Sweet + Edgy

A little bit of sweetness is okay, but in general, I don’t like my clothing to look too sweet. Details like puffed sleeves, which can do a lot of good for the dimensions of a small skeleton like mine, can easily tip over into juvenile or outdated unless they’re mixed with non-sweet elements.


So when I saw Butterick 5890 with the waist tucks and Peter Pan collar, I knew right away I wanted to offset the sweetness of the design details with something a little edgier. My first thought was to make the collar out of leather — and I still have a hankering to do that someday, and the skin to do it tucked away in my stash, so that could happen. I would want to make the collar removable for laundering, and I would probably use some kind of snap tape or hook and eye tape to do that — I’m telling you guys, this could happen someday. I really love the idea of a Peter Pan collar in leather.

But for this version, I had some black and silver abstract knit that I thought would work perfectly.


I didn’t bother with an FBA because I figured the room created by the tucks would be sufficient. (Figured in the literal sense, with my tape measure and numbers and some little mathy type work.) The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to shorten it, which was to accommodate the fabric’s yardage. I didn’t have enough to make it any longer, but I think it works okay at this length. Oh, and I used a shorter zipper in the back. The pattern called for something like a 20″ center back zipper, but I used a 9″ and it worked just fine. In a woven fabric with zero stretch, a longer zipper would be necessary.

The fabric was something I bought online from one of the discounters. Many people are huge fans of this particular place and rave online about it, but I’ve had mixed luck with their fabrics. This particular fabric was billed as ponte de roma, but that’s not what it is. A true ponte looks the same on the front side and back side because of the double-knitting technique used to create the fabric. This stuff is knit with two strands (as a ponte would have been), but it’s a regular stranded knit. There’s a definite wrong side to the fabric. The black thread is the main color, and the silver thread is carried along the back and woven in at intervals in much the same method used by Elsa Schiaparelli’s Armenian knitters, just on a machine with thread instead of by hand with yarn. So, not a ponte, and not even a double knit, just a stranded knit. Silly me, expecting people in the business of selling fabric to correctly identify the type of fabric they’re selling.

I like this top a lot. It turned out just as I’d hoped, a sweetly feminine shape made modern with an edgier fabric. It was a quick and easy project, and I’m already keeping my eyes open for a fabric that will work with that leather collar I have in mind. Highly recommend the pattern.

Sweet + Edgy is one of my style favorite combinations. What’s yours?



Red Dress the Second

I cut out three red dresses for the month of June’s sewing challenge at Pattern Review. The first was a cotton wrap dress in a fine red pin striped bottomweight plain woven. (link — I’m thinking about changing my blog’s setup and template one of these days so that I don’t have to keep doing these parenthetical links — this template is weird and doesn’t show the links well.)

The second was finished last Sunday, and it was a challenge.


Butterick 5522

This is a Butterick pattern from a few years ago. The second I spotted the pattern envelope, I knew two things. One, I had to make it, and two, it had to be in my goal-weight size. I knew I wouldn’t wear it otherwise. This is a dress that requires a bit of confidence in the wearer, one that might get a bit of notice because of the inset color blocking on the sleeves, and I didn’t want to feel self-conscious about my weight while wearing it. So I’m not going to show you a modeled shot of me in this dress yet because, though it fits, it’s too tight to wear yet. I’m close to goal, but not quite there yet. When the dress fits less like a bandage dress and more like a, you know, dress dress, I’ll celebrate with a new picture.

The pattern is Butterick 5522, and my version is a pretty near clone of the envelope.


Those sleeves were very tricky to sew and took me almost an entire Sunday. Sewing convex and concave curves together is always going to be tricky in any case, but in this case, it was complicated by using two very different weights of fabric. The red is a pretty normal jersey weight. The black is a heavier knit left over from an old project. I typically only keep leftover fabric if it’s in a half-yard cut or more, mainly because I know from experience that’s about as much as we need for decent color-blocking. Sometimes I’ll keep quarter-yard cuts if I think they’ll make good pocket linings or contrast facings on another project, but that’s more rare. I usually have to have the project in mind for that to happen.

In any case, joining the lighter red to the denser, less pliable black on a concave/convex curved seam was something of a challenge. These seams rippled like crazy. You know how that goes — if you stretch a knit while sewing it, the seam will usually ripple. But because of the way these curved pieces are joined, it was really tricky to sew without stretching. Let me show you what I mean with the pattern pieces.


These are the first two pieces. The oblong piece is red on my dress, and the U-shaped piece is black. The oblong forms the center top of the sleeve cap where it joins to the armscye at the shoulder seam.


When you lay the pieces on top of each other, right sides up, you can see how they should align. But we don’t sew them together like this, right? We have to flip them around so that the right sides are together and the raw edges are next to each other. This is what happens when you flip that top piece to start pinning or basting it in place for stitching.


That first long edge is no trouble at all but thing about what you have to do to get those curves to align along the bottom edges. Imagine pinning that into place. You have to sort of twist and bend everything to make those edges align, right?

And that is why it was rippling. And rippling, and rippling. I used mounds of pins and clipped the scenes carefully, which cut down the rippling by at least 90%. But there was still a tendency to ripple, and I think that remaining tendency stemmed from the different weights in the fabric. It reminded me a bit of trying to join a knit to a woven. If you’ve ever done that, you know it’s a process prone to a bit of wonkiness along the seams. This was much the same way.

Lesson learned: color block different weights of stretchy fabrics with different degrees of stretchiness only if the seams are mostly straight. If the seams are sharply curved, use fabrics of a similar weight and stretch.

I never did find a goof-proof way of eliminating all the rippling, but eventually, I was able to make the sleeves lay flat enough along those curved seams. It’s still not perfect, and if I look closely, I can see one or two spots where there is a small ripple. Those remaining ripples are around 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long, and there are only two or three of them, so I decided that was good enough. Whew, etc.

I love the way this turned out, by the way, and I really look forward to wearing it. It’s very cute on (though too tight for public display yet), and I think it was well worth the trouble with those curved seams.

What do you do with your leftover bits of fabric?


McCall’s 6794

Back in high school, I had a red micro-check shirt with puffed sleeves, a peplum, and a tie in the back. I wore that thing until it was dead from overuse. One of my favorite tops ever.

So when I saw McCall’s 6794, basically an updated version of that red shirt, I knew I had to make it sooner rather than later.

blue top

The original red top had shorter sleeves, a longer peplum, and narrower ties. It also had some banding on the neckline, which sat higher on the sternum. Other than that, this is a pretty near clone of that shape. I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

There’s another view option on this pattern that I might end up making.


I don’t usually wear dropped shoulders, but I think I might be able to get away with those. I don’t know. I don’t care to have a lot of fabric under the arms, so it might not work, but I do like the look of this view option quite a lot.

The pattern looked like it would be fairly time consuming with all those gathers and the waistband details. But actually, it was an easy make that went together very smoothly and didn’t take as much time as anticipated. There were no tricky techniques or strange construction methods. This is a very straightforward pattern. If you can handle gathers and a stitch-in-the-ditch, you can handle this pattern.

I’ve been sewing like mad lately, and I have other FOs to show you. It’s all part of the stash busting contest over at Pattern Review, where we’re committed to sewing up a lot of old stash. This is turning out to be great fun, and watching everyone race through stash is wonderful motivation to spend a little extra time in the sewing room right now. Plus, it’s just the excuse I need to clear out some old stash.

That blue poplin shirting, for example, was purchased two years ago at Haberman’s in Detroit. I was in Stratford, Ontario, for the theater festival, and decided to take the Detroit path home specifically so I could stop at this legendary shop. My gosh, what a great place. Amazing fabrics, great selection, and lovely staff. I just happened to be there when all the cottons and linens were on sale, so I bought four lengths of this same poplin in four different colors. It’s as smooth as glass — if you’ve ever had the opportunity to touch a really top quality man’s dress shirt, the kind that retails for around $500, you’ll know just the kind of shirting fabric I mean. It’s so crisp and smooth. I love it.

I have another length in yellow that I expect to cut on Saturday — I’m flying through my already-cut projects for this contest, so I’ll have to do some cutting in the near future. And some more blogging and reviewing! This has been such a worthwhile experience for me so far. I’m to the stage in my wardrobe-building process that I don’t need multiples of basics anymore, but I need those one-off, special pieces that add a little oomph to the closet. So while many others are working on cutting and sewing many tees or pajamas or other necessary basics, I’m focusing more on statement pieces than on basics. But if I do this contest again — and I suspect I will! It’s really fun! — I would definitely think about running up a stack of tees or something. It’s a great excuse to sew a lot of basics all at once, and it’s a smart approach to the contest, which looks at total yardage sewn in 30 days. People are sewing so fast that my only goal at this point is to finish in the top ten. And that might be impossible! We’ll see!

Have you ever remade an old favorite garment for nostalgia?


Help! Opinions needed!

I’m lighting up the bat signal here. I need a second opinion on the buttons for this cardigan. My original plan was black buttons, but the ones I bought (very pretty antique shiny black five-petal flowers) won’t fit through the buttonholes.

I sorted through the button box, and came up with these. They fit. I bought them because they remind me of some daisy buttons on a Chanel organdy blouse. But is silver okay with this cardigan? Or should I go shopping for black buttons?


Miette, unblocked and with many stray ends and lifelines


A closer view of the buttons

Are they too shiny or too dressy? I think I’ve reached the point where I’ve looked at so many buttons from my button box that I can’t see them anymore. Help help help!


To me, from me, with love and lots of presser feet

So, I had a birthday last week. I’m one of those people who is perfectly comfortable dropping a hundred or so dollars on splurge purchases every now and then, but I hate to pull the trigger on bigger-ticket items. I can have the money for something earmarked and waiting for months before I’ll actually go out and buy the intended item. This is why I started using my birthday as an excuse to jump in and do it.

Last year, for example, I bought this beauty.


I live within a football field’s length of a trail head to one of the best trail networks in the country. Buying this bike was a no-brainer, and yet it took me months of dithering before I finally pulled out the debit card. I use the bike all the time. Can’t think why I waited so long to get it.

So this year, I knew I would get a new sewing machine. Actually, I’ve been plotting to get a new machine for a long time, ever since my old iron Singer (circa 1960, one of the really heavy cast iron models) died a painful death. That machine was a work horse. It could sew through anything. I’m convinced it could have stitched through plywood. When it died, I picked up a cheap Singer as a temporary measure, something to see me through until I could decide on a better machine. That was maybe four years ago, five years ago, and the best I can say for that machine is that it was there. So now it was past time to get a machine that can actually handle four layers of denim without a psychotic episode.

So here she is.


Janome 7330

I’m not a quilter, which means that I’m not the target demographic for most sewing machine manufacturers. Most high-end machines come equipped with features (hundreds of decorative stitch patterns, special free-motion capabilities) that have little to no application in garment sewing. What I need is pretty simple, really. I need a sturdy, fast, reliable machine. I need a straight stitch, a zigzag, a buttonholer, and maybe a blind hem stitch (though that’s not all that important to me). I need the guts of the machine to be strong enough to power through multiple layers of Melton wool coating. I need a sole plate that won’t let flimsy silk chiffons poke into the bobbin mechanism. I need a standard assortment of presser feet. And that’s pretty much it.

My new Janome cost less than the bike I bought last year, and that even included the price of some extra presser feet and a bit of fabric. I played around with the shop model for a while, and I was satisfied that the motor is strong enough to handle an occasional tough job. It’s not a glamorous machine, as far as machine glamor goes, but it’s the best model that does the things I need it to do. The next step up would have taken me into quilting models, not into more horsepower.

I’m in the process of converting part of our basement into a sewing studio. This is a good thing. The basement is finished, with windows and good overhead lighting. As you can tell from the photo above, I need to add some task lighting, too. But I’ve spent most of the past week or so getting things transferred from the spare bedroom (smaller space, also doubles as a home office) to the basement and setting things up down there. My workout studio is down there already, along with a large tv with cable and some comfy furniture, so the whole downstairs zone is starting to feel like my refuge. I’m still fine-tuning the placement of the sewing table, ironing board, etc., but I’d say it’s about 90% there.

What are your favorite features on your sewing machine? I’ve fallen pretty hard for my needle up/down button. Such a silly thing, but I love it.


Not much to see

I went to one of those sewing cons yesterday, and it was pretty much a bust. I’ve been going to this one pretty regularly for several years now, and it was just a down year. I was disappointed, but I know from other regular annual cons that some years are amazing and some are … not amazing. Better luck next year?

I didn’t buy one thread’s worth of fabric.



I didn’t buy fabric in this aisle.


I didn’t buy fabric in this aisle, either.

Truly, there was very little fabric for sale in the first place. If you wanted fat quarters, you could get plenty of those. But fabrics by the yard? There were only three vendors, one of whom is shown in that picture above. They had that one rack of rolls — almost all poly and rayon knits, plus a bit of silk duipioni and a few stray bolts of light cotton wovens. The second vendor — the one I almost always buy from — brought minimal stock this time, and almost every bolt was beige or brown, not my colors.. The third and final fabric vendor was selling quilting fabrics by the yard, but they specialized in kid stuff and it was all too juvenile for my tastes. I did want to get some quilting cotton and good, sturdy flannel to make some shoe bags, but I guess I was out of luck. There was not one speck of flannel in the entire conference center. My second choice would have been a cotton jersey, but the only jerseys were poly and rayon. Just not what I wanted.

There was one button vendor, but her stock was minimal. I’ve been to her store, and I know she has great stuff, but I couldn’t find anything to take home in her booth. The lace vendor brought maybe a quarter of the number of trims I’m used to seeing in that booth. After spending the day looking at things and chatting with people, it almost seemed as though the tone of the conference has shifted from garment and quilt sewing to craft sewing. I walked past booth after booth of fabric paints, rayon embroidery thread, and stencil sets. People were excited about things like rag baskets and painted canvas tote bags. And clothes for Build-a-Bear dolls — I heard more than one conversation about that. Not my kind of sewing, and I think the fact that this is the trend now contributed to my overall disappointment in the conference.

I did replenish my gadget horde, though.


Those are pattern storage boxes, a new set of mini French curves, a new bodkin, bamboo point tool thingie, a point turner, a chalk holder and set of chalks, and one lonely silver swivel hook for a purse strap. (Side note: Why is purse hardware so hard to find anymore? I would have bought two of these swivel hooks, but they only had one in stock.) By the way, all of that haul (except the pattern storage boxes) came from the same gadget vendor. She has become my go-to gadget person over the years because she not only carries every everything you can imagine, but she carries multiple types and styles of each thing. Conversations with her go like this:

Shopper 1: I’m looking for a hip curve.

Store lady: What kind?

Shopper 1 (beatifically): There’s more than one kind?

Shopper 2: Do you carry flexible rulers?

Store lady: Yes, in several lengths and styles.

Shopper 2 (shocked): You mean I have a choice?

And on and on. Sometimes I hang around that booth and eavesdrop a little to hear what people are looking for. You learn about some nifty tools this way! But most of the tools I bought this time were rather ordinary and non-nifty. This is because, when my sewing room windows were replaced earlier this year, I somehow lost a little pencil box full of tools from that room. I’m betting it was just hauled out with some of the other rubbish when they were cleaning up. In any case, I’ve given up looking for it and am starting the process of recreating it. This lot goes a long way toward replenishing the supply.

I’m sure my disappointment this year is just a sign of a pendulum swinging. Long-time Makers Of Things know that this happens. The pendulum swings away, but it always swings back. Today’s crop of conference-goers is excited about painting stencils on neckline — seriously, that’s what this was:


Free demonstrations in concessions area!

This very nice, very knowledgeable lady gave great tips on how to evenly place embellishments on necklines, and the audience was soaking up every detail. A few years ago, while I sipped my coffee on a break in this same spot, I watched a thought-provoking presentation on fitting issues for petites and talls. You never know what they’ll have going on this little stage, but this year, it seemed to involve a lot of paint and embroidery and applique work.

Not my thing. I don’t have bad feelings toward that kind of making, but it’s just not my thing.

So the pendulum swung away from me, but it will swing back eventually. And when it does, you can bet my post-conference report will be much different from this one!

Do you go to any sewing cons?


Thank You, Mood!

A couple of weeks ago, I played a trivia game on the Mood Fabrics Facebook page. I just did it for fun when I was taking a breather from work.

Little did I know…


There were prizes! Woohoo! I won! That is 2 and 2/3 yards of an iridescent green silk taffeta, 3 yards of organza to match, a zipper, some matching cord and thread, and a coupon to use later. Those coupons, you guys. I fall for them every time! This one’s date range falls right by my birthday, so I’m already thinking about buying birthday fabric.

This shade of green isn’t one I normally sew with, but I think it’s very fresh and pretty. As I stood there pondering and debating what to make with this, my mom happened to come around. She said, “That would make a great raincoat.” And she’s so right about that. I had been thinking of a sheath dress, but a dressy little raincoat to throw on over my standard-issue black or gray sheath dress for weddings and similar occasions — well, that hit of color will be perfect.

I’m thinking of using this pattern.


Right now, my only hesitation has to do with the fact that the organza lining would be a bit sheer, and it might have an influence on how I would make that hood. I would have no choice but to do some interior clean finishing — which I would probably do anyway, but, you know, there’s a difference between wanting to do it and having to do it.

Another option is this jacket from Butterick.


I like that mullet hem, but I would probably shorten the jacket all around. It just looks too long to my eyes, wrong proportions.

What do you guys think? The hoodie or the mullet?