Monday, November 3, 2014

Good Fabric Gone Bad

I was happily sewing along yesterday, thinking that I was going to be super clever and whip up not one, but two dresses in an afternoon. Dress number one is for a friend. It is a copy of a super simple dress she already owns and loves that is made out of a cotton knit. I didn't even both with a pattern for this one, just laid her dress down on my fabric, eyeballed, cut around it, and stitched it up.

It still needs bindings and a hem, but this is definitely the fastest dress I've ever made. I hope she's pleased with it, cuz I think it's pretty cute.

Then I moved on to a dress for me, using Butterick 5780 and the same fabric (which is a knit blend from Joann's).

I'm making version C. Or I was. Because once I tried on the bodice, my heart sank.

I love the shape, but that fabric - it's just not right. 1. It kinda looks like a couch. 2. It's kinda scratchy. I thought I could forgive a little poly content, but in long sleeves I just can't ignore it. 3. Josh saw me in it and said I looked like a matador.

Yep. I can see the similarity. It's such a funny thing that this fabric could look cute in dress number 1, but give it long sleeves and all of a sudden it just doesn't work. I wish I had a Tim Gunn to take fabric shopping with me, because I just don't anticipate these things and now I have half a matador costume (days after Halloween is over) but no dress. Do you run into these kinds of problems when you sew? Do you have tricks for envisioning the end product and avoiding disasters before it's too late? Please share!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Minoru II

I don't know why, but lately blogging feels like homework, hence my procrastination on posting many new makes. Hopefully it's just a phase that will pass. Oh well. Surely you'll forgive me if I present with a photo of this guy:

Little twerp is back home! He was missing for six weeks, but after talking to a lot of people during my search for him I discovered it's not uncommon for cats to turn up months after they go missing. Still, it was hard not to lose hope. I kept getting false alarms when people would call me about lookalike cats in the neighborhood. When I got a call about a week ago from a woman out walking her dog, I was pretty dang sure it was going to be the same cat down the street who I'd discovered after numerous previous tips. (That poor cat must have gotten tired of seeing my face turn all downtrodden every time I found him and realized he wasn't mine.) But I rushed to spot anyway, and I couldn't believe it when I called his name and he started meowing. I didn't know for a few seconds whether he was my cat or not, it had been so long. It was even stranger to pick him up and feel how much lighter he was - he had definitely lost some weight in his time away. Now he's back home, and we'll never know how he spent those six weeks. Besides acting hungry ALL THE TIME, Pidgin is pretty much back to his old self - waking me up at 5 am by biting my hair, chasing rubber bands, taking lots of naps. It's nice to have him back!

Okay, hope you all didn't mind the cat update. Now for sewing. I was badly in need of a spring/fall weight jacket to replace one lost last year. The weather around here started getting cooler, and I had nothing but an old jean jacket which was not gonna cut it. I get in this position too often lately because I hate buying clothes new and don't seem to sew fast enough to fill the gaps in my wardrobe. Wow. I have deja vu just typing that. But thankfully, I'm getting faster! So I threw together this Minoru (by Sewaholic Patterns in case you're new in town):

Minoru number one was a big undertaking for me, largely because I changed a zillion things about the design and made it harder than it was supposed to be. This time I respected the integrity of the pattern a little better, and sewed it closer to how Tasia intended. Turns out, patterns work better when you sew them with the recommended fabrics and don't make a zillion design changes. Who knew! 

I'm trying to show you it's cold enough to see my breath, but it's not working. The fabric is Robert Kaufman Hampton Twill in "stone" for the main fabric and "charm" for the facings. I've had pretty good experiences with Kaufman fabrics, although it can get confusing when he has five different twills and twenty types of chambray. I'm exaggerating a little, but I wish someone would tell me how to choose among all the options when I'm shopping online. This twill is pretty lightweight, almost too light for my liking. It also wrinkles quite easily. I compensated by doing both an underlining and a lining, which gave the extra weight and warmth I wanted. So I guess I didn't exactly do things as the pattern instructed, since it doesn't call for underlining.

Ta da! Pretty insides. The lining is bemberg rayon, and the interlining is cheap cotton flannel from Joann's, except in the sleeves, where I used up the leftover flannel from the shirt I made Josh last winter. Thrifty, eh? Almost to a fault. I hope I don't regret my scrimping later, but it's just underlining. What's the worst that could happen by using cheap fabric? And actually, it's the lining that's underlined rather than the main fabric, since I didn't realize til the outer was already sewn up that it was really too lightweight. Judging fabric weight really does seem to be one of the tougher parts of sewing for me.

 If you're wondering why there's a stripe of pink through the middle of my lining, it's because I was worried that the bemberg would be too delicate to serve as a casing for the drawstrings (oh, btw I swapped the waist elastic for drawstrings). I feel like a dummy for going through that trouble, because the flannel underlining would have protected the rayon. I just didn't realize it at the time. Oh well.

This photo is kinda cheesy, but also it makes me think of a 1950s model pose. Here we go...

Nailed it! I'm trying to show off my pockets with their contrasting under flaps. I stole the idea for these off of Peter and his amazing parka.

Sheesh. What a good looking dude. And he makes such beautiful clothes. I'm pretty sure that's an entirely self-made outfit he's sporting. That parka is killer. My pockets are smaller than his, and thus slightly less useful. Here is a blurry, unhelpful photo:

Even though they're a bit small, I can fit my phone inside no problem. I don't think I could have made them much bigger and still fit them on the jacket, especially since I shortened it (whoops - is that another change?)

Okay, I better just confess to all the rest of the things I did differently from the original pattern. I made the collar pieces shorter in front, as I did on my previous version. They curve downward, and thus don't cover my face even when the coat is zipped all the way. You can see the altered pattern piece below.

I used drawstrings instead of elastic at the waist, and I hammered in some big eyelets for the cords to poke through. 

Here's the back view. I'm not a huge fan of the way it looks when the drawstrings are gathered, so I wear it barely gathered at all. As a pear shaped lady, I just don't think gathered waists are my favorite. I originally thought I would put some cord stops on my drawstrings to keep them from pulling through the hole, but I kinda like my little bows tied on the side.

Finally, I got rid of the elastic cuffs and used the tower plackets and cuffs from a men's shirt pattern.

I still need to pick out some buttons, so these are just tacked closed for now. Tower plackets don't seem very appropriate on a jacket, but I wasn't sure how else to put a vent in the sleeve. If I had been a smarty, I would have redrafted the sleeve in two pieces, which seems to be the way most jackets are sewn. I was not thinking that far ahead, however.

This coat is exactly what I needed to get me through til the real cold weather starts, and I'm very happy with it. But I also think I'm done with Minoru, unless my sister or mom requests one. It was satisfying to make it up again and do a better job matching fabric to pattern, but for my next jacket I'm ready to try something new. It's just nitpicking, but the gathered waist bugs me. Minoru also has quite a wide neckline, and unless you stuff a scarf in there it's quite drafty. Anyone else notice that? Still, it's a great pattern and I'm happy I've finally done it up a second time!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Week, One Pattern 2014

Here at last is my wrap-up post for One Week, One Pattern 2014 - or more commonly known around the sewing blogosphere as OWOP. I'm on a crusade against acronyms lately, but I'll let this one slide. This is my first year participating in OWOP, although I've enjoyed watching others participate in years past. After falling in love with Colette Patterns Lily as a pencil skirt, it was an easy decision to make it my go-to for OWOP. I was a day late and dollar short to the festivities, starting on Sunday rather than Saturday because I never really know what day it is lately. Here is my line up:

OWOP Day 1
OWOP Day 1 - Lily bodice with simple gathered skirt out of stretch cotton pique from FabricMart. Accessorized with a braided coral belt from the thrift store and a lackluster Sunday blues face (anyone else get depressed on Sundays?) This is the only dress version of Lily that I've completed, and I have to say I'm less enamored with the top half of this pattern than I am with the bottom. The fit just wasn't as good. The princess seams fall a little too close together for my bust, the straps ended up being way too short (I had to cut new ones), and overall the bodice just seemed too short for my torso. I couldn't figure out whether I wanted to tug it further up or further down, but probably I could extend it a little both ways for a better fit. However, after sewing in some foam bra cups to the lining it is quite comfortable. It also requires very little fabric - I think I eked this out of 1 1/2 yards. Not bad!

OWOP Day 2
OWOP Day 2 - Navy Lily skirt. My first version, and a good wardrobe staple for work. I'm wearing it with a blouse I made from a 1970s pattern a long while back.

OWOP Day 3
OWOP Day 3 - The third skirt version I made from the Lily pattern, this time out of a ponte knit! I'm quite proud of this one because it's one of my first forays into knitwear, with the exception of swimsuits. I had been eyeballing the Mabel pattern from Colette Patterns, but couldn't fit it in my sewing budget and also had the suspicion that I could manage on my own without a pattern. And then I was struck with a moment of genius when I realized that it wouldn't take much to adapt Lily for knits. I already had a waistband drafted, more or less, in the form of the facings I made for my skirt versions. From there it was a small matter of eliminating the front pockets and using slightly larger seam allowances to account for the stretchy ponte. I am super pleased with how well this worked, and how fast it was. I made this up in just a few hours on a Sunday evening and wore it to work the next morning. Why has it taken me so long to befriend knits? I'm psyched to try a zillion more knit projects, including several more Lily skirts.

OWOP Day 4
 OWOP Day 4 - My bright floral Lily skirt. It's hard to repeat this one without people noticing, but I love it anyway.

OWOP Day 5
 OWOP Day 5 - My navy Lily skirt again, with my Vogue 1387 blouse. I resorted to taking photos while waiting for my bus, which was a tad awkward. Also, I need to replace my broken tripod so I don't have to find stone walls of a certain height to perch my camera on.

OWOP Day 6
OWOP Day 6 - Lily dress again, with green sweater and belt. I forgot/didn't have the heart to take photos of myself on Friday. I did get a few nice compliments for this outfit. It was hastily thrown together because the weather suddenly took a turn for the cooler, which threw my OWOP wardrobe plans awry.

OWOP Day 7
And finally, OWOP Day 7 - Ponte Lily skirt with jean jacket and moccasins for a drive in the country to get apples.

All in all, I had a fun time with OWOP, especially since it's my first time trying to stretch my homemade wardrobe. I've never participated in me-made-May, but maybe next year I'll be ready! On the other hand, I would have liked to stretch this pattern a little further. I'd like to make a version that's true to the original pattern - a full dress without substitutions for top or bottom. I also would like to make a top out of just the bodice, and I actually got 80% done with one. In the end I ran out of time, and the weather got too cool anyway. I love the idea behind OWOP - that you can wring every last bit of usefulness out of a good pattern. It appeals to my inner cheapskate and also my interest in drafting and pattern modifications. I love the variety of beautiful patterns available to us these days, but I also tend to look at every new arrival to check if it could be made with a few tweaks to something I already own. With a little more disposable income maybe I would just buy all the patterns, but then again, using a tried and true pattern means you don't have to go through fitting headaches.

The only onerous thing about OWOP is having to take photos of myself, and I think a lot of other agree that this is the hard part. But it's good practice too and good to remember that no one is really going to judge (and f' them if they do).

A last note before I sign off. One reason I'm late in posting these is that our cat, Pidgin, has gone missing. He was actually last seen last Friday morning, and Josh and I are both feeling the loss. I know he may come back still and also that he might not. Since he made a debut on the blog when we first brought him home and has made a few appearances here and there since, I thought I would say something and leave you with a photo of his adorable face.

We miss you Pidgin.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Two Lilies

I have a new favorite pattern. A new old pattern, as it was released more than two years ago. I know that's really not so long, but in the sewing blogosphere I think we may have short attention spans. Ooh! Anna!  - Ooh! Archer!  - Ooh! scuba knit! - Ooh! Kimonos! I think it's because we have a never-ending flow of inspiration and interesting new patterns and fabrics to try, which is hardly a bad thing. Anyway, I'm always a few years behind the trend, and I'm just now getting around to sewing up Colette Patterns Lily.

Lily dress pattern - envelope line drawing
Everyone else might be through with Lily already, but I felt like I was uncovering a gold mine when I made this up for the first time.

my floral Lily pencil skirt
I sewed only the bottom half, as you can see. I started a new job this summer and was in need of office attire. Rather than buy a pencil skirt pattern, I looked at Lily and thought it would do the trick. Did it work?

HELL YEAH! Why haven't I seen this elsewhere on the sewing blogweb? I kinda feel like a genius for being the first to convert Lily into a skirt, but I also feel like it's so obviously a good idea that I can't get too much credit for it. (BTW please ignore my obvious lack of styling. I took these after work and couldn't even be bothered to leave my shoes on.)

This thing fit perfectly without any fussing, which was SO NICE. That really doesn't happen often for me. I consulted the finished garment measurements on the envelope and went with the size that would give me just slightly negative ease, since I was using a stretch sateen. As usual, I graded from a smaller size at the waist to a larger size at the hips. No problem. And it worked like a charm. (Like my flowers? That's six years of marriage - So far so good!)

I squeezed this baby out of 1.25 yards of fabric (I think) which required a little creative thinking. I ended up having to make the pockets just slightly smaller, but that's no biggie. They're still plenty big. And I love them.

I didn't make the pocket flaps, but used piping instead. Also, I wore this skirt out somewhere and a man noticed and commented on my piping. Why thank you for noticing sir. I am impressed by your sewing vocabulary.

Now actually, this is the second Lily I've made. Ready to see number one?

I love it too. It is slightly more practical than my loud floral Lily, but it too is made of stretch sateen.

You may notice that is slightly different from my floral version. For one, it is shorter. Another sewing blogger said she thought Lily is a tad short, and I agree. Not too short. In fact, it seems very accurately portrayed in both the line art and the model photos. And I like the length of my navy version. But too be prim and office-y I made my second version a tad longer. Also my floral version is a tad taller in the waist, because I wished it so for the second version. The original isn't too low, I just wanted to have a high-waisted skirt.

Still, it's a dang good fit for what I only expected to be a wearable muslin. I apologize that it's hard to see much detail on the navy.

I swear this looks more wrinkly in photos than it does in person. Whatever. The wrinkles don't bother me so much.

I was inspired to add tabs with buttons after admiring this Betsy pencil skirt sewn up by Melissa of Scavenger Hunt:

I love both these skirts so much, and they are getting plenty of wear at my new job. The stretch woven makes them very comfortable, and I love the princess seams for giving an excellent fit. I like this pattern so much that I'm already working on my third version - this time with the top half. And I'd like to make a few more skirt versions as well... and maybe a version that's just the top. With a peplum? With a knit? Seriously, I feel like this pattern has loads of potential, just waiting to explode all over the place. Nice job Colette Patterns.

Okay, now that I'm done gushing, I do have a few small beefs with the pattern. But really, they are quite small. First is the length of the vent in back - it just seems too short. Not for functional reasons, but just because to my eye the proportions look wrong. Compare the two versions below:

See how the vent on the navy version seems a bit puny? I made it longer in the floral version, and I like it better. It's a small thing, but there ya have it. It's hardly going to keep me from enjoying the skirt though.

The second issue is not the pattern's fault really. As much as I love the princess seams for giving a nice fit, they are a pain in the tuckus for ironing these things.

I don't know if it's the fabric's fault or what, but the seams I pressed open don't want to stay open, and all those seams make for some tricksy ironing. Oh well. Again, it's not going to keep me from wearing them. But I would love to make a version with flat felled seems, which I think would solve the problem nicely. I could also just serge the seam allowances together instead of serging the two sides separately, which might also help. But I thought it'd be nice to be able to let the seams in or out over time, so I did it the hard way. Live and learn.

Coming soon - yet another Lily (and perhaps another), and more swimsuit bottoms!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lessons Learned - Bikini Sewing

Okay, before I let another month pass between posts, I'm going to share the rest of my "lessons learned" from sewing my first swimsuit. After that, it's time to move on to other sewing projects because holy moly - fall is coming!

10 Tips for Sewing Your First Swimsuit

Tip 1 - You kinda really don't need a serger

I say kinda, because I found I could get away with using my sewing machine for almost everything. Also, serger seams with all their extra threads tend to add bulk, which can be a real problem for a neatly sewn bikini (more on that later). By my fourth try sewing bikini bottoms, I was only using my serger for joining up the crotch and side seams, which is really the easiest part of the process.

serged side seam on bikini bottoms
Sewing these seams was the first step in sewing my bottoms. I tried doing this on my sewing machine to see if I could get away with not using my serger at all, however, it tended to stretch the seam out as it sewed. So I ended up using my serger for these seams and nothing else. I'll bet if I spent enough time fiddling with the tension settings on my machine, I could get it to sew these seams just fine. So if you're worried about sewing a swimsuit without a serger, I say go for it! It just may take a few practice trials to get the right stitch tension.

Tip 2 - If you have a walking foot, use it. 

walking foot on my Husqvarna
When I first tried sewing the Bombshell swimsuit last summer, one thing I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around was how I was supposed to pull slightly on the fabric or elastic at the front of machine while I sewed and at the same time still get the fabric to advance under the needle. With wovens, that doesn't seem to be a problem. With spandex, it felt like a tug-o-war where everyone was losing. I think using my walking foot really helped with this problem. I could put tension on the fabric in front but still get everything to advance forward.

Tip 3 - It's possible to unpick stitches in spandex - even serger stitches.

For some reason when I first tried sewing spandex, I had a mental block again unpicking my stitches. I thought for sure that what with using a serger that uses a million threads and cuts your fabric as a you sew, if you didn't get it right the first time you were pretty much f-ed. Don't know why I thought that, but it's not true. Behold this lovely piece of sewing:

bikini side seam gone wrong
I don't know how I managed to match up such a short seam so poorly. But I was able to unpick it and redo. It wasn't a whole lot of fun, but I fixed the error and my final product was no worse for it. I also found that it's possible to press spandex with your iron AT A VERY LOW HEAT. You can do it, just be careful.

Tip 4 - Sew the main seams of your lining and outer fabric separately, and then combine the two.

For my first pair of bottoms, I sewed the lining fabric and outer fabric as one, as though the lining was an underlining. I even carefully basted the two layers together to make it easier to sew them as one.

lining and outer fabric basted together
I think I learned this method from the Bombshell pattern. But when I looked a pair of RTW swim bottoms, I found that they had sewn the lining and main fabric separately at the main seams, and then inserted one in the other. To illustrate, here's a picture of my first pair, with underlining method, next to my final pair, with lining method.

On the left, you can see the serged seams are exposed on the inside. On the right, they are hidden between the lining and main fabric. I'm not sure that this makes much of a different in comfort for wearing the bottoms, and I'm almost certain you can't tell the difference in looks from the exterior, but I just like the second method better for how it looks on the inside. Also, I think it helps reduce seam bulk a little.

Tip 5 - When sewing the main fabric and lining together, line up the seams and position seam allowances in separate directions.

Once you have sewn your main seams (sides and crotch), all you have left to do is put the lining inside the main fabric and start sewing on the elastic. A good way to minimize bulk at the seams during this step is to make the seam allowances of the lining and main fabric point in opposite directions. I tried to show this in the picture below.

Seam allowance of main fabric is pushed to the right, seam allowance of lining is pushed to the left.
Thanks to Brian's awesome video tutorial on inserting swimsuit elastic, I learned that getting a neat finish on a swimsuit is really all about reducing bulk whenever possible. This is one way to achieve that. Which brings me to...

Tip 6 - Neaten all edges before sewing.

In a regular garment, you can sew a seam and go back and clean up the seam allowances later, trimming away the excess and finishing them however you choose. Once you get to the point of inserting your elastic in your bikini, however, you need your seam edges to be nice and even. The reason is that you'll be using a zigzag stitch that is supposed to just barely catch the edge of your fabric as you sew - and that's hard to do if your fabric edge is sometimes 1 mm from your elastic and sometimes jumps out suddenly to 10 mm. For example, if you look at this seam, you can see where some misaligned seams left me with a little jump or stair step in the leg opening:

In a different sewing project I wouldn't sweat that little imperfection, since it would fall within the seam allowance anyway. But for a swimsuit, you want to trim away that stair step to make a nice continuous line for inserting your elastic. Again, Brian does an excellent job of explaining these sorts of things in his tutorial, so I recommend you watch it. Sorry if I sound like a broken record, but Brian saved my bikini and now I love him forever. That being said... my next tip goes against Brian's advice.

Tip 7 - Zigzag top stitching is easier.

And I think it looks just as nice. When it comes time to flip your elastic to the inside and top stitch it down, Brian prefers a straight stitch. I tried this, and found it very difficult to get a consistent stitch length, what with the elastic and stretching as you sew and all that. Here are two samples of my top stitching:

top stitching with straight stitch
You can see in the photo above where my stitches got quite small in places. It was especially hard to control the stitch length over the bumpy side seams (once again - bulk is bad). Your sewing machine might handle these things better than mine, but I preferred the results I got with a zigzag stitch. 

top stitching with zigzag
Again, it was hard to keep a consistent stitch length and you can see where my stitches got narrow at the side seam. Overall, however, I think I liked the zigzag stitch better. Brian thinks it looks less professional, but I'm okay with it.

Tip 8 - Just go slow.

I think this is true of a lot of tricky sewing. Things that seem impossible become simple if you just slow down. I didn't bother doing basting stitches after that first bikini. They were a pain to rip out later, and I found that I could achieve just as nice a result if I pinned carefully and slowed down.

lining pinned to main fabric, ready to insert elastic

Tip 9 - Use a wider elastic at waist and under bust.

I didn't do this on my first bikini, but after wearing it all day on the river I noticed that the waist and under bust elastic want to flip the wrong way. You can kinda see how the bikini top also wants to ride up under the bust in the photo below.

wrinkles at under bust from top riding up
Next time I'll use a wider elastic and hopefully that will stay put better. No big deal.

Tip 10 - Don't substitute regular elastic for swimsuit elastic.

I thought I could get away with this when I ran out of swimsuit elastic while finishing the swimsuit bottoms for my roommate. But just like jersey and spandex do not have equal amounts of stretch, neither do regular elastic and swimsuit elastic. Here's a crappy cell phone pic to demonstrate:

regular elastic in left leg hole, swimsuit elastic in right leg hole
Can you see how the regular elastic on the left created a smaller leg opening than the swimsuit elastic on the right? The regular elastic resulted in an uncomfortably snug fit. I ended up having to unpick all my zigzag stitches. Not fun. I don't know why I persist in trying shortcuts like this, because the end result is almost always the same - unpicking stitches.

So there are my ten tips! I hope other swimsuit noobs find some of these helpful, and that they send you on your way to your first of many successful swimsuits!