Sequin Party Dress Part 1 – The Pattern

If you’ve checked out any of the clothes shops recently, you’ll realise that we’re at that time of year again. Every store I’ve gone into in the past couple of weeks has brought the sequins out in anticipation (or hope) that we’ll actually have somewhere to wear them over Christmas and the New Year.

I am not usually one to jump on a bandwagon, and neither am I jumping on one in this case. I’ve been planning this dress since September and I am finally ready to start working on it in ernest. The dress will be a lot of firsts for me so it’s actually quite daunting.

  1. The first time I don’t use a pattern (sort of). I’ve decided to take a basic block and draft the wrap myself.
  2. The first time I’m working with sequins. I’ve never had any reason to before so this will definitely stretch my skills.
  3. The first time I’ve lined something (sort of). Most of my clothing thus far has been fairly casual and not needed a lining. I did try to add a lining to the first dress that I ever made, and it was a bit of a disaster. Hopefully this one goes a bit better.

Since there’s so many new things, and I need it before Christmas, I did second guess myself and ask if I should just buy a dress. And then I checked out the offerings on the high street and realised that if I put a slight amount of work into it I could absolutely do something better. Most of the garments I’ve seen look cheap, the sequin fabric is ugly and the linings are made out of an itchy stretch mesh. Or they have linings hanging out the bottom like this. Some of them don’t even have linings at all so you just have the itchy see through sequin fabric against your skin. I don’t want to end up with a rash by the end of the night, so DIY seems like the best route.

I thought I’d start with the pattern first as that’s the thing that I put the most amount of thought into.

I knew I wanted a wrap dress so I spent ages looking through pattern databases to try and find one that would suit my needs. There were some contenders. I liked the skirt of the Charlianne Wrap Dress by Sew To Grow but I couldn’t find any reviews of the pattern and it didn’t actually come in my size so I vetoed that. I really liked the bishop sleeves of the By Hand London Hannah as well as the lower neckline but I didn’t like the skirt. There were also some Big 4 patterns in the mix such as Vogue 9251, but none of them were quite right.

And then I realised that my sequin fabric was striped, so none of the patterns would have worked to create the look that I wanted anyway!

What I wanted was for the neckline to be cut along a stripe which means it would have had to be straight. The majority of wrap dress patterns have a curved neckline, this is because they go all of the way to the opposite side seam so they need to curve under the bust to make it look right. If I wanted a straight neckline the wrap wouldn’t be able to go to the side seam and would just have to go to the opposite dart.

I decided to do something I’d never done before and draft the wrap myself. I got a Craftsy subscription for a few quid last year and there was actually a course called Patternmaking Classics: The Wrap Dress by Lynn Strobel which was just what I wanted. After watching it I realised it wouldn’t be too hard to draft, I just needed a block to work off of first.

I had a look through my pattern stash for a block, but I’ve actually not got anything that could substitute for one. The closest I had was a shirt dress with pleats and another dress that fit well but was a raglan. I tried to mash the two together, but it just wasn’t happening and when I tried on the shirt dress I’d made from the pattern originally I realised it didn’t actually fit me any more and it was back to the drawing board.

By this point it was getting a bit close to the wire, I wanted to spend the maximum amount of time sewing the dress and the minimum amount of time waiting for things to be delivered. As such, my best option was to get a block like dress pattern somewhere I could get to in person and the only place for that was my local John Lewis.

Unsurprisingly they didn’t have any block patterns in stock. If you’ve ever seen a block pattern the majority of them come in single sizes so it makes sense that a store wouldn’t want to take up so much of their space for something that is admittedly niche. I ended up going for Butterick 6515 which is pretty close to what I needed. It’s basically a dress block with some added flounces so it fit the bill.

This was my first Butterick pattern, and I can’t say I’m a big fan. My Simplicity and Burda patterns both use black ink and thicker lines which is easier to trace, and my Mccalls pattern uses a similar colour ink but slightly darker and thicker too. The most similar in lack of traceability is Vogue, but I feel like the designer elements of a Vogue pattern make me more likely to want to put the effort in.

The pattern comes in three cup sizes (A/B, C and D) and claims to come from a bust of 77-112cm. My measurements would put me between an 8 and a 10 up top, but I decided to size down like I usually do with Big 4 and start with a size 6 A/B cup for the bodice. This was an educated decision based on the finished measurements that are written on the tissue paper. The printed waist measurement on the size 6 was on the cusp of fitting well and not having enough ease, but I thought I’d go with it any way because it would be easy to make the waist bigger if I need to.

Rather than altering the pattern to make it a wrap, I figured it would be easier to diagnose any fit issues if I started with the pattern almost as is, with the only difference being that I would put the opening at the front instead of the back. This would also make it easier to fit as it’s a lot easier to pin yourself into a garment from the front. The back seam of this dress is actually curved and since I wanted to cut it out on the fold I straightened out the back but that was the only change I made when tracing the pattern onto some Burda Tracing paper that I had lying around. I usually trace onto thicker paper but I decided to go with the tracing paper as I wanted to try tissue fitting.

The tissue fitting was not successful. The Tracing Paper was basically too stiff for me to diagnose any fitting issues, including the usual height adjustments which I thought it would be fine to do. I ended just making a mockup in fabric and working off that.

The front of the bodice actually fit fairly well, except that I needed to take about 1cm off length just above the bust and another centimetre at the armhole. A lot of patterns don’t actually have lengthen and shorten lines here, so in order to make sure that I take length off in the same place for all of the pattern pieces I usually draw a line from one of the triangular markings on the side and that’s perpendicular to the grain line, making sure to put the markings back in after I’ve shortened. It was also a smidge tight around the waist and I wanted the finished dress to be a little looser.

The fit isn’t so bad!

I did have issues with the back though. It was really baggy at the top but fit well in the waist. I decided that the easiest option would be to just take a wedge out. This is not the recommended way to do it, the recommended way to do it is to take a portion out either side of the neck around about where the darts sit. The recommended way has the added benefit of not messing with the grain line, which my method did. I chose my method because I was running short on time and it did work, but to make up for the fact that I’d taken a wedge out I had to create a new grainline down my new centre back and adjust the angle of the darts to be in line with that.

A pretty big wedge!

I decided that with those changes in mind I would start to draft the wrap. It was pretty easy, I just followed the directions given in the Craftsy class. One thing that I did have to do was bring the neckline in in order to raise the V neckline of my wrap. The Craftsy class recommends taking a wedge out of the waist seam to in order to make up for the neckline being on the bias. I did this as, whilst my neckline wouldn’t be on the bias, I knew that this would help eliminate any gaping. I raised it by 1cm on my mockup, but before I started working on my lining I added another 5mm as there was still a little gaping left.

Then it was time to draft the sleeves. The sleeves that come with the dress pattern are simple straight sleeves that are actually about 3/4 length because they expect you to add a flounce. Before I did anything else I had to add about 10cm at the lengthen and shorten line so that they would be full length on me. I wanted a bit more drama than a straight sleeve so I decided to go for bishop sleeve. It was really easy to alter the pattern for this, you just need to slash and spread the pattern at regular intervals. I decided to split the pattern into 4 and add around 12cm in between each of the pieces. In my mock up I finished this off by using the hem as a casing and adding elastic to it, but in the real version I’ll add a separate casing in the lining fabric so that I don’t end up with the sequins against my skin.

Once I made the pattern I made up another mock up and I was actually really happy with the fit. It’s not perfect, there are a few lines, but it’s basically good enough for me to be confident in starting to make the dress, which is good because we’re at mid November now so I really need to get to work on it. The only change I made at this point was to raise the armhole up by 1cm to increase the range of movement.

It’s not perfect, but it fits better than RTW!
The back has a few lines, especially on the side with the sleeve which I think is pulling it a little

DIY Dress Form Part 4 – A little bit lumpy

So I’m done. And I have mixed feelings. But before I go into that, I will document the rest of the process.

My last post ended with me having cut the fabric for the main body pieces. After that it was just a matter of sewing it up, and I didn’t really need to check the instructions for it as by that point I’d made two mock ups and watched countless videos about it.

Before actually sewing I did make sure to spend some extra time basting all of my pieces together first. This honestly wasn’t as time consuming as I thought it would be and was really helpful, especially as the markings on my fabric were done in a thick pen so I had to make sure that I was sewing on the inside of that line. Basting was even more important for the places with a lot of curve, such as the under bust, neck and arms. I would not have been able to get a good finish without it.

I sewed the project using Gutterman Sew all and size 100 needle which helped my machine go through the fabric really easily. I always worry about thicker fabrics, but it was really no problem. In fact, the bits that were difficult to sew were the bits that weren’t interfaced. I did need a bit more than the one spool of thread that I bought, so I ended up using non matching thread for places that wouldn’t be seen such as the quilting on the inside piece.

Whilst I did work quite hard to make sure everything was right and matching, I didn’t get everything perfect. The ideal situation would be one where every seam matches up, but obviously this is hard to achieve, even with basting, so there are a few discrepancies. I decided not to redo the seams because I was sewing at a 2mm stitch length and it would have been really frustrating to unpick everything. I’m not super bothered by the slight mismatch because it will end up being covered by twill tape, but it is a reminder to me to get my hands on some clover fork pins for all of my future garments!

Not quite

You might be wondering about the twill tape. There’s an optional step to zig zag over the seams to mark the pattern lines. This can look really good, especially when done in a contrast colour. It can also look really bad, especially when done in a contrast colour. I decided to forgo the zig zag partially because I didn’t trust myself to make sure it looked really good and partially because I couldn’t be bothered to change the colour of my thread. Traditional dress forms usually have a bit of twill tape around the waist so I thought that twill tape would be good to mark all of the fitting lines on this dress form. I could have sewed the twill tape on before stuffing, but I watched this video by THISISKATCHI and the ribbon that she used ended up digging into the dress form when she stuffed it, so I decided to hand sew it after the dress form was finished. I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, but I’m glad I waited as I plan on making a few adjustments which would have messed it all up anyway.

I bought a cheap sponge from Wilko to stuff the neck (I actually bought two but I only used one). The height of one was about 2/3rds of the neck height, but I just put two of the cylinders that I cut on top of each other and stuffed it in. It’s a sponge, so it squished in fine! I think it only cost me about 80p.

For stuffing I took apart an old duvet. This was actually a really cheap way of getting stuffing, the duvet stuffing filled a large black bin bag and I used a significant portion of it. It would have gotten really expensive to buy that much stuffing.

The stuffing is where I feel like I messed up the most. I did it over one episode of Strictly so I wasn’t paying much attention as I was doing it and I was definitely rushing. I did it on the floor and I think that that lead to some of my stuffing coming out uneven. I think that next time I’ll do the stuffing whilst the dress form is on the post, that way I can spin it around to make sure I get it more even.

I made sure to measure as I was stuffing the form, but one of this issues with stuffing is that it does expand. As such, the places where I stuffed the form more firmly (such as the bust) match my measurements, but the places where it was less firm (such as the waist) actually measure larger. There’s also excess fabric at the waist which makes it look wrinkly which I’m not too happy with.

The only other thing that I wanted to mention was the stand and the pipe. The pipe was bought from BnQ for about £2 and is just a plastic pipe that I cut to size. I thought it would take me ages to find a stand that I liked, but I actually got mine from ebay for around £18 and, whilst it’s a bit too lightweight, I really like how professional it looks!

So yeah, it’s sort of done but there’s a few things left to do, first I need to take in the waist, then restuff it more carefully and finally sew the twill tape in. That probably wont be done for a while as I actually have another project that I’m working on that I would like to finish first. The dress form has already come in handy for that actually, it enabled me to fit the back of bodice, so I’m super chuffed that I have it. It did make me really uncomfortable looking at it at first, but I’ve gotten used to it! Overall this project probably hit around £55-60 once you account for all of the thread, muslins and zips. The cheapest non-homemade option on original list was the adjustoform, which you can’t get for less than £100 so I’ve definitely saved money and I feel like I’ve got a better product because my form is closer to my body and also pinnable.

A little bit lopsided too

DIY Dress Form Part 3 – Fabric!

Since my second muslin was good enough, it was finally time to get started on cutting out and making the actual dress form.

I thought that I would talk through some of the choices I made with the fabrics and why I decided to make them (or why I was forced to make them) for future reference.

I wanted my dress form to look like a traditional form and most of these come in natural creamy colours. I know that a lot of people who have made this pattern have gone for brighter and more fun colours and patterns, but I wanted to go for something plainer and lighter coloured so that I could easily drape on it. As my dress form will be out most of the time, I also wanted something that would go with the rest of my home decor and also wouldn’t clash with any changes I make in the future.

The pattern suggests upholstery fabrics as they’re quite stiff. I watched some videos by a youtuber called Royah, who has extensive experience with making dress forms, and she suggested Cotton Duck Canvas. I bought this Canvas from Minerva in the colour cream. I bought 1.8m of it for £17.98. I’m usually quite conservative when buying fabric, but this was enough for everything, including the inner support, to fit.

The interfacing is a pretty important part of the dress form. I bought 1.1m of this iron on woven interfacing from Minerva. I prefer woven interfacing and, whilst I’ve been moving away from fusibles recently, I decided to o with this so that I could bulk fuse it onto the fabric making it easier to cut it out. I didn’t do a very good job of ironing it on though, partially my fault but I think it was partially down to washing the fabric as well. I should have pinned things down a bit more so I could get it straight, but the fact that it didn’t stick properly was also due to the glue being washed away during the prewash.

The instructions for this pattern recommends prewashing, but Royah doesn’t as it makes the fabric softer and harder to work with. I decided to prewash as I wanted to be able to use my iron directly on the form without worrying that it would shrink in a weird way. There did end up being a few issues with prewashing though.

First, duck canvas creases easily and it doesn’t iron out very easily. In fact, I wasn’t able to get the fabric to iron out properly at all. I tried everything, including ironing the fabric wet and pressing with a lot of force. This just left some ugly marks on my fabric and didn’t help much. I also bought some crease releaser which made the fabric ‘slicker’ and smell a bit nicer but did not release the creases. I’ve just accepted that the fabric was going to be a little creased

Secondly, my interfacing shrunk. I didn’t fit all of the pieces, the neck arm and base didn’t fit. I used a 1cm allowance to get as many of the pieces in as possible. For something like this, with a lot of curves, 1cm is actually fine because it means that the curves fit together better, but it also means that I don’t have any room to play with if I want to make alterations further down the line.

I decided to fuse the interfacing with the cross grain along the selvedge of the main fabric as I thought that this would add a bit more strength and a bit less stretch across the body. I’m a little annoyed as I ended up having to use a felt tip to mark the fabric, my fine liners weren’t thick enough to mark the loose weave of the interfacing. Essentially, the thinner the marking the more accurate you can be when sewing, which means that I’ve lost a bit of accuracy with this. Hopefully it will end up okay.

It did take me a couple of evenings to draw out all of the pieces and cut them out. It’s just not a fun part of the process for me but I’m glad that I can move on a start sewing this up (finally!)

DIY Dress Form Part 2 – Where I Keep Putting it off

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, but I’m here with the second post about my Bootstrap Dress Form. I honestly thought I would be done with it by now, but I had some difficulty with it which means that I’ve been procrastinating. This is very bad because I’ve actually got a few more projects in the queue that I don’t want to start without finishing it, and even one that might really depend on it. I figured that I’d catch this blog up and hopefully it will give me the kick in the arse that I need to finally get it done.

When we left off, I had cut out all of the fabric pieces that I needed for a mockup out of an old beige bedsheet. This actually didn’t take me that long to sew up and numbering the pattern pieces really helped. I used an invisible zip in the back and once I was done I was able to try it on.

I was worried about the negative ease, but that truly wasn’t an issue at all. Neither was the length measurements, my waist and hip were the same as on the pattern, which was great because I was sure that this would be the biggest issue. Unfortunately, the actual issue was much more difficult to fix. The bust point was off by a fair amount and the cups went further down on my body than my actual breasts do. I’m not expecting an exact body double, in fact I mentioned in my last post that I would find that to be pretty creepy, but we’re talking about 3cm of breast that I just don’t have so I needed to fix it.

I tried a couple of things, draping on my own body, flat pattern measurements and I eventually settled on a mix of both. Again, this took me a while because it was something that I had no experience with and therefore did procrastinate from.

I can’t really tell you the method, I was able to bodge something together and thought that I would finally just cut it out and try to make another mockup from it. I decided to only cut some of the pieces out just because I didn’t feel like cutting everything out in one go. This turned out to be a good idea because when I sewed the cups and the upper bodice together it became clear that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. See the evidence below.

There’s no way that this is what it’s meant to look like.

This was immensely frustrating for me, and I did consider giving up, but I’d already bought my stand so I knew that I needed to keep going.

I realised that the biggest issue that I’d had with the adjustments that I made was because the bust points were really off. I just did not know how to fix that. I double checked my measurements and realised that I’d actually given the wrong bust apex to apex when I bought the pattern, as well as the wrong bust height measurement. I was probably wearing a padded bra when I took those so it makes sense why they were a bit off. I decided just to fork out and buy another pattern with those adjustments in mind. I figured I’d already bought everything so why not just fork out another £18 to get it done (especially considering I’ve been working on it since July!)

When the new pattern came, there were still some things that I needed to do, but they were relatively minor changes. I compared the new pattern piece to the one I’d made when I tried to fix it myself and realised that the breast root was still too low. I reduced the cup by 1.5cm and to make up for it added 1.5cm just under the bust. This was a really basic lengthen and shorten adjustment, the only slightly tricky part was making sure that I remembered to do it on the cup and under bust pieces and making sure to do it the same way on both.

The pattern pieces with pink around them are the new/final pieces and the plain ones are the old ones

I remade the mockup, I decided to just do the front as I knew the back fit me well as I didn’t want to waste much more time. It only took me a morning to do (though I wasn’t very neat) and when I held it up to my body it looked so much better. It is now close enough that I’m comfortable going ahead and working on the actual dress form. Hopefully it wont take me three months.

The first attempt on the left and the final on the right!

DIY Dress Form Part 1 – Reasons and Decisions

One of the things that I’ve wanted since I first started sewing is a dress form or dressmakers dummy, but up until now the time wasn’t right. I’m finally at a point where I have the space to have a dress form, as well as the inclination to actually use it so I decided to take the plunge.

Dress forms aren’t necessary, especially if you’re a beginner. I made my first couture garment without one and I’ve been able to adequately fit garments using a combination of flat pattern measurements, toiles and the good old ‘try it on as you go’ method. Even with a dress form, there are things that you will never be able to figure out if you don’t try the garment on, such as whether the amount of ease is comfortable, if you can move about in it and how it feels when you sit in it. That said, there are some benefits to having a dress form that have encouraged me to add one to my plethora of sewing tools.

  • Firstly, it’s a lot easier to hem a garment if you use a dress form. Especially if you’ve got a long skirt, or a circle skirt that needs to be hung. I found that even when I’ve had help, it’s been pretty difficult if the other person doesn’t have any experience with hemming.
  • Dress forms also make draping easier. So far, I’ve used commercial sewing patterns or tracing for all of the garments that I’ve made. This has been a great way to learn about construction methods and I now feel ready to take what I’ve learnt and start draping some of my own garments.
  • I’d like somewhere to display my garments, particularly as I’m making them. My previous method was to fold up the fabric and put my sewing away, which leaves creases in the fabric and means that I always have to start a sewing session by figuring out what each piece is again. Having a dress form should help me avoid that because I’ll have somewhere to hang my half made garments. I’ll also be able to judge things like style lines and colour without having to try things on multiple times during a sewing session.
  • It will be a lot easier to fit places like my back which are hard to get to without distorting the garment and my body. There are lots of places where having the ability to pin really helps, like around the bust or when dealing with finicky details like pleats.
  • It looks really cool!

There’s actually lots of different types of dress forms and after doing some research I decided to make my own. This was mainly due to the fact that I primarily make clothes for myself, so getting a form that fits me and all of the quirks of my body was important. I wouldn’t have been able to do that with a regular dress form as whilst padding is a really popular and couture method of creating realistic form, it’s not really feasible if you’re petite. You need to start off a form that is smaller than you in every way, and if your back length is shorter or longer than average you need to be doubly careful about measurements. This option seemed a bit too risky as I knew I’d have to order it online and not be able to check.

I also vetoed Adjustoforms. These are pretty popular because they’re cheap, but as my form will be for draping I wanted one that I could pin into, and you can’t really do that with them because they’re really hard. The large dials and gaps around the body mean that they can look quite ugly, and as there’s a potential that this dress form would be on display a fair amount of the time I didn’t want an ugly dress form.

Companies like Ditto and Beatrice take scans of your body and cut out foam in the exact shape of you, which is a seemingly good way to get a dress form that is entirely like you, including any asymmetries and non standard measurements. They seem like a cool idea but they’re really expensive and they don’t ship to the UK. I think I’d be really annoyed if I spent £1000 on a dress form and then gained or lost a bit of weight and couldn’t change it, so even if I could get one here, I doubt it would be the option that I went for.

After this you’ve basically just got DIY methods left over. The most accurate one is probably making a plaster cast of your body and filling it with foam. This is also, potentially, the messiest method and it requires another person so I decided not to go for that. There is a really good video by Morgan Donner explaining the process, and her dress form looks really good! Another popular method is the Duct Tape/Packing Tape method. By far the cheapest and by far the ugliest method. Again, this requires another person, but the dress form isn’t really usable afterwards either. You can’t pin into it as your pins get gummy, the many layers of duct tape mean it simultaneously flattens out certain parts of your body and bulks other parts up and I’ve read stories if them distorting.

All that was left was the ‘moulage method’. You make a moulage (or very very close fitting base pattern) and stuff that. This is usually how half forms are DIYed, and it seemed like a good way of creating a pinnable dress form that was close enough to my body to fit on but not so close as to be creepy. I could have made my own moulage, but I decided to go with the Bootstrap Patterns Dress Form as that would mean that I didn’t have to draft it all by myself and it also has defined breasts which means that I could use it to fit garments like bras and swimsuits or anything with a sweetheart neckline.

To get your pattern all you need to do is put in your measurements, pay around £18 and wait 20 minutes for them to email over your pattern. The website takes 5 regular measurements: Height, Bust, Under Bust, Waist and Low Hip. You can also add some optional measurements, Neck, Bust Height, Front Length, Back Length and Back Width. Interestingly, they used have an additional measurement, Shoulder Width, but they’ve gotten rid of it for some reason.

I put in all of the measurements that I could, as I wanted the closest fit. I did need to get help with the Back Width as that’s really hard to do on yourself, and I did ask for opinions on the subjective questions like belly protuberance and shoulder slope. One of the things that came up in a lot of the reviews that I read was that the belly protuberance is more exaggerated than people expected, so I decided to claim that my stomach was flatter than I think it is in order to combat that.

Lots of people said to get a pattern with seam allowance, but I decided to forgo that. It meant that I could draw out the seam lines directly onto the fabric, leading to more accurate sewing. With the need for such a close fit and the number of seams in this pattern, a couple of millimetres here and there really add up and I didn’t want to end up with a form that was too big or too small in the end.

There ended up being around 20 A4 pages to print out. You can get it printed on large scale paper, but 20 pages isn’t a lot and it’s not hard to put everything together accurately when the pattern pieces are so small.

After holding up the pattern pieces to my body, I realised that the pattern wasn’t as close to my body as I wanted it to be. I knew that this would be a possibility as there are a few issues that keep cropping up in the reviews I’ve seen, such as a low bust point, as well as things that worried me as there weren’t any measurements taken for them (such as waist to hip measurements). Because of that, I’ve decided to make a toile and try in on my body before hand.

I’m not sure if this is a good idea. The website states:

The DIY dress form patterns have 10% negative ease on some of the horizontal measurements – bust, underbust, waist. Do not try to wear your dress from to check the fit, it is not meant to fit you.

I’m going to ignore that. Ultimately, the things that I’m most worried about are length measurements so if it is a bit tight around my body I will try not to be too worried. I’m hoping that as I’m using a very old bedsheet for my muslin, the fabric should have more give than the interfaced duck canvas that I’m planning on using in my final product. This should help to combat some of the negative ease.

So far, I’ve gotten to the point of cutting out the fabric for my toile. There are 18 pattern pieces, but I only needed to cut out 8 for the muslin as I didn’t need the neck, armhole, base or inner support pieces. I cut each piece on a single layer and used a pen to draw around the pattern piece and transfer all of the markings. I’ve also numbered each pattern pieces, there’s a lot of them and I don’t want to get confused as I’m making it.

I’m going to attempt to sew the toile and hope to update this blog in time. There’s not a lot of people who have made adjustments on this (or at least haven’t skimmed over them) so I’ll try to be as detailed as possible.

Overcomplicating The Art of Choosing an Iron

Photo by Sergi Dolcet Escrig on Unsplash

I think that, for most of us, when we first start sewing we don’t put much thought into our irons. I started off using my mums old Phillips iron and when I got tired of lugging my projects around to use the big ironing board, I added a Swan travel iron to do the small bits. It wasn’t actually the genius idea that I thought it would be. It worked in a pinch, but it’s one of those things that you buy to make your life easier and it actually makes it more difficult.

When I had the opportunity to buy a new iron, this time with my sewing needs at the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be easy. I’d just read a few reviews from fellow hobbyists and pick the one that they seemed to like best. There were a couple of issues with that though.

  1. A lot of the people writing reviews were quilters and not dressmakers. Dressmaking makes the bulk of my sewing and whilst there are similarities (such as the need to press seams) there is actually a big difference in iron needs. Quilters tend to work mainly in cotton, whereas dressmakers tend to have more variation in the fabrics that they use. We also use our irons to shape fabrics like wool, so steam is an important feature. Ironing larger bits of fabric, such as lengths for dressmaking or paper patterns also lends itself to a bigger iron than a quilter might need. Finally, our finished garments often need ironing afterwards, especially if you like to use natural fibres like I do.
  2. A lot of the reviewers were American/Canadian or business owners. They tended to have larger spaces that they could fill with beautiful gravity feed irons, or the funds to buy larger steam generator irons. Those options weren’t open to me, I sew in my living room and I don’t want to have an iron around all of the time. A lot of reviews also focused on brands like Oliso which are harder to get in the UK. We’ve got access to some great brands in the UK, like Phillips and Russell Hobbs, which often didn’t get a look in.

I didn’t have a starting point. In fact I didn’t even know how much a reasonable amount would be to spend, so I had to figure out a method that would help me decide. Enter the Iron Matrix. That makes it sound fancier than what it actually is, a spreadsheet.

I picked some categories that were important to me and filled it with the details of all the irons that were available to me. I chose to focus on irons that were available at Argos because I knew I could get nominated day delivery from them which helped to reduce the number of irons in my table. There are a lot of irons on the market, so this was pretty important.

The categories that I focused on were Price, Steam, Water Capacity and Weight.

Price is pretty self explanatory. I didn’t want to over pay for something, but I also didn’t want to go for the cheapest iron available just because it was cheap. The range of prices with irons is wide, the ones that I was looking at were between £16 and £100, which makes it quite difficult to know you’re getting a good price.

Steam is something that’s pretty important to dressmakers. It helps set seams and it’s the difference between a beautiful wool garment and an ugly unwearable one. Most irons have a steam output these days, even mini travel irons, so I chose to use the ‘Steam Output’ in g/min as my comparison point. The higher the better of course.

Water Capacity ties into steam. If you want to make lots and lots of steam, you need lots and lots of water. Gravity feed irons allow for litres of water, which is why they’re so popular in the sewing community, but those of us who can’t get one have to settle for much less.

Weight is an interesting metric. For most people, the lighter the better. For people who sew, it’s actually the opposite. It’s part of the reason that I found it difficult to use people’s reviews as a reference. A weightier iron helps press seams flat, especially on bulkier fabrics and I don’t have any wrist issues so I knew that I wanted to go for the heaviest iron that I could find.

For each of these categories, I gave each iron a number based on how they ranked. I added all of the numbers together and was able to come to my final pick, the Breville VIN401 DiamondXpress Steam Iron. At the time that I bought it, it was around £45 and you can definitely still get it for around that price if you shop around. I’m pretty chuffed with it. I think it’s an ugly iron but it does the job and then some. The steam function is great, and the water capacity is literally the best that I could get so even though I had to fill it up twice when I was steam ironing 5m of fabric, I’m not too annoyed.

Hopefully this iron will last me a while, but if it doesn’t I will be using the iron matrix again. I think it’s a good method for weighing things where there’s a lot of choice and you have specific desires.