A Seamwork upcycle: Mesa dress to Alice top

Hello, sewing friends! I’m sharing quite a simple project today, as I’m working away behind the scenes sewing my Day and Night dress challenge dresses and developing our 2018 patterns! This little top is part of my sewing resolution to make more of what I already have: in this case, a garment that was past its best, and a long-standing Seamwork subscription. So here is the story of my first upcycle of 2018, but be warned: it’s more “gritty realism” than love story!

Seamwork upcycle

I expect most of the sewing world is familiar with Seamwork by now: it’s the monthly sewing magazine from Colette Patterns, and has now been going for a little over three years. Each month subscribers get two credits (though now for new subscribers it’s one credit for a standard subscription and two for a premium subscription), which can be exchanged for PDF patterns. A couple of years ago a new feature was introduced whereby instead of just getting the two patterns with that month’s issue, subscribers could choose to “spend” their credits on patterns from the back catalogue, or from the Colette catalogue. But because I’ve had a subscription since the beginning, this didn’t really offer me much more variety. I bought a few Colette patterns, but I have still ended up with a load of unused credits, and a whole library of patterns I haven’t downloaded. So, in the interests of making use of what I have, I thought I’d give a few of the patterns a try, and printed off the Alice t-shirt, the Sadie sweatshirt, the Jill coatigan and the Shelly leggings.

I have mixed feelings about the Seamwork patterns. I’ve tried quite a few now, and the fit/ block isn’t quite right for me. My favourite is the Winona dress, which I’ve made without the bottom panel and which only needed my standard modifications (grade from XS-S, remove 5/8” from bodice) to be just right, but most of the others, while they look great on other people, are at best a bit “meh” on me (I’m looking at you, Astoria, Aurora, Neenah and Oslo!)

I did, however, like the look of the Alice t-shirt from the September 2017 issue. It looked comfy, and a nice short-ish length – and let’s face it, I can’t only wear Ballerina tops forever, can I? Plus the neckline on Alice is higher than on the Ballerina, so I thought it would be a good cool weather layer.

Seamwork Alice (image taken from www.seamwork.com)

A few years ago when the Mesa dress (a knit shift dress) was released, I made quite a number of them (grading from XS at the bust to S at the waist and M at the hips – it’s quite close-fitting otherwise – and using the length of L), and one of them in particular has started pilling quite a bit. But the fabric it’s made from has quite a deep colour saturation, so you can see it on the reverse side too.

The right side is the wrong side and the wrong side is the right side…

I have made loads of things with this fabric over the years (most recently I used it for my Be Bashful Bikini), and often when I get undressed and turn my garments inside out to wash, I think that the inside looks really pretty. AND, the inside doesn’t pill! So you can guess what’s coming: transformation of the Mesa dress into an Alice t-shirt, using the wrong side of the fabric.

A thread dilemma

I had my burgundy thread in my coverstitch machine for the hemming, but because the inside of the fabric was the darker side, I wanted a burgundy in the overlocker too. I didn’t really want to switch my threads every time I switched machines, so I used a slightly lighter thread in the overlocker, BUT I only had three matching ones, so for the right needle I used a brighter red.

Burgundy/ maroon/ wine/ bordeaux…

Was this too lazy? I do like the insides of my clothes to look beautiful, so I feel maybe I should have kept unthreading and re-threading… because my inside seams aren’t quite a perfect colour match. All the more annoying as when I tidied up my thread box only a day after making this, I found another of the slightly lighter threads, so I could have had all four in the overlocker… [grinds teeth in frustration]

You can also see the pilling on this pic

What’s your thinking here? Acceptable, or just plain lazy?

So, onto the pattern tetris. You’d think that making a top from a dress wouldn’t be too challenging, but my bodice pattern pieces only just fit on! (Mesa is VERY short, which is why I’d always extended the length to a size L).

Alice just squeezed onto Mesa!

But that makes for less waste, so we’ll call it a win. I had lengthened the sleeves of this Mesa dress (it’s supposed to be short sleeved), so I was almost able to squeeze the Alice sleeves onto them. The Alice sleeves are narrower (alarm bell! You know I’m coming back to this!), but were a little longer. I could have done a ¾ sleeve, but by now you know my love of cuffs well enough to know what’s coming next: I used the remaining fabric from the top of the bodice to draft little cuffs to finish the sleeve.

Cuff love is my theme for 2018!

The only piece that I couldn’t squeeze out of my original Mesa was the neckband, so I delved into my scrap bag and found some offcuts of the fabric to make the neckband.

This is all that was left of the original dress after I’d cut out the pieces!

I did measure the neckband first, as in the past I have found Seamwork neckbands to be a little on the baggy side: it was 90% of the neck circumference. My ideal is 85%, but I thought I’d just go for the 90% to get a proper idea of how the pattern is meant to be. Argh, I should have just gone with my instincts. It’s OK, but I know it would sit a little flatter if it was just a smidge tighter, so I’m annoyed with myself for not shortening it.

The construction was straightforward and held no surprises. The only challenge was to keep remembering that I was using the wrong side of the fabric: when I had to pin right sides together, my brain just melted and I kept pinning the ACTUAL right sides rather than the “wrong-side-turned-right-side”.

OK, so, back to those sleeves… I had found when I made Astoria a few years ago that the sleeves were very tight on me, and the same is true of Alice. I don’t understand it as I don’t have proportionally wide arms, and yet no-one else whose Astorias I’ve seen seems to have this problem… Anyway, it does mean I feel a little like I’m wearing bandages on my forearms. When I went back to the original picture to put it in this blog post, I noticed the sleeves look tight on the model too – if I’d noticed that sooner, maybe I’d have let them out a bit… oh hindsight, how clear and cruel you are!

You can see here that there’s little or no ease in my sleeves.

Overall, this t-shirt turned out fine, but compared to my beloved Ballerina top it’s not as comfy or as flattering. I definitely couldn’t wear it after a big meal, as it’s quite clingy round the tummy. It seems a little longer on me than on the promotional photos, which is probably just down to me being short-waisted, but it also pulls quite a bit over the bust, as it’s a very snug fit under the arm. If you look closely you can see these issues in the photo above, but here are some close-up pictures that leave no doubt:

I can’t quite believe I’m inviting you to scrutinise wrinkles on my belly and bust, but I did say it was going to be gritty realism!

On the plus side, the slim fit means I can easily throw a cardigan on over it. And I do love the cuffs! But to really give this fabric a new lease of life, perhaps I should have made a Ballerina top? What’s your thinking here, would you favour making a TNT on repeat or trying new things?

In all these photos I’m wearing it with my denim-look Eléonore jeggings, which seem to go with everything:

Eléonore forever!

Since I’ve printed out another three Seamwork patterns I may try them, but I think after three years I’m finally realising they’re not quite right for me.

Is there a pattern from Seamwork that you recommend before my subscription expires? Or do you have a favourite t-shirt pattern that could rival my love for the Ballerina top?!

19 thoughts on “A Seamwork upcycle: Mesa dress to Alice top

  1. Maxine @ sew.ready

    I’ve earmarked the Alice as a future project, probably just in some plain solids to go underneath tops for layering, I think they would be too clingy otherwise and I don’t need my tummy scrutinised! I can’t offer much help with other Seamwork patterns as I’m struggling myself and I’ve only subscribed for a short period! I do love the Leonora skirt though, a denim skirt is a summer wardrobe staple for me and you know I love the Astoria. Have you tried the Wembley cardy, I love my one and will make some more of these for the warmer weather for sure. Btw did I miss the big reveal of what was hiding behind your back?!! X

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      The Leonora does indeed look lovely on you, Max. Have you ever worn Leonora and Astoria together? My hips are wider than yours and I can’t wear anything high waisted, so I don’t think Leonora would look as good on me, but I like the idea of those two together. I do think Wembley might work on me though! I have a McCall’s pattern that’s quite similar to Wembley that is on my mind to try, so I could potentially compare them. If you make Alice, I’d recommend comparing the pattern pieces to a pattern you already know and love, and see if you need to make any alterations. I wish I’d done this and compared it to the Ballerina top. The thing I was hiding behind my back was the cuffs!! Maybe I needed to announce them with a bit more fanfare 🙂 xx

      Reply
      1. Maxine @ sew.ready

        Ooh that could be a good combo if only I could fit in the skirt atm! Generally I don’t like high waisted clothes because all my extra lbs end up on my tummy, I much prefer clothes to sit lower so I don’t have the issue of needing the waist several sizes more than my hips! I think you’d suit Wembley and / or Elmira. Aha, the cuffs, yes love a cuff myself, definitely more fanfare needed, well for me anyway I totally missed that! X

        Reply
        1. valentineandstitch Post author

          Ooh yes, I might try Elmira! Yours looked really good, and I guess it’s a bit more adjustable. I like low waisted stuff too, I think it looks more flattering but also since I have a short torso, anything high-waisted just cuts me in half. Ah I should definitely have done some kind of trumpet call before revealing the cuffs!! Never mind, I’ll pretend I was going for understated 😉 xx

          Reply
  2. Rachel

    I have made the Manila leggings. I like them with the exception of the crotch height being a bit high waisted for me.
    I look forward to seeing your reveal of the Mesa dress. I haven’t made this one but it intrigued me being a knit dress.
    You mentioned the arms being tight, I recently sewed my first full bicep adjustment!! I was sewing a test pattern and thankfully the designer included bicep measurements (so I could see ahead of time that the arms would be a bit tight).
    I always love hearing about your sewing experiments and what you’re learning about. Thank you for sharing!!

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Oh the ankle detail on the Manila leggings is pretty isn’t it! I haven’t tried them but it might be fun to incorporate that detail into another pair of leggings if the block would need a lot of adjustments. The thing that surprises me with these sleeves is that it’s the forearms that are tight, and I have pretty skinny forearms. It was the same with Astoria, I’m really surprised not to have seen more people mention this (or maybe people don’t mind tight sleeves as much as I do?! I just feel like I’ve been given a bandage for a sprained wrist!!!!) My Mesa dresses featured on my IG feed quite a bit last Me-Made May, but I’m wearing them less now as it took several versions before I finally got the neckband the length I felt it should be, and the length too. So I tend not to wear the earlier versions (though I should have taken a photo of this one before I chopped it up and made the Alice!) Thanks for stopping by Rachel 🙂

      Reply
  3. Kendra

    I pretty much never stray from the tilly and the buttons agnes tee. It’s my ride or die pattern, really, and I have zero shame at not trying other slim fit top patterns because I’d rather have clothes I know I’ll love. But I’m also a hard core creature of habit. As far as seamwork patterns go, I’ve been loving the Neenah dress (which I mostly shorten into a top). I haven’t noticed the weirdly small arms thing on that pattern. I’m also finishing their camden cape right now and loving it (though I took a LOT of width out of the pattern pieces), and I love the Colette wren dress.

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Hey Kendra! I reckon you’d also love the Ballerina top then (but since you’ll never get me to switch my Ballerina for an Agnes, I fully accept that this works both ways ;-)) But I think the important thing is knowing what works. I need to work on my “zero shame” and stick with what I love. I thought I was going to love Neenah, but it was huge on me! Definitely no small arm issue there – it looked like I’d made a size too big and it reached my mid-calf (and I’m 5’6″). The silhouette is so lovely though, I can imagine it would look gorgeous on you shortened into a top. I can’t wait to see your Camden cape, now that is one I’d like to try (purely for the joy of cape-making, as I can’t claim to need one in my wardrobe!) Thanks for reminding me of that one. And maybe someday I’ll try your Neenah hack too!

      Reply
    2. valentineandstitch Post author

      P.S. I just remembered that it was the Seamwork Mesa that first connected us during Me Made May last year! Which makes Mesa officially my favourite Seamwork pattern, even if I am now cutting them up and recycling the fabric 😉

      Reply
  4. Diane G

    It looks good on you Helen and I love the colour with your complexion, though I do see what you mean re-pulling. Do you never pin and try your tops before stitching? I almost always cut a touch bigger, pin and try on and then adjust and stitch. That way I never get a fit I don’t feel comfy in. Mind you, you were short on fabric so that’s a big factor obviously.
    I’ve never tried any Seamwork patterns and I’m not familiar with any of their patterns at all, I’m afraid. When I first made a long sleeved tee, I chopped up an old ready to wear top and made a pattern from it. It’s been my base for all of my knit tops and tees ever since 🙂

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Hi lovely, thank you for seeing the positive – the lovely colour of this side of the fabric! I think I’d lost sight of that in my disappointment about the fit. For fitted tops I often measure the pattern pieces rather than pinning the fabric – I didn’t here because it only just fit on the dress, I think it was denial! Also I have both the beautiful Ballerina pattern and my own perfect t-shirt drafted on the computer, so this was a real case of making the wrong thing for the right reasons. I wanted to make use of the subscription I have (and I’d had the files printed in A0 too), but really I should have called it quits and made something I love. I’m going to try one more Seamwork pattern and if I’m not happy with it I’m just going to draw a line under it and chalk it up to “experience”!!

      Reply
  5. Kelly

    I thought I recognized that fabric hehe… 😉 Firstly, you are waaay more patient then I am when it comes to threading your overlock. I’m very particular about the insides of my garments but I decided that when it comes to the overlock it’s black and white and that’s it! 😂 So I am in no position to judge here! Second, I too suffer from tight Astoria arms… I just assumed they were supposed to be like that and didn’t think much of it. I really do have to go through my subscription though… the credits are piling up and there just isn’t enough time. Lastly, thank you for sharing an honest review on how this top fits on you. Even with those issues it looks great on you and of course well executed sewing! 😊

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thank you Kelly! Maybe I should go with “black or white” too, then I wouldn’t be so exacting about different shades of burgundy 😂 that’s really interesting about the Astoria sleeves. I am not alone! I guess when you produce that many patterns you try to make sure the sleeves aren’t always the same… and so sometimes they end up narrower. I think I need to measure my sleeve pieces and figure out optimum width, then adjust accordingly… but it seems a lot of hassle when I already have the perfect sleeves on the Ballerina top! And yes, I think Seamwork is probably better if you come to it now and have the whole catalogue to choose from – I feel terribly guilty that I have all these unused patterns, but maybe unused is better than unloved!!

      Reply
      1. Kelly

        I picked up the black and white from someone on IG but I can’t remember who. Saves a lot of time and headache. I say why bother adjusting the sleeves unless you like the look of the rest of it. You have your favorite top anyway so spend time making more of those instead. 😊

        Reply
        1. valentineandstitch Post author

          I think I’m too obsessive about matching my threads!! It’s the kind of thing that would irritate me forever if I knew I had a better matching colour thread and didn’t use it. Every time I wore the garment I’d be thinking “if only I’d matched my thread”. Yeah, I know, I need to chill out 😉 Wise words about not bothering adjusting a given pattern when I have a similar one I like better anyway. It’s that guilt again – “must use these because I have them”. But if the end result is a less beautiful garment, it’s kind of self-defeating isn’t it…

          Reply
  6. Kate

    Hi Helen! I think we are all a bit of a sucker for trying new things even if you *secretly deep down* know they may not work. I love the look of a fitted tea dress or flutter sleeves, e.g. the ultra feminine Sew Over It patterns- but I am too un-curvy (brain freeze here, what’s the opposite?!) and broad shouldered for them to look any good. Doesn’t mean I don’t try it once in a blue moon though I’m invariably disappointed. Anyway I think you are being very hard on yourself, I promise I had to examine the pictures closely to see the flaws you pointed out! As for the threads I have a stack of off white / grey / greyish blue which are good enough for most light colour things I make (as well as the standard black / navy etc). It is only when its an out there colour (e.g. bright green) that I bother buying new threads!

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Hi Kate! Thank you for your kind words! I know what you mean about certain things that you love the look of but know won’t suit you… I’ve sewn a few of those too! (Is there an opposite of un-curvy? Gamine?) Actually I’ve just been reading your new blog post and I did what you highlight there – I was too busy thinking “I’m doing a good thing because I’m upcycling” that I didn’t think about whether I would love the end product. Ultimately I would have loved it more if I’d made a Ballerina top, and I was thinking “ooh but it’ll get boring if I post another one of those”. But am I sewing to post pretty pictures on social media, or am I sewing to make a beautiful, sustainable wardrobe? I guess if I’m being hard on myself it’s because there’s all that thinking behind it as well as not being 100% happy with this pattern. Re the threads, I do mostly use white, black or navy in my overlocker, but if my fabric is dyed rather than printed I do like to match it on the inside too! But perhaps a white thread would have done just as well…

      Reply
  7. Sarah Liz

    I am sorry your top is just a tiny bit tight – I think we all do this from time to time – pretend that the much too small fabric pieces really will turn out exactly the right size, length etc. But on the bright side, you have now got this top out of your system. It looks to me like the top would be better in a very stretchy knit that works with negative ease. But, as you have a body a little like mine (fairly straight and small frame, so even though we are small, we soon get body fluff and ripples)…a negative ease really stretchy top would not really suit you. But you are right, a tighter top can look good under a cardigan. As for overlocking thread, looks fine to me. Sometimes I think we want things to be just a bit too perfect – a good goal of course cos it keeps us working to a high standard, but there are times when what is works perfectly too.

    Reply
    1. valentineandstitch Post author

      Thank you Sarah Liz, you always have such a positive perspective and what you say about getting a pattern “out of my system” is a really good way to look at it. It was a false economy to say “I’m making use of what I have and sewing this pattern”, because ultimately I haven’t made a garment I love from it. And yes, I get the “ripples” all too easily, especially because I have quite wide hips and so anything that’s too tight rides up and I’m constantly adjusting and tugging – who needs that in the everyday!! I think in the end a white thread in the overlocker would have bothered me less than my slightly mismatched shades of burgundy! Lesson learned…

      Reply

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