Simplicity turns 90: floral fever for Valentine & Stitch

When I saw that Simplicity were holding a sewing contest to celebrate their 90th birthday, I couldn’t resist. I grew up wearing Simplicity clothes my mum made for me, and they were the first patterns I used when I returned to sewing after my daughter was born. So I rolled up my sleeves, stepped out of my comfort zone, and chose the “vintage” category (why do the words “step out of my comfort zone” always send a chill through my bones?!) I also signed up to sew the men’s shirt as I have been meaning to make Rich a new shirt for a while – I had a lovely cotton voile that he had thought I’d bought for him (because it was similar to the fabric of his favourite summer shirt) and he seemed quite downcast when I said I’d bought it for me, so I’d secretly been plotting to use it for him! (And this was 2 and a half years ago, so you can see how speedy I am at getting on with such things…)

Challenge #1: Vintage make

First off, let me say that the design and detail of this pattern (Simplicity 8342) is really interesting and well thought through. In particular I love the cap sleeves of the version I chose. Let me also say that it is NOT my style at all, and I knew that before starting. So any “negatives” I might express aren’t about the pattern itself, but about how I feel wearing the top.

The finished top. I know I’m smiling, but inside I’m wondering if I have muffin top!!

The construction of this top is quite complex. I can see why it was chosen for a challenge, as for a small summer top it takes a lot of time and attention. I followed the instructions to the letter except for a couple of additions:

At the centre front, rather than sewing from each side to the centre and then handstitching the centre, I sewed as one seam, carefully feeding it through my overlocker so that I didn’t pull it out of shape. This worked well, and gives a nice neat finish at centre front. You can also see in the montage below some of the nice finishings you get on the right side of the top (definitely worth a bit of complex construction!):

At the centre back, after I had basted the back straps and checked the fit I coverstitched them in place, stitching exactly over the lines of stitching I used to secure my elastic channel in place. This made a neater finish:

It does mean that the straps are not attached until about 1” below the top of the centre back, but the top is so fitted that they can’t possibly gape! I would have preferred the inside finish of the straps at the back to be neater (top right pic), but I’m not sure how you would manage this (I did scratch my head over it, and came up with a big fat nothing!)

Here are my general thoughts on this pattern:

The cap sleeves really are very pretty and flattering, and the way the straps and ties are lined makes these features very neat:

The adjustable straps also allow you to make sure you can fit it perfectly to your torso.

The numerous pattern pieces are quite small, so I made the whole top from offcuts of the Dune maxi dress I blogged about here.

If I were to sew this again, the one thing I’d do differently would be to secure the back elastic right at the inner edge of the seam allowance, rather than including it in the seam allowance (as the seam here is very bulky).

To finish this section, here’s a little gallery of the finished top:

I can see objectively that this is a very pretty top, and you already know from my earlier post how much I love this fabric! The style is something I need to get used to though, as I’m more used to trying to hide my curves than to celebrating them! Nonetheless, it’s a nice summery piece to wear with jeans. Plus I had a glorious day to photograph it on – that rainbow line isn’t a filter, it’s just the light bouncing off the camera lens!

Challenge #2: Menswear

Next up is Rich’s shirt. This is Simplicity 8180. It’s advertised as a “3-hour shirt”, and it is pretty simple in terms of construction. I think this was my big problem with it – because some of the detail was quite simplified, it wasn’t what I was expecting and so I found it quite counter-intuitive at times. I have to say though that it would be great as a first introduction to sewing a men’s shirt. After reading the pattern instructions I did note down some things I would do differently, and here is a retrospective look at them:

The first thing I did differently was to use felled seams. I find them so much neater and more professional looking than the recommended “press open and finish as desired” method. Top left is the seam from the outside, top right from the inside. This also gives a lovely neat cross at seam joins, as you can see in the bottom right photo (the bottom left shows some topstitching detail I also added):

I also used a trick for the interfacing that is by no means new or original to me, but I’ll note it here:


  1. On the edge that will be visible on the inside of the garment, sew the right side of the fabric to the non-fusible side of the facing with a 1/8” seam (top right pic).
  2. Turn out so that the wrong side of the fabric faces the fusible side of the facing.
  3. Very carefully, press this seam on the right side of the fabric.
  4. Fuse the rest of the interfacing to the fabric.

Then you end up with a neat enclosed seam (left pic, and closeup on bottom right), rather than having to finish the seam allowances with an overlocker or a zigzag stitch.

I mentioned before in my post about sewing jeans that I don’t trim the seams for the waistband corners, but use them to strengthen the corner. I decided to do the same for the collar, even though it’s not a 90 degree angle (I got out my protractor and can confirm it’s 75 degrees!) and was pleased that it worked. Here is my process:

  1. Fold corner down inwards (top left pic).
  2. Fold each seam on top of the corner to make a diagonal join (top right and bottom left pics).
  3. Hold in place with one hand, then with the other reach through on the right side of the fabric, and pull gently to the right side.
  4. Use a point turner to neaten.

As you can see from the bottom right pic, it worked really well. I also topstitched the collar, which the instructions don’t call for, but I like it for a cleaner and more professional finish. I used the method I mentioned in my last Morgan jeans post for the corner topstitching, and that gave a lovely crisp corner:

  1. Knot one end of a piece of thread, and pass through the corner (top left pic).
  2. As you are sewing, when you approach the corner, pull gently on the loose end of the thread to lift the fabric away from the feed dogs (bottom left pic).
  3. Leave the needle down in the fabric at the corner as you turn the fabric round (top right pic).
  4. Keep pulling gently on the thread as you sew down the other side.

Another success! Beautiful topstitched corners. Though please forgive the shadows on these past two picture montages: I did the sewing in the evenings and so the photos are taken in artificial light!

I also topstitched all the way along the centre front and centre back, to keep my edges neat and crisp. You can see that in the photo higher up the page.

I did everything else according to the instructions, until…

When everything was sewn in place, I got Rich to try it on. It was ENORMOUS. I had chosen a size M based on his measurements, which was no surprise as he is a size M in every sewing pattern I’ve made for him (as well as in RTW). But when he put it on he looked like one of those adverts for weight loss where the person puts on the shirt that used to be tight to show how slim they now are. Seriously, I wanted to weep. It was too late to start playing around with darts without unpicking the whole thing, and I was only a week away from the deadline at this point! So I brought out the original and beloved shirt, and laid it on top of mine. You can see here how much bigger mine was:

So I pinned carefully around the outline of the RTW shirt, then got out my French curve and some tailor’s chalk and measured a new outline that was mirrored on both sides. I then added seam allowances, and cut along my new line. I also cut 2 inches off the length and the sleeve length by using my overlocker, as a quick way of ensuring I kept the original shaping of the shirt. The pic at top right shows you just how much fabric came off each side seam, and the bottom shows a mistake of mine: I hadn’t realised that there was a chunk cut out of my shirt bottom at centre back! So talk about a blessing in disguise, since that’s exactly the amount I needed to chop off to make the shirt the right length!! You can see from the offcut piece that I also shaped the shirt mimicking the much-loved RTW one. So finally I get to take my turn behind the camera! This is the finished result:

Overall the resulting silhouette is much better, but the real shame is that the shoulder seam sits too low down on the arm because it came up so large. It’s not unwearable, but it’s not perfect and that bothers me, especially when you look at this back view:

So would I make this shirt again? Probably not, though I would certainly recommend it to beginners. I loved taking part in the challenge, but overall I prefer a men’s shirt with a collar stand and button placket, and also with a back yoke and darts or pleats. I would also sooner go with a tried and true pattern that I know fits Rich, than mess around trying to adapt the pattern pieces for a better fit. But there is also a pattern for a tie included in this packet, and that I may just try! And all things considered, this is still a nice shirt that Rich can wear in the summer, and I know that in terms of finish it looks good. More importantly, Rich likes it – so if he’s happy, then so am I!

So to finish, here are some “floral fever” shots of our duo of Simplicity challenge makes:

I’m wearing my top here with a Colette Mabel pencil skirt. I thought I’d try to go for the full-on curvalicious silhouette, but I’ll give you three guesses as to how comfortable I felt in it!!

And finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIMPLICITY! Thank you for this fun competition!

14 thoughts on “Simplicity turns 90: floral fever for Valentine & Stitch

  1. Kelly

    You two are just too adorable for words!! I love it! 🙂 Loved your post Helen. I laughed when you said Rich’s shirt is two years in the making (I’m guilty of this level procrastination myself haha) and the before and after weight loss advertisement. LOL! I understand being uncomfortable in a revealing blouse but you do look beautiful and your craftsmanship is impeccable (that includes Rich’s shirt as well)!

    1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

      Aw thank you Kelly! These pics remind me of our wedding photos – looking at each other and cracking up because we had no idea how to pose!! Thanks for your kind comments about the finished products. I’m disappointed that neither of us feels great in the makes, but one of the things I love about sewing is the lessons you learn (maybe I have a preferred style for a reason! Maybe I should toile Rich’s shirts before I make them!) So in 2 and a half years’ time when I get round to making him another shirt, let’s hope I remember this 😉

      1. Kelly

        LOL! The clock is ticking Helen! In two and a half years I’ll be sure to ask you where Rich’s shirt is or at least a toile. 😉 It’s good that you are looking at them from a learning curve perspective though. At the very least you have two great pieces to enter into the contest. And yes, posing can be awkward but you two look so natural together that you can’t even tell you’re uncomfortable. 🙂

        1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

          Haha, I have a target now! At least one more shirt in the next 2.5 years! I do actually have my eye on a couple of patterns as I haven’t yet found “the one” so maybe I won’t even keep him waiting as long next time!

          1. Kelly

            Haha! On the hunt for the perfect men’s shirt! 😜 Be sure to let me know if you find it! I may have to sew one up for Travis! 😄

  2. Diane G

    Firstly, you two are so adorable! Lovely photos. Thanks for all of the great little sewing tips throughout this post, Helen. I’m definitely keeping then in mind.
    Both your top and Rich’s shirt look great I know you feel out of your comfort zone and there was some strife with the shirt, but the end results are fab.

    1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

      Hehe, thanks Diane! Yes, it’s funny that years ago I would have just followed all the instructions, but like you I find that when a technique works on one garment, I’ll give it a go on another. This is the first time I remembered to photograph all the stages though! I don’t know how often we’ll wear our new tops but I had fun making them (apart from unpicking the collar 3 times, let’s gloss over that one!!!)

  3. Sil

    Wow! Thank you for the tips for sewing men’s shirt. It’s really informative and I really admire your problem solving skills! The result is lovely. You know I love your top already. Rich’s shirt is very nice, can hardly see the shoulder seam in that beautiful fabric. And your floral fever photoshoot is too cute!

    1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

      Thank you Sil! I really enjoy shirt construction, my next big project is a coat so I’m hoping some of these techniques might come in handy with that too. And thank you for such kind comments – I think I might be brave enough to wear the top with jeans, but I really wasn’t comfortable with the tight-fitting skirt too (it’s like “hi everyone, these are my hips!”) if I have a “signature style” it’s definitely a more relaxed one!!

  4. Carol

    Adorable photos of your two, so precious! I confess, the photo of Rich looking down and away had me giggling, nice job! Good job, Rich, you have learned from the pro. 😉 I appreciate reading your journey and tips on these projects, Helen! You are wise for sticking with them and wrestling through them. Now you are smarter for having done so. Your dual garden looks wonderful! Looking forward to seeing that new shirt for Rich in 2.5 years. Maybe I will join you on that journey. 😉

    1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

      Thanks so much, and well spotte on the “looking down and smiling” pose 😉 I said “look away and think of something happy” to try an get a natural-looking shot from my camera-shy husband! Also, he can take ALL the credit for the garden – I am not at all green-fingered as all I do is repeatedly bemoan the aphids on the roses while he carefully tends them!! And yes, back in 2.5 years for his next shirt 😂

  5. Sarah Smith

    You did great with both of these and they both had challenges didn’t they!!! You look lovely in that top – I know what you mean about feeling self-conscious but the silhouette really compliments you and of course you used great fabric! Well done recovering Rich’s shirt too – such sweet pics of you both xxx

    1. Valentine & Stitch Post author

      Thank you Sarah! Yes, they weren’t straightforward and I think I have my “style” for a reason, but it was fun to make them (and to drag Rich in front of the camera! 😂🙌)

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