Archive for February 2010

Faced slash/ slit openings

February 27, 2010

I’ve always had a phobia for making slash openings. So I’ve been astonished how often they appear in Very Easy patterns or patterns for beginners. But I’ve found very little on the internet about sewing them, so perhaps everyone else does find them easy !

Me, I found it impossible to make them so the end lays flat without crinkles. And strong enough that it doesn’t fray or tear easily.

The secret is that for many years I’ve been using the wrong method. And now I’ve tried a different method – they really are quite easy !

Perhaps I’m the only person in the world who has this problem. But if there are any other people like me, then this is for you 😀

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Don’t stitch to a point :

Here’s an example of sewing a narrow V shape.


It’s obvious that it’s nearly impossible to cut between the sewing lines right down to the bottom of the slit.
And if you did, the seam allowances would be almost non-existent.
Not a strong result.

Whenever I’ve tried turning this sort of V, I’ve got a lumpy wavy mess.
Not something I want in the middle of the front of my garments.

Several books tell you to use this method (e.g. ‘Simply the Best’ p.229, Rene Bergh ‘Dressmaker’s Handbook’ p.69). So, many people must get a good result this way. Good for you if you can do it. But I’ve never managed it.

– – –

Do take stitches across the end of the slit :

The alternative is to sew a blunt-ended slit, with some stitches sewn across.

Here’s the basic technique :
This is a combination of methods in Kwik Sew 3302 and ‘Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers’ p.326, plus some little bits I’ve noticed myself.

Interfacing :
Fusible interfacing of course helps stabilise fabric and strengthen the end of the slit, but it isn’t essential unless the fabric frays easily. If you don’t want to interface the entire facing but want to strengthen the end of the slit, use a 2-inch square of interfacing at the end.
Use light interfacing which barely adds any bulk.

Mark the slit stitching lines on the interfacing, or on the back of the facing fabric.
Lines at the open end need to be a minimum of 1/4 inch apart.
See later for how wide to mark the blunt end of the slit.


Set the machine at 1.5 mm stitch length (16-17 st. per in.)

Sew down one side of the slit, across the bottom, and up the other side.

Cut half way between the stitching lines, then into the corners at the end.
Use good tipped (small) scissors to cut up to but not through the stitching,
and good light so you can see the stitches.
Some people find it helpful to put a pin in the corners to make sure you don’t cut the stitching.
The quality and strength of the end depend on this cutting.

Press the side seams flat.
Press the seams open if it’s possible to get at them (a point presser may help if you have one).
Turn the facing in.

Finger press so seam is at edge of opening,
and press, one side at a time.
Flatten the slit out and press the end.
Hurrah !

– – –

How wide to stitch across the bottom ?

One stitch across (1.5 mm, 1/16 inch) :

Vogue Sewing 1982 and Alison Smith ‘The Sewing Book’ (lingerie expert) tell you to take one stitch across the bottom of the slit.

One stitch across the bottom means the end of the sewing is 1.5 mm, 1/16 inch wide. If a strip that wide is cut in half, the seam allowances are less than 1-mm, 1/32 inch wide. For most fabric weaves, that is very little substance.

So I think such a narrow bottom of the opening only works well in finely woven fabrics. And I think you need good technique, to sew and cut very accurate straight lines. And use fine thread.

Good for lingerie silk, but I would have difficulty with the technical accuracy of the sewing and cutting needed.

– – –

Two Stitches across (3 mm, 1/8 inch) :

This is the width recommended in ‘Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers’.

Taking two 1.5 mm stitches gives an end measuring 3 mm, 1/8 inch.
So the seam allowances are 1.5 mm, 1/16 inch wide.
This is acceptable with a fabric that has as fine threads and is as tightly woven as a typical quilting cotton.

Here is the result I achieved without difficulty (no interfacing).
(Photos are bigger than the real thing. Fabric is a print.)


The result is sufficiently neat. I don’t think anyone is going to notice the end of the opening isn’t a point.

But this does depend on the fabric.
Here is a loosely woven tweed, sewn with 2 stitches at the end.


As you can see, if this slit was cut down the middle, there would only be one fabric thread in each seam allowance. Not a strong result.

– – –

Three Stitches across (4.5 mm, 3/16 inch) :

This is the width at the bottom of the slit in Kwik Sew beginners’ pattern 3302.
I think this is a good width for a first attempt.
But I don’t think it’s necessary with a cotton/ poly-cotton broadcloth type weave, once you’re confident you can sew and cut reasonably accurately.

Here are a 2-stitch end (above) and a 3-stitch end (below) in quilting cotton.


So 3 stitches are not necessary in a weave like a quilting cotton.
But I think they could be good for a coarser weave such as linen or a slub silk.

– – –

Four Stitches across (6 mm, 1/4 inch) :

Here’s the loose weave fabric, sewn with 4 stitches across the bottom of the slit.
Not too bad at all. Not prize winning technique (or photos !), but the seam allowances don’t feel insecure.


– – –

So my vote is for this technique is :
– sew a blunt end to the slit.
– vary the width of the blunt end according to the weave of the fabric.
– test fabric-interfacing combinations.

I’m very pleased this feature is now possible for me.

This method is also good for other techniques which slash into the fabric, such as :
– continuous band sleeve placket,
– polo neck opening.
Also other sharp inward corners on a facing, such as scallops.
And once you can do this very narrow ‘corner’, then the corners of V and square necks, even of welt pockets, may seem simple by contrast 😀

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Choosing and Changing Necklines

February 20, 2010

This post has been updated in 2 sections :
Choosing necklines
Changing a pattern neckline

Do you know what is the best neckline for you ? There’s much to consider. There’s the shape of neckline that enhances your upper body. There’s the shape of neckline that flatters your face. And the widths and depths of neckline that go best with your proportions. All that before you even think about pattern making techniques for changing a neckline.

– – –

The neckline shape that flatters your body :

If you search ‘choose neckline’ you’ll find a lot of guidance, especially about the best necklines for your body shape, your combination of neck, shoulders and bust. These are some of the links I like, and which give different perspectives :

[The links I gave in early 2010 are now very out of date. Search ‘neckline” to get a useful selection.]

(P.S. see also Amy Herzog’s ‘Fit to Flatter’ tutorial on necklines.)

– – –

What about flattering your face :

To think about this, you need to be aware of the shape of your facial features – your jaw, lips, nose, eyes, eyebrows – are the edge lines straight or curved ?

‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ is an expensive beautiful book with many reproduction art works of women. The aim is to show that, whatever your shape, someone has found it worth celebrating. There’s an interesting section on facial features, pp. 16 – 21.

Once you’ve decided whether your features are straight or curved, there’s confliciting advice about what to do with this information. Some people say the best neckline echoes the shape of your features. Others say the best neckline counteracts your features, so use curved shapes if you have an angular face, angular ones if you’re curved. Perhaps the choice between these attitudes depends on personal style, rather than there being one answer which is right for everybody.

The shapes of your face might influence for example whether you look better in a V-neckline with straight edges or with a slightly curved shape.

So do some experimenting. Cut neckline shapes from kitchen towel and try them out.

‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ says you can wear any shape of neckline, so long as it balances your face with your body. Though they recommend echoing your jawline.

Personally I agree with going for shapes that echo the curves of my features. Necklines with sharp angles seem out-of-kilter with my face. But then I prefer softer curved looks anyway. And also, I’m old enough to have ‘jowls’. I find my best neckline is the shape that echoes what my jawline shape used to be 😀

– – –

Width of neckline :

Gale Grigg Hazen has an ingenious suggestion about measuring necklines, in her book “Fantastic Fit for Every Body”. Use a 6 inch x 24 inch transparent (quilters) ruler to measure how wide your neck is, and how far your straps are from your centre line.

”gghneck” (GGH-FFEB p.170)

Use these measures to check pattern necklines : wide enough for your neck ? too wide to cover your straps ?

‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ says your neckline or collar opening should be wider than the widest part of your face. For most of us that means we aren’t at our best in a jewel neckline which is close fitting round the neck.

– – –

Depth and balance :

‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ has some fascinating suggestions about flattering neckline depths, pp. 49 – 55. They suggest two ‘balance points’, for high necklines and low.

All their measurements need to be made vertical and straight, with a ruler. Not over the bumps, as you would using a tape measure.

High neckline

Measure vertically from the widest part of your face to the tip of your chin. Your widest point could be at your forehead, your check bones, or somewhere on your jaw.

I’m 3-1/2 inches vertical from cheek bone to tip of chin.


Measure that distance down from the neck end of your shoulder.
Across from there is the most flattering point for your upper neckline.

On me this comes at the level of my collar bones. I’ve long known that a neckline closely fitting my neck doesn’t look good on me.

Low neckline

Measure vertically from your hairline to the tip of your chin.
Or, if you always wear a hair style that substantially covers your forehead, measure down from your hair.

I have a long face, and on me this is 8 inches.


Wear something that you don’t mind sticking a pin into or marking.

Measure the length of your face down from the tip of your chin, On me that comes near my bust point.
Mark that level, which is said to be the most flattering level for lower necklines.

You need to convert this to a measure that can be compared with a pattern. So measure from the neck end of your shoulder down to the pin or marker, this time using a tape measure on your body. Because of collar bones and bust, that is likely to be longer than the vertical measure down from your chin.

I’ve got prominent collar bones, and on me this measurement is 11 inches.

If this point comes low on you, you need to think what this means for you personally. With my long head, the low neckline point comes so low it would need a lot of double sided tape to be at all decent, and would be much more revealing than suits my style. But that doesn’t mean I can’t emphasise necklines to this level. It explains why I like wearing long necklaces, and deep V necks on layering tops and jackets, which are all coming down to that level.

So if you need modesty you could have a more obvious neckline going down to this point, filled to a higher level by something less obvious. And I’m trying out emphasising this level using embellishment, a corsage, or a necklace pendant.

(P.S. Now I know about these balance points, I keep spotting celebrity examples. Wear your neckline below the low balance point if you want all the attention to be on your cleavage !
I think the necklines of most patterns are developed on models with long necks.)

Cut test necklines from kitchen towel, or drape scarves, and see what you think. Image consultant suppliers sell sets of basic neckline shapes made from calico. You can try a much wider variety if you make your own !

– – –

To change a pattern neckline :

To change a neckline, first draw in the stitching lines on the existing pattern. It’s easy to do this with a transparent French Curve with 5/8 inch marked round the curved edge. These lines show the position of the shoulder seam and the finished neckline edge.


The crucial point to identify is where the neck edge meets the shoulder seam, sometimes called the neck point.

So long as you draw your new front finished neckline through this point, you won’t have to alter the back neckline (or vice versa).


If you want a wider or narrower neckline, draw in the new finished neckline position. Then measure how far the new neckline is from the old neck point, along the shoulder seam. Use this measure to find where to start the new back neckline.


To add the new cutting line :
– make some marks 5/8 inch from the stitching line.
The ends of both a tape measure and a seam gauge are 5/8 inch.


– Then join the marks into a smooth curve – easy to do with a French Curve.


Changing the neckline of a wrap top/ dress is a bit more complex. Here’s a tutorial.

P.S. There’s now a Craftsy class by Suzy Furrer on drafting necklines.

– – –

Collars :

Of course, getting the best neckline shape is essential, but only the first step. Then there are collars, bias drapes, bows, ruffles, whatever. But presumably these additions follow the same principle – that they are best when they coordinate with the lines, shapes, and proportions of our bodies.

For example, big collars need to be in proportion to our overall build. (I’ve just been attracted by a large collar jacket pattern, but fortunately thought of checking my personal croquis. A deep collar wider than my shoulders, on a short jacket, would make me look like a heffalump. . .) ‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ has illustrations showing how to adapt classic collar shapes to high and low neckline balance points. And Darlene Miller’s book ‘Your shape, your clothes and you’, has illustrations suggesting curved collars go with curved bodies and straight with straight.

(P.S. There’s a class on drafting simple collars at eSewingWorkshop.

There’s now a Craftsy class by Suzy Furrer on drafting collars.)

Lots of possibilities to think about and try.

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Links available February 2010

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To get to main blog, click on red header.

Copy the Season’s Capsule

February 13, 2010

Perhaps it’s an infringement of copyright to show how to knock off designer clothes ! Well, in the spirit that copying is a compliment :

Here’s the link to Eileen Fisher’s ‘system’ for the spring/ summer 2010 season. Later I give some links to J Crew. I’m not in the US so don’t know these companies. But their style looks the relaxed side of ‘current’.

The Eileen Fisher ‘system’ is based around a ‘Core Four’ capsule wardrobe of skirt, pants, top, and jacket.

– – –

Basic straight skirt :

Skirt as in this McCall’s 3830 version, a good candidate for a TNT pattern, which can be made any length. The ‘system’ has a short skirt, but I think longer versions would work equally well with the top and jacket.


– – –

Basic slim pants :

There’s a very slim pant in this McCall’s 6043 suit. Though the jacket pattern I’ve picked includes much wider legged pants if you prefer them.


– – –

Tucked top :

Make this Butterick 5439 dress in the sleeveless version and at top length. With shorter tucks to mimic the ‘system’ look. Or as in the pattern to avoid looking pregnant. In the pattern there are different numbers of tucks and sleeve options too.


J Crew tops styles opt more for ruffles this season. A stand-up ruffle (not a floppy flounce) round a favourite V-neck would go well with the cascade jacket. And look at McCall’s tops for patterns like the other J Crew ruffled styles.

– – –

Soft cardigan jacket :

Not the popular Simplicity 2603 version, which is long enough to wrap in many different ways.


The cascade jacket in the Eileen Fisher ‘system’ has a shorter drape front, like the jacket from this Butterick 5472 wardrobe. So it could be made in fabric with a bit more body than the Simplicity. Make it single layer, unlined and without facings, for a softer effect.


J Crew mainly uses a classic convertible collar jean/ safari jacket (jackets page). Good with ruffled or flounced tops for this season’s ‘combining-opposites’ look. This pairing makes another possible capsule of the season (feature picture on the J Crew jackets page).

When J Crew design a cascade jacket they round off the corners, and make it in suede.

– – –

All the garments in the original Eileen Fisher ‘system’ are in knits. But I’ve chosen mostly patterns for wovens, as they work better for me.

The styles are quite simple, and easy to make. The designer look comes from quality of fabric and quality of construction (as well as good fit of course).

A cascade jacket over tucked top and pants is an attractive capsule I’d be happy to wear for a wide variety of occasions. (A outift of jean or safari jacket over a flouncy top would not be so much my style.) And if I made the capsule myself I wouldn’t have to wear those drab colours 😀

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Patterns and links available February 2010

More on Advice to Ignore

February 6, 2010

Elizabeth commented on my previous post :
“No, no, I’m going to ignore you and slavishly follow some magazine editor’s tips for skinny urban women with a professional job.

But seriously — the points you raise are not always easy to figure out. If they were, we would have done it by now, no?”

– – –

I agree that finding your best colours, shapes, and styles is not easy or quick. Once I started thinking about this I had a whole lot to say !

Styling books are a big industry because they’re selling a dream – that someone will wave a magic wand and it will all be obvious and easy and we will look marvellous. And I think many stylists are, very humanly, best at giving advice to people in similar circumstances. In the same way that fashion journalists focus on the showrooms of the fashion capitals of the world. (You only have to look at the people actually walking along the key fashion streets of Paris, Milan, London, New York, to realise that most people don’t dress like fashion magazines at all 😀 )

Perhaps some people don’t have as many difficulties with recognising themselves in the style books as I do. But I suspect many do.

I admit I’ve got a large collection of style books bought in hope. . . and yes of course, they suggest a whole lot of interesting things to try which I might not have thought of myself. But it isn’t the case that everything they suggest is right for everybody. If I did follow exactly what they say, I would often be wearing the wrong colours, the wrong shapes, and the wrong styles. Fortunately I know enough about myself and my life usually to recognise when I would be unhappy with what they suggest.

– – –

I’m sure anyone who’s read a styling book has their own examples, but here is some of the advice that goes wrong for me :

Colour :
I’ve never managed to identify my colour category from a book. More than 20 years ago I had a personal session with an inspiring Color Me Beautiful consultant. She identified me as ‘Clear Spring’. But Clear Springs are assigned the dreaded black. The consultant sorted out about half the Clear Spring colours which were marvellous on me, and the others which were best avoided. A personal consultation using all the big colour swatches is definitely needed for that, and a gifted expert. (Though she did recommend coral as my accent colour. She appears in one of the CMB books as the example of Soft Autumn colouring.)

My previously auburn tinged dark hair has become light heathered grey. My skin is still warm toned, so I’m a mixture of warm and cool tones which doesn’t fit anyone’s categories. (And I have a very low opinion of the recent London published CMB books.)

I have now chosen paint chips which match my skin and eye tones, plus a lock of hair. They’re subtle colours which rarely appear in fabrics. But I always compare fabric samples with them, to check what ‘goes’ and what ‘jars’ (often surprises).

Shape :
Standing, my hips are 2 sizes larger than my top. When I sit down they spread another 4 inches. Definitely a pear. I’ve already gone on at length about the odd advice given to the pear-shaped in the Lucky Shopping Manual.

Most stylists tell the pear shaped to wear shoulder pads so their shoulders are as wide as their hips. I would be wearing those 80s pads that were so wide you had to go through a door sideways (see some astonishing examples in re-runs of Murder She Wrote). I am more interested in advice on how to make my hips look as small as my top. And sorry stylists, I know you all say everyone looks better in shoulder pads, but I never wear them. They’re just not my style. Hurrah for sewing – we can change the shoulder seams and darts of what we make so that clothes fall well from our shoulders whatever shape they may be.

Most stylists also tell pears to wear horizontal lines across our shoulders. I’ve always known that was wrong for me, but never understood why until I read Trinny and Susannah’s Body Shapes Bible. I’m a short waisted pear. Horizontal upper lines make us look even more squat. Horizontal upper lines are good on long-waisted pears. And T and S couldn’t find any short waisted pear celebrities to use as encouraging examples (the only body shape they failed with). Oh dear. I don’t think it is actually impossible for us to look good, I’ve managed it myself in the past. But it’s certainly a challenge !

Some stylists go into more detail about body shape with recommendations for specific body parts : long and short neck, wide and narrow shoulders, etc. The trouble is this makes for incompatibilities in what they advise. ‘The Triumph of Individual Style’ is a beautiful book full of fascinating insights. But most of the advice they give on one page is incompatible with what they say for me on the next page. . . Nancy Nix-Rice ‘Looking Good’ is another favourite book (very dated illustrations but covers the widest range of topics). About me she says :
To Broaden Narrow/ Sloping Shoulders : DO Select details (…) to maintain a horizontal shoulder emphasis.
To Lengthen a Short-Waisted Body : DON’T use horizontal bodice details.
Aaargh – Help !

I do try out the suggestions in style books. Darlene Miller’s ‘Your shape, your clothes and you’ has very detailed ideas. As usual, I don’t fit neatly into her scheme (my head, upper and lower body all meet different criteria !), but I do find her suggestions interesting. I use a personal croquis. Snoop shopping upsets me, as RTW fits me so badly. Instead I hold pattern and fashion magazine photos next to me in the mirror, as I wonder if they would look good on me. And I keep an eagle eye out for what flatters and what doesn’t.

Style :
I rarely feel comfortable with any of the personal styles in books, though some come close. In David Kibbe’s ‘Metamorphosis’ I’m a ‘Soft Classic’. Lots of good insights in the text. Then there’s a photo of someone styled this way, and she’s wearing a ‘Mother-of-the Bride’ dress and picture hat. Oh dear. I would never want to look like that (even if I had been a mother-of-the-bride). From the other photos, I would guess Kibbe has difficulty with styling less exuberant people. I think Soft Classics are better catered for by Loes Hinse’s designs.

A lovely Color Me Beautiful consultant in the early 90s described me as a ‘Eurochic with Romantic accessories’, a heart warming phrase I still keep in mind. Eurochic is a concept you don’t see mentioned these days – a sort of elegant current casual. (It’s in Mary Spillane’s CMB book.) At the time Armani was super-fashionable. I don’t at all agree with one style book which says it’s impossible for casual to be chic, as one is precise and the other is don’t-care. That seems an oddly blinkered view. But that writer (Angela Marshall) is an extreme classic. She admits to having difficulty knowing what to wear at weekends. Though her expensive repetitive little book is the best at recognising personal style isn’t only clothes but also work, hobbies, manner, home, relationships. . . I think many designers and fashion magazines do recognise the need for high quality stylish relaxed clothes.

To identify my personal style, I notice what I wear consistently. I particularly enjoyed the style exercises in Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Fashion Makeover’. (The rest of the book isn’t right for me at all. No, I wouldn’t find it a treat to lounge by my pool waiting for a bevy of masseuses and chefs to give me an at home spa day. I won’t even have my hair and make-up done. But I did get insights from the style exercises !) I keep in mind long ago clothes which I remember with affection. (That velvet dress with a lace collar my mother made when I was 12, which I rapidly grew out of. Wouldn’t fit my active lifestyle, but I need touches of it as I loved it so much.) And I imagine myself wearing what appears in pattern and fashion magazines, and check if I would feel happy. I’ve made a list of ‘would love to wear’ patterns which have lasted beyond initial enthusiasm, and it’s not as short as I thought it would be.

– – –

I think the good style books guide personal exploration, rather than dictating. Such as Brenda Kinsel’s ‘Wardrobe Companion’. I also enjoy Garza and Lupo ‘Nothing to Wear’, a fun read. Mainly general encouragement, but then they fall in the trap of giving specific examples, which are all ‘urban cocktail’. Good for their clients in NYC no doubt, but not relevant to this suburb (even though estate agents describe us as ‘exciting and cosmopolitan’ now we have a Starbucks where the local radio host holds court 😀 ).

That seems to me a key problem for style books – this uneasy balance between general advice about exploring, which works for everyone, and specific examples. I know I feel more secure when writers give specific visual examples. I feel I know more clearly what they mean by their words. And I feel more confident when I know the alternatives to choose between. But I usually don’t recognise myself in any of the specific examples. So my desire for confidence that I understand the message actually backfires.

I think there are some things you can sort out for yourself fairly painlessly. My list of Personal Style questions is possible food for thought.

I do still occasionally buy styling books, but I’m looking for tips rather than expecting them to solve my problems. I now find it more helpful to follow discussions at Stitchers Guild, which are full of useful comment and inspirational wardrobes from a wide variety of real people. I’m getting much more clear about what is right for me, by thinking out my answers to the style questions people ask there.

This may be an unending process, as fashion styles (and we) change. I’m still far from being confident I’ll get it right every time, but I’m a lot closer than I was a year ago. . .

Sadly, there isn’t any way of avoiding doing the work of trying things out. Or of avoiding big mistakes – try to make them in cheap fabric ! I once bought a red fake fur coat. I love red, and fur coats, and I loved myself in the coat. But I only ever wore it in public once. I’m a quiet and private person !

This trying out doesn’t have to be a miserable process. It’s like fitting. We take one small step at a time, and see if we’ve made things better or worse – and it works out in the end. Every move in a better direction is a big plus 😀

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P.S. Training to be a Style Consultant is lengthy and expensive. There are even college textbooks on it (see Fairchild Books on Image Management). So people in the business reoognise this process isn’t all that easy.

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Links available February 2010

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