Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Party Dress

When I tested the newly released Kim Dress from By Hand London I had an unexplainable urge to sew up that wrap skirt in a silk velvet. Something about making up a winter version with those little pleats and the drape of the overlapping petals said luxurious rich coloured velvet to me! At the time I had half brushed it off as one of those crazy sewing ideas that I never get around to realising but then I got an invite from the BHL girls themselves to a London sewing blogger Christmas do and it seemed like fate telling me to make this dress.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

I'd never sewn velvet before so was still not 100% sold on the idea, as although the dress is quite straight forward to assemble there's a lot of seams going on for a first attempt with velvet. I decided to see if I could find any fairly inexpensive silk velvet on Goldhawk Road during the meet up when Lauren was in town. Lo and behold Unique Fabrics had silk velvet in a wide range of colours for £15/m which I thought to be pretty reasonable. I had a hard time deciding on the colour as there were some particularly stunning jewel tone greens but after a gentle nudge from my shopping companion Sally I was soon leaving with 1.5m of rich wine red. Not much later in the afternoon I became delighted with my choice when I spotted the perfect match of colour in baby sequins in A to Z Fabrics. I'm fairly sure if I had been shopping on my own my hesitance to work with not one two notoriously tricky types of fabric for the first time in the same project would have won out but at this point Sally turned on some serious enabling skills and a plan for a sequinned bodice and velvet skirt was born. I love it when inspiration for a project comes from the fabric and I don't think I could have got a better colour match if I had tried!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

As I've made this exact variation of the Kim before the main challenge with this project was the choice of fabric. Fitting wise I cut the size UK 10 again but made a few changes based on my first version. I took 2" off the length of straps (1" from the back bodice piece and 1" from the front) plus I took 1" out of the side seams under the arm (1/2" at the front and 1/2" at the back) grading out to nothing at the waist. This totally solved all the issues I had last time and I now have a nice snug fit. In fact it's a little too snug across the bust and I would probably do a small FBA when making again, which makes sense as BHL draft for a B cup. I sewed the length as it is which is unusual for me with a BHL skirt but that cross over at the front comes up quite high. I did lightly tack it together at one point to avoid any unnecessary flashing!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

My decision to use the combination of sequins and organza for the bodice became the best idea ever as it was so much easier to work with than the velvet. Trying to get those bodice seams smooth and snuggly fitting with the shifty pile working against me would have been a total nightmare! The sequins were attached to a slightly stretchy mesh which wasn't ideal for this project as it's close fit needs a woven. To combat this I underlined each piece with silk organza which also helped add some structure to the design. The organza was all hand basted to the sequins which is a little time consuming but not too bad on such small pieces. Along with topstitching it's secretly one of my favourite sewing related tasks!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

Because the sequins were so tiny I decided to give sewing them like any other fabric a go rather than going through the trauma of trimming them out of all the seam allowances. I used a normal stitch length but a slightly thicker than normal needle (I think it was a 90) to try and combat any breakage and I had no trouble. I did slightly reduce the pressure of the foot because of the bulk of the sequins. Once the seams were sewn I checked the seam line on the right side for any sequins that had got caught and were sticking out at funny angles and trimmed them away. I didn't finish these seam allowances as they are all concealed within the lining.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

Pressing required some thought and trial and error with all the fabrics involved in this dress. The silk organza was a huge help as I could press is from the reverse using a scrap of silk organza as a pressing cloth and get a nice crisp edge. I tested this beforehand and discovered I could use a medium heat and no sequins would melt. During my internet research about velvet I had discovered that one of the golden rules was to never ever press it. I kind of ignored this and gave it a go on a scrap! I ran just the tip of a steamy iron along the seams with very light pressure to ease the seam allowances open. The velvet responded really well to this and I couldn't spot any damage to the pile. I also did this to make the hem sit smoothly and at the top of the pleats to get them to sit right. I think lots of steam and light pressure is the key.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

To combat the slightly gapey neckline I had last time I added stay tape to the seam allowances here, cutting it a little shorter than the neckline and easing it in. I also under-stitched as recommended but got a little carried away and forgot to do this before sewing up the armholes as instructed so could only get a little way along each strap! I ended up using pretty much the full 1/2m of the sequins, the same of the organza and around 80cm of the velvet. The silk habotai lining came from my stash and was in small scraps which luckily the various small bodice pieces could just about squeeze onto.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

Despite being relieved that I only had to deal with it for four of the pattern pieces the velvet was actually a little easier to handle than expected. It was a total NIGHTMARE to cut out as it shifts all over the place and it's very easy to end up with a pattern piece which looks nothing like it was intended to. But it wasn't all that bad to sew.

I cut all of the velvet pieces on a single layer (but if you really have to cut something on the fold cut it with right sides facing out as when you've got two right sides together the nap will make everything shift off grain even more). I used lots of pins, especially along that curve as it had the potential to get very wobbly. Following advice from various online sources I cut the velvet with the nap of the fabric running up from the hem of the skirt (so running my hands down the skirt would actually be going against the pile). I didn't really understand the reasoning behind this until I mentioned it to Winnie at the Christmas party as she had received similar advice. It's for when you sit down which makes complete sense, as you slide towards the front of the chair you will be smoothing the pile rather than disturbing it!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

When sewing I followed the direction of the nap and again slightly reduced the pressure of the foot so as not to damage the pile. I used a standard needle and lots of pins. When sewing you cannot avoid placing right sides together so lots of pins are key to stop shifting. Because I was sewing to a fairly tight dealing by this point I just pinked the seam allowances as the velvet didn't fray too badly. It's holding up well but in future I'd probably choose to use a satin binding for a hong kong finish. I chose to hand stitch the hem which was incredibly time consuming but well worth the effort. I never imagined I'd be able to achieve two such smooth curves in this fabric! Machine stitching across the nap would have ruined it and produced a very visible line.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

I'm so delighted with this dress and felt fantastic in it at the Christmas party. It's one of those garments that despite the frivolity of it feels so comfortable because it fits well. I hope I can find lots more occasions to wear it; New Year's Eve is next! I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. I've got plans to eat and drink and laugh a lot so I've got a couple of end of year Top 5 posts scheduled for the next week or so. I'll see you in the New Year! Merry Christmas!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Sequin and Red Velvet Christmas Kim Dress

Sunday, 21 December 2014

How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

After I posted about the striped shirt I made for my stepdad a few of your expressed interest in a tutorial about how I added the slots to the underside of the collar to house collar stiffeners/bones/stays. So I've put a quick one together for you. I worked out how to do this by looking at a RTW shirt which had this feature and it's surprisingly quick and straightforward! It's my very first attempt at a tutorial so I apologise if any of my explanations don't make complete sense. Feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments below.

Just to be clear before we start the slots need to be added to shirt before the collar is assembled. I'm not sure how you'd go about adding them to a shirt which is already made!

First things first you will need to cut yourself a third collar piece. If you are using a pattern which has separate upper and under collar pieces you will need one of the upper collar and two under collar pieces. Only the upper collar needs to be interfaced as usual. We will just be working with the under collar. If your under collar pieces are made up of two parts you can stitch those together along the centre before we begin.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Take one of your under collar pieces and, wrong side up, fold up the bottom corners (the corners which will be attached to the collar stand not the collar points). You want to fold them along a diagonal line which starts approximately 9cm along the bottom edge from the corner, and 5cm up the side. Give it a good press.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Now take your second under collar piece and lay it out with the right side facing up. Place the under collar piece with the folded corners on top of this piece also with the right side facing up (so the wrong side is against the right side of the piece underneath). Line up all the edges and pin in place. At this point you can baste together the long raw edges of the two pieces just inside the seam allowance but I didn't find it necessary.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Before we start sewing or marking sewing lines directly on to our fabric I found it useful to draw it out on paper first. You could do this directly on to your paper pattern piece or trace out another copy. We are now going to work out the placement of our collar stay slots which will be slightly different on each collar you make as it will vary depending on the size and shape of the collar and the length of your stiffeners if you have a particular set in mind. They are available in different lengths and but an average size is around 6.5cm from point to end and I based mine on this.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt


First draw on the fold line you made across the bottom corner (green line in my picture). Then draw on your stitching line so you can clearly see the seam allowances (red in my picture). Finally if you are going to be topstitching around the edges of collar when it is assembled draw this on at the correct distance away from the stitching line (purple in my picture). If you are not going to topstitch you can leave this out. We need to take this into account when positioning our slots as the stiffener will slide no further in than that line of topstitching and we need to ensure the length of the slot is long enough to contain them. If you are not going to topstitch you can leave this last line out.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Now use a ruler to find a line the length of your stiffeners (6.5cm in my case) which runs from the corner point of your topstitching line (or your regular stitching line if you are not topstitching) to your fold line. Draw this on in pencil.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

This is the central line of our slot. We now need to draw on stitching lines either side of this line to make our slot just large enough to hold our stiffeners securely. Mine are 1cm wide (most are) so I have drawn lines parallel to the pencil line 0.6cm away on each side. These lines are black on my drawing.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Now transfer these two black lines to your fabric.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Stitch along these lines from the raw edge of the fabric towards the fold. For this tutorial I am using black thread so that it shows up nice and clearly in the pictures but of course you should use a thread which corresponds to your fabric. When you get to just a couple of millimetres away from the folded edge lower your needle, raise your presser foot and pivot the fabric around so you are lined up to stitch along the folded edge, sewing away from the collar stay slot. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

Sew a couple of millimetres away from the folded edge right along to the raw edge of the fabric.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt


And that's it! You can now assemble your collar as usual, using the piece we have just created as the under collar. Once completed you should have something that looks like this:

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: How To Add Collar Stay Slots to a Handmade Shirt

If you want some tips on constructing a collar (it can be a little fiddly!) I highly recommend this tutorial from Andrea at Four Square Walls. It's not failed me yet!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Quilted and Initialled White Russian Sweatshirts

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

Every since testing Sally from Capital Chic's White Russian Sweatshirt pattern back in the spring I knew that I wanted to make a couple more for this autumn/winter. I love that the cut is more slim and feminine than perhaps a traditional sweatshirt might be, it's got a really contemporary look to it. With this in mind I set out to look for some interesting loop-backed or fleece-backed sweat shirting or quilted fabric when I was with Sally at the Goldhawk Road meet up when Lladybird was in London. I was thinking black as I wanted to it be a warm layer I could pull on over a variety of outfits and my first version of the sweatshirt is a grey marl. Luckily I found just what I needed in Fabric House which is one of my favourite shops on that street for customer service and a good bargain!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

I nabbed the last bit of this diamond quilted fabric for my first version. It's quite spongy and warm but feels more like a neoprene than a sweater knit to touch. It's got a smooth sheen to it on both sides and has a softer drape than a fleece backed fabric. It was perfect for this pattern. Sally pointed out that I wouldn't want to use the quilting for the bands so I needed to find something else for there. I ended up buying a metre of plain black fleece backed sweat-shirting along with a metre of the quilted stuff for the bargain price of £12. What makes it even more of a steal is that when it came to cutting I realised I had just enough fabric to make a second sweatshirt from the plain black fabric as it was quite wide. The pattern does suggest you will need 1.5m but if you are cutting a small size and get a bit creative with it on a wide fabric you can just about make a metre work.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

I was wondering what I could do to the second top so that I didn't end up with two which appeared to be plain black. I was considering using one of the quilting designs that come with the pattern or adding some gems around the neckline as I've spied a few tutorials for this recently. Then I spotted the jumper below in French Connection and remembered Rachel's recent DIY project in which she used iron on transfers to add a slogan to a RTW sweater. Obviously the F on the inspiration sweatshirt is for the brand but I was instantly excited by the idea of a sweatshirt with my initial on the front. Coincidentally the pattern designer herself was recently inspired to customise one of her charity shop finds with an appliqué letter S which I love!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

I bought my letter F transfer from Tee Transfers. They had a good choice of fonts, colours and sizes and for reasonable prices. Mine was the largest size (20cm) in burgundy in the 'Retro' font. I was pretty tempted by the metallic gold or silver too! Ironing on the transfer was really straightforward, it came with clear instructions which are also available on their website. My fabric couldn't take much heat so I just kept the iron over the transfer and paper for longer until the backing peeled off cleanly. I've since washed the sweatshirt a couple of times and while the letter looked a bit wrinkly when it first came out of the wash a quick iron from the reverse smoothed it out again.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

For both sweatshirts I used the construction method I have recently come to favour when working with knits and used a narrow zig zag stitch to assemble the pieces, which makes it easier to be accurate, and then I finished all the seam allowances with my overlocker, trimming them down a bit as I went. I actually cut a size smaller than I did last time (the size 0) as I felt it turned out a little larger than it needed to be. This in combination with sewing it up on the machine rather than taking a bit of a guess at the seam allowance size on the overlocker has given me the fit I was after. The only other change I made was to use a 6/8" seam allowance to sew on the cuffs and neckband to shorten the sleeves by just a fraction and make the neckband a little skinnier.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

I used a twin needle to finish the edges of the neck, cuff and hem bands and had success with both! I've had rather mixed experiences with a twin needle so was apprehensive about attempting it on these as they were looking pretty good without it. It actually handled the thick layers of the fabric really well considering it was dealing with two layers of band and two layers of the main fabric as the seam allowances are pressed together towards the body of the garment. I sewed using my standard straight stitch settings, with one needle stitching 'in the ditch' and the other through the main fabric catching the seam allowance as I went. I'm really pleased I decided to go with this technique as I think it adds a professional finish and also keeps the bands sitting nice and flat as they were bouncing back after just pressing and looking a little puffy.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

I am so delighted with how these turned out. It took about 45 minutes to cut them both and then I made them in tandem in about 3 hours! I finished them about three weeks ago and have quite seriously worn one or the other nearly every single day since then. They look great with jeans or skirts and keep me nice and warm without feeling like the Michelin man when I've got my coat on top! I'm seriously tempted to make a whole load more as they are so satisfying to sew but how many sweatshirts does one girl need?! If I spot a perfect fabric though it might be quite hard to resist...

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Quilted and Monogrammed White Russian Sweatshirts from Capital Chic

Friday, 12 December 2014

Plaid Flannel Alder Shirtdress

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

This month's Mood Sewing Network project was all about cosy fabrics for me! The temperatures have dropped here in London over the last couple of weeks and all I want to wear is lots of soft and warm layers. I actually ordered this Blue Plaid Soft Cotton Flannel (unfortunately now sold out but there's still a little left in red!) back in February as part of my very first MSN order but haven't found the perfect use for it until now. I spotted the dress below on Pinterest a little while back and knew my plaid was destined to be my own version of it. This discovery also coincided with the release of Grainline Studio's Alder Shirtdress...match made in heaven!


I've wanted to sew something plaid for a while now but have been a bit daunted by the task of matching it. That was my real challenge with this garment, considering there are so many pattern pieces in a shirtdress and I thought a bold check like this (plus no sleeves!) would be a good place to start. I took on board a lot of Lauren's tips from her plaid matching post and cut the yoke and pockets on the bias so I didn't have to worry about matching them. I love the effect of the bias cut yoke in this chunky check. I considered cutting the button placket on the bias too but I liked the simplicity of the unbroken line across the front and didn't want it to look too busy.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

I cut absolutely everything on the flat which I really recommend. It's really difficult to make sure that the bottom layer you can't see is lined up as exactly as a plaid needs to be before cutting. The brushed surface of this fabric also means that the two layers have a tendency to grip together, which is great for sewing it up but when laying it out on the fold if you try and pull one layer into line some areas stay stuck together and things end up more off grain than they were before. To cut any 'on the fold' pieces like the back, I traced them onto paper so I could cut them flat. To cut any pieces which I needed two of like the front, I cut one then used that piece as the pattern piece to cut the second. This made it really easy to check that the plaid was a perfect mirror. You can see below that is almost disappears into the fabric beneath!


Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

When cutting the front and back pieces I was mostly concerned with getting the horizontal stripe to run continuously around the body, matching at front fastening and side seams. I'm really pleased with how that worked out. I also wanted the spread of vertical stripes to be symmetrical either side of the centre front. Despite spending quite some time working on this I made a bit of an error with the placket as I forgot that this pattern uses a 1cm seam allowance rather than 1.5cm. Thankfully it still ended up looking fairly even, just not exactly as I had first intended! The button placket is actually the one aspect of this garment that I'm not entirely happy with construction wise. I'm not sure what went wrong, perhaps I was getting distracted by trying to match the plaid but the width of the right and left plackets wasn't equal unless I turned under a tiny seam allowance which has made the finishing inside a little sloppy. I'll be paying more attention to that part next time!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

The flannel is lovely to sew with, both my machine and overlocker loved it and the layers stay put as you feed them through which helps with the matching. To be on the safe side I still pinned quite excessively at the top and bottom of each stripe to make sure everything lined up at the stitching line.

The Alder is as well drafted as I have come to expect Jen's patterns to be and has the same classic yet contemporary aesthetic. I cut a straight size 4 as I usually do with Grainline patterns and the fit is pretty good with not too much ease. I used the View A as I thought the gathered 'skirt' of view B looked a bit too voluminous for the windy British winter. I'll definitely be making that up in a lovely voile or viscose for summer though.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

I actually didn't follow the instructions all that closely to assemble this as I'd just made a man's shirt and was feeling pretty confident about the techniques involved. I take a look through the instructions for the collar assembly but found them quite confusing compared to the way I had been doing collars so I went back to my favourite method using Andrea's tutorial. It's not failed me yet! The way the pattern comes together basically means that all the raw edges are concealed and finished neatly. I chose to overlock the side seams together then press them towards the back and topstitch so from the outside it looks a bit like a traditional flat felled seam.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

It was the first time that I've ever had any real success with a bias tape finishing. It turned out so well on the armholes of this which was largely down to the fact that the flannel responded really well to heat and steam. The instructions for this are also really great and have you under stitch the bias tape to the seam allowances once you have attached the first side which makes the rest of the process so much easier. Hopefully adopting this technique will help next time I try it in silk! Despite the neat finishing the armholes gape a bit at the back which is either a fitting issue or due to things getting stretched out during assembly...I might try pinching out just a little next time and stay stitching the armscye once the yoke is attached to the back.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

When it got to the point of hemming as well as feeling too long I felt the dip of the hem was quite extreme on my 5ft 3" stature. The dress has some shaping but as you can see is still a very loose fit which is not a particularly common silhouette for me so to compensate for that I felt it needed shortening. I removed 2" at the centre front and back, curving out to nothing at the side seams. It still has a slight dip in the style of a men's shirt but I feel much more comfortable in it. I was planning to use a bias facing on the hem but as the curve was now more subtle it turned an pressed nice and flat.

I've had a lot of wear out of this dress already and bonus...I like it belted too!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Grainline Alder Shirtdress in Mood Fabrics Plaid Flannel

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Striped Italian Cotton Shirt

I've got a bit of unselfish sewing to share with you today and one of my first ventures into sewing menswear. This is actually the second shirt I've made from scratch, plus I did a bit of shirt customising earlier in the year too which I fully intend to share with you but I'm so pleased with this one I couldn't wait to blog about it! For my stepdad's birthday this year I promised to make him a shirt. This was way back in April and we had the fabric picked out and ordered by May so considering I finished this just a few weeks ago I was a bit slow about getting it done; sorry Peter! I'm blaming a hectic summer of work and feeling a bit nervous about getting this as close to perfect as possible without much practice! I'm pleased to report he was very happy with it though (and I'm delighted!) so hopefully it was worth the wait.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

He picked out this gorgeous Italian cotton shirting from the Mood Fabrics website and it was a brilliant choice. It's great quality and so lovely to work with. The green is actually a bit brighter than it came out in photos. I'm not going to lie the stripe matching was another big reason for my nervousness about even getting started with this project but I enjoyed the extra challenge and it turned out to be really motivating and satisfying to work with a fun fabric rather than a plain colour or basic white.

I haven't done a lot of pattern matching before, especially not in wovens and with such a bold stripe. I spent a long time staring at the fabric and moving things around. I cut everything that needed matching on a single layer and pieces that were to be cut on the fold I traced out into one large piece so I could cut it flat. It took a bit of maths to work out the spread of the stripes across the two front pieces and placket but I got there in the end. I'm really pleased with how it turned out with the exception of the sleeve plackets which I didn't attempt to match at all. I hadn't made enough of them to be able to even begin to fathom what stripe was going to end up where once they were folded and turned through!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

I am so pleased with how the pocket lines up. I cut this piece by laying the paper pattern piece onto the fabric shirt front piece, lining it up with the placement markings and factoring in the seam allowance. Then I used a pencil to mark where each of the stripes were around the top and bottom edges of the pocket. I could then simply match up these marks with the stripes of the fabric as I laid out out to be cut. It worked out perfectly and the pocket almost disappears into the shirt front! I picked up this pattern matching tip from Sew Busy Lizzy's post on her gorgeous waterfall coat.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar
I love the burrito method for constructing the lined yoke!

The other bit of pattern matching I did was to have the stripes running across the yoke and continuing down the sleeves. I had done a lot of looking at RTW striped shirts to help me decide on placement of the stripes but, although I knew I wanted to cut the yoke on the cross-wise grain, when it came to cutting out the sleeves I couldn't think of what exactly I was trying to match. With a ladies top I might match stripes where they intersect at the front and back of an armscye and use a notch to do so but for the life of me I couldn't work out the best thing to do with the shirt. I was watching a bit of Modern Family that evening when I suddenly spotted the stripes running across the yoke and down the sleeves of Cam's shirt! I literally jumped up out of my seat and Ste thought I'd gone a bit nuts. I was thinking 'thank goodness I've over-ordered on the fabric and still have enough to cut new sleeves'...but when I checked the sleeve pieces I had cut I realised by very happy accident they were just about going to match up anyway!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

So enough about stripes. You probably want to know what pattern I used. It is in fact the Negroni from Colette Patterns with a few noticeable modifications. I used the Negroni patten for the first shirt I made (which was very similar in style to this one when finished) despite it having a casual convertible collar rather than the stand you see here and a simple front facing instead of a button placket. You might wonder why I picked it when such a main feature of the design isn't what I wanted but I had various reasons. Firstly, I couldn't find a single pattern (big 4, indie, bursa or vintage) which incorporated all the design elements I wanted so knew I'd have to make some changes. Secondly, it was my first foray into shirt making and following indie pattern instructions for new to me techniques had served me well thus far (and they did not let me down here). Thirdly, Peter from Male Pattern Boldness had run a very thorough shirt sew-along based on the Negroni which includes a brilliant post on how to add a more formal collar, stand and button plackets to the shirt. Finally, there are may design elements I do like about this pattern like the slim, modern cut and flat felled seams.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar
The seams are all flat felled or concealed as part of the construction

I asked my stepdad to let me borrow a shirt which he was happy with both the fit and collar style of. It came in so handy to have a shirt next to me throughout the entire construction process; both to check fit and what certain elements should look like when complete. So I highly recommend you have one to hand if making your first shirt. To begin with I measured this shirt against the main pattern pieces and found that the Colette size medium appeared to be a good match. I just took 1/2" off the sleeve length. I didn't have the luxury of having my stepdad around or even close by enough to try on the shirt throughout construction so measuring it up in this fashion was a nice reassurance that it wouldn't end up miles too small or big!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

The next thing I used the RTW shirt for was to draft my new collar and collar stand. Following Peter's instructions you basically trace the collar and stand pieces of the shirt onto paper and then add seam allowances all around. I did a quick check to make sure that these pieces would fairly closely match the neckline of the Negroni and thankfully everything was looking good. I don't imagine, if you have chosen the pattern size based on the size of the RTW shirt as I did, that you would end up with much of a difference as the collar size increases on the Negroni in tandem with the chest size as it generally does in RTW. I was really apprehensive about the new collar the first time around but it worked out great with that shirt so I felt entirely confident in this method this time. After all, if you've lifted the collar size and shape directly from a shirt which fits you're pretty much guaranteed to get a result if you stick accurately to your seam allowances. I also followed Peter's instructions to draft and construct the left and right front plackets which was super simple as it's basically two long rectangles of the right width.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

One more change I made was to add slots for collar stiffeners (or stays/bones if that's what you call them!) to the underside of the collar. This was actually pretty straightforward and I worked out how to do it by looking at the collar of the borrowed shirt. These need to be added before you start assembling the collar and involve using a second under collar piece. I'm thinking about doing a brief tutorial about it if anyone is interested? I'm so, so pleased with how this feature turned out. In fact it may be my favourite thing about the whole garment! As with my Archer Shirt I used Andrea from Four Square Walls' tutorial to guide me through the construction of the collar and this is absolutely my neatest one yet. All her little tips such as trimming down the interfacing and the under collar before construction really make such a difference to the finished result.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

Another feature I'm really pleased with (despite the lack of stripe matching!) are the sleeve plackets. Now I get why Lauren says that she uses the Negroni placket pieces and construction method on all of her own shirts; the instructions are awesome, the process is much less fiddly than my other placket experiences plus all six I've done have turned out pretty fantastically with no unpicking. These are again my best yet, no doubt helped by how crisply this fabric pressed.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

The one element I'd like to work on next time are the cuffs. I'm fairly pleased with them but think they could be a little neater, plus I really struggled when attaching them to the shirt to get the corners to meet the placket neatly. I'd like to try trimming down the inside cuff pieces just by 1/8" as I did with the under collar and inner collar stand as I think this would keep everything tight and flat and help the seam line roll away from the outside. Does anyone know of any wonderful shirt cuff tutorials which will improve my construction of them as much as Andrea's advice has improved my collars?!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Green Striped Colette Negroni Shirt with Stand Collar

To finish it off I considered using a bias facing to hem the curved edge as I've seen this mentioned a few times recently and on my archer is ended up a little twisted. However I found the curve of this hem shallow enough that the hem pressed in nice and flat when turned and stitched. The buttons Peter bought when he was with my Mum at a local sewing/craft fair which he said he was lucky to make it out of alive as everyone was going so crazy over fabric...sound familiar to anyone?! I sewed the bottom buttonhole horizontally and with white thread instead of green for a bespoke touch and dotted a little bit of fray check onto them once cut open to increase their durability. I ended up unpicking and redoing quite a few of the buttonholes to get them just right, I wasn't about to let down a good job with an uneven buttonhole!

I'm foreseeing some more menswear sewing in my future; I'll definitely be making some more shirts as I've enjoyed the experience so much. I picked up some light blue Paul Smith shirting from Fabrics Galore at the Knitting and Stitching Show a couple of months ago which feels so smooth on the skin so I can't wait to make that up. Just got to decide who the lucky recipient will be this time!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Purple Marbella Dress

I'm really excited to share my thoughts on my latest completed garment as it's from a new pattern company! Kennis from Itch to Stitch contacted me a little while ago to see if I would like to try her very first pattern, the Marbella Dress. I wasn't immediately inclined to sew it up as I already have quite a few dresses in a similarly classic style but I was intrigued by the option for different cup sizes (A-D) and really wanted to try out a pattern from a new company. Let me spoil the ending for you, Kennis clearly knows what she is talking about when it comes to sewing and I'm so pleased with the dress! This review is very much positive but I want you all to know that it is my truthful opinion of my experience with this pattern and it has not been swayed by the free pattern.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch

The instructions start with really detailed general information including a thorough list of completed garment measurements and specific yardages. I cut a size 0 which is a smidgen smaller than my measurements (particularly at the hip) but there is a fair amount of ease built into the finished measurements and I prefer a close fit. I would say be wary of downsizing too much at the hip though as most of the ease is in the front of the skirt because of the pleats and you don't want the back to end up too tight. I was a little confused about picking the cup size. The instructions suggest to go with your usual size so I went with the D although I was doubting my choice when looking at the shape of the pattern piece. I should have trusted Kennis' advice as it fits like a glove. I was overthinking things though and wondering if perhaps the initial size should be chosen based on the high bust measurement as a separate cup size is then chosen. I don't know enough about drafting to say for sure but I think it worked out for me as I downsized slightly. I'm really pleased with the fit in every area; the skirt is slim yet still walkable and the bodice is comfortably snug all over. I like how the neckline and shoulder area lays so flat. I have got some wrinkles at the lower back which I'd like to look at next time. I'm not sure if I need a tiny sway back adjustment or if they are drag lines caused by something else. Anyone got any ideas?

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch

One of my favourite things about the pattern is the layers option on the PDF. It means you can super simply, in just a couple of clicks, print only your size. They are also instructions for which pages you need to print for which cup size so you are not printing anything unnecessarily. When assembling the PDF you just need to piece together fairly small sections rather than one huge sheet. I did feel there was a bit of paper wastage but I figured some of the blank space would be filled when cutting a larger size. I was really impressed with the quality of the PDF in general, and hope other designers looking at patterns like this will mean a step towards more user friendly PDF patterns.

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch

Despite treating myself to some bargain fabric purchases recently I'm really making an effort to sew through my stash and picked this synthetic mystery which has the appearance of a fine crepe and a subtle fleck in the colour. I got it in Walthamstow and it was actually one of the very first pieces of fabric I ever bought! I needed just 1.3m (at 145cm wide). It is a beautiful rich purple and the weight and body of it worked perfectly for this dress, however it was not so lovely to work with. This felt like quite a lengthy make to me and at points I was finding it difficult to get excited about continuing with it and it was all because of the fabric. It frayed like crazy, didn't respond particularly well to pressing and just wasn't very nice to handle. I was disappointed as I thought the poor fabric choice would turn this into a dress I wouldn't get any wear out of but I'm still delighted with the finished dress as the fit is so great and the instructions result in a really lovely professional finish! Still that'll teach me that I'll enjoy sewing more and would struggle less to get professional results if I invest in a quality fabric to begin with! 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch

As I've become more confident with my sewing and the basic ways to put things together I sometimes tend to skim over the instructions of more straightforward patterns and follow my own tried and tested methods. With this particular pattern I made an effort to follow every step as written and I'm so pleased as I picked up some fantastic tips and new methods along the way. One thing I tried for the first time was stay stitching and then clipping the seam allowances of the princess seams before assembling them. I didn't find it made a huge amount of difference doing it that way round but it was probably marginally easier to ease the curves in. The instructions as a whole are quite lengthy (in a good way!) and each step is accompanied with a clear illustration. I found that they included some fantastic tips which I've never seen in other indie patterns. To give you one example; when stitching the yoke and facing together along the neckline and armholes you are instructed to pin them together with the raw edge of the lining protruding by 1/8". Just this small adjustment (when combined with under-stitching) made such a difference to how neat the neckline looks and when I turned it right side out the lining rolled to the inside almost without needing any encouragement or pressing!

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch


I chose to make the fully lined option and for this I used another fabric which has been in my stash for a while. I got it out of just a metre and I really like how it looks with the main purple. It's just a poly crepe but has a great weight and smooth finish for lining, but is a little static. I'm keen to make the unlined version which just uses the yoke pieces as facings. It has separate instructions at points and theres an interesting method for using bias binding to finish the lower parts of the armholes which I'd like to try. 

Diary of a Chain Stitcher: Purple Marbella Dress from Itch to Stitch

It was the little details of this pattern made me realise just how well thought out and professional it is; for example the separate hem length marked on the skirt pattern pieces for the lining. I loved all the thorough preparation information which included fusing strips of interfacing to the seam allowances of the shoulders, pocket openings, and zip opening before beginning any construction. I'm definitely going to be utilising a lot of the construction techniques in this pattern in the rest of my sewing in future. It would be a great pattern to tackle once you have a few garments under your belt and are looking to learn how to achieve better results. Kennis has actually just put out a call for testers for her new pattern which has so many variations there's 42 garments possible with the different combinations! I can't wait to see what is coming next.