Expectations and Assumptions – Butterick 4743


One of the many things that I love about working with an older pattern is drawing deductions about the time that the pattern was written.  I have no clue where you would start to search for contemporary accounts from seventies seamstresses.  The archives of Houseparty or Womans Weekly?  It matters not, I’m shunning the rigorous research of my day job in favour of amusing myself by making wild assumptions and drawing dubious conclusions.  Here goes…


imageButterick 4743 has no copyright date but is clearly priced at the princely sum of 65 pence.  I’m going to assume that this makes it post decimalisation and therefore post 1971.  The styling suggests to me that it is not very far past the post of 1971.

Nary a mention is made in the instructions of the need for an overlocker or a coverstitch machine.  The seam finishes suggested are all zig-zag, turn under and stitch.  The assumption is that your interfacing will be sewn in rather than ironed on.

So far, so what, you might say.  Well, I suspect that the seamstresses of the 70s had no expectation that their hand-fashioned garments would have the finish of shop-bought knits.  Maybe in expecting to fashion your buttonholes by hand your expectation was that the entire garment would look hand-made.  And, that looking hand-made was a good thing.

What say you my fellow seam finishers and my fellow #vintagepledgers?




Posted in Butterick 4743, jersey, Sewing, Stretch, Vintage | 5 Comments

Vintage scuba

An oxymoron if ever there was one.

I wonder if the creators of McCall’s 8118 envisaged anyone fashioning their dress in such a fabric?  Given that in the year of its making both the Russians and the Americans were slipping the surly bonds of Earth, vacating their crafts and having a bit of a walk about in space, maybe they did imagine such a fabric.


It’s pretty sturdy, possibly it would be suitable for orbital undergarments.  Although.   You’d have to watch yourself on re-entry as I suspect the high polyester content would make it a bit of a melty mess of a fire hazard.

It was the details of this vintage pattern that lured me into a little flutter on a well-known auction site:  Notched shawl collar, welt pockets and a fold-up sleeve finish that you only find out about when you come to construct the thing.

That sleeve finish would sit more satisfyingly in a traditional dress fabric.  The spongy nature of the scuba creates, to my mind at least, a little too much bulk to be attractive.  I’m going to be wearing that sleeve hem flapped firmly down.


For full length photos we’ve got some iPhone selfies:

Thanks to the brilliant Better Pictures Project I’ve been thinking about arm angles and I’ve popped myself into the shade.  So much to learn!  I’ve even had a little dabble at editing, although this feels very much like cheating because I was just tinkering with the filters on instagram:


Finally, I’ve added a new badge to my social sewing area.  I’m a regular user of patterns that some would consider past their prime so I thought that it was about time that I formalise this fandom!  #vintagepledge


Posted in #vintagepledge, McCall's 5881, scuba, Sewing, Vintage | 4 Comments

Autumn rules!

Rule One: log fire flickering and guttering in the grate

Rule Two: cats recumbent on the hearth rug, paws stretched in sleepy supplication to the flame

Rule Three: the distant rattle, crack, whistle and pop of Bonfire Night pyrotechnics

Rule Four: A car alarm oscillating incessantly

Probably set off by all the suddenly-not-quite-so-distant-fireworks.  And they’ve woken the cats.  Methinks it’s time for some therapeutic yarn wrangling.  But what to choose?  The never-ending knitted scarf:


Or the crochet hexagon of hexagons:

I can’t decide.  Let’s talk about something else, a little sixties scuba number.  Yes!  You absolutely read that right.  A sixties pattern in a scuba knit.

What do you think?!


I’m a terrible tease so I’m going to pop fuller details into a later post.  Time to tend the logs in the grate, calm a couple of cats and wrestle with some wool.

Autumn rules!




Posted in #vintagepledge, crochet, knitting, McCall's 8118, scuba, Sewing | 1 Comment

What I did on my holidays.

Or.  Everywhere I went, my trousers followed.

Where did your sewing follow you this year?  Mine tucked itself neatly between the sun-cream and the woolly socks and trailed us to a northerly Shire where the roads were steep and the locals were friendly.  Much is made of the English North/South divide, but honestly, being a at-least-fourth-generation Southerner I can safely say that when you ask your spouse a question a native resting on a bench nearby does not usually respond.

Lost Southerner:  “I wonder if there is a short cut to the car park from here?”

Friendly Local:  “Aye lass, there’s a path up back.”

Taken aback, but grateful, Southerner:  “Gosh, thank you.”

Friendly Local:  *returns to the task of rearranging the contents of his shopping bag*

Sew.  The sewing.  These are two pair of almost-but-not-quite Margo trousers.  One in a nautical linen from Guthrie and Ghani, one in a floral cotton From Hong Kong.

I’m rather in love with the flare although you (well, I) have to be careful that you/I don’t catch the hem and land teeth first on the cobbles.


What would the locals have made of that?

A footnote of outtakes, just for Gillian and the #BetterPicturesProject.  Here’s me somewhere new, trying to capture movement and even trying a prop!







Posted in Margo, Sewing | 2 Comments

Delighted cackles

Yep.  Truly delighted cackles.

Delighted cackles emitted, by me, on pulling this:


from its hanger.  Yes, it’s so bright it’s attracted a fly.  Yes, it’s too bright for work.  Yes, the ancient cotton will tire quicker than a toddler on a trampoline.



Aloha autumn!  This dress is the colour of the nectarine that is rotting away in my fruit bowl.  This dress is the colour of the pumpkins that I will once again fail to produce in time for All Hallows Eve.

I see before me today a riot of root vegetables.  An abundance of berries.  A flotilla of things both floral and foliate.  All in this particular range of the visible spectrum, and I feel the need to wear it.

So, whilst we’re having the theme park version of autumn:  All still air, clear blue sky, leaves on the turn.  I will indulge in orange.  Just remember, when the weather turns the leaves into a sodden, ruddy sludge and the days are as dark as my mood, to remind me of my tangerine tomfoolery.

Emboldened by this new hue, you may (or you might very well, may not) wish to see that I have even taken up Gillian’s #betterpictureproject challenge and ventured beyond my own back yard for these:

Marvel at how I have not only mastered the art of the painfully self-conscious selfie but I have also found the only graffiti within the bounds of Oxford’s city walls.


The small print:

The dress is (pre-decimal currency) Family Circle Exclusive Pattern Number 11, which I’ve made before.  The fabric is a charity shop find, the remains of some ancient bedsheet I suspect.


Posted in Family Circle Exclusive Pattern No.11, foraged fabric, Sewing, Vintage | 9 Comments

Inspirational Oranges

Wondrous makers of the web, you inspire me!  I am literally COMPELLED to take to my machine in a desire to match a kaleidoscope of colourful that has beautified my blog roll of late.  Looking for a muse or five?  Allow your senses to delight in the spiced and fruited hues of these fine makes from Erica, Catherine, KateOonaballoona and Anne.

You need more?  Here are the tones that Mother Nature is adopting this season:

What’s a blogger to do except search in the cupboard for a certain vintage floral confection.


Hehehehehe.  What can I make?  I have about 2 metres of extreme narrowness.  I know one thing for certain.  I’ll have to cut around some claw marks.  Sigh.


Look at this face.  This is the face of someone who is already forgiven.


Until next time.


Posted in Sewing, Vintage | 5 Comments

Is this normal?

Dear Sewsan, 

I sometimes wonder if the choices that I make are a little unusual.  Not many other people seem to make the things that I do.  I worry that I’m not doing sewing properly.  Do other people do the same things as my machine and me?

Take this latest sewalong sundress.  It a bit different to the one I made earlier.


It’s from a Burda pattern, which is a relatively unusual choice.  Even though this is one of those patterns in an envelope just like other patterns, you don’t have to trace it if you don’t want to and it has seam allowances and everything.  

There’s something else though.  What makes my sundress even weirder is –  I made it with a knit fabric.  There I said it.  I haven’t shocked you have I?  Is that the strangest thing that anyone has ever told you?  I wouldn’t be surprised.  It’s just that it felt right and if it feels right it can’t be wrong.  Can it?  Yes, the collar is a little soft, but I like it like that.

Please tell me, is this normal?

Confused, near Banbury.

Dear Confused,

Oh my love, I am not shocked.  The things that I could tell you if only there was not a totally binding confidentiality clause in my contract.  Let us not risk any unforeseen revelations, let us turn to your problem.

What is normal?  Now that is a jolly enormous question.  As far as I am aware we are all gloriously unique.  If you are using a knit fabric in a pattern that is designed for wovens and it feels right for you, I say go for it.  The world would be a terribly dull place if we all made the same things as everyone else.  Try your best not to compare yourself to others.  If it is in the context of a stable and caring relationship, if both you and your machine are happy and you are staying within the law of the land where is the harm?  Just remember that if you and Singer or Brother or whomever (in your letter you do not mention a name) are venturing into new territory again, invest in a safe word.  It can save no end of mess and embarrassment.

Remember my sweet, always stabilise a shoulder seam and reinforce a gusset.

Warmest regards,

Auntie Sewsan

Posted in #SundressSew15, Sewsan | 10 Comments

Can this be anything other than a holiday romance?

Dear Sewsan,

I’m worried and I don’t know who to turn to for advice.  I met this fabulous pattern whilst on a short break to the Jurassic Coast.  Have you been?  It’s breathtaking there, we stayed close to West Bay – where Broadchurch was filmed – you know, Olivia Colman and David Tennant?

Anyway, there we were.  There this pattern was.  I was beguiled.  I was tempted.  I responded to its siren call.  Margo, you will be mine.


Each and every night of that vacation I tended the envelope, I imagined what might become of us once we were home.  Would we feel differently?

I know what you’re thinking Sewsan.  It didn’t last the week, I tired of Margo before the last paddle at sunset.  Well, it wasn’t like that.  Our affaire de coeur lasted the journey home.  It lasted through fabric choice.  It lasted through modification and construction.  This is no mere toile!  This is the real deal.  I love her.

But!  Will it last?  I have doubts about whether she is really for me.  Her legs flare.


Her fabric is from a far off land very different to my own, it’s cheap and it faded in the pre-wash.  Despite all this, j’adore.

I’m so conflicted.  My head asks – Is she practical?  Is she everyday?  When the sun finally sets on our summer will she become a nuisance, will I discard her?  My heart says…  you know what my heart says!

What am I to do?


Worried, Nr. Oxford.

Dear Worried,

Thank you for your lovely letter.

I am not sure that my readers are strong enough to bear the raw emotion of the 6,000+ words of your re-telling of this all too familiar tale so I have only included the highlights above.  Rest assured that I did indeed read every. single.word.

In my reply I will try to be similarly concise.  Dearest garment maker we have all felt the intensity of immediate attraction that you describe so vividly.

Sometimes it is a pattern that begs to be bought, other times it is fabric that falls into our online shopping cart.  Some of these beloveds will slot into our lives and we will not know how we survived without them, others will bring a brief spark of joy but then they are forgotten.

For now, I suggest that you take things slowly.  One day at a time.  Certainly do not make any firm commitments such as cutting out the fabric for the bodice.

Wishing you love and lace trimmings from the finest haberdasheries,

Auntie Sewsan



Posted in Sewing, Sewsan | 14 Comments

Your destination has been reached #SundressSew15

Did I do it?  Of course I did it.  I mean, I set myself an extraordinarily generous timescale.  Seventeen sleeps, hah!  It was finished with, well, about a day to spare.


McCall’s 5881 in ‘Lilo Swimmers’ from Stone Fabrics, currently in their summer sale.


McCall’s 5881, which I am astonished to find having just this very moment checked the envelope, is dated 1992.  From the pattern illustrations I would have put this firmly into an exuberant section of the 80s rather than what I remember as the rather austere early 90s.  Although, my summer of ’92 included a fantastically sunny Glastonbury, the end of Polytechnic education and jobs in the apple picking and tree counting industries.

This would be a great dress in which to pick apples.  Plenty of reach room and that collar would provide much needed back of the neck sun protection.  Plus, I popped in some in-seam pockets.  Perfect for scrumping which I never ever did.


If you have this pattern in your stash somewhere and feel the need to channel the spirit of the exuberant/austere late 80s/early 90s, beware!  Not for nothing are these called tent dresses.  Give me a pole and some pegs and we could have slept under this in ’92.  That’s with some slimming from me through the shoulders and armholes.  Plus a teensy raising of the neckline.  Don’t want flash your tan line and your tide marks at your fellow festival goers!

1992.  You know I’m sure that was the year that Newman and Baddiel appeared on the Comedy Stage.

“Do you see that brightly coloured confection in the next field?”

“The Circus Tent?”

“Yes, the Circus Tent.  You do see it?  It’s large enough to accommodate six stilt walkers and the entire Bristol School of Samba.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.  Its aroma is somewhat unpleasant due to its proximity to the compost toilets and its fabric is gaudy and ill-fitting.”


“That’s you that is.  That’s you in your best dress that is.”

Apologies to both Newman and Baddiel.  And, anyone under 30.

Happy Sundress Sewing!


Posted in #SundressSew15, McCall's 5881, Sewing, Vintage | 21 Comments

Possibility and Destination

Afternoon All.

How are you today?  Well I trust?  I’m very well thank you so very much for asking.  Seventeen sleeps until the school holidays, not that we’re counting or anything.  June, hey?  Crazy busy in this household.  I mean I know that we’re all busy but, well, here’s a snapshot of the itinerary:  My birthday.  The birthdays of both of the offspring.  Fathers Day.  My brother’s birthday.  A family wedding.  Sports Day.  A karate competition (offspring).  A week in North Carolina (the patient parent).   Suffice to say that I’m always glad to turn the pages of the calendar from June to July.

That said, June is also the month that our main campus is transformed by caps and gowns and proud parents.  Not having been at the right type of campus at the right time of year for, woo, a looong time I had quite forgotten the spectacle.  Such joy.  Such relief to have reached this particular destination.  I feel responsible for capturing the moment and reporting it on to those that follow.  It is possible!

Possible.  Possibilities.  This fabric:


The lilo ladies with the enormous hands.  I love it!  It could be many things.  I have seventeen sleeps.  In that time can I create one of these dresses?


Say it’s so!  Say it’s possible to make a dress from the lilo ladies in seventeen sleeps because… Well, because then, then I can take it on my south coast holiday.  It’s bound to be warm enough to go into the sea * adopts wry English smile* so I will wear it whilst paddling.  That’s my summer sewing destination.  Yay!

Talking of paddling and sundresses, I might paddle along with the Sundress Sew-a-long #SundressSew15.  How about you?

Posted in McCall's 5881, Sewing, Vintage | 5 Comments