Twirling like a little girl

015Vogue 1225

This is an OOP Vogue pattern designed by Tracy Reese. I’ve wanted to make this one for yonks, but kept stalling for a variety of reasons, none of them good. Now that I’ve made it, I’m on the hunt for fabric to make it again. I love it enough that I could easily make it ten times. This dress could become my summer uniform.

It is fiddly and it did take time and patience to complete.  It might not be evident from this photo, but the bodice is in many pieces. There are two pieces at front that form a V, and they’re joined to full facings and side bodice pieces to complete the bodice front. So that’s six pieces just for the bodice front, and each piece has its darts or gathers to create shaping. It’s pretty fiddly, and I wish I’d lengthened the bodice just about an inch, maybe an inch and a half. I’m only 5’3″, and this might be the first pattern where I’ve ever wanted to lengthen a bodice. The waist just rides up to a slightly awkward place on my torso — it might not be an issue for other people.

There’s a drawstring neck tie at the back — it’s easier to see on the pattern envelope than on any of the photos I took.


Those ties start at the shoulder seam and go through a casing to the center back slit seam. It’s an interesting detail that adds something just a bit fun to the pattern. But the real fun is in the skirt.


Look at how much volume is in that skirt. I’m holding it out to waist height, and look at how many folds and gathers remain at center front. This is one of those skirts that you can twirl in, and it flies out around you in a circle with extra fabric to spare. Yes, I know that from experience! Who can resist a good spinny dance move in such a skirt? I wore this one to an afternoon party and spent far too much time spinning and twirling with the little girls on the lawn. Luckily, the built-in petticoat preserved my grown-up girl modesty!

I used a very slippery, fluid rayon jersey for this one, and I think that was the key to its success. A light silk jersey might work, too, but cotton would be too heavy. And poly, ugh, why bother. I’m not a big fan of sewing with rayon jersey — and its more challenging qualities substantially enhanced the overall fiddly-ness of the construction process — but the end result makes it worth every single moment when a pin fell out of the seams or the gathering lines wouldn’t hold.

All in all, a big success, and if you can find this OOP pattern in a resale bin somewhere, I encourage you to snap it up.

Do you have a go-to casual dress pattern?



My Favorite (So Far)

I’ve stitched through over 19 yards of stash so far for the June challenge at Pattern Review, a fact which stuns me. My “I Can Dream” goal was 25 yards for the month. With the nearly 3 yards (in the form of two tops) in final stages in my sewing room, and another 13 days left in the month, I think I might beat that goal. File this one under, “You’re always capable of more than you imagine.” <— what one of the trainers at the gym says all day long every day

I’m falling way behind on blogging all of these FOs — too busy sewing! and given that I’m in the race for second place, I’m going to keep that going as long as I have a shot at a prize. But here is a dress I finished over the weekend, and it is my favorite so far of all the things I’ve finished this month. It’s cool and breezy and floaty, and it will be perfect for hot summer days. I love a lightweight dress on a summer day because you can look casual and non-slobbish and still be cool and comfortable.

005I look at this picture and think, boy, do I need a new hair stylist.

That pale yellow fabric is a fine cotton lawn purchased at Haberman’s in Detroit. A couple of years ago, I met friends in Stratford, Ontario, for the theater festival. The costume mistress for the theaters happens to also be a romance novelist, so she arranged a backstage tour of the costume department for us. YOU GUYS. Imagine an entire network of hallways and rooms, like a little maze running under the theater. Turn a corner, peek into an open room, and there’s a cobbler making custom shoes. Across the hall, through another open room, you’ll spot the giant vats where they custom dye their textiles. Hat makers, wig makers, pattern makers, seamstresses — the list goes on an on, each tucked into their own delightful nook in the maze. And the fabric storage room? *dies*  They had to pull me out of that room, and I left fingernail marks on the walls as they dragged me away. I’m talking silk brocades so decadent and gorgeous that you would have to hunt the entire globe to find something that special. Which they do. The costume mistress travels to all the wonderful places where we hide the best things. Best job ever, right?

So, after being whipped into a froth by that amazing behind-the-scenes tour, I detoured through Detroit to pop into Haberman’s, a legendary fabric store — and with good reason. The fabrics were superior quality, not a cheap crappy bolt to be found anywhere in the store. They even had some real Missoni fabrics from the Missoni mills. I could have spent all day there. Instead, as soon as I spotted the signs for a sale on all cottons and linens, I spent half a day there, walked out with bags too heavy to carry, and have been dreaming of a return trip ever since.

This yellow lawn is incredibly smooth and light, sheer enough that I have to be careful about what I wear under it, but opaque enough to get away with skipping a slip. I wish you could reach through the screen and touch it. It’s that good.

I like yellow and gray together, so I cut the bodice from a piece of heathered gray cotton leftover from another dress. I think the colors play well together.

This is a Vogue pattern, and it was very easy. I think even a very new beginner could handle this pattern, and it would give them a chance to try inserting zippers and to see how fabric behaves on the bias. Most of the pattern is cut on the bias, and in single layers. My only hiccup with the pattern came when I stitched the skirt front to the skirt bodice incorrectly — I somehow flipped it around despite being very careful to lay out all the pieces the right way before pinning the seams. So the skirt looked wrong at first, more like something an avant garde Japanese designer would create, all angles and volume in unexpected ways. Ripping and resewing took care of that! Now mine looks just like the pattern, really–


Vogue 9107

I tried to do a FBA with a pivot method — the process of adding a dart to this dress, given the way the seam lines angle across the bodice, would have been a nightmare. The pivot method worked well enough, but I would grade it at about a B or B- for the finished result. Not perfect, but good enough. The fit is smooth over the bust, but there’s some gapping under the arms, in the lower third of the armscye. That’s the down side to the pivot method. It almost always will create that kind of gapping there.

So, I’ve finished seven (??? I think) garments so far this month, and two more nearly done. This is my favorite so far, and the gray fabric is leftover from my least favorite so far. Same fabric, very different results. I’ll show you that one soon, but for now, back to the sewing room. We’ll see if I can pull off a second place prize! Unlikely, given the way everyone is crushing their stashes for this contest, but I’m in contention and that’s enough to keep me sewing away.

What’s the most you’ve ever sewn in a month?



The new Vogues

I’m going to make a promise right here, right now, and we’ll see how good I am at keeping it. This has to do with That Thing Which Happens When New Patterns Come Out.

We’ve all seen it. The new patterns are released, and people erupt in a flurry of excitement. Before the pixels can cool on the new product pages, though, someone will inevitably turn mean girl. Here’s a random sample of paraphrased comments I’ve seen just in the past few weeks.

OMG, who would wear that? I mean, not as a joke, but as clothes.

That draping is just ugly. There is not one single body that could wear that without looking ugly.

Not even a 6-year-old would look good in that dress.

And then everyone piles on the joke clothes and the ugly draping and the dress unsuitable for a six-year-old. It’s not a positive dynamic. I love a good snark, but sometimes this all starts to feel, well, a bit too low. Even when I agree with the original criticism, at some point, it can start to make me want to defend the design. “Oh, come on, you guys, it isn’t THAT bad.” Because there’s a difference between pointing out a style line or design feature that might not work, and the kind of mob mentality that starts to feel a bit like snack time in a piranha tank. It’s the piranha thing I’m not so proud to be a part of.

In any case, the new Vogues came out this week, and I saw the pile-on begin almost instantly on one discussion board in particular. It wasn’t any better or any worse than any other pile-on, and I thought some of the criticism was valid. But nevertheless, it got me thinking. Why do we do this? Why are we so quick to mock things we don’t like? Isn’t it maybe just the slightest bit possible that something one of us hates would be pure dynamite on someone else?

Well, I’m going to do my best to avoid the pranha mentality. I’ll talk about patterns I like, and I’ll skip the ones I don’t like, and I’ll try to remember that someone, somewhere, probably can’t wait to sew that pattern I think is awful. Why rain on that person’s parade? I don’t see the point. But even as I say this, I know that sometimes the snark is irresistible. I’ll try to be positive, but hey, sometimes I’m a wise-cracking asshole. It just happens. Road to hell, good intentions, etc.

So, anyway, here are the new Vogues I’m really excited about, starting with Vogue 9076, which might very well be the first one I sew from this batch (though I will skip the string tie). I had this dress in khaki green a few years back. Loved it. It showed off my shape without being clingy or obvious, and now I’m envisioning it in a print — like two layers of silk chiffon print, with the print showing through the layers. How fantastic would that be? I might even have something in the stash that would work.


Vogue 9076

I’m also intrigued by this little summery sheath, Vogue 9079, which is very definitely my style — a trim silhouette, a bit of asymmetry. The pattern envelope calls for linen or crepe, but somehow I keep imagining this in a light denim or chambray. Of course, I don’t have so much as a scrap of either light denim or chambray in my stash, so this would require fabric shopping. Such a sacrifice! Forced to shop for fabric!


Vogue 9079

Then there’s Vogue 1437. I’ve blogged before about my unholy love for Ralph Rucci’s patterns, and this one is no exception. I end up buying all of his patterns even if I’m not sure I’ll ever make them. Maybe if I sleep with them under my pillow at night, I’ll absorb some of his genius? I mean, look at these sleeves. Fantastic. It’s another cut-on, round-shouldered sleeve, and I’m still tinkering with the muslin on my other Ralph Rucci cut-on, round-shouldered sleeve, so I’m not in a super big hurry to tackle this jacket. But I want to. I want to be good enough to whip out a snappy little jacket like this without having to stare down the FBA and fret that I’ll never make it fit. This is aspirational pattern acquisition, pure and simple.


Vogue 1437

And I have big swoons for the Tom and Linda Platt dress, Vogue 1431. This design team has a great knack for color blocking, and I love the way the jacket lines continue to a V-point above the back waist. I think that would be very flattering. I keep imagining wearing this to the theater or ballet (even though my theater buddy just moved to the west coast, sniff! sob!). But isn’t this the perfect downtown day-to-night dress?



Vogue 1431

I was also a big fan of the Anne Klein patterns — she has a way with classic blouses and jackets, for sure. And there were a few others that made me sit up and pay attention, too. But the four pictured above, those are the four I will definitely add to the pattern stash, and I expect to make at least two of them sooner rather than later. Maybe if I make them sooner, spring will arrive sooner? One can hope.

Which new Vogues did you like best?


A sunny dress on a snowy day.

So, I made this lined, navy wool skirt and it’s all done except for the hems. You know that thing where you quite suddenly don’t want to do something that you normally do without too much fuss? Yeah. I didn’t want to do the hem. There was a reason for it — I mean, a reason over and above your basic laziness and procrastination. But I didn’t want to do the hem, and as I stared at it (if only a death glare could make fabric hem itself!) I remembered that I had cut out a sundress in a navy cotton print. It needed a lining, and I didn’t have any that worked, but I did have some lightweight white cotton shirting. And, y’know, as long as the machine was already threaded with navy, I figured this would be a good way to rationalize my procrastination.

Two days later, the dress is done and the skirt still isn’t hemmed.


Vogue 8807

It’s cute for a sunny day, right? Not for today. This is the view through my sewing room window today.


Plenty of snow on the ground, and more on the way. Not exactly sleeveless-cotton-dress weather. But that is how much I didn’t want to sew that hem. Plus, I’ve been thinking for a few weeks that I ought to finish up a couple of lingering projects before starting anything new. But I do also need to sew some other things, like the leopard coat for this month’s Sewing Pattern Review contest, so I’ll likely be mixing old and new projects for a little while until things are a little tidier in my sewing room.

I’m not going to model this one now because it’s way too cold in my house for this. But now at least this dress is done, and it will be ready for the first farmer’s market in April. Only three and half months away! And this print is perfect for a wordsmith like me — check it out.


Commas and apostrophes, you guys! Is that the best? I found this print at Gentler Times in Aurora. It’s the only fabric I’ve ever purchased there, though I’ve bought yarn and needles from their Naperville location. In any case, this print put a smile on my face, and even though I don’t wear much navy these days (too reminiscent of my time in the courtroom), I really wanted this print.

This picture also shows a bit of the white shirting used as a lining. I used the main fabric for the yoke linings and the poplin for the rest. The pattern didn’t call for topstitching around the neck and armscye seams, but when the dress was done, and I realized the next step would be back to hemming the navy blue skirt, my mind instantly went, “Topstitching! I need topstitching!” I’m great at stalling when the urge strikes.

The pattern was very easy, suitable for beginners, and in fact, it would be a great pattern for practicing some lining techniques. There really aren’t any hard or tricky bits on this one. I love the pockets in the side seams and the way the shoulder yoke extends to make a mini-cap sleeve. I really love the belt, which transforms this dress from trapeze to hourglass in a very smooth way — I can wear this without the belt at home and stay cool and loose and comfy, or I can add the belt and look a little more polished to head out in public.

So, that’s 6.25 yards out of the stash, 3.25 of the comma print and 3 of the shirting. It took a lot of yardage because the hem is so wide, but I really didn’t mind. It’s a great addition to my spring and summer wardrobe even if it’s like four degrees out there now.

Do you have tasks (hems!) that put you into procrastination mode?


Bargainista Fashionista contest

I entered the January contest at Sewing Pattern Review, which was kind of a fluke. I had a pattern and fabric already purchased for a garment that fit the rules. I needed a heavy satin lining fabric, but stumbled across a place (MacPhee Workshop in Canada) that carried it and was willing to ship it for a reasonable price. The satin arrived a couple of days ago, and with everything I need in place, I decided to enter the contest.


The idea is pretty simple. We’re making things that were inspired by designer pieces. In this case, I’d been noticing a sudden profusion of leopard-print coats all over the place, on celebrities and on runways and in department stores.

Yves Saint Laurent showed this one in printed marmot for a mere $21,500.

Leopard YSL 21500

But I don’t wear real fur, so my pocketbook was spared the real thing. I really liked the color combination in this one, Sofia Cashmere from Nieman Marcus for $895. I also was intrigued by the size of the collar and I liked the tie belt.

leopard 895 Sofia

But I wanted single-breasted, and this one is double-breasted. Then I spotted this one for $2295 — single-breasted, a gorgeous collar, a good length, but the wrong color combination for me.

Leopard Reiss

I wanted this basic coat but in my colors. Donna Karan answered the call with this Vogue pattern for the fall. I snapped it up as soon as I saw it.


Finding the right fabric was a challenge, mainly because I don’t do well with beige/gold colors. Most leopard prints fit that category. I looked at some low-pile fake furs (which is what the pattern calls for), but in the end, decided on this heavy wool sweater knit in a dark coffee and charcoal colorway. It was from Mood, $24.99 a yard regular price (on sale for $19.99), and I needed 4.5 yards. So the fashion fabric cost $90, the lining was $34 ($40 Canadian), and the pattern was $5, for a total of $129. I’m reporting the prices of the original coats and the materials because that’s part of the contest, so please forgive this money talk. The idea behind this contest is to understand just how much we save by making our own clothing (not to mention the benefit of being able to select our own colors and materials to suit our preferences).


The lining, I’m happy to report, will be tomato red. I have a red handbag with a leopard print lining that I love, so I knew this combination would not only work, but would make me happy for a long time to come. I love this bag.


It’s good, right? That red with the print is just the right level of boldness. The lines of the bag are clean and uncluttered — the pizzazz comes from the color and print. I like that a lot, and I think this coat will achieve the same basic balance.

The muslin is cut and ready to go, and the coat has to be completed by January 31. It’s a complex pattern — 3-piece sleeve, a proper collar with a stand, etc. Here’s hoping the muslin and fitting are quickly done so that I can move onto the fabric and lining before the month is half gone!


Stash management

I have had really good luck overall with the fabrics I’ve ordered from Mood. I know I’m not alone in this! I order from them year-round, but when they have their Black Friday sale, I let myself splurge a little. So it should come as no surprise that the UPS guy brought me what can only be described as a big ass box from Mood today.


That is one big ass box

We start with some sweater knit that will be made into a coat.


That will be made into this Vogue 1365 trenchcoat.


The pattern calls for short-nap faux fur, but when I started pricing this stuff, I realized very quickly that there’s a serious problem in the faux fur market. If it’s something I will let anywhere near my body, it’s around $40/yard. If it’s priced more reasonably, it’s suitable only for costumes for the kindergarten pageant. (If your kid every needs to be a hairy unicorn, I can tell you just where to find some ridiculous acrylic fur that will look vivid from the back row.) So when I spotted this sweater knit in a print very similar to what I wanted — for once, I wanted a pretty close visual copy of the pattern sample — I snapped up 4.5 yards. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about this. The textile’s hand is a bit coarse and dense, like a good rustic wool should be, but the overall appearance is not all that rustic. I wouldn’t use this for anything to be worn next to the skin, but it will be brilliant as this coat. With a lipstick red lining, I think. Or maybe hot pink.

I also bought two other lengths of wool for jackets, a red boiled wool and a cobalt crepe. Look at the depth of color on these. Gorgeous, right? I don’t mind a black coat, but I wear so many black and gray clothes that I thought a pop of color in a coat would be a nice touch.



But here’s the real splurge, something I can’t stop petting and admiring.


That’s a light, fluid, delicious lambskin pelt. I draped it over the edge of the cutting counter so that you might get an idea of how supple this pelt is. It’s bigger than I expected it to be, and the color is rich and deep. I spot very few marks or flaws in the pelt, just a slight rippling along one raw edge. My plan is to use this to make sleeves on a shirt, and I will have plenty left for a collar, a skirt waistband, or whatever I choose. I’m tempted to buy a second pelt and make a complete shirt out of the two pelts. This leather is that beautiful. And with the sale discount, it was about half the price of some pelts I was admiring at a local store a week or two ago, so this was a real bargain.

I have so many lovely things to sew now. It’s an embarrassment of riches, as they say. And I’m so eager to sew all of them, but my time is pretty tight, and I have to be realistic. A garment a week is manageable for now, if I stick with my 30-minutes-a-day habit (and an extra 30 here or there when I can squeeze it in). This fact — specifically, that I really have an urge to sew the fabrics I already have — has led me to also sign on for a stash reduction challenge at Sewing Pattern Review. The idea is pretty flexible. We can set our own parameters to wrestle the stash into submission. I like the idea of 2 yards out for every yard in, and I’ll be tracking my progress starting the first of the year. This only applies to fashion fabrics, not to linings, muslins, trims, etc. I’ll keep myself honest by making myself “bank” the yardage out before I order anything new. It will be like a savings account of sorts.

With this in mind, I’m debating whether to do a fabric stash inventory. My stash really isn’t huge (not like my yarn stash, which is bordering on psychotic). So I think I could take swatches, measure, maybe even pre-treat everything in a few days at most. I can’t decide if that would be time well spent. But I’m one of those hyper-organized types with a spreadsheet and index for everything. So this idea is appealing to my basic nature, but I wonder if the time might not be better spent just, you know, sewing.

What do you guys do to track your fabric stash? Do you track it at all?


Another type of skirt waistband alteration

A few weeks back, I showed you a method I use to reduce the waist on a simple straight skirt (link). Today I’ll show you how I made that same alteration on a skirt with a fitted yoke waist.

I recently sewed Vogue 8837 (link), a knit skirt with a shaped yoke and shirt-tail hem. When I was cutting this skirt, I was primarily concerned with the finished length of 33″ — as drafted, it would have come nearly to my ankles. I shortened it eight inches (link), and I could have sworn I checked the finished waist measurements on the pattern tissue before cutting.

Apparently not.


How does it even stay up? GIANT!

So, okay, I made a mistake and didn’t measure the waistband, sigh, bummer, etc. This is easy to fix, though. I I didn’t even have to remove the yoke to reshape it. This yoke is one large piece, folded over at the top so that the fabric is doubled. You can see the seam across the hips where the yoke joins the rest of the skirt. That’s almost exactly at the true hip, which on my petite frame is 7″ below true waist. So I started by detaching the folded-over portion of the yoke from the skirt (that’s the facing portion, the “private” side that touches the skin, not the “public” side that faces outward). I left the public side stitched in place.


Skirt waistband interior

You can see the stitching and seam allowances running horizontally on this picture. You can also see that the side seam of the yoke curves inward a bit — not nearly enough for someone with my hourglass, but it isn’t straight from hip to waist. What I needed to do was increase the shaping there to make it smaller through the waist. So I started by marking the point where I wanted the new waist curve to end up. It’s a little hard to see on that picture because the dressmaker’s ruler is clear with red markings, but the white chalk mark is 1.5″ in from the original waist point. It’s smack in the vertical middle of the waistband because when we fold the waist back over to stitch it down, that’s where the fold will be.

Next, I extended that dot into a dash of about 1″, or a half-inch extending on either side of the dot. The purpose of this little flat line portion is to smooth out the curve on the waistband. You know how some waistbands are rectangles and some are curved? I wanted the rectangular effect at the very top bit of the waistband, but I wanted the rest of it to curve.


Marking the flat/rectangular portion of the waistband

Then I used the curved portion of the ruler to extend this line to the hip seam and the top raw edge. This isn’t precise engineering. All you really have to do is find an angle that looks right — pay attention to the way the angle changes over the length of the ruler, because the curve will be steeper at one end than the other. I wanted it steeper as it approached the flat rectangle portion, so I flipped the curve around and positioned it until it looked about right, aiming for the point where the seam allowances at the side seam and the hem seam would cross.


Yeah, okay, that should do it

Then I flipped it around and used the same points on the ruler to draw the same arc from the waist to the stitched hem end. This is what the line looked like.


New stitching line marked in chalk

That sweet little line represents a 6″ reduction in the waist size — or, 1.5″ times four. Do you understand why it’s times four? There are two side seams, and each side seam consists of two pieces. So if we make this 1.5″ reduction on each of two pieces and two seams, that’s four reductions. We don’t have to do it this way. If we have a big belly or an extremely tiny back waist, we can shape the back and front waist yoke pieces in different ways to accommodate those body shapes. But in my case, this symmetrical shaping usually works pretty well.

While I’m thinking of different ways we can shape these yokes, I should mention that I considered adding darts instead of altering the side seams this dramatically. I thought I could trim the side seams a half inch and then do some half inch darts in the front and back and achieve the same reduction. With a different fabric, I might have done exactly this. But this particular ponte (from Mood — link) is heavy enough to be made into coats, and so I wanted to keep the seaming to a minimum. Thicker fabrics work better with fewer of these fine shaping details. In another fabric, though, I might have used darts to distribute the reduction around the circumference of the waist.

Next, I stitched on the chalk lines and trimmed away the extra fabric.


Hunka hunka burning red ponte knit

One thing that might be apparent from this picture is that the angle of that curve is pretty steep along the waist to the hip. And the angle from hip seam to hem is about as straight as any skirt gets. This meant that we shifted from steep angle to straight side seam right at that hip seam, and it made the crossing bit — where the side seam crosses the hip seam — want to stick out a little bit. So I ended up stitching a bit of an angle below the hip seam, too, just to smooth out the transition. It was only a tiny bit of stitching, but it made a big difference in the smoothness of the fit over the hips. That stitching line started about 1/2″ above the hip seam and extended down about a half inch below it.

After all the stitching was done, and the yoke was folded back over and restitched at the hip seam, this is the fit. I’m standing a little twisty to take the photo, but when I stand normally, that side seam does hang at the proper angle. I wanted to take a side view shot so you can see the shirt-tail hem effect at the knee, which was what drew me to this pattern in the first place.


The fit at the waist is ever so much better now! It will even stay up if I don’t hold it in place, much to the disappointment of the neighborhood perverts. I’ll trim the seam allowances to remove some of the bulk and give it one more intensive pressing, but this thing is basically ready to wear. It’s a heavy enough fabric to wear with some fleece tights and boots even on a cold day.

But can you imagine what it would look like if I hadn’t shortened it eight inches? Yikes. That would be bad.

These are the two main alterations (length and waist reduction) I have to make in about every skirt or pants pattern. Do you have standard alterations, too? Or is your fitting done on a project-by-project basis?