Posts

Hannah Take 2!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Rachel Wrap Dress in Vintage Fabric

 

I didn’t grow up in the 70s, so although I have always understood Diane Furstenberg’s work during that period as iconic, I never had any firsthand experience with it. I knew that her signature wrap dresses were a defining aesthetic of the decade, making women of all shapes, sizes and ages feel beautiful with their simple, figure flattering design, but I figured that all wrap dresses were essentially the same. GUESS WHAT I WAS WRONG. And I didn’t know how wrong I was til I got my hands on an authentic DVF design a few years ago from a TJ Maxx in a ritzy suburb of LA.

sidenote: The “ritziness” of this TJ Maxx is important to note because not all discount brand name clothing stores like this are created the same- this Maxx had a whole section of expensive designer garments with price tags way higher than I was used to seeing at, say, the TJ Maxx in Birmingham that I spent my high school years shopping in. In my opinion, a Maxx’s proximity to high-end department stores in a large, fashion forward metropolitan area has an effect on the kind of stock the store will have, but you also have to take into account how busy that store will be. For example, the TJ Maxx in Manhattan was always a dud for me because all the super nice clothes that came through there got nabbed almost immediately by all the stylists, fashionistas and bargain-hunters that made it their job to find good deals before everyone else in the city nabbed them up. I am convinced those shoppers had people on the “inside” alerting them to when they got especially good shipments of clothing. Anyway, this Maxx in the ritzy suburb was a goldmine because it was close enough to the Bloomingdales/Nordstroms/Saks of LA, but far enough outside of the city to have not been scavenged yet.

a DVF original

Anyways, as I was saying, I found a bright orange, white and black floral printed DVF wrap dress on the rack, tried it on, and was very, very impressed. Every wrap dress I had ever owned, worn or looked at before suddenly vanished from my memory and all that was left was me and this gorgeous garment, which was miraculously impervious to any flaws created by the overhead fluorescent lights of the dressing room. I swear I felt a wind machine start to blow on me as I oohed and ahhed over myself in front of the mirror. The fit was spot on, and the design made all the right things happen exactly where they needed to- the hem ended at the perfect spot just above my knees, the waist was ever-so-slightly gathered in the back so that there were no puckers or folds in weird places, the skirt hugged my hips and then dropped straight down at my thighs giving my shape an hourglass frame without making it impossible to walk. The fabric was made of a 2-way stretch knit so it had give in some places but felt stable and secure everywhere else. It was comfortable, it was sexy without revealing too much of my skin, and the color and pattern was eye-catching without being too busy. I was in love! This DVF dress was much pricier than anything I had ever paid for at TJ Maxx before, but it seemed worth it. This was at a time when I was only dabbling in becoming a better sewist and I hadn’t yet committed myself to making all my clothes, so finding a RTW garment in a discount department store that looked this good was rare for me.

just posting these DVF wrap dress shots for comparison’s sake!

Three years later, this DVF wrap dress is one of maybe 5 RTW dresses that I still own, but it is hands down the one that gets the most wear. For three years it has been my go-to audition dress for any character with the words “sexy” or “sophisticated” in her breakdown description, and I have gotten at least one compliment every single time I have worn it.

another sidenote: I just realized I have never washed this dress in the three years I have owned it!?!?! Hahahahaha!! That probably seems ridiculous to some people but unless I have a visible stain/dirt on a garment or if I know I sweat a lot in it because I lost my mind on the dance floor at an event (which happens A LOT), I don’t launder the dressier items in my closet very frequently. I was always taught that this preserves the life of your clothing, and because the majority of wears for this dress have been for only a few hours at a time- the approximate length of an audition- I simply didn’t notice that it needed immediate cleaning. Of course, after this realization I ran to the closet to pull the dress out and examine the underarms and…ummmm…IT DEFINITELY NEEDED CLEANING! The pits were yellowed from sweat + deodorant and they also had the not-so-faint smell of old sweat combined with fermented grapefruit and cedar, which are the essential oils I like to use most in my homemade deodorants! LOL! Needless to say the dress went straight to the cleaners!)

 

ANYWAYS! I have thought many times of how awesome it would be to replicate this wrap dress in other colors and prints, but this dress’s design is a little more intricate than it appears to be at first glance. I’m sure that the DVF company has played around with the original concept over the past few decades to add a little more interest and nuance to the design, and the dress I own seems to be a more recent incarnation. It has a seam at the back waist which allows the skirt to be ever-so-slightly gathered to pull into the waist while also allowing room for a fuller bottom, and the outside front edge of the dress where the neckline binding meets the wrap tie is constructed in an interesting way- it’s gathered so that the edge of the skirt creates lovely draped lines that fall down across your hip. I’m not entirely sure why that design element was included, but I’m guessing it provides a little visual interest while also camouflaging any “problem” areas around the hips and thighs (that’s not my term- I’m just using it because I figure that’s what the fashion world would call an area of the body that they think many women wouldn’t want to draw attention to).

 

I can’t imagine replicating my DVF dress successfully without taking it apart (I’m sure a more skilled sewist could do it, but that sewist is not me), so for now it will stay in my closet, finally laundered (LOL) until I get sick of it or it doesn’t fit well anymore at which point I can take it apart and create a pattern from it. This of course got me thinking about how I should just look for a wrap dress pattern to replicate the general look, if not the exact DVF design. I know that DVF doesn’t license her patterns anymore so the only way to get your hands on one of her original Vogue designs is to stumble across a paper pattern at an estate sale or pay upwards of $100 for it on eBay. Since I have not had any luck on the former and I refuse to do the latter, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for something comparable by another designer. I tried the Very Easy Vogue wrap dress pattern and attempted to make a version of it for my mother before working on one for myself, but soon after I started constructing it I knew it wasn’t the dress for me- the design and fit were not what I was looking for, and I ultimately had to trash the whole project because my knit crepe fabric was too heavy for the (weirdly large) skirt portion of the dress and it was sagging and drooping in all the wrong places. Eventually I stumbled upon Pattern Review (I don’t use this site as a resource as much as I should!) and found some promising wrap dress designs by indie pattern makers. One was called The Onion dress and the other was by a company called Maria of Denmark. I had trouble finding out where to buy the first pattern online so I decided to get the Rachel Wrap Dress by MOD instead and keep my fingers crossed that it would be a winner.

Although the finished product is a much more simple design than that of my original DVF dress, I have to say that I love the Rachel Wrap just as much. It is an incredibly quick project to sew, despite the snafus I made in the construction of mine that I then had to spend a fair amount of time undoing. It isn’t fussy or overly detailed so the fit is smooth and classic, giving the exact silhouette you’re probably looking for if you’re in the market for a wrap dress. Now in most of the finished versions I saw online, sewists used a simple cotton jersey to make their wrap dress in, usually in a fun novelty print. These looked great, giving it a very easy and casual feeling, but I was way more interested in ramping my wrap dress up and using a more sophisticated fabric. Maybe it’s because I always wear my DVF wrap dress when I am dressing up for an event or an audition, but I much prefer a more styled, dolled-up version of this kind of design as opposed to a casual one. No matter if you prefer to dress your wrap up or down, I love that this pattern accommodates the whole spectrum- you really can’t go wrong!

 

So about my fabric- I have had this in my stash for probably 3 years. After moving to LA four years ago I became slightly obsessed with going to estate sales where sewists and crafters used to live. I would find the most amazing vintage notions, old quilting fabrics and random bundles of sewing goodies and I would be so excited to give them a new life in some way. Once my fabric stash got too big for comfort I stopped going to the sales, but I accumulated some pretty fantastic vintage pieces in my heydey, including this incredible silky 2 way stretch knit. I have no idea what it’s made of, all I know is that when I got it it smelled like a stinky vintage store but the color palette was gorgeous. I saved this fabric for a long time because even though I don’t think the print is dated, it reminded me of a 70’s disco babe, and I wanted to wait for a pattern that could really amp up that retro-feeling. Last week I was looking for some scrap fabric in my fabric bureau for a different project and this black and peach yardage practically jumped out at me. I had literally JUST purchased the Rachel Wrap dress the night before and I knew immediately that these two would be a marriage made in heaven.

As much as I love this fabric, I decided not to make a muslin before cutting into it, and thankfully the sewing goddesses were on my side. I cut a size ___ at the bust and a ____ at the waist and hips. The instructions for this pattern are just ok. I knew how to construct most of this garment except for the neck binding so I didn’t need to rely on them very much, but there are no line drawings to accompany the steps and the photos (and one illustration) that are used are pretty subpar. One of the images is downright confusing! I sat at my sewing table scratching my head for 5 minutes trying to decipher what these wavey lines and color codes meant and finally I just ignored it and tried to figure it out myself. You can complete this dress in a few hours but it took me a bit longer because I made one silly mistake from the very beginning. I decided to interface my neck binding to give it more structure and keep it from stretching out too much because I know that lots of complaints about wrap dresses revolve around the dress needing to fit better around neckline so that the wrap at the bust doesn’t sag out and expose people’s cleavage and bras.

I didn’t realize that the neck binding in this pattern is drafted to be stretched out along the neck of the dress considerably when you construct it- that elasticity is what gives the wrap it’s snugness at the bust and keeps all your goodies covered up and supported. Initially I just thought that the neck binding was cut way too short but then I realized it is actually supposed to stretch a lot. Thankfully I was able to remove my interfacing from the piece and get the band to fit the neckline, but now that the dress is completed I would definitely add a bit more length to the binding. The binding at the neck is stretched out so much that it creates little gathers along the neckline, and maybe if you have a really full bust or torso your body will fill up all that space so that the gathers are stretched out and the neckline looks smooth, but on me it just looks puckered and weird- that amount of stretch in the neckband is unnecessary on a smaller bust like mine. I carefully steamed and ironed out the fabric around the neckline which helped ease the gathers a lot. It’s not obvious enough for me to dislike the dress at all, but again, next time I make it I will try adding an inch of two of length to the neckline pattern piece so that it doesn’t need to be stretched out as much.

I had a bit of trouble getting the edges of the straps of the dress (where the binding intersects with the dress fronts) to lay smooth and flat. This is a bit difficult to describe without any photos, so I forgive me for that oversight! I am not sure what the culprit is, but I suspect that more detailed instructions for these steps would have been incredibly helpful. The issue resulted in the front edges of the dress, which get turned in towards the inside to create a hem, curving in a weird way and not laying flat. But when I tried to keep the fold on the edge straight, the section above it where the neck binding and strap met would not stay even and would morph into a very wonky shape. Again, explaining this doesn’t make much sense when you can’t see what I am talking about, so just know that I somehow managed to unpick my stitches and shift the pieces around so that they looked even and smooth. I’m not sure if this is a drafting issue or just a miscommunication in the instructions for this part of construction, so next time I make it I will pay close attention to how these steps are supposed to be worked (and what I did to fix them, if necessary).

demonstrating how much fabric is underneath the wrap of the dress – it’s plenty! so less chance of the wind blowing your skirt wide open!

After taking the photos for this dress, realized that I didn’t like the edges of the sleeves. Maybe because the fabric is relatively fancy or maybe because I prefer cuffs on sleeves in general, but the simple folded hems with twin needle stitching just didn’t do it for me. They looked too casual for a dress with this much oompf. So a couple of weeks after completing this garment I went back and took out the stitching at the sleeve hems. I cut out some cuffs whose final measurements would equal the width of the neckline band for visual consistency and then I serged them into the sleeve edges. The addition of the cuffs added a tiny bit more length to my sleeves (which I didn’t mind as they already ended a couple of inches beneath my elbow) and looked way more finished than they had previously. To finish the front edges and bottom hem of the dress, I folded in the allowance and used a twin needle to stitch everything down as I had initially done on the sleeve hems. It looks clean and pretty on the inside.

Despite my complaints about the sub par sewing instructions, I do think this is an easy pattern to make that comes together quickly and yields pretty dynamite results. You are required to draft a couple of pattern pieces (I think just for ties, whose length you can adjust depending on your preference- I made mine longer than suggested) and it’s important to note that you have to add seam allowances to certain parts of the dress and that not all of the seam allowances are the same, but those are listed pretty clearly in the instructions. One last thing is that this dress is the perfect length on me as drafted, and I usually have to shorten patterns considerably to keep them from being too long, so if you are one of those #blessed with long limbs, keep that in mind if you don’t want this to end up being too short on you.

Big thumbs up to this pattern- I hope some of you who have been keeping your eyes out for a classic but simple wrap dress give this one a shot!

 

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!

Roll Tide Toll

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

*Quick note: for any of you readers who don’t follow me on BlogLovin’, you can stay up to date with my posts (and those of tons of other amazing bloggers in the online maker community) by clicking the link above and following jasikanicole.com!*

What good is a rule if you don’t ever break it, amirite??

Among MANY rules that I have set in place for myself as an adult, thanks to a relatively boundary-free childhood (which is a memoir blog post for another day), avoiding patterns that don’t suit your silhouette is probably the one that I stick to the most. It didn’t take me long to institute this sewing rule after I made a few patterns that looked great on the models in the photos but failed to turn me into a tall, leggy, thigh-gapped lady in turn. This ‘sewing for your body’ rule of thumb is, as the kids say, mad problematic. I know what “works” for my body and what styles I feel the most confident in, but how much of that is learned and how much of that is my actual opinion? I know I have discussed all of this before in some way so apologies for sounding like a broken record, but I am always finding new avenues into how body image, the patriarchy, and feminism/womanism intersect. I have always been taught that pants or skirts that end at mid-calf are not flattering on short women or women with muscular/thick legs, so I didn’t wear them for years… but is that something I really think is true or did I just internalize it from all the copies of Cosmopolitan magazine I read in my teens and twenties? I just don’t know.

I also recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege to even contemplate these possibilities in a public space without fear of retaliation or judgement; despite my own episodes of body dis-morphia and hangups, I am petite, and this type of body is currency in our culture. My shape adheres to the general standards of what is considered “acceptable” by society and I have benefited from this in all kind of ways, from the work I have gotten in my career to the ways that strangers treat me. It is not my intention to use this space as a platform to speak on behalf of curvy/voluptuous/plus-size/fat women because that is not my experience in the world- I want to support their voices, not drown them out with my own. But I do want to pay better attention to the language that I use and the inner thoughts that I have regarding bodies, my own and other people’s.

How can I show solidarity with all bodies in the world when in private I criticise my own, periodically zooming in on ways that it is not “good” enough? How can I say that big is beautiful! if there are days when I avoid looking in a mirror for fear that I will be disappointed with what I see? Again, I just don’t know. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to know. Lately I have been pretty good at changing the language I use when I am being critical of my body. Instead of telling myself that I am something, I try to focus on whether or not I am feeling something, and there is usually a connection there. When my internal monologue tells me that I am ugly or gross or unattractive, most of the time I am actually just feeling things like sadness or frustration about something unrelated, and those uncomfortable feelings are manifesting themselves in the way I view my body. Why? Well, I personally think it’s because individuals who identify as women and/or who present themselves as feminine are often taught that their worth lies in their physical appearance. There is some comfort, albeit misguided, in being able to blame our failures, insecurities and anxieties on the way that we look. But I don’t think the answer is simply to stop those “negative” feelings from brewing up inside of us. Uncomfortable feelings are valid and important, and it helps to know where they come from; discomfort does in fact have a place in our lives. But allowing that discomfort to define the way we in turn actually move around in the world is unfair.  There should be space enough for us to feel how we feel and still see ourselves as whole, worthy individuals. Of course, it feels easy for me to intellectualize this, but much harder for me to actually start to unpack it and change the behaviors I have had for so many years. But it doesn’t help to start, right? Right!

Which brings me to….THE HANNAH DRESS by Victory Patterns!

I saw the Hannah dress when it was released last year and immediately thought, “Oh cool, another beautiful dress I will never make for myself”. I had a couple of reasons for shooting this pattern down so quickly. One is that I have made two Victory patterns before, the Ava and the Nicola, to practically disastrous results. Both are super pretty designs with a lot of personality, but the sizing of these patterns was way off for me (they fit much smaller than the measurements suggested) and if my memory serves correct, I also thought that the drafting was off; for instance, a lot of my notches and raw edges in one of those patterns would not meet up even after double checking my marks on the initial pattern pieces, and it drove me up a wall trying to figure out what I had done incorrectly.

Mini review alert: On the Nicola wrap dress, I had to do a lot of extra work trying to make the pattern wearable after I completed it- I had to add a lining to the dress because you could see the insides of the skirt very easily since the flap in the front flew open constantly when you walked or sat down in it. The bodice where the two sides met in the middle refused to lay flat for me and kept puckering up in the strangest ways, and it was also placed weirdly low, so I was constantly worrying that my boobs (which, by the way, are not very large) were gonna pop out. To keep the front bodice closed and PG-rated, I tried sewing all these extra buttons and closures I into the dress, but they didn’t work well and I still ended up needing to wear a slip underneath the dress to keep my goodies covered. The sleeves were also a big problem for me. I thought they looked just fine in the images on the pattern but on my dress they were so gigantic that they looked a little clownish. I ended up hacking several inches off the length and the width of the sleeves so that they looked more subdued but they just never felt quite right. I wore this dress only once, tugging and pulling and untwisting it the whole time, before putting it in a give away pile when I konmaried my house last year. Essentially the design had a pretty silhouette but simply was not functional for me.

I don’t have as much to say about the Ava dress because I gave up on it more quickly. Nothing about the pattern worked or fit the way it was supposed to, and the delicate fabric I used at the top of the bodice just got mauled in the process of all my seam ripping and re-sewing. This was the pattern where none of my notches and marks seemed to match up at all. I tried to turn the dress into a blouse by chopping off the bottom because I hated to have wasted all that time, effort, and fabric, but eventually I put this into the give away pile, too.

These reviews, of course, are not a reflection of anybody’s experience but mine: the pattern did not work for ME and the sizing did not work for ME. I made those garments probably about a year or so after diving headfirst into making a me-made wardrobe, so there was clearly still a lot to learn about construction, fabric choice, and alterations, all of which could have been handled more smartly had I been making muslins for every new pattern I made (I wasn’t a consistent muslin-maker back then). But at the same time, I have plenty of makes from that time period that came out beautifully and required a lot less work, so who knows if it was me or the pattern!

I figured that Victory Patterns, gorgeous as they may be, are simply not meant for me (much like the Colette brand). A pattern brand can’t be everything to everyone, and that is okay- I have found my peace with this. But then Heather wrote a whole blog post on her favorite things of 2016 and there was the Hannah dress again, listed with a few words about what an architecturally stunning design it was. Taking another look at the dress for the first time in months, I realized I couldn’t agree with her more. It is so modern without looking too utilitarian, and it offers such a cool and simple way to experiment with color blocking and pattern combining. And at the same time, while remarking on what an interesting build the dress had, I could not for the life of me figure out how it was made; there seemed to be a bit of magical construction incorporated in the design. I was intrigued!

So ok, yes I thought the dress was really cool initially, but being reintroduced to it months later by one of my favorite sewing bloggers/designers pushed it into Let’s Pin It On My Pinterest Page territory. But what about my unsuccessful history with this pattern company? And more importantly, what of the fact that this design will make me look like I am wearing a potato sack because I am short and curvy and I am not supposed to wear garments that minimize my shape, I am supposed to wear ones that define it?

Who came up with that “rule”? Who says it’s true? And who is enforcing these antiquated ideals, anyways??

Oh, right. Me. I am my very own self-appointed fashion police. And if I am the one to blame here, that means that I am the one who can change it.

So I made the Hannah dress! And you know what? I think I like it! Not gonna lie, I am still getting used to this shape on me. When I finally tried it on after completing it, I could hear my brain immediately trying to pick it apart and criticize the way it looked on me, but I realized that that talk in my head is a loop of recycled material; it didn’t really have anything to do with what I was actually seeing in the mirror. And what was a I actually seeing?

Well, the dress looked a little tight in the shoulder/bust area meaning I should have gone up at least one size there (this was an obvious oversight on my part since my past dresses with this company were also too small). But it didn’t feel uncomfortable. The length was perfect since I shortened the front and back pattern pieces by an inch, and I loved the way the dress dipped lower in the back than in the front- it gave me the chance to show a little leg without feeling too exposed. The excess fabric from the folds and pockets of the side panels gathers right around my hips, and since I have always thought my hips were out of proportion to the rest of my body, extra fabric weight in that area is not something I have historically felt comfortable with. But seeing myself in the mirror wearing the dress, it was impossible to say that it actually looked bad. The dress didn’t have so much ease that you couldn’t see and feel your body move around in it. And it didn’t look like a potato sack on me at all.

The only thing I would change would be to go up a size. I cut out a size 2 in the bust and graded to a 4 in the hips, but I would try a 4:6 next time (I could probably even get away with a straight 6). The other thing I would change is…the color.

I was inspired by this cool color combo I saw on pinterest and bought my tencel fabric online thinking it would be a close enough match, but you know how computer screens are. The blue was navy-er than I anticipated and the brown was WAY more yellow/gold. And what does that leave you with? A DAMN AUBURN TIGERS INSPIRED DRESS!!!! For the record I am not into football at all (although I was a cheerleader, and probably a terrible one at that!), but I do rep ALABAMA as a rule. ROLL TIDE ROLLLL! One is simply born into these rivalries, and though I had no choice in the matter, the loyalty still runs deep. I feel completely conditioned at this point in my life because whenever I see an orange and blue color combo, Auburn is what immediately comes to mind and distaste is immediately what I feel. It took me halfway to finishing this dress before I realized why I wasn’t liking it very much- it’s the colors! I felt both ashamed that I had picked them out and ashamed that they mattered that much to me. Although I like the way this dress design looks and feels, I have no idea if it’s going to actually get much wear since I have such a negative connotation attached to it. All I kept thinking as I was making it was “God, this dress would be so perfect in pink and grey!” Maybe if I can get my hands on some more of this beautiful Tencel fabric in those colors I can make it happen!

Anyways, construction of this dress was super fun! Even though the whole time I was making it I had no idea what I was doing, hahaha. This pattern is like a complicated road map that doesn’t really make sense until you are in the middle of the journey and putting all the pieces together. All the design elements and notches matched up on this pattern, even with me grading to a different size at certain parts, and the details are pretty fantastic. Making the hidden button placket was my favorite part. It’s got a lot of steps to it, kind of like a zip fly on a pair of pants, but once you get to the last bit of it and start to see it all come together, it feels so exciting. The sleeves and collar are finished with binding that is sewn to the inside which resulted in a very clean and professional look, and like many Victory dresses, the hem is faced and then folded up and sewn a few inches above the actual bottom of the dress. I think this is a cool design element but it doesn’t work for all fabrics- the flowy-er and more lightweight your textile is, the more puckered and wonky the stitching at the hem has a tendency to be (at least in my experience). Thankfully I used tencel for this dress which has a medium weight, and it handled all of the stitching for this dress really well.

Aside from that, there isn’t much to say about the make- it was a far cry better than the other designs I tried to sew from this line, which might be because this dress doesn’t have much shape to it so there is less room for fitting errors. As mentioned above, I definitely think there will be another dress like this in my future, which is exciting since I know I can go up a size, I understand better how it’s constructed, and I can find a more suitable color combo for my tastes. But the most exciting thing is that I have proved to myself that these arbitrary rules I have been applying to my sense of style for so many years don’t necessarily hold true. I think it’s a great thing to have a firm idea about what we think looks good on our body and what we feel good in- without these notions, TnT patterns wouldn’t even exist! But there is a murky line between the stories we have been told our whole lives and the stories that are actually true. It feels important to continue to test them, to never accept them at face value, to keep redefining what beauty means to us and to separate what we see and feel from what we have learned. Being an adult is sooooo hard. But I am determined to look REALLY GOOD while I struggle through it 😉

70’s Print for a 70’s Pattern

As you may well know, The Fabric Store has been carrying Liberty prints for a while now, and when I first saw them in person, the selection was both thrilling and overwhelming. Liberty has long established itself as the go-to fabric supplier for all things floral, but I soon found out that delicate flowers were not the only thing they were good at; as seen in the cityscape fabric for this dress I made last year, Liberty can do modern and abstract just as well as they can do feminine and organic. They carry large and small prints, both quaint and sophisticated, in a bigger variety than ever before, and although they have plenty of woven silks and cottons in their arsenal, they also have a growing selection of stretch knits, which is what I always gravitate towards. Truth be told, sewing with silk still scares me, and while I have had successes in the past, the overwhelming outcome of my silk projects has been abysmal.

Despite my history with silk, I knew I needed to get over my fear sooner than later because the three yard cut of Liberty silk Cynthia sent me (Cynthia is one of girls at the LA shop, and she is SO helpful and intuitive about picking out fabrics and prints! Call them for all your fabric shopping needs!) was just screaming to be sewn into something spectacular. I am astonished at how technically busy this print is without it feeling overwhelming or loud. The beauty of this fabric is a real testament to the individual who designed the print; the color combo is mostly monochromatic with subdued hues of browns, mauves and greens, and the shades of brighter colors in the print are used so sparingly that they don’t feel splashy. But the real star of the print for me is the line work used. The shapes are not exactly flowers and they aren’t exactly paisley- I don’t really know what to call them. When you look closely, the print of the fabric looks more like intricate doodles squeezed together and delineated by color. However you want to describe it, I think it’s stunning. Usually when working with a busy print I feel pretty nauseated about halfway through construction, but that was not the case with this one at all- each seam gave me an opportunity to discover something new in the print and my admiration for the beautiful color palette just continued to grow the further I got along in my process.

Anyways, I have tried the method of cutting out silk in a single layer sandwiched between pieces of paper to keep the fabric from shifting to varying degrees of success. The biggest con with this method is that I hate wasting all that paper, and while it’s certainly better than cutting the silk plain, I still found it tricky to keep the paper and the silk layers together throughout the process. On top of that, this method only applies to cutting the silk- sewing with it still takes a tremendous amount of care (some people suggest even sewing your silk pieces with a layer of paper sandwiched in between and then gently tearing it off the fabric through the perforations, but I have never had the patience). For this dress I nixed the paper idea and took a cue from one of Lladybird’s blog posts suggesting the use of a spray fabric stiffener on your silk projects. I have read that using a gelatin soak on silk works much the same, but I was impatient and eager to get started on this project sooner than later. I hung my Liberty fabric over my backdrop, sprayed the entire yardage with the fabric stiffener until it was damp, then let it dry. When I checked on it an hour later, the fabric was totally transformed; it had a stiffer hand, no longer flowed and draped as it had before, and behaved like a lightweight cotton. It was so easy to maneuver that I was able to cut it on the fold easily, and the threads of the silk didn’t shred all over the place as it has a tendency to do, either. But the best part was that it sewed like a dream! No more wonky seams and sliding fabrics- everything stayed in place and over the two or three days that I worked on this pattern, the fabric stayed stiff and crisp. To get it back to it’s natural, silky state, when the dress was completed I soaked it in water and a little bit of eucalin soap for about 10 minutes and then I let it air dry. The next day after a gentle ironing, it was good as new! So easy!

The pattern I used for this dress is a vintage Butterick that was gifted to me by the lovely blogger Amelia when we met a couple of years ago at a panel discussion about diversity in the media (I am pretty sure I have mentioned her generous gift before!) I actually had planned on using a different vintage pattern for this project, but when I opened the pattern I realized it was missing the entire front pattern piece, so I chucked it in my paper bin (I always re-use old pattern paper and envelopes for wrapping) and settled on this one instead. This was probably a blessing in disguise because I think the Liberty fabric suits this pattern even better than my original choice.

 

Vintage patterns are SO. FREAKING. GREAT. I mean, the instructions can often be wonky, and sometimes they use weird techniques that are either unnecessary or completely outdated, but a lot of the time the designs and approaches used in construction are super clever and feel fresh since modern designers don’t utilize those methods anymore. One of the elements I was most taken with was the way the sleeve cuffs came together. I assumed there would be a placket of sorts with buttons and holes on either side to close the cuff to the wrist, but this pattern used a much more simpler yet still effective technique. There is no placket at all, rather the cuffs are positioned so that there is extra room between the edges of the sleeve, and that excess fabric is simply folded in when the buttons are closed. This detail wouldn’t work on a bulky fabric and definitely has a more feminine effect than a regular placket, but it works beautifully on a lightweight flowy silk such as this.

But the real drama of this dress for me is in the collar, which is created with a standard placket and drafted to flow up the side of the neck. This detail coupled with the puffy sleeves and the gathered cuffs at the wrist gave me a very Designing Women vibe, which technically was an 80’s show but some of the clothing still seemed inspired by a little 70’s glam. Normally I am weary of the sizing on Big 4 patterns, but I seem to have a little bit more luck with vintage patterns, and the shape of this pattern offered a lot of wiggle room since it wasn’t meant to fit closely to the body. Because of this, I didn’t make a muslin and the fit turned out great.

I did however shorten the sleeves considerably, because even just eye-balling the pattern piece I could tell they were gonna be way too long. The end result was just perfect but I had to redo my sleeve insertion a couple of times; because the sleeves are gathered to create a poofy effect around the shoulders, there was a lot of easing that needed to happen, and my ease wasn’t very even on one of my sleeves. It’s possibly that I should have taken off some of the seam allowance at the shoulders to take up some of the extra fabric in the sleeve head, but instead I just very carefully tried to even out my gathers and make sure they were concentrated at the top of the sleeve as opposed to the front or the back. This part of the dress does not look perfect, but it doesn’t bother me and the sleeves feel comfortable.

The only other change I made to the pattern was to add elastic to the waist. As drafted, the pattern is meant to be worn with a belt wrapped at the waist to cinch in the extra fabric, and while I loved the look of the belt, I knew that, because of my waist to hip ratio, that free flowing fabric around my waist was never gonna sit right and I would be fiddling with it all day. I knew that elastic would give the same effect while keeping the gathered fabric in place, particularly with such a lightweight fabric. So I cut a strip of fabric the length of the waist of the dress and the width of my elastic (1/2″) plus room for folding over each edge. I sewed the casing onto the dress, inserted my elastic, and closed the hole up at the side seam, making sure to spread my elastic evenly across the waist. It worked like a charm. I also put belt loops on either side of the dress because I knew I would still want to wear a belt with it and I wanted the belt to stay in place since they have a tendency to ride up on me. The belt was made of several strips of fabric sewed together and then turned inside out. I used to serge all my inside seams for finishing but I am becoming a strictly french seam kind of girl when the seams are suitable and the fabric is a woven. It makes the end-product look so luxurious and I am convinced that it stays looking neat on the inside for much longer. For this dress, all inside seams are french, and I used bias tape to finish the sleeves with a hong kong seam.

 

I thought that this dress was transparent when I first saw the fabric so I wore a slip under it when I wore it to the TCAs this past week, but turns out that it wasn’t really necessary- the fabric is so busy that you can’t even see the shadow of my body underneath it, which is important to know if I ever decide to wear this in warmer weather. I love love LOVE how this dress came out- it is even better than I imagined it would be! It feels glamorous and it got so many compliments when I wore it for the first time, and it also looked surprisingly good on camera (they say you shouldn’t wear prints or multi-colored garments on camera but I think it totally depends on what the fabric looks like- again, the color combination of this silk really makes it magical!

 

 

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!

 

 

Working So Jaquard!

HA! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

I made eyes with this amazing fabric twice at The Fabric Store before I finally took the plunge and got a cut of it. I had no idea what I would make with it, but I knew it wouldn’t take long to figure something out. I am learning to let a fabric speak to me first instead of trying to tell it what it should be and ignoring its qualities. Like many jaquards, this fabric has a LOT of body, it holds its shape beautifully and it doesn’t wrinkle, but this also means it doesn’t respond to ironing very well, so a pattern with lots of folds and gathers and tucks isn’t a good choice for it. Initially I imagined this fabric in a classic fit n’ flare shape- I wanted to take advantage of the volume it would exhibit in a skirt- but I have been feeling a little bored with this silhouette lately. I love fit n’ flare but I have made a this style of dress several times over the past few months and I needed to change it up just a bit. I brought this yellow and blue tear drop jaquard fabric with me to Savannah and let it marinate in my closet a bit while I waited for inspiration to hit.

And hit it did! While glimpsing over my BlogLovin’ feed, I read this post by Handmade Jane on a blouse she made from a Danish indie pattern company called How To Do Fashion. One quick scroll over to their pattern shop and I was SMITTEN! HTDF has a vintage aesthetic with uncomplicated silhouettes that have a really dramatic effect. I love pattern designer Nanna’s use of fabrics- she seems to be a genius at marrying her designs with the perfect classic print, color and textile to elevate the whole look.

These are two of the looks that immediately caught my eye on HTDF’s website, and I am posting them here because I actually made up versions of both of these designs, so I can talk to you about my experience with all of them. I will focus this post on the two-piece outfit in grey above (my version of the red polka dot dress will come in a later post)!

As you can see, both looks above are attributed to the pattern No. 8 Svaneke. I thought it was a pretty good deal to get this many different looks/options in one pattern, and I purchased the hard copy because PDFs were not available for this particular design. The pattern arrived in a large envelope with a How To Do Fashion clothing tag for my finished garment and the pattern printed on thick, high quality paper. In the above blog post, one of Handmade Jane’s complaints was that instructions were not included in the printed version of the pattern. I personally think this is a big plus because it wastes less paper, and the instructions are easily available on the pattern’s website- you can print the instructions out if you need a hard copy or you can download them as a PDF and read them off your computer, tablet or phone (which is my preferred method). So kudos to that! On the other hand, the pattern pieces are printed on both sides of the paper, so you can’t cut the pieces out. This is actually not a problem for me because, unless it’s a one-size-fits-all kind of pattern, I copy all my pattern pieces onto paper so that the original pattern can stay intact and I have the option to make different sizes/adjust the fit/loan out or sell the pattern in the future. I realize that this method kind of negates the “not wasting paper” rule of thumb, but on the other other hand, printing on both sides of the pattern paper is also less wasteful. I guess it’s just a personal preference, but for me, the HTDF printed patterns are spot-on for my needs.

The instructions, however, were another story! There were a couple of issues for me with these patterns when it came to figuring out how to make them. One was that the actual instructions are a little more bare bones than I am used to. Ultimately I was fine with it- I have been sewing for long enough that I can figure out how to make pretty much anything come together without too much hand-wringing, but I would not suggest that a beginner try and tackle these patterns unless they were okay with having to figure out a lot of stuff on their own. It is certainly not an impossible pattern for an inexperienced sewist to complete, but heads up: they might need to phone a friend. As Handmade Jane wrote in her blog post, some of this might come from the instructions being translated into another language, which is totally understandable.

But my main beef with the pattern instructions has to do with the photos used for the styled and completed garments. As seen in the picture of the two-piece grey outfit I posted above, the outfit consists of two pieces: a crop top and a matching pleated full skirt. The beautiful skirt is what actually caught my eye in the photo and I loved how it looked with the voluminous fabric- I thought this design would look perfect with my own jaquard textile. However, if you take a closer look at the line drawings for the pattern pieces, you will see that the skirt is actually gathered at the waistband, not pleated. I assumed that there was simply not enough room to show all the different versions of the skirt in the line drawing, and that instructions would be included in the pattern on how to make the pleated skirt shown in the picture, but once I got the pattern pieces, I realized this to be false.

Why would you include a photo of a garment with a pattern if you can’t actually make that particular garment? I hemmed and hawed for a while over what to do and eventually decided that I would just need to create a pleated skirt using my own drafting expertise experimentation. I was definitely annoyed at having to spend so much time essentially re-creating a pattern that I spent good money on (the total amount for this pattern after shipping and taxes came out to be around $30USD), but I had my heart set on the cute silhouette of this crop-top and full skirt pattern, so I wasn’t going to turn back now. I cut out skirt pieces using the pattern from my By Hand London’s Brilliant Bouquet Dress and after I had spent a couple of hours playing around with the pleats and making them even all the way around (I didn’t have a dressform in Savannah so I had to do all my adjusting and fitting on my body while standing on top of a bed because it faced the only decent-sized mirror in my apartment), I sewed the skirt together and felt fairly pleased with what I had created with my limited knowledge. And then a few minutes later while perusing the How To Do Fashion website’s blog, I came across a tutorial for making the No.8 Svaneke skirt pattern into the pleated skirt shown in the pictures.

COLOR. ME. ANNOYED. It turns out that the pleated skirt is a hack of the original gathered skirt in the pattern bundle! Sigh. I think that including a picture of a hack in a description of a pattern without any mention of it being a hack is misleading; all versions shown in the photos should be included in the instructions and pattern bundle, or at the very least, some mention of the hack should be written into the description of the pattern instructions so that the maker knows exactly where to go for the info to create the garments that are shown in the product description.

Anyways, enough about the instructional snafu! A little knowledge and growth isn’t a bad thing for me, and now I know that I can make a beautifully pleated skirt without too much hassle! I thought that large pleats for my skirt would be better suited for my fabric than thinner ones, so I started in the middle of the front of skirt and worked my way out, and once I was happy with how those pleats looked, I mirrored them for the other side. I played around with the placement for quite a while until I was satisfied with how they laid around my hips, then I sewed the waistband and zipper on. In the original pattern, I believe that the skirt waistband is supposed to be lapped (I didn’t follow those instructions so I can’t quite remember), but because of my thick fabric, it created too much visual bulk. So I decided instead to have the waistband edges meet at center back above the zipper and use two hooks and eyes to close it.

Despite having to create my own skirt from scratch, the crop top is what required the most amount of work. I made the top as instructed from start to finish, but realized I didn’t like the amount of width around the bottom of the blouse. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to play around with the seams because the blouse closes with an invisible zipper in the back and needs to be wide enough to get it over your torso. Although I love the boxy look on the model in the photos, I knew it would look much better on me cinched in a bit more at the side seams, so I needed to figure out a different way to close the back of the blouse. One option would be to use a separating zip so that it could open completely and I could get in and out of the blouse with ease, but I didn’t want the zipper to detract from the rest of the shirt and the matching skirt, and detachable zips seem to be pretty bulky and visible. My other option was to create a button band on the back edges of the blouse with buttholes and buttons, but that seemed like more work than I was willing to put into such a simple blouse. Ultimately I compromised- I used a button and loop method so that I could use the original blouse pieces as-is without having to add interfaced bands. I cut out and attached a piece of fabric the length of the back center piece and about 2 inches in width, and then attached 8 loops of white corded elastic evenly spaced along the edge. I then sewed them to the seam allowance of the back left bodice piece and folded it under. On the opposite bodice piece I sewed corresponding buttons close to the edge, and voila! Easy button closure without all the hassle of buttonholes and bands!

no idea why i look so sad in this picture. i think i might have resting sad face?

After I made the new closure, I took in the side seams about an inch or so, angled up towards the sleeves, and I much prefer the way the blouse fits and looks now! The sleeves and bust of this blouse are a teensy bit tighter than I would prefer, even after letting the seams out a bit, so if I make this top again I will go up in the bust at least one size and keep the adjustments I made to the side seams, and I might shorten it just a bit so that you can see more crop when my arms are down at my sides (as you can see in the pics, you can’t really see much belly skin unless my arms are raised).

All in all a super cute outfit that definitely looks different than anything else I have in my #redcarpetDIY wardrobe! I love the little sliver of skin that shows between the hem of the blouse and waistband of the skirt, and I love the unique and dynamic look of the jaquard print; up close it looks like yellow teardrops with a spot of blue inside, but from just a few feet away the pattern meshes into a haze of trippy polka dots. My favorite color to wear is yellow so I am in total love with the subtle brightness this fabric lends- coupled with the blue accent, it’s not overpowering, but it definitely makes a statement.

Jasika vs. the Vintage Vogue Coat

For the record, I won.
But whoooa was it a battle! Comparable to Jasika vs. the Ginger Jeans! But I learned so, so much in this process, and I am incredibly happy with how it has turned out, warts and all.

I first got the idea for this coat about a year ago. Last fall I attended a red carpet event in a memade gown that I sewed from a vintage Vogue pattern (I have yet to blog this dress, but I swear I will one day!). The dress was a silver-hued chartreuse with a very simple silhouette and it’s stunning, but I didn’t have any outwerwear appropriate  to wear with it. It wasn’t cold enough in LA to frantically search for something suitable to wear over the dress and I ended up being fine for the most part, but it got me thinking about how nice it would be to have a long dressy coat to wear over fancy red carpet attire. I started scouring the internet for different coat patterns and ultimately focused on vintage designs because they were simpler in style but still packed a lot of drama. I thought that a simpler design would work with a bigger variety of garments underneath.

https://www.instagram.com/p/-FrrfuRF4w/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

It took me weeks to settle on the vintage vogue coat pattern that I ultimately chose, but I was immediately drawn to it. In the illustration it kind of looked like a big blanket draped over the figure wearing it, but it didn’t look baggy, and it had enough lovely design details to keep the look interesting and feminine. I loved the peter pan collar and the roominess inside the coat- it would work well with anything from bulky sweaters to dresses with shoulder pads. I loved the long length and the patch pockets (although I ended up omitting the flaps of said pockets- I wanted to stuff my hands into them easily), and the way the coat draped down the back on account of it’s center-panel. Shortly after the pattern arrived, I went to The Fabric Store and chose a beautiful thick wool coating (they have the most impressive wools at this store!) that stood out for me. It looked cozy and warm, and was made of neutral colors- black with grey and white herringbone- that would pair well with lots of looks. I also chose a shiny and silky-smooth gray charmeuse to line the coat with. My lining fabric seemed extravagant at the time, but I wanted this coat to feel as nice as I hoped it would look, and after making plenty of garments over the years with cheap polyester linings, I knew that splurging on it would make me incredibly happy when it was all over (spoiler alert: it totally does!).

Okay, so now fast forward almost a whole year, in which time my gigantic swath of fabric sat in a brown paper bag in a corner of my craft room with cedar wood blocks inside of it to keep the moths at bay. I can’t remember exactly what sparked me to pick this project up again and finally start on construction, but around a month ago I suddenly felt very inspired to get ‘her done, as Coach Taylor would say. I was probably motivated in part by the realization that we would be spending our Christmas in the northeast this year (we alternate our holidays in increments of three- one with her folks, one with mine, and one just us, usually on a fun trip). At this point, my dramatic fancy coat project morphed from something mainly aesthetically pleasing to one that was more functional and would keep me warm in a blustery city in the winter.

In my whole adulthood, I have never before had a dressy coat that was actually warm. My current outerwear wardrobe consists mostly of sporty Patagonia gear that I collected from my years fighting off chilly rain in Vancouver, a couple of leather jackets, and a nice wool JCrew coat that is only suitable for mild winters. And back when I lived in NYC in my early 20’s, I couldn’t afford a nice warm coat, so most of my years were spent in cheap wool pea coats from H&M with so many layers stacked underneath that I could barely move my arms. I’ve always thought that legitimately warm winter coats came in 2 categories: sporty parkas, or furs. Design-wise there just isn’t that much in between. Which is one of the best things about making your own clothes: filling in the gaps! But how to make a regular dress coat comparably warm without majorly changing the design elements? Queue: THINSULATE FABRIC!!!!!!!!!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN0hzWshRB2/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

Ahhh, thinsulate fabric. Surely you know of it, and I imagine that lots of you have worked with it before. I had only heard it’s name because it’s a material that companies like JCrew rely on to beef up the warmth in their wool coats, but I had never seen it in raw form before. When a big box of it arrived at my house, I was pretty shocked to find that it is strikingly similar to a diaper; it’s got a thin white layer of soft, papery thin cloth on one side with an airy cottony filling on the other. I bought the 4 oz weight of Thinsulate fabric for my coat because I didn’t want to add additional bulk to an already heavy coat, but because the product is so lightweight, it wasn’t very thin. It is very pliable and can smoosh down pretty easily, though. You use Thinsulate like an interlining, and most people simply baste it to their lining pieces and then sew their patterns accordingly, but hold up- I am getting ahead of myself.

Before I got to the lining and interlining portion of my coat, I had to construct the shell. Let me remind you that I was using a vintage Vogue pattern from 1948, probably the oldest pattern I have ever actually used before. And it really showed. The instructions were printed on one large folded piece of paper with very tiny lettering that was literally falling apart every time I touched it. I read over the instructions several times to try and get a good idea of how the coat would come together, but I kept getting stuck in the same places, and I figured that I just needed to GET to that part with the actual pieces in front of me to better understand how to proceed. Then I pulled out the pattern pieces.

OH MY GOD. Those pattern pieces.

I had never before worked with a pattern that had no actual writing on its pieces before, so I didn’t know that, before printing pattern pieces with words, the pattern companies used an elaborate hole-punch method to put all the information on the pieces. The name of the piece would be written out in a series of hole punches, for example, the word “COLLAR” was spelled in tiny formatted holes, but they also used holes on the perimeters of all the pieces to show the 5/8 seam allowance, holes to map out darts and pleats, holes to signify where certain pattern pieces needed to meet, hole-punched triangles and squares to show where button holes and waist lines were located, etc. So picture a tiny cut out collar pattern piece made of THE MOST DELICATE paper known to man, which begins to disintegrate if you so much as sneeze near it, folded up very tightly, and covered in holes that at first glance appear to be some kind of cipher. Just keeping the pattern pieces intact was a feat requiring the utmost patience (which I lost about halfway through), but luckily I am a trace-the-pieces-to-preserve-the-original-pattern kind of girl, so now I have a replica of the pattern on more solid paper, should I ever attempt to make this pattern again (YEEEAH RIGHT).

As you can see from the design, the coat is not complicated at all, and this is probably the only reason I was able to get through it, because the instructions were a bit…shall we say V(A)GUE? And on top of that, they used certain materials and techniques that are just outdated now. Not to mention that there was so much more hand sewing involved on garments made back in the day, and although I am happy to do a fair amount of hand sewing for super nice, ambitious projects like this one, I DID want it to be complete in time for me to take it with me to MD. Queue: Tailoring: Singer Sewing Reference book! I saw this book recommendation on Cashmerette’s blog a while ago and decided to get it when planning for this coat. Best decision I ever made. The book is slightly dated in it’s style and possibly some of it’s techniques (there was no mention of how to bag a lining in this book, so I had to use my dear google for that part- perhaps there is a newer version of it?), but it’s still filled with super excellent information and beautifully photographed pictures showing each step of certain procedures. I don’t think I would have been able to get through this coat without the aid of this book, and I feel indebted to it. It mainly helped me get through the bound buttonholes on the coat front (I had never made them before and they are totally easy but just have a LOT of steps!) and pad stitching the collar (which was actually not too tricky since I didn’t have a proper collar stand but I did it anyways because LEARNING!), but it also taught me lots of random tidbits of information like which kind of lining to use and the anatomy of a collar.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNh3ii3hVc9/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

Once my shell was completed with beautiful bound buttonholes, I tried it on and saw that the shoulder seams were built for a line backer- they were HUGE! The pattern I used was sized a couple of inches bigger than my measurements but I had no idea it would be THIS off. Thankfully, due to the simple design of the coat, I was able to remove the sleeves, slice off a couple of inches of width at the shoulders which I carried down just a bit under the arms, and then re-attach the sleeves. I inserted some store-bought shoulder pads which gave my coat just the right amount of stability and structure at the shoulders, and then I got to work on my lining and interlining.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN-lCLMBB-o/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

This part was really tricky, only because none of my sources on construction and instruction had information on using Thinsulate as an interlining, which is certainly thicker than the flannel-type material the original pattern called for. Because the Thinsulate is thick, I didn’t want it to create too much bulk at the seams, so instead of basting the lining to all the interlining pieces, I constructed the sides of the lining and interlining separately and merely overlapped the Thinsulate’s edges instead of sewing them using a seam allowance. Then I connected the sides at the back center piece with regular seam allowances. I probably didn’t explain that very well? Sorry!  Photos would be helpful here but I didn’t take pictures because at this point of the coat making process I wasn’t even convinced I could successfully finish it! Anyways, the point is that I assembled my lining and interlining while trying to eliminate as much bulk at the seams as possible. Next I had to read up on how to bag a lining. The process seemed simple enough, but there were a few details that I wanted to make sure I got right, and an article I found on Thread’s website got me through it, although not without a lot of head scratching and cussing (this article, too, was extremely vague and lacking in details but was the only tutorial I could find that wasn’t connected to a specific sew-along. I wanted my information to be general so that I could easily apply it to a variety of coat designs).

https://www.instagram.com/p/BN-zbG4BjOT/?taken-by=jasikaistrycurious

The bagging part was easy, but I had a lot of trouble with the hems of my lining and interlining and had to un-bag the coat several times to trim off a bit more of the Thinsulate, which was too bulky in some places, causing the hem to sag or be uneven. It took a while, but eventually I figured it out enough to tack the bottom of my lining down onto my coat, which I am not even sure is a step that is done with most coats, but mine needed it. Sewing the lining to the sleeves was another source of frustration for me because I understood how they needed to look, I just couldn’t figure out how to get there, and the Threads article seemed intent on using as few words as possible to describe this procedure. But I eventually figure this out, too. So far the most prevalent theme in my sewing life is to cuss and yell out loud for 20 minutes and then, magically, the solution will just fall into my brain.

 

It was interesting to see and feel the differences in how the coat fit with and without the Thinsulate material underneath; without the interlining, the coat draped in a dramatic fall from the nape of my neck to the floor and swung around beautifully when I moved, but with it, the coat was much stiffer and had a more structured silhouette. I missed the floatiness of the un-interlined coat, but I really like the way it looks with Thinsulate too- it looks a bit more regal, and its definitely going to be warmer. But now I’ve got a seed planted in my head to make ANOTHER long wool coat, this time for California winters, which wont need to be underlined at all and can maintain that swooshiness factor that I liked so much about the un-interlined version.

After the coat was bagged and I pressed the hems a million more times to keep them crisp and even-looking, all I had left to do was slash the facings behind my bound buttonholes, sew the edges down, then choose my buttons. I had planned to buy some large buttons in black or gray at Michael Levine’s, but when I got there, the lovely person behind the counter convinced me that covered buttons were the way to go. They complimented my coat a bunch and made the case that a covered button would allow the coat to easily transition from casual to dressy. They were totally right, and I feel so thankful that they offered their expertise- I can’t even imagine what this coat would look like with a different set of buttons.

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

So, here we are, at the end of my blog post, which is already WAY too long. And I left out so many things! Like how I accidentally ripped a tear in almost every single original pattern piece at some point while handling it! Like how Thinsulate burns really easily and there are most definitely a few places deep inside this coat with singed holes of diaper material hidden by lining! Like how you can see some of my “invisible” hand stitching at the bottom of the coat if you look closely enough! Like how I sewed an entire pocket onto my coat inside out! But I know that stuff isn’t important- this project was ambitious because I had to do so much research on my own since the instructions weren’t mapped out and handed to me on a platter. I take for granted how simple and accommodating so many modern sewing patterns are, and it was a real eye-opener to feel forced back into a beginner-level again. But it was worth it, and I am TOTALLY PROUD OF MYSELF! I took it one step at a time, I refused to let the project defeat me, I trusted my instincts, and I came out with a coat that I am hoping will keep me toasty warm during my holiday adventures! Thanks to everyone on instagram who went on this journey with me and sent me encouraging words- I feel like we did this together! Consider yourself stylishly warmed by this coat, too 🙂

a woman’s work is never done?? lololol

The #notmypresident Kelly Anorak!

6blog

What a week, y’all. What a world.

Making has saved my sense of peace during this presidential campaign, but the day after the election I felt so depressed that I wasn’t even inspired to work on the project I had been happily plugging away at for days. I didn’t want to listen to music. I didn’t want to watch Netflix. I didn’t want to listen to an audiobook, or be around other people. But I also didn’t want to sit and stare at a wall while fuming. So I tentatively made my way to the makeshift sewing table in my apartment. I pushed some tools around, tidied up the area, threw away some fabric scraps and thread that had collected on the edges of the table. I didn’t feel better. But I felt calmer. I don’t know, maybe those feelings are synonymous sometimes. I liked having something to do with my hands. So I decided to install one ring snap and see how I felt. Again, I wasn’t better, but I had something to focus on, and I figured that was good enough. I installed the snap on the other pocket, and then I began the slow, new-to-me process of installing the coat zipper, which seemed really daunting to me at first glance.

Making didn’t take my mind off of my worries- it has never had that kind of effect on me- but it was therapeutic; it gave me space to process my thoughts without the sharpness of my emotions sending me reeling into teary-eyed territory. I cry hard and often, and I think that fully experiencing our emotions is super important to our mental health. But sometimes angry tears don’t make me feel any better at all, and I couldn’t imagine how I would stop them once they came.

7blog

 

By the time I finished installing the zipper and facings and placket of this jacket, I stood both in awe, of both the task I had completed and my mood. I remember looking at the photo on the pattern and thinking to myself, how in the world is this supposed to come together?? because sometimes getting from point A to point B seems like an act of magic; even though I can see all the steps laid out in the instructions, it’s hard for me to fully envision the end product of a thing unless I am in the middle of creating it. But I found some solace in this. Because I also had no idea exactly what I needed to do to fix the current state of our country (how in the world are we supposed to come together??) and I realize now that it doesn’t matter- all I need to do is start at step one: to show up. To be willing to learn, to use my voice, to act when I am called upon. Somehow, in the creation of a coat zipper, I had acquired a new resolve- I felt emboldened, full of love, optimistic that my community would, as it has for hundreds of years, continue to fight for the rights and well being of the disenfranchised. I am anxious and scared about the struggles that we will face on our path, but I have faith that we will come out on top, and I am excited to be on the right side of the history that we will make together.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE, Y’ALL.

And with that, some details about this absolutely beautiful coat that miraculously served to both inspire and heal…

2blog

This jacket is made from the much anticipated Kelly Anorak coat designed by Closet Case Files. When Heather sent a sneak peak of the coat through her newsletter a day or two before the official launch, I squealed audibly and sent Claire lots of photos of the coat that had been included in the email, since she is the only person I know who would be as excited about it as I was (she’s a generally supportive and enthusiastic human I am #blessed). I purchased the physical pattern instead of the PDF because it’s harder for me to print patterns while I am in Savannah, and I also immediately ordered a hardware kit that Closet Case was offering for sale in their online shop. I buy all of their kits when offered- the tools and materials are so well sourced and they just make sewing new, seemingly complicated garments a tad bit easier.

5blog

Initially I envisioned a light gray twill Anorak for myself, so I went to my local fabric store in Savannah and found the exact fabric I was looking for, but unfortunately they didn’t have the full yardage that I needed. So I decided I would supplement the missing gray twill with this really beautiful soft navy suiting I found in the shop. I went home, spent a couple of hours thoughtfully placing and cutting out the hundreds of pattern pieces (ok, there aren’t that many, but it sure feels like it when you’re on the floor with a spasming back and tracing them all onto the fabric), and I started sewing the pieces together.

requisite Forsyth Park shot!

requisite Forsyth Park shot!

I had a really tough time finding the right color of topstitching thread for the light gray twill. First I tried using a darker gray thread, but it looked too blue against the fabric, so I took all that out and used a white thread instead. This didn’t end up looking much better, but I figured that I would like it more as I continued piecing the jacket together. I also was worried about the weight of my jacket- the twill seemed a bit more flimsy than I wanted for this jackets, so I considered putting a lining into the coat, but I had never made a coat before and I felt a little overwhelmed at having to figure out so many new things at once. I got all the way up to the step where I needed to install the grommets on the jacket for the cord to slide through, and I suddenly started second guessing the whole project. I only had enough hardware for one jacket, and I realized that I wasn’t enough in love with the way mine was looking to waste my beautiful new snaps and grommets on it.

I am not one to walk away from a project so quickly after starting it, but I am so glad that I trusted my instincts; I rolled up the unfinished jacket and remaining pieces and set them aside. The next day while reading the Fabric Store’s blog, I saw some photos of a new shipment they had just gotten at the LA store and was immediately taken by a plush, pale pink bonded suiting fabric they were highlighting.

It looked soft and warm, and the color was perfect for me since I love lighter shades of pinks and peaches. I called the store and they sent me a couple of yards of the fabric (although not all of their LA fabrics are sold in the online store, you can always call them directly and ask for swatches or cuts of the stock they put up on their blog)! I kept my fingers crossed that this fabric would work for the jacket, and I was elated when it arrived a few days later and it looked and felt just as striking in person as I had hoped!

Since my first gray version was ultimately a muslin, I was able to make a few more adjustments on my pink version. I had already shortened the length of the coat about an inch and a half to better accommodate my petite frame, but I also kept the pockets in the same place, and I realized on the first coat that the placement felt awkward because they were now a bit too high. So on my pink version I moved them down about an inch or so and they are now perfectly placed. I sewed a size 4 and didn’t grade up in the hips on the first gray version of this jacket, even though my measurements suggested I do so, and when I sewed up the side seams, it definitely felt less roomy in the hips than I preferred. I extended the allowances at the hips on my pink jacket about an extra 3/8 inch on both sides to accommodate grading to a bigger size and it now fits beautifully. Other than these changes, I sewed the jacket as instructed, but I still made a bunch of random mistakes throughout (all of which are my fault!)

 

1blog

The most obvious mistake was sewing the front yokes in different directions on each side; thanks to Closet Case Files’ quick and easy tutorial, I used flat felled seams for the first time ever, which was super fun (also, it’s so weird that I had not used them before, because French seams are pretty much a staple for my makes nowadays). But I accidentally sewed the yoke seam towards the top on one side of the coat and towards the bottom on the other side of the coat, so they look visibly uneven on the outside. Of course I didn’t realize my mistake until the entire coat had been sewn together already and I was NOT about to undo all my work for something that didn’t bother me all that much. Also, because my pink fabric is so thick and doesn’t iron very well, it was very hard to get the seams completely flat and sewn down evenly on the inside, so there are also a few wonky flat fell seams that you can only see when looking on the wrong side of the jacket- again, I am so glad I am not a perfectionist because I would never get ANYTHING done!

4blog

Another goofy mistake I made was with the zipper placement- when installing then, I cut them a tiny bit too short and as a result, the top ends of the zipper aren’t enclosed in a seam, which means that the zipper pull would totally fly off the top if  I zipped it up without stopping before the teeth ran out. I was stumped as to how to fix that little snafu for a while, but when I hand sewed the seam of the hood to the inside of the jacket, I realized I could insert a few stitches just below the topmost tooth on each side of the zipper and it would serve as a stop to keep the zipper pull from zipping off of it.

3blog

Inserting the snaps and grommets was a cinch after reading Heather’s tutorial on her blog, and my only other suggestion on how to install them is to remind you to work verrrrrry carefully when you are placing the snap pieces along the jacket- I almost missed my mark a few times because of not being patient enough to make sure the snaps lined up perfectly. Removing a spring snap that has already been set is VERY hard to do without ruining your fabric, and yes, of course I say this from experience (insert rolling eye here).

9blog

The trickiest issue I experienced with this fabric was the fact that it was very thick and cushiony, which was only a problem a few times when I had to topstitch through several layers, like on the cuffs of the sleeves. Otherwise it behaved very well. sidenote: one of the cool design features I love about this Kelly Anorak is the topstitching all over it, and at first I was bummed that you couldn’t see the topstitching on my pink fabric very well because it’s so thick, but the technique still creates a little groove along the topstitched lines, and now that it’s complete I love the overall effect. I also appreciate that this fabric isn’t very wrinkly, and now after wearing it around on one of the coolest days I have experienced in Savannah thus far, I can attest that she is also perfectly warm! Much warmer than the twill cotton jacket I first started making would have been, but not as thick and bulky as a full on winter coat- essentially the perfect jacket to get me through an LA fall and winter.

11blog

As for the pattern? Sigh. It’s fantastic just like all of Heather’s work! The fit for me is wonderful: one easy adjustment for the length, which is made even easier thanks to markings on all the pattern pieces that are affected by lengthening/shortening, but even more importantly, the coat is ROOMY in the shoulders and arms and hood (Lord, how I hate a tight hood that smooshes all my hair down). This is the sort of jacket you can wear comfortably with sweatshirts and layers, and the sleeves on my size 4 Kelly don’t feel too tight or bulky with even my thickest sweater worn underneath. The instructions for this jacket are easy to follow, and it handles complicated techniques and steps succinctly. Again, I had to go slowly through the instructions for the zipper facings and placket because it was all new to me and there are so many pieces, but I didn’t make any mistakes and the result is beautiful. Additionally, Heather provides a few tutorials for tricky steps on her blog- I had already started working on my zipper and button placket before she posted a tutorial on how to do do that part, but I figured it out on my own just fine, so I think that the average sewist will find the instructions easy to follow, too!

12blog

My manager and his husband Bob are in town for the weekend and I was able to finish my coat before they left, which means I got to get some photos of it while we were out and about! My favorite place we visited today was the SCAD museum of art, which has work and installations by current students and alumni. The museum is small (read: MANAGEABLE for someone like me who can only handle beautiful art in shorts spurts of time) and varied and I absolutely loved every inch of it- you should definitely go visit if you have the chance!

10blog

jeans are the Ginger Skinny Jeans and cowl is handknitted from a pattern by Miss Babs!