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!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Kimono Hack x 3

The Maria Denmark Kirsten Kimono is my TNT knit t-shirt pattern.  I've hacked up the pattern quite a bit, lowering the neckline significantly and doing a dartless FBA and a forward shoulder adjustment.  The pattern has worked very well for me in general - I even used it to make a few maternity tees last year.  Earlier this summer, though, I made a couple that were too tight in the tummy and hips.  I'm still wearing a few other tees made with the same pattern pieces, so I surmised that the fit issues had to have come from the fabric.  In any case, after the second unwearable tee in a row, I got a bit frustrated and decided to alter the pattern again to make the shape a little more swingy and thus more forgiving of varying stretch percentages.

In order to turn my pattern into a swing tee, I slashed and spread the pattern from the hem to the narrowest part of my rib cage - this was important because I did not want the fabric waterfalling right off the top of my bust; I needed to keep the negative ease down through the bust to avoid a maternity look.  I think I succeeded at that.  I slashed and spread the back pattern too, but not as much as the front as I wanted it to be a bit more fitted.

I cut my first out of a black cotton slub knit from Fabric Mart.  I had a good bit of gaping after I sewed it together.  I initially blamed this on the fabric. I ended up taking a 1" dart in the back neck, tapering to nothing about four inches down.  I also had to take two 1/4" darts out of the front neckline.  It fits perfectly now, so I went back to my pattern and removed the excess so that I wouldn't have to sew darts in the future. In my Google research since then, I have found that the problem is most likely my free and easy lowering of the neckline - apparently you can't just scoop out a neckline, you have to "contour" it, or you get the gape I'm kvetching about here.  I haven't been able to find any good online resources to show me how to do this (other than the general "remove neck gape" tutorials) so I think maybe it's time I invest in a proper fitting book.

I sewed my second tee out of this Nicole Miller rayon/lycra remnant from JoAnn's.  The print is so random that I didn't give any thought to pattern placement other than to make sure that it was on-grain.  That faux-yoke on the front is totally coincidental.  I don't love the huge swath of orange and brown across my torso and kind of wish I'd cut the front out of the part of the pattern that I used for the back.  

It is a lot swingier than the black tee, something I think is due entirely to the drape of the rayon as opposed to the black cotton slug.  It's really comfortable, and it has so many colors in it that it matches all of the solid-color bottoms I made during my Simplicity 1887 spree earlier this summer.

I made the last tee out of a rayon/lycra from Fabric Mart.  It's also lovely to wear and - stripes!  Not much else to say about this one.

I've been wearing these three tees in heavy rotation since I sewed them, and although the fit on the latter two is really quite good, I've noticed that the back neckline is still a bit long for me.  I need to pinch out another 1/2" or so from it. When I realized I needed to do that, I started paying a little more attention to the neckline fit on the woven tees I made recently, and found that, there, too, the back neckline is too long.  In both of these patterns, I started with my high bust measurement and made FBAs, so in theory the neckline should be fine.  But I'm making a mental note to pay more attention to the back neckline on future muslins, as it seems like it will be a regular adjustment for me going forward.

It is a good thing that I rather enjoy the process of fitting - otherwise I think I'd give up selfish sewing!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Anniversary gift

I really love quilts.  I think they are beautiful.  But I am not a quilter.

A very good friend got married last August.  The wedding was across the country and given the turmoil in our lives at the time, my husband and I weren't able to make it.  This particular friend really values handmade.  I knit him a beanie 11 years ago, which he wore constantly.  Then while he was living in Mauritania his house was broken into, and along with electronics, the thieves made off with the beanie.  (I admit to being a little bit flattered that they thought it was worth stealing).  My friend was bereft, so I knit him another one.

When he got married, of course I was going to make them something.  I haven't knit much at all lately, so I decided to make them a throw quilt.  It took me quite awhile to get started on this project - in fact, I'm just going to squeak in before their first anniversary.

I had this idea in my head of a simple patchwork of shot cottons.  So I bought half-yards of 15 colors (the fabric line is Artisan Cottons) and went to work.  I cut 35 squares 11"x9" (because that was what I got when I evenly divided my half-yards into square-ish blocks) and sewed them into five strips of seven blocks.

I just stitched-in-the-ditch (roughly; I'm really not good at it, I have found) to quilt it.  I used Warm and Natural quilt batting, which says you can quilt 10" apart - this was good because I didn't want to do more than that.  Like I said, I'm not a quilter.

I got some puckers where lines of quilting crossed previously stitched lines of quilting.  This has happened with all the quilts I have made and it's enough to make me not want to quilt anymore.  I know this one is not perfect, but I hope they will appreciate it.  And I'm not going to apologize for my lack of quilting prowess any more in this post.  Instead, I'm going to show you what I like about it.

I really love the combination of colors.  I played with a few arrangements and then ultimately ended up arranging the colors roughly by color families on the diagonal.

I took the opportunity of the quilt back to use up some of the quilting fabric cuts I had kicking around the stash.  I worried that it was a little too girly but I like the green, yellow and orange together.

I finished the binding by hand, and I love how neat it looks.  In my humble, non-quilter opinion, it is definitely worth the effort to hand-sew a quilt binding.  I thought after quilting that I should bind the quilt in black, but I didn't have any black cotton in my stash, and I didn't want to have to run out to Joann's, so I ended up using this medium-gray quilting cotton I had lying around.  In the end, I think it looks better than the black would have, especially against the back.

I love looking at different quadrants of this quilt and letting my eyes absorb how those colors look together.  There are so many different moods in these colors, depending on where you look.  Isn't the turquoise below gorgeous?  It is woven with peach threads to make the shot cotton effect.  The photo doesn't do it justice at all.  The red/purple above it is also so pretty.

I also really love this blue/green/yellow intersection.

The quilt finished at 52" by 60" square.  It felt so heavy to me while I was quilting it.  I couldn't understand why, after all, a 52x60" quilt didn't seem like it ought to be much bigger than the roughly 40" square baby quilts I made earlier this year.  But then I did the math, and yeah, it's nearly twice as big, area-wise.  I really can't imagine making a twin-sized quilt on my machine, let alone a queen-sized one.

I do, however, have enough of the shot cottons left over to make another quilt, and despite the fact that I am not a quilter, I kind of want to.  At least, I kind of want to make the top.  I just don't want to quilt the darn thing.

I know that I can send my quilts out to be quilted.  But I am stubborn and don't really see the point in starting the quilt process if I am not going to finish.  Alternatively, there is a local quilt shop nearby that sells time on its longarm machines.  I don't see myself doing that either.  So more than likely, I will probably give in to a quilting urge again in a few months and you'll see me back here with another imperfect, puckery project.

I am not a quilter.  But I sure love quilts.