Friday, 28 December 2012

How to Draft Stereo-butt/Non-mono-butt Jeans

Any of you who are members of Kathleen Fasenella's forum at will probably have come across the posts about jeans and the dreaded "mono-butt". Naturally I wanted to draft a pair of jeans that did not have this fitting faux pas, and set about figuring it out.

It's is my philosophy that simplicity is best, and if something seams difficult you're probably doing it wrong and over-complicating it. As it turns out, drafting trousers that fit is amazingly simple. It is best done starting from a pencil skirt pattern with at most 3cm total hip ease. I tried 6cm and the result was less than pleasing.

The measurements you will need are:-
  • Waist + 1 or 2 cm ease
  • Hips + 0-3cm ease
    To take a comfortable and flattering hip measurement if you have a round abdomen, put a magazine over your front, hanging down like a little apron and measure your hips over that. This will give you a smoother fit there and avoid the "maternity jeans look."
  • Waist to hips
  • Crotch Depth:
    There are two ways to take this measurement: one that automatically includes ease, and one that has no ease. To take this measurement with ease included, side on a hard flat surface in your tights/pantyhose and take the measurement from your side waist, over the curve of your hip, down to the surface.
    To take the crotch depth measurement without ease, sit on a hard, flat surface, and measure upto your waist level, perpendicular to the table. In other words, do not take the tape measure against the curve of your hip. It must be straight. This method gives a closer fit, and therefore helps avoid the monobutt.
  • Side seam length
  • Knee
    Take this measurement around your bent knee.
  • Foot entry
    To take this measurement, pose your foot as though to put on a long boot, and measure round the heel and in-step. For skinny jeans, you can subtract an inch or two from this measurement, as long as you are using very stretchy fabric, or a zip at the hem.
  • Dart (formula and distribution to follow)

The equipment you will need is minimal:-
  • A straight ruler
  • A square (a piece of card will do)
  • A French curve
  • Thick paper such as brown parcel paper or marked pattern paper
  • Something to hold the paper down if it sticks up
  • Sewing kit

How to Work Out Your Waist Dart

The formula is very simple, though it helps for certainty's sake to use a calculator, and it's easiest in metric (sorry USA).

Now that you have those things and measurements, you can draft your...

a -- b = Waist to hips. Square across from a and b

a -- d = (hips + ease) divided by 2 (because this is half a pattern)

b -- c = a -- d

b -- e = one quarter of hips + 1cm ease

a -- f = one quarter of (waist + ease) + one dart

d -- g = one quarter of (waist + ease) + two darts

h and i are 1.2cm (1/2 inch) up from f and g respectively

j is 2cm down from a (this may just be me, but my clothes are more comfortable with this adjustment)

a -- k = crotch depth

square down from e and c to l and m respectively

And that's it. Now cut it out and cut the line e -- l so that you have a front pattern and a back pattern.

Now we shall turn our patterns into jeans pattern...

First we'll add the waist-line darts 

(I bet you thought I'd missed them out!)

FRONT: Divide your dart measurement into 3. The dart will be two thirds, and the CF will be shaped by one third. E.g. If your dart measurement is 2.4cm (mine is):
            2.4cm/3 = 0.8cm = front shaping,
            2 x 0.8cm = 1.6cm.

So shape the CF by making a point 0.8cm in from the CF waist, and connect to the CF hips with an outwardly curved line. (This makes a better fit over a naturally round abdomen). Taking this as the new CF waist-point, measure a straight line from their to the side waist-point. Divide this into three and mark the point nearest the side waist. Square down from here 10cm. Make your dart on this line, here 0.8cm from each side. For a nicer fit, make the dart legs curve outwards slightly, or if you have a full tummy, curve them inwards slightly.

BACK: The total back shaping is 2 darts worth. This will be divided into 5 to give two darts and some CB shaping. E.g. using the 2.4cm dart again:
            2 x 2.4cm = 4.8cm = Total back dart shaping
            4.8cm / 5 = 0.96cm (near enough to 1cm for practical purposes) = Back shaping
            1cm x 2 = 2cm = Dart (and there are two darts, each 2cm)

So shape the CB by making a point 1cm in from the CB, and draw with an inwardly curving line to the hip point. This accommodates the shape of the spine. Taking this as the new CB waist point, measure straight to the side waist point and divide into thirds, marking each for a dart placement. Square down from each, 12cm for the one nearest the side, and 14cm for the one nearest the CB. (NOTE: These darts lengths are only guideline measurements, yours may be different.) Make a dart on each line, in this case 2cm side. Curve the dart legs outward to work better with the curve of the lower back.

Now we'll add the front crutch extension.

Extend the CF Crotch depth line by 1/5 of the pattern's front hip measurement (k-l). Connect this point straight to the CF hip point. Slide your square along this line until the other part of it meets the CF crotch (k). Connect straight. Divide this line into three equal parts. Draw a curve from b through the point nearest outer line, to the crotch point. (As illustrated.)

Now for the back crutch extension.

The difference between different types of trousers/pants, as far as pattern-cutting is concerned, is the length of the back crutch extension, and the height of the pitch. The pitch is the wedge you can see in the illustration, under the Crotch Depth line. The shorter the back crotch extension, the greater the pitch must be to make up for the loss of crotch length and let you wear the trousers/pants without doing yourself an injury.

Coco Chanel said that "Fashion is architecture: it all a matter of proportions." I think the same applies to sewing patterns. Why should we use "standard" measurements for pitch and so on and then fix the fit, when we can use a measurement proportionate to our own measurements and then have a nearly perfect fit right away?

Crotch extension and pitch must be in proportions to each other and to our hip size. We use 10th of our pattern's back hip measurement as unit (we'll call it x). In jeans or slacks we want a total of 5x. Trousers have a looser fit, which you can see if you Google Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear and look at people's blog photos. They look more like men's trousers and are not altogether flattering on women, so I don't wear them.

  • Slacks:        Crotch : Pitch = 4x : 1x
  • Jeans:         Crotch : Pitch = 3x : 2x
  • Trousers:    Crotch : Pitch = 5x : 1x

So get your compass out and set if for a radius of 2x, and draw a circle from point m. Then draw a straight line from l the length of l -- m, touching the circle. Extend this line by 3x to give the crutch extension. Squared down 0.5cm to 1.5cm (about 1/4" to 5/8") from this point mark a new point that will be the crotch point. (By the was, this will make the back trouser leg shorter on the inseam than the front-trouser leg, and when this piece of fabric is stretched to match the front one, it will give a better fit. The more contoured you want this area to be, the lower you must drop the point.)

From the new crotch point, draw a straight-line up to the hip line. Slide your square along this line until its other arm touches the CB on the crotch line. Draw this line and divide it into three. As you did for the front crotch curve, draw from the hip line, through the point nearest the line, and to the crotch point with a curve.

Now it is time to draw the legs (rather important for trousers/pants!)

FRONT: This is simpler than the back to explain. Mark a point half-way along the crotch line and square down. From top to bottom, this should be your side waist-hem length (we'll say side-waist to ankle). Divide that in half and mark. 4cm up from that mark you knee line. This is where your knee measurement comes in.
Bend your knee as far as it will go, and measure. Mine is 40 cm, but I like a closer fit, especially with stretch denim slim jeans, so I will reduce it to 36cm. This allows you wearing ease. Divide that by 4 (9cm) and subtract 1cm. Measure this distance out from each side of the knee marking on your pattern. Connect straight to the crotch point and the side hip. Curve the lines so that they look right, i.e. inwards by about 0.8cm on the inseam, and by about 0.6cm or so on the outseam.

At the hem line you will need your entry measurement. To get this, pose your foot as though putting it into a really narrow calf-length boot, and measure around the heel and bridge. (One me about 30cm.) You will need the hem of your trousers/pants to be at least this, or else you won't be able to get your foot through. (A lot of good that would be!) Divide this measurement by four and subtract 1cm. (6.5cm) Measure this far out from the hem marking on your pattern. Connect to the knee point. Blend the knee if necessary.

BACK: The line that you had as the Crotch line, after pitching and before lowering the crotch point is the line you will use for drawing the leg, so find its centre point and square down the same length as it is on the front pattern. Copy the placement lines for the hem and knee.

For the knee width, divide the knee measurement by 4 and add 1cm, here giving 10cm. Measure this much out from the knee point. Connect to the crotch point and the side hip point, curving the lines inward so that they look right to you. (At least as much as you did for the front leg, and not more than about 1cm each more).

For the hem width, divide the hem measurement my 4 and add 1cm, giving me 9.5cm. Measure this much out from the hem point. Connect to the knee and blend if necessary.

NOTE: The centre leg lines are also the grainlines.

So that is your jeans-fit pattern. Now you can change it into a pattern for jeans. You will probably want to trace it first in case of mistakes, or tea-spillage. It is a good idea to copy it onto thick, tough paper, fold it up neatly, and store it in a plastic sleeve.

Making your trouser/pants pattern into a jeans pattern

The rest of the pattern-making is pretty much just drawing, closing darts, and adding seam allowances.

Draw on the pockets as shown, add the fly (3cm wide), add the waistband (I made mine 3cm, but you can have whatever you wish).

The front pocket is the most complicated thing, because there are so many layers. There is the pocket bag/facing, the inner pocket bag, and the piece that you will see (I'm not sure what it's called, but it's the bit made of denim and in the illustration, it's red).

First, draw the pocked shape, which needn't the traditional shape, but that is easier to sew than, say, a heart shape. The thing-with-no-name extends a bit into the pocket (say 1.5 - 2cm) so that it doesn't peek out when you are wearing the jeans. Trace this piece off and add seam allowances.

Then there is the inner pocket bag, to which the thing-with-no-name is sewn. Using the line you just added for the inner edge of the thing-with-no-name), draw the inner pocket bag (the pink bit in the illustration).

Now for the pocket-bag/facing. Trace the pink bit but go up to the original pocket line instead of the inner one. This is what will be sewn to the outer denim.

Now add seam allowances.

Now for the waistband.

The front waistband will need two pattern pieces: one for the left and one for the right, because one side will have an underlap for the button to go on. Trace off the waistband and close the darts by folding the paper so that the lines meet at the top and bottom of the waistband.

Now trace a copy of this and we will make a waistband for the other side, with an underlap. On your traced copy, fold the paper along the CF and trace as far as the fly stitching line. This extra bit is the underlap. Now open it up and add seam allowances all around the waistband pieces.

Now to do the back waistband. This is easy. You just do the same as you did for the front waistband without the underlap (because the back doesn't have an opening).

Now for the fly

You have a choice here. You can either fold back the paper on the front of the pattern and trace the stitching line, then add seam allowances; or you can trace it off separately and make a fly like you get on RTW jeans. I went with the first option and sewed it like a large lapped zipper (sewing instructions here). It's easier and less bulky.

After that it's just a matter of the pockets, seam and hem allowances, and sewing. On mine I had to slim the hips. Apparently I have very slim hips. And I somehow lost about 3cm on my waist over Christmas (I don't know how; I sat around for most of it) so that threw off the fit of my toile a little at the CF waist. Never mind.


As for yardage, I only needed about 1.5 metres of stretch denim, which is about half of what was suggested on a Vogue jeans pattern on-line. (I bought 3m so I may have enough to make a jacket, if not, then I can make a skirt or another pair of jeans). I am petite and about a size 10 or so on my hips (pattern size), so most people may need more. You will also need some lightweight cotton fabric for the pocket linings, and optional back pocket appliqué (I have a butterfly). The belt loops can be made out of scraps.

I can't give visual sewing instructions because I have only one photograph and that's not much use. You can either use your good sense and experience, or use instructions available in books, online, or in commercial patterns.

Critique of My Own Jeans

Here is a front view and a back view of my finished jeans: 

It is extremely difficult to take a good photo of your own back-view. This was the best I got.

Now, I suspect the crotch depth may have too much ease (it is automatically included when you take the measurement) and that is why my jeans are not super-fitted there, like here. Also, I mistakenly had the front crutch extension being 1/4 of the front hip, instead of 1/5 which is should be for jeans. And they're more of a slim-fit than a skinny fit, but isn't it like magic to be able to draft and sew something right of out your head, and then have it in reality?! (It's so neat!)

And yes, these do look high-waisted. But I am so slim that any jeans not defining my waist will be very unflattering and make me look more columnish. (That is probably not a word, but never mind.; Shakespeare frequently invented words and if it's good enough for him...)

To prevent the waist from stretching (I used stretch denim and don't want it to stretch at the waist) I sewed the waistband seams with cotton tape in them. After only being able to buy jeans that slip down, it's nice to have pair stay on my waist!

Version 2.0

I made another pair with a shorter crotch depth (measured to omit ease), and a shorter front crotch extension (1/5 front hips; the first pair had 1/4 because I forgot that jeans use less than other trousers). I also narrowed the legs and hems a bit, and lengthen the leg. (They will shrink in the wash).

Hard-won Topstitching Wisdom

The topstitching went a bit wrong sometimes, especially when I went over the really thick parts. Note: it is better to sew the belt loops onto the waistband, after topstitching, instead of trying to include them in the waistband seams. Otherwise, it seems, you get a lot of skipped stitches.

Also, it is better to stitch the yoke seam allowance downwards, not upwards, because otherwise you get a funny bump along the back.

And a note on topstitching thread. Don't bother. I got much better results and wasted far less thread by using two spools of regular sew-all thread in a size 100 jeans needle. (A tip I got off Angela Wolf's video on YouTube). Below you can compare topstitching thread when it was working (the seam), and doubled sew-all thread (the double-stitched hem). Apart from the wobbly hem, you can't see much difference, and certainly not from a real-life distance, but it is much easier to sew with doubleed sew-all thread, and you can still use your needle-threader if you use a 100 jeans needle.

If you make some jeans and blog about them, or post them on BurdaStyle, please let me know  -- I'd love to see how they turn out! Also, if this post is well received (and even if it's not) I want to turn it into a Kindle book, so please tell me what you think and if there is anything you want to know. I'll take the post down when I get the book for sale on Amazon.

Sabrina Wharton-Brown
United Kingdom

P.S. You can see more about the monobutt on Kathleen's webpage entitled "Jeans fit so lousy these days".

P.P.S. I didn't prewash the denim, so now they have shrunk in the wash, and while they feel tighter, the fit looks better.

Monday, 29 October 2012

"How to Calculate Your Bust Dart Size: The Formula that Takes the Guess-work out of FBAs and SBAs"

When you look in Pattern-making books they usually have a table of standard measurements including either the bust dart width, or it's angle in degrees. These "standard measurements" are for a B-cup, which means that if you are not a B-cup, you have to draft the pattern and then do either a Small Bust Adjustment or a Full Bust Adjustment.

But how do they get these numbers? They seem to have nothing to do with the rest of the measurements. But there is always a formula. It just takes a bit of working out.

What is a bust dart's function? As I see it, a bust dart is there to make the longer front pattern piece match the shorter back pattern piece at the side seam. The front pattern piece is longer than the back one because it has your bust to go over and the back doesn't.

So to find out the bust dart's width at the side seam,

  1. you measure your front from the neck point the red dot over the apex (the green dot on the drawing), and thence straight down to your waistline = F; (this measurement is the orange line in the picture)
  2. then measure from the red dot down your back to your waistline = B; (this is the red line)
  3. subtract B from F and you have your bust dart width, which is the difference between your front bodice length, and your back bodice length.

Now for a little trigonometry. Scientific calculators at the ready!

We'll split the bust dart into two equal parts so that we have two right angle triangles:

The difference between my front measurement and my back measurement is about 2 cm (halved to 1 cm for the split triangle), and the side dart length is about 13 cm on me.

How to Find Your Bust Dart Angle for Patternmaking in Fashion

If you are using the German method of pattern making, which is briefly taught in Patternmaking in Fashion by Lucia Mors de Castro (mine cost about £40 but it now costs £100 at Amazon due to high demand - I think it is over-priced now by very greedy sellers), you will need the angle of the bust dart, and as we have the length of the dart (the hypotenuse) and the width of the dart (the length "opposite" the angle) we can find the Sine of the angle (sin = O/h) and then use the sin-1 function on our scientific calculators to find the angle. Thus:-

How to Find Your Bust Dart Width for Metric Pattern Cutting

If you are using Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich, or the instructions on, you will want to find the bust dart width for a shoulder dart.
  1. Take the sine you found earlier (here 0.077) and multiply it by your neck to apex measurement (on me about 24 cm) to get half your total bust dart width. (Here, about 1.84 cm). 
  2. Get your total bust dart width by doubling this number = 3.68 cm, roughly 3.7 cm.

So that is my bust dart: 3.7 cm wide at the neck point and 8.8 degrees (which can be rounded to 9 degrees for practical reasons).

So that is how you work out your personal bust dart measurement. Isn't it so much better than using a "standard" measurement?

I hope it helps. : )


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Do Sleeve Caps Need Ease?

If you have heard of Kathleen Fasenella at, you will know that she purports that "sleeve cap ease is bogus" and that if you have a well cut pattern, you won't need the ease. Many people seem to agree in the comments (and of course some heartily disagree).

For a long time I blindly followed along. After all, she's the one with all the experience and expertise. What do I, a self-teaching student, know?

Well, I've tried it her way and have found it to be unsatisfactory, having made some rather uncomfortable garments.

Nope, I think that with dresses and tops, sleeve cap ease is essential. Kathleen specialises in jackets, and jackets have long shoulder seams. Dresses have shorter shoulder seams, for aesthetics. As you can see in the illustration below, the sleeve cap of a dress sleeve must be longer to go over the shoulder and meet the shorter shoulder, while the jacket sleeve cap needn't go up as high because the shoulder seam extends beyond the person's shoulder.

Now, maybe jacket don't need sleeve cap ease -- they don't have much of a curve to go over; but saying that dress sleeve caps don't need ease is like saying that you don't need a bust dart -- how are you going to fit smoothly over the curve without extra fullness and some way to take said fullness in? You'll end up with fitting problems such as a illustrated in every big sewing book and every fitting book. So I'm going back to sleeves with ease. I'll draft them more or less like Metric Pattern Cutting author, Winifred Aldrich does. (I have my own method for the armscyes, but the result is very similar most of the time.)

Kathleen's "proof" that sleeve caps don't need ease is two photos of plaid jackets with matching plaid at the armscye. Now, if you look in Claire Shaeffer's Couture Sewing Techniques, pages 181 and 182, you will see two Yves Saint Laurent (pronounced "Eevs Sa Laron" with a French accent for those who don't know) jackets, each with matching plaid. Here it is achieved by shrinking the sleeve cap over a tailor's ham or a sleeve board or some such thing. I suspect (I don't know) that at least one of Kathleen's proofs was done this way as well.

Maybe Kathleen is right about the shape of the armhole -- more or less. I don't think is should be as extreme as she illustrates, at least not for me. The latest shirt I made is uncomfortable unless I slouch or fold my arms -- that's when the shirt looks best! : ) I need a little more fabric across high chest as well.

What are your experiences with sleeve cap ease? How much do you like to have in a dress/blouse sleeve? I think about 1"- 2" (maybe 1 1/2") is about right, but I haven't tested that yet.

Have you blogged on this topic? Please leave a link below if you have. It's very important to a lot of sewists and home-pattern-makers (professionals as well for all I know.)

Until I have something else interesting to blog about, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown

Monday, 27 August 2012

Great Modern Sewing Accessories

Here are some of my favourite modern sewing accessories. They're absolutely marvellous!

G.U.R. Sewing Machines sewing_feet ImageJanome Rotary Even Feed Foot
Top of the list. This wonderful little contraption means that you can sew thin fabric on your sewing machine, even if you don't have adjustable presser foot pressure! It makes all the difference in the world. You see, if you can't increase the presser foot pressure, the fabric swivels around when the needle is down, and goes to fast when you try to keep it taught, resulting in stitches worse than my hand sewing. (Try with paper for proof.)

But with this little wonder, you make up the height difference, and the rubbery tracts on the foot keep the fabric where it ought to be.

Clover - Pink With Eraser - Air ErasableVanishing Ink Pen
I like this for use with my rulers because it doesn't mark them and mess up my fingers like pencils and regular felt-tips pens do. It does vanish off the paper but you can simply draw over your vanishing ink with a water erasable pen.

This pen is also great for marking new lines on your toiles when fitting and designing. When you have finalised your designs your can transfer them or mark them permanently with a water erasable pen.

Examle Packaged - Olfa Premium Quiltmaking KitRotary Cutting Tools
These are wonderful for pattern work. You can draw and cut perfectly straight lines at perfect angles so they are great for length alterations to patterns.

I like to use a fairly small mat (18"x12") because it is easier to move around to put away than the larger ones.

These rotary cutting rulers are much, much better than a regular ruler because they are thick enough not to be cut with the rotary cutter. (My regular rulers got chipped.)

So there are my top 3 Modern Sewing Accessories (not counting a sewing machine and steam iron of course). There was another one, but I can't remember what it was now. Oh well.

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

Monday, 20 August 2012

Why "flat" collars sometimes stick up, how to prevent it.

Good collars have two pattern pieces: a top collar and an under collar. The Top collar is bigger than the under collar because it has to go over a higher "hill" (the roll of the collar -- I think it is called "turn of cloth") and also because you want the seam line on the outer edge of the collar to role underneath the collar.

If the collar pieces are the same size, the collar will stick out, almost like an Elizabethan Ruff (think Shakespeare).

But raising the top collar's neckline from the Centre Back round to near the Centre Front by 1/8" (3mm) makes it's neckline a little bit smaller than the neckline on the bodice. Surely this is wrong? But no. If you think about it, the collar will be inside the neckline, so to fit smoothly, it ought to be a tiny bit smaller (just like a telescope's parts). I suppose you could not bother with this adjustment in a very lightweight fabric such as with a voile blouse.

So, I would suppose that with thicker fabrics, like in tailored jackets and coats, and when you have a faux fur collar, the neckline on the garment ought to be bigger by at least the thickness of the fabric.

The "telescope concept" (yes, that'll do for a name) was really baffling me last night, but now I've figured it out it makes perfect sense, and I thought I'd share it with you. I hope it helps you as much as it does me. : )

Sunday, 10 June 2012

"What You Need to Start Sewing"

There must be hundreds of sewing things on the market, and while they can be helpful, they are not all essential. There are just a few things that are. While you can sew without a sewing machine, I have included it on this list because it makes your sewing much quicker, gives neater results, and is easier on your finger than hand-sewing.

   Sewing Machine You don't need a top-of-the-range sewing machine, but you must get a good one. Make sure it is from a brand you know and trust. If you get it from a dealer they will often have other services and a guarantee in case you need help or if something should go wrong. I got my sewing machine off and saved a lot of money, but if you choose to go there, make sure it says new, boxed and unopened. Amazon has some great machines as well, especially if you are in America. This one is very like mine (but has more features).

If you are shopping for a new sewing machine, please have a look at the post Things to look for in a new or beginner's sewing machine.

You need three different kinds: Dress-making shears, paper scissors, and sharp-pointed embroidery scissors. Pinking Shears (which you may know as crocodile scissors) are an optional extra but anyone who learned to sew on a machine that doesn't do a zigzag seems to consider them essential.

Janome are a good make for scissors. Korbond seem to be okay for scissors as well, but don't bother with their thread; it's fuzzy and can melt onto your iron.

Dress-making shears are often bigger than paper-cutting scissors and have a crooked shape to them. The bend is so that you can cut while keeping the fabric as flat on the table as possible and still keep relatively comfortable. You should get some that are comfortable and light enough for you. Pinking Shears are often more expensive than dressmaking shears. I expect they must cost more to make, what with taking more metal and being so funny shaped on the blades.

I couldn't find any fine point embroidery scissors on the Amazon Associates thing, so I  added some to my A-store instead (the page about books, to your right).

I have added some left-handed shears here (not the pinking shears). My brother is left-handed so we like to know where to get left-handed things (even though he doesn't sew). Be careful when you get scissors that claim to be for both left-handed people and right-handed people. What they mean is that both the handles look the same. They are not really suitable. The difference between left-handed scissors and right-handed scissors is the way the blades lap. If you use scissors in the wrong hand, the blades will not push together so they won't cut. Here are two links for left-handed scissors:

Even if you sew mostly by machine, you will have to do some hand sewing occasionally, if only for basting. A good pack of Household Assorted Hand Sewing Needles will take you through nearly everything, unless you want a round needle or some other unusual needle. Hemline are a good make. Cheap needles can bend in your hand so, as always, get a good make.

Pins and Pin Cushion
Pins are absolutely essential. I use the ones with balls on their heads. They are more comfortable to use and they are easier to find if you drop them. A pin cushion with an emery will help keep them sharp and shiny so they last longer. About 100 pins will be quite enough. I've never needed more than that. In fact, I've bent some or they've got dull so I have fewer now.

Seam Ripper/Quick-Unpick
Absolutely invaluable. It's like an eraser for sewists! It is used for unpicking seams that went wrong, removing unwanted stitches, and cutting open buttonholes. Some people call it a buttonhole cutter, but a buttonhole cutter is actually something else that looks like a chisel. You will usually get a little quick-unpick with your sewing machine.

Before quick-unpicks were invented, sewers had to use their embroidery scissors to un-sew things. A quick-unpick is much safer for your fabric.

Tape Measure
Absolutely essential if you are making clothes. You can use it not only for measuring yourself (or whomever you are making clothes for) but you can also use it to measure hem depths if it is not a retractable one. Some people prefer to measure hem depths with a Sewing Gauge.

A retractable one is much better than an ordinary one purely because you can tidy it up much more quickly.

Make sure you get a fibre glass one so that it won't stretch.

By the way, if you find it hard to keep the tape measure level when you take horizontal measurements, you can use a narrow metal tape measure, like those
mini ones you get in small tool kits.

Sewing Gauge
This isn't necessarily essential (I don't have one -- yet) but I thought I should include it since I mentioned it under tape-measure, just in case you wondered what it is. It's like a ruler, but often with notches in it and a sliding marker in it. The Nancy Zieman one also works as a t-square and a circular compass.

Machine Accessories
Here are the things you need to start sewing with your sewing machine.

Presser Feet: Unless you got a "pocket money" sewing machine, it will have come with all the essential feet. Of course there are many others you may like to collect, but the most important ones are the standard foot, the zipper foot, and the buttonhole foot. You can read more about a few different feet in the post on Machine Feet and Accessories when I get it written.

Needles: A pack of assorted Universal needles will cover most jobs if you don't want to get a load of different needles. A size 90/14 will do most things you need as well. Using a smaller size means having to use a finer thread as well.

If you want to do top stitching (like you see on jeans) you can either use a triple straight stitch and regular thread and needle, or you can use Top-stitching thread and a top-stitching needle or jeans needle in size 100/16. The larger needle has a larger eye so that the thicker thread can get through without getting 'shaved'.

Bobbins: Different machines use different bobbins. Some Singer Sewing Machines like the Inspiration use wider, flatter bobbins than do most other sewing machines.

If you have a top-loading sewing machine you must get bobbins that fit. It does not seem to be so strict with front-loading sewing machines because the bobbin is kept in place with a rod that goes through its centre. Top-loading sewing machines have the bobbin just sit inside and if it is too small it will rattle around.

If you are purchasing extra bobbins, make sure you get quality ones. It may be best to get them from your machines manufacturer. It is important to get good bobbins because cheap ones may have sharp edges and snag your thread. Also, modern plastic ones are of better shape than modern metal ones in that they are rounder in the middle. Plus, they don't rust.

A brush for cleaning your sewing machine
As you sew, fluff collects in your sewing machine from your fabric. If you want your machine to work well, you have to clean it out and oil it (NB. if your sewing machine is self-lubricating, DO NOT oil it or it will need a professional to fix it).

If you did not get a brush with your sewing machine, you can use a medium width watercolour brush instead.

Other Things You Need
Other than your sewing kit, you will need somewhere to sew, something to sit on, an ironing board, and a steam iron.

Somewhere to sew and something to sit on.
A wooden table is best because it dampens the noise of your sewing machine a bit. Melamine is good too because it's scratch resistant so you can cut on it without feeling too cautious. You can help make your sewing machine quieter by making a sewing machine mat (quilted) to put under your sewing machine. It's kind of like a large place-mat. You will need a good sized table, at least as big as a dining room table if you want to sew comfortably (I like to have lots of leg-room even though I'm petite). If you don't have a special area for sewing, make sure you have somewhere safe to put your sewing machine when you're not using it.

If you have not sewn a lot (or at all) then it probably won't bother you too much if your chair is a little too high or low because you probably haven't had it perfect. You may like to use a typists' chair because you can adjust the height, swivel around, and wheel about. I have a small stool. (A word of advice: if you only have a small sewing room, a stool will be better than a chair because you have more room without the chair back.) A sofa won't do -- they're too squishy and relaxing. They're all right for hand-sewing though, when you want to relax.

A steam iron
If you don't have a steam iron you can get around that by using a damp cloth and holding your iron over it.

Good steam irons can get to be quite expensive and heavy. Instead of having a full size iron, I got a travel steam iron for about £13.99 at our local electrics shop called Hampsons (they're very good and helpful). It just fits inside a drawer when it's cooled down so I don't have to dust it very much either (not that I mind dusting, but it's not a hobby of mine).

Alternatively, you can often get start-up kits aimed at people moving into their first homes, that contain an iron, ironing board and various other things. They're really affordable. The best thing to do it to check your home-shopping catalogue (such as Littlewoods) or Amazon.

That seems like a long list so I'll sum it up:
  1. A good sewing machine
  2. Dressmaking shears
  3. Fine-pointed embroidery scissors
  4. Paper scissors
  5. Pinking shears
  6. Hand-sewing needles
  7. Pins + Pin cushion/emery
  8. Seam-ripper/quick-unpick
  9. Tape-measure
  10. +/- narrow metal tape-measure
  11. Sewing Gauge
  12. Presser feet
  13. Machine Needles
  14. Bobbins
  15. Sewing Machine Cleaning Kit/Brush
  16. Oh! And a box or a drawer to store your sewing kit. I have a Cantilever Sewing Box - you know, the ones that open up in layers. You may be able to get more in a sewing basket style, but I like that I don't have to dig around as much because I have three layers.
Tracing Wheel
A Tracing Wheel
Image from Goldstar at Amazon
Some people will probably add a tracing wheel to the list (and I would like to get a double tracing wheel for pattern making purposes) but for marking darts and things, I usually just baste. I don't have a tracing wheel, but a tracing pen, and I haven't had all that much use for it yet. Time will tell though.

All that looks a lot, most of the things are very small.

You can often get sewing kits very affordably with all the necessities, but don't get excited by the wealth of threads they seem to contain. It's usually rubbish and bad for your sewing machine. You can use it for basting, and hand sewing, but don't use it in your sewing machine. Gutermann the best thread. I won't buy any other make to put in my sewing machine. I thought Coats would be alright, but it left my buttonhole foot all linty. So, in short, only buy Gutermann Thread for your sewing machine.

What sewing thing would you not be without? Do you think I have put too much on this list? Please share your thoughts with new sewers by leaving comments below. And if you are a new sewer and want to know what something is and what it is for, please ask. I will have to answer you directly or as a future post because I can't see how to reply to comments on my blog. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner, Hornsea

Monday, 7 May 2012

How to do a Small Bust Adjustment (SBA) on Your Metric Pattern Cutting Close Fitting Block/Sloper

I have been scouring the web the past few days, and looking in my sewing and pattern making books for how to do a small bust adjustment, but none of the tutorials helped very much. So I figured it out myself, and it's so easy (now)!

So I thought I'd do a tutorial for other slim sewists, especially those of you who use Metric Pattern Cutting for Womens Wear by Winifred Aldrich.

Benefits of this SBA Method

  • This method does not require you to cut up your original pattern, so if you have to do it again, you don't have to redraft your sloper. It uses the pivot and trace method of pattern making and can be done in a matter of minutes.
  • It also does not affect the bust measurement of your pattern, so if you have the right width and the the correct amount of ease, you will maintain that, and simply reduce the cup size!
  • Neither does it alter the waistline in anyway. All the alteration is done in the top of the bodice, so it's great if you have a good fit otherwise on your one-piece dress block.
I will mention ahead of time though, that this method works best if you use a master pattern and develop your designs from that. I don't really know how to alter patterns using a master pattern.

How to Do a SBA (Small Bust Adjustment) The Quick, Easy, and Sensible Way

You will require your sloper to have the bust dart in it's original position at the neck point.

1. Lay some tracing paper over your front sloper (I'm using Burda Tracing Tissue Paper) and weight it down. Here I have drawn over the original sloper on Microsoft Paint because it was hard to see in the photograph.

2. Starting at the bust point, trace the sloper up to the neck point, along the neck line, down the centre front, along the waist line including the dart, and up the side seam, stopping at the armhole point.

Mark a line at the top of the pattern 1cm down from the neck point and perpendicular to the CF. 1cm is the amount we will be reducing the pattern's length. Don't worry about the neckline; that will be sorted out later.

3. Put a pin in the pivot point and, with the tracing paper stationary (pun intended), swivel the original pattern underneath until the neck point on the shoulder line meets the line you drew in step 2.

Continue tracing your sloper, around the armscye and along the shoulder line.

When you get to the pink line in this photo, take your ruler and draw a line from the shoulder-neck point where you are, to the original bust point.

4. Lower the neckline at the shoulder point to the line you drew in step 2, and at the CF by 1cm to match. Redraw the neckline curve (or shift the tracing paper up 1cm and trace it.

The red lines in this photo are the new pattern, and the black lines are the original pattern. See how much narrower the dart is? That's the difference between cup sizes, that and the pattern's front length. We slimmer sewists simply don't need all that extra fabric.

You will be delighted with the difference this one, quick, simple alteration makes to your finished garments! Do this alteration before you do any others, then do any other length alterations, then width alterations. I speak from personal experience here. If your bodice is too short above the waist, it will look like the waistline is miles too big. Lower it to its proper place and voilá! Like magic it looks so much better!

So that is my method for how to do a small bust adjustment on your Metric Pattern Cutting Close Fitting Block/Sloper. It wasn't mentioned in Winifred Aldrich's book, so here is is for you. I hope it helps you as much as it will help me. Isn't it exciting to think you have a master pattern that fits and you can develop any design from it? : D

Until next time, happy sewing and pattern making!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

P.S. In case you wondered what I got for my birthday, I got Threads DVD-ROM Archive 1985-2011 (lots of great information once Mum got it to work for me on the computer) and the free book (FAST FIT by Sandra Betzina) which was on offer with it. My brother also got me The Magic by Rhonda Byrne of The Secret. He search Hull for it. Isn't he thoughtful? : ) It's a great book and I recommend it so far. It's certainly a pick-me-up.

Monday, 16 April 2012


Somehow I have strained the ligaments on my left knee so I can't be sat with it bent at the computer for long. For this reason, I will not be publishing any more blog posts for the foreseeable future.

Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Monday, 9 April 2012

How to Make a Sleeveless Dress or Top Using a Pattern that has Sleeves

Simple, right? Just use facings instead of sleeves. Then you try it and find that the dress looks miles too big! Even with patterns that have a sleeveless option, this happens. So you have to take the dress in at the side seams and it looks a lot better. But what about the shoulders? Unless they went right to the shoulder point, they gape awfully.

Simplicity 2927 (now out-of-print) is a good example. I know because I have used it twice. The first go was my first dress made from scratch in 2007. I used the long sleeves and (after some considerable taking in) it fits okay. It looks terrible to me, but that's first sewing projects for you. : )

Last year I made it sleeveless. It looks better because my sewing has improved. I still had to take it in. When I tried the dress on I found that the shoulders on its yoke stuck up. Why? I thought it must be because I didn't use interfacing so the fabric must have stretched out of shape, but now I have Pattern-making for Fashion Design 5th Ed. by Helen Joseph-Armstrong, I have learned that it was because the shoulder's needed contouring. I.e. they needed the shoulder seam to have 1/8" (3mm) taken off at the shoulder end, tapering back to the original measurement at the shoulder tip.

This is done to all the relevant pattern pieces, i.e. front and back, self and facings (and linings if you are lining the garment). You can "fit" this alteration before you sew the facings in if you like. That will probably give you a more accurate measurement which you can then transfer back to the pattern for future reference. You can just draw the alteration on in case you want to make the version with sleeves in the future. The 1/8" (3mm) is just a standard measurement.

The Side Seams

As your dress pattern is drafted to have sleeves, it has ease at the side seams so that you can raise your arms. When you make a sleeveless version, you have to take it in at the side seams. The best way to do this is to try the dress on and pin fit it.

The Armholes

Also, now that the dress is narrower, the armhole will be closer to you and will probably be a very uncomfortable shape if you intend to use your arms at all. The front of the armholes will need scooping out. With the dress on, lower your arms, reach forward, and you will see the creases at the front armhole (not to mention feel the dress being very uncomfortable). With dressmaker's chalk, draw a rough line of where the armhole should be to be comfortable. Then thread trace it. Now you can sew the armhole facing on along that line. The adjustment will probably be the same for the other armhole. When you have finished the armholes this way, they should be much more comfortable and much more practical!

I hope that helps!
Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

P.S. I refitting the sleeve in my blouse and if fits much better now (although I have found some more fitting issues -- apparently I have uneven shoulders). It's amazing what a difference the sleeves make! Even being rotated my 1/2" makes all the difference. : )

Monday, 2 April 2012

My blouse is finished

This is my blouse now that it's been washed and pressed. Now, I know the fit is off, but I found out why: when I fitted the sleeve I didn't finish altering the pattern and then when I was cutting the blouse fabric, I didn't notice the notes I had made on the pattern to change it later. There's another reason to make a toile.

Next time I make a blouse I will of course make sure the sleeve fits right. I ought also to underline or "back" it. And press as I go because somehow, the collar still isn't quite right at the back.

I don't remember if I mentioned it last time, but I have added sleeve heads. I think I may have to stitch them down somewhere because the left one keeps coming out of place. Next time I may make them wider.

Still, it's a nice blouse and a good first try, don't you think?

Muslin Vs. Toile

And while we're briefly on the subject of toiles (or as the Americans call them, "muslins") let's clear up the issue of which fabric to use. Given that the Americans publish far more sewing literature than we British do, we often read of making a muslin. That can be confusing because we would naturally assume that a muslin ought to be made of muslin. Not so.

In England, we call muslins "toiles" (a French word, pronounced "twals") and we make them out of calico or cheap cotton. Muslin fabric as we know it is for face cloths and cloth-nappy linings. It's far too sheer for making test garments when we are going to make the real garment out of an ordinary fabric.

In America, they call calico "muslin" and make their test garments out of calico, just a we do (or ought to do). I don't know what they call muslin fabric.

I hope that has cleared the matter up for people. It will certainly help me now that I know. But what am I going to do with the 6 metres of muslin that's sitting on my sewing desk?

This week I have been studying pattern-making

And I have been looking at BurdaStyle magazine. I have only one issue: October 2010 (our nearest WHSmiths is a bus-ride away and I haven't another reason to go to town). Two of the reasons I got it are that there are Jackie O. styles and Career clothes (I started learning about Power Dressing when I was about twelve.)

I was browsing though the instructions when I noticed the shape of the collar pattern for blouse style 130. It's not shaped like a standard convertible collar: it's curved. I thought they must have drafted an exceptionally well-engineered collar pattern, and they may have, but as it turns out, it's not a convertible collar as the photo might have you think -- it's a small notched collar. It does say this in the caption, but it hadn't really sunk in until I noticed the pattern piece's shape. 
Please ignore the blue lines on the technical drawing - I added those.

(As a side note, they also suggest that we use a bias strip as a back-neck facing. I would have just turned the raw edge in and stitched invisibly by hand. The buttons are invisible in this blouse - the buttonholes are on the facing only, not the outside. How unusual!)

Here's a photo of inside Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich. I think the BurdaStyle blouse must have been drafted like style 19 - the Standard Rever - with a collar with a low stand. It's the curved shape of the collar that tipped me off. The standard rever collar is drafted like the Gent's collar (notched collar) but is rounder at the neckline and, in this example, can be shaped more. I suppose the Gent's collar could shaped in the same way. It would just result in a lower "stand".

To find out how much the collar pattern had been slashed and spread, I traced it, tore up to neckline (I didn't have my scissors handy) and overlapped until it was more or less straight. There was a 1cm overlap, which means that they had inserted 2cm, which is how much is in the Metric Pattern Cutting collar with stand. I assumed that Burda, being European, most likely use the metric pattern cutting method, rather than the American one. As an extra clue, their measurements are not the same as other companies, and they are known for their cut.

So that's what I've been doing this week. I hope you found it interesting. You know, when I started to learn to sew, I wanted to be able to make whatever style I wanted, having designed clothes for years, but not been able to make them. It's only now that I can really start to do that because I am learn pattern-making. I didn't adapt patterns beyond not cutting holes at the neckline (if you can call that adapting a pattern). Isn't it great that things are usually really very simple, once you get the basic idea?!

Until next week, happy sewing (and possibly pattern-making!)
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Monday, 26 March 2012

How to Make A Cushion-cover

Every so often you need new cushion-covers (pillow-covers) either because you've redecorated your living room, or because your old ones are looking their age. We need some new ones too, so I'm making some. I've opted not to use zips, because I don't want the pull to damage the new leather sofas. So they're going to close like pillowcases.

You will need:

  • 1 metre of fabric approx. 42" wide (that's what mine is)
  • Scissors or Rotary Cutter and Mat
  • Ruler
  • Thread
  • Sewing Machine or a lot of patience for hand-sewing

Step 1:

Remove the selvedges. From one layer of fabric, cut a 16" square. This will be the front of your cushion. This includes the seam allowances. Having your cushion cover a little smaller than your cushion fill will make your cushion "fatter".

Cut along the rest of the width, keeping at 16" deep.

Step 2:

Fold the wider fabric in half and cut along the fold, giving you two nearly square pieces. These will be the back of the cushion.

Step 3:

Hem the two back pieces along one raw 16" edge.

Step 4:

Place the front piece of your cushion cover face up on the table. Place on back piece face down on that, raw edges even, and the other back piece face down on that, raw edges even.

Step 5:

Sew all around the cushion with a 15mm (5/8") seam allowance, starting along on side and overlapping your stitches when you get to the beginning again.

Step 6:

Cut across the corners as shown to make the corners look better when you turn the cushion cover RS out.

Now turn the Cushion cover RS out and insert a cushion! (TIP: it is easier to put the cushion pad in if you do so at the same time as turning the cushion cover RS out.)

 This is the cushion cover turned RS out (I haven't made the cushion pad yet) along with the scissors I used to poke the corners into shape.
The is the back view.

And that's how you make a cushion cover/pillow cover.

Until next week, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Saturday, 24 March 2012

How to Make a Dress Part 12: How to Make and Insert the Inset and Hem the Dress

This is the last post in this series. All that is left now is to make and insert the inset and to hem the dress.

How to Make the Inset

Get your two inset pieces and put them RS together. Sew along the top edge (in this case the one with the slightly concave curve). Press flat then open.

The piece without the interfacing is the facing in this case. (For blouse fronts etc. the interfacing goes on the facing.)

Clip into the seam allowances. Press the seam allowances to the facing side (the one without interfacing).

Sew the seam allowances to the facing. This is called machine understitching.

Fold the pieces into the finished position (see below).

This is what it looks like facing side up.
And this is what it looks like front side up.

I haven't done so in this photo, but it helps with the next step if you baste the layers of the inset together.

Also, you should zigzag the raw edges to stop them from fraying.

How to insert the inset
This is where it gets tricky.

Pin the inset in place by lifting the collar up as in this photo and pinning through all the layers.

Now firmly baste in place by hand with cross stitches and then stitch one side by machine under the collar so that it's inconspicuous. If you think the inset is in place, repeat for the other side.

Note: You won't be able to stitch all the way down, so just go as far as your judgement suggests.

How to Hem the Dress
This dress has a 3cm (1 1/4") hem allowance. I pinned the hem level.

Clip into the seam allowances at the hem level to give a better edge.

When you have pinned all around, turn up the hem so that the pins are right on the edge. Then, holding the fold in place, remove the pin and pin the hem allowance down.

Now hand sew running stitches in the hem allowance only, and pull so that the hem allowance lies flush with the dress.

Baste the hem allowance to the dress.

This is what I call a hand coverstitch. It's basically an overcasting stitch where you catch one thread of the dress. Then you just repeat all the way around. If you need to start a new thread, secure both your old thread and your new one on the hem allowance.


Congratulations! Your dress is finished!

Until next time, happy sewing and Merry Christmas!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner, 41 Market Place, Hornsea, HU18 1AP, UK

Monday, 19 March 2012

I have nearly finished my blouse

I had to re-draft the collar - the first one was a disaster. It stuck up when it was supposed to lie flat. I don't know why. It didn't draft it as a standing collar.

My New Collar
Anyway, I also used sew-in interfacing with my second collar which I think helped a lot. As you can see, this collar is turning out quite well.

I drafted it using the instructions in Pattern-making for Fashion Design 5th Ed. by Helen Joseph Armstrong. I like that book for everything but the basic bodice and skirt. As far as blocks go, I find the ones in Metric Pattern-cutting for Women's wear 5th Ed. by Winifred Aldrich, chiefly because I don't have to measure the front and back separately and there is a table of measurements for parts I can't measure myself.

I am at the boring stage of sewing now -- removing the basting threads. It is taking days. You don't know how many times the thought has crossed my mind to just leave them in. But I'm making myself take them out, bit by bit.

Front View of My Blouse
Once I have done it, I can sew the buttonholes and buttons on. At the moment the blouse is just pinned closed. And no, I haven't pressed it yet as I ought to have done. But I will. I don't want the carbon paper's tracing lines to seal into the blouse, you see, so I'll have to be very careful when I do press it, going just where I want it pressing and perhaps pressing it again properly after I wash my blouse.

Back View of My Blouse
When I tried my blouse on before trimming the seam allowances and sewing the collar, it didn't seem to fit right. But I think it will fit quite well when I have finished.

I think I might have to add a self-lining for modesty's sake, but I'll wait to try it on first when I'm finished.

I may even make a patch pocket and embroider it with my initial by machine and flowers and things by hand. Of course I would use interfacing, and then line it with self fabric.

When I have finished my blouse I'll send a photo to my Auntie Dulcie -- I have to reply to her letter, and I'm waiting until I have finished my blouse. I hope I will finish soon because I don't want to keep her waiting too long!

Until next week, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner