March 15, 2020

Sew a Secret Wardrobe Workhorse: The Humble Pinafore

As I write this blog, it's at the end of a stressful and bizarre week. Existing in a news whirlwind as everywhere in the world is in crisis can make sitting down to announce a new month's box seem oddly trivial. But then again, we can't survive without art and creativity; we need an outlet for our stress. And the past few years have taught me that sewing can provide that relief. So here we go. . . 

Next week is the start of Spring, and with that, the weather will warm; the trees will bloom (and your allergies, if you have them, will rear their ugly heads), the grass will turn green and lush. These transitional times are my favorite in the year, reminding me that nothing is every fixed in one state.

With the changes in the seasons, we will need to update our handmade wardrobe. Out with the sweaters, jackets, and long pants, in with the dresses, culottes, and lighter blouses. And for those in between days, we've got you covered with this month's theme: the humble pinafore.

There are many names for this garment. Growing up, we called them jumpers, but others call them apron dresses and overall dresses. Whatever you call it, though, it's all the same basic garment: a dress with a bib construction that is meant to be layered over a shirt or tank. And this layering is the key to the dress's versatility because it can transition from cold to warm weather simply by what you layer it over.

The best part of the pinafore is that it can be made of a variety of fabrics, especially ones that we don't often use here at Needle Sharp. A lot of women's wear is focused on drape, but pinafores are all about structure which give us (and you) and chance to play with some oft-ignored options. So without further ado, let's take a look at the boxes.  

Sew Fearless Box: York Pinafore from Helen's Closet

If you've been in sewing instagram in the past two years, you've seen this pattern. A lot. It has become a much loved, tried and true, everybody wants to make it pattern. It's one of Helen's Closet's best-selling patterns, and it's hard not to see why.

The thing that I find truly amazing about Helen's patterns is that she uses shapes that I never would've thought of (in fact ones that if you asked me ahead of time, I would say would never work in clothes) and turn them into not only clothes the look good on one body type but on a whole host of shapes and sizes. I've seen this pattern on short women, tall women, plus-size, petite and it always looks flattering! It's truly and impressive gift, and I bow down to her. 

The York Pinafore is no exception. The slight cocoon shape takes the place of waist shaping and the long bib hits just at the right spot on the body. You also get two options of necklines - a high neck or scoop - and two pocket options. And if you head to Helen's blog, she has a ton of hacks you can make to turn the pattern into exactly what you want it to be!

For fabrics, we thought we'd get playful, giving you some classic options, but also some that are a little more wild. With the simple lines of the pattern, it's a great canvas to let you inject some fun into your wardrobe.

  • Black Washed 8oz Denim - We love denim, and we especially love it when it has a cool wash to it. Indigo blue isn't the only color for denim, and a black wash can dress up this utilitarian fabric. On the lighter side for denim, this fabric has a nice suppleness to it, which is perfect for the dress, and it will really show off the cocoon shape nicely. With contrasting topstitching, you'll have the perfect denim look when you just don't feel like wearing jeans.
  • Black & White Woodblock Unbleached Canvas - My favorite artist is Franz Kline, and this fabric just makes me think of his striking abstract expressionist paintings. There's something so simple yet so alluring about the painterly woodblock print, black lines and and unbleached cotton canvas. And with the clean lines of the pinafore, the pattern will really shine!
  • Blush Faces Digital Kahlo Rayon Slub - I know this print is a little bolder than some might choose, but it's also stunning. Picasso-like faces cover the fabric, combining different bright colors and softer skin tones. It's a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and it will make for a knockout pinafore. Plus, the rayon slub is light but not slinky so it will give a softer look to the dress, if you want less structure and more drape. 

Sew Confident Box: Pippi Pinafore from Jennifer Lauren Handmade

Jennifer Lauren Handmade patterns have a very clear vision of style and design. It's simple pieces of clothing that have a slightly retro feel to them and have very feminine, soft lines. This works in perfect contrast to the typically utilitarian and angular shape of the pinafore. 

In the Pippi Pinafore, the bib is rounded and shaped to curve over the breast. (And she drafts for 4 different bust cups so there's no gaping, even if you're a D cup). The skirt has is shaped with pleats, and the back has a simple cross-back. It's both simple in design and elegant in style.

To allow the pattern to speak for itself, we choose three fabrics that will let the design elements really stand out.

  • Light Washed Cotton Denim - Thicker than a chambray, this denim is a bleached blue to look like a well washed pair of blue jeans. At 6 ounces, it's on the lighter side of medium weight so it won't have too much bulk in the pleats and darts. And the cool, clean color will layer well with striped t-shirts, boldly colored tanks, or whatever you decide to wear to add a little fun to your wardrobe. A simple and beautiful fabric.
  • Black Line Drawn Floral Chichi Print Woven - The subtlety of this floral print is the key to this fabric's appeal. Thin, white lines form large, morning glory-like blooms on a solid black background. And it's all on a cotton nylon twill that has a full-bodied drape and thin hand. With 5% stretch, it's supple and comfortable and will make for a pinafore that feels as good as it looks!
  • Forest Green 21W Corduroy - It seemed like a must to use a corduroy for this pattern. Something about pinafores screams corduroy to me, though that might just be my childhood talking. This fabric, a small wale that almost feels like velvet, comes in a lovely deep green and is the just the right mix of emerald jewel-tone and army green. And if we're playing with the mix of feminine and utilitarian, it seems like the ideal choice.

Sew Curvy Box: York Pinafore (& Eliot Sweater) from Helen's Closet

Everything we said about the York Pinafore in our bit about the Sew Fearless Box applies to our Sew Curvy Box. Essentially, this is a pattern so nice, we chose it twice!

It's also so nice that Helen's Closet has extended many of their patterns to size 30. As I said earlier, this pinafore looks great on a variety of bodies, and that includes curvy ones. The shape is incredibly easy to fit, with the loose cocoon around the hips, and the curved arm opening that tapers in almost like a racerback is really flatters. It seemed like a no-brainer to use it in this box.

Since this is a more luxury box, we are also including the pattern for the Eliot Sweater, which is Helen's Closet knit top pattern which variations for a t-shirt, a long sleeve layering tee and a turtleneck sweater. It's a great pairing for the pinafore or for all sorts of handmade bottoms.

For fabrics in this box, we've also gone a little more designer than the Sew Fearless Box, with some great texture and print. 

  • Mustard Waffle Cotton - This fabric is all about subtlety. The golden hue is bright but earthy, and the cotton is woven with a waffle texture that adds amazing visual interest to what seems like a solid fabric. If you're a yellow fan, this is the fabric for you. You won't find another fabric like it.
  • Half Circle Imagined Landscapes Canvas - The blue on grey tones of this fabric are so soothing, and we love how the half circles look like mountain landscape paintings. Using the stripes around the skirt of the pinafore creates and apron look to the dress and we think it is both fun and timeless. We love it!
  • Black Willa Cotton Jacquard - We used the red version of this fabric in the fall, and we loved it so much that we knew we had to use it again. The simple black is transformed by the jacquard texture where the lighter portions are simple weave and the darker bits is a more open looped weave. It will be an amazing, not so simple, black dress to have in your wardrobe.

Sew Indulgent Box: Bobbi Pinafore & Skirt from Tilly and the Buttons

The Bobbi Pinafore and Skirt is a recent addition to the Tilly and the Buttons pattern library, but it fits perfectly into their collection. With simple lines and easy to sew construction, it's a classic pattern that you'll want to make over and over again. 

And you're in luck because we're sending you two fabrics in this box: one to make the pinafore variation, the other to make the skirt variation. Two garments in one box! We've coupled the fabrics together in a way that we think complements one another but you're free to mix and match to express your own personal style. (And, psst, we're also giving you the notions for both fabrics.)

The dress itself is a classic pinafore with overall buckle closures and a bib front. However, this is also a button front dress, giving it a slight military vibe and slight retro feel. And it really takes to different fabrics well, from plain broadcloth to lush velveteen. With the six fabrics we've chosen, we've tried to show off all the different looks you can create with the versatile pinafore pattern.

Pinafore Fabric

  • Mustard Calligraphy Canvas - We seem to be on a painterly kick this month, and each box has an artistic print in it. This print is made up of large-scale brushstrokes, gray ink on a mustard background. The canvas has a supple drape and will sew up beautifully into this pinafore 
  • Oatmeal Diego Jacquard - Sometimes, you just need a natural tan hue to tie your wardrobe together. This oatmeal fabric is calming just to look at and evokes beach weddings and summer nights. It's similar to the black jacquard in our Sew Curvy Box but heavier weight and with a wood grain-like texture, both of which will work extremely well with this pattern. And because it's a neutral, it will layer on top of practically anything.
  • Cadet Blue Velveteen - Who can resist blue velvet? It's got an entire song written about it (and a movie for the Lynch fans out there). So why not create a blue velvet pinafore? The cadet blue, a shade close to classic blue jeans, is muted and soft. And speaking of soft, the velveteen has a hand that is lush and densely piled. It will be an indulgent pinafore to be sure.

Skirt Fabric

  • Burgundy 6W Corduroy - Wide wale corduroy is making a comeback, but it will always have a 70s feel to it. Especially this one, which comes in an earthy red hue, straight out of the Nixon era. The large wale also works as a stripe, which helps to show off the A-line nature of this skirt. So pick this fabric, put on some Nancy Sinatra and some boots and get your groove on.
  • Folk Horse Coral Canvas - Especially in this time, it's important to have some whimsy in your life. So why not in your wardrobe. This unbleached canvas is printed with an intricate floral design that harkens right back to medieval tapestry. It even has a horse on it! With bright coral colors and deep greens, it's fun and cheery, and a playful fabric choice for the skirt 
  • Indigo Railroad Denim - A yarn-dyed denim print with vertical railroad stripes is a perfect match for this pattern. It shows off the A-line of the skirt, complements the vertical button placket, and hey, it's just a classic. A denim skirt is a wardrobe staple so why not take it up a notch with a print?


That's it for this month, and I'm hoping that by the time these boxes go in the mail on May 2, there will be more order in the world than there was this week. Having a small business is always an exercise in dealing with the unexpected, but this week has made me worry about the entire supply chain for our fabrics and patterns, as they come from all over the world. But we soldier on and take things one day at a time as people have always done.

In our Classic Boxes, we're bringing back the sundresses from last year, so if you want a more traditional dress, you can choose one of them. And as always, the swatches will go out as soon as we get all our fabric in the shop.

Until next time. . . 

Happy sewing,



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