Designing for men – finding patterns for Gus

Thank you for you feedback on the colour scheme I chose for Gus last week. This is what he said:

“Great stuff. I like it and would wear all of it. The bomber jacket you’ve put there is the exact one I have, from COS! Interesting to see how nice it looks with the other muted colours.”

Just to remind you this is what I am planning to make for him.

  1. Shirt
  2. Long sleeved T shirt
  3. High waisted jeans
  4. Corduroys
  5. Smart shorts
  6. Casual trousers
  7. Tailored jacket
  8. Bomber jacket
  9. Alpaca “Lore” jumper
  10. Polo neck jumper
  11. Coat

Let’s see what he says about the patterns!!

Choosing patterns

When I think about the Sewing with a Plan for myself I often assume that I am designing and cutting the patterns for myself. That is what I had thought when I planned my own casual, weekend collection. But when I think about an 11-piece wardrobe for my son Gus I find myself drawn to commercial patterns. That would make the process much easier and, so long as I can fit them (always easier on a client than on oneself) it takes alot of the work away. With self-drafted patterns much of the work comes from finding the best construction method. With a set of pattern instructions I kind of go into factory-production mode, if you know what I mean. I don’t have to think so much when I am actually cutting out and sewing.

So I started looking for suitable patterns. I need jeans, casual trousers, a jacket, a shirt, a T shirt, a bomber jacket and a coat. Shorts can come from trousers. I think I already have suitable knitting patterns although one needs me to adapt a ladies pattern.

If you want to do the same I suggest you have a look at this wonderful resource from Sewing Plums.

I did consider the modern Indies which everyone seemed to suggest, but I found them dull and middle of the road. I looked at modern Big4 which seem to be made for the larger, middle aged man. I considered the Japanese pattern books (thanks Lisanne!), but they appeared a bit droopy, and slightly weird. So what am I left with? Burda, which is my standard choice for modern, plus the possibility of some vintage in there, perhaps altered. But I am glad I have committed to patterns as it will be such a relief not to be making it up as I go along.

Vintage and second hand patterns

I had a look at what was available on my old favourite eBay. The answer is

  • unlimited pyjama and dressing gown patterns from every era
  • a fair few casual trousers and jackets
  • some standard shirts
  • some wierd but wonderful “unisex” offers
  • lots of modern Cosplay, steam punk and Victoriana

Compared to women’s wear a fairly disappointing collection. Very little in the way of knits. Very little formal wear. Hardly any designer items (there was a Perry Ellis but the shoulders were ridiculous. Plus a boring 1980s Dior). But luckily the envelop art is spectacular. How I laughed.

What I bought on eBay for less than £20 (for the lot)

Once I stopped laughing I bought four patterns. I fear that Gus, or anyone without much knowledge of patterns, might have a canary at this point. But I bought these four items, and considered a few others, as they are the right size for Gus, ie 38″ chest, 30″ waist.

  1. The first, tatty old pattern, is for a young pipe-smoker. Who likes russet tweed. And wearing a tie at weekends. I think itis from the 1940s and I took a risk with the sizing which is 2″ too small. I feel confident about adding a couple of inches to the width (and at least that to the length as Gus is fairly tall). I also thought a slim fit might be good. I will toile this item to see how it goes.
  2. The shirt, on the other hand, is for a middle aged cigarette smoker. He likes wearing his shirt untucked at weekends, but the combination of a sports shirt and a formal shirt in a medium size was too good to miss. This looks like a nice traditional shirt pattern and I can make the body slimmer if required.
  3. Simplicity 6593 is for men who like their casual wear to coordinate, almost like a suit. But at the same time delightfully casual. I bought this pattern because the slim fit (although flared) trousers may transition to jeans or casual trousers fairly easily. [By the way, Gus, flares are very easily removed. Most of the fullness comes from the knee, so it is simply a matter of redrawing the seams from then downwards. Simples.]  I did consider a modern Burda 6933 pattern with slim fit trousers, advertised as “hipster”. Actually used in the original sense of the word. But Gus wants a higher cut, and we are going to try that with my older pattern. If it is horrible I will come back to the Burda. also thought the jacket – sort of a jeans jacket – might work for Gus. He hasn’t asked for this type of cropped tapered jacket, but it would suit him. I am still looking for a suitable bomber jacket patten. But no rush at the moment.
  4. Simplicity 7943 is a “Go Everywhere” pattern. Don’t you love the graphics? You have to wonder where “everywhere” is for this fellow. The golf club, the office, the weekend, and for bank robberies? A truly marvellous late 1970s casual suit!   I mainly got it for the tailored shorts. Of course most trouser patterns can be changed into shorts, but I thought these were rather nice (although not with the knee length socks). Soon after this pattern was designed men got into much more voluminous shapes for the 1980s – double breasted suits with the shoulders moved significantly beyond the shoulder. I didn’t want that look. Looking closely this jacket is very similar to the 1940s one. I shall examine it carefully, but for now this is my shorts pattern, with a possibility of adapting the trouser pattern for the cords.

At this stage I feel like a contestant in a cooking contest who has been given four odd looking ingredients and told to make a wonderful meal. I have confidence in these four patterns and I believe that I can make a modern, young men’s, 11 piece wardrobe from them. I have a T shirt pattern that I can adapt, and I will find a coat pattern in due course.

What do you think?


Guest Blog: A meeting with Eion Todd

posted in: Guest blog, Inspiration | 10

One of the great privileges of working in social (lower rent and supported) housing in London is that you meet some amazing people.

In my early career I realised we were housing Stalin’s daughter. Olympian sprinter Linford Christie used to live in a Notting Hill Housing Trust flat. But it is not all about household names – I spoke to Linde Carr last year, and this week I met a professional pattern cutter, now more or less retired after 51 years in the industry. Eion Todd has worked in the UK, New York for 7 years, Israel, Sri Lanka and India – 11 different countries, and taught at St Martins.

Eion Todd, Pattern Cutter, and Notting Hill Housing resident
Eion Todd, Pattern Cutter, and Notting Hill Housing resident


I went, with Marianna of Sew2Pro, to see Eion Todd at his Notting Hill Housing Trust home in Shepherds Bush. He took us into the shared lounge and proceeded to unpack a bag that contained his greatest hits.

Eion first explained the importance of the pattern cutter in history. “Tailoring approaches (of which Savile Row remains in London) generally use body measurements, which are chalked onto the cloth, leaving sufficient fabric in the seams for individual fitting. Then the garment is hand-cut, hand-stitched and then hand-finished. All this changed with factory production, and it was the skill of the pattern cutter that allowed this to happen – miles of fabric could now be cut and stitched into ready-made garments. The skill of the pattern cutter is in planning, in advance,  every single, tiny detail of the garment, so that a skilled seamstress (but much less skilled than a tailor) can make it up successfully time after time. The production line eventually broke the process into smaller and smaller jobs. As the machinists were deskilled, the pattern cutter become more skilled.”

Then one by one Eion brought out various garments he had designed and made. First off was a wool jersey shawl, beautifully smocked to give it shape and movement. Eion explained how he had created this when he was living in hotel rooms and suffering from the cold – he didn’t have a sewing machine but he had a needle and thread.

Smocked black wool jersey shawl
Smocked black wool jersey shawl

Eion was born in Newcastle, but his early attempts to study Art were unsuccessful. But, visiting relatives in Hertfordshire, he saw an advert for a job working at Rodex in St Albans. This was “the posh end of Aquascutum” and “they had their own factories and traditions Some of their clothes were patented. Later I went to Shoreditch College, which is now part of St Martins – and then to work with tailors in Saville Row. My next job was with the International Wool Secretariat in Ilkley, Yorkshire (1969-72)  where we produced garments for Jaeger.” “Later, when I worked in America, I created stage wear for a very famous performer. With stage wear the fabric is the star and you need to design bearing the lighting and staging in mind”.

Eion believes his best work was his creation of unisex/one size/unfastened jackets from a square or triangle of cloth. “I have always been interested in symmetry and problem solving.” He showed us several examples of these made up in lovely Indian woollen scarves, and black or pink jersey fabric.

He worked with Koos van der Akker and gave him one of these jackets which, Eion believes, entered his collection in Winter 2011/12. Perhaps it is this one. There are certainly a number of similarities in the design, including the spiral sleeve, the raglan shoulder and the collar stand. Eion’s version celebrates the shape of the cloth, whereas Koos has rounded off the hem.

Lots of these garments appealed to me. Especially the lovely collar on the Indian scarf jacket. Eion said he had developed it into a hood that would appeal to women in the Muslim world, and I think he might be right. He also suggested that this sort unstructured jacket could be developed to make a man’s suit, with matching trousers. And lots of pockets. Eion is really into pockets!  It is a good point. Why are men’s suit jackets so limited in their shape? Maybe it is time for the suit to evolve more.

(Update) When we met Eion spoke about his design of “double helix” jeans. Since I published this post he kindly sent me a photograph of his jeans, well worn! He writes “All the structure is built into the two helical seams, with the result, just classic “five pocket jean”. A bit more sophisticated than the Levi’s “engineered” jean, eh?

Eion Todd: Double Helix jeans
Eion Todd: Double Helix jeans

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at Barbican

Regular readers will know that, on the whole, I like my exhibitions to be chronological. Whether looking at clothes, fashion, art, artefacts, household goods or photographs, I prefer to root everything in its historical (social, geographic, economic) context. My reviews of the corsets and shoe exhibitions at the V&A earlier this year expressed my dissatisfaction with  exhibits muddled up around tenuous themes. I mused that the Museum was becoming just another sensational opportunity;  and less an educational experience.

The Vulgar is an interesting exhibition in that, it too, rides roughshod over historical conventions and chooses a range of random categories for the 120 exhibits. But it does have structure, and one I could relate to. The structure is supplied by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips whose comments are the writing on the wall. I have studied, at MA level, psychoanalytic theory, and found it fairly accessible and interesting. But it is esoteric. Here is the introduction from the booklet (on my visit this was being handed out to school children).

“The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is the first exhibition to foreground the challenging but at the same time utterly compelling question of how fashion revels in, exploits and ultimately overturns the prevailing limits of taste”.

The use of the psychoanalytic term ‘foreground’ is rather pretentious I felt, as well as an assumption that there might be a second or third exhibition along similar lines. Yes, taste is indeed a fascinating question, and I am interested in the topic. As I came home from the exhibition I saw a young woman dressed (I would say) tastelessly  – over-tight jeans, high heels and designer paper carrier-bag – but many would disagree.

Young woman in tight jeans
Young woman in tight jeans

But while I loved looking at the clothes I am not sure I really understand taste, or vulgarity, any better than I did before. You could call this an exhibition of fashion that has gone over the top – too big, too bright, too flashy, too expensive, too trivial, too revealing, too big, just too too too.

The entrance features a 1938 golden dress, based on a chasuble, made by ecclesiastical embroideriers for Schiaparelli.

1938 Schiaparelli coat and stole
1938 Schiaparelli coat and stole

We are asked to consider the acceptability of gold as a dress fabric.  Can a gold outfit be tasteful even though it is over the top? What if it is worn by royalty? The Pope? A rich woman? A film star? A rapper? A waitress?

  • There are lots of Westwood garments – the “Tits” top, the nude body suit with a strategic fig leaf, and the magnificent Watteau-inspired, sack-back green evening gown. Bravo Viv!
  • There is a Mondrian dress and several copies, including a jersey one, (in the shop).
  • Some astonishingly wonderful Galliano for Dior. Not exactly wearable, but clothes used to explore ideas, to celebrate artistry, to add something amazing to the human form. To me this is not the least bit “vulgar”.
    Galiano wedding dress
    Galliano wedding dress
  • A 1964 “topless bathing costume” that is exhibited here on a mannequin. Large Bridget Jones-type knickers are worn with thin shoulder straps. The notes think that putting the costume on a mannequin is somehow much more realistic than pinning it to the wall, as it was for a V&A exhibition in the 1970s.
    Rudi G 1964 topless swimsuit
    1964 Rudi Gernreich topless swimsuit
  • Pam Hogg – who I had not come across before – and her perfected cat suit
  • Garments that I consider somewhat tasteless, but I can see the appeal. This made me realise I divide fashion into four categories.  I would a) wear b) admire but never wear c) well done/interesting, but not my taste d) not very nice. Personally I like to look at clothes and appraise them in subtle ways – not with just a visceral – uggh, but engaging with the designer to appreciate their design. a) is a modern house of Schiaparelli, b) Moschino, obvs, c) is modern Lagerfeld for Chanel and d) is the Prada bra coat. This one got me. I really liked the style of the coat and the way it went from blue to pink via some interesting trimmings and strips. But I think it would have been much nicer without the black and white bra. I would have left well alone. But then it would not have had the shock factor, or got itself into the media.

I enjoyed the short film Speaking of the Vulgar – where Hussein Chalayan proves himself to be a dab hand at academic psycho reflection – as various international designers discuss vulgarity with Judith Clark the exhibition’s curator. They mainly seem a bit perplexed by the topic. I loved Stephen Jones’ contribution where he sees vulgarity as the spice, the salt and pepper in our food. Our food would be very dull without it. If he means experimentation, pushing the boundaries, playfulness, sexual allure, naughtiness and daring – I am with him. This is what fashion brings us – never just a way to clothe our bodies.

Basically this exhibition is too clever by half, in my view. The language and words are always pregnant with double meanings. The asides are too frequent and there to impress. The museum and concept of exhibition is problematised and dissected. For example “Fashion extends the body’s reach – its daring – and manages the distance between the viewer and the viewed”. Um, yes, but sort of so what?

However it is completely saved by the clothes which are marvellous, thrilling, entertaining and interesting. It cost me £12 to get in, but for me, it was worth every penny. Fascinating business, Fashion.

Colour Analysis for Men – Designing Gus’s wardrobe

I have written several posts about Colour Analysis. Search the tag Colour Analysis if you want to know more (or hire me to do your colours!).

I think colour is really important – alongside getting the styles right for your body. 

I managed to get Gus to come down for a “quick” colour analysis last weekend. My conclusion is that Gus’s primary colour direction is Cool – he suits colours that have a bluish undertone. That said some of the warmer and muted browns did look very nice on him. This is probably because his secondary direction was muted, and the muted shades were almost as good on him as the cools. He generally doesn’t look his best in black, the very bright reds, yellows and blues. I also looked at deeper and lighter colours on him. My findings were inconclusive. In some colours the lighter shades were better, and in others the darker. I would say Gus can choose the darker or lighter colours as he pleases – so long as the colour is right, the depth of colour is less important.

In summary this means we are looking for colours with a cool undertone and a soft, dusky quality. Gus was happy with this instruction.

His best neutrals are medium grey and soft navy, confirming the colours Gus tends to choose for his working wardrobe.

The consultation (as well as being done fast), was interesting in that Gus looked really nice in some of the deeper, muted reds. Another excellent choice was lemon, and actually the beige. And Gus has suggested he might like to wear more green. So plenty to go on there, especially for his casual wardrobe.

We had an initial discussion on the kind of garments that Gus would like in his wardrobe.

  1. Shirt
  2. Long sleeved T shirt
  3. High waisted jeans
  4. Corduroys
  5. Smart shorts
  6. Casual trousers
  7. Tailored jacket
  8. Bomber jacket
  9. Alpaca “Lore” jumper
  10. Polo neck jumper
  11. Coat

Clearly we didn’t have time to fill in the details. Gus had to rush off.  Apart from the male version of the light grey Lorelle sweater (my translation) we don’t have any ideas yet on the exact style, pattern or colour schemes. The shirt may be a short sleeved linen shirt. The T shirt may be a sweat shirt. For me the Bomber jacket is a chance to do something really creative (eg hand painted silk).

I was keen on having some grey-brown taupe in this wardrobe – perhaps for the corduroys and the casual coat. This would give us the chance to have some deep muted reds too as these reds looks great with browns. But this rather subtle colour scheme is talking to me- it is a summery palette but it is a harmonious cool-muted palette that I feel would suit Gus.

So, having done the colour analysis I have had another go at the list. The inspiration pictures below are more for the silhouette rather than the exact colours or design.

  1. Shirt – white or beige
  2. Long sleeved T shirt – blue and white stripes
  3. High waisted jeans – dark blue
  4. Casual trousers – soft green
  5. Corduroys – taupe
  6. Smart shorts – soft blue
  7. Tailored jacket – soft blue
  8. Bomber jacket – hand painted silk including beige, soft greens and blues
  9. Alpaca “Lore” jumper – light grey
  10. Polo neck jumper – Airforce (deep grey blue)
  11. Coat in grey – no pictures!

I haven’t got Gus’s reaction yet, but I hope he likes the direction this is going. If not I will have a rethink.

1958 Rugged, Two-colour Ski Sweater by Vogue Knitting

Do you do New Year’s Resolutions? I do! And this year I set myself the task of reading one book a month.

I had been making good progress.

January (6)

  • Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies; A Biography of Cancer
  • Stephen King, The Green Mile
  • Stephen King, Mr Mercedes
  • Rachel Abbott, Sleep Tight
  • Philip Gould, When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone
  • Marguerite van Geldermalsen, Married to a Bedouin

February (4)

  • Stephen King, Doctor Sleep
  • Kate Atkinson, A God in Ruins
  • Keith Houghton, No Coming Back
  • Margaret Atwood, The heart goes last

March (5)

  • Liliana Hart, Dirty Little Secrets
  • Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier
  • John Le Carre, The Night Watchman
  • Ruth Picardie, Before i Say Goodbye
  • Jacky Fleming, The trouble with women

April (4)

  • Mikhail Bulgakov, Heart of a Dog
  • Danielle Steel, Flowers in the Snow
  • Veronica Roth, Divergent
  • Veronica Roth, Insurgent

May (3)

  • Kimberley Chambers, Payback
  • William Blacker, Along the Enchanted Way
  • Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

June (2)

  • Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen
  • Michael Frayn, Towards the End of the Morning

July (3)

  • Hannah Rothschild, The improbability of Love
  • Mick Herron, Slow Horses
  • Nina Sibbe, Love Nina

August (5)

  • JM Coetze, The Schooldays of Jesus
  • Mick Herron, Dead Lions
  • Sue Monk Kidd, the Secret Lives of Bees
  • Mhairi McFarlane, You had me at Hello
  • EL Doctorow, The Book of Daniel

September (3)

  • Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project
  • Nina Stibbe, Man at the Helm
  • Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

In 9 months I read 35 books – an average of around four a month. I was on track to meet my resolution. Halfway through September I just about stopped reading. Now it It mid November, I do have a book on the go, and it’s a good one, but I am lucky if I manage to read more than a few pages every now and again.

You know what has happened, don’t you?

I have taken up knitting and, by and large, it has replaced reading, because there are only so many hours in the day. Knitting appears to have replaced pattern cutting, textiles and slow, creative sewing.

I am feeling a bit unsure about this.

Do I love knitting more than reading? Is knitting more pleasurable than sewing? Is knitting taking over my life? I am watching more TV (still on the Scandi Noir stuff, so this jersey felt appropriate). I love reading and sewing, but it feel like I have fallen in love. Will my new passion will subside and allow me to get back to other things?

I don’t know the answer to this. But while my reading has languished I have made another sweater.

The pattern

This time it is the Vogue Knitting magazine from 1958 “Rugged, two colour, ski sweater”. This sweater appealed to me as I wanted to try colour work and it seemed like a nice Scandinavian inspired jersey. I liked the vertical stripes and the bold colour scheme. In fact I love everything about the idea of 1958 ski jumper as I remember my parents 1955 skiing honeymoon photographs from Arosa (Switzerland). The original (black and white version) is quite close fitting. My guess is with the 1980s version they made up the bust 38″ jumper and put it on a size 8 (bust 32) model. I made it in bust 34 and it fits well, but not the oversize look captured in the 1980s.

Yarn used

I bought my Aran weight cashmere yarn, in strong pink and deep aubergine, from ColourMart. This company takes left over yarns from sweater manufacturers, twists it up to make thicker yarns, and sells it at much lower prices than “proper” cashmere yarn.  But it was still expensive (about £100 for the sweater) and an unusual experience. The yarn is oiled when it arrives, and it feels cottony and stringy. Once it is knitted up you wash it in hand hot water and detergent, then tumble dry. It softens up a bit, but it doesn’t feel soft and fluffy like a cashmere sweater you would buy in a shop. It feels hard wearing, non-itchy, warm and light. But I am not sure I would pay such a high price again. Apparently it gets softer with each wash (I will report back).

Here are the four pieces before I started on the yoke.

Vogue KnittingRugged, Two-colour Ski Sweater 1958
Rugged, Two-colour Ski Sweater 1958


There was more picking up stitches as the main pieces are knitted sideways, as it were. I got better this time around, but I still need more experience. The other new experience was the colour work – making the yoke pattern. I got it wrong, and it is not only upside down, it is also not lined up properly. Also I ran out of yarn right at the end so the collar is less deep than planned. But even with these mistakes I admit I am rather pleased with my jumper. The chunky yarn made it nice and quick to knit, and I wore it to visit our country retreat, Rainshore, now promised just before Christmas. We shall see.

Vogue knitting ski jumper 1958
1958 ski jumper

I don’t think a jumper a week is a sensible resolution and I will calm it down now. I have yarn for two or three more sweaters, but SWAP is coming. Do you ever feel your creative endeavours become a little too addictive?

Desginer Stitch Lena Pants

posted in: Finished projects, Shop Review | 18

Ann from Designer Stitch recently contacted me and offered me one of her patterns, free. Ann, from Australia, has some really nice summer dresses. However when she got in touch  I was considering trouser styles for my casual wardrobe and thought I might try these unusual casual pants.

I chose the Lena pants, described thus:

The Lena Silk Pants are a relaxed and easy wearing pant. Featuring side slant pockets, pleated front, back yoke and elastic waistband these pants can be made in a casual fabric for daytime wearing. They can then easily transition into evening when made in a more upmarket fabric for some glitz and glamour.

I particularly liked the fabric Ann used for the silk version, but I wondered if these pants might be nice in a sweatshirt material I had in my cupboard. The green cotton jersey comes from Fred Perry so it is a nice quality but casual fabric.

I ran the pattern off at home and it was great to put together. Ann had successfully managed to position the pattern at the very left and bottom edge of each A4 sheet, so they could be stuck together with no cutting! Brilliant. Why doesn’t everyone else do this? It cut the sticking time in half. Also she provides the patterns in layers so you only need to run off your own size. I made the smallest size.

The instructions were full, and easy to follow. I didn’t use the suggested technique with the elasticated waist band as I didn’t have the right depth of elastic. The one thing that really annoyed me however was the inconsistent seam allowance – on some seams it was 1.5cms, and on others it was 1cm. I can’t see the justification for this and believe the same seam allowance can and should be used throughout. I had to keep going back to the pattern to check. However all in all well drafted patterns with clear instructions.

The problem for me is the dropped crotch. Obviously this is a design feature but it did mean I lacked reference points for the fitting. The waist is dropped, so is the crotch, and the hems are not in a conventional place. I am not sure I made them up correctly. There are very few pictures of these trousers from the back!

The trousers look quite reasonable from the front. The pants apparently sit low on the waist as well. On me the trousers finish at the ankle, although on Ann they are shorter. Maybe I got them in the wrong place?

Fabrickated Lena Pants
Lena Pants front view

From the side they look pretty good. I really like the pockets. And the pleats.

Lena pants Fabrickated
Lena pants side view

I didn’t like the  centre back seam as it has no shaping at all.  From the back it looks like I have a nappy on. Elephant bum. I know some people like this look – the harem pant – but I don’t think I should go there.

Lena Pants - back view
Lena Pants – back view

I am glad I gave these trousers a try. It didn’t take any time at all to make them, and I may copy the cuffs at the bottom which worked really nicely. But I am afraid these will be worn for one yoga class and then I will probably take them to the charity shop. Sorry Ann.



Men’s style analysis – Gus

posted in: Style advice, SWAP | 8

I promised to create a SWAP wardrobe for my son Gus.

I have precious little experience of designing or making clothes for men. I love looking at menswear. And men! But I haven’t branched out into making clothes for the men in my life. Men are such a different shape, and making clothes for them seems scary; I confess I don’t really have a feel about how to fit the male frame. Men also have a different attitude to choosing and buying clothes,  Men’s clothes have similar but different functions. Therefore I was keen to work with Gus to see what I could learn about designing and making clothes for men. And while I may not adopt Gus for my SWAP 2017 I want to create an ideal wardrobe I could theoretically  make up. Like a virtual reality wardrobe. And if he gets a jumper or two, and perhaps a pair of jeans that fit, I am sure he will consider himself lucky.

I previously suggested that, when designing for an individual,  – male or female – we should first try to understand their body, shape and personal style. Even though I might like the Duke of Windsor look, or Ozwald Boateng (both style icons) I would not suggest dressing my son in Plus Fours, a tweed jacket or a luminous purple suit. No. We all need to wear clothes that enhance us, make us feel good and help us create the impression we want on the outside world. So before I talk to Gus specifically about what sort of clothes he fancies, I thought I would elaborate how I analyse someone’s figure. I did this before for Ruth, if you are interested.

If we understand our own shape and proportion we can enhance our best features and camouflage any areas we perceive to be an issue. A good bodyline and style consultation means we can then feel better about ourselves, make better purchasing decisions and get better use from our wardrobe in that we will have a range of clothes that work well together. I can help Gus understand the power of the optical illusion to make the most of his natural features.

Body Shape

First things first. What is the overall silhouette like? At first glance you might say this young man has a straight body shape as he has small hips and waist. But look at his shoulders. He actually has an Angular body shape – the wide shoulders create a triangle shape that narrows down to his waist. But Gus also has quite sloping shoulders and a relatively long neck. If I were to make him a jacket or a jumper I could “correct” for these issues, making his neck look a little shorter and his shoulders a bit squarer. Although Gus likes a raglan sleeve, a set-in sleeve will be better on him as it emphasises the shoulder line.

The Angular body looks best in a jacket with some waist shaping. Gus should consider wide peaked lapels, double breasted jackets, and tops with a straight hemline. For more casual wear a jeans or bomber jacket, a belted coat or fitted jacket will look best.

In terms of trousers a slim fit pair, made from crisper fabrics is best. If he wishes Gus may try shorter lengths or turn ups, or even pleated trousers for a retro look.

Scale and proportion

Although Gus is rather thin he is also 6’2″ so he would be classified as a medium not a small (or large) man. His tall, slimness doesn’t produce too many challenges in terms of dressing as a long slim body is easy on the eye and tends to look good in clothes. Gus’s legs are longer than his torso (by about four cms) so again he has a figure that is relatively easy to flatter. The perception, looking at the photographs above, is that Gus has a longer body and shorter legs. But if he tucked his T shirt in, or wore jeans with a high waist, his legs would look longer. Certainly something we could fix with tailor made jeans or trousers.

When we look at what Gus wears for work we see that he matches a soft navy jacket with narrow cut navy trousers and a pair of black shoes. In the picture below Gus is wearing a zip front jacket with hand warmer pockets. It’s a version of a bomber jacket. This style suits him well in terms of an unstructured outline (he likes to look fairly casual, even for work), but also in that it finishes relatively high, compared to a formal jacket, and it makes his legs look longer.

Young man in business casual
Gus does Business Casual

Face shape

Face shape is important, especially when we are looking at garments that are worn near the face eg necklines, ties, collars, and of course hair styles. Gus has an oval face which is rather longer than wide, and his features are straight rather than angular, or rounded. With this face shape hair styles that combine straight lines with some softness are best – Gus’s hair fits the bill and the sweeping fringe reduces the length of his face. The beard provides a nice horizontal line across his lower face that is flattering as well as (still, relatively) fashionable. In the photo below Gus has a more sporty, casual bomber jacket, this time with green in it. Nice colour.



Wardrobe Personality

Wardrobe personality is important. The two gents I mentioned at the top of this post – the Duke of Windsor and Ozwald Boateng – are both dramatic dressers. Gus is more of a classic dresser, but with a few flourishes and a hint of drama. He is open-minded about colour, pattern, and unusual fabrics. He is interested in history, stories and has a great sense of humour. He enjoys dressing up (I remember the zombie twins costume) and larking around. He doesn’t mind standing out in a crowd, but as the third child he mainly fits in. He goes with the flow, enjoys spontaneity and is good in a group or team. He can’t really be bothered with ironing or taking things to the cleaners, so his wardrobe needs to be easy care.

I am looking forward to determining his colours. Then we will come up with a wardrobe!



Vogue 1522 1985 Perry Ellis dress

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a love letter to Perry Ellis, saying what great clothes he designed for Vogue in the 1980s.

This pattern, Vogue 1522, was one I picked out as being useful and beautiful. Lisa (who, like me works in housing), left a comment to say she owned this very pattern, if I would like to borrow it. So I did. Thank you so much Lisa – very kind and generous of you. I have made the dress and the pattern will be returned to you today.

1985 Vogue 1522 Perry Ellis
1985 Vogue 1522 Perry Ellis

When I first showed these patterns some (younger) readers said they had never heard of Perry Ellis. I am glad if you are now aware of him and his lovely patterns.

But many more mentioned how they had made and worn Perry Ellis designs in the 1980s. Alix said she “definitely bought into that whole relaxed linen lifestyle he was selling” but had now sadly binned or lost her patterns. Christine Burns wrote “The first suit I made back in the 70’s was a lovely short sleeved Perry Ellis pattern. A timeless item. I wore it for years and still wish it was in my wardrobe.” Su of Sewstyled said “My mother made the V1521 dress for me in a striped pink white and grey cotton and I remember running around campus and nearly having a wardrobe malfunction. I had the skirt too in yellow cotton – I only threw it out a few years ago always thinking I could reuse the fabric. Perry Ellis had a great sense of proportion. My mother also made 1522 for me.” How nice to capture these personal stories and the sense of excitement the new shapes brought with them in the 1980s.

Pattern and alterations

Another discussion concerned the ease that was now coming into Vogue patterns. Helene made a strong point “These patterns from the 1980s and the 1990s ran HUGE. Not only were the designs oversized (it was the trend then, and it’s back now), but these patterns included tons of ease. So much in fact that I would systematically go a couple of sizes down.”

As you may know many 1980s patterns (especially Vogue designer) were offered in specific sizes with all the details arranged correctly and to scale. The pattern that came from Lisa was a UK size 12 (34-24-36). So, just as a test, I made my dress up unaltered. The bust is right for me, the waist fine (although not defined in this dress), but the hips would be at least two inches too tight. Theoretically. But I measured the pattern and found that the actual measurement was 40″ – to me that is about the right amount of ease for 38″hips. However I realised the top half might be a bit roomy, but figured that one shoulder slipping down (or the “wardrobe malfunction” Su mentions above) was par for the course in the 1980s. In some ways it defined the look – clothes that were so big they were already coming off. 

There is also the question of the length. I tend to remain faithful, when making vintage patterns, to the original length and proportions of garments. This is because I actually like the fashion history part of making and wearing vintage, rather than diluting the look so it is more contemporary (eg I like big 70s collars too).  I thought about shortening this dress considerably as it is ankle length, but then, for a holiday wardrobe, this length is rather nice – especially worn with sandals as in the envelope picture. So for the first time in ages I made up a garment with no alterations whatsoever.


The pattern suggests a lightweight linen. I had a few lighter linens and silks in my cupboard. I thought about finding a harmonious fabric for the sash and had a range of choices. Here are a few I considered. There are three pieces of Nani Iro in there as this dress had a very Japanese feel. When I had the dress on the stand my husband thought it was a 1920s pattern. Well during the 1980s, of course, there was intense interest in Japanese pattern cutting and 1920s styling. So the dress feels like it has the right kind of parentage. In the end I chose the bottom left – a lightweight indigo linen (woven with white, like jeans), and the yellow Nani Iro that I was sold short. 

Possible fabric choices for Perry Ellis dress
Possible fabric choices for Perry Ellis dress


When I was making the dress up two 1980s details struck me – ideas that were new in the 1980s, but commonplace today. First was the absence of a bust dart. The bust shaping is taken into the armhole creating a great simplicity of line across the upper body. The second feature is the use of bias binding as opposed to facings or linings. During the 1960s and 1970s you would also have both the bust dart and facings. I quite enjoyed making bias binding and using it as a facing. I rarely use this finish and it is nice and neat. The instructions were generally straightforward and this dress was a joy to make.


The silhouette of this dress is not my usual one,  and a tube is not the best shape for someone with a curved figure. It would suit a straight body much better. But the sash is used to shape in the dress and to pull it in over the high hip.  I tried a scarf, a belt and the sash and created some nice looks. The wide sash prevents me using the pockets but is more shapely across the hips. The narrow scarf is patterned both sides so is probably more suitable. It actually looks fine with a leather belt too. If I was going on holiday to Greece this week (as Ben, Mel and Maia are) I would definitely take this dress.




A sister for Lorelle

Thank you for all the warm reactions to my first, ever, sweater. The Purl Alpaca Lorelle, designed by Kari-Helene Rane. I like it so much I have been wearing it nearly everyday. Now my son Gus says he would like one (!).

In the meantime, when I couldn’t fathom the Lorelle yoke,  I started a second jumper. The pattern I chose for jumper #2 was this one.

Square Necked T shirt sweater 1954
Square Necked T shirt sweater 1954 (p80)

It was designed, before I was born,  for a girl rather than a woman but it went up to 32″ chest. The very simple style appealed to me with its T-shape, knitted in stocking stitch, with an adorable square neck. I worked out it was four ply or thereabouts from the swatch test, and I ordered some nice yarn on the internet. Although I visited Loop, as suggested by many London knitters, I found it overwhelming and expensive. In the end I bought some inexpensive Norwegian yarn, Drops Baby Alpaca, which is just £3.75 for 50g. I only needed four balls to make this top, and felt that a jumper for around £15 was reasonable. I don’t really want to spend much more than that. But I also wanted to use natural fibres and this yarn is a mixture of alpaca, which I had already used and loved for my first jumper, plus silk. I liked the very soft feel, with a slight sheen, and the good colours. I would definitely use this yarn again.

I also scored some nice circular needles, I think from the 1960s or 1970s. I like to buy my knitting needles second-hand from Sharon on Clitheroe market (where my Mum lives). Sharon charges around £1 a pair, or set of dpns, and she has tied each group together with embroidery floss. The needles have been given to her to sell in aid of the children’s hospice where her granddaughter died. I try to buy all my knitting needles from her. Maybe next time I will just buy up a whole set. Don’t they look nice arranged by size on the back of the Aero packet?

But of course this simple jumper foxed me too.

I was fine with the casting on and the ribbing. And the knitting up the bodice, until I came to shaping the shoulders and the neck. Even though the shape is very simple and basically a cap sleeve shell top I couldn’t at first read the knitting instructions and understand what to do.  I thought I followed the instructions, but I got this. If you are an experienced knitter you may know what I did. Once I worked out that there should be a neckline between the two shoulders (obvious) I unpicked the knitting and got back on track.


Making a knitted jumper
Opps, that’s not right!

I also had to learn some new techniques.

  • Firstly I didn’t want to just knit a plain jumper. I considered doing a FairIsle pattern with the three colours, but then I settled on a simple striped pattern, in honour of Sonia Rykiel who has recently died.

    I created stripes which was pretty straightforward. I learnt that the front and back need to be matched correctly, especially at the shoulder seam.

  • I had to pick up stitches along the neck and sleeves, so that the navy ribbing could be created at the neck and sleeve edges. I learnt this is very difficult. I discussed how to do it with my friend Bridget, who gave me important advice. The advice was to create really nice, neat edges to the knitting so that the stitches can be seen clearly. “Never knit the first stitch, just slip it” she told me. Then you pick up the stitches evenly with the knitting needle. My edges were very ragged. As a result my ribbed edges do not have a nice sharp edge. But I am a beginner, so I will let myself off, and try next time to create the right back ground for picking up stitches
  • Blocking the pieces. I didn’t look at the internet, you tube or even Stephanie’s blog for this. I just did what I thought might work. I pinned the fabric to my ironing board, lining it up nicely on the grain of the ironing board cover. I sprayed it until it had absorbed quite a lot of water. I hovered over it with the steam iron. using just the tip at the edges where they were curling under. Once it was flat I left it dry over night. This seemed to do the trick and I stitched up the shoulder seams the next morning.
    blocking a handknitted jumper
    Blocking the jumper
  • Stitching seams together with a fat, blunt needles, using backstitch. I learnt it was important to sew the seams with the same shade of yarn to avoid the stitches showing.
  • I was worried, having worked in a fairly chunky yarn for my first project that I might find it harder to get an even stitch with a four ply yarn. But as someone suggested in a comment the stitches seem a bit neater with a smaller gauge.

So does it look OK? I really like it – so simple and sweet I think it could be fun in almost any colour.


The Knitting & Stitching Show – round up of interesting resources and links

posted in: Inspiration, knitting, Shop Review | 27

Today, Saturday and Sunday – if you are in London – or nearby – you could go to the Annual Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace.

I went yesterday, and I had fun. I found it interesting and stimulating, but I am not sure I would recommend it. On the door it costs £17 (unless you are a student or over 60 or entitled to some other discount). And although some of the items may carry a small discount it is probably not worth your while unless you particularly want something.

Here is what I did.

First I went to meet Kari-Helene (obviously). I wore my Lorelle and she immediately recognised me and it. And gave me a warm embrace. “I feel like I know you!” she said. Me too. I saw the new Purl Alpaca patterns, and the various natural colours of yarn they have available. I tried on lots of the items this time including a cabled jumper, a short full sleeved cardigan and a jacket. I bought the jacket pattern. And the yarn. But in my defence I had gone with the intention of doing this, and I got lots of tips in terms of fitting, knitting and customising the jacket. I really don’t want to start a yarn collection and dozens of unstarted projects so I will have to careful now. Especially as I had sort of promised Gus a “Lore”. Luckily/unfortunately I could not buy the yarn for his sweater as they didn’t have the colour in stock (the light grey that I have used for my Lorelle).

There was lots of things for knitters – more for knitters than sewing enthusiasts – although all the main sewing machine companies had machines for you to try – Juki, Singer, Janome, Baby Lock, and others. One firm I liked the look of was Danish company Isager.

Then there was embroidery. I had a lovely time talking to the Hand & Lock embroidery company. They had some amazing badges and military items as well as some stunning embroidery on show. The most exciting thing is that they are supporting Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery at the V&A. The exhibition is on until 5 February. I am keen to go. Anyone like to come with me? They are running quite a few classes and talks too. I also got into conversation with Helen Jones who teaches embroidery as part of the Royal School of Needlework. They are based in some Grace and Favour residences at Hampton Court Palace, and many of the courses are suitable for beginners. Something else I fancy having a go at.

I also found La Di Da Vintage patterns and Caroline Smith the owner. You can just see her amazing little dollies in the background. I wanted to say hello to LemonKeri (I follow her on Instagram). She was wearing a really sweet playsuit with a pointy-pixie like bodice. I entered the competition to name this pattern, but I don’t think my idea was very exciting.

Lemon Keri
Sew La Di Da Vintage

I was also keen to go and see Emily Peacock. I had just discovered Emily’s wonderful cross stitch cushions, again via Instagram. Here she is holding the amazing lobster cushion, and behind her is the modern squid. I love crustaceans – to look at, as well as to eat. I would love a set of these cushions. I told Emily that I would want a different colour scheme, and she offered to put together a different set on request. How amazing. I am very tempted. But then I have enough of a problem with making things and not having enough space or time for everything I want to do. I also remade friends with Hannah Bass who also designs cushions for you to embroider at home. She puts colourful maps of your favorite city on to canvas for you to sew. Both these lovely young women have brought style and modernity to an old-fashioned craft (my Mum embroidered Georgian style roses on to chair backs and cushions).

Emily Peacock cross stitch crustaens
Emily Peacock

I started to watch a demonstration on how the Lutterloh method works. I drifted off. It just seemed like the worst of all worlds to me. Easier to either start from scratch with proper pattern drafting, or buy a ready-made pattern. There is something about the leaflets and the methodology that remind me of the Jehovah’s Witness or 1980s Chinese communist propaganda – idealised figures, dated graphics and impenetrable diagrams. I may be wrong through. Anyone tried it?

There are many really wonderful things to look at too (I wasn’t planning to buy very much although I bought 1.5m of floral cloth from SewOverIt as well as the Purl Alpaca yarn and pattern). I really liked the quilts, the dying, the embroideries and the student work. Much of it was of a very high standard. One of the artists I spoke to briefly was Alice Fox. She really produces some very nice work – mixing organic forms like shells, wood and stone with textiles, dyes and metals. On show were lots of small, detailed pieces such as acorns, whelk shells with stitch work – it was quiet and delicate work but it really spoke to me.



I also really enjoyed an exhibition of Black Icons, created by young people. We celebrate Black History Month at work during October so I am always interested in new work and creative approaches to our UK Black History.

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