Category Archives: Pattern drafting

Furthering my addiction: pattern cutting

Kirsty Allsop in her first Handmade Home TV series described machine embroidery as the ‘new crack cocaine for crafters’, I think I have found the equivalent for the home dressmaker.

Enter Pattern Cutting.

Bows to an applauding crowd.
Who else has thought it would be nice to be able to draft their own patterns, and has felt the glee, like me, when making successful adjustments to an existing pattern and drawing them on the actual tissue paper?
The Built by Wendy books are also a great way to extend confidence in altering a pattern basic, changing necklines, flare, sleeve variations and creating garments that work! I’ve been a long supporter and user of these books – love em, and have learnt a lot from them. To be honest, everyone picks things up as they sew and as we read others’ experiences in blogs and following tutorials. And those with non standard shapes will have learnt a lot more about fitting and the adjustments needed to create something that works for you, despite the trauma it might involve, the learning is a lot greater than people who can get away with just about what falls out of the pattern envelope.

But pattern cutting? What is it, how different is it to all that? I wasn’t sure what to expect when I enrolled on a 4 day course (link goes to next courses being offered) as my summer holiday this year. I had anticipated it might involve creating my custom block, but no. Did that matter? Absolutely not! The amount I learnt and the creative doors it has unlocked for me has been huge.  In fact I’d say the potential I see is even greater than having my own custom block.

20130713-090214.jpgEssential kit.

There was a lot we learnt in how to take a basic bodice and change it (including sleeves).  We learnt about dart manipulation. Moving darts around for creative effect, how it works, why it works. Oh, when the lightbulb came on for why it is a useful exercise and how you would use it I changed. Folks, I became an albeit minor league designer.

I’d come to the course prepared with some images of bodices with nice yokes and tie necks.  Look, aren’t they pretty?


People, I can do that already. Remember this yoke I drafted on the Colette violet blouse, & how I moved the buttons to the back? Folks, I started to get serious, challenge time. Think about something I’ve never tried before….
Taking a basic block that starts looking like this

basic bodice
Learn how to slash and spread to move darts around


Get crazy! Go wild!

And all the time we were tutored through by Jo Barnfield, who has many many years of industry experience (designing, making, pattern cutting), blogs at House of Jo (with some cool tutorials) and has published two books. I looked through the Pattern Cutting Primer and it’s  a really useful reference book, in a clean clear presentation style which I like. It’s clearly written with easy to understand diagrams, showing the same methods Jo was teaching us in class. Plus, it is speckled with some swoontastic photographs of existing garments to inspire. Jo was on hand to offer advice, help solve problems and also encourage students to raise their game, to extend their learning- all within a very relaxed environment- if rather hot being our summer heat wave!

After getting to grips with the slash and spread method we graduated onto the pivot method for moving a dart ( no way can a mere mortal like me explain it in the written word, this is definitely something to witness and practice yourself).

She explained as many things as we had questions – even why might we actually need facings ( my question 😉 ). Clearly I know that you need facings for certain fabrics and to add structure, but I’d never even thought that they can be ‘sweat guards’ – easier to replace when dresses/ tops become a bit dreary under the arm, protecting the precious bodice fabric. And those diamond shaped underarm gussets built into vintage dresses? Did you think like me that they were some kind of decorative design feature to perplex the sewster and define your sewing skills if actually able to insert one neatly? Or a way to create added movement in a mobile garment area? Well, think sweat guards again, and how they may have been attached by a few stitches and washed separately, when the dress/ top itself might not have touched the washer. Interesting.

Supplementing our learning we had an array of informative books to look at, including Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern cutting.  This book for me filled me with inspiration, Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong but it’s hugeo expensive. I want it though!!  In fact I want to study fashion design for three years & not have to go to work in an office!

Ahem, grow up Badge.  Ok, so what did I do? Well I created a cowl neck kimono sleeve pattern that now needs to be toiled (or twirled :-). )


And being the innocent I am, set both myself and Jo a challenge in trying to recreate this top, found in the Hobbs website (invitation Audley top).


It’s not jersey, but silk and we are trying a draped bias cut bodice. More to come when I get my experiments sewn.

This has to be one of the best courses I’ve ever done though, and I feel so excited about what I’ve learnt and want to get cracking putting it all into practice. Next formal learning will be to create my own custom block.

I know fellow bloggers have done pattern cutting courses….
Have you ever considered using your holiday to extend your sewing skills/ knowledge? If you’ve done a course like this how have you used it? Where did it take you?

Now I have the weekend to catch up on all the things I didn’t get to in the week, emails, other blogs, the fruit & veg market,  a 14 mile run (oh yes!) and as little domestics I can manage when we’ve a sunfilled weeked & I’ve been inside all week….hurrah!  Happy weekend everyone.

The Renfrew Wig Awards

When the Sewaholic Renfrew top was released I was there at the presale, just knowing that this looked like the perfect wardrobe staple, a basic, a multi-use perfect top.  To say I am obsessed with it is perhaps an exaggeration.  I have made five to date with more planned.  This pattern, let me tell you, just in case you’ve forgotten all of the other rave reviews, is a simple and quick make with wonderful design features and easy to follow instructions.  I would not hesitate recommending it to anyone wanting a knit top pattern.  The other compelling feature?  It can be cut and made up in an evening, I kid you not.  This pattern is becoming my trip down the chip shop of sewing – whenever I fancy something instant & satisfying I cut & construct a Renfrew.

So as I said I’ve made 5 and am about to reveal them, but am wary that it might be a bit boring as some of them are stash busters, pretty plain, so I am embellishing them with the wig (from my limited fancy dress basket) that I feel each Renfrew best deserves.  Now don’t judge me harshly for my personal wig rostrum.  I have three:

  • Gold: The black bob you’ve all seen before
  • Silver: The “blondes have more fun” matted carpet of a wig
  • Bronze: the scarily curly ginger wig that belongs to Gary. (scary because at times it might even suit me).

I shall display in chronological order …

1. My first attempt, plain boring white jersey following the pattern to the letter, and then hacked off some of the length, as it is longer in the body than I need it to be.  Sleeves are also too long.  I used the twin needle approach for stitching the seam allowance around the neckedge as suggested by Lladybird.


Why this wig?  You may disagree, but hold onto your own judgement until you see the Renfrew +wig collection in its entirety.  This wig in my mind befits the most unremarkable of the tops.  Third place on the rostrum.  The warning that this top brings is that I made it from jersey with zero lycra & the waistband stretched out of shape.  It is OK tucked in as long as the bulk doesn’t show through.  But be warned – get nice enough jersey with lycra to make your Renfrew.


2. This one is a lot more successful due to the quality of the jersey – some nice lycra content.  I did not have enough to make the neckband out of the same, but am glad I didn’t because it would be BORING just made from red.  I used fold over elastic as contrast.  This one is quite good apart from the fit above my chest.  I think it needs some kind of FBA, & looking at LLadybird’s post about Renfrews & FBAs I see she graded up.  Pity I’d cut out number three before trying on number two.  But for all that it deserves a silver.  I can pass it off in normal wear.  Unlike the wig.

3. So onto the cowl neck version made with 3/4 length sleeves because I did not have enough to make longer sleeves.  This is made from flocked polyester that I couldn’t resist from Goldhawk Road.  I think of it as my “curry house” top, you know, flocked wallpaper?  I adore this style with the cowl – it’s fab!  I had to cut the cuffs on the crosswise grain, due to not having enough, but it hasn’t had a detrimental effect.


But the fit isn’t quite right , again tight over the upper chest.  It can go no higher than silver.  Try again I must.

4. By the time I cut number 4 I had slaved away on other-to-be-blogged about sewing and needed a quick fix.  I tried to make a bigger size at the bust & being prudent used some expendable unspecial jersey.   There was only enough of this teal jersey for the short sleeves.  I used black knicker elastic on the neck edge and the sleeves, again to avoid death by boredom.  Check out the twin needle around the neckedge (I’ve used this on all of the above versions – thanks LLadybird again).    The fabric has a nice lycra content which is reflected in the finish.  But I failed to get the elastic right around the neck – oops!  Too tight & therefore resulting in this gathered puckered look.

Why this wig?  It’s still not quite right – & I was getting bored being blonde.  The neck edge is a bit tight.  Is the above chest area right now?  I’m not convinced.  Maybe it’ll smooth through wash & wear.  I can’t help feel it’s like pajamas ….

5. Another trial.  I have franken-patterned the Renfrew with my Built By Wendy Sew U Home Stretch crew neck t-shirt to get a cut of an armhole/ upper chest that already fits me.   By taking the upper body/ armhole edge & upper body shape of the BBW pattern, I used the Renfrew neckline & sideseam shaping.  I also made sleeve adaptations so that I now have the shape & style of Renfrew’s three varieties that fits the new cut of the shoulder/ armhole edge.  And guess what?  It worked!!


Here it is in grey marl.  Boring I know, but I bet it will be useful.  Now that deserves gold.  And I am now ready to crack open my other special jerseys to create the BBW/Renfrew they deserve.  I think this may be my first ever “block”.  Took a while to get there though ….

Hope you enjoyed the silliness & it helped you get through a 5-garment post!



Ok so not much sewing going on here- but hope to rectify that this weekend. I’m still reeling from an exceptionally late night morning on Monday Tuesday visiting London town to see the awesome Cake, an American band that sadly only one person outside my fellow cake groupie family had heard of.

Click image for source

They’ve been going since the early 90s and are wonderfully quirky clever musicians, brilliant lyricists that seeing them live has to be in my top 4 live experiences.   Something they do to supplement their cool vibes -at each gig they give away a tree & ask winners to post pictures of their tree on their website as part of the “Cake Forest”-  love it!  (I didn’t try to win, by the way – couldn’t imagine carting it home via the Tube & British Rail!).  Anyway this awesome experience involved getting the last train back home, not getting tucked up in bed till 2am on a work night!! Honestly, whilst I’m glad that I still managed plenty of body bopping (with minimal impact on my ageing and mistreated joints )in time to the plentiful funky beats, I am clearly too old to miss my sleep, finding that it’s Thursday and I’m still prising my eyes open at any specific time of the day, not just during unnecessarily long meetings/  astronomy on tv.

I’ve often thought when I go along to the odd concert how I also enjoy checking out the rest of the audience. Most of the things I go to have a range of ages represented, and I’m always particularly curious to spot fellow 40 year olds at events for bands from our student days who have clung onto or adapted their teenage student style as homage to the band they’re attending. Theres usually plenty of balding tshirt and jeans wearing men, but I love seeing ladies carrying off their vintage wardrobes, the ubiquitous Breton shirt, a nice bit of floral, all sported with confidence. Me? If I’m honest I also think about what I’m wearing too, and it mostly involves wearing something I’ve made myself, because at the end of the day, these are the clothes I love the most that express personal style.  But am careful of not being overdressed too, attending gigs mainly with tshirt-wearing 40 year old men (with plentiful hair I hasten to add!!)

Anyway – one of my reasons for sharing this – I’m interested in how well known they are to any readers across the ocean as they’ve done so many great albums …. And any one else reading this – in fact come forward any Cake fans?! Convince me that it’s just the southwest that is sheltered from their brilliance?

Sorry, that was longer than I planned, here are some pictures of things other than Cake that are interesting me at the moment.
Plenty of knitting:

Patons Fab Big wool in teal
Another snood made with some fabulous acrylic “Patons Fab Big”.

A Martha Stewart knitted neck scarf has been started in heritage dk. I’ve also bought some merino blend Aran to make another.

I’ve noticed though that I seem to be scared of finishing woolen makes, with three things now waiting for their finishing touches & ends darned in. Hmmm. What does that mean?   Incidentally these are all Christmas makes, my purple Kim Hargreaves cardigan is on ice until I finish my list.

And I’ve also been spellbound by this amazing book:

Betty Foster's Adapting to Fashion
Betty foster’s Adapting to Fashion. It was really cheap,  nearly new with untouched pattern pieces included. Oh it’s not only practical with lots of help with step by step fitting and adapting, it also fills me with glee looking at the 80s styling that recall Duran Duran’s “Rio” days. Whilst there is a lot of attention to the bodice & tops/ blouses there are also pages for dresses, skirts, trousers & jackets.  It’s not a thick book, & once past fitting your basic pattern, it’s explained mainly by diagrams, simple enough even for me?

He he!  Some cool yoke adaptations, but look at the fringe – mine goes like that now if I don’t watch out!!

Another view showing various bodice dart workings – there are also pages on other types of darts – eg shoulder darts.   This book covers so many different styles using the basics, adding collars, (great pages on Peter Pan collars 🙂   ).  I can’t wait to try drafting different shaped sleeves.  And just one more …

Don’t you just wish there were also make up lessons included?

Hope you’re all either managing to stay focused or are easy with your distractions.  I think I’m going to pick up my knitting!