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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fit For A Costa Rican Wedding

Recently released, the summery Vogue 9253 immediately caught my eye (and the eyes of a whole bunch of other sewists)! I love the sexy slit down the front of the dress paired with the fairly modest coverage everywhere else. With billow-y kimono style sleeves and a paneled skirt that gently flares out, ending at the shins, I knew it was right up my alley- a garment that allowed for a flash of skin without making me feel too naked. It’s helmed as a ‘Very Easy Vogue’ pattern which I would agree with- the instructions were straight forward and the techniques understandable and easy to complete. I love it when a dress looks a little bit more complicated than it actually it is to construct; although there isn’t anything about the line drawing that looks super intense to sew, it still has a bit of a wow factor.

A few months prior to this make I had picked out a bolt of this soft rayon from The Fabric Store. Claire was toying with the idea of wearing a caftan to a wedding we were attending in Costa Rica over the summer (read: toying with the idea of asking me to MAKE her a caftan), and because this fabric was super lightweight and a bit sheer, I thought it would be perfect for such a garment, seeing as how caftans usually require so many yards of fabric and can get bulky with the wrong weight of material. Well it turned out that Claire wasn’t as into the fabric as I was, and there were only a couple of yards left on the bolt anyways (not enough for the caftan pattern she was interested in), so obviously I snagged it for myself. It is so rare to find a bold, striped-type print that runs all the way down the length of the bolt- I thought this would match well with the panels of the skirt- and I also loved the colors and abstracted leopard-ish design. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would make with it, but I imagined it would be a breezy summer maxi dress.

Several times I pulled out the fabric and draped it over my dressform, wondering what it wanted to be, but I never felt quite inspired. I was a bit stuck on the fact that the fabric was so sheer and I didn’t have very much of it, so I wasn’t quite sure how to best utilize it. And then, lo and behold, this pattern fell into my lap and I thought that the two together would make the perfect dress for a destination wedding in hot-as-hell Costa Rica. I figured that I could get away with the plunging neckline since this wouldn’t be a traditional church wedding (and I did, although I checked in with the brides first, lol).

To handle the sheerness of the fabric, I underlined each pattern piece (except for the belt) with sheer white cotton voile, and it worked well, allowing the dress to retain the drape and lightness of the rayon. I didn’t make any drastic alterations to the pattern for size as I usually do with Big 4 since it was drafted as XS-XL, and instead I just made a size XS and took in the extra ease throughout the bodice and waist when I inserted my zipper. It worked beautifully and I ended up with a garment that fit well but was also very comfortable (I can use the belt to tighten the waist a bit more if I am ever having a day where it feels looser than normal.

Favorite things about the dress? The pockets! I don’t remember exactly what I did to accommodate the attached voile lining when constructing this part of the garment, but whatever it I did, it worked beautifully and doesn’t provide too much bulk in the pocket area. I also love the ease of wear of the kimono sleeves, which are not set-in to the bodice, allowing a lot of freedom of movement at the shoulders. I was worried that it would be so humid/sweaty at the wedding that the fashion tape I was using to keep the deep neck of the V in place between my breasts would slide off, but surprisingly that did not happen and the bodice stayed in place for as long as I wore the dress (which was throughout the ceremony and to the end of dinner, but when it came time to start dancing, I had to have an outfit change to fully live my best dancefloor life. For the record, the little knit jumper I wore for dancing was LITERALLY soaked with sweat in about 7 minutes, and wore it/continued to dance in it for the next three hours. I was obviously a disgusting mess by the end of the night, my hair completely plastered to my head and a big blister on my foot from trying to dance in Birkenstocks- DON’T ASK!- but then we all jumped in the pool and had a midnight swim to cool off, so it was worth it! Pura Vida!!!)

As far as appropriateness for the wedding, the design and print of the dress worked great, but I ignored the fact that rayon makes me SWEEEEAAAAAAAAT so much, so my armpits were basically raining down my sides during the ceremony. I have no idea why. I have 3 or 4 rayon dresses in my closet, and although they are some of the silkiest, softest garments I own, they all have gigantic pit stains in them when I take them off. The only other fabric that behaves like that on my body is polyester, but rayon is derived from plant material as opposed to plastic, so I would have imagined it would behave differently in practice. Aside from wearing a too-hot fabric in a hot climate, I was really happy with this dress and I’m really excited to wear it again, perhaps for a red carpet event before the weather turns cool.

Although I would normally style this dress with heels, I knew I didn’t want to be burdened with that kind of shoe for this wedding, which was held on the very lush, grassy grounds of the hotel we were staying at. The thought of three inch heels digging into grass and dirt was just about as horrifying as trying to walk in those same shoes on sand, so I quickly (like, the morning of the day we left for CR) whipped up a pair of strappy leather sandals that I thought would match the tropical vibe of the wedding and go well with my dress. I normally give myself a lot more time to make sandals, but this was around the time when my brother was in the ICU and very, very sick, and I was kind of just running on auto-pilot and hoping to get everything done that needed to get done, while also feeling guilty for going on the trip in the first place. Sigh. That’s a story for another day. The good news is that my brother has recovered and is doing great and I finished these shoes in time for our trip! I really love how they turned out. Even though I love wild and funky shoes of all kinds, I am a real stickler for simple, neutral-colored designs, so this pair fit right in line with my tastes and let the dress shine.

The wedding of course was BEAUTIFUL – it would be impossible for it not to be, as the brides are two of the loveliest people I know and they were intent on throwing a fun, non-fussy ceremony/party from the start. And obviously Costa Rica was gorgeous (even though the bugs FEASTED on me, no matter how much spray I slathered myself with!) Claire took me to visit a chocolate farm where we got to see cocoa transform from fruit to nib to candy, we saw beautiful beaches, spent hours watching hummingbirds at war on the porch of our airbnb in the Cloud Forest, and I had more arroz con pollo than my heart (and stomach) could handle. And then two days before we left, my brother’s health took a dramatic turn for the better! It was an emotional trip to say the least, but I am really happy I was able to go and witness my friend’s lovely union and get out of the country with Claire for the first time in too long!