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A Pin Up Dress in Raw Silk

I have a crazy story about this fabric. It was included in one of about 3 other gigantic bags full of used men’s clothes and old fabric remnants which was “gifted” to me by someone I didn’t know very well. I had offered to teach some friends how to sew a simple project at my house, suggesting they bring a friend if they wanted, and one of them brought someone who basically used my house as a Goodwill. Someone in this individual’s family used to sew and they had inherited some bags of (mostly unusable) fabric…which they in turn gave to me. They included about a dozen men’s button up shirts, too,  just in case I wanted to “use them for scraps or something”. Initially I thought that the gesture was thoughtful, albeit misguided, but soon it dawned on me that the person could have cared less about whether or not I was actually interested in what was in those bags- they just dumped them on my floor without a second thought because they didn’t want it taking up space in their house anymore. As you know, I am all about recycling fabric and clothes that have more life in them, but not everyone’s trash is someone else’s treasure- sometimes it’s just trash! A better way of handling this situation would have been for them to ask me ahead of time if I had any interest in their stuff before lugging it all to my house. Or at the very least, they could have brought the bags and asked if I would like to go through them to keep anything that might be of use. As it turned out there was hardly anything worthwhile in their giant pile of stuff when I rifled through it a couple of days later, mostly jagged fragments of cloth that had already been cut into and some stained men’s clothing, which was now of course my responsibility to get rid of. I threw away the remnants that couldn’t be salvaged, delivered everything else to charity, and kept one of the few shining lights in the pile, a narrow three-yards-long cut of a jewel-toned raw silk, for myself. I couldn’t imagine what I would use it for, but it was in great condition and I couldn’t stand to throw it out.

Ultimately this story has a happy ending because, even though I never wanted the fabric in the first place, I did end up making something beautiful with it, which seems almost worth having to deal with that annoying situation…almost. What is it with people giving crafters their discards in hopes that they can magically turn them into something beautiful? Maybe I am just sensitive about the assumptions that non-makers tend to put on us (since you really enjoy sewing it would be a cinch for you to make something for me! and my personal favorite, you should sell your items! I would buy them! so you need to SELL THEM!!!!!) but I tend to regard things outside of my wheelhouse with a bit more respect and sensitivity than people show to me. In my experience, questions invite dialogue while presumptuous declarations just show ignorance.

ANYWAYS. This dress! It’s awesome! I was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous the fit was when I went through all these photos- I hadn’t worn this #redcarpetDIY dress yet and it had been almost a year since I made it, so my memory was poor. But I feel like a bombshell in it! And that is NOT a familiar feeling for me. Cute? Sure! Pretty? Thanks! Glamorous? Aw, shucks! But sexy? Nope, not me. Well, not me unless I am wearing this dress apparently. It’s a pretty simple silhouette and that’s why I was so attracted to it. I love Gertie’s books because they have so many great classic blocks included in them, and though I don’t fit perfectly into her drafted patterns (the bust is always WAY bigger on me despite my measurements matching up with the sizes), I have found that the extra work needed to alter the fit is always worthwhile because they suit my style well and I know I will use them over and over again.

This dress was the first time I used boning in a bodice, and since it was kind of an experiment to see how I liked the process, I used the cheap plastic kind. It’s fine for this dress which probably won’t get TONS of wear since it’s so dressy, but I make all my boned bodices with steel wire boning now, which is much stronger and curves to your shape better than this plastic does (on me, at least- mine came in a roll and it was impossible to get the curve out of it before I sewed it in the dress).

I followed the instructions for making the bodice of this dress in Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book with the heart shaped neckline. The instructions were pretty good and definitely gave me a solid foundation for the concepts, but I feel like there were a few important bits of information left out. For example, I don’t recall any mention in the book of using an additional fabric to give your bodice more support, so the first few dresses I made with strapless bodices just have a shell with a boned lining attached, as opposed to a shell, a lining and another layer of sturdier fabric, either made of muslin or hair canvas, sewn inside of that. (And if this information is in the book and I just missed it, apologies- either way it’s still a great book!) I didn’t even know that a THIRD layer to give the bodice more of a sturdy foundation was a thing til Renee mentioned it to me. Without this additional layer of a stronger fabric, particularly for softer, drapey-er fabrics like the ones I used, the bodice can be a bit flimsy. I don’t have a big bust so I can totally get away with wearing this dress and not worrying that anything is going to pop out, but it would still be nice to have a more supported bodice when there are no straps to hold it up. Also Gertie illustrates a simple plan for how to lay out your boning placement across the bodice, but she doesn’t explain when and if you should deviate from that plan, and there are several patterns in the book that, as per the illustrations, have a different boning layout than the one she describes in the instructions. It’s unclear when you should make those adjustments and why- maybe it’s up to the discretion of the maker? Regardless, more information would have been helpful.

Aside from that issue, I found the construction of the bodice pretty straightforward once I altered the pattern pieces for the bodice (I didn’t use a SBA, I just took the seams in where needed and it worked fine). The skirt took some work, too, but I am more familiar with adjusting that type of garment so I knew how to make the changes I wanted- basically I just baste my skirt pieces together and try it on over and over again, altering the seam lines until they look and feel right. I made my first pencil skirt from another of Gertie’s books and it has served me well, but I started from scratch with this pattern block in case it was drafted differently than her previous books.

Unfortunately I could not manage to get my skirt darts and bodice darts lined up properly in the front! When I moved them on the skirt they made the skirt fit differently, and I didn’t want to rearrange the seam lines on the bodice because I had already sewn it together and I was too lazy to take it apart. So the front lines don’t match up at all. WHO CARES! Since I have such a significant curve in my hips, the seams on the sides bulged a bit in weird ways once I got the fit right, so had to cut notches in the seams to make them lay flat. It makes the skirt hug my body perfectly but the insides look wonky- it’s hard to finish a seam with notches cut into it. My solution was to use bias seam binding on that area, carefully sewing the edges of the little triangles created by the notches, but it still doesn’t look very clean to me. It’s okay though- next time I will probably just serge those seams individually (right and left side) close to the seam line and see if that gives the seam enough flexibility to stretch around my curves.

One other issue I have with the way this dress looks is the top of the heart shaped bodice- it has a little fold on either side of center that I can’t get to straighten out for the life of me! I trimmed and notched those seams and I also used a small length of basting stitch on the lining at the center front to gather the middle of the “heart”, as suggested in the book- still has a tiny fold. No idea what I did wrong, but it could just be an issue with the raw silk- it was pretty good to work with but certain areas had different characteristics, and maybe it’s just a little stretchy in that area.

For a dress that looks as painted-on as this one, it is surprisingly comfortable! Or at least it is standing up- I can’t remember if I have tried to sit down in it yet. I used this same pencil skirt block matched with a different bodice from Gertie’s book and I had to drive to an audition in it the other day. You guys. It was hysterically uncomfortable! I had to squeeze my knees together super tight just to drive my car and at one point I considered unzipping the entire back of the dress so that I would have room enough for my legs to move around freely. But that seemed like a dangerous prospect- what if I couldn’t zip myself up in the car by myself or I broke the zipper and had to have my whole backside exposed to the CBS lot before I could get help?? As long as you aren’t driving, this dress is manageable- all you have to do is sit on the very edge of whatever seat you are in and keep your legs either crossed or zipped up tightly at the knees and thighs. This must be how Marilyn Monroe walked around for an entire decade. The book suggests using a waist stay for this dress but I didn’t see the point- the skirt isn’t heavy and it is fitted to my body so closely that there isn’t much wiggle room leftover. Also the bodice isn’t really strong enough to be held up by a waist stay- I think the stay is most beneficial in something more rigid than mine turned out to be.

Okay, so that’s the dress! Not bad for my first attempt at a boned bodice! I made this bodice twice more over the past year but I am still perfecting my construction. I have another dress like this lined up in my cue, this time a boned strapless bodice attached to a circle skirt, and I will definitely use an additional sturdy fabric coupled with the lining and a waist stay. And I might play around with the neckline a bit, but the heart shaped bodice is so just so pretty- I might not be able to stay away from it!

Pleated Pants in Pink

I have always been quite fearful of sewing pants for myself, which makes very little sense considering I have successfully made nearly a dozen different versions of jeans over the past couple of years. Somehow Closet Case’s Miracle Jeans patterns (here and here) have seemed like a walk in the park compared to starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that has no sew-alongs or hand-holding to accompany it. I’m not scared of the actual construction so much as getting the fit right, and I am sure this fear comes from a lifetime of experience trying to buy RTW pants in commercial stores. I have never, I repeat, NEVER bought RTW pants that fit me perfectly. They have run the spectrum of I can’t believe you’re wearing those out of the house to I guess they look okay if you pull your shirt down over your butt, but never wow, those pants look amazing on you! Either the pockets gape at the sides or they are too tight in the thighs or, most often, the waist is huge while the hips fit snugly, leaving me with a big gap of space between my waistband and my actual body. Doesn’t matter the style- jeans, pleated, flat-front, darted- if they didn’t have an elastic waistband on them then they weren’t going to fit my body very well.

With her patterns, Heather helped me (and hundreds of other people around the world) craft a pair of jeans that fit our bodies beautifully and made us feel and look amazing, but for some reason in my head these successes seemed to only apply to jeans making- I couldn’t imagine those concepts translating to the world of trousers at large. Intellectually I knew this didn’t make sense, so I gave myself a bit of time to work through my fear without adding too much pressure to jump into pants making. I started reading blog posts about people’s journeys making their own pants. I pinned pants patterns that interested me and seemed suitable for my style and shape. And I bought myself a copy of the much heralded Palmer and Pletsch’s Pants for Real People. Some of the material in it is pretty dated, but on the whole the information is reliable and very helpful.

There are a few standout lessons I learned in reading this book which I was able to apply to these pink pleated pants. Number one (and perhaps most important) is tissue fitting. I always side-eyed the tissue fitting concept because I couldn’t comprehend how substituting pattern paper for fabric would translate to anything useful; pattern paper seems too thin, stiff and delicate to temporarily mold to your body. But with tips from the book I was able to get a better understanding of why you tissue fit- it is but one step in the process of creating a pattern that works for your body, and it is super helpful. First of all you are instructed to tape the crotch seams of both the front and back pants pieces to keep the paper strong during the fitting process, which addressed my initial concern about the paper not holding up well to fitting on the body. It is also recommended that you use a length of thin elastic tied around your waistline to keep the paper pattern pieces from falling off and to give you a visual reminder of where your actual waist is in relation to the pattern pieces. You pin the seams of the pattern wrong sides together and then (very very carefully) try them on and make your way to a mirror so you can assess the fit and look. The paper doesn’t necessarily give you a great idea of what your final pants will look like, but it does show you most if not all of the fit issues that the pattern will have, particularly if the waist/thighs/calves/crotch are too big/little, loose/tight, high/low. Once you see where the pattern needs to be adjusted, you make marks on the pattern paper and then add in or take out “fabric” as needed.

Many of these adjustments were familiar to me because I would make them when muslin-ing (or just working directly from my fashion fabric), but making changes on the paper pattern streamlines the process, takes less time than muslin-ing, and keeps you from potentially ruining your fabric. The two most awesome adjustments that I learned about from the book are 1. changing the crotch curve and 2. adjusting the waist height of the pants. Deepening the back crotch curve creates more room in the seat for fuller butts like mine (you can do the opposite if you have a flatter derriere) and WOW what a huge difference it made! I deepened mine by 1/2 inch from the seam allowance and it made for a pant that fit my curves in the back while still giving me plenty of room to walk and sit and bend- they look super fitted but they don’t feel tight at all. Amaaaaazing! Raising the waist of the pants was another impressive fix- it’s a quick and dirty way to keep the pants from sagging or gaping and seems to be a good solution to fixing a swayback as well. Since you have a band of elastic around your waist, it’s easy to see where the paper pattern should be adjusted in relationship to where you want the waistband to be. When I was tissue fitting these pants, the back came up super high on me, several inches past my natural waist, so I was able to cut that chunk out to make them sit better, giving plenty of room for ease and wearability.

After my initial tissue fit, I added more room to the hips, adjusted the width of the legs and calves and adjusted the length of the pieces between the waist and the hip (this created a shorter depth of crotch since mine hung down a little lower than what felt comfortable or looked good) on my paper pattern, then I cut out the new pattern pieces using a black textured fabric that I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Unfortunately, halfway through the process I realized that my fabric was of pretty poor quality and that I would probably never wear them once they were finished, but I didn’t mind- I got some great practice with that first pair and once I saw that the fit was getting closer to what I wanted, I was excited to move on to my pink fabric anyways. I installed my zipper using the Closet Case method she shares in her Jeans Making e-Book, then I basted the pant legs together, tried them on, and made a few more tiny tweaks in the hip and thigh area. After that it was smooth sailing- I just needed to create and attach my waistband and hem the bottoms.

Now the real exciting thing for me here is not that I used the Palmer Pletsch method of making pants, but that I used a BURDA PATTERN TO MAKE THEM. Yep, you read right! (I blame Renee). I have mentioned a dozen times on this blog how much I hate Burda patterns. I love the styles but MY GOD the instructions and construction techniques are just awful- too sparse, sometimes written incorrectly, no line drawings or photos (at least with the online patterns I have purchased) and no additional details on construction techniques whatsoever. When I first started getting into sewing a lot a few years ago, Burda enticed me with all their pretty photos, fashion forward designs, and inexpensive patterns, and I accumulated quite a few of them, even making a couple of dresses that turned out sort of okay, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was NOT the intended demographic for their patterns. With the exception of a few simple designs, their patterns are generally not for beginners who are unfamiliar with how to construct a variety of garments. I remember buying a cargo shorts pattern of theirs a few years ago which essentially began with the words “insert your front fly zipper” and no actual instructions that followed. I was like *#^!)#&%$%?!?!?!?!- aren’t you supposed to tell me how to insert a front fly zipper, Burda??? I looked up instructions online but I was too out of my depth, having never made a zip fly before and getting incredibly confused when the details of my pattern pieces didn’t match up with the tutorials I was finding. Needless to say, I threw that project in the Butthole Bin and hadn’t tried another Burda pattern since.

But when I realized that I wanted to make a pair of trousers for myself using the Palmer Pletsch technique, I had a lot of trouble finding a pattern that matched what I wanted. I was looking for a peg-leg trouser, something high waisted with a loose-ish (but not wide) leg that could be rolled up at the ankle, dressed up or down. I wanted pleats, too, a detail that ladies with curves are not “supposed” to wear since pleats can accentuate areas that you “should” want to hide. But of course, as mentioned in an earlier post, I am moving away from all those “rules” and experimenting with clothing that has aesthetics I am attracted to as opposed to details that I think will “work” for my body (/excessive use of quotations). The Big 4 companies didn’t have what I was looking for and neither did any of my fav indie pattern designers, but I found several pattern contenders when I reluctantly started sorting through the online Burda catalogue. I could vaguely hear Renee’s voice in the back of my head rattling off all the amazing Burda patterns she had successfully made over the years, and I started to gain a little more confidence. It had been years since I had last attempted a Burda pattern and I knew my skills as a sewist had grown a lot since then, but I had also noticed that as a I got more comfortable with the craft, I liked to challenge myself more. So. Maybe it was time to give Burda another chance. I chose the Pleated High Waist Pants 02/2012 #103A, (why do they choose the most confusing way to name/categorize their patterns??) added the damn seam allowance (I shouldn’t hate this as much as I do because I already trace all my pattern pieces- adding seam allowance is really not that big a deal for me…and yet!) and went to work.

This is me demonstrating how comfortable and easy it is for me to do a squat in these pants! I do squats in heels all the time, by the way!

Guys. It wasn’t that bad! I used my trusty Closet Case construction method for inserting my zip fly, adding and subtracting certain details to my liking, then I proceeded as usual for any other pair of jeans using the fitting adjustments described earlier in this post. With a solid foundation on how to construct a pair of pants, I didn’t even need Burda’s measly 7 sentence “instructions”, and maybe that’s how most Burda patterns are intended to be used- you use them with your own basic understanding of how to make the garment and they just supply the drafted pattern pieces. I guess there is reason these patterns are so cheap! I would still prefer to have a regular set of instructions included with my patterns, but I know now that I am capable of working from my own knowledge, and I love that the world of beautiful Burda patterns is now open to me again.

As for the pants, I LOVE them! I realize that I have been saying I love my makes way more consistently now which feels so exciting to me. And it’s true! These pants fit great, they are super comfortable, and I freaking love the gorgeous pink color of the fabric. On my last trip to The Fabric Store, the lovely Sara immediately led me in the direction of this hot pink raw silk when I told her I was looking for a bottom-weight fabric for some trousers. This fabric was a little more lightweight than what I was initially looking for but once I saw it, I obviously couldn’t say no (pink is my favorite color, next to yellow, and next to gray. I have three favorite colors, sue me). It ended up working perfectly with this pattern, and raw silk is probably a smarter fabric to wear in a Los Angeles summer than what I was looking for anyways. This is one of the (many) things about The Fabric Store that I love- everyone in the store is knowledgeable about the fabric and they also have really good taste, so whether you are looking for something specific or needing help narrowing down your options, they can steer you in the right direction. The color of this fabric is as brilliant in person as it is in the photos, it has a spectacular hand (soft with just the right amount of nub) and drape (a lot of body without being stiff) which works really well for this pair of pattern.

I didn’t use the waistband pieces of the Burda pattern, mostly because they made absolutely no sense to me- I couldn’t tell where they connected to each other and which piece was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead I decided to use my waistband from the Ginger Jeans pattern, which was already curved and adjusted to fit my waist perfectly; I shaved off a little of the width and it worked like a dream on these pants. I played around with the idea of adding belt loops but eventually nixed that idea because I wasn’t sure if I would actually wear a belt with them. After wearing them once I can say that a belt is totally unnecessary and I am so glad I didn’t do the extra work of adding them, cause sometimes I am just lazy.

brushing my shoulders off, obvs.

Now that I have successfully made a pair of pants using a fitting technique I had never tried before and a pattern company that I historically hate, I am feeling kind of unstoppable, like I need to make ALL the pants! I already have a project in mind for my next pair- I want them to be a high waisted wide leg pant in another fun color, like yellow or robin’s egg blue. I wish I had some of this raw silk in every color because it would work for SO many projects, and I can only imagine how beautifully it would sew up into a dress. But let me slow down and take it one cut of fabric at a time…I already have two #recarpetDIY projects on the horizon in addition to one of the Pattern Review winners for best dress of 2016 lined up in my queue. And I have like three pairs of shoes that I am ready to try my hand at, too, now that spring sandals are in all the shops and I am feeling newly inspired.

Sigh. Sew little time, sew many projects 😉

edit: OMG I forgot to say: The top is a Grainline Studios Lark Tee in a knit fabric from Michael Levine’s which was just too pretty not to buy when I went shopping there a couple months ago- didn’t blog about it because these tees are super easy and there isn’t much to say about them, but it’s a great pattern with lots of options and I love how this one turned out!

Swans and Svaneke No. 8

I mentioned this dress in a blog post from last year about my cool lemon two-piece #redcarpetDIY outfit. The two completed projects look quite different from one another but they came from the same pattern by How To Do Fashion, Savaneke No. 8. I won’t rehash all the details from the make since you can read them in the aforementioned post, but just as an overview, here is what I thought of the pattern:

  • nice versatility in the design which allows for several different looks within one pattern
  • some of the “views” included in the collection photos are actually pattern hacks whose instructions don’t come with the pattern- you have to hunt them down on the designer’s blog
  • the fit is a bit small in the shoulders and bust for me but overall the drafting matched my body fairly well
  • instructions are not very detailed and while this is fine for an experienced sewist who might have their own methods of construction, a beginning sewist might find them hard to follow
  • pattern designs are all classic, inspired and well-thought out vintage replicas

Once I discovered the How To Do Fashion blog and saw more of the pattern hacks available, I became slightly obsessed with the ruffled button band that she added to one of the views of this pattern; such a simple way to add some extra drama to a simple silhouette! Because this was a pattern hack, the actual construction information was even less clear than what came with the pattern and I had to do a lot of piecing-things-together to make it work.

For example, the original pattern (seen above in line drawings) includes three separates- a dirndl skirt, a crop top and a button up blouse with a peplum. But in this photo of one of the completed projects from the design (below), you can see that the peplum top has been attached to the skirt with the addition of a waistband. This look is technically a pattern hack (in addition to the ruffled button band that I added to my make) and therefore there is no information in the included instructions for how to make it. But the task didn’t seem all that difficult- at the very least I know how to sew a bodice onto a skirt!

Turns out this hack was a tiny bit trickier than I anticipated. Working entirely off of the photo, I pieced my dress together omitting the button band and adding the ruffle (which, by the way, was super easy to construct and fun to see come together). I realized in the middle of sewing the sleeves onto the bodice that I didn’t have a plan for how to get in and out of the dress. The dirndl skirt is drafted with a zipper at center back, but I had already cut my back bodice piece out on the fold and it was now too late to add a seam allowance to the back to insert a zipper that went from skirt to bodice. And unfortunately the way the bodice is drafted you can’t simply pull the dress over your head to get in and out of it- it’s too tight. So I decided to rotate my skirt so that it’s zipper would be on the side seam, and I extended the zipper up the bodice’s side seam to just underneath the arm. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze but I can successfully get the dress on and off with the side zip and front buttons undone. But because I altered the position of the skirt, I had a seam right down the front center of it. Thankfully this beautiful swan print fabric from Fabrika in Savannah, GA is just the right amount of busy when gathered at the waist that you don’t even notice the break in the fabric pattern. (Whew!)

I am still intrigued by how the designer made the blue striped dress above- from the angle of the photo you can’t tell if she stuck a zipper for the bodice on the other side of the dress facing away from the camera or in the back- or maybe she didn’t use one at all?? Doubtful, but I have seen greater magic in the sewing world. However she managed to do it, I am happy with the way that I configured mine and I am also thrilled that I somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the construction process so that I didn’t ruin the dress before figuring out how to make it wearable. I made the same size in this top as the yellow two piece number, but this top fit me much better and I am assuming it has to do with a little more give and flexibility in my cotton swan fabric than the thicker jaquard.

The only adjustment I made to the pattern (aside from the ruffled button band) was to take out a huge swath of fabric at the back bodice. I think the adjustment is technically for a swayback, which I have never had to use before. All I know is that when I initially sewed my bodice to my skirt, it was even all the way across the front and sides and then it drooped and pooled dramatically at my lower back, so much so that the skirt was several inches lower in the back than the front. Ultimately I raised the whole waistline of the dress higher because it was too low for my tastes, and I ended up taking out a full 3 inches + at center back and then tapered to nothing at the sides. It was such a weird shape and large quantity of fabric to cut out that I felt sure it was going to look noticeable and not sit right on my body, but it looks and feels totally fine so I guess I made the right alteration.

The only other issue I had with the dress was aligning my buttonholes the wrong way. For some reason I made horizontal ones instead of vertical ones, and because of how big my buttons are, they take up too much space across the width of the button band so there that is only a tiny fraction of fabric on either side of the holes I made, which means that that fabric can rip if I am not super careful with how I button the buttons. On top of that, the horizontal buttonholes allow the button band to spread open across my chest, which keeps the band edges from lining up properly. To fix this I installed some snaps in the middle of the bands and in between each button which keeps the band in place and it works beautifully, although it’s a pain to close the band with all those little notions lined up!

The frill around the button band would probably look better on a fabric with a less dramatic print- as it is now you can’t really see that detail too well because SWANS! But I don’t dislike the look of the frill at all and I totally going to stick a band on another button down shirt at some point in the future. My castmate Alano wore a gorgeous button up shirt the other day that had a frill along each button band, but his band was way smaller and more subdued than the one on my dress. It gave his shirt a nice visual pop without looking overdone or exaggerated and I would love to incorporate that into a make one day. Love getting inspiration from unexpected sources!

 

 

Janome Jem

Renee of Miss Celie’s Pants fame convinced me to write a little blog post on my experience with the Janome Jem since there are not a whole lot of info/reviews about it online, and she is basically my all-things-sewing-blog guru, so of course I had to do it!

Back in August I found out that I would be living in Savannah, GA for three months. I travel a lot for work, but I hadn’t had to do an extended stay out of town in several years, so I was ill prepared to say the least. Although I have owned at least one sewing machine since my college days, it is only in the past 4 years that sewing has become an indispensable artistic outlet for me, so my first thought was to get my hands on a travel sewing machine that I could tote around with me on this and all future out-of-town jobs lasting longer than a week. Although production hours are generally long and arduous, there can be a lot of down time in between shooting days, and being bored on location is something I have struggled with in the past, so I was excited to have something fun to do with all my extra time in Savannah.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJ0g9X5hzaA/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

I did a bit of googling online to try and find a machine that stood out to me, but I was overwhelmed. I like to do a lot of research and price checking before I make almost any online purchase, but with less than a week til I was leaving LA and with so much packing to do, I didn’t have as much time I would have liked. But Renee came to the rescue!!!! She is that one friend who keeps her eyes and ears out for virtually any item at any time and stores it all in some file cabinet in her brain, just in case she or someone else needs the information in the future. This has worked out in my favor more than once in our friendship so far and I feel very thankful for her friendship and know-how!

I wrote an IG post (which is the social media outlet that has also become indispensable to me ever since I got rid of my facebook account) asking if anyone had suggestions on a good travel sewing machine and of course Renee piped in with a few great ideas. I am a bit of a sucker for cute design aesthetics, and if you do a simple google search for “mini sewing machine” you can see how inundated I was with tiny machines in bright pastel colors with adorably rounded edges. The mini John Lewis machine in particular caught my eye and was co-signed by a couple of my IG followers, but Renee steered me clear of that one (I’m sure it’s a great machine, but I needed something I could make JEANS on!)

I tried to focus less on the appearance of the machine and instead on how well it worked and how many bells and whistles it could combine with a lightweight body. I knew that at the end of the day I would rather have a regular-looking workhorse sewing machine that could do almost everything my Bernina 350 does than one that was super cute but couldn’t handle the type of sewing I would need it for. And that’s how I we settled on the Janome Jem, which was Renee’s very first suggestion. I have a Janome serger that I bought used on CL several years ago that I LOVELOVELOVE (it took everything in my power not to pack it up and bring it with me on my travels) so I knew what a fine name it was, but not all machines, even within the same brand, are created equal. Thankfully the Janome Jem Gold did not disappoint!

I can’t remember why Renee had this machine on her radar, but we talked about a few other machines when we were trying to narrow my options, specifically trying to get my hands on a Singer featherweight. Obviously I would love to own such a machine at some point in my life, but finding one in the used-machine market that was affordable and didn’t need a lot of work during my time restraints seemed like an arduous task, and I still hadn’t even finished packing! Ultimately we also decided that, although used machines are awesome and I personally prefer to buy used over new, it made more sense to get a new machine for my needs. Buying new took out a lot of the guesswork and since I didn’t have a car in Savannah, it would not have been easy to get a vintage or used machine tuned up or fixed if something went awry with it. The price point for the Janome Jem was right in line with what I was looking to spend (I paid less than $250 for it on amazon) and it offered a decent selection of stitches without adding too much weight/bulk to the body. This machine has 8 stitches which you can access manually by turning a dial, including 2 stretch stitches/ zigzags and an overlock stitch, and it also had a button hole maker, which was a necessity for me since my first project was to complete six Grainline Archer button down shirts for Claire (one is not pictured below because it got finished after this photo was taken).

Speaking of bulk/weight, this was my main concern when buying a travel sewing machine- I really wanted it to be lightweight. I didn’t want a toy machine that was 6 pounds or anything, but I wanted something that I could conceivably put in a carry-on suitcase that wouldn’t slow me down too much. A lot of the “travel” and “mini” sewing machines that I found online were actually much heavier than I imagined they would be, but the Janome Jem came in at 14.1 pounds, which was one of the most lightweight machines I read about that combined as many bells and whistles as it did: again, 8 stitches and a 4 step buttonhole maker, plus a bobbin winder, needle threader, top loading bobbin, and (some) metal parts.

At the time, I thought the downside of the machine was that you couldn’t change the length or width on the stitches, which seemed limiting- the machine offers a tight straight stitch, a regular straight stitch and a basting stitch, with about the same amount of options for zigzags (although surprisingly this machine does come with a triple zigzag, something even my Bernina doesn’t have). I wondered how much this would affect my sewing, in the event that I needed more than three lengths of a straight or zigzag stitch for a project. But after using the machine for a few weeks, I realized this wasn’t a downside at all; in reality I didn’t need any more options than what came with the machine. Obviously I used the regular straight stitch and the basting stitches most often, and I used the tighter straight stitch once or twice, but the real surprise was getting so much good use out of the zig zag stitches.

Because I didn’t have a serger with me, I had assumed that I wouldn’t even attempt to sew knits, but somehow I ended up packing in my sewing suitcase a fresh cut of a Liberty floral knit that The Fabric Store started carrying right before I left town, and I couldn’t bear to let it sit so long untouched! I know how to sew knits on a regular machine, I just never have the need for it because my serger does it so much better, but for the sake of turning that fabric into something wearable, I dusted off my knit-sewing skills and zigzagged my way through a Closet Case Files’ Sallie Maxi Dress. And you know what? The dress came out great! It doesn’t have the same streamlined look on the insides as it would had I used a serger, but it still looks tidy and it has held up beautifully with a lot of wear!

In addition to sewing the knit maxi, I also used the zig zag functions to sew up a couple of bra and panty sets and a Named Patterns Sointu Tee– all came out really beautifully. But my most impressive project was to sew a pair of jeans from start to finish on this machine. As anyone who has sewn jeans can attest to, working on a sturdy, powerful machine is half the battle; those denim layers get really thick and hard to navigate under a sewing foot. But the Janome Jem handled my medium weight denim like a champ, including all the top stitching, and I actually had more trouble pounding my rivets and buttons in without my normal tools than I had constructing the actual pants.

Finally, it’s important to note what the machine feels like to sew on. Because it’s fairly lightweight I was worried it would be jumping and dancing around my sewing table as soon as I pressed the pedal, but that was not the case at all. It is a surprisingly sturdy machine, and the one I bought came with a special rubber mat to use underneath it, keeping it from sliding around on slippery surfaces. The machine is quieter than I thought it would be, and really smooth. It came equipped with a couple of feet but I had others to use on it too (they are snap-on) and everything worked well. I was particularly fond of the ease with which it makes its zig zags; some machines can be a little jerky when the needle is operating in anything other than a straight stitch, but this beauty zig zagged efficiently and smoothly. Compared to my Bernina, this machine was just as smooth to sew on and only a tiny bit louder, but compared to my 1950’s Singer, it is practically silent!

So YAY for the Janome Jem! I plan to use this machine to loan out to friends who might need to use one short term or who are looking to learn on something simple and user-friendly.

Now, aside from reviewing the sewing machine, I also wanted to write a little about my adventures in sewing “on the road” as it were, although technically I wasn’t really on the road very often, but rather stationary in a place that was not my craft room. I tried to be very deliberate in how and what I packed for my three months away because I tend to overpack, which is something I am very self conscious about, being that I am married to someone who could probably travel with little more than a knapsack on a 2 month long journey (this past Christmas is the first time I have checked a bag on a non-business trip in like 7 years, and it was all because I couldn’t fit my Vogue coat in anything smaller).

 

Anyways, one suitcase (the larger one) was all clothes, shoes, accessories and toiletries, and the medium sized suitcase was all sewing stuff- fabric, notions, tools, etc. I packed my sewing machine into my carry-on along with my portable rice cooker (who can spend three months without perfect rice??) Three suitcases for three months- not bad considering I was bringing along half my craft room!

 

In being deliberate about what I packed, I also made sure to plan out what projects I could conceivably tackle while I was away. I brought a pattern for every cut of fabric I packed, plus a couple more in case I bought any fabric while in Savannah (which I did). I knew I wanted to work on perfecting my boned bodice construction, so I brought steel boning in addition to wire cutters- that was the one “splurge” in my suitcase. Everything else I brought was for general sewing and I used almost every single item at least once. My sewing box included but was not limited to:

  • chalk pens
  • needles and magnetic holder
  • safety pins
  • machine needles for stretch, silk, denim and regular cotton fabrics
  • a couple of zippers that matched the fabric I brought
  • thread in several shaded
  • enough buttons for 6 Archer shirts
  • tape for PDF patterns
  • Fray-Stop fabric glue for buttonholes
  • seam ripper
  • separate scissors for fabric and paper
  • ribbon for waist stays (I just realized that I didn’t end up using these!)
  • horse hair braid for stabilizing a hem (didn’t use this either)
  • clothing tags
  • transfer paper
  • beeswax
  • a sewing gift from Oona
  • boning casing

I used every single fabric I originally brought with me except for one, although when I got to go back to LA briefly after a month in Savannah, I got more fabric to bring back with me, and not all of that got used- but it was close! For a bunch of reasons that I wont get into here, I ended up moving 5 times during my first month in Savannah before I got settled in a very cute (and possibly haunted, even though I don’t really believe in ghosts) apartment downtown. So my efficient packing was put to the test several times as I changed rooms and hotels. But sewing in a hotel room was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be, and was actually fairly comfortable.

My first order of business was to make sure everything had a place and there was no clutter, so I got rid of everything the hotel likes to stack on the desk (phone, hotel services binder, notepads and pens, etc.) and put my machine and mat there. I used the tiny coffee table as my main cutting/construction area, but I would occasionally have to move to the floor, which I hated because hotel carpets are sketchy and it would wreak havoc on my back. I placed a couple of plastic bags around the room so that I could put my threads, scraps and sewing detritus in them easily- I didn’t want the people who cleaned the hotel rooms to have extra work to do on account of my hobby. And that was pretty much all she wrote!

After I moved out of the hotel and into my apartment, sewing got even easier because the space was bigger and there was a ribs-high dining table that I could cut my fabric on, which meant I could stand up while doing it (less floor cutting for me). There was also a large desk in the living room which could hold my machine and my sewing box with plenty of extra space left over. It was a super comfortable set up, and although I missed my large cutting table and my rotary cutter like nobody’s business, I was able to get a lot of really great sewing done during my three months. I never figured out a good way to photograph myself wearing my makes because I didn’t bring our good camera or the tripod, and I was usually too embarrassed to ask someone to take photos of me (one of my many downfalls). So a lot of the photos of my completed projects were taken once I was back home. But below is a play-by-play of everything that got made on Savannah soil. Hopefully this can serve as a little inspiration for any of you other sewcialists interested in making things #sewnawayfromhome!

Lemon Print Jaquard Dress:

Svaneke No. 8 Dress in Swan fabric (haven’t blogged this yet):

Pink Wool Kelly Anorak:

Bleached Denim High-Waist Morgan Jeans:

Alamada Kimono Robe:

Striped Organza Party Dress:

Brillant Bouquet Dress:

Kimono Tee by Named Patterns (unblogged):

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNBHg_GBi75/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

These Cloth Habit Watson Bra and Panty sets (unblogged):

Black&Blue&Luxe #watsonbraandbikini with lace from @tailormadeshop ❤️

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

https://www.instagram.com/p/BMUhItzBV7C/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

my first pair of knitted socks (unblogged):

Obligatory Sock Finishment Photo ™

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@jasikaistrycurious) on

Sallie Maxi Dress (unblogged):

 

 

 

 

 

Bag(s) Lady

 

I love making bags but for some reason I don’t post my completed projects here on my blog very often, with the exception of these roll top bags I made a couple of years ago. Bags are super fun to make because they take less time to complete than most garments, there are no fitting adjustments that need to be made for it to come out “right” so satisfaction is more than likely guaranteed, you can use up scraps from your stash, and you get to work with really fun notions and hardware like D rings and swivel clips, YAAAAAAAY! In addition, for beginner sewists, bags are great projects to help you get used to certain sewing techniques without feeling overwhelmed.

Before Christmas I finished the Maker’s Tote by Noodlehead patterns to house all my in-progress knit projects, and it turned out pretty great (although I rushed through it towards the end so I could get back to my Vogue Coat and as a result, some of the finishing details are not quite as precise as I would like).

I found out that in addition to being an excellent home for my craft projects, it’s also a pretty fantastic travel bag, what with all the inside pockets and roomy space inside. All it needs is an additional long strap to throw over my shoulder when running through the airport, and who knows, I might actually get around to adding that at some point.

 

But this post isn’t really about the Maker’s Tote, it’s about the Swoon Masie Bowler Bag that I just finished. Swoon first came across my radar last year when I was looking for bag patterns to pin on my pinterest board and I discovered the Bag-Of-Month club. It’s a club that you have to buy into for a flat fee, and every two months for a year you get a new design by a reputable bag designer delivered to your inbox for a total of 6 bags. You don’t know what the designs will be before you buy in to the club, and the patterns are not available for individual purchase until after the pattern has been released to the club members. This is such a fun idea for people who LOVE sewing up bags (or who love hoarding patterns, or both). The patterns range from really excellent and innovative designs to run-of-the-mill plain totes (easy construction) with embellishments on them, and even though I am not the right demographic for the club since I only make a couple of bags a year, it’s been fun to check in with the club online and see which patterns have been released and what people have made with them. Swoon is one of the better designed brands that participates in the club and I finally purchased their Masie Bowler bag pattern after oohing and ahhing over it for months (I’m pretty sure that this other bag of theirs will also be in my future- I am so in love with their clever use of fabric choice)!

I purchased the pattern with absolutely no vision of what my completed bag would look like until a couple of months later. On a trip to Michael Levine’s where I was hunting for fabric for a gift for my sister-in-law, I came across a display of beautiful hand woven mudcloth.  I have always loved mudcloth but I had never seen any in stores for purchase before. It was so hard to choose a fabric; each was so simple but so well designed, and they were sold by the piece as opposed to by the yard. Ultimately I chose one with a larger print (I really like the way large prints look on smaller items) and I am really happy with the layout- I made sure to highlight a different part of the pattern on each side of my bag.

 

With bag making you have a lot of room for design choices and mixing different kinds of textures and fabrics together, and I wanted the mudcloth on my bag to be the highlight of the piece so I ignored the recommended contrast fabric suggestions in the pattern and used mudcloth for the exterior main, upper panel and gusset pieces. I also decided not to use woven fabric or vinyl for my contrast pieces and instead used leather from a big piece I bought from The Fabric Store about a year ago. It is so beautiful and although I use it sparingly, it has gone a long way- I used it for the wallet I made for Claire in addition to straps and bottom pieces for a few other accessories I have worked on over the past year (when I find the right pair of flat lasts I am going to use the rest of it for a pair of shoes). I really love working with leather but I am going to start keeping my eyes out for used leather clothing so that I can up-cycle the material instead of buying new pieces of it.

Anyways, using leather really upped the sophistication of this bag, but as you can imagine it was a real %#&(&*&$ to sew! There are a few things I could have done to make this a bit easier, namely skive the seam allowances of all the leather pieces making them thinner and therefore much easier to manipulate. But hindsight is 20/20 and by the time I realized that skiving would be a good idea, all my leather pieces were basted to their Soft n’Stable counterparts already. And I was too lazy to take them apart. Let’s be honest, my laziness is almost ALWAYS the main culprit in situations like these. As a result, sewing the corners of the bag turned out to be QUITE A FEAT, because I had to contend with curves and three layers of leather. And for the record, sewing the corners of bags is always a trying thing to do whether you use leather or not- it takes a surprising amount of upper body strength to maneuver all those layers and whenever I finish a bag I find myself feeling a little sorer in my arms and neck than usual. Skiving my leather would not only have helped ease the difficulty in sewing the thick pieces together, but it would have also helped the finished bag sit better. With leather as thick as this, you can’t really “press” seams in any direction, you can just gently hammer them down with a rubber mallet and hope for the best. If my edges had been thinner, they would have settled into their curved shapes a more easily. As it stand, the leather seams of my bag are very “thick”, and they don’t really flatten out very well on the sides or bottom. I’m okay with it though- I know now how to make it work better next time and Claire has assured me that this bag is still impressive (her exact words were “you could sell this in a shop and people would but it!” lol).

The instructions for this bag are excellent and I didn’t find one mistake or typo in the whole thing, but they do not take into consideration the option of using leather (maybe the designer is vegan?) so I had to figure out a lot of things on my own and make mods for the differences in my material- not a big deal, just an important thing to note. Namely I had to forgo the side pockets on the outside of the bag- 5 layers of leather plus Soft and Stable would have been too much fabric for my machine to accurately sew through. I also needed to change the way I made the handles and strap. Instead of folding the edges towards the middle and top stitching the edges , I just cut out leather in the dimensions for the final pieces because I knew the leather would be strong enough. After using the bag for a full day, I realized that, though the leather was strong enough on it’s own, normal wear would distort the shape of the straps over time, so I have since added a backing to both the shoulder and hand straps and they are much sturdier now- everything looks the same except the straps have the deep brown leather on both sides.

For my lining fabric, I used a beautiful Ankara print that I found on my fabric buying spree with Marcy and Renee last summer. I don’t remember where we got this fabric from- it was one of those random spots in the fashion district with lots of sequined laces in the store windows. I would never have thought to stop inside if Marcy had not steered us in there, but she is an amazing fabric tour guide! The guy inside gave me a kind of pervy vibe and was DROOLING over poor Marcy, who was able to maintain a perfectly friendly smile on her face for as long as it took me to find what I wanted and get a good deal. That girl is a GEM, I tell ya! I have a lot of this fabric left over and I think I might make either a tea length dirndl or pleated skirt from it. I love the image of this woman’s face peeking out of my bag and would love even more to have her adorning my legs as I swish around this city.

 

I wish I had changed the way I made the front and back embellishments on the bag and just cut out the pieces in the final shape of the connector instead of following instructions to fold the top edges in and then under, which created a lot of bulk (even though I did think to skive those pieces). I think those instructions are made to make the vinyl stronger where they connect to the rectangle rings for the straps, but since I used thick leather I totally didn’t need to reinforce the edges like that. Ultimately they look just fine, and the only crappy looking part is where I had to sew those thick edges down underneath the rectangle hardware- the machine sewing is SO wonky here because I was using a zipper foot AND sewing very thick pieces together, but I have decided that the wonkiness adds to the charm (can you tell that I am NOT a sewing perfectionist??)

I didn’t add much to this bag that wasn’t in the design already except for these purse feet, which I love!!!! I wish I had been doing this on all my bags that I have made, so I am telling YOU to add them on all of yours so you don’t have to miss out. Ok, back to what I left off: in addition to leaving off the side pockets, I also decided to leave off the top stitching and the piping embellishments on the outside edges of the bag, which is a shame because I really love the way the piping looks. But I knew that the additional piping fabric and top stitches would make sewing the leather pieces even more difficult, and I also thought that design-wise, piping might add too much fussiness to the look. I love the way this bag looks so I don’t regret any of my editing choices, but I would love to make a future bag in all woven fabric so that I can add all the cool little embellishments that I missed out on.

This bag didn’t take too long to make and I am really happy with it, warts, wonky stitching and all ! Aside from making smarter choices when working with my leather so that the bag would hold it’s shape better, I wouldn’t change anything at all about it and it’s such a good size for me! I rarely leave the house with more than a wallet, phone, keys and sunglasses, and this housed all of the above today when I used it for the first time, in addition to some sides and some junk mail. Oh, and my iPad. Oh, and snacks! Damn, this bag fit a lot into it now that I think about it- I love it even more now. I appreciate that the design has a shoulder strap in addition to handles because I use both of them to carry my bags around pretty regularly. This bag takes up a very small amount of fabric so I still have quite a bit of mudcloth left over. Not entirely sure what I am gonna make with it, but an obvious choice are throw pillows, either for myself or as a gift. I’ll try and remember to share whatever becomes of the remaining fabric here on the blog or on instagram!

 

 

Candy Stripes and Wood Grain

7blogAt long last, the dress that has, for months, been a mere a vision in my head, is finally ready for it’s debut! I made this entire dress in Savannah and when I was able to make it back home to LA in September for a quick trip, I got some photos of it since I don’t have a great photo-taking setup on location. Because of some wonky scheduling, I wasn’t able to hem the bottom of the dress in time, so it pools a bit around my feet in these photos. But never fear, the dress is hemmed now and ready for some party action!

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The fabrics are from The Fabric Store in Los Angeles and were purchased with some very specific qualities in mind. As I discussed in my post here, the first iteration of this dress was kind of a disaster because I got all the wrong fabrics for the type of garment I was making. Thankfully I was able to salvage the skirt, but the underdress fabric was meant to be used as a lining so it didn’t have enough body or stability to work as a bodice with boning attached as I intended. For my second try at this dress, I searched for a fabric with a heavier/sturdier hand, and I found it in this midnight blue Moiree textile (I am pretty sure the fibers are silk, but I don’t remember what the tag specified). Anyways, I don’t know much about this type of fabric but apparently one of it’s qualities is that it has a very subtle woodgrain-looking imprint across it, and I think it’s stunning. It gives the under dress just a little more depth without overpowering the bold striped print I chose for the overskirt.

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The striped overskirt might be a printed organza and if it isn’t, it feels exactly like one so that’s how I will refer to it in the rest of this post. The fabric is stiff and transparent and it has a lot of body. This is what was missing in the pink dress I initially tried to make with this design in mind- my fabric choice for the overskirt was a barely see-through cotton with a swingy drape, and it didn’t offer enough contrast in color or texture to the underdress fabric I used. I had also chosen the wrong kind of skirt pattern for it- the overskirt for my pink dress was cut as a 3/4 circle skirt which laid down over the underdress without providing much variance to the fabric beneath. For my second dress, I gathered the waist of the organza instead of cutting it into a circle skirt, so the body of the fabric poofs out at the waistline, showing a definite contrast between the slim fitting pencil skirt underneath. Also, because the organza is more see-through than the pink appliqued fabric I initially used, the deep blue color of my underdress pops a lot more.

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In terms of fabric choice, I made all the right decisions this time around, but I think this dress still needs a little bit of tweaking for fit. Either the bodice is not fitted to me as perfectly as I thought it was or the Moiree fabric has stretched out a tiny bit after all my trying on and adjusting, ORRRRR I might just need to find a better pattern?

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I am very happy with the way this dress looks and the general silhouette is spot-on, but I would love to extend my understanding of boned bodices. My only experience with them so far is what I learned from Gertie’s latest Ultimate Dress book, which is where both the bodice and pencil skirt patterns came from. While I think her overview and instructions are a great starting point, I am ready for more information/extensive patterns for my future strapless bodices. I am sure that part of this comes from having to wear a corset all day for work- and for the record, I HAAAAAATE my corset and find it incredibly uncomfortable and claustrophobic- but I do think there is a middle ground between the boned and tightly tied corset for the show and the measly fit of the bodice for this dress. I think it could be a bit sturdier and hug my body more than it currently does. If anyone has some suggestions on supportive strapless bodice patterns/ boning tutorials that could push me further along my boned-bodice-making journey, I would be thrilled to hear about them!

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Aside from finding a more elaborate bodice pattern, the other thing I would change about this dress is the shape of the overskirt. I got three yards of the striped organza fabric but since I had to use almost the whole length of it, I didn’t have much space for cutting out the proper shape. I will definitely keep the gathers at the waist but next time I will make it more A-line in shape so that it floats out a bit wider at the bottom of the skirt than at the top. I attempted to give it this shape when I cut it out, but again, I ran out of fabric, so the difference in the width of the fabric from top to bottom is very subtle. I also made a mistake in cutting out the fabric for the over skirt so the seams are in odd places- one is in the back middle of the skirt but the other one is on the side, and there is not another one on the other side to balance it out, lol. I think it’s completely unnoticeable unless you are a sewer looking very carefully at the inner workings of the dress, so it doesn’t bother me much, but I would still be sure to plan out the overskirt panels more carefully next time. I also plan to insert some tiny snaps to close the opening of the overskirt at the back seam. I didn’t want to have the zipper connect to the overskirt because I wanted to maintain the poofiness of the organza all the way around the dress, so I left an inch or so of extra fabric peeking out of the edges when I sewed the waist, then I folded the raw edges in and kept them separate from the zipper seams when I sewed the zipper in.

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This dress has a real party-vibe to it and I love the unexpected color combination of the stripes on the midnight blue! I wrote this post a few weeks ago and had it in my publishing queue, and now looking back at the photos, I am curious to see what the dress would look like if I chopped the outer skirt off at the knee, to maybe just a few inches past the length of the underskirt. Not sure if that would look better or worse, but I probably shouldn’t make any significant changes to this dress until I wear it at least once as-is and see what it feels like and how I respond to wearing it! My #redcarpetDIY makes have really been piling up lately and I have been out of town and working too much to show them off anywhere- hopefully that will change after the holidays and I will have ample opportunities to get these garments some wear! Which reminds me, I have about 20 uncut pounds of a gorgeous wool coating and a deep gray satin lining to make myself a floor length coat fit for dressy occasions in wintry months that I haven’t done anything with- I guess I know what my first project of the new year will be (cue coat-making panic)!

A Star in a Kimono-Inspired Robe

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Someone is completely upstaging the actual handmade item in this blog post, but I don’t mind. How could you possibly mind? She is just so stunning!

I feel very lucky to be sharing a screen for the next couple of months with the lovely and superbly talented Jess DeGouw. I guess I just have a thing for Aussies, because she reminds me a lot of my old friend and Fringe cast mate John. They are both so warm and smart and thoughtful, and incredibly generous to all the people around them- she has inspired me to both give more and relax more on set, and I enjoy all the time I get to spend with her, whether sitting next to each other in our cast chairs gabbing about interior decorating or sitting in a coffee shop walking her through the steps of how to cast off (I taught her how to knit a few weeks ago and within days she had already completed a beautiful scarf- she is such a natural!) Anyways, I shyly asked her this morning if she would mind posing for a few pictures in this robe I had just finished sewing and she thankfully said yes. We set up some quick shots of her wearing the robe with the sun streaming through her windows, and although my photography skills don’t do Jess nearly enough justice, I am so pleased with how these turned out. But again, could you expect anything less with that face???

OK, if you want to keep gushing about Jess, the star in the robe, you should catch up on her work in season one of WGN’s Undeground, which is how I was first introduced to her. You will LOVE her!

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This is the Almada pattern from Seamwork, which has been on my to-do list since the very first time I saw it last year. I love how it’s a simple design with simple lines but the overall look packs such a dynamic punch; it’s simply beautiful, and now that I have made it I am definitely having a bit of trouble deciding whether I should use it as a house robe as I initially intended or wear it around the city as a light jacket. I suppose I could do both but that feels weird. House clothes are house clothes, and never the twain shall meet!

I have talked here before about how the Seamwork patterns are so pretty and styled so elegantly, but because of their simple designs, many of them require a bit more thought and attention in construction to make them work for my body. Fortunately this is a project that doesn’t fall into that category. The sizing is pretty general (XS-XL) and since it doesn’t hug the body tightly anywhere there isn’t much room for error if you fit into the measurements provided. The design is simple enough that you can make some easy adjustments/additions to the pattern without sacrificing the integrity of the original look (or you can also also completely sacrifice it- who cares?? when you sew, the world is your oyster!)

 

I got this bright pique fabric from The Fabric Store, and I loved it because it had a great texture on the right side which reminded me of waffle-textured towels. It is somewhere between a medium to heavy weight fabric while still feeling breathable; it seemed really fitting for a house robe! The color is as brilliant in real life as it looks in the photos, and definitely should have been washed separately on cold when I pre-washed it- unfortunately I was in a rush and stuck it in the wash with several other pieces of laundry, and then they all came out bright blue! I was able to color correct most of the items with a dye-out product whose name I cannot remember, but I should have known better: anything this brilliant needs it’s own bath 😉

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Because of the texture of the fabric, the raw edges get pretty messy quickly, but I don’t have my serger with me in Savannah. Instead, I bought some awesome bias tape from this store on etsy to use for all the raw edges on the inside. I know, I know- I can make my own bias tape, but I am lazy, I didn’t bring my bias tape makers with me, and I love supporting small indie craft shops when I have the chance.

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Besides enclosing all my raw seams with tape, I raised the ties on the front of the robe by a couple of inches- as drafted, they were really low on me and instead of cinching the fabric around my waist, it made the robe tight around my hips and butt, which felt completely unnatural and uncomfortable. I also decided to add a long neckline band around the front sides and back, more like a traditional house robe would have. It was the only thing I didn’t like about the original pattern- the sleeves had these beautiful cuffs that made a visual connection to the robe ties, which made the neckline look a little plain to me. I cut one long piece of fabric about 3.5 inches wide that matched the length of the robe opening and sewed it onto the neckline of the robe, then closed the raw seam with bias tape, and topstitched it flat to the underside of the robe so that it wouldn’t flip up easily. It lays down perfectly flat against my neck and feels super comfortable.

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The only other thing I will change is to add two big pockets to either side of the front of the robe- I didn’t have a chance to cut them out and sew them before I got these photos, so you can just imagine them for now. In wearing this robe over the past couple of days, it was clear that I needed some storage on this baby- I think I might have even dropped a chapstick down my side, only realizing that I didn’t have an actual pocket for it to fall into as it crashed to the floor.

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I am so thrilled that I finally marked this pretty pattern off of my list, and I am glad that I went against the grain and chose such a unique fabric to sew this in- she looks so different than all the other really beautiful versions of Almada I have seen, and I think she was worth the wait! Thanks again to Jess for being such a good sport and letting me capitalize on her charm and beauty for my own selfish reasons 😉

My Inner Debbie Allen

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A few months ago I had a really grand idea for a dress design. It was comprised of a strapless bodice attached to a fitted pencil skirt with a sheer, flowy overlay at the waist- the dress equivalent of a mullet, but with business AND a party on the bottom. I knew that this dress wouldn’t be difficult to make because I had all the pattern blocks I needed, each tested and tweaked from Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book: a strapless bodice, a pencil skirt, and various versions of a full-bodied skirt depending on the fabric I decided to use.

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On my August trip to The Fabric Store I came across this really cool mauve-colored cotton that I fell in love with (I am sure this type of fabric has a name, but I don’t know what it is). Essentially it has a sheer cotton background with appliques made of the same sheer fabric and cut in the shape of flowers that are placed on top. I thought it would look beautiful as my sheer overlay skirt, so then I searched the store for the perfect accompaniment fabric from which to make the fitted dress. I came across a polyester blend in Barbie pink- it had a tiny bit of sparkle and what I thought at the time was a nice, stable body, but it turns out that was just wishful thinking; the pink polyester was much more suitable as a lining, but I didn’t figure this out until the entire dress was made and I stood in my mirror with a dispirited look on my face. The bodice was fully lined with several tracks of boning attached to the lining, but the outer fabric was just too thin and showed each pucker, nip and tuck of the structure underneath. It gaped and folded at odd places and looked cheap (not as a fabric by itself, but in the way I had tried to manipulate it). Add to this my lack of care in working with the synthetic fiber (read: I TRIED TO IRON POLYESTER) and you can imagine the frustration it brought me. But the pink polyester fabric for the bodice/pencil skirt was not the only ill-fated choice I had made in the construction of the dress. The mauve overskirt fabric, while gorgeous on it’s own, either wasn’t sheer enough (or the Barbie pink fabric not bold enough) to show the details of the pencil skirt of the dress underneath, so my shiny pink fabric ended up getting lost anyways. My choice of using a circle skirt for the overlay pattern was also misguided- the shape didn’t serve as a big enough contrast to the pencil skirt underneath. From far away it looked fine, I guess, but up close, and in comparison to the dress I had imagined in my head, it was a disaster.

But I didn’t consider it a total loss- I had a good idea of what I needed to do to make this style of dress work, and step one was to abandon this pink failure and start over from scratch. On my next trip to The Fabric Store I immediately found the perfect fabric to use as my overlay, a completely sheer organza- type fabric with colorful bold stripes printed across it, and then I searched the shelves for a more appropriate fabric to use for the bodice/pencil skirt combo underneath. A midnight blue, full bodied (yes, like wine!) fabric that is apparently called Noil Silk, but looks like an imprint of woodgrain to me, ended up fitting the bill for my underdress, and this time, I made ALL the right decisions and the dress is a success! But more on this project in a future post!

After all that work, I was stuck with a pink polyester mess attached to a beautiful overlay skirt. Like most sewers, I hate to throw away nice fabric that I have inadvertently sewn into a disaster, but the overlay skirt was particularly difficult to think of getting rid of. It had taken me a couple of hours to figure out how to eek out a circle skirt from my cut of fabric (I seem to always err on the side of too little rather than too much when determining yardage) and I had just BARELY managed to make it work. And then I had spent a lot of time creating beautiful french seams for the inside since they would be seen through the sheer fabric. And it was all for nothing! But alas, I realized a few days later after heaving the pink dress into a corner of my craft room that if I had enough fabric leftover, I might be able to create a waistband for the skirt and just wear it as a separate… and I could maybe even get some semblance of the original silhouette I had in mind, depending on what I wore with it.

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During my first trip home after almost a month in Savannah, tackling this project was the very first thing on my mind! I carefully removed the polyester bodice/pencil skirt dress from the overlay and the zipper it had been attached to and proceeded to cut out two simple rectangles for the waistband (one for the outer band and one for the facing) in the width I wanted, plus seam allowance. Because my fabric is sheer, I lined it with some organza silk I had in my stash to give it stability instead of using interfacing, then I sewed everything together and attached an invisible zipper. I was worried that the fabric would be too lightweight to hold a zipper without puckering at the seams, but it held it’s shape just fine. Since I had re-sewn the pieces of the circle skirt and the edges seemed to be a little uneven, I let it hang overnight so the bias could re-acclimate to it’s new shape, and I evened out the edges and hemmed it the next day.

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To complete this look, I paired it with a Nettie bodysuit I made from a Closet Case Files pattern a couple of years ago. I was hoping the deep color of the bodysuit would give just enough contrast with the mauve to show through the skirt so that I could fully channel my inner-Debbie Allen, and I think it works beautifully. This is another look I have always loved and never found the RTW items to pull off: a maxi dress/skirt with bloomers underneath. The look came back on my radar after I saw a few scenes of Netflix’s show The Get Down. In all of the big disco scenes they shot, there are TONS of stunning outfits on the actors, but the all white maxi dress with the hip-high slit in the middle and the white bloomers peeking through was PERFECTION. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and this skirt and bodysuit for me is a much more casual iteration of that look. Eventually I would love to go full out and make a dramatic RedCarpetDIY version of that dress, but for now, this is a nice, safe stepping stone to the look.

 

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Even though this dress didn’t turn out the way I intended it to, it feels like a massive success. For one thing, I was able to learn from all the mistakes I made on this dress and apply my knowledge to a new version of the dress by starting over (if at first you don’t succeed, trycurious again!), and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the make was not a total loss. I have talked about this before on the blog, but figuring out how to salvage my mess-ups, how to Tim Gunn it and make it work, how to make lemonade out of lemons, has shown me exactly how far my sewing has come in the few years that I have made it my main hobby. Sewing requires such a vast array of knowledge and techniques that it seems impossible to ever to get to a point where anyone knows it ALL, so to be reminded that I haven’t hit a wall and am continuing to learn more feels really good.

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My film Suicide Kale will be screening in Atlanta this weekend (check out www.suicidekale.com to find out more info!) and this outfit will be making it’s debut there! When filming a show, particularly on location like Underground, it’s rare to have opportunities for red carpet and PR events, so it seems a little ridiculous that I have focused ONLY on #redcarpetDIY makes in the past couple of months. But at the same time, if fancy fabrics are what grab you, it only make sense to go with them. So excited to high kick in this getup at the panel discussion after the screening, just to make Debbie Allen proud!

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Sophie Swimsuit by ClosetCaseFiles

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The first swimsuit I ever made was three years ago, and I didn’t use a pattern. Blame it on complete ignorance or unfounded optimism or both, but I, like many veterans of the sewing community, have a tendency to jump headfirst into difficult projects without realizing how unlikely I am at being successful with them. This is one of the best benefits of being a newbie at something: often your lack of experience keeps you from telling yourself “no”, and before you know it, you have learned a whole lot of lessons to help you on your next try.

My first attempt was far from perfect, seeing as how I had no pattern or instructions to follow. I took apart a beloved vintage-style two-piece that I got from a store called Unique Vintage and had worn til it was nearly threadbare. I drew pictures and made notes on the order in which things were put together, tracing the carefully deconstructed pattern pieces onto new swimsuit lycra and re-constructing the pieces bit by bit. My biggest obstacle was not quite understanding how to apply elastic properly- I had never made a bra or underwear before, and my tension when inserting it onto the edges of the lycra was always either too tight or too loose- I had to pick the zig zag stitches out and start over several times. But the end result was still pretty successful: I made a complete two piece bathing suit that was wearable and, dare I say, flattering! The only thing I didn’t like about it was the crotch- my pattern piece for the gusset was off for some reason, and it looked loose and had a weird shape to it. But that didn’t keep me from proudly wearing it all two times that I went swimming that season (I am not a water baby but I love me a cute bathing suit)!

Next I tried the same technique on a vintage swimsuit I found at a thrift store that was too baggy from previous wear but had really cool design lines and a super flattering fit. This attempt was much less successful, probably because the template I was using from the deconstructed suit was already misshapen, but I got a much better understanding of how to use my elastic successfully.

A couple years after that, I tried my hand at finally using a pattern by turning an Ohhh Lulu bra and panty set into a bathing suit, exchanging the recommended fabric for swimsuit lycra and mesh lining and making a couple of adjustments with the elastics. It came out even better than my first suit, and this time the bottoms were a perfect fit, but the top wasn’t quite right. Again, still wearable and flattering, but without that perfect professional fit that I was looking for. The good thing about all these swimsuit attempts was that I had learned a lot on my own through trial and error and experimentation, and by the time I started making bras and underwear from indie patterns, I was already familiar with a lot of the techniques so construction was ultimately a breeze.

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When Closet Case Files announced her new Sophie Swimsuit pattern on instagram a couple of months ago, I made a tiny yet audible scream in the back of my throat- I was so thrilled because I knew I was ready to tackle a well drafted swimsuit pattern and fill in all the holes of my lacking knowledge! As usual, the pattern did not disappoint at all. Heather Lou clearly spends a substantial amount of time drafting all of her patterns to fit well for a variety of body types, and the difference in fit compared to other patterns is always obvious. CCF patterns are designed with curves in mind, and all the details are beautifully attended to, but the pattern instructions are also well written, precise, and easy to follow. This is the biggest difference to me in her patterns versus the Ohhh Lulu line- the designs of the latter are always beautifully executed and styled, but the wearability of them (for my body at least), seems to be lacking more often than not. If you don’t have a perfectly proportioned body that looks perfect in the OL patterns as-is, then it’s essential to have good knowledge of how to alter and adjust to make them work for your body. Sometimes I am totally fine with that kind of pattern, willing to put in the extra work and figure stuff out on my own, but other times I want a pattern that I know has already made considerations for the intricacies of our bodies; it’s the difference between making a pattern that comes in a XS-XL size format compared to one that ranges from 0-20 with a comprehensive size-chart for multiple cup sizes.

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Construction of this swimsuit was an absolute breeze, and I was most excited that it gives the option of using molded cups. While I am not a push-up bra kind of person, I do appreciate what a little underwire and textile support can do to a bust that is small like mine- it makes me look more hour-glassy without making me feel like I have a construction site at work around my boobs. I had never worked with sheet foam before, so it was really exciting to form the cups and see all the pieces come together, but I will suggest that, if using the sheet foam and underwire option, LABEL THE FABRIC AND FOAM PIECES FOR YOUR CUPS! Separately the pieces all look different, but once sewn together, I had a really tough time deciphering which side was the inner cup vs. the outer cup, and the addition of the foam cups made it even worse- I had to rip my seams out twice because I kept matching the wrong foam piece to the wrong fabric! Despite my issues with keeping track of all my pattern pieces, the three-piece cup is cleverly designed and gives you the maker a lot of options for how to play around with fabric placement. I ended up following the styling of the original pattern photos pretty closely because I just love the effect of the solid fabric hugging a bright print on either side, but if I make this suit again, I am sure I will be bolder with my fabric choices. I was pretty smitten by this Ankara-inspired peacock print because I rarely see this style on spandex fabric, and on my last trip to NYC, Renee and Marcy made sure that Spandex House was on our list of fabric stores to visit so that we could pick some up (Renee got some, too!) I love the pink and yellow colors together, and I knew it would suit my skin tone really well, plus, two of my previously made bathing suits are made with this dusty-rose lycra, and I love the idea of being able to mix and match all my swimsuit pieces.

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I graded between two pattern sizes for the bottoms, which is always tricky because my waist is smaller than my hips and if you aren’t careful, you can make either a pair of bottoms that don’t quite fit over your hips because the waist is so small, or a pair of bottoms that are baggy in the waist to accommodate pulling them over the hips- thankfully I think I achieved the right ratio with these. When cutting out my fabric, I totally forgot to shorten the length of the swimsuit bottoms- because I am short (5’3″), I thought that they might be too long on me as drafted, and I was right. Once they were completed and I tried them on for fit, they reached halfway up my ribcage. But it was an easy fix- I just lopped off the top two inches and re-attached my elastic and they are appropriately high-waisted now without bunching up on my back.

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This suit is comfortable, I feel gorgeous in it, and I LOOOVE the molded cups for the top! This is unlike any bathing suit I have ever worn before, whether store bought or handmade, and I really love the design and ease of wearing. I actually wore these bottoms in a short that I recently filmed that included a beach scene (I was still sourcing my sheet foam so the swim top had not been finished yet) and I am excited to see what it looks like on camera!

Gertie’s Boat-Neck Dress: A Hack

 

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When I saw this grid fabric at The Fabric Store a few months ago, I could not pass it up, although I had absolutely no idea what I was going to make from it. I have mostly gotten out of the habit of buying fabric without specific plans in store, but every once in a while a textile speaks to me and I can’t tune it out. This particular fabric was a light, breathable, slightly sheer cotton, with a floaty weight to it and a nice drape. It begged to be made into something with a tiny bit of structure to it, something fit for warm weather. My first thought was a short sleeved Grainline Studios Archer Button Up, but I knew that this wouldn’t be a pattern I would get a lot of wear out of in summer. So, in my stash this fabric sat for quite a while until I started making plans for all my favorite designs in Gertie’s most recent book, Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book. I was already halfway through the muslin fitting stage of The Secretary Dress, which required a LOT of tinkering, and I knew that, even though the Boat Neck bodice in the book seemed like a simple thing to whip up, I needed to approach it with the same amount of care and patience that I allotted for my other make.

I ultimately made two muslins to get the fit right for this bodice and it’s attached mid-band, and the changes were the same as with the Secretary Dress: Small Bust Adjustment. The lines of this bodice seemed simple enough that it would let the unique design of this gridded fabric take centerstage, and I planned to pair it with one of the full skirts in the book. But when I laid out of my fabric, which I only bought two yards of, of course I didn’t have enough necessary to make the yardage-eating skirt (fyi: all of Gertie’s skirts except for the pencil skirt are yardage-eaters).

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I wasn’t dismayed though, because if I really did plan to wear it in the heat of the LA summer, I wouldn’t want that much fabric swishing around my body anyways. I racked my brain to think of a full-looking skirt pattern in my stash that would highlight the fabric, match well with the bodice, but not take up more than a yard and a half of fabric which is about all I had left over after the bodice construction.

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And then an image of one of my favorite recent makes flashed through my head! Although the neckline on this bodice is probably the most eye-catching component, the skirt is my personal favorite thing about the Simplicity dress. At first glance it’s just a regular dirndle skirt gathered at the waist, but upon closer inspection, it’s a cleverly designed 5 piece skirt with pockets placed inconspicuously on either side of the center front skirt panel. Even with so many interesting design elements, this skirt doesn’t take up much fabric, so I knew it would be a good choice for Gertie’s Boat Neck bodice.

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I did my best to pattern-match where I could, and aside from a couple of little snafus, everything came together nicely. My  best pattern matching work is on the skirt where it’s actually the least noticeable because of the gathers (doh!). I made some bias strips to bind the armhole edges since I decided at the last minute to forgo the cap sleeves, and the whole dress is lined with a solid white cotton voile, which is sheer and lightweight and breezy, just like the outer fabric.

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I love how in Gertie’s dress above she used piping to bring more attention to the design features of the bodice, but I ultimately decided not to use piping since the design on the fabric was already pretty graphic and I didn’t want it to compete with other features. I totally regret this now. I think a mint green or a yellow binding on the bodice, mid-band, and perhaps lined up down the two front skirt panels would have totally elevated this dress. As it stands, I don’t think the garment stands out very much, but that might change the more that I wear it.

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This dress is comfortable and flirty and cute, and I am assuming it will be easy to wear since I haven’t had a chance to take her for a spin yet, but I am hoping to do so in the next couple of weeks since I have a WTNV performance and a few festival events to attend for our film, Suicide Kale. If you want to see it in action, stay tuned on my instagram, as I am sure I will be donning it there first, with a much better hairstyle than I am sporting in these pics.

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Speaking of the difficulties of photographing your own makes (that’s where we were headed, right?), I love my current method of taking photos of several projects at once as opposed to creating individual shoots for each item as it is made because it’s so much quicker and more efficient. But the downside is that I have to figure out ways to do my hair for several different set ups, and I hate that part. I’m usually pretty motivated to do something cool with it for the first two looks, but after that, my dedication wanes and I just throw my hair up any which way and hope that it doesn’t make me grimace later when editing the photos (these made me grimace for sure). I should probably just stick to one hair look for each outfit/look, but that seems boring, but maybe being boring is better than scowling every time I see this side bun.

Speaking of my in-home photography set up (that’s where we were headed, right?), it is getting better with each project I document, and it has already come such a long way from it’s modest beginnings. I have finally cleared my craft room of it’s cute but not-very-useful pink couch, which was put there in the hopes that people, namely Claire, would come and hang out with me while I sewed. Unfortunately it didn’t work very well and instead just ended up taking space and being a resting place for newly purchased fabric. Now that the couch has been moved into our storage-cum-guest-suite, I have plenty of space in my craft room to set up my photography stuff and keep it up, as opposed to setting everything up in our living room and taking it down immediately afterwards. The natural light in the craft room is not as good as in our living room, so I have ordered some continuous photography lights that I am hoping will bridge the gap and make the photos look nice, bright and crisp (and this set up will also be helpful for the occasional time that I have to put myself on tape for an audition). I have some more #recdarpetDIY projects that I am excited to share on the blog and I am hoping to photograph them with my newer and even more improved set up. In the meantime, I am working on reupholstering an arm chair that someone in our neighborhood gave us so that I can put it in the craft room- the couch might be gone but I still need to have a comfy place for the occasional visitor and hand-sewing marathon. It’s been a couple of years since I reupholstered anything so I am very rusty, but I just so happen to have an online sewing friend who reupholsters professionally and I have a feeling that she will be very generous with any questions I may throw at her 🙂