Monthly Archives: June, 2014

A Wonderful Week of Sewing

Last week was one of the most exciting and fun weeks I have ever had. It was the week of my Couture Sewing class with Susan Khalje in Baltimore, and it was truly wonderful. I learnt so much, met some absolutely lovely ladies, and came away with an almost-finished jacket and even more enthusiasm for sewing (if indeed that was humanly possible!)

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Front and back views of almost-completed jacket

All the ladies on the course had come with different goals. I wanted to make a fitted jacket with pointed lapels, Ms BH was making a Marfy coat-dress, Ms JL was making a beaded skirt, while Ms Bd’E was using exqisite fine lace to make an elegant evening top. The other ladies were making dresses – evening dresses, sundresses, smart dresses – all very different styles, but all utterly glorious.

The first day was spent getting acquainted, refining the fit on our toiles and – for those of us who needed to – going fabric shopping at A Fabric Place in Baltimore.

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Ms T’s bias dress

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 Ms V’s elegant slim fit dress

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 Ms K’s feminine sundress

And if I thought the patterns were gorgeous – oh my – the fabrics my fellow sewing students were using were just divine!


Miss C’s gorgeous fabric (on roll)

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Ms JE’s (left) and Ms JT’s (right) fabric choices


Ms V’s silk and cotton


Ms K’s beautiful blue floral fabric

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Ms JL’s glorious beaded fabric

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Ms BdE’s delicate lace

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Ms M’s beautiful floral and lace combination 

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Ms E’s divine blue

By the end of day 1, I’d learnt more about fitting than I thought possible, and, in the process of having my own toile fitted, I  discovered why it was that dresses, tops and jackets never fit me properly. Now I’m tall (5’10”, 177cm), so I always have to add length to a pattern when I’m making my own clothes. In the past, I’d always used the lengthen/shorten here lines on the pattern pieces (which are always below the bustline). What I learned from Susan was that, given my figure (small frame, narrow shoulders, full bust), I actually need to add the length above the bust to accommodate its fullness. She cut my toile horizontally above the bust, we patched in a 1 1/2″ strip of muslin – et voila! My toile suddenly fitted! Needless to say, this was an absolute revelation, and I’m so excited to think that such a simple alteration as that will have such a huge impact on my future sewing projects. Wow!


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First toile fitting – needs more length in the front

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Taking jacket in at the back

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 Adding length above the bustline

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 Wow, it fits!!! 

As the week progressed, everyone’s projects really began to take shape. New techniques were learnt (bound buttonholes, hand-picked zippers, bodice-boning, attaching sleeves…) and refinements were made to patterns where necessary.

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Ms BH’s bound buttonhole

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Inserting a hand-picked zipper

Apart from the fitting adjustments to my toile, there was only one area of the jacket pattern I consciously changed. Neither Ms BH nor I much liked the sleeves on our pattern (too loose, no structure) so Susan helped us morph a sleeve pattern of hers onto our respective coat-dress and jacket. It was a three part sleeve (a concept I had never come across before), and it suited our patterns beautifully!

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Spot the difference!

On left of picture (right hand side of jacket) – unaltered toile, with icky, shapeless sleeve.

On right of picture (left hand side of jacket) adjusted toile with new, elegant fitted sleeve

We all supported and encouraged each other, opinions were sought (and given!), Ms BH and Miss C lent out their dressforms and work progressed beautifully.

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And slowly but surely my jacket started to take shape…

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Using deconstructed and altered toile to cut out silk organza underlining


Cutting out from my fashion fabric – eek! Pattern matching was not easy…

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Basting underlining to pattern pieces

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It’s getting there…

By the last day of the course, Miss C had finished her beautiful dress, and all the rest of us were well on our way.

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Ms E

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 Ms K

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Mother and daughter Ms BH and Miss C

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Ms T

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I left for the airport to begin the long trip home feeling absolutely shattered but elated by what I had managed to achieve, and certain in the knowledge that I would be back to learn more as soon as I can manage.


(With many thanks to Ms M, who took a lot of these photos and has kindly allowed me to use them here…)

Couture Sewing Class

For Christmas last year, the wonderful RR bought me a week-long couture sewing class in Baltimore with Susan Khalje.

Wow! A whole week of learning high-end couture sewing techniques with a group of like-minded ladies! Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, after months of anticipation, trying to decide on what to make during the class, and (most recently) butterflies in my stomach thinking that everyone else is going to be a bazillion times better than me and will surely laugh at my pitiful attempts at sewing, it’s finally here. I’m in Baltimore (the vagaries of the US transportation system notwithstanding…) and the course starts this morning.

I am more than excited!

So – what did I finally decide to make?

I had initially thought I would make a beautiful cocktail dress. Then I realised that I never actually go anywhere that requires me to wear one. And seeing as there’s no real point in making something I won’t really get to wear, however beautiful it is, I eventually decided to make a jacket. I hadn’t made a jacket before (well, until I made my Chanel-style cardigan jacket, that is, with its attendant sleeve issues…), and given my lifestyle, I’m much more likely to wear a jacket than a cocktail dress 🙂

So, I was all set to make a jacket from Simplicity 4014. I love the figure-flattering shape of both the short jacket and the longer, knee-length coat (I love the dress too, as it happens!)


I couldn’t decide which length I preferred, so I made my toile of the longer length – and here it is, looking like a glorified lab coat with writing on…


But then, a couple of weeks ago, I came across this free Marfy pattern – 1756 – for a similar, but altogether more elegant jacket. That put me into a bit of a dilemma, as I loved this jacket too. So I decided to make a toile for the Marfy jacket as well, and then let the fabric decide once I had picked it.

free sewing patterns

I arrived in the US just over a week ago, and have been staying with friends just north of New York. This, of course, presented me with the ideal opportunity to pop into the city for the day to do a touch of fabric shopping. At Susan’s recommendation, I schlepped down to the Lower East Side to the fantastic Mendel Goldberg on Hester Street. The wonderful Alice devoted a good couple of hours to helping me pick out a bouclé for my jacket and a matching silk charmeuse for the lining. It was divine! I was like a kid in a candy shop, and I seriously could have spent thousands of dollars in there, but in the end I was very restrained and confined myself to this.

jacket fabric

Isn’t it beautiful???!

After much deliberation, I think the fabric would suit the Marfy jacket better, so that’s what I’m going to make.

So my pattern is chosen, my toile is ready, and I am abuzz with Tiggerish excitement. I’ve been awake since the crack of dawn! So all I can say is roll on 9.30, when the course officially starts and I can finally get stitching!

Jacket Finally Finished

I’m writing this sitting in the sunshine on the deck at my friends’ house in New York. And I’m happy to say that my jacket was finished in time for the trip. Just.


Overall I enjoyed making it, but I have to admit that I’m not altogether pleased with the finished product.

The real problem came when I tried to put the sleeves in. It had all been going so well up to that point! The stripes across the body were matched up beautifully across the seams, and the shoulder seams were chevronned to perfection. I was feeling pretty darned smug about the whole thing!

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But then came the sleeves, and it all started to go wrong. No matter what I did, however much I eased them, they just wouldn’t fit in without puckering and tucking and wrinkling. And as for matching the pattern up – forget about it! In the end I put them in, unpicked and redid them about 6 times. And each time I unpicked and redid them, it got worse and the fabric got increasingly stroppy. The left shoulder drooped and no amount of steam would encourage it to behave.


Eventually I decided to call it a day and just live with it. After all, it was my first jacket. And maybe, just maybe, I am too much of a perfectionist.

It was at that point that I realised I didn’t have enough sleeve lining to cover the seam inside the jacket.


Many Bad Words were uttered, and a Not-Insubstantial Amount of Gin and Tonic was consumed.

I decided to sleep on it and come back to it the next day. A good decision, I have to say.

The next day, feeling slightly calmer, and less inclined to burn the damn thing in frustration, I sat down and looked at it again. The only fix I could think of was to dig out the minuscule scraps of lining I had left from the rubbish bin, and attach them to the sleeve head by hand to try and extend the sleeve lining enough.


So that’s what I did.


It was a bugger of a job. But the sleeve lining finally was big enough to cover the seam, and I could finish the lining.

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All that was left was to add the patch pockets and the trim, and sew the chain into the bottom hem of the jacket. All of which went like a dream.



 I was ecstatic! It was finally done!

But when I put the jacket on I realised that the problems inserting the sleeves had affected the fit across the chest. It didn’t lie nice and smooth any more. I’m going to live with it, wear it with pride, and take it to my Couture Sewing Class next week to get some expert advice on how to avoid this next time. Because there will definitely be a next time.

After all, it was only the first jacket I ever made, not the last.