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.



Cutathon, the first batch of summer projects

I don’t know about you guys, but I find cutting and sewing to be two very different types of activity. Each feels like a separate sort of creative process. They’re both satisfying, but because of the differences between them, I want a different mood and a different mindset for each.

When I’m cutting, it feels a bit like puzzling through a planning stage. I trace all my patterns, and then I make alterations on the tracings based on the actual measurements at certain critical points like shoulder and bust and waist. So a lot of decisions have to be made here that will affect the final garment. How much wearing ease do I want, and wear do I want it? I’ve been sewing long enough that I don’t have to really ponder these decisions most of the time, but sometimes these can be tricky calls.

This is also where I’m learning how a particular fabric will behave. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sewing or how many times you’ve knit with other versions of a fabric. No two rayon jerseys, for example, will behave in exactly the same way. Cutting the fabric lets me start to get to know it and think about how I might need to adjust the construction methods to accommodate different characteristics.

So I like cutting, but it feels more cerebral than sewing, which I find almost mindlessly soothing by comparison. And this is one of the main reasons I tend to cut things in clusters, several projects at once. When the mindset is there, and I have a bit of time for it, it makes more sense to knock out a bunch of cuts at once. And as long as I’m pulling out the mats, French curves, tracing materials, etc., I might as well make good use of them.

This past weekend, I cut out three new projects for summer. The first is a white mesh baseball jacket. The cuffs, collar, and front band will be in white cotton ribbing. I had to do quite a lot of puzzling and thinking to figure out how to adjust the pattern to accommodate the mesh — eliminating the lining and pockets, for example — but for the most part, this pattern is better suited to this task than any other jacket pattern I looked at. This will be one of those things I can toss on over jeans and a tee or over a sundress, and it will work easily with any casual style. Side note: I’m really taken with mesh lately. Don’t know why. Mood had some really nice ones and I snapped up two, this white one and the black bonded mesh knit I used to make the tunic I blogged about last week. This white mesh is heavier, with a denser drape, and I think the cotton ribbing will give it good structure.


I also cut a cotton batik sundress with a mullet hem. This one required a bit more pattern adjustment prior to cutting — it’s really, really loose. I wanted it sort of skimmy and loose, rather than just a big cotton sack, so I tried to narrow it through the shoulders and reshape the upper bust. I’ve already started sewing this one, and I still need to take it in a bit through the shoulders, but it’s going to work out pretty much as planned. I love this print, a deep stash length from the Needle Shop. I usually shy away from browns and golds, but this one had to come home with me as soon as I saw it.


Finally, I cut a jersey maxidress in a striped knit from Fishman’s that was originally intended for a much different project. I’d thought to make one of those folded, crossover drape front blouses with it, but then I tried one on in the store to see how it would look on my figure. It was awful. I looked pregnant and drowning in fabric. So I decided to make a summer maxi out of this fabric instead.


This had to be cut in a single layer to make sure the stripes matched just so. My trick for cutting patterned fabric is to always cut in a single layer and lay the first piece on top of the fabric to cut the second piece. This guarantees that all the matching points will match. In this case, because everything had to be cut on the bias, it took a little extra time and care, but my cutting trick always works pretty well. If you look closely here, you can see the white outline of the pattern piece under the first bodice piece that I already cut. It’s a little hard to see because the patterns are matched along the cut edges.


And then, after cutting, this is how the two bodice fronts look, right side up and side by side.


That’s a pretty good match. I’ll have to be careful during seaming to make sure the stripes align properly, but it shouldn’t be too hard to make it work.

So this is my first batch of warm-weather sewing for the year, yay! I can tell I’m antsy for summer because every time I look at my pattern stash, the sundresses are the only things that appeal to me. Nothing beats an easy, soft summer dress! I can’t wait to wear them!

Are you ready for some heat waves?


The Not-so-simple skirt

Okay. So, last year, I fell in love with a bit of silk taffeta at Fishman’s Fabrics, as you do. (If you’re ever able to go fabric shopping in Chicago, Fishman’s would be my first recommendation, and the Needle Shop would be my second. Amazing stock.) Take a look at this gorgeous stuff.


Gingham is hot right now, and this is a nicely weighted silk taffeta — light enough to rustle and swish, but stiff enough to support a good shape in a circle skirt. The taffeta has embroidered silk organza leaves, painted flowers, and beading in an allover pattern atop the gingham. It’s an unusual fabric, and I knew it struck just the right mix of evening and casual to be perfect to wear to the theater. So I snapped up three yards, and here is the first garment, using 1.5 yards of the length.


I used Simplicity 1200, a very simple three-quarter circle skirt with only three pieces — front, back, waistband.


This should have been a super easy skirt to make, but there were two complicating factors. First, my sewing machine hated the beading on this fabric. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with an embellished fabric, and I had a different machine the last time. (That was a gold sequined knit used to make play clothes for my then five-year-old niece, who is now fourteen. Been a while!) That old machine, a wrought iron Singer with a motor that could stitch through tree branches, wouldn’t have balked at a few tiny seed beads.

But now I have a new and wimpy Singer. It cries and shivers and looks for the nearest fainting couch if I ask it to sew through more than two layers of fleece. These beads? A tragedy of Sarah Bernhardt proportions.

I wanted to do French seams because of course I did. I love French seams. Why wouldn’t you use a lovely French seam on a weightless, swishy taffeta like this? But this meant sewing each seam twice, with a machine that pouts if you ask it to handle any extra thickness. So I had to painstakingly clear each seam allowance of all those teeny tiny seed beads.


Those beads were sewn in, which made the task much easier. I just inserted my seam ripper into the thread between the bead and the raw edge and slice the bead free. I had to be careful not to pick up any threads from the taffeta along the way, but this is a good taffeta, dense and smooth, so it was relatively easy to avoid that particular problem.

I’m still finding these tiny beads everywhere in my sewing room.


Under the sewing machine! Ack!

There were a few spots that French seams were impractical, such as at the zipper, so I used Hug Snug on those raw edges. You know about this stuff, right? It’s perfect for this kind of taffeta because it’s almost weightless and wasn’t going to create any drag on any of the seams. Plus it’s inexpensive and it comes in lots of pretty colors and the rolls are enormous. I get mine from Wawak. A lot of people want to use a two-step stitching process, but I find it works fine to just wrap the edges, pin it, and sew away.


Wrapping the raw edge of the hem in one step

You’ll notice I’m using a standard presser foot there. That’s because I already cleared that raw edge of the beads. But in other places, such as the waistband, I used a zipper foot. This was because not all the beads fell into a seam allowance and could not be cleared. The zipper foot provided fewer opportunities for my machine to scream and die and get all tangled up on itself as it encountered a bead — the feed dogs and the surface of the presser foot just could not navigate those beads smoothly. So a zipper foot has a smaller area of contact with the feed dogs, and this cut down on problems. I also very carefully marked every bead that was likely to come up against the presser foot, and I stitched very carefully when I came upon them.


Look closely where the point of the seam ripper is aimed. That bead is about to take a direct hit from the presser foot.

So, that was the first complication — all those beads required careful handling, and it could take as long as 30 minutes to clear a single seam of beads. Normally, on a similar fabric with no beads, I could have inset the zipper and finished the invisible zipper seam in that same 30 minutes. So this skirt was slow going, but worth it, I think.

The other problem I ran into was with the waistband piece. For some reason, it ended up about an inch shorter than the waistband circumference. That was a headscratcher. I checked the pattern pieces, and I don’t appear to have lopped off the end of the waistband during cutting, but it was definitely too short. So the pattern might have been misprinted? Don’t know. I checked the pattern reviews, and the only review of this pattern notes that the waistband is very tight. So it’s something in the pattern. This detail alone would prevent me using this pattern again. I didn’t want to tear apart the taffeta seams, so I added very small darts to the waistband to draw the waist in, with the result that the waist is even tighter than it would have already been. I normally cut my waistbands around 28 or 29 inches, depending on the fabric and width of the waistband, and this one is a nudge over 27″ in an unrelenting fabric. So I’m not best pleased by that, and it might end up being a little uncomfortable to wear, but I’ll just have to wear the high spanx under this skirt. Sigh. And no dessert at any pre-theater dinners!

In any case, I’m please with the skirt, and the remaining yard and a half will be some kind of top. I keep going back and forth between a princess seamed tee with a scoop neck (simple to make, which given the beads, might make a huge difference), and a corset type vest thing to wear over a blouse.  I think a corset in this fabric would be stunning, but those require such precise tailoring, and this might not be the fabric for that kind of project.

Have you ever worked with embellished fabrics? Did you develop any special techniques to handle them?


The opposite of stash busting

Right before the holiday, one of my favorite local fabric shops, The Needle Shop, had a big sale on the same day when, by coincidence, I had already planned to be in their neighborhood. So of course, that was my excuse. They don’t have a lot of sales, just a few days a year here and there, so I do try to hit them on those days. Their fabrics are excellent, and they have done a good job extending their selection from all craft and home dec fabrics to a blend of these and garment fabrics. It’s a well curated collection in a small shop, the clerks are delightful people, and I’ve always been very happy with anything I get from them.

This time, I bought a couple of poly ponte knits and a sandwashed rayon twill. I’m enough of a fiber snob that I rarely sew with rayon or poly, but these fabrics felt great, looked great, and seemed worth the risk. From left to right, black ponte, pink ponte, gray twill.


I also bought a small piece of this dotted swiss because I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. This textile really hates the camera, and this is the best photo I could manage. You can see that the dotting is in a wave pattern (instead of in a grid, like typical swiss dot), and there is a metallic thread woven into the pattern. The color is a very pale gray, almost an oyster gray, but the tone shifts depending on how the light hits the metallic threads. You can see just a bit of that effect in this photo. It’s not iridescent, but just a hint of pearly sheen here and there.



Then, because I was already buying fabric, what the heck, I stopped at Fishman’s — which is nowhere near any of the other places I had to go that day, but whatever, I was in a groove — and bought this silk snakeskin charmeuse I’d been dreaming about ever since I first saw it. This stuff is crazy gorgeous, almost like liquid silver. I wish you could reach through the computer and touch it — even by silk standards, this fabric is incredible. I knew it wouldn’t linger for long, and it had already been a couple weeks since I’d spotted it, so I was worried it would be gone before I could buy it. I rarely have those kinds of feelings about fabric, but this one just was unforgettable. And sure enough, the bolt was nearly empty. I bought the last two yards and felt lucky to do so.


It’s just enough to make this blouse, Vogue 1323, but I won’t let myself cut the muslin until after I finish some other projects already on the go. Working with this silk will be a reward for getting through some of these other things. I know, it’s bordering on lunacy to think of working with silk charmeuse as a reward for anything other than bad behavior, but I really look forward to the challenge, and I have my fabric stiffener out and ready for the day I get to cut into this lovely stuff.


Vogue 1323 half-placket blouse

So, from the stash-busting meters, this puts my current totals at 12.125 in / 22.5 out since 12/1/2014. That’s pretty close to my planned ratio of 1 in / 2 out, and if I ever hem the navy skirt, its 1.5 yards will get those numbers almost perfect.







The turkey sandwich of fabric

Ah, leftovers. Aren’t they the best? I had to pop into Fishman’s Fabrics for a few YKK zippers, and while I was there, I snapped up a couple of gorgeous remnants.


There we have two skirt quantities of a very high quality wool gabardine that normally sells for $40 a yard. I got both pieces for less than the cost of a single yard. Win! That blue gabardine wants to be a pencil skirt when it grows up.

I also picked up a bemberg remnant, enough to line a skirt and maybe cut out a few pocket bags.


I usually hate the feel of lining fabrics — they’re slick in a way that feels cheap — but bemberg doesn’t offend my fingers. I was happy to snag this remnant.

But the real score was the cow hide remnant that was only $15 for the entire piece.


I laid the tape measure on the folded piece to give you an idea of the dimensions. Like most leathers, it is an irregular shape, but at its smallest, it’s 23″ by almost 90″ long. It’s definitely enough for a skirt, though there are a couple of marks on the skin that might present some cutting challenges. Even if I don’t get a full skirt out of it, I can make a bag and use the other pieces for trim. It’s a mid weight, verging on heavy weight, and I wouldn’t use it to make sleeves for a t-shirt, for example (a hot trend in leather right now). But collars on a jacket, waistbands, a skirt, a bag — any of these things will be great in this dark gray hide. I’m kind of excited that it was only $15 for this much hide.

Remnants! Love ’em. I didn’t really plan to buy anything but the zippers that day, but really, it would have been penny-wise and pound-foolish not to snag these remnants. I need skirts, and this will give me three top-quality skirts for a mere $50.

I also plan to shop a bit at the Mood holiday sale tomorrow. They hooked me good last year with this same sale, and I’ve been saving a bit of extra scratch to take advantage of it this year. I keep saying I don’t need to buy fabric right now — and I do get to wear the stash halo for skipping the Orginal Sewing & Quilt Expo last week, which is always rife with temptations. But I am a sale shopper, and I just think it makes sense to buy when you can get a bargain. In reality, it’s a splurge because I don’t actually *need* anything right now. But I have my eye on some specific fabrics, and depending on the terms of their sale, we’ll see what ends up in my shopping cart.

Are you a sale shopper? Do you tend to stash for later when you find a great deal?


A Tale of Two Skirt Cuttings

In between sessions working on a test knit, I’ve been doing some cutting. I tend to do my project steps in batches — a lot of cutting one day, a lot of stitching, then a lot of pressing. When I’m stitching, I like to choose several projects that all use the same color thread and sew them all at once. This allows me to sit at the machine for a longer stretch and sew more seams at once before switching to the pressing board. I find it an efficient way to work.

So right now, I’m cutting. I started with two skirts. I started with a heavy cotton ponte knit from Mood Fabrics for a Katherine Tilton Vogue 8837 skirt pattern. This is a lovely heavy ponte with minimal stretch, a smooth hand, and some textural interest in the surface. (Some of you might recall, I blogged about it when it first arrived from Mood.) I’ve hunted their website for this fabric in other colors, but I cannot find it. Too bad, because I have enough of it left over to work a color-blocked dress, and it would be perfect.


It was the best of fabrics…

You can see in the pattern envelope photo that this skirt has a shirt-tail hem. That, plus the topstitching and shaped waistband, were what attracted me to this pattern. However, the skirt length is 33″, which is almost maxi length on my 5’3″ body. So I shortened it eight inches. I wanted it to hit just below the knee at the bottom hem and to reveal my knee through the shaped sides. Cutting this fabric was slightly challenging because it is heavy weight. It tended to fold between my shear blades rather than cutting, and my rotary cutter couldn’t always make it through both thicknesses. So I used the rotary cutter twice on each cut, then used the shears to clean up any bits the rotary blade couldn’t quite manage. It wasn’t difficult, and it didn’t change my opinion of the fabric. It is a lovely fabric.

I wish the same could be said for the other skirt fabric to become view A of McCall’s 5523, a straight skirt with some back hem detailing, in this case, an inset flounce.. This one is a wool crepe that shreds along cut edges like you wouldn’t believe. Check this out — this is what was on my cutting mat after cutting one single measly line.


It was the worst of fabrics…

Can you see all that debris? The fabric was disintegrating with every touch. I paid a lot of money for it, too, which irritates me now that I see how it is behaving. I bought it from a sewing expo vendor that I won’t name, but if you’ve ever been subjected to high-pressure sales tactics from an international garment fabric vendor at a traveling sewing expo, you’ll know exactly the vendor I mean. I’ve bought some linen from them in the past, and it was a very high-grade fabric. But this stuff is anything but high-grade. I’m going to have to very, very carefully overcast every raw edge before I try to do any real sewing on this project. Otherwise, the fabric is likely to dissolve along the seam lines as I stitch it. Really disappointed in this fabric.

What makes it a little more annoying is that I bought it to match a silk crepe I bought at Fishman’s. It’s a really lovely crepe, and I wanted to match the dark gray in it, so I took a swatch to the sewing expo and hunted for a nice wool to make this skirt. The man in that booth talked me into this shade of dark blue instead of a gray — none of their grays were a good match, and he wasn’t about to let me leave his booth without spending money. He kept moving the bolt and my swatch under a different light and insisting that they matched — well, they did match, but only when they were under that particular light. Look at them together now in normal daylight with a bit of can lighting.


It’s not dreadful, but one is clearly gray and the other is clearly blue. I’m debating whether I can wear these together. It’s pretty close, just not quite right.

What do you guys think? Close enough? Or not?