A Late Christmas Robe

a collaboration with SewEssential

Lightweight jacket or dressing robe?

I made a crepe de chine robe for my daughter this Christmas, it’s a good giving option, the sizing and the sewing are both untaxing.  I liked it so much I wanted one for myself, so when Lucy from SewEssential.co.uk suggested a collaboration using a John Kaldor Crepe de Chine there was no contest as to what I would make with it.  

I used Jalie 3889 Melanie Robe, it is a Kimono inspired shaped jacket, which depending on the fabric choice can be a dressing robe, beach cover up, slinky jacket or cosy cardigan.  My Polyester Crepe de Chine – which weighs in at a lightweight 85 gsm – puts my garment into the Dressing Robe category. The pattern is in 27 sizes from age 2 up to 50” bust.

The fabric is light but not too slippery.  It has a tendency to move when cutting out.  I used long fine sharp pins to secure the pattern pieces.  My fabric has a small overall design so I wasn’t concerned about matching the pattern, but had I been I would have cut the pieces singly.  Occasionally even my very sharp pins struggled to pierce the fabric, at first I thought they might be blunt (they were new!) But I found by moving them to a slightly different position they went through fine.  I think the polyester fibre is tightly woven and quite resistant, but generally the pins slipped into it nicely, and didn’t leave any marks.  Something to consider when using fine fabrics.

I fiddled around with sample stitches.  Initially my seams puckered, but by loosening the tension, and going to a much shorter stitch length I was able to correct that.

In order to have a neat edge on the lower front facing I cut a 2 cm strip of very fine interfacing (Bosal Envy Silk Interfacing) and used a standard 3 thread overlocking stitch on my Juki 654 Serger. To stop the pockets fraying I simply zigzagged them on my Juki DX7 sewing machine, which resulted in a neat, partly rolled edge (see photo below)  My current favourite thread is Madeira Aerofil Polyester, it comes on a 400m spool and it is finer, so it lasts longer.

I made the size to fit my bust measurements but its a loose fitting garment so the size wasn’t crucial and is easily adjusted.

simple zig zag edge for inside pockets


Jalie 3889 Melanie Robe
2.75 metres of fabric
Fine interfacing (optional)
Polyester sewing thread
Size and Alterations
I made size Z for a 42” bust measurement. The pattern pieces are all very square, the only alteration I made was to scoop out the back neckline by 2 cms. this altered the neck circumference so I also lengthened the neck bands by 1.5cm on each end.
Mark all notches and dots. Sewing fine fabrics needs a bit of care. I used a new Microtex 70 needle, I tried a few others before settling on this. Test stitching showed some seam puckering, that you could smooth out with your fingers, suggesting that more thread was needed in the seams, so I loosened the thread tension and shortened the stitch length to 1.6mm, removing any puckering. I also used a hot iron with steam to press all the seams and hems.

topstitching the front band in place (note edge of band lined up with side of mark on foot)

Sewing Notes

Instructions are printed directly on the pattern, but visit jalie.com/melanie  and you can  download and print off the instructions

  • Instructions omit to tell you to cut the belt loop strip into 2.  Nobody needs 20cm long belt loops!
  • I included a hanger loop attached to the wrong side of the neck before attaching the neckband.
  • To sew the neckband, I marked the centre back of the neck, pressed down 1cm along the long edge of the neckband and pinned the other long edge with the right side of the band to the wrong side of the neck and front edge, stitched and pressed. Stitched the short edges, folded the band to the right side and top stitched it down as close to the edge as I could.  I find this method the best way of finishing a band neatly, rather than doing it as described in the pattern: you don’t miss any bits on the wrong side. Hand-stitching long bands is not for me on projects like this.

My thanks go to Lucy at http://www.sewessential.co.uk for the fabric, pattern and opportunity. This is a good starting point for a lot of future family gift making. Last year was pyjama bottoms, next year dressing gowns. Where to go from there I wonder…..


Small scrap-busting projects for hard times

Now, due to restrictions placed on us by the arrival of unwanted viruses, it is time to take stock.

I have a ridiculous amounts of fabric, all of which were bought with something particular in mind – often long forgotten. I need to organise a system to keep track of my original plans and subsequent changes of mind! I have my patterns on Evernote, and have also tried Trello. I need to try harder.

I have most of my stash documented on Cora (an app which catalogues fabric) It took a while to set up but as long as I remember to keep it up to date when I get something new, or use something up, then it does a decent job of letting me see what I have to work with. You can get it for various platforms and read about it here

I also have a large box of leftover scraps, which I always save in case there is enough to make something useful out of. I thought that during this period of isolation I would look at my bits and find uses for them.

Simple cotton facemask, lined with flannel

The first thing I came up with was a face mask. All the wisdom says that a mask won’t protect you from the virus, but it may help to reduce the spread of any germs you may already be carrying with you. They seem to be very popular with foreign visitors if news photos are anything to go by, and there are also other applications, my favourite being to make matching adult and child ones so children having to go through unpleasant treatments can see a parent wearing a matching mask (maybe with a funny cartoon theme) and lessen their anxiety.

There are many YouTube video with instructions available, so rather than re-invent the wheel I chose one of those to follow.

Quick Scrapbuster Face Mask

I followed a YouTube Video by Kathy Braidich of “The Turban Project”

YouTube video from Kathy Braidich of The Turban Project

It is essentially two rectangles of fabric: adult size 9” x 6” child size 7.5” x 5” and two pieces of flat ⅛” elastic 7” long

Use a cotton for the outer and a flannel for the inner (I tried with thin fleece for the inner and it was a bit too bulky, but a brushed cotton flannel worked very nicely.)

the flannel is lovely and soft against your face

Use a cotton for the outer and a flannel for the inner, mine was left over brushed cotton shirting from Fabworks that I used for a dress. (I tried with thin fleece for the inner and it was a bit too bulky, but a brushed cotton flannel worked very nicely.)

The two pieces of fabric are laid right sides together, the elastic is inserted at the corners, one piece on each short edge.  Stitch round the edges, leaving a 2” gap on one long side.  Turn through, put a couple of pleats in the side to give it some shape, top stitch to hold flat and seal the gap. Bobs your uncle.  Very detailed instructions are in the video.

The pivot function on my Juki DX7 was really handy when sewing this, and I took the opportunity to use one of the built in embroidery stitches to decorate the edges. I like to take every opportunity to use the great selection of built in stitches on my machine.  Realistically there aren’t that many opportunities when I am making clothes for myself, but they adorn lots of my grandchildren items, and when making things like this project they add an element of fun and personalisation.

I have started to add secret messages into the facings of my grandchildrens’ clothes and they love the excitement of seeking them out.  It is an idea I borrowed from Jen (@jenerates) one of my fellow Juki Ambassadors.

‘Janni loves Jessica’sewn into the facing of a little jersey dress

This mask uses small pieces of fabric and comes together really quickly. I am on the lookout for other simple quick sews. If you have an idea to share why don’t leave a message in the comments section below.

I thought I had retired!

My life slowed down a few years ago, I stopped working and found more time for myself. I started painting, sewing, doing more sport – skiing, sailing and golf. Time took its toll and we stopped skiing and sailing when my husbands mobility reduced.

Now we mainly play golf (thanks to an electric buggy for him – I still walk) and I sew, and sew and sew!

As a result of appearing on The Great British Sewing Bee series 5 in 2019 I find my life is much fuller. I have done lots of talks, and the interest continues. I have been invited to sewing events, exhibitions and have found myself sharing my knowledge and experience through teaching.

A quilt for my baby grandson sewn on my new Juki DX7

I am also happy to be a Brand Ambassador for Juki Sewing Machines. I have had a Juki overlocker for many years, and a Juki coverstitch machine for two years. I love them both and they do exactly the jobs I ask of them without fiddling or drama. I was delighted when the opportunity arose to use a Juki sewing machine (a DX7) and I am very impressed with that too. I will be at the Juki Sewing and Quilting Retreat in Lincolnshire in February and at Sewing for Pleasure at the NEC Birmingham (UK) in March, teaching and chatting on the Juki stand alongside my good buddies and fellow Bees Jen (@jenerates on instagram) and Mercedes (@ohsewthatmercedes)

My next teaching class is local to me in the lovely North York Moors National Park at Belmont Studios (www.belmontstudios.co.uk) two days – residential or daily – in a great working space and Tony and Anne run a delightful B&B. You can also find details of this course at www.craftcourses.com

Maybe I will see you at one of these event. I hope so.


New avenues – teaching

I have always been happy to share what I know, and it makes me happy to help others get the same joy from making as I do.

To that end, this autumn I will be teaching a series of classes covering all aspects of making with fabric:

My first session is quilting.

Quilting can be as complicated or simple as you wish, we will look at all the techniques required to make a quilt, in the guise of a table-mat.

We will cover:

A simple piecing technique using pre-cut strips of fabric – of course there is a myriad of design choices here, but we want something that can be completely finished in one day.

Make a quilt sandwich, layering the pieced top, wadding (also known as batting) and the backing fabric and fastening them together in preparation for quilting

Quilting the layers together with either straight rows of stitching or free motion stitching.

Creating a binding strip and how to finish the edges.

All these techniques will arm you to create a quilt of any size, although you will take home a finished tablemat.

All materials and equipment are included. Students will need to bring their own fabrics and backing fabric. Advice as to quantities will be sent out before the class.

7.5 hour workshop. Refreshments provided. Please bring your own lunch.

When: Wednesday 25th September 2019 9.30am – 5.00pm

Cost: £65.00

Where: Wath Court Craft Rooms, Hovingham, York YO62 4NN

Find out more here

Book online now http://www.wathcourtcraftrooms.co.uk/book-online/4594492019

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 –