Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Elisalex Dress

Well done, Elisalex. You took me by surprise.
This Elisalex Dress from By Hand London patterns is one of my most favorite things I have ever made. It wasn't love at first sight, though, but a gradual affection that grew while I was stitching. For starters, I've never worn a tulip skirt in my life. I tend to gravitate towards the extremes in silhouettes, very full or very fitted, and a tulip skirt stands somewhere in the middle. I was determined to try something new, though, so I forged on. 

I've also never sewn a garment with upholstery fabric before, but it was on the recommended list for this pattern to support the structure of the skirt. I worried over the thickness of the fabric, at first adding in way too much ease thinking I would need it with all its heft. I also thought I'd be sweltering in the summer heat. Not so on either count. This fabric is 87% cotton and 13% rayon and it breathes surprisingly well. It's just what these pleats needed, and it ironed beautifully. 
I used my sloper to fit the bodice, and something quite odd happened that has never happened to me before. I ended up being a UK 14 in the front, and  US 14 in the back! Apparently my front half is British. I guess the By Hand London ladies have very small backs. Just to keep things balanced, I tapered the skirt in the back to a UK 14 (a US 10) after the waist. 

Like most others have noted, I also took a considerable amount of length off the skirt, just shy of 7". I debated for quite some time if I wanted to slash it in the middle and adjust the length from there, or take it off from the bottom. I went with the latter because I didn't want an abrupt shift in the volume. I thought it would be more flattering to see it gently tapering down, with a slightly less snug fit at my knees, then go from full volume to full pencil. It worked marvelously.

Also, a note on those boxed pleats... I had the darndest time getting them to stay closed at the top, which I believe is the aim. That way when they line up with the princess seam and it looks like a continuous line that eventually breaks into a pleat past the waistline. I had basted each pleat as the instructions suggest, and then I added a basted zig zag stitch to close them at the top. That did the trick.
The bodice is lined with a lightweight khaki cotton, and I used a hand fell stitch to attach is to the fashion fabric. I stitched a bit too close to that invisible zipper, though, so I ended up having to go back and adjust it after I took these photos. It was catching when I zipped it up and you can see wee bit of puckering at the top from the teeth trying to take the lining with it. 
All in all, this was my kind of surprise. My Elisalex dress hasn't stayed on that dressform for long. I'm packing it up now for what promises to be a most agreeable trip. I'm headed to Arizona for a bit of work, followed by a weekend celebrating the upcoming nuptials of one of my dearest and oldest friends. The Elisalex will be perfect for a night on the town! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Red & White Striped Moneta

Greetings from Austin! Well, it's always "Greetings from Austin" from me, but since I've shown you this pattern once before, I thought I would also show you this spectacular postcard mural.I have loved wearing my Colette Moneta so much, that I decided to sew a second version before the summer was up. This delightful red and white stripe fabric is a bamboo jersey knit. It's so wonderfully soft!
I made two fit changes from my first version of this pattern. I shortened the bodice by 1/2", and then I took 3/4" out of the neckline where I had a bit of gaping. My seamline is right at my natural waist now, which also means my belt doesn't look like it's riding up. Much better! 
I've read quite a few folks have had problems with the gathering method on this skirt. The instructions call for you to baste elastic to the skirt, which will gather it when you are finished. I didn't have any problems the first time around, or so I thought, so I proceeded per the instructions.

With stripes, though, you can really tell when things go wonky and it definitely did. I ended up ripping it all out and sewing it again because I wasn't able to get even gathers. It made the stripes look like they were hopping all around the top of my skirt. If I were ever to make another version, I think I'd do the regular old gathers with basting stitches.
Now, I'm still trying to sort out the coverstitch on my serger, and I continued to struggle with top-stitching over the seams on this dress. The stitch just isn't even when I go over those bumps. I tried decreasing the foot pressure, and although it helped, it didn't solve the problem. I'm thinking of trying a hump jumper. There was a thread on Pattern Review that indicated it should fix the problem. 
Have you ever tried a hump jumper, sometimes called jean-a-ma-jig, or the DIY version, a stack of post-its? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Gingham Summer Dress

I like a good detail on a dress. It's one of the things I enjoy most about vintage garments, and I relish the chance to add them in as a home sewer. This is an Emery Dress with a button detail at the shoulder. Hardly a show-stopping detail, but I quite enjoy that it makes the dress a little more special and my own.
I ordered this fabric from Hart's soon after sewing the playsuit for my nephew. This is very similar, with a slightly larger check. It's imported from Japan (so fancy) and has a bit of texture to it and a little stiffness that make it really great for a fuller skirt. 
I lined the bodice in a lightweight cotton, and for the first time, I used a fell stitch rather than a slip stitch when attaching the lining. It was a revelation! I like hand sewing, and quite enjoy doing it on hems, but the slip stitch I've always dreaded. This is such a nice alternative, and it's still hardly visible. Here's some more shots where you can see some of the details, including the buttons at the shoulder undone. There's a lapped zip in the back, too. 

How to Modify the Shoulders for Buttons

There are two quick changes you'll need to make to the pattern before sewing if you want to replicate this detail: removing the back shoulder dart and adding the extra length for the buttons. If I had it do over, I would have swapped where I put the buttons and buttonholes, too, and put the buttons on back. 

Removing the Back Dart

First, we'll need to get rid of the back dart so it doesn't get in the way of our buttons. We'll be redistributing the dart so the one at the waist picks up the extra. Start by drawing a line connecting each of the dart tips. 

Then cut out both the darts, and leave just a smidge of paper for a pivot point above the waist dart tip. 
Close up the top dart, and fill in paper for the bottom dart. I used a green colored pencil to draw in my new dart legs. You'll just need to true-up the lines at the shoulder and waist dart now. If you haven't done it on a dart before, just tape the dart together like you're going to sew it (so the legs are pressed towards the centered), cut the line at the waist, and presto! The dart legs will jut out a bit just like they should. 
The shoulder dart at the back is very nice if you have a broad back, as I do, so keep in mind that this change might require you to do an additional broad back adjustment. I did a 1/4" one after I removed the dart. 

I'll also add you could follow a similar process to move the bust dart on the front to the waist, which would have allowed me to pattern match at the side. I like the fit with a bust dart, so I kept it, but it will botch up your pattern matching. 

Adding the Length for Buttons

This step is extra easy. You just need to add enough space for the width of your buttonhole. According to my trusty Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing, this will be the width of your button plus the height of your button. Mine was 1/2" wide, and 1/4" tall, so I needed 3/4" (or 6/8"). This will put the closure smack dab at your shoulder line. 
There you have it! And I have a handsome new gingham summer dress! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cigarette Pants and a Monogramed Blouse

Before you are two of the projects I mentioned in my last post that drove me to detox sewing, collar calamities and pucker pants. They're done! Although now I will call them "monogramed blouse" and "coral cigarette pants," which are much nicer names. This is the face of a happy seamstress.
Let's start with the blouse. It's Simplicity 2195, a 1950s pattern, and boy oh boy did it give me trouble. I've actually sewn this twice before (one and two), and both times it was extremely uncooperative. I think there is something amiss with the neckline on this pattern (Maybe it's just my version? You never know with vintage patterns what wild life they led before you.) and the collar just will not go. I tried six times (SIX TIMES!) on this one before I gave up and drafted a new one. I think this fabric didn't help me either because it has an odd bit of stretch to it and did not like being eased. 
By the time I got done with the collar, the right sleeve drooped off the shoulder. Bah! Well, I went with it, and decided it was better to forge forward and finish then let it sit in a drawer wasting away forever. I monogramed my initials by hand to restore my affection for this blouse, and it worked! I quite like it now despite its flaws and our torrid history.
Now, the pants are my self-drafted cigarette pants I call Bedford. When I ordered this fabric, it was supposed to be red, so I was surprised to discover it was so pink, which isn't a color I wear very often. It mysteriously puckered when sewing, even when I couldn't see anything in the seam, and in general just wasn't great quality.

I decided to give it a go anyway, though, because it was a chance to test the fit of the pants in a fabric with spandex. They turned out fairly well, although I'm wondering if I need to take in the crotch a bit still, as I noticed a wee bit of excess fabric in the front on these photos. It might also be slim, my skinnier right leg, which tends to give me problems in pants.
In general, I'm not sure how I feel about these pants on me, but I think it's the color as I love my first version in black. I'm also thinking of a few construction changes for my next version in navy. Like adding an underlining, and maybe tapering the leg a little more for a slimmer fit closer to the ankle. What do you think? 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dirndl Detox Sewing

I'm gonna shoot straight with y'all - I've had some sewing mishaps lately. I've had botched button hole placement, collar calamities, and pants fabric that displays mystifying puckers. I've been traveling quite a bit for work lately, and I never knew I could be jet lagged in my own country. It's caused some hazy sewing and more than one mistake! You'll see them all in due time, but this dirndl skirt is a bit of detox sewing, a simple project to refresh me.
Dirndls are such a great canvas for showing off entertaining prints, and this one is delightful. It's a cotton from Hart's Fabric called "Toy Box" and features little boys and girls zipping about on scooters and Radio Flyers. It's got some great colors, too - teal and lime and a rose-colored red. 
Toy Box Playing Cotton in Aqua
The construction is pretty straightforward on dirndls (just a gathered rectangle into a waistband), which is what appealed to me in the first place. I do like that projects like this give me a chance to perfect some basic techniques that are needed on every project. I did an invisible zip, a hand-stitched blind hem, and slip-stitched the waistband on the inside by hand. I also used ban roll in the waistband, which has become my go-to as it keeps your waistband looking nice and crisp all day. 
This was just what I needed! An easy, novelty print skirt to perk me up and give me the energy I needed to finish those tricky projects!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Black Apple Embroidery

This little lady is part of the Black Apple embroidery set from Sublime Stitching. I have stitched embroidery patterns from Sublime before (the Ryan Berkley set of dapper animals), and I just love the aesthetic of these patterns. Even when they're from different artists, they share the same sense of whimsy and charm. 
Embroidery is one of my favorite things to do while traveling because it's relaxing and easily portable. This darling girl got her start on a work trip to San Jose. I've got a new job and have been traveling a bit more for work, although I've managed to make those trips into sewing ones, too! While in Santa Cruz, I drove out to Hart's Fabric, and this week I'm in Boston, having a ball spending evenings with Jenny of Cashmerette! And all that time at airports means a bit of extra time for handwork.
I found a slightly different frame for this embroidery, owing in part to where I wanted to put her. I have little pockets of books that I have arranged about the house. I like to make them into tiny vignettes, although the reality is it's just overflow from bookshelves, so they must go on the floor! So I got a stand for this little one and propped her up next to a set of books that sits on a stool a family friend made me when I was just a little one.
The other print propped up on the books is from Flapper Doodle. There's an Emily Winfield Martin book in there (the artist of Black Apple), which is quite fitting next to the embroidery art she designed!
She fits right in, don't you think?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Feedsack Floral Cambie

At last! I have made the beloved Cambie dress from Sewaholic! This is a smashing dress, and it was a joy to sew. All of the little details in it reminded me why I love sewing so very much. I used a 1930s reproduction feedsack cotton from Hart's Fabric I had in my stash, and it compliments the girliness of this dress so well.
I love the look of this dress, but I had steered away from this pattern before now because I'm not Sewaholic's target shape, and I was concerned with the amount of fitting I would have to do to get it to work for me. Tasia targets a pear-shaped woman, and I am more of an hourglass. Just looking at the pattern envelope, based on measurements I am a 16 in the bust, 12 in the waist and 8 at the hip! 

Since I started fitting with my sloper, though, the task of fitting this pattern seemed a lot less daunting. All I had to do was put my sloper up against the pattern, trace lines to match things up, and then sew a test muslin just to make sure things weren't wonky. I was very happy with how the fit of the sweetheart neckline turned out, too. I did make one slight tweak to the pattern instructions and understitched the sweetheart. I wanted to make sure there was no lining peeking out. 
I did have one problem that I didn't catch in the muslin stage at the sleeves. I've got a bit of gaping at the back of the bodice at the armscye. I took to Instagram to get some help from my sewcialist friends, and came up with 2 main problem spots: 
  1. I was treating the sleeve more like a strap in my mind, and for some reason I thought the shoulder seam should be set back a ways off my shoulder. I actually adjusted it to be this way, and come to find out, that's not right! 
  2. Some folks noted that the curve of the shoulder is very important with the Cambie, and if the curve doesn't match your shoulder just right, it will cause weird distortion like what you see here. So I have a bit of tweaking to do with the curve. 
I fit by myself most of the time, and this time it really would have helped to have another person when I was doing the muslin. I took an inch out of the shoulder seam after doing the muslin, both on the back bodice and sleeve, consistently all the way across. If someone would have been helping me, or my dress form matched me more closely, I could have pinned that adjustment to be much more exact, and seen what it felt like to move about in it.
Oh well! A reason to sew a second! The challenge will be adjusting this for my next version while still allowing good mobility. When my arm is raised, it looks quite nice. 
One of my favorite details about this dress is it's fully lined. It looks absolutely beautiful on the inside! There's pockets in there, too, though I forgot to show them to you when I snapped these photos. There's something so delightful about pockets in a dress! 
I made 2 tweaks on the lining from the instructions. First, I shortened my lining skirt by 1/4" so it would be nice and hidden at the bottom of the dress. Second, I handstitched the lining to the zipper. I did a lapped zip, and I haven't sorted out a way to finish a lining by machine at the edge of a lapped zip. Do you know a way?