Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Dressmaker's Handbook and other sewing gems

I have a habit of checking sewing books out from the library, thinking I will read them and refer to them during my sewing projects, but actually I just let them sit in a pile collecting dust and overdue fees. But yesterday I brought home this book...

and I almost read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. The techniques and photos were that enthralling. Okay, maybe enthralling is the wrong word. But they were like little gems. Little beautiful pieces of information that I can't wait to put to practice. For example, I learned what "stretch-pressing" is and how it will improve my bias bindings.* Sort of like Colette Pattern's "Snippets" series - also a treasure-trove of useful tips.

The Dressmaker's Handbook starts out with no less than 12 techniques for binding a neckline without using a facing, and each of them looks oh so lovely and smooth and professional. I'm going to share just two little photos to give you an idea, and hope that the copyright police don't come after me.

I would love to try that bottom one - a ribbon with a picot stitch over it - to finish the sleeves on a Taffy blouse.

If it happens, I'll be sure to document it - because I've reached that level of sewing geekdom. I don't know how I got to this point, but I'm sure glad there's the internet community to help validate my concern over things like bound buttonholes and seam finishes. And if you too are into that sort of thing, here is another sewing gem (sewing nerdery) that I found today:

Hand sewn Colette Sencha blouse on Peanut Butter Macrame
Fellow sewing geek and blogger Peanut Butter Macrame just finished a beautiful silk Sencha blouse that was mostly stitched by hand. So lovely! And I'm sure this picture isn't even doing it full justice. A few years ago, I would stifle a yawn at this kind of stuff. In fact, I did just that when I helped our local museum catalog 100+ historical garments. I just didn't have the practical knowledge to appreciate what I was looking at and what the garment expert was telling me. I thought she was eccentric and strange. Oh how the tables have turned.

Here's something funny in parting. I looked up The Dressmaker's Handbook on Amazon to see if other reviewers were as entranced as I, and check this out:

I tried to make those arrows red, but Photoshop continues to thwart me.
A thousand dollars for this book?! What are those wacky people thinking? I love it, but not that much. I checked a few other websites, and they advertise it at a much more reasonable $26.95. So who knows what those folks at Amazon are up to.

That's all I've got for now! Anyone have some sewing gems to share? Favorite sewing books?

* Since you're dying to know! When you cut a bias strip, you pin one end to your ironing board and gently pull the strip as your iron it. It will stretch, decreasing in width a little, and supposedly this will prevent your bias strip from rippling and pulling when you apply it to a neckline, armhole, etc. I haven't tried it yet, but for some reason I just trust this Lynda person.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sewing 2012!

I think it's going to be a good year for sewing. Mostly because last year I think I made some extra progress along the steep slope that is the sewing learning curve. I tried to represent this is graph form to show you all.

As you can see, I have progressed much more slowly along the Photoshop learning curve. I can't figure out the pen tool, but I did accidentally create the abstract art you see above. I'm just going to leave it at that. This image represents a year of sewing that includes my truly wearable garment, invisible zippers, catch stitching, bound buttonholes, a little bit of drafting, and my first lined garment. If you're not seeing it, I guess you just don't understand my art.

So what's next!? I would love to make a few of these skirts:

Meringue, from the Colette Sewing Handbook
Some cute skirts are just what my closet needs. I did a closet cleaning yesterday, and realized (not for the first time) that I own a lot of things that I don't like to wear: thrift store finds that are just so-so, things I shrunk, things that are black or neutral, things that are too dressy for everyday, dresses and skirts that are too short, and miscellaneous t-shirts and tank tops I would only ever wear to bed or the gym. Not so inspiring! So next on my list are some very wearable and eye-pleasing projects: a Meringue in purple corduroy, and maybe another in some of the wool I bought?

Also uncovered in my closet cleanup, garments that are not or cannot be worn and which must be salvaged and reborn as something better:

sun is so bright this morning!
The green is a very eighties dress I thrifted because it's silk. Doesn't fit, but it can definitely be made into something, right? Even if it's just a camisole. The color is too pretty to give back to the thrift store. The pastel floral thing is a skirt, silk again. It definitely has a dated or elderly look to it, but again, it's silk! When I finally learned about how fabric content counts, I kinda went nuts tracking down silk things at the Salvo. Any ideas on how to make this dated skirt into something cute? The black on the left is a pair of capris which I also got at the thrift store, with the intent to rip all the seams and make a pattern from them. After my disaster with the Bella pattern from Burdastyle, I'm convinced that the only way to make myself pants is to make my own pattern from pants that fit. And last, the black blouse on the right I never wear, because it's black. It's also silk, and stretchy, which makes me think it's destined to become...

Underroos! Or a bra rather. This will be an adventure, but I'm very excited to try. If it works out, I'm saying goodbye to store-bought, rib-poking, cheaply made bras forever. For a long time I've been ogling the stretch lace at the Etsy store, MaryNotMartha:

MaryNotMartha on Etsy
For inspiration and guidance, I can thank the sewing blogosphere for both verypurpleperson:

one of her many very beautiful lingerie sets
and also for A Few Threads Loose:

who has been doing lingerie sew-alongs which I recently discovered. How I love the sewing-internet!

And finally, for this year, I finally have a sewing buddy! A good friend of mine has decided to re-take up sewing, and we are going to tackle Colette Pattern's Peony as her first project.

Peony from Colette Patterns
I've been pining for someone to share my sewing exploits with for a while now, so I am very excited about this new development. It should also ease the burden on my husband and roommate of having to listen to my chatter about patterns, fabrics, and sewing techniques. A win-win situation!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas haul, and Colette Sewing Handbook

Time for presents show and tell!

Not much in the above picture is sewing-related, but it is special because Josh went all-out filling my stocking this year! Look at all those goodies. My mom has always been a fantastic stocking stuffer, but we couldn't go home for Christmas this year so Josh surprised me and kept the tradition alive. What did I do? Didn't even get anything for his stocking. This may be the beginning of a "who can be most thoughtful" battle. I don't know how else to fix the imbalance.

Those of you with eagle eyes may have spotted this hidden under the loot in above photo:

Yay! My very own Colette book. I know many people purchased this long ago, but I held out for Christmas like a good seamstress. I never would have gotten it, though, if hubby hadn't driven me all the way to the French Seam in Indy to browse fabric.

photo from the Indy Star
I'm a bad blogger and forgot to take photos while we were in the shop. What to say about this place? It's cute, it's tiny, and it's the only place to find nice fabrics within 100 miles of Bloomington, Indiana. And they carry the Colette Patterns book, so that's awesome, but no individual Colette Patterns, so that's lame. They have beautiful fabrics (!) but not a wide selection (-). But in a fabric wasteland, I guess I shouldn't complain. If you live anywhere nearby, you should definitely check it out. Just don't go with the hope of buying something specific. They did have some very nice wools and silks and shirtings. I didn't buy anything, but it did give me the opportunity to point out the book to Josh, who would otherwise be clueless about what kind of sewing stuff to buy me. While I tried to hide myself in the the back of the tiny shop, he tried to swiftly purchase it without me noticing. This was impossible, given the size of the shop, but it was still sweet, and I love my gift!

Here's one thing I especially love about Sarai's writing:

"Dressing for your shape can be very subjective. One woman with a large bust may prefer to balance it with a full skirt. Another woman with the same proportions may feel overwhelmed in full skirts and prefer dresses that skim her figure. The truth is, it's largely a matter of taste and how you relate to your body. There are no hard rules, because if you feel good wearing it, there's absolutely no reason not to."  (p. 34)

How refreshing is that!? I know she isn't the first to say something in this vein, but I love to see it in print, especially when sewing books of not-so-long-ago all seem to contain an obligatory rant about hiding figure flaws. Here's one of my favorite excerpts from my sewing library:

"The fashionable figure is a trim one. From the standpoint of beauty, too, all bulges and rolls of fat are ugly. Get some professional advice on the type of garment that will 'trim' you and the correct size to contain you." (Adele Margolis, How to Make Clothes that Fit and Flatter, 1969)


Well, that was written over forty years ago when ideas were slightly different. But we all know we haven't escaped from this:

I'm pretty sure some pattern companies still use this kind of system to guide their customers toward the patterns that some sort of subjective reasoning thinks will be most flattering. And that's why I sighed with content when I read Sarai's take on the subject. Wear what you want, people!

Back to presents. This is my big gift this Christmas:

image courtesy of Digital Camera Resource Page
Soooo shiny and pretty! I love my new camera, and also that Josh thought of this because he watched me struggle to take good blogging photos with my old camera for months. This poor guy has seen me through a lot.

I got him at Christmas six years ago. He accompanied me to study abroad in Italy and everywhere else I've roamed since then. He's documented a whole lot of my life, and even survived a touch-and-go period when I had to open his lens with my fingernail every time I wanted to take a photo. He makes a funny noise when I shake him, like there's some sand still stuck inside. I don't know if I should bury him now, or place him on a shelf overlooking the house like some treasure I've outgrown but can't bear to part with.  I even cringed taking the above photo of him with my new camera. Seems insulting somehow.

Oh, and that spidery thing next to old camera? That's a sweet tripod. Look what it can do:

So twisty! So bendy! So fancy! Now I don't have to balance my camera on my ironing board when I want to take photos of myself.

I could keep rambling, as I would like to talk about sewing ideas for the new year - but maybe I should resolve to keep my posts more on topic. Hmmm.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Finished McCall's 5927

Update! - Just some better photos. Thanks Josh!

I am pretty pleased with this dress, even if it wasn't finished in time for Christmas! This is McCall's 5927, a sheath dress with a couple different sleeve variations. I made view D.

I like this pattern for a lot of reasons: cute little tucks on the skirt, cap sleeves, pockets! I also chose this pattern after decided I need to be a teensy bit more practical with my sewing. Yes, it would be fun to do a glitzy party dress, but it is also satisfying to have this dress which I can wear throughout the winter for many different occasions. The fabric is a stretch corduroy by Robert Kaufman that I got off of Etsy. It has a super fine wale that is almost imperceptible. Also, it's fun to talk about how many wales your dress has when no one knows what you are are talking about.

Me: "Check it out hubby. My dress has miniature wales. Thousands of them."
Hubby: "....."

Okay, it was fun to me at least. You might give it a try sometime. So yeah! Super little wale corduroy with stretch. It has so many benefits! Easy to work with. Comfortable (stretchy) and natural fibers (cotton). And the feel is almost like velvet. The pattern didn't call for a stretch material, but it worked out fine. I didn't make a muslin (shame shame), but I made it work anyway. I guess I could have gone down a size maybe, because of the stretch. I've heard that works for other people, so maybe I'll try next time.

I think the shed in our yard makes a nice backdrop, don't you?

Side shot - I wish I had take my hands out of the pockets for a few of these. They create wrinkles where otherwise there would be none. Oh well! Modeling is tough.

Obligatory rear view.

Yikes, it's cold! I took off my cowl so you could see the neckline. Then we ran back inside.

Anyway, I made the 14 for up top (I'm a 36" in the bust) and graded out to an 18 at the bottom (I'm 44" in the hips). It was still too large though, probably because of the ease built in. Even though my material stretches, I fit it so that it only barely hugs my figure. I even measured the pattern pieces to narrow in on my size, but I guess that didn't work so well. Next time I will try tissue fitting with the pattern pieces and see if that gives me a more accurate result. Also, I might do a muslin so I can fix this issue:

I believe this is what they call, "le sway back." I don't think it looks as bad as this when I stand straight or sit down, so it doesn't bother me too much. But I will try to correct for it in my next dress. What else... I didn't line this dress because I couldn't find stretch lining material except for some silk through Hart's Fabric online. I was just too impatient to wait for it, and I didn't want to spend more on the lining that on the outer fabric. And in the end, I don't think this needed a lining anyway. A note on the sleeves on this pattern - I'm glad I used a stretch material because they are sewn on at a rather sharp downward angle, and I think a non-stretch would have limited my range of movement. That's no good, because it would have restricted my sweet dance moves on New Years:

Is it the hokey pokey? What's with the paper bag? well, you had to have been there.
Happy 2012 everyone!