Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Year in Review

It's been a while hasn't it? I'm almost finished with a do-over Beignet skirt I've been working on for ages, and I made two new pillow covers to go with our new couch. Home dec is boring so I decided to get fancy and make my own piping, despite my recent pledge to never make piping again. I am a liar. I'll have pictures soon, but for now I wanted to check in to do my year-end wrap up!

This has been a really great year for sewing. I only made 9 garments, but amazingly all of them (all of them!) were hits. I'm a slow sewer and have several other hobbies, so I'm thrilled to have a few well-made and well-loved garments over a bunch of quick "meh" ones. Here are my Top 3:

3. Spider-Man Dress

I only got to wear this for one night at DragonCon, but oh, what a night it was! I had such a good time doing the Retro/Pin-up Superheroes group costume with my girlfriends. Plus, this was the most technically challenging thing I've ever made, and I was so relieved that the weeks of effort, ripped stitches and fabric indecision paid off. I felt like the fit was spot on, and aside from some collar issues I'm proud of the construction.

2. Strathcona Tee

It's just a simple tee shirt, but Brian LOVES this thing. He swears it's the most comfortable shirt he owns, and brags to everyone who will listen that I made it. It's touching that he is so appreciative of the time I spent working on the fit. I already bought fabric to make more.

1. Buffalo Check Shirt Dress

Hands down my favorite thing I've ever made. The pattern, fabric and fit alterations came together to make the world's most perfect dress. I wear it when I'm feeling a little nervous and need a boost of fabulous.

As far as misses, this year I really only had one: the Miette Cardigan.

I won't dwell on it because it makes me supremely cranky to think about the dozens of hours I put into this bat-winged wadder. People keep telling me it's not that bad, but I can't bring myself to wear it around the house, let alone in public. Lesson learned: Sometimes  a pattern just doesn't work for your body and you should accept it and move on immediately, instead of a year and thousands of stitches later.

I feel like this year was a turning point where I went from stumbling around in the dark to feeling more confident and ready to take on new challenges. My big goal for 2015 is jeans! I have been having the worst time finding jeans that fit, so I decided to be brave and give it a go. I recently bought the Ginger Jeans pattern and denim, so wish me luck!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lady Skater

I've been trying to up my knits game recently, and after success with the Renfrew and Strathcona Tees, I decided to take the full on plunge into a dress. I waffled for a while between the Colette Moneta and the Kitschy Koo Lady Skater, and eventually went with the Lady Skater, because, reality check, I suck at gathers. And I have to say, I think I made the right call.

Although it was an uphill battle the whole way because of my fabric choice. I always have to make things difficult for myself don't I? I bought this rayon knit impulsively from JoAnn.com when they had a free shipping deal and I was feeling too lazy to drive to the burbs. When it arrived in the mail, I was disappointed to discover that it was thinner, stretchier and more sheer than I was expecting. Womp womp. Still I liked the print and I hate letting things go to waste so I decided to just go for it.

I made a bodice muslin out of the leftover fabric from Brian's Scracotha Tee, and it fit remarkably well. I usually need to add an inch to the waist because I'm tall, but this pattern seems to be pretty long-waisted and I ended up taking it out. I was also very pleased that the sway back adjustment from the Kitschy Koo blog worked like a charm.

My muslin was a straight size 3 in a stable knit, and it was a little clingy at the waist so I decided to grade out to a size 4. Big mistake. My thin, stretchy knit just grew and grew and grew as I sewed this up and I had to take it in twice. I have no idea what size I ended up with, but I think in general this dress (at least on my body) needs a pretty fitted waist. I also had to take in the underarm by a good inch and half and narrow the sleeves. Looking at these pictures, it looks like maybe I could have taken it in a little more.

The hems on the skirt and sleeves were a nightmare. I used about a mile of WonderTape, and still had some tunneling with my twin needle. I think a really stretchy knit like this needs a full on fusible web tape. I managed to smooth it into submission with a combination of steaming and pressing, but I'm a little nervous to see how it looks when it comes out of the wash.

As frustrating as the process was, I am pretty happy with the pattern and the finished product. I think the neckline is very flattering:

 And I LOVE the swish of the skirt. It's perfect for playing in the leaves on a fall day.

 Here are the details:

  • Pattern: Kitschy Koo Lady Skater PDF - This was a reasonable number of pages and easy to put together, but I was slightly annoyed that the sizes were distinguished by color because I don't have a color printer.
  • Fabric: 2 1/2 yards of rayon blend knit
  • Sizing: 3 in the shoulders, and probably a 3 in the waist and skirt as well.
  • Alterations
    • 1/2" broad shoulder adjustment
    • 1/2" swayback adjustment
    • Added 1" to length of sleeves instead of using cuffs.
    • Added 1 1/4" to length of skirt but later cut off 1", so really no change
  • What I'd change for next time
    • Cut a straight size 3.
    • Don't add any length to the bodice, and maybe make it a smidge shorter. It's hard to tell where I landed with how the fabric stretched out as I sewed.
    • Don't add any length to the skirt.

I'm already planning another version in a ponti knit, this time a Lady Skater-Renfrew mash up with a cowl neck, like this one and this one.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cat Lady Tofinos

I once again broke my never ever, ever - unless the the house is on fire - go outside in my pajamas rule for you guys. I guess it's not so ironclad is it? But that's how much I love you, sewing community. Not only did I go outside, but I spent 15 minutes traipsing around my apartment complex looking for sunny spot as the sun rapidly set, earning many strange looks from the dog walkers.

I was just like, what, you've never seen a grown woman at dinnertime in flannel hipster cat pajamas before? Don't you know that October is the Cat Lady Sewing Challenge, hosted by the fabulous Erin of Miss Crayola Creepy?!

The stars really aligned for this make. I knew I needed a new snuggly pair of pajamas for this winter and I had been meaning to go back to my Sewaholic Tofino pattern, since I wear my first pair all the time. When I found this hilariously perfect hipster cat flannel on sale at Joann's shortly after Erin announced the challenge, it was just too perfect an opportunity to pass up.

This time I went all-out, and made the tie belt and piping. I love how the piping came out, but oh man is it tedious to make bias strips, piece them together, sew in the cording, and then baste the piping to the pattern pieces. I think I'll probably stick to pre-made piping in the future if I can help it.

The glasses kill me! These pajamas make me ridiculously happy.

Here are the detals:
  • Pattern: Sewaholic Tofino
  • Fabric: 2 3/4 yards of novelty flannel from Joann Fabric, and 1 1/2 yards of plain flannel for the piping and belt. It was suspiciously cheap, so it probably won't wear well over time, but I just couldn't resist those hipster cats!
  • Sizing: 6 at the waist, blended to a 4 for the hips
  • Alterations: I cut off about 1 1/2" inches (I should really write this stuff down) from the bottom. I'm 5'8" and these were way too long, so shorter ladies can definitely save some fabric and made this adjustment from the beginning.
  • What I'd change for next time: Nothing! I'm not fussy about the fit of pajamas, and these are super comfortable.

As a parting gift, here's my impression of Selena Kyle (aka Catwoman), the ultimate Cat Lady. I don't know if you guys have been watching the new TV show Gotham, but her sole purpose in the show seems to be needlessly crouching all across Gotham and stealing milk for kittens. It's kind of a terrible show, in that absurd, so-bad-it's-good kind of of way, and I highly recommend it.

I can't wait to see all of the other Cat Lady makes. Until next time, dear readers!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Miette Cardigan

This pretty much sums up how I feel about this cardigan:

It deserves that side-eye, trust me. This is the Miette Cardigan by Andi Satterlund, and lots of other bloggers have made beautiful versions, so it's definitely not the pattern. It's just that, for some reason, this project was doomed from the start for me. I stupidly persevered, because I am too stubborn for my own good sometimes. I should have given up when I realized I needed a third major frogging, or when I paid a $700 emergency vet bill after my cat got into my project bag and ate a bunch of the yarn. I should have given up after I named the UFO one of my "Misses of 2013", and I even should given up last week when all I could find were crappy 5 for $1 plastic buttons to match.

Did I mention I'm stubborn? You're probably thinking, Emily, that doesn't look that bad. It has sleeves and a button placket and you're not in any immediate danger of a wardrobe malfunction. That's because you haven't seen the um, "dolman sleeves" I added as a "design feature".

On my first go at this pattern, I worried I had made it way too small and it wouldn't fit in the shoulders. I started over in a larger size, and I also added several rows before I joined in the round for the sleeves. Somehow, despite trying it on along the way, I ended up with 2 1/2 inches of excess fabric under my arms. It also doesn't help that I lost some weight over the (many) months I worked on this, so it doesn't have the negative ease the pattern intended.

So, what do you guys think? Dolman sleeves are in, so can I get away with pretending it's intentional or should I just put it into the donation pile and move on? I'm honestly kind of tempted to throw it into the dryer and just see what happens. You know, for SCIENCE.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Spider-Man Dress

 And now for the big reveal: my Spider-Man dress for DragonCon!

My girlfriends did a group costume on Saturday night, and the theme was Retro/Pin-up Superheroes. Although duplicates were allowed, I started telling everyone who would listen months in advance about how I wanted to do Spider-Man, my all-time favorite super hero. Once word got out that I was sewing a dress from scratch, people started acting like sewing was super power! I felt like kind of a badass. Yeah, I can whip up adorable baby shirts by day and custom fit-and-flare dresses by night. I'm your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

This is me, um, "web slinging."

Okay, back to the dress. I used Simplicity 1755, one of the Leanne Marshall (of Project Runway) designs. I cut a 10 in the shoulders and then blended to 12 in the waist, with my usual SBA and 1" waist lengthening. I had some major fit issues in the beginning and went through two muslins, but looking back I think I was just really tired or temporarily lost my fitting Spider-Sense or something, because it really shouldn't have been that hard. It's probably still a little too big in the bust, but c'est la vie.

I made the Spider-Man symbol by fusing some heavy-duty interfacing to some black fabric from my stash and then carefully gluing it on with Tacky Glue and a paint brush.

The blue fabric is a poly crepe. For the bodice, I used a shiny spider-web mesh I got on clearance after Halloween last year (yes, that's how far in advance we plan for DragonCon haha!), and underlined it with cheap quilting cotton. I really like the final effect, but the mesh is very delicate and the spider-webs have rubbed away in places. I kept trying to handle the dress like glass as I sewed it up, terrified would ruin it before I even got a chance to wear it!

One of my favorite things about the dress are the cute upturned sleeves with the button closure. I think the instructions have a mistake though. The diagram shows the button loop at the top of gap, but the loop actually has to be in the middle. The marking on the pattern piece seems to be in the right place though, so I'd stick with that.

My other favorite part is the in-seam pockets!

As for things I didn't love so much, I'm not sure that the pleats look any better or all that different than a simple gathered skirt would have. It was a huge pain to mark and baste dozens of pleats, and it took two tries to get the two sides even. Here's a pic without the belt you you can take a look and decide for yourself:

The other thing I wasn't crazy about was how the collar came out, but I think that had more to do with my inexperience and a the multiple layers of fabric than the pattern itself.

Still, though, I am pretty proud of this dress! It's probably the most technically challenging thing I've made so far. I got so into this dress and the matchy-matchy look of the 1960's along the way that I went kind of overboard with the accessories. I made the belt using a vintage belt kit I got at a thrift store for $1, glued the spiderweb mesh onto the headband, and made a matching clutch!

I used a 5" purse frame from Joann's Fabric and this tutorial. It was juuuuuuust big enough to fit my cell phone on the diagonal, which is why the bag looks a little misshapen in the picture. It was fun to make though, even if I did end up with fingers covered in super glue by the end.

So that's my Spider-Man dress! I had a fabulous time, all of my friends looked drop-dead gorgeous in their retro costumes, and I'm already dreaming up plans for next year.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Baby Tee Refashion

Another top secret project I can finally reveal: a baby shower gift! When I first moved to Atlanta I had a hard time making friends and was getting pretty lonely until I stumbled on the Geek Girls of North Atlanta. It sounds a little junior high and cliquish, a grown-ass woman belonging to a club, but it's a really awesome group of ladies and open to anyone.

So anyway, last year we had tee shirts made for DragonCon and I ordered mine based on the bust size and it ended up being uncomfortably tight in the shoulders. You know, that awful, digging in  your armpits feeling? Ugh, it's my RTW bugaboo as a tall, small busted lady. I only wore it once and it languished in my closet until I heard my friend Lisa was having a little girl. Well, our newest (and tiniest) Geek Girl was going to need a shirt too, so I made her one!

I used this free pattern, only I left off the skirt portion and did a smaller hem with my twin needle. I followed the directions exactly and it was a pretty quick make, just a couple of hours. I struggle a bit with the arm bands because my jersey didn't have much stretch. In retrospect I probably should have just recut longer bands instead of fighting the fabric. You can see a little bit of puckering because this. I'm hoping the baby will be so squirmy and adorable no one will notice.

This is the original shirt:

This would have been plenty of fabric, except there was a flirty slogan on the back and it felt skeevy to sexualize an infant. Plus the font was way too big to fit on a baby-sized shirt.

However, in a bit of sewing serendipity I still can't get over, my husband went to an event at work and came home with a shirt by the same company using the same fabric in the same color. He couldn't resist my sky-high enthusiasm for this project (seriously, this has been so hard to keep a secret!), and let me cut up his new shirt.  This was fate, I explained, and one does not anger the sewing gods or they will smite you by breaking the upper looper thread in your serger.

The rest was cake. I traced the pattern onto the front to make sure the design was centered and the text was straight, and then sewed it all up in a jiffy.

I didn't finish the side or shoulder seams because I read somewhere that serger finishes can be rough on on a baby's delicate skin. It's so tiny and adorable I can hardly stand it.

As tiny as this is, somehow, impossibly, it won't fit until next spring or summer, but I had to go with a bigger size to fit the graphic. It's for the best though, because by then, our newest Geek Girl will be a little less hungry and sleepy and ready to take on some geeky adventures.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thread Theory Strathcona Tee

Wow, it's been a while, huh? I feel like I've been doing a ton of sewing, but it's all been projects that aren't quite ready for the big reveal - DragonCon outfits and selfless sewing. Today though, I can finally share the Thread Theory Strathcona Tee I made my husband for his birthday.

I know you might be thinking, "Really, Emily, a basic tee shirt is your big gift? This is a BIRTHDAY we're talking about here." I know, I hear ya, but Brian isn't much for birthdays, so it's usually pretty low key. Plus, I made him a preeettttttyyyyyy awesome cake:

It's a Reese's Cup Icebox Cake, and oh man is it delicious. Seriously, go make it right now.

Okay, so now that you've had some cake, back to the sewing. I LOVED this pattern. I bought the pdf and it was a totally reasonable number of pages and easy to put together. The front and back are full size pattern pieces, so you cut everything out in a single layer -  my preferred way to cut out knits. And it has 5/8" seam allowances, which is perfect for a knits newbie like me. I treated the shirt like a woven and sewed the seams on my machine with a narrow zigziag and finished them with my serger. Basically the Strathcona is the Renfrew for men and I can't recommend it enough.

At first I cut a straight Small after comparing the pattern pieces to some of his favorite shirts, figuring it might end up a little big but I could take it in. I ended up with a Small in the shoulders and an Extra-Small in the torso. I also cut off about 2" from the sleeves, but to be fair, the instructions do warn you that the sleeves are intentionally on the long side. Brian is about 6'0", if that's helpful.

It's not perfect, but I'm getting better with knits (Remember this? Haha!). I'm particularly proud of the collar - it lies flat and I finally figured out all the tricks to get my machine and twin needle to play nice.

Brian raved about the fit and said it was the most comfortable shirt he owns. I was so touched when he chose to wear it immediately, for a celebratory night out with a couple of friends and then offered to pose for blog pictures. This is sure to be a TNT, which is fantastic because I'm growing increasingly uncomfortable with buying cheap imported RTW as I learn more about how workers abroad are treated.

My one and only complaint is that the pattern called for 1.4 yards, but I made this in a little less than 1 yard. I'm not too broken up about it, because it's a great excuse to finally try making a pair of knickers. Probably this free pattern from Zo to get my feet wet? I've been really inspired by all the beautiful swimsuits popping up in feed, so I think this will be a great first step to making my own bikini.

But that's definitely a dream for next summer. For now, there's only 32 days until DragonCon and I have to finish my costumes!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Savannah Saltspring

I just got home from a weekend trip to Savannah to celebrate my 5th(!) wedding anniversary. We went on a ghost tour, strolled around the squares, saw modern art and historic homes, and did some really good eating. And along the way, I got to debut my new Sewaholic Saltspring.

I apparently learned absolutely nothing from my last experience sewing on a deadline and finished this the day before the trip. I literally clipped stray threads as I was packing. I had been mulling over buying the Saltspring pattern, and when I found this beautiful rayon challis on clearance at Joann's (crazy, right?) I knew it was meant to be.

The rayon challis was the most challenging part of this make. I cut it in a single layer because it was a little too slippery to be trusted. It also frayed like crazy, so used about a gallon of fray check throughout construction after reading Marie's cautionary tale. Annoyingly, the rayon challis didn't play nice with my serger in a single layer. There were some touch and go moments finishing the pockets and skirt seams, and then when I got to the hem I had to skip serging altogether and place my faith in fray check. Worst of all, I had to do invisible hem by hand (uggggggggghhhhhhhhh). Good grief do I despise hand sewing - this took me several nights running and as meticulous as I tried to be, it's still a little dodgy. Grudgingly, I have to admit was worth the trouble though, because this dress felt like wearing a cloud in the sweltering Savannah weather. It was MAGICAL, you guys. This dress is a swishy, floaty cloud (with pockets!)

I skipped the muslin since there were already reviews filled with great advice out on the sewing interwebs. I left the zipper out, and I can add to the chorus that it's not necessary. I have no problems getting into this dress without it. I also followed the excellent advice of Lisa G. and added 1" inch to the skirt length - a floaty mini is NOT a good look on a windy day. As it is I just about had a wardrobe malfunction on the breezy River Walk. Consider yourself warned.

I cut a 6 in the bust, an 8 in the waist, and then back to a 6 in the hips. I probably could have gotten away with a straight 6, but I'm pretty happy with the fit. I decided I wanted less blousing, so I did my usual 1" lengthening on the waist of the lining and left the outer shell pattern piece alone. This gave me 1" of blousing instead of 2", which I think works better on my frame.

This is really the perfect dress for a summer day outdoors, and I think it'll get a lot of use. Here's to cookouts, picnics and walks in the park!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Knitted Cupcakes and Cats

A dress bodice turned into a wadder recently thanks to over fitting on my part, and it's especially frustrating because I went to the trouble of making a muslin. Le sigh. After some careful measuring, calculating, and flat-pattern adjustments, I think I'm back on track, but the waste of time and fabric has put a little bit of a damper on my creative spirits.

To cheer myself up, I've been finishing up some fun smaller knitting projects. I made several of these cupcakes to give away as birthday gifts. They're quick to knit up and great stash-busters, but sewing on the bugle bead sprinkles takes foreevvveerrr. It just seems too plain without them though, don't you think? I'm Team Sprinkles for sure. And also Team Milk Chocolate and Team Froyo, in case you were wondering.

My mother-in-law gifted me the yarn and pattern to make this "parlor cat" at Christmas, and I recently finished knitting it up. She originally planned to make it for me, but then decided the pattern was too advanced. I'm glad - I love the idea of getting a kit to knit something up myself.  And if there was any doubt before, I'm pretty sure making a yarn version of Pippin puts me pretty firmly in crazy cat lady territory.

The resemblance is uncanny, isn't it? Madam Toussaud's should hire me to make a special wing of knitted dopplegangers. Ha!

I'm actually pretty disappointed in the outcome, to the point that I didn't even bother to embroider the face. My stripe matching needs some work, even though I used the "slip the first stitch of each color change" trick, and I don't like how the pattern highlights the jogs by putting them in the center back. I also wish there were some short rows in the face to make it three dimensional. Ah well. 

I also picked my Miette cardigan back up. I was pretty frustrated with the fit issues and frogging, but I finally gave up and banished it to the closet last fall after Pippin ate some of the yarn. After a night crying in the emergency vet and paying a $600 bill, I just couldn't bear to look at the damn thing anymore. But I am stubborn, and not one to leave something unfinished, plus a cotton cardigan to wear with summer dresses sounds pretty great right about now. So it's me vs. the Miette, round 3!

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.