Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Florence and Fred Rub Off

Hello everyone! I still owe you two skirts but it's flipping freezing around here so not much progress on the photo front. Instead I thought I would do a work in progress update on my latest project. It's taken a lot of time and effort so far so a progress post is rather apt.

I don't know if I've mentioned before but I have a really well fitting ready to wear dress that I've been planning to copy. I first started thinking about this when Karen from Did You Make That copied a ready to wear skirt she owns (see her post here). After finishing my slip, rather than making yet another garment from a pattern that would take endless muslins to get right, I thought I would turn my hand to this project for a change of scenery. The result so far has been endless muslins to get right. Hmm sounds familiar. Anyway I'm pleased with it so far so let's start at the beginning.

The Original

The national supermarket chain, Tesco, has a pretty good budget clothing line called F&F, or Florence & Fred as it used to be known. In about 2008 (way before I started sewing again) I bought this green dress, on sale for about £10:

You're probably expecting me to say I've worn it non-stop ever since. Not so. I can hardly believe it now but this thing didn't fit (I bought it without trying it on). I couldn't do it up so it was flung to the bottom of my wardrobe ready to throw away at some point. Luckily I didn't throw it away and I happened to try it on last year. I was blown away at how nice this cheap old thing looked! I recalled it being a plainer shift dress, but look at all those details – the neck band, the waist band, the skirt pleats. (Interesting – perhaps it's only sewers that notice details like this). Above all I loved the fit, especially the bodice.

Ethics of Copying

One of my favourite bloggers, Roisin of Dolly Clackett did a lovely version of a Bernie Dexter dress she had seen (see here post here). There were some interesting comments to her post. Even though Roisin used a commercial pattern an anonymous commenter complained about ripping off the designs of small businesses, copyright and the like.

I don't know what the legal implications are. I figure I'm OK because I'm not trying to sell the dress or pass the design off as my own. I'm just doing this for fun, a hobby and to see if I can achieve the amazing fit the dress gives me. (Amazing fit is something I've yet to achieve with a commercial pattern). I can see that if enough people like me, Roisin and Karen copied ready to wear then the designers may have grounds to complain. However I don't think there are enough of us bothering to do this to have any effect. They are interested in those unscrupulous enough to make a gain at the expense of their designs, which is not what I and other home sewers are about.


After some internet reading into the rub-off method (see this post for example) I set about tracing the dress. Here are a couple of pictures of my rub-off in progress. I will put at the end of this post all the pictures I took of the rub-off process.

I love those vintage paper weights my chap bought me last year at an auction.  Yes my other pattern weights are kitchen door handles. I couldn't find large washers.


As you can see I did a pretty thorough job of pinning the outline of the garment to my tracing paper (which is underneath the garment in my pictures. I have a cardboard grid on my table so I was able to pin through to that.) In my mind this was going to produce a really neat and accurate pattern. Then I remembered darts had to be added. This is when I started to get a bit lost and go a bit mad. Calm down and focus I thought. All I need to do is slash and spread. Yeah - easier said than done getting it all to go  flat to produce a flat pattern piece (when you slash and spread your pattern does not stay flat!). Many hours later I managed to arrive at something that resembled a flat pattern piece but to be honest it involved a lot of guess and eye work rather than the result of technical skill. If anyone knows how to do this or can provide a link this would be good.

Anyway the long and short of it is that for all my effort with the pins and rub-off, I probably ended up re-drafting the whole thing again (maybe several times over) with the help of my curved ruler, adding bits on here and taking away there.

Although I've ended up with a pretty good pattern I'm slightly disappointed I haven't achieved this by doing it “properly”. You know, measuring and stuff, like an engineer would do when designing, say, a bridge. Anyway I guess there is a lot more to it than I thought.

Sunni at A Fashionable Stitch is working on an interesting project called Pattern Play where she plans to design her own garments from a basic pattern. She has given several suggestions for getting the basic pattern, including a sloper, a basic sewing pattern and even the rub-off method. I felt less bad about my pattern drafting efforts after reading her post. She too has found it difficult to draft a basic pattern from scratch.

Latest muslin

Anyway who cares about my less than professional pattern-drafting skills because it has produced a pattern that I'm really pleased with. I'm hopefully 90% there. Here's the latest muslin.

I somehow did the pleats wonky on this version

I've lost count of the number of muslins I've done. I think this is muslin number 4, but it's probably more like number 5. Just before this one I did a half muslin of just the bodice and waistband. I was tempted to move to the final garment after the half muslin and making my changes to the bodice but I'm so glad I didn't. I've made what I hope are the final adjustments to my pattern pieces which were:
  • Adding 2 cm to the length of the bodice pieces (1cm above and 1cm below the bust line) so that the bottom of the waistband would be nearer to my natural waist.

  • Adding more width at the widest part of my hips.
Even though it is tempting to just move onto the final garment I think I will make another muslin. You never know if the adjustments you have made will throw off the fit so I think it's better to be safe. Please pray with me that this will be the final muslin!

Anyway I hope you have found this interesting. The whole process has been an eye opener and learning curve for me. I'll finish with the rest of the photos from the rub-off.

Happy sewing.

Front bodice. I ended up doing this again, splitting it into two parts
 in view of the excess fabric around the dart

A closer look

Front waistband

Back bodice with dart. I didn't have to repeat this one as there was not
a lot of excess fabric around the dart unlike the front bodice

Skirt front - lower half

Skirt front - upper section

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Burda Slip Dress

I mentioned here that the fabric on my first Darling Ranges dress was see through and I would need to make a slip. A slip falls firmly in the "cake" category. I'm not averse to cake. In fact I love making practical things that get lots of wear. Even as I was writing the post I wondered if I would ever bother. Anyway I've been longing to wear my first Darling Ranges so when I had a small window to sew I set to work on a slip.

I'm delighted with the result, and I can't wait to wear it with my first Darling Ranges! Here are the pictures.

There was a slip in the second Burda magazine that I ever bought and it's been at the back of my mind ever since. Enter 109B from April 2011. Here's the line drawing.

There was no modelled picture in the magazine. It was designed to wear under this wrap dress in the same issue:

I made a muslin first by tracing and cutting out a size 42. I added a seam allowances of 2.5 cm throughout to the muslin to leave room for any alterations. I sewed with a 2.5 cm throughout save for the waist seam, where I sewed with a 1.5 cm seam allowance.

Even after 2 years of sewing Burda instructions manage to baffle me. I hate to think how many beginners have given up sewing after trying to follow them. It's liberating to be able to ignore Burda instructions and rely on your own experience to work it out yourself.

From what I can tell, my construction differed to the instructions as follows:

  1. Inserting the straps. The bodice is self-faced. The instructions seem to have you topstitch the straps on at the end which I thought would look messy and a bit amateur. I sandwiched the strap between the bodice and bodice facing, right sides together, when sewing the upper edges of the bodice, and sewed them into the seam. To be more precise I started by stitching the straps to the back bodice facing to make sure they were in the correct place and secure and then attached that to the back bodice as explained above. When sewing the same seam on the front bodice, I left 1.5 inch gaps where the front straps would go so that I could insert the straps later after trying the dress on and marking how long they would need to be. The straps were then inserted into the holes left at the top edges of the front bodice and stitched in the same manner as the the back bodice straps.

  2. The instructions had you baste the lower edges of the bodice pieces after sewing the upper bodice edges. This would expose the waist seam allowance once the skirt is attached. I enclosed the waist seam allowance by joining the bodice to the skirt, pressing under the lower edge of the bodice facings and stitching in the ditch along the waist seam to attach the bodice facings. Alternatively you can slip stitch the bodice facings in place after pressing under the lower edges.

I was pleasantly surprised at the fit. The fit of the bust was almost perfect. A bit pointy because of the size of the dart, but not noticeable. I tested it out and thought a bit more ease at the hips was necessary. I fixed this by undoing the side seams and re-sewing with a 1.5 cm seam allowance. This gave enough ease at the hips and waist but the bust was now too loose. I restored the 2.5 cm seam allowance at the bodice sides and tapered down to the 1.5 cm seam allowance at the waist / hips. This was much better so I set to work on adjusting my pattern pieces.

The alterations translated to the following pattern adjustments:

  1. Adding 1 cm to the lower edges of the front and back bodice pieces (bearing in mind that Burda patterns are net of seam allowances).
  2. Adding 1 cm to the outside edges of the side front and side back pieces tapering up to nothing at the waist from just above the hips.

The adjustments meant I could add a 1.5 cm seam allowance throughout when cutting the pattern (apart from the hem to which I added 3.5 cm). To add more ease to the pencil skirt shape of the slip I added two small slits at the bottom of the side seams, by stopping the side seam a few inches from the hem and hemming the slits.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before but if you don't already have Scotch magic tape and a dispenser do go and buy one! It makes altering traced patterns so much easier. The tape also comes in handy for using up scraps of left over tracing paper. There are hardly enough small pattern pieces to use up the scraps so I tend to tape together two or three, or sometimes more decent sized scraps and then use to trace bigger pattern pieces.

The slip has a side zipper which is interesting but I suppose necessary because of the fitted shape of the slip. I also took the following extra steps to add stability:

  1. I added strips of interfacing to the seam allowances along the entire upper edges of the bodice. I then under stitched the seam allowance to the bodice facing. This gave a nice clean finish when pressed and stopping the neckline at the front gaping forward.

  2. I interfaced the zipper area before adding the zip.

I also did the pressed under vintage seam finish which I first heard of during the Lonsdale dress sew-along. I'm slightly addicted to this seam finish as I've used it on all my recent makes.

I left an inch and a half of the lower edge of the bodice facings loose when attaching them to the zipper tape. I then hemmed the bodice facings by turning under 1 cm, pressing and stitching in place. I then neatened the corner where the hem on the bodice facing meets the zipper by folding up the corners diagonally and stitching in placing (using a zig zag stitch with the feed dogs lowered).

I then attached the loose 1.5 inches of the bodice facing to the zipper tape and then stitched in the ditch along the waist seam to attach the bodice facings. A helpful tip is to match the bodice seams and then pin in place before you start stitching to make sure the two bodices are aligned correctly. If you have the patience, slipstitching the bodice facing down (instead of stitching in the ditch on the machine) may produce a more delicate result.

Next time I will just get the hemming of the bodice facing out of the way after cutting so that it can be attached to the zipper tape in one go.

After hemming the side slits I turned under the hem twice and then stitched with an invisible hem stitch on the machine.

A curious thing about this pattern is the centre back seam on the bodice and skirt pieces despite the zipper being at the side. In other words Burda makes you do loads of extra work. This didn't register with me until half way through the make. Why did Burda do this? I thought there must have been a similar shaped dress in the same issue with a back zipper so they re-used the pieces. But no, there were no similar shaped dresses. I have heard that Burda re-cycle some of their patterns so maybe a similar shaped dress appeared in an earlier issue. Unless any of you lovely readers can enlighten me, I don't see that the centre back seam serves much purpose here. If I make this again I think I would remove the centre back seam.


I thought I would mention how pleased I was with the top corners of my zipper. I think this is one of the best I have done.

I don't know what happened to the waist seam though!

I adapted Tilly's tip for sewing corners without trimming them first and I really like how it turned out. Before turning through I pressed the seam allowances down towards the back and then held the corners with the tips of my fingers and turned through.

I have written at length about stitching a facing (or lining) to a zipper by machine. There are a number of ways of doing this but I always return to Kathleen Fansella's method which I linked to here. When joining the neckline edges I leave a gap of about an inch and a half before the edge where the zipper tape will go. I go back and sew this right at the end, after the zipper is attached. I then attach the zip to the bodice pieces and facings (or lining) using Kathleen's method as normal.

The key point to note about Kathleen's method is that her facing piece is slightly smaller than the outer bodice piece. They magically align once both are stitched and turned through. Instead of altering your facing (or lining) pieces to make them smaller I just place my facing (or lining) piece slightly beyond the end of the zipper tape (and beyond the edge of the bodice piece) by about 5 mm and then stitch it to the zipper tape. I then fold back the zipper as per Kathleen's tutorial and then stitch the rest of the upper edge. I then press down the seam allowances towards the back and follow Tilly's method to turn through without trimming the edges. (Of course if the fabric was very bulky then trimming would be wise.)

Anyway I'm delighted with the result and most of all it's great to have a slip. I haven't owned a slip since I was about 26 when I had a nightdress which I used as a slip. I'm a bit of a lining freak (I line most things). Maybe I can now bypass this step every now and then!

This is my most recent make and I have two skirts yet to post. This is also my first post of 2013. I have had a difficult, and at times surreal, year so far. My dad died of cancer at the beginning of February. Luckily I, and my family, were able to spend quality time with him in his final weeks. He defied the doctor's best estimates and gave us weeks with him rather than days. When I started this blog in 2011 I had no idea he would be gone within 2 years. I guess it's better that we don't know these things. Here is a picture of me and dad from a few years ago! 

Sleep in peace dad.