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Tackling Pattern Magic

I went on a journey with this one, yall. For the record, “went on a journey” is my euphemism for “worked on a project that was so challenging it made me want to beat my head against a wall while cry-laughing.” Sometimes the difficult journey a project takes me on is due to a tricky fabric or fit issues or confusing construction techniques, but the challenges this book brought me were brand new!

I’m sure most adventurous sewists are familiar with the Pattern Magic books, but if not, here is a brief rundown: written by acclaimed seamster and fabric manipulation sorcerer Tomoko Nakamichi, the series (Pattern Magic Volumes 1-3 and Pattern Magic: Stretch Fabrics) has now been translated to English and includes information on how to alter a simple Bunka bodice block by slashing and spreading, adding length/width and distorting the pattern block’s shape to create intriguing 3-D wearable art from fabric. The photographs in the book, created at half size for mini dressforms, are remarkable, and once I got three of the books for Christmas a couple of years ago, I spent a substantial amount of my holiday pouring over the pages multiple times, my mouth hanging open. I had simply never seen anything like the shapes Nakamichi was creating, never even knew most of the designs were possible. After glancing through the pages and trying to get an understanding of what was required to actualize the designs, I knew it was going to take a lot of brain power to stumble through the confusing diagrams, so I kept putting it off. But recently, after suffering through a couple of horrendous pants makes and feeling depleted and frustrated, I found myself in between projects and decided to slow down and dedicate my weekend to figuring out how to be a pattern magician.

 

Unfortunately this book does not come with a PDF file or paper print out for the bodice block that all the patterns are based on. There is a page at the end of the book with the bodice printed at half scale (which you can use to create the projects at half size) and it is suggested that you photocopy that sheet of paper at 200% to get the full scale size of the pattern. I happened to be devoted to not leaving my house the weekend that I worked on this, so instead of taking the easy route and driving 5 minutes to a copy shop with the book, I sat down in my craft room with a ruler, my math bracelet (for all you non-instagrammers, math bracelet is what Claire has started calling my measuring tape for some reason), and some gridded pattern paper. OK, so, truth be told, I wan’t committing myself to this task out of sheer stubbornness. After perusing the pages of this book for two years, I realized that, even though it was in English, it still felt like it was written in another language. As someone who struggled with complicated mathematical concepts in school, I knew it was going to take a while to fully grasp some of the images and equations shown in the diagrams. English is my jam, I have always loved literature and reading and expressing myself through words, and math has always seemed a bit antithetical to that. If I made myself sit down and blunder through the trickiest parts from the start, then maybe that would make all the steps to follow a little bit easier. Right?

These are the diagrams given to sketch out your Bunka bodice block. In addition to the images above, there were like two sentences of instructions beneath them which basically said “Use these diagrams to make the bodice block” LOL. there are virtually NO instructions in the whole book, and the few words provided that are meant to instruct made absolutely no sense to me. It’s as if Yoda was the ghost writer for this thing- as few words as possible! The instructions say specifically to work through steps 1-14 in order to graph out the preliminary lines of the bodice. Step 1 asks for the length of the bodice (I assumed my neck to waist measurement) which seemed simple enough. But once I drew that line and looked for a number 2 with a circle around it? Well, it’s nowhere to be found. The numbers on the diagram skip around and then it appears that letters are thrown in for good measure, so I didn’t have a linear guideline to follow. I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but I did not find this explanation in the actual book. And then out of the blue I see this symbol that looks like the planet Saturn, and I have NO IDEA what that symbol is supposed to represent. There is no key on the page. What does Saturn equal?! I am still not sure if this was so difficult for me because of something that got lost in the translation of the book or because I comprehend language better than numbers and symbols, but somehow I eventually figured it out by substituting some arbitrary number; the Saturn symbol looked like it was supposed to represent some part of the shoulder length, so I threw in an approximate measurement and figured that I could adjust it once I made my muslin.

It took me over two hours to complete, 30 minutes of which I spent looking for my compass tool, and once I found it I realized that what I meant to be looking for was a protractor because it’s been 80 years since I needed to use either of those things and I had mislabeled them in my brain. My shoulder lengths (aka my “Saturns”) were off of course, and once I sewed the bodice muslin I had to adjust the bust dart a bit, but…it worked! I FIGURED IT OUT! The muslin fit, which felt like such a massive victory, and I was very proud of myself!

I was excited to move on to the manipulation of the bodice for the Knot Dress because I figured that creating the bodice out of these wacky symbols and numbers would indeed be the toughest part but….no. The next part actually had me near tears in bafflement. The only thing that kept me going was googling “pattern magic knot dress” and seeing that at least three sewing bloggers had figured out the pattern manipulation and none of them had used the words “difficult”, “frustrating”, “confusing” or “fuck”. In fact, one of them described creating the pattern as “simple”. Flames may or may not have shot out of my head when I read this, I’m not sure because I think I had a rage blackout immediately after I saw that word in relation to this pattern, but once I came to, I decided to use it as a motivator. If they could figure it out, then I was determined that I could, too, damnit! I had already gotten so far!

In one last desperate cry for help, I brought the book to Claire, hopelessness etched deep into my brow. “This doesn’t make sense, honey! It doesn’t! Help me see how it makes sense, cause all I see right now is a lie!” Bless her heart, Claire, who is not a sewist and gets as frustrated as I do with confusing diagrams, very calmly looked at the picture and basically said “it looks like you need to add a piece here.”

That was it, yall. I just needed to add a piece here.

It turns out that after you draft your Bunka bodice, you have to make some slash and spread adjustments to it, then you draft the skirt onto the pattern piece, and then you have to slash and spread the bodice again, then you have to add the bow piece onto it, and then you have your final pattern piece from which to cut out your fabric.

Y’all.

Y’all.

Were they attempting to create a cheaper book by providing fewer pages? Was that why the book seemed so in favor of pictures over words? Do diagrams cost less money to print than paragraphs? (These questions are rhetorical). Drafting the sloper and then adjusting the pattern for the Knot Dress took me two days to complete, and I know for a fact that if they had given me just 6 more sentences, I could have been spared so much frustration and headache. Initially I thought that the “magic” in the title was referring to how beautiful all the garments looked- like, oh wow, these things are so magically beautiful! But after stumbling through every aspect of bringing this pattern to life, I realized that nope, the magic is in reference to WHAT YOU NEED TO HAVE SPRINKLED ON TOP OF YOU BY A TINY FAIRY IN ORDER TO COMPLETE ANY OF THE PROJECTS. But guess what.

I AM AN OFFICIAL MAGICIAN, NOW, BOYYYYYYYYYYY!

I was resigned to thinking that my finished muslin was going to be ill-fitting and wonky, and the fact that I had gotten that far would have been all the success I needed after the whole ordeal, so you can imagine my surprise when I tried my muslin on and saw that it fit me PERFECTLY. There are two tucks in the back which give some gentle shaping to the waist and bust area, but aside from the darts at the front bust and the drafting of the skirt, which creates a subtle flare at the hips, there isn’t much to this dress in the ways of fit. And yet it works! All based on a simple bodice sloper! I love how it skims my figure without feeling like a tent and it has a bit of swing to the lower half. It looks feminine and structured at the same time. Seeing how well it fit from the start definitely felt like magic!

Apologies for the photos that follow- I didn’t have time to iron the dress, which had been tightly stuffed inside my closet, before we took these pictures! 

Essentially the pattern of this dress has the shape of a simple shift, and to add in that magic, you slash and spread the dress out at the center bust, adding enough fabric to create two tubes which make up the ties of the bow. In theory it’s simple, but without any explanation or real instructions it took a while for my brain to grasp the concept. But as soon as I started sewing the pieces of my muslin together, it all made sense and was constructed in a tiny fraction of the time it took me to draft everything out.

As soon as I got the muslin right and made a couple of adjustments for fit, I went to cut out my fabric and I realized that what I had purchased was much too flowy and drapey. This dress requires a certain amount of stability in it’s fabric so that the integrity of the silhouette and bow are not lost, and my graphic printed rayon, while lovely, was not going to lend itself to the best version of this pattern. I rifled through my tiny stash and came across this cupro with a sandwashed effect that I purchased from Blackbird Fabrics. I had purchased three cuts in different colorways, 2 yards of black, 2 yards of blue and 3 yards of olive. I knew I needed at least 3 yards for this dress (it’s a real fabric eater because of the bow ties) but I didn’t like the idea of the dress in olive. I was beside myself with frustration, determined not to have to buy MORE fabric for this dress after just having gone to The Fabric Store, but at a loss as to how to remedy the situation (as mentioned before, my stash is pretty tiny). And then, with both piles of black and blue cupro on my cutting table, I wondered if I could use both by color blocking the dress, which just so happens to be drafted with a center seam. The black and blue looked really good together on my table, and I liked the idea of having the bow tied so that the opposite color was displayed on each side. It felt like a bit of a bold move but I had nothing to lose except fabric, and I am a bit of a risk-taker with my making, so I went for it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Be9HG9qgB8_/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

Everything went smoothly until I realized that I had cut one front out on the wrong side of the fabric. It was SO HARD to keep the sides straight because the cupro looks the same on both sides at a glance, but as soon as you hold each side up vertically, the difference is super obvious (meaning I couldn’t get away with just using the wrong side of one of the pattern pieces because it would bug the HELL out of me). I didn’t quite have enough fabric to cut a new piece out of, and I didn’t want to rearrange my entire idea so that the color blocking was different than I had envisioned. I was married to the look I had created in my head and refused to compromise. My only alternative was to puzzle the remaining fabric I did have into the shape of the pattern piece. It took what felt like forever, but I managed to get it done with just one seam that I was able to hide behind the bow.

I had to figure out the finishings and construction method as I went along, since of course the book wasn’t offering me any help. I french seamed everything I could on the inside, and I covered the raw edges in the front center where the ties are formed in bias tape- it was too tricky to sew that part into a french seam. My cupro was relatively easy to sew with- slippery like a silky rayon, yet manageable- but the edges looked like they would fray over time so whatever was exposed got bound, frenched or, in the case of the back center edges where it zips, serged. The area where the bow ties emerge from the dress form a little tuck in the front which is really pretty and gives the dress some visual depth, but it’s hard to keep in place. Unfortunately there is no way to tack down the area on the inside without it showing through to the front, but as long as the bow is tied tightly and securely, the tucks don’t seem to move too much. I might make a line of stitching right down the creases to help make it more stable.

For the neck and armholes, I used self-made bias binding out of the cupro and applied it to the openings, and for the hem I simply ironed, folded twice, then sewed down. The drape and silkiness of the cupro made the hem pretty wavy and I ended up having to take it out and redo it to get it even (the dress is not a cut on the bias but I still let it hang for a while on my dress form before tackling this part). It’s still not perfect, but I don’t think it’s too visible.

anybody watch Squidbillies? don’t my ties look like the grandma’s boobs??? LOLOL

 

Although I put in a substantial amount of work to bring this dress to life, it still took less time than some other projects I have under my belt and it was worth every second! I love the effect of the finished dress- it’s fun and feminine but the muted colors keep it from going over the top so it doesn’t look too costumey (something I worried about when looking at all the images in the book as a whole).

it took me 5 years to tie this bow the right way and in my haste to get these pics taken I untied it and tried to redo it AND IT LOOKS WRINKLY AND PITIFUL. I swear it looks better than this when it’s ironed.

I would absolutely make this dress again, but I am also interested in tackling something else cool from the book. When I finally finished this dress I immediately pulled the books out again to choose what I wanted to make next, assuming that since I had successfully completed one project, the rest would be a breeze. Turns out, not so much,! Each design is so unique and the techniques that work for some have nothing to do with the others. Looking at the pattern instructions was like starting over from scratch! The good news that I already have the bodice block completed and adjusted for my shape, so whatever I tackle next will go straight to the manipulation phase. I might need a bit more recuperation time for my brain to heal from all the hard work it exerted during this project, but I must admit, I am already getting antsy for that cool neck-tie-that-blends-into-the-shirt project. Wish me luck!

Turtleneck Hack in Mustard

So far my fall/winter makes list has been coming together fairly nicely, but I have hit a few roadblocks along the way. One was the infamous pair of peg leg pants that I made from a rich butternut corduroy in the Style Arc Tully pattern. After all was said and done I ended up looking like an ensemble member from Oliver! and we had a real good laugh at my #sewingfail on instagram (prompting me to consider starting a submissions only IG account posting all of our worst/most hilarious/most educational sewing fails, because EVERYONE seems to get a good kick out of those!) Another roadblock was the drop sleeved hoodie made of a coffee colored raw silk. It came out fine for the most part, it just didn’t really wow me all that much. The drab design paired with the muted neutral color made the whole garment feel sort of blah, and I learned that I don’t like drop sleeves very much. I thought the hoodie would be a nice staple to use for layers this season, but so far I never really reach for it because it’s just about my least favorite thing in my closet.

The most recent roadblock I faced was figuring out how to recreate this turtleneck dress I have had pinned on my pinterest board for over a year. I was enamored by it’s simplicity- clean lines, no sleeves, and a big thick turtleneck to top it off. So simple, yet so incredibly chic, and I hadn’t really seen a pattern or piece of clothing in a store that looked quite like it (though admittedly I haven’t shopped for RTW in a long time). This seemed like a fairly easy hack to pull off, so I pulled out some muslin knit material and tried to draft it myself, something I very rarely do. A little while later I had a pattern from my draped fabric and it was not terrible- I might even say it was pretty good! But it turns out that it simply wasn’t what I was looking for.

The silhouette of the original dress that I was copying (shown above) had a very loose fit- it seemed to just barely skim the curves of the bust of the form underneath it. But, given my personal experience with shapeless sack dresses, I was too afraid to commit to that design because it never looks as good on me as I want it to. So instead I draped a design that was a little looser than a normal body-con dress but that still fit my curves. This was wrong both in theory and practice: loose body-con dress is an oxymoron, and on top of that, once the dress was constructed it just looked…sad. Part of this was the fact that my fabric, a glorious navy blue ribbed knit from The Fabric Store (I bought it online but I have recently seen it in the LA store) was not the right textile for what I was using it for. It didn’t have a ton of stretch, but rather a drapier quality than most knits, so using it to “hug” my curves was a lost cause- instead, it hung limply from my body, not quite clingy, but not loose enough to let the fabric flow the way it wanted to. On a body bigger than mine that could really stretch out the loose shape of this dress, it just might work great, but not so much for me (if I can modify the armholes a bit to make them larger, I might be able to gift this dress to my mom).

So! Back to the drawing board! I am not sure why or when, but as some point, after sitting in my disappointment for failing at this garment, I went back to the original dress and wondered if I should try again using the intended silhouette as the design. This time perhaps I could fully embrace the “sack” like quality of the dress instead of fighting so hard against it! Immediately the Tessutti Frankie dress popped into my head. It has a design similar to the Ebony Tee by Closet Case patterns, a bit of an A-line shape which could either be ramped up or toned down depending on the fabric used. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I bought a couple of yards of this really fantastic, luxurious ribbed knit fabric in gold from Blackbird Fabrics. I had recently been in Vancouver for work and was able to stop by their studio to record an episode of Helen and Caroline’s podcast Love to Sew (mentioned in this blog post), and while in the space, I ran my fingers over several bolts of fabric and was able to personally experience how amazing they were. Everything was so soft, beautifully colored, rich feeling, and I knew exactly what I wanted to buy once I got myself to a computer to place an order. This gold ribbed knit is similar in structure to the blue ribbed knit I got from The Fabric Store, but a little drapier, with a slightly smoother hand, and with better recovery. I imagined this gold textile would be a better pairing for the dress I was going to make from the Tessuti pattern, which was already in my stash and easily hackable.

The hack was pretty simple- I omitted the facings and brought the neckline in on both the front and back pieces, since the original Frankie pattern has a slight boatneck design and I wanted a more standard neckline to accommodate a turtleneck. I think I eye-balled my neckline, but you could also use a favorite tee shirt pattern and trace that neckline onto your pattern pieces.

I kept the 3/4 sleeve length as-is but added thick cuffs to the hems (pretty much my go-to these days) which brought the sleeves closer to my wrists for more coverage, and I lengthened the front and back dress pieces nearly 10 inches because, since I kept the sleeves long, I figured I should make the whole dress wearable for cooler weather. Somehow, probably because of eyeballing the curve of the bottom of the pattern pieces instead of being precise with rulers, I cut my dress pieces out with a very subtle hi-lo hem. It’s not quite noticeable, but it dips deeper in the back than in the front, and I noticed this after I sewed the pieces together at the shoulder seams, but I didn’t even the hems out. I thought it made the dress a bit more interesting, and it mirrors the hemline of the Tessutti Anna dress that I made a couple years back, which I also love.

This is a very quick dress to make, especially without the facings, so it came together in no time. After the sleeves and front and back pieces were serged together, I tried it on and HALLELUJAH I loved it! I’m not really sure how technically close it is to the pinterest dress I obsessed over, but it works really well on me. It doesn’t cling to any parts of my body underneath the bust, but surprisingly, I don’t feel like I am swimming in it- there is enough fabric to create pretty folds as it falls from the bust, but not so much that it looks like a tent, and my fabric choice helped a lot with that. If it were in a stiffer fabric (like the embossed ponte knit that I originally made this dress in last year), it wouldn’t work with this hack at all, so I love that I stumbled upon this perfect ribbed fabric after my trials and errors.

Ahh, the turtleneck- it’s the only part of this hack that gave me problems, and all of it is my fault! The first time I attempted to make this pinterest dress, I used a ribbed knit fabric that had two identical/usable sides on the front and back. I didn’t take into account that my gold ribbed knit had a smooth back side with ribs on the front, so when I tried to make a turtleneck out of one piece of folded rectangular fabric, as I had with my first attempt- well, you can fill in the blanks, lol.

I was cursing myself something awful when I realized that my neck folded to the wrong side, but it was fairly simple to fix- unfortunately I was running out of fabric and had to be very inventive with how I cut my next pieces. The easiest fix would have been to sew two rectangles together so that both the outside and inside folded with it’s right sides out, but I didn’t want to have quadruple layers of fabric at my neck and I didn’t want to have a seam at the top of the fold either. So instead I cut the top of the inside of the neck off about midway up, then I sewed my rectangle to the edge of the shortened neck so that the outside rib shows when it is folded over. If you lift the turtleneck all the way up you can see the underside of the fabric, but it doesn’t matter because the seam is far enough up the neck that you don’t see it when it’s folded over. I love this fix and it’s very comfortable! My only other issue is that I wish I had made the neck a TINY bit wider to accommodate a slightly larger turtleneck- it’s a very tight squeeze to get my head through the hole (one of those do your hair and makeup AFTER it’s already on dresses)! But I actually do like the slim look of the neck, and it doesn’t feel too tight at all when it’s on.

I am SO GLAD that I went back to the drawing board with this dress because it really is everything I imagined that it would be, and it’s even more wearable with the changes I made to it than what I initially envisioned. I am so glad that I have been actively looking for fabrics in oranges, yellows and golds for my fall/winter makes because let me tell you something- I get MORE COMPLIMENTS ON THESE GARMENTS THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN MY CLOSET. Like, from strangers. And strangers don’t normally come and talk to me cause I have a bit of resting bitch face if I’m stressed or busy or running late (I’m not ashamed- most people are not happy and approachable ALL the time, nor should we be!) Anyways, it has been surprising how often these colors spark kind comments from people on the street, and I am ALL FOR IT. Also, this dress is insanely cozy and fun to style. Since the fabric is so supple and the shape isn’t clingy, it flows well without accentuating bumps and lines and folds that body parts and undergarments tend to create under clothing. I personally don’t mind having faint panty lines because, guess what, I wear panties! But I don’t particularly like when they are distracting, so I appreciate that this dress looks really chic on the outside while allowing me to live that granny-panty lifestyle underneath.

Autumnal colors for the WIN, y’all!