Monday, September 26, 2016

I made pants!

Here is a rare situation where I bit off more than I thought I could chew and it actually turned out really, really well.  

While on vacation last month, I saw the tester call for Alina Design Co.'s new Chi-Town Chino Expansion Packs.  Expansion Pack 2, full-length chino pants, immediately caught my eye.  I hesitated in applying because my normally busy fall, with the start of the homeschool year and both my daughters' birthdays, is even busier this year.  My little brother is getting married and not only am I sewing the kids' outfits, but I am baking the wedding cake.

I did not have time to test a pattern, especially not an involved pattern like these pants.

I really liked the look of the chinos, though, so I threw caution to the wind along with my name in the hat.  I got to work immediately after we returned from our initial two weeks at the beach.  I spent a solid week working on the pants, and not only am I really happy with the way they turned out, but I learned a ton.  They are the first pair of adult pants I've ever made, but they definitely will not be the last.

I wear jeans nearly every day in fall and winter, but like many of us, I have a lot of trouble fitting into any other RTW pants.  I always thought it was because I have thick legs, and that most pants "just didn't look good on me."


Sewing to the rescue yet again!

Testing these chinos turned out to be a great lesson in fitting.  Alina and other more experienced pants-sewing testers were very helpful in trouble-shooting fitting issues.  But perhaps even more helpful was being ablee to see other people's muslins and projects in the testing Facebook group and read diagnoses of fit issues I didn't encounter in my own pants.  It was really like a crash course in pants fitting.

These pants are a tester version size 16 and a pretty good representation of the pattern.  My muslin had a lot of excess fabric under my behind, so I had to slice a triangle off the back leg by cutting length off the back crotch curve and tapering to nothing down around the knee (funnily enough, this sort of adjustment is called a "thin thigh," something no one has ever accused me of having).  While I was fiddling with my muslin, I ended up taking more than 2" off the crotch curve.  Somehow, while this seemed to work ok in my made-of-muslin muslin, it did not work at all in the cotton twill I used for these pants. I couldn't sit without them sliding all the way down. 

To say I was bummed would be an understatement.  I was really motivated to make the pants wearable, so I mulled over how to add length back to the crotch.  I ended up putting in a crotch gusset to restore some of the back crotch length I had removed, and it worked.  My final pants had a thin thigh adjustment of about 1 3/8", and it's still a little much.  Once I redo it, I expect it to be pretty close to the thin thigh adjustment Alina made on the final pattern.

In addition to the above changes, my muslin showed me that I needed to take out 1" of height from the front crotch.  I also widened the legs of the pants from the mid-calf downwards to make the pants hang on me more like the line drawing. Despite all my adjustments, there are a lot of diagonal ripples from the back of my knees to my inner thighs.  The ripples become less pronounced after the fabric relaxes, but they are still a bit excessive.  After doing some research I have postulated that I am slightly knock-kneed, and that I need to add more length to the inseam of my pants to fix those ripples.

I used this cotton twill from Joann's, bought with a 60%-off coupon.  I used it two years ago for cargo pants for G, and those things held up to twice-weekly washing until he outgrew them.  I expect to be putting them on Niko this winter and then we'll match!

The waist is finished with a waistband facing instead of a waistband, and closes either with a button or a hook-and-eye closure (I chose the latter).   The pants have slash front pockets and back welt pockets with French seams and button closures.  I really love the French-seam feature of the pockets, and have used it since on the welt pockets of the three pairs of Oliver+S Art Museum Trousers I made for the wedding.

The day after I finished these pants, I took the kids back to the beach with my dad for a few days.  We needed a little more vacation.  It was so humid that my camera lens fogged up every time I took it outside. The resulting photos I took at the beach are pretty bad, but looking at them makes me happy so I'm posting a couple anyway.

The welt pockets are finished with buttons, but you'll notice there are no pocket buttons on these pants.  That is because when I lengthened the back rise on the pants, I did not think to adjust the pocket bags.  As a result, the interfaced part of the pocket back, which is meant to support the button, doesn't line up with the buttonhole.  I left them off and actually prefer my pants without pocket buttons, but if you want buttons on your pants and are also messing with the back pattern pieces, be sure to adjust the pockets correspondingly.

It's been a few weeks since we returned from our impromptu half-week at the bach and summer is finally over.  We wore sweatshirts and socks to the park today.  I'm in mourning, but at least I have some nice new pants to cheer me up.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Purple Kool-Aid cardigan

I finally got around to sewing another Lisbon Cardigan.  This is #4 and I am planning a few more.  What can I say, I'm just a cardigan kind of girl.   

Like my last three, this one is a size 12 graded to a 14 at the hips.  I was tempted to cut a size 10 shoulder on this one, but I had not yet used a cotton/lycra for the pattern and suspected it might sew up a little smaller than the drapey rayon French terry and bamboo jersey I had used on previous versions. 

So I stuck with the pattern pieces I had already drafted.  I had lowered the neckline on two of my previous Lisbons but I decided to leave it as is for this one.  It did sew up smaller, but the shoulder is still too wide.  Also, because the fabric is less drapey than the fabrics I used before, the cardigan is shorter than the others and feels a little boxier.

It might seem kind of surprising that it would take me four iterations of the same pattern to figure out what alterations I'd like make, but different knits really sew up so differently.  No two of the four cardigans I made fit the same.

And now I know that, for next time, I am definitely going to cut a smaller shoulder.  I have to go back and look at the pattern to see how much narrower the shoulder is on the 10; I might go down to an 8.  I'm unsure as to whether I'm going to do an actual FBA or just grade out at the bottom of the armscye.  I also want to experiment with the sleeve - I think I'd like to do a long hemmed sleeve instead of a cuffed sleeve.  I won't want to lose any width in the upper sleeve, but I have a good bit of ease beneath the elbow, so I'll need to narrow that part. 

Like on my French terry version, the front hems dip when the cardigan is worn open.  I wonder if that is just what is going to happen with a cardigan, or whether it indicates a fitting issue, because it's not noticeable when the cardigan is buttoned.

And speaking of buttons ... I recently picked up another bag of buttons from the thrift store, and it happened to contain about two dozen 1/2" purple buttons that match the fabric perfectly.  You may have noticed that they are not on the cardigan.

That is because I could not get my machine to sew buttonholes on this fabric for love nor money.  Whomp whomp.  Although my machine generally stinks at sewing knits, a layer of interfacing on the fabric has always been enough to get it to make buttonholes.  I was out of knit interfacing when I sewed this, so I used two strips of knit stay tape instead.  My machine didn't like that, nor was it cowed when I attached some tear-away stabilizer to the underside of the placket.  So I bought some Dritz snaps, grabbed my hammer and got to work.


Yeah, so that wasn't so easy.  I've never used metal snaps before, and it was a pain.  I had a pack of 12 snaps and had to use them all to get 7 useable snap sets on my cardigan.  I kept hammering the male sockets to the side, thus rendering them useless.  I have a Kam snap press from my diaper-making days and am considering buying the dies I need to install metal snaps.  Or maybe I'll just get a Snap Setter - I've heard good things.  I don't mind the look of the snaps on the cardigan, but as I don't trust my snap installation, I'm very, very careful when I undo them

The fabric is Robert Kaufman Laguna cotton/lycra jersey knit in Amethyst.  I've used Laguna a few times in the past and have found it to hold up pretty well.  But I'm not the biggest fan of the available colors.  This purple seems a little juvenile to me - not much depth and it reminds me of the color of artificially "grape"-flavored things.  But one can never have enough cardigans (at least, not if one is me), so this has already gotten plenty of wear and will continue to do so.

Even if it does remind me of purple Kool-Aid.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Paisley Picnic

My youngest niece turned 1 this summer, so it was time to get sewing.  I wanted to sew something that would work this summer and fall, but I didn't have a lot of spare time.  I flipped through my pattern stash and decided to make an Oliver+S Class Picnic tunic and a pair of Playtime Leggings.

Having made both of these patterns many times before, I knew they ran on the larger side for the smallest sizes. My niece is a peanut, so I sewed her the 6-12 month size for both.  I lengthened the Class Picnic by 4" to make it a tunic/dress, and lengthened the leggings about an inch to leave room for growth.


The Class Picnic is made of the last of a gorgeous cotton lawn left over from a maxi dress I sewed for Z last year (man, I wish I had more of this stuff to make myself a top!).  It has a gorgeous hand, and I love the colors.  I accidentally sewed the yokes on inside-out (you are supposed to sew the right side of the inner yoke to the wrong side of the bodice, but I sewed it to the right side of the bodice).  As a result, the understitching is visible on the right side of the garment.  I had already trimmed the seam allowance, so, since the fabric's print obscures the understitching, I decided not to undo it.  I've made this mistake before though - I really need to remember to reference the pattern when I sew this.

The pattern instructs you to adjust the shoulder elastic after trying the garment on the wearer - as I wasn't able to do this, I trolled the O+S message board and decided to cut my elastics to 4.5" each.

The leggings are made of the last of a bit of lovely thick 10 oz cotton jersey left over from a tshirt I made my husband this spring.  I cut the waist elastic to 18.5".

Nothing left to say about these.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Striped T-Shirt Dress of Victory

There is nothing earth-shattering about the simple dress I'm showing you today.   And yet, this piece represents a true sewing triumph for me.  I have never "been able" to wear a dress like this before, because I was under the impression that this style - a knit bodice bloused over a cased elastic waistline - simply did not suit me.

I'm pretty psyched to have been proven wrong.

Both my sisters have worn variations on this style every summer for years.  It looks like the perfect "forgiving" shape, right?  And yet, the literally dozens I've tried on in stores have always looked awful on me.  The bodice was always too short and the elastic hit just underneath the bust, maternity style (best case scenario) or (horror) right across the bust line, while the gathers of the skirt made my hips look ginormous.   If the elastic hit at the right spot, the bodice itself would be way too wide.  I self-diagnosed myself as someone with a long torso, gave up looking and just wrote off the silhouette. 

Recently, though, I saw a few lovely Closet Case Files Sallie dresses (particularly the ones by SweetKM and Helen's Closet) and was newly inspired. The Sallie dress pattern is, of course, a bit more sophisticated than mine, but my desire to plunk down $14 for the pattern was tempered by my hard-learned knowledge that my sewing machine really stinks at sewing knits.   I knew the lined bodice would be a disaster.  I also knew I'd need to fit the bodice first.  I wanted faster results.

Kirsten Kimono to the rescue!  I took the pattern pieces from my latest alteration (where I swung out the side seams) and extended them to 43" (I should have extended to about 45" to allow a slightly longer and blousier bodice and to allow for hemming). The total width of each pattern piece at the hem was 30". After sewing it together, I tried it on and very scientifically and systematically bunched it up around my waist with my fingers until I figured out where I wanted the elastic casing to be. Then I chopped the skirt off, and sewed it to the skirt, right sides together with a 3/4" seam allowance. I actually used my coverstitch machine  to do this. My machine does an alright stretch stitch on cotton jerseys, but it detests rayon jerseys (this one is from FabricMart) and won't sew them at all unless there are more than two layers.  Even using stabilizer isn't foolproof.

I serged the ends of the seam allowances without cutting any off, and then I pressed the seam allowance down and stitch the edge to the inside of the skirt with a stretch stitch, forming a casing.  I threaded it with 1/2" elastic and tried on the dress to determine where to cut the elastic.

I think it turned out pretty well.  I'd like the neckline to be a bit lower - I think I cut my neckband a bit too short and that pulled it up more than I wanted.  I do have to adjust the fabric around the elastic casing when i put it on to keep the dress from twisting around - I might sew the elastic down at quarter marks to prevent this in the future.  There's also some excess fabric in the center back of the bodice - maybe this has something to do with that swayback thing people are always talking about? This is a new fitting issue for me.

I've worn it a few times, including out on a beach date with my husband, and in hindsight, I don't know why I thought sewing this dress would be such a risk.  I realized after I started sewing that I didn't actually have a long torso.  The extra length I needed is due to my bust size.  I already know that my shoulder width is proportionally much smaller than it "should" be compared to my full bust - this is why I always do FBAs.  The reason the RTW dresses don't fit is that if I choose a size that fits in the shoulders, there's never enough fabric to cover my bust, whether via dart in a woven fabric or extra length. 

Altogether, I'm pretty thrilled with the dress.  It's a nice throw-on-and-feel-put-together garment, but more importantly, it represents a real coup of sewing vs RTW.  Also nice: It was a pretty cheap sew - the fabric was on sale for $3.60 a yard and I only used 45 inches of my 3-yard cut.

Take that, boob-bisecting, hip-enlarging RTW blouson dresses!  I have conquered you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Greetings from my happy place.

We're having a great time hanging out.  Playing in the surf, digging giant holes, taking long sandy walks, enjoying the breeze on the deck, hitting the fudge shop ...

It is lovely.

We've been vacationing on the Outer Banks since I was a little girl, and now my kids are creating the same memories I treasure from my childhood.  My girls love it so much that they actually started packing for this year's trip the week after we returned from last year's.

It's nearly impossible for me to be unhappy here; even last year, two months after my husband's stroke, I thoroughly enjoyed our vacation.  But this year - man.  This year, the usual joys of the seashore are layered with gratitude and delight.  Last year, we had no idea what our future would hold.  He had trouble walking in the sand, and was only able to venture into the ocean flanked by my brothers.  This year he is running races with G in the sand and swimming alone in the waves.  I just watch and marvel.  It feels as though, every day, I notice something - a new ability, skill, or even just a moment that would not have been possible a year ago.

And I don't forget for a minute how fortunate we are.


And unlike last year, this year I actually had some time to prepare for the trip, including making sure I had some clothes that fit me properly.  The newest additions to my summer wardrobe were these two Fjara racerback tank tops from Pienkel, for whom I tested the pattern earlier this month.

Both versions are tester versions. I made the striped one first, in a size 16 as dictated by my bust size.  It is a bit too snug in the hips.  The anchor print denim skirt I made earlier this spring  sucks in my belly a bit, but if I wear the tank with any of the linen bottoms I made, everything hangs out.  The pattern now includes bust, waist and hip measurements in the size chart so that you can grade between sizes if necessary (I should have graded the hips to an 18). 

The fabric is Riley Blake jersey knit I got from UrbanSew last year.  I had actually put the fabric in time out immediately after it arrived because the stripes are printed, not yarn-dyed, and, well, it turns out I'm a bit of a snob about such things.  Though I sew frequently with printed knits, they don't seem to hold up that well in the wash.  So why would you print a stripe when you could yarn-dye it?

Anyway.  The fabric is really comfy to wear, and the bindings are made of a scrap of Laguna jersey that happens to match the Riley Blake stripes perfectly.

After sewing the striped one, I made a couple of adjustments to the pattern to fix some armhole gaping.  I slashed the armhole and overlapped it 1/4".  When I did this, I cut a line vertically from the hem almost to the end of my armhole slash (leaving a hinge) so that the side seam could swing out freely when I overlapped the arm slash.  In addition to fixing the armhole gape, this gave me the room I needed in the belly and hip area, maybe 2.5" total at the hem.  I also ended up widening the racerback portion of the tank pattern - something Nienke did to the final pattern anyway.

The main fabric is Nicole Miller rayon spandex from the Joann Fabrics remnant bin.  It's printed with rope chains all over and feels appropriately nautical.  It's more of a metallic feeling knit than other rayon spandex I've used, if that makes any sense.  It feels cool to the touch and doesn't really warm up on the skin, which makes it really nice for a summer garment, even in black. I finished the neck and armholes with some brown cotton/lycra ribbing from the stash.  I cut it a little short - and looking at the photos, it also seems that I should have lowered the armholes to their original position after taking the wedge out (the tank feels fine on).  I do wish I'd used black ribbing instead - I think the garment would be a more versatile match for my shorts and skirt wardrobe.  Here I'm wearing it with my brown linen Simplicity 1887 shorts

These tanks are not my usual style choice - I don't have any racerback bras and I prefer not to have my straps showing.  I know they sell little doo-dads to turn your regular bra into a racerback but those have always looked really uncomfortable to me.  In any case, I go a bit more casual at the beach, and these tanks are getting a workout here, straps and all.  They are really comfortable and cool to wear in the humidity.  In fact, the day after I finished my first tank, I wore it on a short 1.5-mile hike with the kids while wearing Niko on my back.  I was surprisingly comfortable despite the heat and nearly 80% humidity that day.

The tanks are perfect beach wear - and being quick to sew, it's easy to whip a few up before vacation.  I am actually wishing I had a couple more to wear while we're down here.  Might need to invest in a convertible bra after all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A palooza of woven tees

I've really been enjoying sewing up more versions of Simplicity 1377.  After I finished my last two, I sewed up three more, using three cuts from the deep stash in the process.

This one is made of a long-stashed white cotton crosshatch shirting.  I added a v-shaped cut out and made a thin bound neckline.  I French-seamed the shoulders and side seams.  I adore this blouse, despite the fact that I made the cut-out facing too small and was forced to stitch it down to keep it in place. It fills a real wardrobe gap for me, providing a pairing with several bottoms that didn't have any good mates.  I like it a lot with the anchor-print pleated pocket skirt I made a couple months ago.

And I am so happy with the fit.  It is just right through the shoulders and bust - with no gaping neckline, no pulling in the chest - and enough ease in the tummy and hips to be comfortable but enough shaping to avoid looking tent-like.  I'm really, really happy with the results of the work I put into adjusting this pattern.

After I made the white blouse, I cut another out of the last of a cut of double-faced gauze that I previously used to make a dress for Z.  I did this one with a shirt-tail-shaped hem and faced the neckline and sleeves with bias made from the same brown linen from my Simplicity 1887 shorts.  I was overzealous in lowering the neckline, though, so I ended up having to put in a modesty panel.  I also messed up while cutting the back, so I had to cut it in two pieces and seam it.

I will be honest, although this top is very comfy and goes well with three of the Simplicity 1887s in my closet, I don't love how it looks.  I'm really annoyed with myself about the low neckline - I don't like how the modesty panel breaks up the plaid, but the gauze is shifty enough that I wasn't even going to try to match the pattern.  I sewed the darts properly and tied them off instead of backstitching.  I also pressed well over the edge of my ironing board.  But they are still pointy - I feel like the fabric is to blame here.  And I don't really like the shape of the neckline. I wasn't even going to post photos of it, but since I do wear it fairly regularly, my blogger conscience compelled me to include them.

Far more happily, I sewed up a third blouse in this J. Crew crepe cotton voile that I bought two years ago for $3 a yard from (where else) Fabric Mart.  I used a facing to create a slit neckline that is tied with the ends of the 1/4" binding that also finishes the neckline.  I also widened the hem a smidge, adding 1/2" at the hem and tapering to nothing at the narrowest point of the top.  I French-seamed the shoulders and side seams again. LOVE.  Something about the way the fabric drapes almost makes it feel like it was bias-cut.  I love the tie detail and I love the print.  I wish I had it in five more colors (and am kicking past me for not buying it in the other colorways FM had at the time).

I did, however, have a heck of a time getting halfway-decent photos of this top.  My most successful shoot took place just after a steamy rainstorm, and my camera lens fogged right up.  But these photos show the shape of the top the best, so try not to squint too hard.

I'm not finished playing with this pattern.  Following all my adjustments, I'm really happy with the way the pattern fits, and the silhouette is simple enough that I can see hacking it many different ways.  One that I would like to try soon is a bloused-top, elastic-waist dress similar to the Bettine or the Olivia.  Yes, I could just buy one of those patterns, but since I already have this top altered for my shape, all I need to do is draft the skirt part and I'm set. 

This is my "I'm going to melt because it's 200% humidity out here" face.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Black and White

The girls had their end-of-year concert for Russian school at the beginning of June.  The dress code was "black and white."  Neither of them had anything that would work except for a single long-sleeved white cotton blouse between them, so I headed to the stash.

For Zoia, once my eye happened upon this gray and white gingham linen/cotton, I knew what to do. It wasn't quite black and white, but I knew from last year that she wouldn't stick out - there were plenty of kids who didn't adhere strictly to the dress code and no one seemed to be too concerned about it. (I previously used this fabric on G's Easter vest.)


It was clear to me from the outset that this particular fabric needed to be sewed up into this particular dress.  The pattern is #30 from Japanese book 9784579111848, which is actually in Japanese so I don't know what the real title is.  I've made the pattern a few times before.  Z actually still wears the brown linen dress I made her three years ago.  It is a long top on her now and will still fit next year.  That was a size 100 but without seam allowances (since I forgot to add them). 

This time, I used the same size, but remembered to add the allowances this time.  I lengthened the bodice pieces about 3/4", though I wish I had added another inch.  I also lengthened the skirt part about 10" (I wish I had also widened it just a smidge), and fully lined the bodice with white cotton shirting since the linen is a bit scratchy.  My regular machine was in the shop when I sewed this, and as my back-up doesn't have an automatic buttonhole function, I also had to convert the back bodice from buttons-and-buttonholes to button-and-loop closure.

Even with all those changes, I was able to sew this up in a couple of hours.  I cut the flutter sleeves on the bias and decided not to finish them.  You can see the very slight fray at the edges in the above photo - this was after the dress had been worn and washed several times, so I'm glad I didn't finish them.  I like the slightly raw look and think it compliments the style and fabric.

The bodice is very short, and while I was constructing the dress, the large expanse of the skirt was positively calling out for something to break it up.  I briefly considered pockets, but then I stumbled on some cream-colored lace in the stash.  On an impulse, I quickly cut out a heart-shaped applique.  I wasn't sure how my fusible web would work to applique lace, but it worked just fine and doesn't obviously show through.  I stitched around the edges of the applique with a zig zag.  I LOVE this detail.

I just adore this dress.  I'm so happy that Z is willing to wear gray and white checked linen.  There were definitely a few years where I wasn't sure my girls would ever wear anything that wasn't the color of cotton candy.  Thank goodness that phase is over.

For Natasha I found a cut of black-and-white floral crepe voile from the stash.  She requested a skirt, so I decided that the voile would become an Oliver+S Onstage Tutu Skirt.  I've made this pattern four times before, though I've never blogged any of them. 

It is an easy sew.  The lining becomes the waistband so you need to choose a fabric without a wrong side for that piece.  I used a very lightweight white cotton shirting.  I finished the voile with a rolled hem in black thread. 


Gathered skirts like this one look so cute on Natasha.  She wore it to the graduation with the lone white RTW blouse (which is actually a bit too small for her and has since been retired).  The photos we took that day didn't turn out very well, so these reflect how she has chosen to style the skirt since. On her own, she has decided that she likes her blouses tucked into full skirts.  I love that she has developed her own style preferences (I guess it's easy for me to be happy about that since they are tasteful, for now!), and I will happily sew her a bunch more gathered skirts so that she can continue indulging them.

The skirt is really versatile, too. It works dressed up for church, and with a t-shirt for a lazy backyard picnic. Both pieces are still getting worn regularly and should fit for another year or more.  I love occasion sewing that ends up in workhorse wardrobe pieces!