A dress for Katrina

‘In the bleak midwinter’ there is no better place to be than beside the sewing machine. And over Christmas while at home in Scotland I spent a bit of quality time with my Mum’s machine, with a chocolate coin or two and a cup of tea never far from reach.

And in the spirit of the season I decided to partake in some un-selfish sewing for a change; a dress for my wee sister, Katrina.

And here is Katrina herself wearing the finished item – ta da!


I’ve wanted to make something for someone else for a while and I knew the first person I wanted to test out my skills on was my sister: you can be honest with your family members and they can be honest with you so I think they make for suitable guinea pigs! Also, I know she thinks you can never have too many party dresses so I thought it would be a nice present for a special sister.

But, unfortunately she lives in Glasgow and I live in Brussels. That made it tricky to take her measurements to draft her basic blocks. Luckily my number one blog reader (hi Mum!) stepped up to the challenge and took the measurements and emailed me them.

From these I drafted a basic bodice block using the book ‘Pattern Making (Portfolio Skills)’ by Dennic Chuman Lo. I made a dress for myself using his block method a while ago and I was pleased with the results and the fit so I thought I’d give it a go. Incidentally, I think it is good to try different ways of drafting blocks and compare the methods as you go. I think you can also mix methods. For example, I used a different way of calculating the dart suppression than the one used in the book – I used the method I learnt on the pattern drafting night class I took at Cardonald College in 2007 (wow, seven years ago…). I still have the workbooks we got from the class and use them from time to time.
Another trick I used that wasn’t part of Lo’s instructions was asking my Mum to take my sister’s measurement from her shoulder to the fullest part of her bust. I learnt this from Hanne’s blog and I think it really is the secret to a good fit at the bust as it helps position the bust point correctly.

From the block I drafted the bodice pattern. I wanted it to be a fairly simple style – side darts at the bust and front and back waist darts. My plan was to sew it up in the main fabric in Belgium and then check the fit when I got home for Christmas. If need be I could then make the necessary adjustments to the pattern and sew it up again (I have about four metres of the fabric I bought for the dress which came from the Parvis Saint Gilles Saturday market).

But luckily – much to my amazement and relief – it fitted really well at the bust, the back wasn’t perfect but we decided that we could live with it by adding two darts at the neckline. I think there was a bit of excess fabric at the waist too.


But all in all I was so so pleased that my ‘experiment’ had worked and particularly about how well the pattern fit my sister exactly at the bust. (Sorry, Katrina, for making you stand with your arms out with fabric pinned to you while I excitedly danced around you saying things like ‘yay, what a great fit!’ and ‘it’s a Christmas miracle’!)


Then in the spirit of keeping things simple I drafted a simple half circle skirt to join to the bodice. I used the method I outlined in this previous post. I lined the bodice with some really nice greyish soft cotton that I got for five euros a metre in Maison des Tissus on Chaussée d’Ixelles. I also added some yellow piping at the waist seam to jazz things up a bit.


The (self-imposed) challenge was to get the dress finished by Christmas Day so I could wrap it up and give it to Katrina but I didn’t quite meet my own deadline. I got it finished before the end of my trip home though….bar some hand-sewing to neaten the lining hem and a few zigzag stitches to tidy the insides of the seams – thanks Mum for finishing those tasks off for me! 🙂

So all in all it was a real team effort! Thanks, Katrina, for being a lovely guinea pig and for enduring the cold temperatures throughout this grueling photoshoot. I hope you like the dress!


Here’s to more sewing, pattern drafting, experiments, and learning in 2015!

A trip to the Fabric Sales


Did you know that metres upon metres of fabric await in a 350m2 warehouse space on an industrial estate in Rostelaar, just outside Leuven?

Neither a shop, nor a market, the Fabric Sales is more ephemeral than that – it’s a stock sale that takes place 3 days a month, just 10 months of the year. The concept is simple: the fabrics on sale are overstock from renowned Belgian designers sold on to both those working in the fashion industry themselves and people like me who enjoy making their own clothes, at affordable prices.

The range of fabrics on offer when I went in November was impressive. I came away with some grey thick knit and some ribbed black jersey – both were fabric overstock from Belgian designer Raf Simons.

The Fabric Sales is run by Allison McGreal, whom I met last month when I took my maiden voyage to Rostelaar. She was really lovely and took the time to explain this unique fabric stock sale concept to me, as well as give me some useful food-for-thought on various topics.

It was really fascinating to hear about her visions and ideas for The Fabric Sales – especially as she is not from a ‘home sewing’ background, her experience comes from a more fashion/business perspective. I’m really interested in where the worlds of home sewing and fashion meet: where does one become the other and how do they intersect?

Allison spoke of how she wants The Fabric Sales to be one part of a network that would link up professionals, students, and amateurs at both the local and international level within the fashion industry. For example, if a designer was looking for a pattern cutter they could turn to a database to find out the contact details of people in the
local area who have those skills. This kind of ‘joining-the-dots’ strategy would both help create jobs and support designers starting out.

What inspired the Fabric Sales was the amount of textile waste in the fashion industry. It’s really shocking that for many companies it is actually cheaper to throw out excess fabric than to manage selling it on. And we’re not talking about scraps here – we’re talking about bolts of high quality fabric.

But while The Fabric Sales was born out of a reaction to this pro-waste industry model you won’t see any nods to ‘green living’ in its marketing strategy – what I gathered from talking to Allison is that The Fabric Sales is not trying to specifically appeal to the so-called ‘ethical’ consumer – rather, Allison wants this kind of approach to textile waste to be the norm and not the niche.

Finally, what I liked about buying overstock ‘designer’ fabric is that it is quite democratising – just like our home makes, a very expensive piece of clothing also started life on a fabric bolt.

There is a special Christmas Fabric Sales this Sunday (14th December) from 11h to 17h.

If you are coming from Brussels and don’t have a car (like me!) take a train to Leuven and then a De Lijn bus (number 333, 334, or 335) to Rotselaar (get off at the stop Rotselaar Rotonde). From here it is a 10-minute walk.

Full address:
















C’est le temps de la couture: my #SewingFrançoise entry


When Tilly released her newest pattern, Françoise, I knew it would go straight to the top of my to-sew list: firstly, because I’m always on the look out for a good shift dress pattern (I had a go at drafting one myself last year and I made a 60s inspired shift dress as part of Sew it Up in May); secondly, because the pattern is a clear nod to the wonderful Françoise Hardy; and thirdly because Tilly is holding a Françoise sewing competition in which the star prize is a shiny new sewing machine!

I’ve entered two sewing competitions already this year but as yet have not
been triumphant – could this be my time?! 🙂


Let’s go through the details:

– I chose to sew Françoise in a purple tartan wool. I bought it a while ago in Berger.

– I drafted an all-in-one lining to make sure it would be comfy to wear. I drafted and sewed it using the same principles as you would for making an all-in-one facing. The lining fabric is brown satin that has a coating of viscose on the other side – perfect for adding warmth in the winter.


This was very well explained by Tilly and in my last blogpost I wrote about how making this dress helped me realise where I had been going wrong before with SBAs – now I know I must pick the pattern size at the bust based on the high bust measurement. I cut a Size 3 in the bust and a size 2 at the waist and hip. I then carried out an SBA following Tilly’s method. My SBA meant that I removed the bust darts completely.

– I also moved the waist dart by unpicking my muslin several times until I got it in the right place. I found that creating a cardboard cut-out of the waist dart shape was helpful for tracing it onto the fabric.

– I shortened the dress by 3.5cm at the waist ‘lengthen/shorten here’ lines.

– Instead of an invisible zip I used a centred zip – mainly because I thought the fabric would be too bulky for an
invisible zip but I also thought it would be nice to use a full zip to nod to the 60s as I think invisible zips were only widely available to home sewers from the late 60s.

– I also lowered the zip slightly to make space for a nice button.

– I carried out a sway back adjustment as there was a lot of excess fabric in the arch of my back – this is the first time I’ve carried out this adjustment.

Voilà! Overall I’m really happy with my dress. The wool is quite hard to press but I like the really defined lines of the seams and the darts, and how the thickness of the fabric holds the shape of the dress well. I had a bit of trouble getting the lining of the collar not to peek out but you can’t really tell when I wear it, unless you are as close as this photo! Most of all I’m happy with the fit, I really took my time to get it right and I think it paid off.

Wish me luck in the competition!













An epic small bust adjustment story…part 4

A revelation on choosing the correct pattern size


When I saw the latest offering from New Zealand-based company ‘Papercut Patterns’ I was smitten. The Clover dress, a collaboration with designer Brooke Tyson, looked like an easy to wear and (seemingly) easy to fit garment – exactly the type of pattern I’m always attracted to. I really loved the shape and the slouchy ‘casual but stylish’ look.

It’s the kind of style that works best in fabrics that drape well, such as those hard-to-come by soft woven rayon/cotton blends with a teeny bit of stretch. As luck would have it I had a huge black piece of rayon/cotton blend in my stash that I thought would be perfect for Clover. I was also totally taken and inspired by Anneke’s amazing black version!

I didn’t make a muslin (slap on the wrists) and just sewed up the straight size XXS as my measurements correspond to that size. This led me into troubled waters: the neckline and bust area were really huge while the back and shoulders were verging on the tight side! Argh!



I didn’t want my nice fabric to have gone to waste and was determined to get something wearable out of the whole escapade so I managed to make it work with some (unadvisable) improvised post-sewing tweaking and cutting to alter the neckline. It still droops a bit but it is not a total disaster and I really like the end result.

But what troubled me more was that at first I couldn’t work out why this pattern hadn’t worked for me. If my bust measurement matches the bust measurement on the pattern where did I go wrong?



Drumroll please…cue another revelation on small bust adjustments (SBAs)…..!

(You can read my previous ramblings on SBAs here, here, and here.)

Thanks to Tilly’s tutorial on the SBA for the Françoise dress and this Colette post on SBAs, more pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place.

While I knew that determining whether you needed a small bust adjustment involved your high bust measurement, and I’d also heard it suggested that starting with a larger bodice size before doing an SBA was an option, I’d never considered that you should choose your pattern size based on your high bust measurement, let alone why that would even make sense.

Here’s what I learnt in a nutshell:
1) Find out the difference between your pattern’s high bust measurement (around upper chest just under the armpits) and full bust measurement. For Tilly’s patterns this is 5cm; Colette patterns 7.5cm.

2) To choose the pattern size (for the bodice area at least – you can always grade between sizes if it is a dress and you want a different size around the waist and hips) take your high bust measurement and add this difference to that measurement. This measurement is then your imaginary bust measurement. Pick your pattern size based on it – this means that although it will be too big at the bust it will fit around the upper chest, neck, and shoulders.

3) Carry out an SBA to take away the difference between your imaginary bust measurement and your real one.

Understanding this helps me realise why the Clover dress probably didn’t fit right, and indeed why the Belladone dresses I made earlier this year are definitely verging on the slightly-too-tight around the armholes and chest.

So now I’ll retrace the Clover and Belladone in the correct size to see if that helps. Fingers crossed!

Of course, the main stumbling point is whether you know what the difference is between the high bust and the full bust on a pattern. But how can we find this out if it is not indicated? Is 5cm the standard difference?






Gold Fingers: une mercerie bruxelloise

 Discovering a shop that sells sewing supplies and finding just what you are looking for is great, and when that shop happens to be in your city, well, that’s just wonderful. Today I’d like to introduce you to ‘Gold Fingers’, a haberdashery I really like on one of Brussels’ main arteries, Boulevard Anspach, a stone’s throw from Bourse/Beurs.

Tomber sur un magasin qui vend des articles de couture qui correspondent parfaitement à nos attentes est trop bien –et si le magasin est justement dans notre ville c’est encore mieux !
Aujourd’hui je vous présente ‘Gold Fingers’ une mercerie que j’aime bien qui se trouve sur une des boulevards les
plus importants à Bruxelles, à deux pas de la Bourse (Beurs).




I happened upon the shop by chance a few months ago and ever since it’s been my go-to place for pattern paper, zips, sewing machine needles, and elastic. So to spread the word about this gem I asked owner Mohamed Al-Aarkabe if I could come and take some pictures to share them on my blog and he very kindly agreed. If you are looking for a friendly haberdashery with good prices and interesting stock then I really recommend it. The other main
attraction is that the shop specialises in sewing machine repairs, with a free cost estimate. I should probably take my hard-working sewing machine along for a long overdue check up!

J’ai trouvé le magasin par hasard il y quelques mois déjà et depuis c’est mon référence pour du papier du patron, des tirettes, des aiguilles, et d’élastique. Du coup, pour en partager cet adresse, j’ai demandé au propriétaire
Mohamed Al-Aarkabe si je pourrais venir prendre quelques photos et il a gentiment accepté ma proposition. Si vous cherchez une mercerie bon marché avec des produits intéressants je vous la conseille. L’autre atout c’est que le magasin fait des réparations de machine – et les devis sont gratuites ! Grand temps que je prenne ma machine pour une consultation d’ailleurs !






While the shop has been open at its current location at number 146 since January, Mohamed and his
staff have been providing customers with sewing notions since 2007, previously in a smaller shop further down the Boulevard Anspach. Mohamed
told me it is hard work running the shop but that he enjoys all aspects of it, particularly the varied customers – home and professional dressmakers, students, and those working in theatre – and the products themselves in all their colourful variety. The only negative aspect, according to Mohamed, is the reality of running a business and the risks it entails.

Le magasin n’est que ouverte depuis janvier au numéro 146, mais Mohamed et son staff ont fourni leurs clients avec les articles de mercerie depuis 2007, dorénavant dans un magasin plus petit. Mohamed m’a expliqué que faire tourner une petite entreprise n’est pas facile mais qu’il aime quand-même tout les aspects de son travail, surtout les clients variés qu’ils reçoit – des couturières pro et amatrices, étudiants, des gens qui travaillent dans le monde du théâtre – ainsi que ses produits
lumineuses et colorées eux-mêmes. Le seul aspect négatif, selon Mohamed, c’est la réalité de gérer un magasin dans un climat financier peu certain.
















There is no sign up yet so you’ll have to look carefully for the shop number – but the easiest way to locate Gold Fingers is by the lively feather boas hanging in the

Le nom du magasin n’est pas encore affiché devant donc pour repérer le magasin il faut chercher la vitrine avec des écharpes en plumes ‘boa’ pendus dans la vitrine !












Boulevard Anspach 146,
1000 Bruxelles