M5929: The Blue Blotch Blouse

I’m calling it – 2013 is officially the year of the shirt. It certainly seems that everyone is either sewing or has sewn a button-up shirt this year – silk, crisp cotton, fitted or flowing. And if you’ve done neither, then I’d hazard a guess to say you’ve at least daydreamed about sewing one up after seeing so many gadding about the blogosphere? Mentally sewing is just as good as actually sewing, you know.

As for this little shirt that could, I’d like to say a big thank you for your wonderfully helpful comments on my first attempt at fixing a problem I thought was a sway back. As it turns out, I completely misdiagnosed the problem and that fabric pooling was actually generated by me overlooking that fact that my shirt was indeed, too small… oops.

So I added that additional ease in at the side seams of my original pattern, and whaddyaknow? No fabric bunching at my back waist. In fact, all I needed was a bit more shaping in the back darts and some fairly major changes to the location of the armscye seam (by raising it under my arm and taking out some of the fullness around my shoulder). I swear, getting the shape of the armscye ‘right’ will forever be my fitting nemesis.



All up, I’m really quite happy with it. I really do think it fits me better than the made-to-measure one I bought a few years back – I’ve got a good range of arm movement and it’s not at all tight across my upper back. Comfortable to wear and no unintentional bra-flashing occurrences either! For a shirty-first timer, I’d count that as a win.

The fabric is a Cynthia Steffe silk/cotton voile from EmmaOneSock, and I love the random splotchy pattern of it. It may look like a voile, but it behaved like a rebellious silk whenever I brought it within a meter radius of my sewing machine or iron. In other news, I was flabbergasted at exactly how much fabric a fitted shirt chews through. I thought I’d have yardage to spare! Nope. This puppy chewed through a whole 2.6m. Sheesh. I blame those bias cut ruffles!



I had wanted to do flat felled seams, but that didn’t seam right against this uber-lightweight, floaty fabric. So I French’ed then topstitched ’em down. Likewise, ‘proper’ cuffs didn’t seem like a good match either, so I stuck with the pattern’s very lightly gathered cuff option. Simple, but entirely lovely.



The pattern instructions are actually pretty good – I glanced over them mostly unless it was for something more detailed (like the placket). The only technical change I made was to face the ruffles – I preferred the idea of having the seams enclosed here, it also gives a bit more structure to the ruffle. If you didn’t want to face your ruffle, you’d want a fabric that doesn’t have an obvious right and wrong side. I also changed the collar design to account for turn of cloth – by 2mm.

Can you spot the collar seam along the edge? Nope, neither can I!

Can you spot the collar seam along the edge?

Nope, no collar seam here either. Thank you, Turn of Cloth.

Nope, no collar seam along the edge here either. Thank you, Turn of Cloth.

Interfacing is pretty important when it comes to shirts. I didn’t want anything too heavy backing onto the voile however, so I interfaced the placket, collar and cuffs with my favourite lightweight fusible, then included a silk organza ‘underlining’. This worked well and gave the collar a bit of bounce where it might have otherwise flopped, and worked wonderfully to stabilise where the buttonholes went whilst still keeping a soft, un-starched look about it. Seriously that stuff is the closest thing to a miracle worker. If it were a wrinkle cream, it would actually deliver the results the ads always promise you (when really they’re just lying through their teeth). The more I use it, the more I want too!

And – great news for us Aussies – Sew Squirrel is now stocking silk organza in her online store. This stuff can be hard to come by in Australia, and I’ve yet to see it cost less than $25/m in store (in some places I’ve seen it at $40/m – whaaaaaat!!!) – which is why up until now I’ve been ordering it from the States. No longer will I have to pay outrageous postage costs to get my fix! A sure fire win :)


During the making of this I watched portions of Pam Howards ‘The Classic Tailored ShirtCraftsy course – there were some seriously golden tips in there, especially about sewing on buttons. Only ‘portions’ because I’m impatient and Pam is a slooow speaker. Her southern drawl is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong. I just like my information delivery to be faster than slow. So I think that means I can officially say I’ve ‘done’ one of my five Craftsy courses!

General conclusion? Making fitted shirts is totally achievable and the finished result is really very acceptable. It’s kinda totally cool that being unlined, there is not a single exposed seam in this garment. I have three other stash fabrics just crying out to get sewn up as shirts now…

The Stats:
02:00  Pattern Preparation
02:10  Toile (cutting/sewing/fitting)
04:35  Fabric Preparation (cutting/basting/interfacing)
13:35  Sewing
22:20  hours

Fabric Utilisation = 2.6m
Stash total remains = 83.7m (Goal = 50m)


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.


M4993 vs my Left Brain.

mccalls 4993


Left Brain: I told you so. You listened to me when you got halfway through that last vintage dress pattern muslin disaster that dastardly Right Brain conned us into sewing up. You should KNOW by now that vintage just isn’t our thing.

Melanie: But it had so much potential… all that beauty and glamour of the 1950s, just trying to shine through…

Right Brain: And it still does!! Look at that gorgeous fabric. All that floral eyelet, silk and fabulous topstitching just waiting for its moment to shine. Leftie over there is just being a Qi vampire again.

IMG_5141 IMG_5143


LB: Glamour? Beauty? Are you out of your mind? What about the oppression, the sexism, the rigid social class structure, the LIMITATIONS??? A determined, independent thing like yourself should know better. The only time it would ever be appropriate to wear this… collared dress thing… would be to a scout and girl guide ball. And you damn well know no such occasion exists.

RB: Sewing is like a box of chocolates, you know. You never quite know what you’re going to get.

LB: Yes. You do. It’s called sewing a muslin. 


RB: Whatever. Look, so maybe our concept didn’t quite work out this time. You’ve still got your Anniversaire Amour dress to wear to SewcieTea, and you certainly can’t claim I led you astray there. And if it’s chilly, you can pull on our GGQB blazer… remember that fabulous rush we felt when we first laid eyes on that gorgeous periwinkle woven silk? This failed creation can totally be salvaged into something else, those colours are wonderful on you and there’s still plenty of time.


LB: Actually, no, there isn’t. Remember that Assignment you have due next week? And the fact that you’ve been leaving home at 6:45 in the morning and only getting home at 9pm at night? You barely have enough energy to scroll through your Pinterest feed at the end of the day, not to mention trying to sew something new. Shall I throw in there just how far behind blog reading you are?

RB: Sorry, what were you saying? I tuned out. I was admiring that eyelet that Kat from All the Whimsical Things gave you. And speaking of Kat, how fabulous did that nautical themed quilt that you, Sarah, Rachel and Belle made for her baby-to-be turn out? That just goes to show that sometimes trying something out of your usual comfort zone can be a wonderful thing.

Melanie: Yeah, we totally rocked that quilt. And I do love that eyelet. It’s just devastating that all the time I spent carefully basting, underlining, pressing and sewing have resulted in something I just really don’t like. I think I secretly knew… but thought that if I got all the little details spot on, the dress would somehow work out.

RB: And it still can. Look at that AMAZING fabric covered belt. As if you aren’t going to turn this into someting that makes you feel good. More ‘modern’ and totally every-day wearable. 


Melanie: *Sigh*. Yeah, but not now. Time just ain’t on my side.

LB: I told you so.

The Stats:

00:30  Pattern Preparation (tracing)
03:10  Toile (cutting/sewing/fitting)
04:20  Fabric Preparation (cutting/interfacing etc)
11:00  Sewing
19:00  hours

Fabric Utilisation = 3.4m + 3.0m + 0.8m
Stash total now = 87.8m (Goal = 50m)

M6460: Ladies who Lunch



Hello dears! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And before you ask, no – my brief disappearance and re-emergence is not due to a pregnancy. But aren’t we having quite the sewing blogger baby boom right now? Congrats to all the expecting mums :)

So. Isn’t it funny how sometimes you come across a particular style, then as soon as you’ve ‘noticed’ it, you start seeing the same concept just about everywhere??? I’m talking about lace yokes, which bring us to my second Frocktober edition (although rather a lot behind schedule) which has been in creative development ever since I saw Erica B’s bright yellow creation. And I’m so shameless I even copied her cutout at the back (the fabric belt is from the Colette Peony pattern). The first week of November always sees Melburnians being bombarded with images of glamourously made up ladies at the races, being Spring Racing Season and all. And everywhere I look, I’m seeing lace yokes combined with heart-shaped necklines.



My Oaks day experience was by no means short on drama:
0845 – Finish sewing on the button at the back, as well as the bar and tacks on the belt (Dress was finished at around 2230 the night before).

0850 – attempt at applying basic makeup (lipstick, mascara and a wee bit of liquid eyeliner). Fail. Wipe it off and get lucky on the second go around.

0915 – Walk around the corner to pick up the hat I had made by a local milliner, with my fabrics so it exactly matched the dress. Milliner accidentally spills coffee on my hat, ruining it. She lets me have anything I want in the shop – unfortunatley, the only thing that matches is slightly less in-your-face than I had wanted. Such is the way things are.

0930 – Meet with one of my best uni buddies at the Euro Patisserie a few doors down from the milliner. He consoles me with a slice of lemon meringue and a peppermint tea to go. 

0945 – Spill peppermint tea to go down the front of my dress, 2 meters from my front door. Run to laundry and grab the Sard Wonder soap. Sard soap initially turns peppermint tea stain fluorescent green, before eventually fading away into something probably I will only ever notice. Hairdryer works wonders transforming the sopping fabric back to dry status. Change necklace to my gingko biloba leaf one that perfectly covers up the affected area.

1000 – Best bud snaps the shots you seen here in the street around the corner (Belle- these are for you! Recognise the street?), before racing off to meet two inventors he’s looking at investing in at 1030.

1120 – Arrive at Flemington Racecourse. Eventually find my way to where I’m supposed to be, which requires crossing the race track. It looks like this:

Flemington Race Course

1130 – Begin schmoozing in the Winners Circle. The biggest perk? Being the corporate area, the line to the gents is waaaay longer than the line to the ladies. Very easily achieved when there is NO line in the ladies. Awesome!

1201 – First glass of champagne. Schmoozing and boozing begins in earnest.

1330 – Decide the longevity and wearability of my favourite red lippy has been compromised by accidentally leaving it in the car on numerous high-temperature days. Proud to have received several uninvited compliments on the dress.

1741 – Depart Flemington. Self congratulations are in order because I’m still wearing my heels and not the back-up flats stashed in my handbag. Lift head to the heavens briefly in thanks to the gorgeously gay man who sold me said heels, and advised me to ‘wear socks whilst wearing them in around the house’. Best shoe-wearing-in advice, ever.

The makeshift fascinator

This dress was made using a white cotton lace called ‘racy lacy talk’ (how appropos for the occasion!) from the Tessuti online store, underlined and lined with a blood red silk/cotton voile from Clegs. And a little red button from Buttonmania at the back.

I toiled of course – my first time working with cup-sizes in a pattern. Turned out I’m an ‘A’ cup size in patterns – which had me a little concerned, but thankfully it ended up a happily-ever-after. I did a LOT of basting – many thanks to Suzy from SuzyBeeSews for the lifetime supply of silk thread she sent me, and Kat from All The Whimsical Things for the fabulous seam ripper she gave me – both were used extensively for this project!! I pattern matched the sleeves, the centre back seam and the side seams, and that lining is totally bagged out. That way no-one will ever see the basting stitches holding the lace in place!

M6460 detail 1

M6460 detail 4
M6460 detail 5 M6460 detail 6

Because I didn’t underline the lace across the yoke, I used silk organza strips to stabilise the seams and hide the seam allowances. (Even more hand sewing). A great reason why you should always save your organza scraps – even the smallest pieces can be put to use. Like I needed another reason to hoard fabric! I think all up, not including the toile, this dress took a solid 5-6 days to make. Unfortunately, my sewing time has been light on recently, as has been my blog reading – and with the crazy-season nearly upon us, that isn’t set to change much. At least my blogroll is now down to about 200 new posts I’ve yet to lay my eyes upon, as opposed to something a little closer to 500!!!

I’ll leave you with the knowledge that I’ll be having a give-away in the next few days… As on Thursday it was this little blog’s very first birthday!

M6460 6

M6460: Melbourne Cup Carnival Outfit Planning

Peeps, I’ve been invited to spend Crown Oaks Day in a Marquee – squee!!! Besides being entirely unprecedented, I mean – since when do engineers get invited to these fancy soiree type things? (In case you were wondering, the answer to that is an emphatic neverUsually events like this are the territory of more publicly inclined professions. Regardless, it means I need a hat and an appropriate outfit – PRONTO.

For the non-Australian readership (maybe even non-Victorian), Oaks day is the third day in the Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival, traditionally known as ‘ladies day’. This year it’s the 152nd Melbourne Cup Carnival, and its a big enough deal that all Victorian’s get a public holiday on the day of the ‘race that stops a nation’. Or something like that.

Horse racing might be the main attraction for some, but for those like myself, it’s all about the people watching. There’s a dress code, the fashions on the field contest and lets not forget – the celebrities on display:

dita von teese
Dita Von Teese, photo care of the today network

Drool. Oh how I wish she was coming back again this year! ….And right down to the ‘why are you even famous?’ grade, of which I’m not even going to deign to show a photo of.

Keeping in mind that this is a ‘work’ function (so no extensive displays of décolletage or hems shorter than that which I’d normally wear to work), I’ve got a copycat of Erica B’s yellow mellow dress in mind… 

Although I’m still on the fence as to whether to go sleeve-less or sleeve-more. I will be using (from my stash) a blue-toned blood red silk/cotton voile overlayed with a white geometric lace, appropriately named ‘racy lacey’!


I’m planning to have the lace on the outside as a dress in itself, ‘lined’ with the voile which will imply the sweetheart neckline (which I’ve discovered I like on me a lot more than I thought I would… maybe I should try the macaron dress after all?), so a few pattern changes will be required. It also needs a vent, otherwise stairs will be impossible to navigate.

But before I’d even got the toile underway I’d already come across a snag. This McCalls pattern has cup sizes, which you think would be a good thing. They have you measure your full bust, then upper bust, and the difference between the two dictates your cup size according to the pattern. This indicated I would be an A/B cup – a measurement I don’t think I’ve ever been! I decided to go ahead with it though, and it was pretty much spot on. I think then that the term ‘cup sizes’ is a little misleading? I’d be really curious to hear from others who have sewn patterns with cup sizes. 

I still have to take out some excess fabric at the arm, but this is a standard alteration for me these days. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a muslin photo, so in the interests of keepin’ it real – my super glamorous (and inside-out) grainy toile photo indicates it still needs some work done. 

M6460 Muslin
Damn you, low-light conditions. Thank goodness we now have some daylight in the evening hours to look forward too!