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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

A simple way to make a pattern from a simple RTW garment


This week my daughter asked me to make her a Christmas dress, if I had time.

I felt it was entirely in the spirit of the season to say of course, I have lots of time (mental recalculations into high gear), so you can imagine my relief when I found out this dress was a knit A-line, in a stretch velour.

As to the pattern Katrina said she had a GAP sweater dress that was just perfect and could I copy that.

I also said of course.

Really the dress could not be an easier shape, essentially long sleeves, a scoop neck, front and back.

Copying this dress to make a pattern was very easy.

So easy that I decided to document how I do this, just in case someone, or even yourself, wants a simple garment copied in a hurry.

Note I have said simple a lot so far in this post. 

Copying more involved garments is well more involved and I am going to keep my head down and keep walking if anyone asks me to do that for them between now and Christmas.

That would be more of a won't rather than a can't situation.

Back to my how-to's.

First thing you have to think about is this:

Is the fabric to be used the exact same as the fabric in the original- degree of stretch is so important. Even a little extra stretch can be equal to a whole size up. I know this because I once made a clone/pattern from some knit pants and then cut out three pair, in slightly different fabrics and only one fit.

The second thing is your supplies. I don't know how anyone else does this but this is what I use:

1. A big piece of paper. This can be brown wrapping paper or whatever else you can find lying around that you can repurpose.

In my case I used some engineering drawings that my husband no longer needed, two big sheets taped together so my pattern actually looks like this from the wrong side:


2. A pencil. Check that junk drawer in the kitchen and hopefully there is one in there that still has a point on it. If not sharpen the pencil with the sharpener you use for eyeliner, assuming you can find that in that junky drawer in the bathroom.

3. A tracing wheel and some sewer's carbon paper. I assume you can still buy these. I am pretty sure I am still working with my 1975 originals.

A few technical notes:

1. When you are tracing around the garment use only little dashes rather than trying to draw long lines. Those long lines can veer off easily and the short dashes are easier to control and you can connect them later.



2. For corners it is really helpful to define them with a cross for accuracy. I tried to take a picture of this but it turned out very blurry, but I am going to use that anyway because really how much is there to see with a cross in pencil?


3. For internal details that can't be captured by tracing around an outline, like necklines, armholes or the curve of a sleeve cap and the top of a sleeve, I put a piece of tracing paper under the garment, coloured side down and trace over the detail with the tracing wheel.

4. I don't add seam allowances because obviously I am working from the outside of the garment and can't see them. Just following the stitching lines, either by tracing next to them or following them with the tracing wheel, is enough to keep me busy.

Also, no matter how hard you try since you are working with full garment pieces, the first draft of the pattern never seems to be entirely symmetrical. Folding the pattern in half to expose discrepancies, double checking, and comparing to the actual garment measurements, and compromising your way to some symmetry is part of the process, and on a simple garment, seems to work out fairly well.

To do my daughter's dress these were the steps I used:

1. I started with the easy stuff - the sleeves. Since the sleeves were identical front and back I folded them in half and traced around the long sides and bottom as shown above. To copy the sleeve top I used the tracing wheel after I had slipped a piece of tracing paper between the garment and the big paper:

For clarity I went over these lines with a pencil after I was done, the dashed lines are the outside of the sleeve and the cap was marked with my tracing wheel.
2. The dress I was working on was pretty simple, a knit A- line, so I traced around the sides, hem and shoulders with my pencil. I also traced around the back neckline which was higher than the front neckline, and used my tracing wheel to mark the armholes in the dress  (in this case the same front and back, if they had been different I would have made a front and back pattern piece, using whatever I was tracing on the top facing me) and the front neckline.





This is a complete example why the pattern needs to be trued sometimes. For some reason, probably because this was a stretchy knit and also because I am sort of a non accurate type person, one shoulder was longer. I went back and measured the shoulder seam on the dress and was able to correct this and, by folding the pattern in half, confirm that I then had two shoulders and armholes that matched.
3. Make a front neckline pattern. As it turned out in this dress the front and backs were identical except for the front neckline. I decided that what I will do is cut out two backs, and then I would cut out a lower front neckline from one of these pieces.

To make a pattern for this I went back and traced out a shoulder/front neckline piece that I can lay on one of my base pieces and just cut out a front neckline from it:


4. And of course the last step was to mark the seam and hem allowances to be added to the pattern on the fabric with chalk before I cut:


 I have actually decided to make a Christmas cake tomorrow (should have started this a couple of weeks ago but it took me that long to process my need to make one of these) but assuming that goes well I will be cutting out the dress and making it from this pattern - at which point we will see if I am as smart as I think I am.




Thursday, November 29, 2018

Baby nightgown

I promise that I won't do only baby garments forever but this morning my DIL sent me this picture and this gives me an excuse to show our latest and also a great pattern.



The fabric is some bamboo jersey I got at my local Fabricville (on a whim just checked and this fabric is actually on sale in their online store)  and is incredibly soft. I also made some burp cloths (free pattern from P4P) and a nursing coverup (from SUAT here, I am ashamed to say I paid for such an easy pattern but I was on a late night roll). BTW the cover-up and burp clothes make for a great insta baby gift if you ever need one.

Here is the nightgown pattern from Peekaboo:

Like all Peekaboo patterns it was an easy sew but, as I mentioned before, I found there was too much bulk in a small area around the neckline with those lapped seams when I serged them and in subsequent versions of this nightgown I used a small zigzag instead and I was much happier with it.

I have to say I as pleased when my DIL said she liked nightgowns. I remember myself how easy they were for night time changes on really little babies and the elastic bottom keeps them from riding up.

I am having a lot of fun over here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Baby clothes

Here are a few things I have made for the new baby with some links to easy patterns.

Now I do know of course that this baby undoubtedly is fully outfitted. My daughter-in-law in no slouch, but making this tiny garments is good for me to do. Sort of an act of synchrony across the continent.

There are numerous things that have been made and sent but here is a sample, more pictures as I go along.

The first is a little Christmas sweat pant set for hanging around the house during the holidays. I just had a small amount of this very soft fleece but got the two pieces out of it, even with the top with the lapped collar.


Both of the patterns for the top and for the "leggings" are free from Patterns 4 Pirates.

P4P really have so many nice free patterns, so many of them perfect for quick Christmas, gifts and all so easy to sew with great instructions.

The same can be said of the Peekaboo patterns I have used.

It is kind of nice for an long time sewer to use some of these excellent indie pattern companies. These folks gear their patterns to fairly new sewers so the instructions are so clear and the sewing so relaxed. It is also worth noting that the pattern testing process, which I participated in when I test sewed Love Notions Duet pants, seems very rigorous. In that experience multiple sewers made 4-7 versions of the pattern, all in different sizes, and the designer was very responsive to feedback and fine tuning.

It does seem to me that the indie companies that follow a process like this really do produce some very nice patterns. I feel really strongly that it is unfair to group all indie patterns together, which some of us often do, -  there is just so much variance in design process, designer skill, and quality of the product.

It has also occurred to me how different the Big Four patterns would be if they pattern tested like this with ordinary sewers. Can you imagine how much they would learn if their patterns and instructions were test driven like this before they were put out into the market? Probably not feasible of course for the mass production pattern companies but still, it would be interesting if they did this even occasionally. Would do them good IMO.

Back on topic Babs.

I have made several Peekaboo patterns and enjoyed sewing them. Pretty simple sews and in the kids lines in particular the styles and fit are really comparable to RTW.

Here is a sleep sack I made this week. 

My daughter and I have been debating on how warm to make these clothes for this California baby. My impulse as a Canadian mother is to focus on the staying warm part and I realize that this may be overdoing it for California. So my compromise is that I am going to make three sleep sacs in three different weights. This one is the lightest, in a substantial cotton interlock from the l'osieau fabrics - you will probably recognize the fabric from a top I made myself:


The pattern for the sleeper is of course multi-sized and includes a footed version for older kids.

A few comments about constructing clothes for newborns.

Both patterns called for the entire garments to be serged, and the instructions illustrate that, but after the first garment a while back, I decided that in many cases all that serging, particularly when there are layered seams at the necklines, were just too bulky for new skin.

As a result I moved back to my sewing machine and a tiny zig zag for the top and pants, and although I serged the seams on the sleep sack, I actually sewed the neck binding on single layer and turned and hand stitched it around the neckline rather than having a raw serged edge.

I just think it is smoother and as a grandmother I can get fussy like this.

More of these mini outfits coming, but just a sample of what's going on down the sewing room at present.

Monday, November 26, 2018

I will be teaching in Tulsa Oklahoma in April

I have a few things coming up I am working awayon in the background right now.

One of these is participation in Vintage Sewing Adventure in Tulsa April 6 and 7th, 2019

I will be one of the folks meeting fellow sewing people and maybe signing a few books on the Saturday night and will be doing some teaching on the Sunday.

I am pretty excited about this event.

As those who know me either locally or from the blog will know, my sewing life is situated strongly within the culture of sewing. I see the fact I sew as part of my heritage as a woman. My own part in this is me trying to pass on some of that culture to new and returning sewers.

Every day I often feel propelled in my sewing by a connection to generations of women who sewed before me -  who worked on kitchen tables after the family had gone to bed, or laid out patterns on the broadloom before the kids came in the door after school.

In my own sewing I wish these women could know I recognize the sewing they did. I wish I could tell them I understand how in those afternoons and evenings they were disguising a drive to express some creativity in their lives with what looked, on the outside, to be just a useful activity.

This is what vintage sewing means to me, so when I was invited to be part of this event, I signed right up.

I will be speaking on what vintage sewers could teach the modern sewist and also doing a workshop on traditional, and often quirky, sewing machine attachments.

I am also really looking forward to being in Tulsa which is a new city to me.

If you are in the neighbourhood next April, stop by and let's have a chat.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Flypaper thoughts mysteries of life editon


  • There are still a few things I have yet to figure out
  • Like what a dog is looking for when they spend 20 minutes circling around to find a place to pee
  • It's 11:00 at night, a person is in her nightgown out in the yard and it's raining
  • And still this production takes 20 minutes
  • Sometimes you think that's it and they almost squat and then stop
  • No not quite right
  • All this delicacy from folks who eat paper napkins no problem
  • Or the tops of pens that fall on the floor
  • And even guys like my daughter's retriever 
  • Who recently ate entire an pineapple including the green part
  • And never even burped
  • I would also really like to know why when your top stitching around a neckline 
  • Goes wobbly for just a little 1/2" it is always more or less at centre front
  • I mean when was the last time that your topstitching went off course and it happened say under your armpit or at the back of the neck
  • I am still looking for this hands up
  • Nobody?
  • Always right in the middle at eye level
  • Am I right?
  • Only a month to Christmas
  • A holiday I love
  • Because I more or less like any kind of holiday
  • I like to celebrate
  • I had an aunt by marriage who understood this
  • Named Auntie Bonnie but that was not her real name
  • But she was well-know as a bonnie type by Scottish relatives
  • Anyway when I knew her she was past her heyday which apparently involved something about white gloves and dances with airmen at the beach
  • When I see her image now it was when I knew her and her stockings were rolled down below her knees
  • But that's not the point
  • Auntie Bonnie was famous for saying
  • "You have to have some jazz band dancing in life"
  • I think she was completely right
  • None of us should ever miss out on our jazz band dancing opportunities
  • The rest can wait
  • Which is why I like Christmas
  • Except for one part
  • There is one thing about Christmas that I really hate
  • And that is that you can never find the end of the sticky tape once you lose it
  • And if you do and scratch at it for about ten minutes
  • All you are going to get is a wide bit that quickly tapers into a thin strip
  • That is completely useless when you are under the wrapping gun
  • And puts you back to where you started
  • I am getting ready to bake
  • Remember fruit cake
  • Who knows anyone who is not at least 80 and male who likes fruitcake these days
  • I am beginning to suspect that having hair in your ears is a pre-requisite for an appreciation of candied fruit baked in a cake
  • Which reminds me
  • Out at dinner the other week my husband remarked that he figured he was pretty hot for a man of his age
  • And he had definite evidence
  • Looking around the dining room that was at the golf club and fairly specific demographically speaking
  • Since we were eating at about 5:30 on a Sunday night
  • He said to me "Look at these guys. I am the only one here without hair in my ears."
  • "That pretty rare for a guy my age, pretty proud about that."
  • Hold me back
  • But seriously what is more irresistible than a man who can make you laugh
  • All the time