D.I.Y – Draft It Yourself

Drafting my own pencil skirt began with the best of intentions. After noticing a few minor fit issues with the Wannabe Hack skirt, I thought it would be a good idea to have a crack at drafting my own, and I had just the book to hand.

Well, so I thought. I hadn’t bought “Patternmaking in Fashion Step by Step” due to any glowing recommendations of its patternmaking tips, rather, I’d bought it because it was only a fiver in Urban Outfitters. Also it’s in English, French and German. Lucia Mors de Castro had me at Schnittmuster. 

Now, patternmaking involves a certain degree of maths. You heard me. MATHS. Not my favourite subject at school, but this is where the lovely invention of calculators comes in. Calculators are a godsend for the lazy seamstress wanting to draft their own patterns. Number crunching is just not my forte unfortunately.

I was getting along just fine until I stumbled across a bit of a problem. To explain the process, a set of sample measurements are used, which were nowhere near mine. The difference between my hips and my waist is not that big, meaning I’m markedly different from de Castro’s sample. I hit a bit of a brick wall when figuring out the darts, so I turned to Google for help.

Which really, should have been my first option. When I taught myself how to sew, I didn’t do so from books, I did it by using the vast wealth of free lessons and tutorials available from the sewing community online. That’s not to say sewing books are worthless; I love books and own several about sewing, but it’s not hard to find a decent tutorial online. I found that and more on House of Marmalade, which hosts a fantastic tutorial on drafting your own skirt block and pencil skirt. Success! I started over on some fresh brown paper and got back to work.

It may be from the school of wonky skirt blocks, but I’m quite proud of my first efforts in pattern drafting. The real proof, however, will be in the pudding; I’m currently in the process of whipping up my first self-drafted pencil skirt. Wish me luck! Here’s hoping it fits…

The joy of vintage patterns

Until now, I’ve always purchased my vintage patterns online. Sewing patterns are not items commonly found in Cardiff’s charity shops, which normally host scores of rejected items from Primark instead. The vintage and retro shops I have previously frequented in the city centre don’t tend to extend their stock to the kind of goodies those vintage-savvy seamstresses amongst us would be searching for. Yet I recently came across a beauty stocked to the brim with all kinds of vintage goodies, sewing patterns included, tucked away in one of Cardiff’s old arcades, renowned for housing unique shops and boutiques.

The arcades have always been, for me, part of Cardiff’s charm, and I’m not the only one who thought so. Photographer and journalist Amy Davies took up a project to document Cardiff’s arcades with the Cardiff Arcades Project, and the photographs are just beautiful! The shop which caught my eye, A Vintage Affair, has been documented through photograph in a post here.

Understandably, I spent about an hour being distracted by A Vintage Affair’s clothing, jewellery and accessories dotted around the shop. Popping into vintage and second hand shops normally scares me a little bit, possibly because of experiences had in various second hand shops in Germany, which were always so small I felt my every move was being scrutinised! Luckily this wasn’t the case here, and when I did speak to some of those working in the shop, I found they were lovely and approachable anyway! My favourite kind of shop.

Eventually, I came across the vintage patterns in the corner of the shop, kept in boxes overflowing with not only patterns, but also sewing and knitting magazines. There’s something quite unique about rifling through (sometimes) decade old patterns by hand. While I’ll always love the Internet for leading me to discover some beautiful vintage patterns in the past, you can’t quite beat actually touching the wrinkled, often ripped, packaging, surrounded by that musky smell of patterns pre-loved. This particular shop had stacks and stacks of vintage fabric, a sorely tempting prospect, but I thought better of it considering the extensive stash I’ve built up at home!

I did, however, come home with three well-worn patterns, all of them shift dresses, although each one comes with a little twist! The tucked bodice detail on the Style 1804 panel shift dress pattern was very tempting. I doubt I’ll go for the long sleeves – with the puff sleeves and all, I can’t see it being a little much overall. The vintage Butterick 4029 sports some varied neckline choices on a simple shift dress, while the collar on my other Style number 1937 is to die for.

Thanks to the Vintage Patterns wiki, I found out Butterick 4029 is a pattern dating from the 1960s, and one a fellow blogger has already whipped up to great effect, using the pointed collar design I’ve been quietly coveting. Kitty stayed faithful to the design portrayed on the pattern envelope,

While my two Style patterns were absent from the list, the back of 1937 tells me it’s also a ‘60s pattern (1967 to be exact), and I’m assuming the same of 1804, which is missing dates. If anyone has any idea of when this pattern was made, I’d be grateful, as I’m neither a historian or a vintage pattern expert! The only real clue I have is the front of the pattern states it was designed by a ‘Vanda Harvey’, and a quick google brought up an artist of the same name who doesn’t seem to have contributed to the world of sewing patterns.

I have a few other things to get through before I get cracking on these patterns. Which do you think I should go for first?

Disaster!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I managed to get the graduation ball dress finished on time, meaning I had a fabulous dress to wear to the do. Now, I had noticed a fair bit of spillage on the dress, which was a shame as I’d originally planned to wear it to a wedding the following Saturday, but figured it would come off in the wash. However, I did notice a bit of discolouration on the dress as well. I somewhat foolishly assumed it would come off in the wash, despite the gnawing feeling this would not be the case.

After having washed it, I’ve come to the horrifying realisation that something may well have bleached the fabric, and there are tonnes of very noticeable splashes of pink/purple all over the dress. As you can imagine, I’m less than pleased. Sure, I could always remake the dress in another fabric, but I really don’t have the funds to accommodate that, so I’m in somewhat of a pickle.

I have no idea what could have caused this – the fabric is a combed cotton I’d pre-washed before sewing the dress. It looks an awful lot like bleach to me. A possible solution could be to just throw caution to the wind and get the entire thing bleach-splashed, though I worry about how that would look. Alternatively, I could potentially dye the entire thing with a fabric dye, but I don’t know if that would evenly balance out the colour of the dress.

Has anyone ever had this problem before? Any thoughts you guys have would be greatly appreciated!

Cutting it fine…

We’ve all been there. That deadline is looming and yet somehow your project is nowhere near done. There’s no question of my being able to meet deadlines; I may have been working right up until the deadline in some cases, but I’ve not yet had an instance of turning in an essay or a piece of work late just yet, and I don’t plan on starting anytime soon!

Where self imposed deadlines are concerned however, I’m a little more fickle. Unfortunately, this has been the bane of my sewing output for some time now, and I’m not the only one. Instead of rushing to finish whatever project I have on the go, I’ll more often than not leave it unfinished for weeks after my proposed deadline.

I was determined this wouldn’t happen with the latest item, the Grad Ball dress, and my work on it set off to a fantastic start. Now that I’m living at home, I’ve decided my brother’s room is to become my sewing room – that is, just as soon as he buggers back off to university. Luckily for me, he was off visiting his girlfriend the weekend before last, giving me plenty of space for cutting out my pattern pieces. Things were going swimmingly.


Then disaster struck. I woke up a day or so later nursing the most horrendous sore throat I’ve yet experienced, and thus began feeling well and truly sorry for myself. How I’ve managed to be running here there and everywhere while at Swansea without getting ill, I don’t know, but it seemed like it had caught up with me a week before graduation. Talk about crummy timing.


Turns out I had a nasty case of tonsillitis, thus followed more days of my feeling sorry for myself and looking pathetic in my fluffy pink dressing gown, nursing cooling cups of tea I couldn’t quite face drinking due to the pain in my throat. Cutting it fine is an understatement; I was up against the clock anyway with just over a week until Grad Ball and the dress nowhere near finished, and now I had wasted a few days being poorly, it looked even less likely I’d have a me-made creation to wear as planned.

Thank god my procrastination gland stopped working, because a few nights sewing like my life depended on it and I’ve just got some finishing bits and bobs left on the dress. In a way, I have a bit more confidence now in my ability to get things done. With so few projects completed of late, it’s nice to have pulled this one out of the bag against the odds.


On top of that, I somehow managed to also finish the scallop waist skirt for graduation as well. I guess when you’re up, you’re up! I’ve been in touch with my lovely photographer friend Martha to sort out some sort of photoshoot for the garments, so I’ll have a proper post for both up as soon as we’ve done that!

The Wannabe Hack Skirt

Photo by Martha Moreno

This academic year hasn’t been completely devoid of sewing activity. Sure, this skirt may have been progressing on and off for a couple of months, but I eventually managed to get it done in time for my interview for my postgraduate course in journalism, hence why this skirt will always be ‘the wannabe hack’ skirt to me – a nod to the Wannabe Hacks website, which publishes tips and advice for wannabe journos such as myself. I’ve even had an article featured on there before!

It was important to me to wear at least one garment I had made to the interview for several reasons. I’m sure any fellow seamstresses will agree, there’s a degree of confidence which comes hand in hand with wearing an item of clothing you’ve hand-crafted. Even if the outside world won’t necessarily notice, there’s something different about what you’re wearing, especially as you haven’t picked it out from a sea of different sized versions of the same shirt/skirt/dress/insert garment here. After such a long period of sewing abandonment, actually wearing something I’d made to such an important interview gave me a bit of a buzz.

Most importantly though, sewing has proven to be a large part of the reason I began blogging as extensively as I do now. Arguably, The Siren (a commentary blog about life at Swansea University) would never have happened had I not been blogging every seam sewn during my time in Germany. So I felt it would be more than appropriate to wear a self-sewn skirt to an interview I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for sewing.


Maybe it’s good luck to wear your self sewn items to interviews, because I got in! I can tell this skirt will get a lot of wear during the Winter months at the course, as it’s made from fairly thick woven fabric. A few months after my interview, I asked my friend Martha to help me out in taking some photos of the skirt. Our setting? Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, where I’ll be graduating in a matter of weeks! We took my ‘shoe-case’ (the suitcase I kept all of my shoes) for fun and popped out one late afternoon in May for some photo-fun!

Martha said all good modelling includes triangles... so I became a teapot

Using the Jenny pencil skirt pattern available on BurdaStyle, I created a black and white houndstooth skirt, fully lined with purple silky fabric I had in my stash. The skirt itself is comfortable to wear but a few problems have come up – namely, the fit. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m a weird size, with hips only marginally bigger than my waist, creating some bugbears in how the skirt sits. It rides up quite a lot when I’m walking, and the lining insists on peeking out.


I think I’ve also shortened the skirt just a tad too much; a crime I’m often committing. This won’t be as much of a problem when wearing the skirt in Winter, as a pair of tights make an almost-too-short skirt somewhat more appropriate. I’m planning to create another pencil skirt in the style of Gertie’s orange bow skirt, but this time I plan on drafting my own pattern in the hopes it will improve the fit of the garment. Here’s hoping!

Want to see more photos from the day? Check out the photo set over on my Flickr!