Goji Shorts in Pineappled Chambray

I love the idea of shorts but have very few in my wardrobe. Aside from a couple of ratty pairs in my “houseclothes” drawer and some running shorts that I haven’t worn since I traded jogging for spin, I have only one pair in my closet. As much as I love them, they aren’t the first thing I reach for when getting dressed on a summer day, and that’s probably because they are slim fitting, cut fairly high on the leg, and made of a brushed cotton fabric that is beautiful and soft but not very crisp, so they have a tendency to ride up a bit in the crotch if the day is particularly humid. They look great on me when I leave the house but by the time I get back home, they look just as frazzled as I usually feel.

I have been wanting to try my hand at another pair of shorts with a little more wearability- a step up from my french terry ones but still casual enough that I can throw them on for a quick run to Trader Joe’s, and the new Deer and Doe Goji shorts and skirt pattern fit the bill. I didn’t realize this was the silhouette I was looking for until I saw it on their instagram feed, but it is right up my alley. I LOVE the concept of a skirt/dress that is actually shorts/pants; it is the one of the few fashions that I loved as a teenager that has also followed me into adulthood. It gives so much more freedom of movement and conservativeness while still giving a feminine and cutesy silhouette, which, yes, I am still drawn to in my late thirties without shame (see my Timeless Overall Shorts here!)

Deer and Doe patterns have lovely instructions and design details in all of their designs, so making their patterns is always a pleasure (and they seem particularly fitted for pear-shapes). I knew the Goji shorts would be a simple make since they have an elasticized waist and a loose fit so I made a straight size 38 according to my waist size and they fit great. I normally don’t like drawstrings on bottoms because if you decide to wear a shirt untucked with them, the tie creates visual bulk underneath whatever you’re wearing and I hate the way it looks, but it works on this pattern since I know I won’t ever style these shorts with something untucked. I love the high waist coupled with the fullness of the bottoms- they don’t cling to my butt or thighs which gives me a little breathing room and takes away the possibility of the fabric rising up between my legs.

I did not have a particular fabric in mind when I purchased this pattern and I figured I would make a simple first pair using something in my stash. The first thing that caught my eye was a very light gray colored tencel in one of my drawers that had been discarded for a better fabric (black tencel) when I was working on my second Hannah dress. The fact that that fabric had been shunned already should have been heads up enough for me, but sometimes I don’t pay attention to signs from the Sewing Gods. At pretty much every step of the way of constructing these shorts I was second guessing my fabric choice, and by the time I got to where I needed to attach the waistband, I was ready to throw the whole thing out. Which I did. The fabric was just not a great color- it was a washed out, almost white gray- the thread I used for the contrast stitching on the seams didn’t look good with the fabric, the tencel itself was too drapey for the structured silhouette I wanted, and it was also so lightweight that it was practically transparent. Nothing about the fabric screamed GOJI SHORTS, I just wanted to try and use up my stash (I hate having a fabric stash, by the way. HATE IT!)

After telling myself that life was too short to spend another minute sewing something that brought me no joy (shout out to my fellow konmari-ers!), I added “Goji shorts fabric” to my shopping list for Michael Levine’s and on my next visit there promptly found a shelf full of gorgeous denim chambrays that I knew would do the trick. I couldn’t decide whether to go for plain, polka dots, or pineapples, but pineapples seemed more fun, and I rarely come across a novelty-esque sort of print that can be paired with lots of things in my closet (I like to try and get as much wear out of my separates as possible). The small scale of the fruit and the blue denim colored background keep it fairly neutral without it being boring, and I think it works great with the lines of this pattern design.

I used denim top stitching thread to create the contrast stitching on the seams and panels of the skirt and I really love the effect. The pineapple fabric isn’t very heavy, but it gives the shorts the structure I was looking for and provides an almost fit n’ flare kind of silhouette. I love the comfortable waist, which has two channels of thin elastic running through it in addition to the functional drawstring, and I love the deep pockets that serve as a design element for the garment. These shorts feel incredibly easy to wear and not restrictive at all for a pair of shorts, which works extremely well for what I think looks and feels good on me.

Although I love the way these shorts came out, I am wondering what this design would look like in a drapey fabric closer to the tencel that I initially used, but with a longer length, like below the knee. As the weather warms up I am going to need a replacement for my current go-to skirt, which just so happens to be another Deer and Doe pattern. When I first made my yellow Fumeterre skirt I absolutely looooved it, but it stayed in my closet practically unworn for over a year before I pulled it out and chopped a foot off the bottom. Apparently the maxi length, while super cool and dramatic, was just not wearable enough for me, but altering it just a tiny bit catapulted it into a wardrobe staple. I am in love with the pale lemon yellow of the fabric, and while the Italian linen seemed exceptionally heavy when I first made the skirt, it works perfectly now in a slightly shorter length and provides a bit more warmth on cooler spring and fall days when paired with a light jacket. Anyways, this new skirt in my head would be really reminiscent of that yellow one, but breezier, and perfect for summer. I am REALLY into these elasticised waistbands that have enough drama drafted into the design that they don’t look too casual while still providing a lot of ease of wearing. More of that, please, designers!

look ma, no skirt!

I used to always think that I would never ever veer from my preference for fitted, darted, vintage-inspired silhouettes, and although I still LOVE them, I am really happy to have made room for a variety of different styles in my life now. It feels like I am less afraid to make what I need a priority rather than adhering to what feels expected of me, by myself and others. So it seems only fitting that I wore these shorts for the first time on my birthday earlier this month, which was very casual, chill, and relaxed. You hear that, twenty-five year old, Jasika? You are gonna be casual, chill and relaxed one day! Just you wait!

Everyone’s Favorite Dress

pattern: McCalls 7387

fabric: Liberty twill cotton from The Fabric Store

I’m not normally one to hop on a bandwagon when the general public seems to become a fanatic of one particular thing, be it a movie, a musician, a book, or in this case, a pattern. Example: everyone I know, including my wife, has talked on and on (and on and on and on!) about what a phenom Zadie Smith is, but I just haven’t been able to make it through any of her books. I’ve started a couple of them, never imagining for one second that White Teeth wouldn’t make it’s way into my Top 20 novels before I even started reading the first page, but it turns out it just wasn’t for me. This of course doesn’t mean that it’s not an incredible book or that my wife and all those other people raving about Smith’s work don’t have excellent taste (I’m sure it is and I know that they do), but timing matters, and perhaps more importantly, nothing can be everything to everyone. I try and remember this when I get criticism for projects I have been a part of, both large and small- more often than not, someone’s disinterest in a work of art isn’t personal, it’s just subjective, and that rings true for the sewing community as well. Which is why I bring this up- I don’t want to offend anyone who loves this pattern I am about to blog about (and according to the internet, many of you do)!

I came to Pattern Review pretty late, and I still don’t use it as a resource as often as I could. It is one of the first online spaces to begin cultivating an enthusiastic sewing community, so not only are their archives pretty massive, it is also one of the largest online forums dedicated to sewcialists in existence today, and from what I can tell, it has been beneficial to hundreds of thousands of people, both technically and socially, for years. Now that so many people have blogs, I do a simple google search when I am looking for details about a specific pattern that I want to make, and usually several entries will pop up, frequently from people whose blogs I already follow. But back in the day before so many people had access to creating their own blogs and writing about personal projects, PR was the place where you could easily share information about your makes- what worked, what didn’t, how the sizing was, what mods you made, and what the final project looked like. What has interested me most lately on PR has been rifling through the annual BEST OF posts, where they determine which patterns get sewn most often with the highest reviews/success rates. A lot of the same patterns seem to make the list every year, which has it’s pros and cons- it’s cool to know which patterns have “staying power” and are TNTs for the sewing community at large, but it would also be great to see a bit more variety in what people are trying and loving.

Anyways, two patterns caught my eye when I skimmed through the lists from the past few years. McCalls 7387, a loose fitting button-up shirt dress and M6886, a fitted knit dress, drafted to be a little looser than a body-con dress. Both were very simple silhouettes that didn’t look as if they needed a lot of tinkering. As such, I decided to make a size 10/12 in the button up shirt dress with no adjustments other than grading from the bust to the waist. It has such a loose, body skimming fit and interesting details that I couldn’t imagine that it wouldn’t fit great as-is.

But.

I.

Was.

Wrong.

First of all, this pattern is REALLLLLY FUSSY. I have no idea why they drafted the button band the way they did. I understand wanting to have a concealed placket for the band, and I like that detail (or at least I did before I had to construct it) but this one was just ridiculously complicated and messy looking. On top of that, the instructions are quite lacking for this part of the pattern, so I ended up having to make the band twice, cutting new pieces from my fabric and interfacing. I haven’t made a lot of concealed plackets in my life so maybe part of my distaste for the method demonstrated in this pattern is just based on inexperience, but the last one I DID make was for the Hannah dress, and it was a dream to put together compared to this one. This dress has you cut out several placket and band pieces, a couple of which are interfaced, but the instructions don’t do a good job of letting you know which pieces go together and there is no labeling on them other than what the general name of the pieces are (I would have found it helpful if they were labeled right/left/top/bottom etc.- the illustration in the instructions do a poor job of showing which pieces are which and which directions they should be facing). Because there are so many pieces required for the button band, not only was it needlessly complicated to construct, it also looks very bulky when finished, even though I graded my seams, understitched whenever I could, and chose a fabric that was not particularly bulky (it is on the lighter side of a mid-weight fabric). My outside placket doesn’t lay down properly and instead just kind of floats open in the air, so the hidden placket doesn’t even effectively hide the buttons it’s supposed to be concealing.

Aside from the construction method of the button band, I also dislike that it isn’t applied to the length of the front openings. The band starts a few inches down from the collar of the dress and ends at some point around the knees although there is still several inches of dress left beneath it. When I was making it I had no idea it would bother me as much as it does but for some reason I think it’s really unflattering. The placket ending where it does at the bottom doesn’t bother me so much, but I think the neckline looks just awful on me. I would prefer to have a button band going all the way up to the collar as it would on a traditional button up shirt with the option to leave a few buttons undone at the neck if you want that open collar look. As drafted, the dress splays open at my chest and just…I dunno, it just doesn’t look right to me, for whatever reason.

 

A few other details on this dress missed the mark for me. I love the high-low hem of the version I made, but it seems much more dramatic than necessary, and I didn’t realize how long the back was until it was finished- it’s so long that I can’t wear the dress without heels (or in my case, clogs), which cuts down on the different ways I can wear it. I also don’t like that the sides have a split at each seam; I think it looks too busy. It could have benefited from one or the other design element- a high/low hem or slits up the seams- but not both. Wasn’t it Coco Chanel, that fashionable but irredeemable (IMO) Nazi spy, who said that before leaving the house you should always remove one accessory so you don’t look overdone? I feel like that’s what this pattern needed- some major detail editing. Too bad I didn’t realize it until the entire dress was complete!

My final, but most frustrating complaint about the dress is the back pattern piece. The construction of the yoke is what I originally loved best about the dress from the technical design because the folded over pieces made me think of the Hannah Dress, but unfortunately it doesn’t wear very well. Or, rather, it doesn’t wear well on my body type (more booty!) The back piece is drafted VERY wide since it is folded on top of itself to create a sort of pleated effect. But as that extra fabric falls toward the hips, the folded pleat disappears and the fabric ends up pooling around the top of my butt in this really weird way. I

It’s hard to describe, but I think it’s because the excess fabric from the top of the pattern piece isn’t graded out at the hips, it just collects in one area, and I think it’s so noticeable on me because of my butt-to-waist ratio. The way the fabric falls in the back is very unflattering, and I even tried belting it in a million different ways as a last ditch attempt to “save” this dress. FYI, cinching a wide dress that has no seamed waist has always been a look that I am decidedly NOT into, but I would do it if it made this dress work better. Unfortunately it did not. So when I wear it (and yes, as much as I am complaining about this dress, I will wear it because I love the fabric!), it will just be worn baggy with a pool of collected fabric congregating at my lower back. Unless I find some time to unpick the yoke stitching at the back and gather the extra fabric at that seam instead of leaving it pleated as drafted. We are going to Costa Rica this summer and I imagine that this dress, with a few adjustments, will be a nice, easy garment to wear on warm, windy beaches with a bathing suit underneath. But I am most likely going to have to chop that weirdly long back hem down quite a bit so that I can wear the dress with sandals. And I will sew up those unnecessary side slits too while I’m at it.

Speaking of fabric, this spring-y floral print is made from a lightweight, opaque twill by Liberty of London, which came from none other than The Fabric Store. I love the color combination and the fabric’s softness- it feels like a fabric that has already been laundered 20 times. It’s light weight lends itself very well to this style of dress, which makes it look as breezy and easy to wear as it feels (aside from that blasted button band, of course!). So far, the fabric choice is my favorite thing about this dress, but perhaps once I adjust the hem it will look a little bit better to me. The only other things I really like about the dress are the sleeves, which are not set-in. They are drafted in a kimono style, but with a more subtle effect, and the cuffs tie them in with the tabs on the pockets- speaking of, could you tell this dress has pockets, one on each breast? The busy fabric kind of turns the whole thing into a seeing-eye puzzle!

I was so excited about this dress when I was working on it and I am really bummed that it came out the way it did. But this has been a good reminder for me to maintain a critical eye when shopping for sewing patterns, even when everyone else seems to be raving about them. I have mentioned a certain indie pattern brand on the blog several times before that has exquisite styling, design details and branding for their company, but the patterns look horrid on me. I made several patterns of theirs in my first couple of years sewing which were almost immediately relegated to the Butthole Bin™ before I faced the harsh reality that these patterns simply weren’t suitable for my body type. I wanted so badly to hop on the band wagon with everyone else in the sewing community and stay there, but I got to a point where I couldn’t bear to spend any more time and fabric sewing a garment that I knew was most likely going to look unflattering on me. Although I usually have much better luck with Big 4 patterns, I still need to keep my eye discerning and focused, because it usually doesn’t steer me wrong (unless we are talking about that disaster that was that Vena Cava for Vogue dress I tried my hand at a couple of weeks ago! hahahaha! But I digress…)

I will be sure to share some photos of the “new” version of this button down dress with the hem and side slits fixed and hopefully the back piece adjusted as well when I get around to it. Stay tuned 🙂

Flint Cropped Pants in Silk Cottton

pattern: Megan Nielsen’s Flint Pants

fabric: cotton silk from The Fabric Store in Los Angeles

I’ve known about Megan Nielsen’s patterns for a while, but the only one I had in my pattern stash was the Cascade Skirt, which I accidentally didn’t get enough fabric for when I tried to make it years ago, so I had to cut the pieces out incorrectly and piece them together in an attempt to save the project- it was wonky but it might have worked if I hadn’t tried to use a rolling hem foot (which I had never used before) on very my lightweight fabric. The hem was a disaster and I’m still unsure why- maybe the wrong fabric coupled with inexperience with a foot that requires a bit more precision than usual? Whatever the reason, by this time in the skirt making process I was completely fed up- the fabric had been gnawed, puckered and split in so many places at the hem that it looked beyond saving, so I threw it out, saving as many pieces of the fabric as I could  and moved on to something else. None of this of course had to do with the pattern itself but I felt so disappointed in the project that I kind of just tuned out anything that reminded me of it.

Thankfully enough time has passed and my sewing ego has recuperated enough to recognize that the failure was all mine and my heart is open once again to Megan’s beautiful designs, which I must admit, are much more eye-catching than ever with her recent pattern and website rebranding. Amazing what a huge effect that has on the consumer! So now I am digging through her archives to see what other designs I might have skimmed over or dismissed in the past (and for the record, I have every intention of giving the Cascade Skirt another try as soon as I find the right fabric for it).

When Megan announced the Flint Pants pattern on instagram, I thought fate must be intervening because I had only a few days before drawn out a bunch of pattern silhouettes and designs for projects on my Sewing TO-DO list. A had a fancy wide legged trouser pattern drawn out in addition to another culotte-ish wide leg pant that I intended to wear more casually.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRRiPaNhWCR/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

I had an idea of the pattern that I wanted for the culottes but I wasn’t quite sold on it- it was a random pattern that I bought at a Big 4 Sale and it was cute enough but I wasn’t sure if that was the look I actually wanted or if it was just the pattern I had (common sewist’s dilemma, I’m sure). So when Flint came into my line of vision and I was immediately hooked on the sleek look of the fit coupled with the casual feeling of the pants, I figured I should abandon my earlier instinct and go with my gut. And I am so glad that I did!

It’s funny to talk about how I was drawn to this pattern because of the casual feeling it embodies when I sewed mine up in such a non-casual fabric. But I was in LOVE with this fabric when I first saw it at The Fabric Store and I wanted to sew something up in it right away. Once I made the pants and discovered how much I loved the fit of the pattern, I knew I would be making them up again in the future so I didn’t feel bad that my first version came out a little fancier than intended. The fabric is an extraordinary cotton silk which has a crisp hand and a very soft sheen (softer than what shows up in these photos). It feels silky and soft to the touch but not as precious as say, a charmeuse- it feels wearable without feeling dressed down. The colors are what put it over the edge into heart-eyes-emoji territory though; this is a blue that I don’t see a lot. I don’t know how to describe it, but it has a slight darkness to it, a tiny bit of midnight blue and gray mixed together (this is actually my favorite color for a house and when we get ours repainted I will have to work long and hard to convince Claire to let us go in this direction). Anyways, I don’t have a lot of blue in my wardrobe because it’s not a color that I am drawn to very often, but this pretty shade coupled with that pop of pink in the flowers? SWOON!

Again, these pants came out more fancy than I intended, and I am really in love with that bleached denim pair on the pattern envelope so I have a feeling those might be next for me, although the closer it gets to summer the more insufferable wearing pants will be in this city, so I might have to compromise and make shorts for my next version of this pattern. I’m sticking to the soft, bleached denim look, though- if I can find it!

As a make, these pants were incredibly fast and easy to sew up and the instructions were excellent and left me with only one head-scratching moment (which I pretty quickly figured out, as it came from a minor adjustment I had made). I was so excited to make these pants that I totally forgot to tissue fit them before I cut my fabric out, so I felt nervous about what the fit would be like as I began to sew them. The sizing for this pattern is XS-XL which, in my experience in pretty rare for a non-knit sewing pattern, but all my measurements fit perfectly into the S category which meant no grading for me. I baste fit the pants together, tried them on, and, miracle of miracles!, they fit really well! I needed to take the waist seams in about 3/8″ or so on either side but everything else was perfect- the crotch depth, the release tucks in the front and the darts on the back. I forgot to apply the changes from the waist of my pants to the actual waistband so when I went to pin that pattern piece to the pants it was too long (hence the head-scratching), but the fix was easy, I just had to chop off a bit of the length at the front edge of the waistband and move my button and button hole marks to match. And I was thrilled to see a pants pattern with diagonal pockets that didn’t gape out on me! As discussed in my last post, I have issues with these types of pockets if the pants are super fitted, but this design has a very loose fit through the hips and thighs and my pockets have stayed in place quite nicely, even without twill tape stabilizing the seam.

I love everything about this pattern- the loose fit that makes it look like you’re wearing a skirt if you stand still with your legs together, the button and tie closure at the side, the smart use of pockets (for the record the pocket at the tie closure side isn’t really useful for putting anything other than your hand in because it opens to the inside of the pants, which is how you get in and out of them, but the pocket on the other side is perfect for putting things into). As I said, I am really excited to make this pattern again. As I said, I should make the shorts next, but I am dying to try the pants in a softer fabric with a slightly shorter hem and with a slightly narrower leg. This make was much quicker than I anticipated and is easy to complete in a day of sewing, even with my french seaming, which has become my go-to finish for pretty much every woven project I tackle. I just love how neat, clean and professional the insides look when I step into a garment that has all those pretty closed seams on the inside.

I highly recommend this new Megan Nielsen pattern, and I am excited to add a few more versions of it to my closet which, by the way, is completely stocked up on sundresses and cute skirts, while the lightweight pants/shorts category has been severely lacking…but thankfully not for long!

Wide Legged Burda Pants in Cotton Linen

pattern: Burda Wide Legged Trousers 10/2010 #104

fabric: cotton linen from The Fabric Store in LA

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Burda convert by any means, but I AM willing to take this pattern brand off of my AVOID AT ALL COSTS list. As frequent readers may recall, I was on an unsuccessful internet search for a couple of weeks to find a pleated peg-leg pants pattern to sew, and the only thing I found close to what I was looking for was Burda 02/2012 #103A.  After learning about and employing the Palmer/Plestch tissue fitting method, I came out the other side of the Burda wormhole with this fantastic pair of pants. While hunting down the pleated pants pattern on Burda, I ended up pinning a few other pants patterns onto my Pinterest board in the hope that, should the pink pants wind up a win for me, I could eventually tackle more pants designs that I have always wanted in my closet but never thought I was competent enough to make myself.

One pair was a slim fitting trouser design with an elastic waist made for woven fabrics, and the other pair was a wide legged trouser, which is the design that intrigued me most. Aside from rompers with dropped crotches and hammer pants, I cannot recall any time in my life where I have worn a pair of wide legged trousers. Was this a result of one of those fashion “rules” I had become so accustomed to, telling myself that I wasn’t fit to wear them because I wasn’t tall enough and would look too frumpy in them? Or because for my entire life, every single pair of pants I had tried on in a retail store, wide legged or otherwise, had fit so poorly that I never knew what a nicely-made pair of wide legged trousers looked like on my figure and therefore couldn’t formulate an informed opinion? The answer is both, probably.

But see, this is what sewing our own clothes does for us- it gives us, those members of the population born into a body that is shorter/wider/huskier/bootier/leggier/boobier than the average fashion model, the opportunity to relearn for ourselves what actually does feel and look good to us on our bodies. How is anyone supposed to think that wide legged pants could look good on them when all they see in the dressing room mirror is fabric pulling tightly at the thighs, a waistband gaping so far from the lower back that their undies are showing, and pant legs long enough that a giraffe would still need them to be hemmed? I don’t know about y’all but I took that information as gospel and quietly logged it away in my brain so that it would be forever internalized; my body wasn’t made for wide legged pants. This information was added to a very long list of other fashion no-nos that I won’t bore you with now, but that I have recently decided to unpack, slowly and deliberately, one style at a time.

As you can already tell, on the list this week? WIDE LEGGED TROUSERS! Spoiler alert: I totally CAN wear them! THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE!

I learned some really interesting things in the process of making these pants that I think have helped make them look like the winners they are, and others that will make them look even better the next time I make them.

As I said before, I tissue fit them first but because they aren’t fitted through the legs, I really only had to concentrate on the fit at the hips and waist, which was pretty easy. These pants are drafted with a pocket stay (HALLELUJAH!!!!) buuuuut I ended up having to sew the pocket openings down because I totally neglected to insert twill tape at the seams and they started bulging out very quickly (and of course Burda didn’t give me a reminder to do this- clearly I still need a bit of hand holding when making pants). I was quite disappointed in myself for this oversight but then I remembered that I have actually never owned a pair of pants with this kind of pocket opening and shape that behaved well. Even if I had prepped the pockets properly I can almost guarantee that they would have needed tacking down eventually. It’s because I have curvy hips and the pants are quite fitted in the butt and top of the thigh area- on trousers with a looser fit in the hips and legs, the pockets hold their shape and look just fine. So next time I will either change the style of the pocket to more of a jeans style where the opening has a U shape as opposed to a straight diagonal, or I will just eliminate the pocket all together. It seems such a shame because not all pants patterns have pocket stays and I FREAKING LOVE ME SOME POCKET STAYS. But it’s fine. The stays give my waist and stomach a bit of extra structure even if the pockets are completely unusable.

The trousers are also meant to have a long straight crease on both the front and back legs, but because my fabric has a softer, flowier hand, the crease didn’t work well with the texture and I ultimately ironed them out. But the lovely Sallie O gave me an awesome tip for my next pair, which is to edgestitch the crease on the pants to ensure that it stays visible and crisp, and I cannot WAIT to try that!

I have no idea what the fly front for these pants was supposed to look like since I ignored Burda’s 6 word construction method for it (LOL, I can already feel Renee rolling her eyes right now!) and instead inserted my own trusty fly that I use for jeans patterns, but I realize now that I gotta broaden my fly front applications before I make any more fancy trousers. I like the way this fly looks and I’ve gotten really adept at constructing it, but a flat fly front with no visible stitching would look even better on this style of pants. Thanks to Renee for the video tutorial on how to make a flat fly front for my future crispy wide legged trousers- I haven’t used it yet but I am excited to try it out.

The most interesting thing I learned about these pants was adjusting the length and width of the legs to match my petite frame. Yes, I think that virtually anyone can look and feel good in wide legged pants, no matter that person’s shape, height, size or thigh depth, but I do think some attention should be paid to the proportions in order to find the most flattering silhouette. A super wide legged trouser on a 5’10 person is going to have a different aesthetic on someone like me, who is much shorter and can get lost in all that fabric. To accommodate this, I took out a small amount of the width from both sides of each front and back leg to equal about 2 inches at the bottoms of the pant legs, which was graded to nothing at the hips and crotch seam. Just looking at how dramatic the pants looked on the model in the pattern photo made me think that they would look huge on me, and I was right; after baste-fitting the pants together and adjusting the back darts a bit, the pants were looking more like JNCOs than chic trousers, but that small adjustment in the width of the legs made a pretty big difference.

The other tricky part was the length. OY, VEY! This is all about personal preference, but that footless looking thing that some people manage to pull off when wearing very wide legs or bell bottom jeans simply DOES NOT WORK on me. You know what I’m talking about…the pants legs with bottoms so wide and long that they cover your whole shoe and you look like you’re just floating around?

for the record these pants are SEVEN. HUNDRED. DOLLARS.

What looks even worse to me with this type of cut is that the legs are so long that they usually have a visual break at the bottom, so instead of looking streamlined , the pants fall beautifully til somewhere around the ankle area and then the leg folds on top of itself, ruining the whole silhouette (again, my opinion- I just don’t like this look on ME). But on the other end of the spectrum, if you make a wide leg too short (not to be mistaken with a cropped wide leg, which is a totally different style), then you end up looking like JJ from Good Times, and no, that is NOT a good look on me either.

I realized I needed to know exactly what shoe I wanted to wear with these pants and have them just barely graze the top of it when I was standing still and straight, which made the whole hem rise from the floor a little less than half an inch. Even the tiniest difference in hem length dramatically changed the way the pants looked on me, both when standing still and walking, and I really wanted to maintain that sleek straight up and down look throughout the leg with no folds or breaks at the bottom, so I enlisted Claire’s help with getting the hem straight and precise all the way around. She did a really great job and I am very thankful she was around as I stomped through the house in every shoe I owned trying to figure out which ones worked the best.

Now, for the kicker. I figured out the right length of my pants, but I had cut them too short. OOOOHHH, CRUEL FATE! In an effort to anticipate these pants being as long as the patterns I usually make (once I ended up cutting nearly a foot off of the bottoms of the legs), I shortened the pants legs at the knee a couple of inches, thinking I would have plenty of room leftover for the hem, but I was very wrong, and once constructed, my pant legs were too short. I chatted with Renee about applying a turned-under facing to the bottoms of them which seemed smart, but they were still too short- I had no length to spare, and after determining my preferred hem length, I saw that I actually needed to ADD length to the pant legs!

Where is the slap-my-damn-head emoji??

But guess what, this awesome fabric was really forgiving because it’s got a slightly nubby and loose texture, so I was able to turn my facing into an actual hem. I calculated how much extra fabric I needed with seam allowance and additional leg length, then cut four pieces of fabric out (one for each leg piece), and sewed them together as if it was a facing. But instead of sewing it to the bottom of the pant leg and folding the whole facing up to the inside, stitching to secure, I sewed it to the bottom of the pant leg, treated it like a hem by ironing flat where I wanted the bottom of the pants to be, pressed the seam allowance under, folded that part to the inside, then stitched in the ditch to secure the inside of the pants to the seam. So it LOOKS like a facing, but it’s actually added fabric to the length of  pants. Don’t know if I explained that properly at all but hopefully a picture will help.

I googled to see if this was an actual technique before I tried to do it, but I couldn’t find any information about adding length to the bottom of a pants leg and then using that length as the hem. But then I thought, well it IS an actual technique if I successfully do it, right? So I tried it and it worked better than I had hoped. The added seaming and facing add a little heft to the bottom of the leg which helps keep it stabilized, and because my fabric was so flexible and un-crispy, I could get away with adding a bit of business at the bottom without it being very visible at all.

Once the pants were complete with finished hem, I tried them on in the mirror and for the first time felt 100% happy with them- honestly I couldn’t believe my eyes! Throughout the fitting process, adjusting the leg width and the hem and trying them on with so many different shoes, I had convinced myself that they weren’t going to end up looking that great on me anyways. I’m not sure if it was my insecure brain bad-mouthing me or the fact that the pants really didn’t look that flattering while in it’s in-between stages or a combination of both, but at some point I made a promise to myself to finish the pants regardless of their assumed negative outcome. I am not a fan of UFOs and my Butthole Bin™ hasn’t had much added to it in the last year. I felt like I owed it to myself to see the pants all the way through to the end, and if they looked utterly ridiculous, maybe I would be able to salvage them by turning them into cropped pants or cutting off all the extra width in the legs and having them be regular slacks. But obviously I didn’t have to do that- they looked so close to how I envisioned them in my head! The high waist and wide legs gave me the illusion of looking longer than I am and the hems perfectly grazed the tops of my shoes. I was happy with the fit of the darts in both the front and back and the legs didn’t hug my thighs too tightly while still providing a slim-looking fit through the butt.

as discussed on instagram, these pants make me feel like a 1940’s beat reporter with a voice like Katherine Hepburn

I LOVED the way they looked, but I only had one last reservation: the pants were…well, not exactly too tight in the waist, but rather perfectly fitted to it due to the fact that I hardly ever add my waistband when I baste-fit my pants (because I’m LAZY) so I have a tendency to overfit that area. I actually prefer snug waistbands to keep everything in place, and this one felt comfortable enough when trying the pants on, but I knew that as soon as I sat down to a meal, that waistband was gonna feel like an iron claw squeezing my guts and creating what we refer to in my household as Lightning Gas™. But the first time I wore the pants out and about, the waistband eased up a lot throughout the evening, probably because this fabric isn’t rigid and has a slightly loose weave. The knees had bagged out a teensy tiny bit (I’m sure only noticeable to me) and were much more comfortable than they were at the beginning of the evening. One other mistake I made when constructing these pants was that I forgot to extend the fly extension lower than what was drafted, which is a mod I make on all my pants since getting my smaller waistband over my wider hips is always an issue once the garment is completed. But with the extra looseness that that the fabric gave the pants after an hour or so of wear, pulling the pants up and down was much, much easier, and now I think they are about as good as they are gonna get!

Hannah Take 2!

This will be a mostly uninformative post because I already talked at length about my first Hannah Dress by Victory Patterns a couple of months ago here on the blog. To catch you up to speed, I really enjoyed the unique construction of the dress, from the smartly designed hidden placket at the neckline to the folds at the back of the dress that float into pockets on the sides- all of which set it apart from most loose-fitting dresses of similar design and shape.

But there were a couple of big things about the make that I really didn’t like at all.

The first was that the sizing was off. My experience with Victory patterns is that they run smaller than the measurements suggest, and my size 2 bust graded to a 4 at the waist and hips simply did not cut it. It was too tight in the bust and armhole areas and I could feel the dress straining at certain points. It didn’t look terrible at first glance, but a closer inspection showed small wrinkle lines fanning out from the armholes and around the placket. It was also a tiny bit too snug in the hips. I wanted the dress to just barely graze my frame beneath it since it was designed to be loose fitting, but when I walked, the fabric would cling to my butt, which interfered with the loose silhouette I was hoping for. I had also shortened the dress about an inch and a half, assuming that, like most patterns I sew, this dress would be end up being way too long on me, but that was a mistake. As drafted, this dress was probably the perfect length for my 5’3″ frame, and could even have stood to be a tiny bit longer for a sleeker look. So after the dress was finished and I tried it on, I knew immediately that I needed to go up at least one size and add the omitted length back in (and perhaps even a little extra).

The second issue I had with this dress was the color combination. I was going for a rust and sky blue combo that I had pinned a while back on pinterest and fell in love with, but because I bought my fabrics online, I couldn’t tell that the colors I ultimately purchased were not very close at all to the inspiration photo I was basing them off of. On top of that, the fabric I chose was tencel and didn’t have the same shimmery/lux qualities as my inspo picture either, so, visually, the whole project missed the mark on where I wanted it to end up.

But I realized the biggest problem I had with my fabric/color choice was that I kept feeling a subtle sense of distaste every time I looked at the dress. I couldn’t figure out what it was- I was enjoying the construction process and was excited to see how it was going to turn out, but something just wasn’t making me feel happy with how it was looking. And then it hit me: the gold and navy fabrics I had chosen looked like orange and blue- Auburn colors! I discussed this more thoroughly in my initial blog post but basically, even though I haven’t ever been a fan of football (college or otherwise), I grew up in a family that was vehemently pro-Alabama. Roll Tide, Roll! was the war cry I would hear roaring from our living room on game days, and occasionally I would even participate in the booing and hissing at the television screen when Auburn scored, just for fun. I wasn’t at all invested in this rivalry, but now as an adult I realize that I have effectively become a Pavlovian dog; without any conscious participation, I have been conditioned to balk at everything orange and blue that crosses my line of vision and to feel unexplained happiness when I see maroon and white. Or elephants. Or anything with the word “Tide” in it, including laundry detergent.

This is a particularly weird predicament to be in for someone like me, who, as mentioned earlier, could not care less about sports or college rivalries or mascots. But rooting for my home state of Alabama (as complicated about it as my feelings are), makes me feel closer to my family, who is spread all across the southeast region of the US. No matter what is going on in their lives, I can rest assured that they will all be sitting in front of their tvs on game days, rooting for The Crimson Tide, drinking beers, having a grand time. I usually don’t watch the game myself, but I make sure to text everyone in my family who is, periodically checking in on the score so that I can join them in feeling excitement or disappointment, depending on how good the team is that year (although I obviously wouldn’t know a good team from Adam- I just ask Claire to fill me in).

So yeah, back to the first Hannah dress. When I put it on I looked like an Auburn fan. And as much as I tried to get over it, ignore it, tell myself I was being silly, I simply could not. It’s possible that without any prior knowledge of or connection to Auburn’s team colors I would still not like this orange and blue color combo together. But it’s unlikely. Family loyalty is deep. Team loyalty is insidious.

So what’s a girl to do? I LOVED the design elements of the dress, but it didn’t fit as well as it could have and looking at the colors gave me a headache. Of course, if you followed my Octopus sweater making saga at all then you know exactly what I decided to do- MAKE IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER!

While working on the first version of Hannah I kept thinking about how much better a pink and gray version would be, which are two of my favorite color combos, and once I realized that I needed to make it again to be really happy with it, I started searching for more tencel fabric in those colors, but I didn’t have much luck. I like tencel- it can get a little wrinkly when worn, but it sews easily, has a beautiful and soft hand, and the texture looks really cool when made in a design that shows it off. Unfortunately, the colors I found available online were pretty limited. I finally tracked down a pink that I liked a lot and then ordered a light gray from another retailer that I thought would pair well with it, but once they arrived, they didn’t match well together at all. The gray had a blue-ish silvery tint to it and just didn’t have the right depth colorwise to contrast with the baby pink I had settled on. Thankfully, it was easy for me to know which color to substitute for the gray, because in my head the only thing that goes better with pink than gray is BLACK!

As soon as I saw the two fabrics side by side I was super excited to see how the final garment was going to turn out. Pink and black are just so chic to me! The combo seems gender neutral, totally fit for both masculine and feminine styles, and it is inherently sophisticated. As you know, black is my least favorite color to wear by itself, but when it’s paired with pastels or bold bursts of color like in my Rachel Wrap Dress, it’s pretty hard to resist.

At the last minute I decided to make a straight size 6 instead of grading from a 4 in the bust. I knew the 6 would probably give me the fit I was looking for in the hips but I worried that a 6 would be too big in the bust and arm region. But I took a chance that it wouldn’t and I was right- the 6 fits me perfectly at the bust with just the right amount of ease, and by the way, a size 6 is a full 3 inches larger than what my measurements would suggest by the Victory Patterns size chart. This is good information to keep in mind for their newest pattern, the Jackie Dress, which I am DYING to sew up as soon as the perfect knit fabric finds it’s way into my life.

Lastly, I added about 2 inches of length to the dress so that it hit me just past my knees. I am not entirely sure why I went with a longer silhouette seeing as how the original drafting is probably a great fit for me, but as soon as I started envisioning this pink and black version of the dress I kept seeing it as longer than the fit of the pattern photos, and I am go so glad I went with my instinct. Because my original Auburn colored version of this dress is so short, this longer length looks a little more appropriate to me. Not that I don’t mind showing some leg, but something about this pink and black version screams “opinionated NYC fashion editor!” to me while the first dress whispers “war eagle” in a choked falsetto. That makes no sense, but whatever. Maybe because the first version feels too short AND too tight, there was just no way I could feel very comfortable in it (despite the color combo), and everyone knows that comfort is about the most sexy thing you can wear.

I feel sexy, classy and stylish in the pink and black version. And for all of you lovely commenters who insisted that the original Auburn version was not that bad, I appreciate your support and enthusiasm but I am SO glad I went with my gut on this one. By itself, the Auburn dress is fine, but compared to this pink and black version, it doesn’t hold a candle!

 

The Rachel Wrap Dress in Vintage Fabric

 

I didn’t grow up in the 70s, so although I have always understood Diane Furstenberg’s work during that period as iconic, I never had any firsthand experience with it. I knew that her signature wrap dresses were a defining aesthetic of the decade, making women of all shapes, sizes and ages feel beautiful with their simple, figure flattering design, but I figured that all wrap dresses were essentially the same. GUESS WHAT I WAS WRONG. And I didn’t know how wrong I was til I got my hands on an authentic DVF design a few years ago from a TJ Maxx in a ritzy suburb of LA.

sidenote: The “ritziness” of this TJ Maxx is important to note because not all discount brand name clothing stores like this are created the same- this Maxx had a whole section of expensive designer garments with price tags way higher than I was used to seeing at, say, the TJ Maxx in Birmingham that I spent my high school years shopping in. In my opinion, a Maxx’s proximity to high-end department stores in a large, fashion forward metropolitan area has an effect on the kind of stock the store will have, but you also have to take into account how busy that store will be. For example, the TJ Maxx in Manhattan was always a dud for me because all the super nice clothes that came through there got nabbed almost immediately by all the stylists, fashionistas and bargain-hunters that made it their job to find good deals before everyone else in the city nabbed them up. I am convinced those shoppers had people on the “inside” alerting them to when they got especially good shipments of clothing. Anyway, this Maxx in the ritzy suburb was a goldmine because it was close enough to the Bloomingdales/Nordstroms/Saks of LA, but far enough outside of the city to have not been scavenged yet.

a DVF original

Anyways, as I was saying, I found a bright orange, white and black floral printed DVF wrap dress on the rack, tried it on, and was very, very impressed. Every wrap dress I had ever owned, worn or looked at before suddenly vanished from my memory and all that was left was me and this gorgeous garment, which was miraculously impervious to any flaws created by the overhead fluorescent lights of the dressing room. I swear I felt a wind machine start to blow on me as I oohed and ahhed over myself in front of the mirror. The fit was spot on, and the design made all the right things happen exactly where they needed to- the hem ended at the perfect spot just above my knees, the waist was ever-so-slightly gathered in the back so that there were no puckers or folds in weird places, the skirt hugged my hips and then dropped straight down at my thighs giving my shape an hourglass frame without making it impossible to walk. The fabric was made of a 2-way stretch knit so it had give in some places but felt stable and secure everywhere else. It was comfortable, it was sexy without revealing too much of my skin, and the color and pattern was eye-catching without being too busy. I was in love! This DVF dress was much pricier than anything I had ever paid for at TJ Maxx before, but it seemed worth it. This was at a time when I was only dabbling in becoming a better sewist and I hadn’t yet committed myself to making all my clothes, so finding a RTW garment in a discount department store that looked this good was rare for me.

just posting these DVF wrap dress shots for comparison’s sake!

Three years later, this DVF wrap dress is one of maybe 5 RTW dresses that I still own, but it is hands down the one that gets the most wear. For three years it has been my go-to audition dress for any character with the words “sexy” or “sophisticated” in her breakdown description, and I have gotten at least one compliment every single time I have worn it.

another sidenote: I just realized I have never washed this dress in the three years I have owned it!?!?! Hahahahaha!! That probably seems ridiculous to some people but unless I have a visible stain/dirt on a garment or if I know I sweat a lot in it because I lost my mind on the dance floor at an event (which happens A LOT), I don’t launder the dressier items in my closet very frequently. I was always taught that this preserves the life of your clothing, and because the majority of wears for this dress have been for only a few hours at a time- the approximate length of an audition- I simply didn’t notice that it needed immediate cleaning. Of course, after this realization I ran to the closet to pull the dress out and examine the underarms and…ummmm…IT DEFINITELY NEEDED CLEANING! The pits were yellowed from sweat + deodorant and they also had the not-so-faint smell of old sweat combined with fermented grapefruit and cedar, which are the essential oils I like to use most in my homemade deodorants! LOL! Needless to say the dress went straight to the cleaners!)

 

ANYWAYS! I have thought many times of how awesome it would be to replicate this wrap dress in other colors and prints, but this dress’s design is a little more intricate than it appears to be at first glance. I’m sure that the DVF company has played around with the original concept over the past few decades to add a little more interest and nuance to the design, and the dress I own seems to be a more recent incarnation. It has a seam at the back waist which allows the skirt to be ever-so-slightly gathered to pull into the waist while also allowing room for a fuller bottom, and the outside front edge of the dress where the neckline binding meets the wrap tie is constructed in an interesting way- it’s gathered so that the edge of the skirt creates lovely draped lines that fall down across your hip. I’m not entirely sure why that design element was included, but I’m guessing it provides a little visual interest while also camouflaging any “problem” areas around the hips and thighs (that’s not my term- I’m just using it because I figure that’s what the fashion world would call an area of the body that they think many women wouldn’t want to draw attention to).

 

I can’t imagine replicating my DVF dress successfully without taking it apart (I’m sure a more skilled sewist could do it, but that sewist is not me), so for now it will stay in my closet, finally laundered (LOL) until I get sick of it or it doesn’t fit well anymore at which point I can take it apart and create a pattern from it. This of course got me thinking about how I should just look for a wrap dress pattern to replicate the general look, if not the exact DVF design. I know that DVF doesn’t license her patterns anymore so the only way to get your hands on one of her original Vogue designs is to stumble across a paper pattern at an estate sale or pay upwards of $100 for it on eBay. Since I have not had any luck on the former and I refuse to do the latter, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for something comparable by another designer. I tried the Very Easy Vogue wrap dress pattern and attempted to make a version of it for my mother before working on one for myself, but soon after I started constructing it I knew it wasn’t the dress for me- the design and fit were not what I was looking for, and I ultimately had to trash the whole project because my knit crepe fabric was too heavy for the (weirdly large) skirt portion of the dress and it was sagging and drooping in all the wrong places. Eventually I stumbled upon Pattern Review (I don’t use this site as a resource as much as I should!) and found some promising wrap dress designs by indie pattern makers. One was called The Onion dress and the other was by a company called Maria of Denmark. I had trouble finding out where to buy the first pattern online so I decided to get the Rachel Wrap Dress by MOD instead and keep my fingers crossed that it would be a winner.

Although the finished product is a much more simple design than that of my original DVF dress, I have to say that I love the Rachel Wrap just as much. It is an incredibly quick project to sew, despite the snafus I made in the construction of mine that I then had to spend a fair amount of time undoing. It isn’t fussy or overly detailed so the fit is smooth and classic, giving the exact silhouette you’re probably looking for if you’re in the market for a wrap dress. Now in most of the finished versions I saw online, sewists used a simple cotton jersey to make their wrap dress in, usually in a fun novelty print. These looked great, giving it a very easy and casual feeling, but I was way more interested in ramping my wrap dress up and using a more sophisticated fabric. Maybe it’s because I always wear my DVF wrap dress when I am dressing up for an event or an audition, but I much prefer a more styled, dolled-up version of this kind of design as opposed to a casual one. No matter if you prefer to dress your wrap up or down, I love that this pattern accommodates the whole spectrum- you really can’t go wrong!

 

So about my fabric- I have had this in my stash for probably 3 years. After moving to LA four years ago I became slightly obsessed with going to estate sales where sewists and crafters used to live. I would find the most amazing vintage notions, old quilting fabrics and random bundles of sewing goodies and I would be so excited to give them a new life in some way. Once my fabric stash got too big for comfort I stopped going to the sales, but I accumulated some pretty fantastic vintage pieces in my heydey, including this incredible silky 2 way stretch knit. I have no idea what it’s made of, all I know is that when I got it it smelled like a stinky vintage store but the color palette was gorgeous. I saved this fabric for a long time because even though I don’t think the print is dated, it reminded me of a 70’s disco babe, and I wanted to wait for a pattern that could really amp up that retro-feeling. Last week I was looking for some scrap fabric in my fabric bureau for a different project and this black and peach yardage practically jumped out at me. I had literally JUST purchased the Rachel Wrap dress the night before and I knew immediately that these two would be a marriage made in heaven.

As much as I love this fabric, I decided not to make a muslin before cutting into it, and thankfully the sewing goddesses were on my side. I cut a size ___ at the bust and a ____ at the waist and hips. The instructions for this pattern are just ok. I knew how to construct most of this garment except for the neck binding so I didn’t need to rely on them very much, but there are no line drawings to accompany the steps and the photos (and one illustration) that are used are pretty subpar. One of the images is downright confusing! I sat at my sewing table scratching my head for 5 minutes trying to decipher what these wavey lines and color codes meant and finally I just ignored it and tried to figure it out myself. You can complete this dress in a few hours but it took me a bit longer because I made one silly mistake from the very beginning. I decided to interface my neck binding to give it more structure and keep it from stretching out too much because I know that lots of complaints about wrap dresses revolve around the dress needing to fit better around neckline so that the wrap at the bust doesn’t sag out and expose people’s cleavage and bras.

I didn’t realize that the neck binding in this pattern is drafted to be stretched out along the neck of the dress considerably when you construct it- that elasticity is what gives the wrap it’s snugness at the bust and keeps all your goodies covered up and supported. Initially I just thought that the neck binding was cut way too short but then I realized it is actually supposed to stretch a lot. Thankfully I was able to remove my interfacing from the piece and get the band to fit the neckline, but now that the dress is completed I would definitely add a bit more length to the binding. The binding at the neck is stretched out so much that it creates little gathers along the neckline, and maybe if you have a really full bust or torso your body will fill up all that space so that the gathers are stretched out and the neckline looks smooth, but on me it just looks puckered and weird- that amount of stretch in the neckband is unnecessary on a smaller bust like mine. I carefully steamed and ironed out the fabric around the neckline which helped ease the gathers a lot. It’s not obvious enough for me to dislike the dress at all, but again, next time I make it I will try adding an inch of two of length to the neckline pattern piece so that it doesn’t need to be stretched out as much.

I had a bit of trouble getting the edges of the straps of the dress (where the binding intersects with the dress fronts) to lay smooth and flat. This is a bit difficult to describe without any photos, so I forgive me for that oversight! I am not sure what the culprit is, but I suspect that more detailed instructions for these steps would have been incredibly helpful. The issue resulted in the front edges of the dress, which get turned in towards the inside to create a hem, curving in a weird way and not laying flat. But when I tried to keep the fold on the edge straight, the section above it where the neck binding and strap met would not stay even and would morph into a very wonky shape. Again, explaining this doesn’t make much sense when you can’t see what I am talking about, so just know that I somehow managed to unpick my stitches and shift the pieces around so that they looked even and smooth. I’m not sure if this is a drafting issue or just a miscommunication in the instructions for this part of construction, so next time I make it I will pay close attention to how these steps are supposed to be worked (and what I did to fix them, if necessary).

demonstrating how much fabric is underneath the wrap of the dress – it’s plenty! so less chance of the wind blowing your skirt wide open!

After taking the photos for this dress, realized that I didn’t like the edges of the sleeves. Maybe because the fabric is relatively fancy or maybe because I prefer cuffs on sleeves in general, but the simple folded hems with twin needle stitching just didn’t do it for me. They looked too casual for a dress with this much oompf. So a couple of weeks after completing this garment I went back and took out the stitching at the sleeve hems. I cut out some cuffs whose final measurements would equal the width of the neckline band for visual consistency and then I serged them into the sleeve edges. The addition of the cuffs added a tiny bit more length to my sleeves (which I didn’t mind as they already ended a couple of inches beneath my elbow) and looked way more finished than they had previously. To finish the front edges and bottom hem of the dress, I folded in the allowance and used a twin needle to stitch everything down as I had initially done on the sleeve hems. It looks clean and pretty on the inside.

Despite my complaints about the sub par sewing instructions, I do think this is an easy pattern to make that comes together quickly and yields pretty dynamite results. You are required to draft a couple of pattern pieces (I think just for ties, whose length you can adjust depending on your preference- I made mine longer than suggested) and it’s important to note that you have to add seam allowances to certain parts of the dress and that not all of the seam allowances are the same, but those are listed pretty clearly in the instructions. One last thing is that this dress is the perfect length on me as drafted, and I usually have to shorten patterns considerably to keep them from being too long, so if you are one of those #blessed with long limbs, keep that in mind if you don’t want this to end up being too short on you.

Big thumbs up to this pattern- I hope some of you who have been keeping your eyes out for a classic but simple wrap dress give this one a shot!

 

A Pin Up Dress in Raw Silk

I have a crazy story about this fabric. It was included in one of about 3 other gigantic bags full of used men’s clothes and old fabric remnants which was “gifted” to me by someone I didn’t know very well. I had offered to teach some friends how to sew a simple project at my house, suggesting they bring a friend if they wanted, and one of them brought someone who basically used my house as a Goodwill. Someone in this individual’s family used to sew and they had inherited some bags of (mostly unusable) fabric…which they in turn gave to me. They included about a dozen men’s button up shirts, too,  just in case I wanted to “use them for scraps or something”. Initially I thought that the gesture was thoughtful, albeit misguided, but soon it dawned on me that the person could have cared less about whether or not I was actually interested in what was in those bags- they just dumped them on my floor without a second thought because they didn’t want it taking up space in their house anymore. As you know, I am all about recycling fabric and clothes that have more life in them, but not everyone’s trash is someone else’s treasure- sometimes it’s just trash! A better way of handling this situation would have been for them to ask me ahead of time if I had any interest in their stuff before lugging it all to my house. Or at the very least, they could have brought the bags and asked if I would like to go through them to keep anything that might be of use. As it turned out there was hardly anything worthwhile in their giant pile of stuff when I rifled through it a couple of days later, mostly jagged fragments of cloth that had already been cut into and some stained men’s clothing, which was now of course my responsibility to get rid of. I threw away the remnants that couldn’t be salvaged, delivered everything else to charity, and kept one of the few shining lights in the pile, a narrow three-yards-long cut of a jewel-toned raw silk, for myself. I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, but it was in great condition and I couldn’t stand to throw it out.

Ultimately this story has a happy ending because, even though I never wanted the fabric in the first place, I did end up making something beautiful with it, which seems almost worth having to deal with that annoying situation…almost. What is it with people giving crafters their discards in hopes that they can magically turn them into something beautiful? Maybe I am just sensitive about the assumptions that non-makers tend to put on us (since you really enjoy sewing it would be a cinch for you to make something for me! and my personal favorite, you should sell your items! I would buy them! so you need to SELL THEM!!!!!) but I tend to regard things outside of my wheelhouse with a bit more respect and sensitivity than people show to me. In my experience, questions invite dialogue while presumptuous declarations just show ignorance.

ANYWAYS. This dress! It’s awesome! I was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous the fit was when I went through all these photos- I hadn’t worn this #redcarpetDIY dress yet and it had been almost a year since I made it, so my memory was poor. But I feel like a bombshell in it! And that is NOT a familiar feeling for me. Cute? Sure! Pretty? Thanks! Glamorous? Aw, shucks! But sexy? Nope, not me. Well, not me unless I am wearing this dress apparently. It’s a pretty simple silhouette and that’s why I was so attracted to it. I love Gertie’s books because they have so many great classic blocks included in them, and though I don’t fit perfectly into her drafted patterns (the bust is always WAY bigger on me despite my measurements matching up with the sizes), I have found that the extra work needed to alter the fit is always worthwhile because they suit my style well and I know I will use them over and over again.

This dress was the first time I used boning in a bodice, and since it was kind of an experiment to see how I liked the process, I used the cheap plastic kind. It’s fine for this dress which probably won’t get TONS of wear since it’s so dressy, but I make all my boned bodices with steel wire boning now, which is much stronger and curves to your shape better than this plastic does (on me, at least- mine came in a roll and it was impossible to get the curve out of it before I sewed it in the dress).

I followed the instructions for making the bodice of this dress in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book with the heart shaped neckline. The instructions were pretty good and definitely gave me a solid foundation for the concepts, but I feel like there were a few important bits of information left out. For example, I don’t recall any mention in the book of using an additional fabric to give your bodice more support, so the first few dresses I made with strapless bodices just have a shell with a boned lining attached, as opposed to a shell, a lining and another layer of sturdier fabric, either made of muslin or hair canvas, sewn inside of that. (And if this information is in the book and I just missed it, apologies- either way it’s still a great book!) I didn’t even know that a THIRD layer to give the bodice more of a sturdy foundation was a thing til Renee mentioned it to me. Without this additional layer of a stronger fabric, particularly for softer, drapey-er fabrics like the ones I used, the bodice can be a bit flimsy. I don’t have a big bust so I can totally get away with wearing this dress and not worrying that anything is going to pop out, but it would still be nice to have a more supported bodice when there are no straps to hold it up. Also Gertie illustrates a simple plan for how to lay out your boning placement across the bodice, but she doesn’t explain when and if you should deviate from that plan, and there are several patterns in the book that, as per the illustrations, have a different boning layout than the one she describes in the instructions. It’s unclear when you should make those adjustments and why- maybe it’s up to the discretion of the maker? Regardless, more information would have been helpful.

Aside from that issue, I found the construction of the bodice pretty straightforward once I altered the pattern pieces for the bodice (I didn’t use a SBA, I just took the seams in where needed and it worked fine). The skirt took some work, too, but I am more familiar with adjusting that type of garment so I knew how to make the changes I wanted- basically I just baste my skirt pieces together and try it on over and over again, altering the seam lines until they look and feel right. I made my first pencil skirt from another of Gertie’s books and it has served me well, but I started from scratch with this pattern block in case it was drafted differently than her previous books.

Unfortunately I could not manage to get my skirt darts and bodice darts lined up properly in the front! When I moved them on the skirt they made the skirt fit differently, and I didn’t want to rearrange the seam lines on the bodice because I had already sewn it together and I was too lazy to take it apart. So the front lines don’t match up at all. WHO CARES! Since I have such a significant curve in my hips, the seams on the sides bulged a bit in weird ways once I got the fit right, so had to cut notches in the seams to make them lay flat. It makes the skirt hug my body perfectly but the insides look wonky- it’s hard to finish a seam with notches cut into it. My solution was to use bias seam binding on that area, carefully sewing the edges of the little triangles created by the notches, but it still doesn’t look very clean to me. It’s okay though- next time I will probably just serge those seams individually (right and left side) close to the seam line and see if that gives the seam enough flexibility to stretch around my curves.

One other issue I have with the way this dress looks is the top of the heart shaped bodice- it has a little fold on either side of center that I can’t get to straighten out for the life of me! I trimmed and notched those seams and I also used a small length of basting stitch on the lining at the center front to gather the middle of the “heart”, as suggested in the book- still has a tiny fold. No idea what I did wrong, but it could just be an issue with the raw silk- it was pretty good to work with but certain areas had different characteristics, and maybe it’s just a little stretchy in that area.

For a dress that looks as painted-on as this one, it is surprisingly comfortable! Or at least it is standing up- I can’t remember if I have tried to sit down in it yet. I used this same pencil skirt block matched with a different bodice from Gertie’s book and I had to drive to an audition in it the other day. You guys. It was hysterically uncomfortable! I had to squeeze my knees together super tight just to drive my car and at one point I considered unzipping the entire back of the dress so that I would have room enough for my legs to move around freely. But that seemed like a dangerous prospect- what if I couldn’t zip myself up in the car by myself or I broke the zipper and had to have my whole backside exposed to the CBS lot before I could get help?? As long as you aren’t driving, this dress is manageable- all you have to do is sit on the very edge of whatever seat you are in and keep your legs either crossed or zipped up tightly at the knees and thighs. This must be how Marilyn Monroe walked around for an entire decade. The book suggests using a waist stay for this dress but I didn’t see the point- the skirt isn’t heavy and it is fitted to my body so closely that there isn’t much wiggle room leftover. Also the bodice isn’t really strong enough to be held up by a waist stay- I think the stay is most beneficial in something more rigid than mine turned out to be.

Okay, so that’s the dress! Not bad for my first attempt at a boned bodice! I made this bodice twice more over the past year but I am still perfecting my construction. I have another dress like this lined up in my cue, this time a boned strapless bodice attached to a circle skirt, and I will definitely use an additional sturdy fabric coupled with the lining and a waist stay. And I might play around with the neckline a bit, but the heart shaped bodice is so just so pretty- I might not be able to stay away from it!

Pleated Pants in Pink

I have always been quite fearful of sewing pants for myself, which makes very little sense considering I have successfully made nearly a dozen different versions of jeans over the past couple of years. Somehow Closet Case’s Miracle Jeans patterns (here and here) have seemed like a walk in the park compared to starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that has no sew-alongs or hand-holding to accompany it. I’m not scared of the actual construction so much as getting the fit right, and I am sure this fear comes from a lifetime of experience trying to buy RTW pants in commercial stores. I have never, I repeat, NEVER bought RTW pants that fit me perfectly. They have run the spectrum of I can’t believe you’re wearing those out of the house to I guess they look okay if you pull your shirt down over your butt, but never wow, those pants look amazing on you! Either the pockets gape at the sides or they are too tight in the thighs or, most often, the waist is huge while the hips fit snugly, leaving me with a big gap of space between my waistband and my actual body. Doesn’t matter the style- jeans, pleated, flat-front, darted- if they didn’t have an elastic waistband on them then they weren’t going to fit my body very well.

With her patterns, Heather helped me (and hundreds of other people around the world) craft a pair of jeans that fit our bodies beautifully and made us feel and look amazing, but for some reason in my head these successes seemed to only apply to jeans making- I couldn’t imagine those concepts translating to the world of trousers at large. Intellectually I knew this didn’t make sense, so I gave myself a bit of time to work through my fear without adding too much pressure to jump into pants making. I started reading blog posts about people’s journeys making their own pants. I pinned pants patterns that interested me and seemed suitable for my style and shape. And I bought myself a copy of the much heralded Palmer and Pletsch’s Pants for Real People. Some of the material in it is pretty dated, but on the whole the information is reliable and very helpful.

There are a few standout lessons I learned in reading this book which I was able to apply to these pink pleated pants. Number one (and perhaps most important) is tissue fitting. I always side-eyed the tissue fitting concept because I couldn’t comprehend how substituting pattern paper for fabric would translate to anything useful; pattern paper seems too thin, stiff and delicate to temporarily mold to your body. But with tips from the book I was able to get a better understanding of why you tissue fit- it is but one step in the process of creating a pattern that works for your body, and it is super helpful. First of all you are instructed to tape the crotch seams of both the front and back pants pieces to keep the paper strong during the fitting process, which addressed my initial concern about the paper not holding up well to fitting on the body. It is also recommended that you use a length of thin elastic tied around your waistline to keep the paper pattern pieces from falling off and to give you a visual reminder of where your actual waist is in relation to the pattern pieces. You pin the seams of the pattern wrong sides together and then (very very carefully) try them on and make your way to a mirror so you can assess the fit and look. The paper doesn’t necessarily give you a great idea of what your final pants will look like, but it does show you most if not all of the fit issues that the pattern will have, particularly if the waist/thighs/calves/crotch are too big/little, loose/tight, high/low. Once you see where the pattern needs to be adjusted, you make marks on the pattern paper and then add in or take out “fabric” as needed.

Many of these adjustments were familiar to me because I would make them when muslin-ing (or just working directly from my fashion fabric), but making changes on the paper pattern streamlines the process, takes less time than muslin-ing, and keeps you from potentially ruining your fabric. The two most awesome adjustments that I learned about from the book are 1. changing the crotch curve and 2. adjusting the waist height of the pants. Deepening the back crotch curve creates more room in the seat for fuller butts like mine (you can do the opposite if you have a flatter derriere) and WOW what a huge difference it made! I deepened mine by 1/2 inch from the seam allowance and it made for a pant that fit my curves in the back while still giving me plenty of room to walk and sit and bend- they look super fitted but they don’t feel tight at all. Amaaaaazing! Raising the waist of the pants was another impressive fix- it’s a quick and dirty way to keep the pants from sagging or gaping and seems to be a good solution to fixing a swayback as well. Since you have a band of elastic around your waist, it’s easy to see where the paper pattern should be adjusted in relationship to where you want the waistband to be. When I was tissue fitting these pants, the back came up super high on me, several inches past my natural waist, so I was able to cut that chunk out to make them sit better, giving plenty of room for ease and wearability.

After my initial tissue fit, I added more room to the hips, adjusted the width of the legs and calves and adjusted the length of the pieces between the waist and the hip (this created a shorter depth of crotch since mine hung down a little lower than what felt comfortable or looked good) on my paper pattern, then I cut out the new pattern pieces using a black textured fabric that I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Unfortunately, halfway through the process I realized that my fabric was of pretty poor quality and that I would probably never wear them once they were finished, but I didn’t mind- I got some great practice with that first pair and once I saw that the fit was getting closer to what I wanted, I was excited to move on to my pink fabric anyways. I installed my zipper using the Closet Case method she shares in her Jeans Making e-Book, then I basted the pant legs together, tried them on, and made a few more tiny tweaks in the hip and thigh area. After that it was smooth sailing- I just needed to create and attach my waistband and hem the bottoms.

Now the real exciting thing for me here is not that I used the Palmer Pletsch method of making pants, but that I used a BURDA PATTERN TO MAKE THEM. Yep, you read right! (I blame Renee). I have mentioned a dozen times on this blog how much I hate Burda patterns. I love the styles but MY GOD the instructions and construction techniques are just awful- too sparse, sometimes written incorrectly, no line drawings or photos (at least with the online patterns I have purchased) and no additional details on construction techniques whatsoever. When I first started getting into sewing a lot a few years ago, Burda enticed me with all their pretty photos, fashion forward designs, and inexpensive patterns, and I accumulated quite a few of them, even making a couple of dresses that turned out sort of okay, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was NOT the intended demographic for their patterns. With the exception of a few simple designs, their patterns are generally not for beginners who are unfamiliar with how to construct a variety of garments. I remember buying a cargo shorts pattern of theirs a few years ago which essentially began with the words “insert your front fly zipper” and no actual instructions that followed. I was like *#^!)#&%$%?!?!?!?!- aren’t you supposed to tell me how to insert a front fly zipper, Burda??? I looked up instructions online but I was too out of my depth, having never made a zip fly before and getting incredibly confused when the details of my pattern pieces didn’t match up with the tutorials I was finding. Needless to say, I threw that project in the Butthole Bin and hadn’t tried another Burda pattern since.

But when I realized that I wanted to make a pair of trousers for myself using the Palmer Pletsch technique, I had a lot of trouble finding a pattern that matched what I wanted. I was looking for a peg-leg trouser, something high waisted with a loose-ish (but not wide) leg that could be rolled up at the ankle, dressed up or down. I wanted pleats, too, a detail that ladies with curves are not “supposed” to wear since pleats can accentuate areas that you “should” want to hide. But of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, I am moving away from all those “rules” and experimenting with clothing that has aesthetics I am attracted to as opposed to details that I think will “work” for my body (/excessive use of quotations). The Big 4 companies didn’t have what I was looking for and neither did any of my fav indie pattern designers, but I found several pattern contenders when I reluctantly started sorting through the online Burda catalogue. I could vaguely hear Renee’s voice in the back of my head rattling off all the amazing Burda patterns she had successfully made over the years, and I started to gain a little more confidence. It had been years since I had last attempted a Burda pattern and I knew my skills as a sewist had grown a lot since then, but I had also noticed that as a I got more comfortable with the craft, I liked to challenge myself more. So. Maybe it was time to give Burda another chance. I chose the Pleated High Waist Pants 02/2012 #103A, (why do they choose the most confusing way to name/categorize their patterns??) added the damn seam allowance (I shouldn’t hate this as much as I do because I already trace all my pattern pieces- adding seam allowance is really not that big a deal for me…and yet!) and went to work.

This is me demonstrating how comfortable and easy it is for me to do a squat in these pants! I do squats in heels all the time, by the way!

Guys. It wasn’t that bad! I used my trusty Closet Case construction method for inserting my zip fly, adding and subtracting certain details to my liking, then I proceeded as usual for any other pair of jeans using the fitting adjustments described earlier in this post. With a solid foundation on how to construct a pair of pants, I didn’t even need Burda’s measly 7 sentence “instructions”, and maybe that’s how most Burda patterns are intended to be used- you use them with your own basic understanding of how to make the garment and they just supply the drafted pattern pieces. I guess there is reason these patterns are so cheap! I would still prefer to have a regular set of instructions included with my patterns, but I know now that I am capable of working from my own knowledge, and I love that the world of beautiful Burda patterns is now open to me again.

As for the pants, I LOVE them! I realize that I have been saying I love my makes way more consistently now which feels so exciting to me. And it’s true! These pants fit great, they are super comfortable, and I freaking love the gorgeous pink color of the fabric. On my last trip to The Fabric Store, the lovely Sara immediately led me in the direction of this hot pink raw silk when I told her I was looking for a bottom-weight fabric for some trousers. This fabric was a little more lightweight than what I was initially looking for but once I saw it, I obviously couldn’t say no (pink is my favorite color, next to yellow, and next to gray. I have three favorite colors, sue me). It ended up working perfectly with this pattern, and raw silk is probably a smarter fabric to wear in a Los Angeles summer than what I was looking for anyways. This is one of the (many) things about The Fabric Store that I love- everyone in the store is knowledgeable about the fabric and they also have really good taste, so whether you are looking for something specific or needing help narrowing down your options, they can steer you in the right direction. The color of this fabric is as brilliant in person as it is in the photos, it has a spectacular hand (soft with just the right amount of nub) and drape (a lot of body without being stiff) which works really well for this pair of pattern.

I didn’t use the waistband pieces of the Burda pattern, mostly because they made absolutely no sense to me- I couldn’t tell where they connected to each other and which piece was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead I decided to use my waistband from the Ginger Jeans pattern, which was already curved and adjusted to fit my waist perfectly; I shaved off a little of the width and it worked like a dream on these pants. I played around with the idea of adding belt loops but eventually nixed that idea because I wasn’t sure if I would actually wear a belt with them. After wearing them once I can say that a belt is totally unnecessary and I am so glad I didn’t do the extra work of adding them, cause sometimes I am just lazy.

brushing my shoulders off, obvs.

Now that I have successfully made a pair of pants using a fitting technique I had never tried before and a pattern company that I historically hate, I am feeling kind of unstoppable, like I need to make ALL the pants! I already have a project in mind for my next pair- I want them to be a high waisted wide leg pant in another fun color, like yellow or robin’s egg blue. I wish I had some of this raw silk in every color because it would work for SO many projects, and I can only imagine how beautifully it would sew up into a dress. But let me slow down and take it one cut of fabric at a time…I already have two #recarpetDIY projects on the horizon in addition to one of the Pattern Review winners for best dress of 2016 lined up in my queue. And I have like three pairs of shoes that I am ready to try my hand at, too, now that spring sandals are in all the shops and I am feeling newly inspired.

Sigh. Sew little time, sew many projects 😉

edit: OMG I forgot to say: The top is a Grainline Studios Lark Tee in a knit fabric from Michael Levine’s which was just too pretty not to buy when I went shopping there a couple months ago- didn’t blog about it because these tees are super easy and there isn’t much to say about them, but it’s a great pattern with lots of options and I love how this one turned out!

Holidays in Velvet

I have never made myself a dress for Christmas before, but since this was our year to spend with Claire’s family and they had a ‘Progressive Dinner’ planned (which entails starting dinner at one house with drinks and apps, moving on to another home for the Christmas meal and then a final house for dessert and presents), I figured this was as good a time as any to whip up some festive attire. Truth be told, the Christmas dress only came into being after I walked into The Fabric Store  last December and saw a roll of the most luxurious black velvet laying on one of the tables. It was so soft, the fabric had a gorgeous drape, and the velvet had so many dimensions. Black is my least favorite color to wear so I pretty much never ever sew it unless it has a print, but this velvet was too special to not make an exception- when the light hit it you could see all the texture of the cloth while the deep black color seemed to emit golden hues at certain angles. What made me more in love with the fabric was that I immediately knew what I wanted to make with it, which is pretty rare for me. I had bought a Big Four pattern when there was a massive sale on them at Joanns. My Dad had come down to visit me in Savannah for the weekend and since I didn’t have a car, he happily drove me to the grocery store, Target, and Joanns so that I could grab some notions that my local fabric store down the street didn’t carry (f I hadn’t mentioned it before, my Dad is exceptionally sweet and I wish I had a photo of him patiently sitting next to me holding my basket of thread and zippers as I thumbed through the $1 bin of patterns).

Anyways, one of the patterns I nabbed was this Simplicity 1585 Project Runway dress with raglan sleeves. The Project Runway patterns are great because they give you lots of options for adding details and design elements to what is otherwise a simple garment, and this one had some really cool options for adding piping and ribbon. The style lines of the dress seemed like they would suit my black velvet beautifully. My fabric wasn’t super heavy or thick, but I still thought it would best suit a pattern without a lot of bulk and gathers, and because of the way the lines of the skirt flowed, velvet seemed like a match made in heaven. Turns out, nothing is heavenly when you are sewing with velvet :/

I re-upholstered an armchair in velvet last year and had to do a fair amount of machine sewing for the piping and seat cushion but I didn’t have any trouble with it at all- maybe because it was a heavy weight fabric and backed by sturdy cloth, it behaved like any other upholstery fabric I had worked with before. My precious, supple black velvet on the other hand? Totally different story. I found a little bit of helpful information about sewing with velvet on the Threads Magazine website, but nothing could have quite prepared me for how frustrating it would actually be! I imagine that sewing with velvet knits is a little less complicated because you can just power through most all the seams with a serger and be done with it, but my velvet required a lot more attention than that.

my dressform after a very brief encounter with this velvet dress- all seams were sewn, this was just the leftover dander clinging to the inside!

The biggest thing I learned about velvet during this project is that it is MESSY; I was constantly wiping teeny tiny little threads of black off my sewing machine and work space. I guess this is because the threads in velvet fabric are short and piled as opposed to long and woven, so when you cut it, the hairs are no longer attached to anything and they just fall all over the place. My velvet also behaved a little bit like silk when I was cutting out the pattern pieces, but because I was on a tight timeline with a little less than three days to make this dress before we left town, I didn’t want to spend too much time cutting it out. So. I cut it on the fold. I would NOT recommend this! Cut your slinky velvet out in a single layer like a responsible seamster!

 

The next biggest thing I learned about sewing with velvet is that it doesn’t want to be sewn!  You think I’m kidding? It’s as if the fabric had a life of it’s own. When sewing two pieces of velvet together, they just don’t want to stay in place and have a tendency to slip and slide out from under the needle. I tried pinning my layers all kinds of different ways but it still wouldn’t behave, so then I tried a tip from Threads Mag that suggests you use a fabric adhesive on the seam allowances of your pieces, press them together, and then sew. This worked about 80% of the time, but it took a lot of extra work and patience and it of course made things even more messy. To keep the glue from spraying all over my cutting table, I would place paper underneath the edge of the piece of fabric I was spraying, but soon enough that paper would become tacky with glue and wind up transferring itself onto my hands or other parts of the fabric. Add to this all the tiny hairs of stray velvet that was covering my workspace already and you can imagine what a sticky mess it was. I was surprised that the glue didn’t really ruin any of my fabric, though- there are a few places where there is still glue within the seam, but mostly it wiped off pretty easily, and the glue itself tended to lose it’s bond after several minutes, so if you mistakenly glued any pieces together, you could pull them apart without too much trouble.

One of my mistakes in making this dress (and oh boy, there were many!) was thinking I could add all those cute details (like the piping around the arm seams and the keyhole at the neck) using a satin contrast fabric on top of the velvet. I gave it the old college try, but working with the glue and the piping and two finicky fabrics was more than my poor little maker psyche could handle. The nail in the coffin was finally completing one side of piping and realizing that, aside from being uneven and wonky looking, the velvet combined with the satin piping looked an awful like a velour Adidas track suit from the 70s. And obviously that was NOT the look I was going for. Ultimately I abandoned the piping and the final result of the dress is better for it, but I will most definitely be making this dress again in the future with a less finicky fabric and using the piping as intended.

I made a quick muslin of the bodice of this dress sans sleeves since most Big 4 patterns don’t fit me right out the box, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was an exception, save for taking in the seam allowances in the back (I have a ‘small back’ in pattern adjustment lingo and have had to take in fabric at the back zipper on every dress I have ever made). The only real issue I had with the pattern were the sleeves, so of course I was kicking myself that I didn’t include these pieces in my muslin from the very beginning. It’s hard to tell if the sleeves were wonky because of my fabric or because of the design; as drafted the short raglan sleeve version has two pleats at the cuff in addition to gathers on either side of them, and they are connected to a band in contrast fabric (mine was the cream colored satin). For the life of me I could not get these sleeves to work. My velvet fabric seemed too bulky to accommodate both the pleat and the gathers, and because the sleeve is so small, it was also hard to get fabric adhesive on the seam allowance properly, so I had to resort to using pins again to keep the pieces together under the needle. As a result, the fabric slid around so much that I couldn’t successfully sew a consistent seam allowance along the edge and the sleeve ended up looking pathetic- it hung down lower in some places than others, it was weirdly puffy around the shoulder, and it was also too tight around my arm. I spent HOURS on these sleeves before realizing that the only way to save the dress would be to omit the satin sleeve cuff and the pleats, loosen the gathers, and use a cuff made out of velvet instead; the velvet tended to work better with self fabric than satin. When I finished the sleeves and tried the dress on, it was ten times better than before- the sleeve lay smoothly off the shoulder and didn’t look too billowy.

Finally, I had a bit of trouble with my invisible zipper- I could not manage to get it to lay smoothly at the very bottom where the two back pieces of the skirt connect together again. I am pretty good with invisible zip insertion so I am just gonna blame this on the fabric, too. I don’t think it’s bad enough to notice unless you’re looking for flaws, and nobody does that on Christmas day! If I were ever to wear this dress to a red carpet event though, I would definitely try to figure out how to make it lay flat.

All in all, this make was pretty successful considering that I had never worked with this kind of velvet before and it was brand new pattern to me and I had time constraints. I feel very elegant in this, because for one, velvet is an extraordinary fabric to wear, and two, this pattern works well on me. The skirt is flowy and I love the way the high bodice looks and feels. I also love the design of the collar and the keyhole at the chest, which gave just enough of a peekaboo to be interesting without making me feel self conscious. The finished garment has a vintage A Doll’s House vibe to it, which was probably due to my color and fabric choices, and I really love how it turned out. I will absolutely make this dress again (but not in velvet!) and I will absolutely sew with velvet again (but not in this pattern)! I am super interested to try out some different types of velvet next. I have a couple of yards of a beautiful, sturdier purple velvet from The Fabric Store that I think would make a great pair of cigarette pants, and I am also interested in getting my hands on some stretch velvet and using a super simple pattern which will let the velvet take centerstage. But not anytime soon; it’s been almost a month and I am still recuperating from this dress!

Swans and Svaneke No. 8

I mentioned this dress in a blog post from last year about my cool lemon two-piece #redcarpetDIY outfit. The two completed projects look quite different from one another but they came from the same pattern by How To Do Fashion, Savaneke No. 8. I won’t rehash all the details from the make since you can read them in the aforementioned post, but just as an overview, here is what I thought of the pattern:

  • nice versatility in the design which allows for several different looks within one pattern
  • some of the “views” included in the collection photos are actually pattern hacks whose instructions don’t come with the pattern- you have to hunt them down on the designer’s blog
  • the fit is a bit small in the shoulders and bust for me but overall the drafting matched my body fairly well
  • instructions are not very detailed and while this is fine for an experienced sewist who might have their own methods of construction, a beginning sewist might find them hard to follow
  • pattern designs are all classic, inspired and well-thought out vintage replicas

Once I discovered the How To Do Fashion blog and saw more of the pattern hacks available, I became slightly obsessed with the ruffled button band that she added to one of the views of this pattern; such a simple way to add some extra drama to a simple silhouette! Because this was a pattern hack, the actual construction information was even less clear than what came with the pattern and I had to do a lot of piecing-things-together to make it work.

For example, the original pattern (seen above in line drawings) includes three separates- a dirndl skirt, a crop top and a button up blouse with a peplum. But in this photo of one of the completed projects from the design (below), you can see that the peplum top has been attached to the skirt with the addition of a waistband. This look is technically a pattern hack (in addition to the ruffled button band that I added to my make) and therefore there is no information in the included instructions for how to make it. But the task didn’t seem all that difficult- at the very least I know how to sew a bodice onto a skirt!

Turns out this hack was a tiny bit trickier than I anticipated. Working entirely off of the photo, I pieced my dress together omitting the button band and adding the ruffle (which, by the way, was super easy to construct and fun to see come together). I realized in the middle of sewing the sleeves onto the bodice that I didn’t have a plan for how to get in and out of the dress. The dirndl skirt is drafted with a zipper at center back, but I had already cut my back bodice piece out on the fold and it was now too late to add a seam allowance to the back to insert a zipper that went from skirt to bodice. And unfortunately the way the bodice is drafted you can’t simply pull the dress over your head to get in and out of it- it’s too tight. So I decided to rotate my skirt so that it’s zipper would be on the side seam, and I extended the zipper up the bodice’s side seam to just underneath the arm. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze but I can successfully get the dress on and off with the side zip and front buttons undone. But because I altered the position of the skirt, I had a seam right down the front center of it. Thankfully this beautiful swan print fabric from Fabrika in Savannah, GA is just the right amount of busy when gathered at the waist that you don’t even notice the break in the fabric pattern. (Whew!)

I am still intrigued by how the designer made the blue striped dress above- from the angle of the photo you can’t tell if she stuck a zipper for the bodice on the other side of the dress facing away from the camera or in the back- or maybe she didn’t use one at all?? Doubtful, but I have seen greater magic in the sewing world. However she managed to do it, I am happy with the way that I configured mine and I am also thrilled that I somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the construction process so that I didn’t ruin the dress before figuring out how to make it wearable. I made the same size in this top as the yellow two piece number, but this top fit me much better and I am assuming it has to do with a little more give and flexibility in my cotton swan fabric than the thicker jaquard.

The only adjustment I made to the pattern (aside from the ruffled button band) was to take out a huge swath of fabric at the back bodice. I think the adjustment is technically for a swayback, which I have never had to use before. All I know is that when I initially sewed my bodice to my skirt, it was even all the way across the front and sides and then it drooped and pooled dramatically at my lower back, so much so that the skirt was several inches lower in the back than the front. Ultimately I raised the whole waistline of the dress higher because it was too low for my tastes, and I ended up taking out a full 3 inches + at center back and then tapered to nothing at the sides. It was such a weird shape and large quantity of fabric to cut out that I felt sure it was going to look noticeable and not sit right on my body, but it looks and feels totally fine so I guess I made the right alteration.

The only other issue I had with the dress was aligning my buttonholes the wrong way. For some reason I made horizontal ones instead of vertical ones, and because of how big my buttons are, they take up too much space across the width of the button band so there that is only a tiny fraction of fabric on either side of the holes I made, which means that that fabric can rip if I am not super careful with how I button the buttons. On top of that, the horizontal buttonholes allow the button band to spread open across my chest, which keeps the band edges from lining up properly. To fix this I installed some snaps in the middle of the bands and in between each button which keeps the band in place and it works beautifully, although it’s a pain to close the band with all those little notions lined up!

The frill around the button band would probably look better on a fabric with a less dramatic print- as it is now you can’t really see that detail too well because SWANS! But I don’t dislike the look of the frill at all and I totally going to stick a band on another button down shirt at some point in the future. My castmate Alano wore a gorgeous button up shirt the other day that had a frill along each button band, but his band was way smaller and more subdued than the one on my dress. It gave his shirt a nice visual pop without looking overdone or exaggerated and I would love to incorporate that into a make one day. Love getting inspiration from unexpected sources!