Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"What does the Fox say?" Fox Shirt

I saw this fox print fabric in one of our local fabric shops and just had to make a men's shirt out of it. Luckily, Mr. Starcross was game and does not mind wearing ridiculously over-the-top shirts, especially if made by yours truly. And if allowed to pose for photos.

I decided to use a Western shirt pattern I have had in my stash forever and have never got around to trying. I will write a review on some of the Western patterns I have been using over the years for "A Year in Indie Patterns" (hopefully next week).

This particular pattern is from Lola Gentry Originals and is their classic Western shirt. I used the most toned-down version of the shirt, which only has slightly curvy shaped front and back yokes.

I decided to emphasize the lines of the pattern with piping, which I had to cut from fabric myself, because I couldn't find matching bias tape.

As you can see I tried to be as meticulous as possible with my fox matching. Although this process seems tedious I actually really enjoyed it. It's like a puzzle.

Although Mr. Starcross cannot wear this shirt to work, it seems to have become his go-to party shirt.

And as you can see from the pictures, Mr. Starcross puts my photo modelling skills to shame, posing and dancing in front of the camera with great aplomb!

But now he's bored.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The BurdaStyle Shirred Dress Sew-Along

I have recently fallen back in love with BurdaStyle magazines, and have bought several issues in a row with a couple of really nice and useful designs in them.

As you might have seen, I made the shirred dress from the May issue and I really love this dress. It has no zipper or button closures, only shirring elastic at the waist. It's a super easy dress to wear for summer.

I think this dress is so easy and enjoyable to make that it would be a great project for a beginner. The sewing is easy because there are no closures, like zips and buttons to sew. Also there are only four actual pattern pieces and no sleeves to set in. The shirring and wide skirt also take care of a lot of fitting issues.

Fitting is a real problem for beginner dressmakers. Fit is just difficult to get right but without it you are not happy with your final sewing achievement. I see thís a lot in my classes and therefore often spend extra time fitting, even with beginners. Mostly the process is too difficult to grasp for beginners and can seem overwhelming, but I still spend time doing it because I want to avoid disappointment later on.

The shirred dress from the BurdaStyle issue eliminates most fitting problems. The dress ticks all the right boxes for a great beginner project. Well, until you read the BurdaStyle instructions. Unfortunately, BurdaStyle instructions are still only fit for the initiated. I think with their picture sew-along instructions for one or two projects each issue, BurdaStyle has done well to make sewing their magazine patterns more accessible to beginners.

Illustrated instructions from the May 2014 issue
But the instructions that have NO illustrations or photos are still cryptic to most beginners - and often even to more experienced sewers. I generally have no idea what they are on about and just ignore the instructions, making up my own as a I go along.

Since I really, really like the dress I have already made another one and documented my sewing along the way, so that even beginners can attempt to sew this easy pattern. It's not really a sew-long, more a tutorial or guide of sorts. I hope it will be useful to some and might help in deciphering BurdaStyle patterns in the future.

What do you think? Sound good?

I'll start with the first post in the first week of August when I'm back from my holidays. We'll gather some supplies and look at how to find and trace the Burda pattern from the magazine. If you want to sew along but don't have the magazine, don't worry, the pattern can be bought as a digital download from BurdaStyle's US site in English here and from their German site in German here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


The other day I found a book on making Japanese clothes, particularly kimonos, in a charity shop. It's called Making Kimonos and Japanese Clothes by Jenni Dobson.

I've never thought much about kimonos, especially not about sewing them. The construction seems so simple that it didn't seem worth making. Where is the fun? But I was quite ignorant about the possibilities of the kimono shape and style.

There are so many ideas on kimono making in this book, all depending on the fabric used and the amount of fabric decoration you want. The simple kimono shape is a great cross-over between dressmaking and other textile crafts, like appliqué, patchwork, quilting, fabric dyeing and embroidery.

It could be a really good beginner project for complete sewing newbies or people who want to get into dressmaking from other textile crafts or vice versa.

I'm surprisingly delighted by this little book. In addition to kimonos, the book also includes other jacket styles, a waistcoat and simple Japanese-style trousers called "mompe". 

There are no full-sized patterns in this book, but pattern diagrams that show you how to draw the patterns in real size. Since the garments are not fitted, I'm supposing that the patterns would work for many sizes and could easily be made bigger or smaller if necessary.  

Currently, I'm envisioning a fashionable chiffon kimono. I've found some great inspiration on polyvore:


If you don't want to make your own pattern, I know that Elise Patterns, a new lingerie pattern company I have tested for, has a kimono-style pattern out. I have not tested that pattern but it seems like a great beginner pattern and perfect for chiffon kimono jackets.
What do you think about the kimono? Do you wear kimonos or have you even made yourself one?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Pin-Up Girls Classic Bra

I finished my Pin-Up Girls Classic Bra. I'm now officially a Pin-Up Girl (see sidebar :). Making this bra was really enjoyable. I love making bras. And although I'm not fully happy with it, it is definitely the most successful bra I have made so far. The proof is in the wearing and I have worn this bra a lot since I finished making it. It came out a bit snug in the band but else it's a pretty good fit after a bit of tweaking. 

When I finished sewing the bra it gaped at the armhole, so I had to take off the elastic at the armhole and stretch it more than the suggested 1 inch I stretched it in the first place. I think I ended up stretching it about 2 inches in total. 

Other minor things that didn't turn out so well is how the elastic lies both at the top of the bridge and under the bust. It has a tendency to curl outward at the top of the bridge and inward under the cup. I suppose I need to pull the elastic somewhat tighter at the top and not as tight under the cups in its next instalment.

I also think that my boobs would benefit from a power bar to stop them from spilling into the underarm, so I think I'll go straight into sewing up the Shelley Bra next, as this one has better shaping and a power bar. 

I will also use more appropriate fabric for the cups next time. I used a very sturdy cup liner and an extremely light-weight polyester as a second layer. The polyester was not a good idea and the cup liner was a bit too rigid, especially for the upper cup portion. I'll stick to actual cup fabric, rather than the polyester I used over the cup liner, for next time. 

But, hey, I made a bra that is wearable! Perhaps not the prettiest bra, but wearable is good enough for now. 

So here is my official pattern review for this month's "A Year in Indie Patterns":

REVIEW: Pin-Up Girls


Classic Bra, Printed Pattern, £16.16 (bought through BodilsWear on Etsy)


Pin-Up Girls Bra Patterns are made by the Canadian company Bra-makers Supply founded by Beverly Johnson. Beverly Johnson herself teaches bra making courses all over the world and I think this is what makes these patterns unique: they have been tested over and over on real people. You really get the feeling that Beverly Johnson knows what she is talking about. Read this interview to find out how she came about drafting bra patterns and teaching bra making. The patterns are available only in printed format, either from Bra-makers Supply directly, or if you live in Europe it is more economical and faster if you order through BodilsWear Etsy shop in Sweden. 


SIZING - The first thing that drew me to buying a Pin-Up Girls pattern is the comprehensive size range. Many commercially available bra patterns only have a limited size range (e.g. KwikSew). Pin-Up Girls bra patterns come in band sizes 30-48 and cup sizes AAA-H. Almost everyone will be able to sew from their patterns, or tweak the available sizes with little difficulty.

However, what confused me about the pattern is how it suggests you pick your size: You should take your high bust measurement and use that measurement in inches to select your band size. Next you should measure your bust and deduct your high bust measurement to find your cup size, whereby e.g. (in my size pack) 5" is an E-cup, 6" an F-cup, 7" a G-cup, etc.

Let's use me as an example: My high bust is around 37 1/2 inches, meaning I should be using a 38 band size. My bust is 40 1/2 or 41 inches at a stretch. This means the difference between my high bust and bust measurement is 3-3 1/2 inches. The bra size I should be sewing is a 38 C-D.

This seemed completely off what I usually wear and buy in the shops. Now as sewers we all know that shop sizes are no indication for what size to actually sew. Measurements are much more reliable. However, this size seemed so impossible to me that I stuck to what I normally wear, which is a 34G. That's two band sizes and 3 cup sizes away from the recommended size in the Pin-Up Girls pattern. The 34G cup I sewed fits. If the cup were any smaller, it wouldn't fit at all. Only the band is somewhat snug and could be adjusted up a half size or size.

I suppose sticking to my 34 band size, the difference between that band and my actual bust of 41 inches is indeed 7 inches, indicating a G-cup. So, is it the difference between the actual band size we choose to sew from (because it fits from experience) and our bust measurement that should be used for calculating cup size?

This was all very confusing and a treacherous territory for a beginner bra maker. It would be great if the instructions on choosing size were clearer and more reliable in the pattern instructions. Ideally even before purchasing the pattern, as Pin-Up Girls patterns come in four different size packs and you would want to know what size to buy before making your purchase.

PATTERN SHEET - The pattern comes on one big sturdy sheet of paper, so not on the customary flimsy pattern paper. That's because the pattern is supposed to be traced off the sheet. This way you can reuse the pattern, in case you do need to go up or down a size. Tracing off bra patterns is easy as there are only few pieces and they are small. The pattern has a 1/4 seam allowance included, which is the customary seam allowance for bra patterns and easy to work with.

Unfortunately, an error must have happened in the printing of my pattern sheet, as some of the pattern pieces were not printed fully. This would have annoyed me if my size was hanging off the page, but fortunately all pieces for my size could be traced fully with no guesswork.

INSTRUCTIONS - The instructions come on a separate A4 booklet and are both in English and French. I have never worked with bra pattern instructions before, as I attended a bra course once and have only used self-drafted or copies of my existing bras to sew new ones and therefore used my own instructions. This is why I can't compare these instructions to other bra pattern instructions. However, there is an illustration with every step, which definitely helps. I also like that a suggested stitch length, width and type is recommended for each step. This takes out a lot of the guesswork.

The format was a bit annoying and I often found myself misplacing a page or ending up on a French page instead of an English one. I think I will staple my instructions together in the right order without the French bits for next time. 

GOOD FIT - The most astonishing thing is that this bra fits the best out of all bras I have ever made. It still needs some tweaking, but it is absolutely wearable and I have already worn it a lot. Even the bras I drafted from existing bras do not fit as well. I suppose having instructions and guidelines as to how snug the elastic should be pulled, etc. helps in getting a good fit, as well as having a much more accurate draft than my poor copies of RTW bras.

The support of the bra is excellent but I don't like the look of the bra I made much. But I will change this next time, as I now feel more knowledgeable about the type of fabric and elastic to use.


I'm really happy with my experience of sewing this bra. I'm ecstatic that it is available in my size and that it comes with good instructions and lots of extra knowledge to be gained from reading Beverly Johnson's blog, which features lots of students' projects. I do not think that the Classic Bra is the ideal shape for me, so I will jump right into making a Shelley bra next, in the same size but with a slightly bigger back band.

*    *    *


If you have made up a pattern by Pin-Up Girls, share your review and/or project via the A-Year-in-Indie-Patterns Pinterest Board. Just drop me a line via email or in the comments with your e-mail address, so I can add you as a pinner to the board. Would love to see other people's results with these patterns!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

BurdaStyle 05/14 Shirred Dress

I have really enjoyed some of the recent BurdaStyle issues. I've previously been known to walk into a newsagent's, pick a BurdaStyle magazine off the shelf, flick though it and put it down again, wholly uninspired. However, surprisingly, since buying the March issue I haven't left out a single issue and have been buying and looking forward to them every month. I have traced several patterns off already, that are waiting in the sewing queue, but have only gotten around to sewing up one: the shirred dress from the May issue.

This dress is great. You only trace four fairly small pattern pieces off the incredibly confusing pattern sheets and you are ready to start cutting out and sewing. Of course, I have made some changes. I made an FBA and my tried-and-trusted anti-neckline-gaping fix. I also decided to make armhole facings, instead of using bias binding as suggested in the instructions.

To be honest, I did not follow the instructions at all, because the dress is easy enough to sew up without, and Burda mag instructions are just notoriously confusing to follow: "Turn it topwise and stitch leftwards!"

This was also the very first time I have done any serious amount of shirring. But hey, it was easy and my light-weight linen-y fabric shirred like a dream.

I wasn't very successful at keeping my rows parallel, but nobody really looks that closely.

All in all, a super successful and easy project. Great to wear in the summer, just pull it over your head and you are done.

Have you tried any Burda mag projects recently?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let the Bra Making begin: Pin-Up Girls Classic Bra

June's A Year in Indie Patterns Challenge is to sew up a bra from the Pin-Up Girls range by Beverly Johnson. If you haven't read the interview I posted with Beverly Johnson, you can find it here. It's very interesting and really worth a read..

I decided to start with the Pin-Up Girls Classic Bra because it has fewer pieces than the Shelley Bra, and might give me a good idea of fit before I move onto the Shelley Bra.

Starting off I traced the pieces for my size. This was more challenging than expected. According to the instructions of the Classic Bra and my measurements I should be making a bra in a size 38E. I am a 34G with every brand of bra I buy. This was confusing. Should I really go two band sizes up and three cup sizes down? I stuck with my gut instinct and traced off a 34G regardless of what the pattern suggested. Bad idea? We'll see.

Before I cut my fabric I pinned the paper cup pieces together and at that stage I was already doubting my decision.

The cup looks huge. But from previous bra making experience I know that the cup, before properly inserted, does have a tendency to look big. So I stuck with the G cup regardless. If it really turns out too big I can always make it smaller, but it would be difficult to make it larger.

Despite a growing stash of bra making supplies I still find it easiest to start off with a white set, because I have all the supplies. I cut out strong powernet for the back band. My other pieces (strap, bra cup pieces and cradle) I cut out off both a rigid nylon bra liner and a more decorative layer of very light-weight polyester with shiny small polka dots. The bra liner on its own does not look very nice, so I thought a decorative layer might improve the look of the bra.

The best way of working with two layers in a bra I have found is basting the layers together before starting any sewing at all.

This has proven to be the most accurate way in the past. It looks like a lot of work but really isn't. The stitching doesn't have to be neat at all. I like to stitch not too far inside the seam allowance, so the stitching can be pulled out easily afterwards. I also used silk sewing thread and a small sharp needle. Both pass easily through the rigid nylon, leave no marks and the silk thread virtually does not tangle.

Next I sewed the cup and strap pieces together and topstitched both seams as per instructions. I did, however, add seam tape (just a thin strip of bra liner) to the cup seam before topstitching.

That's what I learned to do in the bramaking course I took in London and seems a clever idea because the seam can't split and there is no gap between the pressed apart cup pieces.

After attaching the back band to the cradle, I sewed the bra cups in. This was no trouble at all. They went in smoothly.

I added wire channelling, and then stitched the bottom band elastic on.

If you are wondering, I am working on a Bernina 1005 and I am using a Microtex 80/12 needle, which I love to use for bra making and all fine and slippery fabric.

At this stage I'm suspecting that I might have some trouble with my chosen fabric. My cup fabric has no give at all. I wonder if the cup will ever be able to conform smoothly to the bust with this much rigidity in the fabric. At the moment things do look somewhat pointy. Hmmm.

So the band elastic is in, and guess what, among all my bra supplies I realized I didn't have appropriate elastic to finish off the armhole. Grrr. I have already ordered more supplies from the Sewing Chest - admittedly a little more than the elastic I'm missing - and will have to wait until this arrives to continue with the bra. Luckily, I'm working on so many projects at a time that I can easily busy myself with some other project in the meantime.

I'll keep you posted on my bra progress. Happy Sewing!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Interview with Beverly Johnson from Bra-Maker Supply

If you make your own bras, you will most certainly have heard of the Queen of Bramaking, or Fairy Bramother, Beverly Johnson.

If not, let me tell you that Beverly Johnson is the brains behind Bra-Makers Supply in Canada, which is easily one of the biggest online supply shops for home and custom bra and lingerie makers. She has also written the book Bra-Makers Manual, which I'm very tempted to buy for myself. In addition to that she teaches bra making all over the world and releases the popular Pin-Up Girls bra and lingerie patterns. These patterns are great because they literally come in every bra size imaginable.

I bought the Shelley bra pattern, and accidentally the Classic bra pattern (don't ask, it's complicated :) and plan to play with both these patterns this month as part of my challenge A Year in Indie Patterns.

So, needless to say, I was more than excited when Beverly Johnson agreed to an interview for this blog. I had a lot of questions to ask her and managed to edit them down to only seven, so as not to have poor Beverly answer my questions all day. 

The interview is super exciting! Enjoy reading it and get yourself a Pin-Up Girls pattern, if you want to join me for this month's challenge. They are available in Canada through Bra-Makers Supply or in Sweden through B-Wear. I got mine from B-wear's Etsy shop.

1. Bra-making is such as specialized field. I’m dying to know how you got into it. Did you start off training for general dressmaking/fashion design or did you jump right into bra-making?

We had a neighbour, Gwen, that was an incredible seamstress – a designer, in actual fact. When I was 10, I got a Barbie™ and Gwen made clothes for her (with darts and seaming…even a tiny wee zipper!). I started taking Home Economics the same year and being able to make clothes for Barbie was heaven to me. I knew I wanted to know everything I could about sewing. Where I lived in Canada there was no fashion school, so my only option was to become a Home Economics teacher (even though I didn't really care about the cooking part…lol). To finance my way through university, I did alterations and sewing for others. One of my customers wanted a bikini that looked like a bra and asked me to make one “the same – only different”. That was my first venture into something bra related.

I taught myself to work with spandex so I could make dance costumes, swimwear, fitness wear and underwear. With each stretchy garment, I learned to control this fabulous fabric. Remember in those days, no one knew how to sew with knits, let alone spandex!

Many years later I worked as an independent bra pattern maker for the bra industry. That was very stimulating work, as I worked on completely different projects for each client. I have given that work up as it is very personally demanding, but every so often, I get asked if I would take on a bra design project for a company. My answer is always no - I am very happy designing and drafting patterns for my own company (Pin-up Girls) and teaching women how to use them.

2. What made you decide to start your own business as a bra-maker, teacher and supplier to custom and home bra-makers?

I wanted to do something that no one else was doing, but when I read pattern drafting books, I realized there was no information on bra-making. In fact, one book said to “leave the bra-making to the experts in the industry”. That was strange - where does the industry learn? That started me on a quest to find out everything I could about this fascinating garment. I purchased dozens of bras from dozens of brands and took them apart to determine what made one brand better than another. I also bought bras from the smallest to the largest to determine the grade rules. It took me a year but I had a working set of patterns. They were all drawn by hand at that time, but they worked!

Each time I taught a class, I could individualize the fit to each student so the bra pattern was truly custom. I was teaching at sewing shops and sewing festivals all over Canada. I did that for 15 years! In fact, my bra-making classes still hold the record for being the most popular class at the Toronto show! I am very proud of that!

At the same time, students in the classes were asking where they could buy all the elastics, hardware and findings for making their own bras and perhaps for their customers. I made up a one-page flyer so they could purchase from me. That one page with 9 products has grown into 1600 products that fill our website and out store in Hamilton! My patterns are all done on a computer now (in English and French too) so they look a whole lot better than they did in the beginning!

3. Have you felt that the interest in making your own lingerie and swimwear has increased in recent years along with the general resurgence of an interest in sewing?

Absolutely! At the turn of the century (wow – that makes me sound so old!) “everyone” said that sewing was a “lost art”. Well, it is not lost now! Television shows like Project Runway and Project Catwalk bring the world of the fashion designer to your TV screen. You actually see these designers sewing! I think that is very important, for others to realize that someone, somewhere is actually using a sewing machine to create these lovely garments. I see younger women in my classes than I used to – that’s heart warming!

Just to compare, I used to travel around the country teaching bra-making. The classes were full but I would go to a store only once a year. Now I teach bra-making every three weeks and the classes are always full. So the interest is definitely increasing!

More importantly, I think that the hundreds of sewing blogs out there are helping a lot. Sewing is largely a solitary activity, and yet, the social aspect of sharing one’s projects with others as enthusiastic as you, is very intoxicating. On my blog, I can’t wait for comments to come in. I get revved up just knowing that my blog has helped someone else make their own bra.

4. Do you ever find time to sew for yourself? And if so, what do you make?

I seem to sew a LOT of samples, more than anything! But I did sew an award winning quilt (can you see corsets, bras and panties in this quilt?) which was featured in a magazine this past year. One of my recent projects was a chevron lace dress. On my to-do list is some new underwear – I really need some new stuff!

5. I would love to take a bra-making course with you, but it is just too costly to fly all the way to Canada, and I am sure other European-based sewers have the same problem. Luckily, I found out that you also teach bra-making courses in Sweden! Are you planning to teach any more courses in Europe in the future?

Yes, I am teaching in Sweden this year for the second time. Our European distributor is Bodil Friman (www.bwear.se) and she is printing all my books and patterns and carrying our elastics and fabrics. Best of all, she is hosting lots of bra-making workshops in mid-summer, so I am teaching the Classic Bra, Shelley Bra, Amanda bra, the Bra Dress, Fabrics, Style Changes and Power Bars for 8 days in Stockholm.

Although I don’t travel to teach for short periods of time any more, I am willing to go to places where I can teach for several days at a time. Earlier this year, I taught at the university in Taipei, and also at the Stitches Conference in Saskatchewan. If anyone wants me to come and teach in the UK or Europe for a few days, we should talk!

6. What is your advice to the beginning bra-maker? Can anyone learn to make bras? Which pattern should they start with?

We tell prospective bra-makers – “if you can sew in a sleeve, you can make a bra”. So it is not difficult work, just precise. We need accurate 1/4” (6 mm) seams so we are fussy about that, but lots of other things, we can live with to get the bra done to make sure it fits well.

Fabric makes the biggest difference. If you make your first bra with the fabrics recommended by the designer (which is a stable knit), and the second bra, you go to your sewing room and pick out some really stretchy fabric, the two bras will not fit the same. There are ways of making patterns work with your fabric work, but stick with fabrics with similar properties to the original and get some experience before you branch out.

Our most popular pattern is the Classic Bra, which is a full band bra which can be used with or without wires. If you start with the Classic Bra, you will learn all the techniques necessary for bra sewing. Applying the underwire channeling and sewing on facing elastics (as opposed to casing elastics), are techniques specific to bra-making. Once you know those basics, you should be able to make the Linda (partial band bra) or the Shelley (my designer bra) or the Amanda (the foam cup bra).

Women will often take a class to learn the first bra, which is fine, but the instructions have been written assuming you have never sewn a bra before. If they are still unsure, they might want to purchase “Make & Fit your own Bra” which is a book that covers in much more detail the construction and fitting process of both the full band (Classic) and the partial band bras (the Linda bra).

7. What are your future plans for Bra-makers Supply and your own teaching?

More patterns, more blogging, more books and more classes! I have three more books (swimwear, corsetry and foundations) in progress. Also several patterns including a bikini pattern and a bodyshaper pattern are in the works too. Certainly I will do more bra patterns. I would love to do online classes, too! So many things and not enough hours in the day! I’ll keep doing this until I’m not effective anymore, then I’ll think about retiring. Maybe!

Thanks so much, Beverly, for answering all my nosy questions! 

It's amazing and very refreshing when someone is so excited and passionate about something. Doesn't it just make you want to get sewing bras straight away?!

Have any of you tried Pin-Up Girls patterns before? What's your experience? And if you have, Beverly has created a badge you can put on your blog to show that you are an official Pin-Up Girl!