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Dawn Jeans, Zebra Shirt, Gold Heels

There are three separate makes in this post so this is gonna be a BLOOOONG one (I’m coining this term and I hope it really takes off lol).

First up are the Dawn jeans by Megan Nielsen, a pattern filling the holes of many jeans-loving sewists the world over. I must admit, when I first saw the release of this pattern I wasn’t super impressed, but I think it was because the styling of the jeans in the photos left a lot to be desired. The denim in some of the views looks pretty lightweight and of a questionable quality (that may not be true at all, just my perception) and the photoshoot in general just looked kind of bland. It was hard to pay attention to the style lines and design of the jeans when I couldn’t get past the fact that the overall look wasn’t very enticing. This is a skill I am still working on, ignoring the photos/illustrations on a pattern envelope and focusing on the line drawings on a pattern instead. Not every pattern designer has the same style as me, and that’s okay! Now that I have completed the jeans myself, I think it’s a pretty terrific pattern, despite how they were marketed by the photos. But it makes me wonder how many other patterns I have passed by because the styling/fabric choice/print/fit didn’t draw me in.

I’ve seen the Dawn jeans described as Mom jeans which is why I initially decided to give them a shot (I love a good Mom jean!), but I think they are a little more fitted and modern than my personal definition of the Mom jeans look. I made my own pair of mom jeans a few years ago by mashing the Closet Case Gingers (high waist skinny jeans made with stretch denim) with the Morgans (loose-fitting, low rise jeans made with non stretch denim) to great effect. The waist of my mash-up is high with a slightly loose fit in the thighs and calves, and they are made with a bleached woven denim. They bag out after a few hours of wear but are comfortable as all get out- I could probably wear those things to bed. The Dawns have a much tighter silhouette in the butt, hips and thighs and fit almost like skinny jeans but without the stretch factor, so they have to be very closely fitted to your body. I was really excited to make these after reading some reviews by other sewists who said they were drafted well and designed for a small waist to larger hip ratio. I wanted to see how they compared to Anna Allen’s Phillipa pants that took the sewing community by storm a little while after the Dawn jeans were released (I made and blogged about the Phillipa pants here– I really like them but they don’t give me the super fitted silhouette that I was hoping for, and they bag out in the butt pretty quickly which is a pet peeve of mine).

As for the instructions, I can attest that they were clear and concise- all of the Megan Nielsen patterns I have made have been easy to follow and understand, even for complicated techniques like zip flies, but, perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the details of her technique, I had a couple of mess-ups. The biggest mistake I made was adding a pocket stay to the design but forgetting to baste them to the fly openings before starting my zip fly construction. I didn’t have to deconstruct the entire fly to attach the stay but I did have to do a fair amount of seam ripping to make sure the pocket stay was solidly attached to either side of the zip. I elongated the zip fly about an inch but I could have lengthened it even more- it’s a bit better now that I am breaking the denim in and it’s softening up, but when I first wore them I had so much trouble getting the small waist over my big butt (as always, I graded up in the hips which makes it harder to pull them on) that I actually broke the zipper my third time wearing them!

(Full disclosure: I wore these to a photo/video shoot for LOGO celebrating LGBTQ artists and activists for this year’s Pride, and while in the dressing room, I got to meet some of the other people being photographed. Two gorgeous women I met went on and on and on about how amazing my jeans were and how great the fit was and when I told them I made them myself, they about lost their minds. They were so kind and complimentary and I was on cloud 9 because I knew and loved their work already and felt so special to have their attention! I excused myself to run to the bathroom real quick, but in the process of pulling my pants back up, I broke my zipper! I then had to come back into the dressing room to grab my stuff, surreptitiously trying to hide my open fly from the women after I had just bragged about how I made my jeans myself. Of course one of the women clocked the open fly and discreetly let me know I needed to zip up because she didn’t want me walking around with my crotch exposed, to which I thanked her and proceeded to pretend to zip my fly– which of course couldn’t actually close. I then placed my garment bag in front of my body to hide my crotch and I hightailed it the hell out of there so that my making skills wouldn’t be exposed as fraudulent! Hahahaha! The next day I took the jeans to my dry cleaners and had them replace the zip for me because I hate doing that myself and now they are as good as new!)

Okay, back to construction. I sewed my regular size but made sure to have them fit very tightly at the trying-on stage so that they would retain their shape after wear. There is a very fine line here of getting super-fitted woven jeans just right- of course if you make them too tight, they won’t give at all and will just cut into your stomach and feel uncomfortable whenever you wear them, but if you don’t make them tight enough, the woven fibers will loosen up after being stretched out from wear and body heat, and you won’t be able to enjoy a nice, close fit without having to wash them between each wear. I really wanted to make these jeans in a raw denim and not have to wash them over and over again (even my Phillipa pants could stand to be a little tighter) so I erred on the side of too tight, hoping and praying that they would mold to my body with very few washings. I honestly can’t tell how successful I was at this part- there are times when I put the jeans on and they feel so tight that I am worried I wont be able to sit inside of my car and drive comfortably, and other times when they slide on perfectly and feel just the right amount of snug but not uncomfortable at all. This is just how people’s bodies fluctuate from day-to-day and I’m not gonna stress about it because overall I really love how they look and feel, but I also could make a few changes to my next pair to help them feel like they fit more consistently.

Another mistake I made with these jeans was with the back yoke. I had intended to try out a swayback adjustment for the first time (I’ve never done this with jeans before) and I have a theory that it will help with the bunching up of my jeans. When I make high waisted jeans in a woven fabric, they have a tendency to bag out at the yoke right underneath the waistband as opposed to bagging out at the bottom of the butt or in the thighs. It’s hard to explain, but basically after wearing them for a while, a little fold forms underneath the waistband/ at the top of my butt and I think that taking out some of the length in this area will make the pants sit properly and lay over the curve of my waist without bunching, but I either forget to adjust the yoke pattern piece on each new pair of jeans I make, or I adjust them in the wrong way and get frustrated and then just use the regular yoke pattern piece as designed. One of these days I am gonna get it right, and I hope it’s with this pattern because I really want to make another pair in a railroad denim.

The denim I used for this pair is from Blackbird Fabrics, and it was lovely to work with. It’s rugged but not too heavy, strong but not so stiff it feels uncomfortable, and it’s got a subtle yellow-ish run of threads in it that gives it an antiqued look. I wanted to keep the wash as intact as possible so I opted to keep them relatively raw- before construction, I soaked the denim in a cold bath, let it hang dry, and I haven’t laundered them at all yet- I’m hoping I won’t have to for quite a long time. Only issue with this is that I decided to leave the leg hems raw, wanting regular wear and tear to shred the exposed fibers at the bottom, but that takes a long time when you aren’t washing, agitating and drying your garment. Oops! Hahaha, I know I could distress the hems in other ways but I don’t want to- I will let them age in their own time.

Another design element I added to this make was using the selvedge of the denim for the coin pockets and belt loops. I’m not normally an exposed denim fringe kind of person but I liked the coloring of the material so much that I wanted to show it off where I could. The effect is very subtle but I love it, and seeing the feathered edges on these jeans makes me smile every time I reach for them in my closet.

The last issue I had with these jeans that I would change for next time would be to adjust the curved waistband even more. I usually use my self drafted curved waistband when making any kind of non-elastic waist pants but decided to trust the waistband that came with this design instead. I should have compared it to my own drafted waistband as I ended up needing something with a deeper curve. I didn’t notice the issue when I fit them on at the basting stage, but once the garment had been fully constructed and I tried them back on, I realized they were gaping a lot at the waist in a way that was gonna drive me nuts. Instead of taking them apart I just unpicked my waistband and put a dart in the yoke and the waistband on either side of the center back seam (a seam I added so that I could easily let it out if I ever needed to have more room in them). I personally can’t stand darts in jeans but it’s the only way to salvage them sometimes, and they aren’t super visible so I will live!)

Overall, I would say that I prefer these jeans to the Phillipa pants in terms of fit, although both patterns are really terrific. The Phillipa pants are so unique because they don’t have a side seam and they are pretty quick to construct since they don’t have all the bells and whistles of a traditional jeans pattern (yoke, front pockets, miles and miles of top stitching, etc), but that also makes it more difficult to get a really close fit on a curvy body. The outer side seams are pretty much straight down the grain on the Phillipas, which is cool because you can show off selvedge denim with them, but to me, they don’t look as great on ny body that doesn’t also go straight down at the sides (I had to re-draft the side seams of my Phillipas when I made them because they kind of looked like clown pants on me at first). I’m including this little comparison because so many people wrote asking how I thought these patterns compared to one another since they had a similar silhouette- I’m team Dawn for this specific look, but I am sure I will make the Phillipas and of course the Persephones again!

Okay, onto my shirt now! It’s from a vintage Simplicity pattern (6531) that my friend Sean sent me from upstate NY. He works at a store that sells vintage/antique/secondhand items and he told me there was a big box of patterns that he wished I could rifle through if I lived closer. Instead, I told him my sizes and he went through the bins and chose everything that would fit me and that he determined was a good style (I don’t know if he normally pays attention to fashion or women’s clothing but he had great taste in vintage sewing patterns)! This one immediately stood out to me. I loved it’s 80’s feel and ease of wear, it looked comfortable and cool and it had some really lovely details that felt unique but not dated.

Image result for butterick 6531

I made up View C in a gorgeous zebra print silk from The Fabric Store and I love this marriage of fabric and pattern! The silk is lightweight like a voile but the colors are incredibly vibrant- I fell in love with it when The Fabric Store first carried it months ago but they ran out quickly. Luckily they got more in stock! The pattern was super easy to sew up although I somehow sewed the pleats down incorrectly (they are supposed to face the opposite directions on each side but by the time I noticed I had already sewn my French seams and didn’t want to risk fraying the raw edges in the process of re-sewing them). The end result looks like such a Dad shirt to me now, in a good way! Dad shirt + Mom jeans, what a pair! I love how the fit is loose but I don’t feel like it swallows me up. The drafting is pretty excellent for my frame, not too long or boxy, and again, the pleats at the shoulders offer enough detail that it feels like a notch up from a regular button down. It’s a really cool, dynamic looking shirt with this print, but I’m excited to make this in some neutrals, too- I already have plans to make the sleeveless one in a beautiful black and white striped linen in my stash from The Fabric Store.

Lastly, my shoes! These gold strappy shoes have been almost finished for months, but they sat gathering dust in my craft room after I realized I had made a mistake with them and I wasn’t sure how to correct it. When I took these shoes to get heel taps from my local shoe repair guy (his name is George, he is an Armenian immigrant, he’s sweet and funny and has been generously offering me lots of shoemaking tips, but if you follow my IG you know there was a whole thing that happened recently that kind of disrupted our relationship…), he showed me that I had miscalculated the height of my heel and that it was too tall for the last I used. I had not realized it, but the toe kick was non existent and the bottom of the shoe and bottom of the heel just didn’t match up. He told me the heels needed to be shorter but I wasn’t sure how to chop them off. For some reason I kept thinking that I needed to use a saw to fix them, and I just didn’t have one that could be used safely for this specific project (I have a jigsaw, mitre and circular). So they sat on the windowsill of my craft room for months until I was struck by a brilliant idea- I could just sand those heels down with my belt sander!

I had forgotten that these block heels were made of wood, not plastic with a steel bar inside of them (which would have made sanding with the sander impossible), and it took me all of like 5 minutes to shave about 3/8″ of the heel off. I took them back to George, he gave them his approval, and then he put the heel taps on them. Here is what he suggested I do for my shoes next time: he hates that I don’t sew my straps! He says that the heat from your foot can release the bond of the glue on the edges and the leather of the straps can come apart from the lining, so sewing the straps together is the smartest way to ensure a long life of the shoes. I sewed the side straps to the center piece of the upper but didn’t sew the individual straps together because I didn’t think I had a nylon thread color that looked great, but next time I will make that a priority.

These shoes are very comfortable and I love the way they look, although I realize I could have made the back strap tighter to the last during construction, and I am not crazy about the ankle strap design. I think they should come up higher on the ankle but honestly I was too lazy to keep figuring out the design by the time I put the straps on because it had already been months since I started making them and I just wanted them to be finished already! Laziness is not my favorite quality, but I consider it part of the learning process, hahaha!

Thanks as always to Claire who took these cute pics, thanks to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textiles and the opportunity to share them with the sewing community, and thanks to George who has given me so much information about shoemaking in such a short period of time.

 

Pink Heels

I’ve made many pairs of shoes since the last time I posted about shoemaking on my blog, so a post on where I am in my journey is long overdue (and if you are interested in seeing a more extensive view of my makes, feel free to follow me at jasikaistrycurious on instagram)!

Sandals have been my go-to shoe make for a while now because, for me, they are fairly quick to complete (I can start and finish a pair in a day) and are a bit more goof-proof since they don’t require lasting. The first sandal class I took that I LOVED was with RachelSeesSnailShoes a few year years ago, and I must have made at least 15 pairs of sandals for myself and family members since then. I’ve also made Birkenstocks (there is a shoe components store here in Los Angeles called Sadermo that stocks authentic Birkenstock footbeds for $36- all I have to do is design and attach the upper and the rubber sole- I should probably do a blog post on these, too, yeesh). The whole process has been so fun and enlightening and I wear my memade shoes all the time, but completing a pair of wearable high heels has eluded me…til now!

 

I actually got my start in shoe making with heels. After reading the independently published book Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis (more on that book and the beginning of my shoemaking journey here) I started with a pair of 2.5 inch mid- heel components and some vintage shoe lasts and made my first pair. Although they looked pretty impressive for my first time doing it, they were far from perfect; the heels felt wobbly so I knew better than to wear them out and risk breaking my ankle, and the rubber soling I attached to the bottoms to keep them from being slippery were way too thick, more appropriate for the bottoms of rain boots than slip-on heels, LOL.

 

 

But I didn’t feel deterred- I knew this was going to be a long learning process and I gave myself a lot of room to mess up and learn. I took a break from heels and focused on lasting flat shoes and slippers and got pretty good at those, then I learned how to make sandals and Birks. A lot of time had passed since I had made my first pair of heels but I kept accumulating information and getting better at some of the basic steps that applied to both heels and  closed-toed flats (like skiving and applying a toe puff and counter). Last year I got the high heel bug again when I was hunting for a pair of shoes that I could easily picture in my head but that I could not find anywhere in stores or online, so I decided I would try and make the pair I was looking for myself.

 

The design was a classic open toed heel slide (reminiscent of the style that Candies used to make back in the day). Mine were made of a vintage-looking green leather and I topped the upper off with a little bow and was SO happy with how the shoe looked on the last. This time my skiving was much better and I knew to put cork granules on the bottom before I attached my sole to fill in the gaps between my shank board and leather upper pieces. But once I put the leather soles on the bottom the shoe looked sloppy and messy and very unprofessional. It occurred to me that I should have finished the soles of the leather before I glued them to the bottom of the lasts instead of trying to do it afterwards and risking messing up the edges of the upper leather and insoles. It also occurred to me that I could try skiving the edges of my leather so that they weren’t so thick on the edges of the shoe.

The last new thing I tried on these heels that required a learning curve was drilling screws into the top of the heel through the insole of the shoe. Although I am very comfortable with an electric drill, this part made me really anxious. There is a metal bar installed in most plastic heel components that give it the structure and durability it needs to carry your body weight, so the screw you drill in has to be short enough that it doesn’t hit this metal part, but the screws also have to be positioned so that they don’t hit the shank of the insole (another piece of metal used in the board of a pair of heels- basically a long, thin plate that travels underneath the bed of the foot into the heel area of the shoe to provide support and stability for the shoe). And lastly, the screws also need to be placed at an angle so that they don’t come out the other side of the heel. It requires a steady hand and thoughtful planning, and since I had never done it before, I was terrified I would destroy the shoes. And I did! But I had already come to the realization that the heels were looking a bit too rough to be wearable anyways, so once I started treating them as more of a shoe muslin, I felt less scared about ruining them; it’s the only way to get better, right?

Of course, two screws sticking out of the top of a pair of heels doesn’t seem very comfortable at all, but pretty much all RTW heels have them, manufacturers just use specialty screws and are able to cover them up in a way that the wearer would never notice them. I knew that I would need to use foam to cover this up and protect the bottoms of my feet and decided to implement that idea on my next pair.

Which brings us to today and these pink mules! I was able to apply pretty much everything I learned from my first pairs of muslin shoes to these, and it shows- they are hands down the cleanest-looking, most comfortable pair of heels I have made. Not without their issues and mistakes, of course, but wearable? YES!

Everything went smoothly up until the end when I pulled the shoes off the lasts and tried them on. They felt much too loose! Lengthwise they were fine but the upper had a lot of space around it and they were difficult to walk in because of that. I felt so defeated and frustrated- how steep was this learning curve supposed to be? After so many failures I thought I would have been much closer to wearable heels by now. But then I had the bright idea of adding a thicker insole to the shoe than I normally would have. I used foam board, the same material I use to create an insole for a lasted shoes, instead of just plain foam, and it worked a treat! It completely covered up the screws installed in the heel area and sucked up all the extra space in the upper so that my foot felt snug and comfortable.

The edges of my leather sole on the bottom of the shoe look professional and tidy, but I miscalculated the length of leather I would need to meet the heel on the bottom and I fell short a millimeters, so I had to cut out slivers of soling leather to make up for the space. It’s not a big deal since you can only really see it if you are looking at the bottoms of the shoe, but it’s definitely something to work on for next time. I also have trouble getting my heel completely flat onto the bottom of the heel bed. There are machines that smoosh the heel onto the bottom without any gapping or bunching of the leather, but I don’t have one, so I have to use pure muscle to make it happen and the result is just so-so. It might help to skive the leather around the heel component and heel of the shoe even more so that there is less bulk there, but again, something that will hopefully get better with practice.

Once I added my cushy insole to the shoe I felt a hundred times happier with them. I wore the heels to an interview with Pride.com a couple weeks ago and pretty much every person I crossed along the way had something nice to say about them; fuschia pink mules stand out, which I love! Although the shoes are comfortable and wearable, I am very thoughtful about walking in them. I don’t feel like the heel will come off, but I do feel like if I were to step the wrong way or accidentally walk on a rock that I didn’t see on the ground, I could trip over myself. I think this again has to do with getting the heel component smashed up very tightly to the bottom of the shoe, and I wonder if next time I could try and rig a vice grip along the heel of the shoe and the top of the last to press everything together after the rubber cement is applied. I think I might also be more interested in some thicker, chunkier heels that will create a bit more stability for weight distribution than these thinner ones, so I ordered a few pairs from an online supplier I like and hopefully I will get to experiment with them and find great success! I still have tons more to learn obviously, but this pair feels like a huge win and I hope they just keep getting better and better.