Playing with Pleats


Butterick 8038I had been after Butterick 8038 for some time, but it was rarely for sale and was always too expensive when it was, but I was finally lucky enough to win it on e-bay.  According to vintage patterns wikia, it is a 1957 pattern, which looks about right.

I love the fact that the pattern has been used, but never pinned, so either weighted or just free hand cut.  All of the markings had been made using blue chalk, and the bias facings, which are not included in the pattern, were cut from newspaper.  My favourite story was the extract from a letter to the paper asking who stole 2 geranium plants and hoping that they feel bad!

My pattern was for a 36 inch bust. In modern/re issued vintage patterns, this would probably fit alright, but having just had a bit of a disaster with a 36 inch bust 50’s pattern not being even vaguely big enough, I thought I would try my hand at grading the pattern up. I have amended/ adjusted/ tweaked patterns before, but never done a full size change. This pattern is worth the trouble so I looked up various methods.

I looked at several different methods to enlarge the pattern, some of which made much less sense to me than others, and finally settled on this one for its clear instructions and logical approach.  It took time, but all good things do.  I do not intend to reproduce the approach here (especially as I was so messy!) but the tutorial I used can be found at A Stitching Odyssey.

I traced the pattern onto tissue paper and then set about adjusting it. If I do this again, I would use a thicker paper for the initial trace as it was fiddly when cut and curled when I was trying to line up the pieces etc. It looks really messy, but I got there in the end.  It was also possibly not the best pattern to try this on given the crossover of the bodice, but with a consistent approach and a bit of care it seems to have works.  The size increase was not big enough to accommodate an extra pleat so I  reduced each pleat by 3mm and this worked well.

I would have loved the long sleeved version but my fabric was just too tight.  The fabric was a sari with borders one each side.  I had bought it from a charity shop for £4 and I really had set my heart on doing this dress in this fabric.

There was some rule breaking in the cutting.  The skirt was always to be cut cross grain as I wanted the border to run around the bottom.  The fabric was too narrow to cut the skirt back on the grain anyway. Given the sheen, this risky, but all great endeavors are!

I have never really used tailors tacks much, preferring to just place a pin in the fabric to mark a point unless the pattern was very detailed. In more recent times, I have started to use tacks more often, but with this dress used it to mark all points.  This was particularly useful when working on the pleats.  I did the ‘from’ pleat lines in one colour and the ‘to’ in an other which helped make the construction easier.

The dress went together very nicely – the instructions were clear.  The construction appeared complicated when I read it beforehand, but was all quite logical when you were actually doing it.

2015-05-22 018I love the skirt on this.  I am not a slender lady, but find that full skirted dresses are quite flattering.  I love the look of the pleats, the volume they give without adding bulk to the waist you can get with a gathered skirt.

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I am absolutely delighted with the fit of the dress.  I may move the starting points of the crossover sections down about 1/2 inch next time and try using bias binding around the neck and armholes when I make my next version as 2 inch bias facings were hard to double turn when going round the curve of the neckline.  I would really like to do the long sleeved version, possibly with the straight skirt for autumn/winter but also another sleeveless one in a more everyday fabric.  Just love it – I honestly believe it is the best thing I have ever sewn!




Floral and green Lutterloh dress


I was given some fabrics by someone I met on Facebook who was having a clear out.  They were furnishing fabrics, and coordinated well with one another.  I had used some of the plain green fabric to make my walkaway dress, but had a fair amount left.  The floral fabric I had originally wanted to use as the front of the walkaway dress had not been wide enough, but went so well with the green that I really wanted to use them together.  Also, I have wanted to be a bit more adventurous with mixing fabrics.

Page  (27)I had really like the look of a Lutterloh pattern (112) for a while, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to give it a go.  It was from the “domestic bliss” pages of the book (circa 1955), a few pages dedicated to making pinafores, aprons and coveralls for the modern woman so that she can set about her daily tasks suitably attired.  This was a pinafore that you could wear over your smart clothes but gave pretty much full coverage and was quite large on initial stitching to reflect this fact.

2015-04-22 002I enlarged the pattern using a proper Lutterloh tape measure which I only recently acquired from e-bay.  I had used a printed copy previously and have to say that using a proper measure makes it feel so much easier and I do feel that the points were more accurate. I did have a little help with this:2015-04-03 002

The floral fabric (curtain or cushion fabric) was much thicker than the plain green, but I like the contrast.  The section is enough to give the whole dress body and the ‘jushhh’ factor I am often after.  I love the shaping created by the pleats in the front.  It did take a fair bit of altering as the centre front was particularly wide, which is why the shaping around the bust ended up being quite rounded and pronounced, it was while I was fiddling with it but then I liked it so I kept it.  I feel it is quite a balanced look.

I have done very few button holes since restarting sewing, and not covered any buttons at all.  I had intended too cover some normal buttons from my stash, but, as I was using the floral fabric, didn’t want to stitch through the covered button, so I bought some metal cover yourself buttons.  Unfortunately, having spent a disproportionate amount of time choosing exactly which floral bits to make into buttons, I only had one successful button – one covered but quite squashed button, and one squashed but still refusing to clip into place button.  I appreciate that my fabric was quite thick, but still found it disappointing.  A few days later, I purchased the same buttons but the plastic version (cheaper but I just liked the metal ones better) and these worked so much better.  So I finally had my funky buttons.

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The overlap at the back was quite large and I had to reduce this, and also decide whether to just stitch down the back or leave the extra fabric from the crossover in.  I went with the latter.

2015-05-10 009 2015-05-10 011I am very pleased with my results, not the best sewn dress ever, but I think it is really quite pretty.

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My Tweaked Dress


I had just returning to sewing clothes after many years absence. I had done a few bits and pieces but finally felt like doing something a little nicer. I had lost some weight and felt ready to try something a little more fitted.

I had bought some Butterick vintage re-issued patterns to make a dress for my sister’s wedding, but had chickened out due to lack of body confidence (which is a shame as they are the sort of dresses that suit larger ladies as well as slim so I would have carried it better than the dress I chose in the end). The poor, unopened pattern had been sitting for over a year not fulfilling its destiny. Now was its time to shine!

I had recently discovered Abakhans, found a fabulous piece of pattered crafting cotton and I was off! My pattern is Butterick 6582:


The construction was quite quick and easy. I was a bit disappointed that the crossover is fake, and also that it gathered at the shoulders when the image on the packet looks like pleats. Also, the image makes the dress look very fitted, when in fact it is semi-fitted (confirmed in the pattern description). I have since got better at interpreting these images!

I made the dress in a size 16, which is the size I am in the sizing chart.  I tried it with gathers at the shoulders, but felt that it was a little bulky so I flattened it down to pleats, trying to fan them out a bit, and this is what I got (sorry about the poor photography – we are working on that):

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I loved the dress – it made me feel pretty again and I received lots of compliments.  It was a bit loose under the arms, which I have since learned is a problem zone for me.


2014-05-20 001As I was taking it off, I noticed how nice it would look in a tunic length and had some left over curtain fabric from Ikea so gave it a go.  It is a lovely dress to wear with leggings or trousers (but I would confess that it is not as carefully constructed as most).

Winter was coming and it was still my favourite dress, but I wanted something with sleeves so I did it again with another oddment.  This time I went down a size, which was slightly too tight at the hips, but this was easily amended by reducing the seam allowances.  I added the sleeves (and sleeve holes) from my flower power dress.  I also made the crossover real, taking the underneath section to just below the bust.  Again I pleated at the shoulders.  I did do a small area of facing across the width of the front shoulder catching on the sleeve edge to stop the pleats flanging out and taking the front sleeve seam with them.  Anyway, my favourite of the three:

2014-03-09 024TA-DA!

Love this dress – very comfortable, slightly more fitted but still not clingy and just a very lovely shape.  I definitely prefer the ‘real’ crossover and would repeat that in later versions.

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Wiggle Dress


I love the style of clothes in Madmen, the earlier series mainly.  The contrasts are fabulous, from the demure wife with her full skirts and beautifully contoured bodices, to the overtly seductive, figure clinging dresses of the office secretary, Joan Holloway.  Very different looks, yet both are extremely feminine and, in my opinion, overtly sexy.

oh my!

oh my!

I also love the figures that fill the dresses, January Jones, who plays Don Draper’s wife, is petite shapely, whilst Christina Hendrix, who plays Joan has larger than life curves and she uses them.  I assume both looks are helped, at least in part, by good foundation garments, but there is something so sexy about dressing to accentuate what you have rather than hiding away.

I loved Gertie’s wiggle dress from her book.  It has diamond shaped gussets under the arms to enable movement.  I had never seen this before, but have since found it in the ‘how to’ sections of my Lutterloh books.  The concept fascinated me, so I have given it a go.

My first wiggle was in a light cotton.  Gertie has her own sizing, based on the American sizing, so my top was a size 10 (UK equivalent 14) but, for the first time in my life, I had gone down a size at the hips to a size 8 (UK12).  I couldn’t quite believe it, even though Gertie does say that she has her sizing is based on herself and those women she has come across, so I stuck to a 10 all the way down.  It was massive – not only were the hips too wide, but they reached their widest much too low as well.

The dress is heavily shaped along the side seam – much more reliant on this shaping than other dress patterns I have used.  Given this, it is one time when drawing an outline of yourself on a large piece of paper and using this silhouette to decide the widest/thinnest points of your figure would be a good idea.

2014-06-16 12.28.15 2014-09-13 008 I like the dress as it emphasises/exaggerates natural curves.  I like this but it means you have to get the fit just right, otherwise it will just bag out at the sides – more obviously too large than when that extra fabric is shared around your body.  That said, if it is close, tweaking is relatively easy.

I made the second dress in a heavier, plain green cotton with a slight stretch to it.  I went down to a size 8 for the hips and it was a much better fit, needing a couple of centimeters reduction around the hips as they were still a little low.  I love this green but am now debating whether to scoop out the neckline at the back into a deep curve.  I think that as it is complete I shall wear it a couple of times before I consider changing it.

Update:  I have done a third version in a very heavy, vintage jersey fabric.  I didn’t do the underarm gussets this time as the stretch permitted movement.  This is a very warm and comfortable dress for winter.

Bombshell (Part 1)


F1309_2-vintage-style-mother-of-the-bride-dressJust look at it!  Possibly the most perfect dress ever created.  Unfortunately I cannot take credit for it, it isn’t one of mine.  It is a creation of the fabulous Whirling Turban who make the most beautiful, vintage styled clothes ever!  Unfortunately they are a little out of my price range but one day……..

It’s the neckline that I love most, so I have set about making something similar.  It is going to take a while, but all good things come to those who wait.

My starting point is from Butterick B5814 by GertieBombshell starting point

I appreciate that this may not look that much like the dress above but when you look at the construction it is an excellent place to start, and a damn fine dress in its own right!

Having read some reviews on one of my favourite sites, Pattern Review, I decided that a muslin was a must.  In most modern patterns I am a size 14 on top, increasing to a 16 for the waist or hips depending upon the style.  The reviews had said that this pattern is a snug fit, and having read the finished measurements I decided to go 16 all the way.



2014-03-24 003The muslin was not impressive.  It didn’t excite me and needed tucks here, and adjustments there.  The shoulder adjustment was expected as I have slightly narrow shoulders, and Gertie has done a whole tutorial and making this adjustment.  I needed to also do a toil for the skirt to see how low the top came.  So I made the skirt and then couldn’t find where I had put the top!  House turned upside down, I even remember vaguely thinking to myself that I shouldn’t put it there as I’d never find it again!  Anyway, I haven’t and as I knew it didn’t fit I had to do it again.  Given that it had seemed quite large, I decided to try the 14 so did it again.  Please excuse the fabrics – curtain lining skirt and son’s quilt cut offs for the top.The ugly fabrics did show me something though – how nice it was to have the stripes running down the left hand front side – just a lucky cut as the lower left front is a separate section.

The fabric I had chosen from my stash as a first attempt is a rather loud floral cotton.  My only concern is that given the details within the dress, it might become too busy, but I am going to try and match the pattern in some of the most eye catching places to reduce this issue as much as possible.  I am considering it to be a wearable muslin but hoping it will be fabulous.

It has been a slow process – most of the pieces were cut out separately as it is asymmetric and also to pattern match as much as possible.  I haven’t used boning since the early 90’s and managed to sew the first piece in the wrong way round.  I unpicked it, then sewed it in the wrong way round again!  Luckily the third time was a charm.

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Gorgeous but a little too revealing!

The dress is fully lined/interlined and has, in my opinion, been quite fiddly, but gorgeous takes time and effort.  I was delighted with the final result upon first try on.  Unfortunately, upon wearing it (around the house) I have discovered that it is too low/short in the bodice for me.  It is supposed to be a low dress and I was prepared for that and, in a snap shot it is fabulously saucy!  But when I pull the waist down to my natural waistline, it gets a little too low and shows my bra.  I deliberately added the skirt to the muslin to check if it would be decent, but didn’t face it.  That 1.5cm seam allowance can make all the difference.  My plan is to separate the bodice and the skirt and insert a ‘belt’ panel, possibly in red if I can find a good match.

This was never expected to be a one attempt wonder, I am glad that, once altered, it will be a fabulous dress, and one step along the road towards the dress of my dreams!

TO BE CONTINUED…………………………….

red roses


2014-08-09 006I bought this fabric a couple of years ago to make a dress for my sister’s wedding, but couldn’t decide what to make with it so it sat in my stash until I found a dress that I thought would be perfect for it.  It is a fairly heavy weight printed cotton with a slight stretch.

When I finished my ‘Playclothes Captain‘ dress I thought that I had finally found the perfect dress after a two year wait.  I love that dress so very much, especially as it feels so weighty and wanted something in a more summery fabric, which this is, but it retains the weight due to the fabric.

The bodice is based on the bodice from Butterick 5603, with the scooped out neckline from the previous dress, and the skirt from Butterick 5813.  I did add an inch to the length of the bodice, just for comfort.  In addition, when I attached the skirt I wanted one from each set of pleats to line up with the bodice darts, so I moved them outwards slightly.  I felt that this made the flat section at the front too wide, so redid this, having the outer pleat in line with the dart and felt that this looked much better.

2014-08-09 020I wanted this dress to have some schwoosh factor, and had finally managed to source some horsehair braid.  I have been desperately trying to find some since I read about it on Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing a couple of months ago.  This is a tape, originally made from horsehair but now generally synthetic.  It comes in different widths and weights, stiffer ones can be used to make hats and fascinators.  It can add weight and stiffness to a hem and I wanted to try it rather than having a full underskirt which feels a little dressy for everyday wear to me.

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The secret to finding it in the UK is knowing its other name, crinoline tape, or crin tape.  I got mine from Sew Curvy.  They only do the one weight/width, and I would say it is on the firm side, but it suited this dress perfectly.  This is my first attempt with crinoline tape, but I am really pleased with the result.  .

Thanks to my photographer, Logan.

Thanks to my photographer, Logan.

Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing: A Modern Guide to Couture-style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques


I have read some old books on sewing techniques, and some new books on sewing with current methods.  The problem with old books is that they do not always translate into modern fabrics, haberdashery and obviously don’t take advantage of modern advances.  The lovely thing about old techniques is that they aimed to give a lovely finish, what I would consider to be couture in modern day terms.  I think we have become so used to ready to wear clothes, and everything being manufactured rather than sewn that we have lost some of the beautiful finishes and details that can be achieved. I know what I know, but I also know that there are so many other ways of doing nearly everything, and it is a case of finding the best method for you that achieves the results you want.

I have followed Gertie’s blog for some time now.  I think Gertie works for me a she is a new sewer, with modern perspectives who enjoys using vintage techniques and designs.  Also, the book has full sized, traceable patterns in it and she models the clothes herself.  She is a curvy woman, not big, but a normal, human woman with good curves, so it is lovely to see what a real person may look like in a garment.

The book discusses general things like sourcing and tracing vintage patterns (now I feel bad as I usually just use the pattern rather than tracing it), and fabric selection.  It then discusses vintage techniques, stabilising and tailoring.  It concludes with sections on patternmaking and fitting, including a section on good foundation garments) before moving on to the pattern section.  I feel that the book talks at a fairly easy yet comprehensive level.  It doesn’t get bogged down in heavy, technical details, but does give plenty of information.  It has a friendly, encouraging, almost chatty tone making it more readable than many sewing books.  It is quite dip-in-and-out-able.

Finally there is the pattern section.  There are ten patterns; one jacket, five dresses, two blouses and two skirts, each coming with ideas for variations and discussions on how these variations might be achieved.  Gertie has her own sizes, so be sure to check your measurements against the chart provided – it is US size based (

I have only used one pattern so far, the wiggle dress – move over Joan Holloway.  I have made two dresses from this pattern as I loved the first so much and then found some fabulous plain green cotton with a slight stretch in it and could’t resist running another  up.  The other reason I wanted to do it again was to have a second attempt at underarm gussets, as I had bought some sheer organza so could follow Gertie’s instructions more precisely in the second dress.

I am so pleased with this book that I have already pre-ordered Gertie’s next book,  Gerie Sews Vintage Casual: A Modern Guide to Sportswear Styles of the 1940s and 1950s, and I never buy these types of books without first checking that there is something I want to make (and don’t already have a pattern for) in it.  Fingers crossed for some high waisted capri trousers, and possibly Katherine Hepburn wide legged trousers too……..