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?



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?


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?


Spring, I am ready for you!

Last weekend, temperatures here in Chicago climbed up near 40F. What a gift! On both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, I went for a brisk 3.5 mile walk along my usual neighborhood route. I didn’t run any of it — I haven’t run since October because of last autumn’s illness, followed by winter, ugh, winter. Who wants to run outside in subzero wind chills when the snow drifts make it impossible for cars to see you at intersections? Not this girl.

But spring surely will follow winter, and when it does, I’ll have a new fleece to wear on my neighborhood running route.


McCall’s 6252 View A

I like the half-zip fleeces for outdoor workouts on brisk days. They’re warm without being heavy or constricting, and if I start to overheat, I can open the half-zip without having to worry about jacket fronts flopping all over and zipper tabs smacking me like little wasp stingers. Maybe I’m just a wimp, but man, those zipper tabs hit your hands the wrong way, and it hurts. So a half-zip is definitely better, imho.

I chose this radiant bright neon green on purpose. If you run or walk outdoors, this one won’t require explanation. but for the rest of you: cars. A really bright color for my workout gear, something impossible to ignore, makes me think maybe possibly they’ll drive past me instead of driving over me. There are far too many sad stories about runners being smashed on roadsides. I don’t want to become a statistic. Plus, bright colors are fun, and when else can you wear them? This green isn’t exactly the stuff of daily wear, but in outdoor workout gear, crazy bright colors are the norm.

The pattern came together easily without any real hitches. I wasn’t at all enthusiastic about the way they have you attach the facing along the zipper front — they want you to hand sew it, and really, who would bother? I machine stitched it, and it was fine. The facings themselves are a little oddly shaped, and in a lighter fabric, I would just cut the yoke front again and use that instead of the facings. But that would be far too bulky in a fleece like this.

I’ll make this again in neon pink at some point, and when I do, other than tinkering with the facing, the only other change I’ll make is to the sleeves. They’re big. I narrowed them a little bit along the seamline as I stitched — not much, just about a half-inch, but I’ll bet I could easily take out another two inches there. You can see in the photo how they bunch up from the extra width. The pattern envelope shows the same effect on the models, which I didn’t even notice until after I was fitting this to my body. The sleeves are just really too wide from about the bicep down.

Also, the collar piece is cut in a plain rectangular shape. As a result it stands up a little awkwardly instead of curving in toward the neck. So I might redraft that pattern piece for next time, but I want to run in this one a few times before I make that decision. It’s very possible that having the fabric stand up and away from my neck, almost like a funnel-neck sweater, will be more comfortable on a run. So I’m withholding judgment on this detail for now.

As I write this, it’s 13F outside with a “feels like” of 1 degree. One whole entire degree! Mother Nature’s a bit stingy today! And the 10-day outlook shows highs in the teens, lows in single digits and subzero, before you factor in the wind to get the “feels like” temperature. So this pretty green fleece will hang in my closet for now, but maybe in a few more weeks, we’ll see a couple of days approaching 40, and it might get some road time.

Spring has to come eventually, right?

Have you started any spring sewing or knitting yet?


When first impressions are wrong

Okay, so I made this sweater/coat/cardigan thing, and I was a bit iffy when I first finished it just because it’s really, really big. Crazy big. Like, I made the size medium (12-14), which is my normal sewing size, and I had to take 4″ (10cm) out of each side seam. And it’s still very generously sized, even with that extra 8″ removed. Here, this will give you an idea–


McCall’s 7057 View B minus 8″ in girth

This thing has so much more volume than most of what I wear these days. I like a trim silhouette, and this is far from trim.

But check out that collar! That’s the detail that made me rush to make this garment in the first place. It’s actually a convertible hood. It drapes around the shoulders, as shown, or you can wear it up, like this.


Goal for 2015: I will get a decent camera and learn how to use it

That’s like a magic trick, right? Such a fun design detail, and I really liked sewing it. With the hood down in collar form, you can’t really see how huge the shoulders are. The big proportions are a little more apparent with the hood up. So at first I was worried that this would feel like one of those enormous snow jackets our moms all made us wear when we were little.


I can’t put my arms down!

But then I wore it. Tuesday was warm for Chicago in January, a tick above freezing. So I threw on dark jeans, a black long-sleeved tee, some heeled boots, and my favorite long silver statement necklace, seen in the photo. I added red leather gloves, my red bag, and a black fedora, and I was out the door — and this cardigan coat thingie was absolutely perfect. It kept me warm enough outdoors without overwhelming me with heat indoors. Comfortable. I could let it drape open if I became too warm, and wrap it close if I became too cold.

But just because a thing is comfy, that doesn’t mean it looks okay. I had to pick up my nephew from high school that day, and I heard more than one MILF called at me — not that we encourage these things, but at least it’s some evidence that I didn’t look like I was wearing a big sloppy bathrobe. One of the sports coach teacher men was rather friendly with me, too, more evidence that it wasn’t completely hideous. And I liked wearing it. Of course, I like wearing some pretty awful things in the name of winter warmth, so I know better than to think this is evidence of style. But I didn’t scare off children or sportsball men, so how bad can it be? That was my logic, such as it is.

That was Tuesday. As I woke up Wednesday, my first thought was, “I wonder if it will be warm enough to wear the big thing again.” And today, Thursday? Same thought. I woke up hoping I could wear it. I think I might have a new trend here. I don’t know what it is about this cardigan, but I know I’m going to wear it until it is dead from overwork and exhaustion. One wear, and I was hooked. It’s like the crack of sweater jackets.

The fabric is this black wool sweater knit shot through with silver lurex threads from Mood Fabrics. It’s right around sport or DK gauge, just under 6 stitches to the inch, so it’s fairly heavy for a milled knit fabric. It sewed like a dream and feels incredibly good — warm and cozy, but it’s definitely wool, just a mere touch of rusticity in the hand. I loved sewing it and would absolutely sew it again.

I only had two minor quibbles with the pattern. One, there are no belt loops. I made the belt and didn’t even notice that a belt loop pattern piece was nowhere to be found. I might just do a crocheted loop at some point, but honestly, I doubt I’ll ever use the belt. It just feels bulky and awkward when it’s belted, and the belt kind of ruins the line of the garment.

My other minor quibble is that the instructions have you sew the pieces together in an unusual order. Instead of sewing fronts to backs at the shoulders and then sewing the hood/collar thing on, it calls for you to sew the fronts to the hood/collar, then sew the backs, then sew the shoulder seams. That seemed like it would be unnecessarily fiddly, so I didn’t do that. I couldn’t think of a single reason why anyone should!

But neither of these quibbles is really anything to detract from an overall great pattern. I already have my eye out for some red wool sweater knit, because OMG, this thing in red? I NEEEEEEEEEEEED one!

Have you ever had a wrong first impression of one of your creations?


A new 3-season dress

This is a 3-season dress. Spring, summer, fall. So it makes sense that I would sew it in winter, right? Yeah. I’m just trying to clear out some old projects from the sewing room right now, and this is one of them. It’s a printed cotton ponte that’s been marinating in the stash so long, I can no longer remember where I purchased it. I know I haven’t seen ponte like this in a while, not rayon or poly, but honest-to-god cotton. It has a smooth hand, a firm surface, and a good amount of drape, just the right fabric for a simple dress with a bit of body shaping.


I don’t wear a lot of prints, but I do like a good chevron. And it’s all shades of gray and black, so it fits my usual color obsession. How cute would this be with a red handbag or some hot pink heels? That’s one of my favorite uniforms — black and gray clothing with a pop of color in the bag or shoes or coat.

The pattern is McCall’s 6612, which I previously used to make a cowl-neck dress in a Missoni-ish fabric. (link) I liked the pattern quite a lot, but hated that shreddy Missoni-knockoff fabric, and wanted to make this pattern again in a better fabric. Mission accomplished.


I used the view with the scoop-neck, but I added long sleeves instead of short. This is a bodycon dress, slightly above the knee and very fitted through the torso, and I thought the longer sleeves would balance out some of that vavoom factor. The only other change to the pattern was in the construction of the neckline. The pattern calls for a fold-and-stitch neckline, but I wanted something neater. I added a 1/4″ band neckline.


I think that’s a little more finished looking, don’t you? You can also see how the chevrons match up along the sleeve and body if you look at the sleeve cap on the left side of the picture. I think the pattern matches as well as possible given that it’s chevrons (not straight stripes) and many of the seams are curved. Curves throw off pattern matching, but here’s a peek at the side seam.


Not microscopically perfect, but I can live with it. The pattern aligns perfectly down the center front and center back, and the curved shaping along the side seams was bound to throw off the matching just a touch, but that’s pretty darned good, all things considered.

This pattern might very well end up being my go-to block for knitted tops and dresses. It’s very well drafted. I’m happy with this dress and can’t wait to wear it, just as soon as we’re out of this fourth season!

Do you sew out of season?