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.


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?


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?



Twirling like a little girl

015Vogue 1225

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.


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.


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?


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–


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?



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.



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?


A new summer maxi

I’ve blogged about this dress before, about the process of cutting and seaming it to get the stripes to align properly. I thought I would also show you the two methods I used to finish the raw edges at neck and armscye.

This fabric is a very light jersey, very fluid and drapey, perfect for a floaty kind of garment. The skirt on this dress moves beautifully. With this kind of very light jersey, though, I always want to make sure that the seams above the bust line — shoulders, armscyes, neck bands — are stable and clean.

For the armscyes, I chose an invisible banding finish that I learned years ago from a commercial pattern. First, you cut a strip of fabric on the grain to use as a binding. The strip should be about two inches wide, and the length depends on the size of the armscye. Measure the armscye opening and deduct 20%. Then you add a bit for seam allowances — I do half-inch seams here just because it makes the math easier. But you want this strip to be about 20% shorter than the actual armscye. You’ll stretch it to fit the opening, and the stretch will help it curl to the wrong side and lay nice and flat.


Each stripe is about an inch wide, so that’s a 2″ strip.


Measuring a curved edge is easiest when you stand the tape measure on its side.

Because the armscye is a round opening, I make a loop by sewing the short sides together, then folding the piece in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and stitching the raw edges together with a stretchy stitch (in this case, a plain zigzag). Using a stretch stitch makes it easier to stretch the piece to fit the armscye, but sewing the edges together makes the piece more stable when you’re attaching it.


Just making a loop.

Then you quarter the loop as you would an elastic loop and pin it to the armscye on the right side.


Quarters marked with pins.


Loop pinned to the right side of the armscye, raw edges together, using the quarter marks for placement.

Then you stitch this in place using either a 1/4″ or 3/8″ narrow stretch seam (dealer’s choice), and without trimming anything, turn the whole band to the inside and stitch it down to the armscye. This means you’re stitching through five layers of fabric — the garment, plus four layers of the band. When I stitch this second turned seam, I make sure to stitch an eighth or a quarter inch wider than the first stitching line. So, if I used a 1/4″ seam to attach the band to the right side, I use a 3/8″ or 1/2″ seam when I flip it around to the wrong side. This ensures that the raw seam line is encased in all those layers of fabric.

And that’s really it. The result is a clean edge with a stable finish that won’t be distorted by the weight of the dress.


The view from the public side.


The private side.

For the neck band, I chose an exposed lapped V-neck band. This band starts in exactly the same way, by cutting a strip two inches wide and 20% shorter than the length of the raw garment edge. Because this dress has a vee on both the front and back, I cut two strips, one for each side, because I would lap them in both the front and back. Instead of sewing them into a loop, I just folded and stitched the long raw edge, then pinned it to the right side of the neckband.


Applying the first neck edge band.


And then the second band.

I never stitch all the way to the vee point, but leave about a half inch free where it laps. This is because you can make yourself crazy trying to hit that V in exactly the right spot, in exactly the right way. Or at least, I can. Maybe others more gifted dressmakers out there don’t struggle with this the way I do, but I’ve basically given up trying to hit that mark. I found a cheat that works a bit better for me.


In which I display what a cheater I am.

Then I turn the band so that it lies flat with just a bit of the folded edge poking up from the neck edge. And I pin very carefully to make sure those edges are lapped properly on the wrong side. Some sewists advocate stitching in the ditch at this point, but I prefer to stitch just next to the ditch on the garment piece to catch that band and hold it in place. I aim for a scant 1/8″ or maybe 1/16″ from the ditch, and I use a narrow stretch stitch, the narrowest setting on my machine. As I approach the point of the V, I shorten the stitch length so that there are more stitches at the point. This adds strength to the seam at that point, and it eliminates the need to back stitch at the V.


The finished band, not yet pressed.

So there you have it. Here’s the finished dress, McCall’s 7121 View B, with lightweight striped cotton jersey from Fishman’s Fabrics.


Blissing out over the perfect stripe matching. Worth the work!


I’m crazy about the side view with those stripes.

So that’s it. Another summer maxi, weightless and cool, that will be just perfect for knocking around town on a hot day. This one took a bit of time and fussing, but I’m really happy with how it turned out and can’t wait for the chance to wear it. I’m thinking with either silver or red flat sandals and a bracelet, this one is good to go. With stripes this bold, I wouldn’t want to add a lot of detail in the accessories.


Farmers Market, I Am Ready for You!

Today is the opening day of the farmer’s market in my little community. I don’t know if that makes it the number-one happiest day of the year, but it’s certainly in the top ten. Not only does this mean that we’re maybe safe from winter weather (maybe – it does snow in May sometimes, but only sometimes), but it also means the beginning of good summer meals. I mean, the difference between a summer tomato from the farmers market and a winter tomato from the grocery store — are these even the same vegetable? And how about a peach that ripened on the tree versus one from the grocery store that crunches like an apple when you bite into it. Ugh. That crunchy hard peach is an insult to real peaches everywhere.

So today it was slim pickings — asparagus, mushrooms, eggs, but I arrived too late for rhubarb, sob. Next week! My favorite farmer from Michigan assures me he’ll have early strawberries next week, too, and told me to get there early. I remember last year, the first week he had strawberries, they were completely sold out by 10:00 a.m. So I’ll be setting my alarm for sure. This same farmer has the best eggs, too, and so tonight’s dinner will be an egg white omelet with asparagus and a bit of porcini mushroom. Yum. I already can’t wait for dinner.

I do most of my grocery shopping at the area farmers markets, to the point that the farmers know me and remember to point out things they know I’ll like. That makes it extra fun. I know it’s almost like a cliche to rave about farmers markets, but I’ve been a proud addict for decades, since back when I practiced law in Indianapolis and they started a weekday market in the little street next to the city-county building. I still remember (with incredible longing) these tiny plums we used to get there, about the size of grapes with very small stones. Best. Plums. Ever. I used to gorge on them while reciting the William Carlos Williams poem, “This Is Just to Say” —

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Because really, if ever there were plums that deserved a poetic tribute, it was those tiny plums from the farmers market in Indianapolis.

Anyway. Forgive me. I tend to get a little overwrought on the first farmers market day of the year. *ggg* It’s no coincidence that I finished this sundress in time for the opening. I cut it out a couple weeks ago with this happy, anticipatory image of walking around the park with a summer breeze catching the hem, towing my little red wagon behind me. (This one with, yes, the drink carrier for my coffee cup — this little wagon has proved to be a most worthy investment.)


This dress is very loose and billowy, a trapeze shape with a mullet hem. It’s very simple, just a center front seam, center back seam, side seams, and bust darts. Sometimes the simplest shapes are the ones that require the most fitting, though. I labored over this one. I think the key to a good fit with a shape like this is in the shoulders and upper bust. If you nail the fit there, the rest of the dress can be loose but it won’t appear oversized. So I tinkered quite a lot with the shaping in that area, and I ended up taking it in about 2″ in the shoulders and 3″ in the upper bust.

I wanted something loose and breezy because I’ve been dealing with medication changes since about October, and each change causes a change in weight. I’m up, I’m down, and it’s driving me a little crazy. So I thought a dress like this might help me cope while we get things stable again. Right now, I’m probably up about 16 or 17 pounds from where I was when we started with all this tinkering (but last week, I was only up 11 — really, the fluctuations are frustrating), and as we all know, every stone (14 pounds) is a size. But I know my shoulders won’t change shape much, so a dress that’s fitted well through the shoulders and loose everywhere else might still be wearable after I’m out of this phase.

Here’s a view of the side to show off the hem shaping.


As I was snapping some side views, I started thinking about how I might tinker with that waistline after things are stable again. The pattern, Simplicity 1621, has a tank top version of this same piece with elastic at the high waist, and I might add some elastic later.


I originally purchased this pattern to make the jacket from some black silk organza. It was pure coincidence that I was thinking about this black and gold batik from The Needle Shop and spotted this mullet dress — and just like that, my planned black and gold batik kimono became a sundress.

The sizing on this pattern is S, M, L, etc., instead of numbered sizes. I normally expect a Medium to be the equivalent of a 12-14, which is just where I am now — 12 on a normal day, 14 when I’m puffy. But this one is a little different, and the medium is a 14-16. That’s why it required so much tinkering in the shoulder shaping. It was definitely as broad as a loose 16 should be, but I wanted more of a 12 in that area.

The only other adjustment was my standard FBA. I didn’t even shorten them length. If I make this one again — and I might, in a smaller size out of a knit fabric instead of a woven — I might narrow the shoulder straps a bit. I don’t think they’re too wide, necessarily, but I think they would look fresher and more modern if they were just a bit narrower.

There’s something almost tiger-like about that print, don’t you think? Here’s a better view of the print.


It’s batik, black over a sort of marbled gold and brown in a pattern of circles and lines, but from a distance, it almost has an animal print vibe. I like animal prints, so I’m good with that. I don’t ordinarily wear these autumnal gold and brown shades — and looking through the photos, I realized that my standard silver jewelry looks wrong with this, so I’ll probably wear some black onyx earrings with it next time. And I think there’s enough black in the print that the golden tones don’t wash me out, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. I’ll wear the dress in either case!

What’s your favorite thing from the farmers market?


The result of careful cutting

I’ve just barely started the sewing on the projects I cut out last weekend, but because I blogged about my cutting trick to match patterns, I thought I would show you guys the results.

This is the bodice center front seam. Look at the perfection of that matching. Nailed it on the first attempt.


And here’s the center back seam, also shockingly perfect.


The center back seam of the skirt was a little less successful. I must have pulled it or something while sewing it, because it is nicely aligned for the bottom 2/3 of the skirt but then went a little askew on the top third.


Even so, it’s not too bad, but I’m still going to rip it and restitch it along that misaligned bit. The good parts don’t show in the picture because I was using my ironing board as a layout surface, and the rest of the skirt is falling off the end of the board.

In any case, this isn’t earthshaking stuff, but I love it when things work out, and the bodice pieces are definitely working out. Whew! I’ll just have to be more careful with the maxi-skirt pieces — the weight of the fabric might be what distorted that seam.