Dressmaking, Pattern Cutting, Sewing, Workshop

Making a Bodice Block with Ministry of Crafts

I signed up for Bodice Fitting Class with the Ministry of Craft because I wanted to know more about how to fit the clothes I was making beyond some haphazard pattern hashing that I’d done up until now.  The beauty of making your own clothes is that you don’t have to wear off the peg, but my knowledge restricted me to make clothes out of the pattern packet instead, which defeats the point.

The day long workshop ran on a Sunday from 11.15-16.45 at Fred Aldous in Manchester in the basement workshop. Everyone got their own double desk, sewing machine and tools, and the studio was surrounded by peg boards with neatly organised tools of the trade… A makers dream.

We were guided by the tutor Janette who made everyone feel at ease. There were eight of us in the class covering a range of ages and levels of experience, and that really is part of the appeal of taking an in-person workshop, meeting like minded people. I haven’t found much of a sewing community up North yet, so it was great to find The Ministry of Crafts

To start with, we found a bodice block closest to our high bust measurements, that’s basically from under your armpits and across your chest. You can build your block from scratch, but with just a day to get everyone through the process it’s simpler to use one, or a combination of the industry standard blocks as a starting point, where some of the hard work has already been done for you. 

From here, you find the block that is closest to your waist and chest measurement, this is a common point where you need to grade between sizes and do a full, half or small bust adjustment on your chest. We were guided through this process and although this doesn’t apply to me at present, we all know that body’s morph with time, so it was a really useful skill to learn. I had the preconception that a FBA, as a full bust adjustment is commonly abbreviated to, was a daunting process, but actually it was relatively straight forward. However the process is a little time consuming if you have to repeat this process on every pattern, which is exactly why constructing your bodice block is so useful.

From here we cut out our pattern out of calico and made up the initial bodice before the fitting. I found this the most interesting part of the day, because it’s so hard to fit something on yourself when you don’t know what you’re looking for. I know I have a long body and broad back, but I didn’t know what adjustments to make to counteract this, which I really noticed when making the Etta Dress.  I tried the bodice on and Janette made adjustments to the placement and size of the darts, and even when it was pinned in I could see the difference. It took another round of fitting to get the perfect fit, but to my surprise the bodice started to follow my form completly.

Using the adjusted bodice in calico, the next step is to cut your bodice in half down the centre front, and unpick the darts and seams, and trace around the front and back bodice onto card. You then sharpen the line with a metric French curve, copy any pattern marks and cut it out along with a corresponding sleeve, and your bodice block is done. 


By this point, it was nearly the end of the workshop. Though what I really liked about the workshop was learning to make the bodice block was just the beginning of the process.  Janette talked us through steps of how to turn these blocks into our own patterns, the combinations are endless and I’m sure I’ll never look at a piece of clothing again without trying to work out the construction. We received a handout with step-by-step instructions to repeat the process at home, which saves you from trying to scribble everything down inbetween watching demonstrations, and some recomendations of books to read.

I had already bought The Metric Pattern Cutting for Woman’s Wear over the summer, once I had the idea of making my own patterns, but the textbook is very dry and if I’m honest I took one look at it, scratched my head and it stayed on the book shelf. This class however brought the book to life, it began to make sense and now I’m really looking forward to drafting my own pattern from my block. To start with, I think I’m going to make a long sleeved fitted jumper similair to the Seamwork Astoria jumper but with a longer bodice to fit my proportions.

This class gave me the confidence to try pattern cutting, but it also gave me confidence in fitting things to my body. It reminded me how high street shops employ vanity sizing to make us feel smaller and how working out your measurements in cm’s carries much less conotations than inches, so you can focus less on the number and more on how to get the perfect fit. In the new year I hope to attend the trouser fitting class and hopefully my collection of patterns bespoke to my measurements will begin to grow.

All for now.



Dressmaking, Sewing

British Heart Foundation The Big Stitch Campaign

The British Heart Foundation’s Big Stitch Campaign encourages style savvy shoppers to put their sewing skills to good use and personalise an item found in one of their shops. To take part in the competition you need to post a photo of the refashioned make during the 1st-15th July, giving you a chance of win return flights to Paris or Milan, a Janome 2200XT sewing machine from Sew Essential or a £50 voucher towards a dressmaking class with Sew Over It.

Motivated by the slightest possible chance of coiffing on aperetivo by the Navagali. I had my first crack at refashioning. I picked up a linen dress from Ann Harvey in our local BHF Store, I was drawn to the quantity of quality fabric for a fraction of the price, the print bordering on the fashion from Hawaii 5-0, but I think because it’s black and white I can just about manage to get away with it.


I knew I wanted to turn the dress into a jump suit after being inspired by the Tilly and the Buttons Marigold Jumpsuit and the subsequent hacks. I am love with this hack from Self Assembly Required.

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Like the start of all good projects,  I set about making a Pinterest board for some Pinspiration. I started out looking at jumpsuits, co-ord loose tops, trousers and then just anything printed. I really liked the tie twist on the front of this Linen Jumpsuit from Anthroplogie  The back was fitted with elastic, in order to achieve the more tailored front. I wasn’t sure on the wide leg, I thought it would make me look wider.


I love the cut of this tailored jumpsuit, again which I found on Pinterest, especially the cigarrette peg trousers.

Jumpsuit white

In the end I used a Simplicity pattern, a loose, tied cropped trouser pattern from Sew Creative, my local sewing class. It was a bit more of a challenge trying to cut the pattern from the fabric, even through there was a lot of fabric, when I braved it and cut the dress open, I noticed all the seams and shaping for the dress that I would have to incorporate into my design.  So the trousers have a seam down the leg and back leg. I made a cropped version, which meant I just had enough fabric to make a top. I made some patch pockets from the sleeves and pieced together the scraps to make drawstring for the waistband.

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After much deliberation over whether to make separates or a jumpsuit, I realised I didn’t have enough fabric to make a top that would be long enough to cover the waistband of the trousers, so the decision was made for me. I roughly followed the Ogden Cami pattern for the top, but it was a bit short and I didn’t have quite enough fabric for the facing, so I just turned over a 0.5cm hem, hopefully the structure of the linen will save it from gaping too much over time. I experimented trying to add a bow to the front, but because the shape of the cami is unstructured, it hung in a really strange way, so I scrapped it. I attached the bottom of the top to the waistband and the drawstring of the trousers gave some shape to the waist.



Overall, I was pleased with it as a first attempt of hacking a pattern and refashioning. It taught me to be less precious about cutting fabric and I had to leave some perfectionism behind, simply because I didn’t have enough fabric, but still the end result turned out fine. I had enough fabric for a headband which ties everything together. Quite a bold outfit for Altrincham high street, but it would be a great grab and go outfit for a day at the beach in the summer. Looking back I would probably brave a wider leg on the trousers. I thought they might make me look wider, but they would probably balance the loose and unstructured fit of the garment.


This make has certainly planted a seed for a jumpsuit obsession, I have a jersey jumpsuit in my wardrobe, that this make has inspired me to dig out and wear a bit more, I am also tempted to try a tailored jumpsuit, either the Vogue 9075 or the Named Ailakki Cross Front Jumpsuit 

Kuvassa: Heini SalonenVogue 9075

Fingers crossed, I think the winners are announced at the start of August, so hopefully i’ll be wearing this outfit swanning around Milan or Paris or better still spending those Sew Over vouchers on a Coat Class. There is some stiff competition when I followed the hashtag, so hopefully whatever the outcome it will encourage more refashioning and recycling from second hand charity shops.

All for now.

Claire & co.





Dressmaking, Journal

Learning to Sew

There are few books that you read inside out and back to front, all in the space of six weeks, but as soon as I picked up Tilly and The Buttons, ‘Love at First Stitch’ I was hooked. At the beginning of 2018 I had pledged to myself to learn to sew clothes…but it wasn’t until I saw my friend Verity had made a Cleo that it gave me the confidence to give it a go. I had always had the misconception that sewing your own cloths lead you down one of  two paths; you either looked like an art teacher or you look like a 50’s pin up girl. As my style doesn’t even land anywhere on this scale I never thought it was for me. I was surprised and delighted when I was introduced to the Tilly and the Buttons sewing patterns, all of which look current, wearable with a slight nod to their vintage roots.

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The book, ‘Love At First Stitch’ takes you from sewing in straight lines, to lining a dress and even crafting a button down blouse.  As I was a total beginner, I started from page 1 and worked my way through each project. Each project builds on the skills you learnt as you go along, so even through some of the patterns were not my style, I committed to trying them out simply to pick up skills like French seams and perfecting pleats.

Love at First Stitch Front Cover

The fabric I used for all the projects, was either donated or reclaimed. Although all my makes are toiles,  I didn’t need to worry if I made a mistake on fabric I’d spent money on. Tilly does provide detailed instructions on what fabric to use for each project. Personally for me, I think learning to navigate fabric shops, knowing what materials to order, deciding on print design and sourcing of fabric can feel pretty overwhelming, so using fabric that I’d found or reclaimed left me able to concentrate on construction of the garments.

Honestly, these makes are probably my biggest textiles achievement to date. In Year 12 I joined an all-girls school with a brilliant textiles department and I studied textiles at AS Level. I was really excited, but I was miles behind my class mates who had all received outstanding tuition from Year 7. I was battling with with my bobbin trying to thread my machine, whilst other girls in my class were making fitted dresses. I somehow managed to pass the year with an A, with as little sewing as possible. I glued where possible, making my own felt and paper, but I decided not to carry on with the A Level and focused on Art. In hindsight it’s a shame because I probably would have loved to study Fashion and Textiles at University, but all decisions lead me to this opportunity to learn to sew with the help of YouTube, plenty of time on my hands and a newly acquired patience of a saint.

Brigette Scarf 

The first project is relatively straight forward, as you learn to sew in straight lines, learn the concept of ‘right sides together’ and finish off with top stitching. I actually already own a headscarf in the same style in a polka dot fabric, I wear it often to get my hair off my face and to prevent any damage using hair elastics. I’ll definetely be making more of these and this is a great project for any leftover fabric.


Margot Pyjamas 

If you are a complete beginner like I was this, this project really takes your sewing to the next level as you learn to read a pattern, finish seams and construct a garment. You are eased in gently if you mess up and your hem is not totally straight, you’re safe, as they never leave the comfort of your own home. That being said, I have never felt so proud in my couture pyjamas!


I added the pockets from the Clémence Skirt as all my ready to wear pyjamas have pockets, (reflecting on this I’m not entirely sure the purpose of these pockets) but I find myself with one hand in my pockets with a coffee in the other hand most mornings. I made the waist tie from a sheet, but there is option to tie them with a ribbon. I think the ribbon is actually prettier, but the purpose of all these makes was learn new skills. My pyjamas are made from the underside of an old duvet colour. As a lover of all things yellow, these are probably the happiest pyjamas I have owned and I was so proud to wear them.


Delphine Skirt 

The Delphine introduces you to invisible zips and waist bands. At this point I didn’t know the reputation that the invisible zip carries in the sewing world. but I agree with Tilly if you start with invisible zips they don’t seem so intimidating and you can only get better at fitting them. Practise makes perfect after all.


I generally only wear separates in winter with thick tights and knitted jumpers and have never owned or worn an a-line skirt, as a pear shaped person I always felt that would accentuate the wrong areas on me, but it turns out I found the shape flattering and plan to make this in a honey coloured suede and navy blue wool for winter. This sample is made from upholstery fabric, which is why the skirt is so structured.


Megan Dress 

I loved this dress. If I worked in an office, I would probably make five in different colours and wear one every day of the week. It works well with bare legs and could easily transition to winter with black tights and a black cashmere cardigan. I’m planning to make it in a cotton linen blend geometric print.  I had a real ‘ah ha’ moment after making this, as I got so many compliments on how well it fitted me and I realised that makes such a difference. The dress is simple in design, but with a good fit the most simple dress turns into a talking point.


Building on the skills from the Delphine, Megan requires an invisible zip, you will notice how much better your second attempt is. This pattern also helps you learn to fit sleeves. I made my version in upholstery fabric again with this large floral design. The fabric is beautiful, but I don’t feel such a bold floral print is my style anymore. I wrote a little about how I fell out of love with florals on my experimentation with print design. 

Megan Dress 3

Clémence Skirt 

This skirt helps you channel your inner French woman as it is constructed with French seams, which is a construction technique that makes your seams remain hidden. This skirt is probably the furthest away from what I wear on a day to day basis, but I wanted to learn to make gathers. I made it from an old duvet cover and yes the pattern is more Mary Poppins than Mademoiselle Channel.


At first I never thought i’d make this again, as it is so far from my style. However, I think that if I made the waist band thinner and paired the gathered skirt with a matching camisole top it could be a very practical (it has pockets) occasion outfit and versatile separates.  I spotted a similar idea over on Lizzie B’s blog in a beautiful Swan print fabric here. 

Clemence Skirt

Mimi Blouse 

The Mimi blouse is introduced as the project that will take you beyond the status of a beginner. This by far was the most challenging project for me, and I found the collar tricky and my machine decided to eat my fabric when I attempted to make button holes for the first time. I picked up the fabric for £1 for the lot from the yard at Stitched Up. I didn’t come with a label, but it’s defiantly synthetic as it was very hot to wear and slippy to work with.

Mimi 02

The fabric stretched when I was adding the collar so there was a bit of creativity involved in attaching the collar and facing. I made the pleated sleeve, again picking up a new skill, and headed back to Hobby Craft where my machine came from for one of the Sunday Sewing Surgeries. During the session I got help with making button holes.

Mimi 04

As I knew I wasn’t going to wear the Mimi Blouse I didn’t spend the time to cover the buttons or add the pipping, but the detailed instructions takes you through all these steps.  I plan to make this again in a cotton lawn so it’s more breathable on a hot day and adjust the sleeves so they are a bit longer and finish further down my arm, rather than where they currently sit at the widest point of my arm, not so flattering. Not the most well made garment, but not bad considering only five weeks ago I was working out how to make a seam.

Mimi 03

Lilou Dress 

The final project is a lined dress with an option scalloped neckline, I opted for the pleated skirt, again to pick up a new skill. I was short on patterned fabric so I made the executive decision to make a plain bodice from calico and used the patterned fabric to make the skirt. I lined the bodice with an old bed sheet.

Lilou Dress

I actually forgot to add the bust darts and only realised when I tried it on at the end of the project, had I been planning to wear this dress I would have had to do a lot of unpicking, thankfully I just let it slide, but you can spot a bit of extra fabric across the bust under the arms where the darts would have added more shape.


The end result is a little short, I have quite a long body and long legs so would need to add an extra two inches so it would fit better, at a guess Tilly is 5’5” and as i’m 5’7” it makes sense to add a little extra length in the bodice and on to the skirt. I got plenty of compliments on the design choice of two fabrics in one dress and I love the busy skirt, it does make it feel more dressed up, so I plan to make it in a teal coloured linen-cotton blend with a cotton popplin lining for next summer.


I loved this book, I read the instructions a hundred times and would re-read them in bed to be sure I knew what I was doing on my next project. I rave about this to anyone and would urge anyone to start here, even if the styles aren’t exactly to your taste, these patterns are a great place to start as a jumping off point, I have already been conjuring up some hacks for my wardrobe.

Believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Now go start your love story with sewing with Love at First Stitch. 

Claire & co.