Cut ‘n Sew – My First Pattern

A couple of months ago I took a workshop from a member of the Haute Couture Club of Chicago on how to create fabric (and garments) using the Alabama Chanin® technique.  They sell wonderful stencils to use in the process and many people make their own.  Here’s a close-up of the technique.  Isn’t it gorgeous?  It uses two layers of organic cotton knit and is entirely done by hand.

1348087287-alabama_chanin_3_Alabama-Studio-Sewing-Design-bookEarlier in the day I had presented to the club on how to make your own fabric and one of the members suggested that I could design fabric with a stencil printed on it.  I loved the idea! But being the pattern nut that I am I decided to take it one step further and include prints.  I started off by designing a print for autumn and a couple of complimentary pieces for the back layer.

Leaf-Stencilleaf contrast 2 leaf contrast 3






I also wanted to create a print that used birds and a cityscape.  I think that the wires should be done in sequins or beads.  I made a couple of background fabrics to work with this design as well but I also think it works well as a stand-alone fabric.


Then came the bigger idea.  I decided to print the fabric in a cut ‘n sew skirt pattern.  I designed a simple skirt pattern, graded it to multiple sizes, and wrote some quick instructions.  I’m going to lay everything out on a yard of fabric so that you can get a complete skirt ready to go.  Here’s how it turned out.


Both designs will be available in my Spoonflower store along with the contrast fabric soon.  I’m going to order mine now so that I can make a new skirt for the holidays!

I take the plunge!

This summer I experimented with scuba fabric and neoprene.  I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.  I’m not sure that I’m a fan.  This may be because I selected patterns that did not really lend themselves to the fabric.  My first try was an absolutely beautiful flocked black scuba fabric that I found at Joann Fabrics.  Yes Joann’s!  It was relatively expensive for them at $19.95 a yard, but lovely.  I designed a simple shift dress with a square neckline and armholes. scubaI was also taken by the digital print neoprene at Mood.  I ordered two pieces.  This fabric is much thinner than the scuba fabric I used and had a nice drape.

faded floralsdtained glass

I also wanted to try using a Burda Magazine pattern and selected a couple to try with the scuba fabric.  The first dress I made was huge!  I wasn’t sure how the pattern ran and had to really take it in.  The instructions were also very confusing  I sewed the back together wrong and had to re-cut the dress with a waistband to save it.  Unfortunately, I did not like working with the fabric. It did not sew well.  I finally used a triple stretch stitch which is extremely difficult to remove if you make a mistake.  I’m not sure that I will wear the dress much.

flower-back flower--front

My next effort was with another Burda Magazine pattern.  When I printed the pattern it seemed a little small so I used 5/8″ seam allowances to cut but sewed it with 1/2″ seams.  The dress fit perfectly.  I’m not sure why the two patterns fit so differently.  For this dress, I think the neoprene worked better but since I used piping, I still needed to finish all edges.  I was also able to use a straight stitch on this dress because most of the seams were vertical.  This is one I will wear. I think I prefer the heavier weight scuba to the lighter neoprene.  I’m thinking that it may work well for an evening look.


The next plunge was to create a presentation on designing fabric for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago.  The fashion show next year features a segment on custom designed fabric and the members wanted to learn how to do it.  This was the first time I have presented on fabric design and I wanted to really give the audience the feeling that they could do it themselves.  I really enjoyed the process.

presentationHere’s a link to a movie of the presentation.    It’s a little long, I hope it inspires you.


How does your garden grow?

Every summer I enjoy the flowers on my deck when the weather is warm. This year I was also inspired to create some summer floral fabric.  I was looking through the new Vogue patterns and was immediately attracted to two of them.  The first was Vogue 1446 which I envisioned in a floral print in soothing summer colors.  I was inspired by the cool feeling of Monet’s water lily paintings.

inspiration Vogue 1446I quickly began creating the fabric.  I like my fabric design to be multi-layered so I began with a background design of clovers.  I then worked with a couple of floral photos to create cascading flowers.  I decided that the look was too bare so added some butterflies. to the design.  Then I noticed that the pattern called for a contrast fabric – I removed the flowers to create a contrast of the background print.  I had the fabric printed on kona cotton by DPI.  It was wonderful to work with.

floral-fantasy-background-0 floral-fantasy-01Making the dress was a challenge all it’s own.  Take a look at my Pattern Review write-up to discover all the pain this dress caused me.

dress-2back 2

The second dress that caught my eye was Vogue 1423.  I immediately pictured a border print with poppies.  I started with a background made of swirls that I decomposed and gradually increased spread out.  Then I created a field of poppies across the heavy swirled background.  Once I had the fabric laid out, my husband told me it was a little disjointed to his eye.  I played with the poppies and transformed them into squiggles that worked well with the swirl background.

Vogue 1423

I had the fabric printed on cotton-linen by DPI.  The first time around they did not understand that I wanted a border print and printed the design vertically.  Luckily they were able to quickly reprint and I got the fabric I wanted.  I also learned that black is not the best choice.  Even with heat setting the fabric, the black still rubbed off when handling.  When I washed the fabric, the color faded slightly.  The kona cotton did not fade at all.

Initial design
Final design

I cut the dress with the border at the hem and also used a portion of the border to cut the yoke.  I then beaded the yoke because I’m a sucker for beads. Click here for a closer look at the project.


I really like the way the dress fits. Now I am really ready for summer.

1423-front 1423-back

Through the Looking-Glass

In my last post I mentioned that I was working on garments for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s annual fashion show.  The show was held at the Fountain Blue in Des Plaines, IL in May and was a great success.  I showed a number of the garments I worked on over the past year.  Here’s what I entered.

Two dresses made from Chinese silk that I wrote about in my last post.  Here are the details on making the dresses.

My 1950’s vintage dress from pomegranate inspired fabrics.  I serged the edges of my crinoline with lime green thread to match the dress.

My fun camel dress made another appearance.  You can see more about making the dress here.

I entered a new version of my Photo-Op dress made up in a fabric featuring barbed wire and cherry blossoms.  I’m currently working on another dress from this fabric.  I also donated some fabric with this design to the silent auction.  I can’t wait to see what is made from it.

I made this great maxi dress from a piece of Missoni pima cotton knit.  The dress is partially lined and open at the sides.  It’s super comfy and fun to wear.

Finally I showed a jacket made from a piece of boiled wool I won from Elliott Berman Fabrics that has leather sleeves and trim.  I also made the black jeans.


I made a maxi dress out of a piece of Roberto Cavalli fabric I purchased on eBay to wear to the luncheon while I was not walking the runway.  I lined the dress with a wonderful heavy-weight silk crepe.  I used a vintage pattern without any changes. I felt wonderful wearing it.  It was a fabulous show and I’m looking forward to next year.

Everything’s coming up roses

I have been working on some additional garments for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s annual fashion show.HCC-TTLG-LogoThis year the theme is Through the Looking-Glass so I decided to create a few additional items to fit within the theme.  My first choice was to make a dress out of some beautiful Chinese brocade with a rose print.

b-fabric 1b-fabric 2

There will be segment about the Garden of Talking Flowers that I wanted to have a dress for.  Since time was short I decided to use a commercial pattern.  I chose a Vintage 1997 dress pattern.

mccalls 8858

Of course, it was way too small, so I used my handy digitizer to copy the pattern and then grade the pattern up to fit.

b-on digitizer

I used the reverse of the fabric for the bodice and to line the inside of the slit.  I added a beaded trim under the bodice and enlarged the back bow slightly.

b-bow detail

b-slit lining b-rose dress b-beading

Otherwise, it was pretty straight-forward to sew up.  I also created a fascinator to be worn in the show.  I was pretty lazy about it and purchased a pre-made fascinator and added some additional roses and embellishment to make it work better with the dress.

b-fascinator frontI also wanted to make a red dress for the show for the segment on the Queen of Heart’s tarts.  I have been interested in the silks for sale on eBay and wanted to get a feel for the fabric.  I decided to purchase a couple of yards to try.  All of the fabric I purchased was listed as a stretch silk. I am always looking for a good quality silk knit so I was really excited to try these.  Unfortunately, none of the fabrics were actually knit fabrics. The word stretch only referred to the slight stretch across the bias.  Though the fabric was nice, it was not the silk knit I was hoping for. b-fabric

I used a current Vogue pattern for the red dress I made out of the silk I ordered.  I did not really make any changes to this pattern except adding some beading to highlight the waistband. The fabric sewed up very nicely which was important since the entire garment was sewn with french seams.  It was a quick dress that will be perfect for the show.

b-red dress b-bodice beading

A blast from the past

One of my major purchases last year was a digitizer.  I found mine on eBay for about $400.  A design shop in Chicago must have been going out of business as there were a number of them up for sale at that time.  I got a GTCO Roll-Up III which can be rolled up and carried around.  This makes it much easier to store than the stationary digitizers.    Even though my model was from 2008, it’s still the most current model.  A 30″ x 36″ model like a have retails for $2225 so I got a really good deal.  digitizerI discovered quite a few things about digitizers after my purchase.  The first is that pattern drafting software is behind in technological advances.  I bought a digitizer with a USB connection because that was the latest technology.  When I couldn’t get my software to recognize the digitizer, I did a lot of digging on the web for answers.  I finally discovered that I needed to use a serial connection.  Once I ordered a serial connector for the digitizer (luckily it can use both connectors) and a serial adapter for my laptop, everything worked properly.  My other mistake was to get a 16-button puck (or cursor).  I thought more buttons were better.  I turns out that it just means more clicks to map a pattern.  Go with the 4-button puck.


One of the major reasons I wanted a digitizer is that I have hundreds of vintage patterns.  As is often the case with vintage, you take whatever size you can get.  I wanted to be able to resize some of these patterns.  I am starting with Simplicity 4354.  I was immediately attracted to this cute sundress.  Unfortunately I have it in a size 12.  A 1950’s size 12 is about the same as a current size 2.  Way too small for me.

Shoulder cutaway

First I digitized the pattern and then I resized it using my pattern drafting software. This picture shows the digitizing process but with another pattern.  I use Pad System software which has a digitizing module.  Once the pattern is digitized, it can then be opened in Pad and altered.  You can see the original pattern (black) and the new resized version.
digitizer 2
 Simplicity 4354 [Converted]I had some cotton sateen from Spoonflower in a couple of my pomegranate prints that I thought would work great for this dress. Once I had the pattern laid out, I adjusted the skirt so that it was fuller and followed the 45 degree angle of the design.  It’s a great pattern.  I added a bound buttonhole, self belt and contrast facing to make it really pop. 
front buttonbelt
 front and back views
I think it’s really cute.  I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that I can wear it.  I also purchased a crinoline to wear underneath for a fun look.  Click here to see more pictures from this project.

Rock the Casbah!

I love camels! My sister recently returned from a trip to Morocco and had a number of pictures of the cute camels she met. I wanted to do a fabric featuring camels. I used some photos and incorporated a mosaic type of design into the layout. I then had the fabric printed on silk charmeuse by Advanced Digital Textiles. Because of the width of the fabric and the design  I had it printed with one panel in the center and one split on each side.

camel panel


I had no idea what I was going to do with the fabric until I saw this dress by Dolce and Gabbana that inspired me. Dolce & Gabanna camel dress

I started drafting a pattern using my Pad software. I decided to add a contrast band at the neckline as well as the sleeves. It was originally 1-1/2” but I changed it to 2” wide when fitting the muslin. I also wanted to include a front pocket design that would be hidden in the design.

Perfect Pocket Dress

I originally did not include a back closure in the pattern but added one while sewing. Once I created the pattern based on my basic block, I created a muslin for fitting and tweaking. After fitting the adjusted the pattern digitally and re-printed.


How great that at the same time Pattern Review was hosting the Barganista Fashionista Contest  and I decided to enter. I discovered that the dress I was inspired by retailed for $4,525! Wow. My fabric was expensive but nowhere near that much. I also found a coppery peach silk velvet remnant for only $25 that matched perfectly. Even though my fabric has camels rather than ruins, the print layout is similar and the use of photographic elements still worked for me.


Even though I had the pattern drafted, the process was very fluid. First, I discovered that I did not have enough fabric for the dress (at least with an easy layout). I was finally able to make everything fit by piecing the back.

blog-back seamHowever, this left me with a mismatch at the hip on the dress back. I decided to add a belt of the velvet that wrapped around to the front. I also had to cut the back yoke in two pieces and therefore decided to add buttons. That meant that I needed to recut my neck facing pieces as well. Luckily I had 2 yards of the velvet.  Notice my nifty pattern weight when I recut the back lining!

blog-back yokeblog-back liningSince the dress was inspired by a couture dress, I decided to do something special; I made hand-beaded covered buttons for the front pocket edge and the back closure. I was originally planning on a total of 8 buttons but the sequins I was using were spares from a purchased garment and I only had six large center sequins

blog-buttonsblog-hip detail


I really like the dress.  It went together well though I think the pocket hits a little low and will raise it about 3” when I refine the pattern. I made it low in order to get the entire camel design on the front panel.Click here to see more pictures of this project.

Stepping out on my own

Now that I’ve tried working with the fabrics using commercial patterns, I think it’s time to branch out into something more original. I started by making a top created by Rhonda Buss (Rhonda’s Creative Life) out of geometric shapes. I really like the simple design of the top and think it will highlight my Vodka fabric.


The pattern is just 4 rectangles and 2 triangles (I added a waistband.).  I used the cotton knit fabric from Spoonflower for this project.  I really like this fabric.  It needs to be washed by hand with a gentle detergent and sews like a dream.  Since I wanted to highlight the crystalline nature of the design, I added clear sequins sewn with gold metallic thread to the front and back of the top.  I really like the outcome.

detail vodkaDSC00981

Now it’s time to move on to my designs. I while back I designed a dress to use my dandelion fabric (see details here) and even had the fabric printed up. I used the cotton-silk from Spoonflower for this fabric. It is beautiful. However, it does not hold up to washing. The color will come off with just water. I discovered this when I bled on my fabric and tried to wipe it off. Not good.

When we last left off, I had draped the dress but needed to true up the pattern. It’s been a really long time since I’ve done that. I started with drawing in all of the seams on the muslin with a colored sharpie and making any notes directly on the pieces. Once I was done, I took the muslin apart to make the pattern. I usually use the left side of my pattern since I do my fitting myself and that side is usually pinned more accurately. I then transferred the muslin pieces to paper. Then it was time to cut.  I almost always cut on a single layer of fabric as I feel its more accurate and I can plan my layout better.

pattern cutting

I lined the bodice with white cotton-silk so that it would be easier to make the neckline and armholes. I found a wonderful set of vintage buttons that reminded me of dandelions for the waistband. Overall I really like the dress and think it works well with my fabric.

buttonsFor this dress I did everything manually; draped the pattern, trued the pieces, drafted the pattern, then finally trued and cut the pattern. I would like to be able to create my patterns digitally so that I can grade them to other sizes and easily adjust them. That’s the next step.

wearing dress dress


One year later…I’m off to a good start

It’s been almost a year since my last post. Last year was really busy. I’ve learned a lot about patterns and pattern making.  I started out slowly but am expanding my skills all the time.  I bought a pattern design program and a digitizer.  I’m also working to create designs that work well with my fabric. I’ll start off by sewing with fabric that I designed using commercial patterns and then move forward.

I designed a number of fabrics for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s 50th anniversary. I made a couple of them into garments. My first foray was a poly-knit that I had printed at Advanced Digital Textiles. I really love the design which is a play on the club’s initials.


The fabric is a little to “plastic” feeling for me but it sews and washes well.  It worked for the dress I chose, Vogue 1194, a DKNY dress. I added some shoulder pads and a contrast waistband.  It was very simple to sew up and I can even wear it to work.

065Vogue 1194


I also planned to make a jean jacket using the border print from my pomegranate collection (pomegranates).   This was printed on white cotton twill from Spoonflower. Unfortunately, I neglected to fully read the care instructions for the fabric and put it in the washer. The print faded horribly. For some reason, Spoonflower’s cotton twill is not washable. This really doesn’t make much sense as I generally like to wash cotton twill to get a softer hand. I scrapped the original idea and cut the jacket from the plain portion of the fabric. I added a lining to the pattern and embroidery on the collar and cuffs.  I made the Stacie jacket from Style Arc.

Style Arc Stacie

I used my pomegranate seed print on Kona cotton for the lining. The fabric was from Spoonflower. The kona cotton washed well with minimal fading.

front lining

back liningI had some adventures when I decided to embroider the collar after I had already cut it out and had to baste it to some extra fabric in order to hoop it. Here you can see the original border print that I used for hooping.  The sleeves for this jacket have a fold-up cuff so I placed the embroidery on the inside of the cuff where it would show when folded.

sleeve collar 2


form 2 jacket

I top-stitched with red thread and added red snaps to the jacket front. I found that the Snap-it snaps did not work with the thickness of the twill and kept falling out. I had to order a special set with a sturdier setting tool. Though I was unable to feature the border print as planned, I’m happy with how the jacket turned out.  I’m going to move away from commercial patterns next time around.

Fragile, Breakable Items Inside

Happy New Year!  It’s resolution time and I’m ready to share mine. Resolution #1 – keep my blog up to date.   I have not posted in 2013 but have actually been very busy.  My main focus has been on improving my pattern drafting and draping skills so that I can get a start on a line of patterns to compliment my fabric.  That’s Resolution #2Design patterns

Swirl Twirl Dress
Swirl Twirl Dress


Puffball blouse
Puffball Blouse
Zigzag dress
Zigzag Dress

Here are three designs that I created in 2013. I finally purchased a pattern drafting program and I working through all the nuances of pattern drafting, pattern conversion and creating a final product.  I’m currently working on digitizing these patterns so that I can grade them and then create both PDF and printed patterns – more to come as I continue to work on this.

I have also been experimenting with a number of different companies to print my fabric designs.  I’m hoping to create a new collection every other month.  Resolution #3Design fabric


I recently created a line of designs for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I used both Spoonflower and Advanced Digital Textiles to print the fabric.  I think that Advanced Digital has a better quality of fabric but they do not have a lot of garment weight options.  Their fabric is also much more colorfast than Spoonflower’s.  However, it is also more expensive.  I was happy with the fabric I received and will continue to do more testing with it.

I also tried out DPI.  They have a great option where you can provide your own fabric and it is cheaper to print.  You can ship bolt fabric from Dharma Trading or Exotic Silks directly to them to use for your prints.

Austrian Moon
Austrian Moon
Moonlit Traffic
Moonlit Traffic


I have been working on a line of photographic morphs and used them to print a sample.  I selected their silk twill.  Unfortunately, their equipment broke down right after I placed the order so I received it about a month late.  The fabric I received was quite stiff as if the dye thickener had not been removed.  When I washed the fabric, there was a definite fading.  I’m not sure if this was because of the rush job or not. I plan to try again and provide my own fabric.

And my final resolution is to have FUN doing this!  I want to let myself be inspired by as many things as possible and have a sense of excitement about making my inspirations a reality.  This is always easy at the beginning but sometimes hard to keep the momentum going.

Follow my journey to learn about designing patterns


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