M5929: Swaybacks and Centreback Seams

I’ve been sewing for just over two years now, and I’m noticing the result of spending all my money on fabric rather than RTW clothing is that a few specific items are beginning to look a little… threadbare.

I wear button-up shirts to work during the week – they add a little professionalism to my uniform of jeans, steel-caps and hi-vis.

But when I started working in an office environment, it seemed ludicrously expensive to pull together an appropriate wardrobe – a really good quality shirt starts at $170+, and I’m too fussy to have just bought standard high street fare (which falls apart after 6 months of wear anyway). So to bridge the gap between my french champagne taste and my cask wine budget, I turned to second hand. I tried top-end shirts on in shops and then scoured eBay like a hungry hawk, and over-time ended up with a fairly substantial collection of silk and cotton shirts for a fraction of the cost – many of which I’m still regularly wearing today 4 years down the track.

At one point I did splurge though – I had a shirt made to measure when I noticed in their shopfront they were having a rather rare half-price deal. It was a really cool experience – I got measured up in store (there was 14+ measurements taken), then I went back for a fitting a few weeks later once it had been made before finally getting to take it home a month later. I was a little unhappy with it at first, because it seemed so much bigger, but after wearing it once or twice, I was in love. It made me realise exactly what I’d been putting up with by wearing standard sized fare – not only was it extremely comfortable, but I had a full range of movement without having to worry about that front button popping open, or having the button placket strain to give the person next to me an eye-full of whatever bra I was wearing that day.

That shirt has been in retirement for some time now, and I’m thinking I’ll probably cut it up and use it as a pattern base at some point. But for the meantime, I’ve been using it to adjust the McCalls OOP pattern I’m using to sew up my first collared shirt – 5929.

Copying my made-to-measure shirt to get the darts in the right place worked a treat, the fit through the front is great, if a little tighter fitting that I would like – which is easily fixed. I’m planning to make this out of a lightweight silk/cotton voile blend – a bit different to the starched calico I’m using to test the fit. Most of the strain is around my hips and at the tops of the side seams next to my bust:

toile 1 front

However, at the back – apart from it being more obvious here to me that it was a little tight – there was that annoying pooling of fabric around my waist, which I’d already pinched out and sewn up (about 3cm all up), tapering to nothing the side seams and perpendicular to the grain line:

toile 1 back


I thought for comparison, I’d whack on my made-to-measure shirt to compare – here’s the front and back:

MTM frontMTM back

Once I’d transferred the swayback adjustment to my pattern piece, I realised that as my shirt doesn’t have a centreback seam (I also don’t WANT it to have a centreback seam) that I couldn’t just leave it as is – the ‘cut on the fold’ edge was no longer straight:


After a bit of reading and googling, and then reading and googling some more, I decided to try two different methods at adjusting my pattern. I felt like I had some time to kill whilst I waited for a particular Marfy pattern to arrive in the mail – at which point this project would be dropped like the hottest of hot potatoes to work on that.

First up – this method at swayback adjustment (from Fitting and Pattern Alternation (1992) by Liechty, Pottberg, & Rasband, pages 140-143) which resulted in a very square shoulder seam:


Sewn up and attached:

IMG_5522 IMG_5528

There’s still some pooling (ignore the tightness, I’d yet to attack that), but at this point I’m wondering if it is even logistically possible to get rid of this and still not have a centre-back seam. And I’d probably want to soften the squareness of the shoulder seam as well.

Ok, so let’s try method number 2 for comparison – I’m taking this from Sherry’s (Pattern Scissors Cloth) blog, she did an amazing post on altering for a sway back way back in 2010. I’ll admit, I fumbled around with this method for several days trying to figure out both how it worked and why, even testing it on mini-pattern pieces to get my head around it.


In the end, I just didn’t get the logic of it. I attribute that to the fact that Mr poppykettle and I are smack bang in the middle of the Live Below the Line challenge, and I am SO DAMN HUNGRY right now that I swear my brain isn’t functioning properly.

So I step back and try to think coherently.

I vaguely (very vaguely) remember reading somewhere that when fitting, you should always work top to bottom. And then a mini lightbulb moment… and all of a sudden it makes complete sense. If I add in the extra width at the sides, then the fabric pooling will be reduced – surely. I’ve been reading KathleenS’s PR Review of Simplicity 2339 (she was the runner up in PR’s Fitted Blouse contest in March this year) and staring intently at her flickr photos and I’m nigh-on convinced this will solve it.



C1020: The Phoenix Lily

Rising from the ashes of one failed dress attempt… is another. And as McCalls 4993 was such a fabric hog, there was plenty of ashes to go around!

The only problem with sewing up a summer dress when the temperature has plummeted and day-light hours are short is getting photos of it in action. Thanks to lousy efforts at getting correct settings on my camera and not checking mid-way though, I have a stack of blurry photos. Maybe I’ve just spent too much time daydreaming and listening to James Vincent Morrow, but I kinda like this dress shown in this way. I won’t be making it a regular feature, but you are just going to have to deal with it this time around.


IMG_5318  IMG_5319

IMG_5322Princess seams lend themselves so wonderfully to getting a flattering silhouette, even with all the added work that comes from cutting out so many extra pieces. I cut the size 10 for my toile, but ended up grading the seams back so much I probably could’ve gone for somewhere between a 6 and an 8. As with all Colette patterns that are fitted, I needed to do a flat butt adjustment… I’m not in possession of a rear end to fill their designs out! Thankfully due to those handy princess seams, I could grade it in where necessary.

Whilst I was trying on and fitting my toile, I started thinking about rigilene. Now, I know rigilene doesn’t have the best reputation as boning in comparison to it’s more accomplished sibling – spiral steel – but for this day-dress the softness of rigilene lends itself beautifully. As the four seams I sewed channels into are not curved, the negatives of rigilene (the combination of exposure to body heat and time means it can end up setting in the shape you were trying to prevent in the first place) don’t come into play as much.

Boning is most effective the closer it is to the outer layer of fabric, so I sewed my channels by sewing down my seam allowance to the inner layer of underlining, which was silk organza.

IMG_5284For such a little dress, there is a ridiculous amount of fabric hiding away in there. Not including pockets and straps, there’s 14 panels – each of which has four layers of fabric! The oatmeal cream and duck-egg blue eyelet cotton is a Marc Jacobs fabric I bought from Kat after she decided she wasn’t too keen on it, which is underlined in a silk crepe matching the blue tones of the eyelet, from The Fabric Store. Then underneath that is a silk organza underlining, which gives the two really rather lightweight fabrics above a bit of structure and support. Then under that is a silk charmeuse lining (also from The Fabric Store) to match the earthier tones of the eyelet.

Now, there’s silk charmeuse and then there’s silk charmeuse – this is unfortunately the latter. I bought it because I was seduced by the minimal price tag… but on bringing it home and placing it up against other charmeuse’s that cost 3 times as much – well, the difference is stark (big differences between the drape, the hand and the degree of opacity of the inexpensive charmeuse). But it’s still beautiful and feels delightful to wear.


IMG_5353In other pattern adjustments, I elongated the straps a bit, and changed their position outwards a little. The blue ‘trim’ at the hem wasn’t exactly a choice – due to the length of the M4993 skirt. It was also a lovely way of enclosing the hem with a sort-of-facing. I chose to leave the waist seam of this dress slightly above my natural waist (by about 3cm)… purists may baulk, but I like the original proportions of this dress as they are.

IMG_5345My beautiful fabric covered belt was always going to be the centre feature, so I decided not to go with the pocket flaps to tone down the busy-ness. However… those pocket openings are not on grain – they’d stretch horridly if I left them to their own devices. The pocket flaps are cut on grain though, so this would have done the stabilising job – instead, I used some silk organza selvedge scraps sewn in the seam:


I really do love this dress… it’s comfortable and a lot more flattering than I thought it would be. Shame it’ll have to wait a few more months, but I was hardly going to let McCalls 4993 get the better of me. Take that, vintage pattern. Now… it’s time to start sewing something a little more seasonally appropriate!!

The Stats:
00:50  Pattern Preparation
06:35  Toile (cutting/sewing/fitting)
04:55  Fabric Preparation (cutting/interfacing)
19:20  Sewing
31:40  hours

Fabric Utilisation = 1.5m (from the addition of lining only)
Stash total remains = 86.3m (Goal = 50m)

Your knowledge will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Awesome Star Trek references aside, on Saturday I learnt how to knit – from one seriously talented knitter whose work I’ve admired from afar for a long, loooong time.

Yeah, I totally know you can jump on youtube and have someone, somewhere show you the basics and even the complexes. But I like learning on demand from real live people, plus the chance to chat to humans of the same sex as me in real time! I don’t get to do that enough. Throw in the ability to support a new, Melbourne based creative initiative – the Handmaker’s Factory? I’m there.

IMG_5263I’ve been buying skeins of gorgeously coloured wool every now and again, but they’ve just been shamefully accumulating in a box. Then I keep seeing creations like this:

Jorth’s green knitted dress – amazing!

and then this…

and then I started following Kate Davies Designs (oh, how I love posts seen through the eyes of Bruce! This one is my favourite) and the jealousy just got too much.

This knitting thing was a skill I simply had to acquire – by force, if necessary. And who better to learn from than the very person who inspired my covetous jealousy in the first place? Thankyou, Jorth.

I can now cast on, knit, purl, increase and decrease, decipher the obscure hieroglyphics that make up a knitting pattern and cast off, all without swearing and having to make reference to instructions. Go me.

Having moved down the beginners sewing learning curve already, I am vaguely aware that I’m not going to be able to produce the magnificence shown above straight away.

JuliaBobbin and I get busy knitting

But just you wait.

In the mean time, I’ve succumbed and signed up to Ravelry. I envisage plenty of cold winter nights comfy on the couch with a cup of tea and some clack-clack-clacking. See you in knitting land!