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That Rachel Comey Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalle Shirt

I initially thought I would only make the Kalle shirt dress from the Closet Case pattern when it came out (as seen here), but as soon as I saw the photos of the model in the white cropped Kalle shirt, I was obsessed with that look, too. This is not a silhouette I wear often, if at all. Cropped, loose, AND boxy?? Goes against everything I thought to be true about my body and what “looks good” on it. But I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that I am challenging those notions. And why shouldn’t I? The shirt is an amazing design, and I haven’t seen a pattern quite like it before.

That low hem in the back, while too dramatic in the fugly McCalls dress I made, looks really chic and fun in the Kalle shirt, and I love the option of the low, rounded collar design with it. I also like that it’s structured while simultaneously providing some party in the overall silhouette. The whole garment looks unique and cool, one of those tops that I would find in an expensive boutique when I shopped RTW and want to buy for myself, but would ultimately decide against, nervous that the look was too hipster for my tastes.

I had a white printed cotton in my stash from LA Finch Fabrics that I knew would look perfect in the design, but I am sure this was due in no small part to the fact that the sample of the shirt in the pattern photos was also made from a white, crispy, stable material (what can I say? I’m a sucker for inspiration photos!). I had no idea if I would like wearing it or not, but I had to give it a try, and I’m really glad I did because I think it came out great. Unfortunately you can’t see the subtle design of the fabric very well in these photos, but it has a pastel colored abstract line drawing that spans across the yardage, providing just enough color to make it interesting, but not too much to detract from the cool lines of the pattern.

I just barely eeked out the pieces for this pattern from my two yards of fabric and I did a pretty crappy job of pattern matching because I didn’t have much wiggle room. I also neglected to true my fabric before I started cutting out my pattern pieces (lazy!), so the back piece, which was cut on the fold, is just a tiny bit slanted. It isn’t super obvious to anyone but me, probably (story of my sewing life), and thankfully the subtlety of the print helps hide it, too.

I made some weird mistakes when constructing the hidden placket of my Kalle Shirtdress but maybe since I used the regular button band option on this top, which I have much more experience with, it came together like a breeze. I really like the bottom facing used on this blouse- it encompasses the entire hem of the shirt and gives the hem a little bit of weight to make it fall beautifully, while also giving it a polished-looking finish. So far I love pairing this top with my Morgan/ Ginger Mash-up Jeans and also my Flint shorts, but I have a feeling that it would look really fantastic with a fitted knit pencil skirt, too, which I don’t actually have in my closet. I tried the Colette stretch fabric mini skirt pattern a few years ago and it fit so poorly that I didn’t even know what to do to make adjustments to it, but I am a more advanced sewist now, so maybe I could figure it out? I’m pretty “meh” about Colette sewing patterns for my body though, so I would also be interested in hacking the Nettie dress and bodysuit by Closet Case into a skirt and just adding a waistband to it since that pattern is such a great fit for me.

As far as the other details of the make, I love them all just like I love them in the dress I made; loose, easy-fit kimono sleeves, roomy fit in the bust and belly, and a length that works perfectly for my particular height and taste- this top just barely grazes my midriff so it doesn’t make me feel too exposed. It’s easy to alter the overall length of this pattern to your own preferences, though.

All in all a really fantastic pattern from Close Case that I am loving and interested in making again! I would love to see what this blouse would look and feel like in a less sturdy fabric, like a rayon or silk, and LA Finch Fabrics gifted me a gorgeous cut of black tencel recently, which is buttery smooth and rich to the touch that I think would look fantastic in this silhouette. I don’t make very many garments out of black fabric unless it’s used as an accent or it’s color blocked, so this would be a nice push out of my comfort zone, which I am really into lately. But I also already know what I would want to pair with it- I have a beautiful wool tweed pencil skirt that I made years ago that would look great with black, but would also look great with the shape of this loose blouse! I will probably go with the standard collar on this version just to mix it up a bit and I am already convinced that it would be a fierce looking ensemble. Consider it bumped up on the TO MAKE list!

Sequins of Events: THE SEQUIL

This shiny animal print fabric had been at The Fabric Store for quite a long time before I finally felt brave enough to give it a try, and that was only because I had successfully completed this sequinned dress first. It’s so different than the black and gold reversible fabric I had used before and it was pretty educational to see and feel exactly how different the two types of sequins were to work with. My black and gold fabric was stretchy and required zig zag stitches to construct it, but this fabric is made with a silk-type (probably polyester) woven fabric as the base that has the sequins sewed on top of it in rows. While I am not normally into animal prints, the shine and pretty colors in this one really drew me in, and I opted to go for a simple garment pattern to highlight the print, much like my last sequin make.

I have to say, I am not crazy about how this dress came out, but that is all due to the pattern choice. For some reason I chose Named’s Inari Dress/Tee pattern, even though I had made it before and hated it (it never made it here to the blog cause the fit was so awful). I figured that this time I could make some adjustments to the pattern pieces and fix the fit issues I initially had, but in hindsight, I should have simply chosen a different pattern. I hate wasting patterns! Anyways, the Inari dress is drafted to skim the figure with a loose fit in the bust and waist that slightly dips back in at the thighs, and it just doesn’t suit my bottom heavy shape at all. It didn’t feel comfortable to walk in when I first made it and I didn’t feel like it looked very good on me. To adjust the pattern pieces this time around and give myself more room in the butt area, I added a couple inches to the sides of the front and back pattern pieces, flaring them out a bit from the waist. It definitely fits better than the first time I made the pattern, but it’s still not great- I think this dress would have looked much better if it flared out from the bust and I had eliminated the side slits, giving it a more swingy silhouette.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s terrible, and I know I will definitely wear it, but I wish I had challenged myself more after the first sequin dress and played around with a different look. Looking at these photos I feel like this would have looked great as a fitted miniskirt! I have no idea if there is enough fabric to accommodate refashioning it as such, but I might give it a try after wearing this incarnation a couple of times.

The fit bothers me mostly in the back where the amount of fabric in the shoulders and waist seems to be disproportionate to the amount of ease provided in the hips. I don’t like how the fabric falls from my shoulders and then collects on the top of my butt. Wearing a slip underneath helps keep the lines a bit cleaner, but it still doesn’t feel good. And I like to wear clothes that feel good! I feel like I am swimming in fabric on top whereas the bottom of the dress feels comparatively tight.

Since this fabric is woven and not stretchy, it did make for slightly easier construction. I still used an upholstery needle to sew the side seams, but was able to use a regular straight stitch for them instead of zig zagging, and I was also able to fold over and sew the hems down onto the fabric without it bunching up and looking puffy. Like the black and gold dress, I encased the side, shoulder and sleeve seams with bias tape, and I also sewed a length of bias tape to the raw edges of the hems before sewing them to the inside, since the sequins on this dress were even more scratchy than the black and gold one. 

This style of this look feels very 80’s to me (hence the above pose), which I kind of like. In general I am not for the poofy shoulders and over-the-top silhouettes that embody that era, but I do love the bold prints and weird color combinations that were so popular, and I like pairing those qualities with more modern design features. In that respect, this dress is a success! But I dunno, I’m still interested in reworking this into something that feels a little more me, and turning this lesson I learned into something wearable. I keep thinking of that Rachel Comey for Vogue short skirt that everyone has always raved about (despite the drab and dated styling on the pattern cover, I’ve seen some pretty great renditions of it by several bloggers)…I bought it on sale a while ago but haven’t found a suitable fabric to make it in. Maybe this is a match made in heaven?

But also probably not anytime soon? What with being so behind in my sewing queue and needing to take pictures and blog recent makes (for the past few weeks I have been dealing with both a very serious family emergency and a trip to Costa Rica for a destination wedding/vacation and I am just now back home trying to get my life back together), this potential project isn’t very high up on the list. But who knows, I might just surprise myself and dig into it sooner than later; I’m finally sewing up Rachel Comey’s Vogue 1501 and I’m loving it so far- maybe I need to stay on this Rachel Comey kick?!

Kielo Wrap Dress: Take 37

Ok, ok, I have not made this pattern 37 times, but I feel like I’ve made it a lot and the truth is that I have never been completely happy with it. My first version is here where I was given some beautiful fabric from Girl Charlee with which to sew it up. I loved the drape of the fabric, the bold print, the slinkiness, but…it just wasn’t me. I’m still not sure why. You ever see something that you can intellectually identify as aesthetically pleasing, but it’s just not for you? That was my relationship to this fabric. It might be the simple fact that I am not a huge fan of wearing black- had this fabric been yellow or pink, I’m sure it would be in rotation in my closet to this day. But alas, it sat idle in my closet for nearly 2 years without one wear before I decided to put it in my etsy shop for sale, and I donated the proceeds to charity. Subsequently a maker friend of mine, Sarah (who is the creator of the feel good/give good website youareanawesomehuman.com– go check it out and spread some love while helping support a small business!), bought the dress from my shop and gifted it to a friend of hers for Christmas who looked absolutely stunning in it (they sent me pics!), so I have no regrets about this make it at all. If there is such thing as a “rightful owner” of anything in this world, this dress found theirs!

The second time I made this dress was as a gift to my Mom, made up in a bright floral print, and she loved it so much that she wore it into the ground- not even sure it’s still standing anymore. Which means I should probably make her another one. I wish I had a picture of her in it- it fit her and her style so perfectly! Anyways, after seeing her flaunt her Kielo around, I became determined to make myself a more casual one that I could wear regularly (at this point, I was convinced that the reason I didn’t wear my original black and white version was because it was too dressy for everyday but not quite dressy enough for a red carpet event). Named Patterns wrote a blog post on how to add sleeves to the wrap dress and shorten it and I was obsessed with the pretty striped version they hacked. I decided that this was the dress that needed to be in my closet, so I bought some beautiful striped oatmeal-colored jersey from Organic Cotton Plus and went to town hacking the original pattern by following the blog post’s notes.

It was a catastrophe. My friend Lawrence said I looked like the girl from The Ring when I showed him a photo of myself wearing it, my head bowed in defeat. I don’t know what went wrong! Perhaps the fabric was too heavy for the pattern? Maybe I should have adjusted the sizing even more? Who knows! But it looked terrible. Misshapen, baggy, tired- no matter which way I tied the straps or tried to cinch the fabric, it was screaming “NO NO NO”. I wrote another post on trying to Make It Work by getting rid of the “wrap” factor and making a few other adjustments so that it was more fitted and I wasn’t swimming in so much heavy fabric, but I messed up the collar by cutting too much off the seam allowance and I ended up with a distorted hem that wanted to be a boatneck but ultimately looked like a shipwreck (<—–I have never been prouder of a sentence than that one right there). Although I bravely wore the dress once or twice, it just didn’t look or feel good on, and it has since been relegated to the Butthole Bin™. I’m pretty sure there is enough fabric left in this dress to salvage a tank top out of it so I’m hoping to get that done this summer cause I HAAAATE WASTING FABRIIIIIC.

So let’s fast forward to Make 37. I learned my lesson. Sort of. I had a few yards of fabric from The Fabric Store that I thought I was going to use for this pattern, but that pattern turned out to be such a disaster when I made it the first time that I knew I would never make it again, so I sat for a while pondering what else it could be made into. And then it hit me: the Kielo wrap dress would be perfect for it! The fabric is a translucent, smokey black rayon crepe with a gauzy texture, and its’ sheerness gives the same effect as the sample of the Kielo dress on Named’s website, which is actually the dress I fell in love with when I first saw the pattern. Why did I keep making this pattern up in printed stretchy knit prints when everything I loved about the pattern was exemplified in the simple, sheer fabric in the pattern photo? Why had I been going about this all wrong for so long??

The Kielo Wrap Dress states that you can use either a knit or a woven fabric, which has always stumped me a bit. I am usually surprised when two fabrics with such different qualities are suggested as being interchangeable for certain patterns, and now I know the truth- they AREN’T. Or maybe they are, but there is usually some adjusting necessary, which the Named pattern description doesn’t get into at all. When making the Kielo in knit fabrics in the past, it always seemed gigantic on me. The armholes were huge, the neckline was wider than I liked, and I end up cutting over a foot of length off the bottom of the dress- and this is in the smallest size!

When I made the dress in a woven fabric, I assumed the sizing would finally be just right, but it was actually smaller than I anticipated. The armholes were so tight that they felt uncomfortable when I put it on with a bra. Since I have to wear a slip underneath this dress I don’t mind not wearing a bra underneath (my boobs are small enough to go commando without sacrificing comfort) but this definitely could have used a bit more wiggle room in the armholes, and after I took these photos for the first time, I realized I needed to make some minor adjustments for it to reach its maximum potential.

OKAY FULL DISCLOSURE: I spent about 3 hours prepping my photo setup, putting on makeup, doing my hair, and taking photos of the 8-ish projects I had completed over the past several weeks, as per usual for my blog posts. I had a lot of fun styling the roller set I had given myself the day before and I was super excited to finally get some of these fun makes out to the world. The next morning I woke up bright and early to start processing all my photos  on my computer and when I reached for the camera…nada. There was no memory card in it. You may think me an idiot, but I reviewed each photo I took before moving on to the next look and every single photo had been stored inside the camera’s “memory”. What I learned after some VERY AGGRESSIVE googling was that my camera’s default setting was in “demo mode”, meaning you can take lots of pictures (apparently over a hundred of them) without a memory card in the slot and the camera will “hold” them for a certain period of time. This setting is for customers at a store interested in purchasing the camera; they can take photos and review them as if it did have a memory card in it. So yeah. My photos were lost. If a camera takes 150 photos without a memory card in it, were the photos ever actually taken?

 

The whole point of this pitiful story is to say that when I first took these photos, I knew I wanted to make the armholes bigger, and I also decided to top stitch the edges of the sides of the dress where they wrap to the front- my floaty, gauze-like material kept billowing awkwardly at the seams and I figured that stitching the fabric down might help with that. So I was able to make those changes to the dress before the SECOND set of of blog photos I took the next morning, so what you see here shows the final version of the dress. The only other changes I made besides lengthening the armholes and topstitching the side seams was to use bias tape to hem the neckline. The instructions have you fold the hem under and stitch down, which I think is generally a very unprofessional and shoddy way to finish an armhole or a neckline. My biggest takeway from these adjustments, and something I can probably apply to all future patterns that suggest wovens and knits for the same design, is to be prepared to go up a size when using a woven and down a size when using a knit. Or better yet, just make a damn muslin. That seems to be the answer to 80% of my sewing problems.

Construction wise, there isn’t really anything new to add to this pattern that I didn’t touch on in my first blog post about it. It’s a very quick dress to put together, and aside from needing to have gone up one size for the woven fabric, I am happy with how it came out. If I had known how tight the armholes would be, I would have added a little width to the bust of the pattern pieces, but unfortunately the dress was already made up by the time I realized this issue. The only fix was to widen the armholes on the sides and bottom, and as such, more of the slip I am wearing underneath peeks through than I would prefer. But it’s a small issue and I don’t think it completely detracts from the dress- this is still far and away better than the last version I made of it! I always need to fiddle with the side seams on the wrap of this dress so that it will lay right, but my topstitching really did the trick (and probably would have worked well on the past versions I made of this). I absolutely love the way the sheer fabric looks with a black slip underneath- it feels sexy and looks chic, and, to me, more visually interesting than just a regular black dress (to date this is the only all-black garment I have in my closet).

I’m not quite sold on Named patterns yet. I absolutely love the designs and styling, and I have seen some awesome makes based off of their patterns (What Katie Sews has done some stellar work with their designs), but I feel like their construction methods are super simple and the finished projects need extra elements to look polished. I have successfully made this pattern work with the bias binding, but I worry that their other patterns might require a bit of extra attention to elevate their looks, too. I really haven’t made enough of their patterns to have formulated this opinion though- the only other pattern I have made of theirs is the Inari Tee Dress, which looked like a disaster on me the first time I made it and is just not a silhouette suited for my bottom-heavy shape. But I also revisited this pattern recently, and I am happier with it now after some small but impactful adjustments to the shape- you will be seeing that project on the blog shortly!

Kalle Shirtdress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Everyone’s OTHER Favorite Dress

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

Goji Shorts in Pineappled Chambray

I love the idea of shorts but have very few in my wardrobe. Aside from a couple of ratty pairs in my “houseclothes” drawer and some running shorts that I haven’t worn since I traded jogging for spin, I have only one pair in my closet. As much as I love them, they aren’t the first thing I reach for when getting dressed on a summer day, and that’s probably because they are slim fitting, cut fairly high on the leg, and made of a brushed cotton fabric that is beautiful and soft but not very crisp, so they have a tendency to ride up a bit in the crotch if the day is particularly humid. They look great on me when I leave the house but by the time I get back home, they look just as frazzled as I usually feel.

I have been wanting to try my hand at another pair of shorts with a little more wearability- a step up from my french terry ones but still casual enough that I can throw them on for a quick run to Trader Joe’s, and the new Deer and Doe Goji shorts and skirt pattern fit the bill. I didn’t realize this was the silhouette I was looking for until I saw it on their instagram feed, but it is right up my alley. I LOVE the concept of a skirt/dress that is actually shorts/pants; it is the one of the few fashions that I loved as a teenager that has also followed me into adulthood. It gives so much more freedom of movement and conservativeness while still giving a feminine and cutesy silhouette, which, yes, I am still drawn to in my late thirties without shame (see my Timeless Overall Shorts here!)

Deer and Doe patterns have lovely instructions and design details in all of their designs, so making their patterns is always a pleasure (and they seem particularly fitted for pear-shapes). I knew the Goji shorts would be a simple make since they have an elasticized waist and a loose fit so I made a straight size 38 according to my waist size and they fit great. I normally don’t like drawstrings on bottoms because if you decide to wear a shirt untucked with them, the tie creates visual bulk underneath whatever you’re wearing and I hate the way it looks, but it works on this pattern since I know I won’t ever style these shorts with something untucked. I love the high waist coupled with the fullness of the bottoms- they don’t cling to my butt or thighs which gives me a little breathing room and takes away the possibility of the fabric rising up between my legs.

I did not have a particular fabric in mind when I purchased this pattern and I figured I would make a simple first pair using something in my stash. The first thing that caught my eye was a very light gray colored tencel in one of my drawers that had been discarded for a better fabric (black tencel) when I was working on my second Hannah dress. The fact that that fabric had been shunned already should have been heads up enough for me, but sometimes I don’t pay attention to signs from the Sewing Gods. At pretty much every step of the way of constructing these shorts I was second guessing my fabric choice, and by the time I got to where I needed to attach the waistband, I was ready to throw the whole thing out. Which I did. The fabric was just not a great color- it was a washed out, almost white gray- the thread I used for the contrast stitching on the seams didn’t look good with the fabric, the tencel itself was too drapey for the structured silhouette I wanted, and it was also so lightweight that it was practically transparent. Nothing about the fabric screamed GOJI SHORTS, I just wanted to try and use up my stash (I hate having a fabric stash, by the way. HATE IT!)

After telling myself that life was too short to spend another minute sewing something that brought me no joy (shout out to my fellow konmari-ers!), I added “Goji shorts fabric” to my shopping list for Michael Levine’s and on my next visit there promptly found a shelf full of gorgeous denim chambrays that I knew would do the trick. I couldn’t decide whether to go for plain, polka dots, or pineapples, but pineapples seemed more fun, and I rarely come across a novelty-esque sort of print that can be paired with lots of things in my closet (I like to try and get as much wear out of my separates as possible). The small scale of the fruit and the blue denim colored background keep it fairly neutral without it being boring, and I think it works great with the lines of this pattern design.

I used denim top stitching thread to create the contrast stitching on the seams and panels of the skirt and I really love the effect. The pineapple fabric isn’t very heavy, but it gives the shorts the structure I was looking for and provides an almost fit n’ flare kind of silhouette. I love the comfortable waist, which has two channels of thin elastic running through it in addition to the functional drawstring, and I love the deep pockets that serve as a design element for the garment. These shorts feel incredibly easy to wear and not restrictive at all for a pair of shorts, which works extremely well for what I think looks and feels good on me.

Although I love the way these shorts came out, I am wondering what this design would look like in a drapey fabric closer to the tencel that I initially used, but with a longer length, like below the knee. As the weather warms up I am going to need a replacement for my current go-to skirt, which just so happens to be another Deer and Doe pattern. When I first made my yellow Fumeterre skirt I absolutely looooved it, but it stayed in my closet practically unworn for over a year before I pulled it out and chopped a foot off the bottom. Apparently the maxi length, while super cool and dramatic, was just not wearable enough for me, but altering it just a tiny bit catapulted it into a wardrobe staple. I am in love with the pale lemon yellow of the fabric, and while the Italian linen seemed exceptionally heavy when I first made the skirt, it works perfectly now in a slightly shorter length and provides a bit more warmth on cooler spring and fall days when paired with a light jacket. Anyways, this new skirt in my head would be really reminiscent of that yellow one, but breezier, and perfect for summer. I am REALLY into these elasticised waistbands that have enough drama drafted into the design that they don’t look too casual while still providing a lot of ease of wearing. More of that, please, designers!

look ma, no skirt!

I used to always think that I would never ever veer from my preference for fitted, darted, vintage-inspired silhouettes, and although I still LOVE them, I am really happy to have made room for a variety of different styles in my life now. It feels like I am less afraid to make what I need a priority rather than adhering to what feels expected of me, by myself and others. So it seems only fitting that I wore these shorts for the first time on my birthday earlier this month, which was very casual, chill, and relaxed. You hear that, twenty-five year old, Jasika? You are gonna be casual, chill and relaxed one day! Just you wait!

Wide Legged Burda Pants in Cotton Linen

pattern: Burda Wide Legged Trousers 10/2010 #104

fabric: cotton linen from The Fabric Store in LA

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Burda convert by any means, but I AM willing to take this pattern brand off of my AVOID AT ALL COSTS list. As frequent readers may recall, I was on an unsuccessful internet search for a couple of weeks to find a pleated peg-leg pants pattern to sew, and the only thing I found close to what I was looking for was Burda 02/2012 #103A.  After learning about and employing the Palmer/Plestch tissue fitting method, I came out the other side of the Burda wormhole with this fantastic pair of pants. While hunting down the pleated pants pattern on Burda, I ended up pinning a few other pants patterns onto my Pinterest board in the hope that, should the pink pants wind up a win for me, I could eventually tackle more pants designs that I have always wanted in my closet but never thought I was competent enough to make myself.

One pair was a slim fitting trouser design with an elastic waist made for woven fabrics, and the other pair was a wide legged trouser, which is the design that intrigued me most. Aside from rompers with dropped crotches and hammer pants, I cannot recall any time in my life where I have worn a pair of wide legged trousers. Was this a result of one of those fashion “rules” I had become so accustomed to, telling myself that I wasn’t fit to wear them because I wasn’t tall enough and would look too frumpy in them? Or because for my entire life, every single pair of pants I had tried on in a retail store, wide legged or otherwise, had fit so poorly that I never knew what a nicely-made pair of wide legged trousers looked like on my figure and therefore couldn’t formulate an informed opinion? The answer is both, probably.

But see, this is what sewing our own clothes does for us- it gives us, those members of the population born into a body that is shorter/wider/huskier/bootier/leggier/boobier than the average fashion model, the opportunity to relearn for ourselves what actually does feel and look good to us on our bodies. How is anyone supposed to think that wide legged pants could look good on them when all they see in the dressing room mirror is fabric pulling tightly at the thighs, a waistband gaping so far from the lower back that their undies are showing, and pant legs long enough that a giraffe would still need them to be hemmed? I don’t know about y’all but I took that information as gospel and quietly logged it away in my brain so that it would be forever internalized; my body wasn’t made for wide legged pants. This information was added to a very long list of other fashion no-nos that I won’t bore you with now, but that I have recently decided to unpack, slowly and deliberately, one style at a time.

As you can already tell, on the list this week? WIDE LEGGED TROUSERS! Spoiler alert: I totally CAN wear them! THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE!

I learned some really interesting things in the process of making these pants that I think have helped make them look like the winners they are, and others that will make them look even better the next time I make them.

As I said before, I tissue fit them first but because they aren’t fitted through the legs, I really only had to concentrate on the fit at the hips and waist, which was pretty easy. These pants are drafted with a pocket stay (HALLELUJAH!!!!) buuuuut I ended up having to sew the pocket openings down because I totally neglected to insert twill tape at the seams and they started bulging out very quickly (and of course Burda didn’t give me a reminder to do this- clearly I still need a bit of hand holding when making pants). I was quite disappointed in myself for this oversight but then I remembered that I have actually never owned a pair of pants with this kind of pocket opening and shape that behaved well. Even if I had prepped the pockets properly I can almost guarantee that they would have needed tacking down eventually. It’s because I have curvy hips and the pants are quite fitted in the butt and top of the thigh area- on trousers with a looser fit in the hips and legs, the pockets hold their shape and look just fine. So next time I will either change the style of the pocket to more of a jeans style where the opening has a U shape as opposed to a straight diagonal, or I will just eliminate the pocket all together. It seems such a shame because not all pants patterns have pocket stays and I FREAKING LOVE ME SOME POCKET STAYS. But it’s fine. The stays give my waist and stomach a bit of extra structure even if the pockets are completely unusable.

The trousers are also meant to have a long straight crease on both the front and back legs, but because my fabric has a softer, flowier hand, the crease didn’t work well with the texture and I ultimately ironed them out. But the lovely Sallie O gave me an awesome tip for my next pair, which is to edgestitch the crease on the pants to ensure that it stays visible and crisp, and I cannot WAIT to try that!

I have no idea what the fly front for these pants was supposed to look like since I ignored Burda’s 6 word construction method for it (LOL, I can already feel Renee rolling her eyes right now!) and instead inserted my own trusty fly that I use for jeans patterns, but I realize now that I gotta broaden my fly front applications before I make any more fancy trousers. I like the way this fly looks and I’ve gotten really adept at constructing it, but a flat fly front with no visible stitching would look even better on this style of pants. Thanks to Renee for the video tutorial on how to make a flat fly front for my future crispy wide legged trousers- I haven’t used it yet but I am excited to try it out.

The most interesting thing I learned about these pants was adjusting the length and width of the legs to match my petite frame. Yes, I think that virtually anyone can look and feel good in wide legged pants, no matter that person’s shape, height, size or thigh depth, but I do think some attention should be paid to the proportions in order to find the most flattering silhouette. A super wide legged trouser on a 5’10 person is going to have a different aesthetic on someone like me, who is much shorter and can get lost in all that fabric. To accommodate this, I took out a small amount of the width from both sides of each front and back leg to equal about 2 inches at the bottoms of the pant legs, which was graded to nothing at the hips and crotch seam. Just looking at how dramatic the pants looked on the model in the pattern photo made me think that they would look huge on me, and I was right; after baste-fitting the pants together and adjusting the back darts a bit, the pants were looking more like JNCOs than chic trousers, but that small adjustment in the width of the legs made a pretty big difference.

The other tricky part was the length. OY, VEY! This is all about personal preference, but that footless looking thing that some people manage to pull off when wearing very wide legs or bell bottom jeans simply DOES NOT WORK on me. You know what I’m talking about…the pants legs with bottoms so wide and long that they cover your whole shoe and you look like you’re just floating around?

for the record these pants are SEVEN. HUNDRED. DOLLARS.

What looks even worse to me with this type of cut is that the legs are so long that they usually have a visual break at the bottom, so instead of looking streamlined , the pants fall beautifully til somewhere around the ankle area and then the leg folds on top of itself, ruining the whole silhouette (again, my opinion- I just don’t like this look on ME). But on the other end of the spectrum, if you make a wide leg too short (not to be mistaken with a cropped wide leg, which is a totally different style), then you end up looking like JJ from Good Times, and no, that is NOT a good look on me either.

I realized I needed to know exactly what shoe I wanted to wear with these pants and have them just barely graze the top of it when I was standing still and straight, which made the whole hem rise from the floor a little less than half an inch. Even the tiniest difference in hem length dramatically changed the way the pants looked on me, both when standing still and walking, and I really wanted to maintain that sleek straight up and down look throughout the leg with no folds or breaks at the bottom, so I enlisted Claire’s help with getting the hem straight and precise all the way around. She did a really great job and I am very thankful she was around as I stomped through the house in every shoe I owned trying to figure out which ones worked the best.

Now, for the kicker. I figured out the right length of my pants, but I had cut them too short. OOOOHHH, CRUEL FATE! In an effort to anticipate these pants being as long as the patterns I usually make (once I ended up cutting nearly a foot off of the bottoms of the legs), I shortened the pants legs at the knee a couple of inches, thinking I would have plenty of room leftover for the hem, but I was very wrong, and once constructed, my pant legs were too short. I chatted with Renee about applying a turned-under facing to the bottoms of them which seemed smart, but they were still too short- I had no length to spare, and after determining my preferred hem length, I saw that I actually needed to ADD length to the pant legs!

Where is the slap-my-damn-head emoji??

But guess what, this awesome fabric was really forgiving because it’s got a slightly nubby and loose texture, so I was able to turn my facing into an actual hem. I calculated how much extra fabric I needed with seam allowance and additional leg length, then cut four pieces of fabric out (one for each leg piece), and sewed them together as if it was a facing. But instead of sewing it to the bottom of the pant leg and folding the whole facing up to the inside, stitching to secure, I sewed it to the bottom of the pant leg, treated it like a hem by ironing flat where I wanted the bottom of the pants to be, pressed the seam allowance under, folded that part to the inside, then stitched in the ditch to secure the inside of the pants to the seam. So it LOOKS like a facing, but it’s actually added fabric to the length of  pants. Don’t know if I explained that properly at all but hopefully a picture will help.

I googled to see if this was an actual technique before I tried to do it, but I couldn’t find any information about adding length to the bottom of a pants leg and then using that length as the hem. But then I thought, well it IS an actual technique if I successfully do it, right? So I tried it and it worked better than I had hoped. The added seaming and facing add a little heft to the bottom of the leg which helps keep it stabilized, and because my fabric was so flexible and un-crispy, I could get away with adding a bit of business at the bottom without it being very visible at all.

Once the pants were complete with finished hem, I tried them on in the mirror and for the first time felt 100% happy with them- honestly I couldn’t believe my eyes! Throughout the fitting process, adjusting the leg width and the hem and trying them on with so many different shoes, I had convinced myself that they weren’t going to end up looking that great on me anyways. I’m not sure if it was my insecure brain bad-mouthing me or the fact that the pants really didn’t look that flattering while in it’s in-between stages or a combination of both, but at some point I made a promise to myself to finish the pants regardless of their assumed negative outcome. I am not a fan of UFOs and my Butthole Bin™ hasn’t had much added to it in the last year. I felt like I owed it to myself to see the pants all the way through to the end, and if they looked utterly ridiculous, maybe I would be able to salvage them by turning them into cropped pants or cutting off all the extra width in the legs and having them be regular slacks. But obviously I didn’t have to do that- they looked so close to how I envisioned them in my head! The high waist and wide legs gave me the illusion of looking longer than I am and the hems perfectly grazed the tops of my shoes. I was happy with the fit of the darts in both the front and back and the legs didn’t hug my thighs too tightly while still providing a slim-looking fit through the butt.

as discussed on instagram, these pants make me feel like a 1940’s beat reporter with a voice like Katherine Hepburn

I LOVED the way they looked, but I only had one last reservation: the pants were…well, not exactly too tight in the waist, but rather perfectly fitted to it due to the fact that I hardly ever add my waistband when I baste-fit my pants (because I’m LAZY) so I have a tendency to overfit that area. I actually prefer snug waistbands to keep everything in place, and this one felt comfortable enough when trying the pants on, but I knew that as soon as I sat down to a meal, that waistband was gonna feel like an iron claw squeezing my guts and creating what we refer to in my household as Lightning Gas™. But the first time I wore the pants out and about, the waistband eased up a lot throughout the evening, probably because this fabric isn’t rigid and has a slightly loose weave. The knees had bagged out a teensy tiny bit (I’m sure only noticeable to me) and were much more comfortable than they were at the beginning of the evening. One other mistake I made when constructing these pants was that I forgot to extend the fly extension lower than what was drafted, which is a mod I make on all my pants since getting my smaller waistband over my wider hips is always an issue once the garment is completed. But with the extra looseness that that the fabric gave the pants after an hour or so of wear, pulling the pants up and down was much, much easier, and now I think they are about as good as they are gonna get!

Hannah Take 2!

This will be a mostly uninformative post because I already talked at length about my first Hannah Dress by Victory Patterns a couple of months ago here on the blog. To catch you up to speed, I really enjoyed the unique construction of the dress, from the smartly designed hidden placket at the neckline to the folds at the back of the dress that float into pockets on the sides- all of which set it apart from most loose-fitting dresses of similar design and shape.

But there were a couple of big things about the make that I really didn’t like at all.

The first was that the sizing was off. My experience with Victory patterns is that they run smaller than the measurements suggest, and my size 2 bust graded to a 4 at the waist and hips simply did not cut it. It was too tight in the bust and armhole areas and I could feel the dress straining at certain points. It didn’t look terrible at first glance, but a closer inspection showed small wrinkle lines fanning out from the armholes and around the placket. It was also a tiny bit too snug in the hips. I wanted the dress to just barely graze my frame beneath it since it was designed to be loose fitting, but when I walked, the fabric would cling to my butt, which interfered with the loose silhouette I was hoping for. I had also shortened the dress about an inch and a half, assuming that, like most patterns I sew, this dress would be end up being way too long on me, but that was a mistake. As drafted, this dress was probably the perfect length for my 5’3″ frame, and could even have stood to be a tiny bit longer for a sleeker look. So after the dress was finished and I tried it on, I knew immediately that I needed to go up at least one size and add the omitted length back in (and perhaps even a little extra).

The second issue I had with this dress was the color combination. I was going for a rust and sky blue combo that I had pinned a while back on pinterest and fell in love with, but because I bought my fabrics online, I couldn’t tell that the colors I ultimately purchased were not very close at all to the inspiration photo I was basing them off of. On top of that, the fabric I chose was tencel and didn’t have the same shimmery/lux qualities as my inspo picture either, so, visually, the whole project missed the mark on where I wanted it to end up.

But I realized the biggest problem I had with my fabric/color choice was that I kept feeling a subtle sense of distaste every time I looked at the dress. I couldn’t figure out what it was- I was enjoying the construction process and was excited to see how it was going to turn out, but something just wasn’t making me feel happy with how it was looking. And then it hit me: the gold and navy fabrics I had chosen looked like orange and blue- Auburn colors! I discussed this more thoroughly in my initial blog post but basically, even though I haven’t ever been a fan of football (college or otherwise), I grew up in a family that was vehemently pro-Alabama. Roll Tide, Roll! was the war cry I would hear roaring from our living room on game days, and occasionally I would even participate in the booing and hissing at the television screen when Auburn scored, just for fun. I wasn’t at all invested in this rivalry, but now as an adult I realize that I have effectively become a Pavlovian dog; without any conscious participation, I have been conditioned to balk at everything orange and blue that crosses my line of vision and to feel unexplained happiness when I see maroon and white. Or elephants. Or anything with the word “Tide” in it, including laundry detergent.

This is a particularly weird predicament to be in for someone like me, who, as mentioned earlier, could not care less about sports or college rivalries or mascots. But rooting for my home state of Alabama (as complicated about it as my feelings are), makes me feel closer to my family, who is spread all across the southeast region of the US. No matter what is going on in their lives, I can rest assured that they will all be sitting in front of their tvs on game days, rooting for The Crimson Tide, drinking beers, having a grand time. I usually don’t watch the game myself, but I make sure to text everyone in my family who is, periodically checking in on the score so that I can join them in feeling excitement or disappointment, depending on how good the team is that year (although I obviously wouldn’t know a good team from Adam- I just ask Claire to fill me in).

So yeah, back to the first Hannah dress. When I put it on I looked like an Auburn fan. And as much as I tried to get over it, ignore it, tell myself I was being silly, I simply could not. It’s possible that without any prior knowledge of or connection to Auburn’s team colors I would still not like this orange and blue color combo together. But it’s unlikely. Family loyalty is deep. Team loyalty is insidious.

So what’s a girl to do? I LOVED the design elements of the dress, but it didn’t fit as well as it could have and looking at the colors gave me a headache. Of course, if you followed my Octopus sweater making saga at all then you know exactly what I decided to do- MAKE IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER!

While working on the first version of Hannah I kept thinking about how much better a pink and gray version would be, which are two of my favorite color combos, and once I realized that I needed to make it again to be really happy with it, I started searching for more tencel fabric in those colors, but I didn’t have much luck. I like tencel- it can get a little wrinkly when worn, but it sews easily, has a beautiful and soft hand, and the texture looks really cool when made in a design that shows it off. Unfortunately, the colors I found available online were pretty limited. I finally tracked down a pink that I liked a lot and then ordered a light gray from another retailer that I thought would pair well with it, but once they arrived, they didn’t match well together at all. The gray had a blue-ish silvery tint to it and just didn’t have the right depth colorwise to contrast with the baby pink I had settled on. Thankfully, it was easy for me to know which color to substitute for the gray, because in my head the only thing that goes better with pink than gray is BLACK!

As soon as I saw the two fabrics side by side I was super excited to see how the final garment was going to turn out. Pink and black are just so chic to me! The combo seems gender neutral, totally fit for both masculine and feminine styles, and it is inherently sophisticated. As you know, black is my least favorite color to wear by itself, but when it’s paired with pastels or bold bursts of color like in my Rachel Wrap Dress, it’s pretty hard to resist.

At the last minute I decided to make a straight size 6 instead of grading from a 4 in the bust. I knew the 6 would probably give me the fit I was looking for in the hips but I worried that a 6 would be too big in the bust and arm region. But I took a chance that it wouldn’t and I was right- the 6 fits me perfectly at the bust with just the right amount of ease, and by the way, a size 6 is a full 3 inches larger than what my measurements would suggest by the Victory Patterns size chart. This is good information to keep in mind for their newest pattern, the Jackie Dress, which I am DYING to sew up as soon as the perfect knit fabric finds it’s way into my life.

Lastly, I added about 2 inches of length to the dress so that it hit me just past my knees. I am not entirely sure why I went with a longer silhouette seeing as how the original drafting is probably a great fit for me, but as soon as I started envisioning this pink and black version of the dress I kept seeing it as longer than the fit of the pattern photos, and I am go so glad I went with my instinct. Because my original Auburn colored version of this dress is so short, this longer length looks a little more appropriate to me. Not that I don’t mind showing some leg, but something about this pink and black version screams “opinionated NYC fashion editor!” to me while the first dress whispers “war eagle” in a choked falsetto. That makes no sense, but whatever. Maybe because the first version feels too short AND too tight, there was just no way I could feel very comfortable in it (despite the color combo), and everyone knows that comfort is about the most sexy thing you can wear.

I feel sexy, classy and stylish in the pink and black version. And for all of you lovely commenters who insisted that the original Auburn version was not that bad, I appreciate your support and enthusiasm but I am SO glad I went with my gut on this one. By itself, the Auburn dress is fine, but compared to this pink and black version, it doesn’t hold a candle!

 

Embrace Octopus Sweater

I used to be pretty active on ravelry.com, taking photos of all my knitted projects and jotting down notes to include in my overview of the patterns and yarns I used, but now that I have my own blog and an instagram account, the effort seems tedious and unnecessary. Unfortunately, the result is that instead of transferring project notes to this blog about my knitting, I end up opting out of writing anything about my projects at all, which seems sad. Knitting is technically where I got my first taste of blogging about making things, and since this blog is about all things try and curious -not just sewing- knitting should have a place here, too! (Along with furniture-making, shoe-making, baking, etc…but those projects also seem to get left off the blog more times than not- I gotta do better!)

Anyways, now that I am in LA I don’t knit as much as I did when I lived in NYC or Vancouver, but contrary to popular belief, this city has great sweater-weather! Not just for the mild winters when all you need is a good cardigan (no coat necessary), but also for the evenings, which cool down considerably for the majority of the year, and when visiting the west side of the city near the beach, when the breeze off the ocean makes the daytime much chillier than on the east side and in the valley. Still, I have accumulated more handmade sweaters in the past 9 years than Los Angeles knows what to do with and because most of my older pieces are bulky and thick in order to handle northern climates, I sadly don’t get as much use out of them here. This did not, however, stop me from making the Embrace Octopus Sweater when I stumbled across it on raverly a few years ago. It’s easy to see why- just look at it!

I had been searching for a cool pattern to knit up for Claire for her birthday, upholding the tradition of making her a new sweater each year as a gift. Claire had recently gotten her cephalopod tattoo so I entered “octopus” and “squid” into the search terms on ravelry to see what I could find and lo and behold, this beauty popped right up. I was impressed by how beautiful the pattern was, but I honestly don’t recall being too scared of it. I had knitted several projects with both intarsia and Fair Isle before, so I was familiar with stranded knitting, and nothing about the actual dimensions or fit of the sweater seemed too out-of-my-depth; it was pretty boxy and only required shaping at the shoulders and neck like any raglan sleeved sweater. All that was required of this project was patience, and I’ve got that in spades. So I gave it a whirl, and about a month later (I was on a tight schedule because I wanted it to be finished in time for Claire’s birthday), it was complete, and I mean COMPLETE! Ends woven in, blocked AND dried!

Since I made the first version of this sweater so long ago I won’t bother with trying to recall the details of my experience with it, so instead I will focus on the most recent versions I made, starting in October of 2016. At the time I was working in Savannah and had just completed my first pair of knitted socks, thanks to Sonja’s (gingertakesphotos) inspiration. They were super fun to work on and got me back in my knitting groove after a several months’ long hiatus, so when they were finished I was ready to tackle something big again. After I had made Claire’s octopus sweater a few years prior, I promised myself that I would make one for myself, too, but I knew it would require a lot of modifications since the sweater came in only one size and it was larger than I wanted.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNV8CpkBOaW/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

With all the extra time I had in Savannah, it seemed as good a time as any to get through the tricky bits, so I hunted down the pattern in my files on ravelry and downloaded them (I don’t have a fancy knitting app for cataloguing my PDF patterns, I just store them all in Notability). I was surprised to see that there was a newer version of the pattern than the one I made a few years ago, and this one came in two sizes, but guess what- FOR SOME REASON I DIDN’T USE THE NEW VERSION. Don’t ask me why; sometimes there is no explanation for our ill-advised behaviors, right? I think my reasoning was that I was already familiar with the first version of the pattern and how it fit so it seemed smarter to work with what I knew. But hindsight is 20/20. I should have worked from the newer version of the pattern because it had some adjustments in fit that would have benefited my project. But  the truth is that nothing would have completely saved my second sweater from the knitting fail it became. Let me explain.

I wanted my sweater to be smaller than the version I made for Claire. But since the octopus sweater is based off of a chart that has to be followed precisely in order to get the octopus to look like, well, an octopus, you can’t adjust the size by knitting more or less stitches like you can with other projects. For any non-knitters reading this, most knit projects have their sizes differentiated by the number of stitches knitted with all subsequent sizes following, so your pattern would start out like this:

for sizes S (M, L, XL), cast on 110 (122, 138, 146) stitches, join in the round, then knit 6 (7, 8, 10) rows in stockinette.

The only way to make a larger or smaller sweater for this project is to alter your gauge and/or your yarn: using smaller needles will result in a tighter knit and therefore a smaller sweater, and bigger needles do the opposite. By changing the weight of your yarn you get a similar result- a thinner yarn will yield a smaller sweater than a thicker yarn will. By combining changes in both the needle size and the yarn, you can get tremendously different results without having to adjust any of the specific knitting details of the sweater. It is important to see what your gauge is when making these kinds of changes by swatching the yarn with the needles you intend to use and comparing it to the gauge the pattern calls for. I went down a few needles sizes (which is a mod I make with almost all knitted garments- I have a very consistent but loose knit) and used a much thinner yarn than the bulky kind suggested for this pattern, then I swatched it. It was about an inch, give or take, smaller in width than the suggested gauge of the pattern, which seemed about right, I guess? Honestly it was just a guessing game but I was happy to play along! Unfortunately I lost, big time. I knitted several inches of the bottom of the sweater and it was looking pretty small to me, so I would try it on and discover that it just barely skimmed my abdomen. It was fitted, but it definitely didn’t seem too small and I had plenty of breathing room. “Keep going!” I would tell myself, “it’s fine! You’re being paranoid!”

Famous last words.

Turns out I was NOT being paranoid at all. When I finally cast off the collar of the sweater a couple months later and ran to the mirror to try it on, I could barely get the damn thing over my head! I got stuck at one point trying to pull the sweater over my bust (which isn’t even big!) and had to take a few deep breaths to get the sweater the rest of the way down. To my horror, you could barely tell the sweater had an octopus on it! It fit around my abdomen just fine, but as soon as the sweater got to my rib cage, the stitches started to distort from being stretched out so much and the eye of the octopus was warped and frightening looking. The raglan seams were so spread apart that you could see my skin peeking through the stitches and the actual sleeves were so tight that I was hulking out of it at the biceps. And finally, the whole thing wanted to ride up my belly with each inhale I took. It was a disaster 🙁

still tiny as shit 🙁

Somehow I convinced myself that it would stretch out a lot after I blocked it and magically fit me like a dream as soon as it was dry, but I knew deep down that there was no saving it, at least not for myself. Once my fears were confirmed and it was THE EXACT SAME SIZE after blocking (which by the way has NEVER happened to me- everything I knit stretches out after I have blocked it! lol) I decided wasn’t interested in trying to manipulate it further. People were writing on my instagram page about turning it into a cardigan, cutting it up the sides or middle and adding extra stitches to it, etc, but I was adamant about leaving it alone. I had coveted this sweater for myself for years at this point, and it just didn’t seem worth it to settle for anything less than a garment that was exactly what I wanted. That’s the beauty of making things for ourselves, though- we fine tune, adjust, and rework it until it’s as close to what we want as we are capable of making. And the old adage held true for me- if it’s not worth doing right, then it’s not worth doing at all. To be clear, I am no perfectionist- over the years I have settled for garments that were a little more off than on, a little more wrong than right. But my wonky knitting gauge and miscalculations with this sweater didn’t make it imperfect- in fact, the sweater was very beautiful when it was completed, it just didn’t fit me.

I won’t lie, I was heartbroken when the reality hit me that I had just spent months making what was essentially a knitted muslin. But I also realized that this was a chance to make the sweater EVEN BETTER than it would have been if it DID fit me. Once it was complete, I saw that it wasn’t just the fit that was off- I needed to have chosen different yarn colors as well.

The pattern is written so that the main color is dark and the contrast color (which is used for the octopus body) is a lighter color. I followed this guide for the first version of this sweater, but for my second I thought it would be cool to switch them around and have a dark octopus on a lighter background. This probably would have worked just fine if I hadn’t dramatically changed the yarn I used from a bulky (as suggested in the pattern) to a lighter worsted weight yarn, but because I did, the dark contrast color had to be stranded behind rows and rows of light pink stitches. The result is that the dark blue yarn ended up peaking through the light pink yarn. A bulky weight yarn creates much fluffier, thicker stitches so there isn’t much room for the yarn you are stranding to show through the holes of the knits. Again, HINDSIGHT! Another tricky thing about using the opposite colors as suggested in the pattern is that it makes the chart REALLY hard to read sometimes. The chart is color coded so that dark squares represent the main color and white ones represent the contrast color. Switching your own yarn colors means that you end up reading the chart backwards, though, so you have to re-interpret the white square as dark yarn and visa versa; as you can imagine this can really mess with your brain when you aren’t paying close attention, and I almost always watch TV when I knit. It wasn’t a huge issue, it just tacked on even more knitting time to have to go back and redo stitches that I ended up knitting the wrong way.

Okay, so now I had decided I was going to re-knit my sweater with the proper yarn weight, gauge, color suggestion and using the newer version of the pattern which included two sizes (M and L) instead of just one. I did go down a few needle sizes as per usual but I felt confident that it wouldn’t throw off my sizing too much. I chose a Malabrigo bulky knit for my main color in a deep gray-ish purple that had flecks of light in it and for the contrast color I chose a light pearl gray color that looked exactly like the lighter flecks of my main yarn- I figured they would look good together and tone down any peeking-through of my light colored stranded yarn (I was right!). My contrast color yarn is actually a DK weight, so it’s slightly thinner yarn than my bulky yarn, but I didn’t think it would affect the over-all look of the sweater, and again I was right.

I made just a few more mods on this version but nothing dramatic- I added more length to the ribbing and bottom of the sweater right before the stranded knitting begins because I think that this sweater as written is pretty short and I wanted mine to cover half of my butt. I also think that the sleeves have a weird shape- they start out pretty tight at the wrist and then grow as you keep knitting, but I wanted sleeves that had a little more wiggle room at the wrist before shaping began, so I just added a few more stitches to what I cast on and knit them straight up until the number of stitches on my needles matched the chart count (all this was done before the stranded knitting begins so it doesn’t affect the octopus at all).

The sweater is knit in 4 parts- you start at the bottom of the body and work in the round, following the chart, all the way up to the underarms, then you hold the body on waste yarn. Next you knit each sleeve in the round from the wrist up. It should be noted that one sleeve has almost no stranded knitting except in the top corner where the head is, and the other sleeve has an octopus tentacle wrapped all the way around it. If your stranded knitting is not very consistent and you knit too tight or too loose when stranding, one of your sleeves might fit differently than the other one. I only know about this from obsessing over the notes that other people made on ravelry when making this sweater. Thankfully I have a pretty consistent hand when knitting (stranded or otherwise), so I didn’t have that issue on either or my sweaters, but it’s something to keep in mind. One trick I learned is to knit with the right side of the knitting facing you so that your stranded yarn has more slack (traveling on the outside of the garment with more room as opposed to the inside with a little less room). But in general you have to remember to give your stranded yarn just the right amount of ease- if you pull it too tight your knitting will pucker and gather and fit very tightly, but if it’s too loose you will have loops on the inside that will gape and snag on things (like jewelry and fingers) and it can also create holes in your knitting. It’s not hard to figure out the right tension for stranded knitting but it might take a little practice to feel confident with it.

Rib the neck weave the ends and fin #prettyguts

A post shared by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

When going through parts of the chart that had lots of stitches of one color and not the other, I would strand the unused yarn through every 4 or 5 knits of my other color, catching it in a stitch and giving it a bit of slack before it was either used in the chart again or stranded through. Another trick I learned is to take a break from the chart knitting every six inches or so to weave in the ends. On my first version of this sweater I waited til the very end to weave them in and it took me DAYS to finish- there were probably hundreds of them! I don’t strand through the entire sweater- as you can see in the photos there are places in the chart where there are inches and inches of main color only, and since my tension doesn’t change when stranding or regular knitting, I just cut my contrast yarn off and knit in the main color until the chart shows that the contrast color comes in again. This makes knitting go quicker but it also means you have more little yarn ends to sew in at the end. Weaving them in throughout the process gives your eyes a bit of a break from following the chart and balances out the tediousness of focusing on just one part of the sweater for too long.

After you knit your sleeves, you add them onto your needles with the body of the sweater on it and begin working in the round again and decreasing at the beginning and end of each sleeve. Every time I make this sweater my knits are off at the octopus head- no idea if it’s a pattern mistake or something I am consistently doing wrong, but I always just fudge the rows right there until the chart matches up again (this area of the head is just a big block of contrast color so it was pretty easy for me to make it work without sacrificing the image of the octopus).

After following the chart for the yoke of the sweater in a spiral going inwards, you do some short row shaping at the neck which requires a lot of attention but for some reason is just SUPER fun to do IMO, and then you do a couple inches of ribbing at the neck band and then bind off. The pattern gives you the option to omit the short row shaping and just knit in the round until the charted knits are complete, but doing this gives the neck a very rectangular and wide opening and I don’t think it’s flattering- I followed these instructions on my second version but liked the short row versions of my first and third sweaters the best.

After weaving in all the last few ends of yarn, I tried the sweater on and was pleased to find how much I loved the fit! I had always thought I wanted a less boxy and a snugger fitting sweater than how it was drafted, but it actually felt cozier with so much ease in it, and it doesn’t look huge on me as I had feared- it definitely fits well and I could not be happier with all the choices I made the second go-round, from sizing to color to mods.

 

The best part of this story is that I found the perfect person to send my tiny pink version to, a very fashionable friend of mine named Alice who adores the colors of this sweater and who obviously fits into it SO well- it’s almost like it was made for her!

As for me, I could not even tell you in words how thrilled I am to be done with all things octopi! I learned so much about this particular sweater pattern in the past 4 months, but I also learned a lot about myself, my determination and what I am capable of. As I always say, I wasn’t bestowed with any specific gifts or talents for making, I have just cultivated the ability to be patient with and kind to myself, to allow myself space to mess up without judgement, and to give myself as many chances as I need to try, try again. Fundamentally, creating art isn’t really about how much talent you have- it’s about showing yourself some grace, and that is some self care that I think we could all use much more of.

Happy making, y’all!