Friday, 28 December 2012

2012: Top 5 Hits and Misses

I've really enjoyed reading everyone's top 5 lists of 2012. I've decided to join in using a similar format. Thank you to Gillian at Crafting A Rainbow for the idea.

Review of 2012 makes

I took my review very seriously (tee hee, I'm a bit of a geek). With virtual clipboard in hand, I listed all my 2012 makes and posed the following questions for each:

  • Number of times worn
  • Love (score 1 to 10)
  • Hate (score 1 to 10)

I completed 17 garments in 2012. I'm actually surprised the number is so high. I spent a lot of time making muslins and working on fit resulting in large gaps between blog posts. I balanced things out a bit with easier makes such as the Burda Tops and the Picnic Blanket skirt.

One interesting discovery is that my third question was redundant. I didn't hate any of my makes (or score them 5 or less). This could be due to a number of things:
  • Making muslins. Although I haven't achieved a perfect fit on anything (and I'm not sure there is such a thing) my preparation work seems to have paid off. The less worn items this year have been where the fit is not quite right.

  • Lining where lining is required.

  • Veering towards the “cake” rather than “frosting” side of things. An example is my Minoru Jacket. I used plain old black even on the zip and topstitching. As much as I loved seeing bright colours and quirky fabrics on others, I knew that this would limit wearability. With something like a jacket, I don't want to limit this.
Review of patterns and garments

I used Sewaholic patterns the most, completing six garments in all. Next up was Megan Nielsen with four makes. I made two garments each from Colette patterns and Burda magazine.

Obviously I'm not a “big 4” girl yet! I've nothing against the big 4. It's more that I've only made a limited number of garments and these lovely independents are prolific in the on-line blogging world. As a direct result, I bought a lot of their patterns in 2011 and earlier this year. It's not really surprising they account for a lot of my makes.

Looking forward to next year, while I don't have any concrete plans, I have plenty of patterns and books to use. You might be seeing makes from my sewing books in the coming year (ie Gertie, Burdastyle and Colette). I might crack open Burda magazine again.

I have the Colette Beignet which I will get around to at some point. (Those buttons don't scare me any more – 2012 was the year of the button for me!) I have the Colette Violet, bought in 2011, but at present have no plans to make it. I bought some “Big 4” patterns back in 2010 when I started sewing so it might be time to start some of those. Also I have a big stack of vintage patterns from auctions, some of which I would like to try.

I also have a perfectly fitting ready to wear summer dress, bought years ago, that I've been thinking of copying. This is something I'd like to try, maybe in 2013.

As to categories of makes, the dresses take the top spot. I made 7 this year. Next up were 6 tops, 3 skirts and 1 jacket. I think this is a fairly good mix and I've certainly worn all my makes. There haven't been any areas where I've felt my wardrobe is lacking.  (I don't wear trousers or jeans that much so I don't see the lack of those items as a gap!) Mainly I'm sewing for fun now.

My Top 5

I've cheated a bit and included 6. All of these items scored a 10 from me and it's not fair to leave one out.

I haven't listed my hits in any order but if I were to pick one favourite, this would be it. I love everything about this jacket and wearing it makes me smile. What can I say about this jacket? Tasia has made such a unique pattern. This is my first jacket and Tasia really does prove that anyone can make a jacket.

These are the best photos of the year as well, taken by my lovely chap.  It was the hottest day of the year that day - I was sweltering in that coat! We sneaked into a farmer's field.  We noticed the next day that the bales of hay were gone so we got there in time!

A surprise hit for me this summer. I discovered it also makes great winter wear, worn with black tights and a black / dark fitted jumper. In fact I might even prefer the winter look!

This isn't my usual silhouette and I would normally avoid gathers at the waist. I think it helped that I kept the skirt flat at the sides rather than gathered to reduce the width. Sewing has allowed me to venture into areas that I might not have considered. Another example of this is the Crescent skirt. When the pattern came out I never dreamed the style would work on me. My 3 Crescent skirts (from 2011) get worn all the time in the summer. I'm a bit sad that I haven't got round to making a winter Crescent yet.

This gets worn all the time, but as work wear, with a fitted navy suit. The drape of the top is perfect. Next time I will remove those damn facings and just have the bias binding though.

This is another one that gets worn all the time. I wear it with my denim skirts, my Miss Chalmers' skirts, my pencil skirt, and … well all my skirts! I don't know if the weight of the fabric helps with the versatility. It's a very fine knit, with a good drape.

This is a recent make and so has only just made it onto the list. I wore it on Christmas Day and I know that it's going to get worn a lot. The dress is so comfortable and can be dressed down with a cardigan or dressed up on it's own. It's nice to have a dress without a zip and I think this adds a lot to the comfort factor!

Another recent make that has shot straight into the top 5. I haven't yet worn it but it will get worn a lot. I'm really proud of the finish on this one and that the fabric choice and drape is spot on!

Top 5: the Misses

As explained above, there were no horrible misses or fails in 2012. All of these items are still in my wardrobe and I'll continue to wear them. What you're seeing here are the makes that haven't scored as highly and the reasons why this might be.

I've worn this a lot. I love the shape, the lining and the fabric I used. This has scored low purely because of the fit. It's too tight around the bust and I should have lowered the midriff band as well. I even made a muslin for this one. The muslin fabric I used had a bit of stretch so maybe the fitting issues didn't show up. I don't have any plans to make the dress again.

I'm wondering now why I scored this so low. I've worn it a lot this year, both for work and as casual wear. The light colour goes well with brightly coloured cardigans and tops. I guess the only reason it has scored low is the waistband. I made it too wide (rather than a slim waistband), and the waistband didn't fit well. I have to hide the waistband with the tops that I wear. I love everything else about the skirt though, particularly the lining. I also enjoyed making the lined vent.

Again I wear this a fair bit. I finished it well and my boyfriend was recently surprised that this was something I made as it looks shop brought! The knit fabric I used is not as good as the fine knit I used in my first version. The main problem is the bottom of the sleeves and the cuffs. I'm now sure how it happened but I ended up making the sleeves too short and so I had to make longer cuffs. The bottom of the sleeves are too wide and need to be taken in. There is too much gathering of the sleeve into the cuff. Apart from the sleeves I like this top but the issues with the sleeves were enough to give this a low score.

Red and Black Macaron

I appreciate my “fail” list may not be “fail-ey” enough for some people. I do love this dress even if I have scored it low. The fabric I had in my stash works well and the lining makes it extra special. I love the Macaron shape and the design elements like the pleated skirt, the petal sleeves and the sweetheart bodice. I haven't worn it much, perhaps 3 or 4 times? The reasons for the low score, and why it's not reached for more often, are:

1. The shoulders are too tight. I noticed this with the Darling Ranges bodice as well – the shoulders are very narrow. I don't know why I didn't notice this at the muslin stage as this is a very easy fix.

2. The waistband. Aaaarrghhhh! I still shudder at the problems I had with the waistband. I couldn't get the original one to match the bodice properly. I'm sure this was a fault in the pattern. I even emailed Sarai about this but she said she checked her original drafts and couldn't see anything wrong with the pattern. I drafted my own waistband in the end. I kind of fudged it and so the dress consequently doesn't have that polished look. Even if no-one else can notice the slightly dodgy waistband – I can! A bit like the waistband on my pencil skirt. I don't yet have the skills for pattern drafting and my drafting fudges have dragged down both of these makes.

3. It's not easy to get on and off, exacerbated (or perhaps caused) by the shoulder issues.

4. It's not cardigan friendly. This may just be that I don't have a matching cardigan – I think I would need black. It may also be that the sleeves make a cardigan uncomfortable. I do think this is the sort of dress that looks best on its own. I wouldn't hesitate to wear it to a drinks party – it's fine for standing in a warm room, holding a glass and chatting! Unfortunately I don't get to do that very often. It's a winter dress and so if it can't get worn with a cardigan then it's wearability is limited.

Again I like this and I wore it a lot in the summer. It's also cardigan friendly. The reasons for the low score are:

  1. The skirt is not quite right. See in the front where it looks like a pleat? I don't know how to fix that. I probably need to move remove some of that excess from the pattern pieces.
  1. I should have given the straps a sloping shoulder adjustment or something so they sit flat on my shoulders. As it is the straps stick out where my shoulders slope down, made more obvious by the width of the straps.

  2. I didn't use a great quality fabric. I was attracted mainly to the stripes. The fabric is a bit stiff but more importantly it frays like hell. So much so that part of the waistband has now worn away (as I used only a 1cm seam allowance). I do want to fix this so that I can wear it next summer. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it – perhaps interface where the fabric has frayed?

I really enjoyed putting together this post. I think it's good to be honest with your makes, recognise what hasn't worked and try to learn from the fails. Like most of you, I have precious little time to sew. I want to use my time productively to make more of the items that will be worn and loved.

One area I need to work on is not being afraid to give up! I've spent a lot of time on muslins this year. For some makes I've worked through multiple muslins (the Banksia, Darling Ranges, Macaron). While it may have been easier to give up on some of them, I worked on. On the whole I'm glad I did for all of them, particularly the Darling Ranges and Banksia patterns, and even the Macaron dress. Sometimes it's hard to give up when you've invested so much time in something. I will see if I can recognise more in the future when to give up on a project.

So with that we now move into 2013, which in my case will be the start of my third year of sewing. 


Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Navy Blue Banksia ... and sewing presents!

Here is my second version of the wonderful Banksia top from Megan Nielsen patterns.

Hands down my favourite outfit with this top is the one matched with my mustard petal skirt. I'll let you into a secret though - my hand is holding up the skirt in this photo! No the snaps haven't fallen off due to shoddy sewing. Rather I need to move the hook and eye bars in a good inch to get a more fitted look around the waist. I'm not good at mending but this particular fix is high on my list so I can wear this outfit!

I did everything exactly the same as in the first make of this top except I interfaced the collar.  This fabric is very fine with a good drape and still the rather heavy weight interfacing I have works well.  (My last post explains why I didn't interface the collar on my first make. Even thought that one has turned out fine I won't be repeating the non-interfacing of a collar, particularly one like this which needs some structure).

The fabric dates all the way back to February 2011 when it was used as the under lining for my Pendrell blouse.  I knew as soon as I saw Megan's blue version of this top that I wanted to use this fabric to make the top.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas yesterday. I had a quiet one with my boyfriend which was lovely. Just chilling, watching TV and eating.  (How did I manage to eat a whole Terry's chocolate orange?).   We also entertained ourselves over this half eaten turkey for sale on ebay.  If you're in the Llandudno area of Wales then you'll have to hurry as the sale ends in 4 hours!  We were thinking of questions we could ask the seller: "Will you post that?"  "What flavour stuffing is it?" etc etc!

Now onto the lovely present I got from my boyfriend.  Gertie's new sewing book!

I got to choose my book.  My main sewing wish is a book about linings but as that costs around £60 it'll have to be a wish for a while longer.  Without hesitation I chose Gertie's book.  I've read lots of reviews and I knew I wanted to make the wiggle dress.

I wasn't expecting too much. I'm a bit "sewing booked out" with my Colette book, Burdastyle sewing handbook and many others.  My goodness the book does not disappoint! It's extremely engaging.  I'll be  reading the section about techniques and I hope to make more than just the wiggle dress.  I mainly love the value for money. It comes with ten patterns (which I didn't realise - I assumed there would be five like the Colette and Burdastyle books).

The illustrations in the book are gorgeous.  Look at these - they make you want to rush out to find the same fabric.

Here are some of my favourite patterns that I hope to make.

Pencil Skirt

Bow tied blouse

Sweetheart sundress (though I'll probably straighten the neckline)

Wiggle dress

Finally I don't have much need for this dress but I still love this variation of the sundress:

Happy sewing!

Monday, 24 December 2012

White Banksia Top

I've finished my first make of the Banksia top from Megan Nielsen. As mentioned in my last post I did a photo-shoot of 3 makes at once and unfortunately nearly all of them came out blurry. I wish I had one of those remotes but I don't think they have one for my camera. When I'm using my self-timer I'm just photographing an empty wall so there's nothing to focus on. Anyway here are the photos.

I made it sleeveless so it's a hardly a winter friendly make. It will get some winter wear though because it's cardigan friendly. There's an explanation for the lack of sleeves below but I honestly think that a sleeveless version will get more wear.

I love the way this top can be worn loose as well as tucked in. This is mainly due to the drape of the fabric. It's the same fabric used for my summer make of the Burda 113. Unlike my Burda 113, this top doesn't work under a work suit jacket because it pulls the collar in. No worries. It's more of a casual style and work friendly if tucked into a pencil skirt and worn with a cardigan.

How I love the placket! Like many who've made this top it was my first time with a placket. It was surprisingly easy but tricky to get neat. I have added some extra steps to Megan's wonderful tutorial which I have set out further below. I found these steps helped to get everything neat. I used method 2 for the placket (see her Banksia sew-along tutorials which can be linked from the button in my sidebar). I mainly used the instructions to sew the placket which are truly wonderful.

I managed to find four buttons from my stash. My boyfriend sometimes picks up sewing stuff from auctions for me. While there are wonderful buttons it's sometimes hard to find a decent number that are the same! I added four buttons instead of 3. I could have done with putting the first one closer to the neckline. Instead of interfacing the whole of the placket pieces, I just interfaced the part that would end up being the finished width of the placket. I did this to reduce bulk. Unfortunately the placket stretched out a bit when I was opening and closing the buttons.

I didn't interface the collar at all. I have a bit of a “one size fits all” approach to interfacing partly because I can't justify buying different weights when I have loads already of one weight. I thought my interfacing would be too thick for my collar and would interfere with the drape of the fabric. Not something I'll repeat. Although it hasn't effected the final look of the blouse, I didn't hesitate to interface the collar on my second Banksia (yet to be blogged) and it's turned out fine.

I like Megan's use of bias binding to attach the collar. I used some cream bias tape I had in my stash. I didn't have enough for the sleeves so I had to make self-bias tape from the fabric.

All in all I am really pleased with the top. I particularly like the collar and placket detail – such a unique design. I'm definitely thinking that the placket could be adapted for other makes. A higher neckline with a small square collar? That way the placket will actually get used! I'm one of those people who get irritated by “faux” details, such as false pockets, buttonholes, plackets. Sorry I just can't do it. Even if I never use the pocket it has to be a real one. In some ways this placket is the reverse. The buttons are fully usable, but they're never going to be used because you'd end up exposing yourself!

Anyway I will close the post now and set out below the long and laborious process of making this top for those who are interested. I did some on-line research before making the top. Some people had a lot of issues with the fit and the collar and others had no issues whatsoever. You can guess which category I fell into. My issues were with the bodice back and the back of the collar. It's funny because many people complained about the collar being too short for the neckline. I had the opposite problem. On the initial muslins I had to do a lot of easing to fit the bodice into the collar at the back.

Anyway I hope you're all enjoying the holidays so far. I'll be back with Banksia number two as soon as I can!

Fitting process for the Banksia Top

Muslin number 1

I cut out a size 12 and sewed it with no alterations, save for a 1 cm seam allowance on the shoulders and the sides instead of 1.5 cm.


Having said I did no other alterations, I did do something of an “extra”. I drafted a lower collar pattern piece one eighth of an inch smaller all round than the collar pattern piece. It came out alright in the muslin so I stuck with it, while vowing to try and get the future collar less wrinkly.

I like the bias binding for the collar facing. I think if you're using a softer fabric then you might want to use self binding, or softer shop-bought stuff.


I chose the harder method 2 in the pattern (so that it's neat on the inside as well). It came out really well. I could have sworn I pinned my collar right up to the basting stitches where the placket is placed, but on my first muslin there was around a 1 cm gap on each side of the placket. It seems the collar seam allowance needs to stray into the placket placement area to reduce this gap.


I wasn't going to alter the bust dart at first. When the top is on, the style is quite boxy and loose and so it wasn't easy to see if alterations were needed. Out of interest I marked where my bust was on the muslin and had a look when I took it off. The actual dart placement was off so I figured there would be no harm in moving it. I moved it about an inch lower.

Armholes and Sleeves

The armholes were too tight on the muslin. They needed to be enlarged so I would have enough room to move comfortably. This would involve corresponding changes to the sleeves.

Other possibilities

I can see so many possibilities for this pattern. I like the dresses I've seen with an elasticated waist and no sleeves. A jersey version would also be great as would a version with a gathered skirt on the lower part, a bit like the Darling Ranges dress.

Muslin number 2

I took my time sewing the collar and making up the placket. I even re-attached the placket a number of times to try out different tweaks on the construction method. I adopted some of these tweaks for the final version as they worked out well (see below).


Stitch length - I sewed with a 2 mm stitch length instead of 2.5 mm. This appears to have reduced the little points that appear on the curved edges.

When attaching bias binding to the collar, the pattern instructions say to attach the collar with a 1.5 cm seam allowance, trim down to 0.6 cm and then attach the bias binding. What I don't like about this is that trimming free hand risks an uneven edge on which the bias binding is attached. Let's face it, who's going to measure and mark to make sure the trimming is even? Instead I left the neck edge seam allowance at 1.5 cm, didn't trim, and didn't iron the edge of the binding flat, leaving the ready-pressed fold in the binding as it was. I then lined up the fold in the binding with the stitched seam line on the neckline (which attached the collar) and pinned. This means that the binding does not line up with the edge of the neckline. No problem as you stitch along the ready-pressed fold line in the binding which you can clearly see. I then sewed along the foldline (which sews through the collar seam line immediately underneath), pressed and THEN trimmed. Uneven trimming does not matter now!

Placket and basting stitches for placket placement

Megan's tip is that preparation is the key to the placket. This is so true and I think that even more preparation before you start to sew the placket makes it so much easier. (I did method 2 in the pattern so I don't know if this would apply to method 1).

I have set out at the end of this post the steps that I added to the placket placement.

Trying on of muslin 2

After taking time to perfect the collar and placket construction methods I assumed the rest of the fit would be fine. Wrong! Although I liked the collar, the placket and the front of the top generally, there were major issues with the back. I had to gather the neckline at the back to fit it into the collar. Also the shoulder seams wanted to sit too far down my back rather than the top of my shoulders.

I nearly cried at this point and just left it for a couple of days. I couldn't face making more adjustments to the back. They would be too complicated as they would involve the collar as well. This was when I hit upon the idea of using the bodice from another pattern where the fit is good. My first venture into using and adapting a block pattern!

Muslin 3 – Phoenix from the Ashes

I can't believe I actually did something to salvage the Banksia and pretty quickly too. I decided to make the top from my tried and tested Angela Kane shift dress pattern (see posts from last year here, here and here). The Angela Kane pattern had already been adjusted to fit me so I only had to made a few adjustments (traced onto new pattern pieces) to turn it into a top. I just chopped a bit off the length, made the sides slightly bigger and traced the neckline of the Banksia front (not the back).


I then traced out a new collar pattern from my adjusted pieces. I effectively using the Gertie / Jamie Lau method as mentioned in my posts from last year. I then traced the outline of the Banksia collar as closely as possible. I found it useful to notch the collar pattern piece to match the shoulder seams. This makes attaching the collar so much easier and I wonder why the original pattern didn't have shoulder markings (unless I missed them). I also made an under collar piece 1/8 inch smaller.

When making this muslin I didn't bother with the bias binding on the inside of the collar (which I did on my first two muslins). I just attached the collar and then “under stitched” the collar seam allowance to the neckline of the shirt. This works just as well to give you an idea of what it will look like.


I took my time doing method 2 of the placket and have made a few changes / additions to the (excellent) instructions in the Banksia pattern. I found these small additional steps makes it easier to sew and reduces the risk of the placlet seam allowances peeking out to the right side.

  • Placket placement markings - Instead of doing basting stitches to mark the placket placement on the top, I used coloured chalk. (Obviously if chalk doesn't show up on your final fabric then do the basting stitches). I then did permanent “stay stitching” just inside the placket placement lines using a normal stitch length. That way you can snip right up to this line and the placket area won't stretch out. It's important to press after this step as the stitching produces wrinkles on the fabric which could show through in the final make.

  • Preparation of plackets - I took the time to do a bit more preparation in advance to the placket pieces which I found really pays off. I had the instruction booklet opened in front of me and I did all the pressing and folding back of the long edges before I started. You need the booklet to know which way you need to press (remembering that one placket mirrors the other). I found it helpful to do a row of basting stitches 1.5 cm in from each long edge as this makes it easier to press and fold in. Remove the stitching immediately after you've pressed though.

  • Slitting the centre - Don't slit the centre of the top first!! The construction of the placket reminded me of a welt pocket which you don't slit until you're ready to turn through. The plackets are much easier to attach and line up when the centre is not already slit. Also, there is less unnecessary stress on the slitted areas. I slit the centre of the top after I attached the two plackets, and after I had sewn the top edges of the plackets.

  • Turning through – I used Tilly's tip when turning through of not trimming the corners before turning through. This really works and it's surprising how neat the corners turn out.

  • Sewing the bottom of the placket once turned through. After sewing the triangle from the slit centre front to the bottom placket (the placket nearest your skin) I neatened the bottom edges of both plackets by folding in the two edges to form a triangle and then tacking down the edges with a couple of stitches. (I used a short zig zag stitch with lowered feed dogs for this). I found this helped to keep everything inside the stitched square and to prevent the seam allowances peeking outside the square. I also did the same folding in and tacking down of the outer edge of the top of the placket, rather than trimming diagonally. I found with trimming diagonally there was a risk of fraying fabric peeking out to the right side.

The only problem with using another bodice pattern was that I didn't have sleeves to fit. I looked up a few tutorials and tried to draft my own. I make up a couple of drafts and they were a bit laughable. I decided to abandon the sleeves – baby steps!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Polka Dot Darling Ranges

I've finished my second Darling Ranges dress! I finished it ages ago actually but haven't had a chance to photograph it.  Not least because it's been freezing around here, even inside the house. I wanted to wear it for Christmas though so this was the shove I needed to get it photographed.

Anyway voici les photos:

With a Cardi

On the hanger

Blurry close up of the placket and neckline detail

This is my second make of this pattern from Megan Nielsen. The first one is here.  I did everything the same as before except for two small things.

First I noticed that I hadn't transferred the changes from my muslin to the pattern correctly after my first make. Essentially the armholes and sleeves should have been 1 cm smaller.  I corrected the pattern to accommodate this so the sleeves are now slightly more fitted around the armholes.  

Second, I didn't use the set-in sleeve method. I used the one where the sleeve seam and the side seam on the dress are sewn up in one go. I think this is how the Renfrew and Minoru are sewn but I was already familiar with the method from the Angela Kane shirt videos I have.  

I have to say the sleeves on my first Darling Ranges are slightly more comfortable - which must be due to that extra ease.  If I were to make the pattern again I'd have to think about whether to change the sleeves back! 

I bought this fabric in the summer, at the same time as the fabric used on my first Darling Ranges.  A certain well known blogger called Tilly is known for her love of chocolate brown polka dot (see here and here).  She must have influenced me more than I thought!

I absolutely love this dress and this pattern.  I can't wait to start wearing it now. I have a thing about not wearing my handmades until they've been photographed for the blog! I think because knowing me I'd never get around to doing this once it had been worn and washed. 

I've also finished two Banksia's so I'm hoping to get those up on the blog this year.  I photographed them at the same time as this one so it's just a matter of writing up the posts. They weren't plain sailing so the posts won't be short!  

I'm also working on another pattern at the moment in my favourite fabric, denim. I'm really excited about how it's looking so far.

I've enjoyed reading everyone's top 5 posts. I'm planning at some point to do a round up of what exactly out of my hand mades gets worn.  I always find these posts interesting so I'm looking forward to doing that.  Whenever that may be. The renovations I've been doing are ongoing (my boyfriend's estimate of one month was way off!). 

A little housekeeping note. Google Friend direct is doing funny things when I try to follow a blog.  It won't let me unless I link this blog to the email address I used to set the blog up. The problem is that not everyone who has that email address knows about this sewing blog so I'm not happy to just link it. This is also a problem for commenting on a Blogger blog that I'm not already following on GFC. I can't use Open ID unless I link it. So I can't comment unless the Blogger has Disqus or it's a Wordpress blog (as I've set up accounts for both of those).  Why do they have to change things? I think Blogger and Google and going to merge at some point so I'll have to address this at some point. Lord knows how but in the meantime I can't use Google Friend connect!

Finally I want to say a little thank you to everyone who reads, follows and comments on the blog.  I love each comment, follow and page click I get so thank you so much! Sorry to the people who were looking for Angela Lonsdale, the actress, rather than the Lonsdale dress. I hope I didn't inconvenience your searches too much!

Happy Christmas all! 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Darling Ranges Dress

I've finished my Darling Ranges dress! I'm so chuffed to have one of my own. Here are the photos.

The best part? Being able to pair it with a brightly coloured cardigan. 

This is the Darling Ranges dress from Megan Nielsen. I didn't buy the pattern for ages as I thought the “v” neckline would be too low and wrong for my shape. I caved in a few months ago when Megan had a discount. I ended up buying it from a UK supplier as it worked out cheaper.

First Muslin

I made two muslins. The first muslin I posted about here. I cut a medium but found the bodice a bit tight and the dart too high. I debated whether to cut a bigger size or adjust the pattern. In the end I cut a bigger size.

Second Muslin

I cut an extra large and figured I would fit it down to size. I used a 1 cm seam allowance throughout instead of 1.5 cm as the pattern recommends. This is getting to be standard for me – mainly to try and avoid lengthening the bodice and widening the shoulders.


1.  I lowered the bust dart by around 1.5 cm. In my last post I mentioned that I would need to alter the shoulders as well to achieve this. I'm grateful to Johanna for diplomatically questioning what on earth I was talking about. In my head I had a crazy way of doing it but luckily I found Megan had a much better way covered in the Banksia sew along. The Darling Ranges dart is much bigger than the Banksia one so I found this a bit tricky to do.

2.  I did a small bust adjustment on my adjusted bodice piece – my first ever. I've put up with a baggy bodice in the past to avoid this. Not an option on this style of dress. I took something like 5 cm out. I used Megan's tutorial for this on her sew-along post. I couldn't follow all the steps on the post, particularly the ones towards the end. It took a lot of of effort to get the waist size to stay the same and the sides to match with the back bodice. I didn't quite manage to get the side seams to match. I only noticed this when I was sewing the final version. I eased the fabric above the dart to make the side seams match creating a sort of ruched effect. 

3.  I lengthened the skirt pieces by 3 inches. The skirt is pretty short in its unaltered form.

4.  I lengthened the sleeves by 3 inches so they're three quarter length. I shaved 2 cm from the sides of the sleeve pattern piece at the base, tapering up to 1 cm shaved off at the top. I might shave off a bit more if I make this again to get a more fitted sleeve.

5.  Waistline – I didn't change the height of the waistline. It's higher than the natural waistline but it's supposed to be. 

6.  I removed 1 cm from the sides from my skirt and bodice pattern pieces.

I sewed the dress up in a different order to the pattern after hearing others rave about the method. I attached the skirt and bodice pieces separately into three long panels and did the side side seams in one fell swoop. This makes it easier to make minor adjustments to the fit (which I didn't need).  This meant I gathered the skirt pieces in three sections rather than in one go as in the pattern. 


I didn't like the elasticated sleeves on the muslin so I decided to make cuffs. I was going to try a buttoned cuff but I wasn't up to trying a new technique. My cuff pieces measure 10 inches x 2 inches plus seam allowances on all sides. Those of you with the Renfrew or Minoru patterns will know how to attach cuffs. I linked to a tutorial on how to attach cuffs in my hoody post from last year. Instead of gathering the bottom of the sleeve to fit the cuff I made four pleats. This was really easy to do:

1.  After sewing the cuff seam and folding and pressing (wrong sides together), mark 4 notches on raw edges of the folded cuff at equal distances starting from the cuff seam. The first notch is at the cuff seam.

2.  Mark 4 notches in the same manner at the bottom of the sleeve (with the first notch at the sleeve seam).

3.  Match the first notches together at the sleeve and cuff seams, right sides together, pin and then do the same for the remaining notches (see the tutorial linked above as to what it should look like at this stage if you're unclear).

4.  Pin the 4 parts in between the notches and create a pleat in the centre of each part. It doesn't matter which direction you pleat, or whether you have two going one way and two going the other, as long as they're consistent.

5.  Here's an illustration of one pleat:


I used a very thin cotton. I love the fabric that Megan used in her sample and this is the closest I could find. Unfortunately it's very see through so I'll have to make a slip at some point. 


I used interfacing on the button placket which is not mentioned in the pattern. I used shop bought bias tape for the neckline, as recommended in the pattern. I haven't used this stuff since my early days of sewing. It has an unfair reputation for being stiff but really there's nothing wrong with it. I might start using it more often.

I did 12 buttons instead of 10 using the placement tips I've written up in my techniques section tabbed above (taken from my Vogue book). More buttonhole tips here if you're interested. My buttons measured 1.7 cm in diameter, were 2 mm in diameter, so my buttonhole length was 2.1 cm. This was my first time doing vertical buttonholes on a placket, which are slightly easier to place than horizontal ones. I thread traced the buttonhole placements this time, in a capital “I” shape but extending all the thread traced lines out so they can be seen and used as a guide when the presser foot is down. This would be much easier if I was brave enough to use a wash away marker.

I did the right hand column of the buttonhole first this time, rather than the left, as suggested in my machine's manual. This makes it SO much easier as your thread tails hang behind as you would normally sew.

I've done quite a few buttoned garments now but each time I've done about 3 test runs on a scrap of fabric. If nothing else I need to establish where the work needs to be placed to get the buttonhole stitches on either side of the thread traced centre.

I still use my own tip of going over the buttonhole stitching again after slitting the buttonhole open. This has always worked well for me, even on the fine fabric in this case. 

I machine-sewed on the buttons (which I write more about here).

Although my top button is very secure, there's a bit of flipping back going on over that top button when it's worn. A popper (or a good old safety pin) might be in order. 


I did a 2.5 inch hem as recommended in the pattern. I did it slightly differently to the pattern which has you fold under half an inch before hemming 2 inches. I like a bit of body in my hems so instead of using interfacing I folded under 1.25 inches, pressed and repeated. Instead of doing one row of stitching as in the pattern I used the trusted blind hem stitch on my machine.

Thoughts on the shoulder seams and sleeves

The shoulders are very narrow on this pattern. The pattern is not graded in this area so it's the same whether you're a small or large. I know some people have increased the width of the shoulders. By sewing with a 1 cm seam allowance I effectively added 1 cm to the pattern design. I was expecting the sleeves to be too tight but I found them to be fine with a good amount of ease in the sleeve cap. Apart from the adjustments I made to the sleeve length and side seams, I found I didn't need any more adjustments.

Thoughts on the bodice dart

I'm not entirely happy with the darts. They're not graded on the pattern so they're the same for every size. As I'm tall I had no issue with the dart being too high - that's easy to adjust. It was the size of the dart that I found odd. They produce a conical shape. I have reduced this effect as much as I can by fitting it to my shape. There's still a bit of pointi-ness but nothing noticeable because of the drape of the fabric. I would be worried about doing this in a stiffer fabric, which is a shame as I've seen some nice denim versions of this dress.


I decided to add the ties in the end. I think most people leave them off and use a belt. I've tried this dress with a belt and it just looks wrong – probably because of the high waistline. I'm not a great one for belts on dresses anyway. I find them annoying as they move about. I was going to omit the ties as it really looked fine without. I decided to add them so I would have the option of a more fitted waist if I wanted.

I ended up attaching the ties much closer together at the back than the pattern suggests. The ties are tiny. I thought for a minute I must have forgotten to cut them on the fold, but no they're meant to be small. They're too small for me to tie into a bow so I've tied a knot. If you want them to tie into a bow then you'll have to make them much bigger.


I didn't do the pockets.  As the fabric is quite thin I didn't want the pockets to interfere with the lines of the fabric and pattern. There was also an element of laziness as I have done a lot of fiddling with this pattern.  I'm really missing the pockets though. I have to remember this before omitting them next time!

Final thoughts

Despite the few hiccups I've had along the way I love the dress. I was determined to stick with it and I'm glad I did. In fact I've nearly finished a second one which I'll be posting soon! I have the Banksia pattern as well and I'm looking forward to that. I'm also thinking about a Banksia dress.

Happy sewing.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Re-fashioning in 1926

Thank goodness modern re-fashioning techniques are significantly more advanced than in this delightful clip from 1926!  There's no sound but if there was it would be something like: "Get your scissors, hack this bit off here, the sleeves off there, pin this on here and ... ta da!  Finishing? I don't know what you mean."

They've desecrated a perfectly nice dress. To be fair the final dress looks OK from a distance.  What do you think?

Still no sewing around these parts. The renovations are slowly taking shape though!

Happy sewing.