Getting Started on the Fall Wardrobe Plan

Using my magic quadrant for sewing planning, I came up with some priorities for my fall sewing time, by considering the ease or difficulty of each project and the cost involved, and factored in things I “need” vs. things I “want.”

sewing plan 3

I decided to start with “cheap and easy,” and something I needed, which left me with a cardigan or a sweatshirt. I tossed a coin and got the sweatshirt. I have all the materials and pattern in hand – two yards of bright red 100% cotton sweatshirt fleece, a sport-style nylon zipper and Kwik Sew 3452.


This pattern is copyrighted 2007 and I believe it’s out of print, but you can get it online. A fellow member of sent it to me for free, when I put a request out there for something like it. This pattern calls for a stretch fleece, but I prefer 100% cotton, and the fabric I have stretches enough according to the envelope guide. It’s a bit close-fitting, so I graded out a size in hips, to be safe.

I am copying an old sweatshirt I bought at a cheap tourist shop on Cape Cod years ago. It’s a half-zip pullover style with a kangaroo pouch and a collar, not a hood. There was NO pattern exactly like this anywhere, and this pattern is not exactly right. It doesn’t have a kangaroo pouch, just  fold-over pockets for the full-zip version, view A.


Simplicity 8174 to the rescue! I bought this pattern for the bomber jacket (which is AMAZING, by the way – I made it in cranberry red ultrasuede earlier this year). I couldn’t help but notice that the jersey dress has a kangaroo pocket, and I was happy that it sized up well with the Kwik Sew sweatshirt.

Now I need to decide if I will use my sewing machine or serger for this job. The pattern calls for 1/4 inch seam allowances, since it assumes you’ll either serge it or use an overlock stitch on a sewing machine. I don’t have any red serger thread. Do I spring for it, or do I keep the spirit of “cheap and easy” by using my sewing machine?


Fall Sewing Wardrobe Plan

I went through my closet this weekend – sorting out summer things that I’ll either pack away for next year, sell or donate to charity. There’s a hole in my closet now – time to fill it up again!

Wait…. not so fast….

What do I need? What do I want? What do I sew myself? What do I buy? What’s the budget for time and money?

Oh no. This just got a lot more complicated.

Start simple. What are five things I need?

  1. Jeans. I have three pairs of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. They fit well and are comfortable, but they are pretty faded and worn out.
  2. A fall/winter dress for work. I don’t have anything that I can wear without a blazer or cardigan, and I really need something for meetings and business trips where I need something easy to pack.
  3. A casual sweatshirt. I have one sweatshirt. That’s it. I bought it on vacation on Cape Cod 4 years ago. I love it but it is worn out.
  4. A white long-sleeved button-up blouse. Guess how many of this wardrobe staple I have? One. I got it from Stitch Fix last year and it’s a pain to iron. The fabric wrinkles when you look at it.
  5. A cardigan that’s nice enough to wear to work and casual enough to wear with jeans.

OK. So far, so good.

What are five things I want? Hm. This is harder.

  1. I want a new winter coat. I made a long dress coat a couple of years ago, and I love it, but I want a new shorter, more casual coat. I don’t need it. I bought a perfectly good wool coat a couple of years ago and it’s in great shape. I am just sick of it.
  2. I want a below-the-knee skirt for work that I can wear with tights and boots. Again, I have a few and I am tired of them.
  3. I want some fancy PJs in a nice soft knit. Again, I am tired of the store-bought PJs I have.
  4. I want a new blazer for work – something that goes with black pants and skirts and also packs well for trips.
  5. Finally, I want some new activewear for Pilates. I have been wearing the same two pairs of yoga pants from Target for eons. They’re also in great shape, and hey, I just wear them to work out, so it’s not a need.

Plotting these 10 items according to sewing ease or difficulty, and expense or thrift, I get this:sewing plan 3“Difficulty” includes:

  • Experience sewing such a garment
  • New pattern or TNT?
  • Closely or loosely fitted?
  • General complexity of the project – number of pieces, linings, trims etc.

“Cost” includes:

  • Pattern new or in stash?
  • Suitable fabric in stash?
  • How much fabric do I need?
  • Typical cost for the quality of fabric I want
  • Expensive extras, such as zippers and fancy buttons

The simplest thing to do is just choose one “want” and one “need” from each quadrant. There are no “needs” in the “expensive and difficult: quadrant, so I’ll choose between the two “wants.”

I am going to think about this and draw up a plan next week.

Sari Refashion Completed!

Here’s my completed project for the second round of the Sewing Bee: New Look 6498 done up in a refashioned sari. I got it in India in April (more here about this).


I am standing all dramatic like this to accentuate the sleeves. The theme of the second round was “Fabulous Sleeves.” I don’t know how fabulous these are – certainly they were not as creatively done as many other entries into the contest – but they are voluminous and eye-catching. They’re twice as wide and about 50% longer than the pattern called for. They’re done up with a simple gathering stitch and attached to the sleeves – no fancy needlework required. I did my usual full-bicep adjustment to accommodate my dinner lady arms, but I did only a 3/4 inch instead of a full inch because I wanted the sleeves a bit close-fitting, in keeping with the style of the blouse worn under a sari.


 I am delighted with how the bust turned out. When I made a muslin of this in April, I ran into a big fit problem with the bust. It was too high and too low at the same time. Yeah – no problem! That is, the waistband sat about a quarter of the way up my bust instead of just under the bust, and the neckline was too low and a bit too revealing.

The only way to fix this was to get the bust to fit perfectly. I lengthened the bodice 1.5 inches all around so that the waistband would hit right under my bust. Then I redrafted the neckline a bit so that it was not quite so low-cut. Finally, I took in the waistband 1/2 inch on each side so it was more close-fitting. The bust fits perfectly now!


My dog, Jake, likes to photobomb pictures.

The sari is very gauzy and hard to work with. I finished the inside with French seams everywhere I could, and I used fusible stay tape and transparent dissolving stabilizer instead of interfacing for the neckband and waistband.

Here are pictures of the inside on my dressform. You can see how transparent it is. The traditional sari is draped and wrapped and pleated many times so that air moves through it yet it covers completely. I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the sari, so I didn’t line it. This might have been a mistake as far as the contest goes – I think that lined dresses are expected – but that’s not what I wanted. I wear it with a long princess-seamed slip I bought at a vintage shop years ago.

I only wish that I had made this earlier in the year, so I could have enjoyed it this summer. It’s getting autumnal very fast in Connecticut, so this may have to sit in the closet unworn for a while.

Refashioning a Sari

Have you ever seen a fabric that weighed only about 2 ounces a yard?

That would be this sari I bought on my trip to Hyderabad, India in April. It’s 7 yards of fabric, 45″ wide, and weighs 15 ounces. Here it is drying on my lawn after a soak in water to remove the starch that’s applied during the manufacture.

I got started yesterday on refashioning this sari into New Look 6498. I am doing a mash-up of View A (the ankle-length version) and View B (with the frilly sleeves) for the second round of the Sewing Bee. The competition is to make a garment with fabulous sleeves. The fabric I have is certainly fabulous, but the sleeves themselves won’t be anything special.

New Look 6498

I made a muslin of this dress back in April and ran into one two big fit problems that inspired me to shelve the project:

  1. The bust was too high. This is a problem for me with a lot of Big 4 patterns. The midriff band is meant to sit right under the bust – you can see how it’s meant to be on the pattern envelope, with the bust tucks giving it some shape, before the midriff band nips it in. Then the gathered skirt flows out again. On my muslin, the midriff band hit across my lower bust, causing the skirt to balloon out very unattractively. I had to lengthen the bodice, including the neckband, 1.5 inches so that the midriff band landed just under my bust, allowing for some space for the tucks.
  2. The neckline was too low and a bit baggy. Obviously, I can’t both shorten and lengthen the bodice at the same time! Now can you see why I put this in the “UFO” pile? I took in the center back a tad, and I hope that by fixing problem #1, problem #2 will go away.

The sari has a long decorative band of peacocks, which I am using as a border print along the hem, the bodice and for the sleeve ruffles. I am also using the pillau – the most decorative part of the sari (see close-up above) – for the sleeve ruffles. And I am using the other end of the sari, called the choli (the solid green part in the picture, closest to you), for the contrasting midriff and neck bands.

I spent all day yesterday cutting this out. Today I need to sew it up. The fabric is very loosely woven, with a bit of a burnout texture in places. It’s not hard to sew, but it ravels and it’s just unstable. Here are a couple of close-ups:

I still need to work out a lining – obviously, this dress is see-through as is!

And Now for Something Completely Connecticut

I live in Connecticut, USA, where we have to make existential decisions all the time, such as:

  • Pants: Cuffs or no cuffs?
  • Dog breed: Sporting or nonsporting?
  • Carpet: Oriental or Aubusson?

I resisted this for a time. A long time. But as the pull of the Distaff Side grows stronger and my 50s grow closer, I start to think I should stop fighting and just OWN it.


It’s a boucle pencil skirt. Cue the “Ladies Who Lunch” music. (Also: notice I went with “Oriental” for the carpet choice.)

I made this for Round 1 of the Sewing Bee. I don’t know why I participate in these sewing contests. I have no prayer of winning. I just enjoy the camaraderie and looking to see what others made.

I bought the boucle at Banksville Designer Fabric in Norwalk, Conn. Because it’s fragile and frays like my nerves after a day with my mother-in-law, I underlined it with silk organza and used a Hong Kong finish on all the seams.


This really isn’t difficult, just time-consuming. But with a pencil skirt’s close fit, I could imagine it fraying away as I sashayed down the street otherwise.

The pattern is Burda 6895. I hate Burda. There, I said it. The directions make no sense to me and the fit baffles. I only got this because I needed a princess-seamed pencil skirt and this was the only pattern in the store in my size. I would have taken anything else.

As it was, I had to add two fat darts to the back and take a wedge out the zipper area to get it to fit – too big of a job for a little princess seam adjustment. The seams didn’t lie on the heaviest parts of my thighs but rather a bit off center, so they were not as much help as I would have liked.


I added an Art Deco reproduction button with tab to either side of the high hip, to riff off the vibe I was going for. I lined it with Bemberg rayon.

Now I am tempted to make a Chanel style jacket to go with it. I happen to have Simplicity 1202 in the pattern stash (the raglan-sleeve blouse is a TNT pattern).


Dare I? Will it make me look 70?

A Stash Ain’t All That (for Me, Anyway)

I am not much of a fabric stasher. I tend to buy fabric for a specific project, and usually only the amount needed for the project. When I hear of other sewers who have hundreds of yards stashed away, it makes me wonder if they are on to something. Or, are they wasting a lot of time, money and space?

To be fair, I live within a 15-minute drive of two Joann stores for basics such as threads and needles, and a 40-minute drive to a great designer fabric store. And I work a couple of days a week in New York City, pretty near the garment district. So I am spoiled with choice, and I know I can get whatever I need within a day or two.

That said, I keep track of my meager fabric stash in this cheap workaday photo album.

I staple a postage-stamp sized swatch onto an index card and record the basics of length and width, fabric content, where and when I got it, what I paid, and care instructions.


I organize the index cards by purpose (apparel woven or knit, home dec or quilting), then by type (cotton, silk etc). Finally, I sort the cards by yardage – 2+ yards, 1-1.5 yards or less than 1 yard.

I have run into three big problems with “stashing.”

1. Fabric is ruined in storage. I had some really pretty Irish linen that faded badly. I have some lovely silk dupioni that has probably permanent crease marks from being folded for 15+ years. Plus, storage itself is an issue – I don’t want to waste money on storage bins etc.

2. Fabric is too nice to use. I bought some lovely hand-silkscreened fabric at the Philadelphia Textile Museum, made by one of the students there. It sat in the stash for 10 years because it was “too nice” to use for anything, and then there wasn’t enough of it for what I wanted to use it for. Finally I made a blouse out of it and was disappointed.

3. There’s too much, or not enough. I bought some beautiful and expensive Liberty lawn, only to discover that I didn’t buy quite enough for a blouse, unless I wanted a sleeveless blouse, and I didn’t want sleeveless. Or some good quality ponte that’s not quite enough for a dress, but too much for a skirt.

So, no big stash for me. I’d love to hear ideas about how to overcome some of these problems.

The Lure of “Free” Patterns

Shortly after I started sewing apparel, I got into a “free pattern” kick. That is, FREE PATTERN! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD! DOWNLOAD!

Some have been great (the Deer & Doe plantain shirt and the Maria Denmark kimono T):

Some have been “good for what they are”, such as the Sew So Easy bolero jacket (embellished heavily), the Halloween Hat Pack from Fleece Fun (made for the Womens’ March on Washington in January) and these three chemo caps I sewed for my mother-in-law’s friend from three different patterns found online):

And then there’s the stuff that just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s the pattern. Maybe it was a full moon and Mercury was rising. Whatever. The latest disappointment was the Noelle racerback bralette from Madalynne:



I am reluctant to be too critical of a free pattern – getting what I paid for and whatnot. But this is really off. I made it out of stretch lace with a stretch mesh lining and about 4 yards of picot elastic.

For starters, the instructions stink. They’re written out but there are no drawings or photos to help. I had three major construction problems:

  • The instructions never refer to the lining (when and how you’re supposed to put it in). I just basted it on – basically treated it as an underlining.
  • The instructions for how to install the sliders on the straps made no sense. I just figured it out.
  • You sew picot elastic around the whole thing (the top, armholes, under the bust and at the bottom of the band). The instructions say to sew the elastic flat. So basically the elastic doesn’t do its job at all. I stretched as I sewed and it was not enough.

I wanted a bralette for Pilates – something soft and breatheable for exercising. I had made the Colette Florence bralette last year and loved it, so I wanted to try this style next. Unfortunately, this was a waste of time and money. The fit is very off – even stretching the elastic as I sewed, the bottom band is way too big and the underbust area does not remotely offer enough support and I can’t make the straps any shorter. And I’m a mere B cup. Also, the whole thing just looks sloppy and unfinished.

So, downloader beware? What are your favorite free patterns?