Goodbye, Summer. We Hardly Knew You!

I’m a writing fellow at a state university, and that means I’m tied to an academic calendar. Summer always feels a bit off-pace in academia. We work, but the rhythm is different — fewer classes, more special projects. Every summer, I set goals for myself that I wouldn’t dare to set for the regular school year — things like the massive pile of sewing I completed in June and the storage unit clean-out I’m tackling this month. This rhythm works well for me because it allows me to process my yearly goals in chunks based on the semester. Summer is always a slow semester, and summer always means loads of progress on other fronts. It also means three months when I’m ripped from my normal routine and dealing with a lot of one-off tasks, and things like blogging tend to get pushed to one side.

That has certainly happened this summer. I’ve had a hard time even remembering to blog, and that has been complicated by learning I need to have surgery next week. I had a couple weeks’ warning, so I’ve spent these past weeks trying to get everything set up for the recovery period. I’m not worried at all about the surgery, which is a simple procedure with an extraordinarily high success rate. But I’m a bit worried about the aftermath, when I might not be able to do most of the things I normally do. Like, you know, be awake.

So even though we’re shifting into the fall semester now, I think it might be a couple of weeks before I’m back to my regular routine.

I have mountains of half-finished projects in my sewing room right now. Really, mountains. I can’t see the top of my large sewing table or the two dressers I use as storage and work spaces. I’ve started putting things on chairs because I’ve run out of other surface area. It’s a symptom of the way things are going right now — I have a few minutes, just a few, at irregular intervals to try to cram in a bit of sewing. Knitting seems a little easier to get into right now because I can drop a project in the middle of a row if need be. Harder to drop a sewing project in the middle of the seam.

One of the projects currently littering my table top in many pieces is this formerly finished dress.

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McCall’s 7120

This is McCall’s 7120, a fairly new dress pattern that caught my eye because of the loose shape and asymmetrical hem. I thought it would make a cool, comfortable summer dress good for backyard parties, and in fact, its first wearing happened at my niece’s 8th-grade graduation barbecue. The fabric has been in stash for so long that I can’t even tell you where it came from. It’s in a very lightweight gray cotton, about as light in hand as a batiste but completely opaque. Perfect for a hot sunny afternoon, right?

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Yeah. The issue with this dress is a little more apparent in this photo. It’s really broad through the shoulders. REALLY broad. I used a smaller size above the bust line (McCall’s patterns tend to run wide in that area), and it’s still so broad there that it can slide off my shoulders when I move. You can see, along the armscye in the arm holding the camera, how the extra fabric sort of pools and bags there.

So, despite having worn it a few times already, I decided to rip the darned thing apart and narrow the shoulders so I don’t have to keep tugging at it when I wear it. I’m taking it in along the center back and center front above the bust line (using darts), and I might try shaving a tiny bit off the shoulder seams, too. This will result in a higher, narrower neckline, but I’ve decided I’m okay with that. If I make this dress again — and I might, just because this is one of those versatile patterns with a clean shape and good hem and sleeve variations — I will redraft the shoulders to preserve the original neckline while achieving a better fit overall.

This was one of the stash sewing contest entries from June that I just haven’t had a chance to blog yet. I’m going to try to load my queue with a couple others before I go in for surgery, but please forgive me if I can’t respond to comments as quickly as normal. I don’t know how the recovery from surgery will go — I might find myself on the computer a lot, or never at all. We’ll see!

Do you ever rip apart a finished garment after a few wearings to tinker with the fit?

Theresa

And this is why we pay more for better fabrics

There’s a story behind this fabric. Some years ago, Groupon had an offer for a local fabric warehouse which I had never visited. It was a great little Groupon, so I snapped it up, plugged in the address to my GPS, and headed to the warehouse. It’s a massive place, three floors and multiple rooms on each floor. It took me half the day to get through the main floor, and that was as far as I got.

Chicagoans will know the place by this description: it’s messy, overwhelming, and the selection is half-treasure, half-trash. I’ve purchased some beautiful silk crepe there of a nice quality and weight, for a shockingly cheap $7/yard. I’ve also purchased some poly silky that ended up in the garbage, literally, after the pretreatment washing. (That one still surprises me. I’m usually a better judge of fabric and can avoid mistakes like that one.) There really is buried treasure in this warehouse, but the accent should probably be on the word “buried.” Everything is a cut above the quality usually offered at big box retailers, but beyond that, quality varies. A lot.

In any case, on that particular shopping day, I needed to find enough fabric to use up the groupon. This would not normally be a problem for me, but it was my first time in this warehouse. I didn’t quite have the lay of the land, so to speak, and I spent far too long wandering around with my jaw open, trying to figure out how to navigate the rows and rows and rows and rows of fabric. And rows. And rows. It’s really disorganized, though you do start to get the vague impression that evening fabrics are sort of located in one room, more or less, and day wear in another. The home dec stuff is definitely segregated from the garment fabrics. Some things are on shelves, some on steel posts, some heaped in baskets, some leaning against walls or laying on the floor. You’ve never seen so many bolts under one roof before.

I found the $7/yard silk crepe and a really pretty pink brocade that day. And I also found the fabric to make into this.

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Simplicity 1716, FrankenView

This is a red rayon-lycra blend that turned rubbery after a wash in cool water. Rayon can get rubbery like that sometimes, but usually cold water doesn’t affect it that way. Usually, it’s in response to steam — not all rayons are comfortable with exposure to steam. So I don’t know what happened here, It’s possible that the cool setting on my older washing machine wasn’t all that cool — this prewash happened right before the dang thing died, so anything is possible. But the rayon was definitely altered after that washing, as can sometimes happen with rayons.

So the weight and drape of the fabric was affected. I’d originally though to make a skirt with this fabric, something fluid with gores, maybe. But that idea went out the window after the prewash. And then I was never really sure what to make, but last month’s stash sewing contest inspired me to pull out this fabric and find something to do with it.

Enter Simplicity 1716.

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I wanted something that resembled view F, the version shown in the lower left corner drawing. But that version has a shaped hem and ruching on the side seams, so I ended up playing mix-and-match with several pattern pieces to get the finished garment. I made a FBA, and I ended up hacking off the long sleeves to make 3/4 sleeves because the fabric over my wrists was just irritating. I knew I would always be pushing up those sleeves and figured I could put an end to that with the scissors!

My only real regret with this top has to do with the way the back neck facing is applied. Normally, we apply facings last, after shoulder seams are finished. But with this draped cowl, there is no front facing piece. The cowl is self-facing. The back neck facing piece is still applied after the shoulder seams are stitched, meaning that you have this awkward bit where the back neck facing, the shoulder seams, and the cowl front are joined. I didn’t like that, but it didn’t bother me enough to rip it apart and re-do it.

I really like the final garment, even though the fabric is not so great. It feels a little sticky and dense in the final garment, but I wear this one frequently. The color is good, and the fit is good, and the rayon actually drapes nicely at the neckline. I like it so much that I’ve already made it again. The second time, I attached the back neck facing before sewing the shoulder seams, and the finish is ever so much neater. I’ll show you the second version someday!

The main lesson in this garment is that it’s often worth it to buy a better quality fabric and treat it carefully. I ended up with something wearable, but that might be more due to luck than to selection or skill.

Have you ever accidentally turned rayon into rubber?

Theresa

Twirling like a little girl

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This is an OOP Vogue pattern designed by Tracy Reese. I’ve wanted to make this one for yonks, but kept stalling for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Now that I’ve made it, I’m on the hunt for fabric to make it again. I love it enough that I could easily make it ten times. This dress could become my summer uniform.

It is fiddly and it did take time and patience to complete.  It might not be evident from this photo, but the bodice is in many pieces. There are two pieces at front that form a V, and they’re joined to full facings and side bodice pieces to complete the bodice front. So that’s six pieces just for the bodice front, and each piece has its darts or gathers to create shaping. It’s pretty fiddly, and I wish I’d lengthened the bodice just about an inch, maybe an inch and a half. I’m only 5’3″, and this might be the first pattern where I’ve ever wanted to lengthen a bodice. The waist just rides up to a slightly awkward place on my torso — it might not be an issue for other people.

There’s a drawstring neck tie at the back — it’s easier to see on the pattern envelope than on any of the photos I took.

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Those ties start at the shoulder seam and go through a casing to the center back slit seam. It’s an interesting detail that adds something just a bit fun to the pattern. But the real fun is in the skirt.

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Look at how much volume is in that skirt. I’m holding it out to waist height, and look at how many folds and gathers remain at center front. This is one of those skirts that you can twirl in, and it flies out around you in a circle with extra fabric to spare. Yes, I know that from experience! Who can resist a good spinny dance move in such a skirt? I wore this one to an afternoon party and spent far too much time spinning and twirling with the little girls on the lawn. Luckily, the built-in petticoat preserved my grown-up girl modesty!

I used a very slippery, fluid rayon jersey for this one, and I think that was the key to its success. A light silk jersey might work, too, but cotton would be too heavy. And poly, ugh, why bother. I’m not a big fan of sewing with rayon jersey — and its more challenging qualities substantially enhanced the overall fiddly-ness of the construction process — but the end result makes it worth every single moment when a pin fell out of the seams or the gathering lines wouldn’t hold.

All in all, a big success, and if you can find this OOP pattern in a resale bin somewhere, I encourage you to snap it up.

Do you have a go-to casual dress pattern?

Theresa

A summery skirt

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This little flounced skirt was made with a TNT skirt pattern I developed last summer. (Inspired by Ungaro) I didn’t know I was frankenpatterning a TNT skirt when I made the Ungaro knock-off, but this is one that I could easily make over and over again.

This time, I made it in a bit of stashed cotton broadcloth, black with a silver pattern that looks a bit like a night sky. I bought it when the galaxy prints were dominating the runway. It’s evocative of those galaxy prints without being too specific — and I think that vagueness means it won’t become dated as quickly. Prints do become dated fast.

Here’s a crop of the print, tiny silver pinpoints on a black background. It almost looks mottled.

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In any case, I whipped this one out pretty quickly as part of the June stash challenge. I sewed 30 yards for that challenge and have loads of new things to show you, which I had planned to do long before now. Things have been more than a little hectic here the past few weeks as we’ve had everything from problems at work to a gas leak in the house. So I’m just now looking around and saying, “Where was I?” I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post! Gosh, I’ve probably already worn this skirt four times since I finished sewing it.

This time, I didn’t underline the fabric. It’s a light broadcloth, but I wanted to keep it light. In the other two versions I made of this pattern, I underlined both and was very happy with the results. The Ungaro knock-off was underlined with a batiste which provided just enough body to let the quilting cotton hang smoothly and have a bit of movement. The other version is a mid-calf skirt with no flounce, and I underlined that one with some white shirting. I wanted that skirt to have a stiffer hand, and the shirting gave me just the bell shape I wanted.

If you look in the photo of this black and silver version, you can see that it hangs in loose, soft waves. If I had underlined it, those waves would not be as fluid. For this particular fabric, which has a bit of edge from the silver and black color scheme, I thought a little softness would be the right choice for balance. I didn’t want this to look stiff or hard.

So this one is a win. Honestly, most of the garments I made for the June challenge were wins, and it was a lot of fun to dedicate a month to volume sewing. I can’t even believe how much I finished in just a month — but we can always do more than we think we can, if we just focus on the task, right?

Theresa

 

My Favorite (So Far)

I’ve stitched through over 19 yards of stash so far for the June challenge at Pattern Review, a fact which stuns me. My “I Can Dream” goal was 25 yards for the month. With the nearly 3 yards (in the form of two tops) in final stages in my sewing room, and another 13 days left in the month, I think I might beat that goal. File this one under, “You’re always capable of more than you imagine.” <— what one of the trainers at the gym says all day long every day

I’m falling way behind on blogging all of these FOs — too busy sewing! and given that I’m in the race for second place, I’m going to keep that going as long as I have a shot at a prize. But here is a dress I finished over the weekend, and it is my favorite so far of all the things I’ve finished this month. It’s cool and breezy and floaty, and it will be perfect for hot summer days. I love a lightweight dress on a summer day because you can look casual and non-slobbish and still be cool and comfortable.

005I look at this picture and think, boy, do I need a new hair stylist.

That pale yellow fabric is a fine cotton lawn purchased at Haberman’s in Detroit. A couple of years ago, I met friends in Stratford, Ontario, for the theater festival. The costume mistress for the theaters happens to also be a romance novelist, so she arranged a backstage tour of the costume department for us. YOU GUYS. Imagine an entire network of hallways and rooms, like a little maze running under the theater. Turn a corner, peek into an open room, and there’s a cobbler making custom shoes. Across the hall, through another open room, you’ll spot the giant vats where they custom dye their textiles. Hat makers, wig makers, pattern makers, seamstresses — the list goes on an on, each tucked into their own delightful nook in the maze. And the fabric storage room? *dies*  They had to pull me out of that room, and I left fingernail marks on the walls as they dragged me away. I’m talking silk brocades so decadent and gorgeous that you would have to hunt the entire globe to find something that special. Which they do. The costume mistress travels to all the wonderful places where we hide the best things. Best job ever, right?

So, after being whipped into a froth by that amazing behind-the-scenes tour, I detoured through Detroit to pop into Haberman’s, a legendary fabric store — and with good reason. The fabrics were superior quality, not a cheap crappy bolt to be found anywhere in the store. They even had some real Missoni fabrics from the Missoni mills. I could have spent all day there. Instead, as soon as I spotted the signs for a sale on all cottons and linens, I spent half a day there, walked out with bags too heavy to carry, and have been dreaming of a return trip ever since.

This yellow lawn is incredibly smooth and light, sheer enough that I have to be careful about what I wear under it, but opaque enough to get away with skipping a slip. I wish you could reach through the screen and touch it. It’s that good.

I like yellow and gray together, so I cut the bodice from a piece of heathered gray cotton leftover from another dress. I think the colors play well together.

This is a Vogue pattern, and it was very easy. I think even a very new beginner could handle this pattern, and it would give them a chance to try inserting zippers and to see how fabric behaves on the bias. Most of the pattern is cut on the bias, and in single layers. My only hiccup with the pattern came when I stitched the skirt front to the skirt bodice incorrectly — I somehow flipped it around despite being very careful to lay out all the pieces the right way before pinning the seams. So the skirt looked wrong at first, more like something an avant garde Japanese designer would create, all angles and volume in unexpected ways. Ripping and resewing took care of that! Now mine looks just like the pattern, really–

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Vogue 9107

I tried to do a FBA with a pivot method — the process of adding a dart to this dress, given the way the seam lines angle across the bodice, would have been a nightmare. The pivot method worked well enough, but I would grade it at about a B or B- for the finished result. Not perfect, but good enough. The fit is smooth over the bust, but there’s some gapping under the arms, in the lower third of the armscye. That’s the down side to the pivot method. It almost always will create that kind of gapping there.

So, I’ve finished seven (??? I think) garments so far this month, and two more nearly done. This is my favorite so far, and the gray fabric is leftover from my least favorite so far. Same fabric, very different results. I’ll show you that one soon, but for now, back to the sewing room. We’ll see if I can pull off a second place prize! Unlikely, given the way everyone is crushing their stashes for this contest, but I’m in contention and that’s enough to keep me sewing away.

What’s the most you’ve ever sewn in a month?

Theresa

 

Favorite Things Wrap Dress

I have a feeling I’ll be showing a lot of finished sewn garments this month. I’m off to a strong start with two new garments already complete and two more within inches of completion.

Here’s the first. This is the wrap dress from Favorite Things, and indie pattern company.  This is literally a wrap dress in the truest sense, held closed only by ties at the waist.

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I chose this pattern because I love wrap dresses and because the flounce at the skirt really seemed to give it an extra dash of fun. I really like the skirt, and the body of the dress came together beautifully. Other than my standard FBA, I didn’t make any adjustments — though I wish I had lengthened the flounce by about an inch. It doesn’t quite reach the waistband in the front, and no amount of pinning and fiddling and basting could get it closer than a half-inch. This is a minor detail and might be by design, but I did want it to be just a whisker or two longer in front. Overall, the body pieces — skirt, bodice, flounces, facings, ties — came together very smoothly and easily. It’s a well-drafted pattern in those respects.

But the sleeves, you guys. I just don’t know what to make of these sleeves. I was curious about these flutter sleeves. The pattern has two sleeve options, these flutter sleeves and sleeveless with a facing. Here’s the pattern image showing both options, and even a casual glance will let you spot the fact that the cross-back is fairly wide. Look at the fit of the shoulders on the blue sleeveless version. That sleeve cap extends out over the arm, past the point where we would normally expect the sleeve seem to fall. But I also think that’s cute — this isn’t a criticism, but an observation. I like the placement of the armscye on the blue version very much.

favorite things wrap dress

I kept dithering over the sleeves. With a broad cross-back, I thought it likely that the sleeve cap would need adjustment to accommodate my slightly narrow shoulders. I don’t usually do a narrow shoulder adjustment, but I thought I might need to do so here. But the flutter sleeves might mitigate that, as long as they draped in a pleasing way. This matters to me because I don’t like tinkering with a narrow shoulder adjustment or with an armscye re-shaping. I just know from experience that I’m likely to be frustrated with the results when I start down that path. I’m better off picking a pattern size that fits my shoulders and upper bust, adding an FBA, and making any other adjustments through the torso as needed.

And the pattern piece for the flutter sleeves made me curious about how they would sew and drape. The pattern piece is shaped rather like a baby bib. I’ve already put the pattern piece away, but this is a picture of a baby bib template that is almost identical to the sleeve.

bib shape

Have you ever seen a sleeve shaped like this before? I haven’t, and I can’t count the number of sleeves I’ve sewn over the years. So I knew I had to sew it just because, you know, it’s something different. I have just enough of the red micro-chevron fabric left to cut a facing if I decide to remove the sleeves. And I just might. I enjoyed sewing them, but I am not crazy about the appearance of the finished sleeves. They’re not terrible, but they pull on the shoulder and armscye a little and prevent a smooth line there. I fitted this dress without the sleeves, and I can tell you, those wrinkles from the bust point to the sleeve cap didn’t exist until I added the sleeves. So I’m kind of leaning toward removing them for an improved fit, though I like the overall look of them. they’re a little playful, right?

I don’t know. What do you guys think? Sleeves, yea or nay?

Theresa

Entering a Contest with Fingers Crossed for Luck

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I have not had great luck lately with online group sewing adventures. The last couple I entered, I was unable to finish because I ran into patterning problems (a sew-along, a coat muslin that simply will not behave), or general life issues (a contest, coincidentally another coat, but one I couldn’t finish because my sewing room went under construction for some home remodeling), or other little hooks (like getting bumped out of a sewing bee contest in an early round, along with about three-quarters of the other entrants).

But we live in hope, right?

The June contest at PR doesn’t require you to pick a pattern and complete that specific pattern during the contest framework. You don’t have to do matched wardrobes or specific assortments of pieces or use certain fabrics.

There is one goal, and only one goal.

Sew.

Sew a lot.

Sew like the wind!

The idea behind this contest is to dig into old stash and sew as much of it as possible in a month. I don’t know how many yards I might churn through, but I know I’m going to have a lot of fun trying.

We can pattern and muslin in advance, and we can pretreat our fabrics in advance. So guess what I’ll be doing this weekend! My tracing and cutting station is already set up. I’ve pulled out several pieces of fabric for pretreating and the patterns I will use to cut them. Right now, I’m tracing the pattern for some fabric I pretreated last fall and still haven’t managed to cut or sew. I’m kind of in the pondering stage — I know, for example, that I would like to make a new shower curtain from some Alexander Henry fabric I bought a couple of years ago, and this might be the right time to make it. It’s a simple project that would chew through some yardage, about 4.5 yards total for some pretty simple seaming.

I also want to make a couple of silk blouses, and maybe a couple of breezy summer dresses (I love dresses on a hot day!), so not everything I do will be easy-peasy straight line sewing. But I’m still in the pondering and planning stage, and one of the fun things about this contest is that it will let me stay nimble all month. As long as I sew with older stash and keep sewing, this should be one I can manage to get through.

And winning that Mood contest a few weeks back makes me think that maybe my luck has changed. 🙂

Are you planning to enter any contests or sew-alongs this summer?

Theresa