pattern hacking

I seem to be going through some kind of strange period in my life where I actually am interested in sewing somewhat complex projects. That has literally never happened before – previous complex garments, like jeans, have been tackled only out of necessity – but first I wanted to make a winter coat, and now I finally found the motivation to at last make the first of the three planned merino bike jerseys, supplies for which I’ve had for at least two years. Who have I become?

As a preface: I ride a lot. Like, a lot. If my work schedule allows, which is more than half the year, I ride every day for anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. I do one or two long rides (30-40 miles) a week, and ideally a few times a year I do a metric or full century ride (60 or 100 miles). And I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now. So I have a pretty good sense of what I want out of a bike jersey. After trying a lot of brands and types, I discovered that I really like merino wool jerseys more than any kind of fancy synthetic athletic material. I understand this is a fairly uncommon opinion, but I like wool because it always keeps me the right temperature (summer or winter), doesn’t hold odor, and although it doesn’t “wick” the sweat away, it absorbs it all and doesn’t allow rivulets of sweat to run down my back in a gross way like the synthetic jerseys do (sorry if that’s TMI). I have RTW merino jerseys from SmartWool, Icebreaker, and Liv, and the former two companies are no longer making bike jerseys at all (which is of course because I was the only person buying them). Of all of them, the Icebreakers are my favorite both because of design and material, so imagine my delight when I found basically identical merino knits at The Fabric Store on my first visit. Finding a pattern took longer, but luckily my procrastination is so impressive that not one but two feasible jersey patterns were released while the fabric sat in my stash: the strange Simplicity 1361, actually an “equestrian performance shirt” but with the styling of a bike jersey, and the actually-designed-for-working-out Fehr Trade Surf to Summit top. I decided to start with the Surf to Summit because it seemed to require less modification, and with the raglan sleeves it most closely resembles my favorite short sleeve Icebreaker jersey.

merino bike jersey surf to summit

I did not make basically any fit modifications to the pattern, I just cut an XS grading to a S based on my measurements (which is somewhat surprising, in a RTW bike jersey I wear a M or L). I measured all the pieces and found that size would be very close to my Icebreaker jersey. While I didn’t make any changes to the basic fit, I did change about everything else!

To start, I modified the bottom hem of the pattern. I prefer a gradual hi-lo hem, rather than just a duckbill on the back, so I kept the length of the center back and center front, but added pieces to the bottom of the side piece and the sides of the bottom to make a gradual transition from the front length to the back length. I also drafted my own facing for the neckline and zipper. I wanted to make a full zip front, like my RTW jersey, so I copied its facing style. I started by tracing the top of each bodice piece to create its own facing piece, tracing down the center of the front piece as well, then I overlapped the front and side facing pieces by the SA and taped them together to make one piece. I kept the back facing piece separate and stitched it to the fronts once I had attached the zipper.

surf to summit hem adjustment

I also created my own pattern piece for the back pockets, rather than use the included pattern piece. I’m pretty picky about my jersey pockets, as I’m sure any frequent cyclist is, and I like the pocket arrangement on my Icebreaker jerseys best so I traced them off. Luckily, they basically fit onto the back of the StS, the pocket piece was only a little too wide. On this version I just made the pockets slightly narrower, but I think in future I would widen the back piece slightly and narrow the side pieces to compensate. Of note, my traced off pocket pattern piece is substantially less tall than the included pocket, and I still think these pockets are a smidge too deep.

surf to summit jersey back

I also borrowed the construction method around the back pocket from the RTW jerseys. First off, all my jerseys have a seam at the bottom of the pocket, rather than just have the pocket topstitched on along the bottom. I thought this was smart, so I laid the pocket on the back piece where I wanted it, cut the back piece along the bottom of the pocket, flipped up the bottom piece I’d just cut off, and stitched all three together. Then I turned the seam down and laid open fold-over elastic on top of it and stitched along the edges of the elastic through all layers. This is another feature on the Icebreaker jerseys – the pockets are reinforced on the inside of the jersey with FOE. I also added it, as they did, to the areas where the top of the pockets are stitched.

jersey pocket detailBack piece done, I constructed the jersey as instructed. To attach the zipper, I tried a suggestion I saw on Sewaholic recently – use fusible tape to baste the zipper to the knit fabric so it doesn’t get all wavy from the differential feed. I was excited to try this, but it only sort of worked, probably because my fusible tape was “Quilt-n-Bond” of unknown age and questionable origin (does it expire?) I’d like to try it again with a freshly bought package of stitch-witchery. But my real problem turned out to be that I interfaced the facings (with knit interfacing, but still) and so my facings ended up a bit shorter than the fronts and caused drag lines when I topstitched them down. Like on my RTW jersey, I topstitched the facings about an inch from the zipper using the coverstitch, trying to catch the edge of the facings on the back. The drag lines could also be because of my coverstitch – it doesn’t feed thin fabric evenly at all, and if I loosen the presser foot pressure any more I think the screw will come off. Any advice? Do they make walking feet for coverstitches? Do I just need to play with the feed dog speed dial?

surf to summit zipper mod

For the hem, I wanted to incorporate silicon-backed grippy elastic like on my RTW jerseys. I found several varieties on Sew Sassy a while ago, none of them as thin and flexible as I’d have liked, but fine (as a side note, they seem to have more options now, perhaps I will order more to try). I wanted the elastic just on the sides and back rather than all the way around, so I stopped it at the front seams. I attached it with a narrow zigzag, laying the elastic right side up on the right side of the jersey, then folded the whole hem under and coverstitched. For the sleeve hem, rather than turn under and topstitch I attached a hem band, again like my RTW model. I’m glad I did, because I think the short sleeve as drafted would be too short for my taste.

jersey hem detail

I added a folded over zipper shield to the top of the zipper, like on basically all RTW zip-up anythings. After puzzling out how it might be attached for about 20 minutes, I figured it out, but all it succeeded in doing is making it look like my collar isn’t the same height on both sides. It is, I promise! Also it hits my chin a bit because it sticks up from the collar, so it might be a RTW feature I abandon on future makes.

jersey with arm warmers

I also made arm warmers, because I had the extra fabric to do so, although I tend to prefer boleros to warm up my summer jerseys, so I’m not sure they’ll get much use. It was a good way to try out a different elastic attachment method, though. I added the same grippy elastic to the top, but this time stitching it on right sides facing and then turning it to the inside and topstitching. I think the method I used on the jersey hem worked better, though. The pattern piece for the arm warmers was simply the lower sleeve that I cut off, no extra length added or necessary.

in actionFinally finished, I photographed the jersey, then took it out for a test ride. While trying on the jersey in my street clothes, I thought the size was good, but after riding in it I realized I would prefer it to be tighter around my hips. As it was, the grippy elastic served no purpose because the hem was flapping loosely around my hips. This wasn’t so bothersome on the bike (I have a few other jerseys with a looser fit and no hem elastic), but when I stood up at stops or after the ride with my phone in the center back pocket, the back hem just hung down too low in an annoying way. So I took a deep breath and headed back to the sewing room, where I picked out the coverstitch on either side of the front side seams for a few inches, resewed those seams tapering out about an inch at the hem, then folded it back up and re-hemmed. I think I took off about four inches total from the hem, and it’s a much snugger fit now. So I guess I could’ve started with a straight XS. Next time before I cut I’ll try to take the excess out of just the side pieces, to preserve the width of the front and back.

So, I have my first handmade bike jersey! I will say, this is the rare project that actually does save money – I paid about $30 for the fabric and maybe another $5 or $10 for the notions, but even on sale my RTW merino jerseys were in the $60-80 range. And they don’t exist anymore anyway. The extant merino bike jerseys from other companies range from $100 to a baffling $210, so I feel like I’ve made a sound financial decision here. I do like the level of detail on the RTW jerseys, things I can’t or don’t want to do as a home sewist, like overcast topstitched seams and reflective piping bits and a mesh panel in the same color fabric, etc. But if going forward making jerseys is the only way to get the jerseys I like most, I guess I’m in for some more complex projects. But not next. Next I just want to make a boring plain top.


As the weather warms up I’ve felt a hankering to make some sleeveless knit dresses. I am making a slight effort to use fabric I already own, which is basically all the fabric in the world at this point, so I pulled out a couple pieces that I’d earmarked for summer dresses last year and then ran out of summer before I got to them.

The first is a length of striped bamboo knit from when I discovered that bamboo knits are my favorite fabric ever and I bought basically all the bamboo print knits in stock at like three online stores. I think this green stripe is from Hart’s (which has a fantastic bamboo knit selection – or they did until I had at it anyway). I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it last year, but when I unearthed it from the closet this week I thought it would make a great crossover bodice dress. I pulled out McCall’s 6073, which I’ve had for a while but hadn’t tried yet.

McCall's 6073

Believe it or not, I basically made up the pattern as-is, no hacking or mashing involved. I even made an attempt to follow the instructions regarding the neckline binding. The back neckline is a cut-in v with no center back seam for some reason, and so I thought I’d forego my usual clear elastic binding technique and give the self-binding from the instructions a try. But I could make neither heads nor tails of the instructions for the back center v (it seemed like it would work if it were an exposed binding, but not for a turned under binding?), so I gave up and did my own thing. I couldn’t figure out how deal with the back v with my folded-under elastic though, so I wound up taking a small dart in the back, stitching together the elastic at the apex of the v. I should have just added a tiny center back seam. Meh. If I make this again I’ll just do a regular high neck in back I think.

McCall's 6073 back

I do really like the front bodice, though. As I usually do with a crossover neckline, I pinched a wedge out of the neckline before cutting – only a half inch in this case. The underbust gathers are a little far to the outside for me, but otherwise it’s a pretty good fit. I really like the gathered shoulders. I am not a huge fan of only having a waistband in the front but not the back, though. I remember originally looking at the pattern and thinking I would add a back waistband when I made it, but of course I forgot about that until I had already mostly cut it out and didn’t want to bother. I also tossed aside the instructions after the neckline incident, so I didn’t realize that there’s supposed to be an elastic waist inside a casing made from the skirt/bodice seam until I’d already attached the skirts to the bodices separately and sewed the side seams in one. The front is fine, but the back waistline sags a bit, so I may go back and zigzag some clear elastic to the back waist seam and see if that helps.

McCall's 6073 2

But overall I really like this pattern. I can see how it would be indecently low on people who have cleavage, but no danger of that here! It’s a better fit for me than Simplicity 3503, which I made forever ago and is actually too low in front (which is saying something). It’s also a more straightforward fit than the Tiramisu bodice, and I prefer the narrower shoulders of this pattern. I could see myself going back to this for my future surplice bodice needs.

•     •     •

My second stash dress is a frankenpattern/hack knock-off, so, back to business as usual. I grabbed a screenshot of this Anthropologie dress forever ago (long enough ago that their website still displayed different views of the items side-by-side, making it particularly easy to do an all-in-one inspiration screen grab). I even earmarked this Girl Charlee yellow striped knit for this dress last year sometime, but never got around to it.

stripe anthro knockoff

I knew I would need a generic, highish necked, sleeveless bodice from somewhere, so I dug out McCall’s 5927, which seemed to fit the bill. (I have yet to actually make this pattern up as-is, but I have used both the skirt and the bodice for various separate projects, so all in all worth the $1.99 I probably paid – apparently a long time ago, because it seems to be very, very out of print now.) I made the seamline for the sideways front yoke at around the front sleeve notch, for reference. I also wanted to incorporate the bias striped neck and armhole bindings of the inspiration, so I trimmed about a half inch off the neck and armscyes, and attached the binding with a 1/4 inch seam so I wouldn’t raise the neckline etc too much. One thing I do need to remember about this bodice pattern is that it gapes at the back neck on me. I ended up making two little half inch darts in the back neck after it was all done. The bodice also seems to be a bit long on the sides, or something – it’s bunching up funny on the sides above the waist anyway.

stripe anthro knockoff back

For the skirt I used that same traced off skirt from Simplicity 1810 (which actually isn’t even a skirt piece – it’s a one piece dress pattern that I just traced the bottom half of and now apparently I use it for all my frankenpattern skirt needs). This time I made 8 one inch pleats in the front and back to fit it to the bodice pieces.

stripe anthro knockoff 2

This was a quick and slapdash knock-off for sure, but it actually turned out pretty well. It’s kind of delightfully summery and nautical – I feel like I should be wearing it on my yacht or something, but I’ll have to settle for wearing it to work during a totally inexplicable rain storm, as I did right after I took these pictures. Hmmm, maybe if we all make more sleeveless dresses from stash fabric we can cause enough rain to end the drought! Because that seems way more likely than me actually ever sewing up all my stash.

Well hello there.

So believe it or not, I have been sewing a little. More to the point, I have a huge backlog of finished objects that I have persisted in not blogging for anywhere from a few weeks to several months… but of course, rather than dig into the backlog I am sharing the item I finished yesterday.

I’ve been in kind of a mojo slump lately, so for inspiration I’ve been trolling the usual RTW sites for knock-offable garments. This one came from Anthropologie – I love Anthropologie because I often find things there that have a design detail that I wouldn’t have thought up on my own, but that I can see exactly how to make. This was one of those “duh!” designs – four open darts to provide waist shaping in a simple kimono shift. I liked the colorblocking on the shoulders too, but I decided to test out the dart idea on its own first.

darted kirsten dress

I knew my starting point would be – obviously – the Kirsten Kimono tee pattern. (Sick of that yet? I’m not!) I knew I wanted it to be a dress rather than a tunic, and I reasoned that I would want it to have roughly the same ease above and below the dart “waistband” as my gathered bodice Kirsten dress, so I pulled out the modified bodice pattern from that piece and the gathered skirt piece from my other Kirsten dress hack (which is originally from Simplicity 1810). Magically, the waistline of the bodice and the skirt were exactly the same, so I just laid them out on the fabric barely touching at the waist and cut around the whole thing, making one long piece for front and back.

darted dress pattern piecesI finished the neckline as I usually do with a band (but because it’s kind of boatnecky I always attach the neckband to the front and back necks separately before sewing the shoulder seams, rather than trying to stretch the band around the tight corner at the shoulder). I then sewed the shoulders and side seams and tried it on, marking my waistline at the side seams with pins. I laid the dress out flat, set my long clear ruler across at the waistline, and made marks for the pleats starting 3 inches on either side of center. My pleats are 1 1/4 inches each, because measurement-wise I wanted to remove around 10 inches in total from the waist circumference. I made each pleat about 2 1/4 inches long, and the sets are spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart.

darted kirsten dress close

I did wind up going back in and taking in the side seams an additional 1/4 inch on each side at the waist, so I could’ve made my pleats a little bigger. I also left a fair bit of ease in the waist, so the front between the pleats would stay flat and not pull. I think the inspiration tunic doesn’t have pleats on the back, but I really need waist shaping in back, so I made the same series of pleats on the back as on the front.

darted kirsten dress back

The fabric is one of the Girl Charlee cute-print-but-no-stretch jerseys. It took me a while to figure out how to use these knits, but this is the right sort of project – the pleats need structure rather than drape, and it’s a fairly stiff knit. This line of fabrics is also on the thin side, so I’ve learned to buy dark solid prints so I can use them for unlined dresses.

darted kirsten dress 2

I was pretty sure this dress wouldn’t work out, so although I cut it out a month ago it just sat around until I finally buckled down and sewed it up. It literally took me one episode of the Slate Culture Gabfest to complete, so I don’t know why I stalled starting it for so long. I was very pleasantly surprised when I tried it on after sewing the darts and it actually looked good. Nothing like a small victory to goose the mojo!

So my goal for this summer is to sort through my stash and find projects for fabrics I’ve had forever and forgotten about. So we’ll see how well I do with that. It’s finally warming up and feeling more like summer here, so I’ve got a weird hankering to make dozens of tank tops. In the meantime I’ll try to post some of the backlog items – some of them are summer things I made in the fall that I’ve stalled so long on sharing that they’re coming back into season again!

Sometimes a fabric just calls to you. When I spotted this coral and blue buffalo plaid jersey at Girl Charlee I just wanted it. I can’t really explain it, but it had to happen. I wasn’t sure what it was going to become, but I bought two yards and said “we’ll see”.

I’ve noticed in the past few years that I never have any suitable winter-y clothes by the time I go to an actually winter-y place at Christmas – and this year I finally figured out why. Our climate here in coastal southern California is such that it doesn’t get properly summery (with sun and temperatures above 70) until it’s basically fall. Then there’s no fall to speak of, and suddenly in the first week of December it’s winter and here I’ve been making summer clothes all October, but I sure haven’t made anything with sleeves since the previous January. Sometimes I can eke out something fall-ish in November, but this November was totally consumed with craft fair prep, so here I was the week before Christmas and I just really, really wanted to make something seasonally appropriate. Enter the buffalo plaid jersey.

My first thought was “shirt-dress”, which was swiftly followed by “wait, no, that’s stupid, I don’t have time for buttons and collars!” So then my third thought was “cowl neck circle skirt dress?” And down that rabbit hole I went.

plaid frankencowlskater

Although I was almost certain I either owned or had seen a commercial pattern for a cowl neck circle skirt dress, after some interneting I conceded that I was imagining it and set about to Frankenpattern one. My trusty Tiramisu half-circle skirt pattern came out first, this time cut on the fold because I didn’t want a center seam. I cut my usual 3 inch tall rectangle waistband, but on the bias for plaid interest. And for the bodice, I dug out Kwik Sew 3740, which I had made once years ago, pulled it out of the back of the closet on a particularly cold December day recently, and thought, this is lovely, I should use this pattern again. I thought it a good candidate for a dress bodice because it’s very close fitting (read: tight) through the waist and I thought it would attach easily to my waistband. This proved to be true. I put on my existing top and measured from the front center neckline seam to my waist to determine where I needed to cut the pattern for just a bodice. It mostly worked, but I think I was too generous with my seam allowance estimation and the waistband ended up just a smidge low for my preference (hence extra fabric in lower bodice).

frankencowlskater back

It sewed together really fast and I was actually able to take it to Nevada and wear it in real winter weather. I also was able to photograph it in front of the beautiful new garage that my father built and sided with reclaimed wood and tin, which turned out to be kind of a perfect backdrop for this dress. Having grown up in the country, I’ve always avoided typical “country” clothing, but this dress with my new brown boots has a slight country vibe that I’m actually really digging.

plaid frankencowlskater 2

See, sometimes the fabric knows better than I do.

This seems like the time of year when you might be finding yourself in need of a cute party dress right quick, so I thought I’d share the dress I speed-made when I found myself in that predicament a few weeks ago. I had a wedding to go to (the wedding of a very stylish friend) and I wasn’t really feeling anything in my stash (pattern or fabric). I was working in LA the week before the wedding, so my cunning plan was to find a fabulous fabric downtown and make a simple dress with it on my only day off before the wedding. And, actually, incredibly, that happened.

salty kirsten

I had a sort of vague idea that I wanted a blousy, gathered elastic waist, kimono sleeve dress, after I saw a friend wearing a dress of that sort a while ago. I had a vaguer notion that I could probably hack the Kirsten Kimono tee (because I haven’t done that enough already), but I wasn’t sure about the rest. This of course was all dependent on me finding a nice drapey statement fabric somewhere. Luckily I scored at the Loft – a cool geometric print in a lightweight poly of the sort that I generally abhor working with, but the print was so. cool. that I had to get it. Plus because fabric at the Loft is sold by the pound (yes!) and this fabric weighs practically nothing, what did I have to lose? I also picked up some black ITY for lining or a slip or whatever, because a lady at a fabric store once demonstrated to me that sheer fabrics with white in the print pop a lot better on a black lining than a white one – who knew?

I then got it into my head that the Sewaholic Saltspring dress would make a good base for my Kirsten hack. It had the blousyness I desired and a built-in lining that controls the amount of blousing, which I remember thinking was a brilliant idea when I read about it back when the pattern was released. One problem – I did not own the Saltspring pattern. With no time to order a copy from Canada, and after coming up empty at a physical shop in LA that stocked literally every other Sewaholic pattern, Ms. McCall mentioned that she had just that day gotten an email announcing the addition of the Saltspring to the pdf pattern selection (I get the Sewaholic emails too, but that one never arrived for some reason), so I pushed aside my hatred of assembling pdf patterns and I downloaded it. (I do wish that there was a map of the pdf tiles as part of the file, so I could have avoided printing the 10 or so pages that were the bottom half of the maxi skirt, but sadly there was not so I had to lay the whole thing out, ugh.)

salty kirsten back

I used the Saltspring skirt and bodice lining as-is, used the skirt pattern to cut a skirt lining too (which is strangely not called for in the instructions), and used the bodice pattern pieces laid on top of the Kirsten top pieces to determine the length, width, and shape of my hacked bodice. I liked the idea of the sleeved bodice being lined by the tank-top shaped original lining, so the sleeves and shoulders would remain sheer (though my fabric is busy enough that you can’t really tell). I finished the tank top lining with foldover elastic (the only black FOE I had around was black with white polka dots on one side, so I applied it with the dots facing in for a detail only I can enjoy). I’ve used FOE like this a few times now with yet-unblogged tank tops and I like the technique – the FOE finishes the raw edges and extends out to form the straps. (The best free description of this I can think of right now is in the So, Zo free cami pattern.) I also omitted the zipper, of course, cutting front and back on the fold. I can’t imagine a scenario where I would need a zipper to get into this dress – the elastic waist and blousy bodice make it easy to slip into. Of course, as a straight-up-and-down I-shape, I can almost always omit zippers.

The hardest part of this dress was finishing all the edges nicely in this terrible floaty poly. I used a self bias strip turned to the inside and topstitched at the neckline, and did a narrow hem on sleeves and skirt by serging the edge and using the serging as a guide to fold over the hem twice and topstitch. The skirt hem is a little wavy, but the fullness of the skirt mostly distracts from the wonky hem. I also cut like four inches off the skirt. The longer skirt with the blousyness of the bodice felt frumpy, so I went for the short-is-dressy-right? idea and chopped off the length. I left the ITY lining unhemmed because lazy.

salty kirsten 2When the Saltspring pattern came out, I dismissed it as not flattering for me, but I’ve recently been rethinking that assumption and I’ll likely make it with the intended bodice in future. (I actually made a knock-off version of the Saltspring for my vacation, before I bought the pattern, and I like that dress too. Could I have hacked that hack into this hack? Certainly, but sometimes when I’m in a hurry I just want a real someone-else-did-all-the-work pattern.) I do think that in this case the flatteringness is improved with the addition of a belt, though I have not always found this to be true. As someone with a pretty slight decrease in circumference at the waist, sometimes I think a belt adds bulk there. With this dress, though, the belt helps define the waist in the midst of all that poufy.

I did end up really liking this dress, and therefore have worn it to not just the wedding but also two additional parties. I feel like I successfully mild-winterized the Saltspring pattern, and even though the Kirsten bodice in the woven is a smidge tight across the back, it still worked out pretty well. So if you’re tackling any holiday party dress hacks, I wish you the best and assure you as always that a tight deadline can actually be your friend!

In the recent spirit of my “Plan Less Sew More” pledge, I basically on a whim decided to make a dress that’s been floating around in my head for a year or more. In the spirit of The Quirky Peach’s summer stashbusting pledge, I finally cut into some lovely fabric from Michael Levine (the real store, not the Loft, gasp! from back when I thought I had to pay more than $2.50 a pound for fabric) that has been languishing in my stash for more than two years because I was afraid I would make it into something unworthy. And in the spirit of using whatever pattern has caught my fancy in the last few weeks (read: has not been put away yet), I decided to use as my base the indomitable Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono tee (previously hacked here, here, and here).

But this would be my greatest hack yet! I would make it into a cowl neck dress. Inspired perhaps by all the Myrtles showing up everywhere, I suddenly wanted a cowl dress with an elastic waist. I was reminded of this (no longer available) dress from Boden that has been in my inspiration file for a while, which has a contrast color wide elastic waist (and yes, basically an unaltered Kirsten for the bodice, but dammit I wanted a cowl neck), and I dug out the lovely striped fabric I’d been hoarding. I found the perfect contrast color in a beautiful merino knit I got at The Fabric Store in January, which I’ve been saving for cooler weather to make into a long sleeved cowl top (I decided I wouldn’t miss a few inches off one end of the piece). And chanting my “plan less” mantra for courage, I hacked away. And it worked!

kirsten cowl dress

First, the cowl. I knew it must be possible to convert a normal neck into a cowl neck, and indeed a casual googling turned up this diagram, originally from, but now available on every sewing alteration pinterest board ever:

cowl neck alteration

Okay, seems straightforward enough. I traced the top of the Kirsten and made the cuts for the double drape cowl. It wasn’t at all clear to me if I was supposed to make a cut at the bust as in the diagram, but it turned out that I had to make a cut there (and a big one) to get everything to lay flat.

tee-to-cowl alteration

I then traced my slashed piece and added a facing to the top (it’s a straight line on the pattern piece, but when I cut out the fabric I curved it out about an inch more at center to give the facing more incentive to stay flipped to the inside). Sure looks like a cowl pattern to me:

kirsten cowl pattern piece

Just to make sure, I (gasp!) made a quickie muslin from some random knit and, yep, it was a cowl! The one thing that is not addressed in the diagram that I realized with the muslin is that using this method your shoulder seam ends up an inch shorter than on the original pattern, which means the front shoulder doesn’t match up with the back shoulder anymore. I wasn’t sure how to address this, so I just kinda futzed it in the cutting, adding a little to the sleeve of the front and shaving a little off the back sleeve. Knits aren’t fussy. But I don’t know what you should do in a woven fabric, or if you happen to have any desire for precision at all (I don’t, in case you couldn’t tell). At any rate, the resulting cowl is the perfect depth for me. Many of my commercial cowl patterns are of a slightly scandalous depth, but this one is modest without being choking.

kirsten cowl dress 2

For the skirt I wanted something with a little flare, not just a straight gathered skirt like from Vogue 1224 (which I’ve pirated before). I ransacked the pattern stash and came up with Simplicity 1810, a wardrobe pattern that I’m pretty sure I bought during my it’s-got-a-yellow-sample-picture-and-it’s-only-a-dollar pattern buying phase. The shape and fullness of the skirt looked just right. Of course, the pattern piece is an all-in-one bodice/skirt affair, so I traced the bottom half, freehanded a slightly curved line at the marked waist, and added a seam allowance to the top.

For the waistband, I measured the bottom of the bodice (19 inches) and the top of the skirt (23 inches) and split the difference, cutting two waistbands (front and back) that measured 21 inches long. I was using inch and a half elastic, so I made the waistband 2 1/2 inches tall (1/2 inch seam allowances). I didn’t want to use more merino than necessary, and I wanted to make the waistband a bit sturdier, so I cut waistband lining pieces from the main striped knit.

Construction-wise, because of the elastic waistband channel, I couldn’t leave the side seams ’til last like usual. I constructed the bodice (finishing the back neckline with a strip of merino turned to the inside and topstitched, because I like the pop of color at the back neck on the inside for just me to enjoy), sewed up the sides of the skirt, then attached bodice and skirt to the waistbands. I first sewed the side seams of both the waistband and the waistband lining (using a basting stitch for one of the lining seams, which I pulled out later to insert the elastic then sewed shut by hand), then placed the lining circle into the outer circle and stitched both as one first to the bodice and then to the skirt. The inserted elastic gathered the whole shebang up just the right amount.

kirsten cowl dress back

Now, as usual there are some sloppy hacking errors. The back bodice blouses out more that I might have liked, and the front is a bit too crumply too – I would probably have benefited from shortening the front and back bodices some, or figuring out how to make the cowl alteration work without adding that huge wedge at the bust. The skirt seems slightly higher in the back than the front, because I used the same pattern piece for both and my rear is quite a bit larger than my front, plus the waistband sits higher in back than in front. But overall I’m gonna call it a success. I feel strangely accomplished for kinda-sorta venturing into pattern making. I never cease to be amazed at the ways you can move ease around a plain ol’ bodice to make something that looks so different. I’m gonna want to cowl-ify all my bodices now.

This sort of dress is my bread-and-butter: appropriate for a variety of activities from work to evening out to vacation. The fabric is a heavy, very drapey knit with a super smooth hand and great recovery; I’m gonna guess viscose? (Ha, even though I bought it in a real fabric store I still have no idea what it is.) Whatever its provenance, it feels great to wear and I’m gonna wear the heck out of it. Thanks, random capricious whim, for making me make this dress so now it’s in my closet instead of my head!

Free t-shirt patterns make the world a better place.

I am not one of those people who can work without a pattern. My brain just isn’t able to wrap itself around free-form drafting (that’s why Project Runway continues to amaze me), and I honestly don’t own any garments that fit well enough to rub off. At the same time, I feel silly buying a pattern for something as simple as a t-shirt. Enter free t-shirt patterns, my new favorite thing. I’m accumulating a good collection of them: the Cation dolman tee, the scoop top, the Plantain, and now the lovely Maria Denmark‘s Kirsten Kimono tee.

I’d been vaguely aware of this pattern floating around the internets for a while, but Sewing Indie Month really made me check it out and finally download it. I knew it would be the perfect staple top for the outfit I was putting together for the Indie Love Affair contest (more on that soon!) But it sews up so fast, I might as well make up a couple more while I’m at it…

And of course, what’s a t-shirt but a blank canvas? I’m somehow never satisfied with making up a plain ol’ shirt, so obviously I had to hack it a little. After I “muslined” it (as though it needed one) by making a plain one for my mom for mother’s day, I decided to play with some colorblocking. I had recently seen this tee at Boden (one of my favorite clothing companies for inspiration) and I happened to have some similar fabrics in stash. A few hours later I had an awesome t-shirt!

colorblocked kirsten kimono tee

Colorblocking this pattern couldn’t have been easier. My first attempt at colorblocking a dolman tee ended as a wadder because I guessed at the proportions and got them all wrong. You really need the dividing line to hit above the bust for maximum flattery, which on a dolman top means that, yes, the line will continue onto the sleeve. (On my disaster version I tried to put the line under the sleeve, which placed the line right across my bust, and it was like a Starfleet uniform gone wrong. Trust me on this one.) But on the Kirsten tee pattern there happens to be a paper seam (from assembling the pdf) that falls exactly at the most flattering place for the dividing line to be. Happy accident or smartest pdf layout ever? No idea, but it’s brilliant. When I cut my fabric, I simply folded my pattern piece along the top paper seam to cut out my two pieces (adding a seam allowance by eyeballing). I kept the back all striped, as the inspiration top is. Business in the back:

colorblocked kirsten back

Party in the front!

colorblocked kirsten front

I love the addition of the smaller-stripe pocket. I wish I’d had some yellow and white stripe fabric in stash (it seems like I should have…), but the little bakers’ twine stripe works well too. I “drafted” the pocket piece myself (meaning I cut a rectangle about the size of a pocket) and placed it where I thought it worked best.

I think these colors together are really fun. It’s got a summery watermelon thing going on that I love. Here’s an up-closer look that shows (sort of) that I twin-needled the hem (hmm, somewhat wonkily, I see now) in pink thread and topstitched the pocket in mint. (Plus this is a truer representation of the colors than the other photos – I’m still trying to figure out how to take good indoor pics…)

colorblocked kirsten closeup

So, obviously, this is a great pattern. It’s free when you sign up for Maria Denmark’s newsletter (which is actually full of useful tips and is not just an ad for her patterns). Do note that there are no seam allowances included – a problem I neatly solved by cutting my pattern pieces out in the size large for the top I made my mom, and added seam allowances by eyeball when I cut that one out (while I still remembered I had to do so), then on subsequent tops for me I just cut right on the large line without adding seam allowances (basically resulting in a size medium). I always cut the largest size’s length, because I like long tops, and also so I don’t have to remember to add the hem allowance.

This tee is super easy and goes together from cut to hem in just a couple hours. I’m glad Sewing Indie Month got me to finally check it out! So this is my entry into the Pattern Hacking category. And hey, even though it’s the last day of the month, there’s still time to grab this pattern and make a quick tee for the contest… or just because, you know, it’s great to support indie pattern designers no matter what month it is!

You ever feel like your life is on repeat? I do. I seem to find myself occasionally in a sort of rut of recurrence. For example, yet again I have waited several weeks with a draft of this post (and edited pictures) sitting patiently on my desktop before I’ve managed to finish and post it. Quelle surprise. But it turns out that repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. What follows are a couple good things that came around again for me recently.

Recurrent Nice Thing the First: Once again I found myself just a day from opening night of my current show without a fancy dress to wear. But this time, instead of choosing a new-to-me pattern with a lot of details, I pulled out trusty Vogue 1250. I’ve made it twice before, both times in about 2 hours from cut to hem. It’s a magical pattern. I complicated it a bit this time by making it in lace and adding sleeves, but still it only took me a few hours. Magical, I tell you!

lace vogue 1250

I grabbed this stretch lace out of my stash – I had ordered it on a whim from years ago because I figured the lace trend wasn’t going anywhere and this gray lace wasn’t too floral-y for me, but it languished because it still felt too vintage-y for my style. The bright green ITY I found at Discount Fabrics in Oakland a while ago. I like the color, but every time I pulled it out it just seemed too bright to be anything but obnoxious as a dress. But together, they solve each other’s problems! The lace tones down the green and the green mods up the lace.

I took the speedy, lazy route and cut the (just two!) pattern pieces out of the lace and ITY at the same time. I was very careful laying out the ITY on the lace then folding them both together before I cut. Risky, I know, but it worked.

I knew I wanted to add sleeves, both because we were in a cold snap last month, and also because sheer lace sleeves are probably my favorite thing about lace dresses. The Vogue has a sort of cut-on cap sleeve that I had to convert to a traditional armscye – so what pattern did I grab for that? Simplicity 1716, of course! I reasoned that since it was a cowl too, I could more easily figure out how they would go together. I folded all the pleats out of both pattern pieces and matched the corner of the cowl, then pinned the Simplicity to the Vogue at the shoulder where it fell. This is what it looked like when I released the pleats.

sleeve mashup V1250 S1716

For the back I simply matched the patterns at center back and cut the back armscye of the Simplicity. Unfortunately either my reasoning or my method were not quite right, because when I went to attach the front to the back at the shoulder, the back shoulder was about an inch longer. It occurred to me at that point that I should have measured the shoulder of the back piece and made the front shoulder match. Ah well. Yet another thing I do over and over again – do something the hard way first. But it was made workable by simply reducing the size of the front pleat by half. It’s a tiny pleat now, but it hardly affects the look.

lace vogue 1250 back

Assembly-wise, I basically treated the lace and ITY as one as I constructed the dress, like an underlining. The only exception to this was the center back skirt seam. This dress is constructed very oddly, with the front piece wrapping around on the sides to become the back skirt which attaches to a separate back bodice piece. It makes it perfect for underlining, since it only has one seam in the skirt (the side seams end in deep darts at the hip) and you sew that seam before sewing the back waist seam. I sewed the two layers separately on the back skirt, which kept the lace layer and ITY layer free from each other at the hem. I hemmed the ITY normally with a twin needle, and I intended to hem the lace with a rolled hem, but I couldn’t get it to work on any sample pieces so I gave up and just trimmed it neatly (sadly, this lace doesn’t have a pretty finished border I could use). I used the selvage for the sleeve “hems”, but it’s not fancy!

I finished the back neckline with a piece of the ITY and serged the lace and the ITY together along the cowl. Man I love cowl necks. So. easy. I also serged the armscye seams, but nothing I do keeps them from popping out toward the sleeves, where they’re slightly visible through the lace due to my not-quite-matching serger thread. Ah well.

lace V1250 detail

It was done in time to wear for opening, as well as my anniversary two days later. Two wears in one weekend for a three hour dress is a pretty high return on investment. See, repetition isn’t always a bad thing.


Nice Recurrent Thing the Second: After I posted my last dress, the fabulous and funny Anne of Pretty Grievances was in the middle of her own version, and she debuted it as part of her post on receiving the Liebster Award. She then generously handed out the award to 5 other sewists who had recently tackled the Duchess’ dress knock off, including me! Which reminded me that some months ago (okay, more than some – it was almost a whole year ago!), lovely Jess the Sometimes Sewist gave me the same award and I did absolutely nothing with it. So here are my answers to a conglomeration of both their lists of questions. Thank you so much, Anne and Jess, for the shout-out and for making me think about some interesting things!


What’s your favorite aspect of sewing?  I think my favorite part is dreaming up garments and (eventually) actually ending up with them. I love matching fabrics to patterns, and I’m really loving frankenpatterning to create exactly the item I want – it’s just enough planning to be interesting without having to do any actual drafting. Knocking off a RTW design I’ve seen is probably my favorite type of sewing.

If you could have up to five yards of any fabric in the world for free, what would you choose?  There’s not really a specific fabric, but really any of the print fabrics Boden uses would be amazing. I wish I could buy their bolt-ends. I mean, seriously, where does all the extra fabric from foreign manufacturing end up? I just love so many of the prints I see in RTW and I wish I could have access to that fabric.

What would you make with the mythical unicorn-like fabric from question 2?  I would make what I usually make, of course – more knit dresses and tops. I generally don’t have any desire to copy a RTW garment exactly, so if I could get my hands on, say, a Boden knit fabric I would probably make a totally different garment out of it than the one they used it for.

What’s your favorite fruit or vegetable?  I love squash. Winter squash like butternut and kabocha in the fall in soups and roasted in salads, and summer squash just sliced and grilled. I could eat squash every day. My almost daily lunch in the summer: grilled squash with hummus, roasted red pepper tapenade, and a slice of goat gouda on whole wheat lavash bread.

If you could travel anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?  I’m gonna go with Hawaii. Specifically, Kauai, and the Waimea Plantation Cottages Hotel where we stayed the last time we were there. But seriously, can that happen? I could really use a magical surprise tropical vacation right now.

What is your favorite “end of the day wind down time” activity?  Eating a snack (or four) and reading my blogroll.

What’s your favorite non-sewing project of all time?  Even though I haven’t been doing it long, the silver clay jewelry I’ve made is my new favorite non-sewing creation. I think because I always thought making real silver jewelry would be something I could never do, but now I can.

What’s your dream job?  I think that because I work in theatre, a lot of people think I must have my dream job… but honestly, although I still love theatre, sometimes I just wish I had a regular 9-5 job. I actually think copy editing would be fun… yes, you can all commence mocking me now. But I just really love proofreading.

Who has had the most impact on who you are today?  My mom, without question. What’s funny is that all the things she did when I was a kid that I thought were totally weird (like sewing, gardening, making everything from scratch) are all things I like and value now. See Mom, I came around.

Favorite websites that make life easier?  Well, I’m an obsessive weather-checker, so every morning I go to both (for the hourly forecast) and (for the current temperature at various locations around town). As far as sewing-related things, Pattern Review of course.

Favorite rainy day recipe?  This amazing vegetarian chili. It’s so good, and so easy – it’s almost entirely made with pantry staples but it has so much depth of flavor. In fact, literally every recipe I’ve ever made from that site has been wonderful. Check out the recipe archives!

Why do you blog?  For me, what’s coolest about blogging is that it lets me know that I’m not alone. I’ve always been someone who’s super excited to find out I have something, even something really minor, in common with someone else (side effect of being an only child, perhaps). So when I was discovering sewing blogs, I would always get so excited to see someone have the same fitting issue I was having, or someone who just made up the same pattern as me, or someone who bought fabric from a store I’ve been to, or mention another interest of theirs that I share. And it’s been even more fun and amazing to be able to put my stuff out there and have people relate to it, and to me. So I guess what I like most about being a part of the online sewing community is, well, being a part of a community. I’ve always had a lot of sort of unusual interests and hobbies that I don’t share with my in-person friends, so it’s amazing to make connections with people who don’t think it’s totally crazy that I make my own clothes.

Thanks again for the award and for letting me share! I’m supposed to nominate some number of blogs I admire with under 500 followers, but I always play pretty fast and loose with the rules of these things. I’ll just call out two totally awesome sewists that I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out in real life and call it good. Nhi of Detective Houndstooth and Ms McCall of Brown Paper Patterns are just as fabulous in person as they are on the internet, and they both sew circles around me. Go check out their blogs, you’ll learn some stuff!



Dammit, I got squirreled again. This time it was lisa’s fault. She knocked off an Anthro contrast-back tee recently and it just demanded to be copied! And hey, I still had biggish pieces of some matching fabric under my cutting table (by which I mean on one of my dining chairs, under my dining slash sewing table) left over from my last SQUIRREL that I thought would work. Plus I had downloaded skirt as top‘s free Scoop Top pattern some weeks ago and had been wanting to make one up. So my newly cut Thurlow shorts pieces got pushed aside and I got my tee on.

contrast scoop top front

contrast scoop top back

You may notice that it’s not a very accurate knock off. Honestly, it’s because I was so excited to get sewing that I totally forgot the original(s) had a back yoke and the contrast was just the lower back. Whoops. Well, a copy of a copy never looks as good, right? So, obviously, I just cut the front piece and neckband from the solid and the whole back piece and the pocket from the stripe. I still like the effect.

But my mistake nagged at me, and I just had to get it right. So no sooner had I hemmed the first top than the pattern was on my table again and I was making another. When I went to hunt down the original Anthro top, I saw a similar tank-top version with a floral contrast. I had a small piece of the floral ITY left from my split-back dress, and I noticed that the yellow flower centers were a good match for the darker mustard stripe, so I thought, well, why not? It’s a little crazier than I usually go for, but it’s not like I was buying the fabric special. Look – this time I remembered to cut a back yoke!

contrast scoop tank front contrast scoop tank back

To convert the pattern to a tank top, I laid a random tank dress bodice pattern piece over and used it as a guide. The straps ended up a little wider than I’d like, so after I took these pictures I actually pulled out the armscye hem (twin needling is so easy to remove, thank goodness) and narrowed the strap at the shoulder a little to make a more traditional tank shape. I cut the contrast back piece an inch and a half from the fold to give room for a little pleat like in the inspiration (and that was the most I could do – the leftover floral piece was exactly that size, provided I cut it on the crossgrain, which I did because it’s not like I was worried about maintaining maximum stretch).

So I’d say I got my no-money’s worth out of this pattern already! And I’m sure I’ll use it again. Here’s why: this is the perfect neckline. I love it! It’s scooped just the right amount, the neckband is the perfect width, and it goes together so well. I may never use another tee neckline again. I’m less sold on the flowy nature of the lower half… I love the curved back hemline, but the front hem length hits me a little weird or something – or probably I’m just used to longer, tighter tees. I feel like the stiffer stripe fabric works better in the front than the drapey-but-clingy solid (which is a rayon or bamboo rayon maybe? I can’t remember), which just wants to glom on to my pants/belly/whatever, making for a less than flattering look. In future, I will probably either narrow the pattern towards the bottom to make it tighter, or perhaps lengthen the front and round it like the back, baseball shirt style. But regardless, the scoop tee is a great springblock for whatever random tee idea you’ve got banging around in your head, and a great quickie pattern for when you just can’t stomach constructing welt pockets at that exact moment. Just sayin’.

I love the show Psych. It airs on the USA network periodically and somewhat unpredictably throughout the year (I cannot wrap my head around cable split seasons), on Wednesdays, maybe? (We DVR everything, so I have only the vaguest idea when tv shows actually air.) It’s about a guy who solves crimes using his powers of observation, but he’s lazy so he lies about it and tells everyone he’s a psychic. Like The Mentalist, except Psych was first. And it’s played for laughs. The show is generally funny, rather silly, sometimes really out there in a good way, and the two leads are very nice to look at… but probably my favorite thing about it is that it’s set here, in Santa Barbara, where I live, but it is manifestly not filmed here. It’s filmed in Vancouver, I think, or somewhere similar – somewhere with pine trees and ferns and rain, none of which we have here. All the flyover establishing shots are of Santa Barbara, but when they cut to the actors they’re generally in some gloomy, foresty place that in no way resembles California, even, let alone Santa Barbara. Somehow this never fails to amuse me.

Anyway, that’s a long introduction to my latest garment, the inspiration for which came from a dress Juliet (one of the “Santa Barbara” police detectives and the main character’s love interest) wore in a recent episode. I must confess that I probably spend at least 25% of my tv-viewing attention on the clothes the characters are wearing, and if I spot something I like I spend the rest of the scene thinking about how I would construct the garment, rather than, say, following the plot. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this! This dress definitely distracted me (so much so that I made my husband watch the scene twice more so I could analyze it), probably because it hit my sweet spot of knock-off interest: something that’s obvious how it could be constructed, but interesting enough that I would never have thought of it myself. Here are a couple really terrible screenshots of the dress I took from the episode on Hulu:

juliet dress front      juliet dress back

I immediately thought of a pattern in my stash that I could adapt to make this dress: Vogue 8380. This was the first real dress pattern I ever sewed, maybe 4 years ago – I made it in a terrible burlap-feel linen from Jo Ann. But believe it or not it’s totally wearable (still!) and I’ve always liked the design. So I pulled out the pattern, and dug through the stash to find a fabric that I thought would work. And because I’m me, I obviously decided to make it in a knit. I mean, it’s not like I have occasion to wear a lot of fancy gold silk dresses, after all.

So here’s my version of Juliet’s split back halter dress:

Vogue 8380 mod

Vogue 8380 mod back

The first change I made to the pattern was to lengthen the bodice 2 inches, to lower the waistband from the empire line to my waist. (I determined 2 inches by simply trying on my old existing dress and measuring.) The pattern also has a shaped waistband, which I didn’t want here, so I cut my waistband as two straight rectangles the approximate width and length of the pattern’s waistband (3 inches by 18 inches). Then I tackled the back modifications. I started by tracing the side and top of the back bodice piece. I determined that I wanted to have about a 5 inch opening at center back, so I subtracted 5 inches from the waistband length and divided by two, giving me the length of the bottom of the back bodice from the side seam to the opening (6 1/2 inches). Then from the end of that line I drew a freehandy convex curve up to meet the top line. Here’s my modified pattern piece next to the original (note that the mod piece is wider than the original because the original was cut on fold – I will admit that in my first drafting attempt I did not think about this and my back pieces were half as wide as they should have been):

V8380 modified back piece

To construct the back, I started by hemming the curved edges and the armscyes (folded over and twin needled). I then laid one back piece on top of the other with both right sides facing up, matching the top edges, and sewed across the top. I then flipped the back one around to be on top, hiding the seam allowances between the pieces, and sewed a line about 3/4 inch down from the top to form the casing for the neck band. I then very carefully attached the waistband in the traditional way (sandwiching the bodice pieces between the waistband and waistband lining), matching the side seams. I attached the back skirt to the waistband, constructed the whole dress front, and sewed the side seams last. I took in the side seams quite a bit to get a close fit, to keep the back waistband from drooping too much in the middle. I didn’t want to have a big piece of elastic in the waistband because I didn’t want the bulk or the gathered look. Of course it occurred to me after the dress was totally constructed that I could easily have zigzagged clear elastic to the seam allowance of the waistband to support it a little more, but I wasn’t about to tear everything apart to do it, so I’ll have to live with a slightly droopy back waistband. Boo.

V8380 split back detail

I wanted a more streamlined neck band, rather than the neck tie from the pattern, so I just cut a rectangle that was an inch and a half wide by about 20 inches long, and sewed it into a tube. I tried the dress on and adjusted the length until it sat where I liked it and I just sewed the ends together and hid them in the casing. I thought a solid yellow neckband would have been cool, or even a cord like the inspiration dress, but I didn’t have anything appropriate around so I just used self fabric.

This jersey has been hanging out in my stash for quite a while waiting for the right project. I found it at my favorite crazy 99 cent place, and I snatched it up without anything in mind for it (as is my wont). I suppose the busy print obscures the design detail a little, but I don’t mind. I do like how it casuals up what started as a really elegant inspiration. Man, knock-offs with a twist are my favorite.

Anyway, it turned out to be a good dress to wear to the huge Solstice celebration today here in Santa Barbara. Real Santa Barbara, where it’s (mostly) sunny and there are no ferns. Or redwoods. Or beachfront office spaces that can be afforded by fake psychics.

And I will say that this kind of makes me want more split/open back items in my wardrobe. It’s officially summer, hooray! Happy late solstice!