Review: First Top – Simplicity 8523

Simplicity 8523

Pattern Description:

A collection of pullover woven t-shirts, sleeveless or with sleeves, with neckline variations: jewel, scoop, square, and v-neck. The jewel-neck tops come with a separate back-piece (center seam + a short zipper at the top).

Pattern Sizing:

8-10-12. I made View F. The tissue points out that the top has 11″ of ease at the waistline. Because of that huge amount of ease, I cut my first muslin at a size 8 from top to bottom. That didn’t work, because the pattern does not have 11″ of ease at the hip. It is almost straight up and down. For my second muslin, I graded out from size 8 at the waistline to size 12 at the hem, but the top was still too narrow at the hip for my figure.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?

Yes and no. The shirt is the same, but the drawings on the envelope use model poses (hands on hips or leaning to one side) and careful shading to make the top look less boxy. The line-drawings on the back give a more accurate rendition of the shape of the garment. The front of my finished garment is pictured above. Here are the side and back views.

Were the instructions easy to follow?

I had no problems with the instructions. They were very clear, and this is the first top I’ve sewn (first neckline, first armholes, first facings for either of those).

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?

I like the idea of the pattern–it’s a versatile, basic top. However, it is far too boxy to be flattering or to feel right on me. I feel like I’m wearing scrubs when I put it on!

Fabric Used:

A burgundy-and-purple, large-starburst-patterned cotton from Jo-Ann. The cotton is very soft (not stiff like quilting cotton) and therefore has a nicer drape than the cotton I used for my muslins. I think the soft drape was important. The final shirt skimmed my body better than the muslins.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:

I worked hard to get a good fit on this, making 2.5 muslins and consulting at length with others on PR (thank you so much!). I never got a result I was happy with. You can read about my attempts to make this top in detail here: (The Saga of) Simplicity 8523.

Alterations included:

  • redrafting the pattern because I’d cut the smallest size for the muslin!
  • grading from a size 8 to size 12 between the waistline and hem
  • lowering the waistline by 1 1/4″
  • raising the hemline by 2″ (if I were to sew this again, I would only remove 1″ below the waistline)
  • a swayback adjustment using this tutorial, which I do not recommend. In the end, it distorted the shoulder and neckline, meaning I had to . . .
  • draft a new back neck facing

Although the adjustments improved the fit, it didn’t get me to “flattering.” I suspect that the wrinkles I struggled to eliminate came from the top being too tight at the hip, even after I graded out to the largest size in the envelope.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

I learned a lot from trying to make Simplicity 8523 fit my body, but I would not sew it again. It isn’t flattering enough to make it a TNT or wardrobe basic. The top is very loose and boxy (again, 11″ of ease at the waist!), yet it isn’t accommodating to people who have large hips in proportion to their bust. I have a small bust (32A) plus a 10″ difference between my waist and my hips. Even adding all the extra width at the hipline that the pattern allowed wasn’t enough.

If I ever were to sew this again, I would use the alternate back with the center seam and zipper so that I could pinch out some of the extra fabric in the back.

I would recommend this pattern as a simple-to-sew, basic top for those who like a loose fit or whose measurements at the bust are not very different than then their measurements at the hip. However, I want to note that the necklines on Simplicity 8523 are quite high–higher than is in style right now (2013).


Simplicity 8523 was a good learning tool, but not a good fit for me. I do think other reviewers are right that this is a good top to “showcase” an interesting print.

In the future, I will be looking for a woven-t-shirt pattern that is better suited to my body. New Look 6356 appears to be an updated version of Simplicity 8523, but with a taper into the waist and out to the hips built in. It also has the center-back seam and zipper and lower, more current necklines. I think that for many body types, the New Look version of these basic woven tops will work better.

Time Machine Tuesday: Denim Pencil Skirt (Simplicity 9825)

My second sewing effort after my decade-and-a-half break was a pencil skirt, seen here:

Simplicity 9825 – A Pencil Skirt in Denim with Topstitching

It took only one muslin to get the fit, and I was satisfied with the outcome. Although I wouldn’t yet label this pattern “TNT,” I think that, with patience and a bit of tweaking, it could be.

Certainly, the line of the skirt is good, and, although I had to do some tweaking to make it fit better, it was minor. I can see myself coming back to this pattern multiple times, and I think it would look good in various kinds of fabric.

Proud of . . .

  • The burnt-orange embroidery thread that I used for the topstitching.
  • The top-stitching itself, which I kept an even length by lining the edge of the presser foot with the seam alongside which I was stitching. It worked!
  • The fabric choice: Although the photos don’t show off the color, this fabric is a lovely, dark indigo with a hint of lycra. When I brought a sample in to The Sewing Outlet to practice getting the proper setting on my new serger (ie, a lesson), the clerk admired the swatch.
  • The finishing: I serged everything on this skirt, so it looks just as nice on the inside as the outside.
  • The fact that I figured out how to fix the poor fit in the stomach area by pulling the extra fabric into the waistband (shortening the front).

Want to work on . . .

  • Actually writing down the alteration I made so I don’t have to figure it out the hard way again. Ooops.

Here’s my review of Simplicity 9825, as posted on Pattern Review.

This is my second sewing effort, made after Simplicity 5914.

Pattern Description: 
Misses’s Slim and A-Line Skirts Each in Three Lengths (six total views). The skirt is made of four panels with a back zipper, and the skirts include a broad waistband. I made “View C,” a knee length pencil skirt with stitching details down the front and around the waistband.

Detail: Topstitching

Pattern Sizing:
I sewed a size 14, and the basic fit was good. However, I did have to raise the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate bagginess in the tummy area. Also, the diagonal stretch lines so cruelly visible in this photograph suggest that either I have put on a little weight since I made this or I needed to make the hip area slightly wider.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
Yes. The pattern is what it says it is! 

Were the instructions easy to follow?
The instructions were easy to follow, definitely. I am glad I made a muslin, since that’s how I discovered the need to pull the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate stomach bagginess.

I can’t remember if I followed the directions for inserting the zipper for this pattern; I think I again referred to the Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Nevertheless, Simplicity 9825 seemed much more amenable to having a zipper put in, and the waistband helped the process.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
The wide waistband hits right at my natural waist, rather than sitting on my hips. This cut definitely creates the illusion that my waist is smaller than it is. The skirt has a nice silhouette.

As for dislikes . . . well, it isn’t the pattern’s fault, but getting the perfect fit around the hips, especially since this garment doesn’t have much ease, wasn’t easy for a new sewer.

Fabric Used:
I used a lovely, high quality dark indigo denim (the color doesn’t show up well in the photos, perhaps because my living room is painted blue!). It has a bit of stretch to it. I accented the denim with top-stitching in burnt-orange embroidery thread (picture above). The top-stitching gives a nice, subtle, professionally-made look to the skirt.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
As mentioned above, I had to raise the front of the skirt into the waistband to eliminate front bagginess. I chose to hem the skirt to knee-length instead of mid-thigh as pictured on the package.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I would and I will. I already have some fantastic tweedy wool in my stash which is intended to be a work/professional version of this skirt. It only awaits me getting a bit more confident that I won’t ruin my expensive fabric with novice-errors!

I am triangle shaped (though I do have a waist about 10″ smaller than my hips). Though I think this skirt is flattering, I suspect it would not suit someone who is even more bottom heavy than I am, or who is more rectangle-shaped. As it is, I think this skirt looks best on me when I wear a top that gives my shoulders the illusion of being a bit wider.

Simplicity 9825 (View C) is what it promises to be. It matches the envelope and it’s easy to make. It’s also versatile–you could make anything from a jeans skirt to a suit skirt with it. The wide waistband is flattering and accentuates one’s waist.

For a beginner like me, S9825 offers some minor challenges (applying the waistband and facing, having had to fix the tummy). It’s also–unless I made it wrong–quite fitted, so it’s good that my denim had a bit of lycra in it. The fact that my wool tweed is NOT stretchy and I will have to be more precise in fitting it over my curves is part of why I haven’t lept to make this skirt again. However, I know that I will. This is an excellent basic pattern to own.

Book Review: Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige

Two summers ago, as a geared up for a presentation at a major conference and for the beginning of a college-level teaching position, I decided I needed to revamp my look. I had to go from slouchy-backstage-person-slash-academic-slash-bookworm to Credible Scholar (and not the absent-minded kind, that only works when you are older and/or a man).

Thing is, grad students don’t have much money–and I had only three months to upgrade my look (including having enough sharp outfits for a five-day conference, without repeats). This might not seem like much, but I didn’t even have stylish shoes. Because of my scoliosis, I wore clunky Danskos or Birkenstocks–and the former made me twist my ankles so often that I was beginning to despair of being able to wear them.*

That’s when I decided to buy Style on a Shoestring by Andy Paige, an ex fit-model who runs a website called

Paige’s book is my favorite style handbook out of the three that I’ve read. Although I find her diction overly colloquial (full of “Can we have an Amen?” and “Woo-hoo!” asides) to be grating when I re-read it (and I could go a life-time without hearing my bottom referred to as a “bow-chicka-wow-wow,” or whatever it was, again), her content is excellent.

Paige focuses on two points: what you need to look for when examining ready-to-wear clothes to ensure a flattering fit, and how to work the retail and thrift-shop systems get the most bang for your buck. She starts simply, with five basic rules to elevate your look right away (ranging from the simple “always wear lipstick” to the very-unhelpful-to-me “you must wear cute shoes”). She explains how fit in the fashion industry works. She even spends a whole chapter on foundation garments, including bras and shapewear, and how spending a bit extra to make certain the former fits properly (and most of us wear bras that do not fit right) will make all of your clothes look and lay better (it’s true, I can attest).

Other topics covered by the book are how to find a pair of pants that fits properly and hit the waist at the most flattering position, how to operate in discount stores and outlets, insider information about why garments end up on sales racks or in T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (often fit issues, it seems, which means that you shouldn’t trust the size label, but always bring a measuring tape and try various sizes on).

She also stresses the importance of shaping and encourages the reader to elevate her wardrobe by having her clothes tailored or hemmed to the proper length, because (so Paige claims) the small expense of fitting a garment just right can elevate it’s perceived cost by a great deal.

The author also covers color–like which colors look richer and more expensive–and gives tips on how to get a unified wardrobe going quickly (pick your poison: turquoise or coral as your core color, then add contrasting accessories, and build from there).

The downside to this book is (for me) a heavy focus on sale-stalking–something I have no patience for–and that irritating girl-talk diction. Also, since this book is intended for a general audience, she focuses on what styles are most likely to be flattering to the majority of body types, and though she addresses some figure variations, her bugaboo really is showing the reader how to get a flattering, body-skimming fit that falls from one’s curves at just the right places.

Fortunately, her advice is applicable to many body types and most budgets.**

In summary, I found Style on a Shoestring immensely helpful. During the time when I was following her suggestions and challenges, I definitely elevated my personal style, got more compliments, and felt more attractive. I am still grateful to her for helping me find out that Lucky Brand jeans fit me better than the tried-and-true brands I had been wearing for years before (which sat too low on my hips).

Just last week, I re-read Paige’s book from kindle-cover-to-cover, and though I wish I could strikethrough every single “Yippie!” I once again feel inspired to do a closet-cleanse, to narrow down my stock to what really looks good, and to systematically build my wardrobe stocked with versatile, dark, neutral basics and eye-catching tops and accent pieces.

* Finally, a year and a half later, my ankle twisted as I walked down a NYC block and I fell–twisting my back because of the heavy bag of research books I was carrying–and hit my head on a metal trash can. The Danskos immediately went into a bag to Goodwill, despite how I loved them, and I am still looking for a mildly attractive, flat, non-wedge or platform-style replacement shoe.

** Paige suggests a fun game/challenge of putting aside $20 of “mad money” each week to spend on whatever item you fall in love with, or if you don’t spend it, save it for a more expensive purchase later. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford $80 per month for basics or accessories that you really, really want. Fortunately, I think this game can be scaled back a bit–and one should remember to buy only what you really, really love.

Review: Baby Lock Molly

babylockmollyWhen my Singer 4423 HD broke for the second time in the middle of a project, I decided to trade it in at my repair shop. Fortunately, at The Sewing Outlet they sell Baby Lock sewing machines. Some months earlier, I’d splurged and purchased a Baby Lock serger, with which I’ve been delighted. Therefore, when I knew it made no sense to throw another $70 into my Singer, it made sense to get another Baby Lock.

The Molly has a lot of the features I wanted when I got the Singer 4423 HD: it can handle heavy projects (sewing through layers of denim; it is mechanical rather than computerized; it has a good number of stitches (25 or so), plus a one-step buttonhole. I’ve been extremely pleased with the machine so far, so–since I panned the Singer already–here is my praise for the Baby Lock Molly, as currently worded on Pattern Review.

What demoiselle likes about this machine
I got this machine to replace my lemon of a Singer 4423 HD (reviewed here).

I wish that the Baby Lock Molly had been the machine I’d bought first. Even though it is more expensive than the Singer, it actually works. I haven’t had to drag it in repeatedly for repairs. Moreover, it is what the S4423 HD pretended to be: a tough workhorse.

The very first thing I did when I brought my Molly home was finish my first top-stitched jeans-skirt. At this point, I can’t remember exactly where in the process of making this skirt the Singer died and the Molly came in–but I think it was before I’d made any significant progress on the denim (not the muslin) version. Regardless, it was the MOLLY and not the Singer 4423 HD that was able to sew through several layers of denim and interfacing with ease. Most certainly, I did the topstitching with the Molly, and it turned out perfectly.

The Molly is straightforward, tough, fast, and quiet. I will continue to update this review as I use it more, but so far I have had no problems, no tears, and excellent results.

What demoiselle does not like about this machine
So far, I like everything. I will update this review if any issues come to light.

Yes, it’s a rather spare review so far, but there is nothing to rant about–everything works well (so far). As I continue to use and get to know my Molly, I will update you on how she does. I’ll even do a stitch sampler and a button-hole to show you what she can do.

Simplicity 5914: First Skirt

So far I’ve only posted talky-posts and one brief discussion of my very first failure of a knitted scarf. Today I post proof that I have, in fact, sewn something wearable–and am proud of! I give you Simplicity 5914, View F:

I have actually sewn something. And lined it, too. (Early 2011)

This is one of my basic, tried-and-true (TNT), “can make this over and over in a dozen different ways” patterns. I have put my review from below the divide, but I will write what I am proud of and wish to work on here:

Proud of . . .

  • The choice of fabric: a very inexpensive brown polyester suiting that looks much better than it is.
  • The hemming, which I stitched straight around without any really obvious wobbles.
  • The zipper placket, which is surprisingly decent!
  • The lining. The Simplicity pattern does not give any directions on making a lining for this skirt, so I looked up the instructions (either online or in one of my reference books or both) and figured out how to make one, insert it, and the facing correctly. Yay for improving on the pattern!

Want to work on . . .

  • Stitching the skirt panels together straighter.
  • Doing the facing more neatly. On the outside it looks good, on the inside, it doesn’t look as good.
  • Making the inside of the garment elegant and attractive. I made this whole skirt on my lemon and it shows. The edges are finished with pinking shears on the skirt and with zigzag stitches on the lining. The hem of the lining is also done with a zig-zag stitch. It is fully functional, but when I look inside I see “home-made” not “hand-made.” It’s the disconnect between how this skirt looks on the outside and how it looks on the inside that made me decide to get a serger, which I have used for my other projects.

This is a TNT pattern if ever I saw one.

I would label this not only “Easy & Great for Beginners” but also “Great Wardrobe Builder.”

Pattern Description:
A-Line skirts in two lengths, three versions flaring from the hip and three versions flaring from the waist. I sewed “View F” — the most basic paneled A-Line in the package.

Pattern Sizing:
I sewed size 14, which fit me without adjustment.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
Yes, very much so. This pleased me, since I purchased the pattern hoping to mimic my favorite store-bought A-line (which has, however, eight panels instead of six).

Were the instructions easy to follow?
For the most part, the instructions were easy to follow. This was my first sewing project since my teens, though, and even then I did only one dress. Therefore, I found the instructions for inserting a zipper to be confusing and the results unattractive. I followed the instructions in my copy of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.

Next time I sew this, I think I will try to do an invisible zipper, because the zipper placket on the side, though painstakingly sewn, is a distraction from the line of the skirt.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
I think this is a fantastic basic skirt pattern. With two silhouettes and two lengths, it should be a go-to pattern in my stash.

As mentioned above, the instructions for inserting the zipper were unclear (thank goodness I made a muslin) and I think the garment would be better served by an invisible zipper.

Fabric Used: Brown polyester suiting. The fabric is machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant, and looks high-quality even though it was quite inexpensive. I think this pattern will work well with many types of woven fabric.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
I added a lining (following instructions from the internet) because I was trying to mimic my favorite black store-bought skirt. I thought that without a lining the skirt would cling/be limper than the model. However, since this pattern has six panels instead of eight, the resulting skirt-with-lining stands out from my body a bit more than the ready-made one.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
Yes to both. Simplicity 5914 is an excellent choice for a new sewer or someone returning to sewing after a long hiatus. Nice, straight lines, nothing too complex. Just make sure to have a good reference for inserting zippers and practice if you are new to sewing as I was.

Misc.: I think that–for a “professional” look–the added lining was essential. It makes this skirt feel extra-snazzy.

This pattern is fantastic: easy, flattering, versatile. I have plans to use it both to make staple skirts and to make “outfits” and “suits” once I get to the point where I am ready to sew vests and/or jackets.

Review: Singer 4423 HD


The Singer 4423 HD (Alternate View)

My first sewing machine was a Singer 4423 HD. It was a disaster that put back my progress with sewing (that I wanted to take up in 2010) back by several years. Here is my review of the machine, as worded on Pattern Review, for reference:

What demoiselle likes about this machine:

I got this as my first machine after I decided to take up sewing. Because I had been taught the fundamentals in a theatre costume shop, I was used to using simple, hearty sewing machines. Therefore, I wanted a fast, heavy-duty, non-computerized machine that would handle a variety of fabric-weights and offered an array of simple stitches and an automatic buttonhole. I also didn’t want to spend a ton of money until I knew I’d be sewing regularly. The Singer 4423 HD seemed to fit the bill.

When I first got the 4423 HD, I was impressed by its speed and the way it felt “sturdy.” However, that sturdiness was not real: this machine is a lemon.

After attempting to use this machine to relearn sewing, I can confidently say that there is nothing I like about it.

What demoiselle does not like about this machine:

It breaks. A lot. There is a problem with the bobbin timing getting out of alignment with the needle, resulting in ruined fabric, knotted and messy clumps of thread, and hours of tears. This machine meant me huddled over my sewing table (bought at Goodwill and customized by cabinet-maker friends JUST to house this machine so it could fold away in my tiny NYC apartment) or my husband lying on the floor under it working to figure out “what was off.”

We spent ages researching what tensions I’d “gotten wrong” that the machine was so messed up. We checked online for instructions. We researched analyses of how sewing machines work. Very informative, but ultimately useless. There was no “at home” fix for this problem.

That meant that I had to take the machine out of the table and haul it to the nearest NYC sewing machine repair shop (via subway and a long walk). The owner was surprised, said that Singers were usually good, and thought that it was most likely a “new sewer” error, but checked it out.

I was right. It was the bobbin timing that was off. $70 went to the repair man for synchronizing it. I asked if I had a lemon, and the guy said “probably not”–that it might have been jostled in shipping.

Of course, halfway through my next sewing project (a few weeks later), the same problem happened again. Rinse and repeat. By the time I dragged the machine back to the shop, I’d lost several months of sewing time afterhaving waited a year and a half to get the machine + customized table back from the cabinet maker in Virginia.

After having the same problem diagnosed again, I decided that it was not worth throwing another $70 into this machine. I’d hardly managed to finish a skirt and one muslin between breakages. The salesperson looked up the record of me coming in with the machine or questions about fixing the machine and agreed–this was a lemon.

I traded it in for parts and bought a BabyLock Molly (A-Line Series). THAT is a good machine. It doesn’t fit into my customized sewing table, but it works and looks just fine sitting on top of it. If I’d bought the Molly on sale to begin with, I would have spent the same amount as the Singer + repairs + the cost of tears and frustration and lost time.

In summary:

Don’t be taken in by the initial feeling that the Singer 4423 HD is “tough” and “unbreakable” and “fast.” It isn’t. It’s a money-pit. I recommend spending more now for a high-quality machine and suffering less later from repair fees and ruined garments.