Free Basic Patterns for Embellishing

The Bishop Method of Clothing Construction

Cindy’s guest post on embellishment ideas was very inspiring. Creative use of bias tape & cording can make for little doses of frosting to spice up your wardrobe. Here are some free patterns that can serve as a good jumping off point for your embellishment experiments.




Designer Dresses

For more ideas, here are some tips on changing patterns for different looks. Also, Burda Style offers a free pattern every Friday. This week’s is a pleated skirt that doesn’t lend itself as well to embellishments, but you can expect future patterns to be good for adding a bit of frosting flair.

If you loved the designer dresses, search showstudio for free designer patterns that aren’t basic.


Redefining Frosting & Cake

By now most of us are familiar with the definitions of frosting & cake. Frosting is the fun, bright stuff you make that doesn’t match with much. Sewing cake means sewing basics, often simple & classic shapes in solid colors.

I have a problem with this definition. Actual, edible cake is not an everyday thing- although what kid hasn’t wished that it were! Cake is a treat. It does not imply a boring basic. For me, cake is something that’s more practical while still being special in some way. Cake is less likely to give you a fashion tooth ache than frosting, and by that I mean a headache because you can’t match up anything you own. This idea of cake is in line with my definition of a foundation garment, something that goes beyond a basic in its fabric, cut, or color.

If cake is a special basic, then the mere act of sewing can make a plain garment special. How many of us cherish the things we make simply because we made them? The most plain & poorly constructed t-shirt can be a accomplishment & so it becomes cake. Also, because we sew our own garments we can easily customize them. Wanting to make really unique things can mean going so far as to make something that stands out even in our own closets. Frosting is born.

But that’s just it, frosting stands out in our ownclosets. What’s frosting for one person is not for another. One woman’s frosting, another’s cake. One woman’s crazy quilting cotton dress, another’s everyday dress.

For me, this is a basic, everyday dress. For others it might be pure frosting, never to be worn except on special occasions.

When you’re picking things to wear during Frosting Fortnight, choose based upon your own closet. Maybe for you it’s all vintage dresses. Or maybe it’s the really sexy stuff you no longer wear because you don’t have time to go out a lot. It could even be basic things that spend too much time collecting dust because you’ve changed jobs. It’s your closet. If it doesn’t fit in your everyday life, whatever that may be, then it’s frosting. So tell me, what’s frosting for you?

Come join me & Steph for Frosting Fortnight & celebrate it your way! Don’t forget to join the Flickr group too. We’ve got some exciting posts coming up & some really great guest bloggers.

The Foundation Garment Challenge


The Foundation Garment ChallengeWhat is a foundation garment say you?

  • A garment that goes beyond the simple, solid colors, materials, or construction of basic garments.
  • Any garment that can anchor multiple outfits as the focal point.
  • Often a garment upon which you can layer other things.

The first criterion is the basic standard & can be paired with any of the others. For example, a solid colored t-shirt made in a pattern that emphasizes the seam lines of the segmented bodice would be a foundation garment based on the first criterion. A simply constructed dress in a standout, patterned fabric that can easily be paired with other things in your wardrobe to make multiple outfits is a foundation garment because it meets all of the criteria. But a simply constructed & solid black camisole? Not a foundation garment. That’s a basic.

Read this post for more on how to use foundation garments in your wardrobe.

Will You Play Along?

If you’re interested in updating your wardrobe, will you play along with me? The main rule is that whatever you make has to be a foundation garment for you. What one person defines as going beyond the simple cut or color of a basic garment depends on their own closet & sewing experience. As for numbers, you need to make at least one, but more would be ideal. If your schedule allows, don’t just make a single garment, try to make a foundation for your entire wardrobe. Finally, finish your garments by the end of December so you can begin the new year headed in the right direction.

A good way to start is to assess your wardrobe, see what holes you have, then decide how you want to fill them. Questions to ask yourself include:

Now you’ve found your wardrobe holes, go down the list of things you’d like to make & think of ways to make those items more special. Perhaps you find that you lack a basic shift dress. But how can you make it  a foundation garment? Look for a pattern that has interesting seam lines & that can be easily layered with a few jackets or sweaters you already own. Next, pick fabric in a bold color &/or a luxurious fiber like a silk & linen blend.

This challenge is all about making things you will love & wear on a regular basis. The goal is to help form the foundation of your wardrobe.

Let me know if you’re keen on participating! If people are willing to hop along with me I’ll figure out how to make that little image up top into a blog button. Or maybe you can help me think of a better button design.

Combining Aesthetics with Foundation Garments

Since I decided to re-make my wardrobe, I started gathering all the patterns I like to see how they’d fit together. I didn’t get far.

Wardrobe planning, wardrobe, pinterest, clothing, sewing, knitting
The top row is mostly full of Jane Austen Knits patterns & the bottom is full of designer Vogue sewing patterns.

It seems I’m doing a Jekyll & Hyde act with two distinct aesthetics: sleek & modern, antique & very feminine. The divide also separates media, with my chosen sewing projects being modern & my knitting projects decidedly un-modern (save one).

Basics v. Foundations

Basics are generally simple separates in solid colors- i.e. a regular black shirt or a-line skirt. But in my Dressing to Alter Your Mood post I talked about making special pieces. I want to go beyond the simple basics you can find off the rack & instead sew interestingly cut patterns. I want to sew foundation garments. Disclaimer: I’m not saying that foundation garments are better than basics. For me a good wardrobe is a balance of things that includes both.

Foundation Garment

  • A garment that goes beyond the simple solid colors, materials, or construction of basic garments.
  • Any garment that can anchor multiple outfits as the focal point.
  • A garment upon which you layer other pieces.

Foundation garments should act as bridges between the two aesthetics so my overall look is more cohesive.

Silk, fabric
A silk fabric from Mood I have dubbed shattered tundra although looking at it from this angle I can see a chicken taking up the right side of the frame.

Take this beautiful silk, a fabric that’s been waiting almost a year for the right project. It will become a camisole. It can be paired with a multitude of things like skirts, pants, under a jacket, under a sweater, with a scarf, etc. It will become a foundation garment not because of an interestingly cut pattern, but because of the design on the fabric & the yumminess of the silk. Since I should be able to pair it with modern patterns like the Issey Miyake jacket & separately with Miss Morland’s Neckcloth, it can also bridge my aesthetic divide. And it should be able to hold up (mostly) on its own too (don’t worry I won’t be roaming the streets in just a cami & skivvies!). I should be able to pair it with a plain pair of pants or skirt & have it be the focal point of the outfit, no need to layer anything on top of it. It can stand on its own.

Wardrobe, camisole, scarf, jacket, Issey Miyake, planning, Vogue patterns, Jame Austen knits
Once this fabric becomes a camisole it will be able to go with both pattens separately, bridging the divide between my two aesthetics. The neckcloth will be made in burgundy & the jacket in a similar color to that in the picture.

While basics are mainly separates, foundation garments can also be dresses. The black DKNY dress will probably work with the Issey Miyake jacket & as a different outfit with a cardigan I already own. Its interesting design will allow it to function separately as its own outfit without anything layered over it.

DKNY, dress, vogue patterns
DKNY dress, Vogue 1280

The design won’t just separate this dress from other little black dresses, the fabric will too. I’m planning on making it in a moisture-wicking fabric by Nike. Why aren’t more things made with such fabric? Every summer I see business people sweating it out in their suits & I think they’d be much more comfortable if their jackets were moisture-wicking. Ditto bras- no one likes a sweaty boob! But back to the dress, the moisture-wicking fabric will make it wearable beyond the fall & into the summer.

Shifting Color Foundations

It seems my color pallet is changing as well. I’ve decided to make up many of my basics in black & gray, whereas the previous year saw brown as my foundation color. I don’t want to ditch my brown things- I really like them! And while I’ve combined black & brown in the same outfit before, I generally wear them separately. The solution will be to make my accessories in colors other than black or brown. That way, I’ll be able to pair them with my old things & new.

I also seem to be taking a shine to colored pants. The brightly colored skinny jeans that were popular awhile ago reminded me too much of the leggings I wore in the 90’s & I really don’t want to go back to my childhood. But the other day I saw a woman in forest green skinnies & they looked fantastic. I had been planning on making a pair in black or gray, but after seeing the green ones on the street & the burgundy ones by Katherine Tilton, I think I want to make some pants in jewel tones.

Katherine Tilton, pants, Vogue 8837
Katherine Tilton pants, Vogue 8837

The jewel tones would let me coordinate them with my black & brown wardrobes. A solid pair of pants could also span my sleek & feminine aesthetics. Do you think colored skinny jeans are passé now? I think I might make them anyways.

I like where my wardrobe is headed. I’m off in a new direction but incorporating what I already own & combining my love for different styles with quality pieces. Never before have I made such a conscious effort to evolve my wardrobe. This planning is fun! Come on over & see my evolving wardrobe ideas on Pinterest.

Your Thoughts

Do you agree with my definition of foundation garments v. basics? I’d love to hear your definitions. I only just came up with this one & I’m sure if I looked around I’d find more thoughtfully written articles on the subject. Please pass along any you know of.

Dressing to Alter Your Mood

A Call to Remake My Wardrobe

I’ve been thinking about making over my wardrobe for awhile (probably since Me Made May). Many of my basics are getting old & you can’t wear a black shirt & look good once it’s faded to gray. White shirts look awful all pilled up. Elastic waistbands become pretty dowdy once the elastic has stretched out. These things can also wear on your self esteem.

I don’t want to replace my run of the mill shirts & skirts with run of the mill me made garments. That’s not why I sew. I’m on the lookout for interestingly cut patterns.

Dressing to Fit Your Mood

Oak Alley, dress
I was ecstatic to be at Oak Alley Plantation (inspiration for Twelve Oaks in the book “Gone With the Wind”, not the location where they shot the movie, but much prettier). This special occasion called for a bright & twirling dress, the one I made for my college graduation.

When I’m happy I wear bright & often form fitting dresses & skirts. When I’m depressed I wear looser solids in darker colors. There’s a special outfit for when I want to blend in.

Sometimes wearing something I’ve made can give me a boost all day long with plenty of good warm & fuzzies.

When I’m really depressed though, I don’t want to wear anything I’ve made because I want to wallow. Pity party for one. Warm & fuzzies not welcome. I’m no fan of martyrism, but I think everyone feels bad for themselves at some point. When I’m in a depressed mood I wear baggy & sometimes frumpy things- jeans with big sweaters are great for this. Consequently, I feel dowdy & a bit slovenly all day, which just feeds into my inner sturm und drang.

Audrey Hepburn, jeans, sweater
If only we could all look as chic & energized as Audrey when we don a plain sweater & jeans.

If I re-make my wardrobe so it only has things I love, will that help keep me from wallowing as much when I’m having a bad day?

Will making my own sweaters & jeans bring me closer to happy Audrey & further from looking like a stressed collegiate slob? Sure, it won’t magically turn my frown upside down as all my woes vanish in the breeze, but can it make a tiny difference? Small things add up to big things.

My Plan

If my closet is only full of interesting designs that are almost exclusively made by me, I won’t be able to “punish” myself & indulge in my mopey feelings by not wearing an outfit I’m proud of- although I suppose I could still sabotage myself by wearing things that clash, but I don’t want to know how down in the dumps I’d have to be to do such horrid things. Sidebar, planned clashing can be very fun.

This RTW top has interesting sleeves & is the type of thing I’d like to make.

Shirt, sleeves
Look at the sleeves on this RTW top, they’re segmented into three parts.

I made this Vogue top this summer because of the interesting cut of the raglan seams.

t-shirt, raglan, sleeves
These raglan sleeves run parallel to the shoulders & plunge downward to the armscye. A seam runs down the top of the sleeves as well, helping give shape & lessen wrinkles.

I love this Issey Miyake jacket. The side front seams by the pockets subtly curve away from the body because they’re not sewn down. The pants also appeal to me, but I’m not sure how or where I’d wear them. Issey Miyake, Jacket, pants

Another Issey Miyake that I have to make, but I haven’t been able to find fabric with a big enough grid. Has anyone seen any?

Issey Miyake, tunic, grid

I like this LiaLia dress, but am unsure if I’d wear it because of the exposed back- I refuse to let my bare skin touch the dirty Chicago Transit Authority seats. Perhaps a cardigan.LiaLia, dress, Vogue, pleats

I’m drawn to the intricately folded bodice on this DKNY dress, but have been having difficulties finding stretch cotton wide enough.

DKNY, dress, Vogue

I’ve got my fabric ready to go for this dress, but it seems like it will take a long time to complete & I have so many projects to work on. DKNY, dress, Vogue

Everything you’ve seen so far have been basics that aren’t basic. Taking a unique design & making it solid or in a few different shades of the same color makes it basic for me. Solid colors will give my wardrobe versatility as I’ll be able to mix & match more things. The interesting designs will help me love what I’m wearing, which should help buoy my mood. This will especially come in handy as the days get darker & the dreaded holidays approach.

Your Plan

If you buy my idea that self-made clothing can help boost your mood when you’re glum, will you start planning your sewing projects around things that could make you happy on a daily basis?

What’s your favorite color? Go through your closet. Do you need to make more things in those shades or do you have plenty already? When you walk down the street & see someone wearing something you’d love to have, what about it catches your eye?

Think about the things you wear all the time & how you can make them more interesting. Would changing the cut of things appeal to you like it does to me? Or maybe you need to use different materials, like sewing up a very basic camisole in pure silk.

If you’re always drawn to prints on other people, but don’t think you can pull them off, try incorporating little bits. You know those dresses that have a band, or a sash, just under the bust but above the waist- make the main fabric in a solid & choose a matching print for the sash. Or, you could edge your shirts & skirts like I did with this top.

t-shirt, trim
Detail of green trim on a scoop neck t-shirt.

Conversely, if you wear a lot of prints but are drawn to the solids you see on other people, take one of your favorite patterns & reinvision it as a solid or color blocked. I used McCall’s 6561 for my veggie dirndl dress, but it was designed to be color blocked. It would be a nice pattern to try out more solid fabrics if you’re used to working with prints.

color block, dress, McCall's
My version is much less wrinkled on the bodice than what you see on the model, so don’t let that picture put you off. Plus it was pretty easy to sew up all the different pattern pieces.

So what do you think? Is dressing to alter your mood a bunch of phooey? Or do you think those small changes add up?

Sewing for the Life You Want

There has been a lot of talk around the blogosphere about sewing cake vs. frosting, ie basics that you can wear in your everyday life vs. fun things that you can’t wear on a daily basis. I understand this sentiment- it’s why I sewed a few basic t-shirts & skirts this summer. However, I also find some of it a little difficult to understand. If you’ve been following my blog, you may have noticed I have a habit of making highly patterned & colorful things. I also have a tendency to wear vintage dresses as everyday dresses, where a lot of people I’ve met stick to jeans & t-shirts for their basic wardrobe. My skewed view has helped me realize there’s an important & valid reason to sew fripperies in addition to the necessities of life.

I enjoy wearing 50’s inspired dresses to work when others are used to wearing basic jeans or skirts with blouses. This has inspired one of my co-workers to wear more dresses & I only get weird looks occasionally (alright, really just from the one lady, but we all know someone like her).

We sew fun things because that’s the life to which we aspire. We want to be able to go to a grand ball in a lovely gown or attend regular fancy parties in smashing cocktail dresses. Why not? Why not sew those things & strive for the life that goes along with them?

You know you’ve had dreams of dressing up & dancing with Mr. Darcy at a glittering ball.

So many times I’ve seen people write or talk about wanting to be that woman who always looks smashing & well-dressed, even at the grocery store. Sewing beyond basic jeans & t-shirts can help achieve that desire (not to say that a good pair of jeans & t-shirt can’t make you look great, but that’s another post- the topic of putting together a cohesive wardrobe is touched upon here).

I like my sewing to have some utility & don’t want to make something I’ll never wear. But sewing is supposed to be fun too. It’s fun to make outlandish outfits. Just because they’re outside our normal, everyday garb doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sew them anyways. Sew your basics, but don’t not sew a pattern you love just because you don’t think you’ll be able to wear it anywhere. Only sewing basics can take some of the fun out of sewing if you’re always itching to make something more grand.

Incorporate your outlandish outfits into your lifestyle.

Go to a fancy dinner so you can wear your fancy pants outfit. Can’t afford a restaurant because you spent all your dough on silk taffeta for your 1950’s reproduction dress? Have a black-tie potluck party at your house or go on a fancy picnic instead. Yes, picnics can be fancy.

When one of my sister’s childhood friends was moving away she threw a surprise picnic for him. Decades prior they had had a candlelight dinner on the beach post-prom with a spectacularly romantic view of downtown Chicago. She recreated that picnic in the same spot with a folding table (covered with a tablecloth), fancy food from a fancy grocery store & me as a waiter. Why not do the same thing for an excuse to wear your special dress & to create a fantastic memory? Making an occasion special & personalized, even if you spend a fraction of the money that you would at a high-end restaurant, will make for a more memorable event.

But you don’t need a party as an excuse. Going to the grocery store might feel a whole lot less like a chore if it means you get to wear your special outfit.

Just because you wear a nice dress to the grocery store doesn’t mean you’ll look like one of the Stepford Wives.

You don’t even need a destination in mind to enjoy your fun clothing. This one I’m working on: taking walks. I really like walking, but feel like I always need to have a purpose, ie a destination. I would like to start walking just for the enjoyment of it & think this might be the perfect time to don some of my not so office appropriate garb. Sure, I wouldn’t go for a walk in a ball gown, but a loud print &/or revealing cut that I shouldn’t wear to the office, why not?

No one wants to end up like Scarlett & go to a casual & homey birthday party looking like an attention-starved sexpot because you’re wearing an inappropriate frock that your husband forced you to put on. This is not the kind of thing I advocate taking a walk in on a whim, but a nice 50’s dress sans rhinestones with some wearing ease might fit the bill.

Change your basic wardrobe to match your sewing proclivities.

I have a thing for suit patterns. Looking at unique jackets makes me think about how much I’d love to make them. But then I think about how I almost never ever wear jackets or blazers & that they’d just languish in my closet, a waste of time & money. Wrong. I’m changing my style. I’m going to sew jackets & wear them. Why not? My work place is a mix of casual & dressy; I can wear a jacket & not look out of place. This doesn’t have to be limited to the office. I imagine I’ll like wearing nicely tailored & unique jackets with the brightly patterned skirts I’m fond of. I’m hoping to turn what would be a “specialty” item in my wardrobe into an everyday thing.

Take what you want to sew & make it work for you.

If you like sewing fancy things but have a casual lifestyle, find ways to make them as fancy as you want, but dress them down with a casual purse or jeans. Choice of materials & embellishments can make a big difference too. For a basic, everyday hoodie I used a lace knit & elevated the whole thing by edging it in some unique ribbon. Instead of ending up with a ho-hum hoodie I made something special.

A basic hoodie becomes special with the right fabric & embellishments.

Maybe your bent lies less towards silk gowns & more towards sewing office inappropriate patterns. Sew up your office sanctioned attire, but add a fantastically outrageous lining to it (right now I’m imagining fabric fit for a bachelorette party- let me know if you hear of such raunchy fabric). One of my go-to skirts is a plain brown a-line with some white edging. The lining is blue penguins. I can’t help but smile every time I put it on & know that there’s a secret in there only I can see. It helps brighten up my days in the office.

Office sanctioned on the top, fun on the inside.

You can also seek out interestingly cut patterns. Need an office appropriate black suit but think you’ll be more bored sewing the plain thing than you would be working at the office? I recommend looking at designer Vogue patterns. Issey Miyake has very interesting & complicated patterns that can also be modest enough for work. Channeling your energy from a complicated dress to a complicated suit might be just the thing. And doing it all in a solid color will let the interesting seam lines stand out.

Vogue 1186, an Issey Miyake design

Do you absolutely have to sew basic camisoles for work? Choose luxury fabrics like wool & silk blends. I saw a gorgeous & simple linen shell that was elevated by two rows of wing stitching down the center. Need a sports top? When I bought high-performance moisture wicking fabric the whole project feel more special & exciting, even though my pattern was basic. Make otherwise boring items fun to sew by being very choosey with your materials & embellishments.

If you you have the opposite problem & like to sew basic things but have a life that calls for fancier events, sew your basics & dress them up with great shoes or jewelry. For instance, I took my veggie dirndl dress (not office appropriate on top & I suppose not all that basic given the patterned fabric I used, but it’s basic for me) & paired it with a cardigan to make it modest enough for work. Now the dress can do double duty as a summer day dress & as an office outfit. Choosing a nice fabric or a simple embellishment can help people with this problem as well by being an easy way to dress up your basics.

The office appropriate version accessorizes with a cardigan & ballet flats. The hopping around town version goes with sandals & no cardigan, revealing the skinny bra straps that hold the dress up.

Sew for the life you want & make that life happen.

As I said, I’m making jackets & changing my wardrobe. I’ve already got my first one cut out. Also, many of my dresses are short sleeved or no sleeved, so I’ve been sketching up some interesting cardigan designs to keep me warm at work. I’m tossing the boring cardigans I dislike & making ones that I love. I hope this will extend my summer dresses into the spring & fall. Plans are also in the works for a fancy pants house warming party so I’ll finally get the chance to wear this gorgeous vintage dress. Will you follow along with me & change your wardrobe? I think aspiring to the life we want & making it happen can make us happy. When I wear something special it gives me a boost all day long.

It may not look like much on a hanger, but this 1950’s dress is gorgeous. The pattern you see is embroidered, while the neckline & pockets are piped in velvet. Usually I’m not a fan of sparkly shineys on my clothing, but the studs on this dress add to its beauty. This dress goes with the life to which I aspire: simple glamour with good design & excellent fit, helping make every day special.

Your thoughts are much appreciated. Do you think we shouldn’t sew those big, costumey dresses or is it OK to embrace the frosting & go all out? Have you found a happy middle ground & are you planning on making your sewing proclivities match your lifestyle?