Monday, 1 February 2010

Quite possibly my favourite book ever...

At the end of my last post I told you that some exciting things were due to be coming through my letterbox. One of them was Cal Patch's Design-It-Yourself Clothes that I've been thinking about buying for a while now. Words can't quite express how much I love this book, but perhaps if I tell you that I stayed up until nearly 1am and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting that might give you some clue as to just how good it is. Cal advises you to dive right in and start making things, as her instructions will be clearer if you're involved in a practical task...but actually, her teaching technique is so fantastic that I was able to follow everything and understand her formula and techniques for doing things almost straight away...it all makes such good sense (and this is really saying something, as I don't comprehend complicated things easily).

The book's aim is to give you the ability to make garments fitted perfectly to your own unique body shape and size. The book is full of examples that you can follow, but you quickly realise that you can merge them together and add in your own details as the focus is on pattern-making (not how you sew the pattern pieces together), which gives you more freedom to introduce your own ideas. After taking 24 measurements from around your body (see picture), you learn to draw out an accurate pattern using these, as well as how to add in extra inchage for darts, ease, seam allowances and how to guesstimate your sweep circumference (that's the circumference of the hem of your intended garment). Cal shows you how to do everything in such a way that it quickly becomes instinctive as to the processes you need to go through to make a pattern work if you alter any one of the variables that you've already drafted in (such as a dart). It made me realise that I'd missed so many basics in my own pattern making - like the idea that waists and hems are not straight lines, but gently curve to flatter your own curves, or that it's essential that all the corners must remain square at 90 degree angles...and yes, you're shown how to blend these two things together. She manages to make complex tasks (such as 'slash and spread' - where you slash and spread your basic pattern to give a fuller, twirlier skirt) feel completely do-able.

I've felt horribly stunted by my own poor understanding of how to draft a pattern and so this book feels like an absolute gift. As soon as I'd finished reading it I was desperate to start making something using the techniques. The only suitable material left in the house for dressmaking was the half-metre remnant from the dress in the last post, so I decided to make a denim skirt using a side fastening (having seen it in action looking completely fabulous here) that features in one of her patterns as I don't own a denim skirt that doesn't go weirdly pouchy over the stomach area where the front zip is. I blended the fastening with Cal's method for making a basic A-line skirt and also drafted in my own internal (as opposed to patch) side pockets to add a bit of interest.

I bound the pockets with home-made denim bias tape and lined the inside of the pockets with a brown Denyse Schmidt print from the Katie Jump Rope range.

And then to add to the fun of dressing in the morning I bound the waist band with the same print...no you can't see it from the outside...but I know it's there and it makes me utterly happy.

I then added some more Jump Rope fabric to the bottom of the hem and used this as the turn up inside the skirt...you can see a peek of it when sitting cross legged...I wish all my skirts had this on now.

So the actual fit of the skirt...well, Cal's methods really do work. It feels like it has been made just for me. In a rare fit of patience I made a muslin (rough version of the garment using cheap material) to check the fit first and did end up adjusting darts and altering the waist size a little. The muslin was an old bed sheet...it's hard to assess whether you have the right balance between fitted and clingy when working a thread-bare bed sheet saved from teenagehood, but I do think it is so worth doing even with this poor stand-in material and now can't believe that I would ever have dreamt of jumping right in there (Cal advises that you use the same weight of fabric for the muslin as you intend to use for the final item...I didn't quite manage that bit).

Skirts can often be a bit gapey around the waist at the back, but this fits perfectly.

The thing that I enjoyed most was that with a new confidence that the finished item would fit I was able to pay more attention to putting in little finishing details, feeling that it was worth the investment in time.

This book has done nothing at all to dampen my new-found obsession with clothes-making and I'm already planning my next project which I'll make by adapting Cal's basic pattern for a t-shirt (it has a yoke and ruffles and all sorts...or is this a case of running before walking?). I'm feeling less confident about this as setting sleeves in isn't my strong point and I don't remember having worked with jersey either.

This is the final skirt - for those also taking their first steps with Cal's book my sweep circumference was 9" bigger than my low hip circumference here. I mention this because I would have found this information helpful as sweep circumference is a sort of guesstimated measurement, rather than an actual one and it's really hard to visualise just how big an A-line your final sweep measurement will actually yield.

I think out of every sewing book I've ever owned this is the one that I would recommend the most. Most of the craft books that I buy are for eye-candy purposes only. This one, however, is utterly practical and I have already written all over the pages with notes and measurements, making it feel akin to a well-loved cookbook that I can imagine eventually falling apart through over-use.

And just in case you are tiring of the incessant clothes talk and seeing pictures of my headless body I have some goodies to show you in my next post that I made last week for a custom order...I do love the odd things that people ask me to make and this one proved to be a welcome break from dressmaking.
Happy Monday,
Florence x

38 comments:

  1. Hello Florence,

    reading this post was really great for me and I can totally understand your happiness with that book. I got the same one as a christmas present and just like you I read it in one go as if it was a novel!

    I find it so tempting to just start and make your own stuff that really fits. I am rather small and my problem with dresses for example is that the waist of the dress is way below my waist and it never really fits.

    So far I haven't made any of the projects but the skirt and the blouse are high up on my list.

    So I hope to see more of you dress- making adventures in the future.

    Claudia x

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  2. The skirt looks fabulous!! I also got this book as a Christmas present and spent most of my Christmas break reading it. I can't wait to get started on making something that fits me perfectly :)

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  3. Thanks for the book suggestion. Your skirt is great. I really like the whimsy of the quilting fabric to finish the inside.

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  4. I've got this book too but haven't really touched it yet. I'm a beginner but your enthusiasm has inspired me to pick the book up again and actually go for it.

    Love your skirt and the added details, which take it to the next level.

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  5. I love the look of this book, sounds like just what I need. I trawl around blogland and get great tutorials from wonderful people like yourselve but I'm really lacking in the foundations of dressmaking so I need to go back to basics. I have one question though, being a curvy girl with saddlebags & a wobbly tum do you think the book has helpful modifications & advice for that? I say this as I look enviously at your washboard tum and wonder how well I can adapt for my bodyshape. I ask as the only review in Amazon has a slight criticism thats there isn't much help for larger busted ladies but I'm more of a 'Fat-bottomed Girl'!

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  6. I love these dressmaking posts Florence so please keep them coming. Fantastic book which I shall hunt out. It is always great to have a recommendation to go on. Your skirt is just lovely and yes, i too would love the knowing the gorgeous material is there even if it isn't on show - it's a bit like gorgeous lingerie really isn't it? The hem turning is inspired! Looking forward to seeing loads more xx

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  7. I feel an Amazon order coming on!

    Your skirt is glorious - and how lovely is it to be able to put your own secret touches to the clothes you've designed?

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  8. Hello Florence! I've been reading your blog for a long time - really enojoy all that you have to say, especially the dressmaking posts.

    I am a long way behind you in sewing ability, but I hope to make my own clothes one day too.

    The skirt looks wonderful on you!

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  9. Ooooh, thank you so much for all the commenty goodness.

    Claudia - do go for it, the way you plan the patterns you won't even have to be aware that you're designing for a 'short person' (I know this because I'm one too)as you're only comparing things to yourself.

    Louise, no you're right it doesn't cover darts at the bust so much, but actually that's fine. It covers them so thoroughly in the skirts and trousers projects that you'd only need to make one of these once to understand how to work one into your t-shirt/top pattern. She basically teaches you how to draw in a dart and then how to 'give back' the fabric that you've just stolen from elsewhere on that seam...it's a principle that you could easily apply to a top without needing to be guided through it...and actually even with a relatively small bust I still think I'd want to put darts in my tops, so can't see that you'd have any problem. Cal's approach is warm and friendly and actively celebrates curves, so I didn't feel too traumatised when I decided to increase the darts on the backside of my skirt! I really think you'd find it wonderful whatever shape you are.

    Oh do, Dottie Cookie - I'm sure it would be a worthwhile purchase.

    Graciepeasharps - I love your name!

    Thank you so much for all the kind things you've said. Now I just need to limber up for braving that top. Eek.

    x

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  10. That skirt looks absolutely fabulous!
    I love the lining surprise too.
    That book is in my cart... I think I will buy it, you've inspired me!

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  11. I love the skirt and those finishing details are perfect - very bespoke!

    I wondered if you've looked at The Little Black Dress by Simon Henry? I've got a copy of it and was wondering how it might compare to the Cal Patch book which looks beautifully straightforward. Henry's book is good but hasn't entirely inspired me to dive in and create my own patterns yet.

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  12. This was so interesting Flossie and I have to tell you that your skirt is wonderful! It looks like a dream with all those gorgeous details - the bias fabric waist trim, the pocket lining etc. It also fits you like a glove. What a fantastic achievement. You have been pretty ambitious I think and yet have succeeded so well I can only think this is just the start of what you will be able to do! I am starting much smaller, at the moment I only can conceive of constructing much needed skirts so I have ordered Sew What! Skirts - I always review books by looking up the American amazon site as there are more of them. The skirts range from v simple to classic and you draft them from scratch. It gets positive reviews so I'm looking forward to getting it and starting. You have really made me think though, with all your little extras you've included. Thanks for the info about the sweep measurement as I would make an A line but they can be really flared and massive or just slightly (much more flattering), so that's a big help. I think some of the stuff is relative to size too, apparently the smaller the size the less ease you need to factor in. You have got the fitting perfectly. I would be thrilled to bits if I were you. Its fantastic - How amazing to feel you could make anything you want to!
    Siobhan

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  13. Anita, I'm not sure how they differ, but I've just had a peek on Amazon and may order his new book (about party dresses), so thanks for mentionig him. The things in Cal's book are, I suppose, more for everyday wear...so that may appeal more or less depending on what you're hoping for. But I think partly how much you use a book is whether you buy it at just the right time - there are some books which I know are probably fantastic, but I've got them at a time when I haven't the time/inclination to use the.

    Sorry not to be more help. x

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  14. Sounds like a fab book - I've got the dressmaking bug too, but am hoping to loose weight soon (!) so perhaps I'll leave this book for a while until I'm at my ideal weight. But the whole idea of perfectly fitting clothes has to be the ultimate luxury - I don't think I've ever bought anything 'off the peg' that actually fits perfectly! Always too big on the waiste, too small on the hips, or gaping at the neck. I love your enthusiasm!

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  15. That's interesting, Siohban, as I did end up taking the ease out, and that now makes sense of it(although I don't understand why).

    I hadn't realised that the Sew What! book was about drafting your own patterns...oh dear...you're making me head back toward Amazon again! I'm loving these book recommendations! Thank you so much for the skirt-love too. x

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  16. That's the nice thing though, Bridget...if they fit properly everywhere you suddenly don't feel the need to bother losing weight! x

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  17. Hi Florence, that's really lovely, and fits beautifully. Love all the finishing touches. Please can you share where you source your denim? I've been unable to find any. Thanks.
    Happy days!

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  18. I've just borrowed this book from the library and, like you, read it from cover to cover, but haven't attempted any of the projects. It's really helpful to see how good the skirt looks in real life and that you found the process fairly straightforward.

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  19. My goodness you are clever! I do like your skirt, the details are fabulous and the book looks brilliant too! Well done!

    Julia x x x

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  20. Florence - you are so right! Some books just never get moved from beside the bed whereas others are immediately propped open on the work table and used. Really DOES depend on what else is going on! Who knows what hidden gems may be lurking on the bookshelves or in the bookpiles...!

    I have the Sew What! Skirts book and I think it's great - lots of cute ideas and very easy to use. That one DID inspire me to run up a few skirts!

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  21. Thanks Florence!

    I've loved reading all the comments on this post - lots of useful information, and lovely people.

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  22. This is fantastic! You got all the details just perfect. :) I love it!

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  23. Ok this has gotten me excited; especially because I am in the middle of making myself a pair of pyjamas and I would really like them to fit well. I will be adding it to my Amazon wishlist; thanks for the info!
    Jenn

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  24. Well Florence, I hope Cal Patch is paying you some of her royalties, because I am certain her book sales just went through the roof. Your denim skirt fits so perfectly and it makes this old dog want to rush out to learn how you did it. My skirts, even after altering, never fit so smoothly, so I guess I'll join the queue at Amazon!

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  25. Totally impressed with your dressmaking, Florence. Much love from Sculptor's wifey xx

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  26. Hi Florence, I am really enjoying your foray into dressmaking. That book looks very interesting. I may have to invest in it. The skirt you made is lovely, it fits beautifully. The few things that I have ever made for myself tend to be too big.

    Jacqueline

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  27. GORGEOUS!

    I hope I have some time for making clothes soon... I'll be following your advise and buying this one.

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  28. Great review! And, I must say... you are the FIRST person I have ever ran across that has used the word 'stitchery' (your profile). I use it as my closing salutation all the time. Although, I shouldn't be too surprised you would use the word because the origin for me was from a UK sewing teacher from the early 1920's. Your Stitchery Friend, April

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  29. I have been wanting this book forever! It was good to read your review of it. I do have a question: Do you think it would it help in sewing/drafting maternity clothes???
    I'm currently pregnant and most maternity patterns have been discontinued.

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  30. Wow Florence, that skirt looks really fab on you. What beautiful finishing as well. I'm sitting on my hands because I really want to go and make beautiful skirts too but really I need to sew a straight line first. You are an inspiration.

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  31. Well, the skirt looks amazing, so I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for that book.

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  32. what an incredible looking skirt! And your waist is so slim and pretty!

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  33. What a coincidence - I added this book to my wishlist the other day. I love the skirt, especially the button detail. You're making me want to make clothes again, but I know my limitations!
    I did order that Emmar Hardy children's clothes book the other day on your recommendation - only £5 through one of the school book schemes, so I couldn't not buy it!

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  34. It's all in the detail, isn't it?! The skirt is so expensive looking - I love the flash of colour at the hem. I haven't really made many garments myself but I feel inspired to have another shot! Thanks for the great post. Jen x

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  35. I loved Zebra Girl's skirt. This post really inspired me and I have just reserved the skirt book at the library. Thank you!

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  36. Oops, realized I meant to leave my comment on the post above. Sorry.

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  37. Hi Flossie,
    You are such an inspiration. I will be getting the book next month. Your skirt is wonderful and I love the facing. I was thinking of doing similar ideas with blouses by putting the different fabric on the underside of the collar and cuffs and maybe the front facing.
    Can I ask; where do you buy your fabrics?
    Happy stitching
    Elizabeth

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  38. I'm waiting for a copy of this book to arrive from Amazon, I'm so pleased you like it so much, I read another blog where she was head over heels for this book, so that's double the good advice to make me very excited about this book's arrival! Vanessa xxx

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x