The Pattern Magic disaster – the Nyokitto dress

posted in: Finished projects | 14

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for ages. I feel it’s time has come. Tonight my friend Marianna is coming round to help me and a few others do a bit of fitting. I discovered her blog when I was desperate for some help with Tomoko Nakamichi’s Pattern Magic (Laurence King).  I started with Pattern Magic 1 and worked through the exercises, which was fun. I made a shocking pink linen dress (made from a charity shop table cloth) with a circle of hand printed velvet across the chest. At that point (a couple of years ago) I didn’t have a sewing machine, so it was somewhat laborious.

Pattern Magic 1, p22-23
Pattern Magic 1, p22-23

Then I tried a sleeve.

Eventually I took the plunge and decided to make “Nyokitto at the front”. I think this means a mountain and valley. Here is the photograph from Pattern Magic 2.

Nyokitto top Pattern Magic 2
Pattern Magic 2 p38

As you can see if you look closely the black and white photograph features a nicely pressed front. Carefully attached with a few artful, elegant pins. It has no back, no fastenings, no hem, no facings.

I proceeded by producing the block proposed in the book. Several hours later I tried on the toile.  Unfortunately Nakamichi seems to have a  short, wide woman in mind (you can get an impression of this from the photograph above) . On me the sloper bodice finished half way across my ribs. So I altered and refitted the block.  You could circumvented this by using your own block, or  photocopying and enlarging the “Bunka-style sloper” (block) for an adult woman included (at p102}.

Once I had fitted the block I made the Nyokitto pattern front according to the instructions. The top is a type of cowl top, but with a higher neck than is usual. I bought a piece of cheap green polyester satin (£2 a metre) at Simply Fabrics and struggled from start to finish. Slippery, disobedient fabric. Hard to cut, challenging to sew, irritating to iron. I faced it and put a zip up the back. Despite the tribulations I found the fabric quite nice to wear and I love the colour, set off by our Tasmanian tree-fern (planted by Kiwi gardener Doug). .

Green PM2

From the side you can see the mountain and valley better. I added a small safety-pin to the point of the cowl as a weight to keep it from reversing out.  The slithery fabric and the shape of the blouse means it sort of moves around in a slightly disconcerting but not unattractive way. What do you think? I rather liked its droopiness and thought I would make up a dress with the Nyokitto feature.

Nyokitto from PM 2
Nyokitto side on

As the book had shown the item in (what looks like) linen I thought a more substantial fabric would be good. Obviously as poor Nyokitto didn’t even have a back, expecting fabric recommendations was a bridge too far. I decided to go with a really nice remnant – a dress weight silk (possibly with wool) in a gorgeous purple-blue.  I love the fabric. I love the hyacinth colour. The skirt and back of the dress (my design) is pretty nice, if I say so myself. I made a fabulous lining too.  I have tied a yellow velvet ribbon round my waist. However the exaggerated shelf poking out for about a foot in front turns an elegant dress into a ridiculous one.

Purple silk Nyokitto dress
Nykitto Dress in purple silk

Unfortunately I haven’t worn it except for these photographs. It can’t only me who sees more than a passing resemblance to  a Tommee Tippee.

Tommee Tippee bib
Nyokitto bib

I had planned to wear this dress to a posh dinner. But what if I  dropped a bread stick or an olive down the front?



Charity Shop shopping

posted in: Pattern cutting, Shop Review | 20

I used to shop in charity shops all the time, especially when I was in my late teens and twenties. Then you could pick up a flapper dress, heavily embroidered and beaded; silk chiffon 1940s tea dresses and silk satin 1930s evening dresses. Such were the low prices and lack of fashion interest that these vintage items were affordable to a student, and worn as somewhat eccentric day wear by me and my fellow David Bowie fans. Over the years I have found some amazing things including a Mulberry handbag for £1, silk blouses, cashmere jumpers, lovely belts, 1920s shoes, and lots of 1940s and 1950s cotton summer dresses. Now there is a vintage fashion industry most of the really good stuff is extracted before it gets to your local high street.

I even ran a set of 20 charity shops in London (which were part of Notting Hill Housing in the early days).

Notting Hill Housing Trust Charity Shop
Notting Hill Housing Trust Charity Shop

These days the charity shops are full of the sort of thing that would otherwise go to landfill – Primark clothes, lots of polyester, Mom jeans and not very stylish shoes. Many shops buy-in goods too – candle holders from India, shoddy scarves from China, greetings cards and gaudy, cheap necklaces. There are nice things, of course, and there are bargains if you know what you are looking for. The smaller towns outside the South East tend to be the best in terms of long forgotten treasures and lower prices.

I can’t resist a quick visit and often spend a few minutes flicking through the racks. I donate all my clothes and household goods to the charity shop and I love the fact that every year this makes a reasonable amount for the charities I support (especially as they are gift aided too, getting some of my tax back). But I don’t come away with anything worth shouting about.

However this weekend, wandering around in Whalley, bedecked as it was in Union Jacks celebrating “our independence” from the European Union (the country is divided, even my family is divided with everyone over 65 taking one view, and the rest of us being keen Remainers), I found something wonderful.

charity shop shopping
Sewing books from Charity shop

I am not sure if someone was having a clear out, but it was nice to come across a good selection of sewing books (I left several for the next person) amongst the out of date travel guides and Jamie’s dinners. Of course these sewing books are all available, second hand, through Amazon for about £8 each, plus postage. I find even the rather dated ones useful in terms of good explanations of techniques – certainly as good as some of the newer books which are more expensive and rarely as thorough. And the really old ones don’t date – the Natalie Bray includes illustrations from the 1940s which are useful if you like making tailored and vintage style clothes. While I appreciate the modern Japanese books too with their very different approach to pattern cutting and style, I feel these older ones are always relevant, don’t you?

I also bought some knitting items. Sharon on Clitheroe market sells a range of donated goods to raise money for the local children’s hospice. I knew she had a good range of knitting needles, in all the sizes, and I as I am “thinking” about knitting a jumper I decided to start at the very beginning. I also snapped up a little booklet that explains how to check your tension and block your work. This “handy” guide obviously came free with a knitting magazine, although I am not sure why someone would want to “use the ring” to attach the cards to their knitting bag.

What is the blue plastic thing? Another “free gift” with a women’s magazine I thought it might be handy. I wonder if you know what it is for? Maybe you got one in the 1980s and use it all the time?

Knitting paraphanalia
Knitting needless, knitting guide and measuring tool

Do let me know what you think below and I will give you the answer on Friday.

(Sorry post was truncated earlier; now restored)


Rainshore 0.8 – update

Joyce asked for news from the Lake front.

Work is progressing well. The cedar cladding is being created and attached to the walls of the second floor  “sky deck” – flat roof garden. The cedar is cut by the carpenter in a range of sizes which allow them to fill the space perfectly, giving the illusion of each piece being an identical width. It smells lovely and we have asked for the off-cuts (not sure what I will do with them). We went right up to the top and I took the second picture looking down. Everything is so green at the moment – we have had plenty of rain recently (green plastic newt fence still doing its job. The wooden bridge across the Thames will be upgraded eventually.

The roof area is coming together well. You may remember this is one of the features of the house. It is basically a flat roof that spans the whole area of the house and will be accessed via the stair case. Instead of a ground floor garden we will be able to sit out on our own roof in the summer and enjoy views of the lake, eating out, growing plants (in pots), and (when it is really sunny) sunbathing. The opening in the first photograph will be topped with a glass structure, allowing light into the house and also connecting inside to outside. The view of the lake will be almost unimpeded from the sky deck with a glass screen provided for safety reasons. At the moment this has not been installed.

Every couple of years Notting Hill Housing Trust (where I work) organises a public exhibition of our tenant’s art work. It is a fantastic and very professional show as many are skilled and experienced artists. This year we bought two paintings from Vincent Black. They intriguing and beautiful and will have pride of place at Rainshore.The paintings are of Wiltshire, the adjoining county, rather than Gloucestershire (where Rainshore is located). So it seemed appropriate, and they seem very compatible with the place, don’t you think?

You may remember I asked for advice on really, really comfortable sofas. And I did get some suggestions – thank you! We traipsed around quite a few show rooms and sat on various options. I looked at Mumsnet, and googled “comfortable sofa”, and I asked friends and relatives. What did we decide?

We are buying a Sofa called Otto that is the “most comfortable” produced by, a product made in Poland, with very good customer service. We chose a blue-grey tweed, and a blue washed linen called Rockpool for the two footstools (which were provided free of charge as an Ocado user offer). Nick made little scale cutouts of these pieces and they fit into the space.

These images, from the website, don’t show how nicely the two fabrics work together. Here is a close up on the samples. However none of these images is particularly “true” – the cream is less yellow and the blue is lighter and greyer than my monitor implies.
Tweed and Linen

The paintings and the sofas have been rather expensive purchases. However we don’t plan on buying much more furniture. I have my eye on some Ikea “bar stool” chairs. These are currently on offer at £35 each. I was thinking of painting them green.

All the other furniture for the house is going to be either built in by Nick, using his top of the range Festool tools, or taken from our existing home which has too much furniture in a very small space. We have three chairs, a small sofa and a wall cabinet. That bright Scandinavian cushion won’t be coming with us. I will make some new cushions. I got a nice piece of blue floral furnishing fabric that will be sufficient for several cushions both for £3.50 p/m from Sharon on Clitheroe Market. I think it will blend in well with the sofa.

We have been promised the house for early December, which means we should be able to celebrate Christmas there. With a bit of luck Nick will be able to make our bed and at least one set of cupboards once the plastering and floors are in (September). I’ll give you another update soon.


Thinking about the casual wardrobe: Part 2.

Before my recent holiday I started a discussion about the casual/weekend/retirement wardrobe. And what interesting comments you made.

Annie mentioned that she likes to

“keep workwear and weekend wear separate as much as I can, a hangup from a ‘Sunday Best’ upbringing….When I’m home the first thing I do is change into joggers and tee shirt”.

My first tailoring tutor, who always wore exactly the same burnt orange “costume” (ladies two piece suit) every Wednesday for our class, said she always took off her bra and girdle and changed into her night wear as soon as she got home every night to save her smart, beautifully hand made garments from any unnecessary wear and tear.

That made me think. I have a strong internally conditioned view that being “smart” is socially required – to be taken seriously, to show respect, to fit in. I think the discussion about casual/off duty/weekend/retirement wear amongst people who sew (and therefore probably care more than the average about how they look) takes us into interesting territory and much of it is tied up with how we see ourselves and how we want others to see us.

Annie explains that when she goes out “I’ll wear a casual comfortable outfit that looks nice then, if I should happen to meet anyone I know, at least I look a bit different.” She admits she has been seen in her “manky” fleece jacket on walks, and cringes in embarrassment. But actually ones ability to go out in a manky fleece is perhaps more to do with our wardrobe personality. I could not bear to be seen in a fleece either. If my clothes don’t look right I feel awful all day and go home and change if I can. But then I am pretty much a classic dresser. A natural would be quite happy in the fleece.

Stephanie has a similar approach:

“On the weekends I usually throw on jeans or casual trousers and a buttoned shirt and handmade sweater if it’s cold… I have a weird thing in that if I dress neatly in good clothes as soon as I get up I feel I use the day more effectively than if I stay in sloppier lounge wear! I might be the only person who only wears tees to sleep or lounge in and grubby stuff for cleaning or painting. If I go out I throw on interesting shoes or short boots and a favourite coat.”

I know what you mean Stephanie. To me there is quite a difference between the first couple with their baggy neutral jackets, boring jeans and trainers. And the other two who are wearing lipstick, interesting accessories and they are also warm and comfortable. Maybe the muff is silly, maybe the bulky handbag is a drag. But you could replace the muff with fur gloves and the frame bag with a silver back pack or a colourful, embroidered shoulder bag and still look cool, interesting and practical.

Mary developed this idea:

Dresses are the most comfortable for me. In winter a dress, tights, and boots are easy and comfy and can be made to look smart with a scarf or jacket. Most of my winter dresses are made from wool or thick jersey. In summer I like loose dresses made in linen. I …feel most ‘me’ in a dress. I think all garment styles can be worn in a casual or formal way. Fabric and texture play a big part in delineating between the two. ..I like to look put together too when I go out.

There are lots of patterns that fit this type of life style – Sam suggested Australian company Style Arc had lots of options, and I think these are brilliant examples of comfortable, practical and simple shapes that depend on using nice fabrics and pairing with good accessories.


Now let’s hear from Hila, who also participated in Me Made May, and got thinking about what she wanted in her wardrobe.

I reached a similar realisation at analysing MMM – a lack of casual loungewear. I am thinking on how to address this as well so will be looking on for ideas. I love whipping jersey tops (+ dresses) in 30mins on the overlocker and I could easily exclusively wear jersey if it wasn’t for the fact that I love challenging techniques (read high achiever). Have you seen the Hudson pants – they look very comfy and could be dressy weekend wear in a really nice silk jersey.


Karen K makes a similar point, and one I am sympathetic to myself:

“I do love a good plain t shirt but they’re so boring to make.

I think they may be right that, again using very simple patterns (I could draft these myself quite quickly, although £7 seems a reasonable price), and maybe they are a bit more interesting than my Uniqlo standby (£12).

Annie tells me she ” aspires to Eileen Fisher separates and a cashmere cardi” so I had a look at their range. Using ethical fabrics and simple silhottes these ladies do look smart and relaxed, although the very limited colour palette (navy, white and beige) is a bit restricting.

Let’s sum it up. We like

  • comfort
  • simplicity
  • elegance
  • nice, luxurious, soft fabrics
  • a mix and match somewhat pared down wardrobe
  • a restricted palette most of the time, at least a good range of neutrals
  • things we can whip up on an overlocker


we also like

  • looking good
  • looking well turned out
  • sophisticated and classy (especially if we are older)
  • being a bit different/creative and having fun

For myself there is something else. I like a good fit.

This can be achieved with stretchy, jersey fabrics, but it can also be constructed – through excellent fitting and the use of good underlinings, linings and interfacings. And this is where I differ from sewists who love their overlockers and yards of jersey. I feel wrong in sloppy clothes. I don’t know if it is a fear of showing the lumps and bumps or if it just feels like underwear. I think I like jersey when it clings and reveals, but there are not many areas of my body where I would be happy to show off my underlying shape (I don’t mind with tops too much). But if I want to disguise I think I would rather use a woven, even with a bit of Lycra in it, to create an optical illusion, rather than wear a baggy jersey top or lots of waterfall pleats/ruching etc.

The other thing that is very personal is that, like Hila and Karen, I like a challenging project. I prefer to take my time, to think things through, to think of a look or find a picture of exactly what I want. And then I will make it “from scratch” – a bit like a proper meal, rather than a take away or a ready meal. My interest in pattern cutting came about because I wanted a good fit. But more recently I admit I get a huge kick from seeing something, wondering how it is made, working it out, persevering with the fit and style, until I am happy with my efforts. Although I absolutely get why so many love the instant pleasure of making something today and wearing it tonight, I am not averse to spending a month on a garment.

Joyce, who wrote so nicely about individuality in retirement (she is an artist, sculptor and photographer), made a great suggestion:

Why don’t you make your weekend wear to suit your new house on the water front? Why not have this setting for your next collection?  A wardrobe that suits the location and lifestyle – in your colours – the clothing in the vibe of your new home!

Joyce I love this idea. Thank you. I will have a go and let you know how I get on. Thank you.










Getting started on the Six Napoleon dress

posted in: Designing, Inspiration | 14


You may remember the 6Nap challenge launched by Sew2Pro. A dozen or so seamstresses from all over the world – America, Canada, France, London and Birmingham are committed to making a version by early next month. I have already had a think about this, but due to my recent holiday I hadn’t got very far.

Making a pattern

The front has five asymmetric sections; basically we have an adapted princess line top. But those style lines are quite challenging. The princess line starts in two different places. On the left it comes into the mid arm hole – on the right it starts much higher up. On the back I realise that the Six Nap dress has a CB zip. I have, instead, created three asymmetric shapes, again following a princess line shape. I am not sure if I want a side zip, or if I should separate the bodice at CB, creating four sections at the back. I tried to get the pattern cutting very accurate as alterations will be quite challenging without changing the essential style lines of the bodice. I found it quite a complicated challenge.

Drafting the Six Napoleon bodice
Drafting the Six Napoleon bodice

Next I cut out the 8 bodice pieces putting seam allowances on every edge apart from the hem. I then pinned the toile together and had a good look at how it worked on Camilla. It made me think it might be nice to exaggerate the seams by sewing them on the outside, or using piping. It is quite hard to see. This version is not even stitched.

Making the toile

As it looked OK I  stitched up the toile and inserted a temporary side zip (just for trying on at this stage).

It fits reasonably well I want to take a tiny bit out at the underbust and also slim down one side of central panel. The back needs a little taking out of the centre panel too as you can see in the last picture – there is some fullness in the back neck. Also the armholes have 1.5cm seam allowance on them and the top will look better when these are finished. I added a little bit of width to the hip area to create a little stand-away  peplum that would go over the skirt if I produce this garment as a two piece. This isn’t quite right in the waist area. I will have to have a think about this, and welcome your views.  But overall I feel confident now that I can meet Marianna’s 14 July deadline.

Fabric and materials

I have bought some cotton muslin (as suggested by Marianna) as it is comfortable, translucent and inexpensive (I got ten metres). I am thinking of using my white screen printed cotton lawn, although it is too fine for the job. It would need underling/lining with a more substantial cloth. At the same time I am not sure this dress should be white so I will have a look at what I have in my cupboard – I am thinking purple at the moment.

cotton lawn with beetle print
white beetle fabric

I now need to address the skirt -either as part of the dress, or as a separate skirt.

I nipped out to Simply Fabrics in my lunch hour in the hope of finding the perfect fabric. Unfortunately not. But as I chatted to Leo another customer recognised me from the blog! What a surprise. So I am just saying Hello to Jo – I hope you make something lovely with that deep grey linen. Do let me know how you get on.


How to use the contour guide patterns

I explained how to make a contour guide pattern. This post shows you how to use it!

I set myself the challenge of making a pattern similar to this 1969 YSL evening halter neck from Vogue Paris Originals 2093.

Analysing the pattern

When copying a pattern like this from a photograph or drawing, there are up to five clues to how the pattern is drafted. (Sometimes you have to hunt on eBay, Etsy or Vintage Patterns Wikia in order to gather this information.)

  1. Description of the garment. In this case “One-Piece Evening Dress. Floor length gathered skirt attached to halter bodice gathered to neckband. Bodice criss-crossed low at sides.
  2. Technical drawing. The dress is pretty simple, but YSL often includes an interesting twist. In this case it is the way that the front and back cross over each other at the side body, creating a sexy but subtle armhole.
  3. Notions. There is a 7″ zip, some hooks and eyes and press studs, some feather boning and a purchased belt. The dress requires underlining,  interfacing and lining.
  4. Number of pattern pieces (12 in this case)
  5. Search the internet to see if there are any photographs of the outfit made up, or if the designer featured the dress in his or her collections for the year before (no luck in this case).

So what do we need to know before we draft the pattern?

Firstly we need to establish how the finished garment is accessed.  The notions include a skirt length zip and the written description mentions that the “gathered full length skirt” is “attached” to the bodice. So the front wrap-over bodice probably hooks to the back part of the bodice at the left side, and the zip starts at the waist. I would also expect the neckband (which will be interfaced) to fasten with press studs at the left shoulder line.

In addition we need to determine the style issues such as the position of the waist (I raised the waistline by 1.5″) and neckline (I reduced the neckline by 1cm). I then created a neckband at a depth of 1″ (taking a thin slice off (at the Brown shoulder slope excess).

In terms of the look of the garment the most important thing  to get right is the halter neckline. We need a garment that stays up and provides sufficient coverage. This is why boning is required at the side seams (I guess). We want the look to be sophisticated and subtle, with no hint of any “side boob”. I measured in 3″ from CF and drew a diagonal line to the waistline. This is the line that will be reduced as we use the Contour Guide Pattern.  Also we need to get the right amount of gathering at the neck and waist line so that they balance  each other, in design terms.

Using the contour pattern


Trace off your contour guide pattern, including the basic waistline dart, and trace the circle by using the hole in the pattern.

Now consider which of the adaptations you will need from the Contour Guide Pattern. For this halter neck front bodice pattern I used:

2. Cut-out armholes (Navy) and 3. Armhole ease (Turquoise), plus side ease and shoulder slope (Brown) (see previous post for explanation of numbers and colours).

Remove the neckband. Move the waist dart (by the slash and spread method) to half way between the halter line and the CF on the neckline. This creates the fullness required. Now close the navy and turquoise contour darts which will have the effect of shortening and shaping the halter line, and adding additional fullness to the bodice at the front.

Finally extend the halter line down to a point on the waist line – this creates the 3cm overlap across the side seam line.


Again we first remove the side ease and shoulder slope (Brown) and mark the 7. back dart ease (Turquoise slashing). As with the front, raise the waistline by 1.5″ and drop the neckline by 1cm. Draw in the 1″ wide neckband, taking out the Brown shoulder slope excess.

Again draw in the halter line, taking it about 3″ from the CB. createing the underlap at the side seam.

Finally I closed the back dart creating a small neckline dart. As this provided insufficient gathering I slashed open half way between the neck edges and spread the pattern to create fullness.

Contour Guide Pattern - how to use one
Making adjustments to the back


I joined the front and back neckbands to create a smooth line (remembering that a small amount has been removed of the Brown shoulder slope excess).

So that is it. You work out where you need to remove the excess and either transfer it to somewhere you need more fullness (in this case at the neck), or eliminate it to create a closer fit.

Using a contour guide pattern
Front, back and neckband pattern pieces


Obviously if you want to make up this pattern you will need to draft a skirt too! And my guess on pattern pieces would be Neckband (2 + 2 interfacing) = 4, Bodice (front, back and 2 lining pieces) = 4, skirt (front, back and 2 lining pieces) = 12 – the number we first thought of. I am not promising to make this one up although I may toile the bodice so I can judge if there is sufficient fullness and a high enough wrap over.

While my earlier post caused some interest in the value of the Contour Guide Patterns,  I was asked to do a better job of explaining how they work. Please let me know if I have now clarified how useful it might be. If you have a go at this, or are already adept with using Contour Guide Patterns, do let me know.




The grey wool off the shoulder dress

posted in: Finished projects | 29

I got some very nice feedback for my first off the shoulder dress, and provided some information about how I have developed the design. You may remember the toile for the off the shoulder princess line dress with an attached halter neck. And you may remember the turquoise bra you can clearly see underneath. Ahemm.

Pattern cutting drop shoulder dress
Self drafted drop shoulder/halter neck princess line dress – the toile

I wanted to try this initially as a knee length dress and had been thinking of using a nice silver grey double faced wool crepe I got at Simply Fabrics. Here is the cloth. I know it looks a bit grubby, has yellow writing on it, and a stapled label. It also had a big square sample cut out of it.  But as you can see it says Roland Mouret and I was happy to buy it for about £5 for around 1.2m. It is a thick warm fabric, with a definite depth to it. I cut it out with my new scissors and enjoyed the crisp snip. And then I sewed the long princess line seams.

What a joy this fabric is to work with! Lovely squishy, slightly stretchy high quality, soft wool. OK the colour is a little bland, but I think still elegant and capable of being a quiet background piece with snazzy shoes or jacket.

As it is a princess line it also easy to fit as the long seams allow a little nip and tuck as we go. Here are some of my hilarious self fitting pictures. The reality is different to the theory! I didn’t even zip it up properly before I started. Blush.


I finished it this weekend and wore it to go out to lunch.

I wish the hem was not so apparent despite the fact that I bound it and tried to press it carefully. This fabric is rather thick and appears to have creased a bit during its outing.  But overall I love the fit and shape of this dress on me. I can wear this to a formal dinner with decent hosiery, or for work with a jacket or cardigan. And don’t the flower baskets look nice, providing a bit of colour?

Off the shoulder halter dress
Off the shoulder halter dress

Because this dress is not a “proper” halter dress I do have to draft one for my college course. And I am a week behind due to our trip to Italy. So I am thinking of recreating this pattern – a YSL dress from 1969, described as a “One-Piece Evening Dress. Floor length gathered skirt attached to halter bodice gathered to neckband. Bodice criss-crossed low at sides” In terms of the technical drawing I think the first picture is of the side view, then back view, then front. What do you think?

Italy 2016

posted in: Inspiration | 18

I am a day late with my posting, but we just got back from Italy. We needed a break and had a wonderful time, walking along the Amalfi coast, in the south west of Italy.

Amalfi coast map
Amalfi coast map

Based in a small, family run hotel in Agerola we went out daily on long walks, punctuated by lots of stops for strong coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, pannini and great views of turquoise sea. We walked to Amalfi, Ravello, Praiano, Positano and had an excursion to Pompeii and Vesuvius.  The trip is the most popular one offered by Exodus and they are fully booked 50 weeks of the year.

With it being Italy it was also about food. We were shown how Mozarella (locally known as Fiordilatte as it is made from cow’s, rather than Buffalo milk) is made. Nick has previously tried to make this at home with a “cheese making kit” George and Bianca gave him last Christmas. While his Ricotta was splendid the mozzarella never worked for us. So it was thrilling to see it being made locally. We were given samples to eat there and take away. It was completely delicious, cooled but not refridgerated, slightly tangy and firm. Our cheesemaker also showed how he plaited the cheese prior to it being smoked for a different experience. While we were there a number of local inhabitants drove up or walked for their weekend supplies – at €9 a kilo it was very good value.

The cheese of course is best paired with the amazing local tomatoes, (in this case purple) basil, olive oil and good bread. Although I am fond of Caprese salad and eat it in England (sometimes with Avocado as a Tricolour salad) the taste is completely different. In Italy the tomatoes are amazing as well as the cheese, ripened on the vine, red, warm, juicy. A plate of this simple salad in the sun, by the sea, is my idea of heaven. And the area is known for its lemons too, often made into Limoncello, sorbet or icecream. Limoncello is made from the rind (not the pith) which is mixed with sugar and alcohol. The fresh cherries can be picked from the roadside as you walk along, but also feature for breakfast.

We spent a fascinating day at Pompeii which is truly stunning, huge and still so full of life. The way people lived in AD 69 is so similar to how we live today, in so many ways. Off the Forum, at the centre of the site is the Eumachia building where fabric was traded and also it seems woven,  dyed, bleached and cleaned by the fullers.

Other highlights included walking along the highest ridge of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano responsible for creating and preserving Pompaii. It was very misty and windy, but once we got inside the volcano I sat down on a rock, heated from inside by magma. It was like sitting on a steamy radiator, outside in a damp but warm environment. Very strange but exhilarating.

I was pleased I was able to wear some handmade clothes for the trip. The UK weather doesn’t normally give me an opportunity to dress like this. So it is with a sense of joy that I was able to wear lightweight hand crafted clothes. My Preen-inspired silk blouse is lined in silk and the pixelated peony looked nice with white linen. The Fisherman’s pants are great for hiking as you can make them any length and the tie waist ensures they fit even if you eat lots of pasta.

Finally, because “My Holiday Snaps” has gone on long enough I want to share just one more thought.

We came across an old aqueduct, carved with “Anno XII EF.” The Era Fascista (Fascist Era),  lasted from 1922 to 1945, so the 12th year would be 1933/34. Much of the aqueduct was destroyed after the war. As the UK seriously considers pulling out of the EU I feel very sad that the underlying unity of Europe is threatened again. I love being British, but I also love being part of Europe. Easy access to countries like Italy, and the ongoing project of integrating poorer regions which are still emerging from the sickening results of the Second World War – such as Romania – means I am a big supporter of the EU and I am hoping my fellow Brits vote to Remain.

The Contour Guide Pattern: how to make one

posted in: Designing, Pattern cutting | 9


I already wrote a post about this but I got a few requests to explain it better. Today I will describe how to make one. Next week I will describe how to use it.

Do I need one?

This information may be of value to you if you make your own patterns from your basic bodice blocks. Also if you take a commercial pattern and want to alter the design. Commercial designs for fitted bodices should already be designed correctly, but as Mary Funt mentioned previously, the cannot always be assumed. The sort of design that benefit from contouring are any where you want a closer than usual fit. Here are some examples

  • Lingerie which is worn next to the skin and will need to fit more closely than a blouse, which fits more closely than a jacket
  • a bra type design with contouring over, under and between the bust
  • Strapless designs
  • Halter necks
  • one shoulder tops
  • empire line styles (with contouring under the bust)
  • low cut neckline
  • surplice (over and under the bust)
  • cutout armholes eg racer back

The Contour Guide Pattern will help you fit the contours of the upper body more closely than a regular block/sloper because we eliminate most of the ease. If you don’t make these adjustments you will, as you cut into the neckline for example, get gaping. Maybe you have tried to lower a neckline on a commercial pattern, or created a cut in armhole and found you ended up with flabby edges and wondered why. When we cut away a portion of the neckline or armhole the garment loses the support of the shoulder and it will fall into the hollow area over the bust. The Contour Guide Pattern helps the pattern drafter avoid fitting problems before they are incorporated into the design. It shows you where to eliminate ease and reduce fullness to avoid gaping when you adapt your basic sloper to create more revealing, summer tops and dresses.

So how do I make one?

This Contour Guide Pattern, taken from Helen Joseph Armstrong‘s book, starts with a basic bodice block. If you have one made to your own measurements that is ideal. If you haven’t drafted your own block you could use a simple standard commercial bodice pattern.  Move all the dart fullness into one large waist dart (in the front) and one at the back, plus the shoulder dart, and then draw around the basic bodice blocks. Use thin card rather than paper as this is an aid you will use again and again.

  1. Measure your “bust radius”. This is the distance from your bust point/apex to the under wire of your bra or where a wire would be if you had that kind of bra. On me this was 8cm.
  2. Now take a compass and measure the 8cm, and put the point into the bust point and draw a circle on your Contour Guide. This represents your breast and the line is in the dip or hollow above and beneath the breast.
  3. Put a hole (using an awl) into the circle so you can transfer the bust shape to the patterns you will create.
    Making a Contour Guide Pattern
    Bodice block with bust circle drawn in

1 Cut out necklines (Purple)

To eliminate gaping at the neckline draw a straight line from bust point to the middle of the neckline. Where it crosses the circle measure 1/4″ and join this point to the BP and the point on the neckline creating a dart from BP to neckline.

2. Cut out armholes (Navy)

Draw a line from the BP to the shoulder tip. On the circle measure 1/2″ and, as before, connect to the shoulder tip and BP creating another slender dart with the width on the radius of the circle.

3. Armhole ease (Turquoise)

Draw a line from the curve of the armhole to the SP. Still at the armhole edge measure down 1/4″ and connect to the BP. The dart gets smaller towards the BP.

4.Empire line (Light green)

This removes excess fullness below the bust. Each side of the existing waist dart measure along the circle 3/8″. Connect these two points on the legs of the dart up to the BP and down to the waist line, taking most of the fullness out on the circular line.

5. Contour between the breasts (Pink)

This adjustment removes the excess between the breasts. Draw a squared line from the CF to the BP and measure 3/8″ either side of this point to create a dart.

6. Strapless designs (Red stripe)

This is a combination alteration taking 1,2 and 3 (above) neckline/armhole/armhole ease. Draw a line in from the mid shoulder (princess line) to the BP and mark just under 1/2″ either side of the line. Then connect up to the BP.

Contour Guide Pattern Front Fabrickated
Contour Guide Pattern Front

Shoulder slope and side ease (Brown)

Find the mid shoulder point, and square off downwards. Mark this line at 1/8″ and join to the shoulder/neck and the shoulder tip.

Mark 1/2″ at the top of the side seam and run off to zero at the waist, thus removing ease at the side seam.

7. Back (Turquoise stripe)

Contour Guide Pattern Back Fabrickated
Contour Guide Pattern Back

Create a line at the high back. To find this measure half way between the shoulder point to the base of the armhole on your block and draw across. Now extend your back dart to this position. Also make the changes to the shoulder and side seam as you have done with the front (not shown)

That’s it. Stay posted for the next exciting installment when I describe how to use this useful aid!



A Simplicity 6094 dress for Esme

My daughter had been looking for a sober, navy, knee length, short-sleeved formal dress. In a slim size 6. She had ordered a dress or two online and sent them back.

I offered to make her one, knowing that the love between a mother and daughter can be challenged by a dressmaking project.

We looked in my cupboard for a pattern and suitable fabric.


I pulled out my 1970s patterns – these suit a figure with fuller hips and bust and slim waist.

She immediately picked out Simplicity 6094, a 1973 design.

This classic dress has an attractive A line skirt, simple sleeves and a highish round neck, and is almost devoid of detail, save only for the curved bust dart and CF seam, slightly emphasised by top stitching. I love styles like this, which can be dressy as anything – a wedding dress or a formal evening dress – but equally everyday dresses that are simple and beautifully balanced. I had a speight of buying similar 1970s patterns because I regard them as absolute classics that never date (on eBay for 99p) – they flatter the figure and look classy if you choose a nice fabric. And they are fun to fit. I made a similar one for myself a couple of years ago.

Simplicity 6094
Simplicity 6094

Having watched Marianna use interesting sleeve patterns I suggested Esme might try a more fascinating sleeve, just to lift the outfit out of the ordinary. She agreed, we ran out Marianna’s helpful pdf pattern, then discovered I just didn’t have enough fabric to allow such a fancy sleeve. So we stuck with the classic sleeve. By then I had already eliminated the front seam as I thought the sleeve would mean it wasn’t needed.

Fabric and materials

I had a few nice woolens, in navy and some darker colours (deep purple, dark green) and plenty of cottons in lighter, brighter shades. Our summer being so unpredictable Esme didn’t really want wool in case it was too warm, or itchy. She thought linen would be more comfortable and allow her to wear a cardigan or jacket on more chilly days. However linen is always more informal than wool.  In the end we chose a deep greyed off blue. This is one of my  favourite shades, and works well with our eye colour. This shade of blue works brilliantly with light grey, but I especially love it with all the pinks.

How to do a first fitting

When making commercial patterns I rarely make a toile. It is just too time consuming. I normally manage by not making a garment too small (measuring both body and pattern first) altering the pattern as required, and leaving the fine tuning to the first and second fittings. If you are fairly confident of the design and quality of the pattern then you can avoid a toile I would say.

I thought it might be worth summing up how I fit a garment, this time made for a “client” rather than myself. I would be interested to hear from others in how they approach this.

  1. Measure the model. Esme’s bust is two inches smaller than the pattern so I adjusted the pattern to fit through the bust and upper shoulder. I pattern fitted the sleeves which seemed fine unadjusted. I measured the length of the pattern and checked against her desired length. Although she said knee length I measured at below knee just in case she prefered slightly longer when it was made up.
  2. Cut out the main dress parts only. The sleeves and facings may need altering so leave them until later
  3. Insert all the tailors’ tacks including the waist, CF and all marks from the pattern
  4. Stitch in the darts but don’t cut into them. As I know my daughter has a very narrow back waist I increased the girth of the back darts by a small amount, going around the tacks. This meant if the waist was too tight I could have restitched them on the correct guidelines easily. I joined the top front to the skirt too.
  5. I would normally insert the back zip permanently at this point. Alterations can be made at the CB but I prefer to use the side seams if possible. If you think you will need to use the CB seam for fitting changes then machine baste with a traditional zip.
  6. Press all the permanent seams as you go.
  7. The shoulder and side seams are now machine basted. I usually press the stitching but don’t press open the seam.
  8. Get the model to wear the appropriate underwear and try on the garment.
  9. Go “round the garment” checking neck; shoulder line; armhole depth; side seam balance; check bust darts especially to determine that they don’t finish on the actual bust point, fit through bust, waist, hips; back shoulder and cross back. Make sure the CF and waist lines are in the right place and balanced. If there is too much fabric pinch it out and pin on one side of the garment, using the darts or side seam if at all possible. If it is pulling work out why and mark the dress so you can let it out at the dart or seam. Ideally you will only have small changes. There was rather too much fabric in the upper back, as you can see above, and the front skirt is a little too full. This will be corrected before the second fitting.
  10. Get the model to put on the appropriate footwear, then pin up the hem at this stage too so she can see what it looks like. This hem is too deep. We can fix this at the hemming stage.
    Deciding on hem length in dressmaking
    Simplicity 6094 pinned hem

How to do a second fitting

  1. Make any changes from the first fitting. Remove the machine basting, press open and finish seams.
  2. Change the remaining pattern pieces if they are affected by your alterations eg sleeve and facings.
  3. Cut out the facings and sleeves and finish the garment according to the instructions, except the hems.
  4. If you already marked the hem at the first fitting, press up to the required length, removing any excess fabric. I leave around 2.5 to 3″ for a hem on this sort on the skirt. Pin or baste at the correct level. Get the model to try on the garment again.
  5. Check the look and evenness of the hem (again with the right footwear).
  6. Pin up the hem of one of the sleeves and check the balance and appearance of the garment.
  7. VIsually check the areas where you altered before to ensure they are correct.
  8. Hem
  9. Press
  10. Remove tailors tacks

I would have put the dress on Camilla to photograph but of course the dress is way too small for her. Sorry I don’t have a photo of Esme in the dress. I may add one later.


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