Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tea and Scones Dress

As much as I love watching shows like The Great British Sewing Bee and Project Runway, sewing under a deadline is definitely not for me. About month ago I got it into my head I would just "whip up a dress" for an upcoming fancy tea party with some girlfriends. Ha! Cut to me, last Saturday, frantically hemming at 12 pm with bedhead when I'm supposed to leave at 12:30. But, somehow, miraculously, I managed to finish the dress and pull myself together. Whew!

What really made the afternoon perfect was not the company, or the delicious tea, or the yummy miniature scones, but a passing comment by a friend who asked where I had gotten my dress because it fit so well. I could have done a Breakfast Club air fist right there at the tea table that 1) my dress didn't look Becky Home Ec-y (my biggest fear) and 2) I nailed the fit. Instead I gleefully explained that I made it and tried to convince her to give dressmaking a go. I think I may have my first convert, you guys!

Okay, okay, enough about me. The dress is Simplicity 1803 and it's made with a horrible polyester from Joann Fabric. Looking back, I have no idea why I used a GIFT CARD to buy this last year. For shame! I could have stocked up on notions or went home with a rainbow of serger cones, but instead I bought 100% polyester that's much girlier than I usually go for. In all fairness though, it doesn't wrinkle, and it's amazingly opaque for white. I'm wearing a black bra in these pictures, and you'd never know it.

All things considered, it went together pretty easily. I cut a 10 in the shoulders and then blended to a 12 for the waist and hips. I did my usual SBA, 1/2" lowering of the armholes, and 1" lengthening at the waist. It was actually pretty easy to fit because of the princess seams - just shave a bit off the curve and voila, smaller bust without any of the usual side effects. I am now completely enamored with princess seams.

Overall, this was a pretty straightforward make with a couple of tricky bits. One was the the notched neckline, which I ended up handsewing into place because I couldn't get it it centered on my machine. Even now, it's not perfect, but it's passable.

The other part I struggled with was getting the top edges in the back to line up. Maybe I accidentally stretched the facing out, because the dress met up at the waist seam no problem, but the right side of the back was a good 1/2" higher than the left. Or it may have something to do with the fact I was putting in the invisible zip, oh, 90 minutes before I was supposed to leave. In the end, I channeled my inner Tim Gunn, sternly told myself to make it work, and did some quick seam ripping and lowered the right side to mirror the left.

The only other change I made was to cut 2 1/2 inches off the skirt and used bias binding for the hem instead of folding 1/4" twice like the instructions called for. I figured the bias binding would be faster and easier, and when else was I going to use the rest of the packet I bought to finish the arm holes? And I have to say, it was kind of magical. I have never hemmed anything as quickly or easily in my life. Or maybe that was just the potent combination of coffee and adrenaline.

So I guess what I've learned from this experience is that every dress should be made with princess seams and bias tape. Every last one. Except that I'm already working on one with waist darts. Oops.
Also, sewing on a deadline and using polyester fabrics are generally terrible ideas that sometimes pay off. I'm sure this won't be the last time I set myself a ridiculous deadline, but for now, I'm going to take a breather and go at my (happy) snails pace.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Buffalo Check Shirtdress

You guys, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I CONQUERED PLAID. Okay, okay, it's a buffalo check, which isn't quite as complicated as an unbalanced plaid, but whatevs. I agonized for hours over matching the plaid as I cut it out in a single layer, so this definitely, definitely counts.

If it's not clear already, I'm so, so happy with this dress. It really fits my style - a little tomboy but still feminine, nothing fussy or twee or overly trendy. And the finished product 100% matched the vision in my head.

I picked up the last of this bolt of buffalo check flannel for a song at my local fabric store, Gail K. Fabrics (highly recommended, if you're in the Atlanta area), with a shirtdress in mind. I figured if the plaid matching  went terribly wrong at least I hadn't invested much. But, if you'll forgive me for bragging, I showed this plaid who is boss. And I in no way cheated by using a gathered skirt and bias-cut placket. Those were, um, strictly aesthetic design choices. Yeah.

This is View C of Simplicity 2246, with the sleeves and pocket from View A. I made View A, the Lisette Traveler Dress a few months ago, and while I still adore that dress, I figured the more masculine flannel needed a more fitted silhouette.

I cut a size 10 in the top half, but the waist was a little tight so I let it back out by 1/2" on each side. I think I was too generous, as it's a little loose now and you can see there's some bunching around the waist in the back. I was hoping the back bodice darts would fix the fabric pooling issue I always seem to have in the small of my back, but not quite. One of these days I'll figure it out - maybe I need a swayback adjustment? For now I'll just pretend it's not there and enjoy how supremely comfortable the dress is.

I didn't want the skirt to be as voluminous as the pattern drawing, so I cut a size 6 in the skirt and trimmed down the side of the front pattern piece so it wouldn't have such a dramatic A-line. I used the skirt front from my Lisette Passport Dress (now sadly out of print) as a guide.

I think this may be a new TNT, because I didn't do many alterations. Like the other view, I did a SBA and added 1/2" to the sleeve and back piece to accommodate my broad shoulders and avoid the straightjacket feeling. This go around, I also lengthened the bodice by 1" and took the skirt up by about 4". The skirt is drafted crazy long. Like, perfect for a modest giantess.

My only complaint is, once again, the collar. It's a single piece instead of two, and as a result it tends to be floppy. One of my new goals is to learn to sew a beautiful shirt collar with perfectly pointy lapels - I had a hell of a time getting this collar to look half-way decent, and there are definitely things I wish I could change. I shudder to think of how janky this thing would be without my beloved edgestitching foot. Don't look too closely...except here's a close-up, because we're all friends here.

So it's a flannel buffalo check shirtdress, just in time, spring? I made this dress during not one, but two snowstorms (a rarity in Atlanta), and now, just as I finish, it's a beautiful, sunny 60 degrees. Ah, well. I've been dreaming of sundresses for weeks, and now I have every excuse to sew one up!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Life Lately: Costumes and snow

My friends are not the kind of people that only dress up on Halloween. Ohhhhh noooo. Just about every party has a theme and needs a costume, and I freakin love it. Already I've been to three costume parties this year, with a hair metal birthday and a fancy English tea coming up next month.

In early January there was an Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party, for which I made a "Painting the Roses Red" fascinator. I made the roses out of felt using this excellent tutorial, McGuivered together the base out of a cereal box and more felt, and hot glued on some hair clips.

At first, nobody got it, and then after I explained, several people were impressed that I made it, having assumed I bought it on Etsy. I'll put that in the win column. The tunic I'm wearing was actually my wearable muslin of the Lisette Traveler Dress (never blogged).

Then there was a 90's birthday party, which I sadly fell down on the job. I tried to throw something together at the last minute, but my husband gently told me I looked more like a crazy person than a recognizable Gwen Stefani. I still had the greatest time, and really enjoyed hearing my friend's amazing 90s cover band, Tomagotchi.

Last night was a midcentury tiki party - meaning Mad Men meets Hawaiian. I had no idea, but apparently Tiki culture was huge in the 1960s, and it was fun to be a little fancy and drink fruity cocktails. I found the perfect dress at a thrift store, but it was a little big. No problem, I thought, I'll just take it it in. Famous last words. I spent waaaay too much time futzing with the fit, but at least I learned some new alterations skills. It's also a really good illustration of how a good fit makes a huge difference.

And, on a completely different note, it SNOWED last week. The entire city shut down for 2 1/2 days, and several of my friends were stuck in traffic for hours on end. I was very, very fortunate to get home before things got bad. I had never seen so much snow in my life, and I was giddy with excitement.

I can't remember the last time life felt so magical.

Hope you have a magical weekend too!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter Renfrew

Hello again! I kind of lost my sewing mojo after my hugely disappointing Beignet skirt, so I decided my next project should be safer bet to ease myself back in. I always meant to make more Renfrews after the success of my first one, so a second, winter version was clearly in order.

And I love it! I made View C, with the cowl neckline and three-quarter sleeves, with some modifications. I lengthened the sleeves by 1 inch (I just picked a spot in the middle to slash and spread) to accommodate my long arms. Although I love three-quarter sleeves, they are almost always too short in RTW, so I had a hunch that would be the case here, and I was right. I felt like Sherlock, with my amazing powers of observation (okay, okay, more like Watson).

I cut a straight size 6, but I probably should have gone up a size or two in the shoulders. I had to let out the sleeve seam by 1/4" so it wouldn't feel like such a straight jacket. It's still a little tight in the underarms, but much, much improved. I'm super annoyed with myself because I made a very similar observation about my first renfrew, and then I didn't even take my own advice! Ridiculous.

I also eliminated the hem band because I wanted to be able to tuck this into a pencil skirt and wear it to work. I lengthening the front and back pieces by 4" using the hem band pattern piece as a guide, which turned out to be way too much. I turned it up 2" and then cut off over an inch of extra fabric after I did the hem. Adding 2 1/2" would probably give plenty to work with for a hem.

Speaking of the hem, I could really use some advice on twin needles. I broke not one, but TWO ballpoint twin needles on this shirt. This is really frustrating because I had to special order them online and at almost $5 apiece they are not cheap. In the end, I seriously cheated by doing two lines of a narrow zig-zag topstitch. It's not nearly as stretchy as a twin needle hem would have been, but this is a very stable knit with hardly any stretch, so I think (hope?) it will be okay. I just wanted to be done so I could wear it already!

My favorite part of this is the cowl. I don't usually wear cowls, but this is so warm and cozy I'm a convert. It's like a built-in infinity scarf. Love!

This was also a trial run of sorts for a buffalo check shirtdress I have planned. A way to dip my toe into matching plaid, using a fabric whose busy print would be a little more forgiving. I cut in a single layer and took my time, and I think it came out pretty well. I'm feeling much more confident about working with plaids.

Not a bad start for 2014! The weather here is gorgeous (60 degrees! In January!) so I'm off to enjoy the sunshine. Hope you are enjoying MLK day too, or at least having an easy Monday.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hits and Misses of 2013

After waking up feeling reflective and seeing so many year in review posts in my feed, I decided to join Gillian in sharing my top hits and misses this year. I'm only going to share 3 though, because my output just isn't as prodigious as most bloggers. It's the downside of having so many hobbies, but I'm not willing to give any of them up either!

So let's get the misses out of the way:
1. Lisette Passport Dress

Okay, so this one wasn't a total disaster, but it was a good lesson in fabric choice. The top half attracts lint like crazy and is too heavy for summer. I also should have sprung for cotton batiste for the lining instead of using slightly scratchy muslin. Past Emily apparently had some magical thinking going on there about the power of fabric softener. I also wish I would have lowered the waistline by about 1/2", because the belt likes to slide down to my natural waist and doesn't cover the the seamline. I have to constantly adjust the belt when I wear this dress, which isn't often.

2. Miette Cardigan

I've seen so many cute versions of this in blogs and on Ravelry, but mine has been a terrible struggle. I've started over twice and ripped back major sections at least two other times. I can't seem to get the fit right, and I keep messing up the lace in glaringly obvious ways. Plus, a couple of weeks ago my cat got into my project bag, ate a bunch of yarn, and landed in the emergency vet. So, I think we can all agree this project is cursed, yes? Somehow though, I'm not quite ready to give up on it yet! It's hibernating for now, but I'm gearing up for Round 3 in 2014. Miette, you're going down.

3. Collete Beignet Skirt
By far and away my biggest disappointment of 2013. This pattern was stretch for my skills, and I spent two months slowly and painstakingly working my through it. In the end, it was too big and the buttons were crooked. I think I got a bit overambitious, and I definitely should have made a muslin.  It was supposed to be my special birthday skirt, but I've never worn it aside from blog pictures, and I doubt I ever will. I think I might come back to this pattern next fall though, and try again in a smaller size.

And, now, on to the hit parade!
1. Lisette Market Top

This was my first make with my new-to-me machine, and the first time I attempted sleeves. I was so proud of myself, and I still wear this all the time. I love this type of top - it falls somewhere in between a t-shirt and a button down, and so I can wear it practically anywhere.

2. Striped Sorbetto

I made this for a song using remnants and free pattern, and it's one of my favorite tops in my whole wardrobe. I learned to do an SBA, and I'm so glad I put in the extra effort. I love the fit, and I have plans to make two more of these using more remnants from my stash.

3. Lisette Traveler Dress

Easily my biggest sewing accomplishment to date. I figured out fitting problems that have been plaguing me from the start, and this has the nicest finish of anything I've ever made. I only got to wear it once before it got too cold, but I got a ton of compliments. I can't wait to bust this out again in the spring!

I kind of lost my sewing mojo after my Beignet skirt turned out to be a wadder, but writing this post was a good reminder of all the lovely, wearable things I also made this year. On to 2014!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Colette Beignet

Hello again! It's been a while, hasn't it? I've been going to Halloween parties and birthday dinners, playing about a thousand rounds of this game, knitting and frogging my miette cardigan by turns (ugh fitting), and reading like a demon. You know, the usual.

I've also been fitting in some sewing here and there, and have spent the past month or so working on a Colette Beignet. After admiring the corduroy beignets by Andrea of Four Square Walls and Shona Stitches, I decided to hop on the ripoff train and make one myself (thanks ladies!).

It's a well drafted pattern and the instructions are pretty clear. All of my issues were, as usual, of my own making. I think after the success of my chambray shirt dress I got a little overambitious. I could knit pick my beignet death, so suffice it to say that the finish just isn't as nice as I want it to be. I mean, it's probably nicer than anything at Forever21 or H&M, but the whole point of sewing for myself is to exceed that (very) low bar.

Like others have pointed out, this was pretty time consuming, between the multiple panels, lining, pockets and twelve (twelve!!) buttons. The pattern is definitely intermediate, and I found it to be challenging throughout. It didn't help that I picked a fussy fabric that requires careful pressing and shows every ripped stitch. I do like the pockets though, and the panels are flattering.

I cut a size 8 in the waist and then graded down to a 6 in the hips, as recommended by the size chart. It's a little loose in the waist, so I probably should have cut a straight 6. It is pretty comfortable though, and as Tasia from Sewaholic always points out, you need room to eat a big lunch. Which is pretty important when you've got leftover butternut squash lasagna to devour. I did try to cinch it in at the waist a little bit, and now the buttons don't line up (argh!). If you see me on the street, pretend you don't notice, okay?

I used quilting cotton for the facings to reduce bulk. This floral print already in my stash from my remnants haul from Fabric World, and I love how it came out.

Overall, I'm kind of disappointed in this one. I'm not sure that it was the best choice for my figure, or match between pattern and fabric. Maybe I should have chosen a darker colored corduroy? What really tears me up is that my mom sent me the pattern and money for fabric for my birthday. After such a thoughtful, generous gift, and weeks of work, I feel terrible that the final result is so meh.

Chalk it up to a lesson learned. On the bright side, this only took a little over a yard of 60" fabric, so I think have enough to make a Grainline Moss skirt. On we go!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lisette Traveler Dress

You guys, I am officially living the dream. You see, a long time ago (Spring 2011), in a far away land (Tampa, Florida), I was a novice seamstress struggling to make a supremely ugly pair of pajama pants. One day, I fell in love with the Lisette Traveler Dress, but I knew our romance was doomed from the start. With sleeves, a collar,  and 8 buttons, this dress was way, way beyond my skill set. But I couldn't resist the Traveler Dress' charms, so I bought the pattern and fabric, and put it away for some distant day after either magic fairy dust or a Rocky-style training montage gave me ability to do it. And that distant day, my friends, is today.

It cracks me up now that I completely ripped off the pattern picture, down to buying the Lisette Chambray. Beginner Emily had basically no understanding of fabrics, and so buying the exact fabric on the envelope was the only sure bet. Since then, I've even inadvertently stolen the model's haircut!

And really, it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, just time consuming. The trickiest bit was dealing with the chambray, which frayed like crazy and made it hard to find notches and line pieces up properly. I cut a 10 in the shoulders and then blended to a 12 in the hips. I also made a few adjustments, but nothing too crazy - this is a well drafted pattern with clear instructions. I did an SBA and took some of the excess out of the center back. It's still a little big, but I can live with it.

I'm especially happy with the fit in the shoulders. I tend to find sleeves really constricting and have a hard time moving my arms forward to drive, type, cook dinner, give hugs....basically everything. Googling the problem, I stumbled upon this genius tutorial by Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch, which instructs you to add about 1/2" of ease to the back armsyce and sleeve. It worked like a charm!

I actually set the sleeves in properly for once, and while they're not perfect, they're not half bad. I feel the same way about the collar. I was most intimidated by the collar going into this, but it turns out the collar and collar stand are all one piece. It's a nice way to ease yourself into shirt making, but it's probably worth the extra effort to have a separate stand. My collar doesn't sit as nicely as I would like.

The pockets are my favorite part! They were kind of a pain to sew up, but I'm so glad I did. They're not very functional, but they're very cute, and you could fit some money and a chapstick in a pinch.

I'm not sure if it's the most figure-flattering thing I've ever made though. When I asked my husband if it made me look especially small-chested and big-hipped, he very matter of factly replied, "It does, but I like that about you." My heart completely melted. I need a gentle reminder now and again that beauty and attractiveness don't need to have such narrow definitions. It's okay to let my hips out of hiding sometimes!

Overall, I'm really happy with the dress. It feels like a real turning point, with more challenging construction and finishing techniques. This is also first time I'm not worried that it's blatantly obvious the dress is handmade. Plus, it goes really well with my pink oxfords, and I am always looking for an excuse to wear them!

And so, on we go to even bigger challenges! I impulsively bought a plaid flannel (it was $4 a yard!) a couple of weeks ago, without really thinking about pattern-matching. This is going to be an adventure.