Monday, January 23, 2017

Harlequin butt

I've been reading a bunch of posts recently about how velvet/velveteen are back.  I don't think I was aware that they had ever left.  At least not velveteen.  I have always been a sucker for cotton velveteen.  I have only sewed with it three times before, but I had several pieces in my stash.

Coming off the success of my denim Alberta Street Skirt, I decided to sew a red velveteen version to wear for Christmas.

It was only after I had installed the zipper that I realized I had committed the cardinal velvet(een) sewing sin - cutting one of my pieces with the nap going the wrong way.  I had actually noticed after I initially cut the pattern pieces, that I had reversed the nap on one of the back skirt pieces.  I carefully (or so I thought), recut one back skirt piece, and then took the (so I thought) wrong-way piece and used it to cut my pockets, thus exhausting my fabric.  But I must have used one of the "right" pieces to cut my pockets, and as a result, I have harlequin butt.

I considered not finishing the skirt, but ultimately I decided that since this skirt would be primarily worn at church, my butt probably wouldn't be paid too much attention.  And I don't have to see the offending area so I can pretend it's not there.  And actually, it turns out it's not that noticeable, because of the way that velvet changes appearance in the light.  In this photo you can't even see it, and I had to take a number of photos to get it to really stand out in the one above.

The skirt is a slightly shortened size 16, with the waist and upper hip let out 1/2" on each side (sewn with a 3/8" seam instead of a 5/8" seam), and the skirt pegged in at the bottom.  I broke four needles while sewing this bad boy.  Finally, I finished the hem with a facing to avoid having to sew a million layers of velveteen, and faced the waist with quilting cotton from my stash.  Since I didn't chose my hem facing until I had finished the rest of the skirt, my hem and waist facings don't match.  I'm not going to show you, but it's not cute.  Again, no one is going to see it.

I used commercial hem facing inherited from my grandmother's stash. I only had enough yardage in this robin's egg blue but I actually really like it against the wine colored velveteen and wish I had coordinated the waistband facing with it. The hem facing did not quite work with the contours of the tapered skirt. I only realized this after I'd hand hemmed half of it.  Rather that cut a custom facing, I just cut into the facing at the side seams so that it could spread, and whipstitched the sides of the cut to the skirt.  Since the facing is bias cut, I figure it won't fray.  I haven't washed the skirt yet so I'm not sure how it will survive.

Sewing the velveteen was tough.  Aside from the needle slippage, the waist facing slipped a lot while I was sewing it despite careful pinning. So for the hem, I used a tip I found online and hand basted two rows along either side of the seam line before machine stitching the hem facing to the skirt. It really didn't take long, and it worked beautifully. I should go back and redo the waistband using the same method.

I wore the skirt for Christmas with the black top you see in the photos.  I really wanted to make myself an elegant flowy woven top for the occasion, but I ran out of time.  Maybe next year.

I'm really happy with the way the skirt turned out, harlequin butt notwithstanding, but I regret sewing the pockets on.  I thought turning the velvet upside down for the pockets would add interest, but I don't actually think the interest needed adding.  The needle holes will show if I take them off, though, so I'm stuck with them.

You win some, you lose some.

Monday, January 16, 2017


I finally made an Appleton dress!

As always, it took me while to hop aboard this train.  When it comes to pricier patterns (i.e. anything other than Big 4 on sale at Joann's), I am really slow to purchase.  I like to see a lot of examples of the garment made up before I plunk down my money.  The Appleton has long seemed like a no-brainer because 90% of the versions I have seen look stunning on their makers.  I acquired both pattern and fabric last summer with the intent of making this dress, but only just got around to it in January.

I used an ITY knit purchased from FabricMart for about $3.60/yard.  The fabric is really nice to work with, and the dress sewed up in a few hours on my serger and coverstitch machine.

I didn't muslin (this is my muslin), and I sewed a 14E/F cup graded to between a 14 and 16 starting at the waist down through the hem (I'm 42.5-35-45).  It is a pretty good start, but I think it needs some tweaks.  I was actually super disappointed when I first tried it on, to see that a good 1/2" of the bridge of my bra was showing at the overlap.  I thought of all the stunning Appletons I had seen in blogland and how none of them had any bra peekaboo going on, and I felt cheated.

But that was stupid.  I've since had a good hard look at the topography on my upper half, and I've come to the conclusion that, if I want the wrap to go under my bust (and I do), then the overlap is necessarily going to be pretty low.  I might be able to gain that 1/2" by tweaking with the angle of the slope on the bodice and the neckband join, but that's a lot of work when I can just safety pin the dress together.  Which is what I did in these photos - without the safety pin the overlap is about an inch lower.

On Instagram, Jenny advised that going up a cup size would provide more coverage, so I am going to try that for the next one, but I'm not going to sweat it if I have to resort to the safety pin.  I think a low cut is simply the nature of a wrap dress for a busty girl.

The print makes it hard to see, but there are some folds in the fabric just above my bust, radiating from the armpit.  I did some research and found a suggestion to shorten the armscye.  I also found suggestions to FBA/increase cup room.  Going up a cup size is easier so I'm going to try that first before messing with the armscye.  I do plan to make this up in a solid, and the wrinkles will be a lot more noticeable then, so hopefully I can figure it out.

Another item of concern was the amount of overlap at the skirt.  When I first tried on the dress, it seemed like it was just begging for a wardrobe malfunction.  But while shooting these pictures, I tried my hardest to get the skirt to separate ...

... by walking determinedly forward ...

... by standing weirdly wide ...

... and leaning awkwardly to the side.

I stopped short of high kicks; though the Appleton kept her ladylike composure during my initial antics, I figured she wouldn't survive martial arts.  A good strong wind could pose a problem, as well.

She only plays peekaboo when I sit, though it's actually ok as long as I keep my knees together and don't cross my legs.  I think I will be able to fix this issue by cutting both wrap fronts the same next time (the pattern has you trim the front piece to be narrower than the back piece).

I also think I need a little more room in my upper waist . While the dress looks fine from the front, from the back I have a little of the mattress-tied-in-the-middle look going on.  My husband says the pattern distracts from it and I think he's probably right, but it still bugs me.  Going up a cup size on the next one should help, but I think I might grade the back piece out a bit more from the bottom of the armscye to the waist, to help it skim over the excess flesh back there.  And I want to try the dress with a size 16 sleeve, as these sleeves are a little too tight for me.

Finally, I will add length to the hem.  I am 5'8" and the pattern is drafted for 5'6".  The dress was the perfect length without hemming, so I didn't hem it (yay knits!).  I would prefer a proper hem, though, so I added an inch to my pattern pieces for next time.

All quibbles aside, the fit out of the envelope was not bad at all.  The dress is totally wearable; even more so with Spanx (which I am not wearing in these photos).  Not having to do an FBA was, frankly, AMAZING.  I can, and do, perform FBAs all the time, but it considerably lengthens the drafting phase of sewing, and I suspect I'm not alone in really not enjoying that part of the process.

I also really appreciated how well all the pattern pieces came together - the notches lined up, the angles lined up, and the instructions were good.  I'm a happy camper.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Winter came late this year, so I had a bit of time after things calmed down post-wedding, -surgery, and -Thanksgiving to fill out my cold-weather wardrobe.  I pulled out my Renfrew pattern once more and sewed up three new tops.

For these, I sewed a 10 shoulder increased to a 16 at the bottom of the arm scye.  On my first top, made out of a denim blue rayon French terry from LA Finch Fabrics, I lowered the neckline to the lowest line on the front pattern piece.  I forgot to lengthen my main bodice while cutting, and as I wanted a longer top, I cut my bottom band to 11" wide, to finish at around 5" once folded over and sewn on.

I ended up slimming the arms significantly after I sewed it up, about 1" at the wrist tapering to nothing midway up my bicep.  The sleeve was plenty long, so I didn't add the cuff, but I think I'm going to as the raw edges are raveling just the tiniest bit.

For the black top, made of a cotton/lycra slub knit from Fabric Mart, I did the same size 10 shoulder increased to 16.  I lowered the neckline a further 1", and cut the size 16 cowl with an extra 1/4" added to the seam on each side in order to fit the neckline.  I also sewed up the sides with 3/8" seam since my black knit wasn't as stretchy as the French terry.

I lengthened the body by 1" but cut the band according to the pattern piece.  I find a black cowl-neck top to be a wardrobe staple in general, but this top was made specifically as a partner for a winter wardrobe orphan, the brown leopard McCalls 3341 I made earlier this year.  I wear the heck out of this skirt with a black tee in the summer, but it had no cool-weather partner.

I sewed my third top to use up this rayon/lycra gray striped jersey.  I didn't have enough of the fabric for the cowl, so I just made the scoop neck version.  For this top, I kept the size 10 shoulder graded to a 16.  But since I always have excess fabric in my armpit when I sew this top, this time I narrowed the shoulder from the sleeve by 1/2", and shaved 1/2" off the side seam at the bottom of the arm scye, tapering to nothing about three inches into the arm scye curve.

I also ended up narrowing the sleeves on all three tops.  I had to use the size 16 sleeves to fit my altered arm scye, but I tapered them in from about 1/2" at the wrist, ending at nothing midway through my bicep.

I have transitioned to the mom washing cycle (at least, this was my own mother's cycle) - wear the same top two days in a row before washing - so these tops last me nearly an entire week.  I do have some lovely bright red-orange wool jersey earmarked for another one.  After mulling over these photos I feel the pop of color would be a welcome wardrobe addition so I should get on that soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Alberta Street Traveler

I sewed this top early this fall, took some photos and wrote a blog post draft.  Then I wore it twice, decided I hated it, balled it up and threw it into my closet.  Today I came upon it again while searching for something to wear with my new Alberta Street Skirt.  The sun was out, so I took a few new photos.  I wore it all day and got several compliments.  My outlook on the blouse completely changed, I figured it was time I slap it up on the blog.

This is a modified Lisette Traveler.  I made three of them in 2014 but none of those fit me anymore.  So I had to refit the pattern from scratch.

What you see here is the result of many hours of work.  I made a number of flat pattern adjustments as I was redrafting the pattern.  I shortened the pattern, leaving a longer shirt-tail on the back, which I really like.  I cut a size 14 shoulder with a large FBA.  I can't remember how much but my darts are huge.  (If I make this again I should probably split them and rotate one someplace else.)  I also moved the dart so that it pointed upwards - I hate horizontal darts.  Then I graded out to a 20 at the hip.  I drafted in the size 22 armscye as I was planning to use the 22 sleeve - as it turns out, I had to take in the sleeve seams 1/2" each so I think I can go down to a 20.  I also did a forward shoulder adjustment - or so I thought - and adjusted the sleeve to match using this tutorial.  And this was all before I even cut into my muslin.

I sewed up the muslin and one sleeve, and noted that I needed a bit more room in the hips.  I also decided that I would like to alter the neckline a bit.  I really have no idea what I did, and will not be able to replicate it, as I didn't make any notes, so I'll just show you a close-up.  It's kind of a v-neck mandarin collar, if there exists such a thing.

Then, rather than making a second quick-and-dirty muslin, I decided to do a "wearable" muslin using that thrifted Kaffe Fasset quilting cotton I previously used for my Tulip dress.  In my first draft of this post, I wrote, "this cotton really is much lighter and drapier than other quilting cottons I've used; and has more of a poplin shirting-esque hand."  After several wears, I need to come clean and tell you that that is simply not true.  It's a nice quilting cotton, but it's still a quilting cotton, lacking the subtle drape that is necessary, in my opinion, to achieve a well-fitting button-down shirt.

I cut out the shirt, taking care not to position any blooms at my bust points, but other than that not paying much attention to pattern placement.  When I went to set in the sleeves I had major problems with too much ease in the back of the sleeve.  I had adjusted the sleeve heads forward, but I think I forgot to adjust the actual shoulders of my pattern.  I redistributed the sleeve cap around the armscye, effectively undoing the sleeve adjustment, and they went in fine.  I also put in two fish-eye darts after I sewed the shirt together; just pinching out until I figured out how wide to make them.

Now that I'm wearing the shirt, I see that I really do need that forward-shoulder adjustment.  This is another reason that the shirt ended up in the corner of my closet - I hate having to shrug my clothes back throughout the day.  Though today I wore it tucked into a skirt, and I didn't have to shrug it back nearly as often.  Now that I have paired the two garments, I will probably wear the shirt - as part of this outfit - more regularly.

The skirt is Sew House Seven's Alberta Street Skirt.  I've had my eye on this pattern for quite some time, and then I won it in a giveaway.  This thrifted denim version is my first.  The fabric isn't showing up very accurately in the photos - it is a relatively uniform medium-blue denim.

As dictated by my measurements, I sewed a straight size 16. I initially sewed the side seams with 3/8" seam allowances because I was skeptical about the negative ease for a non-stretch fabric.  But the skirt was definitely too big.  So I resewed from the hem to the mid-hip with the prescribed 5/8" allowance.  I left the smaller allowances in the upper hip and waistband.  When I am standing, the waist seems a little loose.  But when I sit down, my fluff shifts and fills everything out.  If the waist were tighter, I think it would be uncomfortable to sit in.  Or maybe it would just ride up.  Either way, I hate that.

The pattern went together quickly and easily.  My only head-scratching moment was when I was instructed to backstitch the darts at their points; this runs counter to the hand-finishing instructions i have encountered on every other pattern involving darts that I've ever sewn.  I ended up backstitching as instructed because I thought maybe that would be a sturdier dart finish on my heavy denim.  There isn't any bubbling that I can see, so I guess it's ok.  Also, I love the double darts.

The pockets are what drew me to the pattern in the first place, only I thought they were interesting seam lines.  As pockets, they're not super-useful because the skirt is so fitted.  They're nice and big but anything you put in them is visible against your leg.  I didn't think to reinforce the diagonal openings of the pockets, but I think it is advisable so that they don't stretch out of shape with wear.

 It's a great pattern, and this denim version has brought my wardrobe back to life as it goes with just about everything!  I've already sewn a second one which I will wear for Christmas (Orthodox Christmas isn't until next week so we haven't celebrated yet!).  Look for a blog post on that one soon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A bit of sparkle in the gloom

I had originally planned to sew myself a dress to wear to my brother's wedding.   I even bought the Appleton dress pattern and some fabric to sew it up. As time drew near, however, I made the uncharacteristic decision to save myself stress and not try to do all the things, and went shopping instead.  

I got really lucky and found a beautifully fitting princess seamed lace fit-and-flare dress at, of all places, Dress Barn. I find the name of the store really off-putting, but I had received a coupon in the mail and there's one near my house, so off I went.  Dress sorted, the only thing remaining was to decide what to wear over it. I had a number of appropriate shawls, but one day I found myself with a couple free hours, so I sewed up my fifth Lisbon cardigan in a metallic knit from the stash.

I sewed the cropped variation with a few mods. For this one, I went down to a 10 shoulder and graded to a 12 bust. I sewed a thinner bottom band and left off the buttons. When it was done, I found that the sparkle wasn't reading as much as I thought it would be, so I spent a few evenings embroidering beads on it.

It was a very satisfying project.  I was so busy during the wedding that I didn't have time to do any proper blog modeling, but here are the two photos I could find.

I know I've already posted about how much fun the wedding was, but it's good for morale to keep reminding myself of it.  Because two days later, my husband had open-heart surgery for a problem that we thought wouldn't need addressing until his 50s. Then not two weeks later, we found ourselves back in the ER and were admitted for another surgery to fix complications arising from the first.  We spent a lot of time in the hospital in November, and the few weeks since at multiple doctors' appointments each week.  He is at home recovering now, but I have to say I wouldn't be sorry to never enter a hospital again.

That was the last thing I sewed for about six weeks.  I'm finally back at the machine again and have finished a few things for me that I'm looking forward to sharing.  We just need some sunshine so I can take photos. Our winter has been warm thus far (and I'm not complaining), but a little dreary too.  Is it spring yet?

Friday, December 16, 2016

And now for the girls

As promised, here's part 2 of the wedding sewing.  I sewed Oliver+S Fairy Tale Dresses for the three flower girls.  I was originally going to use a posh cotton/poly satin from Mood Fabrics, but in the end I decided to save some money and bought this stretch cotton sateen from Joann's instead.  I've used this fabric a few times before and I really like it.  It has such a satisfying heft, a lovely sheen, and an almost spongy hand.  It's a pleasure to sew and it works so nicely for a special occasion dress with a nice deep hand-stitched hem.

I bought the Fairy Tale pattern ages ago, and when I sat down to cut my pattern pieces, I was dismayed to see that I only had the smaller size range.  In the end, the size 4 ended up working just fine.  I actually ended up taking Natasha's dress in significantly, nearly to the width of a 2 (I was overzealous and it ended up a smidge tight on her), but the 4 worked fine for the other two, who are both size 6 in RTW.  I added something like six inches of length to the skirt but I kept the bodice length as is.  I like a slightly higher waist in little girls' dresses.

The dresses are fully lined in white cotton voile per the pattern instructions.

The only adjustment I made to the pattern was to the sash.  The bride wanted it to wrap all the way around the waist. So I sewed up the dresses and made the sashes separately.  

 The fabric is a synthetic satin from Mood, which was the only place I could find the right shade to match the bridesmaids' dresses (Sangria from David's Bridal). The sashes are all the same width as the pattern's ties, though for some reason it looks like Natasha's folded over while she was wearing it, making it seem thinner. I rushed the sashes at the side seams of the dress.  Our sewing fairy godmother made the thread sash carriers for me and posted them to save me some time.  

As the dresses were sleeveless, the girls needed something to wear over them while outside.  I intended to just buy RTW cardigans but couldn't find anything I liked.  Then I remembered that I had a large cut of white cotton/lycra knit in my stash, and I ended up sewing three shrugs from stash fabric using this pattern that I've made before.  The pattern only goes up to a size 4, but I figured it would be ok.  I did lengthen two of the shrugs about an inch after I'd sewed the first one.   They worked perfectly (in the below photo, my niece on the right is wearing the unlengthened shrug, and N on the left, with the weirdly thinner-looking sash, is in the lengthened version).

We all had a fantastic time at the wedding.  My brother is the baby of the family and his wife came into his life literally a few weeks before our mother passed away.  There were definitely tears thinking about her absence, but it was also a wonderful family time for all of us.

The kids, predictably, were the hits of the dance floor.

After awhile the shoes came off.

Then the tights followed suit.  "Too sweaty," apparently, when you're bustin' a move.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Just do it

It has been so long since I've posted here, that I was afraid if I didn't put something up soon, I'd never post again.  This fall and winter have been a little nuts.  My brother got married at the beginning of November, and I spent the last two weeks before the wedding finishing up all the junior wedding party clothing, as well as making the cake.  I've done tiered cakes before, but this was my first four-tier, and my first wedding cake.  This sucker served 150 people.

It was an almond cake with raspberry filling and almond buttercream frosting, covered in fondant.  The ribbon was satin to match the bridesmaids' dresses, and the pearls (more than 300!) were hand rolled by me.  This was such a huge job, but I was so proud of the finished product, and more importantly, the bride and groom really loved the cake.  

But that's not why you're here ... so on with the sewing.  Today I'm going to post the boys' outfits, and hopefully I'll get the details up about the girls' later this week.

I sewed three pairs of pinstriped gray brushed twill Oliver+S Art Museum trousers, three satin bow ties and three pairs of black suspenders.  I can nearly sew these pants in my sleep now, I've made so many of them.  I bought the fabric from Cali Fabrics - it's a lovely sturdy fabric with a soft brushed texture; really perfect for little boys' winter pants.  I WAY overbought, and have enough left to make myself a skirt and then some.  The bow tie tutorial, which I've used before, came from Make It Love It, and I used this suspender tutorial.  Though for the money I spent on the necessary hardware, I could have purchased ready-made suspenders from Amazon and saved myself a couple of hours.  For black suspenders, it was not worth the effort.

For the trouser welt pockets, I used the method from the Alina & Co. Chi Town Chino Expansion Pack, which fully encloses the pockets.  Alina's method uses French seams, but I decided mid-way through making these, that a serged seam would work just fine. I also put little surprises in the pockets for the boys:

I was so busy during the wedding that I was not able to take any photos, and there weren't any good ones of just the three boys.  G was the only one of the boys who made it to the reception, and he was a dancing fool.

He even kicked off his shoes midway through the evening.

Though by the end he was just plastered onto me and refused to let me out of arms' reach.

See you back here soon with photos and details of the girls' dresses!