A sewing blog about building a functional, cohesive handmade wardrobe, one garment at a time.

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 (affiliate link) 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!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Psychedelic Tulip Dress

So I think I've mentioned how insane this fall is for me.  Among other things, I've a lot of deadline sewing to do, and my little brother's wedding is drawing nearer by the day, as these things tend to do.  So it's been particularly agonizing when testing opportunities arise for beautiful patterns.  I've resisted a few.  But when I was asked to sew up and review the Tulip Dress and Top Pattern, which has just been translated into English, I folded.  I mean ... look at this bodice.

There was just no withstanding this temptation.  I rationalized it by deciding to sew the pattern for my niece's second birthday this winter.  Then at least I'd be knocking something off my sewing list.

I received this pattern for free, but I love it and will be sewing it again this spring.  I really love the top version on an older girl and I'd like to make two of them for my own daughters.

It is not a difficult pattern to sew, and the instructions are quite good, but I had a really hard time sewing it up.  Part of the problem was that I had to recut almost every single bodice piece for one reason or another.  Some of it was unfortunate pattern placement, but mostly I kept finding deep rotary cutter knicks in my pattern pieces.  The other part of the problem was with my willy-nilly reading of the pattern instructions.  Although I know I should, I almost never read a pattern all the way through before starting it.  And lately I've been skimming instructions more than actually reading them.  The Tulip dress is not difficult to sew, but the bodice has a lot of pieces and this is not a pattern whose instructions you can skim.

I am not sure how long it took me to make the dress, as I was sewing in little 30-minute spurts here and there over a period of about a week.  It felt like a long time, but I think that is always the case when you are having to redo things.


This was my first time installing an invisible zip in a lined garment, and although my zip isn't entirely invisible, the print is crazy enough that you can't really tell.  I was working with my regular zipper foot as I don't have an invisible zipper foot.  I didn't get my waist seam lined up on the first go, though, and had to rip out half the zip to fix that.

The fabric is a Kaffe Fassett quilting cotton I had found at the thrift store - 4.5 yards for $4.  I'll be sharing another garment made with the rest of this fabric next week.  Though I don't generally sew clothes with quilting cottons anymore, I couldn't resist these colors.  They manage to be simultaneously muted and outrageous.  If I stare at it too long, the blooms seem to float out of the background - it's kind of trippy.  The weather has been unrelentingly rainy since I finished this project, and my photos are a bit lackluster, so you'll have to take my word for it.  The hand of this fabric is also very shirting-like, so I think it worked out ok.


This project also marked only the third time I had ever used piping, and the very first time I made piping myself.  I thought making it myself would be fiddly and frustrating, but I had my heart set on an emerald green that I could not find in the store.  I had the perfect shade in my stash so I decided to try it.  Walmart, which is the nearest purveyor of sewing notions to my home, did not have cording.  Rather than drive out to Joann's, I Googled "make your own cording for piping," and found a suggestion to zigzag a few pieces of yarn together.  I had some worsted-weight cotton yarn lying around, so I zigzagged two pieces together.  It took very little time and worked perfectly.  I'm quite proud of the end result.

The finish of the dress is lovely.  Everything is enclosed - even the zipper has a little square of fabric folded over the bottom.  The instructions call for stitching in the ditch to secure the back bodice lining to the back bodice, but that just never works out well for me.  I was planning to blind-stitch the hem by hand anyway, so I did the same for the back bodice.  It didn't take long and I find a bit of evening hand stitching to be very relaxing.

My only pattern quibble is with the way that the front bodice facing sits.  Because of the way the front bodice is constructed, the facing actually hangs down several inches lower than the seam where the gathered front skirt meets the inner bodice (under the tulip petals).  This means you can't really topstitch or blind-stitch the facing down - doing so would stitch over the gathers.  The facing is finished and then folded over, so there are no raw edges, and it is attached to the dress at the side seams, but I don't love how it hangs free in the middle.  I am generally a topstitch-all-the-facings kind of girl because I am a lazy ironer and I find a stitched-down facing means less ironing.  The neckline is understitched, though, and the facing is stitched to the bottom tulip petal at the neckline, so it should stay in place better than many other facings I have sewn.

There are a lot of layers of fabric in the bodice (two layers per petal plus a bodice facing and inner bodice for a total of six layers at the front neckline and four at each armhole.  The pattern instructions caution you to choose a very lightweight fabric for that portion of the dress so that it does not end up too small.  I did use self-fabric for the under-layers of my tulip petals, but I used cotton voile for the facing and the inner bodice.  I sewed scant seam allowances at the neckline and side seams to allow for extra room just in case.

I'm really pleased with the way the dress turned out and I hope my sister-in-law likes it!  My niece's birthday is in December but she lives in the desert where it doesn't get too cold.  I am planning to make a shrug to go with the dress, so after this wedding madness I will be looking for some emerald green jersey.

The pattern designers have organized a blog tour; you can visit the other participants at the link below.  You can also get 10 percent off the English-language Tulip now through October 8 with the code HAPPYTULIP in the KaatjeNaaisels shop.


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 (affiliate link).  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.