My Second Year in Sewing

The end of the year is a time when many of us reflect. It also just so happens to mark my sewiversary AKA when I started sewing. Two years ago in November I finally decided it was time to learn. This video is a whistle stop tour of my makes from my second year in dressmaking. You can still find most of the patterns and fabrics on our site. I have linked to the blog article for each garment in the blog article for this video so you can find them easily. You can also see my 'First Year in Dressmaking' video here.


The Super Soft & Cosy Turtleneck

I started my second year in dressmaking with a nice simple turtleneck in our John Kaldor Isabella wool jersey fabric. The pattern is Kwik Sew 4069 and was super duper easy to make. I heard through the wonderful online sewing community that the neckband was too big so I made it and tried it on before attaching it to the top. I did have to alter it several times to fit, but was very pleased with the end result.

Unfortunately I made this top before I realised I had a high round back therefore the shoulder seams are too far back. If I'm honest I probably wouldn't have been confident enough to try and fix it at this stage anyway. Despite the shoulder seam issue I have worn this top to death. It is a great winter wardrobe staple. I wear it with jeans, skirts and even under dresses. The fabric is absolutely gorgeous. Super soft, warm and washes beautifully. It is also available in a gorgeous range of colours.

The Tartan 60s Pinafore Dress

This is a bitter sweet make for me. It definitely felt like I had finally stepped it up a gear in terms of my sewing skills. I successfully pattern matched tartan (after one failed attempt I'm not going to lie!) The finish was my best yet and the fit was spot on, but I cut the hem waaaay too short! Nooooooo! In my world it is verging on indecent! Even more annoyingly it was ridiculously long in the first place so I had plenty of fabric to play with. However, I learned a very valuable lesson to take extra special care when cutting hems.

I can highly recommend the pattern (Simplicity 1252). I cut a size 12 and it fit really well straight out of the packet, seriously, how often does that happen?! Never in my case! The tartan fabric is still available on our website and so is the navy lining.

Hopefully I'll get around to making it again at a more demure length.

The 90s Cami Top

This was a brilliant little project. Another fit straight out of the packet job, super quick and easy to make and something I have worn time and time again. The pattern is Simplicity 1366.

It also helps that I made it in my favourite colour. The fabric is our Mystique satin backed crepe, which is the most beautiful quality and available in a fantastic range of colours. The satin is super soft against your skin, but you can use whichever side of the fabric you prefer. It is absolutely perfect for party season too.

I actually did a time lapse video of me making this cami, which you can see here.

The Vintage Pencil Skirt

Before I start can we just take a minute to admire this beautiful fabric everyone?! It is John Kaldor Ohio fabric, still available on the site and feels as good as it looks. It is a super soft cotton with a satin finish and a little bit of stretch.

The pattern was a lovely vintage Simplicity pattern, which is now sadly discontinued. However, I think New Look 6107 would make a nice alternative.

I learned a lot making this skirt. Firstly I finally perfected a neat, even waistband including nice crisp corners. I had a complete disaster in this respect on a previous project so I was determined to exorcise the demons. I wrote a blog post sharing all the tips and tricks I learned and still refer to it constantly whenever I'm sewing a skirt. The techniques have never failed.

I also learned a lot more about fit, specifically getting things to fit me. I managed to get the waistband to fit, but then had real problems with the fit across the hips and thighs. After unpicking the side seams a million times I realised I should have fitted the skirt before attaching the waistband.

I have also since discovered I have to make a set fitting adjustment to most skirts I make. In fitted skirts I often get a tightness across the thighs. I now know to try the skirt on, mark with pins where the tightness begins and ends then gently grade the seams out by 1/8" in this area. To help me get the grade right I mark the mid point between the start and the end points and mark 1/8" here then grade back to the original seamlines.

 The Cocktail Hour Dress

By this point I was gaining more and more confidence with every project and starting to feel like a real sewist. It was a good job - this was far and away the most challenging, detailed, intricate garment I have ever made. The McCalls pattern company kindly asked me to take part in their Cocktail Hour blogger tour to raise money for the Eve Appeal for women's cancers. Thrilled to be taking part I decided to go big or go home.

I used Vogue 1428 to create the tulle overbodice and overlay and a trusty McCalls pattern for the pencil skirt. I used our gorgeous John Kaldor Duchesse satin to make the pencil skirt and some beautifully lightweight satin backed crepe for the under bodice.

Angela helped me to fit the under and over bodice. This involved making a toile, identifying problem areas, refining and repeating this cycle until we were happy with the fit. This was the first time I made a high round back adjustment and I realised it wasn't that scary at all. We tweaked and fiddled in several other areas too and it was a real turning point for me. Suddenly I could see altering the fit wasn't that hard and the results were fantastic. I also realised it isn't an exact science and you can improvise too.

Angela helped me to choose the embroidery designs and position them correctly on the garment. I used my Husqvarna Diamond deluxe sewing and embroidery machine to create them and these little free standing motifs. The button loops are hand sewn, I sewed French seams in the tulle and finished the tulle with satin bias. I dread to think how many hours I spent making this dress, but it was wonderful to have an excuse to make something so fancy and push my sewing skills to the limit.

 The Flared Summer Skirt

After the mammoth cocktail hour dress I decided to make this quick, simple summer skirt. It is the Hollyburn pattern by Sewaholic in a beautiful cotton lawn fabric. If you haven't tried a Sewaholic pattern I highly recommend them. The instructions are always so easy to follow and the designs are so pretty and feminine. If you are a pear shape you should definitely try Sewaholic patterns. Designed for a pear shaped figure they fit and flatter in all the right places. They are also easy enough to adapt for none pear shapes too.

I absolutely love this skirt and wore it all summer long. The shape felt so feminine and flattering and it was so easy to wear.

The Tshirt Dress

This was my first ever pattern hack. I decided I wanted to make a casual summer day dress. I liked Burda 6540, but wanted to make it more round neck and add a draw string at the waist. Angela gave me some pointers such as the need to bring the shoulders in because they were a lot wider on the original slash neck. She also suggested I sewed elastic into the fabric at the waist then add a faux drawstring. The high street dress I was copying literally had a strip of fabric tied round the waist and therefore didn't gather evenly. Angela's suggestion was far better in my opinion.

I made a quick toile of the shoulder neck area only to make sure I was happy with the newly drafted neckline then got stuck in.

The fabric is our geometric jersey and I really loved wearing this dress. It felt like I was reaching a real turning point by now where I was reaching for handmade items in my wardrobe more and more.

The Scuba Dress

This dress marked the start of my obsession with fit. The pattern is Simplicity 8330. It was also an interesting project because I used a woven pattern with a stretch fabric. I knew I would probably have to down size due to the fabric, but didn't realise quite how much. Originally I cut a size 12 and ended up sewing a size 8 with a few further tweaks. I made a high round back alteration and also sewed 5/8" seams instead of 3/8" seams to get the snug fit I wanted. I also reduced the curve of the princess seams slightly. The scuba was fantastic to work with and I made all of the fitting adjustments on the actual garment fabric rather than a toile. I sewed long basting stitches first to get the fit right and the scuba was hardy enough to handle lots of unpicking.

The next challenge was getting the skirt to match up with the very altered bodice. I took great care to make sure the darts lined up with the princess seams and the side seams met. I also decided not to accept the tightness across my thighs. This is also a common problem for me and I decided it was time to fix it. I marked the points where the tightness began and finished then gradually curved the side seams out about 1/8". This is now another pretty standard fitting adjustment for me.

Unfortunately the armholes are too high. I moved the neckline down and didn't take the armholes into account. By next summer I will unpick a section of the armhole binding and move it across to remedy this issue. Other than that I adore this dress and have worn it out in the UK and on hols abroad.

The Dress with an Overlay

This was an interesting project using Vogue 1395, which is a Rebecca Taylor design. I really liked the little details such as the overlay, which ties at the waist and the gathered neckline at the back. I'm a sucker for interesting and different little details, but automatically assumed they would be difficult to construct. It was a pleasant surprise that they weren't! The overlay was very easy to create as were the gathers.

The main challenge with this garment was the pattern matching and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately I forgot to allow for seam allowances at the front of the dress, but I still think it worked out well. The fabric is our gorgeously soft and drapey French viscose.

I read a few reviews of the dress before I made it which suggested the armholes were cut exceptionally low and the neckline could be a little low. I made a quick, very rough toile and raised the armholes an inch, but the neckline seemed fine.

The Racer Back Dress

I really, really love this dress, like so much. What is truly wonderful about it is that I had a few headaches along the way and thought it might be a write off at one point, but ended up with a garment I adore wearing.

The pattern is McCalls 7591 and the fabric is our beautiful double Georgette parrot fabric lined with our navy polycotton. The polycotton worked beautifully with the double georgette and was perfect for my winter sun holiday.

The issues were all to do with the fit of the bodice. In short it was massive and exposed my bra strap and even the skin beneath. Thankfully I was able to rectify the problem by taking a huge two inches off each side seam, but it was a fiddly job having already joined the bodice and lining, understitched, trimmed and clipped! I also added a couple of little darts to take out some more of the fullness. Then I had to adjust the skirt to fit the new bodice, which I did by gathering the skirt.

If I had just made a very quick toile I could have made the adjustments first and got it right first time. I thought it was unnecessary with a loose fitting garment like this, but lesson learned.

The only little snag is the angle of the straps at the front. I didn't quite get it right when hand sewing them in place. Other than that I love this dress and it is certainly proof that determination pays off. I loved wearing it on holiday and know it will be a firm favourite next summer.

The Denim and Scuba Skirts

I absolutely love this denim skirt and have been wearing it every week without fail. Our gorgeous dark blue medium weight denim and New Look 1370 were the perfect pairing. It is definitely a very plain and simple wardrobe staple, but I added an exposed zip for a fun little twist. I made a quick toile to get the fit spot on cutting a size 16 then sewing a 14 at the side seams and adding two inches to the length. I would highly recommend this pattern, it is a super easy sew and a lovely shape.

In fact I love this skirt so much I made it again. This time I used our John Kaldor black scuba. Since it is a good pattern I cut straight into the fabric and altered it as I went along. The size 16 was massive in the stretch fabric so I took a whopping 1 and 3/4" off the side seams and 1" off the back seam.

This time I moved the zip much closer to the top of the waistband to eliminate a gap at the top. I also remembered to interface the back seam allowances so I didn't have to worry as much about snipping the fabric to insert the zip.

Thanks to the denim skirt and generally gaining confidence with fitting my body I made the thigh adjustment as standard.

I cannot get enough of these skirts. How wonderful to find a tried and tested pattern.

The Tshirt Tops

Another tried and tested pattern I am loving right now is the Tilly and the Buttons Agnes top. I made one of these last year and have made another three this year! I made them in leopard print jersey, a smudged dark floral jersey and a beautiful acrylic knit. Unfortunately the knit fabric sold out, but the smudged floral fabric makes a nice alternative. They are so easy to wear and are the perfect pairing for my scuba and denim skirts.

The fit is excellent. I do make my high round back adjustment and bring the shoulder seams forward slightly, but it isn't as important in a stretch fabric.

It is also so easy to make. If you aren't confident with stretch fabrics I would definitely recommend this pattern. The instructions for Tilly patterns are always so clear and easy to understand. She talks you through how you can sew the top on a sewing machine if you don't have an overlocker and there are photographic images all the way through. You can find Tilly's patterns on our website.

You can also find lots of articles about sewing garments on your overlocker on our blog.

The Ruffle Blouse

I avoided making a woven blouse for the longest time. After finally understanding my fit issues across the back and shoulders and learning how to fix them I was ready to take on the challenge. This is Simplicity 8454 in our dark floral cotton lawn. I absolutely love the blouse and am really pleased with the fit. I omitted the frills under the sleeves because I felt too frilly. Paired with a simple skirt, black tights and boots I think the ruffly feminine top is perfectly balanced. This was a great pattern and really easy to make.

Final Thoughts

This year the main things I've learned are to persevere with fit and how to make clothes I will wear constantly. I've learned that fitting isn't an exact science and you have to be prepared to fiddle about a bit, but the results are so worth it in the end. Having the confidence to just try is the turning point.

In terms of making clothes I wear all the time I think I'm better at matching patterns and fabrics and understanding what works well. I also think the fact we've massively increased the choice and variety on our website this year has helped. I'll never be able to make something from all of the fabrics I want to and that is a nice feeling to have!

Have fun sewing!


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