And this is why we pay more for better fabrics

There’s a story behind this fabric. Some years ago, Groupon had an offer for a local fabric warehouse which I had never visited. It was a great little Groupon, so I snapped it up, plugged in the address to my GPS, and headed to the warehouse. It’s a massive place, three floors and multiple rooms on each floor. It took me half the day to get through the main floor, and that was as far as I got.

Chicagoans will know the place by this description: it’s messy, overwhelming, and the selection is half-treasure, half-trash. I’ve purchased some beautiful silk crepe there of a nice quality and weight, for a shockingly cheap $7/yard. I’ve also purchased some poly silky that ended up in the garbage, literally, after the pretreatment washing. (That one still surprises me. I’m usually a better judge of fabric and can avoid mistakes like that one.) There really is buried treasure in this warehouse, but the accent should probably be on the word “buried.” Everything is a cut above the quality usually offered at big box retailers, but beyond that, quality varies. A lot.

In any case, on that particular shopping day, I needed to find enough fabric to use up the groupon. This would not normally be a problem for me, but it was my first time in this warehouse. I didn’t quite have the lay of the land, so to speak, and I spent far too long wandering around with my jaw open, trying to figure out how to navigate the rows and rows and rows and rows of fabric. And rows. And rows. It’s really disorganized, though you do start to get the vague impression that evening fabrics are sort of located in one room, more or less, and day wear in another. The home dec stuff is definitely segregated from the garment fabrics. Some things are on shelves, some on steel posts, some heaped in baskets, some leaning against walls or laying on the floor. You’ve never seen so many bolts under one roof before.

I found the $7/yard silk crepe and a really pretty pink brocade that day. And I also found the fabric to make into this.


Simplicity 1716, FrankenView

This is a red rayon-lycra blend that turned rubbery after a wash in cool water. Rayon can get rubbery like that sometimes, but usually cold water doesn’t affect it that way. Usually, it’s in response to steam — not all rayons are comfortable with exposure to steam. So I don’t know what happened here, It’s possible that the cool setting on my older washing machine wasn’t all that cool — this prewash happened right before the dang thing died, so anything is possible. But the rayon was definitely altered after that washing, as can sometimes happen with rayons.

So the weight and drape of the fabric was affected. I’d originally though to make a skirt with this fabric, something fluid with gores, maybe. But that idea went out the window after the prewash. And then I was never really sure what to make, but last month’s stash sewing contest inspired me to pull out this fabric and find something to do with it.

Enter Simplicity 1716.


I wanted something that resembled view F, the version shown in the lower left corner drawing. But that version has a shaped hem and ruching on the side seams, so I ended up playing mix-and-match with several pattern pieces to get the finished garment. I made a FBA, and I ended up hacking off the long sleeves to make 3/4 sleeves because the fabric over my wrists was just irritating. I knew I would always be pushing up those sleeves and figured I could put an end to that with the scissors!

My only real regret with this top has to do with the way the back neck facing is applied. Normally, we apply facings last, after shoulder seams are finished. But with this draped cowl, there is no front facing piece. The cowl is self-facing. The back neck facing piece is still applied after the shoulder seams are stitched, meaning that you have this awkward bit where the back neck facing, the shoulder seams, and the cowl front are joined. I didn’t like that, but it didn’t bother me enough to rip it apart and re-do it.

I really like the final garment, even though the fabric is not so great. It feels a little sticky and dense in the final garment, but I wear this one frequently. The color is good, and the fit is good, and the rayon actually drapes nicely at the neckline. I like it so much that I’ve already made it again. The second time, I attached the back neck facing before sewing the shoulder seams, and the finish is ever so much neater. I’ll show you the second version someday!

The main lesson in this garment is that it’s often worth it to buy a better quality fabric and treat it carefully. I ended up with something wearable, but that might be more due to luck than to selection or skill.

Have you ever accidentally turned rayon into rubber?



Closing in on a few FOs

I confess, knitting and sewing time has been scarce for the past six weeks or so. I’m just really over-scheduled right now. It’s temporary, thank goodness, and I can already see the end of this cycle starting to manifest. I like being busy and arrange my life to keep it that way, but sometimes I overdo it just a wee bit.

So this has slowed down the knitting and sewing progress, but it hasn’t stopped it altogether. Today, I finished this mesh tunic.


I’m really pleased with how it turned out. This is Butterick 5954, a highly rated pattern that made the “Best of 2014” list at Sewing Pattern Review. I can see why. The cut is perfect. It’s loose and fluid without being baggy, and that’s a tough line to toe. I did add a FBA to the pattern front, but other than that, it was the only pattern adjustment. I didn’t even narrow the shoulders, though I would likely do it if I sewed this pattern again. (I will sew this pattern again. Without question.)

This is view B of the pattern, a fairly plain tunic shape with a lot of flare at the hem. There’s another view with overlapped fronts and a cowl neck that many, many sewists have made.

Butterick 5954

It’s pretty, and I like it quite a lot. I keep wanting to make it, but I’m hesitant because I think all that fabric would overwhelm me. I’m pretty self-conscious right now about the weight I gained last fall during my illness, and I think adding a lot of fabric onto my too-heavy (for now) figure would practically guarantee that I never wear the top. But I’ve got the all-clear from my doctor to shed that weight — a work in progress right now, and the hours in the gym every day are definitely contributing to my over-scheduling issue these days. But if it means I can get back into my regular size and make this top, maybe in a floaty, sheer chiffon, then it will be worth it. I keep seeing it in a citrus-y bright color, sheer and light, and very summery. It doesn’t look very summery in that tweedy knit pictured, but that’s how I want to do it.

Speaking of sheer fabrics, this whole project came about because I scanned the “new arrivals” page at Mood Fabrics and spotted this knitted mesh.


That’s a bonded mesh knit, two layers of knitted fabric that are joined with a double-knitting technique in various places across the knitting rows. It’s very, very soft, like the softest t-shirt jersey. I snapped this photo of a scrap left after cutting, but you can get a closer look at it on Mood’s product page (link). This fabric comes in a lot of colors, and I debated far too long between the spearmint, white, and black before going with black. It’s sort of my default color.

I’ve worked with other bonded/layered knits before, but this one was comparatively easy to handle. It was stable enough to stay where you put it and grip the straight pins, but soft enough to roll easily at the hems. I debated doing a hand-rolled hem on this, in fact, because a hand-rolled hem will always be softer than a machine-rolled hem. But then I thought that bit of hardness from the machine-rolled hem might help support the flare down at the hem, and it seems to be working as expected. I’m glad I opted for the machine-rolled hem, but when I make it again (maybe in this bright blue crinkle chiffon? hmm…) I would definitely consider a hand-rolled hem to keep the chiffon floaty.

In any case, I can already tell I’ll wear this a lot. It’s the perfect thing to throw on over a tank/tee and leggings/jeans on a summer day when the air conditioner is going to be blasting wherever I go. And in the transitional season we’re in now, when it could be 70F or it could be 50F — roll the dice! — this mesh is just the right weight to stay comfortable. As an added bonus, the texture of the mesh looks great with these Steve Madden booties I bought a few months back. See the quilting detail on the leather?


The shape of that quilting mimics the mesh pretty closely, which is just one of those little details that makes me feel like I might be doing something right. Also, you can’t go wrong with black heeled boots or booties, right? It doesn’t seem to matter how many pairs I already own — when I see a perfect pair like these, I have to snap them up. I especially love the inside of these boots.


It just has the vaguest whiff of Alexander McQueen’s Highland Rape collection. Remember that one? Genius. These boots are, of course, not as splendid or shocking as that collection was, but the secret glimpse of plaid inside the rather tough, edgy boots always makes me remember the mood and tone of that collection. I really do love these boots. ::happy sigh::

Have you made any new pieces for the transitional weather?




Warm Thing, you make my heart sing!

I had thought this garment would be done and blogged Monday or Tuesday, but I ended up in the hospital quite suddenly early this week. No need to worry. I’m going to be fine once we stabilize things, and there aren’t any new problems here, just old symptoms and old problems.  I lost a bit of time this week and am still moving sort of slowly, but I’ll be fine.

And one of the side effects right now is that I am always freezing. Brr! Chicago isn’t exactly tropical this time of year. So when I saw this Warm Thing from DKNY, you can bet I gazed longingly at the picture.

dkny warm thing

I’ll take one in every color, please

Ok, so, yeah, I admit my first thought was that I’ve seen muumuus with more bodycon. This isn’t anyone’s idea of a date dress. Or if it is, I don’t want to know your other ideas about what’s sexy! Yikes. But after I got over the lumpy shapeless sack effect, I knew I had to have this garment.

Actually, after a bit of pondering, I decided to make several variations on this garment. I knew I would want a big, roomy, ankle-length one just like this to throw on over my clothes on a cold day. But then I thought, I might as well make a shorter one with a bit of body shaping, something like a more fitted tunic version of this garment. And guess what new pattern was issued just as I was having that thought?


McCall’s 7061

That’s a nightgown pattern for a knee-length hoodie with some waist shaping and a kangaroo pocket on the front. Some years ago, I made a similar nightgown (shaped hem, pouch pocket) for myself out of some cheap printed sweatshirt fleece bought from the clearance bins at a chain store that doesn’t even exist anymore. Cloth World, you guys. Remember that place? Anyway, I have fond memories of that nightgown and wore it like a sweatshirt over everything on cold days. It was, like the DKNY Warm Thing, definitely not sexy, but I wore it around the house all the time, to the point that family members started to ask me to make the same thing for them. If I wore it that much, it had to be good — that was their thinking, and they were dead right. It was good. Super cozy and warm. I wore it until it was in shreds.

So I figured my first iteration of the DKNY Warm Thing knock-off would be made from this McCall’s pattern. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing side seam pockets instead of the kangaroo pouch, but I wanted this first one to be fitted, and side seam pockets would disrupt the line. So I stuck with the pouch idea and headed to JoAnn’s for some polar fleece. Their fleece isn’t top quality, but it’s cheap and it’s good enough for a garment that I’ll never wear outside the house.

Around this time every year, as people switch to cold-weather sewing, the boards and blogs start talking about how to sew fleece. It’s a surprisingly tricky fabric because of three factors: bulk, curl, and heat intolerance. Bulk — the textile is very thick, and seams can be lofty and unwieldy, particularly at crossing points like crotch/leg joins. Curl — it’s a knit, and like many knits, it curls up along a horizontal raw edge and inward along a vertical raw edge, which can make it a bit hard to control and can prevent the seams from laying flat. Heat intolerance — we might ordinarily use steam pressing to flatten bulk and curl, but this stuff can’t handle an iron hot enough to make steam. The fiber will melt. Some people advocate using the point of the iron to briefly press a seam, but the fabric is so thick that the heat cannot penetrate the inner layers before it has melted the outer layers. I haven’t had good luck using that point pressing technique.

Instead, I use stitched seams to control and flatten the bulk, prevent curl, and create a neat finish. This works for me, but as with any technique I discuss here, you might prefer a different method.

So, first, I just sew a standard 5/8 seam, except I try to keep the fabric just a mite inside that 5/8 marking on my sewing machine template. This is because the loft and curl along that cut edge can mask the actual dimensions of the seam allowance. Yes, commercial sewing patterns are designed with a 1/8″ tolerance in the seams, but I’ve just learned through past fleece adventures that this tolerance is not enough with a very bulky fabric. So 5/8 minus just a smidgen is what I am for, like so.


The raw edge isn’t quite flush with the 5/8 line

Then, I trim one of the seam allowances — just one — to about half its width. This smaller seam allowance will be hidden under its partner soon. Trimming reduces bulk in the seam, and that’s the sole purpose of this particular step.


Then, I fold both seam allowances to one side so that the trimmed seam allowance is sandwiched between the untrimmed seam allowance and the garment fabric. On the right side, I topstitch the seam allowances to the garment fabric, using my presser foot as a gauge. The right side of the presser foot is aligned with the seam itself.


This can be tricky on sleeves and other tight tubes!

And that’s it. This second line of stitching/topstitching flattens the bulk and holds the fabric so that it won’t curl. This is what it looks like from the right side.


And this is what it looks like from the wrong side. Notice that you only see one raw edge. This is because the second raw edge is encased inside the stitching rows.


Also, on the kangaroo pouch, I used two lines of stitching everywhere the pattern called for one line. I’ve just found that two lines of stitching cuts down on the fabric’s tendency to curl, and it compresses the fabric to reduce bulk, and it substitutes for a pressing by holding the fabric in place. It doesn’t seem to matter if the two lines of stitches are very close (a scant 1/8″) or relatively far apart (a generous 3/8″). But I don’t use a twin needle for this — I sew each line separately — because the underside of a twin needle stitch can bubble a bit and add bulk right where we’re trying to reduce bulk. It can also encourage the fabric to curl if the twin needle stitching is parallel to the fabric’s natural curl direction.

This is a close up of part of the pouch pocket showing the stitching.


This picture really shows how the stitching compresses the fabric. Just look at either side of the stitching lines, and you can see how the fabric puffs up away from the stitches. But along those lines, at least, the fabric is compressed enough that the bulk won’t be uncomfortable.

Here’s the final garment. It’s definitely shapelier than the DKNY Warm Thing, but it’s still not exactly bodycon. But for something to wear around the house in the cold dark winter? It’s just what I need.


I’m already at work on a giant, roomy, raglan-sleeved version of the DKNY Warm Thing and should have it done in the next day or two. And I had enough of the dark gray stuff from this first version to make a pair of matching pants in a pattern designed specifically for this textile, so we’ll see how that goes!

How do you wrangle your fleece into submission?




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.


My first contest attempt

Okay, so I pulled the trigger and entered my first Sewing Pattern Review contest.


For this contest, we are meant to make between four and six t-shirts built from the same pattern. It’s okay to vary the pattern. I had already planned to use this Kwik Sew pattern to create a basic tee block for myself. So this contest gives me the perfect excuse to do that. I like the deep vee on this one, which looks great layered over a tank. That will be my first iteration of this pattern — basically, just a clone of the white tee in the picture. I can raise the neckline for a second tee, and I can add a stretch lace inset for a third. The fourth, fifth, and sixth? Hmm. Must ponder!


I don’t have much spare jersey (okay, I don’t have any spare jersey, really) in my stash, so this will require some fabric shopping. But I can’t wait to get started!

If you were making this pattern, what modifications would you make?


Speaking of jade…

On a recent fabric stash-dive for cotton prints to make pajama pants, I spotted a 2-yard cut of a simple cotton broadcloth with red flowers on a jade background. Out of curiosity, I pulled out my jade wrap cardigan to see how these might look together.

005I like that. I tend to be a little hesitant about mixing prints and textures, but I think that lace and that particular print read pretty well together.

Now, I have only to decide which shirt pattern to make from that cotton. Or should I make a sleeveless dress? Is that too much print for a dress? I recently picked up this Butterick 6066 pattern and could make this sleeveless dress:


If that print is too much for a dress, I might make this Simplicity 1590 retro shirt instead.


Decisions, decisions. One thing is for sure, though. I appear to like this particular jade green more than I was ever aware! Who knew!