Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cotton + Steel Border Print Shirtwaist

This dress combines my favorite shirtwaist pattern with the rarest of fabric finds - a border print. It's Melody Miller's Mustang Rose Border Cotton in Aqua, part of the Cotton + Steel collection, combined with the shirtwaist pattern from Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing.
A border print, if you aren't familiar with it, has a decorative border that goes along the selvedges. Sometimes just one, or sometimes on both sides. It usually has a more subdued print in the middle. I've seen it a lot in 1950s garments, and it tends to pair well with the novelty print addiction of that time. The wonderful thing about a border print is that you have so many options to play with to position it. I spent a good while before I cut it out playing with possibilities, and it was supremely fun. The teal border down the front is my favorite positioning. 
Now, I said this was my favorite shirtwaist pattern, and that's true, but it's not my favorite to sew. I love wearing it because it's beautiful and practical. The shirring at the back is extremely comfortable, and the pockets are superb, as pockets always are. I have two others (bumblebee and Hawaiian floral), and I take one with me on every trip. 
The sewing is a different story, though. The first time I ever made this pattern was at a sewing retreat in California. It was my first ever to attend, and to this day is still one of the best vacations I have ever had. I think I was caught up in some sort of retreat magical haze, because every time I've made this pattern since then, it's been a real bear. 

For starters, I had a few sleeve fit problems I never noticed. The first time I made this dress was the first time I remember feeling I'd be proud for someone to examine my construction, which created a  whole other sort of magical haze. Last time I made this, I thought it was the rayon giving me grief, because oh boy did it. It's certainly worse in the rayon, but you can see it in the cotton, still. Here's mid-way through, when I realized I needed to take in a bit on the shoulders and cut the edge of the sleeve so they sat more evenly across my arm. 
I'm also not a huge fan of the method of collar insertion for this pattern. You cut an extra yoke, baste in the collar, and then sew in the facing with the collar in one go. It is extremely difficult to do without puckers, and creates a lot of extra bulk. Once you've got that trimmed down and understitched, you hand sew down the yoke on the inside. I've found that there's too much wear at the arm seam for that handstitching to stay overtime, so it requires mending. 

The instructions also recommend that you keep the elastic thread from your shirring in your bobbin to do the gathers at the yoke. I don't care for the look of those gathers as much as when I use a simple basting stitch, although it's a neat trick. If I make this pattern again, I'll definitely be making a few construction tweaks. 
The shirring is extremely easy, though, so no worry on tackling it. You just draw one line as your starting point, and keep moving up from there. It only requires hand-winding your bobbin with elastic thread, and then you just sew a straight line! Very simple, and oh so comfy! 

Despite the hiccups in construction, I am completely obsessed with this dress. I finished it Friday evening, and wore it for the next four days every time I left the house. It's will be well loved!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Bombshell Dress

The triumphant traveler returns! I am home from Costa Rica, refreshed and eager to share my Bombshell Dress with you. I was practically sewing up until the flight, handstitching the hem a few hours before we left. It certainly adds to the excitement of the trip, working on a special project up until the last minute. For this one, I feel like a 1950s Alfred Shaheen model!
Isn't the setting just beautiful? And if you will allow me to compliment myself for a moment, isn't the dress just beautiful?! I am so pleased with how this one turned out. In between this dress and my Brocade Wiggle Dress, I am ready for some fancy dates. Perhaps I should add this photo to my online dating profile. Kapow!
Or maybe this one? The caption can read "lounging on a tree in Costa Rica, in my handmade masterpiece." The men will love it.
I just couldn't help getting caught up in the moment of the scenery and the dress! It was the perfect combination.

Back to the sewing, though. We talked a lot about construction details in my last post, but there were just a few things I hadn't yet gotten to. Namely, the waist stay and the zipper guard. 

The waist stay is a ribbon at your waist, just a little smaller than the dress itself, connecting at the back with a hook and eye. It helps to keep the dress in place, so it stays up, despite being strapless. It's also extremely useful to get into, because you can hook the waist stay before zipping it up. 

The zipper guard is another ribbon, placed between the lining and the zipper teeth to keep your zipper from catching when you zip it up. It's an ingenious little detail, and creates a really lovely inside finish. 
I find now I am quite keen on "destination sewing" (is that a thing?). The fabric for this project came from a family vacation from Hawaii a few years back, and now with my first outing in the finished garment in Costa Rica, I have such magical memories that I will think of every time I put it on. 

As they say in Costa Rica, "Pura Vida"! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Bombshell Dress: Construction Details

I'm headed to Costa Rica for a tropical vacation with my family! Always looking for an excuse to sew something fancy, this seemed like the perfect time to finally tackle the Bombshell Dress. I have been sewing the dress through the Craftsy class (now retired), but the pattern is a BurdaStyle and still available. I actually took the muslin for the Bombshell with me to Gertie's Sewing retreat last year.
I had originally planned to sew a bustier out of an eyeglasses print, but my plans were thwarted when I discovered the print was off grain. There are so many seam lines on the bodice of this pattern, I just couldn't bring myself to use it! I let the project sit on the shelf for awhile, and am now sewing it using a lovely cotton fabric I got in Hawaii a few years ago (aren't I exotic?). Here's the shell of the Bombshell on my dressform, Dolly, before any of the guts or zipper were put in. 

All Those Little Details

It's been a real joy and challenge working on it so far, and I'm eager to see the finished result. There are so many interesting construction details for this pattern when making it through the Craftsy class. For starters, each bodice piece is underlined, and handbasted to the fashion fabric. This is great, because it allows you to mark up your pattern pieces with no fear of ruining your fashion fabric, and you've got something to anchor hand stitches to. 
All that marking up is very necessary on this pattern. It's hard to tell up from down! I accidentally marked the arrows wrong on my bottom bust pieces, and ended up spending a whole day just trying to figure out why I couldn't get my bust cups to fit! Here we are, half way through with one cup properly installed. 
Once I assembled the bodice with the fashion fabric, I sewed a set of cups out of cotton batting to act as a layer of support. Those are then handstitched into the cup. I also added a 1/4" piece of twill tape at the top of the cup, which when eased, gets it to curve more to your body. 
Next, I handstitched a piece of selvedge into the sweatheart neckline for stability, and then catchstitched down the facing of the bodice. I'll be doing the same to the lining when it's all done, and then hand stitching it into the dress. 
To provide extra support, I'm also using boning in the lining. The class walks you through the placement of all the channels, which you can see in progress here. 
That boning was serious business. I first tried using a pair of regular wire cutters, and those literally broke in half after a few attempts. I ended up using bolt cutters, and that worked like a charm to cut the boning to the right length. Then I took a pair of pliers and squeezed on these little caps to keep it from poking you, before inserting the boning into channels I'd stitched into place. It looks absolutely lovely. I almost wish it was showing on the outside! 
The skirt is fairly straightforward. The sarong part is gathered up before you attach it to the bodice. I finished the seams by turning under and stitching, which was the recommended method in the class. I don't think I've ever made a dress with so many finishing touches!
Whew! This is some dress, huh? Looking at it laid out like this, I can hardly believe all I've done! I can't wait romp about the beaches of Costa Rica in it! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Look 6587 in Kelly Rosebud

Top of the mornin' to ya! This green shirtwaist dress was the perfect sew for St. Patty's Day. I hope you all enjoyed drinking green beer and general merriment yesterday.  The pattern is New Look 6587 view E, and the fabric Juliana Horner's Rosebud Kelly.

 I've actually sewn this pattern twice before (view A and view D), and I wanted to take another crack at it because I felt I never got the fit quite right. My first version was too big, and the second a little too snug at the bust. I wear those dresses all the time, and it seemed worth it to invest in getting the fit right on a new version.

I went back to my sloper, although in a roundabout way. I had a princess-seam bodice I liked the fit of from my Elisalex dress, and on my last version of the Emery dress, I had finally perfected the back bodice piece. Both of those I had made using my sloper as a starting point. So I used those pattern pieces, adjusting the neckline to match New Look 6587, and adding width to the bodice to make it a buttondown.

Normally I would have done a muslin first, with all that cobbling together of different patterns and adjustments on top of that to match the style lines, but I was out of muslin, and feeling like it had been awhile since I lived life on the edge. So I plunged forward, and went straight from pattern adjustments to the finished garment. It worked like a dream! I should fly by the seat of my pants more often.
The only thing that could make this dress more perfect is if it had pockets. Alas, I am determined to sew from my stash more this year, and I just couldn't squeeze out pockets from the yardage I had. In the end, I even had to seam together 2 pieces for my skirt facing to get it all to work. It was so worth it though. This dress is just lovely, inside and out! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Plaid Advance 6426

It's spring! Well, it's March at any rate, which is close enough for me. Time to start the short-sleeve sewing. This spring, I'm kicking it off with Advance 6426, a 1950s pattern and the perfect blouse by my estimation. Paired with this plaid shirting, I feel like I could be an extra in the original Parent Trap.
There's no way I would make the perfect blouse just once, so of course, this is my second time to sew up this little number. What appeals to me so much about the 1950s style of blouse is the tucks at the waist that give it shape. It makes it easier to tuck in, to be sure, but I also like that it still accentuates my waist a bit when untucked. 

I only made one fit tweak from the first version, and I narrowed the shoulders by 1/4". They're still sitting just off my shoulders, but the more I looked at the pattern, the more that I thought that was the intended style of the time. Once I finished, though, I was back to wondering if I should reshape the entire armscye the next time I sew it. Always tinkering! 
My dear friend Whitney took these photos, and it makes me positively giddy to see all these touches captured so beautifully. It's sewing eye candy. I thought I'd keep my ramblings to a minimum today so you can feast your eyes on these details! 
Happy spring(ish)!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wool Pencil Skirt

Today's project is a fairly straightforward pencil skirt, with the addition of a little tab detail at the back. It's made out of a lovely wool I picked up in Asheville, North Carolina last year. It's got really nice color variation that's difficult to see in these photos, but there's nice greens and beiges mixed in there. It's just perfect for wearing to work, which is where I snapped these photos!
The pattern for the pencil skirt is made from my sloper. It's got 8 darts total on it, and I find I really enjoy the shape and detail of those darts. In the back, I used a tutorial on Tuppence Ha'Penny to make the small tab above the kick pleat. I used fabric-covered buttons on the tab and up top at the closure to match. 
One of my favorite things about sewing is adding little details like this! This is actually the same skirt as the one I made to match my Coco Chanel jacket, but it feels so different with a skinnier waistband and this pleat detail. 
I used a polyester lining on the inside to finish it off, and sadly, it's a particularly horrendous kind of polyester. It felt a little stiff when I picked it up at Joann's (they always get me in with those blasted coupons!), but I thought it would soften up in the wash. No luck there. I forged forward, not wanting to waste perfectly good, if poor quality lining. In hindsight, it seems a shame to have such nice wool paired with such crummy lining. 

Readers, do you have good sources you go to for linings? Something nice in quality that won't break the bank, perhaps? Bemberg is a favorite of mine, but I have a hard time finding it at reasonable prices.