Sunday, December 10, 2017

Back to the 80s

This story begins with an unfortunate online fabric order. I know, I know, I could order swatches, but when I decide I want fabric I want it NOW! So I ordered 3 yards of Stonewash Blue Tencel Twill from At $18 per yard it was more than I normally spend, but I knew the tencel would be nice, and between the color description and the online swatch (on multiple monitors even) I expected it to be the color of a nicely broken-in denim shirt. Not so. Not a bad color but not at all what I expected. Not quite blue and not quite gray, it reminded me a little bit of Crayola's cadet blue, one of my favorite childhood crayon colors, and a little bit of the French blue commonly seen in 80s kitchen decor. I didn't hate it but I knew I couldn't wear it near my face.

Maybe it was the 80s kitchen vibe, or maybe the fabric actually whispered to me, but after we stared at each other for a few weeks I realized it wanted to be made into the skirt from out-of-print Vogue 1521, a Perry Ellis pattern I bought in 1986. Now I must admit I love the 80s. I became a teenager in 1980. I graduated from high school and college in the 80s. I got married in 1989. My best growing up and coming of age memories are from the 80s. So maybe it's not that strange that this year as I turned 50 I wanted to make a skirt that would take me back to those days. And I wanted it to work.

There were two obvious problems from the very beginning. First, I used a size 8 pattern in 1986 and I'm not a size 8 now. It's a one-size pattern. Second, I made the skirt in 1986 and it didn't work for me then. More on that in a minute.

The first problem wasn't too hard to overcome. I made the waistband longer and decreased the depth of each pleat. It should have been simple to figure out but the waistband opens into the pocket and it took a bit to figure out the relationship between pocket, pleat, waistband and sideseam. I ended up pinning and pleating the pattern pieces so I could visualize it, and in the end it explained problem #2 above.

In 1986 I made the skirt out of a stiff, heavy cotton. So. Much. Fabric. The pleats are deep, they overlap (unless you're making them shallower to fit a larger waistband), and the pleats on the sides overlap the side seams and pockets, leaving several layers of fabric right at the side. It's an interesting design feature. As in "who would have thought of that?" kind of interesting, not "it's such a great idea to bulk up women's hips" kind of interesting. I never actually wore it back then. I ended up cutting it apart and making a slim-fitting skirt from the abundant amount of fabric. But because I was using a fabric with more drape this time around I somehow thought it would work. No such luck. Again, yards of fabric pleated around my hips and hanging nearly to the floor did my body no favors.

And here it is, wrinkled, unhemmed, and modeled so elegantly with my pajama top. Because I felt so frumpy in it I didn't feel the need to try to make it look any better.

I could have cut the skirt apart at this point and had two very large rectangles of usable fabric, but it told me it wanted to be this skirt and who was I to argue? In the end the solution was obvious. I pressed the tops of the pleats as flat as possible and hacked 6" off the hem. I'm still not sure it's "me". I always feel a little funny wearing full skirts, but it's probably something I should embrace during our hot summers.

Lesson learned: The 80s had great music, movies and memories, but great fashion? Not so much.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pattern Testing the Laminaria Swimsuit

I'm a fan of Seamstress Erin's blog (here), and a long time ago I signed up with her to be a pattern tester. The call for testers for the Laminaria Swimsuit came at a time when I'd decided I needed to get out of my comfort zone, stretch myself, try new things, and maybe even do something scary. The timing wasn't convenient, I was busy, I had so many excuses... but I did it anyway.

I wouldn't have chosen to make a swimsuit on my own this summer. I've made swimwear before and it's not hard. In fact you can get really good results without a lot of effort, and the stretch factor makes fitting less of an issue. I really don't wear a swimsuit often though. We have a pool that is unused now that the kids are grown. We visit the beach about once a year but I don't usually get in the water.  I'm not much of a swimmer and I'm not comfortable wearing only a little piece of spandex in public so the two ready-to-wear swimsuits I own will probably last another decade at least.

So why would I test a swimsuit pattern? Just to try something new and different. And it was an amazing experience! There was a private Facebook group where we could share our feedback and experiences. It reminded me of what book clubs must be like for people who enjoy them. (I love to read but it's a personal experience for me, not a social one. I guess I'm a solitary reader and a social sewist.) There was also a little bit of a fear factor involved - allowing a photo of me in a swimsuit to be posted online. Funny that should scare me. I don't have any major body image issues and I don't really care what people think of me, but there is this feeling that a swimsuit "model" should be young and/or thin. (As if mid-weight, middle-aged women don't wear swimsuits? Oh yeah, I don't. Haha.)

Well, I tried something new (pattern testing), got out of my comfort zone (by adding one more time commitment to my crazy busy life), and scared myself (being seen in public in a swimsuit). And I actually love this swimsuit and feel really comfortable in it. It has good leg coverage without feeling frumpy. The back shows skin but the straps hold everything securely in place.

This was such a good experience to start getting out of the creative rut I've been in. It's time to start sewing more things that aren't my normal style. It's time to try new things and look at things in a different way. It's time to find joy in the journey, not just the destination, and embrace all the adventure I can find in life.

Note: This is not an affiliate link, but I like the swimsuit and I'm really grateful to Erin for giving me this experience so I'm happy to send people her way. I did receive the pattern for free but the supplies, time and opinions are my own.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Breton Tee

Here's the "simple" project I've been looking forward to after my denim jacket adventure. This should have taken me an afternoon, but that's just not the way my life works.

First, the fabric. I'm a sucker for stripes. I have waaaaaay too many striped tees but they all seem to be wearing out at the same time so good excuse for a replacement, right? I wanted a Breton-like stripe, with wider white stripes and narrow black stripes. I found the perfect ecru/black St. James ponte at Mood, but I hesitated at the $18/yd price. So I left the tab open in my browser and decided to think on it for a day or two. I finally decided I had to have it, opened the page, and hit order. Only when I got my confirmation did I realize I'd looked at multiple colors and I accidentally ordered the ecru/navy. Which is fine, I wear too much black anyway, and the navy is so dark I might just wear it with black sometimes. The fabric is amazing: rayon/polyester/spandex ponte that feels heavenly. I want to wear it all the time!

The pattern is self-drafted. I made a top from it a few years ago and I'm kind of heartbroken that it's almost worn out. It was made in a similar ponte and I happily wore it way too much. I didn't baby it, though. It went through the washer and dryer every week for at least a couple years. It was a little bit too short and the sleeves were a little bit too snug. I decided to re-draft the pattern with more length (1") and ease (2"). Big mistake. This fabric stretches and grows like crazy. I hemmed the sleeves and bottom before I did anything else. (There are side slits so the back and front are hemmed separately.) Then I switched the thread from my cover stitch to my sewing machine and did the shoulders, neck, and sleeves. I did try it on at this point to make sure the side seams would be ok, but it seemed like it would be a relaxed fit so I went ahead and sewed up the side seams from wrist to side slit. It was HUGE!!  I ended up taking out about 4" in circumference in the bodice and at least an inch in the sleeves, but I left the length because of laziness.

I've worn this top a couple times but I haven't washed it yet. I hope there's some shrinkage, otherwise I'm going to have to do some major surgery to make it something I'll wear often. And as much as I hate altering anything, I'll do it for this fabric. It's worth it!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Denim Jacket, Take 2

I love my white denim jacket and I've been wearing it a fair amount, but I wasn't 100% happy with the pattern or the fit It's actually too small across the hips and I can't fasten the bottom button. There are very few, if any, situations where I would button up the jacket, but it still bothers me. So despite having no need and very little desire for another denim jacket I plowed ahead with number 2.

I had some dark denim that I bought to make jeans but I hadn't gotten around to using it primarily because even after a few washes it still turns everything it touches, including the inside of my dryer, blue. (BTW, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will remove blue stains from the inside of the dryer.) So first order of business, get rid of some of the dye!

I didn't want to do anything drastic, just remove the excess dye, so my first instinct was to use Rit Color Remover. I read the directions on the back of the box, filled my garage sink with hot water, got my chemical-resistant rubber gloves out, set the fabric out, then I opened the box and read the complete directions where it says in teeny tiny letters "do not use on blue denim." Not to be deterred I checked the Rit website where it explains that Rit Color Remover does not work on the indigo dye used on denim because it will dissolve the dye into a soluble form, which is then absorbed back into the fabric when the Color Remover is rinsed away. But since I had everything ready to go, and there were no warnings about dangerous chemical reactions or anything like that, I went ahead with my color removal plans to see what would happen.

After dissolving the Color Remover in the water and adding the denim, the water quickly turned from pale green, to thick pea green, to murky dark blue.

 At least some of the dye was leaving the fabric, right? I stirred the fabric constantly with my gloved hand so the color would be even, and after about 25 minutes fatigue won out and I drained the sink and rinsed the fabric.

Remember the Dr. Seuss book, "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back"? Remember when the Cat in the Hat left a ring in the tub?
"A big long pink cat ring!
It looked like pink ink!
And I said, 'Will this ever
Come off? I don't think!'"

That's what I thought when I looked at the sink!:

(BTW, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser will NOT remove blue stains from a vinyl garage sink. But lots of Comet helps.)

And the results on the fabric (top is untreated, bottom is after color removal):

The right side is slightly lighter and the wrong side is considerably bluer. *Sigh* But hey, I was warned, and now I know.

At this point there wasn't much to do besides use the fabric as-is. There were lots of pattern changes which I won't detail here because for the upcoming version #3 I used all the pieces to make a rough jacket block then redrafted the whole thing.

Funny thing, on the day I was scouting the mall for the best denim jackets, trying to decide what details I wanted to include in my "final" version, Alina Design Co's Hampton Jean Jacket pattern was released. I've got to say, I LOVE all the pictures I've seen of this pattern sewn up. I would buy it, except that I've already invested a lot of hours into coming up with a pattern that fits my body and my needs (except that I neither need nor want another denim jacket, but that's beside the point...).  

By the time I finished my second jacket I pretty much hated it. The fabric was stiff and it turned my fingernails blue every time I worked on it. Which left only one thing to do - bleach the heck out of it. 

If I loved the jacket I probably would have tested some samples in the bleach, but with nothing to lose I jumped right in. I filled a 5-gallon bucket about halfway full with approximately 5 parts hot water and 1 part bleach, mixed it with my gloved hand, and added the jacket which I had previously soaked in water. I kept agitating the jacket with my hand so it would lighten evenly, and the bleach worked so fast I could actually see the fabric getting lighter! After only about 6-7 minutes in the bleach solution my jacket was lighter than I had planned and I was desperately trying to dump out the bucket without hurting myself (safety goggles would have been really helpful!) and get the bleach rinsed out. The jacket went into the washing machine where it was washed in hot water, then dried on high heat, and here it is!:

Before and after color:

Ok, I may have used too much bleach but at least I didn't have to wait around for it to work, right? It's not a great color for me so I'm not sure how much wear I'll get out of this. But it was absolutely worth all the lessons learned! I've made a lot of pattern changes and pattern #3 is ready to cut out, as soon as I decide what fabric to use. Another white denim jacket? White linen? Blue denim with less bleach? I'll think on that for a few days, and in the meantime I'm working on something quicker and easier to make. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Excuses, Excuses... and a Denim Jacket

Dear Blogger, it's been a long time. I've been busy, and I have a lot of really good reasons for ignoring my blog. Yes, really good reasons. First, my sewing room was a mess and I couldn't take photos until I cleaned it. Then I never really learned to use my new camera. Then my sewing room was too dark for photos. Yep, all my excuses revolve around photos. My goal sometime this year is to find and/or set up a spot in my house where it's convenient to take pictures. In the meantime, let me introduce my latest creation with the best photos I can get under the circumstances.

Here is my new denim jacket, tossed on my sewing room floor:

Four years ago I sewed the Islander Jacket Express. The pattern was drafted well, the instructions were thorough, and the Craftsy class was well worth the money. My jacket turned out well, but I never wear it. It isn't quite "me". The collar is too big, the edges are too round and the fit is too boxy. I decided to use the pattern as a starting point for a more traditional-looking denim jacket. And I'm calling this white jacket an overwhelming success.

Pattern changes:
Narrower, pointed collar
Narrower cuffs with square corners
Reshaped upper pockets and flaps
Narrower sleeves with higher sleeve cap
Removed excess length and width from front
Lengthened jacket and added band at bottom edge
Placed buttons closer together

The fit isn't perfect, but it's loose enough through the back and shoulders that I can move my arms freely and it's fitted enough in front that I'm not swimming in it. The fabric is bull denim from JoAnn Fabrics. It's firm enough to hold the shape of the jacket but soft enough to sew through easily and wear comfortably. I don't usually praise fabric from JoAnns, but this denim was perfect for my jacket! 

A close-up shot of my pointy details (so much more "me" than the round collar and pockets):

I've got a second jacket in the works because I wanted to perfect the fit. It's a different fabric and a whole new set of adventure. More details later... unless I remember all the excuses.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Vogue 9099, The Couture Blazer

I should really call this the Very Imperfect Semi-Couture Blazer.
I was so excited when I bought this pattern. The last time I did any tailoring was in 1984 when I spent the summer working on my 4H project with MUCH help from my mom. I've been wanting a nice blazer for years, but I'm too picky about fit to buy one.

I wasn't intimidated by the pattern. I can sew at an advanced level when I want to and I'm not afraid to try anything. But OH the hand work involved! It wasn't hard, but SO time consuming. I think I watched at least 2 seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix while I made this blazer.

Before Christmas (and before the Gilmore Girls marathon) I made a muslin, which was a good thing because I totally slashed across the back to add shape and length, I recut the front with a small bust adjustment, and I tried out two different sizes of sleeves. (Turns out I'm a 14 in the shoulders, waist and hips, and a 10 in the arms. Who knew?) I also narrowed the shoulders, which I have never had to do before, and changed the roll line so I could add a 3rd, higher button at the front.

At first I was stumped by the SBA and how the shoulder dart would work with that. I suppose I could have looked up how to do it but that would take all the fun out of the project, right? Here's what I ended up doing:

This isn't meant to be a tutorial but I thought it might be helpful to someone in the same situation. Picture #3 shows what the altered pattern piece looked like. #4 is to show the effect of the alteration. I can't say how this would work for someone else, but it was a life-changing revelation for me and I love the fit of the new pattern piece. (And I probably should mention that I had to change the position of the upper pocket, aligning the grain of the pocket welt with the new grainline of the upper chest.)

Besides the fitting, here's what I learned from this project:

1. Hand sewing is not the enemy. Hand basting can be a wonderful thing, and hand stitching in general can be kind of relaxing. That said, I'll skip as much of the hand stitching as possible the next time I make this pattern.

2. I wouldn't use this pocket flap pattern again. I thought the pockets looked wrong on the pattern envelope and I couldn't quite figure it out. I think the problem is that the flaps are rectangles, folded right sides together and stitched up the sides. I tried to make the underneath half of the rectangles smaller, but in the end the flaps didn't want to curve around the body, even after heavy steaming over a pressing ham, and the sides are stiffer than the bottom edges. Next time I'll cut separate flaps and linings and probably round the corners a bit.

3. Hand buttonholes? I didn't even try. My machine makes fairly presentable keyhole buttonholes and I'm sure they look better than anything I could attempt by hand.

4. Next time I'll move the roll line back down and get rid of that top button. I thought it worked better with my shape but after seeing picture I'm not so sure. But then, it's not like I'll really wear it buttoned up...  Also, I chose not to lengthen the pattern for my long torso and I should have. Next time for sure.

5. In the Vogue patterns I've used the sleeve cap seems to be too high with too much ease. Next time I'll see if I can flatten it a little and eliminate most or all of the ease. 

After months of working on this project, I can safely say I don't feel the need to put this much effort into an item of clothing for a very long time.

Yes, I realize the pocket welts are wrong side out. No, I didn't realize it until after they were sewn on, slashed and turned. I'm just going to say I like the contrast and call it a happy accident, because that's what we do when we sew, right?

Friday, July 24, 2015

A-Frame Skirt

Well, it's been a while!  I've been sewing but not blogging. My quest for a great pair of jeans has caused me a lot of frustration but that's a topic for another post.

In the meantime, some new changes in my life mean I'll be needing a few more skirts. On Wednesday I saw the A-Frame Skirt pattern by Blueprints for Sewing on Pinterest. (Pinned by - thankyouverymuch!) I've recently decided to do my part in supporting indie pattern designers by buying their patterns so I quickly checked this one out. Not only does the pattern include the really cute pencil skirt that I can't wait to make, but there is also an a-line version for softer, drapier (drapey-er? is this even a word?) fabrics. I just happened to have a few yards of rayon challis sitting in my sewing room waiting to be turned into something... but I couldn't figure out what. Within 30 minutes of seeing that pin, I'd bought the pattern, printed the PDF, and was busy taping it together on my cutting table. I had the skirt cut out and started by that evening.

On Thursday I finished the skirt, today (Friday) I took the pictures (still trying to figure out my new camera and the remote viewfinder on my phone), and here it is! I made a straight size E since this skirt isn't fitted and I think it fits pretty well. Next time I'll make the waistband a little smaller. Also, the center front piece is cut on the bias which hangs really nice and gives it a little stretch across the font, but I feel like the weight of this fabric pulls the piece down a lot and therefore makes it narrower across the belly than it should be. (That's an issue with my fabric and my body, not with the pattern!) It's not even an issue except for when I put my hands in the pockets and it pulls a little across the front. Next time I might try cutting the center front on the straight grain and see what happens.

Oh yes, this skirt has pockets! Not that this fabric will hold anything heavier than a lens cap, but it's nice to have a place to put your hands when you don't know what else to do with them.

I can't wait to make the pencil-skirt version of this pattern!

Back to the 80s

This story begins with an unfortunate online fabric order. I know, I know, I could order swatches, but when I decide I want fabric I ...