Monday, 9 July 2018

Heatwave sewing

Since I last posted I've been, well, (a) ill, just for a change, but more interestingly also (b) enjoying MANY consecutive days of sunshine and warmth in the UK, which is a vanishingly rare occurrence.Yay, sunshine!

I did think (and write) that I really wanted to make some shorts for myself for this summer, but let's be honest, sewing trousers when you still haven't got fit sorted out is traumatic and exhausting at the best of times, let alone in unusually hot weather while feeling under par. So instead, just before the heatwave hit, I dug out three pairs of last year's RTW summer trousers to cut down into shorts. They are notionally one size too big due to intervening weight change, but I decided I could live with them being a bit baggy. Hey presto: wardrobe gap filled. And not before time, since I've more or less lived in my "new" shorts ever since. I still plan to do Yet Another Great Big Trouser Fitting Bonanza at some point this year but for sure not until the weather cools down and I feel better.

In the meantime, aside from the times when I could not face having a hot steam iron anywhere near me and abandoned all thoughts of sewing, I moved on to other, non-trouser related, summer plans. Alas, mostly what I accomplished was a wealth of mediocrity.

1: Dress #1 (Ottobre 02-2016-9/10/11)

I plan to make a few dresses this summer. Dress #1 is simplest item on the list, a shift dress. I wanted a really basic, uncomplicated pattern because I had picked out a busy print from my stash for it. In the end, I went with a pattern from the ever-reliable Ottobre, an A-line knee length dress from the 02-2016 issue.

Ottobre 02-2016 patterns 9.10 and 11
These three patterns (numbers 9, 10 and 11) are basically all the same dress with minor variations in fastening and sleeve length (and 10 obviously is also colour blocked). I didn't want have to pattern match my fabric across a centre back zip so I went with the keyhole back that you can just make out in patterns 9 and 11, with the short sleeve from pattern 10.

I originally bought 3m of the cotton-with-a-bit-of-lycra fabric I used for this dress and I had exactly enough left after using some of it already to make pyjamas last year. Having already made something with it, I already know it doesn't have the best longevity. My PJs faded badly after only a few washes and it really doesn't recover well when stretched. However, I figured it would make for a good wearable muslin: I made this dress fully intending to wear it, but also aware that it might not last very long.

Ottobre 02-2016-11 (but with short sleeves) in a navy/blue/white print

I made a size 44 with my usual fit adjustments (lowered the bust dart, rounded back, square shoulder) but NOT a narrow shoulder adjustment. When I looked at the pattern, it seemed like on this occasion the 44 was a good width at the shoulder for me, and indeed it did turn out that way. As this dress is unfitted below the bust, I didn't bother to blend to a smaller size for my lower body.

Design-wise, I made two small changes: I found the short sleeve to be an unflattering length and ended up sewing a deep hem and turning it up with a little cuff, which I like. I also lowered the neckline by about 3cm. If I were making it again, I would lower the neckline even more to a deeper scoop. I just don't like jewel/high necklines on me at all. Unfortunately, the neckline change meant having to completely re-draw the one-piece facing that goes around the front neckline and the teardrop shaped opening at the back.

Back view: tear drop opening fastened with a single button (looks OK at this distance! Up close, not so much.)
Overall, my finished dress feels very mediocre. If I were making it again, I would not make the keyhole back, partly because the dress functions perfectly well as a pullover with the deeper neckline I drew in, but partly because it looks awful and I hate facings. It looks all right from a distance in this photo, I guess, but up close: ugh, the facings and also, ugh, the way the little crossover at the top came out. Despite my very best efforts, that pointy overlap bit ended up looking really rough and amateur. Also, I need to re-do the rounded back adjustment if I make it again. I merged the dart from the adjustment into the existing back neckline dart, but the outcome of this was entirely too Quasimodo-esque and doesn't look good at all.

In conclusion: as a wearable muslin it is indeed perfectly wearable, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Luckily, all my major problems with the dress are at the back where I can't see them to be annoyed by them, so I'll probably carry on wearing it quite happily.

2: A Wacky Burda Top (Burda 07-2014-112)

Burda 07-2014-112 (images from

Next up was a ridiculous top from Burda. I hardly ever make things from the July issues of Burda because I think the editors get into the swing of summer by drinking gallons of sangria before they pick the patterns for these issues. Nevertheless, this pattern has been on my Wacky Tops list since the issue came out, and, perhaps addled by the heat, I decided to make it last week. Again, this version is kind of a throwaway attempt at the pattern. I had the idea I might make it up with another, much more precious fabric, but I decided to try it out with this very inexpensive patterned viscose first.

Finished Burda 07-2014-112 on Flossie -- looks like a big square of fabric in this view
I made one intentional change to the pattern: I sewed the shoulders a little bit wider than the pattern indicated for bra strap coverage. However, I also, accidentally, omitted to sew the back neck correctly. I actually woke myself up the day after I finished it going OH NO! I DIDN'T GATHER THE BACK NECK! which makes me wonder what on earth I was dreaming about that that was uppermost in my mind when I surfaced from sleep. It means the back doesn't lie as it should, probably, but I'm not really sure it makes a huge amount of difference to the finished product.

But it's actually this shape! See how wide the lower hem is though?
As weird as it is, I actually like this top! I like the way it's sleeveless without actually being the sort of strappy top that has your entire shoulders and arms on show. I like the weird drapery at the sides. I like how floaty and loose it is. I feel vaguely like I should have an urn or a lute to hold, as it feels slightly Ancient Greek in style. On the other hand, I'll probably always have to wear something under it because if you hold your arms up at all you can see clear daylight through from one armhole to the other. Also, the back keyhole is VERY low. If I made it again, I'd cut the keyhole shorter or maybe just omit it altogether and deepen the scoop at the front to make it a pullover. I also think there's too much volume at the lower hem. I think it could do with being a closer fit through the hip.

The (oops) ungathered back neckline and tie and the REALLY LOW keyhole

There is, however, a real sewing flaw in this: the ultra skinny bias binding on the neckline. This is a sewing problem I've had before, especially with Burda who tend to give you tiny seam allowances to work with at the neckline. However, because in this case the binding extends into a tie at the back I couldn't really change it to something easier to sew. I am actually relieved I didn't remember to do the gathering on the back because I can't imagine how I would have squeezed gathers into the tiny binding. I guess the binding looks OK from a distance, but it's dreadful up close.

Close up of the skinny (messy) binding.

Overall: Wacky but fun! However, I wish I hadn't struggled so much with the binding and I'll probably keep looking for a pattern for my more precious fabric as I don't think this is quite right for it.

On me. Observe the massive volume in the side view!
3: A popped balloon (top) (Burda 04-2013-112)

Burda call this top a Balloon Top -- it's basically a simple sleeveless top with wide straps with a second, pleated and twisted layer over the top. I thought this was really pretty in the checked fabric Burda showed it in, and again, it's been on my list a while.

Burda 04-2013-112 Balloon Top (images from Burda)

Alas, my version was a wadder. I got 90% of the way through sewing it, then, as instructed, pinned together the top edges/straps in order to figure out exactly how long they needed to be. At that point I discovered:

Burda 04-2013-112: My wadder version in purple checked seersucker -- front view and side view showing the problem with the back -- straps are only pinned in place but it obviously wasn't working.

(a) I REALLY don't like how high square necklines look on me. Maybe it's because I have fairly square shoulders, but, wow, it was just DEEPLY unflattering. Now, ordinarily if I don't like a neckline I'll hack at it a bit until I do, but it was hard to see how I could fix this one. I tried to pin it in a better shape and NOPE, it wasn't working.

(b) The upper part of the bodice was the wrong size. I've been doing a LOT of narrow shoulder adjustments over the last 6-9 months, one way or another, but somehow I didn't realize that my problems with Burda's shoulder width would also impact this top (which was pretty dumb of me, I admit). It was way too wide at the level of my underarm, if that makes sense, and this of course meant the straps ended up too wide-set as well, even though I cut a 42 through the armhole. I knew from the modelled photos in the magazine that the front might drop into a little bit of a cowl, but I wasn't prepared for the mess at the back. It had just way too much width between the shoulder blades and it therefore stood away from my body and drooped unattractively (much like it does on Flossie in the photo).

(c) My fabric was a poor choice for the pattern. The pattern says poplin as one of the the options (the other being crepe de chine) but I don't think it worked at all well in a crisp fabric. I chose to use a very lightweight seersucker check. I really like the effect of the twisted check, but the fabric made for very bulky seams at the upper neckline edge that couldn't be pressed into submission, and it doesn't have the sort of drape that would have made this look pretty.

(d) My fabric was a poor choice in life. I've said this before but apparently can't learn from my mistakes: CRINKLED FABRICS ARE THE DEVIL. They're awful to cut, they press poorly, they're hard to interface, and just, ugh, no, bad idea. I bought this seersucker earlier this year, sucked in by how pretty the purple/blue/white/silver combination was, but NEVER AGAIN. I spent ages trying to find a pattern I didn't have to interface and, well, see how well THAT turned out. So no: no more crinkled fabrics.

In conclusion: Wadder! I am trying to embrace the learning experience, but I have to admit my internal constructive critique was interspersed on this occasion with me asking myself why exactly I choose to pursue such a terrible hobby.

Rescued fabric made into Ottobre 05-2011-02 PJ shorts
I disassembled the top and this morning recut the fabric and sewed up a pair of PJ shorts from the remnants. It makes for stupidly expensive PJs because I used 2m of expensive fabric and ended up with something I usually only use 70cm of fabric to make, but whatever, at least I was able to salvage something useful from the wadder, right? And my PJs turned out great (as they should do, as they are made with a super easy pattern I've used a dozen times). The other good thing to come from this is that at least I know now that I really don't like that shape of neckline and I'll know to avoid making anything similar! This is relevant because I have two separate dress patterns on my "Burda Favourites" list that have a very similar shape to them -- wide, high, square necklines. I've always been dubious about them, and now I know for sure: NOPE, not for me!

Up next: I have a few more summer things on my list that I want to make soon so that I get plenty of use out of them this year, but I'm not quite sure exactly what I want to make next. I've got three more dresses planned and I'm probably most excited about those, but two of them need muslins and the other involves lots and lots of fiddly sewing. I've also got a pair of hilarious StyleArc trousers that I may just make and see how they turn out, a button-fronted vintage style blouse, and a jacket in my queue. :D


  1. Some intersting pieces and good analysis about why they do/don't work for you. PJ shorts look good for this weather.

  2. The PJ shorts should come in handy and glad you were able to salvage good fabric. I’ve had that Burda on the mind since forever; especially since it was the illustrated pattern that month. But like you, I know I don’t reallly like those style lines on me (high, squared neckline, oddly voluminous). I’ll pass.

    I like the wacky top though! And the dress looks nice for warm weather!

  3. All mistakes are handy to share with novices! :o) They listen to my advice more if I tell them what I did wrong! You've done great, you're much better with Burda than I am!