a trip down a road less trodden


(a reluctant display of the bits of me I don’t normally show off))
Bits of me I am not too happy showing off

Some years ago my mum bought me an adjustable mannequin. I fiddled endlessly with the wheels to get them to match my measurements – sadly the waist measurement wouldn’t go quite as large as mine, and the small size of my hips in comparison to my other measurements made the wheels strain at their screws.

I knew I had to do something to it to move it higher up the usability scale from mere coat-hanger. I had two items squirrelled away that were going to help me in my task, a lot of odd pieces of quilt batting, and a muslin made at a drafting course at English Couture last autumn (which I can thoroughly recommend)

Padding applied the stitched to the original mannequin

Starting with the muslin, which I knew fitted me very well, I put it on the mannequin, which had been twiddled to match my measurements as closely as possible, then I assessed the bits that needed packing out. Pinning the small(ish) pieces of batting on the mannequin until the muslin was well stuffed took a bit of time and trial and error, but when was satisfied I stitched it all together, with fairly random, large stitches.

There was a significant gap down the centre front, back and the sides, where the parts of the mannequin were spread apart. In order to use the mannequin for draping techniques the centre front and back need some solidity to pin into, so I stitched strips of felt to be covered by the wadding. I look forward to designing patterns by draping as an addition to my growing pattern drafting skills.

It was then simply a case of deciding when enough was enough, putting the muslin in place and stitching it closed up the centre front. I had already turned in the neck edge and stitched it down, and overcast the bottom edge and Voila!

The questions that now remain:

I like the defined neck edge of the muslin, it gives me a clear indication of where a collar needs to sit. The muslin seams show where I need to position my shoulder seams to cater for my high round neck and forward shoulder, and I can clearly see where to put various necklines in relation to my own physiognomy.

I also like the shoulder seams that indicate my armhole position. I left the sleeves in situ on the toile, but the arms do get in the way of garments that I put on the mannequin so I need to address that, without loosing the armhole seam line indication.

I find the gingham pattern of the fabric of my original muslin, whilst it is very useful as an indication of straight grain and horizontals, is very distracting when assessing the attributes – or otherwise – of items in construction. I will make a plain jersey pullover as an alternative cover, then apply tape to indicate those important lines.

gingham muslin mounted on padded mannequin
the original individually fitted muslin stitched onto the padded mannequin


One of the real benefits of my mannequin, even when it didn’t match me, was as an aid to fitting knit neckbands. Prior to this revelation it was a hit and miss affair based on a rough estimate of ±80% of the neck edge. Now it’s a case of putting the neckless knit garment on the mannequin so that the shoulders and armholes sit nicely in the right position. Cut a neckband to the desired width, then folded double, and the length of the measured cut edge of the neck edge, then starting at the shoulder seam, pin the neckband so that it sits naturally at the folded edge, and stretched to fit the cut edge. mark the length with a pin, stitch a small seam to join the circle, then sew to the cut edge in your preferred fashion.

My preferred method of joining neckbands to knit tops after fitting the neckband onto the top on the mannequin, is to stitch it with a small zigzag on my sewing machine, then overlock the cut edge (to approximately 6mm – or 1/4″). I can then use my coverstitch machine to finish the the accurately finished serged edge and give really neat finish.

Conclusion: The end result is quite an apparition, it certainly looks much better covered up, but it is a really useful sewing and fitting aid. It is infinitely better than the original because it reflects the individual quirks and contours of my own body, and has an eerie similarity in its tactile quality and squishiness to my real body. Its very best quality has to be that it is really easy to snip away bits to reflect weight losses, or to to add extra bits should I eat too much.

Until the next time I have something useful to say –

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Make 9, or 10 or 1 a week for 52 weeks?

I was never sure quite what was the point of the Make 9 challenge. I am a bit of an ad-hoc sewer, I make whatever takes my fancy at the moment. Fortunately I have distinct preferences in my colour choices so I tend to end up with a reasonable level of co-ordination.

I am quite a prolific maker, often producing more than one item a week (although not all for myself) I have two granddaughters and a daughter who hasn’t much time to sew, so making only 9 seemed initially a bit limiting.

However – we have been away from home, and my sewing machine, for six weeks and I had plenty of time to consider my sewing future.

Make 9 for 2019

During my enforced hiatus I started to think about what I might actually need in my wardrobe. Actually the most urgent wardrobe need is space; to remove a large portion of what no longer – and realistically never will – fit me. I have a lot of business clothes from the days I ran a high end ladies fashion boutique, and at least 3 mother of the bride/groom outfits, I was a shadow of my current self a decade ago.

Skiing in the French Alps and sailing with friends in Croatia

My lifestyle has changed. We used to ski and sail a lot, but my husband now has what my granny used to refer to as “a bone in me leg” i.e. he has a bad knee. So we took up golf last summer, I get to walk as much as I like, he can ride on a buggy and we get to do something together. Win win (I usually do!)

All this means I now need a different type of sportswear. I am not a fan of the regimented selection of golf clothing available, and most of it doesn’t accommodate my Apple waistline, so to make myself golf gear is a new consideration.

I have been looking at ladies golf gear offerings and am not inspired by them, but I have a couple of basic needs. Warmth, freedom of movement and to get my pasty white pins out.

I have found a Gilet pattern I like, the Willa Vest from LaelaJane and the StyleArc Maggie shirt, which I think would work well with a woven yoke and jersey body. It shouldn’t be too difficult to add a collar too. I also fancy some long shorts, which may well be Lander Pants in a longer length than the shorts on the pattern envelope.

As far as fabrics are concerned, I would like to use some of my considerable stash but I don’t have anything technical. I have found http://www.activefabrics.co.uk to have a good choice of plains in technical fabrics, and http://www.fashion-formula.com to have a good choice of base fabrics, and a couple of ready designed golf themed fabrics to order. Any more suggestions would be welcomed in comments below.

As for the rest, that leaves 3 bottoms and 3 tops, I can fill those in from my immediate ‘what I want to sew’

1. Jeans: I have some Cone Mills Denim I have been hoarding. I have already made Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans but made considerable waist alterations, and I am considering the Cashmerette Ames Jeans to accommodate my apple waist. I have recently revisited the Ginger Jeans with an amendment to a higher rise, which I prefer,

Closet Case Patterns Ginger Jeans

2. Stretch pants: Always a lover of comfort, I have made Jalie Eleonore in the past, but I like the look of DesignerStitch Harley pants.

Designerstitch Harley Pants in Ponte Roma

3. A pinafore dress. I have some lovely floral needlecord that I bought from SewMeSomething at the Harrogate Knit and Stitch Show last Autumn. I have a couple of choice options, the SewDifferent Pocket Pinafore, and the Marilla Walker Roberts Collection Pinafore Dress. I also have McCalls M7547 which hopefully I can hack into a skirt rather than dungaree.

Sew Different Scoop Pinafore and McCalls M7547 dungarees

4. A shirtdress. My first make when I returned to sewing in 2015 was a Grainline Alder, which I like except that it is sleeveless, I hate showing the tops of my arms, I had to do a large FBA and didn’t know to remove excess width from lower down so it’s a bit swingy.

I will use the DesignerStitch Sedona Shirtdress which appears to answer all my calls, it has sleeves, a selection of cup sizes and a slimmer line, which I favour for this summer. I also have some lovely floral viscose that I found in my local fabric shops The Fabric Bird in Thirsk.

Designerstitch Sedona Shirtdress

5. A simple jersey dress to replace a much worn RTW one which is looking distinctly shabby. I am thinking Cashmerette Pembroke in French Terry, which I find a perfect weight for the average English summer. I have plain Navy Blue, always a favourite in my house.

Cashmerette Pembroke dress and tunic

6. A leather jacket. This will be my spring project for the dressmaking and pattern drafting class I go to. I found some buttery soft leather pieces on a trip to Spain, I have taupe for the outer and red for collar and facings, and a pattern that came with LoveSewing magazine, Butterick B6497.

Butterick B6497 Jacket

Together with my Golf Capsule, that Makes Nine. Eventually I have achieved a selection which, at this moment in time fits my needs. All that remains is to make room in my closet. Now there is a challenge.

For now,

Whys and Wherefores

The primary purpose of a blog for me, listening to the cries of ‘blogging is dead – let’s move onto Instagram and ever newer means of insta-communication” is to record: my thoughts, my experiences and my ideas; to communicate with a larger world than I have ever experienced and to find others of my generation (not exclusively by any means) who have only ever sewn in solitude.

As I progress deeper into my sewing life, I started when I was 18, some 52 years ago, a lot of needles have been broken and seams ripped. I came back to sewing in 2015 after a lengthy hiatus, to find a totally different world. Technology, whilst it has it’s demons, has huge benefits for all of us who create, not least as a learning tool, but particularly for me as a shopping tool and a diary tool.

So I shall start. I have a 3 year backlog of things to talk about, so I will begin at the end, the point I am at now, and slip in things I made earlier. Some of these you may have seen on my Instagram accounts. Others not.

I recently discovered The Sewing Workshop patterns. They have a style which accommodates my middle age spread, which continues to spread into old age (I like wine and food too much – and my hobbies don’t allow that much time for excercise.

My current favourite pattern from The Sewing Workshop is the Frankie Shirt

Frankie Shirt from The Sewing Workshop

I made a test version from some fabric bought from a stash clearance. It was £1.50 and marked on the selvedge as ‘Tebilized’, a trademark used by Tootal for a crease resistance process in the early 1970s.

I cut size L. Normally I would do a Full Bust Adjustment, but reading comments suggested it wasn’t necessary because of the lowered armholes and loose bodice. I cut the back and under-sleeve sections with a 90° grain line to accentuate the style lines, and lowered the back neck by 1cm, which is a common alteration for me, but in wear I didn’t need it so on the final garment I reverted to the original.

On the final garment I altered the collar so the meeting point was at the centre front rather than at the edge of the front band, lengthened the sleeve 5cms, and reduced the depth of the back pleat by 50% leaving it to fall softly rather than pressing into a sharp pleat

The fabric was a gift from a friend, African Wax print in my favourite colour, purple. The pattern matching on the front took a bit of thinking about so that it would match despite the grown on front band but cutting as a single layer got the effect I wanted.

This was my first experience of sewing with wax print cotton, I washed it before cutting, it released a lot of purple dye into the water but it was still strikingly brilliant afterwards and was very easy to sew and finish.

I have some more in my stash and am busily planning what to make with it. Watch this space!