Archive for September 2010

What are your core style questions ?

September 25, 2010

I’ve found trying to define my personal style isn’t all that helpful. Mine is such a mixture of the standard categories : yes must be comfortable and relaxed, but mainly ‘classic’ shapes, and with a touch of romantic lace or embroidery, a glimpse of boho, or a little something quirky that makes me laugh, and then there’s quality of make and fit and design. . . No drama, sporty, or hard edges. An atmosphere rather than something definite.

Not exactly useful when looking through a pattern catalogue.

I’ve tried many style-book exercises about shortening that into a statement, and the best I’ve come up with is :
soft, quirky, comfortable, refined.
Quite apart from the fact that I never remember it, I also don’t find it much help when trying to choose between clothes and patterns.

But I think I may now have found the key-stone . . .

Jill Martin in her book ‘Fashion for Dummies’ has a series of questions to ask about an ‘ultimate’ outfit. The first is :
‘Only wear it if you’d be psyched if the ex-boyfriend who dumped you ran into you while you were wearing it.’

Well, that question actually doesn’t have much impact for me. I’m old enough to remember most boyfriends with wry laughter that I could have been such a fool, or with a little affection, if I remember them at all. One of them – steam still comes out of my ears when I think of him, and it would even if I was wearing my worst ever clothes. (A black jogging suit – apologies to those of you who love track suits, but they’re not for me.) Well, I might have a bit of difficulty with him if I was wearing a black blazer. Interesting isn’t it – I know many people feel at their best in a black blazer, but they have the opposite effect on me.

(A couple of months ago the magazines were saying ‘Camel is the new black’. The recent UK ‘In Style’ says ‘Red is the new black’. Ah well, at least they’re not telling us to wear black all the time.)

So boyfriends are not a key test question for me. Which set me thinking what would be. And mine are people questions too :
‘If the headmistress of my high school appeared in front of me when I was wearing this, would I instantly become a gibbering idiot ?’ answer yes or no.
‘If the games mistress of my high school appeared before me when I was wearing this, would I immediately trip over my feet ?’ answer yes or no.
And so on.

Obviously I’m a people pleaser.
But the astonishing thing is, if I look through the Vogue patterns catalogue with this sort of question in mind, I go straight past all the clothes that I usually find attractive and buy the patterns for and then never make up because they really wouldn’t work for me. And I end up with only about half a dozen patterns, but they really are ones that are ‘right’. Amazing, I hope this clarification continues to work for me.

But perhaps people questions have the opposite effect on you – make you choose clothes you feel will be approved of, rather than clothes that leave you standing securely at your core.
So what types of questions might be more effective for you ? What is a situation where the right clothes might prevent you from feeling knocked sideways ?
– Would I feel comfortable in this ?
– Does this show my body at it’s best ?
– Would I be powerful/ authoritative in this ? or friendly and approachable ?
or in control, or attractive, or elegant, or fashionable, or kooky, or . . .
– Will this make me the centre of attention ?
– Does this express my creativity ?
Have a look at the clothing values post and see if it helps you find something which has this magic effect of separating right from wrong.

These core questions also have the power to make aspects of my style clear for me. Out of the BMV catalogues, I picked no jackets. A few fitted vests, but no jackets, even though I wear multiple layers. I’m a tunic and big shirt and big sweater knits person. No wonder I like Sewing Workshop patterns, they have so many stylish big shirt type jackets.

There are multiple detailed aspects of personal style. Favourite types of fabric and garment are important. Do you prefer :
– weave : fine knits, bulky knits, fleece, wovens, leather ?
– surface : plain/solid, textured, printed, woven pattern, embellished, pile, shiny ?
– bottoms : dresses, skirts, sweat pants, pants, jeans ?
– tops : camisoles, tees, sweat shirts, blouses, shirts ?
– layers : vests, tunics, overshirts, sweater knits, cardigans, hoodies, jackets, big shirts ?
– outerwear : coat, parka ?
There are more of this sort of question in my style questions post.
All this as well as style themes like classic, romantic, sporty, cool, edgey. . . And getting the best for our own body shape and colouring. . .

There are dozens of these little style questions, which it’s important to be aware of. But I’m thinking here about ‘big’ questions which help you to make a quick yes/ no decision. I found these ‘core’ questions cut through all the details. Though it is a pity to keep thinking of my old headmistress all the time 😀

Incidentally, I haven’t looked at the ‘Fashion for Dummies’ book. Jill Martin’s 10 questions are listed in the description of the book. Her other questions are along the lines of :
– do I feel physically comfortable and warm ?
– is it a good fit ?
– am I dressed appropriately for the occasion ?
All important, but not keys to identifying personal style.

Best Wishes for your own style quest 😀 😀

– – –

Links available September 2010

Classic wardrobe for work, winter 2010 : waistcoat, blazer, coat

September 18, 2010

The UK ‘In Style’ October piece about clothes for work this winter includes mainly current versions of classic shapes. I’ve already suggested patterns for the skirt, dress, pants, and shirt.

This is about the waistcoat (vest), blazer and coat, which may need more advanced sewing skills.

– – –

Waistcoat (US vest)

A classic mannish style, v-necked and fitted. Worn a bit longer than usual, half way down the hips, if that length works for you. Fitted and over a soft blouse it doesn’t look masculine.

(There’s an excellent discussion about best proportions at Stitchers Guild.)

McCall’s 5186, View C for length.


This pattern has a lining.

– – –


Not necessary to wear wide loose ‘boy friend’ shoulders if they aren’t for you, but the look is longer, just below the hips. Check which length is good on you. And make sure the jacket has enough ease to fit over your waistcoat or jumper dress plus blouse or thin sweater, if you need warmth.

Making a jacket which is an extra layer for warmth or more coverage needn’t involve any special sewing skills. Most jacket patterns are not for blazers but for soft ‘dressmaker’ styles which involve less, or at least no more, skill than making a shirt. And there are several patterns for jackets that can be sewn in a couple of hours (see speedy layers post).

Even making a blazer needn’t be a major investment in time. The Butterick 4138 2-hour sewing time jacket has no lining and no more interfacing than the usual blouse.


But a ‘proper’ structured blazer keeps it’s shape well, by using special support for lapels, collar, and sleeve heads, with 2-piece sleeves. And added layers, not only a lining but perhaps multiple interfacings and underlining. Making one of these does involve more skill. Sigrid has a whole section of jacket making tutorials.

There are 3 levels of difficulty for home sewers trying some tailoring, according to the book ‘Tailoring : a step-by-step guide’.

Start at the easiest level, using fusible interfacing, with the new version of the Palmer-Pletsch jacket, McCall’s 6172 which they claim takes 8 hours sewing time (after practice !). This has 3 lengths, if the longer length is not a good proportion for you.


Then if you want to, you can work through the levels of difficulty, using more complex support structures plus welt pockets and bound buttonholes, special pressing, and much hand sewing.

Your blazer fabric doesn’t need to match the skirt or pants, unless you have a very conservative work environment. Current jacket fabrics can have a low contrast woven pattern – check/ plaid or herringbone.

Substitute a long (thigh length) deep-V neck classic knit cardigan, or a high-hip length classic Chanel jacket (with a touch of waist shaping), if blazers aren’t for you.

Again, making a true-to-style Chanel jacket with all the quilting and weighting chains involves special couture skills. But there are easier patterns with the basic Chanel shape. Here’s one with waist shaping, Vogue 7975.


– – –

Soft Classics

When you have the skills, you can make a major investment in time and beautiful hand stitching to construct one of Claire Shaeffer’s Couture jackets, perhaps Vogue 8333.


There are many subtle variants of the basic blazer shape. And many patterns. Here are some lovely designer patterns which need advanced sewing.

A skirt suit by Tracey Reese, Vogue 1126.


And pant suits by
Badgley Mischka, Vogue 1040


and Anne Klein, Vogue 1063.


There are a couple of issues with these patterns and some of the other blazer variants, which mean they may not fit in with the ‘In Style’ wardrobe.

One problem is they’re designed to look good when close fitting, worn perhaps over a camisole. They aren’t best suited to being expanded so they have enough ease to wear over several warm layers.

They also have little sign of the current edgey sharp cornered androgynous ‘boy friend’ shape of the ‘In Style’ wardrobe.

This doesn’t mean these styles are out of date. It’s just there are different versions of a ‘classic’ look. In his book ‘Metamorphosis”, David Kibbe separates traditional Classic from Dramatic Classic and Soft Classic, as 3 different personal styles. I would say the blazers in this section have the soft rounded curves of the Soft Classic look, while the ‘In Style’ blazer is crisper and more angular, a Dramatic Classic.

If you like more traditional Classic styles, look at Fashion Sewing Group patterns by Nancy Erickson. Or “The Classics” by Cecelia Podolak (on-line from Haberman Fabrics, more information at her site).

And also, ‘In Style’ is only giving one opinion about what to wear to look competent. In most types of work you don’t need to wear a blazer if you don’t like them. Cascade collar jackets and double breasted military style jacket are also current, if you do need a jacket.

– – –

Wool coat

‘In Style’ suggests a classic single breasted notched collar coat, a double breasted trench, or a double breasted pea-coat style with funnel collar. All are current. And all with a suggestion of waist shaping.

There are coat patterns which are quick and easy, especially casual coats made of thick fleece. But making a classic warm coat expected to keep its shape and looks throughout daily wear for several years is more of a commitment. There’s much guidance in a past coat sew along.

For a classic single breasted notched collar shape, there’s Vogue 1266.


Or for a double breasted trench, McCall’s 5525.


And a double breasted pea-coat style with funnel collar, such as Simplicity 2508 Project Runway pattern.


If you’re not comfortable in the formality of a classic coat, the more informal current outerwear styles are a parka or a duffle coat.

– – –

A good group of clothes for signalling that you’re both competent and current ! (in your sewing as well as your work :D)

Make a complete working wardrobe :
– several blouses/ shirts : plain, with frills, with a bow.
– pants, skirt, jumper dress.
– vest, blazer, Chanel jacket.
– coat.
Add a camisole, a couple of tees, some jeans, some fine classic sweater knits, perhaps a hoodie or jeans style jacket, and you’ll be covered for a lot more than just work.

What if you’re not by nature a ‘Classic’ ? Ignore fashion and use your favourite jewellery, scarves and laptop case. Adapt the classic style in current ways that are more ‘you’ :
– If you’re really a romantic, add frills or bows, embroidered embellishment, lace trim, or soft fabrics for the blouses, with kitten heels and textured bags.
– For greater comfort, make everything large enough to layer and move in easily, use plaids or herringbone weaves, wear quality classic fine knits instead of woven shirts, leather flat brogues or knee high boots (not real hiking boots !) and biker bags.
– For added edge, wear a leather garment, leather or metal trims and buttons, a shirt with asymmetric opening, or studs, buckles and grommets on bags and shoes.
– For more drama, go for this season’s high fashion thick soled shoes and big bags, or bigger shoulders, a statement necklace, and what can you do to liven up the linings of vests, jackets, coats !

Any non-extreme current style is worth investing time and effort in. Look at my post on the autumn/winter trends for 2009. The first 4 looks are still current. It’s only the extreme styles, aggressively pointed shoulders and tight corsets, that are not wearable any more. And happily there are now current softer ‘romantic’ styles.

Jill Martin, writer of ‘Fashion for Dummies’, says everything in your closet should score 10 / 10 for being right for you (oh dear, I wouldn’t have any pants to wear – someday soon I’ll get the ideal fit. . .) Personally I can give high scores to a classic skirt, classic pants, blouse, vest, trench, possibly a sheath dress, but I have a complete no-no about blazers and classic coats – anything with a flat notched collar. Would any of these styles score 10 / 10 for you ? Would they all score zero 😀

– – –

Patterns and links available September 2010

Classic wardrobe for work, winter 2010 : skirt, dress, pants, shirt

September 11, 2010

Despite the huge range of styles on offer in shows and magazines, this is a good season if you like classics.

UK ‘In Style’ October issue suggests mainly current classics for a wardrobe for work.

Classic styles look best if they’re impeccable. And when fitted shapes are fashionable that means good fit. So I mention several Palmer-Pletsch patterns. (I’m not a fan of tissue-fitting, but their instructions are also good for fitting a muslin.)

It’s surprising how good fit can make someone look as if they have no figure ‘faults’. While a bad fit – well, I live in an area of lawyers and bankers and, oh dear, the shoddy sights that appear during the lunch hour. . . somehow their clothes don’t leave me trusting their integrity or ability to care about detail. . .

Classic also implies long lasting ‘investment’ quality. Though the In Style styles have ‘current’ proportions and detail, most of them are likely to be around for some time.

In home sewing, quality means good fabric. And good sewing technique, not just the easy skills for sewing simple casuals.
I’ve divided this in two :
This is about the skirt, dress, pants, and shirt : intermediate dressmaking and fitting skills.
Next week for the waistcoat (vest), jacket, and coat, which in classic styles usually involve more advanced sewing

– – –

Camel skirt

UK In Style suggests a skirt can be pencil, A-line, or mini (not micro) style, so use your favourite silhouette and length.

Many people get better fit with a waistband or waist facing, rather than elastic. And that means sewing darts and in-seam zips. A quality skirt also has a lining.

These are basic patterns for the main shapes :
McCall’s 3830 straight.


Taper a longer skirt in a couple of inches (5 cm), for the ‘pencil’ look.

McCall’s 3341 A-line.


(Tip : if you have high hips plus an indented waist, to fit the waist use 2 or 3 small shorter darts each side, not one big one.)

The ‘current’ emphasis here is on the camel colour. But though camel is the season’s key colour, not to worry if it doesn’t look good on you. Grey is another major colour, and likely to be more flattering if your colouring is cool. More interesting combined with other greys, such as charcoal, dove and slate, rather than with black.

– – –

Black dress

No need to be put off by the focus on black – the key current look here is the shape, a sleeveless sheath, fitted, but loose enough to wear over a blouse in US ‘jumper’ style. In your best dark neutral.


Designers are looking for more ways of keeping warm than just putting on a sweater.

Skills : fitting challenges, facings, and perhaps a lining (so it will keep its looks longer).

For the most general fitting help, you might use the fitting pattern Butterick 5746, because it includes a sheath dress. Though the dress doesn’t have sleeveless or scoop neck versions, and would need adapting to fit over a blouse.

There are many sheath dress patterns in the catalogues. For fitting help you could use Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6028. Though with that upper body seam shaping, this is not the easiest of starting points for learning to fit. And not easy to sew those curved seams so both sides are the same shape. There’s an easier sheath dress in Palmer-Pletsch wardrobe pattern McCall’s 5818.


McCall’s 5927 is one of several sheath patterns with front pattern pieces for 3 or 4 cup sizes. It also has 3 sleeve styles, but not much other fitting help.


Many wardrobe patterns include a sleeveless sheath. Check if you need a larger size so it will layer comfortably over a blouse. Many of these styles have high scoop necks, so would not be good with a frilly front shirt.

If you’d like more ideas about this look, see the Cynthia Steffe show, which has many of these jumper dresses worn over shirts and sweaters. You haven’t got to wear a dress that short !

– – –

Peg top pants

These are pants that are loose on the hips and tapered at the ankle – specially for showing off the season’s amazing shoes. (YouLookFab calls these slouch pants.)

Add pant fitting, trouser pockets, and a fly zip to the sewing skills.

Here’s a designer pattern from Donna Karan, Vogue 1201.


Or Burda 7438 . . . . .Burda 7463. . . . Burda 7439.


(Click on the PR image for a larger view. The only Burda site that works in my elderly browsers is in French :D)

– – –

Classic pants, current proportions

Obviously, the pants ‘In Style’ have chosen aren’t classics. So what can you do if peg top pants don’t suit your body shape, or you’re not comfortable wearing a high fashion style.

Follow UK Vogue’s pant suggestions for this year, as both are classic styles with current proportions.

The trouser style has an ‘easy’ loose fit over the hips, but falling to straight legged trouser shape. As in Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 5239 View C.


This pattern gives advice about pant fit. It also works through a sequence of sewing skills as you make the 3 pant styles.

Often these looser pants appear in the shows with only a blouse, or a neat vest plus blouse. Jackets with them tend to be slim and long, either more structured with some waist shaping and perhaps a narrow belt, or soft and unstructured.

Skinny pants are another of UK Vogue’s choices – again classic style elements but this time with very slim proportions. I listed several patterns in my pant shapes post.

More possibilities : UK Elle is going for flares and bootcuts as pant shape themes for the season.

If you prefer classic shoes, rather than the current dramatic styles that peg top pants put on display, this season you can wear ballet flats, brogues, court shoes, or boots up to the knee.

– – –

White shirt

Blouses are a special item this season. Fitted and with a classic shirt collar. The key to being current is the added elements, perhaps some front frills, or back interest. Lots of bow collars.

To sew these does mean being able to fit sleeves and make buttonholes. Preferably also a shirt collar and cuffs. Sigrid has many links to tutorials on band collars and sleeve plackets. Though of course you can wear an easier to make convertible collar with a simple straight sleeve hem.

Butterick 5284 is just the thing.


If you need advice on fitting a basic style, try Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 5630 (which includes a strip for an added bow).


For an attached floppy bow collar., here’s a attractive sleeveless designer top by Badgley Mischka Vogue 1127.


I haven’t found a current pattern for the classic big floppy bow collar on an otherwise basic blouse pattern.

Simplicity 2501 has a neat tie neck as seen in several collections.


Here’s a lovely version of a full bow collar from the early 80s, Simplicity 9581, to inspire us.


Perhaps I like the bows and frills because I’m small busted and best with upper body emphasis. Other body shapes may not feel the same enthusiasm for big additions 😀

The easiest bow – just tie a ribbon under the collar, in a different though neutral colour. The simplest matching bow is a strip of self fabric to tie under the collar (as in the Palmer-Pletsch pattern). Try different widths of strip and lengths of bow loops and ends, to find what looks best on you. Experiment with how long the bands need to be to get a bow you like.

With a little more effort, devise an attached bow collar from a pattern with band collar (there’s one in the Palmer-Pletsch pattern). Simply widen and extend the band (use only the softest fusible interfacing if any).

If white doesn’t flatter you, don’t despair. Cream, nude shades, and muted pastels are all current. Or a darker shade is another current look. A touch lighter than what’s layered over it.


In this outfit, the vest fabric is a 2-tone weave and the blouse is a 2-tone print. A sophisticated idea.

– – –

Next week I’ll be finding patterns for the classic waistcoat, jacket and coat styles suggested by UK ‘In Style’ for a work wardrobe.
UK Elle also says it’s a season for classics and tailoring.

And don’t forget this is only one possible take on the many trends this season – good if you like classic styles, but you haven’t got to wear them if you
don’t 😀

– – –

Patterns and links available September 2010
Photos from and UK In Style.

Pants styles for Winter 2010

September 4, 2010

There’s a good variety of pant shapes in style this season, for those of you who have the body shape to wear them. Each of my favourite fashion magazines picks out a different style to emphasise. . .

– – –


Flared pants are among the UK ‘In Style’ must-haves for the season. Tapered to the knee then flaring to wider than boot cut.
There are many pattern possibilities. There are designer ones from Alice + Olivia at Vogue, perhaps Vogue 1051.


UK Elle says flares are only for people with long legs, the rest of us should continue with bootcuts.

– – –

Tailored trousers

UK Vogue’s Runway Report says tailored trousers are an ‘instant update’ for the season. They mean straight legged pants that are loose fitting over the hips, a somewhat ‘40s’ style.

A pattern for ‘easy’ fitting pants could be Butterick 5250.


Or Claire Shaeffer Vogue 8498.


A good style perhaps for those of us who ‘spread’ when we sit down (my hip measurement increases by 4 inches. . .) We have to wear pants with extra hip ease anyway, and it’s difficult to find a way to make that look good.

– – –

‘Cigarette’/ skinny pants

The UK Elle Runway Edit gives ‘tapered trousers’ as one of their Key Pieces for the season. Along with ‘evening trousers’ made from party fabrics.

UK Vogue calls these ‘cigarette’ pants, and YouLook Fab calls them ‘skinny’.

There are so many patterns for these, I’m just listing ones by designers.

The most recent is Issy Miyake Vogue 1204, paired with a tunic with modern proportions.


This one by Donna Karan, Vogue 1039, is combined with an interesting sleeveless top with gathers and ruched panels.


There are three patterns by Chado Ralph Rucci.
Vogue 1144 is part of a suit, paired with an elegant safari/ military style jacket.


Vogue 1054 is combined with a crisp big shirt.


And Vogue 1115 with a sculptural top.


For knits, there’s a new pattern by Sandra Betzina, Vogue 1197, with a knit top and tunic.


YouLookFab suggests ‘skinny cargoes‘. So for a more casual look, add cargo pockets to your favourite skinny pants pattern.

For the even tighter ‘jeggings’ – leggings in a very stretchy jeans-like fabric – see McCall’s 6173.

Skinny pants aren’t a viable option for me. In typical ‘pear shape’ fashion, my thighs are thicker than average for my frame. Even if I wore skin tight pants, my legs would not look thin. And to my eye, the top / jacket styles in these patterns would only look good with slim legs. But if you’ve got good pins, celebrate them !

Each of these skinny pant patterns is a different style. So, even if you can’t wear them, it’s interesting to think which you would pick if you had to choose one of them. I surprised myself by picking the ChadoRR suit, a style I aspired to when working, but I thought I was well past that phase of my life.

– – –

Slouch pants

YouLookFab also suggests some other pant shapes.

She describes the new slouch pant shape as ‘usually high-waisted, pleated, voluminous in the hip area and skinny at the hems’.

UK In Style October issue calls this a ‘peg leg’ shape.

Donna Karan Vogue 1201 is a designer pattern.


(See also new Burda patterns 7438, 7439, 7463 – sorry I can’t get links to work.)

Soft safari pants

These are like slouch pants in shape, but made of more rugged fabrics and with added cargo pockets.
So use the same pattern.

– – –

Harem pants

If you fancy this idea – good for party wear perhaps – there’s oop McCall’s 5858.


The pattern shape is simple, usually front and back the same, and with a dropped crotch. A good pant style to choose if you have difficulty getting the pants crotch curve to fit well ? 😀

”s7223pant” long oop Simplicity 7223

Male Pattern Boldness had fun a few months ago making the men’s equivalent, zouave pants. This post shows the shape of the pattern piece very clearly. A quick easy comfortable casual lounging style ? 😀

– – –

Personally, I don’t think any of these shapes would flatter me. I’ll be continuing with my simple classic style. I wear pants as background to more interesting tops. So I’m not worried that my pants are boring. If you do want to liven up simple pants, look at YouLookFab’s post on making classic pants more interesting.

There’s a wide range of options for pants shapes this season. So pick the style that looks good on you 😀

– – –

Patterns and links available August 2010