5 days in NYC Garment District

“You makin’ a dress? Mm-mm, them bugs in the park will LURVE YOU, yes they will!”, said the best man in the world in a singing Southern accent down at Paron Fabrics, and continued: “You from London? The Bridge fallen down yet?”.


I can’t even begin to describe the sheer heaven New York’s Garment District is. I’ve read a thousand sewing blog posts about it over the years and read them again before my trip, but nothing could prepare me for the miles and miles of gloriously bolt-bursting isles. My mind was blown, stayed blown and will never be the same again.

I tried my best to be organised. I had a list of fabrics I had never seen in real life in the UK before, and pictures of garments I wanted to knock off. I also wanted to give plenty of room for serendipity, of course. Equipped with my new fabric shopping bag and the blog Shop The Garment District’s invaluable map, I invaded.

From then on, it’s all a blur. The Garment District ate me alive.

I can’t find words to describe my feelings. No seriously, so I had to get some help:

ROLLERCOASTER! Emotions I felt, often within seconds of each other, or all of them at the same time!

All-over-the-place emotions I felt, often within seconds of each other, or all of them at the same time! I guess “Anger” and “Pride” kick in when I sew up my fabric.


  • Don’t buy anything you can get in London (like silk organza, general bargain-hunting, haberdashery). Go spectacular!
  • Only take swatches and photos on day one – DO NOT BUY! Think it over and plot your projects, then go back. Otherwise it’s like going to the supermarket starving without a shopping list – you’ll eat wine gums with Babybel cheese for dinner for a week.
  • Don’t hesitate when you fall in love (but only after the first day’s DO NOT BUY ban. Perhaps).
  • Try not to panic. This is not the only time in life you’ll see fabric.
  • Try to refrain from hiding bolts in secret places in the shops for your next visit, Petra!

Swatch at Mood (click first photo for slideshow and captions):


NY Elegant Fabrics. Treat!: Click here to go inside the shop on Streetview!


Fabric shopping bag in action at B&J Fabrics, but nowhere near full yet! Chuffed with its performance!

Fabric shopping bag in action at B&J Fabrics, but nowhere near full yet! Chuffed with its performance!


Click here for many more photos!


Biggest lesson learned from this: Spend more money on fabric (she says while eating porridge for dinner for a month). Look for better quality and fall in love. It’s time to step up my game.

50 yards bought. Now some serious planning can begin – Head, be blown again!

Here’s a list of blog posts which can do much more justice to this area than I can (hope no-one minds):

All posts, from beginning to end! Amazing! Also the google map:

Some of Peter’s marvellous posts, but he has written many, many!:
Gertie’s guides:
Karen’s posts:
Lladybird Lauren:

Fabric shopping bag

Unexpectedly, insanely amazing good luck happened to me, and at very short notice I’m finding myself in New York City!

I flew in from London yesterday, and will be here for ten glorious days, most of which I’ll spend in the Garment District, of course. I have never, ever been more excited! I’ve read every single blog post ever written about the area, and I’m planning to compile these in a post once I’m back home. But the Mother of all is of course Mimi’s Shop The Garment District, complete with a map – hallelujah!

When I was preparing for this trip, I thought about how I hate carrying shopping bags, I want my hands free. I also knew that I wasn’t going to hold back, and that I’d most likely will be buying tons of fabric. As googling “donkey-hire Manhattan” didn’t yield any suitable results, I looked around for suitable shopping bag options. No luck, I didn’t find any that even remotely would do what I wanted. So I decided to make one, of course. As I had very little time to make it, the bag’s finishes, the photos and this post are very slapdash, but I still wanted to put it out there (writing this in a jet-lag-wrestling moment). I’ve probably missed a few steps, but here’s a rough how-to-on-the-fly.

Finished rucksack looks smallish and normal, and matches my coat

Finished rucksack looks smallish and normal, and matches my coat

Objectives: I wanted the bag to be as small as possible so I could fold and fit it into my normal handbag. It needed to be a rucksack with tons of room, but no pockets or anything. It would be nice if it was smallish to start with, but expandable somehow. And I wanted the bag to blend in with my coat, making it as invisible as possible, as rucksacks are so dang ugly and touristy.

The bag is essentially a pretty basic tote or a square tube. The top part folds down when the bag is not full, and held down by duffel coat buttons on ribbons pushed through loops at the front.

When bag is getting super-full, but you still have more shopping to do, open three vertical zips at the front to expand the bag more. YEAH!

Width when empty: 38cm, Height: 63cm, Depth: 15cm (seam allowances not included here, these are the finished bag measurements). Seam allowance throughout is 1.5cm.

I had long zips in my stash (approx 47cm), which determined the height of the “front yoke”.

In the drawing, green is main fabric, blue is the inserts/panels hidden behind closed zips. The sides wrap round to the front, up to the first zip, then there are two main fabric panels beside the middle zip.

Here are the measurements of the fabric panels needed to make the front with zips (seam allowance included).

Main fabric: Top yoke Height: 16cm, Width: 56cm (seam allowance included).

Also main fabric: Four panels, two are wider, as they’re going round the corner also becoming the sides. So cut two 53x20cm, two 53×12.5cm.

Pleat fabric is the fabric that you’ll see when you open the zips – your chance to choose something eye-catching! : Cut three 53x11cm.

The back is also split in bottom piece and top yoke.Top yoke Height: 23cm, width 56cm.

Bottom piece: Height 46cm, width 56cm (see where I’m confused why the bottom piece ended up over 2cm too long? That happens when you think 43+1.5+1.5=48!)

Let’s look at the expandable zip bit. Invisible zip closed…:

…and zip opened, adding lots of room to the bag:

Insert the zip as you normally would onto the main fabric (you’ll repeat these steps for all zips) MAKING SURE THAT YOU HAVE THE ZIP PULL AT THE BOTTOM WHEN CLOSED, so opposite to what you’ll be used to. This way you can open the zips only a bit when the bag is not quite full, and expand bag only at the bottom:

Once both zip sides are attached, sew on your first panel square edge as seen here (sandwich order: main fabric, zip, pleat fabric), using your zipper foot, going along the zip coil, like you did before (you can sew this seam further to the fabric edge, actually):

Then sew the 2nd edge of the panel onto the zip, as before, looks like this:

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve inserted all three zips and pleats (one of zip insertions below is another method that didn’t look good, but no time to unpick…). Pay attention to the order of the panels, the wider main fabric panels go to the far left and far right, the thinner panels in the centre. Seams above and below zips are stitched closed.

On the inside (two of the three pleats). Press them down nicely, but don’t melt any plastic zips you might be using…

To make the bag a little neater and structured, I stitched a kind of faux piping corners. On all four main fabric pieces (front and back yokes, and front and back main pieces, fold and press the sides 9cm in. Edge-stitch this (using a blind-hem foot will keep it even). I moved the needle position to the left to make it easier.

I took ribbon, doubled them an stitched them together to make them stronger. Make these two ribbons 54cm long. I stitched them onto the front, (BEFORE attaching the top yoke), 6.5cm either side from the centre zip. I left gaps for the duffel buttons to be fastened through. For my buttons, 3cm gaps were fine. Don’t make them too wide, or the buttons pop open easily. In my case, my first loops were 11cm from the bottom edge, then every 6-7cm all the way to the top edge. Reinforce these seams as they’ll take some tugging and pulling.

Then I attached the “front yoke”. Again, I reinforced the seam with two lines of stitching, zigzag, then I top-stitched the seam allowance to the top yoke.

Close-up of how the straps and buttons work. Use higher loops as bag fills up:

The button fasteners is ribbon (80cm) folded in half, button threaded on, and then stitched up to about an inch from the button.

Take your back yoke piece, mark the centre top and bottom with a pin, then pin the button ribbons 6.5cm either side of the centre line. Stitch the ribbons down, from one edge to no more than 5cm from what will be the bag’s top edge (you’ll need space to insert top zip safely)

Now on to the straps. You need two fabric pieces Length 80cm, Width 11cm. Fold each piece length-wise and sew a long tube, seam allowance 1.5cm. Don’t close the end! Centre the seam to the middle of the tube and press open. I insert my long steel ruler to help centre the seam and pressing the seam! The ruler gets hot, so be careful when pulling out. Press again without ruler. Sew shut one end of the tube, grade the seam, then turn right side out (I use thicker knitting needle, head first).

I edge-stitch the straps’ both sides as before, and stitch straight down the middle to ensure they don’t twist and stretch.

Place pin in the centre (top and bottom) of the bottom piece. Attach straps in a slight angle 5.5cm each from top pin (try to ensure they have the same angle). Baste in place. Pin ends of straps to bottom edge, 9cm each from the centre pin. My straps are 73.5cm long measuring once they’re sewn on. Baste in place.

Sew back yoke and back bottom bit together. Make this weight-bearing seam strong by sewing it a few times, zigzag the seam allowance together, and top-stitch the seam allowance towards top.

Insert top zip (same technique as before) – only between the actual width of the bag as seen in photo. The zip needs to be approx 38-40cm. Centre the zip between the piping-type corners you stitched before.

Once the zip is attached on both sides, close the zip. Line up the sides and sew together (ONLY sides, not bottom). Reinforce the seams, zigzag all edges (sides and along the zip).

Fold down top edge, so the zip teeth just stand proud of the edge. Pin and stitch it down:

It gets fiddly and weird in the corner at the end of the zip (the end that doesn’t open). I hand-stitched the corner edge down.

This is how it looks now. You can fold the sides in neatly and zip it up. The button ribbons can be slung over the top edge.

I was running late and forgot to take photos of the last bit – attaching the bottom square. The bottom measures Width 41cm, height 18cm. It is a little fiddly in the corners, but if you make a snip in the bag’s fabric (keep within the seam allowance) it’s easier to make it come together. Enforce this seam lots – re-stitch the seam again, zig-zag edges twice, too.

And it’s done! Can’t wait for Monday morning! Here it is in faked action, with coat:

Finished bag – empty…

About three metres of jersey…

A LOT of jersey (8 metres, perhaps) a 3mx150cm heavy cotton, some shirts, 2.5m of polycotton…

Oops! Shop til you drop, Dollface!

Mad Men Challenge 2: Part 3: Working it

Well, hello.

A working girl’s day never seems to end, not for Megan, not for me.

Where did I put it? Oh here. No of COURSE I'm efficient, Sir.

My colleague and inspiration, Megan.

We work in the same office and wear the same uniform (several colour ranges to choose from, though – very liberal). Thing is, they deduct the cost from our salary, so I made my own instead. STICK IT TO THE MAN.

I covered the draping of this make here and the construction here as my tale is too long for one post – why not pop over?

This is me hard at work in the office (click first image for carousel and captions):


This is me hard at work sewing my uniform (again, click first image for carousel and captions):


Thank goodness I’m behind a desk, so the boss can’t see I haven’t finished the skirt (=started on it yet)! My plan is to sew a Hollyburn skirt (my red one here) in the same mustard fabric and wear as faux dress, or separately, as it might get a LITTLE too mustardy… especially as it doesn’t even come with a lovely hot dog.

Here’s a GREAT trick: I cut the sleeves on the bias for extra movement so I can reach lever arch files on the top shelf and just for general movement. Turned out SUPER! But dang – I forgot to remove some ease and lose some pouffy-ness. Next time.

After all that work AND I got also all the filing done, it’s drink o’clock, don’t you agree?

Wine while waiting for the cocktail getting mixed

Wine while waiting for the cocktail getting mixed

Mingling the night away

Mingling the night away

(OMG did I see Megan disappear somewhere with… DON?!)

Thank you SO SO much, Julia Bobbin, for hosting this cracking challenge. When Harry is old enough to go to school, why don’t you come and work with Megan and me?

Mad Men Challenge 2 – part 2: Construction

Moving on from the oh-so-much-FUN draping and drafting the pattern (read the full story here), next up is the construction. Oh, first up: choosing fabric…

After making the toile, ironing out any mis-matches, I went onto cutting the fabric. Fabric… I so wanted nice fabric, as I’ve been trying to up my game recently. I had either stretch woven fabric or double-knit in mind, but couldn’t for the life of me find any, especially in lots of plain colours. So I went to Simply Fabrics in Brixton and later to my local West-African shop on Rye Lane, Peckham, which are both brimful with a rainbow of poly-blends (£1.50/metre). It’s cheap by price tag, cheap by touch, but what can a hue-hungry girl do?

In Brixton I found a mustard tone, and decided that would be my main colour no matter what. Then paralysis set in. I must have stared motion-less for half an hour at all the rolls. WHY is it so hard to just pick three colours? I did settle for a stone grey and a greyish pink in the end, only because by then the shop keeper had asked 187 times if I needed any help and I was worried he’d call the Social Services (it only just dawned on me that I could have replied yes to his question).

At home, the motion-less stare continued, not helped by the trip to the Rye Lane shop with another bag full of more colours, as the grey and pink (for the neckline) made my face look like a dirty blotch-fest.

Must have gone through a hundred colour combinations -  these didn't cut the mustard

Must have gone through a hundred colour combinations – some of the ones that didn’t cut the mustard.

Nothing like a deadline though to get you moving. In the end I went for an off-white, the stone grey AND A DARK GREY I HAD IN MY STASH ALL ALONG. Now we can start.

Click the first image to start the carousel and see the full captions:

In words:

Let’s face it, the polyblend is just not nice to work with. At all. At aallll. It can’t take the iron heat well at all, and no steam allowed or it all goes ripply-gooey. I LOVE the pressing required when sewing, so that’s a real downer. It’s so hard to get anything crisp, boo. Little ripples is seen here and there near the seams, which steam would normally have taken care of.

Super-proud of my pinning bits of fabric to each pattern piece to avoid stupid mistakes when cutting the fabric. Fifteen pattern pieces in all, see. I stay-stitched (from edge to centre, turn, repeat) top and bottom of every single fabric piece (21 of them – woah). The toile I made was so out of whack in the end it was like liquid, especially the neckline pieces, so I better had. It so helped!

As it turns out, the neckline was still flapping about like a good’un, even with the stay-stitch. So annoyed, as I could have avoided that by increasing the curve (I think). Putting the facing piece made it a LITTLE bit better, but my chest seems hollow above the bust and more care is needed for the future in this area.

In all the excitement, I never really stopped and thought of seam finishing. I just constructed along having a whale of a time, and just pinked away for speed. I don’t have an overlocker, but could have used a zig-zag, then trimmed the surplus seam allowance. I do think that could have stretched the edge though, which would not keep it crisp. So I just pinked the bejesus out of everything – it just feels sooo nice. I pressed all seams away from the white fabric to avoid them shine through.

Another thing I skipped all together was lining. I normally line with a nice-to-the-skin cotton, but I felt too lazy (I just re-typed that five times before deciding to tell you the real reason why I didn’t).

It all came together like a dream. I had a few places where the panels didn’t quite line up easily and perfectly, but we’re talking a millimetre or two. Even the invisible zip went in OK, lining up the different panels reasonably well. I ad-hoced a zip seam binding. Simple enough with bias tape, but it was a little tricky to keep it all straight. I am happy with the end result, as the binding gives the seam nice strength and support, I just need to stitch it on better, s’all.

I was hoping to line up the sleeve strips with the waist strips, and yep they do.

I had added 3cm hem allowance, but 2.7 of them must have gone fishing because it felt very short. So a simple narrow hem had to do the job. Love making them!

Woah, how long is this post?! Coming up: The Finale.

Mad Men Challenge 2 – part 1: Draping

So Julia Bobbin’s Mad Men Challenge 2 is the first project for me and my dress form Dollface. So exciting!

I’ve been draping on the stand instead of using and fitting a commercial pattern, and boy has it been liberating! The pattern stage has been like going to work as a ballerina instead of going to work ploughing an acrid plot of land the size of China with only an elderly donkey to help.

My inspiration choice had to be a design which made me need to chop up and manipulate the pattern. So far my makes have been mainly fitting a pattern, then straight onto construction.

So how about this little Megan number?:

Where did I put it? Oh here. No of COURSE I'm efficient, Sir.

I analysed the sections of Megan’s dress design, to work out the best way to knock-off this construction. Not too taxing.

With great gusto I gathered the Swedish tracing pattern, pins, scissors, knitting wool, ribbon, markers and Gertie’s drafting posts (Since then I’ve bought some PROPER designer tape!) and I went over to Dollface.

I tell you, I’ve had the best time ever. It was easy, fun and creative a la Kindergarten every moment of the way.

Click the first image to start the carousel and see the full captions:

In words:

I pinned bits of paper to the different sections one by one, drawing in the lines from the design lines. It’s so simple and intuitive. This paper is a good substitute for fabric: it behaves like calico, but you can see the design lines through – a real bonus.

I played around with the front bust darts, tried various positions until I settled for what I think might compliment the design the most. I NOW know that it was all too much to gather in just one dart, the angle at the bust point comes in too steep and the dreaded bullet boob was the result. I should have made a vertical dart towards the waist, that would have disappeared into the midriff section, just like the back top dart did.

Not shown in the photo carousel: I traced each pattern piece, truing up lines and curves with my French Curve and added seam allowances (1cm for the smaller pieces, 1.5cm sides and shoulders). I added 0.5cm ease in centre front (BUT FORGOT in the centre back), as unlike Dollface I sometimes need to reach things.

Oh yes, sleeves… tricky lil things, aren’t they? I followed two different tutorials showing how to draft one based on an existing bodice. This one is easy to do but gives a more basic fit. I wanted to compare, so I also followed this beauty (here, here, and here). I ran out of time but REALLY wanted to see where I ended up with following the most exciting tutorial I found (Softly spoken Sten Martin’s video), but maybe just as well I ran out of time, because the first two… please!



Both turned out with quite frankly ludicrous shapes! I treated myself to cut the second one (the one shaped like a frog jaw from underneath) in fabric and fitted on my muslin just so I could have a really good laugh/cry. It didn’t disappoint in THAT respect. I EVEN did a full bicep (a.k.a. fat arm) slash and spread alteration – why know when to stop?

Dodgy sleeves - bodice is the problem

I was convinced I had followed the tutorials right, which meant the problem was the bodice. Tricky! How am I supposed to know if the BODICE’s scye is OK – one inch more or less isn’t a big deal on the actual bodice?!

In the end I jumped off the learning curve and took a short-cut and just used my tried and true basic pattern (a 100% bastardised New Look 6808, but the armscye and sleeve has miraculously survived all attacks) to re-shape my new bodice. But who can resent 12 hours of trying instead of 10 minutes of easy solution?

Comparing with tnt pattern

I then called it a day for the pattern making stage of this project, and moved on to the construction fun.

Draping Desire Requires a Dress Form

It took my mum took 9 months to make me, and it took 3 years for me to make me.
Amazing. Mums are just so GOOD at things!

I absolutely hate how fitting commercial patterns kills my sanity and my love of sewing. To tinker with the fit every single time you open a new envelope, before you even get to the fun of creating a garment – no siree. I want to jump right to the construction variations and finishing techniques. The fitting issues were problems I wanted to solve only once. All tricks to get it right I find boring to follow. I KNEW a personalised dressform would cut to the fun and fancy bits straightaway (draping and simplifying pattern making).

I made a duct form (tape glue melted by central heating within weeks, became distorted and out of shape. It ended up in the dumpster. I presume someone saw it and called the police thinking they’d found a chopped up murder victim).

I tried a dials-galore dress form. No dials in the world, however, can reflect my crazy swayback, my not-so-pert bust with wonky-eyed bust points, my “protruding abdomen” – I’ll stop there. I also hated the plasticky flimsy-ness of it.

Finally I got a glorious display mannequin (£36 on ebay!!! Bargain! Different sizes, too!) with a polystyrene (PINNABLE!) body.

My mannequin base.(Click pic to see all my dressfom research Pinterest board and link to this seller)

My mannequin base.
(Click pic to see all my dressfom research Pinterest board and link to this seller)

I spent an obscene amount of time making a sloper with my exact shape. This is a long
story in itself. Just thinking about it, makes me breathe faster and shallower so let’s leave
the full story for now. But I ended up with a princess seam sloper in light lilac poly-cotton.
I didn’t treat the fabric with any starch or anything like that, and it has a centre front zip,
which made fitting, then stuffing, it as simple as it gets. I just pinned the bottom edge to the
polystyrene, so I didn’t even have to fiddle with a “lid”.

I put this sloper on the mannequin, padded out the difference, and all is forgiven. LET THE

Half decent!

Half decent!

I wanted to prettify it, and bought a off-white stretch mannequin cover (ebay again). This is
what is seen in this picture. I noticed that the stretch was so incredibly strong and
squeezed the padding too much, which meant the measurements shrank (if you click the image and zoom in, you can see wrinkles underneath the stretch cover). It became nearly one size too small, darnit! So off the cover came at once. Maybe one day I’ll make my own, gentle jersey cover. It’ll turn up in a lot of photos from now on, pretty or not, because it works! It’s an absolute representation of me.

For now it is wearing my Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt (blogged here).

My research:
My Pinterest board for all sorts of solutions. There are a few great tips on how to make a
sloper quicker than tinker with fit from existing pattern – for instance the Saran Wrap
method (I never tried this).
I found particulary Ikatbag’s tutorial incredibly useful and inspiring. You see her muslin in
crazy fabric? That’s the equivalent of my lilac one, essentially. And instead of her home-made “skeleton”, I used the polystyrene mannequin and save about one hundred hours,
and I reckon it wasn’t even that much more expensive.
Since I finished mine, I spotted La Sewista’s tutorial. This is the only time I’ve seen
someone else finishing with a zip. I think that’s so so obvious! Who can squeeze in all the
padding while slipstitching the last seam? Amazing.

I’ll answer any questions on this, as every sewist deserve one of these, but no sewist
deserves to spend three years making one.

Sewaholic Renfrew (1st round)

I’ve wanted a perfect t-shirt pattern for eons, to have as a quick sew fix and to keep my chest drawer full of grand colours to compliment my outfits.

So when Sewaholic released the Renfrew, I got it straight-away. Erm, it was released a few weeks ago, wasn’t it?

According to the envelope, I should be Bust 16, Waist 14, Hip 10. That’s one crazy, eighties’ bodybuilder triangle, so I cut Hip 14. I’m glad I did, the hip is the only thing that seems to be issue-less.

I used 4-way super-stretchy, thin knit from my stash, which is VERY silky smooth and comfy. This is against the pattern’s recommendations of stable knit, but hey, you use what you have. So this slinky-dinkyness will influence some of my fitting issues greatly, but here are my notes nevertheless.

Back like a waterfall in spring

Back is like a waterfall in spring

It’s way too big under the arms (although the armcye/sleeve is roomy and comfy, it’s more casual than I need my tops to be).

The shoulder is about 2cm too wide, making the sleeves hang over the shoulder edge.

Sleeves are sooooo long. OK, I just cut it straight from pattern without measuring at all, so silly me. I have to shorten them by nearly 6 inches! I feel abnormal. But good thing is I’m not a monkey.

Waist is OK, I don’t want to tweak that yet as stabler knit might change to fit and feel here.

The huge problem is the pooling of fabric in the small of my back. I always have to make swayback adjustments on all garment, but there’s never been this much pooling. I did start to pin the excess, but it just seems to be way to much fabric hanging from my upper back, width-wise, below my shoulder blades. But the upper back is fine, so I can’t simply say that it’s a size or two too big (or can I?).

Taking out the wedge will help some, but not fix the problem

Taking out the wedge will help some, but not fix the problem

I folded one of my favourite t-shirts (very fitted, and the fabric is similar) and LOOK at the difference!

Woah - about 6 sizes smaller?!

Woah – about 6 sizes smaller?!

So here’s my conundrum:

Draft the pattern straight off my favourite t-shirt (then grade up for when using more stable knits), but use Renfrew’s finishing techniques


Work on the pattern’s fit, solving all the problems and be proud?

Thing is, I want to learn, even when my head hurts. But for a t-shirt? But then again, I have been meaning to teach myself a swayback adjustment without having to add a CB seam (using this incredible tutorial by Sherry), which Dixie also soldiered through, so I should take this opportunity to revv up the learning curve. If I just want a garment, I buy one – if I want a garment that fits and compliments, I make one, so I should put my money where my mouth is. But I’m also trying to pick my battles. Lots of people seem to have had the same comment of having to maybe do a swayback adjustment, but I can only find Dixie that has. Maybe there’s a reason? I’m too fussy? Not good at analysing the fit and identifying the problem? Maybe life’s too sho

Who knew a t-shirt pattern can make you break into a existentialist crisis.

This was supposed to be a quick fix as I’m recovering from a tonsillectomy, and before I take on Julia Bobbin’s Mad Men Challenge 2. I’ll just have to forget today ever happened, and start afresh another time.

Girl At Sewing Machine (1921) – Edward Hopper

Girl At Sewing Machine, 1921


Edward Hopper was an American realist painter. He was born in 1882 in Nyack, New York. He was raised in a middle class, Baptist family, mainly by his mother, grandmother, sister and even maid. He died in 1967. Hopper depicted contemporary America, capturing the feel and mood of the time. The main feelings in all his paintings are solitude, introspection, secrecy and silence, mirroring Hopper’s own personality. He met his future wife Josephine Nivison Hopper in 1923, who from then on would be his only model.


His oil painting Girl at Sewing Machine from 1921 depicts a young girl sewing by a window in a sunlit room. It appears to be in New York as we can see typical yellow bricks through the window. It is one of the first of many of Hopper’s “window paintings”. Hopper’s decision to pose a young woman against her sewing is said to be his commentary on solitude.

The painting measures 48cm x 46cm and is in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

My fictionalisation

This is painted two years before Hopper met his wife. So who is this Girl at the Sewing Machine? I’m going to call this New Yorker ‘Betty’.

She seems young, perhaps 20 years old. She’s not married. She daydreams about Rudolph Valentino she saw in The Sheik the other day, and laughs at this new funnyman Charlie Chaplin. Out on the streets she can sometimes hear jazz, who has just reached New York from Chicago and New Orleans.

Her sewing machine is a treadle, a Willcox & Gibbs Automatic, which was a very successful chain-stitcher brand from United Kingdom.

Willcox & Gibbs Automatic

Willcox & Gibbs Automatic.
Read an incredibly detailed history here.

These were manufactured from 1857 (when the partnership began) to 1917. I’d like to think hers is from 1881, as it would then be as vintage for her as my Elna SU 62C from 1973 is for me.

One advert claims:
“Beyond all comparison, the HANDIEST Household Sewing Machine, Quiet, Elegant and Useful – it does the BEST WORK, and does it MORE EASILY than any other Machine – Hand or Treadle.
Testimonial: Miss Headdon desires to state that she has used Willcox & Gibbs machines for over 20 years, and she’s had the utmost satisfaction”.
(She’s also the one to send your orders to, so she would say that).

This machine is said to be tricky to use. Look how straight Betty’s back is: she is alert, concentrating hard on getting the seam straight and even. I can only hope she had the manual:

So what is Betty making?

The fabric is cotton, and has quite a bit of weight. God help Betty if it’s wool in this heat. Rayon is only a few years into the future. She will be hot in it, it’s a glorious summer, and she’s working in only her petticoat and is sleeveless. Luckily for Betty, breathless-making corsets are now a thing of the past.

Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The Queen are the fashion magazines for Betty. What she sees around her are loose waistlines (placed on women’s natural waists, but will in a few years have dropped considerably for what we now associate with the 1920’s), long hemlines, full skirts. Free, floaty, baggy styles. Although the zip had been invented, it was still all about buttons.

She has a copy of Pictorial Review, a magazine showcasing dress patterns:

She’s picked the apron dress (2nd page, top left). It’s going to be utilitarian, yet stylish enough for going about her daily business and perhaps Sundays spent in Central Park.

So long, Betty! Hope you can overcome your feeling of solitude and enjoy the decade that is the first one to emphasise youth over the older generations!

My paternal grandmother aged 18 in 1921.

My paternal grandmother aged 18 in 1921.


Hollyburn skirt

I had been on the lookout for the perfect skirt to have as a wardrobe builder and base for some dress pattern drafting, and then it came: Sewaholic’s Hollyburn skirt.

Just after Tasia released the pattern, Rachel at My Messings hosted a sew-along, which I took part in. The pattern is for beginners, so I took the chance to work on some more advanced techniques.

My main fabric (wool/cotton blend from Goldhawk Road) was the perfect red, but had more drape than I wanted. It was also slightly sheer, so I underlined the skirt with light green silk organza. I used this ingenious, mind-blowing method, where you underline and finish the seams in one go, making it look like you’ve used a hong kong finish. This was quite difficult, as it required absolute precision. The seam allowances needed to be exactly 6mm, which was more difficult because the silk organza is so slinky dinky. Over 6mm, and the main fabric didn’t have enough space to lie flat once turned round to its right side, under 6mm and the finished binding was protruding the main fabric edge. If nervous (as I was!), go under 6mm, rather than over, because if your main fabric can’t lie flat after the underlining has been sewn on, you can go fishing instead. I did a test before which turned out perfect, but it was a lot harder with bigger pieces. I had eight seams to do, and I only felt in control the last bit of the last seam.

This will be an excellent method for skirts underlined with thinner cotton fabric, that won’t dance around as much as slinky fabric. The instructions do say that this can eliminate the need for lining! It must be one of THE best sewing techniques I’ve come across, as it save a lot of time and the result is better than a lot of harder techniques (once I’ve got more practice in!)

Faux hong kong side seam finish, and bound hem

Hemming the main skirt:

I made the hem allowance 5cm. I like to sew a seam one or two millimetres below the hem foldline, as it really helps when pressing the hem (it works a little like an understitch), especially because it holds the two layers of fabric together. Let’s call this hemline stitch.

I got help from Gertie’s perfect tutorial on how to hem a full skirt, and from this incredibly useful guide on all hemming.

Fold and press the hemline, making sure the hemline stitch is on the inside of the skirt. Just use the tip and only press right at the bottom of the hem.

Run gather stitch in sections along the edge. Place flat on ironing board. With a pin, pull up the stitches here and there to make the hem fabric excess lie flat.

Slide brown paper (with slightly curved edge) between front and hem. Steam excess as well as possible. I found that the silk organza stopped any shrinking, so I trimmed it below the hemline stitch, and it worked much better:

Trimming the silk organza to make steam shrinking the fullness of the hem possible

I pulled stitches to lay hem flat, inserted brown paper before steam shrinking

I pulled stitches to lay hem flat, inserted brown paper before steam shrinking

When I didn’t seem to be able to reduce the bulk any more, I hand-basted on the apple green seam binding, took it to the machine and sewed it on. I then hand-stitched it to the organza only (yes, the stitches that look like I roped in a five-year-old. Practice makes perfect).

I lined this skirt in red polyester satin. The pattern doesn’t include lining instructions, but Rachel covered it in her sew-along. Seams are finished with French seams (apart from the one where the zip will be inserted. I just zigzagged the seam allowances together – I SO regret this – I should have bound them with bias tape to match the french seams).

I inserted the zip according to the instructions/sew-along, but have to say I prefer my usual method sewing the whole seam, using basting stitch on the bit where the zip will go, press seam open, place the zip in centre, baste, the stitch in place, then remove the basting stitches. Even after I’ve finished this skirt, I can’t figure out if I need to do anything different because the skirt is lined. Time will tell.

Let's call them faux pockets

Let’s call them faux pockets

Here’s the lining – oh dear. I cut it with the pocket indents as per the pattern! I had to stitch the bits back on, as I didn’t have anymore fabric. It’s now a design feature.

How to enjoy my Hollyburn:


Ah, the old bold colur / graphic black and white combo

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt

Layered for winter.