Finally, an FO report

I’ve managed about a half hour a day, sometimes 45 minutes, for the past week or so. Yay! This was enough time for me to knock out the sewing on a simple fleece robe, one that I cut out in early February and then promptly ignored. I have one other robe cut from that same cutting session. It could get lucky next!

But for this one, I needed something warm, big, and fluffy, and I had a length of cheap white fleece from JoAnn’s that is the last, final, absolute end of the fleece in my stash. This makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you. I wanted to sew up a lot of “around the house” junky little things from this cheap fleece, and I did, and now I can move on to something worthy of being worn in public.

The pattern for this one is McCall’s 5248, which has the distinction of NOT being unisex pajamas. So I figured it would fit me pretty well straight out of the gate with little alteration. I cut a standard size medium, and didn’t alter it one bit. In fact, I didn’t even measure the pattern tissue pieces, which is usually an automatic step in the process around here.


I figured, heck, it’s a robe. How bad can it be?


No makeup, uncombed hair and a huge knee brace under my sleep pants — sexy!!

Meh. Not great, not bad. If you look closely, you can see that the shoulder seams are a little far down the arms, but it’s like that in the pattern line drawings, too. The arms are big, the sleeves are long, and it’s really bulky around the waist. And I’ll still wear this thing plenty, I’m sure, because it will fit over even my roomiest sweatshirt. If I make it again (and I might — the collar detailing is super clever — we’ll get to that in a mo), I would make a size small with FBA and maybe a little tweaking to the sleeves. But this giant white one will serve its purpose handily.

The best part about this pattern is the way it uses darts to shape the shawl collar. If you’re a knitter, you know that shaping a shawl collar can be a bit tricky. The inner part of the collar (closest to the skin) should be smaller than the outer part of the collar in order for the entire thing to roll properly. In knitting, we make it happen with short row shaping, but in sewing, this usually means shaped collar pieces that are sewn separately to the body of the garment.

Not in this case, though. This pattern inserts darts in both the front piece and the facing piece to create a roll line for that collar. It’s very clever and easy, and it yielded a terrific result. Take a look.


The row of stitching at the top is the shoulder seam, and the sleeve is to the right. The collar is folded back to show the dart that creates the roll line. If you look very closely, you will see that this dart stops about 3/8″ away from the shoulder seam. It’s this placement, plus the depth and shape of the dart, that give this collar its beautiful automatic roll. I want to sew this again, maybe in a really good flannel, just to watch this magic happen again. It’s fun in that weird way sewing can be fun — you drop the needle, press the foot lever, and see the fabric become 3-dimensional right before your eyes.

So I’d rate this one a solid B — an A for that cool collar detail, but only a C for fit, averaging out to a B. Not a bad way to return to the sewing room after such an absence.

The second robe will be made from a really tricky printed silk. I’m looking forward to the challenge! There’s something deeply satisfying about handling a quality silk and acclimating to its temperamental nature after all the endless yards of fleece lately. But the fleece sewing has been absolutely worth it. I have a stack of warm, stay-at-home garments that cost next to nothing to make — this robe, for example, tallied up to a whopping nine bucks, pattern included. The silk robe will be slightly more than that. Ahem.

Do you ever tackle a category of fabrics (all the fleece, all the printed cottons, all the whatevers) just to try to clear them out of the stash? I used to do this with yarn sometimes, too — I once knit nothing but socks from Regia until every bit of Regia was gone from my stash. Or do you prefer to rotate different kinds of materials and projects?



Turn Four

I used to live in Indianapolis, so forgive me if I make a few race or basketball analogies here and there. It seeps into your blood there, much like the corn and soy pollen from all the farmland.

In racing, turn four is the last turn on the track, and that’s where I am on this year’s garment goals. My goal, set back in May, was to make 32 garments by the end of the year. Here are numbers 29 and 30.


That’s another Warm Thing (knee length hoodie with a kangaroo pocket) and a matching pair of fleece track pants. We’ve seen this pattern before. The pants are identical to the other pair I made in charcoal, and the only change to the hoodie was that I added a sleeve cuff, lengthened the hem about an inch to better cover my knees, and used a straight hem instead of a shirt-tail hem.

This feels like an insignificant project because it is what I think of as utility sewing — not a high fashion outfit, no special occasion, not even something I’ll wear in public. This is something to wear in my cold house during the cold months. I’ve been sewing multiples of these in fleece lately because I know I need them, and I need them now. It’s not particularly fun sewing, but it serves a purpose.

To meet my sewing goal for the year, I have to complete two more garments. That’s well within reach, barring calamity. I have two more pairs of these track pants cut out, another warm thing, and a v-neck sweatshirt, all sitting within easy reach of my sewing machine and ready to go. I have other things cut and ready to sew, too, and with the end of the year approaching, I feel like I want to clear out as many of these cut items as possible. Out with the old projects, make room for the new.

Because I’m on an academic calendar (I’m a fellow at a major public university), the next few weeks will be a bit slow on the work front. I’ll have to clean up after the fall semester and prepare for the spring semester, but that’s a light load compared to my usual pace. Even with holiday prep and parties, this should leave plenty of time to reach my sewing goals for the year.

That’s a good feeling. I know better than to celebrate the end of the race while I’m still at turn four, but I can see the finish line now. Time to push the pedal to the floor and go, go, go! I confess that I won’t make all of my goals for 2014, but that’s because 2014 was incredibly challenging on the personal front. The best I can say about 2014 is that it appears the members of my family will all live through it, and that was uncertain for much of the year. 2015 is bound to be better, and for now, at least I can make my sewing goals and truly celebrate the knowledge that we’ve come through the worst and things can only get better now.

And I’ll have 32 new garments to wear on my fitter body. That’s also something to celebrate — or it will be, once I can actually wave the checkered flag at the finish line.

Did you set goals for this year? Will you make them?


Here, fishy, fishy!


This is a terrible picture, but it’s the only one we got last night. My poor mom has a little trouble with point and shoot cameras. And with phones, tv remotes, etc. — anything electronic with push buttons seems to be tricky for her. She thought she took several photos last night, but this is the only one that actually ended up on my camera, and the tail is all twisty in it.

In any case, my brother has a big Halloween bash every year, and it has quickly become the party of the year. People go to great lengths to create excellent costumes to fit the annual theme. This year, the theme was 80s movies. I went as Madison from Splash — one of the few red-orange mermaids in film and tv land. Most of them are blue or green. I wonder why? Here’s a look at the original.


I though my fabric choice for the tail did a good job mimicking this look. I used a cheap acetate satin in orange overlaid with a red glitter mesh, also very cheap, from JoAnn Fabrics. The satin was difficult to handle. It shredded along cut edges if you so much as breathed on it, and it refused to take a clean press. I sort of gave up on pressing the seams and ended up using topstitching on the waistband and leg openings to make the fabric lie properly. The pattern is Simplicity 4043, which is one of those costume patterns that’s been around forever. I made the same pattern for my niece about 7 or 8 years ago. It takes a little time, but it’s not difficult, and the results are good.

Darryl Hannah wore some bronzed, waterproof body makeup above the waist instead of an actual costume piece. I watched a little behind-the-scenes thingie on making her costume, and the makeup and fabric of the tail were specially designed to blend into each other. They used something heavy over her breasts to hide the nipples, and they glued her wig to the heavy rubbery stuff over her breasts. I settled for a flesh-colored shirt instead, and didn’t glue my blond wig to any part of my body.

The necklace turned out to be the hard part of the costume. Go figure. Here’s a glimpse of the original. It’s very hard to get a clean look at the necklace in the movie because her wig is always on top of it, but the basic idea is gaudy, with lots of shells and beads and a big gold medallion in the center.


I looked everywhere for a necklace that resembled this one, and ended up making a sort of frankennecklace with several pieces from the thrift store. The gold medallion on mine is actually a gold pin tied onto the necklace with gold cord. I used three different necklaces — one with shell coin beads, one with bronze and gold beads, and one with some gold fish dangling charms. I had to break them apart and piece them back together, and the end piece was so heavy that the joins and threads kept snapping. In the end, floral wire was the only thing that held it together safely, and then I used some gold cord to hide the wire.

All in all, it was a fun costume for a fun party. The tail took some work, but it was nowhere near as challenging as the necklace.

And now that the costume for this year is done and in the bag, it’s back to more everyday kinds of garment construction. 🙂

What will you be for Halloween this year?



This will be my final post about the TNT Tee challenge from Sewing Pattern Review. This has been a really fun and interesting process. I took a wildly experimental approach to the process of using a tee pattern to create a block. (A block, if you don’t know, is like a blueprint for a pattern.) For my block, I wanted–

  • A vee neck, because that is what I usually wear. Necklines are among the easiest things to change on a tee pattern, but I figured I might as well start with the one I use most.
  • A close fit through the body with waist shaping.
  • A good close fit under the arms — droopy armholes destroy fit, imo.
  • Both cap sleeves and long sleeves.
  • Enough room in the bust to accommodate my girls.

Here is the pattern I chose:


Kwik Sew 4027

After four trial runs in which I changed the rise of the neckline, the armscye shaping, the front bust depth, the cross-back width, the waist shaping, the length and width of the sleeves, and probably a mess of other things that I’ve forgotten along the way, here is the final version from the final block:


Please excuse the headless selfie. I’d just taken a post-workout shower and didn’t feel like bothering with makeup and blowouts. Lazy!

The fit through the shoulders is excellent. The torso shaping is smooth and close without being tight. The neckline hits exactly where I want it. The sleeves are perfect in both angle and volume. I might add just a nudge more room in the bust next time, maybe a half-inch, but other than that, this is a perfect fit. The fabric is a mediocre rayon from JoAnn, but now that I have my block where I want it,  can use this to draft patterns and use some of the better knits in my stash. I have a printed ponte knit that will make a great little t-shirt dress for fall, and I’m already scheming to get that cut and sewn in September.

I found this process really useful. I’m sewing for a brand-new body now, and I’m rediscovering things that used to be so familiar, like the way a narrow ribcage can change the fit at the shoulders. This sort of thing used to be second nature, but it’s been a long time now since I’ve sewn in this current size. For the record, that size is a hybrid of extra-small and medium on the Kwik Sew pattern sheet, before alterations. After I lose the last few pounds — just 11 to go now! — I’m sure I’ll need to do more adjusting to the block. But for now, it’s perfect, and the process of perfecting it has prepared me for the work I’ll need to do in future patterns.

Thank you, Sewing Pattern Review, for sponsoring this challenge! It was a pleasure!

Have you ever participated in a sewing or knitting contest? If so, what did you make?




A flurry of pictures for the TNT Tee challenge

A couple of days before Sewing Pattern Review announced its TNT Tee Challenge, I had already pulled out this Kwik Sew 4027 pattern with the intention of using it to create a new block. I chose this pattern for exactly one reason: the v-neck.


It’s a deep vee, but I knew it would be easy enough to move that line up and still preserve the basic shape. I prefer a vee to a crew, no contest. I figured that once I got the rise where I wanted it, it would be easy to modify this to make it scoop, square, or any other shape that shows off a bit of collarbone.

And I wanted to create my own tee block because, frankly, no ready-to-wear shirts ever fit me correctly. It’s always the same problem. Here’s a sample — this is me in a standard Gildan tee, size small, purchased from Michael’s. Notice the wrinkle lines running from the lower armscye to the bust point, and from the bust point down to the waist. Those of you familiar with the acronym FBA will know exactly the cause of this fitting problem.


You might also notice that the shoulder seam is a bit dropped. Narrow shoulders + large breasts = fitting woes. I don’t mind a slightly dropped shoulder on something as casual as a tee, as long as the rest of the fit through the body is good. With that in mind, I used some leftover fabric from this maxiskirt to cut my first version of this tee. (Fabric source: Mood Fabrics.) This one was meant to be a muslin, and though I did alter the pattern to increase the bust, I didn’t expect a perfect fit this first time through. Good thing I had such low expectations.


A wadder!

That fit is atrocious. The less said, the better. I had started with the size medium and added nearly an inch to the bust at the side seam, but this is clearly a bad fit. So, for my next attempt, I used this same body pattern piece and used the pivot method to increase the bust by about two inches — nearly an inch from the original side seam adjustment, plus an inch from the pivot. I cut this version with long sleeves using some white cotton and lycra from the stash. (I don’t remember the source — maybe the Textile Discount Outlet on 21st Street?) This fabric turned out to be a little too stiff to complement the pattern, which works better with a drapey knit. But I’m really glad I made it, just the same — this will be a good pajama tee, and the fit problems with this one really helped me solve this pattern.


A fit so bad, I should not even be smiling

You can’t see it in this picture, but there is a shocking amount of extra fabric under the arms. And yet, the tee still manages to pull at the bust. The shoulder seam drops a good way down the upper arm, too. At this point, I decided the shoulders needed some work, or this thing would simply never fit. So for my next version, I went back to the original pattern. I measure the cross-back carefully to get a neater fit at the shoulder, and chose to cut it extra-small through the shoulder and medium through the body.

Experienced seamstresses are right now zooming in on what that means, and they are shuddering with horror. Yes, I did that thing you are never supposed to do. I redrew the armsyce. And yes, I was quaking in my house slippers the entire time. After I redrew the armscye to grade it from an extra-small shoulder to a medium bust, I measured front and back to determine the length of the new seam. And then I measured the sleeve heads on the pattern to find the one closest to the new armscye measurement. That turned out to be the medium sleeve, minus an eighth of an inch at either end. I also used the pivot method to add about 3/4″ to the bust front. Here is tee the third, made in an inexpensive rayon jersey from JoAnn purchased just for this experiment.


Still some wrinkling from bust point to waist, but overall a better fit


Front view — a nice, smooth fit except for those wrinkles under the bust

When I tried on this version, I knew I was getting closer. Not all the way home, but closer. I would be willing to wear this one in public, which is more than can be said for the magenta (destined for the trash) or white (destined for pajama status) versions. I’m still not happy with the bust, and the drape on the sleeves could use some tinkering. Actually, the problem with that drape results from my tinkering in the first place. I wanted the sleeves about an inch longer, but still with the slant to the hem — you can see that the sleeve hem is not horizontal, but at sort of a 45 degree angle from the body up and out. I like that. I just wanted it longer, so I extended the sleeve, rather badly, as it turns out, but not so badly that it can’t be fixed. I ended up redrawing the sleeve pattern piece to sort this out, an easy fix.

This leads to version four, in the same inexpensive JoAnn rayon as number three, except in red. To sum up the alterations:

  • raised the vee neck
  • narrowed the shoulders
  • extended the side seams at the underarm
  • redrew the armscyes
  • pivoted to add more room at the bust
  • lengthened the sleeves
  • redrew the sleeve seams


Look, ma, no underboob wrinkles!

This still isn’t perfect, but it is finally fitting through the bust and shoulders. In my next version, I’m going to remove some of the extra fabric from the sleeve — see that fold on top of the bicep? That will be gone. And I will remove some of the extra fabric at the waist and hip, something  I hesitated to do until the fit at the bust and shoulders was smoother. I don’t want to add waistline darts, but some of that fabric has got to come out. The current cut through the body is adding an easy ten pounds to my torso, and I’ve fought too hard to get the pounds off to let a tee shirt put them back on.

But we’re getting closer. We’re definitely getting closer. I won’t have any sewing time again until Friday, and at that point, I plan to go back to my friendly neighborhood J-store for more inexpensive rayon in yet another color, and given how expert I’m becoming in assembling this particular pattern, I could easily have the next version done by Friday night.

We all have our fitting woes, but this is one I intend to solve. Once this block is perfected, I will be able to use it as a base for any somewhat drapey knit top.