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

Monday, January 30, 2017

The enemy of good

I had forgotten how much I love wrap dresses.  I still own two RTW ones from my working lady days, tucked away as they are in the maybe-I'll-fit-into-it-again-someday box.  They never failed to make me feel stylish and put together when I wore them.  Wrap dresses don't fit into my daily wardrobe anymore, but that didn't stop me from sewing up another Appleton dress the day after I finished my first one.

In hindsight, I think the last one, in a straight size 14 E/F, really came out well.  But hypercritical me just could not leave it alone.  I found the bodice a little low-cut and there were some small wrinkles above my bust.  I also felt the sleeves were too tight and that the bodice was a bit tight across my upper back waist.

So up I went another a cup size, from 14 E/F to 14 G/H. I also added the teeniest sliver to the upper waist on the back pattern piece, and used the size 16 sleeves.  I am not sure which modification is the primary culprit, but I ended up with the same low cut, plus mo' wrinkles, mo' problems.

14 G/H in red, 14 E/F in blue.

Looking at these photos, I think it's got to be the sleeve that's the issue.  I didn't modify the size 14 armhole, but just stretched it to fit the 16 sleeve.  Maybe that's the problem?  I don't really know, so please comment if you have ideas!  The sleeve is also strangely twisty - when I put the dress on I have to shrug my shoulders with my arms straight out in front of me, and turn my wrists inward to get the sleeve to untwist.  I have no idea why.  I did not sew the sleeves on backwards (I checked and rechecked), and I'm at a loss.

On the plus side, my modification of cutting both front pieces the same width (instead of trimming the under layer), gave me more security in the skirt.  I also added 4.5" to the waist tie pattern piece on the fold, which gave me the longer sash that I prefer for bow-tying.  And my 1" lengthening of the skirt allowed me to sew a hem this time.  I didn't lengthen (or hem) the sleeves, though.

This dress does fit better (i.e. not as tightly) across the back.

The fabric is a lovely rayon/lycra jersey recently bought from Fabric Mart.  It was lovely to work with - very stable and substantial.  I think it actually might have some cotton in it too.

The dress is very comfortable to wear.  The neckline really does stay put (with aid of safety-pin to keep the front respectable), even though I don't quite have the bodice fitted properly.  My eyes do go right to the offending folds whenever I look in the mirror (or at one of these photos), but I try to remember that, before sewing, I wouldn't even have noticed the wrinkles when trying on dresses, and I certainly would have bought this one.


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.