Archive for October 2009

What can you make from one top pattern ?

October 24, 2009

If you had to pick only one top pattern, to make everything except skirts and pants, what would it be ?

This question is inspired by Rusty Bensussen’s book “Making a Complete Wardrobe from 4 Basic Patterns” published in 1987. It’s not a book I would recommend whole heartedly. There are some odd ideas – for example using the same top pattern without any size changes for a shirt, a jacket, and a coat – just by changing the fabric and length. I wonder if any inexperienced sewer has tried that, and found themselves with too much interfering bulk at the underarm when they tried to wear even two of the garments together, let alone shirt + jacket + coat. Well, Bensussen’s top pattern is very oversized. So perhaps that is less problem than it would be with a fitted armhole.

The same top pattern used without size changes for both an evening dress and a coat. . . aargh. This clearly illustrates the great difference of opinion about what clothes should be like, between now and when this book was written.

There are some blind spots in Bensussen’s technique descriptions (both pattern making and sewing), which could confuse a beginner. But on the positive side, this book introduces simple changes which give a different garment from the same starting point. And that is something I would like to explore.

Following the book, from one top pattern I need to make patterns for : pullover top, open-front shirt, untailored unlined jacket, untailored unlined coat, vest, dress, evening dress.

Permitted changes are necklines and sleeve cuffs, front openings, and length. And I’m going to remove one limit. I am going to use different sizes for different purposes.

It would be possible to choose a similar pattern with modern proportions and follow Bensussen’s styles quite closely. But here I’m going to show how easily it can be done from other patterns. As my starting point I choose McCall’s 5664 (discontinued).


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Here are the options.


Pullover Top
closed front, collarless
Here is a post on converting from open to closed front.

Open-front Shirt
open all way down front

2018 : I now have a group of 4 posts about pattern making for front openings :
1. zip, button band
1b. adding extras to a front band
2. combined facing to front edge and neckline
2b. adding to a front-neckline facing.
These methods could also be used for changing from one type of placket to another, such as changing from a button placket to a zip, or changing between an integral button band, a separate button band, and a facing.

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sleeveless, collarless, open-front, add facings or full lining.

The starting point pattern isn’t a layering top. So a vest might need to be one size larger to add ease for comfort.

This drapey style wouldn’t be a good pattern to use for a fur / quilted / upholstery fabric vest. I think it would be best in a less stiff fabrication. For a rich fabric, velour might be okay.

Untailored Jacket
open front, collarless, no cuffs, add facings

As this pattern has a modern fitted armhole, I would need to make some changes so the jacket would fit comfortably over the shirt. Going up one size would be a simple answer. That isn’t an ideal solution, there are some things that need to be checked. And if you’ve altered your starting pattern for a good fit, you won’t be able just to trace off a larger size.

It would be a good idea to make this jacket collarless and cuffless, to remove the problems of wearing shirt, jacket and coat together and all with the same collar and cuff style.

I think I would also break the rules a bit here, and remove the fullness at the sleeve head, so the jacket could be worn easily under a coat.

– – –


Untailored Coat
at least two sizes larger, knee length, full length sleeves, no cuffs

I might widen the collar by 1/2 to 1 inch, to give it more emphasis on a larger garment.

sashed, short sleeved, knee length

Evening Dress
sashed, scoop neck, floor length

This could be sleeveless. I would probably make it with long sleeves, as the places round here where formal events are held have minimal heating.

– – –

Much to my surprise, it is actually possible to do this quite easily. What an interesting exercise.

Bensussen focusses on making many different types of garment from one pattern. Burda WOF magazine takes a different approach. They don’t change the general category of garment but change its style. There’s a good example in the October 09 issue. They make 4 very different jackets from one simple straight pattern, using changes in trim and pockets.


Chanel style jacket : patch pockets, braid trim.
Party coat : bow belt, inseam pockets, trumpet sleeves.
Safari style jacket : collar and cuffs, epaulets, bellows pockets.
Sporty blouson jacket : hidden placket closure, welt pockets, knit bands.
(Another sporty option would be a hoodie with exposed zip at centre front and kangaroo pockets.)

For more pocket variations there’s Diane Ericson’s pattern for 60 pockets. That could take a while to work through 😀

– – –

This restyling game can be played from many other starting points. Your best choice depends on your body shape and personal style.
People with square shoulders might prefer raglan or drop shoulders.
People who aren’t pear shaped could use a straight sided basic style, such as a classic shirt.
Those who look better with some garment shaping might start from a classic darted blouse, or a basic shoulder princess style.
More suggestions for starter patterns in this post.

Do you prefer a softer or a crisper effect ?
Does the thought of thinking up ways of making the garments all look different fill you with glee ?
Or does the prospect of having so many similar clothes make you shudder with horror 😀

But hey, once you get the hang of how to do the simplest of pattern alterations, one basic pattern can give you an amazing range of possibilities.

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Post originally written and pattern available October 2009

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Possible winter wardrobe plan – October 09

October 16, 2009

What would be my ideal wardrobe plan, based on the Vogue October 09 pattern issues ? Some of these patterns are beyond my sewing skills, so I also dream a gifted dressmaker is excited to satisfy my every whim 😀

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Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My BMV links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

– – –

I live in a moderate climate but feel the cold. I need lots of layers. And it’s my lower back and upper chest which feel cold, so I need to be well wrapped up !

I’m a sort of smart casual/ relaxed chic with a touch of embellishment person. I’m retired so don’t need to look professional. And I’m trying a vow never to buy or make straight-up-and-down clothes. Flared or waisted shapes are so much more flattering for my waisted pear shape.

So start with the shape of the Koos Vogue 1146 coat, made jacket length :


I love this type of smock style. Both yoke and cut in shoulders are good on me. Lots of potential for variety here, such as making a smaller size as a shirt-jacket. Related to my love of quilts, I’m fascinated by multi-fabric garments. So I’m often attracted to Koos’ designs. But I don’t always share his ideas on embellishment and would choose my own, if any.

Add the Mizono Vogue 1145 jacket and pants :


For a close fitting jacket to show my waist under all that cosy wrap up snuggle or swagger : the jacket from Divine Details Vogue 8614. With my longish neck, I do look better with a raised neckline when there isn’t a collar.


An easier alternative would be the custom fit Very Easy Vogue 8626 coat made as a jacket.


I would check the pattern measurements, as changing successfully from coat to jacket may mean going down a size. According to the Ease table in the Vogue paper catalogue, the bust level ease allowed for fitted garments is :
jackets : about 4 inches
coats : about 6-1/4 inches.
So going down the 2 inches of a size change might work well.

Vogue claim this pattern is custom fit for different cup sizes, but even a simple multi-seam style needs a lot of work on fitting a test garment. Vogue Very Easy patterns do tend to be at an intermediate level of difficulty compared to everyone else’s standards !

I didn’t choose these styles because “Every woman should own a tailored jacket”, but because I’m looking for a way to both define my waist and be warm. Anything structured or tailored is not right for me.

Usually I wear layers of tunics (and sweater knits), but there aren’t any tunics that catch my eye in this batch of Vogue patterns. The patterns do include some jackets which I love, so that’s the basis of the layering in this ‘dream’ plan.

If I had to pick just one starting point for tunics (and my pear shape) it would be McCall’s 5664, as this has potential for many different versions – changes in necklines and front openings.


This is not designed to be a layering top, so I would probably make it a size or two larger if using it as a top over several warm layers.

Plus I need fur vests, as I love them and they’re fashionable. But there are none in this Vogue pattern batch. I like McCall’s 5983 (left) and oop McCall’s 5187 (centre and right).


For the inmost layer, there’s Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 8618 knit tops, one of the new patterns.


Though for an inner layer I would probably wear one of the many white shirts I already have.

If I was going to add to my long row of shirts, my favourite shirt pattern is oop Alice + Olivoa Vogue 2972. I would add flare to suit my hips.


I wear ‘bottoms’ as neutral background, so use simple styles. I’m currently seeking slim legged pants, slim as I can wear with my not slim hips. The pants in the Mizono 1145 pattern might be a good starting point. (The slim pants with the Alice + Olivia shirt pattern aren’t right for me, as a low-waisted wide yoked style is not good on my curvy high hips.) Considering the Mizono pants – I also don’t look good in an elastic waist, and would need to move on to something more fitted at waist level.

A ‘proper’ wardrobe plan is supposed to be pinned down to specific numbers, so how about :
bottoms : 3 pairs pants
first layer tops : 2 shirts, 1 knit top
second layer tops : 2 tunics, 2 vests, 1 fitted jacket – vests can be worn over tunics.
third layer tops : 2 very loose fitting jackets.

That makes 13 garments in all. So long as they’re made in compatible colours and textures of fabric, there are many possible combinations.

This isn’t a wardrobe plan that would be right for people who prefer more classic, prettier, or trendier looks than I do. My pattern choices wouldn’t enrich the lives of people who like to look sexy, dramatic, sporty, creative, glamorous. . . Nor do they suit people who like knits or dresses, or have a different body shape or lifestyle. But it fits well with my current understanding of what works for me.

Every new set of patterns inspires me to make a new wardrobe plan. Dreaming up a plan is a fun thing to do 😀

Patterns available October 09.

The balloon skirt

October 10, 2009

When “The X Factor” judges and contestants all appear in a look, you have to notice it ! The magazines I reviewed for the coming trends now barely mention the balloon skirt, so perhaps it’s a fad rather than a trend. But it’s entertaining to look at the possibilities.

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Note : Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue has changed their websites. My BMV links now only get you to a page where you can search for a pattern number.
I apologise that I haven’t changed to the new individual URLs, but it would be a lot of work.

– – –

Here’s a balloon skirt from Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton


In this quiet suburb, I haven’t yet seen anyone wearing matching leggings !

Dior has a less strong look, with a soft hem shape over a knee length skirt, or even below the knee :


As some of these skirts are fully pleated from the waist, people might think this is good for disguising big hips. But most of these styles are actually worn by people who are very slim underneath. From what I’ve seen, this shape only looks good on less slim people if they have a defined waist and good legs.

An easier ‘street’ touch of this look is to have this full shape below the waist or a bubble hem, on a parka or jacket. Or add pleats to a thigh length tunic, as in this McCall’s 5926 cowl neck top. Again this sort of tunic is probably best worn with leggings or slim pants, so won’t flatter everyone.


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How to make this look ? For a skirt, there is Burda 7610 (picture). Or Onion Skirt 3024 (see Blog roll) has the balloon hem.


Here are two designer dress patterns with related effect. The Donna Karan dress (left) (Vogue 1119) has a draped hem. The Alice + Olivia dress (right) (Vogue 1122) has the similar style of bell shaped hips.


Marcy Tilton has a lower calf length skirt (Vogue 8499).


But a specific pattern isn’t really necessary. This style is fairly easy to make using a skirt pattern with pleats at the waist, such as Butterick 5285


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For the Waist, use pleats which widen at the outer end. If the pattern you start from has straight pleats, angle them out.

Here are a couple of angled pleats :


And here are the marked fold lines for making those pleats :


Angled pleats are like unsewn darts. Interestingly, there is no picture of an angled pleat in my favourite instruction books.

It’s a good idea to try on with pleats basted, before sewing. Then you can check and adjust the pleats if necessary, so they don’t bulge and buckle and have strain lines. As someone with high hips, I know these peculiarities can be disconcertingly likely in pleats over the hips !

The pleats may be unsewn, or sewn part way down. Probably unsewn pleats, which have a bulkier effect, are better on slimmer people.

To get the proper balloon effect, the fabric needs to have some body/ stiffness. Otherwise you will have to add some support interfacing under the pleats. For a strong look this might be a good idea anyway.

Though for larger people who just want to give a suggestion of the style, boosting the amount that the pleats stick out is not so good ! In fact. I think on larger people it’s better to make the strongly curving shape below the waist using curved darts rather than pleats – gives the shape without the bulk.

– – –

A Hem that is smaller than the widest part of the skirt is an essential part of the complete balloon look. There are two main ways of making this hem :

One is simply to add pleats at the hem. They may be free or sewn down. They can match the pleats at the waist or not – experiment with how many look good on you.

Using an inner skirt is a bit more complex :

a. Decide what length you want the finished skirt

Make a straight or slightly A-line skirt lining, 2 – 3 inches shorter than you want the finished skirt. Ir’s best to make the lining fitted with darts at waist, to minimise bulk.

Make the outer skirt 2- 3 inches longer than you want the finished length.

b. With right sides together, either pleat or gather the outer skirt hem onto the inner skirt hem.

Turn them right side out and baste together at the waistline.

c. Then do closure and waist treatments.

It might be a good idea to make a ‘muslin’ trial garment to test the effect !

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Runway photos from
Patterns available October 2009