When all roads lead to Burda

Before typing up this post I actually had to take a second to look at what this blog actually looks like. I don’t know if that means that I’ve enjoyed this long break *too much* (can you measure that?) or that I’ve finally become really very cool (typing this in sunglasses).

OK, so neither is it exactly. (If you claim you’re cool, you’re not remotely cool, so because I want to be cool, I’ll tell you I’m not cool.)

I have definitely enjoyed spending less time online, and also spending less time sewing. I still stand by my earlier assessment that I’ve built an okay wardrobe. And it’s meant that while I’m maybe less eager to level up (there are more complex kinds of projects I have yet to tackle), I’m actually also feeling more relaxed about learning new things and making new things.

And I’ve been experimenting a bit.

nl6410I started out with New Look 6410 — about a year ago, I think (?).

The proportions of the bodice were all wrong. I should have sized down two sizes, probably, and then added a bunch here and there, so out of laziness I thought I’d try to “make it work” and I couldn’t. This was a case for Captain Obvious from the get-go.

Long story short, I made the dress, I realized I made wrong sizing choices, I was so bummed, I didn’t even take pictures. The dress hung sadly in the closet.

And then this spring I just decided to chop into it and take it in via the well-known and not so reliable method of “improvise and see how it goes.” The results are not stunning (see photographic evidence below) but the aims of this exercise were two-fold: (1) do something! and (2) try to learn something from this.

See? Not great, to put it mildly.

My primary lesson from this was to reach for a Burda pattern that had a quality I liked about the New Look dress.


So I made Burda 6365 with shortened sleeves and got rid of the zipper, because who needs zippers in a floaty summer dress where you can put in waist ties and call it a day?

And then I thought I could try to make it into a faux wrap like the New Look, and I pulled out an eggplant crepe I’ve had for a while:

That plan needs more work, hence the added snap closure.

After that I just thought, who needs a fabric stash when you can have dresses, and just make the same pattern again like there’s no tomorrow.



I admit to being slightly obsessed with the floral rayon one. It’s my preferred kind of time travel to the ’90s. Free of the cigarette smoke.

And… that’s the story of how my laziness in terms of fitting got rewarded. Try Burda 6365. I think it’s a good one.



Burda #103 from issue 2/2012: pleated pant adventures continue

Sometimes on this blog I feel like a kid who just can’t tell lie for fear of [insert some sort of punishment idea from an ’80s fantasy movie]. Typing this post, I realize how fitting it is for the Burda Challenge that this pattern is from a February issue… However, I most definitely didn’t just make it. The Burda Challenge project is still in the midst of fitting and all the head-scratching that entails. Since it’s another pair of pants, I thought that writing about these might be a way to think through a few things.

I finished these a couple of months ago and have been in two minds about them ever since.

It’s the pleats.


It seems that I can’t resist pleated pants. I see them on someone else and just want to make a pair for myself, and once they’re closer to being finished, the doubt sets in.

In this case, Jasika Nicole’s post about her pink pair got me obsessed with this pattern. One thing I didn’t ask myself till I was deep into making the pants was what differences between us (apart from the fact that I’ve seen her on TV and if she saw me on TV I’d worry about a candid camera scenario) might be significant in terms of the end result.

Three pairs of pleated pants later (this one being the third one), I think I’m beginning to get it.

I mostly see those gorgeous pleated pants on women with figures very different from mine, and so the proportions work out differently.

Now, I’m a strong believer in “wear what you want to wear, however you may describe and see your body type.” And I wear these. But I do accessorize them with second thoughts, and that’s not ideal.

It seems that pleats and round tummies may not be a combo for everyone. Pair that with a flat derriere, and you get even more questions.

I think I’d like to get away from the pleats for now in favor of more fitted silhouettes.


Some thoughts on making and fitting these:

I always baste pants together after cutting out the pattern pieces, and that always reveals a host of necessary changes. Out I take Pants for Real People and begin to move seamlines, pin out excess fabric, etc. I definitely can’t claim to be an expert in fitting myself at this point, but I think I’m at least on track despite not being able to ever get a fitting buddy to help with this process.

Actually, it’s such a downer to read advice such as “If you can’t get a fitting buddy, maybe don’t bother because it will be very hard to fit yourself.” Well, what if you can’t — should you just give up on sewing altogether because you can’t create this perfect situation?

It’s all experiment here, with multiple goes at basting. I find that reading the Palmer/Pletsch book and sewing blogs is helpful as long as you don’t limit yourself to the scenarios you see described. Mostly, I’ve encountered fit alterations to give more room in the hips and derriere, with fabric taken in to accommodate a smaller waist, which is the opposite of what I end up needing.

Matchstick legs paired with a flat bum and a round tummy give you some interesting shapes to play with. Long story short, I end up adding and cutting fabric in slightly different places than I usually see described, and, obviously, that leads to more head-scratching.

In a nutshell, figuring out fit by yourself can be extremely helpful for getting clothes that actually correspond to your figure… but it can also be crazy-making.

As for this pattern in particular, I didn’t follow instructions too closely — because it’s Burda, and I don’t speak Burda even when I can recognize the words from languages I know. Put together, the words rarely make perfect sense. Burda is a language of its own, and I’m not sure anyone but the pattern writers speaks it.

So I made these on the basis of earlier pants I’ve sewn and some arbitrary choices about, e.g. whether and how far to sew down the front pleats, whether to stabilize pockets, how to hem them, what closure to put in, etc.

My one discovery with this pattern is that the side-seam pockets really work well — I had some doubts and even thought of altering the pattern for slash pockets, but I might actually play with adding side-seam pockets like these to other pairs of pants.

Any pearls of wisdom to share from your own pant-fitting adventures? I’d love to hear from you.

fitting: McCall’s 7387


Fitting woes: I have lots of those. I’ve also struggled for a long time to find the right starting size in patterns from the “Big Four” companies: McCall’s, Butterick, Vogue, and Simplicity.

For the longest time I felt like I was the only one out there completely confused what size to start with in these patterns. The size indicated by body measurements completely swamped my shoulders and bust, with the waist coming in. What was supposed to be one size bracket didn’t resemble that remotely in practice. I was seeing advice online to just try going down a size, or even two sizes, but it seemed to me from what I was observing that the answer might be actually a bit more complicated than that.

And it was. I’ll talk you through both my solution to finding a good “starting size” in these patterns, and through fit alterations that I typically do from there, using McCall’s 7387 as my example.

1. “The secret handshake”: find your size

The game changer for me was finding Susan Khalje’s video on choosing the right pattern size (find it on her homepage). I find Liza’s comparison of this bit of knowledge to a secret handshake really apt (can’t find our conversation where that popped up so here’s a link to Liza’s awesome blog). Why isn’t this tip anywhere on the pattern envelopes???

Basically, you measure above your bust from arm crease to arm crease, and take that number as a starting point. Here is the rule, as laid out by Susan Khalje (and not the pattern companies — again: WHY?!): if you measure 14″ -> size 14, 13.5″ -> size 12, 13″ -> size 10, and so on, in half-inch increments.

Bam! I could end the post here because that’s the starting point that gets you the size you want to cut out. At least for me it was — this is how I finally found the size that fit my shoulders, which are really hard to fit if you’re not sure where to start. So many variables…

And that’s the next thing I want to talk about.

2. Shoulder slope and forward shoulder

Soon after I started sewing it hit me that that unassuming seam at the top of the shoulder is critical for me. I’m one of those modern-day hunchbacks shaped by computer work, and the shoulder seam in most patterns sits too far back for me, pulling the garment in uncomfortable ways. In knits, that’s survivable, in wovens it can make a garment unwearable.

Making a muslin really helps to determine the right seam placement. If you really want to skip muslining, I recommend cutting out the shoulder area with extra fabric (especially on the back pattern piece) and pin- or baste-fitting the garment before committing to a definitive shoulder seam placement. You might be surprised. I noticed that some patterns from the Big Four are drafted to accommodate the modern-day hunchback, while others were not… M7387 was, but then my shoulder shape is also different than the one they draft for, which brings me to the next issue.

The top part of the front pattern piece with all my fit alterations. Note the changed shoulder slope.

Most of the McCall’s patterns I’ve looked at (and that goes for other Big Four patterns, too, I think) are drafted for shoulders with a pronounced slope. Mine are more “square” with almost no slope to them. In order for the garment to sit right, I need to “square off” the shoulder. Here, I added a wedge from the shoulder side. (Sometimes it might also be worth raising the armhole accordingly. With the kimono sleeve on M7387 it didn’t matter.)

And, not to throw a wrench in all this, but bear in mind that the shape of the shoulder seam might differ between the back and the front piece (e.g. a sloped front piece paired with a very square back piece). If you see such a pair, test it out to see how that shoulder seam sits on your body before attempting to alter it.

3. Back width and range of motion

If you have a good range of motion in Big four patterns with sleeves, then disregard this section. I have a broad back and in order to be able to move my arms comfortably I need to make a pretty significant broad back adjustment while keeping the shoulders as narrow as my “starting size.” So going up a pattern size or two on the back wouldn’t work for me. I also found that blending between sizes isn’t the answer. It’s this alteration:


Now, M7387 has either a kimono sleeve (the view I made) or a drop-shoulder sleeve. The kimono sleeve gives you a bit more room by default, but I wanted to be sure I’d have enough room, so I altered the back as I would have for a back with a set-in sleeve.

Here’s the redrafted back piece (not pictured: the back yoke, on which I redrafted the sleeve seam so as to fit this piece).

… and that tissue-pattern addition at the bottom is what I arrived at after trueing the side seams (the front side seam was longer).

EDIT: I need to a link to another resource. I just discovered the blog Pattern and Branch, and the author, Lisa, has fantastic fitting tips. Here’s a post about altering a pattern with princess seams for a broad back, and her newest (when I’m writing this), with links to posts about several of the beautiful shirts she’s made. Highly recommended reading 🙂

4. Back length and other alterations

I didn’t like the deep pleat in the original pattern so I redrafted the back. In the process, I discovered that the original pattern gave me a pool of fabric resting unflatteringly (and heavily: so much fabric in that pleat!) on my derriere. In short, the center back was too long for me. Burda resolves issues like that very nicely in their patterns with a center back seam: they make that seam shaped, curving it in at the small of the back. Very clever.

After redrafting the back with a smaller pleat (or gathers) I noticed the issue remained. In the photo above you see my solution: I straightened out the seam at the top. Here’s what the original looked like:


With the smaller pleat, I needed to swing out the side seams to give myself enough room on the hips (I repeated this adjustment on the front piece).

5. Bonus adjustment: dartless FBA

McCall’s Patterns are usually drafted for a B cup, which is not my size, so I knew a full-bust adjustment would give me more breathing room. I could have chanced it in this pattern but I was curious what an FBA would look like in a piece without any darts. I learned all about it from this great Threads tutorial by Louise Cutting.

Here are my notes on it:


And that’s it… In the end I shortened the front piece a bit and reduced the curve of the hem, but that was a style choice, not a fit alteration. Here’s the post about the finished shirt.

Since I’m definitely not an expert, I recommend using my notes just as a springboard to researching the fitting alterations that you think will work for you.

Apart from the resources I’ve linked to here I also recommend Kathleen Cheetham’s course on shoulder, neck and back fitting on Craftsy, and — of course — Fit for Real People, whether you want to tissue-fit or not.

What are your best fitting tips? And, by the way, if you disagree with anything I’ve written above, feel free to let me know in the comments, too. I’m always happy to learn and adjust (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) my ideas.

PS: One more alteration I mentioned in the previous post about this shirt but didn’t discuss here (because it’s not fit-related): I simplified the button placket construction by incorporating the placket into the front piece.

culotte coward

Post updated: Some photos replaced to distract you with additional cat cameos and a snazzy door knob.

Culotte coward, that’s me. Twice I started working with a culotte pattern, and twice I chickened out and lengthened the pants. Exhibit A (from this pattern).

And fresh off the machine, exhibit B:

pattern v. reality

Why the culotte avoidance yet again? Well, the right footwear from culottes seems to be either heels or ankle-length boots (and, no, I’m not just saying that because that’s what the ladies on the pattern envelope have). Neither of those are among my top footwear choices, to be honest. When I’m not barefoot and throwing myself off chairs for blog purposes I mostly wear ballet flats.* Not particularly culotte friendly.

Maybe my relationship with culottes is destined to be about sighing from afar and then lengthening the legs? Time will tell.

Bonus photos: welcome to the home of cat toys and shiny door knobs.

I fished this pattern out of my stash after reading Katie’s post about her first pair of these. Katie has no culotte cowardice and has found yet another type of shoe that looks good with the length. I, on the other hand, cut my pants as long as the available fabric allowed.


“Get off my chair, human. What even are ‘pants’?”

So, dear readers, my pants-making odyssey continues. I can’t say I’ve even come close to cracking pant fitting, but I do see it as an achievement that I haven’t totally succumbed to the fear of failure. I’m trying things out and moving along.

These didn’t go without challenges. As you can probably tell even from these photos that leave a lot to be desired, these are pretty loose-fitting. And that’s after I went down two sizes from the his down. Partly it’s the fabric, which is “corduroy” according to the label. I think a slightly more accurate description would be “rubbery corduroy imitation.” This thing is very stretchy and somewhat cool to the touch. I think it has some rayon in it but it  definitely has a lot of polyester. Bought at Joann because I got a gift card from loving family members.

Any advice about how to best photograph new pants while keeping your identity secret greatly appreciated.

Let me tell you a little bit about the waistband. I’m proud of myself for being cautious enough to cut it according to my waist measurement and not smaller. Fitted at those two sizes down that I fitted the hips it was absolutely suffocating.

It’s a bigger topic than this post but Big Four sizing continues to mess with my mind. In a body-shaming kind of way when it comes to the waist. The distribution of ease in these patterns makes my brainbox overheat. I just don’t get it. According to the body measurement chart on the pattern envelope I’m all in one size bracket, in reality that never ever works. Liza made me feel a bit saner when I confessed my waist-fitting woes in the comment thread to the post on her new stunning ’70s pants. Thanks again!

I seem to be neither hip-ful (yeah, not a word) enough nor wasp-waisted enough for these patterns. Sadly, though I try to be body-positive not just in theory but also in practice, I still get pretty self-conscious. Especially about my waist. So I got stuck on the waistband for a while. And, in the end, I fitted it with too much ease. It gaps on the back and pants ride down slightly.

Sigh, work in progress…

Inside details: pocket lining in a precious remnant, bias-tape hem facing from another precious remnant

Imperfect as these are, they will still get a lot of wear. I’ve never had much luck with RTW pants. I seem to only ever see ones I like on other people and never in stores. So this is sewing for the wardrobe gap and for that seasonal list that is bound to work for a chunk of spring. Dress season seems very far off still…

What have you been up to?

*I vaguely recall a romantic comedy with a character played by Rose Byrne snarking on a woman in ballet flats as being “so 2008.” I’d give that character a serious injury from all the eyerolling.


Top 5 of 2016: the misses


This is probably everyone’s favorite roundup. Let’s see if this one yields any helpful insights, shall we?

I did not include unfinished and abandoned projects here. I don’t usually bother taking pictures of those (not just because I’m too upset). Let me note that in addition to the misses I’ve also had quite a few failures: fabric wasted or destroyed, false starts, unwearable results. Most of those got recycled somehow or at least thrown at the bottom of the ever-expanding scrap bag.

The projects featured here weren’t necessarily complete misses but their flaws have sent them to a dark corner of the closet.

#1 Polka dot Maya top with lots of unnecessary and distracting tweaks


Those polka dots hate me. It took me surprisingly long to see that, even though I’ve never been all that fond of polka dots… I definitely don’t dislike them on others but in my own case I really need to stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

The pattern itself — Maya by Marilla Walker — is fine. I made a top from it earlier that I like and wear pretty often; I’d definitely like to make another one. The fabric is fine, too: it’s rayon.

The jury’s still out on those pants (New Look 6459). Right now there’s just one top I like them with. (And it’s definitely not the one in the photo!)

Possible solution to my woes: dye it solid black.

#2 Plantain/Tonic tee in a fabric that’s too thick for a short-sleeve tee


That’s the problem in a nutshell. I wore that top once and realized that the fabric is really better suited either for a long-sleeve winter tee or a pullover.

Sadly, I only bought enough fabric for a short-sleeve tee.

I’m wondering whether there are any solutions for this one. The one that comes to my mind is cut it up and see if I can sew up a tee for a friend’s kid.

This is the only photo I have of this top. It’s from Me-Made May (that’s why there’s a number in the corner). The skirt is the Veronika circle skirt from Megan Nielsen, sewn in 2015. I still like it but, unfortunately, I’ve um, filled out a bit too much to wear it.

#3 Mesa knit shift from Seamwork, or, the learning curve of adjustments

mesa4This one is a mix of good things and bad things. I do wear it — usually with black tights and a long cardigan — but the fit issues do bug me.

As a muslin of sorts I made a top version that was an utter failure (and did not get photographed). That one helped me discover that the neckline was too wide and droopy to be wearable. I redrafted it.

What it did not let me discover — probably because I didn’t yet know enough about fitting my back –were the issues on the upper back and overall back length. I also missed the fact that the armhole needed raising by at least 1.5 cm.

On the dress version I was able to take out some length on the back by adding a central back seam, which I curved at the small of the back. But there’s still some excess fabric pooling there. The back ended up too narrow for comfortable movement. This ponte is fairly stretchy but not I would really need to redraw the armscye to give myself more fabric on the back.

Lessons learned: It’s a wearable dress, just not as pleasant to wear as I’d wish. And, yes, while I’ve had several great makes from Colette and Seamwork patterns, this is a pattern I’m not likely to make again. The unusable (for me at least) neckline and too big armscye bug me too much. The result of issues like those is that I’m using the Plantain tee pattern as a block for knit tees and dresses rather than giving other patterns a try — more on that soon.

#4 McCall’s 6891: a milestone project with a questionable fabric choice

m6891-3This was a very important dress for me, not just because I cried a lot while making it, which is documented on this blog.

I’m glad I stuck with it and kept hacking away at the pattern until I altered the back to fit me. It’s not exactly fun to discover how much your shape differs from the one that the pattern was drafted for. It is, in fact, similar to the discomfort of not fitting into an RTW size that you think should work for you. The redrawn lines of the pattern take some getting used to.

Being able to move your arms in a dress definitely makes up for all that.

So what’s the real “miss” in this one?

For one, I left myself very little ease in the waist. So when I gained a little weight and effectively went up a clothing size, the dress no longer fit comfortably.

But the more serious problem is the poly/cotton I made it in. The cheap fabric choice was intentional — this was my first stab at the pattern and I did anticipate fit issues. The interfaced buttonholes on the skirt never pressed well, unfortunately, and I think this design really calls for a softer drape, though with some body. I think it would work really well in a crepe.

Solutions? I could let out the side seams a bit, but I think I’ll leave it as is.

Resolutions? Make again, in a crepe, and size up.

#5 Abstract Anna dress, or, the trials of a bias-cut neckline



Again, that’s the issue right there. I did wear this dress a lot in the summer, probably exacerbating the neckline problem.

But I like that I let myself make it roomier — this dress has helped me rethink ease and room for movement in garments even further. And it’s a fun dress in this unusual print. The fabric, by the way, is one of the good ones from Joann Fabrics.

Solutions? Well, I stabilized that neckline with some fusible tape in a desperate attempt to stop the drooping. Too little, too late, not a real solution but will have to do in a pinch.

Lessons learned: Stabilize bias-cut necklines at the cutting stage. Stay-stitching is not enough. I should write that down in all caps and put up on the wall above my sewing machine.

All these misses and hits have led to some deep thoughts about what and how I want to sew in 2017, which I hope to write up next week. As you can see, resolutions are not exactly a priority. And don’t let them drive you crazy either.

I wish you all a great 2017 with a fantastic beginning. Cheers!

the unphotographable dress and some thoughts on wardrobe planning


I promised better photos of this dress but this is all I got. Would you believe that one was taken on a sunnier day? The clearest thing I can give you is that title and an overexposed flat shot of the bodice:

burdabutterick_dressThose cuff and neckline bands: I naively hoped the instructions would guide me through the construction but all they offered was one sentence simply telling me to sew them on the outside and topstitch.

Let’s do this in a telegraphic style and with more blurry photographs.

Fitting woes

I’ve written about them in the first post about this dress. In short, the Burda bodice doesn’t fit me. Can’t breathe freely, can’t move my arms. So I swapped it out for the bodice from Butterick 6086, which I had to modify further. I slashed the sleeve to get more width on the biceps and I lowered the sleeve cap; I also made a 3/4″ broad back adjustment (while keeping the shoulders narrow, so lots of fun); plus the usual Big Four navigation between sensible ease at the bust and a realistic width at the waist.

It took ages and three muslins but even these photos tell me it was worth the work. I can flap my arms like a crazy bird and the dress still retains a decent shape.


what passes for arm flapping among existentialists


Lightweight black polyester crepe from Fabric.com and leftovers of a more stable polyester crepe from this dress for the neckline and cuff finish.

This project marks the beginning of my love affair with spray starch. I could not have done it without the stuff. It helped me cut the black crepe without losing my mind and kept it decently stable for sewing.

Construction notes

Bust darts and seam finish: Those were some big darts, since all the intake went into the lone horizontal bust darts. I trimmed them, pressed them upwards as both the Burda pattern and my sewing guru Sheryll advise, and bound them with Hug Snug. I Hug-Snugged all the seams, possibly because I wanted to risk the sanity I had saved thanks to the spray starch. It was not quick, to put it mildly, but turned out okay.

a dramatization of okay, with modest means

Zipper: invisible, sewn under the neckline finish, with a hook and eye on top. I sewed the zipper before sewing the side seams, thus completely putting the order of construction on its head.

That neckline and cuff finish you might be wondering about: I drafted these pieces from the sleeve and bodice pieces (it’s also what I always do with facings because I never sew anything without alterations). I stitched a line between the piece and seam allowance, trimmed the seam allowance to about 3-4 mm, and pressed the seam allowance under the pattern piece carefully. I’d say that’s a better strategy than notching the curves — it makes the curves smoother. And then I edge-stitched very, very slowly.

Pleats on the skirt: I stitched down the first inch of the pleats and on the back I converted the darts into pleats and aligned them with the vertical back darts.

what kind of dance is this even?

Hem: double-turned and hand-stitched.

And that would be all about this dress if not for a special issue of Burda I got as a gift when I started sewing this.

It was an issue devoted to simple sewing projects that make good wardrobe builders. It left me thinking intensively about my own sewing planning, which often gets overambitious in terms of both difficulty of the projects and their potential for getting worn on a daily basis.

Francesca at Atelier Vicolo N. 6 can give you a better insight into that issue with her two gorgeous dresses from it — they do not defy the camera while devouring light.

To cut a long story short, since first leafing through that issue my plan has been, well, not to make all of those Burda patterns but to simplify my sewing plans.

My first steps toward that coming to the blog soon. Flap, flap.

veni, vidi… vici

My rusty Latin has failed me (and so has Google Translate). I spent a while trying to figure out how to insert “I cried” before “I won.” I’m not Julius Caesar, so a lot happened between the seeing and the victory.

Let me skip to the victory for a moment and then walk back:


This is McCall’s 6891, my nemesis for the past several weeks. (I almost said “years.”) I think it might be better to sometimes just throw things in the corner or even the trash angrily and move on. But that’s not really in my nature. I tend to just doggedly pursue the problem until I exhaust all options. And sometimes myself.

(Looking at these photos I realize the dress would have benefitted from ironing before I put it on. It was a very hot day when I took these, so I hope you can forgive me for choosing not to iron.)

But I’m definitely not planning on exhausting you, so I’ll try to make the weepy parts telegraphic rather than descriptive.

Let’s break it down:


I wrote about how I got the pattern and realized how different the dress could look from the one on the pattern envelope. I blame Kirsten Dunst for what followed.


Seeing what I needed to attend to in order to fit this pattern wasn’t easy. So, Ceasar, this is where we part ways for a while.

I’ve vented about the sizing in these patterns a lot already (maybe too much?). Trying to crack the logic behind it is like a new hobby at this point. Fit for Real People, as great a book as it is, tries to convince you that Big Four sizing is the best and most sensible. I understand that the sizing is supposed to somehow magically end up working for all figure types, hence the 4″ of unnecessary ease slapped on the shoulders and bust area. Figuring out which size to actually cut out for the shoulders is a quest for secret clues (my own favorite clue comes from Susan Khalje). But I’m still not convinced that grading wildly between three sizes (which is what I apparently have to do) is such a great way to arrive at your size.

Bullet points from here on:

  • the straightforward alterations: forward shoulder adjustment, square shoulder tweak, and a pretty significant sway back alteration (the back is drafted looooong)
  • some of you might remember that after attaching the sleeves I couldn’t move my arms in this dress. I did a broad upper back alteration, following Sunni Standing’s excellent advice. That involved cutting out a new back bodice from leftover fabric.
  • After attaching the sleeves to the new bodice I still couldn’t move my arms. So I took a closer look at the sleeves. Thanks to Kenneth D. King’s  video and article in Threads
    I was able to redraft the sleeves to give myself room for movement. I don’t think I arrived at a perfect sleeves, but I can move, so VICTORY!

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The skirt was a straightforward circle skirt, so no challenges there. That concludes fitting. But sewing held some surprises as well.

Edit: Oh, hot tip for hemming the circle skirt — while I was struggling with the bodice, I hung up the skirt on a hanger. It ended up hanging for about two weeks, after which I marked a new hem, evening it out where the bias dropped. Measuring was a bit easier on the unattached skirt.

Before vici, the collar

The pattern envelope claims it’s an easy pattern to sew, but I don’t think that sewing within a millimeter of a pattern mark from two opposite directions falls into that category, McCall’s. And that’s what you have to do to get the collar right. If you end up too far from the mark, you get a hole. If you accidentally sew through the mark, you can’t turn the collar pieces.

The instructions for the collar are sparse. But I haven’t found anything that helpful online. Jane has good tips on navigating another tricky point in this collar style. What was most difficult for me, though, was figuring out how the collar and facings move when you flip things to hide the wrong sides. The pattern doesn’t tell you that, so for my first try I set out to follow the instructions with a handsewing needle. That was helpful. Once I understood that the collar and the facings move independently (don’t sew through those pesky dot marks!), I was on the right track. Trimming the seam allowances exactly to the pattern’s specifications helps very much as well.


I like this dress. I like it a lot. I think I might make it again, now that I’ve fitted it and drawn up new pattern pieces that work. Getting through all the fitting and redrafting really did give me a sense of accomplishment. It was learning the hard way, without the certainty that I’d get a wearable garment out of it at the end. But I did! And I’m also feeling a bit more confident about fitting Big Four patterns.

That said, would I recommend it to others? Yes and no.


  • if you’re not obsessed with this style but rather looking for a fairly easy shirt dress, I’d recommend looking for a different pattern
  • if you don’t want to make a muslin and you haven’t yet figured out what your typical adjustments are in Big Four patterns
  • if having to potentially redraft a sleeve is a deal breaker for you


  • if you’re in love with this style and really want to make it
  • if you don’t mind spending time fitting
  • if you don’t mind potentially having to redraft pattern pieces

Case not settled. The jury is split between “Recommend, with modifications” and “Try to look for a shirtdress pattern with clearer instructions, clearer sizing, and more movement-friendly sleeves before you try this one.”

Verdict: Case not settled. The jury is split between “Recommend, with modifications” and “Try to look for a shirtdress pattern with clearer instructions, clearer sizing, and more movement-friendly sleeves before you try this one.”

Over to you: I’d love to hear from you if you have any pattern deal breakers and how you decide how to rate a pattern.




not my Eureka but I’ll take it!

Image found here.

Hello! Fitting quest week continues. Before I went on a long ramble about tape measures, I left my recent dress fitting mishap unresolved, with two potential ways forward. Those were: (1) go sleeveless, or (2) figure out how to get more room on the back and recut the back.

The first one is obviously the saner of the two. But the second one is as appealing as it is masochistic. Why?, you might ask. Because not being able to move my arms in McCall’s 6891 scared me like the ghost of Christmas future. Regardless of what I do with that particular dress, I’m now pretty obsessed with getting at least an estimate of how much width I need on the upper back.

Luckily, when I was done crying about this newly discovered fitting challenge, I remembered that I had actually read a really good description of it. Sunni Standing writes about fitting clearly, and with encouragement, which is exceptional. This post about her own fitting process for extra upper back width is really illuminating.

This is also a lesson about the different silhouettes for which pattern companies and designers draft. I didn’t have this issue show up in the Colette patterns I’ve sewn so far. And, trust me, after last week’s fiasco I did put several of those clothes on wondering (half-crazed) whether I somehow ignored not being to able to move my arms in them. And I learned that I didn’t dream it, I can move my arms in them.

A lot of work left on this one. How’s your sewing going?


…And disaster struck.

These photos won’t tell you anything about the problem but I’m not up to demonstrating the issue. So here are the photos and below them is where I get overly dramatic.

This is McCall’s 6891 in progress. The bodice looks innocent enough, doesn’t it?

I muslined this bodice. I was pretty determined, in fact, to finally figure out my size above the waist in Big Four patterns. I thought I had arrived at something workable with that muslin — it seemed like two sizes down from the recommended size, with some grading for the waist, would finally work. (By the way, that went along with all that advice about picking the size based on your high bust measurement, and with that trick suggested by Susan Khalje.)

The muslin fit fine. I moved around in it, it moved with me. But my bad for being too lazy to muslin the sleeves and believing I could eyeball the seamlines.

Because once I basted in the sleeves, I wasn’t able to move my arms at all. Ironically, I made up the muslin in a very similar fabric to the dress. So much for that…

It seems like I have an adorable combination of narrow shoulders and a broad back. Or that’s at least what I arrived at after obsessively studying Fit for Real People and Sarah Veblen’s The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting for the past two days.

That’s never come up for me before. Not with the indie patterns I’ve tried. I ended up trying on most of my tops and dresses, but no, I didn’t just dream that they fit. They actually do fit, and I am able to move in them.

From the perspective of how the Big Four patterns are drafted, I feel like some mythical beast patched together from different animals. No damn clue what else I could do at this point to figure out the fit.

Back to the drawing board.

fitting punishment

Can you spot a theme?

Dear readers (well, I’m not someone who can pull off calling people “darlings” so there you go — “readers” it is), I hope that wherever you are Sunday morning didn’t wake you with the ironic synesthesia of blinding snow cackling into your ear, “so you thought it was spring, sucker!”

My coping strategy was to go to Joann’s and give in to the McCall’s pattern sale that was just ending. Here’s the thing though: all my attempts to fit patterns from the Big Four to my body above the waist have so far ended in failure. Maybe I lack the courage and the stamina required to fiddle with calculating just how many sizes I should go down so as not to swamp my shoulders in fabric, and then with properly muslining, and making further adjustments… but really what is the point in suggesting the wrong size to your customer to begin with?

It doesn’t seem to be just a question of how different bodies are since I have yet to come across a sewing blogger or pattern reviewer saying that making a garment up in the size suggested for their body measurements worked out fine.

Given that shoulders are actually pretty hard to fit correctly — never mind re-size if you’re starting with a size that is too big — what point is there in not giving any measurements for the shoulder area on the envelope (not even for a suggested size), not to mention giving almost no information about finished measurements on that envelope? And I haven’t even gotten to those 4″ of ease in the bust… Have you met anyone who wanted 4″ of ease in a fitted garment?

I did come across some very helpful advice about fitting patterns from the Big Four. Most helpful perhaps was a video on choosing the right size from Susan Khalje. (Sadly, it’s impossible to link to directly — you need to scroll through the homepage to find it.) This post on Nancy Zieman’s tips is also great. What is perhaps most interesting about them is how the advice really just goes against all those “suggestions” you will find on McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick, and Simplicity pattern envelopes…

So I will definitely go back to the drawing board with fitting these patterns. I really can’t stand having a collection of seemingly untouchable, dead-end patterns, since, as you can see, I am having a hard time resisting the siren song of big sales on them.

Advice is, of course, most welcome, but so are your stories about fitting these patterns — success stories and fitting nightmares alike. Please share!