A Linen Kelly Skirt

The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen
The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Have you seen the Kelly skirt pattern by Megan Nielsen? It’s quite cute.

The Kelly skirt is a softly pleated, button-up skirt. It’s quite flattering on a variety of figures and according to the pattern designer, “created with the beginner sewer in mind”.

I’ve seen several cute versions online, but my favourites are by Adrienne at Stitching on the Edge, and Andrea at four square walls. Both used piping and linen, and I thought I would do the same.

My fabric is Robert Kaufman’s Essex yarn-dyed cotton-linen blend in black. I’m a huge fan of linen, and this fabric is amazing. It’s a bit heavier than your standard linen and has a really great, slightly nubby texture. I’m already dreaming up new clothing I can make with it.

I bought the pattern online from The Workroom, and the fabric online from Mad About Patchwork. Both are Canadian. You can find a big list of online Canadian fabric stores here.

I used store-bought black piping from one of the local fabric stores. I really like this look, but when I was trying the skirt on, I found that in real-life wearing of this skirt, I would probably go with a longer top, which necessarily covers the piping detail. Oh well. I know it’s there.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen in linen with black piping.

I fully lined the skirt (I’m not sure what the lining fabric is), mostly so I could wear it in the winter with tights. It makes for a warmer skirt, with smoother lines and fewer wrinkles in the fabric. The pattern does not come with instructions for the lining.

Kelly Skirt
My Kelly skirt is fully lined. I have no idea what the lining fabric is.

The pattern and instructions are great. It’s an easy pattern (only 5 pattern pieces) which really is great for beginners. I’m not a beginner, so the whole project went quite quickly. I especially like having the instructions in a booklet. The pattern is printed on thick paper, so you need to trace the pattern onto tracing paper. Both the booklet and pattern are quite durable, which is always nice with a pattern you intend to use multiple times, which I do.

Kelly Skirt
Piping detail on the Kelly skirt. The piping lines up nicely in real life.
Kelly Skirt
A better shot of the piping on the Kelly skirt.

I only have two complaints. The first is really very minor, nit picky even, but when constructing the skirt, it’s a good idea to baste the pockets to the side seams before joining the front and the back. It keeps the pocket from rippling. It’s a very small detail, but one that would probably help beginners.

The other problem I had was with the sizes. In the US, the average waist circumference for adult women is currently 37.5 inches. In the UK, it’s 33 inchesIn Canada, it’s 34 inches. This skirt fits waists between 26 and 34 inches (66-86 cm). In commercial pattern sizes, that translates roughly to sizes 12 to 20. That is a pretty good range, but it would be nice if the pattern were available in an even larger range of sizes.

I recently had my fourth baby, and although I would normally be a size large in the Megan Nielsen size range, my waist is (temporarily I hope!) larger than the largest size included in the pattern. I graded the pattern up a size, which was quite easy, but not something that every beginner will be able to do.

Despite my small complaints, I thought that overall this was a very good pattern and it makes a very wearable, flattering skirt.

Kelly Skirt
This is how I would normally wear this skirt, which means that you can’t see the piping. Kelly Skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Just before I made this skirt I got a belated birthday present in the mail. Can you identify these presser feet?

New presser feet.
Can you identify these presser feet?

One is an invisible zipper foot, the other is a sew-on button foot. I was so excited when I opened these up. I know, I’m such a sewing geek.

I’ve been sewing for years, but on a very basic machine. It was one of the first purchases I made when I moved out on my own. It’s a basic Singer, with no special presser feet. Having this machine has meant that all the finishing details of my clothes were done by hand. I had never sewn on a button by machine. I had also never made a blind hem, any way except by hand. I once made a formal gown for my sister. It had a floor length, full circle skirt in satin, with layers of tulle underneath. I hand-stitched the entire blind hem. It took ages.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly Skirt in linen with black piping.

A couple of years ago my husband bought me a much better machine. One of the most eye-opening things for me is trying out all the special presser feet. It has made sewing much easier and much more precise, though I still like the look of hand-finished details.

This is the first time I’ve machine sewn buttons to a garment. I like it a lot, especially for casual clothes. With a coat, I would still sew on the buttons by hand. I’ve been looking at Colette Pattern’s Beignet skirt for a while now, but the number of buttons was so discouraging. I think I see a Beignet skirt in my future now.

Kelly Skirt
The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen.

This is also the first time I’ve made a blind-hem by machine. I’m not sure if I’m a fan. From the outside it looks perfect, of course. Though I’m not used to seeing all the stitches on the inside. When you hand-stitch a blind hem, it is invisible on the inside as well. On the other hand, the lining covers the hem, so I’ll never really see it.

Kelly Skirt
The machine-stitched blind hem of my Kelly skirt.


Pattern Review: Kelly Skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Fabric: Robert Kaufman’s Essex yarn-dyed cotton-linen blend in black.

Size: XL, graded up a size.

Sewing Level: Beginner.

Modifications: I added piping, a full lining and graded the pattern up a size.

Results: Good. I would recommend this pattern and would make it again.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen in linen with black piping. I promise I am much more impressed with this skirt than my facial expression might lead you to believe.

Washi Tunic: Take 1

You’ve probably seen the Washi Dress from Made by Rae. So cute! So easy to sew! So beloved by bloggers and sewists. And, apparently, so unsuited to my figure.

I’d seen the dress and tunic on so many blogs, always with great results. Now I noticed that many of the Washi’s I saw were being worn by people who were taller and less curvy than me. Then a couple of photos showed up in the flickr pool that looked a little more like me, so I had hope! Maybe I too could wear the fabled Washi. I bought the pattern.

Washi Tunic
A green Washi tunic.

The Assembly

The printed pattern is great. I love that the pattern sizes are each printed in a separate colour. Genius! Why doesn’t everyone do that? I love that each piece of paper is printed with a grid overlay along the sides of the paper. So easy to assemble! I liked the instructions, especially the part on making a muslin.

So I dutifully got out some (hideously ugly) fabric from my stash, and made a muslin. And then I did a full bust adjustment (FBA) which I had figured I would have to do. I used the instructions for a FBA on Megan Nielsen’s website, which Made by Rae lists on their site and which are very clear. It still wasn’t working. I went down a size, redid my FBA and lowered the darts. And anyway…. five muslins later I had something I thought looked fairly decent, so I cut my fabric.

There is only one thing in the printed pattern I would change: the way the bust darts are cut out before assembly. After just one muslin, it was clear that by basting and pressing the dart to start, you can get a much better fit, because you can adjust that seam. But if the fabric is already cut, and you need to fine-tune the dart, there’s nothing you can do. You are stuck with the dart placement, as is. The curvier you are, the more this matters.

Assembling the tunic was a breeze. The instructions are great. The smocking with elastic thread was so easy! Everything came together so quickly.

Washi Tunic
Sleeve detail on the Washi Tunic.

It just didn’t fit, at least not as well as I’d like. Boo!

The Fit

I’m pretty sure it has more to do with my shape, than the pattern itself, since so many people have had such great luck with this pattern. I am extra curvy (and a breastfeeding mama as well) and I just had a baby six months ago. Can we say problem areas? I figured the pattern would be good for midsection coverage. However, this pattern, like any empire waist look, requires an excellent fit in the bodice. I needed to do the FBA, make sure the darts were in the right place, and make sure that the seamline where the bodice joins the skirt fell at the very thinnest part of my ribcage. This last point is important for avoiding the pregnant look. My muslin did not include the skirt portion of the tunic, only the bodice. It was all a bit frustrating.

Washi Tunic
Side view of the Washi Tunic.

In the end I had to take the tunic apart, and shorten the bodice a bit to get the skirt falling at the right place. It’s wearable, but could be better. The front view is good. The side view is only so-so. There is a bit of gaping at the neck. I think this tutorial on avoiding neck gape with a FBA from the Naked Seamstress would help. I would also add a couple tiny under bust darts, as suggested by the Queen of the Flies in her review of the Washi Dress. And there is still some pulling at the shoulders. Maybe I should go down a size? Hmmmm. Suggestions welcome.

Me, looking at my Washi Tunic.
Me, looking at my Washi Tunic.

Oh, and as a side note… if you disassemble your washi and abandon it in frustration for a couple of weeks (ahem), you may find that the elastic thread has worked its way out, so that you have to resew it. Entirely my fault of course.

The Fabric

I also made a poor choice of fabric. I used quilting cotton. It’s a bit, um, crunchy? Something with a lot more drape would have been a much better choice, especially with sleeves. The pattern recommends “Light to medium weight cottons or cotton blends (e.g. shirting, voile, double gauze, quilting cotton, poplin, or cotton/linen blends)”. Voile, lawn or batiste would have been better choices, at least for my figure. I also would probably have been better off with the dress, instead of the tunic. I suspect the weight of the extra fabric would make for a more flattering line. The garment would hang a bit more straight.

Washi Tunic
Front of the Washi Tunic.

Would I make it again? Yes. The hard part is over. Now that I know how to get a good fit, and what fabric to use, I’d like to try this again. I would also prefer to line the bodice and there are instructions for lining a Washi bodice on the Made by Rae website. (Even though I attached the facing at the side seams, I find the facing pops out sometimes, which is annoying.) It’s such a cute pattern. Let’s call this a wearable muslin and move forward.

Washi Tunic
Not a bad first try, but I think I can do better.


Pattern Review: the Washi Dress from Made by Rae (PDF).

Fabric: quilting cotton. I made this in Flea Market Fancy Flower and Dot in Green by Denyse Schmidt from FreeSpirit. (I also used this fabric for my Christmas Rabbits).

Size: XL

Sewing Level: intermediate.


I did a 1″ FBA, lowered the darts by 1″ and lengthened the bodice by 1/2″.

Results: Needs work, but I would still make this pattern again.

Washi Tunic
Me in the Washi Tunic.

My Imaginary Life Through Vintage Pattern Illustrations

My mother recently cleaned up all her patterns and gave me all the ones she wasn’t going to sew again. I am so psyched about all the retro things these new patterns say I can now do.

I can attend a 1960’s cocktail party.

Simplicity 7129
Simplicity 7129 Jiffy – Juniors Simple to Sew Jiffy Dress: The A-line dress with back zipper and collar has slightly lowered round neckline in front tapering to “V” neckline in back. V 1 has short set-in sleeves. Sleeveless V 2 has tie collar.

I can go to the beach. (I am totally making view A, by the way.)

Style 2442
Style 2442; ©1969; Misses’ Beach Robe in Two Lengths, Bikini and Skirt: The beachrobe with stand collar has front zip fastening. View A has long set-in sleeves. View B shorter length is sleeveless. The lined bikini has top with tie front fastening, inside bust shapes and elastic casing at back lower edge. The pants have waist darts and back zip fastening. The A-line skirt has side zip fastening, self fabric carriers and cord tie.

I can go to various mod-themed events.

McCall's 2438
McCall’s 2438; ©1970; Misses’ Dress in Three Versions. Dress has concealed left front zipper closing. Dress may have buttoned collar. View C has button trimmed, tab pocket.

Me having dinner out with the Mr. (Is this Yé-yé?)

Simplicity 8181
Simplicity 8181; ©1969; Simple-To-Sew Misses’ Jiffy Dress: The dress with back zipper and lowered round neckline has slightly dropped shoulders and optional tie belt. V. 1 has long, set-in sleeves. V. 2 is sleeveless.

I just don’t know here. Fabulousness just can’t be limited to time and place sometimes. Love that collar! I must make that red cape. I just need to decide between a zipper or leather buckles.

Simplicity 7866
Simplicity 7866; ©1968; Misses’ Cape in Two Length, Skirt and Pants: The top-stitched, long or short lined cape with collar and openings for arms in front seams may be made with either front zipper closing or with leather tab and buckle trim. The A-line skirt without waistband has buttoned trimmed lined yoke and side zipper. The pants without waistband have side zipper.

Hello Studio 54!

Simplicity 7383
Simplicity 7383. The sleeveless dress with flared skirt stitched to bodice at normal waistline has back zipper, flared cape type collar, bias bound low round neckline and self fabric tie belt. V. 1 with contrasting collar is regular length. V. 2 is floor length.

I can also be Mary Tyler Moore.

Style 4744
Style 4744; copyright 1974; Dress with centre back seam has collar, front zipper, set-in sleeves and top-stitched trim. View 1 and 2 have front inverted pleat. View 1 and 3 have purchased belt. V1 has long sleeves gathered into buttoned cuffs. V2 and 3 have short sleeves. V3 has patch pockets.

Or Rhoda.

Simplicity 5247
Simplicity 5247; ©1972; Shirt-Jacket and Pants in Misses’ and Half-Sizes: The shirt-jacket with long or short sleeves has front button closing, yoke, notched collar, patch pockets, set-in sleeves, slits in side seams, and optional top-stitching and purchased belt. The pants with back zipper have waistband and optional purchased belt.

And I can do whatever Jerry Hall was doing in the late 1970s.

Vogue 7098
Vogue 7098 Misses’ blouse. Loose-fitting, slightly below-hip length blouse (may be worn in or out) with back tucked into one pice self-lined yoke. Has round neckline, pin tucks on front inset, front-buttoned band closing, with turn-back cuffs.

Oh, and best yet, I get to be married to Steve McQueen!

Vogue 9308
Vogue 9308 Loose-fitting, slightly shaped double breasted coat (tailored) in mid-knee or finger-tip length has self fabric or imitation fur collar on partial band and lapels. Upper welt pockets and lower pockets have flaps. Three-piece detachable belt with loop. Full-length sleeves have tab and button trim and purchased knitted wrist cuffs attached to lining. Flat imitation fur lining for coat body and sateen quilting for sleeve lining. Topstitch trim.

Seriously, these patterns are amazing. And there are more! I can’t wait to sew some of these up! Thanks Mum!

A New Old Coat

I’m so excited. Look what is on the way to my house!

This is Simplicity 5928, the pattern for a princess coat from 1973.

From the Vintage Patterns wiki: “The top-stitched, lined coat with princess seaming has front button closing, collar, pockets concealed in side front seams, long set-in sleeves and optional belt in back.”

Simplicity 5928
Simplicity 5928 A princess coat from 1973.

One of the biggest side effects of organizing my pattern collection is a voracious need for even more patterns. Sadly, I am not independently wealthy. I cannot buy all the patterns I want.

But, I am getting new patterns. New old patterns. My mum is cleaning up the house and I asked for any old patterns that she wasn’t going to use again. We looked at them together over Skype, and this is one of the ones on the way.

It isn’t exactly my size, so we’ll see if I can work with the pattern. Now what colour fabric should I buy…

Sew for Victory : My Grandma’s Wedding Dress

Sew For Victory! A 40s Sewalong
Sew For Victory! A 40s Sewalong. February 4 – March 31, 2013.

This week, Rochelle, from Lucky Lucille launched Sew For Victory! A 40s Sewalong. So exciting!

I really wanted to participate, but the 1940s are difficult for me. I love the art deco styles from the 1920s and 1930s. I like the mod styles of the 1960s. I appreciate that the styles from the 1950s flatter my figure. But I’m much less familiar with the 1940s fashion-wise.

Then it occurred to me that I have a real piece of 1940s clothing in my possession – my grandmother’s wedding dress. A few years ago, when my grandmother died, the dress came to live at my house. I had put it away and I hadn’t taken a really good look at it since.

So for the sew along, my plan is to remake my grandmother’s wedding dress.

My Grandparents in the 1940s

In the late 1930s in Vancouver my grandmother finished nursing school and began work as a psychiatric nurse. She and her friend bought a car, and throughout the 1940’s went on a number of road trips. She often told me the story of how on a trip to the states, she and her sister had stocked up on silk stockings, luxuries that were not available in Canada during wartime. She had to hide the stockings in the sleeves of her clothing to get them across the border.

In 1941, the car needed repairs, and my grandfather was referred for the job. My grandfather was a truck mechanic. During the war, he worked for Shell Oil assembling tanker trucks. Since his job was considered essential to the war effort, he wasn’t drafted.

My grandparents started dating in 1942, and on July 14, 1945, my grandparents were married. My grandmother wore a green wedding dress. When asked why she chose the colour green she stated simply that there were shortages during the war.

Canada in the 1940s

Canada joined the war effort in 1939. Conscription was ordered in 1944. Even though the population of Canada was only 11,000,000 in 1938, over 1,000,000 Canadians served in the war.  More than 40,000 did not come home.

At home, rationing began in 1942 and didn’t end until 1947, two years after the war ended. Clothing was rationed using a ticket system. Silk importation ended in 1941. Nylon was difficult to find as well.

My GrandMother’s Wedding Dress

My grandmother’s dress, is actually a suit. There is a 3-panel, A-line skirt that hits just below the knee. There is also a fitted jacket with 3/4 length sleeves, that buttons up the front.

The first thing you notice is the colour. It’s so green!

My grandmother's wedding dress
The skirt from my grandmother’s wedding dress. If you look closely you can see there are three panels, and it is an A-line skirt.
my grandmother's wedding dress
The jacket of my grandmother’s wedding dress. It is so green! And so sheer!

There have you gotten over the colour yet? No? Take another look.

my grandmother's wedding dress
This is the back of the jacket. You can see the princess seams.

Once you see past the colour, the dress design is pretty interesting.

The Skirt

The skirt is a simple three-panel A-line skirt. It looks like there are more panels in the back, but in fact, the dressmaker simply did inverted pin tucks to make it appear as if there were more pieces of fabric. The waistband is reinforced with grosgrain ribbon and there is a rather industrial-looking zipper and a hook and eye closure. The seams are not quite even and are just finished with pinking shears. The hem is hand-stitched and the hem has been repaired. Although the skirt is sheer, there is no lining.

The waistband is lined with grosgrain ribbon.
The waistband is lined with grosgrain ribbon.
The zipper is not an invisible zipper.
The zipper is not an invisible zipper.
The zipper is quite heavy for the fabric.
The zipper is quite heavy for the fabric.

The Jacket

The jacket has 3/4 length sleeves that are a little wider at the bottom. There are shoulder pads (factory-made) that fit into the caps of the sleeves. The back of the jacket uses princess seams. The front has a gathered, faux yoke at the top. At the waist there are triangular insets that allow for a second set of gathers. There is a row of clear plastic shank buttons that close with button loops up the front of the jacket. The jacket has a facing of synthetic fabric that is hand-stitched in place. It is also unlined. I think it’s about a 36 bust, so maybe, a size 18 in vintage sizes, and maybe a 10 today.

There are shoulder pads to help keep the sleeves puffed and they are attached with seams.
There are shoulder pads to help keep the sleeves puffed and they are attached with seams.
The sleeves are a little wider at the bottom.
The sleeves are a little wider at the bottom.
The dress is gathered in a faux yoke.
The dress is gathered in a faux yoke.
There are buttons at the front. I think they were originally clear. They might be a two-piece buttons that were glued together, and the glue appears to be discoloured.
There are buttons at the front. I think they were originally clear. They might be two-piece buttons that were glued together. The glue appears to be discoloured.
A close-up of the triangular panels at the waist.
A close-up of the triangular panels at the waist.
This is a better view of the jacket front where you can see the two areas that were gathered across the bodice.
This is a better view of the jacket front where you can see the two areas that were gathered across the bodice.

 Who Made the Dress?

The dress is clearly hand-made. This isn’t a factory dress or a department store dress and there are no tags at all. At first I thought my grandmother made the dress. However, family lore says she bought it in Vancouver. It must have been from a local dress-maker. It’s made well with good techniques (ribbon in the waistband, etc.), but shortcuts have been taken. For example, the inner jacket facing is made of several pieces of fabric.

The hand-sewn hem.
The hand-sewn hem.
The shoulder pads.
The shoulder pads.
The facing is made of two pieces of fabric.

The Fabric

The fabric is really quite sheer and very musty. I was tempted to hand wash it, but I did a fibre burn test on a small piece of fabric from behind the zipper. The fabric disappeared into grey ash. And then I took another tiny piece from the seam and hand-washed it and it shrank like crazy. I’m pretty sure this is rayon crepe. So I can’t hand wash it. Good thing I checked! It irons quite well though.

The Sew-along Challenge

The more I looked at the dress, the more I thought the dress itself would have been nicer if it just weren’t so green.  I figure, if I use a fabric without a floral pattern, and choose something a little prettier I might end up with clothing I would actually wear. Blue maybe? Black? In a sheer fabric? But lined, definitely lined. So yes, I’m going to try to remake the suit in a better colour.

What pattern to use?

This part is tricky, and I could use some help.

The skirt is almost exactly the same as Simplicity 3688. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the technical drawing does show a three-panel skirt. It’s such a simple design that I could probably just use any a-line skirt pattern. It wouldn’t even have to be a vintage pattern.

The jacket is another story. It’s is a little like the Vogue 8767 jacket. It’s even more similar to the blouse in Simplicity 3688. There is also the jacket in Vogue 1072. The part that is the most difficult to find, even in the vintage patterns I’ve seen, is the triangular insets at the jacket waist. If I can’t find anything else, I’ll probably use the Vogue 8767, but I’m hopeful that I can come up with something better.

Have you seen any patterns that more closely match the dress? Let me know in the comments.