Testing testing: Arielle and Southport

Southport dress

I’m not asked to pattern test that often, but I have happily done so for a couple of my indie designer buddies. Two recent patterns which I tested have just been released – the True Bias Southport dress and the Tilly Arielle skirt – so I thought I’d share my takes on the results. I find pattern testing a really interesting process, which is why I’m happy to give my time to do it. Firstly it often lets me try out patterns that I wouldn’t necessarily choose or buy for myself, and secondly I’m quite interested in the whole process of pattern development and how best to optimise instructions for maximum usability. I love submitting my feedback and seeing it applied to the final product.

Arielle skirt

First up Tilly’s Arielle skirt, which comes in mini or knee lengths and offers a wiggle fit with lovely offset buttons – no zip, hoorah!

Arielle skirt
Arielle skirt

I used a brown twill for my skirt and it’s lined in black silk. Slight changes were made to the hip ease due to the testing feedback, but I actually graded up at the hip anyway because I’m between sizes – it’s an easy one to blend sizes and get a good fit. Pencil skirts aren’t a typical choice for me, but I’m pretty fond of this and it’s so easy to wear with tights and a little tee and feel a bit dressed up.

Arielle skirt

I really enjoyed testing this because it was quite a challenging sew for me – I think it’s the first faced-and-lined skirt I’ve ever put together so I really relished trying a new skill. For an easier sew the lining is totally optional and wouldn’t really be necessary in many fabrics.

Southport dress
Southport dress

Next up – I’m a big fan of Kelli of True Bias’s pattern line, so was really pleased to be asked to test her latest. The Southport is a casual summer tank dress with a half-buttoned front (YASSS, sew all the buttons) and drawstring waist. It’s got above-knee and maxi length options and is recommended for any breezy, drapey fabric. I used a fairly nutty archive Liberty print called Clara – Roisin has used it in another colourway and I scooped this 1.3m piece on eBay for pretty cheap.

Southport dress
Southport dress

Welp, this dress is pretty adorable, right? I love the overall shape and style. Tank dresses are super hard to fit on my body due to my narrow shoulders and hollow chest, but this is pretty darn close. I graded from 4 at the top to 8 at the hips, and Kelli has altered the armsyce/bodice fit a bit based on feedback (so don’t use this as a final fit guide). If we get more of a sniff of summer weather or I book a nice warm holiday I’ll definitely be making a couple more of these.

You can get hold of Arielle here and Southport here. Obvious disclaimer than I sewed up test versions so my review doesn’t apply to the finished fit or instructions, and I got the patterns for free in exchange for testing. Will you be adding either to your S/S sew plans?

Burda boyfriend jeans

Burda jeans

Spring’s hit London! And I have yet more jeans to show you. Sorry. At least they’re a new pattern and a slightly different shape to previous pairs! These are my Minerva blogger network project for April, and I used their 100% cotton 7.5oz black denim, which is a great basic light-medium weight denim with no stretch but a bit of ‘give’.

Burda jeans

The pattern I used is Burda 6798, a ‘boyfriend’ type style with a low waist, shaped back pockets, front hip darts, and options for either a buttoned or zip fly.

Burda jeans

Generally Burda patterns fit well on me out of the packet, and this wasn’t an exception. I cut a 14/40 to account for my hip size but ended up sewing the outer seams with a very large seam allowance as they turned out too big, so I’d say size down if you’re on a cusp. I graded down to the second-smallest size below the knee to slim the calves and ankle down, and took 2″ off the length.

I’ll just take this opportunity again to say if the fitting part is putting you off sewing trousers – don’t let it! Honestly, I think I’m making so many pants at the moment because I find them so much easier to fit than dresses. They’re also much simpler to baste and adjust as you go without needing to worry about lining or fastenings. And I don’t even have a straightforward lower half to fit, since there’s a 13″ difference between my waist and hip. Pants sermon of the day over!

Burda jeans

Pleasingly the curved waistband and back yoke of the 6798s fits perfectly with no fiddling – no gapeage at all to deal with. Burda pants patterns are constructed in such a way that it’s easy to alter the back seam right up until the end though, so you can adjust on the fly for a perfect fit. The back pocket shape is a fun change, and I really like where the low waistline hits. The slight puckering you see below the waistband, by the way, is partly because I eased in the waistband tightly to keep it snug and partly because I hadn’t removed the hand-basting I always do to secure the inner waistband before topstitching. I’ve taken it out now and the puckers have smoothed themselves out with a bit of wear.

Burda jeans

I didn’t use the instructions at all because I’ve made so many jeans now I have my ways, ha. I cut-on the fly extension piece and sewed the fly per the Ginger instructions. I do however really like how Burda do the pocket stay/holster, it’s less bulky since just one layer goes right to the fly. I flat-felled the yoke and inseam and serged the other seams.

Burda jeans

I haven’t really worn non-skinny jeans for ages, so I’ve been gathering some ideas for how to wear these. I think they look best with the cuff rolled to show a bit of ankle, so any day it’s warm enough that’s how I’ll wear them – here’s how I wore them on a slightly cooler day. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up making another pair of these sometime – they’re in regular rotation already, being super comfortable, cycle-friendly and fun to make to boot.

Style Arc Fern

Thanks for your comments on the last post, really interesting to read about how everyone else got into sewing!

Style Arc Fern

So, I’m proud of myself here: I made a top when I had ample fabric to make a dress instead. I’ve mentioned before that I have a weird tendency to feel like I need to make a dress when I have enough fabric to do so, so it’s a real internal struggle to ever make ‘just a top’ from a 2m length of fabric. SILLY. Anyway.

Style Arc Fern

This is a Style Arc Fern top, which came to me because Amy got it as her order freebie and kindly sent it on to me. It’s a rather cool kimono-sleeved top with a double-layered front which end in mitred corners. A bit of an update on the Elizabeth that I’ve sewn a couple of times already. The fabric’s a cheap polyester crepe from eBay, which is why I didn’t mind sacrificing it to a top instead of making a frock.

It’s been said before about Style Arc: the styles and drafting are amazing; the instructions are diametrically terrible. Now I don’t mind minimal instructions but Style Arc ones seem to be written purely to fox you, with terminology frequently mixed up or flat-out wrong (‘stay stitch’ is used interchangeably with understitch and baste in this case) and pointers to refer to diagrams that really don’t make things any clearer.

Style Arc Fern

This top has a few interesting details which meant I was puzzling over the construction quite a bit. There’s the mitred seam at the centre fronts, which took a few minutes of head-scratching to figure out but turned out to be quite a neat method to get a sharp corner.

Style Arc Fern

The front neckline is finished by sewing the overlapping fronts RS to WS and flipping over, while the back neck is finished with a facing. To get a clean finish at the neck edge you sew the outer front layer’s shoulder to the back shoulder RS together, then continue to sew the inner front shoulder to the back facing. Makes sense NOW but very much didn’t at the time. Also if your fabric looks similar on the back like mine does, mark which is the front or you might sew the shoulder inside out first try. Ahem.

Style Arc Fern

There’s supposed to be a little keyhole split at the top of the back neck: I had a valiant stab at it but had to give up and sew it shut as I simply couldn’t get it looking right by following the directions. After that I gave up with the instructions entirely and made the rest up as best I could.

Style Arc Fern

Can’t argue with the fit though, which is perfect right off the pattern. The shoulders of SA patterns seem to fit particularly nicely on me and the length, darts, neckline etc are all just so. It’s a really useful, wearable top, great for work with skinny jeans. I suppose I’ll just have to muddle through and make another one some time!

How did you start sewing?

Sewing class at Ray Stitch

I had an email recently from a blog reader (hi Tracy!) asking how I got into sewing, how I learnt and how long I’ve been at it. It’s sort of a long story so I thought I’d share it here as well, and ask how everyone else found their way into this funny world too.

threadless surgery

I got interested in sewing when I was 16 or 17, around about finishing high school. I didn’t make anything from scratch or follow patterns; I was more of a refashioner, finding tees in vintage shops and cutting and pasting them into something new. I moderated the T-Shirt Surgery community on Livejournal (which still exists!, though it’s totally dead) and sold a few of my creations online. I bought my overlocker around this time – the same one I still use now – and also used my mum’s metal Bernina workhorse. (My mum is extremely good at making soft furnishings but doesn’t make any garments. These days we swap curtains for dresses!) I learned by just doing really – I’ve never been afraid to make mistakes in order to learn, which is quite a valuable trait for budding sewists, ha.

Quilted cushion

Well, then I moved off to the other end of the country for university, the machines stayed at home and I didn’t do any sewing at all (though I was a prolific knitter). That continued after I moved into a series of tiny flats in London, during which time I did a couple of sporadic sewing classes amongst other crafts and acquired my current sewing machine, a Janome DC3050, for cheap secondhand.

Miz Mozelle dress

About two years ago now I got an email from my local sewing shop Ray Stitch, asking if I’d like to try one of their sewing classes to review on my other blog. I took them up on it – it was a two-part class to make the Miz Mozelle dress – and that’s where I followed my first pattern and picked up foundation dressmaking skills. A few months later I was still sticking with it (which is unusual to be honest, I tend to be something of a hobby magpie) and decided to start this blog to separate out my sewing from my other blog.

Minerva meetup

Since then I’ve obviously discovered the amazing world of sewing online, from all the fantastic bloggers both local and worldwide, to tutorials for nearly everything and all the patterns and fabrics you could want. Like before, I’ve basically taught myself everything I know at this point from internet resources and making a lot more mistakes, along with a couple more physical classes.

Tracy asked specifically how long it took to get to the point where I can make everyday-wearable clothes. I’d say it’s only been the last six months that I’ve started to feel my skills are solidifying and match my ambitions – basically that I can make stuff that’s better fitting and constructed than I could afford to buy in a store. For me personally the biggest shift was to stop racing and to focus on detail, accuracy and care over fit and finish. Alongside that, there’s the interesting journey of learning what your taste really is, and finding that sweet spot of things you both love to sew and love to wear. Two years ago I had no idea I’d be able to make my own jeans and would get such pleasure from doing so!

I should add that not everyone learns in the same way. Because of how I started – jumping into what’s often considered the scary end of knits and overlockers, with a dollop of teenage DIY ethic – I was happy to muddle along, trying what I didn’t yet know and learning from every fail along the way. My sister on the other hand has been slow and careful from the start and is terrified to go wrong, mostly for the knock it gives her self-confidence. She makes the same thing 3 or 4 times in a row to build her confidence before trying something new. Some people will prefer in-person tutelage to online, or videos, or reading a book. Overall, I think that the most important traits to become ‘good at sewing’ are tenacity, fearlessness and reflection. Basically: sew a lot and don’t give up; push your skills and push past mistakes; and learn something from every project.

So anyway, my short answer is two years, the long answer is over twelve :) How did everyone else learn to sew? Anything as circuitous as my story, or more straightforward? Any advice you’d give to new sewists looking to learn?

Alder

Alder

Well the clocks went forward this weekend, officially signalling spring! It was horrendous weather all weekend obviously, but today is a bit brighter and I’m wondering if I can get away with wearing my decidedly springlike new dress yet…

Alder

Two things stopped me from pouncing on Grainline’s Alder shirt dress when it was released last year – the fact that I never ever wear collared anything, and that I wasn’t sure the slightly dropped loose waistline would work on my shape. Well, fear 1 was easily fixed by using Jen’s handy tutorial from the sewalong to convert the neckline into a v-neck faced with bias binding – a simple hack and the construction was familiar to me as it’s essentially the same as the Darling Ranges.

Alder

Fear 2? Well, I think this fits so well that it’s kind of flattering anyway! I cut a size 6 with a 3/4″ FBA, and I love the fit through the bodice and waist. The only other tweaks were a 1/2″ swayback adjustment, nipping in the bodice side seams a bit, and raising the shoulder line by 3/8″ right at the end to fix a bit of neckline gaping.

Alder

I should add that I didn’t really refer to the instructions but made it in an order that made sense to me. Basically after joining the yoke and shoulders I gathered the front and back skirt pieces separately, attached them to their corresponding bodice pieces, then did the armhole binding, then did the side seam from underarm to hem in one go. I just prefer doing everything as flat as possible. The curved hem is finished with bias like the neckline.

Alder

The fabric is some hand-blocked Indian cotton from Merchant & Mills that I’ve had in my stash for a while. It was beautiful to work with – taking a press so easily, barely fraying, smooth to gather and French seam – and is so super soft and comfy to wear, albeit a bit creasy. I managed to squish this dress onto the narrow 2m I had.

Alder

Spring needs to roll on for real now so I can get wearing this – I think it looks weird with tights and a cardi and it’s not quite warm enough to ditch them yet. I’m already dreaming up a version with cut-on short sleeves though which might be a bit more seasonally-adaptable.

Halo Sigma

Sigma dress

Yayy, I’ve made something that isn’t jeans! I’ve hardly made any dresses so far this year which is unusual for me, so decided to get back into it by using up a pretty stash fabric and trying a new pattern, the Papercut Sigma.

Sigma dress

I bought the pattern on a whim from Ray Stitch – a bit of an expensive whim at £15. I could/should have self-drafted this rather simple style from my blocks – this frock from December is pretty similar – but fancied some instant gratification without fiddling with dot and cross paper and French curves. The fabric is delicious Atelier Brunette ‘Halo’ viscose bought from M is for Make a while ago. It’s a really nice slightly heavier weight fabric that’s just perfect for dressmaking, and is in my current favourite colours to wear. I cut it all on the cross-grain – the little pebble shapes actually run vertically but I preferred them horizontal.

Sigma dress

I made the size small exactly as patterned and I’m pretty pleased with the fit. I did view 2 with the cute side gathers on the skirt and the sleeves shortened a couple of inches. It’s a bit blousier on the bodice than intended due to my drapey fabric choice, but I like that effect.

Sigma dress

It’s just a bit loose through the shoulders and upper back, but at least that makes it comfortable to move in. Be warned that the skirt is pretty short – I’m shortish and like short skirts and needed to do a baby hem to keep it decent.

Sigma dress

It’s got two elements I’ve tended to avoid for a while – a neck facing and a centre-back invisible zip. I’m slowly warming to both of these things: a facing is admittedly less likely to pucker than a bias finish, and since I’ve actually learned and practiced how to do invisible zips I like them much more than I used to. Always be learnin’.

Sigma dress

I’m really happy with this dress -it was a fun Sunday afternoon sew and the result is a perfect work or dinner-out kind of frock, the kind of which will get a lot of use. To be honest, if I were to make this style again I probably would be less lazy and use my blocks to knock-off the shape in order to address the minor fit issues around the shoulders. Oh well, it was worth buying anyway to fire up my dressmaking desires again and it’s a sweet little one to have in the pile.