Wonderful Wool Wrap

Back from two Thanksgiving feasts: full, warm and smiling.

I give thanks in November that the “couldn’t be easier” shrug was completed in time for feastival day. My goal in making this garment was to knock out something quickly in time for my birthday and Thanksgiving. I chose the right pattern, Butterick 5529, but then I couldn’t resist the teal blue wool gauze.

Between the bias drape and the stretch of the wool gauze, it was a challenge to make. That only makes it more fun to wear.

Just a bit off center after a hard day's wearing.

The wool gauze is a perfect weight for a light, but warm shoulder wrap. And the pattern had a nice touch of easy sewing spiked with a few sophisticated details. If you’re interested in more information about it, my review is on patternreview.com.


fractured feline

The Feline Elizabethan Collar: high function over high fashion, even on this punked-out kitty boy.

All my October sewing involved blue nylon monofilament thread and perfect knots, tied by the hand of Dr. Michael Smith,  veterinary orthopedic surgeon extraordinaire. Yes, this is the month Ivan broke his leg. Twice.

Check out that fancy blue handstitching!

Ivan is the Evel Knievel of our cat family. Absolute daredevil, somewhat calculating about risks, total showoff. An alternate take on his highness comes directly from Dr. Smith, “Ivan is the luckiest cat who ever lived.”


Just how lucky, you ask? Well, Ivan broke his right front fibula (the bone that connects his elbow to his shoulder) in a freak accident early in October. This bone is usually hard to set on a cat, resulting in a long healing period or even (yikes!) amputation of the leg. Luckily for Ivan, Master Surgeon Smith had just completed a class on repairing broken bones with titanium plates two weeks before the accident.

A perfect repair!

Dr. Smith was able to put Ivan’s leg back together again so perfectly with the plate that it would not have been possible to tell when the bone was healed by viewing an x-ray. Ivan felt great! (Especially for a cat with a broken leg.) About a week after the accident he got permission to get out of the 24 x 30 inch kennel and move into a 3 x 5 foot room…

…a.k.a. my entryway, which lacked a proper door. Ever resourceful, we put up a 5 foot tall sheet of plywood and gave Ivan some space to heal in. It was much better for all of us. He got to walk around, use a full size cat box, look out the window…you get the picture.

Engineered for action: plate with seven screws and a perfectly set bone.

Did I mention he felt great? So well, in fact, that on the third night in his new digs he scaled the 5 foot tall temporary door and leapt for freedom. Ah! The thrill! The crash! The compromised leg bone! Remember it? The one held together by the titanium plate about 1/4 inch wide and less than 1/8 inch thick? Well, lucky 14 pound Ivan, the plate held! But the bone fractured across a section where it had been weakened by the previous break. And, just like that, Ivan broke his leg for the second time in 10 days.

Here’s where Ivan’s lucky star shines down on him. Had that leg been repaired with a pin or wire, it would have shattered and could not have been repaired. With the plate, he suffered a set-back but will heal without further medical intervention. I’m not sure he’s the luckiest cat ever, but he’s truly been my luckiest cat.

Do you list when akimbo?

Me, too! When I stand there, hands on hips with my elbows out, I clearly lean to the left. This has always presented me with a challenge when I sew – it takes twice the time to fit a pattern for both left and right sides.

The center back grainline is straight, but my hips aren't.

Cue the hip block…

Now when I sew I use the “franken-pattern” approach, grafting my hip block to a new pattern below the hip. My waistline, high hip and low hip follow my crooked lines and have the proper amount of ease. Below my hips, the pattern is on grain. Sewing just became much more fun.

A brief reality check: it’s going to take you a little longer to make your hip block if you are the proud owner of an asymmetric body. But when you’re done you’ll be a speedy seamer cranking out new clothes.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get going!

Time saving tip: if you have a slightly asymmetric figure and are working from a commercial pattern, fit your paper pattern to your higher (or larger) hip, cut out as usual, then alter the skirt to fit the lower (or smaller) hip in the first fitting.

Make a pattern for both left and right sides if:

  • Your alterations will be greater than 1/2 inch in width or length.
  • Your asymmetry involves both side length (high hip on one side) and width changes (full hip on one side).

Tracing the left front on my lightbox, a picture window.

Use your higher hip at the waistline as the reference point on the pattern.

  • Flip the reference pattern over and trace it to get the mirror image.

Don’t forget darts or your reference lines at high and low hip.

Left front pattern after left hip has been lowered 1/2 inch.

Alter your traced pattern to adjust for the lower or narrower hip.

Keep the waistline and side seam on grain when making length and width changes.

  • Mark a line parallel to the hipline about 5 inches below the waist.
  • Mark a line parallel to the center front or center back between the side seam and outside dart.
  • Slash along the parallel lines.
  • The upper edge of the hip at both waistline and side seam can now be adjusted on grain.
  • Keep cut edges parallel to reference lines used to draw them.
  • For a lower hip, move the section down as needed, square up the lines and tape in place.
  • For a wider or narrower hip, move the section in or out as needed.
  • Smooth the seamlines across the slashed edges.

Alterations after the first fitting are shown in blue at waist, side seam and dart. Red lines are preliminary changes made to the mirror image traced pattern. Pencil lines indicate the unaltered traced pattern.

Significant changes in side length or width may require adjustments in darts on the altered  side.

  • If you drop the waistline it will make your dart shorter and affect fit.
  • To avoid this extend the center line of the dart down the same amount as you dropped the waistline.
  • Mark the proper dart width at the new waistline.
  • Draw the new dart legs.

When fitting, do not make more than one adjustment at a time.

  • Make tucks or slashes in the muslin to align the horizontal and vertical grainlines correctly for the first alteration
  • Transfer your changes to your paper pattern
  • Use it to correct your muslin (by basting new seamlines)
  • Then make the next round of alterations.

Making too many alterations at one time is a sure way to end up with a hip block that is not on grain or is overfitted. (Ask me how I know sometime…)

If you’d like more information  on this step, the most useful reference I found for altering a hip block pattern for the asymmetric figure was Skirts and Pants Patterns by Jan Minott (www.minottmethod.com). I’m certain there are other great ones out there. Please share your findings with us all by noting them in the comments.

Ready to fit?

The intentional nighty

On Sunday a lightweight, pink, ribbed jersey nightgown came in to my life, thanks to Susan.

Have you forgotten the wonder of your first serged seam?

Had it not been for Susan, there would have been no serged side seams, no lettuce hems, no quick alteration when it was about 6 inches too big in circumference.

A lettuce hem fit for a Barbie doll!

A quick six inches whacked from waist to elbow

I had been dreaming of sewing McCalls 6200 for at least a month and that jersey? At least 6 months. With my new resolve to dream, study, and sew — up came the idea of sewing a nighty to test out the pattern, serger, and fabric (2 yards down, 48 yards to go). I’m just thrilled with the first iteration. Can’t wait to try it again!

Thanks so much for the birthday present, Susan. You’re the best! But next year, we need to get this right. I give you a present on your birthday.

Ready to sew!

Ensure your fabric is on grain. This is critical for accurate fitting.

Cut out your skirt.

Mark reference and construction lines on both sides of fabric:

  • Seamlines – including waistline, side seams, center front, and center back
  • Darts
  • Crossgrain at hipline

Baste the skirt together on the marked darts and seamlines.

  • Most fitting guides recommend basting right sides together, seam allowances inside garment.
  • Do not baste portions of seams or darts that extend into the waistline seam allowance. Stop your seams at the waistline.

Install a zipper in center back.

Press lightly as you sew.

Make a fitting waistband that is 4 inches longer than your waistline measurement.

  • Use 1 inch wide grosgrain ribbon or fold a 2 inch wide piece of muslin in half.
  • Leave 2 inches at each end for overlap.
  • Mark center front.
  • Baste bottom edge of waistband to right side of waistline seam on skirt.

Try skirt on and check ease.

Pin the waistband closed.

Ease at waist, high hip and full hip should match your earlier measurements.

Test it out! You should be able to comfortably walk, bend over and sit in the skirt.

No, I didn’t install that waistband after 3 glasses of chardonnay. For those of us lucky enough to be inducted into the twisted sisterhood, next we’ll be taking a look at dealing with asymmetry.

A bit of pattern prep…

If you are working with a commercial pattern instead of one you drafted or draped to fit, you want to alter it now to fit your 3 key measurements — waist, high hip and low hip — plus your preferred ease.

Each figure is different. On my body, the high hip is about 5 inches below the waist where my hipbones can be felt and my low hip (viewed from the side as the widest spot on the derriere) is about 9 inches below the waist.

My front thighs are well developed so I prefer more ease across my lower hip in a fitted garment than some people do. That’s why it’s important to measure the ease of your favorite clothing when you make the hip block pattern. It keeps you from overfitting along the way.

Although you may never wear anything at your actual waist, the waist is a reference point for the hip block. Make this pattern fit at the actual waist; it’s easy to adjust for your preferred waistline when you sew garments. Remember that you’re making a fitting aid, not the perfect straight skirt.

Again, many references for altering patterns exist:

  • Instructions are included with commercial fitting shell patterns.
  • Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, Fit for Real People
  • Sandra Betzina, Fast Fit
  • Jan Minott, Skirts and Pants www.minottmethod.com
  • Singer Sewing Reference Library, Sewing Pants That Fit (out of print but still readily available)

My body is asymmetric, so I use grading lines to alter a pattern. I recommend you do, too. Grading lines allow me to move key reference points in and out or up and down without losing proper orientation to the grainline.

It’s easy to add grading lines to the hip block.

  1. Draw a vertical line from waistline to hem at the center front or center back. This is your reference line.
  2. To make the pattern wider or narrower at the side seam, draw a vertical line parallel to your reference line part-way between the last dart and the side seam.
  3. To make the pattern longer or shorter, draw a line that is perpendicular to your reference line about 5 inches below the center front or center back waistline.
  4. Now you can slash and spread or overlap along these alteration lines and keep your grainline aligned so your garment will hang correctly.
  5. Remember to true up the seamlines if you make an alteration.

When your pattern is ready:

  • Mark all seamlines on the pattern (use a red or blue colored pencil or fine-tip marker).
  • Add seams at center front and center back, if needed.
  • Increase all seam allowances to 1 inch.
  • Mark the crossgrain at the low hipline on skirt front and back, perpendicular to center front or center back.

Got all that?

Way to go!

Now you’re ready to cut it out, mark your fitting references and sew!

Measure & Match

Ready to start on that hip block? Well, gather up your fitting buddy for the first step and let’s go!

First, get your fit buddy to take your measurements from the waist down. There are many references to help you get accurate measurements. Here are three I have used:

Next measure the ease at waist, high hip, and fullest part of your hip on your favorite three garments that fit well through the waist and hips:

  • Smooth the garment to one side of your body.
  • Pinch all the excess fabric flat between your thumb and finger.
  • Don’t pinch too much or the garment will distort and ride up your body.
  • Measure the fabric you have pinched from the garment to the fold line.
  • Double this number to find the total ease.

Gentle curve with asymmetry

Then objectively note the shape of your lower body and estimate the approximate number of darts needed in your test skirt pattern.

  • Put a close fitting piece of elastic around your waist, high hip and low hip.
  • Look at the orientation of the three horizontal lines they form to determine your shape.
  • Take a photo if you need a more objective way to view your body.

These are the general shapes (adapted from Jan Minott’s book Skirts and Pants (http://www.minottmethod.com/):

Match the number of darts to your shape

  • Gentle curve – zero to two darts in front, one to two darts in back. This shape generally has between 8” and 11 3/8” difference between waist and hip. It can be thought of as rectangular to hourglass shaped, depending upon the ratio of bust, waist and hip curves.
  • Lower Curves – one to two darts in front and back. This shape has dominant lower hips with more than 11 1/2” difference between waist and hip. It appears to be diamond shaped or extremely hourglass shaped.
  • High Curves – two to three darts in front and back. This shape has an upper hip measurement that is larger than the lower hip measurement. It looks like a heart shaped body from the waist down.

Once you are finished with measurements, you are ready to find or create a fitted straight skirt pattern with the right number of darts for your shape. You have lots of options:

1 – Use a commercial fitting shell pattern from a pattern company. Sew only the skirt.

  • Vogue 1004, Butterick 5746, McCalls 2718 were created for this purpose

2 – Use a darted straight skirt pattern from your preferred pattern company.

  • HotPatterns 1011, Burda 8765, Simplicity 5259 are all good candidates.

3 – Draft a straight skirt (use your preferred ease for waist, high hip and low hip instead of the standard ease that is given in the instructions)

4 – Drape a straight skirt

5 – Copy a garment in your wardrobe that fits you well

Next up…Make your fitting pattern.

The (Amazing) Hip Block

The Hip Block

A hip block is a custom fitting aid for your waist and hips that helps you duplicate your personal preferences in any fitted garment you make.

When you create a hip block you document:

  • the actual shape of your fitted waistline seam
  • the correct circumference for your hipline, tummy and waist
  • how many darts to use and their best placement to flatter your figure
  • your minimum ease preferences

When finished you apply your hip block to each new project with a fitted waist or hips. It takes a bit of time to make one, but being able to ensure repeatability of fit is worth the time investment.

The hip block is the first step toward a master pattern for pants, so even if you don’t wear skirts it’s worth sewing along to build your pants pattern a block at a time.

Is this the end of muslins? Probably not. Highly fitted garments need a trial run before you can bravely cut into an expensive fabric and stitch them up. However, more than likely your first muslin of a new fashion will become a prototype garment that you can wear — making your sewing time much more productive.

Four Simple Steps to a Hip Block

  • Measure* yourself and a few of your favorite clothes to find your preferred ease.
  • Match your shape to a straight skirt pattern with the proper number of darts.
  • Make a straight skirt with fitting lines.
  • Fit* your straight skirt through the waist and hips to fine tune your hip block.

* These two steps are simple with a fit buddy, that is.

Measure Yourself and Match Your Shape to the Right Number of Darts

In the next post of this series, we’ll cover the measurements you need to take for the hip block. So line up your fit buddy to make that step simple.

Take an objective look at your shape. Are you more rectangular? Diamond? Heart Shaped? The answers to these questions will guide your choice of a hip block pattern that captures your curves.

Use Your Hip Block as a Master Pattern

Once you have your hip block, you can use your master pattern to adjust commercial patterns more easily. Think of it as a “Franken-pattern”. You “bolt” your hip block to the body of the commercial pattern by matching them at the hipline. Now you have your waist, tummy, and hip circumferences, waistline slope and dart spacing so you don’t have to spend hours tediously measuring and adjusting the pattern you want to use.

Shall we begin?