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Minimum Viable Dress (and speed sewing tips!)

28 August 2014, 11:58

In the tech industry, there’s a term “Minimum Viable Product”, which means the absolute minimum you can do to get code out the door. It’s not your best work, but it works.

Like half of London, we had tickets to see Secret Cinema’s performance and screening of the first Back to the Future film, where they recreated the entire 1955 town of Hill Valley, California, complete with about 20 business, the clock tower, full fun fair, a cast of hundreds of actors, you name it. We were also all asked to assume an identity (I was “Tiffany Hyslop, developer!”) and dress in 1955 styles. Now, I’ve only got one 1950s dress pattern (which I made into that Porsche dress a few years back) but it’s too big in the bodice now and would require too much work.

So instead, I picked a modern dress with a 1950s feel – the Simplicity Cynthia Rowley pattern (1873) which I had already made in fuchsia and really liked the fit of.

The pink version was the wrong colour for the 1950s and definitely too short, so I bought some striped cotton poplin from Minerva that had the right vibe, and figured it’d be close enough.

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My "Brazilliant" red Brasilia Dress

25 February 2014, 11:12

I’ve been wanting to make Rachel’s free Brasilia Dress pattern since she released it on Christmas Day, and I finally got the kick I needed, in the form of a big opportunity – ten days ago I was asked to speak at the House of Commons about a new stem cell bill! So of course I needed a new dress, and I figured the red stretch cotton sateen in my stash would be perfect, both for confidence and the connotation with blood.

The pattern is only available in one size (Rachel‘s), but through an extreme act of coincidence, I match her bust, waist, and hips almost exactly, only differing by a centimeter or two. Our lengths, however, are another matter entirely, so I jotted down mine for comparison on the size chart provided:

I was a bit confused as to whether I should adapt the pattern based on the given body measurements or the finished measurements (as there’s a big difference in the lengths between them), so I ended up measuring the pattern myself (which was somewhere between the two given sets) and made this match my lengths.

In the end, I removed 5cm above the waist, added 1cm between the waist and hips, and lowered the front neckline by 7cm (this latter change was just a personal style choice). My bust point was exactly the same placement as on the pattern, though in future I’d shorten the darts so they end an inch or two below the bust rather than right at the apex.

Can you believe this red stretch cotton sateen has been in my stash since 2010? What was I thinking not using it until now?! It really is cherry red and not fuchsia like in these photos, also! The only problem with stretch cotton sateen is that it shows way more wrinkles in photos than it ever does in real like! In reality, this might possibly be the best fitting sheath dress I own.

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Peach flip-turned top and slim brown trousers

19 April 2012, 14:08

In addition to my exercise gear you saw yesterday, I actually made another top and trousers the weekend I got back from Montreal! Since I wasn’t in a fit state for a photoshoot until now, I kinda feel like I’m clearing out the cobwebs here…

This top is another “Flip turned for a draped effect” top from Pattern Magic 2 (drafted on my Morley College course!), this time using the tulip sleeves from Jalie 2806 for a more Spring/Summer look. This is the third time I’ve used these tulip sleeves and I really love the look and love wearing them – they really make a top much more special than just your average short sleeve! I used a lovely orange marl viscose jersey from Tia Knight here that’s just sooooo soft and lovely to wear! Hurrah for an impulse purchase!

The trousers are from the March Burda magazine (#126), using some stretch cotton sateen I bought at Tissues Dreyfus in Paris last month. It looked black in the dark lighting of the shop, but I got it home to realise it’s actually dark brown, which was fairly annoying, as I wouldn’t have bought 3m of brown had I known!

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Christmas Present - Dr Who waistcoat

28 December 2011, 13:26

I didn’t get much of a chance to sew many Christmas presents this year, but James and I have been plotting and planning to sew a Dr Who waistcoat (“vest” in America) for his nephew for about three months now. It was all triggered by seeing this Tardamask fabric on Spoonflower, which is the exact same print as a Threadless tee James owns that little Rory went mental for when he saw James wearing it!

So we ordered the fabric months ago, then got his mum to take some measurements for us, and with that, I sifted through my patterns archive and found I’ve only got one waistcoat pattern for boys, from an old Knippie (KnipMode’s kids pattern magazine):

As you can tell by the line drawing, though, I did quite a bit of manipulation before I started sewing. I wanted to minimise the seamlines and thus, disruption to the print, so I taped the pieces together and eliminated the front pockets so the only seams are at the shoulders and sides. I wanted to make the entire thing from the Tardamask print, but I ran out of length inside, necessitating a horizontal seam in the lower front.

But ah-ha! I turned that seam into a feature by putting in some inseam pockets, just perfect for storing action figures or treasures or whatever it is little boys put in their pockets these day.

In any case, Rory loved his waistcoat! He’s 7, and the biggest Dr Who fan ever, so we were excited to see his reaction on Christmas. Little did we know that he’d turn up in a full suit and hat (it was under the tree for him earlier that day), which complimented the waistcoat perfectly!

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Dark green sateen Clover trousers

10 November 2011, 13:55

As I mentioned earlier this week, I bought the new Colette Patterns Clover trouser pattern and I just had to try it right away!

There’s only four pattern pieces (five if you count the pockets) so this is about as simple as trousers get, and Colette have rated this as for Beginners, too. My first step was to make up a quick muslin in some super cheap stretch viscose I had on hand, but I hadn’t realised that the stretch was lengthwise until midway throgh cutting it, meaning there’d be no stretch around the body.

And you know what? These trousers still fit like a dream, with zero fitting wrinkles! I kid you not! It’s like Sarai came and measured me in my sleep or something (really, that’s bordering on creepy right there!). The only alteration I made with this final version was to add 2” to the leg length at the indicated line. Otherwise View A (the longer length) were still above my ankle bone when unhemmed. I’m not sure what height Colette drafts for, but I usually have to lengthen Burda trousers, too (but not Knip!) so I’d guess it’s around the 5’6” range.

I’m happy to say that this version in a nicer (but not terribly much more expensive) fabric fit just as well around the waist and hips, and are now the perfect length, too!

Even Bosco couldn’t resist coming along to rub up against them!

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The Burda trench jacket

15 September 2011, 14:11

I’m so pleased to finally show you the first piece from my Fall 2011 sewing aspirations – the trench jacket!

As you recall, I was restricted in my pattern choice since I bought the last 2.5 yards of this waterproof gabardine from Mood when we were in NYC last Fall, but in the end I settled on Burda 02-2009-112. The gabardine feels great – it’s not coated with anything and it doesn’t feel plasticky – it’s just that the weave is so tight that water beads on it! Perfect for London!

This is a Burda Petite pattern, but the only change I needed to make to the muslin was to lengthen the sleeves! I’ve been busy sewing this in tiny increments over the past few weeks because I’ve been so busy, and you can see that we had to squeeze in this photoshoot after work, too!

I really love the overall shape of this totally curvy jacket, but I especially love the pleated back vent, which was surprisingly very easy to sew! I cut the same pieces in the lining, and I cleverly waited to sew the diagonal topstitching to keep the folds in place until after the lining was in so the two layers stay together nicely.

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The John Deere shirt

22 August 2011, 14:10

So following on from my high class, designer escapades last week, I’ve now got something a little more, err, salt of the earth to show you. I’ve taken to calling this the “Appalachian Wedding Shirt” (and being from Perry County, PA, I’m allowed to say that!), but it’s also a gift of a gift, and I love when I can do that.

The (officially licensed!) John Deere quilting cotton was a gift from my friend Sharon, who bought it at her local Amish fabric store and presented it as a gag gift in my stack of fabrics that made up our wedding gift. John Deere is a completely unknown brand amongst my circle of friends in central London, but we knew our friend Simon would love this, and he travels all around the world on business so we knew it’d get seen a lot, too.

I paired this with Simplicity 5273 (now Out Of Print), which I’ve made many, many times for James in various guises and it’s my go-to pattern for a quick and easy button-down casual shirt for him.

You may remember Simon from the quickest pirate coat ever (and yes, he still wears it!). But this shirt has been a mental project for almost a year now, since Simon was overheard at our wedding complaining to other friends how “it’s not fair that James just picks out any fabric he wants and Melissa makes it into a shirt for him!”. ha! So we thought this would be perfect for him…

James’s first reaction when he saw the finished shirt was “It’s horrible! Simon will love it!”.


(Apologies for the mobile phone photos!)

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A functional KitchenAid mixer cover

19 July 2011, 14:49

Back in March, I joined the ranks of the middle class aspirational home cooks when James bought me a KitchenAid mixer for my birthday. I asked for (and received!) yes, a white one, because, while I like the red ones, they’re totally not worth £100 more just for the colour! Anyway, we were finally able to rearrange our tiny galley space to accommodate it so I finally broke it out of the box to make macarons last weekend.

The macarons were a resounding success (I also discovered the sole thing on earth that’s tastier than macarons – macaron batter!), but the only storage space for the mixer is out in the open, so I needed to sew a cover for it, lest I have to wash the dust off it every time I want to use it!

I was feeling supremely lazy, so rather than measure it myself, I just used the
tutorial and pattern here to sew up a really quick cover.

I made a few changes from the above site, though, the main being that mine is not quilted (it’s not like the mixer needs to stay warm!), and mine has a seam at the top since my print is directional and I didn’t want upside-down people on one side.

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A plum tulip top and seamed silver trousers

12 April 2011, 12:47

I’m finally over my post-wardrobe exhaustion and able to sew again, so I carried on with my March mini-wardrobe plans and made the seamed trousers from KnipMode Oct 2010 (#8):

(hmm, why are they covering the waistband in their only magazine photo?)

I also thought I was due a “quick knit top” so I pulled out Jalie 2806 (a gift from LynnRowe on PR!) so I could try out those fantastic tulip sleeves, with the thought of maybe using them on the spring/summer version of my Burda September cover dress

I had just enough of Ditto‘s wonderfully soft and supple plum bamboo/lycra jersey leftover from my plum and green lace top for this, so it was clearly meant to be! For the trousers I used the same Fabric.com stretch twill as in my navy riding trousers, though in different lights this goes from looking pale grey (nice!) to baby blue (not so nice!). But the combo of pale trousers and dark top feels very Spring-like to me.

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Rose and lace teeshirt

2 December 2010, 13:11

It’s absolutely freezing in London and I really need more long-sleeved knits, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use this pattern from KnipMode Dec 2005 with a yard of rose jersey from Fabric.com and some of my gorgeous cream stretch lace that I bought in Paris. Et voila! A raglan-look lacey long sleeved teeshirt (Lace but without the Brrrrrr!).

This is a really basic long-sleeved teeshirt pattern, but with lines drawn in from the neckline to the side seams on the front and back. I left off the weird cuffs (in fact, I just reused the sleeve from my drape-front dress because I’m lazy like that and don’t see the point in tracing an identical sleeve again!), and decided to create my own neck binding which I serged on and then coverstitched down.

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KnipMode blue draped collar dress

22 November 2010, 13:08

As you read last week, I was so inspired by the December KnipMode issue that the day after I received it, I traced out dress #11, the following night bought the navy blue cotton lycra jersey and cut out the fabric, and then sewed this dress last Saturday!

This dress has got some really unique construction – the two front skirt pieces meet at the centre front to form a collar, which then goes up and around your head and comes back down to join the centre front again. Everything is sewed together, though, so there’s no chance of gaping!

The other great thing about this dress is that they’ve chosen this pattern to have the big, illustrated instructions for this issue! So you really only need to sew the shoulder seams and centre back (if you didn’t cut it on the fold like me), follow their illustrations for that really unique scarf collar, waist, neckline, and centre front, and then after the illustrations attach the sleeves, sew the side seams, and do the hems! So what could’ve been a really complicated pattern is actually made fairly straightforward. Yay! Thanks, Knip! (You can download those big illustration in colour pdfs on Knip’s site, too!)

The bad weather and early nights may have kept me from taking photos of me in the dress earlier, but we had a mammoth photoshoot session yesterday so there’s lots to show!

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Quick and summery dotted top

1 November 2010, 13:51

Did you guess which knit top was my first off the starting block? Well, it’s not an obvious choice, but I already had KnipMode July 2010 #4 (upper left corner, in purple) traced out so it was easy to just grab it and go.

The dotty cotton/lycra knit fabric was an add-on from Chawla’s to get the minimum order value while I was buying the flannel underlining for my wedding gown. I bought one metre of it for £3.85 so this was a ridiculously cheap blouse, even for high street standards!

There’s a slight change from the tech drawing though – there’s a CF (centre front) seam on the band that’s not noted. It means the band and facing are cut on the fold so there’s no understitching, but the trade-off is that you get that seam.

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Honeymoon Lingerie - nightgown muslin

10 August 2010, 14:10

True confessions – I took a brief break from the wedding gown. I don’t deal well with long projects and I was getting really itchy to complete something (I didn’t have any completed projects in July because of the gown, aaaaagghh!).

So I took one evening out to do a test run of one of the patterns I’d earmarked for honeymoon lingerie and Shasha’s Malaysian silks, Burda 7418 (on the right in my earlier image below):

This is a brand-new Burda envelope pattern, but I just went and bought the pdf version instead because a) I’m impatient, b) the pdf patterns are way cheaper than the paper versions (we have a laser printer and printer paper is cheap!), c) piecing together pdf patterns takes only 5 minutes longer than tracing a paper pattern and I can do it sitting down, and d) no seam allowances, woooooooop!

This was my first downloadable pattern from the German Burda site, and I was pleased to find that the instructions were in nine languages, with fully illustrated instructions. I was expecting it to just be in German! But do pay attention to the print preview, though, because you may not need to print the last ten pages or so (the English instructions only take up a few pages). The only weird thing is that they decided to waste some paper giving us two side panel pattern pieces (one to be cut in lace and the other in self-fabric) and the two pieces are absolutely identical. Weird.

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Black Beignet skirt and a bias cowl top

23 June 2010, 13:56

It feels like I’ve been talking about sewing the Colette Patterns Beignet skirt for ages now, but it’s mostly because I’ve just been so busy with life (running, socialising, wedding planning, the boat, and my garden, mostly) right now that I’ve been sewing in tiny increments here and there! But it’s finally complete, and I even managed to sew up the bias cowl top from Patrones 292 (#19) to wear with it!

Even though these go so well together, I’ve actually got no shortage of other things in my wardrobe to wear with either, so there’s no “orphan coordinates” here! And I managed to sneak some mustard and navy into my wardrobe a bit earlier than I’d planned, too!

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Springtime Heidi dress

30 April 2010, 13:59

I’ve been doing so many bits and pieces over the last fortnight, between making and fitting the bridesmaids’ dresses, doing some experimental pattern drafting, and a huge amount of gardening that it feels like I started sewing BurdaStyle’s Heidi dress months ago! It really didn’t take very long to sew at all, it was more that I was doing in in small chunks around everything else that made it last so long from start to finish!

I bought this brushed cotton fabric in Brighton last June for (a rather expensive for me) £10/m, but I liked the print too much to care. I also lined this with a silk/cotton voile from Goldhawk Road which makes it really airy and lightweight for spring and summer.

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IKEA print Alexander dress

2 April 2010, 13:47

As soon as I saw BurdaStyle’s “Alexander” blouse I feel in love with the floaty gathered sleeves and the retro-styling, but I also knew this blouse was meant to be a dress!

I had some pretty IKEA “Josefin” fabric in my stash since last June that I’d bought for £3.99/m and was just waiting for the perfect pattern to come along. This seemed like a great match, and as a bonus, I probably only used a little over 2m of the 3 I bought here, so there’s enough left over for something else, too.

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Vintage flowered Alexander blouse

1 April 2010, 16:56

Before I jumped in with both feet in my quest to turn BurdaStyle’s “Alexander” blouse into a dress, I thought it wise to first make the pattern as intended – a cute blouse with flowy, gathered sleeves, front and back buttons, and a vintage-inspired peplum.

I had some vintage flower-print lightweight cotton in my stash that had been in my Granny’s stash for some time and she’d given it to me last time I was over in the States. As it turns out, she’s ill at the moment and in need of some cheering up, so I thought it fitting to send this blouse back to her since she liked the print so much and we’re roughly the same size!

Unfortunately this is one of those patterns that look SO much better on a real person than a dress form, but you’ll see that when we get to the dress!

Here’s a view of the collar , which I altered using Gertie’s “drafting a convertible collar” tutorial. This was a super easy way of lowering the quite high collar and adding a little something extra to the neckline:

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KnipMode wrap blouse

4 August 2009, 09:30

Even though I prepared this to sew in hospital, I was in and out so fast I ended up sewing #20b from the May 09 KnipMode as my first project back in my own sewing room since it was all cut, interfaced, and ready to go!

I chose to make the 20b variation since I liked the full (rather than band) collar, the roll-up sleeves, and the breast pocket, which made it look a bit more like a camp shirt than an Asian-styled top. It also means I’ve finally used the last of the enourmous stash of fabric I bought in America in August 2007, as this cotton/lycra poplin was originally intended for that Hot Patterns blouse disaster…

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Floppy sun hat

9 July 2009, 10:50

I had the itch and energy to sew on Monday (Day -2) so I spent a few hours working on my first activity pack. Because even after I get out, I’ll have to avoid all exposure to the sun for the next two years to avoid aggravating graft vs host (Gvh) disease, so I thought this wide brimmed, floppy sun hat from the May 09 Burda (#141) looked like a good way to ease myself back into sewing and eventually shield my face and shoulders from Mister Hurty McSunshine.

This hat pattern comes in two sizes – 56 or 58cm head circumference (I made the latter as I’ve got a fat head), and I really wanted to make sure the brim stayed nice and stiff to get the maximum shade, so I picked up some incredibly stiff fusible canvas the last time I was in MacCulloch & Wallis.

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Black biker trousers

12 September 2008, 11:16

Continuing on with my need to fill my wardrobe’s trouser-shaped void, I decided this time around to try (gasp!) a different trouser pattern! But since I still wasn’t sure how well BWOF 05/2006 #112 would fit me, I opted to sew it up in the leftover black cotton drill from Simon’s pirate coat so that nothing would be lost if the fit was awful.

Frankly, I should’ve trusted Burda more – the fit is even better on these than on my casual TNT (“tried and true”) pattern I’ve been making for ages. These trousers have a seam running down the front leg that goes right into the pockets at the waist, and I think this extra seam really helps to shape them more closely to my legs.

I couldn’t wait for the photoshoot to wear these, though – so forgive the wrinkles! By this point they’d already been out for a friend’s birthday cocktails followed by langostines (yum!) in Soho, plus a full day at work. So just trust me when I say that there are no fit wrinkles when they’re fresh…

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Vest of all

15 July 2007, 15:29

Simplicity 4951 is one of the first patterns I ever bought, and is by far the most frequently made out of all of the patterns I own. I made the jacket once (which is now happily worn by my mom), but it’s the camisole I come back to time and time again.

It’s a very simple design – a top piece with two joined triangles and a gathered underbust seam that you double (and since it’s lined if you’re small like me, there’s no need for a bra), a rectangular bottom front piece, and a taller rectangular back piece. Add some bias tape or ribbon straps, and you’ve got the perfect summer top in under an hour and under a meter.

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