Archive for May 2010

Dress in 5 Minutes coordinates : Tops

May 31, 2010

Sew in a weekend : dress in 5 minutes.

The key to dressing without thinking, yet still looking good, is a co-ordinated wardrobe. Most of us have at least a few days when we don’t want to think about clothes. And for that we need a small group of clothes that all go together. So we can grab anything and it will work.

We also sometimes feel we’d like to be able to choose a co-ordinated wardrobe without thinking. Or wish someone else would do the thinking for us.

The trouble is this doesn’t work, as we’re all different shapes, different colours, different lifestyles, and different personalities. I’ve found I can’t work from a theory. There’s no substitute for trying things out and looking carefully. From past experience, I know the clothes in the ‘system’ below are not right for me. But it has general ideas which are useful.

This example of co-ordination comes from Eileen Fisher. They’re very simple styles so, using super quick patterns, you might be able to make a capsule from her ‘system’ in a weekend 😀 Though simple clothes do look best in quality materials and quality techniques.

The current (May 2010) Eileen Fisher ‘system’ consists of :
– 3 sleeveless tops.
– 3 bottoms.
– 3 layering pieces.
– 3 accessories : 2 scarves and a belt.

Most of these garments are made from knits. But I’ve had my head full of speedy patterns for wovens recently, so that’s what comes to mind.

(SWAP 2010 recently finished at Stitchers Guild. Very inspirational wardrobes. But not usually quick to make !)

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Sleeveless tops

”3tops”Eileen Fisher

All the tops do need to be suitable for wearing alone, as well as co-ordinating with all the layering pieces.

These three tops are sufficiently similar that they’re easy alternatives. All are sleeveless, collarless, unshaped, and long – either low hip or high thigh.

For a bit of variety there’s a camisole, and low and high necklines. One has neckline embellishment (self-coloured sequins).

There are few patterns just for sleeveless tops. But if you ever buy wardrobe patterns, you’re probably already well supplied with sleeveless top patterns.

Jalie knit patterns are popular. Jalie 2806 scoop neck tops include sleeveless styles.


If you need a pattern for wovens, oop Butterick 4987 is for making camisoles (left below) in 2 hours of sewing time.

Among current patterns, there’s a camisole in the Butterick 4989 2-hour pattern for cascade jackets.

McCall’s 5298 wardrobe includes a low neck fitted top (centre). This pattern isn’t timed, but is quick and easy.

Butterick 5948 is a pattern for 2 hour tops that are not fitted but include a range of necklines and body and sleeve lengths (right).


Or try the Textile Studio – Loes Hinse Tank Top and Shell.


Lengthen all these patterns to mimic the inspiration.

Personally, this sleeveless top is so simple I think I would start from my fitting sloper. At the beginning of the year I launched into developing TNTs, but got bogged down on finding a comfortable armhole. Now I’ve mercilessly scooped out the lower front armhole, I’m close to one that doesn’t bind.

I usually wear sleeves and a collar. But now I have a comfortable sleeveless top and the weather is unusually hot here – perhaps I will try some sleeveless shells !

(The next TNT problem is I have no idea how to get a sleeve head to match my armhole. . . but that’s another story. . .)

The easiest way to have interchangeable clothes is to make them the same shape and colour. But within that limit, there’s still huge potential for an almost infinite variety of embellishments. It’s even possible to morph these simple shells into vests, blouses and dresses. Shirley Adams’ Alternatives 500 Shell series includes add-on pattern pieces. Fun, but a long way from developing a co-ordinated wardrobe. Which is easiest if the components are fairly similar.

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If sleeveless doesn’t work for you, you’ll be pleased to know there are many basic sleeved tees elsewhere on the May 2010 Eileen Fisher site. (Many of these tops are long too.)

Jalie 2805 pattern for knit tees is a favourite of Pattern Reviewers, one of the Best Patterns of 2009.


Or Simplicity 4076 (oop) is in the Pattern Review Hall of Fame 2009, if you like more varied tops. Though these styles are more difficult to combine successfully with a covering layer (I think it would best be simple and plain).


Some other popular patterns are Pamela’s Perfect Tee and Jennifer Stern’s The Tee.

If like me you don’t look good in knits (anything closely fitted makes it obvious how small my bust is), there are woven short sleeved tops in the Butterick 5948 collection of 2 hour tops.

Or try the Textile Studio – Loes Hinse Basic Top.


I look better in these tops if I add front bust and back shoulder darts.

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Cami dresses

Elsewhere on the May 2010 Eileen Fisher site, most of the dresses are ‘cami dresses’, lengthened versions of the simple tops.

Spaghetti straps slide straight off my sloping shoulders, so I wouldn’t be comfortable in this style. They’re minimal garments, not made with the support you get in a strapless formal dress.

If you do like this idea, New Look 6804 (oop) is a 2-hour dress pattern.


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On Trend

If you’re following the Pattern Review Wardrobe Contest for 2010, you need to include something that’s ‘on trend’ as shown in a fashion source. These items show just how easy that is ! You might make a classic tee and refer to the Eileen Fisher site to show you’re current 😀

There are several trends this summer that are relevant for simple tops.

Colour :
Lighter neutrals, such as nude tones or oyster grey, non-colours of beige, stone, greige, light coral, or pale muted pastels.

Minimalism :
One of this season’s key trends is minimalism, and these tops certainly follow that – the simplest of styles made in high quality drapey fabrics.
See ‘Clean Energy‘ at (US Vogue) (“Click for more fashion” to get a beautiful slide show.)

Lingerie look :
Make your top in charmeuse or sheers, with added lace or flounces. Or white lawn covered in heirloom stitching.
See ‘Pastoral Interlude‘ and ‘The Big Reveal’ at

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Co-ordination and personal style

‘Dress in 5 minutes’ is possible because the clothes are interchangeable. Everything goes with everything else, so you don’t have to think or try things out.

Co-ordinating is helped by shapes and lengths, necklines and armholes, and colours. This ’system’ of clothes do co-ordinate, but is this the co-ordination that’s best for you ? I need to adapt the shapes and lengths, and the colours, to be more flattering for my body.

And the clothes also need to work with your personal style and lifestyle. For example, suppose you’re choosing tops for a travel mini-wardrobe. You might need a sunny top and a dressy top, but also a covered up top for visiting places with a dress code.

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Shapes and lengths

This ‘system’ co-ordinates partly because of the similar shapes. All the pieces are simple in outline. They depend on knit fabrics for shaping to your body. If you’re not a straight shape, see my previous post for some thoughts on adapting simple patterns to be more flattering on other body shapes.

Use the high and low necklines that are most flattering for you (see post). Add darts if that works better for you. I need to flare the side seams or add side slits from waist level, so the tops aren’t strained over my hips.

Trinny & Susannah in ‘What not to wear’ have a lot of advice about t-shirt styles for different body shapes.

All the ‘system’ tops are long. That’s because two of the layers are cropped to give the ‘layered’ style. (Two meanings of ‘layer’ :
– a piece that goes over others.
– a look with the ‘layering piece’ shorter that what’s underneath, short over long.)

”layers” Eileen Fisher

Cropped jackets and vests are also a trend for the coming winter.

”me-layered” Me, ah perhaps not. . .

With my short waisted high hipped pear shape, this is not a good look for me. Puts a lot of important design lines across my hips, which is the last place I need to draw attention to. . .

In Trinny & Susannah’s “Body Shape Bible”, they only suggest short-over-long for their Pear shape – long body and short legs. Trinny herself is this shape, and uses the layered look to great effect so she appears to have perfect proportions.

It would be better for me to make these items the other way round, long over short : short tops and longer layering pieces.
But you may be one of the people the short-over-long look works well for.

It’s good to get the lengths right in a wardrobe. It’s also important to co-ordinate necklines, armholes and sleeves. In this ‘system’ the tops are all collarless and sleeveless, so that isn’t a problem. I do prefer to wear a collar. There are 2 easy ways of co-ordinating this :
– tops with collars, layering pieces collarless.
– tops collarless, layers with collars.

If you want sleeved tops that go under nearly all layering pieces, do make the tops with fitted armholes and sleeve heads.

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Co-ordinating is helped by simple use of colour. In this Eileen Fisher ‘system’ all the clothes are neutral colours and accessories are accent colours. There are two main neutrals, a light and a dark. Bottoms are in the dark neutral. Most of the tops and layering pieces are in the light neutral. There is added interest because they have different textures.

What are your best lighter and darker neutrals, and favourite accent colour ?

Personally I don’t look good in strong contrasts, and I wear mainly lighter colours. A light top and dark bottom means there’s a strong line across you somewhere. You need to make sure this is at the right height, and with the right balance of light and dark, to be flattering on you.


I like wearing neutrals, but mainly light ones. The monochromatic look is right for me. And I like textures. But soft florals, and animal or ethnic prints, are ‘in’ this season, if you prefer prints to textures. Or multicoloured abstracts if you like a hard edged look.

Do you know your own ‘colour personality’ ? (see posts on individual colour types in her April 2010 archive). Would you prefer to wear a couple of pastels, or olives and rusts, rather than neutrals ? Nude tones or khakis are very current. So is monochromatic denim blue. Or perhaps you like a variety of strong colours. In that case you may already know that colour-blocking of near-primary colours is ‘in’ this year !

In the Eileen Fisher ‘system’ , the clothes are all in neutral colours. Accessories add life and variety. Scarves and belt are in accent colours and obvious textures – crinkles and weaves. The long scarves (70 – 84 inches/ 1.75 – 2.10 m) have fringed ends. Many are wide enough (20-28 inch/ 50-70 cm) to use as a light wrap. A lot of stylish people round here are wearing these long big scarves to add colour and individuality.

– – – –

These are good relaxed styles. Some of the patterns I’ve mentioned are not timed patterns, but are easy.
Make a ‘capsule’ of top, bottom, and layering piece in a weekend. (More posts, on the Bottoms and Layers.)

So you need a month of speedy sewing weekends for clothes and scarves, and a little shopping for belts if you like them, to get the complete wardrobe 😀

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Patterns and links available May 2010

Sew a Wardrobe in a weekend : Tops

May 28, 2010

If the Super Quick wardrobe patterns aren’t to your taste, how about patterns for individual items which the pattern companies say take only 1 or 2 hours of sewing time.

Again most of these patterns are best for people who’re rectangle shape. I made some comments about this in a previous post, and on how the rest of us can change things a bit.

The great advantage of wardrobe patterns is you don’t have to worry whether individual items co-ordinate. That also isn’t a problem with most of these Super Quick tops, as they’re mainly very classic styles.

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Here are the time-limited patterns for tops that are available or recently oop.

oop Butterick 4987 is a pattern for 2 hour camisoles.


oop Butterick 5035 has a couple of unusual shapes for 1 hour knit tops.


Butterick 5948 is a collection of 2 hour classic tops for wovens, with a choice of necklines, and body and sleeve lengths.

New Look 6807 is for 2 hour gathered knit tops


while New Look 6892 has similar 2 hour woven fabric tops.


Then there are the classic Palmer-Pletsch shirts.

McCall’s 4518 is a 2 hour shirt with convertible collar.


and McCall’s 4079 is a 3 hour shirt with band collar.


Also many of the Super Quick dresses could be made shorter as tops. And there are some patterns for tops in the quick wardrobe patterns I listed earlier.

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I chose to mention only patterns which the pattern companies give specific times for. Of course, many people have much loved TNT tops which can be made very quickly, especially if you like knits and have an overlocker/ serger.

Many people like wrap tops, which only take a little more time. But if you prefer a fitted top or an interesting collar, you’ll need quite a bit longer. . .

There is a much bigger range of tops if you include buttonholes and zips. I now realise why these processes are not in super quick patterns. It’s not that they’re difficult, it’s that they need to be done slowly to get a good result. I timed myself sewing a centred zip, and it took me 1/2 hour. Okay, I’m a slow sewer and baste everything, so many people could do it faster. Still that’s an extra 1/2 hour for one process, which really isn’t available if you want to finish a garment in 1 or 2 hours. But it might well be possible to include slower processes if you have half a day 😀

These simple patterns are not to everyone’s taste, either to sew or to wear. But they do show the processes and styles possible if you want to get something to wear quickly. And it is impressive if you can sew a classic shirt in 3 hours !

Of course these styles haven’t got to be made quickly. A very simple top, made in quality materials using lovingly crafted near-couture skills, can be a thing of great beauty. Or can be an open canvas for exhibiting your favourite art-to-wear or heirloom embellishments 😀

I’m finding it very interesting to review these super quick patterns. But I’m realising that speedy sewing is not for me. I’m getting over the feeling that I ‘ought’ to sew quickly. I’m fascinated by and enjoy reading the exploits of people who sew fast, but it’s not right for me.

Despite that, I’m planning more Super Quick Pattern posts, about skirts and pants, and vests, jackets and coats !

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Patterns and links available May 2010

Pantone Sketches Fall 2010 : Cynthia Steffe

May 18, 2010

Fashion often involves only small changes.
I’m enjoying looking at the styles in the Pantone Fall 2010 Trends report (which I got through SEWNmagazine, but can’t find on the Pantone site).

And it’s interesting to see how many of the styles are easy to copy with existing patterns.

Here’s one that’s straightforward.

Cynthia Steffe in Pantone Fall Trends Report 2010

This is an outfit that a lot of people round here might wear.

Copy this big collared ‘duffle’ by making a large version of McCall’s 5981.


Perhaps the collar is doubled or there’s a big hood.
Make this pattern larger, and thigh length, with big cuffs, and curve the pockets.

Very Loose Fit has more than 10 inches/ 25 cm of ease in the bust area for jackets, or more than 12 inches/ 30 cm ease for coats. (See Vogue Ease table).

This Burda 7750 pattern may be already be large enough (go to the site and search for 7750).


Check the ease. Make it straight and add the curved patch pockets.

Or a starting point for the whole outfit might be Butterick wardrobe 5335.


Again lengthen the jacket, and add cuffs. Swap the front seams with in-seam pockets for added curved patch pockets. Perhaps a zip front instead of snap closures.
Wide knit stripes for the top are ‘in’ this summer too.
Echo the big ruffled collar by gathering the hem of the skirt, see my balloon skirt post.

If you like that puffy collar but prefer a more fitted jacket, how about McCall’s 5758 (left), or Marcy Tilton Vogue 8600 (right) which has an optional hood.


These fitted jackets have a very different style effect and, to my quiet tastes, they would look good with slim pants but would be a bit much combined with a balloon skirt 😀

And of course, if you’re interested in this designer, you haven’t got to rip-off their clothes at all. There’s a selection of Cynthia Steffe patterns available from Vogue. I think a couple of those dresses would go well under this ‘duffle’ coat.

If you’d like to see more Cynthia Steffe designs, here are their collections at

The first photo in the Fall 2010 collection is one of the big jackets with a hood and bellows pockets. Then there are a lot of shift dresses and jumpers (American jumpers. . . well actually there are some English jumpers too. . .), plus the band collars, big vests, short capes, and cropped jackets there are so many of next season.

And here is the Cynthia Steffe company site, which has the same collection photos.

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Patterns and links available May 2010

Sew a Wardrobe in a Weekend : Dresses

May 15, 2010

Sew a wardrobe in a weekend. – or make 6 dresses 😀

It’s the season of the dress, and Butterick, McCall’s and New Look all think we can make a dress in 1 or 2 hours of sewing time ! Whew. . .

Of course there are many dress patterns which can be sewn speedily. I’ve just listed the ones the pattern companies say can be made in a limited time. I’ve included a few out-of-print patterns still available from BMV, to show the range of styles possible.

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Super Quick Dress patterns for woven fabrics

Butterick 5211 is a 1 hour straight dress.


At the end of the 50s, the ‘sacque’ dress appeared. A group of us bored girls at college summer school decided to make them. It was a huge change in fashion, so we would never have had the courage to do it alone. (At that time fashion was very rigid – and I don’t just mean the corsets – everyone HAD to wear the same style). We cut rectangles of fabric, and sewed round them with gaps for neck, armholes and hem. The boys were horrified, they were used to all those tiny waists and big petticoats.

This Butterick dress may look very simple and shapeless, but it’s much more subtly elegant than those rectangles 😀

oop McCall’s 5519 is a 1 hour sheath dress with pattern pieces for 3 cup sizes.


McCall’s 9172 is a current 1-hour a-line dress, with a pattern piece for adding a bust dart.


McCall’s 5855 is a 1-hour caftan.


McCall’s even thinks that if we have an extra hour of sewing time we can make a princess seamed dress, see oop McCall’s 9456 2-hour dress.


New Look 6804 is a summery 2-hour dress with a variety of straps and necklines.


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One Hour Dress Patterns for Knits

oop Butterick 5100 is a 1-hour knit dress styled as an overdress or over-tunic. The wide neckband is actually a deep cowl.


McCall’s 6074 has 1-hour sleeveless knit dresses with front interest.


McCall’s 5893 is a 1-hour empire waist dress for knits.

McCall’s 6069 has 1-hour knit dresses with a drape back and plain or drape front.


And there are a couple of more covered-up-for-winter styles :

Butterick 5397 is a 1-hour gathered scoop neck knit dress.


Butterick 5247 is a 1-hour cowl neck knit dress.


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Again I’m fascinated by how much variety designers can find for these simple styles. Easy changes to necklines and armholes, with occasional extra seaming.

Interesting to see what’s possible in limited time. But I rarely have reason to wear a dress. If I was going to make a dress, I would prefer to take more time and make one with more style elements. I like tucks, pleats and small ruffles, and waist seams give me the best fit.

I’ve only mentioned patterns which the pattern companies give a sewing time for. There are of course a lot of dress patterns which could be made in half a day by people who can do other sewing processes quickly, like adding a zip or buttonholes.

Many of these speedy dress patterns include darts. Either darts or gathered fullness do give better fit, especially if you’re a larger cup size. But there are patterns without darts, if you’re not happy about sewing them.

Here’s ejvc’s description of Nancy Zieman’s method for making darts quickly :
“Mark apex and snip legs in the seam allowance. Then, pull out a long thread from the needle. Take a few stitches [in seam allowance] to anchor and then stretch the thread to the apex mark (it forms a straight line). Sew along the thread. Very quick, hardly any marking.”

Many of these dresses are slightly flared in silhouette. If that’s not flattering for you, see my post on easy patterns and body shape for some suggestions.

Anyway there are very quick dress patterns in many styles. So pick a fancy fabric and make one in the afternoon to wear that evening. Sheers, shiny, sequins, lace, multicolour abstract prints are all ‘in’ this season. (Ah, warning, most of those fabrics are not quick or easy to cut or sew :D)

And of course it’s easy to shorten simple dresses to make a tunic or top. I’m planning another post on timed top patterns. Interestingly, most of the tops take 2 hours, not one. . .

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Patterns and links available May 2010

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