New Half-Scale Knit Dress Pattern

I have a new free half-scale pattern on Craftsy. This one is a sleeveless dress designed for knit fabrics.

The dress has a one piece neck and armhole facing that is sewn entirely by machine using this method, which I really like.


When I was out taking pictures of the dress, my cat Felix came over and wanted his picture taken too, so of course I obliged him. I took more kitty pictures than dress pictures.


Then he needed his chin scratched . . .


Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

Upcycled Kids’ T-Shirts

I’ve been coming up with all sorts of things to do to avoid working on my bra pattern. My latest project was upcycled t-shirts for my kids.

My husband came home with a stack of old men’s work t-shirts someone had brought into his office. For some reason he thought I would use the fabric to make something :)

I used rub-off patterns to make the shirts, since I’m usually happier with the fit of kids’ clothes when I go that route rather than using commercial patterns.

I fiddled with my finicky serger and actually got it to work for this project, using ideas from the book The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide: Troubleshooting for Any Overlock Brand or Model. I highly recommend this book for everyone with a serger. There was one suggestion from this book that didn’t work for me, though – they suggested using larger needles to prevent skipped stitches, but I found smaller needles did the trick. I finally ended up using a size 10 Schmetz universal needle for the right needle and a size 12 ELx705 overlock needle on the left, even though those special needles are not recommended for my machine.

I used rolled hems on the long sleeve t-shirts, and when I went to switch the foot back to the normal position I stripped out the screw that holds the stitch finger in place. Figures. It is always something with this machine. I used craft glue to glue the stitch finger into the normal position, so I guess there will be no more rolled hems for a while. I am so looking forward to the day when I have the money saved up for a new serger.
Upcycled kids shirts 2

Posted in Sewing

Full Size Paper Dress Form

Several people have asked me if my half-scale paper dress form pattern can be enlarged to make a full scale dress form, and I wasn’t sure how well that would work, so I decided to try it.

pattern pieces taped togetherI re-made the pdf patterns at twice the size so I could print them on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper. It came out to 56 pages. Yikes. But each original pattern piece fit on a single piece of paper, so I only had to tape together 4 sheets at a time, which wasn’t that bad. If you’ve bought the paper dress form pattern on Craftsy or Etsy, I will send you the full-scale pattern if you ask me for it. I also have available a pdf that will print on three sheets on a large format printer (copy shop version) in addition to the 56 page version.

pattern pieces on poster boardI glued each pattern piece onto poster board, using a total of 5 sheets of poster board. I had some problems. Poster board is about the right thickness for this project, but it is made from layers of different types of paper, and it wrinkles when it gets wet. I should have used spray glue, but I didn’t want to deal with the fumes, so I used home-made cornstarch paste (without the vinegar), which really adds a lot of moisture.

I tried to fix the wrinkling problem by ironing the poster board pieces dry. This worked pretty well, except blisters developed between the layers that make up the poster board. I had to pop the blisters with a pin and try to iron them flat. At this point, I really didn’t want to re-print all those pages and tape them together again, so I decided to forge ahead.

dress form stuffed with crumpled paperIt went together fairly well after that. I stuffed the form with crumpled paper to help it keep its shape, and I put a couple of small bags of sand in the bottom to keep it from being top heavy. After it was assembled, I covered it with a layer of gummed kraft paper tape rather than paper mache, because paper tape holds less moisture and I was still having problems with the poster board warping when it got wet. I was running low on paper tape, so after that I switched to paper mache, using butcher paper and cornstarch paper mache paste, since I’m gluten intolerant.

I wish I’d thought to cover the form with plastic box sealing tape before adding layers of kraft paper tape or paper mache. That would have kept most of the moisture out of the poster board. Why do I get all of these good ideas after the project is done?

shave off dart pointsAfter the first two layers of paper mache were dry, I used a razor knife to slice off the pointy dart ends, then rounded out the shape as best as I could with lightweight spackling compound before adding three more layers of paper mache. If I’d stuck to using kraft paper tape, I think a total of three layers of tape would have been plenty, which would have saved a lot of time. I don’t think cornstarch paste dries as stiff as white flour paste, so you probably wouldn’t need as many layers of paper mache if you use flour paste, either.

After the paper mache was dry, I sprayed acrylic sealer on the form to preserve it.

It took me a weekend to assemble the dress form, then countless hours over several days to add layers of paper mache. Seriously, I refuse to count how many hours I spent putting paper mache on this thing.

So yes, it is possible to use this pattern to make a full scale dress form. It would work fine as a display item, but it doesn’t quite have a realistic body shape, so I wouldn’t recommend using it for fitting purposes.

I don’t have room for this dress form, or a use for it at the moment, so I sewed a pretty cover for it and put it up on Etsy. Hopefully it will find a good home.

Posted in Crafts

Beanie Boobies

So, my brother recently signed up as a subscriber to my blog, just in time for a post all about my breasts. Yeah, you might want to skip reading this one, bro.

I’ve never been able to buy a bra that fits. When I was younger, I wore stretchy non-wired bras that didn’t provide much support because they were all I could fit into. My measurements say I should wear a 34C, but they lie. My breast tissue (not just fat) nearly meets in the center, and my breasts extend well under my arms, so there’s more breast volume there than a typical 34C cup size. Lately I’ve been wearing non-wired foam cup t-shirt bras in either 34C or 36B, which aren’t too bad, but I end up with pressure points where the bra cuts into my ribs, I overflow the cups at the center and sides, and they are not terribly supportive. Lately I’ve noticed that there is a lot of tension on my bra straps, too.

Many years ago I decided I wanted to try sewing an underwire bra, thinking that if I custom fit it, I could wear a wired bra. I bought a pattern, fabric, elastic, The Bra-makers Manual, and a whole set of underwires in different sizes. I found a wire that fit the curve under my breasts, and then had to shorten the ends by an inch or two. The wire that fit me was six sizes larger than the one used in a 34C bra. Every day after work I’d come home and sew a new bra, then make some adjustments to try the next day. I made at least a half dozen versions before I quit working on it. I ended up with a bra that almost fit, but wasn’t comfortable enough to wear regularly. The wires still dug into me, and wouldn’t lie flat against my chest in the middle.

I’d like to add that The Bra-makers Manual (I have what is now the first of two volumes) was a huge disappointment for me. It’s almost exclusively dedicated to sewing wired bras, with a couple of notes here and there about non-wired bras. And I just now discovered that near the end of the book, the author mentions that women with breast tissue extending under their arms cannot wear wired bras. Wouldn’t it have been helpful to put that at the beginning of the book? She just jumps right into discussing wired bras, as if they are the only kind. Also, I couldn’t find any info on what to do if there is no room for a bridge between your breasts. The author just says that the bridge should lie against the chest, rather than the bra acting like a hammock. But I can’t figure out how to do that since I don’t have room for a bridge. This book was very expensive, and did not lead me to figure out my fit issues.

After giving up on sewing a bra, I went to be professionally fitted. I came home with an expensive underwire bra that I wore once, and some not very supportive non-wired knit bras. The underwire bra felt OK for the first hour or so, but by the end of the day I couldn’t think of anything other than the pain of the wires digging into me. I’m not the type to be willing to suffer for fashion, so I ended up wearing the knit bras. They didn’t give me a very nice shape, but what else could I do?

I decided I’m going to give making my own bras another try. I figured if I blogged about it, I’d be more likely to follow through with the project, since that worked for finishing my jeans.

To help me drape a bra pattern, I made an upper body form of myself, with semi-soft breasts stuffed with beans. This was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it simply as a craft project. Apparently I really like cloning myself- I’ve got all sorts of body parts scattered around my sewing area – a dress form, skirt form, pants form, and a pair of plaster feet. It’s really kind of creepy.

For anyone wanting to make a paper tape dress form, I have a few tips on working with kraft paper tape in my skirt form tutorial. I also took lots of pictures while making this bust form. I put them up on Flikr. I added further descriptions and explanations to some of the pictures, so click on the pictures to see the comments. One thing I don’t show in the pictures is that prior to taping the shoulder area, I marked my desired armhole location directly on my body with washable marker. I found this is very important – it is very difficult to get the left and right armholes the same otherwise, especially if you don’t have an experienced sewer doing the taping.

The bean-filled breasts are firmer than I anticipated, since I used foam bra cups and packed the beans in so tightly. But they are nearly in the shape I wanted, and I can pat them into slightly different shapes.

If I end up making a bra I really like, I plan to perform a double mastectomy on my full dress form, put a bra on her, and fill up the bra with lentil filled stockings. Then I’d have a much more realistic bust to work with for fitting.

11 nylons full of beans in breasts

33 finished bust form

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Jeans Pockets

I like my pockets to be as perfect as I can get them, since your eye is always drawn to pockets. Here’s how I make the back pockets on my jeans.

If you like this pocket, you can use my pocket pattern.

Posted in Sewing

The Jeans That Killed My Sewing Machine

KillerJeansI had said before that you don’t need an industrial sewing machine to sew jeans. Well, that is only true up to a point. My Singer Fashion Mate 252 did fine on 12 ounce denim and just barely made it through 13.5 ounce denim as long as I hammered all of the bulky spots first and used double topstitched seams rather than flat-felled seams.
But . . .

JeansUnderliningI had one last piece of denim in my stash I wanted to make into jeans. I’m not sure of the fabric weight, but I think it is 12 oz or less. It’s non-stretch denim, and it’s loosely woven, so I was worried about the jeans stretching out too much as I wore them. I decided to underline the jeans with an especially horrendous piece of quilting cotton from my stash (no, I didn’t buy that fabric- it was given to me as part of a bin of fabric from an estate sale). I didn’t give any thought to how my sewing machine would handle the extra layers of fabric. (The jeans ended up uncomfortably tight, so this was an all-around bad idea.)

Everything was going OK until I was topstitching the inseam and got to the thick spot at the crotch where the seams come together. Then clunk, I heard the sewing machine needle hit metal. I thought maybe I’d bent the needle, but no, it was straight. I cut the thread, removed the fabric, and checked out what was going on. The needle was hitting the shuttle race every time it went down. I thought, oops, I must have thrown out my timing on the thick fabric – no big deal, I can fix that.

BrokenPlasticGearAs I was looking at the bottom of the machine and turning the hand wheel, suddenly the wheel started turning way too easily, and I realized something was broken. It turned out to be a broken plastic gear up in the top, and I think the machine would have to be mostly disassembled to replace it. Everything else important is made of metal, but they just had to put in a plastic gear in an inaccessible location.

This sewing machine had been making some screechy noises for a while, so I think it was already on its way to breaking, and the jeans were just the last straw. So, that was the end of that machine :'(

I tried finishing my jeans on my Janome Magnolia 7306. It really doesn’t like thick fabric, wouldn’t make even stitches, and I was afraid I would break this sewing machine, too. I really don’t like sewing on this machine anyway. I am so spoiled from sewing on my treadle-mounted machine I don’t want to sew on anything else – the stitches are even, and it is so easy to control the speed with the treadle. My Singer 252 is an entry-level sewing machine from the early 1970’s, but it sews so much better than my six year old entry-level Janome.

I had a spare Singer 252 for parts, but the tension assembly screw was bent on that one. I pulled it out of storage and managed to straighten the tension assembly enough that it works. Whew. I’m so glad I was able to fix it! After only a few hours without my favorite sewing machine, I realized that a lot of the joy I get from sewing is from using that particular machine.

WalkingFootSewingMachineI have a semi-industrial portable walking foot machine that I really should have been sewing these jeans with rather than risking my other machines. I found this machine on Craigslist, and just had to buy it after thinking about all of the times I’ve had trouble sewing through thick fabric. It is hard to sew in a straight line on this machine, the stitches don’t stay an even length, and I can’t use a top-stitching foot with it, so I’d rather not use it if I don’t have to. It will sew through just about anything, though. Well, now I’ve realized how fragile my other machines are, so no more risking them. If I have wobbly top-stitching on my jeans from sewing them on the walking foot machine, so be it. Chances are non-sewers will not notice the imperfections unless I point them out. Heck, they probably won’t even notice that my jeans are home-made.

On a good note, I only had a 60 yard spool of topstitching thread for these jeans, and I was carefully conserving it, hoping I would have enough. I just made it with 2 yards to spare!2yardsThread

Posted in Sewing

Jeans for Me!

I’ve had denim sitting in my stash for years waiting to be made into jeans, but I kept putting off making them because I didn’t know how to get the fit right. I finally did it. It took making four muslins, but I perfected my jeans pattern enough that I was willing to sew it up in denim.

I’ve had such bad experiences with the fit from commercial patterns, I wasn’t willing to use one. So instead I started with a rub-off pattern from my best fitting pair of old jeans. I altered the pattern to add some length to the back crotch seam, and I got the length right, but I couldn’t quite get the shape right.

After three muslins, I was about to give up and say my figure just isn’t suited to jeans, but I decided to give it one more try. I have a custom pants form I made from a plaster mold last year, and I draped a completely new jeans back pattern on it. I was surprised at how straight the back crotch curve is. I sewed up one more muslin, and finally, the jeans felt right.

I compared my pattern to McCall’s M5894, a classic fit jeans pattern I have, hoping I could get some clues about how to alter commercial patterns in the future. Maybe these comparisons will give someone else with a similar figure some fitting hints. My pants front pattern was not altered from the ready-to-wear pair I copied. Look how different the McCall’s front crotch curve is (the solid line corresponds to my size). If you look at the pictures of the models wearing these jeans, you can tell there’s some weird bagginess in the front crotch area. I’m thankful I did not use this pattern – I would have had even more fit issues.

And look, no mono-butt! At first I wasn’t too concerned when I noticed that style had become popular. I thought it was just a fad and would be gone in a few years. But now all pants seem to be cut tight under the bum, and I realized how uncomfortable they are, since the tightness on the lower butt cheeks makes the pants pull themselves down every time you move. Also, there is no extra fabric down there to allow you to sit without pulling down the back waist a little too far. This style has lasted so long, there is an entire generation that thinks it’s normal to be constantly tugging up your jeans. Thankfully, I have a jeans pattern for myself now, and I no longer have to be subjected to the discomfort of mono-butt jeans.

016D jeans front and back

016D jeans side view

I wasn’t trying for completely wrinkle-free pants like those modeled in Pants for Real People – comfort was my primary concern. I’m not sure it’s possible to get the back wrinkle-free for my body shape anyway – I have a lot of curves back there!

After all the pairs of jeans I sewed for my kids, and the wearable muslins I made, I got pretty good at topstitching. And aren’t my inner pockets pretty?

016D jeans fly

016D pretty jeans pockets

P.S. I uploaded my back pocket pattern, if you want to use that swoosh I have on them.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Grow Your Own Clothes on

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers