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Suits Me, the Refashioners 2017 Challenge!

Well, bless it! The sewing community has come through again with a rush of encouragement, appreciation, and smoke blown up my bum, this time in the form of an invitation to join the illustrious Refashioners Blog Tour! For those unfamiliar, the refashioners take on an annual challenge of refashioning some specific type of garment into something new and (hopefully) improved. My introduction to the group was maybe a year or so ago when the theme of the refashion was ” jeans”, which obviously conjures up all kinds of possibilities, and the sewing bloggers who participated did NOT disappoint! This year’s theme is “Suits Me” and you can only imagine my amazement when coordinators Portia and Elisalex asked me to join their talented group of contributors. Although I have certainly re-worked an old garment or two in my past with some mending or re-hemming, I don’t actually have any experience with completely revising a garment from top to bottom, and I wondered briefly if my skillset would translate at this level of talent. Fortunately, the thought was quickly replaced with “You’re trycurious, damnit!”, and I quickly wrote Portia back to thank her for the consideration and to tell her to please count me in!

First up? Finding my suit! This was the most time consuming part of the challenge for me, since I don’t buy much clothing at all other than shoes and am out of the loop with the good consignment and vintage shops in LA. My only parameters for the suit were for it to be inexpensive (which can be a real feat in price-jacked Los Angeles) and I wanted it to be made of a quality material, namely NO POLYESTER, which has a tendency to absorb funky smells easily and makes me sweat like a Trump supporter reading Black Twitter. I spent days reading Yelp reviews of vintage shops around the city and jotting down their addresses when, on a whim, I decided to drive to Out of the Closet, a well-known chain of thrift stores in the city whose proceeds go to supporting LGBTQ and AIDS affected communities. It’s clean and well-stocked and I walked straight to their rack of suits and rifled through the thirty or so they had on display; within 10 minutes I had found my match- a black and white birdseye 100% wool two-piece that was several sizes too big for me, leaving me what I hoped would be plenty of room to play around with. The suit cost only $25 and if memory serves correct, one of the tags said the suit was made in Malaysia with Italian wool. The designer tag said “Andre Vachon”.

I didn’t think long and hard about what was to become of this suit before I pulled out my seam ripper, I just sat down on the couch and began taking it apart while watching season 2 of Last Chance U. At the end of a few episodes I had a pile of fabric puzzle pieces at my feet and a smaller discard pile consisting of things like lining and pockets. I decided straight away not to salvage the lining because, although the suit itself was made of what seemed like a good quality wool, the lining was a cheap acetate that I wanted no part of. I saved the buttons, too, though they were also cheap. I was amazed at how complicated the innards of the jacket looked once the lining was removed. I had seen and worked on certain elements of tailoring a jacket like this from books and websites, but I had never seen the handiwork up close and personal before. So many interfacings and pad stitched hair canvas, my goodness! I got rid of what I could but kept the interfacing on the front pieces because I figured they would offer whatever I ended up making a bit more structure.

As I took the suit apart, a solid image of the suit’s potential began to take shape. Thanks to the awesome suit-inspired pinterest board that the Refashioners had set up, I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, but I also wanted to keep in line with how the suit originated. As I mentioned, I had never taken on this kind of project before, so maintaining some simplicity and honoring the original architecture of the garment seemed like a good vibe to follow.

What if I just slightly altered the concept of The Suit, which has a tendency to feel a little stuffy and buttoned up? What if I took The Suit and made it a little more casual, a little more comfortable, a little more current and applicable to the needs of my life and career (which, as a professional actor, has virtually no dress code whatsoever)? If you follow my blog at all then you know that this concept is not out of the ordinary for me, as I just recently finished making a Jacket + Shorts outfit that upends the classic idea of a tailored two piece. I wanted this new refashioned suit to do the same thing, but I had to adhere to certain rules, namely sticking with the traditional suiting fabric it was made of, and incorporating some of the original design details in the suit that would prove impossible to work around.

The idea of a kimono jacket suddenly popped into my head, which I heartily latched onto. Maybe because it was one of the most recent patterns I had added to my stash? Or because the kimono silhouette, relaxed and so easy to wear, seems to be everywhere right now? (Although kimonos have certainly been fashionable and culturally relevant for far longer than when us westerners got hip to them)! A kimono provided an interesting twist to the idea of a classic suit jacket but the two still felt connected to me- both garments look structured and traditional, and they both feel like cultural identifiers. Kimono robes, at least the ones I have worn, are so comfortable, yet something about those wide sleeves that jut out from the body look very presentational to me. Couple that with the elegance of the band that flows around the neck and down the fronts of the jacket- a band that has the same visual impact of a necktie, but of course, looser, and perhaps more inviting. The more I thought about it, the more I loved the beauty and symbolism of subbing a kimono for a suit jacket, but who is paying attention to symbolism when you’re trying to refashion a garment into something wearable?

I am, damnit!

Once I settled on the kimono jacket, it made sense to make myself another pair of pants out of the suit bottoms, but obviously a pair that would fit me well and look good with the larger frame of the top- perhaps something high waisted with a slim leg. So that was it- I had my design! Now I just had to implement it.

With all my fabric pieces separated from their siblings and the seam allowances ironed out, I cut out the paper pattern for my jacket (I used McCalls 7200) and tried to figure out how to use them with the meager amount of fabric I had. It really was like trying to solve a puzzle! Looking at the suit on the hanger in Out of the Closet, I thought I was going to have yards upon yards of fabric to work with, but once the suit was deconstructed, I had much less to play with. I pulled out a couple of yards of black tencel from my stash that LA Finch Fabrics had kindly gifted me over the summer and planned to use it to supplement what I couldn’t create with the wool.

 

It took a while, but eventually I came up with a plan for the pattern pieces. I didn’t have enough fabric to make a full sleeved kimono as I had intended, but I didn’t mind; instead, I would use suit scraps to apply binding to the edges of my short sleeves, giving it a more finished look. I used the fronts of the original suit jacket for the fronts of my kimono, and because I didn’t have much room to play with, I kept the front welt pockets and darts intact. The pockets are functional, though very thin (actually perfect for glasses!) and although I tried to fight the inclusion of those details at first, I quite like them now. I love that echoes of the original suit are still peeking their way into the refashion in unexpected ways, like the breast pocket/handkerchief slot at the top of the suit jacket- when sewn up into my kimono the breast pocket ends up as a shoulder pocket on me, but you know what? That’s kind of a cool design detail! I feel like it’s something Rachel Comey might utilize, haha. And of course I chose to highlight this detail by sticking a little matching handkerchief inside it, lest it go unnoticed!

I had to do a lot of hacking to make the back pattern pieces and yoke for the jacket work- I didn’t have any original suit pieces large enough to accommodate them so I halved the pattern pieces on the fabric I had left, added seam allowances, and worked with them as if the jacket had a center back seam. Easy peasy. I used my black tencel for the band since I didn’t have enough suiting fabric, and I really like how it softens the stiffness of the jacket, and, as mentioned earlier, gives a bit of a symbolic nod to a more traditional necktie which is usually paired with a suit jacket. I used french seams for all exposed jacket seams and serged the hem before turning it up and hand stitching it down.

The jacket came together relatively quickly and I’m not gonna lie, I was really feeling myself at this stage of the refashion! I was like ‘oh, girl- you GOT this! You have SKILLS and you are SLAYING this challenge!’

But then it was time to work on the pants.

Cue horror music ending with a blood curdling scream.

I have had some great success making pants this year! The Palmer Pletsch method of tissue fitting was super helpful to me once I moved on from stretch jeans to slacks, and, having successfully nailed down the fit more than once of my most hated pattern brand, BUUUURDA, I felt confident that I could tackle a suit refashion with no problems! Unfortunately I made the mistake of using a pattern I had not tested out before. The pattern I chose, Burda #118 01/2015, has pleats with a plain waistband in the front, and in the back, an elastic waistband gathers the excess material instead of darts, which is a look I have loved for a while but never attempted to create myself. I tissue fit the pattern pieces for the pants, hoping to achieve a slim fit in the leg, and once I was happy with them, I proceeded to cut out my suit fabric

Here is the tragic retelling rundown of everything that went wrong how I Tim Gunned my pants:

  1. The fit of the original suit pants was gigantic on me, but when I deconstructed them I had much less fabric to work with than I thought I would,  meaning there was little to no room for error.
  2. I eliminated the pleats in the front of the pants thinking that the wool fabric from my suit wasn’t drape-y enough to keep them looking right.
  3. The suit pants had back welt pockets that were impossible to work with because of their placement- I tried hard to integrate the pockets as-is into my refashion, but because I intended to have a gathered, elasticized waistband in the back, the bulky welt pocket openings wouldn’t lay flat on my body and looked ridiculous.
  4. I decided to get rid of the welt pockets and openings to accommodate my back elasticized waistband. Of course that meant I would have huge gashes in the fabric right on my butt, so I planned to construct large patch pockets to cover the cut fabric (I also interfaced the pocket openings and used my machine’s darning stitch to cover them and keep them from stretching out/ripping further).
  5. With pockets omitted, I constructed the waistband for the pants using the original waistband. I removed the belt loops and used my tencel as a facing for the waistband. I sewed one edge of the elastic to the side seam of one side of the waistband, then tried the pants on so that I could cut my elastic to fit my waist. One look in the mirror and I realized that the decision to gather the back waistband was bad bad bad. I should have known the fabric would look way too bulky when pushed onto elastic, given that I omitted the front pleats for the same reason. But sometimes you have to see it to believe it!
  6. I changed the design of the pants, ditching the elastic back waistband idea for a more streamlined look with darts in the back. Which meant that I now needed a closure for the pants (the previously planned elastic waist meant I could just pull them up- in theory anyways, but when I tested them out I could barely squeeze them over my hips)!
  7. Enter: two darts on either side of the center back seam, and I also opened a side seam so that I could apply a zipper (I didn’t use the original zipper that came with the suit pants as it was just a cheap, regular plastic dress zipper and I prefer metal zippers for pants).
  8. The addition of these design elements requires a second a third a fourth an outlandish number of fit alterations of the pants, so I end up removing the waistband several times to do things like raise the rise of the pants, make way for a side zipper, change the curve of the waistband, take the side seams in (over and over again), cut up the waistband to accommodate all the changes, etc. This is where my waistband starts looking like frankenstein.
  9. I notice, not for the first time, that the waistbands of men’s pants have a center back seam, while literally NONE of the women’s pants I have worn/bought in recent memory comes equipped with the same. I can’t imagine why they don’t- a center back seam at the waistband means that if you want to give yourself or take away room in the waist area of your pants, all you have to do is open the center back seam and remove/add fabric to the seam without having to fuss with cutting the waistband up or opening the side seams. What gives? I am determined to remember this detail and cut all my future waistbands with a center back seam!
  10. I should have taken out some length at the hip line of the pants during my tissue fit phase, but it’s too late to do that now, so I keep bringing the crotch in more more more so I don’t look like I have a diaper on.
  11. Where am I? What day is it? Am I still working on these pants? What are pants??? What…is…life???
  12. WHAT ARE PANTS, I ASK YOU???
  13. The fit at this point is about as good as it’s gonna get, so I can now start focusing on how to cover up the horrendous slashes from the welt pockets in the back. I had decided that big patch pockets would cover them up nicely, but of course, because of the weird positioning of the welts which are very high and close to the side seams, this is easier said than done. On one side of the pants I am able to cover the welt completely with the large pocket, but I can’t seem to get it even on the other side without the slash from the welt peeking through on the side.

    And here is where I achieve my proudest moment in this make. I spy the black designer tag from the inside of the jacket chillin’ on the edge of my cutting table- I saved it because I thought it would have been fun to position the Andre Vachon tag and my own TryCurious tag together somewhere inside of the garment, but now it looks like the perfect way to conceal the cut from the welt pocket. I fold the tag and place it inside of the pocket so that just the AV emblem is peeking out of the side, which perfectly covers up the cut and looks like a design element I have seen on a million RTW garments before.

    Because the tag is black, it matches the wool fabric and looks intentional. I sew the edges down onto the wool to ensure that it won’t flip up and reveal the cut underneath, and for extra good measure, I sew a button through the pant leg to the top of the pockets, holding the open edge down. Because the cuts are so close to the top of the pocket edge, they have a tendency to slide into view and I want to make sure that they stay covered. This makes the pockets less functional, but I don’t mind, as I’m not a big back pocket user. Besides, the pockets were only added to cover up the cuts in the first place.
  14. I reattach all the belt loops around the waistband thinking they will help cover up some of the mad piecing together of this pattern piece, which has so many seams in it at this point that I could just refer to it as a quilt. Pants are tried on to scrutinize my handiwork. Belt loops are immediately removed because they look too distracting.
  15. I tack down the zipper tape, hand stitch a blind hem in the pants legs, and…I’m done? My pants saga is over? Could it be???

As a final result the pants are… not terrible! Ha! But of course there is room for improvement. The zipper on the side of the pants is wavy, which, in my experience, means the seams need to be stabilized with stay or twill tape. The big patch pockets on the back of the pants don’t look as bad as I thought they would (they remind me of the 70’s when all pants seemed to be extremely high waisted and pockets were positioned halfway up the wearer’s back!), but I am not crazy about the way that they peek out underneath the kimono jacket. This could have been avoided if the jacket was the length that I initially wanted it to be (a few inches longer), but of course I was constrained by the amount of fabric that the suit gave me to work with and I couldn’t squeeze any more length out. I ironed out the creases that were originally in the suit pants because I don’t like the way creases on pants fronts look on me when they don’t disappear into a waist dart, and I omitted the darts to keep the front looking crisp and clean. However I think they look fine without the creases, and I love the slightly tapered ankle length.

My last and final decision for this make was to add a belt for the kimono jacket, because the silhouette just looks way better to me when the waist is cinched in. Thankfully I was able to use most of the jacket collar for this piece (and it was already interfaced!); my pile of suit pattern pieces dwindled quickly- pretty much everything I had left was small or curved and I really didn’t want to have to make a belt comprised of 32 seams to rival my waistband, LOL.

As for the styling of this outfit, I have no idea what initially sparked me to pair it with this Esplanade Bra from Orange Lingerie, but once the main pieces of the jacket were completed and I was ready to try it on, it was the very first thing I grabbed from my closet (the strapless bra is gorgeous and since I have made it twice now, I am planning on blogging about it, but til then, know that this one was made with a kit from the wonderful TailorMadeShoppe’s etsy store) ! I’m sure it has a little something to do with the fact that I had just recently finished making the bra in a different fabric as a bustier to pair with a skirt (coming to the blog soon!), so the look was fresh in my mind. Either way, I tried it on and it immediately conjured up images of a 90’s Madonna, with her baggy suit pants and torpedo bra. The bra shows a fair amount of skin, so pairing it with this suit feels unexpected, but I still really like it. The lines of the front of the jacket do a great job of revealing just a tiny bit of the surprise that’s underneath, and it also ties in well with this Budoir For the Streets theme I have going on. For me, the idea of a kimono robe draped over a stately, beautifully shaped bra in pinks and reds is totally incongruous to the look of a black and white wool birdseye men’s suit, but surprisingly, the two together really work.

And that’s it, folks! I finished this project in record time, mostly because I was obsessed with getting it done as soon as I started working on it- I didn’t want to procrastinate and then be stressed out trying to problem solve at the last minute. I like my sewing to be fun and pressure-free! Plus, my job can take me out of town with little more than a day’s notice, and I hated the thought of being in the middle of this refashion with a deadline looming and then having to hop on a plane. As a whole, I am so happy with how this make turned out- I tried really to hard to create something that I would actually wear at some point in the future, not just something that would suffice for this challenge, and with that, I think I have succeeded. There are definitely some little things about the make that bug me, like, as I mentioned before, the pants pockets not being totally covered up by the jacket, and how there are lots of teeny tiny tears and holes throughout the wool fabric, which couldn’t be avoided- most of them came from the holes that were leftover after I carefully removed buttons, seams, welt pockets, etc. It’s just par for the course when you’re working with fabric that has already been manipulated into a garment. Fortunately, this just adds even more character to an ensemble that already has a pretty remarkable story. I feel so grateful to have been able to participate in this challenge, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and proving that I have both the creative chops and skillset to compete with the rest of The Refashioners, so here is a big thank you to Portia and Elisalex for believing in my abilities and inviting me into the fold- this has been such a blast and I feel very proud 🙂

Click here to stay up to date with The Refashioners 2017, see all the other inspiring refashions AND find out how you could win an amazing prize!

Vogue: 0 Me: 1; A Tale of Two Cut Outs

It wasn’t just the cut outs that pushed this make into WTF territory, it was the armholes, too, but I am getting ahead of myself…

yep, basically how the whole process of constructing this dress went.

I was inspired to make this older (I think it’s out of print but it’s not vintage) Vogue 8900 pattern after seeing it on Ada Spragg’s instagram and falling in love with it. Everything about her dress is perfect- I loved the bright yellow color, obviously. I loved the weight of the fabric, which seemed sturdy and firm, offering some interesting contrast to the delicate cut-outs and shoulder baring silhouette of the garment. And I was also intrigued by the princess seams on the front of the dress, which start off parallel to one another in the bodice and then move towards each other in the skirt, creating hourglass lines on the backdrop of a slightly flared A line skirt. A lot of interesting features in one garment, but subtle enough to not appear too overwhelming, in my opinion.

I chose a fabric from my stash that I had just recently picked up for my monthly allotment at The Fabric Store, a barely mid-weight silk cotton in a beautiful large navy and white floral print. I fall in love with pretty much every silk cotton I get my hands on and this one was no different- it sews up with the ease of a regular quilting cotton, but it has a different kind of texture- soft and silky and crisp, with the tiniest bit of texture to it. It’s hard to explain how it feels between my fingers, all I know is that I love wearing it and working with it.

I knew to make a muslin before I cut out my fashion fabric since Big 4s are big on me and this garment in particular is designed to fit like a glove. When I announced on IG that I would be making this dress, Ada let me know that the cut outs were positioned in places that would make it difficult to wear a regular bra without it peeking through, so I was even more convinced that the dress would need to hug my bust and waist so that I could go braless without the fabric sagging or bunching up anywhere.

I cut out a size 10 graded to a 12 in the hips, sewed it up and tried it on, and it was even bigger than I had imagined it would be. The bodice was pretty much a perfect fit and I didn’t make any adjustments there- in comparison the waist was a pretty good fit as well, but the hips were much too roomy. There are a lot of interestingly shaped panels to this skirt but it didn’t make the adjustments too difficult. I left the side seams intact and instead focused on adjusting the princess seams in the side front and the side back panel pieces. The two curved seams in the front needed the most tweaking because subtle changes in those lines seemed to affect the fit most dramatically, and I also wanted them to mirror the lines of my own body as much as possible. Since these patterns tend to be drafted for someone several inches taller than myself, the “hourglass” seams on the front of the skirt just didn’t align with the curves of my own body, so I had to completely re-work them, but I was fairly successful with it in the end. I left out the bias strip cut outs on my muslin since I was only muslin-ing for fit. Next, I marked the lines of my new seams on my muslin dress, took the muslin apart, and transferred the new seam lines from the muslin pattern pieces to my paper pattern pieces in case I ever decided to make this garment again (at the time I thought that I certainly would, but now having experienced the cut-outs from hell, I’m not quite sure…)

I cut out my fashion fabric and constructed pretty much the entire dress before I got to the cut outs, which I assumed would be a piece of cake to finish. Now technically, the only cut outs are the two holes on either side of the waist, but since the armholes and the neck hole all required finishing with bias cut strips of fabric and almost all of them gave me a ridiculous amount of trouble, I am referring to all the holes in the dress as cut outs. The instructions in the Vogue pattern suggest that you sew the short ends of the bias strips together to create a loop, baste the long edges of the bias tape together, then sew the loop to the edges of your cut outs, topstitching down. I immediately side-eyed this method of application because for one, it leaves an unfinished raw edge on the inside of the garment, which is simply unnecessary (and to me, kind of defeats the purpose of using bias tape), and two, I had just never done it this way before, which is important to note. Sometimes you try a new-to-you technique for a familiar application and learn a better way to do something, and other times you try a  new-to-you technique and realize why you are never instructed to do things that way in the first place.

My bias tape application usually encases the entire raw seam and then is sewed down to the inside of the garment with a seam allowance related to the width of the bias tape. So this technique was…weird, to say the least. But, being trycurious, I decided to try this new-to-me method; I figured that maybe it would provide a detail or certain amount of ease that I simply couldn’t envision at this point. I did however decide to forgo stitching the bias tape closed into a loop before sewing it to the dress- I knew the chances of it being the exact right measurement of my cut outs when sewn closed was pretty low, and this is the only smart choice I made throughout this whole process, because my instinct was right- the bias tape ended up being too long on every single cut out. I am more comfortable with the method of sewing the tape down as you go, leaving an inch or so free on either end, then the sewing the tape together and stitching down when you have only a few inches of tape left to close the loop.

Anyways, I did it Vogue’s way and it was awful. The size of the cut outs on the waist were simply too narrow to accommodate the curve of the bias tape without skewing the hole’s shape, so the tape stuck up and out instead of laying down flush to the skin. I thought, ‘hmmm, maybe I need to cut off some of the binding in the seam allowance by serging the raw edges so there is less fabric in the outside curve of the tape?’, and then I proceeded to do exactly that. Serging the edges did not help it at all, and now I had two cut outs with significantly less seam allowance left, so continuing to work on them with the original pieces would be tricky (eventually it would turn out to be impossible). I put the side cut outs on hold and moved to the armholes to see if I could figure them out. A normal armhole, of course, is fairly easy to apply bias binding to- I have never had a problem with them before, but because these armholes are drafted into the shape of a racer back and curved deeply in the front, the openings are way more dramatic than standard armholes, which makes sewing bias tape onto the curves difficult to do successfully, giving me the same problems the cut outs did. For this bias tape application I decided to use a technique I was more familiar with, which was sewing the raw edge of the tape to the outside of the opening, then folding the other side of the tape over the seam allowance, thereby encasing the raw edge. I left about 1/4″ of the tape visible to the right side of the garment as shown on the pattern envelope, as opposed to folding the whole width of tape to the inside and top stitching down.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVVV45sBw6H/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

You can imagine my surprise when I completed one armhole and realized that this technique didn’t help at all- the armholes, in fact, looked worse than the side cut outs (look at the IG shot above!!!! THE HORRORRRR!!!!!) The edge of the armhole stood out from my dressform stiffly, refusing to lay flat, and it even did some weird swirly thing where it puckered and gaped and made the armhole look stretched out (thank goodness I stay stitched my openings from the start, otherwise this dress might not have made it). Now I was running out of ideas. The way that the holes were behaving made me think that I needed to cut notches into the deepest part of the curves, but the pattern was drafted for use with bias tape, so why would you cut notches into bias tape?? And at this point I had vastly decreased the amount of SA included in the pattern because of serging my edges off the side cutouts, so I had even less room to work with.

I took a deep breath. After making a plea on IG and not getting any info that helped (except for Ada confirming that yes she had ignored the Vogue instructions for the bias tape application but no she hadn’t had a problem getting her tape to lay down flat, though she had used a much different fabric than mine) I could only think of one other thing to try out. I had ruined my bias strips with the shoddy application, and I was out of fabric so I couldn’t make any more strips that matched the dress. Instead, I used some 1/2 inch white single fold bias tape from my stash. I sewed the edge of the tape onto the raw edge of my cutouts (trimming the armhole openings to match the width of the side cut outs which had been trimmed when serged). At the deepest curves in the cutouts, I very carefully cut tiny notches into the outside edge of the bias tape, about halfway through the width. Then I topstitched the bias tape down to the inside of the garment.

Thankfully this method actually worked! Of course it is nowhere near as clean on the inside as I would like (I tried to take pictures but they turned out really blurry!), but on the outside, the cutouts lay down beautifully, which is all I cared about at this point- I just wanted the dress to be wearable! And when I started having so much trouble with the bias tape application, I thought there was a good chance that it wouldn’t be.

So here we have it, a dress that looks pretty cool after all is said and done, due in no small part to a Make-It-Work moment. The fit of the dress in the bodice is perfect- it doesn’t feel tight or constricting, but it looks fitted and the dress doesn’t bag out or sag anywhere. The skirt does have some weird puffiness at the seams right at the hip bones, but I can’t tell if it’s because the seams needed to be taken in more or because the fabric has so much body, and from what I can tell you can’t even see the puffiness looking straight at the dress, I can only see it when looking down at my hips when I am wearing it. Not a big enough issue to try and fix. I think that overall, the dress looks great, and since it was so close to going in the Butthole Bin, I just want to cut my losses and enjoy the save. I wore it to Mimi’s sewing conference a couple of months ago and then again at SDCC for our interviews and panels for our new Amazon animated show, Danger & Eggs, and it was a smash hit both times! I’m really happy with it and I feel super fancy wearing it, just so long as no one asks to see what it looks like on the inside…

 

That Rachel Comey Dress

Everybody loves Rachel Comey and everybody loves Vogue 1501, but it took me a really long time to jump on the bandwagon. I appreciate Rachel Comey’s designs across the board, but I don’t think that they often suit me and my style. At first glance, some of the designs are just a little too out-there for my tastes, and others seem a little too simple, but I am learning that I should give her patterns (and probably others that I judge too quickly) a second glance. It turns out, very little of what Comey designs should be categorized as ‘simple’, and paying more attention to the technical drawings as opposed to the styling on the pattern envelope would probably do me good. Vogue seems to be a fan of matching Comey designs with abstract and/or bold fabrics, and while I LOVE a good print, I think that practice has a tendency to overwhelm the design features of a garment with as much nuanced detail as Comey’s tend to have. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I have definitely overlooked many designs simply because the styled image of the garment turned me off, so it looks like that old adage about books and covers holds true for the sewing world, too; you can’t judge a pattern by it’s envelope.

I first saw Vogue 1501 on either Heather’s blog or IG feed a while ago, before she had even sewn it up (I think she posted a pic of the pattern envelope and shared how excited she was to sew it up). I remember thinking “what a strange design!” and not giving it another thought til I saw the finished makes that she and What Katie Sews created; both were dark colored and beautiful. There was something special about the pattern that I had overlooked before, and seeing it sewn up and being worn on an actual body showed me how classy and sophisticated (and yes, very NYC Magazine Editor!) it was. So I bought the pattern, because I am nothing if not heavily influenced by my favs in the sewing community. It only sat in my craft room for a few weeks before I decided what fabric to us for it.

Interestingly enough, my experience with the fabric I chose was very similar to my experience with the pattern. I had seen the bolt in The Fabric Store several times before and gawked at the beautiful periwinkle blue of the background, but maybe because it was silk, which always requires a bit of extra work and attention) or maybe because I had no ideas of what to make with it, I just disregarded it. It wasn’t until I saw Mimi’s stunning shirtdress version in the same fabric that I felt inspired to grab it, regardless on if I had a plan for it or not, and I am so happy that I did, because this material + pattern are a match made in heaven!

Aside from the gorgeous color palette (that pale peach and blue together are EVERYTHING), I love the Art Deco inspired look of the print. I thought it would pair well with the design of Comey’s pattern, which at first glance seemed pretty modern to me, but after making it, it feels a bit more rooted in vintage elements. I get a 20s/30s vibe from the loose, blousy top paired with the knee-length skirt, but the tucked-in front makes it feel more current. I made a size 8 in the blouse and a size 10 in the skirt, which was easy to combine since the blouse and skirt are separate pieces and are only connected at the waist front by one line of stitching. I could probably have gone down a size/adjusted the blouse to make it even smaller but the loose fit works for the silhouette. I ended up having to take the skirt in significantly at the back seam where the zipper is inserted, but it was easy to do- the pleats at the front of the skirt (which are so pretty draped in this fabric) allows for a lot of flexibility in the body of the skirt, so I only needed to adjust the fit at the waist and then taper down to nothing at the hip.

I had read on Pattern Review that this dress has shoulder pads and an interesting shoulder seam gusset to accommodate the extra material at the top of the shoulder (I had totally overlooked that detail from the pattern envelope info). I wasn’t sure if I wanted shoulder pads or not so I decided to construct the dress with the gusset and just yay or nay the pads when the time came to insert them. I am generally not a fan of shoulder pads in anything other than coats, maybe because my shoulders match up pretty well with the width of my hips and don’t droop down, so pads tend to make my shoulders look incongruous with the rest of my body. Once the gussets were in, I sewed up a thin shoulder pad from some quilt backing and covered it in the dress fabric, then inserted it into the blouse. It didn’t make a significant difference with the overall shape of the dress on my figure, but you could see the edges of the shoulder pad imprinted on the inside of the blouse, which was very noticeable and messy looking. I decided to forgo the pads but I kept the gussets in because it would have been too complicated to try and remove them without ruining the fabric.

For some reason I totally forgot to use French Seams when I started sewing the blouse of this dress, so there are all kind of finishes on the inside: a couple seams are serged, most of the others are frenched, and I managed to get a few Hong Kong seams in there, too! Ha! As long as they don’t come unraveled, it doesn’t matter which technique I use.

I recognize that the busy-ness of my pattern hides a lot of the design details of the dress (something that I didn’t like about the styling on the pattern envelope), but maybe I just like my fabric print better than Vogue’s so I give it a pass. I can definitely see myself making this garment again, in a solid color this time, and maybe a few tweaks to the fit; I would be interested in removing a tad bit of length from the blouse (mine billows out a bit and I have to pull the blouse up at the shoulders so that it sits straight and doesn’t fall forward), skipping the insertion of the shoulder pad gussets, and I would also like to play around with the idea of shortening the back part of the blouse so that you can see the skirt back; a bit of a play on a crop top look while keeping the front the same. It might not work, but it’s certainly worth a try! When I envision this new version of the dress, it’s peach or orange hued with a rich, velvety texture, so let’s see if this ends up coming to fruition!

Kalle Shirtdress

Remember this fiasco from a couple of months ago? Well, despite my best intentions to adjust the awful fit, I couldn’t save it, at least not enough for wearing in public. It has been relegated to house attire (with the occasional last minute run to the post office if necessary), and I don’t feel good about it; I was really looking forward to that silhouette having some heavy rotation in my closet! Anyways, you can imagine my excitement (and regret) when shortly after I posted the dress onto my blog, Closet Case introduced their newest pattern, the Kalle Shirtdress and Shirt. It is essentially everything right about the original McCalls dress I made with none of the wrong. Having lots of success with Closet Case’s past patterns in terms of fit and design, I knew it was going to fill the hole that Everyone’s Favorite Dress left in my life, but little did I know that it was going to add something that I didn’t even know I needed…more on that in a later blog post.

Here’s how the shirt dress of this pattern is similar to the McCalls version- kimono style short sleeves, an ever-so-slightly high-lo, hidden button placket (there are two other options for the button band included in the pattern), and a loose, breezy fit. But the hem isn’t ridiculously dramatic on the Kalle, it doesn’t include unnecessary side slits, the invisible placket actually conceals the buttons underneath (although I totally goofed this part of the pattern up during construction, but more on that later, too), and most importantly, it isn’t drafted bigger in the upper back than in the waist and hips, so the back pattern piece of the Kalle drapes beautifully, barely skimming the figure underneath.

After making the Hannah dress, I have been completely intrigued with so-called “sack dresses” that make me feel sexy while also providing ease and comfort (not sure sure if these patterns actually ID as “sack dresses” but I call anything that is short and slouchy in the mid-section a sack dress). Anyways, the Kalle shirt dress pattern felt like a gift from the Gods and a chance to redeem myself from my last attempt at that McCalls’ disaster.

And now for the fabric! I love this part! So I had recently tried my hand at sandwashing some turquoise silk crepe de chine from The Fabric Store using soda ash and a hot water cycle on the washing machine and was pretty amazed at how excellent the effect was. My once sleek, shiny silk was suddenly matte and soft and slightly sueded looking and it cost me like, 20 cents to create. The cool thing about sandwashed fabric is that it can be washed in the machine and dried in the dryer, so even though I was aiming for a casual Kalle, I figured that the fabric could pull double duty as a slightly fancy make, too. I love the drapey-ness of the pattern paired with this silk but I wished that I would have used my fabric stiffener on the silk before sewing it up. The fabric was much less silky and tricky to work with after it was sandwashed, but it still wasn’t as easy as working with a cotton- the stiffener would have made it even more manageable (and would have made my button band look a lot better than it turned out).

I didn’t run into much trouble until I was making the concealed placket, which requires some precise ironing and folding that was hard to achieve with my silk, which kept sliding around everywhere. Because of this, I don’t think that the folds are as straight as they could be, and on top of that, I made a VERY ROOKIE mistake when it came to making the buttonholes. The instructions suggest that you make them before attaching the placket to the dress but I prefer to make mine towards the end of construction, and I wish I had followed my instincts. Somehow I ended up not sewing the holes through both folds of the placket, and instead I made and cut out holes for only one side (like I said, rookie mistake!) Once I attached the band to the dress front, I realized I had messed up and had to do some weird MacGuyver-ing to make it work, which included adding an additional set of buttonholes on the band behind the one I had already made, which of course didn’t line up perfectly with the front holes and in turn makes the band sit a little awkwardly on the front.

But! I blame this mistake on the fact that I decided to make both the Kalle shirt (a future blog post!) and the shirtdress at the same time. Normally I love knocking out more than one project from a pattern at a time (done it a million times with the Archer pattern from Grainline and the Hudson pants from True Bias) but I now know it’s a better idea to save the multiple constructions for a pattern I have made at least once before. My two-for-one Kalle session ended up being especially tricky for me since I sewed up two different button band and collar options for the shirt and dress, and it was tough to keep the instructions straight.

Aside from the snafu with the button band (which, by the way, was still a million times easier to follow than the McCalls one), construction was easy and well described. I have made more button down shirts for my wife than I can count so I was already familiar with a lot of the techniques used in this pattern, and since this is technically a sleeveless garment, construction is pretty fast when not having to account for a set-in sleeve, cuffs and sleeve plackets.

So, in a word? YES! YES I LOVE THIS PATTERN (and I haven’t even talked about my Kalle shirt yet!) I love everything about it, and it really is exactly what I was hoping for when I initially made the McCall’s dress. I loooove the drapey-ness in the back, it’s just perfect. It’s sexy and comfortable, and it looks so effortless, even in this fabric. I already know exactly what I want my next shirtdress to look like- I see it in a smokey, dark gray (maybe a muted black??) sandwashed silk again, with exposed pearl snaps, and a slightly longer length, like right below the knee, but with the same slightly hi-low hemline. I haven’t even worn this turquoise dress out yet and I’m already planning my next one…sign of a pretty fantastic pattern, right?

 

Everyone’s OTHER Favorite Dress

McCall’s 6686 is another pattern that kept coming up on Pattern Review’s Favorite Make’s list, so I decided to give it a try and see what all the fuss was about. While it was A MILLION TIMES BETTER than this unfortunate make (which I have since adjusted in the yoke, length and hemline shape to make less horrific, but which, surprisingly, didn’t work at all, so now it’s been relegated to ‘house dress’ status) I wouldn’t say that I am in love with it. I’m kind of ‘meh’ about it, although I’m happy with the way it came out and I know that I will wear it again.

The fit needs more tinkering, even though I muslined the dress and made a bunch of changes to it already. Honestly I should have just stuck to my Closet Case Nettie dress, which I made once a couple of years ago and loved. The fabric I used was pretty cheap so the black color in my knit started looking gray and fuzzy immediately after its first washing and I didn’t get as much wear out of it as I had anticipated. But it’s a great design with some amazing options in terms of back and neck lines, and I already knew it fit me really well, so I can’t imagine why I bought this McCall’s pattern in the first place – I must have just forgotten how similar the silhouettes of these two pattern are (I don’t like having two of essentially the same pattern in my stash, so if I had remembered, I probably wouldn’t have purchased this one). I blame my lack of pattern organization for this little oversight, which is something I am VERY excited to say will not be happening anymore since I spent 16 hours over a recent weekend cataloguing every single pattern that I own! More on that in a future blog post…

Anyways, this dress. The fit just looks a little humdrum to me- it’s like, too baggy or something? I am not even into super tight body- con dresses, but this fit makes me feel like I am going to church (spoiler alert, I do not go to church- and if I did I probably still wouldn’t wear this). Thankfully, the dress is super simple and it’s a knit, so it won’t be difficult to tighten it up just a bit in the sides, and I might toy with either shortening it or having the dress taper in just a tiny bit above the knees. My big beef with pencil skirts is that they are normally drafted to fall straight down from the widest part of my hips and this dress is designed in the same way. I just don’t feel cute in that look! It’s very “Pam” from ‘The Office’, and I’m more of a toned-down Kelly Kapur. Weirdly I didn’t realize how off the fit was til I saw these photos of it; when I wore the dress in Vegas at Clexa Con a couple of months ago, I felt great in it! But that might have been my mind playing tricks on me. I kind of hate Vegas, and I couldn’t bear to spend an entire weekend in that weird den of smoke-filled lobbies while also hating what I was wearing- it would have been too much to contend with.

I can’t remember the size I made in this dress, and I actually did so much adjusting with the pattern pieces that it doesn’t matter anyways. I know I graded up to a bigger size in the hips, and then I had to take the whole dress in like 2 inches on either side because Big 4 always run gigantic on me. I used my coverstitch machine to attach bias binding on the necklines, sleeves, and bottom hem, and it worked beautifully. Some knits want NOTHING to do with the bias binding attachment on the CS, and others sop it up with a spoon! Because of the fabric, the bias binding cinched in the edges just a tiny bit, but I kind of like the effect.

 

The other thing I like about this dress is the fabric. I had never worked with a Liverpool knit before and I bought this one from LA Finch Fabrics , who stocks a lot of floral and abstract printed ones in gorgeous colors. Liverpool knits are pretty wonderful- the texture is super soft and spongy, but the fabric doesn’t feel heavy and it wears well. Because of it’s cloud-like texture I felt sure it was going to pill and snag easily, but I haven’t noticed anything yet. What I did notice is that the fabric holds smells in a very big way. I try to extend the life of my memades by not laundering them unless they have endured a spill or they smell bad, and I can usually go for several wears between washings with garments like dresses, but this one smelled stinky after just one day of wear.  I am assuming it’s because it has some polyester in it; in my experience, polyester fabric tends to get stinkier more quickly than natural fabrics. Anyways, this fabric works up so pretty in a dress and I imagine it would also look stunning in a wrap dress design (also, if you’re headed over to LA Finch online, check out their double polyester knits- I have made leggings and joggers with it and it’s amazing! Softest knit ever, both inside and outside, the elasticity holds up well after days of wear, and the colors have stayed vibrant through so many washings already!)

 

Man, as I’m writing this blog post, all I want to do is go find a cute knit fabric so that I can sew up a Nettie dress to add to my closet to replace that old one I got rid of. But I’ll wait a bit- my sewing queue is full and I am trying to focus on balancing out sewing with my other artistic endeavors over the summer since my spring/summer wardrobe isn’t lacking for much and I have some writing and other projects that I would really love to dig into. There are so many other things I love to spend my time doing-  drawing, woodworking, embroidery, pottery, writing- but sewing tends to take priority over all of them and I find myself wishing I had more time in the day to fit everything else in (although if I’m honest, I would probably just use those extra hours in the day to sew even more, hahaha!) If my home sewing is in part motivated by consuming less and being content with fewer choices that have bigger bang, then I am definitely in danger of my closet overflowing and I don’t want that to happen. #redcarpetDIY is an ongoing project that I am trying to build up, so I can always add more projects to that queue, but as far as having a fun, efficient summer wardrobe is concerned, I AM BASICALLY THERE- I don’t need much more! (Another awesome pro of my recent pattern organization was seeing very clearly how many wardrobe holes I have so I can fill them in without continuing to make more of things that I don’t need).

So, final thoughts on this pattern that everyone else seems to love? It’s just not for me. Which seems to be a trend! And a valuable lesson to learn- I don’t need to jump on the bandwagon just because everyone else is on it. Or, maybe I just need to find a different band wagon that’s headed more in the direction of where I like to go. If I ever find it I’m sure I’ll see a bunch of y’all bouncing around on the back, so save me a seat!

 

 

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 🙂

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!