From scratch

The anatomy of a DIY dressform

   This is by no means a tutorial. If anything, this is more like “The mistakes to avoid while DIYing a dressform” guide… except even if you do make these mistakes you will end up with something semi-similar to your body and semi-useful. So here comes the lowdown of how this “little” baby was built.

   The essential ingredients for a proper duct tape dressform are at least 2-3 rolls of duct tape (obvs.), a bin bag/ old t-shirt,  preferably polyester batting for filling and 2 helping hands. My version’s ingredients were slightly different:

  • duct tape (1 roll),
  • a bin bag,
  • scrap fabric,
  • shredded paper,
  • plastic bags,
  • and a massive paper tube.

   The first problem was the lack of duct tape. We ran out of it before my body was covered in the first layer. I tried to patch it up with masking tape, then with cling film, once we ran out of that too. After we cut it off my body, it looked as if it pretty much lost its shape, but once I started filling it up, it looked just fine. (Sorry about the blurry photos, click on them to make them big…and blurry)


    Once I had the shell, I wanted to find a stand for the dressform. We bought a carpet a few weeks ago, and I kept the paper tube that was holding it in place during delivery. I then laboriously cut it in half and “drilled” some holes into it so that I can insert some screws to hold the form later. This tube went straight into the duct tape body and I cut a cardboard in the shape of the bottom of the form, attached it and closed the bottom bit with some masking tape. Then I started filling it with shredded paper.

   The funny thing about paper is that you can compress it. Did you know that? Yeah, I apparently didn’t. I only realized this, once I was pushing the paper to the edges and the form became heavier and heavier, and it felt like the 2 large bin bags full of shredded paper won’t even be enough to fill up my bum.

   After I filled my double up with the remaining paper until my waistline, I could see that it was a little lopsided. Even though it looked pretty big, according to the tape measure it still was a few centimeters short from my actual hip measurement. I padded the form out with some wool leftover fabric, and stuck plastic bags and whatever scrap fabrics I could find to fill out the top half. The most difficult bit was moving the paper tube around so that the form stands up straight on its own.

  Once I closed the opening on the back, I started taking measurements and compared them with my real size. This was very much like sculpting, as I was just taping pieces of batting on parts where it needed some centimeters added and where it didn’t look symmetric.

   When it finally looked balanced and proportionate, and the measurements were close enough, I put an old bra on and filled it with batting, to create some shape in the breast area. I made the cover by pinning the fabric on the form and cutting the excess off. The cover is still open at the bottom as at some point I might come up with a way to put something inside the tube that will serve as a stand, although it is hard to imagine that I’ll ever find something steady enough to hold its weight.

  I have already used it to try to take photos of some finished projects, as well as for draping (yes, I’ve skipped using a toille fabric, because I’m that lazy! ;) ). Even though it is not a perfect copy of my body, it really is close enough to use it. Putting pins into the dressform is not exactly easy, but I’ve managed so far, and the first dress draped on it has already become one of my favourite makes.!

   All in all, I’m quite happy with it, although I think the fact that I am more interested in draping than a few years ago, when I made my first duct tape dressform, really pushes me to make a good use of it. Have you tried your hands at making a dressform? Do you use it for making up patterns or for adjusting them to your size? Also, if you know a simple technique to copy the markings from the fabric on the form to paper, I’m all ears!

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers
From scratch, Stash diet/ Scrap revival

No patterns required


    I have nothing against patterns, I swear. It’s just that I’m extremely lazy and I forget easily that it’s more hassle than fun to experiment and hope for the best when it comes to dressmaking. Yet it has become a habit I am not likely to break in the future.

   I can assure you that sewing without patterns will make the fitting process longer, the sewing part more difficult and it will be frustrating. But it’s gonna worth it. If you are ready to challenge yourself, I suggest you grab and roughly copy your favourite RTW garment, cut out and change a pattern randomly (and drastically) or just play around with some fabric.

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

   That’s pretty much what I did with these two pieces. The trousers started out as some palazzo-leg/ paperbag-top pants with pleating on the top. I know it sounds unnecessarily complicated, but it was supposed to be the most comfortable, most flattering pair I could ever imagine. I altered a plain, straight leg trousers pattern from Burdastyle and added a few centimeters on top. I cut and slashed the pattern to make pleats and it kind of worked with the toille, which was made of some pretty stiff cotton. Then I found this black silky fabric in the remnants box at the shop, and that’s obviously where things started to go all wrong… This was my first time cutting “silk” and I cut one leg way smaller, as I lifted the fabric off the table while cutting. Lesson no.1 learned. Even though I adjusted the other leg too, it turned out to be very tight, so it all ended up in the scrap bag (and what remained became the asymmetric dress).

   Then I lost a little weight, summer was approaching, I needed new trousers, so I gave it another go. I decided to ditch the pleats and inserted an elastic band to the waistband at the back. Now I just needed to find find out what to do with the excess fabric in the front. I figured if I pull it to one side, then I’ll have more room at the crotch and it looked pretty modern too, so I was happy with the outcome. Then I made the legs tapered and turned the hems up to make it look more casual, so that I can wear them with le trainers.

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

   Hemming was a nightmare, and I ended up handsewing an elastic band into the turned up hem. This did not turn out to be a permanent solution, but hey, I did it the first time, and I can do it again. And again.

  So the pair of trousers was ready, Me-Made-May rolled in, and I was up for wearing the hell out of it. The only time this happened though, was when I popped down to the shop to test run it… just to realize it was way too tight to do anything else but stand prettily in it. The solution was easy, all I needed was to make it sit on my hip instead of my waist by sewing a second buttonhole on it. This makes it 2-in-1, as I can cycle in it when it sits lower and could just pull it higher up for going out, as it looks more flattering that way. In reality I mostly go with option 1, of course…;)

   The bodysuit was inspired by the plethora of Netties out there, plus I realized I wear bodysuits quite often already. I had some leftover fabric from the piece I used to cover my DIY dressform. You probably know by now that I love wearing anything backless, so when I realized that I don’t have enough fabric, I just lowered the back on the pattern that I roughly copied from a bodysuit that I own. Since the scraps were not big enough, I had to cut up the pattern. I used the largest piece for the front, so that I have no seams there, and  I played around with the scraps at the back. Since this was intended to be a quick scrap-busting project I used some yellow thread that was available instead of a matching one. It’s contrasting, but the difference is not quite visible, so It looks more like a design detail than a distraction (to me).

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

   Since I used a stretch fabric that’s most likely a ponte knit, it was almost like sewing with a woven. The regular straight seams just didn’t look flexible and strong enough, so I decided to sew it with the smallest zig-zag stitch on my machine, which worked really well, but it was a pain to unpick while eliminating fitting issues. And there were a few. The armholes still don’t feel tight enough, and it took a while to get everything flat and snug with the back panels. I could go on about how ugly the homemade snap fastener bit looks, but it does the job very well, this is one of my most comfortable makes and it makes me feel pretty good about myself! I mean dreaming up and making something super flattering for yourself is one little victory. But coming up with resolutions to problems you never knew existed all by yourself, is what will put that smile on your face every time you wear it.

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecret Costumier - Bodysuit made of scraps & 2-in-1 trousers

TheSecretCostumier - Embroidery book review
Ready & waiting

Sew hot, sew lazy…

    I did it again. After having so much fun during Me-Made-May, connecting with lovely bloggers and setting myself goals for the 10 days without any disruption, I kind of burned out. I wish I could say I’ve been in a beautiful sandy beach with no internet connection and no need to even think about making clothes, but I wasn’t. Sure I’ve been busy with work and seeing people, but I’ve also done my fair bit of lying in bed pinning for hours. One of my resolutions this year was to post content more consistently AND not to worry too much if I fail. So I’m trying to just take my time, chill out and try to figure out why I’m blogging in the first place and how to move forward.

    Until I get there, let me show you this little book I picked on a marvellous Saturday afternoon, from the bookstalls under Waterloo Bridge for a fiver. This is the kind of book  that you don’t even know you need, but you realize that you have to have it the moment you hold it in your hands.

   It’s called Design for Embroidery – The Fine Art Approach, and it is what it says on the tin, and then some. I have a soft spot for embroidery since my Grandma was a real talent when it came to the pretty famous Buzsaki embroidery, and I’m a sucker for the contemporary versions too, but the techniques displayed are not the main reason I like this book. I’m a lot more drawn to the design development demonstrated through the projects. (Click on the images to make them larger.)

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery3

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery4

The book is divided into 3 sections:

  • Concepts (1.Shape, 2.Line, 3. Colour, 4.Texture, 5.Pattern, 6. Form),
  • Application (7.Large Scale Works from paintings 8. Large Scale Works from photographs),
  • Threads, Equipment and Techniques (9. Threads, 10. Equipment, 11.How to enlarge a design, 12. Finishing).

I think this approach could be applied to using any kind of inspiration and turning it into all kinds of different techniques and garments. There is a broad range of examples of inspiration, techniques and projects which makes me look at places for ideas where I wouldn’t have thought to look before.

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery7

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery6

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery10

This wedding veil tutorial below, takes you from sketching the design, and cutting out the patterns to sewing it on the veil. I probably bought the book because even though it was written 16 years ago, I think this veil, and the most of the projects, still look pretty modern.

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery2

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery5

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery11

Surely this guy’s hairstyle gives the era away, but I couldn’t resist showing you this patchwork waistcoat. I would probably make something more practical with this technique, but it’s a great idea and it’s really neatly done as well.

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery8

TheSecretCostumier - embroidery9

    Is it just me and the unusually hot London summer, or do all of you tend to abandon ‘da machine’ for a chance to sit in a rooftop bar for hours to catch the last rays of the sun? Do you have any sewing related activities when the heat related procrastination kicks in and you just can’t be asked to make a mess?  (You guys are more than welcome to not help me justify my laziness, but it would really make those hours spent on Pinterest pretending to be creative much sweeter… ) ;)

From scratch, Refash., Stash diet/ Scrap revival

Sewing, uninterrupted

It’s kind of what I’ve always longed for. 10 days alone at home. The sewing machine constantly set up, the cutting mat covering half of the kitchen floor. There’s a constant flow jazz in the background and there’s no stopping until 3 in the morning.

My mum and sister has abandoned me to visit family in Nigeria, and although I’ve realized that even though I’ve always wanted to live alone, I’m willing to admit that it’s definitely not for me. I might -weirdly- be more organised on my own (if I don’t do the washing up, nobody else will after all…), and I might have all the time in the world to do my own thing, but I painfully miss having someone around to talk to. But enough of the self-pity, I hope they are having the time of their life, and there’s only a couple of days left until they come back, so I’m planning to make the most of the remaining time. In between hosting sleepovers and dinner parties, I came up with a couple of projects to finish until next Tuesday.

TheSecretCostumier - Sewing, uninterrupted2

Set up dressform

I’ve made a dressform guys. Again. This time around I’ll just have to show you how it was done, as there’s so much you can learn about how NOT to make one. I would like to experiment in draping, so I’ll mark the Centre Front, CB, etc. and make a basic bodice block first, to see how close it comes to fitting my real body.

TheSecretCostumier - Sewing, uninterrupted5

Finish Mum’s dress

I’ve found this fabric in Rolls&Rems in the remnants box about a year ago. It’s almost finished, but the waist line is terribly wonky, so it’s the kind of annoying but necessary alteration that keeps a garment  in the cupboard for ages. I’ve already marked the new waistline, so all I need to do is gathering the skirt bit again and attaching to the bodice.

TheSecretCostumier - Sewing, uninterrupted

Make a knit garment

I have quite a bit left from the fabric I used to cover the dressform, and I guess I got the “sewing with knits bug” from seeing all the Netties, Monetas & Mabels springing up, so I decided to join the party. I’m making a bodysuit as well, by copying a RTW garment and altering the pattern so that I can use the smaller fabric pieces.

TheSecretCostumier - Sewing, uninterrupted3

Make toille for the Birthday Dress

My birthday is less than a month away, and even if I don’t end up wearing this, I really want to finish it by then. This is going to be the first time I’m using boning and I can smell a disaster coming, but I’m pretty excited about it at the same time. If I can fit the toille this week, then I assume I could use that as the underlining later.

Upcycle the leather shorts

I found this real leather, dark brown pair of shorts on Brick Lane for about £1.40. It’s a tad too small and very 80’s, but the wrong side of the leather looks really nice. I was going to make a moccasin for myself, or for a colleague’s newborn baby, but I might stick to making something I can actually wear in public, like a skirt, some kind of a top/jacket or a bag inspired by my ever-growing Bags to make board on Pinterest.

TheSecretCostumier - Sewing, uninterrupted1

Make a bra

This is my favourite fabric I’ve ever bought, and although I have about 3 meters of it (remnants box find too!), I haven’t been able to figure out what pattern could do justice to this awesome, but very loud print. To avoid making that decision I keep coming up with small projects to use a piece of it that I cut off when I  got it. I used the flowers for the embellished trainers (still in the making…) and I’m planning on making a triangle bra this time.

 P.S.: Any advice regarding draping on a form, using boning, or making bras is more than welcome! ;)

From scratch

The over-oversized shirt

    About 2 years ago I bought a piece of a lovely reddish pink fabric. It was right when I started sewing and I was trying to be pedant, so I shoved it in the washing machine to pre-wash it. The fabric felt a little vinyl like before, and I guess I wanted to get rid of that sticky feeling, but instead I got rid of the dye all together. A light pink, rather transparent, linen like fabric emerged from the machine. After I got over the astonishment, I decided to make an oversized shirt from the March 2012 issue of Burdastyle. I had hardly any experience in sewing at that point, but I was attending a course at the time, so I decided I knew it all and took the collar from one pattern and added to another.


I got to the above stage rather quickly, then gave up on it as I ignored the ‘oversized’ warning and cut the largest size available…Yeah, I know! The armholes ended up being way too big, hanging off my shoulder, and it was really long.

A few weeks ago I decided to just finish it off to make some space for some new UFOs fabric. I cut about 10 cms off of the hem, and left the armholes as they were. Instead of the two pockets, I only put one on, but it feels a bit small. I opened the buttonhole bit up and inserted a piece of organza as an interfacing, because I failed terribly at my first attempt of buttonhole making without it. I decided to jazz it up with different buttons, and that’s the bit I actually like the most on it.

TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt4TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt3 TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt2TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt1 TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt5TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt8

The good

I realized that I actually quite like to wear shirts and because of the lightweight fabric it was easy to sew. The topstitching provides a good chance to show off your skills (or the lack of thereof when it goes all wonky…).

The bad

The collar has a huge gap at the front which looks a bit weird. The cuffs are NOT FINISHED, as I’m planning on wearing them rolled up all the time. And you know, I’m lazy like that. And for some strange reason I don’t even feel bad about it!

The verdict

The pattern is simple and pretty straight forward, and since it is an oversized shirt you don’t have to worry about fitting that much (if you cut your correct size, that is). I’ve worn it twice during Me-Made-May, but to be honest it’s rather unlikely to be a staple in my wardrobe as it’s a bit too masculine for my taste. Even if it’s baby pink…

TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirt left1TheSecretCostumier - Pink Shirtleft1

Just a quick question for anyone who read this far: do you guys wear anything that’s not quite done? :)

From scratch, Me-Made-May

Me-Made-May-2014: The Summary

   This was my first Me-Made-May ever, and ever since I’ve started sewing about 3 years ago. I pledged to wear something handmade for at least 4 days a week for the entire month, and I managed to do this on 25 days, with some outfit changes wearing a total of 29 outfits including a Me-Made garment. I made one new item (the peplum top) and finished 3 UFOs (pink shirt, silky trousers, asymmetric dress). I took exactly 901 photos, mostly with the help of my sister, and discovered probably over 50 like-minded bloggers I did not know before, doing just the same. It was a bit of a hassle at times, but pretty much the most exciting May of my life so far.

   I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that I think Me-Made-May is a fantastic idea (thank you Zoe!), it really makes you focus on the usefulness of what you make and gears you towards updating your sewing goals. What I have learned about my style and ways of using garments for more than what they were intended for, will be extremely helpful when I finally get to design a capsule wardrobe for myself as part of the Wardrobe Architect project.

   Reading through other bloggers’ summaries made me realize that we have pretty much all gone through the same challenges: changing weather, changing taste, changing bodies and the lack of certain types of garments (not enough or too much separates/dresses) and I can report on having the exact same issues. But I won’t.

   Just kidding. :) I will of course, even if you are all done with reading these, I feel like putting this all down to  use it later as a reference for when I’m just about to start making something beautiful, that I could wear every 5 years to a friend’s wedding… So here are all the outfits, and if you feel like it, check out the conclusion below the images.

   I pretty much stayed true to the tried and tested silhouettes that I’ve collected for Week 3&4 (Wardrobe Architect project), but I did try out a few silhouettes that I rarely wear. Such was the figure hugging skirt + A-line top combo, or the asymmetric dress, and they both hide my waist and bring attention my legs, so even if I didn’t feel as uncomfortable as I thought I would, I would still avoid making those types in the future. Plus they just don’t work with le bike. From looking over the pictures above, I identified what I need more of and what works already:


The third most popular item, the backless dress proved to be extremely versatile, and I always feel a little sexy wearing it, even if it’s layered under tops and jumpers. The wrap dress was made in no time and I really love wearing it, although it does need to be shortened. As for the Kimono dress and the “Dior one”, I only wore them to make Me-Made-May a bit more interesting, otherwise they don’t quite fit into my everyday wardrobe, not even for date nights,  if I’m being honest. I still need to figure out if I just didn’t make them comfy enough, or the fabric is too fancy to pull it off with trainers…

I need: At least one more backless dress, simple dresses in solid colours. Wrap dresses, and dresses made of knit fabrics. I don’t own any jumpsuits yet, but they should be a great alternative to dresses for summer, so I am planning to give them a try.


I only have few handmade skirts, but the they got the most use throughout the month. The most successful ones were the pleated faux leather one, probably because of the basic black colour and the interesting texture gives. The other often worn skirt was the simplest item I have in my wardrobe, the burnt orange/rust coloured velvet circle skirt, which ticks all my boxes regarding shape, length, colour and the ability to be dressed up or down.

I need: More simple skirts in solid colours, from interesting fabrics.


As for trousers, it looks like fit is everything. The pink ones used to be high-waisted and I liked them like that. Now that I’ve lost some weight they are hanging somewhere between my waist and hip, and the fabric isn’t the best either. The black silky one would have been a good idea, but I really need to take my time to test patterns when it comes to trousers, as a gaping neckline is really annoying, but not being able to sit down in something is really the deal breaker.

I need: Well fitting comfortable trousers that work for summer. Try a palazzo style and a slim fitting one.


I can’t believe I could wear something handmade for almost every day for an entire month with having only 3 (4 with the refashion) Me-Made tops in my wardrobe. Out of those 4, 3 only work with high-waisted trousers or skirts, and the one shirt I made is a bit less than perfect, as well as pretty hard to pair with anything, due to its baby pink colour. Although I am pretty happy with my basic RTW T-shirts, there is definitely room for improvement in this section.

I need: More tops, obviously. Sleeveless ones for summer, a few more crop tops, another shirt, the perfect white T, and maybe some woven basic tops. 

Well, we are almost in the middle of June and all that documenting somewhat kept me from actually sewing stuff, so I am planning to jump back into it again. Kath, from Bernie and I, had a brilliant idea to keep us all going, by suggesting to make 1 project per week for an entire month. I was going to do it in June, but guess what, I’m running late with finishing the first #1ppw already, but as long as I have 4 finished pieces by the end of June, I will call this a success, so bear with me…


TheSecretCostumier-Sneak Peak 2


Sneak peak #2