Colette Hawthorn

Sewing. In my pyjamas.

Well.  One of my very favourite sewists, Lazy Seamstress (who’s now famous! But I knew her first, so there!) raves about the Colette Hawthorn pattern, and made herself a very pretty version…  And so when she did, I thought “hmmm… shirtwaister. I could make me one of those” and bought the pattern.

Now.  I am a size 10 on top, with good old fashioned child-bearing hips and a plenty-of-children-borne tummy.  Which makes me something between a 12 and 14 from the waist down, despite my frequent, more fidgetty than dedicated best efforts.  So I knew this pattern would need some redrafting, but no matter.

The pattern calls for cotton or linen, or similar light and floaty fabric, and I found a lovely, retro-ish linen in my local fabric store.

I find it really difficult to fit to my own body.  Obviously.  It’s kind of tough to look, measure and pin behind your own back.  But I have a kind of semi-functional tailor’s dummy, and I have some pattern drafting fabric, and I haven’t made any clothes in well over a year, and what the fuck can go wrong, right?  Right.

So I measured.  With the help of teenagers.  You’ll notice the lack of the adjective ‘willing’ in the previous sentence.  Don’t forget that…  And I drafted.  And I worked out how to flare the bodice so that what I ended up with would fit around my hips, and I almost completely forgot to take account of the fact that my waist is high, and my tummy prominent and yet despite those two things, my hips are just where you’d expect them to be, and anyway.  Half circle skirt.  Not much need for additional ease in the hip department, sistah.

Proper cuffs!

And then I put it together, and it flew together like a dream.  The pattern is well drafted, the instructions are clear and it all went beautifully smoothly.  I love doing shirty things – collars and proper cuffs and fitting around awkwardly shaped torsos.  It feels like a real skill, and it pleases me greatly.

Sewing, for me, isn’t a quiet exercise.  It’s not a head down, breath quiet, concentrate and get on with it thing.  Not at all.  When it goes well, I hum distractedly to myself.  Or sing along with the radio, whether or not I know the words.  Kids and dogs lie low in a mildly embarrassed, despairing manner.  When it goes badly I swear.  Volubly and in fluent Anglo Saxon.  Kids and dogs hide, from sheer self preservation.

This was definitely a singing along with the radio day.  And besides, I was kept in good company on my bing-bong email, and for most of the day the sun kept Hurricane Bertha at bay, and the chickens clucked contentedly and it was verily the epitome of domestic bliss.

Beautifully fitting dummy

When I’d constructed the bodice, I tried it on.  It fit beautifully across my shoulders (well done, teenagers!) and boobs (well done, me!) and sat nicely in the small of my back.  Obviously, it’s difficult to gauge the final fit until all the parts are together, but early indications were that there was nothing to worry about.  A pattern re-drafting triumph.

I whizzed up the skirt, and stuck it onto the bodice, and put the whole onto the dummy.  All good.

It turns out that when you’re a little stumpy person with good old fashioned child-bearing hips and a plenty-of-children-borne tummy, what you really need is a dressmaker’s dummy with an adjustable back waist length.  Mine doesn’t have one of those.  And the dress fitted her beautifully.

So I carried on flying it together, and did the magic buttonhole thing, and sewed on the buttons and turned up the hem and BADA BING!  All done.

And then I put it on.  Not on the dummy. On me.

And lo! It was too long in the back waist, and not really all that brilliant around the actual waist, and generally made me look like a sack of spuds.  So I decided, for the safety of all concerned, that I’d leave it till another day, but I would fix it.  I.  Would.  Fix.  It.  If it killed me.

This morning, I got up LIKE A BOSS (which is lucky) and took the skirt off the bodice, and unpicked a buttonhole.  I opened out the facings, and unpicked the top stitching.  I took off two buttons, and an inch off the back waist.  And then I put it all together again.  And it was better.

Better, but not good.  I could lose another inch from the back waist, I think – bringing the actual waist up to the bottom of my rib cage.  And I could fit the back better, with larger rear darts.  It fits well – even really well – across my shoulders and boobs, though.  Well done, teenagers! Well done, me!

I have looked carefully in every mirror I’ve passed, today.  And I have concluded that (a) I didn’t really need to re-draft the bodice; (b)  I could have cut gores in the skirt pattern, and made the skirt wider (and that mightn’t have been a bad thing) but (c) really the problem with the fit on this is that it calls for a light fabric, and much of the weight of the garment is in the skirt.  So no matter how well you draft and fit the bodice, it will be pulled out of shape by the weight of the skirt, a bit.

I might try silk, next time.  Silk and a higher waist.  And perhaps a lined, stronger bodice.  I might even buy a proper tailor’s dummy.

About Vicki

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