Monday 30 March 2020

Peggy: Pattern Testing Under Pressure!

When I signed up to test the Sewpony Peggy pattern, little did I know that I'd be completing it in lockdown during a global pandemic! Really, you couldn't write it, could you?! Well, I knew that a global pandemic was taking place of course, but the UK was still 'open for business' at the time, and the phrase 'lockdown' was not yet being bandied about, let alone enforced. For the testing of this pattern, Suz from Sewpony set up a closed Facebook group so we could leave comments, ask questions and share photos. As the two weeks progressed, more and more of the international tester group found themselves working from home, suddenly homeschooling our children, and having to use the fabric and buttons in our stash as we could no longer simply pop to the shops. 

So these are truly crazy times, and it feels kind of surreal to be talking about a new sewing pattern right now. However that's what I'm going to do, because there's only so many times I can write 'this is all so weird' before no doubt you'll head off elsewhere on the hunt for sewing inspiration. 

(image source: Sewpony)


Please note: the outfit that I have made here used the tester version of the pattern, and while it's undoubtedly very similar to the version now on sale, there are likely to be some very minor differences. The Peggy pattern spans sizes 12 months to 12 years. The top part is a simple, fastening-free top that can be made in both knit and woven fabrics (knit only for the smaller sizes) with optional 3/4 sleeve length (for knits only) and bow details. Elastic can also be inserted into the for a different look. The lower half is a gathered skirt with curved waistband, gathered pockets with flaps, button tab details and fastened by a concealed centre back zip. 

For my testing, I started with the skirt as that was clearly going to require the most time. I was pretty overwhelmed last Tuesday evening (the day after the lockdown was announced), and fluffed up the pockets a little; the pocket flaps are not meant to be trapped into the side seams. Overall, the skirt is quite an involved project, and I must admit it took considerably more time and effort than I usually spend on a skirt for my daughter. The result, however is lovely. The full pockets are my favourite feature and I love that the pattern encourages the use of contrast topstitching, as I think this really makes all those details (read: hardwork) pop and stand out.

The top was cobbled together during the course of the afternoon of the deadline. I lengthened the pattern about 1.5cm at the hem, and would do so a bit more for future versions because Dolores seems to have a fairly long torso. I've wanted a simple kids' top pattern that is suitable for woven fabrics for yonks. It's going to be so useful for hoovering up all those small pieces of woven leftovers from other projects. I'll make a version with the bow at some point because she loved that detail when I showed her the pattern, although I'm a little concerned about how screwed up it'll look having been through the wash. I'll let you know....


When you are testing a new, unreleased sewing pattern, you are, by definition, likely to encounter flaws and you can't bank on the finished item being wearable. That fact, combined with my sustained efforts to slowly work through my sizeable fabric stash (oh, and because I was on lockdown), meant that I was limited to the fabric options that I already owned. 

I gave Dolores a choice of fabric for the skirt. I had this piece of emerald cotton/stretch sateen, and some lavender cotton/linen; I was very surprised when we asked for this one. The stretch content wasn't too much of an issue, particularly because one half of the waistband is fused with interfacing. And the thicker weight holds the fullness created by the gathers well. If I'd had the right ones in my stash, I probably would have chosen plain white sew-through buttons for the tab detail. However, these gold ones look good with the emerald green, and Dolores is associating the whole thing with regal princesses (!).   

For the top, I used some cute printed quilting cotton which I have had in my scraps bin for years. Truth be told, it is probably at the stiffer end of the fabric-suitability spectrum, but seems to have worked alright. She wore this top two days in a row, so I'm guessing that my concerns surrounding its stiffness and subsequent comfort were unfounded. 


I'm very happy that I got to be part of the lovely community of testers for this pattern. It was so fun to see other peoples' versions popping up from all around the world. And it was during a time that I really needed an extra dose of community. 

As for the outfit, I think it's really lovely, and the separate pieces look great with other garments as well. My daughter's waist measurement seems to fluctuate quite a bit throughout the day (like, ahem, her mum's) and the skirt is currently a bit on the loose side, particularly in the mornings. That's one of the reasons that I prefer elasticated waist for kids' skirts, and because they seem to have a longer lifespan, partcularly if the elastic can also be let out a bit. So, I'm not sure I'd make the skirt again in a hurry, but I'm almost positive that I'll turn to the little top pattern many times in the future. 

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Thelma Boiler Suit

I have mentioned it before, and I'll say it again, it seems that my personal style has headed firmly into the realm of 'Art teacher'. This boiler suit feels like some kind of logical conclusion to this trend! When I went to university (in 1999!) my department was in the same building as most of the other Art & Design courses. A lot of the Fine Art students would hang out at the front of the building having a fag (did I mention this was the 90s?!) and a coffee from the nasty coffee machine whilst wearing paint-splattered coveralls, with the sleeves tied round their waists if it was warm. Coming from my department (Fashion) where everyone was constantly scrutinising what what everyone else was wearing, these baggy-boiler-suit-and-paint-clad Fine Art students seemed so refreshingly unconcerned with their own appearance, and therefore really sexy! I feel I have digressed.... 

Anyway, I probably look like the tutor at an evening class for pottery, and I'm here for it.   


I'd long been drawn to Ready to Sew's Jean-Paul coverall pattern, for living out my coverall/boiler suit fantasies. But then Merchant & Mills released the Thelma boiler suit pattern with all manner of bells and whistles (including concealed front button fastening) in paper form rather than PDF only, and I was fully sold. I bought it but then I got scared and the pattern sat on my shelf for a lonngggg time. Even once I'd bought the fabric for it, I waited months for the right time to start this project. It just seemed like such an undertaking. For one thing, if memory serves, there are about 24 separate pattern pieces! Eek. This was going to be a commitment. 

Cutting out the paper pattern pieces alone took a whole evening, and I poured over the finished garment measurements on the pattern trying to decide which size to cut out. Ultimately, I made the decision to pick one size smaller (10) than the body measurements on their website's sizing chart would have had me make (12). Because it had so many pieces and required a lot of fabric, I knew I wasn't going to make a toile(/muslin) for this project so sizing down on spec felt risky, but with the 1.5 cm seam allowance, I felt confident that I could claw back some width should a mid-way fitting deem it necessary. The annoying thing is that I could easily saved myself the stress because just before I started this project, I was in the M&M store in Rye and I could have just tried on the size 10 Thelma sample that they had in the shop! But I was feeling too cold to get undressed, and a bit tight on time, so I didn't. 

What to say about the making of this pattern? Unsurprisingly, there are A LOT of steps in the construction process, and it very much earns its description as an experienced-level pattern. The different pattern pieces for the left and right fronts resulted in a lot of head scratching, for example. The only things I changed about the pattern or construction, however, were to raise the position of the breast pocket by about 5 cm, and leave off the flaps from the rear pockets. Even if I'd felt the need or desire to to go off-piste with this project (as I so often do), I think I would have felt too far out on a limb to try!

Fabric and buttons:

For the main fabric for this boiler suit, perhaps unimaginatively, I bought the exact fabric from Merchant & Mills that they'd used for one of the pattern samples in their photographs. It's a rich, brick red, sanded twill: thick but soft, with a dense twill weave. I'm such a fan of rusty colours at the moment, plus I wanted to avoid navy or black that I otherwise would probably have gravitated towards, as I feared the result of those would look too much like I was about to fix your car. 

Both my sewing machine and overlocker HATED this fabric. There were many sections, particularly around the side seams at the front hip pockets, and around the concealed fastenings and facings, where you are sewing through many layers of dense, thick fabric plus interfacing, and my machines were not into it one little bit. But we made it through, just about, although I suspect it may have contributed to the recent demise of my elderly overlocker. 

For the back neck facing, I chose a scrap of black and white gingham from my stash. I didn't have enough for the pocket bags as well, so I just used some navy poly/taffeta from my stash for those. And for those to whom such things are important, these pockets are deep. Like, man-pocket-dimensions deep. 

The right buttons for this project alluded me for a long time. The pattern called for 16 of the blighters, and I found a couple of styles in another shop that I liked, but there wasn't enough in stock. In the end I found the perfect buttons for this boiler suit when I wasn't even looking for them. My friend Paula and I were in a lovely yarn shop in Brighton called Yak (we've both recently been dipping our toes into knitting, but that's a whole other blog post) and I found these gorgeous black and speckled-effect ones at the counter. At £1 a pop, it seemed like an extravagance when most of the buttons are concealed anyhow and I'd already spent way more than I usually do on the main fabric, but the speckled effect on these buttons is the exact same shade of rust/brick red and I knew I had to have them. I think they are actually made of clay, because I broke one almost immediately and had to reconfigure the button situation on the cuffs as a result so that I'd still have enough, but after four wears of the boiler suit at time of writing, including multiple trips to the loo, no more have broken at thus far. 


This project was truly major for me. I'd say that it was at least as much work as a coat project: and although I enjoyed the sewing, I frequently wondered if I would ever come to the end and actually get to wear the thing! I also spent most of the project terrified that it wouldn't fit very well. I have a naturally high natural waistline, but I also usually have to scoop out the crotch (!) of my trouser projects, so I wagered that those adjustments would cancel each other out in this garment, and decided to leave the pattern be. I (figuratively) held my breath til the end to see if everything felt and looked ok. 

Aside from time and effort, as I mentioned above, I also invested a lot more financially than I usually do in my sewing projects. It's so rare that I buy a paper sewing pattern as PDFs are cheaper, but there was no way I was taping together so many pages for this project. Also, if I do buy new fabric, I almost always get it from Fabric Godmother where I'm lucky enough to get a staff discount. So buying 3.3m of full-priced fabric from M&M definitely made me feel a little faint and promise to myself that I'd do a good job with it! Oh, and those buttons that cost me more than I usually spend in total on my sewing projects...

So the pressure on the resultant garment was high, but I'm so relieved to announce that I love it and it feels like all the elements of the garment have ended up where they should on my body. Because I so often wear knit tops, the thick twill does feel a bit heavy and inflexible on my upper body, but I expect that I'll get used to it over time, and also that the fabric will soften a bit with wear and laundering. The two other minor issues I have are A), there's some weird excess fabric issue that sometimes appears either side of the concealed fastening/fly front area, you can see it most noticeably in the pic above. I'm not entirely sure what causes it, but I've noticed it in some photos on their website plus other peoples' Thelmas on IG, so it seems an issue with the pattern rather than solely with mine/my body. And B), that I must not wait til I'm desperate to go to the loo!!! I probably made the second issue worse by sizing down, but I'm so glad I did as I think the 12 would have swamped me (or I'd be constantly asked by people if I could unblock their drains). This boiler suit and I are in it for the long haul. I hope it will have a very long life and see a squillion wears. 

But the best thing of all? I get to twin with my little girl!!!!! I snapped up this amazing child's red Dickies boiler suit for £1 (they were asking 50p) at her school's nearly-new clothes sale and it's sooooo good. She is always creating things from cardboard boxes and trying to invent excessively-ambitious contraptions, so this is EXACTLY the garment she should be wearing at all times!

Friday 6 March 2020

Free Pattern Friday: Kids' Walk the Plank PJ Bottoms

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes a women's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

Unlike last month's instalment of Free Pattern Friday, I am absolutely sure that this one is actually available! And if you've got any kids in your life that you like to sew for, you are going to need to know about this one. Today I'm talking about the Patterns for Pirates Walk the Plank PJ bottoms pattern. And holy shizzle it's a good 'un. This pattern spans a whopping size range of 3 months to 14 years, at which point you could simply download the equally free adults' version (sizing XS to Plus 3X). So basically, when teamed with a ratty old T-shirt, your entire family is set for pyjamas forever and ever. And because both the adults' and kids' pattern include short shorts, knee length and full length options, you're kind of sorted no matter what climate or season you're sewing for. So first up, let's give Pattern for Pirates an enormous great thank you for their generosity and sharing both these patterns for free (which are easily downloadable from their site through their checkout, no sign ups to anything required). 

(image source: Patterns for Pirates)

Pattern type:

These loose and comfy PJ bottoms are described as a super easy, pull-on style with elasticated waist and no side seams. So this is basically a one-piece pattern! With three length options, they've got all your seasonal needs and style preferences covered.  

Sizing info: 

As I blurted out in my opening paragraph, this pattern is graded between 3 months and 14 years, which is ridiculously generous, IMO. My kids are currently about 6.5 and 3.5 years old, so I made the sizes 7 and 4 for growing room and I fully expect they'll get two years worth of wear from these. 

Fabric info:

I know there's been a real trend in recent years for knit pyjamas with tighter, slim-fit, ankle-cuffed bottoms, but I would argue that there's very much still a place for this looser, woven style. For one, you've got heaps more options in terms of fabric. The Walk the Plank pattern simply specifies woven cotton (quilting or flannel), but I think this pattern could be made in a wider variety than that. I agree that sticking to cotton is arguably your best bet, however you could go with any weight of brushed cotton, plus lawn, poplin (and other shirtings), double gauze, chambray, and even go as light as voile if your climate suites it. 

The pink pair Dolores is wearing in these pics were actually made from a very old pair of brushed cotton PJs that used to be mine. I'd bought them from *cough* Primark about 15 years ago and worn them frequently since then, until the fabric got so thread bare in places that a rip appeared in the bum cheek area. I still wear the matching PJ top, FYI. I was able to incorporate the original hem and piping around the ankle, which is not a feature included in the pattern but could easily be added.

The shorter stars pairs started life as another Primark garment, in fact. My charity-shop-aholic friend Ilana, picked up this 50s style, light-weight, cotton sundress for me, but it isn't really my style these days. I unpicked the skirt and used as much of it as I could, making both pairs as long as the fabric allowed with their respective sizes. When Dolores grows out of hers I'll keep them for Frankie for when he's bigger. 


This is a simple sewing pattern that would be suitable for beginners, or a pleasingly quick and useful make for more experienced sewers. The instructions are clear with photos for each step. The only parts of this pattern that I would change are based mainly on personal preference rather than any faults or flaws. For example, in the instructions for this pattern the waist elastic is attached by zigzagging or overlocking it to the raw edge around the waist, then turning the elastic under and zig-zag stitching through all the layers to secure it in position. 

My preference is to create a channel to feed the elastic through, with the elastic overlapped at the ends, which is what I did instead. I like to do this for a number of reasons, but mainly because I can let the elastic out a bit at a later date when my kids' waist measurements increase. Oh, and there isn't a layer function on the PDF, so you have to print out all the sizes rather than selecting a single one. But that really is a tiny nit pick. 

The finished jammies are awesome! It's been too chilly for the kids to wear the star ones yet, but my daughter loves the pink ones and has worn them heaps. I was a little worried about the volume of fabric causing her to trip up as she rushes about, but I can report no accidents as of yet!

Customisation ideas:
  • As I did with the stars pairs, disregard the specified length of short-shorts, knee or full lengths, and try board-shorts or capri lengths too (or just make them as long as your fabric will allow!). 
  • Applique contrast knee patches.
  • Use jersey fabric instead of woven to push the comfy factor off the chart!
  • Spilt the pattern piece to include a side seam and add in-seam pockets, or to fit the pattern pieces on an awkward shaped piece of fabric. 
  • Add patch pockets to the front and/or back. 
  • I'm sure you don't need me to suggest this, but download the adults' pattern too and make matching PJs for everyone in your family. 

Would I make this again?

Absolutely. I'm sure I'll reach for this pattern many times in the future, and paired with the free Ester & Ester knit top pattern, you've got a great sleep set in the making. 

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