Posts

Peaches N’ Cream N’ The Fabric Store

6blog

For those of you who grew up in the 80’s like me, you might remember a special Barbie Doll that made her debut wearing a floor length ruffled gown in a gorgeous shade of peach. The dress had a white sparkly bodice with sheer layers of polyester that cascaded into a wave of gathers at her feet, and a long, peach colored boa wound through her arms, the perfect accessory for this doll made in the era of TV’s Dynasty.

I was obsessed with this doll, and I didn’t get obsessed with toys very often. I knew we were poor and, from a young age, I understood it’s implications- asking for things that I knew my parents couldn’t afford seemed not only pointless, but also hurtful. I felt sure that they would give me the world if they could, so why make them feel worse than they already did? Still, this doll’s aesthetic tapped into some deep need I had, a need to exude wealth, class, and importance, to appear to be like all the other girls that I went to school with. Peaches N’ Cream Barbie represented the kind of woman who didn’t worry about money or holding down two part time jobs to make ends meet- otherwise she would not be dressed so extravagantly. She seemed confident and capable, the life of the party, good at holding court with esteemed individuals, which was something I aspired to. Why wouldn’t I be obsessed with her?

Although I never imagined that my wish would come true, Peaches N’ Cream Barbie ended up on my Christmas list, which, since my parents were not together anymore, needed to be duplicated so they could each have a copy. My mother, pragmatic as she was, must have sensed the magnitude of having this doll in my life, because on Christmas morning of that year I tore off the wrapping of a box to find, instead of the sweater or package of underwear I usually got (she, like many Moms without much disposable income, used Christmas as a way to replenish more of my needs than my wants), a beautiful Peaches N’ Cream Barbie Doll! But…she was black. For some reason I hadn’t been expecting that. To be honest I am not even sure I knew that Peaches N’ Cream Barbie CAME in black, because the black dolls didn’t end up in the commercials very often. I was thrilled that my Mom bought her for me, but I also had conflicting feelings stirring up inside that I had no idea what to do with. My Mom, (who is white), had always made it a point to buy me black dolls. I think she was trying to make up for the fact that I went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I only got to see my Dad (who is black) two weekends out of the month because that’s the way the custody battle went. She didn’t want my Southern white surroundings to damage how I felt about myself, and she understood the importance of me seeing myself in the things I played with. I know that now, and I appreciate it deeply. But at the time, I hated it. It was simply another reminder that I was different from everybody else in my life.

I pet my news doll’s beautiful dress and combed her dark hair that was straight and glossy and not like mine at all and waited for my Dad to pick me up and take me to my grandma’s house to celebrate Christmas with him and my cousins. There, I joyfully opened up toy after toy after toy- not an item of clothing in site- and stared in disbelief as I ripped the paper off my last present and found yet another Peaches N’ Cream Barbie, this time the one with blonde hair. My white Mom had bought me the black Peaches N’ Cream doll and my black Dad had bought me the white one (clearly my parents were not on speaking terms at this point in time). There was a sense of relief that I finally had the “right” doll, the one I had been hoping for all along, but in the coming weeks, as I held the two dolls in my hands, each exactly the same save for their coloring, I was suddenly faced with the real root of my dissatisfaction. I liked the white one because that was the one that all my white friends had, and that made me feel normal. But the doll itself didn’t make me feel normal- she looked nothing like me. It was like playing around with a fantasy that I had no say in creating. And the black doll didn’t look like me either; her skin was darker than mine, and she still had hair like the white doll, just in a different shade. I didn’t see myself in either of the toys, but I felt shame for liking the white doll better and frustration for not understanding why. Of course now I know that this is what happens when you live in a white supremacist society, but back then I just felt alone. I decided to make my dolls be cousins related by marriage for a while, but eventually they started kissing and became secret girlfriends, which is what happens when you also live in a homophobic society, but I digress.

Growing up, leaving Alabama, spending my 20’s in NYC- all of it helped me start unpacking the harmful rhetoric that I learned as a kid and replacing it with values that embraced all my different identities. I am still in the process of forgiving myself for not being prouder of who I was at a young age, which is hard- it’s even difficult to write these words here on my blog. But I do it because, if I have learned one thing since leaving Alabama, it’s that I am not alone at all. There are so many people around the world who have struggled to name their identities, to find a place that feels comfortable, to accept that this place might not be comfortable for others, and to not apologize for it. And if my words can make any of those people feel less conflicted about living their lives proudly and boldly, then it makes talking about it completely worthwhile.

8blog

So here I am decades later, a grown, Barbie-less woman, when I enter The Fabric Store and come across the extraordinary textile you see here. I am immediately drawn to it and I realize that it’s because of the colors- the peach and white combination of my youth holds the same amount of power over me now. And when running my hands over the soft material on the roll, I flip over a corner to find that it’s reversible! Well, maybe it’s not reversible- it’s possible that one of these sides is meant to be the “right” one and the other is meant to be the “wrong” one. But see, I know better than that now. Barbies don’t have “right” skin tones and fabrics don’t have “right” sides. Which is why I used both.

7blog

I thought that the graphic print and stable weight of this fabric would look really cool with a structured bodice, and then I remembered how great the cut-outs on the Bonnell Dress from Dixie DIY were. So I coupled the top from that dress with my circle skirt block, drafted with instructions from Gertie’s first book, Gerties’ Book for Better Sewing. The result is a perfect fit’n flare design that looks absolutely phenomenal with the body of this fabric! I don’t normally combine prints or think outside the box with my fabric choices, but this fabric made it pretty easy. It is so soft and airy and has an almost quilted feel to it because of the way the fabric is made- it looks a little like a double gauze, with two lightweight pieces of fabric tacked together through the lines of graphic print, the colors reversed for each side.

1blog

The bodice from the Bonnell Dress is a very straight-forward make with great instructions- a fully lined bodice with cut outs on each side that connect to a waistband, closed with an invisible zipper in the back.

4blog

Trading the gathered skirt that goes on the original dress with a circle skirt was easy, and I omitted the pockets to save time. I used french seams for both the skirt and bodice to keep the insides tidy since this fabric has a tendency to fray, and when it was all done, the completed dress looked almost reversible! The only thing to give it away is the invisible zipper, which isn’t so invisible on the inside, but I could probably still get away with wearing it inside out if I danced the whole time that I wore it. Which is not outside of the realm of possibility for me.

2blog

I debuted this dress a couple of weeks ago at an event for an organization called Campus Pride, which promotes creating safe spaces on college campuses across North America for LGBTQ students through education, leadership and community. As you can imagine, it was a huge honor for me to accept the Voice and Action award along with the other recipient, Miss Lawrence, and it was a pleasure to meet so many amazing students, mentors and staff at the ceremony. In my speech, which Autostraddle will be publishing later this week, I talked about intersectionality and how my various identities as a queer, biracial woman of color sometimes inform one another; it was a happy accident that I wore this particular dress to the event, which seemed to embody a lot of the things I discussed that night.

3blog

Thanks again to The Fabric Store for the gorgeous textile, to Campus Pride for giving me an opportunity to speak, and to Claire for the lovely photos!

Turia Dungarees, aka Stripey Overalls

hat_3blog

I made these overalls a couple of months ago when I was in the middle of a jeans-making blackout, and they came out SO much better than I anticipated. I knew construction would be a breeze, having made several pairs of jeans by this point (I have yet to write a post on the latest Morgan Jeans pattern by Closet Case Files– but I have made them, they are wonderful, and they will show up here soon!) but I was afraid that the fit on these overalls would be tricky to get just right, never mind the fact that there may or may not be an age appropriate cut off for wearing overalls in the first place. 

OK, wait. The fashion gatekeepers of our culture says that women of a certain age/build/type/look should not be seen wearing certain items during certain times of the year/season/position of Mercury, and obviously that is such bullshit, because no one, no matter their gender, body type or age, should be shamed for wearing what makes them feel happy (unless we are talking about cultural appropriation, of course, which is ANOTHER DISCUSSION ENTIRELY). That said, it’s still hard to erase those “rules” from our minds because we are force fed them all the time across all forms of media- they are ingrained in our thoughts and they affect the way we perceive others. Whether someone’s skirt is deemed “too short” or “too long” because of their age, the lines drawn are complicated but they are there, and they always seem to be tied in with what society considers to be sexy. I don’t think there is an easy solution to any of this; I, too, feel uncomfortable when I see young kids and disproportionate numbers of women vs. men being sexualized in media, but I also know that their sexuality would not be as much of an issue if they weren’t being prayed upon in the first place. What would our world even look like if rape and molestation were not issues that we had to constantly fight against, if we didn’t have to tell kids (and adult female-presenting individuals for that matter) to be careful what they wore so that they wouldn’t be targeted by others who wanted to harm them? At what age is it okay for a person to present themselves in a way that feels comfortable for them? At what point should other people’s discomfort be pushed to the side to allow an individual the full extent of their self- expression? How much does sexuality play a part in what we wear and how we wear it, and who should determine when we are “too” young/old/skinny/fat/disabled, etc. to experiment with how we present ourselves to the world?

hat_2blog

I am in my mid-thirties now and I know that the overalls look is not super popular with adults in my age bracket, but I feel AMAZING in them (they are my current favorite thing in my closet)! So, like others have been doing for decades, I am challenging the notion that there are things that are and are not age “appropriate”. The way we feel about ourselves when we quiet the judgemental voices in our heads should trump everyone else’s opinions, right? I am urging all of us to start unpacking the junk that society has been feeding us since we were little kids so that we can discover what tastes are influenced by our actual opinions and what tastes have simply been learned and undisputed. Here, I’ll start:

A Random Selection of Jasika’a Actual Opinions:

  1. lace is sexy
  2. Granties™ (aka granny panties) are also sexy
  3. these overalls are sexy
  4. I am not too old to be wearing these overalls
  5. you are not too old to be wearing these overalls

I have a lot of work to do. Like, I still can’t decide if I don’t like wearing shoes with ankle straps because I think they don’t look good on me or because every time I see a shoe advertisement, the strap is wrapped around a leggy woman with a 5 inch ankle circumference and I know I can’t ever compete with that. Dismantling the patriarchy one tiny tentacle at a time is such hard work! And at the rate I’m going, I will be feeling 100% satisfied with myself by the time I am 90 years old. But better late than never, right?

Dismantling the Patriarchy One Awkward Photo At A Time

Dismantling the Patriarchy One Awkward Photo At A Time

OK, some details about these sexy-alls! I did a lot of research prior to making them because the blogger world had lots of good tips and suggestions. Like

  • angling the back straps a bit so that they reach over your shoulders in a more natural and comfortable way without gaping.
  • omitting one of the side zippers since only one was needed to get them off and on.
  • doing a little surgery on the back pockets, which, from looking at a lot of pics online seemed like they were drafted much too small for this jelly and also placed a bit too high on the butt. I subbed the back pockets from the aforementioned Morgan Jeans pattern and lowered the placement of them substantially (it took me three tries to get them right but it was worth all the unpicking).
  • I graded the sizing from waist to hip and they felt a little bit snug at first but after several wears they have loosened up beautifully.

hat_5blog

My denim is a navy and cream striped, sturdy fabric from The Fabric Store, rivets are leftover from my Ginger Jeans kits, and my overall buckles are a cheap but efficient purchase from Joann’s. I topstitched in gold thread and I love the vaguely nautical look that this gives the overalls. I made a couple of mistakes in the process of this marathon-make (the bulk of these overalls were finished in a day), like accidentally punching a rivet hole in the middle of my front pocket (oooooops!) and incorrectly tracing the pattern piece for the back strap holder so that I had to add more pieces to make it wide enough to hold the straps. For this reason I have way more bulk and topstitching lines in the back pieces, but you can’t tell just from looking at them, and it doesn’t affect the fit as far as I can tell.

hat_4blog

My favorite thing about this make is the slim fit of the legs combined with the traditional look of the overalls. I wore different versions of overalls throughout middle school, high school and college, and they were always huge and baggy on me, which was fine at the time, but I have outgrown that look. These feel a bit more sophisticated while still being playful and fun and comfortable, and Renee thinks they look awesome 🙂 Actually, let me take a second to say thanks Renee, for inspiring this little feminist rant of mine! We had a short dialogue about overalls over IG and how old (or young) most people are who wear them, and she got me interested in breaking down my thoughts on the topic and articulating my own views on the matter! By the way, I am LOVING having sewing friends that I have met in real life, I finally feel like I am a legit member of the online sewing community!

*waves to my east coast homies*

*begs Marcy to come taste my dehydrator snacks*

(that is not a euphemism, I swear!)

 

A Blood Orange Denver Dress

close

Posting about this dress seems like a bit of a cheat because I haven’t actually worn it out of the house yet. (Which may or may not be a trend with me lately, but I’m not gonna sit here and judge myself!) This is one of those wardrobe pieces that works in LA for a small window of time, much like another beloved turtleneck dress of mine that I knitted. It has to be the right amount of chilly/warm outside, because my legs have to go bare (I hate wearing a tights under dresses) but my torso is completely covered, and in this particular make, it’s covered in a beautiful merino wool which, while lightweight, provides a bit more warmth than the average day needs.

full

This New Zealand merino fabric, from The Fabric Store, was purchased for a Christmas gift I was supposed to make someone that ended up being abandoned in favor of a large care package comprised of chocolates and sweets. I found myself charged with this beautiful, brightly hued fabric that was screaming to made into something cool, so I decided to dip into a pattern collection I had bought on sale many months prior. I had never made anything from the collection before, and I wasn’t super familiar with any of the designers that took part in the pattern bundle, so I was excited to be introduced to some new designs.

back

I chose the Denver Tunic/Dress by Blank Slate patterns because it seemed like a simple, straightforward make and the princess-like seaming appeared to be easy to adjust if the fit was off at all. Thankfully I was right on all counts. As per usual I graded up the sizing from waist to hips, and because my merino wool was on the thin side, I self lined the whole dress by basting all the pieces together and then serging the seams, treating each double layered pattern piece as one.

side

The cut edges of the knit fabric were clean and I liked the look of the two separate layers, so I left the bottom edges raw and made cuffs for the sleeves, shortening mine to about 3/4 length. There was a little bit of adjusting for the seams on the hip area where I had to take them in just a bit because they were gaping in certain places, but other than that, the sizes I chose work well on this here hippy body, and I am happy with how the dress looks!

closeup2

Initially I wished that the turtleneck was more dramatic looking and slouchy, but after wearing it for my photo shoot, I liked not having so much bulk at the top, particularly in such a heat-generating fabric. This dress is going to be great made up in a lightweight cotton or rayon knit and will be a nice compliment to the version you see here, which is perfectly suited for fall.

Final thoughts? This is a well constructed, quick and easy pattern which can both pack a lot of design punch when using complimentary fabric choices, and pull it’s weight as a simple wardrobe staple!

Ode to Oona

https://www.instagram.com/p/BD1mBH4RF5O/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

One of my favorite online fabric stores, LAFinch Fabrics, has this sneaky habit of filling your orders with extra doo-dads, including but not limited to a fistful of swatches from their inventory, tied up in a little bow. I love this for obvious reasons; being able to touch a piece of fabric gives me so much more of an idea of how it will sew up as opposed to just seeing it on a screen. And that’s how I ended up with this multi-colored animal inspired rayon, a fabric I would never, NEVER have bought after simply seeing a photo of it. I’m staunchly against animal prints in my own wardrobe, but not because I have any moral or aesthetic issues against them. For me, it’s like the color red-  I think it looks great on every single person except me. I’m just not a RED personality, you know? Bright orange? Sure. But not red. And in this same vein, I am not really an animal print person either. So when I saw a rectangle of this bold rayon peeking out of my fistful of new swatches, I didn’t give it a second glance. That is, not until my fingers gently grazed the material while fishing around for one of the other pieces in the stack. OH MY GOD. Is this for real?, I thought. So supple! So soft! So stable, yet flowy! It felt kind of creamy, if cream could be a fabric. It was absolutely dreamy. But the print simply wasn’t my favorite. I liked the colors. I like the graphic aspect of it. But purple and blue tinted (zebra? tiger? leopard?) print?! Come on! That’s not me! It took me a week of hemming and hawing before I finally asked myself “what would Oona do?”

Oona (aka Marcy), the sewing community’s favorite advocate for brightly printed/boldly colored/funkily designed textiles; Oona, who doesn’t shy away from dazzle or flash; Oona, who wouldn’t think twice about snatching up a fabric like this because she probably doesn’t impose arbitrary boundaries for herself on what she should or should not wear. I think everyone in the online sewing community has been inspired by Oona’s makes at some point in their lives, because even if she is wearing something you wouldn’t have considered making for yourself, her beauty and style are undeniable, and apparently limitless. So there, I had my answer. Oona would say yes, so I was going to give it a try, too.

patterns

My yes came shortly before my birthday, and although I had no plans to make myself anything to celebrate my new year, when it arrived in the mail (with a whole new fistful of swatches to drool over, of course), I was suddenly inspired to use it for something special. I had two days before my birthday and no idea what to make with this beautiful fabric, which is generally not the best equation for me and a successful make, but I forged ahead anyways. Eventually I settled on a hack of my favorite vintage jumpsuit pattern, vintage Simplicity 5503, and the Southport Dress by True Bias. Both patterns are (mostly) TnTs for me; I have made each pattern twice, hacking the neckline into one of Gertie’s designs for one of the jumpsuits and sticking to the original design for the others. I was excited to put these two looks together- I love the casual look and comfortable feeling of the jumpsuit’s flexible waist and roomy legs, and I love the relaxed yet streamlined design of the bodice of the dress.

gertie_neckline

vintage simplicity jumpsuit in one of my fav fabrics I have ever seen from The Fabric Store (the print is various sizes of flocks of birds!)

southport

Southport Dress by True Bias, which gets worn A LOT.

For my mash up, I nixed the elastic band in favor of the Southport’s drawstring detail, and I used snaps instead of buttons for the bodice.

close2

Since there were no waistline darts to accommodate, it required only a little bit of fudging to make the width of the jumpsuit’s bottom match up to the dress’s top, and I ended up shortening the bodice in the back about 2 inches to take in some of the fabric that was pooling at my lower back (this was not an adjustment I ever needed to make for the Southport dress in the past, so it was definitely a result of using pants for the bottom instead of a skirt).

flat

All in all an easy make, and it was done in plenty of time for my birthday, even though I didn’t end up wearing it on the actual day- I was in (memade) sweatpants eating pie and hanging out with my two BFFs to ring in my new year, and I am NOT complaining!

dance

Now that the make is done and I have had some time to ruminate a bit on all my last-minute decision making, I have come to some conclusions. Number one: this fabric was wasted on this jumpsuit. I think it looks fantastic, and honestly, whenever I wear it I feel like Blanche from the Golden Girls, but I think that using this fabric for anything other than a swooshy, drapey, flowy garment was just silly. It deserves to be a dress, something with simple lines and a full skirt so that I could have maximized all the properties that drew me to it in the first place. This pattern hack was meant for something with a little more stability and weight to it, and those properties aren’t the things that make this textile so incredible.

stand1

Which brings me to number two: I am SO glad that I listened to my inner Oona and I bought this fabric! At first I kept thinking, it’s just not very me, but the truth is that if I am wearing it and liking it, then that’s as me as it gets. The me of today might not be the exact same me of last year or even yesterday, but that’s why so many of us sew, right? To express whatever version of ourselves that seems to be chirping the loudest at the time. Sometimes we go through phases where we are really into knits, or prints, or pastels, or skirts, or skin tight, or super loose. But those phases don’t make us any less of ourselves- rather, they are proof that we are undefinable, ever evolving, capable of variance. When I look through my closet, it kind of feels like I am flipping through the pages of a diary; I know where I was, what was going on and how I was feeling with every single memade garment inside. And when I come across this jumpsuit, even though it’s the only animal print hanging amongst it’s brothers and sisters, it looks perfectly at home. It reminds me that my style can change, that even if I take risks, the things I make are still a good representation of who I am.

disco

Thanks to all the Oonas out there continuing to provide inspiration!

Pretty Guts

I generally tend to steer away from the Big 4 patterns nowadays since I have much better luck with the sizing in indie patterns, but it’s still hard to go into a large fabric store and avoid looking through those big books with their beautiful pictures of the season’s newest designs. A while ago I was at a Joann’s in a neighboring town to pick up some notions, and they happened to be having a huge store-wide sale. All their stocked Simplicity patterns were $1 a piece, and although most of them had already been picked through, leaving little else but Halloween costumes for toddlers, I was able to score a few prizes, including this beauty, Simplicity 1803.

pattern

I had a beautiful yardage of some cotton + steel rayon that I bought from Hart’s Fabrics a while ago, but I ended up not having enough to make the maxi dress I envisioned for it. But the soft draped look of the dress on this pattern sleeve seemed to be a good fit for my fabric, so I nixed my initial maxi dress idea and spent hours adjusting the bodice on my dressform. I made a muslin of just the bodice (sans facing pieces) in a size 8, pinned out all the extra material at the seams and then re-sewed it together. When I was happy with the fit, I transferred the pattern markings to my pattern pieces and cut out my fashion fabric. It was only when I started sewing these pieces together with the full sleeves, linings and facings that I realized I had gotten the sleeve pieces very confused and had sewed them onto my muslin not only backwards, but upside down! In my defense, the sleeve pieces for this dress are unnecessarily confusing and it would have been awesome if they had been marked them with “top” and “bottom” signifiers, since looking at the line drawings and sleeve artwork didn’t help one bit. So basically my muslin and ensuing adjustments were now null and void because the bodice, with the sleeves now attached correctly, ended up sitting much lower on the torso, meaning it no longer fit the lines of my bust and waist.

The good news is that this bodice has princess seams, and I think those are so much easier to adjust than moving darts around and making them larger or smaller. I eventually ended up pinching out about 1 1/2 – 2 inches in the bust, tapering in to the regular seam allowance at the waistline. Since the skirt is a five piece gathered dirndl, it didn’t require any major adjustments at all. The sleeves, whose details you can’t see very well because the fabric design swallows them, were a little fiddly to work with and I think I might have even accidentally missed sewing one of the design elements (a pleat at the hem of the sleeve maybe?) but I like how they came out.

closeup

My favorite thing about this dress is the guts, a place where I usually don’t have the patience or interest to make things look very pretty. I usually just serge or pink my seams closed and move on with construction, but lately I have tried to focus less on the amount of projects I finish in a given week and instead focus on how thoughtful and deliberate I am with the construction of my makes. This is much easier said than done, as I often have lists of things that I am excited to make and I start thinking about the next project before the current one is even halfway done. But the thrill I feel whenever I pull this dress off it’s hanger and put it on is immense, because I feel like the most impressive parts are on the inside, a treat that only I get to enjoy. For this dress I used Hong Kong seams, which I worried would cause bunching and pulling on the outside of the bodice since the seams are all curved, but I clipped into the curves before I did the binding, so everything lies flat and unnoticeable on the outside of the dress. The Hong Kong seams took much longer than would serging or even French seaming, but it was absolutely worth it in the end.

innards

My other favorite thing about this dress is the way the skirt is constructed. There is a center panel cut on the fold with a pocket on either side which is connected to a front side panel, and the back of the skirt has two pieces as well. I love that the pockets are not on the actual side seams of the garment, but rather centered on the front of the skirt, which doesn’t change the functionality of the pockets much but definitely gives the whole look a little touch of visual interest when you stick your hands in them. There isn’t a whole lot of variation in a simple dress comprised of a bodice and dirndl, so these little details stick out to me a lot.

front

As usual, I was VERY oblivious to doing any pattern matching with this dress til I cut all the pieces out and realized that ummm…it might have behooved me to pay a bit more attention. The funny thing is that I made sure to keep the big star design in the fabric from landing straight on my boobs for the bodice front, but that’s where my attention to detail ended, so I was a little annoyed with myself once the bodice was all pieced together and the fabric design lines were close to matching…but not quite! I think that the fabric is too busy to draw much attention to subtle inconsistencies at the seams, and honestly, I am not a perfectionist with that stuff anyways. It might annoy me, but small irregularities wont keep me from wearing it.

back

Something I am realizing about my body is that it is much smaller in the upper back/shoulders than most patterns are drafted for, so I often have to sew my zippers with a larger seam allowance at the back neck to use more fabric, and then taper out to the regular SA for the remainder of the garment, starting at about mid-back. I am not familiar with what this kind of adjustment is called, but I would love to know if any of you are aware. It’s not normally a big deal unless there is a bold pattern on the fabric, in which case you can see the curve where the back edges meet because the design won’t be symmetrical from top to bottom.

side

All in all I am super happy with this make! I love the feel and graphic print of the fabric, and I (mostly) love the shape of the neckline, although it affects the way I wear my hair -anyone else have weird ideas about which hairstyles and jewelry look best with which necklines? This dress took a LOT more time to make than I anticipated because of all the fitting adjustments and tiny interfaced pattern pieces for the neckline facings and Hong Kong seaming I decided to do, and fyi, when I was clipping threads from the gathered waistline after I had sewn the bodice and skirt together, I totally nipped into my skirt fabric with my scissors, which was embarrassing more than anything else. I mean….?!?!? I was simply working too fast, hoping to get a step completely done before leaving my craft room for the evening and heading upstairs to make dinner. See now why I am making a commitment to work more slowly with my makes? But I tried not to be too hard on myself. I used some interfacing to patch the snip back together and then some blue fabric marker to color the white that was peeking through to the outside, and now no one but me knows that it’s there…kind of like my beautiful dress guts!

Gertie’s Secretary Dress

hanging

I have talked here at length about how much I love Gertie’s pattern books. Hers were the first patterns that fit well to my body, that provided an aesthetic that I loved (I was exclusively into vintage fashion when I picked up sewing again several years ago), with instructions that were relatively easy to follow. I still have my very first dress that I ever made from one of her patterns and it continues to get compliments whenever I wear it (and most people think it is a vintage find). Her second book, Gertie Sews Vintage Casual, was great for providing my closet with lots of wearable sweater knits and cute separates, so when she announced the launch of her third book, Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book, I was over the moon with excitement. This book promised to tackle the sometimes complicated task of making linings, explaining when a dress needs them, why they need them, and all the different ways to use them to enhance the overall look, fit and feel of a beautiful handmade garment. I pre-ordered the book on amazon and was utterly thrilled when it showed up on my doorstep the day that I dropped a piece of IKEA furniture onto my big toe; I was immobile and confined to the couch with nothing to do but pore over every page, which I did!

The new book does not disappoint. I really appreciate that each of Gertie’s books contains new information- she doesn’t just recycle the same text with new patterns- and includes lots of tricks and tips on how to get the most out of your sewing practice. The Ultimate Dress book is chock full of information about fabrics, facings, laundering techniques and how certain textiles work together or alone to create specific silhouettes. The patterns are mix-n-match with several bodices, collars, sleeves and skirts to choose from, which allows the reader to design their own looks by mixing up the pattern pieces.

Thankfully I took Gertie’s advice at the beginning of the book and committed myself to making a muslin of each garment I wanted to make before sewing it up. And that was a VERY GOOD DECISION. I don’t know if the sizing is different from the first two books or if I am just a more meticulous sewist now than I was a few years ago, but HOLY COW my measurements were way off! WAAAAY off. The bust in these garments is like, 3 cup sizes bigger than my my own  (I am a solid 32 B), but everything else fit way too tight. Years ago this would have scared me off immediately and I probably would not have made a second attempt at any of the patterns, but now I know better than that; patience is indeed a virtue!

bodicebeforeafter

before and after of size 4 muslins

It took a while to get it right, but I did my first SBA ever using the sloper bodice from this book. Gertie’s instructions are not particularly detailed on this topic- the book basically describes how to make a FBA, and then for an SBA it just says to do the same steps, but by overlapping the pattern cuts instead of expanding them. But maybe that’s really all there is to it, because I followed her basic outline for the steps and the results were great. Not only did I have to do an SBA on these patterns, but I also had to move the bust darts down, bring the waist darts in towards the center, and add more width at the bodice sides and back. The armholes were also extraordinarily tight and the neckline was really high, so I had to provide more room in those areas as well. It took me four rounds of adjusting and muslin-making to get a fit in the basic bodice and pencil skirt that felt comfortable and looked good, and even after all that, I still had to make additional adjustments to provide a bit more room in the waist and in the cap sleeves, which had me hulking out of them if I did so much as take too deep of a breath. I don’t normally struggle with patterns being too tight on me- usually my fitting issues are that the patterns are much too big and need to be taken in a lot. Thankfully my fitting skills have been expanded by working with these patterns and I am feeling particularly competent now 🙂

anyone familiar with the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Muslins?

these adjustments are like Goldilocks and the 3 Muslins

I focused a lot on making the pencil skirt aspect of this dress fit like a glove. I LOVE pencil skirts, but because of my waist to hip ratio, I often feel like they don’t look very proportionate on me. I have to grade up at least 2 sizes from my waist to my hips, so the bottom part of the skirt is always at least two sizes wider than my top half, and the silhouette just seems to swallow my legs up. Jessica Rabbit always looked amazing in her curve-hugging dresses, which perfectly fit her waist, skimmed her big thighs, and then tapered in at her knees and calves. But Jessica is a cartoon. Was there a realistic way for me to achieve this look and still like, walk and sit down in the garment? I figured I would never know unless I tried, so I cut out my skirt to fit my waist, graded to a size larger in the hips (ultimately I pushed the seam allowances out at the hips even more so that it ended up being a full two sizes larger) and then graded back in to the size of my waist measurement for the bottom portion of the skirt. This worked beautifully! It gave the curve-hugging shape I wanted from top to bottom, but because there is a generous kick pleat in the back of the skirt (Gertie knows what’s up), it didn’t restrict my movement at all. Once I finished the basic construction and tried the garment on, I thought to myself, WOW! I DID IT! I CREATED THE PERFECT JOAN FROM MAD MEN DRESS!!!!

But my excitement simmered down pretty quickly once I sewed my zipper into my dress.

Turns out, the dress looked perfect on my body…but I couldn’t really like, get into the dress easily. Which turns out to be a pretty important thing. I had to practically dislocate my shoulder in order to pull the garment over my shoulders since stepping into the dress was absolutely impossible. At first I tried to convince myself that it was fine- who cared if it took a lot of work to get into or out of a dress? Once it was on it looked great, and that’s the important part, right? But I had forgotten about peeing. Peeing is also important! Perhaps even more important than how it looks, considering how often I have to do it! I realized that there was NO WAY I would be able to pee without taking the entire dress off of my body, and as I said, taking the entire dress off my body was damn near impossible. So what to do? I knew the cause of my dilemma- it was the tapered bottom half of my skirt! It was two sizes smaller than my hips, so of course I couldn’t pull it up over them- even with the long kick pleat, there was simply not enough room in the dress to accommodate these hips, which DO NOT LIE.

lining

I took to asking the sewing community for ideas on how to solve the issue, but it seemed like people were as stumped as I was. For a while it seemed like the only solution was to insert an additional zipper at the side seam of my skirt, from the hip to under the arm. But I was really nervous to go this route. I didn’t want the zipper to mess with the smooth lines of the garment, and it also just seemed like a lot of work to do after having nearly completed the dress already. An even easier solution was to have a longer zipper in the back, but the one I was using was already 24″, the longest size that I could find at a fabric and notions store. And then I decided on a whim to take a look at wawak.com and see what variety of zippers they had on their site. BINGO! 30″ invisible zippers, just enough room to zip past my butt and to the top of the narrowest part of the skirt. I ordered 4 of their 30″ zippers, ripped the old zipper out of the dress and then I waited patiently for the new ones to arrive in the mail, which they did a few days later.

The rest, as they say, is history.

full

The dress glides on my body easily, but my poor lining has really been put through the ringer; I had to unpick the hand stitched lining several times because of fit adjustments and changing the zipper, and then when I took the photos for this blog post, I was shocked to see that the back of the dress was gaping a lot, which I was unaware of since I couldn’t see my body in the mirror very well from behind. I unpicked the lining and the zipper again and this time re-sewed the zipper with more seam allowance, eliminating some of the extra fabric that seemed to be pooling on my upper back. I think I got rid of most of the excess, but I wonder if the bodice neckline is still a little too high in the back- if so, it’s something I can live with but I will definitely address that fitting issue on a future make.

before I (hopefully) fixed the excess fabric in the back!

before I (hopefully) fixed the excess fabric in the back!

Here are the final details of the dress: fabric is a lightweight woven (blue + white + flecks of tan) wool from The Fabric Store, and the lining is made of habotoi silk from Dharma Trading Company. I chose the basic bodice and pencil skirt pattern from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress book and paired it with the peter pan collar (my first success after many failed attempts in the past- those collars are tricky to get just right).

closeup

For the little bow at the neck of the collar I wanted to use a fluttery black fabric, but I realized while rifling through my stash that I didn’t have any. None. Nada. Black is clearly not my favorite color. Which was annoying, because it meant I had to go out and purchase a quarter yard of something appropriate in order to complete the dress. But I am glad I stuck with my gut and didn’t go with some other color I had in my stash- I think that black is the perfect accent to the light blue wool and it also goes with my very favorite pumps (funny how I own no black clothing or fabric but my absolute favorite pair of heels are black suede).

closeup2

I obviously learned a lot in the making of this dress: how to do an SBA, how to line an entire dress, how to line the sleeves of a garment, how to insert a beautiful looking collar, how to make a 5/8″ seam allowance work overtime in a too-tight garment, how to get the perfect silhouette in a pencil skirt, how to launder wool by steaming it first before cutting into it, how ridiculously frayed silk gets when it has barely been handled, and how to get the seam underneath the bottom edge of an invisible zipper perfectly flat and pucker-free. But I know that my Gertie education is far from over, and I am sew looking forward to tackling more beautiful projects from this book!

full2

Tutti Fruiti, Aw Tessuti!

I have known about Tessuti patterns for a while now, but for some reason I have always passed them by. Their designs always seemed styled for an older, more conservative wearer, and they also seemed better suited for other bodies to pull off, bodies that were perhaps leggier or less stocky or more willowy than my own. Unfortunately most of us have hangups about our physiques, and mine is wishing that I was taller- although if I was, I am sure that I would focus on some other thing about my body that I wished was different. THAT’S THE PATRIARCHY FOR YOU.

Ahem.

So anyways, even though I had never bought their patterns, I do follow Tessuti’s awesome instagram account where they share lots of gorgeous fabrics sold in their store, along with photos of their fully constructed patterns. Recently they came out with a new design called the Annie Dress, and I could no longer convince myself that these were patterns that wouldn’t work on my body. The Annie Dress is flowy, with a beautiful bodice overlay option, and the detail of the familiar Tessuti pocket, whose shape is stitched on the outside of many of their garments. I liked that the dress, while long, was paired with a slimming shape on top to keep it from swallowing up more petite figures. But just to be on the safe side, I shortened my dress a tad on the bottom so that it hit above my ankles, and I gave it a slightly more curved hemline.

anniedress

I really love how this dress came out. I used an opaque lightweight cotton from The Fabric Store for the main part of the dress, and a small cut of white cotton lace that I got as a thoughtful extra from lafinchfabrics on an order I had received many months back. Lafinchfabrics likes to stick extra notions and bonus pieces in some of their packages as a thank you to their customers, and it has definitely kept me coming back time and time again. When I saw this pretty white lace in the box with my other fabric items, I had no idea what I would make with it because my experience with lace is limited to stretch fabrics which I use for lingerie. But even though this pretty stuff sat in my fabric drawer for a while, it did NOT get konmaried in the big purge, and it ended up being the perfect detail for the Annie Dress!

anniedress4

I enjoyed making this garment almost as much as I enjoy wearing it. Tessuti patterns have very clear instructions that aren’t fussy at all, and they have introduced me to a lot of interesting new techniques, like the use of Vilene paper (which after this make I opted not to use again, but I like having the option) and creating thick, flat strips of bias for the hems and edges of the garment- and they don’t make you iron folds onto your tape, hallelujah! The construction methods are simple and easy to follow, and they have a particular way of inserting pockets which creates a very smooth line that I love. I also appreciate that the pattern pieces are hand drawn and handwritten- something about that little detail feels sweet and familiar, and serves as a reminder that a real live artist is behind the design, helping me bring the garment to life.

anniedress3

The wearability of this dress is fantastic- it’s comfortable enough to walk the dog in but has enough thoughtful design elements to feel appropriate in virtually any setting.

anniedress2

After the success of this pattern, I immediately bought more of their designs- the Ruby Top/Dress combo, their long line cardigan, and their Demi Pant. Of the two of these pieces that I have made, I am pretty happy with how they came out.

rubytop2

My biggest mistake with the Ruby Top was to use silk fabric. The striped mint green textile (also a purchase from The Fabric Store) is stunning, soft and supple, but I just really hate working with silk, and usually when I hate something it’s because I am not very good at it. I have since read about all kinds of tricks used for working with slippery fabrics, like Lladybird’s suggestion of using a spray-on stabilizer on the fabric before cutting out pattern pieces, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. Anyways, not only was I forced to use a difficult fabric for this pattern, but I also bought a cut of fabric that was technically too small for the pattern, so I had to fudge the pieces  a lot, and ultimately the blouse had to be cut shorter than necessary to stretch my yardage as far as possible. This was the least fun project I have sewn in a long time thanks to my fabric choice, but the instructions for the top were clear, simple and easy to follow. My armhole binding looks dreadful, as the instructions require you to stitch in the ditch after folding the binding to the inside and the silk was just too unstable and would not stay in place for me.

rubytop

But the button closure detail in the back came out surprisingly good despite my finnicky fabric, and I don’t think that any of the terrible looking parts of my construction are very obvious to anyone but me.

rubytop1

When I make this again (in an easy-to-sew, law-abiding cotton!) I will probably adjust the armholes a bit in the front so that they don’t curve in as much; the design creates a pretty line along my arms and shoulders but all my brastraps sit further out on my chest than what this shirt is designed for, meaning that I am constantly having to push my straps in so that they don’t keep peeking out of the blouse. But that should be a simple adjustment.

The Demi Pant is the other pattern I made from Tessuti’s arsenal of designs, and it has been a struggle not to wear them every single day.

demipant1

Since the fit is so relaxed and loose, the pants are wearable even on the hottest LA days, and my fabric choice, a linen+rayon blend, is perfect for keeping the sun off my skin while still being breathable. I was afraid that the silhouette as designed would look huge on me so I cut out a decent amount of width in the pant legs starting from the top of the thighs and tapering in to the ankles, making sure that the openings at the bottom would still be wide enough for my feet to go through. In adjusting the width of the legs, I ended up cutting out so much of the ankle pattern pieces that I couldn’t really follow the design lines for the pleats at the bottom.

demipant2

After several attempts to recreate the original notches and lines, I ended up just constructing the pants as written and, once pieced together, I created my own pleat lines for the ankles which worked out beautifully. I think the shape looks great, and I love the pockets and the super comfortable elasticized waist. These pants give me the comfort of wearing sweatpants without the reality of wearing sweatpants. That is not to shame anybody who wears sweatpants- I LOVE sweatpants! I wear them all the time when it’s cold outside and I don’t plan on leaving the house. But this demi pant is a perfect way to feel comfortable and still look like I put a little bit of effort in, and that might be my favorite kind of pattern!

demipant3

 

Red leather, yellow leather SHOES!

After Cashmerette posted a really great overview of her sandal making class on her blog, I felt inspired to join in the fun. I think it’s really exciting and motivating to see more and more people dipping their toes into the furthest corners of the DIY-osphere, and it’s also nice for me to document my own stuff so that I can see my personal growth in the arena. I have posted before about general shoe making here, but for this post I am going to do a photo heavy step-by-step show-and tell so that you can see each individual part of my process. This is not a shoe-making tutorial- it’s not meant to guide you through making your own shoes- but rather it’s meant to be a kind of visual synopsis so that you can see the steps involved chronologically and have a better understanding of what is involved in case it’s something you feel like learning more about yourself. Sometimes certain projects seem daunting when I only see it in it’s finished form, but when you see the steps laid out separately it can seem a little more manageable. One important note here is that there are a LOT of different ways to make shoes, and for the most part, none of them are inherently right or wrong; I am still figuring out my own preferences for my process from the information that I have gathered from reading books and taking classes. Ideally I would like to learn how to make shoes the old school way by hand sewing the leather pieces together, using shoe tacks, and using way less toxic cement glue, but for now I am still trying to get more familiar with lasting and understanding how leather works before I move onto sewing them by hand.

The last pair of shoes I made were a pair of brown leather ballet flats and they were the first pair that were both functional and a great fit for the shape and size of my foot. Once they were finished, I was simultaneously thrilled with how they turned out and itching to make another pair to fix all the things that I wanted to change about them.

The construction method I had been working from tells you to leave the edge of your lining as-is while lasting the shoe (meaning not to turn the edge under) and have about 5mm peeking out past the upper. Once the shoe is complete and you’re ready to take the shoe off the last, you are supposed to use a sharp knife to trim the edge of the lining off of the shoe. This, in my experience, is a TERRIBLE idea. For one thing, your knife has to be super duper super sharp to slice the edges smoothly, but you have to cut carefully so that you don’t slice into the upper of your shoe. You also end up digging into your shoe last with your knife, carving out a huge and unsightly circle around the last. I consider myself to be fairly dexterous, but on each pair of shoes I used this method on, my results were disastrous. The upper leather is butchered with tiny slices dug into it from my knife, and the lining edge underneath isn’t cut smoothly at all- it peeks out in some places, is cut down to the inside of the shoe in others, and is generally raggedy looking. For the next pair I made, I wanted to fold down the edge of my lining and sew the upper and the lining together around the mouth of the shoe so that I wouldn’t have a raw edge that needed to be cut later.

The other thing I needed to change about the shoe was my tight grip during the lasting process. Lasting means pulling and securing the lining and the upper around the shoe mold, aka last, and if you pull the leather too tight, you risk shortening the rise of your shoe. And finally, I wanted to finesse the look of my sole. In my leather working book I read about burnishing the edges of the leather so that it looks smooth and clean and it doesn’t have the rough fibers of the leather poking out anywhere, so I was excited to apply this technique to my next pair.

Now that my latest pair of shoes are done, I can see exactly what worked and didn’t. Pretty much everything I wanted to fix from my last pair was successful: the rise is perfect on these and they fit on my feet without feeling like they are going to fall off. The lining edge is sewn under and looks clean and smooth next to the upper. The soles look great with their burnished edges. I put in some small arch supports so that the shoes wouldn’t be so flat. I added a small heel made of one layer of leather and one of rubber (I might add rubber to the sole of the rest of the shoe but I wanted to wear them first to see if they were necessary. The only thing that I messed up was forgetting to skiv the seams of the shoe. With my last pair, the leather was pretty thin and didn’t create much bulk at the seams at all, but this leather was much thicker, and forgetting to thin those edges was a total oversight on my part. As a result, the seams are super bulky. I think the shoes still look great, but I wish I had paid better attention to that. My only other issue, and this is a small one, is figuring out how to keep light-colored leather looking great while turning them into shoes. The process gets a bit messy, especially with the cement glue, and once they were all finished I kept finding tiny spots of dirt and gunk on the yellow leather. I could probably treat the leather before making the shoes so that dirt and grime will wipe off easily once they are complete.

Now, onto the steps of construction (from here on out, captions will be placed below the accompanying photo)!

yellowshoes_blog1

I used some scrap felt material and small nails to play around with the design of the shoe before cutting out my leather. I have a few cool ideas for shoes with cut outs and interesting design features, but I want to get good at making a simple slip-on first. This style basically looks like a pair of TOM’s.

 

yellowshoes_blog4

 

yellowshoes_blog5

Once I figured out my pattern from the felt template, I cut out the pieces from my leather. The yellow leather is for my upper (or the outer part of the shoe) and the dark blue is a lighter weight leather that I use for the lining and the inner soles. There are two pieces to the pattern aside from the insole: one U shaped for the toe area, and a longer piece which will make up the sides and back of the shoe. The pieces are sewn together on my sewing machine.

yellowshoes_blog2

Before sewing the two pieces of the pattern together, I used cement glue to tack them into place. It is important to let this dry before using your sewing machine to sew the pieces together, otherwise your needle will get gunky with glue.

yellowshoes_blog6

Cutting the inner sole shapes out of foamboard.

 

yellowshoes_blog7

Totally forgot to turn over one inner sole pattern piece when cutting out of my foam board so I had two left feet!

 

yellowshoes_blog8

I bought some gel arch inserts for my insoles to give me a little support in the shoe and they worked out very well! I just glued them onto the foam board in the proper place before I attached my lining leather .

yellowshoes_blog9

Lining leather is cut out in the shape of the insoles with extra room around all edges to fold over to the underside. Both surfaces must be coated in a thin layer of glue, left to dry til it’s barely tacky, then pressed together so that the cement can properly adhere.

 

yellowshoes_blog10

The inner curve of the insole leather gets little snips cut into it so that it can be folded smoothly around the edges.

 

yellowshoes_blog11

 

yellowshoes_blog12

Insoles are temporarily attached to the bottom of the lasts with either tape or nails- I don’t have a preference, because sometimes tiny nail holes are left in visible places on the top of the insole, and other times the tape is hard to get off once the upper and lining has been lasted.

 

yellowshoes_blog13

yellowshoes_blog14

The upper leather and lining leather get a bit of glue around all the edges where it will be folded over and later stitched- here is where I should have remembered to skiv the leather to thin it out and make it less bulky. I think I forgot to take a picture for the next couple of steps in this process so I will just explain it. After the edges of the upper and lining have been glued under, I put the lining and the upper leather pattern pieces together so that wrong sides are facing and I sew them together around the mouth of the shoe. The bottom parts of the leather are left as-is. I also separately sew up the back seams (they are not connected here). You see the little V-shape cut out in the photo above? That gets sewn together with about 5 mm seam allowance and creates a little curve in the shoe where the heel of your foot rests.

yellowshoes_blog15

Next I cut out pattern pieces for my toe boxes and counters. A toe box is a piece of firm material that covers your toe area and keeps your toes from poking through the upper fabric (in case you have wildly sharp toenails or something??) and also keeps your toe shape from distorting the upper material. A counter firms up the back of the shoe so that it retains it’s shape throughout wear. Check out a pair of shoes that you have, flats or heels- you might not have noticed it before but if you feel around the shoe, you will find a firmer material in the back area and most likely the toe area, too.

I seem to be missing another important photo here! UGH! I know that in support of the maker blogger community I’m not supposed to be ablogogizing anymore, so ummm. I guess, deal with it? HA! Anyways, here is what is missing: I placed my upper and lining leather that I had sewn together in a previous step onto the last. Then I pulled JUST the lining leather around the last and onto the bottom of the shoe (the upper leather is connected to the lining leather only at the top, remember?), and then I glued the lining in place by connecting it to the bottom of the insole that I had temporarily attached to the last. I will be doing this step again with the upper leather and I have pics of it later on in this post, so just imagine that happening with the lining leather first. After the lining has been lasted, the toe area and back area where the counter will go is covered with a thin layer of glue.

yellowshoes_blog16

Once my lining leather is in place, it’s time to adhere the toe box and counter. These are made of a heat activated material with a sticky glue on one side (this part goes onto the lining) that I warm up in the oven just to get pliable. Then I use my heat gun to warm it up even more and finish applying it. When this material cools it hardens, so you have to work fast while also taking care not to burn your fingers on the hot material. You want to cover the toe area with the toe box and and bring all the extra material to the underside while making sure it doesn’t have creases or ridges on the top of the shoe. This part is tricky, but I am getting better at it, and you can always re-heat the material to make it soft and pliable again if you mess it up.

yellowshoes_blog17

Here is what the last looks like once the toe box and counter have been applied. You can see my lining leather folded around the last and glued onto the underside of the insole/foamboard, and the upper leather is unattached except at the mouth of the shoe.

yellowshoes_blog18

Here is one of the most important parts of shoe making, and it also happens to be the most tiresome and time-sucking! It is called skivving (I mentioned it earlier), and it essentially involves using a sharp blade to trim and thin out the bulky area of your shoes. In the above photo I am using a special tool which helps keep your fingers safe while skiving, which is nice because it’s easy to cut yourself in this step- you want a very sharp blade but you also need to use a good amount of strength to shave off the most material in thick areas. I have found that using a sanding attachment on my Dremel helps with a lot with reducing bulk, but you have to go SO slowly and carefully or you might sand off some of the leather on the sides of the shoe (which I have done. Many, many times).

yellowshoes_blog19

Here is a photo of one shoe that has the toe box skivved and one that doesn’t. Some of the folds of the lining leather have also been trimmed to minimize bulk.

yellowshoes_blog20

Once the toe box and counters have been skived down, it’s time to last the outer/upper of the shoe. Glue gets applied liberally on the inside of the outer leather and on the bottom of the shoe- this type of glue only adheres to itself, so it must be applies to everything that needs to stick together.

yellowshoes_blog21

Once the glue on both areas is slightly dry, you can start folding your leather onto the bottom of the shoe. The goal is to pull the leather around tightly and uniformly so that it doesn’t crease and gather in folds on the visible parts of the shoe, but you also don’t want to pull so much that the shoe loses it’s shape on the top of the last (this is how my previous pair of flats are so low around the foot- I pulled the leather too tightly). The thicker your leather is, the more difficult it is to get the toe area completely smooth- I didn’t perfect it on this pair of shoes but it’s not very visible unless you are looking at the shoes from the bottom.

yellowshoes_blog22Here is what the shoe looks like once its been fully lasted with glue, and now it’s time to skiv the crap out of it and reduce all that bulk.

yellowshoes_blog27I drew a faint line around the edge above the line of where the sole will go to show me where I couldn’t skiv past.

yellowshoes_blog23

yellowshoes_blog28

The shoe bottom is now skived, and it also needs to be sanded so that the soling leather will adhere to it properly. I have traced an outline of my finished shoe onto the leather I am using for the soles (it’s 12 oz and much thicker than the lining and upper leather). I keep forgetting to cut the soles out slightly larger than the actual shoe, particularly around the toe area! DOH!

yellowshoes_blog24

yellowshoes_blog25

As I mentioned, I recently read about a technique called “burnishing” that finishes the edges of your leather, and I used it on this pair of shoes and am thrilled with the results! To burnish leather, you first use a tool called a beveler to smooth the rough edges, and it worked fine, but I think my tool was slightly smaller than what I needed, so I ended up mostly using my Dremel to sand and even out the edge of the soling leather. Next I used a simple solution of mod podge and water (my book recommends something called “paper gum” which I could not find for purchase anywhere on google and which ultimately just seemed like elmer’s craft glue diluted with water) which I applied to the outside edges of the sole, and then I used a piece of canvas fabric to vigorously rub the edge of the sole with the glue solution on it. According to my book, the friction of the rubbing creates heat which binds the fibers of the leather together and then the watery glue holds it in, giving the edge a clean look. Above, you can see the burnished leather on the left and the non-burnished on the right- it makes a big difference!

yellowshoes_blog26

The bottom of the shoe and the inside bottom of the soling leather get coated with glue which is left to dry for at least a half hour and up to a full day, making the bond even stronger.

yellowshoes_blog39

To activate the glue once it has completely dried, you can heat it up with your heat gun, which is helpful because it allows you to work area by area, making sure that your sole is attaching to the shoe bottom in just the right places.

yellowshoes_blog29

I press the sole onto the bottom of the shoe for several seconds with as much strength as I can muster, but because I don’t have a fancy shoe press like the ones in factories, I came up with another idea.

yellowshoes_blog32

Not fancy, but it gets the job done! I used some clips from my woodshop to keep a tight grip on the sole and shoe as the glue dried, and I used extra bits of rubber to keep the clips from leaving marks on the leather.

yellowshoes_blog30

yellowshoes_blog31I wanted to see what it was like to make flats with a small heel after I saw a blog post on pinterest of a shoemaker making a stacked heel out of leather (SO COOL!), so I cut out a piece of soling leather and an accompanying piece of sole rubber to glue together and stick onto the bottom of my shoe.

yellowshoes_blog37

Once everything has been glued together and is completely dry, you can carefully pull your last out of the shoe and try it on! I’m not gonna lie, I always do this step way before everything is dry because the anticipation of trying the shoe on after all your hard work is just too great!

 

Here are some comparison photos of the previous flats I made and the new yellow shoes:

yellowshoes_blog33

You can’t really tell from these photos but the sides are much higher (and therefore better fitting) on the yellow shoes than the brown ones. You can see how sloppy the edges of the mouth look on the brown ones look compared to the yellow ones, and you can also see how bulky the seams on the yellow ones look. They are not uncomfortable at all, they just don’t look as streamlined as the seams on the brown ones- again, this is because I totally forgot to skiv the seams of the leather before I attached the pieces together at the seams.

 

yellowshoes_blog35

The actual sole of the yellow shoe looks great, but the toe area is a little bulky and not very smooth where I pulled it around the last.

yellowshoes_blog34You can see the detail of how much better the lining leather looks on the yellow (bottom) shoe when I folded and sewed the lining and outer leather together instead of leaving the lining leather free and cutting around it with a knife as I was instructed to do on the brown pair.

yellowshoes_blog36

I’m not sold on the soling rubber on the heel as of right now. I used it to protect the soling leather from getting so scuffed up, but the rubber feels kind of sticky on the ground and sometimes makes me trip a bit- not so much that I fall or anything, but something about it doesn’t feel quite right. I might see if I can pull the rubber pieces off cause I know they will feel fine without them.

yellowshoes_blog38

I have worn my new leather shoes several times since I finished them and I absolutely adore them- the color is amazing, they are comfortable and I like having a simple design style like a TOM’s shoe without having to actually wear TOM’s. As you can see, there are a lot of steps involves in making shoes, but they don’t actually take that long- you can definitely start and finish a pair in a day with the exception of the glue-drying time. The trickiest part of shoe making is gathering all the various tools and materials that you will need, and for shoes like the kind I make, finding the last is the hardest part of the battle. You need a different last for each size of shoe you make and for each style, in addition to whether or not you want a flat or a heel, and if you want a heel, you need a different last for each heel height. Because different companies have different sizing in their lasts (in the same way that trying an 8.5 size shoe in one brand might feel totally different in another brand), my best method of finding a good last is going by measurement in inches from toe to heel. I have had the most success finding vintage lasts on eBay, but there are specific companies that sell new lasts online, and etsy also has shops that sell plastic and wood lasts. I don’t have a preference between plastic and wood myself- I have used both and they yielded great results, although I suppose that wood lasts are more aesthetically pleasing.

Some additional resources for you to check out:

This is the book that got me started on this journey a couple of years ago! It is an excellent book with great illustrations, articulate instructions, and info on making your own lasts and shoes out of found materials. It is super informative and all the information I have gathered from classes and courses in the past couple of years has had similar methods to what Loomis writes about in her book.

I CAN MAKE SHOES is an online source I have relied on, and they also offer classes in-person in certain areas (I think they are located in the UK). They have some great materials for purchase in their shop and their shoe making kits are a great starting point for people who are interested in dipping their toes in the shoe-making waters without having to fully commit to buying all the supplies and tools necessary.

Prescott & McKay is another good source for taking classes in shoe-making, and although they are based in the UK, they come to the states and offer satellite sources several times a year. I took their one-day shoe making course, and although I thought it was fun and helpful, I think that their 2+ day seminars are probably better. One day just doesn’t seem to be enough time to learn all the complicated bits and pieces of shoe making from scratch while also paying attention to design. I think this course would have been amazing if they had given us less freedom in designing the shoe and instead focused more on functionality- I would much rather have had less choice in how my resulting shoe looked as long as it ended up being wearable, which it wasn’t, because we didn’t have enough time to learn about strap placement and buckles, etc.

Shoedo is an online store that sells various shoe components that are normally difficult to find if you are not buying wholesale, and I am so excited to have stumbled across them. I bought my foam board, several pairs of heels and some lasts from this site, in addition to other bits and pieces that I needed to stock up on.

This of course is just a tiny little snippet of all the resources available to amateur shoemakers- etsy, craigslist and eBay have lots of more options on where to buy the components you need, and there are a surprising number of blogs out there by bespoke shoe makers who write about their process and share tutorials on how to do what they do. Although I have learned a lot in the past couple of years, I am excited to continue my journey of learning even more. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I am super excited to learn how to handsew leather shoes as opposed to just gluing the pieces together, and I am also looking forward to taking a leather sandal making class this Spring that is coming to Los Angeles. The method they teach doesn’t involve using a last and is instead based on the measurements of your individual foot. I can’t wait to see how that works! Hopefully it will be successful enough that I can share everything about it here on the blog, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Gunning It

Results are in= stabilo markers > colored pencils. Also I am DYING to make this @namedclothing Kielo wrap dress again…

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

I made an absolutely beautiful Kielo Wrap Dress a while back and blogged about it here, and, as seen in my 2016 New Year post, another version of the dress was added to my To-Make list. I loved how Named Clothing used a simple striped fabric to create a bold look with the design, so I thought I would take some inspiration from their blog and make a replica. I chose a medium-weight super soft striped knit jersey from organiccottonplus.com in an earthtone shade, and I even used my new croquis book by Gertie to sketch out the idea of the dress. The additional sleeve pattern hack that Named provided on their blog and accompanying instructions were definitely lacking, but I figured it out like a champ and managed to complete the dress, from start to finish, in one day.

Here was the result.

turrible4blog

I don’t even know where to start with everything that looks terrible about this dress, and if I am totally honest, I am still not sure exactly what went wrong. I know it’s not the pattern, because I made the dress before to much success. So I am blaming it on my fabric choice. Why is my fabric choice so wrong, you ask? I don’t know. Sometimes the universe provides you with questions but no answers. Honestly it’s probably a whole combination of weird reasons, and I could sit here and speculate forever about it, but I wont. I’ll just focus on what is terrible instead of trying to figure out why it’s terrible. Here we go.

Reasons This Dress Is Terrible:

-It looks huge on me. And I don’t know why. This dress is actually a smaller size than the original one I made!

-It doesn’t retain it’s shape or any of the design features. As you can see in the Named Clothing blog photo below, the folds on the sides look crisp and defined and the wrap holds it’s shape.

Not so with my version. Mine looks like a three-day old soggy burrito wrap.

turrible3blog

-Also do you see how uneven my darts are? I have no idea why they were in separate places and in different lengths; you would think I had never sewn a dart before in my life! This fabric was posessed I tell you.

turrible5blog

-When I tried to hem the sleeves, the bottom of the dress, and the neckline, my fabric went berserk on me and stretched out to twice it’s size like this.turrible2blog

I did everything I could to keep this from happening. I switched from a twin needle to a single needle. I switched from ironing the folds of the seam allowance to simply pinning them down, just in case my iron was inadvertently stretching the fabric out. I steamed the hems to see if they would shrink back to their initial lengths. I used my walking foot to keep the knit fabric from getting stretched out under my needle. Nothing really seemed to do the trick.

Simply put, this fabric and design, for whatever reason, did not go well together. Which was a shame, because I had been dreaming about this dress for MONTHS! Every time I walked by this fabric draped over my couch in the craft room, I would wipe a bit of drool off my face and think to myself, I am gonna look SO DAMN FLY when this is finished!

turrible1blog

As you can see from the pitiful look on my face, I don’t feel fly at all. I even tried to pair it with different shoes, hoping with all my heart that it wasn’t the DRESS that was a mess, that it just needed to be styled in the perfect way (as you can see, no styling could fix this thing). I contemplated cutting off the ties and having it be one of those baggy sack dresses that tall girls in NYC always seem to get away with looking chic in. But I was only fooling myself. This dress needed either a dramatic makeover or it needed to go in the Butthole Bin. I hated the thought of wasting this beautiful fabric on a pattern that it was just not meant to be paired with, so after laughing with Claire for a VERY long time and taking these horror movie-like photos (I look like a fashion forward version of that girl in The Ring, right?), I took the dress off and plotted what I could possibly do to save it.

I am now pleased to present to you one of my most successful Tim Gunnings to date!

KieloTakeTwo2blog

OK, so as I mentioned, the major issues with the dress were…well, the whole thing. It was too big, with too much material to make the cute wrap-tie feature work, and all the hems were wonky. To start, I carefully took out the stitching for the awful baggy neckline and I tried to apply a length of seam binding instead, hoping it would shrink up the stretched-out opening. That ended up looking even worse than when it was just folded over and sewed down. Because I had serged the neck binding, I considered it too much work to unpick all those stitches, since I wasn’t even positive that I could save the dress, so I cut the binding off, leaving the neck opening even WIDER. As a last resort, I slowly and ever so carefully sewed a tiny 1/4 inch hem around the neck, using my walking foot and a single needle and barely touching the material as it went through the feed dogs. The end result is…passable. Not perfect, but a far cry better than what I had started out with. The boat neck is so wide that I can’t wear the dress with a regular bra cause the straps will show, so I have to wear a strapless bra underneath instead. Not pleased about that, but it’s better than having to throw the whole thing away. The sleeve hems were thankfully a much easier  fix- I cut out some fabric for bands a bit smaller than the sleeve opening, and they were inserted without any problem; they actually ended up looking really cute. Lastly I cut off the bottom of the dress because it was several inches too long, and I carefully sewed a very small hem with my walking foot; it turned out much less wavy than before.

KieloTakeTwo1blog

Now for the actual body of the dress. This wasn’t too tricky since it is a knit fabric and pretty forgiving. I fixed the funky darts on the front so that they were a bit more even, I cut the wrap and ties off the sides, then I put the dress on my dressform and pinned the sides in so that they hugged the curves of the form instead of sagging around it. I reattached the ties right under the arms as the original design calls for and then I serged the seams from bottom to top. There were a couple of small adjustments I made to keep the side seams even and flattering around my hips, but other than that, this was probably the easiest thing to fix.

KieloTakeTwo3blog

And there you have it; I Tim Gunned it! I made it work! If I could do the re-design all over again, I probably would have moved the ties down just a bit so they were more at waist level instead of right under the bust, and I would also bring in the side seams just a teensy bit more so that it is a little less roomy overall. But even as-is I am happy with this garment! I managed to wear it to some Behind The Scenes footage for our movie Suicide Kale (did I tell y’all about the movie I produced with my friends? This topic is waiting to be turned into a blog post titled TryCurious gets BEHIND the camera, but until then, you can find out more about the film here)! Thankfully the dress held up well and I felt great in it! Maybe I am not at the caliber of SO DAMN FLY that I was initially opting for when I envisioned this dress, but I am pretty close to it, and honestly, saving a #sewingfail from the garbage can kind of increases the intellectual FLY factor when you lay it all out on the table, right?

I recently wrote a two-part article for one of my favorite sites, autostraddle.com, about sewing. There is probably nothing new in it for you seasoned sewists out there, but for beginners and people who think they might be interested in getting started with sewing but have never done it before, you might find some valuable information! You can check out Part I which is all about sewing machines here, and Part II, about fabric, patterns, resources and inspiration, right here!

Living a Try Curious Lifestyle

trycuriousblog_graphic

It dawned on me recently that my interest in creating things was big enough to merit it’s own little world here on my website. Technically this site is supposed to put me in the ranks of modern actors who update their pages with information on upcoming performances and showcases and classes and resumes, but if I am honest, I have never felt quite “in the ranks” of modernity with my job anyways. My life as an actor is, in my opinion, the least interesting thing about me; I am not the most talented person in my field, and there are plenty of people with my job who are much more well known than I am. But what does make me special is my fascination with creating things with my hands, the incredible amount of patience I have with myself, my trust that there is little in this world that I cannot accomplish. So I (re)introduce to you TRY CURIOUS BLOG, a space dedicated to sharing in the delights of living a try curious lifestyle! I have Claire to thank for this fantastic title, which seems at once fitting and silly and inspiring, while giving a nice little nod to my own queer identity. So far my life in creative curiosity has acquainted me with power tools, shoes lasts, boom mics, vintage sewing machines, onigiri molds and bentonite clay, and I feel a thrill every time I have another opportunity to expand my world. The older I get, the more enthusiasm I have for the process as opposed to the final product, and this has diversified my artistic endeavors tremendously. Thanks so much for being a reader of this blog and for showing your support with comments and likes.

Here’s to living a Try Curious lifestyle together 😉