Wardrobe Weekend

Wardrobe in a LONG……Weekend

By Susan Neall

In the hurly-burly of today’s’ busy life style, for many of us, time has become our scarcest commodity and sewing often takes second place to the more demanding pressures of family, work and community. But if we made the big effort and planned to take back a little ‘ME’ time just how much could we get done?

I decided to see.

Allocating myself the luxury of a whole weekend, menacing the children (and husband) with vague threats of bodily harm, if they appeared at my side during daylight hours and taking to heart the good old saying ‘Sewing forever, house work whenever’ I closeted myself in the sewing room for two consecutive days.

I must admit that I didn’t go in blind. I was well prepared and my plan of attack had been systematically thought through. The result – MORE than pleasing!

Follow me through the 3-step plan

1 Before the ‘lock-down’

Select an occasion or theme worth sewing for

My inspiration was another tour to Vietnam in the warmest part of the year. 20 fellow sewers looking at my every stitch….the pressure, the pressure!!!

Select your patterns

Remember the KISS rule (Keep It Simple Stupid). It works with every situation and no more so than now. Don’t experiment with a new pattern range or a radical move from your favourite styles.

I would suggest that you look at ‘Wardrobe’ patterns. Every range has a great selection. They are patterns with multiple coordinated wardrobe pieces, already designed to go together and the designer/pattern maker has already done the hard work for you by marrying together garments in proportion to each other in both length and width. i.e. If the pattern has a blouse, a skirt and a jacket you can be assured that the blouse sleeve width and armhole depth fits comfortably under the width and depth of the jacket sleeve, and that the length of the jacket is in proportion to the length of the skirt.

As the designer in your life you may wish to play with these proportions to suit your own taste but you still have a great base to start from. I chose a pattern from one of my favourite Vogue designers – Adri. It has five classic coordinate pieces. Then to add just one more look to the mix I selected a casual caftan.

Remember when allocating the minimum amount of time, yet expecting the maximum amount of result; choose simple uncluttered shapes, with simple closures and few design details like pockets, collars or cuffs. 

Buy the correct size patterns. Buy your upper body patterns by comparing your high bust measurement to the bust measurements on the back of the pattern envelope. If you are between sizes, go down. Buy your lower body patterns by your hip measurement. If you are between sizes, go up. If your upper and lower sizes are different then rest assured; you can be happy in the knowledge that you are just like the other 80% of women.

Luckily most commercial patterns are now multi-sized and you will probably find a mix that suits both halves of you. If not, then buy for your bust size as skirt and pant patterns are easier to increase than shoulders and neck.

TIP: If you have a free night in front of the tele, trim your pattern pieces ready for tissue fitting and pin each garments pieces together.

Select your fabrics

Now is not the time to pull that slippery, slidey little piece out of the stash. Considering both the weekend and the trip ahead I chose easy sew / easy care fabrics, in classic neutrals, that could be dressed up or down with accessories and colour. The Adri pattern had already designed three of the coordinates to be cut on the bias and for most of us that is challenge enough.

Decide on your main colours and make all your base pieces from one or two staples. The more pieces cut from the one length of fabric the more economical the ‘cut of cloth’ and time saved at the sewing stage.

Select your haberdashery

Topstitching is an integral design feature of Adri patterns so select both perfectly matched and strongly contrasting sewing threads, depending on your look.

Adri patterns also feature loop and button closures and in these simple, understated designs they become a dominant closure statement. I chose small buttons made from coconut shells to compliment the natural tones of the fabrics.

Prepare the sewing room

Clear off all the flat surfaces (that was an evening in itself!!) and clean your equipment. Thread the sewing machine and overlocker and fill the iron with water. Set up your cutting space and put all your supplies out. YOU’RE READY TO RHUMBA!

2 ‘Lock down’ – Day 1

Pattern alteration

Although you are ‘chaffing at the bit’ to start sewing remember that time and money will be wasted if your garments don’t fit in the end. I spent the morning trying on each pattern tissue, noting necessary alterations and then doing a mass ‘cut and paste’. The un-structured jacket, the shell top and the caftan needed a basic bust increase to go from the regulation B-cup pattern to my DD-cup body. This results in each pattern getting bust darts where none previously existed. This is a design change but just remember that you can NEVER fit a flat piece of fabric over a round shape (and my bust is very round) without the inbuilt shaping of darts or panels.

The longer line jacket has a shoulder princess line and you will find step by step instructions on altering princess line designs in 'The Palmer/Pletsch Complete Guide to Fitting' by Pati Palmer & Marta Alto www.palmerpletsch.com  

Cutting and marking

Cut EVERYTHING out in the one session. Clip mark all external notches and pin mark all internal markings, like point of dart.

Before moving from the cutting table pin all darts.


Become a production seamstress.

Bond all interfacings and staystitch all necklines.

Sew all the garments, in the one colour, at the same time.

Pin as many pieces together as possible and sew from one seam to another, in a long line, without stopping and starting, to cut threads. When you can’t sew another stitch without crossing an unpressed seam take everything to the pressing station.

Meld all seams and darts and press open where necessary.


‘Lock down’ – Day 2

Kiss the children (and the husband) goodbye at breakfast but keep that stern ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ look in your eye as you leave them to clean up the dishes. When you enter the sewing room on Day 2 you will be pleasantly surprised how far you went yesterday.

By the end of Day 1 I had sewn all the darts and major seams of my skirt, shell top, pants and jacket and inserted the two zips. This morning I needed to neaten my seams and finish these projects before changing all my threads to brown for the last two pieces.

Seam and hem finishing

When working on this wardrobe the technique I enjoyed most was sewing the tell tale Adri double felled seam finishes. I’m really hooked on topstitching!  

I love the double felled seams and have just picked up the knack by lots of practise. After pressing the seams open I don't press or pin the turnings under before sewing, which is a mistake a lot of people make. Simply sew the 1.5cm seam, press open and then turn half the seam allowance under by hand and anchor the start of the seam with the machine needle down and lower the foot. By turning the seam allowance in by half it hits the main machine sewn seam and regulates the width. I then put the edge of the foot on the stitched seam and move the needle over to just catch the turned edge. I leave the needle constantly in the 'needle down' mode so that each time I stop, the needle anchors the work while I lift the foot and hand turn the next section under. SIMPLE, neat and always impressive.

The facings at the neck and armholes are double bias strips. The strips curve well around any curve. Once again, the foot edge following the neck or armhole edge and the needle moved to the correct width assures an even row of stitching on the right side of the garment, even if it is not perfect on the inside bind.

Completely finish the pieces in your initial base colour, including sewing on buttons. You will feel such a sense of accomplishment if you can look at them hanging on hangers as you sew the last couple of pieces.

Dust out the machine, change thread colour and clear the work area.


After lunch I launched into the last two pieces, which were both sewn with brown thread. Both the jacket and the caftan were very simple pieces, with a loose fit. I eliminated the loops and buttons on the jacket and decided to wear it as a simple edge to edge jacket and the caftan is a simple pop over the head style.

Both styles required no hand sewing and were finished, pressed and on their hangers by dinner.

SIX easy pieces, cut and sewn, in TWO days!

3 Accessorising

Step 3 is an ‘after the event’ process. Accessorisation is the final crucial component of a great new wardrobe and needs fresh eyes and the bright light of a new day to do well. You may want to go shopping with your new garments or you may be surprised at the treasures in your existing wardrobe.

Lay out your new pieces and ‘Scarecrow’ them together, on the bed or on your dressmakers’ mannequin. This simply means putting the separate pieces together to see how many combinations you can make and how you can change the basic looks with different scarves, jewellery or shoes.

This is the really fun part – ENJOY thinking outside the square. Add new accent colours and see what a huge difference you can make by adding classic, subtle jewellery or bold ethnic pieces, flat shoes or higher heels, scarves, a shawl or a hat.

I decided during this scarecrowing process that I could extend my basic six pieces greatly by adding another two; a black pant and a light fawn knit singlet top. I made the black pant from the same Vogue pattern (another day/another time) and bought the singlet top for under $12.

Then an acid green scarf, a myriad of fun jewellery, a great straw hat and a casual straw bag finished it all off and gave me great day and night, casual and dressy options for my great trip.

It really was that easy and I hope that you’re inspired to take up the challenge.

What can you do in a LONG…….weekend?