My Sew Called Life

A Journey Through the World of Sewing

The Day of Denim January 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Burke @ 11:14 am

Sales immediately draw me in – 40% off shoes, 2 for 1 cans of tomato sauce, and especially 50% off all denim fabric. I found a great strapless dress at Target once in denim that I loved. Unfortunately the side zipper malfunctioned around 10:00 am during a workday and my secretary then had to safety-pin me into it until that afternoon. Luckily I had one a cardigan and had no meetings scheduled, so it all worked out. But I loved that denim dress and will repair the zipper when I get more comfortable with my skills.

The denim was dark blue with a sheen almost to it and had stretch, and I’m pretty sure influenced my purchase of 2.5 yards each of two kinds of denim, one darker (which I intended for actual jeans at the time) and one lighter which I’m still waiting to use. I seem to have an odd habit of buying a fabric for one pattern and then eventually decide to use it on a different pattern. I’ve done this now with black wool crepe, red wool gabardine, purple knit and tan chambray. I can’t decide if it’s a terrible habit of non-commitment or me becoming less rigid but more creative. In any case, the dark denim was originally purchased for the Butterick 5682 skinny jean, it is now a 90% completed McCall’s 6503:


If I recall correctly, this is a Spring 2012 pattern from McCall’s, and I snatched it up at a recent $1.99 sale…again with the sales. I decided to be creative (or crazy) and modify this one a bit – I’m basically making the top right hand corner version minus the sleeves. This pattern comes with a gathered and pleated skirt, a fold or button bodice, option collar, large ruffle and small ruffle, and sleeve. I’m basically making the fold-down bodice with the pleated skirt without sleeves.

I made a muslin of this bodice and determined that I need to add 2″ to the length to accommodate my bust. This was all well and good until I tried it on attached to both the waist band and the skirt – the proportions are way off. While the bodice accommodates the bust size, the waist line is now lower than mine. I think I can take in the shoulder seams to make up for this so hopefully it wasn’t a complete loss. So, back to the large bust adjustment confusion.


Is it Spring Yet?!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Burke @ 10:56 am

I should probably include the fact that the entire time I was working through these projects, I was also amassing a collection of patterns and fabrics that I fell in love with. I quickly gathered some cotton, denim, chambray, knits and most interestingly, patterns with color! I’ve already mentioned that I became bored very quickly sewing black fabric. I didn’t realize just how boring it would be when I came up with my initial plan to sew dresses in solid wools. I also didn’t realize how much I like spring/summer clothing, although I hate RTW spring/summer clothing. I soon figured out the next few lessons:

8. Sewing vibrant,floral or patterned fabric is FUN!

When looking for fabric for the Lisette Passport dress (Simplicity 2209) I stumbled onto the quilting section of JoAnn and found these:


I won’t describe how overjoyed I was when I found the print and then matched it – I had a little moment right there in the store. The top looks more purple than it is; it’s actually a fuscia. But wow! how vibrant and lovely for spring! I also figured out a good camouflage for figure flattering: solid on top where you’re largest, print/pattern on bottom where you’re smallest to draw the eye down. This dress is about 90% complete, using this pattern, version B:


It’s important to throw in the next lesson as well:

9. If in doubt, make a muslin!

As I’ve already mentioned, most Big 4 patterns are cut for a B-cup bust and will require some modification, especially in dart size and placement to allow for a larger (or smaller) cup. I decided to make a muslin of the bodice to make sure that I had the correct sizing prior to cutting up my fabulous cotton fabric. A muslin is a “test run” of the pattern so you don’t waste your fabulous fabric. I ended up ripping the seams of these bust darts (which are actually sewn down) to make them lower, but the skirt and the rest of it fit nicely. The cotton has been super-simple the sew and I cannot wait to wear this when the weather gets warmer, although it’s been fluctuating between 30s and 60s here in Knoxville lately. I may actually move the zipper – it’s on the side, which I like because it’s hidden, but it was also difficult to take in the side seams given its placement. Even still, I am most excited about this dress for Spring and will most likely make it with several different fabric combinations.


The Large Bust Adjustment

Filed under: Patterns,Uncategorized — Burke @ 10:28 am

I spent a great deal of time reading and studying how to alter all of my patterns for my D-cup bust. For those of you who envy this type of curvature, I can assure you that it is no walk in the park. Most clothes large enough in the bust are too large in the waist and hips which makes for an awkward looking dress. My favorite dress is a navy wool/lycra v-neck from Ann Taylor that fits no matter how many extra pounds I’ve put on from eating too much turkey. It skims all the curves but also highlights the bust in a very flattering but chic way. This dress is a rarity and I know it, and I spent a lot of time trying to find a pattern to replicate it.

So between my reading, research and VHS-watching, I finally figured out how to do these adjustments for a large bust and have plenty of notes on how to make this work. This took a lot of time and energy and I must admit was daunting. Then I looked at a few patterns I had purchased early on and found something that has helped tremendously: the custom fit pattern.

As far as I can tell, all of the Big 4 carry these patterns which have separate pieces for each cup size – you cut your high bust size in the corresponding cup size and you’re done. (I’ll add that I’ve also learned that I can simply have a size 16 on the neck and arms but come out to an 18 or 20 if needed around the bust and/or waist before coming back in on the hip. Sandra Betzina taught me this.) My first project with the custom fit pieces was the Simplicity 2648 which is part of their Amazing Fit collection. You can customize the bust size as well as the skirt (slim, average, curvy) for a perfectly amazing fit. The sewing isntructions are also much more detailed with sections on fitting which is also helpful.



I made version B in the same black wool crepe that I used with my first project which was actually, I think, a good choice for this one since it lists about 10 fabrics on the envelope. I actually cut a size 16 (D cup) as well as the Average size 16 skirt. The pattern called for 1″ seam allowances but I reduced them to 5/8″ on the bodice and skirt, but kept them 1″ when installing the zipper. Unfortunately, in my ignorance, I cut out a bunch of patterns in one day before I knew how to size them, so I only had the size 20 facings, which leads me to the next lesson:

7. Cut out your pattern pieces post-adjustments, not before, and if you do, keep all pieces that you think you may not want or need.

Luckily this one could be cut down to the size 16, but I have a few that I have cut a 20 that I cannot go back and cut them smaller – I will just have to buy another pattern. And luckily I saved the version A and C sleeves and neck even though I originally thought I’d never want them.

The final version turned out really nice and the fit is near perfect – I’ve worn this to church, to work and to the symphony with a cashmere cardigan, tights, a patent belt around the waist (under the sweater) and flats. Sandra Betzina also taught me that anyone with a waist above 30″ should always belt UNDER a sweater. I am so pleased with this dress that I’ve decided to make version A and C, although I may leave off the sleeve on version C and just keep it a sleeveless V-neck.

And here we are: Image

You can’t tell but the sweater is on the hanger as well, in front of a J.Crew toggle coat with hood. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it yet, but I LOVE princess seams – how easy are they? So much easier than adjusting bust darts!

I also learned Lesson #8: I NEED A SERGER! I have already grown tired of the fraying edges on the side seams and would love to do a French Seam on each if I could make myself do the math, OR I could just buy a serger. Seriously, it’s on the list.


A Lesson in Figure Flattery

Filed under: Uncategorized — Burke @ 10:05 am

My confidence grew once I had successfully created the Butterick 5415, but my ego got in the way when I decided to make this:


This was the project where I learned the next most important lesson:

6. Know your figure.

Like I’m sure most home sewers have done, I looked at the model and the dress and thought, “Wow! That’s fabulous!” What I didn’t consider was how MY body would look in this design. I had read the figure flattery warning before, but I think it’s a good idea to have it here so I can constantly be reminded:

Figure Flattery

Determine your body shape from the explanations below and use our KEY TO FIGURE FLATTERY diagram to select styles that are particularly flattering to your figure. Choosing styles suited to your body shape can also eliminate the need for most pattern adjustments. Look for the figure symbol that indicates your body shape, then proceed with confidence, knowing that your pattern adjustments will be minimal and your finished garment will be pure figure flattery.

Inverted Triange THE INVERTED TRIANGLE: Large bust and/or broad shoulders with narrow hips.

Triangle THE TRIANGLE: Small bust and/or narrow shoulders with full hips and/or thighs.

Rectangle THE RECTANGLE: Balanced on top and bottom, but boxy, with little or no waist definition.

Hourglass THE HOURGLASS: Equally balanced on top and bottom, with a trim waist.

This pattern works with every figure except mine – the inverted triangle. I know that I saw these symbols on the pattern AND on the website when I added this to my wishlist, but my ego and wishful thinking led me to create this anyway. I had purchased some really nice wool and silk tweed and had originally set it aside for a skirt, but decided to make it into this pattern. The fabric frayed and was way too sheer, but the fit was the most abominable thing about this creation – pleats and gathers coupled with a large bust is NEVER a good combination, and I learned that with this pattern. I also learned that the days of envisioning myself in a perfect body were dead – and had to be if I had any chance of making clothes that actually fit and looked fabulous on my body.

I like to think of this project as the one that killed my ego, but it also opened up a strange appreciation for my curves, and the excitement about showing them off instead of covering them up in layers of black. I did wear this once with a black cashmere cardigan, tights and patent wedge heels, but it is now retired in my closet. I may go back and adjust this neck to make it more flattering for a large bust and I actually found an out-of-print Vogue pattern that is the same style but has majorly different pleating but it’s at the bottom of my list, especially since I discovered custom fit patterns! 


A Lesson in Poor Fabric Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Burke @ 9:51 am


It didn’t take very long for me to get bored sewing black wool. If you’ve never spent a great deal of time sewing black fabric with black thread, I would recommend it. I used to think I should wear all black all the time not only for its slimming nature, but for its versatility and ease of matching with other things. I enjoy only needing 5 minutes every morning to determine my outfit since it’s all the same color BUT sewing it is NOT fun.

One day at JoAnn I found some awesome heavy purple wool tweed. It was love at first sight. I bought two yards and relished in my fabulous find. The fabric sat for a week or so until I finally decided to turn it into this:


Some of you who have sewn will recognize this as the Butterick 5415 which specifically recommends that you use “Faille, Lightweight Crepe and Stable Knits.” Now some of you will see where this is going, but for those of you who cannot foresee the issue here it is: heavy purple wool tweed is NOT any of these fabrics listed. I learned the next important lesson with this pattern, the rule of drape:

5. Use the fabric(s) listed on the pattern envelope or the drape will look skewed.

In my defense, I was also going through the fitting confusion of my early days and made this entirely too large. I am convinced that I can pull this off as a “vintage” a-line sheath worn with some fabulously tall platform pumps that make me look much taller than 5’4″. I have yet to brave it, but I am hopeful that I can try it one day. Luckily for me, the style is very simple and straightforward, so the fabric doesn’t look terrible in the style BUT the first thing my husband asked upon seeing it was whether or not the pattern was intended for wool. Yep.

Even still, I successfully installed a pretty neat zipper, created a great hem, and managed to install the sleeve much to my surprise. I still need a smaller size I think, although the arms fit really well. I also moved the dart to fit my bust better – it was a bit too high on the pattern. Here is the final product (not ready to model yet…maybe in a few weeks):


Try to picture this on a brunette with black 3 1/2″ platform heels and the same hair as the model. Wishful thinking, but close enough.


Where Did January Go?!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Burke @ 9:24 am


As with every new year, the day arrives and we celebrate the beginning of something new and exciting. Then we turn around and the first month of the new year is almost over. Maybe that’s just my experience, but I seriously never intended to start this blog and then abandon it for weeks. I have been given the gift of time, however, on Saturday mornings as my husband teaches a 2-hour drum major lesson.

I wanted to start sewing out of massive frustration on two fronts: fit and fabric. I became annoyed first by the trendy designs that looked hideous on my body, but then became disgusted by the fact that everything seemed to be made out of rayon/polyester/lycra, etc. My initial plan was to make a set of fabulous pieces out of either crepe, worsted or gabardine wools in very basic colors and styles. I think that explains why my first project was the McCalls 2401: I was so thrilled to think that that simple dress could be made with a square, V- or bateau neck, with long, mid, short or no sleeves. I learned quickly two important rules of sewing:

1. Read the instructions and the envelope – so important!

2. Figure out your size.

I cut a size 20 based on my measurements which align perfectly except for my hip (I’m surprisingly NOT hippy compared to my curvy top half.) The 20 was gargantuan. I think I had a moment where I was pretty sure that sewing was NOT for me, but then my husband, the genius, reminded me that I could combine my first love (reading) with this new hobby. This led me to the local library and included reading about 5 books and viewing a VHS by Sandra Betzina. I must be a visual learner because my 1975 Vogue Sewing mentioned this stuff, but I didn’t seem to understand it until I saw the video. This is where I learned the next two most important lessons:

3. The Big 4 (Vogue/Butterick/McCall’s/Simplicity) all run large in the chest – use the size that corresponds to your upper chest measurement (taken under your arms above your breasts).

4. Burda, New Look and Quick Sew all run true to size, so use your correct Bust and/or Hip measurement.

Needless to say, I still have a version of this pattern that I have yet to finish – partially because I lost interest in sewing black dresses, but also because I’m not sure that I can alter it properly to have a good fit, BUT I am confident that in a few months I’ll be able to tackle this with precision.

I learned a great deal from this pattern, and have notes in my sewing book to document all of my thought and agony – I learned that plaids must match in the back, the standard darts will NOT fit a D-cup, and I successfully wound a bobbin without looking at my user’s manual. But, I quickly moved on to something more fun!




Welcome to the World of Sewing! January 3, 2012

Filed under: Personal — Burke @ 4:53 am

I decided on a whim this past summer that I was going to learn to sew. Fast forward a few months (or five!) and the journey has begun! I realized that I needed a format to keep track of my personal progress in this endeavor in addition to notes that I scribble in a sewing journal I’m keeping, so hopefully this will be both interesting and informative as I stumble through the world of fashion sewing. A few of my friends are taking the clothing challenge – to buy nothing new in 2012 unless it is a gift, or they have a giftcard. They can only buy thrifted items. I’m going to personalize this a bit and add that it’s my goal to wear sewn-by-me items most of the year. Eek! That’s pretty intimidating now that I’ve actually typed it out! I have a few other lofty goals – my husband and I are reading through the entire Bible this year, as well as the usual health and fitness goals.

Why? I really like classic clothing, and it just so happens that very few stores carry chic styles anymore, let alone ones that fit my unique curvature. I also really like wools and nice fabrics, so I figured it made sense to build my own perfectly fitted wardrobe out of fabric that I love.

What? I’m currently borrowing a friend’s Bernina sewing machine, although I have my eye on a Brother model as well as a serger – more about that later. I’ve also set up a makeshift sewing room in the front room of our house, which until now was unused.

How? I’ve read about 20 books from the library as well as a few that I found at a local discount store including the original 1975 Vogue Sewing as well as some other vintage editions. I’m also following several blogs online, keeping an eye on, and watching YouTube videos.

When? I work 7:00-3:30 as a counselor, so I have most evenings and weekends free to pursue this hobby in addition to the other things that fill my time.

Let the journey begin!!