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Hey there! My name is Megan and I'm the sewing, pattern making girl behind Dolly Henry. This is my blog, where I share my own creative adventures and hope to meet fellow fabric enthusiasts. I also design and sell sewing patterns through my online boutique, alongside a beautiful collection of clothing and dolls. Thank you for stopping by!

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Colette Laurel Top - the muslin


We probably all have a *sewing girl* version of Mount Everest. That seemingly insurmountable feat that we have an on and off, will they/ won't they relationship with. My "I want to, but I'm scared to" in sewing is, oddly enough, making my own clothes!

I say *oddly* because if I was a world quilter extraordinaire, it might seem relevant because garment sewing is a whole different cushion of pins! (kettle of fish doesn't seem right somehow) But I'm not, I'm a baby in the world of patchwork and the thing I have sewn the most of, is clothing. And I'm scared of it. Haha.






I grew up wearing gorgeous dresses, handmade by my Grandmother - the one that could sew. The one that couldn't, tried, and I commend her efforts but that's the funny thing about clothing - they need to look good and be wearable! Teenage years hit and handmade clothing was no longer "cool"....yes it happens to the best of us - tisk tisk. I'm afraid blending in is more important in those years than standing out, because at that age, few of us seem to realise that standing out and making a fashion statement is actually pretty *cool*.... awesome/cool they were the lingo back in the (not that long ago..ha!) day!

Then the day came where I discovered all these glorious patterns, and making ghastly and gaudy fabric choices, I couldn't understand why the clothes I was asking my Mum to sew me weren't coming out the way I pictured them...or more's to the point, fitting in the same way they did on the pattern model...one isn't exactly very realistic at 13!

In my late teens I saw reason, and collected a small pile of boutique sewing patterns. I still continued to have mini-disasters however because looking back now, my sewing skills were simply not as high as my expectations. However, a few garments down having cut and stitched my way through acres of children's clothing and suddenly, things like darts are no longer scary creatures - I actually like them! And nothing seems as 'hard to understand' as it once was. I have also been a *make your own clothes* stalker for a few years now, lurking on fashion sewing blogs, slowly gathering courage alongside tips to actually give this a red hot go!

So, it was on the verge of chickening out and saying "oh hang it! I'll just have to get a really expensive job just so I can buy a designer wardrobe (not!)" when I took a deep breath and decided to have a go, and make up a *muslin* which for those who are unfamiliar with the term is basically your practice garment - I actually call mine *mock-ups*. My fabric addiction helped with this decision. There are SO many amazing fabrics out there, that I visualise in outfits that I believe I would have a life half lived if I didn't at least try to push myself a bit. The chicken would have happily crawled under a pile of forgiving fat quarters.

My stylist really ought to have straightened this out for this shot...and messy hair..don't care?


I chose the Colette Laurel pattern because I have a) made it before and b) needed to make up some easy wear summer tops and also wanted to use some fabric in my stash, which being mostly interesting cottons isn't going to look great (for me) in button up tops and more complicated designs. Plus it looked fast to make and it's been at the back of my brain to do. I have made the dress, a *muslin* that I had good intentions to make a 2nd proper version of and never did. I've been wearing it on and off for 3 years now and though the fit is bad because I had a lot of impatience and very little experience at the time, I like it.

Pattern measurements is often hurdle #1 for me. If I go on the body measurements of patterns, I end up with this oversized garment that fits badly. So I decided to cut my Laurel based on my current dress size, going up a size as the pattern recommended if your measurements fall in between sizes. I did this because unless someone has invented a magic fabric welding device, it's easier to take in a garment, then try and fuse the fabric you shouldn't have cut off back on. 

From my reading, in the chicken-y shadows, I have noted a few people have had issues with Laurel and her sleeves/shoulders. I have too, with my dress. So while I cut out the top a size smaller than the dress, I left my sleeves in the size up. I trace out my patterns rather than cutting into the pattern because if I have to make size adjustments, it's obviously useful if the original pieces are still in tact. It turns out my experience has been useful for something, or I have become plain reckless, because I traced along the lines until I got to the waist, where I made the snap (and very sensible) decision to grade out to a bigger size for the hips.

Making a shirt in a non-stretch woven cotton means I need to accommodate the lack of give and movement. If I simply cut out the bigger size all over, it would have resulted in a sack-like top, especially because between my shoulders and across my back is an area I have fitting issues with all my clothes, even store bought. That part of my body must be quite small because just about all my dresses and shirts gape in that area, if I buy a size that accommodates my bust. Body issues might surface when you first come to terms with fitting a garment to your shape, until you start to realise that size, weight and shape are all different things. The individual curves and quirks that are issues for run of the mill shop clothes aren't as problematic, because when you make clothes, you have the ability to tailor your clothing to them. It's like having a secret superpower!

I'm really happy with my Laurel muslin, choosing a light weight voile as I much prefer the drape and weight to quilting cotton for clothing. This was a remnant piece that I knew I could wear, should all go well, and if it didn't, well it didn't bother me much, it wasn't a favourite piece. It's funny though how different this fabric is now it's actually made up! That's something to remember when you are making clothes I guess. Fabric selection is a little different. With the help of second person, aka my Mum, I got her to check the fit at the back for me. I haven't yet become that flexible with my Yoga - ha!

The back was pulling a bit in one section, however I simply unpicked and shortened the back darts by about 11cm to resolve this. Doing this put in that bit of extra room I needed. The sideseams were fine and a bigger size or more room in the centre back seam would have resulted in that gape I was talking about earlier. Darts are excellent little creatures, and not as scary as they would have you believe! I used to shake in my boots at all those dreadful lines and dots. Speaking of, I placed the bust darts one size up, as I think they would have been in the wrong place in the smaller size.

This top only took me a couple of hours to whip up, and requiring no buttons or closure of any kind, is something you can just grab and start one afternoon if you want.

The changes I made are:

- Shortening the back darts by 11.5cm to allow for ease of movement. The top was fine when I was standing up straight or still, but when I lifted my arms up or moved them forward, it strained the back a little. I simply measured from the top of each dart, down 11.5cm and unpicked the stitches to the mark. I then back stitched over the open ends of the darts - I didn't worry about shaping the dart, I just left the top straight in the same way you would for under the bust or tummy darts.

- The bust dart was in the right place for me on the size up, so I traced it in the same place.

- The sleeve is the size up, the ease/gather stitches simply pulled into place to fit the armhole.

- From about the waist I started drafting out, finishing at the next size up because I wanted a looser fit, to wear over shorts in summer. It's still fitted enough to tuck into a skirt easily!

The changes I will be making are:

- the shoulders are still a bit wide for me, the sleeve cap is sitting off my shoulder, which looks a little bit odd and has a widening effect. I have decided I will go down a size or two in the shoulder seam and then grade back out to my *proper* size.

- the arm hole shape is still a bit restrictive. It's not too bad, but I'm thinking I will grade it out too to a bigger size, just to give me more room to swing my arms around...that's important isn't it?? I need to be able to throw pincushions at the wall sometimes...

- I will lengthen the top, because un-hemmed I was actually happy with the length.

- the word *grade* can sound scary, and maybe it is. But I'm a little out there, with no special rulers or much of a plan, I simply start on the line and then 'dot' it out in dashes, using the bigger size as my destination. Grading...because you go out gradually instead of making a beeline for the target!

What I am definitely learning:

- I'm not any actual *size* I wondered why sometimes I could go shopping and by a size 12, 14 and 16 all in one day! (all Au sizes) Our body's aren't stock standard or an actual *size* We aren't feet! We have dips, curves and individual proportions, in different places. By the time I am finished with this top, it will be a whole blend of sizes.

- this revelation is exactly why I think dressmakers are excellent people...I cannot imagine having to tailor garments to individual bodies, often for special events like weddings...I think that's what they call couture??

Resources:

I really recommend The Colette Sewing Handbook - it's a gorgeous book full of instructions and how-to's for getting a garment to fit nicely and the techniques required to achieve it. Their blog is also super inspiring!

SO tell me! have you ever made your own clothes?






8 comments

  1. Gosh, Megan. What a lovely top! I loved reading your blog as to how it came about. I must admit though, I went a little cross-eyed at the changes you made. You were so COURAGEOUS! Everytime I used to make something for myself, I hated it with a passion too. So, maybe, if I had a another go, now I'm OLDER (Ha!) and more EXPERIENCED (In my dreams ...:) I might succeed too. I'm damned tempted by your success to give it a go! That fabric is very sweet, and my fabric stash is quite large (aka HUGE) It was funny, my farming Dad was here the other day and reminded me how a dress maker used to make most of our clothes. He was telling my husband how he couldn't afford to buy them, so they were made. These days, with all the imports from China, it would be the other way around! I also love your new photo! So lovely to see who you are and I do love your dog. M x

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    1. Hi Margareta! Isn't that funny how much things have changed? I bet the quality of factory made garments was a gazillion times higher than it is now. That is one thing that does motivate me to try making my own fashion, and also the devastating environmental effect the mass produced fashion industry has - after some careful research for my own business, I found out exactly why it's called the "rag trade!" I know I didn't explain my changes extremely well, I found myself fumbling through the writing because that's how I did the top lol! I do find starting with a fabric I cared less about helps ease the pressure. The Colette blog is an excellent resource. Thank you for your lovely words! Megan x

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  2. Oh, this is gorgeous! You look so pretty in it!! Well done for fighting down those fears! That's exactly why I like to make my own clothes - I can get them to fit! I have some fabric to make another Esme dress (Lotta Jansdotter book), but I need to make a small adjustment to the back as it's a bit tight. I've been googling how to do it!

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    1. Hi Michelle, thank you so much! I am glad I did overcome the clothing blues. I find the Colette Blog has some great tips on adjusting garments, and also the sewing handbook of theirs I purchased ~ can't wait to see your dress! Megan x

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  3. Your top is just beautiful,bring on the next garment! I admire that you've taken the time to make a toile/muslin/mock up ... that patience and dedication is what grown-ups are made of! Love the model too x

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  4. I think you're extremely clever and you look beautiful x

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