Basic Black Book Review and Giveaway!

Basic Black: 26 Edgy Essentials for the Modern Wardrobe features dresses, blouses, tops, a couple of vests, as well as jackets and coats – all in various black fabrics. That’s quite a few garments to squeeze into one 64-page book and one large double-sided sheet of paper. Yep – all the photos and instructions are in this deceptively thin book, and all the patterns are on one large sheet of paper, folded and tucked into an envelope attached to the inside back cover. The author/designer, Sato Watanabe, studied at Bunko Fashion College in Japan. This English translation was released last year.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - Tuttle Publishing
You  can win a copy of this book – read on for details!

You can win your very own copy of Basic Black! This is my very first sewing book giveaway – courtesy of Tuttle Publishing, which contacted me last month about reviewing some of their recent or upcoming titles. I asked Brandon, their marketing guy, if they could send me a review copy of this book as well. (I was already making something from this book for the Japan Sew Along organized by Catrin, who hosted the sewalong at Tanoshii.) Details on how to enter are towards the end of this post. (Full disclosure: I am not getting compensated for this review – but I did get a free copy of the book.)

Like many other Japanese pattern books, the instructions are minimal but the diagrams are very informative with lots of little details, such as where to top stitch or place a dart. (See this post for the Basic Black diagrams of the A-line Block Skirt (pattern T) I made.) The book typically devotes two – at most three – pages of instructions and diagrams per pattern – and that’s it. One of the reasons this is possible is that none of the garments are lined and the designer assumes some sewing knowledge. For example, for the skirt I made the instructions didn’t say to press before top stitching. Clearly the designer assumes you will press as you sew. So don’t forget to warm up your iron and press those seams!

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe - patterns - csews.comAnother feature of Japanese pattern books is that many patterns will be on the same sheet of paper, with many overlapping lines. This means you must trace the pattern in your size onto tracing paper. You cannot cut it out or you will not be able to use the other patterns. Plus, you must add seam allowances to the patterns. If you trace the patterns as is, it will be at least one size too small and likely shorter than you’d like.

Yesterday in my post about the A-line Block Skirt from Basic Black, I mentioned that each garment is assigned a letter of the alphabet; thus it goes from A to Z.

As you can see here, the patterns can be rather messy to look at, overlapping lines and in this case, two different colors, too. But don’t be intimidated – if you use an erasable highlighter to go over the pattern lines, that will make it easier. Just pay close attention to the labels so you mark the correct lines. In this photo below, you can see that the same pattern piece is used for patterns A through J, which are all dresses, shirts, blouses, or jackets.

When you trace the patterns, pay attention to the diagrams in the book, which will indicate when your seam allowance is more than 1 cm or 3/8″. For example, at the hem, the cutting layout may tell you to add 1 1/4″ or 3 cm to the hem but all other seam allowances are 1 cm or 3/8″.

I suppose you could characterize some of the patterns as variations on previous pattern. As you flip through the book, you’ll see some of the same pattern pieces in a different garment but with some slight adjustments to length, necklines, or other details. It’s an elegant economical use of pattern pieces.

Here’s a back cover image I got via Amazon, which uses an image from the Japanese version of the book. The back cover is the same on English edition.

Basic Black by Sato Watanabe -

Clockwise from top left: Dress with Stitched Skirt (pattern S), Polka Dot Jacquard Dress (pattern N), Seersucker Shirt with Collar (pattern M), and Blocked Quilting Zip-up Jacket (pattern D).

The Dress with Stitched Skirt uses the same pattern as the skirt I made – but the waistline starts a bit lower and it’s shorter. Now that I’ve made my pattern adjustments to the skirt, I can easily make the dress. Yay! (You can read about my pattern adjustments here.)

As you flip through the book you’ll see some similarities are in the neckline or certain aspects of a dress or blouse but there’s still some variety in the patterns. This book features clothes that the Watanabe puts in one of three silhouette types:

  • Loose
  • Garments with darts and shaping seams
  • Fitted

She groups each pattern in one of the three categories. This will help you determine which patterns to make. I like the more fitted garments but I really like that dress on the cover, which falls in the “loose” silhouette. I’m a little worried it may look like I’m wearing a shapeless bag but I do have some black seersucker that could work really well.

If you are concerned about sizing, this book actually provides useful finished measurements in inches and centimeters for the bust, waist, and hips for each of the different patterns in sizes XS, S, M, and L. This means that people who are XL and above will need to grade up. Finished measurements for size L for the skirt I made are waist: 29 1/2 inches/75 cm; hips: 42 1/8″/107 cm. The waist was perfect but I needed more ease in the hips. If I used a fabric with lycra, it may have been OK but I used cotton pique. I usually need to grade up in the hip area anyway so that was not a big deal. Note: This finished measurement for the waist and hips only applies to patterns S and T. The other patterns have different finished measurements.

You should measure the pattern pieces – as I was exhorted by EmSewCrazy of Tumbleweeds in the Wind, in my earlier post complaining about sizing. That will help you figure out what size is best for you. Note: The ease will be different according to the silhouette type of the pattern. (See my post Japanese Pattern Book Sizing.)

Whimsical vest - Basic Black by Sato Watanabe -
Whimsical Vest in Corduroy

Besides the dress on the cover, I want to make the Whimsical Vest in Corduroy (pattern G). Though I’ll be making mine in some delicious black wool velvet and I think I want to line the bodice instead of finishing with bias tape. I think bias binding could get really thick and hard to sew through. This is a photo I took from the book. (The photo appears like this in the book – it’s not me cutting her off.)

The photos in the book feature garments in variations of black (solid black, polka dots, jacquard, seersucker, black lace, etc.), but you can certainly use any color you want. You don’t have to use black. The skirt I made, with its 16 panels, would be a great stashbuster. You could make each panel a different color if you want. I chose black because I really wanted a long black skirt.

MaciNic made a lovely polka dot blouse from Basic Black, blogged about it, and reviewed the book here.

I like some of the coats, blouses and shirts – though I’m not so sure about the loosely fitting dresses. It’s not a style that’s flattering for all figures, particularly mine. But at least I won’t need to grade up in the hips. 😉

All in all, Basic Black will make a good addition to your sewing library – and at just $11.87 (current price on Amazon), it’s a bargain. I’ve spent more than $20 on one indie pattern. So 26 patterns for less than $20 is quite a deal.

Here are a few more Basic Black things I like, such as Pattern B (excuse my iPhone photos):

Tiered Sleeveless Dress - Basic Black-


Pattern S: This is the dress that uses the same skirt pattern pieces as the A-line Block Skirt I made.

DRess with Stitched skirt - Basic Black-

Pattern Y – Cool coat!

flannel short coat - Basic Black-

If you’d like to enter the drawing for a copy of Basic Black, please comment below about your experience (if any) with Japanese sewing books and/or why you’d like a copy of this book.

This is open to everyone – regardless of location – because Tuttle will ship it to you! If you don’t want to enter the drawing and just want to comment, say “do not enter me” in your comment. You have until Tuesday, 17 March, 11:59 pm to comment. Then I will pick a winner via a random number generator and post the name of the winner on Wednesday, 18 March. If you are the winner and you live outside the United States, you’ll need to send me your mailing address and your phone number for customs. Good Luck!

Finished: My tunic top from a French sewing book

Tunic front -

Ta-daaaa! This is the tunic top I made from a French sewing book, Dressing chic: Vetements et accessoires, which I got for $6 from the Readers Bookstore at the San Francisco Public Library. The book has 18 patterns for garments and accessories – but it’s all in French, which I can’t really understand – despite a year of French in college. But it does have nice diagrams and the patterns aren’t very complicated so I decided I could figure it out.

I got some help via Instagram from @lakakills, who is French, and assured me that “les valeurs de coutre de 1 cm sont incluses” meant that a 1 cm seam allowance was included in the pattern pieces, and that “envers” referred to the wrong side of the fabric and “endroit” the right side. If you follow me on IG (@csews) you may recall seeing some of my WIP (work-in-progress) photos or this one below, which shows the book, the tunic as it appears in the book and the fabrics I was thinking of using.

Sewing book-tunic-fabric-

I decided to make this pattern because I liked the neckline and it looked like it would be simple to make; it only has 6 pattern pieces: front, back, sleeves, front inset, front and back facings. The sleeve head looks a little funny on the model wearing a hot pink version (see above) – oddly puffy – but I decided to take my chances. Plus it was a chance for me to do some stash busting (I’ve been participating in the Summer Stashbust 2014) and experiment with putting two prints together, something I don’t ordinarily do.

These are the two prints I decided to use – the top one is a print that I got at a Bay Area Sewists fabric swap; it was in the mystery fabric category. It’s very soft and drapey so I think it’s a woven rayon. The one on the bottom is a cotton remnant I got on sale last year at Britex Fabrics. This fabric is similar to the one I used for my Emery Dress. But this version was printed a slightly different cotton (not voile) and had a printing error. There was a misprint of the bubblegum pink detail in the center of the flower so I made that the “wrong” side of the fabric.

Print fabrics -

I usually do a small bust adjustment on bodices but I decided to leave the bust darts as is because the model looked rather slender so I thought the bust darts would be fine as is. I decided to take my chances and just make some flat pattern adjustments and hope it all worked out. The sizes are S, M, and L. Based on the measurements provided, I went with L, which has a bust (tour de poitrine) of 94/98 cm [about 38.5 inches at the largest], waist (tour de taille) of 74/78 cm [30 inches] and hip (tour de hanches) of 100/104 cm [41 inches].

So here are the adjustments I made based on the book’s measurements (or what I usually do with some indie patterns):

  • a slight wide shoulder adjustment – adding 1/4 inch (slightly less than 1 cm) – my usual
  • added 1 inch (2.54 cm) of ease to the bicep area of the sleeves using the method Sandra Betzina details in her book Fast Fit (I got a used copy at Half Price Books.)
  • added 4 inches(about 10 cm) to sleeve length – I didn’t like the sleeve length, not quite 3/4, plus I have long arms
  • added 3/8 inch (1 cm) to hip – I have wide hips

I figured out that I needed more ease in the bicep area by:

  1. looking at the model in the photo and seeing that she had skinny arms;
  2. holding the pattern piece against my arm and seeing that it gave me about an inch of ease; and
  3. comparing the measurement of my bicep circumference and the width of the upper part of the sleeve pattern piece.

I decided an extra inch of ease would be good. I followed Sandra’s instructions for a large bicep. I don’t have a large bicep but I decided that would be the easiest way for me to add ease to that part of the sleeve. I drew a line from the top center of the sleeve cap to the bottom edge. then I drew a perpendicular line where the sleeve cap begin to curve. I cut along those lines and then pulled the left and right sides apart until I had a 1-inch gap in the middle. She notes that the pieces along the horizontal lines will overlap slightly – and they do.

Sleeve pattern adjustment - bicep -

I taped the sleeve pieces to another piece of tracing paper, redrew my  grainline and the bottom sleeve edge so that it’s a straight edge again. If you don’t redraw the bottom edge, you’ll have a curving hem. Sandra says to add this amount to the sleeve cap, which I did but later discovered that I didn’t need to do that. She also advises to stay stitch along the entire sleeve cap, which I did.

I didn’t make any changes to the armscye of the front or back pattern pieces. I just eased the extra inch of sleeve cap when I attached the sleeve to the main body of the tunic.

Note on sleeve lengthening: I was lazy. I sliced the pattern piece about 1/3 up from the bottom, perpendicular to the grain. Then I lay my pattern pieces on my fabric and moved the two pieces apart by 4 inches, pinned them in place, making sure the grainline matched, and cut. I guess you could say I “trued” the piece as I cut.

The trickiest part was how to attach the contrasting fabric inset and the facing to the front pattern piece. I stared at the diagrams and eventually determined that I had to arrange my pattern pieces in this order:

  1. Front body wrong side up
  2. Front facing wrong side down
  3. Inset right side down, 1/4-inch pressed around edged

and then sew the tunic slit opening by sewing as close to the center line in a very tight U shape. I’m sewing through all three pieces. In this photo, you can barely see the facing because the right side is up and the interfacing side is against the main body. But you can see a slight white edge around the facing. On this, my “wrong” side of the fabric, you can  see the pink centers of the flowers and the interfacing on the inset piece.

Inset piece

The next steps were to sew the bust darts, flip the front inset (my contrasting fabric) to the front, attach the front and back shoulders and facings. Then I flipped the front inset to the right side, and pin the facing to the front and back pieces like so.

Tunic facing -

The next step was to topstich along the neckline and around the edged of the contrasting fabric inset. I decided to hand stitch with black button craft thread. Here’s a detail of the front left side of the inset.

Top stitching by hand -

Then I eased the sleeves in place and sewed the side seams – from sleeve edge down the sides, stopping a few inches from bottom. I tried it on to see how it fit and the bust was fine, the sleeve ease was fine, but the sleeve cap was screwy. The very top sort of puffed up about an inch (a couple of centimeters) above my shoulder but the fabric wasn’t stiff so it was like a deflated late 19th Century blouse. Picture this without the pouf:

19th century blouse - puff sleeves

I immediately took it off ripped out the stitches along the very top of the sleeve cap where the weirdness began and ended, then I just took my scissors and cut off that excess. I sewed a new line of stay stitching, plus a line of ease, pinned and reattached. That  quick fix worked! So I took the piece I cut off, lay it on the other sleeve as my guide to cut the excess off and finished that sleeve.

All that was left was to hem the sleeves and bottom. The bottom of the side seams are open (see photo below) so I had to press and fold the seam allowance of there and machine topstiched. Then I hand sewed the hems.

Tunic - right hem detail -

And here are some more photos. It was a breezy and very sunny day. I think this is one of the few photos that show my red shoes so that’s why I’m including it – even though my hair is blowing in my face. 😉

Tunic and red shoes -

Here’s another side view.

Tunic - Left side -

And a closer shot of the front.

Tunic Front -

And the sleeves. I didn’t have enough of the navy fabric for the sleeves so that’s how I ended up with  contrasting sleeves. You can see here how the fabric nicely drapes.

Sleeve detail -

The tunic would probably look better with slimmer pants instead of these wide-leg jeans.

Tunic - front view -

There are no darts in the back and it’s kinda poufs out there – not so attractive, eh?

Tunic - left back detail

I grabbed this belt before I left the apartment but maybe a skinny belt would be better.

Tunic belted - front -

Or maybe it doesn’t need to be belted. The back looks OK here.

Tunic - back view -

I’m happy with this tunic – my wearable muslin. Plus one fabric was free (via a fabric swap) and the other I got for less than $10. I used thread I already had and I spent a few dollars on some lightweight woven interfacing. I think my total costs were around $10 to make this. The only thing I would change is that I didn’t really need a wide shoulder adjustment. I think the pattern was drafted to have a sloping shoulder look.

Have you made any wearable muslins? Or are they only possible with simple patterns?

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Everyday Dresses

Emery Dress and Red Velvet Dress Sewalongs

A few weeks ago I realized that I don’t have any everyday dresses in my wardrobe. Not one. I have everyday skirts but no everyday dresses. Yep. I’m more of a separates kinda gal so that’s part of the reason. And I guess the other reason is my attitude toward dresses. I guess I think of them as being something that you don’t wear everyday.

The five dresses I own only get worn a couple of times a year or not even that. They include a vintage black dress that I got years ago; the dress I wore as a bridesmaid to a wedding; two dresses I made from vintage Vogue patterns, and the dress I made for my BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest entry earlier this year (I was a finalist but didn’t win). I usually end up wearing a vintage hat with these outfits and even a crinoline with the one I made for the sewing contest – not exactly everyday wear but I do wear them to work when I’m in the mood and the weather is warm enough in San Francisco.

So when I heard about Christine Haynes‘s Emery Dress and the Red Velvet Dress by Cake Patterns – I had to take a closer look. At first I thought the Emery Dress was a touch too girly for me – I think the bow made me hesitate. But then I saw the striped Emery Dress by Devon of Miss Make blog and it convinced me that I should get the pattern. She cut the collar on the bias and it looks fabulous, doesn’t it? She kindly let me repost this photo from her blog post Emery Dress Pattern.

Emery Dress - sewn by Devon of Miss Make - pattern by Christine Haynes

The Emery Dress Sewalong has just started but Christine is only on fabric and notions. Muslin sewing starts on Oct. 30. You can view the schedule here. I think you could still join in on it if you order the pattern right away. In November Christine will focus on bust adjustments – small and full. I’m looking forward to that!

The Red Velvet Sewalong starts on November 11! So there’s still time to participate.It’ll be a series of ten sessions over two weeks. I participated in the Cake Patterns Hummingbird Sewalong earlier this year, which was a lot of fun. So far I’ve made three Hummingbird tops, which you can see here.

Melizza of Pincushion Treats was a pattern tester for the Red Velvet sewing pattern. You can see two of the dresses she made here.

And I also love the Lady Skater Dress that Katie of Kadiddlehopper made. She wrote about it in Lady Skater: Sakura Blossom Style and graciously let me post this photo of her twirling around in the dress. Check out her post for more photos of this pretty dress.

Lady Skater Dress by Katie of Kadiddlehopper

And last but not least, today my copy of Clothing for Everyday: Stylish Dress Book by Yoshiko Tsukiori arrived! I pre-ordered it on Amazon.

Clothing for Everyday Wear: Stylish Dress Book by Toshiko Tsukiori

This is the English translation published by Laurence King. There are dresses, tops, jackets, and pants in this book – a total of 26 garments – according to the book flap. There are plenty of photos in the book – slender, winsome, and unsmiling  Japanese models, which probably means grading the pattern up a bit for me. The pattern is sized for XS, S, M, and L. No XL folks.

The dimensions for large are 36 5/8″ (93 cm) bust; 29 1/8″ (74 cm) waist, and 38 5/8″ (98 cm) hips. Based on that, I’m more of an XL in the hips and height. Oh, and the pattern gives the same height for all four sizes – 63″ (160 cm), which must be a mistake. 63″ is 5′ 3″. I’m nearly 5′ 8″ so who knows what the height measurement means.

I’m looking forward to adding everyday dresses to my wardrobe. Have you made any dresses that fall into the everyday category? What patterns have you liked? Have you  made anything from Japanese pattern books? What was your sizing experience like?

And do let me know if you’re participating in the Emery Dress Sewalong or the Red Velvet Sewalong. I’d love to see what your version looks like!

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