Anna Dress - Good Idea, Bad Pattern

Pattern: By Hand London's Anna Dress
Fabric: 3 yds double knit/ponte
Cost: $22


Two years after its release I finally found an occasion to sew up the Anna Dress. With a wedding coming up, I knew the silhouette was perfect for both the occasion and the floral fabric from my stash. Plus, this dress looks so effortless and beautiful on just about everyone who sews it. I finally had a reason to get in on the action. Isn't she lovely?

Of course, I am a rebel and the fabric I wanted to use was a stable knit. But several bloggers have done this already, and BHL even explains how to do it on their sewalong. So to start off I planned to size down the pattern a few sizes so everything would be nice and snug. Unfortunately, I ended in the smallest size range, so I knew there would have to be some measuring...

The measuring, of course, was the start to all my problems. Or rather, the pattern's problems. Pulling out my tape measure forced me to compare the pattern to other patterns I own, and I began to notice some very odd things. For starters, the front was too small at the waist, even compared to my usual knit patterns. This is especially odd when considering it is drafted for wovens. I delved into some pattern reviews (the benefit of sewing up something after everyone else has), and saw that, indeed, the front pattern piece is drafted too small. To accommodate, the back piece is drafted wider, resulting in the side seam pulling toward the front.

Of course this led me down a rabbit hole of online reviews. Almost no one, it seems, had sewn up the pattern precisely as drafted. In addition to the side seams, many people rotated the shoulder seam forward and made the neckline smaller. Others recommended a small bust adjustment, even though lots of sewers were a B cup or larger (the size BHL patterns are drafted for). I started to find versions that hadn't quite worked out, and read about copious bodice adjustments on Pattern Review. And while we're on the subject of Pattern Review, it's interesting to me how many people rated the pattern "Highly recommend" but then listed several modifications they had done or would do to make the pattern work. Hmmmm. So much for my $10, I grumbled.

I still really wanted my Anna Dress, so I spent some time over the next two evenings adjusting the bodice fit (pictured below). At least I love a good puzzle! There were a few things that needed to be changed to make the pattern work at all:


  1. First, I extended the width of the front and narrowed the back at the side seams so the seam line would hang straight and not slant toward the front. I used a pattern that fit me well and my personal measurements to calculate the amount to change. This amount may change for a woven fabric, but would need to be corrected on any version. 
  2. After making a muslin, I also shortened the bodice in the front between the shoulder and the natural waistline. This eliminated the droopiness that I saw on a lot of versions, and pulled the shoulder seam forward to where it should be. I think BHL may have lengthened the front bodice to accommodate the bust instead of doing something akin to a full bust adjustment to make more room. This causes all sorts of droopiness, especially for anyone in the smaller bust range. After this adjustment, the muslin hung much better on me and everything felt like it was in place. (This also makes the front arm opening smaller than the back, which is OK and actually true to your body's shape, especially for a hunchback like me. Depending on your measurements, you may also want to extend the length of the back shoulder some to get the seam line in the right place and have enough room for your arm). 
  3. Finally, I straightened the back waistline, which sloped down toward the sides, and trued it with the front pattern. If I were to make this again, I would also lengthen the bodice at center front, as this part pulls up and doesn't sit quite straight.
I'm not sure if these are the technical ways to address all these problems (especially shortening the bodice), but this is what worked for me when I was pinning up the muslin.



Next I made some adjustments that made the pattern work for me and my fabric:
  1. I narrowed the neck opening at both the front and the back, as I have small shoulders and many people commented that the neckline was rather wide. 
  2. I also eliminated the seam allowance at center back, as I found that I could easily slip the bodice over my head when sewn in the knit fabric (BHL comments on this on their sewalong as well). 
  3. I did not need to adjust the size, as the bodice fit quite well at the size indicated on the pattern after adjustments. If I were to sew this in a woven though, I would definitely need to size up.

As soon as I thought all was said and done, I started in on the skirt. While I knew the side seams would need to be altered to match my changes to the bodice, a reviewer also alerted me to the weird shape of the pattern pieces. Drafted as trapezoids, when sewn together they create weird angles at the waist and hem rather than smooth lines (pictured below). This is even illustrated in the pattern instructions (pictured in the circle, with highlighting added by me). I'm not really clear how BHL expects you to deal with these weird seams. Smooth them out yourself? Hope they go away when you join the waist and hem the bottom? As the reviewer put it, it is a sign of poor drafting.


SoI spent my third evening making tweaks to the skirt. To make the skirt pieces work, I made the following changes:
  1. Changed the width of the front and back side seams to echo the changes I had made at the bodice side seams. 
  2. Straightened both sides of each of the four skirt pieces at both top and bottom to create a smooth join between the pieces. 
  3. Removed 4 inches of length, which still accommodated a floor-length skirt with heels (I'm 5'7"). The knit fabric might have required me to remove more length, but even many of those sewing it in woven fabric had commented that the pieces were too long. 



The end result is beautiful. I love the fabric, and the silhouette is great. But the product itself was very disappointing. The Anna Dress is not a pattern, but rather the idea of a pattern. By Hand London sells the idea of a flowy dress, modeled by gorgeous women in pretty fabrics, with a unique silhouette that has captivated many. Experienced sewers have done a great job of sewing her up, with the many modifications needed to make her work. But the actual pattern pieces that you get are poorly thought out ideas. I would expect to see these lines in an initial sketch drawing but not sold for $10+ to consumers.

After seeing so many great versions, I realized I only had to scratch the surface to find that many people had real issues - and made significant changes. The wonky side seams and shoulder seams, slanted waist seam, and angular hem were a real disappointment. Sure, many people found that it was easy to sew up, but this pattern has too many drafting errors to pass muster. In the end I got what I wanted, but I will not be buying BHL patterns again.


Some New Sewing

Pattern: BurdaStyle's Retro Top 07/2013 #130
Fabric: 1 yd scuba knit
Cost: $4



I haven't had as much time to sew this semester as I'd have liked, although I have been getting lots of knitting done in class. With the election results rolling in last week, I have also become incredibly sad for the tone our country has set towards minorities, the disabled, immigrants, and women. 2016 has been a rough year. Before returning to the 24 hour news cycle and listening to the helicopters circle relentlessly overhead, I took some time for self care. Mr. Made and I slept in, walked the dog, and ate breakfast by the lake. We talked about our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our country. Call me optimistic, but I truly believe that most Americans want the same great things that I do. 

I also took some time for sewing again. It was comforting to escape to the sewing world and see everyone's great projects on social media, and even more so to put my hands to work building something new. I have been working on my pants block, and have made two iterations that I hope to show off soon. 

Today I'm sharing a bit of an older project, BurdaStyle Retro Top 07/2013 #130. It's much like Grainline's Scout Tee that I've made and loved, but with bust darts for better shaping. I also tried a swayback adjustment at the back, but realized I didn't really need it for a loose fitting shirt like this. The result is some wonkiness at the back, which I hope to fix next time. I also lengthened the sleeves slightly, but I think they could be widened as well. 

This pictures is also a peak at the jeans/pants block I'm working on. They are the first draft, and still need a wedge taken out of center front, the back rise shortened a bit, and a knock-knee adjustment, but they're getting there!

Oh, and I did make Beatrix a Halloween costume this year. She was Amelia Earhart, with extra emphasis on the Ear! Mr. Made and I goofed around in his studio getting some nice shots. What a life saver she's been for all the stress. 



Hope everyone is taking care of themselves and doing more sewing than I am!

5 Years Later: Sewing the Sencha Blouse Again

Pattern: Colette's Sencha Blouse
Fabric: silk
Cost: free from Bay Area Sewists fabric swap



When I first started sewing, I made tons of mistakes (not necessarily more than I do now, just different ones). I left my seams an unravelling mess. I cut out a pair of pants on the bias. I didn't understand what an invisible zipper was. And I made patterns that just didn't work. Sometimes in really expensive stuff.

My Colette Sencha Blouse is one such example. Without making a muslin, I sewed it up in a beautiful silk, taking time to add special embroidery and finishes. But the fit wasn't quite right. The bust was too big and the neckline was too high.

Now, over five years later, I decided to return to this pattern. Would I find it to be adequate? Was it possible to adjust the bust to my liking? I was curious to see if the issue was with the pattern or with me. It is such a cute style that I wanted to give it one more shot.


The Pattern

First off, I noticed how much the branding has changed over the years. I loved the old picture, which really shows off the details and vintage vibe of the top. The new picture obscures a lot of those details and makes it look much more like a plain boxy tee. While boxy tees are very popular right now (I love them and have made a few!) what makes this pattern special are the waist tucks, button back, and neckline options. I wanted something stylish to wear to the office for my internship this summer, so I took my inspiration from the old picture instead.



My sewing perspective has also changed since five years ago. I remember this being a fairly daunting pattern the first time I sewed it, but revisiting the directions I really appreciate how much hand-holding Colette does for beginner sewists. I do wish, however, that she had included a couple more details like stay-stitching the neckline. Compared to so many basic beginner patterns on the market now though, this one has all the interesting details like tucks, buttons, and various necklines. What happened to interesting patterns like this?


The Muslin

Unfortunately I no longer had my original version, so a muslin was a must. Part of the fit issue that I noticed right away was that I had cut a straight size 4. While this is correct for my waist and hips, I needed a size 0 for the bust. So for the muslin I graded down to 0 at the bust only. In the grading, I also noticed that the pattern pieces angle in to a point at the waist and back out again, which I found odd.

I also decided to lower the neckline a bit, as my original looked a little high. This was a common adjustment I saw across many different blogs. Back then I didn't do much blog research, which would have helped a lot! (There also weren't as many bloggers, so less fodder for research.) After grading down to the correct size and lowering the neckline, the front fit rather well. I was worried I'd need to do an SBA, but since I am a B/C cup I fit into the pattern's C-cup design just fine.



However, I did have some issues with the back. I have a swayback, and the pattern creates considerable pooling of fabric back there. This was common across many versions I saw online, and even the model seems to be struggling with bunching fabric. In fact, looking more closely at the the modeled photos, I am not terribly impressed with the sample garment. It doesn't fit as well as you'd hope, and the pleats don't seem to be pressed right.

The last change I made was to remove the back button band and the back slit, which is designed to sit slightly open at the back. I didn't want to have it look like I couldn't button up my clothes all the way! I eliminated the button band and deepened the back tucks at the waist to remove some extra fabric. On my final version, I also took 1" from the shoulder seam to eliminate additional fabric. I wish I had done this at the muslin stage, as ideally you would want to recut the armhole to match.

The Final

After grading between sizes and eliminating my sway back, I am quite pleased with the final garment. However, I am not sure I would have been able to accomplish as great a fit as a beginner. Looking at the pictures online, I don't think many people have.

In fact, after all of this I'm wondering if I might have been better off drafting the tucks onto a top with similar sleeves rather than taking the time to alter this one. I'm just not convinced that the Colette drafting is that great. The waist curve is very angular and the way the sleeves are drafted makes them flip up slightly at the end. From wonky bust darts to awkward arm holes, I've seen more and more people complaining about the poor drafting on their patterns. Even with the return to vintage patterns as of late, I've been unimpressed with some of the drafting choices.







Verdict

I love the idea of the Sencha blouse. It is a cute beginner-level top with nice details and a vintage vibe. However, I can't get past some of the drafting and potential for serious fit issues. It doesn't appear to work that well on many body types, and requires some reworking to get the right fit on what should be a simple top. Five years later, and maybe the problem wasn't me.

That said, after a lot of hard work I do like this top. Five years later and I am still learning a lot!


How a Sewer Makes Shoes



Well, I did it! I made my first pair of shoes. Are they perfect? No! But do they kinda look like shoes? Hell yes! I have a lot to learn, but for my first pair I just went with my basic sewist instinct. How would a sewer make shoes? For me it was a logical place to start, and I learned a lot along the way.

Admittedly, sewing is very different from making shoes. There's different skills, different materials, and a lot more glueing. A lot. But, sewing does give you certain advantages in learning the craft. I know how to make a curved seam lie flat, I have oodles of fabric for muslins, and I own a sewing machine or three. So this post is all about how I made my first pair. How a sewer would. It's not necessarily the traditional way, although it does incorporate things I've learned from shoe makers online. Rather, it's how I used my sewing materials at home to craft my first pair of shoes. They're far from perfect, but I'm very excited about my first attempt.



Here's what I recorded along the way:

Pattern

If you've ever traced or drafted anything yourself, drafting shoes is no different. I traced my own using my deconstructed shoe (full post here) and several muslins. However, if you'd like a boost there are several patterns available online. Shoeology and uku2 sell beginner patterns on Etsy with lots of instructions and hand-holding. I also like their modern shoe designs, which aren't too cutesy and aren't slippers. I have noticed though that non-garment patterns don't always follow the same conventions that we are used to. I've found dog clothes patterns and shoe patterns sometimes have odd seam allowances and less attention to sewing details, so watch out.

Here are the components of my pattern, traced from a deconstructed shoe:
  • lining - traced from my deconstructed shoe and refined through test muslins
  • outer - same as lining but cut with a 1/2" larger seam allowance around outer edge
  • interfacing - same as lining
  • toe puff - just toe portion of lining
  • heel padding - just heel portion of lining
  • padded insole - traced from my deconstructed shoe and refined through test muslins
  • insole lining (optional) - same as insole
  • sole - same as insole but no seam allowances
  • heel - just heel portion of sole




    Supplies:

    Fabrics: Most home-sewers will be comfortable with the fabric components of the shoes. I needed an outer fabric (canvas, leather, etc.) and lining fabric (broadcloth, felt, etc.)

    Interfacing: Again this is something most home-sewers will have on hand. I used a moderate fusible interfacing for the body of the shoe, although I may experiment with heavier options on later shoes. For the toe and heel puffs, I used Pellon fusible thermo plus, which gives some nice fluffy padding and shape to the shoe and heel.

    Insole: My deconstructed shoe had a padded insole. There are insoling options available on Etsy, but for my first version I just used bra cup foam I had on hand. Familiar, and no trip to the store needed. You can choose to either glue your fashion fabric to the top of the insole so it matches, or leave as is like I did.

    Soling: You will most likely have to purchase soling. I used Sole Tech which I found on Etsy from Two of a Kind Supplies. They were a really good resource for shoe-making supplies and have many different thicknesses and options, from indoor non-slip to thick outdoor soling. Next time I will try something thicker, maybe 1/4" thick rather than 1/16.

    Glue: This also required a purchase, although some of you may have some in your garage. I bought Weldwood Contact Cement. Other contact cements like Barge, Klebfest (UK), or even the non-toxic Aquilum should also work for attaching the shoe to the rubber sole. You put the glue on both surfaces, wait for them to become tacky, and press together. Less glue is preferable, as it doesn't take as long to dry.

    I also had some Speed Sewn fabric glue on hand, which is useful for attaching lining to the insole, etc.

    Lasts: Do you need lasts? If you're going to really get into it, I believe you do need shoe lasts. However, the sewing patterns listed above can help you make shoes without lasts. I used a shoe tree we had in the closet, which was free for me and was fine for my first pair.



    Resources:

    Free Resources-
    DIY Shoes: Great step-by-step from materials to final shoe.
    Illustrated Step-by-Step Instructions
    Natasha Estrada's shoes
    Parts of a Shoe
    My Shoemaking Pinterest Board

    Professional Help-
    I Can Make Shoes
    Shoemaking Course Online
    Mary Wales Loomis

    Amazing Sewers Who Make Shoes-
    Handmade by Carolyn
    Scared Stitchless
    A Handmade Wardrobe



    My Steps:

    If you want to make shoes like a pro, I recommend you consult some of the professional resources above. However, to make shoes like a sewer, here's what I did:



    1.Cut pattern pieces.
    At this point, if I were planning on covering my padded insole with a lining fabric, I would have also glued the insole lining on top of the insole and set aside to dry.

    2. Apply interfacing to the wrong side of the shoe outer. Fuse or glue toe puff and heel stiffener in place on top of interfacing. All these layers felt thick, but in the end they could have been even stiffer.

    3. If desired, sew additional felt stiffener on top of the lining.

    4. If your pattern has them, sew the heel darts in outer and lining. Clip seam allowance of dart.





    5. Sew lining to outer along top edge. My pattern was drafted with 3/8 seam allowance for everything. Trim and notch seams carefully - pinking shears work great for this step. Turn to right side.

    6. Open up lining and outer and sew side seam together in one continuous seam (lining and outer). Notch seams. Optionally, understitch or topstitch around opening, depending on style and preference.

    7. Sew lining to insole, right sides together (seam facing outside of shoe). Leave outer free.

    8. Try shoe on for fit, even though only the lining is sewn in. Then trim seam allowance around insole to 1/8".





    9. Sew gathering stitches at toe and heel, about 3/8" from edge.

    10. Put last in shoe. Apply light coat of fabric glue between lining and outer and press together.

    11. Pull gathering stitches to warp outer around bottom of insole. Glue outer to bottom of insole. I used pins through the fabric and insole in this step to hold everything in place while the glue dried.

    12. Glue on the sole and heel to the insole, covering fabric. I think you are also supposed to sand the heel flush with the sole at this point.



    Truth be told, my first pair went much better than expected. They fit, although they could be a bit more snug. All the components are there, and they feel a bit more shoe-like than regular slippers.

    However, I know I have a ton to learn. At this point, they still don't feel like "real" shoes. I need to get a thicker soling and glue it better to the bottom of the shoe (in the photos you can see the soling isn't glued on tight). I also want to use a sturdier material. Yet at the same time, all the layers make these shoes really hot!

    I also need to tweak the pattern a bit. The toe puff isn't positioned right - you can see some wrinkling where it ends in the wrong place. And the toe isn't quite on center, so that needs to be fixed. There is also some gaping that remains, but that might be fixed by using a stiffer material.

    To start me off, are there any shoemakers out there with tips for next steps? Anything in the above that I could absolutely improve on that I haven't mentioned? I have plans to get the I Can Make Shoes Flat Pumps Ebook (which is surprisingly affordable), and go from there. 

    Shoe Making Step 1: Deconstruction

    Ever since I was a child I've hated shoe shopping. As a kid, I preferred to be barefoot and only tolerated the most comfortable of footwear. As an adult, I find that many of my favorite ballet flats rough up my heels and the ones that don't are hard to come by.

    Yet for all the trouble, shoes don't seem that complicated. Don't get me wrong, there is a rich history of shoemakers and some very exquisite things on the market today. But some of my favorite shoes are simple, cheap flats without much structure or support. I wondered if I couldn't recreate a very elementary shoe to try out for myself. How amazing would it be to have properly fitting, non-chaffing shoes in whatever colors I wanted! So after years of talking about it, I have finally taken the plunge and decided to make my first pair.

    I am starting this adventure by deconstructing an existing shoe. The victim is a pair of simple ballet flats that fit really well but were chewed up by the dog on one heel. I got out my scissors and seam ripper and decided to see what these shoes were all about. Here they are from the outside in:


    Sole




    1. Taking off the sole - The shoe had been glued to the sole and stitched. The stitching had worn out in places over time, but overall the shoe was still tightly secured to the sole.

    2. Heel - The heel gave 3/8" height in the back and was sandwiched between the sole and the shoe, sanded down until it met flush at mid foot.

    3. Heel padding - Under the heel was some additional cotton padding. Not much support, but interesting to note that even a little shoe like this has something.

    4. Toe - The upper had been wrapped around the bottom and stitched to it, which is done best with a last. The stitches were gathered near the toe. At this point, the inside of the shoe was still completely intact.



    Structure





    5. Interfacing - Ripping the outer away from insole, you can tell that it is lined with an interfacing, possibly a two-sided fusible. This gives structure to the overall shoe.

    6-7. The toe and heel have additional padding, which was fused between the outer and the lining. This gives the shoe the right shape and rigidity at those crucial spots.

    8. There was also some additional interfacing along the inner side seam.



    Details





    9. More padding - There was some additional padding at the center back above the heel. The round pad was at the top of the heel, while a thin strip reinforced the back heel dart.

    10. Dart - The back heel has a tiny dart for shaping. It is also pieced with a contrast color fabric.

    11. The front has a notched seam allowance around the tongue so that everything lays flat. Notice also the black tape that gives some additional reinforcement at this crucial area.

    12. Lining - The lining isn't turned under at all. Because it is leather and doesn't ravel, it is sewn directly to the outer. Actually, between the outer and the lining is some piping, which was bound around the outer before being sewn to the lining.



    Inside



    13. Insole - Once the outer is off, you can see how the lining is stitched to the insole, right sides together (seam facing the outside of the shoe). It is stitched with a very narrow seam allowance to keep everything flat.

    14. Fabrics - Notice also how the lining is in two fabrics - a leather for the sides, front, and insole, and a suede for the heel. This eliminates the need for the inner side seam on the lining, which could be a nice detail for a shoe outer in the future.

    15. Toe - At the toe, the insole almost wraps under towards the sole, perhaps giving the toe a nice round edge. The stitching here was very durable and I had to use a seam ripper instead of ripping the seam.

    16. Insole Padding - I couldn't separate the foam padding from the lining, as it was glued together very well. Still, that extra bit of padding looks like a nice touch. In the photo, I cut into the insole slightly to see what was inside.


    And here is the outer laid flat on the table over a purchased shoe pattern:




    How does it compare to a purchased shoe pattern? Well, it's different. The toe is similar, but it's hard to compare the rest because the pattern has the seam at the back heel and the shoe had the seam at the inner side. Overall, however, the deconstructed shoe spreads out wider but the fabric itself is more narrow.

    The whole process has been very enlightening in terms of construction and pattern. I now need to review my other research (saved here on Pinterest), and figure out how to procure the necessary materials. I also need to create a pattern from this shoe, as well as check out a purchased shoe pattern for comparison. I'll see which one I like best, take my favorite aspects from each, and sew up my first shoe. It's completely uncharted territory for me, but not impossible.

    More coming soon!