Learning About Patterns with The Thrifty Stitcher

The Thrifty Stitcher

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to a workshop with the Thrifty Stitcher, aka Claire-Louise Hardie, aka the Sewing Producer and chief of sewing knowledge and pattern designer for the TV Show the Great British Sewing Bee. She a WI member too, belonging to the London Stoke-Newington group. (Here is a story from the WI Life Magazine all about Claire-Louise). We learned that there will be a Series 3 of The Great British Sewing Bee and it might be filming pretty soon! You can do sewing classes with Claire-Louise and her colleague Rosie at her studio in Stoke Newington and are guaranteed not just to learn how to make a dress, but a dress which fits you perfectly.  I can’t recommend her classes more, I learnt so much- she has been making clothes professionally for stage and screen for years, but is also familiar with commercial patterns used by a home sewer and the problems of getting stuff to fit. She knows easy methods for copying existing clothes to.  Not only that, but she is a really nice person. She didn’t cancel the workshop even though she had a herniated disk. At the start I briefly digressed from sewing to chat pain killers, while the rest of the room waited patiently for the real stuff to begin.Then I accidentally had a coffee with caffeine in for the first time in three years, and half way through the event wondered if I had been asking way too many questions, as perhaps I was feeling rather chatty and hyper, but Claire was great and answered everything patiently and demonstrated so many things. I was there with eleven other ladies, who all belong to my Shoreditch Sisters WI Sewing Bee group. Here we are gasping at a full bust adjustment.   Here is some of the stuff I learnt: Commercial patterns from Simplicity, New Look and Vogue are all based on the American B cup, which is like a UK C. If you aren’t that size she advised not going up a whole dress size to match you bust measurement, instead choose the size that will fit your frame, so your height and shoulders. I have problems with patterns, which I though were due to small shoulders, so have been taking patterns in at the shoulders (rather hit and miss so far). Now instead I will pick a smallersize and do a full but adjustment. Patterns which match your bust size but not your frame will have things like a gaping neck at front and back. Claire-Louise showed the group how to do a full bust adjustment and also demonstrated a small bust adjustment for going down a size when for smaller bust ladies, with A cups. It’s harder to find directions on line for this. Then how to adjust for large upper arms. If you can’t make it to a Thrifty Stitcher class, there are online tutorials for these adjustments – here are some FBA pins on Pinterest and a tutorial I have seen recommended, from Megan Neilsen – click the picture for the link:     Next the class covered a sway back adjustment, which I did without knowing it was that, when I put darts into the back waist area of my Blitz dress, because there was just too much fabric. I think the more sticky-outy your bum is, the more likely it is that you will need to make this adjustment to a pattern to make it fit nicely! I have just found a really good tutorial from a sewer called Sherry who blogs at as Pattern Scissors Cloth, tutorial here, which the below image is taken from. Her analysis also gives a few other reasons why you might have extra fabric at the back and how the adjustment works with a variety of patterns, with different darts.     We also discussed “ease” in garments. What is “wearing ease” first – if your waist is 30 inches and you make a skirt with exactly a 30 inch waist, it will be too tight to allow any movement and rather uncomfortable. So clothes are made for a 30 inch waist  have extra ease, for example 31 inches would be comfortable for me. However with sewing patterns the wearing ease can be a few inches more. People have different ideals on how much baggyness they need or allowing for modesty or movement that you might want from a sewing pattern. Claire-Louise pointed out on a sewing pattern, that there was some information on the tissue itself that can help. Firstly did you know that this symbol means chest apex. ie. where your nipple will be inside the dress? I had no idea. If this dress marking and your nipple don’t line up, it is full bust or small bust adjustment time. Sewing Pattern Advice Bust Next to this symbol was a bit more information, which is the actual finished garment sizes. Sewing Advice Bust Compare these to the measurements for those sizes on the outside of the pattern. For a size 8 your 31 and a half inch bust, the dress circumference around the bust will be 43 inches. These details are for this Vogue dress, which also has “design ease”, added by having gathers around the neck, so baggyness is intended by the designer. Anna Sui Dress Another pattern I have makes things even clearer. Thanks New Look! Sewing Advice Bust   One dress which I have made which was too big for me was this dress from Burda.  It was too big across my shoulders. My friend Jem tried it on at one of our sewing bee meet-ups and it fitted so well I gave it to her. Burda dress This  is Burda 7739 and doesn’t have anything on the packet to say what bust measurements any size might have for bust or waist measurement, let alone finished garment measurements. It doesn’t look like there is a lot of design ease either. Burda 7739 On the tissue, in a not at all handy box, the size 10 has a 33 inch bust measurement (84cm). On the front  bodice piece itself, the finished measurements are given (see below). The size 10 is 36 inches, so 3 inches bigger than the bust measurement. Can you imagine having to unfold this in a shop to find out if it’s your size. Burda, you fail. Burda 7739 and too much ease This is why my dress way too big. Thank goodness I now know it was the pattern and not me. A novice sewer can get downhearted after everything she makes doesn’t fit. Phew, what a long post.  I recommend having a look at Claire-Louise’s website as she has a tips and tricks section. She is hoping to add some of the things she taught us, but we were having so much fun on the night, that she forgot to turn on the camera. And look out for the new series of Sewing Bee too! Finally here are a couple of book recommendations.   This is one I have, How To Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns. It is great apart from the vague “adjust by the desired amount” instructions occasionally. Has a lot of useful info on using dress patterns and I refer to it a lot. It also has several sizes of blocks at the back, but you would have to scale them up on a photo copier. It also covers a lot of adjustments for both fit and style. This is Real Fit For Real People – Claire-Louise recommended this book. The clothes or fabrics used may be dated, but she says the instructions are really good and cover all sorts of shapes and sizes.

One comment

  1. Wow, now I know that those patterns are graded for a C cup it makes much more sense why the last few modern patterns I have used there was so much gaping, when I was so sure I had got the right size! Oh and I had no idea that circle cross hair thingumy was for showing you where your apex should be, wow that’s really very useful! Thanks for sharing your tips, it sounds like you had a great time! 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.