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Cali sewalong: finishing the armholes

Finishing the armholes and the bodice

Welcome back to the Cali sewalong! Today we're going to finish the armholes of the bodice with a strip of bias binding. This will act as a small facing, strengthening the armhole, and making it neat and tidy!


bias binding: to make or to buy?

Before we start sewing, a little more about bias binding. Fabric that is cut "on the bias" is cut at a 45 degree angle to the selvedge. (You'll remember that the pattern piece for the bias strip was placed diagonally across your fabric when we cut out.) This means that bias-cut fabric has more stretch, which makes it possible to guide around round shapes like the armhole!

The Cali dress pattern calls for you to make your own bias binding. Although this may seem intimidating, it's quite quick and simple. You've even cut the pattern piece for the bias binding strip already! Using your iron on a low heat setting (don't burn your fingers, it's a little finicky), iron your strip in half longways. This is just to mark the middle of the strip. Unfold. Fold each long edge in to meet the middle and press. Et voilà! You did it. 

Bought bias binding will produce just the same effect. I am using shop bought binding – the fabric I'm working with is very busy and it's much easier to see the detail of the binding without the print. 



With the right side of the binding facing the right side of the armhole, pin the binding all the way around the edge of the armhole, with the edges neatly matching each other. I know it feels like we are attaching the binding to the outside of the dress – that's okay, we kind of are, but we'll hide it inside a bit later.

Pinch the ends of the binding and pin them together where the underarm seam meets.

Stitch the binding together and trim the ends if need be. You will notice that the far edge of the binding is still folded in.



Many machines allow you to slide the tool box off the machine which frees up space around the base. If you can, this is very useful for "sewing in the round" as we are about to do. Stitch all the way around the armhole in the first fold of the bias binding.

Turn the bias binding to the inside of the garment and press lightly with the iron. 




Now thread up that needle, because we're going to do some hand sewing! It's slower, but it produces a much cleaner finished product!

Using a slip stitch, secure the binding to the inside of the armhole. Catch the fabric of the garment with a tiny, tiny stitch, then catch the binding repeatedly until you've made your way all the way around. The stitch has to be very small so that you don't see it from the outside!



Nicely done! Now you have a fabulous, finished bodice to show off. Try it on, twirl around the house in your half-made finery and have a celebratory drink. 

See you back here soon for more! We'll be making up our skirt pieces next. If you want to go back and catch up on what you might have missed, see what we did last time when we sewed the bodice.

It would be awesome to see your progress! Share with us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook using the hashtags #calisewalong #calidress and #afternoonpatterns

Cali sewalong: sewing the bodice

Getting started and assembling the bodice

Now we get down to some real sewing! If you need a reminder on how to wind your bobbin and thread up your machine, have a look at our quick YouTube videos below.

So you've got your machine set up, let's get those darts in our bodice pieces. The front bodice, which we cut on a fold, has two bust darts and two waist darts. The back bodice pieces have one waist and one shoulder dart each. Here follows a quick breakdown of how to go about sewing a dart.



Locate your dart markings on the edge of your fabric and match them together, with the right side of the fabric facing in. 

Pin your fabric together up until the apex of the dart, which we marked with a little dot. Essentially, the dart is creating shape in the garment by "sewing out" this triangular section of fabric. 

Begin stitching the dart from the bottom edge of the fabric. To secure the thread at the beginning, use your reverse lever to go forward and back a stitch or two. Sew slowly – don't be too worried about rushing. Slow gives you more control!

Gradually taper your line of stitching out towards the apex of the dart. Try to make this line of stitches as smooth as possible. This avoids a very pointy dart, which can mean Madonna boobs on the bust if you're not careful.

Gently knot off your stitches at the point of the dart. I find this less bulky than reverse stitching again at the end. Repeat this process for all the darts on your front and back bodice pieces.



Using your iron on a low heat setting, gently press your darts to the side. As a general rule, horizontal darts like bust darts are pressed toward the waistline, while vertical darts like the waist darts are pressed towards the side seams. 



Your bodice is taking shape beautifully! Place your bodice front right side up on your work surface. Then, place each back bodice piece right side down onto the bodice front, matching up the shoulder seams. 

Pin the shoulder seams in place and sew together.

Using your iron once more, press the shoulder seams open.



The neck edge of any garment is subject to quite a bit of strain from movement – facing helps to stabilise this area and add a bit of structure. Your facing is going to sit along the neck edge of your bodice, so think about it as a miniature version of exactly what you have just sewn. 

Place your front facing right side up. Then place your back facing pieces right side down, matching up the shoulder line. Pin and sew in place.

Finish the edge of your shoulder seams to prevent fraying and press open. For this dress, I've used a combination of pinking, bias binding and French seaming to finish my raw edges. Don't worry if this sounds complex! Use whatever method you are most comfortable with. For beginners, this will most likely be overcasting with a zig-zag stitch or trimming with pinking shears. Perfect.

Place your facing right side down onto the right side of the bodice, and pin all the way around the neckline. These sentences are always complicated to read, refer to the image below! Always match up your shoulder seams – making sure that the seam allowances are pressed open.

Once you have sewn all the way around the neck edge, clip into the curvature of the neckline – taking care not to snip into your stitches. This makes it easier and less bulky to flip the facing to the inside of the garment.

Turn your facing to the inside of your bodice and gently press in place with your iron. Note that where you see white bias binding in this picture, yours might look a little different – maybe you've used pinking shears, a zig zag stitch or an overlocker – totally cool, it won't affect the final result!



Last bit for today! Pin your side seams together from the underarm to the waist edge and sew together. 

Once again, press your seam allowances open.



Cool! Pat yourself on the back and take a well-deserved break. That's it for today, and now we have a snazzy-looking top half taking shape! During the week, we'll finish the armholes and move onto the skirt.

Remember, you can share your progress with us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook using the hashtags #calisewalong #calidress and #afternoonpatterns

Running behind? Catch up with what happened last time when we cut out our pieces: Laying out and cutting out your pattern

Cali sewalong: let's cut out!

Laying out and cutting out your pattern

Welcome to the next installment of the Cali dress sewalong. Previously, we got started by choosing a size and cutting out our paper pieces. Now to snip into that fabric! Let's break it down. 

Before you cut out your pieces, make sure you have pre-washed your fabric. There is little more soul-crushing than lovingly crafting a dress only for it to shrink in the first wash!



You'll notice that the pattern calls for you to match the selvedge edges of your fabric and fold in half, with the right sides facing in. The selvedge edges of your fabric look like tightly woven bands running down the sides – you'll spot them easily because they're finished and don't fray. Often, the name of the fabric, design house or a colour bar is also printed in the selvedge. 

Match the selvedges and fold your piece of fabric in half. The right side (printed side or "correct" side) of the fabric should face inwards. This is because we are going to place markings on the surface of the fabric, so we'd rather they remained on what is to be the inside of the garment later. 



Place your paper pattern pieces onto your fabric, following the diagram in your booklet. That said, feel free to break the recommended layout here. For example, if your fabric has a stand-out motif that you want on the front of the dress, place your front bodice piece first and shuffle the other pieces to fit. Just make sure you get all your pieces in!

It is also important to note that the front bodice piece and front skirt piece are both cut on the fold. These pieces must be lined up with the folded edge so that you avoid a big seam running down the front of your dress.

As you place and pin your pieces, pay attention to the grainline marking on each piece. On woven fabrics, the grainline is the thread that runs parallel to the selvedge edge. The fabric is the strongest along this line and offers the least amount of stretch. It is important to line your pieces up with the grainline to make fitting and sewing easier.



Remember, your seam allowance is accounted for on the pattern piece, so you can cut out directly along the edge of the paper piece. 

Now you should have all your pieces cut. But don't be too quick to take those pins out!



Now to transfer the pattern markings to your fabric. Take note of the darts – we are going to mark these on our fabric. First, mark the bottom two lines at the edge of the fabric.

Next, place a pin through the paper and into the fabric, marking the peak of the dart. Lift the paper and mark where the pin enters the fabric. 

And there you have it, dart markings transferred! I like to keep my paper piece attached to my fabric one until I come to sew it. That way, you know exactly what piece of the garment you're looking at. While there aren't that many pattern pieces in the Cali dress, it's a good habit for when you're working with more complex patterns.



The admin work is all done, promise. Next time, we will do a bit of real sewing when we put together the bodice

Want to show us how you're getting along? Share with us on InstagramTwitter or Facebook using the hashtags #calisewalong #calidress and #afternoonpatterns

New here? Have a look at the first Cali sewalong session: Welcome and introduction to the basics

Cali sewalong: welcome!

Welcome and introduction to the basics

For the rest of the month, we'll be tackling each step involved in making the Cali dress from start to finish. With lots of pictures and more in-depth explanation, I hope it will inspire you to sew with confidence!



Let's go over the basic equipment you need – make sure you have the following on hand:

  • Sewing machine
  • Fabric scissors
  • Dressmaking pins
  • Tailor's chalk or fabric marker
  • Sewing thread (make sure it matches the fabric you've chosen!)
  • Measuring tape
  • A big table for laying out your pattern and cutting (I find a clean floor to be just fine if you're short on a good table)



Now, let's break down the requirements for the dress itself!

1,7m lightweight dress fabric at 150cm wide

When you go into most dress fabric shops in South Africa, fabric is sold off the roll. For a soft and feminine Cali dress, good fabrics include rayon, cotton lawn or very soft denim. For something a bit more sharp and structured, consider a wax print or taffeta. Don't be scared to ask the shop assistant to help you! Once you see and touch the fabrics, you'll be able to choose based on what appeals to you.

Once you've found the fabric you love, ask the shop assistant to cut you 1,7 metres. Before they snip in, confirm the width of the fabric – we're aiming for 150cm here. It's likely you won't have a problem as that's the width of most dress fabrics.

For this sewalong, I'll be making the Cali dress in this gorgeous double gauze fabric by Japanese design house Nani Iro. Go to her website at your own risk, you will swoon from loveliness!

A 55cm invisible zip

Invisible zips look a little different from regular zips that you might be used to seeing on jeans or bags. The teeth of the zip are concealed so that the zip can be inserted into the seam of a garment without being seen. If you have a dress from somewhere like Topshop or Zara that zips up at the side, that's most likely where you will have seen and used an invisible zip. 

Invisible zip foot for your sewing machine 

This nifty little foot makes it easy to sew an invisible zip! While it's not strictly necessary (I will demonstrate how to put in your zip without one), it does make it MUCH easier, so I do recommend investing in this little guy. 



Afternoon follows an alphabetised sizing chart. I feel that too many people are focused on what size they are, when really what's important is that you love what you're wearing and you're comfortable in it. Bear in mind that most people will fall across one or two sizes, so choose your size based on your largest measurement. For example, if your bust fits a size C but your waist is closer to a size B, rather use size C. You can always nip it in!


If you're sewing from a digital download, follow the guidelines here on how to print and collate your pattern pieces. 

For those of us working off a printed pattern, take out your pattern sheet and lay it down flat. Now to trace off your size! Only cut out of the original pattern sheet if you're very, very sure that you won't won't to make another size for you or a friend in future!

I find that regular household baking paper works perfectly for the purposes of tracing off your sewing pattern. Use a sharp pencil to trace around all the lines and pattern markings. The paper should be translucent enough for you see what you're tracing.  

Use a ruler for the straight bits and – if you have one – a French curve for the curvy bits. It's not really a piece of stationery most of us use on a regular basis, so a dinner plate will do as a good substitute!

Just flip your plate over and use the rounded edge as a guide for making neat, curved lines.

While you're tracing, remember to transfer all your pattern markings like the grainline and lines that show where to cut on the fold. You're going to need these later. Also make a point of labelling each individual piece. For example, "Cali Dress, back bodice piece, cut 2". This is so that when you come to use it again (sometimes months later!) you know what you're looking at.

Well done!

We've laid some solid ground work for the next stage of our dressmaking adventure. See you back here soon for more!

In the meantime, share your progress with us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtags #calisewalong #calidress and #afternoonpatterns

Still don't have your pattern?

It's never too late to join! Pop on over to the online shop here or on Etsy and pick one up. 

Announcing the Cali dress sewalong!

Good news for all you intrepid Cali dress seamstresses! Afternoon will be hosting a Cali dress sewalong in the month of March. So if you're keen to do some sewing and haven't plucked up the courage to start, now's the time to get your gather your supplies and forge ahead. Safe in the knowledge that we'll be right here with you, guiding you along every step of the way!

The first post will be going up on Monday, 13 March so now's the time to get sorted before we delve in. We will be posting each step every two or three days so that you'll be ready to parade your Cali dress down the street before the month is out. 

Join the party! Just follow the steps and sew along with us. It would be great to see what you're up to and how it's coming along in your sewing room, so please share with us if you'd like. Post on your blogs, show us what's going down on Facebook, tweet us or Instagram those lovely pics! Our hashtags for this event are #afternoonpatterns, #calisewalong and #calidress

Here's the class schedule, starting Monday, 13 March

  1. Welcome and introduction to the basics
  2. Laying out and cutting out your pattern
  3. Getting started and assembling the bodice
  4. Making bias binding and finishing the armholes
  5. Sewing the skirt and attaching the bodice
  6. Setting your invisible zip
  7. Finish your hem and start a new week in style!

Buy your pattern. You can get our printed Cali dress sewing patterns here in our online shop or over on Etsy. If it's last minute and you'd prefer an instant download, no fear, we've got you covered on that front, too. If you're based in Cape Town, pop on over to Fabricate at the Gardens Centre to get your hands on a pattern. 

Get your fabric. Off to the shops with you! We'll be posting some inspiration pics and fabric recommendations to get you raring to go. 

Make sure you've got the basics covered. Sewing machine, fabric scissors, dressmaking pins, fabric marker or chalk, sewing thread, measuring tape and tracing paper are all integral to the process. Just read over your Cali booklet beforehand to familiarise yourself with everything you will need. 

Any questions, just pop Jenny an email or comment below, we'll be happy to help out!

First Impressionism: sewing Burda #104 06/16

Hands up if last minute sewing is your thing. 

It can't just be me. I so often find myself in this situation; in a flat panic at 2AM, resetting my zip for the second time and repeating bugger under my breath. Needless to say, it's not how this dress started out.

I bought this painterly, impressionistic fabric at Ribes & Casals while I was holidaying in Barcelona. It's a lovely weighty cotton twill with a slight stretch. Mostly, these kinds of fabrics sit in my stash awaiting a moment that I feel matches their special status. 

My partner's pending graduation ceremony was an occasion auspicious enough to warrant snipping into it. I chose this panelled sheath dress – style number #104 from Burda 06/16.

By the time the pattern was traced, pieces cut out and I'd procrastinated on starting for a few days, the big event was well and truly in sight. That's when things went a little pear-shaped. 

My major fit issue was across the back shoulders. Burda patterns generally allow quite a lot of room across the back which makes the bodice sit quite high off my shoulders. As a quick-fix, I lowered the back into a slight v-shape to take away some of the excess fabric.

It definitely worked, but it didn't solve the larger, overarching fit issue in the bodice. As such, the front neckline is still a bit gapey but doesn't roll, thanks to a bit of understitching along the neckline facing. The whole bodice would have greatly benefited from some time spent redrafting it to suit my shape.

All that said, it's a great pattern to work with and the style lines are very flattering. The top stitching around the shape of each panel adds a chic edge to the finished garment.  

Using a heavy cotton is a great choice because the dress feels fancy enough for a special occasion while still really just being a simple summer shift. Some Sri Lanka holiday snaps attest to that!

Choosing Fabric: Linen

Choosing fabric for clothes can be an intimidating and confusing process.

This Choosing Fabric series aims to demystify the types of fabric you will likely come across in the shops, and make helpful suggestions on what to use for your intended project.


Linen is one of the world's oldest textiles. The fabric is thought to date back to 8000 BCE, and perhaps even further. The below example of linen was recovered at Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea – likely a scroll jar cover from the first century BCE.

In its purest form, linen is woven from flax. Modern "linen-look" fabrics usually consist of cotton or hemp fibres.


Linen is smooth and cool to the touch, thanks to the properties of flax. The flax fibre is hollow, meaning that textiles woven from it are highly absorbent and breathable.

The weave of linen is usually visible, often with little "slubs" of thicker thread giving it its characteristic texture.


Linen is ubiquitous as both a garment and household textile. Blouses sew up beautifully in lightweight linens, while heavier linens are best for dresses and jackets that require a bit more structure.


Note that linen is typically a warm weather fabric, so it won't lend itself well to wintery get up. Rather stick with blouses, skirts, dresses and lightweight summer jackets.

Also be aware that linen creases like crazy. So think twice about those beautiful linen trousers if you're not that keen on ironing. 


Linen is great for beginners to work with as it's not slippery or stretchy.

The main things to bear in mind when sewing with linen is fraying and shrinkage. Handle your cut edges gently to reduce fraying, or better yet, finish them with an overlock or zig zag stitch. And always pre-wash your linen. There's nothing worse than a perfect garment shrunk in the first wash.


Hemp has a similar look to linen as well as being as cool and breathable – although sadly, just as crease-prone! So although linen is widely stocked, if you're looking for an alternative, hemp will be your best best. 


Tropical ruffle blouse

When I was little, I would carefully save the Easter eggs that were too pretty to unwrap. They would stand in my cupboard for ages and ages until finally I would give in and nibble on an ear. 

I think my approach to this fabric has been a bit similar. But with summer now palpably in the air, I felt like I could take the plunge and put scissors to it. 

An easy, breezy summer top was the order of the day, so I chose to make the Burda Flounce Blouse #124A (06/2016). I left the very bottom layer out when I constructed the pattern, partly because I didn't have quite enough fabric and partly because I wanted a more mod, cropped look. I finished the edges with a small rolled hem which adds beautifully to the flounce effect. 

I found that the sizing was quite generous, which means the straps sit a little too wide for my liking. Not really complaining, I think the overall effect is good and the small niggles could have been avoided if I'd made a toile first.

The pattern calls for elastic in the back but I forewent that option and just did a simple gather. The top is big enough to get over your head so I felt that stretch wasn't necessary, and the fit was snug without the elastic anyway. 

Well, there we are! Can't wait to float off to the beach in this one!

We'll post you your Amy skirt pattern for free!


Afternoon has only recently started offering printed versions of our patterns. We're slowly working on getting all of our patterns available both as a convenient digital download, and a beautiful, printed artefact. 

At the moment, we have the Amy skirt sewing pattern available for purchase in print. For R189, you get your sewing pattern alongside a beautifully designed instruction booklet with step-by-step illustrations to guide you through the process of making your skirt.

Our patterns are printed onto white, 58gsm paper, so they're the perfect blend of sturdy and traditional. It's not the flimsy brown paper you're used to from your mum's pattern stash, it's a little more like baking paper – slightly translucent and easy to work with.

And we'll post it to you at no charge! Please be aware that when we say post, we mean old-school, letter in the mail type post. We don't send a courier, we send the mailman. So keep that in mind when filling out your postal address. 

If you have any questions, have a look at our FAQ, or drop me a mail. We're always happy to help!


Geometric Candy Blouse

When I was in Barcelona earlier this year, I picked up this geometric crepe georgette at Ribes & Casals. And man, if it isn't perfect for this Candy blouse!

At the time, I had no idea what it was going to be but I knew I had to have this print in my wardrobe. It's part retro-chic, part '90s pharmacist but I love it. 

It was a slippery fabric to work with but the resulting drape looks effortlessly chic. 

Try your own Candy blouse

Now available in the shop!