers and tighter at wrist

The pattern called for a wider opening on the sleeve cuff, but again after testing on each side I pulled the gathers in tighter for a more fitted and extra balloony shape.

When trying on I noticed that the front neckline was gapping. Although the pattern calls for the bias bind to be pulled tightly over the finished neckline which would help, it is often the case with low or crossed front necklines that they need to be tightened for a better fit. I pinched out a dart on both sides and saw how it felt. Taking it back to the pattern I averaged the amount from both darts and dispersed the amount along the front and back armhole and sleeve head, folding back to create a new seam line.

Gap dart at neckline marked in after altering on body.

I also ended up lowering the waist by about 1cm all around. On reflection I could have just done this at the front, as the back seems to sit a bit lower, but I think I’ll live with this one!

And then…it was time to cut! This terracotta/earth tone is something I’ve been wanting to push myself to try as my comfort zone colour is usually anything blue. But I love it! The double cloth was also something I’d never worked with before. Doing some pressing tests it didn’t take much to over press the fabric and have it lose its bubbled texture. So I recommend gentle steaming without putting the full weight of the iron on the fabric.

I don’t have that many dresses in my wardrobe so I was excited to add one that I absolutely love now. It had it’s first outing at a birthday picnic last weekend, and was the floaty dream I had hoped it would be.

My top tips for toiling:

  • Use a similar fabric to what you will eventually cut or even one you could make a wearable toile from
  • Mark out design lines for easy reference
  • Use a longer stitch length to make it easier to make quick alterations
  • Add extra seam allowance where you think you might need it
  • Write notes as you go so you don’t forget, I write mine on my toile sometimes!
  • Try out different techniques or finishes on each side if you aren’t sure about the way it looks
  • Wear the undergarments you would normally wear with the finished garment when trying on your toile. I usually go bra free when I’m sewing at home but that would make a very different fit and look!
  • Keep toiles for recycling into other toiles or test garments

Would love your thoughts on this very first Cloth & Roll blog post and whether you toile or throw all caution to the wind when making! Checkout my insta for further videos of the process. If you have any questions as well please don’t hesitate to ask.

Oh and yes that is Frank N. Furter in the portrait looking over my shoulder!

Oh Hi!

Welcome to Cloth & Roll the space where I plan to lay bare all my trials and tribulations, when it comes to creative work, in particular sewing. This blog was started as a continuation of my exploration into my own personal style, sewing and construction techniques, and rolling with the mistakes I make along the way.

Confession…I only started sewing for myself about a year ago.

I’ve been sewing professionally for a few years now as a costumer for film, television, and theatre. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to sew for myself, but after a long working week sitting behind a sewing machine (for 50 hours +), fitting, measuring, and altering other people in costumes, I could hardly even move from the couch.

So I had to wait for the right time and learn and listen to when my body was ready, to begin sewing for myself. 

The truth is I was unwilling and afraid to approach making for my non-straight sized body. I had all the skills to create the correct fit, but I was still relying on fast fashion and designers who did more oversized shapes that I could easily buy. I wasn’t carving out a style that was uniquely me, and I’m still learning what that is.

Finding a community of makers that looked like me, seeing their confidence and style gave me the fuel I needed to start experimenting and making.

I want to now continue the conversations and questions that always arise in creative work and explore why we love it. I also did a blog for Fat Sewing Club where I look into how learning to fit and meditate on my body helped my process. Have a read!

So I’ll try to keep this sort of regular as possible, and feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want to chat about making.