Archive for January 2010

Advice to ignore

January 30, 2010

I’m looking at the new styles for spring/ summer, and it seems that anything goes.
UK Elle (February 2010) :
“who do you want to be this season ? the s/s 2010 catwalks offer the chance to define your style with the strongest and most diverse looks we’ve seen for years.”
and Nancy Erickson (January 2010 newsletter) :
“For nearly everything that is “out of style” you’ll find a designer somewhere, someplace showing just that item.”

It’s a good season for making your own decisions.
So what are the rules for ignoring stylists’ advice 😀

– – –

1.  Ignore specific recommendations about colour :
For example I look terrible in black, for others the culprit is white.  Instead know your own best colours.  Unless you are clearly one of the basic 4 seasons, you need a more detailed scheme, or a personal one. When I was younger I fit into the Color Me Beautiful 12 categories, though I needed expert help to find the right one.  Now the contrasts in my colouring have softened and slightly muted, I don’t fit easily into any category, and find my best colours by knowing my skin/ eyes/ hair tones, and by trial and error.

Know at least your best darker neutral, best lighter neutral, a favourite accent colour, and another accent for a bit of contrast. What a waste to wear a colour that you don’t look your best in.

And check and revise your colours every decade (including how you re-colour your hair if you do), as your skin and hair tones change.

2.  Ignore recommendations about specific shapes of garments :
For example small busted people are not flattered by close fitting tops, though many other people look good in them. 

Instead know what flatters your body shape. Either do this by trial and error, or start from someone’s categories of body shape and what they suggest for each. (Or sketch on a croquis for the advanced. Sadly snoop shopping only works well for people who’re a fairly average shape.) Unless you fall easily into one of the basic 4-5 body shapes, as used by Vogue patterns or the Palmer-Pletsch newsletter for example, find a more detailed system, such as Trinny and Susannah’s Body Shapes. (I found this very helpful, but some people find it infuriating.) 

I also need to know more body shape detail, as simple categories don’t include such things as sloping shoulders, high hips, relative length above and below the waist, or how your ‘around’ measurements are distributed from side-to-side or front-to-back. These can greatly affect what looks good on you. You learn this by trying to get commercial patterns to fit ! And take photos of yourself from the side as well as the back. . .

Again, revise your personal body shape knowledge and bra size at least every decade. During and after pregnancy, people need to check every few months.

3.  Ignore recommendations about specific types of garment :
e.g. Little Black Dress, or denim jeans. What clothes you need depends so much on your lifestyle and the requirements of your workplace.

Also ignore recommendations about specific numbers of garments: These too depend on lifestyle.  Just use these numbers to check for important gaps in your wardrobe.

Again review this every decade, or whenever you have a big lifestyle or job change.

4. Ignore recommendations about specific styles of garment :
I for example am very unhappy in a classic blazer, while my mother forbade blue jeans (not my colour, but guess what I wore when I left home 😀 ) Find your personal style. Here as well, there can be a ‘big 4’ of categories  –  such as classic, romantic, casual, fashion forward. I find I like a little of many styles, one of the reasons why I enjoy reading wardrobing advice !  Casual predominates in my wardrobe, but with touches of classic, chic, pretty, boho, current. . . generally quiet. I confess that Sporty, HipHop, Dramatic, Goth, and Lolita pass me by.

People also differ in whether we like to make big or small changes as we are finding our own style. And in how much we care about whether we fit in with the neighbours. And how to adapt our own style to fit in with another one if need be.

It’s also good to know the clothing code for your workplace, and how to adapt your own style to suit, as this may affect your income.

It’s not so important to check personal style every decade, as most people don’t change. But I know two people who’ve changed their style dramatically, so you might give it some thought.

5. Ignore recommendations about specific styles for a specific age :
“No woman over 40 should. . .” is a phrase I think should be banned. Yes, adjust your wardrobe because of changes in colouring, body shape, mobility, lifestyle. But not just because you’re ‘old’.

Stop wearing tight pants because you no longer have a shapely butt, not because you’re 50. (I grew up at a time when women only wore pants for sport, and never tight enough to ‘display themselves’. But I’ve never had a good backside to display anyway.)

If you’ve got good legs, then celebrate them. There were a couple of grannies in last year’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (US ‘Dancing with the Stars’). They showed the full length of their legs to great effect. While some of the younger ones were embarrassed about it. So if you’ve still got shapely legs, and it’s your style to show them, then good for you.

If you are a quirky style of person, you should still be wearing quirky clothes when you’re 70, not just when you were 17. If you’re a refined style of person, you should be wearing refined clothes when you’re 17, not just when you’re 70. Yes of course, as the years pass, adjust what you wear so it is flattering to your current body and self and adapts to changes in lifestyle. But don’t change it because you are ‘old’. How sad to restrict your life unnecessarily.

P.S. If you’re really convinced that you must dress dull as you get older, then have a look at Advanced Style.

The advantage of being young is that you can get away with being very unflatteringly dressed. At any age, focus on finding what is best for your colouring, shape and style. Pick from the recent patterns, and off you go 😀

– – –

Most wardrobe advice suggests a small collection of well coordinated garments. But even that isn’t to everyone’s taste. It’s just a good starting point if you want to be sure you have something to wear for all occasions, or if you’re trying a new style, or if you want a plan for what best to sew next.

I think the most important thing wardrobe plans do is stimulate thinking about what is best for us as individuals. To be our best we each need to know :
–  our best colours,
–  our body shape and what flatters it,
–  our lifestyle and what clothes are needed for it,
–  what our personal style is.

And there are some heart and head questions about specific garments :
–  do I love it ?
–  does it make me look and feel special ?
–  does it fit ?
–  is it in good condition ?
–  what else does it go with to make an outfit ?
–  could it play a major part in my life ?

Even though these comments are so general, some people will disagree with them ! Notice your disagreements, and what you dislike about a season’s new styles, as they give you strong hints about your own personal style. 
And of course you can ignore everything I say 😀

New Year’s Resolution 2010 – basic TNTs – first thoughts

January 22, 2010

My big focus for this year is planned to be a basic set of ‘Tried ‘N True’ patterns.

I think there are several types of TNT. There are ones that emerge from experience. You find a pattern that you love wearing and love making, so you make it again and again. It suits your personal style and your life style and your sewing style. What could be better. I’m returning to clothes making after about 30 years away, so sadly I can’t talk about that special kind of pattern.

As my wardrobe needs major revitalising, I really need very quick and easy patterns that require minimal sewing skills and little or no fitting, and are flattering and in my style. Is that impossible 😀 Some people base their whole wardrobe round patterns like this. But I think that sort of TNT too is a separate issue.

I’m interested in TNTs as a deliberately developed ‘core wardrobe’ of well fitting patterns, for each of the types of garment you wear.

So what should I be working on ? There was an inspiring strand at Stitcher’s Guild where people said what was their absolute minimum set of basic patterns. And it was interesting what different ideas people came up with.

I’m going to take the basic 5 patterns suggested by Shannon Gifford as my starting point. She used to have an article about it on her website, and discussed it in her March 08 newsletter :

“Our basic five patterns are as follows : basic pants, classic shirt, basic fitted tee, basic jacket, a-line skirt.”

In her March 08 newsletter, Shannon says :
“The concept of sensible sewing is this : use basic patterns and update them with current details. This concept is true sewing economy. Money is saved because a minimal investment of patterns is needed : only five basic patterns will serve as our foundation. Time is saved, because we need only fit each pattern once, and then reuse it multiple times. Fabric is saved, because we know exactly how much to purchase for each item. Energy and mental effort are saved, because we are familiar with the making of each piece.’

I would love to have all the confidence about fit and technique that such patterns can give.

I’m also interested in simple style patterns because they allow for a wide range of variations without having to do all the fitting again to get a ‘new’ style.

Shirley Adams of Alternatives has this idea. She provides patterns for a basic shell and vest, and for fitted and dropped shoulder loose jackets. She has a vast range of pattern add-ons, extension pieces which change design elements such as necklines and sleeves, or which add to the basic shapes to make a wide range of other styles, such as blouses, dresses, and fitted jackets. These are the patterns I’m using for some of my inspiration.

Nancy Erickson of Fashion Sewing Group provides more formal classic patterns with similar flexibility. Her instructions about variations are in her booklets and newsletter. Her patterns are intermediate in difficulty for fit and sewing, so I’m planning to use them later.

For a simpler starting point on how to make small pattern changes, there’s the Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way book.

Or the MacPhee Workshop patterns : 335 for knit tops, 305 for shirts and shirt-jackets, and 30 for jackets, are individual patterns specifically oriented to making simple style changes.

And for another ingenious way of trying your own variations, there’s the Brensan Studios Shirt Club patterns in which you can use any body with any sleeve. There are Big 4 patterns that have that idea too – design elements which you put together in your own combinations : the Project Runway patterns from Simplicity, and some of the Crafty and DIY Style patterns from McCall’s.

– – –

Thinking about Shannon’s 5 patterns, my basic basics would be :

basic pants –
yes, and for me that means fitted not elastic waist.

classic shirt –
I’m better in styles with darts and fitted shoulders, so will start with a fitted blouse. I like yokes, so plan to fit a looser shape shirt later.

basic fitted tee –
I think Shannon means a knit tee. I don’t wear them except as underlayers. Closely fitted knits are not flattering on the small busted. So I will go for a short sleeved woven top here.

basic jacket –
I think Shannon means a ‘proper’ jacket, but I don’t look or feel good in structured tailored or notched lapel collar styles. Learning to fit and make a more advanced jacket isn’t one of my basic needs. As a first step, I.m going for an easy unstructured jacket, unfitted and collarless.

a-line skirt –
At this stage I’m not going to worry about skirts as I rarely wear them. A basic pattern is easy to adapt from the waist and hips of a pant pattern. I also don’t wear dresses or jumper dresses, which are essentials for many people.

I do wear layering vests and tunics, and they would certainly be in my next round of key TNTs. But my Starter 4 patterns will be simple basics for :
– fitted woven short sleeve top,
– pants,
– fitted long sleeve blouse with collar,
– loose jacket

– – –

Possible wardrobe patterns ?

My first focus needs to be on styles which it’s easy to make small styling alterations to. If you just wanted to use the minimum of co-ordinating patterns, you might look for a wardrobe pattern.

The simple basics I am thinking of are like Connie Crawford’s Butterick 5053 wardrobe,


with her Butterick 5300 blouse.


I’m just showing those to illustrate the sort of styles I’m going for. I’m not sure 5053 would be a good idea for larger ladies, as that top is the one which Debbie Cook had a low opinion of (top review) – though she likes the blouse. (blouse review) (Reviews may only be viewable by Pattern Review members.)

Most Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue wardrobe patterns have a strongly styled jacket, so would not be good for variations. Simplicity-New Look wardrobes include a much bigger selection of simple patterns which could be restyled, and suit a wide range of personal styles and body shapes.

Among independent designers, Textile Studio patterns (many originally designed by Loes Hinse) are simple soft classics. Sadly, comparing my fitting sloper with them shows that they would be a lot of work to fit for me. I think they were designed for a different body shape, perhaps an inverted triangle. But I know many people happily base their wardrobes on Loes Hinse’s patterns.

– – –

Using and moving on from the basics :

So I hope that will be a good basic TNT set, so I could make many different garments by :
– using different fabrics,
– adding embellishments,
– making small pattern design elements such as necklines, collars, dart distribution, sleeves, cuffs, etc.. though not to the overall shape, fit or ease of the body of the garment.

With those TNTs sorted out, that should be my main fitting problems understood. So I might use other patterns with more confidence that I knew the alterations needed to get a good fit.

Much later I might go through another TNT cycle, preparing more formal styles with more advanced sewing and fitting techniques.

Well, where sewing’s concerned, there’s always a lifetime of possibilities to work towards. And I’m a great one for changing plans. . . 😀

– – –

P.S. Elizabeth has started a strand at Stitcher’s Guild in which people list their TNT patterns.

– – –

Patterns and links available January 2010

Bonfit Bodice Patterner

January 16, 2010

I recently got a Bonfit bodice patterner – a few dollars from ebay just to try it out.

It’s fun to have something you can physically hold and draw round to make a pattern. And obviously a lot of thought has gone into it. So it’s a pity the Bonfit patterner has many problems.

Initial impression and basics

My first reaction was that it’s overwhelming when you open the box. I can imagine people getting excited about a demo at a sewing show, taking the patterner home, opening the box, seeing the jumble of unexplained peculiar shapes, and never looking at it again. I don’t know if the video helps. The previous owner of my set hadn’t even unwrapped it.

The Bonfit patterner is a set of tough plastic shapes that slide relative to each other to alter width and length. I had to read the book slowly while looking carefully at the pieces. But once I got past that stage it is a method that ‘comes naturally’ for me, I like having something physical and robust. I haven’t tried but think it’s possible to draw round the template and mark stitching lines directly onto fabric without making an intermediate paper pattern.

Here is the basic set of parts. It consists of a ‘base’ piece (top right) with neckline shapes, plus an inset to change front to back neckline. Added to the side of that are fitted armholes for front and back, or a dropped shoulder piece. The body section is added below.


There’s a choice of three body pieces. One is for back, and for front without darts. Then there’s one with bust dart, and one with waist dart.


There are separate pieces for a variety of sleeves :


and for collars :


The sections slide against each other in ingenious ways, so you can alter the usual width measures of :
And you can adjust the length measures of :
bust height
back length.
Everything else is standard, doesn’t allow for individual differences.

Instruction book : One reason why people go no further may be difficulty with reading the instruction book – small low contrast print, few diagrams. I know Bonfit had a lot of information to fit into a small space, but this book is not for a visual or physical person, while the patterner is.

– – –

How well does the patterner fit ?

Well, as usual that depends on the individual. Bonfit’s and McCall’s (fitting pattern 2718) shoulder lengths and armhole shapes are surprisingly different.

What about the big issue of cup size ?

The same body section is used for both back and front without darts. So back and front without darts are the same width, with different necklines and armholes.

This is standard practice for loose fitting casual styles with no darts. For example, the front and back at bust level of the tops in ‘Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way’ are the same. So although this can’t give a good result for people with a generous front, there’s no point blaming Bonfit for using standard practice (except of course if they claim to be helping you get good fit. . .).

More problems arise when using darts for a fitted pattern.

The front body section with darts is about 1/2 inch wider than the back section at bust level.

That wouldn’t work well for all women. McCall’s (fitting pattern 2718) has a choice of front patterns for different cup sizes (though they don’t say so on their website). The front-back differences in size 14 are :
A cup : front half pattern 1/4 in. wider than back at bust dart level
B cup : 1/2 in. wider
C cup : 3/4 in. wider
D cup : 1-1/8 in. wider
DD cup : 2-5/8 in. wider

So the Bonfit is the B cup size that most patterns are designed for. Anyone with a larger bust cup would have difficulties.

The section on fitting in the Bonfit book is short and at the end. If you are full busted you might well have discarded the patterner for its bad fit long before getting that far.

Full Bust Adjustment

A true FBA is an ingenious method of adding length and width in the middle of a front pattern, without changing the finished length of the neckline, shoulder, armhole, side, and waist seams. The bust and waist darts are deeper, and the shape of the armhole changes.

The Bonfit doesn’t cope with this well. The only thing they suggest for larger cup sizes is to widen the front pattern. As bust size and shoulder length are related on the patterner, changing front body width also changes front shoulder length. You might move the lower body piece without moving the armhole piece, but that wouldn’t give you the changed armhole shape needed for a true FBA. There is also no way of deepening the bust dart, or of increasing the centre front length without lengthening the side seam.

So if you want a good FBA, you need to make changes to the basic pattern produced by the patterner in the same way as you do with a conventional pattern.

What about other fit alterations ?

I have sloping shoulders and a forward neck. These aren’t included in the patterner. So I would have to make the sort of sloping shoulder alterations that I need with any pattern. But I think with this physical template that should be easy to do by pivot and slide .

– – –

Otherwise, for making other styles, it’s the same as any fitting sloper

Basically the Bonfit is an easy way of making a fitting sloper for average cup sizes. If you want to make classic basic styles, by just changing necklines / collars and sleeves, or to make basic slopers for a range of different people, then it could get well used. But to make styles other than simple classics, you have to draw a basic starting point paper pattern using the patterner, and then do conventional pattern making changes (described in the accompanying book). The Bonfit doesn’t automate pattern making for other styles.

And I think many pattern making instruction books explain the process much more fully than the Bonfit book, with more diagrams.

So if you already have a good fitting sloper, the patterner won’t make other styles easier for you. And if there’s anything unusual about your shape, I think you’d be better off doing the work needed to make a proper fitting sloper.

I wouldn’t expect to make anything other than basic garments from a patterner as I don’t enjoy the ‘cutting up a sloper’ method of pattern making. For other garment styles I prefer to do the alterations needed on a commercial pattern, so I am sure what style features I’m getting.


If you have average shoulders and an A or B cup, you may be able to draw round the bodice patterner direct onto fabric for the stitching lines of a basic repertoire of tops : tee, blouse, shirt, tunic, light jacket.

And there could be advantages for someone who needs simple patterns for a wide variety of people but doesn’t enjoy using pattern making software.

I think this only suits a small group of sewers. People have different personal clothing styles (classic, romantic, casual, etc.) and different ease preferences (close fitted, loose, etc.) We have different sewing style preferences (quick, couture, etc.). And there are also many different methods and preferences for pattern making. And many different methods and preferences for getting a good fit. I suggest the Bonfit patterner only works for a few of these.

Altogether, once I understood it I found the Bonfit patterner fun to play with. But I doubt whether it will get much real use, so I’m glad I didn’t pay full price. I may use the collars and sleeves, as they’re so easy to draw round. But I haven’t yet tested them for fit !

(P.S. 7 years later – when I moved and sorted out my possessions I threw most of the Bonfit away as I had never used it for drafting, but I have kept the sleeves and collars.)

Sewing Workshop layering wardrobe

January 9, 2010

We’ve had more snow here (southern UK) than we’ve had in over 30 years. Wardrobe plans with only a couple of layering pieces don’t warm my heart at present. Do any fashionistas mention double force thermal long johns or flannel lined pants. 😀

So I was interested to read about Linda Lee’s wardrobe for multiple layers. It was posted by Vicky in the Sewing Workshop thread at Stitchers Guild in April 2009 (page 15), and is based on her notes from a class given by Linda Lee in 2005.

Here is the ‘Capsule Wardrobe’ (edited from Vicky’s notes – thanks to her for posting). I don’t know what Linda’s current views are and hope this doesn’t misrepresent her !

Bottoms :

1. slim line pant.
2. soft pant in a silhouette and length that flatters your figure.
3. skirt in a shape and length that works with all of the tops.

Base layer :

4. basic tee or shell (knit or bias) that has your best neckline, shape and sleeve length.
5. surplice wrap tee or top.

More and more layers :

6. thin, sleek cardigan that goes over the tee shirts and under the vest or jacket.
7. vest/ sleeveless jacket that fits under jacket and coat.
8. shirt jacket, jean jacket, Miyake-esque shirt, or your version of a classic shirt that dresses down everything, works with the tee shirts and tops – ideal if the vest slips under or over this piece.
9. distinctive jacket that layers over cardigan and vest, under the coat.

Outerwear :

10. jacket/ coat or rain coat that goes with everything.

– – –

Vicky said Linda matched this plan up to Sewing Workshop patterns and showed how to alter the patterns for more variety. I (sadly) don’t know what Linda said, so here are my choices :

P.S. The Sewing Workshop site has changed since this post was written, so these individual links no longer work. Start here for Sewing Workshop patterns.

1. Slim line pant
Slim pants are good on me. The Zigzag and Kinenbi patterns are different styles. I would start with the Zigzag, as a contoured waist suits me and those vertical lines look slimming. I would leave out the ankle zip.


2. Soft pant in a silhouette and length that flatters your figure.
There are two groups of fuller leg SW pant styles, ones with straight legs, and ones with a shaped leg, like the Hudson or Trio.


Only a tapered leg pant is flattering on me. Even straight leg pants give me ‘elephant legs’. So this is one part of this plan that I personally would leave out. I might try the Tahoe culottes, though they don’t look as if they would be good on a bike.


3. Skirt in a shape and length that works with all of the tops.
There are several interesting SW skirt patterns, but they are all ‘statement’ pieces. I think a more background style is needed to fit in to a wardrobe of co-ordinates. So I would pick the Oasis skirt.


4. Basic tee or shell (knit or bias) that has your best neckline, shape and sleeve length
Again there are several T patterns which make a statement in themselves, such as the Teegarden, Trio, and Urban patterns. But I think a simple design is needed to layer under other pieces. So I would pick the MixIt top for wovens,


and the Milano T for knits.


5. Surplice wrap tee or top.
An easy choice as I love the look of the Salsa pattern.


5a. To fit my own wardrobe style, I would need to add a basic fitted blouse to layer between tee and cardigan, as I wear them all the time.
My favourite Sewing Workshop pattern for this would be the Tribeca.


6. Thin, sleek cardigan that goes over the tee shirts and under the vest or jacket.
For me this would be a bought knit.

7. Vest/ sleeveless jacket that fits under jacket and coat.
As usual, Sewing Workshop doesn’t provide your average vest pattern. I like the idea of a soft drapey vest like the Poppy or Mimosa. But if it has to be layerable, I would choose the Peony vest.


8. Shirt jacket, jean jacket, Miyake-esque shirt, or your version of a classic shirt that dresses down everything, works with the tee shirts and tops – ideal if the vest slips under or over this piece.
This is the basis of Sewing Workshop style : many possibilities. If I had to pick only one it would probably be the Zona (with a bit of added flare for my hips), as those dart and seam lines are so interesting.


9. Distinctive jacket that layers over cardigan and vest, under the coat.
Again this is a signature Sewing Workshop style, with lots of possibilities. For this purpose there are two groups :
One is jackets which would not layer over the shirt-jacket. My favourite is the San Diego.


The other group is those big ‘arty’ rectangular jackets, which might layer over anything. Typical versions are the Ikina and Plaza. The Valencia is my favourite.


10. Jacket/ coat or rain coat that goes with everything.
As the final piece, an outerwear coat. I pick the Soho pattern, as outerwear with a hood fits so much better into my life-style needs.


– – –

Well, I have a whole lot of other favourite Sewing Workshop patterns, but wouldn’t it be delicious to have this group 😀

Patterns available January 2010