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Simplicity ‘Simply the Best’ Sewing Book – Review and Giveaway!

March 11, 2014



A few weeks ago the folks at Simplicity kindly sent me a couple of copies of their ‘Simply the Best Sewing Book’ - one for me and one to give away to one of our lucky readers!  Thanks guys!


This book was published in 2011 as a revised and updated edition of the 1988 book.  A quick bit of research shows that Simplicity have published lots of different sewing books since the company was founded in 1927.  There are numerous editions of the ‘Simplicity Sewing Book’, as well as books on felting, fabric guide books, how to use a sewing machine and home decorating.  This book claims to be ‘the essential reference for all home sewers’, and I would have to agree with them: this book really is an excellent resource to have in one’s sewing space.

The book is spiral bound, which means it is easy to lay it open at your chosen page without having to faff around with weighing down the pages, and each chapter has a different coloured tab so it’s easy to find the section you need (or there’s an index at the back if you want to look up something specific, and a glossary of terms as well).

Opposite each tab there's a different fabric print.  There are florals, checks, stripes, polka dots...all very pretty!

Opposite each tab there’s a different fabric print. There are florals, checks, stripes, polka dots…all very pretty!

The book would be great for someone who is just learning to sew.  I remember the first dress I ever made, with Julia, and I didn’t have a clue what a grainline was, what interfacing was for, how to lay the pattern pieces out and cut the fabric, or what ‘basting’, ‘stay stitching’ or any of that all meant!  Luckily Julia was there to help me out with it all but if I hadn’t have had her help I would have really benefitted from having a book like this at the time.  There’s a whole chapter devoted to understanding patterns, a buyer’s guide to point you in the right direction when it comes to selecting fabric, notions and equipment, plus another chapter on sewing techniques.  There’s advice on hand sewing, machine sewing, overlocker sewing, and… ‘sewing with your iron’…which amused me as I kind of imagined it meant instead of a sewing machine, whereas in fact it’s about the importance of pressing!

However, this book is not only useful to beginners.  My first ‘test’ of this book was to look at the chapter entitled ‘A Perfect Fit’, to see how useful it is to someone who frequently alters patterns.  The basics are covered: lengthening and shortening, bust adjustments (although only of a regular bodice), shoulder adjustments, back width, rounded back, dowager’s hump, upper arm adjustment, crotch depth and length… so as you can see it’s fairly comprehensive!

There are some ‘patternless projects’ at the back of the book, too: I was particularly taken with the idea of sewing a kimono!  The other projects are a jeans skirt, a tote bag and a toile pillow.  I think this is just the right number of projects; too many sewing books include an overload of patterns f0r all sorts of useless things that no one will ever get round to sewing!

The only other thing I feel I must mention is the book’s aesthetics.  Interestingly, there is no photography, but what the book lacks in photography it more than makes up for with clear diagrams throughout. This is not an eye-candy book; it’s a really useful and practical sewing reference book, and it’s very good at being just that!

Illustrations and diagrams rather than photographs

Illustrations and diagrams rather than photographs

Now, for the giveaway!  This book weighs 1.2kg, so I must apologise to our international readers as this giveaway is open to UK residents only.

If you would like to win a copy of this sewing book, please leave me a comment below telling me which is your favourite Simplicity sewing pattern and why!

If you’re on Twitter you can get a bonus entry by tweeting a link to this post, but as I (probably) won’t be attentively reading every single person’s timeline you’d better leave me an additional comment on here to say you tweeted it!

I will leave the competition open for a week, from now until Tuesday 18th March at noon.  Then hopefully I can announce the winner just before episode 5 of The Great British Sewing Bee!

Good luck!

Sew Blue February: Simplicity 2588

March 1, 2014

Wye aye man, what’s fettlin’?

I’m a bit late blogging this make, which I wanted to include for the Sewcialist’s Blue February.  I do like to join in with these things and it’s fun to see what other people make, too.

Simplicity 2588

Simplicity 2588

Simplicity 2588 is a ‘Project Runway’ pattern and as such has lots of different design options.  I opted for a fuller, pleated skirt this time, but I’m quite keen on trying the slim skirt another time.  My recent Colette Macaron make has encouraged me to try more streamlined styles and I’m feeling like a bit more variety would be good.

The fabric I used is Kaffe Fassett Paper Weight in Cobalt, from Fancy Moon.  It makes me think of the sea – of coral, shells, fish and brightly coloured stones.  It’s a lovely fabric to work with – lighter than quilting cotton and nice to handle.

Simplicity 2588 - back view

Simplicity 2588 – back view

The dress was straightforward to sew.  There were quite a lot of pattern pieces, so it did take a good few hours to cut and sew.  I did a Full Bust Adjustment of 1/2″ per side for this dress, and I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out.

The FBA - adapted bodice front and side front pattern pieces

The FBA – adapted bodice front and side front pattern pieces

I added waist tabs on to the dress because I really like that extra bit of detail and it gave me the opportunity to use these totally awesome buttons!

Teapot buttons!

Teapot buttons!

When I did my final trying-on I just happened to be wearing red tights, and I think they work really well with the dress.  I really love the pockets.  They are quite large and just in the perfect position.

The final trying-on photos

The final trying-on photos

What do you think?

Simplicity 2588

Simplicity 2588

Colette Macaron for Valentine’s Day

February 23, 2014

A while back I unexpectedly sold one of my handmade dresses to a friend, and so I decided to treat myself with the proceeds and get some sewing supplies from Fancy Moon

Money made from sewing equals more money to spend on sewing!

Money made from sewing equals more money to spend on sewing!

I tweeted the above picture and the lovely Vicki Kate suggested I make a Valentine’s dress with the Alexander Sweethearts fabric.  And that’s exactly what I did, so thank you Vicki Kate for the suggestion! :-)

Colette Macaron

Colette Macaron

I decided I needed a curvy dress for Valentine’s Day, and had been meaning to make the Colette Macaron for quite some time.  The Macaron dress is described as ‘a flattering and curvy dress’ so I figured it would be a good choice for Valentine’s.  Also, because of the side zip fastening, it meant that the front and back would be cut on the fold, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pattern matching too much.  With a large scale print such as this, any pattern that minimises pattern matching is a bonus!

I have been trying to be a better seamstress this year, and for a while I agonised over whether or not to make a toile of this dress.  In the end, I didn’t.  I justified it by acknowledging the fact that a) I was about to make a novelty dress which wouldn’t exactly make it into my regular wardrobe rotation and b) I’d probably only be wearing it for a few hours before taking it off (ahem!).  So yeah.  ;-) As long as I could wear it, minor fitting issues weren’t going to bother me.  Onwards!

I used the leftover silk charmeuse from my self-drafted slip for the contrast yoke and sleeves.  It feels dreamy and deliciously smooth on my skin!

Using up the last of the silk charmeuse!

Using up the last of the silk charmeuse!

I went with plain black cotton for the midriff band, and actually for the back bodice as well as I only had 1.5m of the Alexander Henry fabric – just enough for the skirt front, back, and front bodice.

Colette Macaron - back view

Colette Macaron – back view

I really enjoyed making this dress.  Colette as usual have come up trumps and, having made the Victory Patterns Ava dress late last year, I can definitely say Colette wins.  The way that Colette has you join the yoke to the bodice is so much easier than the Victory way and makes for much better results.

Front bodice and yoke (inside)

Front bodice and yoke (inside)

I also love the skirt!  It’s almost tulip style and I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but I’m really glad I gave it a try.  I love the fact that it even has pockets!  I’d like to  make another Macaron in a more wintery fabric, like for some reason I’m dreaming of a kind of brown tweed version?!  I don’t know what contrast though.  Maybe something in a dusky pink?  That’s the thing with this dress, you have to get the combination of fabrics just right, otherwise it can just look a bit… well, odd.

I hardly wasted a scrap of fabric with this make.  I even made some Valentine’s bunting with the pin-up ladies for the bedroom!

Pin-up bunting!

Pin-up bunting!

So anyway, despite not making a toile, and not making a single adjustment at all to the pattern, I am pleased to report that the dress was not a bad fit at all!  Now, these photos are not the best quality, but here’s what I actually looked like when I was wearing it…



Check out my new shoes, too!  These are my shexy shoes.

Check out my new shoes, too! These are my shexy shoes.

A photo of my bum.  You're welcome.

A photo of my bum. You’re welcome.

The Colette Macaron: make one!  It’s an ace pattern!

The bunting in-situ!

The bunting in-situ!

Simplicity ‘Amazing Fit’ 1652

February 17, 2014

Howdy!  Today I want to show you a dress I made a few weeks ago now – Simplicity 1652 which is part of their ‘Amazing Fit’ range.  I made it with a fabric called ‘Up and Down Elephants’ by Timeless Treasures – the fabric was a Christmas gift!  Yay!

Simplicity 1652 - Front and Back views

Simplicity 1652 – Front and Back views

I bought this pattern last summer, but it was seeing Kat’s lovely version that reminded me to dig it out and make it, plus I wanted to try a new pattern before I bored you all to tears with yet another variation on the Anna dress!!!

I made view A of the pattern, with the front tabs and proper sleeves, but chose view B for the back because I am partial to a cut out back.  It just adds a bit of unexpected interest.  Ironically though, with it being winter and all, I’ve had to put up with feeling a bit of cold air on my back because of the cut out.  I have worn a cardigan with the dress a few times to avoid the chill, but then I get annoyed with myself because by wearing a cardigan I’m covering up the very feature of the dress I like best of all!  In short – this dress will definitely be better for me to wear when it has warmed up a little!

I love this dress for many, many reasons:

1) The fabric!!  I love the elephants.  I love the colours, and the fact that from a distance it almost looks like multi-coloured houndstooth!

2) The fit!!  It really is an ‘Amazing Fit’.  I chose the D cup option and it was great not to have to worry about doing an FBA.  It fits beautifully.

3)  The pattern instructions!!  Because my body measurements aren’t wildly out of sync with those on the pattern envelope, I did not have to make a toile.  Instead, I just fitted as I went along, using the helpful tips provided in the pattern instructions.

4) The design/pattern drafting!!  I love the different options you can get with this pattern: sleeves, cap sleeves, sleeveless, cut out back, normal back, front tabs, no tabs…  And all options have pockets.  And pockets are a WINNER.

On your average Mum-about-town day, I would wear this dress with black tights, black boots and a black cardi, but it also looks great with pink and red.  In fact, I really think that the pink is my favourite way to wear this dress:

With black...

With black…

With red cardigan, red tights and red shoes...

With red cardigan, red tights and red shoes…

Red tights and shoes...

Red tights and shoes…

With pink coat, pink tights, and black shoes...

With pink coat, pink tights, and black shoes…and yep, I’m in B&Q showroom!

Lucky for me, I have a pretty extensive range of red and pink shoes, so that’ll keep me going for a while whilst I work out my ultimate favourite way to wear this dress!!

The self-drafted thingymajig

January 26, 2014

Ok, so what would you call this?

What would you call this?

What would you call this?

An underskirt?  A slip?  A half slip?  A waist slip?  A petticoat?  Something else?

Anyway, I wear these a lot.  I sew lots of cotton dresses: often they aren’t lined and I usually wear tights underneath.  These thingymajigs stop my dresses from sticking to my tights, and they stop them from riding up.

Now, sometime last year my good friend Amy passed onto me a bunch of fabric she had decided she had no use for (thank youuuuu!).  Amongst it was two metres of real, proper silk charmeuse!  Lucky me!  I was very excited after having done the burn test to have some real silk on my hands.  But what to do with it?  Of course you already know the answer… I used it to make a thingymajig!

Having looked, albeit briefly, at the construction of my other thingymajigs, I saw it was extremely simple.  Like – two rectangles with elastic at the top and lace at the bottom.  I thought I couldn’t go wrong…

Four toiles later...

Four toiles later…

The first toile was too tight at the hips and the waist felt too loose.  I cut into it to see how much to add in, which is why it’s cut open on the photo.  The second toile was too tight all over because I shaped it in line with my measurements but there was no closure so it was difficult to get it on (d’oh!).  I ripped that one off – hence the giant tear in the picture!  The third toile - I overcompensated and it completely drowned me.  After that, I stopped arsing around, got myself some dot and cross paper and actually drafted a proper paper pattern, and it worked!  Huzzah!

Lace trim!

Lace trim!

And after making the fifth, and final incarnation of the thingymajig, I am now suitably experienced in the art of stretching elastic like crazy and attaching it to a waistband with a three-step zigzag stitch!

Behold: a red silk thingymajig!

Behold: a red silk thingymajig!

I’m glad I put the silk to good use – this is practical clothing and luxury combined.  It will get worn much more than if it had become the lining of only one dress, and much more than if I had made a blouse with it.

And if I ever happen to come by any more silk, I have my pattern ready to go!

The Pirate Cambie returns!

January 21, 2014

Folks: I hate alterations.  Even really simple stuff.  I mean, it’s so boring, right?!  Seriously, I’m with Marie when she says ‘once a make is done, it’s done!’.  Like Marie, I would rather make something again from scratch than faff around with unpicking it and trying to sort it out.

But here is one exception: my Sewaholic Pirate Cambie dress, made last year.  Man, I love this dress.  The fabric, the style…everything about it.  Apart from the fact it’s too big!  I just couldn’t bear to see it hanging in my wardrobe, unwearable, and I wasn’t about to try and fatten up in order to wear it!

I knew I had to do something with it, but I also knew it wouldn’t just be as simple as taking it in a bit at the side seams, so, one weekend when Julia was here, I got her to pin it where it needed taking in, and let’s see….well….it needed taking in at the shoulders, at the side, at the top, at the back, under the bust…erm just about everywhere!

I was faced with the nightmarish prospect of a) unpicking the whole dress b) having to alter not only the main fabric but the full lining as well.  I wasn’t exactly thrilled.  Julia offered to help me unpick the dress, which was very kind, especially seeing as most of the seams were overlocked as well as stitched.  That is a LOT of unpicking!  At the time, I only had one seam ripper, so we took it in turns to unpick as much as we could stand to in one go!

We didn’t get it all unpicked that weekend, but eventually over the next few weeks I forced myself to get the lining and main dress completely detached, the skirt/waistband and skirt/waistband lining removed from the bodice, the zip unpicked, and the bodice and its lining completely taken to pieces, even with the darts unpicked.  It then stayed like that in a plastic bag for a few months whilst I built up the willpower to tackle it.

Bodice and lining and zip all unpicked.

Bodice and lining and zip all unpicked.

The alterations I needed to make were too numerous, so I decided to trace a size smaller from the original pattern and use the existing pre-cut pieces, and re-sew them up a size smaller.

To ensure I could do this accurately, I used a trick learned from my pattern cutting class: I traced the new size, removed the seam allowance, and then thread traced around the pattern piece onto the fabric.  This way I could see exactly where I would need to match up the seams, and I wouldn’t have to worry about seam allowance.  It was also a very convenient way of marking the darts (I did have to adapt the front pattern piece to a single layer however, rather than on-the-fold).

Front pattern piece with seam allowance removed

Front pattern piece with seam allowance removed

Seam lines and darts thread traced onto the fabric for guidance

Seam lines and darts thread traced onto the fabric for guidance

I really struggled to keep motivated with this alteration.  I resented having to spend hours and hours working on a dress I already made last year.  I spent longer on this alteration than I did making the damn thing in the first place!  I kept having to force myself to work on it, and I procrastinated a lot by finding other things to do instead…but eventually, at long, long last, I finished it.  My first words to the husband as I emerged from the sewing room were: “I’ve f*cking done it!”, followed shortly after by a tweet to Julia saying ‘Thank f*cking f*ck, I’ve finally finished my alterations!’  Can you tell I was relieved?!

The finished dress!

The finished dress!

But was it worth it?  YES! TOTALLY YES!  The fact that I did keep on with it is testament to how much I love this dress.  The fit is better – not perfect, mind, because I used the straight-out-of-the-packet size – but most importantly, I can wear it again!  I wore it the very next day in fact, and received many compliments on it!



How do you other sewists feel about alterations?  Love them or hate them?

Completed Project: The Colette Rooibos dress

January 15, 2014

Howdy.  I want to show you my first make of 2014 today – my Colette Rooibos dress.  I first made a Rooibos dress in 2011, and although I wore it quite a lot, the fit was not right at all across my bust.  I ended up giving it away to a friend, and ever since I’ve been meaning to have another go at making the dress.  Now that I have more sewing experience in general, and more pattern cutting experience, and most importantly, the spare cash to buy the fabric I have been wanting for ages, there was no excuse not to get on with it!

First of all, I traced off a size bigger than last time and made a toile.  As I predicted, it was tight across the bust, and the midriff came too high up.  I cut it open down the centre to see how much extra I would need to add in, and decided to start with 2 inches (or, 1″ per side).  Adding in the extra actually meant that the centre of the bodice lengthened as well, so that sorted out the problem with the midriff quite nicely!

First toile - too risqué to model myself!

First toile – too risqué to model myself!

I followed the instructions given on the Coletterie website about making a full bust adjustment to the Rooibos dress, but it was problematic because my adjustment was much larger than the one demonstrated in the tutorial, and also the position of my ‘apex’ seemed quite different from where the pattern thinks it should have been.  My darts ended up at crazy angles, so I had to reposition them, which wasn’t too difficult of course, just unexpected!

The original pattern piece - butchered!

The original pattern piece – butchered!  You can see how the new darts are at very strange angles…

My new pattern piece

My new pattern piece, which I adapted again after the second toile

I made a second toile, and for some reason I was convinced that it wouldn’t work.  Why do I not have more faith in myself?!  When I tried it on, I was pleasantly surprised – it looked much better.  The only further adjustment I wanted to make was to make the side darts shorter.

Second toile - better

Second toile – better

My proper version of this dress is made with green gabardine from Boyes.  I’ve been eyeing up this fabric for AAAAGES.  It isn’t majorly expensive at £7.85 per metre, but my usual rule is to try not to spend more than £5 per metre unless it’s a present or I’m using money earned from selling things I’ve made.  But every now and then I’ll break the £5 rule for a special type of fabric.  Annoyingly, I bought 2.5m of fabric, 1m of cotton lining fabric, 5m of bias binding, 5m of piping cord and a concealed zip, which came to around £30, but I have about a metre of the gabardine leftover!  I will have to find a use for it.

The Rooibos dress

The Rooibos dress

The gabardine is really lovely quality.  Excuse the pictures – the colour looks different in every single photo! It’s 100% cotton, it is a heavy and quite thick fabric but if feels really soft, and it doesn’t crease too badly.  It’s ideal for winter and it feels quite hardwearing.  I’m already thinking about using it again for future projects, definitely in mustard yellow and maybe red, and perhaps navy blue (and orange and pink and purple and black hahahaha).

The Rooibos dress - back/side/backside

The Rooibos dress – back/side/backside.  It looks like there is smoke coming out of my back in this photo, haha!  It is water vapour from the central heating system!

The bias binding for the piping is a floral design, it reminds me of a Liberty print.  The flowers are mainly pink and purple and the background is cream.  My lining or ‘contrast’ fabric is a simple 100% cream coloured cotton.

The inside - back facing

The inside – back facing

I got carried away with the piping.  I piped the armholes, the neckline, the midriff bottom, the pockets and the hem.  I especially like the piping at the hem because it helps the dress keep its A-line silhouette.



I really enjoyed making this dress.  It felt really good to take my time over it, get the fit right, and do all the little details to make it nice.  I’ve worn it three times so far and it has felt pretty but practical, and stylishly comfortable.  It’s definitely shot right into my top ten of wardrobe staples!

Delilah, wearing my new dress

Delilah, wearing my new dress

There were a few things wrong with the pattern instructions, I thought.  I don’t know if these are actually errors as I have an old copy of the pattern, bought in 2011, but for instance you are instructed to interface the contrast facings?!  I thought that was pretty unnecessary, with them being rather large.  But on the other hand I did think it was necessary to interface the midriff band (and so I did).  Also there were no prompts to finish the raw edges of the facings, which I thought was strange because Colette Patterns usually spell out every last instruction for you (hence why they are so good for beginners).  There were a few other things that were missed out or just plain wrong (typically I can’t remember what they were now!) …but hopefully in later prints of the pattern these errata have been addressed.

The dress on Delilah, back view

The dress on Delilah, back view

I do absolutely love, in a complete geek fashion, the instructions for attaching the facings to the main dress though.  That whole rolling up thing, turning it back on itself and pulling it all through the shoulder?  That is pattern MAGIC.  I actually made my husband come to watch so he could witness the wonder of the sewing magic!  (He was suitably impressed).  It reminded me of making the Colette Negroni shirts, where you do a similar rolling up trick to attach the inner yoke facing.  I love those neat little sewing tricks!

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