A Wearable Renfrew

One of my goals this year is to try to make more clothes that I will wear – everyday basics that fit into my real world, mum-of-four lifestyle. And while I’d love to say that darling dresses and strappy heels were a huge part of that, t-shirts and jeans are the norm. However, darling dresses do figure in my sewing plans, so stay tuned for that in upcoming blog posts.

I was super excited to get the Renfrew Top by Sewaholic for my birthday. It’s such a versatile pattern. It can be a basic tee, or you can dress it up.

I wanted to test the fit, so started with I a wearable muslin in cotton jersey. I made the neck from view A and the sleeves from view B.

Sewaholic Renfrew as sewn by The Finished Garment
I made the size 16, but I think I need to go down a size, with a cheater FBA.

I made the size 16, based on my measurements. It all depends on how you like your tees to fit, and the stretchiness of your fabric, but I found the 16 to be large. The shoulders are quite loose, and the sides as well. I took in an inch on each side, (leaving the full width just under the arms for curvaceous reasons-ahem) and it’s still not especially fitted. Next time I will definitely go down a size, maybe two, and do a cheater FBA. I’m also considering shortening it a bit. But maybe without the band at the waist, it would be better. We’ll see.

Sewaholic Renfrew as sewn by The Finished Garment
I used a red cotton jersey.

Since this was a wearable muslin, I used simple cotton jersey. It’s soft, casual and comfortable and easy to wear.

Sewaholic Renfrew as sewn by The Finished Garment
I made the scoop neck from view A and the sleeves from view B.

The only change I made, was not to zigzag along the neckband. I did this in the back of the shirt, but I didn’t like the look, so I didn’t continue on the front. It’s a wearable muslin after all, so I think that’s fine. If I were making the cowl neck version, however, I might keep the zigzagging just to stabilize everything, since it wouldn’t show.

Sewaholic Renfrew as sewn by The Finished Garment
I zigzagged along the neck band in the back, but decided I didn’t like the look, so I skipped that step on the front of the shirt.

I don’t have a serger, but my sewing mating has an overlock stitch, similar to what you would find on a serger. Net time I have to remember to trim the seam allowances so that the insides are more neatly finished. The pattern uses 5/8 inch seam allowances, which is fine for sergers and sewing machines when using a narrow zigzag stitch. But my overlock stitch works with 1/4 inch seam allowances.

Sewaholic Renfrew as sewn by The Finished Garment
The shirt is really comfortable, but a bit loose in the shoulders.

Overall, this is a really good pattern. The instructions are very clear and the whole thing comes together in an afternoon. Next time, I’ll try the cowl neck in a different fabric.

Since this is a wearable muslin, (kindly worded) fitting suggestions are welcome!


Pattern Review: Renfrew Top by Sewaholic Patterns. I made the neck from view A and the sleeves from view B.

Fabric: Red Cotton Jersey (95% Cotton/5% Lycra) with a 50% four-way stretch.

Cost: The pattern was a birthday gift and the fabric was 6$ a yard. Total: about 12$.

Size: 16. But next time I’ll make the size 14? 12? with a cheater full bust adjustment (FBA).

Sewing Level: Average.

Modifications: I didn’t zigzag around the neck band.

Results: Good for a first try. I plan to make this again with the cowl neck.

Imaginary Sewing

Of course I’d rather be sewing, but I’ve had a whiny toddler in a cast for the past three weeks, so all my sewing has been virtual.

Lately I’ve been reading the Collette Wardrobe Architect series. One of the things that I’d love to do better is sew things that better reflect my style. When I sew for my self, I find I’m using the wrong fabric, sewing for the wrong shape, or just playing it too safe. Basically, I’m ending up with the wrong clothes. And yet, when I go shopping, that doesn’t seem to happen as often.

So I went virtual shopping at Polyvore, dreamed up some imaginary outfits, and now I’m going to try to match them up to real patterns (hopefully ones I already own) and maybe, eventually, sew some of them up. Can you help? I’ve matched these up as best I can, but maybe you see a better match. Let me know in the comments, if you do.

Outfit 1: Dinner and a Show

Dinner and a show

This one isn’t too tough. BurdaStyle recently had a similar outfit featured on their site. It included the Editorial Pants 08/2013 #118C and Long Sleeve Blazer 08/2013 #106. And doesn’t the top look like Sewaholic’s Alma blouse?

Outfit 2: Hanging Out

Hanging out

I was thinking the Espresso leggings, and Moss skirt, but then what about the top? I can find a number of cowl tops (BurdaStyle Gathered Cowl Top 10/2012 #118B, or I could even hack Vogue 1250 into a top) but nothing asymmetric. Hmmmm.

Outfit 3: Business Black

Business Black

As a web developer in real life, I don’t have to wear a suit, but I do have to look serious at meetings. Black is always good, and it’a colour I like. For this I was thinking the Archer shirt. But the skirt is tough. I haven’t really seen many asymmetric skirts. There is this one on Burdastyle, but it isn’t really the same.

Outfit 4: Business Meeting

Business meeting

Not sure about this one. It’s Lanvin and sells for $3,000. I can safely say I am unlikely to ever spend that much on a single piece of clothing. But it sure is pretty. It’s a little like the BurdaStyle Cowl Dress 10/2012 #118A, but there must be a better match with a similar neckline, no?

So that was my imaginary sewing. Can you tell I miss having the time to sew? And thanks in advance for any help you can offer in tracking down patterns that are a better for than what I’ve found.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

A Staple Dress in Radiant Orchid

Warp & Weft Sewing Society
A Warp & Weft Sewing Society project

You may have seen that the Pantone colour of the year, for 2014, is Radiant Orchid. I was so excited when I saw the colour, because for the last couple of years, the colour of the year has been just a little outside of my colour palette, and finally, this year, it isn’t.

But what to sew?

I have been hoarding this beautiful piece of Bromley voile from Warp & Weft, in just the right shade of purple. It’s really pretty and very soft.

Bromley voile at Warp & Weft Exquisite Textiles.
Bromley voile in brown from the Breeze collection by the Victoria & Albert Museum for Westminster Fibers.

I had just the pattern in mind. This summer, Jeni Baker of In Color Order was one of the stops on The Staple Dress Blog Hop. It featured The Staple Dress by April Rhodes and I was lucky enough to win their giveaway.

The Staple Dress sewing pattern by April Rhodes.
The Staple Dress sewing pattern by April Rhodes.

The Staple Dress, is a super simple, whip-up-in-a-day, pattern. There are only a few pattern pieces, no darts, little fitting, no closures and no fussy details. I made the version with the straight hem and with pockets. (Who wouldn’t add the pockets?)

The Staple Dress in Bromley voile from Warp & Weft, sewn by Shannon of The Finished Garment.
The Staple Dress in Bromley voile from Warp & Weft, sewn by Shannon of The Finished Garment.

The toughest part was adding the elastic thread shirring. I’ve used this technique before and it was a breeze.

Elastic thread shirring
Adding shirring at the waist was a breeze.
Top stitching
Check out those stitches.

I received the paper pattern, but you can also get the pattern as a PDF. I prefer paper, since I don’t have to tape things together and the instructions come in a handy booklet.

I found the instructions very easy to follow and extremely thorough. This is definitely a good project for a beginner. It’s hard to go wrong.

Neck facing
The dress has simple facings.

I made the large, though the finished measurements said it might be snug. I wanted to be sure that the dress wasn’t too blousy, especially with a fabric that doesn’t have too much drape, and the unstructured design of the Staple Dress.  In the end there was plenty of room.

The only problem I had was that the waist is really high (by design). The high (but not empire) waist ended up being very unflattering on a curvy, long-waisted girl like me. So I had to undo the shirring and move it all down, and I moved the pockets down as well by three inches.

A wide hem
I used a wide hem, in case I have second thoughts later on.

The only other thing I changed was to make the dress a bit shorter. I’m 5’5″, and I ended up shortening the dress by 2 inches. I also made the dress hem a wide one, instead of the recommended narrow one, in case I change my mind about that shorter skirt later on.

Would I make this again? Yes. It’s super easy to sew. Though I think next time I would either use a draper fabric, maybe even a knit (you can see some examples here and here) in a smaller size, or add darts, for a bit more shaping. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the results. It’s a nice, simple, comfortable dress, that I can just throw on, and that fits well with my lifestyle. And of course, it’s the perfect colour for 2014.


Pattern Review: The Staple Dress by April Rhodes (printed version) with the straight hem style, courtesy Jeni Baker from In Color Order and April Rhodes.

Fabric: Bromley voile in brown from the Breeze collection by the Victoria & Albert Museum for Westminster Fibers, courtesy Warp & Weft Exquisite Textiles.

Size: L.

Sewing Level: Beginner.

Modifications: I lowered the pockets by 3 inches, lowered the waist shirring, shortened the dress by 2 inches, and used a wide hem.

Results: A quick and easy project that would be great for a beginner.

The Staple Dress is Bromley voile from Warp & Weft, sewn by Shannon of The Finished Garment.
The Staple Dress in Bromley voile from Warp & Weft, sewn by Shannon of The Finished Garment.

C’est orchidée la couleur Pantone de 2014, alors voici une petite robe très simple pour commencer la nouvelle année. Le patron est ‘The Staple Dress’, un projet à fabriquer dans un après-midi, et apte pour même les débutants.

Ginger for Fall

I have been slowly rebuilding my wardrobe with some basic everyday clothing. After four pregnancies, all pretty close together, my wardrobe is in rough shape. I’ve also changed shape, and so my old clothes just don’t fit right. Rather than battle the clothes racks with four kids in tow, I’ve decided to make what I can.

This is my latest project, the Ginger skirt by Colette.  It’s a simple, high-waisted a-line shirt, fitted  in the hips with an invisible zipper.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
Me in my Ginger skirt.

I used a super soft baby cord, which is the same fabric I used to make pants for my kids. They think this is hilarious. Ha! Just wait till high school, kids.

I cut the size 18, based on my waist measurements, but I ended up taking in two inches, and I could have taken it a bit more in the hips. Next time, I’ll cut a 14, graded out to a 16 waist.

At first I thought the 18 looked ok. But it wasn’t lying smooth over the front of my hips. So I scoured the internet looking for similar body shapes, in the same skirt, and with the same problem, and they all had their skirts quite low on the waist. So I raised the waist and took in the sides and the skirt fit so much better. It was a whole new garment. I’m honestly not used to such a high-waisted skirt. Most ready-to-wear a-line skirts are designed to sit lower, but I do like the look. Next time, I’ll also take the skirt in a little more in the hips.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
I took this photo before I raised the waist and took in the waistband. You can see how it’s not smooth in the front.
Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
This photo was taken afterwards, and it fits so much better.

Adjusting the fit was quite easy. So if you are a bit larger than the largest size (or smallest than the smallest size), you shouldn’t have too much trouble grading up (or down) a size or two and still getting good results.

Ginger A-line Skirt Pattern by Collette Patterns
Ginger A-line Skirt Pattern by Colette Patterns.

I made version 3, which has a straight waistband , and is cut on the bias. With baby cord, the results are not quite as dramatic as the chevron stripe pattern shown on the pattern packaging, but it does make for a really nice hanging skirt. Even my husband mentioned that it hung really nicely, and with no prompting (!!!). Using baby cord also means you don’t need to worry about matching the stripes.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
You can just see how the bias cut skirt makes a chevron pattern, but it’s very subtle in baby cord.

The skirt has an invisible zipper, which went in really easily.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
What do you think? Is that zipper invisible enough for you?

I added some very thin tricot interfacing to the skirt before adding the zipper, to stabilize it.   But because the skirt was cut on the bias, it was still a little stretchy, so  I also used bias tape on the seam edges, a suggestion from a couture sewing book, and this worked very well.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
Here you can see the inside of the invisible zipper where I’ve used bias table to help stabilize.

Hemming was a bit of an adventure. I let the skirt hang for a few days before I started. I had read how Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch has Mr Stitch help her with her hemming. So I gave it a shot. I can now confirm, that while Mr Garment has many superpowers, garment hemming is not one of them. He’s pretty good with compliments though (see above). Needless to say, I had to re-hem. Luckily, my hems usually fall pretty straight, so I guess I’ll just continue t0 hem on my own. I think next time, I’ll go a couple inches shorter as well. What do you think?

I didn’t line the skirt and simply zigzagged the seams. It’s a corduroy skirt, after all.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
I used quilting cotton to line the waistband, since it’s pretty and more comfortable and cuts down bulk.

At first I was a bit shocked by the price of the pattern. I paid $18, which, for a simple a-line skirt pattern, is a lot. (You can get the PDF version for $12, which is better). But I wanted to try a Collette pattern (this is my first), and it was a gift as well (though I picked it out myself). I’ve found that the fit is really quite nice, and I will use the pattern again, so overall, still a worthwhile purchase.

Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
I tried to get another photo session organized, but what are those white marks on my skirt?
Ginger skirt by Colette, as sewn by The Finished Garment
Oh you think that’s funny? (Those white marks are tiny hand prints made of baby powder). Thanks kid!

I really like this pattern. It has a really nice fit, and is quick to sew, but also has a lot of room for creativity, if you are feeling up to a challenge. I’ll almost certainly make it again.


Pattern Review: Ginger skirt by Colette Patterns.

Fabric: Baby cord. I used quilting cotton for the waistband.

Sizes: 18, but next time I’ll cut a 14, graded out to a 16 waist.Version 3, with the straight waistband, and cut on the bias.

Sewing Level: Beginner (versions 1 & 2). Intermediate (version 3).

Modifications: None.

Results: Great. I would recommend this pattern and plan to make it again..

Total Pattern Fail

You know when you finally finish that great pattern that looks super cute on everyone (everyone!), and then you put it on and it looks just terrible (truly!) on you. That.

It’s possibly not a total fail. I am hoping that later tonight after a couple glasses of wine, it can be upgraded to “wearable” (sigh). Possibly it will have to be (double sigh) up-cycled. And no, no photos yet. It’s raining and I am unmotivated to wrestle dress, light, camera and photobombing toddlers into place.

I am especially discouraged because I dutifully made up a muslin. I even muslined the sleeve (the &^&%#$#ing sleeve folks!), which fit well, by the way. And I tried it on as I was sewing, and only when I got to the buttons (arrrrrrgh!) did it become apparent that this would not be wearable. And it isn’t even the pattern, or the fit, it is that style on my body. Did I mention the fabric had an especially nice drape? @%$#*!

Eventually I will share photos. (And no, it is not the men’s shirt that I’m also working on).

To borrow from  Mad Men, you might put a Betty in a Joan dress, but you can’t really put a Joan in a Betty dress. And I am clearly in the Joan camp. And this is a Betty dress.

For the record I am in the rectangular/hourglass camp, and curvy on top. Let’s just say that the FBA is a good friend of mine 😉 And I still have a bit of baby belly to work on (four kids will do that to you). In other words, I am human.

So while I wait for a less rainy day, I thought I would take the time to jot down a few styles which I have proven do not look good on me, so that when a new and exciting pattern comes out I can check this list and remind myself that the following do not look good on me. (Though they may be smashing on you, in which case, carry on, nothing to see here).

What Looks Bad On Me

  • peter pan collars
  • pussy bow blouses
  • fitted capris and short shorts
  • high waisted bodices with gathered skirts
  • empire waists
  • short and cropped and/or boxy jackets
  • tiny upper pockets
  • smock-style tunics/dresses
  • drop waists
  • pleated pants
  • tea-length skirts, unless quite fitted
  • strapless dresses
  • anything with gathering at the bust
  • low v-necks (a bit too “hey mister!”, if you know what I mean)
  • details that are too small
  • ruffles (often but not always)

You know the patterns I’m talking about!

And this is what I should remind myself to get instead, possibly along with some new fabric in my colour palette.

What Looks Good On Me

  • pencil skirts
  • long, fitted tops
  • a-line (most of the time)
  • longer, tailored jackets
  • cowl necks, square necks, scoop necks
  • shift dresses, especially with sleeves
  • wrap dresses (when they have enough coverage)
  • boot cut jeans, skinny jeans
  • flat front pants
  • 3/4 sleeves
  • stretch knits

I also have a request of you, dear reader. Which sewing bloggers do you know, who are shaped like yours truly?

I feel like I should be following more people who sew things that look good on a me-shaped body and that I should find some more kindred souls so that it is less tempting to copy the super cute, petite and/or waiflike sewists stitching up some terribly adorable peter pan collars and such. (And that is sincerely not meant as a slight to the peter pan collar or the petite sewist! Do carry on!)

So send your links my way so I have something to read with my glass of wine tonight. Bonus points if you can suggest some great curve-friendly patterns.