Category: techniques

Wool Pencil Skirt, self-drafted

Skirt: basic pencil skirt, self-drafted
Blouse: Sencha with modified neckline, self-made
Accessories: Bracelet, faux confetti lucite
Shoes: ?

Channeling my best Elizabeth Taylor.

I set my hair a little differently than usual so it’s super poofy (and more 50s-seeming) here.

Back vent detail. Skirt wrinkles easily apparently.

Lining/basic construction shot.

Hand-stitching by the zipper area.

Closeup of faux confetti lucite bracelet.

I drafted this pencil skirt out of my bodice block. I definitely don’t have enough winter skirts and wanted to make some basic pieces. This one was made from men’s suiting and lined with polyester/cotton.

This was a really boring project to make. The pieces were so simple and brown is not really a very alluring color to look at, but it’s a good neutral and it will probably get a lot of use this winter. I also did a lot more hand-sewing than usual and is my first try at fully lining a skirt.

Techniques learned:
– drafting a pencil skirt from your sloper
– drafting a lining based on the skirt pattern
– drafted a back vent instead of a slit
– importance of slow sewing (lots of hand-sewing, fully-lined)

Project notes: This was my first project at lining a skirt entirely. I stitched the lining by the zipper area by hand, but I want to find a better way to attach the lining. I will probably finish the entire lining entirely by machine next time. I used French seams on lining hem and drafted the lining pieces based off of the skirt piece.

I pegged the bottom and though I made two muslins before starting, the skirt was still way too large (probably from working with wool?) when I was done.

I originally did a blind hem stitch by machine at the bottom, then realized the blind hem wasn’t so invisible and took it apart and hand-stitched the hem. I used a brown invisible zipper that I had in the back of my closet.

I also noticed that this version of Sencha is comfortable and goes with everything, but I rarely wear it since I think it looks “too fancy”. Must remedy that soon.

Synopsis: This was a really boring project to make and not so much fun to do (like most basic pieces) but it will probably get a lot of wear this winter.

Face Shapes and Necklines

I plan to revisit my Sencha blouse again soon, which had me thinking about necklines and face shapes. I still wear my keyhole neckline Sencha, but I’ve never felt comfortable with the high neckline. I’ll probably draft the neckline differently once I tackle this project again for a more wearable Sencha based on the guidelines below.

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What face shape am I?

The best way to determine your face shape is to stand in front of a mirror. Pull your hair back and draw a faint line on the mirror, following the outline of your face.

Here are some examples of different face shapes:


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The most balanced face shape is the oval face shape. The combination of the face shape and the neckline aim to create balance, giving the illusion of a more oval-shaped face. Here are some examples of face shapes and necklines.

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The Round Face

The round face needs vertical space to balance out the roundness. Necklines that are flattering include v-necks, shirt/blouse collars, Queen Anne necklines and Empire necklines.

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The Long Face

The long face needs horizontal space to balance out the longness, making the face appear wider and more oval. Necklines that are flattering include using necklines that are shallower, and which do not generate such a downward focus. Neck styles as the Sabrina, Bateau, Portrait and Cowl Neck, are also flattering.

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The Angular Face

The angular face needs curves to balance out the angles. These can come in a variety of neckline styles, such as the Scoop Neck, Sabrina, Sweetheart and Cowl Neck styles. The triangle, inverted triangle and diamond shape face all fall under the Angular Face category, as do those individuals with a Square Face.

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The Oval Face

The oval face can wear generally any look, as it’s already balanced.


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Here are other examples of necklines and face shapes:





Hemming the Old School Way


I’ve never had an accurate method of hemming my skirts until recently. This is the Pin It Skirt Marker by Orco USA. These were popular in the 40s and 50s, an alternate to the chalk puff method of marking hems. I’ve always found the chalk method of measuring skirt hems messy and hard to work with, so I decided to try the pin version of the skirt marker. A ruler is screwed into a metal base and sits perpendicular to the floor, with an adjustable metal marker.

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Awesome typography.

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I must be very short or have hems that are too high (they are knee-length hems for me!), since by itself I can barely get the skirt marker yardstick near my required skirt length. I decided to improve with a holiday snowman container leftover from last month. The snowman provides a solid base for the ruler, and I taped my chalk to the side of the ruler so I can mark the hem while rotating the dressform. Using blue painter’s tape near a vintage sewing gadget might be sacrilege, but it gets the job done.

Sleeves, Necklines, Collars, and Dress Types

I’ve recently ventured into drafting patterns starting from my basic bodice and skirt sloper. The fit issues are minimal, since the sloper is made skin tight. Design ease is added as you go along. I found these reference pictures useful for ideas on basic sleeves, necklines, collars, and dress types. These are from Vogue Sewing, circa 1982.

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A Small List of Sewing Tips

I recently saw this article on Colette Patterns on Ten Ways to Ruin Your Sewing, and wanted to share my own. I’ve only been sewing for a short while, but I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. These are the things that I’ve discovered that infallibly lead to poor quality projects.

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A Small List of Sewing Tips

1. Pattern and Fabric must match. – Many times I feel compelled to use fabric that I have instead of buying new fabric for a project. At times I won’t realize until halfway through sewing a garment that the fabric is flimsy, thin, see-through, and not the right weight for the project. The last time this happened, I ignored my instinct and kept plodding along anyway, to less than satisfactory results. Changing your course of action once you’ve realized something (especially if your gut instinct dictates it) is important.

2. Fabric should be in a color that you will wear. – Color is important. It’s best to stick to a palette of a few complementary colors that go well with your skin tone and your comfort level. The fabric that you buy will then go well with each other, and you will be more inclined to wear what you make. Go through your closet and look at the colors of the items that you wear often, and pay attention to the pattern and color palette.

3. Trust your muslin. – Inherent to this advice of course, is make a muslin. Many times I will be in a fabric store and purposely buy cheap fabric, because it is cheap and I feel less pressure to get the project done right. After all, wasting cheap fabric on a pattern that doesn’t fit correctly puts less pressure on myself to get the project done right. Your muslin should match the drape and quality of your fabric, and should mimic the finished project. Making muslins means that you will trust your own skills in terms of sewing something that fits, and you will be able to strike a compromise between affordable, beautiful fabric and something that you will wear.

4. Pick pattern styles that you will actually wear. – I haven’t been wearing the last three dresses that I’ve made, but I wear my capri pants and skirts constantly. I went through my closet the other day and picked out five favorite dresses, and noted some similar characteristics amongst all of them. For me, they were: high waist or empire waist, straight or fitted skirts, flowy skirts with a fitted bodice, knee-length, low cut necklines, and jewel tones. Details that you are already comfortable with means that you will wear your sewing projects more often.

5. Work from your bodice, pants, and dress block. – This is more important when drafting patterns from scratch, but blocks that already fit you save time in fitting, and often require minimal changes. It takes more effort and imagination to draft together a dress and is not as straightforward as cutting out pattern pieces and tracing them, but often the end result will fit well.

6. Don’t rush through your project. – Sewing successful projects takes more time, planning, and precision than just going to your local H&M and buying an outfit. Take your time, enjoy the process, and don’t feel compelled to impose a deadline on yourself.

6b. Don’t sew when you’re tired. – So important that it wasn’t lumped in with #6, I often find myself in my pajamas sewing on a weekday night until 2 am, anxious to see how a project will turn out. I work 9 hours a day M-F, and sometimes have freelance work to come home to, so sewing time is precious. Being tired and striving to finish a project often leads to more mistakes.

7. Don’t hoard fabric. Buy only when you have a pattern in mind. – Fabric is not about to go extinct. Buying fabric in small batches that you have a plan for means that each project is thought out and methodical. Don’t buy fabric just because it is cheap or on sale. Less fabric means less compulsive sewing, or sewing to just finish the fabric in your stash. When each piece that you make is planned out, each piece will have a place in your wardrobe, and you will be more apt to wear what you sew.

8. Pay attention to detail. – Check to see if side seams match. Interface button bands, waistbands, and anything that requires stability. Check to see if the hem of your skirt is even. Be careful when finishing necklines and armholes. Press seams flat as you sew. Sew slowly and pay attention to small details as you go along. If your instinct gives you a red flag that something is off, listen to it and fix it.

9. Baste side seams on the self and check for fit. – A muslin will help, but I also baste side seams of my garment and try it on before I sew the finished project together. Sometimes the cloth used for the self does not behave in the same way the muslin does, and basting seams is a quick and easy way to check for fit.

10. Don’t be such a perfectionist. – Sewing is your hobby, and your hobby should be fun. If the project looks professional and wearable, by all means wear it. Nit-picking minor things that are visible only to ourselves (or to other eagle-eyed sewers), can take the joy out of sewing. Not every ready-to-wear garment looks perfect or fits perfectly, and often we are our own worst critic. Wear the garment once or twice, and if the imperfections go away by then and you feel comfortable in it, then it is probably not as bad as you think.

Putting a Garment Together

s50s-coverSimplicity Sewing Book, circa 1950s

s50s-garment-aPutting a Garment Together: Custom Method

s50s-garment-bPutting a Garment Together: Factory Method

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I recently got this Simplicity Sewing Book from the 1950s. There is a section on putting a dress together using the Custom Method vs. the Factory Method. In the Factory Method, fitting is only done at the side seams. The entire garment is worked flat until then. (See article transcribed below).

When making dresses, I read the instructions that come with each pattern and (for the most part) follow it. Having made a few dresses now, I usually work the bodice first, then the skirt. Fitting is done all around as I go along. This method best matches the Custom Method. Coming from knitting, where a project could easily take a few months, I haven’t noticed sewing to be particularly slow. It would be interesting to try the Factory Method vs. the Custom Method on the same project to see if it is any faster.

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Putting a Garment Together
Transcribed from Simplicity Sewing Book circa 1950s:

Custom Method: Good fit and finish are important ingredients to beautiful clothes.The custom method of putting a garment together should be used if you with the best possible results. This is the procedure: Word in units. Stay-stitch curved and shaped edges in direction of arrows. Do flat work, such as darts, bodice front and back, then sleeves. Press. Join bodice front and back leaving left under arm seam opening for placket as indicated. Make a row of machine basting at top of sleeve between notches. stitch sleeve seam. Baste seam in armhole easing in fullness between notches by drawing up one thread of machine basting. Do flat work such as darts in skirt front and back. Press. Join skirt seams stitching from the bottom up leaving left side seam open for placket as indicated. Baste bodice to skirt at waistline. If shoulder pads are called for, pin in place and fit garment. Make corrections if necessary. Complete stitching of seams. Finish neckline and placket. Press. Last, try dress on, mark length and finish hem.

Factory Method: Quick construction method is suggested where speed is more important than perfect fit. It is particularly useful for children’s clothes and housedresses. This is the procedure: Stay-stitch curved and shaped edges. Do flat work, such as darts in bodice front and back, skirt front and back. Join center front seam of bodice and join facing to bodice back. Join center front seam of skirt. Press seams open. Next make sleeves. Determine exact waist length. Join front bodice to front skirt. Join back bodice to back skirt. Join shoulder seams of bodice and facing. Press shoulder seams open. Turn facings inside. Add sleeves. The complete garment at this stage is still flat. Join underarm sleeve seams and side seams in one operation. Stitching from bottom up, leave left side seam open for placket as indicated. Fitting is done on side seams only. Press seams. Finish placket and put in hem.

Techniques: The Strap Shoulder

While working on Simplicity 2123, I had some issues with the bodice and decided to draft my own. The shoulder is one of the most unique things about this pattern and is a detail rarely seen today. I will try to draft one tonight based on my bodice sloper.

From Modern Pattern Design, a 1942 primer:

This style of sleeve removes the seam at the upper armscye and takes from the bodice a section which is cut in one with the sleeve. Its simple name is taken from the design of the cut but is sometimes given the French name epaulette meaning shoulder-piece.

Although the strap is usually of plain design, there is no obvious reason why some design could not be created which might make it a focal point of interest in a garment. A strap seam design was used as the basis for producing many interesting wide shouldered gowns during 1939 to 1941 when wide shoulders were in fashion.



Sewing Techniques: Garment Assembly



When making dresses (and blouses and skirts), the order of sewing construction is very important. Basting side seams is good way of testing how the final clothing will fit.

( crossposted from Millie Motts )

Still Sewing in the Shadows

Despite the lack of photographs, I am still sewing. Slowly. I am still on McCall’s 5094. The muslin (and the resulting bodice) was too large, so I had to re-draft.

What I’ve learned so far:

1. Always cut off the 5/8 seam allowances that the pattern companies give you.
2. Measure the pieces flat, and compare them to your measurements (without seam allowances).
3. Add in the seam allowance when cutting (1/2 an inch usually, 1 inch for the zipper or the center back.)
4. Make v notches in the center front.
5. Make lots of notches (snips) so you can match up the sides.
6. Don’t use large pins as they can leave holes in the fabric if you leave them on for a week or so.
7. When gathering, use two basting running stitches and leave them very close to each other. Pull only the bobbin thread and secure by putting a figure-8 around a pin. Always measure your gathers to make sure your pattern still fits!
8. Match up your seams. Especially princess seams.
9. Always make a muslin to adjust for fit after measuring the flat pattern pieces.
10. Mark the seam allowance on the edges of your pattern so when you’re cutting you know how much to add.

Hopefully I can have a post with more pictures soon.

Basic Pattern Fitting

– When buying a pattern for an upper-body garment (jacket, dress, shirt, blouse, or coat), choose the size that fits your shoulders and neckline

– When buying a lower-body pattern (pants or skirt), choose a size that fits your waist and upper hip. Shoulders/necklines and waists/upper hips on patterns are very difficult to alter, so it’s easiest to start off with the closest possible fit right from the pattern envelope.

– When you choose tops, use your chest measurement (above the bust, as high as possible under your arms, and over your shoulder blades—don’t worry if the tape isn’t perfectly horizontal at all points) and alter for the bust if there’s more than a 2-in. difference between your chest and bust measurements. It’s always much easier to make a pattern larger than smaller.

(source: Threads Magazine)


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