Unlike other books for beginners that I have seen, Wendy plunges the reader straight into what those buying a book on dressmaking want to do- make clothes. I think some people are put off by wading through pages of technique or making aprons before getting to any mention of making a garment as with some books for beginners. There are 6 full size patterns with this book ranging from bust size 84 cm (33 ins) to 101 cm (39 3/4ins). You do have to trace these off and they overlap but they are on stiff paper and clearly marked ( forget about the nightmare experience of trying to trace a pattern from the flimsy overcrowded pattern sheet of a Burda Magazine). The brief introduction describes how to use the book followed by the tools you will need and then it is straight into the projects, which start with the easiest and gradually increase in complexity. Each project has the techniques that you will need listed and these techniques are described and demonstrated in the rear section of the book. I like the way that the finished measurements of the garments are clearly given so you know how much ease there is in the pattern.
I thought that I would try making a garment following the instructions to see how easy it would be for a beginner. I am not a beginner, more of a "can put a garment together but definitely could do better if she paid attention" type of sewer. I adored the zip jacket, project number 5, and this seems to be the item that most people pick on as a garment they would like to make so here is my version and how the construction went.
First I wanted to know how the jacket might fit me so I took a commercially made jacket that I had with the sort of fit I was hoping for and measured around the chest of the jacket to compare it with the finished size that Wendy gave for the size I was making, size 1. Bingo, what a match! Please remember when you are measuring to make sure you are using an accurate tape. If it is an old one it may well have stretched or distorted so check it against a solid (metal or plastic) ruler.
Next I traced the pattern using Waitrose greaseproof paper, which I like because it is white- do not use baking parchment because it is not so easy to write upon and, if you have to stick sheets together with sticky tape to get the width , it does not stick. Below is a picture of the pattern sheet and the paper laid out and weighted down to stop it sliding while I trace. Always check that your tracing paper has not shifted once you have completed tracing the piece, you need to be accurate in your tracing. Some people use a highlighter to emphasize the line of the size that they are tracing and this would be particularly useful if you are grading between 2 different sizes, for example if your bust size is a size bigger than your hip size.
Here are the finished pattern pieces, traced and ready to use. There are only 3 pieces in total, front, back and sleeve, for the simplest version of the jacket and you will cut two pieces of each piece. You cannot see it very well in the photograph but I have penciled on the pattern all the marking, notches, grainlines etc that are on the sheet.
Wendy gives the yardage necessary for the garment and a cutting layout. However I suggest you trace out your pattern before you go to buy the fabric for it and play around with various layouts and fabric widths for the pattern you have created to find out how much you will need to buy. I found that I needed less fabric than stated for the 140 cm wide fabric I was using.
Once you have cut out your fabric and transferred the markings to the fabric then I suggest you pin fit the garment. That is you pin the darts in position and pin the shoulders and sides together and, very gingerly, try on the garment. This will give you a good idea of how it will fit you.
As you can see, the body of the jacket looks fine - but always check the sides and back too. Below you can see that the back of the neck gapes.
Luckily there is a centre back seam so I could easily deal with this by increasing the seam allowance from the neck and gradually tapering it down into the back. With this jacket there are no facings or lining so that you do not have to make alterations for these. There is limited scope for alteration with the patterns (taking in or letting out at side seams and lengthening and shortening) although Wendy says that she has designed these patterns to need little alteration. She does not recommend making bust adjustments on any of the sleeved garments in the book, and this is an area where many women find it hard to get a good fit, so there is no information on how to do this.
Taking the pins out, and dropping a few on the floor, I was now ready to apply the fusible interfacing. Wendy suggests cutting strips from iron-on interfacing of the appropriate weight for the fabric, and this is a good way of using up those odd bits of interfacing you get stuck with but cannot bear to throw away. However I had some fusible seam tape, already in narrow strips, so I used this. I would have liked to see Wendy draw attention to the need to identify which is the fusible side of the tape because I have heard even seasoned dressmakers bemoan the fact that they put the tape on with the wrong side facing up so it stuck to the iron or press cloth and not the dress fabric. Be warned, check and double check and, if in doubt about which is the side to go face down on the fabric, test a tiny bit on a waste fabric scrap. Below is my seam tape in position ready to be fused.
And here is the seam tape fused along the front and a view of the back seam finished with bias binding.
I followed the making up steps as described up to and including step 9. Then I decided to insert the zip (Step 11) before setting in the sleeves. Unfortunately step 11 refers to positioning the zip stopper level with a notch. This notch should have been marked on the pattern sheet but, as I discovered, it was left off. I checked and checked the pattern sheet and re-read the instructions and then just guessed where it should go- not that hard. The right hand side of the open-ended zip needs to be pinned and tacked to hold it in the correct position for sewing.
Then, using a zipper foot, sew the zip in position close to the zipper teeth so that, when you flip the seam allowance over, your zip teeth just extend beyond the jacket edge.
Then I jumped to step 16, attaching the left side of the zip. This is because I felt that I could better ensure that I could get the bottom hem of the jacket level by doing the hem after inserting the rest of the zip fastening. One of the problems with inserting a zip is getting around the zip stopper while maintaining a straight line. I open the zip partly and sew up to a point before the zip stopper.
Then, making sure that the needle is down in the fabric, I raise the zipper foot and pivot the fabric 90 degrees.
With a bit of tugging I can then pull the zipper closed up to a point past which I have already stitched- sometimes, depending on your machine, you can remove the zipper foot, close the zipper and replace the foot. Pivot the fabric back to the start position, lower the presser foot and off you go, continuing your stitching from where you left off.
Jumping back to step 10 in the order of work I set in the sleeves. I always have difficulty with the fit of sleeves so I was very pleasantly surprised to find they fitted reasonably well for me. I might add a sleeve roll as my shoulders are a bit narrow and I am distinctly lacking in biceps so the sleeve needs to be narrower But I can live with it as it is.
Finally I hemmed the bottom of the jacket and the sleeves. I wanted to conceal the loose top end of the left side of the zip. I toyed with the idea of a button but eventually made a knot from a tube of the jacket fabric and sewed it in place.
My verdict, yes, a beginner could do it on their own by paying close attention to the instructions. I was lucky to get a reasonable fit with only a simple alteration and I would be interested to hear how the fit worked for other people.
Wendy encourages the reader to experiment and develop their own take on the garment and I have certainly been inspired to do another version of this jacket. Also, in view of the lack of fitting difficulty encountered with the jacket, I may well have a go at the shift dress, graded as the most complex of the patterns and see how that would work for a beginner. I have some of this fabric left, not enough for a complete dress, so I will be looking for another fabric to use with it and how best to use the two together.